Wednesday, November 26, 2014

World Resources Institute Publishes Renewable Energy Cost Comparison Factsheet

17 November 2014: The World Resources Institute (WRI) has launched a factsheet that enables better cost comparisons of electricity from renewables and fossil fuels by identifying key factors to consider, namely: type of user; supply options; and factors that impact additional costs and benefits, such as environmental risks or financial incentives.

The publication, titled ‘Understanding Renewable Energy Cost Parity,' seeks to provide a simple, "go-to" resource for information on appropriate comparisons of renewable and "traditional" electricity supply options. The factsheet constitutes the first in a series of three publications that aim to support clarity and precision in cost analyses of renewable energy options made by decision makers in companies, residences, governments and advocacy organizations. In particular, the guide is intended for electricity buyers looking for financial savings, and electricity system planners, regulators and policy makers seeking economic and social benefits for end-users.

The publication argues that, in order for decision makers to know where and when renewable energy is the cheapest solution, they should establish: "with what should a renewable energy option be compared"; and "which factors need to be considered in determining cost parity."

Among the publication's key messages are that: for end-use consumers, on-site generation is cost-competitive when its average cost of energy is lower than or equal to the retail electricity price over the project's lifetime; for large industrial and/or commercial consumers, power purchase agreements (PPAs) are cost-competitive when the price paid for generated electricity is lower than or equal to the retail electricity price over the project's lifetime or contract; and, for utilities and other wholesale buyers, a renewable energy project is cost-competitive if its cost of energy and/or risk is lower than or equal to that of other technologies providing the same service during the same period of time.

The factsheet also argues for the need to take into account potential additional factors, including fluctuations in electricity prices, different time periods used in comparisons, assumptions and methodologies relating to levelized cost of energy (LCOE) calculations, technology-specific subsidies, possible PPAs, and costs of compliance with environmental regulations. [WRI Blog Post] [WRI Publication Webpage] [Publication: Understanding Renewable Energy Cost Parity] More

 

 

 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fearing Bombs That Can Pick Whom to Kill

On a bright fall day last year off the coast of Southern California, an Air Force B-1 bomber launched an experimental missile that may herald the future of warfare.

LRAS Missile launched from B-1 bomber

Initially, pilots aboard the plane directed the missile, but halfway to its destination, it severed communication with its operators. Alone, without human oversight, the missile decided which of three ships to attack, dropping to just above the sea surface and striking a 260-foot unmanned freighter.

Warfare is increasingly guided by software. Today, armed drones can be operated by remote pilots peering into video screens thousands of miles from the battlefield. But now, some scientists say, arms makers have crossed into troubling territory: They are developing weapons that rely on artificial intelligence, not human instruction, to decide what to target and whom to kill.

As these weapons become smarter and nimbler, critics fear they will become increasingly difficult for humans to control — or to defend against. And while pinpoint accuracy could save civilian lives, critics fear weapons without human oversight could make war more likely, as easy as flipping a switch.

Britain, Israel and Norway are already deploying missiles and drones that carry out attacks against enemy radar, tanks or ships without direct human control. After launch, so-called autonomous weapons rely on artificial intelligence and sensors to select targets and to initiate an attack.

Britain’s "fire and forget" Brimstone missiles, for example, can distinguish among tanks and cars and buses without human assistance, and can hunt targets in a predesignated region without oversight. The Brimstones also communicate with one another, sharing their targets.

Armaments with even more advanced self-governance are on the drawing board, although the details usually are kept secret. "An autonomous weapons arms race is already taking place," said Steve Omohundro, a physicist and artificial intelligence specialist at Self-Aware Systems, a research center in Palo Alto, Calif. "They can respond faster, more efficiently and less predictably."

Concerned by the prospect of a robotics arms race, representatives from dozens of nations will meet on Thursday in Geneva to consider whether development of these weapons should be restricted by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, last year called for a moratorium on the development of these weapons.

The Pentagon has issued a directive requiring high-level authorization for the development of weapons capable of killing without human oversight. But fast-moving technology has already made the directive obsolete, some scientists say.

"Our concern is with how the targets are determined, and more importantly, who determines them," said Peter Asaro, a co-founder and vice chairman of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a group of scientists that advocates restrictions on the use of military robots. "Are these human-designated targets? Or are these systems automatically deciding what is a target?"

Weapons manufacturers in the United States were the first to develop advanced autonomous weapons. An early version of the Tomahawk cruise missile had the ability to hunt for Soviet ships over the horizon without direct human control. It was withdrawn in the early 1990s after a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

Back in 1988, the Navy test-fired a Harpoon antiship missile that employed an early form of self-guidance. The missile mistook an Indian freighter that had strayed onto the test range for its target. The Harpoon, which did not have a warhead, hit the bridge of the freighter, killing a crew member.

Despite the accident, the Harpoon became a mainstay of naval armaments and remains in wide use.

In recent years, artificial intelligence has begun to supplant human decision-making in a variety of fields, such as high-speed stock trading and medical diagnostics, and even in self-driving cars. But technological advances in three particular areas have made self-governing weapons a real possibility.

New types of radar, laser and infrared sensors are helping missiles and drones better calculate their position and orientation. "Machine vision," resembling that of humans, identifies patterns in images and helps weapons distinguish important targets. This nuanced sensory information can be quickly interpreted by sophisticated artificial intelligence systems, enabling a missile or drone to carry out its own analysis in flight. And computer hardware hosting it all has become relatively inexpensive — and expendable.

The missile tested off the coast of California, the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, is under development by Lockheed Martin for the Air Force and Navy. It is intended to fly for hundreds of miles, maneuvering on its own to avoid radar, and out of radio contact with human controllers.

In a directive published in 2012, the Pentagon drew a line between semiautonomous weapons, whose targets are chosen by a human operator, and fully autonomous weapons that can hunt and engage targets without intervention.

Weapons of the future, the directive said, must be "designed to allow commanders and operators to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force."

The Pentagon nonetheless argues that the new antiship missile is only semiautonomous and that humans are sufficiently represented in its targeting and killing decisions. But officials at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which initially developed the missile, and Lockheed declined to comment on how the weapon decides on targets, saying the information is classified.

"It will be operating autonomously when it searches for the enemy fleet," said Mark A. Gubrud, a physicist and a member of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and an early critic of so-called smart weapons. "This is pretty sophisticated stuff that I would call artificial intelligence outside human control."

Paul Scharre, a weapons specialist now at the Center for a New American Security who led the working group that wrote the Pentagon directive, said, "It’s valid to ask if this crosses the line."

Some arms-control specialists say that requiring only "appropriate" human control of these weapons is too vague, speeding the development of new targeting systems that automate killing.

Mr. Heyns, of the United Nations, said that nations with advanced weapons should agree to limit their weapons systems to those with "meaningful" human control over the selection and attack of targets. "It must be similar to the role a commander has over his troops," Mr. Heyns said.

Systems that permit humans to override the computer’s decisions may not meet that criterion, he added. Weapons that make their own decisions move so quickly that human overseers soon may not be able to keep up. Yet many of them are explicitly designed to permit human operators to step away from controls. Israel’s antiradar missile, the Harpy, loiters in the sky until an enemy radar is turned on. It then attacks and destroys the radar installation on its own.

Norway plans to equip its fleet of advanced jet fighters with the Joint Strike Missile, which can hunt, recognize and detect a target without human intervention. Opponents have called it a "killer robot."

Military analysts like Mr. Scharre argue that automated weapons like these should be embraced because they may result in fewer mass killings and civilian casualties. Autonomous weapons, they say, do not commit war crimes.

On Sept. 16, 2011, for example, British warplanes fired two dozen Brimstone missiles at a group of Libyan tanks that were shelling civilians. Eight or more of the tanks were destroyed simultaneously, according to a military spokesman, saving the lives of many civilians.

It would have been difficult for human operators to coordinate the swarm of missiles with similar precision.

"Better, smarter weapons are good if they reduce civilian casualties or indiscriminate killing," Mr. Scharre said. More

Editorial

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche,, a leading Tibetan academic stated recently; "Today the challenges of the modernity pose existential threat to mankind and earth itself, if not tackled adequately and immediately. The first major challenge is of VIOLENCE. Its most visible forms are war and terrorism. Then there is the systematic or system generated violence. We are neither able to see it or understand it, but its scope and spread are frightening. The present situation is such that we have no will to resist violence, unless it directly affects us. This kind of violence is market driven which necessitates perpetuation of war or its possibility. In brief the entire world today is being governed by the market forces, which are described consumeristic system". Violence, war and terrorism, along with poverty and disease are governance issues, global governance issies.

As Kofi Annan, then secretary-general of the United Nations (UN), told world leaders in 1998: "Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development." Governance is the exercise of economic, political, and administrative authority to manage a country's affairs at all levels. Different definitions of good governance have been proposed by development organizations. The definition offered by the UN Development Programme highlights participation, accountability, transparency, consensus, sustainability, the rule of law, and the inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable people in making decisions about allocating development resources.

All of the above are issues that we have to technology and resources to alleviate. Doing so would remove the necessity to produce weapons as described above, it could do away for the need for the military as we know it today. The world could be like Costa Rica whose military was abolished on December 1, 1948, by President José Figueres Ferrer. Our world could literally become a Paradise or Garden of Eden where peace reigned as everyones needs were fulfilled. Editor.

 

 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lord Stern: global warming may create billions of climate refugees

Lord Nicholas Stern, one of the world’s most influential voices on climate economics, does not mince his words when it comes to criticising those who take a narrow view of prosperity and highlighting the devastating consequences of global warming.

Nicholas Stern

"You have to be a complete idiot to think that GDP sums up prosperity," says Stern, who believes we need to develop broader measures of success and combine this with a return to core values if we are to convince people to act to prevent runaway climate change.

Stern, who wrote the landmark 2006 Stern review of the economics of climate change, says if we fail to take heed of the danger signals, we risk temperatures rising this century to levels we haven’t seen for tens of millions of years.

"Hundreds of millions of people, perhaps billions of people would have to move," he warns. "If we’ve learned anything from history that means severe and extended conflict.

"We couldn’t just turn it off. You can’t make a peace treaty with the planet, you can’t negotiate with the laws of physics. You’re in there, you’re stuck. Those are the stakes we’re playing for and that’s why we have to make this second transformation, the climate transformation and move to low carbon economy."

Stern has co-authored the recently published New Climate Economy report, which argues that the world can head off the worst effects of climate change, and enjoy the fruits of continued economic expansion, if it moves quickly to invest in a low-carbon economy.

He says he hopes the study will influence key decision makers because it was written with the support of a coalition of respected politicians, economists, think tanks and institutions, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the OECD, the International Energy Agency and the UN.

He dismisses the arguments of more radical economists who believe that we need to stop our fixation with growth, arguing that the economy needs to keep expanding if we are to have a hope of eradicating poverty.

"To those who want to knock out growth from objectives, I find they’re close to reprehensible because for me the two defining challenges of this century are overcoming poverty and managing climate change.

"We fail on one, we fail on the other. So I think to say that we should just switch off growth is to miss big aspects of what matters about poverty. And so it worries me. It’s also politically very naive. If you turn it into a pissing contest between growth on the one hand and climate and environment on the other and say you’ve got to choose, you’re setting yourself up for failure."

Stern says investments in renewable energy must be combined with a rethinking of our understanding of prosperity, which he believes will lead to what he terms better growth.

"It means thinking differently about health, about the way we live in our cities and about the strengths of our communities," he says. "It’s not that GDP is idiotic but it’s mostly about the use of labour resources and what it produces. But there are very important parts of this story about prosperity that get missed out."

How does Stern, who is president of the British Academy, believe we can start to measure prosperity that goes beyond GDP?

He says it is vital to start from the perspective of people understanding what they mean by wellbeing and what they value, whether it is family, community, arts or sport.

"You can be reasonably empirical about what moves people and then you go and try to collect data on that," he says. "Once you understand what it is it you’re trying to capture and create indicators, you can then start to talk about policy."

The 68-year-old peer says it’s vital we go back to recognising the importance of Aristotle’s belief in the need to understand what it means to be a virtuous person and to whom we owe a duty of care.

"I’ve been an academic all my life and I look at the evidence of what works and what doesn’t work," he says. "But if you ask yourself what you’re trying to do, that’s spurred by values, by what’s important to you."

For Stern, the heart of his values lies in the importance of family. Speaking immediately after introducing his two-week old granddaughter Rosa on stage at a TEDx talk in New York, he said: "I’m 68 and I am thinking what will Rosa be like when she’s 68? We’re talking about towards the end of this century and what we do now will determine whether the next 100 years is the best of centuries or the worst of centuries."

"Are we going to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we understood the issues, that we recognised the dangers and the opportunities, and still we failed to act?"

Stern believes that it is time for religious leaders, politicians and the media to act more responsibly, pointing in particular to the importance of the Pope’s statement earlier this year that if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.

Also key to changing hearts and minds is the field of arts, with Stern pointing to Barbara Kingsolver’s book Flight Behaviour, which he says is not only wonderful in describing the human condition but also in questioning our relationship with the environment.

"It’s not just the policy wonks like me we need to try to assemble the evidence and set it out," he says. "You have to do that because emotional argument without rational evidence on cause and effect doesn’t get you all that far. But rational argument about cause and effect alone doesn’t get you there either." More

 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Cayman Renewable Energy Association Launches

Cayman Renewable Energy Association launched last week. In this segment we learn more about the group’s mission and what they see as the next step in implementing alternative energy in Cayman.

James E. Whittaker of GreenTech Group of Companies and Jim Knapp of Endless Energy talk to Vanessa Hansen of Cayman 27 about the premise of the organiization and why it’s important to have the association in Cayman.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Caribbean small islands will be first in region to suffer from rising sea levels

NAROBI, Kenya, Monday November 3, 2014, CMC - A top United Nations official has warned that the small islands of the Caribbean will be the first territories in the region to suffer the effects of rising sea levels due to climate change.

Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, said here on Saturday that the effects of climate change threaten the Caribbean’s tourism industries and, eventually, their “very existence”.

Speaking ahead of Sunday’s release of the Fifth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Steiner said sea-level rise will have an “immediate impact in economic terms” on the Caribbean Small Island Developing States (SIDS), stating that the Caribbean’s tourism infrastructure is 99 per cent along the coastline.

“Many small island nations are in a far more exposed situation simply because their territory is sometimes only two, three, four meters (6.5-13 ft.) above sea level,” he said, adding “therefore their very existence is being threatened.

“The changes also in, for instance, coral reefs and mangroves that are natural barriers and help strengthen the resilience of these countries, if coral reefs are dying then clearly countries become more vulnerable,” he added.

Steiner also cited the impact of more intense hurricanes and other extreme weather events on countries whose economies cannot bear the cost of reconstruction.

On a more hopeful note, he praised proactive efforts by some Caribbean countries, such as Barbados, where “energy efficiency efforts and renewable deployment are now on the agenda of investment and national development planning”.

The efforts of the Barbados government were one reason the United Nations decided to mark 2014 World Environment Day in Barbados, Steiner said. More