Banks are funding the fossil fuel industry, and profits continue to be harvested at the expense of lives and the planet, writes Nicole King.
Johannesburg – Last year was the hottest on record, it has been confirmed, and we risk runaway climate change, so it’s time for a Global Day of Divestment action.
Load shedding. Coal and oil price volatility. Greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change. Devastating floods in Malawi. New mining licenses under consideration. Your bank is potentially funding them.
On Global Divestment Day, millions of people across the world pulled hard on one of the threads that connects all of these pieces together, drawing the fossil fuel industry and the banks and institutions that fund it into the spotlight.
Friday the 13th might well have been unlucky for those who would prefer that business proceeds as usual and that profits continue being harvested at the expense of people and the planet.
The scientific health check for the Earth is dire. Last year was the hottest year since records began in 1880, with average combined temperatures across sea and land rising to 0.77º Celsius above the 20th century average. Nine of the 10 warmest years have been experienced since 2000. As a result, the frequency and severity of flooding and droughts are increasing and sea levels are beginning to rise.
We are shattering other records too: burning record amounts of coal and oil, investing record amounts of capital in fossil fuels and producing record levels of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global temperatures to rise. Burning fossil fuels is the number one driver of climate change and globally. At least 80 percent of all known reserves need to stay in the ground if average temperatures are to be kept to a 2º Celsius future rise, a target that is unlikely to be met without radical change.
We have to act now. That is why people of conscience are using their collective power as bank account holders, students and academics, religious leaders and members of faith-based communities to get banks to stop future investments and public institutions to divest from coal and oil. The global divestment movement includes 181 individuals and institutions – representing more than $50 billion (about R583bn) in assets – that have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.
In South Africa, all of the banks fund fossil fuels, so people have been getting behind the Fossil Free Africa campaign to call for their banks to change direction, starting with Nedbank. The “green bank” could become the industry leader by disclosing its investments as a first step toward ultimately committing to stopping funding future fossil fuel projects.
In the fight for climate justice, the human cost of rising temperatures is proving too high. The recent flooding in Malawi and Mozambique claimed hundreds of lives and left thousands more people homeless and facing food shortages and hunger.
At the same time, water scarcity across Africa is increasing, including in South Africa. Northern Kenya is experiencing its worst drought in 60 years. Too often it is those who have done the least to cause climate change who are paying the ultimate price, but everyone of us will soon feel the impact.
In Springs, for generations people have been living with the impacts of mining, first from coal then gold. Communities in Kwa-Thema and other locations now face four new open-cast coal mines, some of which will border residential areas. There is scepticism about the promises of jobs and fear about the health risks associated with polluted water and air.
Then there is the coastline. In November, President Jacob Zuma announced Operation Phakisa, the government’s plan to fast-track economic development through oil and gas exploration off the coast, including a potential 3.5km-deep oil well off KwaZulu-Natal’s coast. ExxonMobil has applied for exploration rights which include plans for seismic tests in the Indian Ocean in the highly volatile Agulhas Current, bringing with it a potential threat to marine life from Richards Bay to the Eastern Cape.
So why, with the risk to people and the environment, do we seem to be falling deeper into this addiction to fossil fuels? The impact of volatile oil prices is changing the energy dynamics globally and some, like climate campaigner Naomi Klein, see this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make major global changes to energy policy.
These could include a moratorium on drilling in the Arctic and on countrywide fracking following the example set by countries like Scotland. Prices for a barrel of oil are at 50 percent of their mid-2014 levels, suddenly making extreme energy projects like fracking far less economically viable. Some projects face the potential of becoming risky “stranded assets” for banks and investors.
In South Africa, however, growing domestic demand for energy from coal means that many new coal mines are likely to be unaffected by oil price shocks.
There is also interest in the potential for oil, so new mining licences for coal and exploration licenses for offshore oil drilling are being considered by government.
The country has plenty of low-grade and highly polluting “cheap” coal, one of the key reasons for Eskom building the coal-fired power stations at Medupi and Kusile.
What government, labour and civil society do seem to agree on is that we must undertake a just transition away from fossil fuels to a clean energy future powered in large part by renewable energy
A clean energy future powering a low carbon development path is possible. What is needed is a step change in ambition and political will to scale up the renewable energy revolution.
Nuclear is not an option. A R1 trillion deal could bankrupt the country, the environmental risks are too high and the 10-16-year build time would mean breaching the upper limit of our agreed carbon dioxide targets as emissions grow.
Renewables can deliver thousands of megawatts more quickly than any other option and are the only solution to connect finally the approximately 1.5 million people in rural communities who would otherwise stay off the grid. South Africa is among the top 10 countries globally when it comes to renewable generation capacity, but according to Eskom this accounts for only about 500 megawatts out of a capacity of about 44 000MW. This renewables figure is planned to rise to 3 725MW by 2030, accounting for no more than 8 to 10 percent of total generation capacity.
Back the renewable energy sector and the benefits will multiply. Technology solutions will improve the efficiency and reduce the cost of solar and wind turbine units. Advances in electricity storage will help unlock the biggest win, to extend access to electricity potentially through community-owned local generation facilities that move us away from massive central production and costly grid infrastructure. With scale, job creation will follow.
This kind of just transition will not happen overnight, but with the lights going out, people are no longer prepared to sit and wait for government and businesses to act. For too long, global leaders have failed us by protecting the fossil fuel industry and putting short-term economic and political goals before our long-term survival.
The global fossil fuel industry and the banks financing it can no longer neglect their responsibilities.
In South Africa that goes for Nedbank, Standard Bank and Absa/Barclays, among others who continue to pump billions of rands into projects across the continent.
South Africa stands at a crossroads.
Your bank, pension fund, university, church, mosque, synagogue and temple could be funding the burning of more fossil fuels, the destruction of more land and livelihoods, and an increase in water scarcity because it uses huge amounts of water to dig out, clean and burn coal. Worst of all, we risk perpetuating the environmental crimes that will see people pay with their health yet still have no electricity to show for it just as their parents and grandparents before them.
The alternative is to demand divestment and fight for a vision and ambition that will sustain communities and connect millions more to clean electricity.
That is why, on Global Divestment Day, we will be standing in solidarity with the millions of people fighting the consequences of our changing climate.
Fossil fuels are history, renewables are the near future.
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With the natural growth of the solar industry in South Africa, we are now able to access materials and equipment that were previously unavailable. As consumers are becoming more and more aware of solar water heating, the demand for larger, more advanced systems has grown. Integration of various heat sources and heat demands is now possible, using carefully designed and sometimes patented hydraulic components.
Changes to the National Building Regulations have also created demand for integrated solar thermal systems that incorporate additional heating demands such as swimming pools and space heating. The integration of multiple heat sources and heating demands has in the past been a rather complex matter, since the design and control of these systems requires some careful planning. Access to more efficient pumps has enabled these complex systems to be finely managed to ensure the most effective delivery of renewable energy to the right place, at the right time, at the right temperature.
Fortunately for us (or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint), we are able to learn from others in the global industry and we now have access to solutions that make the task of implementing world class solar thermal solutions much easier that is had been before.
A number of fundamental principles are paramount in the design and effective execution of these systems:
• Fresh water heating technology • Stratification
• Flow modulation
Let us look at these principles in more detail
Fresh Water Technology
The term is slightly misleading and derives its origin from the German“Frischwasser”, which is used to describe a component that provides instantaneous hot water, on demand, without storing the heated water. In these fresh hot water systems, the heating of the sanitary hot water takes place in a heat exchanger that draws its heat from the solar (or otherwise) heated buffer tanks. Hot water to be delivered to the demand points is never stored or kept in a heated state in a sealed vessel. The buffer tanks therefore become nothing more that static thermal batteries that store kilowatt hours in an inert medium, water. The water in these buffer tanks remains heated and insulated in a closed sealed loop to the various heat exchangers, allowing the system to draw from this stored heat as and when required.
This has a number of advantages:
- Reduced heat loss from distributed small volume storage
- More efficient heat delivery
- Diverse temperature delivery from one integrated system
- Significant reduction in turbulence in the stored water (buffer)
- Dramatically reduced pathogen growth and reduced health risk
The last point above is perhaps the most crucial of all, since we live in a society where the average consumer may very well be living with a compromised immune system and would be much more vulnerable to contracting respiratory disease. The main culprit in hot water is a bacterium of the genus Legionella, which is spread in fine water droplets (aerosols) and can lead to an acute respiratory condition known as Legionnaires’ disease (World Health Organisation, 2007). This bacteria thrives in stagnant water in temperatures of between 30°C and 50°C, and can survive in temperatures beyond these limits. The use of fresh water heating systems provides a means to deliver hot water without the risk of bacterial incubation, thereby ensuring safe, clean, uncontaminated hot water. This is especially important in health care and hospitality applications where infectious diseases can spell disaster.
For detailed information about Legionella in the South African context, consult the recently published South African National Standard for Legionella Control, published 13th May 2013 (SANS893) (Ecosafe, 2013)
The concept of stratification in hot water systems refers to the fact that layers of water at various temperatures naturally separate due to density differences, with the hottest water at the top and the cooler water at the bottom. The use of plate heat exchangers to transfer the heat to the required heating demands allows low circulation rates, thereby reducing turbulence and encouraging the stratification effect. This technique is often referred to as the ‘low flow’ or ‘single pass’ and is characterised by mass flow rates of approximately 5-20kg/m2h (AEE – Institute for Sustainable Technologies, 2009). There are a number of distinct advantages to stratification:
• Target temperatures at the top of the buffer are rapidly achieved
• Solar collector efficiency is increased due to lower inlet temperatures
• Reduced auxiliary heating demand
• Lower mass flow rates mean smaller pipe dimensions and also smaller pumps can be used The overall effect of correctly applied stratification is a reduction in the total energy required to
run the system, and a resultant reduction in total system cost (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
Flow in piping is a much misunderstood and highly dynamic issue within solar heating design in South Africa. The vast majority of designers/installers do not consider the flow rate when designing or implementing larger scale solar thermal systems. In fact, many of them interviewed indicated that they gave it no consideration at all, beyond ‘is the fluid moving or not’ (Students, 2013).
The truth is that flow rates in solar thermal systems are absolutely crucial and can make the difference between warm water and hot water, no matter how cleverly contrived the rest of the design may be.
• High flow rates use high power pumps, increase electrical consumption and friction losses. • High flow rates may cause the disruption of stratification within the buffer tanks
• High flow rates accelerate deterioration within heat exchangers
- Low flow rates reduce the electrical energy required to run pumps and also reduces the
friction losses in the piping.
- Low flow rates allow effective stratification within buffer tanks
- Low flow rates increase the efficiency of solar thermal collectors, by lowering the collector
- Low flow rates increase the temperature at the outlet of both heat exchangers and solar
collectors, thereby allowing the target temperature required in the buffer tanks to be reached more rapidly. (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
Thanks to the demand for more efficient pumps in the EU and elsewhere, we are able to access pumps and controls that allow speed management of single phase hot water circulators. By implementing a control strategy that dynamically adjusts the flow rate according to temperatures and temperature differences, the total system efficiency is increased, not only as a result of reduced pumping power, but as a result of more efficient solar harvesting (German Solar Energy Society, 2010). In its simplest form, a solar differential controller measures the temperature at the hottest point in the system, compares it to the coldest point in the system and adjusts the pump speed up or down accordingly. In other words, the pump will dynamically increase or decrease its speed as the solar input varies throughout the day. This is particularly important in a climate where summer thunderstorms are prevalent, since the solar circuit will adjust for the reduced radiation during the storms, thereby ensuring efficient solar harvesting.
Flow modulation is also critical in fresh water heating systems, which could easily be called the inverse of solar heating circuits – instead of changing the buffer with thermal energy, they discharge thermal energy in a controlled manner. Flow modulation is again very important, since the variable speeds of the pumps on either side of the fresh water heating system heat exchanger will ensure that the target temperature is immediately reached.
In addition, variable speed pumps form an integral part of energy efficient hot water circulation in buildings. By reducing the rate at which the water is moved in the circuit, the heat losses are reduced and the pumping power is consequently reduced.
Many advanced controllers, notably the range produced by Resol, Germany, are able to handle multiple circuits at once, and can be expanded to accommodate multiple stores (buffers) and multiple collector arrays, all with fine pump control included.
In order to deliver the best results from an efficiently designed and correctly installed solar thermal system, one cannot expect to operate on the ‘fire and forget’ principle. On the contrary, by monitoring the performance of the system post-commissioning, the set points, flow rates, pressures and other important parameters can be adjusted to reflect the operational realities of the system within its installed context.
Fortunately, many of the control systems allow data logging and display, using very basic components and a reliable data (internet) connection. In some cases, such as with Resol and their vBus. net service, the framework upon which one can build a monitoring portfolio is provided free of charge.
Monitoring of almost all states and values in the solar thermal system is possible, with the following being the primary metrics:
• Temperature difference
• Heat quantity delivered (kWh) • Flow rate
• Volume delivered
• Run time
• Clock time
This may seem to many to be an‘over engineered’solution, but the reality is that energy delivery is greatly increased if the setpoints are adjusted once the system is commissioned (German Solar Energy Society, 2010)
An important fact about monitoring solar thermal systems is also often overlooked here in South Africa. By allowing insight into the performance of a particular solar thermal system, the installer is showing confidence that the system will deliver energy as predicted, according to the client’s expectations. Publicly displayed data can be a double-edged sword, and one has to be very sure that one’s design is correct before exposing oneself to criticism. In other words, those that are brave enough to share the recorded data with their clients, are confident enough that the system will do as it was designed to do – deliver heat consistently and efficiently.
Recent experience (Author, personal experience, Midrand, 2013) showed that by adjusting various temperature set points within the solar differential controller of a large scale solar thermal system, delivery of energy improved by an estimated 10%. Additionally, the live display of data allowed the author to monitor the results of the adjustments to ensure that in fact the changes were positive.
The graph below clearly shows the increased temperature after certain adjustments were made to the system:
The adjustments referred to above are only one of the many improvements that have been, and will continue to be made to improve the performance of the system. The most positive spin-off of this initial monitoring is that the installer of this system has been awarded a second contract on site, with an expected volume of 12 000l.
For the client, the benefit has been not only the improvement of performance of the system, but it has highlighted the excessive water consumption on site. The result is that water usage is expected to drop dramatically in 2014, once the installation of efficient shower heads is completed.
Further developments in these systems will allow contractors to manipulate the set points of solar thermal systems remotely, with the use of a pc or tablet device. In other words, immediate adjustments can be made without a physical presence on site, and the work performed can be billed accordingly, without the service provider ever leaving the office.
Products and Solutions for Advanced Solar Thermal Systems
Now that we have established that fine control and management of solar thermal systems delivers better results and higher energy gain, how can we implement these?
In all cases, we would seek a solution that meets the following basic criteria:
• Simple to install
Fortunately we now have access to a number of solutions that combine all the essential elements that we have mentioned so far, both on the input and delivery side of the system.
Stratified Charging Module SLM120XL
Marketed by SEG Solar Energy (Pty)Ltd, this streamlined solution is suitable for both new and retrofit installations. The SLM120XL unit is able to handle up to 120m2 of solar thermal collector area and incorporates a Resol differential solar controller and energy efficient variable speed pumps. (SEG Solar Energy, 2012)
In addition to the main function of the unit, the following information can be recorded and displayed:
• Flow rates and volumes
• Temperatures at all sensor positions • Heat quantity produced
• Error states
Fresh Water Module FWM225XL
When it comes to delivering uncontaminated, instantaneously heated water, the Fresh Water Module FWM225XL is the uncontested leader in the game. This patented product was the result of research and development performed by individuals who subsequently built and now operate the world’s largest manufacturer of flat plate solar collectors.
The FWM225XL module is designed to provide instantly heated hot water, while drawing the heated fluid from the buffers and simultaneously providing hot water recirculation in the building. As previously described, this component uses a plate heat exchanger and variable speed pumps to ensure the most efficient use of stored heat and consistent delivery of clean hot water, without the risk of bacterial contamination. (SEG Solar Energy, 2012)
With the help of the controller fitted to the unit, various data points can be read and displayed, such as:
• Temperature • Flow rate
• Run time
By combining the aforementioned devices with the appropriate storage vessels, the result
would look something similar to the representation in the diagram below:
Solar thermal systems are fast achieving their correct place in the South African HVAC industry – that of primary energy source – and no longer the ‘alternative’
The question is no longer “does solar work?” but rather “how can you maximise the delivery of solar energy” in your project today, and into the future.
Given the range of efficient solutions available, it is inconceivable that anyone would be hesitant to invest in the cleanest source of energy our species has ever seen. Solar simply works.
Source: Sustainable Energy Resource Handbook Volume 5
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The City recently successfully registered its programme of activities for a series of landfill gas to energy conversion projects with the United Nations. This will assist in offsetting the City’s carbon footprint and meeting international emissions targets.
The City of Cape Town is proud to announce that our programme of activities (PoA) for projects aiming to capture and harness the energy being produced by our landfill sites has been confirmed as meeting the requirements of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC.)
This programme of activities will serve as the umbrella instrument for registering landfill gas projects in Cape Town, but other municipalities and private landfill owners in South Africa could register future projects via this PoA should they so choose.
This means that all future projects in South Africa that comply with the technical and legal specifications outlined in the City’s PoA will be eligible to earn carbon credits once registered with the UNFCCC, and will thus make a significant contribution towards keeping our carbon emissions level below the target level set by the Kyoto Protocol.
The projects that fall within this PoA will dramatically reduce the amount of harmful gas that is released into the atmosphere. Landfill gas, comprised predominantly of methane and carbon dioxide, has a global warming potential approximately 25 times greater than carbon dioxide.
“The process to have a PoA approved is complex, and requires substantial documentary evidence to be generated and provided in terms of the UNFCCC rules. We are therefore proud to have been able to do our part in facilitating sustainable development throughout South Africa,” said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Utility Services, Councillor Ernest Sonnenberg.
“In terms of the process for converting the energy, a network of pipes installed within the waste will convey the gas from a series of wells for combustion, in order to destroy the harmful gases. The gas will be combusted on-site to produce electricity which will either be exported to the South African grid supply network (offsetting the consumption of power which would otherwise have been generated by fossil fuel sources) or carried by further pipework to an adjacent industrial location for combustion to generate heat.”
The City is currently in talks with an industrial client who is interested in making use of landfill gas in their factory. Further developments will be announced as they arise.
“Projects of this nature are crucial to ensuring that South Africa moves forward in a sustainable manner. By earning carbon credits, these projects create environmental capacity for future development – thus creating jobs and opportunities. This kind of responsible thinking, coupled with the remarkable expertise of our officials, shows that the City truly is doing its part to make progress possible,’ said Councillor Sonnenberg.
Source: Cape Business News
Although more than 800 Waste to Energy (WtE) plants operate in over 40 countries worldwide, this still only represents about 10% of global municipal solid waste processing, meaning now is the perfect time to make the most of the opportunities to expand the global use of WtE.
This is not just because of available capacity, but more because of the current combination of three factors: The move away from landfill; the need for more renewable energy; and the need for greater energy security.
On the global map these attitudes to WtE, illustrated simply by a traffic light system of red, yellow or green to highlight the level of positive or negative perceptions, show that many prospects exist, especially in the U.S. where over half of all states still rely on landfill alone.
However, given the right communications and messaging, there are real opportunities in WtE and us making the most of this hugely beneficial technology. Key to this communication is learning from previous experiences when it comes to conveying the advantages of waste to energy technology and knowing where, and why, others have failed.
Quite simply, without knowing the historical context of waste to energy, it’s likely the mistakes of others will continue to be repeated very quickly.
WtE that conforms with the European Waste Incineration Directive (WID) emissions standards is clean and provides a win-win with the disposal of waste and the generation of energy. If plants effectively use the waste heat generated in an efficient Combined Heat and Power (CHP) system, then the environmental advantages are even more significant.
So what’s the problem and why aren’t countries rushing to adopt WtE? In a nutshell, globalisation over the last 10 years has transformed international trade and, to be more accurate, international finance, into a very small market indeed, with a handful of major corporations enjoying world dominance.
This, coupled with the rise of the Internet and more recently, global social media, has resulted in information from one part of the world being quickly transported to another. We live in a truly ‘Global Village’ and, whilst this brings many advantages, one disadvantage is that the misunderstandings and outdated views about WtE – many of which come from the time of poor performing incineration plants from the 1970s – continue to circulate.
As a result, countries new to WtE may find a surprising amount of opposition from communities near to proposed plants, even when they have no experience of the technology previously. Interestingly, in some countries where pre-WID technology was used some years ago with no issues at the time, opposition is now growing to new plants that are far cleaner and much more efficient than their predecessors.
Opposition groups around the world learn from each other very quickly, and although some organisations are good at forming new arguments to focus their opposition in new directions, most community-based groups tend to use material that is being circulated by other groups. This distribution of outdated information leads to the assimilation of arguments which match a person’s negative perceptions rather than allowing for the genuine reviews of all literature available.
This mindset means that excellent websites, such as that of CEWEP – which present all the counter-arguments in increasingly engaging ways – are being ignored with the key audience e.g. those who live near proposed plants, not considering their information as objective and dismissing it, while collecting anti-information.
What Not To Do: Hong Kong
Although Europe has been the main focus for WtE development and growth over the last 20 years, the next 20 years is likely to see global growth will move to Asia. With a classic mistake of failing to learn from the past, many Asian governments, like Hong Kong, which is trying to develop alternatives to landfill, are running into the same old arguments about WtE.
Hong Kong has huge cash reserves and, as such, can afford any technology to address its significant waste problem. It has limited land availability, with landfill sites reaching capacity and neighbours objecting to extensions, coupled with a rapidly growing population significantly increasing waste volumes.
With increasing interest in environmental issues among Hong Kong residents, and a need for more renewable energy, WtE would seem an obvious solution. However, the government’s early attempts to suggest this have resulted in significant opposition and the moving of a large proposed plant (900,000 tonnes pa) away from the centres of population bringing with it a dramatic increase in costs.
Most of the opposition in Hong Kong has focused on the impact of emissions, and the legitimate argument that, although the electricity at the high-cost island development could be utilised, the heat cannot.
The result has been significant protests against the plant and delays in both the funding allocation. In the meanwhile, the volume of waste is ever increasing and landfills are getting closer to capacity and closure.
|Early attempts by Hong Kong’s government to introduce waste to energy resulted in a 900,000 tpa plant attracting significant opposition and being relocated away from populous areas|
Hong Kong‘s main mistake made was the failure to deliver the immaculate three-stage communications model to generate public acceptance for change:
- Step 1: There is a problem
- Step 2: Generate a desire for a solution
- Step 3: Propose the solution
This model ensures that the population not only becomes aware there is a problem waiting to be solved, but that they understand the context for that change and, with encouragement, are happy to be involved in the delivery of the solution. This buy in is essential to an effective integrated waste management plan that is likely to involve substantial changes in behaviour.
Hong Kong isn’t alone, the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Thailand and Bangladesh have all run into similar problems with significant public opposition, mostly centring on perceived health hazards due to toxic emissions. Even in China, there is increasing public protests to WtE. Between 2007 and 2012, there were at least a dozen protests by local residents. This year in Hangzhou, more than 10,000 tea farmers took direct action against a proposed plant in the Zhongtai suburb, upwind of the tea plantations.
The protest achieved its objective. Shanghai Daily reported that work on the construction has stopped. City officials said: “We will invite the local people to participate, fully listen to and seek every one’s opinions…” Clearly, public consultation before the decision to construct the plant could have been more helpful.
Every country has a different cultural and historical context for WtE and the UK is no exception. in the past, even though plants have existed since Victorian times when horse-drawn carts brought wastes ‘Destructors’, WtE plants were not actually needed.
However, countries like Denmark, Sweden and, to a degree, Germany have always had the need to maximise resources due to a lack of cheap landfill and the serious need for heat and energy, particularly in the winter. This was especially so in Denmark where a lack of fossil fuels meant that WtE constituted a necessity rather than a simply one option.
Two Asian countries with positive reception are Japan and Singapore. Recycling is taken very seriously in Japan, yet it still burns more waste in cities than any other developed country.
Tokyo has 21 WtE plants, all sited within the city and many with facilities for the community to use, such as leisure centres with swimming pools heated by the plants themselves. This community benefit and substantial community education programme has helped generate a more objective response from communities near to sites earmarked for new plants.
In Singapore, they took the decision to focus on WtE back in the 1970s as a solution to the country’s growing population, limited land space and the fact that energy recovery was needed due to a lack of natural resources. To manage increasing waste production, the City state published its Green Plan in 2012, with a significant shift to material recovery through recycling while looking to build new WtE. There is some limited opposition from groups such as Toxics Watch, but the majority of people are happy to accept the new plants.
So, how did Singapore and Japan get it right? There are undoubtedly some parallels with the positive situation in Denmark – the two problems of the need for energy and lack of landfill – but also the constructive ongoing public dialogue which has led to a good understanding of the two issues and therefore, the need for change.
Also crucial to their success is the fact that all three countries consider providing some form of community benefit as fundamental to their projects. Most WtE plants in Denmark are connected to district heating so near-neighbours get cheaper heating and hot water.
The Toshima Incineration Park in Japan has 180,000 visitors per year with most using the leisure facilities. In simple terms, these countries satisfy one of the fundamental principles of human behaviour when it comes to considering whether to protest – what’s in it for me?
It can be argued that there are three core principles about human motivational behaviour when it comes to development and change:
- The perceived impacts of the development, especially financial impacts
- What’s in it for me
- People don’t like change.
So, if the starting point for those people nearest to a proposed WtE plant is perceived emissions impacts, fear of a reduction in the value of their home and seeing nothing of any value in the development for them, then it’s hardly surprising that most people are opposed.
The fact that people don’t like change is almost irrelevant, but not quite. The point about this principal of reactionary behaviour is that it’s almost an instinctive human reaction to believe they don’t like change. People don’t mind change if principals one and two are positive for the individual, or perhaps more importantly, they have control over the change.
People change things all the time – they grow up, get an education, move/improve their homes and live in communities that change all the time. However, in most of these situations, changes are slow and/or people perceive some form of control over them i.e. it’s their choice (often when it’s not). Where the change is rapid and where they believe they have limited or no control, the reaction is generally negative.
This has implications for those people who are communicating messages about change. Far too often it’s the developer who drives any consultation process, often with local government looking on nervously. Our experience in the UK shows that the best combination for the successful delivery of WtE is where the developer and local government are committed to the proposed development with aligned interests.
Three Steps To Deliver
There are three essential steps to deliver this new paradigm, where WtE is seen as a positive development that communities will not only accept but, on occasion, may proactively seek to take place on their own doorstep.
Step 1: National Positioning
This provides the ground work to explain that there is a problem and something needs to be done about it. It takes the focus away from a proposed location and onto the problems. In the case of Hong Kong, this should have been a campaign that outlined the scale of the evolving problem of increasing population, the increase in waste, lack of landfill and the necessity for a more environmental solution.
This debate, supported by independent third parties, could have been held publically through the media before leading into the development of a strategic plan which included reference to feedback from public consultation.
Specifically in the case of Hong Kong, they could have specified that the need for change was urgent, and highlighted the crucial issue of all landfill sites closing within five years.
Step 2: A need for a solution
With greater awareness of the issues and the appreciation of urgency which can be achieved by step 1, it would be possible for any government to argue the need for a truly integrated waste management solution – explaining how wastes would be moved up the waste hierarchy with an enhanced recovery and recycling process.
This is an important step as it demonstrates that any residual waste solution will be considered from this context i.e. not simply sending all landfill to WtE without attempting to recover materials first. It also demonstrates of the need for public participation.
All the available and developing technologies would need to be discussed, along with likely time frames for delivery and relative costs. Research in the UK has shown that when all the facts are presented to communities about the issues, solutions and relative costs, they tend to review the issues in a far more objective light and therefore have the potential to accept change far more readily than before.
As part of this process, all renewable energy could be repositioned as desirable, but WtE also has the benefit of disposing of residual waste – it’s a genuine win-win solution.
Step 3 – Local delivery of WtE
After step 2, there should be regional debate about delivery before any planning applications or sites are mentioned. This will generate greater awareness of the issues and potential solutions before personal vested interest, and the three principals of personal behaviour can begin. This will result in an informed debate at a local level. It will be inevitable that some people who end up close to proposed facilities will still react in the same way as before, but they will now be doing so against the more widely understood and accepted need for the facilities from the wider community.
WtE should be one of the number one technologies for the 21st century, particularly in those parts of the world where population is growing fast and there is a real need for alternative energy sources – which is virtually everywhere.
To make the most of the huge potential global demand for this energy source, we must learn from past mistakes. By acknowledging the wealth of internet myths and outdated information still readily available surrounding WtE, and providing compelling information we can address these obsolete arguments and communicate effectively with communities.
Paul Davison is managing director of Proteus Environmental Communications
- New Zealand generates about 2.5m tonnes per annum (tpa) of MSW with around 25% going to WtE. Regulations would make further plants costly and time consuming to achieve.
- Each Australian state has its own WtE policy. About six plants exist with cogeneration and supporting manufacturers. Opposition includes the National Toxics Network of Australia. The Alliance for Clean Environment produced a report in 2008 suggesting a link with cancer.
- Singapore is densely populated with limited resources and so has always been pro WtE. In 2012, 2.45m tonnes of waste went through the existing four WtE plants with recycling at approximately 60%. New plants are being proposed to update the technology.
- Landfill dominates waste disposal in Thailand and Malaysia, but MSW is on the rise. There are three small WtE plants and around 96 landfills. Opposition in both countries has been strong.
- Urban India generates approximately 70m tpa of MSW which increases by 50% per decade. Much is handled by informal recyclers, but about 80% goes to landfill and, often, to dump sites. About six WtE plants are under construction or being commissioned with limited public opposition from informal recyclers who fear losing income.
- China overtook the U.S. as the world largest waste producer in 2012 and sees WtE as a significant opportunity. Three state owned energy companies have been established to manage the introduction of the technology. However green NGOs are increasing and groups, such as Green Beagles, report several public opposition protests to WtE.
- Hong Kong has a population in excess of eight million and is growing rapidly with limited land availability and four old landfills. A larger 900,000 tpa WtE being built on an island faces significant opposition arguing a lack of recycling, atmospheric pollution and impact on human health, as well as cost and alternative technologies.
- Densely-populated Japan has always had a need for more energy and, in a similar way to Scandinavia, was an early WtE technology adopter with good levels of public understanding. Home waste sorting is a national hobby, with some authorities succeeding with over 30 different bins. South Korea also has a positive attitude towards WtE.
- Landfill is still favoured in Russia, although a lot of wastes go to illegal dumps. Moscow and St Petersburg have looked at WtE and there are about 10 existing plants. New plants receive considerable opposition over pollution, human health, cost and the lack of significant recycling.
- Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, France and the Benelux all have significant numbers of WtE plants with little opposition and, in Denmark and Sweden, considerable support due to district heating. Recently there has been some opposition in France – mainly focused on dioxin emissions. Over capacity in Germany and Netherlands has resulted in significant imports of RDF from the UK.
- The UK and Ireland have the potential for more plants, but significant opposition has occurred and will continue for any proposed new plants, particularly for commercial plants not tied to a Local Authority.
- Waste disposal has featured heavily on Italy’s media agenda over the last 15 years. WtE’s biggest opposition relates to in Tuscany, specifically the Lucca provincial WtE. The plant, built despite massive opposition, failed dioxin limits in 2003 and was closed, reopening in 2007 before failing again in 2008. and again in 2009. It was ‘seized’ by officials in 2010 another failure and the plant’s manager sent to trial. Italy is focused on Zero waste and new WtE plants face opposition.
- The U.S. has significant numbers of WtE plants but most are quite old and will need updating in coming years. Obama’s recent focus on GHGs from energy generation provides a significant opportunity, but opposition focused on emissions, specifically dioxins, will be high
- Urban Brazil generates around 250,000 tonnes of MSW per day (2008) with 98% being landfilled and about 0.03% incinerated with no energy recovery. WtE is as a significant opportunity, although it will face difficulties with low landfill gate fees. Awareness of WtE is limited, however, energy is expensive.
- The Argentinian government brought in a zero-waste law in 2005, banning incineration. However, increasing volumes of waste in Buenos Aires and strict landfill avoidance regulations are forcing the city to look again and consider AD and mass burn WtE. Plants will face massive opposition with most of the arguments simply focusing on the fact it’s against the law!
- Most of Africa can’t finance WtE, lacks the supporting infrastructure or is prejudiced against it Also, MSW is roughly 70% ‘wet’ organics making some WtE technologies a challenge. In South Africa clinical waste incineration is the norm, but emissions checks are limited. A new law was adopted in 2009, but again, the country lacks the infrastructure to effectively monitor emissions. A new WtE in Tanzania was built with foreign assistance. If successful, it could encourage further trials.
Source: Waste Management World
The South African government’s Department of Environmental Affairs has opened a brand new head office in Pretoria that exemplifies its approach to sustainable building, including the country’s National Climate Change Response Policy.
The building, which is 6 Green Star SA Office Design rated, is designed with the aim of capping energy consumption at 115kWh/m2 per year, 20% of which comes from the solar photovoltaic panels that cover the roof. A concentrated photovoltaic panel in the car park also tracks the sun in order to provide solar-powered charging stations for electric cars.
The design also makes use of rainwater harvesting and irrigation systems, and water-saving indigenous plants, in order to reduce water consumption by 30%.
In order to incentivise low energy consumption, the building also operates a “green lease” with it maintenance contractors, which monitors performance and introduces penalties if the building consumes more than planned.
“This landmark new Green Building represents a major commitment by the government to green building and sustainable development. We welcome the green leadership shown,” commented Brian Wilkinson, CEO of the government-affiliated Green Building Council of SA (GBCSA).
“For any building to achieve a 6-star rating is a feat that should be celebrated because of the high standard of green building design and construction applied. For a government building, this is a precedent setting move by the leadership of our country and is quite a progressive demonstration of consciousness for the green movement.”
Source: Intelligent Building Today
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Advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology could be the answer for reliable alternative energy sources.
At first glance, the Cape Flats Nature Reserve building at the University of the Western Cape doesn’t seem exceptional.
The modest two-storey structure hosts office space and utility rooms for the six staff who care for the plants and animals living in the 30-hectare reserve.
But the building is a major milestone in South Africa’s struggle to ease its dependence on fossil fuels. It runs on hydrogen, an infinitely renewable fuel that, when used to generate power, produces no emissions apart from water and heat.
The building’s electricity is supplied by a prototype hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) power generator that was launched in November by the university’s Hydrogen South Africa (HySA) Systems Centre of Competence.
Developed in collaboration with local heating-technology company Hot Platinum, the generator is a testament to South Africa’s advances in hydrogen fuel cell technology.
In a country struggling with blackouts, energy shortages, high tariffs and years of under-investment in power infrastructure, it offers the hope that hydrogen could be an answer to South Africa’s search for reliable alternative energy sources.
NO EMISSIONS, NO NOISE
“The generator produces electricity in an environmentally friendly way, without pollution or noise,” said Piotr Bujlo, leader of the generator project and a technology specialist at HySA Systems.
Fuel cells are already used to power vehicles and provide power in remote or inaccessible places, including on space capsules and satellites.
Researchers at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) hope that their work on hydrogen fuel cell innovations may help with the global quest to cut reliance on fossil fuels, as well as helping with South Africa’s own attempts to give more of its population access to electricity.
According to HySA Systems, its new generator can be used anywhere where a maximum 2.5 kilowatts of electricity is required. It has an advantage over nuclear power or coal power in that hydrogen can be produced on-site – using a water electrolyser – which means there is no need to pipe or truck the fuel in from somewhere else.
“The generator is highly competitive in places where there is no grid,” Bujlo said.
Hydrogen fuel cells take the energy produced by a chemical reaction in the presence of a catalyst – such as platinum – and convert it into useable electrical power, with only water vapour and heat as by-products.
As energy-storage devices, they work much like batteries except that while batteries store all of their chemicals inside, and eventually go dead, fuel cells have a constant flow of chemicals.
“Hydrogen is the most abundant gas in the universe, so with HFC systems the energy is inexhaustible,” said Bruno Pollet, director of HySA Systems.
The generator systems used in the HySA project are almost entirely South African designed and produced, apart from the fuel cells. Pollet says the next generation of HySA technologies will be 100 percent locally developed.
HySA Systems and Hot Platinum are currently installing and testing a new version of the fuel-cell system for domestic use, with hope of having it ready to demonstrate in 2015.
The generator is one of the many innovations that have been developed under South Africa’s National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Research, Development and Innovation Strategy launched in 2007, a programme aimed at exploring the feasibility of using fuel cell technology for decentralising energy.
Cosmas Chiteme, director of alternative energy at the government’s Department of Science and Technology (DST), said the government is investing in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies with the hopes of building on South Africa’s reputation in the field.
“The intention is to create the critical knowledge and human resources capacity to enable the development of high-value commercial activities,” he said.
PRIVATE SECTOR INTEREST
The DST has so far invested $40 million (450 million rand) in its hydrogen-energy strategy. Using $17 million (194 million rand) to date, the University of the Western Cape’s HySA project has so far produced a range of innovations, including South Africa’s first hydrogen-powered tricycle, scooter, and golf cart, along with the country’s first fuel-cell component manufacturing line.
The private sector has been paying attention. In September, HySA Systems joined a project with European airline manufacturer Airbus and the National Aerospace Centre to work on understanding how hydrogen fuel cells might perform when subjected to the harsh and varying environmental conditions in which commercial aircraft operate.
But, according to HySA Systems director Pollet, before hydrogen energy can become more widely available, decision makers need to be persuaded of its benefits.
“Hydrogen fuel cells could be commercially available in South Africa as soon as the local industry, government departments and other stakeholders see the benefits of the technology: low cost, high efficiency, clean performance,” he said.
But first, “I think they need to be educated about the technology.”