Archive for April, 2013

Singapore Hosts “Creating Climate Wealth” & “Clean & Green Hackathon”

Posted by Ken on April 17, 2013
Posted under Express 189

Sir Richard Branson is confirmed for the Creating Climate Wealth workshops in Singapore, 13-14 May. The global convening mechanism is designed for entrepreneurs, innovators, capital providers, industry leaders and experts in order to identify profitable opportunities that climate change offers across diverse industry sectors. And Singapore is taking the Hackathon movement to a new level with the National Environment Agency (NEA) getting in on the act by holding its own “clean and green hackathon” from April 26 to 28. Read More

‘Hackathon’ to help keep Singapore clean and green

NEA brainstorming session to seek ideas from wide range of people

By David Ee in Straits Times (13 April 2013):

THEY are normally the preserve of computer programmers and Mark Zuckerberg geek-types, who gather en masse to create exciting new software.

But now the National Environment Agency (NEA) is getting in on the act by holding its own “hackathon” from April 26 to 28.

Its brainstorming session, dubbed The Clean and Green Hackathon, will involve participants trying to come up with environmental solutions for Singapore – rather than having them come directly from the authorities.

They will pitch their ideas and form teams, before hunkering down for up to 12 hours each day over the weekend. Winners will be announced on the final day of the event.

Billed by the NEA as “a celebration of collaboration and innovation”, the free event at the National University of Singapore aims to attract not only scientists and environmentalists, but also architects, web developers, programmers and other citizens.

An NEA spokesman said that the agency intends to “solicit good ideas for apps that can help track, monitor and protect the environment” through the event.

It already utilises them, such as its myENV app, which gives real-time information on rainfall and air quality.

The Government appears to be recognising the benefit that such consultations can bring to policymaking.

Last June, the Economic Development Board supported a hackathon that explored ideas ranging from how to save water to how to reduce stress.

Some 250 people attended.

Earlier this month, the Environment and Water Resources Ministry organised a Partners’ Forum to hear views on issues from saving the hawker trade to how to curb dengue.

Clean & Green participants will be asked to consider whether technologies such as mobile apps, social media and smart devices can help people change their mindsets and embrace greener living.

And if they cannot, how else Singaporeans can be inspired to “commit to better (green) habits”.

Other topics include urban issues such as waste management, energy usage and air quality. The NEA will provide participants with data on each of these.

Information architect Debbie Ding, 28, who has attended hackathons before, said that for them to be effective, they have to have focused themes, detailed data and the “right mix” of people interested in sharing ideas.

“A hackathon is limited by the datasets it receives,” she said.

Sustainability consultant Eugene Tay, 35, said that putting programmers and environmentalists in the same room could help lead to new mobile apps, for example, one to help people locate recycling bins in malls and along shopping streets.

He expressed doubts whether people would give up their weekend to take part but said that the Government should continue its recent trend of discussing policymaking with citizens.

Said bookstore owner Kenny Leck, 35: “It has to be an ongoing conversation, part and parcel of what they do, 365 days a year.”

Source: and


Announcement from Carbon War Room and Global Initiatives:

Sir Richard Branson Confirmed for Creating Climate Wealth Singapore May 13

Creating Climate Wealth Workshops, Singapore, 13-14 May is a global convening mechanism designed for entrepreneurs, innovators, capital providers, industry leaders and experts in order to identify profitable opportunities that climate change offers across diverse industry sectors. Whereas other green conferences and events have typically initiated ‘calls to action’ and white papers, our end goal at Carbon War Room is to elevate theory into practice.

CCW Workshop Summits: Are Carbon War Room’s global flagship events. Each Summit is a standalone two-day workshop with 5-8 different industry tracks, and a unique mix of 250-300 select delegates. The inclusive format is designed to ensure that your voice is heard and solutions are found.

What do I get?

At CCW Singapore, participants identify and analyze the most pressing barriers to green market growth in their industries, and develop solutions for overcoming these barriers. Although CCWs consider complex issues, the resolutions they generate are concrete, actionable and ultimately capable of accelerating, deploying and exploiting clean technology.

Day One:

• Groups will be asked to identify the challenges facing their individual industries

• Ideas for overcoming problems are brainstormed.

Day Two:

• Groups take their most robust ideas and pitch them – Dragon’s Den style – to our exclusive panel of industry experts and innovators.

• Approved ideas are taken forward and developed into actionable solutions published after the event.

Beyond the Event:

• Actionable solutions are taken forward either autonomously by companies or with the Carbon War Room, depending the potential scale of impact of the solution


- Maritime Shipping

- Energy Efficiency in the built Environment

- Machine to Machine Technologies

- Waste

- Cement


Currently, the world has the technology and policy in place to tackle 50% of the climate challenge: The job at hand now is how to shift existing capital to all entrepreneurial solutions that are profitable today. To do this, we must remove the market barriers that are currently stopping the successful scaling of these technologies globally.

Carbon War Room takes a global, sector-based approach. We are dedicated to breaking down industry market barriers, and get money flowing towards low-carbon opportunities. The aim is to complement your organization’s existing efforts, by leveraging our power to attract all key industry players to the table and help create new market demand.


The Carbon War Room divides the climate change challenge into 7 sectors and 17 sub-sectors – each containing the potential for massive C02 reductions, which are achievable via profitable business opportunities. Across these sectors, the War Room’s current Operations include: Maritime Shipping Efficiency, Green Capital, Renewable Jet Fuels, Smart Island Economies, and Trucking Efficiency.


Global Initiatives promotes partnership solutions to global challenges through film, international events and media projects. By sharing knowledge and best practices, and calling on all stakeholders to take action, we address some of the greatest challenges facing the world. Our initiatives are about partnership, inspiration and creating a better future.

Established in Singapore in 2005 (incorporated under Global Strategic Events Pte Ltd since 2007), Global Initiatives produces international events and television programming in more than 30 countries worldwide. Our producers, writers, designers and directors are based in Singapore, London, Hong Kong and Jakarta.

Source: and

Branding Business with Sustainability & Ethics in Mind

Posted by Ken on April 17, 2013
Posted under Express 189

Doing right, for a company, now goes beyond earning shareholders a fat dividend. Increasing scrutiny is now being cast on the ethical practices of businesses, with drastic results on their image and reputation – and long-term profitability. Environmental sustainability forms a component of business ethics, and its advocacy has received significant investments – though without much payback, according to a report by Verdantix. Businesses will have to incorporate sustainability as part of their branding, an approach that will lead to revenue growth. Read more

The role of ethics in everyday business

Why does it matter? What effect does it have on business success/reputation? What can businesses do to be more ethical?

By Rebecca Doodson in The Economic Voice (12 April 2013):

Ethics is fast becoming an essential aspect of business in the modern world. We see ethical practices promoted in advertising, and the lack of ethical behaviour condemned in the media. From scandals focused on The BBC to Barclays and Tesco Beef Lasagnes; business ethics are being increasingly scrutinized.

But why does this matter? Ethical scandals in the food, health, journalism and banking sectors have made the (already discerning) public more aware of these issues of ethics and, as consumers, we consider ethics when choosing a brand, supplier or service. Having a good ethical reputation can be what sets a business apart, and when it comes to ethics, reputation is everything.

If asked to think about companies that have lost public trust, what names would spring to mind? Amazon? Starbucks? Both have been the focus of media scrutiny following revelations of tax avoidance. But the interesting thing is tax avoidance is not illegal; instead the public were outraged at the departure from ethical standards. And it doesn’t stop there – ‘tax shaming’ is increasingly becoming an outlet for public anger at tax avoidance practices. Both Vodafone and  Barclays have been victims of protest against tax avoidance and, more recently, protestors have utilised social media ‘trending’ the hashtag #boycottstarbucks.

Whilst some do boycott brands, the impact this has is relatively low. It is difficult to measure the direct impact of public anger on profits of companies but branding experts agree the reputational repercussions are key.

The 13th Annual Edelman Trust Barometer clearly demonstrates the impact financial scandals have had on public trust. When asked about the banking industry, the UK scored just 29% in overall trust – a number considerably lower than the US, Canada, China and Australia.

Once a company’s brand is damaged by ethical scandals, it can be very difficult to re-build the trust of existing consumers and even more challenging to attract new ones. Additionally, a lapse in reputation can leave a business open to attack from competition.

So what can businesses do to be more ethical? Implementing a code of ethics is a good start. A recent survey conducted by IBE revealed 73% of UK employees say their organisation provides written standards of ethical business conduct. However, only half said they would report misconduct if they saw it occur. Employees are at the ‘front line’ of customer service and often have the most influence over the customer’s perception of the business. Training and development is therefore essential. This can be done internally or through workshops by ethics training providers. Some companies also offer free updates and information, such as AAT’s ethics microsite which has interactive dilemmas, case studies and articles about the most recent ethics news.

The many scandals that have affected businesses, companies and entire industries are cautionary tales with the moral being that the role of ethics in business must take centre stage.


Rebecca Doodson has been Senior Conduct and Compliance Officer at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians) since January 2011. She is responsible for content on AAT’s ethics microsite, and gives ethical advice to AAT members. Rebecca has worked at AAT for four years, managing disciplinary cases of non-compliance with the Regulations.

Read more:


Environmental  Leader (11 April 2013):

Link Sustainability to Corporate Branding, Verdantix Says

The bulk of companies that invest in sustainability communications are unable to drive revenue growth or reap any business benefits from their efforts because they fail integrate them into the corporate brand, according to a report from independent analyst firm Verdantix.

Rethinking Sustainability: Brand Risks and Opportunities is based on an analysis of how 80 firms link sustainability with corporate branding. Verdantix identifies five communications strategies companies typically take: purists, explorers, advocates, reactionists and nothingists.

The majority of firms are categorized as advocates, a strategy where companies actively communicate on sustainability issues, but keep these separate from the corporate brand and push them out to a limited audience. Advocates target their communications to employees and sustainability opinion leaders and use the company’s sustainability report as a central tool.

Despite pressure to do more, Verdantix found spending for sustainability communications is typically flat.

The number of companies managing and reporting performance on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is on the rise, more than doubling from 2010 to 2011, according to an analysis by Governance & Accountability Institute.

However, companies are often stuck on using traditional CSR communication strategies focused on reports, ratings and not-for-profits, Verdantix says. Chief marketing officers can add strategic value by integrating the company’s sustainability ethic and messages into the corporate brand, an approach that will lead to revenue growth.

CMOs need to take charge of sustainability communications in order to reap brand benefits. Once CMOs assess their current sustainability communications strategy and determine what their company spends in this area, they should benchmark their approach versus industry leaders, Verdantix says.

The firm also says CMOs should collaborate closely with management responsible for sustainability within the company to devise a strategic approach and then craft future-looking messaging to avoid greenwash accusations.

Source:  and

Last Word from Ken Hickson: Serendipity or Waking Up to Reality?

Posted by Ken on April 17, 2013
Posted under Express 189

Call it serendipity or what you will, but I feel compelled to tell a tale which has some very interesting, fortuitous and coincidental consequences.

It also illustrates the clear advantage of keeping an open mind, meeting interesting people and engaging in some of the age-old practices of picking up and reading a “real book” and not being so over-dependent on what I must call – for want of a better description – “digital engagement”.

My serendipitous encounter involved real people, a bit of history, and two books. And, as you would expect, a clean energy message with a clean energy pioneer, William Armstrong, at left.  Read More

Last Word: Serendipity or Waking Up to Reality?

Call it serendipity or what you will, but I feel compelled to tell a tale or two which have some very interesting, fortuitous and coincidental consequences.

It also illustrates the clear advantage of keeping an open mind, meeting interesting people and engaging in some of the age-old practices of picking up and reading a “real book” and not be so over-dependent on what I must call – for want of a better description – “digital engagement”.

My serendipitous encounter involved real people, a bit of history, and two books.

You wouldn’t imagine there would be any commonality between Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe” (first published in 1719) and a book by Henrietta Heald about William Armstrong “Magician of the North” who lived (1859 – 1900). Armstrong was a real living man and Crusoe a figment of Defoe’s vivid imagination.

But both had something in common. They utilised clean energy powered by water for very useful purposes. To survive on his island, Crusoe  invented a process to mill corn using the energy from a flowing river.  I read about this not in the original story by Defoe but in a fascinating book on literary heroes (and other fictional characters) in “Sebastion Faulks on Fiction”.

Being a great admirer of the writing skills of Mr Faulks – Birdsong, Charlotte Gray and even a James Bond book (as invited by the Ian Fleming trust) called Devil May Care – I was so pleased to pick it up in a Singapore Change Alley bookstore called Precious Words (a bookstore with a difference, as they offer books for lease as well as sale!)

And here’s where the serendipitous bit comes in. I was on my way to meet a client, Andrew Affleck of Armstrong Asset Management. Yes, you guessed it. Named after the same Armstrong – William – and subject of the book, which I found lined up in the bookcase in Andrew’s conference room.

I had certainly heard about Armstrong from Andrew before as to why he had chosen the name for his company. The Englishman was a great admirer of the very inventive, industrious William Armstrong. And as I flicked through the book, waiting for the meeting to start, I came across the reference to Armstrong’s invention of hydro-electricity.

Tapping the energy of a river on his Newcastle on Tyne property in 1880 to produce the power to light his house, history records that his was “the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity”.

At the time he was recognised as highly as the Stephenson’s – Robert and George, locomotives and railway line; Michael Faraday with his electromagnetism discoveries;  as Brunel, with his railway and bridge engineering, and Charles Darwin, with his Origin of the Species and others. But history has ‘shamefully neglected’ Armstrong, according to the novelist and thriller writer Len Deighton, an expert in military history, who welcomes the publication of the first comprehensive biography of this remarkable man.

Armstrong went on to be associated with ship building, armaments, cars and aircraft, but it was his first pioneering work in clean energy that I was most interested in. Water power to electrify lights.

So imagine my surprise – yes, obviously I had  not religiously read Robinson Crusoe so well as a boy – to discover that Mr Defoe had his hero use the energy from a flowing river to work its magic and drive a mill to grind his grain to help feed him in this remote place. The author didn’t have to invent this out of his creative mind, as using water to drive a mill had been around the for centuries.

But for me, reading – all within an hour or so – about the fictional hero of water energy on a remote island and the historic figure of the English early industrial age with his hydro-electrical powered lights made me think.

How sad it is that when the world had access to clean energy  it turned to fossil fuels to drive its industrial age and in the process severely damaged not only the environment on earth but produced excessive amounts of Carbon dioxide – and many other nasty greenhouse gases – which we are now doing our best to reduce, and eliminate if possible, to save the planet.

It was another historic figure – a contemporary of Armstrong’s – the Swedish Nobel prize winner in chemistry in 1903, one Svante Arrhenius, who released his landmark work in 1895. He talked about the “greenhouse effect” and what would happen if industrial emissions grew enough to double the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. He predicted a warming of about 5 degrees Celsius.

But he was wrong in that he predicted it would take 2000 years for that to happen. Latest predictions by climate scientists are that the earth is on track to reach that landmark 5 degrees C warming by 2050. Arrhenius should have said 200 not 2000 years. But he had no way of knowing the extent to which industrialisation, along with the digging up and burning coal, exploitation of oil and gas, would do so much damage.

And I doubt if his contemporary William Armstrong – the magician of the north (England) – really foresaw what would happen to hydro-generation, which has become a major source of energy for any countries, lighting for homes, streets and buildings, or his other clean and not so clean inventions.

But we can but take hope from the fact that these men – Armstrong  in particular – is now the inspiration for a movement to fund clean energy production and distribution on South East Asia.

Hydroelectricity might well figure among some of the to-be-funded projects. But more likely is solar, which is not only taking the world by storm – in the nicest possible way – but based on forecasts will be responsible for by far the majority of all the world’s energy well before the end of this century. Shell’s latest forecast is that by 2070, solar photovoltaic panels become the world’s largest primary source of energy.

Solar, by way of photo-voltaic on roofs of buildings everywhere,  as well as solar thermal by way of large arrays of mirrors to reflect the heat of the sun onto  towers to heat salt to produce steam to drive turbines to produce electricity 24 hours a day. This is happening in Spain and California now and plans are for massive use of solar thermal in Australia and the Sahara.

Advance in solar technology are considerable. Thinner and more effective solar cells.The work of the SERIS centre in Singapore to utilise solar cells in the windows and facades of buildings. Or the work of special glass now installed in the Empire State Building. Or the work of companies like Phoenix Solar – in Singapore and around the world – to install solar panels on many buildings as an alternative to fossil fuel power.

Interesting to note that the first solar power plants in the world were in France. We noted in an article a few months ago after friends reported on visiting the world’s first modern solar furnace – and the world’s largest – at Mont Louis, near Odeillo. It is believed to have been built in France in 1949 by Professor Félix Trombe. The Pyrenees were chosen as the site because the area experiences clear skies up to 300 days a year.

France has been doing other work on solar thermal – the THEMIS solar power tower is a research and development centre focused on solar energy and is located near the village of Targassonne, in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales, 3 kilometres from the world’s solar furnace in Odeillo.

We must not ignore one of the latest advances in solar from the UK.  Eight19, which takes its name from the time it takes sunlight to reach the earth – 8 minutes and 19 seconds – is a developer and manufacturer of third generation solar cells based on printed plastic.

Originating from technology initially developed at Cambridge University in the UK, these flexible, robust, lightweight solar modules benefit from high-speed manufacturing and low fabrication costs.  With a fraction of the embedded energy of conventional solar modules, printed plastic solar modules are particularly well suited to consumer and off-grid applications.

What is the world coming to? Printed plastic solar modules. Solar cells incorporated in glass windows.

And we end with the work of another genius – Sir Harry Kroto, of Cambridge, another Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, for his work with C60 – the wonder carbon.

Could this open the door to genuinely cheap, clean, low carbon energy?

Could this be the 21st century  equivalent to Armstrong’s innovations, and that of his fellow Victorian inventors?

Keep your eyes and ears open. Read and meet real people. Recognise serendipity when it hits you!

Note: The first noted use of “serendipity” in the English language was by Horace Walpole (1717–1797). In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip, whose heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of”. The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon).


1. “Faulks on Fiction”, by Sebastian Faulks, BBC Books, 2011

2. “William Armstrong: Magician of the North”, by Henrietta Heald, McNidder & Grace, 2012

3. Armstrong Asset Management, Singapore

4. Solar Energy Research Institute Singapore,

5. Phoenix Solar, Singapore,

6. Eight 19,


Something to Think About…..

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188
Mahatma Gandhi once said:
Your beliefs become your thoughts, 
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.
This has to be the thinking person’s newsletter on all things climate, carbon, energy, environment and sustainability. So we’ve been told. And if we don’t make you think as you read online in this cluttered life of ours, we have not done our job. So plenty to think about here – and maybe worry about. Climate sensitivity. Is it all as bad as it seems? Or should we not worry so much abut the fate of earth?  Read what The Economist has to say. As well as our profiled guest John Cook – the skeptical scientist himself. Another visionary Larry Brilliant tells business to take a long term view and WWF urges Governments to convert fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy investments. Asia is coming into its own: Can we believe it could lead the clean energy revolution? See what’s happening with low carbon competitiveness and better climate research. Then there’s stories about bees, water, rice, shipping and solar. A world of difference. And a last word on how we could communicate better – Ken Hickson

Profile: John Cook

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

Dedicating his career to dispelling myths and misunderstanding of climate change is John Cook, through his website Skeptical Science. As the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, he is in the perfect position to address doubts of climate change by making the findings of research papers easily accessible and understandable by the lay person. This role could not be more important today, as opinions are increasingly polarised. Read more

Making Sense of Sensitivity … and Keeping It in Perspective

Posted on 28 March 2013 by dana1981

Yesterday The Economist published an article about climate sensitivity – how much the planet’s surface will warm in response to the increased greenhouse effect from a doubling of atmospheric CO2, including amplifying and dampening feedbacks.  For the most part the article was well-researched, with the exception of a few errors, like calling financier Nic Lewis “an independent climate scientist.”  The main shortcomings in the article lie in its interpretation of the research that it presented.

For example, the article focused heavily on the slowed global surface warming over the past decade, and a few studies which, based on that slowed surface warming, have concluded that climate sensitivity is relatively low.  However, as we have discussed on Skeptical Science, those estimates do not include the accelerated warming of the deeper oceans over the past decade, and they appear to be overly sensitive to short-term natural variability.  The Economist article touched only briefly on the accelerated deep ocean warming, and oddly seemed to dismiss this data as “obscure.”

The Economist article also referenced the circular Tung and Zhou (2013) paper we addressed here, and suggested that if equilibrium climate sensitivity is 2°C to a doubling of CO2, we might be better off adapting to rather than trying to mitigate climate change.  Unfortunately, as we discussed here, even a 2°C sensitivity would set us on a path for very dangerous climate change unless we take serious steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Ultimately it was rather strange to see such a complex technical subject as climate sensitivity tackled in a business-related publication.  While The Economist made a good effort at the topic, their lack of expertise showed.

For a more expert take on climate sensitivity, we re-post here an article published by Zeke Hausfather at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.

Climate sensitivity is suddenly a hot topic.

Some commenters skeptical of the severity of projected climate change have recently seized on two sources to argue that the climate may be less sensitive than many scientists say and the impacts of climate change therefore less serious: A yet-to-be-published study from Norwegian researchers, and remarks by James Annan, a climate scientist with the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC).

While the points skeptics are making significantly overstate their case, a look at recent developments in estimates of climate sensitivity may help provide a better estimate of future warming. These estimates are critical, as climate sensitivity will be one of the main factors determining how much warming the world experiences during the 21st century.

Climate sensitivity is an important and often poorly understood concept. Put simply, it is usually defined as the amount of global surface warming that will occur when atmospheric CO2 concentrations double. These estimates have proven remarkably stable over time, generally falling in the range of 1.5 to 4.5 degrees C per doubling of CO2.* Using its established terminology, IPCC in its Fourth Assessment Report slightly narrowed this range, arguing that climate sensitivity was “likely” between 2 C to 4.5 C, and that it was “very likely” more than 1.5 C.

The wide range of estimates of climate sensitivity is attributable to uncertainties about the magnitude of climate feedbacks (e.g., water vapor, clouds, and albedo). Those estimates also reflect uncertainties involving changes in temperature and forcing in the distant past. But based on the radiative properties, there is broad agreement that, all things being equal, a doubling of CO2 will yield a temperature increase of a bit more than 1 C if feedbacks are ignored. However, it is known from estimates of past climate changes and from atmospheric physics-based models that Earth’s climate is more sensitive than that. A prime example: Small perturbations in orbital forcings resulting in vast ice ages could not have occurred without strong feedbacks.


About Skeptical Science

The goal of Skeptical Science is to explain what peer reviewed science has to say about global warming. When you peruse the many arguments of global warming skeptics, a pattern emerges. Skeptic arguments tend to focus on narrow pieces of the puzzle while neglecting the broader picture. For example, focus on Climategate emails neglects the full weight of scientific evidence for man-made global warming. Concentrating on a few growing glaciers ignores the world wide trend of accelerating glacier shrinkage. Claims of global cooling fail to realise the planet as a whole is still accumulating heat. This website presents the broader picture by explaining the peer reviewed scientific literature.

Often, the reason for disbelieving in man-made global warming seem to be political rather than scientific. Eg – “it’s all a liberal plot to spread socialism and destroy capitalism”. As one person put it, “the cheerleaders for doing something about global warming seem to be largely the cheerleaders for many causes of which I disapprove”. However, what is causing global warming is a purely scientific question. Skeptical Science removes the politics from the debate by concentrating solely on the science.


About the author

Skeptical Science is maintained by John Cook, the Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. He studied physics at the University of Queensland, Australia. After graduating, he majored in solar physics in his post-grad honours year. He is not a climate scientist. Consequently, the science presented on Skeptical Science is not his own but taken directly from the peer reviewed scientific literature. To those seeking to refute the science presented, one needs to address the peer reviewed papers where the science comes from (links to the full papers are provided whenever possible).


There is no funding to maintain Skeptical Science other than Paypal donations – it’s run at personal expense. John Cook has no affiliations with any organisations or political groups. Skeptical Science is strictly a labour of love. The design was created by John’s talented web designer wife.


What a Brilliant Idea!Take long term view

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

The threat of climate change is not one that can be addressed with just technological developments – economics and finance are also needed to provide a more holistic approach to the problem. In an interview Larry Brilliant, CEO for Skoll Global Threats Fund, issued a call for business owners to adopt a long-term view of threats to the global economy, and for more investments in clean technology. These investments may just come from what are currently fossil fuel subsidies, as the WWF urges governments to convert billions of dollars into investments in clean, renewable energy. Read more

JOURNAL REPORTS (30 March 2013):

Climate Change Is the Risk That Increases All Others

Larry Brilliant is president and CEO of Skoll Global Threats Fund, an organization devoted to building alliances and finding solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Climate change is the greatest risk we face. It’s the great exacerbater. It exacerbates the risk of pandemics. It exacerbates the risks of water. It exacerbates the risk of conflict. Take a look at South Asia, where China owns the ice, India owns the water and has 21 dams, and Pakistan and Bangladesh are out of luck. Pakistan’s entire food production is dependent on two other nuclear-armed countries.

On CEO priorities

Joe White, Senior Editor for The Wall Street Journal, talks with Larry Brilliant, CEO for Skoll Global Threats Fund, about how innovators are working to answer some of the world’s most complex social challenges.

I was the CEO of two public companies. When I’m looking at quarterly profits, I start working on the next 90 days before this 90 days is over. How can I look up, in all honesty, and say, “There’s an odorless, colorless, tasteless, invisible gas that’s going to destroy the world 20 years from now”?

Our structure is wrong. The incentive system is misaligned with having these powerful, strong, smart CEOs focus on the issues ahead.

Climate change has an extremely high probability if you’re looking at a 20-year time frame. But in a quarter, it has a low probability.

On what’s holding back clean-energy investment

When Steve Jobs got his genome sequenced, it was $100,000. Within five years, it’ll be $100 or $200. If I was a businessperson, I would say, “There’s a tremendous amount of money to be made in the combination of big data, epidemiological analysis and what’s going to be a treasure trove of data from genomic sequencing.” Who’s going to be trying to find the new drugs? Who’s going to try to find the effect of drugs already on genes? That’s the place that I would be looking as an investor. Not climate.

We’re truly not going to make a huge change [on attacking global warming] unless we have a price on carbon. Until there’s a price on carbon and entrepreneurs know what to aim at and companies know what to produce, we’re not going to make that huge progress that we need.

A version of this article appeared March 26, 2013, on page R2 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Climate Change Is the Risk That Increases All Others.



Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies Must Be Transformed into Financing for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

In (30 March 2013): is brought to you by AZoNetwork, the leading online science, engineering and medical publisher.

The continued maintenance of fossil fuel subsidies is a global scandal and governments should work to transform these subsidies into financing for energy efficiency and renewable energy, says WWF, responding to a report released today by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) report Energy Subsidy Reform: Lessons and Implications shines a much needed light on the dark side of fossil fuel subsidies.

The IMF assessment shows that global fossil fuel subsidies – including carbon pollution impacts from fossil fuels – account for almost 9% of all annual country budgets – amounting to a staggering $US 1.9 trillion, much higher than previously estimated. And importantly, says WWF Global Climate & Energy Initiative leader Samantha Smith, the report confirms that the poorest 20% of developing countries only marginally benefit from energy subsidies.

“Removing these subsidies would reduce carbon pollution by 13%. This would be a major step towards reducing the world’s carbon footprint. Maintenance of these subsidies is a global scandal, a crime against the environment and an active instrument against clean energy and technological innovation. We strongly support transforming fossil fuel subsidies into an effective scheme for financing energy efficiency and renewables and making sure that the poor in developing countries benefit appropriately and receive clean, affordable and reliable energy,” she says.

The IMF findings show that almost half of fossil fuel subsidies occur in OECD nations. The US, with about $US 500 billion annually, accounts for more than one quarter of all global fossil fuel subsidies, followed by China with almost $US 300 billion and Russia ($US 115 billion).

WWF Global Energy Policy Director Stephan Singer says industrialised countries are responsible for the lion’s share of fossil fuel subsidies and should act now to stop them. “If they were to abolish those subsidies and reform towards renewables and energy efficiency investments, it would more than triple present global investment into renewables,” he says. “And that is what is needed for a world powered by 100% sustainable renewables.”

Source: and

Climate sensitivity rears its worrying head

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

Despite adding about 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere over the last decade, mean global temperature has remained unchanged. The Economist magazine has served up this in its latest issue. For climate scientists this could mean the climate is less sensitive towards changes in carbon dioxide levels. However, regardless of the climate’s sensitivity, the continued pumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is expected to cause an increase in global temperature. Best be prepared for the consequences that follow. Read more

Climate science

A sensitive matter

The climate may be heating up less in response to greenhouse-gas emissions than was once thought. But that does not mean the problem is going away

The Economist (30 March 2013):

OVER the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar. The world added roughly 100 billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere between 2000 and 2010. That is about a quarter of all the CO₂ put there by humanity since 1750. And yet, as James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, observes, “the five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.”

Temperatures fluctuate over short periods, but this lack of new warming is a surprise. Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, in Britain, points out that surface temperatures since 2005 are already at the low end of the range of projections derived from 20 climate models. If they remain flat, they will fall outside the models’ range within a few years.

The mismatch between rising greenhouse-gas emissions and not-rising temperatures is among the biggest puzzles in climate science just now. It does not mean global warming is a delusion. Flat though they are, temperatures in the first decade of the 21st century remain almost 1°C above their level in the first decade of the 20th. But the puzzle does need explaining.

The mismatch might mean that—for some unexplained reason—there has been a temporary lag between more carbon dioxide and higher temperatures in 2000-10. Or it might be that the 1990s, when temperatures were rising fast, was the anomalous period. Or, as an increasing body of research is suggesting, it may be that the climate is responding to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in ways that had not been properly understood before. This possibility, if true, could have profound significance both for climate science and for environmental and social policy.

The insensitive planet

The term scientists use to describe the way the climate reacts to changes in carbon-dioxide levels is “climate sensitivity”. This is usually defined as how much hotter the Earth will get for each doubling of CO₂ concentrations. So-called equilibrium sensitivity, the commonest measure, refers to the temperature rise after allowing all feedback mechanisms to work (but without accounting for changes in vegetation and ice sheets).

Carbon dioxide itself absorbs infra-red at a consistent rate. For each doubling of CO₂ levels you get roughly 1°C of warming. A rise in concentrations from preindustrial levels of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 560ppm would thus warm the Earth by 1°C. If that were all there was to worry about, there would, as it were, be nothing to worry about. A 1°C rise could be shrugged off. But things are not that simple, for two reasons. One is that rising CO₂ levels directly influence phenomena such as the amount of water vapour (also a greenhouse gas) and clouds that amplify or diminish the temperature rise. This affects equilibrium sensitivity directly, meaning doubling carbon concentrations would produce more than a 1°C rise in temperature. The second is that other things, such as adding soot and other aerosols to the atmosphere, add to or subtract from the effect of CO₂. All serious climate scientists agree on these two lines of reasoning. But they disagree on the size of the change that is predicted.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which embodies the mainstream of climate science, reckons the answer is about 3°C, plus or minus a degree or so. In its most recent assessment (in 2007), it wrote that “the equilibrium climate sensitivity…is likely to be in the range 2°C to 4.5°C with a best estimate of about 3°C and is very unlikely to be less than 1.5°C. Values higher than 4.5°C cannot be excluded.” The IPCC’s next assessment is due in September. A draft version was recently leaked. It gave the same range of likely outcomes and added an upper limit of sensitivity of 6°C to 7°C.

A rise of around 3°C could be extremely damaging. The IPCC’s earlier assessment said such a rise could mean that more areas would be affected by drought; that up to 30% of species could be at greater risk of extinction; that most corals would face significant biodiversity losses; and that there would be likely increases of intense tropical cyclones and much higher sea levels.

New Model Army

Other recent studies, though, paint a different picture. An unpublished report by the Research Council of Norway, a government-funded body, which was compiled by a team led by Terje Berntsen of the University of Oslo, uses a different method from the IPCC’s. It concludes there is a 90% probability that doubling CO₂ emissions will increase temperatures by only 1.2-2.9°C, with the most likely figure being 1.9°C. The top of the study’s range is well below the IPCC’s upper estimates of likely sensitivity.

This study has not been peer-reviewed; it may be unreliable. But its projections are not unique. Work by Julia Hargreaves of the Research Institute for Global Change in Yokohama, which was published in 2012, suggests a 90% chance of the actual change being in the range of 0.5-4.0°C, with a mean of 2.3°C. This is based on the way the climate behaved about 20,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, a period when carbon-dioxide concentrations leapt. Nic Lewis, an independent climate scientist, got an even lower range in a study accepted for publication: 1.0-3.0°C, with a mean of 1.6°C. His calculations reanalysed work cited by the IPCC and took account of more recent temperature data. In all these calculations, the chances of climate sensitivity above 4.5°C become vanishingly small.

If such estimates were right, they would require revisions to the science of climate change and, possibly, to public policies. If, as conventional wisdom has it, global temperatures could rise by 3°C or more in response to a doubling of emissions, then the correct response would be the one to which most of the world pays lip service: rein in the warming and the greenhouse gases causing it. This is called “mitigation”, in the jargon. Moreover, if there were an outside possibility of something catastrophic, such as a 6°C rise, that could justify drastic interventions. This would be similar to taking out disaster insurance. It may seem an unnecessary expense when you are forking out for the premiums, but when you need it, you really need it. Many economists, including William Nordhaus of Yale University, have made this case.

If, however, temperatures are likely to rise by only 2°C in response to a doubling of carbon emissions (and if the likelihood of a 6°C increase is trivial), the calculation might change. Perhaps the world should seek to adjust to (rather than stop) the greenhouse-gas splurge. There is no point buying earthquake insurance if you do not live in an earthquake zone. In this case more adaptation rather than more mitigation might be the right policy at the margin. But that would be good advice only if these new estimates really were more reliable than the old ones. And different results come from different models.

One type of model—general-circulation models, or GCMs—use a bottom-up approach. These divide the Earth and its atmosphere into a grid which generates an enormous number of calculations in order to imitate the climate system and the multiple influences upon it. The advantage of such complex models is that they are extremely detailed. Their disadvantage is that they do not respond to new temperature readings. They simulate the way the climate works over the long run, without taking account of what current observations are. Their sensitivity is based upon how accurately they describe the processes and feedbacks in the climate system.

The other type—energy-balance models—are simpler. They are top-down, treating the Earth as a single unit or as two hemispheres, and representing the whole climate with a few equations reflecting things such as changes in greenhouse gases, volcanic aerosols and global temperatures. Such models do not try to describe the complexities of the climate. That is a drawback. But they have an advantage, too: unlike the GCMs, they explicitly use temperature data to estimate the sensitivity of the climate system, so they respond to actual climate observations.

The IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity are based partly on GCMs. Because these reflect scientists’ understanding of how the climate works, and that understanding has not changed much, the models have not changed either and do not reflect the recent hiatus in rising temperatures. In contrast, the Norwegian study was based on an energy-balance model. So were earlier influential ones by Reto Knutti of the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science in Zurich; by Piers Forster of the University of Leeds and Jonathan Gregory of the University of Reading; by Natalia Andronova and Michael Schlesinger, both of the University of Illinois; and by Magne Aldrin of the Norwegian Computing Centre (who is also a co-author of the new Norwegian study). All these found lower climate sensitivities. The paper by Drs Forster and Gregory found a central estimate of 1.6°C for equilibrium sensitivity, with a 95% likelihood of a 1.0-4.1°C range. That by Dr Aldrin and others found a 90% likelihood of a 1.2-3.5°C range.

It might seem obvious that energy-balance models are better: do they not fit what is actually happening? Yes, but that is not the whole story. Myles Allen of Oxford University points out that energy-balance models are better at representing simple and direct climate feedback mechanisms than indirect and dynamic ones. Most greenhouse gases are straightforward: they warm the climate. The direct impact of volcanoes is also straightforward: they cool it by reflecting sunlight back. But volcanoes also change circulation patterns in the atmosphere, which can then warm the climate indirectly, partially offsetting the direct cooling. Simple energy-balance models cannot capture this indirect feedback. So they may exaggerate volcanic cooling.

This means that if, for some reason, there were factors that temporarily muffled the impact of greenhouse-gas emissions on global temperatures, the simple energy-balance models might not pick them up. They will be too responsive to passing slowdowns. In short, the different sorts of climate model measure somewhat different things.

Clouds of uncertainty

This also means the case for saying the climate is less sensitive to CO₂ emissions than previously believed cannot rest on models alone. There must be other explanations—and, as it happens, there are: individual climatic influences and feedback loops that amplify (and sometimes moderate) climate change.

Begin with aerosols, such as those from sulphates. These stop the atmosphere from warming by reflecting sunlight. Some heat it, too. But on balance aerosols offset the warming impact of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Most climate models reckon that aerosols cool the atmosphere by about 0.3-0.5°C. If that underestimated aerosols’ effects, perhaps it might explain the lack of recent warming.

Yet it does not. In fact, it may actually be an overestimate. Over the past few years, measurements of aerosols have improved enormously. Detailed data from satellites and balloons suggest their cooling effect is lower (and their warming greater, where that occurs). The leaked assessment from the IPCC (which is still subject to review and revision) suggested that aerosols’ estimated radiative “forcing”—their warming or cooling effect—had changed from minus 1.2 watts per square metre of the Earth’s surface in the 2007 assessment to minus 0.7W/m ² now: ie, less cooling.

One of the commonest and most important aerosols is soot (also known as black carbon). This warms the atmosphere because it absorbs sunlight, as black things do. The most detailed study of soot was published in January and also found more net warming than had previously been thought. It reckoned black carbon had a direct warming effect of around 1.1W/m ². Though indirect effects offset some of this, the effect is still greater than an earlier estimate by the United Nations Environment Programme of 0.3-0.6W/m ².

All this makes the recent period of flat temperatures even more puzzling. If aerosols are not cooling the Earth as much as was thought, then global warming ought to be gathering pace. But it is not. Something must be reining it back. One candidate is lower climate sensitivity.

A related possibility is that general-circulation climate models may be overestimating the impact of clouds (which are themselves influenced by aerosols). In all such models, clouds amplify global warming, sometimes by a lot. But as the leaked IPCC assessment says, “the cloud feedback remains the most uncertain radiative feedback in climate models.” It is even possible that some clouds may dampen, not amplify global warming—which may also help explain the hiatus in rising temperatures. If clouds have less of an effect, climate sensitivity would be lower.

So the explanation may lie in the air—but then again it may not. Perhaps it lies in the oceans. But here, too, facts get in the way. Over the past decade the long-term rise in surface seawater temperatures seems to have stalled (see chart 2), which suggests that the oceans are not absorbing as much heat from the atmosphere.

As with aerosols, this conclusion is based on better data from new measuring devices. But it applies only to the upper 700 metres of the sea. What is going on below that—particularly at depths of 2km or more—is obscure. A study in Geophysical Research Letters by Kevin Trenberth of America’s National Centre for Atmospheric Research and others found that 30% of the ocean warming in the past decade has occurred in the deep ocean (below 700 metres). The study says a substantial amount of global warming is going into the oceans, and the deep oceans are heating up in an unprecedented way. If so, that would also help explain the temperature hiatus.

Double-A minus

Lastly, there is some evidence that the natural (ie, non-man-made) variability of temperatures may be somewhat greater than the IPCC has thought. A recent paper by Ka-Kit Tung and Jiansong Zhou in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences links temperature changes from 1750 to natural changes (such as sea temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean) and suggests that “the anthropogenic global-warming trends might have been overestimated by a factor of two in the second half of the 20th century.” It is possible, therefore, that both the rise in temperatures in the 1990s and the flattening in the 2000s have been caused in part by natural variability.

So what does all this amount to? The scientists are cautious about interpreting their findings. As Dr Knutti puts it, “the bottom line is that there are several lines of evidence, where the observed trends are pushing down, whereas the models are pushing up, so my personal view is that the overall assessment hasn’t changed much.”

But given the hiatus in warming and all the new evidence, a small reduction in estimates of climate sensitivity would seem to be justified: a downwards nudge on various best estimates from 3°C to 2.5°C, perhaps; a lower ceiling (around 4.5°C), certainly. If climate scientists were credit-rating agencies, climate sensitivity would be on negative watch. But it would not yet be downgraded.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity is a benchmark in climate science. But it is a very specific measure. It attempts to describe what would happen to the climate once all the feedback mechanisms have worked through; equilibrium in this sense takes centuries—too long for most policymakers. As Gerard Roe of the University of Washington argues, even if climate sensitivity were as high as the IPCC suggests, its effects would be minuscule under any plausible discount rate because it operates over such long periods. So it is one thing to ask how climate sensitivity might be changing; a different question is to ask what the policy consequences might be.

For that, a more useful measure is the transient climate response (TCR), the temperature you reach after doubling CO₂ gradually over 70 years. Unlike the equilibrium response, the transient one can be observed directly; there is much less controversy about it. Most estimates put the TCR at about 1.5°C, with a range of 1-2°C. Isaac Held of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently calculated his “personal best estimate” for the TCR: 1.4°C, reflecting the new estimates for aerosols and natural variability.

That sounds reassuring: the TCR is below estimates for equilibrium climate sensitivity. But the TCR captures only some of the warming that those 70 years of emissions would eventually generate because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for much longer.

As a rule of thumb, global temperatures rise by about 1.5°C for each trillion tonnes of carbon put into the atmosphere. The world has pumped out half a trillion tonnes of carbon since 1750, and temperatures have risen by 0.8°C. At current rates, the next half-trillion tonnes will be emitted by 2045; the one after that before 2080.

Since CO₂ accumulates in the atmosphere, this could increase temperatures compared with pre-industrial levels by around 2°C even with a lower sensitivity and perhaps nearer to 4°C at the top end of the estimates. Despite all the work on sensitivity, no one really knows how the climate would react if temperatures rose by as much as 4°C. Hardly reassuring.


Is Asia leading the way to a clean energy revolution?

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

Flying under the radar thus far, the energy revolution in Asia has changed the way countries here are powering their economies and communities. Adding renewable energy capacities at a breakneck pace, countries such as Japan, China, and India, can serve as models for the United States and other nations to shift towards non-polluting, sustainable energy as envisioned by the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Reinventing Fire. Read more

Asia’s Accelerating Energy Revolution

By Amory B. Lovins, Cofounder, Chairman and Chief Scientist, Rocky Mountain Institute (26 March 2013):

In late 2012, RMI’s cofounder, chairman, and chief scientist Amory Lovins spent seven weeks in Japan, China, India, Indonesia, and Singapore observing Asia’s emerging green energy revolution. In February 2013, he returned to Japan and China. Japan, China, and India—all vulnerable to climate change—turned out to be in different stages of a “shared and massive shift” to a green energy future, one with remarkable similarities to RMI’s Reinventing Fire vision for the United States.

Largely unnoticed in the West, Asia’s energy revolution is gathering speed. It’s driven by the same economic and strategic logic that Reinventing Fire showed could profitably shift the United States from fossil-fuel-based and nuclear energy to three-times-more-efficient use and three-fourths renewables by 2050.

Renewable energy now provides one-fifth of the world’s electricity and has added about half of the world’s new generating capacity each year since 2008. Excluding big hydro dams, renewables got $250 billion in private investment in 2011 alone, adding 84 GW, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance and The results were similar in 2012.

While RMI explores how key partners could apply our U.S. synthesis to other countries, including China, revolutionary shifts—strikingly parallel to our approach—are already emerging in the three biggest Asian economies: Japan, China, and India. They add strong reasons to expect the already-underway renewable revolution to scale even further and faster.

Japan Awakens

After world-leading energy efficiency gains in the 1970s, Japan’s energy kaizen stagnated. Japanese industry remains among the most efficient of 11 major industrial nations, but Japan now ranks tenth among them in industrial cogeneration and commercial building efficiency, eighth in truck efficiency, and ties with the U.S. for next-to-last in car efficiency. With such low efficiencies and very high energy prices—far higher for electricity than in a more competitive market structure, while gas prices are historically linked to oil prices—fixing these inefficiencies can be stunningly profitable. For example, retrofitting semiconductor company Rohm’s Japan head office in front of the Kyoto railway station—even without using superwindows as RMI did in the Empire State Building retrofit—saved even more energy (44 percent) with a faster payback (two years).

As the debate triggered by the Fukushima disaster opens up a profound public energy conversation, Japan is starting to see those tremendous buildings efficiency opportunities—and to realize that it is the richest in renewable energy (wind, solar, and marine in particular) of any major industrial country. Japan has twice the per-hectare high-quality renewable potential of North America, three times that of Europe, and nine times that of Germany. Yet Japan’s renewable share of electricity generation is one-ninth that of Germany—so its renewable power exploitation is exactly the opposite of its relative endowment!

Why such poor renewable generation and modest ambition despite such rich local resources? Answer: because Japan is in a race with Chile to be the last OECD country to establish an independent grid operator bringing supply competition and transparent pricing to the old geographic utility monopolies.

But that is changing; Japan’s once-monolithic business support for utility monopolies-cum-monopsonies (one seller, one buyer) is eroding. Important impetus came in July 2012 from a bold initiative—feed-in tariffs that promote greater renewables integration into the grid—championed by Softbank founder and now solar entrepreneur Masayoshi Son. The tariffs were set at three to four times original European levels, because the government, apparently based on 2005 foreign prices, unaccountably believed renewables cost that much in Japan, where even commodities like PV racks, cables, and junction boxes sell for about twice the world price. Some 5.2 GW of feed-in-tariff applications were approved in 2012, including 3.9 GW of non-residential solar. As prices fall, the Industry Minister is expected to start phasing down the solar feed-in tariff with a 10 percent cut this spring.

Meanwhile, though, the government changed to one more aligned with incumbent monopolists, delaying reforms. And some utilities have been exploiting a loophole that lets them unilaterally reject renewable offerings, without explanation or appeal, as risky to grid stability—so the developer gets no payment and doesn’t build.

As these internal divisions play out, the Land of the Rising Sun is getting eclipsed—making early progress despite persistent obstacles, but falling far short of its potential and others’ progress. Japan added nearly 3 GW of photovoltaics in 2012—but even less-organized Italy installed 7 GW in 2011. Similarly, Japan’s windpower association projects the same market share in 2050 that Spain achieved back in 2010.

But there are hopeful signs too. Son-san’s initiative was supported by at least 34 provincial governors. Hiroshi Mikitani, billionaire founder of the e-commerce giant Rakuten, just left the powerful traditional business forum Keidanren to form a reformist rival group. Slowly, in the subtle and complex Japanese way, business leaders’ center of gravity is shifting toward better buys and more entrepreneurial models. Real projects demonstrating renewables’ competitive advantage will speed that shift.

And if it does take hold, the world has long learned that nothing is as fast as Japanese industry taking over a sector. Nothing, that is, except its Chinese counterpart.

China Scales

China is the world’s #1 energy user and carbon emitter, accounting for 55 percent of world energy-consumption growth during 2000–2011. Yet China now also leads the world in five renewable technologies (wind, photovoltaics, small hydro, solar water heaters, and biogas) and aims to lead in all. Its solar and wind power industries have grown explosively: windpower doubled in each of five successive years. In 2012, China installed more than a third of the world’s new wind capacity and should beat 2015’s official 100 GW windpower target by more than a year.

China owns most of the world’s photovoltaic manufacturing capacity, which can produce over twice what the world installed in 2012, so the government has boosted its 2020 PV target to 50 GW to soak up the surplus in a few years. Meanwhile, overcapacity drove consolidation, with over 100 makers exiting the world market in 2012. But plunging prices plus Western innovation have made wind and solar into likely power-marketplace winners—even with incentives shrinking to zero.

As non-hydro renewables head for about 11 percent of China’s 2020 electricity generation, vigorous industrial and appliance efficiency efforts are trimming demand growth. To be sure, coal still supplies two-thirds of China’s energy and nearly four-fifths of its electricity, but its star is dimming. Two-thirds of the coal-fired power plants added in 2003–06 were apparently unauthorized by Beijing, but in 2006–10, net additions of coal-fired capacity fell by half, then kept shrinking. In 2011, investment in new coal plants fell by one-fourth to less than half its 2005 level, and China’s top five power companies—squeezed between rising coal prices and government-frozen electricity prices—lost $2.4 billion on coal-fired generation. Coal’s hidden costs, including rail bottlenecks, are becoming manifest; public opposition is rising. And now further speeding the shift from coal to efficiency and renewables is dangerously polluted air (especially in Beijing) as coal-burning mixes with the exhausts of abundant but polluting new cars. (Shanghai’s Singapore-like auction now prices a new-car license plate above a small car to put it on.) Bad air has suddenly created a powerful grassroots environmental movement.

In November 2012, the 18th Party Congress for the first time headlined a “revolution in energy production and use”—strong language from an organization founded in revolution. The incoming leaders had already earmarked major funding to explore how to accelerate China’s transition beyond coal. They clearly intend to fix what President Hu called an “unbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable” development pattern and to get off coal faster. An unprecedented 2012 dip in coal-fired generation, even as the economy grew, was caused largely by a slowdown in manufacturing and strong hydro runoff, but renewables and efficiency too are starting to displace coal. China is making a real bid to be the new Germany, leading not only in making but also in applying its abundant renewable assets.

India Starts Tipping

So what about the country that—together with China—is responsible for 76 percent of the world’s planned 1.4 trillion watts of coal-fired power plants and 90 percent of the projected growth in global coal demand to 2016; that plans (implausibly) to build a coal-fired plant fleet twice as big as America’s; and that will ultimately surpass China in population, though one-fourth of its people still lack electricity?

India’s power generation is still mainly coal-fired, but India’s coal is only abundant, not cheap. Chronic coal-sector and logistics challenges have created growing import dependence (as in China, which became a net importer in 2009). That helped the six countries that control four-fifths of global coal exports to gain the market power to boost prices, so they did. Rising coal imports and a weakening currency gave India a macroeconomic headache and power producers a financial migraine.

Coal prices 2–3 times assumptions imposed a grave price/cost squeeze on two of the world’s biggest coal plants—4-GW projects owned by the largest generating firm (Tata Power, part of Tata Group that’s nearly 5 percent of India’s GDP) and by Reliance. Many plants can’t even get enough coal, exacerbating electricity shortages, but the government doesn’t want to raise electricity prices, so the dominoes are falling. In December 2011, Infrastructure Development Finance Company stopped financing new coal plants. In February 2012, the Reserve Bank of India said it wouldn’t help banks that got in trouble on new coal-plant loans. Financing dried up. Three weeks later, Tata announced its investment emphasis had shifted from coal projects to wind and solar. Led by four of India’s richest families, India shelved plans for 42 GW of coal plants in the last three quarters of 2012. That’s nearly a fourth of existing total capacity, or 68 percent of the government’s short-term target—only 32 percent of which Coal India says it can fuel. With power-hampered growth threatened by even scarcer or costlier power, some of India’s electricity leaders are seeing their way forward in superefficiency, distributed renewables, and microgrids—and not only in rural areas.

As in China, vibrant private-sector entrepreneurship in renewables should be capable of far outpacing the state-owned industries that dominate coal and nuclear power. India, the world’s #3 windpower market, has already installed nearly four times more wind than nuclear capacity. Solar power too added 1 GW in 2012 and is taking off briskly. And of course India has huge efficiency opportunities because most of its ultimate infrastructure isn’t yet built. Projects like Infosys’s 70-percent-less-energy-using new offices in Bangalore—helped by ASHRAE Fellow and RMI Senior Fellow Peter Rumsey—are gaining wide attention. A constellation of impressive new nongovernmental efforts with businesses and governmental allies is starting to focus India’s energy policy reforms and business mobilizations.

In all, India seems to be at an energy tipping point. It is starting to comprehend its massive efficiency and renewable potential, and enjoys growing private-sector skills to capture that potential, especially if regulatory barriers can be removed. All of this as the power sector—chastened by the world-record summer 2012 blackout of 600 million people—starts to face the need for serious reforms. The main missing elements, as in China and Japan, include rewarding utilities for cutting your bill (instead of selling you more energy), and allowing demand-side resources to compete in supply-side bidding.

Of course, there are major challenges in modernizing a sprawling, disjointed sector with irregular management quality and transparency. But with so many brilliant entrepreneurs and engineers, important advances are already emerging from the bottom up at the firm, municipal, and state levels, whether led or followed by national policy. And as we’ll see in the second part of this blog, all three of Asia’s economic giants will be increasingly informed and perhaps inspired by the example of their European counterpart and prime competitor, Germany, which is now switching to a green electricity system faster than anyone thought possible.


Asia makes a claim in LOW carbon competitiveness and climate research

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

A low-carbon economy entails not just a sustainable use of energy, from low-carbon sources, but also low-carbon exports. The Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index, released by the Climate Institute, measures the ability of G20 nations to flourish in a low-carbon economy, which shows East Asia overtaking Europe and the United States in climate change-targeting actions. Also increasing its preparedness in the face of climate change is Singapore with the opening of the new Centre for Climate Research which aims to better predict weather patterns in its tropical climate. Read more

Asia leads on climate action

Eco News Byron Bay Canberra [AAP]:

China now earns as much from selling solar panels as it does from shoes, as Asia’s emerging economies prepare to prosper in a future that limits carbon emissions, a report says.

A new index measuring the ability of G20 nations to flourish in a low-carbon economy shows East Asia has taken over from Europe and the United States when it comes to action on climate change.

Japan, China and South Korea took out three of the top five spots on the Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index, released on Tuesday as part of the Climate Institute’s report on global climate action.

France leads the way, largely on the back of its low-emission nuclear energy sector, followed by Japan, China, South Korea and Great Britain.

Australia, though making slight improvements, languishes in 17th place and has been overtaken by Indonesia in its readiness for a low-carbon future.

The data is from 2010 and doesn’t include the impact of the federal government’s clean energy laws like the carbon price, but does include significant world events like the global recession.

The head of the Climate Institute, John Connor, says as other nations put constraints on carbon and pursue economic gains with less pollution, Australia may be left behind if it opts out of real action.

‘We could become stranded trying to sell something that is no longer of interest,’ he told AAP.

‘If it’s not seen to be doing its fair share, it could suffer both diplomatically and economically.’

Mr Connor said Australia had significant ‘lead in our saddlebags’, running a high-carbon economy in terms of both energy usage and exports.

Investment in clean energy, one measure of low-carbon preparedness, had stalled in Australia with industry uncertain about the future of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), he said.

Clean energy investments in Asia, meanwhile, hit $270 billion in 2012, while China earned $36 billion selling solar panels – about what it made from its traditional market in shoes.

Mr Connor said China was pushing for an emissions trading scheme and had indicated it wanted to rein in its coal consumption, in part to combat air pollution.

Many nations weren’t driven to take action on climate change for green reasons, but were motivated by a range of self-interest matters like energy security and productivity growth.

But even taking current efforts into account, the world was still on track to a global temperature rise above two degrees Celsius by 2050, a rate accepted by most nations as dangerous.

For this reason, Mr Connor said shifting to a carbon-constrained future where nations tried to get the most possible from a tonne of CO2 wasn’t going to be easy.

‘Australia, by virtue of its place (on the index), will be one of the ones which will suffer the most if we don’t really double down on low-carbon improvements,’ he said.


More reliable forecasts with new climate centre?

Research centre will focus on Singapore’s tropical conditions

By Grace Chua in The Straits Times (27 March 2013):

IS IT possible to predict monsoon storms more accurately? How will climate change affect rainfall in Singapore?

The new Centre for Climate Research, which opened officially yesterday, will tackle these questions, before advising agencies on managing water resources and flood risks, for example.

The centre, which is part of the National Environment Agency’s Meteorological Service, will be led by senior British researcher Chris Gordon, the former head of the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre, Britain’s climate research arm.

One of its first priorities will be to work on Singapore’s second climate-change vulnerability study, the first phase of which is expected to be done by late 2014, said Dr Gordon, who begins as director on April 15.

It will use the latest climate models to update the first such study, started in 2007, to improve the reliability of predictions.

The centre will also study poorly understood tropical weather systems which have unique features such as thunderstorms caused by convection – hot moist air rising and forming clouds.

The centre, located in Paya Lebar, hopes to produce seasonal weather forecasts. For example, while February is normally warm and dry, a monsoon surge made last month exceptionally wet. Researchers hope to predict such unusual patterns ahead of time.

“The single biggest issue is to explain uncertainty in a way that doesn’t cause people to lose confidence. People don’t want a range of outcomes – they want the outcome,” Dr Gordon said.

The centre, which will cost between $7 million and $8 million a year to run and have a staff of 25, is part of national plans to build climate science capabilities, and focus on Singapore’s tropical climate.

It was first mooted in 2011, a year after intense rain caused flash floods across the island, including the Orchard Road shopping district.

The director-general of the Meteorological Service, Ms Wong Chin Ling, said: “There is a common misconception that climate change and environmental issues are a problem for the distant future.

“The reality is that preparedness must begin in the present.”


The mother of all disruptive technologies: Carbon by another name

Posted by Ken on April 3, 2013
Posted under Express 188

Graphene – carbon by another name – is the latest wonder material. Ever since its discovery in 2004, billions of research dollars have been poured into it, with Singapore institutions amongst the world’s top research centers. Touted for its light, yet strong properties, graphene can find utilisation in applications ranging from bendable display screens and light bulb-less lighting, to smaller yet more powerful microprocessors. Titled the ‘Godfather of Graphene’, Prof. Antônio Helio de Castro Neto envisions graphene to be the mother of all disruptive technologies. Read more

By Chang Ai-lien Senior Correspondent Sunday Times Singapore (24 March 2013):

“Many of us have been working with graphene since it was discovered in 2004″, said NUS dean of science Andrew Wee. “We recognised the potential early, put in a proposal for a centre and it took off. In science you have to do things early because after a few years everybody is doing it.”

The effort is paying off, he points out: NUS and NTU are respectively ranked second and third worldwide in terms of graphene publications, behind only the Chinese Academy of Sciences – a multi-institutional organisation, and ahead of the likes of the MIT and the Russian Academy of Sciences. Ranked by country, Singapore is No. 7 worldwide.

Now, the main player here – the $40 million Graphene Research Centre at NUS which began operations in 2010 – has 26 principal investigators plus many PhD students and research fellows, and is involved in research funding to the order of $100 million, and 50 patent applications.

Its director, Prof Castro Neto, said: “We have some of the best people in the world, and the best equipment for the complete innovation cycle; from synthesising the material to making the devices. We have everything in place to be the best in the world.”



All Voices

Hangzhou :  China (23 March 2013):

Chinese researchers claim to have created the lightest material ever made, so light in fact that the material, as demonstrated by the researchers, could be balanced on the petals of a flower.

Building upon the existing substance known as graphene, which is itself considered to be the lightest material in the world, the researchers from Zhejiang university in Hangzhou, China, combined the ‘aerogel’ with freeze-dried carbon, to create the new solid substance, weighing only 0.16 miligrams per cubic centimetre. At this weight, the new carbon/graphene mix gives it twice the density of hydrogen but less dense than helium. The Zhejiang researchers demonstrated the new wonder substance’s feather weight abilities by balancing a piece of it on a cherry blossom flower.

But what makes graphene such a revolutionary substance is not its density but its strength , with a one-square-metre sheet weighing only 0.77 milligrams being strong enough to support the weight of a 4 kilogram cat. In addition to this, graphene is also the thinnest material ever made, being very flexible, a very good conductor of electricity and a very good filter.



23 March 2013:

Graphene Godfather’ makes a disruptive Brazilian play

Science in Brazil

Brazilian scientist spanning three continents: Prof. Antônio Helio de Castro Neto

One scientist has earned his right to the title ‘Godfather of Graphene.’

This miracle carbon substance is now attracting tens of billions of dollars in research funding, both public and private, as countries engage in a new arms race to develop technologies that promise to consign today’s micro-electronics and display technology to the scrapheap.

Before long, elegant graphene-backed bendable screens will make the ubiquitous star-cracked glass on today’s iPads, iPhones and other brittle hand-helds into just a distant nightmare. Graphene fibers could turbocharge today’s over-burdened internet backbone and produce “Star Trek” lighting that does not require light bulbs.

Today the international conference circuit discussing graphene, or graphite exfoliated into single-atom thin sheets, mobilises thousands of nanotechnology researchers. But less than a decade ago, when the original interest group met on the fringes of the American Physical Society, its members could fit comfortably into a single SUV.

And the scientist, who back in 2004 might have been driving that very same SUV, is an engaging 48 year-old Brazilian with scientific collaborations in three continents, named Antônio Helio de Castro Neto.

Prof. Castro Neto didn’t himself write the book on graphene alone – but for a decade he has played the role of a world leader in this new area of science and technology. For instance, when the Nobel committee was considering in 2010 whether to award a Physics Prize to Russians Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University, it’s reported that Prof. Castro Neto played an important role in informing the Nobel committee.

The physicist won’t confirm this, but he was certainly an honored guest at the Stockholm ceremony. And he remains close friends with the two laureates (now Professor Sir Andre Geim and Professor Sir Konstantin Novoselov), whom he’d helped to understand the electronic properties of the new substance when the Russians were drafting their original 2005 paper about the creation of the first experimental graphene devices.  And Geim and Novoselov’s names have since appeared with Castro Neto’s on a number of important papers. His resume shows that ever since the 1990s he’s been a hyper-energetic writer of papers and organizer of nanotechnology conferences. He’s even at home in TV broadcasting.

Prof. Castro Neto is a passionate advocate of graphene, which he describes as “strong as a diamond, with great stiffness – but at the same time it’s extremely soft, so you can deform it like plastic.” Graphene’s three key characteristics, says Castro Neto, are: “it’s one atom thick; it conducts electricity extremely well at room temperature; and it’s completely transparent. That means the number of applications for graphene is only limited by your imagination.”

Graphene, in fact, could prove to be the mother of all disruptive technologies.

Before long indium tin oxide or ITO, today used in all the world’s touch screens, could go the way of the Dodo. Rare metals now used in electronics such as indium, which sells for up to US$600 a kilo, will become redundant as pollution-free graphene sourced from feedstock like ethanol  “changes the environmental dynamics of the electronics industry.”

One commonly-held misconception is that graphene will eventually replace silicon, the material from which every microchip is made. While silicon is a semiconductor, graphene has always-on conductive properties better than copper. “It won’t ever replace silicon because you can’t turn off the electric current,” says Castro Neto.

Yet, unlike silicon compounds, graphene is completely stable and will never degrade. And, affirms Castro Neto, because a single gram of graphene can cover an area of 2,600 square meters, it will revolutionize optical applications such as displays, touch screens, and the world of hand-held devices. Journalists love citing the claim that  a sheet of graphene could only be broken  by a force equivalent to an elephant standing on a pencil-point.

What’s clear is that this engaging professor doesn’t simply know his science. He has invaluable strategic knowledge of one of the world’s most frenzied research areas. He knows whose research is hot, and who’s come to the game too late. He knows which multinationals are bogged down in the search for high-volume graphene synthesis that will unlock commercial applications.

Above all, he knows exactly how small, nimble laboratories from developing nations could yet leap-frog these big-spending giants to snatch elusive prizes from under the noses of the world’s premier research establishments or its secretive multinationals.

So when it was announced in 2010 that Castro Neto, a Professor at Boston University’s Department of Physics, was also taking up the post of Director of Singapore National University’s Graphene Research Centre, that turned some scientific heads. Singapore has since become a world center of excellence for graphene.

More heads turned too in 2013, when Castro Neto added a third research title to his name by taking up a visiting professorship in Brazil, at São Paulo’s Mackenzie Presbyterian University. Mackenzie’s dean, Benedito Guimarães Aguiar Neto, is developing a center of excellence specialized in graphene-based photonics called MackGrafe (Centro Mackenzie de Pesquisas Avançadas em Grafeno e Nanomateriais).

While Mackenzie may be a proficient engineering university with a solid reputation, it’s not exactly a world-class institution and it’s outside the charmed circle of Brazilian state and federal universities that consume the lion’s share of national research budgets. Castro Neto does have strong links to UFMG, the federal university of Minas Gerais state, and UNICAMP, the state university of Campinas, but it appears he’s focusing his attention in Mackenzie.

Mackenzie University does have access to sizable budgets from São Paulo State and its funding agency, FAPESP (São Paulo Research Foundation). But compared to the European Union’s EUR 1 billion Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) program, or the Korean industrial giant Samsung’s EUR 5 billion annual research budget, Mackenzie’s resources are tiny, with just a US$ 20 million investment.

Let’s not forget the odds are stacked against those unable to spend big in the Great Graphene Race. Right now, national graphene establishments are a bit like research bases scattered across Antarctica. Every country needs to put its flag on the map, so it can claim a share of any future bonanza.

The UK, although it hosts two Nobel Prize winners, only decided to invest a modest EUR 24 million in the field in late 2012. Today it has just 54 patents and is widely regarded as a “latecomer” to a race dominated by Asian giants. Of the 7,351 graphene patents and applications worldwide by the end of 2012, Chinese institutions and corporations top the list with 2,200, while the US is second with 1,754 patents, its champions being US multinational SanDisk, with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Harvard MIT).

So what exactly is Prof Castro Neto doing with Brazil, and how did Mackenzie have the good fortune to land such a big catch?

Firstly, Castro Neto is himself a Brazilian. He may have worked overseas for two decades, but he was attracted by a 3-year visiting professorship to his home country. By joining forces with Singapore, he feels the two universities could punch above their weight in the field of opto-electronics, such as OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes).

Secondly, there’s no doubt the academic is attracted by a David and Goliath narrative, in which Brazil — a nation with no domestic electronics industry of its own — has the ambition and vision to use research to develop a completely new economic activity. There is, he says, an opportunity to develop industries from scratch to secure a new technology future.

“We have an opportunity to do something really ‘out of the box’ here,” says Castro Neto. “And my knowledge helps. I know the field so well I can suggest the niches where Mackenzie can score some goals. We’re looking for small things with huge payoffs.”

The focus on optical solutions means Mackenzie’s graphene research center team led by Dr Eunézio Antonio de Souza will, with Castro Neto’s support, work on transforming concepts into potential products  – while avoiding duplicating research being carried out elsewhere.

Already there’s talk of reducing download times with the help of a high-speed, next-generation solution to the fiber optic wires that carry the world’s internet signals. And developing flexible non-glass interfaces for handheld devices that will make today’s tablets look and feel like tombstones. Mackenzie does have track record in developing digital systems for communications and TV. The Brazilian unit will also be working with graphene-based lasers.

It’s an ambitious scenario, that Brazil could develop both the intellectual property around graphene and a whole new industry to exploit it. However, to achieve the goal of building a ‘Graphene Valley’ in downtown São Paulo, something more than academic rigor will be needed.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then, that Prof Castro Neto and those backing graphene research in Brazil have avoided the stuffy world of federally-funded research universities. At these academies, patrician scientists tend to favor lifetime state appointments, shunning commercial opportunities for a self-referential world of teaching and conferences. “Brazil has an inbuilt concept of  ‘pure science’ and academic rigor; but there’s not enough applied science,” says Castro Neto. “I believe there’s only good science and bad science.”

Certainly, Brazil’s shocking paucity of patents, and the genteel poverty of many of its academics, is a world away from rockstar academic culture in the US or the UK. Brazilian professors just don’t write popscience books or present popular TV shows – and few have any entrepreneurial instincts.

So importing a hard-driving Menlo Park ethos will be necessary to realize any dream of a national graphene industry. Perhaps that’s why Mackenzie is planning to hire foreign researchers. “We will need to introduce the notion of the scientist-entrepreneur from scratch in Brazil,” concedes Castro Neto.

So the ‘Godfather of Graphene’ is taking on a series of ambitious challenges.

He’s running a triangular research career in three continents; he’s seeking to show that highly-focused scientists working together in developing countries stand a chance of beating Big Research at its own game; and he’s trying to introduce the concept of the scientist-entrepreneurs to Brazil.

Luckily, he has an ‘atom-thin’ miracle substance to help him do all these things. And if graphene fulfils its promise of being a truly disruptive technology, there’s no reason why these ambitions should not succeed.

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