Welcome to our two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world. As always, we hope you find our collection of articles to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.
2015, as predicted, is turning out to be an eventful year. Following on from the record breaking warmest year on record of 2014, it looks like, based on the first three months global temperatures, 2015 could well surpass 2014. It is just as well then, that 2015 is also likely the year the majority of the world started to act on climate change by making serious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
As the majority of greenhouse gases are produced from the combustion of fossil fuels, much of which is used to generate electricity, the continuing emergence of renewable generation is very welcome. With this in mind we have assembled a collection of articles that discuss how the growth in renewable generation is now poised to make a significant contribution into our overall generational mix, much at the expense of coal and even, to a certain extent, natural gas.
Investment in renewables rose by 17% in 2014 to reach a total of $270 billion, just 3% behind the record of $279 billion set in 2011. To get this into perspective, in 2014 renewable energies added 103 GW in global capacity, equal to all 158 US nuclear power reactors.
Furthermore, the price for electricity storage is continuing to drop faster than anyone had predicted, with battery packs in some cases now as low as US$300 kWh, and will possibly be as low as US$200 kWh by 2020. This makes intermittent generation from sources such as wind and solar even more viable, as periods of high electrical output can now be stored. It also leads to a more stable grid and the increased viability of distributed generation.
Another nail in the proverbial fossil fuel coffin is that it now makes financial sense for divestment from fossil fuels and investing instead in renewables or other sustainable alternatives and technologies. There is now a growing range of low carbon investment options that only come with a small additional fee (around 0.05%) for savvy climate conscious investors to select from.
One of these alternative investments could be in the likes of Sapphire or Algenol, two leading US companies who are working on the commercialisation of algae production. Algae, which reproduce very quickly, can be used as feed, food, plastics, chemicals and as biofuels. The industry is predicting that, as yields and production efficiencies continue to improve, algae based fuels will reach price parity with fossil fuels by 2020, with 91% of producers claiming it will cost less than US$5.00 a gallon and 48% of them claiming it will cost under US$3.00 a gallon by then. Algae can also be a substitute for palm oil which would be a panacea for deforestation. All good reasons to divest from fossil fuels.
And the movement towards renewables has some high level public profiles, with the city of Vancouver becoming the latest of 50 cities committing to run on 100% renewable energy.
Changing tack a little now, we have a couple of articles relating to food production and the world’s high level of food wastage. You may not realise, but one third of all food produced for human consumption worldwide, and 40% of all food produced in the USA is wasted. It may be time for the food supply chain to get ugly! (as described in our next article).
Not only would that currently wasted food help feed the world’s ever increasing population, but it also produces methane emissions into the environment as it decomposes – these add 23 x as much carbon to the atmosphere compared to CO2, and adds to the worldwide climate warming problem. In New Zealand there is a $872 million secret - the cost of the 120,000 tonnes of avoidable food waste every year – enough to feed twice the population of Dunedin. The Waste Management Institute of NZ is releasing a campaign to minimise this, and more detail of this is in our next article. We think this is a great idea.
We expect climate change to continue to make headlines in the build up to important talks later this year in Paris. We are certainly wondering what the outcome will be once the talks have concluded, hopefully a positive outcome for all concerned (‘us’).
Many of us lost faith in the international climate negotiations with the failed Copenhagen summit, but Nick Rowley paints a positive outlook for this year’s Paris talks when he observes that recent extreme weather events make climate change a present danger
rather than a remote possibility.
Also, climate change is now seen as a security risk, and the UN is now appreciative of the possibility that an agreement may not have to be legally binding. Another important observation is that the conference leadership is more energetic and passionate about getting a deal than was the case in Copenhagen.
We end this week with an article by Txchnologist on a vehicle mounted camera used to survey urban areas and identify buildings that waste energy primarily through heat loss. This information is then matched to demographic information, thus enabling the system to identify not just inefficient buildings but those owned by people who are likely to want to do something about it.
Have a minute to spare? Try this quiz we found for Earthday 2015 - http://www.theguardian.com/environment/quiz/2015/apr/22/earth-day-quiz-google-guardian
Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and we look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.