Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 1

Revisiting The Stern Review (Part 1)

This month sees part 1 of a review of the first three parts of the six part Stern Review. The review looked at the economics of climate change. The blog post will be concluded in part 2 next month which considers parts 3 to 6.

Back in 2006 Nicholas Stern, a UK Government advisor and former chief economist to the World Bank, published an analysis of the impact of climate change on the world economy. The seminal work highlighted the implications of climate change on economics and the associated policy implications.

It is now 11 years on from the publishing of “The Economics of Climate Change. The Stern Review” and the messages are even more relevant today as they were in 2006. In summary, the 692 page book considers all aspects of climate change and its potential impacts on the economy. It considered impacts on rich and poor economies, the economics of emissions reductions, components of policy on mitigation and adaptation as well as how international sustained collective action has its own challenges.

Whilst it is hard to summarise all of the book in a limited number of words, there are a number of points and considerations that should be highlighted. Here a synthesis will recall the key messages and benefits of The Stern Review in highlighting the need for action that was urgent in 2006 but is now even more urgent.

A global policy on climate change would have many benefits as societies typically dislike bearing risks or having poor people hit the hardest. There would also be a reduction in the “discount” on future generation’s welfare purely as the live later. Science and economics should be used to inform policies to slow and stop human-induced climate change.

The contents include the following parts, the first three are considered in this blog post:

  1. Part 1: Climate Change: Our Approach
  2. Part 2: Impacts of Climate Change on Growth and Development
  3. Part 3: The Economics Of Stabilisation
  4. Part 4: Policy Responses For Stabilisation
  5. Part 5: Policy Responses For Adaptation
  6. Part 6: International Collective Action

Parts 4 to 6 will be considered in a future blog post (Revisiting The Stern Review – Part 2).

In part one the scale of the environmental challenge is highlighted including the amplification of global warming (through positive feedback events) creating potentially greater risks of even higher climate change temperatures. The water cycles would intensify with more extreme droughts and floods. It is likely to reinforce existing patterns of water scarcity and abundance. Should the Greenland or West Antarctic ice shelves begin to melt then there would be an eventual rise in the global sea levels of 5-12 metres over several centuries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 report noted that most of the warming observed over the 50 years to 2001 was attributable to human activities. The conclusion was based upon much significant research and much debate.

The economics of climate change are resulting from an externality (here a cost that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost) that is associated with greenhouse gas emissions. The externality is global, long-term and persistent. There are many uncertainties and risks whilst the economic impacts are pervasive. Climate change will interact with additional market failures and other economic dynamics that will lead to complex policy issues.

Part two covers how climate change will impact people’s lives, the environment and prospects for growth and development. The three aspects are important in the understanding how climate change will affect the collective human future on Earth. Global growth is likely to be affected adversely as the temperature increases. In mathematical terms the global damage function is convex;as an example if the temperature rises above 2-3 degrees Celsius the risk of damage and costs increase more steeply than if it were to rise 1-2 degress. The costs are associated with the areas of mortality, ecosystems and income. People are likely to worst affected in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia as temperature rises affect access to water, food, health and use of the land and the environment. A two degrees rise in temperature may have the potential to:

  • reduce water availability by 20-30% in some vulnerable regions (e.g. The Mediterranean and South Africa).
  • reduce crop yields in tropical regions (e.g. by 5-10% in Africa)
  • expose more people to diseases like malaria (40-60 million more people in Africa)
  • affect up to 10 million people with coastal flooding
  • have significant impacts on species extinction
  • potentially begin an irreversible melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet beginning an eventual rise in sea levels that could be up to 7 metres globally

Should temperatures rise more so then there will be bigger impacts. A five degree impact is likely to affect some major global cities (e.g. New York, London and Tokyo) with consequent challenges on populations and economies.

Welfare costs of business as usual (BAU) climate change are very high and the climate change impact is likely to reduce per-capita consumption by a minimum of 5%. Modelled scenarios show, taking into account regional costs, feedback loops and weighting for value judgements that the costs may be a reduction of 20% in per capita consumption now and forever.

Part three considers the economic challenges of stabilising greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations will need “deep emission” cuts of at least 25% by 2050. Ultimately it will need to be to less than one fifth of today’s levels. Greenhouse gas emissions have been driven by economic growth and future emissions are likely to come from those developing countries.

The relationship between economic growth and development and carbon dioxide growth is not immutable. Examples, often from richer countries, have seen reduced responsiveness of emissions to income growth. Often there are strong and deliberate policy choices that help with the decarbonisation process. Greenhouse gas emissions have these main sources (along with percentage of total greenhouse gas emissions):

  1. Power generation and heat (25%)
  2. Land use changes – especially deforestation (18%)
  3. Agriculture including livestock and fertilizer usage which account for 2/3 of the 14%
  4. Transport (14%) – three quarters are from road transport, 1/8 from aviation
  5. Industry represents another 14%
  6. Buildings – both commercial and residential (8%)

See this useful World Resource Institute infographic which illustrates the data from the year 2005.

The cost of mitigating climate change will not be felt in a uniform manner across the world: different countries and sectors will be affected differently. If some countries are faster to respond to implement carbon reduction policies then industries could re-locate where such policies are not in place. International sectoral agreements for greenhouse gas intensive industries could ensure that competitiveness impacts for individual countries would be kept to a minimum.

There could be wider benefits from climate policies including opportunities for services and industries. Markets for low carbon energy products are likely to do very well and financial markets can benefit from financing clean energy and energy efficiency measures. Policies on climate change may benefit energy security and enhanced environmental protection.

“On the basis of current scientific understanding, it is no longer possible to prevent all risk of dangerous climate change” Stern 2006 (page 333). Estimates of costs associated with climate change or anthropogenic climatic disruption (ACD) rise exponentially with each one degree Celsius rise in global temperature. The mean expected costs, which are based upon stochastic damage function models, rise rapidly as shown below. The costs are estimates of climate change costs. The metric estimates costs in a theoretical world without climate change against a gross world product for a given increase in global mean temperature. As an example, should global temperatures rise by 1 degree from 2 Celsius to 3 Celsius then the mean damage estimate rises from 0.6% to 1.4% of gross world production. There figures are based upon a distribution curve.

Temperature Rise (Degrees) Mean Expected Cost 5th Percentile 95th Percentile
2C 0.6% 0.2% 4.0%
3C 1.4% 0.3% 9.1%
4C 2.6% 0.4% 15.5%
5C 4.5% 0.6% 23.3%
Source: Hope (2003) reproduced in Stern (2006).
If the lower 5th percentile of the distribution is examined and still shows a leap between 4C and 5C, whereas the 95th percentile represents more extreme damages and these can be viewed as a worst case scenario. At 5 degrees Celsius the cost is almost a quarter of gross world product: in other words very damaging to the global economy. The costs are also unbalanced as they fall disproportionately on low latitude, low income countries although there are likely to be significant costs in the high-latitudes in addition.

In the second part of this synthesis the rest of the report will be considered. It will cover parts 4 to 6 of The Stern Review.

Posted in ACD, America, Carbon Dioxide, China, Cities, Climate Change, Earth Science, Economic Crisis, Europe, Geography, Greenland, Politics | Leave a comment

Geophysical Changes: Glacial Oscillations & Geomagnetism

South Georgia Glacial Oscillations

Research in Nature highlights the nature of the glacial changes over the period from the last glacial maximum (LGM; 19–26,000 years ago) to the Holocene (which began around 11,500 years ago until now). South Georgia is an area that is sensitive to regional climate change and will be where future environmental changes will be first identified. Many glaciers on South Georgia are in retreat: there has been significant retreat in more than 90% of its glaciers over the past 60 years or so. The island’s glacier’s behaviour is linked to the Southern Hemisphere (Antarctic) climate variations. The island’s climate is influenced by complex ocean water circulations and the linked Antarctic Polar Front currently situated to the north of the island.

Peripheral ice sheets to the Antarctica can help to provide data for simulations of the Antarctic Peninsula and West Antarctic ice sheets during glacial stages. It also helps to understand the sensitivity to atmospheric and oceanic warming of ice sheets in the Southern Hemisphere. The study uses geophysical data from the sea-floor along with marine sediment cores to contribute to the understanding of offshore glacial history of South Georgia. Sediment logs from moraine, glacial sediments at the margins of glaciers, cores from shallow and deeper basins help to provide a chronology for the glacial history of an area around South Georgia. This has enabled a detailed ancient climate history to be better understood.

A significant sea-floor record of land form and sedimentary past ice-cap change exists on the South Georgia continental block. The stratigraphy highlights several extensive glaciations of the island. South Georgia and the Southern Hemisphere in general are one of the fastest warming places on the Earth. This study highlights the changes to ice that have gone before as well as the susceptibility to the area of changes in temperature. The area has been incredibly sensitive to minor changes in temperature. Over the past few thousand years the glaciers and ice caps retreated and sometimes advanced again. The evidence, from around 12,500 years ago, points towards ocean-led driven by warming seas or rising sea-levels rather than an atmospheric driver in South Georgia.

Full details of the study are on the Nature web site. It highlights some of the spatial extents of the Antarctic Cold Reversal (ACR) which is documented in Antarctic ice cores and in other locations. The extent of this cooling in the Southern Hemisphere was for a period around 14,540 to 12,760 years ago; it interrupted a warming phase that was associated with deglaciation.

Since the 1950s, the great acceleration, the glaciers went into significant retreat. This could have serious implications for South Georgia’s local ecosystems. The changes are brought through very moderate increases in local atmospheric and oceanic temperature. The study can assist in the understanding of ice sheets near their thermal limits and indeed the fastest warming parts of the world such as the Antarctic Peninsula.

This combined dating and geophysical analysis has enabled a better understanding of the Southern Hemisphere’s climate history and will support research into climate change impacts.

Reference: Graham, A. G. C. et al. Major advance of South Georgia glaciers during the Antarctic Cold Reversal following extensive sub-Antarctic glaciation. Nat. Commun. 8, 14798 doi: 10.1038/ncomms14798 (2017). This is available on this link.

Earth’s Magnetic Poles About To Flip?

Research undertaken by the University of Rochester suggest that the Earth maybe about to experience a geomagnetic reversal. The event has occurred many times over hundreds of thousands to millions of years. The magnetic poles swap from south to north and back again.

The last full reversal of the magnetic poles happened about 780,000 years ago. Evidence of the magnetic field weakening has been collected over the past 160 years. It is particularly apparent in a vast area in the Southern Hemisphere. It is known as the South Atlantic Anomaly and it stretches from Zimbabwe to Chile. The magnetic field here is so weak that satellites passing over the region are at high risk from radiation damage that can affect their electronics. An area under South Africa deep in the Earth’s mantle actually shows reversed polarity. In modelled simulations this behaviour is expected before a geomagnetic reversal.

The map below shows the area of the South Atlantic Anomaly:

The South Atlantic Anomaly

A polar reversal is unlikely to be very rapid but a shift would affect navigation systems and orientation. It would have serious consequences for many systems that rely on navigating in the context of magnetic north. It is debated if the changes would take centuries or thousands of years. There is speculation that the “reversed core patches”, such as the South Atlantic Anomaly, may grow rapidly and then wane more slowly. A patch may grow large enough to dominate the magnetic field of the Southern Hemisphere perhaps causing the poles to reverse?

Further details can be reviewed on The Conversation web site. Additional reading is available on the Nature World News web site.

Posted in Climate Change, Earth Science, Geography, Islands | Leave a comment

Winds of Change: Political & Climate Impacts

Uncertain March Changes

In this month’s article there is a change in the air: politics are changing on either side of the North Atlantic and there are several disruptive weather events that could be argued to reflect the political changes in their nature: namely uncertain. There has been extreme flooding in Peru, a cyclone in Australia and the EU is celebrating 60 years but with the UK planning to leave the union. We live in “interesting times”. The uncertainty in politics and weather ultimately will affect people and how they live – the extreme weather could ultimately be more disruptive and lead to property damages in one form or another. There is a strong geographical component to both the weather impacts and the political ones. The political changes may be seen on a wider scale to the regions that they are occurring within.

Cyclone Debbie Hits Australia

Queensland, in North East Australia, has been hit by an extreme storm event on the 28 March 2017: Cyclone Debbie. Some areas had the equivalent of half a year’s worth of rain – 1,000mm (39 inches) in just 2 days. It has left 63,000 homes were without power. The cyclone, which was around 100km wide, moved in from the Pacific Ocean and caused much disruption with winds of up to 263kmh (163 mph). It has also likely damaged coral reefs which will take many years to recover and will remove a natural sea defence. The storm intensified to category 4 strength cyclone on landfall from a category 2 strength cyclone. As a result there was a storm surge along the coast. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issued this press release about the storm as it was predicted to land.

American Climate Change Plans

Ironically whilst the extreme storm was disrupting Australia, in the USA the Government were busy issuing an Energy Independence Executive Order to repeal some Climate Change legislation and invest more in coal and fossil fuel projects including pipelines. The orders seem to be at odds with the science and the general trend towards clean, renewable energy supplies. Many states have strong plans to develop their own clean energy (e.g. New York and California) and highlight the fact that basic science is being fundamentally ignored. Carbon dioxide is mainly responsible for climate change and this fact is being disputed. 97% of climate scientists are convinced that, based upon empirical evidence, climate change is being caused by human activity and largely through carbon dioxide emissions.

Mr Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), from the previous administration, is being debated in the courts. This plan was designed to cut fossil fuels usage from energy production. The plan now is to go backwards to technologies that are old and not going to deliver any common good. The clean energy revolution is very effective at creating new jobs by the thousands and ones that will be sustained into the future.

Details of this proposed legislative changes are highlighted on the BBC web site.

Peruvian Floods

In South America there have been some extreme flood events. In Chile, which had suffered from wild fires, there have been some extreme floods. There have also been some extreme floods in Peru. The River Piura, in the north of Peru, burst its banks causing extensive flooding. The flooding meant that more than 500 people had to be evacuated from rooftops in the town of Catacaos. Here the flood water levels rose to 1.80m (5ft 9in). The flooding was caused by very intense rainfall over a 15 hour period. These rains have been the heaviest in almost a decade. Overall in Peru, 10,000 people had been affected in the city of Piura and around 20,000 people in Catacaos. Peru has seen more extreme rainfall, landslides and associated flash floods in 2017. 90 people have been killed. Further information is on the BBC web site.

European Treaty of Rome 60 Years On

It is 60 years since the Treaty of Rome which led to the eventual formation of the European Union (EU). The European cooperation and economic bloc became ever bigger over the years since 1957 and has expanded eastwards, as well as to the north and south of Europe. Talks have considered the membership of Turkey too. Ironic for a country that is mainly outside of Europe.

The EU has strived to improve Europe on many levels over the years, but the future direction of European integration may now be questioned. There is a need to increase the economic prosperity of Europe and its citizens as well as ensuring internal and external security. Economic and social convergence and bringing wider European society closer together has been a goal. Has enlargement gone too far – has the EU been too successful or is it likely to continue with its goals and direction of travel. Further reading can be found on the EuObserver web site here and on this opinion of the 60 years of the EU and what the future may hold.

The UK Triggers Exit Process to Leave the EU

In the 60th year of the EU it now faces a challenge of a main member wishing to leave the union. Just as agreed (in March 2017) the UK Government has triggered the two-year exit procedure from the EU – based on Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This follows from a referendum held in 2016 where marginally more that 50% of the population voted leave the EU. The process is likely to take 2 years to negotiate a deal. There is much uncertainty with this and what will happen over the period. The 27 EU states will have a summit on April 29 to draw up the EU negotiating guide lines. Further notes can be found on the article from EuObserver.

Posted in ACD, America, Climate Change, Europe, Geography, Politics | Leave a comment

Renewable Microgrids Benefit Communities

Island Renewable Hope

The Rocky Mountain Institute has produced a paper on renewable energy microgrids to highlight how island economies can benefit from renewable energy systems. A microgrid can be defined as small electricity grid system which supplies an island and/or remote communities. The paper is titled “Renewable Microgrids: Profiles From Islands And Remote Communities Across The Globe”. The report highlights some good examples of islands that are using renewable energy as well as opportunities for clean power in remote communities and island communities. The Rocky Mountain Institute describes itself as being a practitioner rather than a theorist; they go on – “we do solutions…[,] we do transformation, not incrementalism.”

The report highlights that many island communities are highly reliant on oil for their well being, in fact they are “disproportionately dependent on oil”. Typically oil is used to generate electricity and as such there are risks tied to global market fluctuations and also getting the oil transported to the island in the first place. The prices paid per unit of electricity tends to be expensive and local electrical grid systems don’t have the benefits of being connected to different electricity generation supplies. This latter point is a typical feature of “mainland” electrical grids and as a result the islands are paying much more for the same unit of energy. Typically this may be three times the cost of mainland electrical units according to the report which cites the average in most Caribbean nations.

There has been a shift for remote communities and islands from fossil fuel based systems to systems that are based upon renewable energy systems. Benefits of the transition to renewable power systems include operational cost savings, reliable and stable power, long term energy price stability as well as reducing reliance upon oil. There seem to be many benefits. The renewable microgrids utilise a diverse set of resources that includes wind, solar, biodiesel, hydro, and energy storage. Importantly for the communities that have taken steps have been driven by a number of factors:
1) Costs (typically these were rising and difficult to plan for)
2) Environmental Considerations (such as climate change)
3) Abundant Local Resources (such as wind to generate electricity)

There are a number of challenges that communities have to overcome and these include the following:
1) Grid Stability – renewable technologies can present challenges due to variable generation outputs and this must be overcome.
2) Remote Location – can present problems such as physically transporting technology or components but also lack of skilled labour.
3) Administrative and Bureaucratic Requirements – there was a need to align bureaucratically imposed requirements with the overall energy transition timeline.

The report highlights a number of lessons learnt from various projects and these are summarised below:
1) Transitioning to renewables can reduce costs – in almost all cases fewer fossil fuels were used. Sometimes government subsidies could be reduced allowing money to be spent elsewhere. It is good to understand the technologies to be used and the potential pitfalls before embarking towards the renewable microgrids.
2) Adding renewables enhances microgrid system resilience and stability. Microgrids with a diverse resource mix are typically less prone to failure than those that have one resource. New modern components for the microgrid needed for renewables allow a more resilient energy supply in general. Relying less on imported oil increases local community resilience. It also allows money to remain in the local economy.
3) Energy efficiency is an important component of the renewable microgrid transition. Energy efficient measures such as lighting, insulation and more energy efficient appliances are always more cost effective than a generation option. As a result an energy efficiency plan should also be considered for the transition plans for islands.
4) Energy storage is a key component of largely renewable microgrids. Installation of battery storage, flywheels or hydro pumped energy storage can support renewables especially where they contribute more than 20% of the power supply.

Some examples are shown from a diverse range of places from high latitude to low latitude and in a number of climates. There are some islands that are now 100% reliant upon renewable energy sources. Examples include Tokelau, New Zealand, Floreana – Galapagos, Ecuador and Ultsira, Norway. There are a number of different schemes from The Isle Of Eigg, Scotland which is mainly a community based scheme or the private island of Necker Island which is a privately owned Caribbean island.

The Rocky Mountain Institute has provided a helpful paper or casebook. It will benefit other communities wishing to transition away from fossil fuels and make their islands or remote place more resilient in the long term. They have highlighted a number of practical cases where the communities have embraced a renewable future in some shape or form. The casebook provides useful examples and learning from around the world and also demonstrates some of the benefits of moving from fossil fuels.

We need more sustainable solutions in the world and this is a route to some of those solutions. Forget the theories now get on and practice the solution. Some of the islands highlighted here had the vision to move to a twenty first century energy solution.

Bunker, Kaitlyn, Kate Hawley, and Jesse Morris. Renewable Microgrids: Profiles from Islands and Remote Communities Across the Globe. Rocky Mountain Institute, November 2015.

Posted in Energy, Energy efficiency, Islands, Sustainable Development, Transition Movement | Leave a comment

Rising Temperatures & Southern Hemisphere Impacts

2016: Global Temperatures Continue to Be High

2016 is now, according to initial figures, another record warm year. The year was one of three that have consistently been much warmer than the long term trend. Scientists from the Met Office Hadley Centre and the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit produce the HadCRUT4 data set, which is used to estimate global temperature.

Global temperature long-term records illustrate that 2016 was 0.77°C (±0.1 °C) above the long-term (1961-1990) average which is a record since at least 1850. If the temperature is compared with the 1850 to 1900 baseline, then 2016 average global temperature anomaly was around 1.1°C above that level. The baseline from 1850 to 1900 is indicative of pre-industrial temperatures. The 2015 global temperature was 0.76°C (±0.1 °C) above the long-term (1961-1990) average. Both 2015 and 2016 are remarkable years in terms of how much they stand out from the long-term average temperature average range. The 2016 temperature was influenced by a particularly strong El Niño event. El Nino is a fluctuation in temperatures due to naturally occurring sea surface temperature oscillations in the Pacific region. It has contributed about 0.2°C to the annual average for 2016.

The Met Office had predicted in its 2016 forecast, which was issued at the end of 2015, that 2016 would be one of the warmest years in the record. This prediction is now confirmed to be true based upon the HadCRUT4 data set which is a set of data used to estimate global temperature. Further information can be found on the Met Office web site.

NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, noted the influence of the El Nino causing 2016 to begin “..with a bang. For eight consecutive months, January to August, the globe experienced record warm heat.” NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI) described the average surface temperatures as the highest since records began in 1880. The link here has an info-graphic highlighting some temperature anomalies from around the globe. It includes some startling record high temperatures.

Larsen C Ice Shelf: Biggest Ever Iceberg?

Project MIDAS, a UK-based Antarctic research project, is investigating the effects of a warming climate on the Larsen C ice shelf. This article highlights some of their research which can be found on their web site. The Larsen C ice shelf is moving towards the ocean and the research is recording the state of the ice using radar and other techniques. In places the ice is 450 metres thick. The research has focused on a rift that has developed and started to grow. This is important as the Larsen B ice shelf saw a similar rift grow and develop rapidly in 2002. The Larsen B ice shelf splintered and collapsed very rapidly, in just over one month. NASA has images of the abrupt breakup of the ice sheet on their World of Change web site. A large area of ice shelf, 3,250 square kilometres or 1,250 square miles, disintegrated and allowed glaciers to move forwards. The glaciers have subsequently accelerated and thinned. Another ice shelf, Larsen A, has also lost much area in a similar retreat: it lost about 1,500 square kilometres of ice during an abrupt event in January 1995.

A huge rift has opened on the Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf. The crack has appeared in the floating ice shelf which is situated on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. It has now grown in length to over 170 kilometres. The crack may lead to a huge iceberg forming although when this will happen remains unclear as it is very difficult to predict these events. When the ice calves off, the Larsen C Ice Shelf will lose more than 10% of its area. This will leave the most retreated ice front ever recorded and will change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Monitoring of the Larsen C ice shelf is being undertaken remotely by the European Sentinel-1 satellite. It has the ability to continually view the rift even through cloud using radar technology. Images from the satellite enable monitoring to be recorded and this has shown a relatively rapid growth in the rift.

Whilst ice shelves that are floating are not going to affect global sea levels, the concern is that any land based glaciers that feed into the ice shelf will begin to speed up and disintegrate potentially melting into the sea. This may affect the sea level depending upon the volume of ice that subsequently melts.

If the area of the Larsen C ice shelf does break off it represents removal of 9-12% of the ice shelf area and this will leave the ice front at its most retreated position ever recorded. There has been increased activity in the rift since 2010 with it growing in length and width in the tip position.

Chile’s Wildfire Destroys Town: Santa Olga

Chile has been experiencing some major wildfires that can be viewed from space. The main reason for the fire is drought, high temperatures and strong winds. Some fires may have been started deliberately though. Santa Olga, a town of around 6,000 people has been destroyed according to this BBC news article. These are the worst wildfires in Chile’s modern history. Some images can be seen on the International Business Times news page.

There has been a state of emergency declared in some areas and the fires have spread around several areas near to Constitución which is on the coast. Smoke from the fires has covered Santiago, the capital city. The fires have consumed roughly 273,000 hectares (1,060 square miles) and killed several people. For the extent of some of the fires see the NASA Earth Observation satellite imagery.

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

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?

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 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: 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.

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