Around The Web

Danish university develops tungsten-based technique to capture broader solar wavelength

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:11
Technique developed at Aalborg University creates a component resistant to high temperatures and able to capture broader spectrum of solar irradiation.
Categories: Around The Web

Engineering group Monadelphous turns to renewables after resources boom ends

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:10
ASX-listed engineering group joins with ZEM Energy to form new company focused on developing large-scale renewables projects in the race to meet the RET.
Categories: Around The Web

We were promised the greenest Olympics ever. We got an ecological disaster

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:08
So how did an international environmental champion fail to meet the promises of a sustainable Rio in time for the city’s biggest international event in decades?
Categories: Around The Web

5 trends that will shape global solar market, heading for record 73GW

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:07
According to GTM Research’s latest edition of its quarterly Global Solar Demand Monitor, global solar installations are expected to grow by 43 percent this year, increasing to a total of 73 gigawatts.
Categories: Around The Web

WA solar installer teams with EV company to offer “complete package”

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:06
Infinite Energy says partnership with JET Charge will "complete the picture" for customers, adding EV charging to solar, battery storage and retail electricity offering.
Categories: Around The Web

Government offers hope by telling CSIRO to reinvest in climate research

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-08-04 13:05
Public funding is vital for programs like CSIRO's research vessel RV Investigator, which is too expensive for universities to run. CSIRO, CC BY

The new instruction from Science Minister Greg Hunt to restore climate science as a “core activity” at Australia’s peak science body, the CSIRO, is a ray of hope for public good science.

Yesterday, Hunt told Fairfax Media he had issued a directive to CSIRO executives to add 15 jobs and A$37 million over ten years to CSIRO’s climate science research program.

The move follows months of uncertainty over CSIRO’s climate research capability, after chief executive Larry Marshall announced in February that 350 jobs would be lost from CSIRO, including cuts to the oceans and atmosphere division.

After widespread condemnation, losses to climate science capacity have reportedly been significantly reduced, although it is still unclear exactly how many and where the losses will be felt.

So what does the new development mean for CSIRO and Australia’s climate science?

The role of CSIRO

Reinstating 15 jobs is certainly a step in the right direction, even if they don’t make up for the previous cuts. But perhaps even more significant is the statement of intent – that the government wants climate science, and wants it to be done by CSIRO.

This is important because these government-funded agencies are well placed to carry out sustained observations and the accompanying development of climate models. Here in the university sector we focus mostly on “blue sky”, discovery-based research and training the next generation of researchers and PhDs. These are very important roles, but we can’t run marine research vessels or decades-long observation programs, because university research generally relies on three-year grant cycles.

The minister’s announcement is a very important cultural acknowledgement from the government that it needs to ensure that its publicly funded agencies underpin those important areas of climate monitoring and modelling.

Key investments

There are two key areas in which Australia needs to invest.

The first is sustained observations of the southern hemisphere’s oceans and atmosphere. As one of the few nations in the region with the capacity to monitor this vast area, Australia arguably has an obligation to make these measurements.

The second is developing next-generation climate models for Australia and the world. Northern hemisphere modelling groups, even though they do global modelling, have pressures from their own governments to focus on high-quality simulations of their own regions. Without Australia doing the same, there’s not the same pressure to have superbly accurate forecasts for this part of the world.

These two areas need to be secured via an appropriate scale of investment in climate science. Where this new money should go depends on exactly where the cuts have been made and what needs to be restored.

Government steps up

For some time now, CSIRO’s executive has been making moves away from public good research and towards an agenda of “innovation”.

While investment in public good climate research might not make you money this year or next, it can save vast amounts of money by, for example, avoiding poor investment in infrastructure. It is vital science that is needed to secure a resilient economy, a resilient environment and social well-being for all Australians.

This type of research is often undersold. Unfortunately, the culture in CSIRO over the past year seems to have been to sacrifice some of that public good science and focus on more lucrative research. This is important and beneficial science as well, but you can’t drop the public good.

Hunt’s new comments are important because they show the government is taking renewed responsibility for how CSIRO invests in research that helps the public.

This isn’t just about climate science; it’s about any area of public-good research that delivers what the community needs for societal well-being.

Restoring reputations

This is an important step towards restoring Australia’s international reputation in climate science. The science is always judged by the excellence of the work being done and papers published, which will take a while to materialise, but this announcement will be applauded around the world.

The cuts were condemned by thousands of international researchers as well as the World Climate Research Program of the World Meteorological Society and the director of a NASA-led atmospheric monitoring network.

CSIRO’s international reputation in climate science has been going down the gurgler ever since Royal Society Fellow Trevor McDougall, one of the most influential oceanographers Australia has produced, was cut in 2012 to worldwide condemnation. The recent cuts went further.

We often criticise ministers for what they do wrong, but the latest announcement is a real cause for hope. Until now the government had taken a hands-off approach, arguing that CSIRO is an independent statutory body that shouldn’t be interfered with.

That’s now been thrown out. This is public money, and the government is saying we need to get public-good value from it.

The Conversation

Matthew England receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

Categories: Around The Web

Energy efficiency market update: losing ground in July

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 11:50
The spot Victoria energy efficiency market lost ground rapidly in July, and the softening has continued into early August.
Categories: Around The Web

Hunger strike pushes South Korea to defer coal plant plan

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 11:44
A protest and one-week hunger strike has prompted the South Korean Government to indefinitely postpone consideration of the 1160 MW ‘Dangjin Eco Power’ coal-fired plant.
Categories: Around The Web

The solution to Australia’s gas crisis is not more gas

RenewEconomy - Thu, 2016-08-04 11:42
Many are proposing the obvious , but wrong, solution to Australia’s crisis : develop more gas production resources. But this path fails for several reasons.
Categories: Around The Web

Scientists develop small, reprogrammable quantum computer

ABC Science - Thu, 2016-08-04 10:58
QUANTUM MILESTONE: US researchers have unveiled the development of a small quantum computer that can be reprogrammed to complete three algorithms in a single step.
Categories: Around The Web

Mining town Coober Pedy shows the rest of Australia how to turn to renewables

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-08-04 10:20

The South Australian town is abandoning its reliance on expensive diesel and forging a future in which most of its power comes from wind and solar

Coober Pedy is the epitome of the Australian mining town. Located in the South Australian outback, it is as famous for its opals as it is for the extraordinary underground housing that has become a feature of its way of life.

Now the township of 3,500 people may be about to make a name for itself in another way – abandoning its total reliance on expensive, imported diesel fuels for its electricity, and forging a path to a point where most of its power comes from wind and solar with the support of battery storage.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Brain's thirst circuit 'monitors the mouth'

BBC - Thu, 2016-08-04 09:11
Scientists observe activity in the mouse brain which can explain why we get thirsty when we eat, and why cool water quenches thirst more quickly.
Categories: Around The Web

Queensland fisherman caught selling bills of endangered sawfish

The Guardian - Thu, 2016-08-04 06:34

Exclusive: In photographs obtained by the Guardian, a fisherman can be seen selling the rostrums – long, saw-like bills – at a market in Mackay in June

A commercial fisher in Queensland has been caught selling bills of sawfish, which experts say are the world’s most endangered marine fish.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

The solution to Australia's gas crisis is not more gas

The Conversation - Thu, 2016-08-04 06:10
Gas exports are driving massive growth in Australia's gas demand. Ken Hodge/Flickr, CC BY

Concern about higher and more volatile gas prices in southern and eastern Australia is spreading. Recent gas price spikes in South Australia have impacted on electricity prices and raised concerns about future prices for industry and households.

Average gas prices for large industrial consumers rose by 60% between 2010 and 2015, while household prices climbed by 20%. But prices vary a lot from state to state.

In industry, most gas is used for process heat, while in homes, space and water heating are the big gas consumers.

Gas also provides around 22% of Australian electricity, and around 45% in South Australia. The dramatic increase in liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from Queensland has provoked fears of much bigger future price hikes. It has also made it difficult for major industrial users to negotiate reasonably priced new contracts.

Many are proposing the obvious, but wrong, solution: develop more gas production resources. But this path fails for several reasons.

We don’t need more gas

First, as global citizens, we must recognise that most of our existing economic fossil fuel resources must stay in the ground. Developing more gas supply will just make it harder for Australia to transition to low-carbon energy over the next few decades.

Second, the problem is not about gas supply. It is about the allocation of gas and management of demand for gas and electricity. The recently opened Queensland LNG export plants are tripling eastern Australian gas demand.

What industry could cope with that scale of change without a few hiccups?

Eastern Australia has plenty of gas. The problem is that most of it is being exported at prices lower than some Australians are paying. And the price volatility resulting from the present shambles is making life difficult for some Australian industries.

gas consumption AEMO

Third, this approach would involve falling into the trap set by the gas industry, to force governments to override community opposition to coal seam gas projects. This would be socially divisive and is unnecessary.

We also need to protect our gas industry from its own shortsighted and narrow world view. Gas companies are already facing financial challenges.

Winds of change

Our responses to the problems with gas need to be carefully considered, to recognise a reality that has evolved over many years and to factor in the global context.

Consider a few facts facing the gas industry in Australia.

Australian gas users are, on the whole, very inefficient in the way they use gas. Sustained low prices have meant we still have inefficient 50-year-old boilers, outdated process technologies and wasteful management of gas use. Gas hot water services still have pilot lights (which waste energy) and poor insulation. One study has suggested that east coast gas demand could decline if we focused on efficient gas use.

Gas demand peaks in cold weather, due to the combination of gas and electric heating, which adds to higher gas use in industry and households. This drives higher prices in winter.

Improving energy efficiency, particularly high-efficiency electric technologies, combined with renewable energy and storage, means it is increasingly attractive for households and some businesses to disconnect from gas, or at least shift significant gas demand.

The electricity industry has also discouraged gas-fired cogeneration plants (plants that produce electricity and heat for industrial processes) by undercutting prices and using its market power to make it difficult to connect and sell electricity into the grid.

This is despite cogeneration being more than 25% more efficient than our most efficient large gas-fired power generators, as it produces process heat as well as electricity instead of letting heat escape into the atmosphere. It is more than twice as efficient as many of our gas turbine power stations and coal power stations.

In the recent South Australian electricity and gas crisis, the state’s most efficient gas power station was not even used until the government intervened, because it was relatively too expensive under the current market structure.

Finally, LNG export plants have locked themselves into long-term gas export contracts linked to the price of oil. The decline in oil prices has slashed their returns, and their share prices have fallen heavily.

They have created a serious problem for themselves and the Australian economy by failing to predict global oil price trends.

So what should we do?

In the short term, the government could help our gas industry to free up some of the gas now being exported.

There is a global glut of gas, so it should be possible to buy back some gas from the buyers of our LNG. Since this would not need to go through the LNG plants and shipping, it could be made available at a significantly cheaper price than its export price.

I don’t really think this is necessary if we are smart, but it provides a way of stabilising gas prices for local industry.

It is interesting to note that the government strongly rejected suggestions that some of our gas be “quarantined” for local use when concerns were emerging.

The core strategy will be multi-pronged.

First, an aggressive gas-efficiency and fuel-switching strategy must be implemented as quickly as possible. Some gas retailers are already moving, as they have realised they would be better off with efficient customers that still use some gas, instead of losing those customers if they shut down.

State energy efficiency schemes, such as the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target and NSW Energy Savings Scheme, have recently been broadened to include gas, as well as small to medium businesses, so they could be expanded.

Storage of gas, electricity and heat can smooth demand to reduce price volatility. Pumped hydro and mini-hydro systems in water supply pipes between large dams and local storages can generate electricity at times of high demand, rather than relying on gas-fired power stations.

Electricity market reform could reduce electricity demand and gas use by encouraging gas cogeneration (as well as renewable energy). This is because cogeneration is a very efficient way to use gas.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has recently published a major report on options for renewable energy to replace gas in industry. This could also be implemented.

Energy policymakers have made it clear they consider the gas market to be in serious failure mode. Rapid action could break the market power of old players.

It is really time that the gas industry developed and published a roadmap showing how it can be part of a zero-emission Australian economy.

The Council of Australian Governments Energy Council meets on August 19. Let’s hope it considers effective options, instead of band-aid solutions that will make the wounds fester.

The Conversation

Alan Pears has worked for government, business, industry associations public interest groups and at universities on energy efficiency, climate response and sustainability issues since the late 1970s. He is now an honorary Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University and a consultant, as well as an adviser to a range of industry associations and public interest groups. His investments in managed funds include firms that benefit from growth in clean energy.

Categories: Around The Web

Moon Express cleared for lunar landing

BBC - Thu, 2016-08-04 04:21
Moon Express becomes the first private firm to win US approval for an unmanned mission to the moon.
Categories: Around The Web

Vibrations bring still photos to life

BBC - Thu, 2016-08-04 03:26
Photographs in which still objects can be manipulated are developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Categories: Around The Web

Vibrations bring still photos to life

BBC - Thu, 2016-08-04 03:25
Photographs in which still objects can be manipulated are developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Categories: Around The Web

Why are crying babies so hard to ignore?

BBC - Thu, 2016-08-04 03:00
A neuroscientist explains why Donald Trump found a crying baby at his rally so distracting.
Categories: Around The Web

Brexit could herald end to British fruit and veg sales, producers warn

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-08-03 21:16

Many of the country’s biggest producers say that without a scheme for seasonal workers, homegrown produce would all but vanish from the shelves

British fruit and vegetables would all but vanish from shops if Brexit means the foreign workers who pick virtually all the home-grown produce are no longer able to come to the UK, according to some of the country’s biggest producers.

They warn that the nation’s food security would be damaged and that produce in UK shops would become more expensive if the freedom of movement for EU workers came to an end. They are urging ministers to set up a new permit scheme for seasonal workers.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web

Wildlife-friendly gardens may be more deadly to birds, report shows

The Guardian - Wed, 2016-08-03 20:30

New research shows that more birds die from collisions with windows in gardens that provide better bird habitat, reports Conservation

Collisions with windows are a serious source of mortality for birds: hundreds of millions die from window strikes each year in the US alone. Most attention to this problem has focused on high-rise buildings, because each individual building of this type can kill a great many birds.

But because there are so many residential dwellings, even a few collisions per home means that collectively these structures are responsible for a huge number of bird deaths. Yet researchers don’t know why one house has more collisions than another, let alone how to prevent them.

Continue reading...
Categories: Around The Web


Subscribe to Sustainable Engineering Society aggregator - Around The Web