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.

This week we examine a number of energy related articles, but before we do, we review what we consider our societal values. Our opening article, titled ‘Redefining Status Symbols’, caused a good deal of internal discussion. At the moment we accord high status to people that who are high consumers of energy, goods and services. Is this still appropriate?

In an increasingly resource constrained world, is it right that we associate success with ownership of a Ferrari or a Porsche? On the other hand, are we outwardly jealous of a micro or hybrid car owner? Probably not, even though these people are making a conscience decision to live within their means and reduce their emissions. As the article discusses, perhaps it is time to review the way we bestow admiration on companies and individuals.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the launch of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC). It’s overarching goals of defining, guiding, measuring and rewarding sustainable purchasing certainly appear to mirror a fundamental change in societal values.

As a case in point, it is estimated that the top 100 environmental externalities are costing the world-wide economy around $4.7 Trillion a year. A report published by TEEB for the Business Coalition earlier this year showed the highest cost to environmental externalities came from coal-fired power in Eastern Asia and North America. This was followed by agriculture in areas of water scarcity and then by iron, steel and ferroalloy manufacturing.

At the moment these externalities are free to these sectors, or put another way, it is society in general who are paying for them through a continuously degrading environment or Natural Capital (NC).

Investors are the key to encouraging companies to want to change their practices and lessen their impact on NC. It has been proposed that companies listed on the US and global stock exchange provide Natural Capital Disclosures (NCD) in their annual financial filings. So far 41 banks and insurance companies have become signatories to the NCD and is testament of their belief that future investments should take NC into account. Put another way, they are keen to avoid risks by investing in companies with high NC exposure.

Talking of risks, this is particularly acute for the insurance industry as they are being advised by their analysts that their exposure to extreme weather events associated with climate change are about to escalate. What is challenging is that these risks are difficult to quantify using traditional methods and therefore the event, frequency and magnitude cannot be predicted. They just know they are going to increase. As a consequence the insurance industry are urging all governments to take action on climate change, or risk becoming uninsurable. Here in Wellington we are starting to get used to extreme weather events and the ensuing damage to infrastructure. Many of us are also getting used to having to deal with insurance companies and sometimes their reluctance to pay out on claims (rusty nails indeed). It is therefore of benefit to us all, that we take steps to manage our risks associated with the ‘new norm’, or face the possibility of being without insurance cover.

Moving now on to our energy related articles. How often energy management is perceived as a series of projects, constrained by a series of financial paybacks, instead of something that is embedded into the culture and core business of an organisation. As after all, energy management is all about efficiency and an efficient business is a good business.

The first of these articles reviews the very good reasons why a continuous energy programme makes sense. And being continuous, means there are no time limits, which echoes similar comments made by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

As societal values have changed, so has the increased focus on energy management, meaning greater demands are being placed on the limited pool of energy auditors. For example, in the US if every auditor worked 24/7 it would take 22 years to analyse all of their buildings. So we have to consider being smarter in how we undertake analysis – such as the virtual audits available through Retroficiency.

The challenge is bigger than that though, as the whole energy management industry is being driven by an increasing need to manage Big Data. Sets of data from smart electricity, gas, water, chilled water, hot water and steam meters, temperature, occupancy, pressure, light level, humidity, CO2 sensors, etc. means that there is now a new role for an Energy Analyst to supplement the role of the Energy Manager. Furthermore, the role of the Energy Manager has also changed and requires greater interaction with the Facility Manager, Chief Information Manager, Corporate Services Manager and Human Resources Manager, than ever before.

Sensors too are changing. For example NREL has released the Image Processing Occupancy Sensor that is fitted with a camera and vision algorithms so they can more accurately recognise when people may actually be in a building even when motionless. This will allow more accurate switching or dimming of lights which in turn will reduce energy consumption. The increased sensitivity to privacy also came through by the destruction of images once processed.

Of course all of this data needs to be stored somewhere. As our next article discusses, data centres in the US may run out of space by as early as 2014 due to the virtual explosion in Big Data and lack of significant investment in new hardware. The cloud may be running out of puff.

Our last two articles discusses a forecast grid parity price for solar PV by 2020 and the controversial award of the 2013 World Food Prize to pioneers of GMO.

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again.

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