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    Mongabay, a leading resource for news and perspectives on environmental and conservation issues related to the tropics, has launched Tropical Conservation Science - a new, open access academic e-journal. It will cover a wide variety of scientific and social studies on tropical ecosystems, their biodiversity and the threats posed to them. Tropical Conservation Science - March 8, 2008.

    At the 148th Meeting of the OPEC Conference, the oil exporting cartel decided to leave its production level unchanged, sending crude prices spiralling to new records (above $104). OPEC "observed that the market is well-supplied, with current commercial oil stocks standing above their five-year average. The Conference further noted, with concern, that the current price environment does not reflect market fundamentals, as crude oil prices are being strongly influenced by the weakness in the US dollar, rising inflation and significant flow of funds into the commodities market." OPEC - March 5, 2008.

    Kyushu University (Japan) is establishing what it says will be the world’s first graduate program in hydrogen energy technologies. The new master’s program for hydrogen engineering is to be offered at the university’s new Ito campus in Fukuoka Prefecture. Lectures will cover such topics as hydrogen energy and developing the fuel cells needed to convert hydrogen into heat or electricity. Of all the renewable pathways to produce hydrogen, bio-hydrogen based on the gasification of biomass is by far both the most efficient, cost-effective and cleanest. Fuel Cell Works - March 3, 2008.

    An entrepreneur in Ivory Coast has developed a project to establish a network of Miscanthus giganteus farms aimed at producing biomass for use in power generation. In a first phase, the goal is to grow the crop on 200 hectares, after which expansion will start. The project is in an advanced stage, but the entrepreneur still seeks partners and investors. The plantation is to be located in an agro-ecological zone qualified as highly suitable for the grass species. Contact us - March 3, 2008.

    A 7.1MW biomass power plant to be built on the Haiwaiian island of Kaua‘i has received approval from the local Planning Commission. The plant, owned and operated by Green Energy Hawaii, will use albizia trees, a hardy species that grows in poor soil on rainfall alone. The renewable power plant will meet 10 percent of the island's energy needs. Kauai World - February 27, 2008.

    Tasmania's first specialty biodiesel plant has been approved, to start operating as early as July. The Macquarie Oil Company will spend half a million dollars on a specially designed facility in Cressy, in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. The plant will produce more than five million litres of fuel each year for the transport and marine industries. A unique blend of feed stock, including poppy seed, is expected to make it more viable than most operations. ABC Rural - February 25, 2008.

    The 16th European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - From Research to Industry and Markets - will be held from 2nd to 6th June 2008, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre of FeriaValencia, Spain. Early bird fee registration ends 18th April 2008. European Biomass Conference & Exhibition - February 22, 2008.

    'Obesity Facts' – a new multidisciplinary journal for research and therapy published by Karger – was launched today as the official journal of the European Association for the Study of Obesity. The journal publishes articles covering all aspects of obesity, in particular epidemiology, etiology and pathogenesis, treatment, and the prevention of adiposity. As obesity is related to many disease processes, the journal is also dedicated to all topics pertaining to comorbidity and covers psychological and sociocultural aspects as well as influences of nutrition and exercise on body weight. Obesity is one of the world's most pressing health issues, expected to affect 700 million people by 2015. AlphaGalileo - February 21, 2008.

    A bioethanol plant with a capacity of 150 thousand tons per annum is to be constructed in Kuybishev, in the Novosibirsk region. Construction is to begin in 2009 with investments into the project estimated at €200 million. A 'wet' method of production will be used to make, in addition to bioethanol, gluten, fodder yeast and carbon dioxide for industrial use. The complex was developed by the Solev consulting company. FIS: Siberia - February 19, 2008.

    Sarnia-Lambton lands a $15million federal grant for biofuel innovation at the Western Ontario Research and Development Park. The funds come on top of a $10 million provincial grant. The "Bioindustrial Innovation Centre" project competed successfully against 110 other proposals for new research money. London Free Press - February 18, 2008.

    An organisation that has established a large Pongamia pinnata plantation on barren land owned by small & marginal farmers in Andhra Pradesh, India is looking for a biogas and CHP consultant to help research the use of de-oiled cake for the production of biogas. The organisation plans to set up a biogas plant of 20,000 cubic meter capacity and wants to use it for power generation. Contact us - February 15, 2008.

    The Andersons, Inc. and Marathon Oil Corporation today jointly announced ethanol production has begun at their 110-million gallon ethanol plant located in Greenville, Ohio. Along with the 110 million gallons of ethanol, the plant annually will produce 350,000 tons of distillers dried grains, an animal feed ingredient. Marathon Oil - February 14, 2008.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

World's second largest retailer to sell green electricity in Europe: biomass and wind

French retail giant Carrefour SA, the world's second largest retailer, announced today it will begin to sell electricity produced from renewable sources to households in Belgium with a view to rolling out the plans elsewhere in Europe. Two thirds of the green power will come from wind, a third from biomass (the country's largest renewable by share). This is the first time a global retailer jumps into the energy sector and intends to sell 100% renewable electricity directly to its huge base of customers.

European Union Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs welcomed the move and urged other retail giants to follow the same path. The EU has been pushing for a liberalisation of the Union's energy market, but progress has been slow, with several quasi-monopolies keeping their grip on the market (e.g. France's Suez which dominates Belgium's electricity sector via Electrabel). According to the Commission, Carrefour's entrance into the market nicely combines Europe's renewables and liberalisation strategies.

However, Carrefour may remain the sole retailer to take this step, because several large competitors in Europe have already said they don't have immediate plans to follow suit. German retailer Arcandor AG, U.K.-based Tesco PLC and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s U.K. subsidiary Asda have all said today they don't have current plans to provide electricity - let alone 100% renewable energy - to retail customers.

Carrefour spokesman Lars Vervoort said that there is as yet no date or timing for the launch of energy sales in other countries, but the idea would be to go forward in France, Italy and Spain.

Increased demand for sustainable products helped generate the idea, which came from a Carrefour executive in Belgium.

"The goal is to have it be profitable, the challenge will be to take up in a market dominated by two companies," Vervoort said, referring to Suez's Electrabel and SPE, Belgium's two largest electricity providers, which together control the majority of the Belgian electricity market.

Customers buying an electricity contract from Carrefour under the 'Energie EcoPlanet' program have the choice of one-, two- or three-year contracts, and will likely pay less than what they pay with incumbent operators, although prices will vary in different regions:
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But not all analysts are convinced the company will be able to sell electricity at cheaper rates. According to Brussels-based energy expert Koen Dierckx, "It will not be that easy to convince clients to buy" electricity from Carrefour because prices could be higher given the generally steeper cost of electricity generated from renewables.

Add that a competitor like Electrabel gets the bulk of its electricity from nuclear power parks over which it received full private ownership after the plants had been depreciated - with no compensation for the state or the tax payer who subsidized these facilities. This allows the company to produce electricity on the cheap.

However, the big players also produce a substantial amount of electricity from classic fossil fuel powered thermal plants and have been forced to increase prices sharply over the past few months. Moreover, Electrabel has been accused of charging industrial consumers €1.2 billion too much over the past two years, by carrying CO2 emission reduction costs over to them, even though it was granted a large amount of emission allowances that should have prevented this. Finally, because of its quasi-monopoly, Electrabel has had a very problematic relationship with both the public and politics. For some, the fact that a French company controls Belgium's energy market is problematic in itself.

These factors have prompted a very lively debate about the further need for liberalisation of the energy market and have convinced the public at large that smaller players could begin to offer a more reliable deal. Opinion is also tilting in favor of renewables, with consumers thinking these sources might become a safe medium to long term bet as far as prices are concerned.

Carrefour will buy electricity from suppliers using renewable sources of energy such as wind and biomass and sell it to consumers, who would be able to subscribe via contracts sold at its large number of retail shops.

Carrefour's first supplier will be private Belgian company Lampiris, whose portfolio contains wind (62%), biomass and biogas (36%), cogeneration (1.3%) and hydropower (0.07%).

Belgium's current electricity mix looks as follows: 54.4% nuclear, 43.2% fossil fuel powered thermal plants and 2.4 renewables.

The Carrefour Group is one of the Partners of the Sustainable Energy Europe Campaign, a European Commission initiative in the framework of the Intelligent Energy - Europe programme, which aims to raise public awareness and promote sustainable energy production and use among individuals and organisations, private companies and public authorities, professional and energy agencies, industry associations and NGOs across Europe.

Carrefour Belgium: Carrefour Energie EcoPlanet - May 29, 2008.

Carrefour Energie, dedicated website [Dutch, French].

European Commission, DG Energy: Commissioner Piebalgs welcomes the entry of a supermarket chain as a new electricity supplier in the Belgian market - May 29, 2008.


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