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.
We probably all know someone we consider to be a visionary. Elon Musk by anyone’s standards has to be regarded as one of them. Originally from South Africa, but now a US citizen, he started a software company in 1995 with $28k of kick-start funding. In February 1999 Zip2 was sold to Compaq for $307M, of which Elon received $22M. In March 1999, Musk co-founded X.com, an online financial services and email payment company, which merged a year later with Confinity, who had a money transfer service called PayPal. In October 2002 PayPal was sold to eBay for $1.5B in stock. We know that this is just growing financials, but in order to implement a vision, you need money. And that is just what Musk has done – turn a vision into something real.
For example, following on, he went on to either found, co-found or conceptualise Tesla Motors, Solar City, OpenAI (not for profit artificial intelligence research company), SpaceX and Hyperloop. His vision is breath-taking and only surpassed by the ability to turn those visions into reality. It is therefore worth reviewing his latest vision set out as Master Plan, Part Deux, which sets out how he intends to integrate energy generation and storage, expand Tesla to cover the major forms of terrestrial transport, using autonomous driving and shared ownership. And you know, I think he just might succeed.
Of course there are always contrasts. For example, Donald Trump. In what he might describe as fabulous, terrific, brilliant and a great deal,
he has set out his vision for the first 100 days of energy policy in the Trump Administration. Not that much of what he plans to do is actually possible under the terms of existing international agreements, but let’s not allow mere detail to get in the way of his vision of bringing back the very worst of the fossil fuel industry and cancelling the Paris Agreement.
Why Donald Trump should even be a contender for the Presidency of the US in the first place is a mystery and should be a concern. That is until you understand the plight of many in the western world, who have seen their incomes fall or stay flat since 2005. This is despite GDP continuing to grow and the wealthy getting wealthier. The growing income disparity has left many in the western world disillusioned with the so-called Establishment and thinking that anything might be better than what they have now.
Changing focus, we now look at energy management and the importance of staying the course when any programmes of this nature are initiated.
Costs count. That might be the first thing a business school professor would tell you in their class. But there are two other C’s which count when navigating the seas of business: carbon and culture. We live in an increasingly carbon conscious world, and the most universal way to reduce any carbon footprint is to manage energy use. Curiously enough, then, an organisational culture which emphasizes energy management and views continual improvement of its energy use as a core strategy is an organisation that will cut both costs and carbon, while freeing up resources for more valuable uses.
Speaking of freeing up resources, can you imagine if you didn’t pay for a washing machine, but instead only clean clothes? Instead of a lightbulb, the illumination? The product as a service model is picking up momentum while moving towards closing the loop on material flows and creating a circular economy. This fundamental shift sees business valuing their manufactured products (and the resources used to make them) as long-term assets, and not hot-potato inventory which they are itching to sell; consumers are no longer viewed as targets of manipulation, but instead long-term partners in sustainable commercial relationships.
An age-old product that has recently been discussed for its carbon sequestering properties is Biochar. Produced by burning biomass in low oxygen environments, it emits around 50% less CO2 to the atmosphere than traditional biomass burning would. It can be produced by almost anyone, and is very good for soils. Biochar’s properties are diverse, and various ones are known for capturing, holding and preventing nutrient leaching; reducing the need for mineral fertilisers; enhancing soil biology; increasing plant growth, productivity and health; and remediation to damaged and polluted soils. Could
Biochar be the solution governments need for their obligations under the Paris COP 21 Agreement? It could certainly play a role!
Finally, our last article discusses the cause and effect of our warming oceans. Research, published in the journal Science Advances concludes that the warming on the indo-pacific warm pool have been, in-part, caused by human-induced emissions. The research suggests that only 12 to 18 percent of the warming was naturally occurring, with the rest the result of greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, this is having some serious consequences on those living in these areas. With increasing ocean temperatures the water is expanding and rising, putting islands at risk, with 5 having disappeared already and others seriously threatened. These are not the only consequences either; the weather changes, as a result of increased water temperature, have increased the risk of severe cyclones. 
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.