Research shows more than 14,000 homes in the North East could be powered by electricity generated from waste wood. The Environmental Industries Federation (EIF) says the region could have as much as 750,000 tonnes of waste wood available for use as fuel. In fact, Wood chips are already being used as fuel in Northumberland.

The EIF claims there is about 130,000 tonnes of waste wood from the region's forestry and sawmills alone, which could be enough to power a major biomass power station. The EIF study also suggests that the 87,000 tonnes of waste wood currently destined for landfill could be used as a biomass fuel source, possibly providing a new line of business to recycling firms.

Frances Rowe, rural and environmental manger at regional development agency One NorthEast added: "There is huge potential for us to utilise waste wood as a power source. Pilot projects such as the one we recently supported in Kielder have shown there is the technology, resources and will to look at the alternatives"

A £650,000 system at Kielder already supplies heat and hot water to a school, youth hostel, six three-bedroom homes and a visitor centre.

The spruce tree chips produce the same power as fossil fuels, but without associated emissions.

Riello Galatrek has become the latest company to join the Power Quality Partnership, the UK group which is part of the Leonardo Power Quality Initiative (LPQI), the European education and training programme for LV electrical installation professionals.

The company joins other industrial companies including Fluke (UK), Rhopoint Systems and LEM Instruments, to support this programme, which provides practical guidance on the identification, measurement and mitigation of power quality problems in LV installations. Riello Galatrek has joined as an affiliate partner and will be attending and supporting technical seminars held on these subjects in the UK.

The cornerstone of this initiative is the Power Quality Application Guide. The Guide is a consensus of views from experts across Europe and is written for those directly involved in the design, operation and maintenance of installations and covers introductory material, troubleshooting and mitigation.

The LPQI is running two free seminar series during 2004; 'Power Quality & Availability in Low Voltage Installations' (12th October in Birmingham) and 'Introduction to Power Quality, Standards & Solutions' (19th October in Dublin, 9th November 2004 -provisional – in Reading) The programme is delivered by the Power Quality Partnership, a group founded in 2001 by the Copper Development Association.

A report published today by the Green Alliance claims mini power stations on the roofs of UK homes will soon be possible and affordable.

The report claims the sun, wind and even the heat in soil can provide clean energy for a household, and that micropower could help tackle climate change and save money.

South-facing roofs are most suited to water heating or direct power from solar power, and an unused chimney can be used as an anchor for a micro wind turbine.

For people not connected to the gas network, who rely on oil-fired central heating or electricity (estimated to be around 4.5 million people) a heat exchanger that extracts heat stored in the soil could be installed.

Joanna Collins, author of the report, says only the government stands in the way of consumers being able to take advantage of new technologies in this area: “If the government is serious about developing a secure, diverse and sustainable energy supply, then rising energy demand in people’s homes has to be tackled head on. Micro combined heat and power boilers and solar electricity roofs should become familiar household fixtures,” said Collins. “Installing just six panels of solar PV on a typical new three-bedroom house would reduce that household’s carbon emissions by over 20%.”

The Green Alliance believes the cost of micropower would be an investment to set against the government’s annual expenditure of £1.85bn on winter fuel payments for the elderly.

Derek Simpson, the general secretary of Amicus, has warned that there are serious problems blighting the UK’s electricity generating capacity and that blackouts affecting large parts of the country are a real possibility, as European Directives start to take effect.

Amicus says that the European Carbon Emissions Trading Directive and the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive are curtailing the lifetime of existing power stations. This, combined with the reduction in nuclear generating capacity due to the closure and decommissioning of the Magnox nuclear power stations, will reduce the UK’s ability to generate its own dependable energy supply.

The union is calling on the government to prioritise a wide-ranging review of the UK’s future energy requirements. It also says it is vital that the government take action to invest in clean-coal fired power stations, the best option for providing flexibility in the UK’s electricity supply.

Amicus say that electricity generation from nuclear- and gas-fired power stations is not flexible enough to deal with severe fluctuations in demand during winter months.

Simpson said: “If action is not taken we could be suffering routine blackouts in the next few years and the sort of energy price hikes we have seen in recent weeks because of the increasing reliance on foreign energy supplies from unstable countries.”

Scientists have demonstrated a simple method for improving the current densities of superconducting coated conductors in magnetic field environments. The discovery has the potential to increase the already impressive carrying capacity of superconducting wires and tapes by as much as 200 to 500% in motors and generators, where high magnetic fields diminish current densities.

In research reported in the journal Nature Materials, University of Cambridge scientist Judith Macmanus-Driscoll and her Los Alamos colleagues discovered that when the compound barium zirconate is deposited simultaneously with the yttrium-barium-copper-oxide superconductor it naturally forms nanoscale particles embedded in superconductor films. The result is a two to five fold increase in the current densities of coated conductors in high magnetic fields operating at liquid nitrogen temperatures.

Superconducting wires and tapes carry hundreds of times more electrical current than conventional copper wires with little or no electrical resistance. Much of the excitement caused by this discovery is due to the fact that the process can be easily and economically incorporated into commercial processing of superconductors.

(For more on this story, see the September issue of Electrical Review.)

Four organisations have joined forces to develop wave and tidal power in response to the government's £50m marine development fund. The University of Edinburgh, Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney and the New and Renewable Energy Centre in Northumberland have formed the UK Centre for Marine Renewable Energy to tap into the £50m.

The partnership aims to provide properly equipped research, development, test and certification base to help the marine energy industry provide significant renewable energy from naturally occurring wave and tidal movements.

Minister for energy, Stephen Timms, said: "I was confident that the government's announcement of the £50m marine development fund would stimulate this industry because wave and tidal devices are very promising.”

A distribution centre in Runcorn is helping turn around international trading group and creating 100 new jobs in the process. The Netherlands-based operation suffered a number of commercial setbacks last year and was forced to refinance.

The 37,000 sq ft operation, which replaced a Warrington site, stocks 45,000 different products for the electrical industry and supplies 170 branches of Hagemeyer’s Newey & Eyre and WF Electrical trade outlets.

Systems problems at the £20m site lost customers and saw UK profits slump by £150m. When the site originally opened it created 250 jobs and now employs 350.

Amec, an international engineering and project management services company, has secured a $1.9m (£1m) contract to design a $24m (£13m) alternative fuel production plant for Biox Corporation in Hamilton, Ontario.

This will be Canada’s first commercial-scale biodiesel production facility and Amec will provide engineering services and procurement assistance on the project.

The facility should produce 60 million litres of biodiesel a year and increase north American biodiesel production capacity by 50%. It will convert vegetable oils, agricultural seed oils, waste animal fats, greases and recycled cooking oils into biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used as an alternative fuel or blended with regular petroleum diesel at any level in any unmodified diesel engine. It creates 80% fewer hydrocarbons, 60% less CO2 and 50% less particulate matter than petroleum diesel.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late autumn and Biox plans to build plants elsewhere in Canada before expanding across the globe.

A single electricity market for the whole of Britain took a step closer after National Grid was appointed GB System Operator under the British Electricity Trading and Transmission Arrangements (Betta).

The electricity market in Scotland operates under different arrangements from those in England and Wales. Under Betta, the England and Wales trading arrangements will be extended to Scotland, creating a single wholesale electricity market.

The transition from the existing to the new arrangements will be phased in, with April 2005 the completion date.

Troubled nuclear power firm British Energy came under more pressure yesterday when Polygon Investments joined other shareholders calling for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) to derail management attempts at a restructuring deal.

British Energy fell into difficulties two years ago when wholesale power prices plunged, leaving it £1.3bn in debt.

A rescue package, put together last year by the generator and backed by the government, would leave shareholders with only 2.5% of the company’s equity. Creditors would acquire the bulk of the group under a debt-for-equity swap.

Polygon, a 5.6% shareholder, wants to see shareholders given 30% of the company and, in the light of improving economics at British Energy, an EGM set to discuss alternative rescue plans.

A spokesperson from Polygon said: “Surging power prices now mean this is a solid business and nuclear power is looking increasingly attractive. British Energy is very far from being on its knees.”

EDF Energy has spent £6m in an upgrade to electricity supplies for customers in the London Docklands area. An electrical switch house has been constructed as part of a new nine-storey apartment complex beside the Docklands Light Railway at Brunswick Wharf.

The equipment should provide a better service for over 100,000 homes and businesses in the East End of London and should allow EDF Energy to restore power quicker in the event of a fault.

The project manager for EDF Energy, Paul Morgan, said: “The new building incorporates some of the most up-to-date switch gear available. This technology enables us to switch customers to an alternative 132kV circuit in the event of a fault and will allow us to carry out planned work on our underground network without inconveniencing our customers.

“As well as giving us greater remote control over the network, the switch house will provide us with spare capacity for further developments in the area should the need arise.”

The building replaces a 1950’s switch house on the same site, which was decommissioned earlier this year.