Tag Archives: Energy

The end may be in sight for fossil fuels as science makes solar power cheap

Ambrose Evans Pritchard

About 29% of electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar power, rising to 100% in Massachusetts. “More solar has been installed in the US in the last 18 months than in 30 years,” says the US Solar Energy Industries Association.(For those in need of solar power in Texas click here to find solar companies in San Antonio).California’s subsidy pot is drying up but new solar has hardly missed a beat.

The technology is improving so fast – helped by the US military – that it has achieved a virtuous circle. Michael Parker and Flora Chang at researchers Sanford Bernstein say we are entering a new order of “global energy deflation” that must inevitably erode the viability of fossil fuel over time.

The deflation ratchet may be imperceptible at first, since solar makes up just 0.17% of the world’s $5 trillion (€3.65 trillion) energy market. The trend does not preclude cyclical oil booms along the way, nor does it obviate the need for shale fracking as a stop-gap (in Britain’s case to curb a current account deficit of 5.4% of GDP). But the technology momentum goes only one way.

“Eventually solar will become so large that there will be consequences everywhere”, Parker and Chang say. This remarkable overthrow of everything we take for granted in world energy politics may occur within “the better part of a decade.”

If the hypothesis is broadly correct, solar will slowly squeeze the revenues of petro– rentier regimes in Russia, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, among others. Many already need oil prices near $100 a barrel to cover welfare budgets. They will have to find a new business model.

The Saudis are themselves betting on solar, investing more than $100bn in 41GW of capacity, enough to cover 30% of their power needs by 2030. That will mean more crude – other things being equal – washing into a deflating global energy market.

Clean Energy Trends says new solar installations overtook wind worldwide last year, with an extra 36.5 gigawatts. China accounted for a third. Wind is still ahead with 2.5 times old capacity but the “solar sorpasso” will be reached in 2021 as photovoltaic costs keep falling.

The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory says scientists can now capture 31.1% of the sun’s energy with a 111V solar cell, the latest world record. This will find its way briskly into routine use. Wind cannot keep pace. It is static by comparison.

A McKinsey study said the average cost of installed solar power in the US has dropped to $2.59 from $6 a watt in 2010. It expects this to fall to $2.30 next year and to $1.60 by 2020. This will put US solar within “striking distance” of coal and gas.

It is hard to keep up with the cascade of new research papers, so many brimming with optimism. The University of Buffalo has developed a nanoscale microchip able to capture a “rainbow” of wavelengths and absorb far more light. An Oxford team is pioneering use of perovskite, an abundant material that is cheaper than silicon and produces 40mc more voltage.

One by one, the seemingly intractable obstacles are being conquered. Israel’s Ecoppia has just begun using robots to clean the panels of its Ketura Sun park in the Negev desert without the use of water. It is beautifully simple. Soft microfibers sweep away 99% of the dust each night with the help of airflows.

Prof Michael Aziz at Harvard University is developing a flow–battery that promises to cut the cost of energy storage by two–thirds below the latest vanadium batteries. He said technology gives us a “fighting chance” to overcome the curse of intermittency from wind and solar power, which spike and die in bursts. “I foresee a future where we can vastly cut down on fossil fuel use.”

Even thermal solar is coming of age, driven for now by use of molten salts to store heat. California opened the world’s biggest solar thermal park in February in the Mojave desert – the Ivanpah project, co– owned by Google – able to produce power for 100,000 homes by reflecting sunlight from 170,000 mirrors on to boilers that generate electricity from steam. Ivanpah still relies on subsidies but a new SunPower project in Chile will go naked, selling into the spot market.

Deutsche Bank says there are already 19 regional markets around the world that have achieved “grid parity”, meaning that photovoltaic solar panels can match or undercut local electricity prices without subsidy: California, Chile, Australia, Turkey, Israel, Germany, Japan, Italy, Spain and Greece for residential power; Mexico and China for industrial power.

This will spread as battery storage costs keep dropping, a spin–off from electric car ventures. Sanford Bernstein’s report says it may not be long before home energy storage is cheap enough to lure households away from the grid en masse across the world, spelling “disaster” for some utilities.

Solar competes directly. Each year it supplies a bigger chunk of peak power needs in the middle of the day, when air conditioners and factories are both at full throttle. “Demand during what was one of the most profitable times of the day disappears,” the report says.

Michael Liebreich from Bloomberg New Energy Finance says we can already discern the moment of “peak fossil fuels” around 2030, the tipping point when the world starts using less coal, oil and gas in absolute terms.

This is a remarkable twist of history.

Six years ago we faced an oil shock with crude trading at $148. The rise of “Chindia” and the sudden inclusion of two billion consumers into the world economy seemed to be taxing resources to breaking point. For Germany it is a bitter–sweet vindication. The country sank €100 billion into feed–in tariffs or in solar companies that blazed the trail, did us all a favour and went bankrupt. They have the world’s biggest solar infrastructure but latecomers get it much cheaper.

For Britain it offers hope of reprieve after 20 years of energy drift, yet also raises a quandry: should the country lock into more nuclear power with strike–prices fixed for 35 years? Should it spend £100 bilion on off– shore wind when imported LNG might well be cheaper in the future? For the world, it portends a once-in-a-century upset of the geostrategic order.

Sheikh Yamani, the veteran Saudi oil minister, saw the writing on the wall long ago. “Thirty years from now there will be a huge amount of oil – and no buyers. The Stone Age came to an end, not because we had a lack of stones,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2000.

Wise old owl. ■

 

Developments in Lighting in Ireland and the UK

Dr Kevin Kelly, President-Elect SLL, and Head Electrical Services Engineering, School
of Electrical Engineering Systems, DIT

In EN 12464 minimum requirements for lighting are laid down for both interior (Part 1) and exterior (Part 2) lighting. In particular, minimum values for average maintained illuminance, minimum colour rendering and maximum glare are specified. Historically, equal illuminance across the whole working plane was the goal of lighting designers. However, this is wasteful of energy because the working plane was interpreted as the whole plan area of the room.

For offices, 300/500 lux was specified, depending on whether work was mainly PC-based or paper-based. This resulted in high levels of lighting throughout the space, whether needed or not, and often for periods extending beyond the working day. These days such energy inefficiency is unacceptable.

New recommendations, such as those specified in the SLL Code for Lighting 2012, provide a pragmatic balance between adequate lighting to perform the task efficiently and quickly, and financial costs. The SLL Code for Lighting is based on quantitative recommendations that meet minimum lighting requirements, but also acknowledges there is now a need to target lighting more carefully.

Modelling of people in offices to ensure good visual interaction is now recognised as being important, and good-quality lighting and energy efficiency are now as important as quantitative specifications. Good-quality and efficient lighting in buildings also includes the need to maximise daylight penetration.

Maximising daylight offers opportunities to lift the spirit with natural light and so daylight must be carefully designed into the building, along with the artificial lighting and controls, to create good-quality and efficient lighting in a space. There is a growing consensus in industry that the way to address this challenge is to use a holistic design approach – integrating the design of the architecture, glazing and engineering design. Input is needed by the architect, structural engineer, surveyor, heating and ventilation engineer, electrical engineer, lighting designer, interior designer (click here and know where we can find fragrance home), control systems engineer and most importantly the client and facilities manager. 

Modern Building Information Modelling (BIM) software facilitates such a holistic approach with multidisciplinary interaction and the use of BIM is expected to grow exponentially in construction projects in the years ahead. The EU is encouraging the use of LENI, the Lighting Energy Numeric Indicator. SLL is of the view that the targets set by EN 15193 with respect to LENI are modest and is presently addressing this issue with the UK authorities in order to set more stringent targets for the UK building regulations (2013). 

Effectively, a good quality LENI will aid lighting designers to move away from installed load benchmarks to more meaningful consumption targets, and hence take account of the benefit of good quality controls. This is particularly beneficial in buildings where daylight penetration is high or where there is intermittent occupation of the building.

While standards, demands and design methodologies change, there is also major change happening in lamp technology. The development of solid state lamp technology is revolutionising lighting; with any revolution there is collateral damage and early adaptors of poor quality LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamps are among the casualties. A study by Philips Lighting (2012) estimates that while only 6% of lighting was solid state in 2010, 75% of lighting is expected to be LED lighting by 2020.

Similarly, McKinsey estimates LED lighting will be a €65 billion industry by 2020 but is more modest about the overall use at 60%. At present the biggest applications of LED lighting is for stage, external lighting, architectural lighting, retail, cold rooms, transport and hospitality. LED lamp technology is expected to impact upon office and general lighting in more interiors in the future.

To sum up, this is an exciting and challenging time for the lighting industry with huge growth potential for LED lighting and improved lighting controls generally. We are challenged to provide robust solutions that maximise the benefits of new technologies, while protecting our clients from poor-quality products and installations.

We must maximise light quality and minimise energy use by integrating daylight with appropriate artificial light in a way that lifts the spirit of those using the space and enables them to operate and override automatic lighting controls when required. We also have to ensure the reliability of products we specify and this is particularly challenging when

Dr Kevin Kelly is President Elect of the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL). He chairs the organising committee for the CIBSE/SLL International Lighting Conference scheduled for Croke Park on 12 April next. He will also make a lighting presentation in a seminar at the Energy Show in the RDS on 11 April next.

 

Panasonic and Tech Provide Large VRF Solution, No Chills Attached!

These strengths have been further reinforced by an extensive advertising/marketing campaign and an ever-expanding, strategically-located, dealer network. Tech Refrigeration & Air Conditioning is a typical case in point. In just a short space of time Tech has won a number of very presitgious projects using Panasonic equipment.

One of the latest is a recently-completed large office project in East Point, Dublin, featuring Panasonic VRF technology. It comprises outdoor units with a total capacity of close on 200HP, 95 indoor units providing heating and cooling to the main office areas, 10 split systems serving dedicated room server-areas, and Panasonic’s 2-pipe VRF air handling kit delivering DX Primary Air cooling and heating.

“One of the main reasons we chose Panasonic for this project”, says Barry Hennessy, Tech Group Account Manager, “is because of its off-coil temperature control technology, as well as the excellent technical back-up and our familiarity with the product”.

Tech Contracts Manager Vincent Geraghty also added: “Panasonic’s off-coil temperature control enables the supply air termperature of the VRF indoor units to be controlled between 7 degrees C and 22 degrees C. This is set up during commissioning and vastly reduces the risk of cold air dumping and draughts. Moreover, the off-coil temperature can be individually set for each single indoor unit.”

“We’re extremely pleased with the progress we’ve made in such a short space of time”, says Vincent Mahony, Panasonic National Account Manager. “We have a well-defined strategy that includes new products such as RAC units with smart phone control, new Elite high COP split units, GHP units, air to water heat pumps, and dealer partnerships which help us deliver them to the marketplace. Despite the difficult trading conditions, we anticipate continued growth for the remainder of the year.”

Contact: Vincent Mahony, Panasonic. Tel: 01 – 413 5311; 087 – 969 4221; email: vincent.mahony@eu.panasonic.com 

Change in German energy policy – an international role model or an industrial worst-case scenario?

EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger

EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger will present the proposals from the EU Commission for the further expansion of renewable energy at the 3rd Handelsblatt Annual Conference “Renewable Energy” (27 to 29 August 2012, Berlin).               

Harmonising renewable energy
Oettinger was critical of the many different incentive models being used in the member countries at the presentation of the EU strategy papers for renewable energy. He called for greater harmonisation and increased market integration in order to continue to guarantee a reliable investment environment for the renewable energy sector.

Change in German energy policy and consequences for Europe
The German withdrawal from nuclear energy and the change in energy policy has been viewed very differently by international observers. In Germany’s neighbouring countries in particular, the risks involved in the restructuring of energy provision have been discussed and the effects on the network and electricity prices have been viewed critically.

Jean-François Conil-Lacoste (EPEX Spot SE), Pierre-Yves Madignier (RTE – Réseau de transporte d’electricité) and Boris Schucht (50Hertz Transmission GmbH) will be discussing the consequences of the change in German energy policy for the security of supply in Europe and the possibilities for a further convergence of the electricity market.                                                                                                                                                                    

Record investment in renewable energy
Renewable energy experienced a renewed boom in investment in 2011, with a worldwide investment volume of $257 billion. Investment in the renewable energy sector in 2011 was 94% greater than before the financial crisis.
(Source: UNEP Study Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investments, 11 June 2012). Against the background of an ongoing crisis of confidence in the financial markets, Dr Werner Hoyer (European Investment Bank) will discuss the current investment possibilities for renewable projects.

Meeting place for the renewable energy sector
The Handelsblatt Annual Conference “Renewable Energy” has already established itself as one of the most important sector meeting points for investors, plant manufacturers and operators, as well as for energy providers and industry representatives. Over 300 participants are expected to attend the event, which will be held over three days for the first time, to satisfy the growing interest in European and international developments within the
sector.

The complete conference programme can be viewed on the Internet at:
www.erneuerbare-energien-tagung.de 

SEAI Appoints Dr Brian Motherway CEO

Dr Brian Motherway has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Speaking of the appointment, Mr Brendan Halligan, Chairman of the Board of SEAI said ‘The Board is delighted that a person of Dr Motherway’s calibre will now lead the organisation through challenging times, something he is ideally equipped to do.  Dr Motherway’s appointment opens up an exciting new vista for SEAI.’

Dr Motherway holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Chemical Engineering and a PhD in Sociology. He first joined SEAI in 2006 and in his most recent role as Chief Operations Officer had overall responsibility for SEAI operations, performance and impacts, strategic planning, and its work in clean technology and enterprise.

Chairman Brendan Halligan continued: “Sustainable energy is now a core strategic issue for society and must be tackled with strong policies and actions which recognise the urgency of the challenges we face. SEAI will continue to lead with innovative thinking and action to support Ireland in creating jobs, enhancing competitiveness and ensuring clean secure energy for all. With Dr Motherway as our new Chief Executive, I am confident the Authority will continue to go from strength to strength.”