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Articles Posted in the Business, Renewable energy category

Obama’s new age and big investments in SA solar

January 23, 2009
Posted in Business, Renewable energy

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The ad above apparently appeared in an Australian newspaper this week.

The big news of this week is, of course, the inauguration of President Barack Obama and all the hope that brings for people concerned about the state of the planet: he has, after all, said that the US would at last join the world in trying to combat climate change and has plans to invest billions of dollars in alternative energy technologies to create jobs and help drag the US economy out of the doldrums. In his inauguration speech he said: “We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Inspiring stuff. We wait in anticipation to see what develops.

Renewable energy seems to be getting a boost here in South Africa, too, with news this week of multimillion-rand investments in two solar water heating companies:

  • RISING IN THE EAST: Zwelakhe Sisulu, the son of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, has signed a R20-million deal with the Eastern Cape Development Corporation to finance a solar water heater manufacturing plant in East London, the Daily Dispatch Online reports. Sisulu’s company, Matla Solar Energy, has a partnership with Taiwanese company Min-Yang Funland, which will supply technology and bring management to South Africa as part of a skills transfer arrangement, the report says. Sisulu said the East London plant would be up and running within six months. The South African solar water heater market could be worth of billions of rands, Sisulu was quoted as saying, adding that already two municipalities in Gauteng Province (Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni) had put out tenders for a total of 500,000 solar water heaters a year. That is just a start because municipalities could earn carbon credits which they could sell to boost their revenue.
  • COMFORTING SUM: US investment company E+Co has invested R2,3-million in Johannesburg solar power company Home Comforts, Engingeering News reports. The loan will be used to help grow the company’s solar water heater division, which comprises 60 percent of its business, Home Comfort’s CEO Hendrik Roux was quoted as saying. The loan is E+CO’s seventh investment in the South African solar water heating business.

Can we have more renewable energy now, please?

December 9, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Now that Eskom, the state electricity utility, has decided that it can’t afford to build a new nuclear power plant will it start to pay more attention to renewable energy alternatives?

Many South Africans breathed a sigh of relief at the news last week that the board of Eskom had decided not to proceed with the proposed Nuclear-1 project – the country’s second pressurised water reactor nuclear power plant.

But, alas, the decision was not taken because Eskom had decided to scrap nuclear and embrace solar and wind. The size of the investment in Nuclear-1 is more than Eskom can handle in these straitened times and the utility is finding it hard to raise the money needed to fund the project.

The two bidders for the contract, the EPR consortium led by Areva of France and the N-Powerment consortium led by Westinghouse of the USA, have been told the bad news and have taken it rather well, according to reports.

NUCLEAR-1 IS SA’S NUMBER 2
The planned new nuclear plant was announced last year when South Africa was experiencing crippling power cuts. Work on the project was expected to start in 2010. The plant’s first power was expected in 2017/18. Reports say the plant was anticipated to generate about 3,500MW of electricity.

South Africa has only one nuclear power plant at present. Koeberg, situated on the Western Cape coast near Cape Town, which supplies 1,800MW, or 6 percent of the country’s electricity. But the country has big nuclear ambitions. Eskom wants to increase the amount of nuclear power supplied to the grid to 20,000MW, which is about a quarter of the 80,000MW it hopes to be generating by 2025 – up from 40,000W now.

HOW MUCH WAS THE PROJECT GOING TO COST?
Estimates put the cost of Nuclear-1 at more than R100-billion ($10-billion) – which would apparently make it the largest single investment in Eskom’s history. But Eskom spokesman Fani Zulu declined to disclose the worth of the project to AFP, saying Eskom had signed a confidentiality agreement with the two foreign companies bidding for the contract.

Business Day wrote that the project could have cost as much as R200-billion, or an amount that could have “bought Eskom two new coal-fired power stations, and left it with some change to spare”.

Anyway, it has been put on the back burner until further notice. Political opposition parties have reportedly hailed the news, saying it has spared South Africa the burden of a huge foreign debt.

IS THAT IT FOR SA NUKES THEN?
No, It seems not. Portial Molefe, the director general of the department of public enterprises, has been quoted as saying that the government is still committed to introducing nuclear because the country has to deal with its carbon footprint and diversify its energy mix – about 90 percent of our energy comes from coal.

In a press statement the department said: “Government is committed to exploring the use of nuclear energy as part of base-load energy generation and to build an associated industrial capability to support such generation thereby reducing the cost of nuclear energy over time.”

It added that the government would establish a task team, lead by the department of minerals and energy, “that will work with Eskom, to develop and implement a framework for procuring a nuclear technology partner to support both the build and associated industrialisation process”.

There is speculation that the government may be hoping that the price of nuclear will come down as recession reduces global demand for nuclear power.

WHAT ABOUT PEBBLE BED REACTORS?
The Coalition Against Nuclear Energy issued a statement in which it said that there is little reason for over optimism about Eskom’s decision not to invest in foreign companies for the Nuclear-1 project plant while the government remains committed to its nuclear power programme.

Cane said there was “a deliberate silence” about the experimental pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR), which it said had already cost taxpayers more than R16-billion.

According to Business Report, Molefe of the department of public enterprise had said that the PBMR programme was not being abandoned, but it would be delayed.

AND OTHER ENERGY OPTIONS?
There are many in South Africa who believe that nuclear is the only alternative to coal for “clean” baseload power. But in recent times the support for renewable energy has increased noticeably. A group of MPs even formed a lobby group in October to get things moving in the renewable energy sector.

Greenpeace opened its first office in South Africa last month to focus on getting the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions – it is the 14th-highest carbon emitter in the world – by ending its dependence on coal, without resorting to nuclear power. “The country is in a position to harness abundant renewable energy sources – solar, wind and biomass – and take a lead in an African energy revolution,” says Greenpeace.

The cost of renewable energy is usually given as the reason why it is impractical. But this is beginning to change. Brad Smith, campaign director for Greenpeace Africa, was reported as saying: “As the costs of nuclear power continue to soar, the price of renewable energy is decreasing annually.

“Already, and without subsidies, wind power is cheaper than nuclear power per unit of energy produced, while concentrated solar technologies are making big progress in the same direction,” he said.

Research from the University of Cape Town, released at a WWF National Renewable Energy Conference last month, found that renewable energy could be cheaper then nuclear. Electricity from renewables like wind and solar would require large-scale investment, but would not significantly raise the price of electricity, the WWF said. “That price increase – if we used renewable electricity to supply 15 percent of our electricity – would in 2020 be 15 percent higher than if we continued building coal power stations. This compares to a 20 percent increase if we pursued the nuclear alternative.

The Independent Democrats political party said in a statement that it was “very pleased” that the government had decided not to proceed with its proposed nuclear energy expansion programme because it would have saddled South Africa with enormous foreign debt and contributed very little to local job creation.

The party said money should be invested in renewable energy, most of which could be built by local industries and create jobs.

The 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy set a target of 10,000GWh hours by 2013. But we’re a far cry from meeting these targets and the finance minister has reportedly said that he’s not convinced of the economic case for large-scale renewable energy projects in South Africa, hence the focus on nukes and coal

But now that nukes have become prohibitively expensive and with a bit of pressure from the MPs and the enviro groups, hopefully the government and Eskom will start looking a lot more seriously at investing in renewable energy alternatives.

Wind tubine pic licenced under Creative Commons licence Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Obama could usher in a new era for solar in the US

November 13, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

President-elect Barack Obama’s increased emphasis on renewable energy could help to finally unleash the United States vast potential for solar energy, but economic difficulties may prove a barrier to some of the more expensive renewable initiatives, says information technology research and advisory company Gartner, Inc.

“Demand for solar energy remains dependent on government subsidies, because it costs more than conventional forms of electric-power generation,” said James Hines, research director at Gartner and lead analyst for solar energy technologies.

“However, the new US administration could help encourage investment in solar energy projects if it succeeds in implementing some of its plans, which is more likely with majorities in both houses of Congress.”

The increased emphasis on renewable energy and the extension of the 30 percent investment tax credit for solar projects – passed last month – could provide a significant boost to the US solar industry. It could potentially help the US to overtake Germany as the largest photovoltaic market within a few years, said Hines.

President-elect Obama’s New Energy for America plan includes:

  • A federal renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that requires 10 percent of electricity consumed in the US to come from renewable sources by 2012
  • A $150 billion investment over 10 years in research, technology demonstration and commercial deployment of clean energy technology
  • Extension of production tax credits for five years to encourage renewable energy production
  • A cap-and-trade system of carbon credits to provide an incentive for businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

“The new president will face a difficult economic situation that could significantly impede his plans. Expensive government programmes will be hard to pass if tax receipts are declining and corporate earnings are depressed, even with Democratic control of Congress,” Hines said.

“It is likely that the RPS will be passed during 2009, which will provide a strong boost to US demand for solar energy. The other provisions, which require significant spending or tax incentives, might have to wait until the economy starts to recover.”

Greenpeace takes on dirty coal

November 1, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

If you’re a Bond movie fan you’ll love Greenpeace’s new hero who’s out to save the world from the evil bad guy Coalfinger. They’ve made a video with fantastic animation and horrible puns – but a very important message, obviously … The big question is:

Do we dogmatically pursue new coal in a business as usual scenario, or do we commit the world to a clean energy future, creating green jobs, increasing energy security and, crucially, slashing our carbon emissions?

Click on the image or go to www.coalfinger.com to see the vid and get informed.
coalfinger

MPs take up renewable energy cause

October 30, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Parliamentarians from a cross-section of political parties have formed a lobby group to try and get things moving in the renewable energy sector in South Africa. Calling itself eREACT (e parliament Renewable Energy Activists), its first move this week was to unveil a private members bill on feed-in tariffs.

Essentially, it would entail Eskom, the electricity utility, ensuring that private providers of renewable energy get a fixed tariff to feed energy into the grid for a fixed period of time.

The business community has reportedly been reluctant to invest in renewable energy because it could not get a guaranteed price per kWh for the electricity it produced.

“Hopefully our introducing this bill will be a wake up call to ministers who should be driving the renewables programme, to which they largely pay lip service,” said the group’s convener, Dr Ruth Rabinowitz of the Inkatha Freedom Party, in a statement.

Feed-in tariffs have had a huge impact on the uptake of renewable energy in countries where they have been implemented, she said. “This fosters entrepreneurship, creates jobs, offers certainty to the industry, encourages provision of energy other than conventional coal-fired for rural areas and helps clean up the environment.”

In South Africa, the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) has proposed the concept of a feed-in tariff for three years and has even drafted guidelines for it, she said. But, “at present there is no integrated vision or strategy to fast track development of a renewable energy industry in our country”.

Solar water heating should be routine and solar photovoltaic electricity generation should be incentivised, along with many other forms of alternative energy such as geothermal, biomass and biodiesel, said Rabinowitz.

The 2003 White Paper on Renewable Energy set a target of 10,000GWh hours by 2013. “At present we produce 53.8GWh from biofuels and 148.2GWH from other sources, a far cry from the recommended target in spite of our Cabinet approved Climate Mitigation Strategy,” she said.

“The recently adopted energy bill made scant mention of renewable energy, without targets or clarity on where responsibility for it would rest.”

According to the group, Trevor Manuel, the finance minister, has stated that he is not convinced of the economic case for large-scale renewable energy projects in South Africa. The focus, therefore, remains on nuclear and coal-fired power stations.

The case for solar thermal
There is convincing evidence, however, that the world’s best site for large-scale solar power generation is in the Northern Cape. Eskom has been looking into building a 100MW concentrated solar thermal power (CSTP) plant there, but appears to have put the project on hold.

A CSTP plant comprises a field of giant mirrors that track the sun and focus its rays onto a central focal point, known as a receiver. The receiver absorbs the radiation and transfers the heat to molten salt which is then used to generate steam which is used to drive turbines that generate electricity. Another type of plant entails parabolic mirrors. (More on CTSP)

Gareth Morgan of the Democratic Alliance says the greatest barrier to the establishment of concentrated solar thermal power in South Africa seems to be the cost of the technology. This manifests itself in the price of electricity generated from it.

But there are arguments that CSTP-generated electricity may already be competitive with South Africa’s peaking electricity price today, especially if it is supported with financing from carbon trading and tradable renewable energy certificates.

In a Sapa report, Howard Ramsden, CEO of Terra Power Solutions, was quoted as saying at the media briefing on the launch of the private members bill that the cost of establishing a solar power station was about R17-million a megawatt. The plant would need to sell its electricity at a minimum of 80 cents a kWh to break even. A similar figure applied to wind turbines. The current cost to consumers of Eskom power was 36 cents a kWh, but Eskom’s peak-usage gas turbine plants put out power at R2,80 a kWh, he was reported as saying.

“Encouraging CSTP would contribute to South Africa’s target of reversing its carbon emissions growth by 2020-2025. International climate change financing can be encouraged in developing the technology of CSTP, and South Africa can and should aim to gain from the renewable energy, in particular CSTP, investments being seen today. Such investments will increase massively in the future,” said Morgan.

Morgan said if the parliamentary schedule allowed, the bill – sponsored by Rabinowitz and supported by Lance Greyling of the Independent Democrats and Judy Chalmers of the ANC – would be tabled before Parliament closes ahead of next year’s election.

Sun, wind and cellphones in remote areas

October 22, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Ericsson has unveiled a new wind-powered radio base station concept that could support mobile communication in areas with no or limited access to the electricity grid, says the company. The wind-powered Tower Tube houses base station and antenna in a fully enclosed concrete tower. It has a smaller footprint and lower environmental impact than traditional steel towers, says Ericsson. Its power consumption is 40 percent lower than traditional bases station sites and this helps operators reduce their operating costs significantly, says the company.

The wind-powered Tower Tube has a four-blade turbine with five-meter blades vertically attached to the tower. Ericsson is working with Vertical Wind AB and Uppsala University in Sweden to develop the concept and trials will be conducted to determine if the wind-powered Tower Tube enables low-cost mobile communication, with reduced impacts on both the local and global environment, the company says in a press release.

Village Solar Chargers in Africa

Ericsson and Sony Ericsson have codeveloped a solar charger for mobile phones that has been shipped to 12 Millennium Village clusters in Africa, as part of a project with Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the Millennium Villages project aiming to lift rural African communities out of extreme poverty.

Mobile phones are contributing to economic development in the developing world but the biggest problem in rural areas is charging the phone, says Mats Pellbäck Scharp, Sony Ericsson’s director of environment and supplier quality assurance. “People often have a phone but need to walk for miles to get it charged.”

The Ericsson Village Solar Charger is built on standard components and can be used for all types of mobiles. It uses a 0.7 square metre solar panel connected to a rack where eight mobiles can be charged at the same time. A 12-volt lead-acid battery makes charging possible at night. The charger is capable of recharging at least 30 mobile phone batteries a day, all year round. It can also be used for other types of load, such as powering computers, lights or TV sets, says Ericsson.

Africa’s largest wind farm and other renewable energy news

October 14, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

  • Ethiopia has signed a $300-million deal with French wind turbine manufacturer Vergnet to build the largest wind farm in Arica. The 120MW project, to be built near Mekele in the northern Tigray region, is expected to be up and running by 2012. [AFP, Reuters
  • The US Army reportedly intends to build a 500MW concentrating solar power plant at Fort Irwin in California’s Mojave Desert. The project is five times bigger than South African electricity utility Eskom’s proposed 100MW plant in Upington. [Treehugger]
  • Twenty-four schools in the German city of Berlin have been turned into “mini power plants” in a scheme that allows private individuals to rent roof space on school and public buildings for photovoltaic panels. Berlin reportedly has ambitions to become a solar power house. The city already has 10,000 jobs in the solar sector and that is expected to increase tenfold in the next decade. Germany produces about half of the world’s solar electricity and, according to Reuters, last year alone it installed enough capacity to power a million homes. [Reuters]
  • US researchers have found a way to make silicon-based solar cells that are “flexible enough to be rolled around a pencil and transparent enough to be used to tint windows on buildings or cars”. Using a special etching technique, brittle wafers of silicon are sliced off a bulk silicon wafer into ultrathin bits and “printed” onto a flexible surface. The slices can be adapted to suit the application, say the researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The technology has been licensed to a US company called Semprius Inc. [Reuters]
  • Japan plans to subsidise households that install solar power systems in a bid to stimulate the mass production of the systems and bring down costs. The subsidy will cover about 10 percent of the total cost of the system. Home solar systems apparently generate about 1.4-million kilowatts of electricity in Japan, but the government wants this to increase tenfold by 2020. [Reuters]
  • And, finally, to South Africa, where the country’s first clean technology fund was launched recently. The Evolution One fund has reportedly already raised R400-million and has a target to increase that to R1-billion by the middle of next year. The fund plans to make 10 to 15 investments over a period of three to five years in Southern Africa. According to the Engineering News, among the projects the fund is looking at becoming involved with were thin-film solar manufacturing, retail goods from recycled industrial waste, co-generation, and electric vehicles. [Engineering News]

Pic of wind farm in Illinois by Dual Freq licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License

Cool gadgets for eco-friendly people

October 8, 2008
Posted in Lifestyle, Renewable energy

Here’s proof that environmentally friendly gadgets don’t have to be home-made and held together with duct tape. The three below are clever, simple, look good and use renewable energy.

SAKKU SOLAR BAGS
Swiss-based company Sakku produces solar bags with an integrated ultra-light and flexible solar panel that allows you to charge your cell phone, MP3 Player or GPS tracker with solar energy. The bags come in three models: Sakku.traveller, which is made out of recycled sail cloth from boats sailing on Swiss lakes; Sakku.worker, which has a cushioned compartment for laptops and comes in black cordura with an extra-large belt; and Sakku.buddy, which uses recycled sun shutters. Best of all these bags are available in South Africa from Tashi Solar. The bags are available either with or without a battery which stores energy so you can charge your appliance when you need to. The bags start at R3,352.00. Read more

Power from above: the pope goes solar

October 7, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

In keeping with today’s theme, renewables and icons of the establishment, we turn our attention to the pope, who has started to install photovoltaic panels on the roof of the papal audience hall at Vatican City. A total of 2,700 panels will eventually be installed. They will generate electricity for lighting, heating and cooling the 6,300-seater building and excess electricity will reportedly be used in the Vatican offices. The panels are reportedly worth $1.5-million and were donated to the German born Pope Benedict by Solar World, a German company
Sources: CBS, BBC,Cath News

Wind power: Queen Elizabeth sets a record

October 7, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth has commissioned the world’s largest wind turbine. It’ll produce 7.5MW of power and, says EcoGeek, it’ll be taller than “600 corgis standing on each other’s backs” (love that description) – about 175 metres.

As for the effect of wind turbines on the birds on her majesty’s properties, apparently research has shown that offshore turbines are largely safe for migrating birds. And a recent study done in England seems to show that the birds on English farmland aren’t particularly affected by wind farms either. Only one species (pheasant) seemed to roost further away from the turbines. The study was done in winter, so the turbines may have a different effect when the birds are nesting.

The European Union has set a target that 20 percent of energy should come from renewable sources by 2020. In Britain, experts seem to agree that most of this energy will come from wind. Charles Anglin from the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), was quoted by the BBC as saying that by 2020 the UK would have about 6,000 or 7,000 turbines offshore and about 5,000 onshore. “That alone could provide about 25%, possibly 28%, of the country’s electricity,” he said.

Sources: EcoGeek, ScienceNow Daily News, BBC, ENN

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