Europe’s first wind powered province touts renewables as key to recovery

Wind farm in Bergenland Austria

Fifteen years ago, residents of the province of Burgenland would have laughed if you told them their region would one day be exporting energy.

But since the late nineties, the easternmost area of Austria has rapidly scaled up its wind power capacity from zero to 481MW today, so that by the end of this year it expects to become an Energieautarkie, the German term for an energy independent country, company, or even person.

With a population of less than 300,000 people Burgenland’s power company, Energie Burgenland (EB), and private landowners have been able to install 286 turbines stretching as far as the eye can see. The fleet of large scale wind farms includes Europe’s largest wind energy development in Andau and two giant 7.5MW Enercon turbines in Potzneusiedl.

Now the region is touting itself as a poster boy for the low carbon economy, offering real life evidence that backing renewables is key to delivering economic growth – a theme that has unsurprisingly been prevalent at the annual European Wind Energy Association conference in Vienna this week.

Michael Gerbavsits, chief executive of EB, says the utility has invested €300m so far in wind energy, plus another €85m in a transformer to ensure the power can be carried easily around the region and beyond.Engineer builds wind turbine tower at Enercon factory in Austria

Over the next few years, EB will invest another €450m in renewable energy, ramping up wind capacity to reach 1GW by the end of 2014 and enabling Burgenland to export power and cut CO2 emissions by the equivalent of taking 615,000 cars of the roads.

The feat will be a significant step towards fulfilling Austria’s ambition of becoming Energieautarkie by 2050. Fuelled by a ban on nuclear that has been in place since the late 1970s, renewables already contributes 65 per cent to Austria’s electricity mix and nearly 31 per cent of the total energy mix, most of which comes from hydropower, with about five per cent from wind.

The government is taking a bottom up approach to green energy, urging each local government to develop their own renewables plan with a view to gradually weaning itself off fossil fuels and nuclear power imports over the coming years.

Werner Friedl, Mayor of the town of Zundorf, believes 1,000 green jobs will be created in the region on the back of the wind power boom, making a dent in Austria’s six per cent youth unemployment levels.

Enercon wind tower turbine factory Bergenland AustriaIn fact, the region’s commitment to wind energy, as well as its €9m investment to tackle youth unemployment is starting to pay off.

Germany’s Enercon has recently opened a €40m production plant in Zundorf, making concrete turbine towers for its “cash cow” E101- 3MW machines.

The factory already employs 120 people, and is ramping up operations in the early part of this year. It also has a nearby training facility for wind power apprentices and says it has made an effort to recruit local people into jobs, with most employees having to travel no more than 25 kilometers to reach the plant.

As well as tapping into local markets, Enercon hopes to use its fourth factory to reach the emerging Eastern and Central European wind power markets. Concrete towers could be floated on a barge up the Danube to Germany, or downstream to Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, the company says.

Hans-Dieter Kettwig, Enercon’s managing director, has one message for countries where unemployment is currently at high levels – switch to renewables.

“For those trying to tackle youth unemployment, not only in Austria, you should look to Burgenland to see the benefits it can bring,” he says. “Wind creates value added and some countries in Southern Europe can be supported by introducing wind energy into the mix. If you have 60 per cent youth unemployment, you should switch to a more regenerative energy source.”

It is a message echoed across Europe. Speaking at the opening plenary of the EWEA conference this week, MEP Anna Podimata, vice president of the European Parliament, stressed the role of renewables as a solution to the Eurozone crisis and a means of tackling unemployment, which currently stands at 11 per cent across Europe.

“Renewables should and could play a key role in a sustainably grown and competitive European Union,” she told delegates. “Despite the prices, renewables remains one of the most dynamic sectors in all major indicators.”

The wind industry is keen for the EU to set a renewable energy target for 2030, that would provide manufacturers and developers with certainty about the future of their businesses beyond 2020.

Although some member states have so far refused to commit to a target, Podimata told delegates she saw no reason why a 45 cent target would not prove both “realistic and feasible”.

“After three years of crisis there’s a growing consensus among decision makers that we need more Europe, but there is also a growing number of EU citizens questioning what kind of Europe,” she said.

“If we want to regain people’s confidence, then the answer is a Europe of growth and jobs, with prosperity for its citizens… That means a Europe of real economic and fiscal convergence of social and environmental sustainability and I strongly believe renewables has a key role to play in fulfilling all of these policy targets.”

This article first appeared on BusinessGreen


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A home run for renewables

When Jane Seymour and her husband Jerry installed solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of their home in Sheffield 18 months ago, they virtually stopped using their tumble dryer, as they became aware that the old machine was guzzling more than half as much electricity as their four-kilowatt solar system could produce in a day.

An increasing number of people, like Jane, 54, a professor at the University of Nottingham, are investing in so-called microgeneration to try and combat rising energy bills and take advantage of schemes such as the government’s feed-in tariffs.

“Since I installed the panels, I walk around the house making sure appliances are switched off,” she says. “I think about how much I spent on the panels and try to make sure that we can use them efficiently. Then I think about the sheer cost of our energy bills, so if we can do anything to reduce them that’s really good.”

Solar power is just one of a range of emerging technologies expected to play a key role in changing the way homes and businesses think about consumer energy over the coming years.

Under government plans, each of the UK’s 27m homes and businesses will have a smart meter and display installed by the end of 2019, allowing energy suppliers to receive accurate consumption data to put an end to estimated billing.

The vision is for every home in the UK to be able to easily track how much energy it is consuming, carbon it is emitting and money it is spending, at any given moment through a two-way communication function on the meter.

According to a recent study by Oxford Economics, the mass roll out of smart meters will cost £11.5bn but save £25.4bn, leading to a net gain for the UK of nearly £14bn between now and 2030. For an average household on a dual fuel tariff, that could result in savings of £65.50 a year, based on a 5% reduction in energy usage, as they respond to using the meters.

Steve Cunningham, chief executive of smart meter company Landys+Gyr, admits that some habits die hard, so there will remain a handful of consumers that will be unable or refuse to change their consumption habits, even once they have identified energy guzzling appliances. But he also predicts that new automated smart technologies will help to negate the need for consumers to change at all.

The Nest Learning Thermostat in the US, for example, claims to be able to lower heating and cooling bills by up to 20%, using sensors to remember and then program itself to a household’s schedule, for example by switching off the heating when everyone is out. Alterations can even be controlled by a smartphone to fit in with busy lifestyles.

Competition among people is also expected to play a role in driving greater energy efficiency. In the US, Opower and the National Resource Defense Council have started using social media to tap into our competitive spirits. The Opower Facebook app allows users to compare their energy use with friends and family after connecting with utilities to pull in usage figures.

New technologies such as this are likely to cause concern about privacy, given that energy data could reveal your daily routine and what you are doing in your home.

Privacy concerns

However, the government maintains it is taking the issue seriously. For example, energy companies will be forced to get consent from homeowners if they want to collect data more than once a day.

Experts also believe smart meters will help to drive down prices by encouraging greater competition in the energy market. A single data communications company will be introduced to make it significantly easier for consumers to switch suppliers, while a new range of tariffs could be launched that encourage energy efficient behaviour.

Tony Cocker, chief executive of E.ON UK, predicted that utilities would be able to offer tariffs that enable customers to choose to take their electricity at different parts of the day, for example when it is cheapest and demand is low.

The company also predicts that smart meters could one day act as a central control unit in the home, recognising when the rooftop solar panels are generating and then flick the switch on the washing machine. They could also link up with electric cars, ensuring battery packs charge when demand is low, and feed power back into the grid if it knows the car was staying in the garage all day.

“Smart meters help our customers to understand their energy use and then reduce demand as best as they can,” he said. “We’ve already seen from trials that our customers with smart meters really do start to understand how they can reduce energy to make significant gains. They then need the education and encouragement to help them make changes.

This feature first appeared in a Guardian supplement sponsored by E.ON

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Faroe Islands reveal the secrets of successful ‘negawatts’

sund 1It is 1pm on a Thursday in mid-November and about 40 people have crowded into Sund PowerPlant’s small control room on the Faroe Islands.

They are waiting for Finn Jakobsen, manager of distribution and production at SEV, the utility that owns Sund, who has his finger poised over a button that will instantly switch off 10 per cent of the islands’ energy supply.

He looks confident that everything will be OK, but he has also told his audience more than once where the fire exit is, in case they need to make a quick escape. Thankfully, the emergency exits will remain unused.

Instead, when Jakobsen finally hits the switch, the meter of engine number two drops to zero, and the frequency display shows a momentary dip. But there is no blackout, no alarm bell, no drama.

Why? Because less than a second after the engine went down, SEV’s new IT system sent a signal to three industrial businesses on the other side of the island, which automatically cut their energy demand when he hit the switch, rebalancing the grid frequency and allowing the lights to stay on.

On the Danish mainland, DONG Energy has up to 30 seconds to respond to a drop in demand before a blackout, but on the Faroe Islands, SEV has less than a second to respond.

The IT system is known as Power Hub, a virtual power station designed by Danish utility DONG Energy under the European Union’s Twenties R&D programme, which aims to find ways of integrating rising levels of intermittent wind energy onto the grid.

The Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago that is officially part of Denmark, is the perfect location for testing some of these emerging technologies. The outpost is planning to significantly increase its reliance on wind power as a means of reducing hefty oil import bills, and at the same time it is keen to tackle the fairly frequent power blackouts that continue to afflict the islands.

DONG Energy maintains utilities can significantly reduce their costs through the use of virtual power stations, such as Power Hub, as instead of building costly new fossil-fuelled power plants for back up, they are able to reduce peak power demands in a controlled manner.

These so-called “demand response” or “negawatt” models are not a new concept, having been succesfully pioneered in the US. But DONG hopes that Power Hub will add a new degree of flexibility to existing smart grid systems, integrating a range of distributed energy sources including solar panels and electric vehicles, while still enabling the automated reduction in power demand at peak times that defines all “negawatt” schemes.

So far it seems like the concept is working well on the Faroe Islands.

From SEV’s point of view, the three businesses signed up to the scheme use 10 per cent of the energy on the island, so persuading them to link up to PowerHub and agree to curb their demand at key times is far simpler and less costly than trying to get every home to join the trials through the use of advanced smart appliances.

Moreover, it seems that all three businesses are happy to sign up – they see it as an opportunity rather than a burden.

All three companies are part of the fishing industry, and despite running different operations, they are all in the convenient position of being able to drastically reduce their energy demand at a moment’s notice without impeding their operations.

For example, Bergfrost Cold Storage boasts a storage tunnel drilled into a mountain at the harbour side, which means it can lose power for 24 hours without causing damage to its frozen foods.

Hiddenfjord Salmon Farm, by contrast, can only operate for up to 15 minutes without power loss harming its fish. After 15-30 minutes, three to four million fish would be lost, costing the company a minimum of 20 million DKK (£2.2m). But SEV knows the constraints and the company maintains 10-15 minutes of controlled outage is far better than the prospect of emergency blackouts that can last for hours.

With every millisecond counting after an outage, rapid response is vital. Once the Power Hub has balanced out the grid by automatically reducing power demand from the participating businesses, SEV then has 15 minutes of downtime to power up another generation source, such as the hydropower stations dotted around the archipelago.

Hiddenfjord also has its own back-up generator that it is hoping to link up to the virtual power plant so it can sell energy back to SEV in an emergency, creating yet more flexibility on the grid.

But while the IT systems for PowerHub may be in place, DONG says it is still exploring the best way to reward those companies that agree to take part. Should they receive payments in return for their participation, or is the reduced likelihood of emergency blackouts incentive enough?

Anders Birke, lead IT architect at DONG Energy, maintains that if payments were to be offered they would probably be lower than existing demand response schemes in other countries, simply because the industries are not sacrificing profits by taking part in the scheme.

While Power Hub might work for a small community with vast amounts of wind power, is it really  feasible for more complex power grids?

Peter Vinter, DONG Energy’s system architect with overall responsibility for Power Hub, insisted the system could be easily adapted to other island communities. But again, he said the trick is to find those businesses that can reduce their energy demand without disrupting their operations and undermining their profitability.

For example, companies in a hot holiday destination like the Canary Islands, might be able to reduce their air conditioning energy use for half an hour at a time, without frustrating employees or tourists too much.

“We’ve started by taking our own medicine,” added Vinter. “Right now we’re integrating our own climate air conditioning system at our headquarters in Denmark to see how long we can interrupt service without impairing the comfort in the office.

“But it’s a very unique experience every time you visit an island to find out what are the pain points there in terms of increasing renewables, finding out what assets are available and how flexible they are.”

This article first appeared in BusinessGreen

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How to become part of the ‘circular economy’

You might have seen the launch of Marks & Spencer’s shwopping initiative this year, in which Joanna Lumley, as the face of the campaign, encouraged customers to hand in unwanted garments when buying new clothes.

To date, it has collected 5,500 tonnes of old clothes, making a small inroad into the £25m worth of clothes sent to landfill in the UK every year.

Or you may have heard about HP’s green printing initiative, which partnered with Universal’s The Lorax movie to urge people to return empty printer cartridges so they can be recycled into new ones.

These are two of the higher profile examples of “closing the loop”, a concept that has been gaining traction in recent years and is set tobecome the focus of the government-backed Waste and Resources Action Programmes’ (WRAP) campaigning efforts.

In addition, politicians are increasingly keen to endorse the concept. New Resources Minister Lord de Mauley told BusinessGreen he was “very excited” about the idea of developing a “closed loop economy”, although he has so far refused to reveal how the model will inform new government policies.

There are real opportunities to be had from closing the loop. Research by consultancy McKinsey from earlier this year found European manufacturers could save $630bn a year by 2025 if they moved towards greater resource efficiency and reduced their reliance on increasingly rare and costly raw materials.

But not every firm has the resources to drive major new initiatives and promote them via high-profile celebrities. So how do small and medium-sized businesses identify ways of becoming more resource efficient?

This question is a particular concern for WRAP, which at its annual conference last week noted that while a growing number of blue-chip companies are designing waste out of their products, many smaller businesses are failing to get the message.

M&S’s head of sustainability, Mike Barry, predicts the shift to a circular economy is inevitable, and warns that those businesses that fail to embrace the concept will soon be “on their knees”.

If his predictions are right, then some smaller businesses could become victims of the resource crunch, with a downturn in sales and increasing costs squeezing profit margins.

One man’s treasure

Many businesses already take part in basic recycling schemes, but the key to developing a closed loop model lies in recognising waste as a resource and potential revenue stream.

“It might sound dull, but the first place to start is to understand your material flows,” Barry tells BusinessGreen. “It’s not until you understand what comes onto your premises and leaves it, what value it has when it arrives and leaves, that you can start to work out were you make a difference.”

Richard Swanell, director of design and waste prevention at WRAP, says companies should first look to reuse their waste internally. For example, by turning discarded plastic product packaging into recycled carrier bags.

If there’s no opportunity to reuse waste internally, then they can start to look outside to other businesses that may want it. London’s City Hall famously sells its used cooking oil from the canteen to its neighbour PricewaterhouseCoopers, which uses the old chip fat to power its biomass boiler.

Design out waste

Closed loop thinking also means preventing waste at the start of a product’s lifecycle as well as at the end. WRAP is particularly keen to encourage firms to design out waste, with a particular focus on the electronics industry.

“Think about how you can make your products more efficiently, with less waste and more cheaply,” advises Swannell.

“Ask if you can incorporate recycled content into them. And is there a need for lessons that could allow your business to grow significantly if you take advantage of that close loop thinking.”

WRAP maintains this closed loop design process can be easily applied to all types of projects, ranging from consumer goods to giant civil engineering programmes. However, it will typically require firms to work with suppliers, recyclers, and even competitors to get a grip on their entire supply chain.

“You’ve got to understand that you’re not going to do this alone,” says Barry. “Someone might be up in Manchester making ball bearings and don’t know what to do, but if they find another ball bearing maker from Burnley, they’ve cracked it.

“It doesn’t matter what we buyers say you should do, there will be another supplier who’s already got his hands dirty, so this peer-to-peer learning is very important.”

WRAP has a wealth of information on its website on how to develop closed loop models, and those in need of advice are invited to contact the organisation. They can provide help in drawing up a business plan to understand the potential benefits of becoming more waste efficient, as well as tips on how to develop a full-blown closed loop strategy.

Trade associations also often have dedicated sustainability managers who can offer tips for their specific industry, such as manufacturers’ organisation EEF, or not-for-profit body Julie’s Bicycle, which helps those in the arts and creative industries become more sustainable.

If your business has a bit more cash to spare, you could also hire a consultancy to help with advanced closed loop design initiatives.

And if you don’t, you could apply for a share of WRAP’s Waste Prevention Loan Fund that aims to support businesses and social enterprises as they attempt to increase re-use, repair, and recovery capacity, and adopt innovative business models to reduce the products and resources consumed.

New business models

WRAP maintains that alternative business models will play a key role in developing new business opportunities that extend product life, conserve resources, and prevent materials from becoming waste.

Many of these models, such as hire and leasing are not new, but could become increasingly common as businesses seek to become more efficient. This can be seen in the rise of city-based car clubs, which have been shown to help slash the number of cars on roads.

Spotify and Love Film also provide everyday examples of “dematerialised services” business models, selling on-demand music and film via internet or email, eliminating the need for a physical’ product or retail outlet.

M&S’s swop shop, and Tesco’s electrical trade-in offer, give an incentive such as cash or gift vouchers to customers returning unwanted items. Amazon’s trade-in service also allows users to send back books or video games in return for a gift voucher. The old product is then made available for resale on the site.

For M&S, the simple act of returning products at the end of their life, presents another opportunity for a sale, and helps boost customer loyalty. Such is his belief in the concept that Barry reckons businesses should think about creating “closed loop consumers” as well as waste streams.

He maintains that by thinking this way, businesses will increasingly start to think about the service they offer, as well as the product.

It is this kind of thinking that could enable local manufacturers to gain an edge on their overseas competitors. “If you get in a commoditised market place and just try to sell a plastic widget – some guy in China will sell the same thing at half the price,” he says.

“But if you can offer a service proposition that says I’ll rent it and come and fix it if it breaks down in the middle of the night, that takes a different mindset because suddenly your shifting to thinking about the customer first.

“To me there’s much more economic value in that service proposition rather than the physical stuff.”

According to Barry, it is this shift that could play a major role in protecting the UK’s competitiveness over the coming decades.

“By and large the UK won’t succeed on a grand or large scale in 10-20 years’ time if all it’s doing is knocking out widgets,” he warns. “We’ve got to think about this end-to-end service proposition.”

This feature first appeared in BusinessGreen 

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Pete Lawrie’s new amazing video

I’m not going to deny this is a shamless plug for my brother’s band, but the song is quite simply one of the best around right now. The video is sleek but simple and the lyrics are incredibly uplifting.

Do watch it and let me know what you think.

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Indonesia prepares to pack up capital city and move to a new island

Government plans to move Jakarta away from overcrowding and the effects of climate change

Jakarta floods by International Rivers

Jakarta floods by International Rivers

The Indonesian government is considering relocating its capital city to a bigger island because Java is becoming increasingly vulnerable to  flooding and other effects of global warming, Indonesia’s chief climate change negotiator has said.

Up to 60 million people will have to be relocated from a number of the major Javanese coastal cities in the next 20 years as a result of increased flooding and stormier weather, said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia’s chief climate negotiator in an interview with at the global climate talks in Tianjin last week.

Specifically, the overcrowded capital city of Jakarta might also be moved to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, he said. Jakarta is already suffering from increased flooding and one major road has been demolished by the encroaching sea.

“There is a thought to move the capital city to Palankaraya, in Kalimantan,” said Witoelar. “And Kalimantan is 20 times the size of Java, with only one fiftieth of the population.”

“We can see the dangers of climate change and the difficulty of maintaining life as it is if we don’t recognise the dangers. So we are trying to get to grips with the problems.”

The government is also planning to bring in new laws which  oblige the state to look after displaced citizens he added.

However, critics of the plan warn that moving to Kalimanten will demolish the Javanese power base, so the small town of Jonggol in West Java is another site on the cards.

Kalimantan from

Kalimantan from

Apart from suffering the brunt of global warming, Indonesia is the world’s third highest greenhouse gas emitter, after the United States and China, as a result of deforestation, peatland degradation and forest fires, following the United States and China.

Earlier this year, the World Bank approved a $200m loan to the government of Indonesia to support its climate change policies.

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Volcanic flight delays top Google Insight’s rising UK searches

Google Insights, which allows users to search on the most searched searches, shows that in the last seven days, there really has been only one thing on the minds of the information-seeking UK public: When are the airports going to reopen?

Of course, many of those looking for the latest update  from the UK will not be just the British public, but stranded visitors trapped in our election obsessed nation.

Rising UK Google searches in the last seven days on 20 April 2010

Topping the list of rising searches is air traffic controller Nats, which issued the ban on flights in UK airspace. According to Google, when you see Breakout listed instead of an actual percentage, it means that the search term has experienced a change in growth greater than 5000 per cent. Indeed, when I visited the site, I found it has gone offline as a result of the heavy traffic driving there.

Nats closed its site due to the ironically "heavy traffic"

Two major British airports, Heathrow and Manchester, are next on the list of Google’s UK rising searches. As I am writing this post, the Civil Aviation Authority has confirmed that airports will begin to reopen  tonight, which could signal the end of the crisis and mean that I will be able to fly on holiday, as planned, on Friday evening.

Channel tunnel train Eurostar follows closely on the list, as thousands of would-be passengers frantically search for an alternative way to get home.

Most of Eurostar’s trains incoming UK trains are fully booked until the weekend Eurostar says, even though, according to reports, an extra 20,000 passenger places have been put on per day across Eurostar, Eurotunnel and the Channel ferries.

But championing fifth place in rising searches is Formula One, which has nothing to do with no-fly zones whatsoever – unless some hopeful soles are seeking Jenson Button to pick them up from holiday.

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