Articles Posted in the Renewable energy category

Is this the dawning of the age of alternatives?

April 1, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

wind-turbines The renewable energy feed-in tariffs announced by the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (Nersa) yesterday appear to have been well received by industry players.

The tariff guidelines set the price renewable energy suppliers will be paid for  a unit of electricity and they need to be high enough to encourage investment in the industry. Until recently, renewable energy had to compete with South Africa’s incredibly cheap (but very dirty) electricity from coal. There were no incentives for renewable energy investors. So it’s not surprising that, at present, South Africa has only one operating wind farm which produces 5MW of electricity.

But in 2004 South Africa set a renewable energy target of 10,000GWh by 2013 and to meet this target it needs to kickstart the industry and get things moving quickly. The tarrifs announced yesterday are perhaps a sign of a commitment to increase the role of renewables in the energy mix. They are a significant improvement on those in the consultation paper released by Nersa in December, which had been criticised for being too low to encourage investment.

Under Nersa’s new tariff guidelines, developers will receive R1,25/kWh for wind (up 65c/kWh), 90c/kWh for landfill gas (up from 43c), 94c/kWh for small hydro (up from 73c) and R2,10/kWh for concentrated solar power (up from 65c).

To give you something to compare this to: on my January electricity bill, I was charged about 40c/kWh. But Eskom’s prices will increase and a levy on electricity generated from non-renewable sources is likely to come into effect sometime this year.

The power purchase agreement with suppliers will last for 20 years and the tariffs will be reviewed every year for five years and every three years after that. Eskom, the state energy utility, will act as the renewable energy power purchasing agency.

Don’t rush out to buy solar panels to generate electricity on your roof, though. The new tariffs don’t mean that ordinary households will soon be able to generate electricity from rooftop photovoltaics and get reimbursed for feeding it back into the grid. Nersa’s feed-in tariffs exclude photovoltaic panels and biomass generation. The regulator’s focus appears to be on utility-scale generation.

Consumers will most likely have to bear the increased cost of renewable energy – but at least we can look forward to some alternatives to coal and nuclear in the future.

Week that was – March 8 2009

March 8, 2009
Posted in Green News

More than 700 delegates from government, business, labour, academia and civil society got together to discuss South Africa’s climate change policy this week in Midrand, north of Johannesburg. Designed to “translate political will and the best available scientific evidence into policy and action”, the summit was the start of a participatory process that will culminate in a policy White Paper on climate change by 2010 and a legislative, regulatory and fiscal package by 2012.

But first a draft document that will set out “slightly more than the skeleton” of a climate change policy will be produced by August This will be consulted widely and inform what South Africa takes into the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency comprised a strong theme coming out of the conference. The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said in a statement that “early gains can be achieved by massively up-scaling our efforts in respect of energy efficiency and renewable energy”.

But the country’s energy mix was a hotly contested issue. Coal accounts for more than 90 percent of electricity at present – but Cabinet will have the final say on whether coal’s role in the energy mix will decrease. And more technical work and a policy process that allows all views to be expressed is needed before a Cabinet decision can be made, Joanne Yawitch, a deputy director-general in the department of environmental affairs and tourism, told the media.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe said that acting now on climate change is an opportunity to overcome the global economic crisis by creating pro-poor jobs and sustainable green growth.

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in South Africa, the conference heard, so there needs to be a balance between adaptation and mitigation. Adaptation needs more attention and funding.

The minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, said that the summit far exceeded expectations. “I am encouraged by the strong resolve to meet the dual challenges of adaptation and mitigation by placing sustainable development and poverty eradication at the forefront. The strong consensus on making the transition to a climate resilient and low carbon economy and society will underpin our future work.”

A report from this week’s climate change conference said that Eskom may decide to build a solar thermal baseload plant later this year. Another developing country, China is about to start building its first solar thermal power station in Beijing this month, China Daily reports. The 1.5MW experimental station is expected to generate about 2.7-million kWh of electricity a year, enough to power at least 30,000 homes. The solar tower-type station, which will comprise 100 mirrors or heliostats which will redirect the suns rays to a receiver at the top of a 100m-high tower, will cost about 100-million yuan (R150-million). China plans to generate at least 150MW of power from solar thermal power stations by 2015, the report says. Full report

South Africa could get it’s third wind farm soon. According to a report in Engineering News, a 50MW wind farm has been proposed for the Western Cape town of St Helena Bay and the environmental impact assessment, which has reportedly been delayed for a year because of investor concerns, may start this month. David Chown of Genesis Eco-Energy, a Cape Town-based company said that once the National Energy Regulator (Nersa) announces its renewable energy feed-in tariffs, which it is expected to do at the end of this month, the company will be able to raise funding for the R850-million project. The 5.2MW Darling wind farm was officially launched last year and Eskom is building a 100MW wind farm in Koekenaap. All are in the Western Cape province. Full report

A new programme has been launched by the department of water affairs and forestry that will award municipalities with “Blue Drop Status” for having drinking water of excellent quality. If a town has Blue Drop status consumers will be secure in the knowledge that wastewater is managed and discharged in a sustainable, environmentally-acceptable manner, Bua News reports. Minister Lindiwe Hendricks said at the launch of the programme this week that towns would be able to use the prestigious Blue Drop Status to market themselves to both residents and tourists. She said assessments had been completed in various towns and their status would be made known soon.

Greenpeace Africa has called on the South African government not to allow two ships carrying plutonium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel to enter its waters as they make their way from France to Japan. The shipment of about 1.8 tonnes of MOX fuel – enough to make 225 nuclear weapons – will round the Cape of Good Hope this month on two heavily armed ships protected by specially trained British forces, the environmental group says. “MOX shipments are simply not worth the risk, they are a major terror target and pose an enormous threat to the environment of all countries en route,” says Dr Rianne Teule, nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace International. [Greenpeace]

Sky picture by twoblueday licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Solar tower by chausinho licenses under a Creative Commons licence

Tap picture by chopr licensed under a Creative Commons licence

Minerals and energy minister punts clean energy

March 6, 2009
Posted in Renewable energy

A wind turbine crop circle in the United States by BG Johnson under a Creative Commons licence

The department of minerals and energy is developing a climate change strategy for the energy sector, which should be completed by the end of September, Bulyelwa Sonjica, the minister of minerals and energy said this week at the Climate Change Summit 2009 in Midrand.

The strategy will assess climate change mitigation measures for the energy sector and consider technological opportunities in energy efficiency, renewable energy and carbon capture and storage.

Minister Sonjica said that energy and climate change are “clearly intimately connected” and that mitigation offered opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses in the renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors and that climate change policies must assist in promoting these opportunities.

The renewable energy feed-in tarrif (Refit), which is reportedly due to be released at the end of this month (March), will be an important stimulus for the renewable energy industry in South Africa.

She said the department is continuing with pilot projects around wind and solar which it hopes to “upscale at the right time”, adding that “clearly more needs to be done to support both public and private investment in renewable energy technologies.”

She said that these technologies offer a number of economic opportunities and job creation benefits that our society can capitalise on.

Additional funding could come from a 2c/kWh levy on electricity from non-renewable sources that is due to be implemented this year. Deputy director-general of minerals and energy Nelisiwe Magubane was reported by Reuters as saying: “We now charge a carbon tax on electricity … we will use that to go back to the Treasury to either introduce tax breaks for people who want to invest in renewables or increase our subsidies, now at only R20-million.”

At a side event earlier in the day the minister urged South African companies to make use of the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. She said the CDM was an international tool to unlock carbon assets and very few South African companies are tapping into it.

South Africa is lagging behind other developing countries, such as India, China and Brazil with only 14 CDM projects. But it does have more than any ther country in Africa and there are reportedly another 12 local projects at the validation stage.

Some CDM projects are “low-hanging fruit that could easily be harvested”, said Ms Sonjica, adding that her department has put initiatives in place to help companies access CDM funding.

Wind turbines power Antarctic base

February 17, 2009
Posted in featured, Renewable energy


Princess Elisabeth research base © International Polar Foundation

The first Antarctic base to operate entirely on renewable energies officially opened on Sunday. Instead of diesel generators, Belgium’s Princess Elisabeth research station in East Antarctica, has 6kW wind turbines designed to work in extreme environments.

Most Antarctic research stations rely on diesel generators because no wind turbines were thought to be robust enough to endure the most severe weather conditions on Earth, says Proven Energy, the Scottish small wind turbine manufacturer that supplied the turbines for the base.

“They will be operating in average winds of 53 mph [85 kph] and winter gusts of over 200mph [320 kph], while still providing 230V electricity for the stations heating, computers, lights and scientific instruments,” says Proven Energy. “The electricity generated is expected to be the highest output of any small wind power system in the world.”

In addition to the turbines, both solar thermal and photovoltaic (PV) will be used on the building itself. The water supply for the station will use solar thermal panels to melt the snow thereby limiting the use of electrical energy to pump water.

The research station combines eco-friendly construction materials, clean and efficient energy use, optimisation of the station’s energy consumption and the best waste management techniques with the aim of reducing its ecological footprint on the pristine Antarctic environment, says the International Polar Foundation, which was commissioned by the Belgian government to design and build it.

The station provides state-of-the-art facilities for 16 scientists to do climate change research.

[Via: Engineering News]

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

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

Is it a wind turbine or is it art?

September 11, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

The Energy Ball you see in the picture is a funky little home wind turbine from Home Energy International, of the Netherlands. Apart from looking good, it’s said to be less noisy than traditional propeller turbines and it works at wind speeds as low as 2 metres per second. They come in sizes of 1-metre or 2-metres in diameter and are installed on a pole in the garden or on your roof. The 1-metre ball can reportedly generate up to 500kWh a year and the 2-metre ball 1,750kWh a year. But, alas, they are pretty expensive – from around R24,000 to R56,000. Ouch. The one is the picture is at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam.

Via :: Live Science

The oil crisis and the search for a new way of living

September 9, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy, Transport

Saliem Fakir looks at SA’s energy options and what can be done to improve our energy security.

We live in interesting times that promise both peril and opportunity. Things have changed so fast within the span of just a year that it’s putting a strain on our ability to adapt.

It took five years from 2002-2007 for the oil price to go up by $60/barrel; but in the last 12 months, the price of oil surged by an additional $70/barrel.

The surge in oil prices is making life for everybody uncomfortable, as its ripple effects are being felt throughout the global and South African economies. It has, however, brought home the urgency to find solutions. The whole world is in the throes of a massive cycle of innovation. There lie two possible pathways before us. Read more

SA’s first electricity feed-in system being tested

September 1, 2008
Posted in Renewable energy

Nelson Mandela Bay could be the first municipality in South Africa where homeowners will be able to produce their own renewable electricity and sell the surplus to the national utility, reports The Herald online.

The report says that a pilot project aimed at checking the feasibility of the feed-in approach began six months ago. A one kilowatt solar panel package and a one kilowatt wind turbine on a 12m mast have been installed at a test home, the report says. The system has been up and running since July 28, says the municipality on its website. Read more

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