A study by PwC has noted a 40% increase in renewable technology deals in 2011, but Alex Blackburne explains how this year’s fortunes are heavily dependent on how the Eurozone plays out. This means 2012 might not be quite as encouraging.
In 2011, a record $53.5 billion (£33.9 billion) was spent on renewable technology deals worldwide – a 40% jump from the £38.2 billion (£24.2 billion) recorded the year before, according to professional services firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
In a report titled, Renewables Deals: 2012 outlook and 2011 review, PwC say the $15.3 billion (£9.7 billion) increase was largely down to advances in the solar and energy efficiency sectors, which combined, accounted for 79% of the upsurge.
Paul Nillesen, partner at PwC renewables, commented on the encouraging figures.
He said, “Sustained high deal numbers and record total value reflect a maturing of the sector.
“The trend is all the more noteworthy given the uncertainty in the market and in government policies on renewables”.
This promising trend isn’t necessarily going to continue into 2012, though.
The report points to a “rolling uncertainty scenario” with regards to the eurozone, stating that the number of deals is likely to diminish if there were to be a major crisis.
“Worries about a further recession, constraints on financing and fears of a worst case collapse will inevitably cause dealmakers to continually reassess their options over the coming months”, it reads.
However, Nillesen said the market uncertainty might not necessarily rule out big deals.
“Staying out of the markets in the hope things will improve cannot be assumed to be the right strategy”, he said.
“The potential for further destabilisation domestically, or at an inter-governmental level cannot be ruled out, but if a deal is highly strategic, and mission critical, then parties will still feel it is worth doing on the right terms”.
The following chart underlines what percentage of the total deal value each renewable sector contributed to in 2010 and 2011.
Wind power was knocked off its 2010 top spot by a budding solar industry that storms to the top despite recent uncertainty surrounding the feed-in tariff scheme.
The PwC report goes on to highlight the increased involvement of pension funds in the renewables industry.
It picks out Denmark – already world leaders in wind power – as the frontrunners at encouraging offshore wind power pension funds. This, it says, is likely to become a growing trend elsewhere in the world, including the UK.
Adam Bell, communications manager at RenewableUK, the trade and professional body for the UK wind and marine renewables industries, welcomed PwC’s findings.
“Its findings show that despite both policy and broader economic uncertainty, the [renewables] market continues to both strengthen and mature”, he said.
“The entry of institutional investors such as pension funds into the market is a further indication of the secure returns that renewables can offer, not just for investors, but for the wider economy too”.
Head of external affairs at the not-for-profit Renewable Energy Association (REA), Leonie Greene, was similarly positive about the PwC report.
“It’s good to see renewable energy breaking another record”, she said.
“Many countries now recognise that renewables are a driver of, and not a drain on, economic growth”.
Greene added that the REA was “cautiously optimistic” about renewable technology progress in the UK, but says we all need to ensure that we’re singing from the same hymn sheet.
“We want to see UK firms thriving in the global market which is clearly increasingly competitive”, she identified.
“The UK needs to strengthen its position in the global market in many technology areas.
“It is vital that the coalition Government pulls in one direction on renewables and provides investor confidence across the three key sectors: heat, power and transport.
“We’d like to see a clear UK industrial strategy on renewables to ensure the UK maximises its manufacturing, employment and export opportunities”.
The PwC analysis clearly proves that the renewable technology industry is thriving, and if things play out well in the eurozone, on the up as well.
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Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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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