Saturday, 24 January 2009

Siemens to pull out of Areva nuclear venture

By Peggy Hollinger in Paris and Daniel Schäfer in Frankfurt
Published: January 23 2009 11:02

Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering group, plans to pull out of its nuclear joint venture with France’s Areva in yet another blow to the often strained Franco-German attempts to build industrial partnerships.
The German conglomerate notified state-owned Areva earlier this week of its intention to exercise its option to sell its 34 per cent stake in Areva NP, the nuclear engineering arm of the French group, people close to the situation said.
Siemens’ management decided to back out after it became clear that the French would not allow it to lift the stake to 50 per cent.
Siemens felt the current shareholding gave it insufficient say in the company’s strategic development, in a market it deemed to be of growing importance for its sprawling energy sector.
Areva would not comment, and Siemens would only say that the subject would be discussed at a special supervisory board meeting on Monday.
The exact terms of the sale would still have to be negotiated. The stake is valued at €2.1bn ($2.7bn), according to French newspaper Les Echos.
Although Areva has three years to buy the stake from Siemens, this could happen as early as this year.
People close to the subject said this made it almost certain that the government would open up Areva’s capital in the coming months.
A sale would enable Siemens to follow other options to become a full-range supplier in the fast-growing market.
Siemens’ departure from the joint venture is likely to be viewed with relief inside the presidential Elysée Palace, as it lifts a significant obstacle to its hopes for a new French energy champion.
At one stage the government had considered a merger with turbine maker Alstom, but this was considered unworkable as long as rival Siemens was Areva’s joint venture partner.
Angela Merkel, German chancellor, had told Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, in 2007 she objected to any attempt to force Siemens out.
Since Mr Sarkozy’s election in May 2007, the government was also looking at a capital increase with both French and foreign partners as well as a partial privatisation.
Market conditions have ruled out the latter option and Paris has delayed any decision on a capital increase.
However, the question of how Areva will finance its investment needs – €14bn in the next four years – remains pressing.
One government official told the Financial Times that although no decision on Areva’s future was imminent, the moment was “approaching”.
Anne Lauvergeon, chief executive, has always favoured a partial privatisation, and been fiercely opposed to any merger with Alstom.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Sites suggested for nuclear power

By Fiona Harvey
Published: January 24 2009 02:00

Four sites were nominated yesterday as potential locations for the first new nuclear power stations in decades. The locations - Sellafield, Wylfa, Oldbury and Bradwell - are all sites of existing nuclear plants.
Gordon Brown, the prime minister, said at Sellafield yesterday: "Nuclear is crucial to our low-carbon future . . . and represents a massive opportunity for the UK economy and jobs."
The sites were nominated by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Next Tuesday, electrical utilities will be invited to nominate other sites. On Monday, the government is expected to announce a short list of five schemes for a tidal power station in the Severn estuary. Fiona Harvey
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Greenhouse gas satellite launch

Published Date: 23 January 2009

JAPAN fired the world's first greenhouse gas monitoring satellite into space today, a launch deemed crucial in the country's quest to compete globally in putting commercial satellites into orbit.
The black, white and orange H2A rocket took off from the space centre on Tanegashima, a remote island in southern Japan. Aboard the rocket was the world's first greenhouse gas monitoring satellite called Ibuki, which means "breath".

Green new deal proposed by Lord Turner

Unemployed builders could be mobilised to make the nation's homes more energy efficient as part of a "new green deal" being devised by the Government's top adviser on climate change.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 2:54PM GMT 23 Jan 2009

Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, the chairman of the Climate Change Committee, will report in September on ways the Government can relieve the recession at the same time as tackling climate change.
Ideas include retraining people in the construction industry, who are unemployed because of a lack of building work, to fit new boilers, double glazing and lagging as part of a nationwide effort to improve energy efficiency in homes.
The concept of a "new green deal" was originally put forward by President Barack Obama. Inspired by President Roosevelt's New Deal to kick start the US economy in the Great Depression, the new president plans to create new jobs and commerce by pumping millions of dollars into switching to a low carbon economy.
Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, has also spoken about his own plans to boost the ailing economy by investing in public works like hospital projects and rail links.
But this is the first time that Lord Turner, who is in a powerful position to force change, has revealed his role in the project.
As head of the Climate Change Committee, he will be reporting each year on how the Government is progressing on its plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.
But because of the recession this year, Lord Turner will also come up with a series of recommendations on how to boost the economy while reaching the environmental targets. Short term measures could include a Government programme to retrain unemployed builders to retrofit houses with insulation, training thousands of new coach drivers and public transport operators as part of improving public transport, investing in a superfast broadband that will enable more people to work cheaply at home and encouraging more wind and solar power to cut energy costs and boost the industry. In the long term the Government could also look at shifting the manufacturing industry towards more environmentally friendly products like electric cars in order to provide jobs and big public works like tidal power stations.
"A lot of people are talking about a new green deal," said Lord Turner. "What we are trying to do is take that general concept and say what does that mean? What is it that we can really do that makes sense on the economy but also helps us make progress on climate change targets? For example home insulation could be a way of making sure people in the construction industry who are otherwise unemployed can find employment."

Scientists solve enigma of Antarctic 'cooling'

Research 'kills off' climate sceptic argument by showing average temperature across the continent has risen over the last 50 years
Damian Carrington, Friday 23 January 2009 18.00 GMT

Scientists have solved the enigma of the Antarctic apparently getting cooler, while the rest of the world heats up.
New research shows that while some parts of the frozen continent have been getting slightly colder over the last few decades, the average temperature across the continent has been rising for at least the last 50 years.
In the remote and inaccessible West Antarctic region the new research, based on ground measurements and satellite data, show that the region has warmed rapidly, by 0.17C each decade since 1957. "We had no idea what was happening there," said Professor Eric Steig, at the University of Washington, Seattle, and who led the research published in Nature.
This outweighs the cooling seen in East Antarctica, so that, overall, the continent has warmed by 0.12C each decade over the same period. This matches the warming of the southern hemisphere as a whole and removes the apparent contradiction.
The issue, which had been highlighted by global warming sceptics, was an annoyance, said Steig, despite the science having been reasonably well understood. "But it has now been killed off," he said.
Gareth Marshall, climatologist at British Antarctic Survey, commented: "This work allows us to look at the continent as a whole, which we have not been able to do before with confidence. It fills a big hole in the data in West Antarctica – it is the final piece in the jigsaw."
The rapid warming now revealed in the west concerns some scientists. The new analysis suggests the West Antarctic ice sheet, like that in Greenland, is precariously balanced, said Professor Barry Brook at the University of Adelaide. "Even losing a fraction of both would cause a few metres of sea level rise this century, with disastrous consequences," he said.
It was well known that a small part of Antarctic was warming – the peninsula that protrudes northwards towards South America and is the site of many research stations. But researchers knew that East Antarctica had cooled a little in recent decades and thought that might be the case across the continent's great mountain range in West Antarctica.
Temperature records have been taken on the ground since the first weather stations were built in 1957. But all but two of the 42 are very close to the coast and therefore give no information on the vast interior of the continent. Satellite data, in contrast, can take the temperature of the entire region by measuring the intensity of the infrared radiation reflected from the snow pack and has been available since 1980.
Steig's team found the mathematical relationships between the weather station data and satellite data, tested them, and then used them to go back in time to estimate temperatures across the continent back to 1957. Their statistical model has now been validated by an ice core drilled into the Rutford ice stream in West Antarctica by the British Antarctic Survey, from which temperature records can be measured. That independent work also came up with a warming of 0.17C a decade for the region, and stretched the trend back to at least 1930.
The cooling seen in East Antarctica is caused in part by the ozone hole that opens each year in the atmosphere. The ozone hole causes an increase in westerly winds which, by a complex interaction of wind, sea and ice, results in lower temperatures in the east. Emissions of ozone-destroying gases have now almost been eliminated and the hole is expected to recover by mid-century. When that happens, there will be a rapid catch up of temperatures, says Marshall.
The 2007 report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the impact of greenhouse gas emissions could be seen on every continent bar Antarctica. The new work, along with another recent study, now clearly shows that the rising temperature of the continent cannot be explained by natural climate variation alone.

Shifting sands swell the cost of UK's first artificial surf reef

Steven Morris
The Guardian, Friday 23 January 2009

If all had gone to plan surfers would by now be whizzing into a Bournemouth beach on waves boosted by Britain's first artificial surf reef. Instead, taxpayers face a bill of almost a quarter of a million pounds to stop the project blowing away.
The reef at Boscombe, east of the main town of Bournemouth, in Dorset, was due to be completed in the autumn but rain and winds halted the construction.
Work is due to resume in April and finish by the summer's end. But the delay has inflated the reef's price and Bournemouth borough council says £169,000 has to be found to replace sand brought in for its construction on the seabed but lost to the elements over the winter.
Flattening the temporary dune to protect it from the wind and tides would cost a further £70,000, says a report due to be seen by the local authority next week. Besides this, £100,000 is reportedly needed to help pay the contractors, ASR.
Originally the price of the reef project was estimated at £1.4m. By last summer it was up to £2.7m and, following the winter delay, it is now at the £3m mark.
It could also cost as much as £100,000 a year to maintain the reef, and the cost of the wider regeneration project for Boscombe has also risen, to £11m.
Basil Ratcliffe, a Tory councillor, said: "Someone should be given the bullet over this ... these are big sums that could have been spent on something else."
The report defends the soaring price, saying the reef is a complex marine structure. A council spokeswoman said: "The council has set aside ... £169,000 but it might not need to buy this much [sand]."

World's toughest wind turbines set to make debut off Germany's coast

Unique offshore wind turbines optimised for use at sea boast new waterproofing system and a simplified and lighter design
Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Friday 23 January 2009 15.25 GMT

After a decade in development, the toughest wind turbines ever built are ready to make their debut.
The machines are the world's first designed specifically for the harsh and remote conditions of the sea and have been developed in Germany, by the French energy company Areva. The turbines have a new waterproofing system and a simplified and lighter design, which should mean they require fewer expensive maintenance visits and are cheaper and easier to install and maintain. The turbines will stand 90m above the water and have a blade diameter of almost 120m. At full power each of the 5MW turbines will supply enough electricity for 5,000 homes.
The offshore turbines in use today are simply windmills designed for use on land that have been taken out to sea. As such they are not optimised for reliability or ease of installation or maintenance, which drives up the cost of their operation. But, according to the Carbon Trust, a British government-backed company which invests in low-carbon technologies, driving down costs is crucial if the UK is to build the minimum of 29GW of offshore wind power needed by 2020 to hit the EU's renewable energy targets. "Without urgent action there is a risk that little additional offshore wind power will be built by 2020 beyond the 8GW already planned or in operation," it said.
In development for more than a decade, Areva has now unveiled plans to install six of the giant Multibrid M5000 turbines as part of the Alpha Ventus project, Germany's first offshore wind farm to be situated 45km from the island of Borkum. They are expected to be in place by the end of the summer.
Peter Madigan, offshore renewables development manager at the British Wind Energy Association said the Multibrid turbine was an important development: "At present we use onshore wind technology taken offshore. In terms of cost, having devices customised to the offshore environment will help bring prices down."
David Clarke, chief executive of the independent Energy Technologies Institute, agreed the design is a significant advance: "It is the only device at that full-scale 5MW that has been built and tested as an offshore-specific design. On that basis, Areva are leaders."
Turbines designed for use on land are relatively heavy and cost a lot to install and maintain. Areva's design tackles some of these problems by simplifying the engineering, in particular the electrical generator behind the blades. "Coupled with a simplified, novel gearbox, that's exactly the kind of innovation that we're looking for in offshore-specific machines," said Clarke.
The blades are reinforced with carbon fibre to make them as light as possible, and all of the mechanisms needed to change their position relative to the wind are enclosed to prevent sea air damaging them.
The nacelle, which contains the generator and major engineering components, is also hermetically sealed against the ambient air.
An Areva spokesperson said reliability was a top priority for the design – all the sensors and power management systems that are critical for the operation of the turbine have been installed in duplicate, to avoid the system shutting down in the event of an individual technical failure.
Areva also claims that its wind turbine is simpler to install than standard offshore machines since it is largely assembled and tested onshore, but it will still require a customised barge.
Other research teams have tried to tackle the installation problemby developing turbines that float, but experiments by renewables company Blue H and Norweigan oil giant Statoil are still in the earliest stages.
Both Clarke and Madigan said that offshore wind was important for the UK's future energy mix. "Offshore, you don't have local residents to worry about so you can do bigger turbines and operational noise isn't an issue," said Madigan.