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Nature vs Nurture (Part 6) - Maximising the Environmental Gain

Shelley Inkster - Friday, July 08, 2016

Maximising the Environmental Gain


With any example of investment in cutting edge technology it is important to maximise, measure and report to the public on the effectiveness of this investment. Presenting this information in a format the community can readily understand will maximise the uptake of renewable technologies. 


The Gemasolar CSP plant (built by Torresol Energy*) project took 2 years to build, costing $419 million dollars and powers 30,000 homes 24 hours a day, even during darkness and poor daylight. The central tower receiver and molten nitrate salt thermal energy system employs the use of heliostats (large mirror panels) rather than photovoltaic cells.

The tower technology uses molten salt as a heat transfer medium that reaches temperatures above 500 degrees Centigrade and allows delivering hotter and more pressurized steam to the turbine than the parabolic trough technology, which significantly increases the performance of the overall plant.

·         Rated electrical power: 19.9 MW

·         Net electrical production expected: 110 GWh/year

·         Solar field: 2,650 heliostats on 185 hectares

·         Heat storage system: the molten salt storage tank permits independent electrical generation for up to 15 hours without any solar feed.


*Gemasolar is a project of Torresol Energy  -  Sener (South American 60%) and Masdar (Alternative power company in Abu Dhabi 40%) founded in 2008


Photovoltaic cells


Gemasolar - Construction


Gemasolar - Australian Energy Week 2016


Gemasolar - Solar storage plant sets record

Nature vs Nurture (Part 5) - GM - Benefits vs the Impacts

Shelley Inkster - Monday, July 04, 2016

Genetic engineering & modification – benefits versus the impacts

Genetically modified cotton has led to a huge decrease in pesticide application and more efficient production. GM crops can be engineered to target fertilizer and herbicide reduction and allow greater yields in difficult conditions – water and salt tolerance, and disease resistance. The result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.

Genetic engineering allows us to shut down disease and for preventative screening ensuring a better survival rate. Again, the result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.

How do we compare and factor the benefits versus challenges?

On the one hand by using genetic engineering to improve food production we could alleviate suffering and under-nourishment in the poorer regions of the world. Alternatively, we increase food production and those who are over-nourished suffer chronic morbidity or mortality from lifestyle diseases. Current trends suggest the latter.

Could we take advantage of the ‘breathing space’ that genetic engineering offers and then try to focus once again on limiting the rate of population growth?

Nature vs Nurture (Part 4) - Outstripping capacity

Shelley Inkster - Friday, May 27, 2016

Increasing populations – outstripping capacity


The use of selective breeding about 10,000 years ago was the precursor for changes in the way human populations developed and continued to spread across the globe. Although slow and occasionally subject to failure the incremental changes brought about in animal and plant genetics meant that populations could at least have some control over their food sources.


Now we have the reverse problem, a rapidly growing global population and huge disparities in the levels of nourishment amongst the world’s populations. All this despite having reliable agriculture in developed countries. 


Increased population seeking increased personal comfort and gain ………..sounds like an ‘Ehrlichian Bomb’ ticking!

 “An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth - in short, materialism - does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.” 


E.F. Schumacher, 'Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered'


The Guardian: The Small is Beautiful Economic Idea


In our next article we explore the area of genetic engineering, its benefits and also potential impacts.

Environment in Brief #10 - Battery Technologies

Kevin Stretton - Sunday, April 24, 2016

Environment in Brief #10 - Battery Technologies


The pro and con debate centred on sustainable energy systems continues in boardrooms, coffee lounges and the family home.


  • The challenges to be overcome are mainly concerned with:-


  1. •  Keeping lithium systems cool in hot  humid environments
  2. •  Safety and stability in systems that are constantly charged or have fluctuating
  3.    power demands
  4. •  Sizes, space and capacities
  5. •  The ability to cope with power demands over short and extended periods


Yet it is clear to see that in ever increasing strides the changes occurring in technology will very soon offer both the commercial and residential sectors unique options in generating and storing energy.


And an important area of that change is occurring in the larger storage units suitable for commercial applications. It is estimated that more than 80% of the sales in energy storage systems will come from the supply of units with capacities of 100 kilo-watt hours. Compare this with the current capacity of 7kWh units being sold for the residential sector.


In 2015 the International Renewable Energy Agency stated that renewable electricity supplies need to double to about 45% by 2030. Potentially this equates to about 475 Gigawatts of power generated by renewable sources. In 2013 the annual installation of battery storage systems was approximately 0.34 Gigawatts.


So it is not so unusual to see that as the various technologies evolve combinations of storage units will be used to supplement solar in areas like accommodation providers, commercial buildings, remote or rural grids and shopping centres.


We provide some further reading for your interest:


Climate Council


Lux Research


MIT - Missing Link to Renewable Technology

Nature vs Nurture (Part 3b) - Are we too clever for our own good?

Shelley Inkster - Saturday, April 23, 2016

Are we too clever for our own good?


We continue the themes developed and related to water management, population growth and the consumption of resources at an unlimited rate.


Water management & desalination – benefits versus the impacts


Desalination of water in our modern world is crucial for supplementing those areas which experience unreliable water cycles or are insufficient for supporting consistent primary food production. As an example, recent droughts in the Yangtze basin threaten the viability of the South-North Water Transfer project discussed in an earlier article.


In 2011 there were approximately 14,500 desalination plants operating globally with the highest concentration of plants being located in the Middle East. And over the next decade the demand for desalination plants is expected to triple.


Unlike recycling & storm water harvesting which rely on the existing water cycle, desalination provides an independent source of potable water. However, challenges with desalination technologies such as expensive capital costs, high energy demand and corresponding carbon outputs can limit applications.


Combining many of these technologies may provide us with a solution to a wide range of problems, bringing about short to medium term stability in water management and consumption while also hopefully averting man-made disasters such as the Great 1959 Famine in China.


However, will we take the initiative and use that ‘breathing space’ to focus on the ‘root cause’ of our problems; excessive population growth?


We include some articles for your interest:


Science Direct - Impacts and Assessment of Seawater Desalination


Arabian Gulf Case Study


Science Direct - Cost Benefit Analysis of Desalination


The Population Institute

Nature vs Nurture (Part 3a) - Are we too clever for our own good?

Shelley Inkster - Monday, April 18, 2016

Are we too clever for our own good?


We continue the theme developed in part 2 and in subsequent articles we’ll discuss a wide range of issues related to population growth and the consumption of resources at an unlimited rate.



Water management & diversion – benefits versus the impacts


In a possible effort to avoid agricultural, political & social disasters of the past (see the link to ‘Tombstone’ below) the South-to-North Water Diversion Project in China is the largest of its kind ever undertaken. The project involves drawing water from southern rivers and supplying it to the dry north. This massive scheme has already taken 50 years from conception to commencement and is expected to take almost as long to construct.

Planned for completion in 2050, it will eventually divert 44.8 billion cubic metres of water annually to the population centres of the drier north.  The intent is to increase agricultural productivity and hopefully reduce the land subsidence and dust storms of recent years. The result will likely be increased population, consumption and pollution.


Have the consequences and impacts been adequately considered?


Tombstone by Yang Jisheng

China - Great famine book - Tombstone


Nature vs Nurture (Part 2) - Sustain

Shelley Inkster - Monday, April 04, 2016
Oxford Dictionary definition:  Sustain* ~ Enable to last out…


The pressure of population on the environment is not a new concern, by any means:

In his book, Paul Ehrlich argued that increasing populations and affluence were placing growing pressure on the global environment in many fields, from loss of biodiversity, overfishing, global warming, urbanization, chemical pollution, and competition for raw materials. Ehrlich and others, now argue that whilst the projected timing was wrong, humanity has simply deferred the moment of disaster through the intensive agricultural techniques introduced during the green revolution.  Ehrlich maintains that in light of growing global affluence, reducing total population as well as consumption is critical to maintaining environment protection and living standards and that current rates of growth are still too high for a sustainable future.

In 2011, as the world's population passed the seven billion mark Paul Ehrlich (author of “The Population Bomb – 1968) argued that the next two billion people on Earth would cause more damage than the previous two billion due to the increased need to use more marginal  land, damaging the environment and important resources.


Studies of Animal Population from Lamarck to Darwin


The Ecology of Human Populations: Thomas Malthus


World Population Growth 


Revising the Malthusian Narrative - CSDE Working Paper No. 98-05

Nature vs Nurture (Part 1) - The Tragedy of the Commons

Shelley Inkster - Friday, April 01, 2016
The Tragedy of the Commons


Whilst we will successfully thrust and parry technology against nature to counter many of the challenges we face, our limiting factor is ultimately population. Our growth and expectation of quality of life is unsustainable.

As we will eventually be forced to limit population, it would be reasonable to ask why a global strategic approach has not been developed before now.

As we look to the future, government scientific and economic policy should reflect an appreciation of both human and environmental resources in a holistic way.      

When appreciation for care of the planet first took major root during the 1960s and 1970s a number of prominent people publicised their ideas on the future of human-ecosystem relationships. One vocal proponent of these concepts was E.F. Schumacher (author of

Small is beautiful:  Economics as if people mattered’ and ‘Schumacher on Energy’) and when asked if he thought his ‘Buddhist economics’ would work in the west, he replied, “Why not? The west is just as much capable of common-sense as anybody else!”  (E F Schumacher was known for his sense of humour and optimism as well as his intellect and vision).

If we are, as E F Schumacher put forward as capable of common-sense, our focus needs to be concurrently slowing our rate of expansion and implementing sustainable, clean technologies to diffuse our impact.

Environment in Brief #5 - Waste to Energy

Shelley Inkster - Monday, November 23, 2015
Sweden is taking waste management to a whole new level, recycling and sorting its waste so efficiently that less than 1% ends up in landfills. Furthermore, the country burns about as much household waste as it recycles – over 2 million tonnes – and converts this to energy.

“When waste sits in landfills, leaking methane gas and other greenhouse gases, it is obviously not good for the environment,” said Anna-Carin Gripwall from Swedish Waste Management. “Waste-to-energy is a smart alternative, with less environmental impact, taking into account both by-products of incineration and emissions from transport. Plus, recovering energy from waste exploits a resource that would otherwise be wasted.”

Additionally, it sells a service to the rest of Europe: importing excess waste (approximately 800,000 tonnes yearly) mainly from Norway, the UK, Ireland and Italy.

WTE provides district heating to 950,000 Swedish households and electricity for 260,000 households. In Helsingborg, in the south of Sweden, about 40% of households get their district heating from garbage incinerated at the new Filborna plant run by Oresundskraft. 

www. sustainabilitymatters - Sweden Importing Garbage for Energy

Environment in Brief #6 - Green Car Loans

Shelley Inkster - Monday, November 23, 2015
In recent years banks and credit unions have offered discounted loan rates to consumers purchasing a vehicle which meets the criteria for ‘green’. Now, under a new tax payer-backed scheme (Firstmac and Clean Energy Finance Corporation), consumers who buy energy-efficient cars may be eligible for a discounted loan.

Passenger vehicles that emit 141 grams or less of carbon dioxide per kilometer are eligible.