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 a report issued by Lloyds of London, urging all insurers to factor in climate change risk. The report ‘Catastrophe Modelling and Climate Change’, says climate change is expected to continue even if urgent action on curbing emissions is taken. Little wonder, they feel a need to factor in climate change risk as extreme weather, from Hurricane Sandy to the worst US drought in 50 years, generated $35 billion in privately insured property losses in the US last year alone. Politicians may not have been prepared to take a lead on climate change, but with the insurance industry likely to increase risk premiums or even withhold cover, they may find they may have to. As these risks are alleged to be attributable to the way human activities contribute to climate change, we also take the opportunity to re-visit these.

The International Energy Association has released a new report – ‘Energy Technology Perspectives’ that states a business-as-usual approach must be overhauled to cope with a global shift to electricity. Electricity’s overall share of total energy demand has roughly doubled over the last 40 years, but the bulk of power generation today is hardly “low-carbon”. Electricity production uses 40% of primary energy and produces an equal share of energy-related CO2 emissions. The report finds that an additional USD $44 trillion in investment is needed to secure a clean-energy future by 2050, but this is offset by over USD $115 trillion in fuel savings, or a net overall saving of $71 trillion.

To achieve this transformation will require significant and continuing investments in both renewable generation and energy efficiency. Generation from wind and solar are already making an impact, but little has been generated by wave power. We examine the prospects for wave power, which has struggled with the complexities of operating in what is a hostile saltwater environment, where the waves themselves offer a challenge for energy harvesting, as they not only roll past a device but also bob up and down or converge from all sides in confused seas. In spite of the challenges, the industry expects there to be substantial amounts of grid connected wave power by 2035.

One of the other challenges for the electricity industry is the challenges of being able to store it, so that it is available at times of peak demand. We review some of the types of energy storage, such as most common ones of pumped hydro storage and electro-chemical batteries, through to less common, such as flow batteries and flywheel storage.

The impact of a shift away from the traditional sources of energy, such as coal and oil are slowly being felt. The last issue of SnippETS referenced divestment of fossil fuel stock by a number of endowment funds. This week we examine how the Australian coal mining sector is regarded as having entered ‘structural decline’, due to faltering demand from India and China. With renewables increasingly being seen as a lower-cost, cleaner solution, coal is fast becoming less and less attractive. For example, the Chinese Premier has signalled they are now waging a war on pollution and they want anything but coal. India has similar concerns, having the majority of the world’s top 10 most-polluted cities.

The oil industry on the other hand, apparently remains confident that oil prices will go on rising with little or no regard for climate change. That confidence however is now being challenged. A report issued by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, who specialise in assessing risk in today’s financial markets, is warning investors to be wary of oil companies that continue to invest in new oilfields that are never likely to be profitable. As Anthony Hobley, the Carbon Tracker CEO stated, “Our analysis shows that if demand for oil is not substantially reduced, we are clearly heading for a level of warming far in excess of 2C, which reveals that there is no free lunch here for investors. Either policy and technological tipping points (like electric cars) will reduce demand in line with our analysis, or we will face levels of warming described as catastrophic by man”.

The future for the fossil fuel industry is perhaps in making things rather than in combustion. In other words, limit their use, for making stuff like steel, plastic, fertilizer, etc.), but stop using them, as our energy source for doing things (power, transport, heating and cooling).

In many ways this is all part of the The resource revolution we discussed in our last SnippETS. It is a transformation in the way we view things like waste streams. In our office, we tend to have replaced the term ‘waste’ with ‘secondary resources’, as this more accurately describes what might be considered as an unwanted waste output from one process now being a valuable input for another. Our next series of articles examines how zero waste strategies can create new revenue streams and that these are all about embedding sustainability into the heart of all business decision making.

We also highlight examples of what used to be considered waste, or items simply unfashionable, and how now they are considered valuable. The first is how Starbucks is recycling ground coffee beans for use as feed for cows, that then go on to produce the milk for the coffee served up by Starbucks. Elegant, simple and neat.

The next is Hemp, that due to its association with Marijuana, has been unfashionable for many years. Now that decriminalisation of Marijuana is occurring, Hemp is suddenly cool again and as the article explains, is truly a wonder plant with applications that are great for the environment and for use as clothing, bio-fuel, paper and packaging, construction and even in the automotive industry.

Another example is being able to take what is a problem and turn it into an asset. As the oceans have warmed, jellyfish have flourished and are now regarded as a plague of the oceans, competing with other fish species for food, clogging power station water intakes, not to mention keeping us out of the water when they swarm. It also appears that they can be converted into a highly absorbent, biodegradable material called Hydromash, which is ideal for use as human sanitation products.

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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