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Chancellor announces infrastructure commission “to get Britain building”

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On the October 5, a four-point infrastructure plan was announced changing the way vital projects are planned, determined and funded. The fourth point was to create a new independent National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), whose commissioners have been announced today. They are charged with offering unbiased analysis of the UK’s long-term infrastructure needs.

Lord Andrew Adonis is leading the Commission as its first chairman.

Commenting at the original announcement the Chancellor said: “The Commission will calmly and dispassionately assess the future infrastructure needs of the country and it will hold any government’s feet to the fire if it fails to deliver.”

At today’s launch he added: “British people have to spend longer than they should getting to work, pay more than they should in energy bills and can’t buy the houses they want because of the failure of successive governments to think long-term.

“Infrastructure isn’t some obscure concept – it’s about people’s lives, economic security and the sort of country we want to live in. That’s why I am determined to shake Britain out of its inertia on infrastructure and end the situation where we trail our rivals when it comes to building everything from the housing to the power stations that our children will need.

“This is about jobs, growth, living standards and ensuring Britain is fit for the future. We must be the builders. At the Spending Review, I will commit to investing £100bn in infrastructure over the next five years and we are creating an independent commission to give us a long-term, unbiased analysis of the country’s major infrastructure needs.

“We need to think long-term and deliver a cross-party consensus on what we need to build. I am delighted Andrew Adonis and this world-class group of experts have agreed to come together on the National Infrastructure Commission to help us do that.

At the original announcement Lord Adonis said: “Without big improvements to its transport and energy systems, Britain will grind to a halt. I look forward to establishing the National Infrastructure Commission as an independent body able to advise government and Parliament on priorities.

“Major infrastructure projects like Crossrail and major new power stations span governments and parliaments. I hope it will be possible to forge a wide measure of agreement, across society and politics, on key infrastructure requirements for the next 20 to 30 years and the assessments which have underpinned them. I will sit on the crossbenches in the House of Lords while chairing the NIC, to underpin its independent status.”

Today he said: “For Britain to get on with the job of delivering high-quality infrastructure that benefits everyone, you need more than just a commitment to invest – you need long term forward plans and the maximum possible consensus.”

The commissioners are Sir John Armitt CBE FREng FICE, The Rt Hon Lord Michael Heseltine CH, Tim Besley, Demis Hassabis, Sadie Morgan, Bridget Rosewell OBE and Sir Paul Ruddock.

Responding to today’s launch of the National Infrastructure Commission the REA’s Senior Analyst Frank Gordon today said that: “Storage is a critical component to the nation’s transition to a more decentralised energy supply. Soon communities will be able to manage much of their electricity independently and businesses will be able to better predict and insulate themselves against unpredictable energy bills. This will enable new business models in the industry and facilitate greater renewables integration.

“We believe the Commission should support energy storage as a vital element of national infrastructure.”

WWF-UK’s Director of Advocacy Trevor Hutchings said: “Building national infrastructure that delivers for consumers, the environment and businesses requires a decisive break with polluting, inefficient and high-carbon technologies.

“Lord Adonis and his commission have a great opportunity to back the low carbon industries that have been thriving in the UK, and which can move us towards a secure, profitable and clean energy future – a win-win for the environment and UK plc.  Research shows that investing in the low carbon transition will have greater GDP and employment benefits than fossil fuel alternatives.

“A good starting point for the Commission would be to recognise energy efficiency as an infrastructure priority in order to rid the UK of drafty homes and higher than necessary bills.”

Pointing to the recent public outcry around the government’s proposed cuts of up to 87% to the Feed-in Tariff (which supports small scale renewables such as solar PV) James Court, Head of Policy and External Affairs at the REA said: “Consumers in the UK have shown a hunger to control their energy futures. Communities, businesses, and homeowners seeking to produce and manage their own energy supply should be able to do so. Energy storage is a critical component of this movement. It will allow for greater grid stability and will accelerate our path towards decarbonisation.

“Lord Adonis is an excellent appointment. We hope he will bring new thinking and vision to the crucial issue of how we develop the new energy infrastructure in the UK that is so desperately needed.“

The other three parts of the plan were:

1) Planning rules on brownfield sites removed

2) Pooling 89 Local Authority pension funds into half a dozen British Wealth Funds, with assets £25 billion+

3) Sales of land, buildings and other assets the government bought or built, raising up to £5 billion

 

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Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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