Mixed Greens: NSW’s extreme climate forecast

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More heatwaves, droughts, floods for NSW; new climate ambassador; CO2 Group doubles revenue; Q-Cells lands Alice rooftop job; Origin’s Chile hydro JV blocked; Cleantech Open.

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A new report by the Climate Commission has linked climate change to increases in record heatwaves, bushfires and rising sea levels in New South Wales. Set to be released today, the report – “The Critical Decade, NSW Climate Impacts and Opportunities” – predicts that the number of days reaching more than 35 degrees Celsius in Sydney is expected to triple by 2070, going from just three days a year, to 14 days a year by the end of the century. The report also says that climate change “cannot be ruled out” as a factor in the state’s recent heavy rainfalls, such as the flash flooding in Sydney on March 8, the wettest March day for more than 25 years. And while the intensity of downpours is predicted to increase – due largely to warmer ocean temperatures – NSW is expected to become drier, on average, increasing the risk of longer, harsher droughts and bushfires.

The report also finds that temperatures in Sydney’s western suburbs are rising faster than the city’s eastern suburbs, leading to a prediction hospital admissions will rise by 40 per cent by 2030. The number of days over 35°C is up by 60 per cent in western Sydney since 1970, while the coastal eastern suburbs had not shown a significant trend. But things aren’t all rosy for the eastern suburbs, with the report finding that sea-level rises could spark storm-surge problems for coastal areas, citing research that predicts a 50cm rise in sea level could spark flooding events – previously considered a one-in-100-year phenomena – every few months.

Chief climate commissioner, Tim Flannery, said NSW was highly vulnerable to climate change. “Changes in Sydney’s climate will have far-reaching implications for health, agriculture, tourism, water security and biodiversity,” he said. Professor Flannery said that the report was based on the latest science and had been released before a series of meetings in western Sydney this week. Flannery has also encouraged people to come forward and “ask their questions and air their doubts” about the report at a public forum at Parramatta Town Hall on Tuesday night.

Climate commissioners Will Steffen (ANU) and Lesley Hughes (Macquarie University), who will also be attending the forum, said a shift to cleaner energy sources was needed to help minimise climate change risks. “This is the critical decade for action. The longer we wait, the more difficult and costly it will be,” they say in their report summary. The professors also stress the risks NSW’s coastal areas face from sea level rises. “A 1.1-metre rise by the end of the century could put between 40,000 to 60,000 houses, 1200 commercial buildings and 250 kilometres of highway in NSW at risk of inundation.” The report estimates that $20 billion will be invested in solar power in Australia by 2020 and says NSW is ”well placed” to capitalise on this shift. ”Even if solar panels are imported from overseas, around 30 to 40 per cent of panel installation costs will go to local installers,” it says.

New Oz climate ambassador appointed

The federal government has appointed Justin Lee as Australia’s new Ambassador for Climate Change, filling the role vacated by Louise Hand, who has become Australia’s High Commissioner to Canada. The move sees Dr Lee – who recently completed his appointment as High Commissioner to Bangladesh – become the lead Australian negotiator within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, based in the International Division of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. “There are few more urgent challenges for the world than climate change,” said the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, of the appointment. “I look forward to working with Dr Lee in steering Australia’s efforts towards the realisation of a global solution to the grim reality of climate change.” While climate change minister Greg Combet expressed his confidence in Lee’s ability to continue to push Australia’s agenda in the international arena. “Dr Lee will be at the helm of Australia’s ongoing negotiations to support a robust, binding new global agreement to provide a significant outcome for global carbon markets over the short, medium and long term,” Combet said. “I am confident (he) will excel in this challenging role, securing outcomes that will help efforts to tackle climate change and help establish Australia as a key player in a new global clean energy economy.”

CO2 Group doubles revenue

Carbon trading and offset provider CO2 Group has posted a small rise in net profit for the first half of its financial year, despite doubling revenues, and is seeking to diversify its operations amid continuing debate around environmental policies in Australia. The listed company said it recorded a net profit of $1.6 million for the six months to March 31, a rise of 6 per cent, as revenues more than doubled to $32.7 million. Its new business includes forestry mapping and management, environmental trading, mine site rehabilitation, carbon accounting and inventory management activities. The environmental trading division posted revenue of $17 million (underpinning much of the group’s lift in revenue) and boosted its client numbers to more than 110. CO2 CEO Andrew Grant said the results highlighted the growing need amongst blue-chip businesses for low-cost, long-term carbon-offset solutions, irrespective of carbon price legislation.

“This is a pleasing half-year result for CO2 Group, as the company continues to deliver strong revenue and profit growth, along with a strong cash balance and reflects the benefits of our diversified range of environmental services,” Grant said in a statement. “We are particularly excited about the ongoing diversification of our environmental services offering, providing the Company with multiple revenue streams and platforms for substantial growth. These strong financial results also highlight the fact that Australia’s blue chip corporations clearly recognise the need to employ carbon management strategies, irrespective of legislation. CO2 Group has never been better placed to assist these organisations in achieving their carbon management objectives.” He said the company had $32.6 million cash on hand and no debt and had been able to pursue new growth opportunities without the need for additional capital.

Black solar for Red Centre

The Australian arm of German solar equipment maker Q-Cells has been selected to supply the module for a 162kW rooftop PV system to be installed at the Araluen Arts Centre in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. The Sydney-based division of the German giant will supply 648 of its Q.PEAK BLK 250Wp modules to Ingenero, the Brisbane-based construction contractor for the project, which is planned to be completed by the end of June. “The modules that were selected are completely black, consisting of a black frame, black cells and a black back sheet,” says Oliver Hartley, Managing Director of Q-Cells Australia. “The system will, therefore, meet the high aesthetic requirements of the Araluen Arts Centre in the most beautiful form of solar power.”

The Q-Cell modules in question have been undergoing independent testing, also in Alice Springs, at the Desert Knowledge Australia Solar Centre (DKASC) – a demonstration facility for commercialised solar technologies operating in the unique conditions of Central Australia. According to the company, Q-Cells’ modules have been top performers in these tests, “thanks to industry-leading technology including Hot Spot Protect for 100% hot spot free modules, Anti-PID technology to minimise degradation and 100% quality control during the production process.” Below is a chart showing how the Q-Cells module stacks up against competing technologies.

Origin hydro dammed in Chile

Chile’s supreme court has halted one of three hydropower generation units planned as part of the $3.6 billion Energia Austral hydroelectric joint venture between Origin Energy and Swiss global miner Xstrata Copper. Reuters reports that the top court said on Friday it had accepted an appeal by environmental groups and citizens against the 640-megawatt Cuervo plant, which Origin and Xstrata were planning to build in Chile’s pristine Patagonia region, in the country’s south. Fox News reports that the ruling has overturned a decision by the southern Aysen region’s Environmental Impact Assessment System, or SEIA, which had given the green light for the Rio Cuervo Hydroelectric Project earlier this month. The court found that the SEIA had acted illegally in approving the 640MW project and ignoring the National Geology and Mining Service’s recommendation that Xstrata Copper and Origin carry out a new soil survey. The court ruled that the new study must be conducted before the $645 million project can be approved.

This is not the only hydroelectric project planned in Patagonia, as part of Chile’s attempts to increase electricity output, says Fox News. A consortium comprising Endesa Chile, a unit of Spain’s Endesa and the South American country’s largest electric utility, and Chile’s Colbun, is building the 2.75GW HidroAysen megaproject in Patagonia that involves the construction of five dams on the Pasca and Baker rivers and the flooding of 5,000 hectares. The Supreme Court gave the green light for that $3.2 billion project in April, despite appeals filed by lawmakers, regional organisation and environmental groups.

Open for information

The Australian Cleantech Competition (ACC), part of the US-based Cleantech Open, was launched by the the federal government last week, with a series of information sessions for the competition to be held around Australia this week, starting on Monday night in Melbourne. The competition showcases, which will be led by Australian Cleantech’s (ACT) CEO John O’Brien, will provide further information on the competition, which will see up to 30 semi-finalists will qualify for an intensive, tailored mentoring program – the ‘Cleantech Business Accelerator Program’ – that will advise on commercialisation pathways, business modeling, venture capital funding solutions and successful pitching. Some of the success stories from 2011 finalists – some of which will be speaking at the information sessions – include the development of pilot plants, joint ventures with overseas companies, USA VC term sheets, funding and investment, and commercialisation in Australia and internationally with “paying customers.” The 2012 Competition winner will represent Australia at the Global Cleantech Competition in the USA in November. To see information session times and places, go to www.cleantechopen.com.au.

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