Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Only 85 years of Uranium Supplies?


Agence France-Presse reports that a British think tank opposed what it said were draft plans by the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations to expand the use of atomic energy as a way to fight global warming.

Issuing its report before next week's G8 summit in Scotland, the New Economics Foundation on Wednesday said atomic power was an uneconomical and inefficient way to deal with climate change and would increase the risks from terrorists.

Andrew Simms, author of the report, "Mirage and Oasis," told AFP that atomic power would be too costly and too slow to develop in time to deal with the urgency of reducing the carbon emissions that cause global warming.

Simms, the foundation's policy director, said the supply of uranium needed to fuel atomic plants was too limited and would be exhausted in 85 years based on current industry estimates of availability and the existing rate of use.

"If you suddenly dramatically scaled up in a very short period of time, you'd also, a little bit like oil, you'd very quickly run into natural resource limits," he said.

In addition, increased use of atomic power would present greater risks to the problem of weapons proliferation and greater exposure to possible attacks by terrorists, the report warned.

"The more plants you have the greater the vulnerability (to attack) you have. There's no doubt about that," he said.

Instead, the report said, renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal power could, in theory, each individually meet all of the world's energy needs, without warming the world's climate.

It leaves no toxic legacy and is abundant and cheap to harvest both in Britain and around the world.

Practically, however, it would require a broader combination of renewable energy sources than is currently used, linked to a range of micro, small, medium and large scale technologies and applied flexibly.

"If just around one third of the UK's electricty customers installed 2KW microgen photovoltaic (solar) or wind systems it would match the capacity of the UK atomic programme."

Better still, it said, small scale renewable power technologies could provide energy supplies for millions of people who currently lack basics such as lighting or the ability to cook without inhaling indoor smoke.

The foundation said early drafts of communiques intended for the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland on July 6-8 suggest a new international push to expand atomic power, the report said.

Simms said his foundation obtained the latest draft last week, without saying exactly how it was obtained.

In a statement on the foundation website, Simms said: "Without sustainable, reliable supplies of energy, the world faces a future in which climate change and fuel shortages will combine with catastrophic results.

"The poorest and most vulnerable will suffer the worst. But a resurgence of interest in nuclear power, justified by voodoo economics, stands to hinder and potentially derail renewable energy.

"As people gather for a G8 summit that holds the financial keys to our future energy choices, it has become clear that you cannot make poverty history, without stopping runaway climate change. And that making energy sustainable is the surest way to do both."

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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Hot Fusion Energy

The BBC reports that France will get to host the project to build a 10bn-euro ($12.16bn) fusion reactor, in the face of strong competition from Japan.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) will be the most expensive joint scientific project after the International Space Station.

The Iter programme was held up for over 18 months as parties tried to broker a deal between the two rivals.

Fusion taps energy from reactions like those that heat the Sun.

Fusion is seen as a cleaner approach to power production than nuclear fission and fossil fuels.

Prof Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, director of UK Atomic Energy Authority's (UKAEA) Culham division, said the decision was "wonderful news".

"Rapid construction of Iter will be a major step in the development of fusion as a potential large-scale source of electricity that will not contribute to climate change," he added.

In terms of the physics and huge amounts of energy involved, the Iter project would be akin to building a star on Earth.

It would be the first fusion device to produce thermal energy at the level of conventional electricity-producing power stations, and would pave the way for the first prototype commercial power station.

In a fusion reaction, energy is produced when light atoms - the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium - are fused together to form heavier atoms.

Plasma has some of the qualities of a gas, but conducts electricity and responds to magnetism.

Unlike oil, gas and coal, the sources of deuterium are almost infinite, for it is present in seawater. Tritium is a man-made isotope derived by irradiating the plentiful element lithium in the fusion vessel.

To use controlled fusion reactions on Earth as an energy source, it is necessary to heat a gas to temperatures exceeding 100 million Celsius - many times hotter than the centre of the Sun.

The technical requirements to do this, which scientists have spent decades developing, are immense. But the rewards, if Iter can be made to work successfully, are extremely attractive.

One kilogram of fusion fuel would produce the same amount of energy as 10,000,000 kg of fossil fuel.

Fusion does produce radioactive waste but not the volumes of long-term high-level radiotoxic materials that have so burdened fission.

Fusion energy may be only a few decades away or it may be many more. Regardless it is important for us to make serious investments into potential solutions to the energy challenges facing us. These include fusion, wind power, solar energy, improving battery technology for automotive applications, wave power, energy efficiency, smart grids, and micropower generation.

Full BBC Article

BBC - How Fusion Energy Works

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Alternative Energy Venezuela: OPEC Oil Producer Switches to Wind Power to Increase Exports

Playa Medina, Sucre, Venezuela

Business News Americas reports that Venezuela's state oil company PDVSA aims to boost fuel oil exports by about 100,000 barrels a month through the increased use of wind for electric power generation according to Nervis Villalobos, the president of state-owned electricity firm Cadafe and deputy energy and oil minister.

PDVSA and Cadafe want to take advantage of high international oil prices and at the same time develop an environmentally friendly source of power generation, Villalobos said.

"For PDVSA and for the country, there is an enormous attraction in being able to free up these liquid fuels and export them," Villalobos said.

A barrel of fuel oil "is worth US$4 in the domestic market, while abroad it sells for US$40," Villalobos said.

PDVSA is currently involved in two projects that would use wind to generate electricity, Villalobos said.

The first project was announced by PDVSA president and energy and oil minister Rafael Ramírez in April in the wake of an electricity mishap that left PDVSA's Amuay refinery - part of the CRP refining complex - without power for several days.

This US$50mn venture at Los Taques, a wind-swept stretch of beach in Falcón state near PDVSA's CRP complex, would generate up to 100MW, including 40MW during its first stage.

PDVSA and the Spanish-Venezuelan consortium that designed the project, VER, are currently deciding on how to finance it, Villalobos said. Cadafe would buy 100% of the power generated by the plant.

The project should be up and running "by mid 2007, if it's approved this year," since construction is expected to take at least 18 months, Villalobos said.

The second wind project in the northern part of Sucre state is still in a very early stage, Villalobos said.

Villalobos reiterated Cadafe's estimate of a 9% jump in power demand for Venezuela this year, up from 7% in 2004. If these wind projects are not put in place, more fuel oil will have to be devoted to thermoelectric generation rather than exported, he said.

When major OPEC member countries which get their oil at a fraction of the cost of the rest of the world start switching to alternative energy, isn't it about time for those countries dependent on oil to do more?

Original Business News Americas Article

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Friday, June 24, 2005

Home Savings from Ground Source Heat Pumps

Alternative Energy Blog reader Bruce Stenswick from Minnesota emailed me about his experience of installing a ground source heat pump. Here's what he says to say:

For the winter of 2003-2004, from early October to early May I used 7620 kwh of electricity. That is equivalent to 26MBtu of natural gas. My heat pump has a coefficient of performance of 3.3, which means I needed 26 x 3.3 = 85 MBtu of heat for the winter. In order to obtain that amount of heat from a 95% efficient natural gas furnace, I would have to purchase 85/.95 = 90 Mbtu of natural gas. 95% efficient is close to the tops in efficiency. Natural gas this last winter varied from $8.60 to $9.90 /MBtu. At $9.50, 90 MBtu is $850. The 7620 kwh of electricity at Xcel Energy's electric space heating rate of $0.054...../kwh would be $413. So I cut my heating bill in half.

From an energy perspective, I assume a 35% efficient power plant and 7% line losses. Doing the calculations on this I come up with 80 MBtu of natural gas needed to produce the 7620 kwh of electricity delivered to my house.

From a CO2 perspective, I calculate I cut my CO2 output about 30%. 11% because of the efficiency gain, and another 20% due the fact that Minnesota gets 20% of it electricity from sources that do not produce CO2, mostly nuclear.

Other pollutants, I have no idea how to calculate.

In reality, I like to claim I put nothing into the air when I heat my house. I buy all of my electricity from Xcel Energy's WindSource program, which means I pay $0.02/kwh extra. Xcel then goes out and buys or builds that much extra wind energy above and beyond what has been mandated by the legislature. Even doing that, I still cut my heating bill 33%.

These numbers might not hold for everyone. Heat pumps do not work well in cold temperatures with setback thermostats. That does not affect me since someone is always home and the thermostat is never below 68 in the winter. People with setback thermostats often have the house at 60 when no one is home.

This is an overlooked area. At the gas rates we had this winter, I cut my heating bill in half because of the low electric rates that utilities give for heating with electricity. My house was a retrofit. Geothermal heat pumps beat the pants off of natural gas if you are building from scratch and can put in radiant floor heat.

(please note I haven't verified his figures)

Grants for Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pumps

Author of The Tipping Point & Blink on Geothermal Energy

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

World Leaders Needed: The Future of Oil and Everything Else

Today's post is inspired by an engineer, details of which I'll get to later.

Energy is the future. Our future depends on energy. Many people in the developing world spend much of their time thinking about and acquiring it. Firewood and food. Most people in the developed world spend little or no time thinking about or acquiring energy. An apparently endless supply of energy is assumed to be as certain as the sun rising tomorrow. Only a tiny proportion of us even consider this assumption, let alone question it.

And yet oil, gas and coal are finite and will run out (at least in economically significant and useful quantities). The end of cheap oil will arguably occur within a few short decades, if it is not already upon us. When I was at school I remember being told that oil would run out in a few decades. I remember feeling vaguely concerned, until it occurred to me that people much smarter than me must be working on it and would have a solution soon.

A few decades later I am wondering where these people are.

The answer of course is they live amongst us. Engineers, economists, bloggers, scientists, activists, and entrepreneurs. And yet at the moment most are not focused on solutions to our energy challenges, because many are not aware there is a problem.

Much of the mass media promotes materialism with shows such as MTV Cribs showing bigger and bigger houses with garages full of cars. Indeed here in the UK there seems to be one channel whose non-music programming is made up almost entirely of half hour shows titled "the fabulous life of" which seem dedicated to the worship of conspicuous consumption.

Most of our politicians seem dedicated to the "not in my term" mentality.

And yet despite our general lack of awareness, despite the scale of the challenges, the potential payoffs for coming up with solutions are huge.

For the companies and entrepreneurs who bring solutions to market there are bound to be significant financial rewards. Beyond this there is the prospect of a more peaceful world. I'm not proposing a utopian vision of a world where everyone lives in perfect harmony. However it is pretty easy to predict that having people compete over scarce resources is likely to result in conflict. Clean renewable energy offers the prospect of countries spending more time cooperating to harness the power of the sun, wind and ocean and less time competing over finite resources.

If the developed world stands to benefit from this, the developing world has even more to gain. Rather than experiencing the dirt and pain of industrialisation, renewable energy may allow them to leapfrog ahead.

As individuals it is time to become aware of our energy usage and its implications. Make our homes more energy efficient, switch to a renewable electricity supplier, generate some or all of our own power using means such as solar panels or mini wind turbines.

However it is not enough to act just as individuals. For humanity to move forward it is not about being more virtuous than everyone else. It is not about pointing fingers and assigning blame to drivers of certain types of car, people of a particular political affiliation or even to whole nations and continents. It is about building on what we can agree on and seeking consensus. We may not agree on the right solution but that's okay because there won't be one single solution - it will be a combination of many - it's more important to agree on a direction. A clean renewable, post fossil fuel future.

It is about informing, persuading, inspiring and influencing those around us. Our friends, neighbours, colleagues, society and the world at large.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this piece - a post by the Engineer Poet looking at the future of aviation once the cheap oil has run out and the discussion continuing in the comments section. It's just one example of people coming together to focus not on the problem, but on possible solutions.

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Thursday, June 16, 2005

Wind Energy China: One Gigawatt Wind Power Plant Largest in China

The China Education and Research Network reports a 1,000 megawatt (one gigawatt) wind power plant, currently the largest in China, has been initiated in Anxi County of northwest China's Gansu Province.

With an investment of USD $967 million (RMB eight billion yuan), the project will play an important role in the development of new and clean energy resources and easing the power shortages in the eastern and western areas.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Wind Energy: Wind Power Australia

The second-biggest wind farm in Victoria, Australia – a $326-million project with 128 turbines – will go ahead at Waubra in western Victoria after approval today from the State Government.

Melbourne-based company Wind Power will place the turbines on land leased from local farmers at Waubra, north-east of Ballarat.

The approval for the Waubra development brings the number of wind farms in Victoria to six, with Toora, Codrington and Challicum Hills operational, and construction underway at Wonthaggi and Portland.

The 128 turbines are capable of generating 192 megawatts of wind power or one fifth of the 1,000 megawatt renewable energy target Victoria aims to achieve by 2006.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Alternative Energy Armenia: First Wind Power Plant

Iran and Armenia has signed an agreement for SANIR Co to construct four wind turbines units in Armenia in the next two months.

The capacity of the power plant is 2.5 MW experimentally and it is the first of the power plant that Iran is to construct outside its borders.

Iran and Armenia signed a memorandum of understanding here on Saturday to bolster bilateral cooperation in the field of electricity.

The agreement was signed by Iran's Energy Minister Habibollah Bitaraf and his Armenian counterpart Armen Movsisyan.

First Wind Power Plant Full Article from Iran's Mehr News Agency

Portraits - Faces of Armenia

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Monday, June 13, 2005

Energy Independence vs. Energy Illiteracy

Americans overwhelmingly want a new direction for U.S. energy policy in the United States and believe dependence on imported oil is a very serious problem.

These and other findings were part of a survey of attitudes on the environment conducted last month for the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies by Global Strategy Group.

Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center of Environmental Law and Policy, was delighted by the large consensus across all regions.

"In a country where everything is so deeply divided, we have a staggeringly high percentage of people aligning for change," Esty said.

More than two-thirds say the federal government isn't doing enough, while 63 percent want President Bush to do more.

Just over half of those polled in the nationwide survey believe the environment in the United States is getting worse. Among Democrats, 70 percent take this pessimistic stance, as do a majority of independents and 33 percent of Republicans.

Party distinctions disappear on the seriousness of America's dependence on imported oil, with 94 percent of Republicans, 91 percent of independents and 93 percent of Democrats expressing concern.

Asked the best way to address this problem, 93 percent want the government to require the auto industry to improve gas mileage, an opinion that showed no gender or political gap.

This puts the electorate squarely at odds with Congress, which recently rejected a proposal to make SUVs and minivans more fuel efficient.

"This is a wake-up call to Washington. The political class appears to be out of touch with their constituents," Esty said.

Across the board, people favored more solar power facilities, wind-turbine farms and increased funding for renewable energy research.

To quote the conclusion of the excellent "End of Oil" by Paul Roberts which I just finished reading:

"Each year that we fail to commit to serious energy research and development or fail to begin slowing the growth of energy demand through fuel efficiency, each year that we allow the markets to continue treating carbon as cost-free, is another year in which our already unstable energy economy moves so much closer to the point of no return."

It's time to stop dropping the ball.

It's time to go gas optional.

Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy Environmental Poll

The nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans over the age of 18 was randomly selected and the telephone poll was conducted from May 15-22. The survey has an overall margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.


Friday, June 10, 2005

Wind Energy: Vietnam Wind Power

Vietnam's Thanh Nien newspaper reports that a major Danish development agency has provided funds of over U.S. 51 million dollars (VND820 billion) for a 50.4 megawatt wind power plant in the central Vietnam province of Binh Dinh, local authorities said.

The Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the sponsor for the future plant, which will comprise of 28 turbines that can produce up to 170 million kWh of electricity every year to ease the chronic power shortage in the region.

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Thursday, June 09, 2005

Alternative Energy Nevada: Incentives to Install Solar Panels in NV

An energy bill designed to encourage energy efficiency and boost the usage of alternative energy by Nevada's utilities was one of the last bills approved by lawmakers before they adjourned their special session.

The measure directs the Nevada Commission on Economic Development to approve a fifty percent property tax reduction for up to ten years to owners who have buildings that meet energy conservation standards.

Under the bill, alternative energy systems such as PV solar panels and home wind energy turbines are exempt from sales taxes.

Installers of photovoltaic solar panel systems, which convert sunlight into electricity, will need to be licensed.

The measure also allows Nevada Power and Sierra Pacific Power to get energy credits for energy efficiency programs that can be used to meet part of their alternative energy requirements under the state's renewable energy portfolio law.

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University of Illinois at Chicago Study Provides Boost for Wind Power

Mike Ramsey reports in the PJStar that Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposed renewable energy standards for electric utilities would generate an estimated $7 billion in economic benefits and 7,800 new jobs through 2012, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago study commissioned by his administration.

The Illinois Commerce Commission is considering a Blagojevich-sponsored plan that would obligate power companies to generate 2 percent of the state's electricity from renewable sources beginning next year. The requirement would rise 1 percentage point annually to 8 percent by 2012, with wind power turbines providing most of the renewable power.

The 146-page report slated to be released today estimated the economic benefit to Illinois at about $1 billion annually, or $7 billion over seven years. The amount reflects private investment to build wind power turbines, the growth of maintenance and supply businesses and other economic trickle-down.

During the same time frame, nearly 8,000 new jobs would be created, the study said.

"We think this really creates a very strong case for what the governor has proposed," Steve Frankl, Blagojevich's environmental and energy policy adviser, said Wednesday. "It's clear that there are significant benefits for the state on the environmental front and the economic front."

William Worek, who oversaw the study at UIC's Energy Resources Center, said the goals explored in the document are "conservatively realistic."

"When other people talk about renewables, the tendency is to be overly optimistic," he said. "This report really looks at realistic scenarios that can be met versus something that may sound good but doesn't track in the sense of numbers."

Authors of the study crunched numbers beyond 2012, envisioning a scenario where power companies had to reach a 16 percent "renewable portfolio standard" by 2020 in Illinois. That would add another $14 billion in economic growth and an additional 4,500 jobs, Worek said.

Wind power farms already exist in Illinois. Developers have built farms in Lee and Bureau counties, and an energy cooperative in Pike County installed a single wind turbine. A nearly 300-turbine project is in the works in McLean County. Several other central Illinois counties have begun adopting wind farm ordinances in preparation for future developments.

The ICC originally was expected to consider a alternative energy plan last month. The process has taken longer than expected as interested parties, including utilities and consumer advocates, have met to hammer out details, using the Blagojevich proposal as a model. The commission may take action later this month, a spokeswoman said.

Currently, less then 1 percent of power sold to Illinois consumers comes from renewable sources. Most power is from nuclear and coal-burning power plants. Illinois annually consumes about 140 million megawatt hours, Frankl said.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Shell WindEnergy Plans World's Largest Wind Farm Supplying 25% of London Homes' Electricity

Plans have been submitted to build one of the world's largest wind farms, which could generate enough electricity to supply a quarter of London homes.

The £1.5bn ($2.73 billion US dollars) London Array wind farm could see 270 wind turbines over 152 square miles in the Greater Thames Estuary.

London Array Limited won the right to lease an offshore wind farm site between the Essex and Kent coasts in December 2003 but has just applied to the government and local planning authorities for permission to develop the area.

The off-shore wind farm, which could produce up to 1,000 megawatts (one gigawatt) of renewable wind energy, would be built 12 miles off shore by 2011.

The consortium says it would not be an eyesore, because it is so far out, and says it will would mean 1.9m tonnes less carbon dioxide each year.

Jason Scagell, of E.ON UK Renewables - part of the London Array Consortium along with Shell WindEnergy and CORE Limited - said they wanted to reduce carbon emissions.

He said: "It's only through building more powerful wind farm sites such as this that we'll be able to reach the government's tough targets for renewable generation."

The development is a joint venture between energy giants Shell and E.On and an Anglo-Danish company, Core. Erik Kjaer Sorenson, director of Core, said: "This project will supply the equivalent of a quarter of London's domestic load and will surely, once and for all, bury the myth that wind energy is insignificant.

"Furthermore, it is merely the first of a number of similar-sized wind power schemes that will place the UK market at the forefront of offshore renewable energy development worldwide."

The Stateline wind farm, between the states of Washington and Oregon in the U.S., is so far the largest wind farm in the world, with a maximum capacity of 300 megawatts, said Alison Hill, a spokeswoman with the British Wind Energy Association. Germany is the country with most wind energy capacity in the world, followed by Spain, the U.S. and Denmark, Hill said.

The world's biggest offshore wind farm that's already in operation is Denmark's Nysted windfarm, which can produce 165 megawatts and is operated by Energi E2 (link currently does not work in Firefox). The next largest is another Danish project, Horns Rev.

Havgul AS, a Norwegian wind-power company, plans to build three wind parks off the coast of northwest Norway with a combined capacity of 1,410 megawatts, according to its website. The company plans to submit applications for regulatory approval by the end of this year. The project originally comprised four parks, though one was shelved earlier this year after protests from local communities.

The three Norwegian parks, if approved, are unlikely to be completed before London Array, said Morten Thomsen, a spokesman for Energi E2.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Alternative Energy Vietnam: 400MW Geothermal Energy Capacity

Vietnams's Thanh Nien newspaper reports that the earth can be regarded as an enormous geothermal machine, the abundant energy of which is demonstrated by the eruption of the volcanoes, hot spring water, and hot natural air. Man is presently harnessing only a small fraction of that energy.

The start-up capital for such energy is around US$1.5 million per MW, which is 1.5 times more expensive than that of hydroelectricity, experts said.

Geothermal electricity, however, is more feasible than hydroelectricity with a shorter period of construction (estimated from 2 to 3 years), and a smaller construction site; a heat-storing tub located at several km underground, according to experts.

Developed countries like the US, Japan, Russia, and developing ones such as China, the Philippines, Malaysia, among others are making hectic preparations to construct geothermal power stations.

Vietnam finds itself located on the world geothermal map, with its capacity expected to be up to 400MW. The capacity of the US, for example, is 3170MW, Japan 458MW, Indonesia 379MW, and New Zealand 300MW.

Strikingly, the Philippines owns a resource capacity predicted to be as much as 2764MW, and it expects to catch up with the US in this field.

Vietnam’s potential regions are in the North West, North East, the North, and especially in South central Vietnam, in areas such as Le Thuy (Quang Binh), Mo Duc, Nghia Thang (Quang Ngai), Hoi Van (Binh Dinh), Tu Bong, and Danh Thanh (Khanh Hoa). Geothermal energy electricity projects seem to be very feasible, with completed plants forecast to have capacity ranging from 20MW to 50MW.

Geothermal energy’s output capacity is less than that of hydroelectricity, however, the preeminent and stability of the clean, environmentally-friendly, and permanent source of energy would play an important role in diversifying Vietnam’s energy sources.

In the 1990s, the US’s Ormat Corporation spent a lot of money and effort researching and planning to establish a geothermic electric plant in Vietnam with the capacity up to 20MW. It also agreed to sell the electricity to Vietnam Power Corporation at a competitive price, but Vietnam has no policy to favor such plan, and Ormat had to part with its project.

Among the hot sunny days with widespread lack of electricity in May, the Mechanics Institution, reporting to the Vietnam Science and Technology Institution, held a conference entitled "Developing and Using Geothermal Energy in Vietnam". The top outcome from the conference was that scientists expected the Vietnamese government to start developing Vietnam's geothermal energy sources soon.

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Monday, June 06, 2005

Japan Seeks Protection From Crude Oil Prices By Reducing Energy Consumption

James Brooker reports in the New York Times that surging oil prices and growing concern about meeting targets on cutting emissions produced by burning fossil fuels have revived efforts around the world to improve energy efficiency. But perhaps nowhere is the interest greater than in Japan.

Even though Japan is already among the most frugal countries in the world, the government recently started a national campaign urging people to replace their older appliances and buy hybrid vehicles as part of a patriotic effort to save energy and fight global warming. And big companies are jumping on the bandwagon, counting on the moves to increase sales of their latest models.

On the Matsushita appliance showroom floor these days, the numbers scream not the low, low prices but the low, low kilowatt-hours.

A vacuum-insulated refrigerator, which comes with a buzzer that will sound if the door stays open more than 30 seconds, boasts that it will consume just 160 kilowatt-hours a year, one-eighth of the power needed by standard models a decade ago.

"It's like squeezing a dry towel" for the last few drops, said Katsumi Tomita, an environmental planner for Matsushita Electric Industrial. "The honest feeling of Japanese people is, 'How can we do more?"'

A number of other affluent countries with few domestic energy resources of their own are responding in similar ways. In Germany, where heating accounts for the largest share of home energy use, a new energy-saving law has as its standard the "seven-liter house."

The goal is to use seven liters, or 1.8 gallons, of oil to heat one square meter for a year, about one-third the amount consumed by a house built in 1973, before the first oil price shock. Three-liter houses - even one-liter designs - are now being built.

In Singapore, where year-round air conditioning often accounts for 60 percent of a building's power bill, new codes are encouraging the use of things like heat-blocking window films and hookups to neighborhood cooling systems where water is chilled overnight.

Other countries, including the United States, the largest energy consumer by far, have lagged behind, but even American consumers are starting to turn their backs on big sport utility vehicles and looking at more fuel-efficient cars in response to higher gasoline prices.

But Japan is where energy consciousness probably reaches the highest levels. The second-largest economy produces virtually no fossil fuels, importing 96 percent of its energy needs - a dependence that has led to tremendous achievements in improved efficiency. France and Germany, where governments crusade against global warming, expend almost 50 percent more energy to produce the equivalent of $1 in economic activity. Britain's energy use, by the same measure, is nearly double; that of the United States, nearly triple; and China's almost eight times as high.

From 1973 to today, Japan's industrial sector nearly tripled its output but kept energy consumption roughly flat. To produce the same industrial output as Japan, China consumes 11.5 times as much energy.

At JFE Holdings, a leading steel company, plastic pellets made from recycled bottles now account for 10 percent of fuel in the main blast furnaces, reducing reliance on imported coal. Japanese paper mills are investing heavily in boilers that can be fueled by waste paper, wood and plastic. Within two years, half of the electricity used in the country's paper mills is to come from burning waste.

As host nation for the Kyoto Protocol, the pact for cutting the so-called greenhouse gases suspected of being behind global warming, Japan takes its commitment seriously. But it faces a big challenge. According to figures released last month, Japan's emissions were 8.3 percent above the 1990 level for the year that ended on March 31, 2004.

Original Newspaper Article on the International Herald Tribune Website

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Smaller More Efficient Solar Energy Tower Now Able to Provide Base Load

ABC News Australia reports that planned modifications to a proposed green energy solar tower (also known as a solar chimney) in north-western Victoria might mean the tower will no longer be the world's tallest man-made structure.

The tower - to be built north of Mildura - was to have been one kilometre high, producing enough green energy to power up to 200,000 households.

Enviromission chief executive Roger Davey says two new technologies may mean the tower could be made smaller, but perform better in terms of energy production and economics.

"If it was smaller it's still going to be very, very large - it will still be one of the largest structures, it will still be a renewable energy icon, it will be one of the most high yielding renewable energy projects if we get these two technologies right," he said.

UPDATE (taken from the Enviromission website):

Initially proposed at 200MW, the original Solar Tower concept required iconic design dimensions to achieve the necessary output for commercial development. Continuous improvement of the concept during project feasibility has involved the investigation of methods to increase power station efficiency and capacity in parallel to reducing design dimensions for greater commercial feasibility.

Enhancements identified with the potential to improve the efficiency of the collector zone of a Solar Tower, if successfully adapted to the concept, will result in design changes that will facilitate the delivery of smaller scale, commercial power plants; typically ranging in size from an installed capacity of 25MW upwards.

The two stand alone, proven enhancements, proposed for adaptation to the concept will introduce the ability to dramatically improve the performance of the roof area of the collector zone and introduce a method of storing heat (previously unavailable to the concept) creating greater base load generation.

Successful adaptation of the enhancements will enable an array of power plants to be built with vastly higher output at a much lower capital cost.

“The business case is significantly strengthened where capacity and revenue is increased from a substantially reduced capital cost base” said executive chairman Roger Davey.

“These inroads now mean a Solar Tower can be designed with installed capacities ranging from 25MW to 200MW adding unprecedented flexibility for the commercial development of Solar Towers in more diverse locations.

Plans for Solar Tower in China

Solar Tower for California?

Large Visualisation of How the Solar Chimney will Look

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