Nanotech boosts pv cells

Researchers at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have shown that nanotechnology can increase the amount of electricity produced by solar cells. The research demonstrates the potential of photovoltaics in the power industry, and is a step forward in improving the cost-competitiveness of solar power technology.

The NREL team has found that nanocrystals – also known as quantum dots – can produce as many as three electrons from one high energy photon of sunlight. Current solar cells produce one electron per photon at the most, with the remaining energy being lost as heat.

The research shows that solar cells based on quantum dots could theoretically convert more than 65 per cent of the sun’s energy into electricity, approximately doubling the efficiency of solar cells.

ESBWR project moves forward

GE Energy has signed an agreement with NuStart Energy Development LLC for GE to design and seek a license for its next-generation Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR). The ESBWR technology will be used in one of two proposed projects to be sited at existing nuclear power plants in the USA.

NuStart Energy, a consortium of nine utilities and two nuclear suppliers, has already selected six candidate sites, from which it plans to pick two sites for the development of new advanced nuclear power plants. It is planning to seek joint construction and operating licenses (COLs) for the plants from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). If approved, the units would be among the first ordered in the USA since the 1970s.

“This agreement with NuStart is the latest in a string of strong signals that many key players in the US recognise the time has come to make certain nuclear energy remains a significant part of our country’s energy mix,” said Andy White, president and CEO of GE Energy’s nuclear business. “This agreement is a major step forward in helping to make the building of new nuclear facilities in the United States a reality.”

The six candidate sites are Bellefonte, Grand Gulf, River Bend, Savannah River, Calvert Cliffs and Nine Mile Point. One project will feature GE’s ESBWR technology and the other will feature a Westinghouse AP1000 reactor.

NuStart has said that it will be contacting state and local economic development agencies and elected officials in the six candidate locations to determine what incentives might be on offer. The consortium will also send a site selection team to each of the locations and will choose two sites by October 2005.

Brazil orders FACTS

Spanish contractor Abengoa has awarded ABB a contract worth more than $15m to install Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems (FACTS) in Brazil to enhance the capacity of an existing power link.

Abengoa is building the Colinas-Sobradinho 500 kV transmission system under a concession. The FACTS system will improve the load flow in the grid and increase the transfer capacity in northeastern Brazil.

The ABB contract includes the supply and installation of three series compensation banks. Two installations will be located at Ribeiro Gonçalves and one at S. João do Piaui 500 kV substations. The contract is scheduled for completion by the end of May 2006.

“We see a growing demand for FACTS, which utilizes advanced power electronics to boost grid capacity and increase power quality,” said Peter Smits, head of ABB Power Technologies. “There is an urgent need to improve network reliability in this part of Brazil to meet increasing demand and to prevent power outages.”

Endesa approves San Isidro expansion

Chilean utility Endesa has approved the construction of the 377 MW San Isidro power plant expansion project in Chile’s Region V. The project will double the capacity of the existing plant by converting it to combined cycle.

The project will cost $190m and Endesa has signed a preliminary construction contract with Mitsubishi. The plant will use gas from a proposed LNG terminal to be built on the coast of Region V. Construction of the terminal is currently being tendered and once the availability of LNG from this new terminal is confirmed, Endesa will ratify the contract with Mitsubishi.

Ozark refurbishes

The US Army Corps of Engineers has awarded VA Tech Hydro a €55m ($67m) contract to refurbish the Ozark hydropower plant, which features the world’s largest S-turbines. The work will significantly increase the availability of the Arkansas plant, and will be completed by 2012.

VA Tech Hydro will be responsible for the complete mechanical refurbishment package for the powerhouse. The work will include the refurbishment of five 23 MW Kaplan-type S-turbines, including the replacement of the runners and shafts as well as new digital governors and various balance of plant (BOP) equipment.

S-turbines are bulb turbines with a horizontal arrangement of the turbine shaft and an S-type flow channel as draft tube. Ozark was constructed 30 years ago, and has suffered several component failures over the years.

News digest

Canada: Alstom has been awarded a €30m ($36m) contract to upgrade four generators at a hydroelectric power plant in British Columbia, Canada, for BC Hydro. Alstom will increase the output of the four generators at the Mica plant by 15 per cent, taking the plant’s overall output to 2100 MVA, by supplying new stators, coolers and poles.

Colombia: Wood Group Power Solutions has won a multi-million dollar turnkey contract to expand the power plant operated by Drummond Ltd. at the Pribbenow coal mine in northern Colombia. Wood Group will design, procure, install and commission two GE LM6000 gas turbine generators at the site, and expects commercial operation to start in June 2006.

Mexico: International Power Group and Naanovo Energy are to construct a $300m waste-to-energy plant in Ensenada city, northern Mexico. The 12-unit plant will process 180 t/day of municipal solid waste and generate 6 MWe of power.

USA: Southern Company and the Georgia Institute of Technology are to collaborate on the development of the first offshore wind power project in the southeastern USA. The two organizations will assess the potential for offshore wind power in the region using a project concept of 3-5 wind turbines generating 10 MW.

USA: Foster Wheeler has won a contract to supply a pulverized coal fired boiler to Bechtel Power Corporation for the Two Elk Generating Facility in Wyoming, USA. Work on the project will start immediately.

USA: Calpine Corporation’s Metcalf Energy Centre has begun operating and is delivering up to 600 MW of power to the northern California power market. The power plant is the first large power generator in Silicon Valley, and will help to bolster electricity supplies in the region, which is expecting record electricity demand this summer.

USA: PPM Energy, a subsidiary of ScottishPower, is to buy and build the 150 MW Shiloh wind project in northern California, a move that will make PPM the leader in the US wind power market for announced projects in 2005. PPM expects to invest $235m in the project and will market the energy under a long-term agreement.

Venezuela: Venezuelan state power company Cadafe is to invest $300m in the transmission and distribution sector in 2005 to help overcome grid bottlenecks. Strong economic growth in the country has resulted in a seven per cent growth in electricity demand and resulting pressures on the electricity system.