October 2010


Some very exciting news for US clean energy today. Google announced on their blog last night that they will invest in a project to build 350 miles of transmission off the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Virginia to tap into gigantic off-shore wind potential that we are only just beginning to tap into — the first-ever US approval of an off-shore wind farm, by the Obama administration, was just this year.

The new transmission cables, a superhighway for clean energy, will enable the connection of up to 6,000 MW of offshore wind turbines. That’s equivalent to 60% of the wind energy that was installed in the entire country last year and enough to serve approximately 1.9 million households.

Putting this system in place removes a major barrier to offshore wind energy in the US: lack of infrastructure. And it should — with a friendly administration — jump-start off-shore wind in this country. The US currently lags so far behind Europe that the first off-shore farm approved, this year’s Cape Wind, which signed the US’ first offshore wind energy lease last week, was reduced to using German turbines (Siemens).

Google’s new superhighway of energy will be built by transmission company Trans-Elect and be financed by Google, Good Energies and Marubeni Corporation.

Google points out in their blog that just a beginning is needed at this early stage. “We are investing 37.5% of the equity in this initial development stage, with the goal of obtaining all the necessary approvals to finance and begin constructing the line. Although the development stage requires only a small part of the total estimated project budget, it represents a critical stage for the project.”

These four mid-Atlantic states are the middle states central to a consortium of what is now 11 Atlantic states whose governors have signed an agreement to develop their tremendous off-shore wind potential, which has been estimated at 330 Gigawatts in total, more than twice what the 11 states use.

Polling of the 5 mid-Atlantic state coastal residents has found that they are very supportive of the development of their off-shore wind (previous story).

These four mid-Atlantic states that Google proposes to get started with have more than 60 GW (60,000 MW) of this gigantic off-shore wind potential in relatively shallow waters that extend miles out to sea, making it easier to install turbines 10-15 miles offshore, where they are barely visible.

This is a historic milestone for the USA. Total off-shore wind power off the Atlantic has been estimated to be enough to take one third of the US population off the fossil grid.

Source: Clean Technica.

Millions of dollars of NSW taxpayers’ money is being spent on tiny cuts to greenhouse gas emissions. One charity has received a grant to reduce emissions by just two tonnes over 10 years.

The opposition has criticised the Climate Change Fund, which sets aside about $5 million of its $300 million budget for not-for-profit groups to make their buildings more water- and energy-efficient.

The Central Coast Community College was given $21,018 to save 4.5 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the equivalent of $4670 a tonne, and the Central Coast Campus Union received $38,000 to save nine tonnes of emissions at $4222 a tonne.

In another case, a family support group in Newcastle received $1400 to tint their windows to reduce electricity use and lower emissions by just two tonnes over the next 10 years.

A Liberal MP for Castle Hill, Michael Richardson, said he supported groups cutting their carbon footprint but not at any cost.

”This fund has been a monumental waste of taxpayers’ funds, given the need to cut millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide,” he said.

”Taxpayers want the Climate Change Fund to succeed, but that can only happen if the government achieves value for money. There isn’t a bottomless pit of funds to draw on.”

Last month the Environment Minister, Frank Sartor, called on groups to apply for a slice of the $5.4 million funding under the Community Savers program.

Mr Sartor said $6.6 million had been given to 281 projects since the program began last year, saving about 1.3 billion litres of water, 48,000 tonnes of carbon pollution over the next 10 years and $1.3 million on bills.

He said as much as $40,000 was available to groups to undertake measures such as installing rainwater tanks, switching to solar hot water and installing water-efficient fixtures.

Source: AuSES.

Transmission has always been the elephant in the room when it comes to renewable energy (with apologies to energy storage; let’s call that the mildly smaller hippopotamus in the room). Because wind and sun tend to pick and choose their spots to blow strongest, shine brightest and longest, there is usually the need for additional infrastructure capable of bringing all that carbon-free electricity to the load centers.

Offshore wind is no different, and is even more complicated in terms of transmission because it’s, you know, off shore. With the offshore wind industry poised to take off — or at least finally get one foot off the ground — there is now a proposed project that would theoretically ease the transmission issues of wind farms up and down the Atlantic coast.

A project to be known as the Atlantic Wind Connection will create a huge “transmission backbone,” with undersea cables sited miles off the coast aimed at connecting new wind farms to the power grid without the need for piecemeal infrastructure. The project is run by Trans-Elect, with financial backing for its estimated $5 billion price tag from Google and others.

The Atlantic Wind Connection will run for 350 miles along the coasts of Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. A direct-current series of cables, it will be the first undersea cable in the US to actually pick up generated power along the way. And at 15 to 20 miles off the coast, if wind turbines are built around the backbone they will be barely visible from shore.

It has been a banner couple of weeks for the nascent (still) offshore wind industry. A recent National Renewable Energy Laboratory report indicated the massive potential of the wind flying past US shores — four times that of all the existing electricity generation in the country — and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar finally signed a 28-year lease allowing the 130 Cape Wind turbines to be built.

And at the signing of that lease, last week, Salazar hinted at this week’s transmission announcement.

“By identifying high priority areas offshore for potential wind projects, we can explore the development of a transmission backbone in the Atlantic Ocean to serve those areas,” he said. “Rather than develop transmission infrastructure plans on a piecemeal basis, we should – in close coordination with the private sector, states, and tribes – lay out a smart transmission system, up front.”

Source: IEEE Spectrum.

The federal government aims to legislate for a price on carbon late next year and have a scheme operating well before the next election in a bid to lessen the impact of a predicted fear campaign as voters go to the polls.

The Herald understands the strategy banks on the assumption that if a carbon price is introduced and allowed to operate for a while, people will realise it is not the monster opponents are making it out to be.The theory is based on John Howard’s introduction of the goods and services tax on July 1, 2000, amid a scare campaign. By the time of the election more than a year later, the public had grown used to it and there was little desire to revoke it.

Consequently, the central policy in 2001 of the then opposition leader, Kim Beazley, to ”roll back” the GST fell flat.

Last week, the multi-party climate change committee held its first meeting to develop a mechanism for putting a price on carbon. Its options include an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme with a temporary fixed price for a tonne of carbon.

It is understood the committee’s most likely proposal will be a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme with a fixed price, as these will cause the least disagreement between Labor and the Greens, which comprise the bulk of the committee. They will also control the Senate after July 1.

But there is an awareness in the government that at the end of the process, a carbon price or fixed emissions trading scheme could be agreed on, but the two parties could still differ over what price to put on a tonne of carbon. The Greens are unlikely to accept anything less than $23, which was recommended as an interim measure after the emissions trading scheme collapsed. The government would want a price of about half that to lessen the impact as the scheme began.

Should the hung parliament last three years – the next election is due in late 2013 – a scheme could be operating from mid-2012 if all goes to plan.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has barred any of his MPs or senators from sitting on the climate change committee because membership requires support for a carbon price. Instead the Coalition is promoting ”direct action” in which federal government money is spent directly on measures to reduce pollution.

Mr Abbott gave notice yesterday that the cost of living scare campaign he successfully used to force the previous prime minister Kevin Rudd to shelve the emissions trading scheme would be used again. He also indicated it would be expanded to include the recommended cuts to irrigation along the Murray-Darling Basin which farmers have warned would push up food prices.

”The Gillard government just doesn’t get it when it comes to the cost of living,” he said. ”Gillard government policies are going to make electricity dearer and food more expensive.”

The government reasons that its best chance is to get a mechanism in place as soon as possible and hope to leave Mr Abbott flat-footed.

The economist and climate change expert Ross Garnaut said last week that he did not want to pre-empt what the committee should recommend but pointed to his suggestion after the collapse of the emissions trading scheme of a fixed price per tonne of carbon until there was meaningful international action.

Source: Green Times.

How much is that nuclear reactor in the window?

The answer has bedeviled researchers, government officials, academics and others for years. The U.S. hasn’t commissioned a new nuclear reactor in years so any baseline data is very old. Reactor designs have changed since the ’70s, a move that nuclear advocates say could make nuclear plants cheaper. Critics, on the other hand, have said that rising prices for things like steel combined with the chronic delays and budget overruns that regularly occur make nuclear unaffordable.

How much do the answers vary? In 2003, MIT estimated that the “overnight cost,” or the cost of a plant without financing, would be $2,000 per kilowatt. In 2009, MIT updated the figure to $4,000 a kilowatt, assuming some of the risk factors could be eliminated.

Meanwhile, Mark Cooper, from the University of Vermont Law School, said earlier this year that the overnight cost might be in the $7,000-to-$8,000 per kilowatt range, with the all-in cost of a 2-gigawatt nuclear plant including financing running around $20 billion to $25 billion — in other words, $10 or more per watt. Financing costs are important to include because plants take years to erect: even a one percent loan on a $8 billion project adds up. As a result, the high price results in nuclear socialism, he argues, because plants will always need state support.

Constellation Energy, which wants to build a 1.6-gigawatt plant in Maryland, shed some light on the subject when it pulled out of the DOE loan program. Constellation had been seeking a guarantee that would cover 80 percent of the $7.6 billion loan on the Calvert Cliffs 3 project. The entire budget for the project is estimated at $9.6 billion. Constellation pulled out because the DOE requested a $880 million fee — around 11.6 percent of the loan — for the guarantee. The fee would make the project un-economical, Constellation said.

But back to the math. $9.6 billion divided by 1.6 gigawatts equals $6,000 per kilowatt, or $6 per watt. Adding the cost of the DOE guarantee would boost it to $6.55 per watt.

The figure obviously is an estimate. 1.6 neatly divides into 9.6 with no remainder. That sort of thing doesn’t happen generally when dividing in the billions. The total cost would also likely be impacted by cost overruns, operations, waste management, maintenance or fuel. Fuel actually only adds two to four percentage points to the overall cost, but some of the other factors are less predictable.

Still, even as an optimistic estimate, it seems to indicate that nuclear could be having trouble keeping up with the rest of the industry. Wind, although intermittent, costs $1,300 a kilowatt. Flow batteries for storing wind power sell for $4,000 a kilowatt. Compressed air can cost $1,000 per kilowatt. Conceivably, wind and storage together hover just under the $6,000 kilowatt benchmark for nuclear. A home solar installation costs $6,000 a watt after incentives and far less for utility-scale projects. Solar and wind, of course, regularly drop in price due to the force of mass manufacturing.

The MIT report adds that even at $4,000 a kilowatt nuclear would need loan guarantees initially and other incentives to stay competitive with natural gas ($850 a kilowatt) and coal ($2,300 a kilowatt). The researchers also recommend carbon pricing.

Again, a final, or even somewhat accurate, price is difficult to determine. These are rough estimates and we hope to delve deeper into the numbers soon. But the nuclear industry likely needs to do better than this.

Source: Green Tech Media.

Old-line solar companies in the past few years have seen Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Chinese manufacturers come into their world.

The next wave of invasion may come from industrial chemicals.

DuPont is contemplating ways to move into the market for building integrated photovoltaic panels, according to a spokesman. Chatter began after Tom Connelly, DuPont’s chief innovation officer, said the company is “interested in moving beyond our current business. […] You’ll see us doing more in the area of building-integrated photovoltaics as we move forward,” at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit.

DuPont has produced encapsulants and metal pastes for the past several decades for PV makers. Tedlar, the material that serves as a back sheet for crystalline solar cells, is a de facto standard. Earlier this year, DuPont debuted a coating that could allow solar makers and OLED manufacturers to swap out heavy glass with transparent ceramic and polymer barriers.

Producing solar cells, however, would mark DuPont’s first step toward being a branded manufacturer in solar. Arch-rival Dow Chemical has already moved into producing building-integrated panels from copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) in conjunction with Global Solar. (Dow also has an investment in tinyCIGS designer NuvoSun.)

Who else might join? Read Eric Wesoff’s story today about Corning’s plans to produce substrates. 3M markets materials for PV manufacturers and has even concocted reflective materials for solar thermal plants. All of these companies have worldwide sales organization, materials know-how, roofing expertise and factory capacity to burn. If DuPont or these other manufacturers decided to partner with a second-tier solar manufacturer or even a solar cell startup, the ingredients for a relatively overnight solar sensation would be there.

The large, electrical equipment makers, by the way, have already moved in. Westinghouse Solar has become the brand name for Akeena Solar and General Electric will have cadmium telluride panels out next year.

And that points up another trend: the rise of the 100-year-old startup. Expect to hear more about DuPont and these other companies at Solar Power International this week.

Source: Green Tech Media.

Oct. 11 (Bloomberg) — Toshiba Corp.’s Westinghouse Electric Co. said it’s “fully” interested in South Africa’s plans to build six nuclear power plants by 2023 as the country seeks to tackle an energy shortage.

Westinghouse would participate in a tender to supply atomic plants to Africa’s biggest economy, Bultie Nel, managing director of the company’s local unit, said today in an e-mailed response to questions. Westinghouse “is constantly working on how to provide this high-safety technology at a still better competitive price,” Nel said.

South Africa is battling an electricity shortage after the government suspended the expansion plans of state-owned utility Eskom Holdings Ltd. while it tried and failed to convince private companies to build power plants. That resulted in a five-day shutdown of most mines in the country in early 2008.

In December of that year, South Africa halted plans to build a second, 120 billion-rand ($17.5 billion) nuclear plant as the global financial crisis tightened credit markets. Westinghouse and Areva SA, the world’s largest supplier of reactors, had vied for the canceled order.

Eskom subsequently cut a five-year, 460 billion-rand expansion program because of a lack of funding.

Source: 321 Energy.

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