Global Solar Power Shines Bright

It looks like there’s a new player in the realms of world power…

Results of an audit conducted by the International Energy Agency have revealed that Solar Power has become one of the most frequently adopted forms of energy production in the world.

Combined numbers from China, the US and even the UK, have contributed towards making 2016 a record-breaking year for renewable energies, with two thirds of the world’s new power sources coming from green renewables.

Despite the common belief that coal energy was the biggest source of new power (the black stuff had held the top spot before being deposed this year) there has been an unprecedented level of support in developing countries like China, who have upset predictions from authorities in the field by investing millions into new solar farms across the country. The IEA have attributed falling material prices and shifting governmental policies to the record-breaking year for solar; China’s solar installations accounted for nearly half of new solar farms in the world.

With this information in mind, new predictions have been made by the Paris-based institution.

They now believe that in as little as five years’ time global solar capacity will be greater than India and Japan’s current combined output. India, much like China, have surprised the IEA by investing huge quantities of cash and man power into their own solar farms, leading the IEA to predict that, if the rate of construction continues, there’ll be a third more solar power in both countries within five years time.

It’s just the beginning for India, in terms of renewable energy, as their production levels across all formats are predicted to double within the next five years, bringing them in spitting distance of the second-fastest growing renewable market: the USA.

Whilst the Trump administration has been dismissive of key climate issues from the out, this hasn’t stopped the country from investing heavily in multiple forms of renewables, however this might change should the President follow through with his previously stated intentions of bringing back US coal. Either way, American-based companies producing industrial electronics such as AC to DC converters and other key components are sure to see benefits from the US’ continued interest in the power industry.

Conversely, despite a strong start to the year for Scotland’s wind power, Britain as a whole is not predicted to invest as much into solar energy.

The IEA predicted that the total amount of solar panels to installed in Britain by 2022 will amount to just a fifth of what has been built over the last five years – offshore wind farms will be a more popular option, but investment in green energy will, overall, be diminished.

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Hurricane-proof Homes and Australian Green Politics

A concrete house causes a stir in Denver whilst Energy investors swerve Australia…

A Washington-based college team has impressed at an American environmental competition this year by exhibiting their hurricane-proof, solar-powered home. 

The dubiously named, Solar Decathalon, kicked off this October with 9 teams from American colleges (and two from Europe) looking to impress with the their full-size constructions of their solar-powered house, which they have designed and built themselves. This is the fifteenth year of the biennial competition, which sees the competition wing its way to Denver Colorado from the 5th-15th October and this year plays host to teams from as far as the Netherlands and Switzerland.

CRETE house, the name given to the Washington University-St. Louis team have caused a stir by exhibiting their storm-ready house, a concrete built home built with sustainability and resilience in mind. Construction manager Ethan Miller said that “it’s going to be withstand any disaster, even up to tornado force winds.” With large parts of the US and Puerto Rico still reeling from the effects of the recent storms, this example of sturdier building could not have come at more poignant time.

The competition was originally conceived as not just a competition, but an opportunity for students to learn valuable lessons in the applications of clean-energy technologies, efficient design and sustainability. Each team is tasked with developing a completely original design from the ground up and forces young students to work at a highly professional level, providing them with valuable experience in project development. The Decathlon has so far impacted over 18,000 participants which has also been held in other parts of the world, such as Spain Colombia and Dubai – Solar Decathalon Africa is planned for 2019 in Morocco.

Australia faces uphill energy battle, as politics gets in the way of investment

Although many envy the famous ‘Australian lifestyle’ of glorious sunshine, beers on the beach and massive BBQs, the country is still struggling to keep up in one important area: energy.

The country is one that has survived for a long time on a small number of coal plants, however many of these industrial sites are reaching the end of their 50 year life spans. Despite the growing pressure to solve Australia’s impending energy problems, the current government has failed to push through any decisive policies regarding the support of new renewable energy builds.

At a time when Australia should be an ideal point of investment for some of the biggest power firms in the world, the country sits in a murky political quagmire which has made potential investors uneasy over dipping the initial toe. Reports from both the Climate Council and law firm Pinsent Masons have confirmed that 90% of energy companies internationally are seeking new projects with companies that use smart green tech, like advanced vehicle-to-grid technology and smart meters. The refusal to push through any affirmative legislation in the Australian government has lead to uncertainty which has led these companies to invest their money elsewhere: Nordic countries have proven to be the most attractive prospects, thanks to their clear open policy on energy

If Australia hope to keep the lights on for the next 50 years, then they will need to find a way of changing the political response to these issues and lure back investors that have been put off with their cloudy stance on renewables. 

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Forest Research Unearths New Techniques

Big Steps Forward This Month For Forestry Research

The restoration of peatland has long been deemed as one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of limiting climate change.

It might seem like a small change to make to areas that are already deemed to be relatively green, but afforested land can still offer the world much more when its returned to its previous peaty state.

Forestry operations often affect our climate in a negative way – this goes beyond the simple act of cutting trees down. Planting trees, where previously there were none, has a negative effect on the global environment too; wildlife habitats, both small and large, are often disturbed and a release of carbon usually accompanies even the most minor of forestry operations.

Attempts to restore peatland to previously afforested areas have failed in the past due to underground cracks draining away the much needed moisture in the ground. However, recent trials conducted by Forest Research are starting to prove successful. New trenching techniques, which form a barrier preventing water drainage, have allowed successful rewetting of these sites – an accomplishment which was previously thought to be impossible.

By digging deeper than the troublesome underground cracks and repacking the ground with more peat, project leader Russell Anderson has been able to prevent water draining away from the treated areas.

In some cases his team used a thin plastic membrane to line the trench, however sites without the use of this drain were also successful in retaining moisture. In all test cases there was a dramatic rise in the level of underground water – an unmitigated success that should not be understated.

Its been a busy month for Forestry Research, who’ve also made a significant step forward in decoding the genetic makeup of the tree seed. Working in conjunction with NovelTree and cattle breeders from the Roslin Institute, a study investigating the DNA markers of 1,500 closely related trees (in the South West of England) have revealed useful information regarding how tall trees will grow and which kinds of trees will break bud first.

Applying techniques that are usually used for salmon and cattle, Steve Lee from the Department of Tree Breeding has likened the process of selection as similar to that of animal breed. Because of the vast differences in DNA structure, research has been able to progress much faster than usual. Genetic gain has increased substantially due to the fact that generation intervals have been shortened.

Its still early days for the researchers, but such is the case for DNA sequencers all around the world. The research method is still very much in its infancy, but its thanks to advances like these that we can hope to learn more about how organisms really work.

For more information on what Forestry Research is up to go to our ‘Outside Sources’ page.

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The Great Forests Locations of Europe

We are spoiled for choice here in the UK for lush forests but…

Just a quick flight away, you’ll find some truly jaw-dropping sites that will give you just a small idea of what Mother Nature has to offer.

If you’re feeling a little despondent with this Spring weather and considering taking a little sojourn out to the continent then look no further than these epic forest locations. If you’re flying from the North, you may as well get your flights from John Lennon and book your Liverpool airport parking, whilst you’re at it for a good deal.

Before you do that, though, take a look at these truly breathtaking locations that you could find yourself winging your way towards in a matter of days…

Black Forest, Germany

Over 34 million overnight tourist nights are spent in this famous region each year and with good reason. Covering over 6,000 square kilometres, this mountainous region is home to massive variety of coniferous and evergreen trees, blanketing the steep hills and dramatic valleys with a thick layer of green that truly arrests the eye. Whilst you’re staying in the Black Forest you’ll have access to all kinds of outdoor pursuits such as hiking, diving and other water sports.

Flights to Germany can cost as little as £80-90 for a return, book early and you could find yourself saving even more money.

Durmitor, Montenegro

A UNESCO World Heritage site, Durmitor National Park covers a vast expanse of Northern Montenegro. Terrain can vary greatly, from wide canyons to underground streams. Dense pine forests give way to gorgeous lakes and there’s a massive variety of plant life when you take a closer look at the forest floor. A hot spot for hikers and mountain bikers, this region makes for a truly dramatic getaway.

Flights might cost you a touch more and other costs might be a little higher once you’re there, but this quintessential Western Europe location is still one not to be missed.

Ordesa, Spain

Essentially comprising the Southern tip of France’s Pyrenrees; the much smaller Spanish National Park of Ordesa might be significantly dwarfed by its Northern neighbour but this doesn’t mean that its any less striking. Ordesa has the monopoly on dramatically cascading rivers and waterfalls – if you head out there in the Summer, there’s a good chance that you’ll spend more time simply relaxing in the sun and dipping your toes in the icy waters than actually enjoying the rich forests that surround the area.

Flights out to the nearby tourist hot spot of Barcelona can be as cheap as £80 in May, when temperatures are usually a balmy 20 degrees Celsius.

Triglav, Slovenia

Slovenia does not have much of a reputation for being a hive of tourism, but if more people knew about Triglav, this would be a different story. The country’s only National Park, it covers a relatively small surface area, when compared to its European familiars, around 880 square kilometres. Not only is it one of the smallest Parks, it’s also one of the oldest, being established in 1924. The centre point of the Park is the mountain from which it takes its name, Triglav is the highest point of the Julian Alps at over 2,800m and has a number of landmarks spread over it.

Flights over to Slovenia are much more expensive than any of the other destinations on this list, but the splendours of Triglav are more than worth the money.

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Efficiently Farming American Heroes

American has been working hard to shake of its reputation as a gas-guzzling nation of meat-eaters.

Leading the charge are a dedicated band of agriculturalists who are choosing to put the environment first, whilst still creating profitable businesses; demonstrating how margins can be increased by using truly innovative techniques.

In his book , The Lean Farm, Ben Hartman strives to show how farmers can increase their profits by reducing their land size.

40% of all the food produced in America, inevitably, goes to waste.

In a land where over 42 million people live in houses with insecure sources of food, there’s clearly something wrong with the way this country’s production lines are functioning.

Ben decided to make a change, starting with his own holding. He tackled efficiency in his farm by reducing his holding from 3 acres down to 1, growing 30 varieties of specialist vegetables and fruits. By staggering his planting schedule he has been able to maximise crop yield and reduce his waste by a fifth; he’s now reaping the rewards as his profits are skyrocketing.

Its not just farming in the countryside that is improving leaps and bounds in innovation.

Marianne Cufone’s own brand of ‘recirculating farm’, in her home city of New Orleans, is proving that large scale farming can be achieved with the smallest of plots.

The third most poverty stricken county in the States, healthy food is in short supply in Louisiana, with 18% of homes not having access to good sources of nutrition. To show how ordinary people could grow their own healthy ingredients with limited space, Marianne used homegrown bamboo to create scaffolding that could support multiple stacks of plots.

Growing staples such as cucumbers, tomatoes and strawberries; she used an eight square foot, rubber lined pond for irrigation and fish waste as fertiliser. This kind of setup can be erected for $6,000 and could potentially be installed anywhere.

Environmentally friendly farming in America is also learning to embrace emerging technologies like AI.

Irving Fain’s Bowery Farming uses hundreds of sensors connected to a massive network in order to measure the health of the crops in inside his indoor vertical farm.  Every possible variable is accounted for, from moisture to LED lights to the plant feed, this allows Irving to produce enough veggies to deliver to three Whole Food stores (as well as a number of restaurants) without the use of pesticides.

Considering that his farm uses 95% less water than the average US holding and the food travels less than 10 miles to reach its destination, its hard to see how food production could get much greener.

However, the food product that is at the root of our current environmental woes is the one that is most widely eaten: meat.

Not only does meat production require a mammoth amount of water, it also ends up producing an insane amount of methane gases. Although hundreds of thousands of vegans argue that we can halt this by simply not eating animal-products, a handful of companies have sprouted up to offer another alternative.

Uma Valeti is one such innovator, attempting to grow meat in a lab. Cruelty free and without the same environmental impacts, Memphis Meats debuted their first lab grown chicken breast this year, although it cost $9,000 to create – food critics reported that it tasted just like the real thing!

Thanks to innovative startups and ambitious farmers like the above, America is forging its own path into a greener future.

Lets just hope we can keep up! 

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