Monday, 29 December 2008

Windfarm revolution tangled in red tape

Britain's wind power industry is facing a double blow of lengthy planning delays and rapidly rising construction costs in a crisis that threatens to sink the government's climate-change goals.

Dozens of projects are being held up by planning inquiries, with the average length of time taken to win permission being 15 to 20 months in England and far longer in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where the bulk of the schemes are being developed.

There are 262 different projects representing seven gigawatts stuck in the planning stages. And the rate of approvals is slowing despite government promises, according to the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA).

It said that the start of a third inquiry into one project in Norfolk that has already been delayed for seven years showed that the government has not cured the problem despite introducing the Planning Act to speed up the process.

Meanwhile Centrica, owner of British Gas and one of the most powerful energy utilities, said a 250-megawatt scheme off the Lincolnshire coast was hanging in the balance because turbine manufacturers and other suppliers had raised their prices so high they were jeopardising the economics of the scheme.

With Britain committed to producing 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 to meet European Union targets, the government would be blown off course unless it intervened more robustly, said the BWEA.

"The government does not want the political problems of undermining local democracy by taking control out of the hands of local councillors," said Charles Anglin, director of communications at the BWEA. "But if it fails to act it is just storing up more difficult problems further down the road when it gives the go-ahead to coal or expensive gas projects instead."

To meet the 15% target, the BWEA estimates that Britain needs more than 30GW of wind capacity. "We think you can get 20GW offshore, which means you need 10-12GW onshore, and yet so far we have only got 2.5GW," Anglin said.

"We are aware that the planning system does need to be quicker and there are other barriers to projects," said a department of energy and climate change spokesman. "That is why we are going to unveil a renewable energy strategy with the next steps to meeting our goals."

The planning problem is highlighted by the battle waged by Ecotricity at Shipdham in Norfolk over a wind farm application submitted in December 2001. The company has won two planning inquiries only to find the final decision challenged in the high court by two local residents claiming potential noise problems.

The Planning Act applies only to schemes in England - and then only those over 50MW. "Eighty to 90% of the schemes in England are under 50MW anyway so the Planning Act does virtually nothing," Anglin said.

Offshore operators are also struggling because of the mounting costs that have already chased Shell and BP off to the US.

The cost of Centrica's 250MW Lincs wind farm off Skegness has increased from £2bn to £3bn a GW. "We are committed to building wind farms," said a company spokesman, "but we have got to get the costs down to an economic level."

Source - The Guardian

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Japan launches first solar cargo ship

The world's first cargo ship partly propelled by solar power took to the seas on Friday in Japan, aiming to cut fuel costs and carbon emissions when automakers ship off their exports.

Auriga Leader, a freighter developed by shipping line Nippon Yusen K.K. and oil distributor Nippon Oil Corp., took off from a shipyard in the western city of Kobe, officials of the two firms said.

The huge freighter capable of carrying 6,400 automobiles is equipped with 328 solar panels at a cost of 150 million yen (1.68 million dollars), the officials said.

The ship will initially transport vehicles being sent for sale overseas by Japan's top automaker Toyota Motor Corp. The project was conceived before the global economic crisis, which has forced automakers to drastically cut production as sales dwindle.

Company officials said the 60,213-tonne, 200-metre (660-foot) long ship is the first large vessel in the world with a solar-based propulsion system. So far solar energy has been limited to supporting lighting and crew's living quarters.

The solar power system can generate 40 kilowatts, which would initially cover only 0.2 percent of the ship's energy consumption for propulsion, but company officials said they hoped to raise the ratio.

The shipping industry has come under growing pressure to take part in efforts to curb global warming, which is blamed on carbon emissions.

Estimates say maritime transport accounts for anything from 1.4 percent to 4.5 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions. But the industry remains largely unregulated due to its international nature.

Nippon Yusen, Japan's largest shipping company, has set a goal of halving its fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions by 2010.

Resource-poor Japan has been looking for ways to reduce its dependency on foreign oil.

Source - Solardaily

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Swiss engineer completes first world tour in solar-powered car

A Swiss engineer completed Thursday the first ever round-the-world trip in a solar-powered car after more than 17 months on the road during which he crossed almost 40 countries.

Louis Palmer, 36, arrived back in Lucerne in central Switzerland in his "solar taxi" after covering 53,451 kilometres (33,213 miles) over four continents.

Since his departure on July 3 2007, he travelled through eastern Europe, the Middle East and India before heading to New Zealand, Australia, southeast Asia and China and finally the United States.

He finished his trip after a detour through France, England, Scandinavia and Germany.

"We have achieved our first world tour without using a single drop of oil," Palmer rejoiced at the end of his trip.

The three-wheeler solar taxi, which towed a trailer packed with batteries charged by the sun, reached speeds of 90 kilometres (55 miles) per hour. It had a battery for travel in the night and in cloudy conditions.

"One of my goals was to persuade as many people as possible that renewable energy is ecological, economical and reliable," Palmer told reporters.

His vehicle only broke down twice during the tour, he said, and surmounted the extreme heat in the Middle East and the hazardous terrain in America's Rocky mountains.

The small blue-and-white vehicle carried around 1,000 passengers, including United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Palmer has previously said the prototype for the solar taxi could be mass produced but that it would need serious modifications.

He said he plans to travel around the world in 80 days for his next challenge, but in a faster car.

Source - Solar daily

Obama's revolution on climate change

Barack Obama ushered in a revolution in America's response to global warming yesterday when he appointed one of the world's leading climate change experts as his administration's chief scientist.

The president-elect's decision to make Harvard physicist John Holdren director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reveals a new determination to draw a line under eight years of US policy that have seen George Bush steadfastly reject overwhelming evidence of climate change.

News of the appointment was hailed by scientists around the world, including former UK chief government scientific adviser Sir David King. "This is a superb appointment," he told the Observer. "Holdren is a top-rate scientist and his position on climate change is as clear as you could get. This is a signal from Barack Obama that he means business when it comes to dealing with global warming."

Obama also used his weekend radio address to announce that respected climatologist Jane Lubchenco is to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The appointments follow Obama's selection of Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinner, to the Department of Energy, where he has been directed to lead the development of alternative energy sources.

"Today, more than ever before, science holds the key to our survival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation," Obama announced. "It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and ... worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology."

In one telling remark, he added that respect for the scientific process was not "just about providing investment and resources. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted nor obscured by politics nor ideology."

Obama's appointments are outspoken proponents of the need for urgent action over climate change, and they come after eight years of inaction, during which the Bush administration resisted international emission-reduction accords and the introduction of US laws to protect threatened species.

Holdren, whose expertise runs from nuclear-weapons proliferation to global warming, recently warned in a speech at Harvard that he considered "global warming" to be a misnomer. "It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those. There is already widespread harm ... occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren."

As he pointed out, new figures point to a rapid acceleration in the loss of Arctic sea ice, as well as dramatic acidification of the ocean.

With the international community looking to America for leadership, Obama has made it clear that, despite the global economic crisis, the success of his presidency will hinge on a revolution in America's use and production of carbon-based energy. The selection of marine expert Lubchenco underscores that. She has warned that even if the world abruptly shifts away from fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to soak up carbon dioxide and become more acidic. She recommends protecting marine life by reducing overfishing, cutting back on nutrient run-off and creating marine reserves to protect marine eco-systems.

"The Bush administration has not been respectful of the science," she said earlier this year. "I am very much looking forward to a new administration that does respect scientific information and considers it very seriously in making environmental policies."

In another signal of his determination to move on the environment, Obama appointed Carol M Browner as his climate tsar last week. She was quoted as saying: "Time and time again, when the nation has set a new environmental standard, the naysayers have warned it will cost too much. But, once we have set those standards, American ingenuity and innovation have found a solution at a far lower cost than predicted."

For Obama, the creation of this green team is part of a broader push toward economic and environmental self-enlightenment. He has expressed hope that engaging technology with environmental and energy policy will lead to significant job creation.

Source - The guardian

Peak oil in 2020, says energy agency

Global oil production will peak much earlier than expected amid a collapse in petroleum investment due to the credit crunch, one of the world’s foremost experts has revealed.

Fatih Birol, chief economist to the International Energy Agency, told the Guardian that conventional crude output could plateau in 2020, a development that was “not good news” for a world still heavily dependent on petroleum.

The prediction came as oil companies from Saudi Arabia to Canada cut their capital expenditure on new projects in response to a fall in oil prices, moves that will further reduce supply in future.

Birol’s comments will give more ammunition to those who warn that the British government is dangerously complacent in not trying to wean the country off oil as quickly as possible. Some observers believe that, because the global economy is underpinned by oil, the peaking of supply will cause severe economic, social and political disruption unless prepared for over many years.

John Hemming, chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, said Birol’s “conversion” was significant. “The penny has finally dropped - geological issues matter as well as political and economic. The IEA - unlike our government - appears to be leaving cloud cuckoo land finally,” he added.

The IEA has never before been specific about the point at which so-called conventional oil would peak. It said last month that total crude output could peak in 2030. Birol’s comments follow other signs that the IEA is rapidly changing its view. In its 2007 World Energy Outlook, the IEA predicted a rate of decline from the world’s existing oil fields at 3.7%, only to admit 12 months later that the speed of the fall was more likely 6.7%.

Jeremy Leggett, chief executive of solar energy company Solarcentury, said Birol’s views underplayed the scale of the problem. “The IEA is very constrained in what it can say - by the demands of its constituent governments - so you have to read between the lines. We believe that peak oil will come about in 2013 at the latest but the real concern from the IEA is the adjustment of production figures,” he said.

The energy agency, which represents most western governments including the UK and US, has been backtracking rapidly on previous positions.

Three years ago the Paris-based organisation still denied there was any fundamental threat to the world’s petroleum economy.

Source - The guardian

Monday, 15 December 2008

Obama to present new climate change team

President-elect Barack Obama was set Monday to name his energy and environmental chiefs and vow a new dawn for US leadership against climate change after eight years of Republican "denial."

After talks with his national security team, Obama was to name more cabinet lieutenants at a news conference where he was also facing questions over Illinois's scandal-hit governor.

Obama's transition team said the press conference in Chicago would "discuss the nation's energy and environmental future."

Obama was reportedly to nominate Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu as his energy secretary, placing the expert in renewable energy on the frontlines of climate change policy.

Joining Chu in Obama's new team was expected to be Lisa Jackson, chief of staff to the New Jersey governor, as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama was further to announce that Carol Browner, who served as EPA administrator under president Bill Clinton, would become the White House "climate czar" overseeing the battle against global warming.

And Nancy Sutley, a senior adviser to Obama's transition team, was expected to be named chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Last week, after a meeting with former vice president Al Gore, Obama said the "time for denial is over" on climate change.

"We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way," he said.

"That is what I intend my administration to do."

Despite an economic recession hitting the United States, Obama is promising to unwind the environmental policies of President George W. Bush, whose refusal to ratify the Kyoto pact on climate change disgusted green campaigners.

Chu, a scientist and Washington outsider, won his Nobel in 1997. Since 2004 he has been running the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, which has a budget of 645 million dollars and a staff of 4,000.

As energy secretary, Chu is expected to lead Obama's ambitious agenda to generate 2.5 million new jobs through "green" and new technologies aimed at making America more energy efficient and less reliant on foreign oil.

Jackson, who trained as a chemical engineer, is likely to restore teeth to the EPA, which during the Bush administration saw its funding slashed, scientific findings censored, and enforcement efforts downplayed.

In one notorious example, the EPA backed off a finding that said climate change was a risk to public welfare. The findings would have led to the nation's first mandatory global-warming regulations.

Despite the costs to industry as the US recession bites, Obama has promised to set caps on domestic emissions of greenhouse gases and reposition the United States in the vanguard of international action.

At UN climate talks in Poland last week, many delegates were delighted at the passing of the Bush administration as the international community attempts to craft a successor to the Kyoto pact.

"This climate conference will go down in history as the retirement party for the Flat Earth Society of the United States of America," said Edward Markey, the senior lawmaker on climate change issues in the House of Representatives.

But analysts also warn against over-expectations. Obama's room to manoeuvre may be limited by the US recession and also the limited time before the deadline of December 2009 for completing a new UN climate treaty.

Source - terra daily

Australia fast-tracks renewable energy funding

Australia will bring forward millions of dollars in funding for solar and other renewable energy sources, in part to help boost the economy, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Sunday.
solar, renewable energy sources, australia, carbon pollution, environmental
Rudd said the government's 500 million dollar (329 million US) renewable energy fund will now be spent over the next 18 months rather than spread over six years as previously planned.

"It's time for Australia to begin the solar revolution, a renewable energy revolution and we have got to fund it for the future" he told reporters in his home state of Queensland.

"It's good for jobs, it's good for stimulus, it's good for acting on climate change."

The Australian government is due to reveal Monday its targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming.

Environmental groups have argued that the government must ensure carbon pollution is slashed by 25 percent by 2020 but industry and business groups have contended that this will be too high.

Source - Solar daily

Friday, 12 December 2008

Barack Obama's choice of energy team signals climate change intent

Barack Obama has picked an energy team that includes a Nobel Laureate obsessed with fighting global warming and an acolyte of Al Gore — a clear sign that he intends to move quickly on climate change legislation despite the dire economy.

Mr Obama has chosen as his Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics and who in recent years has devoted himself to the cause of inventing alternative fuels.

The President-elect has also created a new post, a White House overseer of energy, environmental and climate policy — already known as an "energy tsar" — who will be responsible for driving his agenda on Capitol Hill. For this, he has picked Carol Browner, a former legislative director to Al Gore.

The choices, and the fact that Mr Obama is intent on co-ordinating environmental policy from inside the White House, underscores his intent to push ahead with his hugely ambitions and expensive plan to create alternative fuels, and reduce carbon emissions, despite the fierce resistance that will inevitably come from US industry.

Mr Obama is in fact exploiting the economic crisis as a way to justify much of his legislative agenda. He is arguing that economic recovery is tied implicitly to big reforms in areas such as healthcare, the environment and schools, and he appears to have a Democratic-controlled Congress willing to fund much of it.

Yesterday, as he announced Tom Daschle, the Democrats' former leader in the Senate, as his Health Secretary, Mr Obama said: "Now, some may ask how, at this moment of economic challenge, we can afford to invest in reforming our healthcare system. Well, I ask a different question — I ask how we can afford not to."

Mr Chu, 60, the son of Chinese immigrants, has been director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California since 2004. On his website, he says it has been his "mission" to make the facility the world leader in finding alternative and renewable energy sources. He views a shift away from fossil fuels central to fighting global warming.

On Tuesday, Mr Obama had a meeting in Chicago with Mr Gore, declaring afterwards: "The time for denial is over." He added, referring to climate change: "This is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my Administration to do."

Source - The times

Europe agrees energy targets for 2020

Targets for 20 per cent of Europe’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 were agreed after EU countries decided to reduce the role of biofuels over concerns about the impact of growing crops for fuel in developing countries.

In concessions to smooth the deal EU states that cannot afford to meet their own individual renewable energy targets will be able to outsource some of their efforts by sponsoring green projects in other countries or buying credits from those countries that have exceeded the goal.

Instead of a parallel target proposed last year for 10 per cent of transport fuel to come from biofuels, this goal will now include all methods of sustainable transport such as electric cars and trains, while aviation will be exempt, meeting concerns from Britain that fuel technology would not be ready in time.

Renewable energy targets are a major part of the EU’s massive climate change package, due to be signed off by leaders from the 27 nations at a summit in Brussels later this week. Each country will have its own share of the overall goal, with Britain obliged to move to 15 per cent of renewable energy from 3 per cent this year — a target expected to mean that more than 30 per cent of electricity will have to come from renewable sources, with thousands more wind turbines needed.

The only outstanding point of disagreement on the renewables package is Italy’s demand for a full review in 2014, which will be debated by EU leaders at their summit on Thursday and Friday. In another concession, EU countries that exceed their individual renewable target will be able to sell the premium to an EU member struggling to meet its own target.

But fierce wrangling is still going on over another key plank, the emissions trading scheme, with a group of eastern EU countries heavily dependent on coal power, led by Poland, arguing for big subsidies from western European nations.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission President, said that he hoped for a comprehensive deal including emission trading, which could then be extended to include North America. “If we reach agreement this week, we should propose a transatlantic emission market which should be the basis for a global carbon market,” he said.

In Poznan, Poland, where UN climate talks are under way, green groups were broadly content with the EU deal on renewable energy but voiced alarm at another part of the 2020 climate package to be agreed at the Brussels summit, so-called effort sharing.

This sets energy use reduction targets for sectors, accounting for 55 per cent of EU emissions, that are not covered by trading in carbon emissions, including agriculture, transport and households.

A coalition of environmental groups called this a farce because polluters could offset as much as two-thirds of their emissions by investing in clean-technology projects in poor countries.

“This proposal, steered by the self-interest of EU member states, sets the bar far too low,” said the coalition, called the Climate Action Network .

Source - The times

Wal-Mart And SunPower Announce Solar Power On Californian Store

Wal-Mart Stores and SunPower have announced completion of a 554-kilowatt solar power system at the Wal-Mart store in Hanford, California. The system is estimated to generate approximately 15 percent of the store's electricity.

This Hanford store is part of a Wal-Mart pilot project to purchase solar power systems from SunPower and other solar providers for up to 22 Wal-Mart stores, Sam's Club locations and distribution centers in California and Hawaii.

It is expected these solar power systems at Wal-Mart's facilities will replace 7,000 to 8,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The systems help move Wal-Mart towards its long-term goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy, and will provide immediate cost savings over current utility rates.

"This project helps move Wal-Mart forward in our commitment to conserve energy, reduce energy costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions," said Kim Saylors-Laster, vice president of energy for Wal-Mart Stores.

"We are very pleased with SunPower's work on the Hanford solar project and on all of our facilities on which they are building solar power systems."

The Hanford Wal-Mart store, as well as the nearby Wal-Mart distribution center in Porterville, are two of eight Wal-Mart facilities in California to receive SunPower solar power systems, totaling 4.2 megawatts, by the end of this year.

The other six Wal-Mart facilities included in the SunPower contract are located in Chino, Simi Valley, Brea, Orange and Lakewood and Palmdale.

"Companies like Wal-Mart are turning to solar power because it makes good business sense and supports their environmental initiatives," said Tom Werner, chief executive officer of SunPower.

"Companies turn to SunPower because we have the most efficient solar technology in the world, and unparalleled experience in delivering high quality solar power installations anywhere and at any scale, from rooftops to parking structures to power plants."

Wal-Mart plans to use the results of the solar power pilot project to explore additional ways to achieve its renewable energy goals and to determine how to move forward with solar power generation at additional Wal-Mart locations.

Source - Solardaily

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Go-ahead for wind farm puts Wales on track to meet clean energy targets

Wales took the biggest step yet towards its target to become the UK's leader in renewable energy yesterday when the government granted permission for a 750MW wind farm off the north coast which, when finished in 2014, will be the second largest in the world.

The Gwynt y Môr wind farm, to be built by the energy company Npower Renewables, will be eight miles off the coast of north Wales and, at maximum capacity, will be capable of generating enough power for the annual needs of more than 700,000 homes; it will be second only to the proposed 1GW London Array wind farm.

In February the Welsh assembly's environment and energy minister, Jane Davidson, announced a target to source all of Wales' electricity from clean sources by 2025. More than 30% of the carbon emissions from Wales come from electricity generation and, in a report on how to maintain supply while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the Welsh government said it wanted at least 1GW each of onshore and offshore wind farms (possibly rising to 2GW of onshore wind) as well as biomass plants. Further clean power could come from the proposed Severn barrage, a scheme to harness tidal energy that could generate up to 5% of the UK's electricity needs.

Ed Miliband, the energy and climate change secretary, said the North Wales coast could become a powerhouse for renewable energy. "The UK must clean up its energy supply to fight the damaging effects of climate change and more wind power will help us do this. The UK is leading the world in offshore wind, and the developments off the coast of North Wales will help keep us frontrunners."

In October the UK overtook Denmark as the world's leader in generating power from offshore wind farms. Energy company Centrica's completion of the 194MW wind farm off the coast at Skegness, Lincolnshire, brought the UK's total built offshore capacity to 590MW, compared with Denmark's 423MW.

Neil Crumpton, energy campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said Gwynt y Môr was an important step for Wales. "Projects like this are urgently needed to help tackle the immense threat of climate change and create new jobs. Gwynt y Môr will boost the green energy revolution, and cut carbon dioxide emissions by around 2m tonnes a year."

A spokesman for the British Wind Energy Association said Gwynt y Môr brought the total offshore wind projects in planning stages to 4.5GW. "It will also set us well on our way towards reaching our 2020 renewable energy targets. The offshore sector remains vibrant."

Npower Renewables, owned by energy giant RWE Innogy, already operates the UK's first big wind farm, the 60MW North Hoyle array, off the coast of Rhyl in north Wales. This feeds 40,000 households with 30 turbines. The company is also constructing a second wind farm, Rhyl Flats, which is rated at 90MW and will become operational next year.

The Gwynt y Môr farm will consist of an array of 3MW and 5MW turbines with rotor blades of up to 130m. Construction will begin in 2011 and last for three years.

Greenpeace's chief scientist, Doug Parr, said: "Our country has some of the best engineers in the world, a highly skilled manufacturing sector as well as the most powerful renewable resources in Europe. This is a big step forward, and it now needs to be followed up by an ambitious government strategy to unlock the massive potential of offshore wind to secure our energy supplies, fight climate change and create thousands of new British jobs."

Paul Cowling, managing director of Npower Renewables, said: "The decision underlines the government's commitment to massively expanding renewable energy generation in the UK to help tackle climate change and improve security of energy supply. We are equally dedicated to these aims, with RWE Innogy committed to spending around €1bn across Europe on renewables every year until 2012."

Source - The Guardian

ICP Solar Wins Business In Africa

ICP Solar Technologies has announced that the Company has signed an agreement worth $500,000 for off-grid modules in Africa. Deliveries are expected to begin in January, 2009.

"We are very pleased to announce our first sales to Africa in years, where demand for solar systems has climbed rapidly in the past twelve months," said Sass Peress, Chairman and CEO of ICP Solar.

"We will be providing our proprietary modules for remote power generation in areas where, given the lack of reliable electricity but continuous availability of sunshine, we will make it possible for thousands of individuals to use portable power products and operate critically-needed equipment. These sales represent our re-entry into a market that will become a key part of our expansion in 2009, leveraging our innovative line of thin-film applications to harness the power of the sun.

"Combined with other announcements during the past two months, ICP Solar has already secured over $5 million of business for the upcoming fiscal year - a record for the company at this stage of the contract confirmation season. Considering that we will also be launching several new products in the coming quarters, we remain very well positioned for 2009."

Source - Solardaily

UK - Support solar panels now

The introduction of solar panels feed-in tariffs to the energy bill may not sound enthralling. Yet it is raising blood pressure among green groups, politicians and government officials alike.

Liberal Democrat, Conservative and backbench Labour MPs, along with environmental groups, have been calling for a tariff to offer incentives for households, businesses and communities to generate energy from renewable sources (such as solar panels, wind or biomass) and feed it back into the national grid.

This would move us towards our target of generating 15% of UK energy from renewable sources by 2020. We are currently hovering around 2%, lagging behind all of Europe except Malta and Luxembourg. We need all the incentives we can employ.

Germany introduced a feed-in tariff in 1990 and has seen its renewable energy market soar. Domestic turnover in 2007 was €25bn, with 250,000 people employed in the renewables sector. This is exactly the kind of boost that we need, particularly if recession continues to bite.

The good news is that the government has finally introduced a power in the bill to create solar panels feed-in tariffs. Yet collective blood pressure is still high, as the concession is too vague to offer certainty that they will be set up within the next two years, or introduced in a workable form. The power is deliberately broad to give officials space to work out the details later.

Energy minister Lord Hunt of Kings Heath demonstrated the government’s lack of urgency, saying: “Our hope is that a feed-in tariff scheme will be operational in 2010 … I have to say that this is a hope, and I cannot give that as an absolute commitment … ”

His commitment to a renewable heat incentive was even vaguer. Almost half the UK’s carbon emissions are generated through heat, yet the minister could not even promise to make a start on the detail by 2010.

In August a campaign was launched to highlight the serious risk of a climate change “tipping point” in 100 months. Every day that we dither and delay is another day closer to that tipping point where we can no longer stop irreversible climate change.

We need to start doing government in a new way. There is no time for yet another consultation, another green paper, or another review. Far better to get a tariff up and running, and then refine it as we go along. If we wait until the mechanism is perfect, it will never happen. And we can draw on the wisdom of schemes that have already been set up in other countries.

Now is the time to pull out the stops and ensure that feed-in tariffs are up and running within 12 months. Any less is not enough.

Source - The Guardian

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Solar Thermal Market Growing

The Solar Thermal Systems (STS) market for hot water and heating has changed considerably over the past few years in Europe as market shares spread into new countries. In 2003, close to 80% of the solar thermal market in operation was concentrated in Germany, Greece and Austria.

Just a few years later, these same countries only hold 55%, making room for countries like Spain, Italy and France that previously only held about 10% of the total market share each. Now France, Italy and Spain are among the fastest growing solar thermal markets in Europe.

Supported by government legislation, consumer attitudes, and manufacturers' increasing production, Frost and Sullivan believes this combination is a strong predictor of medium and long term market growth.

"Within the past few years, all circumstances are very encouraging for the continuation of the STS growth in the European market. This growth is no longer exclusively ensured by a few leading countries, such as Germany and Austria, but by new countries like Spain, Italy, and France, and even Portugal and the UK," notes Frost and Sullivan Hammam Ahmed, Research Analyst.

Motivated by meeting their national and international commitments to decrease dependency on fossil fuel and create more jobs, many European governments are spurring on domestic markets through a number of incentive programmes, providing support for R and D, and raising public awareness. The solar thermal market is being increasingly supported by these governments.

Financial incentives, lessoning the burden of petitioning for building permission are ways governments have been stimulating STS growth. At times European governments have gone as far as introducing new legislation that requires or goads installing solar systems in buildings, either under construction or being renovated. By softening regulations, governments will continue to have a positive impact in the long term.

Customer attitudes about solar thermal systems are also becoming more optimistic. The combination of solar thermal systems becoming more affordable and noticeably cutting customers' energy bills has improved the public perception of this technology.

Public support is directly related to the growth of the STS market, as the largest sector is residential, especially single family homes, which account for almost 80% of the total market. As the public continues to search for affordable and effective alternative energy, the residential sector will continue to grow as public support does.

Finally, over the past few years many solar thermal system manufacturers significantly increased their production. These expansions are not exclusive to solar thermal system manufacturers, but traditional heating suppliers are also getting a piece of the action and including solar thermal systems in their range.

In his research, Hammam Ahmed gives an example from the UK, where some boiler manufacturers are starting to include solar thermal system along with their products, as a supplement. This kind of promotion further propels the STS market forward.

In the past five years, the STS market has overcome a lot of change and, even in the midst of a receding global economy, seems unscathed. Considering all of the elements that shape the STS market, future growth is widely anticipated.

Source - Solardaily

Time to invest in renewable technology

Myth 1: solar panels is too expensive to be of much use

In reality, today’s bulky and expensive solar panels capture only 10% or so of the sun’s energy, but rapid innovation in the US means that the next generation of panels will be much thinner, capture far more of the energy in the sun’s light and cost a fraction of what they do today. They may not even be made of silicon. First Solar, the largest manufacturer of thin panels, claims that its products will generate electricity in sunny countries as cheaply as large power stations by 2012.

Other companies are investigating even more efficient ways of capturing the sun’s energy, for example the use of long parabolic mirrors to focus light on to a thin tube carrying a liquid, which gets hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. Spanish and German companies are installing large-scale solar power plants of this type in North Africa, Spain and the south-west of America; on hot summer afternoons in California, solar power stations are probably already financially competitive with coal. Europe, meanwhile, could get most of its electricity from plants in the Sahara desert. We would need new long-distance power transmission but the technology for providing this is advancing fast, and the countries of North Africa would get a valuable new source of income.

Myth 2: Large-scale wind power is too unreliable

Actually, during some periods earlier this year the wind provided almost 40% of Spanish power. Parts of northern Germany generate more electricity from wind than they actually need. Northern Scotland, blessed with some of the best wind speeds in Europe, could easily generate 10% or even 15% of the UK’s electricity needs at a cost that would comfortably match today’s fossil fuel prices.

The intermittency of wind power does mean that we would need to run our electricity grids in a very different way. To provide the most reliable electricity, Europe needs to build better connections between regions and countries; those generating a surplus of wind energy should be able to export it easily to places where the air is still. The UK must invest in transmission cables, probably offshore, that bring Scottish wind-generated electricity to the power-hungry south-east and then continue on to Holland and France. The electricity distribution system must be Europe-wide if we are to get the maximum security of supply.

We will also need to invest in energy storage. At the moment we do this by
pumping water uphill at times of surplus and letting it flow back down the mountain when power is scarce. Other countries are talking of developing “smart grids” that provide users with incentives to consume less electricity when wind speeds are low. Wind power is financially viable today in many countries, and it will become cheaper as turbines continue to grow in size, and manufacturers drive down costs. Some projections see more than 30% of the world’s electricity eventually coming from the wind. Turbine manufacture and installation are also set to become major sources of employment, with one trade body predicting that the sector will generate 2m jobs worldwide by 2020.

Myth 3: marine energy is a dead-end

The thin channel of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and Orkney contains some of the most concentrated tidal power in the world. The energy from the peak flows may well be greater than the electricity needs of London. Similarly, the waves off the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal are strong, consistent and able to provide a substantial fraction of the region’s power. Designing and building machines that can survive the harsh conditions of fast-flowing ocean waters has been challenging and the past decades have seen repeated disappointments here and abroad. This year we have seen the installation of the first tidal turbine to be successfully connected to the UK electricity grid in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, and the first group of large-scale wave power generators 5km off the coast of Portugal, constructed by a Scottish company.

But even though the UK shares with Canada, South Africa and parts of South America some of the best marine energy resources in the world, financial support has been trifling. The London opera houses have had more taxpayer money than the British marine power industry over the past few years. Danish support for wind power helped that country establish worldwide leadership in the building of turbines; the UK could do the same with wave and tidal power.

Myth 4: nuclear power is cheaper than other low-carbon sources of electricity

If we believe that the world energy and environmental crises are as severe as is said, nuclear power stations must be considered as a possible option. But although the disposal of waste and the proliferation of nuclear weapons are profoundly important issues, the most severe problem may be the high and unpredictable cost of nuclear plants.

The new nuclear power station on the island of Olkiluoto in western Finland is a clear example. Electricity production was originally supposed to start this year, but the latest news is that the power station will not start generating until 2012. The impact on the cost of the project has been dramatic. When the contracts were signed, the plant was supposed to cost €3bn (£2.5bn). The final cost is likely to be more than twice this figure and the construction process is fast turning into a nightmare. A second new plant in Normandy appears to be experiencing similar problems. In the US, power companies are backing away from nuclear because of fears over uncontrollable costs.

Unless we can find a new way to build nuclear power stations, it looks as though CO2 capture at coal-fired plants will be a cheaper way of producing low-carbon electricity. A sustained research effort around the world might also mean that cost-effective carbon capture is available before the next generation of nuclear plants is ready, and that it will be possible to fit carbon-capture equipment on existing coal-fired power stations. Finding a way to roll out CO2 capture is the single most important research challenge the world faces today. The current leader, the Swedish power company Vattenfall, is using an innovative technology that burns the coal in pure oxygen rather than air, producing pure carbon dioxide from its chimneys, rather than expensively separating the CO2 from other exhaust gases. It hopes to be operating huge coal-fired power stations with minimal CO2 emissions by 2020.

Myth 5: electric cars are slow and ugly

We tend to think that electric cars are all like the G Wiz vehicle, with a limited range, poor acceleration and an unprepossessing appearance. Actually, we are already very close to developing electric cars that match the performance of petrol vehicles. The Tesla electric sports car, sold in America but designed by Lotus in Norfolk, amazes all those who experience its awesome acceleration. With a price tag of more than $100,000, late 2008 probably wasn’t a good time to launch a luxury electric car, but the Tesla has demonstrated to everybody that electric cars can be exciting and desirable. The crucial advance in electric car technology has been in batteries: the latest lithium batteries - similar to the ones in your laptop - can provide large amounts of power for acceleration and a long enough range for almost all journeys.

Batteries still need to become cheaper and quicker to charge, but the UK’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles says that advances are happening faster than ever before. Its urban delivery van has a range of over 100 miles, accelerates to 70mph and has running costs of just over 1p per mile. The cost of the diesel equivalent is probably 20 times as much. Denmark and Israel have committed to develop the full infrastructure for a switch to an all-electric car fleet. Danish cars will be powered by the spare electricity from the copious resources of wind power; the Israelis will provide solar power harvested from the desert.

Myth 6: biofuels are always destructive to the environment

Making some of our motor fuel from food has been an almost unmitigated disaster. It has caused hunger and increased the rate of forest loss, as farmers have sought extra land on which to grow their crops. However the failure of the first generation of biofuels should not mean that we should reject the use of biological materials forever. Within a few years we will be able to turn agricultural wastes into liquid fuels by splitting cellulose, the most abundant molecule in plants and trees, into simple hydrocarbons. Chemists have struggled to find a way of breaking down this tough compound cheaply, but huge amounts of new capital have flowed into US companies that are working on making a petrol substitute from low-value agricultural wastes. In the lead is Range Fuels, a business funded by the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, which is now building its first commercial cellulose cracking plant in Georgia using waste wood from managed forests as its feedstock.

We shouldn’t be under any illusion that making petrol from cellulose is a solution to all the problems of the first generation of biofuels. Although cellulose is abundant, our voracious needs for liquid fuel mean we will have to devote a significant fraction of the world’s land to growing the grasses and wood we need for cellulose refineries. Managing cellulose production so that it doesn’t reduce the amount of food produced is one of the most important issues we face.

Myth 7: climate change means we need more organic agriculture

The uncomfortable reality is that we already struggle to feed six billion people. Population numbers will rise to more than nine billion by 2050. Although food production is increasing slowly, the growth rate in agricultural productivity is likely to decline below population increases within a few years. The richer half of the world’s population will also be eating more meat. Since animals need large amounts of land for every unit of meat they produce, this further threatens food production for the poor. So we need to ensure that as much food as possible is produced on the limited resources of good farmland. Most studies show that yields under organic cultivation are little more than half what can be achieved elsewhere. Unless this figure can be hugely improved, the implication is clear: the world cannot feed its people and produce huge amounts of cellulose for fuels if large acreages are converted to organic cultivation.

Myth 8: zero carbon homes are the best way of dealing with greenhouse gas emissions from buildings

Buildings are responsible for about half the world’s emissions; domestic housing is the most important single source of greenhouse gases. The UK’s insistence that all new homes are “zero carbon” by 2016 sounds like a good idea, but there are two problems. In most countries, only about 1% of the housing stock is newly built each year. Tighter building regulations have no effect on the remaining 99%. Second, making a building genuinely zero carbon is extremely expensive. The few prototype UK homes that have recently reached this standard have cost twice as much as conventional houses.

Just focusing on new homes and demanding that housebuilders meet extremely high targets is not the right way to cut emissions. Instead, we should take a lesson from Germany. A mixture of subsidies, cheap loans and exhortation is succeeding in getting hundreds of thousands of older properties eco-renovated each year to very impressive standards and at reasonable cost. German renovators are learning lessons from the PassivHaus movement, which has focused not on reducing carbon emissions to zero, but on using painstaking methods to cut emissions to 10 or 20% of conventional levels, at a manageable cost, in both renovations and new homes. The PassivHaus pioneers have focused on improving insulation, providing far better air-tightness and warming incoming air in winter, with the hotter stale air extracted from the house. Careful attention to detail in both design and building work has produced unexpectedly large cuts in total energy use. The small extra price paid by householders is easily outweighed by the savings in electricity and gas. Rather than demanding totally carbon-neutral housing, the UK should push a massive programme of eco-renovation and cost-effective techniques for new construction.

Myth 9: the most efficient power stations are big

Large, modern gas-fired power stations can turn about 60% of the energy in fuel into electricity. The rest is lost as waste heat.

Even though 5-10% of the electricity will be lost in transmission to the user, efficiency has still been far better than small-scale local generation of power. This is changing fast.

New types of tiny combined heat and power plants are able to turn about half the energy in fuel into electricity, almost matching the efficiency of huge generators. These are now small enough to be easily installed in ordinary homes. Not only will they generate electricity but the surplus heat can be used to heat the house, meaning that all the energy in gas is productively used. Some types of air conditioning can even use the heat to power their chillers in summer.

We think that microgeneration means wind turbines or solar panels on the roof, but efficient combined heat and power plants are a far better prospect for the UK and elsewhere. Within a few years, we will see these small power plants, perhaps using cellulose-based renewable fuels and not just gas, in many buildings. Korea is leading the way by heavily subsidising the early installation of fuel cells at office buildings and other large electricity users.

Myth 10: all proposed solutions to climate change need to be hi-tech

The advanced economies are obsessed with finding hi-tech solutions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these are expensive and may create as many problems as they solve. Nuclear power is a good example. But it may be cheaper and more effective to look for simple solutions that reduce emissions, or even extract existing carbon dioxide from the air. There are many viable proposals to do this cheaply around the world, which also often help feed the world’s poorest people. One outstanding example is to use a substance known as biochar to sequester carbon and increase food yields at the same time.

Biochar is an astonishing idea. Burning agricultural wastes in the absence of air leaves a charcoal composed of almost pure carbon, which can then be crushed and dug into the soil. Biochar is extremely stable and the carbon will stay in the soil unchanged for hundreds of years. The original agricultural wastes had captured CO2 from the air through the photosynthesis process; biochar is a low-tech way of sequestering carbon, effectively for ever. As importantly, biochar improves fertility in a wide variety of tropical soils. Beneficial micro-organisms seem to crowd into the pores of the small pieces of crushed charcoal. A network of practical engineers around the tropical world is developing the simple stoves needed to make the charcoal. A few million dollars of support would allow their research to benefit hundreds of millions of small farmers at the same time as extracting large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Source - The guardian

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Homes And Businesses Go Solar With No Upfront Cost

Renewable Funding is now providing a first-in-the-nation financial service allowing property owners to install solar panels and pay for them over 20 years through a voluntary line item on their property tax bills.

The company provides a complete financing and administration package to cities interested in offering this financial product to property owners. The City of Berkeley selected Renewable Funding to finance
and administer its nationally recognized new solar and energy efficiency program.

This innovative financing program, known as CityFIRST, overcomes the principal obstacle that has hindered widespread adoption of solar and energy efficiency projects by homeowners and small businesses -- the daunting upfront cost.

With CityFIRST, owners can afford to install solar installations and major energy efficiency projects and pay for them over 20 years. If the property is subsequently sold, the repayment obligation transfer to the new owner.

"CityFIRST is a game-changer for solar and energy efficiency," said Stephen Compagni Portis, Renewable Funding's founder and chairman.

"With CityFIRST, people are converting their homes and businesses to clean energy with little or no additional cost. We are making it as easy to go solar as it is to pay your utility bill."

CityFIRST is quickly gaining steam as a pillar of government and community based efforts to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Both California and Colorado have passed new state laws enabling any city or county to implement the CityFIRST program. Dozens of cities have announced an interest in replicating the program.

"The CityFIRST program eliminates the most significant roadblock to widespread adoption of solar and energy efficiency. It turns a large upfront capital cost into small incremental payments. I expect hundreds of cities will quickly move to adopt this program," said Professor Daniel Kammen, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory
at UC Berkeley and an advisor to Renewable Funding. Kammen recently highlighted the CityFIRST program in testimony before the U.S. Congress.

Renewable Funding is led by an experienced management team, including Cisco DeVries, Mimi Frusha, and Stephen Compagni Portis.

Source - Solardaily

Texas Renewable Energy Project Of The Year

WorldWater and Solar Technologies has announced that the San Benito, Texas Solar Energy Project - designed, engineered and installed by WorldWater - has been chosen by the Texas Renewable Energy Industries Association (TREIA) as "Texas Renewable Energy Project of the Year."

The award was given out at the recent TREIA annual meeting in Austin, which recognized WorldWater along with its project partners - the City of San Benito, Texas General Land Office, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the North American Development Bank.

The 45 kW solar array is the largest of its kind on the Texas-Mexico border, and was constructed to help power the new water treatment plant for the City of San Benito, Texas. It utilizes 224 ground mounted solar panels that tilt to follow the sun during the course of the day, producing more energy than fixed tilt systems.

The system will produce 75 thousand kWh per year of clean, dependable electricity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by three million pounds, or the equivalent of 3,000 barrels of oil. The project will provide about 10 percent of the power used to filter water at the plant.

"While many of the projects that WorldWater has completed are more significant in size, we are pleased to report that the San Benito project is the largest solar installation of its kind along the Texas-Mexico border," said Frank Smith, CEO, WorldWater and Solar Technologies.

"We hope that flat plate and concentrator solar technology - which we also produce through our subsidiary, ENTECH - will attract more public attention in this geographic area as a viable alternative energy source."

The Texas General Land Office selected San Benito as the site for its border solar showcase project using funds provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The North American Development Bank agreed to monitor the project, intending to incorporate solar energy into future border infrastructure projects.

"We are thrilled to have the opportunity to play a role in the evolution of solar energy technologies," said Moises Madrid, Project Coordinator for the City of San Benito. "Our city is grateful to Soll Sussman and Commissioner Jerry Patterson for working closely with us to see this come to a reality."

Souce - Solardaily

Claim solar panels grants – but do it now

GREEN support services provider eaga is urging local authorities and housing associations across the UK to apply for funding from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme before it runs out next year.

The Government-funded scheme encourages the take up of low and zero-carbon energy sources. It will match fund up to 50% of the cost of installation projects to a maximum value of £1m.

But applications must be made by June 2009 and the cash must be spent by June 2010.

FTSE 250 eaga has considerable experience in facilitating access to the Low Carbon Buildings Programme funds and fitting renewable energy sources such as solar thermal panels.

It has worked with numerous local authorities and housing associations across the UK and has recently helped launch a renewable energy education programme for local students by donating a solar demonstrator panel to Yardleys Science College in Birmingham.

Steve Caseley, managing director of eaga Renewables, said: “The Government recently increased the Climate Change Bill targets for reducing the UK’s greenhouse emissions from 60% to 80% by 2050.

“While this positions the UK at the forefront of efforts to tackle climate change – it will also dramatically ramp up the pressure on local authorities and similar organisations to cut their carbon emissions.

“Securing funds from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme can help meet these demanding targets. Indeed, if organisations get their renewable and low carbon energy management right, they could also tap into exciting opportunities ahead through potential feed in tariffs. Hospitals, for example, could create their own renewable or low-carbon power source and then sell any surplus back to the national grid.

This already happens in other European countries and every indication is that the same will happen here.”

Using the sun as a renewable power source, solar thermal panels can convert enough heat to provide up to 60% of a typical household’s hot water needs. A 4sq m panel can also cut annual CO2 emissions by up to a tonne.

Even in overcast conditions the solar panels can still absorb up to 65% of available energy.

For local authorities and social housing providers they can therefore offer an extremely economical and efficient source of renewable energy, particularly for homes or properties which have no access to mains gas or which are in remote rural areas and hard to reach.

Source - NE Business

Sunday, 16 November 2008

LA's First Solar-Powered, All-Green Urban Community Premieres In Hollywood

Utility costs may be rising, but utility rates will remain at an all-time low at one eco-friendly Southern California community. The Gatsby Hollywood has announced it will be Metro L.A.'s first all solar-powered, all-green urban community.

The enclave is now under construction on the corner of Hollywood's Fountain and Wilcox Avenues. A first for the area, the all-new, single-family-home community offers premier sun-powered features and a Certified California Green Builder stamp of approval.

This collection of 34 detached homes will reduce each resident's carbon footprint, while lowering monthly utility bills by as much as 60%.

The Gatsby Hollywood is planned and developed by MasterCraft Homes. Energy-saving features include solar roof panels that generate clean energy from the sun. The solar panels collect sunlight, which is channeled to an inverter and converted to electricity for household use.

Any unused electricity is fed back into the energy grid and the local utility company may give credit for the unused energy. The captured solar energy actually turns the home's electric meter backwards. This reliable power generation also comes with an included warranty and free internet-based solar panel monitoring for 10 years.

Other home features include Energy Star appliances that reduce green house emissions and Bosch Tankless Electric Water Heaters, which provide water and energy conservation as well as an 82% thermal efficiency rating with up to a 50% reduction in water use.

The Gatsby homes are warm during the winter and cool during the summer, thanks to the benefits of modern technologies, including dual-pane windows with Low-E coating. The homes' environmental insulation maintains even temperatures throughout the residence while cutting heating and cooling costs.

The energy-efficient interior and exterior lighting also conserves energy and reduces electric bills. Other thoughtful green building technologies used throughout the community range from drought-resistant California native plant landscaping and low-emitting building materials to recycled construction waste and lumber culled from managed forests.

The Gatsby Hollywood's all-new California Brownstones offer Southern California homebuyers single-family residences made possible through the Small Lot Subdivision Ordinance.

Adopted by the Los Angeles City Council in 2004, the ordinance allows developers to build new homes on a single land parcel in areas zoned for multifamily housing, which ultimately encourages community development in existing neighborhoods near job centers.

This crucial legislation helps enable builders meet the demand of California's increasing infill housing need.

Source - Solar Daily

Homes And Businesses Go Solar With No Upfront Cost

Renewable Funding is now providing a first-in-the-nation financial service allowing property owners to install solar panels and pay for them over 20 years through a voluntary line item on their property tax bills.

The company provides a complete financing and administration package to cities interested in offering this financial product to property owners. The City of Berkeley selected Renewable Funding to finance and administer its nationally recognized new solar and energy efficiency program.

This innovative financing program, known as CityFIRST, overcomes the principal obstacle that has hindered widespread adoption of solar and energy efficiency projects by homeowners and small businesses -- the daunting upfront cost.

With CityFIRST, owners can afford to install solar installations and major energy efficiency projects and pay for them over 20 years. If the property is subsequently sold, the repayment obligation transfer to the new owner.

"CityFIRST is a game-changer for solar and energy efficiency," said Stephen Compagni Portis, Renewable Funding's founder and chairman.

"With CityFIRST, people are converting their homes and businesses to clean energy with little or no additional cost. We are making it as easy to go solar as it is to pay your utility bill."

CityFIRST is quickly gaining steam as a pillar of government and community based efforts to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Both California and Colorado have passed new state laws enabling any city or county to implement the CityFIRST program. Dozens of cities have announced an interest in replicating the program.

"The CityFIRST program eliminates the most significant roadblock to widespread adoption of solar and energy efficiency. It turns a large upfront capital cost into small incremental payments. I expect hundreds of cities will quickly move to adopt this program," said Professor Daniel Kammen, Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at UC Berkeley and an advisor to Renewable Funding. Kammen recently highlighted the CityFIRST program in testimony before the U.S. Congress.

Renewable Funding is led by an experienced management team, including Cisco DeVries, Mimi Frusha, and Stephen Compagni Portis.

Source - Solar Daily

UK energy blackouts warning

UK Energy experts asked by BBC News warn the UK could face an unacceptable risk of major blackouts in less than 10 years unless policy is improved.

They said the government has dithered for too long over policies vital to energy security and climate security.

But they added that forecasts of an imminent power crisis were far-fetched.

The possible energy gap is being created because of the impending closure before 2015 of nine of our major coal and oil-powered plants.This is due to an EU directive on acid rain. The issue is compounded by the closure of four ageing nuclear plants during the same period.

We do not claim our questionnaire of 30 experts is definitive. But its findings do help to map out the scale of the huge challenge facing the new secretary of energy and climate change.

Experts were, for example, asked: “Under current policies there is an unacceptable risk of major blackouts in the next 10 years?” A total of 13 agreed, nine disagreed, six were undecided and three gave no answer.

Some of the experts surveyed in our questionnaire said any short-term energy gap would be filled by burning gas, which undermines our ambitions on climate change.

Another option would be to lobby the EU to keep the coal stations open, which is also harmful to the climate and, experts say, is a case of throwing good money after bad.

But others said there was an unacceptable risk of blackouts as key elements of policy appeared paralysed or compromised.

Of the 31 experts who took part in our questionnaire, there was a feeling that the government’s long-term ambitions on nuclear won’t be achieved due to a lack of industrial capacity.

And many warn that government renewables targets are unlikely to be hit thanks to a combination of a lack of political will and engineering challenges for offshore wind.

The experts demanded much more urgent action on carbon capture and storage from coal, on which the government is due to make a decision soon.

They also said the UK had to move much more quickly to improve storage of gas in depleted gas fields.

Source - BBC News

PV solar panels installation debate

PV solar panels are one of the least cost-effective ways of combating climate change and will take 100 years to pay back their installation costs, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) warned yesterday.

But as others have pointed out, the calculations failed to assume any rise in energy prices, when a conservative estimate of 10 per cent a year would transform the calculations.

In a new guide on energy efficiency, Rics said that roof panels for heating water and generating power are unlikely to save enough from bills to make them financially viable in a householder’s lifetime. In the case of solar panels to heat water for baths and showers, the institution estimates the payback time from money saved from electricity and gas bills will take more than 100 years – and up to 166 years in the worst case.

Photovoltaic (PV) panels for power – and domestic, mast-mounted wind turbines – will take between 50 and 100 years to pay back.

Given that the devices have a maximum lifetime of 30 years, they are never likely to recoup the £3,000 to £20,000 cost of their installation, according to Rics’ building cost information service. Instead, it suggested people wanting to cut fuel bills should insulate lofts and cavity walls, install efficient light bulbs and seal windows.

Joe Martin, author of Rics’ Greener Homes Prices Guide, said there was an argument for installing solar panels but it was not an economic one. “We wanted to bring some reality to this because there are a lot of missionaries out there. The whole push for household renewable power is that you can do these things and make back money but that’s not true on existing property,” he said.

The solar power industry accused Rics of failing to take account of the rising cost of energy and other financial benefits of renewable power in its figures. Jeremy Leggett, of Solar Century, said: “They are grossly irresponsible.”

Rics assessed the cost, annual savings, disruption and payback time of various energy-saving methods and gave each an overall rating of one to five stars.

Solar panels for heating and power and wind turbines generating between 3kW and 5kW merited two stars. Smaller 1.5kW turbines of the type installed on roofs paid back in 25 years, received a three-star rating.

By contrast, cavity wall insulation had a five-star rating: spending £440 would save £145 a year in fuel bills, paying back in three years, while an investment of £325 in extra loft insulation would save £60 annually, paying back in five years.

The figures were compiled before energy companies put up bills by up to 30 per cent last month and ignore state subsidies.

Last year, the Department for Trade and Industry slashed grants for the installation of household renewable power by 83 per cent, infuriating the fledgling micro-generation industry which complained the move rendered solar panels unaffordable to all but the wealthy.

Jeremy Leggett, executive chairman of Solar Century, complained that Rics’ figures failed to assume any rise in energy prices, when a conservative estimate of 10 per cent a year would transform the calculations.

In addition, Rics had failed to take account of a number of other benefits – renewable obligations certificates worth £160 a year to householders from next year; reductions in energy consumption of up to 40 per cent for schemes with a meter; the rising payments from energy companies for spare electricity put back into the national grid; and the increased value of an energy-efficient home.

He estimated the current payback of power-generating PV panels was 13 years.

Rics countered by saying it had not taken account of maintenance costs and that it deliberately chose not to include “ifs” in its figures. “I doubt however you do the sums, they [solar panels] make sense,” a spokesman said.

Source - The Independent

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Solar panels look brighter with Obama

The election of Barack Obama has put the wind back into the sails of the renewable energy sector, where investor confidence had been badly punctured by the credit crisis. Clean technology and green energy stocks have soared as City analysts predict a major boost from the incoming president.

Solar Integrated Technologies rose by 30% yesterday after increases of 22% by Renewable Energy Corporation and 16% by the wind turbine maker Vestas in the 24 hours before, when they were helped upwards by oil prices returning to above $70 a barrel.

Obama has promised to invest $150bn over 10 years in renewables as part of a wider plan to increase US energy security amid fear of oil shortages, while also reducing the country’s carbon emissions in a bid to tackle global warming - and create jobs during an economic downturn.

Kate Hampton, head of policy at Climate Change Capital, a UK-based investment manager, was one of many who welcomed the poll result as a massive step forward for renewables.

“We cannot overstate how divisive the Bush administration was, how far behind the US now is in the transition to the low-carbon economy and how high expectations are now that Obama is the president-elect,” she said.

Dean Cooper, alternative energy analyst with Ambrian Partners in London, predicted widespread change in the US with production tax credits for the wind industry increased from one year to seven years and a national renewable-energy guideline introduced alongside a cap-and-trade scheme to give more certainty on a carbon price.

The moves come as Britain has recently put more muscle into its low-carbon drive by creating a new government department to cover energy and climate change, while Spain, Germany and other European nations press ahead with their own plans to boost renewables.

The US election result has provided a much-needed boost at a critical time for an emerging investment sector that risked being crushed by the banking crisis and emerging economic recession. Some companies had seen their share prices halve in the turmoil that began in September.

“Since the onset of the most recent phase of the credit crisis, the European wind sector has been battered with an unweighted average decline of 45% compared to a decline of 23% for both the S&P 500 and FTSE Eurofirst 300 over the same period,” said Michael McNamara, analyst at Jefferies & Co, in a research note published at the height of the sell-off.

“Much of this has been linked to fears that wind power developers would see themselves cut off from access to financing due to a toxic combination of a potential global closure of the project finance market and a drying up of demand for tax equity investment in the US.”

Sentiment in the City and Wall Street has steadied since, but the dependence on project finance at a time when the cost of money has soared continues to cast uncertainty over a sector that is also nervous about rising costs and planning delays in countries such as Britain.

Peter Horsburgh, a manager of the Environmental Technologies Fund, said early start-up businesses were going to find it much harder to raise capital and those who had rushed early into a stockmarket listing could find it hard to win secondary tranches of cash.

“Rights issues are going to be incredibly difficult and yet neither is bank lending going to be easy for small and medium-sized firms,” said Horsburgh, who expects his own fund will look at less speculative, “later stage” companies that have defined revenue streams.

In fact, there is nothing new about volatility in the clean tech and green energy sector, with share prices being driven in the past to hugely inflated levels on the back of hyped euphoria that sucked in investors before being rapidly deflated as realism set in.

The dotcom boom surrounding internet stocks was followed in the US at the turn of the century by a bubble in solar and hydrogen companies that soon burst. A similar spike happened in Europe with Vestas among the companies whose future looked in doubt at one stage.

Global solar stocks have suffered since last Christmas over fears of an oversupply of modules and cells, while wind turbine makers have been hit since the highs of the summer by soaring input costs. Confidence in the offshore wind sector in Britain was also dented by Shell’s decision to sell up its interest in the huge London Array project.

Peter Fusaro, chairman of energy consultant Global Change Associates, said the green investment sector remained still relatively small but “fat with hype and fluff”.

But it is also growing. Whereas there were four hedge funds looking at the sector in 2004 there are more than 90 today, while an estimated 4,000 private equity funds are said to be targeting the sector, according to Fusaro.

But the profit margins in many of the renewable sectors are relatively small, making them particularly vulnerable to a serious global economic slowdown and rising inflation. However, Kevin Collins, chief operating officer at the specialist renewables insurer GCube, said he was confident of the long-term value in the sector. He also warned: “Are the banks and lenders going to be in a position to finance projects as they were? We don’t see a massive slow-up in demand yet, but its early days and while renewables will continue to grow it is difficult to say at what rate.”

Many of the pioneers of low-carbon energy are dependent on public subsidy to survive. There is a question over whether bank bail-outs will have drained the state coffers and lead to a slowdown in environmental grants.

France, Germany and Austria have already called for an easing of European Union climate goals to help industries cope better with the downturn. In Washington one Republican senator said, on condition of anonymity, that the green bubble had burst.

“There is a very large question mark hanging over the idea that Congress would take economy-wide action on global warming with the economy in such anaemic shape,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch.

Source - The Guardian

Thursday, 6 November 2008

SolFocus And EMPE Solar Sign Deal For 10MW Project

SolFocus has announced the signing of a US$103 million (euro 80M) agreement with EMPE Solar to install over 10 megawatts (MW) of CPV solar energy projects in several sites across southern Spain by the end of 2010.

SolFocus' CPV systems use a proven combination of high-efficiency PV cells and advanced optics to provide high solar energy yields at competitive costs for commercial, industrial, and utility applications. This project will be the largest deployment of CPV technology in Europe, and will be capable of meeting the domestic energy requirements for a city of approximately 40,000 residents.

"CPV, with its high energy density and output, is an ideal solution for the Spanish market, providing more clean, reliable energy with a small land footprint and low lifetime cost," said Gary D. Conley, CEO and Chairman of SolFocus.

"As we continue to drive down costs towards becoming competitive with fossil fuels, sophisticated partners like EMPE Solar will play a critical role in breaking new ground throughout the Mediterranean."

The SolFocus-EMPE deal comes after SolFocus recently completed two utility-scale CPV projects for the Institute of Concentration Photovoltaic Systems (ISFOC) in Spain. Through the 3 MW ISFOC project, SolFocus demonstrated CPV's ability to scale to aggressive energy production targets while showcasing the overall system reliability and efficiency.

Eduardo Goicoechea and Sebastian Sagues, Partners at EMPE Solar, explain: "EMPE Solar seeks only the most innovative solutions to reduce electricity production costs for our customers. SolFocus has proven its technology's value in our region, and we are confident it will enable us to quickly achieve our cost targets for carbon-free energy."

CPV technology, a rapidly growing disruptive energy technology, is targeted to the high solar resource areas of the world. SolFocus CPV leverages readily available, low-cost materials such as glass and aluminum to provide rapid scalability to hundreds of megawatts of solar electricity.

Using mirrors and advanced reflective optics, SolFocus modules concentrate the sun's rays 500 times onto a small high efficiency solar cell resulting in use of 1/1000 the amount of photovoltaic material used in traditional PV systems.

SolFocus panels are integrated onto an advanced sun-tracking system allowing the systems to produce energy throughout the day, providing ideal delivery to peak demand requirements.

The SolFocus CPV system is 95% recyclable being primarily aluminum and glass. In its first year of operation this 10 megawatt installation will eliminate the generation of 27,000 tons of CO2 emissions which would have resulted from traditional fossil fuel energy generation.

The technology also offers the lowest carbon footprint of any solar energy solution, and capitalizes on mature manufacturing processes and tools such as are used in the automotive and electronics industries.

Souce - Solar daily

Inner-City College Solar Project Major Step Toward Energy Independence

As we find ourselves faced with escalating fuel costs and depleting natural resources, the clamor for answers is growing every day. With its latest inner-city solar project at L.A. Southwest College (LASC), the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD) is doing more than just listening to the call for action -- it is continuing its ambitious move toward ultimately declaring energy independence for the entire district.

LASC's new four (4) megawatt (MW) solar project, which was designed and constructed by Chevron Energy Solutions, marks another major milestone in LACCD's sustained efforts to make its colleges carbon neutral through its Renewable Energy Plan.

This new project also solidifies the District's commitment to "greening" the inner-city, and will serve as a living model for under-served students, allowing them to study renewable technologies as it relates to design, construction, chemistry and physics.

Earlier this year, in partnership with Chevron Energy Solutions, the District unveiled a 1.2 MW project at East L.A. College -- another inner-city campus. Both projects will serve to prepare students for the "green collar" jobs of the 21st century.

When completed, the District's projects will comprise one of the largest urban solar generation facilities in the United States.

"This project is another major push toward our ultimate goal to declare our energy independence and foster awareness of green concepts and technology in traditionally underserved areas," said Dr. Marshall Drummond, chancellor, Los Angeles Community College District.

"We are energized by Southwest's project, as it gives us an exciting chance to highlight the District's commitment to building green and to developing a new pipeline of eco-conscious workers for the green workforce."

The LACCD spends approximately $12 million annually on energy; LASC spent $1.8 million in 2007 alone. The first phase of LASC's green-energy program will allow the College to save the District $280,000 per year and meet all of the school's electric needs by generating more than 5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity.

The photovoltaic farms will consist of two (2) MW arrays mounted atop five carport structures, one (1) MW integrated onto building rooftops and one (1) MW installed on ground-mounted arrays with tracking systems.

In total, the campus will gain four (4) megawatts of solar power, which is expected to offset production of 3,800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually - equivalent to removing 1,050 cars from the road. Both phases of the project are expected to be completed by the end of 2009.

LASC is also going to be utilizing additional green energy technologies, including Urban Wind Generation, which is designed to capture the accelerated wind currents as they sweep between and over campus buildings. Initially, the College is planning on installing a small array of six one (1) kilowatt units, with more units planned over time.

A Geothermal Heat Exchange system will also use the natural constant ambient temperature of the Earth to heat in the winter and cool in the summer. The process works in much the same way as standard air conditioner, except a geothermal system uses water or loop fluid that remains at a constant temperature.

"I'm proud of the steps the District has taken to be a leader in the area of clean energy," said Kelly G. Candaele, president, Board of Trustees, LACCD. "Each energy project we unveil is a tangible symbol of the commitment we have made to operate better as a District and cause less negative impact on our environment
and our future."

LASC is also requesting a $1.4 million financial incentive over a five year period from the California Solar Initiative Program for the Photovoltaic Phase of the program.

The Program offers customers installing up to one (1) MW of solar panels a financial incentive based on performance, which can be used to offset the cost of the system over a five year period. Additional funding will be pursued for the renewable component of the program through State, Federal and Utility agencies.

Through the District's continued partnership with Chevron Energy Solutions, it has been able to meet its energy independence goals. Chevron Energy Solutions has developed hundreds of projects involving energy efficiency or renewable power for education, government and business customers in the U.S. since 2000.

"The Los Angeles Community College District and other educational institutions are using solar projects to reduce their carbon footprint, achieve cost savings and teach their students about renewable energy," said Jim Davis, president of Chevron Energy Solutions. "We are delighted to be a partner in this clean energy program."

Source - Solardaily

Monday, 3 November 2008

UK aims to support solar panels from 2010

The UK says it wants to guarantee a price premium for small producers of renewable power, for example from the wind and sun, from 2010.

The government included the proposals in amendments tabled Wednesday to an energy bill being debated and due to pass into law by December this year.

The plan would support households and communities which install solar panels or small wind turbines on their property.

They would earn a feed-in tariff, which guarantees a price premium for supplying electricity from renewable sources into the national grid.

“We hope to have it available by 2010,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change Thursday.

Britain’s present price support, or renewables obligation (RO), is considered complicated and bureaucratic for small producers, and will be replaced by a feed-in tariff for microgeneration of renewable electricity up to 3 megawatts (MW) — enough to power about 1,500 homes.

The 3 MW cut-off would make feed-in tariffs available for schools, hospitals and communities as well as households.

“We don’t want to tinker with the RO,” the spokeswoman added. Some 95 percent of RO claimants now were above the 3 MW threshold.

The RO forces utilities to get a certain portion of their electricity from renewable sources or else pay a penalty, money which is then used to pay renewable power producers.

Feed-in tariffs have been very effective in boosting the adoption of solar power by households, farmers and communities in Germany. Such tariffs, also very popular in Spain, guarantee a certain power price premium typically for 20-25 years.

The government had not yet decided on the value or duration of a British tariff, the spokeswoman added.

Under EU targets Britain will have to get 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 compared to just 1.3 percent in 2005.

Source - Reuters

Thursday, 30 October 2008

UK energy supply has entered into terminal decline

In recent years, the UK has become increasingly dependent on natural gas as its primary energy source. This strategy may soon be found to be based upon poor assumptions/perceptions regarding development of domestic and neighbouring natural gas reserves and, in general, regional and global supply capabilities.

1. UK marketable nat gas production (also gross) peaked in 2000 close to 110 Gcm/a.
2. During the last three years, UK nat gas production has declined at an annual rate of 8 - 10 %, which many energy analysts expect will continue.
3. Nat gas constituted more than 38 % of the UK primary energy consumption in 2007.
4. Several analyses expect UK to import 80 % of their nat gas consumption by 2020.
5. UK was a net exporter of nat gas for a brief period.

In 2007, more than 38 % of the UK’s primary energy consumption came from nat gas. Of the EU/OECD countries, only Italy has a higher portion of nat gas consumption. In comparison, the USA gets 25 % of its primary energy consumption from natural gas; France, 15 %; and Germany, 24 %.

In general, high nat gas usage is primarily found among countries with huge nat gas reserves like Russia, where nat gas amounted to more than 57 % of primary energy production in 2007. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of nat gas and second largest exporter of oil, so this high domestic usage frees up oil for export. Since oil generates more income than nat gas, based on units of energy exported, this approach maximizes export revenue.

The UK and Continental Europe have both benefitted from the bidirectional Interconnector that since 1998 has allowed for increased flexibility in nat gas supplies. Due to the decline in UK indigenous supplies and a tighter supply situation on Continental Europe, the importance of the Interconnector is expected to slowly diminish unless future Russian supplies are shipped through the system to UK.

Nat gas production within EU was on a plateau from 1996 to 2004 and has now entered into terminal decline. Increased nat gas production from Norway (which is not a full EU member) has slowed the decline. The balance of consumption within EU has been secured through increasing imports, primarily from Russia, North Africa and LNG. The diagram above suggests that imports into EU will need to grow quickly, from 200 Gcm/a at present to projected 400 Gcm/a by 2020, to fill the rapidly growing gap between declining supplies and projected growth in consumption.

If projected growth in EU nat gas consumption by 2020 is to be met, it will be necessary to double present imports of 200 Gcm/a from Russia, North Africa and LNG, a challenging task. With the ongoing credit crisis still unfolding, an increase in imports that allows maintenance of present EU consumption levels may turn out to be a major accomplishment.

As of 2007, 25 % of EU’s nat gas consumption was imported from Russia. Russian nat gas exports to the EU grew substantially after the completion of pipelines between Western Siberia and Europe by the mid 80’s.

There are good reasons to believe that the Russians (meaning Gazprom) planned their exports to the EU based upon available official data and forecasts from amongst others, EU members and Norway. This is of course a sensible thing to do if the goal is to maximize the profits from the Russian resource base and to optimize the allocation of investment funds. Why invest in expansions of production and infrastructure, if these investments are likely to contribute to an oversupply and a subsequent downward pressure on prices?

Perhaps what is needed is an energy czar. I think it was Matt Simmons who first used the expression “energy czar”, perhaps with a hidden meaning that Russians leaders far better understand the strategic nature of energy than their western counterparts, even though their access to data is not as good.

In 1995 - 1998, the UK exported nat gas to Ireland. In 1998, the Interconnector, the bidirectional pipeline between Bacton in UK and Zeebrugge in Belgium, started to flow. After that, the UK became a moderate exporter of nat gas to Continental Europe.

EU production of natural gas has peaked, and is expected to decline. EU exclusive of UK nat gas production peaked in 1996. Since then, natural gas production has been in a general decline and is expected to continue to decline. Recently Dutch authorities confirmed that their nat gas production is set to decline. These milestones were passed without much attention. For the next several years, projected increases in Norwegian nat gas production are expected to partly offset declines in production in the EU, but the overall production trend is expected to remain downward.

UK has for some years had an important role in securing a unique flexibility with respect to the EU nat gas supply chain. The combined effect of the declining nat gas production in UK and the rest of the EU has already tightened the supply situation for EU (ref the recent price growth within the liberalized UK market), and has the potential to develop into a severe nat gas supply crunch. Such a supply crunch could have cascading effects, and may affect other energy systems. These interrelationships seem to be poorly understood among those responsible for developing energy supply strategies.

Source - The Oil Drum

Solar panels needed to hit 2020 targets

The Government must explore increasing energy efficiency, renewable heat generation and solar panels as well large scale renewable electricity projects if the UK is to meet European renewable energy targets, an influential group of Lords has claimed.

The UK must produce 15% of its total energy demand from renewable sources by 2020 under EU wide energy targets - in 2005 it managed only 1.3%.

The House of Lords European Union Committee on Friday claimed that wholesale changes were needed in the Government’s approach to energy policy if the target was to be met.

A statement by the Committee said it was concerned that the Government has not included energy efficiency as a central part of the Renewable Energy Strategy.

It points out that witnesses speaking to the Committee estimated that around a fifth of the 15% reduction target could be achieved by ‘aggressive demand reduction policies’.

Energy efficiency measures, therefore, should form the starting point for the Government to meet its 2020 targets. The Committee calls on the Government to set a 20% energy reduction target by 2020.

The Committee’s report also points out that 41% of the UK’s energy use is for heating and cooling. The Committee stresses that renewable heat technologies and solar panels should be as important a part of meeting the UK’s renewables target as large-scale electricity generation.

It calls on the Government to increase existing solar panels grants and to introduce a system of renewable heat grants to ensure individuals have an economic incentive to explore options for micro-energy generation at home.

Source - New Civil Engineer

Monday, 27 October 2008

Solar panels have the potential to be mainstream

While a range of technologies exist that offer clean, sustainable renewable energy, one technology is largely neglected and ignored despite its strength in some markets and its considerable potential. It is high time that solar thermal emerges into the light, says Petri Konttinen.

As professionals in the renewable energy industry, we all know that renewable resources are critical to the future of our planet. With the pressure on fossil fuels, it is increasingly fashionable for the mainstream media to talk about wind power, biofuels and photovoltaic energy as solutions to the finite energy reserves and rising fuel prices.

But do the mainstream media — and, for that matter, those of us working in the industry — ever take a step back and consider those technologies that have not yet fulfilled their potential?

I strongly believe that, while photovoltaic is a wonderful technology fully deserving of the levels of investment it attracts, there is a second, equally viable solar technology — solar thermal. This is a technology which is largely neglected in articles, passed over by experts and ignored by the mainstream media — an oversight I passionately believe should be redressed.

I have a vision of a world where it would be as unthinkable to design a building that couldn’t harvest solar energy as it would be to design it without windows or doors. Solar thermal energy has the potential to be as mainstream and commonly accepted as fireplaces were a hundred years ago and radiators are today. I would love to see architects and builders select solar thermal collectors in the same way as they do every other core component of the build — it really could be that simple.

A solar partnership with great potential

Photovoltaic has traditionally been the dominant of the two solar technologies and I firmly believe in its potential — as long as it is utilized for the right purpose. This technology is on the brink of a huge leap forward in the field of renewable energy and it really proves its worth in generating electricity. However, it is not nearly as efficient to use photovoltaic systems for heating as it is to use solar thermal. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it needs to be a case of ‘either/or’ for these two solar technologies. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic can work in perfect synergy with each other and, together, they could almost provide a total solution for powering and heating our buildings using renewable energy.

A brief look at the latest statistics from the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform confirms this. In the EU, 20% of the energy consumed is turned into electricity and 31% is used for transport. That leaves 49% of energy being consumed in heating and cooling (mainly of buildings). Much of this could be provided by solar thermal energy.

This is a powerful and significant statistic. Solar thermal technology is currently used in only a small percentage of European buildings, mostly for heating water and mostly in private houses. But almost half our energy needs could actually be supplied by solar thermal energy. It also has many advantages over other renewable energies such as wind power, biofuels and photovoltaics.

Often when wind farms are planned ‘NIMBY-ism’ becomes an issue with local opposition groups declaring that the turbines blight the landscape. Equally, using biofuels for energy production is not without challenges. As food prices continue to rise due to global shortages of wheat, there are increasing calls to halt the devotion of land to biofuel production. Solar thermal collectors do not share these issues as they are discreet, cannot be perceived to endanger wildlife and, as they are installed on the buildings they serve, have no impact on land use.

We are all familiar with the solar photovoltaic panels on the roofs of buildings. Solar thermal collectors, however, can be a more architecturally desirable solution since they do not have the same immediate visual impact. The solar thermal collector system can be designed so that no additional roofing is needed in the panel area. Instead, the joints of the collector’s glass can blend seamlessly with a copper roof. The copper heat transfer elements of the solar collector have excellent efficiency and durability properties.

The collectors have an annual solar energy yield of around 4 MWh per 10 m² per year (depending on the building’s location and orientation), with the best results achieved on a south-east or south-west facing roof. Expressing that in more tangible terms, at a peak energy price of 18.8 pence ($0.37) per kWh from utility suppliers (source:, 2008), this equates to an energy cost of £752 ($1489) to a home owner per year.

Solar thermal systems traditionally have an efficiency rate of 30%-50%, which means that up to half the sun’s energy hitting every collector will be used to heat water for the building. This is several times more efficient than solar photovoltaic systems. With 219,000 TWh of energy available from the sun every year, the potential for solar thermal systems is immense — even allowing for the inevitable rain in Helsinki, fog in London and snow in Moscow.

Approximately 10 GWth of solar thermal capacity was in operation in Europe in 2005 and this could be set to increase to at least 200 GWth by 2030. We have the ability to harness the power of the sun and, at the moment, we are only capturing a tiny amount of what is out there. Imagine solar thermal technology providing heating and cooling to buildings all over Europe. Imagine if this were adopted globally! I can see future generations looking back on the early part of the 21st century and scratching their heads, wondering why it took us so long to break away from our dependence on fossil fuels and really start to exploit the natural resources that fall on the Earth every day.

Why is more efficient solar thermal being ignored?

So why does solar thermal not get the recognition it deserves? I believe the biggest disadvantage that solar thermal energy faces is that it is not being championed by industry or opinion-formers. As a result, it is virtually absent from public awareness. According to MEP Claude Turmes from the Green Group, over 90% of the discussion on renewable energy at the European Parliament is focused on electricity, not heating.

This was confirmed by the omission of solar thermal from the International Energy Agency (IEA) report to the G8 group of countries published in June this year. This report, which formed the basis for a high profile global discussion on climate change, detailed three scenarios for the future of renewable energy — none of which prominently featured solar thermal as a key technology.

That is not to say that I disagree with all the IEA’s recommendations. I fully support the call for drastic action to be taken to address the world’s future energy needs and I do, of course, recognize the key role that photovoltaic technologies will play in achieving this. However, I feel the report reflected a tendency — long prevalent in Europe — to focus heavily on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, with photovoltaic electricity generation as the solution to global energy problems at the expense of other viable technologies.

This is because electricity is easy for the person in the street to understand, easy to control and has the strong lobby of the electricity providers behind it. A puzzling situation when we recall that electricity accounts for only 20% of energy requirements in Europe, while heating is nearly 2.5 times this. Surely more of our attention needs to turn to solutions for heating?

Or maybe it is because we still have a child-like fascination with novelty. We will clamour to investigate the next exciting thing to come along while abandoning a tried and tested technology, like solar thermal. There are many new developments in industry all the time and the mainstream media are quick to pick up on them. After 30 years of development, solar thermal energy is already well established. Perhaps that is why it no longer gets the column inches it deserves.

As each one of us is an opinion-former of some influence (even if it is just among our peers), we have an opportunity to change public perception and communicate the facts about renewable energy sources. According to the European Solar Thermal Technology Platform: ‘Turning solar thermal energy into a major energy resource for heating and cooling in Europe by 2030 is an ambitious but realistic goal provided the right mix of research and development, industrial growth and consistent market deployment measures is applied.’ I firmly believe this, but solar thermal energy has become the poor relation in the renewable energy family. Much work still needs to be done to ensure it receives the attention it deserves.

The world is heading for a huge crisis as global consumption continues to increase at an alarming rate while finite global resources diminish and the huge potential of renewable resources is not fully realized. The only way to tackle this is globally, with far greater co-operation between governments and companies sharing information at the research and development level.

We also need significant investment in manpower, resources, research and development to make the most viable technologies become solutions for the future.

We all know that renewable energy is the future — after all, we wouldn’t be doing the jobs we are doing if we didn’t passionately believe that it would change our world forever. But we also all need to play our part in making sure the world knows this, because only then can it start to become a reality.

Source - Renewable Energy