Once again, dear reader, we have the good, the bad and the ugly. As expected. But with a greater degree of hope now, as President Obama vows to do so much more for the climate and the country in his final four year term. Remarkably, the US has been making great strides, without skeptics and Republicans noticing, with advances in energy efficiency and the switch to cleaner fuels. Hope for the world too, as we hear on good authority that renewable energy can be as productive and as economically viable as any of the old and dirty fuels we have been producing to date. There’s a global map coming up to let us see for ourselves the renewable energy opportunities. The Middle East – location for the last climate change conference in Doha which didn’t exactly give a lot of hope – is where things are happening now. The World Future Energy Summit and Masdar are getting global attention, and it’s where the newish International Renewable Energy Agency – IRENA – is starting to show its true, and clean, colours. Of course we still have some dirty places. The air needs to be a lot cleaner, in China and elsewhere, and black carbon or soot is a problem. But even that has a brighter future. It’s easier to clean up than CO2. So let’s do it. There’s a Hackathon happening to get the young at heart to look for solutions and a call for designers to devote their skills to produce less consumables and more good cool design for the planet. Less is more! – Ken Hickson
Archive for January, 2013
He is so not so well known, nor is the organization he heads. But there is renewed interest in what Adnan Amin has to say and what the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has to do. All at a time when Renewable Energy has the chance to take the world by storm. Read More
It seems as if Adnan Amin is bursting onto the international energy scene, but he has been quietly and sensibly putting his case together and getting the International Renewable Energy Agency off the ground in a responsible way. Now it is ready – as he is – to take the stage and promote its objectives.
Here’s more about the man and his mission.
Profile of Adnan Amin, Director General, International Renewable Energy Agency
Mr. Adnan Amin was appointed as the Director General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in April 2011. In his capacity he is charged with the responsibility of establishing a sound institutional management structure and clear strategic vision for the implementation of the agency’s mandate to promote the adoption and use of renewable energy worldwide.
Mr. Amin served as Head of the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) Secretariat. In this function, he was responsible for overseeing the Secretariat supporting the CEB in its UN system-wide policy coordination under the Chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General and comprising the Executive Heads of UN System organisations. The CEB is the highest level interagency coordinator framework in the UN system and oversees UN coordination on Policy, Management and Field Operations.
Mr. Amin also served as the Executive Director of the Secretariat of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel, co-chaired by the Prime Ministers of Mozambique, Norway and Pakistan, on UN System-wide Coherence. The Panel undertook an ambitious and unprecedented level of consultation on development, environment, and humanitarian aspects of the work of the UN System and proposed an ambitious reform programme that still continues in the UN General Assembly under the framework of the “One UN.” The development of coherent field operations, harmonised business practices across the United Nations System, and the establishment of a new organization, UN Women, are outcomes of the process launched by the panel.
Previously, Mr. Amin served as the Director of the New York Office of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Special Representative of the UNEP Executive Director. He was responsible for environment policy coordination and collaboration with other UN Agencies, and for outreach to civil society and the private sector. He played the lead role in supporting the ministerial-level intergovernmental process to review International Environmental Governance and UNEP’s participation in the World Summit on Sustainable Development. He has also served from 2000-2006 as a Trustee and member of the board of directors of the Cambridge, UK-based World Conservation Monitoring Centre that is one of the premier Biodiversity information institutions in the world.
Mr. Amin is a development economist specializing in sustainable development. He is a national of Kenya.
Vision and Mission
IRENA seeks to make an impact in the world of renewable energy by maintaining a clear and independent position, providing a range of reliable and well-understood services that complement those already offered by the renewable energy community and gather existing, but scattered, activities around a central hub.
The international renewable energy community is large, resourceful, and rapidly evolving. IRENA does not duplicate what others are doing, but seeks out, establishes and develops new synergies, facilitates dialogue, and information and best practice sharing. Cooperation at the global, regional and national levels, knowledge sharing, enabling policies and enhanced capacity, as well as the encouragement of investment flows and strengthened technology and innovation, are essential elements in the Agency’s efforts. IRENA is positioning itself as a platform for all-inclusive cooperation where stakeholders can make a positive contribution to the common goals. This cooperation and partnerships are essential underpinnings of IRENA’s work.
Numerous international, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations are natural and indispensable partners, as are many private sector companies who are already seizing the opportunities offered by renewable energy. Civil society groups can also contribute to the IRENA vision by being vocal advocates and observers of actions taken by governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. IRENA directs its principal partnership activities towards knowledge sharing, ensuring that existing information and experience is developed, organised, and made accessible in a usable format.
IRENA is uniquely positioned to bring together these different constituencies. It aims to become the convening instrument that binds all parts together and become a powerful force in advancing the agenda of the widespread adoption and use of renewable energy, with the ultimate goal of safeguarding a sustainable future.
20 Jan 2013:
REN21 joins IRENA Renewable Energy Learning Partnership
The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has welcomed aboard a new partner in global efforts to provide education, e-learning and training materials to build job skills for the growing renewable energy sector. The IRENA Renewable Energy Learning Partnership (IRELP, www.irelp.org) now includes the Paris-based Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), a global network connecting governments, industry, academia and civil society. The new partnership builds on a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by IRENA and REN21, reflecting their shared vision for the widespread deployment of renewable energy technologies.
“With investments in the renewable energy sector projected to increase from USD 257 billion [in 2011] to above USD 450 billion by 2030, new jobs and positions will emerge, requiring significantly increased numbers of qualified individuals,” said Hugo Lucas, IRENA’s Director for Knowledge, Policy, and Finance Centre.
“IRENA developed the IRELP portal to raise awareness of readily available renewable energy education and training, thereby enhancing their accessibility. The portal was created to meet the growing worldwide demand for skilled renewable energy personnel, and aims to bridge the gap between what the renewable energy market requires from applicants, and what is taught by educational systems worldwide,” he added.
IRENA’s relationship with REN21, as expressed through the MoU on education and training, will strengthen both organisations in their work to promote renewables worldwide. One of REN21’s central objectives is to promote and support the exchange of knowledge by providing links among knowledge bases worldwide, ensuring that gaps are filled by capable organisations and individuals. REN21’s global network of contacts in the renewable energy sector will play a critical role in populating the IRELP database and increasing awareness of the IRELP platform.
“Today more than 120 countries from all around the globe, more than half of them developing countries, have renewable energy policies and targets in place. A skilled workforce to implement the millions of projects will be a key success-factor for reaching these targets,” said REN21’s Executive Secretary, Christine Lins.
“Renewable energy will undoubtedly play a major role in the world’s future energy mix,” she added. “We need to create awareness and attract the best available talents to this sector. REN21’s partnership with IRENA on IRELP will help to facilitate this.”
14 Jan 2013:
IRENA launches Roadmap to double Renewable Energy by 2030
International efforts to double the share of renewable energy by 2030 are attainable, but need to accelerate substantially if they are to be successful, according to a new global roadmap launched at the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Assembly in Abu Dhabi.
More than 150 countries are attending the two-day assembly, which has become the world’s pre-eminent policy gathering to promote the uptake of renewable energy.
The REMAP 2030 process will bring together experts and policy makers from across the globe together to assess the gap between current renewable energy projections and targets set by the UN Secretary-General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative.
Initial results show that investment in renewable power generation, grid expansions, sustainable biomass and the use of renewable energy to generate heat needs to accelerate substantially to meet targets. Global renewable power generation will have to exceed annual expansion rates of more than 150 GW per year, compared to around 110 GW in 2011.
“REMAP 2030 clearly maps the challenge we face in meeting international targets to double the share of renewable energy worldwide,” said Adnan Amin, IRENA Director General. “The good news is that costs are falling, the technology is spreading, and countries across the world are implementing policies to make this happen. With the right political will, a world powered by clean, renewable energy is within our reach.”
IRENA is mandated by 159 countries and the European Union to promote the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, and to serve as the global hub for renewable energy cooperation and information exchange. Formally established in 2011, IRENA is the first major international organization to be headquartered in the Middle East.
In a new report launched by the World Economic Forum, an increase of US$36 billion a year in investments in addressing climate change is required to unlock up to US$570 billion in private capital; less than the price tag for weather related disasters in the US itself which was over US$110 billion in 2012. The capital raised will go a long way in creating sustainable economic growth that is in line with global climate change goals. Read more
US$ 36 Billion Annual Public Funding Can Meet Climate Challenge, Says New Report
Report released today in Davos shows that greening the economy is the only way to sustain a global population of 9 billion expected by 2050.
Increasing public sector investment by US$ 36 billion annually can spur up to US$ 570 billion in private capital needed to avoid devastating climate impacts on economy.
Price tag of weather-related disasters in the US was over US$ 110 billion in 2012.
World Economic Forum, Davos-Klosters, Switzerland (21 January 2013):
Scaling up public sector funding by as little as US$ 36 billion in annual spending could unlock the private capital needed to close the green investment gap worldwide, leading to sustainable economic growth that attains global climate change goals.
At a time when extreme weather events are increasingly frequent – and costly – cash-strapped governments are seeking new solutions to address climate change. This investment could help stabilize global temperatures and would cost less than the US$ 50 billion recently approved by the United States Congress for rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy.
According to a new report launched today in Davos – The Green Investment Report: The Ways and Means to Unlock Private Finance for Green Growth – if the public sector increased its annual investment in addressing climate change by only $36 billion, up from a current spending level of US$ 96 billion, it could mobilize up to US$ 570 billion in private capital. This would address the US$ 700 billion in investment that the report estimates is needed to tackle what is arguably the most pressing threat to the global economy.
“Greening the economy is the only way to accommodate 9 billion people by 2050,” said Thomas Kerr, Director of Climate Change Initiatives at the World Economic Forum. “There are many successful cases where governments have strategically targeted their public funds to mobilize significant sums of private investment for green infrastructure. It’s now time to scale up these proven solutions.”
Climate change is already causing 5 million deaths a year and is costing the global economy more than US$ 1.2 trillion (or 1.6% in annual global GDP), according to the Climate Vulnerable Forum. The price tag in the United States alone in 2012 for weather-related disasters was over US$ 110 billion. By 2030, the cost of climate change and air pollution combined is estimated to rise to 3.2% of global GDP, with the world’s least-developed countries expected to bear the brunt, suffering losses of up to 11% of their GDP, the report notes.
The report highlights the example of the World Bank’s US$ 6 billion in climate technology funds, which for every public dollar invested have attracted US$ 8 in co-financing. Increased investments in green energy and infrastructure can drive sustainable development, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lead to global economic growth. Governments need to target public finance to attract private capital to green investment through measures such as guarantees, insurance products and incentives, combined with the right policy support.
Such investments are urgently needed to avoid the potentially devastating impacts of climate change and extreme weather events as witnessed in many parts of the world in 2012. Scientists agree that extreme weather has become the “new norm” and comes at a huge, and rising, cost to the global economic system. Without further action, the world could see a rise in average global temperatures by 4ºC by the end of the century. According to scientists, this could lead to further devastating impacts, including extreme heat waves, more intense tropical storms, declining global food stocks and a sea-level rise affecting hundreds of millions of people.
The climate crisis is an investment opportunity that can provide much needed employment and community benefits, says the report. The past two decades have seen considerable progress in creating profitable markets for green technologies, with global investment in renewable energy in 2011 up 17% on 2010 to US$ 257 billion. The report also finds that developing countries are playing a much larger role in powering the transition, providing evidence that countries do not need to give up their growth aspirations to advance strong domestic markets in climate-friendly technologies.
“It is clear that we are facing a climate crisis with potentially devastating impacts on the global economy. By unlocking private investment in water, agriculture and clean energy, we can together make the global economy and the environment more resilient,” said Felipe Calderón, former President of Mexico and Chair of the Green Growth Action Alliance, a coalition of leading companies, banks and public finance agencies created at the G20 meeting in Mexico in 2012.
The report includes four recommendations to unlock private finance to meet the climate challenge:
G20 leaders should renew their commitment that green growth is the only route to sustained growth and development, and report on progress in leveraging private investment.
Governments must accelerate efforts to phase out fossil-fuel subsidies, enact long-term carbon price signals, enable greater free trade in green technologies, and expand investment in climate adaptation.
Public finance agencies must redouble efforts to mobilize private capital for green infrastructure, using proven tools and practices.
Private investors can benefit from green investment but need to take a more proactive approach, using investor forums and expanded partnerships with public agencies to advance new financing solutions.
About the Green Investment Report and the Green Growth Action Alliance
The Green Investment Report is the result of collaboration between companies, public finance agencies and green investment analysts, and is the first output of the Green Growth Action Alliance, a public-private group that was launched at the 2012 Mexican G20 to drive greater investment in green growth. The Green Investment Report is one of many ways in which the Alliance is advancing green growth. Its members are collaborating on initiatives that aim to prove the efficacy of financing green growth, from energy efficiency to renewable energy and climate-smart agriculture. The Alliance invites G20 governments, public finance institutions, investors and policy-makers to read this report and join in leading the way to making a difference.
In his second Inaugural Address, US President Obama has made climate change a major focus in his second term. This sent a clear message on the priorities of his incoming administration following the scant attention paid to it during the re-election campaign. Facing not just the stark reality of more devastating effects of climate change, Mr Obama will also have to proceed cautiously around Congressional opposition to bring about effective legislation. Read more
By Richard W. Stevenson and John M. Broder for New York Times (21 January 2013):
WASHINGTON — President Obama made addressing climate change the most prominent policy vow of his second Inaugural Address, setting in motion what Democrats say will be a deliberately paced but aggressive campaign built around the use of his executive powers to sidestep Congressional opposition.
“We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Mr. Obama said on Monday at the start of eight sentences on the subject, more than he devoted to any other specific area. “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms.”
The central place he gave to the subject seemed to answer the question of whether he considered it a realistic second-term priority. He devoted scant attention to it in the campaign and has delivered a mixed message about its importance since the election.
Mr. Obama is heading into the effort having extensively studied the lessons from his first term, when he failed to win passage of comprehensive legislation to reduce emissions of the gases that cause global warming. This time, the White House plans to avoid such a fight and instead focus on what it can do administratively to reduce emissions from power plants, increase the efficiency of home appliances and have the federal government itself produce less carbon pollution.
Mr. Obama’s path on global warming is a case study in his evolving sense of the limits of his power and his increased willingness to work around intense conservative opposition rather than seek compromise. After coming to office four years ago on a pledge to heal the planet and turn back the rise of the seas, he is proceeding cautiously this time, Democrats said, intent on making sure his approach is vetted politically, economically and technologically so as not to risk missing what many environmental advocates say could be the last best chance for years to address the problem.
The centerpiece will be action by the Environmental Protection Agency to clamp down further on emissions from coal-burning power plants under regulations still being drafted — and likely to draw legal challenges.
The administration plans to supplement that step by adopting new energy efficiency standards for home appliances and buildings, a seemingly small advance that can have a substantial impact by reducing demand for electricity. Those standards would echo the sharp increase in fuel economy that the administration required from automakers in the first term.
The Pentagon, one of the country’s largest energy users, is also taking strides toward cutting use and converting to renewable fuels.
Mr. Obama’s aides are planning those steps in conjunction with a campaign to build public support and head off political opposition in a way the administration did not the last time around. But the White House has cautioned activists not to expect full-scale engagement while Congress remains occupied by guns, immigration and the budget.
The president’s emphasis on climate change drew fire from conservatives. Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a group financed by the Koch brothers, who made a fortune in refining and other oil interests, criticized the speech in a statement. “His address read like a liberal laundry list with global warming at the top,” Mr. Phillips said. “Americans have rejected environmental extremism in the past and they will again.”
Still, Mr. Obama has signaled that he intends to expand his own role in making a public case for why action is necessary and why, despite the conservative argument that such changes would cost jobs and leave the United States less competitive with rising powers like China, they could have economic benefits by promoting a clean-energy industry. In addition to the prominent mention on Monday, Mr. Obama also used strong language in his speech on election night, referring to “the destructive power of a warming planet.”
Those remarks stood in contrast to Mr. Obama’s comments at his first postelection news conference, when he said he planned to convene “a wide-ranging conversation” about climate change and was vague about action. He is also expected to highlight his plans in his State of the Union address next month and in his budget plan soon afterward.
Beyond new policies, the administration is seeking to capitalize on the surge of natural gas production over the past few years. As a cheaper and cleaner alternative to coal, natural gas gives it a chance to argue that coal is less economically attractive.
After the defeat in 2010 of legislation that would have capped carbon emissions and issued tradable permits for emissions, Mr. Obama turned to regulation and financing for alternative energy. Despite the lack of comprehensive legislation, emissions have declined roughly 10 percent since he took office, a result both of the economic slowdown and of energy efficiency moves by government and industry.
The administration is discussing with Congressional Democrats, some of whom are leery of the issue because their states are home to coal businesses, how to head off a Republican counterattack on the new regulations. Democrats are paying particular attention to the likelihood of Republicans employing a little-used procedure to block new regulations with a simple majority vote.
Senate Democrats are also girding for a battle when Mr. Obama nominates a new head of the E.P.A. The agency, excoriated by Republicans as a job-killing bureaucracy, would take the lead in setting the new regulations.
The approach is a turnabout from the first term, when Mr. Obama’s guiding principle in trying to pass the cap-and-trade bill was that a negotiated legislative solution was likely to be more politically palatable than regulation by executive fiat. Now there is a broad expectation that he will follow up his first big use of the E.P.A.’s powers to rein in emissions — proposed rules last year for new power plants — with a plan to crack down on emissions from existing power plants.
According to estimates from the Natural Resources Defense Council, emissions from current coal-fired plants could be reduced by more than 25 percent by 2020, yielding large health and environmental benefits at relatively low cost. Such an approach would allow Mr. Obama to fulfill his 2009 pledge to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, the group says.
“There’s a really big opportunity, perhaps bigger than most people realize,” said Dan Lashof, director of the defense council’s climate and clean air program.
The regulatory push will be particularly important because Mr. Obama has little prospect of winning as much money for clean energy as he did in his first term, with Republicans now in control of the House. Despite the renewed attention to climate change following Hurricane Sandy and record-high temperatures in the continental United States last year, there is little sign that the politics of the issue will get any easier for Mr. Obama.
Renewable energy often comes with the impression that it is financially out of reach by the majority of the population, thus hindering its uptake. However, with the right mix of wind and solar power and energy storage systems, reliable supply of energy can be achieved at costs comparable with fossil fuel. Also, with the Global Atlas for renewable energy going live, nations have a valuable tool to assess their potential for renewable energy. Read more
By Tim Radford for Climate News Network (20 January 2013):
Renewable energy? Too unreliable, too expensive, many people think. But a new study has found that the right mix of renewables can tick all the boxes.
LONDON, 20 January – A combination of wind and solar power and sophisticated energy storage systems could keep a power grid fully supplied between 90 and 99.9% of the time, at costs comparable with today’s fossil fuel and nuclear mix, according to a new study from Delaware in the United States.
Computer simulation measured the performance of inland and offshore wind farms and photovoltaic cells, backed up by battery and fuel cell storage, under the lowest cost conditions, for a 72 gigawatt grid system (one gigawatt will typically provide power for about 750,000 to a million US households)..
Researchers from the University of Delaware and Delaware Technical Community College will report in the Journal of Power Sources for March 2013 that they tested 28 billion combinations of renewable energy systems and storage, under four years of real load and weather data from a working commercial system.
“These results break the conventional wisdom that renewable energy is too unreliable and expensive,” said Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware, one of the team. “The key is to get the right combination of electricity sources and storage – which we did by an exhaustive search – and to calculate costs correctly.”
Power demand and supply is an engineering headache: demand fluctuates according to hour, day of the week, the weather and the season, while wind power is vulnerable to calm weather and solar power is not supplied at night.
Storage costs are huge, and increase with the need to store for each extra hour. So right now, most electrical generators burn more fossil fuel to meet extra demand.
“The common view is that a high fraction of renewable power generation would be costly and would either often leave us in the dark or require massive electrical storage,” say the researchers.
But they found quite a different result. They tweaked their computer model and varied the conditions where they could: they found that consistent wind power could be obtained if the turbine fields were dispersed at distances greater than 1,000 kilometres.
They exploited not just hydrogen fuel cells and batteries for storage, but also grid-integrated vehicles: electric cars and trucks which when not being driven also served as sources for the grid.
They calculated the cost of renewable electricity generation without subsidies from either state or federal government, and when they made comparisons with fossil power, they factored in the external health and other costs of fossil fuel pollution.
The researchers worked with the prices for 2008, and with the projected costs of power for 2030, and they did not allow for any future advances in renewable technology.
They found that the cheapest solution was to generate far more power than consumers could demand. If they generated 180% of the necessary load, renewable sources could supply all that the grid needed for 90% of the time. If they generated 290%, then they could rely on renewable resources 99.9% of the time: that is, for all but nine hours a year.
And renewable energy, on this model, is the least-cost option, or close to it. “At expected 2030 technology costs, the cost-minimum is 90% of hours met entirely by renewable,” the team report. “And 99.9% of hours, while not the cost-minimum, is lower in cost than today’s total cost of electricity.”
Report from IRENA (13 January 2013):
Pioneering Global Atlas for Renewable Energy Goes Online
The world’s first open-access Global Atlas of renewable energy resources goes live today, announced at the annual general assembly of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
The Global Atlas is the largest ever initiative to help countries assess their renewable energy potential, and companies bringing together data and maps from leading technical institutes and private companies worldwide. It currently charts solar and wind resources, and will expand to other forms of renewable energy over 2013 and 2014.
Its launch comes as 150 countries gather to chart the future of international renewable energy policy in Abu Dhabi. 9 new signatory countries will sign on to the Global Atlas, bringing the current number of participating countries to 22.
The Internet-based platform, accessible to all at www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas, is designed to raise awareness of the world’s renewable energy potential, and to help companies looking to invest in new markets. A video and brochure is also available through the webportal. www.irena.org/GlobalAtlas www.res-atlas.org
“In the next 10 years we expect a huge rise in the investments in renewable energy. The Global Solar and Wind Atlas will help us make the right decisions”, says Martin Lidegaard, Danish Minister of Climate, Energy and Building, and President of the 3rd session of the IRENA Assembly.
“The Global Atlas provides a powerful new tool in international efforts to double the world’s share of renewable energy by 2030,” said Adnan Z. Amin, IRENA Director-General. “With 22 countries now taking part, and more expected to join in the coming months, it is a clear sign of our growing political will to transition to clean, renewable energy.”
IRENA is mandated by 159 countries and the European Union to promote the sustainable use of all forms of renewable energy, and to serve as the global hub for renewable energy cooperation and information exchange. Formally established in 2011, IRENA is the first major international organization to be headquartered in the Middle East.
With Beijing recently choked by air pollution rated at the EPA pollution index of 755, more than twice the hazardous level of 300, attention has been raised on the acute air pollution incidents throughout Asia. 3.2 million deaths worldwide have been attributed to air pollution in 2010, making it one of the top 10 killers. Air pollution has not just a health cost, but also a financial one; and investments will have to be made to ensure the vitality of the future. Read more
Beijing is not the only Asian city with lethal air pollution
By John Vidal in The Guardian (17 January 2013):
The Chinese capital is just one of hundreds of cities where poisonous air is the fastest growing cause of death
A report in the Lancet says that worldwide, a record 3.2 million people died from air pollution in 2010, compared with 800,000 in 2000.
Air pollution in Beijing has been described as “apocalyptic” this week with people choking their way through murky streets, short of breath and their eyes stinging from toxic air. But Beijing is just one of hundreds of cities, largely in Asia, where poisonous air is now the fastest growing cause of death in urban populations.
In the past few months there have been acute air pollution incidents reported in Bangladesh, Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, and Pakistan. In Tehran, the desperate authorities had to close all public offices, schools, universities and banks twice in the last two months; In Nepal the army has had to give up its cars and in Kabul it has been reported that there are now more deaths as a result of air and water pollution than from conflict.
Statistics are unreliable, with few cities able to monitor accurately either the source or the level of the cocktail of pollutants emitted by traffic, ships, industry, brick kilns and domestic heating. But go to the hospitals and doctors will tell you that up to 80% of people admitted come with respiratory or other chronic diseases linked to air pollution. In Tehran, more than 4,500 people were said to have died last year because of air pollution – but because cancers can take years to develop the true figure may be far higher.
Perhaps because there are no drugs available to counter air pollution, it has never been taken as seriously by governments as other diseases like HIV/Aids or malaria, even though the World Health Organisation estimates more than 2 million people worldwide die every year from bad air and that it is now among the top 10 killers in the world. But governments may have to act as new research shows it to be rapidly worsening.
The biggest study done so far, published one month ago in the Lancet suggested that, worldwide, a record 3.2 million people died from air pollution in 2010, compared with 800,000 in 2000. The annual Global Burden of Disease (GBD) report ranked air pollution for the first time in the world’s top 10 list of killer diseases, with 1.2 million deaths a year in east Asia and China, and 712,000 in south Asia, including India.
But while Beijing got the headlines this week, there is mounting evidence that air pollution in India is as bad, if not worse, than in China. A study conducted by satellite imagery by Tel Aviv University last year reported that Indian megacities were seeing double digit increases in air pollution. From 2002 to 2010, said the paper, Bangalore saw the second highest increase in air-pollution levels in the world at 34%,with Pune, Mumbai, Nagpur and Ahmedabad not far behind. Improvements in car and fuel technology have been made since 2000 but these are nullified by the sheer increase in car numbers. Nearly 18m cars are expected to be sold this year alone in India.
The blame is variously levelled on the geography of cities, the inversion of temperatures especially in cold months which trap pollutants, the vastly increasing number of cars, power plants, forest fires and the boom in building construction. However, the Lancet study found that it was specifically the type of air pollution caused by car and truck exhaust that was doing the most health damage.
There is increasing evidence too that the air pollution now plaguing cities is because the fuel being burned by millions of cars and motorbikes is heavily contaminated by dealers who mix petrol and diesel with kerosene, waste industrial solvents and other additives to produce cheaper fuel. The result is a cocktail of poisonous emissions, many of which are not picked up by government monitoring stations and which are not filtered out by catalytic converters.
The scale of illegal fuel adulteration is unknown, but academic studies suggest it is rampant in poor countries like Nepal, Pakistan and Afghanistan, all of which depend on importing fuel from outside. One study in Nepal found that at least half the motorbikes in use had engines damaged by contaminated fuel.
But rich countries should not think their air is clean. A report by the European environment agency found that almost one third of Europe’s city dwellers are exposed to PM10 particulate concentrations above EU legal limits and 90-95% to concentrations of smaller and even more deadly PM2.5 particulates. If nothing is done to improve it, the EU expects to see 200,000 premature deaths a year in Europe by 2020 due to particle emissions alone.
EU environment commissioner Janez Potočnik spelled out the financial costs on the European economy in September: “Clean air is an investment. We cannot afford not to act. In monetary terms … the associated costs [will] amount to between €189-609bn per year in 2020. Our current analysis shows that if we do nothing, we will see 200,000 premature deaths in the EU by 2020 due to particle emissions alone – but with concerted action, this number can be pushed down to 130,000. To invest in clean air means to invest in our future.”
Soot – the carbon particles emitted by the burning of fossil fuel and wood – has a far greater effect on global warming as previously thought. With a heat trapping potential second only to carbon dioxide, efforts will have to be taken to cut down soot emissions. And it is not just global warming that is an effect of soot emission – small carbon particles constituting soot also have adverse health effects. Also, as soot gets washed out of the atmosphere quickly, reducing soot emissions will have a quick effect on reducing global warming. Read more
Black carbon is worse for global warming than previously thought
A new study indicates soot plays a far greater role in global warming than previously believed and is second only to CO2 in the amount of heat it traps in the atmosphere
By Carl Zimmer for Yale Environment 360, part of the Guardian Environment Network (17 January 2013):
It rises from the chimneys of mansions and from simple hut stoves. It rises from forest fires and the tail pipes of diesel-fueled trucks rolling down the highway, and from brick kilns and ocean liners and gas flares. Every day, from every occupied continent, a curtain of soot rises into the sky.
What soot does once it reaches the atmosphere has long been a hard question to answer. It’s not that scientists don’t know anything about the physics and chemistry of atmospheric soot. Just the opposite: it does so many things that it’s hard to know what they add up to.
To get a clear sense of soot — which is known to scientists as black carbon — an international team of 31 atmospheric scientists has worked for the past four years to analyze all the data they could. This week, they published a 232-page report in the Journal of Geophysical Research. “It’s an important assessment of where we stand now,” says Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography, an expert on atmospheric chemistry who was not involved in the study.
The big result that jumps off the page is that black carbon plays a much bigger role in global warming than many scientists previously thought. According to the new analysis, it is second only to carbon dioxide in the amount of heat it traps in the atmosphere. The new estimate of black carbon’s heat-trapping power is about twice that made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007.
This result suggests that cutting black carbon emissions could go a long way to slowing climate change. But the authors of the new study warn that we’ll need to be careful about the sort of black carbon we choose to cut. “There’s a significant potential, but you have to be very targeted,” said co-author Sarah Doherty of the University of Washington.
Soot is made up of tiny dark particles. When it rises from fires, it mixes with dust, sulphates, and other material rising from the ground. As it ascends through the atmosphere, it can drift into clouds, mixing with the water droplets. Rain and snow then wash out the black carbon particles and bring them back to Earth.
Along the way, black carbon exerts all sorts of influences, some of which help warm the atmosphere and some of which cool it. When sunlight strikes black carbon, its dark hue causes it to heat up, something like the way a black tar roof gets hot on a sunny day. When black carbon falls on ice and snow, it smudges their bright white reflective surfaces. As a result, less sunlight bounces back out to space, leading to more warming.
In clouds, black carbon has a dazzling number of effects. “The more we study it, the more mechanisms people find,” says Doherty.
If black carbon heats up the layer of the atmosphere where clouds are forming, for example, they will evaporate. They can no longer reflect sunlight back into space, and so the soot-laced clouds end up warming the atmosphere. But black carbon that hangs above low-lying stratocumulus clouds has a different effect. It stabilizes the layer of air on top of the clouds, promoting their growth. It just so happens that thick stratocumulus clouds are like shields, blocking incoming sunlight. As a result, black carbon also ends up cooling the planet.
All these effects depend, ultimately, on how much soot is in the air, which, in turn, depends on the many different kinds of sources of soot all over the world. Estimating that flux is a major challenge, and so it’s not too surprising that different teams of scientists have ended up with markedly different estimates for the net effect of soot on the climate.
In 2009, Doherty and her colleagues set out to make careful estimates of all sources of black carbon, using data from monitoring stations around the world. They then ran computer models of the atmosphere to measure the effects of the black carbon, based on what scientists have learned about chemical reactions in clouds from experiments and observations. Along with the effect that soot had on clouds, the scientists also estimated the total amount of warming that occurred as the soot directly absorbed sunlight, and as it darkened snow and ice.
After the scientists had taken into account all of these effects, they tallied them up to calculate how much extra energy was being stored in the atmosphere thanks to black carbon. Climate scientists typically express that energy as watts per square meter of the Earth’s surface. The number they got — 1.1 watts — was enormous. Carbon dioxide, the biggest heat-trapper in the atmosphere, is responsible for an estimated 1.56 watts per square meter. Black carbon takes second place. “It took a while to convince ourselves it was correct,” says Doherty.
If black carbon is responsible for trapping so much heat, then reducing soot may be an effective way to slow down the planet’s warming. It’s even more attractive because black carbon washes quickly out of the atmosphere, and so reducing soot emissions would lead to a fast fall in the concentration of black carbon in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide, by contrast, lingers for centuries in the atmosphere.
James Hansen of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies has been arguing for such a strategy for over a decade. But the new study reveals a paradox in reducing soot to fight global warming. If tomorrow we could shut down every brick kiln, every burning farm field, and every other source of soot, we would, on balance, have no effect on global warming whatsoever.
How can this be? Because when things burn, black carbon is not the only thing they produce. A forest fire produces black carbon as well as organic carbon molecules. The forest fire black carbon helps to warm the planet, but the organic carbon creates a haze that blocks sunlight, cooling the atmosphere. The two emissions cancel each other out. “In the real world you can’t just get rid of black carbon emissions,” says Doherty. “You get rid of other things as well.”
But Doherty and her colleagues found that some sources of soot — including coal and diesel fuel — produce a lot of warming with very little compensating cooling. They suggest that these sources should be the top priority for efforts to fight global warming.
Diesel fuel looks to be an especially ripe target. “That message is loud and clear,” says Ramanathan. Making diesel an even more attractive candidate for attack is the fact that reducing much of its black carbon emissions might simply be a matter of upgrading old, soot-spewing engines with newer technology. Developing countries, in particular, could put in place regulations about burning diesel to upgrade their rapidly growing auto fleets.
Coal is another potent source of warming from soot, the scientists found, whether burned industrially or at home. So are the small stoves that billions of people use to cook. Fueled by wood or coal, they spew billows of sooty smoke. Engineers in recent years have designed efficient, cheap stoves that release much less black carbon. Getting those stoves into people’s homes would take a lot of warming soot out of the atmosphere.
Doherty does not see her new study as the end of the story. While she and her colleagues conclude that soot most likely produces 1.1 watts per square meter, they still put a margin of error on their results. They calculate that there’s a 90 percent chance the actual figure falls between .17 and 2.1 watts. To tighten that range, they still need to better understand the many ways that soot alters clouds, and also get a better fix on the amount of soot each source produces. “We need to dig deeper on that,” she says.
Two billion people worldwide do their cooking on open fires, producing sooty pollution that shortens millions of lives and exacerbates global warming. If widely adopted, a new generation of inexpensive, durable cook stoves could go a long way toward alleviating this problem.
Nevertheless, Doherty and her colleagues see many good reasons not to wait for a more precise understanding of soot before taking steps to reduce it. Along with its effect on the global climate, a number of studies also indicate it has powerful influences on some regions of the planet. A lot of soot falls onto the glaciers of Himalayas, for example, speeding up their melting. Millions of people depend on that ice for their water supply. Soot also has a particularly large effect on the circulation of the atmosphere around India, which ultimately reduces the amount of rainfall produced by monsoons.
Even before soot gets far into the air, it has a particularly harmful effect: it makes people sick. In recent days, news reports from China have provided startling images of Beijing swaddled in a blanket of sooty smog. That air pollution, from cars and coal-fired plants, takes a terrible toll on the country’s health. Far from the world’s urban centers, poor people suffer from air pollution in their own homes when they cook with smoky stoves and breathe in black carbon and other pollutants.
These benefits of cutting black carbon were already apparent before Doherty and her colleagues published their new study; now it’s clear that cutting soot could help not just personal health, but planetary health as well.
The United Arab Emirates, long dependent on fossil fuel for its economic growth and existence, has started to look to the future of energy by turning its attention to renewable sources. Hosting, for the sixth year running, a global summit on renewable energy, the Emirates hopes to attract the best thinkers and businesses in the field. However, much still needs to be done to spur a higher rate of adoption of renewable energy before they can truly lay claim to leadership in green energy. Read more
World Future Energy Summit, WFES: Oil And Renewable Energy – Exxon And Masdar City – Meet In The United Arab Emirates
By Jacey Fortin (19 January 2013):
On an expanse of desert land in the United Arab Emirates, about 11 miles (7 kilometers) away from the bustling capital city of Abu Dhabi, there is a lonely outcropping of peculiar buildings — a work in progress.
It’s called Masdar City, and it could represent the future of green living if all goes according to plan. This mini-metropolis — where cars are prohibited and buildings are designed according to strict energy-efficiency rules — is intended to generate almost no waste or refuse and be virtually free of air pollution.
Charles Ebinger, the director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution, has been to this experimental village. “You’re whisked to Masdar City on futuristic trains with no conductors, all on magnetic strips,” he said. “All the buildings there are using renewable energy. And they have channeled the airflow so the winds come through the streets in such a way that even in the dead of summer, it creates a cooling effect that obviates the need for a backup source of cooling energy.”
Amazing as it sounds, Masdar City is at risk of becoming a high-profile failure. Only a few hundred researchers and students live in this urban oasis, which was planned to house tens of thousands of people. An ambitious layout, including homes, businesses and recreational areas, has not yet materialized. The project’s initial 2016 completion date has been pushed back by at least 10 years.
This situation is indicative of the UAE’s strange relationship with renewable energy technology. The government is serious about green research and development — and keen to publicize it. But in fact, this oil-rich gulf state has some major glitches to address before it can take its place as a global leader in green energy.
Meeting of Minds
The UAE makes no bones about its intention to become a hub for green energy enthusiasts around the world. This week, for the sixth year in a row, Abu Dhabi hosted a global summit to attract some of the best thinkers and businesses in the field of renewable energy.
The World Future Energy Summit, or WFES, ran from Tuesday to Thursday; over 30,000 people were in attendance. Keynote speakers included such luminaries as French President Francois Hollande, Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, and Abu Dhabi’s own Crown Prince, Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The Emirates are a big oil producer, the seventh-largest in the world, according to the International Energy Agency: they pumped upwards of 3 million barrels per day in 2011, more than Iraq. Dimitra Ampela of Reed Exhibitions, which organized the WFES, does not see a paradox there. In fact, she said it’s precisely the Emirates’ history that makes the country well-suited to playing a leading role in renewable energy.
“UAE’s commitment to renewable energy and sustainability traces back to the late president and founder of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who was adamant about conservation and encouraged the reduction of the UAE’s environmental footprint,” she said.
The summit attendees represented about 150 countries and 514 registered businesses, which set up booths in a massive convention hall and took the opportunity to build new connections.
“The atmosphere is very electric,” said Scott Burger, who traveled to Abu Dhabi to represent GTM Research, a division of the Boston-based Greentech Media, a clean technology research and media organization.
The paradox of building a center for Big Green Energy in one of the capitals of Big Oil was not lost on him; he noted that oil giants like Exxon (NYSE:XOM), Shell (LON:RDSA) and Statoil (NYSE:STO) were out in force at the event.
“There are some interesting dynamics on display. Given the deep relationships that many oil majors have with the Abu Dhabi government, they have some of the most prominent booths at the WFES. This is an interesting juxtaposition against the booths of solar, biomass and wind companies that are also present,” Burger said.
That oil companies would dominate the convention floor should come as no surprise; hydrocarbons were essentially the enabler for this event. Because of oil revenues, the country enjoys a friendly relationship with the West, its status as a major commercial hub, and a GDP-per-capita of about $48,000 — the 12th highest in the world, just after the United States. Oil fuels the state-sponsored research that has made the UAE a pioneer in green energy.
The strong dependence on hydrocarbon fuels leaves the UAE in a bind. The country actually has to import natural gas, and demand has outpaced domestic production since 2007. Oil, on the other hand, is plentiful — but government officials aren’t fooled by the impressive profits. They are scrambling to diversify in order to avoid falling victim to market volatility, fluctuating prices and geopolitical conflicts in other oil-producing states.
And when it comes to renewable energy, the UAE may be impressive in terms of its commitment to research and development — but in terms of performance, it’s got a long way to go. The tiny state is certainly not leading the way in terms of reducing its carbon footprint.
Carbon dioxide emissions per capita are sky-high at 22.6 metric tons, according to the latest data from the World Bank. That’s higher than any Western country — but to be fair, much of that output can be blamed on factors somewhat beyond the UAE’s control: its role as a major oil and gas producer, its costly need to desalinate seawater, and its high-traffic international airports in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
That’s why the UAE set a very low bar for itself in terms of renewable energy generation. The government is aiming for 7 percent of domestic power to come from renewable energy by 2030. By comparison, the European Union is shooting for 20 percent by 2020.
In large part, this sluggishness can be blamed on heavy government subsidies for the wrong kind of energy.
“The UAE is in a strange situation because they subsidize oil, gas and electricity so heavily for their domestic citizens that demand is spiraling out of control,” said Ebinger of the Brookings Institute. “There’s no demand to conserve gas and electricity because it’s so cheap, and it’s eating into the oil and gas that the country could export for profit.”
It would make sense to cut the subsidies that effectively cheapen its hydrocarbon output, but here political concerns outweigh economic ones. Recent Arab Spring revolutions in other Middle Eastern countries have spooked public officials in the UAE, a federation of seven monarchies in which average citizens have little say in the policies that govern their daily lives.
Vast wealth, and the fuel subsidies they enable, have so far kept the public complacent.
“[The government is] just so fearful of ending the subsidy in fear of a political backlash,” said Ebinger. “They really are sitting on a time bomb.”
If hydrocarbon subsidies are here to stay, the UAE’ s only way to generate more energy profits at home is to find new ways of generating power. But renewable sources like wind and solar just can’t be scaled up fast enough to meet growing demand, which will only accelerate with rapid population growth.
“You have to distinguish between research and commercialization,” Burger of GTM Research said. “What makes renewable energy technologies so difficult is the price it takes to scale them.”
For the UAE, nuclear energy presents a viable alternative. The government has already ordered four nuclear plants from South Korea, to be installed in Abu Dhabi. One is already under construction and could become operational by 2017, and educational initiatives are underway to train a new generation of students in nuclear reactor operations.
That leaves the market with little incentive to invest in cleaner, safer alternatives like solar, wind and biomass. So the government is footing the bill for research in that arena, crossing its fingers in the hopes that the risk will pay off.
“The market is simply not competitive, and renewable energy is very cost intensive,” said Karim Elgendy, the founder and general coordinator of Carboun, an advocacy organization promoting energy sustainability in the Middle East.
“With energy prices so low in the UAE, you can’t sell renewable energy at a reasonable price to make a profit, and you’re not going to invest in it. So instead of liberating the market and letting electricity prices go wherever they would go, the government takes it on. That’s why the country’s renewable energy initiatives are almost exclusively government-led projects.”
The UAE has the resources to fund these sorts of ventures; it also has the long-term incentive. But without the market on its side, the monarchy is walking a lonely road.
The Global Stage
If Masdar City and the WFES are any indication, the UAE is certainly eager to put on a good show. Both these ventures are funded by Masdar, a subsidiary of the government-owned Mubadala Development Company. Masdar has never been shy about funding travel and accommodation for renewable energy buffs, public relations professionals and the press. The idea is that these investments will eventually pay off — and judging by the deals closed at this week’s WFES, the strategy is working.
Masdar inked a deal with the kingdom of Jordan, laying a framework for future cooperation on renewable energy projects. France also negotiated a stronger partnership with the UAE-owned company, building on years of collaboration on green projects.
Down in the booths, the deal-making was just as fervent. A handful of companies even received prizes for their work in renewable energy, including Ceres, a Boston-based non-governmental organization that works with investors and policymakers in Europe and the United States to advocate for sustainable energy practices.
Ceres received $1.5 million when it won the Zayed Future Energy Prize in the NGO category. Company spokesperson Peyton Fleming said the funds would be used to strengthen its ongoing initiatives.
“Our perspective is that you need both stronger government policies and strong private action from companies and investors,” he said. “Unless companies and investors are investing trillions of dollars in this space in coming years, and until that amount of capital is moved into the clean energy economy, we are still going to be wrestling with rising greenhouse gas emissions.”
That’s a philosophy the UAE can certainly relate to. And despite formidable challenges the government faces in the field of renewable energy generation at home, there’s no denying the progress the small Gulf country has made.
Masdar City, that metropolis in limbo, can now boast a fully operational school and research facility called the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology.
“The UAE has invested a lot in the Masdar Institute for Science and Technology, which has an extensive renewable energy lab and is collaborating with Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” said Elgendy, who has visited the facility.
The green businesses and clean-energy homes may be missing from the scene, but research and development are flourishing.
That’s where the UAE has made the most impact so far, and where it still leads much of the world in terms of committed resources. Polluted air, oil rigs and half-finished projects notwithstanding, the UAE has at least proven its dedication to engineering the technologies that the rest of us may need in the decades to come.
The recent problems Boeing had with burning batteries in its flagship Dreamliner are only the latest in a line of incidents plaguing its multibillion-dollar project. It will have to find a fix to these problems soon – the sustainability of commercial aviation may very well rest on the success of the Dreamliner. The lighter, more fuel-efficient plane has promised to cut 20% off fuel costs; making a significant positive impact on the balance sheets of long-suffering airlines, and providing a cleaner and greener way to fly. Read more
Boeing’s Dreamliner has to rise again – the future of world aviation needs it
For airlines, fuel efficiency, quietness and a unique range far outweigh a battery problem that will be fixed
By Gwyn Topham in The Observer (20 January 2013):
As Boeing showed off its multibillion-dollar baby on the Dreamliner’s promotional world tour in 2011, one quirky feature was regularly pointed out: a sleekly designed but redundant ashtray, a compliance with regulations laid down in a different age. In the darkest torments of Boeing executives during the past few incident-packed weeks, it may have finally appeared of use: somewhere to enjoy the cigarette of the condemned, a quiet smoke to mask the smell of burning battery.
A little over a week ago, America’s government and air authorities stood shoulder to shoulder with their top exporter, Boeing, to assure the world that the plane was safe after a string of incidents from fuel leaks, windscreen cracks and battery fires. They still say it – only, right now, that no one should fly in it.
By Wednesday, a diagnosis of teething problems was no longer enough. The burning battery was back, and Japanese authorities said the latest incident was “highly serious”. Corrosive fluid had leaked down through the state-of-the-art electronics below the cockpit. Hideyo Kosugi, a Japanese safety investigator surveying the All Nippon Airways 787 that had made an emergency landing at Takamatsu airport, said the stuff had gone right through the floor.
After the Japanese airlines operating almost half of the Dreamliners worldwide decided they could risk it no longer, the US Federal Aviation Administration grounded all 787s in its jurisdiction. From India to Qatar, Poland to Chile and finally Ethiopia, the global fleet was taken out of action, an ignominious fate for a plane that had been so eagerly anticipated for so very long.
In an industry where different models are normally denoted by numbers alone, naming the 787 the Dreamliner was to invite attention: a bold statement that this was to be something fundamentally different. This craft does not simply carry the commercial
aspirations of Boeing; it has become symbolic of aviation’s promises for a greener, quieter future.
For passengers, there was the thrill of bigger windows, funky lighting and increased cabin pressure, said to reduce the ill-effects of flying. Thomson, the first UK customer, has built an ad campaign around it. But for airlines, the critical selling point was fuel efficiency, where the airline executives’ and the environmentalists’ interests briefly coincide.
While rivals mutter that the aspirations have yet to be matched in operations, the lighter plane promised a 20% cut in the soaring fuel bills that have wiped out profits for many airlines.
The Dreamliner also promised a range unique for an aircraft of its size, potentially making direct flights to long-haul destinations viable with fewer passengers, not least, the secondary cities in the emerging Bric economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – to which business people in the UK apparently clamour to fly.
Improvements in those spheres are by no means unique to the Dreamliner. But perhaps more than any other plane, it has come to represent the technological innovation that the aviation industry claims will allow it to meet its wider obligations to the world: that we can fly and not fry, even with ever more flights.
A carbon dioxide “roadmap” produced by Sustainable Aviation, an industry group addressing environmental issues, sees the fuel efficiencies delivered by the 787 and its successors as a way to cut about a third of all projected carbon emissions, a major part of a plan that would let traffic double by 2050 and still meet the emissions targets aviation signed up to in the wake of the Kyoto climate negotiations.
For airports in Britain’s crowded south-east, the Dreamliner is also a name to conjure with. Briefly in operation here since Qatar Airways’ inaugural flight just before Christmas, it claims a “noise footprint” some 60% smaller than other planes its size. Around Heathrow, such contours spell votes: Boris Johnson has spoken of 750,000 Londoners having their lives blighted by aircraft noise
As Howard Davies’s commission sits down to reflect over the next two and a half years on the future shape of Britain’s airport capacity, Heathrow will want to demonstrate that noise is not a insurmountable political obstacle. Current proposals from the Department for Transport, penned before Justine Greening was shuffled out of the department, will ramp up the fines for louder planes: Virgin’s Richard Branson has suggested banning noisy aircraft from the airport – but then his airline has 16 Dreamliners arriving from next year.
So Boeing’s problems are aviation’s problems too. Little wonder that few airlines, beyond the annoyance of those already operating the now-grounded 787, have offered anything but unqualified support and confidence. With 799 aircraft outstanding, the order book dwarfs the 50 in service. The ambitions of the fleet planners everywhere for new routes and for lower overheads hang on the 787s rolling out of the Seattle factory.
Observers have little doubt that the Dreamliner will fly again. Douglas McNeill, investment director at Charles Stanley, says: “It will get fixed. Boeing just has no alternative – it’s just a question of how much time and money it takes. If it’s just the battery, it could be relatively simple. If it’s an overhaul of the whole onboard power generation, it’s a time-consuming and costly task.”
If safety has always been paramount, the industry is taking absolutely no chances in preserving its proud boast; according to the International Air Transport Association, 2012 was the safest year on record. McNeill dismisses safety fears: “It would be more than odd, it would be astonishing if there was an issue that escaped the hundreds of thousands of hours of testing that Boeing and the FAA carried out.
“It’s hard to imagine the Dreamliner not re-entering service quickly, but in the worst-case scenario it could have a real impact. It was going to be a big step forward in terms of noise and emissions.”
Not everything hinges on the Dreamliner: rival Airbus has the A350 coming down the line, also built with composite materials and lithium-ion batteries. It has often been described as Airbus’s answer to the Dreamliner, although the European manufacturer is quick to point out that its design – and batteries – are very different to Boeing’s plane.
There was no hint of schadenfreude from boss Fabrice Brégier at last week’s Toulouse event when Airbus announced a record year for aircraft deliveries – though second to Boeing in orders. In the long term, the efficiencies will come: concerns about the new technology may again hold up the process more than those worried by climate change or the bottom line would hope. “Airbus and Boeing will need to get these planes into service,” McNeill adds.
Boeing meanwhile has said it will do all it can to restore confidence. Chief executive Jim McNerney pledged to “work around the clock” with investigators, adding: “We will make available the entire resources of the Boeing company to assist.” For a corporation the size of Boeing, worth around £50bn even with its shares sliding, the current problems should amount to little more than a spot of turbulence. Airbus quickly recovered confidence and orders despite cracks in the wings of its pioneering A380 in 2011. Boeing’s bosses will hope that the Dreamliner can swiftly rise above its current problems and return to the skies.
When one mentions renewable energy, the most common picture that pops into head is one with solar panels and wind turbines. However, in the UK, another picture may soon supplant that. Tidal power may soon find widespread adoption across the British Isles – estimates are at more than 20% of the nation’s electricity demand. An advantage of tidal power is its higher reliability compared to wind, although technological and financial barriers will have to be surmounted before significant production is realised. Read more
Image from Atlantis Resources Corporation, the global tidal energy company headquartered in Singapore.
By Matt McGrath, Environment correspondent, BBC News (14 January 2013):
The UK is underestimating the amount of electricity that could be generated from tidal sources, new research says.
The analysis says that estuary barrages and tidal streams could provide more than 20% of the nation’s demand for electricity.
Despite high costs, experts say tidal power is more reliable than wind.
The predictable nature of tides makes them an ideal renewable energy source, the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A reports.
But finding effective ways of utilising their latent power have proved elusive.
Essentially, engineers try to tap tides in two ways: one involves building barrages across tidal estuaries that use the ebb and flow of the waters to turn turbines – a major project of this type had been proposed for the River Severn.
The other method involves planting turbines underwater in fast flowing tidal streams in areas such as in coastal waters around Cornwall and Scotland.
In the Royal Society report, researchers say they are “extremely optimistic” that both types of technology can be realised and relatively soon.
La Rance tidal station (Getty Images) La Rance in Brittany, France, is the site of the world’s first tidal power station
“From tidal barrages you can reasonably expect you can get 15% of UK electricity needs, that’s a very solid number,” co-author Dr Nicholas Yates from the National Oceanography Centre told BBC News.
“On top of that there is a 5% tidal stream figure, and with future technological development that is likely to be an underestimate in my view,” he said.
The massive Severn estuary tidal barrage scheme had been rejected by the coalition government because of its environmental impact, but ministers have indicated they are open to review the idea.
Despite his faith in the idea of barrages, Dr Yates, who carried out the research with colleagues at the University of Liverpool, says he is against building one across the Severn.
“I think it’s unfortunate that attention for tidal range has tended to focus on the Severn, it’s the wrong place to start, it’s too big,” he said.
“Start small, it’s what the Danes did with wind – start small, learn quick and build up.”.
Developing power from offshore tidal streams is fraught with difficulty, as the BBC discovered when reporting on the emerging industry in Scotland last year.
Better than wind
But according to the authors of the latest research, 2013 could see a big breakthrough in tidal stream power. A company called MeyGen is planning to deploy tidal stream technology in the Pentland Firth that will initially generate up to 40MW of electricity, enough to power about 38,000 homes.
“This is a crucial milestone for us, it will be the first array of tidal stream turbines,” observed report co-author Professor AbuBakr Bahaj from the University of Southampton.
“It will be a viable proposition for us in energetic areas of the sea – it will be give us another element in the energy mix that’s more reliable than wind.”
Another key element that researchers have looked at in this research is the quality of the power produced by tidal sources.
The SeaGen project in Northern Ireland is the largest grid connected tidal turbine in the world.
Analysts have been looking to see if the power produced suffered from flicker, caused by loads that vary. It’s an established problem with older wind energy turbines and something that causes consumers great annoyance when it happens to their lights.
“In general, the results were very good, the flicker levels were quite low,” said Joseph MacEnri from ESB International who assessed SeaGen.
“Overall this device behaves like a modern, well-behaved wind turbine.”
While the report paints a positive future for tidal power, a critical element is money.
In the past month ,the EU has announced funding in the region of £30m for two UK tidal projects.
Investors in tidal technology are currently rewarded with a payment of £40 per megawatt hour for energy generated from renewables, but this scheme will end in 2017.
According to Prof Bahaj, this could have serious implications for the nascent industry.
“It depends on the subsidy. Without it, it wouldn’t stack up financially.”