What do I think, What can I do?

Archive for the ‘Renewable energy’ Category

Renewable possibilities in the third world

 

Bangladesh location in the earth from Wikipedia

Bangladesh location in the earth from Wikipedia

The installation of solar panels to electrify 1 million houses in Bangladesh is in my opinion great news, not just for the KWh produced for those people by clean means reducing some CO2 tons.

It also means that for poor people off-grid solar energy makes more sense than whole big investment in new grid systems fed by fossil fuels with uncertain costs in the future.

Al also means that the technology developed in rich countries (and not so rich ones) after a fossil fuel based 200 year industrialisation maybe effectively used to start using low-carbon electricity in places that have not known it before.

Symbolically means that it is possible to start improving every day  life conditions based on solar energy of small-scale without going the fossil way from the beginning, becoming rich and after that reducing emissions.

And finally, it means that for many people living with almost nothing in many places, they can dream of improving their living standards without spoiling the climate of their grandchildren.

Advertisement

Qatar government announcing big solar investment.

Qatar Coat of Arms, source: Wikipedia

Qatar Coat of Arms, source: Wikipedia

COP18 conference held in Qatar has produced at least a first beneficial output. The government has announced an important investment to produce 1800 MW by solar power out of a total electricity capacity of 7000 MW. Even better, they will encourage particulars to produce electricity at home by small solar panels with a feed-in-tarif.

As they explained, the official reason to such a political impulse in one of the mayor producers of liquefied gas is the reduction of cost and the abundance of sun in their home. Good reasons, I suppose that holding the COP18 being the biggest emitter (mentioned in many blogs) is another one.

I hope it will become true, because we need the commitment of everyone in this big challenge of climate change, and the competitions to avoid last places in this shameful classification could help.

Hydropower conference Hydro 2012

image

Photograph from the conference door

This conference has been held in Bilbao these days with good coverage in the news. I was positively surprised by the media impact of this conference as hydro power was a very important power source in the past here but is not in the main discussions nowadays.

In fact, the power of the water coming from the rivers has been one of the first industrial era power sources and it is still the most important renewable energy and the most widespread, maybe its great advantage is that it is not considered as renewable sometimes or that it has not grown in the last years. Or maybe hat it is very cheap because installation investments were done many years ago. Anyway, one way or another I have always thought that it produces a considerable percentage or world energy, however , checking actual figures I was negatively surprised to discover that its 3000 TWh of yearly production only account for the 2% of world energy demand.

As I did not assist the conference I do not know what kind of subjects were discussed there. Perhaps they covered many of the questions a have about water as energy source as:

Why did they say that Europe is not so interesting for this market compared to for example South America?
What is the potential of traditional hydropower to overcome thi
Why is mini and micro hydro power so forgotten as energy source?
Are the methane production of big hydro power well determined?
How advanced is the tidal wave power?
Did they visit the small but interesting tidal power station in Motriku? (60 Km from Bilbao)
Or tidal energy was out of the scope of this conference and traditional hydro power industry?

El Hierro, a renewable island

A map from El Hierro island

A map from El Hierro island

El Hierro is the smallest of the main Canary islands, with only 278 Km2 and 10000 inhabitants maybe for this reason it was the perfect place to accomplish an ambitious project: Get its electricity only from renewable sources. 5 wind mills will be enough for that but supported by an energy storage system, when the mills are not producing electricity for the grid they will feed pumps to raise sea water to a natural deposit. In case electricity is needed and there is no wind a hydropower station will work with this water coming from the deposit. A more detailed explanation is here.

Although small (10000 people) this project is ambitious and promising at the same time. Why? Because it works in a scale between the big country and the familiar house but at the same time it is a complete electrical system as Canary islands are not connected to other grids and for this reasons they have been reluctant to introduce too many renewable sources that would challenge the stability of their small grids fueled with diesel power plants. So it has been easier to try a total replacement (although fuel power plants will continue to be operative for backup) that a mixed system.

At the same time this is an opportunity, because Canarian electricity is expensive, more expensive than standard renewable technology and I haven’t found the cost of this project but it would not surprise me to find it is cheaper in the long-term that standard power production in El Hierro. This data would be great to make a more precise assessment.

Anyway, the most important achievement of this project in my opinion is that renewables have been able to become the main power generation source in a whole electrical system that clearly is in another scale compared to a household. It is a 10000 people scale distributed in a 278 Km2 location. By itself it will not change the general emission trend of the world because even if there are 700 million people living in islands, most of those inhabitants live in much greater islands. But it is a step to change scale and every difficult achievement has been done step by step.

There are internal fights in Spanish government about Energy politics

The conservative government in Spain is breaking records in its politics against renewable energy. The time where Obama mentioned Spain as example seems far away. After Rajoy took office one of the first energy politics by Industry minister caller Soria was to stop feed-in-tarif. Later, it went even further planning a new tax for some energy sources, for example renewables. The great driving force in Sorias speeches was “tarif-deficit“, a concept deserving a post by itself but roughly defined as the difference of accepted official prizes for energy producers and final lower retail prizes for customers. The op-ed in the local reference in the sector energias renovables considering the previous Industry minister as the worse for renewables is simply outdated.

Is this the same as could happen in USA if republicans reach the white house? I do not think iso, t is more complicated. In spanish energy policy conservatives and socialists have not been so far in last years. In fact, some progressive press has criticized solar industry, considering them conected to conservative local governments. So, in this complex but worsening history it is refreshing to find p recently divergences between governmet ministers and see them became public. It is not the first time these divergences are made public. But this time it is stronger and somehow hopeful. Just two short comments for outside observers:

1.- It would be very important to obtain a widespread support for renewables, because this gives more security to the investment. For this, it is a key factor to explain how they are more expensive now but an investment for the future (as research, which by the way is suffering the same problems due to the crisis)

2.- It is important to design renewables growth not only expecting more power demand, also and preferably expecting power demand reduction, as it is happening now in Spain. This is the only way to avoid more than 450 ppm of CO2 in our beloved atmosphere.

Subsidies for fossil fuels, I signed to finish with them

One of the most interesting campaings around Rio+20 has the goal of ending fossil fuel subsidies, as explained in Huffintongpost. It can be supported in this web . I supported it convinced of the opportunity and ethic value of this message even if I do not know very well its origin but supported by the signature of many NGOs.

Some data are really impressive, for example from climate progress  one of those cases involving $29.000 million  in carbon from public lands is denunced. Current miners strike in Spain due to a reduction of carbon subsidies is another example, although the difficult social contest in this case would require a different treatment like deviating this great amount of money to production of new sources of energy as a job source for the miners. As shown in the picture renewables are not the only ones subsidized now, and if the historical data are considered the balance goes even more to the fossil fuel side because energy has always been a state issue. This would be a question of fair bussiness in another contest, though not with climate change calling to our doors.

It is really stupid to hinder renewables expansion due to the costs whereas current mature technologies that are driving our climate mad get huge amounts of money. I really think that renewables are more expensive and that we will need sacrifice to cope with climate change; but, at least, we have to start with some minmum requirements like not subsidizing the source of the problem. This way it will be easier to measure the costs.

CO2 could help us to produce renewable energy?

Sometimes the line between good and bad ones is not only subtle, it is also changing fast.

If the technology these news  explain is succesful, we may find a good ally in this gas that is transforming our climate. The concept can be explained in a simple way, they extract the heat from the earth, at 800 m below the surface and use it to produce energy. This is not new, it is the geothermal energy, the funny issue in this case is that they do it in conventional thermal power stations using the output CO2 from the combustion as the thermal conducting fluid instead of, for example, water. This way, two benefits are obtained, in one hand some carbon sequestration (I do not know how much) and  in the other additional power produced from the extracted heat.

The authors are confident with their results to the extent of making a spin-off from University and funding their own company. I have more doubts for some reasons:

  • because I do not trust much carbon sequestration,
  • because I do not understand the advantages it would have respect to other geothermal technologies and
  • because the application seems a bit limited if they have to combine a thermal power station with an appropriate geological location.

In my opinion, the main advantage would come precisely from the possibility to harness the power of standard fossil fuel installations by avoiding much of their damage (I do not how much). We will see if these good intentions make good realities or are just too optimistic or too expensive. Sometimes, when we are too tied to something it is easy to lose perspective and favour those solutions that allow us to continue with the link; I suspect this is a constant temptation for us related to fossil fuel technologies.

In any case if it works and helps I will welcome it, whereas, for the moment, I prefer to bet in the already proven wind and solar industries, among others.

Finally, it is fair to mention that my information source was amazings.com

Electricity prices and renewables

Electricity prices are a very important issue for climate change, as the main criticism, the only serious one, towards renewable energy sources is that they are more expensive. This is a really important question much discussed in many occasions. My opinion is: yes they are more expensive at first sight but they are cheaper in the long term considering a global point of view, for example with the new richness index proposed by the UN: IWI (Inclusive Wealth Index).

Certainly, this is something I should learn and write, but in this post I prefer to focus in one example and one interview. The example is spanish situation, going from leadership in renewables to full stop in feed-in-tarif and renewable industry. It seems a bad example but I think that can help to think and learn. The last chapter of this story is the sharp increase expected in electricity prices and blaming the renewables completely about it. I am not going to it thorougtly either, I just want to mention this interview with the regulatory system responsible. He is not pro-renewables in any way and mentions them as one of the causes of the price and this incredible thing called tarif deficit (another interesting pair of words), however he explains too that prices are difficult to understand, that there are many different renewables and that too many fossil fuel power stations have also been built expecting a great economy growth and energy demand, and nowadays both are shrinking.

Blaming renewables is easy and a widespread sport but Germany has made an even greater effort and the situation is very different, so it is not so determinant the global economy health seems also important. Two final thoughts:

1.- If Spain is in a bad situation due to too much power capacity this seems an oportunity for electric mobility, it could help reduce electricity costs.

2.- Maybe more expensive electricity is not so bad, if it happened in all places. Certainly it would help efficiency and would be more realistic.