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Africa/Global: Don't Be a Fossil Fool
June 13, 2016 (160613)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
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
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outdated policies.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,
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
This solar-powered TV brings global news to rural Africa
By Sophie Morlin-Yron
CNN, June 3, 2016
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
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
"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
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,"
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
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
Don't be a fossil fool: how South Africa's coal addiction is costing
Daily Vox, May 11, 2016
For videos and photos from demonstrations, visit
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
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
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
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
(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
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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