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FT Global Energy Leaders Summit 2012: day two



The second and final day of the Financial Times (FT) Global Energy Leaders Summit sent a strong, positive message out to energy developers and policy-makers alike; that renewable energy is key in the battle against climate change.

Whilst the issue might have only had “two fleeting mentions” prior to Solarcentury chairman Jeremy Leggett’s appearance in yesterday’s morning session, day two seemed to place much more urgency over the need to alleviate man’s role in polluting the climate.

Opening up the second day’s programme of speakers was Martin Lidegaard, minister of climate, energy and building in Denmark, a country famed for its strong commitment to clean energy.

And Lidegaard’s speech was just as strong. He spoke with passion about the magnificent benefits his country is already seeing through its allegiance with renewables, but was also frank about the problems the world faces; perhaps unusual for someone in office, who might normally opt for a token spiel rife with buzzwords in order to please the green sector.

The world’s temperature will continue to rise unless we act”, he began.

If we continue to sit on our hands, the temperature increase will be unthinkable.”

He made reference to the Arctic – an extremely vulnerable region that is seeing its ice melt at an inconceivable rate – and stressed the importance of renewables in tackling the temperature rise.

Slowing down a global green transition will be devastating”, he added.

A lot can be learnt from Denmark’s model. Like the UK, it is gifted with perfect locations for wind energy. But the difference between the countries is that in Denmark, wind power is a major part of its energy mix, with 30% of its electricity derived from turbines dotted around the nation.

A problem that is brought up when discussing wind, though, is its cost. Many people believe that consumer energy bills in the UK would shoot up if we gave greater prominence to the technology. But Lidegaard stressed this wasn’t the case in his own country.

A chart showing consumer energy bills in the 27 EU countries placed Denmark, without the cost of wind, somewhere in the middle. And with the cost of wind, it barely increased.

Despite its reliance on clean energy, the country boasts one of the cheapest electricity in the whole continent.

His final line summed his case up perfectly: “Everything we know points to this; the green way is the smart way, the green way is the only way.”

Following Lidegaard’s powerful address was Sir John Beddington, chief scientific adviser to the UK government. It would have been rather ironic if he wasn’t as ardent in voicing his views on climate change as the Danish minister, but thankfully, this wasn’t the case.

Sir John’s speech focused on three areas: climate change, urbanisation and population. Of the latter, he said by 2024, there will be eight billion people in the world, so one of our biggest challenges is developing an energy strategy that provides power to this extra billion – and the billion people without access today.

The evidence for climate change is overwhelming, and it’s completely being driven by greenhouse gases”, he said, before adding that there was “absolutely no sign that there is a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions”.

On the topic of nuclear power, Sir John said he simply couldn’t grasp a “low-carbon energy future in which nuclear is not involved”.

Just before attendees took a short break for coffee, there was a panel discussion titled Alternative Fuels & the Challenge of Sustainable Mobility, which aimed to map out the key challenges for the transportation sector in the coming years.

Danish minister of climate, energy and building, Martin Lidegaard, addresses the conference.

After the break, Adnan Amin, director general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), came to the stage. IRENA is one of the world’s leading intergovernmental renewable energy organisations, and Amin, like the two men before him, opened with a section on climate change.

In fact, he named the issue as the first of two global energy megatrends – the second being population and how we handle energy needs in the face of population growth.

Amin described how his home country, Kenya, was witnessing the effects of a warming climate first-hand – something that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report also found.

Coral bleaching, warming deep water temperatures and severe farming impacts are just three of the effects that the report, summarised here by the WWF, laid out.

Amin continued, saying it is “scary” that international talks have as yet not resulted in binding action on climate issues.

But there was also positivity in his address. Last year, he claimed, renewable energy became a trillion-dollar industry for the first time, and the cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) fell by 60% in the last two years.

Both these stats prove that despite uncertain international climate policies, renewable energy is an increasingly attractive investment.

Following Amin was a panel discussion about carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Graeme Miller, commercial director of 2Co Energy, rejected the “doom or gloom” claims that have choked the technology’s recent development, and Miller and his fellow panellists all spoke about the many benefits to the UK’s economy and employment that developing a competitive CCS industry would bring.

The final section of the day, and indeed the event, was a panel called Energy R&D: Breakthrough Technologies – Praying for an Energy Miracle?, in which Donald Sadoway of MIT was one of the guests.

Sadoway featured on Blue & Green Tomorrow back in April in a piece about his liquid metal battery technology – which he claims could be the key in achieving grid-level energy storage for renewables.

The discussion was a fitting end to the two-day event – full of promise and positivity about technology’s ability to tackle the key world issues – and the four men on stage were the perfect advocates.

As well as Sadoway, there was David Clarke, CEO of the Energy Technologies Institute, Mike Davis, president and CEO of the National Institute of Clean-and-Low-Carbon Energy, Canada, and Eric Isaacs, director of the Argonne National Laboratory and professor of physics at The James Franck Institute.

Clarke said, “The cheapest source of energy is energy that we don’t use. We’ll look back and ask why we used so much energy”, in a nod towards more efficient use of energy.

Davis described how there were lots of technological innovations that have the answers to our energy challenges, and that they can answer them within a decade.

Isaacs revelled in the current “unique time in history for science”, in terms of tackling climate change: a problem that unites the world.

And Sadoway celebrated the huge, emerging talent in the sector, saying that “the best students want to work on these problems”.

We’ll invent our way out of this situation“, he added.

The conviction in this statement, which rounded off the conference, ensured delegates exited with optimistic thoughts of innovation, adaptation and transformation in energy. And when it comes down to it, our ability to be optimistic, to really believe in clean, sustainable solutions, is all we’ve got.

Click here for a review of the morning session on day one, and here for the afternoon.


Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?



self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By 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 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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New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035



renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart /

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.


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