Archive for the ‘Renewable energy’ Category

Renewable energy with smart grid technology – The new complex relationship turning everthing upside down

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

The energy world is about to turn upside down. With the coming of smart grid, the electricity consumer customer becomes the electricity seller; the passive home appliance becomes the active energy manager; and the local 11KV DNO network becomes the power generation network itself.

Such an upheaval means that the energy world needs to start thinking about a new business model, says a recent report by IBM Global Business Services Energy and Utilities.

The fact that IBM is advising the energy industry is itself a point of interest, yet another signal of the new market opportunity emerging within the energy arena for information technology. This opportunity has drawn the attention of not only IBM, but also CISCO, Google and many others.

So how does IBM see the energy business model changing? First consider what it has been for the last century: a grow-and-build model. Utilities encouraged more and more consumption, and they built power plants and transmission to the far corners of the nation to serve the growing demand.

“The success of this strategy was remarkable. In the United States for example, from 1920 to the mid 1960s (excepting the period of the Great Depression), usage increased at seven percent annually – about five times the rate of usage of all forms of energy combined and three times the rate of economic expansion in general,” says the IBM report, “Switching perspectives: Creating new business models for a changing world of energy.”

But today we no longer need such expansion. The grow-and-build model is obsolete, yet continues to be used by utilities. As a result, utility stocks, which in the 1940s-1960s significantly outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average, now lag well behind.

Instead of expanding their territory, utilities are being called upon to change their product — to offer energy that is more efficient and clean and service that is more consumer-friendly.

Smart grid technology can help utilities meet today’s imperative. But it brings with it a new and complex relationship between customer and utility. This is because smart grid allows consumers to control energy usage via a home computer. With smart buildings into the mix and their appliances can control energy usage without the consumer doing anything. And with increased use of solar energy and other distributed technologies, the home also becomes power plant and storage facility for the electric utility.

“Companies willing to tackle industry model innovation and sit at the nexus of new complex relationships among business partners and customers will be well positioned to create and capture new demand for emerging products and services. Strong growth in revenues and profits – albeit accompanied by some risks – is achievable in multisided business models because of the embedded network economies of scale (i.e., margins increase with network size),” says the report.

IBM calls this new business model “a multisided platform.” What does it look like?

“Manufacturers, retailers and shoppers all benefit from having a single location where they can meet and transact business. A wider variety of stores and services brings more shoppers; more shoppers bring higher sales volumes for manufacturers and lower costs for retailers (and, in theory, also lower prices for shoppers). Thus, some element of network economy is bundled into the shopping center value proposition. The platform owner (the shopping center operator) extracts some of this value in the form of rent to store owners and, in some cases, service fees to shoppers,” says the report.

If indeed this is the future, it won’t be embraced quickly or easily by utilities, which are notorious for their caution. For those who do move forward, here is some of what IBM advises.

Be sure your current customer base is sizable enough to ensure that you get a meaningful head start.

But don’t hurry. History has shown that later movers may actually benefit from standing back from the first wave of early adopters.

Time the announcement of your new business model carefully to avoid shocking long-time constituencies or alerting rivals too soon.

But in the UK, the cat has already leaped out of the bag!

The UK Regulator – Ofgem’s duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development promoted this duty, placing it on an equal footing with its duties to meet reasonable demand and financing authorised activities. The principle objective, to protect the interests of consumers, refers to future as well as existing consumers. These changes underline Ofgem’s important and developing role in shaping the future of gas and electricity industries in a sustainable manner.The UK is facing a future that involves increased geopolitical risks to energy security, potentially higher energy prices and the need to do much more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while making sure everyone can afford to adequately heat their homes.

While much of what is needed to deliver sustainability is not within the regulators direct control, a responsibility to facilitate change by engaging in the debate, trying to persuade relevant players to make changes where required and contributing information and expertise where it can.

Actions speak louder than words:

So whats already implemented in the UK?

  • Smart metering (CoP10) with import and export facilities – Coming to every home in the UK – See my blog on smart metering for more information
  • feed-in tariffs (FITs) for small-scale low-carbon electricity generation from 1 April 2010 – Customers own micro energy generation agreements connected to the local DNO grid – See FITs for more information
  • Climate Levy Tax incentives – Look at you next bill and spot this tax!
  • ROC’s – See my blog for more information
  • REGO – See my blog for more information
  • OGEMs – See my blog for more information
  • REC’s – See my blog for more information

The next step:

  • Informing the customer and proving ‘idiots’ guides to understand the available technologies and energy savings available.
  • Providing engineering design  and installation solutions.
  • The correct customer incentives to explore and implements these technologies.

What are Feed-In Tariffs?

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

The Government is introducing a system of feed-in tariffs (FITs) for small-scale low-carbon electricity generation from 1 April 2010. FITs are a per-unit support payment made directly to generators by electricity suppliers.

The new renewable electricity Feed-in Tariff scheme (FITs) will be available from 1 April 2010. FITs aims to promote domestic and small-scale renewable generation technologies up to a maximum capacity of 5 megawatts (MW). Ofgem will be running the behind the scenes administration of the scheme on behalf of the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

There are two routes to apply for FITs depending on the type and scale of technology installed:
• Generators with Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited solar, wind and hydro generating equipment up to 50kW in capacity that are installed by an MCS accredited installer can apply direct to a ‘FIT supplier’ – usually their energy supply company – with their installation details and to enquire about FITs payments. We expect the majority of installations will fall into this category.
• Generators with larger installations between 50kW and 5MW (or anaerobic digestion at 5MW or less) will first need to apply for accreditation through Ofgem’s Renewable and CHP Register before they can apply to a supplier for the tariffs.

Its intend that FITs will replace the Renewables Obligation (RO) as far as possible as the financial support mechanism for microgeneration (with a declared net capacity 50 kW or less) in Great Britain.
FITs will complement the RO by providing the simplicity and certainty needed to support householders, communities and businesses involved in small-scale generation. Installations with a capacity of 5MW or less will be eligible for FITs. Whereas the level of reward under the RO is exposed to fluctuations in the value of Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs), FITs will guarantee a fixed level of reward for each unit of electricity you generate, for as long as you are eligible to receive support.The Feed-In Tariffs are based on the electricity generated by a renewable energy system and there will be an additional bonus for any energy which is ‘exported’ to the grid. This means you get paid more for the energy you don’t use than for that which you do which encourages energy efficiency.

At times when you are producing less electricity than you are using, the shortfall will be ‘imported’ from the grid and you will pay your electricity company for this in the usual way.

The Feed-in Tariff therefore gives you these three financial benefits:

  1. A ‘generation’ tariff based on the Total generation and the energy type, plus
  2. An ‘export’ tariff for any energy Exports when generating more than you need, and because you are now producing some of the energy you use
  3. Lower bills from your supplier for the energy you Import from them

What you need to do
You will require an additional electricity meter to measure the electricity that your system is generating, and also to measure how much is being fed back into the electricity grid.

Once you have installed your generating technology you must inform your chosen energy supplier that you are eligible to receive the FIT. The supplier will then register your installation onto the Central FIT Register, which is administered by Ofgem. Payments will be made by your energy supplier at intervals to be decided between you and your supplier. You may be required to provide meter readings to the suppliers if requested.

If you want to opt out of the guaranteed export tariff you must inform the supplier. You may want to do this if you chose to use a power purchase agreement.
Tariff levels, for technologies installed between 15th July 2009 and 31st March 2012

Technology___________Scale____________Tariff level (p/kWh)________Tariff lifetime (years)
Solar electricity (PV)____≤4 kW (retro fit)___ ____41.3____________________25
Solar electricity (PV)____≤4 kW (new build)______36.1____________________25
Wind_______________≤1.5 kW____________34.5_____________________20
Wind _______________>1.5 – 15 kW________ 26.7 _____________________20
Micro CHP ___________≤2kW _____________10.0 _____________________10
Hydroelectricity _______≤15 kW ____________19.9 _____________________20

Tariff levels vary depending on the scale of the installation.

The tariff levels shown in the table above apply to installations completed from 15th July 2009 to 31st March 2012 for the lifetime of the tariff. After this date, the rates decrease each year for new entrants into the scheme.

All generation and export tariffs will be linked to the Retail Price Index (RPI) which ensures that each year they follow the rate of inflation.
What payments will you be eligible for, and how can you claim them?

The tariffs available and the process for receiving them vary, depending on when the technology was installed, and whether the system and the installer were certificated under the MCS scheme:

The following advice applies to domestic installations. If you have installed a qualifying electricity-generating system non-domestic property with a grant from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme, see the Low Carbon Buildings Programme website for further guidance.

Background:
In October 2008 the UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, announced that Britain would implement a feed-in tariff by 2010, in addition to its current renewable energy quota scheme Renewable Obligation Certificates”. In July 2009, he presented UK’s new Feed-in Tariff Programme, expected to begin in early April, 2010. Miliband has given a new name, “clean energy cash back”, to this policy which falls fully within the framework of Feed-in Tariffs and is based on a few, extensively discussed, key elements:

a) Less than 10% of Britain’s electricity consumption, by 2020, will be provided by renewable energy sources. The 2% target requires the “green generation” of only 8 billion kWh (that is 8 TWh) per year. France, thanks to its system of Feed-in Tariffs, in 2008 generated already nearly 6 TWh, and only from wind energy; in the same year Germany generated more than 4 TWh from solar PV (photovoltaic), and reached 40 TWh from wind energy.

b) The project involves only renewables sources which can produce less than 5 MW energy; so, UK’s new FiT’s project cap is 5 MW. Depending on law, only renewable energy sources and generators within this cap can benefit from tariffs: the government still prefers resorting to the Renewable Obligation Certificates mechanism for developing larger projects.
To prevent companies from moving large scale (for example big wind) projects from the ROCs to the Feed-in Tariff programme, a number of anti-gaming provisions has been inserted in the policy design; this should avoid the breaking up of bigger projects into several small ones, to fit within the 5 MW energy size cap.

c) The contract term is 20 years, 25 years for solar photovoltaic projects: this means that, starting from 2010, British providers of Wind Energy, Hydropower, Energy from Biomass and Anaerobic Digestion falling within the Renewable Sources eligible in accordance with the provisions of the proposed FiT scheme will be rewarded with a tariff rate guaranteed for the next 20 years – 25 years for Solar PV generators. In this way UK’s renewable energy industry has a somehow long-term certainty, and can advantage of the FiT over other policy options.

d) Costs for the programme will be borne by all British ratepayers proportionally: all electricity consumers will bear a slight increase in their annual rate, thus allowing electricity utilities to buy renewable energy generated from green sources at above-market rates set by the government.

e) Generators can be green fields (they do not have to be metered customers).

f) The new UK’s Feed-in Tariff Programme review is scheduled for 2013.

The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to new research

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The cost of installing and owning solar panels will fall even faster than expected according to new research.

Tests show that 90% of existing solar panels last for 30 years, instead of the predicted 20 years.

According to the independent EU Energy Institute, this brings down the lifetime cost.

The institute says the panels are such a good long-term investment that banks should offer mortgages on them like they do on homes.

At a conference, the institute forecast that solar panels would be cost-competitive with energy from the grid for half the homes in Europe by 2020 – without a subsidy.

Basically everything (in the industry) is bound to grow still further. Growing further means less cost

Heinz Ossenbrink, EU Energy Institute

Incentive programmes for solar panels in Germany, Italy and Spain have created manufacturing volume that’s bringing down costs. Solar panel prices dropped 30% last year alone due to an increase in output and a drop in orders because of the recession.

But Heinz Ossenbrink, who works at the institute, said China had underpinned its solar industry with a big solar domestic programme which would keep prices falling. There are large-scale solar plans in the US and India too.

Panels had been expected to last for 20 years and price calculations were based on this (with a free energy source, purchase and installation represent almost the entire price of solar power).

But Dr Ossenbrink says the institute’s laboratory has been subjecting the cells to the sort of accelerated ageing through extremes of heat, cold and humidity that has long been a benchmark for the car industry.

Long lifetime

It has shown that more than 90% of the panels on the market 10 years ago are capable of still performing well after 30 years of life, albeit with a slight drop in performance.

Dr Ossenbrink says 40-year panels will be on the market soon.

A key goal for solar is what is known as grid parity. That is the point when it is as cheap for someone to generate power on their homes as it is to buy it from the grid.

It varies from country to country depending on electricity prices, but the institute estimates that Italy – which has a combination of sunny weather and relatively high electricity prices – should reach grid parity next year. Half of Europe should be enjoying grid parity by 2020, it estimates.

Cloudy northern countries like the UK could wait further, possibly up to 2030. But the day would come when solar panels on homes would be cost-competitive without a subsidy, even in Britain.

Dr Ossenbrink says: “Basically everything (in the industry) is bound to grow still further. Growing further means less cost. Less cost means grid parity.”

“We have been surprised in the past five years at the drop in prices. It’s due to good incentive programmes first in Germany then Spain and Italy. That created a kind of a boom that was helping industry to reduce costs and get into profitability. And when an industry is in profit it drives on its own.”

Owning solar

Professor Wim Sinke, from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who leads the solar umbrella group the European Photovoltaic Technology Platform, says the industry has even greater ambitions.

“The target of the sector as a whole is to reach grid parity in almost all of Europe over the next 10 years. So by 2020 we should have grid parity in most of Europe,” he told BBC News.

Key sticking points for domestic solar, he said, would be the lack of flexibility in electricity grids to take in surplus generated energy and difficulties with finance.

Dr Ossenbrink said: “What I would like to see is the finance sector saying solar power is a product like financing a house – except they can predict the value of the solar panel much more safely than they can predict the value of the house in a volatile market.

“Electricity will never be given away free. Banks should offer mortgages on people’s solar panels like they do on homes – the bank should own the panel, then it would transfer to the householder when the loan has been paid off. It would be perfect for life assurances.”

It will take much longer for solar to match fossil fuel power at the point of generation, the institute says, as wholesale electricity prices are much lower than retail prices.

From BBC web site

Environment Agency calls on councils to provide green power for over 1.5 million households

Friday, June 12th, 2009

The Environment Agency and Partnerships for Renewables has urged public sector organisations in the UK to consider using their land and property to generate renewable energy, which has the potential to provide power for over 1.5 million households.

The two organisations used World Environment Day (5 June) to encourage the public sector to tackle the impending crisis of climate change and set an example to others by taking positive action.

The organisations have calculated that public sector organisations in the UK could generate up to some 3 gigawatts of power – enough to power all the households in Newcastle, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds, Liverpool and Doncaster combined and save 3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – by installing renewable energy technologies such as wind turbines and hydropower schemes on their land.

Public sector bodies own more than 10 per cent of the land in the UK including tens of thousands of buildings and over one million hectares of land. Despite this, only a tiny fraction of the total amount of green energy which the UK is capable of producing comes from renewable energy projects on public sector property.

Although many public sector bodies are already beginning to investigate how they can utilise their land to generate renewable energy, the Environment Agency and Partnerships for Renewables are calling for more organisations to install clean energy technologies to help reduce carbon emissions in addition to generating revenue from the sale of electricity and saving the taxpayer money.

Last year the Secretary of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband, and environmental groups highlighted the need for public sector bodies to take a lead role in the fight against climate change and promote green energy.

The Environment Agency is urging other public sector bodies to follow its example after its announcement in November 2008 to build up to 80 wind turbines on Environment Agency owned land across the country, developing around 200 megawatts of renewable energy capacity – enough to power 90,000 households and save around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. In addition the turbines will generate up to £2.4 million of revenue every year – money that will be ploughed back into protecting and improving the environment, and adapting to climate change. Other organisations such as British Waterways have also announced similar plans.

The Environment Agency recently ranked as the top green UK public sector organisation in the annual Sunday Times Green List. 99 per cent of electricity used by the Environment Agency is from renewable sources and stringent targets are in place for reducing energy and water. Recycling facilities are available in the offices covering 20 different types of waste. The organisation’s green travel policies have led to a mileage reduction of some 8.9 million miles over the past two years alone and in three years, the Environment Agency has managed to reduce its overall carbon footprint by 14 per cent and water use by ten per cent.

Environment Agency Head of Climate Change and Sustainable Development Tony Grayling said: “Investment in green technology such as wind turbines not only help cut carbon emissions and secure more home grown energy – they also make financial sense to those involved and ultimately save the taxpayer money.

“The pressures businesses and the public sector are facing may tempt them to cut corners and spend less attention on environmental improvement programmes, but it is now more important than ever before that we look to alternative sources of energy to meet our demands.”

Stephen Ainger, Chief Executive of Partnerships for Renewables which was established by the Carbon Trust in 2006, said: “By embracing and fulfilling its renewable energy potential the UK’s public sector has the opportunity to not only demonstrate strong leadership domestically, in the fight against climate change, it has the opportunity to set the standard for public sector organisations to follow globally. The role of the public sector organisations leading this movement, such as the Environment Agency and British Waterways, should not be underestimated”.

Friends of the Earth’s Executive Director Andy Atkins said: “The public sector has a key role to play in cutting emissions by harnessing the UK’s vast renewable energy potential. Developing green energy could create tens of thousands of new jobs, reduce our dependency of the tyranny of fossil fuels and give this country real influence in the global battle against climate change”.

Sell your own energy

Friday, June 5th, 2009

Did you know you could be making money from the electricity generated by your renewable technology installation?

If you have installed, or are thinking about installing, a renewable technology which produces electricity, such as a Solar Electricity (PV) system, you may be able to get paid for the electricity it produces. The most common way to do this is to sign up to a buy back scheme with an energy supplier. There are two main tariffs available to do this:

  • Export tariffs: You are only paid for the electricity that is exported back to the electricity network (you are not paid for any electricity you use).
  • Generation tariffs: You are paid for all of the electricity that your system has generated even if you use it in your own home.

There are also some Set Price Tariffs available where a fixed amount is paid by the energy supplier based on the type or capacity of the installation.

Choosing the right tariff

The answers to the following questions should help you choose the right buy buy back tariff for your situation:

Do you expect to use most of the electricity you generate at home?

If the answer is yes, it is likely that a Generation Tariff is likely to be a better option for you as you will get paid for all the electricity you generate rather than just the electricity that is exported.

If you will be using a small amount of the electricity your system generates then an Export Tariff may be a better option for you.

Will you need to install a new meter?

  • Total Generation Meter: Most tariffs will require you to have an Ofgem approved Total Generation Meter which should be installed with your system. Total Generation Meters give a running total of the electricity generated by the system in kilowatt-hours (kWh).
  • Export Meter: Most export tariffs require you to have an export meter installed. Some companies will pay for the meter and its installation whereas others may charge you. It is important that you establish the costs before agreeing a contract.

Will it affect your import supply?

Most buy back tariffs are dependent on the customer getting their import supply from the same energy supplier, and some suppliers limit the choice of available import tariffs that can be used.

You should check tariffs are on offer from the supplier purchasing your electricity generation and how much your annual bill will be. You will want to take these costs into consideration alongside the export/generation tariff payment.

What else should you consider?

Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) are certificates given to registered generators of renewable electricity produced and sold within the UK. You will be entitled to one certificate for each megawatt hour (or 1,000 kilowatt hours kWh) of electricity you produce.

Some tariffs include a price for ROCs whereby the energy supplier acts as the ROC agent, claiming ROCs from Ofgem on behalf of the customer. However, there are other tariffs where the customer retains the ROC entitlement and must claim these themselves. For ROCs to be able to be claimed you must have a Total Generation Meter installed. Information on which tariffs include a payment for ROCs can be viewed by looking at the tariff details on our buy back tariff search tool.

Some suppliers include the payment for ROCs within the tariff, this means the ROCs are claimed by the energy company on the customers’ behalf. If the tariff does not include payment for ROCs then the customer can claim for them separately.

Tidal – Introduction

Friday, June 5th, 2009

 

Marine Current Turbines Ltd's SeaGen rotor systemMarine Current Turbines Ltd's  'tidal current turbines' conceptMarine Current Turbines Ltd's SeaGen turbine

Electricity generation from tidal stream has the big advantage that the output can be reliably predicted even though the strength of the tidal stream varies throughout the day. Various designs are being developed including propeller blades driving a generator (an underwater wind turbine), aerilon shaped wings that move up and down, and sets of sails turning on a conveyor.

SmartestEnergy launches U.K.’s first flexible renewable supply service

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

 

Independent U.K. purchaser and supplier of energy, SmartestEnergy Limited, has launched a specialist renewable power retail service that can supply renewable and good quality combined heat and power electricity to business or local authority customers at prices competitive with traditional forms of power.

SmartestEnergy claims that for the first time, U.K. business customers can specify the exact fuel mix of the electricity they use – up to 100 percent renewable supply if desired. In addition, customers will be able to identify and specify exactly which technology and which producer they would like to buy from. For example, a business or local authority could choose to buy from renewable energy projects in their area to show their direct support for locally produced energy.

Jo Butlin, vice president for retail at SmartestEnergy said: “It’s quite clear that business wants to improve its green credentials but until now has never had the option to buy ‘green electricity’ in the same way that domestic users can. We are offering a flexible solution, from source to supply, where customers can specify exactly how much renewable power they want and which sources they want it from.”

SmartestEnergy buys its power direct from independent producers using a wide range of renewable technologies including wind, biomass, anaerobic digestion and landfill gas. Each unit of power comes with numbered Climate Change Levy Exemption Certificates (LECs) attached to specific power plants, along with a Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origin (REGO). These certificates prove the source of the electricity supplied and can be used by the business purchaser to highlight their green credentials to stakeholders.

SmartestEnergy has agreements with producers, covering more than 400 sites in the UK. Generators range from sub‐1 MW to 420 MW, enabling SmartestEnergy to deliver power from 1.2 GW of installed capacity, equivalent to nearly 10 percent of the U.K.’s renewable output.

Ni-MH Batteries for PV & Wind

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Nickel–Metal Hydride (Ni-MH) rechargeable battery modules specifically designed to meet the needs of off-grid photovoltaic (PV) and wind energy systems. This offers better performance, lower total cost of ownership (TCO), improved integration and better environmental profile than traditional batteries.

Stand-alone renewable energy sources are increasingly popular in applications ranging from street lighting and signage, water supply and irrigation, weather stations and environmental sensors, wireless local area networks and navigation aids. These applications benefit from reliable, maintenance-free and long-life energy storage. However, renewable energy storage in highly distributed, often remote locations in uncontrolled environments is characterized by a high number of shallow cycles, with erratic charge current and time, often under extremes of temperature. Today’s lead-acid storage batteries do not cope well in these conditions, and suffer from limited life, poor reliability and even sudden death – leading to high maintenance and replacement costs.

Despite its higher initial cost, the Ni-MH chemistry of the Smart VHT Module range has been shown to reduce total cost of ownership by 45 per cent, or more, when operating over a 15- year period in such applications. This is thanks to its longer life (typically 3–5 times), better failure resistance and wider temperature tolerance than lead-acid technology.

The design and production of the VHT range have been optimized to minimize water and energy consumption, reduce the production of greenhouse gases and toxic waste, diminish negative effects on global warming and the ozone layer, and curb the unnecessary depletion of natural resources. The Smart VHT Module enables direct integration of smart electronics – such as seamless charge/discharge management, battery condition logging and accurate state of health indicator – removing the need for separate PV controllers.

Available in 12V, 24V and 36V versions in 10Ah capacity increments (up to 80Ah). Modules can also be housed in a ruggedized aluminium casing providing added protection from the elements. They are directly interchangeable with traditional Valve-Regulated Lead-Acid (VRLA) battery modules.

Solar Cells for Highways Generate Electricity Even at Night

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Solar Cells for Highways Generate Electricity Even at Night

A promising invention now being tested at Towson University in Maryland collects and stores solar energy, even when it isn’t sunny.

The inventor says the circular solar collectors placed along a wall gathers much more energy than flat panels, even when its a dim day or at night.

“Part of the ability we have that no other solar cell system in the world has is when headlights strike these tubes at night, they create electricity,” said Kahrl Retti, Solarroad Technologies.

The electrawall also stores what it collects in batteries.

Solaroad Technologies is part of a business incubator at Towson University, near Baltimore. The invention was recently shown to Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes, who’s committee is encouraging development of alternate sources of energy. The inventor claims a million feet of his collectors could match the output of a small nuclear generator.

“Solaroad is developing this technology that can be deployed very quickly across the country in ways that can capture the sun and capture light and produce energy from that,” said Congressman Sarbanes.

Professors and students at Towson are involved in testing of the solar tubes. “We have had at least one or ten student interns working in the company as well as research projects on the capabilities of the technology,” said Dyan Brasington, Towson University.

The company also wants to market a cube tube, which would be installed on top of a workers cubicle in an office and it would get energy from the florescent lights in the work space.

Every cubicle in America that has a computer, printer, light whatever could be powered using interior photo voltaic cells.

Source: Ecofriend .

New Eco-friendly Process for Wood-based Bio Fuels

Friday, May 29th, 2009

New Eco-friendly Process for Wood-based Bio Fuels

Scientists at Queen’s University Belfast have discovered a new eco-friendly way of dissolving wood using ionic liquids that may help its transformation into popular products such as bio fuels, textiles, clothes and paper.

Dr Héctor Rodríguez and Professor Robin Rogers from Queen’s School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering worked along with The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, to come up with a more cost and energy efficient way of processing wood.

Their solution, which is reported in the journal Green Chemistry, may see a new sustainable future for industry based on bio-renewable resources. At present wood is broken down mainly by the Kraft pulping process, which originates from the 19th century and uses a wasteful technology relying on polluting chemicals.

The key reason for tolerating this method is that it is very difficult to break down and separate the different elements of wood. Until now any alternatives to the process have presented similar problems.

The Queen’s researchers found that chips of both softwood and hardwood dissolved completely in ionic liquid and only mild conditions of temperature and pressure were needed. By controlled addition of water and a water-acetone mixture, the dissolved wood was partially separated into a cellulose-rich material and pure lignin.

This process is much more environmentally-friendly than the current method as it uses less heat and pressure and produces very low toxicity while remaining biodegradable.

Professor Robin Rogers said: “This is a very important discovery because cellulose and lignin have a wide variety of uses. Cellulose can be used to make products such as paper, biofuels, cotton and linen, as well as many other commodity materials and chemicals.

“Lignin can be used to create performance additives in various applications, such as strengthening cars and airplanes with a fraction of the weight of conventional reinforcement materials. It is also a source of other chemicals which are mainly obtained from petroleum-based resources.”

Dr Héctor Rodríguez said: “The discovery is a significant step towards the development of the biorefinery concept, where biomass is transformed to produce a wide variety of chemicals. Eventually, this may open a door to a truly sustainable chemical industry based on bio-renewable resources.”

The approaches that the scientists are considering for the future include the addition of eco-friendly additives to the ionic liquid system or the use of catalysts.

The researchers are hoping to eventually achieve better dissolution under even softer conditions and are also trying to achieve complete separation of the different elements in one single step.

Both teams are also focusing on biomasses which are rich in essential oils and can later be used in processes such as the manufacture of fragrances.

The Journal reference for the study is:

Sun et al. Complete dissolution and partial delignification of wood in the ionic liquid 1-ethyl-3-methylimidazolium acetate, Green Chemistry, 2009; 11 (5): 646 DOI: 10.1039/b822702k

Source: Science Daily .

Wind and Solar-Powered Street Lighting Skips the Grid

Friday, May 29th, 2009

French company Windela has created a street lighting system that works without any connection to the grid. The Windelux is powered by both a small vertical wind turbine and a solar PV panel.The lamp is comprised of 84 LEDs and automatically switches on when a photosensitive cell detects that it’s dark. A built-in control system stops the wind generator if the wind speed is too high and also allows the pole to act as a Wi-Fi relay.

Inside the pole is the battery that makes all this possible. A rechargable LiFePo battery stores the energy generated by the solar PV panel and wind generator and supplies four nights worth of light before needing to be recharged.

Street lighting accounts for a huge percentage of most cities energy use and costs. The Windelux seems to be an ideal solution for providing both street lighting and distributing Wi-Fi, without ever touching the grid. Currently, units have only been installed in France and Algeria.

Biomass residues

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Byproducts of green plants used for other production purposes can be used as fuel, providing a source renewable energy.

Biomass residues are the organic byproducts of green plants used for things such as food, fiber and forest production.  Food industry residues include grain crops, for instance corn and wheat, as well as waste such as hazlenut shells and fruit stones. Other residues include animal waste and forest harvest; small trees and branches left after felling which can be made into wood chips.

These residues can all be used as a fuel source, fuelling a combined heat and power plant to produce an alternative source of energy to fossil fuels.

Offshore wind

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Wind turbines can be installed offshore, where there is often more wind resource.

The UK has now started two rounds of offshore wind development and a third is approved in principle.

Offshore wind map

Some Round 1 sites have now been completed and others are under active development.

The Phase 2 sites are now starting to receive consents and some will soon be under construction.

Both these rounds are illustrated on the map shown.

Offshore wind map - round 3

UK wind energy market

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Overview of the UK wind market in 2009

The UK was one of the first countries to develop wind turbines in the modern era, and had a strong technological position in the 1980’s. When the commercial markets started to become established in the 1990’s however other counties adopted more business-friendly approaches and the lead was lost to Denmark in the first instance.

The first wind-farm was developed in the UK at Delabole in Cornwall in 1991, under the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation.

Wind energy market and trends

Because the major driver for the industry is currently the Renewables Obligation, the main market is for merchant bulk generation through onshore wind-farms. Some 55% of the onshore wind capacity is owned by the licensed electricity suppliers on whom the obligation falls, and the vast bulk of this is the ‘big six’.

A further 20% or so is held by wind energy developers, who have retained some of the projects they developed, and the balance by dedicated ownership companies (some of which may in turn be owned by the groups listed above).

The renewable energy sector, including wind, is currently suffering from the economic circumstances common to the entire world economy. In particular there are constraints in obtaining project finance, and this is expected to inhibit growth in the short term. The forward projections in this report assume that this is a short term issue and that credit starts to flow again during the course of 2010, and more normal investment conditions return by 2011. That, however, is not a prediction!

The wind sector is expected to remain the highest growth part of the renewable electricity market for the immediate future, and the targets of 14MW onshore and 14MW offshore should be achievable provided that the planning and grid restrictions are eased.

Structure of the industry

As mentioned above, the UK lost its lead in wind energy technology as the large scale market started to develop twenty years ago. Except in the small wind sector (see below), the majority of wind generation technology is imported, though the UK does have some supply-chain capability in certain related components, such as blades and towers, and has aspirations to increase this capability.

The major domestic capability is in project development, financing, management, operation and maintenance. The UK has several strong project development companies, most of which also operate in international markets, such as the McAlpine subsidiary Renewable Energy Systems. It also has some of the leading international consultancies on wind energy technology, such as Garrad Hassan.

All leading wind turbine manufacturers supply into the UK market. Siemens was the largest supplier in 2007 and 2008, and is now second in terms of cumulative capacity behind Vestas. Other major suppliers in the last two years have been Nordex, Repower and Enercon.

Offshore wind

In 2001, eighteen companies successfully pre-qualified for Round One site development options and to date five windfarms have been completed: North Hoyle off northern Wales, Scroby Sands off Great Yarmouth, Barrow off the South Cumbrian coast, Burbo Bank off The Wirral and Kentish Flats in the Thames Estuary. Two more, Inner Dowsing and Lynn are nearly complete and delivering energy to the grid. There are a number of others either under construction or planned for the future.

In 2003 Crown Estate announced a competitive tender process for Round Two sites. The Crown Estate announced fifteen successful Agreements for Lease amount to 7.2 GW and including sites within and beyond territorial waters. The largest of these was the 1GW London Array in the Thames Estuary, originally developed by a partnership between E.On, Shell and Dong. In 2008 Shell pulled out of the project and sold its interest to the other two partners, and Masdar subsequently acquired part of E.On’s stake. There is still no firm information on when the project will proceed.

The competitive tender process for the licensing of Round Three offshore windfarms closed in March 2009 and, the Crown Estate announced it had received multiple bids for each of the nine zones, confirming the potential capacity to achieve 25 GW of offshore wind energy by 2020. There were a total of 40 zone bids from 18 different consortia, including international companies from at least nine different countries

Small wind

The UK has an increasing number of producers of small wind turbines in the range up to 50kW. The best established of these is Proven in Scotland. Wind turbines hit the volume market when Glasgow-based Windsave negotiated a supply agreement with the national DIY chain B&Q. There are now a number of other devices on the market, mostly horizontal axis designs, but some using more novel approaches, such the vertical axis Quiet Revolution device.

Licensing, certification and legislative issues

Projects wishing to benefit from the Renewables Obligation need to be accredited by Ofgem to confirm that they meet the requirements. For wind projects this is typically quite straightforward. There is a procedure for obtaining indicative pre-registration to assist with project financing.

Small scale systems to be installed under the Low Carbon Buildings Programme need to be certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS). The companies selling such systems must be members of the REAL Assurance Code of Conduct and installers need to be accredited under the MCS. It is anticipated that similar requirements will apply to the renewable electricity tariffs.

There is currently no preferential tax treatment for wind energy installations, though they may in future be eligible for Enhanced Capital Allowances.

Market entry, barriers and opportunities

The UK is in principle a very open market. The renewable energy targets it has adopted to meet the EU Renewable Energy Directive require a ten-fold increase in renewable energy delivery in little over a decade. It is anticipated that most of this growth will come from the electricity sector and of that much will come from wind.

Bulk energy production

The most self-evident opportunity for overseas companies is in the supply of the core technology, especially wind turbines and power trains. In view of the medium term potential of the British market, there will certainly be opportunities for established suppliers, who need to expand their capacity, to set up subsidiary or licensed plant in the UK. Both national governments and regional agencies would be very supportive in bringing forward new capacity of that type.

The UK has a well established network of project developers, who are familiar with the process and particularly with the best ways of structuring projects to accelerate their progress through the planning and grid connection requirements. Companies interested in bringing forward projects would be well advised to work with incumbent players, especially in light of the obstacles facing developments described above.

The UK already has the world’s largest offshore wind capacity and this sector is projected to continue to grow strongly. Therefore this will present opportunities not only for wind energy technology but for the expertise and facilities associated with installing and operating plant offshore.

Decentralised wind energy

Though the bulk energy market has been the one where most development has happened in the past, the decentralised energy sector may be an equally exciting one for the future. New drivers, such as the renewable electricity tariffs and the Carbon Reduction Commitment, should stimulate a lot of new demand in this sector.

This will create new opportunities for those with expertise in community projects, energy services companies and technology aimed at energy users rather than energy suppliers.

All in all the UK promises to be a very interesting wind energy market in the coming decades!

Wind energy – An introduction

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Generation of electricity from wind is now one of the fastest growing sources of renewable energy.

Wind energy has been harnessed for over 6000 years, first for powering boats, windmills and wind pumps, and now for generating electricity. Modern wind equipment ranges from small water pumps and chargers (used to charge batteries at remote locations) to large multi-megawatt wind turbines arranged in wind farms that supply power to the electricity grid.

World-wide, there over 25,000MW of installed capacity, mostly in Europe and the USA.

Wind power equipment has been developed to provide a range of power outputs, from under 100W up to 3MW. The overall reliability of wind turbines is high – 97-99% availability is standard for modern turbines – and modern machines are designed to have a useful life of about 25 years. Turbines can have fixed or variable speed rotors, can be pitch or stall regulated, or in the case of small turbines can have furling rotor blades. When used for electricity generation, turbines can generate either direct or alternating current. The flexibility of design of individual turbine components means that machines can be matched to areas with high, medium or low average wind speeds, from the Arctic to the Sahara, and from mountain tops to locations out to sea.

Within the design parameters necessary for conditions at any individual site, the size of turbine required will depend on the type of application:

Large-scale, grid-connected electricity generation

This requires a number of large turbines grouped together on one site to form a wind farm or wind park, either on- or off-shore. The power from the individual turbines is aggregated at a central point before it is fed through a power line to the point where it connects with the national grid. It usually passes through a transformer at the central point to match the voltage to that of the grid. The central point usually doubles as a command point, where computerised equipment can be installed to allow the remote control of the wind farm. This is particularly important for remote and off-shore wind farms, where adverse weather may prevent access for long periods of time.

Small-scale, grid-connected electricity generation

Where electricity grids are unable to accommodate large amounts of generation, typically in remote areas, it is still possible to deploy individual turbines or small clusters of turbines of varying sizes. Frequently the grids in these areas are at relatively low voltage in which case the installations are designed to connect directly into the grid with little or no additional voltage transformation. Where the grid is an isolated grid (not connected to the main national or regional grid), the wind turbines are usually run in conjunction with another form of generation, typically diesel (see hybrid systems below).

Stand-alone generation

Applications for stand alone wind power are more varied. They may be as small as a charger used to charge the batteries on an ocean-going yacht, or megawatt-size turbines used for powering a desalination plant on an arid coastline. The use of solitary wind pumps feeding water tanks has been a familiar sight in much of the world for over 150 years.

Hybrid Systems

Wind power is also very suitable for incorporation into hybrid systems. These offer flexibility, because they can provide power even when the wind is not blowing. Wind-diesel combinations are common, but more recent developments include wind-photovoltaic units, a hybrid option which offers power generation from 100% renewable sources.

Solar generation – Photovoltaics an introduction

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Solar generation

Photovoltaics and other methods of converting sunlight to electricity

There are several accepted ways of converting solar radiation to electrical power.

Photovoltaics

The sun’s energy can be converted directly into electricity using photovoltaic cells. PV cells can be used for applications as small as watches and calculators, to large grid-connected arrays of panels. The great attraction of PV technology is that it delivers electricity at the point of use, for example panels can be integrated into buildings to supply the buildings themselves.

In areas where grid connection or other forms of generation are too expensive or not feasible, PV can be very cost-effective. This may be in remote locations, but could also be in a city centre where grid connection may be impractical. For example it can be cheaper to power parking meters with solar energy than with power from the grid.

PV materials are usually solid-state semiconductors. various forms are used:

  • Mono-crystalline silicon
  • Poly-crystalline silicon
  • Amorphous silicon thin film
  • Thin film cells of other materials such as copper indium diselenide (CIS) and cadmium telluride
  • Organic solar cells

Other technologies are also under development

Solar thermal power generation

Technologies also exist to collect the sun’s heat and use it generate steam, which then produces electricity using a conventional turbine.

One notable example of this approach is the solar ‘power tower’ approach where fields of mirros are used to focus the sun’s rays onto a boiler at the top of a tower.

Energy and environment – Renewable energy

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Overview of renewable energy

Renewables describe energy sources that do not deplete the earth’s natural resources and do not create added waste products. They are therefore sustainable in that they can be used indefinitely without degrading the environment.

The fact that renewables are the only truly sustainable forms of energy production clearly makes them desirable. The impetus for renewable energy has grown much stronger in recent years due to two related drivers: “Energy security” and “Climate change”.

There are renewable options for all of the three major energy forms: electricity, heat and fuel. Some renewables directly use a climatic resource; others use renewable fuels as the medium for delivering energy.

Elemental renewables

The main climatic or environmental renewable energy resources are:

  • Solar radiation – Both light and heat from the sun can be harnessed for their energy, and several different conversion techniques have been developed. Solar energy can be collected directly as heat or converted to electrical power. Solar power is also the ultimate cause of winds, waves and plants, so the source of almost all the earth’s energy.
  • Water power was the first source of large scale “Hydropower”>electricity generation, but was used long before that for mechanical energy in water mills. Water can also be used as a thermal source for heat pumps.
  • Wind too has been used for centuries as a source of energy both for motive power (such as windmills and wind pumps) and more recently “Wind energy” power generation. The ambient air can also be used as a thermal source for heat pumps.
  • Wave and tidal energy are more recently exploited sources offering potential again mainly for Marine renewables electricity production.
  • Geothermal heat can also be harnessed and used directly for Geothermal heat production or through a steam turbine for Geo-energy electricity. Ground source heat pumps also use the constant temperature of the earth’s sub-soil as a source of heat.
  • There are also areas of the earth’s crust with liquid or gas reserves where the high geo-pressure can be used to drive “Geo-energy”electricity turbines.

Any of these sources, which use heat as a means of producting electricity, such as solar furnaces and geothermal generation, can also be used for Combined Heat and power.

Biological renewables

Biomass is also considered a renewable source of fuel because is absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while growing. When it is later converted to energy, the carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere matches that originally absorbed, so the whole cycle is carbon neutral.

Of course the same can be said of fossil fuels, but there the cycle is very long (millions or years); biomass is the term applied to crops (or animal by-products) grown over no more than a few decades. The following are examples of biomass accepted as renewable fuels:

  • Energy crops – agricultural and forestry products grown specifically to be used for energy production, such as short rotation coppice and miscanthus.
  • Standard crops and their by-products. Many crops can be used for food or fuel, such as corn, oilseed rape, wheat and many others. Many food crops have by-products, such as straw, which can be used for energy production, while the main product is used for food.
  • Forestry and forestry by-products. Again timber can be used for fuel, but more commonly the non-commercial by-products, such as sawdust, small round-wood, thinnings etc. can be diverted to renewable energy production.
  • The biomass element of waste streams including ICW and MSW is another source of renewable bioenergy.
  • Similarly certain animal by-products from the food chain can be used for renewable fuel production.

These sources all provide fuels or products than can be converted to fuels, of many different types: liquids, gases, pellets, chips and other solid fuels. In this form they can be used for any form of energy production:

Biomass heat / Bioenergy electricity generation,
Combined heat and power
Transport biofuels

Who’ll solve the wind turbine supply crisis?

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Explosive growth in the demand for wind power has created a global waiting list for wind turbines. Chinese turbine companies may be part of the solution as they ramp up production and get ready to export.

The world’s wind power industry is struggling to cope with rocketing demand due to rising oil prices, tougher emission laws and fear of climate change. Average lead time for delivery of turbines has increased from six months a year ago to anywhere between 24 and 36 months.

From a meagre 2,000MW in 1990, global wind energy capacity grew to 59,000MW in 2005 and reached the 100,000MW mark this year. Despite this, the wind turbine industry – dominated by Vestas of Denmark, Suzlon of India, GE of US, Gamesa of Spain and Siemens and Enercon of Germany – has failed to sufficiently ramp up production. Siemens admits that new orders will not be delivered until 2012.

“It is difficult to predict exactly when the shortage will end – but by current indications, the new investments in the supply chain capacity, are likely to bear fruit in a couple of years,” says Vivek Kher, spokesman for Suzlon. “However, demand has been outstripping all projections and whether the enhanced capacities will actually stay in step with the demand is something time will tell.”

If the shortage continues, countries may be forced to review their renewable energy targets.

What’s driving demand?

Several specific factors have been boosting demand in the past few months.

The US saw a surge in new orders to take advantage of government tax credits for clean energy, which expire in December this year. The Production Tax Credit (PTC) provides the owner of a qualifying renewable energy facility annual tax credits, currently valued at 1.9 cents/KWh, based on the amount of energy generated in the first ten years. The facility must start operation before the credit expires.

Last year, the European Union set an ambitious target: 20% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020.

In April this year, China set a massive target of expanding wind power capacity to 100,000MW by 2020, from the current 5,600MW. Previously, in 2006, China passed the Renewable Energy Law, which requires power grid companies to buy the entire output of registered renewable energy producers in their areas. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top industry planning body, sets the purchase price.

CLSA Research estimates that the US, Europe and China will be spending about $150 billion on wind projects in the next five years.

US dithers, China surges ahead

In the US, an unstable regulatory regime is one factor hindering turbine production.
Sporadic tax breaks for renewable energy projects, usually on a year-to-year basis, have discouraged US manufacturers from scaling up. Congress, for example, has stalled the extension of PTCs beyond the end of 2008.

In the past, when tax credits lapsed the demand for wind turbines came crashing down the following year. If the trend is repeated this time, it may actually result in overcapacity of turbine manufacturing in the US, at least for the domestic market.

Yet energy analysts say that if the US market slows down due to lack of tax breaks, China will more than compensate.

In the short term, massive demand from China may further tighten turbine supply, but expanding local production should ease the global crunch within a couple of years. Today, the Chinese market is dominated by the top three foreign manufacturers, Vestas, GE Wind and Gamesa, who enjoy a combined market share of 47%. However, this is set to change.

Zhang Guobao, vice president of China’s NDRC, says: “We are planning several measures to support the wind power industry including localisation of equipment production.” According to the Global Wind Energy Council (www.worldenergy.org), China will become the top wind turbine manufacturer by 2009.

To encourage production, China increased tariffs on imported wind turbines in May, while slashing import taxes on components. The latter incentive, to help Chinese firms compete internationally for scarce parts, will put pressure on the industry in the rest of the world. But, again, this is a short-term problem. Government rules already require that turbines have at least 70% domestically produced components. As a result, leading manufacturers have been setting up factories in China.

As things presently stand, most Chinese manufacturers can produce only smaller turbines, up to 1MW. Chinese firms are trying to overcome this weakness by licensing agreements and joint ventures with western companies.

Goldwind, China’s largest wind turbine maker, raised $245 million through an Initial Public Offer (IPO) early this year to fund a huge expansion. LM Glassfiber of Denmark, which has a cooperation agreement with Goldwind, opened its second turbine blade factory in China in October last year.

Other major Chinese turbine makers – Sinovel, Windey, Dongfang, MingYang and HEC – are also expanding capacities and shopping for joint ventures and licensing agreements with global players.

China High, the country’s largest manufacturer of gearboxes – the most critical and complex part in a wind turbine – plans a four-fold increase in production in the next two years. The company is aiming to become one of the top three global manufacturers of gearboxes, with half of revenue coming from exports.

China High, which already supplies to GE, REpower, Nordex and Goldwind, raised $272 million through an IPO to fund massive expansion. The company is raising another $250 million through convertible bonds and plans to buy a special-steel plant to secure supplies and reduce costs. Special steel accounts for half the cost of gearboxes.

Among the foreign players, Germany’s Nordex – the fourth largest wind turbine maker in China – announced in November that it would quadruple production capacity to 800MW by 2011 to meet growing demand.

Currently, MingYang is China’s only turbine exporter. But in the next three to five years, the number of exporters is likely to grow as other firms aggressively expand and acquire technology. Foreign manufacturers may be scaling up their production in China, but in the longer term it is the emergence of Chinese turbine and component manufacturers that will probably change the global landscape of wind power.

Response from the big players

With over 8,000 parts required to make a wind turbine, requiring a large network of reliable suppliers, component supply is creating the most problematic bottleneck for turbine makers. In order to meet increasing demand, leading players are rushing to beef up their supplies by setting up new plants, signing long-term contracts with suppliers and even making acquisitions.

Vestas Wind Systems

World leader Vestas, which has manufacturing and assembling plants in Denmark, Germany, Australia, India, Italy, Scotland, England, Spain, Sweden and Norway, is on a spending spree. It has invested $2.25 billion in organic growth in the past three years.

As part of its strategy to establish manufacturing in the US, Vestas announced in May that it would build the world’s largest wind turbine tower factory in Colorado, at an estimated investment of $250 million. When fully operational in mid-2010, the facility will produce 900 towers a year.

In March, Vestas opened its first US blade manufacturing plant in Windsor, Colorado, which will be fully operational by mid-2009, with a capacity of about 1,800 40-meter wind turbines a year.

Another blade-making plant in Castilla La Mancha, Spain – where Vestas already has three facilities – is scheduled to start production this year.

Ditlev Engel, chief executive of Vestas, said in Beijing in April that the company plans to increase its capital and technology investment in China to meet growing competition from domestic players. The firm has a blade-manufacturing facility in Tianjin, which started production in 2006.

Vestas RRB, a wind energy company in India that has a technical collaboration with Vestas, raised $190 million in investment from Merrill Lynch in October last year to fund new blade-manufacturing facilities in Chennai and New Delhi.

GE Energy

GE has a worldwide installation of over 8,400 turbines, generating 11,300MW.

With $12 billion in orders, including recent orders from Mesa, Texas ($2 billion) and Invenergy Wind ($2 billion), GE’s current capacity is sold out until 2009.

The company, which has production facilities in Germany, Spain, Canada, China and the US, is now aggressively expanding capacities.

GE’s commercial partner Molded Fiber Glass Companies (MFG) started building a new blade plant in Aberdeen, South Dakota in November and aims to start production this year.

In November, GE signed an agreement with TPI Composites to build a new facility in Newton, Iowa, to produce blades for GE’s 1.5MW wind turbines. TPI has also signed a long-term supply contract with GE to make wind turbine blades in a new facility being set up in Taicang, China. Production is likely to begin this year.

GE is also planning a new facility in India to manufacture 1.5MW and 2.5MW turbines, though no time frame has been announced.

Prolec GE, a joint venture between GE Energy and electrical transformer supplier Xignux, is investing $50 million in its facility in Monterrey, Mexico to increase transformer production by 30%.

“We are working with suppliers to ramp up their capacity to ensure smooth supply of components,” says Magued El Daief, GE’s managing director in the UK.

Suzlon Energy

Based in India, the world’s fourth-largest wind turbine maker has orders worth $4.2 billion. It is aiming to double production capacity to 5,700MW by March next year, at an investment of $1.5 billion.

Over the last year, the company has raised $1.1 billion through an IPO and a Qualified Institutional Placement to fund expansion and pay for Hansen Transmission, a big Belgian maker of gearboxes it bought in 2006 for $680 million.

Hansen intends to increase its capacity from 3,800MW a year to 14,300MW over the next five years. In addition to expanding at its main facility in Lommel, Belgium, it will be building plants in Coimbatore, India, and in China.

Last year, Suzlon bought Germany’s wind turbine maker REpower for $1.9 billion.

The company’s plans in India include a new plant to make control systems and generators in Coimbatore, a wind turbine and rotor blade facility in Mangalore, a forging unit in Vadodara, and enhancing tower equipment manufacturing at its Kandla sites.

The firm also aims to double production capacity in China to 1,200MW in 2009-2010.

“China has a very ambitious target and we have a strong presence there,” says Tulsi Tanti, chairman of Suzlon.

Siemens Power Generation

German giant Siemens, which boasts 6,600 installations and a combined capacity of 6,080MW, recently disclosed that it had four year-backlog of orders for larger turbines.

It said that any new orders will not be delivered until 2012, causing a panic among the utilities companies, particularly in the UK where the government has ambitious targets for renewable energy.

Sources at Siemens say that the company plans to triple turbine production by 2011.
However, the supply crunch has not stopped the company from signing up new orders. So far this year, it has received $2.4 billion in orders from the US alone.

This includes an enormous order in May for 218 turbines of 2.3MW capacity each from FPL, the largest energy provider in the US. Supply will begin in 2009. To ensure delivery, the company is doubling the capacity of its US facility in Fort Madison, Iowa, at an investment of $35 million.

“The expansion will increase our ability to competitively serve the North American market,” said Randy Zwirn, head of Siemens Energy Americas.

Siemens has also bagged another big-ticket order, worth $1.2 billion, in the UK from Greater Gabbard Offshore Winds, which is building the world’s largest off-shore wind farm 25km off the coast of Suffolk. Turbines will be delivered in 2009 and 2010.

Siemens has aggressively expanded its facilities in Denmark, investing $59 million in the past two years to keep pace with the demand.

Gamesa Wind

The Spanish company has 32 production sites in Spain, Italy, North America, Germany and Norway.

Vertically integrated, Gamesa designs and makes its own blades, root joints, gearboxes, generators, converters, towers and nacelles. It assembles wind turbines and develops wind farms itself, a capability that most of its competitors do not have.

The company has orders for over 8,000MW of installations, equivalent to its production capacity for the next two years.

In the last 18 months, Gamesa has added nine plants, including four new facilities in the US, three in China and two in Spain.

The firm is investing $80 million in manufacturing facilities and developing wind farms in China, and aims to be the largest foreign turbine maker in the country, with a 30% market share by 2010. It plans to add 1,800MW to its Chinese production capacity by next year.

In April, it signed an agreement with the US-based turbine tower maker Tower Tech Systems for supplying towers for its North American projects.

Back home in Spain, it created a joint venture last year with Grupo Daniel Alonso for manufacturing towers for wind-turbine generators. The combined entity, in which Gamesa has a 32% holding, will run four facilities in Spain.

The company is also expecting to complete a prototype of its 4.5MW turbine this year. The turbine is likely to go into production in 2010.

Enercon

Germany’s Enercon has a worldwide installation of 12,500 turbines generating 14,400MW, half of this in Germany. It has production facilities in Germany, Sweden, Brazil, India, and Turkey. It is scheduled to start production in Portugal this year.

This year, the company bagged two large orders for wind power projects in Quebec for 272MW installations to be operational by 2013. The company plans to open a factory for wind power components in Quebec to support the project, at an investment of $30 million.

Enercon is forcefully implementing vertical integration at its headquarters in Aurich. Here, MTA Metalltechnologie, a group company of Enercon, started making nacelle casings, cast components and steel parts at the end of 2007. The unit will add manufacturing of generator rings this year.

The company is also ramping up capacity in Portugal. At the end of last year, its rotor blade facility in Viana do Castelo started production for the Portuguese market. Two more plants are being built nearby, to be operational later this year.

Who will be top dog?

Vestas and Suzlon are the firms most aggressively expanding their capacity and can be expected to continue their global dominance.

Vestas, which has close relations with the major power utility firms, is banking on China to achieve its target of 25% share of the world market.

This year, Suzlon became only the second vertically integrated wind power manufacturer in the world, after Gamesa. This allows it to have better control over its supplies. Suzlon also has access to cheap labor in India, huge experience in the industry, a global network of suppliers and subsidiaries, and strategic acquisitions. The company looks well placed to profit from rocketing demand.

Safety concerns

As it gets bigger, the wind power industry faces a few safety issues. Several cases have been reported of turbines collapsing.

Two Vestas turbines collapsed in Hornslet, Denmark early this year, prompting an investigation by the Danish climate minister Connie Hedegaard. Another two collapsed in the UK last November and December, sparking a joint investigation by the company and the UK Health and Safety Executive. The first incident took place in Scotland; the second in Cumbria.

Siemens was fined $10,500 for safety violations in February after a six-month probe into the collapse last August of a turbine in Sherman County in Oregon, in the US. One worker was killed.

In February this year, Edison International, a wind farm operator in the US Midwest, complained that the blades of its 144-foot-long turbines, supplied by Suzlon, had started to split at three sites. Similar problems were reported at the sites of another customer, Deere & Co. Suzlon reacted by recalling 1,251 turbine blades.

As the manufacturers pursue rapid expansion and delivery, and produce larger and taller turbines, it looks like they will also need to lift their safety standards to match.