Technology for Good – Episode seven

In episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout we had many great news stories to cover, and some great live discussions using the comments on the event page. The links to the stories are below.

As always, if you know of any stories you think we should cover, or someone we should be talking to, feel free to get in touch (@tomraftery on Twitter, or tom at redmonk.com on good old-fashioned email!).

And, here as promised, are the stories which made the cut for episode 7 of the Technology for Good hangout:

Climate change – doom and gloom

And now on with the good news!!!

Smart grid and renewables

Smart health and wearables

Security

Mobile

Transportation

Efficiency

Miscellaneous

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PwC Low Carbon Index Report is a call to arms for decarbonisation

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is the world’s largest professional services firm, and the largest of the “big four” accountancy firms. As such, it is by definition, a careful, conservative organisation.

Last November PwC released their annual Low Carbon Economy Index report (discussed by the authors in the video above) and it makes for very sobering reading. Especially given this report comes from PwC, not an organisation particularly known for its activism on climate matters.

Here at GreenMonk we have tended to dial back on the climate rhetoric in recent years because of the divisiveness of the reactions it tends to generate. However, we felt a responsibility to give this report an airing given the consequences of its conclusions.

What does the report say?

Its key findings are:

  • The average rate of decarbonisation globally has been 0.8% a year since 2000 (it was 0.7% in 2011)
  • The required rate of decarbonisation globally to meet a 2°C warming target is now 5.1% a year, every year from now to 2050, so
  • Businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2°C, but 4°C, or even 6°C

In case you are unfamiliar with centigrade that translates to planning for a warming world of not just 3.6°F but 7.2°F or even 10.8°F.

These temperature rises are against the baseline of the global temperature in the year 1800. And against that baseline the planet has already warmed up by 0.8°C, only allowing us another 1.2°C before we hit 2°C of warming. 2°C is the amount of warming which politicians agreed should be the upper limit at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference.

So a quick recap – to limit warming to 2°C, we need to increase our global decarbonisation from its current 0.8% per annum, to 5.1% per annum every year for the next 39 years. This is an Herculean task, to put it mildly, and the longer we put it off, the more difficult it becomes. Had we started in 2000, we would have had to reduce emissions 3.7% per annum, for example. To put that in some sort of perspective, 3% is the amount of emissions which the global aviation industry is responsible for.

What does a 2°C rise in global temperatures mean?

Well, NASA’s chief Climatologist James Hansen put it well when he said:

The paleoclimate record makes it clear that a target to keep human made global warming less than 2°C, as proposed in some international discussions, is not sufficient — it is a prescription for disaster. Assessment of the dangerous level of CO2, and the dangerous level of warming, is made difficult by the inertia of the climate system. The inertia, especially of the ocean and ice sheets, allows us to introduce powerful climate forcings such as atmospheric CO2 with only moderate initial response. But that inertia is not our friend — it means that we are building in changes for future generations that will be difficult, if not impossible, to avoid.

So, it is all doom and gloom?

Not necessarily. As we mentioned above, this is going to be a massive undertaking. Decarbonisation of all of our systems is now more urgent than ever. If there were ever a time to start investing in decarbonisation projects, this is it.

Disclosure – PwC is not a GreenMonk (or RedMonk) client and no financial relationship exists between Red/GreenMonk and PwC.

With great power comes great responsibility – or, Cloud companies need to get on-board

Spiderman

With great power comes great responsibility

This great quote from the movie Spider-Man, is just as true for technology, as it is for superheroes.

Technology has made possible tremendous changes in our quality of life in the last couple of decades. Everything from surgery to transportation, education to construction, space exploration and most other fields of human endeavour now depend heavily on IT. However, these great advances in our knowledge and abilities comes at a cost.

Information Technology’s carbon footprint, estimated by Gartner to be 2% of global carbon emissions in 2007, is rapidly increasing and by some estimates may even double by 2020. This is obviously an unsustainable situation. ICT, which can help so many organisations to reduce their carbon footprint, should itself be an shining example of low emissions.

To this end, the EU commission’s new ICT Footprint initiative is to be lauded. The announcement of the project on EU Commissioner Neelie Kroes blog gave the following details of the initiative:

This is why the European Commission has persuaded three leading standards development organisations and a prominent greenhouse gas accounting initiative to pool their measurement efforts. Under our new initiative these organisations will examine the whole sector, the whole lifecycle and the scalability of these methods.

That means measuring everything from the supply of raw materials to their recycling. Measuring not only what it takes to make products like a laptop, but also the impact of services like hosting data in the cloud. It means that in the near future we will be able to measure the ICT environmental footprint of whole cities or countries, including the positive environmental effects that ICT enables.

Several major ICT companies and organisations from Europe, Asia and the US are now trialling such measurement solutions. And from this month onwards, nearly 30 players have joined the European Commission to broaden and speed up the effort. We call on more and more such players to get involved.

It is tremendous to see this kind of global leadership from the EU. While this only applies to the EU, it does require the development of measurement and reporting systems for whole IT ecosystems and that can only be a good thing. In time, the hope would be that these systems are used well beyond the EU and by all IT providers.

The initial participants in the organisation are some of the better known large IT companies – BT, Alcatel-Lucent, Intel, Cisco, Hitachi, Telefonica, Fujitsu, SAP, Nokia, AMD, Dell, HP, etc. However, notably absent are the major Cloud providers. Where are Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, VMWare, RackSpace, Salesforce, even Google who have gone furthest arguably in reporting and reducing their emissions, are not participants.

I have lamented many times on this blog the lack of transparency of Cloud companies and they continue to prove me correct. Unfortunately.

Transparency around energy use and emissions is coming, have no doubt. Cloud companies will eventually have to report this information. They will be dragged into it screaming and kicking, but it will happen. Then we will be able to finally decide which provider to use based not just on price, but also on their impact.

In the meantime, if you are interested in reducing the impact of your Cloud computing, you could do worse than to check out MastodonC – a company that “selects the most efficient and sustainable location for your Hadoop job” and/or Greenqloud – a company offering public compute cloud using only renewable energy to power their cloud (their data centers are based in Iceland where 100% of the electricity comes from hydro and geothermal sources).

Photo Credit Greg and Mellina

Australia rolls out carbon tax – unambitious but better than nothing!

CO2

The Australian parliament passed the Clean Energy bill, 2011 during the week – the effect of which will be to introduce a carbon tax there commencing in July of 2012. The bill still has to be ratified by the senate but with Julia Gillard’s government and the Australian Green party holding a significant majority of seats in the upper house, this is expected to be a formality.

The tax will initially price carbon at A$23 (?17) per tonne in 2012-13, A$24.15 in 2013-14 and A$25.40 in 2014-15. Carbon trading will commence in 2015-16 with a price floor of A$15, rising by 4% per annum.

The interesting thing about this carbon tax implementation is that rather than it being a burden on the tax payer, Australia introduced a series of extra payments and compensations for family’s which will see most workers earning up to A$80,000 (?59,350) a year receiving an extra A$300. This will benefit the less well off the most because:

The tax-free threshold for wage and salary earners to rise from A$6,000 a year to A$18,200 from July 1, 2012, and to A$19,400 from July 1, 2015.

This way of implementing a carbon tax is one I have been advocating for some time but it is not always popular. In fact, when I brought it up at the Green Economy 2011 conference in Dublin earlier I was pooh, pooh’d by former UN Climate Change chief, and current global advisor on climate change for KPMG Yvo De Boer, who said in an uncharacteristically misanthropic comment “Experience tells us that is you give people more money, they will go down to B&Q’s and spend it on patio heaters”. While it may have been a facetious comment, it fails to take into account that, if there is a proper price being levied on carbon, then the problem of the purchase of porch heaters quickly solves itself.

Back to the Australian carbon tax – kudos must be given to Oz for getting this law through parliament despite what must have been one of the most dishonest and vitriolic anti-science campaigns yet mounted against climate change. As Graham Readfearn notes:

They paid millions of dollars for adverts on television, in newspapers and online. They flew in climate change deniers from across the globe. They held rallies, engaged prominent right-wing media personalities, threatened scientists and turned the cold non-partisan findings of peer-reviewed science into some kind of blood sport.

But despite what was surely the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public, from next July major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (about 500 of them) will have to pay $23 for every tonne of their pollution under laws passed earlier today.

The fact is that the Australian example is extremely unambitious – a starting price of ?17 per tonne of CO2 and a goal of reducing Australia’s emissions 5% by 2020? The bill scraped through parliament by the slenderest of majorities (74-72) so it is likely that any proposals seen to be more demanding would have failed.

Having said that, Australia has passed a carbon tax. That’s more than we can say for most other countries.

Well done Australia.

Photo credit Francesco Cavallari Photography ?

Friday Green Numbers round-up for Feb 4th 2011

Green Numbers

And here is a round-up of this week’s Green numbers…

  1. Europe’s Energy

    Member States of the European Union have agreed on targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by cutting energy consumption by 20% and increasing the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2020. The ‘Europe’s Energy’ project gives users a set of visual tools to put these targets into context and to understand and compare how progress is being made towards them in different countries.

  2. Survey results: Utilities executives on Energy Efficiency and the Smart Grid

    The survey asked 106 utility executives ? the people that arguably know more about the energy supply and demand challenges our nation faces than anyone else ? a range of questions on the smart grid, energy efficiency and related topics and issues.

    We issued a press release today with some of the highlights, but to help put this week?s news into context, we also wanted to share a full breakdown of the results. Nothing earth shattering, but worth keeping in mind as the week progresses?

  3. 10 Smart Grid Trends from Distributech

    The annual smart grid event Distributech kicked off in San Diego Tuesday morning and ? as expected ? unleashed a whole series of news from smart grid-focused firms. From new home energy management products, to plug-in car software, to distribution automation gear, this is a list of trends and news from the show.

  4. US Venture Capital Investment in Cleantech Grows to Nearly $4 Billion in 2010, an 8% Increase From 2009

    US venture capital (VC) investment in cleantech companies increased by 8% to $3.98 billion in 2010 from $3.7 billion in 2009 and deal total increased by 7% to 278, according to an Ernst & Young LLP analysis based on data from Dow Jones VentureSource. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds. VC investment in cleantech in Q4 2010 reached $979 million with 72 financing rounds, flat in terms of deals and down 14% in terms of capital invested compared to Q4 2009.

    “In comparison to the early days of cleantech, the 2010 US VC investment results reflect a turning point in the industry due to improving credit and capital markets, the deployment of stimulus spending and increasing corporate cleantech adoption,” said Jay Spencer, Ernst & Young LLP’s Americas Cleantech Director.

  5. A jump at the pump – bad news for more than motorists

    Few trends cast shadows on economies and politicians like a rise in the cost of petrol. Barack Obama?s presidency, so far a minefield of crises, can add one more in the form of higher prices at the pump. Entering the last full week of January the average price of a gallon (3.7 litres) of petrol stood at $3.11, up 40 cents from a year earlier. Fuel has never cost so much in January, but that is unlikely to be the highest price Americans pay for it this year.

  6. Arctic Oscillation brings record low January extent, unusual mid-latitude weather

    Arctic sea ice extent for January 2011 was the lowest in the satellite record for that month. The Arctic oscillation persisted in its strong negative phase for most of the month, keeping ice extent low.

    Arctic sea ice extent averaged over January 2011 was 13.55 million square kilometers (5.23 million square miles). This was the lowest January ice extent recorded since satellite records began in 1979.

  7. Despite emails and cold winter, 83% of Brits view climate change as a current or imminent threat

    The public?s belief in global warming as a man-made danger has weathered the storm of climate controversies and cold weather intact, according to a Guardian/ICM opinion poll.

    Asked if climate change was a current or imminent threat, 83% of Britons agreed, with just 14% saying global warming poses no threat. Compared with August 2009, when the same question was asked, opinion remained steady despite a series of events in the intervening 18 months that might have made people less certain about the perils of climate change

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Photo credit kirstyhall

Friday Green Numbers round-up for Jan 14th 2011

Green Numbers

And here are this week’s Green numbers…

  1. 2010 ties 2005 for warmest year on record

    Last year tied with 2005 as the warmest year on record for global surface temperature, US government scientists said in a report on Wednesday that offered the latest data on climate change.

    The Earth in 2010 experienced temperatures higher than the 20th century average for the 34th year in a row, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.

    Overall, 2010 and 2005 were 1.12 degrees Fahrenheit (0.62 Celsius) above the 20th century average when taking a combination of land and water surface temperatures across the world, it said.

    Those two years were also the highest in temperature since record-keeping began in 1880.

    Last year was the wettest on record, NOAA said citing Global Historical Climatology Network which made the calculation based on global average precipitation, even though regional patterns varied widely.

    When it came to hurricanes and storms, the Pacific Ocean saw the fewest number of hurricanes and named storms, three and seven respectively, since the 1960s.

    But the Atlantic Ocean told a different story, with 12 hurricanes and 19 named storms, which include tropical storms and depressions, marking the second highest number of hurricanes on record and third highest for storms.

  2. IBM Reveals Five Innovations That Will Change Our Lives in the Next Five Years

    IBM formally unveiled the fifth annual “Next Five in Five” ? a list of innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and play over the next five years:
    ? You’ll beam up your friends in 3-D
    ? Batteries will breathe air to power our devices
    ? You won?t need to be a scientist to save the planet
    ? Your commute will be personalized
    ? Computers will help energize your city

  3. Chris Tuppen’s 20 year CRS reflection

    Chris left BT after a long and influential career in the company to pursue new pastures in sustainability. He kindly agreed to provide some personal reflections after a 20 year career in the field.

    Reflecting back over twenty years of corporate sustainability and then attempting to summarise that into a 500 word blog is an almost impossible task.

    Much has changed. Twenty years ago…

  4. GE buys 3rd energy co. in 3 months – Lineage Power for $520m

    General Electric has made its first move into the fast-growing business of cutting electricity consumption by the telecoms and computer industries, buying Lineage Power for $520m from The Gores Group, a private equity firm.

    The deal is GE?s third acquisition of an energy business in the past three months, as the group implements its plan to focus on infrastructure markets and reduce its reliance on financial services.

  5. Top 10 Carbon Reporting Trends in 2010

    Corporate greenhouse gas emissions reporting continues to evolve at a rapid pace. As we celebrate the New Year, it’s instructional to take the opportunity to reflect on the highlights of 2010 and their impact on this market. Many of the changes are healthy as sustainability and emissions reporting moves away from “feel good” disclosures towards risk identification and competitive advantage.

    Here is my list of the top 10 Carbon Reporting Trends in 2010…

  6. Siemens constructing 65km 2GW HVDC line between France and Spain

    Siemens Energy is currently erecting the power converter stations for a high-voltage direct-current (HVDC) transmission link between Baixas, to the west of Perpignan in France, and Santa Llogaia, south-west of Figueras in Spain, as important components of the Trans-European Network for electrical power. The installation can transmit a rated power of 2000 megawatts (MW) ? enough to transport large amounts of electric power with a minimum of transmission losses.

  7. Why Greentech Money Is Sliding From Supply to Demand

    With 2010 finally behind us, and a full year of data to play with, it appears that green technology investments are firmly shifting from the supply side of the equation to the demand side. In other words, solar and wind power were on the outs last year, and energy efficiency was the up-and-comer.

    That?s the conclusion I draw in my weekly update at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), and while it may not come as a surprise to industry watchers, it?s nice to have some numbers to back it up. Although solar startups continued to draw the most money in venture capital investment last year, energy efficiency startups garnered…

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Photo credit millicent_bystander

Friday Green Numbers round-up 07/30/2010

Green Numbers

Photo credit Lauren Manning

And here are this week’s Green Numbers:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday Green Numbers round-up 05/28/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

And here is this week’s Green numbers:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Friday Green Numbers round-up 04/23/2010

Green numbers

Photo credit Unhindered by Talent

And here is this week’s Green numbers:

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Investors, the EPA and now the SEC are making pollution an increasingly unattractive option

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Photo credit Neubie

A perfect storm consisting of the EPA, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and investors is pressuring companies to come clean on their environmental risks and performance.

I wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about FaceBook’s decision to use a primarily coal-burning utility to power its new data center where I asked should FaceBook’s investors be worried about the decision.

Now the SEC has started taking an interest in this area as well and recently clarified that companies’ have responsibilities [PDF] to report on:

  1. the direct effects of existing and pending environmental regulation, legislation, and international treaties on the company’s business, its operations, risk factors, and in Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations
  2. the indirect effects of such legislation and regulation on a company’s business, such as changes in demand for products that create or reduce greenhouse gas emissions and
  3. the effect on a company’s business and operations related to the physical changes to our planet caused by climate change ? such as rising seas, stronger storms, and increased drought. These changes to the environment could have a number of material effects on corporations, such as impairing the distribution and production of goods and damaging property, plant, and equipment

In announcing the clarification SEC Commissioner Luis A. Aguilar stated that the SEC will begin to be far more proactive on environmental reporting:

The Commission’s action today is a first step in an area where the Commission will begin to play a more proactive role, consistent with our mandate under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, to consider the environment in our regulatory action. The National Environmental Policy Act charged the Federal Government “to use all practicable means” to, among other things, “fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.”

Noting the interest of the SEC and their clarification around companies’ environmental risk reporting requirements, investors are now becoming more vocal and are increasingly asking companies to report more information about their environmental risks and responsibilities. These investors need to look after the long term interests of their funds and the last thing they want is to have their monies disappear in some environment-related mishap like the Kingston Fossil Plant coal fly ash slurry spill or a class action litigation.

Ceres, the non-profit network, reported recently that investors filed a record 95 climate change resolutions, a 40% increase over the 2009 proxy season! And these are serious investors. Jack Ehnes, CEO of CalSTRS for example, manages $131 billion dollars in assets. That’s billion, with a b!

As Ceres notes:

Many of the investors are part of the Investor Network on Climate Risk (INCR), an alliance of more than 80 institutional investors with collective assets totaling more than $8 trillion.

$8 trillion! Investors with a war chest of $8 trillion wield a lot of clout.

Combine this with the fact that on Dec 29th 2009 the EPA’s Mandatory Reporting of Greenhouse Gases Rule came into effect and it states:

suppliers of fossil fuels or industrial greenhouse gases, manufacturers of vehicles and engines, and facilities that emit 25,000 metric tons or more per year of GHG emissions are required to submit annual reports to EPA. The gases covered by the proposed rule are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), perfluorocarbons (PFC), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and other fluorinated gases including nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) and hydrofluorinated ethers (HFE).

So, the EPA is requiring the reporting of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from the top 10,000 emitters in the US, the SEC now has environmental risk reporting and transparency in its sights and investors with considerable resources are looking for more details on possible environmental risks from companies they invest in. You have to think that this is not a good time to be in the pollution business!

UPDATE – A reader on the Energy Collective reminded me that I forgot to include reputational risks:

Another climate-related risk called out in SEC’s Interpretive Guidance is reputational risk: “Another example of a potential indirect risk from climate change that would need to be considered for risk factor disclosure is the impact on a registrant?s reputation. Depending on the nature of a registrant?s business and its sensitivity to public opinion, a registrant may have to consider whether the public?s perception of any publicly available data relating to its greenhouse gas emissions could expose it to potential adverse consequences to its business operations or financial condition resulting from reputational damage.”

I had read this but somehow neglected to include it in this post, thanks for the reminder.