Archive for the 'Energy from the desert' category

Solar Hydrogen from Australia

Jul 08 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Giles Parkinson writes at Reneweconomy about the coming visit of Japanese Prime Minister Abe to Australia and a region thereof called “Pilbara” I had never heard of until now. That region is about 502,000 square kilometers, which is around 1.4 the size of Germany, and had a whopping 48,610 in population in 2010.

As Parkinson points out, at least one group in Australia “has plans for a feasibility study” for making hydrogen from solar energy in Pilbara. That hydrogen then could be exported to Japan, if things scale up.

I recall having started a blog with the title “Hydrogen Mongolia” in 2006 with exactly the idea of making hydrogen from renewable energy in the Gobi desert. In 2012 I wrote a book titled “Energy from the Mongolian Gobi desert” about this. It is available as a free PDF file on this blog.

So I welcome the news that some Australians have plans to study the issue. Australia has great solar resources. If they start making fuel from them, the could stop exporting their stinking coal and get to supply a large part of the World’s fuel once everything has moved over to renewable.

While hydrogen is certainly one way to do it, they could also have a look at the alternative of using the limestone cycle.

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Oyu Tolgoi Power Plant

May 28 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert, Mongolia

Giles Parkinson writes about Rio Tinto starting to build solar power for their remotely located mining operations. They seem to plan a small 6.7 MW solar project at a place called Weipa in Queensland, Australia. There the solar will displace electricity generation with diesel generators.

As the article notes, it makes sense to get rid of the need to transport fuel over long distances. One of the people involved said:

“Transporting fuel long distances for generators is dangerous and subject to variable weather conditions – it is a costly, unpredictable arrangement that doesn’t make good economic sense.”

I was interested in this development since I have called for using solar power instead of coal at the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine project in Mongolia since 2011.

So I checked what has been decided about this coal power plant project. The last information I could find says that the decision is still open. The “technical report” prepared in March 2013 says that Turquoise Hill is weighing their options, one of them being building a coal power plant themselves. And in their yearly report published in March 2014, they report an increased estimate of $0.89 per pound of copper, with the reason for that increase that the estimate now incorporates buying power from third parties. That of course means that for the very least plans to build their own coal plant are not yet final.

In contrast, in 2011 they published a detailed plan for such a coal plant, which said on page 40 that the power plant was expected to start delivering electricity in September 2013. Those plans don’t seem to have worked out.

Also, Bloomberg reported in March 2013 that now the idea was to locate a coal at the Tavan Tolgoi coal mine site, which makes sense, since it is easier to transport the electricity from there to Oyu Tolgoi than to transport the coal the other way.

Anyway, these delays are most welcome. They may very well be an interesting opening for installing something like the 6.7 MW project in Weipa at Oyu Tolgoi as well.


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Yingli Solar Soccer Spot

May 20 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Disclosure: I own a small amount of Yingli stock, for the reasons explained in my post “List of Global Warming Stocks”.

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Pakistan Solar Desert Project

May 14 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Climate Progress just reported that a 100 MW solar project was inaugurated in the Pakistan Cholistan desert. There are supposed to be 400,000 solar panels installed until the end of this year there.

Right now, the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif just came to the site and laid the foundation stone. It remains to be seen if those solar panels actually go up in time. There have been reports about problems with securing financing for the power lines, so that is far from sure.

There are further plans to increase capacity to 1,000 MW by 2016. I hope those plans materialize. But right now there is not much to see here.


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Solar Impulse Across America Video

May 11 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

I just watched some interviews with the founders of the Solar Impulse project at Cleantechnica. I recommend this.

And then I went over to Youtube and searched for “Solar Impulse”. The top video is this documentation of their flight across the United States:

It shows that this project is a great success.

Not necessarily as aviation technology. I am not convinced that solar and aviation are a good match. The main limitation is speed, as a result of having less power available compared to fossil fuel.

The power of the engine is 6 kW, which is about equivalent to the first flights of the Wright brothers. That results in a cruising speed of 70 km/h, which is slow for aviation. If you don’t mind going that slow, an airship like the Aeroscraft is the better alternative.

But this project clearly is a large success as a media project, and as a PR campaign for solar power. Just look at the people in their video above, including Larry Page, Richard Branson, and Ban Ki-Moon.

Railways have been the first to move away from firing coal. Now most of them are running on electricity. Cars will be next. And air traffic will take the longest, since it is so difficult to store energy on board with heavy batteries.

But exactly the fact that it is so difficult to pull off makes this project interesting. And exactly that is the value of the “Solar Impulse” project to advancing the cause of solar energy.

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“Security Concerns” Keep White House Solar at Minimal Size

May 10 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

President Obama finally got around to getting some solar panels installed on the White House. I recall posting under the title “Why THE FUCK are there Still No Solar Panels on the White House” about a year ago.

Here is a Youtube video about the brand new solar panels on the White House roof:

I had to watch that video twice, since I couldn’t believe it the first time. But it is true. One guy in that video says that the size of the installation is that of an average American home. And the reason for that is that “security concerns” prevented them from installing a larger system.

I am not sure what those “security concerns” are supposed to be. As the video explains, they used 100% American solar panels, inverters, and workforce. Don’t they trust American solar panel makers? What risks are there anyway from installing solar panels? They are not putting any nuclear plants on the roof.

There is of course a large security risk associated with solar panels, but it materializes with too small sizes, not with too large ones. It’s called “climate change”. Obama may have heard of it. So if “security concerns” are relevant at all when deciding on the size of such an installation, they should of course lead to plastering every last square inch of the roof with solar panels, and most of the lawn around the building as well.

And then, while they’re at it, do all the walls as well and change the name to “Solar House”. That would be more like it.

I am also not sure what exactly the “average size” is. I looked around for some data, and according to this SEIA report, there was 0.792 GW installed last year in the American residential sector, and there were 140,000 installations in all sectors. I don’t know exactly how many of those were in the residential market, but let’s just call it 100,000, and we get an average size of about 8 kW.

The White House has 55,000 square feet of floor space, which is about 20 times the average residential home size of 2,700 square feet. So for the very least, the White House would need to have a solar installation twenty times of the average home. As it is, this is the equivalent of a home owner putting one single solar panel somewhere on the garage roof.

In comparison, the German Chancellor’s office (Bundeskanzleramt) has a 150 kW installation. That’s at least by a factor 10 more than what Obama has installed.

But well, I guess this is progress.

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Ceramic Particles Heat Storage

May 10 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

German researchers have developed a new way of storing heat in a thermal solar power plant. This DLR press release  explains the concept.

The idea is to replace molten salts used now with ceramic particles of about one millimeter size. These are placed in a rotating drum at the top of a solar tower. There they can be heated to any temperature up to 1,000 degrees Celsius, depending on the speed of the drum rotation.

One advantage over molten salt is that electricity generation with a steam turbine is more efficient at temperatures between 600 and 800 degrees, which can’t be done with molten salts. Another advantage is cost. The system will be cheaper than existing salt-based concepts.

The heated particles can also easily be transported to some factory site that needs process heat. And since the heat can be regulated by changing the rotation speed, it can be delivered exactly as needed.

The technology has been successfully tested in a small 10 kW prototype. The plan is to scale this up to larger capacities in the next couple of years.

One advantage of generating solar energy in the Sahara instead of Germany is that thermal solar requires more solar resources than Germany has. That makes any advances in thermal solar energy most welcome news for the Desertec project.

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Energy Slaves

May 03 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

That’s the title of a Wikipedia article. It discusses the question how much work it would be for a human to provide one (1) kWh.

That article is not very clear, but it cites this article on the subject by Jean-Marc Jancovici, which I found interesting. He tries to estimate how many people the average French person would need to employ to get the 30,000 kWh per year a French consumes. His result is between 400 and 500, not counting energy contained in imported goods, which would add another 100 to the score.

I have discussed this earlier, at the time reporting that one kWh corresponds to eight hours of very hard human work.

Have that in mind when you hear that electricity for new large scale solar projects will cost less than 9 cents euro from July on in Germany.

Could you find 500 people to work very hard for you a whole day for 9 cents? Even if you could, you would need to pay much more in food than those 9 cents. In contrast to solar panels, humans don’t run only on sunlight. They need fuel (food).

The whole point here is that energy is extremely cheap in our Paradise Era compared to all of human history until a couple of hundred years ago.

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Energy From the Desert and Transmission Cost

May 03 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Cleantechnica just published an interview with Sunpower CEO Tom Werner. He makes some points interesting when discussing energy from the desert. From the interview:

“Large scale PV can be distributed generation and it doesn’t have to be really big, it can be done near the point of demand,” Werner says. “And that gives it better economics. If you look at transmission adjusted cost of PV, it looks like a great generation option.”

All things equal, you want to avoid transmission costs. That’s one of the advantages of solar. You can’t put a nuclear or coal plant, a dam or a wind park in people’s backyard. You can put solar panels everywhere the sun shines.

That’s also the strongest argument against the energy from the desert projects. Why go to some faraway desert when you can generate the electricity right where you need it?

There are several possible answers to this.

One is pointing to better solar resources in Northern Africa compared to Germany. Those give you better capacity factors. If that advantage is larger than the extra costs from power lines, it makes sense to put the solar panels where the sun shines more.

Another is the issue of space. Solar panels need much space at large scale. This is cheaper in the desert. And while I have nothing at all against distributed solar, I think global warming requires deploying everywhere possible at full speed.

And the third answer would be to shift demand. Do some bitcoin mining in the desert. Locate some aluminum and silicon plants right next to the solar projects. While it is true that it is better to have no distribution costs, that can achieved by either moving the solar panels to the existing demand centers or by moving the demand into the desert.

Anyway, to go back to Werner’s point, when discussing cost of solar power, one needs to adjust for the transmission cost saved, if the energy is generated right where it is needed.



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Great News About Coal in China

Apr 16 2014 Published by under Energy from the desert

Greenpeace has published a short report on recent trends in Chinese coal consumption, titled “The End of China’s Coal Boom“. Thanks to this Tweet by Kees van der Leun for the link.

The report shows plans of multiple provinces in China to either reduce or massively reduce the use of coal. Beijing stands out with a reduction of 50% over the next couple of years. This is partly motivated by the fact that coal is not only bad news for the climate. It also means massive air pollution.

Collectively, these measures would lead to 1.3 Gt less CO2 emissions in 2020. In comparison, the EU target for 2020 is only 0.451 Gt. Clearly, these measures will have a massive impact.

Such a reduction in coal consumption will need other energy sources. That of course means rapid growth of renewable. As pointed out in the Greenpeace report, solar has gone to over 20 Gw installed capacity in 2013, up from only 8 Gw in 2012 and less than 1 Gw in 2010. That’s exponential growth. Wind is at around 89 Gw in 2013, up from 44 Gw in 2010 and less than 6 Gw in 2007. Again, that’s exponential growth.

This is of course also very good news for any project of generating renewable energy in the Mongolian Gobi desert. The big market in China with a need to replace massive coal use is just next door.

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