Monthly Archives: May 2013

Protecting Coastal Cities From Rising Seas

Vanishing coastlines are a major test for government action. For many cities, especially those in nations that have made incremental progress on national climate change policy, and even those like Venice that have grappled with a rise in water levels for decades, the time to act is now.


The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projected in 2007 that global sea levels would rise between 8 inches and 2 feet over the next century. But thanks to persistently high air and sea temperatures over the past six years, glaciers are melting, polar ice caps are shrinking, and ice is being lost from the continental sheets of Greenland and West Antarctica at a faster rate than anticipated. Combining these new developments with the expected thermal expansion, scientists writing for Environmental Research Lettersanticipate that global sea levels will rise between 12 inches and 3 feet over the next century—a 60 percent increase over the IPCC model.

That means the coastlines around more than two-thirds of the world’s largest megacities and the sprawl that surrounds them are disappearing much faster than predicted. With millions of urbanites’ security at risk, the consequences of not taking preventive measures go far beyond a sinking Piazza San Marco. Warmer, higher oceans dramatically increase the risk of frequent extreme weather events, damaging floods, and storm surges. Recent storms likeHurricane Sandy on America’s East Coast, with damages totaling over $50 billion for the entire region, and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, with a death toll that climbed to nearly 140,000 lives, demonstrate the varied and damaging repercussions of sea-level rise all too clearly. Residences, transportation infrastructure, schools, hospitals, industry, and commercial areas, among other valuable urban assets, will face billions of dollars in climate-related damages over the coming decades.


From Ephesus, Turkey, to Mumbai, India, urban settlements along the sea have been important concentrations of cultural, economic, and population growth for millennia. Today, some of the world’s largest megacities and suburbs, with growing populations of more than 10 million, are also those most vulnerable to sea-level rise. Over the next half century, urban coastal communities around the world will face a new reality of dangerously amplified security risks, loss of life, and economic destruction from climate-change-induced flooding and storm surges.

Kolkata, India, for instance, is expected to contain more than 14 million people in locations vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding by 2070, a sevenfold increase over its exposed population of 1.9 million today. Sea-level rise will jeopardize not only the homes and livelihoods of those 14 million people but also—and perhaps most importantly—their basic safety.

But Kolkata is not the exception—it’s the norm. Most of the top ten port cities with the largest number of people exposed to coastal flooding are growing and industrializing Asian cities (see table 1). Collectively, they are home to a total of nearly 66.4 million people and have combined future exposed assets of more than $19 trillion (see table 2). More

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Bladeless, funnel-based wind turbine claims huge efficiency gains

As governments all over the globe continue inching towardrenewable energy sources, there continue to be a few sticking points. One company out of Minnesota claims to have a new wind power generation technology that can alleviate most of the world’s concerns. SheerWind says its Invelox system can operate in a wider variety of conditions and is up to 600% more efficient than traditional wind turbines.

Those large wind turbines you’re used to see dotting the skyline in rural areas rely on fairly swift winds to function. Invelox can generate power from winds as gentle as 1-2 MPH. It does this by capturing passing breezes in large scoops at the top of its 40-50 foot tower. The wind is funneled down toward the ground through an increasingly narrow space. When the air is compressed, it speeds up and is used to power a small turbine generator.

The claim that Invelox is six-times more efficient than a turbine is more than a little shocking, so SheerWind is trying to prove its case, but it’s currently doing so with internal testing (so keep that in mind). The company tested its turbine both with and without the Invelox cowling. When it compared the values over time, that works out to energy production improvements anywhere from 81-660%. The average was 314%, but it should be noted this is actually the advantage SheerWind’s turbine gets from being inside the Invelox system. It’s not quite a comparison with “real” wind power turbines.

Fuzzy math aside, the company says it has been able to produce wind power at a cost of $750 per kilowatt, including installation. This brings it in-line with the final cost of energy from natural gas and hydropower. The energy industry is all about value, so if the Invelox technology is legit, it’s going to be huge. Invelox takes up much less space than traditional windmills, and it poses little to no risk to birds or curious children. More


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Can Wind Energy help SIDS economies?

The 1 May celebrations in Europe last week were tainted by historically high unemployment levels, a miserable macroeconomic outlook and a battered climate and energy policy.

The challenges facing Europe’s economy are many. But it is beyond doubt that a thorough modernisation of our energy supply remains an important part of the solution.

Every single day the EU spends almost a billion Euros in oil imports. This is far from being the best way for Europe to strengthen its competitiveness, public finances, employment and security of supply. At the same time, an outdated and poorly connected electricity grid continues to impose unnecessarily high energy prices on businesses and consumers.

In many Member States the economic crisis has led “cheap energy” to become a mantra for business and policy makers. I couldn’t agree more. Accordingly, it is all the more important that the setting of energy prices is based on fair and transparent accounting methods. Therefore the cost of pollution should, obviously, be included as should the hidden subsidies from which both fossil fuels and nuclear energy benefit so hugely.

We must keep in mind that what is cheap energy today will not necessarily remain cheap tomorrow. In the past, we have time and again underestimated the development of the oil price. Given that the European continent possesses no significant fossil energy reserves, and is already importing more than half its energy, it would be a high-risk game, both from an economic and from a security policy point of view, to base our long-term energy strategy on what is cheap here and now.

European energy policy stands at a crossroads. In the last five years the Climate and Energy Package has secured a sustained expansion of renewable energy. This has not only given us a unique industrial stronghold, but also fostered hundreds of thousands of jobs.

However, the combination of a collapsed carbon credit market and the sudden, retroactive winding down of support-schemes by a string of governments, has raised serious doubts about the industry’s future and current policy framework, and consequently created nervousness among investors. In 2012, investments in renewable energy fell by 51 percent in Italy and by around 68 percent in Spain. Recently, a report from the European Commission indicated that we need to intensify our efforts if we are to have any chance of achieving the 2020 goals.

We urgently need new policy initiatives. We must readjust the carbon credit market and make it work, and we also need to remove administrative and technical barriers, and improve the electricity grid. Above all this, we need a new framework for 2030 climate and energy policy.

The European Commission’s Green Paper urgently needs to be followed up by concrete policy proposals. It would be the worst possible outcome if this key challenge were neglected with the buck merely passed to the next Commission. In practical terms, this could mean that the fundamental uncertainty about the industry’s framework conditions would linger on until 2017 or 2018, effectively spelling disaster for the industry.

An ambitious CO2 reduction target stands at the heart of the new framework, since it will determine the level of environment policy ambition and the quota price. But if the new framework is to truly contribute to boosting innovation and employment, it is essential that it also contains a binding target for renewable energy.

This will on the one hand help avoid a disproportionately large part of investment going into nuclear power, which may well be climate friendly, but would also sustain a centralised and inflexible energy supply while being expensive and risky. On the other hand, a renewable energy target will push Member States to make concrete plans to achieve such targets. Furthermore, it will provide grid companies with a concrete policy basis when planning the expansion of the electricity grid.

Last but not least, a renewable energy target will help ensure continued investment in what is definitively one of Europe’s industrial strongholds. Every year wind energy contributes more than €27 billion to the European economy, and provides employment for more than 280,000 people across the continent. More


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