Thursday, March 17, 2005

Alternative Energy Hungary: River Energy

The Budapest Sun reports that Laszlo Oroszi, the inventor of an alternative energy system, believes rivers hold at least one of the keys to Hungary meeting European Union directives on alternative energy.

EU members must produce at least 6% of their energy via renewable energy sources by 2010, with the Union discussing the possibility of increasing this to 12% by 2020.

Currently only 3.6% of energy generated in Hungary comes via alternative energy sources (excluding nuclear), primarily from windfarms, bio-plants (wood chipping) and solar panels.

Oroszi told The Budapest Sun, "Electricity cannot be stored in bulk form and must constantly be generated."

Wind and sunshine have sporadic cycles in Hungary, and costly to run bio-plants need huge storage facilities for fuel.

"So far very few experts have even considered using Hungary's rivers to harvest much needed energy," said Oroszi, explaining that this is currently the sole source that can offer alternative energy producers "clean or green energy non-stop".

"Every second, billions of cubic meters of river water is flowing through Hungarian territory," he enthused.

Oroszi says that, based on scientific research, the Danube river (which flows a total 417km in Hungary) has a yield of 2,270 cubic meters per second, and flows at 1.18 meters per second (measured at Nagymaros), while the Tisza river (which flows 596 km in Hungary) yields about 740 cubic meters per second at a speed of 0.61 meters per second (measured at Szeged).

With the EU subsidizing green projects, Oroszi has received many inquiries concerning his patented idea for a relocatable cluster of generators producing power from flowing water, for which feasibility studies are also underway. "It would be an offense not to harvest the colossal amount of money-saving energy available in Hungarian rivers when the world is yearning for renewable energy sources.

"Even the slowest flowing, so-called 'passive rivers' can be utilized to harvest electricity, even to supply whole villages nearby," he said. Oroszi added that the system is "guaranteed to not only be profitable, but also environmental-friendly."

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Nuclear Power: Nuclear Energy Back on the Agenda for Britain?

Robert Edwards writes in Scotland's Sunday Herald about the resurgence of nuclear lobby in the UK:

Nuclear power is back on the agenda with a bang in Britain. The speed with which it has moved centre stage in the political debate has taken everyone by surprise – including the scientists, civil servants and politicians that support it. Most people had naively assumed that the issue had been effectively killed off for at least a decade by the government’s energy policy White Paper in February 2003.

After years of investigations and discussions, it concluded by dismissing the industry’s call for a £10 billion programme to build 10 new nuclear power stations as an “unattractive option”. Nuclear power could not be ruled out for the future, it said, but there was no current economic case for it.

Yet now, just two years down the road, here we are rehearsing the same arguments again. Some suspect that this is the result of a poorly organised conspiracy by a powerful nuclear lobby, deeply embedded in the government establishment.

“The nuclear industry has grasped at climate change like a drowning man clutching a passing log,” said Tom Burke, a visiting professor at Imperial College, London, who was an environmental advisor to four ministers.

Public interest was stirred last year by a few leading “green” gurus coming out in favour of nuclear power. The most famous was the originator of the Gaia theory of the Earth as a self-regulating organism, Professor James Lovelock. He is linked with a small group known as Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy based near Paris. His argument is that because nuclear power emits much less carbon dioxide – a greenhouse gas – than fossil fuels, it is the best technology available to combat the threat of climate change.

Pro-nuclear environmentalists, however, make up only a tiny fraction of the green movement, and they are not new. They can trace their ancestry back to those in the 1950s and 1960s who were so appalled at the destruction wrought by the atomic bombs dropped on Japan by the US in 1945, that they devoted their lives to “atoms for peace”.

There has also been a flurry of leaks from Westminster, all suggesting mounting pressure within government to take decisions on nuclear power. The latest, last weekend, was a memo to the new industry secretary Alan Johnson from his senior energy official Joan MacNaughton.

“It is generally easier to push ahead on controversial issues early in a new parliament”, she advised the minister. She also revealed that the environment secretary Margaret Beckett had been preventing the government’s review of climate change policy from considering nuclear power.

Ministers in London are sharply divided on the wisdom of building more nuclear stations, which may account for some of the leaks. But with the Prime Minister leaning in favour, and Gordon Brown at the Treasury worried about the public spending implications, it is difficult to predict what will happen.

An opinion poll for the BBC during the election showed that only 17% of people in Scotland supported more nuclear stations, compared to 73% who backed more wind farms.

Public opinion aside, there are major barriers to new nuclear stations. A new programme would likely be based on an untested US-designed reactor known as the AP1000, which is claimed to be cheaper and safer. But before it could be licensed for use in Britain, it would have to be fully assessed by the government’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. Unfortunately, as the Sunday Herald has previously revealed, the inspectorate is chronically short of staff, and has been embroiled in a morale-sapping work-to-rule for more than 18 months.

The former chief inspector of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, Laurence Williams, told a meeting of the government’s Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee last November that evaluating an established international design would take 25 experienced inspectors about two years. It would take at least another year to recruit and train them, plus public inquiries which “would be a significant further drain on resources”.

It takes about 10 years to build a nuclear station from scratch, so according to Peter Roche, the earliest any new reactor could be up and running is 2018. This is seven years after Hunterston B is scheduled to close.

It is often forgotten that nuclear power, as a generator of electricity, can only avoid the pollution caused by burning coal, oil or gas in power stations. It can do nothing to prevent the vast amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and farms.

“Energy efficiency can start reducing carbon dioxide emissions today,’’ argued Roche. ‘‘Just one or two efficiency measures, such as making sure all new central heating boilers and white goods are state-of-the-art, would be enough to displace the savings new reactors could make.”

Even representatives of the nuclear industry, when asked to comment on the prospect of new stations, seem unenthusiastic. A spokeswoman for the UK Atomic Energy Authority, which operates Dounreay, said: “Our mission today is very much about decommissioning our sites in a safe and publicly acceptable manner.”

Do we need nuclear power?

At a UK level the last major independent analysis of the question was conducted by the Cabinet Office’s Performance and Innovation Unit, in preparation for the 2003 energy White Paper. It suggested that a combination of increased energy efficiency, the widespread use of combined heat and power stations and a boost in renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power could sustain an annual growth rate of 2%, while cutting carbon emissions.

In Scotland an investigation for the Scottish Executive in 2001 by energy consultants Garrad Hassan concluded that all forms of renewable energy in Scotland could potentially generate a massive 214 terawatt/hours of electricity a year.

That is more than four times as much as the 50 terawatt/hours generated north of the Border in 2002, almost a third of which was exported to England. Only about a sixth of the total is currently provided by the Hunterston B nuclear station.

“A combination of demand reduction and energy efficiency, along with increased renewable energy capacity in non-environmentally sensitive areas would make new nuclear power plants unnecessary to meet climate change targets, even with the planned closure of Hunterston B,” said Clifton Bain from the Royal Society for Protection of Birds in Scotland.

Keith Parker, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, was encouraged by Tony Blair’s remark last week that the debate about climate change should include “serious consideration” of nuclear power. “Nuclear power can continue to make a significant contribution to securing future energy and environmental commitments,” he told the Sunday Herald.

what is wrong with nuclear power?

A common assumption about nuclear power is that it can be relied upon to keep churning out lots of power. The reality, as nuclear operators will sometimes admit, is rather different.

British Energy’s Montague says that it’s “no secret” that there are “reliability problems” with the advanced gas-cooled reactors such as those at Hunterston B and Torness. One problem is that some of the thousands of graphite bricks that surround the reactor cores are cracking, threatening the safe running of the plants.

The performance of British Energy’s reactors is worse than those in other parts of the world. According to Sig Berg, the managing director of the World Association of Nuclear Operators, the unplanned loss of nuclear generation in the UK was 12% in 2002, compared to under 2% in the US.

The cost of nuclear power is also daunting. Cleaning up the radioactive mess left at Dounreay, which only ever produced very small amounts of electricity, is likely to cost at least £4bn over the next four decades. The estimated total cost of cleaning up all Britain’s nuclear plants – which is being met by taxpayers – is £50bn.

The vulnerability of nuclear companies to price fluctuations was starkly demonstrated by the near-collapse of British Energy in 2002. It had to be bailed out by the government with a £650m loan from public funds.

One consequence of that was the company’s decision to close its Peel Park headquarters in East Kilbride. New documents released to the Sunday Herald last week under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act reveal that this triggered a severe staffing crisis that could have put safety at risk.

Alongside fears about safety, there is the long-running saga of what to do with Britain’s 470,000 cubic metres of nuclear waste. Not to mention the 18 million cubic metres of soil and concrete thought to be have been contaminated with low-level radioactivity from leaks and spills at nuclear sites.

The government’s latest attempt to solve this problem – asking a group of independent experts to come up with recommendations – is in trouble. One scientist, Keith Baverstock, has been kicked off the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), while another has decided to withdraw. Both are thoroughly disillusioned by the process.

Baverstock, formerly a senior radiation adviser with the World Health Organisation in Europe, accused CoRWM of wasting time on “amateurish” attempts to draw up a list of options. “The public health aspects of the problem are being ignored and trivialised by people who do not sufficiently understand the issue,” he said.

Strangely, what critics regard as the most dangerous aspect of nuclear power is sometimes the least talked about. Joined at the hip to the military industry, nuclear power depends on technologies which can also be used to make fuel for atomic bombs. This essential ambiguity is at the root of some of the most destabilising confrontations in the world today.

Britain is enriching uranium at Capenhurst near Cheshire at the same time as urging Iran not to enrich uranium at Natanz. The British government extracts tonnes of plutonium at Sellafield in Cumbria as it tries to persuade North Korea not to do likewise at Yongbyon.

The global tensions that inevitably result from these attempts to control the spread of nuclear weapons disturb many. It doesn’t take a genius to understand how terribly high the stakes are.

Full Scottish Sunday Herald Article

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Monday, March 07, 2005

Alternative Energy Argentina: Study of U.S. $19 Billion Wind Power Project to Produce Hydrogen

BNAmericas reports that Argentine energy company Capex aims to start pre-feasibility studies in two months on a US$19bn project to generate 16,000MW of wind power to produce 13.3 million cubic meters a year of hydrogen.

Hydrogen is a clean burning fuel that could be mixed with natural gas for power generation, used in domestic appliances and also as a vehicular fuel (although I believe plug-in hybrids are a far more viable technology which can be used now). With a number of large cities in the Southern Cone with air pollution issues, Capex sees the possibility of a regional market for the fuel.

Project location depends on further studies, but the area under consideration is around Pico Truncado in the northeast of Santa Cruz province in Argentina, where wind speeds are some eight meters a second with a capacity factor of 45%.

The US$19bn figure covers the wind turbines, hydrogen production infrastructure and delivery to port. Investment on such a scale is beyond the reach of Capex alone, and so it would associate with other companies already involved in hydrogen technology, such as automobile manufacturers, should the project proceed further.

Capex produces oil and gas, and generates gas-fired electric power at the wellhead at Agua del Cajón in Neuquén province. It is 60% owned by Capsa, the local unit of Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell.

Of course at the "pre-feasibility study" stage this project is still essentially just talk. It does however offer one vision of how relatively remote wind power resources can be utilised by major centres of population. Even that the project is being considered shows that major investment in wind power (of the type Engineer Poet in his comment on the recent China Renewable Energy Law article thinks won't happen) is a possibility.

Business News Americas Story

Sound Sculpture Park "City of Sound" in Pico Truncado, Argentina

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Friday, March 04, 2005

Alternate Energy China: Renewable Energy Law sets 10% Target

BBC News reports that China's government has passed a renewable energy law which is intended to increase production of energy from sustainable sources.

The law, which will come into force early next year, seeks to increase the usage of solar and wind power to 10% of China's total consumption by 2010. This would equate to around 60 gigawatts.

However, while the new law has been welcomed, it has been suggested that the targets are over ambitious.

Rising oil prices and concerns over environmental damage prompted the move.

At present China relies on coal for most of its power, mining 1.8bn tons in 2004.

By fixing prices for electricity from solar and wind generated power, the government hopes to create financial incentives for existing operators and attract investment to these new markets.

But while there has been rapid expansion in the sustainable energy sector, it currently provides only a fraction of China's needs.

Currently wind power in China only contributes 0.01% to the power grid. To increase that to 10% in five years is ambitious, but in my opinion it's a target well worth aiming for. If China takes the same relentless attitude to pushing down the costs of wind turbine manufacture as it does with consumer goods the benefits may be realised around the world.

Full BBC News Article

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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Solar Energy Nanotechnology: Carbon Nanotubes Used to Improve Efficiency

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) scientists have demonstrated an ability to precisely grow skyscraper like "towers" composed of carbon nanotubes atop photovoltaic cells to extract more power from the sun.

The nanometer-scale scale towers, which would be coated by the special p-type and n-type semiconductor (p/n) junction materials used to generate electrical current, would increase the surface area available to produce electricity.

Reflections off the towers would provide more opportunity for each photon of sunlight to interact with the p/n junction of the cell. That would increase the power output from PV cells of a given size, or allow cells to be made smaller while producing the same amount of power.

Because their cells will be more efficient, it is believed they can use older and more mature p/n-type material technologies and less costly silicon wafers to hold down costs and rapidly advance the project into commercial products.

Full Azonano Article

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI)

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