Israel’s worst-ever forest fire earlier this month confirms predictions on the impact of global warming in the Mediterranean basin, according to one of Israel’s leading climate experts.
“The fire disaster in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa is a taste of the future,” Guy Pe’er, co-author of Israel’s National Report on Climate Change, said on Wednesday.
Nearly a decade ago, Pe’er and other scientists warned that warming would create conditions such as heat waves, decreased and delayed rainfall, leading to a higher risk of intense forest fires.
The recent four-day blaze, which destroyed some five million trees across 12,000 acres (4,800 hectares), arose from these very conditions, he said.
The national report predicted that a temperature increase of only 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times would cause the region’s desert to expand northward some 300-500 kilometers (200-30 miles).
Without deep cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature increase by century’s end will be closer to 3.0 C (5.4 F), scientists say.
In either scenario, such a change would spell the end of Mediterranean-type ecosystems in Israel, Pe’er said.
The fire that raged in the Carmel mountain range, which rises more than 500 metres (1,500 feet) above sea level, was preceded by eight months of drought and occurred during a heat wave with temperatures around 30 C.
Normally, first rainfall should have come in September or October, and the maximal daily temperature at this time of year should be around 15-20 C.
Pe’er, currently a fellow at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Leipzig, said it would be decades before the region began to recover.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced that 24 projects are receiving a total of $21 million in technical assistance to reduce the energy used in their commercial buildings.
This initiative, supported with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will connect commercial building owners and operators with multidisciplinary teams including researchers at DOE’s National Laboratories and private sector building experts. The teams will design, construct, measure, and test low-energy building plans, and will help accelerate the deployment of cost-effective energy-saving measures in commercial buildings across the United States.
Teams comprised of private sector experts and personnel from National Laboratories will help guide projects to achieve 30 percent measured energy savings in existing buildings and 50 percent energy savings in new construction projects. About half of the two dozen projects focus on energy efficiency upgrades for existing buildings. The three-year projects will provide business and technical case studies for publication, including actual energy performance data from the completed projects, to help spur adoption of energy-efficient building practices.
The projects are funded with a public/private cost-sharing agreement, where the building owners and operators contribute at least 20 percent. Building owners and operators do not receive direct funding through the project, but instead get access to state-of-the-art technical guidance to implement energy efficiency technologies throughout the design, construction, and evaluation phases of their building and retrofit projects. This technical expertise includes energy modeling and energy performance verification by laboratory researchers and private sector experts.
Three DOE National Laboratories-Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL)-will manage the effort and provide technical assistance for the selected projects. The energy efficiency design goals for each project include returns on investment and must meet other business criteria established in collaboration with the partners.
Each project will receive technical assistance valued at between $200,000 and $1.2 million, depending on the scope and nature of the plan.
Fluctuating energy prices, new regulations, employee satisfaction and market opportunities are prompting large and small businesses to adopt green technologies. But where do you get the most bang for your buck?
At the Palo Alto campus of SAP, the answer turns out to be videoconferencing. The company, as part of an overall energy retrofit, installed three telepresence systems from Cisco Systems in Palo Alto for a cost of $300,000. The units will save $300,000 in reduced travel costs in the first year alone. Besides that, they boost productivity.
“No one wants to fly every few weeks to Germany,” said Rami Branitzky, the managing director of SAP Labs North America. SAP has 28 installed worldwide and more could follow.
Solid state lighting came in second place. SAP installed 337 LED fixtures from Lunera and connected them through a network from Redwood Systems. Total cost: $434,000. Annual savings: $80,000.
“It is the best business case except telepresence,” said Peter Graf, SAP’s chief sustainability officer.
Retrofitting the data center to run on DC power came in fourth place, right behind a $1.2 million solar array, but the best part has yet to come for DC. The retrofit””which largely revolved around installing a rectifier that can convert high voltage AC power from the grid into high voltage DC to run computers and storage equipment–cost $128,000 and saves $24,000 a year. (DC rectifiers save power by reducing the number of times power gets converted from AC to DC and vice versa before it powers a server””we’re huge fans of DC power these days).
That’s a 5.3 year payback. Overall, the DC data center reduces power consumption in the data center by 15 to 20 percent, said Branitzky.
Graf, however, added that SAP will study ways to deliver power from the solar array at the campus straight to the data center. Solar panels inherently produce DC power. A roof-to-computer rack could thus eliminate two more AC-DC conversions: solar DC power wouldn’t have to go through an inverter to become AC and the AC-DC rectifier at the data center gate could take a nap.
Such as system could reduce power consumed by the data center by a total of 30 to 40 percent. SAP also installed technology from Sentilla and OSISoft in its data center to curb power. Meanwhile, a fleet of EVs and 16 chargers cost $250,000 and saves $21,000, a distant 12 year payback.
The retrofit””shown at an open house for customers, partners and reporters””helps SAP cut its own operating costs, but more importantly it will serve as a test bed to show what the company can accomplish for its customers. Like rivals IBM and Oracle, SAP wants to provide software and services that will help large corporations better manage their operations.
For years, SAP’s software mostly focused on parameters like factory productivity, cost-per-unit, etc. Now, the idea is to highlight building energy consumption, fuel costs and other direct and indirect factors tied to energy and resources. Right now, large companies largely estimate those figures through extrapolation. But in the future, soft drink managers will, ideally, be able to more easily mine data on changes to the water or fuel footprint of a canned soda over different energy pricing scenarios.
Regulations and rising energy costs are prompting large companies to try to better track resources. But price volatility is also a huge concern. In the last decade, commodity pricing has been 40 percent more volatile than it was in the previous decade, Graf noted. The uncertain future surrounding China’s exports of Rare Earth elements underscores the problem.
A number of start-ups participated in the retrofit: Lunera, Redwood Systems, Coloumb Technologies (car charging), Sentilla. Will these companies partner with SAP on larger corporate deals? Are they possible acquisition targets?
Don’t read too much into it, Graf cautioned me. Most of these companies make technologies that directly impact operations: their software helps control lights or manage data centers. SAP typically makes software that manages these management systems.
Still, SAP, like Oracle, IBM and Cisco, is a serial acquirer, so keep your eyes peeled.
Results like this will vary with the circumstances. SAP is a multinational with an aggressive sales culture. It probably has more execs on the road in a given month than the U.S. military has people combing the ground in the Tora Bora region. Not everyone will see those results. (Cisco has dodged hundreds of millions in travel costs through video.) By contrast, anyone can benefit from solar. Still, the figures underscore that energy strategies can be fluid and unpredictable.
Agricultural innovation has long sustained the world’s masses with an abundance of low-cost food, thanks to the success of the mid-20th century’s Green Revolution, which brought industrialization and high-yield grains to India, Mexico and many other developing countries.
A prosperous global population however, has blazed the way for burgeoning new mouths to feed that, by 2050, will nearly double food demand. At the same time, farmers face unprecedented challenges of climate change, high oil prices driving demand for biofuels, and rising costs of land and water.
The 2008 surge in food prices portended ominous and volatile times ahead. Just recently the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations warned of more food supply shocks in 2011.
While on his Asia tour in November, President Obama announced that the U.S. and India would create a partnership to “spark a second, more sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’”"”a sequel to the Green Revolution, an endeavor advanced previously by Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug.
This intention to improve global agricultural productivity and extend food security to Africa is welcomed by former U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Scientist and Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics Gale A. Buchanan. And if the president’s plan is to have any “real, revolutionary” impact, he said, then it must capitalize on the value of genetically modified (GM) crops. In a November 11 keynote address at Sigma Xi’s “Food Safety and Security: Science and Policy” symposium, Buchanan charted out several examples of how GM crops could improve agricultural productivity.
Advocates argue that GM crops could also play an indispensable role in addressing the world’s most serious agricultural challenges like climate change.
“The world has got to accept genetically modified plants because not to is to fail to acknowledge one of the most important discoveries of the 21st century,” Buchanan said.
Critics argue otherwise. Some environmental activists raise concerns about displacement of biodiversity, jeopardizing native plants through cross-pollination or effects on wildlife. The Organic Consumers Association is concerned about health risks and commodity price manipulation by corporate giants such as Monsanto. According to a position statement from the Union of Concerned Scientists, GM foods may pose harm to human health or the environment. The organization calls for thorough risk assessment before introductions of all biotechnology products. Others cite the lack of long-term data on these and other possible impacts.
David Tribe of the University of Melbourne disagrees. The food scientist and safety expert is co-creator of Academics Review, a Web site that seeks to clear confusion about GM food safety by responding to unsubstantiated anti-GM claims. “Technological innovation is being straitjacketed by excessive and scientifically unjustified precaution. By delaying our ability to respond in time to climate change, it’s doing more harm than good,” he says.
Yet, the disagreement goes beyond questions about GM crop’s safety””they are really not what poor farmers in developing countries need. In Africa, for example, the tried-and-true technologies of the Green Revolution are still lacking, along with access to good roads and fertilizer.
It has become a trend over the last year for companies and governments to set renewable energy goals and targets, but meeting those targets has been an entirely different scenario. In this sense, with its latest announcement, GE Energy Financial Services , a unit of General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), seems to be ahead of the curve.
GE has announced that it has hit its multi-year target of US$6 billion in renewable energy investments by the end of 2010.
With projects spanning 14 countries, 95 wind farms, 40 solar installations, six hydroelectric projects, 12 landfill gas facilities, and 15 projects involving other technologies, across a wide spectrum of capital, GE claims to have helped grow the US renewable energy manufacturing industry while reducing the world’s carbon footprint by 23 million tons a year.
The company has almost exclusively invested in states where policy supports renewable energy. Reaching their target was helped by the U.S. Treasury grant renewable energy created under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. With the grant’s expiration just three weeks away, the company is strongly urging US government to extend the program.
“Consistent policy provides the certainty investors need to provide long-term capital, which drives new technology and creates jobs,” said Kevin Walsh, managing director and leader of power and renewable energy at GE Energy Financial Services. “We are specifically calling on the US government to extend the US Treasury grant renewable energy program, which has played an important role in financing renewable energy projects during the past two years.”