Masdar Acquires 25% Stake In Hywind Floating Offshore Wind Farm From Statoil

Posted on January 19th, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



 Norwegian oil and gas company Statoil has agreed to divest 25% of its stake in the Hywind Scotland floating offshore wind pilot to Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, Masdar.

The announcement was made at an official ceremony during Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week 2017, with Statoil agreeing to divest 25% of its stake in the 30-megawatt pilot project to Masdar. The Hywind Scotland pilot project will nevertheless be the world’s largest floating wind farm when it is completed late this year. The Scottish Government approved plans by Statoil to develop the project back in late 2015.

The project is expected to be able to produce power for approximately 20,000 households.

“The Hywind Scotland pilot park has the potential to open attractive new markets for renewable energy production worldwide,” said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil’s executive vice president for New Energy Solutions. “With Masdar onboard as a strong strategic partner we are teaming up with a company with high ambitions within renewable energy. We believe Masdar can be a strong partner also in future Hywind projects and we hope that our collaboration will result in future value creation opportunities for both parties.”

“Masdar is excited to join the team developing the world’s first floating wind farm, and to build on our partnership with Statoil,” said Chief Executive Officer at Masdar, Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi. “Hywind Scotland represents the next stage in the evolution of the offshore wind industry, combining the project management experience and technical expertise of one of the world’s largest offshore energy players – and our own capabilities in renewable energy development acquired over the last decade in the UK and international markets.

“We see tremendous potential in the commercial application of floating offshore wind technologies.”

The Hywind pilot is expected to cover approximately 4 square kilometers, about 25 kilometers off the coast of Peterhead in Scotland, in water depths of 95 to 120 meters. Floating offshore wind has the potential to generate affordable offshore wind energy while meeting specific requirements — generating in attractive offshore wind conditions in water depths beyond the reach of traditional offshore wind projects, and ensuring that offshore wind sites aren’t seen from shore.

“We expect floating offshore wind farms to benefit from the general cost development within the offshore wind segment,” Rummelhoff continued. “The objective of the Hywind Scotland pilot park is to demonstrate cost efficient and low risk solutions for future commercial scale floating wind farms. This will further increase the global market potential for offshore wind energy, contributing to realising Statoil’s ambition of profitable growth in renewable energy and other low-carbon solutions.”


Poland turns to geothermal solution for air quality

Posted on January 19th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



The Polish government is to use geothermal energy to try and clean up its air quality problem.

Both Warsaw and the EU are to help fund a $2.4bn programme to tackle the problem and $120m is to be designated towards geothermal energy projects.

Dr Kazimierz Kujda, CEO of the National Fund said, “Improving air quality is, has been and will be one of the priorities of the National Fund, but achieving this requires above all coordinated action at the local government level.”

The prerequisite for financing individual projects is documented ability to receive thermal energy (including the ability to connect the source to the existing district heating network). This offer does not apply to recreational use of geothermal waters or spas.



Why more and more countries are taking an interest in geothermal energy

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



At 2:46 pm local time on Friday, March 11, 2011, Japan was rocked by the largest earthquake ever to strike its shores. The 9.1-magnitude quake triggered a devastating tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people. It also took out the backup emergency generators that cooled the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant complex, causing a series of catastrophic meltdowns.

But amid the chaos, the Yanaizu-Nishiyama geothermal power plant in Fukushima prefecture didn’t miss a beat. Along with two more of the nine geothermal power plants in the region, the 65-megawatt facility continued to generate power, even as many other power plants around them failed because of damaged equipment and transmission lines.

“This is big news for many geothermal people around the world,” says Kasumi Yasukawa, principal research manager at the Institute for Geo-Resources and Environment in Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology.

In a country as seismically active as Japan, it was a clear signal that geothermal energy was worth investing in.


Geothermal electricity generation might not have the high-tech flashiness of solar, or the romance of wind and wave, but it’s the solid, steady workhorse of the renewable energy race. The never-flagging heat lurking at various depths below the Earth’s surface is tapped to produce steam that is used to drive turbines and generate electricity. This heat can also be used more directly to warm spaces or swimming pools, but sustainable electricity generation is the goal that most have in their sights.

“If you want to know what you could run an industrial society off of, it would be hydro and as much geothermal as you could find,” says Susan Krumdieck, who heads the Advanced Energy and Material Systems Lab at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

Star on the rise

Wind and solar energy have many excellent qualities, but reliability isn’t necessarily one of them. When the wind drops off, or the sun sets, something else has to step in. And increasingly, nations are turning to geothermal to deliver that stability.

The use of geothermal electricity varies enormously around the world. In 2015, 24 countries had a total of around 13.3 gigawatts of geothermal power capacity. The United States is the single biggest, with just over 3,500 megawatts of capacity — although this only contributes around 0.3 percent of the nation’s electricity capacity — followed by the Philippines, Indonesia and Mexico in the 1,000 to 2,000 MW range.


Geothermal energy’s star seems to be on the rise. The Japanese government has committed to tripling its geothermal electricity capacity, from around 540 MW in 2011 to 1,500 MW, by 2030. El Salvador is aiming to source 40 percent of its electricity from geothermal by 2019 — up from around 25 percent — and in Kenya, geothermal energy has now taken over hydro as the top supplier of electricity, providing 51 percent of the nation’s electricity.

But these countries, and others such as Iceland and New Zealand, have one big advantage: Their volcanic geology and seismic activity means the heat is relatively close to the surface and often in close contact with water, and therefore much easier to tap. But not all countries are so lucky, and this is where enhanced geothermal electricity comes into play.

Enhanced geothermal

Geothermal electricity generation needs three things to be viable: heat, fluid, and a substrate permeable enough to allow movement of fluid through it and up to the surface, where the steam is used to turn power-producing turbines. In the case of conventional geothermal energy — sometimes called hydrothermal energy — all three of these elements naturally occur together.

However this is the exception rather the rule. For the majority of countries, the heat is there, but the fluid, and in some cases the permeability, is not.

Enhanced geothermal involves drilling wells into the hot rock, and forcing fluid — water or brine — into the hot rock through fractures or permeable areas. The heated water is then extracted via another well and put to work generating electricity.

“The hydrothermal systems that have been developed to date are by and large low-hanging fruit,” says Robert Podgorney, director of the Snake River Plain Geothermal Consortiumand Idaho National Lab FORGE — Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy — Initiative. “But the elephant in the room is the enhanced geothermal; the source base dwarfs all of production to date.” For example, a 2008 report by the US Geological Survey estimated there are more than 500,000 MW of untapped enhanced geothermal energy in the western United States alone, an order of magnitude greater than available conventional geothermal resources. FORGE is the US government’s up to US$31 million push to shift enhanced geothermal electricity generation up a gear.

“We’re looking for case number one at a really commercial scale, and when I say commercial scale, each well has to be making at least 5 megawatts and preferably more,” Podgorney says.

But getting to this point will require advances in drilling technologies, energy conversion, understanding the heat resource and substrate, and identifying resources most likely to deliver electricity bang for drilling buck. Enhanced geothermal also has issues with regional seismic disturbances, subsidence, and the extraction of potentially toxic mineral-laden fluid that can clog power plant machinery with mineral deposits.

For example, in 2009 the ancient Swiss city of Basel was hit by a series of small earthquakes that were blamed on an inadequately researched enhanced geothermal power plant initiative. The project was soon abandoned, and its geologist stood trial accused of property damage, although he was later acquitted. Podgorney says seismic disturbance can be a concern, particularly with enhanced geothermal where fluid is being forced into the substrate. “One of the areas that we work on here in the Idaho National Lab is ways to optimize the reservoir creation while trying to minimize any potential impacts.”

Conventional geothermal is not without its environmental problems: New Zealand has experienced subsidence around several of its geothermal fields, which has been partly blamed on unconstrained extraction of the hot fluid without reinjection. Plans for these areas now emphasize reinjection to limit further losses.

But the biggest challenge for enhanced geothermal is the fact that getting to this hot rock requires drilling many kilometers below the surface, injecting fluid and extracting it once it’s hot, none of which is cheap.

Indeed, cost has proven Australia’s undoing. While the ancient continent’s volcanic resources are long dormant, there are vast reserves of hot dry rock. But a AU$144 million project drilling for enhanced geothermal energy resources in the Cooper Basin did not find a resource worth developing under existing economic conditions. The Australian government’s renewable energy agency has now taken a step back and directed its funding to a project to map structural permeability and identify areas where fluid has the best chance of traveling efficiently through the hot rock.

Improving efficiency

The US-based geothermal company AltaRock Energy is focusing considerable attention on energy conversion efficiency. By making a number of tweaks to its own geothermal power plant, AltaRock has increased the efficiency with which it converts heat to electricity and increased output from 25 MW to 30.

“If you can make the conversion process from heat to electricity 20 percent more efficient, you need 20 percent fewer wells, and the wells are the expensive part,” says Susan Petty, AltaRock’s president and CTO.

AltaRock is also improving the efficiency of its wells — managing the injection and flow of fluid so they target the hottest parts of the geothermal field. And Petty sees potential in improving the design of the giant turbines whose steam-powered spin drives electricity production, using modern, digitally controlled techniques to craft much more efficient turbines.

Meanwhile, back in Japan, some people are turning geothermal into personal gain. The expansion of geothermal electricity generation faces resistance from some owners of Japan’s many traditional hot springs, or onsen — an integral part of Japanese culture — who are afraid the development will compromise their springs in some way. But others have begun investing in their own very small-scale geothermal power plants, suggesting that geothermal has already gone a long way to winning them over after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Yasukawa says the 2011 earthquake and tsunami showed just how valuable geothermal electricity can be.

“We don’t need to wait for the big catastrophic earthquake — we have lots of small earthquake or landslides or something that interrupts the power lines in these areas,” Yasukawa says. “If you have a geothermal power plant in your village you can get power, so I think that is a very strong support of geothermal.”


Military Urges Renewed Commitment to Renewable Energy

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



 On January 12, 2017, Noblis, in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, released a report on energy assurance on U.S. military bases. Cost-effective and reliable energy is crucial to the success of U.S. military missions, and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) fixed military installations account for 1 percent of the total electrical energy consumed by the United States, costing almost $4 billion. The military has long relied on the commercial grid, with standalone generators during peak use, but these sources are vulnerable to disruption due to aging infrastructure, severe weather, and both physical attacks and cyberattacks. Instead, the report proposes shifting to a strategy of large-scale microgrids. It conducts a cost comparison, addresses implementation issues, and analyzes the efficiency and security of microgrids, concluding that they would be superior to the military’s current system for supplying energy.

The Pew Charitable Trusts recently held a panel discussion, which supplements the report’s findings, focused on the intersection of national security, energy, and climate change. Three military secretaries examined past successes, and Dr. Jeff Marqusee, the Chief Scientist of Noblis and author of the report, discussed how the military could enhance its energy security going forward. The panelists argued that investment in renewable energy should continue to be a priority for the U.S. military because its goal is increasing mission assurance. The testimony was followed by a roundtable discussion and Q&A session.

Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack discussed the Army’s Net Zero programs initiative, the goal of which is to maintain bases with net zero energy, water, and waste. This requires that bases produce as much as they consume, so consumption must also be reduced. The Net Zero programs strategy is based on enhancing readiness and resilience to weather emergencies or attacks. Addressing concerns that the Trump administration may reduce renewable energy initiatives in the federal government, Secretary Hammack stated that she does not believe the program will be scaled back, because it is objectively cost-effective, and it would be counterintuitive to require the Army to switch to a less cost-effective and less resilient system.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Dennis McGinn argued that the military needs to focus on regional resiliency, because if the lights stay on in the region, they will stay on in the base. To accomplish grid stability, the Navy works closely with private-sector utility partners. If a private company wants to build an element of the energy grid or a “peaker plant” on a marine installation, the Navy allows the company to use the land and this, in turn, improves regional and base resiliency. Secretary McGinn stressed the strong business case for energy stability and efficiency, since energy security and resiliency is directly related to the success and safety of our troops.

Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Miranda Ballentine discussed three recent global trends that leave the U.S. energy supply uniquely vulnerable. First, the United States systematically and intentionally outsources power generation. Second, U.S. military missions have become more and more dependent on the steady flow of electrons, which are as essential as jet fuel to planes. Third, Mother Nature is no longer our only adversary; the United States has many adversaries around the world looking at our power grids for kinetic and cyberattacks.

These trends signal a need to change the military’s approach to energy security. Secretary Ballentine suggested that the military needs renewable energy that does not rely on a supply chain, because terrorists cannot cut off sun, wind, or geothermal energy if it is right underneath the base. There is also the need to improve next-generation storage technology, so bases can function without immediate sun and wind. She also pointed out that many nations are transitioning to host nation power grids, and away from diesel generators, because they believe host nation power grids are less expensive and more reliable.

Chief Scientist of Noblis Dr. Jeff Marqusee advocated for a shift from the current dependency on the commercial grid to microgrids. There has been an increase in grid outages due to weather events, physical attacks, and cyberattacks, but microgrids are a networked approach that provides an added layer of resiliency, increased business performance, and efficiency. Microgrids also provide a huge cost savings over the current system, because we do not account for all of the costs of our current paradigm, creating strong inertia. Dr. Marqusee believes that DoD should buy microgrid services from a third party, because that allows it to tap into third-party financing. His report finds that with a switch to microgrids, DoD’s buildings could become a quarter more efficient.

Finally, each panelist was asked to provide a piece of advice for the incoming Trump administration. Secretaries Hammack and McGinn urged the new administration to focus on the “why,” which is mission effectiveness and resiliency, and to examine the strong business case that underlies sustainable energy. Secretary Ballentine and Dr. Marqusee focused on the “people power” in the DoD, the extensive expertise of career employees, and the need to trust the employees, because all share a common goal of supporting the mission.


Renewable Energy First, Renewable Electronics Follow

Posted on January 17th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Much of the focus regarding the fight for environmentally friendly technology revolves around renewable energy, forgetting that there are also other facets of modern industries that cause harm. Electronics are prime examples since components, wires, and hardware is still contributing to the deteriorating state of the earth. Scientists recently found a type of microbe with significant potential in conducting electricity, which could potentially become the future’s source of wires.

Electrically conductive wires, whether they are based on copper or optic fibers, are necessary to transport and store energy produced by one source from another. According to a new report by University of Massachusetts Amherst microbiologists, this conductivity could potentially come from microbes that belong to the Geobacter species, reports.

One of the microbiologists behind the report is Derek Lovley, and according to him, the use of microbial nanowires has the potential to become even better conductors of electricity than those made by humans. For one thing, the process to actually getting them is a lot cleaner.

"Microbial nanowires are a revolutionary electronic material with substantial advantages over man-made materials,” Lovley said. “Chemically synthesizing nanowires in the lab requires toxic chemicals, high temperatures and/or expensive metals. The energy requirements are enormous. By contrast, natural microbial nanowires can be mass-produced at room temperature from inexpensive renewable feedstocks in bioreactors with much lower energy inputs. And the final product is free of toxic components."

This led Lovley and his team to conclude that microbial nanowires have the potential to become the source for developing materials for electronic devices such as sensors, computer chips, and eventually, perhaps even vehicles. The diversity of the applications that can come from the discovery were outlined in the paper that the team published.

In the paper, the microbiologists suggest that the sustainable nature of producing these electrically conductive nanowires makes them perfect for replacing current versions that are causing harm to the planet. Doing so might even lead to a change in perspective when it comes to creating sustainable and non-toxic substitutes for other materials.


Why the U.S. Air Force wants to fly on renewable energy

Posted on January 16th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



In 2012, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Northeast, including the area surrounding Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst (JB MDL) in New Jersey. JB MDL played a critical role in the relief and recovery from Sandy. The sprawling base, including what used to be known as McGuire Air Force Base, provided essential support as a staging area for relief efforts and aid distribution for more than 100 nonprofits and government agencies, including FEMA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Department of Homeland Security.

"They were the central node for receiving aid and stationing for deployment," observed Michael Wu, special assistant, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, "but the reason they were able to do that is because the storm just missed them. If the storm had been a little bit farther south, they would have been knocked out like everybody else."

The experience of Sandy vividly demonstrated the crucial role that energy resilience plays in mission assurance for the Air Force. And so Wu, together with a team drawn from Air Force headquarters in the Pentagon, JB MDL and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), joined teams from across North America at RMI’s third annual eLab Accelerator to investigate clean energy approaches to resilience.

A brave new world

The Air Force team came to Accelerator with the goal of honing "a replicable and scalable process for implementing resilient energy projects and resilient energy systems throughout the Air Force enterprise," said Wu. "Climate change could create significant challenges to readiness, and is already having an impact on our installations and will impact our ability to operate going forward." 

Threats from more frequent and more intense storms are on the minds of all enterprises. Indeed, the White House’s recent memorandum Climate Change and National Security calls out climate change as “a significant and growing threat to national security, both at home and abroad,” and directs all federal entities to "ensure that climate change-related impacts are fully considered in the development of national security doctrine, policies, and plans."

Wu, providing an example for the Air Force, noted, "The energy resilience tools that we’ve used have been mostly spot-diesel generation on our critical facilities." But diesel fuel runs out and can be hard to resupply, especially in the midst of widespread disruption. Wu believes "that we’re entering a new threat environment, where there’s a much greater concern over long-term, widespread power outages.” 

The Air Force, being a military service, also has its eye on a somewhat more colorful set of threats beyond just climate change. Wu explained: "The driving factor for a lot of our new initiatives has really been the determined-adversary aspect of it." For example, our increasingly interconnected world is also increasingly susceptible to sabotage, as revealed when someone armed with only bolt cutters and a rifle shot up an electrical substation in Silicon Valley in April 2013, doing $15 million worth of damage that took 27 days to repair. PG&E was able to compensate using other grid resources, but it put the world on notice that grids are physically vulnerable. 

Think globally, act locally

Sandy provided JB MDL the impetus to implement localized clean energy technologies and approaches. "They really wanted to create more self-sufficiency and resiliency for themselves and their mission partners on the base," said Wu. The solution that JB MDL is finalizing is one that includes energy storage, controllable loads and "high renewable energy penetration, because that will strengthen our ability to maintain our missions in one of those prolonged power disruption scenarios," said Wu.

But the team that came to Accelerator ultimately had their eye on innovating solutions for all U.S. bases, not just JB MDL, and on ensuring resilience in the face of any disruption, not just weather-related natural disasters. In Wu’s words, "How do we create a process that we can learn from, replicate and scale? How do we do it in such a way that it’s helpful for JB MDL, but it’s also something that we can apply across the Air Force enterprise?" Rather than have an architecture and engineering firm take on the resiliency project at JB MDL, the team "did a really good job of sitting down and trying to do some long-term visioning and strategic thinking," said Wu.

"It was exciting to work with a team that had such diverse perspectives on resilience for mission assurance," said Jason Meyer, RMI facilitator for the Air Force team at Accelerator. "The application insight from folks at JB MDL, the enterprise strategy from Air Force headquarters [HQ AF], the experience of NREL across a number of similar projects and efforts and the technical knowledge of O’Brien & Gere [contractor to JB MDL] really advanced the development of immediate solutions for JB MDL, with an eye toward application across the Air Force."

JB MDL is an excellent model from which to scale up. Wu said, "There are so many stakeholders just within the base and within HQ AF, and it’s a joint base that includes all four services," that it was valuable to create a process for stakeholder engagement there. The team also has ideas about how to pursue opportunities with the local grid operator, PJM and the local utility, Jersey City Power & Light. 

Lessons from — and for — the private sector

The problems and opportunities that Air Force installations face regarding resilience are faced by just about every large organization you could imagine. Many such organizations had teams at Accelerator. Wu said, "The space that they had, and the faculty and other teams that were doing similar projects, really made the difference at Accelerator." He said their team learned a lot from "how much other teams were struggling and wrestling with the same questions: How do we pay for this stuff? What’s the value of resilience? How do we do this in the regular course of business, and not just for the pilot project?" 

"We share a lot of energy resilience requirements with other sectors — with the financial systems sector, with cities," said Wu. "Our missions are a little different, but the energy resilience side is actually remarkably similar ... Those kinds of folks will hopefully be helping to push the technologies and the market factors in the same direction. What I think is critical is to recognize the common requirements." Wu said he thinks "it will help create more standardized business models that allow more expansion and, hopefully, a self-perpetuating cycle of enhancements and improvements to the way we create resilient energy systems." 

"Resilience and resilient energy systems are critical concerns for many different types of stakeholders," concluded Meyer. "The complexity of the need — which could range from mission assurance to sheltering in place or continued operations of critical facilities in times of disaster — is compounded by the complexity and newness of the technology that could provide solutions." Accelerator is "such a powerful forum to work through these challenges due to the diversity of stakeholders and faculty members in the room that can lend a hand in the development of a solution," Meyer said.

Mission ready air force

"Every mission expansion or shift or new technology that the Air Force has implemented in the last three decades has increased the importance and prominence of access to electricity for our installations," Wu summarized. "The expansion of our cyber mission, the expansion of our space mission, the proliferation of remotely piloted aircraft and other new platforms — all of them are more networked, and that creates new interdependencies."


As electricity has become more critical to the Air Force, so has resilience, whether the mission is providing local relief during disasters, air support for forces across the globe or reliable communications via satellites in Earth’s orbit. That’s why the resilience inherent in on-site renewable energy generation and storage has such great potential to help ensure the Air Force is always ready, at home, on the other side of the world, and even in outer space. 


India Launches Online Training Course On Solar Energy Which Costs Just $8.79!

Posted on January 16th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



India is preparing to have a huge army of skilled professionals ready to service the rapidly growing solar power market.

The Indian government has announced the launch of an online training program to help young individuals turn into professional solar power technicians. The Solar Energy Corporation of India recently reported that a Chennai-based company has been roped-in to implement this online program.

For just INR 599 ($8.79), anyone with an internet connection can enroll in this online program and learn the various aspects related to solar power generation. Among the various topics that will be covered in the course are the basics of photovoltaic power systems, electromagnetic spectrum and radiation, designing solar power systems, testing and commissioning of solar power plants, and operation and maintenance.

Successful candidates shall be issued a certificate from the Ministry of New & Renewable Energy, Government of India, which would open up vast opportunities for them. The program is likely a part of the Skilled India mission announced by Prime Minister Modi that aims at creating millions of jobs in the country.

The renewable energy secto, especially solar power, presents a massive jobs creation opportunity for India’s youth. The government has announced plans to have 175 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity operational by March 2022 which includes 100 gigawatts of solar power capacity. At the end of the November 2016, the renewable energy capacity stood at less than 47 gigawatts, with solar power capacity at just below 9 gigawatts.

According to a report issued by the Natural Resources and Defense Council (NRDC) last year, India may end up creating over a million new jobs in its endeavor to have 100 GW of operational solar power capacity by March 2022.

Around 210,800 site engineers and designers would be required to set the large-scale as well as rooftop solar power systems rolling. Around 624,600 semi-skilled workers would be needed for the construction and on-field execution of the projects. To monitor ongoing operations at the power plants, and their maintenance, another 182,400 semi-skilled workers would be needed. Thus, a total of 1,017,800 jobs are expected be created if India indeed manages to set up a cumulative operational capacity of 100 gigawatts by 2022.


Saudi Arabia seeks $30bn-$50bn solar and wind energy investment

Posted on January 16th, 2017 in environment by Spencer R.



Saudi Arabia will “within weeks” start issuing tenders for a big solar and wind power programme that envisages investment worth $30bn-$50bn by 2030, the country’s oil minister said on Monday.

The oil-rich kingdom was also in the early stages of feasibility and design proposals for the country’s first commercial nuclear power stations, with capacity of 2.8 gigawatts, added Khalid al-Falih. “There will be significant investment in nuclear energy,” he said at a renewable energy event in Abu Dhabi. Mr Falih gave no further details on the programme’s timeframe and cost. The pledge marks the first solid indication of the kingdom’s commitment to developing nuclear energy, after it recently signed co-operation agreements with Russia, France and South Korea on feasibility work. Fleshing out his previously announced ambition to turn Saudi Arabia into a “solar powerhouse”, Mr Falih said that the country was targeting renewable power projects with a capacity of 10GW by 2023.

The pledge to invest heavily in broadening the energy mix builds on previous commitments to alternative power sources as part of Riyadh’s ambition to diversify the economy away from crude oil production by 2030. Its national development plan had earlier set a target of developing 3.45MW of renewable energy capacity by 2020. The broader economic reform plan aims to create new revenue streams to wean the government off dependence on oil. Energy forms a major component of the strategy, sparked by a fiscal crisis after two years of sustained low oil prices. The slump in oil revenues has prompted the government to draw down more than $100bn in financial reserves and borrow $17.5bn on global bond markets to help finance its budget. The government is also expected to cull billions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure projects to cut costs, and is set to return to bond markets this quarter.

Renewable and nuclear energy are seen as vital to cut domestic demand for oil, freeing up production for export. Mr Falih also said the kingdom would turn to natural gas as a feedstock for local electricity production. The government has pushed forward with cutting utility and petrol subsidies despite some disapproval from a population accustomed to a generous welfare state. The reforms are expected to save about $55bn a year by 2020. Speaking at another event in Abu Dhabi last week, Mr Falih said that earlier price rises had already produced a “significant drop” in demand growth from an average 5-6 per cent to 0.5 per cent last year. He also reaffirmed Riyadh’s commitment to privatisation as part of the economic reform push. The long-awaited initial public offering of a minority stake in state oil company Saudi Aramco — “the largest IPO in history” — was still scheduled for 2018, he said. The state-owned Saudi Electricity Company was also set to be split and sold off, he said. Mr Falih reiterated plans to privatise the stock market next year, adding that this could be followed by other sectors such as seaports and airports. Addressing last year’s Opec deal with non-Opec producers to trim output to sustain prices, Mr Falih said he doubted that the six-month agreement would need to be extended as demand would increase and the market would return to balance.


Dutch Railways' Electric Trains Now Run On 100% Wind Energy

Posted on January 12th, 2017 in wind by Spencer R.



A single Dutch Railways line in the Netherlands still runs on diesel fuel—but only until the end of this year. Every other train owned by the national rail company is already electric and now gets that electricity from Dutch wind farms.

"We want to give our commuters and train passengers a real sustainable alternative to flying or driving a car," says Ton Boon, spokesperson for Dutch Railways or NS, which runs a network of 5,500 Dutch trains. "Especially daily commuters."

 The company, working in partnership with all other Dutch rail companies—including freight trains—had planned to source all of its electricity from wind by 2018, but after learning that extra wind power was available on the Dutch market, was able to purchase it earlier. The trains use a huge amount of power, roughly as much as the entire city of Amsterdam. But the growth in wind energy makes it possible to supply the whole amount.

Rather than buying power from existing renewable energy plants, the rail company chose to support newly-built projects. The power is sent into the grid, and the company buys certificates for each megawatt-hour of energy that it uses. Wind power doesn't go directly to the trains, both because that's not how the infrastructure is set up and because the trains need to pull from the grid for a constant source of power.

"If there is no wind you can run the trains," says Boon. "There needs to be enough power on the grid always."

Each day, 1.2 million people ride the trains—compared to less than 90,000 a day on Amtrak in the U.S. In 2011, the most recent year that data are available, Amtrak directly emitted nearly 800,000 metric tons of carbon pollution; NS's operational footprint is close to nothing, while running more than 15 times as many trains.

"We want to set an example for the market that it's possible to make an agreement with an energy supplier on making your energy usage really sustainable," says Boon.


Storing thermal solar energy from summer to winter

Posted on January 12th, 2017 in solar by Spencer R.



Can thermal solar energy be stored until wintertime? Within a European research consortium Empa scientists and their colleagues have spent four years studying this question by pitting three different techniques against each other.

We are still a far cry from a sustainable energy supply: in 2014, 71 percent of all privately-owned apartments and houses in Switzerland were heated with fossil fuels, and 60 percent of the hot water consumed in private households is generated in this way. In other words, a considerable amount of fossil energy could be saved if we were able to store  from sunny summer days until wintertime and retrieve it at the flick of a switch. Is there a way to do this? It certainly looks like it. Since autumn of 2016, following several years of research, Empa has a plant on a lab scale in operation that works reliably and is able to store heat in the long term. But the road to get there was long and winding.

The theory behind this kind of heat storage is fairly straightforward: if you pour water into a beaker containing solid or concentrated sodium hydroxide (NaOH), the mixture heats up. The dilution is exothermic: chemical energy is released in the form of heat. Moreover, sodium hydroxide solution is highly hygroscopic and able to absorb . The condensation heat obtained as a result warms up the sodium hydroxide solution even more.

Summer heat in a storage tank

The other way round is also possible: if we feed energy into a dilute sodium hydroxide solution in the form of heat, the water evaporates; the sodium hydroxide solution will get more concentrated and thus stores the supplied energy. This solution can be kept for months and even years, or transported in tanks. If it comes into contact with water (vapor) again, the stored heat is re-released.

So much for the theory, anyway. But could the beaker experiment be replicated on a scale capable of storing enough energy for a single-family household? Empa researchers Robert Weber and Benjamin Fumey rolled up their sleeves and got down to work. They used an insulated sea container as an experimental laboratory on Empa's campus in Dübendorf – a safety precaution as concentrated sodium hydroxide solution is highly corrosive. If the system were to spring a leak, it would be preferable for the aggressive liquid to slosh through the container instead of Empa's laboratory building.

Unfortunately, the so-called COMTES prototype didn't work as anticipated. The researchers had opted for a falling film evaporator – a system used in the food industry to condense orange juice into a concentrate, for instance. Instead of flowing correctly around the , however, the thick sodium hydroxide solution formed large drops. It absorbed too little water vapor and the amount of heat that was transferred remained too low.

Then Fumey had a brainwave: the viscous storage medium should trickle along a pipe in a spiral, absorb water vapor on the way and transfer the generated heat to the pipe. The reverse – charging the medium – should also be possible using the same technique, only the other way round. It worked. And the best thing about it: spiral-shaped heat exchangers are already available ex stock – heat exchangers from flow water heaters.

Fumey then optimized the lab system further: which fluctuations in NaOH concentration are optimal for efficiency? Which temperatures should the inflowing and outflowing water have? Water vapor at a temperature of five to ten degrees is required to drain the store. This water vapor can be produced with heat from a geothermal probe, for instance. In the process, 50-percent sodium hydroxide solution runs down the outside of the spiral heat exchanger pipe and is thinned to 30 percent in the steam atmosphere. The water inside the pipe heats up to around 50 degrees Celsius – which makes it just the ticket for floor heating.

"Charged" sodium hydroxide

While replenishing the store, the 30-percent, "discharged" sodium hydroxide solution trickles downwards around the spiral pipe. Inside the pipe flows 60-degree hot water, which can be produced by a solar collector, for instance. The water from the sodium hydroxide solution evaporates; the water vapor is removed and condensed. The condensation heat is conducted into a geothermal probe, where it is stored. The sodium hydroxide solution that leaves the heat exchanger after charging is concentrated to 50 percent again, i.e. "charged" with thermal energy.

"This method enables solar energy to be stored in the form of chemical energy from the summer until the wintertime," says Fumey. "And that's not all: the stored heat can also be transported elsewhere in the form of concentrated sodium hydroxide solution, which makes it flexible to use." The search for industrial partners to help build a compact household system on the basis of the Empa lab model has now begun. The next prototype of the  storage system could then be used in NEST, for example.