New Zealand’s Wind Energy Association has predicted a six-fold boom in the country’s wind farm capacity over the next 20 years. The industry group says it expects wind will generate around 20 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity by 2030 – up from about 5 per cent now – because turbines are getting more reliable and operations and maintenance costs are falling; and because the government’s target of 90 per cent of energy being generated from renewable sources by 2025 would require a substantial boost in the wind sector. Wind capacity is now at 622MW but is forecast to be 3500MW by 2030, reports the New Zealand Herald. At this level wind farms would cover 0.4 per cent of NZ, mostly sharing land with traditional farming.
But the Wind Energy Association chief executive, Eric Pyle, told the New Zealand Herald the industry still has some challenges to overcome. “The outdated perception of wind as expensive and unreliable remains in the minds of some people. And as a consequence the benefits of wind generation for New Zealand tend to be underplayed.” The paper reports that the construction of big new wind farms in NZ has fallen in the past five years as the economics of other generation, notably geothermal, have improved. But this appears to have changed, with state-owned Meridian Energy last week telling analysts that good wind projects were commercially attractive at under $85 per megawatt hour. “Our best wind development prospects are competitive with brownfield geothermal and are capable of displacing existing thermal generation,” Meridian said.
Green Crude attracts green dollar
US algae contender Sapphire Energy started this week with the fairly impressive announcement that it had raised $144 million in a Series C investment funding round – money that will go towards the construction a demonstration plant in New Mexico. The California-based company, which grows oil-containing algae that’s refined into diesel and jet fuel, has gained what Venture Beat described as “a lot of traction,” through deals with the likes of Continental Airlines and Boeing to test algae-based jet fuel, as well as providing fuel for an algae powered Toyota Prius. Sapphire describes its new Mexico demonstration plant, or ‘Green Crude Farm’ – or even Integrated Algal BioRefinery – as the world’s first commercial demonstration scale algae-to-energy facility, “integrating the entire value chain of algae-based fuel, from cultivation, to production, to extraction of ready-to-refine Green Crude,” and says it will be able to produce as much as 100 barrels of said Green Crude a day by the end of 2014.
This latest investment round brings Sapphire Energy’s total funding tally from private and public sources to an amount the company says “substantially exceeds $300 million.” And no less impressive than the funds Sapphire has managed to raise has been the selection of big names among the backers. This latest round attracted the likes of private equity company Arrowpoint Partners, as well as Monsanto, which agreed in March 2011 to back Sapphire as part of an effort to identify genes that stimulate algae growth. Major Series B investors – all of which, Sapphire says, also participated in Series C – included Arch Venture Partners, Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment, London-based charity Wellcome Trust, and Venrock Associates, the venture capital company of the Rockefeller family.
Climate cuts hit Canberra
Renewables subsidies are not the only things being downsized in the Australian climate and energy policy scene, with the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency announcing today that it would be shedding one third of its staff. AAP reports that Department secretary Blair Comley wrote to staff on Tuesday calling for voluntary redundancy applications due to the “conclusion of a range of programs”. Mr Comley said the federal government’s efficiency dividend – Gillard imposed the extra dividend of 2.5 per cent on public departments in the 2012/13 financial year, on top of an existing dividend of 1.5 per cent, with the aim of generating $1.5 billion in savings over three years – was one of the reasons for the cuts.
Needless to say, news of the job cuts has not been well received in climate and green circles, with Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood saying that cuts of this scale would have a huge impact on staff, and “an enormous impact on the department’s capacity to lead our efforts on climate change.” And Greens deputy leader Christine Milne also criticised the move, saying the government should generate savings through cutting “wasteful multi-billion dollar handouts to fossil fuel companies,” rather than sacking people working to protect the climate. “It’s hard to see how the carbon price and investments in clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency can be rolled out effectively if the Department of Climate Change loses a third of its staff,” Milne said. “This kind of short-term thinking can only bring long-term pain,” Senator Milne said.
Decision soon on wave machine
Wave energy developer Carnegie Wave Energy says it is close to making a decision about where to locate its first grid-connected commercial demonstration plant. The company has been in negotiations with at least two state governments over the siting of the project, which is expected to be around 2MW in size. It said in a statement on Monday that it is in the “final stages of negotiations over the location” and expects to make an announcement soon. It had been expected by the end of March.
Meanwhile, the company said the deployment of its CETO 4 unit at a test site on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean has been delayed because of bad weather. The unit has been funded by French power company EDF and both the French and La Reunion Governments, while the manufacture and installation of the unit is being managed by French marine defence contractor DCNS.