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Here comes the sun: India’s trains go solar

My time at The Engineer last week was dominated by repurposed trains and nuclear waste, and in the blog last Friday I signed off by suggesting nuclear-powered trains might become a reality at some point, potentially solving two problems at once. The wider point I was trying to make was about the need to maximise our infrastructure and resources, whether by refitting old London Underground stock, or extracting more energy from nuclear waste instead of burying it a kilometre under the ground.

In hindsight, a nuclear reactor on board a vehicle moving at several hundred kilometres per hour may not be the safest or most practical idea I’ve ever had. Indian Railways (IR), however, has come up with a much more sensible way to harness nuclear fusion while maximising its infrastructure – solar energy.

Car ownership in India is low, with about 20 vehicles per 1,000 people. The railways are the lifeblood of the country, helping to keep the population moving and the economy ticking over. IR is also the fourth biggest employer in the world, providing work for over a million people. Having travelled on it fairly extensively myself many years ago, I can attest that the rail network is a huge source of national pride, and extremely well run.

Unfortunately, the diesel-powered trains are not exactly world-leading when it comes to energy efficiency, and IR consumed over 17.5 billion kWh of electricity during 2013-14. This works out at roughly 4000 MW, or about 1.8 per cent of the country’s total power generation. As part of a nationwide push towards integrating more solar into India’s energy mix, IR has been tasked with generating 1,000 MW of solar capacity within the next five years, alongside 200 MW of wind capacity. Considering that installed solar capacity across the whole country is only just over 4,000 MW, it’s an ambitious target.

Trains would still of course require diesel-run engines for locomotion, but the current plan is for solar to take on the lighting and cooling load. One report has claimed that a train using solar power could cut diesel consumption by up to 90,000 litres per year, reducing CO2 emissions by over 200 tonnes. It may not save the planet in one fell swoop, but it’s a promising move in the right direction for a country that has become one of the world’s biggest polluters during its economic boom.

A pilot project is underway, with one coach of the passenger train Rewari-Sitapur having solar panels fitted to its rooftop. The panels have been generating 17 kWh of electricity every day, which has been used for the lighting load. It’s about one billionth of the overall annual consumption of IR, but it’s only one carriage over one day. Extrapolate over every train carriage in India, over an entire year, and the picture begins to change. Add in plans for regenerative braking, LED lighting and the wider adoption of biodiesel, and the numbers could start to have some real impact.

But trains aren’t the only assets that Indian Railways can gear up for solar. It’s estimated that the country has over 8,000 stations, and while it may not be practical or economical to outfit them all, there’s certainly a whole lot of juice out there to be harvested. In the renewables mix, wind still outweighs solar by about six to one, but with some parts of India averaging more than 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, it’s a resource the country is increasingly looking to. What better place to start than on the country’s iconic rail network.

Sourceable: Hong Kong Home to World’s Greenest School

posted by Kristen Avis, on Sourceable:

The United States Green Building Council has named Sing Yin Secondary School in Hong Kong the greenest school on Earth.

The low-income school teaches students the importance of sustainable living and highlights a variety of ways to do so.

Sing Yin Secondary School

A wide range of renewable energy sources are used to power the boys’ school and educate the students. Leading by example, the building uses wind turbines and solar panels and has a green roof. It also features a bamboo garden, a self-contained coral aquarium and an organic farm.


RSN: We Have the Renewable Energy We Need to Power the World – So What’s Stopping Us?

from Tara Lohan of Alternet, writing for Readers Supported News:

he environment is one bad news story after another.

The Pacific Ocean is warming at a rate faster than anything seen in the last 10,000 years and we may have the warmest Arctic in the last 120,000 years. We’re told to brace for more and worse droughts, floods, heat waves, and storms. Coastal communities may disappear from rising seas, entire island nations are going under.

If that all weren’t bad enough, there is a global wine shortage.

The bright side is that we aren’t being blindsided by an unknown enemy: Our relentless burning of fossil fuels is the big thing pushing us toward the brink. So it would figure that a solution to get us out of this mess would be pretty obvious.

That’s why it’s great that there are people like Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. While it is one thing to say we want to stop burning fossil fuels, Jacobson (and a team of researchers) are telling us how to do it.

Jacobson was recently on the “David Letterman Show,” where he proclaimed that we have enough wind and solar to power the world.

Is he right? Can renewables really replace fossil fuels? If so, are we willing to do what’s necessary to get there? Let’s take a look at his work and some other new developments.


China to invest in energy saving industries to tackle pollution

China to invest in energy saving industries to tackle pollution

China’s State Council announces plans to make green industries central to the economy by 2015

Solar panel farm

China is to invest in energy saving technologies including solar energy in an attempt to tackle pollution. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA

China is to fast-track expansion and investment in energy saving technologies in an attempt to tackle its worsening pollution problems.

China’s cabinet, the State Council announced plans on Sunday to make the energy saving sector a “pillar” of the economy by 2015. In a statement the council said that under the new plan the environmental protection sector will grow by 15% on average annually, reaching an output of 4.5 trillion yuan (£474 billion).

China’s massive economic growth has come at a major cost to its environment and even its environmental ministry has described the country’s environmental situation as “grim”.

Under the plan, environmental protection industries will receive funding from the government in an effort to stimulate technological innovation. The funding will cover a wide range of technologies that address air, water and soil pollution including energy saving products, waste disposal, electric vehicles and pollution monitoring.

Many analysts welcomed the plan and some were quoted in the Chinese media as saying that it will create opportunities for investors and will give direction to the industry.

“It’s good to see this and it’s an indication that development of environmental protection and energy saving industry is a priority, since it’s coming from the State Council,” said Alvin Lin, China Climate and Energy Policy Director with the Natural Resources Defense Council in Beijing. The plan also includes policies, standards, pilot programmes, financing mechanisms and incentives, emissions and carbon trading said Lin.

However Lin believes that the plan is “vulnerable to being so broad as to be lacking focus and hard to implement.

“I think it could discuss more on the importance of implementing standards and policies in order to create the demand for the energy saving and environmental protection market, and the importance of accurate measurement and public reporting to ensure standards are met,” he said.

Ailun Yang, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute, said the initiative is “encouraging”. “It shows the ambition of the Chinese government to tackle its growing environmental problems while making the country the world’s biggest manufacturer of the environmental protection technologies.” She added however that more details need to be known before it is possible to assess the effectiveness of the new plan.

Tackling pollution has been a priority of the new administration under Xi Jinping, especially as pollution has become a major concern among Chinese citizens and is one of the main causes of social unrest. In an effort to tackle the problem, China has also committed to reducing its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by 40-45% by 2020 from 2005 levels and is aiming to increase renewable energy to 15% of its total energy consumption.

“Going forward, I think it would be important to develop a yearly inventory of various energy saving and emissions reduction products and services to get a more accurate idea of the growing size of the industry and the economic value and green jobs created, to demonstrate the economic benefits of improving the environment,” said Lin.

The announcement that funding will be available to environmental protection industries may help China’s ailing solar industry. In recent years the Chinese solar industry has been struggling with overcapacity, international trade disputes and slowing global demand.

“The problem with the solar industry is that China didn’t have a strong domestic market while the manufacturing capacity of the Chinese solar industry was overwhelming,” said Yang. The new plan should prioritise creating an “enabling environment and support the development of domestic market,” she said.

Solar panel slims down to a few atoms thick

Solar panel slims down to a few atoms thick

2 May 2013Simon Hadlington


The incredibly thin cell. Graphene (light blue); dichalcogenide (white+blue); nanoparticles (gold); boron nitride (purple+beige) © Science/AAAS

An international team of researchers has constructed an atom thin photovoltaic device with unusually high quantum efficiency – a measure of the photons converted into charge carrying electrons – of 30%. The structure consists of a sandwich of a semiconducting transition metal dichalcogenide (TMDC) and sheets of graphene. The work extends the range of new ‘heterostructures’ based on two-dimensional atomic crystals being developed by materials scientists and could lead to new types of flexible solar cells or phototransistors.

TMDCs are layered materials consisting of a triangular lattice of transition metal atoms sandwiched between two triangular lattices of chalcogen atoms – sulfur, selenium or tellurium. They are known to have potent photon–electron interactions because of the presence within the lattice of Van Hove singularities – a quantum mechanical feature which makes electrons peculiarly susceptible to external perturbations, such as stimulation by light.

‘Layer by layer we constructed a sandwich of atomically thin components,’ says team member Antonio Castro Neto of the University of Boston, US, currently working at the National University of Singapore. Boron nitride forms the outer layer, as an insulator and protective film; the next layer consists of graphene as a tough, transparent and flexible conductor; and the TMDC is the ‘meat’ of the sandwich. As light hits the TMDC it dislodges electrons, which are collected by the graphene electrodes, ready to be harnessed for carrying out work. The scientists also discovered that peppering the graphene surface with gold nanoparticles enhanced light absorption.

solar cell

The new solar cell is a sandwich of atom thin materials

‘Overall the device is no thicker than about 20Å,’ says Castro Neto. ‘We wanted to see if something this thin could efficiently produce an electric current, and we showed that even something a few atoms thick can turn 30% of the energy of photons into electricity.’

‘I think TMDC should make very good transistors, since the off current should be able to be very low – single atomic layer – and the on current should be very high due to high mobility,’ says Henry Snaith, a photovoltaics expert at the University of Oxford, UK. ‘In addition, the possibility to interact with light makes phototransistors, and hence highly sensitive photodetectors, very possible.’ Snaith is less convinced that the system will result in new solar cells as stacking the devices will cut their efficiency.

Castro Neto says that the next step is to investigate other two-dimensional semiconductor crystals in the system to further increase its efficiency. They also plan to look into other combinations of materials to create novel heterostructures, as well as to engineer the system to improve the performance.


L Britnell et al, Science, 2013, DOI: 10.1126/science.1235547

BrightSource Walks Away From Rio Mesa ‘For Now’

BrightSource Walks Away From Rio Mesa ‘For Now’

By Chris Clarke
KCET TV (Burbank, CA)

BrightSource Energy, which had called its planned 500-megawatt Rio Mesa concentrating solar project a crucial step in developing reliable solar power generation, now says it’s putting that project on hold. Citing mounting obstacles to the project, the company has backed out of a controversial contract to sell energy from the plant to Southern California Edison (SCE), and says it will be focusing its efforts on the nearby proposed Palen Solar Power plant in Riverside County.
Artist’s conception, Rio Mesa solar project | Image courtesy California Energy Commission

The firm made its announcement by way of an interview with reporter K Kaufmann in the Palm Springs Desert Sun on Saturday. Joe Desmond, BrightSource’s vice president for government affairs, told Kaufmann that demands for further study of the project’s likely environmental and economic impacts meant BrightSource “could no longer meet the commercial terms of our agreement for the project.” The plant would have needed approval from the California Energy Commission by June in order to meet the terms of its power purchase agreement with SCE.

The project, proposed for 4,070 acres of open desert south of Blythe, would have generated a maximum of 500 megawatts of electrical power by way of two 250-megawatt steam turbines mounted atop 750-foot towers. Each tower would have been surrounded by tens of thousands of mirrored heliostats which would have focused solar energy on the turbines’ boilers.

The Rio Mesa project has been beset by one obstacle after another over the past few months. In early 2012 news got out that surveyors had found what has turned out to be a world-class Ice Age fossil deposit on the site, with finds including mammoth ivory and what appears to be an entire fossilized desert tortoise burrow, complete with unhatched eggs.

In October, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved just one of two power purchase agreements between BrightSource and SCE for power from Rio Mwsa, citing the high projected cost of power as its reason for denying the other:

The [Rio Mesa 1 and 2] projects compare poorly on price and value relative to other solar thermal projects offered to SCE at the time the amended and restated PPAs were being negotiated and executed. SCE had the option to choose from 18 of 19 solar thermal projects totaling over 2,300 MW in combined capacity resulting from its 2011 RPS Solicitation that were all materially higher in value than the Rio Mesa 1 and Rio Mesa 2 projects.

As we reported in October, the CPUC approved one of the Rio Mesa power purchase agreements, rather than vetoing both, in an effort to lend support to BrightSource’s development of solar thermal storage technology. In thermal storage plants, solar heat is used to melt a substance, usually a salt, which can then heat fluid in a boiler well after the sun sets. In a meeting with ReWire in October, BrightSource’s Joe Desmond characterized his firm’s planned thermal storage technology as a likely solution to renewable energy’s pesky intermittency problem — the fact that solar panels stop producing power when the sun goes down, just as people start turning on their electric lights.

Rio Mesa would not have incorporated thermal storage technology, but Desmond told ReWire in October that BrightSource would be approaching that technology by increment, with Rio Mesa one of the steps along the way. “We can’t just jump into building thermal storage without experience with the second phase of our technology, which we’ve planned for Rio Mesa,” Desmond said. When the CPUC approved one of Rio Mesa’s power purchaser agreements, it was with the explicit understanding that this was a ratepayer investment in thermal storage technology, which BrightSource hoped to implement in a planned 540-megawatt plant, Sonoran West, northwest of Rio Mesa.

Though paleontology and expensive power were definitely stumbling blocks for BrightSource, the biggest obstacle to Rio Mesa was very likely concern over the plant’s impact on wildlife, especially of the flying variety. For months, wildlife advocates including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have asked pointed questions about the effect of concentrated solar energy, called “solar flux,” from the projects’ thousands of mirrors on birds, bats and insects who fly into the path of the concentrated energy. The mirrors themselves also pose a potential threat, likely appearing as open water or sky and suggesting the possibility that animals would fly into the mirrors and be injured. Fish and Wildlife recently weighed in with an extensive list of concerns over insufficient data by which to gauge threats from the Rio Mesa project to local wildlife, either living in the adjacent desert or visiting from the nearby Cibola National Wildlife Refuge.

Much of the concern over mirror collisions and solar flux injury has been directed equally toward Rio Mesa and its near-twin, BrightSource’s proposed Hidden Hills project east of Death Valley. The issues shared by the two proposals were similar enough that California Energy Commission combined proceedings on the two projects as regards wildlife issues. The impact on Hidden Hills of the Rio Mesa back-burnering remains to be seen. Though Hidden Hills doesn’t have an adjacent National Wildlife Refuge, it does host a significant avian population due to nearby springs, sky-island mountain ranges and the Amargosa River.

BrightSource says that the company’s focus post-Rio Mesa will be on getting its Palen project up and running, which almost certainly involves setting the clock back on getting the firm’s “phase two” technology field tested. BrightSource bought Palen in 2012 from the bankrupt German firm Solar Millennium, and is redesigning the project from the solar trough thermal Solar Millennium had planned to BrightSource’s power tower technology. That redesign will certainly mean months of agency processes to catch up with where Rio Mesa was prior to this week, meaning likely delays in BrightSource’s implementation of its thermal storage technology at Sonoran West.


Can solar power help shipping go green?

Solar Birdie comes into dock

ferries passengers to a golf course on one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, comes into dock

From a distance, the yellow-and-blue ferry docking at the pier resembles the scores of other vessels that hop between Hong Kong’s outlying islands and the peninsula every day.

Continue reading the main story

But a closer look as passengers disembark, reveals a grid of gleaming solar panels on the ferry’s roof and, instead of the usual throbbing engine noise, there is a barely audible buzz.

The Solar Eagle and three similar vessels shuttle golfers to tee off on an 18-hole island course. Together they form the world’s first hybrid powered ferry fleet and a commercial proving ground for technology that could transform the future of marine travel.

The technology, similar to that used in hybrid cars, has been developed by an Australian company called Solar Sailor.

Electricity created by the solar panels and stored in a battery powers the engine while the vessel comes in and out of the harbour. Once out in the open ocean and a faster clip is required, the diesel kicks in.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

I think in 50 to 100 years, all ships will have solar sails”

End Quote Robert Dane Solar Sailor

One of the fleet, the Solar Albatross, sports two sails covered in solar panels that can be raised to harness both the sun and the wind to further reduce reliance on fossil fuel.

Robert Dane, Solar Sailor’s founder, says that the technology offers ship owners huge fuel savings and has the potential to be used on all types of vessels from humble ferries and luxury super-yachts to bulk carriers shipping iron ore and navy patrol ships.

“I think in 50 to 100 years, all ships will have solar sails,” he says.

“It just makes so much sense. You’re out there on the water and there’s so much light bouncing around and there’s a lot more energy in the wind than in the sun.”

Teething problems

Three of the ferries began operation in 2010 and the Solar Albatross began carrying passengers last year. The solar-sail technology is also in use in two ferries in Shanghai and Sydney.

Solar panels help power the world’s first fleet of hybrid ferries in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Jockey Club, which runs the golf course on Kau Sai Chau island, says its has seen “significant fuel savings” but was still monitoring the overall performance of the ferries.

Mr Dane says that on the golf course-run, the hybrid technology saves 8% or 17% on the fuel bill, depending on the route taken. However, repair and maintenance costs have been more than anticipated.

“The Jockey Club is a new operator so there’s a learning curve for them and the new technology,” he says.

Despite the teething problems, Mr Dane is confident of future sales.

He says he is in the “early stages” of discussions with the operators of Hong Kong’s iconic star ferry, which has been shuttling across Victoria Harbour since 1880, about fitting solar panels on one of their vessels.

Solar Albatross in Hong Kong with solar sails raised

And in Australia, he hopes to clinch deals this year with the operator of a river ferry and install the technology on two ocean research vessels.

There are other solar-powered ships in operation such as the catamaran Turanor PlanetSolar, which is circumnavigating the globe exclusively by harnessing the power of the sun. However, Mr Dane says the technology developed by his company is the most commercially tested.

More ambitiously, Mr Dane says the company will soon announce a trial with an Australian mining company to attach a 40m (130ft) tall solar sail to a newly built bulk carrier that will ship iron ore and other raw materials to China.

Solar Sailor is in talks with an Australian mining company about installing a solar sail on a bulk carrier that transports iron ore and other raw materials

He likens the sail to a “giant windmill blade” that would be covered in solar panels and fold down into the vessel when it is docking and transferring cargo.

By harnessing the wind, the company estimates that the giant sail could shave 20% to 40%, or around A$3m (£2m; $3.1m), off a ship’s annual fuel bill when travelling at 16 knots (18mph), with the solar panels contributing an extra 3% to 6% saving.

“The systems were are installing are worth around A$6 million and therefore the return of investment would be a couple of years at the current oil price,” he says.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to do it, it’s a matter of how – right now we are working out the details.”

Green oceans

If, as Mr Dane hopes, the technology is adopted more widely, it also has the potential to clean up the shipping industry, which environmental campaigners claim emits more greenhouse gases than commercial aviation.

Roughly 50,000 ships carry 90% of the world’s trade cargo, and these ships tend to burn a heavily polluting oil known as bunker fuel.

The Solar Albatross ferry, in part powered by two solar sails, comes into dock with sails lowered

“It’s like tar, you have to heat it up to make it liquid so it will flow,” says Mr Dane.

“These incredibly powerful engines run on incredibly cheap but dirty fuel so what we can do in the short-term is to ensure they use less fuel.”

The industry has proved hard for governments to regulate as it does not fall into one jurisdiction, however the United Nations International Maritime Organization has recently introduced new regulations on fuel efficiency and sulphur emissions that could drive demand for Solar Sailor’s technology.

Mr Dane is optimistic about the company’s future even though after more than a decade of doing business it has yet to turn a profit.

He says the company will in future focus on areas less affected the global economic downturn such as defence, with plans afoot to use the technology in unmanned ocean vehicles that could replace navy patrol boats.

“We know (our technology) works. We know the return on investment but there’s been factors outside our control like the economic environment that have inhibited what we are doing,” Mr Dane says.

“We think we’re at a very exciting point with regards to profitability and one of the projects (we’re working on) will make us incredibly profitable in 2012.”

World Changing Ideas: 20 Ways to Build a Cleaner, Healthier, Smarter World

From solar power to powering our planet with garbage, Scientific American explores ideas that would improve our planet

By Christopher MimsAmanda SchupakMichael MoyerSarah SimpsonJohn PavlusGregory Mone,Melinda Wenner and Katherine Harmon | November 23, 2009

The Power of Garbage
Trapped lightning could help zap trash and generate electricity
By John Pavlus

Trash is loaded with the energy trapped in its chemical bonds. Plasma gasification, a technology that has been in development for decades, could finally be ready to extract it.

In theory, the process is simple. Torches pass an electric current through a gas (often ordinary air) in a chamber to create a superheated plasma—an ionized gas with a temperature upward of 7,000 degrees Celsius, hotter than the surface of the sun. When this occurs naturally we call it lightning, and plasma gasification is literally lightning in a bottle: the plasma’s tremendous heat dissociates the molecular bonds of any garbage placed inside the chamber, converting organic compounds into syngas (a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen) and trapping everything else in an inert vitreous solid called slag. The syngas can be used as fuel in a turbine to generate electricity. It can also be used to create ethanol, methanol and biodiesel. The slag can be processed into materials suitable for use in construction.

In practice, the gasification idea has been unable to compete economically with traditional municipal waste processing. But the maturing technology has been coming down in cost, while energy prices have been on the rise. Now “the curves are finally crossing—it’s becoming cheaper to take the trash to a plasma plant than it is to dump it in a landfill,” says Louis Circeo, director of Plasma Research at the Georgia Tech Research Institute. Earlier this summer garbage-disposal giant Waste Management partnered with InEnTec, an Oregon-based start-up, to begin commercializing the latter’s plasma-gasification processes. And major pilot plants capable of processing 1,000 daily tons of trash or more are under development in Florida, Louisiana and California.

Plasma isn’t perfect. The toxic heavy metals sequestered in slag pass the Environmental Protection Agency’s leachability standards (and have been used in construction for years in Japan and France) but still give pause to communities considering building the plants. And although syngas-generated electricity has an undeniably smaller carbon footprint than coal—“For every ton of trash you process with plasma, you reduce the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere by about two tons,” Circeo says—it is still a net contributor of greenhouse gases.

“It is too good to be true,” Circeo admits, “but the EPA has estimated that if all the municipal solid waste in the U.S. were processed with plasma to make electricity, we could produce between 5 and 8 percent of our total electrical needs—equivalent to about 25 nuclear power plants or all of our current hydropower output.” With the U.S. expected to generate a million tons of garbage every day by 2020, using plasma to reclaim some of that energy could be too important to pass up.

AfDB, Eskom sign $365m in loan pacts

26 sept. 2011

Electricity utility Eskom and the African Development Bank (AfDB) have signed two loan agreements for a total value of US$365 million that will enable the first large-scale implementation of renewable wind and solar generation in Eskom’s history.

The loan signing ceremony took place in Washington, DC on the sidelines of the 2011 World Bank/IMF Annual Meetings at the weekend.

The loans consist of $265 million from the AfDB’s own resources and $100 million from the resources of the Clean Technology Fund, a climate investment fund that promotes the transfer of low carbon technologies.

The loans are guaranteed by the South African Government, consistent with the AfDB’s procedures.

South Africa’s Minister of Public Enterprises, Malusi Gigaba, and Minister of Finance, Pravin Gordhan, signed the guarantee agreements.

Approved by the AfDB board in May, the loans will further Eskom’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint. The company hopes to begin construction of its planned Sere 100 megawatt wind project at Vredendal, in South Africa’s Western Cape, early next year.

The AfDB financing is part of a broader funding plan for Eskom’s renewable projects, which includes sourcing from other development finance agencies.

Eskom has enjoyed a long relationship with the African Development Bank. In 2008, the AfDB approved and signed a first loan with Eskom of USD500 million. In December 2009 the AfDB signed a further EUR 1.86 billion-equivalent loan with Eskom for the Medupi Power Project. These

AfDB loans to Eskom have reinforced the extent to which institutions based on the African continent can provide support, which fosters regional growth.

Eskom CEO Brian Dames said: “We are committed to a cleaner energy future and we now have the capability to implement our large-scale wind and solar generation projects. We appreciate the roles the African Development Bank and the South African government have played in making this possible.”

AfDB President Donald Kaberuka, who signed the current loan agreements on behalf of his institution, said: “The AfDB is committed to supporting South Africa’s long-term plans for moving to a lower carbon growth path. Leveraging and accelerating the disbursement of concessional climate Financing is essential to achieve economic viability of some of the clean technology solutions. This is a priority action area for the AfDB.

“These groundbreaking renewable investments by Eskom are quite timely, in the run-up to climate change meetings (COP17) soon to be held in Durban under South Africa’s presidency. They show that Africa can make a meaningful contribution to the global response to climate change, when given the financial incentives to do so.”

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said: “We are pleased at the confidence that the AfDB has shown in South Africa and in Eskom, and we thank the AFDB for its funding. This is an important step in securing funding which will enable Eskom to contribute to the realisation of South Africa’s commitment to diversify in its energy mix and reduce its carbon emissions over time.”

Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba said: “This loan will help to mobilise resources for the development of the Southern African region. It is consistent with the AFDB’s mission to promote economic growth and improve the living conditions of many. It is also true to Eskom’s purpose, which is to provide sustainable electricity solutions to improve the quality of life of the people of South Africa and of the region.” – I-Net Bridge

Green energy sector needs a price booster

South China Morning Post – 29 Aug 2011

The use of feed-in tariffs to assure companies of returns and market demand

China’s decision to set a feed-in tariff of 1 yuan (HK$1.20) per kilowatt-hour for solar systems is a welcome boost to the renewables sector. A similar feed-in tariff in the Philippines is meeting resistance because of its impact on electricity prices.

Feed-in tariffs are higher prices assigned to renewable sources in recognition of the higher costs of producing energy, as compared to fossil fuel sources like oil and coal. In Spain and Germany, they led to significant growth in installed renewables.

Instead of simply awarding tax exemptions or grants for research and development, feed-in tariffs are efficient because payments are made to renewable energy actually sold to the grid, and requires no subsidy. When a renewable source matches the cost of fossil fuel power, it is said to be at grid parity.

Feed-in tariffs tend to initially raise the average price of electricity, as you are mixing currently expensive low-carbon sources with cheap fossil fuel ones. But this can be managed by a price regulatory body or open electricity markets, by operating at less than maximum capacity to prolong use, and can be offset by carbon credits, less demand for coal and oil, technological progress and economies of scale.

Why are feed-in tariffs needed now? They make it attractive for investors, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists to devote their efforts to renewables. While a desire to showcase renewables is good, it alone is not enough to create confidence in the sector.

In contrast, feed-in tariffs are long-term contracts (whose price can be revisited regularly) to insulate renewable power plants from oil price swings. Once economies of scale and technology move forward, we should see better, more efficient and cheaper renewables, which means that feed-in tariffs can eventually be scrapped. Coal- and oil-powered energy systems have been around since the 19th century, and to expect that renewables will instantly catch up is unreasonable.

An excellent analogy is the personal computer and chip industry: while competition and innovation may have driven us to US$100 tablet PCs, it was the US military that first had to jump-start a market for the semiconductor industry many decades ago.

Feed-in tariffs are needed now. Waiting for renewables to become cheap without supporting the current renewables market is wishful thinking. For many decades, the renewable sector and the people working in it have been repeatedly courted, ignored and jilted. Experts and investors will not risk their time, money and careers trying to create better renewable technologies if the market demand is constantly dependent on the price of oil.

Dennis Posadas was editor of Cleantech Asia Online. He blogs about clean energy at