Archive for February 28, 2014

Support for British Green Taxes

Survey Shows Massive Public Support For British Green Taxes, But What Do The Public Really Want?

A poll conducted on behalf of The Mail On Sunday by Survation has found that the public supports the idea of green levies, such as those paid for C&F wind turbines, no matter that those same levies are being blamed for higher energy bills. The survey, released on Sunday, covered a wide ranging list of issues being faced by the UK population, of which questions pertaining to ‘green taxes’ was only a small part.

When asked whether they support or oppose ‘green taxes’ in order to help investment in green energy, such as C&F wind turbines, nearly 40% of respondents either strongly- or somewhat- supported the taxes, with only 29.3% opposing the taxes to any appreciable degree. 30.9 either didn’t know or neither supported or opposed the taxes, a somewhat disturbing number but one that isn’t overly surprising.

Competing with their support of the taxes is the public’s overpowering belief that the energy companies are using green taxes as a means to artificially hike energy prices. When asked whether respondents believed “energy companies when they say that taxes are the reason for steeper bills,” only 15.3% replied in the affirmative, with over 75% claiming that the energy companies were lying.

The public’s response to balancing between energy development and environmental stewardship was as self-serving as expected, with room for die-hard proponents on both sides. When asked, 22.9% favoured cheaper energy bills over environmental protection, 20.4% favoured the reverse, while 48.4% were all for keeping things just as they are. Asked whether green taxes were a waste of money or not, 38.1% thought they were and 44.6% disagreed, while 45.9% blamed the existence of the green taxes on the previous Labour government, and only 33.1% feeling it was the current coalition government’s fault.

In an October press release, electricity and gas company SSE announced an increase to household electricity and gas tariffs of 8.2%, reflecting the “increasing cost of buying wholesale energy, paying to deliver it to customers’ homes and government-imposed levies collected through energy bills.”

“We’re sorry we have to do this. We’ve done as much as we could to keep prices down, but the reality is that buying wholesale energy in global markets, delivering it to customers’ homes, and government-imposed levies collected through bills – endorsed by all the major parties – all cost more than they did last year,” said Will Morris, SSE Group Managing Director for Retail. “Eighty five per cent of a typical energy bill is made up of costs outside our direct control and these costs have increased. So far this year we have made a loss from supplying energy as a result of the higher costs we have been facing and continue to face. “

Following SSE’s announcement last Thursday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to come out in defense of the levies.

And as for green levies, and other things like that, they shouldn’t be there for a moment longer than they’re necessary. We need to have a balanced energy policy in this country, we need to have some nuclear power, we need some renewables. So some of those subsidies have been necessary, but as soon as those industries can pay for themselves, or as soon as we’ve got to a reasonable level, those subsidies shouldn’t be there for one moment longer than necessary.

Cameron was also, unsurprisingly, forced to respond to Leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband’s promise that an incoming Labour government would freeze energy prices for 20 months.

Look, of course it’s very attractive to say, ‘I’m going to freeze energy prices for 20 months,’ as Ed Miliband has done, but it is basically a con. And it’s a con because he is not in control of the worldwide price for gas. And so he can’t guarantee at keeping that promise, because the gas price could go shooting up, in which case he’d have to break his promise, or the gas price could go shooting down, in which case a freeze wouldn’t be as good as what customers would get. So it’s a con.

However, the realities of living in England are more concerning than the possibility of a ‘con’, as Cameron put it, to many Britains. The Guardian, ever the mouthpiece of the Labour Party vote, relatively succinctly portrayed the coalition government’s response to Ed Miliband’s promises.

First they said that a temporary freeze on energy prices was a Marxist conspiracy. Energy minister Greg Barker called it catastrophic, Grant Shapps said it threatened Britain’s security. But Michael Gove said that kind of talk was overblown and should be “taken with a pinch of salt”. David Cameron calls the price freeze a con. But wait a minute – last week he said it “struck a chord”. It all adds up to the political equivalent of Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil, a frenzied whirl of contradictory arguments thrown up in the air by fulminating ministers.

With the British sitting government sweating over how to respond to such a claim, it is interesting to see that following their announcement and David Cameron’s own backing of the subsidies and inherent disagreement with SSE’s view of the situation, analysts are now warning SSE could be at risk of a debt rating downgrade.

“The increased politicisation of UK energy policy could lead the credit rating agencies to take a less positive view on SSE’s credit rating, especially as its credit metrics are already stretched,” said a research note by JP Morgan, according to City A.M. They added that “the broker’s analysis added that the company’s rating is “already borderline”, meaning that there is a “real chance” it could get downgraded.”

With political upheaval ready to shake up Number 10, and public and financial backlash against SSE’s price hike, the current political nature of Britain’s energy market is looking to make great reading over the next few weeks.

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Mighty Mites Strike Again

Mighty Mites Make Renewable Electricity From Yucky Stuff
We just finished getting all excited about a new Department of Energy project for teasing renewable hydrogen fuel out of municipal wastewater, when along comes Stanford University with a neat little wastewater trick of its own. The Stanford project involves harnessing a curiously evolved trait of exoelectrogenic microbes. These naturally occurring bacteria generate electricity as they react with oxide minerals in their environment, and if you get enough of them together you can organize them into a microbial battery.

We’ve covered similar microbial battery systems elsewhere, but  getting microbes to follow orders has proven to be something of a challenge, kind of like herding cats but with microbes. The Stanford team seems to be on a new track so let’s see what they’ve got cooking.

A New Microbial Battery

The Stanford University team would be the first to admit that their microbial battery so far looks like a science fair project, but it could play a major role in the future energy landscape.

Wastewater treatment plants are huge, sprawling affairs that suck up tons of electricity for pumps and other equipment, accounting for about three percent of the electrical load in developed countries. Though wastewater is not very energy dense compared to other forms of renewable energy, on site microbial battery systems could provide enough power to take a significant chunk of that load off the grid.

Microbial battery systems could also be deployed to remediate “dead zones” in coastal and interior waterways that have been overloaded with organic waste from fertilizer runoff among other sources.

With that in mind, here’s how the Stanford microbial battery works.

Exoelectrogenic bacteria live in airless environments. Instead of breathing air, they react with oxide minerals to convert the nutrients in wastewater.

The battery basically consists of a jar of wastewater, including a colony of bacteria, with a positive and a negative electrode.

The negative electrode is engineered with carbon filaments, which serve as electrical conductors. Exoelectrogenic bacteria attach themselves to the filaments by putting out nanowires or “milky tendrils,” which the team observed using a scanning electron microscope.

The nanowires enable the microbes to shed the excess electrons that they produce while digesting food, and the electrons travel through the carbon filaments to the positive electrode.

At the positive electron is a silver oxide node, which gradually reduces to silver as it receives electrons. When the node is removed from the battery, it releases the electrons and converts back to silver oxide.

So far, the team has found that it takes about a day to “charge” the battery. There will be many next steps to a scaled-up prototype, but the simplicity of the system could help accelerate the development process.

Other Routes To Microbial Batteries

Over at the University of Massachusetts, researchers have been taking the genetic engineering route to microbial batteries by tweaking a microbe called Geobacter, which can produce electricity from mud as well as wastewater. When we last checked in, the team had created a strain eight times more efficient than others.

As for the renewable hydrogen from wastewater thing, the project we just covered is the Department of Energy’s teaming of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory with a company called Chemergy.

That one involves producing hydrogen from wastewater through a chemical process, but you can do something similar with bacteria. One example is Arizona State University, which has figured out a way to make the process more efficient by neutralizing inefficient bacteria. Another is the University of Colorado, where researchers are working on an integrated system for treating wastewater and producing renewable hydrogen.

And let’s not forget the US Navy, which has been tinkering with microbial fuel cells that can scavenge fuel on the go in marine environments.

Scottish Tidal Power

Scotland Approves Europe’s Largest Tidal Energy Project

The government of Scotland just gave the green light to develop Europe’s largest tidal energy project and the first commercial tidal turbine array in Scottish waters. MayGen Ltd. was awarded the 86 megawatt (MW) wave power project located in the Inner Sound of the Pentland Firth, between Orkney and the Scottish Mainland. When the first phase of the project is completed in 2020, the array is expected to generate enough electricity to power 42,000 homes — around 40 percent of residences in the Highlands area of Scotland.

MayGen — a joint venture between investment bank Morgan Stanley, independent power generator GDF SUEZ and tidal technology provider Atlantis Resources Corporation — will install the tidal array in stages, with the first demonstration stage of six turbines starting construction in 2014 and providing 9 MW of renewable power by 2015.

The 25-year lease signed with the Scottish government is for an area encompassing 1.4 square miles (3.5 square kilometers), and MayGen is planning on a second phase to eventually install up to 400 turbines with the potential to generate up to 398 MW. The Scottish government is contributing £13m to the project.

Scottish Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said “we must tackle climate change. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels through better and more efficient uses of energy. Marine energy — a home-grown technology with huge potential — is part of the solution.”

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Clean Power Solutions can now store renewable energy

This is a must watch video

Energy Tides

Energy from Tides and Currents: Best Arrangement of Tidal Sails Device Determined

In the long sprint to find new sources of clean, low-cost power, slow and steady might win the race — the slow-moving water of currents and tides, that is. Just as wind turbines tap into the energy of flowing air to generate electricity, hydrokinetic devices produce power from moving masses of water.

In a paper appearing in AIP Publishing’s Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy, Ramon Fernandez-Feria, a professor of fluid mechanics at Universidad de Málaga in Spain, and his colleagues Joaquin Ortega-Casanova and Daniel Cebrián performed a computer simulation to determine the optimum configuration of one such system to enable it to extract the maximum amount of energy from any given current.

The system, developed by a Norwegian company called Tidal Sails AS, consists of a string of submerged blades or sails, connected via wire ropes, angled into the oncoming current. The rushing current generates large lift forces in the sails, and as they are pushed along through a continuous loop, they drive a generator to produce electricity.

A small-scale version of the Tidal Sails device is already in operation at a test facility constructed in a stream outside Haugesund, Norway. The pilot project has a power-producing capacity of 28 kilowatts; a full-scale version could generate several megawatts of power. Installing several such units in a tidal stream, the company says, could generate as much as 100 gigawatts of electricity per year.

In their analysis, the researchers found that the maximum amount of power could be generated using blades with a chord length (the width of the blade at a given distance along its length) equal to the separation between each individual blade, that are positioned at about a 79 degree angle relative to the oncoming current, and that move at a speed about one and half times faster than the current.

“The next step would be to refine the design of the device with further hydrodynamic numerical simulations, complemented with small-scale experiments,” Fernandez-Feria said. “For instance, trying more efficient aerodynamic blade profiles, and different angles between the string of blades and the current.”


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Poo 2 Power

Scientists Use Microbes to Turn Poo into Hydrogen


Scientists at Newcastle University have created a process that uses microbes to not only process sewage at treatment plants, but to then produce hydrogen gas as a renewable energy source. In collaboration with Northumbrian Water Ltd, the research team has eliminated the need for electricity when treating sewage, while yielding clean energy at the same time. Nicknamed “Fueling the Future,” the hydrogen Microbial Electrolysis Cell project was recently presented at the British Science Festival.


The Microbial Fuel Cell works with a carbon felting that encourages microbial growth. As the sewage is passed through the cell, the microbes munch on its electrons, transferring them to the anode. The electrons produce electricity, while remnant hydrogen ions in the sewage makes its way to the cathode. As the hydrogen ions reach the cathode, they are reunited with the now top up electrons, which creates hydrogen gas when they meet. Researchers have found that the entire process is potentially energy positive.

Researchers are still working to capture the hydrogen gas that is produced, which can be used for clean fuel or combined with the electrons to make valuable organic chemicals. Aside from creating renewable and clean energy, the Microbial Electrolysis Cell could reduce the United Kingdom’s electrical use as a whole, since two percent of the country’s usage is allocated to treating sewage. The hope is to create a closed-loop self-treating system that can also yield usable energy.

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Swansea to provide 10% of UK power

320 MW Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon Project Moves Closer

The proposed 320 MW, $1.2 billion Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project is now one step closer to becoming a reality — developer Tidal Lagoon Power Ltd has now submitted the application for the first phase to the proper development authorities. The project, if approved, will be located off the coast of South Wales and will cover an area of over six miles.

Current plans are for construction to begin in 2015, and for the project to be online by 2018. If Swansea is approved, then it will be followed by four more projects in various lagoons, according to Tidal Lagoon Power — all of which would be completed by 2023, and together (7,300 MW of capacity) provide up to 10% of the UK’s domestic electricity needs.

Image Credit: Swansea Bay via Wikimedia CCImage Credit: Swansea Bay via Wikimedia CC


Given the rejection of the somewhat similar Severn Barrage tidal project just last year, it’ll be interesting to see what happens. That said, nearly the only thing that these two projects have in common is the exploitation of tidal energy — all of the specifics are quite different. In particular, most criticism of the Severn Barrage project came down to the fact that barrages have a significant effect on the environment, whereas tidal lagoons are much less intrusive.

Renewable Energy World explains:

Though the project is still waiting on the environmental go-ahead, experts state that tidal lagoon projects have much less environmental considerations than the heavily criticized Severn Barrage proposal. The 11-mile barrage would have spanned the length of the bay. Barrages allow high tide to flow in, but hold water back until the opportune moment to capture energy as the water recedes. Tidal lagoons take up 40 percent less space than a barrage and allows water currents to flow around the project.

Tidal lagoons are created by building a ring-shaped “sand-core breakwater or rock bund,” which resembles a harbor wall, typically constructed from mainly sand and rock. Turbines mounted in concrete casing are submerged and lined within the wall. When the tide moves in and out, the wall holds water back, and once it reaches a certain level, gates are opened and the water flows through the turbines, which creates electricity.

“This technology will have less impact on fish and other wildlife than the barrage proposals, which conservationists have spent several years fighting in the estuary, and which the government has repeatedly rejected,” stated Sean Christian, special sites spokesman for the bird and wildlife lobby RSPB. “However, it could still have major impacts on the estuary and its wildlife, and we will need to look at the details of each lagoon proposal closely.”


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Waste to energy plant in Nottm

Waste-To-Energy Plant To Be Constructed In Nottinghamshire

At the site of the old Bilsthorpe Colliery, a new(ish) idea will be put to use. That is a synthesis gas generator. This plant will collect waste from Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, and surrounding areas to convert it into synthesis gas (also called syngas) via plasma gasification. This gas will then undergo a purification process before using it to generate electricity for exportation into the internal electricity grid. This is an alternative to the more traditional waste-to-energy approach of rubbish incineration (setting fire to piles of rubbish).

This is one of multiple forms of waste-to-energy power plant technologies which have been on the rise.

This facility will process up to 97,000 tonnes of feedstock annually (feedstock is raw material to be fed into an industrial process), and it can generate 16.6 MW of energy. It can both directly accept feedstock or prepare it itself using the materials recycling facility.

This facility consists of the following key components:

  • Materials Reception, Storage and Handling Facilities.
    including Material Recycling Facility.
  • Oxygen Production Unit.
  • Plasma Gasification Plant.
  • Syngas Processing System.
  • Power Generation.

There is a renewable energy option for all countries, including cloudy countries such as Britain, and waste is one such option that is abundant in literally every country on Earth. Countries with cloudy weather can not only enjoy low-emissions power from such power plants, and energy security, but they can divert waste from landfills in the process.

Apart from that, this facility is intended to be fuel cell–ready, and accommodate a 1 MW bank of alkaline fuel cells for AFC Energy. These fuel cells will be powered by hydrogen produced from syngas. Efficiency above 55% is expected. This will be deployed by Waste2Tricity in the future.

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cook your food by the sun

GoSun Solar Cooker Heats up to a Sizzling 550° F in Minutes


Solar cooking just got even better thanks to the new fuss-free GoSun stove. This uber awesome tube stove can cook delicious meals without using a lick of fuel – in just 20 minutes. Baking, boiling or frying is easy and fast in the evacuated tube stove, which can be taken anywhere, and costs less than $200!

Its easy set up that doesn’t require hours of positioning differentiates the GoSun from other solar cookers. The design of the fold out anodized aluminum envelope attracts the sun at any angle, honing its power and transferring it to the evacuated glass tube, where sunlight is absorbed and amplified. The interior of the GoSun can heat up to 550°F in mere minutes.

The quick heating means that cooking possibilities are endless. Baking bread, boiling pasta, sizzling meats, simmering stew and frying mozzarella sticks are all yummy variations that can be done off the grid in winter or summer. Because the glass tube heats to such a high temperature, food can be kept warm for hours, offering your family and friends a hot meal long after the sun has gone down.

The GoSun retains 80-90 percent of the sunlight it catches, amplifying its power with parabolic reflection that bounces the heat back and forth inside the tube without any thermal loss.

The GoSun is currently available through the group’s Kickstarter page, although they’ve already met their goal. For just $179, solar fans can get a regular sized solar cooker, with mini and deluxe sizes also available.

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Community Energy

Can Community Energy Go Mainstream in the UK?

Can community energy move from being ‘soft and cuddly’ to a major force within Britain’s energy system? The belief that it can was the driver behind the UK’s first Community Energy Fortnight, which finished last weekend and aims to engage and inspire people about the benefits of community energy. Senior politicians are on board too. Earlier this year, Secretary of State for Energy Ed Davey said he wants to see “a community energy revolution”, and Greg Barker has described his vision of the “big six” becoming the “big sixty thousand”.

The origins of this movement in the UK can be traced back to the winter of 1997, when two wind turbines started spinning on Harlock Hill in Cumbria. In this pioneering moment, the UK’s first renewable energy co-op had just proven it was possible to harness hundreds of local people to raise the investment needed to turn such a project into reality. Since then, a number of similar projects have been built across the country, from Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye to Westmill in Oxfordshire, with many coalescing under the banner of Energy4All.

But despite these successes, community energy in the UK remains a niche activity. According toCooperatives UK, only 0.5% of onshore wind capacity in the UK is owned by cooperatives. Until recently the financial framework for renewables was stacked in favour of utility scale projects and against independents, and even now a number of barriers to community energy remain, such as access to early-stage capital, complex approval processes and a lack of relevant expertise.

Compare this to Germany, where a supportive policy framework over the last decade has resulted in nearly 600 energy cooperatives owning 10% of the country’s onshore wind turbines, and ordinary Germans owning nearly half of all the country’s total renewable capacity.

Why we need community energy 

There are many different types of ‘community energy’, from local volunteer groups focussed on energy demand reduction, to larger-scale multi-million pound ventures building new generating infrastructure. However a common theme across these initiatives is the mass participation of ordinary people investing themselves, their time and their money to make a difference and reap the rewards.

And it is through this personal and very often financial connection that community energy delivers one of its greatest potential benefits – deeper and more widespread public support for renewables. Given the politically contested nature of wind power in the UK, alongside local portrayals of ‘big wind’ imposed from above, this is a lesson worth learning.

The distinction between this kind of ‘deep’ involvement and more superficial financial benefit schemes such as community payments is worth highlighting. Whilst the latter may have an important role in delivering local benefits, the evidence from Spain, Germany and Denmark suggests that success is more likely to be driven when benefits are built into the fabric of wind projects, for example through direct financial participation and greater control.

Scaling up community energy

The UK Government’s Community Energy Strategy is due to be published this autumn, and this will certainly be an important moment in determining whether the Government will turn its community energy rhetoric into reality. Its recent proposed legislative amendment to increase the upper threshold for community project participation in the Feed-in-Tariff scheme from 5MW to 10MW is a promising sign that things are headed in the right direction.

But ahead of this, the movement is already rapidly evolving in ways which are already demonstrating its ability to scale up. And whilst community energy is often characterised as an alternative to big developers and utilities, there will also be opportunities for existing large industry players who are willing to adapt and work with communities and other independents.

For example, earlier this year a 4 turbine 10MW community wind farm was opened in Neilston in the central Scottish lowlands. Delivered through a joint venture between a local development trust and a renewable energy developer, the project is one of an increasing number showing how cooperatives are partnering with others to aggregate pools of finance and deliver bigger projects.

An alternative approach is for parts of utility scale projects to be opened up to community investment. This is the approach proposed to EON by the Brighton Energy Cooperative, who are asking for at least one wind turbine in the proposed Rampian offshore wind farm to be available for local ownership.

From ownership to investment

In addition to these developments, new financial innovations are offering additional viable mechanisms for ordinary people to participate in the building of new energy infrastructure. One such mechanism is crowdfunding, which uses the internet to connect thousands of people – both local and those more geographically dispersed – to invest in specific projects of their choosing and benefit from the returns as energy is generated.

Last year £1.4m was raised in this way through the Abundance platform for a 500kW wind turbine at St Briavels in Gloucestershire. And whilst this may be small fry compared to the overall amounts needed to fund the UK’s renewable transition, remember that the sector is growing rapidly. Crowdfunding also offers people the chance to invest debt as well as equity and spread investment across a number of projects, thereby reaching out to those seeking different investment risk profiles. In the future, large amounts of capital could be raised in this way.

Although such models do stretch conventional definitions of ‘community energy’, many people have already made the conceptual leap from ‘communities of place’ to include ‘communities of interest’, and there is now a case to expand our thinking beyond just ownership to include wider forms of community investment too.

Seen in this light, the potential for community energy to scale up in the next decade is clear. A recentreport for the Green Investment Bank estimates that 3.5GW of onshore renewable capacity could be delivered by communities in total, but the Community Energy Coalition amongst others have argued that this could be exceeded with the right support in place.

We need community energy now more than ever – to involve people in our changing energy system, to strengthen public support, and to ensure the benefits are spread as widely as possible. It’s time for policy, industry and communities to come together to deliver this objective.

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