We are stewing in our own oven  

Posted by Big Gav in , ,

The SMH has an article on reducing the urban heat island effect via smarter design of roads and buildings - We are stewing in our own oven.

You, reader, live in a primitive city. In a hundred years from now, the society we are building will look back and marvel at how little we really understood about the world we have constructed for ourselves.

We are stewing in our own juices.

Last Wednesday, a night of driving rain, I attended a seminar where more than 100 professionals, a standing room-only crowd, had gathered to learn about practical, cheap, achievable ways of stopping Sydney's pot from simmering. These were not wide-eyed utopians. In purely parochial terms, the heating of our biggest cities is even bigger than the global warming debate. Because the rise in temperature is mostly and demonstrably caused by outdated thinking.

The story starts on Observatory Hill, at the southern end of the Harbour Bridge, where weather records have been kept daily since 1860. What the observatory has recorded is a rise in the average temperature at the centre of Sydney from 20.5 degrees to 22 degrees. As Sydney grows, Sydney slowly heats.

At last Wednesday's seminar we learnt why - 27 per cent of the surface of the metropolitan area is covered by bitumen, the black tar which soaks and retains heat and thus changes the city's climate.

Nearly all the rainwater run-off on this 27 per cent of the city is lost to productive use, flowing into Sydney Harbour because it is designed that way. The city's rooftops also gather heat. Roads and pavements maximise the waste of arable land. Tree-planting is stunted for legal reasons. Topsoil is "scalped" by roadworks. The increasing use of air-conditioners is creating more energy. More heat begets more heat.

It is not just a Sydney story. The most telling detail lost amid all that was written and broadcast about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, which killed 173 people, was that more people died from heat stress in Melbourne than in the fires. During the oven-like temperature peak (three consecutive days above 43 degrees) Melbourne saw a spike of 1400 emergencies requiring an ambulance.

An extra 374 people died in Victoria that week compared to the average week. Most were heat stress related.

"To break this heating cycle we don't need more money, we need more intelligent use of what we already have," says the person who organised Wednesday's seminar, Michael Mobbs, the creator of Sydney's most famous experiment in sustainable housing. He was stunned by the size and quality of the turnout. The room was full of planners from councils across Sydney. He was especially pleased that the gathering was addressed by Arjan Rensen, a senior executive from ARRB, the company which writes the specification guidelines for all the road agencies in Australia.

"It was hugely symbolic having him there, willing to be associated with what we're trying to do," Mobbs told me. "It means the road authorities are at last starting to deal with the impact their roads are having on our cities."

The roads are Mobbs's starting point for reform, because they take up so much room and are so taken for granted. "We should just use existing bitumen and gravel but choose pale gravel, and mix it so that the gravel shows through the bitumen," Mobbs says. "We could also use dyes like those used in bus lanes, but paler than green or red. These were first used in the Harbour Tunnel, which was privately owned, because the owners wanted to cut the cost of their electricity bill. On streets with low traffic volume, these dyed surfaces will last 15 to 20 years."

Then there is the overlooked space, the humble pavements. They should be planted and widened where possible because of the cooling powers of plants and trees. Fruit trees and vegetable gardens should also be grown in public space such as roadsides. The practice is common in Germany.



The SMH also has an article on Obama's call for the US to embrace clean energy technology and act on global warming - Act now on climate: Obama.
THE Obama Administration's climate change negotiator has warned that any country that delays enacting laws will miss out on a huge wave of investment waiting for the regulatory dam to break.

Indicating the US was ready to act without India or China, Todd Stern said the Obama Administration was determined to lead on this issue. "In our view, you can become an economic winner by acting," he said in an interview with the Herald.

"Some say we should wait in terms of our domestic legislation to see what others do. The President doesn't accept that. Our Administration doesn't accept that. We totally think that the Chinese and Indians and others need to act. But it's not our view that our decision to act ought to be made contingent on them."

With the global negotiations on carbon emissions set for Copenhagen in December, the US hopes to have new carbon emissions laws in place by the end of the year.

Mr Stern, the special envoy for climate change, said laws to tackle carbon emissions would deliver the certainty investors needed, unlocking enormous sums to go into energy industries.

Last year the International Energy Agency estimated investment of $US26,000 billion would go into new energy infrastructure worldwide by 2030, with $1500 billion of that destined for the US.

As in Australia, the US House of Representatives has passed a bill to create a carbon emissions trading system, but in both countries the bill has yet to win Senate approval.

The Australian has an article on Chinese clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives - Chinese energy is greener than ours.
T'S hard to comprehend, Martin Ferguson said last week. The federal Minister for Resources and Energy was referring to the fact that, in the next decade, China will bring on line about 1000 average-sized coal-fired power stations, equivalent to 34 times Australia's present coal-burning generation capacity.

Ferguson's government and others in the developed world are being asked to comprehend even more than that, however. They have been repeatedly warned by the International Energy Agency that, even if the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries collectively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2030, they cannot put the world on track to achieve stablisation of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at 450 parts per million.

When the IEA delivers its new world energy outlook in September, ahead of the Copenhagen global warming treaty summit in December, this gobsmacking message can only be reinforced. Non-OECD countries are heading towards a collective volume of emissions of more than 25 billion tonnes a year by 2030, compared by then with less than 15 billion tonnes for the OECD nations.

In the vanguard, of course, is China, but not because it is ignoring the issue.

Ferguson could have also cited a set of startling Chinese green power statistics in his mid-July speech to the Queensland Resources Council.

By 2020 China aims to have installed 300,000MW of hydro power (equal to 80 Snowy Mountains schemes), 30,000MW of plants fuelled by agricultural waste, 1800MW of solar power and more than 50,000MW of wind farms (about four times what will be needed here to meet the Rudd renewable energy target).

This will involve spending $US33billion ($40.3bn) a year on renewable energy.

Everything about the Chinese effort is mindboggling. For example, it now employs 600,000 people (twice the population of Canberra) installing solar hot-water heaters in a $US2bn a year business. Its electric bicycle business is worth more than $US6bn a year.

Nor are its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its coal-burning generators to be underestimated. Since 2005 China has required all new large power plants to use at least high-efficiency, super-critical technology and since 2007 it has shut down smaller, inefficient plants with a capacity of 14,380MW (more generation capacity than in NSW).

This is allowing China to leapfrog the less efficient coal technology that is dominant in the developed world, including Australia.

At Yuhuan, it has commissioned 4000MW, almost as much capacity as the largest generating complex in Australia, Bayswater-Liddell, of ultra-super-critical generation, the largest operation of its kind in the world, providing power to 10 million households, with a thermal conversion efficiency of 45 per cent, about one-quarter better than conventional coal-burning generators.

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