Monday, 29 March 2010

Green light for Maine Maritime tidal energy venture

The Tidal Energy Demonstration and Evaluation Center (TEDEC) based at Maine Maritime Academy (MMA), Castine, Maine, has effectively been established as the only in-stream tidal energy device testing facility in the United States.
It has received a special order of clarification from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), that will enable it to further the research and testing of field-scale models of tidal energy devices at two sites located near the academy.
The declaration was granted on the basis that TEDEC is hosted by Maine Maritime Academy with the intent of providing applied educational opportunities for its students while serving the furtherance of alternative energy development. Any electrical power realized through the testing process must not displace or replace power commercially available through the electricity infrastructure grid. The Center must remain non-commercial in nature with the purpose of providing scientifically-based, objective assessments and results.
Rick Armstrong, executive director of TEDEC, says the declaration clears the path for the start of immediate testing activity which has been delayed by a permitting process originally developed for application to hydropotential energy sources, rather than those of hydrokinetic energy.
The FERC regulatory process primarily focuses on managing the environmental implications of necessary infrastructure and processes related to the generation of hydroelectricity, through the use of dams and other gravitational flowing water systems.
"Tidal energy works with the environment and the natural flow of tidal waters, so many of the well-intentioned restrictions and precautions of the Federal Power Act are not necessarily applicable to this situation, especially in light of the fact that TEDEC at Maine Maritime Academy will focus on non-permanent, field test models that are relatively small and easy to remove," said Armstrong.
According to Armstrong, FERC's declaration considered impediments to the growth and success of the emerging tidal energy industry. He stated that there is a growing need for objective, scientific field tests and assessments of prototypes with little or no domestic proving grounds. Also, there is an industry need for trained personnel for the development of installations, maintenance, deployment, and monitoring of tidal energy devices. Armstrong said, "TEDEC, through its solid academic base at MMA, was able to assure FERC of its ability to provide support to advancements in the technology, while offering an educational platform for the expansion of related career paths for its students. Through TEDEC, MMA has seized the opportunity to involve its students from across the core disciplines of the college in a number of applied learning environments, from engineering performance review and operation, to baseline environmental studies, to aspects of entrepreneurship and business. This movement forward is a tremendous gain for the industry and our students."
Through TEDEC, the college will provide a tidal energy demonstration and evaluation center to economically and efficiently test and evaluate a variety of tidal energy devices currently under development around the world. The Center, the second of only two in the world and the first one in the United States, will also seek to create a model for tidal energy device testing in which educational and industry interests work cooperatively to advance technology while improving understanding of local natural resources and incorporating those features in design development. To minimize environmental disturbances and improve the overall viability of proposed renewable energy devices, the proposed center will enable academic research to influence not only testing procedures, but industry-wide engineering standards for tidal energy devices.
In addition, TEDEC is committed to assisting the regulatory community in developing protocols and permitting regimes that are appropriate to the emerging tidal energy industry and are specifically directed at environmentally friendly in-stream hydrokinetic technology and energy production.
As a non-profit, mission-based resource for alternative energy exploration, the proposed center will provide device developers with access to environmental research and interpretation, academic expertise regarding environmental influencers and impact reduction, and professional engineering suggestions and solutions.

Sugar-hungry yeast to boost biofuel production

Engineering yeast to transform sugars more efficiently into alcohols could be an economically and environmentally sound way to replace fossil fuels, say scientists presenting at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh today.
Dr Christian Weber and Professor Eckhard Boles from Frankfurt University, Germany, have worked out how to modify yeast cells so that they successfully convert a wider range of sugars from plant waste such as wheat and rice straw into alcohol that can be used as biofuel.
Bioalcohols produced by microbial fermentations are an example of second generation biofuels that use raw materials not used in food production. Plant waste is available in large amounts and contains a mixture of complex sugars including hexoses and pentoses that can be fermented to alcohol. "As these feedstocks represent the biggest portion of processing costs, we need rapid and efficient conversion of all sugars present. At the moment there is a lack of microbes that will efficiently convert both hexoses and pentoses into ethanol," explained Dr Weber.
Bakers' yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae is already used in the beverage industry to efficiently convert hexose sugars, such as glucose, into ethanol. By transferring genes from bacteria that naturally break down pentose, Dr Weber's team have engineered S. cerevisiae to successfully ferment pentose and hexose sugars. "As pentoses represent a substantial part of the feedstock, the engineered yeast gives a much higher yield of ethanol for the same amount of feedstock," he said.
To enhance their biofuel potential even more, the yeast is being further modified to produce another bioalcohol - butanol instead of ethanol. "Compared to ethanol, butanol shows superior properties as a potential biofuel." It has a lower vapour pressure, ignites at a higher temperature and is less corrosive. Butanol could replace fossil fuels up to 100% without modifying existing engines," said Professor Boles.
BUTALCO is a company started by Professor Boles together with chemist Dr Gunter Festel that is developing a special technology to modify the yeast for pentose utilization and butanol production. The company is currently finalising the technology to use both pentoses and hexoses for bioethanol manufacture. Eventually a whole process chain will be developed covering all the steps of bioalcohol production from engineering through to downstream processing.

Concerns Over Global Warming Slipping

Posted by Robert Rapier on Sunday, March 28, 2010

Some readers strongly disagreed with me when I placed Climategate as one of the Top 10 Energy Related Stories of 2009. However, I have not changed my mind about what I think will be significant and lingering impacts from this event.
I am acquainted with a number of Global Warming skeptics, and I know many more who are on the fence. Many in the U.S. Congress fall into those categories. A story indicating possible data suppression/manipulation of climate data was going to get a lot of mileage. Skeptics are going to use it to full advantage, and many fence-sitters are going to be swayed. So my reasoning was that it would ultimately have significant long-term implications. In fact, I think if there was ever much chance the U.S. would pass major legislation to stem carbon emissions, Climategate squashed that possibility.
Polls have already shown that concern over Global Warming is falling in the U.S. This weekend I saw a story in one of the major New Zealand newspapers that shows concern is slipping here as well. One of the cited reasons? Climategate.
Recession eclipses planet’s problems
Public concern about global warming appears to have eased in the past year, following economic uncertainty and widespread media coverage of climate science slip-ups.
An online survey of 1066 people in February and March found the majority believed climate change was an immediate problem – but the proportion of believers had fallen from 76 per cent in 2008 to 65 per cent this year.
The latest poll follows a Nielsen survey of the Herald Readers’ Panel in December, which found one in five of 2296 respondents thought global warming was a giant con, and a further 28 per cent thought it had not been conclusively proved.
Almost all governments accept the findings of a UN report based on the work of hundreds of scientists which concluded in 2007 that warming of the climate was “unequivocal”.
But public confidence was dented when, shortly before world climate talks in Copenhagen, emails were released showing a few leading scientists tried to avoid releasing data to their doubters, in breach of British freedom of information laws.
Relative to the U.S., those in New Zealand who believe Global Warming is an immediate problem is still pretty strong at 65%. (The latest poll in the U.S. showed 35% thought the problem is very serious, and another 30% somewhat serious). But the New Zealand poll also showed a sizeable fraction who either think Global Warming is a scam, or that it hasn’t been conclusively proven.
One other thing this indicates is something that I have long maintained: Our environmental concerns have been facilitated by cheap energy. We can all afford the luxury of being environmentally concerned as long as it doesn’t inconvenience us. Once we start paying higher prices to protect the environment, people are no longer as enthusiastic. That’s why I believe that we will end up burning all the fossil fuels that we have, and the only realistic solution to rising carbon emissions is that we run out of coal, oil, and natural gas.
Of the 30% in the U.S. who believe Global Warming is “somewhat serious”, how many do you suppose would support 10% higher gas prices – or anything else that hits them in the wallet – to help mitigate Global Warming?

Large dams can help cement peace

The Guardian, Monday 29 March 2010
Your informative report on the remarkable Gibe hydro-electric power project on the Omo river in Ethiopia (Report, 26 March) is of particular importance for a number of reasons. In a country which usually hits the headlines with news of droughts and famine disasters, the development of this massive potential source of energy is a great feat with enormous benefit for the surrounding region. Xan Rice's balanced report is commendable for its restraint from unsubstantiated comment, while recording the need for further careful investigation and planning. Many aspects are of special interest, including the tremendous scale of engineering within the Great Rift Valley and the complexities of management and financing.
The benefits of power for the neighbouring countries are especially far-reaching in terms of stability and social conditions. There are many examples of power supplies which have delivered under active hostilities against all odds: for example in Mozambique where power from the Cahora Bassa station on the Zambezi continued to deliver power to South Africa across 1,500km of vulnerable land during years of hostility, and in Iraq in the 1960s to 1980s, where power generated within Kurdistan at Dokan dam continued to enter the national grid despite major hostilities. Being part of an energy grid or linked to an external supply can help to bring peace and stability – a benefit which deserves the widest support in the hostile and volatile conditions of the countries surrounding Ethiopia – possibly extending to Yemen in the east and African countries further west. This benefit justifies the widest international support.
John Robson

Siemens to build UK wind turbine plant

• £75m wind turbine plant will create hundreds of jobs• Wind power boost to government's green hopes
Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Monday 29 March 2010
The government will receive another boost to its green manufacturing momentum this week when Siemens of Germany announces plans to create hundreds of jobs in Britain and invest more than £75m in a new wind turbine plant.
The move comes despite claims made today by the EEF, the manufacturers' organisation, that the UK tax system is still stacked against manufacturing and needs a shake-up if the economy is to become less geared towards financial services.
The Siemens factory has particular significance because it shows Britain can beat off competition from Denmark and Germany to house a plant capable of making a new generation of extra-large blades.
The facility will demonstrate, too, that Britain can be at the centre of the German manufacturer's worldwide wind ambitions, because Siemens already has a wind power training centre in Newcastle upon Tyne and a global centre for offshore grid connections in Manchester. It is also sponsoring significant research work into renewables at Sheffield and Keele universities.
Siemens declined to comment ahead of an announcement but well placed sources said that a deal had been struck at the highest possible level of government for the company to locate a facility in Britain, probably on the east coast of England.
The decision comes after months of talks – including meetings at 10 Downing Street with the Siemens president, Peter Löscher – and is believed to have been finalised as a result of an important change in the budget last week, which brought public grants for ports to build green manufacturing hubs around them.
The Siemens facility is expected to create 700 direct jobs and perhaps as many as 1,500 more in the supply chain. The plans will be announced only days after GE, the American conglomerate, announced a similar initiative in Britain, with investment of £100m, creating 2,000 jobs.
Mitsubishi of Japan and Clipper Windpower of the US have also announced schemes to make bigger and better blades that could bring down the cost of producing wind offshore.
Big utilities such as E.ON and RWE have won acreage under the Round Three (R3) licensing scheme to develop wind farms many miles off the coast of Britain. But some have warned that the economics remain fragile, given the deep water levels and other factors involved, unless development costs can be driven down.
Alistair Darling announced £60m worth of grants in the budget to develop onshore manufacturing around dock areas, as well as a plan to create a green investment bank that would be capable of taking equity stakes in R3 schemes.
Some of these financial incentives seem to have been enough to persuade Siemens to build in Britain, going some way towards repairing the damage done by Vestas' decision to close the UK's only functioning wind turbine factory last summer in the Isle of Wight. There has also been dismay that 90% of the supply contracts for Britain's biggest offshore wind farm, the London Array, went abroad, many of them to Siemens in Germany and Denmark.
The British wind power industry has estimated that eventually 70,000 green-collar jobs could be created on the back of more than £100bn of private sector investment needed under R3 proposals.
But the report out today from the EEF, entitled "Tax reform for a balanced economy", says that for UK manufacturing to succeed in the future, a range of reforms to the system of investment allowances will be needed. The engineering sector also wants a cut in corporation tax, an increase in VAT and a return of the top rate of income tax to 40p.
The EEF warns that failure to tackle the tax system will stop the economy from being rebalanced away from the City and encourage companies to move overseas.
"While there have been some helpful changes to the tax regime in recent years, we still lack a coherent tax system that encourages manufacturers to invest and sends the signal that they should be doing it here," the EEF's director of policy, Steve Radley, said.
"The next government must think and act differently. In particular, it can achieve much larger benefits from any new measures if its approach is more predictable and transparent."

European energy agency could form super-regulator

• Slovenia-based energy agency to start with 50 staff• European regulator seen as essential to push green energy

Terry Macalister
The Guardian, Monday 29 March 2010
Brussels is pressing ahead with plans to establish an energy agency which is seen as a prototype European regulator. The body could eventually restrict national policymaking but could also give important impetus to North Sea wind power and developing a European "supergrid".
The European commission says it expects the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators to open for business by March next year.
"There is a degree of hope that the work of the agency, while not being a European regulator as such, will get the commitment of national regulators such as Ofgem in the UK … [and] if it is successful then it will become the European regulator," said Philip Lowe, the EC's new director general for energy, in an exclusive interview.
The agency is to be based initially in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, and will have a staff of about 50, he said. The choice of location has raised eyebrows but Lowe said the agency should be judged on its work, not its whereabouts.
The idea of energy being regulated by Brussels remains a highly charged political issue but members of the European Union are increasingly accepting the need for more international cooperation and integration to achieve energy security and combat climate change.
Britain and other countries are keen to develop a huge network of offshore wind farms but realise they may need to deal with the problem of intermittent power by importing electricity generated from hydro or other power sources through an international supergrid of interconnected networks.
Lowe says European Union member states have so far balked at giving up national sovereignty in energy regulation and their future acceptance of such an idea would be vital before a fully fledged European regulator was put in place.
Under the direction of his boss, European energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, he is convinced countries must work more closely together. New bilateral arrangements between countries and regulators are in place to allow power to move through international pipelines.
"Although in energy as much as any other area of European life, people talk about sovereignty a lot the reality is that all this (putting together of energy grids and other integration) does not work unless there is an acceptance that there are some things best done at European level, some best done at national level and some at local level."
The British-born bureaucrat says it's a matter of who is best placed to review any particular aspect of work.
"It is no use asking the European commission to investigate whether Tesco or Morrisons are competing in a certain area. National authorities know far more about land use and planning … but then if you are to deal with a company of the clout of Microsoft then it is something best dealt with here."
Lowe is happy to make comparisons with competition issues because he has just switched from the competition to the energy directorate.
Some UK groups, such as British Gas, could be suspicious of the new energy director given their criticism of the way Continental markets have been allowed to be dominated by very large, often partly-state-run groups, such as EDF of France.
Lowe dismisses the criticism, pointing out that he and his former competition commissioner boss, Neelie Kroes, investigated these market failures and laid out the steps that needed to be taken. "The accusation we did not do anything is totally wrong," he said, pointing out that anti-trust legal action continues against various large Continental utilities today.

Why don't we use urinals in the home?

The use of urinals has never taken off in the home – would you ever consider installing one?
Urinals seems sensible when you're in a public loo so why haven't they caught on in UK bathrooms? They don't take up much space or plumbing. Ben Miller, Edinburgh
Using up to a dozen litres of fresh drinking water to flush away your "business" does seem somewhat excessive and there have been various attempts over the years to get us to use "hippos", bricks and the like to decrease the amount of water we waste when pulling the chain.
But, as far as I'm aware, the use of urinals has never taken off in the home. There are some good reasons: they're not exactly unisex devices, despite the best efforts of some women, and I can imagine the wandering hand of a child coming to grief on the porcelain lip.
Do they use less water, though? There are some "waterless" urinals around, plus ones that are motion activated. But would you really ever consider installing one at home?