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 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Wasil Ahmad: the 10-year-old 'hero' murdered by the Taliban

Child soldier became a kind of grim celebrity in Afghanistan after he reportedly helped break a Taliban siege last summer


Wasil Ahmad was on his way to primary school when the Taliban gunned him down this week, taking revenge for the 10-year-old’s role fighting in a government militia in southern Afghanistan.

His brief career and brutal death have highlighted both the country’s widespread problems with child soldiers and the escalating cruelty of its civil war.

“One side made him famous and the other side killed him. Both sides ignored the law and acted illegally,” Rafiullah Baidar, a spokesman for the Afghan independent human rights commission, told the Associated Press.

“Possibly he took up arms to take revenge for his father’s death, but it was illegal for the police to declare him a hero and reveal his identity, especially to the insurgents.”

Human rights groups have been warning for years that child recruitment is rife in Afghanistan, particularly among police and militia forces, although signing up fighters still in primary school is unusual.

Ahmad’s chubby face, without a wisp of adolescent hair, had made him a kind of grim celebrity in Afghanistan after he reportedly helped fighters in southern Uruzgan province break a Taliban siege last summer.

Social media pictures showed him with an oversized helmet dwarfing his head, his hands firmly clasped around an automatic rifle that also seemed too large against his small frame.

In another he posed in a baggy police uniform, as officials draped garish multi-coloured plastic garlands of celebration around his shoulders, and in a third he is weighed down by an adult-size ammunition belt.

Ahmad took up arms with his uncle Mullah Abdul Samad, a former insurgent who defected to the government, after the Taliban killed his father and then wounded Samad.

The veteran commander claimed that his nephew had led dozens of grown men for over a month while the older man recovered from his injuries. He had even fired rockets from a roof at the insurgents surrounding them in Khas Uruzgan district.

“He fought like a miracle,” Samad told the New York Times. When the siege was broken the group were airlifted to the provincial capital Tirin Kot, where Ahmad was paraded in front of the media.

That outing was meant to be the end of his military career, at least for a few years. He went back to school, and lived with relatives, although they still praised him for his initiative and he dreamed of going back into battle.

“A programme was held at the police headquarters, where his bravery and courage was talked about by officials,” Mohammad Karim Khadimzai, the provincial police chief told the paper.

“I was against this move and told the officials that instead of encouraging him to military activities that will ruin his future, let him go to school. He is too young to hand him a gun.”

He was on his way to school when the Taliban killed him with two bullets to the head, claiming the killing on their website, the Associated Press reported.

President Ashraf Ghani has given strict orders against using children in the military, but there has been “slow and tardy progress” on enforcing them, charity Child Soldiers International says.

“There is a lack of political will to address this issue … there is a specific commitment by the government to clean it up but sufficient measures are not being taken,” Charu Lata Hogg, the group’s policy and advocacy director, said.

Recruitment is driven by a mix of patriotism, poverty, honour and filial duty, a report presented to the UN security council last summer said. In some provinces in the south and east as many as one in 10 law enforcement officials are suspected to be underage, and in more lawless areas the number may be even higher.

The Taliban also use child fighters as spies and suicide bombers, including for an attack on a packed performance at the French Cultural Institute in Kabul just over a year ago that killed at least two people.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:26 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Call for urgent inquiry into world heritage forest fires in Tasmania

Experts say fires like those that continue to ravage Tasmanian forests, and look set to burn for days or weeks to come, could be the ‘new normal’

Thursday 4 February 2016 00.39 GMT

A national inquiry into the fires devastating world heritage forests in Tasmania is urgently needed, say conservationists and academics. The call comes as experts say fires like those could be the new normal.

The Australian Conservation Foundation has called for the public inquiry as dozens of fires continue to ravage the world heritage forests and look set to burn for days or weeks to come.

“We need to ask whether or not Parks and Wildlife have adequate resources to implement a policy of actively fighting … remote area fires, especially in sensitive alpine areas,” said Jess Abrahams, an ACF campaigner.

He said fire services did an exceptional job but an inquiry was needed to look into the policies that should exist around fighting fires in remote areas and the resources that would be needed to implement them.

David Bowman from the University of Tasmania agreed an inquiry was required.

“It’s critical,” he told Guardian Australia. He said it was important that it not seek to lay blame on anyone because the current situation was “unprecedented” and could not have been predicted.

When asked whether there would be an inquiry the Tasmanian premier, Will Hodgman, told reporters yesterday there would be “an assessment” with peer reviews done by experts from interstate.

Dozens of fires were still burning inside the world heritage forests in Tasmania, according to the Tasmanian Fire Service.

Bowman said they could continue to burn for 10 or 20 more days and were likely to be made worse by dry and warm conditions that are forecast as a high-pressure system moves through Tasmania.

Bowman said without investing in research, it was impossible to know what might have been done to avoid the devastation occurring now.

“These fires are really interesting,” he said. “They’re basically unfought and free-flowing over a landscape. Trying to reconstruct them would ... reveal clues about what sort of management would work.”

Bowman said an inquiry should examine whether controlled burning, fire breaks or roading might help. “And getting the expert firefighters to reflect on whether they could do more if they had a bigger budget.”

But right now there was almost nothing that firefighters could do, Bowman said. Many of the fires were burning in peat, which happens underground, making backburning impossible.

“You’d have to bulldoze strips in the soil but it’s a world heritage area,” Bowman said. “If there was something simple that could be done, it would be done.”

The Australian Conservation Foundation said the inquiry should look not just into fire-fighting strategies, but also into the role of climate change in the fires, which experts say was likely to be a cause.

These fires were started by an unusual number of lightning strikes, something that could increase as a result of climate change.

And the dry conditions that led to the fires were also expected to be made more likely as a result of climate change, said Michael Grose from the CSIRO, who conducted a major study into the future climate of Tasmania. “Hotter temperatures, reduced rainfall in key seasons [and] worse fire weather, are all consistent with what is projected with climate change, particularly under a high-emission scenario,” he told Guardian Australia.

“I’m almost certain this is the new normal,” Bowman said.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
SSE set to close most of major coal power plant

Fiddler’s Ferry near Manchester likely to close in April, says energy company as cheap gas prices and renewable energy surge price coal out of UK

Thursday 4 February 2016 10.26 GMT

British power producer SSE said it would likely close most of the units at its 1,995-megawatt Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired plant from 1 April, despite gaining a government capacity contract designed to incentivise back-up plants to stay online.

SSE said its 45-year-old station near Manchester had been loss-making for two years and was expected to continue losing money until 2020.

A surge in renewable energy production and cheap gas prices have effectively priced coal-fired power plants out of the market in Britain.

Three months ago, Britain’s energy minister also announced the permanent closure of all coal-fired power plants by 2025 in a bid to lower carbon emissions from the electricity sector.

SSE said it was consulting staff on the closure of three out of four generation units at Fiddler’s Ferry but that shutdown from 1 April was a likely outcome.

“The plant at the station is ageing, its method of generating electricity is being rendered out of date and it has been, and is expected to continue to be, loss-making,” said Paul Smith, managing director of the generation business at SSE, in a statement.

Fiddler’s Ferry power plant, which employs 213 people, won a 2018/19 capacity market contract for three of its units in Britain’s first ever capacity market auction.

These contracts reward successful bidders for keeping power plants on standby so they can be called upon when renewable energy production is low. They are a major pillar of the British government’s electricity market reform.

SSE said it would incur a penalty charge of around £33m if it breaches the contract by closing the units.

Last month, SSE was unsuccessful in gaining a capacity contract for the power plant for the year 2019/20.

The fourth generation unit at Fiddler’s Ferry is contracted by network operator National Grid to provide market balancing services during the winter of 2016/17.

SSE declined to comment on what will happen to the unit after that contract expires.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:21 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Coal giants abandon unprofitable mines, leaving rehabilitation under threat

Analysts question risks after Brisbane minnow raises less than $750,000 to buy Anglo-American coalmine with a $121m to clean-up obligation
Open cut coalmine near Clermont in central Queensland


A Brisbane mining minnow that raised less than $750,000 from investors before inking a deal to buy a coalmine must now guarantee it can pay more than $120m to clean up the site upon closure.

Batchfire Resources’ agreement to buy a central Queensland mine from Anglo American highlights a growing shift by global coal giants away from less-profitable mines, leaving the fate of expensive environmental rehabilitation in the hands of companies with far fewer resources.

One analyst said this in turn raised the risks that taxpayers would ultimately be forced to bail out miners if they failed or “financial assurance” regimes run by state governments proved inadequate – as was found in a Queensland government report less than two years ago.

Batchfire, revealed last week as the little-known buyer of the open cut Callide mine, has 24 shareholders – 10 of them registered to the same suburban Brisbane house – who have pooled about $748,000 in funds.

Anglo American said the sale price was confidential, but RBC Capital Markets estimated the mine would cost less than $US100m.

However, Batchfire must now produce a site rehabilitation bond of more than $121m, either in cash or a bank guarantee, to be held by the Queensland government

A spokeswoman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) said the government held $121,069,956 in financial assurance in the form of a bank guarantee from Anglo American.

It is not clear whether Anglo American will underwrite Batchfire’s bond as part of the deal.

But the spokeswoman said the DEHP “cannot transfer bank guarantees” and that it was “a matter for the financial institution”.

“EHP requires the bank guarantee to be in the name of the environmental authority (EA) holder,” she said.

“The financial assurance currently held cannot be discharged to the former owners of the mine until financial assurance is lodged by the new owners.”

Ten of Batchfire’s shareholders are registered to the Chapel Hill address of the company’s linchpin, the geologist Edward Choros.

The largest shareholder in Batchfire with a 48% stake is Choros’s company Ambre Investments, linked to his controversial resources play which last year lost investors millions of dollars in a failed US coal export venture that drew strong opposition from environmental groups.

Ambre Energy had previously abandoned an unsuccessful coal-to-liquid fuel venture and been denied the opportunity to mine agricultural land west of Toowoomba by the former Newman government, which ruled it was “not in the public interest”.

Attempts to contact Batchfire and Ambre Investments were not successful.

The open-cut mine, south west of Gladstone, has operated since 1944, with most of its 7.4m tonnes of coal a year sold to the nearby Callide power station.

Tim Buckley, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA), said the emergence of private miners willing to exist on smaller profit margins but with reduced ability to cover rehabilitation costs would be an “absolutely reoccurring theme for coal in Australia this year”.

Buckley said sale of mines for peppercorn amounts – including the sale of the Isaac Plains mine in New South Wales by Sumitomo and Vale last year for $1 – showed how keen large corporations were to clear their balance sheets of the cost of rehabilitation.

But the lack of government rigour around environmental bond requirements now meant taxpayers were effectively covering bets by smaller private miners on the recovery of the coal market, he said.

“If the coal market recovers, you make a fortune. If the coal market stays where it is, you walk away. You don’t carry the [true] liability,” he said.

“It’s an uneven bet and the Australian and state governments are actually facilitating that bet where the bet is being held by Australian taxpayers.

“I don’t mind them gambling but when they’re gambling with taxpayer money when taxpayers have no right of reply – I just find that obscene. It’s standard fossil fuel industry practice.”

Buckley said while $121m held for Callide “seemed like a lot of money”, it worked out to some 20 cents per tonne of coal over the mine’s life.

The IEEFA’s own estimate of the cost of rehabilitation ran to more than 10 times that at $2 to $4 a tonne, he said.

Buckley said the “biggest problem” with the system of environmental bonds in both Queensland and NSW, the major coalmining states, was that companies could use consultants to estimate their own liabilities.

State governments were also not required to test a company’s financial capacity to meet rehabilitation costs, he said.

“The Callide transaction should not be authorised by the Queensland government if there is no capacity to actually cover liabilities if these liabilities prove to be larger than were provided for by the prior company,” he said.

The Callide mine deal was followed this week by Rio Tinto selling its Mount Pleasant mine in NSW, bringing its total divestment from Australian coalmines to $1.18bn since 2013.

Last month Anglo announced the sale of its Dartbrook coal mine to Nathan Tinkler’s Australian Pacific Coal for up to $50m.

A damning report by the Queensland auditor general in April 2014 found that “financial assurances go nowhere near covering rehabilitation costs with no clear criteria for assessing these”.

“Environmental rehabilitation at the expense of those in the mining industry whose activities cause the damage, continues to remain an unrealised aspiration,” it found.

The report said that despite a recent surge in bonds held by the state, taxpayers remained “exposed “ to the cost of clean-ups should mining companies collapse. Both mining and environment departments were “reluctant to take appropriate action and revoke permits and claim financial assurance” where it fell short, it said.

Reforms around the regime since the report include the environment department’s gradual takeover of managing financial assurance as the Palaszczuk government continues to review the scope of the bond scheme.

Asked what steps the Queensland government was taking to ensure the financial assurance for the Callide mine was adequate, the DEHP spokeswoman said: “All holders of an environmental authority must pay financial assurance in accordance with the level of environmental disturbance expected.

“Financial assurance is held as a security to ensure operators comply with strict rehabilitation obligations and provides the government with ready access to funds should the operator default on its responsibilities,” she said.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:19 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
US electricity industry's use of coal fell to historic low in 2015 as plants closed

The biggest source of climate pollution dropped to 34% of US electricity generation and co-author of a new report says: ‘These are permanent changes’

Thursday 4 February 2016 05.01 GMT

America’s use of coal for electricity dropped to its lowest point in the historical record in 2015, delivering a new blow to an industry already in painful decline.

The dirtiest of fossil fuels and America’s biggest single source of climate pollution, coal accounted for just 34% of US electricity generation last year, according to the Sustainable Energy in America handbook on Thursday.

It was the smallest share for coal in the electricity mix since 1949, the first year in which Energy Information Administration records were kept.

“It was a really big year,” said Colleen Regan, a power analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance, who was co-author of the report for the Business Council on Sustainable Energy. “It was a landmark year with a long-term trajectory that we saw as the US decarbonising its power fleet.”

Coal made up 39% of electricity supply in 2014, the annual report said.

The changes in the US electricity system last year also produced milestone benefits for the climate, the report found.

Greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector – the largest single source of climate pollution and the target of Barack Obama’s clean power plan – fell 18% below 2005 levels last year, the report found.

That was halfway to Obama’s goal of a 32% cut in greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector by 2030, and on a relatively short time frame.

The drop in coal use for electricity appeared set to seal the fuel’s long and slow decline in the US, with crashing prices, thousands of miners laid off work, and big coalmining companies forced into bankruptcy.

Last month, Arch Coal, the second biggest coalmining company in the US, filed for bankruptcy to help shed some $4.5bn in debt. Two smaller firms. Alpha Natural Resources and Patriot Call, filed for bankruptcy in 2015.

Republicans in Congress and the mining industry have blamed Obama for the fossil fuel’s decline, accusing him of waging a “war on coal”.

But the report found the biggest threat to coal last year remained cheap natural gas. There was also a spike in new wind and solar power. By the end of last year, wind and solar accounted for 5.4% of the energy mix, up slightly on 2014, the report found.

Some power companies opted to shut down old, coal-fired power plants, in advance of the clean power plant rules.

Those shutdowns, representing about 5% of the entire fleet, meant that there was no coming back for coal, said Colleen Regan, co-author of the report and a power analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

“The retirement of these plants means that a lot of the numbers that we saw in 2015 are permanent. They are structural changes,” she said. “These are not things that happened just because it was a mild year, which was what happened in 2012, or because natural gas prices were artificially low. These are permanent changes.”

Regan went on: “Those coal plants that are lost are not going to be turning back on ever again.”

She expected more coal-fired plants to go off-line in 2016 – although probably not at the rate of last year – but it would be premature to declare the death of coal in the US, she said.

Coal was expected to remain a significant part of the US power mix for some years.

West Virginia and Kentucky, which have been hit hardest by the decline in coal prices, are projected to continue burning coal. Other states close to the vast reserves of cheap coal in the Powder river basin are expected to remain on coal as well.

According to BNEF forecasts, coal would still account for about 24% of electricity use in 2030.

“I don’t want to say that it’s the death of coal or even a slow death but we are definitely tapering,” Regan said.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:16 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The scientists harvesting energy from humans to power our wearables

An MIT lab has produced a device the size of a stamp that harvests energy from bending movements. Commercialising it could be a breakthrough for wearables

Thursday 4 February 2016 05.00 GMT

Inside a lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Sangtae Kim has been tinkering with a paper-thin device the size of a stamp. Kim is interested in harvesting energy from humans (though not the kind that turns people into batteries in the movie, The Matrix). He wants to harness motions, such as walking and running, to power sensors and wearable gadgets.

“It provides a new way of harvesting human energy,” Kim says of his prototype device, which he described recently in an article co-authored with his adviser, Prof Ju Li and other researchers.

“Any motion is possible to harvest, but you wouldn’t want clothes full of harvesters. I would target the soles of shoes – that’s where the most energy is located,” says Kim.

The idea of using movement to generate electricity isn’t new, though it’s far from commonplace. There are stationary exercise bikes with motors to turn sweaty workouts at the gym into energy. But portable energy harvesters that use human motion haven’t hit the market, partly because they have yet to generate enough energy, says Harry Zervos, an analyst with market research firm IDTechEx.

The human energy concept is promising. Using energy that would otherwise be wasted is appealing at a time when plans to fight climate change include using less energy or energy with lower carbon emissions.

Kim is targeting a growing consumer electronics market. Shipments of wearable electronics worldwide are estimated to increase from a predicted 111m devices in 2016 to 214.6m in 2019, according to IDC, a market research firm. IDTechEx expects the annual wearables sales to jump from $20bn in 2015 to nearly $70bn in 2025.

Quest for smaller more powerful batteries

Wearables collect and communicate data wirelessly, like mobile phones, and prolonging battery life is one of the big technical challenges for designers. And just like mobile phones, they are on their way to becoming thinner and more sophisticated. Designers of wearables – such as Apple Watch, Google Glass and fitness and health wristbands – are hunting for technology that could keep those gadgets running for longer in between charging. This means batteries that can pack more energy into smaller space or devices that could otherwise provide an energy boost without needing to plug into the wall.

Lithium-ion batteries, which also power the majority of consumer electronics such as laptops, are the go-to power source for wearables. But their performance declines when they have to shrink to fit tighter spaces, according to Christine Ho, CEO of Imprint Energy, a battery developer in California.

“It’s a conundrum for product designers, who are starting to realise they need to think more creatively,” Ho says. “New batteries have the opportunity to meet the demand.”

Gadget makers, such as Samsung, are experimenting with batteries that are thinner and flexible so that they can more easily fit into wearables that wrap around the finger, wrist and ankle. Imprint Energy is developing ultra-thin and flexible zinc batteries, which can store more energy in a given volume than lithium and are safe and non-toxic, says Ho.

But those emerging battery technologies tend to be expensive and hard to mass produce. Sales of ultra-thin and flexible batteries for wearable devices are expected to reach $300m by 2020, says Tony Sun, an analyst with market research firm Lux Research. The sales could jump to a whopping $4bn by then, he predicts, but only if those batteries can come down in price to the levels of lithium-ion batteries. This would require significant investments for technical breakthroughs, Sun adds.

Energy harvesting

The idea of harnessing human movements came to Kim one night in December 2013, when he got an email from Li, who had just attended a meeting of materials science researchers where talks about lithium ion batteries included a discussion of stress on the battery. Applying stress on a lithium battery alters the voltage and reduces the battery’s capacity. But what if you could turn this stress to an advantage?

“It was a two-sentence email that completely woke me up,” Kim recalls. “Then I started to design this device. It took me a year to build it and another year to fully understand what it was doing. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t a side effect.”

What Kim came up with is a device that has a similar structure as a battery: two conducting electrodes separated by a liquid electrolyte. Unlike a battery, the energy harvester uses the same compound, a mix of lithium and silicon, for both electrodes. This creates a volleying effect when physical stress is applied.

The pressure forces one electrode to spit out lithium ions and in the process upsets an equilibrium that causes the other electrode to open up and accept the rejected lithium. The electrolyte forces them to separate into lithium ions and electrons. The electrons travel through a circuit and get captured as electricity. The electrons then meet up with lithium ions on the other end and move into the electrode.

Unbending the device takes away the stress and causes the electrons and lithium ions to travel the other direction. That reversal creates another flow of electrical current before the two return home to the original electrode.

Kim’s prototype doesn’t yet generate enough electricity for wearables. He says he needs to boost its efficiency – the percentage of mechanical energy that gets converted into electricity – from 0.6% to 6%, to make it powerful enough for devices such as wristbands.

Increasing the energy output and lifespan of an energy harvester will be crucial to popularise its use, says Kevin Lloyd, co-founder and head of technology at California-based Whistle Labs, which has developed a GPS-based pet collar for tracking the location, health and other activities of your furry friend.

“When we look at building wearable devices, we are balancing science, battery life and cost,” Lloyd says. “You don’t want to have to take off your pet’s collar to charge every day. When you are on vacation for one or two weeks, you want it to last for that entire time.”

Another obstacle to make the energy harvester work: our body movements aren’t predicable or consistent, making it difficult to generate a reliable amount of energy at any given time, Ho says.

Tackling the challenge of designing his research into a wearable gadget will be important, Kim acknowledges, adding that he’s already heard from a few companies, including makers of smart watches and medical devices, that are interested in incorporating the energy harvesting process.

“But we need to make this technology more mature first, before thinking about commercialising it,” he says.

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:12 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
From liquid air to supercapacitors, energy storage is finally poised for a breakthrough

Banks of batteries and other technologies could lower energy bills and help renewable power, says energy storage industry as it gears up for bumper year

Thursday 4 February 2016 00.07 GMT

“It doesn’t always rain when you need water, so we have reservoirs - but we don’t have the same system for electricity,” says Jill Cainey, director of the UK’s Electricity Storage Network.

But that may change in 2016, with industry figures predicting a breakthrough year for a technology not only seen as vital to the large-scale rollout of renewable energy, but also offering the prospect of lowering customers’ energy bills.

Big batteries, whose costs are plunging, are leading the way. But a host of other technologies, from existing schemes like splitting water to create hydrogen, compressing air in underground caverns, flywheels and heated gravel pits, to longer term bets like supercapacitors and superconducting magnets, are also jostling for position.

In the UK, the first plant to store electricity by squashing air into a liquid is due to open in March, while the first steps have been taken towards a virtual power station comprised of a network of home batteries.

“We think this will be a breakthrough year,” says John Prendergast at RES, a UK company that has 80MW of lithium-ion battery storage operational across the world and six times more in development, including its first UK project at a solar park near Glastonbury. “All this only works if it reduces costs for consumers and we think it does,” he says.

Energy storage is important for renewable energy not because green power is unpredictable - the sun, wind and tides are far more predictable than the surge that follows the end of a Wimbledon tennis final or the emergency shutdown of a gas-fired power plant. Storage is important because renewable energy is intermittent: strong winds in the early hours do not coincide with the peak demand of evenings. Storage allows electricity to be time-shifted to when it is needed, maximising the benefits of windfarms and solar arrays.

This alone would not be enough to justify the costs of storage, but it brings multiple other advantages. The UK’s National Grid already spends £1bn a year on balancing the grid, switching power on or off to keep the lights on, and stored energy could play a big role. Storage can also be a much cheaper option than big new power stations that might be paid to lie idle for much of the year and only kick in on cold winter evenings. The widely distributed nature of storage also boosts energy security. “It’s a ‘no regrets’ option,” says Prendergast.

The most established form of energy storage is pumping water up mountains, and the UK has four such plants. But available mountains in useful places are now rare and Highview Power Storage is about to fire up an alternative: liquid air.

Its new £8m demonstration plant, at Pilsworth, near Manchester, and funded by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), is set to start in March. By compressing air 700 times into a cold liquid, it stores power which is released by evaporating the liquid air into a high pressure gas to turn a turbine. The 5MW system will be able to power many thousands of homes for a few hours. Gareth Brett, CEO of Highview, says it is like pumped storage, but can be sited wherever it is needed.

Another technology backed by Decc is a home battery system from Moixa Group, a UK technology similar to Tesla’s Powerwall. The £2,000 briefcase-sized battery can store surplus energy from rooftop solar panels but it also earns money by being part of a smart network of home batteries - a virtual power station - which the company uses to help balance the National Grid.

“You can turn houses on or off the grid, if the National Grid wants me to do it and pays me to do it,” says Simon Daniel, Moixa founder and CEO. About 350 systems have been installed so far, and Daniel argues that rolling out a much bigger network could be much faster than waiting for planning permission for large energy storage sites.

“Sky installed satellite dishes in a third of UK homes in seven years,” Daniel says. He also jokes his battery “is currently manufactured in [energy secretary] Amber Rudd’s constituency, which is good politically.”

The Moixa system uses lithium-ion batteries and these are the mainstay of the current grid-scale energy storage rollout around the world. In the past they were considered too expensive for larger scale storage but costs continue to fall and their proven track record in consumer electronics gives investors confidence.

The UK’s biggest operating energy storage system is an £18m battery plant installed by UK Power Networks (UKPN) at Leighton Buzzard, a growing Bedfordshire town. UKPN’s Martin Wilcox says the company, responsible for delivering electricity to homes in south-east England, had a choice: build a third main power line into the town from the National Grid or install 6MW of batteries. With the money it earns by balancing the grid, the latter looked cheaper and went live in 2015.

The UKPN project is set to be overtaken by AES, a global power company, with a 10MW lithium-ion plant at its Kilroot power station in Northern Ireland, while REDT is installing a £3.6m flow battery on the Scottish island of Gigha, to support its wind turbines.

Batteries are also at the heart of the Everest project in East Anglia, but it uses second-hand batteries from Renault electric cars. Ian McDonald, at Future Transport Systems, which is the technical lead for the project, says it buys the batteries - at a fraction of the new cost - after they are about 75% degraded by the “use and abuse” of normal stop-start driving. Because the batteries are then only charged and discharged slowly, as part of an electric car recharging network, they get another five to six years of life.

Using electric car batteries as a smart storage network while still in the cars is a promising option in the future, according to Mark Thompson at Innovate UK, a government agency. He says there could be 4GW capacity - a nuclear power station is about 1GW - by 2025 across the 300,000 electric cars projected to be on UK roads by then. He says cars are stationary for 95% of the time and using them could save billions of pounds, removing the need for new power stations and power lines.

But while interest in energy storage projects in the UK is surging - a recent call from National Grid for 200MW of short-term storage was oversubscribed six times - it is starting from a low base: just 24MW has been installed compared to the 5,000MW the government’s official advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, envisages in a low-carbon nation in 2030.

“The UK and Europe really led the way on renewables, with the US following. But the opposite seems to be the case in the energy storage industry,” says Audrey Fogarty, at Younicos, a German energy storage company with major operations in US. California alone has mandated 1,200MW of storage by 2020.

Sally Fenton, at Decc, said the government was still deciding how to deploy the £250m it now has for non-nuclear energy innovation, but said: “We certainly expect to have increased funding” for energy storage.

In November, energy secretary Rudd said: “Locally generated energy supported by storage, interconnection and demand response, offers the possibility of a radically different model ... We are looking at removing regulations that are holding back smart solutions, such as demand side response and storage.”

That would be welcomed by UKPN’s Wilcox: “Storage is absolutely at a tipping point. But [energy] regulation was designed 10-20 years ago for a different system.” For example, he says, UKPN has to pay towards government social and green subsides when it buys electricity to charge its batteries, but then customers pay them again when they take the power from the discharging battery.

Brett, at Highview, praises Decc for its support - “they have really stuck with us as a British technology” - but says regulatory issues are having a “chilling effect” on the rollout of storage.

Cainey, director of the trade body Electricity Storage Network, says storage projects can be built very quickly. “A battery project can take 12-18 months from saying we will do it, to completion.”

She said California’s high ambition came from its commitment to tackling climate change: “California is aggressively pursuing a low-carbon agenda and they don’t want diesel [generator back-up] on the system.” The UK government has been criticised for recently awarding £175m of subsidy to highly polluting diesel generator farms.

“Amber Rudd is talking a lot about energy storage, but we need a clear regulatory steer,” says Cainey. “The planes are circling, but there is no runway to land on.”

Prof Ian Arbon, at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, which in 2014 called energy storage the “missing link” in the UK’s energy plans, is even more direct: “As a nation we are nowhere near where we should be on energy storage. There is a clear need for massive and urgent attention. Energy storage is one of the obvious solutions to the [decarbonisation] problems we face.”

The government is keen to build new gas-fired power stations and develop fracking, but Arbon said: “The UK is the only country in the world who thinks it is going to hit its renewable targets by doing more fossil fuels.”

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Morocco to switch on first phase of world's largest solar plant

Desert complex will provide electricity for over 1 million people when complete, helping African country to supply most of its energy from renewables by 2030

Thursday 4 February 2016 11.47 GMT

Morocco’s king will switch on the first phase of a concentrated solar power plant on Thursday that will become the world’s largest when completed.

The power station on the edge of the Saharan desert will be the size of the country’s capital city by the time it is finished in 2018, and provide electricity for 1.1 million people.

Noor 1, the first section at the town of Ouarzazate, provides 160 megawatts (MW) of the ultimate 580MW capacity, helping Morocco to save hundreds of thousands of tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

“At around 2pm, the King will press a button, the parabolic mirrors will start turning, the heat will begin to turn the turbines and the plant will come to life,” said Maha el-Kadiri, a spokeswoman for Masen, Morocco’s renewable energy agency.

King Mohammed VI will then lay the foundations for Noor 2, the next stage of the solar complex. Noor 1 had been due to open in December but was delayed by unspecified “agenda concerns,” el-Kadiri said.

After it is switched on, the plant will initially provide 650,000 local people with solar electricity from dawn until three hours after sunset.

“It is a very, very significant project in Africa,” said Mafalda Duarte, the manager of Climate Investment Funds (CIF), which provided $435m (£300m) of the $9bn project’s funding. “Morocco is showing real leadership and bringing the cost of the technology down in the process.”

The north African country plans to generate 42% of its energy from renewables by 2020, with a third of that total coming from solar, wind and hydropower apiece.

Morocco hopes to use the next UN climate change conference, which it hosts in November, as the springboard for an even more ambitious plan to source 52% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030.

“Between now and [the next conference], many projects will have come to light and we will prove that we can match our energy demands with renewables,” the country’s energy minister Abdelkader Amara said at a meeting during the Paris climate summit in December.

Such a move would have regional implications. CIF estimates that if international banks and governments deployed another 5GW of solar energy, electricity production costs could fall by 14%. Scaling that up to 15GW would cut costs by 44%.

Some $3.9bn has been invested in the Ouarzazate solar complex, including $1bn from the German investment bank KfW, $596m from the European Investment Bank and $400m from the World Bank.

If the dreams of its architects are realised, the resulting energy will eventually be exported north to Europe, and eastwards to Mecca, as well as providing a secure source of energy at home.

“Morocco knew their demand for electricity was growing at 7% a year and that they were dependent on imports for 97% of that energy,” Duarte said. “They had a vision to promote renewables at a time when oil prices were high and they undertook regulatory reforms, put institutions in place, and they have done a great job.”

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:06 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Costa Rica's best and brightest hummingbirds – in pictures


These distinctive and noisy birds come in hundreds of varieties – you can find about 50 types in Costa Rica, each with tiny beating wings and bright plumage

Click to see all:

 on: Feb 04, 2016, 07:03 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Thai elephant attack puts spotlight on abuses in animal tourism trade

Animal welfare activists hope the death of a British man this week will prompt Thailand to take action on elephant rides, tiger parks and primate shows

Thursday 4 February 2016 12.39 GMT

The death of a British tourist who was trampled by an elephant in Thailand this week has reenergised campaigns to end widespread abusive practices in Thailand’s animal tourism sector.

Edwin Wiek, a prominent animal rights campaigner, said he would press Thai politicians to regulate the industry, citing the dangers to holidaymakers who pay to ride elephants or take photos with captive tigers.

“It looks very bad on Thailand,” he said of the killing. “Everyone now is saying that if you take photos with tigers you get mauled and if you ride elephants there is no regulation whatsoever. People have a point.”

Elephants can be docile but are also prone to bouts of rage if agitated. The brutish training of trekking elephants can make them even more dangerous, campaigners say.

The charity World Animal Protection says elephants are made to submit to giving rides as they are taken from their mothers as babies and forced through a savage training process known as “the crush”. Footage of this operation in Thailand has been leaked, in which elephants are restrained in a small cages and beaten.

On Monday Gareth Crowe, 36, from Scotland, was killed by an elephant during a trek with his 16-year-old stepdaughter Eilidh on the holiday island of Koh Samui. The elephant’s handler, or mahout, had dismounted to take a photograph of the duo when the animal, named Golf, attacked him.

Crowe was thrown off, trampled and gored after the handler unsuccessfully attempted to control the animal with a speared hook.

While it is impossible to say what caused the elephant to kill Crowe, Wiek said the adult male might have been in musth, a periodic condition characterised by a rise in reproductive hormones that can make bull elephants violent.

“They become very unpredictable,” he said. “Imagine 6,000 kilos of horny meat.”

Samattapong Uttama, assistant managing director of Island Safari, the tour company that owns Golf, said the elephant was being closely monitored following the attack.

“We have suspended all operations for 10 to 15 days while we review our procedures,” Samattapong said by phone.

Samattapong said his mahouts were “strictly told that they must not use the sharp end of the stick”, that the company was not cruel to its nine working elephants, and that it closely followed Thailand’s animal rights laws.

Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, said that apart from documents that proved ownership of the animals, Thailand’s 80 elephant camps, which together hold 2,800 elephants, were not properly regulated.

The kingdom’s main piece of legislature to prevent animal abuse, approved by 188 to 1 in a 2014 parliamentary vote, protects “performing show animals” but has mostly been interpreted to cover neglect of domesticated dogs and cats.

Sek Wannamethee, a foreign ministry spokesman, said Thailand had other specific regulations that promote the welfare of elephants, including a beasts of burden act and the tourism department’s guidelines for elephant camp management.

“Enforcement, monitoring and evaluation of these laws and regulations
are constantly carried out throughout the country,” Sek said, adding the Thai government “takes the issue of animal cruelty seriously”.

Activists say further legalisation and increased enforcement is needed. In one zoo on the outskirts of the capital, orangutans are made to box each other for the entertainment of onlookers.

Abuse has also been reported in Thailand’s tiger parks, where tourists can get their photos taken with cubs and adults. Last month a video showed a handler punching a tiger in the face, and in 2014 an Australian tourist was badly mauled. World Animal Protection says 614 tigers are being kept at such sites.

Animal attractions are big business in Thailand, and the tourism sector as a whole accounts for around 10% of GDP. In an indication of the money that performing elephants can make, a baby female is valued at up to £35,000.

Freeland, an organisation that tackles wildlife trafficking, said that most of the time elephants were taken from the wild, often from neighbouring Myanmar. There are an estimated 3,000 wild elephants in Thailand, and a few dozen elephants are still used in logging operations.

Thailand’s Tiger Temple, where nearly 150 tigers live, has faced allegations of involvement in the illegal wildlife trade. The foreign ministry spokesman Sek said the government had started moving some tigers to wildlife conservation units last week.

But the sector is resilient, even when tourists are attacked. There have been six fatal elephant attacks over the past six months in Thailand, according to Wiek.

“I think that we should exploit this moment in the positive sense by telling the Thai government to start thinking about real legislature,” he said.

Several elephant sanctuaries have been set up in Thailand where no rides are permitted but visitors can view the animals – often older elephants that have been rescued from elephant camps – in open areas.

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai province, in northern Thailand, allows visitors to feed, walk alongside and bathe elephants. Its founder Sangduen Chailert travels to elephant camps to train mahouts on basic healthcare, diet and proper handling. Tourists are also allowed to volunteer at the camp, although private insurance is compulsory.


British tourist killed by elephant on trek in Thailand

36-year-old Gareth Crowe, from Scotland, was on holiday with his family on Koh Samui when the animal turned on its handler

Monday 1 February 2016 20.40 GMT

A British tourist has been killed after he was thrown from an elephant during a trek in Thailand.

Gareth Crowe, 36, was taking part in a trek on the island of Koh Samui when the animal turned on its handler, according to local reports. He was on holiday in Thailand with his family.

A 16-year-old girl, the daughter of Crowe’s partner, was injured after she also fell to the ground.

Witnesses said the elephant – known as Golf – grew angry after its handler climbed down to take photographs, refusing to follow his instructions. The handler is said to have hit the elephant several times, which then stabbed him with a tusk before rising up and throwing the tourists off.

Crowe’s partner, Catherine Hughes, 42, spoke on Monday from the hospital where her daughter, named as Eilidh Hughes, was recovering.

She said: “We were all here on holiday. My son and I didn’t go on the elephants. I’ve been given no information as to what happened or how it happened. Eilidh is OK but I don’t know exactly what happened.”

The teenager was first treated at Samui International hospital before she was moved to the island’s Bangkok International hospital. Her family are believed to have originally been from the Isle of Islay off Scotland’s Argyll coast, but moved to the Scottish mainland two years ago.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We are offering support to the family of a British national who has sadly died following an incident in Koh Samui, Thailand, and are making contact with the local authorities to seek further information.”

The local Thai provincial governor, Wongsiri Phromchana, said that an investigation was being launched into the incident, adding that there were at least five elephant camps on Koh Samui providing treks and activities for tourists.

Animal charities have been calling on tourists to think carefully before they take part in wild animal experiences. World Animal Protection said thoughts were with the family of the man who died but added that the incident was a “stark reminder” that elephants are not meant to be ridden.

A spokeswoman said: “Elephants are cruelly abused to tame them enough so they give rides and perform in shows.

“Most tourists don’t know about these abuses, or the potential danger they put themselves in. If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then the chances are it is cruel and the animal is suffering.”

Last year, tour operator Intrepid Travel announced it would no longer offer elephant rides on any of its trips. STA Travel, which provides holidays for 2.5 million students and young people each year, last year also stopped offering tours that include elephant rides or trips to the Tiger Temple in Thailand.

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