A new marine energy fund to help develop Scotland’s first commercially viable wave and tidal systems was announced by first minister Alex Salmond on the opening day of the All Energy 2012 Exhibition and Conference in Aberdeen last week.
The £18 million Marine Renewables Commercialisation Fund (MRCF) forms part of the £35 million committed by the Scottish government and its enterprise agencies to specifically support the development of demonstrator wave and tidal power schemes up to commercialisation over the next three years.
The new fund – which is to be steered by the Carbon Trust – was one of the many boosts for Scotland’s burgeoning renewables industry unveiled at the event, and is now open for bids from marine energy developers.
Scotland has a world leading resource and is a hot bed of innovation and deployment making marine energy an exciting green growth sector.
In his address to industry delegates, Salmond also announced a new research centre devoted to the development of carbon capture technology, which experts claim will be the key to unlocking the recovery of £190 billion worth of North Sea oil.
He also announced the first award from the £70 million National Renewables Infrastructure Fund (NRIF) – a £500,000 grant to transform a strategic dock near Glasgow in to a key manufacturing location for renewable energy.
The MRCF comes in addition to a sum of money from the £103 million Renewable Energy Investment Fund, as well as the Wave and Tidal Energy: Research, Development and Demonstration Support (WATERS) funding which is aimed at further developing the testing of new wave and tidal prototypes in Scottish seas.
The first minister said, “The new fund brings together the marine renewables expertise of the Carbon Trust, Scottish government and our enterprise agencies.
“It will help move the wave and tidal sector from prototype devices to commercially-viable arrays, producing increasing amounts of electricity solely from the power of the seas and deliver a lasting legacy for future generations.
And Dr Stephen Wyatt, head of technology acceleration at the Carbon Trust, added, “Scotland has a world leading resource and is a hot bed of innovation and deployment making marine energy an exciting green growth sector.
“This new fund will be critical to tackle the next set of challenges and innovate to drive down costs of both wave and tidal power.”
Indeed, the new fund reflects the government’s push to maintain Scotland’s position at the forefront wave and tidal development, keeping the nation at the centre for global investment in marine technology.
With 11,800km of coastline, 10% of Europe’s wave and tidal energy resources and 25% of Europe’s tidal stream potential, it is only natural that the SNP government continue to support the development of marine power through funds like the MRCF.
Moreover, bolstering the wave and tidal energy sectors will be intrinsic to Scotland’s renewables revolution under Alex Salmond – whose SNP government remains committed to generating the equivalent of one-hundred per cent of Scotland’s electricity consumption from renewables by 2020.
The European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney is one existing physical demonstration of Scotland’s power in the marine energy sector. It is the first centre of its kind to be developed anywhere in the world, offering developers the chance to test full-scale grid connected prototype wave and tidal devices in unrivalled turbulent seas.
Research across wave and tidal project sites is also conducted in order to ensure that the marine environment is preserved while wave and tidal devices are deployed for testing.
The MRCF will help support many of the projects at the EMEC by bringing devices up to commercialisation that have already been demonstrated at the full-scale prototype stage.
Indeed, Scotland’s marine energy sector is at an exciting stage of development today, with the machines harnessing wave and tidal power more efficiently than ever before. This means that large scale utility companies and industry leaders are starting to see how the technology is developing, and that cost-effective electricity generation from the sea – a concept once viewed by many as a distant ideology – really is possible.
One of the most innovative schemes currently in motion is the Scottish government’s £10m Saltire Prize, which has been attracting significant global interest for marine power.
Set up in December 2008 by the Scottish government in conjunction with National Geographic, the prize will accelerate the commercial development of marine energy technology by rewarding the team or individual that achieves the greatest volume of electrical output over a set minimum 100 gigawatt hurdle across a two-year period using only the power of the sea.
There have been 171 registrations of interest from teams in 31 countries – with three competitors at this stage fully pledged – Aquamarine Power, Pelamis Wave Power and ScottishPower Renewables.
In addition to the pull of the £10m award, the project – which will last until July 2017 – will also encourage revolutionary breakthroughs in wave and tidal technology by offering world-class research facilities and an SNP government heavily supportive of the renewables industry.
The overall aim of the prize is to commercialise the marine energy industry in Scotland, allowing the country to capture a larger share of the growing UK, European and global marine market, which could be worth £4 billion to Scotland’s economy by 2020.
With government-backed initiatives like the Saltire Prize and the MRCF, there is strong assurance that Scotland will maintain its place as a key rallying point for global interest in the marine energy industry well in to the future.
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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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