Gas heating, cooking to be phased out: Dutch government plans

 The use of gas to cook and for heating will be phased out in the Netherlands under the government’s new energy strategy up to 2050.
The Energieagenda policy document, published on Wednesday, states that gas firms will no longer be required to connect households to the gas supply and that no new gas infrastructure will be developed. Instead homes and offices will be heated by surplus heat generated by industry and waste incineration as well as from geothermal sources. Cooking will be done on electric hobs.
The Energieagenda is a follow up to the energy agreement reached in 2013 between the government, industry, lobby groups and unions. That agreement set out a programme to ensure 16% of Dutch energy requirements are met from sustainable sources by 2023.
Now, in order to meet the agreement reached in Paris last year, CO2 emissions must be reduced to almost zero by 2050, Kamp says. In an interview with the NRC, Kamp said that the shift to a gas-free society will happen gradually. Some seven million households are currently connected to the gas grid.
Other measures in the new plan involve phasing out the use of non-sustainable fuels in the transport sector, more investment in cycling and measures to boost solar and wind power generation by individual households. The plan also envisages that all new cars in the Netherlands will be powered by sustainable sources from 2035.
Cost estimates for the switch currently vary so much that the government has commissioned extra research to assess the financial implications of the plan. They will be published mid 2017.

Last month Amsterdam city council published a plan to rid the city of gas-fired cooking and central heating by 2050. Next year, the aim is to remove 10,000 housing corporation homes from the gas network, city alderman Abdeluheb Choho said. In addition, two new residential areas are already being built without links to the gas network.

The above article is re-posted from DutchNews.nl   where it appeared on Wednesday 7 December 2016

This is only one small demonstration of the lack of information available to the Australian population about what other countries are doing.  The Commonwealth and State governments make the most of this to try to convince us that what they are doing is in line with the rest of the world, when the reality is that we are one of the global laggards in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Massive gains in global renewable energy generation capacity last year

The other day Chris from http://gullygrove.blogspot.com.au 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/WildPhotos.org

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.

A different approach to renewable energy generation

An investor-owned power utility in the northwestern USA state of Idaho (population 1.6 million – South East Queensland has 3.3 million) could add 461 megawatts of solar-generating capacity to its system by 2016. If all of those plants are built, Idaho Power would have a total of 1,253 megawatts of new green power on its grid, said Brad Bowlin, an Idaho Power spokesman. Last year, Idaho’s peak load was 3,407 megawatts in July, which would make green power 37 percent of its system.And that’s not counting the 1,700 megawatts Idaho Power can produce at its hydroelectric dams.

First Wind, a Boston energy company recently purchased by a bigger solar firm, has signed contracts to sell power from five solar-generation projects in Idaho. Pictured here is the company’s first solar project in Warren, Mass. [link to original article. Photo by First Wind]

Developers have signed contracts to sell electricity to Idaho Power from the 16 projects in Idaho and Oregon under a federal law that requires the utility to buy power to encourage small and alternative energy producers at the same rate it would cost the utility if it had to build its own, new natural gas plant.  That is, instead of getting a subsidy, the renewable energy projects are seen as helping to avoid the construction of new gas-fired power stations, or to put it another way, they are forced to compete on price with a notional new gas-fired power plant.

This results in the renewable energy companies being paid for the electricity at what is called the “avoided cost” rate. Even with the low cost of natural gas, solar-panel prices have dropped so much that developers can make money by earning the avoided-cost rate, even while paying to connect to Idaho Power’s grid and paying the utility the cost of providing backup power sources when the sun goes behind clouds. They also can make the projects work without counting on the sale of renewable energy credits.

Why can’t this work in Australia?  Are we lacking in imagination?  Are we being told lies about the competitiveness of renewable energy generation?  Is there a concerted attempt at State and Federal levels to look after friends with fossil-fuel fired generation plants?  Is it because too many of our governments own electricity generation or power distribution assets?

What about coal-fired power plants in Idaho?  Well, Idaho Power, the utility that has signed up for the solar powered electricity, owns two coal-fired power plants in Wyoming and Nevada in partnership with other utilities, but it is phasing out the coal plants gradually, so as not to risk the stability of its system and to avoid extra costs to its ratepayers.

Source:  Barker, R. (2014). Idaho Power: Ready to become a green giant? Idaho Statesman November 19, 2014Idahostatesman.com. Retrieved November 20, 2014, from http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/11/19/3494880_idaho-power-ready-to-become-a.html?sp=/99/1687/&rh=1  Click on the link for the whole article.

Stranded Government = Stranded Assets

Two of the articles in this morning’s edition of The Conversation fit rather well together. The first, by Kerry Brown, Executive Director, China Studies Centre at University of Sydney, is entitled US–China emissions deal will put pressure on Australian growth. The second, under the heading Narrow G20 agenda must go ‘structural, social and green’ is by Charis Palmer, Business Editor at The Conversation.

I hope the authors won’t mind if I run parts of their stories together.

[From Kerry Brown’s article:]
>>While most of the world is celebrating the US–China pact on climate change, the deal puts pressure on the Australian government and resources companies to rethink relations with China.

The deal, signed at the APEC summit in Beijing this week, includes agreement to cut emissions and work together to mitigate the impact of climate change. For the first time China has set 2030 as the year in which its emissions are expected to peak. The deal creates a common framework with the United States, the other largest greenhouse gas producer in the world, to take action.

Chinese President Xi Jinping started the APEC summit hoping for blue skies in the capital. With this deal, he is showing he is prepared to take action to achieve this.

For Australia this means that environmental compliance costs in China will rise. Australian companies will have additional costs of doing business there. Meanwhile Chinese companies will drive a harder bargain as their cost base lowers.
Australian resource companies, which are already suffering a dip in their relations with their largest clients, will experience more of a squeeze on their profits. This will impact Australia’s overall growth rate.

News of the agreement comes as India announces plans to stop thermal coal imports in three years. Australian coal companies will not even have a significant alternative export market to China.

This means the Australian government needs to rethink our economic engagement with China. This is not just about refocusing our export emphasis from resources to services. It is about truly partnering with China in its environmental challenges, rather than adding to them.<<

[then from Charis Palmer’s article:]
>>Professor Kirton [University of Toronto G20 Research Group leader] said since the very first summit the G20 had repeatedly, at every summit, dealt with climate change.

“And its performance has increased. It’s done a lot of good.”

He said even if the G20 leaders kept to their 2009 agreement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies in the medium term, they could solve one-tenth of the climate change problem in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

“They could save the hard-pressed taxpayers about three quarters of a trillion dollars – that’s how much fossil fuel subsidies cost.”<<

So, following the Abbott mantra that coal is Australia’s future, we are going to bet our future on selling coal to China where they are intent on slowing their emissions so that they peak in 2030 and reducing them thereafter, and where in 2013 more renewable electricity generation was installed than fossil-fuelled generation. And our alternative market, India, plans to stop thermal coal imports in three years, and is moving toward renewables.

This seems like the scenario you’d invent if you wanted to demonstrate how a country like Australia, rich in renewable energy resources and with a highly innovative research and industrial capacity, could become the home of a massive collection of stranded assets – coal mines, coal railways, coal processing plants, coal ports, …

It’s a scenario whose impacts could be softened by immediately putting into action the 2009 G20 commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, something the Australian government has resisted despite pressure from a range of internal sources. (I wonder if we will hear more about subsidies at this G20?)

Looks to me like we are heading toward a government with a globally stranded policy position in the short term and a nation of stranded assets in the medium term, unless Abbott (or his successor) is prepared to turn current policy 180 degrees and get on-board with seriously addressing climate change.