Welcome to our Snippets newsletter which as always endeavours to provide coverage of developments in energy and environmental issues, from both here in New Zealand and around the world. We hope you continue to find our fortnightly collection of articles to be of interest in what is a rapidly evolving area.

This week we open with examination of an Oxfam report highlighting that the 62 wealthiest people now own as much as half the world’s population, some 3.5 billion. Furthermore, the trend is only one where the super-rich have grown richer – up by 44% since 2010 and the poor poorer – down by 41%. Where will it all end we wonder? And then are reminded of the pitchforks of the French Revolution... c’est la vie.

Our next article by Piers Sellers couldn’t be more different. As it turns out Piers is a climate scientist who has just been told he has Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He uses this opportunity to reflect on his life and the challenges that face us all. Strangely moving and uplifting.

At least Piers got to be able to say 2015 was perhaps the year of the end of the Denier. It also was the warmest year on record. And not just by an incremental amount – it was up by a whopping 0.75C over the 1961 to 1990 long-term average. 0.75C may not sound a lot, but it is really huge in climate scientific terms. 2016 is looking to be even hotter again and if so, expect to see many more extreme weather events.

We next examine green technologies for 2016. 3D printers are expected to become more mainstream with improvements in capability and new products from the likes of HP and Toshiba leading to increases in affordability. Second up is Artificial Intelligence (AI). In this case they refer to machine learning technologies, i.e. systems modelled on the human brain being applied to tasks such as medical diagnostics systems, fraud detection, etc. Whilst we have all probably seen movies of how AI goes bad, it doesn’t have to end that way, albeit Dr Stephen Hawking might disagree. But then, even Arnie turned into a good terminator in the most recent release of the Terminator series.

Drones are also predicted to be more prevalent in 2016 for uses such as in the agricultural and energy sectors and for surveillance operations. Self-driving car development is pushing ahead with organisations such as Google, Ford and Toyota well into development and testing of driverless cars.

Staying with self-driving cars, we next take an extremely detailed look at developments in this space. Imagine a world where the majority of vehicles were autonomous. Would you ‘invest’ in your own vehicle if a fleet of roving self-drive vehicles were available?

Self-driving vehicles would certainly free up a lot of car parking space. In the US there are close to one billion parking spots and only 253 million passenger cars and light trucks. This means they have roughly four times more parking spaces than vehicles. If you totalled up all the area devoted to parking, it’d be roughly 6,500 square miles, which is bigger than Connecticut (that’s nearly 3.5 Auckland Regions!). Freeing up all that space could go a long way to solving Auckland’s housing issues.

Staying with the transportation theme, utilising advances in NASA technologies could save airlines billions and cut pollution by 75%. Through seemingly sensible measures such as new lightweight composite materials, modified tails and wings, enhanced and more efficient engines, big gains can be made. Saving airlines billions and dropping current pollution levels dramatically has to be good for all concerned.

Sustainable packaging trends were a feature in 2015, and will likely continue to be in 2016, as attitudes are continuing to head towards “reduce, re-use and recycle”. We next look at 6 sustainable packaging trends to watch in 2016 – reducing waste and carbon footprints, bio packaging and bottling, and keeping an eye on what supply chains are doing all feature, as does edible packaging, although this is not likely to be a commercially available product in the very near future.

You may recall an article we ran last year about “The Ocean Cleanup” (Snippets, 18 June 2015)

Researchers from Imperial College have looked further into this plastic waste collection and found that, rather than targeting the mid Pacific “Patch” for the clean-up, by instead locating the plastic collectors at the coastline at specific points where the waste emanates from, the quantity of plastic debris collected increased significantly. They are still refining their analysis, but hope future clean-up projects will focus on coastlines. Better still, why not use sustainable packaging that will self-destruct when no longer required.

The report “Tapping into Nature” by Terrapin Bright Green discusses ecosystems and how they can show us a path to working without waste. There are some good lessons to be learned, some interesting examples of businesses that have collaborated to achieve minimisation of waste, and some products currently in development.

A 10 year study has found that overfishing is causing global catches to fall at three times faster than the official UN figures have suggested. The UN figures didn’t include many fish caught by small scale, sporting, or illegal fishers, and didn’t include any discarded by-catch. The researchers for this study have tried as best they could to fill in the data gaps, and have found that more fish were being caught, but the rate of decline in the annual catch was also significantly more than previously reported. Illegal fishing by large fleets from foreign countries etc. is causing locals to get desperate enough to take matters into their own hands, as they can’t feed their families any longer. It could be possible to rebuild stocks, but sadly it is unlikely to happen because of the pressure to continue to fish is very strong and not well policed.

We next take a look at fuel cells, ‘A $2 billion secret of the clean economy’ – with more than 13,500 units deployed and benefits such as security of supply, better energy management control, and potential peak usage saving. A good idea all round, as shown by 9% of Fortune 500 companies and 23% of Fortune 100 companies all using fuel cells in some aspect of their operations.

The renewable energy storage market in Australia just got another entrant. An Aboriginal owned company - AllGrid Energy recently announced the launch of a 10kWh solar energy storage system. The company plans to create opportunities wherever it can to assist the indigenous population through employment and training opportunities.

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.

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