According to many commentators the recent weather in Australia cannot be linked to climate change.
So check out this weather map… (caution, contains strong language)
According to many commentators the recent weather in Australia cannot be linked to climate change.
So check out this weather map… (caution, contains strong language)
As with many people climate change science has been on my mind with the devastation of the floods and now hurricane Yasi in Queensland.
Sea level rise is one of the likely impacts of climate change, driven by a melting of the Greenland Ice cap. The melting of the Greenland Ice cap will lead to a sea level rise of around 7 metres. I was a bit sceptical about this number when I learnt of it. How could the ice melt from such a seemingly insignificant place on the world (after all, who do you know who has been to Greenland?) cause such a high sea level rise? So I did some quick investigation, found out that most of the Greenland ice shelf was over one km thick, and a rough calc showed that this estimate of sea level rise was about right. But how long would this take? Surely it would be over hundreds or thousands of years?
If you have ever seen a presentation by David Suzuki or can remember your high school science, or understand compound interest, you should appreciate the concept of exponential growth. For example, which would you prefer – $1 million or 1 cent that doubles every day for the next thirty days? If you opted for the 1 cent that doubles after 20 days you’d only have a little over $5,000, but after 30 days you would have over $5 million. With exponential growth nothing much seems to be happening, then suddenly things seem to change very quickly.
The Climate Code Red blog has recently reported on research by NASA scientist James Hansen that indicates that the rate of mass loss from the Greenland ice shelf is doubling roughly every 5 to 6 years. Hansen is quick to point out that the data records are too short to be sure of the doubling time. But if the rate of mass loss does double every 6 years, after 60 years the rate of mass loss will be over 500 times what it is today. And this exponential growth in the rate of loss of ice is what Hansen has predicted could translate into a 5 metre sea level rise by 2095.
Over the last century the sea level rose by somewhere between 150 to 200mm (according to the USA’s environment protection authority). Lets assume that that the sea level rose by say 2mm in 2010, in line with the average yearly rise in the century before. If we take the crude approximation that sea level rise also takes place exponentially, and we are looking at a sea level rise of 5 metres by 2095, by how much will the sea have risen between 2010 and 2020? By just 30mm – surely nothing to make the alarm bells ring or make coastal property values plummet. By 2030 the rise will be 80mm – mmm. By 2050 the rise would be 330mm. Probably still not enough for some sceptics to acknowledge climate change. In fact it would only be until 2068 that sea levels were a metre above 2010 levels.
Now I’m not a climate change scientist and the numbers above have been generated from some very rough calculations that wouldn’t stand up to peer review. But my point is that sea level rise – seen as one of the great threats of climate change – will probably creep up on us. Just because its happening slowly now doesn’t mean sea level rise will always be slow.
Reports recently published in newspapers indicate that the government’s mandatory energy star rating schemes of homes is rather inaccurate. The scheme has been heavily-criticised by the building industry (HIA and MBA) and they are calling on scientists and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency to review the way the star rating is calculated for new houses.
Contrary to what the terminology suggests ‘solar thermal energy’ is not a recent development and it is certainly not something that has just been invented as another answer to reduce greenhouse emissions. According to the Renewable Institute for Sustainable Research, the first solar powered engines were constructed back in the 1860s by a couple of French mathematicians. During the past 30 years a number of solar thermal plants have been built and operated around the world to produce guilt-free electricity. However, the technology has been rapidly evolving in recent years and Australia has perfected the technology to make it commercially more viable.
Unlike wind power or solar photovoltaic panels, which generate electricity directly, solar thermal power uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy onto a receiver and create heat, which can then be used to produce steam to run a turbine and generate electricity, in the same way as a conventional coal-fired power station. The other advantage of solar thermal technology is that it can be stored very efficiently in large tanks of molten salt and then be dispatched to generate electricity at any time of the day or night, making it in effect base load solar power.
The way solar thermal energy plants work is by focusing the glare of the sun’s rays on a central location –usually on a tall solar tower- to create heat, which is then turned into electricity. The concentrated heat is extreme between 500-2000 C and it could easily melt metal. Due to various heat exchange processes involved –which were further advanced in Australia- the water eventually turns to steam, powering the turbines at the base.
Various methods exist to concentrate the solar radiation, including parabolic troughs, power towers with mirrors that track the sun (heliostats), parabolic dishes, and Fresnel reflectors (these consist of multiple flat mirrors). Each technology differs in the way that it concentrates the solar energy, but they all track the sun to maximise energy capture and produce heat, which is then converted to electricity.
These technologies are at different stages of development and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. It is fair to say that parabolic troughs are the most mature, having first been installed at utility scale in the 1980s; although the other types may ultimately prove cheaper due to their inherent design advantages. These technologies have been successfully used in the USA and Spain since the 1980s. But the Australian National University has re-designed the dish for optimisation for manufacturing and mass production with mirror panels that should be able to concentrate the sun at least 2,000 times.
Solar Thermal Uptake in Australia
Australia has large areas of high solar intensity and little rain, where large concentrations of renewable energy power stations could be developed. In fact the Australian continent has the highest average amount of solar radiation per square meter per year of any continent on the planet ranging from 1500 to 1900 kWh/m2/year. In other words Australia is better-suited to this technology than any other country in the world, including Spain who is expecting to operate 60 solar thermal plants by 2013.
Peter Meurs (Managing Director of WorleyParsons-EcoNomics) has said that establishing advanced solar thermal centres could allow Australia to exceed the 20 per cent renewable energy target by:
• Facilitating the commercialisation of developing renewable energy technologies.
• Triggering the development of domestic solar thermal component manufacturing.
• Enabling Australia to become a world leader in these technologies.
• Allowing the construction of larger scale solar thermal power stations over time.
Wizard Power is also part of the same consortium who has been trying to commercialise big dish technology in Australia for the past five years. Their unique technology was developed by the Australian National University’s solar thermal group over the past 40 years who have perfected ‘the big dish’ and they’ve also figured how to best store the sun’s energy thermo-chemically. It appears that Wizard Power may be getting some support from the federal government in the form of $60 million towards a $230 million solar plant it’s building in South Australia. Wizard Power suggested Whyalla in South Australia as an ideal place to establish large scale solar facilities, because of the climate and the number of large scale resource projects requiring power. Australia’s very first solar oasis in Whyalla is going to provide enough electricity to power the town of Whyalla and also to provide power to the neighbouring steel works. In total it’s capable of powering approximately 9000 average homes or replacing something in the order of 17000 motor vehicles on the road each year in terms of carbon emissions.
There is no reason why Australia couldn’t match the Spanish government’s commitment who is expecting to cover 12 percent of its primary energy from renewable sources by the end of this year. Spain is the fourth largest manufacturer in the world of solar power technology and exports 80 percent of its production to Germany. Australia cannot quite export electricity to other countries but we could export our expertise in this technology to build solar thermal plants in other countries. At the same time there is no reason why 30 solar thermal plants could not provide 40 per cent of Australia’s renewable energy needs by 2020-according to WorleyParsons. But to achieve this goal, action must be taken today.
K. Lovergrove and M. Dennis Solar Thermal Energy Systems in Australia 2006 International Journal of Environmental Studies (www.tandf.co.uk/journals)
In Australia I see essentially two political choices for taking action on climate change. Vote for a party committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and implementing an emissions trading scheme (ETS) or vote for a party not committed to an ETS and relying on ‘direct action’ to reduce carbon emissions. The major political parties are in essence providing these two choices to the Australian public – Labor for an ETS and the Coalition against an ETS. The two key minor, but still influential parties offer the same choice – Greens for an ETS and the Nationals against.
But what is an ETS and what is direct action? If people don’t understand the choices how are they to make an informed decision?
Direct action is essentially funding measures and initiatives through tax payer’s money that will reduce carbon emissions. Sounds simple enough, and of course voters can be led to believe that the government is taking control and doing something immediate to tackle Australia rising greenhouse gas emissions. The Liberal party is promoting direct action and refers to an ETS as a ‘great big tax’, but surely direct action could be termed the same – after all, direct action is still using tax payers’ money!
Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)
What is an ETS and what advantage does it offer over direct action? The Department of Climate Change refers to its ETS policy as a Carbon Reduction Pollution Scheme (CPRS). An ETS is also commonly referred to as a cap and trade system or simply carbon emissions trading. What this means, is that the Government basically sets a cap or limit on the amount of pollution (carbon emissions) that can be emitted. This cap is sold to participants (the big polluters) in the form of carbon emission permits, which each are worth a specific amount of specified pollutant – in the context of tackling climate change, carbon dioxide. Holders of the permits are then allowed to trade the permits within each trading period set by the Government. The total amount of permits cannot exceed the cap, which over time is reduced by the Government, forcing the market to adjust and carbon emissions reductions to be achieved.
Essentially, participants of the trading scheme are allowed to pollute a certain amount within each period. If they exceed this amount (the cap), then they must purchase permits to allow them to pollute. So participants below the cap can choose to sell their permits to participants who require them. This puts a price on carbon pollution and if well designed, provides an incentive for participants to reduce their emissions.
The Labor Government came very close to passing an ETS, however it was blocked in the Senate twice in 2009. The Greens Party played a key part in the failed policy adoption of a ETS as they viewed the scheme as watered down, with a target to reduce Australia’s net carbon emissions by only 5 percent. To some degree I agree that the targets need to be much higher if Australia is to really move towards a low-carbon economy, however being too ambitious too early must have implications for our economy.
Labor is still committed to implementation of an ETS, but has postponed any commencement until 2013, claiming a divide on the issue due to a lack of consensus on climate change. They are offering direct action initiatives in the short-term, and a so called Citizens Assembly to form consensus for a future ETS. I get the feeling the lack of consensus is within the political realm, because I get the feeling most Australian’s want action on climate change, but just aren’t sure what the best action is.
Are you for an ETS or against?
I see the choice as simple – vote for a potential ETS or vote for no ETS. So what’s the advantage of an emissions trading scheme over direct action? An ETS is market-based, which from an economic perspective is more efficient and results in reducing carbon emissions at lowest cost. So the claim by the Liberal Party that an ETS is a ‘great big tax’ is not directly true. The problem lies in Government intervention in the form of subsidies and other exemptions, which are funded through tax payers’ money. Australia is a carbon emissions intensive nation, due to key sectors including the energy sector and aluminium smelter industry. An ETS without government intervention would mean these sectors would be the hardest hit, such that they would need to invest dramatically to improve energy efficiency and where above the cap, pay to pollute. This is argued to impact Australia’s global competiveness and will most likely increase the cost of commodities affected.
So, the argument against an ETS is that participants will have to spend money to reduce their carbon emissions and this expense will partly be passed on to consumers. While this may be true, at the end of the day, someone needs to foot the bill and if climate change is everyone’s problem then we should all be contributing.
Getting the balance right
The question is, do we contribute through direct government expenditure, or indirectly through a market-based scheme? Governments do not exactly have a good reputation for spending tax payers’ money efficiently so I would argue an ETS is the way to go. However, the success of an ETS really comes down to its overall design. Yes, we want to reduce emissions, but we don’t want to endanger Australia’s economic competitiveness. Like anything, it’s a balancing act, but if we get so bogged down in analysis paralysis, we’ll never achieve any real outcomes.
The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has released its scorecard for the forthcoming federal election, and will update it weekly. With only 3 weeks to go, the three major political parties have clearly put entirely different emphases on the importance of the world in which we live. Which best suits you?
I caught up again today with David McInnes, Group Manager Environment for Linfox – you can find the interview here. Linfox have cut their greenhouse gas emissions by 28% per km since 2006/07. They are aiming to cut their emissions by 50% by 2015. I find this tremendously refreshing and a great example for other companies to follow.
The 28% reduction has substantially cut fuel costs compared with what they would have been with no action. Most of the savings have come from what David calls cultural change, the process of engaging with staff and getting them committed to minimising their environmental impact at work. The company is putting all its drivers through its Eco-Drive program, the single largest source of its savings. The Eco-Drive program has now been translated into six languages by Linfox.
When Linfox started on its greenhouse gas saving program back in 2006/07 it didn’t do a dry cost-benefit feasibility study, rather its board took the attitude that as a large contributor to transport emissions it had a responsibility to act. It set a target of a 15% reduction by 2010, not knowing how to achieve that, but putting faith that by going through a structured process of cultural change the results would be achieved. Their faith in this process has certainly paid off.
Its modelled its change process on the eight step change model developed by Harvard University academic John Kotter, who has written several books on the process of organisational change.
The first step of Kotter’s process is to create a sense of urgency. Linfox created this by focussing on the climate change science. Part of this involved commissioning a series of mindmaps by West Australian artist Jane Genovese, one of which which can be viewed by clicking on the link below.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that greenhouse emissions need to be reduced globally by between 25% and 40% by 2020 on 1990 levels to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees. David believes that this target can be achieved, and Linfox is a great example of how business can lead the way.
Last month ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics released its Australian energy projections to 2029-30.
The blow dried picture of a wind turbine on the front page is unfortunately very misleading.
The projections take into account the likely effects of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (if it ever comes in), the Renewable Energy Target, and other measures designed to reduce Australia’s carbon footprint.
ABARE predicts that the amount of electricity generated in Australia will increase by nearly 50% on 2007-08 values, or a growth rate of 1.8 percent per year. That’s only just below our projected population growth rate of 2.1%.
Total energy consumption is projected to grow 35% (1.4% a year). Its expected that in 2029-30 coal and oil will still be supplying the bulk of Australia’s energy needs. Renewable energy is expected to supply just 8% of total energy in 2029-30.
Assuming that the emissions factors for coal, oil and natural gas are similar to what they are today (for example that 1 GJ of black coal still produces around 88.43 kg of GHG when combusted), a quick calculation shows that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions from the use of fossil fuels are likely to be 21% higher in 2029-30 than they were in 2007-08.
The table below shows the maths, using the data in the ABARE report and emissions factors from the Department of Climate Change website.
|Fossil fuel||2007-08 Consumption (PJ)||2029-30 Consumption (PJ)||Emissions factor (kg CO2-e/GJ)||2007-08 GHG (Mt CO2-e)||2029-30 GHG (Mt CO2-e)|
|Oil (assumed to be crude oil)||
|Gas (assumed to be unprocessed natural gas)||
I find this data deeply disturbing – it appears as though emissions from fossil fuels will increase from 398 million tonnes to 483 million tonnes. Climate change scientists say we need to reduce emissions. Yet Australia’s emissions from the use of fossil fuels appear to be set to increase, with measures such as the CPRS appearing tokenistic.
Which begs the questions, if the CPRS is supposed to reduce emissions by 5% by 2020, how come my calculations show that our emissions from the use of fossil fuels will be higher in 2030? Or is it expected that the emissions factors will lower for coal (for example via “clean coal” technologies)? Or will the emissions reduction come from international carbon trading? As a developed country with one of the highest per capita emissions in the world is this really the best we can do?
Energy conservation (choosing to waste less energy) and energy efficiency (using less energy to achieve the same outcome) have the potential to decrease our energy use if widely uptaken. The climate change science demands a step change in our ability to save energy if we are to avoid ABARE’s disturbing projections.
Commissioning is a quality-assurance process designed to increase the likelihood that a newly constructed building will meet client expectations. Commissioning stretches over the entire design and construction process. It should ideally begin at the design phase, with selection of a commissioning provider who helps ensure that the building owners and designers’ intent is written into the project documentation.
The design and construction of ‘green’ buildings pose problems similar to those found in conventional building design. This compromises the intent of the design to achieve a high level of energy efficiency in its function. A good sustainable design will include systems that are “right-sized” (rather than the typically oversized mechanical systems) for the building. Over sizing equipment has become a standard design practice, because—due to design, installation, and/or operation errors, systems rarely function at their intended capacity. These errors occur because of the fragmentation between design, construction and operation, resulting from a general lack of a systems approach in the building process. Commissioning can facilitate improved integration and communication between these phases and can also ensure that right-sized systems function as intended and as specified.
If a building is not properly commissioned, it will not perform according to its design intent and will therefore have a poor energy rating. A common reason for inadequate commissioning is the tendency for projects to go over time and budget and for the contractors to drastically pull back on resources to get started on new projects. For this reason, it is widely recognised that engagement in independent commissioning is best practice, as it is carried out objectively without any conflict of interest.
The cutting of costs and resources at the initial commissioning stage will end up costing the facility more money in the long run, as extensive maintenance issues will ensue. Also, the cost of retrofitting is always more financially intensive than implementation as part of the original build.
In conclusion, it is recommended to allow sufficient investment capital to employ independent commissioning at the construction stage, as it will save countless amounts of energy, money and time overall.
This is an article “We Cannot Fight Climate With Consumerism” by George Monbiot from his ZSpace Page, Monday, November 09, 2009 http://www.zcommunications.org/we-cannot-fight-climate-with-consumerism-by-george-monbiot.
It outlines and gives examples of the ‘licensing effect’: Researchers have found that buying green can establish the moral credentials that license subsequent bad behaviour.
“How many times have you heard the argument that small green actions lead to bigger ones?”
“I’ve heard it hundreds of times: habits that might scarcely register in their own right are still useful because they encourage people to think of themselves as green, and therefore to move on to tougher actions.”
“A green energy expert once tried to convince me that even though rooftop micro wind turbines are useless or worse than useless in most situations, they’re still worth promoting because they encourage people to think about their emissions. It’s a bit like the argument used by anti-drugs campaigners: the soft stuff leads to the hard stuff.”
“I’ve never been convinced by this argument. In my experience, people use the soft stuff to justify their failure to engage with the hard stuff. Challenge someone about taking holiday flights six times a year and there’s a pretty good chance that they’ll say something along these lines:
I recycle everything and I re-use my plastic bags, so I’m really quite green.”
“A couple of years ago a friend showed me a cutting from a local newspaper: it reported that a couple had earned so many vouchers from recycling at Tesco that they were able to fly to the Caribbean for a holiday.”
“The greenhouse gases caused by these flights outweigh any likely savings from recycling hundreds or thousands of times over, but the small actions allow people to overlook the big ones and still believe that they are environmentally responsible.”
“Being a cynical old git, I have always been deeply suspicious of the grand claims made for consumer democracy: that we can change the world by changing our buying habits. There are several problems with this approach:
• In a consumer democracy, some people have more votes than others, and those with the most votes are the least inclined to change a system that has served them so well.
• A change in consumption habits is seldom effective unless it is backed up by government action. You can give up your car for a bicycle – and fair play to you – but unless the government is simultaneously reducing the available road space, the place you’ve vacated will just be taken by someone who drives a less efficient car than you would have driven (traffic expands to fill the available road-space). Our power comes from acting as citizens – demanding political change – not acting as consumers.
• We are very good at deceiving ourselves about our impacts. We remember the good things we do and forget the bad ones.”
“I’m not saying that you shouldn’t always try to purchase the product with the smallest impact: you should. Nor am I suggesting that all ethical consumption is useless. Fairtrade products make a real difference to the lives of the producers who sell them; properly verified goods – like wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council or fish approved by the Marine Stewardship Council – are likely to cause much less damage than the alternatives. But these small decisions allow us to believe that our overall performance is better than it really is.”
“So I wasn’t surprised to see a report in Nature this week suggesting that buying green products can make you behave more selfishly than you would otherwise have done. Psychologists at the University of Toronto subjected students to a series of cunning experiments (pdf). First they were asked to buy a basket of products; selecting either green or conventional ones. Then they played a game in which they were asked to allocate money between themselves and someone else. The students who had bought green products shared less money than those who had bought only conventional goods.”
“The researchers call this the “licensing effect”. Buying green can establish the moral credentials that license subsequent bad behaviour: the rosier your view of yourself, the more likely you are to hoard your money and do down other people.”
“Then they took another bunch of students, gave them the same purchasing choices, then introduced them to a game in which they made money by describing a pattern of dots on a computer screen. If there were more dots on the right than the left they made more money. Afterwards they were asked to count the money they had earned out of an envelope.”
“The researchers found that buying green had such a strong licensing effect that people were likely to lie, cheat and steal: they had established such strong moral credentials in their own minds that these appeared to exonerate them from what they did next. Nature uses the term “moral offset”, which I think is a useful one.”
“So perhaps guilt is good after all. Campaigners are constantly told that guilt-tripping people is counterproductive: we have to make people feel better about themselves instead. These results suggest that this isn’t very likely to be true. They also offer some fascinating insights into the human condition. Maybe the cruel old Christian notion of original sin wasn’t such a bad idea after all.”
I disagree with the last sentence, and I feel that the research suggests striving for continual balance of “telling it like it is” in appropriate doses that won’t overwhelm and cause inaction, with giving hope when these new realistic actions are done.