Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category


Evolution in action before our eyes!

Pollution and evolution
The Economist
An accidental experiment in America shows how evolution happens
NEW YORK
IT IS not often that biologists have a chance to watch natural selection in action. The best-known cases—the evolution of resistance to antibiotics in bacteria and to pesticides in insects—are responses to deliberate changes people have made in the environment of the creatures concerned. But mankind has caused lots of accidental changes as well, and these also offer opportunities to study evolution.

The information is a bit outdated, 2007, but still interesting nevertheless…

Understanding Chinese Energy 

Infographic

As the world looks to a more energy efficient future, it is economic and population powerhouses such as China that will come under the most intense scrutiny. By carefully examining the Chinese energy policy (in fields such as wind and solar), and conjoining this with surveys on popular opinion, WellHome have managed to compile this interesting infographic.
However, the source of energy use are left largely unexplored yet a brilliant piece on Chinese energy gives us a clearer indication of the forces at play (the PDF is worthy of downloading): 

What’s driving demand: An explanation of the internal dynamics fueling China’s energy needs. Our key point: It’s not air conditioners and automobiles that are driving China’s current energy demand but rather heavy industry, and the mix of what China makes for itself and what it buys abroad. Consumption-led demand is China’s future energy challenge. [Source: China Energy: A Guide for the Perplexed (PDF)]

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Google Invests in World’s Largest Solar Power Tower Plant

Google has just sealed a deal to invest $168 million in a Mojave Desert solar energy plant.
The investment is going to BrightSource Energy, a company that developes and operates large-scale solar power plants, specifically to fund its Ivanpah project.
Ivanpah is a solar electric generating system that uses solar thermal technology and “an environmentally responsible design,” according to the project’s website, to deliver reliable, clean and low-cost power to Californians.
The plant will generate energy with a technology called power towers. Mirrors, called heliostats, are arranged in an array and aim the sun’s rays at a receiver atop a tower. The receiver generates steam; the steam causes a turbine to rotate; the rotation causes a generator to generate electricity. Because such large quantities of solar energy are being directed to such a small area, the power towers are very efficient.
The power tower at Ivanpah will be around 450 feet tall. The plant will use 173,000 heliostats, and each heliostat will have two mirrors, making Ivanpah the largest project of its kind.
Construction at Ivanpah should be completed in 2013. Here’s a video from the plant’s groundbreaking ceremony:
Google’s been on something of a clean energy investment kick over the past year or so. The company was granted the ability to buy and sell energy as a public utility last February, ostensibly to find better ways to power its own massive data centers.
A short time later, Google began making significant investments in green energy technologies. The company sealed a $38 million wind farm investment in May, bought 20 years’ worth of wind farm energy in July, and provided a substantial investment for a huge offshore wind farm in October.
Rick Needham is Google’s Director of Green Business Operations. On the company blog, writes, “We hope that investing in Ivanpah spurs continued development and deployment of this promising technology while encouraging other companies to make similar investments in renewable energy.”

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Vivendi to Buy Vodafone SFR Stake for $11.3 Billion

Vivendi, the French media conglomerate, announced on Sunday
that it had taken full control of SFR, a large cellphone
service provider, buying Vodafone’s 44 percent stake in
the company for $11.3 billion in cash.

The deal gives Vivendi full control of one of its biggest
business units, a longtime goal for the company. SFR is one
of the biggest cellphone carriers in France. It earned
nearly 4 billion euros in profit last year and had about 20
million mobile service customers as of Sept. 1.

DEALBOOK:
http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2011/04/03/vivendi-to-buy-vodafones-stake-in-sfr-for-11-billion/?nl=business&emc=dlbka9


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Water-short, energy-challenged and traffic-congested, Israel is a land of environmental experiments


The greening of Israel

Water-short, energy-challenged and traffic-congested, Israel is a land of environmental experiments, reports freelance writer CHRISTINE H. O’TOOLE

Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Sunday, February 20, 2011

NETANYA, Israel

On the coastal highway to Haifa, the sunlit Mediterranean Sea is mirrored by miles of glittering rooftop solar panels, providing residents with home-cooked hot water. It’s common sense to harvest solar radiation here at the latitudes where it’s strongest. But can a crowded, drought-prone country, packed with cars and poor in plant life, oil and water, really go green?

Israel has no choice. The constraints posed by climate, geology and rapid growth have forced the country to experiment with untested ideas in environmental sustainability.

From a landfill-turned-city park, to a national network of charging stations for battery-powered sedans, to wetlands reclaimed from agriculture, examples are everywhere. Touring the country through the sandstorms that battered it in December, I saw projects with both grit and promise.

A 60-meter hill of trash along the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway — it looks like a mountain on the board-flat landscape — grew over Israel’s first 50 years to become the rank centerpiece of a noxious eyesore. But the Hiraya garbage dump now is being transformed into Ariel Sharon-Ayalon Park, which will repurpose the 2,000-acre landfill for recreation.

In a city with a heavily used beachfront but no green space, the site, double the size of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, looks like an urban mesa, with cycling paths and public spaces. Fed by trickles of water — here called rivers — its cedars, figs and olive trees will act as a ‘green lung’ to mitigate airborne pollutants along the busy Route 1 corridor through which a half-million commuter cars pass daily.

Israeli traffic, particularly on the northern highways, is an intractable 24-7 snarl. Despite rail service connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem with Ben Gurion Airport, intra-city mass transit options are limited. In Tel Aviv, where a third of the country works, a light rail/subway plan has been stalled for years, and a promised city bike-share program has yet to debut.

Meanwhile, gasoline costs nearly $7 per gallon in a nation completely dependent on foreign oil. That prompted young entrepreneur Shai Agassi to ask: ‘How do you run an entire country without oil, with no new science, in a time frame that’s fast enough to get off oil before we run out of planet?’

On the northern edge of Tel Aviv, Mr. Agassi’s new venture is demonstrating the answer: A Better Place is producing an electric battery-powered car supported by a national network of charging stations.

Mr. Agassi has promoted the system as a giant leap in convenience. Drivers can use home plug-in chargers and extend the car’s range by swapping out batteries on the road. A Better Place has shrewdly built acceptance for the system with free tours and test drives at its demonstration center. Forty thousand people have visited since it opened last March.

‘We’ve created a system that will work on all-electric cars — the Leaf, the Volt, the Mitsubishi,’ Sidney Goodman, vice president of the $700 million startup, told a group of American visitors.

A Better Place’s main partner is Renault, whose Fluence Z.E. electric car will go on sale outside the United States this summer with a base sticker price of nearly $29,000, plus a monthly battery lease of about $100.

As a crowd of observers watched, Mr. Goodman demonstrated the robotic technology that runs the drive-in maintenance system. A machine lifted the car a few feet, extended one arm to detach a spent battery from below and smoothly substituted a fresh one in under five minutes. Mr. Goodman says Israel will have 50 battery switching stations by the end of this year.

The technology has the most promise for small ‘transportation islands’ like Israel and Denmark, but was successfully piloted in buses during the Beijing Olympics. Tests with taxi fleets in Tokyo will be followed by one in the California Bay Area next year.

Water is precious in Israel; the second rainfall of 2010 didn’t occur until my December visit. Although a controversial drought tax that rationed residential water usage was suspended last year, a new 40 percent hike in water tariffs is expected to have the same effect. It’s all the more surprising, then, that the country has allowed an agricultural kibbutz to revert to a wetland wildlife preserve.

As winter dusk fell over the 15,000-acre Hula Nature Reserve near the Golan Heights, thousands of grey cranes suddenly descended. They’d returned to the wetland, a migration stop for two millennia, where neighboring farmland has been turned into an eco-tourism center.

Kibbutz agriculture drained most of the swamplands in the 20th century and wildlife vanished. Now waterfowl, wild nutria, water buffalo and other species thrive in the nation’s first nature reserve. A re-flooded peat bog filters water flowing to the nation’s only fresh water lake, the Sea of Galilee.

Golda Meir famously voiced the Israeli complaint: ‘Moses dragged us through the desert to the one place in the Middle East where there is no oil.’

Israel will continue to struggle with meager resources, despite the recent discovery of a promising offshore natural gas field. But there’s a flow of fresh thinking about how to meet the nation’s environmental challenges.
Christine H. O’Toole is a freelance writer who lives in Mt. Lebanon (chris@christinehotoole.com).

First published on February 20, 2011 at 12:00 am

The greening of Israel

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Print Edition

Photo by: AP
Israel’s clean-tech megaproject
By AMIRAM BARKAT
12/02/2011
Bid to become a leader in renewable-energy technologies aims to help wean world off oil.
‘The global interest in Israel’s energy R&D and technology is out of all proportion to the size of the country,” says Dr. Eli Opper, a former chief scientist who is now the chairman of the Eureka High Level Group.

Israel holds the chairmanship of Eureka, the European R&D program, of which more than 40 countries are members. According to Opper, Israel’s technological achievements were an important consideration in the award of the chairmanship.

“The world looks for two things in Israel: R&D and technology,” he says. “Our manufacturing and marketing capabilities are of far less interest to it.”

Opper says Israel has an impressive record in developing breakthrough energy technologies.

“Israel was a world pioneer in developing water-desalination and solar-energy technologies,” he says. “Unfortunately, in Spain and California there are solar installations that operate using Israeli technologies, but in Israel itself we have missed the opportunity to implement them, among other things, for political reasons.

“Another reason is the small size of the Israeli market. On this point, Israel has a great deal to gain from cooperation with the large European market. Moreover, Israelis have a lot to learn from the Europeans when it comes to environmental protection. This is an area in which Israel considerably lags behind European countries.

Up to now, Israelis have preferred to deal with more urgent issues on the agenda.”

This highlights the importance of the conference organized by the European Friends of Israel in Jerusalem last week, in collaboration with Globes. The conference was attended by about 500 of the European Parliament’s 736 members.

Over the course of the conference, the European parliamentarians visited Israel’s leading industrial plants. This is no small thing, given that they represent a market of 375 million consumers who could help promote Israeli technology.

OPPER defines clean-tech as comprising three sub-fields: water, environment and renewable energy.

One of the most interesting Israel developments, he says, is in water.

“The hot topic in water technologies these days is prevention of leaks from water pipes,” he says. “There are some very interesting Israeli developments in this area that could be especially relevant to large European cities with antiquated water infrastructure.

In cities like London and Paris, the rate of water loss can be counted in tens of percents.

“The Israeli technology is twostage: The first stage is locating the leak, using sophisticated control systems; the second is blocking the leak, by introducing special, nontoxic materials.”

A few years ago, one of the technology incubators operating in Israel, Kinrot, decided to become a dedicated water-technologies incubator. Another incubator, L.N. Innovative Technologies, based near Haifa, has declared itself an “environmental incubator.”

More clean-tech technologies are at various stages of development in more than 26 incubators that operate in Israel under the aegis of the Chief Scientist’s Office in the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry.

Opper, who was chief scientist from 2002 to 2010, says there are eight to 10 companies that have been in the incubators for an average of two years, and altogether, the state supports about 200 startup companies.

Opper says the past three years have seen substantial change in the scope of activity and investment in clean-tech R&D in Israel.

“Energy has expanded in recent years because the market understood that money could be made from it,” he says. “The figures are dramatic and indicate a very clear trend: Investment in clean-tech is growing steadily from year to year.”

In 2007, applications received in the Chief Scientist’s Office for research projects in clean-tech were worth a total of NIS 150 million.

By 2010, the amount had jumped to NIS 380m., representing a rise of more than 250 percent in three years. The amount of grants and the number of applications approved have grown by similar rates. At the same time, it must be remembered that cleantech still accounts for only a small proportion of the total of R&D projects approved by the Chief Scientist’s Office, which are worth about NIS 5 billion annually.

Investment in a technology center

The technology incubators and research budgets are only two elements of the R&D activity in Israel in renewable energy.

Another important factor that will soon come into play is the Renewable Energy Technology Center. The center will be set up by a private consortium selected by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry. Opper says a second technology center is planned in the next few years for developing water technologies.

Under the terms for setting up and operating the Renewable Energy Technology Center, the state committed to injecting NIS 57m. over five years, while the franchisee committed to match that amount of funding. In September, the tender for the center was won by the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative, a consortium that comprises some of Israel’s most important companies in R&D (Ormat, Elbit Systems, and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems), together with leading research bodies in renewable energy (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies) and venture- capital firm ProSeed.

The center will be constructed in the Arava, north of Eilat, in the Eilot Regional Council. The Eilat- Eilat Renewable Energy Administration is an important partner in the winning consortium. The win in the tender consolidates the Eilot region as the Israeli center for renewable energy.

THE MAIN focus of the region’s activity in renewable energy is the Eilat-Eilot International Renewable Energy Conference.

This year, the fourth year it is being held, the conference will take place in Eilat next Tuesday through Thursday. In 2010, the conference received official recognition as one of the most important renewable-energy events in the world, when the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, chose to include the event in the ECO4B (environment cooperation for business) project, promoted by the Enterprise Europe Network, which links business support organizations from 47 countries.

The conference will bring together more than 2,000 business people, academics, government representatives and large investment entities from Israel and around the world. Among other things, a large Italian delegation is expected, to be led by Economic Development Minister Paolo Romani, alongside delegations from the UK, France and Spain. Two sessions at this year’s conference are being sponsored by Eureka, which at the same time will hold its annual gathering under Luuk Borg, head of the Eureka secretariat in Brussels.

Among prominent Europeans in the renewable-energy field expected in Eilat this year are European Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard; Dr.

Karl-Josef Kuhn, principle engineer of Siemens AG and head of Siemens Corporate Technology E-Car; and Dr. Gabriel Marquette, director of European Affairs at Schlumberger Research and president of Eurogia. Besides focusing on ways of removing bureaucratic obstacles to implementation of renewable-energy projects, a large part of the discussion will be devoted to innovation and the latest technological developments in the field.

NIS 14 billion to replace oil

In the coming years, Israel’s R&D efforts will not be devoted to clean-tech so much as to a subject close to it: substitutes for oil. Last February, the government decided on “a national effort to develop technologies that reduce the world’s use of oil in transport.”

The goal could hardly be more ambitious: The developed world’s dependence on oil for transport is a political problem, but it’s also an economic and environmental problem.

Dr. Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington, DC, believes this is the world’s number-one problem.

The root of the problem, he says, is that oil is a monopoly in fuel for transport that is produced by a cartel, OPEC, which controls nearly 80% of the world’s oil reserves and is committed to raising its price.

At the Globes Israel Business Conference in Tel Aviv in December, Luft predicted that oil prices would continue to rise under any possible scenario.

“Our ‘luck,’ in inverted commas, is that we have been in a global recession,” he said. “Just imagine what will happen if we emerge from the recession. On the other hand, oil prices will also rise under less optimistic scenarios, such as an outbreak of inflation or substantial weakening of the dollar.

If those things happen, investors will rush to oil as a defensive commodity, like gold.”

Over the past year, since the government decision, comprehensive staff work has been undertaken by the National Economic Council under Prof.

Eugene Kandel. Last month, the government approved a national plan for developing alternatives to oil.

The plan, which will operate between 2011 and 2020, will have a budget of NIS 4b. for its first five years and at least NIS 10b. for the next five years. The government’s participation in the budget will be NIS 1.5b.

The main goal of the plan is for Israel to become a world center of know-how in alternatives to oil.

This goal will be achieved if, by 2016, more than 100 start-up companies and research projects are set up, with the involvement of 20 Israeli global companies.

Also, by 2016, about a 100 research and academic groups in the field are due to be formed.

THE PLAN encourages investment in venture-backed companies active in alternatives to oil.

The program, which has been allocated government funding of NIS 400m., will enable the financing of pilot installations to test new technologies, and it will promote implementation of the new technologies in industry. In addition, a NIS 1.5m. annual prize will be awarded by the prime minister for world innovation in alternatives to oil.

The future scientific activity in Israel will be reinforced by collaboration programs and agreements with foreign countries. Preference will be given to countries with high research and technological capabilities and to countries with the strongest interest in finding alternatives to oil. The government’s decision specifically mentions countries such as India and China, where the number of motorized vehicles is expected to grow substantially in the coming years.

Uri Ben-Porat, economic adviser to President Shimon Peres, recommends teaming with developing countries – such as Kazakhstan, for example – that are dependent on oil exports and seek to diversify their risk. At the recommendation of Opper, the plan states that Israel will seek to strengthen collaboration between Israeli companies and multinational companies active in areas connected to alternatives to oil and with leading research bodies in that area.

“Players like automobile makers and fuel companies are conducting research on a huge scale to find alternatives to oil, and there is a great deal of strategic sense in linking up with them,” Opper said at the Israel Business Conference.

Opper, who was a member of the steering committee that formulated the national plan, believes its ambitious goal is attainable.

“If Israel helps to solve the world’s dependence on oil, it will turn out to have been a very important decision,” he says.

Israel’s clean-tech megaproject

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Demolition in El Frío Ranch

It was seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez in March 2009 upon the grounds of environmental protection


The Páez House, the emblem and centerpiece of El Frío Ranch, before the seizure Dossier
The house that once belonged to General José Antonio Páez, a hero of the Venezuelan independence; the core of El Frío Ranch and preserved for almost 150 years, is nowadays dilapidated after its premises were seized by the government of President Hugo Chávez. The image of two times dramatically shows the mood of a revolution.


Located in western Apure state, El Frío was not only one of the major cattle raising centers in the country, with 20,000 heads of cattle, but also among the most specialized natural biodiversity reservoirs in the Western Hemisphere, as well as a research center into ecological cattle raising and a renowned conservation center both inside and outside Venezuela.


The Páez House was the main house in the ranch. It accommodated the corporate administrative and professional staff. It had two big dining rooms, two kitchens and two living rooms. The gardens of the house, nowadays unroofed and in ruins, are being used as parking lot for incoming and outgoing official vehicles. The former hustle and bustle of a productive business was replaced with military officers who guard the ranch with AK-103 slung across their backs and staff in red T-shirts attending the courses of political ideology given by Cubans.


Decree on expropriation
In March 2008, the National Lands Institute declared the exceptional recovery of the plot of land called El Frío Ranch. According to Desirée Rodríguez, the corporate legal counsel, the action started in the absence of the due administrative procedure concerning land recovery. The ranch of 64,000 hectares belonged for more than a century to the Maldonados; it was incorporated as Invega in 1948 and its ownership chain comes from colonial times.


In January 2005, the local chapter of the National Lands Institute in Apure state commenced an administrative proceeding for wastelands against El Frío. In early 2009, after a request made by folk music singer Cristóbal Jiménez in the Sunday TV and radio show Aló Presidente (Hello, President!), the government resumed the confiscatory process. On March 31, seizure was carried out.


The results
The government presently has the whole property of El Frío Ranch without having paid one single bolivar. It is known that part of the 20,000 animals that used to graze in the wetlands have been killed for provision of beef, but nobody knows about the recipient of the sale proceeds.


Rodríguez claimed that the reservation areas include Guariquito ravine, where fishing is banned, but practiced now. A river port was built there and vessels come to get fish.


In addition to cattle, the reservation is the refuge of 7,000 deers, thousand capybaras, the giant nutria, the anteater, the puma, the freshwater dolphin, anacondas and small alligators. One of the most noteworthy projects was preservation and reproduction of the endangered Orinoco caiman. The project started in 1996 and managed by the local biological station succeeded in the reproduction of 2,500 caimans that were released in Guairuito ravine. In 2008, the ranch had the third largest population of reptiles in the country, particularly in Macanillal ravine. In its wetlands cattle breeding remained low to favor the best environmental conditions.


Journalist Ramón Hernández tells in his book “Story of dispossession,” next to be released that each year, near 300 undergraduate and graduate students from all universities and colleges across the nation would visit the site to complete their studies in ecology, animal protection and environment. Also, Carolina Foundation and the Spanish government implemented a master course in Management of Biodiversity in the Tropic. Latin American students used to explore at El Frío Ranch environmentally friendly cattle breeding, reintroduction of endangered species and recovery of native horses.


Today, there is glaring abandonment of farms and biological stations. Attorney Rodríguez complained that high-ranking government officers and persons of the ruling party surreptitiously engage in illegal hunting there.


The agricultural failure
Not knowing about the issue, after the seizure of El Frío Ranch, President Chávez heralded at the seized premises that Apure state would become a rice-growing superpower. Taking issue with experts, who said that the soil is V and VI class with few nutrients and able for large-scale cattle breeding, Chinese and Vietnamese were brought there to sow rice. The crop was a total failure. The delusive estimates of Elías Jaua, then Minister of Agriculture and Lands, never accomplished. Today, Venezuela needs to import 450,000 tons of rice, accounting for 40 percent of the domestic consumption. To the contrary, until 2004, Venezuela had been self-sufficient in that item and exported 120,000 tons.


While no numbers on production and profitability are known of the ranch, now managed by the socialist company Marisela, the payroll rose by 234 versus 140 workers during the previous administration. Most of the payroll was dismissed shortly after the seizure. Workers are still waiting for collection of their severance payment. Interestingly, Hernández said: “In order to bolster self-government and people’s self-defense among workers and communities for food sovereignty and integral defense of the nation, the company (Marisela) trains 1,000 militiamen with the help of the armed forces.”
twitter:@folivares10

Translated by Conchita Delgado

Francisco Olivares
EL UNIVERSAL

Demolition in El Frío Ranch – Daily News – EL UNIVERSAL

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