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.
Until about a month ago I imagine most of us had never heard of Sochi. It could have been a type of shoe, chewing gum or fashion item, but as it turns out it is the name of the venue for 2014 Winter Olympics. Opening on the 8th February, the most expensive games ever at a cost of $51 billion, it is also perhaps the most environmentally damaging, with 2,000 hectares of pristine forest cleared and an ecosystem destroyed. Environmentalists face intimidation or worse still, prison time. But then this has always been the Russian way.
Our next article examines the perceived global risks for 2014. Not surprising, fiscal uncertainty dominates, with unemployment second and water shortages third. Fourth is severe income disparity followed by a failure to address climate change. The survey also found females tended to show more concern than males, especially around environmental issues. This was further accentuated amongst younger individuals. One can extrapolate from this that the ones least concerned are older males.
Perhaps this is why there is such a growth in income disparity, or as the Oxfam article puts it ‘Working for the few’. It is hard to argue with that, with the richest 85 people owning the same wealth as the bottom 3.5 billion, with 50% of the world’s wealth being owned by just 1% of the population. Not that everyone thinks that this income disparity is such a bad thing. Take the Canadian millionaire entrepreneur Kevin O’Leary for example, who described it as ‘fantastic news and how he is so excited’ that somebody living in Africa on $1 a day has the motivation everybody needs to be a billionaire. Just proving how having lots of money doesn’t necessarily make you smart.
Their wealth is also directly linked to consumption. For example, consumption of energy in enabling software systems like Microsoft or Apple, or consumption of fossil fuels for manufacture. All of these are significant contributors to global warming. Our next article examines ‘The seven deadly sinners driving global warming’, which represents countries that are responsible for the greatest level of emissions in absolute terms and also per capita. The latter is seen as a fairer measure of a countries emission, with New Zealand featuring as a country having a large footprint per capita.
Instead of reigning back on emissions, some countries are actively seeking to increase them. Canada is one of these, with carbon emissions projected to soar by 2030, driven by the Canadian government’s aggressive approach to mining tar sands and accounting for a 38% increase in emissions. We tend to think of Canada, the home of Greenpeace and birthplace of David Suzuki in a similar fashion to New Zealand - clean and green. Perhaps not so much these days!
Shifting next to the continent of Africa, where demand for electricity is expected to increase dramatically in the next 25 years – by 300% in Southern Africa and 400% in Eastern Africa. In order to avoid the pitfalls of meeting this through the use of unsustainable fossil fuels, 19 countries have join forces to develop an ‘Africa Clean Energy Corridor’ with a focus on renewable energy and maximizing opportunities in solar, wind, geothermal and biomass.
There are an estimated 1.4 billion people without access to electricity, something most of us take for granted. We examine how the telecommunications provider Verizon has given a company called Mosaic $1 million to crowd fund solar power projects in the developing world. The potential is enormous with a $15 billion market emerging for micro and mini-grids and trillions more through the use of targeted solar projects that could see a real enhancement to the quality of life for a large number of people who have never had electricity before. This will enable people to be able to enter the modern financial world for the first time, where in Africa cellphones are routinely used for banking. For example, 66% of Kenyans use cellphones for banking, with 25% of GNP flowing through mobile devices.
Our next group of articles examines cleantech. Firstly, what is cleantech? Well in short it is using technology and business models to use natural resources more productively (more for less). Apparently a recent 60 Minutes show featured a segment discussing the cleantech 'crash'. As the article points out, they may have missed their mark, as cleantech is a large, vibrant and growing industry, with the US alone projected to spend around $1.3 trillion on energy in 2014. There are therefore plenty of opportunities, with technology advances like PV having dropped in price from $76.67 per watt in 1977 to 74 cents in 2013 or 1,000%. With such significant price reductions, the growth in this one market is around 50% a year – which is pretty good for a 'crash'. Whilst there have been some high profile company failures such as Solyndra, others such as Tesla are going from strength to strength. Overall, investment in cleantech is rising at the rate of 15% per year (that's approximately $6.3 billion), which is just as well as it is our future.
Of course the cleantech sector can only grow if it has the necessary resources. Which leads into our next article that discusses the looming rare metals shortage. These rare metals, like Tellurium (used in solar panels) only makes up 0.0000001% of the earth's crust. Others like Lithium and Platinum only come from small sources but are needed for wide-spread use in advanced batteries and fuel cells. One solution is to recycle. Whilst it seems like an easy concept, it is harder to do in reality compared to most other recycling. The high costs of recycling is one of the biggest factors, but technology is advancing to make it viable to extract and recover the miniscule amounts in consumer e-goods. Another option is recovering rare metals from the 'waste' produced by other mining. This however presents its own set of challenges in first getting the mining companies on board.
Australia may have the Queensland Fruit Fly and they are welcome to keep it, but they don’t have the Varroa Mite or Honey Bee colony collapse disorder. Nor do they want it and they are therefore conducting research to determine the role pesticides might be having on the health of the bee. About 5,000 bees will be fitted with 2.5mm by 2.5mm sensors so their movements can be monitored as they are selectively introduced to pesticides and pollen monocultures to determine their impact.
It has long been believed that younger trees are better than their older neighbours at absorbing carbon dioxide, but new research suggests the opposite is true. Trees with a 100cm trunk diameter typically add from 10kg to 200kg of aboveground dry mass each year (depending on species), averaging 103 kg per year. That is nearly three-times the rate for trees of the same species at 50cm in diameter.
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.