Geoff Bennett - Editor

Welcome to another 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 stories to be of interest in what continues to be a rapidly evolving area.

We open this week with the news that ice levels in the Arctic Sea have melted to record low levels and that the impact is likely to lead to even more extreme weather events. Not what the drought struck farmers in the US want to hear. As Scambos from the National Snow and Ice Centre said “Scientists sometimes call the Arctic the world’s refrigerator and this is like leaving the fridge door open. Furthermore, we are in a declining trend because the Earth is getting warmer. It’s going to continue to be a series of shrinking ice extents, year by year… We’re not going back”. Good news maybe for the oil companies intent on drilling there, or shipping companies taking the North West Passage, but not if you are an Inuit, Seal or a Polar Bear.

We have included a link to the IARC-JAXA Information System data if you wanted to see it for yourself. It really is a stark step change.

On a positive note, the news is that leading banks are committing to valuing Natural Capital. As Natural Capital is the term used to describe the value of resources and flow of goods that ecosystems provide such as clean water and air, soil, etc., that is indeed encouraging. Up until now, Natural Capital has not been financially valued, meaning business decisions were mostly being made without taking into account their impact on the natural environment.

It would appear that this move towards valuing Natural Capital has been steadily occurring over a number of years. For example, the percentage of business schools requiring students to take business ethics course as part of their MBA has risen from 34% in 2001 to 79% in 2011. The well-known Australian businessman Dick Smith, has also embarked on a crusade to change the way big businesses operate. As he puts it “Pressure on big business to provide never-ending profit growth is driving our economies towards a brick wall and that anyone with any common sense knows that perpetual growth in a finite world is not possible”.

So that means if we are going to provide for a growing world population, then it will have to be through increasing efficiencies and reducing waste. There is certainly plenty of waste to reduce; for example in the UK alone about NZ$1.4 billion of waste is either burned or buried in landfills each year. Recycling used clothes is another potential source of creating greater efficiencies. The Bureau of International Recycling, an industry advocacy group, claims that a single kilogram of collected used clothing can help reduce up to 3.6 kilograms of CO2 emissions, eliminate the use of 6,000 litres of water, 300 grams of fertilizer and 200 grams of pesticide. And they can be trendy as well.

Now the Para-Olympics are underway, we thought we would take one last look at the technology that was deployed as part of making the London Olympics the Green Games. These included the widespread use of electricity metering and monitoring, the use of LEDs in displays and lighting and one of the more novel – Pavegen technology, which takes kinetic energy generated by pedestrians stepping on special tiles to generate electricity. Well done London.

Our next article reveals that rooftop solar photovoltaics in Australia now generates 1% of their electricity. This may not sound like a lot, but it really is. With the costs of PV only continuing to decrease, this trend is likely to accelerate and is predicted to rise to 3% by 2022.

Moving on to buildings, it appears that while we tend to think of green buildings as being new, it may be better to retrofit than to build from new. A recent report commissioned by Preservation Green Lab has revealed that it can take between 10 and 80 years for a new energy-efficient building to overcome, through more efficient operations, the negative climate change impacts that come from construction. And that environmental savings from re-use are between 4 and 46% over new construction when comparing buildings with the same energy performance level.

Our final article this week examines how Japanese engineers want to make buildings smarter by using many little robots. Instead of embedding sensors into a building only for them to become superseded by new technology in only a few years, the plan is to have these sensors in robots which could have their technology updated as and when required. R2D2 anyone?

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and 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.

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