Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam & Other Stories

Ethiopia’s Nile Dam

Last month the 2020 Visions blog post considered sustainability in Africa along with other areas. It considered the UNA Climate 2020 report which noted that Ethiopia is experiencing much economic growth which is largely sustainable. Part of that growth is from large sustainable infrastructure projects around the country. This month’s blog post considers the Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam but, like all so called sustainable projects, there can be unforeseen consequences on the environment and elsewhere. In the case of the dam it may be environmental change, sediment build up, reduced water flow downstream of the dam and several other impacts including political consequences. Egypt is concerned at the scale of the dam and the impact it may have on the water supply of that country. Ethiopia hopes to reduce flood risk downstream of the new dam. Locally around 5,000 to 20,000 people are likely to be relocated as a huge lake forms behind the dam.

The Ethiopian Grand Renaissance dam, which will generate 6000 megawatts of electricity, is under construction. Construction began on this major infrastructure project in 2011. The plan to generate clean renewable hydro-electricity is causing a political stir in the region. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd) is being constructed near the Blue Nile River, Ethiopia. Egypt, whose people rely upon the water from the Nile, has objected to the involvement of a visiting delegation from Saudi Arabia. Egyptian journalists, professors and media personalities all condemned the visit and urged Saudi Arabia not to get involved in the massive construction project. The $5 billion project which is being financed by Ethiopian government bonds and private donations has the power to transform Ethiopia into an African power house. Relations between Egypt and Ethiopia have not been good since 2013 and the reason is mainly over the disputed water resources from the Nile.

Water resources in the region are likely to be contested given that so many countries rely on the water from the Nile river. Egypt uses the water for irrigation and for the water supply in Cairo – its capital city. Water resources have always been an issue in this arid part of the world. Historically there was a 1929 water agreement to allow countries to have a share of water from the Nile. In the late 1950s the agreement was renegotiated. Water will always be critical in this region and that importance will increase with a changing climate. For further information on the project and some of the potential political ramifications see this International Business Times article

CrossRail: The New Cross London Railway

At the end of 2018 the new CrossRail service is to begin. The new electric railway crosses under the centre of London and will open up many new passenger journey opportunities. The £14.8 billion Crossrail project is currently Europe’s largest infrastructure project and creates 42 kilometres of new railway tunnels under London. The project has been built by an international team who have come from many different countries.

In December 2018 the CrossRail line, also known as the Elizabeth line, opens between Paddington station and Abbey Wood in South East London. It will extend beyond Paddington station to Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 to the west of the city. There will be three routes that initiate the CrossRail network services as follows:

  • Paddington (Elizabeth line station) to Abbey Wood via central London
  • Paddington (mainline station) to Heathrow (Terminals 2, 3 and 4)
  • Liverpool Street (mainline station) to Shenfield

During May 2019 direct services operate from Paddington to Shenfield and Paddington to Abbey Wood. There will initially be fifteen trains per hour travelling in new tunnels under the centre of London. This number will increase to 24 trains per hour providing a very high frequency service later on.

The line will change the famous Underground map for good and will form a new purple colour line that crosses the centre of London. The Underground map has continued to evolve over the years since Harry Beck introduced the first iconic map back in 1933 (this transport for London link reviews the history of the map). This image shows the proposed new map:
New CrossRail map

Source: TFL

The CrossRail tunnels are going to be used to trial the generation of electricity by means of grids of lamellae-covered plastic sheets that generate power from the winds that follow trains in the tunnels. Piezo-electric textiles will generate power from the winds. There are installations of the lamellae-covered plastic sheets within tunnels on the new Crossrail routes. The draft in the tunnels causes the protrusions to flutter which then generates electricity. Whilst the energy generated is in smaller quantities when compared to traditional wind power solutions or solar there is some benefit from this new “free” energy generation system. Further details can be reviewed in this Wired article.

When services do start later in the year they will be operated by a consortium of companies with a stake held by the Chinese government. The New York Times proclaims “Beijing will also operate the new Crossrail Line, which will start its central London services in December”. See the article that reflects upon the national ownership of the UK’s railway since privatisation in the 1990s.

CrossRail will increase London’s rail capacity by around 10% and will offer many new journey opportunities for people travelling to and across the UK capital city. Estimates suggest that the project may bring an estimated £42bn to the economy of the UK. It will certainly improve journey times upon slow Underground journey times which are due to old infrastructure originally built in the nineteenth century. The Underground network has stops at many closely located stations. With CrossRail people making east – west journeys will be able to travel across London quicker than they would have previously without having to change from rail to Underground at the London terminals.

Both CrossRail and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam are examples of sustainable infrastructure projects that involve many nationalities and have had or will have impacts much beyond their sites.

2017 Was One of the Hottest Years on Record

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed 2017 to be among the three hottest years ever recorded. It was the hottest El Niño year. The global average temperature of the year was 1.1 Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature record. The cause is “continuing long-term climate change [from] increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases”.

The year 2016 is still the warmest year on record (it was 1.2 Celsius above pre-industrial era). The Paris climate agreement is aiming to limit global temperatures to below 2 Celsius or, ideally, to an increase of up to no more than 1.5 Celsius above the pre-industrial average temperature. Given this data from the World Meteorological Organization, it appears that the 1.5 Celsius target could soon be exceeded. The report highlights 17 out of the 18 hottest years on record have been since 2000. It also notes the degree of warming over the last 3 years has been “exceptional”. Linked to the increased warmth has been more severe weather around the world which has included some extremes such as hurricanes. The New York Times suggests that 2017 natural disaster losses was in the region of $330 billion according to the reinsurer Munich Re. 2017 was second only to 2011 which included the Japanese tsunami damage. The insurer noted volatile conditions are likely to become more common.

The WMO combines global data from many countries and uses reanalysis techniques to combine data from across the world. The data uses millions of meteorological and marine observations with models to produce a complete reanalysis of the atmospheric conditions. Data from satellites is also used and the method allows predictions even in regions that are “data-sparse” such as the Polar Regions. Further details of the WMO report can be read on the WMO web site press release.

The WMO data confirms what we already know – there is now an even greater need to take action to avoid more warming.

Posted in ACD, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Data Quality, flood, Geography, Mapping, railways, Smart Cities, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Transport, tsunami | Leave a comment

2020 Visions: The Power of Setting Goals

2020 Visions

Two projects have strong visions for the year 2020: one is an OpenStreetMap Canada initiative to map all Canadian buildings by 2020 and the other is the United Nations Association United Kingdom (UNA-UK). UNA-UK produced a major report entitled Climate 2020: Facing the Future in 2015. Both these initiatives will be considered in terms of their visions for 2020, which is now just two years away. Each project has set a challenging goal to be achieved or worked on towards 2020.

Canada: All Buildings Mapped By 2020

OpenStreetMap is an international open source map. It is often described as the Wikipedia of maps. One OpenStreetMap community, in Canada, has a strong vision to map the entire country’s buildings. The Building Canada 2020 initiative or “BC2020i” is an OpenStreetMap community project. The vision has emerged from a number of factors and through collaborative discussions. It also intends to explore new ways to produce open data for the benefit of many communities. Open data is information that is freely available without restrictions imposed upon it and use thereof. The aim is to create a data infrastructure that can be utilised in many projects from both private and public sectors.

The following diagram illustrates the concept of the plan showing a number of interested parties all overlapping on the open building data.
Building Canada 2020

The project aims to create benefits for multiple stakeholders and to create “civic data” i.e. open, accurate and complete building information that will have a grid reference and address as a minimum. There are also opportunities to continue with dialogue and collaboration between different sectors to the benefit of all. As there is currently no open buildings database within Canada the project will create a valuable set of buildings information for the future for many stakeholders.

Building information, it is envisaged, will come from three main sources into OpenStreetMap. The three sources of data include:

  • Imports from open data sources
  • Creation from satellite aerial images in OpenStreetMap
  • Local surveys or local knowledge

Open data imports may be from open Government open data sources for example but are imported under strict conditions and follow procedures laid down for this action. Creation of buildings from satellite imagery is often a largely manual task of tracing building outlines and then adding further building information when known. An example maybe the attribution of the number of stories in a building and an address. The final type of collection of building data is one sourced from local surveys. This is a strength of OpenStreetMap as local people carry out a survey and capture information on the ground. OpenStreetMap was founded on this approach to mapping and the approach continues to be a significant valuable contribution to the project.

A slightly updated approach to creating data from satellite imagery or local surveys is to use machine learning algorithms. These techniques make the laborious task of digitising many buildings much easier and clever technology can considerably reduce the time taken to capture many buildings. Other techniques and events being discussed include mapping parties and mapathons. The mapping party is where a group of people get to survey and area with an element of fun or perhaps competition too. The mapathon is more of a coordinated mapping event perhaps with many people mapping a given area for an evening or over a series of sessions. These sessions typically are held indoors allow learning of the open source tools and techniques that can be used for mapping buildings. The event is focused on a single mapping outcome.

The OpenStreetMap Wiki page has full details of the ambitious project to map all Canadian buildings. It suggests a further 10 million or so buildings need to be added to complete the goal. It is certainly an ambitious target but one that would yield benefits and bring interested stakeholders together.

Climate 2020: Facing the Future

The United Nations Association (UNA) is a UK charity that aims to build support for an effective United Nations. It calls for strong action on climate change as well as joined up thinking on peace, development and human rights. The Climate 2020 Facing the Future report continues the work from the post 2015 Global Development Goals. The report, which was published in 2015, includes the potential for interaction between the climate agreement and the sustainable Development Goals. Fifty expert contributors have produced a number of articles that provide practical actions, case studies and ideas that are equitable and achievable.

This report is a mix of science, cross cutting themes, impacts, remedies and considers ways to create a low carbon world. The report is varied in its content and there are plenty of good suggestions that will help the world to develop in a sustainable manner. The report also campaigns for a safer, fairer world in addition to one that is more sustainable. The fact that no nation is or will be safe from climate change is highlighted in the report is mainly a result of a globalised world and trade system. The Global Carbon Project has noted that there are many tonnes of carbon emissions that are effectively being transferred around the world (mainly from Asia to the USA and Europe for example). There is the differentiation between production emissions, i.e. where the emissions are produced, against the consumption emissions or where the products are being consumed. When plotted out it shows that Europe and the USA have higher consumption emissions than production emissions whilst China’s situation is the reverse with lower consumption emissions. There is detail in the Global Carbon Project’s Global Carbon Budget 2017 Report.

Within the UNA Climate 2020 report Ethiopia is highlighted where economic growth and sustainability are seen as a viable option through zero-carbon growth where there is no increase in the net carbon emissions from today’s levels. A green growth path as been proposed for Ethiopia becoming a middle-income country by 2025. There is a customised plan that involves private companies and the Government and there is not just a single top down or bottom up approach to development: it has to be a combination. The aim is to have a climate-resilient green economy (CRGE). This sort of economy should be able to minimise economic shocks caused by a changing climate. Ethiopia is particularly likely to be affected by climate change, or anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). This is a sensible approach to development based upon a twenty first century model that takes account of the reality of the world’s predicament with an increasing rate of warming. It moves away from previous development models hopefully for the better.

With 2017 seeing an increase in the carbon dioxide levels after four years of stabilising levels there is a high risk that we will not be able to contain a global temperature rise of the stated 1 and a half degrees Celsius. As emissions from human activities continue to grow, which were estimated at 41 billion tonnes for 2017, time is running out on our ability to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius let alone the desired and necessary 1.5 Celsius. It was estimated that global carbon emissions grew by 2% in 2017. Details were noted in this BBC report. In addition The World Meteorological Organisation has confirmed 2017 as one of the three warmest years on record. 2017 was the warmest year without an El Niño event, which can temporarily boost global annual temperatures. The UNA 2020 climate and sustainable development goals are even more urgent now and may have some wisdom to impart for the benefit of all.

The strength of the report is the fact that there are solutions and examples of what mankind can achieve along with what could be done and is being done. It also pushes for the policy agenda to be supported by science. This is once again important given evidence presented by the likes of the Global Carbon Budget and the World Meteorological Organisation. Climate 2020: Facing the future has more of a holistic approach by considering many ways we can work together and learn from the best examples and practices from all around the globe. The 50 experts bring a cross disciplinary approach which should be encouraged.

Posted in ACD, America, China, Data Quality, Europe, Mapping, OpenStreetMap, Sustainable Development, Zero | Leave a comment

Megatrends, Solar Trains and World’s Largest Battery


An interesting article from the Guardian newspaper highlights seven megatrends that could benefit global society in the future as well as leading to reduced carbon emissions across the planet. The trends are mostly positive examples of how global society is beginning to make the transition towards technologies that have a lower impact on the climate system.

The megatrends have been spurned by trillion dollar investments and are rising exponentially which would be a concern if some were rising in a linear trajectory. Many forms of low carbon technology are growing at an exponential rate. Much new investment is going into new technologies and there is an active move towards lower carbon technologies from those such as coal which is declining. A Mission 2020 initiative notes that we need to alter the global greenhouse gases curve towards a downward trend as opposed to the upward curve by 2020. This action will help to limit the global temperature increases and this is where the megatrends apply. 2020 is seen as a climate turning point in order to restrict global temperature increases to well below 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 Celsius.

The seven megatrends identified in the report include the following:

  • Avoiding Methane – cutting out the meat and embracing vegetable alternatives such as “plant based meat”.
  • Renewable energy – prices falling leading to strong growth.
  • Coal power – declining more rapidly than envisaged.
  • Electric cars – growth helping to improve the air quality as well as reduce emissions.
  • Battery technologies growing – due to prices which have fallen significantly.
  • Negawatts – reducing and stopping energy consumption is saving energy which is becoming more common.
  • Forestry – forests areas globally remain in decline and is the megatrend that we need to reverse.

Each of these trends with the exception of the decline in global forestry is assisting with the battle to avert extreme climate changes. The trend towards plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products is growing rapidly across a number of areas including yoghurt and cheese, meals, mayo and eggs, meat and milk. The greatest benefit of the shift to plant based food would be to reduce the methane emissions from animals.

Renewable energy has benefitted from rapidly falling prices: both solar panels and wind turbines have experienced plunging prices. The solar cost has fallen by 90% over the past decade. In 2016 around 66% of all new power was from renewable sources. Linked to the growth of renewable power is the decline of coal – this dirty fossil fuel is no longer expanding as much as was anticipated even a few years ago. If renewable price reductions continue then the cost of coal will be increasingly be unable to compete on price.

Electric car sales are growing rapidly: China is dominating the growth and is selling as many electric cars every month as the combined total of Europe and the USA. Growth in Europe and the USA is continuing and more and more manufacturers are building electric models. Some companies such as Volvo and Jaguar Land Rover have announced ceasing production of pure fossil-fuelled cars within three years. There are also proposed shifts in the power from fossil-fuel driven boats and planes to ones driven by wind power or electric technologies respectively. Battery technologies are benefitting from price reductions in lithium-ion batteries which have fallen by 75% over the last six years. Battery storage and smart grids are changing the way that power is supplied: this will enable renewable power to be stored. Power reduction through insulation and more efficient electrical items continues but there is a role of not using power too. In order to reduce European energy consumption by about 40% in 10-15 years there could be a step change by making the most efficient appliances available as the new standard rated appliances.

Forestry destruction is continuing globally. The areas where forests once stood are used for ranching and farming but also for timber. This generates about 10% of greenhouse gas emissions. Annual tree losses have approximately doubled since the year 2000. There is a lack of investment in wood production and alternative land uses have poured more money into destroying the woodland environment to grow crops such as palm oil or soy and to graze cattle. In some countries such as China, India and South Korea there has been much tree planting. These combined have removed more than 12 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The 2015 Global Forest Resource Assessment does show that the rate of deforestation is declining and that certain areas of the world are gaining more forests. Those areas that are losing most forestry include the tropics: South America (mainly Brazil), South East Asia and Africa.

The United Nations Food And Agricultural Organisation (FAO) have produced a map of the change in forest resources. They have produced the following infographic that illustrates a declining net loss of the forest areas of the world:

Global Forest Resource Assessment
Source: United Nations FAO, 2015.

Full details of the seven megatrends can be reviewed at Guardian newspaper’s Seven Megatrends article. Two examples of the megatrends in renewable energy systems and battery technologies are illustrated below.

Solar Trains?

In an interesting proposal whereby solar panels, generating photo voltaic (PV) electricity, would be installed alongside railway lines to power trains has been proposed. This Guardian article considers how it may work: solar powered trains.

The proposal could be rolled out to transport infrastructure around the world where trains or trams are electric. The estimates suggest that putting solar infrastructure next to railway lines could feed directly into the energy systems that power transport. Estimates in the UK suggest networks could be powered by around 15%-20% renewable energy from the solar panels. In reality it may be more like 10% of the energy required. Some of the railways rely on third rail DC (direct current power) and not AC. This would mean that the DC power from solar panels could feed directly into the railway’s electric sub station infrastructure without needing to convert the energy to AC and back again.

The 10:10 web site details how the scheme could work and points to the role of community energy companies being able to take a lead role in this area.

World’s Largest Battery

One of the criticisms of renewable energy is that if the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine then there will not be any power generated. Changes are needed to balance the supply and demand of power. In South Australia there is a new example of energy storage that is doing just that.

South Australia now has the world’s largest lithium-ion battery and it is now producing clean power as of early December 2017. Described as a “landmark moment for renewable energy”, the 100MW/129MWh battery farm has enough storage capacity to power the equivalent of 30,000 homes. The Hornsdale wind farm, near Jamestown, is situated several hours north of Adelaide and takes up less than 10,000 square meters of land. Installation was very rapid – the battery was delivered in just 63 days, ahead of the State Government’s deadline of the beginning of the Australian summer.

The battery ensures that there is clean and affordable wind energy going into the grid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The battery will store the excess power and provide a backup when there is no wind blowing. Tesla has partnered with the French energy utility company Neoen to deliver the battery which should assist in the South Australia’s power shortages. The Tesla Powerpack fast ramping capability means that it can dispatch large amounts of power quickly and reliably.

Further details of the scheme can be reviewed on the Hornsdale Power Reserve web site. This is an example of how renewable power can be used to store power, in this case from the Hornsdale wind farm, when demand is low and dispatch it when demand is high thus balancing the electrical load from the wind turbines which can produce up to 309MW of power.

This technology is demonstrating that the shift towards renewable energy systems should be even more reliable in the future and batteries allow for peaks and troughs in the supply and demand for electricity.

Posted in Air Quality, America, China, Electric Cars, Energy, Europe, Geography, Megatrends, PV, railways, Renewable Energy, Zero | Leave a comment

Crowd Sourced Mapping Assists Hurricane Responses

Algorithm Assisted Crowd Sourced Mapping

Crowd sourced mapping, that is using many people (who may typically be volunteers) to map areas, has been used before in many disaster situations. Recently there have been developments whereby the information collected by these people is being automatically validated by algorithms. This is a step change in this approach to disaster mapping. The algorithms are helping to speed up the process for a disaster response situation such as the recent hurricanes that affected the Caribbean in autumn 2017. The aim is to generate more reliable and certain data sources.

In September 2017 hurricanes Irma and Maria had a devastating impact on several Caribbean islands. In order to support and assist the rescue effort many people have, remotely from all over the world, provided information and goodwill in a number of different ways. Citizen Science can be considered as public participation in scientific research: in this case by assisting with map making. The Citizen Science movement has helped to assist with a coordinated disaster response. These responses and how they are evolving will be considered after reviewing two of the hurricanes that have caused much disruption, destruction and loss of life in the Caribbean region during the autumn.

Hurricane Irma was a very powerful Atlantic storm that has caused widespread destruction across the Caribbean and southern USA. The storm was, at times, a category 5 hurricane with wind speeds up to 295km/h (185mph). It had a path that crossed many Caribbean islands and affected around 1.2 million people. It struck around the 6 September. The islands of Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla, The Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Cuba and other islands were all affected before the storm moved towards Florida on the USA mainland. It continued to Georgia and South Carolina where it weakened.

Irma damaged or destroyed more than 90% of structures on Barbuda. The hurricane had top wind speeds that tied with the second-strongest maximum winds of all time for an Atlantic hurricane and had sustained 185 mph maximum wind speed for a long period: 37 hours according to this Colorado State University fact sheet. It was a category 5 hurricane for a lifetime of 3.25 days which was also a tie for that record. A combination of factors led to it being so strong: one of these was the heat of the water, others being mid-level humidity levels and powerful vertical winds generated by strong temperature imbalances. An incredible amount of rainfall was recorded including up to 274mm per hour at the eye of the storm. The storm had closely followed Hurricane Harvey from a few days before and was to be followed by another storm – Hurricane Maria.

When Maria Followed Irma

On the 19 September another Hurricane followed Irma: Hurricane Maria took a slightly different route but also greatly affected the Caribbean. It increased in strength before hitting the island of Dominica and moving towards Guadeloupe and the Virgin Islands (again). It also went on to cause considerable damage in Puerto Rico.

Rescue Global is a charity that aims to save life especially in vulnerable regions. They are a non-government organisation that is working globally to provide Disaster Risk Reduction and Response (DRR&R). It ensured that aerial imagery was acquired in order to assess the hurricane damage. This was then used to determine what the most suitable response would be in the islands that had been affected by the extreme weather. The Planetary Response Network was activated to get satellite data from a number of different sources and make it available to volunteers and other relevant groups.

Examples of mapping projects that have greatly assisted with the aftermath of the hurricanes include Humanitarian Open Street Map and Tomnod. Tomnod is a team of volunteers who identify important objects and places of interest, in this case disaster zones, from satellite images. They use images of the changing planet. The Humanitarian Open Street Map operation specifically generates timely maps following disasters around the world. These maps are used to assist both on the ground and for ongoing disaster support after an event such as a hurricane, flood or earthquake.

The initial analysis is carried out by volunteers looking at newly acquired satellite imagery from the storm damaged area. The volunteers mark destroyed houses, blocked roads and other real world features such as temporary settlements after the storm has passed. This can assist with on the ground support as new maps can be generated very rapidly. The mapping operation allows almost real-time information to be shared through a team of volunteers.

After people have completed their analysis a new stage is enacted with the Machine Learning Research Group at Oxford running the results through machine learning algorithms. “These algorithms can quickly resolve inconsistent responses, bring all the data together and integrate information derived from other crowdsourced mapping sources, such as the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap and Tomnod.” The Conversation (October 18 2017).

Geospatial techniques are used to process the results and provide reliable information for those on the ground. For example these maps will highlight areas that have been affected by flooding, storm surges or maybe areas where many buildings have been affected or destroyed. This information can really assist those on the ground to focus on the worst affected areas. It can also mean that aid is initially directed to areas in most need. Other areas may have differing needs later on, such as healthcare, especially when there is humid stagnant water that can cause disease after a day or more after the event.

The finished maps can be viewed here on the Zooniverse web site which also includes some details of the approach used. Some of the images from Dominica are shown below.
Crowd sourced maps
© Copyright

The work by organisations such as Rescue Global can benefit others who may never even appreciate that their initial mapping activities have assisted the international rescue teams. The power of the crowd to review maps along with intelligent algorithms that help to assess the data captured by volunteers is a tremendous boost to disaster response and ongoing support. The algorithms and computer platforms have recently evolved to greatly assist and support very rapid responses. It is getting to the point where preemptive response planning is becoming a reality. An example of this was seen after Irma and when it was obvious that Maria was about to hit some of the same islands again.

There is much work ongoing in the aftermath of the two hurricanes and hopefully the rapid response of the crowd sourced mapping will have helped with the initial disaster response. The new approach to use algorithms to validate that crowd sourced data will mean an improvement in how it is collected. Continuing disaster responses can still be based upon the information collected and analysed in the earlier days once the hurricane has passed. This may include the reinstatement of power supplies and other essential infrastructure as required.

Posted in ACD, America, Climate Change, Data Quality, flood, Health, Islands, Mapping, OpenStreetMap | Leave a comment

London Restricts Polluting Vehicles & A Catalan Republic?

Restricting Polluting Vehicles

There is a growing trend to prevent vehicles polluting the city air in a number of cities around the world. The controls are becoming stricter as more people are affected by air pollution and there is a greater awareness of the problem of air borne pollutants in general. The pollutants of tiny particulates from diesel vehicles and nitrogen oxides from petrol and diesel vehicles are beginning to be addressed through payment and restrictions in a number of cities.

London is one city where pricing is being used to discourage older and the worst polluting vehicles entering the centre of the city. Here is known as the T-charge where the T refers to toxic emissions from vehicles. New regulations came into force on the 23rd October in order to improve the city’s air quality: the changes affect diesel and petrol vehicles that were registered before 2006 that do not conform to the European standards. In particular the Euro 4/IV European directive is designed to regulate vehicle emissions. Motorised tricycles or quadricycles need to meet the Euro 3 standard (for high-level details of the standards see below).

The European or Euro emission standards define the acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles in Europe (European Union and the European Economic Area). London is implementing the charge through its congestion charge zone, which is operational between Monday and Friday over the day from 07:00 to 18:00. This is a precursor to a stricter Ultra-Low Emission Zone in London to be introduced from 2020, although it could be brought forward to 2019. The move is an attempt to improve air quality in London. Further details are on the Yahoo web site article.

The European or Euro standards are designed to improve air quality: they become ever more strict and Euro 1 was first introduced in 1992 and the Euro 6 (or current standard) is progressively introduced from September 2014. The regulations apply to light duty vehicles. The aim of Euro emissions standards is to reduce the levels of harmful exhaust emissions and in particular nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons (HC) and particulate matter (PM). There are further details of the standards on the RAC website.

London and other cities are leading the way to try to improve the air quality. London is using a road pricing mechanism in order to dissuade people from causing the air pollution from fossil fuel burning vehicles.

Catalan Republic?

There has been the declaration of independence by the Catalan republic, an area of north east Spain. The region has become an autonomous region and has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years. It has a population of 7.5 million people and has its own Catalan language, culture and is governed from its own parliament. The region has had its own identity including having a Catalan flag from the 1970s for example. On 1 October a referendum declared independence but this was then determined to be illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Around 90% of the voters had backed the independence. These elections had been disrupted by Spanish, as opposed to local Catalan, police who had in some cases used violence against anyone using their vote.

On 27 October Catalans declared independence from Spain in order to have the autonomy that they wanted. Spain and the Government in Madrid quickly responded by imposing direct control. It invoked the Article 155 of the constitution giving it right to dissolve the regional parliament. This was undertaken around an hour after the Catalans declared independence. There are now many unanswered questions as to the future of Catalonia namely around its political destiny. The Spanish deputy prime minister has been brought in to administer the region for now until elections in December. Regional elections have been brought forward and will be held on 21 December.

Other countries have not formally recognised the Catalan republic and the European Union fails to acknowledge it too. There could be implications for the wider Spanish economy as the Catalan region accounts for around 25% of the country’s exports. The region also brings in around 20% of foreign investment to Spain yet only has around 16% of the population. Further summary information can be read about on the BBC web site.

Following on from the Spanish dissolution of the Catalan parliament the deposed president, Carles Puigdemont, left the region for Brussels. The president could face charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds from the Spanish authorities following the declaration of independence. The fact is that the leader of Catalonia has departed and left the people in a state of uncertainty. The main reason appears to be to avoid any charges brought against him by the Spanish Government. See this Guardian news article.

The Catalonia situation is one of irony as many countries will not recognise the republic and will only work with Spain on any matters relating to the region. The European Union (EU) is one organisation that will not recognise an independent Catalan region. It is the EU that has in many ways given regions such as Catalonia more autonomy from their parent nation states. It is this process that has encouraged many independence movements across the continent and, yet, the institution that enabled it is now not willing to support any election that gives full independence. There could be other movements that do not have any further powers despite several years of becoming more autonomous and independent within the union of states. There have been other countries that have formed from similar movements: for example the Estonian Declaration on the Sovereignty of the Estonian SSR (Deklaratsioon Eesti NSV suveräänsusest), was issued on November 16, 1988. This ultimately meant independence of Estonia from the USSR (Russia). See Wikipedia.

The situation in Catalonia is uncertain and changing rapidly. The elections on the 21 December may be the final call on the Catalan Republic assuming they are allowed to be free and fair. Whether this movement in Catalonia w

Posted in Estonia, Europe, Geography, Politics, Pollution | Leave a comment

Plastic Island & Falling Cost Of Offshore Wind Power

Henderson Island – Plastic Oceans

Henderson Island is a remote small elevated coral atoll island in the eastern South Pacific. The island is one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has been practically untouched by a human presence. The isolated island is notable for the 10 plants and four land birds that are endemic to the island (see this UNESCO link). It is one of the world’s best examples of an elevated coral atoll ecosystem. It is part of the Pitcairn Island Group. It sounds idyllic but the island attracts all sorts of floating waste in the form of plastics that wash up on its shores. The island is located near ocean currents that bring the plastic to this remote UNESCO listed island. Nearby is the South Pacific Gyre which is a massive rotating ocean current.

The South Pacific Gyre is one of five major ocean gyres. The gyres are huge rotating bodies of water. In the South Pacific the South Pacific Gyre has water that is almost static at the centre, which is typical of all gyres. The outer body of water rotates on a vast scale and distance. The gyres transport floating debris on the currents, especially plastics that tend not to break down quickly, and this is the reason why Henderson island is getting so much plastic waste deposited there. See Orma – Ocean News And Facts for further details of gyres. The largest gyre – the North Pacific Gyre – is thought to have a massive build up of ocean debris, an estimated 11 million tons.

In a study of the islands, by Lavers and Bond published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is noted that the quantity of plastics that accumulate here are the most dense of any island in the world.

In little over half a century plastic products have infiltrated terrestrial and marine environments everywhere on the globe. Plastic poses a hazard to biodiversity but often it is difficult to quantify the volumes of debris that affect environments. In this study the authors document the amount of debris and rate of accumulation on Henderson Island. The density of debris was the highest reported anywhere in the world with up to 671.6 items per square metre (mean ± SD: 239.4 ± 347.3 items/m2) on the surface of the beaches. Around 68% of debris was buried on the beach within the top ten centimetres of the surface. They estimated around 37.7 million debris items that weighed a total of 17.6 tons being present on Henderson. There were up to 26.8 new items/m accumulating daily.

Rarely visited by humans, Henderson Island and other remote islands have become sinks for some of the world’s increasing volume of waste. Whilst humans do not directly litter these once pristine and untouched environments increasing mountains of plastics are now a real problem.

Offshore Wind Power Costs Slide

The costs for offshore wind farms continue to fall and now that rate of fall has accelerated recently. The implication is that the UK’s offshore wind sector could benefit from a £17.5bn investment over the next four years due to the faster than expected cost-cutting. Because of the falling costs subsidies for the technology have been cut by half. The latest Government’s auction for support contracts showed that offshore wind costs have halved in recent years to under £58 for every megawatt-hour of electricity produced. Wind farms have operated at commercial scale in the UK for over a decade in which time the costs have fallen significantly.

This cost is much lower than that predicted by experts. Lower costs means that additional investment funding will now be made available from Government. The auction, where the lowest cost wins, will benefit consumers also. The contracts guarantee offshore wind developers a guaranteed revenue of just £57.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity produced in 2022/23. This is a sharp fall from the £74.75/MWh granted just one year earlier, and less than half the cost of turbines already producing power at around £150/MWh. Nuclear power from a new Hinkley Point C new nuclear power plant will cost £92.50/MWh. Biomass and Combined Heat and Power (CHP) projects have also achieved significant savings to snap up contracts in the auction.

The UK has the largest offshore wind capacity in the world and low carbon businesses have a combined turnover of £43bn, employing 234,000 people. The economic benefits of the wind power have been increasing. Local benefits have increased with more work going to companies that are based within the country. See this Daily Telegraph article for further details.

This is part of a wider trend that sees the benefit from developing renewable energy supplies. On a global scale there is around $300 billion being invested into the new technologies according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. There is also a relevant general shift to increasing micro-generation, even though this article is particularly about the larger corporate wind farms. As prices fall then individuals and small scale generation schemes are likely to become even more popular.

Posted in Earth Science, Energy, Energy efficiency, Islands, Megatrends, Pollution, Tidal Power, Zero | Leave a comment

First Arctic Commercial Shipping & UK Rail Electrification U-Turn

First Tanker Sails Over The Arctic Ocean

A report in this BBC article highlights the first commercial ship having crossed the Arctic from Norway to South Korea transporting liquefied natural gas (LNG). This ship – the Christophe de Margerie – is a 300-metre-long ship owned by Sovcomflot which has a re-enforced hull and has been designed as an ice breaking ship. It took 6 and a half days to cross the Arctic Ocean and was travelling through ice that was up to one metre thick in places.

The Arctic has been thinning recently and the maximum sea ice extent has fallen dramatically in the last decade. Whilst it is technically possible to navigate across the Arctic Ocean there are high risks and the environmental cost could be huge. Pollution in the form of soot from shipping could accelerate ice melt in this vulnerable area.

Railway Electrification Plans Scrapped

On the 20th July the UK Government scrapped plans to modernise and electrify many kilometres of the UK railway network. Plans had been made to electrify many routes which included the railway lines to Swansea from Cardiff the Midland Mainline routes from Bedford to Nottingham and Sheffield, as well as between Windermere and Oxenholme. Other schemes such as the TransPennine route from Leeds to Manchester have been put back and look very uncertain (at least over the next few years). Even the new East – West route that is eventually going to link Oxford to Cambridge is likely to open without electric trains: the line is due to open in the 2020s according to the Department for Transport. The policy reverses ambitious plans announced several years ago to improve the national transport network. See this Electic World? article which was published several years ago highlighting the proposed electrification plans.

The decision by the Government has gone back on the ambitious plans for more sustainable and efficient transport that would have boosted economic growth and reduced pollution emissions from the railway network. These plans were announced several years ago and much investment has been made on preparations and ground works. The Government argue that new bi-mode (electric and diesel) trains on the Great Western (to Swansea) and Midland Mainline would benefit by running on electrified and non-electrified sections of railway track. Whilst bi-mode trains can make sense for limited running on non-electric railways before using electric power over core electric network. The fact is that these trains cost far more than pure electric trains should also be considered.

Part of the reason for the change in policy has been the excessive cost over run for the work to electrify the Great Western line to Cardiff, Bristol and (as originally planned) the route on to Swansea. The route has proven more expensive to upgrade the infrastructure whilst continuing to run services. Working with much infrastructure that was originally constructed over 160 years ago also has been expensive. Costs rose from the original budget of £874 million in 2013 to £2.8 billion. A totally unacceptable increase. Part of the reason for the increase is the lack of expertise in this sort of infrastructure upgrades: new recruits have been employed to implement the changes to infrastructure and many previously employed specialists have retired or left the industry.

The Government should make the railway track authority pay for the schemes from its own reserves and actually get it to project manage these strategically important projects in a much better manner. Should the money run out then the projects ought to be cut back until the money becomes available. The Government has operated a stop-start policy that does not help develop more reliable and sustainable infrastructure that needs to be fit for the twenty fist century.

Many city authorities have been dismayed by the decisions made. These include Oxford, Bristol (where the plans have been deferred), Nottingham and notably the northern cities that need better infrastructure investment to support growth. Politically the situation was made worse by the announcement of many millions of pounds of investment into London’s CrossRail 2 proposal that will cross from north east to south west London. The northern councils have called for a fair share of infrastructure funding and the timing for cancelling projects outside of London perhaps were badly timed.

Further talks now are proposing a HS3 (high speed third railway link) that would build on from the high speed lines of HS1 (from London to Birmingham) and HS2 (links to Manchester and the north east). The HS3 line would link Liverpool with Hull across the Pennines. The Government is perhaps trying to ignore these proposals according to the BBC News article. The Manchester mayor openly criticised the plans to scale back railway modernisation in the north of the country and highlighted the lack of transport progress in the north (see this BBC article).

These decisions reflect the lack of joined up policies in the UK: electrification of the railway network is one way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from trains and the electric systems are more efficient and less polluting than diesel powered trains. There is a need to get systems in place that make electrification a viable and affordable option: huge cost over runs have not helped the situation.

Posted in Arctic, Energy, Politics, Pollution, railways, Sustainable Transport, Transport | Leave a comment