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Africa/Global: Don't Be a Fossil Fool

AfricaFocus Bulletin
June 13, 2016 (160613)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

From solar TVs in rural Kenya to modular concrete for windmills in Iowa, the pace of technological advance continues to accelerate, making renewable fuels more and more competitive with fossil fuels. Technology alone will not be sufficient, of course. But these trends, combined with worldwide climate activism and increasing awareness among the public and government policy-makers, are leading even establishment analysts to conclude that, in the words of the Financial Times, "fossil fuel producers face a future of slow and steady decline."

The extent of damage already being felt and determined by current emissions levels means that "slow and steady" decline is by no means enough. Resistance by policy-makers and businesses to the transition is still formidable. Although South African activists, for example, headline their campaign "Don't Be a Fossil Fool," the South African government (and many others) continue to pursue such destructive and outdated policies. Fracking is still being advanced in the United States, the UK, and Canada as a legitimate "transition." But it is telling that such enterprises are no longer good bets for the rational business or investor.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several articles relevant to these developments, including news reports from Kenya, Iowa, and South Africa, plus an analytical review from Jeremy Leggett, who provides a monthly update in his blog on "The Great Transition."

Also of interest: a recent report by the International Energy Agency concludes that price trends are not yet enough for renewable energy to advance: investors also need policy support from governments to insure that projects can be funded with adequate capital. See Green Tech Media for June 7: http://tinyurl.com/z2dzkza

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Climate and related issues, see http://www.africafocus.org/intro-env.php

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

This solar-powered TV brings global news to rural Africa

By Sophie Morlin-Yron

CNN, June 3, 2016

http://tinyurl.com/hd7njc8

CNN)In rural Kenya, people walk for miles in the blistering sun after work just to watch television in the nearest town.

At 7pm, in the village restaurants, the music turns off, and the news turns on.

In this nation of 45 million people -- where many live without electricity -- only 30% of Kenyans have their own television.

Now a start-up has developed a 16-inch TV which runs on the sun's rays, bringing communication to the masses.

"There are some 5 million homes in Kenya that don't have electricity," says Jesse Moore, founder of M-KOPA Solar. "And the product most people living off-the-grid want to get is a television."

Staying current

The M-KOPA Solar TV connects to Kenya's digital television network of about 30 free channels, screening soap operas, premier league football games and marathons.

But culturally Kenyans are very engaged in politics and business, and it is news broadcasts that attracts the most viewers, Moore says.

"If you travel around Kenya, you see people veraciously reading the newspapers ... People want to consume information about their society and about their government."
M-KOPA has sold around 5,000 sets since the launch in February, and Moore says they are struggling to keep up with the growing demand.

"It's feeling of, 'Hey, I can live in a rural area, but I'm not cut off'."

How it works

The new kit adds a 16" TV to the original package.

The Solar TV is an extension of a more basic solar panel kit to power lights, radios and mobile phones, which the company has sold to 340,000 households in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Now it can also power a TV.

Users simply fix the solar panel to a sunny area outside their home and connect it to their television via a power cord.

Power on loan

M stands for "mobile" and KOPA is Swahili for "to borrow" -- the business is tailored to people in less affluent areas who are unable to buy solar panels, or a TV, up front.

"Most of our customers live at, or below, $2 per day per capita," says Moore.

Using a mobile payment system provided by partner company, Safaricom, customers pay between 50 cents and $1.25 a day over 1 to 2 years, depending on their payment plan.

The TV and solar panel cost $500 in total -- once that is paid, the kit is no longer on loan, and all power is free for as long as the sun shines.

Mobile payment paved the way

Moore, a former aid worker from Canada, says mobile payment systems like M-PESA are crucial to business in Africa.

"It allows everybody in this country to move money seamlessly through their mobile phones in a way that's almost to the envy of the UK or Canada."

Moore saw an opportunity to bring social change to remote communities with affordable solar power kits -- and started M-KOPA Solar in 2011 together with Nick Hughes, Chief Product Officer, and Chad Larson, Chief Credit Officer.

Today, the company has 2,000 employees and offices in five countries.


Don't be a fossil fool: how South Africa's coal addiction is costing us

Daily Vox, May 11, 2016

http://tinyurl.com/zg24uef

For videos and photos from demonstrations, visit http://southafrica.breakfree2016.org.

For the May BreakFree demonstrations world-wide, including disruptions of fossil-fuel facilities in Australia, Germany, Brazil, UK, Turkey, and USA, see http://breakfree16.org

Ahead of their three-day long campaign against fossil fuels and its impact on people's livelihood, climate change organisation, 350.org held a press briefing to detail the structure of the campaign, Break Free from Fossil Fuels. 350.org, together with other organisations presented a mouthful at the briefing and THE DAILY VOX sums up the nitty-gritty.

Mzansi's [South Africa's] addiction to coal has resulted in the doubling of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions in the past 56 years. We are ranked the 12th largest CO2 emitter worldwide and the environmental impacts of the coal sector are huge. 350.org is calling on South African government to stop clinging to volatile fossil fuels and consider a cleaner and fairer renewable energy.

From May 12 - 14, a series of events is planned by 350.org to keep coal under the ground and lead the fight against coal mining and the sector's corruption. The events, under the umbrella Break Free from Fossil Fuels will include protests and a visit to South Africa's coal mining hub, Emalahleni in Mpumalanga to raise awareness. The campaign will speak out against fossil fuels, climate change, and their impact of drought and hunger.

Yes fossil fuels, climate change, drought and food crisis are connected. Here's how:

Climate crisis and fossil fuels

Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of man-made CO2 emissions, making coal energy the greatest threat facing our climate. People are already living the impacts of the climate crisis, with 2014 and 2015 recorded as the hottest years. South Africa's El Niño-induced drought is exposing weaknesses in the state's response. 2015 was the driest year on record for SA. Harsher and longer droughts, heat waves and extreme rainfall can't be separated from the causal impact of climate change.

Climate change, drought and hunger

South Africa's drought is affecting millions of people and increasing starvation. Climate change is further exposing the problems with a corporate-controlled food system. All measures of food prices are showing a dramatic increase in food inflation, with year on year increase of staples particularly. The biggest increases have been in mealie meal, samp, cooking oil and potatoes. Food profiteering denies us the right to food under the constitution.

The hunger crisis and high food prices

Food price inflation has increased by 13.4 % since November 2015. In January 2016, food prices had increased by 6.9%. Bread companies are taking advantage of the drought and artificially increasing their prices. A brown loaf now costs 5.73% more than it did last year.

While the state is responding to commercial farmers, it is not doing enough for smaller scale farmers and poor communities. Moreover, food inflation has eroded the value of social grants. According to PACSA (Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action, the total of old age pension (R1, 510 in April/October 2016) cannot actually cover the cost of a food basket (R1,879.24 in February 2016). Moreover, a minimum food basket for a household of four costs R2, 420.77 in February 2016. In South Africa, 27 million people earn less than R3, 000 per month. With food price increases, particularly of staples, hunger is going to worsen. Already, one in five children suffers from malnutrition and learning disabilities.


The tallest wind power tower in the US, assembled in one hypnotizing video

Vox, June 1, 2016

Watch the video at http://www.vox.com/2016/6/1/11820920/concrete-wind-turbine

Wind power engineering is governed by a simple fact: The higher you go, the stronger and steadier the wind gets and the more power you can generate. So the evolution of wind power over the years has largely been a process of building bigger and bigger blades and perching them atop higher and higher towers.

The turbine being assembled in this video, by MidAmerican Energy, will be the tallest land-based wind turbine ever built in the US, with a hub height (ground to center of blades) of 115.5 meters (379 feet) and a capacity of 2,415 kW. It's not quite up to the level of the best turbines in Europe, but it's mainly meant as an experiment. Wind towers in Europe now routinely reach 120 to 140 meters (over 500 feet).

US wind towers are catching up with Europe's

The US has not quite caught up. Since 2011, average hub height in the US has stalled out at about 80 meters (or 262 feet):

What explains this? Part of it is the fact that US wind resources are generally stronger, especially in the upper Midwest, which somewhat reduces the incentive to build higher. Some of it is cost and regulations. But a surprisingly big piece is transport.

The taller a wind tower gets, the bigger the diameter of the base. But at this point, those giant cross sections of steel tower are getting so big that they can't be transported via interstate. ...

Tower sections bigger than the standard (80-meter) kind have to be transported via special trucks, and only on certain highways. It's a huge bottleneck.

(Another reason EU turbines are taller is that more of them are in the ocean, where transport can be done by boat.)

Concrete turbine towers can get around transport restrictions

So engineers and designers have begun looking to concrete. The advantage of concrete towers, besides the fact that concrete is an extremely well-understood material with a well-developed industry behind it, is that they are modular. They come in smaller pieces, which can be transported via regular trucking and safely assembled on site.

(Theoretically, steel could be cut in smaller pieces too, but assembling steel pieces, i.e., welding, on site is much more difficult and technical than snapping concrete Legos together.)

It's still a fairly new idea — only a few concrete wind towers are currently in operation — but as the drive to push turbines ever higher continues, it could take off.

The MidAmerican Energy turbine in Iowa is testing the concrete model. If it succeeds, there is little limit to how tall towers could get, though at a certain point land use considerations come into play. Concrete is extremely carbon-intensive at present, but there's lots of work underway to make it lighter, stronger, and greener. (There's also work being done to develop hybrid concrete/steel towers.)

It would be somewhat ironic if concrete, one of the oldest and most boring elements of industry, were the future of wind.


"State of the Transition, May 2016: Talk of Twilight

http://www.jeremyleggett.net/2016/06/

Jeremy Leggett, June 5, 2016

World records tumbled in renewable energy this month. Utilities, facing short-term existential threat in the face of clean-energy growth, continued to wrestle with the imperative of escaping the energy incumbency. Oil and gas companies, facing longer term threat to business-model viability, read dire assessments of their prospects in places they could not have imagined possible until recently. Investors continued to awaken to climate risk, and a critical mass of governments stayed broadly on course for the current and future action that the Paris Agreement requires of them. None of this, however, happened as fast as the recent run of worldrecord monthly average temperatures merits. Unprecedented wildfires and die offs of coral reefs were harsh reminders this month of the race against time that civilisation is running.

The latest solar auction, in Dubai, saw a power plant proposal come in below 3 cents a kilowatt hour for the first time: cheaper than any other form of power today. It remains to be seen if such a plant can be built at a profit, but this world-first shows that the solar industry has a cost-down roadmap with yet more mileage in it. The cost-down megatrends of solar and wind are driving solid growth in grid penetration by renewables. Germany generated almost all its power from renewables one day in May. Portugal managed four straight days of 100% renewable power. UK energy from coal hit zero for first time in over 100 years …several times in a week.

Growth in jobs reflects the energy transition unfolding. We learned in May that more than 8 million people now work in renewables. Solar photovoltaics is the biggest employer with 2.8 million, while 1.1 million work in wind. In the USA the 769,000-plus people employed in renewables - on an upward trend of 20% in 2015 - dwarf the 187,000 in oil and gas and the 68,000 in coal mining, sectors that are both on strong downward trends.

Storage continues to race into the frame. Figures for 2015 showed fully half the small solar PV plants installed in Germany were built with storage. This story involves far more than the headlines generated in April by Tesla. For example, Nissan announced a residential battery product for Europe, scheduled for a September launch.

Eon and RWE, the two giant German utilities who have admitted their old business model is dead, continue to pursue radical restructurings. Analysts are questioning whether they will have strong enough balance sheets to execute their u-turns. In the US, a study for the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute showed that the top 25 investor-owned electric utilities spent over $400 million lobbying against clean energy in the past four years. Had they deployed that capital embracing the future rather than defending the past, they could have accelerated the revolution considerably. For example, had they used the cash underwriting loans to ratepayers, they could have doubled the nation's solar capacity.

The utilities' wasteful defence of a failing status quo is as nothing compared to that of the oil and gas industry's. But the oil and gas giants are coming under increasing pressure, and nowhere more so than on the risk that they are heading for stranded assets. The latest report from Carbon Tracker calculated that the oil majors would be worth more if they adapted their business models to reflect a world in which governments actually succeed in their treaty commitments to keep global warming below 2°C.

ExxonMobil and Chevron faced torrid times at their AGMs in May staving off shareholder resolutions around stranded-asset risk. They won majorities, but for how much longer can they? A BBC headline suggested Exxon Mobil faces a "change or die" moment on climate. The Royal Institution for International Affairs published an analysis suggesting that the oil companies have ten years in which to change strategy, or face a "short, brutish end". "Not-so-Big Oil", read the headline of an Economist article focussing on the evaporation of profits. The problems are not just around climate and the debt mountain they are building. Oil discoveries slumped to a 60-year low in 2015. The Financial Times summed up in an editorial at the end of May under the headline: "The long twilight of the big oil companies." "Fossil fuel producers face a future of slow and steady decline", the leader writer argued.

Investors are reacting, albeit slowly. A report by the Asset Owners Disclosure Project showed that 246 of the world's 500 biggest investors, worth $14 trillion, are still ignoring climate risk completely. The AODP rates investor behaviour in the manner of ratings agencies, in this case assessing engagement on climate risk, risk management, and low-carbon investment. They distinguish classes from Leaders (A to AAA grade) through to Bystanders (D grade) and Laggards (ungradeable). The percentage of Leaders is growing slowly, but does not come close to matching the urgency implicit in the work of regulators concerned about stranded assets. That said, the very fact that ratings are now being applied should help unlock the floodgates. So should the work of the G20's Taskforce on Climaterelated Financial Disclosure when it reports later this year. My prediction: expect a stampede at some point soon. The capital markets are well known for herd behaviour.

Total is one oil and gas company that is making an effort, at least to hedge bets. Total aims to have a fifth of its assets in lowcarbon by 2036. Its latest move is a billion euro acquisition of a battery company, Saft Group. During May, Total and the solar company it majority owns, SunPower, announced a project to power Santiago's metro with a 100 megawatt solar plant. Serving 2.2 million passengers every day, this would be the first public transportation system in the world to run mostly on solar energy. On a personal note, I have often been assured by defenders of the energy incumbency in London that "renewables can never run the tube (metro)."

ExxonMobil, meanwhile, dug further into their defence of the status quo. Their CEO told his AGM that ending oil production was "not acceptable for humanity". Calpers, holding $1bn of ExxonMobil shares, was among the many who took a different view: "This is their Kodak moment", said Anne Simpson, representing the giant Californian pension fund. "If they want to still be in business in 30 years, they have to understand the changes that are taking place."

In the UK, fracking of shale for gas won a council go-ahead for first time since 2011. Here too scorn descended on the industry, not least because - unmentioned by many UK press reports - bankruptcies among US shale frackers have now rising to more than 70 in the face of a debt mountain that is raising fears in some quarters of a new sub-prime crisis. The FT's Lex Column won first prize for imagery: "The idea of the undead fascinates people", Lex's analyst wrote. "The cult following still believes that fracking in the UK could be profitable. Investors should allow market forces to finally kill it off."

A session of climate talks in Bonn was covered by less than 100 journalists, compared to the 3,500 who attended the Paris Climate Summit. Almost unnoticed, governments kept their climate show on the road, teeing up processes for implementing the Paris Agreement that make success at this year's climate summit, in Marrakesh in December, more likely. At this point it looks possible that the treaty will actually come into force earlier than negotiators agreed in Paris.

There can be little doubt that all players, governmental and nongovernmental, will have to move faster than they expected in Paris. The global average temperature for April broke yet another world record. Terrifyingly, twelve months in a row have now done so. Unprecedented impacts accompanied the unprecedented heat, most notably a uniquely ferocious wildfire in Canada that required the evacuation of Fort MacMurray, a city that owes its existence to the tar sands. More than half the coral on the northern Great Barrier Reef appears to have been killed by bleaching in unsurvivably hot water.

For those still resistant to the idea that the world is warming dangerously because of greenhouse gas emissions, despite such evidence, there should be another reason to worry now. The largest coral reef in the continental US, off Florida, is dissolving into the ocean in some areas. The acid doing the damage comes from carbon dioxide from fossil fuel burning. Then there should be worries about air pollution, from the same source. The World Health Organisation announced it is up 8% in last 5 years, and is now the single biggest killer in world.


AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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