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.
Climate change continues to be a major global challenge but Karl Mathiesen gives us ten reasons why we should remain hopeful that we will overcome it. The list includes recent actions by President Obama to limit emissions from coal power plant, steps taken by China to close coal power plants and the observed global growth in renewable energy electricity generation.
Of the ten points, what could be a driver for climate action is that oil is becoming more expensive to find and investors are also shying away from fossil fuel investments fearing fossil fuels may become ‘dead’ stock.
Buildings are responsible for significant carbon emissions but the International Union of Architects has realised it’s not that expensive to build zero carbon buildings. The Environmental Leader reports that UIA (1.3 million architects) have pledged to phase out carbon emissions by buildings by 2050. It appears UIA has picked up on the opportunity that sustainable buildings do not cost that much more and it makes sense to change to low carbon building design.
If we could extend the useful life of materials by avoiding unnecessary waste, this should ultimately lead to cutbacks in carbon emissions due to extended lifecycles of the product or material. The UK Environment Audit Committee encourages Government to not cut back on recycling initiatives but to introduce more supportive policies and strategies.
In our next series of articles we look at advancements in energy storage devices such as ultracapacitors and battery technologies.
While we mention batteries a lot (and will do again in a moment) something that doesn’t get a lot of press is capacitors, or, in this case, ultracapacitors. Unlike batteries these can be charged extremely quickly because they rely on electrostatics, not a chemical reaction. They can also discharge (provide stored energy) just as quickly. One use of these is in New York State where they help with the load for the train system particularly in peak loading situations. They also use them for capturing braking energy, making them useful for stop-start traffic situations (currently used with trains, but we see a similar application on inner city buses in the future).
As promised we have an article about a new battery based not on lithium-ion but on sodium and, wait for it, wood fibres. It's amazing the uses that wood can be put to. With sodium being abundant, affordable and environmentally friendly it is pretty much a win - win.
How about creating Biofuel directly from the sun, bypassing the need to use plants as a step? That's what a team at Columbia University is doing. By using bacteria to directly harness the sun's energy and produce chemical fuels to be added or supplemented to Diesel Fuel. Its efficiency is low at the moment but they are working on processes to improve that.
We next take a look at our neighbours across the Tasman with a series of articles including a controversial mining project and projected water issues in Southern and Western Australia.
Australia – the ‘lucky country’ as the Australians like to call it. Some New Zealanders on the other hand, think it more like a gigantic quarry. A hot and dry quarry, that until recently was a source of high paying jobs. Even though the world’s awareness of climate change issues has continued to grow, with even China and the United States now seeking to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the opposite is happening in Australia.
The latest example of this pandering to the Australian mining interests, was the announcement on the 29th July by the Abbot Government’s Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt that the last major regulatory hurdle facing the development of their largest coal mine had been removed. The 200 square km mine, expected to produce 60M tonnes of coal a year, will require new facilities to be built at the ports of Hay Point and ironically, Abbot Point. Both ports will require dredging, with the spoil to be dumped in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef area. Not only is the reef having to contend with pesticide runoff, predatory starfish and coral bleaching, it will now have to deal with the 5m or more tonnes of mud being dumped on it. Not looking good for the reef or for the shrimps to be thrown on the Barbie.
International condemnation of Australia has followed, with Lord Deben, better known as John Gummer and the former UK Secretary of State for the Environment, labelling Abbot’s climate stance as ‘reckless’ and ‘deeply shaming’. He went on to say “I haven’t met an Australian who is not deeply ashamed of this government, most of whom voted for Abbot” and “How can you say, ‘we don’t mind what 97% of scientists tell us, we are going to stick two fingers up and do it anyway?’”.
It is not as if Australia is immune from climate change concerns, as Southern Australia is predicted to see a 40% decline in rainfall by the end of the century. This will leave West Australia totally reliant on desalination plants for its water supply. Perhaps the Australian people need to be more vocal and insist the Abbot Government change its stance. The rest of the world would appreciate their actions if they do.
We wrap up this week with a look at an article which examines the reasons for the so called warming hiatus. This fifteen year slowdown of surface warming has puzzled many climate scientists and fuelled many in the climate sceptic’s camp to claim global warming is a sham. Recent research however, based on the Argo (free-drifting floats) that measures the temperature and salinity of the upper 2,000 metres of the ocean has provided proof that the missing warming is actually being stored in the depths of the oceans. Not in the Pacific as originally though, but much more in the Atlantic. A shift in the salinity of the North Atlantic triggered the effect around the turn of the century, as surface water there became saltier and denser, sinking and taking surface heat down to depths of more than 300 metres. This effect is expected to last for another 15 years, after which it will again flip and the warming really accelerate. Best we use this 15 year pause wisely.
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.