Energy openness, long-running cells, and modelling the wind

News editor

The summer holiday hiatus in technology events gives Briefing a chance to round-up some recent news stories

It appears this week that theme parks and holiday resorts are likely destinations for some of our readership, with the conference and exhibition circuit entering a summer lull as a consequence.

This hiatus gives Briefing the opportunity to assume a slightly different guise, bringing you a round up of notable news stories that include a ticking off for Ofgem, a recording breaking fuel cell, plus claims about reshaping wind-tunnel tests for the maritime sector.

We start with the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECCC), who’ve published a report that says energy regulator Ofgem is letting consumers down by ‘not taking all possible steps to improve openness and increase competition in the energy market.’

ECCC argue that consumers, who are bearing the brunt of rising energy costs, need assurances that profits being made by the so called Big Six energy companies are not excessive.

The problem revolves around the way energy companies report profits, an area described by Sir Robert Smith MP as needing ‘forensic accountants’.

Its easy to why, given that a single, multi-facetted energy company can engage in the kind of business that sees one division selling energy or providing services to another.

ECCC say, ‘When reporting their overall profits they include all these different business arms making it difficult to determine the precise profits of the energy supply side of the business and how this impacts upon energy prices. Greater transparency is urgently needed to reassure consumers that high energy prices are not fuelling excessive profits.

Earlier this morning a commentator on Sky News suggested a cap on profits but ECCC committee member John Robertson MP has taken a less punitive stance, saying, ‘Ofgem needs to use its teeth a bit more and force the energy companies to do everything they can to prove that they are squeaky clean when it comes to making and reporting their profits.’

In response, Rachel Fletcher, Ofgem’s senior partner for markets said, ‘Ofgem has made energy companies produce yearly financial statements, which have been reviewed twice by independent accountants and found to be fit for purpose.

‘On the retail side Ofgem is pursuing reforms which will empower consumers by providing much clearer information about energy, making tariffs simpler and ensuring that consumers receive fair treatment from suppliers. On the wholesale market Ofgem is proposing to force firms to publish prices two years in advance. This is all part of our drive to increase competition and make the energy market work for consumers.’

Better news for Ofgem comes in the form of a project it has provided funding for. S&C Electric Europe, Samsung SDI and Younicos have signed a joint agreement to deploy Europe’s largest intelligent network storage project onto a UK Power Networks substation.

The fully automated 6MW/10MWh Smarter Network Storage battery technology project will be installed at Leighton Buzzard primary substation.

The new system can reportedly provide benefits to the wider electricity system, including absorbing energy, then releasing it to meet demand, to help support capacity constraints and to balance the influx of intermittent and inflexible low carbon technologies onto the grid.

The project was awarded funding of £13.2 by Ofgem, under The Low Carbon Networks (LCN) Fund scheme in December 2012 and will last four years, from January 2013 to December 2016.

News now from AFC Energy, the Surrey-based industrial fuel cell company that has announced a company record for its platinum-free fuel cell electrode.

They say their laboratory electrode has delivered continuous electrical power for 12 months and that the ‘design and materials used in it have been validated for volume manufacturing and incorporation into Kore, the company’s first 250kW commercial-grade fuel cell system.

In October 2012 the company attracted £8.6m from Ervington Investments and the new technology milestone sets AFC on the path to commercialisation of its fuel cell power generation systems in major industrial markets.

One such market is Korea, where fuel cells are said to attract a high level of incentives and where AFC says it is ‘actively pursuing new partners.’ More on AFC can be found here.

Port operators and designers of large offshore floating production systems might be interested in a project launched today that aims to improve the accuracy of wind tunnel measurements and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) calculations. The Wind Load JIP aims to address the lack of symbiosis which exists between the two.

Project partners BMT Fluid Mechanics say floating production systems and liquid gas carriers are getting bigger and more complex, placing pressure on port and terminal infrastructure with ‘wind being the predominant load factor on ships.’ 

They add that operations within the offshore industry are becoming more complex due to ship sizes and vessels ‘finding themselves in close proximity of one another.’ 

Consequently, aerodynamic proximity effects associated with ‘near shore topography and local terrain complexity, as well as temporary side by side operations of multiple offshore vessels are playing an increasingly important role and are presently neither well understood, nor well treated through available engineering methodology.’

In a statement, Volker Buttgereit, managing director of BMT Fluid Mechanics, said, ‘Traditionally, wind loads or wind flow around large scale offshore marine structures are studied in wind tunnels. Successful testing of these requires specialist skills and instrumentation technology that has been continuously developed. 

‘Guidelines and codes of practice for this type of wind tunnel testing exist and they do reflect the experience and advancement that has been made…However…there is a certain amount of variability between results derived from the various wind tunnel testing laboratories situated in different parts of the world, which are constantly challenged by increasing scale and complexity of these remarkable engineering structures.’

‘With continuous advancement of computational speed, there is also a growing interest in the application of CFD which can predict the impact complex wind flows can have on large scale, offshore floating production and help deliver design efficiencies and safety of operations. Correlating CFD predictions with those derived from model scale wind tunnel testing can be a challenge in its own right and does require further investment in research and development.’

Partners in the three year project include MARIN; TU/e, Eindhoven University of Technology and DNW.