Posts Tagged ‘ environment ’

Highspeed Rail – Melbourne to Sydney

Air routes worldwide

Which air routes do you think would be amongst the busiest in the world? London to Paris? NYC to LA? Atlanta (world’s busiest airport) to Philadelphia? Nope, wrong. It’s Sydney to Melbourne in Australia with 950 flights per week, beaten only by Barcelona to Madrid and Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. Interestingly, Sydney to Brisbane is only slightly further down the list in 9th place with 590 flights per week. This is impressive for a country with a total population of only 20 million people but can be largely explained by geography. Australia is a country of vast distances with the population almost entirely focussed on 5 major cities around the circumference.

Wikipedia states that “The busiest air routes in the world appear to involve pairs of large cities in close proximity, but which rely more on air transport due to a lack of viable transport infrastructure for other modes, and the distance is large enough to discourage car driving.

Melbourne

Well Melbourne and Sydney are certainly too far apart for driving on any regular basis. Not only is it a good 10 hour drive but there is next to nothing in between, such is the nature of the Australian Outback. So, you might think, at least you would be able to drive fast given the emptiness of the surroundings and the straightness of the highways? Ah no, not recommended. The speed limit of 100 or occasionally 110kph is rigorously enforced and penalties are harsh.

Both cities are certainly large at between 4 and 5 million people each and there is an enormous amount of interaction between them, both business and tourist. This explains why 9 million people made the trip in 2009 and why that number is expected to rise 70% by 2020. The populations of both cities and Australia as a whole are predicted to increase dramatically in the next couple of decades.

Sydney

As for the lack of viable public transport… well, you can take a train but it takes about 11 hours and stops dozens of times. Or a bus. Which isn’t any quicker. Needless to say those options aren’t very popular when the flying time is only 1 hour.

But what is wrong with flying you might ask? You’re kidding right? Setting aside the environmental impact (shifting most passengers on the route from air to rail would save at least 1 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year), flying has become a harried, stressful, and often-times, inconvenient means of transportation. Anyone who thinks otherwise is obviously glancing nostalgically back to aviation’s romantic past, not the present (or they can afford to fly business class…). A quick analysis of the benefits of high-speed rail over flying is needed:

  1. Melbourne & Sydney airports are far outside their city centres. In Sydney this means an expensive taxi ride or metro ride. In Melbourne it’s an expensive taxi ride or a cheaper but still not inexpensive bus ride. Due to the lack of foresight of the Kennett government there isn’t, and likely never will be, a train link to the airport. High-speed rail as experienced in cities like London or Paris on the other hand, will take you directly into the heart of the city. No need for a separate transfer.
  2. Long queues to check in at airports, generally not at train stations.
  3. Long queues at security. There often isn’t any security for trains or it’s a lot less stringent.
  4. Don’t forget to remove your laptop from your bag at the airport. Not at the train station.
  5. You need to be at the airport early to guarantee you can check in, go through security, and make it to the gate lounge in time to wait the obligatory half hour or so. In my experience with high-speed rail in Europe it has been more of a case of turning up and getting on the train, usually not earlier than half an hour before departure.
  6. On a train you can leave your electronics turned on all the time including your mobile phone.
  7. You have more room on a train than you do in economy class on a plane and more freedom to move around.
  8. Trains cannot be delayed by fog, volcanic ash or other weather-related events (except fluffy snow – I’m looking at you Eurostar).
  9. Travelling by train you can watch the scenery out the window as it whizzes by. From an aeroplane you aren’t likely to see much at all.
  10. And, for most travellers, the most important aspect is the time taken, probably the reason not many people endure the current 11 hour trip. In Europe, Japan and China journeys of up to 800kms city centre to city centre are faster than air travel. Up to 1,000kms remain competitive. It’s 713kms as the crow flies between Melbourne and Sydney.

Bombardier High-Speed Train

The reasons for travelling by high-speed train instead of flying seem compelling so why hasn’t the infrastructure already been built? Obviously this would require a sizeable investment in infrastructure, around $15 billion for the line and the initial trains based on the French experience. But even at this cost a one-way economy fare of less than $150 and a business class fare of less than $300 should be possible. This compares very favourably with airfares, particularly when you take into account taxi rides to the airport or the cost of parking your car there.

Based on existing train technology a centre to centre journey time of less than 3 hours is possible. This could certainly not be matched by flying. And a single train can carry 900 passengers compared to around 160 passengers in a typical short-haul jet such as a Boeing 737. High-speed rail lines can safely accommodate 1 train in each direction every 15 minutes. So there is ample capacity for present and future demand.

In other cases where cities have been connected by high-speed rail the air services have virtually disappeared which demonstrates that passengers really prefer the hassle-free, point-to-point nature of rail travel. For example, since the Eurostar between Paris and London opened more than 70% of travel between them is by train, even though Heathrow is a European airline hub. So this is certainly a case of “build it and they will come”. All we need to do now is find the political will to make it happen.

Source article: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/society-and-culture/very-fast-rail-travel-figures-add-up-20100521-w1n2.html

Advertisements

Argument for offshore windfarms – UK

Offshore Windfarm

Just read compelling article by George Monbiot in the Guardian advocating the use of the UK’s offshore wind resources. Apparently the UK could become a net exporter of electricity by 2050 based on the potential for offshore wind generation and their expected energy consumption. Generation from offshore wind turbines has many benefits over onshore generation and avoids many of the pitfalls that stimy planned projects, most notably the NIMBY effect.

The points made in favour are:

  1. Taking into account constraints on offshore renewables such as water depths, shipping lanes and other obstacles there is practical potential for 2,130 terawatt hours per year – 6 times the UK’s current electricity demand.
  2. Utilising only 29% of this potential resource the UK could become a net electricity exporter.
  3. Utilising 76% of this potential resource the UK could become a net energy exporter (i.e. net of all electricity, oil and gas consumption).
  4. 145,000 people would be employed.
  5. Annual revenue of £62bn.
  6. The UK’s looming energy gap could be closed without resorting to any further use of fossil fuels.
  7. The public hostility to onshore windfarms would be avoided as the best offshore wind resource is far offshore where the turbines can’t be seen.
  8. Potential to create marine reserves around the turbines.
  9. Basically zero potential for habitat destruction unlike tidal barrages.

The major constraint at present is the capacity of the national grid to accommodate variable renewables. For the above benefits to apply the grid needs 34 gigawatts of backup capacity, energy storage, and interconnections with the continent via the proposed renewables supergrid. Given that this supergrid already has a measure of political approval and some very strong backers from the likes of Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark it is reasonably safe to assume that it will happen, so the UK should push ahead and become the leaders in offshore wind. This combined with the a renewables supergrid acting as a giant battery for Europe’s clean energy would make Eneropa a reality.

The construction effort required to make the UK a net energy exporter would be roughly equivalent to building the North Sea oil and gas infrastructure all over again, an enormous undertaking and no doubt a point that the sceptics will seize upon. But the fact is, if something so large was built before then it is completely plausible that it could be built again, only this time it would be clean, efficient, and future-proof. All that is needed is the political will to push it through and maybe even that is possible now with a fresh, inspired new government…

Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2010/may/20/offshore-renewables-pirc-report

Additional source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/may/19/offshore-green-energy-uk

Zero emission houses available in Australia

One thing that Australia has in common with the USA is suburbia. The suburbs around Melbourne in particular stretch in all directions further than the eye can see. The city covers a staggering 8,806 square kilometres and most of the recent expansion has been on the fringes in the form of “estates” with names like Caroline Springs or Brookland Greens. These estates are generally filled with McMansions and surround manicured lakes and grounds and are billed as “the perfect family lifestyle”. All very nice, if you like that kind of thing…

However, all is not as idyllic as it seems. The environmental costs of these estates are huge partly due to the lack of public transport links and the sheer distance that people are forced to commute every day. But the main culprit is the amount of energy that these McMansions consume. Due to their large size (usually larger than 300 square metres), cheap, poorly insulated construction, and large arrays of electronic gadgetry, they consume electricity and gas like there’s no tomorrow (which there won’t be if this continues…).

However, I was happy to read today about a company taking the first step to changing this situation. Henley Properties Group in association with CSIRO, Delfin and Sustainability Victoria has built a zero emissions show home on the new Laurimar Estate outside Melbourne. Most homes in these estates are picked from a catalogue which is what creates the homogeneous look and the McMansion title but soon customers will be able to tick the ‘zero emissions’ option. This show home will be on display until September 2010 after which a family will live in it and their energy usage will be compared with other houses on the estate. Assuming it is successful (and I don’t see why it wouldn’t be), these features should then be made available as an option on all their standard house designs. Of course, if you are building a bespoke house there is nothing to stop you incorporating all these features yourself and many people do.

The show home has been designed to produce enough renewable power onsite to supply all it’s energy needs over the course of a year. It achieves this in a couple of ways, firstly by reducing the amount of energy used (70% less than a comparable standard home), and secondly by actively generating electricity. It also monitors energy use in real time which helps the occupants to manage and reduce the amount of energy they consume. The house reduces energy consumption through superior insulation, correct orientation to the sun, advanced sealing systems and energy efficient lighting and appliances. It has solar panels to generate electricity and a solar water-heating system and collects both rainwater and grey water for reuse. With all these factors combined it achieves an 8 star energy rating compared to the required 5 star rating for new houses in Australia.

The most innovative part of the whole equation is the energy management system, controlled via a touchscreen in the house or via the internet or smart phone. These systems can be retrofitted to most houses and are so effective because they make it clear exactly when the most electricity is being used and by what appliance giving the occupants much more information and incentive to change their behaviour. The system can also automatically switch appliances off at certain times of the day such as tv’s on stand-by when everyone is at work or school. It also (importantly for Australia) monitors and manages water use.

And, surprisingly, the price premium for all this energy efficiency isn’t as much as I expected. Around AU$20k on top of the standard price of AU$254k for the energy efficiency features and another AU$20k to add the solar panels. Sure, AU$40k isn’t a small amount of money but it still represents less than 14% of the total price of the house. And who wouldn’t want to be able to turn on the heating or lower their blinds from their iPhone? It’s the way of the future!

Source Article: http://news.domain.com.au/domain/design-and-living/clean-living-now-an-option-20100515-v50l.html

Bio-Hydrogen Airship Concept

Hydrogenase

Interesting concept for airship design by Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut called Hydrogenase. Could airships make a comeback? I hope so.

In this case the airship is powered by algal-based bio-hydrogen in conjunction with inflatable photovoltaic cells. The airship docks with a floating organic seaweed farm that is responsible for the production of the bio-hydrogen. In addition, the dock is covered with solar panels and includes tidal energy turbines as well.

But isn’t travelling by airship slow? Well yes, but not as slow as you might think. This concept would be capable of travelling up to 190kph (110mph) and, more importantly, can carry up to 200 tonnes of freight making it more relevant as a replacement for sea freight.

And it looks amazing – isn’t that the most important thing?

Click to read more: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2010/05/organic_seaweed_farm_powers_bio-hydrogen_airship.php

Geoengineering – should we or shouldn’t we?

If we, the population of the Earth, accept that climate change is happening, and not in a good way, then it stands to reason we would want to do something about it. The fact that very little is being done about it in a cohesive and collaborative way is a reflection of the fact that there are still many climate change sceptics out there scuttling any attempts to spend the vast sums on new clean infrastructure that we are going to need. The arguments against carbon-trading, capping of CO2 emissions, and reduction of dependence on fossil fuels seem to be never-ending. Most arguments relate to money and the reluctance to spend it on clean technology until man-made climate change is proven beyond all doubt. Unfortunately it is unlikely to ever be proven to their high standards and certainly not before it will be too late to do anything about it.

Climatologists talk about a tipping point in the global climate. A point where global temperatures rise high enough that the continual temperature increase becomes self-sustaining. This will happen when enough permafrost in the Arctic melts that methane stored there begins to be released causing further temperature increase and further melting and so on. If we get to that point then I believe it seriously will be too late to do anything about it.

Most of the sceptics’ arguments centre around an unwillingness to do anything which will impact on our lives directly, be it travelling less, replacing the car with the bus, replacing the bus with the bicycle, or consuming less energy at home or at work. Some of these things such as insulating one’s house receive a boost because they can save you money, but in most cases the payback period is very long creating more reluctance and indecision. And most governments appear unable to put in place consistent incentives which would encourage people to invest in such changes. For example, the Australian government was subsidising roof insulation but it was mismanaged and now it is cancelled. They were also subsidising solar panel installation, now they’re not. And there is no certainty or consistency around feed-in tariff legislation either so householders are unwilling to risk investing in solar panels when they can’t accurately predict what it is going to cost them.

So if we’re not going to do anything meaningful about reducing our climate change-causing activities, how about trying a new activity which could mitigate the impact of the activities we refuse to curtail? This activity is geoengineering – the concept of “deliberately manipulating the Earth’s climate to counteract the effects of global warming from greenhouse gas emissions” [Wikipedia].

A number of geoengineering concepts have been proposed and discussed and, in most cases, discounted on the basis that they would be too expensive, too uncertain, or simply impossible with our current technology. Examples are; releasing billions of tiny mirrors into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays away; releasing dust to mimic the cooling effects of a volcano (probably unlikely given the recent travel disruption in Europe!); or building artificial “trees” that can absorb CO2. Recently another more practical and achievable option has been discussed – cloud seeding.

Cloud seeding ship

In this case special cloud-generating solar-powered ships would criss-cross the world’s oceans sucking up seawater and projecting it into the atmosphere as a fine mist, thus seeding white clouds. Done on a large enough scale there is reasonable certainty that this could actually have a measurable effect on the Earth’s temperature by reflecting the sun’s rays back into space. Now don’t get me wrong, this is still not going to be a cheap exercise. Studies indicate that it will cost around US$7 billion dollars to build 1,900 of these ships, the number required to halt global temperature increases according to their calculations. But hang on… yes, that is a large sum of money, but we are talking about saving the world as we (and all other species) know it, surely a cause worth investing in (even gambling on) a little. And to provide some perspective, Melbourne in Australia has recently spent US1 billion on a fancy new public transport ticketing system that doesn’t even work properly! (You’ll be experiencing more rants about this in future blogs…)

So if one city in the world can afford to waste US$1 billion dollars, how easily could all the countries in the world afford to fund a project together that could very likely guarantee our very existence (or at least make it more difficult for us to wipe ourselves out), for the paltry sum of US$7 billion? The best part is that this concept is scalable. It doesn’t have to all be built and launched at once giving scientists a chance to measure its success on a regional scale before going global. It is estimated that US$25 – 30 million would be enough to set up a test area of 10,000 square kilometres. The research group that are proceeding with this idea are Silver Lining (get it?) and they have had a bounce in the media due to a $300k contribution indirectly from Bill Gates who has provided about $4.5m to investigate climate cooling technologies.

Critics of this idea say that we shouldn’t be interfering with the weather or climate in this way as we are not certain what, if any, side-effects there will be. I am of the opinion that through industrialisation and economic growth we have already interfered with the climate and are seeing significant changes in the world’s weather patterns. This project should be considered as an effort to halt or even reverse this damage. In addition, unlike other more ambitious geoengineering projects, these ships can be simply turned off and their effects would vanish within a day or two. So I think there is very little danger of irrevocably damaging the climate.

At the very least it is refreshing to hear about a project that offers hope of a solution and actually has some chance of practical application.

Source articles:
http://inhabitat.com/2010/05/10/bill-gates-announces-funding-for-seawater-spraying-cloud-machines/
http://news.globaltv.com/world/Plans+cool+planet+heat+geoengineering+debate/3014922/story.html

Electrical Trades Union building in Melbourne to add “solar skin”

Concept drawing

Just read an article in The Age about how the Electrical Trades Union is going to update their building in central Melbourne by adding a “skin” of movable solar panels and solar-sensitive film. They will also be covering the roof with solar panels and wind turbines.

In an even more inspired move they will also allow access for any electricians to learn about the technology and how to maintain and service it. This is a necessary aspect of the renewable energy equation as it is pointless governments encouraging people to install new high tech energy solutions if nobody knows how to service them.

Given that Melbourne, like most of the rest of Australia, has a very sunny climate and, at times, extremely hot & windy conditions, I imagine this installation will result in a significant contribution to the energy needs of the building. Whether it can be made to pay for itself is less certain but it should serve as a shining example of what is possible. Government in turn should formulate policy that encourages and subsidises such initiatives to reduce our dependence on dirty brown coal.

A link to the article: http://www.theage.com.au/environment/union-building-to-add-solar-skin-20100402-rjv1.html

Eneropa

Eneropa

Interesting article in the Guardian showing a map of Europe divided up by potential for renewable energy generation rather than by nation. For example, the UK and Ireland are called the tidal states due to their huge potential for tidal power and Spain, Italy, Greece are part of Solaria due to their potential for solar power generation.

I believe strongly that a Pan-European renewable energy grid is the way forward. Most renewable energy technology by it’s very nature cannot be relied upon to provide base-load power generation because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow in every country. But it is safe to say that when the sun isn’t shining in Spain, it’s quite likely that it is shining in Greece or Germany and when the wind isn’t blowing in Denmark it probably is in Scotland. Thus if we have the ability to send renewable energy efficiently from where it is available to where it is needed and if we use a combination of all different forms of generation it is feasible to entirely rely on renewables.

A Pan-European grid would also help to remove much of the opposition to renewable energy that exists today. Sceptics and opponents wouldn’t be able to downplay the effectiveness of a proposed wind-farm by saying “and what happens when the wind isn’t blowing?”. The answer would simply be that another region of the grid being fed by wave power or solar power or hydro-power would pick up the slack and life can continue uninterrupted.

The other benefit I see in such a scenario is it will allow regions to really focus on the technology that is best suited to them instead of being distracted by trying to cover all bases. If Spain knew that it could rely on hydro-power from Norway when the sun isn’t shining then they would be free to pour all of their development money into maximising solar generation without having to worry about also giving themselves a backup. In contrast the UK could forget solar generation which is marginal at best in their climate and focus on tidal and wind generation. Each region could become an expert and world leader in their own field. Arguably some regions have already achieved this e.g. Denmark with wind-power and Norway with hydro-power.

Without such cooperation and sharing I agree with the sceptics that renewable energy generation will never be able to cover the base-load requirements of Europe.

Here is a link to the article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/gallery/2010/may/07/architecture-rem-koolhaas