Massive gains in global renewable energy generation capacity last year

The other day Chris from made an interesting comment on my post on coal power as the “saviour” of those in Third World poverty.  You can see my response here, but she got me thinking that I should look into how renewable energy generation has been going recently.

This morning ABC News saved me the trouble.  They have a post on the global expansion of renewable energy generation which provides a good overview of what is happening.  As they show, if you strip out the figures for hydropower which distort the calculation of annual percentage growth because of the very large existing base of “old” hydropower plants, the expansion of other, newer, forms of renewable energy is very impressive.

Despite tumbling fossil fuel prices, global renewable energy experienced its greatest surge in capacity last year, growing 9 per cent or around 147 gigawatts (GW) of power.

Stripping out hydro – the world’s largest source of renewable energy – other technologies such as solar, geothermal and wind grew by 18 per cent according a report published by REN21, a network of global government, non-government and research organisations involved in the sector.

“The world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds from all fossil fuels combined,” the report noted.

“By the end of 2015, renewable capacity in place was enough to supply an estimated 23.7 per cent of global electricity, with hydropower providing about 16.6 per cent.”

While the growth was supported by several factors – including better financing, more sympathetic policies, as well as energy security and environmental concerns – the key driver was that renewables were now cost competitive in many markets.

“This growth occurred despite tumbling global prices for all fossil fuels, ongoing fossil fuel subsidies and other challenges facing renewables, including the integration of rising shares of renewable generation, policy and political instability, regulatory barriers and fiscal constraints,” the report said.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated fossil fuel companies last year received subsidies totalling around $US5.3 trillion ($7.3 trillion) worldwide, although the International Energy Agency put the figure at a more modest $US493 billion ($680 billion) largely due to a lower estimate of the potential costs of carbon pollution.

Solar PV capacity grew by 27 per cent to a total 227 GW capacity, while wind power was up by 17 per cent to 433 GW.

You can see the full ABC News article here.

It would be interesting to see the current figures for solar PV installation in the Lockyer Valley Region.  In a November 2012 post I calculated that 21.2% of the private houses in the Lockyer had solar power installations – up with the best in Australia at the time.


Australia’s coal is essential for overcoming Third World Poverty??

While I’m on a rave about coal, sustainability and myths (see Josh Frydenberg’s myths about the security of Peabody coal mines in Australia and his (unintentional) demolition of their employment contribution), let’s look at the myth of how our coal is essential to eradicating poverty in Third World countries.

The following is from Mike Sandiford, Professor of Geology at the University of Melbourne in The Conversation:

“Back in Australia, our coal lobby is fond of quotes of the ilk … “_Only when Third World children can do homework at night using cheap coal-fired electricity can they escape from poverty” .

And at least some in our government seem of a like mind.

Why, might we ask, does it matter that it is just “cheap coal-fired” electricity that alone will alleviate poverty? Why does not cheap hydro, geothermal, nuclear or whatever else, also do the trick?

No doubt coal has been a useful source of electricity in the third world, and will likely remain so for some time given that not all countries are endowed with the hydro resources of the Bhutanese. But is clear that Bhutan puts paid to the idea that coal alone can alleviate poverty.

But Bhutan also shows that there is something more fundamental that our coal lobby is loathe to acknowledge, and it speaks to the very paradox that lies at the heart of their claim – given that cheap coal has been around powering electricity systems for over 150 years, why are any children still living in poverty?

Could it be that the purported saviour of the world’s poor – the coal industry – doesn’t really have such a flash track record in the altruism stakes after all?”

Seems that no matter whether we are looking at our sustainable options here in Australia or at eradicating poverty in Third World countries, coal mining isn’t a critical component of either and may just be getting in the way of real solutions.

Australian coal mines as major employers?

We keep on hearing it – Australia needs coal mines, and more of them, in order to generate employment.

Here’s something to think about.

When Peabody Energy, the world’s biggest coal miner, sought bankruptcy protection in the US a little while ago there were ripples of concern in Australia over the possible loss of jobs from their coal mines here.

However the Federal Resources Minister Josh Frydenberg immediately reassured Australians that this was not a risk because of the importance of the local mines to the company.

“My primary concern is with the Australian operations of Peabody. They have 10 mines across Queensland and New South Wales, nearly 3,500 workers if you include the contractors and I spoke to the president of Peabody and they informed me that they will not be reducing their Australian workforce,” Frydenberg told the ABC.

“They have funding to continue with their Australian operations and they see their work in Australia as being core to their operations particularly the proximity their Australian mines have to key demand in Asia.”

So these aren’t tinpot little mines supplying local power plants, but part of the core of Peabody Energy’s operations supplying “key demand in Asia”.

Did you notice that these 10 key mines each employ an average of only 350 workers (including the associated contractors).

Apparently that’s not an unusual number.  The Glencore mine at Tahmoor in New South Wales is about to be closed, putting 350 people out of work.  Glencore produces coking coal (according to pro-mining lobbyists this is the key to the future of coal in Australia) and it also supplies overseas markets.

Just in passing, I wonder how many people are employed on average to deal with the environmental, climate change and human health impacts of just one of these coal mines.

In addition, it seems as if Frydenberg’s assurances about Peabody’s Australian mines might have been a bit of pre-election “voter calming” according to information now available from auditors Ernst and Young who drew attention to a note in the financial report “which details the principal conditions that raise doubt about the company’s and the consolidated entity’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

“As a result of these matters, there is significant uncertainty whether the company and/or the consolidated entity will continue as a going concern, and therefore whether they will realise their assets and extinguish their liabilities in the normal course of business and at the amounts stated in the financial report.”

Just how sustainable is Australia’s ongoing involvement in coal mining?

Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying-foxes in urban Australia

Justin Welbergen, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, UNSW Australia

The conflict between urbanites and wildlife recently developed a new battleground: the small coastal New South Wales town of Batemans Bay, where the exceptional flowering of spotted gums has attracted a huge influx of grey-headed flying-foxes from across Australia’s southeast.

In response to intense and highly publicised community concern, federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt has announced he will seek an immediate National Interest Exemption to facilitate dispersal of these bats – a move that risks undermining legal protections afforded to this and other threatened species.

Similar conflicts are occurring elsewhere in NSW, such as the Hunter region, where some unscrupulous members of the public lit a fire in a flying-fox roost at Cessnock.

With the ongoing expansion of the human urban footprint, animals are increasingly confronted with urban environments. Human encroachment into natural habitats generally negatively affects biodiversity. However, urban landscapes can present wildlife with an irresistible lure of reliable food supplies and other resources. While urban wildlife can provide a range of benefits to health and wellbeing, it can also be cause for frustration and conflict.

Urban human-wildlife conflict is a growing area of management concern and scientific research. But the research suggests that the current strategies for addressing NSW’s conflicts between humans and flying-foxes might not have the intended results.

Flying-foxes increasingly find themselves in urban areas.
Justin Welbergen

Ruling the urban roost

Australian flying-foxes are becoming more urbanised, and the noise, smell and droppings from their roosts can have huge impacts on local residents.

A fundamental problem underlying current approaches to urban roosts is a lack of understanding of the extraordinary mobility of flying-foxes. They are some of the most mobile animals in Australia, with movements that range from foraging trips of up to 120 km in a single night to long-distance nomadism covering thousands of kilometres in a single year.

Nomadic movements of an adult female grey-headed flying-fox, tracked over a period of four years and currently at Batemans Bay.
John Martin & Justin Welbergen, unpublished

While roosts can remain active for decades, they are more like backpacker hostels than stable households, housing a constantly changing clientele that comes to visit local attractions. Roosts are connected into large networks through which flying-foxes move in response to changes in local food resources.

This explains the sudden influx in places such as Batemans Bay where preferred food suddenly becomes abundant. But it also highlights the importance of a national approach to flying-fox management and conservation.

Intense local flowerings of Eucalypts, such as spotted gums, produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen, which attract large numbers of flying-foxes and other species for several weeks. When a relatively small local flying-fox population that is tolerated by its human neighbours suddenly increases tenfold, it can place severe pressure on the local community.

Despite their transient nature, these influxes are often wrongly interpreted as population explosions, leading to calls for culling. In comparison, more humane tactics – such as using loud noise or vegetation removal to disperse the flying-foxes – can seem like a more balanced response. But does dispersal actually work?

Council workers in Charters Towers, Queensland, using ‘foggers’ to disperse flying-foxes from a local roost.
Australasian Bats Society

Shifting the problem elsewhere

There is now ample evidence to show that dispersals are extremely costly and can exacerbate the very human-wildlife conflict that they aim to resolve.

Most dispersals result in the flying-foxes returning the original roost as soon as the dispersal program ends, because naïve new individuals continue to arrive from elsewhere. Overcoming this can take months or years of repeated daily dispersal.

Other dispersals result in flying-foxes establishing new roosts a few hundred metres away, typically within the same urban environment in locations that we cannot control. This risks shifting the problem to previously unaffected members of a community and to other communities nearby.

Former flying-fox roost at Boonah, Queensland, that contained thousands of flying-foxes before it was destroyed in June 2014.
Justin Welbergen

While flying-foxes are often portrayed as noisy pests, they serve our economic interest by providing irreplaceable pollination and seed-dispersal services for free. What’s more, those same bats that annoy people during the day work tirelessly at night to maintain the health of our fragmented forests and natural ecosystems.

So it is in our national interest to manage conflict at urban roosts, by using approaches that balance community concerns with environmental considerations.

Flying-foxes perform irreplaceable ecological roles in our natural environment.
Steve Parish

To be considered “successful”, a dispersal should permanently reduce conflict to a level that is acceptable to the community without causing significant harm to the animals. However, dispersals are currently implemented at the local council level with little or no monitoring of the impacts in or outside the immediately affected area. This makes it hard to assess whether they have been successful.

For example, it is not uncommon for flowering to cease and flying-fox numbers to decline naturally during the period of active dispersal. This gives the community a false sense that a permanent solution has been achieved, when in fact the issues will recur the next time the trees blossom. There is thus an urgent need for urban roosts to be managed with properly defined and applied criteria for success.

Evidence-based management

Unfortunately, lack of research effort directed at “ugly” and “less popular” Australian animals means that very few evidence-based management tools are available to deal with contentious roosts.

Research targeting a few key areas would greatly help efforts to improve urban roost management. For instance, we do not know how flying-foxes choose their roost sites, which leaves us unable to design “carrot solutions” by creating more attractive roost sites elsewhere.

Intensive tree-flowering events are relatively infrequent and hard to predict. This means that it is difficult to prepare communities for a sudden influx of flying-foxes.

Furthermore, the acceptability of various flying-fox management options differs between sections of the community, so it is difficult to find optimal solutions. Social scientists are currently trying to help identify priority areas that promote long-term viability of flying-foxes while also easing conflict with humans.

The extreme mobility of flying-foxes means that a uniform federal approach for management is needed.
Justin Welbergen/

Local, state and federal governments continue to allocate considerable funds for dispersal responses, even though such actions are high-risk activities for local communities and are unlikely to provide long-term solutions. We argue strongly that targeted research is needed to better inform land managers and affected communities of flying-fox ecology and provide them with low-cost, low-risk, evidence-based tools for dealing with urban roosts.

Flying-foxes don’t care about legislative borders, and state-based responsibility for wildlife management leads to discontinuity in approaches between jurisdictions. While flying-foxes are being monitored at the national scale, this initiative needs to be combined with a uniform federal approach for managing flying-foxes in our human landscapes. Otherwise, conflicts such as those faced by the residents of Batemans Bay will continue unabated.

The Conversation

Justin Welbergen, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University and Peggy Eby, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecosystem Science, UNSW Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Dragon Fruit flowering

One morning last week I went out into the garden early to see how the Dragon Fruit buds were going.  The day before I’d had to go to Brisbane for the whole day and didn’t get into the garden at all.  I’ve been expecting any day to see some flowers from about 10 advanced buds.

There were four flowers that had opened during the night – and another five that must have flowered the night before and were now limp and closed.  That’s on top of the two fruit which are developing from a flowering a few weeks ago.

20160106_Dragon Fruit_P1010026_small

Early morning flower, with some of the previous night’s flowers in the background.

It had been raining quite a bit the night before and for a couple of days before that, but I was still a bit surprised not to see any of our native bees around the flowers.  Normally they would each have had a cloud of bees busily pollinating.  No problem to hand pollinate them, making sure to cross pollinate between plants because it’s said to increase the fruit size.

There were still a few buds which looked to be close to flowering, and when I checked the next morning one more had opened.

A third night's flowering.

A third night’s flowering.

This time there was the expected swarm of native bees busy pollinating.

So that’s ten flowers in three nights, and there are still probably another six buds developing.

Some of the buds that are still developing

Some of the buds that are still developing

Not bad for just three plants on a less than ideal trellis set up.  It looks like being a good year for Dragon Fruit, considering that this is only early January and we had fruit up until April last year.

Trying to get back to regular posts

2015 has been one hell of a year, brought about by a proposal for a major motocross facility in our community.  Most of our time this year has gone into working with community members trying to get this proposal squashed.

There were a few posts on the fight earlier in the year, and in reality it took up much of the time of many people from mid-December 2014 when we first found out about it to the end of May, when the proposal was refused in the local Council by a seven/nil vote.

In our more hopeful moments we ventured to think that this would be the end of it: 232 objecting submissions to Council (vs 2 supporting submissions) and a resounding defeat in Council; you would think that the proponent might have realised that he had picked the wrong place and the wrong community.

Unfortunately the proponent appealed in the Planning and Environment Court in July.  Even though the Court rules require that appeals are progressed within six weeks (or three months depending on which document you read – but the six weeks seems to take precedence), there was no movement on the appellant’s part for some four months.  Since then they have undertaken to provide documents to all the other parties, but these have not been received more than one month after their own, self-imposed deadline for providing them.

The delay is very stressful for all concerned, and I cannot help wondering whether this is the intent of the delays.

But we will fight on.  Seven members of the community have elected to become co-respondents to the appeal, as has one non-government organisation – and of course the Council is the main respondent, since it is their decision that is being appealed.

Regardless of the ongoing motocross business, our attempts at living as sustainably as possible go on, and will be the focus of part of the posts on this blog from now on.

If you are still among our patient readers, thank you for your patience.  It is very much appreciated.  And if you are one of our new viewers who joined during 2015, welcome, and we will attempt to give you more of what has attracted you to this site.

Amazing as it seems, despite the fact that I managed only eight postings here since the beginning of the year, the readership continued go grow right through to October when it peaked at 1,665 views by 1,175 visitors for the month.

Since then numbers have slightly declined, with only 811 visitors so far this month (not surprising given the lack of new material) – though that is nearly twice as many as in January.  Year on year, we have had twice as many views and visitors in 2015 as in 2014, and four times as many as in 2013.



Looking after your security in rural areas

There was an incident in the Lockyer Valley last week when a landowner in a fairly remote area was driving to work and saw what was clearly a pig hunter’s ute parked just outside her boundary, opposite her rainforest gully. She took photos of the ute with her phone. There was no number plate on the front, but she made a note of the rear number plate.

While she was taking the photos, two men, with five pig dogs, emerged from the gully.  One of the men was armed with a knife. One man yelled vicious abuse at her. He did not hesitate in coming towards her and grabbed her, trying to get the phone. She held him off as long as possible, but he did eventually get the phone, tried to stamp on it and then threw it as far as he could down the gully. The men then drove off.

She has reported this incident to the police, on grounds of trespassing and assault.

The following very useful advice has been received by Citizens of the Lockyer Inc. – an active community group here in the Lockyer Valley – from the Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
 Recently there was an incident along Sawpit Gully Road, Rockmount during which a resident has been confronted by two males, believed to be pig hunters, exiting her property.  During the confrontation, the resident was assaulted and her mobile phone was stolen.  Fortunately, the resident did not receive any injuries and she was able to recover her phone after the two males left the scene.  This matter is being investigated by Detectives from the Forest Hill Stock and Rural Crime Investigation Squad (SARCIS).
This incident is a timely reminder for people who live in rural and remote areas, to be on the lookout for suspicious persons or vehicles, and take precautions to ensure their own personal safety, and the security of their property.  Residents should be aware that people moving through these rural areas may be engaged in unlawful hunting activities and/or associated rural crime.  Such people may be armed with knives and/or firearms, and may be accompanied by hunting dogs.
What can you do if you locate an illegal hunter/trespasser on your property?
The most important thing is to ensure your own personal safety.  Confronting illegal hunters/trespassers has the very serious potential to result in your personal injury.  We DO NOT recommend that you confront these people.  Consider calling the Police, and if it is an emergency, call “000” immediately.  If it is possible, record details of the time, date, place and description of the people/vehicle/dogs (This information is required for Police to investigate and prosecute offenders).  If you do not want the offenders prosecuted, please still report the incident to Police for their information.  
If you choose to take a photograph of the offenders or their vehicles, you should be aware that photographing offenders can quickly escalate into a confrontation.  Photographs of vehicles, registration numbers, and offenders are very good evidence, however ONLY do so, if you consider it to be safe.
What is Rural Crime?
Rural Crime includes offences such as property theft, fuel theft, stock theft, arson and wilful damage.  Properties in rural and remote areas are often targeted by offenders who consider them to be soft targets.  Please take the time to ensure your property is secured before leaving home.  Ensure you have recorded serial numbers and marked property that is not otherwise identifiable.  Remove and secure keys from vehicles and motorbikes.  Secure firearms in an approved gun safe, and take the keys with you.  Consider other security measures such as security screens, alarms and CCTV cameras.
Please do not be alarmed.  These types of crimes do not happen often.  If you find yourself in the very unfortunate situation of locating an illegal hunter/trespasser or you are the victim of Rural Crime, you should contact your local Police.  You can also report these, or any other offences to Police by calling Police Link on 131 444.  Information can be reported to Police anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
For further information or advice, please contact your nearest SARCIS office.  SARCIS locations and contact numbers can be found at
Detective Sergeant 11425
Stock & Rural Crime Investigation Squad (Forest Hill)
State Crime Command
( (07) 5465 4200 | 7 (07) 5465 4580 | È0428 741098
+ PO Box 84 Forest Hill QLD 4342