Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which as always endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues, from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.
This week we examine more evidence that we are living in a warming world, with the news that five of the Solomon Islands have been totally submerged by rising sea levels. Sea levels in the Solomon Islands have been rising by 7 millimetres per year over the last two-decades (average elsewhere is a 3 millimetre rise per annum), due to a combination of global warming and stronger trade winds.
As if rising sea levels were not enough to have to contend with, add in drought as a result of a strong El Niño. As a result many of the islands in Micronesia have been forced to resort to introducing extensive water rationing and run expensive reverse osmosis water treatment plants to meet their water needs. The so called tropical paradises are fast turning into climate change nightmares, and in time are likely to be rendered uninhabitable. And who is going to take these climate change refugees?
More to the point, how many more warnings from nature are we likely to receive before we seriously change our ways? Whilst we don’t have the answer to that question, we know that preserving, and better still, enhancing our forestry assets is only going to make reaching our carbon emissions reduction targets easier to achieve. At the moment we are tracking in the wrong direction, with deforestation accounting for 10% of annual emissions, almost as much as the total output of all the world’s cars and trucks.
Perhaps we don’t properly value what nature provides. As it turns out some companies and individuals are increasingly recognising the value of nature and are taking steps to mimic it. For example, one of the best ways for protecting against coastal erosion is to restore wetlands, and a way to protect water quality is to plant forests. 
And it would appear that in many parts of the world, we are reaching the limits of water availability, with a number of economists and financial analysts identifying powerful signals of economic distress in the energy, mining, electricity generating and farming sectors. For example, almost $400 billion in planned development in Canada’s oil sands have been cancelled due to concerns with water volumes in the Athabasca River. Droughts are wrecking grain harvests in Africa and Asia. Construction sites for new dams in Panama and India are being shut down after local opposition campaigns lead to concerns of civic rebellions
- generating electricity vs. drinking water?
For the fossil fuel industry, things are quickly coming to a head, with Paul Stephens, a fellow at the influential Chatham House think-tank, calling the oil majors “no longer fit for purpose", and that unless they completely change their business model,
"they face a nasty, brutish and short end within 10 years”. With the recent bankruptcy of the world’s largest coal producer – Peabody
- it seems investors’ minds are made up.
The impacts would likely extend to ending their sponsorship of local beauty pageants. No more Shrimp and Petroleum Queen, Queen of the Coal Fields, Oil Queen or with a tear in our eyes, Miss Oil Patch!
We next look at property, and energy efficiency in this area. A strategic action plan for protecting the long-term value and returns of property assets and transitioning to lower carbon portfolios has just been launched in Sydney. It identifies the legal obligation agents have, when acting on behalf of other people, to make sound investment choices, and provides an action framework and support for investors in real estate. Preparing for a sustainable future is part of this obligation, and this framework will allow real estate investors to play their role in making this transition happen.
One way of creating more sustainable real estate is to embrace natural light in new building design. Not only does this enable energy efficiency in the workplace, but also promotes the health, wellbeing and productivity of staff, according to some new research.
Implementing energy efficiencies in commercial environments can be difficult for property owners or businesses to afford, especially the outlay required for an expensive retrofit of the lighting or HVAC systems. Now there is a solution – energy efficiency “as a service”. Our next article discusses this in more detail, but the concept is similar in a way to “software as a service” (e.g. our
e-Bench® product), or Spotify “music as a service”. The service model swaps complications of ownership for an all-inclusive pay-as-you-go option. The service provider will install the most
energy efficient options available, and the customer will pay a comparatively small monthly fee for the use of this. Sounds like a good way to keep up with advancing technologies in this area. 
An example of this service being offered is seen in our following article, where Kaer in Singapore is doing just this, offering a suite of services such as energy audits, air conditioning & mechanical ventilation contracting, service and maintenance, energy savings programmes, and green building certification. Singapore has pledged for at least 80 per cent of its buildings to be certified green by 2030, so businesses need a way to achieve this, and Kaer is helping. Hopefully this type of opportunity will be made available to many more businesses or property owners around the world.
With energy efficiency being a focus of many businesses these days, and solar generation more widespread, being able to store energy generated sustainably for use when required is becoming more of a requirement. The cost of this is still high, but even so, energy storage has increased hugely in the last year – more stored in that year than in the last 30 years! The solar PV market has increased 10-fold in 5 years, so utility companies are looking for storage technology that will enable them to manage their grids safely and reliably, while harnessing solar energy.
We finish up with a look at ethical consumption. Why does ethical consumption seem to cost so much? Eating organic food, choosing an electric car of a fossil fuel based vehicle all seem to come at a premium cost.
For people on higher incomes this may not present a problem, but what about people on lower incomes, wanting to do the right thing but having to weigh up the costs? This article examines progress in this space, that will hopefully mean everyone can get a bite of nice, organically grown, fruit and vegetables sooner rather than later.
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.