Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Solar Power for Europe from Sahara

Around a dozen companies launched a Renewable Energy Initiative that its backers claim could within a decade provide Europeans with electricity generated from the Sahara – at a cost of €400bn ($557bn).

Munich Re, the German insurer, Deutsche Bank, utilities RWE and Eon and industrial conglomerate Siemens are among the bluechip names that formed a company to explore the technical and geopolitical challenges of peppering the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East with solar mirrors.
By joining together hundreds of solar thermal power plants and wind farms with high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission cables under the Mediterranean sea, the founders of the Desertec Industrial Initiative hope one day to supply 15 per cent of Europe’s electricity needs.

Concentrating solar power plants use the sun’s heat to generate electricity. Hundreds of mirrors focus the sun’s rays on to a receiver containing a heat transfer fluid, such as oil. This heat energy is used to produce steam which drives a turbine, much like in a traditional power station. Unlike photovoltaic solar cells, CSP plants are able to generate electricity at night or on cloudy days, by storing the heat they produce.
Unlike photovoltaic solar cells, CSP plants are able to generate electricity at night or on cloudy days, by storing the heat they produce. Scientists estimate that covering 3 per cent of surface of the Sahara with solar power plants would be sufficient to meet the world’s energy needs. The world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun in six hours than mankind consumes in a year.
CSP require lots of water to aid cooling, a resource not commonly associated with desert climates. However, scientists are developing other cooling methods.

Compared by Wulf Bernotat, chief executive of Eon, with the challenge of putting a man on the moon, the Desertec project would require the creation of a €45bn electricity super-grid covering Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

A study by the German Aerospace Centre estimated the total cost of the project at €395bn.
Although feted in the German media, Desertec is not without its detractors, who see it is an expensive flight of fancy, first cooked up by ardent professors and political idealists, and now embraced by corporate spin.

However, the initiative has already won an army of powerful supporters, including Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who laud its potential to cut greenhouse gases.

Although companies who have joined the consortium acknowledge the project’s complexity, they insist the technology is ready to implement it. Concentrating solar power plants have been used in California since the 1980s.

Meanwhile, HVDC cables are already capable of transporting power over hundreds of kilometres without large efficiency losses. “The [Desertec] project has been on the drawing board for 30 years and now for the first time it has become technically feasible,” said Wolfgang Dehen, chief executive of Siemens Energy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

New Feed-in tariff Scheme for Renewable Energy by the UK Govt.

The move has potentially far reaching ramifications in the English speaking world where there has been reluctance to use full-fledged systems of feed-in tariffs, sometimes on ideological grounds. Now that Britain, Ontario, and South Africa, two of Britain's former colonies, have definitively moved toward implementing sophisticated feed-in tariff programs, there may be less reticence to do so elsewhere in the Anglophone world.

The British proposal has also contributed several innovative new twists on feed-in tariff design that will mark the program as "made in the United Kingdom".

One new feature is the inclusion of tariffs for Combined Heat & Power (CHP). While not a first, it is one of the few programs to do so. Another feature of the proposed program is a distinct tariff for small solar PV systems on new homes, and a separate tariff for existing homes.

Most significantly, program designers have included a mechanism to encourage homeowners and small businesses to reduce their electricity consumption. For example, a solar PV generator will be paid for all their generation. However, they will receive a bonus, currently at £0.05/kWh ($0.08 USD/kWh, $0.09 CAD/kWh), for electricity delivered to the grid over and above their domestic consumption. Thus, if a homeowner is able to cut their domestic consumption, and sell more electricity to the grid as a result, they are paid the bonus on top of the posted feed-in tariff.
Households which contribute electricity from renewable sources to the UK National Grid are to receive payments under a new government feed-in tariff scheme, labelled the "Clean Energy Cash-back Scheme”.

Back in 2008 the UK Government outlined policies in "The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, National strategy for climate and energy" White Paper designed to significantly reduce carbon emissions in the country by 35% by 2020 and by at least 80% by 2050. Now, as part of its recently released Renewable Energy Strategy designed to contribute to achieving these targets, the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, has announced that a feed-in tariff rate will be introduced in the UK for suppliers of renewable energy who feed energy back into the grid.

The Clean Energy Cash-back Scheme is a more user-friendly term for feed-in tariffs (FITs), which other countries such as Germany have used so successfully to promote small as well as large-scale renewable energy production over the last decade. The UK Government’s decision to introduce FITs is intended to simplify the incentives for using renewable energy sources, since the current system – the Renewable Obligation (RO) – is a very lengthy and complex system designed for energy professionals who generate electricity on a large scale (50kW+). The Clean Energy Cash-back Scheme has therefore been designed to benefit micro-generators (households, communities and businesses with installations of up to 50kW), while larger installations of 50kW-5MW will be offered the choice of either the FIT or the RO scheme.

The key now is to wait and see at what level the UK Government establishes the FITs, as previous experience in other countries has shown that setting them too low can lead to a lack of take-up of renewables, while excessively high limits become economically unsustainable and politically sensitive.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Americans used more Solar, Biomass and Wind Energy in 2008

Americans used more solar, nuclear, biomass and wind energy in 2008 than they did in 2007, according to the most recent energy flow charts released by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The nation used less coal and petroleum during the same time frame and only slightly increased its natural gas consumption. Geothermal energy use remained the same.

The estimated U.S. energy use in 2008 equaled 99.2 quadrillion BTUs ("quads"), down from 101.5 quadrillion BTUs in 2007. (A BTU or British Thermal Unit is a unit of measurement for energy, and is equivalent to about 1.055 kilojoules).

Energy use in the industrial and transportation sectors declined by 1.17 and 0.9 quads respectively, while commercial and residential use slightly climbed. The drop in transportation and industrial use - which are both heavily dependent on petroleum - can be attributed to a spike in oil prices in summer 2008.

Last year saw a significant increase in biomass with the recent push for the development of more biofuels including ethanol.

"This is a good snapshot of what's going on in the country. Some of the year-to year changes in supply and consumption can be traced to factors such as the economy and energy policy," said A.J. Simon, an LLNL energy systems analyst who develops the energy flow charts using data provided by the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration.

Simon said the increase in wind energy can be attributed to large investments in wind turbine technologies over the last few years as well as better use of the existing turbines.

The chart also shows the amount of energy rejected by the United States. Of the 99.2 quads consumed, only 42.15 ended up as energy services. Energy services are "things that make our lives better," Simon said. "That's the energy that makes your car move and that comes out of your light bulb."

The ratio of energy services to the total amount of energy used is a measure of the country's energy efficiency. The remainder, explained Simon, "is simply rejected. For example, some rejected energy shows up as waste heat from power plants."

"I'm really excited about the renewed push for energy efficiency in this country," he said. "Because once that energy is rejected, it's no longer useful. But more efficient power plants, automobiles and even light bulbs really do reject less energy while providing the same energy services."

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has helped to visualize the Energy Information Administration's U.S. energy data since the early 1970s.
(Adapted from Lawrence Livermore National Lab, U.S)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Mega Solar Power Capacity Addition Plan by the Indian Govenment

Strategies that mitigate climate change resulting from increasing concentration of greenhouse gas emissions while promoting sustainable and equitable development are needed to be taken rapidly and immediately by countries world-wide.
The Indian Government is all set to unveil a mega solar power capacity addition plan to make India the global leader in solar energy.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has convened a meeting of Council on Climate Change on August 3 to give a final nod to the plan that aims to add 20,000 MW of generation capacity by 2020 and makes it as cheap as electricity from conventional sources. The mega plan would seek an investment of nearly Rs. 1 lakh crore over a 30-year period.

Highly placed sources said that to kick-start the whole thing in a big way, the Government was likely to make a huge outlay, which could be Rs. 4,000-6,000 crore, in the XI Plan. The outlay would be doubled during the XII Plan (2013-17).

“The idea is to send out a clear message to the country and the international community that India is serious on its approach to climate change. The plan implementation would be done through the National Solar Mission,” a senior official remarked.

Earlier the government’s repeated talk of putting climate change agenda on top of its priorities was hardly reflected in the Budget, which made just a cursory mention of the subject as well as other environmental issues. All that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said in his Budget speech was that the government would provide the “necessary funds” for the eight missions launched under the National Action Plan on Climate Change that was unveiled by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year. No amount was mentioned.

Most of the eight missions are still to be readied and that probably explained the absence of any financial allocation in the Budget. But the Budget was completely lacklustre on other environmental areas as well, including the need to push for energy efficiency or supporting schemes for bringing clean energy sources to rural households.

Now, the announcement of the solar mega capacity additional plan gives more hope for the Climate Groups and Environmentalists.

The objective of the mega solar power plan is to ensure that the country has a capacity addition of one lakh MW by 2030 and two lakh MW of solar power by 2050. It would also seek solar power cost reduction to achieve grid tariff parity by 2020.

Experts have been faced with the challenge of producing solar power as cheaply as from coal or hydel sources. This is the main obstacle to be tackled by reducing the cost of solar power generation to Rs. 4-5 per kWh by 2017-20. The objective of the mega plan would be to achieve rapid scale up to drive down costs, to spur domestic manufacturing and to validate the technological and economic viability of different solar applications.

Reference: The Hindu Daily

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