UK centre for doctoral training in renewable energies to open

The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC) is to award £5.2m to Northumbria, Newcastle and Durham universities to open a national centre for doctoral training in renewable energies. Further investment from industry partners takes the total project value to £11m.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Renewable Energy Northeast Universities (ReNU) will train 65 PhD students over the next five years. Companies including Airbus, Siemens and Shell have pledged support for the research. Another 40 external organisations will work with ReNU by supporting individual projects and setting challenges for researchers to work on.

Potential areas of research include developing new materials and devices that convert energy into power at point of use that can be mass-produced and inexpensive to use. The four-year course has an inbuilt mini-MBA qualification and a two-week placement in China.

ReNU leader at Newcastle University Dr Libby Gibson said: “The energy landscape is evolving rapidly as we discover more sustainable and versatile ways to power our devices and vehicles. We’re excited to bring together expertise from across the science and engineering disciplines to work together both to tackle the challenges at this research frontier, and also to equip our doctoral candidates with the breadth of skills required to tackle the changing needs of the industry in the future.

“This region has a strong heritage for innovation in energy and we’re delighted to play a part in its continuation.”

Science and innovation minister Chris Skidmore said: “As we explore new research to boost our economy with an increase of over £7bn invested in R&D over five years to 2021/22 – the highest increase for over 40 years – we will need skilled people to turn ideas into inventions that can have a positive impact on our daily lives.

“The Centres for Doctoral Training at universities across the country will offer the next generation of PhD students the ability to get ahead of the curve. In addition, this has resulted in nearly £400m being leveraged from industry partners. This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action, ensuring all corners of the UK thrive with the skills they need for the jobs of tomorrow.” /


BlackRock to sell Canadian solar projects portfolio to Ullico

BlackRock Real Assets has signed an agreement to sell a portfolio of four operating solar projects in Ontario, Canada, to Ullico for an undisclosed sum.

The transaction marks the third successful realisation for BlackRock’s Renewable Power platform.

BlackRock Renewable Power global head David Giordano said: “This transaction with Ullico is a testament to the strength of BlackRock’s renewable power platform and our commitment to providing value to our clients.

“Our latest successful exit demonstrates our ability to create outcome-oriented solutions and generate attractive risk-adjusted returns for our clients.”

BlackRock acquired, financed and oversaw construction of the portfolio for a period of more than 18 months.

The solar farms provide stable cash flows through standardised fixed feed-in-tariff offtake contracts with Independent Electricity System Operator of Ontario.

Ullico infrastructure business acquisitions head Rohit Syal said: “The transaction with BlackRock contributes high-quality assets to our portfolio and provides predictable cash yield underpinned by strong off-take contracts.”

Ullico president and CEO Edward Smith said that the company demonstrates its commitment to projects providing clean, sustainable energy across North America through this investment.

In November last year, the company agreed to invest in a portfolio of more than 70 solar and wind power generation projects owned by Alberta Investment Management Corporation affiliates and located across the US.

FTP Power manages the wind and solar farms. The company is contracted to sell power, capacity and renewable energy to investment-grade off-takers as part of long-term agreements. /


Consortium to develop PRISMA liquid air energy storage system

/ A consortium comprised of Aggregate Industries, Innovatium and the University of Birmingham has secured funding of £350,000 from the Department for Business, Energy and Industry (BEIS) to develop liquid air energy storage (LAES) technology.

The funding from the Industrial Energy Efficiency Accelerator (IEEA) programme will be administered by the Carbon Trust, and will take the project from “Technology Readiness Level 5” (TRL 5) to “proven deployment in an operational environment” (TRL7), a step towards commercialising the technology.

Created by Innovatium, the LAES technology is called Peak Reduction by Integrated Storage and Management of Air (PRISMA) and stores energy in liquid air form to provide compressed air. This system means that variable-demand compressors can be turned off, increasing total system efficiency by 57%.

The PRISMA system will use a latent energy cold storage tank filled with a phase-change material (PCM), to be developed at the University of Birmingham’s school of chemical engineering.

University of Birmingham professor of chemical engineering Yulong Dong said: “PCMs can be used for the storage of both hot and cold forms of thermal energy. They are growing in importance but to date, the focus has been on hot forms of thermal energy and technology deployment has taken place outside of the United Kingdom.

“This new project focuses on cold forms of thermal energy storage, allowing us, with Innovatium, to establish a platform to deliver a global first-of-a-kind system in the UK with the potential to revolutionise the industrial energy space.”

The PCM system will be installed alongside other system components manufactured by Innovatium at Bardon Hill quarry in Leicestershire, which is owned by Aggregate Industries.

Aggregate Industries energy manager Richard Eaton said: “Sustainability is at the heart of our business and we are committed to leading the charge in creating a sustainable energy future for our industry. As we have seen, the onslaught of climate change demonstrates just how important it is to look at how we produce and consume energy.

“Making dramatic changes, such as investing in energy efficient solutions, is the only way to make a lasting positive impact and we are proud to stand with our partners on the PRISMA project to spearhead the installation and support of this pioneering technology.”

Innovatium CEO Simon Branch added: “We at Innovatium are delighted to be collaborating with Aggregate Industries and the University of Birmingham who are recognised global leaders in sustainability and technology, utilising BEIS funding to enable the rapid commercialisation of our PRISMA technology.

“Following the successful initial deployment at Aggregate Industries’ Bardon Hill Quarry, we anticipate the demonstration of PRISMAs energy efficiency and carbon reduction capability will show proven commercial and environmental benefits over current compressed air systems offering a cost-saving alternative.”

The compressed air market is estimated to have 1.3GW of installed electrical capacity across 4,500 sites in the UK./


Npower to cut 900 UK jobs

UK energy company Npower has announced that it will cut 900 jobs from its workforce of 6,300 over the course of 2019.

Npower stated the job cuts are due to “extremely tough UK retail energy market conditions”, as well as Ofgem’s price cap and competition on fixed-price tariffs. They represent part of a programme to reduce operating costs.

Npower CEO Paul Coffey said: “The retail energy market is incredibly tough – Ofgem itself forecasts that five of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies will make a loss or less than normal profits this year due to the implementation of the price cap, and with several recent failures of new energy suppliers, it is clear that many have been pricing at levels that are not sustainable.

“Even with these reductions, we still forecast significant losses this year, but we’re doing everything we can to minimise them whilst continuing to focus on service and value for our customers.”

Trade union GMB called for government action to protect the North East of England, where Npower is based, from the “devastating announcement”.

GMB northern regional organiser Laura Gatiss said: “The GMB is on record as saying that Ofgem should be abolished and its regulatory functions are taken over by the government itself, making its regulatory role subject to scrutiny and accountable to Parliament with the powers to cap prices. However what we have with this announcement by Npower is a kick in the teeth for the workforce many of whom are GMB members.

“Just a few months ago Npower was involved in causing great uncertainty to the workforce by announcing that it was involved in merger talks with one of the other ‘Big Six’ energy companies. That merger failed. Now Npower is announcing major job reductions, which is understandably worrying for our members, their families and indeed local communities where our members live in. We will be doing all in our power to help and support our members as well as campaigning to ensure that this sector is reformed.”

Npower has said it will continue to consult with employees and trade unions to keep compulsory redundancies as minimal as possible. /


AltaGas closes $1.04bn stake sale in British Columbia hydro projects

/ Energy infrastructure company AltaGas has closed the sale of its remaining indirect equity interest of around 55% in its hydroelectric projects in Northwest British Columbia, Canada, in a deal worth C$1.37bn ($1.04bn).

The latest deal comes after the company sold a 35% stake in the hydroelectric facilities for C$922m in June last year to fund its C$8.4bn purchase of US-based public utility firm WGL Holdings.

So far, AltaGas has achieved C$3.8bn in asset sales. Last month, the company revealed it is planning to sell targeted non-core assets to raise an additional C$1.5bn-C$2bn in 2019.

The company will use proceeds from the sales to help fund capital growth.

AltaGas president and CEO Randy Crawford said: “The sale of our remaining interest in the facilities marks another financial milestone, which has seen us successfully monetise C$3.8bn in non-core assets since completing the acquisition of WGL in July 2018.

“In addition to unlocking substantial value within our portfolio and enhancing our financial strength, the sale of these assets further sharpens our focus on our midstream and US utilities businesses, where we see numerous opportunities to drive strong, organic growth.”

The company sold the 55% interest in the facilities to joint venture entities controlled by Axium Infrastructure, as manager of Axium Infrastructure Canada II, and Manulife Financial.

The projects are located in the Tahltan First Nation territory and include the 214MW Forrest Kerr hydroelectric facility, the 17MW Volcano Creek hydroelectric plant and the 72MW McLymont Creek project. /


MHI and Weir partnership to support UK’s Hinkley Point C

/ Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Weir Engineering Services (WES) partnership has secured a contract to support the UK’s new nuclear power plant Hinkley Point C.

Awarded by EDF Energy subsidiary Nuclear New Build (NNB), the contract will see the partnership design, manufacture and test 34 pumps for Hinkley Point C.

NNB was created by EDF Energy for the construction and operation of two new UK nuclear power stations.

As part of the contract, MHI and Weir will be responsible for supplying five models of pumps to Hinkley Point C power plant.

The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station will feature two European Pressurised Reactors with a capacity of 3,200MWe. It is expected to begin commercial operations in 2025.

Weir Engineering Services managing director Mike Mannion said: “We have been working closely with MHI since 2010 in order to provide our customer with the optimal pump solution that combines the engineering strengths of two global firms.

“A contract like this is good news not only for the teams at Weir and MHI, but also for both the Japanese and UK nuclear engineering industries.

“Our collaborative partnership draws upon considerable expertise and we are confident that our solution offers superior value and technical input, which we can also now offer to other international power companies in the nuclear generation market.”

MHI will serve as the sub-contractor of WES and will be involved in the design and manufacture of all pumps.

WES will handle project management, motors procurement, pre-installation testing and pump sets delivery. /


Power purchase agreements reach new high in Europe

/ European companies have signed nearly 5GW in power purchase agreements (PPA) with wind farms since they were first awarded in 2013.

A record 1.5GW of new PPA deals – contracts to supply energy at a fixed price – with wind farms were signed last year, including the first offshore wind PPA between Vattenfall and Denmark’s largest wind farm Kriegers Flak.

Norway and Sweden have signed the most PPAs, with Germany, Spain and Poland signing their first PPA contracts in 2018. The first PPA involving Italy was signed this year, when Danish company European Energy signed an agreement with Swiss company Axpo to supply 300MW of energy to Italy.

WindEurope CEO Giles Dickson said: “Corporate PPAs are booming. Industrial consumers across a range of sectors have now bought nearly 5GW of wind energy via PPAs. 2018 saw a record number of new deals, and the first PPAs in the automotive sector and in pharmaceuticals – and the first in Germany, Spain and Poland. In Germany Mercedes are now going to use wind to power their EV and battery factories.

“It shows industrial consumers see wind power as competitive and reliable. And it’ll help allow industry to reduce its energy costs. The CO2 benefits are big too: industry accounts for over half of Europe’s electricity consumption. But some countries still have barriers to PPAs. They’ll have to remove them under the EU’s Clean Energy Package. And they should say how in their National Energy Plans this year.” /


National Grid announces contracts for Hinkley Point C

/ National Grid has announced that it will award three construction contracts worth £300m as part of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project.

Balfour Beatty will build the newly-designed T pylons for the site, J Murphy and Sons will build 10.7km of underground cables and Siemens will build a new substation at Sandford.

National Grid called the announcement a “major step forward” as the contracts will provide it with a new connection, allowing electricity to be moved from Hinkley Point C to millions of homes throughout Britain.

The 400,000-volt connection will be 57km long, which includes the 10.7km of underground cables to be built by J Murphy and Sons. National Grid will also remove 67km of overhead lines owned by Western Power Distribution and replace them with the T pylon built by Balfour Beatty.

Hinkley connection project director Sue Adam said: “The awarding of these contracts marks a major step forward on this vital connection project. It means that we will now be able to gear up to start construction work in earnest. We look forward to working with our new partners to deliver the many different elements of the work involved.”

Siemens director Mark Tiernan said: “Hinkley Point C will play an important role in the UK’s energy security once it is operational, contributing low carbon power to homes and businesses across the country. Siemens is delighted to be contributing to this scheme through its design and construction of National Grid’s Sandford Substation.”

Balfour Beatty’s CEO Mark Bullock added: “We look forward to working with National Grid to successfully and safely deliver low-carbon electricity for around six million homes across the UK.”

With the recent suspension of the nuclear plant in Wyfla Newydd, Hinkley Point C is the only nuclear power station currently being built in the UK. /