T’au Island Has A Renewable Future

T’au Island Proves Micro Grid Futures

The island of T’au, which is situated in the South Pacific, is leading the way demonstrating to others that provision of almost 100% renewable energy power is possible. T’au island is in American Samoa and is part of the Manu’a Islands. The island is very remote from the nearest mainland – New Zealand is 2800 kilometres away for example. The island is tiny with an area of around 44 square kilometres (or around 17 square miles). Being volcanic, the island has very steep terrain and has a high point of around 900 metres.

T’au used to be powered exclusively by diesel generators which would burn around 109,500 gallons of the fossil fuel each year (see this Inside EV link). Many similar size islands are reliant upon diesel generators for their fuel needs. A big investment into renewable energy systems based upon solar panels has meant a shift away from diesel generators on T’au. As a result the island largely benefits from very low, if not zero, carbon emissions for its energy needs. The new solar panels and new micro grid using energy storage technology are located in the village of Faleasao. It is operated and maintained by the American Samoa Power Authority. A micro grid is a relatively new way of proving electricity on a much smaller scale than traditional large power station grid based systems. A micro grid is a distributed on-site generation system based upon small generation capacity. The original diesel generation on T’au is an example of micro grid generation but the new approach is to use more sustainable generation practices such as solar or other renewable energy.

The project description lists 1,410 kW of solar panels, equating to 5,328 panels, and 6,000 kWh of battery storage (using 60 Tesla Powerpacks). The storage technology can store energy for up to three days should the weather be cloudy. There are still backup diesel generators but these are for an emergency rather than the primary source of electrical power. The project was largely financed, 80%, from revenues paid by customers whilst the 20% remaining finance cam from the Department of Interior (see this American Samoa website).

Projects such as this one, which was highlighted on the Future Now blog, highlight what can be achieved for islands that are highly dependent upon external resources for their power needs. The project was implemented over twelve months and supplies power to a small population of around 600 people. There are additional positive benefits – the transport of the diesel will no longer be required and the associated carbon footprint of processing and distributing this hydro-carbon fuel will no longer be needed. The community should benefit from lower energy costs and the savings then should be re-invested into further benefits of the solar power. Although not planned for, this could include using electric transport for example or future expansion of the solar arrays to ensure greater resilience of the small island in the South Pacific.

Another recent example of the impact of this technology is the tourist development on Fiji highlighted in another Inside EV article. Islands are a place where trialling new technologies such as solar with storage will reduce dependencies upon external sources for fossil fuel based energy needs. Solar along with energy storage will not always be the answer but it could become a major source of clean energy on islands that are typically sunny.

Posted in Energy, Islands, PV, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Development | Leave a comment

Stealth Station Closure? & Arctic Warms Rapidly

Arctic Warming Rapidly This Autumn: Hot, Hot, Hot

The Arctic is far too warm this year in autumn when compared to other average years. Traditionally in November the arctic cools, freezing the Arctic Ocean’s surface and sea ice returns. 2016 has been different: Danish and US researchers have shown air temperatures have peaked at 20 Celsius higher than normal for the time of year. In addition, sea temperatures averaging nearly 4C higher than usual in October and November. Temperatures have been only a few degrees above freezing when -25C should be expected at this time of year. As a result, on 19 November, the extent of Arctic sea ice was nearly 1 million square kilometres lower (8.633 million vs 9.504 million) than it was on that date in 2012.

The actual temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes has been much reduced due to the melting of summer Arctic sea ice. This differential of temperatures has altered the jet stream allowing more warmth and moisture to be driven towards northern latitudes, further warming the region. This has helped to perpetuate the warmth in the Arctic creating a vicious circle of warming. As a result the lowest ice extent ever recorded for late November has been observed.

Sea surface temperatures in the Kara and Barents seas, both located north of Russia, are much warmer than usual. The earlier than usual spring break up of ice has lead to air temperatures warming and this in turn affects the ability of the sea to freeze. It is an example of positive feedback events that rapidly perpetuate certain conditions: in this case more warming leading to increases in temperature again and so on. This warming has been very rapid and is extraordinary. It is likely to mean less sea ice in 2017.

More on this story can be found on the Guardian web site and this article on the Medium website. It is important to realise that the Arctic ice levels affect the rest of the world. Global temperatures are regulated by the Arctic: if it gets warmer there, our weather systems are likely to change. Without Arctic sea ice, the global climate is likely to be altered dramatically.

Stealth Railway Station Closure?

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There is a railway station closure proposal for a small station in the Midlands of the United Kingdom. The station in question is that of Norton Bridge which serves a small hamlet with a population of around 600 but is also a rail head for the larger town of Eccleshall, Staffordshire and surrounding villages such as Yarnfield and Swynnerton. Eccleshall has a population of around 4,600 and Yarnfield and Swynnerton have a further 4,500 people. This combined population would have the ability to support a frequent rail service.

Back in 2004 as part of an upgrade of the West Coast mainline railway, on which the station is situated, the station had its footbridge removed and this was not replaced. Instead of building a new replacement bridge thus allowing people to get to the station, the decision was made to stop train services and use substitute buses replacing trains instead. According to this Wikipedia page the station used to have a relatively healthy usage with around 4,700 people per annum using the station during the year 2002/3. This figure fell to around 2,000 users in 2004/5 which reflects the removal of the footbridge and the bus substitution. From that time onward there has been a decline in passengers using the service. The bus substitute takes almost half an hour from Stafford as opposed to the less than 10 minute journey that the train would have taken for the just over 5 mile (around 7.5km) journey.

The area around Norton Bridge has recently benefited from a £250 million railway upgrade scheme that improved the junction. No part of the budget was used to consider reinstatement of the station footbridge or a new station, which would now be needed in order to replicate the former service pattern from Stafford to Stoke-On-Trent. This improvement is an example of speeding up thorough trains between large population centres at the expense of smaller settlements, a sort of urban-rural disparity where smaller places are becoming relatively more cut off. There is a closure document that highlights the new railway layout and how it affects the viability of the station due to its now inappropriate location following the works. The works clearly did not account for re-instating the station and service. The station location is now sited on the high speed lines where express trains could be delayed by local services stopping at Norton Bridge station.

A government proposal has been published to shut the station fully and withdraw the bus service. It is on the gov.uk website. The proposal discusses the bus service as a “temporary situation” which has “existed for 12 years”. The temporary situation was actually caused by government owned Network Rail’s poor management of the West Coast railway upgrade which vastly exceeded its budget by millions of pounds. The bridge removal should have been a bridge upgrade but resources could not be justified easily after such an excessive overspend. An assessment was carried out by the Department for Transport in accordance with the Railway Closures Guidance to see if railway reinstatement would represent value for money. The conclusion for reinstating train services has “concluded that this is neither an appropriate nor responsible use of resources”.

According to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) usage of the station by passengers during 2014-2015 was not recorded. The figures have not been recorded for several years now. This information is available on the ORR web site. This is a convenient omission perhaps? We no longer have a case to justify objecting to the closure now that numbers have not been recorded. Given that many other railway stations have been recording very significant passenger increases over the last 10 years and continue to do so, then should investment be made to reopen this station?

Evidence may suggest that there could have been a longer term plan to close this station when the footbridge removal made the station inaccessible back in 2004. Given the area has had much new investment to re-route railway lines in the area meaning that the former service to Stoke-On-Trent is no longer an option. This personal travel blog post had preempted the forthcoming closure of the station. Norton Bridge is a dying hamlet with the pub, ironically named the Railway Inn, having closed. With no public transport the settlement is not likely to thrive either.

Representations about the closure proposal should be sent to: nortonbridge.consultation@dft.gsi.gov.uk or Norton Bridge Consultation, Department for Transport, Great Minster House, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR NO LATER THAN 3 FEBRUARY 2017.

This closure is likely to be the first of many of similar stations that have had their services withdrawn or reduced down to such a level that they no longer serve a purpose. Closures such as this remove the possibility of sustainable transport options in the future. It could be argued that this is very much closure by stealth.

South West Rail Flooding (Again)

Over the weekend of 19/20 November 2016 the UK was hit by Storm Angus. This storm brought with it much rainfall over a very short period of time across much of the UK. In the South West around 10% of the annual rainfall fell within two days resulting in much flooding. As a result the only two main rail routes into Devon were both closed: one with flooding covering the single line at Whimple (as seen in this image) and the other, outside Exeter, where tracks were washed out. This occurred at a place called Cowley Bridge Junction which is a strategic junction on the network. Tracks were left hanging in the air after flood waters washed over the railway line in several places and engineers had to restore power and signalling the line. Re-opening of the line was, however, ahead of schedule and within two days of the floods having passed. This flood event, which hit large parts of the UK, highlights the importance of resilient transport infrastructure that needs to cope with more frequent extreme weather events.

Posted in Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography, Politics, railways, Sustainable Transport, Urban/Rual Disparity | Leave a comment

International Agreements Succeed

World’s Largest Marine Nature Reserve

Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) has agreed to a vast marine protection area in the Ross Sea, Antarctica. The joint USA/New Zealand proposal will establish a 1.55 million km2 special protection area (the BBC news article has a map of the area here). The new special protection area status will come into force in December 2017. It will strictly limit or prohibit activities to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring and fisheries management objectives. Some areas of the special protection area will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research whilst other areas will be strictly controlled as no fishing zones.

Significantly, there has been important international agreement to create the marine protection area. In total twenty four countries have come together and worked towards this goal of marine protection. The Ross Sea is in an area which is relatively untouched by human activity and has many diverse species that include penguins, seals and whales among many others.

This achievement has taken around five years to come to fruition: the CCAMLR Scientific Committee first endorsed the scientific basis for the marine protection area (MPA) proposals in 2011. From 2012 to 2015 the proposals were refined in terms of the scientific data to support the scheme. Specific details, such as exact location of the boundaries, of the MPA were also based upon this research.

Areas closed to fishing, or in which fishing activities are restricted, can be used by scientists to compare with areas that are open to fishing. Scientists can then research the relative impacts of fishing and other changes, such as those arising from climate change. It should help in the understanding of the range of variables affecting the overall status and health of marine ecosystems. For further information see this CCAMLR link.

This huge special protection area is remarkable in terms of the international agreement and could pave the way for many other ocean protection areas that may help to preserve marine species and fish stocks.

Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) Withdrawal Agreement Signed

More than 150 countries have reached an agreement to phase out Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases that are causing more extreme warming of the Earth. The amendment to the Montreal protocol has agreed to a programmed phasing out of Hydrofluorocarbons that are used in fridges, air conditioning and aerosols. HFCs have a global warming effect that is around 15,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. They also represent the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

An amendment to the Montreal Protocol was signed in Rwanda that will start to see richer countries cut back their HFC use from 2019. It is known as the Kigali amendment after where the agreement was signed. 197 parties to the Montreal protocol have now extended it to decommission use of the HFCs which are CFC (ChloroFluoroCarbon: ozone hole damaging gases) replacement gases.

There are three time scale approaches that will be used for different countries. Firstly the richer economies (such as the European Union, the US and others) will begin limiting their HFC use from 2019. They will need to make cuts of at least 10% of HFC usage from then. Next, some developing countries like China, Latin America countries and island states will freeze their use of HFCs from 2024. Thirdly, other developing countries, specifically Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states will not freeze their use until 2028.

China, which is the largest producer of HFCs, will not start to cut their production or use until 2029. India, will start even later, making its first 10% cut in use in 2032. Some estimates suggest that the removal of HFCs may reduce climate change by around 0.5 degrees Celsius, although this is debated.

HFCs are from a group of fluorinated greenhouse gases that are known as F-gases. They are the most important F-gases from a climate perspective and are relatively short lived in the atmosphere. Some other F-gases such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) can remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years. Some F-gases are 23,000 times more potent, in terms of their warming potential, than carbon dioxide. This European Commission link highlights the commitment to cut F-gas emissions by two thirds by 2030 in Europe.

The Montreal protocol follows the 2015 Paris (COP21) climate agreement which was signed by over 190 countries last December and will start with effect from early November 2016. The protocol was originally signed in 1987 in order to remove the highly destructive CFCs that were depleting high-level ozone above the Polar regions.

Ban For Internal Combustion Cars By 2030?

In Germany, the Bundestrat (or Upper House) which is the federal council of all 16 German states, has passed a resolution to ban the internal combustion engine (ICE) powered car by 2030. This is an influential resolution that may gain wider acceptance, although it is not binding. Other countries in Europe are also keen on the idea, such as The Netherlands and Sweden for example. The European Union may follow: the resolution calls on the European Commission to “evaluate the recent tax and contribution practices of Member States on their effectiveness in promoting zero-emission mobility”. This could mean taxing internal combustion vehicles more or reducing tax on electric cars.

Given there has been much awareness of worsening air pollution from internal combustion engines and diesel cars specifically, due to particulates that are released into the atmosphere, this could be the start of a shift towards more sustainable vehicles. Paris and other cities such as London are now using measures to attempt to improve their air quality that ban older cars (in the case of Paris as of this July) or charge vehicles with internal combustion engines to enter the city centre (London).

This shift in traction to electric vehicles could be seen as part of the mega trend to move to electrically powered transport and Germany has set out some goals that would mean that there will be little incentive to continue to support internal combustion engines that are powered by fossil fuels.

References used for this article include: http://arstechnica.co.uk/cars/2016/10/germany-bundesrat-internal-combustion-ban-2030/ and http://www.treehugger.com/cars/germanys-bundesrat-calls-end-internal-combustion-engine-powered-cars-2030.html

Posted in ACD, Air Quality, Climate Change, Earth Science, Electric Cars, Europe, Health, Megatrends, Resources, Sustainable Transport | Leave a comment

Climate Change Targets Likely To Be Exceeded

1.5 Celsius Target Likely To Be Exceeded

The Paris 2015 agreement by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), at their Conference of Parties (COP) meeting, strives to limit global warming (or anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD)). The aim was to limit warming to 2 °C since pre-industrial times, or possibly even 1.5 °C. The ambitious target would require serious emission reductions on a global scale. Now this Huntingford & Mercado research in Scientific Reports suggests that even if the climate is stabilised at current atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, then the warming targets are still likely to be exceeded over land. This is mainly for two reasons: firstly current transient warming lags behind “equilibrium or committed warming” and secondly climate models show warming rates over land are much higher than those for the oceans.

The article by Chris Huntingford & Lina M. Mercado was published in July 2016. It highlights the fact that additional warming will likely impact terrestrial ecosystems and human wellbeing. The COP21 (Conference of Parties twenty-first) meeting at Paris highlighted the challenge of hitting the 1.5°C to 2°C targets. The targets would need a year-on-year emissions reduction of at least 2% per annum or more. This reduction would need to start very soon. Already Nature has highlighted that, collectively as a society, we have used two thirds of our allowance of cumulative carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to keep the temperature below the two degrees target. If we could stop all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions now then atmospheric temperatures will subsequently reduce very slowly over very long time frames (more than decades). As a result it will become difficult to return from any warming levels we have already committed to.

When there is an increase in carbon dioxide levels there is an initial increase in warming associated with the additional gas concentrations. This initial increase is known as the transient warming. This is not the complete story though as the warming will continue over a much longer time frame which occurs as the carbon dioxide concentration stabilises in the atmosphere. The longer time period is known as the equilibrium or committed warming. Further details of the differences can be read about on this University of Washington link or this Climate Emergency Institute link. It is important to understand the main difference between the transient warming and the equilibrium warming.

Equilibrium climate sensitivity relating GHG concentrations (to any final stable warming levels) remains highly uncertain in all current climate models. Having studied a number of models though, it appears the majority of models suggest that the equilibrium or committed temperature change will exceed the 1.5°C target. In fact it is 17 out of the 22 models that suggest this temperature increase will be exceeded. Ten models suggest that the 2°C target will be exceeded. 16 models show that the global temperature increase will exceed 1.5°C and 10 (out of the 22) exceed 2°C. The land based temperature increases are projected to be significantly higher than for oceans. 17 out of the 22 models show an increase greater than 2°C for the land based warming. As a result the hotter global mean temperature increase will actually have a larger impact on human societies and terrestrial ecosystems.

This article analysed many global climate models (GCM) and explores some committed warming scenarios from these models. The authors show that there is a “very high probability …[of]… a mean warming over land greater than 1.5 °C relative to pre-industrial times”. The rises are likely to impact different areas in different ways. There are likely to be much higher warming rates in the northern latitudes during the boreal winter for example. Away from coastal areas there are likely to be increased warming too. Recent measurements in East Asia back up this figure. It is still very difficult to predict the precise impacts largely to model output differences. Recent data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and others have highlighted 2016 to be another record breaking hot year. The July global land and ocean surface temperature increases have been recorded at 0.87°C above the twentieth century average temperature range.

It is highly likely that Chris Huntingford & Lina M. Mercado are going to be correct in their predictions. The implications for humans on planet Earth should not be underestimated especially with regard to the impacts on agricultural production especially crop viability. The impacts are likely to vary around the globe and there will be severe impacts on hydrological cycles in some areas.

Posted in ACD, Carbon Dioxide, Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography | Leave a comment

Electric Innovations: High Speed Cars & World’s First Tidal Array

World Acceleration Record: By Electric Car

The Grimsel electric racing car has beaten the world acceleration record for a car travelling from 0 to 100 kilometres per hour. It broke the record with a time of only 1.513 seconds to reach 100kph (62 miles per hour). This timing cut around a quarter of a second off the previous acceleration record time.

The Grimsel car has been designed by Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) and the Formula Student team at ETH Zurich and Lucerne University. It has a total weight of only 168kg and combines proven concepts with radical, new technologies. Amazingly the car has been developed and built in less than a year by a team of 30 students. It sets new standards in lightweight construction and electric drive technology including use of use of carbon fibre materials in its construction. Each four wheels drive the car and have specially developed wheel hub motors that are capable of generating 200 horse power and 1700 Newton metre (Nm) of torque. A sophisticated traction control system allows even greater acceleration. Electric traction power has allowed such incredible acceleration; no large-scale production car or car with an internal combustion engine, powered by fossils fuels, has achieved this incredible acceleration level.

To read about details of the record see this ETH Zurich and Lucerne University news report. The Academic Motorsports Club Zurich (AMZ) was founded in 2006 by students at ETH Zurich and develops prototype cars for the Formula Student European competitions every year. Details of their cars can be reviewed on their AMZ web site. These innovative vehicles are showing the way for future clean technologies. Switzerland seems to be a pioneer of clean technologies as highlighted by the Solar Impulse project that has previously been reported on.

New Tidal Power: World First

Off the Shetland Islands, in Scotland, there is a change of power that has seen the world’s first fully operational tidal generation array system linked into the national grid electricity system. The second 100kW turbine, out of a series of three 100 kW turbines, has been deployed alongside the first turbine in August 2016. The first turbine was installed in Bluemull Sound, Shetland during March 2016. It had been generating up to full power and across a range of tidal conditions. Nova Innovation, the company behind the project, has undertaken this work as part of a pan-European partnership. This partnership enabled the delivery of a successful project that showcases European co-operation. Details can be found on their web site.

The turbines are driven by a dual rotating blade that is very similar to a wind turbine with the exception that this one is driven by the tidal forces rather than the wind. The project has delivered a fully operational offshore tidal array which is a world first. Technologies such as this offer some important developments for sustainable future energy generation that is needed to generate innovative, clean, zero emission power that is consistently reliable. Scotland also has the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC).

The European Marine Energy Centre was founded in 2003 and is pioneering. It is the only centre of its kind in the world to provide developers of both wave and tidal energy converters accredited open-sea testing facilities. The facilities are used to test technologies that generate electricity by harnessing the power of waves and tidal streams. The centre is an innovative way to ensure that sustainable technologies get developed. It is based on the Orkney Islands and aims to commercialise the new technologies.

Posted in Electric Car, Energy, Islands, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development | Leave a comment

British & European Changes And Solar Impulse

Referendum Results

On the 23rd June 2016 the UK people voted to leave the European Union (EU). The result of the vote was narrowly in favour of leaving the EU by 51.9% to 48.1%. The UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigned on the morning of the result as he was in backing the remain in the EU campaign. This decision has been nicknamed BREXIT (Great Britain Exit from the EU).

The result of the vote, which saw around a high 70% turnout for the referendum, has caused many questions to be addressed for both Europe and the UK. It will take a while for a clear plan of what is going to happen to emerge: this may take many months although the rapid replacement of the Prime Minister with Theresa May and a change of Government to deal with the outcome may mean it will be progressed more rapidly than had been thought. A new ministry has been set up to oversee the leaving process which is likely to take at least two years. This will require a formal request under the Treaty of Lisbon.

Initial Reactions to the result were varied: the impact was felt globally with adverse reactions to stock markets and with the value of the UK pound falling against other currencies including the US dollar and the euro. The pound fell to very low levels against the dollar, levels not seen since the 1980s. The economic fallout was caused by uncertainty of the political futures of the UK and Europe.

Across Europe there were several political responses to the result. Some right wing political parties called for their countries to leave the EU (notably in France and the Netherlands for example). Additional comments called for European Union reforms to prevent others following the UK.

Within the United Kingdom there are political calls for a break up of the Union (Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England) and the Scottish vote outcome highlighted the desire to stay in Europe. The picture of the referendum results shows some interesting paradoxes geographically. As an example many areas voting to leave are area that have benefited from European Structural and Regional Development funding as they are generally poorer areas. The results had a marked geography of areas that voted for remain and leave. There is a map on this BBC web site link. Scotland, for example had an overall vote to remain in the EU.

The impact of the UK leaving the European Union will be reviewed over time. The European Union has been expanding across Europe for several decades and the political impact of this change will see an initial end to that continual growth, perhaps before it resumes or perhaps it may have the consequence of influencing other countries to reassess their place within the EU. With mounting economic issues in Portugal there may be more challenges for the EU to overcome very shortly.

Solar Impulse’s Circumnavigation

The innovative solar plane, Solar Impulse 2 has completed its pioneering around the world journey having made it back to Abu Dhabi. The plane proved it was possible to use solar energy to propel an aircraft. The Solar Impulse 2 plane has 7,000 solar cells that fuel electric motors. The wingspan is larger than a large commercial airliner and it is very light weight. Energy from the solar cells are stored in batteries for night time flying.

The journey took from 9 March 2015 until 26th July 2016. The journey was formed of a 17-stage journey covering around 42,000km. It crossed four continents, three seas and two oceans. The longest section of the journey was a flight of 8,924km (5,545-mile) from Nagoya in Japan to Hawaii, US. The stretch lasted almost 118 hours and broke the world record for longest time for an uninterrupted solo flight. The Pacific flight (originally around June/July 2015) saw the planes batteries being damaged which saw the journey temporarily stopped for ten months.

This innovative and inspiring journey, which used no conventional fossil fuel, has led to some new technological developments, great practical knowledge of those technologies and has developed an International Committee of Clean Technology (ICCT) and solar powered drones. Full details of the journey and highlights of some future benefits that may come from the project are on the Solar Impulse website. The project has advocated clean technology and aims to provide options for a sustainable future and to solve some of the challenges that face society today.

Posted in Europe, Politics, Renewable Energy, Solar, Sustainable Transport | Leave a comment

Crisis In Venezuela

Venezuela: Political or Environmental Crisis?

Venezuela has been suffering recently. Is it a political, economic or environmental crisis though?

Venezuela has the world’s highest inflation rate at 180% and there are shortages of basic goods as well as power shortages. The country is resource rich with the highest proven reserves of oil. The export of oil accounts for 95% of the country’s export revenues. During the period 2014 to 2015 the price of oil has halved deeply affecting the country.

The crises also can trace its roots back over several years: President Hugo Chavez (1999 to 2013) introduced price controls on some basic goods in 2003. The essential goods prices (e.g. sugar, coffee, rice, flour) were capped and then producers could not afford to remain in production: sometimes they made a loss whilst others gave up selling the goods altogether. This resulted in further goods being imported.

Power outages have been caused by the lack of rain across the country with hydro generated electricity “drying up”. As a result of the severe shortage of energy the country has had to take drastic action. Measures have included moving clocks forward by 30 minutes to ease the peak load on the electricity system in the evening: the effect of changing the time means more daylight at the time of peak demand. In May the government, led by President Maduro, made government employees work a two day week and prevented school children going to school on Fridays. See this Independent news article for further details.

President Maduro has been under much political pressure to leave office. His current term runs until 2019, but the opposition have suggested a change of government through a referendum. See this BBC report. In June the referendum was beginning to look more likely according to this report.

At the country’s main hydro plant, the Guri Dam, there has been a severe drought affecting electricity production. The plant produces two-thirds of the country’s power and had fallen to near its minimum operating level. The country has no real reserve power generation capacity. This Independent report highlights some of the measures that were being taken to prevent even more power blackouts in the country than had been common over a number of years. The main blame for the lack of power and water supplies has be attributed to the El Nino weather phenomenon. It has caused long drought periods and much lower than average rainfall. Others blame the lack of investment over the years.

Ultimately the El Nino weather, with the drought, has hit Venezuela hard and highlighted a number of the issues that were perhaps caused by political and economic factors such as the drop in global oil prices. It could be argued that the underlying resilience of Venezuela has been impacted by political and economic factors along with under investment in core infrastructure over the years. Either way the cost of food for a population is rising and triggering unrest and much upheaval. The weather event currently affecting the country is certainly not helping matters and the country’s over reliance on oil exports has not helped.

Posted in Economic Crisis, Energy, Geography, Politics | Leave a comment