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.
Where does change start? In our complex societies of law and social organisation, individuals have the most leverage through effective policy. And a new study which looks at world energy futures shows just how influential policies and governments will be in determining the fate of the global climate. In this time of unexpected political developments, uncertain diplomatic futures, and increasing fear, we should begin to ask ourselves: should we wait for change to start from the top, or should we change ourselves?
Tides seem to turn quickly; just weeks after the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the president-elect of the United States has indicated he wants to pull out. But climate denial is not the only threat to the global climate deal. Responsibility is not solely on the shoulders of one president, one cabinet, or one government; it’s spread across governments and organisations of all sizes, from China to our individual households. Again – what are we waiting for?
Many jurisdictions won’t let federal leadership affect their plans to combat climate change. Progressive states, such as California, will continue to drive the adoption of renewables through legislation, and renewables-focused businesses will continue to grow their businesses. Fears of a coal comeback could be unjustified, as continued natural gas becomes available through the continued fracking-boom which will keep electricity prices down and make coal uncompetitive.
Just to confirm the uncompetitiveness of coal, regulations being introduced to curb emissions play only a small part. The fact is coal is just not a competitive commodity anymore. A market now driven by cheaper natural gas (as mentioned re
fracking boom) and by low cost renewables such as wind and solar are having a big impact. Coal helped provide a good energy source when the world industrialised, but it’s time has now seemingly passed.
Last year more renewable energy generating capacity was built than coal, the first time in history that ‘green’ energy has overtaken coal in new power plant additions. About 70 percent of all investment in electric power generation worldwide flowed to renewables, totalling $288 billion. 153 gigawatts of new renewable power generating capacity were built last year, about the same as all the power plants in Canada combined.
Some of this “green” investment is coming from the EU, which is planning to provide funding to assist the ocean energy industry. The fund is designed to help companies bridge the gap between demonstration projects and the energy market. A number of specific projects have already started in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. With projected industry employment opportunities with the creation of up to 400,000 jobs it’s an exciting time for this burgeoning industry, creating more and more sustainable businesses.
Sustainable business will one day be seen as “business as usual”. There are some trends that will propel the spread of this. In the US, “big business” are pushing the way forward more than the government, whereas in China, the government is at forefront of change and making big changes. There is a place for both scenarios in the move to sustainability. Having the right data tools will also help, and understanding risk in equities enables management of these risks at systems levels. Another trend is the move to a circular economy, and having tools to expedite this.
In a world where fossil fuel companies are continually pushing back against change, maybe a change of focus for fossil fuel use will help them make the shift. Oil and gas already are the primary feedstocks for the polymers industry. Maybe polymers, where carbon is locked up into their structure, can be used as substitutes in construction for the timber, cement and steel, all of which have big carbon footprints. Or in the vehicle industry. There are some advanced petro-based materials with superior characteristics, e.g. carbon fibre-reinforced plastics that may be suitable.
So will electric vehicles displace fossil fueled ones? It seems that this is not likely in the short term, but it may not be long. The infrastructure for electric vehicles will take a while to build, but oil companies should start to look to diversify. EVs are costly now compared to traditional vehicles, with relatively cheap oil, but EVs have 80% efficiency compared to 30 % for fossil fueled vehicles. And if the electricity is generated by coal, EV’s still have 20-30% more efficiency than traditional vehicles. The writing is on the wall….
We finish this week with a look at the world’s largest marine protected area in the Antarctica. This protected area has been some time in the making. Delegates from 24 countries and the European Union have finally agreed to make a 1.57 million square kilometer area of the Southern ocean a no fishing zone for the next 35 years. We certainly hope that work is already being done to extend the number of years further.
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.