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 past week the IPCC released their final 5th Assessment report, that whilst not introducing anything new (it was a summary of the previous released reports), did use some unusually strong and not particularly diplomatic language in that climate change is set to inflict “severe, widespread and irreversible impacts” on people and the natural world unless emissions are cut sharply and rapidly.
The report also stated that solutions are available and affordable. To us, this means that the IPCC has undertaken some form or risk assessment and has been able to quantify the risks of doing nothing against taking action. Managing risks is something we all do every day. They can be as simple as deciding whether to take a raincoat to work in the morning, or more complex ones like a change of career path.
There is however, one profession who is better trained in assessing and managing risks and that is the humble engineer. Their degree path is a continuous one of learning how to assess and manage risks. An engineer is taught how to examine all of the external factors that might impact on their design and what factors of safety should be factored in. In many cases the factor of safety is dictated by the critical nature of what they are designing or building. So whilst our next article discusses why engineers are critical to the future of sustainable farming, we believe engineers are in fact critical to sustainable solutions themselves and when the IPCC refers to solutions being available and affordable, they are largely discussing engineering solutions.
One thing for sure is that the human species needs to fundamentally and rapidly change course to avoid what is likely to be the Sixth Extinction. These two articles are a rather depressing but essential reality check, that as a species we need to wake up, otherwise we will continue to sleep walk our way to societal and environmental collapse. From an engineer’s perspective it is an unacceptable risk. From a politician’s perspective it is an acceptable risk as long as they are not standing for re-election.
One industry sector that you would think would be at the leading edge of assessing risk is the insurance industry and yet according to a CERES report, 83% of insurance companies are unprepared in addressing climate-related risks and opportunities. Some are even resorting to legal manoeuvres to escape paying on claims, for example suing a local government council for failure to increase storm water protection measures.
A number of these companies are sure to be exposed to risks posed by the ongoing drought in California, now into its third year. Part of dealing with this, is the possibility of the State of California issuing a $7.5 billion water bond to build new dams (needs water to fill them first though), plus desalination and recycling projects. Perhaps some of the better solutions might lie in mimicking nature and using techniques observed in tilapia and mangroves.
We also carry an article discussing how the US has recently overtaken both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer, with 8.4 million barrels per day in April 2014, the highest in 27 years. These increases in production are mainly as a result of tapping shale reservoirs in Texas and North Dakota.
If the world is to address the climate change concerns outlined by the IPCC, then these increases in fossil fuel production is also exactly what the world doesn’t need. Instead, we need to increasingly move to renewables, with onshore wind being the cheapest of the alternatives and cheaper still than coal, gas and nuclear energy, once the costs of external factors like air quality, human toxicity and climate change are factored in. Solar also has an important part to play in the renewable energy mix, with recent evidence from the UK demonstrating that solar farms and agriculture work well together. In some cases, the conversion to solar farms has made what was previously regarded as marginal land viable for agricultural production and even increasing yields from existing stock by providing protection from extreme weather.
Of course, most of these ‘positive’ developments have been devised, designed and built by engineers. Other examples of positive engineering solutions include developments in the built environment such as for commercial office accommodation. We carry an article examining a few leading designs including One Angel Square in Manchester, UK, the Pixel in Melbourne, Australia and the Bullitt Centre, in Seattle, Washington – the latter designed to last a staggering 250 years or six generations. Design solutions are now aiming for net zero buildings; buildings that are both energy efficient and generate sufficient electricity to meet their annual demand.
Unsurprisingly, with the increased emphasis on sustainability, the global energy efficiency market is now worth at least $310 billion per annum. As the IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said “Energy efficiency is the invisible powerhouse in IEA countries and beyond, working behind the scenes to improve energy security, lower energy bills and move us closer to reaching our climate goals”. It is worth noting that cumulative avoided energy consumption over the decade from energy efficiency in IEA countries was 1,732 million tonnes of oil equivalent – larger than the 2012 energy demand of the US and Germany combined.
We also examine efficiency gains in the transport sector. The first of these is from the world’s largest cruise company – Carnival Corporation, which has reported savings of over 1 billion gallons of fuel and 12 billion kilograms of CO2e over a seven-year period. These have been realised through a variety of measures such as enhanced hull coatings, improvements to HVAC and lighting systems and reducing on-board water consumption. The second is the launch of a web-site aimed at improving the efficiency of trucks. In the US, the average truck owner spends $74,000 per truck on fuel. It is envisaged that the widespread adoption of commercially available technologies could save $40 billion in fuel costs and reduce emissions by 20%.
We end this week on a positive note, with the announcement by the Singapore Stock Exchange that it is introducing mandatory sustainability reporting for all 800 Singapore-listed companies. As Magnus Bocker, SGX CEO said “Investors are more likely to sell companies that are not green, so while sustainability reporting is an opportunity for green companies to showcase their effort on a global stage, it is also a threat to companies that are not sustainable”.
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.