Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Geothermal power holds key to future

Geothermal power holds key to future - Daily Nation

If Vision 2030 is to be realised, Kenya will have to invest aggressively in geothermal electricity production.

It is estimated that the Menengai fields in Nakuru District alone have the potential to produce more electricity than what the whole country currently consumes. Indeed, Kenya is in the cusp of a boom in geothermal energy.

So far, about 14 prospecting sites have been identified, most of them in the Rift Valley. Studies carried out at these sites indicate that the country has the potential to generate over 7,000 megawatts of electricity.

This presents the best option out of dependence on rainfall for power generation. We depend on rainfall for electricity and we can’t generate enough power.

Presently, the effective installed capacity of electricity when we get normal rainfall is a mere 1,428 MW — against a peak demand of about 1,200 MW. This means that the economy has a thin reserve margin of just about 20 per cent.

The ritual is all too familiar. During low rainfall, the peak demand predictably outstrips available capacity, resulting in power shortages.

Inevitably, the government resorts to installing expensive diesel-driven emergency power generators. When diesel prices increase, electricity tariffs are automatically adjusted upwards.

While goethermal electricity production has been going on for many years, what the government is doing now is a major point of departure. It has created a special agency — the Geothermal Development Corporation — to deal with exploitation.

It has started developing capacity to drill wells more cost effectively by employing its own equipment.

Clearly, geothermal energy is the most economical electricity generation option for this country.

Austria assures cooperation in power sector

Austria assures cooperation in power sector - Daily Times

ISLAMABAD: Austrian Minister for Economy, Dr Reinhold Mitterlehner on Monday assured to invest in the hydel power, alternate energy development projects and to provide technical assistance in the forthcoming hydropower generation projects in Pakistan.

He was talking to the Federal Minister for Water and Power, Raja Pervez Ashraf in a meeting held at Vienna (Austria). The meeting also discussed various matters of mutual interest to explore ways and means to further enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries.

The Austrian Minister said that Austrian companies are already working in Pakistan in energy sector and are keen to expand their business while the new ones are also interested in this sector. He said that Austria will also provide technical cooperation in the hydel power projects. Austria has vast expertise in the manufacturing of hydel machinery, and has already offered Pakistan to consider “mega hydel power projects”.

Earlier, the Federal Minister Ashraf briefed him on the current energy situation and the measures being taken to meet the future water and power requirements. He gave him details of the water and power sector projects being initiated by the present government.

He said that Pakistan has planned to change its energy mix and is now focusing on hydel, coal, wind and solar generation to provide cheaper and reliable power the consumers. He said that Pakistan will welcome the Austrian investment, technical cooperation and joint venture projects.

As Austria has expertise in the manufacturing of hydel power generation equipments, Pakistan will facilitate the investors and manufacturers of hydel power plant producers, particularly for Terbela-4th Extension hydel power project.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A ‘Crazy Bad’ Day in Beijing

A ‘Crazy Bad’ Day in Beijing - News York Times

Last week Elisabeth Rosenthal wrote about the global environmental impact of rising coal exports to China. Sea shipments of thermal coal, used for heating and electricity generation, are skyrocketing, undermining attempts to tamp down the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions.

But there are also immediate tangible effects in terms of local pollution –- and nowhere more so than in China itself. Last week, just after Beijing’s mostly coal-fired heating system kicked in for the winter, the pollution became what an official Twitter account of the United States Embassy in Beijing briefly referred to as “crazy bad.”

Since last year, the United States Embassy has been issuing hourly Twitter updates on Beijing’s air quality, and some of the readings have been pretty shocking. The tweet emerged last week when levels of tiny particulate matter (known as PM 2.5) rose to over 500 micrograms per meter cubed. That’s about 20 times the limit that the World Health Organization regards as “acceptable and achievable” for a 24-hour period.

To protect public health, the United States Environmental Protection Agency sets the goal for the average annual concentration at 15 micrograms per meter cubed, and the 24-hour average at 35 micrograms per meter cubed.

The tiny PM 2.5 particulates travel deep into the lungs and are associated with lung disease, heart disease and cancer. (A nice summary of the risks is here.) PM 2.5 are created not just by burning coal but also by burning other fossil fuels and by things like car exhaust and construction dust.

“Crazy bad” is not part of the United States Embassy’s official air quality rating system, and the embassy quickly adjusted its assessment to a more scientific (and diplomatic) “beyond index.”

As a reporter for this newspaper, I enjoyed living in Beijing from 1997 to 2003, but “crazy bad” sometimes seemed like an apt description of air quality. On some days, we couldn’t see the ground from our 11th-floor apartment, and the sun in Beijing was often a glowing disk behind the pollution. My young son suffered bouts of asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia, problems that disappeared when we moved away.

We didn’t have the information in the embassy’s tweets then. (The embassy reportedly installed the necessary air monitoring equipment last year.) The embassy’s precise measurements do provide more specific — and worrisome — information than Beijing’s system of reporting the number of “blue sky days.”

By all accounts, Beijing took great pains to improve air quality in the lead-up to the 2008 Summer Olympics, and we all remember the beautiful blue skies we saw on TV. But since last year, China has been a large coal importer. And as it buys up the world’s coal and burns it, could it be slipping back?

How to minimize the pollution that goes with rapid economic development? What are the health consequences for China’s citizens of being exposed to such high levels of particulates? China’s leaders live in Beijing, just as many of their children and grandchildren presumably do. Elisabeth Rosenthal wonders what they think about that.

Power generator expands to insurance sector

Power generator expands to insurance sector - People's Daily

China Guodian Corporation, one of the largest State-owned power generation groups, is expanding its range of interests in the financial sector.

"Financial business will be one of our strategic focuses in the future," said Shao Guoyong, general manager of Guodian Capital Holding.

Shao is also president of Old Mutual-Guodian Life Insurance, a Sino-UK joint insurance venture.

In February, Guodian acquired the stake that Beijing State-owned Asset Management Co Ltd had in the 50:50 joint life insurer with London-based Old Mutual Plc for 330 million yuan ($49.2 million). The joint venture was previously called Skandia BSAM Life Insurance Co.

After the acquisition, the two shareholders injected a total of 100 million yuan into the new company in September, boosting its registered capital from 520 million yuan to 620 million yuan.

Guodian's stake purchase in the joint life insurer, however, is not its first attempt to work in the financial sector.

Meanwhile it is also considering initiating a property and casualty insurance company in which Guodian will take a controlling stake.

Prior to that, the company had purchased a stake in All Trust Insurance, a non-life insurance company.

Besides active participation in the insurance sector, Guodian Group has set up Guodian Capital Holding, serving as the company's financial platform.

It also set up an asset management company with Citic Trust.

Meanwhile, Guodian Group has a controlling stake in Shijiazhuang City Commercial Bank.

A source close to Guodian Group said the company plans to build a financial platform which will include all the major financial sectors.

However, Guodian still lacks a license for securities and trust business.

"How to maximize the synergy between the power sector and the financial sector will be a big challenge for us," said Shao.

"Old Mutual-Guodian will be an important subsidiary to boost our financial sector's profit contribution," Shao added.

According to the China Insurance Regulatory Commission, Old Mutual-Guodian had a premium income of 665.5 million yuan during the first nine months this year, up 35.6 percent year-on-year.

Zhang Guohou, chief accounting officer of Guodian Group, said earlier that the company is quite optimistic about the insurance sector, due to the country's huge aging population.

But for Zheng Wei, an insurance professor with Peking University, State-owned enterprises (SOEs) have to be patient in the insurance business.

"As the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission (the watchdog for China's largest SOEs) tightened the performance evaluations of the top management of those SOEs, they could hardly be patient with the business development of their joint life insurance ventures, which usually lose money in the first seven to eight years," said Zheng.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Japan warming up to solar power exports

Japan warming up to solar power exports - Asahi Shimbun

A scorching desert in Tunisia provides a site that symbolizes the end of the "cold shoulder" treatment the Japanese government has given to Japan's solar thermal power industry.

Japanese companies next month will start surveying the area in the North African desert for a project to jointly build a solar thermal power generation plant with the Tunisian government.

But it was the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry that obtained the order for the project.

After three decades of not supporting Japan's solar thermal power generation industry, the Japanese government is pushing sales of the country's solar thermal power technology to other nations.

Tadahiro Matsushita, senior vice minister of economy, trade and industry, visited an experiment plant for solar thermal power generation in the United Arab Emirates in January.

The plant was built by Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding Co.

"We want to spread these Japanese technologies more," Matsushita said, as he watched experiments being conducted at the site.

A UAE government organization and Japan's Cosmo Oil Co. paid 1 billion yen ($12 million) needed for the experiments.

"We had repeatedly asked the Japanese government for support, but the government gave us the cold shoulder," said Yutaka Tamaura, a Tokyo Institute of Technology professor involved in the joint experiments.

In the 1980s, the Japanese government and the private sector joined hands under a "sunshine plan" and developed solar thermal power generation technology.

However, the government's support in this area stopped for about 30 years due to a lack of efficiency in power generation and expectations that the technology would not spread due to a lack of enough sunshine in Japan.

The situation changed when the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan decided that exporting infrastructure, such as nuclear power plants, high-speed railways and water supply and sewerage systems, would be a pillar in its growth strategy.

Solar thermal power generation plants re-entered the equation.

Demand for solar thermal power generation has rapidly increased in deserts, but promising markets in the Middle East and North Africa are already dominated by European businesses, which are closer to those areas. Japan has been desperately trying to catch up.

After senior trade ministry officials toured Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia in efforts to sell Japanese solar thermal power technology, Tokyo reached an agreement with the Tunisian government in July to start the joint solar thermal power generation project.

The Japanese government will pay up to 3 billion yen to Japanese companies building the plant.

"The government made a complete about-face in its stance," Kazuaki Ezawa, a Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding official said.

Ezawa welcomed the policy shift as a major advantage for Japanese companies seeking future orders for building plants.

But Japan is not the only government stepping up efforts to help the private sector win contracts abroad.

Japan upgraded its efforts after the UAE late last year awarded a contract to build nuclear power plants to South Korean companies that had received direct help from President Lee Myung-bak and the government-run Korea Electric Power Corp.

Several major Japanese companies teamed up with Innovation Network Corp. of Japan to establish International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Co. The arrangement created an "all-Japan" team trying to win an order to build two nuclear power plants in Vietnam.

A number of Cabinet ministers also cooperated, and Japan won the order for the 1-trillion-yen project.

But concerns have arisen that if the government becomes too deeply involved in private-sector business, the conditions of the deals could become unclear.

To win the contract in Vietnam, the Japanese government pledged additional yen loans worth 79 billion yen. Depending on future negotiations with Vietnam, the government or the Japanese companies may have to cover additional costs.

"The government's assistance is very powerful for making an initial breakthrough," said Hideaki Omiya, president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. "However, we are being asked to climb a mountain together without being able to really see the whole mountain yet."

Omiya said if competition among governments escalates, it could go beyond a scope of what can be considered proper private-sector activities.

In the lab, pursuing a more intelligent wind turbine

In the lab, pursuing a more intelligent wind turbine - Smart Planet

University researchers are working hard to improve the design of the wind turbine.

In 2008 and for the first time, new wind turbine power generation capacity topped new coal-fired capacity in the U.S. The growth of the nascent wind power market only promises to drive down costs in the future, but engineers say the design of the wind turbine itself could use an upgrade.

One problem is that the turbine is designed to work best under one wind condition: steady. Mother Nature, of course, rarely lets that happen.

So researchers at Syracuse University are testing intelligent systems-based active flow control methods to allow large turbines to better handle naturally-occurring gusts, turbulence, wakes and shear.

With support from the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Minnesota Wind Energy Consortium, researchers Guannan Wang,Basman El Hadidi, Jakub Walczak, Mark Glauser and Hiroshi Higuchiare using their technology to estimate the flow conditions over the blade surfaces from surface measurements.

By feeding the information to an intelligent controller, they can implement real-time actuation on the blades to control the airflow and increase the overall efficiency of the wind turbine system.

The result, according to their simulations: allowing a turbine to have a wider operational range with the same rated power output. What’s more, the flow separation may help reduce noise and vibration.

Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Minnesota are investigating how to reduce drag on wind turbine blades.

To reduce the effect, the researchers are implementing tiny grooves — described as triangular “riblets,” just 40 to 225 microns deep — by scoring them into the coating on the blade.

The researchers – Roger Arndt, Leonardo Chamorro and Fotis Sotiropoulos — are testing various groove geometries on the airfoil surfaces of a 2.5-megawatt turbine, in both simulations and the wind tunnel.

The concept of “riblets” is hardly new, but it’s not yet been applied to turbine blades. Conventional thinking grouped wind turbine blades with airplane wings, but it turns out that the peculiarities of the job — turbulence near the ground, a different blade design — means turbine blades require a different approach to drag reduction.

According to the researchers, the riblets will increase wind turbine efficiency by about 3 percent.

Both ideas were presented this week at the 63rd annual American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach, Calif.

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