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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.

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

The problem with wind power in the UK: increased dependence on fossil fuels

The BBC News science section has an interesting sketch of the different ways in which Europe's wind power potential and costs are tied to different regional circumstances. Simon Cox asks what happens when the wind doesn't blow, and compares the reality of intermittent power production in Denmark and the UK. In Britain, it is concluded, scaling up wind power will either mean an increased dependence on ever costlier fossil fuels - a troubling outcome - or heavy extra costs for energy storage or for exports.

Experts counter this conclusion by stating that the baseload for wind in the UK does not have to be dirty or costly, but can come from biomass instead of fossil fuels (previous post on the UK's Renewables Advisory Board, which is increasingly seeing biomass power plants as key elements of an overarching strategy on reliable renewable energy).

In Denmark, Europe's most successful wind energy nation, excess power is exported to neighboring countries via an integrated infrastructure. And when the wind doesn't blow, the country buys electricity from the same neighbors to make up the balance. In the UK, however, this option is out of the question: there is a link to France and one being planned to Holland but these won't be able to shift the amount of power needed to balance the system when based on large scale wind power. Building the necessary infrastructure would make wind a very costly renewable energy source.

Another idea for Britain would be to store its wind power in giant batteries, but this is difficult, untried and again, very expensive.

This leaves backing up wind with fossil fueled baseloads. Most feasible will be a reliance on gas-fired power stations as these are the easiest to turn off and on. But this will mean a "dash for gas" - a resource that Russia, hardly Britain's most cooperative ally, has in spades.

Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, says Britain could find itself badly exposed when it bets on wind power that needs to be backed up by ever more expensive and unreliable gas supplies. It would be "about the worst possible thing that one could conceive of given what's going on in Russia and given our dependence on Russian gas supplies":
:: :: :: :: :: :: :: :: ::

It could also prove costly. The energy company E.On recently estimated back-up power could cost up to £10bn per year across all the energy suppliers. That would add £400 to the average annual household energy bill for all Britons. Wind energy would not be the low-cost energy resource many predicted it to be.

The British government accepts it is a challenge to manage energy security and price rises but it is fully committed to reaching the EU's 2020 target. And to do this, it has taken wind power into the energy mix. But the questions surrounding the ambitious plans are mounting. If wind power mean an increased reliance on ever costlier fossil fuels, the 'renewable' and 'clean' resource may not be so green as expected. And the argument that wind power would boost energy security, would no longer hold, the experts say.

The EU is expecting its renewables target to become legally binding within the next year so the UK could be hauled before the European courts of justice and face huge fines, if it doesn't comply. This pressure has opened the door for alternatives to intermittent wind power. More and more policy makers, as well as renewable energy companies are looking at biomass, which is being increasingly seen as the more attractive renewable energy source - and precisely the one that can make wind really green by providing a clean baseload.

BBC: When the wind doesn't blow - September 5, 2008.

Biopact: RAB: biomass now the key renewable energy source, as backlash against wind and solar grows - July 29, 2008.

Biopact: Energy major Total will not invest in wind power - the base-load fallacy -
October 15, 2007


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trying to supply a large percentage of the electricity of the UK from intermittent renewables without planning links to a continental HV supergrid to balance out supply, is putting the cart before the horse. And that's basically what this study shows - not that wind is useless but without the proper infrastructure it doesn't function well.

The supergrid is one of the elements (along with wind power in) in the proposals from TREC
see TREC Supergrid or the DESERTEC home page

8:48 AM  
Anonymous xoddam said...

Well it's no secret that wind power requires some backup to meet inflexible electric demand, and that the cheapest way to back it up today is using generators that burn mineral gas.

And there's no denying that mineral gas is a fossil fuel. But it's the lowest-carbon one, and gas-burning electricity generators have the lowest capital cost of any generation.

On the large scale, combined-cycle gas turbines are the most thermally-efficient central power stations.

At the medium and small scale, gas-fuelled cogeneration (combined heat and power) approach 100% thermal efficiency: replace gas heating with cogeneration, and *all* additional gas burned is converted to electrical power. There is no more waste heat than with a conventional boiler or flue.

And of course, renewable natural gas is inexpensive and can be produced in large quantities, as Biopact has enthusiastically reported in the past.

In short, large-scale adoption of wind power does *not* increase reliance on fossil fuels in the long term. Rather, it increases reliance on flexible and efficient fuel-burning electric infrastructure, which in turn improves the resilience of the electricity system and its adaptability to all forms of renewable generation.

5:10 AM  

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