‘Africa is tired of being in the dark’: bank chief on plans to boost energy

Posted on November 17th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.



“We lose 5% of our potential GDP every year, and African industries cannot be competitive without access to electricity,” says Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank. “I believe that’s why we can’t break away from reliance on exporting our raw materials – new industries will only go to where there’s power.”

He is speaking on the sidelines of the COP22 climate change conference in Marrakech, which ends on Friday.

Adesina and colleagues from the bank have been using the conference to highlight its new initiatives on energy, including the New Deal on Energy for Africa, which will see $12bn (£9.7bn) invested in the sector over the next five years. “Africa is tired of being in the dark,” he says.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has also created the role of vice-president on power, and been a major player in setting up the African Renewable Energy Initiative, which aims to generate 10GW of power from renewable sources by 2020 and up to 300GW by 2030. “This initiative was the major outcome for Africa of the Paris COP21 meeting last year, where G7 countries contributed $10bn towards it,” says Adesina.

Adesina says he is particularly impressed by the strides Morocco has taken to develop its capacity for solar energy. The AfDB was a major investor in the 160MW Noor solar plant at Ouarzazate, which was opened this year. The complex, which uses giant mirrors to reflect the sun’s heat on to liquid that then turns turbines, is being expanded to produce more than 500MW by 2018. Morocco has also recently signed a deal to build 1720MW in new wind farm capacity.

“Africa should use what it has and not what it doesn’t have. We have limitless sunshine and great potential for wind, hydro and geothermal,” he says. However, he still believes there is a role for non-renewable sources of energy in Africa. “We need a balanced energy mix. Some African countries have gas and coal, which can be used in a clean way, and they should use it.”

Another major challenge is to increase the amount of money spent on climate change adaptation – or helping countries to rebuild systems when they are destroyed by the impacts of climate change. In Africa, for example, governments are coping with floods, extreme temperatures and major droughts in east and southern Africa and the Sahel.

Wealthy countries have committed $100bn towards helping poorer states cope with climate change, but one of the major topics on the agenda in Marrakech has been how that money should be divided between adaptation and mitigation. Until now, only 14% of climate funds have gone to adaptation, and Africa, the continent most deeply affected by climate change, has received only 4% of the total green climate funds.

“We’ve been short-changed by climate change and we should not be short-changed in financing,” says Adesina. “South Africa has spent $700m this year dealing with the impacts of the drought last year; Mozambique $200m; Namibia $13m. These emergency costs are continuously displacing public expenditure which should be going to health, education and infrastructure development, and endangering macro-economic stability. My view is that we need to increase the amount to be spent on adaptation so that we can spend money on development.”

The AfDB is trying to garner support for an African insurance fund. An initiative called the African Risk Capacity Insurance has been launched, but of 32 countries that signed up, only seven have been able to pay the premiums. Adesina says the idea for the insurance fund was welcomed on Wednesday at an African heads of state meeting chaired by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, and that one way in which climate finance can be better targeted to help African countries is for green climate funds such as the GEF (Global Environment Facility) to start paying the premiums for the African countries. He hopes that this could pave the way for action.

“Whenever these drastic climate events like drought, flood or extreme temperature happen, the world has words of comfort for Africa,” says Adesina. “But words of comfort cannot pay the bills and rebuild when problems start.”


America’s First All-Renewable-Energy City

Posted on November 17th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.



To understand what makes Burlington unlike almost any other city in America when it comes to the power it consumes, it helps to look inside the train that rolls into town every day. The 24 freight cars that pull up to the city’s power plant aren’t packed with Appalachian coal or Canadian fuel oil but wood. Each day 1,800 tons of pine and timber slash, sustainably harvested within a 60-mile radius and ground into wood chips, is fed into the roaring furnaces of the McNeil Generating Station, pumping out nearly half of the city’s electricity needs.

Much of the rest of what Burlington’s 42,000 citizens need to keep the lights on comes from a combination of hydroelectric power drawn from a plant it built a half mile up the Winooski River, four wind turbines on nearby Georgia Mountain and a massive array of solar panels at the airport. Together these sources helped secure Burlington the distinction of being the country’s first city that draws 100 percent of its power from renewable sources. The net energy costs are cheap enough that the city has not had to raise electric rates for its customers in eight years. And Burlington is not done in its quest for energy conservation. Add in the city’s plan for an expansive bike path, a growing network of electric vehicle charging stations and an ambitious plan to pipe the McNeil station’s waste heat to warm downtown buildings and City Hall’s goal to be a net zero consumer of energy within 10 years starts looking achievable.

The environmental sustainability revolution has spread to other sectors of civic life. Outside the gates, farmers, community gardeners and food-minded social workers tend fields and plots spread out over 300 acres of once-neglected floodplain just two miles from the city’s center. Together the agricultural enterprises in the valley—working land controlled by a non-profit that partners with the city—grow $1.3 million in food each year, much of it sold at a massive, member-owned cooperative supermarket, its own origins traced back to City Hall.

How did this former logging port on the shore of Lake Champlain transform itself over the past 40 years from a torpid manufacturing town in the far corner of a backwater state to a global trendsetter in sustainable development and green power? The answer carries particular resonance at a time when the United States’ commitment to environmental issues and addressing climate change is suddenly less certain than at any time in a decade. Cities like Burlington, the largest city in a state whose tourism and agriculture dependent economy is vulnerable to climate change, have had to craft their own solutions to address global warming and to insulate themselves from the vagaries of global energy markets. In Burlington, however, these solutions were not spearheaded by civic or corporate leaders, as is now often the case when cities tackle urban issues. Instead, Burlington is achieving its energy independence almost entirely through initiatives developed by its municipal government—a government that has been decidedly left-leaning for decades. In fact, one of the people most responsible for setting in motion the chain of policies and programs that now distinguish Burlington was a ground-breaking social democratic mayor with unruly hair, a thick Brooklyn accent and a message that would many years later carry him deep into the 2016 presidential campaign.

“There’s nothing magical about Burlington,” says Taylor Ricketts of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. “We don’t have a gift from nature of ample sun or mighty winds or powerful rivers, so if we can do it, so can others.”


India Will Launch A $2 Billion Renewable Energy Equity Fund

Posted on November 17th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.



The Indian government will soon launch an equity fund to push renewable energy investment.

According to media reports, the Indian government is planning to launch an equity fund worth $2 billion to boost renewable energy development. The initial funding of $1 billion will be available starting next financial year, April 2017.

The Clean Energy Equity Fund (CEEF) will see contributions from the central government as well as some state-owned companies. Around $600 million will be contributed from the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, under the Ministry of Finance, with the balance contributed by state-owned companies NTPC Limited, Rural Electrification Corporation and Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency (IREDA).

These companies, and several others, have already raised several million dollars through green bond issues which might be directed to the CEEF.

The government is expected to tap foreign investors to further increase the size of the fund. Pension and insurance funds will be targeted for this fund expansion.

The Indian government is looking to raise funds from as many sources as possible. It has tapped the green bonds market, international development banks and national banks and financial institutions. India has set a target to have installed renewable energy capacity of 175 GW, including 100 GW solar power and 60 GW wind energy capacity.


Successful demonstration of closed-loop geothermal plant in Kokonoe, Japan

Posted on November 16th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.



In a release yesterday by Kyoto University it is reported on successful tests of a demonstration project that utilises geothermal energy for power generation without tapping into water resources fueling local hot springs.

A team of researchers, including Associate Professor Takehiko Yokomine from the Kyoto University Graduate School of Engineering and the Japan New Energy Corporation (J-NEC), were recently successful in carrying out a demonstration of the J-NEC Method New Geothermal Power System, which is the first technology of its kind in the world.

The J-NEC Method New Geothermal Power System was conceived as a method for fundamentally resolving the various obstacles that have plagued geothermal power generation in the past. It represents a new technology born from the concept of “generating electricity by absorbing geothermal heat without using hot spring water”.

The closed cycle system, which injects and circulates water from above ground rather than using hot spring water, solves the problems of scale buildup and the installation of a reinjection well, which have plagued previous methods of generating geothermal energy. Playing a central role in the closed cycle system is a dual-pipe heat exchanger, which is buried 1,450 meters in the ground, into which water from above ground is pressure injected and heated by geothermal heat and then extracted in its liquid form when it has reached a high temperature. Once the liquid is above ground again, it is decompressed and instantly transformed into steam, turning the turbines and generating electricity.

In addition to the existing advantages of geothermal power generation in terms of not emitting COduring power generation and the ability to consistently generate power 24 hours a day, this new system adds elements that are effective for business development. It dramatically shortens development lead time, cuts running costs, and is not subject to the Hot Springs Act. Therefore, it can make a major contribution to the rapid advance of the geothermal power business.

Despite being among the world leaders in terms of geothermal resources, Japan has a limited track record in the geothermal power generation business. Therefore, this project will seek to use the J-NEC Method New Geothermal Power System to revolutionize Japan’s geothermal power industry, playing a part in the country’s renewable energy sector and serving Japan as a base-load power source.



Solar energy from the farm

Posted on November 16th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



Feeding the world's growing population requires land, especially if crops are to be grown in an environmentally friendly manner. But space for such crops is becoming increasingly limited.

"Agricultural land areas are not available in unlimited quantities," said Petra Högy, a professor with the Institute of Landscape and Plant Ecology at the University of Hohenheim, in southern Germany. "Therefore, it makes sense to double up and use available land for both the production of food and of energy."

In a pilot project near Lake Constance, on the German-Swiss border, researchers from several institutes are checking out the possibilities and advantages of this approach.

On 2.5 hectares (around six acres) of agricultural land, an organic farming company is growing wheat, potatoes, celery and a mixture of clover and grass - part of it under photovoltaic panels mounted on stands at a height of five meters (16.5 feet). Another section of the field is farmed in the usual way, not shaded by solar panels.

This comparison should show what kinds of vegetables or crops are particularly suited for agrophotovoltaic (APV) production. "Based on previous simulations, we believe potatoes grow slightly better under the solar panels. Wheat, by contrast, grows slightly worse," Högy told DW.

With funding from the German Education and Research Ministry, agronomists will use sensors and soil samples over the next three years to measure the differences in crop growth, biodiversity and crop yields.

Similar sites already exist in France, Italy and Japan. "In principle, the process is working," said Stephan Schindele, project manager with the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems based in Freiburg. "Experience has shown that when it comes to agriculture, there is very little loss." However, systematic research on the optimal combination between crops and solar panel infrastructure has not yet been done.

For the pilot project in Germany, researchers first simulated shadows with computers and developed the best possible system for the combined production of food and energy. Later, sufficient space on the field for large machines and a greater distance between the rows of solar modules "ensures an optimal distribution of solar energy on the agricultural area," said Schindele.

Cheaper than offshore wind energy

The substructure for the modules adds to the cost of the solar panels, making the power generated on the fields more expensive. "The production cost for the electricity produced by the pilot project will be 11.3 euro cents (around 12 US cents) per kilowatt hour," explained Schindele.

But, he added, the more these facilities are built, the cheaper they'll be. According to the expert, with a return of ten cents per kilowatt hour, these investments would be profitable for German farmers. 

The price for this power generation remains lower than for wind energy generated at sea. According to Schindele, the potential for agrophotovoltaics in Germany lies at 25 to 50 gigawatts, which would cover up to eight percent of Germany's electricity demand.

According to Schindele APV has  potential worldwide, especially in sunny regions. In areas like the Middle East, solar power generation is particularly cheap and could replace diesel generators used to power agricultural water pumps.

He also believes the shadows generated by the solar panel installations, in combination with improved water technology, could offer countries in the Mideast "new possibilities for agricultural production."

As an example Schindele gives Qatar, which has been receiving agricultural advice from the Fraunhofer Institute. Today, the country only produces two percent of its food - the rest is imported at high prices. With this new technology, Qatari farmers are now considering the idea of producing up to 30 percent of their own food on revitalized desert land, said Schindele. And with a combination of shade from the photovoltaic systems and seawater desalination, he believes it would work.



World's Cheapest Offshore Wind Farm to Power 600,000 Homes

Posted on November 15th, 2016 in wind by Spencer R.



Sweden's Vattenfall set a world record for the lowest price ever paid for offshore wind power. The state-owned energy company bid EUR 49.9 (or $54) per megawatt-hour to develop the Danish Kriegers Flak, a 600-megawatt offshore wind farm in the Baltic Sea, about 15 kilometers off the Danish island Møn. Kriegers Flak. For comparison, the average cost of offshore wind is around $126per megawatt-hour.

The Kriegers Flak is set for operations by 2022 and will be Denmark's largest offshore wind farm. The farm will be able to supply 600,000 households with renewable energy, or 23 percent of all Danish households.

As a pioneer in wind power, having installed its first turbines in the mid-1970s, Denmark's latest renewable energy project puts the country on track to meet its 2020 goal of getting 50 percent of its power from renewables. The nation plans to ditch fossil fuels entirely by 2050.

“The announcement is an essential milestone for our ambition to increase our production of renewable power," Vattenfall CEO Magnus Hall said. "We are already the second largest offshore player globally. The winning bid of EUR 49.9 per megawatt-hour proves that Vattenfall is highly competitive and brings down the costs for renewable energy."

Vattenfall has now won tenders for three major offshore wind farms—Horns Rev 3, Danish Near Shore and Kriegers Flak. The company invested between 1.1–1.3 billion EUR in Kriegers Flak, pending a final investment decision. 

"Our winning bid for Kriegers Flak is 58 percent below the original cap of EUR 0.12. For the Danish Near Shore project the bid was also substantially below its cap," Vattenfall head Gunnar Groebler said. "Proceeding with these two projects, Vattenfall provides Denmark with a cost efficient contribution to meet the country's climate targets and customers's demand for renewable energy."

Denmark's newest offshore wind farm will be constructed in a 132-square-kilometer area in the Baltic Sea, an area that will be home to the world's first "Supergrid." The area actually consists of three sections dedicated to wind power development in Germany, Sweden and Denmark.

The Supergrid will ideally supply cheap renewable energy to a large swath of European consumers and enable electricity trading between individual countries—all while decreasing Europe's need for imported fossil fuels. The idea is that it's always windy somewhere.

"In close partnership with their regional neighbors, Sweden and Germany, the Kriegers Flak area in the Baltic Sea, has been chosen as the first place in the world to have an offshore electricity grid," Denmark's Ministry of Foreign Affairs website boasts. "The planned 600 megawatt offshore wind farm will act like a 'Supergrid,' eventually being able to transmit renewable energy through power grids to all three countries.

"The 'Supergrid' would serve three purposes: Bring renewable energy to European consumers, strengthen regional energy markets and increase the security of supply by providing transmission capacity."


Germany is building the world’s first wind turbines with built-in hydroelectric batteries

Posted on November 15th, 2016 in environment by Spencer R.



Wind blows. Water falls. But for the first time, one is now powering the other. Engineers in Germany are storing water for hydroelectricity inside wind turbines allowing the towers act like massive batteries once the wind stops blowing. It’s the first major example of the two technologies being physically integrated to supply reliable renewable energy.

The four-turbine project, announced by General Electric this month, stores energy from the spinning blades by pumping water about 100 feet up inside the turbine structure itself. Basins around each base will store another 9 million gallons. When the wind stops, water flows downhill to generate hydroelectric power. A man-made lake in the valley below collects water until turbines pump the water back up again.

Typically, wind farms don’t store excess energy at all because storage is too expensive to be viable; excess energy harvested goes straight to the grid (driving energy prices into low or even negative territory), or the turbines get shut down. This project creates an affordable way to store excess energy in a natural reservoir, and integrates the source and storage into one system.

The wind farm in Germany’s Swabian-Franconian forest will feature the tallest turbines in the world at 809 feet (246.5 meters). At full capacity, it should produce 13.6 megawatts, along with another 16 megawatts from the hydroelectric plant. The project is being built by German firm Max Boegl Wind AG and GE Renewable Energy. The wind farm should connect to the grid by 2017, and hydropower units will be finished by the end of 2018.

Germany is in the midst of its energiewende, or energy transition, as it attempts to virtually eliminate fossil fuels. The nation has said it aimsto draw 45% of its energy from renewables by 2030 and reach 100% by 2050. Last year, the average renewable mix was 33%, reports Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank.

GE says this wind farm is the first major project that integrates water storage in the turbines themselves, although there are a few examples of combined wind and pumped-water storage in the world. If successful, it should prove to be a template for other projects. Boegl says it plans to add one to two new more wind-hydro projects in Germany annually after 2018, and new sites may be found the around the world as the technology can use either fresh and saltwater.


Oil company announces installation of solar panels at 5,000 gas stations, first step to convert them into EV charging stations?

Posted on November 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.



Total, the major French multinational oil and gas company, announced today a $300 million investment to install about 200 MW of solar capacity at 5,000 gas stations around the world. The investment is being presented as a way for Total’s operations to reduce its carbon footprint, but what if its the first step to convert the gas stations into electric vehicle charging stations?

As the global car fleet transition from being powered by gasoline and diesel to being powered by electricity, the refueling infrastructure is also bound to change. Gas stations have already mostly all become convenience stores, but they still depend on the traffic from drivers refueling their tanks.

Obviously, we will need less charging stations than gas stations when electric vehicles will be more common since the majority of the charging happens at home, but a significant number of stations will still be required for long distance travel and for EV owners without home access to charging, like apartment dwellers.

If you are to offer charging, you might as well produce the electricity from solar energy on location where it is economically viable, which is far from being everywhere yet, but it is quickly expanding in different markets.

Total didn’t specify where its new solar installations will be deployed other than at “5,000 of its service stations worldwide” including “800 in France” and they will be deployed over the next five years.

The panels will be supplied by Sunpower, which is owned by Total.

Philippe Sauquet, President of Gas, Renewables & Power at Total, commented on the announcement:

 “The project is fully aligned with Total’s ambition of becoming the responsible energy major and its commitment to developing solar power. It will reduce our carbon emissions by 100,000 tons per year and cut our electricity bill by $40 million per year. The panels will be supplied by our affiliate SunPower, which offers the world’s most efficient solar technology. This project demonstrates Total’s confidence in SunPower, especially its ability to bring our customers competitive, clean energy.

But it wasn’t a first globally. Last year, we reported that Tesla sold 12 Superchargers to the Manaseer Group to be installed at three of their gas stations in Jordan. Those are privately held Superchargers and not officially part of Tesla’s network.

With charging stations and solar arrays being installed (separately for now) at gas stations around the world, I think we are seeing a glimpse of an important part of our future transport infrastructure starting to emerge. Soon enough, we should see stations with large solar arrays storing the electricity in battery packs and charging electric vehicles.


Scientist develops filaments that harvest and store solar energy

Posted on November 15th, 2016 in solar by Spencer R.




Marty McFly’s self-lacing Nikes in Back to the Future Part II inspired a UCF scientist to develop filaments that harvest and store the sun’s energy.

The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionize wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries to a texting-addicted teen who could charge his smartphone by simply slipping it in a pocket.

“That movie was the motivation,” Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida’s NanoScience Technology Center, said of the film released in 1989. “If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realize those cinematic fantasies — that’s the cool thing.”

The research was published Nov. 11 in the academic journal Nature Communications.

Thomas already has been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award — given to the top inventions of the year worldwide — for his development of a cable that can not only transmit energy like a normal cable but also store energy like a battery. He’s also working on semi-transparent solar cells that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through while also harvesting solar power.

His new work builds on that research.

“The idea came to me: We make energy-storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?” Thomas said.

Thomas, who holds joint appointments in the College of Optics & Photonics and the Department of Materials Science & Engineering, set out to do just that.

Taking it further, he envisioned technology that could enable wearable tech. His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other.

Though more comfortable with advanced nanotechnology, Thomas and his team then bought a small, tabletop loom. After another UCF scientists taught them to use it, they wove the ribbons into a square of yarn.

The proof-of-concept shows that the filaments could be laced throughout jackets or other outwear to harvest and store energy to power phones, personal health sensors and other tech gadgets. It’s an advancement that overcomes the main shortcoming of solar cells: The energy they produce must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery that limits their portability.

“A major application could be with our military,” Thomas said. “When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they’re walking in the sun. Some of them are carrying more than 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It is hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available.”

There are a host of other potential uses, including electric cars that could generate and store energy whenever they’re in the sun.

“That’s the future. What we’ve done is demonstrate that it can be made,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications.”