‘SA wants Upington to be world’s ‘solar capital’

Engineering News, 28 October 2010

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters has laid down a solar challenge to the private sector and government in the Northern Cape – to make Upington a solar capital of the world.

“It is time this town went solar,” said Peters in her address to delegates gathered for the solar investor conference, which started on Thursday.

“Upington maak ‘n plan. Don’t follow the crowds, follow the sun!” she quipped.

Peters even questioned why the traffic lights in Upington were not solar powered. “Let’s get the whole town heating its water through solar water heaters. Let’s have the lights solar powered. There are companies here today who can make that happen, there are investors who can structure the financial packages to pay for this,” she said.

The Northern Cape has been selected as the base for the creation of a ‘Solar Park’, which could serve as a concentrated zone of solar development in South Africa.

The area had excellent and consistent radiation, flat and sparsely-populated land, the ability to connect to the electricity grid at multiple points, water available from the Orange River, a developed highway system, and the Upington airport, which made it an ideal location for solar deployment.

Department of Energy (DoE) director general Nelisiwe Magubane said that solar energy industrialisation in Upington implied the development of new skills for the local populace thus enhancing their employability.

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‘China Leads World in Renewable Energy Development’


Over the past few years, China has emerged as a global leader in clean energy, topping the world in production of compact fluorescent light bulbs, solar water heaters, solar photovoltaic (PV) cells, and wind turbines. The remarkable rise of China’s clean energy sector reflects a strong and growing commitment by the government to diversify its energy economy, reduce environmental problems, and stave off massive increases in energy imports. Around the world, governments and industries now find themselves struggling to keep pace with the new pacesetter in global clean energy development.

Chinese efforts to develop renewable energy technologies have accelerated in recent years as the government has recognized energy as a strategic sector. China has adopted a host of new policies and regulations aimed at encouraging energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy deployment. Taking lessons from its own experience as well as the experiences of countries around the world, China has built its clean energy sector in synergy with its unique economic system and institutions of governance. At a time when many countries still struggle with the aftermath of a devastating financial crisis, the Chinese government has used its strong financial position to direct tens of billions of dollars into clean energy— increasing the lead that Chinese companies have in many sectors.

Among other initiatives, the Chinese government has taken strong action to promote renewable energy, establish national energy conservation targets, and delegate energysaving responsibilities to regions. Key legislative actions include the national Renewable Energy Law, which entered into force in January 2006, the national Medium and Long-Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy, launched in September 2007, and the Medium and Long-Term Energy Conservation Plan, launched in November 2004.

Although per capita energy use in China remains below the international average, it is growing very rapidly, spurred recently by the infrastructure-intensive government stimulus program launched in late 2008. Even with efficiency advances, demand for energy is expected to continue to rise in the coming decades. Chinese energy consumption is currently dominated by coal, and the major energy-consuming sector is industry. Improving the efficiency of energy use and enhancing energy conservation will be critical to ease energy supply constraints, boost energy security, reduce environmental pollution, “green” the economy, and tackle the climate challenge.

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‘Study warns of failure to plan for rapid urbanisation in developing nations’

Research reveals Brazil’s lessons for countries in Africa and Asia

Governments in Africa and Asia must embrace and plan for rapid urbanisation or risk harming the future prospects of hundreds of millions of their citizens — with knock-on effects worldwide — warns a study published by IIED and UNFPA (the UN Population Fund) on 6 August 2010.

It says policymakers should heed lessons from Brazil whose failure in the past to plan for rapid urban growth exacerbated poverty and created new environmental problems and long-term costs that could have been avoided.

The proportion of developing countries that have adopted policies to curb urban growth rose from 46 percent in 1976 to 74 percent in 2007 and the study warns that this will “undoubtedly result in increasing poverty and environmental degradation.”

The study’s authors — Dr George Martine (past President of the Brazilian Association of Population Studies) and Dr Gordon McGranahan (of IIED) — say the critical first step is for policymakers to recognise the rights of poor people to live in cities and share in the benefits of urban life. The next is to plan ahead for their land and housing needs within a constantly updated vision of sustainable land use.

“A ‘business-as-usual’ approach that simply reacts to urban growth will be utterly inadequate,” says McGranahan. “To minimise the negative impacts of rapid urban growth developing countries can learn from Brazil’s experiences and, especially, its mistakes.”

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‘Power plan clings to pragmatism over ambition’

Engineering News, 22 October 2010

The draft second integrated resource plan, or IRP2010, is unlikely to receive universal acclaim and even its drafters will acknowledge that errs far more on the side of pragmatism than on perfection.

There will certainly be deep unhappiness in some quarters about the fact that a decision on nuclear has been placed on the “critical path” for early 2011. There will also be disquiet over what can only be perceived as a slower-than-anticipated build-up of renewables, which truly only begins to gain traction from 2016 – the 1 025 MW of immediate renewable capacity outlined in the IRP1 notwithstanding.

No doubt, these anxieties, and more, will be expressed during the upcoming public hearings, which the Department of Energy (DoE) has requested the National Energy Regulator of South Africa to convene.

The DoE confirmed on Friday that the comment period for written submissions on the draft would be extended by 30 days to December 10, 2010 and also announced that the public hearings would begin in Durban on November 26, before moving to Cape Town on November 29, and then to Johannesburg on December 2 and 3.

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‘SA should reduce carbon emissions from road transport – Cronin’

Engineering News, 26 October 2010

Removing excess road use and improving efficiencies on South Africa’s roads seems to be the most viable option to reduce the transport sector’s carbon emissions in the short term.

Transport is the fastest growing emitter of greenhouse gases in South Africa, contributing to about one fifth of the country’s emissions, second only to its dependence on coal-fired power stations.

In addition to the negative environmental effects, the excessive use of the country’s roads also has a negative economic impact, with about R15-million a day lost due to congestion.

Speaking at a World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) future of transport convention in Johannesburg, Transport Deputy Minister Jeremy Cronin said that the country was suffering from a dysfunctional and inefficient transport system, brought on mainly by the urban sprawl.

The urban sprawl has lead to a number of challenges, including over exaggerated peaks. “Large fleets are needed to move people to and from work, while this fleet is then left idle afterwards. Consequently, government finds it difficult to sweat its assets, such as the 800 new Rea Vaya busses that was recently brought onstream.”

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Stockholm Resilience Centre: Research for Governance of Social-Ecological Systems

‘The Stockholm Resilience Centre is an international centre that advances transdisciplinary research for governance of social-ecological systems with a special emphasis on resilience – the ability to deal with change and continue to develop.

The Stockholm Resilience Centre was established on 1 January 2007.
It is a joint initiative between Stockholm University, the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics at The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The centre is funded by the Foundation for Strategic Environmental Research, Mistra.

The Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research (CTM) at Stockholm University and The Baltic Nest Institute (former MARE) are also part of the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

The FORMAS-provided project Resilience and Sustainability: Integrated Research on Social-Ecological Systems, is an acknowledgement of Stockholm Resilience Centre also being a Swedish Centre of Excellence.’

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‘Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change’

Abstract:  The 20th anniversary issue of Global Environmental Change provides an important opportunity to address the core questions involved in addressing “global environmental” problems—especially those related to climate change. Climate change is a global collective-action problem since all of us face the likelihood of extremely adverse outcomes that could be reduced if many participants take expensive actions. Conventional collective-action theory predicts that these problems will not be solved unless an external authority determines appropriate actions to be taken, monitors behavior, and imposes sanctions. Debating about global efforts to solve climate-change problems, however, has yet not led to an effective global treaty. Fortunately, many activities can be undertaken by multiple units at diverse scales that cumulatively make a difference. I argue that instead of focusing only on global efforts (which are indeed a necessary part of the long-term solution), it is better to encourage polycentric efforts to reduce the risks associated with the emission of greenhouse gases. Polycentric approaches facilitate achieving benefits at multiple scales as well as experimentation and learning from experience with diverse policies.

Full Citation: Ostrom, E. (2010). Polycentric Systems for Coping with Collective Action and Global Environmental Change, Global Environmental Change, Vol. 20 (4): 550-557 (Available with subscription from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=PublicationURL&_tockey=%23TOC%236020%232010%23999799995%232518746%23FLA%23&_cdi=6020&_pubType=J&view=c&_auth=y&_acct=C000033878&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=635696&md5=3a4d15915c874a8153d2c97bb0fc8ab6).

‘Sexwale urges engineers to share ideas on clearing housing backlog’

Engineering News, 20 October 2010

The Department of Human Settlements (DHS) would need to engage with construction companies if it was to meet the challenges faced by the sector and deliver the expected 220 000 housing units a year, by 2014.

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said on Wednesday that there were currently 8 700 human settlement projects under way in South Africa.

“Construction is happening,” he reiterated, and added that if the so-called ‘Human Settlements 2030′ vision was to be realised, “massive” construction sites would have to be established throughout the country. This would create employment and involve the youth.

Delivering a keynote address to officials gathered at the DHS and Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) ‘Knowledge Week 2010′, Sexwale emphasised that corruption needed to be tackled. He urged delegates to discuss the issues thoroughly and come up with relevant ideas to solve the problems.

“R1,3-billion I have lost, that was used to build houses that are falling apart,” said Sexwale, commenting on money lost through shoddy construction, often linked to tender irregularities.

To meet its goal of eradicating the housing backlog in South Africa, the DHS would also need to acquire some 6 250 ha of land, and provide about 600 000 new ‘gap fund’ loans for people who did not qualify for subsidies but still needed assistance.

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New Report – “World Disaster Report 2010: Focus on Urban Risk”

For the first time in the history of mankind, more people live in an urban environment than a rural one and in just 20 years, over 60 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities and towns.

A fortunate minority will live in places like Turin, Tokyo or Toronto, where if your home catches fire or floods, you can call for emergency help and expect to collect on the insurance. Everyone in the house or apartment probably has their own space and clean water is on tap. You are connected to the sewage system and your garbage is collected.

A slum household is one where all of these things are absent. There is neither water nor sanitation. The living space is cramped and comprises poor quality building materials. And the inhabitants have no security of tenure. Read more…

The World Disasters Report 2010 features:

  •  Urban disaster trends
    and early action
  •  Avoiding the urbanization of disaster risk
  •  Starting over: community rights and post-disaster response
  •  Urban violence
  •  Urban risk to health
  •  Urbanization and climate change risk
  •  Urban governance and disaster risk reduction

Plus: photos, tables, graphics and index

Published annually since 1993, the World Disasters Report brings together the latest trends, facts and analysis of contemporary crises – whether ‘natural’ or man-made, quick-onset or chronic.

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‘Climate change: Insurance for a warming planet’

Article: By Martin L. Weitzman

‘Climate policy should be viewed as protection against uncertain future risks’, says Martin L. Weitzman.

In his review of Smart Solution to Climate Change, Prof. Weitzman said that Bjørn Lomborg has been a lightning rod for controversy since he published The Skeptical Environmentalist in 2001. Yet in the time between his first book and this third edited volume, there has been a sea change in his attitude to climate change. Lomborg, director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank, now characterizes the fundamental question as “not if we should do something about global warming, but rather how best to go about it”.

Smart Solutions to Climate Change presents economic analyses of eight proposed solutions to climate-related problems: climate engineering; mitigation of carbon dioxide, methane and black carbon; carbon sequestration by forests; market and policy-driven adaptation to climate change; technology-led climate policy; and technology transfer. Each proposal is set out, critiqued from two alternative perspectives and summarized by an expert panel of five economists. It is a constructive book that focuses seriously on finding effective ways to combat global warming, and the differences of opinions it expresses are stimulating and enlightening. But the book falls short in its treatment of risk.

To help prioritize the proposals, each analysis calculates a cost/benefit ratio. However, the estimates used are of uneven quality. Some solutions, such as technology-led policy, are too vague for a meaningful value to be assigned. And cost alone is not the best way to choose between options — geoengineering, for example, is expensive in terms of risk but may be necessary if we are faced with a disaster scenario such as runaway temperatures. It makes more sense to think of the solutions as making up a portfolio of options, including others such as nuclear power, guided by risk analysis.

 All of the cost/benefit estimates in Smart Solutions are based on deterministic models — uncertainty doesn’t figure much in this book. The assessments rely on joint computer modelling of economic growth and climate change to examine the trade-offs: whether or not we incur the costs of mitigation now to benefit from less-severe climate change in the future. Key parameters are approximated by firm values, such as the median or mean, rather than a probability distribution. The modelling thus becomes a knob-twiddling exercise in optimizing outcomes, where it is easy to flirt with high carbon dioxide concentrations.

Such modelling breeds complacency — temperature targets can be hit exactly, economic and ecological damages from high temperatures are low to begin with, and the pain of action now is greater than the pain of damages in a century or two when discounted at current interest rates. But in reality, there is no such thing as hitting a target of 2 °C, 4 °C or any other temperature change. Everything is probabilistic.

The economics of climate change is mainly about decision-making under extreme uncertainty. Climate-change analysis is hampered by many unknowns in the science combined with an inability to evaluate meaningfully the welfare losses from increased global temperatures. The values of key future parameters — global and regional average temperatures, damages to the world’s economy and ecology, welfare, costs of unproven technologies and so forth — cannot be known now. Instead, they must be treated as random variables, yet to be drawn from some probability distribution that itself is uncertain.

A striking feature of the economics of climate change is that rare but catastrophic events may have unfathomable costs. Deep uncertainty about the unknown unknowns of what might go wrong is therefore coupled with essentially unlimited liability. The resulting battle between declining probabilities and increasing damages is difficult to resolve. Alas, this uncertainty can figure prominently in evaluations of climate-change policies. Its absence in a book dealing with economic comparisons of smart solutions is a serious omission.

When confronted with the possibility of extreme damages at low probabilities, most people do not look to averages. Instead they think about how much insurance they need, and can afford to buy, to survive those events. Climate policy is better viewed as buying insurance for the planet against extreme outcomes than as the solution to a multivariate problem over which we have control. To analyse policies in terms of deterministic cost/benefit ratios is to marginalize the very possibilities that make climate change so grave.

Lomborg concludes that, if we value our planet’s future, we must “start seriously focusing, right now, on the most effective ways to fix global warming”. Despite its limitations, Smart Solutions marks symbolically the end of one stage of thinking about climate change and the beginning of another.

Full Citation: Weitzman, M. L. “Climate change: Insurance for a warming planet.” Nature 467(7317): 784-785.

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