Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Global finance must face up to climate challenge

Trillions of dollars need to be redirected into building low-carbon economies to avoid serious climate change, the UN warns.

LONDON, 27 May, 2015 − The world’s financial system must undergo comprehensive change by 2035 if humanity is to make the transition needed to reduce the threat of dangerous climate change, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, on an inquiry into aligning the financial system with sustainable development, says finance must be focused on moving investments into low-carbon projects.

It quotes World Bank estimates that investments of more than US$90 trillion will be needed over the next 15 years to enable the switch  to a low-carbon future that would let the world  stay within the internationally-agreed limit of a 2°C rise in global temperatures on pre-industrial levels by mid-century.

Short-term thinking

The risks of climate change are not properly priced in financial systems, says UNEP. Market and policy failures are exacerbated by short-term thinking and misguided incentive structures, such as the enormous subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry each year.

Rising carbon emissions cause health problems and affect water supplies and food production, which in turn can cause volatility in financial markets and hit economic growth. In Kenya, says UNEP, climate change is already costing up to 2.4% of gross domestic product (GDP).

Radically altering how the global financial system operates will not only help in the battle against climate change, but is also vital  to ensure sustainable development.

“The globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth. It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Achim Steiner, UNEP’s executive director, says: “Integrating sustainability criteria that include environment and social factors into the rules that govern the financial system can substantially strengthen the resilience of the world’s financial system, which has been a key goal of governments and regulators since the global financial crises of 2008.

“If brought to scale, the approximately US$300 trillion global financial system could help close the widening gap in sustainable development investment.”

Stronger action is needed to drive the demand for green finance through such measures as giving more incentives to clean energy projects and implementing carbon pricing systems.

At present, UNEP says, the world’s emerging economies are leading the way in transforming their financial and capital markets to reflect the realities of climate change.

In China, annual investment in various green industries and associated infrastructure could reach US$320 billion in the next five years.

In Brazil, integrating environmental risk factors into investment considerations is seen as a way to strengthen the financial system.

Companies and institutions in most developed countries have been slow to recognise the impact that climate change will have on their financial systems.

Climate risks

A notable exception, says UNEP, is the Bank of England, which recently announced a review exploring what risks climate change might pose to the country’s financial system.

Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), says the goal is clear: a peaking of global emissions over the next 10 years, followed by a deep de-carbonisation of the global economy.

“In order to achieve this, and support the aspirations for growth and poverty eradication of developing countries, the globe’s financial systems need to better price pollution and invest in real wealth,” she says. “It is happening, but nowhere near the scale required.”

Figueres believes the UN conference on climate, to be held in Paris in December, “can be a trigger that starts directing the trillions of dollars required away from high-carbon, high-risk investments and infrastructure towards the low-carbon, green economy that is everyone’s future”. – Climate News Network

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Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Economic links with China help Pakistan tap into enormous solar energy potential that can provide clean power to boost production and reduce poverty.

ISLAMABAD, 19 May, 2015 – One of the world’s largest solar plants has been opened in Pakistan with the aim of supplying clean, reliable energy and helping alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages.

The plant, spread over more than 200 hectares of desert land in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province, will generate 100 megawatts (MW) in its initial phase and more than 300MW by the end of the year, according to government officials.

More than a third of Pakistan’s population do not have access to electricity, and power shortages are a serious impediment to economic growth.

Inaugurating the plant, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country.”

Mushahidullah Khan, the Federal Minister for Climate Change, told the Climate News Network that the government is determined to make use of what it sees as the country’s enormous solar energy potential.

Energy crisis

He said: “Tackling our energy crisis is the top priority of the present government as we believe it is vital in order to achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, boost agricultural and industrial production and – through the provision of clean, solar power – reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”

The plant – called the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park – was constructed in less than a year by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company, at a cost of US$131 million.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult”

China has been forging ever closer economic links with Pakistan as part of a plan to link China’s western Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The government in Islamabad says China is likely to invest more than $30 billion in solar and other power projects in Pakistan in the coming years.

At present, more than 60% of Pakistan’s power is generated from oil and gas, and about 30% from hydro power.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Erratic flow

In particular, the flow of water in the Indus river – upon which millions depend for hydro power and for irrigating crops – has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.

Government officials say they are determined to push ahead with more solar and wind projects throughout the country.

Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said the development of solar and other renewable energies was hampered in the past by inconsistencies in government policy, and by a lack of understanding of clean energies.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult, such as Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh provinces,” he said.

As part of the push for more solar projects, the government recently announced the abolition of duty on the import of solar panels. − Climate News Network

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Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Canada has been dubbed an international disgrace for its climate change policies, but now one of its major cities is aiming to be the greenest in the world by 2020.

LONDON, 13 May, 2015 − In a country reckoned to have the worst climate policies in the industrialised world, one big city is setting out to defy central government and become 100% carbon neutral.

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, wants to establish itself as “the greenest city in the world by 2020” by demonstrating that economic growth and the welfare of its citizens depends on developing renewables, rapid transit systems, and promoting cycling and walking to curb car use.

It is one of dozens of cities worldwide working towards improving the life of their citizens while reducing fossil fuel use, but it claims to have the most ambitious targets.

Many city administrations in Europe have the support of their governments, but in other countries − particularly Australia and Canada, where governments are actively promoting fossil fuels − cities are having to act alone.

A conference in Vancouver, attended by leaders from 45 countries, opens today to help the local government reach its goals.

Doubling green jobs

Among the “Green Vancouver” targets are doubling the number of green jobs in the city by 2020, from a 2010 baseline of 16,700, and making all new building in the city carbon neutral from 2020, while dramatically cutting emissions from existing buildings.

Progress towards meeting the city’s impressive list of targets includes reductions in air pollution, waste, water use and car journeys. Other aims are to provide a green space within five minutes walk for every citizen, planting thousands of trees, and growing food locally.

The city’s environment credentials go back to the 1970s, when there was a long battle to stop a freeway being built through the city. As a result, it is not possible to drive easily into the centre.

“The people who run Vancouver . . . are
business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people”

Between 1996 and 2011, while the population in the city centre increased by 40%, there was a 25% decrease in the number of vehicle journeys, and a rise in the use of public transport, dedicated cycle routes and walkways.

Many other cities in the world that believe the way forward is to rid themselves of fossil fuels are attending to share experience – both of successes and failures.

That Vancouver is to become a centre of excellence is ironic, considering the fact that the federal government is seen as an international disgrace to the environment movement.

In 2011, it repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction targets, and has vigorously promoted the exploitation of oil from tar sands − the most polluting form of oil extraction, with high carbon dioxide emissions.

Power from renewables

In contrast, Vancouver, which has a population of 600,000, believes that all its power can come from renewables – although getting all heating and cooling and transport without using fossil fuels may take until 2040, depending on whether there is any help from central government.

One of the organisers of the conference, Shauna Sylvester, said: “When I first heard that Vancouver wanted to go 100% renewable, I thought it was a dream, but having looked at the possibilities I am a total convert.

“The people who run Vancouver do not have normal political affiliations. They are a bunch of business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people. They are neither Labour nor Conservatives, but new progressives.”

Sylvester works at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue’s Renewable Cities Initiative, one of a number of organisations that aim to bring cities together to tackle climate change, because many local leaders believe that governments do not have the political will to do so.

Among those supporting the conference is the United Nations Environment Programme, which has its own campaign to green cities. − Climate News Network

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Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

The EU says it is time for tides to provide energy for Europe from the Atlantic and end reliance on the burning of polluting fossil fuels.

LONDON, 11 May, 2015 − A race is on worldwide to harness the tides and waves for electrical power, with more than 100 different devices being tested by companies hoping to make a commercial breakthrough.

And a new report from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre expresses confidence that the Atlantic Ocean will soon be an important contributor to the continent’s energy mix.

It adds that many other countries with big tidal ranges and long coasts are also banking on this form of renewable energy to help reduce fossil fuel use.

For years, it has been predicted that the vast quantities of energy available in the oceans would be harnessed by human ingenuity to provide without the need for burning fossil fuels, but progress has been slower than expected.

Different techniques

While it has proved possible to generate  electricity with many different techniques, scaling these up into large-scale power stations to supply the electricity grid has not so far been economic.

The two most promising basic ideas are to use the currents and the build-up of water at each tide to drive turbines to make electricity, or to convert the power in wave motions to energy.

In Europe, the countries with Atlantic Ocean coastlines – such as the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway – are all developing technologies. And in 2014, the EU launched what it called its Blue Energy Action plan to finance and encourage development. The latest report details progress so far.

Most of the technologies are not new ideas, but the trick is turning a demonstration model into a viable power station.

The one exception is tidal energy in the form of a barrage across a river, which has been in use for years.

The best known is the 240 megawatt (MW) La Rance tidal barrage in France, operating successfully since 1966. Another 254 MW tidal plant has opened in Sihwa in South Korea, and other barrages producing at total 2,680 MW are planned worldwide − although  many  have proved controversial because of their  effects on fish and birds.

Tidal lagoons − reservoirs that stand in an estuary or close to the shore, and which fill and then empty with each tidal cycle − have  now won much more favour, and one is  being developed in Swansea Bay in south Wales.

The worldwide potential of this technology is estimated at 80 gigawatts (GW), or the equivalent of 80 large coal-fired power stations.

Already in successful operation at some sites, but yet to be scaled up to full commercial development, are underwater turbines − similar to wind turbines − that use the energy in tidal streams to make electricity.

In Europe, these devices will be viable in countries with high tides and strong tidal streams − particularly France, Ireland, Norway and the UK, but also  in some parts of Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. These are believed to offer  the highest net potential contribution  to the European energy system, according to the report.

The first large-scale tidal array is being built in the Pentland Firth, off northern Scotland. It will provide power to 175,000 homes.

New connections

Like the deployment of wind farms, potential tidal power arrays are often in remote locations far from cities. The report points out that these technologies will require new grid connections and integration into the European grid to get most value from them.

A new generation of devices not placed on the sea bed, but either floating like kites on a string or operating from platforms, is under development. Their advantage is that they avoid the cost of being built on the sea bed, and can also  exploit the greater strength of the tides nearer the surface of the sea.

Some of the materials being used to build devices to withstand the power of the sea, and the methods that are being used, are being kept secret for commercial reasons, but they have some of the biggest companies in Europe as their backers.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that the tides are predictable years in advance

Another new generation of micro-turbines, owned by coastal communities and anchored offshore to take advantage of tidal flows, is under development. These could give communities isolated from the grid their own power source, like solar panels do in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

There are an estimated 100 companies developing tidal energy devices worldwide, half of them  in the EU, where many are supported by development grants. Four tidal energy stations are already in operation in Europe, and another 31 are expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Many more are in the planning stage.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that, unlike some other forms of renewable energy, the tides are predictable years in advance. Wave power, on the other hand, suffers because of its unpredictability and the need to make devices robust enough to stand up to the battering  they receive.

Potential supply

That has not stopped a large number of development projects being built, principally because the potential energy supply is vast –  30 times higher than tidal energy.

Some devices have already been operating successfully for 10 years, producing regular quantities of electricity, but they were built as demonstration models and not on a commercial scale.

Building structures large enough to produce a regular power supply at a cost that could be commercial has proved elusive, but the report describes a number of devices that are close to achieving commercial viability.

There are at least nine different technologies using wave power, and 170 wave energy developers worldwide.

The report also discusses technologies that use the different gradients of salinity in the sea to produce power, and the different water temperatures to generate energy.

However, it argues that both these ideas, while viable in theory, are further away from commercial operation in Europe than tidal stream or wave power. – Climate News Network

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Major changes are in store for electricity industry

Major changes are in store for electricity industry

As the battle to phase out fossil fuels heats up, finding economically viable ways to store surplus electric power is becoming vital.

LONDON, 26 April, 2015 − Inventors are in a race to find the best way of storing electricity to make the most of renewables and cut the use of fossil fuels.

Currently, when more power than needed by consumers is produced by sources such as wind turbines or solar panels, some of the electricity is wasted. But that is changing.

Governments have realised that one of their biggest challenges in cutting the use of fossil fuels is to store surplus electricity for use at peak times.

At present, coal and gas plants are left ticking over or running at below capacity, ready to be turned on to full load to meet peak demand. This greatly adds to greenhouse gas emissions.

The UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology believes that energy storage has vast growth potential as a business opportunity, and is a key to future stable electricity supplies.

Growing fast

The technologies being supported in the UK, US, Japan and Germany − and in other countries where renewables are growing fast – include pumping water up hill, producing hydrogen, turning air into liquid, storing heat, compressing air, and building giant batteries.

The most widely-used method worldwide at the moment is pumped hydroelectricity storage. At periods of low demand at night and the weekend, low-cost surplus electricity is used to pump water uphill to a reservoir. During the day, the water is then released through turbines, and the electricity produced is sold at a premium rate during peak periods.

In the UK, this idea was introduced as long ago as 1963 in order to use surplus power from nuclear plants, which had to operate 24 hours a day. And now that renewables are adding to the problem of surplus energy at night, companies are finding it commercially viable to build new pump storage.

Another technology already in use is compressed air energy storage. Again using cheap electricity at off-peak times, air is pumped into underground caverns or other large-scale natural formations, and then released to drive turbines when electricity prices are high enough to make a profit. The limits to this at the moment are suitable geological formations.

Storing heat that can later be turned into electricity takes a variety of forms. Molten salt and other liquids can be heated during the day − for example, by solar power − and the heat is released at night to drive turbines. This is already being used in Spain to enable solar power to provide electricity after dark.

Another system being developed in the UK involves pumping heat away from a cold, gravel-filled container into a hot one. Reversing this drives a pump that generates electricity.

Cooling gas

Power can also be created by cooling gas into liquids, which then generate electricity as they warm and turn back into a gas, driving turbines as they do so. Cooling air to temperatures below minus 196˚C achieves this, and is being tried in Bury, north-west England, with a five megawatt plant to test whether it is economical.

Battery storage is still potentially the simplest and best method, but building batteries big enough and of cheap enough materials to be viable is still a problem.

One of the current plans is to use parked electric vehicles as a way of storing electricity, by using their batteries − charged up at night and weekends − to release power at times of peak demand.

Because these vehicles are parked most of the time, this could work as a large reservoir of storage capacity as electric vehicles grow more common. This method of storage would also provide a use for old or discarded vehicle batteries when cars have ended their lives.

One of the challenges for large-scale batteries is to find materials that are cheap enough to store large quantities of electricity, and which can be charged and discharged thousands of times without damage. Sodium-sulphur batteries have been developed in Japan and the US for storing surplus grid electricity, and sodium-ion batteries are also being tried.

Balance supplies

A six megawatt lithium-ion battery is being used in Leighton Buzzard, southern England, for three years to test whether it is economically viable as a balance to power supplies in the national grid.

One of the most promising areas – but still expensive – is to use surplus electricity to produce hydrogen. This has the advantage that hydrogen can provide large amounts of power quickly, is easy to transport, and has a variety of applications. It can simply be burned, or can be used to produce a chemical reaction in a fuel cell to produce power without combustion.

Some of the many other possibilities are already in use, such as storing hot water in domestic systems or district heating schemes. Hydro-electricity can also be adapted so that smaller turbines produce power only at peak times, preventing the need for fossil fuel power stations to be on stand-by.

So far, while the economics and feasibility of these schemes and many others is being tested, it is not clear if all of them will eventually be used, or whether other ideas will prove more attractive. What is certain is that more money and time than ever before is being invested in finding out. – Climate News Network

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Investors chip in as renewables rise towards record level

Investors chip in as renewables rise towards record level

Climate-friendly boost for global energy mix as scientists say solar power alone could now meet the needs of California five times over.

LONDON, 12 April, 2015 − Carbon dioxide levels might be soaring, and governments might be slow to reduce fossil fuel emissions and contain climate change − but the smart money could nevertheless be going into renewable sources such as wind and solar power.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says green energy investments rose by 17% in 2014 to reach a total of $270bn − the first annual increase in three years, and just 3% behind the all-time record set in 2011 of $279bn.

In 2014, renewable energies added 103 gigawatts to global capacity. This is roughly equal to the output of all 158 nuclear power reactors in the US.

Wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-power, geothermal, small hydro and marine power contributed an estimated 9.1% of world electricity generation in 2014. This also represents a notional saving in carbon dioxide emissions of 1.3 gigatonnes, which is about twice what pours from the exhausts of the world airlines.

Markets mature

“Once again in 2014, renewable made up nearly half the power capacity added worldwide,” said Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP.

“These climate-friendly energy technologies are now an indispensable component of the global energy mix and their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent.”

But, according to scientists backed by the Carnegie Institution, there is much more that could be done. A team led by Earth system scientists Rebecca Hernandez, now of the University of California Berkeley, reported in Nature Climate Change that solar energy alone could meet the demands of the state of California in the US up to five times over.

Solar power systems based on photovoltaics could generate up to 15,000 terawatts of energy a year. And mirror-driven concentrating systems could add another 6,000 terawatt hours.

California – now in the grip of a calamitous drought that has been tentatively linked to climate change triggered by human investment in fossil fuels – is the most populous state in the US. The researchers calculated that more than 27,000 square kilometres of land would be fit for photovoltaic solar construction, and more than 6,000 square kilometres for concentrating solar power.

“Their importance will only increase as markets mature, technology prices continue to fall
and the need to rein in carbon emissions becomes ever more urgent”

But there is a darker side to the story of renewable energy. On the other side of the Rocky Mountains, scientists have been working on the much more complex carbon budget of biofuels, which deliver energy in liquid form.

They count as renewable energy because, although they emit carbon dioxide when burned, they do not, overall, add to the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. That is because biofuel crops take carbon dioxide from the air to grow their tissues for conversion to fuel, and return the gas through engine exhausts.

But there have been persistent worries. One is that the conversion of food to fuel may not be the most efficient use of cropland.

Destroy ecosystems

The approach remains carbon neutral, as long as farmers exploit existing cropland. But the danger is that farmers might plough up existing grassland, destroy ecosystems, and release ancient stored soil carbon to the atmosphere, to make global warming worse.

Environmental scientist Tyler Lark and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison report in Environmental Research Letters that, between 2008 and 2012, US farmers ploughed seven million acres of new land for corn and soy for conversion to biofuels intended as renewable energy for motor transport.

In the course of doing so, they could have emitted as much carbon to the atmosphere as 34 coal-burning power stations in one year – or 28 million new cars on the road.

Nearly a quarter of the land converted came from long-standing prairies and ranges, much of it within the Central Plains, from North Dakota to Texas. And much of this was planted with corn intended for conversion to biofuels.

“It mimics the extreme land-use change that led to the Dust Bowl in the 1930s,” Lark says. “We could be, in a sense, ploughing up prairies with each mile we drive.” – Climate News Network

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Water crisis pushes Brazil towards solar power at last

Water crisis pushes Brazil towards solar power at last

Without water to feed its hydroelectric dams, drought-hit Brazil is turning to the solar energy source once dubbed a fantasy by the country’s president.

São Paulo, 5 April, 2015 − Brazil’s devastating drought could have the unexpected consequence of finally prompting one of the sunniest countries in the world to take solar power seriously.

The combination of an imminent energy crisis, as reservoir levels fall too low to generate power, and the appointment of a more open-minded Energy Minister promise a rapid change in the situation.

The drought, which has produced a crisis in the supply of water, has seen a dramatic drop in the levels of the reservoirs that supply dozens of hydroelectric dams in the southeast and centre west − Brazil´s industrial powerhouse and major population centre.

As Brazil now begins the seven-month dry period, when rain is traditionally sparse, the reservoirs in the drought-affected region could fall to as little as 10% of their capacity, which the new Mines and Energy Minister, Eduardo Braga, admits would be “catastrophic” for energy security.

Energy mix

It means that plans to introduce solar energy into the energy mix are at last being considered as Brazil seeks alternatives to hydroelectric dam, on which it relies for up to 80% of its energy.

The contribution of wind power, produced by onshore wind farms in the Northeast and South, has begun to grow.

But solar energy, dubbed “a fantasy” by President Dilma Rousseff just a few years ago, has been ignored. Only 400 homes in Brazil have photovoltaic (PV) panels installed on their roofs, because the cost is so prohibitive.

However, Braga has announced plans to turn dozens of hydroelectric dams in the southeast and centre west − which run the risk of becoming white elephants as the waters diminish − into solar energy farms.

Thousands of solar panels attached to buoys would be floated on the surface of the dwindling reservoirs to provide an alternative source of power.

Ministry officials have calculated they could add up to 15,000 megawatts (MW) of power, which is higher than the maximum capacity of two of Brazil´s latest Amazon megadams − Jirau, on the Madeira river, and the controversial Belo Monte, on the Xingu.

Reduce evaporation

The solar panels would have the added advantage of reducing water evaporation while at the same time being cooled by the water, boosting their conversion efficiency.

Pilot projects are about to begin on two dams owned by state companies − Sobradinho, on the São Francisco river in Bahia, and Balbina, on the Uatumã river in the Amazon.  If they are successful, the solar panels will be introduced into the dams in the southeast and centre west.

Brazil will not be the first country to experiment with floating solar power. Australia is trying it out with PV panels on the surface area of a wastewater treatment facility in Jamestown, South Australia. Their energy will power the plant.

Tax breaks for the production of photovoltaic panels have also been promised by Brazil’s Energy Minister, who also plans to introduce new rules to encourage the use of solar panels on buildings with large roof areas.

Two more auctions for solar power will be held this year. In the first such auction, held at the end of last year, 31 solar plants were chosen to provide a total capacity of 1,048 MW by 2017. The price was just under US$90 per MW − among the lowest in the world.

Solar energy potential, according to some sources, is equivalent to 20 times the total of all the present installed capacity of electrical energy

Factors that contributed to the low cost were the strong solar radiation factor in Brazil, and the fact that many solar parks would be installed in the same areas as wind farms, reducing the need to acquire land or build new transmission lines.

The 20-year contracts for energy supply involve investments of US$1.67 billion, and many foreign companies are already jostling to get a place in the Brazilian sun, in what promises to be a rapidly expanding market in a few years’ time,.

Spanish, Canadian, American, Italian and Chinese companies already have a foot in the door. And as soon as the government and its development bank, the BNDES, come up with the promised tax breaks and incentives, the solar industry could take off.

Vast potential

At the moment, the total solar energy generated in Brazil is a piffling 15MW, much of it from new football stadium roofs installed for the 2014 football World Cup. But its vast solar energy potential, according to some sources, is equivalent to 20 times the total of all the present installed capacity of electrical energy.

While it waits to see if the solar experiment on the dams works, the government is hoping that energy consumption can be reduced by means of publicity campaigns and price increases.

The downturn in the economy, with little or no growth expected this year, will also help. It has also increased the use of thermal electric plants, powered by natural gas, coal and diesel oil to provide 30% − up from 20% − to the national grid.

These are expensive to run, powered by fossil fuels, and contribute to carbon emissions, and they could soon be consigned to history as solar energy becomes a regular part of Brazil´s energy mix. – Climate News Network

Jan Rocha is a freelance journalist living in Brazil and is a former correspondent there for the BBC World Service and The Guardian.

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New ocean energy plan could worsen global warming

New ocean energy plan could worsen global warming

An apparently promising way of producing energy from the world’s oceans in fact risks causing catastrophic harm by warming the Earth far more than it can bear, US scientists say.

LONDON, 4 April, 2015 − One of renewable energy’s more outspoken enthusiasts has delivered bad news for the prospects of developing ocean thermal energy. His prediction is that although the technology could work for a while, after about 50 years it could actually exacerbate long-term global warning.

Of all the renewable energy technologies, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) sounded like the perfect choice. This is a plan to exploit the difference between the warm surface and the cold deeps of the seas, and turn that difference into energy.

The agency that did the work would be a network of vertical pipes floating below the surface: it would not spoil the view from the coast, and it would deliver power day or night, whatever the weather. But there was more.

Enthusiasts pointed out that as a bonus, the pipes used in the energy conversion would bring a flow of nutrients from the cold, deep waters to the less-fertile but sunlit surface of the ocean, thus encouraging the growth of marine algae that would soak up more carbon from the atmosphere. And, as a bonus, the same process would accelerate the downward flow of carbon, where it could be sequestered on the sea bed.

Now one of renewable energy’s more vocal supporters has taken a closer look at the long-term consequences of the ocean pipes and come up with some discouraging news: an engineering programme intended to cool the planet would end up making it warmer. It would work for a while, he says, but after about half a century it would reduce the cloud cover and at the same time reduce the sea ice, to accelerate climate change once more.

Warming exacerbated

Ken Caldeira, senior scientist in the Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University’s Carnegie Institution, California, is one of the more energetic voices in climate research: he and his Carnegie colleagues have already warned that the world is feeling the heat from carbon dioxide released from car exhausts and factory chimneys and he has spoken up loudly for nuclear power, and indeed any “clean” energy sources.

He and Stanford colleagues Lester Kwiatkowski and Katharine Ricke report in Environmental Research Letters that when they began to simulate an ocean dotted with vertical pipes that exchanged deeper and shallower waters, they expected to confirm the value of such an approach. They could not.

“Our simulations indicate the likely sign and character of unintended atmospheric consequences of such ocean technologies,” they conclude, in formal science-speak. “Prolonged application of ocean pipe technologies, rather than avoiding global warming, could exacerbate long-term warming of the climate system.”

Research exercises such as this one cost nothing more than laboratory computing power and research time: their value once again is in reminding governments, campaigners and energy investors that the climate is an intricate piece of global machinery, and that there are no easy answers to the problems presented by renewable energy.

Radical change

They are also a reminder that geo-engineering of any kind to damp climate change could have unintended consequences. In this case – in an ideal, global simulation – it would change the thermal structure of the ocean altogether.

The Carnegie calculations work like this: cold air is denser than warm air. Water funnelled up the pipes on a very large scale from the depths would cool the air above the seas, and increase atmospheric pressure, which would reduce cloud formation over the seas. Since most of the planet is ocean, that means fewer clouds overall, which means more sunlight absorbed by the Earth rather than reflected back into space by the clouds.

And the same mixing of sea waters would bring sea ice into contact with warmer waters, which would mean less sea ice to reflect radiation, with the same result: accelerated global warming.

After 60 years, the simulated network of ocean pipes would cause an increase of global temperature by up to 1.2°C. After a few centuries, the same technology would take temperatures up by a catastrophic 8°5C.

“I cannot envisage any scenario in which a large scale global implementation of ocean pipes would be advisable,” said the report’s lead author, Dr Kwiatkowski. “In fact, our study shows it could exacerbate long-term warning and is therefore highly inadvisable at global scales.” – Climate News Network

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Climate is now main worry for conservation group

Climate is now main worry for conservation group

The devastating effects of a changing climate have become the biggest challenge faced by a leading protector of the UK countryside.

LONDON, 24 March, 2015 − The head of one of the UK’s best-known conservation groups says the greatest threat to its work is now climate change.

Dame Helen Ghosh, director-general of the National Trust, told BBC Radio that there is devastation of wild Britain and the creatures that live there. “Who would have thought that the house sparrow and hedgehog were going to become rare?” she said.

“For the future and we see this on our coastline, in our countryside, even in our houses climate change, we think, is the big threat to us.”

The Trust is the charity responsible for the care of countryside and historic houses across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (a separate body does the work in Scotland).

It is also one of Britain’s largest landowners, with 600,000 acres (250,000 hectares) and 700 miles (1,125 km) of coastline in its care, and more than 300 historic buildings − all held in trust for the future.

About 20 million people go to the Trust’s houses and gardens annually, but 200 million visit its upland, lowland and coastal sites.

Destruction of habitats

Dame Helen said: “The main challenge to our conservation purpose is the destruction of habitats, of wildlife − the fact that we see precious species 60% in decline.”

She suggested that, apart from climate, the other cause of that was intensive land management.

When it comes to recognising the risks of a warming world, Dame Helen is certainly well qualified. As a former leading civil servant, one of her last jobs before joining the Trust was to head the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which at that time had climate change as one of its responsibilities.

As part of its efforts to help address climate change, Dame Helen said the Trust would be getting 50% of the energy it uses in its houses and properties from renewable sources by 2020.

For example, she said, there would be “lots of hydro schemes across the country, lots of biomass boilers” as part of the renewable energy policy. The Trust aims to reduce its own energy consumption by about 20%.

It will also be working with its own tenant farmers, she said, “to try to make sure that land is farmed in environmentally-friendly ways that we get production, and also the bees and the butterflies”. Climate News Network

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Powerful wind blows through US energy sector

Powerful wind blows through US energy sector

Wind power in the US now generates enough electricity for more than 11 million homes, but it needs government support for further growth.

LONDON, 20 March, 2015 − The wind turbines are turning across America, and a major report by the US Department of Energy (DOE) says the wind energy sector now supplies 4.5% of the nation’s electricity.

Given the right energy policies and investment in infrastructure, that figure could increase to 10% by 2020 and to 35% by 2050, the DOE predicts.

That will not only benefit tens of thousands of workers who will be employed in one of the US’s fastest-growing industries. It’s also good news for the climate, and will help preserve increasingly precious water supplies.

“Deployment of wind technology for US electricity generation provides a domestic, sustainable and essentially zero carbon, zero pollution and zero water-use US electricity resource,” the DOE says.

Impressive growth

The rate of growth of wind power in the US has been impressive. In 2011 alone, nearly 3,500 turbines went up across the country. And the Natural Resources Defence Council says that a typical 250 megawatt wind farm − around 100 turbines − will create 1,073 jobs over the lifetime of the project.

The DOE says costs of wind power are dropping, while reliability and other issues are being sorted out. “Wind generation variability has a minimal and manageable impact on grid reliability and costs,” the report says.

Texas is the top wind power state, followed by Iowa, California and Oklahoma. At the end of 2013, the US had 61 gigawatts (GW) installed − up from 25 GW in 2009.

The aim is to increase those figures to 113 GW by 2020, to 224 GW by 2030, and to more than 400 GW by 2050.

The DOE says that if these plans are realised, the emission into the atmosphere of more than 12 gigatonnes of climate changing greenhouse gases (GHG) will be avoided.

“Pairing this homegrown resource with continued technology innovation has made the US the home of the most productive wind turbines in the world”

“Wind deployment can provide US jobs, US manufacturing and lease and tax revenues in local communities to strengthen and support a transition towards a low-carbon US economy,” the report says.

The trouble is that there is considerable resistance to wind power in parts of the political establishment. The DOE report – while not directly accusing Washington of standing in the way of progress on wind − does say that “new tools, priorities and emphases” need to be set in place in order to achieve wind energy targets.

These include an urgent need for a large-scale infrastructure programme in order to build wind power transmission lines.

The American Wind Energy Association, (AWEA), body that represents the industry, calculates that about 900 miles of transmission lines need to be put in place each year up to 2050 if the DOE is to achieve its wind power goals.

Tax policies to encourage wind development are also required. A special Wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), which effectively gave subsidies to the wind industry of about $13 billion a year, was brought in 1992.

Receive subsidies

But when the tax credit came up for renewal in 2012, it was not retained in the tax code, and finally lapsed at the end of 2013, although the oil, gas, fracking and coal industries – all major GHG emitters − have continued to receive subsidies.

Political analysts say there is little likelihood that the PTC will be renewed by a legislature controlled by the Republican party – which is generally opposed to giving financial incentives to the renewable energy sector.

The elimination of tax breaks initially slowed growth in the construction of wind energy facilities, but the industry remains upbeat and says investors are still putting money into projects.

“The US is blessed with an abundant supply of wind energy,” the AWEA says. “Pairing this homegrown resource with continued technology innovation has made the US the home of the most productive wind turbines in the world.” – Climate News Network

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