Offshore wind: a huge resource

Two wind energy items arrived in my inbox in close proximity recently. One was from the NZ Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) congratulating Meridian Energy on turning the first sod at Mill Creek wind farm in the Ohariu Valley north-west of Wellington. It’s a 60 megawatt farm of 26 turbines. The project will cost $169 million and is expected to be commissioned by mid-2014. It will increase NZ’s installed wind capacity from 623 megawatts to 683 megawatts.

NZWEA’s chief executive made appropriate remarks to accompany the announcement, reiterating the expectation that at least 20% of NZ’s electricity will be generated from wind by 2030 and noting the technology advances in harnessing wind which is now one of the lowest cost options for new generation in New Zealand.

It’s good to see the steady progress in the development of wind energy in NZ, although it seems to arouse little excitement in Government circles who reserve most of their interest for further  fossil fuel development. And a report in Saturday’s NZ Herald was a sobering reminder that the $7 billion invested in the oil and gas sector over the past five years puts it far ahead of any other local sector when it comes to investment in new productive capacity. NZ is hardly on the brink of transition from fossil fuels, hardly, it seems, even interested in the possibility while there’s money to be made from exploiting them.

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The Lesson from China

Environmentalist Lester Brown is a competitive long-distance runner even into his late seventies. There’s something of the dogged persistence of that sport in the way he keeps delivering the message that humanity must change course, and backing up what he has to say with masses of data.  The latest email I received a few days ago from his Earth Policy Institute underlined that message yet again, along with stark figures. It’s a short article headed Learning From China. I was taken with its directness and simplicity and thought it worth sharing here. He reflects that for as long as he can remember his own country, the US, with 5 percent of the world’s population has consumed a third or more of the earth’s resources. But today China consumes more basic resources than the US does. China uses a quarter more grain than the United States. Its meat consumption is double that of the United States. It uses three times as much coal and four times as much steel.

That’s national consumption. What if per capita consumption in China were to catch up with the US? That will happen by 2035 on the conservative assumption that China’s economy slows from the 11 percent annual growth of recent years to 8 percent.

If the Chinese spend their income more or less as Americans do today, then things get pretty well impossible. Continue reading “The Lesson from China”

Lester Brown and the water lilies

When I was reviewing Paul Gilding’s book The Great Disruption I was frequently aware of similarities with Lester Brown’s writing, most recently World on the Edge. The parallels were highlighted further for me when I viewed an excellent recent documentary on Lester Brown’s advocacy which has recently screened on PBS in the US. I recommend the film as providing a clear overview of Brown’s thinking. It is available streamed during the month of April. For those who don’t have the time to look at it I’ll briefly highlight one or two significant points which are echoed by Gilding and which sound themes that are surely central to any hope of preventing the full danger inherent in climate change.

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Let the wind blow (again)

Lester Brown doesn’t let up when he’s published a book. Over successive months his Earth Policy Institute produces follow-up articles focusing on particular topics. The latest is on wind power, which was strongly advocated in his recent book World on the Edge as the early leader in the move to renewable sources of energy. What he has to say about the global development of wind power ties in with my recent update on wind power in New Zealand and is well worth reporting here. What follows is mainly extract from his article.

There are now more than 70 countries developing wind resources. Between 2000 and 2010, world wind electric generating capacity increased at what Brown describes as frenetic pace from 17,000 megawatts to nearly 200,000 megawatts.

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World on the Edge

Lester Brown has for years been unwavering and persistent in drawing attention to the gathering environmental dangers humanity faces and pointing to the alternative practices which might yet save us from the worst effects. His widely read Plan B books have appeared at regular intervals throughout the last decade. I reviewed the fourth of them on Hot Topic in 2009. A new book now published is shorter but no less urgent, as its title indicates: World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse.

He points to three areas where the foundations of human civilisation are under severe threat, particularly because of the effects on food production. Water is being overpumped from aquifers and the world’s farmers are losing the water war, with dangerous consequences for food production as harvests consequently shrink.  Soils are eroding and deserts expanding on an alarming scale, resulting in lowered soil fertility and contraction of land available for farming. Global warming is bringing a climate instability to which agriculture is not adapted, the threat of sea level rise which will shrink rice harvests in vulnerable areas, and changes to water supply from mountain glaciers already affecting farming negatively in some places.

Continue reading “World on the Edge”