Thursday 22 June 2006

Greenhouse gases 'under-reported

From: Reuters in London
June 22, 2006

MANY countries may be grossly underestimating the quantity of greenhouse gases they emit according to a new method of monitoring output, scientists said today.

The new "top-down" system measures the actual amount of gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, compared with the traditional "bottom-up" method which estimates what is likely to be produced on the ground.
The findings, still the subject of scientific debate, could destabilise the European Union's fledgling carbon trading system and have implications for the Kyoto Treaty.

"Work at the (European Commission's) Joint Research Centre (JRC) in Italy suggests huge under-reporting of many national CH4 (methane) emissions," said Euan Nisbet of London's Royal Holloway University.

"Top-down science is still somewhat in its infancy. But the gas they measure is there, not an estimate of what they think should be there."

According to work by Peter Bergamaschi at the JRC in Ispra, Italy, top-down science suggests Britain may be reporting only half its actual methane emissions and France only two-thirds, the magazine New Scientist said today.

By contrast, Ireland and Finland may be over-reporting the methane coming from their peat bogs.

Britain defended its estimates today, saying they were calculated in line with international guidelines reviewed each year by independent international experts.

The government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said in a statement it believed Mr Bergamaschi overestimated British methane emissions by at least half.

"Bergamaschi's work cannot separate natural methane emissions from man-made ones. There is significant uncertainty in how much natural methane is produced in the UK, which is carried into Bergamaschi's model," DEFRA said.

Mr Nisbet said making the same calculations for carbon dioxide, more plentiful but less damaging, was more complicated.

The world needed a chain of monitoring stations, similar to the seismic system set up in the 1950s to monitor nuclear bomb tests, he said.

Mr Nisbet said China, which is building a coal-fired power station a week to fuel its booming economy, had good monitoring as had Canada and Kyoto refuseniks the United States and Australia.

There was virtually no monitoring in South Asia, very little in Africa and the tropical oceans were scantily covered.

Wednesday 21 June 2006

Debating nuclear, but what about our rich renewable resource?

Rashida Nuridin
20 June 2006

We produce the highest amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) per capita in the world. One third of this pollution comes solely from the production of electricity. It is imperative that we take urgent action now to reduce our CO2 emissions.

The Federal Government is calling for a “full blooded” debate on nuclear power in Australia, with the pretense that it will be a solution to our GHG emissions. This doesn't make sense when we are not seriously harvesting the free, safe and rich renewable resources that are available.

Wind farms and other renewables can be up and running in a matter of months. Nuclear power stations take many years. In the US, the most recent nuclear power station to come on line took 24 years from start of construction to commercial production!

Don't be fooled by the “clean” tag the government is giving nuclear. The production of nuclear power is a multi stage process. The nuclear “cycle” includes mining, milling, enrichment, power production and waste management, with transportation needed between each of these processes. Although the emissions of GHG's attributed to the power generation phase may be low, this is not the case for the remainder of the cycle. Transport is also required between each one of these processes adding further to the emissions attributable to the full cycle of nuclear power. They also require an enormous quantity of water for cooling.

Renewables such as solar, wind, wave and hydro are simple; they directly convert the raw energy source into electricity with no harmful side effects and minimal full energy cycle GHG emissions, particularly in the case of wind.

Further, high-grade uranium deposits are only expected to last a few decades and when demand increases this will be depleted much sooner. If we then turn to using lower-grade uranium “the CO2 emissions become similar to those of a combined cycle gas fired power station” (Dr. Diesendorf, UNSW).

After 50 years there is still no safe long term solution to waste disposal. It will be 240,000 years before the radioactivity of the “high level waste” is no longer a concern. Are you prepared to leave this legacy for your children and future generations to deal with?

Nuclear power is high risk. With an increased terrorist threat, weapons proliferation and sabotage are a reality. No other energy source requires the substantial level of security as nuclear power.

Twenty years on, have we forgotten the lessons of Chernobyl? Even today's nuclear experts concede that nuclear accidents are inevitable. As more nuclear plants are built, so too does the risk of the next major accident.

Nuclear energy is uneconomical. It requires massive subsidies (the most highly subsidised power of all) and isn't self supporting anywhere in the world . The estimated cost of subsidies to the nuclear power industry in the US, for example, is “US$115 billion in direct subsidies, compared to less than $10 billion for wind and solar combined” (ACF). Just one nuclear waste repository in Nevada is expected to cost US$50 billion. As soon as it is opened in 2010, it will be filled to capacity by the nuclear waste accumulated in the US.

The average lifespan of a nuclear power station is only 21 years (similar to that of a wind turbine) and the cost of dismantling Britain’s nuclear power stations for example is estimated at around 70 billion pounds sterling.

Perhaps those who argue against the economics of wind don’t realise that nuclear power is more expensive. On a global scale, renewable energy already supplies more power than nuclear.

Renewable energy made up an average of 20% of Australia’s electricity from the 1960’s through to the mid 1970’s. It has gradually declined to 8% and projected to make up only 8.8% of our electricity by 2010 (ABARE). Compare this to an EU wide target of 21% by the same year.

Worldwide, wind power is the fastest growing energy sector with energy capacity doubling every 3 years - in 2005 it increased by 43% more than the previous year. Australia has one of the best and most consistent wind resources in the world, but without community and government we are being left behind.

Countries such as Germany have one third of our renewable resource, yet are one of the world leaders in both solar and wind installations. Germany's commitment to renewables is reflected in their decision to phase out all of its nuclear power stations by 2020. Countries with a high ratio of nuclear power such as France and even Sweden, the nuclear power capital of the world, are increasing their renewables.

There is a small vocal minority in the community who oppose wind farm developments. Hype created by these individuals is a smokescreen to a “nimbyism” based primarily on aesthetics. The recurring fictional rhetoric they preach regarding bird kills, noise and unreliability have long been proven false by independent scientists and engineers the world over.

WWF, Greenpeace, ACF, David Attenborough, David Suzuki, The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds In Britain and most other world leading environmentalists all publicly promote wind energy along with other renewables as being the way forward for electricity production. They would not take this stance if they believed wind farms posed a threat to bird or animal populations.

As far as noise is concerned, you can hold a conversation at the base of the biggest modern wind tower, while the turbine is working at full speed, without raising your voice (35-45 dB (A) at 350m ) and at 97-99% reliability, wind turbines far exceed the performance of coal plants.

I am a visual artist and aesthetics is very important to me, but I don't let it cloud my judgment. Let's put things in perspective. What is more important, your view being “spoilt” or addressing global warming?

The vocal minority should not be allowed to jeopardise the benefit to the silent majority on such a critical issue. We all share the same atmosphere. It is not a localised issue, it crosses all borders and affects us all.

I have focused on wind power because it is currently one of the most economical ways to increase the mix of renewable energy in the overall production of electricity. We all want electricity. I’m sure given a choice most of us would prefer to have clean power.

Next time you flick the switch on, think about where your power is coming from, and your contribution to GHG emissions.

Tuesday 20 June 2006

Green power for the future

The Australian
June 10, 2006

Impressive advances are being made in clean coal technologies, writes Andrew Trounson

IT seems almost too good to be true. Can we really make our dirty coal-fired power stations green? Have we discovered the silver bullet to slay the monster that has transformed our abundant coal reserves into sources of evil greenhouse gases?
As the Prime Minister's crusade to reassess the potential for nuclear power gained momentum this week, the coal industry was claiming that by the time nuclear power could become a reality in Australia, the technologies for effectively plugging greenhouse gas emissions from coal power plants will have been commercially proven.

The idea is to commercialise technologies that "clean" coal before it is burnt to bring down emissions closer to natural gas, which generates about half the emissions of brown coal. Carbon dioxide emissions would then be captured and compressed into almost liquid vapor that could then be piped to geological sites and injected hundreds of metres underground.

But while achieving this energy nirvana for the world's coal resources is feasible, it will be expensive, making alternative sources, such as natural gas and renewables, such as sun and wind, relatively more competitive.

According to numbers from the National Generators Forum that represent the country's main coal and gas-fired generators, by 2015-20 the generating cost of coal with carbon capture and burial, or sequestration, will be roughly the same as that for nuclear and wind.

Critics such as the environment lobby are concerned that carbon capture and sequestration technologies are unlikely to be widely enough employed to significantly cut global emissions until 2020 or more. That, they say, is too long a wait while we continue to burn coal, and that we should stop building new coal-fired plants and extending the life of new plants in favour of proven gas and renewable energy. It is why Victoria's decision last year to extend the life of the Hazelwood brown coal power plant from 2009 to 2031 so angered the environment lobby and renewable energy industry.

Nevertheless, there hasn't been a new coal-fired plant built in either Victoria or NSW in the past 10 years, with new capacity already largely coming from gas.

The seductive attraction of the self-styled clean coal technologies is the huge potential gain to be had from sequestering carbon emissions from coal, given its importance as a power source.

Australians get nearly 80 per cent of their electricity from coal-fired generation and the country has coal resources big enough to last hundreds of years.

And despite the threat of climate change, the energy-hungry populations of China, India and the rest of the developing world will be demanding ever more cheap fossil fuels to raise them out of poverty.

Globally, fossil fuels are expected to remain the planet's primary energy source until at least 2050, by which time scientists warn that we need to have stabilised carbon levels in the atmosphere or face serious, and in some places devastating, climate change. Many already think climate change is under way with the rising incidence of floods, hurricanes and other events.

China, where coal supplies 69per cent of the country's power, is effectively installing the equivalent of Australia's total coal power industry every year.

The International Energy Agency expects China to account for 26 per cent of all new global emissions between 2002 and 2030, more than all the emissions from the developed world combined. And in the 20 years to 2025, the IEA expects coal to account for 33per cent of global carbon dioxide growth.

Clearly, finding a solution to coal emissions is where the biggest dividends can be made in cutting global emissions. According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, scenario analysts suggest that including carbon capture and sequestration in a carbon dioxide mitigation portfolio could cut the cost of stabilising its levels in the atmosphere by 30 per cent or more.

"There is no reason why by 2020 we can't be putting a quarter of our emissions from coal and gas back into the ground, and no reason why by 2030 it wouldn't be about half," Mark O'Neill, chief executive of the Australian Coal Association, says.

It is the huge size of this tantalising alchemist's cherry that has driven the formation this year of the six-nation Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development and climate that is betting on technology to beat climate change.

It brings together Kyoto rebels Australia and the US, with the world's emerging energy consumption giants China and India. In the US the Government has teamed with industry, including coal giants Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, to invest $US1 billion ($1.34 billion) in the FutureGen project that aims to have the world's first commercial scale emissions-free coal-fired generator in operation by 2012 using carbon capture and sequestration.

In Australia the coal industry is putting $300 million into a technology development fund. Low emission technologies for fossil fuels are also expected to take the bulk of the Government's $500million low-emission fund announced last year, much to the chagrin of the renewable industry that complains the Government is punting too heavily on coal.

There are several low-emission coal demonstration projects under way in Australia aimed at reducing and or capturing coal emissions. But the most important is a $30 million trial of geo-sequestration in Victoria's Otway Basin by the Government-backed Co-operative Research Centre for greenhouse gas technologies.

Late this year the CRC plans to start injecting carbon dioxide underground into an old gas well at Nirranda, 20km east of Warrnambool in western Victoria. It will be piped from a naturally occurring underground reservoir some 2km away, with 100,000 tonnes of the gas to be re-injected underground over two years.

That compares with the 400million tonnes of carbon dioxide Australia emits every year. The CRC estimates that Australia has enough geological capacity to store up to six billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, which, assuming an injection rate of 50 million tonnes a year, would give us 120 years of storage.

But while the capture and sequestration technology is feasible and is used to varying degrees already in the oil and gas industry, the challenges of achieving carbon capture and sequestration shouldn't be underestimated.

To get a feeling for the scale of the undertaking to capture and store coal emissions, it has been estimated that the volume of flue gas emitted by coal-fired power stations across Australia every year is equivalent to about 20 times the amount of natural gas produced every year from Australian gas fields.

Capturing, compressing and storing such vast quantities of gas would be a Herculean undertaking. But since only 14 per cent of this vapour from a coal-fired power station is actually carbon dioxide, the key is using various technologies to strip out the nitrogen, oxygen and water vapour and significantly reduce the amount of gas that needs to be captured.

The other challenge is finding places to store the gas. While potential geological sites have been identified within reasonable distances of population centres in Victoria and Queensland, no such sites have been indentified within a 500km radius of Sydney or Newcastle. In an age when proposals for a gas pipeline between Papua New Guinea and Queensland are close to becoming a reality, this isn't an insurmountable problem, but it adds significantly to the overall cost.

There are also inevitable concerns over the safety of transporting and storing large quantities of concentrated carbon dioxide. Concentrated carbon dioxide is nasty stuff. In 1986, a freak geological disaster released a massive natural bubble of carbon dioxide from under Lake Nyos in Cameroon that asphyxiated more than 1700 people.

However, an IPCC assessment found that piping carbon dioxide posed no greater risk to the public than piping natural gas, and could be lower. And storing the carbon dioxide would involve injecting the gas hundreds of metres underground into reservoir rocks that have held oil and gas for millions of years.

Climate is biggest security challenge

The Australian
June 10, 2006

Patrick Walters, National security editor

CLIMATE change now poses a graver long-term security risk to Australia than terrorism, with a high likelihood it will produce destabilising civil conflict and unregulated population movements in Asia and the Pacific. That is the conclusion of leading Australian security expert Alan Dupont, the co-author of a new study on climate change and security to be published next week.

The report concludes that the "now irrefutable" evidence the planet is heating up will generate major national security challenges for Australia.

"It is the most significant issue confronting us because of its global dimensions and because it's almost certain to happen," Dr Dupont said yesterday.

"In probability and magnitude, it's well ahead of terrorism and just about anything else I can think of, short of a major global war or a nuclear exchange."

The study, to be published by the Lowy Institute, argues that the wider security implications of climate change have been largely ignored and seriously underestimated in public policy, academia and the media.

It calls on the Howard Government to adopt a more strategic approach to climate change, including setting up a taskforce to examine the policy connections between climate change and national security.

The Australian intelligence community, led by the Office of National Assessments, should co-ordinate a wide-scale assessment of the climate change risk to Australia, the report says.

"The likely speed and magnitude of climate change in the 21st century will be unprecedented in human experience, posing daunting challenges of adaptation and mitigation for all life forms on the planet," Dr Dupont and leading climate scientist Graeme Pearman conclude after analysing the latest scientific evidence of climate change.

Dr Pearman, former head of the CSIRO's division of atmospheric research, says the evidence the earth is heating up is irrefutable. "We are in no doubt that the planet has warmed," he told The Weekend Australian.

"We are highly confident that most of that warming has been due to greenhouse gas increases and that those will continue into the future, at least for some time, because of the momentum of our energy systems. We can anticipate further warming through this century."

Scientists now concede there is a real risk that previously forecast estimates of a 1.4C to 5.8C rise in global temperatures could be exceeded by 2100.

Climate scientists now "overwhelmingly accept" that the world's glaciers and northern ice cap are melting at faster rates and sea-level rises will threaten many coastal and low-lying areas.

Weather extremes, including droughts and severe floods, could lead to food, water and energy shortages in Asia-Pacific nations.

Climate change could also lead to "destabilising and unregulated population movements in Asia and the Pacific" as well as the threat of state collapse in the most severely affected developing nations.

Monday 19 June 2006

Danes seek broader research links

About The House, Page: 26 Friday,
16 June 2006

Danish scientists have told a delegation of Australian parliamentarians that more formalised links between Australian and Danish research institutions would be of benefit to both countries. The scientists, working at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences Foulum Research Centre, told the delegation while there are many personal contacts between Danish and Australian scientists and some specific project collaboration, broader contacts through formal research agreements would be welcome.

In the recently released report on its visit to Denmark and Sweden, the delegation, led by Speaker David Hawker, called for broader research links to be explored, given the strong interest that Australia and Denmark share in agricultural production and research. At the Foulum Research Centre, the delegation met with Australian scientist Dr Mark Henryon who briefed the delegation on projects in which the research centre had been involved. These included projects to breed disease resistant pigs and better trout andmarron. Dr Henryon told the delegation such projects could provide Australia with some "good food for thought". Other scientists told the delegation they would welcome Australian collaboration in the field of cloning.

Warnings about the future of the wind energy industry in Australia were also issued to the delegation during inspections of the Vestas Wind Systems headquarters in Denmark. Vestas has wind turbine manufacturing operations in Portland, Victoria and Wynyard, Tasmania. Vestas representatives told the delegation a lack of certainty regarding future renewable energy targets in Australia, coupled with public opposition to wind turbines in some areas, have generated significant concerns about the future viability of their Australian operations."Given the impact this could have on jobs in Australia and the potential loss of an alternative energy producer, these concerns need to be taken seriously, ' the delegation said in its report.

The delegation also urged the federal government to examine the feasibility of bringing the Nobel Prize Centennial Exhibition to Australia. During an inspection of the Nobel Museum in Stockholm the delegation was informed by the museum director that the Nobel Prize exhibition was being taken on a world tour, but Australia was not one or the planned destinations for the exhibition. The delegation felt this matter should be looked into, given Australia's impressive involvement with the Nobel Prize over many decades, including the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine to Australians Barry Marshall and Robin Warren.

Crows Nest firm in wind farm flap

Rural Weekly, Page: 6 Friday,
16 June 2006

IT ISN'T easy being green, as Crows Nest Shire Council has found. Council chief executive officer Dave McEvoy was at the Energy Resources Information Forum in Dalby last month to update participants on the progress of the Energreen wind farm, which has brought Crows Nest Shire Council and a group of opposing residents to the Planning and Environment Court. On August 7 the Planning and Environment Court will hear an appeal against Crows Nest Shire Council's approval of the wind farm at Upper Pinelands on two grounds: that approval was not in accordance with the shire's planning scheme and that the wind farm would be a detriment to flora and fauna in the area."The council saw major economic benefits in this project, mainly in carbon dioxide savings," Mr McEvoy said.

"This installation is capable of supplying one-third of the generating output of Tarong Power Station or enough electricity to supply a city twice the size of Toowoomba."But council also understands the concerns of residents -it was a matter of weighing the good against the bad."You just can't hide 85 metretowers behind a few trees," he said. Mr McEvoy said it was important that Commonwealth and state governments looked at extending their renewable energy targets, as without a stronger commitment to renewable energy it would remain difficult to attract more investment and development into the sector.

"We need to use a range of solutions and develop a range of technologies to meet our future energy needs," Mr McEvoy said. The Crows Nest wind farm was first proposed in June 2004: the initial proposal was for 65 turbine towers to be built in Crows Nest Shire and another 10 in neighbouring Rosalie Shire, with Crows Nest Shire Council leading the project. It was approved in late August last year, with Mayor Geoff Patch using his casting vote in favour of the proposal, worth an estimated $250 million and 16 local jobs. The appeal was lodged in January.