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EU Must Do More To Protect Citizens From Health Threats

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Europe's Investment Plan Does Not Comply With EU’s Own Climate Goals

Auditors have have urged the EU to do more to protect citizens from pandemics and other serious cross-border health threats.

EU-wide planning to protect citizens from serious health threats such as pandemic influenza suffers from significant weaknesses, according to a new report from the European Court of Auditors. Although a number of important steps have been taken in recent years, Member States and their public health authorities still need to work together better, say the auditors.

EU Member States have the principal responsibility in the area of public health. The European Commission’s role consists mainly of providing support and taking complementary action. The EU has identified serious cross-border threats to health as an area where Member States can act more effectively together. The EU Decision on serious cross-border threats to health in 2013 introduced important changes to advance planning and response coordination. It also strengthened the Health Security Committee set up informally by the Council of Health Ministers in 2001.


The auditors concluded that although the 2013 Decision was an important step to improve the EU’s health security framework and better prepare the EU to deal with serious threats to health, significant weaknesses at Member State and Commission level remain. They also concluded that although the Health Security Committee has proved to be very important, it faces strategic and operational challenges that need to be resolved.

Increased travel and trade allow diseases to spread rapidly across borders, which means health security in one Member State often depends on that of its neighbours

“Increased travel and trade allow diseases to spread rapidly across borders, which means health security in one Member State often depends on that of its neighbours,” said Janusz Wojciechowski, the Member of the European Court of Auditors responsible for the report. “More needs to be done to address these weaknesses in planning and coordination if EU citizens are to benefit fully from what has been set up so far.”

The auditors found delays in implementing and developing the 2013 Decision. Coordination of preparedness planning was improved, but the procedures need to be more robust and better defined. For example, Member States have not sufficiently speeded up their joint purchase of pandemic influenza vaccines and there is no EU-wide system to address urgent needs for vaccines or other medical countermeasures.


The existing systems for early warning and response and epidemic surveillance have been operational for several years and their important role at EU level is widely recognised, say the auditors. However, there is scope to upgrade the early warning and response system. The latest updates to procedures for dealing with serious chemical and environmental threats have not yet been tested.

The auditors found weaknesses in the performance of the EU’s Health Programme for protecting citizens from health threats. Most of the audited health threat activities between 2008 and 2013 showed a lack of sustainable results, despite performing well in terms of producing their agreed deliverables. This limited their contribution to protecting citizens from health threats. They also found weaknesses in measuring the health threat objective for the period 2014 to 2020 and a relatively low level of spending between 2014 and 2016.

The auditors identified a number of gaps in the Commission’s internal coordination of health security activities across different programmes and services. They also concluded that more work needs to be done to make cooperation agreements between the Commission’s crisis management structures fully operational. Finally the Commission needs to improve its management of its Health Emergencies Operations Facility to better equip it to deal with future health crises.

In their report, the auditors make recommendations to the Member States and to the Commission:

  • Speed up the implementation of the 2013 Decision, notably by developing a strategic roadmap for the Health Security Committee; by enhanced performance monitoring, and acceleration of the joint procurement of vaccines and other medical countermeasures;
  • Upgrade the Early Warning Response System and develop more integrated solutions for risk management;
  • Improve the sustainability of results from co-funded actions for health threat protection and the related performance measurement methodology;
  • Develop a more structured coordination between different Commission services for health security activities.

Special Report No 28/2016: “Dealing with serious cross-border threats to health in the EU: important steps taken but more needs to be done” is available in 23 EU languages.

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.


Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.


The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?


A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.


“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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