Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oil state backs renewables as vision of the future.

There is an irony in this: it takes an oil state to pledge 15 billion dollars for the world’s first zero-carbon and zero-waste city, designed by our own UK architectural team, Fosters + Partners, to make the rest of the world sit up and take note. This is not a developed nation pushing forward with a bit of innovative zero carbon town planning (Gordon Brown, take note - 2016 is fast drawing near and we still have the building industry lobbying over the implementation of the 10% Merton Rule, never mind building future proofed 100% zero-carbon housing by 2016), nor is this a Clean Development Mechanism project pulling in support under the Kyoto Protocol. No, it is one of the wealthiest oil nations making a grand statement of commitment to push forward with a sustainable town proposal that has taken it's remit extremely seriously.

Located near Abu Dhabi International Airport (which will doubtless be a curious relic of an earlier era by the time this has been built), Masdar City will be the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city, aiming to exceed the 10 sustainability principles of “One Planet Living”– a global initiative launched by the Worldwide Fund for Nature and environmental consultancy BioRegional. The 6 million square meter walled development to be built at Masdar will include a new university devoted to new ideas for energy production.
To remain zero-carbon within its walls, the city will be entirely car free. Carefully planned public transportation will ensure that none of the city’s inhabitants will have to walk more than 200 meters before meeting some part of the transportation link. Included in the transportation system will be a network of shaded walkways and narrow streets, creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere for those who prefer to travel by foot. All of the transportation system is offset with the inclusion of personalized rapid transport, ensuring rapid transit within the city limits. Outside of the walls, the development of the city was strategically sited to link to Abu Dhabi’s principal transport infrastructure, the center hub of Abu Dhabi, and the international airport via the existing road infrastructure and new public rail routes.

Along with the carefully planned intersection of transportation is the conscientious incorporation of wind, photovoltaic farms, research fields, and plantations, allowing for the Masdar to be entirely self-sustaining.

Even the development phase of Masdar has been made sustainable through a two-step phasing process, the first of which is dependent on the development of a large $350 million 100 megawatt solar plant, which will later be boosted to 500 megawatts to help ease peak-time pressure on the national grid.

The One Planet Living programme is based on 10 unique principles of sustainability. These targets are to be achieved by the time the Masdar City is completed and fully functioning in 2015.

One Planet Living principle - Masdar Target:

ZERO CARBON: 100 per cent of energy supplied by renewable energy – Photovoltaics, concentrated solar power, wind, waste to energy and other technologies

ZERO WASTE: 99 per cent diversion of waste from landfill (includes waste reduction measures, re-use of waste wherever possible, recycling, composting, waste to energy)

SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORT: Zero carbon emissions from transport within the city; implementation of measures to reduce the carbon cost of journeys to the city boundaries (through facilitating and encouraging the use of public transport, vehicle sharing, supporting low emissions vehicle initiatives)

SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS: Specifying high recycled materials content within building products; tracking and encouraging the reduction of embodied energy within materials and throughout the construction process; specifying the use of sustainable materials such as Forest Stewardship Council certified timber, bamboo and other products

SUSTAINABLE FOOD: Retail outlets to meet targets for supplying organic food and sustainable and or fair trade products

SUSTAINABLE WATER: Per capita water consumption to be at least 50 per cent less than the national average; all waste water to be re-used

HABITATS AND WILDLIFE: All valuable species to be conserved or relocated with positive mitigation targets

CULTURE AND HERITAGE: Architecture to integrate local values.

EQUITY AND FAIR TRADE: Fair wages and working conditions for all workers (including construction) as defined by international labour standards

HEALTH AND HAPPINESS: Facilities and events for every demographic group

Whilst the aesthetics may not be to the liking to a Scot brought up on a diet of trees rustling, the fresh air biting and the cold still waters of mountain lochs, one cannot fault the One Planet Principles.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Peter Meisen at GENI on DESERTEC

Peter Meisen at GENI on DESERTEC

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Peter Meisen at The Global Energy Network Institute talks about the DESERTEC initiative to promote the use of the sun in the Sahara Desert to create clean electricity for Europe, Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA).

Meanwhile, out in Southern California, where the market for renewables is growing rapidly, all utilities are starting to contract with large sun and wind maunfacturers. Peter gives an update on the California Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, which has been set up to support and enable Southern Californian utilities to meet their Renewable Portfolio Standards and accelerate the ability to bring transmission lines to the areas where the solar plants (and wind farms) are being built.

Why is RETI so important? It has set up a co-operative committee amongst various agencies, regulatory bodies and utilities to figure out how to get through the roadblocks of accessing these wind and solar sites, thereby working with and supporting renewable energy and transmission policy development.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Overdrawing on Earth's Bank

I like Hilary Benn, I really do. He's bright, he's got style, humour, and has a slight streak of the renegade. But, at the end of the day, he's a politician, and yesterday infront of an audience in Islington, he did as politicians do so well - he dodged the tricksy questions.

Mr Benn, our Secretary of State for the Environment, had come to tell us about the outcome of the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Bali on the 3 - 14th December 2007 and to speak on what the UK government are doing on the homefront. (Bali in a nutshell: nothing binding, but US and China agreed at the 11th hour to enter into the ongoing negotiation process providing no emission targets were set, deforestation to be included in future talks, technology transfer between developed and developing nations to be promoted, and pretty much everyone bar Bush accepts the climate change science. He calls it an historic breakthrough, I call it a compromise - I suppose it all depends on how high you set the standards you want to see achieved. Mine happen to be higher). Mr Benn takes a remarkably robust view that the UK is taking great strides in tackling climate change.

But I am a grouchy environmentalist today, and from where I sit, the UK record over the past 12 months does not stack up to much achievement at all (under Labour our emissions have actually risen over the last 10 years), nor do we compare well to Europe (we have a lamentable 2% share of renewable energy in the EU, 1/10th wind power and 1/250th of the solar power that the Germans have produced). Whilst the German renewable industry increased jobs by 25,000 in 2007, we in the UK were laying people off.

Question: Why does the government not have a coherent and effectively co-ordinated policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2020? So far it has been a heavy focus on nuclear in the UK, which will, if fully realised, only give us a 4% reduction by 2025 at the latest. This won't solve our (it has to be said - unambitious) 20% reduction by 2020. All we have are piecemeal announcements.

Mr Ben reminds us that we have the Energy Efficiency Commitment (energy suppliers are required to achieve targets for the reduction of carbon emissions in the UK household sector), promotion of energy efficiency (is this making any real difference? Efficiency actually encourages more use - look at increase of energy efficient cars), the introduction of the EST Green Homes Service in April and the Climate Change Bill is moving onwards - due back in for it's third reading in the house of lords at the end of March (aiming for Royal Assent in Spring 2009 - just before the next election).

40% emissions are due to the individual, say Mr Benn. So therefore we must focus on reducing the emissions of the individual. But this seems to be flawed analysis to me. If the source of the emissions, namely use of fossil fuels, is not remedied and replaced with clean alternatives (i.e renewable energy), then those emissions will continue to be released. Energy efficiency certainly delays the inevitable, but in the long term it matters not when those emissions are released - they are still going to be released, and remain out there for hundreds of years. The energy source has to be replaced - it's that simple, even a child understands this. Like many in this country, I want my energy use at home to come from renewable sources, not fossil fuel - but to actually have microgeneration installed is so ridiculously costly and enormously fraught with hurdles (planning permission, grant application etc), that it is just not a viable for the time being.

He concedes that there are exciting technologies and innovation out there, but not much industry take-off on home shores: there are lessons to be learned from Germany, he says quite rightly. This is because they, like a growing number of EU countries, have a successful and ambitious renewable energy policy framework of feed-in tariffs which means thousands of homeowners have now installed microgeneration and their renewables market is flourishing. We do not - and as a consequence we have not.(More on this coming soon)

Mr Benn points out that we are the first country in the world to adopt binding emission targets (60% by 2050 is proposed under the Climate Change Bill - and recent reports say that this is far too low, that we should be aiming for). However, often it's not so much what is said to be done, but rather the sins of omission that are so glaring. Governmental targets are all fine and well, but useless when the market mechanisms are not put in place to foster growth and development. Nor is action taken when targets are not fulfilled. That's part of the reason why we have such a poor uptake of renewable energy so far.

Turning to community and business issues, Geeta Sing, owner of the fabulous organic Duke of Cambridge pub, raised a vital issue: that of the need for business incentives to encourage sustainable businesses like hers. One of the hurdles she faces is the incredible difficulty and expense in sourcing food locally. It's not for shortage of small farms outside London, but that of transporting it in individually. She suggests a practical solution: efficient food hubs which local restaurants and food outlets could share, thereby creating a self-sufficient London. As she pointed out, the organic and environmental movement has grown out of individual responsibility. We need more than ever assistance from the government now, to help support farmers markets and local food suppliers - all too pertinent with the pending oil crisis looming ahead.

The Secretary of State for the Environment calls for us to live within our means. We all know what it is like to be overdrawn at the banks; well now it's time learn to live within the earth's capacity. For the last 200 years we have been overdrawing on the Earth's Bank, and the penalties are beginning to kick in. Time to remedy it before it crashes. Mr Benn, this I am in full agreement with.

Bali outcome

Thursday, January 10, 2008

No to Nuclear, Yes to CSP

With John Hutton set to announce a new generation of nuclear power stations for the UK today, it raises the issue of what price such a benefit would be.

Whilst it cannot be denied that our current generation would benefit from nuclear energy generation, it will be future generations who will carry the detriment of the legacy that remains.

Future generations will carry the burden of policing it, paying for it as well as suffering the consequences if /when disaster strikes, which would result in substantial additional economic, environmental and social costs.

Whilst we were not fully aware of the potential future consequences back in the 1950's, or were reckless in proceeding without understanding those consequences and detriment to others, we now carry the knowledge of the inherent risks and costs to future generations. With that knowledge comes the responsibility to ensure the highest possible standards of safety and damage limitation strategies are imposed. Likewise, with it comes the duty to implement a programme of cessation of current use of nuclear as soon as possible.

The only conclusion I can draw, is this: to proceed with a new generation of nuclear would be morally wrong, especially where other solutions, including Concentrating Solar Power, are viable, cost competitive, renewable, low carbon and benign.

Greenpeace response:
Greenpeace Nuclear Power Briefing
Energy Bill:
Energy Bill, Bill 53 07-08

Earlier Postings:
Why I say No to Nuclear
Concentrating Solar Power - the DESERTEC vision
Concentrating Solar Power Basks in the Glow of a Sunny Future