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Salmond vs. Trump in heavyweight offshore wind match-up

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Scottish first minister Alex Salmond has responded to Donald Trump’s wind criticisms in a public letter to the US tycoon.

Trump this week reinforced his anger over the Scottish Government’s drive for wind farms by accusing Salmond of “committing financial suicide”.

In a seven-page letter, Trump attempts to influence Salmond to pull the plug on the proposed 11-turbine European Offshore Deployment Centre situated just off the coast of his £750 million luxury golf development at Menie, Aberdeenshire. On April 25, Trump will address the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism directly on the issue.

But Salmond has publicly told the American billionaire that Scotland is completely focused on capitalising on the vast energy potential that offshore wind technology brings.

In his own letter, the first minister wrote, “I don’t expect you to support the development of offshore wind in Scotland, but I hope this letter will allow you to understand the position of the Scottish government in terms of the importance we place on this industry’s great potential.

It is my belief that Scotland’s great cities and ports are ideally placed to become a key hub for the rapidly growing multi-billion pound offshore renewables industry.

Our waters are estimated to have as much as a quarter of Europe’s potential offshore wind energy, and we are perfectly positioned to develop the technology that will power this renewables revolution.”

Aside from this clash with the first minister over proposals affecting his personal investment, the tycoon’s long string of ‘trumped-up’ anti-turbine nonsense is a disappointing reflection of two key problems associated with a recent flurry of anti-wind farm opinion.

Firstly, critics often fail to understand just how firmly Scotland has positioned itself at the leading edge of scientific innovation. Investment into the drive to tackle climate change is met at almost every opportunity with the building of test centres to develop more cost-effective renewable energy technologies and bring arrays to commercial-scale application.

Perhaps the recent anti-turbine campaigners and opposition-party politicians in Dumfries and Galloway, who claim that Salmond’s drive towards a “renewables revolution” is scarring their countryside, have yet to realise how scientific progress is helping Scotland down the road towards a sustainable future.

This is not to excuse careless destruction of the Scottish wilderness. Environmental preservation is clearly important to the nation’s ecosystems and tourism industry. However, viewing the countryside and coastline in a way that prevents the thought of development entering the imagination is a both unrealistic and outdated.

More information from leading scientists would encourage people to take intelligent action against climate change for the benefit of our future generations. This would improve the collective understanding of why it is necessary to continue investing in the growth of the renewables sector, where both wind and marine energy sit at the core.

The second issue with wind farm criticism is the profound ability to overlook how the renewable industry supply chain can help redefine the economy in those places most in need by creating job opportunities and training apprenticeships.

One recent anti-wind letter published in The Scotsman voiced concerns that Salmond’s wind power strategy resembled policy failures of UK post-war multi-story housing schemes. Yet, ironically, this overlooks the renewable energy sector’s potential to actually counter the failures of the 1950s and ‘60s by providing jobs and training to up-skill and re-skill available workers, some of whom live in the housing schemes built in old industrial areas.

Reinvestment from income generated by a growing and profiting renewables industry could also be channelled into the local economy and education system, while helping to improve standards of local housing.

Edinburgh’s port of Leith typifies an area affected by twentieth century industrial decline, where a significant proportion of people remain affected by structural unemployment. Yet it is now set to become a major hub in Scotland’s drive towards sustainability as the area’s character shifts away from housing developments and retail towards renewables.

A new £125m wind turbine plant is to be assembled in the middle of 2013 by Spanish company Gamesa in partnership with Forth Ports, creating over 800 jobs and helping stimulate growth of the renewables industry in the local area.

Chief executive of Forth Ports, Charles Hammond, said, “Gamesa redefines Leith as a modern industrial port and a centre for renewables.

“I am an advocate of the renewables industry because it is the clearest strategy for helping the economy of Scotland.

“We have been working on renewables for four to five years in Dundee and we recently saw the potential at Leith, which is why we were keen to see it included in the infrastructure plan.”

Indeed, the SNP just launched a fresh political campaign on April 17, with the pledge to transform the port area of Dundee—a key port during the industrial revolution—into a centre for renewable technology industries.

Other offshore wind turbine research and development investments this year have included Samsung Heavy Industries pumping £100m into its European offshore wind project technology testing centre in Methil, Fife creating over 500 jobs.

On the flipside, some recent disappointment also emerged with Doosan Power Systems deciding to delay plans to enter the UK offshore wind market because of a lack of investor confidence caused by the European debt crisis, likely cutting off its planned £170m investment into a renewables research centre outside of Glasgow.

From a UK perspective, in a drive to continue improving the cost-effectiveness of offshore wind energy, two 6MW Siemens next generation offshore wind turbines at Gunfleet sands off the eastern coast of England have just been given the go-ahead. The demonstration project will form part of Dong Energy’s existing 172MW offshore wind farm site located just south east of Clacton-on-Sea.

The more prominent wind story in the media this week centred on climate minister Greg Barker’s comments—or, rather, misinterpretation of comments—as he stood against claims that he had pulled back from his onshore wind policy strategy under pressure from Tory backbenchers.

He branded the headline earlier on in the week as “spurious”, confirming that sufficient onshore wind developments were in the pipeline to meet the 2020 onshore wind farm capacity target of 13GW.

Despite a mixed bag of wind power news coverage, the market for renewables investment across the UK still shows a very positive trend. Read out new Guide to Sustainable Investment to find out how you can benefit from this rapidly growing sector.

Further reading:

UK renewable energy investment surged in 2011

Trumped up complaints about offshore wind farm

Anti-wind watch: new complaints to rebuff

Scotland on track for 2020 renewables target

Scottish renewables fund to create “double positive effect”

Economic importance of wind power highlighted

Economy

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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