Monthly Archives: August 2013

China Breaks the Ice With Maiden Voyage to Europe via the Northeast Passage

china cosco northern passage world infrastructure news

On Thursday 8th August, a 19,000 cargo vessel belonging to Cosco Shipping set sail on its maiden voyage from the north-eastern Chinese port of Dalian in Liaoning province. Rather than taking the usual route via the Suez Canal, the ship will sail via the Northeast Passage of The Arctic. According to China Daily this is the first time a Chinese merchant ship has travelled to Europe via this route, which passes through the Bering Strait and along Russia’s northern coastline.

The new route is expected to cut approximately 7,000km and 12 to 15 days off the usual shipping routes between China and Europe, greatly reducing fuel and operating costs. Cosco anticipates that the journey to Rotterdam will take 33 days, which means the ship should arrive on 11th September. The Northeast Passage has become navigable in recent times due to melting polar caps, but ships will still only be able to transit for about four months of the year in the Arctic summer.

Around 90 per cent of China’s foreign trade is carried by sea, and it is hoped that the new shipping route will help develop the northeast of the country. China Daily quotes industry experts as saying the Arctic route will change China’s industrial layout in its coastal provinces and reshape the prospects for the global shipping sector. Han Yichao, an industrial analyst with Changjiang Securities Co told China Daily that if 10 per cent of China’s trade was shipped through the Arctic routes by 2020, it could be worth $683 billion.

Gail Taylor


(Image courtesy of the Daily Mail)

Written By admin 
August 14, 2013 14:40 pm
Posted In Ports, TRANSPORT

Crossrail Dig Unearths Asylum, Roman Road and 7,000 BC Tool Factory

crossrail dig world infrastructure news

As work on the UK’s largest construction project, Crossrail continues, yet more of London’s fascinating history is being revealed. Earlier this year, the project’s archaeological team unearthed skeletons belonging to the victims of the Black Death in 1348. Now, the burial ground of the country’s first psychiatric hospital, the notorious 16th century Bedlam, has been discovered at London’s Liverpool Street.

Buried there are inmates, paupers and religious mavericks. Lead Archaeologist, Jay Carver comments, “We plan to excavate the Bedlam burial ground next year and carefully remove up to 3,000 skeletons as well as excavate a wider area to unearth Roman London.”

According to a Crossrail press release, local craft manufacturers appeared to have used the burial ground for fly tipping during the 1600s, giving archaeologists an insight into how manufacturers in the east of the city made expensive craft items for the wealthy. Finds include rare and exotic tortoise shell and elephant teeth.

Also found at Liverpool Street is a Roman gold coin, which would have been worn as a decorative item by aristocracy or royalty. It now has the experts wondering how such a valuable object has ended up in what was historically a deprived area.

An exceptionally well-made Roman road has also been uncovered, complete with Roman horseshoes. A human bone found in the foundations is thought to have been washed down from a nearby Roman cemetery by a river. Archaeologists hope to reveal more of the road and the Roman buildings that lined it next year.

Elsewhere at Crossrail’s tunnelling worksite in Woolwich, evidence that humans have lived along the River Thames for as long as 9,000 years has been unearthed. A Mesolithic ‘tool factory’ dating back to 7,000 BC with 150 flints, among them blades, has experts believing that prehistoric Londoners were using the site to test, divide and prepare river cobbles used to make flint tools.

Carver continues, “It is one of a handful of archaeology sites uncovered that confirms humans lived in the Thames Valley at this time. The concentration of flint pieces shows that this was an exceptionally important location for sourcing materials to make tools that were used by early Londoners who lived and hunted on the Thames Estuary islands.”

Gail Taylor


(Image courtesy of the London Evening Standard)

Written By admin 
August 14, 2013 14:26 pm
Posted In Rail, TRANSPORT

Is Big Data creating a Black Hole for Infrastructure Security?

Increasingly Infrastructure is being controlled by software... the future threat to security may not lay at the plant's gates...

Increasingly Infrastructure is being controlled by software… the future threat to security may not lay at the plant’s gates…

Increasingly, infrastructure in our cities is being managed by software, from Air Traffic Control through power grids to elevators, the efficiency of vital infrastructure is being leveraged ever higher by intelligent controls, squeezing every last per cent out of capacity. The latest incarnation of the evolution in infrastructure software is Big Data. Analysis of real-time data by algorithms being fed back into the machine in a constant tweaking process, creating a brave new world of dynamic infrastructure.

Until relatively recently, protecting our infrastructure against attack has been a matter of barbed wire and a security guards, but now it is being dragged into a new world of firewalls and cyber defence. But are we prepared for this transition?

In an exclusive interview, we talk to Natasha Malden, Cyber Security Consultant at QinetiQ, one of the world’s leading firms in this field.

What areas of our cities infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to a cyber-attack?

As more elements of a city become automated, more elements become vulnerable to a cyber-attack. Each system, whether transport, energy, finance, telecoms, water or control systems will become part of a more complex network of networks. In a “Smart City” everything is intelligently connected and subsequently connected to the internet. This network of networks will then have multiple points of entry and egress, and the larger network will only be as strong and secure against attack as its weakest point.

Is this actually a real threat?  Has there has never been a serious incident of this type? 

Yes. This is a real threat and not just the artistic license of James Bond script writers. There have been numerous reported attacks by state sponsored “hacktivists” on other nation’s critical systems, including many that have become public knowledge, like the Stuxnet virus, possibly launched at disrupting Iranian nuclear facilities. This year the US Department of Homeland Security stated that it responded to 177 [cyber] incidents against industrial control systems, up from just 9 [incidents] three years earlier[1]. It has been reported the number of successful cyber-attacks on UK infrastructure Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems since 2000 has increased 10-fold.[2] On an individual level, Cyber-crime has been suggested as responsible for a fatal attack against an American journalist’s car. However, a vast number of similar and serious incidents go unreported due to the massive impact that a breach can have on a State, business or service’s reputation.

Are the risks of an attack increased by real time data being added to infrastructure management?

Using real time data comes with inherent risks as it is more difficult to scan for malicious software, injected code or false data. It is also more difficult to detect Denial of Service attacks. Additionally, there may be difficulties in the storage and processing of high volumes of real time data and therefore the data storage centre itself may become a target for attack.

The security risks of real time data could include, for example, if a transport system is using sensors to track population movement and the system is sabotaged, an attacker could potentially direct a large number of people to one place to cause maximum disruption, or worse.

Who would make these attacks? 

Anyone who has, or could gain, access to these systems has the potential to launch a cyber-attack causing disruption and corruption. Furthermore, they may not always be malicious attacks, but sometimes may be accidental or borne out of pure curiosity. Other “threat actor groups” should be considered such as “hacktivist” groups who may employ professional hackers, anarchists, other nation states, and terrorists. Cyber terrorists may have a political agenda, targeting political or high impact structures through disruption or panic.

Are the utilities responsible for these services up to speed on this threat?

QinetiQ works with a number of these utilities companies, working collaboratively to ensure that they are aware of the latest threats and advising appropriate action (where necessary). QinetiQ suggests to its customers that these threats should not prevent innovation and development for smart systems, but with an increased knowledge and awareness the systems can be appropriately secured from the conception of the system. QinetiQ also provides a Protective Monitoring service as part of a 24×7 Security Operations Centre, and is able to monitor and respond to threats in real time.

Can anything be done to make vital services more resilient?

Primarily, providers of critical services should be aware that cyber security is an enabler, allowing them to do smarter business in smart cities, and not an inhibitor to business activity. Providers of vital services should invest in security and educate staff and also consumers:
consumers should be aware of the services that are available to them and how to use them appropriately to their advantage; users should be made aware of how to operate the systems securely and how to recognise and respond to anomalous incidents should they occur.

 All too often in the process of commissioning a “Smart City” security is considered as an afterthought, rather than an integral part of securing a financial or human investment. Smart cities are fundamentally designed to be innovative and responsive to the changing global climate and requirements and the security considerations must be just as dynamic. It is only by gaining an intelligent and informed understanding of the spectrum of threats and vulnerabilities posed by automating city processes, and continuing to review and refresh those perspectives, that “Smart Cities” can be realised with any confidence of their safety and resilience.  

Michael Hammond
Editor World Infrastructure News

For further information, contact Natasha Malden at QinetiQ; NLMALDEN@qinetiq.com

References:

[1] US Department of Homeland Security, DHS CYBERSECURITY: ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES

TO PROTECT THE NATION’S CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE, 2013

[2] Linden, Edward. Focus on Terrorism. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2007. Web.

Written By admin 
August 12, 2013 14:42 pm
Posted In ENERGY

Yemen Power Plant Inaugurated by Aden’s Governor, PEC & Altaaqa Global

Altaaqa Global Yemen World Infrastructure News

Global energy provider Altaaqa Global has completed the installation of a 54 MW temporary power plant in Aden, Yemen. The inauguration of the temporary power plant, which is capable of providing power to 150,000 home and business owners in Yemen, was witnessed by Altaaqa Global executives, together with Engineer and Public Electricity Corporation (PEC) Director General Khalil Abdul-Malik, and his excellency Wahid Ali Rashid, Governor of Aden.

Altaaqa Global Managing Director Steven Meyrick stated: “With this new power plant, 95% of the workforce is local Yemeni engineers and the remaining 5% are from Altaaqa Global Caterpillar. We are committed to helping our immediate environs through a sustainable business model by creating employment opportunities in the areas where we operate. By hiring local talents in Yemen, we are proud to serve the community and contribute to their social lives.”

He continued, “We have also invested a significant amount of resources to train the Yemeni workforce to ensure that our operation is still on its optimum level. In the end, we have passed on our technical know-how to the local workforce while maintaining our operational standards and processes. We will surely replicate the same process of hiring local people in other countries that we are planning to pursue in the future.”

Peter den Boogert, Altaaqa Global’s General Manager of Business Development, said, “Because of the successful collaboration between the Altaaqa Global workforce and the local Yemeni team, the power plant installation was completed as per schedule. Even during summer when it can reach up to 38 degrees Celsius, and during Ramadan when we can only work for a short period of time, we were able to complete the power project on schedule due to our strong operational and streamlined business processes.”

In addition to the swift commissioning and installation, Director of Operations of Altaaqa Global Billy Wharton highlighted: “Our project in Aden is the most advanced in the power industry. We are the only company in the Middle East who utilized an integrated control protection system that can switch from grid to island to grid in just minutes. This is also the most advanced Caterpillar electric power protection system in the world. Our control system provided the most flexible power solution to support base load, intermediate, peaking or standby power generation. Whether it’s an island mode/stand alone or grid, or a combination of all operational modes, we can exactly meet the mode requirements at a push of a button.”

Richard Greenan


Written By admin 
August 12, 2013 09:56 am
Posted In ENERGY

The Moscow Metro set to Decide on Record-Breaking Tenders

moscow metro world infra news

Construction contracts for the large-scale Moscow Metro expansion project are set to be signed. The contracts are worth record-breaking amounts – exceeding 573 billion rubles – according to the Russian Ministry of Transport.

Government documentation states that the Moscow Metro “intends to enter into a contract for works on construction and putting into operation of the underground ‘turn-key’, including the performance of the functions of technical customer, design work, development of design and working documentation, construction and assembly works and supply equipment to the underground.”

Interested firms are invited to make an offer, with applications to be accepted until August 9 and offers officially considered on August 12. The maximum contract value is 573,351,936,000 rubles, including VAT.

With the document detailing applicant requirements reaching almost six pages, focus was placed on the necessity for contractors to perform a wide range of engineering research, preparation of project documentation, construction, reconstruction and repair, including facilities such as roads, road and rail tunnels, airports, bridges, ramps and overpasses.

From the participant the Ministry also demands experience of work on the design, construction and commissioning underground facilities to the tune of at least 40 billion rubles for 2012. In addition, the executor must also possess a valid license to carry out the work of the FSB, including the use of state secret information.

This is the largest contract in the history of the construction of the Moscow Metro. Suitable candidates can be owned by the Government of Moscow “Mosinzhproekt”, an Open Joint Institute for survey and design of engineering structures and communications, which already serves the general designers and contractors on many construction sites in Moscow.

Revenues of the company in 2012 exceeded 44 billion rubles. The head of the Construction Department of Moscow, Andrey Bochkarev, and Deputy Mayor for Urban Development and Construction, Marat Khusnullin, repeatedly stated that they are seeking to create in conjunction with “Mosinzhproekt”.

After the arrival of the mayor of Moscow Sergey Sobyanin in 2010, the volume of annual funding from the budget of the subway construction grew at least twice, and in 2013 tripled. In 2012, the Moscow authorities have allocated Metrostroitelstvo 100 billion rubles. The funding amount planned for the next three years is 140-170 billion rubles a year. In comparison, the ex-mayor Yuri Luzhkov annually spend 20-40 billion.

Teodora Ilieva


Written By admin 
August 11, 2013 22:01 pm
Posted In Metro, TRANSPORT

Powering the Future: Iter Fusion Energy Project Gains Approval

Iter organisation infra news

The international nuclear fusion project known as “Iter” progressed significantly this week, as full approval was granted for the reactor’s super-heated nuclear fuel “blanket” – reputedly one of the project’s most challenging components. Additionally, 493 anti-earthquake seismic bearings, consisting of hulking rubber and concrete plinths, have now been set into deep foundations at the site in Cadarache, France.

Seismic design expert and “geotechnical engineer” veteran Alain Pecker has overseen the laying of the foundations for the Seismic Isolation Pit, which will be home to Iter’s ring shaped fusion chamber, or “Tokamak” as it is known in Russian. By refining and confirming geological sampling and surveys conducted on-site, Pecker has mapped and identified faults and fissures in the bedrock below the pit.

Over the last 30 years Pecker has worked on several nuclear projects “integrating the nature of the geological substratum into the design basis of structures and installations”. Pecker’s previous engineering feats include the 2.9km Rion-Antirion Bridge in Greece, which, despite being built on a fragile seabed in a highly seismic area, is capable of dealing with 250 km windspeeds, a quake registering 7 on the Richter scale, and even the impact a tanker weighing 180,000 tons.

Iter – translated as “the way” in Latin – is a meeting of over half of the world’s nations in an effort to harness the power of the sun and stars through nuclear fusion. The world’s second largest such collaboration, eclipsed only by the International Space Station, Iter aims to develop a new type of nuclear reactor capable of generating an endless supply of sustainable, clean, safe and cheap energy by way of atomic fusion.

If successful, the £13b project could provide much-needed energy in a century threatened by climate change and a forecasted tripling in global energy consumption. An atomic age dream, the fusion of hydrogen isotope light atoms would unleash practically limitless resources of sustainable, clean energy.

Iter’s deputy director of safety, Carlos Alejaldre, said: “It is the largest scientific collaboration in the world. In fact, the project is so complex we even had to invent our own currency – known as the Iter Unit of Account – to decide how each country pays its share.”

He continued, “we’ve passed from the design stage to being a construction project. We will have to show it is safe. If we cannot convince the public that this is safe, I don’t think nuclear fusion will be developed anywhere in the world.”

“A Fukushima-like accident is impossible at Iter because the fusion reaction is fundamentally safe. Any disturbance from ideal conditions and the reaction will stop. A runaway nuclear reaction and a core meltdown are simply not possible,” Dr. Alejaldre concluded.

Iter is scheduled to “go nuclear” with the injection of tritium around 2027-28, and expected to demonstrate serviceable energy production at some point in the 2030s. In the meantime, construction continues on Caradaches huge Pit, while a nearby hangar the size of 81 Olympic swimming pools receives the reactor in the form of over a million individual components from the world over.

Richard Greenan


Written By admin 
August 07, 2013 20:34 pm
Posted In ENERGY

The Jury’s Out

World Infrastructure News transport jury

Yesterday’s inaugural World Infrastructure News Awards judging session was a great success, with a fantastic spread of projects and some passionate, enlightening debate from our team of esteemed judges.

We were happy to welcome Buro Happold infrastructure expert Philip Bates, Arup’s Global Infrastructure Practice Chair Peter Chamley, European Investment Bank Urban Planning advisor Brian Field, Beckett Rankine Director and maritime civil engineer Gordon Rankine, and Strategic Transport Director for Atkins Andy Southern to our panel.

Shortlist announcement to follow.


Renewable Energy – Seeking Clarity Through the Forest of Vested Interests

Energy supply and climate change are probably the biggest challenges and most contentious issues facing the infrastructure industry this century. The renewable energy movement in its many guises (often competing ones) is well established, but where are we on this journey? No sooner does one commentator cast dire warnings that we’re running out of oil fast, than another comes along claiming that some of the world’s oil reserves are unlimited (reference US Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood). And the biggest question of all: is the cost of delivering renewable energy just too high, both in terms of carbon and commercial sustainability? Gail Taylor investigates…

Given the passionately opposing expert opinions out there, it’s probably fair to surmise that we don’t fully know the extent to which human activity is contributing as yet. But perhaps even the sceptics would agree that if there’s so much as a risk that we’re helping to bring on Armageddon because of our voracious appetite for burning oil and gas without alternatives, surely we should be busy investing in a really good Plan B? Which leads us to ask, “Is renewable energy efficient enough to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels? Is it working?” It’s an extremely complex question, often country or region-specific, but here’s a brief snapshot of green energy progress around the globe to date…

The ‘Renewables 2013 Global Status Report’ by REN21 – a global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network – states, “Given the world recently passed 400 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 – potentially enough to trigger a warming of 2 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels – meeting growing energy needs in a climate-constrained world requires a fundamental shift in how those energy services are delivered. Renewable energy, coupled with energy efficiency measures, is central to achieving this objective.”

At least on the face of it, most governments seem to agree that investment in renewable energy infrastructure is a vital element in assuring our future survival and prosperity. All members of the United Nations (excepting Andorra, Canada, the USA and South Sudan) and the European Union are signed up to the Kyoto Protocol which aims to legally control CO2 emissions. The European Union also has its own legally binding targets. And yet despite all the expressions of commitment to change, there does appear to be some quite strong anti-green energy feeling out there, certainly according to the UK press.

A question of cost

As always, money is an issue. According to a recent report by European energy giant, RWE npower, the average UK household energy bill could rise by £240 to £1,487 by 2020 “driven by the impact of unprecedented investment in new infrastructure and the cost of improving energy efficiency in people’s homes”. The infrastructure referred to relates to new power plants and transmission networks that the government will be investing in over the coming years to help lower carbon output. Other policies said to contribute to soaring fuel bills include government subsidies to renewable energy initiatives.

Energy_quote1In response to RWE npower, Greg Barker, Minister for Energy and Climate Change commented, “npower’s report makes an important contribution to the debate and it is right that we have a grown-up discussion about the impact of energy investment. However, global gas prices not green policies have been primarily pushing up energy bills. That is why it is vital we crack on with securing investment in a diverse energy mix that includes renewables and new nuclear, as well as gas.”

Also in defence of green energy, a report issued in March 2013 by Edward Davey, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change states the opposite: “Today’s householders are paying on average £64 or 5% less for their gas and electricity bills as a result of energy and climate change policies compared to if no policies had existed, and in 2020 the net saving against the do-nothing scenario will reach £166 or 11%.”

We asked the Department of Energy and Climate Change to comment on these contrasting views on household bills and a spokesman told us, “Edward Davey’s comments relate to our projection that overall, if we invest in low carbon energy sources and energy efficiency, overall, bills will be lower than they otherwise would be. This is primarily because UK consumers will be cushioned from the impact of fluctuating fossil fuel prices.

“It’s vital that we strike a balance between encouraging investment in renewable energy and ensuring value for money for consumers. Subsidies vary for renewable energy technologies largely due to their maturity and the overall cost of the technology. For example, we subsidise onshore wind and solar PV less than offshore wind because the costs of the technology have come down in recent years. Because offshore wind industry in the UK is still in its relative infancy (compared to long-established industries like nuclear) and costs of the technology are higher, offshore wind developers receive larger subsidies than for example, onshore wind.”

Regardless of the size of subsidy, producers of renewable energy ultimately hope to achieve grid parity. Grid parity – or ‘the levelised cost of electricity (LCOE)’ – is the point at which a source of renewable energy can compete with conventional fuel providers on the open market without subsidies, and may well play an important role in keeping energy bills down when it happens. But when might that be? According to the autonomous inter-governmental International Energy Agency (IEA) which reports on all forms of energy (conventional and renewable) in some parts of the world it’s already happening. Its recent ‘Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2013’ tells us, “Hydropower and geothermal in areas with good resources are already generally competitive versus new fossil fuel power plants. Large-scale bioenergy plants are also competitive depending on feedstock prices and availability.”

Energy_quote2The report concedes that “Levelised costs for other renewables generally remain higher than new fossil-fuel generation; as such, these sources often require policy support to remain economically attractive”, but goes on to state that “the most dynamic technologies – onshore wind and solar PV – have reached, or are approaching, competitiveness in a number of markets without generation-based incentives”.

REN21’s findings seem to echo this, “Renewables already play a major role in the energy mix in many countries around the world. In 2012, prices for renewable energy technologies, primarily wind and solar, continued to fall, making renewables increasingly mainstream and competitive with conventional energy sources.” Interestingly, the report also points out that subsidies to fossil fuels are currently far higher than those for renewables.

Solar shines a light

With regards to solar power, the IEA’s report continues, “…emerging competitive segments are linked to the concept of grid or “socket” parity – when LCOE of decentralised solar PV systems becomes lower than retail electricity prices that system owners would otherwise pay. Such markets are appearing in Spain, Italy, southern Germany, southern California, Australia and Denmark, and across residential and commercial segments. While this parity still requires support for the power system integration of solar PV, it is nonetheless a driver for increased investment in the sector.” REN21 paints a similarly positive picture, saying, “Globally, in just five years, solar PV soared from below 10GW in 2007 to just over 100 GW in 2012.”

A common misconception is that solar PV power requires sunshine. In fact it only requires daylight, evidenced by the fact that Germany is Europe’s largest producer. However, concentrated solar power (CSP) performs particularly well in the sunniest countries, such as Spain, which according to EnergyLive News magazine, is home to more than 99% of the European continent’s projects. CSP plants use mirrors or lenses to reflect the sun’s rays onto a single point where it is used to heat up a liquid, produce steam, and turn turbines to generate electricity.

Where the wind blows

While solar power clearly offers promise, nothing stirs up a hornet’s nest quite like a wind turbine. Opponents of wind power are many and vociferous. Taking the UK as a case in point, even the Prime Minister, David Cameron has expressed doubts over on-shore wind farms, with 106 MPs (101 of which are Tory) coming out in open opposition. The arguments against are that they are over-subsidised, ugly, noisy, and inefficient – typically producing 30% less than the oft-quoted theoretical maximum possible – and that they are anything but eco-friendly. They kill birds, they cost a lot to manufacture, and that manufacture involves fossil fuels.

Energy_quote5And yet, in a survey conducted in 2012 by Ipsos Mori on behalf of wind trade body Renewable UK, 66% of the UK public said it supported wind power with just 8% against. Could it be because wind does work, at least in other parts of the world? According to the IEA’s 2013 report, “In Brazil, onshore wind competes well with new gas-fired plants. In Australia, wind is competitive versus the generation costs of new coal-and-gas-fired plants with carbon pricing, and the best wind sites can compete without carbon pricing. In Turkey and New Zealand, onshore wind has been competing well in the wholesale electricity market for several years.”

REN21’s report adds, “In China, wind power generation increased more than generation from coal and passed nuclear output for the first time [in 2012]”.

Smartening up connections

While both solar PV and wind power often come in for criticism for poor transmission to cities due to their intermittent nature, investment in developing technologies such as smart grids and more efficient ways of storing energy may be the key to overcoming this. Germany is Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy and provides a clearer idea of how smart grids can work. A press release issued by Siemens AG’s smart grid division states, “Fifteen years ago, only a few hundred energy producers were feeding power into the German grid. In the future, there’ll be millions.

Today’s consumers of electricity will also be energy producers. This fact – coupled with large fluctuations in grid feeds from renewable energy sources – will make smart grids indispensable.

“The IRENE Project in Wildpoldsried near Kempten in the Allgäu region of southern Bavaria offers a foretaste of what Germany’s power systems could look like in the 2020s. With the help of a large number of measuring stations, variable grid components and so-called software agents, a smart grid in the village maintains the balance between energy production and consumption and keeps the power grid stable. The energy pioneers of Wildpoldsried are already producing more than three times as much electrical energy as they consume.”

Energy_quote3So much for solar and wind; what about biomass? This form of renewable energy also has its vocal critics. It is blamed for creating poor air quality and respiratory problems, and, of course, it produces the very thing we’re all supposed to be avoiding – CO2 emissions.

However, its proponents say that these unwanted side-effects can be mitigated with responsible growth and management of crops, conscientious replanting to reabsorb CO2 from the atmosphere, and investment in readily available technologies such as fluidized bed or gasification systems. They also point out that energy can be released from biomass without burning it to produce methane or ethanol which can then be converted to biofuels.

Conclusion by statistics

REN21’s report states that “by design” it does not provide analysis or forecasts. However, it relies on the most recent data available, provided by over 500 contributors and researchers worldwide. Within those parameters, the figures given are as follows, “Global demand for renewable energy continued to rise during 2011 and 2012, supplying an estimated 19% of global final energy consumption in 2011 (the latest year for which data are available), with a little less than half from traditional biomass. Total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,470 GW in 2012, up about 8.5% from 2011. Hydropower rose 3% to an estimated 990 GW, while other renewables grew 21.5% to exceed 480 GW. Globally, wind power accounted for about 39% of renewable power capacity added in 2012, followed by hydropower and solar PV, each accounting for approximately 26%.

“Renewables made up just over half of total net additions to electric generating capacity from all sources in 2012. By year’s end, they comprised more than 26% of global generating capacity and supplied an estimated 21.7% of global electricity, with 16.5% of electricity provided by hydropower. Industrial, commercial, and residential consumers are increasingly becoming producers of renewable power in a growing number of countries…The top countries for renewable power capacity at year’s end were China, the United States, Brazil, Canada, and Germany, followed by Spain, Italy, and India.”

Energy_quote4The IEA does put its cards on the table by forecasting that in 2018 non-OECD countries (those outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) are expected to comprise 58% of total renewable generation, up from 54% in 2012; that China is expected to account for 40%, or 310 GW, of the growth in global renewable power capacity over 2012-2018; that renewable electricity is expected to account for 60% of the increase in OECD gross power generation over2012-2018, and that despite slowing growth, OECD Europe should lead deployment within the OECD over the same period.

Both REN21 and the IEA outline the challenges facing renewables, and are in general agreement that developing economies are leading the way, while by contrast, investment in 2012 decreased in the developed OECD countries. Economic and political uncertainties and policy changes have been instrumental in this falling away, which in turn discourages investors. Consensus seems to be that a robust political framework is needed in the OECD region to keep momentum up and enable binding targets for 2020 and beyond to be successfully met.

Of course, there will always be vested interests on all sides, politicians will always have their preferences, and for every argument there is a counter-argument. Perhaps the reality is that in the grand scheme of things, renewable energy is a fairly new concept to us humans. We are at the vanguard – developing and improving new technologies, trying to achieve a well-balanced mix of renewables and fossil fuels to avert the disastrous consequences for the planet that are predicted if we don’t. There are also other compelling reasons to clean up our act, such as the effect that burning fossil fuels has on our health, on our immediate environment, and on our general quality of life.

Whichever way you look at it, the overall figures show that renewable energy is not only very much here to stay, but is in the ascendancy.

Gail Taylor