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Virunga, Africa’s oldest national park, now under new threat

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WWF is warning of renewed danger to Virunga National Park from oil exploitation. The organization is urging governments to cancel two concessions posing a risk to the World Heritage site, and is cautioning multinational enterprises against their involvement.

Earlier this month, and after years of local protest and international outcry, UK oil company SOCO International relinquished its license to Block V, which overlaps Virunga National Park. Soco’s chairman Rui de Sousa described the exercise as an ‘expensive, painful experience we would not repeat’.

Just days later, however, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) officials made public the presence of oil in that block.

Meanwhile, Uganda has initiated an open and competitive bidding process for an oil exploration license in its Ngaji block, which directly borders Virungaand also overlaps Lake Edward. The government has announced that 16 companies have until 30 January 2016 to apply for exploration rights in Ngaji and other blocks.

The WWF warning comes as UNESCO made public the commitment of another oil company, Tullow Oil, to avoid world heritage sites.

David Nussbaum said today that “More and more extractives companies are recognising the business risk involved in activity that could threaten World Heritage sites. WWF research shows that 61% of natural world heritage sites in Africa are under threat from possible extraction or exploration, and 31% around the world. Protecting these special landscapes, which provide homes to hundreds of species and livelihoods for communities, is crucial if we are to safeguard their value.”

Referring to the threat to Virunga, Frederick Kwame Kumah, WWF’s Africa Director, said “It is alarming to see the precious Virunga landscape again at threat. The park and its extraordinary ecosystems are a valuable part of our shared African heritage and have been recognized by the international community”.

Oil exploitation would negatively impact over 50,000 people who depend directly on Lake Edward for their livelihoods. It also could disrupt the fragile economy of DRC’s North Kivu province, which is connected closely to the park.

“Virunga holds significant long-term value that can and should be developed sustainably for the benefit of the people who need it most. The current and future prosperity of generations of people should not be jeopardized in pursuit of unpredictable, and at best, short-term gains,” Kumah said.

The DRC government, with UNESCO, has declared Virunga a World Heritage site in recognition of its outstanding universal value to all humanity. WWF echoes the World Heritage Committee’s position that oil is incompatible with World Heritage status and its request that the DRC government cancel all concessions overlapping the park.

As Uganda is also a party to the World Heritage Convention, the country is obligated “not to take any deliberate measures which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage… situated on the territory of other states parties to this convention.”

Pollution from an oil spill on either side of Lake Edward would have devastating effects on the Virunga World Heritage site. Noting that impact-free oil extraction is nearly impossible to guarantee, particularly in a seismically active area such as this, WWF urges Uganda to refrain from awarding the Ngaji license.

Responsible companies also should be aware of the reputational and financial risks associated with the blocks.

WWF continues to welcome the opportunity to work with government authorities and civil society groups in both DRC and Uganda to maximize the sustainable development potential of the landscape.

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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