Tuesday, October 11, 2016

European Commission must be more ambitious in its energy efficiency targets says building sector

The European Commission should set a target for retrofitting all of the continent’s existing buildings to a “Nearly Zero Energy” standard by 2050. That is the request in a letter to the Commission signed by the chief executives of 42 major building firms and six industry trade associations.
The target would be enshrined in the upcoming revision of the Energy Performance of Building Directive and the Energy Efficiency Directive, which are currently under review.
Arguing that “businesses, investors, citizens, governments, all need a clear 2050 vision to put the ambition level of the Paris Agreement into practice”, they state that doing so would provide an opportunity to create jobs and economic growth.
The letter reads: “It is clear that the Paris commitment cannot be honoured without drastically reducing energy consumption in our buildings; the EU building stock emits over one-third of our CO2 emissions, three-quarters of our buildings are inefficient, and up to four-fifths will still be in use in 2050. We need EU wide action to drive the transformation of our inefficient building stock and make it a resilient component of the energy system of the 21st century.”
It continues: “EU wide leadership and action in the construction and building sector will spur European jobs and growth (in particular for SMEs, which make up 90 per cent of the construction sector). A high level political commitment for renovation will give industry the much needed signal and certainty to unlock investments, in turn removing some of the market failures.
“Most of all, making Europe’s buildings better through a mass EU-wide renovation movement will bring invaluable benefits to the whole of society by helping deliver something that every European citizen wants and deserves: a comfortable, safe and affordable home. This is a ‘win-win’ for Europe.”
This target is in line with the aims of the World Green Building Council’s Advancing Net Zero project to make all the world’s buildings ‘net zero’ of emissions by 2050. It builds on a push to double efficiency by 2030.
Launched in June, this program involves Green Building Councils from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, India, Netherlands, South Africa and Sweden who will develop clear action plans, with an aim to launch a national net zero certification.

Energy efficiency package postponed

Despite the backing of the European Parliament, the European Commission appears reluctant to back energy efficiency.
At the beginning of this week it was slammed by the Coalition on Energy Savings for its announcement that the energy efficiency package will not be launched before the end of the year.
The package will define a target for energy efficiency for 2030 and extend the main elements of the Energy Efficiency Directive beyond 2020, as well as discuss buildings’ energy performance and financing.
“This delay undermines the credibility of the European Commission to drive forward the EU with big and compelling projects like energy efficiency, which delivers benefits for people and business and which is the EU’s first action to fight climate change,” secretary general of the Coalition for Energy Savings Stefan Scheuer said.
“[European Commission] president [Jean-Claude] Juncker must not hesitate to deliver on his promise to propose a more ambitious and binding energy efficiency target for 2030.”
The European Parliament has repeatedly called for a binding 40 per cent energy reduction target by 2030 in line with the already identified cost-effective potential for implementing energy saving measures. The target is currently set at a reduction of 20 per cent in energy use by 2020.

Energy efficiency mortgage scheme

Further backing the increasing desire for making European buildings more energy efficient, a new financing initiative, that would potentially offer better borrowing rates on mortgages for homebuyers purchasing more energy-efficient homes or carrying out energy-saving retrofits within properties, was presented by energy and building sector professionals from across Europe last week.
The European Energy Efficiency Mortgage was launched at the World Green Building Council’s “Build Upon” summit in Madrid by the European Mortgage Federation, which consists of the European Covered Bond Council with partners.
The scheme effectively creates a “pan-European mortgage financing system” in order to make energy efficiency measures more accessible and affordable for home-buyers.
For banks and investors, the mortgage could allow for loans that represent a lower risk on the balance sheet and could therefore qualify for a better capital treatment.
It could also ensure that banks are able to recognise “energy-efficient” assets in their risk-profiling, which would begin to help the market price-in the added value of energy-efficient real estate.
The project is the first time a group of major banks and mortgage lenders have sat down with businesses and organisations from the building and energy industries to address the concept of energy efficient mortgages.
Creating a private bank financing mechanism to encourage the energy efficient improvement of households would be a key means of helping the EU to meet its energy saving targets.
Alongside the EMF-ECBC, the project partners are the Ca’Foscari University of Venice, RICS, European Regional Network of Green Building Councils, E.ON, and SAFE Goethe University Frankfurt.
Over the coming months, they will begin a mapping exercise in relation to existing or past financing initiatives, energy efficiency indicators and valuation practices, with a view to identifying best practices with which to move the project forward. It will explore the link between energy efficiency and borrower’s reduced probability of default and the increase in value of energy efficient properties.
The experts will meet again in Brussels in February 2017, followed by a public event at which the next stage will be decided.

Europeans can also generate half their energy at home

Continuing the news from Europe on energy and buildings, it also emerged last week that half of EU citizens – including local communities, schools and hospitals – could be producing their own renewable electricity by 2050.
A study by Dutch consultancy firm CE Delft that evaluated the potential of decentralised power generation across the continent found that 264 million people in Europe could be producing their own renewable electricity by 2050 and meet 45 per cent of the EU’s energy demand, provided the right regulatory framework is put in place.
Sweden looks like leading the way, with an estimated 79 per cent of the population being able to produce their own energy in 2050.
Germany and other EU countries like the Netherlands already champion energy production by households, which can sell surplus electricity back to the grid at a guaranteed price.
“But in Spain, there is a ‘sun tax’ which makes it very expensive to install solar panels on your roofs or have energy storage at home. And there is only a handful of cooperatives,” said Sebastian Mang, climate change and energy officer at Greenpeace EU, which is among the organisations behind the study. “Yet across Germany, you see solar panels on the roofs and hundreds of energy cooperatives flourishing.”
The organisations are calling for the European Commission to enshrine so-called “energy citizens” at the centre of the EU’s Energy Union initiative.
David Thorpe is the author of:

Monday, September 26, 2016

Californian 'one planet' development planned around urban farm reaps first harvest

The Cannery, it is an innovative mixed-use community with 583 residences in Davis, on the outskirts of Sacramento near San Francisco
Homes and farmland at The Cannery.
The first American housing project that puts an urban farm intentionally in the centre of a community has begun to win awards and serve its first harvest. It is billed as California's first farm-to-table new home community and aims to become a state-of-the-art sustainable urban farming showcase.

The development covers 7.4 acres, of which the farm is 5.5 acres, including 4 acres of farmland with organic vegetables, poultry and orchard fruit.

Apartments at The Cannery.
Apartments at The Cannery.

Called The Cannery, it is an innovative mixed-use community with 583 residences on the site of a former tomato cannery in Davis, on the outskirts of Sacramento near San Francisco. Retail shops, a recreation centre, outdoor amphitheatres and miles of trails are also included in the plan.

plan of The Cannery, it is an innovative mixed-use community with 583 residences in Davis, on the outskirts of Sacramento near San Francisco
Plan of The Cannery, on the outskirts of Sacramento near San Francisco
The homes are diverse, for all generations, lifestyles and size of family. The mixed housing includes accommodation to buy and rent, detached and attached, both high end and affordable homes. Furthermore, multigenerational life space designs include guesthouses and private quarters. Every single home is within 300 feet of a park or trail/cycle path.

Housing and cycle track at The Cannery
Housing and cycle track at The Cannery.

The first crop from the urban farm is being harvested this month, sold through a farm shop that is open twice a week. Mary Kimball, the executive director of the Centre for Land-Based Learning, the organisation managing the urban farm, says, "We have three beginning farmers, all graduates of the California Farm Academy, who have started new farming businesses and are now providing the residents of the town very local produce."

Urban farmers market at The Cannery, a mixed-use community with 583 residences in Davis, on the outskirts of Sacramento near San Francisco
Urban farmers market at The Cannery.

“To see The Cannery today becoming a viable farm community is not only personally exciting for me, but also one of the most fulfilling accomplishments in my career,” said Craig McNamara, founder of the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL). “The Cannery Urban Farm honours what I believe in most: connecting eaters directly to food.”


The project includes a teaching academy for sustainable farming. The Centre launched the California Farm Academy five years ago to help those wanting to break into a career in agriculture.

“These first farm harvests at The Cannery signify about 6 ½ years of meetings, discussions, flexibility and creativity,” said Kimball. “From the earliest planning stages, there was active collaboration between the builder (The New Home Company), the City of Davis and the CLBL. It’s been a good example of public-private-non-profit partnership.”

There are several “agrihoods” around the nation, such as Agritopia in Phoenix and Serenbe in Atlanta, she says, but they tend to have different arrangements with the farmers. “As far as we can tell, The Cannery is the nation’s first farm-to-table housing development focused on beginning farmers.”

The Academy offers a full range of training and internship opportunities, focussing not just on growing but on conservation and included among the topics are access to land and equipment, the most expensive barriers to starting a farming business.

"The cost of land is really expensive," says Hope Sippola, one of the farmers. "The only way to make it affordable is to lease land through the centre."

This is one example of how the Centre partners with public and private landowners to provide low-cost lease opportunities. Weekly vegetable subscriptions via veggie boxes – Community Supported Agriculture – are being offered.


Large house with garden and farmland at The Cannery.
Large house with garden and farmland at The Cannery.
The Cannery is managed by New Home Company, which was given a Grand Award for "Residential Community of the Year Master Plan" for its work at the end of June at the climax of the building industry's leading West Coast American conference, trade show, PCBC (Pacific Coast Builders Conference), the Gold Nugget Awards.

“We have worked extremely hard over the past several years to get to this moment,” said Kevin Carson, Northern California President for New Home. “The Cannery is unlike any other community in the western United States and it has truly been a rewarding experience to contribute to such an innovative concept." He was also elected to the Hall of Fame at the Gold Nugget Awards.

The New Home team also shared the Residential Community of the year honour with design consultants who helped shape the vision for The Cannery.

The site also reduces reliance on cars by supporting bicycles and walking, limits energy consumption with highly energy efficient buildings, and features renewable energy production: a 1.5 kV photovoltaic solar system and electric vehicle charging come with every home. Residents can also upgrade to net zero living.

Parks and paths connect neighbours everywhere they turn.

The builders

The homes themselves are built by Shea Homes, a large West Coast developer founded in 1881. The New Home Company developed the Urban Farm’s infrastructure, including a new agricultural well and conveyance system on the farm. The orchard land and infrastructure are being donated to the City of Davis, which is leasing it inexpensively to CLBL.

The Urban Farm is managed by CLBL, which is leasing the farmland to three graduates of its California Farm Academy Program. CLBL’s training program and farm business incubator teaches and mentors new farmers in agricultural production, business planning and marketing.

CLBL is partnering with University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) to develop community services and educational programs.

Urban farming in America

Sacramento Region has had a push in recent years to establish itself as America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital.

In August, Sacramento's Elk Grove City Council expressed unanimous support for a plan to introduce urban, commercial farming within non-agriculturally zoned areas in the city. “Urban farming” is described in a city report as “a type of urban agriculture that entails the production of produce that is grown in an urban environment, and primarily for sale or consumed by someone other than the grower.”

If the idea becomes a reality in Elk Grove, similar farms could be operated on currently vacant, unimproved, or otherwise underdeveloped parcels in the city. They can be for-profit, non-profit, and/or social enterprises. Their products can be sold at such places as on-site stands, farmers’ markets, grocery stores and restaurants. These farms can also contribute to food banks.

Urban farms are already located in many American cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and West Sacramento. They are typically found on properties ranging in size from one acre to three acres.

Cities need to do much more to feed themselves and reduce the environmental impact of farming, including food miles. Planning new communities around urban farms also reconnects city dwellers to nature, and the process of growing food, for which all too often they are distant and alienated.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Hinkley C – the shock of faith in the wrong technology

The British Government's decision to back Hinkley C nuclear power station is another success for the snake oil salesmen of a defunct technology that sends completely the wrong message.

I once wrote a novella about nuclear power that satirised the ease with which politicians fell for its sales pitch, seduced by that strong subtext of sexual potency, the Promethean glamour of seeming to commission the ultimate power source.

Except the reality was and remains a lengthy catalogue of dangerous failures, ineptitude, accidents and catastrophes – of which Chernobyl is the most famous.

A recent scientific study shows that "accidents on the scale of the 1979 meltdown at Three Mile Island in the USA (a damage cost of about 10 Billion USD) are more likely than not to occur every 10-20 years".

The same study highlights the "'flawed and woefully incomplete' public data from the nuclear industry" that is "leading to an over-confident attitude to risk".

Once nuclear power was sold to us as electricity supply that would be "too cheap to meter". Now, even though the British Tory government knows it's amongst the most expensive power sources on the planet...

relative cost of nuclear, wind power, solar power, and gas powered electricity

... they're still keen to sell Hinkley C to a British public that doesn't want it [original data here].

They know, too, that the specific technology to be deployed at Hinkley C already has "a lengthy catalogue of dangerous failures, ineptitude, accidents and catastrophes" at the previous attempts to deploy it – Flammanville, Taishan and Olkiluoto – but they still want to commission another one like it.

They know that the nuclear industry was forced to become so secretive that its secrets – usually cover-ups of the lengthy catalogues of dangerous failures, ineptitude, accidents and catastrophes – were kept from governments and the public for years (and who knows what has yet to come to light) – and yet the fact that the Chinese government might have access to the secrets of the British nuclear industry and national grid is only offered as a bogus concern, not a serious obstacle to the much more important aim – remaining in the Chinese and French governments' good books.

If I didn't think that it was unlikely that members of the Tory government have read my novella, I'd think it was a case of life imitating or parodying art. (Although I wouldn't put it past the potential of civil servants to be consciously doing so – twisted, devious creatures capable of not just double-think, but triple-, quadruple-, and even octople-think that they are.)

I have observed the British government's grotesque and contorted dance of death with EDF and Hinkley C since it was begun by Tony Blair, with a mixture of fascination, horror and contempt, of the sort I normally reserve for watching the calculated relapse of an ex-alcoholic drawing themselves into a terminal vortex, the culmination of which is starkly obvious to all powerless onlookers.

When Theresa May hit the pause button on approving the Hinkley C decision when everyone expected her to rubber stamp it, she was like the pantomime villain horsing around with the expectations of the audience, just so that when they finally commit the Terrible Deed, they can reap even more opprobrium from the audience than they would have received had they dealt the blow straight away.

There has been so much coverage in the press that everyone can see what a terrible decision this is. The tail has wagged the dog, but it's the taxpayer who will foot the bill if the thing ever does get built. Here's 5 reasons why it shouldn't be built.

There is still a chance it might not. There is still a chance that May could be playing a double bluff: in her wish not to offend the Chinese she has greenlighted the project even though she knows it is an awful bet (she can't be so blinkered that she doesn't know this, can she?) hoping that some other factor – technical, financial, legal – there are a few in the pipeline – will prevent it ever being built, thereby exonerating her from possible future blame by the Chinese.

There's a chance, but it's a slim one. I wouldn't bet on it if I were a gambler.

The whole thing is a farce, but it's more than that, it's a parody of a farce that is still a farce. A post-post-modern farce. Grotesque, and embittered with the self-hypnotised reflection of irony in love with itself.

Meanwhile, if you have a spare hour, watch the video below which shows how, by the time Hinkley C is built, technological disruptions in the fields of energy storage, electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, solar power and computing will mean there will be absolutely no market for its over-expensive electricity.

It will be old. Out of date. Unnecessary. But still producing nuclear waste we cannot yet render safe.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Poor win battle over Right to the City for Habitat III

[Note: This article first appeared on The Fifth Estate website on 13 Sept.]

A recent win by developing countries could see controversial issues like the “right to the city” thrust to the centre of the world’s urban governance debate, which seeks to “readdress the way cities and human settlements are planned, financed, developed, governed and managed”.

With vast differences in problems faced in urban areas around the world, just who will have a voice in the upcoming United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III – has been a contentious issue. 

After 40 hours without sleep last week delegates at a Habitat III summit in New York broke two years-long logjams in negotiations and settled upon a new draft of the New Urban Agenda, which will be released this week.

The first logjam had been about who would have control over implementing the Agenda: developing or developed countries. Developed countries were resisting the call of poor countries that this job be given to the Nairobi-based UN-Habitat organisation, which is the UN’s lead agency on urbanisation, because they know it is a voice for developing countries.

What broke the deadlock was a new proposal for “an evidence-based and independent assessment of UN-Habitat” to be conducted by the UN secretary-general and presented during the UN General Assembly’s 71st session. Work will begin straight away and hopefully be delivered in April or May, followed by the high-level meeting in June or July next year.

The G77 group of developing countries agreed in return that rather than UN-Habitat having total responsibility for the job, it would instead be “a focal point on sustainable urbanisation and human settlements” in the UN system.

The right to the city

The second major debating point has been about the “right to the city”, a concept which aims to prevent anyone being excluded from living in a city and which has gained widespread support, particularly in Latin America.

This is extremely controversial from the point of view of developers and affects anyone concerned about gentrification, forced evictions, foreclosures, refugees, the privatisation of public space and the criminalisation of homelessness.

Civil society groups active in urban social-justice campaigns have insisted that the right to the city be enshrined in international law and have banded under the slogan “cities are for people, not for profit”.

At issue is the power given to local governments to protect all citizens rather than capitulate to private sector interests during this period of accelerated urbanisation across the planet.

The principal has already been adopted by several municipalities in Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico and Europe, which have signed onto documents like the Mexico City Charter for the Right to the City and the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City.

“In some countries and cities, the recognition of the right to the city and/or the adoption of right to the city charters seem to have positively improved the interaction between authorities and inhabitants and led to concrete results,” the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Bahram Ghazi said.

Although it hasn’t been yet confirmed, it is likely that the final version of the text will read:

“We share a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities, and human settlements, seeking to promote inclusivity and ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, without discrimination of any kind, are able to inhabit and produce just, safe, healthy, accessible, resilient, and sustainable cities and human settlements, to foster prosperity and quality of life for all. We note the efforts of some national and local governments to enshrine this vision, referred to as right to the city, in their legislation, political declarations and charters.”

Along the way, the dilution of the original meaning of the text has been documented by one observer as follows:

“‘We commit’ became ‘we anchor’ and finally ‘we share’. For the countries that already embrace the concept, it was ‘defined as’, then ‘understood as’, then ‘recognised as’ and finally ‘referred to as the right to the city’.”

The New Urban Agenda

The Agenda is about creating a vision of sustainable cities and combating “poverty, growing inequalities and environmental degradation” and will be adopted at the Habitat III Conference next month in Quito, Ecuador, expected to be attended by 30,000 people.

The last draft (minus the above changes) is here.

The Agenda seeks to “readdress the way cities and human settlements are planned, financed, developed, governed and managed”, and includes references to supporting the “local provision of goods and basic services, leveraging the proximity of resources, recognising that a heavy reliance on distant sources of energy, water, food, and materials can pose sustainability challenges”.

The Montevideo Declaration

A related gathering in Uruguay last week also adopted the Montevideo Declaration, which supports a set of protocols around the implementation of open technology standards for smart cities.

These key performance indicators are already being applied by several major cities around the world to encourage the use of open data, with such applications as the management of e-waste and accessibility for everyone regardless of ability to ICT.

This event was part of Green Standards Week, about using ICT to support the transition to Smart Sustainable Cities – which is the theme of the Habitat III conference.

The Sustainable Development Goals

Habitat III will hopefully help us understand better how the UN Sustainable Development Goals, adopted last year, can be applied in cities.

Goal 11 is specific to cities but all of the SDGs have targets directly or indirectly relevant to regional and local government. This is the level of government best placed to link the global goals with local communities.

This process of linking will mean different things in different areas.

For Morten Kabell, the mayor for technical and environmental affairs in sustainable city leader Copenhagen, “the goals … are an incentive to go even further than what we would have been doing otherwise.”

For Johannesburg Mayor Mpho Parks Tau, it’s about starting to legitimise the role of cities at the national level: “A high number of African countries do not have national urban policies that would provide a holistic approach to rapid urbanisation. The lack of systematic urban planning continues to urbanise poverty – with the poor located on the periphery of our cities and towns where basic services such as adequate shelter, water, sanitation, transport and energy remain limited.”

New York City has been a trailblazer here, with Mayor Bill de Blasio releasing a sustainability and equity-focused strategic plan called OneNYC, which is consciously aligned with the SDGs.

United Cities and Local Governments recently published a primer on what local governments need to know about the SDGs as well as a “roadmap” on local-level implementation and monitoring of the goals.

But cities have limited resources. Sandra Ruckstuhl, who works for a technical group appointed by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, says: “They may agree in principle, but how do they do that in an efficient way? This is the common question.

“It’s all genuinely locally driven, but always for different reasons, because cities have different reasons for pursuing sustainability goals.

“Perhaps most importantly, the goals offer a rubric for evaluation – people want data solutions, so that’s a selling point.”

The Network has launched its own guide for city stakeholders, including civil groups, for implementing the SDGs.

Thinking globally, acting locally

Ultimately, “localising” the SDGs is about prioritising a bottom-up approach to urban development by engaging people at the community level.

Although it is UN member states who will adopt the New Urban Agenda, it will be local and regional governments who will implement it. They have years of experience in solving real problems in cities.

To this end, a campaign called #Listen2Cities was launched by the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments last May.

Hundreds of urban experts, members of civil society, and citizens have joined the campaign, and on social media are sharing their ideas using the hashtags #Listen2Cities and #Habitat3.

All eyes are now on Quito to see what will happen next month during the most important global development conference of the year.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Monday, September 12, 2016

What are G20 members really doing about climate change?

This article first appeared on The Fifth Estate website on 6 Sept.

How are the members of the G20 rich nations club performing in their efforts to meet the challenge of climate change? A new report prepared for a recent G20 summit says: “Not enough. Must do better.” It urges them to drastically improve energy intensity and phase out support for fossil fuels.

Amid the plaudits for China and the US ratifying the Paris Agreement is the knowledge that the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are still rising, and that the G20 is responsible for three quarters of these emissions.

A new report from Climate Transparency, a conglomeration of global NGOs dedicated to urging climate action, analyses the relative performance and investor-readiness of the world’s richest economies in moving to a low-carbon state.

It challenges them all to submit plans by 2018 detailing how they will decarbonise by the middle of this century and to commit to basing their infrastructure investment on keeping the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C, and to encouraging green investment.

Climate Transparency says that to achieve these aims a realistic price for carbon is vital, whether achieved through a tax, levy or emissions trading.

Absolute emissions by G20 countries must be drastically reduced in the near future; between 1990 and 2013 their energy-related CO2 emissions actually increased by a depressing 56 per cent.

 Per capita emissions in the G20 nations.

Per capita emissions in the G20 nations.

If global emissions are averaged on a per person basis, then in 2013 everyone in the world was responsible for 5.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions a year.

The report says that to keep global temperature increase below 2°C this must be reduced to around two tonnes per person – in other words we must each have our emissions cut by two thirds.

The G20 scorecard

How G20 members perform in climate action in six key indicators.
How G20 members perform in climate action in six key indicators.

So, how do the individual members of the G20 size up in the race to reduce emissions? Here are the headline results:
  • All of them, except Brazil and Russia, are reducing the energy intensity of their economies.
  • The UK has the lowest energy intensity, mainly because its economy is predicated largely on its services and financial sectors. Countries with large manufacturing sectors face greater challenges.
  • Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia and the United States have the highest per capita energy-related carbon dioxide emissions.
  • India and Indonesia have the lowest emissions per person, but Brazil’s and India’s are rising as they develop.
  • All G20 countries except Argentina and Saudi Arabia have implemented policies to encourage energy efficiency in buildings and emission performance standards for vehicles.
  • Only half of the G20 members have published plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, or expect to do so.
  • Only the UK and Japan have exceeded the climate policy framework specifications for boosting performance.
  • G20 governments collectively provided almost AU$92 billion in subsidies for fossil fuel production between 2013 and 2014. Of these, Russia subsidised its sector by a whopping $31 billion, the United States over $26 billion and Australia and Brazil $5.8 billion each.

The urgent need to cut fossil fuel subsidies

In 2009 G20 leaders promised to phase out these fossil fuel subsidies.

Other NGOs put the figure for the G20’s subsidising of fossil fuels even higher. The Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International say it is more like AU$583 billion a year.

Insurance companies worth over $1.2 trillion last week demanded that G20 governments commit to phasing out these subsidies by 2020. Aviva, Aegon NV and MS Amlin, along with the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries and Open Energi, all signed a statement to this effect.

One of the main obstacles for decarbonisation continues to be plans for new coal-fired power plants. Amongst the most worrying of these is Australia’s commitment to supporting these in the Far East with dramatic expansions of coal mining that threaten the Great Barrier Reef.

G20 members’ support for coal.
G20 members’ support for coal.

South Africa and China both rely almost 70 per cent on coal for their energy, but others are also guilty: Australia (at 37 per cent), Germany (at 26 per cent) and Japan (at 25 per cent).

If all the plans for new coal-fired power stations were implemented it would double the world’s existing capacity. This must be halted, says Carbon Transparency.

G20 members’ support for renewable energy.
G20 members’ support for renewable energy.

Renewable energy on the other hand is a big success story in the G20. It increased by 18 per cent since 2008. Leading countries are: Brazil, Canada, Italy, India, South Africa, Turkey and the EU.

Guess in which G20 country renewable energy actually declined between 2008 and 2013? Well, it was Mexico. That is expected to change.

How investor-ready is the G20?

The G20 countries score table for investor-readiness.
The G20 countries score table for investor-readiness.

So if the G20 is to shift from brown to green energy, then countries must become what is termed “investor-ready” for renewables and energy efficiency.

The Carbon Transparency report ranks countries on their investment-readiness. It finds China, France, Germany, India, the UK and the United States are already attractive to investors.

What counts in this respect is the coherence and reliability of energy and climate policy, which provides confidence to investors. For example, Germany is now seen as not quite as attractive as it was because it has introduced caps on subsidies for renewable energy.

The least investor-ready countries are Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Both offer little support for renewables and their national grids are not yet adapted to their integration. Since President Erdogan took power in Turkey, energy policy has favoured coal at the expense of renewables.

Under global climate agreements eight developed countries in the G20 are supposed to offer cash to other countries to develop their low carbon economies.

But this is not yet sufficient. In 2013-14, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the US each provided between US$1.2-8.4 billion.

Although that sounds like a lot of money, in relation to GDP it is low. If you look at it from this angle, Japan (at 0.18 per cent) and France (at 0.12 per cent) have the highest ratio of providing international climate finance per head of population.

At the bottom of this table are Canada (0.0008 per cent), Australia (0.001 per cent) and Italy (0.0003 per cent).

Reducing carbon intensity

If we are to move to a low or zero carbon economy and improve the living standard of everybody on the planet then carbon intensity must reduce equally everywhere. This means producing more with less polluting energy.

Carbon intensity varies wildly amongst the members of the G20. The least efficient is South Africa (at 925 gCO2 /KWh). It is followed by India, Australia and Indonesia, who all have electricity emissions intensities of over 800 gCO2 /KWh.

G20 members’ carbon intensity compared.
G20 members’ carbon intensity compared.
At the top of the electricity emissions intensity table are: Brazil (at 100 g CO2/kWh), Canada (at 161 g CO2/kWh) and France (at 67 g CO2/kWh), but Brazil and Canada can attribute their success to their large hydropower sectors and France to its high share of nuclear power.

None of them perform so well when compared with Norway, which beats the world with just 8g CO2/kWh.

So what are they all doing about it?

For the Paris climate summit all G20 states submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. These were supposed to show what they were going to do about climate change.

However the emissions reductions stated in these documents only cover 15 per cent of those needed to reach under 2°C. To achieve that, the G20 members need to ramp their climate action ambition up to 2030 by six times.

Among the tools needed, besides climate finance, is carbon pricing. Common pricing makes it more expensive to pollute than not to pollute when producing energy.

Australia’s emissions trading system introduced this year is criticised because its baselines are so high that they don’t not require any emissions cuts. And it repealed its comprehensive carbon price mechanism in 2014.

Throughout the world, carbon prices vary significantly from below one US dollar a tonne of carbon dioxide to US$130 a tonne, with the majority (85 per cent) priced at less than US$10 per tonne. Ideally, the world needs to move to a harmonised system of carbon pricing.

Looking forward, here is a table of how the countries compare in their planned investments in energy:

G20 planned investments in energy
G20 planned investments in energy

Conclusion: the transition is happening but the speed is yet too slow.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Monday, September 05, 2016

New push to double city energy efficiency gains by 2030

[Note: this article first appeared on The Fifth Estate website on 30 August]

The World Green Building Council and the World Resources Institute-led Building Efficiency Accelerator have joined forces to double participating cities’ rate of energy efficiency improvement by 2030.

The Green Building Councils of Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, Poland and South Africa will to start with work with the mayors and municipal governments of Bogota, Dubai, Warsaw, and Tshwane to advance energy efficiency in buildings.

This is important because although cities occupy just three per cent of the land cover on earth, they account for 70 per cent of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, cities are expanding at a phenomenal rate, adding 180,000 new inhabitants every day.

The WorldGBC will share its resources and help city leaders understand how certification of green buildings can help to spread good practice and create demand.

“Cities are powerful leaders: as owners, investors and regulators, they shape the sustainability of our future,” WRI’s Building Efficiency Initiative director Jennifer Layke said. “Buildings that are efficient improve the productivity of both people and energy systems.

“By joining forces, the WorldGBC and the Building Efficiency Accelerator support the success of policy and project action taken by all cities: those that are inspirational examples and those that aspire to do much more.”

They will be supported in their efforts by the help of the Building Efficiency Accelerator, whose advice is contained in a policy roadmap aimed at city leaders, Accelerating Building Efficiency: Eight Actions for Urban Leaders.

In brief, these eight actions are:

[insert Eight actions.jpg]

  1. Building efficiency codes and standards: Well-designed codes and standards requiring minimum levels of energy efficiency in design, construction and/or operation of building systems can cost-effectively decrease energy expenses over buildings’ lifetimes.
  2. Efficiency improvement targets: Local governments must set clear energy reduction targets to improve building performance across cities, or at least in government-owned buildings. Governments can also introduce voluntary targets to incentivise private sector action.
  3. Performance information and certifications: Clear data on performance of buildings is vital to enable building owners, managers and occupants to make informed decisions and track performance against targets.
  4. Incentives and finance: City-level leaders can themselves make strategic investments in building efficiency, but can also work with national and private sector financial institutions to educate them in what is needed and spur new investment in buildings. On the plus side of the balance sheet are spin-off benefits such as added value to the buildings and improved performance of occupants.
  5. Government leadership by example: Sharing successful policies in one city with other urban areas helps encourage others.
  6. Engaging building owners, managers and occupants: Local governments have a role to play in an engaging private-sector building owners and occupants through competitions, awards, partnerships, feedback, and support for energy management.
  7. Engaging technical and financial service providers: The public and private sectors must train the local workforce to provide technical and financial support, which helps create new and better paid jobs.
  8. Working with utilities: Utilities should be encouraged to provide better data and make efficient technologies more accessible to their customers.
An economic modelling study, conducted by the Acadia Center, found that for every $1 million spent on energy efficiency, $3 million to $4 million of GDP growth and 22 to 27 new person-years of employment can result.

This is not just because the investments in energy efficiency projects directly create demand for products, services and labour. There is also a long-term economic benefit derived from the resulting utility cost savings, which are diverted elsewhere in the economy.

Paying less for energy means more cash in the hands of consumers and improved productivity and competitiveness for building occupiers that are businesses.

There is also an improvement in government tax revenue which more than offsets the cost of energy-efficiency programs. The Acadia Center estimates that aggressive investment in energy efficiency in Canada alone could generate as many as 304,000 jobs and $48 billion in GDP annually.

Further Green Building Councils are expected to join the BEA through WorldGBC as the partnership develops.

Participants will be helped in producing their own integrated policy roadmaps, that will be tailored for their specific requirements.

Funding for this process and the resulting program implementation will be secured from a variety of public and private financial institutions.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Energy efficiency is the US electricity sector’s third largest resource

[Note: this article first appeared on The Fifth Estate website on 23 August]

New analysis of 10 years of state-level data on the way utilities operate in America has found that energy efficiency is the third largest resource in the electric power sector.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, which performed the analysis, also found that energy efficiency has averted the need to build the equivalent of 313 power plants since 1990, and avoided 490 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015 alone.

Actual the benefits of energy efficiency to the US economy

Another surprising result is that electricity consumption in the United States has plateaued in recent years, even as the American economy has grown.

 Electricity usage versus GDP

A $90 billion a year saving

As a result customers have saved US$90 billion (AU$118b) a year on bills. This translates to an average of $840 a year (AU$1100) for each American household.

Other benefits include economic development, job creation, community and grid resilience, combating fuel poverty, and improved health, safety and comfort.

Energy efficiency could soon be number one resource

Progress has been so successful that ACEEE is daring to predict that energy efficiency could become the US’s number one resource by 2030, if further targeted policies are adopted. And they say any other country can emulate this progress by adopting similar policies.

 Electricity usage compared in the US in 2030 with and without energy efficiency

These policies are:

  • improved efficiency standards for appliances and equipment
  • giving utilities energy efficiency targets of, say, 1.5 per cent a year
  • rigorous enforcement of energy-saving codes for buildings, both existing and new
ACEEE calculates that in the US, applying these policies would avoid the need for a further 487 power plants.

Action at the state level has been crucial for these achievements. According to ACEEE, improving energy efficiency has helped states comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which tackles greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector. It says most states could meet at least 25 per cent of their targets through efficiency policies and related investments and many could even achieve 100 per cent.

According to the EPA, treating energy efficiency as a resource could benefit other sectors as well, particularly the transportation sector, which in the US is responsible for 26.5 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. It says the sector could potentially reach zero emissions by 2050, with half of the savings coming from energy efficiency.

Treating energy efficiency as a resource has further benefits: it means that it can be traded in the same way as other energy resources such as oil and gas. This approach is advocated by the vice president of the European Commission in charge of Energy Union, Maroš Šef?ovi?.

We need to adopt the language of energy traders

Steven Fawkes
Steven Fawkes

Energy efficiency expert Dr Steven Fawkes thinks the industry should adopt the language of energy traders to encourage investors and banks to trade in the assets that are represented by potential energy efficiency savings.

He says: “Given that nearly every building has reserves of energy efficiency potential we need to think about mechanisms that value that potential, just like we value oil and gas fields before they are exploited.”

Energy trading could be worth €70-100 billion a year

Besides ACEEE, this approach is being pioneered by organisations such as the Energy Efficiency Financial Institutions Group De-risking Project and the Investor Confidence Project. These have put a value on the potential market for energy efficiency resources of around €70-100 billion (AU$104-148 billion) a year in Europe alone. For comparison, in 2015 US$58 billion (AU$76b) was invested into renewables, down sharply from US$132 billion (AU$173b) in 2011.

And, like ACEEE, Fawkes points to the many non-energy benefits that come from improved energy efficiency – everything from increased sales and productivity through to health and wellbeing effects – arguing that these “are much more strategic and attractive to decision-makers than ‘mere’ energy savings”.

As a leading European campaigner on this topic, he observes that “many institutional investors and banks are now really interested in energy efficiency – this is a major change over the last three to five years”.

“Efficiency has real economic benefits, it has impact and it is not reliant on subsidies. Because of this the efficiency industry can no longer rely on that old excuse… there is no money. There is plenty of money but a lack of investable deals.”

But there are still many barriers to investment, to actual deals taking place compared to the potential. These are being addressed by the above organisations as follows:

The EEFIG De-risking project, funded by the European Commission, is building a database of project performance using several hundred projects so that owners and investors can see how projects actually perform in order to build an actuarial database of actual performance – both energy and financial performance. It is also developing standardised underwriting procedures such that banks and financial institutions can better assess both the value and the risks of energy efficiency projects that will lead to better pricing and help to build capacity.

The Investor Confidence Project began in US and has been imported to Europe by Fawkes. It is introducing standardisation to the industry with a set of common protocols for developing and documenting projects. It is also introducing a form of project developer and quality assurance called Investor Ready Energy Efficiency. Projects are accredited. This gives confidence to investors and reduces transaction costs.

According to Fawkes, “Our investor network has over €1 billion (AU$1.48b) they would like to deploy into energy efficiency and many of them offer lower fees or interest rates for standardised ICP accredited projects.”

Back to that ACEEE report. It finds further barriers to investment in energy efficiency as follows:

  • Imperfect information: Consumers have limited awareness of energy performance of equipment and buildings and limited access to energy usage data.
  • Split incentives: Rental properties are a common example. Because tenants pay the energy bills, landlords have little incentive to make efficiency investments to reduce energy bills.
  • Regulatory and legal barriers: In many electric utility business models, greater profits are tied to selling more energy and making more capital investments. These objectives are at odds with energy efficiency, whose goal is to reduce energy waste.
  • Externalities: The environmental, health and security costs to society of energy production and transmission are not added to energy prices. Although energy efficiency helps reduce these costs, the savings are rarely recognised.
All of these can be addressed by sensible policies of the kind outlined in their report.

For example, in a recent study, ACEEE analysed 18 measures, including reducing plug loads, conservation voltage reduction and smart manufacturing. It found these could collectively save 22 per cent of total projected electricity use in 2030.

“These savings could effectively bend the curve of energy consumption so we use increasingly less energy while growing our economy,” it says.

It goes further by arguing that “energy efficiency and renewable energy working together can lower a building’s carbon footprint to zero”.

Nevertheless, “critical support is needed from government, industry, and the non-profit community so that scientists, analysts and advocates can continue to save energy everywhere it’s wasted”.

David Thorpe is the author of:

Monday, August 22, 2016

A challenge for Google’s Deep Mind: solving the Jevons Paradox

Note: this post was originally published on The Fifth Estate on 16 August 2016. 

Google has announced that it has used Deep Mind, the neural network computing developed by its AI research company, to reduce the energy used for cooling its data centres by 40 per cent. Sounds impressive, until you realise that Google’s energy use is doubling every year.

Data centres are not very efficient for several reasons:
  1. Servers are generally inefficient, producing lots of heat
  2. Just cooling them uses a huge amount of power
  3. The companies running data centres are rewarded for responding quickly to demands on server uses. They are not rewarded for saving energy, therefore they keep energy use at a maximum continuously
  4. With the inexorable expansion of “cloud computing”, this trend is set to continue
So while Google’s announcement sounds great let’s look at what is actually happening to data centre energy use – in fact energy use in ICT generally. And it’s not good.

Even if data centres did use energy efficiently their overall use is still increasing at a greater rate. Google’s total power usage appears to have increased by a factor of 12 in the last four years, almost doubling every year.

It likes to boast about its use of renewable energy. It recently purchased 781 megawatts of solar and wind power to power its data centres. But the company also says renewable energy makes up just 37 per cent of its usage and with a total of 1.2 gigawatts of renewable energy, that makes its total data centre usage around 3.2GW.

But this itself is in the context of Google’s overall energy usage this year, estimated to be 48.927GW [for source see comments to the article linked to above].

The worldwide explosion of data centres and their increasing energy usage is a direct result of the spread of smart phones, tablets, apps and video-on-demand. We expect all of these things fast and free and that is what is fuelling the expansion.

The number of annually produced smartphones is expected to rise between 2010 and 2030 from around 350 million to around 3000 million units, and for tablets from 50 to 560 million units.

A worst-case projection for the global use of energy in ICT puts it at as much as 51 per cent of global electricity and 23 per cent of the globally released greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. Totally unsustainable? Right.

The Jevons Paradox

We seem to be seeing another example of the Jevons Paradox, the conundrum proposed by economist William Stanley Jevons. First postulated in the 1860s, it states that increases in efficiency will not result in savings, instead they will result in more expenditure or consumption.

Jevons argued, in his prescient 1865 book The Coal Question, that the effective and efficient use of energy leads to an increase in energy consumption. In his words:

“It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth…”

Increased energy efficiency tends to increase energy consumption by two means. First, increased energy efficiency makes the use of energy relatively cheaper, thus encouraging increased use (the direct rebound effect). Second, increased energy efficiency leads to increased economic growth, which pulls up energy use for the whole economy (the indirect effect). It applies to energy efficiency and resource efficiency.

When people save money on saving energy they have extra capital. This inevitably gets spent resulting in more consumption. The same applies to saving money on manufacturing products by reducing the amount of resources needed. More products get produced. Economists and environmentalists often use the amount of spending as a proxy for energy consumption or ecological footprint. The only way to really reduce environmental impacts is to spend, or consume, less.

As a whole, we on our beautiful unique planet Earth are already using two planets’ worth of resources and our numbers are rising, expected to reach 10 billion by the end of the century. This includes a growing middle class that is consuming more and more, causing some minerals and other resources expected to run out according to their relative rarity over the next century.

You can see why this is a vitally important problem to solve. It is a subset of the problem: how do we give everybody an equally of good standard of life given limited resources on the planet?

A question of entropy

Ultimately it is a question of entropy. For example, urban living can be seen as an entropy accelerator: resources are depleted and downgraded and the limited availability of low entropy energy is their ultimate constraint and a constraint on long-term well-being. Local air pollution and global climate change are a high entropy expression of burning fossil fuels to power lifestyles.

Another example is the problem of entropy of recycling materials. When recycled, most wastes come out of the end of the process as a lower-level product. Take electronic waste as one example, or paper as another (during recycling the fibres become smaller and so the paper is more fragile).

Circular systems, as used in nature, where there is no waste, need to be devised. If nature provides an example where entropy does not increase, can we apply this to industrial processes and human practices?

Now that would really be something for the Google geniuses who devised the algorithms for Deep Mind and learning artificial intelligence.

Mustafa Suleyman, the co-founder of Deep Mind, is already on record as saying that it may be possible to apply their algorithms to other scenarios.

“There’s lots of other applications outside of Google”.

Really? Life outside Google? You surprise me.

Further reading:

A simple introduction to the subject of entropy, pollution, the economy and human survival is found in this article: Energy consumption and entropy release in the biosphere.

For the brave, a more complex mathematical introduction is available in this academic paper: The Impact of Entropy Production and Emission Mitigation on Economic Growth.

David Thorpe is the author of: