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 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.