Each week we share the top sustainability news stories from around the world. Here’s this week’s round up:
This week, we explore how a recent report indicates how renewable energy can secure a whole country’s electricity grid, how oil producing countries are at risk for instability and why the lights went out around the world for one hour last weekend.
Renewables Offer the Same Energy Security as Coal:
New research suggests that renewable energy and batteries can secure Australia’s electricity grid as effectively as coal and gas. The new research, commissioned by the Australia Institute thinktank, found that clean technologies provided the fast frequency and voltage control needed to secure the energy grid the same way coal already does but at reduced cost. The research was commissioned to assist the energy security board as it redesigns the country’s electricity market. Ministers are due to act on net zero 2050 targets by determining a new design for the national market that would start in 2025.
To maintain the frequency and voltage within safe limits, the grid has been controlled by coal, gas and hydro power stations. The report noted that regulatory barriers currently limit the ability of renewable energy and batteries to provide system security. The thinktank is calling for new rules governing energy security to allow renewables to better underpin grid reliability. Energy economist Prof Bruce Mountain noted that “The business model underpinning coal and gas is collapsing before our eyes and the good news is that batteries and renewable energy are now able to step in and keep the grid secure”.
The research also showed that 51% of Australians surveyed would prefer to pay for new batteries to keep the grid secure, while only 26% would prefer to continue to pay coal generators for this service. While the research took place in Australia, this scheme can be replicated across other countries, especially as negative consumer attitudes towards fossil fuels trend upwards.
Oil Producing Countries Vulnerable to Wave of Instability:
A new report indicates that oil-dependent countries risk their own stability if they don’t diversify. Countries like Algeria, Iraq and Nigeria are deemed the most vulnerable to “a slow-motion wave of political instability”, according to risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.
Research considered factors including external breakeven costs, countries’ capacity to diversify, and political resilience. Most oil-producing states failed to diversify within the past 7 years when oil prices plummeted and when covid-19 began. The situation in some countries has even worsened as exports have dropped and foreign currency reserves have been depleted.
“Recent devaluations are a harbinger of the bleak potions ahead for oil producers: diversify, or experience forced economic adjustment,” the report later said. Countries like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar were deemed best equipped to adapt followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. James Lockhart Smith, Verisk Maplecroft’s head market risk also raised a caveat over Gulf states. “Authoritarian political stability is anything but stable over the long term and, as lower-for-longer oil prices cut into social spending, additional pressure will pile on these deceptively fragile political systems”.
Earth Hour Celebrated Around the World.
On Saturday 27 March, cities and landmarks around the world turned off their lights to celebrate “Earth Hour”. It is a time when people are encouraged to switch off their lights for an hour to show their support for the environment. This year’s event highlighted the link between the destruction of nature and increasing outbreaks of diseases like Covid-19. Landmarks around the world like the London Eye, the Eiffel Tower, and the Red Square went dark to mark the event.
In Ireland, President Michael D. Higgins marked Earth Hour by turning off all non-essential lights in Áras an Uachtaráin. The president said matters of sustainability, ecology and climate change have become policy victims of Covid-19 but that they must become centre stage once again as a matter of urgency.
Experts believe human activities such as widespread deforestation, destruction of habitats for animals and the current climate crisis is spurring an increase of diseases like Covid-19 that make the leap from animals to humans. Marco Lambertini, director general of the World Wildlife Fund which organises Earth Hour said, “Whether it is a decline in pollinators, fewer fish in the ocean and rivers, disappearing forests or the wider loss of biodiversity, the evidence is mounting that nature is in freefall. Protecting nature is our moral responsibility but losing it also increases our vulnerability to pandemics, accelerates climate change, and threatens our food security”.
Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.