Saturday, 29 March 2008

The man making 'wind bags'

Seamus Garvey wants to "store the wind".

He believes the future of energy is storing it as compressed air in giant bags under the sea.

And a major power company has invested in the scheme.

Professor Garvey, a long-time proponent of compressed air, feels vindicated by the research grant.

He said: "As the country and the whole world moves toward using more renewable energy, we're going to need energy storage."

His idea would utilise familiar renewable sources - wind, waves and tidal power.
But Professor Garvey does not believe we should be forced to "use it or lose it" when conditions are best.

Energy would instead be used to compress and pump air into underwater bags, anchored to the seabed.

When energy demand is highest, the air would be released through a turbine, converting it to electricty.

full article

Monday, 24 March 2008

Call for delay to biofuels policy

The UK's chief environment scientist has called for a delay to a policy demanding inclusion of biofuels into fuel at pumps across the UK.

Professor Robert Watson said ministers should await the results of their inquiry into biofuels' sustainability.

Some scientists think biofuels' carbon benefits may be currently outweighed by negative effects from their production.

The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO) is to introduce 2.5% biofuels at the pumps from 1 April.

Professor Robert Watson warned that it would be insane if the RTFO had the opposite effects of the ones intended.

He said biofuels policy in the EU and the UK may have run ahead of the science.

His comments in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Today programme appear on the day when a coalition of pressure groups from Oxfam to Greenpeace writes to the Department for Transport (DfT) demanding that the policy be delayed until after the review.

full article

Friday, 21 March 2008

Solar-power paint lets you generate as you decorate

A lick of solar-power paint could see the roofs and walls of warehouses and other buildings generate electricity from the sun, if research by UK researchers pays off. The scientists are developing a way to paint solar cells onto the steel sheets commonly used to clad large buildings.

Steel sheets are painted rapidly in steel mills by passing them through rollers. A consortium led by Swansea University, UK, hopes to use that process to cover steel sheets with a photovoltaic paint at up to 40 square metres per minute.

The paint will be based on dye-sensitised solar cells. Instead of absorbing sunlight using silicon like conventional solar panels, they use dye molecules attached to particles of the titanium dioxide pigment used in paints.

That gives an energy boost to electrons, which hop from the dye into a layer of electrolyte. This then transfers the extra energy into a collecting circuit, before the electrons cycle back to the dye.

While less efficient than conventional cells, dye-based cells do not require expensive silicon, and can be applied as a liquid paste.

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Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Power station harnesses Sun's rays

There is a scene in one of the Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant "tractor beam" of energy at Earth in order to extract a massive payment.

Well, the memory of it kept me chuckling as I toured the extraordinary scene of the new solar thermal power plant outside Seville in southern Spain.

From a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn't believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

The effect is to give the whole place a glow - even an aura - and if you're concerned about climate change that may well be deserved.

It is Europe's first commercially operating power station using the Sun's energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes.

But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.

It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power.

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Tuesday, 18 March 2008


If you can’t make rooftop photovoltaics pay financially without feed in tariffs, tax credits, accellerated depreciation, rebates, and subsidized loans - and even with all that it’s still barely better financially than just sticking to natural gas or coal fired grid electricity - how on earth can something like this succeed at the utility scale?
One reason solar energy still cannot compete financially vs. conventional energy is because the value of future energy output from a photovoltaic system is discounted when calculating, for example, an internal rate of return. But economic models that put a time-value on money - making receipts in the future not worth as much as receipts today - cannot necessarily be applied to energy.

A fairly stealthy, fast growing, vertically integrated photovoltaic company who is staking their strategy on utility scale applications is Optisolar, based in Hayward, California. Owning everything from the manufacturing (and the underlying thin film technology), to the solar fields they build, they have begun construction on what will be the largest photovoltaic field in the world to-date.

It’s interesting that the world’s largest PV array currently is the utility-scale 12-megawatt Erlasee solar park in Germany, and this new 50 megawatt plant built by Optisolar is going to be Ontario, Canada. Interesting because Germany and Canada aren’t necessarily considered the sunniest places on earth.

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Sunday, 16 March 2008

How to beat the budget car tax increase

You can still buy a family car or even a 4x4 without paying high car taxes and destroying the planet. Under the new CO2 rules, buy a BMW 3 series or a VW Golf and you could pay up to £750 in tax - or nothing at all

In the short term, the big losers are those driving large petrol-engined cars. Over the next two years they will see their annual road tax bill climb by between £100 and £200.

However, the real shock will come in 2010, when new car buyers face the so-called showroom tax - a higher road tax in the first year that reflects the car's CO2 emissions.

Cars that emit more than 255g of carbon dioxide per kilometre, such as the Ranger Rover Sport and any Ferrari, will come with an £950 bill for the first year's tax - a significant sum, although short of the £2,000-£5,000 demanded by environmental groups.

At the other end of the spectrum, anyone buying a brand new car in 2010 that emits less than 165g of CO2/km will get the first year's car tax for free.

This group includes most small- and mid-sized cars, and also what many would consider some quite serious cars. The BMW 3 series 2.0 litre diesel car, emits just 128g/km, and after the first year the road-tax bill will be just £35 a year.

Compare that to the same model, a 3-series with a sporty 3.5 litre petrol engine, and the bills are quite different. In the first year the buyer will pay £550, and £310 a year from then.

These anomalies will apply across all the manufacturers' ranges of cars. In short, the new regime favours those who are happy to downsize or switch to diesel.

Take the Toyota Avensis estate. By 2010 a petrol 1.8 will cost £210 a year to tax, while the slightly larger diesel (2.0 litre) will cost £125 a year because it emits less C02. In comparison, the tiny Citroen C1 and the like will cost just £20 to tax, from March 2009 onwards

If you are buying a used car now, you need to look closely at what you'll be paying to tax your chosen model in the future.

full article

Friday, 14 March 2008

Who are you calling an old boiler?

Old heating systems are also extremely inefficient; they waste millions of pounds each year through heat escaping via the flue and from over-heating because of outdated or absent thermostats. Research by the Energy Savings Trust (EST) reveals that one third of British households heat their homes to 22-23C (72-73F). That's hotter than a sunny day on the Med. One in 10 homes (2.5million) is heated to 25C - the same temperature as an average day in the Canary Islands.

This underlines a trend in over-heating homes, with an average rise of one degree every decade in the temperature of the nation's living rooms, from 16C in the 1960s to 20.5C today.
he EST calculates that by switching to modern condensing boiler systems with proper thermostats set at 21C, we could prevent the release of 2.8million tonnes of CO\u2082 per year and the average household could save between £110 and £190 on its annual heating bills.

A condensing boiler works by capturing waste heat that normally escapes into the atmosphere via the flue. Condensing boilers cost between £800 and £1,500. That is £150-£200 more than a conventional boiler of equivalent make and output, so a condensing boiler will pay for itself within a year or so.
by Sarah Lonsdale

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Biofuels: Fields of dreams

We can run our cars on corn, sugar cane or wheat: limitless cheap energy grown on our doorstep. But are biofuels the answer to exhausted oil wells or just another nightmare scenario?
ohn Anderson is motoring with chip fat. Sir Rob Margetts swears by fizzy drinks and chicken feed. George Bush is banking on corn. Everyone, from pub to parliament, knows we’re going to have to do something about transport fuel. Oil prices have already passed the threshold of pain, and emissions targets for greenhouse gases will not be met unless we wean ourselves off petrol.

The solution is both easy and obvious. In place of fossil energy – the power of ancient sunlight – we can recover the solar energy locked up in field crops, which, unlike mineral oils, we can endlessly replenish. With plant oils in the tank, we will ride to work on sunbeams.

There are two kinds of biofuel – biodiesel, which is made from oil-rich crops such as rape, soy and palm; and bioethanol, which substitutes for petrol and is made from starchy crops such as sugar cane, beet, maize and wheat. The case against biodiesel is that virgin rainforest in Indonesia and Malaysia is being cut down to make way for soy and palm. Result: more CO2 is being released into the atmosphere by deforestation than is being saved by reductions in fossil fuel.

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Sunday, 9 March 2008

High CO2 cars targeted by budget

Cars that produce large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) will be hit by new measures in Wednesday's budget, according to reports.

Chancellor Alistair Darling is expected to introduce measures to encourage the use of cars with low CO2 emissions.

Weekend newspaper reports say the Chancellor might introduce a levy on new, larger cars that could increase their price by £2,000.

The tax would hit new saloons, estates and people carriers the reports say.

full article

Winter price freeze costs SSE £400m in potential revenue

A DECISION by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to hold out against industry-wide price increases this winter has cost the company £400 million in lost potential revenues, the Sunday Herald has learned.

But even as energy suppliers anticipate punitive Budget measures next week in response to consumer outcry over perceived excessive profits, Scotland's last remaining energy utility is expected to raise its prices later this month.

Pressure on the Treasury to deliver a windfall tax has mounted after average rises of 15% by ScottishPower, British Gas, npower, E.ON and EDF Energy were followed by stellar full-year profits from British Gas owner Centrica. Its residential arm saw a fivefold increase in pre-tax profits to £570m.

"Scottish and Southern promised not to raise its prices until the end of March when British Summer Time begins, but everybody expects it to increase its prices after that," said Angelos Anastasiou, an analyst at Pali Capital.

full article

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Recycling carbon dioxide into petrol

A new reactor could make chemically recycling carbon dioxide back into petrol a worthwhile endeavour, US scientists say.

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico, are to test a prototype device this spring, which will use concentrated solar energy to drive chemical reactions that split carbon dioxide molecules to get carbon monoxide. The same system was originally designed to split water to form hydrogen; and these two products can then be combined to synthesise liquid hydrocarbon fuels - such as methanol or petrol.

Splitting the stable carbon dioxide molecule is so tough that many researchers think the most economic course of action is simply to bury the greenhouse gas underground. And solar plants usually generate electricity, rather than split CO2.

But the Sandia team led by Jim Miller, Nathan Siegel and Richard Diver, who work on the 'Sunshine to Petrol' (S2P) project, think their device's chemical reactions are efficient enough to make it a worthwhile way of producing liquid fuels from CO2 . Ellen Stechel, manager of Sandia's fuel and energy transitions department, explained to Chemistry World that the ultimate aim is to have a series of solar-powered reactors, each collecting around 22kg of carbon dioxide and 18kg of water daily, and churning out some 2.5 gallons of petrol, based on target conversion efficiencies. 'Liquid fuels can be stored in trucks or piped using existing infrastructure,' Stechel pointed out.

full article

Meter customers 'forced to pay more for energy'

Customers who use prepayment meters to buy their gas and electricity are being charged up to £328 a year more than those with online tariffs who pay by direct debit, the energy watchdog said today.

Some energy providers, including EDF Energy, have started to charge prepayment customers the same as those on standard tariffs, but all of the big six energy firms offer their lowest rates to those who manage their accounts online and pay by direct debit.

Energywatch said that on average, prepayment energy customers were paying £255 more than those with an online direct debit tariff.

The watchdog said the price difference was "scandalous" and penalised poorer families and pensioners who often have no choice but to pay by meter.

It called on energy firms to end discriminatory pricing.

The biggest differential was between tariffs at British Gas, where prepayment meter customers pay an average of £1,127 while dual fuel customers who operate their accounts online and use direct debit pay just £795.

by Hilary Osborne
full article

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

MPs call for rise in green taxes

The UK Treasury has "continually demonstrated a lack of ambition and imagination" when it comes to green taxes, a report by MPs has concluded.

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee says there is little sign that ministers have acted on the recommendations of the Stern Review.

They also call for a rise in air taxes, especially on long-haul flights.

Failure to act would undermine the government's environmental credibility, warned the MPs.

The committee of 16 MPs said green taxes, as a proportion of all taxes, has declined from its peak of 9.7% in 1999 to 7.6% in 2006.
full article

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Fuel Cells Make Power for Homes in Japan

The technology — which draws energy from the chemical reaction when hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water — is more commonly seen in futuristic cars with tanks of hydrogen instead of gasoline, whose combustion is a key culprit in pollution and global warming.

Developers say fuel cells for homes produce one-third less of the pollution that causes global warming than conventional electricity generation does.

"I was a bit worried in the beginning whether it was going to inconvenience my family or I wouldn't be able to take a bath," said the 45-year-old Japanese businessman, who lives with his wife, Tomoko, and two children, 12 and 9. But, as head of a construction company, he was naturally interested in new technology for homes.

Tomoko Naruse, 40, initially worried the thing would explode, given all she had heard about the dangers of hydrogen.

"Actually, you forget it's even there," her husband said.

Their plain gray fuel cell is about the size of a suitcase and sits just outside their door next to a tank that turns out to be a water heater. In the process of producing electricity, the fuel cell gives off enough warmth to heat water for the home.

The oxygen that the fuel cell uses comes from the air. The hydrogen is extracted from natural gas by a device called a reformer in the same box as the fuel cell. But a byproduct of that process is poisonous carbon monoxide. So another machine in the gray box adds oxygen to the carbon monoxide to create carbon dioxide, which — though it contributes to global warming — is not poisonous.

The entire process produces less greenhouse gas per watt than traditional generation. And no energy is wasted transporting the electricity where it's actually going to be used.
full article

Monday, 3 March 2008

Green sports car set for launch

A "zero-emission" sports car with a top speed of nearly 100mph is set to be unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show.

The hydrogen-powered Lifecar, based on the design of the Morgan Aero-8 roadster, produces little noise and only water vapour from its exhaust.

The lightweight model packs advanced fuel cells and an energy storage system that gives the car a range of 250 miles (400km) per tank of hydrogen.

It has been developed by a consortium of UK companies and universities.

"Figures suggest the car should be capable of doing 0-60 [miles per hour] in about seven seconds," Matthew Parkin of classic sports car manufacturer Morgan told BBC News.
The £1.9m project to build the Lifecar, part funded by the UK government, has taken nearly three years.
"The basic concept was to build an entertaining and fun sports car that would act as a showcase for the technology and would deliver 150 miles to the gallon," said Mr Parkin.

"Everything else has tumbled out from that."

The car is powered by a bank of lightweight hydrogen fuel-cells developed by UK defence firm Qinetiq.

"If you took a typical internal combustion engine and replaced it with a fuel cell, the fuel cell would be very large," explained Ian Whiting of Qinetiq. "That's not an efficient way to do things."

The fuel cells in the Lifecar produce about 22 kilowatts - roughly one fifth of the amount of power of a typical combustion engine.

full article

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Ceramic Fuel Cells gets first major order

Ceramic Fuel Cells said on Wednesday it had secured the first big order for its energy efficient fuel cells, and a source close to the situation said it expects similar orders in the next 12 months.
Shares in Ceramic rose 10 percent to 21p after it announced the five-year deal with Dutch energy firm and utility partner Nuon, worth between 75-100 million pounds ($147-197 million).
The deal means boilers containing its fuel cell units will start appearing in Dutch homes towards the end of 2009.
The units, called stacks, turn domestic gas boilers into mini power-stations, using gas that is already going into the boiler to produce electricity that is fed back into the grid.
Boilers containing the company's stacks could be fitted in British homes from late 2009 or 2010 if utility Powergen, already a partner of Ceramic, orders units this year, analyst Nick Walker at broker Liberum Capital said.
Nuon will order 50,000 stacks for delivery from June 2009, providing Ceramic meets performance targets.
"This is fantastic news," said analyst John-Marc Bunce at broker Nomura Code. "If Ceramic gets commitments from two or three utilities in the next 12 months it would support an 80p price target."
The fuel cell units will be priced at between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds apiece, a person familiar with the deal said, and will be used in boilers priced at over 3,000 pounds and owned by the power utilities.
The order should generate "substantial revenue" for Ceramic Fuel over the five-year period, the company said.
Utilities will save so much money by producing electricity in people's homes, which is twice as efficient as producing it in big power stations and sending it through the grid, that analysts expect they will give the next-generation boilers to customers for free.
The boilers will have a four to five-year payback for the utilities, Walker at Liberum Capital said.
Before Wednesday, loss-making Ceramic Fuel had only received orders for prototypes of its fuel cell units, although rival Ceres got an order for 37,500 units from British Gas owner Centrica in January, for delivery from 2011.
"This massively trumps Ceres Power's deal with Centrica. It's bigger, earlier and has a higher value unit," said Nomura Code's Bunce.
He said the Nuon deal is worth more than analysts had expected because it relates to a 2 KW fuel cell, rather than the 1 KW unit that had been assumed. But production will start three to six months later than hoped, in the second half of 2009.
Nuon is the Netherlands' largest energy firm and Ceramic Fuel Cells' partner in that market.
Australia and Europe-based Ceramic Fuel is also developing its fuel cell stacks with E.ON's Powergen, Germany's EWE and Gaz de France.
Ceramic Fuel said it will invest 12.4 million euros to build a manufacturing plant to make the units in Heinsberg, Germany. (Reporting by Chris Wills and Hsu Chuang Khoo; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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