Snapshot: UK offshore wind

Offshore wind energy in the UK is charging ahead.

As the above tweet illustrates, the price of offshore wind power in the UK is half what the UK government predicted it would be in 2030! Subsidies for offshore wind energy in the UK have more than halved in less than three years reflecting the falling costs of the energy it produces. The UK government awards contracts-for-difference for offshore wind farms to companies who can provide energy with the smallest subsidy over a set time period. This encourages companies to compete by lowering the costs of the technology and they appear to be securing significant reductions.

So successful has been the development of offshore wind that Dong Energy chief executive Henrik Poulsen sees the potential for wind, with the help of battery storage, to supply over 50% of UK energy in the future.

“When you look back in 10 years from now, we’ll see this period around 2016-17 as an inflection point. The cost of offshore wind, also solar and onshore wind, is coming down at such speed that nobody could have predicted.” Henrik Poulsen

Indeed, a recent study commissioned by trade group WindEurope found that offshore wind could power 75% of UK homes by 2030 with another report suggesting that by the same year offshore wind could contribute up to £2.9 billion to the UK economy.

Currently wind (onshore and offshore) along with solar energy, provides around 14% of total energy generation in the UK.

UK energy mix

Let’s hope those costs keep falling and that generation share keeps growing!

 

Image at top: Doug Scoble, Flickr

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Everything I see seems utterly mad

Sometimes you just need to rant about the craziness that is the world diving headlong into environmental destruction while continuing to live as normal and this rant from the environmental journalist George Monbiot takes the cake.

Kind of reminds me of this great metaphor from the documentary The Corporation:

Photo at top: _mollns (Flickr)

Wanted: Vision on climate change

Politicians seem to have drifted away from principled leadership to managerialism, focused on small, almost cosmetic fixes to a system that many feel has let them down.

Iyad El-Baghdadi

 

This is great line from the author and activist Iyad El-Baghdadi. It’s intended as a description of one of the key failures of contemporary politics but is particularly apt as a description of the responses of many national governments to climate change and environmental issues more broadly.

So often climate change is framed as a threat to which requires simple technocratic responses, for instance reshaping the market through incentives and regulation or reducing energy use through energy efficiency measures. These are important no doubt but considering the scale of the response needed to tackle climate change what’s lacking is a unifying vision for national , even global efforts. Fighting climate change will require not just technological and economic solutions but political and democratic ones that unify and galvanise public opinion behind climate action. This is where vision and clear plans are so important but still so lacking.

El-Baghdadi argues that a large part of the problem of resurgent authoritarian nationalism around the world today and the public dissatisfaction fueling it can be traced to the “lack of a plan” amongst our leaders which results in a tendency to simply leave the system to run on “bureaucratic auto-pilot”. This seems eminently true in the case of climate change where the complexity of the problem and the power of oppositional vested interests like fossil fuel companies shows up in the lack of a consistent and strong plan for dealing with it. Tackling climate change can not simply be left to the market. Action must be galvanised with strong national and global visions and plans like the Paris Agreement to cap the increase in average global temperatures to 2C. And a vision for tackling climate change should focus on solutions in order to encourage public support for action and may even benefit from framing renewable energy as a patriotic project or cause. Most importantly people need to be convinced that they will benefit from this vision whether through jobs, cheap, clean energy or leaving a livable world for their kids.

The lack of a plan to deal with climate change leaves a space for opposition and invites costly delay. A plan and a vision, particularly for national governments will complement necessary technocratic solutions and strengthen public support for creating a clean energy future and avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

 

Photo at top: Department of Energy Solar Decathalon on Flickr

It’s not just about you

Think about the last thing you purchased. Whether it was a car, a cardigan or a carrot, what were the main considerations in deciding your purchase? Like most people they were likely what you would get out of it. Whether the car would fit your family, the cardigan was cheap or whether the carrot looked good enough to eat.

Buying things is a personal decision. You exchange money you’ve earned for a good or service that you need or desire. Businesses thrive by encouraging us to purchase their products and our economy grows through greater consumption. In other words, framing the act of purchasing as simply a personal decision is good for business.

Yet the simple exchange of money for goods or services connects us to a whole chain of production with many inputs of labour and resources and which often reaches around the world. It can also have hidden costs that we don’t consider or aren’t even told about. What are the carbon emissions of that car? Was the person who made that cardigan paid a livable wage? Has that carrot passed cosmetic standards which reject less good looking carrots from sale causing food waste? All of this is obscured by the ease and convenience of purchasing online or in a shop and behind smart marketing and branding which motivates based on emotion and self-interest.

What’s worse is that often the true costs of the things we buy are not included in the price we pay which means that the cost is born by something or someone else. For instance, the carbon emissions from a large car contribute to climate change which future generations and the poor will bear a greater cost. A fast fashion cardigan might be cheap because the Bangladeshi woman who made it is paid a low wage and works in unhealthy or exploitative conditions. Food waste caused by supermarkets’ cosmetic standards for fruit and vegetables contributes to climate change and wastes the resources it took to grow the food.

This isn’t to say that if everyone made ethical purchases we would solve the inequities of business and the economy. Solving these issues will also require activism, legislation, changes in business models, cultures and accountability and technological advances. What is important though is that we frame and understand the act of purchasing not as an isolated unit of economic activity or as simply a personal act but as inherently social and environmental. Every time we buy something we are having an impact on the world. And this view needs to permeate our culture, business and government.

Luckily we’ve already started. We’re twigging to the health impacts of what we buy and businesses are responding with everything from more yoga classes to an ever expanding range of health foods. So too awareness of environmental impacts is leading to more environmentally friendly products like electric vehicles, ethical clothing or vegetarian, fair trade and organic foods.

The greater our understanding of the impacts of our purchases and the more we see the act of purchasing as connecting us to the world the more we can not only reduce our impact on others and the planet but help them.

 

Growing buildings

There’s just something so satisfying about incorporating greenery into buildings. Maybe it’s the hippy in me but vertical forests and green roofs have great appeal if for no other reason than increasing our connection to nature within our urban environments.

Of course they also have myriad benefits from providing insulation and shading, thus reducing energy usage in buildings, to reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, helping stop flooding and even providing urban habitats for wildlife. Take the green roof on the Javits Center in New York. This 6.75 acres space is “home to 17 bird species, five bat species and 300,00 honeybees.”

Javits Center green roof.png

This vertical forest on a building being constructed in Taiwan is set to feature 23,000 trees which will hopefully absorb 130 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year.

This proposed eco-neighbourhood in Belgium, to be constructed on the site of an old inustrial park, will feature there buildings with vertical forests and including balconies for growing fruit and vegetables!

In China, work is underway on a new ‘forest city‘ which will be home to 30,000 people plus 40,000 trees and one million plants which will produce 900 tonnes of oxygen a year and absorb 10,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

stefano boeri liuzhou forest city

Vertical forests, green roofs and design elements like food growing balconies may not solve all our environmental problems. They will however provide a valuable connection to the natural world within our cities and in our daily lives that can surely only increase the way we value it, an important step for ensuring environmentally sustainable business, attitudes, behaviours, design and policies.

Three tips for creating environmental change

As someone who is interested in creating environmental change, whether that be fighting climate change or reducing plastic usage, the advice I usually hear is quite formal: encourage technological innovation, use market mechanisms, improve regulation, change consumer behaviour.

Which is why quite different advice I heard at a recent talk really struck me. When asked for three tips for creating environmental change Dr Astrida Neimanis, a lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney,  suggested we “be less racist, be more feminist and learn about decolonisation.”

These are huge topics to dive into but on the surface Neimanis’ advice appears quite powerful. Environmental problems are not just technical issues caused, for instance, by pollution, overuse of resources and destruction of habitats and species. They are driven by the beliefs and values which underlay our political, economic and legal systems and which shape our damaging behaviours. To create change it is crucial not only to understand how these systems damage the environment but why they do and who is paying the greatest price.

I might rephrase Neimanis’ tips: learn about race, learn about gender and learn about colonialism. Each of these concepts and bodies of knowledge helps us understand how the global economy we are all a part of today shapes our lives and the systems we live within. They also help us address issues of injustice regarding which groups experience the impacts of environmental issues the most severely.

Gender for instance is central to understanding climate impacts and climate solutions. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which shapes global climate agreements like the Paris Accord, describes women as being “disproportionately affected by climate change impacts” yet having “a critical role in combating climate change.” Gender equality is the fifth of the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which all 194 countries of the UN General Assembly have adopted and are working towards by 2030.

Indigenous peoples too, according to the UN, are likely to be the first to suffer the impacts of climate change, impacts which will exacerbate the issues many still face as a legacy of colonisation. Environmental impacts like pollution can also be closely tied to race with communities of colour (non-white) more likely live in areas which suffer from high rates of pollution. This has led to recognition of environmental racism.

Learning about race, gender and colonialism then are important for recognising these injustices and creating environmental change to address them. They might also help us understand and address the wider environmental problems we are facing today as well as help us avoid creating future ones. That’s why I’m taking Neimanis’ tips on board.

 

Photo at top by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Sun check

There’s been some preeeetty cool stuff happening around renewable energy in Australia over the past couple of months so I wanted to do a little round up as some of these are world-leading projects!

  • Queensland finalises the details of a deal with General Electric to build Australia’s largest wind farm which will power 260,000 homes once completed in 2019.

  • Victoria announces Australia’s largest renewable energy auction as part of efforts to meet its renewable energy targets of 25% by 2020 and 40% by 2025. The auction will secure renewable energy that is projected to help reduce power bills for homes and businesses, create thousands of jobs and provide power for 389,000 homes.

If these huge announcements don’t provide a sense of the potential for renewable energy in this country then here is GE chief executive in charge of onshore wind farm projects, Peter McCabe:

“After the US, it [Australia] is GE’s second largest region globally for renewable energy.”

That’s right. After a country of 325 million people, a country of 24 million is GE’s next largest market.

And to make it extra clear here’s a ranking from a 2015 Beyond Zero Emissions report of the top ten ranked nations for wind and solar resources.

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 1.05.47 pm

It’s great to see state governments working to capitalise on this potential and positioning their state, and even Australia, as a global leader in renewable energy.