Wind Farm

Renewables – it’s all about getting a balance

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Renewables are a great idea – once the method of extracting the energy has been built it is free – whether it is wind, sun or wave power is irrelevant, as long as there is a selection of types to provide general cover. This is the normal argument against renewables – what happens when the sun is not out or it’s not windy – hence the need for a selection of producing sources.

The Germans appear to ‘get this’ and have moved forwards in the quest for a replacement for their nuclear industry that is to be wound down following the Japanese disaster.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity over a mid day period earlier this month. This is in response to Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass (a sensible spread).

The 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid met nearly 50% of the nation’s midday electricity needs, yes it was only for a short period, but it shows what can be achieved. Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity. The record-breaking amount of solar power shows one of the world’s leading industrial nations was able to meet a third of its electricity needs on a work day, Friday, and nearly half on Saturday when factories and offices were closed.

Government-mandated support for renewables has helped Germany became a world leader in renewable energy and the country gets about 20 percent of its overall annual electricity from those sources. Germany has nearly as much installed solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world combined and gets about four percent of its overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. It aims to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

All this at a time when our Government appear hell-bent on crippling our solar industry just as it was getting into its stride – time for a swift U-turn?

Sort out your boiler!

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Not an exciting subject – but one which can save you money – your boiler.

20120324-102144.jpgOk, it’s not the sexiest subject in the world, but you can’t argue with the numbers – the Carbon Trust’s experts estimate that UK organisations could save more than £400m a year by making simple, low-cost tweaks to their heating systems. Some larger landlords caught onto this a few years ago, British Land being an example.

Saving of up to 30% on heating costs are potentially achievable on most systems – how?

The Carbon Trust’s top tips for boilers

  • Keep them maintained – Over time mechanical components can become worn which can affect combustion efficiency. Therefore burners and their controls need to be checked at regular intervals and adjusted as necessary.
  • Minimize heat losses – Keep boiler insulation in good condition. All pipework, valves, flanges and fittings in the boilerhouse should be adequately insulated and valve mats/covers should be replaced after maintenance work.
  • Implement effective water treatment – Impurities and contaminants in water can really hit a boiler’s efficiency, so a proper treatment and conditioning regime is essential.
  • Produce a maintenance manual – Detail records of work done, the person responsible, and when they were completed. Formalising maintenance in this manner should help ensure that routine tasks aren’t neglected and will highlight ongoing problems.
  • Consider boiler replacement – In the longer term, if a boiler is more than 15 years old, or if it is showing signs of inefficient operation, it may need replacing. Make sure you think about capacity/size requirements, boiler compatibility and financial and environmental impact in the process.

With rising fuel costs this all makes common sense – either for a commercial or private heating system.

When Apple do big they really do big!

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the bare earth area will be the farm

One of the major benefits of being one of the largest (and the richest) companies in the world is economies of scale. Apple can do things big when it does things and it has now revealed plans to build America’s largest private solar energy farm.

The farm will cover 100 acres of North Carolina, and produce enough power to supply thousands of homes. Apple will use the green energy to power its huge data centre where the servers for iTunes and iCloud services are held. When completed the 20-megawatt facility will supply 42 million kWh of energy annually, it is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars to construct – a drop in the ocean for a company as rich as Apple.

‘Our goal is to run the Maiden facility with high percentage renewable energy mix, and we have major projects under way to achieve this – including building the nation’s largest end user-owned solar array and building the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the United States,’

Apple has in recent months has come under increased criticism for working practices at its production facilities, so some ‘greening’ can only help – although in reality it is already far greener than most of its competitors;

  • It has reduced carbon emissions on a number of its products, most notably the Apple TV set-top box – from 2007 to 2011, carbon emissions with the Apple TV were reduced by 90 per cent.
  • The iMac has also seen a 50 per cent reduction from 1998 to 2011, while the Mac mini has dropped 52 per cent.
  • Apple has also reduced the packaging associated with the iPhone by 42 per cent from 2007 to 2011. That allows the company to ship 80 per cent more boxes in each airline shipping container, saving one 747 flight for every 371,250 boxes Apple ships – and when you consider they shipped 37 million in the first quarter of 2012 that makes a big difference!

However, Apple’s solar site is still dwarfed by the world’s largest array, Golmud Solar Park in China, which produces 200MW of power. Apple may have to play second fiddle on this one!

Wind farm tales….

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Nothing appears to get people’s bile rising faster these days than mentioning wind farms, certain national publications have also embraced this and are leading the fight against them (Daily Mail for those who don’t know).

Unfortunately because of this there tends to be a lot of ‘misinformation’ which really doesn’t help us move the renewables issue forward at a time when it needs to be gathering pace rather than stagnating. A classic example was the ‘burning turbine’ picture that did the rounds after the gales earlier this winter.

This dramatic picture of a wind turbine bursting into flames in Ardrossan was seized upon by opponents of wind energy as an example of ‘why wind doesn’t work’. But the same gales caused issues for other power sources as well – which wasn’t publicised by the papers.

The photo has become a somewhat defining image for the anti wind farm groups, but as the hurricane-force winds did this (they peaked at 165mph) they also brought down power lines which left around 60,000 people without electricity – far more significant than the loss of a turbine.

One of the downed power lines ran to and from Hunterston nuclear power station causing the 460-megawatt B-8 nuclear reactor to stop generating for 54 hours. This outage had a much greater effect upon the grid than the loss of the wind turbine – the estimate is that Hunterston lost around 17,388 MWh compared with the turbine’s 1,210MWh.

There are always two sides to an argument – let’s not kill off wind power before it is given a proper chance.

EPC rules are changing – finally!

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Some while ago I blogged about how the rules for the provision of energy performance certificates on commercial property were planned to be changed – but kept being delayed. Well finally the new rules are coming into force – from the 6th April 2012.

That is obviously good news for me as an energy assessor, but it will I hope also make people on both sides of property transactions far more aware of the effect of the energy efficiency of their properties on business generally.

At a business lunch I attended this week I was discussing ‘green buildings’ with a couple of banking clients. They still have to see this having any effect upon their lending – either from a security point of view or value stand point. What they are very aware of though is the long-term potential that the energy legislation may have on their security – the proposal that all F & G rated properties will become un marketable from 2018 is already on their radar. The ‘official line’ they have been told by the powers above is that the Government are unlikely to miss their proposed changes in legislation.

This highlights one of my pet hates – lazy landlords – get the easy things done to your properties in terms of ‘greening’ them before marketing. Things like low energy lighting, insulation and replacing old inefficient heating systems. It can make a huge difference to you epc rating.

You have been warned!

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that it’s cold!

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We are getting increasingly colder periods during winter – particularly over the last few years – but should this come as a surprise?

Well no! As global temperatures rise, a recent study has indicated that winters in the northern hemisphere are set to get colder and snowier. Data from the last two decades suggests that this colder trend is already under way. Indeed the chilly winters of 2009/2010 and 2010/2011 caused many to question whether global warming was happening at all.

Ironically, it turns out that these harsh winters may be a consequence of global warming. Careful analysis of northern hemisphere temperature, humidity, snow cover and sea ice cover data over the last two decades has revealed a trend. Data from Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER) in Massachusetts, has shown that as northern hemisphere summer temperatures have risen, September sea ice cover on the Arctic Ocean has shrunk. At the same time atmospheric moisture levels in the Arctic have risen, October snowfall across Eurasia has increased, and winters have become colder. Their findings are published in the journal Environmental Research.

These colder winters may be explained by the increase in open water over the Arctic Ocean, enabling more water to be evaporated, which produces more snow. As the current winter shows, mild winters are still possible. It is believed this snowy and cooling trend is likely to continue, though winters may eventually become wetter, if temperatures become too warm for snow.

Still don’t believe in the changes in our global climate?

Can history teach us something?

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old and new

Wind generation is a hot topic again at the moment, there are moves to try to get the government to make it much more difficult to obtain consent and subsidy’s for on land wind turbines. A total of 106 MPs, including 101 Tories, signed a letter to David Cameron last week saying it was “unwise” to fund “intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore wind turbines”. It called for subsidies to be cut and for new planning rules making it easier for communities to oppose wind farms. Now I accept that the off shore turbines are probably the best option. However the cost is higher and there are still locations and scenarios that work for on shore systems. Time will tell if the ‘nay sayers’ get their way – I think it is unlikely as although it ‘fits in’ to some degree with the current government localism agenda there is still a desire to progress renewables.

Our new energy secretary has also indicated his support for this style of renewable energy so there is hope!

Interestingly if you look back at history we have been here before;

There are still many windmills in the British countryside, and they are seen as attractions, something that harks back to an earlier age. as we also know, modern wind turbines are frequently vehemently opposed. However back in the 18th and 19th century when there were thousands more ‘traditional’ windmills they were also equally controversial, built by entrepreneurs cashing in on the high price of corn and flour. Most towns had three or four in fierce competition and they were seen as ‘the work of the devil’ by many. Sound familiar?

We have to have an open mind to the renewable options available to us, and yes, some of them will require some changes to our life styles. But the other option is a sudden and financially destructive energy shortage which will do a lot more than ‘mess up the countryside’

UK wind powers first real test?

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One of the anti wind power lobby’s cries is that there will be problems ‘when the wind blows too much’. The claim is that the ‘over powered’ turbines will cause damage either to themselves, people near by or the grid. Up to this point the level of capacity in wind generation in the UK has been too small to see any effect, and although there have been some wind failures there hasn’t been a ‘national’ test – but the winds around Christmas 2011 gave the first real chance to see what really happens!


The answer?

Wind power production in the UK reached a record high as storms the hit the British Isles and powered onshore and offshore wind turbines, beating the previous high by nearly 20 percent.

Wind farms produced a record 12.2 percent of UK energy demand on December 28, (statistics provided by green energy association RenewableUK), displacing the previous record of 10 percent. And average wind power production between December 1, 2011 and January 5, 2012 covered 5.3 percent of UK power demands.

Wind power is considered a key energy resource to help Britain meet its legally binding target of cutting carbon emissions by 34 percent below 1990 levels by the end of this decade and UK wind power capacity is expected to grow by one-third this year, bringing total installed wind capacity to around 8,000 megawatts (MW).

So the good news is that the system didn’t fail – perhaps there is some potential in wind after all!

2011 – from a different viewpoint

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2011 was notable for a number of reasons – many of which were economic or business related – but also from a ‘green’ perspective.

It was another ecologically tumultuous year with;

  • greenhouse gases rise to record levels
  • Arctic sea ice nearly equalling 2007’s record melt
  • temperatures the 11th highest ever recorded

It was marked on the ground by unparalleled extremes of heat and cold across the world, droughts and heatwaves in Europe and Africa and record numbers of weather-related natural disasters.

The 41 sea, land and air indicators used by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to measure sea and land temperatures showed unequivocally that the world continued to warm throughout 2011. In July, NOAA reported that the last 300 months had all been above average temperature and that the 13 warmest years had all occurred in the 15 years since 1997. 2011 was additionally remarkable, it said, because a “La Niña” event was taking place, a naturally occurring oceanic cooling phenomenon that would normally bring temperatures down.

2011 was also the year of too much or too little water. It began with devastating floods in Australia which covered an area the size of France and Germany combined, and ended with tropical storm Washi killing nearly 1,000 people and making 300,000 homeless in the Philippines.

Massive droughts affected some of the world’s richest and poorest communities. The worst drought in 60 years gripped more than 10 million people and led to the death of thousands of people and millions of animals in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

The year began and ended with drought and record temperatures in Europe. The average temperature for northern Norway in November was 5.3C (9.5F) above normal, the Danube was at its lowest levels in 60 years, and Germany and much of northern Europe had the driest end to a year since record keeping began in 1881.

So perhaps the ‘nay sayers’ might now begin to accept that the world is warming and we have some ‘interesting’ times ahead in terms of weather events.

Oh, and in addition, 2011 saw the world population reach 7 billion – just to make things more interesting!

An interesting solar idea?

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a concentrated solar power plant

With the recent ‘killing off’ by the Government of the feed in tariff in its current form, and on the back of that the demise of the UK’s small solar install business, it is always interesting to see ‘interesting ideas’ for the future development of solar energy.

The latest idea (well it’s not particularly new to be honest) is to make use of one of the worlds sunniest locations – North Africa;

It is a beguiling idea – harvest sunshine, and a little wind, from the empty deserts of North Africa and the Middle East, and use it to produce clean power for the region and for Europe.

It’s not an idea by a group without some clout either. Desertec, a group based in Germany have heavyweight commercial backers including Siemens and Deutsche Bank, and believe the scheme would also bring the regions around the Mediterranean closer together, while providing jobs and stability for the countries in the south – not sure about that one (possibly gives them more to fight over?)

It has chosen Morocco, which is embarking on its own ambitious solar programme, for its first “reference” project – a plant meant to show that its grand vision is feasible. They expect to see the first electricity flowing through undersea cables from Morocco to Spain as early as 2014.

Its goal is to use desert power to supply up to 100% of local needs and up to 15% of European demand by 2050. But is this realistic?

According to a study by the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), a state agency that provided data used by Desertec, less than 1% of suitable land in the North Africa and the Middle East would be needed to cover the current electricity consumption of the region, as well as Europe. And of course many countries with intense sunshine also have large tracts of uninhabited land – so the model could work.

But creating the power is the easy bit – it’s the network to distribute it that presents a series of formidable problems, from nomads stealing solar components to the technological and political challenges of transporting and delivering electricity over such a vast area.

Desertec points to a pair of cables already installed between Morocco and Spain – though for now these are carrying power from north to south. It says it will work closely with Medgrid, a French scheme to enable the construction of a Mediterranean transmission system.

The technology exists, and is getting cheaper, but it is untested on an intercontinental level.

The technology that will initially be used in Morocco is concentrated solar power (CSP), a process in which sunlight concentrated by mirrors heats water, which produces steam to drive a turbine. Crucially, the heat can be stored, allowing a secure supply even when the sun is not shining.

CSP has been getting cheaper, but not as quickly as photovoltaic (PV) power – the use of solar panels to convert sunshine directly into electricity. The DLR estimates that solar thermal power stations will become competitive with their fossil fuel equivalents between 2020 and 2030.

With the current instability in the Euro Zone it would take a lot of common thinking for the agreement to be reached to pull this type of development together – unlikely at this time. But it is a very clever and sensible way to progress renewable production – but it may need to wait for better financial times.