Archive for July, 2012

July 4, 2012

Wildfires of the Future

As the UK enjoyed unusually hot temperatures at the end of May, alongside hosepipe bans, other parts of the world suffer from more and more disastrous wildfires.

In the US the ‘wildfire season’ started earlier than usual in Arizona, in the middle of May – with five fires at the same time. After the dry winter, plants were also rather dry and as the spring was warmer than usual, this all contributed to the first big wildfires of the year. Two-thirds of the state of Arizona is currently suffering from extreme drought, and there is hardly any chance of rain during the summer.

 

 

Later in May, residents of Albuquerque, New Mexico could barely see from the smoke of wildfires around them in the city, and fires were also burning in Colorado, Nevada, California and Utah.

Wildfires are getting more and more frequent and more destructive. Last year Texas suffered the most damages on record – with four million acres and about 2800 houses burnt down. Another big wildfire burnt for six weeks and eventually destroyed about 500,000 acres in Arizona – the “Wallow Fire” is now the biggest ever on record in Arizona’s history. And these are only figures from the Southern part of the US, while wildfires are now frequent in Idaho or the Yellowstone National Park, as well as in enormous countries like Australia, Canada and even in
Siberia, Russia.

Besides the obvious financial damages and occasional deaths, scientists have now also calculated the extra lives taken due to the increased air pollution. And while in a normal wildfire trees burn mainly, if the peat underground catches fire, it can significantly increase carbon emissions.

Most of the wildfires are caused by human negligence and lightning strikes. Such blazes have been regular in these environments, but the warmest ever spring with very dry conditions this year can lead to even greater fires than usual. They are very difficult to contain in fast winds, or in cases of merging with another fire.

Throughout history nature created perfect conditions to withstand large forest fires. A natural defense is that trees grow far from each other, but re-planted forests now mean more problem and more dangerous fires.

The recent changes in the Earth’s climate seem to fuel ever bigger fires, thus our future may mean regular disastrous wildfires all over the world, not just occasionally.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image: HowStuffWorks

July 1, 2012

Japan’s Last Nuclear Plant

Following the disaster at Fukushima last year, Japan has now closed down its last nuclear power plant, which would have been unimaginable earlier in a country that is one of those that rely most on this type of power source. The plans are to re-start them after the summer after strict stress tests but this is now the opportunity for Japan to get away from nuclear energy.

Due to the decision of shutting down all 54 nuclear plants, which gave 30 per cent of all electricity, imports of fossil fuels like gas and oil have increased by 100 per cent compared to last year, with 18 per cent more imported liquified natural gas. Also, power cuts are expected to be regular throughout the summer and so the government has asked people and companies to save energy wherever they can – having set a target of a 15 per cent saving.

Renewables like wind, solar and geothermal energy sources are currently only 1 per cent in the overall energy mix, and even including hydroelectricity it only adds up to ten per cent.

Greenpeace has compiled a report with three suggested scenarios for the country on how to lower or completely eliminate the reliance on nuclear power. They urge first of all the improvement of energy efficiency and the implementation of various policies, like differing prices for peak periods, strict efficiency standards, cap-and-trade emissions trading, labelling and feed-in tariffs. Besides these the accelerated development of photovoltaic schemes and wind energy systems, as well as the improvement of the electricity grid shall be emphasised – with the potential introduction of a smart grid. According to Greenpeace further focus should also be put on the spread on electric vehicles and combined heat and power generation (CHP).
Greenpeace’s scenario could also help at lowering carbon-dioxide emissions, which currently will increase due to the enhanced use of fossil fuels. Thus Japan would not have to re-consider climate change and emissions-related treaties and agreements signed earlier.

Global law firm White & Case has also released a customer alert on the potentially good opportunities in the Japanese renewable sector in the summer, when the Renewable Energy Act will come into force. This Act offers higher-than-market rates for feed-in tariffs for solar, wind and geothermal energy although according to some analysts other regulations have to be changed (e.g. land use in national parks for geothermal developments) to be successful. Furthermore, the exact rate will only be set on 1st July, 2012, from when the law will be binding.

If utilising this great opportunity and introducing appropriate regulations, Japan may become the first truly renewable energy power in the world.

Written for the Energy Saving Warehouse

Image from BBC

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