Offshore Wind Farms Are Havens For Seals

Researchers tracking the movements of seals discovered that the flipper-wielding predators are drawn to offshore wind farms and underwater pipelines. These kinds of manmade structures might serve as artificial reefs and delectable hunting grounds, according to a new study published in Current Biology this week.

A team led by Deborah Russell from the University of St. Andrews tagged over 100 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina, pictured) and gray seals (Halichoerus grypus) on the British and Dutch coasts of the North Sea using GPS tags attached to their fur at the back of the neck.

Their data showed 11 harbor seals regularly visiting two active wind farms: Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal in the southeast U.K. An aerial view of Sheringham Shoal is pictured here.

In some cases, the seals traveled in grid-like movement patterns as they appeared to forage from one turbine to another, checking each out for fish. “I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” Russell recalls in a news release. “You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”

In this video, you can see four of the 13 trips made by a single harbor seal to Sheringham Shoal. White points denote the turbines and substations. The seal’s track is shown in red with the yellow pointer updating every half an hour of the track.

 

 

 

Furthermore, both gray and harbor seals were observed hanging out near subsea pipelines. Two seals in the Netherlands encountered a section of pipeline and followed it on multiple trips, for up to 10 days at a time.

“Only a small proportion of our study seals utilized wind farms or pipelines,” Russell says. “At present these structures cover a small proportion of the extent of the at-sea distribution of seals. As wind farms become more extensive, many more seals will likely be affected.”

The team is working on understanding the population consequences of developments planned for the future. The turbines might be increasing the number of prey species, or on the other hand, they might only be concentrating the number of prey. If that’s the case, “instead of being distributed sparsely throughout the environment, they’re actually being concentrated and very vulnerable to being ‘hoovered’ up by predators,” Russell tells the BBC. “So that could actually have a negative effect on those prey species.”

Images: Current Biology, Russell et al. (top) & Mike Page (middle)
Video: Current Biology, Russell et al

Australian PM Bans Solar And Wind Power Investment

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, seems to be hell-bent on a mission to undo the country’s past carbon emission-reduction efforts. Last Sunday, the federal government announced that not only will it ban the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) from investing in existing wind technology, but small-scale solar power projects as well. Instead, the CEFC will focus its energies on “emerging technologies.”

The CEFC is an organization that lends funding to renewable energy projects. This new ban will be stifling not just for them, but for the future of renewable technologies since one-third of CEFC funding is in solar projects, and many of them are small-scale solar projects, including investing in household rooftop panels. It’s not as though small-scale solar projects aren’t popular either: nearly 15% of houses in Australia are equipped with solar panels.

The CEFC hasn’t sat idly after this seemingly unfair ruling. The company is getting legal advice about whether Abbott can enforce these new restrictions without having approval from the Senate. Senior lawyers have already stated that the CEFC may have legal grounds to fight the solar and wind energy ban.

Abbott defended his actions by insisting that the idea behind CEFC was only to invest in new, emerging technologies and not existing, mature technologies. “It is our policy to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because we think that if the projects stack up economically, there’s no reason why they can’t be supported in the usual way,” the Prime Minister told reporters. “But while the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies – certainly not existing windfarms.”

Abbott’s actions since he became Prime Minister don’t exactly bolster his claim that he wants to support renewable energy. Since 2013, when he was elected, Abbott has lowered Australia’s renewable energy targets from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours, broken up Australia’s Climate Commission body and even dropped the science minister between 2013-14, essentially silencing representation from the science sector. The actions don’t match up with his statements, and it’s difficult to conclude that there isn’t some hidden agenda.

The Prime Minister of contradictions has also recently approved the opening of a huge coal mine in New South Wales that will operate until 2046. This is in light of a pressing need for Australia to source its energy needs from renewable sources instead of coal and oil. Releasing pollutants is damaging one of Australia’s most precious jewels: the Great Barrier Reef. Fishermen have recently reported seeing a 1-kilometer (over half a mile) long slick of oil. This unconfirmed incident comes as a reminder to Australia that creating a dependency on the oil and coal industry may come at a high cost.

The move away from solar technology investment seems counterintuitive since Australia is famed for being a sun haven. In fact, a solar potential map of Australia for 2013 shows that a significant portion of the country had the potential to produce more than 1500 kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m2) of solar-generated electricity.

Scott Ludlam, the acting Greens leader, told reporters in Perth that the Prime Minister’s agenda is to “handcuff” Australia to the coal and gas industry. “It’s a form of, I think incredibly dangerous and vindictive industrial sabotage. They’re trying to knock over the wind energy sector.”

The opposition leader, Bill Shortenadded: “The guidelines now being proposed by Mr Abbott mean that basically the only thing the CEFC could invest in is flying saucers, because anything that is any closer to development than that, Mr Abbott has conveniently saying is an established technology.”

With wind and solar power off the radar, the only options left for the CEFC are the high-risk options. The move might not spell ‘doom’ for the organization, but for them, Australia’s blazing skies just became a little bit dimmer – the Sun now a frustratingly wasted resource.

[H/T: The Guardian]

Australian PM Bans Solar And Wind Power Investment

The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, seems to be hell-bent on a mission to undo the country’s past carbon emission-reduction efforts. Last Sunday, the federal government announced that not only will it ban the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) from investing in existing wind technology, but small-scale solar power projects as well. Instead, the CEFC will focus its energies on “emerging technologies.”

The CEFC is an organization that lends funding to renewable energy projects. This new ban will be stifling not just for them, but for the future of renewable technologies since one-third of CEFC funding is in solar projects, and many of them are small-scale solar projects, including investing in household rooftop panels. It’s not as though small-scale solar projects aren’t popular either: nearly 15% of houses in Australia are equipped with solar panels.

The CEFC hasn’t sat idly after this seemingly unfair ruling. The company is getting legal advice about whether Abbott can enforce these new restrictions without having approval from the Senate. Senior lawyers have already stated that the CEFC may have legal grounds to fight the solar and wind energy ban.

Abbott defended his actions by insisting that the idea behind CEFC was only to invest in new, emerging technologies and not existing, mature technologies. “It is our policy to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation because we think that if the projects stack up economically, there’s no reason why they can’t be supported in the usual way,” the Prime Minister told reporters. “But while the CEFC exists, what we believe it should be doing is investing in new and emerging technologies – certainly not existing windfarms.”

Abbott’s actions since he became Prime Minister don’t exactly bolster his claim that he wants to support renewable energy. Since 2013, when he was elected, Abbott has lowered Australia’s renewable energy targets from 41,000 gigawatt hours to 33,000 gigawatt hours, broken up Australia’s Climate Commission body and even dropped the science minister between 2013-14, essentially silencing representation from the science sector. The actions don’t match up with his statements, and it’s difficult to conclude that there isn’t some hidden agenda.

The Prime Minister of contradictions has also recently approved the opening of a huge coal mine in New South Wales that will operate until 2046. This is in light of a pressing need for Australia to source its energy needs from renewable sources instead of coal and oil. Releasing pollutants is damaging one of Australia’s most precious jewels: the Great Barrier Reef. Fishermen have recently reported seeing a 1-kilometer (over half a mile) long slick of oil. This unconfirmed incident comes as a reminder to Australia that creating a dependency on the oil and coal industry may come at a high cost.

The move away from solar technology investment seems counterintuitive since Australia is famed for being a sun haven. In fact, a solar potential map of Australia for 2013 shows that a significant portion of the country had the potential to produce more than 1500 kilowatt hours per square meter (kWh/m2) of solar-generated electricity.

Scott Ludlam, the acting Greens leader, told reporters in Perth that the Prime Minister’s agenda is to “handcuff” Australia to the coal and gas industry. “It’s a form of, I think incredibly dangerous and vindictive industrial sabotage. They’re trying to knock over the wind energy sector.”

The opposition leader, Bill Shortenadded: “The guidelines now being proposed by Mr Abbott mean that basically the only thing the CEFC could invest in is flying saucers, because anything that is any closer to development than that, Mr Abbott has conveniently saying is an established technology.”

With wind and solar power off the radar, the only options left for the CEFC are the high-risk options. The move might not spell ‘doom’ for the organization, but for them, Australia’s blazing skies just became a little bit dimmer – the Sun now a frustratingly wasted resource.

[H/T: The Guardian]

The Australian’s Campaign Against Wind Farms Continues But The Research Doesn’t Stack Up

The Australian newspaper’s campaign against wind farms continued this morning with a page one story from the paper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd.

Lloyd writes about purportedly “groundbreaking” German research which, he infers, may provide a plausible basis for claims about wind turbines having direct effects on health.

Lloyd writes:

The results showed that humans could hear sounds of eight hertz, a whole octave lower than had been previously assumed, and that excitation of the primary auditory cortex could be detected down to this frequency.

A description of the project is here. The research never mentions wind turbines, only low-frequency noise, which is produced by many sources found in both nature and from a wide variety of mechanical sources.

The press release pitch, with its mentions of wind turbines, smells like a hook to a topical issue calculated to amplify attention to their work. (Note, this link to the press release was down at the time of publication.)

But these new findings are hardly “groundbreaking”. Earlier work found evidence of very similar auditory cortex stimulation from noise at 12Hz, slightly higher than the 8hz in this study.

In the study that excited Lloyd and the Australian’s sub-editors (the headline reads “Brains excited by wind turbines study”), auditory cortex stimulation at 8Hz (at pressure levels around the threshold of hearing) is meaningless in the context of wind turbine-generated infrasound, which is well below the threshold of perception.

Moreover, even fake stimuli can precipitate measurable activity in the brain. We know that both placebos (factors that increase expectations of positive outcomes) and nocebos (those which increase expectations of negative outcomes) can increase changes in cerebral metabolic rate when viewed via positron emission tomography (PET) scanning.

Expectations do not just affect people’s subjective experience of a stimulus (such as exposure to infrasound) but can actually produce measurable changes in brain activity which may or may not be markers of anything of clinical significance.

Fascinating work from Hungary and Germany on “electrosensitive” people (for example, those claiming to be made ill from exposure to mobile phones, wifi or other “stray” electricity) has shown that when such individuals are exposed to sham (fake) radiation from their feared source while thinking it is real, they experience symptoms. Correlates of these symptoms can be measured in the brain.

The Hungarian study exposed both people with “Idiophathic Environmental Intolerance (IEI) attributed to electromagnetic fields” and control subjects not reporting this condition to sham radiation. Those claiming IEI to electromagnetic frequency radiation both expected and experienced more symptoms.

In the German study, subjectively electrosensitive patients and gender-matched healthy controls were also exposed to sham mobile phone radiation and heat as a control condition. The subjects were not aware that the radiation was fake. Both before and during these exposures:

increased activations in anterior cingulate and insular cortex as well as fusiform gyrus were seen in the electrosensitive group compared to controls, while heat stimulation led to similar activations in both groups.

As the Hungarian researchers noted, electrosensitivity:

seems to be formed through a vicious circle of psychosocial factors, such as enhanced perception of risk and expectations, self-monitoring, somatisation and somatosensory amplification, causalization and misattribution.

In short, as the old saying goes, you can worry yourself sick. And those who spread fear arguably are an important part of this process.

Today’s Australian article complements Lloyd’s uncritical accounts of two recent studies about wind turbine noise. He wrote that:

Scientists in Japan measured brain function and reported last year that it showed the brains of Japanese wind turbine workers could not achieve a relaxed state.

As prominent wind industry science and research commentator Ketan Joshi has written:

[the study] doesn’t control for expectations, and it’s very likely that the subjects could perceive the sound = 20Hz at 92 dB(G), [at] the volume at which the synthesized noise was played, would annoy anyone.

Joshi compares such levels to the noise that would be experienced right inside a wind turbine nacelle, not hundreds of meters or several kilometers away, and notes that wind farm workers would never work inside nacelles when the turbines were turning.

Quoting an Iranian study, Lloyd continues:

In a similar vein, a study of 45 people … by Tehran University … said “despite all the good benefits of wind turbines, it can be stated that this technology has health risks for all those exposed to its sound.”

The study he referred to was of poor quality and Joshi has also mercilessly eviscerated its many problems, none of which Lloyd even hinted at.

Lloyd left messages for me to comment on the German research for his story. As his report notes, I did not respond. I have zero interest in obligingly playing into the Australian’s one-sided coverage. The paper has reported on a succession of trivial to terrible “studies” and published opinion pieces which are exalted by the tiny cells of anti-wind farm activists happy to embrace any fragment that furthers their cause.

No reporter from News has ever reported on any of my five recent studies on wind here,hereherehere, or here.

The University of Auckland’s Fiona Crichton who is arguably doing the world’s most advanced research on nocebo effects and wind farms has similarly never been reported.

The News agenda on wind energy is a travesty of good journalism.

The Conversation

Simon Chapman is Professor of Public Health at University of Sydney.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hydroelectric Dams Drastically Reduce Biodiversity

With their green credentials, hydroelectric dams have been built at an exceptional rate all over the world. But their true environmental and ecological costs are slowly starting to unravel, as a new study shows how this renewable energy source can drive species out and dramatically reduce biodiversity.

“Hydroelectric dams have been thought to be an environmentally friendly source of renewable power – and in recent years they have been built to supply the burgeoning energy demands of emergent tropical countries,” explained Dr. Maíra Benchimol, who led the study published in PLoS One. “Our research adds evidence that forest biodiversity also pays a heavy price when large dams are built.”

The research looked at the effect the Balbina Dam in central Brazil had on the region’s wildlife. When the dam was built in the 1980s, it put a once continuous and untouched 2,360-square-kilometer (910-square-mile) area of forest underwater, killing many trees and forming an artificial archipelago of over 3,500 islands. The team of scientists from theUniversity of East Anglia spent two years surveying some of these islands, and compared them to other areas of the forest unaffected by the rising water.

The researchers placed camera traps throughout the study area to record the species and their relative abundance, and used high-resolution satellite images to assess how much forest degradation occurs on the islands. What they found was widespread loss of species living on the islands, with large mammals, birds and tortoises missing from most of the islands they looked at.

Puma caught on the camera traps. Credit: Eduardo M. Venticinque

“We found that only a few islands larger than 475 hectares still contained a diverse community of animal and bird species, which corresponds to only 0.7 per cent of all islands in the reservoir,” said Benchimol. “In addition to the effects of area reduction, most small islands succumbed to wind exposure and ephemeral fires that occurred during a severe El Niño drought in 1997-98.”

All this adds to the growing body of evidence that hydroelectric dams are not the clean, green energy once thought. Despite the dam being the world’s largest in terms of total flooded area, after all that damage and destruction, it only manages a tiny capacity of 250 megawatts. When the amount of methane that is released from the reservoir due to all the decomposing matter is taken into account, it’s calculated to produce more greenhouse gasses than even the dirtiest of coal power plants.

Despite this, Brazil is still planning on damming up more tributaries of the Amazon, flooding yet more forest and forcing indigenous peoples out of their lands. The researchers recommend that all these factors be taken into consideration when any assessment of a new dam is made, as currently they’re ignored.

Solar Fuels: How Planes And Cars Could Be Powered By The Sun

Solar energy is the world’s most plentiful and ubiquitous energy source, and researchers around the world are pursuing ways to convert sunlight into a useful form.

Most people are aware of solar photovoltaics that generate electricity and solar panels that produce hot water. But there is another thrust of solar research: turning sunlight into liquid fuels.

Research in solar-derived liquid fuels, or solar fuels, aims to make a range of products that are compatible with our energy infrastructure today, such as gasoline, jet fuel and hydrogen. The goal is to store sunlight in liquid form, conveniently overcoming the transient nature of sunlight. I am among the growing number of researchers focused on this field.

How can this be done? And what scientific challenges remain before one can fill up a car on solar-generated fuel?

Speeding Up Nature

The production of solar fuels is particularly attractive because it addresses both the conversion and storage problem endemic to sunlight; namely, the sun is available for only one-third of the day. This is a distinct advantage compared to other solar conversion technologies. Solar photovoltaic panels, for instance, must be coupled to a complex distribution and storage network, such as batteries, when production of electric power doesn’t equal demand.

The term “solar fuel” is a bit of a misnomer. In fact, all fossil fuels are technically solar-derived. Solar energy drives photosynthesis to form plant matter through the reaction of carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) and, over millions of years, the decay of plant matter creates the hydrocarbons we use to power our society.

 

One thermochemical approach strips oxygen from steam and carbon dioxide gas using the sun’s heat. Then, the resulting gases are combined chemically in a separate process to make liquid fuels. Jonathan Scheffe, Author provided

The downside of this process is that nature’s efficiency at producing hydrocarbons is excruciatingly low, and humankind’s hunger for energy has never been greater. The result is that the current rate of fossil fuel consumption is much larger than the rate they are produced by nature alone, which provides the motivation to increase nature’s efficiencies and speed up the process of solar fuel production through artificial means.

This is the true meaning of “solar fuel” as it is used today, but the ultimate goal is the same: namely, the conversion of solar energy, CO2 and H2O to chemical forms such as gasoline.

To The Lab

The first step in creating manmade solar fuels is to break down CO2 and/or H2O molecules, often to carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon and hydrogen (H2). This is no easy feat, as both of these molecules are very stable (H2 does not form spontaneously from H2O!) and therefore this step requires a substantial amount of energy supplied from sunlight, either directly in the form of photons or indirectly as electricity or heat.

This step is often the most crucial component of the process and represents the greatest roadblock to commercialization of solar fuel technologies today, as it largely defines the efficiency of the overall fuel production process and therefore the cost.

Downstream of this step, the resulting molecules – in this case, a mixture of CO and hydrogen called synthesis gas – may be converted through a variety of existing technologies depending on the final product desired. This step of converting hydrocarbon gases to liquid form is already performed at an industrial scale, thanks to large corporations such as Shell Global Solutions and Sasol that use these technologies to leverage to low cost of today’s natural gas to make more valuable liquid fuels.

Recently, a European Union-sponsored project called SOLAR-JET (Solar chemical reactor demonstration and Optimization for Long-term Availability of Renewable JET fuel) demonstrated the first-ever conversion of solar energy to jet fuel, or kerosene. Researchers coupled the solar-driven production of synthesis gas, also called syngas, from CO2 and H2O with a downstream gas-to-liquids reactor – in this case a Fischer-Tropsch reactor at Shell’s Headquarters in Amsterdam.

The production of liquid fuels is especially important for the aviation industry that relies on energy-dense fuels and represents another important advantage of solar fuel production compared to solar electricity.

The SOLAR-JET project, which I worked on with several other researchers, utilized a process called solar thermochemical fuel production, in which solar energy is concentrated using optics – mirrors and lenses – much the way a magnifying glass can start a fire. The resulting heat is then absorbed in a chamber that acts as a chemical reactor. The absorbed heat is then used to dissociate H2O and/or CO2 through a catalytic-type process – one of the most technically challenging steps for all solar fuel conversion processes. The resulting products (hydrogen or synthesis gas) can then be captured and further converted to liquid fuels downstream.

Artificial Photosynthesis

There are numerous other strategies to drive these reactions needed for the first step of solar fuel production, including those that utilize light – photons – directly or indirectly in the form of electricity.

For example, so-called artificial photosynthesis utilizes photons directly in a catalytic process, rather than absorbing them as heat, to break down H2O and CO2 molecules.

 

Former Energy Secretary Steven Chu visiting the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, which received an additional US$75 million in funding earlier this year. The lab is pursuing converting light (not heat) directly into fuels. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Electrochemical approaches utilize electricity that could be generated from a photovoltaic cell to drive the separation of H2O and CO2 through a process known as electrolysis.

To date, the key barriers to commercialization of all of these technologies are primarily related to their low efficiencies – that is related to the amount of energy needed to produce a liquid fuel – and overall robustness. For example, the efficiency of the SOLAR-JET thermochemical conversion project discussed above is still less than 2%, but for this technology to become commercially viable, efficiencies greater than 10% will need to be achieved.

A team working at the University of Florida funded by research agency ARPA-E is working toward these efficiency goals using another thermochemical process that uses optics to generate heat. Yet robustness because of extreme temperatures (greater than 1200 Celsius or over 2000 Farenheit) is still a major concern that is being addressed.

Furthermore, for solar fuel production to truly reduce greenhouse gas levels, it must be coupled with methods to capture CO2 from the air. This is still a relatively immature technology, but companies such as Climeworks are working to make this a reality.

Add in the complexity of integrating a temporally varying energy input (the sun) with a chemical reactor and the overall scope of the challenge can appear large. Nevertheless, advances are being made daily that give hope that solar fuels at higher efficiencies will soon be a reality.

The Conversation

Jonathan Scheffe is Associate Professor Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Enginering at University of Florida.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How Much Does Wind Energy Cost? Debunking The Myths

Are renewables pushing up the cost of electricity? That’s the claim made by Alan Moran in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review this week.

Moran, executive director of Regulation Economics and a former director at the Institute of Public Affairs, argues that increasing investment in renewables and particularly wind energy will cost consumers billions of dollars. The high operating costs and requirements for backup when the wind isn’t blowing are the problem, he argues.

But the evidence actually suggests the opposite: wind energy is already competitive with fossil fuels, will reduce electricity prices for consumers, and will play a large role in reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

So, let’s go through Moran’s claims one by one.

Claim: [W]indfarms […] need three times the price at which Australian coal generators can supply electricity. Australia’s coal resources are so abundant that across the eastern states that they can profitably supply electricity at a cost of $40 a MWh. Windfarms require $120 a MWh.

It is true that black coal can supply electricity to the wholesale market at A$40 per megawatt hour (MWh). However, new wind farms require much less than A$120 per MWh to be financed. Recent experience shows that new wind farms require A$80-90 per MWh.

But this is comparing apples with oranges. The coal cost refers to what is essentially the cost of fuel. The wind cost is the cost over the lifetime of the project, including capital and return on investment.

If we compare apples with apples, the long-run cost of coal is A$85-$100 per MWh (withouta carbon price), versus A$90 per MWh for wind. The short-run cost of wind is zero: flowing air costs nothing.

Claim: [B]ecause wind generated supply is intrinsically unreliable it needs back-up in the form of fast start generators […] Wind/solar generation in Australia currently has a 7% share of supply. That level requires 6 per cent in additional back-up, according to the estimates by the Australian Energy Market Operator.

This statement implies that additional capacity has had to be installed because of wind. This is demonstrably not true. The Australian Energy Market Operator has stated that there is no new capacity required in the next 10 years, despite the increase in wind and solar.

South Australia is a good example. More than 1,200 megawatts of wind power capacity has been installed, but virtually no new gas plants have been built as “backup”. In the chart below you can see that on the afternoon and evening of Sunday June 7, wind and gas met all electricity demand in South Australia.

 

Generation by fuel type in South Australia on Sunday the 7th of June 2015. Operations at the Northern Power Station were shut down after an explosion at around midday.

More broadly, redundant capacity is important in the entire electricity system (not just wind). All types of generation have planned and unplanned shortages.

Unplanned outages are more challenging. If a whole generator goes offline, the system must return to normal within five minutes. This is often achieved with a “fast start” generator such as a gas turbine or hydro plant. These contingency plans must equal the loss of the largest generator in the system, usually coal.

No technology is 100% reliable, as illustrated in the graph above. Wind is really quite predictable and reliable compared to coal.

Claim: Wind turbine development has been improved over the past 20 years but is now approaching its theoretical maximum efficiency. It will never be remotely price competitive with conventional generators notwithstanding wishful thinking.

As I’ve shown above, wind is already competitive with new-build coal (and gas) in Australia, and many other places around the world (including the United States). Carbon policy aside, some of the assets are seriously old and are going to be retired anyway.

new study from UNSW Australia looked at the best energy mix for generation. Even without a carbon price, the research found that the lowest cost mix in 2050 sources only 30% of electricity from gas, with the rest supplied by renewables. About half of the gas capacity is Open Cycle Gas Turbines (for peak demand) that supply very small quantities of energy.

Claim: In aggregate terms, the annual impost on electricity consumers [of the Renewable Energy Target] is therefore from the 33,000GWh and means a cost to the customer of $3 billion a year […]

As I’ve written before on The Conversation, the government’s own modelling shows a net saving to consumers (and so does plenty of other analysis). The ACIL Allen analysis finds the target will cut power bills from 2021 onwards (by up to A$91 per year by 2030) and deliver a net saving to consumers.

Claim: Energy only comprises 25 to 30 per cent of emissions and Australia’s renewable target might therefore reduce emissions by 4 to 5 per cent.

According the Climate Change Authority’s review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), the RET is projected to reduce Australia’s overall emissions by 58 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent.

The Government’s latest estimate of Australia’s emissions reduction task between 2015 and 2020 is 421 million tonnes. So between 2015 and 2020 alone, the RET achieves at least 13% of the reduction task.

The Conversation

Dylan McConnell is Research Fellow, Melbourne Energy Institute at University of Melbourne.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The World’s First Solar-Powered Sports Car Could Drive Forever

Can a road-legal car be powered by the Sun alone? One company thinks so, and they’re planning to unveil a scaled-down version of their proposal later this year.

Called “The Immortus,” the two-person vehicle is the work of EVX Ventures, an electric vehicle technology startup based in Melbourne, Australia. The car is decked out in solar panels, covering up to eight square meters (86 square feet), and also has a lithium battery to store energy, between five and 10 kilowatt-hours. So light is the car though, 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) when empty and 700 kilograms (1,550 pounds) when fully laden, it is able to run on just solar power alone.

This is all possible thanks to the low mass-to-power ratio of the car. It is also extremely aerodynamic while still looking “compelling and stylish,” EVX co-founder and CEO Barry Nguyen said to IFLScience. The car also doesn’t use normal road tires, but rather tires specially designed for so-called “solar racers” – cars that are powered by the Sun.

Using a combination of battery and solar power, the car will apparently be capable of reaching up to 160 kilometers (100 miles) per hour. On solar power alone, it can reach up to 80 kilometers (50 miles) per hour.

And perhaps most interestingly, Nguyen said that the car would be able to run perpetually on just solar power, giving it an infinite range, in theory, so long as it didn’t exceed 60 kilometers (37 miles) per hour and the Sun was continuously shining. Still, that’s pretty impressive. However, Nguyen stressed that the idea of the technology was to use solar cells in tandem with existing vehicles.

“We see the solar cells as a range extender technology in everyday driving, rather than the solar cells capturing more energy than it consumes for practical use,” he said. “However, uniquely, the range is infinite when there is consistent sunshine cruising at 60 km/h.”

A working prototype could be built by late 2016. EVX Ventures.

EVX plans to unveil a one-quarter scaled version of their car at the SEMA Show 2015 at the Las Vegas Convention Center in November. A leading electric vehicle research and development group at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne is also involved in the project.

When it is eventually released, Nguyen said the car is expected to retail for about $370,000 (£240,000), and sales of more than 100 are not expected. The car will be road legal “under individually constructed vehicle regulations” in Australia and the U.S., according to Nguyen.

The team plans to test a full-scale version of the car by the end of 2016, providing they can raise enough money for a working prototype.

Hydroelectric Generators Tap The Backwaters For Energy

(www.eandt.theiet.org)

For a country that receives so much rain, hydroelectric energy seems to be curiously underexploited in the UK. Just 1.5 per cent of the electricity supply is derived from water. For traditional hydropower, though, Britain has the wrong kind of water. Norway’s large array of fjords provides the country with most of its electricity needs. The gentler, smaller rivers and streams that characterise the UK’s landscape provide a poor fit for hydro. Typical hydro turbines require speeds of at least five knots to make them financially viable: most rivers flow at less than two knots. And damming rivers in the UK is an unpopular choice.

Big hydro projects using dams and tidal barriers can wreak havoc with ecosystems, causing extensive flooding, soil erosion and deforestation. Does this leave hydro up the creek? Several projects have found ways to extract the latent energy from rivers, with some based on very old ideas.

David Wilson Homes has installed a pair of hydroelectric generators in a weir on the River Wharfe next to a new 300-home estate in Otley, West Yorkshire. The 10m-long generators use the classic screw design developed by Greek inventor Archimedes – turning as the water descends through them. The builder says the screw generator will provide up to 1300MWh of energy per year.

Other techniques are based on principles discovered more recently. The Venturi-Enhanced Turbine Technology (VETT) developed by UK-based VerdErg is designed to amplify the small drops in level at fast-flowing points in a river. It does this by exploiting the principles of the Venturi effect – that a fluid forced through a constriction speeds up, causing a drop in pressure. Attached to sections of water where there is an existing low ‘head’ – or drop – such as weirs or locks, the VETT sends 80 per cent of the available water through a Venturi pump. The low-pressure environment inside the constriction is then connected with water in the remaining 20 per cent high-pressure regime to drive a turbine. The combination amplifies the effect of the existing head by two-and-a-half to three times.

VerdErg operations director Lars Boerner says the increased pressure differential created by the Venturi pump allows for more cost-effective turbines: “You can use a much smaller turbine because it sees only 20 per cent of the water. But it sees a higher pressure, which means it spins faster. It doesn’t require a gear box and it needs less civil infrastructure, so the cost comes down.”

As only 20 per cent of the water goes through a turbine, the installation of the VerdEng system should have far less effect on wildlife than the building of a dam.

VerdErg is currently aiming at the small-scale end of the generation market. A typical scheme could provide energy for tens or hundreds of households, depending on the water source available. The company has had interest from private landowners, small businesses, community energy schemes and trusts. With permits needed for each scheme, the planning process could be drawn-out but, on the upside, sources of low-head hydro are numerous. The Environment Agency has identified over 20,000 sites across England and Wales – and they are very accessible to communities and power grid locations. “It’s a very important source, a very accessible source and a very predictable source of energy,” Boerner claims.

With the vast majority of the UK’s waterways being slow-moving and flat, new technologies are seeking to exploit even this previously untapped source. One is from US firm Vortex Hydro Energy, which has developed a system to capture the energy from vortices formed in flowing water – the same energy used by fish to swim upstream.

So-called vortex-induced vibrations (VIVs) have been known of for at least 500 years. Leonardo Da Vinci observed them in the form of Aeolian tones created by wind passing across the strings of an instrument. They are responsible for destructive phenomena such as the violent shaking of bridges in heavy winds. In water they are caused when a current flows around so-called bluff bodies such as cylinders or spheres. VIVs occur when vortices form on the downstream side of the object. These vortices shed on alternate sides to create an oscillating motion. Fish exploit this phenomenon to propel them through water. 

This phenomenon interested Michael Bernitsas, a professor of marine engineering at the University of Michigan. He was intrigued that such an obvious source of energy had never been harnessed before. So in 2005 he founded Vortex Hydro Energy, a commercial venture for the technology he patented, the vortex-induced vibration for aquatic clean energy (Vivace). The Vivace consists of a three-dimensional array of horizontal cylinders that use VIVs to oscillate in a current, generating electricity by moving magnets up and down metal coils attached to their ends. The device consists of four 4m-long cylinders producing 4kW of power – enough to supply all the energy needs for two to four typical homes.

Overall, the river-scale Vivace is about the size of a room and can generate 4kW from a current of 3.2 knots. In the lab, however, Bernitsas has managed to generate energy from speeds as low as 0.8 knots. Because Vivace sits on the river bed, there are no ugly structures popping up above the surface. There is even evidence from a joint study by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that fish seem to like the device. “Fish go behind cylinders and enjoy the ride in their wake,” says Bernitsas. “They ride between vortices just as when they trail another fish in a school.”

Another device seeking to obtain energy from slow flows in flat stretches of water is a turbine system from a UK start-up, Lunagen, which claims to produce usable amounts of energy from flows as low as 1 knot. Lunagen uses a vertical-axis Savonius turbine. The design operates at high torque and so generates more energy from slower speeds. The Lunagen team has optimised the turbine to make it up to 30 per cent more efficient for river-based generation.

Lunagen’s design deploys the turbines across the entire stream, creating a blockage effect so that all of the water has to pass through the device. This, according to Lunagen founder Will Penfold, gives the turbines a tenfold increase in efficiency. A simple 2kW array consisting of two turbines could provide the energy needs of a typical UK household and units can be daisy-chained together to scale the system up. “We can gather useful levels of energy at a good levelised cost of electricity and we open up a vast resource which has previously been uneconomic,” Penfold claims.

Lunagen is looking for investors. Although the technology is basically operational, the team has yet to conduct fish trials, which will take place later this year. Despite using turbines to block the river, Penfold says the design of the turbines plus the ability to space them at different intervals means they can allow all sizes of wildlife, even otters, to pass through unharmed. He isn’t so confident, however, of securing the backing of important stakeholders such as river preservation societies and fishing groups, who could see blocking rivers with arrays of turbines as a step too far.

The most promising market for Lunagen therefore might come from countries like India and Australia, where huge networks of irrigation channels offer a vast resource of slow-moving hydro energy. “We’ve spoken with people who run medical centres slap bang next to irrigation channels and they’re running off diesel generators,” says Penfold. “If we can take 80 per cent of the load off that diesel generator, that’s a massive benefit.”

If streams and irrigation channels aren’t slow enough, how about water that isn’t moving at all? As far back as 1852 Lord Kelvin wrote about the possibility of obtaining heat energy by cooling a fluid.  It was the same paper in which he suggested refrigeration, so it is perhaps fitting that an industrial refrigeration company is now at the cutting edge of manufacturing Kelvin’s so-called ‘heat engines’. Star Renewable Energy, an offshoot of Scottish company Star Refrigeration, makes water-source heat pumps using what is essentially the reverse of the refrigeration process to produce heat energy from natural sources of water.

Star Renewable Energy’s first large-scale project was to provide the district heating for an entire city. In 2009 Norwegian city Drammen began looking for a source of heating that was efficient and environmentally friendly. It settled on water-source heat pumps and Star Renewable Energy instantly stood out as it was the only company not using hydrofluorocarbons, which are greenhouse gases,  as the coolant. Instead Star Renewable proposed using ammonia, a chemical that was not only greenhouse-neutral but also proved to be 20-25 per cent more efficient than expected.

Star Renewable Energy won the contract and now provides the city’s 65,000 inhabitants with 85 per cent of their annual heating, saving 80 per cent of the district heating bill. It does this by taking the water from the nearby fjord, at 8°C, and using it to heat pressurised ammonia to 2°C, at which point it evaporates. The ammonia gas is compressed further until it reaches 110°C and used to heat the water in the city’s heating system to 90°C.

“We are taking heat out of something relatively cold,” says Star Renewable Energy’s director, Dave Pearson, “but the concept is, so long as you can make it cooler, you are taking heat away that can be used.”

Later this year Star Renewable Energy will start a similar scheme to provide district heating for the Shetland Isles. Other parts of the UK, from Inverness and Dundee to London and Bristol, have shown an interest. The potential for water-source heat pumps is clear – the Thames alone, according to Pearson, could provide the heating for half a million homes – and the UK government has produced a water source heat map indicating potential sites for such pumps. It has set a target of 4.5 million heat pumps across the country, which could help to reduce household bills by 20 per cent.

The biggest benefit, says Pearson, comes from combining water-source heat pumps with electricity from renewable sources. “There are increased cases of wind farms not running at full capacity because there’s not enough demand for electricity at the right times,” says Pearson. “When the wind blows is when you need the most heat so rather than paying wind farms not to run, we should be grabbing the electricity from them and using it for heat pumps.”

With so much untapped energy in Britain’s river systems, it perhaps raises the question of why it isn’t already being used. For Pearson it is that water-source heat pumps, like hydro, suffer from a reputation problem. “There’s a mistrust,” he says, “which means when people have heard of them, they don’t think they work.” 

Similarly, VerdErg’s Boerner believes that existing low-head hydro techniques are too small-scale to provide the kind of quick energy fix the government seeks. “Energy production for 20, 30 or 40 households is a significant number,” says Boerner. “But for government level it’s not going to have the big impact of an offshore wind farm that can probably cover 1,000 houses.”

However, as Boerner is at pains to point out, there is no magical quick fix to the world’s energy challenges, which means small-scale hydro could play an important part in a jigsaw of future solutions. “It’s vital in the long term to develop these small projects,” says Boerner. “With hydro it does all add up and that does help contribute to securing your energy supply as well as reducing emissions.”

Could One Million Smart Pool Pumps ‘Store’ Renewable Energy Better Than Giant Batteries?

As more wind and solar energy comes online, the people who run the power grid have a problem: how do they compensate for the variable nature of the sun and wind?

California plans to spend billions of dollars for batteries to even out the flow of power from solar and wind, much the way shock absorbers smooth out bumps on the road. But do they need to? Not at all!

In my research, I’ve found that we can accommodate a grid powered 50% by renewable energy without the use of batteries.

Systems flexible enough to accommodate the ups and downs of solar and wind production can be made by adjusting the power at millions of homes and businesses on a minute-by-minute or even second-by-second basis. This approach requires no new hardware, some control software and a bit of consumer engagement.

Massive Balancing Act

Already, electric power procured from the wind or sun is leading to large and small “bumps” in the energy fed to the grid.

For example, on a typical week in the Pacific Northwest, power can increase or decrease by more than one gigawatt in an hour. That’s the equivalent of the output from one huge nuclear power plant able to supply a million homes.

 

Look at the green line. Wind power generation is volatile and not always in sync with the actual demand for power (red line, below the blue). Bonneville Power Administration

This is an enormous challenge to grid operators in this region. Massive fluctuations in power require equally massive storage devices that can charge when the wind is blowing, and discharge during periods of calm.

Now, the balance of supply and demand for power is primarily done by generating more power rather than storage.

Grid operators draw on what is called the balancing reserves obtained from fossil fuel generators or hydro plants, when available. These power plants ramp up and down their output in response to a signal from a grid balancing authority. This is just one of many ancillary services required to maintain a reliable grid.

Many states are now scrambling to find new sources of ancillary services, and the federal government is also searching for incentives: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) orders 745, 755 and 784 are recent responses by a government agency to create financial incentives for responsive resources to balance the grid.

Are Batteries The Solution?

Storage is everywhere, but we have to think beyond electricity.

Consider a large office building. Will anyone notice if the fan power is reduced or increased by 10% for 10 or 15 minutes? This makes no demands on the comfort of occupants of the building, but the resulting deviations in power can provide a substantial portion of the needs of the grid. A building can be regarded as a virtual battery because of thermal inertia – a form of thermal storage.

What about for longer time periods? Residential pool pumps (as well as pumps used in irrigation) are a significant load in Florida and California – well over one gigawatt in each state – that can be run at different times of the day.

 

Turning down, or turning on, many of these = enough power smooth out solar and wind, while still cleaning the pool. Pixabay

Through local intelligence – in the form of a chip on each device or a home computer for many devices – the collection of one million pools in Florida can be harnessed as massive batteries. Through one-way communication, each pool will receive a regulation signal from the grid operator. The pool will change state from on to off based on its own requirements, such as recent cleaning hours, along with the needs of the grid. Just as in the office building, each consumer will be assured of desired service.

Pools are, of course, just one example of a hungry but flexible load.

On-off loads such as water pumps, refrigerators or water heaters require a special kind of intelligence so that they can accurately erase the variability created from renewable generation. Randomization is key to success: To avoid synchronization (we don’t want every pool to switch off at once), the local intelligence includes a specially designed “coin-flip”; each load turns on or off with some probability that depends on its own environment as well as the state of the grid.

It is possible to obtain highly reliable ancillary service to the grid, while maintaining strict bounds on the quality of service delivered by each load. With a smart thermostat, for example, indoor temperature will not deviate by more than one degree if this constraint is desired. Refrigerators will remain cool and reliable, and pools will be free of algae.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We first must respect the amazing robustness of the grid today.

This is the result of ingenious control engineering, much like the automatic control theory that brought the first human to the moon and makes our airplanes so reliable today. We cannot pretend that we can transform the grid without partnering with the control and power engineers who understand the mysterious dynamics of the grid. Instabilities and blackouts occur when we are too aggressive in attempting to balance supply and demand, just as they occur when we are too slow to respond.

We are certain that the engineering challenges will be largely solved in the upcoming years – it is an exciting time for power!

 

“Intelligent” loads, or devices with controllers, can balance supply and demand of power along with generators and batteries. Author, Author provided

The next challenge is participation.

Today, about 750,000 homeowners in Florida have signed contracts with utility Florida Power & Light, allowing them to shut down pool pumps and water heaters in case of emergencies. How can we expand on these contracts to engage millions of homeowners and commercial building operators to supply the virtual storage needed? Recent FERC rules that offer payments for ancillary services for balancing the grid are a valuable first step in providing incentives.

It is possible that little incentive is required since we are not subjecting consumers to any loss of comfort: it is the pool or fridge that provides flexibility, and not the homeowner.

A sustainable energy future is possible and inexpensive with a bit of intelligence and flexibility from our appliances.

The Conversation

Sean Meyn is Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at University of Florida.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.