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Inbox EnErgy watch Trends around the world Scientists find sweet solution to hydrogen conundrum A team of scientists at Virginia Tech Institute in the USA have been experimenting with sustainable methods of generating hydrogen for electricity production. Hydrogen is an incredibly efficient energy source, capable of generating electricity while producing only water as a by-product. Y. H. Percival Zhang, professor of bioengineering at Virginia Tech, claims that problems surrounding hydrogen production are largely due to lack of imagination on the part of scientists. His aim has been to find a solution by taking advantage of the abundance of sugar, calling the result ‘sweet hydrogen’. Zhang’s suggestion is to use biomass to produce sugar, turning it into hydrogen, which has the potential to change energy production. The team have developed an artificial enzyme cocktail capable of breaking down vegetable matter to produce sugars and have established a method of extracting high-purity hydrogen at low temperatures. Zhang has successfully used the new enzymatic solution to generate electricity within a battery. Hydro industry to expand, say new projections Prospects for large-scale hydropower development look better than they have for years, according to figures published by the International Hydropower Association (IHA). In the past hydropower has been largely excluded from considerations of renewable power generation, despite having a global kWh contribution far exceeding any other renewable energy source. But this is set to change, with developments around the world showing a significant increase in hydropower contribution – in 2012 alone 30 GW of new hydropower infrastructure were commissioned. The IHA has highlighted the three trends which are expected to see a growth in the investment in and development of the hydropower sector in the near future: regional development, increasing international investment and private sector investment. As investment in hydropower has increased, so too has research into the sector, including increased investment in tidal and marine technologies and storage. UK signs a big fracking deal French oil company Total and UK energy firm IGas Energy have agreed to a deal that will see Total with a 40 per cent stake in two shale gas exploration licenses in the UK. Total will pay US$1.6 million in back costs and fund a works programme of up to $46.5 million, with a $19.5 million minimum commitment. The scale of investment is a first for the shale gas sector in the UK. IGas Energy chief executive Andrew Austin said: “The entry of the first major oil company into UK shale gas licences is a further endorsement of the potential that exists and demonstrates strong support for our operating capabilities.” Total’s senior vice president for Northern Europe Patrice de Vivies said the deal marked an “important milestone” in a promising onshore play. IGas will be the operator of the initial exploration programme, with Total subsequently taking over ownership as the project moves towards development. Fracking, which is short for hydraulic fracturing, involves drilling deep underground and releasing a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks and release gas stored inside. But it is controversial because ground water can become polluted in the process. In December 2013 a report commissioned by the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that more than half of the UK could be suitable for fracking. Asia-Pacific region to dominate solar PV in 2014 Nearly 95 per cent of new solar photovoltaic capacity in the Asia-Pacific region will be generated by five countries – China, Japan, India, Australia and Thailand – according to a report by NDP Solarbuzz APAC PV Markets Quarterly. Expected to install more than 23 GW of solar PV in 2014, the region will set a new record for the most solar PV installed annually within any region. This record PV level exceeds the total installed globally by the entire PV industry in 2010 and is even greater than the 19.2 GW installed in Europe in 2011. The record level of solar PV demand from the Asia-Pacific region during 2014 will represent 35 per cent annual growth compared to 2013. With more than 85 per cent of the region’s installations this year, Japan and China will dominate demand. The Chinese Bureau of Energy recently announced an aggressive target to install 12 GW in 2014, with 8 GW to be installed on rooftops and 4 GW on ground-mounted plants. New investments will also continue to drive the Japanese market. NPD Solarbuzz predicts that Thailand will become the next major solar PV country in the region in 2014, having increased its target for renewable energy contributions to 25 per cent by 2021. The report adds that, despite efforts in China to increase the solar PV capacity located on rooftops through distributed generation, more than 50 per cent of solar capacity installed across the APAC region during 2014 will come from ground-mounted projects, with less than a quarter of new installations derived from residential and small commercial rooftop segments. Being green comes at a cost for Germany Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has warned that Berlin may have gone too far in its attempts to protect the environment, saying that the government must now “rebalance” its policies to ensure environment regulations do not cost jobs. He claims that the green economy will be a driver of employment, saying Berlin’s decision two years ago to scale back its nuclear power plants and emphasise renewables needed to be re-examined. His remarks come amid rising concerns in European industry that the EU is losing competitiveness internationally because of rising energy costs and, with the US expanding its shale gas industry, it is time Europe rebalanced. “We did it too well and now we have to correct it because otherwise we have increasing energy costs, which will harm jobs 8 l www.global -br ief ing.org second quar ter 2014 global


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