Monday, November 24, 2003

Mini-turbine brings 'green power for all'

The winds of change will blow a little stronger this morning when a small Scottish company launches Britain's first wind power system designed to be fitted on almost any roof or wall to supplement electricity from the grid.
Just two days after Britain's biggest offshore wind farm started generating electricity off the north Wales coast, the designers of the tiny domestic unit believe they can provide up to 15% of the annual electricity needs of an average house for a one-off cost of £750 - bringing green electricity into the price range of most families.

The machine, a 3ft by 2ft sealed box with three blades which face into the prevailing wind, is backed by the energy minister, Brian Wilson, who is a paid consultant for Windsave, the company behind it.

Unlike old-style domestic wind generators, which needed a lot of land, sat on top of poles and drove pumps and a few bulbs for farmers and backwoodsmen, the machine does not need batteries to store the electricity. Instead, it tops up the existing mains supply.

Unlike bigger systems, it cannot sell excess power back into the grid. But the company believes it has cracked the holy grail of renewable energy - getting government subsidies and making the machines silent.

In theory, there are handouts both for installation and for "Rocs" - renewable obligation charges - which currently pay green electricity providers about 6p per kilowatt-hour generated.

The system, says the Scottish inventor David Gordon, who has pumped £1m into the idea, can generate up to 750 watts - enough to power lights but not high-energy items such as kettles or heaters.

"Nobody has been able to take raw wind power and put it straight into the domestic electrical system at 240 volts," he said. "We will be able to bring green energy to the masses."

Mr Wilson, who has declared his interest in the company on the House of Commons register and has no financial share in it, was enthusiastic. "I have looked at it upside down and sideways for a catch and I don't think there is one. The amazing thing is its affordability.

"It will be a few hundred quid, you do your bit for the environment, and you get a cheque back once a year. What more can you want? It's been though all the standard checks and everyone who's seen it is of the same opinion."

Mr Gordon admits that his invention is not as technically efficient as turbines sited on high poles to collect the optimum wind, but says that it is the annual supplementing of household electricity which makes it suitable for buildings. The machine starts working at a wind speed of 3mph and is said to be most efficient in a 20mph breeze - common for much of the year across large parts of Britain.

Using the remote metering technology which made Mr Gordon's fortune after he sold his company to BT, each unit installed will be automatically phoned every quarter to see how much electricity it has generated.

The company will then collect the subsidy from the government and distribute it back to owners according to how much they have generated. "We believe the payback period could be as little as 30 months," said Mr Gordon.

The British Wind Energy Association, which represents large-scale windpower generators, professed itself amazed at the development. "If it works, it's fantastic," said spokeswoman Alison Hill.

Yesterday it was provisionally backed by Country Guardian, the lobby group which has opposed almost every planning application submitted for windpower development in Britain in the past decade.

"I think they are a good idea. I don't think they'll look very beautiful, but we always feel that it's the people in cities who use the power and that we in the country have to pay the price," said Ann Evans, a vice-president.

Local planners may be divided about whether the innovations need planning permission. Technically, they do not, says Mr Gordon, if they are sited below the highest point of houses. But many local authorities and heritage groups objected strongly at first to satellite dishes, and may not want to see large boxes with spinning blades put up.

The machines are to be made outside Edinburgh. Local authorities, government offices and light industry will be targeted first, followed by householders in about three months.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

China's rising grain prices could signal global food crisis

US environmentalist Lester Brown warned Wednesday that sudden food price hikes in China could be the sign of a coming world food crisis brought on by global warming and increasingly scarce water supplies among major grain producers.

"I view the price rises as an indication, as the warning tremors before the earthquake," Brown, director of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute, told an audience of Chinese environmental non-governmental organizations.

"World grain harvests have fallen for four consecutive years and world grain stocks are at the lowest level in 30 years. If farmers can't raise production by (late next year) we may see soaring grain and food prices worldwide."

In the past few months, wheat prices in northeast China have shot up 32 percent, maize prices have doubled and rice prices are up by as much as 13 percent, official reports show.

China faces a 40 million ton grain shortfall this year following five years of smaller harvests.

Brown said that the world will be facing a 96 million ton shortfall in grain this year following poor harvests in the United States and India in 2002, and a poor harvest in Europe due to scorching temperatures this year.

Shortfalls worldwide have been made up through dwindling grain reserves.

Brown, described by the Washington Post as "one of the world's most influential thinkers," was in China to unveil the translation of his new book "Plan B, Rescuing a Planet Under Stress."

While grain producers revel in rising prices, Brown said the trends are unsustainable, especially as the world population approaches eight billion by mid-century and as the main grain producers -- China, India and the United States -- face increasing water shortages.

As China's population grows and its people demand a more meat-based diet with rising living standards, China will increasingly have to look to world markets to satisfy grain needs for both food and feed for livestock, he said.

"When China turns to the world market for grain, it will need 30, 40, 50 million tons, more than anyone else in the world imports," Brown said.

"They will first come to US markets, which is going to make a fascinating geo-political situation."

With a 100 billion dollar trade surplus with the United States in 2002, China has "enormous purchasing power" to buy US grain, which "could drive up prices by two times."

Already an increase in Chinese demand for American soybeans, plus last year's bad soybean harvest, have seen prices jump from five dollars a bushel to eight dollars a bushel.

China is expected to announce substantial grain purchases from the US in the weeks ahead of a visit to Washington by Premier Wen Jiabao in December.

Further exacerbating falling grain harvests will be the effects of global warming as increasing scientific evidence reveals that grain production falls when temperatures mount, Brown said.

Studies by the International Rice Institute and the US-based Carnegie Institution have shown that grain production can fall 10 percent with a one degree celsius (1.7 degree fahrenheit) increase in temperature, as the increased heat stresses the plants.

The UN's International Panel on Climate Control has come to the conclusion that global warming from greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels will lead to temperature rises from two to five degrees celsius this century.

"This is not encouraging for food security and we may very well be seeing that decisions made at ministries of energy will have a greater effect on food than decisions made at ministries of agriculture," Brown said.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Renewable Energy News | Uni-Solar Brings 300 kW Online to Luxemburg

The largest solar photovoltaic (PV) system in Europe using triple-junction thin-film has been announced by Uni-Solar. The massive 300-kW ground-mounted array came online in Luxemburg.

The solar PV array, consisting of 2,574 Uni-Solar panels (model US-116) divided into six sub-arrays of approximately 50 kW each, is mounted on a slope behind the "Copal" supermarket in Grevenmacher, Luxemburg. The system takes advantage of favorable net-metering arrangements and feds power into the utility grid.

Uni-Solar designed the system and supplied the majority of the hardware required for system installation. The system was developed by Solarpower S.A., a company specializing in developing funding for renewable energy projects, especially for PV systems, in Luxemburg.

"We are very pleased to work with Uni-Solar Ovonic to showcase the largest triple-junction amorphous silicon photovoltaic array in Europe," said Mike Hein, Solarpower S.A. "We look forward to many further applications of these attractive products."

"Our robust and flexible thin-film solar cells are applicable to both roof-top and ground-mounted systems," said Stanford R. Ovshinsky, president and CEO of ECD Ovonics and chairman and CEO of Uni-Solar Ovonic. "This demonstration highlights our capability for designing and delivering complex PV systems."

Differing from the traditional crystalline technology, which typically utilizes heavy, glass-mounted panels, the Uni-Solar system solutions are flexible, durable, lightweight and easy to install.

"Independent studies in Europe and elsewhere have shown that our triple-junction products deliver more energy per rated power than the conventional crystalline products," said Subhendu Guha, president and chief operating officer of Uni-Solar Ovonic. "This is one of the unique features of our solution that gives a greater value to the customer."

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Renewable Energy News | Howard Dean Presents Renewable Energy Plan

Democratic presidential candidate Governor Howard Dean, announced his six-point plan to create a thriving renewable energy industry to provide clean, reliable, and secure power for millions of Americans. Dean joined local Worth County residents in a discussion of the economic impact of renewable energy on communities in Worth County, home to a wind farm and future home to ethanol processing.

"It's time we start investing in those resources we have right here and stop relying on foreign oil and fossil fuels," Dean said. "Iowa is one of the best states in the nation to produce wind energy and biofuels. Wind farms, ethanol plants, and other sources of renewable energy create jobs in communities."

Governor Dean proposes creating a renewable portfolio standard (RPS), requiring more American biofuels, boosting wind energy transmission, creating a solar power tax credit, extending the production tax credit (PTC), and investing in renewable energy and efficiency as part of the Fund to Restore America. The Dean campaign said their plan would create 15,000 new energy related jobs in Iowa and US$126 billion in new local property tax revenue by 2020.

"Renewable energy makes sense for the economy, for our environment, and for our national security," said Dean. "It is time for this country to take advantage of the technology and renewable resources already available."

The new Golden Grains ethanol facility being built in Worth County will make Iowa the number one ethanol producer in the nation. Top of Iowa wind farm in Joice will pay Worth County more than $6 million in taxes over the next 20 years and created 200 construction jobs.

Gov. Dean's campaign said the former Vermont Governor lead the way in renewable energy with a comprehensive energy program making Vermont more efficient and making more use of renewables, said his campaign. Governor Dean promoted the development and consumption of both biomass and wind energy as well as making it possible for consumers to offset energy costs by generating renewable energy and selling it back to the grid (net metering).

Dean's Plan for Renewable Energy:

Abundant energy at fair prices was at the core of American prosperity throughout the 20th Century and remains of central importance to our quality of life in the 21st. But the US is at a crossroads; the path we decide upon now will determine what kind of energy future the 21st century will hold. Unfortunately, the possibilities for a clean, affordable and sustainable energy future are being undermined by the Bush-Cheney policy of import, drill and burn. Their plan has been written behind closed doors with input coming only from special interests and lobbyists. Governor Dean believes we need to replace this approach with a policy that harnesses the powers of American innovation. The comprehensive energy plan that Dean will release later this fall stresses five main goals:

- Ensure reliable, diverse, and low cost energy supplies at stable prices to all Americans
- Strengthen our national security
- Create jobs and stimulate economic growth
- Spur innovation and make America the world's energy technology leader in the 21st Century
- Protect our environment

Central to Governor Dean's approach will be a commitment to renewable energy. His stated goals follow:

Invest in Renewable Energy Sources

Replacing dirty, inefficient power production with clean, renewable energy sources has several economic and non-economic benefits, which are not captured in the current pricing regime. As a result, renewable resources often do not look cost competitive, even when they are the best investment we can make in our future. To help overcome these marketplace distortions, Governor Dean's proposes to:

Create a Renewable Portfolio Standard 20 percent by 2020:

Despite a bipartisan plea from 53 Senators, the GOP leadership in Congress buckled under to oil and gas interests and rejected calls to require that our nation generate 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources. Governor Dean will put the interests of Americans ahead of special interests and require that our nation generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. To ensure efficient and flexible implementation, Dean will create a renewable energy credit trading system.

Require More American Biofuels:

Governor Dean will require that every gallon of the US, on average, contain 10 percent American biofuels like ethanol and soy-diesel. As with the renewable energy requirement, Dean will implement a biofuels credit trading system to allow the market to determine where biofuels can be most efficiently used.

Boost Wind Energy Transmission:

To tap this massive wind energy potential of the Plains, Governor Dean will work with state and local governments, renewable generators and transmission utilities to breakdown regulatory barriers, eliminate transmission capacity deficiencies and identify possible transmission investments that could jumpstart new renewable generation

Create a Solar Power Tax Credit:

Governor Dean will boost demand for solar technology in the near-and long-terms by implementing a consumer tax credit for residential solar power and increasing federal support for R&D into solar technologies to reduce the cost of solar cells.

Extend the Production Tax Credit for More Renewables:

Governor Dean will extend the Production Tax Credit, which expires at the end of the year. Dean will also expand the tax credit to cover more types of renewable power generation including geothermal, solar and biomass.

Invest in Renewable Energy and Efficiency as Part of the Fund to Restore America:

Governor Dean's economic plan calls for a $100 billion investment in America over two years: the Fund to Restore America. Dean will encourage states to dedicate a portion of the Fund to investments in renewable generation and in supplemental transmission capability needed to spark new renewable generation.