Saturday, January 30, 2010

Renewable Energy: China's Plan

Roscoe Wind Farm, West Texas, U.S.

The butterfly sleeps well
perched on the temple bell...
until it rings.


Nothing is secure but life, transition, the energizing spirit....People wish to be settled; but only so far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.

---Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yang-uan's assistant was constantly thrown off balance by his master's words. Finally he commented that he never knew whether he was in an ordinary conversation or not.
"All our conversations are ordinary," Yang-uan said.
"Then why is it so hard for me to stay on my feet?" the assistant asked.
"No need to stay on your feet," Yang-uan replied.

---Zen mondo

From Forbes, yesterday~~~

The World's Biggest Green Energy Projects
Jonathan Fahey, 01.29.10, 1:30 PM ET

The U.S. government, desperate to add jobs to a feeble economy, is looking skyward for help: to the wind and the sun.

"We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities," Obama said to applause during his State of the Union address Wednesday. Solar and wind power projects tend to appeal to politicians on both sides of the aisle. They are clean and domestic sources of power, and thanks to this government largesse, they are growing fast.

The American Wind Energy Association reported last week that in 2009 the nation's wind power grew 39%, and that it has grown by 39% annually for the past five years. It's a similar story with other technologies, like solar power, and abroad, where generous government subsidies in Europe and huge government-backed projects in India and China are fueling growth.

Of the top 10 largest renewable energy projects in the world, five were completed in the last two years.

That's the good news for renewable advocates. The bad news: Renewable energy remains a stubbornly small percentage of both the United States' and the world's energy portfolio. In the U.S., renewable power is about 10% of the electricity mix--subtract hydroelectric power and we're down to just 3%. Worldwide, the share of energy from renewables is closer to 20%, with just 3% from non-hydro.

The reason, of course, is that renewable power is expensive. Even a stiff breeze or blazing sunshine doesn't pack the same energy punch as a lump of coal or a nuclear fuel rod, and it isn't always sunny or windy. While a nuclear reactor will produce nearly 95% of its peak capacity, a wind farm's output will typically be 20% to 40% of its peak and a solar farm about 10% to 20%, depending on location.

The world's biggest wind farm, the Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas, has a maximum capacity of 782 megawatts. A nuclear plant with the same capacity would power 600,000 homes; given the fickle nature of wind, Roscoe will only produce enough to power 200,000 typical American homes.

But renewable plants are getting ever bigger, especially in China, where plans are on a scale far beyond anything contemplated in the rest of the world. The U.S. now has three of the 10 biggest projects in the world, but it will very soon lose the crown for largest wind project and largest solar project to China.

This month China announced it would build a 2,000 MW solar thermal project, five times bigger than the current largest one, California's Solar Energy Generating System. China is in the midst of building a wind corridor that could grow to a staggering 20,000MW, 25 times the size of Texas' Roscoe Wind Farm. And last fall China announced a plan to build a 2,000 MW solar photovoltaic farm, 33 times bigger than the world's largest today, a 60 MW farm in Spain.

Big projects can be tricky to navigate in the U.S. Though economies of scale help to reduce the cost per watt of bigger projects, bigger projects are riskier. "From the developer's perspective, bigger is better," says Ethan Zindler, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "But from the utility's perspective and the financier's perspective, that's not always the case."

Another problem in the U.S. right now is that projects need to get up and running before government subsidies run out, and smaller projects are easier to complete. For example, at the end of this year a provision that allows developers to get a cash grant for 30% of the construction cost of certain projects is scheduled to expire.

Also, permitting and licensing bigger projects can be more difficult. There's a rash of proposals for geothermal power plants rated at a relatively modest 49.9 MW, says Karl Gawell, executive director of the Geothermal Energy Association, because permitting is easier for plants under 50 MW.

This kind of thing irks Obama. "They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs," he said of countries like Germany, which have more generous and stable renewable energy subsidies that make projects easier to finance. "Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America."

He may have no choice, but maybe Obama can take heart in the fact that China's two big solar farms will use U.S. technology. The big photovoltaic farm will use panels built by Arizona's First Solar and the solar thermal farm will use technology developed by California's eSolar.

Additional reporting by Jhelum Bagchi
2010 LLC™

Don't miss the slide show of green energy projects at the story's link~~~

Monday, January 04, 2010

Who Has The Key To Unlock Our Grid?

A herd of sheep graze amongst sun-tracing photovoltaic panels installed at Solarpark in Rodenas, North Friesland. Photograph: Bert Bostelmann/Getty Images

Year after year
on the monkey's face
a monkey face.


Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth.

---The Diamond Sutra

When Abbot Pambo was asked to say a few words to the very important Bishop of Alexandria, who was visiting some of the Desert Fathers, the elder replied: "If he is not edified by my silence, there is no hope that he will be edified by my words."

---Thomas Merton

Sun, wind and wave-powered: Europe unites to build renewable energy 'supergrid'
• North Sea countries plan vast clean energy project
• €30bn scheme could offer weather-proof supply

Alok Jha, Sunday 3 January 2010 22.30 GMT

It would connect turbines off the wind-lashed north coast of Scotland with Germany's vast arrays of solar panels, and join the power of waves crashing on to the Belgian and Danish coasts with the hydro-electric dams nestled in Norway's fjords: Europe's first electricity grid dedicated to renewable power will become a political reality this month, as nine countries formally draw up plans to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea.

The network, made up of thousands of kilometres of highly efficient undersea cables that could cost up to €30bn (£26.5bn), would solve one of the biggest criticisms faced by renewable power – that unpredictable weather means it is unreliable.

With a renewables supergrid, electricity can be supplied across the continent from wherever the wind is blowing, the sun is shining or the waves are crashing.

Connected to Norway's many hydro-electric power stations, it could act as a giant 30GW battery for Europe's clean energy, storing electricity when demand is low and be a major step towards a continent-wide supergrid that could link into the vast potential of solar power farms in North Africa.

By autumn, the nine governments involved – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK – hope to have a plan to begin building a high-voltage direct current network within the next decade. It will be an important step in achieving the European Union's pledge that, by 2020, 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources.

"We recognise that the North Sea has huge resources, we are exploiting those in the UK quite intensively at the moment," said the UK's energy and climate change minister, Lord Hunt. "But there are projects where it might make sense to join up with other countries, so this comes at a very good time for us."

More than 100GW of offshore wind projects are under development in Europe, around 10% of the EU's electricity demand, and equivalent to about 100 large coal-fired plants. The surge in wind power means the continent's grid needs to be adapted, according to Justin Wilkes of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). An EWEA study last year outlined where these cables might be built and this is likely to be a starting point for the discussions by the nine countries.

Renewable energy is much more decentralised and is often built in inhospitable places, far from cities. A supergrid in the North Sea would enable a secure and reliable energy supply from renewables by balancing power across the continent.

Norway's hydro plants – equivalent to about 30 large coal-fired power stations – could use excess power to pump water uphill, ready to let it rush down again, generating electricity, when demand is high. "The benefits of an offshore supergrid are not simply to allow offshore wind farms to connect; if you have additional capacity, which you will do within these lines, it will allow power trading between countries and that improves EU competitiveness," said Wilkes.

The European Commission has also been studying proposals for a renewable-electricity grid in the North Sea. A working group in the EC's energy department, led by Georg Wilhelm Adamowitsch, will produce a plan by the end of 2010. He has warned that without additional transmission infrastructure, the EU will not be able to meet its ambitious targets. Hunt said the EC working group's findings would be fed into the nine-country grid plan.

The cost of a North Sea grid has not yet been calculated, but a study by Greenpeace in 2008 put the price of building a similar grid by 2025 at €15bn-€20bn. This would provide more than 6,000km of cable around the region. The EWEA's 2009 study suggested the costs of connecting the proposed 100GW wind farms and building interconnectors, into which further wind and wave power farms could be plugged in future, would probably push the bill closer to €30bn. The technical, planning, legal and environmental issues will be discussed at the meeting of the nine this month.

"The first thing we're aiming for is a common vision," said Hunt. "We will hopefully sign a memorandum of understanding in the autumn with ministers setting out what we're trying to do and how we plan to do it."

All those involved also have an eye on the future, said Wilkes. "The North Sea grid would be the backbone of the future European electricity supergrid," he said. This supergrid, which has support from scientists at the commission's Institute for Energy (IE), and political backing from both the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Gordon Brown, would link huge solar farms in southern Europe – producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines – with marine, geothermal and wind projects elsewhere on the continent. Scientists at the IE have estimated it would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and the deserts of the Middle East to meet all Europe's energy needs.

In this grid, electricity would be transmitted along high voltage direct current cables. These are more expensive than traditional alternating-current cables, but they lose less energy over long distances.

Hunt agreed that the European supergrid was a long-term dream, but one worth making a reality. The UK, like other countries, faced "huge challenges with our renewables targets," he said. "The 2020 target is just the beginning and then we've got to aim for 2050 with a decarbonised electricity supply – so we need all the renewables we can get."

A North Sea grid could link into grids proposed for a much larger German-led plan for renewables called the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII). This aims to provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050 or earlier via power lines stretching across desert and the Mediterranean. The plan was launched last November with partners including Munich Re, the world's biggest reinsurer, and some of Germany's biggest engineering and power companies, including Siemens, E.ON, ABB and Deutsche Bank. DII is a $400bn (£240bn) plan to use concentrated solar power (CSP) in southern Europe and northern Africa. This technology uses mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays on a fluid container, the super-heated liquid then drives turbines to generate electricity. The technology itself is nothing new – CSP plants have been running in the United States for decades and Spain is building many – but the scale of the DII project would be its biggest deployment ever. © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010