Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Who'd have guessed? Increasing renewables really does decrease carbon emissions

Renewable energy, especially solar and wind are growing and supplying an ever greater percentage of the electricity in many countries. Common sense would tell you that as solar and wind increase and coal and gas generation goes down the amount of carbon pollution and other toxic gasses emitted from fossil fuel plants will decrease. Like anything in the climate and clean energy though, there are "skeptics" who don't agree with this, but data are better than opinions and the NREL lab at the Department on Energy in the US have crunched the numbers to find out.

The area of contention is that the intermittent nature of (some) renewables means fossil fuel plants need to fire up and then down more often (cycling). When you fire up a plant it tends to emit more, at that moment, than if it was running steadily. Kind of how like starting a car uses a burst of fuel. So what is the overall impact of this?

NREL found that:
"The negative impact of cycling on overall plant emissions is relatively small. The increase in plant emissions from cycling to accommodate variable renewables are more than offset by the overall reduction in CO2, NOx, and SO2."
"Emission Impacts of Cycling Are Relatively Small Compared to Emission Reductions Due to Renewables"
 NREL found that moving to 1/3 renewables from solar and wind would cause carbon emissions to drop by 1/3. Toxic gasses would also decrease. This is because although there might be a small increase in some emissions associated with cycling a plant on and off these are tiny compared to the decrease in emissions due to less fossil fuels being burnt, because 1/3 of the power is now coming from renewables. The claims of some "skeptics" is like claiming you should leave your car idling for an hour instead of turning it off and then on again an hour later because turning you car on uses more fuel that idling would at that second.

Here's the impact for 1/3 renewables:

So there you have it, increasing renewables decreases carbon emissions (as well as other toxic gasses that coal plants especially produce a lot of). Common sense right?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

TTKD October meeting: The Story of Stuff

Click on the image to see it full size:

October 2013 TTKD Meeting
The Story of Stuff
Thursday October 17
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start
Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Australian heat records keep tumbling

Another heat record has tumbled as Australia's year long heat wave continues. Australia has (again) broken the record for warmest 12 months on record after previously breaking it only last month.

The heat in September was something else, at +2.75 °C above the long-term (1961–1990) September average. Naturally this was the warmest Sept on record, what's more amazing is that in the last hundreds years of temperature records, no month has ever been more above the long term average. On in meteorology speak Sept 2013 "sets a record for Australia’s largest positive anomaly for any monthly mean temperature."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Australia has hottest 12 months on record

If you felt it's been hot where you live recently, you're right. Recently the Bureau of Meterology (BOM) announced that the last year has been Australia's hottest 12 month period on record.

This information is containing in a short report you can find here and summarised here. Along with the warmest 12 months, a host of other records have also been broken in individual towns and cities and right across the nation. Because Australia is so big it takes a massive buildup of heat to break countrywide records, some of the most important I've taken from the report and shown below.

"The last 12 months saw a large number of temperature records set across Australia, including:
  • Australia’s hottest summer day on record (7 January) 
  • Australia’s warmest winter day on record (31 August) 
  • Australia’s warmest month on record (January) 
  • Australia’s warmest summer on record 
  • Australia’s warmest January to August period on record 
  • Australia’s warmest 12 month period on record"
Here's a map from the Bureau showing how the whole country has been warmer than normal this past year.

Overall the last year has seen temperatures 1.11 ̊C above average. While that may not sound like all that much, across a whole country, for a whole year, this gives us weather that's noticeably hotter.

Since the first half of the 20th century (1900-1950) temperatures across Australia have risen by ~0.75  ̊C and between now and 2050 are likely to rise by another 2 ̊C or more. This mean's that by 2050 the temperatures we have had over this past year (including the record breaking summer heat) would by then be a much colder than average year. A normal year would be a least a degree hotter than the past 12 months and a record breaking year could see temperature anomalies 3 or 4 times greater than experienced over the past year. Something to think about as Australia goes about dismantling all its policies to combat global warming.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TTKD Sept 13 Meeting: Fossil Fuels and Alternatives

Fossil Fuels and Alternatives 
Thursday September 19 
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start 
Kenmore Library Meeting Room 

Lloyd Hamilton will present information on fossil fuels, and Will Booth will present information from 350.org on the impact of these fuels and alternatives.

As usual the meeting will be followed by supper and conversation. Please feel free to bring along a plate to share (preferably locally produced or homemade!). No need to RSVP.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2013 election: What the major parties will do about climate change, clean energy and public transport.

As you go into vote this weekend you may want to consider how the various parties rate on issues important to Transition Town Kenmore (TTKD) such as action on climate change and increasing resilience in the face of resource depletion (a good example of this would be policies on active and public transport). While TTKD does not endorse any particular political party I've written a bit of a guide to the policies of the major parties.

With regards to climate change both the Climate Institute (CI) and the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) have climate policy scorecards, which are very quick to look at.

See the CI pollute-o-meter here.
See the ACF environmental scorecard here.

Summary of policies on Climate and Public Transport
Price on Carbon:
Both Labour and the Green support price on carbon pollution where major polluters pay for each ton of carbon they emit. Total emissions of pollution are capped and decrease each year. Most people are compensated for price rises that occur as a result of polluting companies paying a carbon price. Such market based mechanisms are generally agreed to be the cheapest and most effective means of cutting pollution. The Green aim for a much more ambitious cut to Australia's carbon emissions.

The Coalition plan to scrap the polluter pays carbon pricing scheme and instead use general taxpayer revenue to pay major polluters to "decrease" the amount of pollution they emit. I say "decrease" because it is not totally clear to me if a polluter actually has to decrease their emissions. It may well be fine for a polluter to accept money to increase their emission, but by a smaller amount than they originally expected too. Credible estimates suggest by 2020 Australia's emissions will increase under this scheme. This is for 2 reasons. Firstly not a lot of money (in the scheme of thing) is available for grants to polluters and secondly because while some polluters will decrease their emissions using the grants, other companies not involved in the scheme will increase their emissions.
The Coalition also plan to fund a "green army" to plant trees and look after local environments.  This is unlikely to have an significant impact on Australia's carbon emmissions but may help in local re-vegetation and improve health of creek catchments etc.

Climate Change Authority:
Labour and the Greens plan to keep the Climate Change Authority (CCA), an independent body set up to advise the government on addressing climate change. The Coalition plans to scrap the CCA.

Clean Energy Finance Corporation:
Labour and the Green plan to keep the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has $10 billion dollars to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency (ie: helping fund wind and solar farms, helping businesses to decrease their energy costs). The Coalition plans to scrap the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

2020 renewable energy target:
All major parties support the renewable energy target. However The Coalition plan to review the target in 2014.

Public transport:
The Greens will probably support any worthwhile public transport scheme and also support an eventual Brisbane to Melbourne (via Sydney and Canberra) high speed rail line.
Labour support new rail lines in Brisbane (ie: cross river rail), Melbourne and elsewhere, generally through these project being recommended by Infrastructure Australia as projects of national significance.
The Coalition will stop all federal funding for commuter rail. Locally this means Cross River Rail will not go ahead as it is very unlikely the State Government can afford the cost on its own. Without cross river rail much of the rail network will hit capacity in 2016 and not be able to take extra passengers at peak times.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

TTKD August 2013 Meeting: Healthier waterways for a resilient SEQ

Thursday August 15 
7.15pm for a 7.30pm start 
Kenmore library meeting room 

Moggill Markets
This Saturday (3rd of August) we'll be holding an information and produce bring and swap stall at the Moggill Markets. So if you have any produce you'd like to bring, or swap, come see us. Hope to see you there. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

South Australia on verge of being 30% powered by renewables

In the race to transition to renewable energy in Australia, one state is way ahead of the pack. While Australia as a whole has a renewable energy target of 20% by 2020, South Australia is now close to getting 30% of it's power from renewable electricity in 2013. You can read more about this achievement here in the Climate Spectator.

Mostly SA has done this using wind power, 10 years ago wind barely rated a mention in it's electricity generation, but now it is well over 20%. Solar PV is starting to have an impact as well, generating about 3.5% of the state's power. SA households are very keen on solar PV, but as you can see large scale wind is producing a lot more power than distributed small scale solar (at least currently). Where the solar does help though is in reducing peak demand.

The big loser in SA, as the Climate Spectator articles shows, has been coal fired generation. Since the running costs of renewable energy plants are close to zero, they can out-compete the least efficient/ most expensive generators, and in SA that has seen a number of old coal plants shut down or wound back.

The other important lesson from SA is that the power grids with a large percentage of renewable electricity can be reliable. Plenty of people have said over the years that the intermittent nature of (some) renewables would limit them to a small percentage of electricity production before we'd be in rolling blackouts etc, SA is showing this isn't true.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is the carbon price reducing emissions?

Good article at The Conversation looking at the carbon price one year on. We know that in the last year electricity demand and emissions have fallen, but how much of this is due to the carbon price, the renewable energy target (RET) or other one off events?

As I have mentioned here a few times here and is explained in the article, the main impact of carbon pricing is to change long term investments decisions. Once built power plants are around for a long time, so once a coal plant is built you essentially lock in it's emissions for the next 30-50 years. Carbon pricing (along with the RET) are changing investment decisions and so planned new power plants in Australia are now dominated by gas and wind not coal. That this is already occurring as can be seen by the list of electricity projects underway or planned as of late last year. (Since then, it is worth noting, one of the two coal projects underway has been scrapped). This data also shows how over the last few years a much greater percentage of power plants being built are renewables.

So while it is hard to say exactly how much of the emissions reductions in the electricity sector in the past year are due to the carbon price, it already seems clear that over the long term it is driving us towards a low carbon future.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

TTKD July 13 Meeting: Edible Yards with Sarah Wesche

Thursday July 18
 7.15pm for a 7.30pm start 
 Kenmore Library Meeting Room
As usual the meeting will be followed by supper and conversation. Please feel free to bring along a plate to share (preferably locally produced or homemade!). No need to RSVP.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Clean Energy Finance Corp inks first deal - $100 million for business in renewables and energy efficiency

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), set up as part of the Clean Energy Future/Carbon Price law, has just signed it's first deal to supply up to $100 million dollars in loans to businesses looking to improve their energy efficiency, buy solar panels or set up cogeneration and trigeneration plants.

The CEFC, which will have $10 billion dollars to invest over the next 5 years, was set up to help fund renewable energy, low emission technologies and energy efficiency investments. The general idea is the fund will partner with the private sector and chip in some of the money for these investments, for example this new deal includes $50 million from both the CEFC and $50 million from the Commonwealth bank. In this way the CEFC can use it's $10 billion to stimulate much greater amounts of investment in clean energy and energy efficiency. Operating at arms reach from the government, the CEFC also aims to make it's money back in the long term.

Unfortunately, the Coalition has vowed to scrap the CEFC if it wins the election, which would be a shame because the CEFC plays an essential role in promoting renewable energy. Currently it can be difficult for renewable energy plants to attract financing and get built, this is especially so where the technology is new and/or the first of a kind in Australia. This so called "valley of death" makes it extremely difficult for renewable technologies to get started and start to power Australia. By making at least part of the financing required available, the CEFC makes such projects more attractive to the private sector and spurs investment in renewable. Scrap the CEFC and it will likely be much harder and more expensive for Australia to meet it's targets for generating renewable electricity and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, as well as for companies to bring new and innovative technologies to the market.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Obama takes climate action in the USA

You might have missed this in the Gillard vs Rudd rumble in the jungle, but earlier today President Obama outlined a wide range of actions to tackle climate change.

In the USA the conservative controlled congress is hostile to any action on climate change, this means that Obama cannot, for example, introduce carbon pricing but he can pursue regulatory action. Hence Obama has chosen to exercise his executive powers at President to reduce US greenhouse gas emissions, forge international action and increase resilience to a changing climate.

You can find a list of the major actions here. One of the more important actions will be using the Environmental Protection Agency to put limits on emissions from new and existing power plants. This will have the effect of either shutting down or forcing the clean up of many coal plants and since coal plants produce a large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions in the USA, this will cause a large decrease to emissions in the long run.

Other actions include higher standards for appliances and buildings so they use less energy and for trucks so they use less fuel. More renewable energy production on the vast amounts of land owned by the US federal government will also be encouraged etc. etc. 

Overall, while not as effective or efficient as carbon pricing, Obama's actions make it possible for the US will meet it's targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and therefore help to limit global warming.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Queensland electricity prices to soar by 22%, who's to blame?

Many of you will have heard that electricity prices in QLD are skyrocketing by 22% this year. For the average household this is predicted to increase bills by $268 a year, while "the average electricity bill for a family of four will increase by $343 a year".
But why? 

If you listen to Campbell Newman or the energy minister Mark McArdle you might be forgiven for thinking that this increase was due to carbon pricing or renewable energy. With McArdle complaining that "Ninety-two thousand homes don't pay any power bills at all in Queensland" - well yes Mark, that's because they produce their own electricity. 

However with the help of this article and Queensland Competition Authority price determination I've made this little graph of where the price rises are coming from:

As you can see, less than 20% of price rises are due to carbon pricing or paying people for the solar power they produce. Much greater is the price rise due to the end of the Newman government's electricity tarrif freeze, which only lasted for 12 months. This policy might have sounded great during the last state election, but there's no free lunches in this world, and we are paying for it now.

"Other*" is the biggest category, breaking this down is hard, but it includes increased network prices (ie: the poles and wires), increases in the costs of generating power and then some mind-blowing stuff like electricity companies being allowed to increase prices because power demand has been dropping and they have been making less money than they want to.

So it seems that the government is very concerned about the 20% of the price rises due to polluters no longer being able to pollute for free and for actually having to pay households who are producing clean energy from their solar panels. Instead they seem rather unconcerned (or want to shift our attention from) what is actually causing 80% of the price rises. This is like the captain of the titanic blaming the water on drinks that were spilled when the ship hit the iceberg rather than the gaping hole in the ship.

From all this I draw two conclusions:

1. All that kerfuffle from certain politicians that the (basically one off) 9% rise in power prices from the carbon price was going to ruin us all was self serving nonsense. A year later we are facing over double that rise for different reasons and the idea this will ruin us all has been conveniently forgotten.

2. We as a community are going to have to start demanding explanations for what's causing 80% of our power prices rises and then demand useful ideas for what to do about it, or we'll continue to see politicians scapegoating renewable energy and a continuation of massive price rises.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Could we have have 100% renewable electricity?

Yes, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), which has just released its draft results on whether Australia could run it's electricity supply off 100% renewable electricity by 2030 or 2050.

As noted here, this should kill off the idea that the intermittency of supply in renewable electricity prevents it from supplying all our electricity, especially in a country like Australia where we have good renewable energy resources. Some may remember that Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) released a report a couple of years ago that also outlined a plan for Australia to move to 100% renewables. One difference with the AEMO is that these are the people who manage the electricity market and so their conclusion that 100% renewables could provide reliable supply will probably carry more weight.

Similar to BZE the AEMO report sees an important role for solar thermal with molten salt storage and also biogass for helping to meet the meet peaks in electricity demand and to provide supply when there is little incoming solar and wind energy.

Obviously moving to 100% renewables isn't cheap, but as noted at Renew Economy, by 2050 most existing coal and gas fired power plants in Australia would need to be replaced anyway, so while the total cost may sound like a lot, it may not differ all that much from what would be spend over the next 40 years to maintain a fairly polluting power sector.

There are also a couple of interesting critisms of the report from Renew Economy, stating that the AEMO are likely overestimating the cost of renewables and ignoring a role for energy efficiency improvement in decreasing the actual amount of electricity required. Both of which would make 100% renewables cheaper and easier to obtain.

To learn more, you can find the draft report and executive summary here, as well as some good commentary here, here and here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

TTKD May 2013 meeting: Reinventing the Toilet!

Thursday May 16

7.15pm for a 7.30pm start

Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Also of note:

Moggill Market Stall:
TTKD will be holding a stall at Moggill Markets on Saturday 1 June – people are welcome to bring any surplus home grown produce to share. We will also have some native plants from Moggill Creek Catchment Group for sale at $2 each.

Healthy Waterways Awards:
Here is a link to the Healthy Waterways Awards people choice voting page. Please note, our August speaker, Matthew Fullerton is a nominee in the Young Adult Encouragement award, under the Individual and Lifestyle Group (voting closes 20 May).


Monday, April 22, 2013

City council releases its bus review and proposed network changes

The Brisbane city council has now released its planned changes to the Brisbane Transport bus network. You may recall that after the outcry over the proposed Translink bus changes the city council took over responsibility for redesigning the bus routes that it ran.

Reading the BCC's proposed changes it seems to me that the city council has thrown the baby out with the bath water. If Translink could be accused of doing too much (i.e. making dumb changes like cancelling the heavily used 444) the city council appears to be doing too little to fix what is quite an inefficient network.

For example: good changes to the bus network proposed by Translink, like a well overdue high frequency buz service to the Centenary suburbs, and some attempt to clean up the spaghetti of low frequency bus routes between Centenary suburbs and the city appear to all have been canned.

Locally, the combination of the low frequency 414 (Indoroopilly to UQ) and 417 (Long Pocket to City) buses into a circular St Lucia local route, (which seemed like a good idea to me) is also canned.

Why does this matter? Well the main benefit of the Translink plan would have been more high frequency bus routes servicing more people, with the cost of these extra buses offset by having a more cost effective bus network. My understanding is that the council's changes aren't allowed to increase the cost of the bus network. So, because they are removing very few duplicated and inefficient routes my guess is that they are unable to add lots of new high frequency routes.

Anyway you can review the city council's proposed changes here, which also contains instructions on how to have your say.

Friday, March 22, 2013

2012-13 Australian summer was the hottest on record

If you thought the summer we just had was hot. You were right, the 2012-13 summer we just had was the hottest Australian summer on record.

This and other facts are outlined by two scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology here.

Some other interesting facts:

  • Janurary 2013 when we had that massive heatwave was the hottest month in Australia on record, hotter than every other month going back to 1910.
  • Sept 2012 - Feb 2013 was the hottest 6 month period on record.
  • This record hot summer occurred without an El Nino event. El Nino's give temperatures a short term boost and generally mean hotter summers for Australia  (the previous three hottest summers all occurred in El Nino years). This is consistent with increasing temperatures allowing records to fall without an El Nino "bump".
  • This last summer saw record heat across the southern hemisphere land mass as a whole.
  • "Six of Australia’s ten hottest summers on record have come in the last 11 years, meaning that very hot summers have been occurring at about five times the rate you would expect without a warming trend"
  • "With higher average temperatures come more extremes of heat. In the last decade, record high temperatures have outnumbered record low temperatures in Australia by a ratio of about three to one"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Govt to abolish 444 and 443 buses - western suburbs to loose only high frequency bus

Kenmore, Moggill and the western suburbs north of the river are to loose their only high frequency bus service and peak time express bus to the city in the recently announced changes to the SEQ bus system, with the popular 444 and P443 bus routes to be axed.

Last year the LNP state government committed translink to review every bus route and rate them by "value for money" and "patronage" as well as look at how to efficiently structure the network.

The outcomes (which can be found here), were to strengthen and expand the well utilized high frequency routes, close poorly used routes and reduce night time services. It might come as somewhat of a surprise then, that despite both being ranked as "high" value for money with "very high" patronage, both the high frequency 444 (from Moggill to the city) and the P443 (peak time express from Moggill to city) are being axed. To see this, go here and search for 444 or 443.

Passengers from the Western suburbs will instead have access to the "secondary network". Lower frequency services that might go into the CBD, but that also might require changing buses or to a train if the CBD is where you want to go. For example here is what translink has to say about the 444:

This route will be replaced with route #500 MOGGILL TO UQ at a reduced frequency. Passengers wishing to travel to the CBD can transfer to frequent route #26 MT OMMANEY TO CITY VIA INDOOROOPILLY at Indooroopilly.

I am at somewhat of a loss to explain what the govt is playing at here. Probably the major message from the bus review is that passengers want high frequency (ie: convenient) services and so they want to realign the network towards this. To which their response to the western suburbs is to axe highly used and frequent route.

The translink report attempts a halfhearted defense of this saying:
"While Moggill loses its direct connection to the CBD (previously provided by the 444), they gain a direct connection to UQ via Indooroopilly, where they can connect to rail for onwards journeys. Peak services from Moggill will now bypass Indooroopilly and thereby provide a faster connection to the CBD than the existing 444 alignment."
This is all a bit pointless, the 427,432 (and sometimes 428) already provided services from the Kenmore and Chapel Hill to UQ and I doubt very many students live in Moggill. So I struggle to see what is gained by this. Also the 444 already went to Indooroopilly and almost no one would catch a bus to Indooro and then swap to a train when it could be a 15 min wait for one, instead of staying on the bus for a 20 min ride into the city. As for peak services bypassing the Indooro exchange, we already had that, it was called the P443.

If you want to have your say:
You can search the changes and read the report here.
You can leave feedback here. Or call 13 12 30
The state government minister for Transport is Scott Emerson. So you could also drop him a line here.

Scott Emerson and Translink have announced that the 444 will be retained for peak time services.

Update 2 (23.3.13)
The state government was now passed all responsibility for bus changes within Brisbane city over to the city council. Apparently no changes will now be instituted without the support of the BCC. So it's probably fair to say that bus review has now devolved into a mixture of buck passing, farce and uncertainty.

TTKD March Meeting: Waste Management: Past, Present and Future

 Deana Nichols is Brisbane City Council's Waste Management Education Officer - she will give us a comprehensive insight into waste management in Brisbane.

Thursday March 21

7.15pm for a 7.30pm start

Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

TTKD Feburary meeting: In Transition 2.0 Video Screening

In Transition 2.0 is recent documentary produced by the Transition Network. Transitioner's from all around the world share their inspirational stories in growing food and localising their communities.

Please see attached flyer for full details.

As usual the meeting will be followed by supper and conversation. Please feel free to bring along a plate to share (preferably locally produced or home made!). No need to RSVP.

Thursday February 21

7.15pm for a 7.30pm start

Kenmore Library Meeting Room

Thursday, January 31, 2013

California lauches Cap and Trade scheme

A quick update from overseas. The US state of California introduced it's carbon price on the first of January. California is using a cap and trade system (also known as an emissions trading scheme /ETS).

This action by California is important for a couple of reasons. Firstly, California is the most populous state in USA and it has a very large economy. In fact, if California was a country, it would be one of the ten largest economies in the world. Secondly, California has for a long time lead environmental action in the USA, so a successful emissions trading scheme there will help to push others states and perhaps the US federal government to take more action.

The Californian scheme is cap and trade. This is where the government caps the amount of carbon pollution that can be released into the atmosphere for each year and then large polluters have to buy permits to cover all the carbon they have released. This provides a financial incentive to reduce emissions and also makes renewable energy and "low carbon" goods and services more competitive.
In cap and trade, the cap is lowered over time, so less and less pollution can be emitted. Companies that need permits can buy them from companies that have reduced their emissions and so don't require them, providing a second way for business to profit from cleaning up their act.

How does this compare to the Australian carbon price? In its current (and introductory) form, Australia has a fixed price for pollution permits but the number of permits is not capped. This will change in 2015 when the scheme switches to emissions trading, very similar to what has now launched on California.

It is worth noting that in California many (but not all) of the permits are currently being given away to help business adjust to the scheme, although this will decrease as time goes on. It is worth noting that even when permits are given away there is still an incentive to reduce emissions because then you can sell your permits and make a profit. A similar process is occurring in Australia where trade exposed industries receive many of the permits (up to 95%) for free, although again this will decrease over time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The heat is on

If you are in Australia and are reading this, you'll know it's been hot lately, really hot, unprecedented in fact.

 So how hot has it been? Well, last Monday the 7th of January was the hottest day in Australia since records began (check out the statement from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) here). Not only that, but the first 8 days of 2013 were all amongst the top 20 hottest days since records began. So even by last Tuesday the length of a heatwave of this intensity was unprecedented. Currently the BOM data was last updated on the 9th, but the heat has continued, so it will be interesting to see how many more records have been broken.

So this really is an unprecedented heatwave, not only has it been bloody hot, but the area covered by the heatwave has been huge. It is always interesting when a single region breaks its all-time temperature record, as Hobart did on the 4th of January. But think about the amount of heat needed to break a record in a single place, and then think about the amount of heat required to break the heat record for a country the size of Australia and you can see which is more significant.

It is also worth noting that not only was the Australia-wide maximum temperature record set on the 7th, but so was the record for the highest minimum temperature, until it was broken again the next day, that is.

Less appreciated, but also interesting is how long this heatwave (in the broader sense) has actually been going. According to the BOM, the last four months of 2012 were the hottest on record, so in some respects this current heatwave actually started in September.

Combine this unprecedented heatwave event with record heat over the last 4 months and very dry conditions since mid-2012 and it is no surprise that bushfires have followed.

Unprecedented heatwaves such as what we are currently experiencing raise the question of if climate change is involved. The answer, quite simply, is yes. I had been trawling through Australian climate data on the BOM website to help show this, but thankfully several climate scientists have written a short report to do my homework for me (it's only a couple of pages so I recommend you download it if you want to know more).

Over the last ~50 years average temperatures in Australia have risen by more than half a degree, a trend that has also played out worldwide. Looking at the data you can see the whole country has been getting warmer. So we can see that our climate has already changed, it is hotter than it used to be and this means more heatwaves, hotter heat waves and/or longer heatwaves.

Or, think of it this way. The maximum temperature each day can be described using the "bell curve" in the picture below. Average temperatures are those that occur most often and they represent the tallest part of the curve. Temperature extremes (both low and high) are rare and so form the left and right hand edges of the curve.

What global warming is doing is pushing the curve to the right (called "new climate"). This means the temperatures that occur most often (the "mean") are now warmer. But perhaps more importantly, what was previously hot weather (ie: a heatwave) that occurred rarely is now more common and new record hot temperatures now become possible.

We are seeing this in Australia. Warming has lead to increases in the number in hot days (over 35 degrees) and hot nights. While record hot days are now outstripping cold records 3:1, with the number of record hot days doubling since 1960 (ref). So while it wouldn't be accurate to say that global warming has caused this current heatwave, we do know it is making heatwaves more common, more severe and more likely to last longer. Global warming is worsening this heatwave and (although this will need to be tested by climate scientists) the unprecedented nature of the heatwave makes it quite possible that a heatwave of this magnitude simply would not have occurred without global warming.

And what of the future? Well as climate scientist Professor David Karoly points out, over the next 50 years we are expecting:
 "two or three times the warming we've seen already leading to much greater increases in heatwaves and extreme fire danger days".

In other words, the unprecedented nature of this heatwave won't stay unprecedented for long.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How do we fix public transport in Brisbane?

That's the question posted by the Brisbane Times.

Consider also that Brisbane has some of the most expensive public transport in Australia, and if blogger BrisCommuters' calculations are correct, in the world.

Here are the suggestions from those asked by the paper:

"Mike Veitch, managing partner for Veitch Lister Consulting, Toowong:
  1. Introduce CBD parking levies to car park owners. The cost would be passed on to their clients, who in turn would become less likely to drive into the CBD and more likely to catch public transport. In Sydney's CBD each parking space has an annual levy of $2100.
  2. Question any public transport fare increase above inflation - now 7.5 per cent. "From a public transport planning perspective, as opposed to a financial perspective, that is just not a good outcome."
Robert Dow, Rail Back on Track spokesman:
  1. Make zone one adult Go Card fares $2 during peak times. Then increase them 40 cents for each zone for zones one to 10. From zones 10 to 23 increase it by 80 cents per zone. Fund this change by removing the free travel after nine paid journeys in a week and go back to the old scheme of offering a 50 per cent discount after nine journeys. "Queensland Transport are losing money hand over fist with the free journeys."
  2. Lift the off-peak discount from 20 per cent to 40 per cent to discourage people from travelling during peak hour.
Michael Roth, RACQ strategic planning spokesman:
  1. Like most experts, Mr Roth voted for the Cross River Rail Network, Brisbane's underground trains. "That will fix not just train reliability, but also some of the bus problems because the increased rail capacity allows them to divert some buses to major train stations working as public transport nodes, so not all the buses have to go through the CBD and create congestion bottlenecks," he said.
  2.  Review all the concessions (health cards, unemployed) and off-peak fare discounts offered on trains and buses, given the ticket-price affordability issue. Mr Roth was not in favour of dropping fare prices markedly. "The research shows that making prices cheaper does not increase patronage much, it just leaves problems for governments who need more funding to improve the service and attract people out of cars."
Adrian Schrinner, acting lord mayor of Brisbane:
  1. Introduce a daily travel ticket to encourage visitors to easily use public transport. "The new tourist go card is a start, but we'd like to see an affordable daily pass accessible to all," Cr Shrinner said.
  2. Introduce Brisbane's second City Glider bus service - from the 'Gabba to Suncorp Stadium, which has already been announced.
Transport Minister Scott Emerson:
  1. Investigate options to change the time of the XPT train from Sydney to Brisbane, so an extra passenger train can be added to the Gold Coast peak periods.
  2. Stick to the plan of offering a 7.5 per cent annual fare increase, half the previous 15 per cent hike at a cost of $200 million.
  3. Complete the review of bus routes and re-allocate the buses as the study reveals. "We are committed to getting people back onto public transport after four straight years of declining patronage by improving affordability, reliability and frequency," he said."

 Here are some from Briscommuter:

  • Stop the fare increases until Brisbane is more in line with it's peer cities
  • Decrease the base fare rate (zone 1) to make shorter journeys cheaper
  • Introduce a daily zone based fare capping option in line with it's peer cities, that cannot be rorted by long distance commuters
  • Introduce a weekly zone based fare capping option (or alternative periodical fare option) that cannot be rorted by longer distance commuters
  • The morning peak fare period should be based on journey finishing time (e.g. 7am to 9:15am) instead of journey start time (e.g 2am to 9am)
  • Improve peak train frequencies to be as high as reliably possible with frequent timetable reviews (note: Queensland Rail / TransLink's stage 2 train timetable update due in 2011, is now not expected until late 2013 - absolutely disgraceful!)
  • Improve off-peak train frequencies to every 15 minutes across the inner-suburban Queensland Rail (QR) network on weekdays and weekends
  • Expand the frequent and simplified bus network to all main transport corridors
  • Consider some consolidating of fare zones
  • Purchase required software modules for the above required functionality

Any other suggestions?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sustainable Living Workshop - TTKD January Meeting

Next TTKD meeting Thursday 17 January: 

Sustainable Living Workshop

Our January meeting is all about you, come share your lifestyle choices and thoughts at this informal session.

  • What do you do to try to live sustainably?
  • What would you like to do?
  • What hinders you from doing what you’d like to do?
  • Is there anything local, State or National authorities could do to help you to make sustainable choices?

At the conclusion of the discussion we will compile a list of questions and suggestions to send to the relevant authorities.

Bring your ideas and some food (preferably locally sourced or home produced!) to share

Kenmore Library Meeting Room
Kenmore Village
corner Moggill and Brookfield Roads
7:15 pm for 7:30 pm start
light refreshments provided

Contact transitionkenmore@gmail.com for further information

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Clean energy 2012: year in review

Now that 2013 has begun, here's a look back at the top ten clean energy stories from 2012, thanks to Renew Economy.

Stories include:

1. Australia introduces a carbon price, the world doesn’t come to an end

2. The opening of Australia’s first utility-scale solar PV farm

3. Australia passes 2,000MW mark on household rooftops

4. South Australia’s wind success story

5. Germany’s solar success story.

Read about these and n.o.s 6-10 here.

Happy new year everyone.