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Pavegen walkway in Bird Street, London (Credit: Pavegen)

What was once a grey and dull street connecting Oxford and Barrett Street in London has now become a showcase for clean, green city living and an oasis for shoppers. Bird Street, just off the very busy shopping zone of Oxford Street, is now a pilot for some innovative technologies which could change the way pedestrian streets are designed and looked at in the future.

One of the big features of the new look Bird Street is the electricity-generating pavement known as Pavegen. As pedestrians walk on the pavement, the tiles move up and down vertically. This causes a rotation in an electromagnetic generator which in turn creates an electrical current. The electricity can be used instantaneously and is currently used to power a bird song on the street as well as light the street lamps at night.

Pedestrians can even track the electricity they are producing whilst walking using a smartphone app which connects to Pavegen via Bluetooth. The electricity produced by a person could lead to rewards in the way of discounts and vouchers for the local retail shops.

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ClearAir Bench converts polluted air into clean air which is pumped out of the sides and armrests (Credit: Airlabs)

Bird Street also features a bench which converts polluted air into clean air, creating a clean and healthy environment for shoppers to grab some rest. The shops themselves also contribute to cleaning the air as they are coated in a paint which breaks down pollution into innocuous salts that get blown away in the wind. The shops also sell sustainable products such as fresh food and vintage clothing.

 

Australians largely support science, but not all see the benefits

Jill Sheppard, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Australian National University

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Australians support science, but nuanced views are found amongst people with differing incomes and education. from www.shutterstock.com

Scientists in Australia (and across the world) will take to the streets for the March for Science on April 22. It’s timely, therefore, to discover Australians overwhelmingly support the role of science in policymaking and society. The Conversation

Released this week, the most recent ANUpoll has surveyed Australians’ attitudes on a range of science plus research and development policy issues. The poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,200 Australian adults via telephone (60% mobile and 40% landline phones) in November 2016.

We found that 82% of Australians believe politicians should rely more on the advice of expert scientists. In an increasingly polarised and contested world, such unanimity is rare.

However, there are limits to this support, and challenges for Australian science in maintaining the support of both citizens and governments.

Consistency over time

Broad support of science is not necessarily a surprising result. Surveys have consistently found Australians want politicians to take more heed of scientific advice.

Data from 2015 shows more than 90% of Australians are proud of the country’s scientific achievements. These figures are remarkably stable over the past 30 years, and are only matched by Australians’ pride in our national sporting achievements. Science seems integral to our national identity.

Moreover, we are largely sanguine about the role of science and technology in our everyday lives. Around seven in 10 Australians agree that new technologies excite rather than concern them. A similar number (75%) believe that the benefits of technological progress are greater than the risks. Even more (84%) believe there should be more people working in research and technological development in Australia.

Support, but with limits

Looking more closely at these results helps to reveal the limits of this overwhelming support for science in Australian life. Surveys often enable respondents to express contradictory views within one questionnaire, or to express support for broad concepts but reticence towards individual policies or positions that seem to underpin those concepts.

In economic terms, we might think about this phenomenon as the difference between stated and revealed preferences. It is one thing to declare that we support “science”, but quite another to support policies that enable or promote scientific research, or collaboration between scientists and politicians.

For instance, almost half (42%) of Australians either “agree” or “strongly agree” that scientific advances tend to benefit the rich more than they benefit the poor. This presents a challenge for scientists hoping to “defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments” (that is, the March for Science’s aims).

Australians in the lowest income households are most likely to hold the view that that scientific advances tend to benefit the rich more than they benefit the poor.

science incomeFigure 1: Agreement with the statement ‘Scientific advances tend to benefit the rich more than they benefit the poor’ by self-reported gross annual household income. Jill Sheppard, Author provided

As shown in Figure 1, nearly one quarter of Australians living in a household with an annual income of less than A$20,000 “strongly agree” with this position, and a further 29% agree. This compares to 9% of those in households with an income of A$150,000 or more who strongly agree that scientific advances benefit the rich more than the poor, and 21% who agree with this position.

In other words, the lower an Australian’s household income, the more likely they believe that the benefits of science are not distributed equally. This seems an entirely rational concern; Australian government economists warn that low-skilled employment and wages are threatened by technology and automation.

The pace of change

Similarly, 45% of Australians either agree or strongly agree that “technological change happens too fast for me to keep up with it”. An important factor in explaining this position is education: the more formal education Australians have received, the more comfortable they feel with the pace of technological change.

science educationFigure 2: Agreement with the statement ‘Technological change happens too fast for me to keep up with it’ by self-reported highest level of education. Jill Sheppard, Author provided

As shown in Figure 2, among the 148 respondents with a Year 10 education or lower (12% of the whole sample), 73% do not believe they can keep up with the pace of technological change. Among those with a postgraduate degree (14% of the sample), only 27% feel this way.

Age breakdowns tell a similar story: older Australians are overwhelmingly more concerned than younger generations about the pace of technological change.

Maintaining confidence in science

The widespread goodwill for Australian science notwithstanding, this is a substantial problem for scientists trying to maintain the confidence of citizens and government. If perceptions place scientists as members of some kind of social and political elite, working to advance the cause of their fellow elites, public support will almost undoubtedly decay.

With the role of science in informing public debate and policymaking attracting attention in the lead up to the March for Science, it is heartening to note that science in Australia enjoys a comparatively privileged position.

However, focusing on the top-line rates of public support conceals subtleties lurking below the surface. Scientists in Australia – and elsewhere – will do well to heed to concerns of those who perceive they are missing out on scientific and technological progress.

Jill Sheppard, Lecturer, School of Politics and International Relations, Australian National University and Matthew Gray, Director, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, Australian National University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

the conversation

anzac

 

Strong crowds have attended Anzac Day services across Australia and New Zealand despite heavy rain in some cities and the ongoing threat of terrorism. Though there was no specific threat of terrorism reported for Anzac Day, authorities across the two countries felt the need to step up precautions this year due to recent attacks in Paris and London and given the significance of the day.

Hundreds of thousands of people attended dawn services in cities, suburbs and regional areas across Australia and New Zealand but many, especially in the major cities, would have noticed an increased police presence this year. The recent lone wolf terror attacks in France and London have prompted authorities to take extra security measures such as water-filled barricades and parked vehicles to block off roads in order to protect marchers and crowds. In last year’s Bastille Day attack in Nice France, 86 people were killed after an extremist drove a 19 tonne truck into crowded area. In March last year 4 people died and 36 were injured in a similar attack at the gates of British Parliament. Earlier this year 6 people died when a man drove his car through the busy Bourke Street mall in Melbourne in a rampage that had no terrorist connection.

Although crowd numbers were strong for local Anzac services, those attending the Gallipoli in service in Turkey were among the lowest crowd since records and registrations began over ten years ago. Less than 1000 Australians and New Zealanders attended this year’s Gallipoli service, compared with the 10,500 strong crowd that attended two years ago for the centenary service. The threat of terrorism in the region is believed to be a major cause for the decline in numbers despite increased security measures and around 2000 security personnel being stationed for the service. The Australian government’s Smartraveller had also advised that there may be a specific threat to the Gallipoli service this year. “There is information which suggests terrorists may seek to target Anzac Day commemorations on the Gallipoli Peninsula.”

visa

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced via a Facebook video last week that his government would be abolishing the 457 visa scheme. The previous visa scheme will be replaced by a new Temporary Skill Shortage (TSS) visa. The new visas will require workers from overseas to have previous work experience, a police check, a better proficiency of the English language and labour market testing.

It is hoped the changes will allow Australians to receive first priority for jobs over workers from overseas. “We’ll no longer allow 457 visas to be passports to jobs that could and should go to Australians,” Mr Turnbull said in the video. “However, it is important businesses still get access to the skills they need to grow and invest, so the 457 visa will be replaced by a new temporary visa to recruit the best and the brightest in the national interest.”

The new TSS visa will be divided into two types, a two-year visa and a four-year visa. The requirements for the two-year visa will be less than that of the four-year visa. However only those with the four-year visa can apply for permanent residency after three years, which was changed from two years under the previous laws.

 

eigg elecEigg, Solar Panels

A small island off the west coast of Scotland is showing the world how remote communities can generate their own power from renewable resources whilst being completely cut off from the main power grid. The Scottish island of Eigg has an area of around 30km2 and a population of around 100 people. Previously, the island residents relied on diesel generators for their power which were expensive to run and would only be used for a few hours a day. Now Eigg has a 24/7 power system which utilises a balance of wind, solar and hydro technology. Perhaps equally impressive is that the company providing the power, Eigg Electric, is community-owned and therefore managed and maintained by the residents of Eigg.

On average, 90-95 per cent of Eigg’s electricity is generated from renewable energy. The off-grid system, which has been running since 2008, consists of three hydroelectric generators, four wind turbines and a photovoltaic array. There are also two backup diesel generators. Any surplus energy is stored in a bank of 96 4-volt batteries for later use. There are periods in the year where the batteries will fill to capacity, such as the winter months when wind and rainfall are high. In these times electric heaters are switched on in shared spaces such as the islands churches, community hall and pier lobby.

eigg hydro damEigg, Electric Hydro Dam

Although the renewable system works well for most of the year, there can be occasions where power generation is low, especially in extended periods of fine weather when wind and rainfall diminishes. To help insure that residents have power for the entire year, an energy cap is placed on each household and business. Residents are allowed a limit of 5kW of electricity use at any given time, approximately equivalent to a kettle and washing machine in use at the same time. Businesses are allowed 10kW. Anyone exceeding the energy limit has their power cut off and must call Eigg Electric to have it switched on again, along with a small fine.

To keep residents on track, there is a traffic light system on the island pier which gives an indication on how the system is running. A green light means everything is going well, red means the system is under strain and amber falls somewhere between the two.

Although the island has had a 50 per cent population rise since the system was put in place, it is still holding up well. Researches from around the world including Malawi, Alaska and Brazil now visit the island of Eigg to see if the system can be adapted to other remote communities without reliable access to a main power grid. Currently around 1.3 billion people worldwide face this problem.

Any communities looking to implement a system similar to Eigg’s better start saving however. The Eigg project cost around AU$2.8 million which was largely funded by the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund, with other contributions coming from national bodies and from the island residents themselves.

lightlineGround level pedestrian lights in Bodegraven

 

As long as smartphones and social media have been around, so have those who cannot take their eyes off their screen whilst walking, talking and driving. Experts have compared the use of phones whilst driving to being intoxicated due to the lack of concentration and awareness of ones surroundings. Therefore it is not hard to imagine how a pedestrian that is texting, tweeting or gaming whilst walking could lose track of where they are and their surroundings and perhaps walk into danger. Incidents involving distracted pedestrians will often lead to traffic delays or in worst cases, traffic accidents. The seemingly obvious solution to this problem would be for people to simply get off their phones. However this may not be a realistic solution especially amongst the younger demographic.

The Dutch town of Bodegraven is currently trialling a system it believes will reduce accidents caused by distracted pedestrians. The concept is ground level traffic lights that are clearly visible to someone walking in that all too familiar, head-down position. A series of LED lights are embedded into the ground which flash between green and red signals just like traditional pedestrian traffic lights. This way anyone looking down at their phone will surely be alerted by the red flashing lights in their eye line. A similar system was implemented in the German city of Augsburg last year after a 15 year old girl was stuck by a tram and killed whilst using her smartphone.

The system called +Lichtlijn (+Lightline) was created by Dutch firm HIG Traffic Systems and is currently being trialled near three schools in the town. If the pilot is successful, +Lichtlijn is expected to be widely rolled out thoughout the Netherlands. Kees Oskam, councilor of Bodegraven-Reeuwijk, sees the system as a solution to an ever growing social trend. "As a government, we probably cannot easily reverse this trend (towards smartphone use), but we want to anticipate it," said Oskam. The system has come under criticism by some including the Dutch road safety organisation VVN who said it “rewards bad behaviour.”

solar farmSolar Panels at Topaz Solar, California USA

South Australia’s power troubles have been well documented in recent times with perhaps the biggest headline being the state-wide blackout. News of the state’s power problems even reached Tesla CEO Elon Musk who said that he could fix South Australia power with battery storage and even tweeted “Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free.” However these concerns may be eased in the near future with the State set to get the world’s largest solar generation and storage facility within the next year.

The project, to be built by Lyon Group, will feature 3.4 million solar panels and 1.1 million batteries. All this will equate to 330 megawatts of solar generation and 100 megawatts of battery storage. The facility will be built on privately owned land in Morgan, located in the Riverland district. The project will be financed by investors and is expected to cost around $1 billion. Work on the project is expected to begin in September this year with the system to be operational by the end of the year. Lyon Group says that around 270 workers will be employed during construction.

The Morgan project will join with another Lyon Group facility to be built in Roxy Downs. The project known as Kingfisher is also set to begin construction in September and is expected to be operational by mid-2018. The Kingfisher project will likely power the Olympic Dam. Lyon Group partner David Green believes the battery storage systems on both projects will be the largest in the world. "If the 4.7 million solar panels at Riverland and Kingfisher were placed end to end, they would reach from Adelaide to Brisbane and back, and then all the way to Melbourne," says Green.

The Lyon Group projects have been welcomed by the South Australian government who have themselves announced a $500 million power intervention plan which Premier Jay Weatherill believes will allow the state to “go it alone” regarding its power needs in the future. The plan will include building, owning and operating a 250-megwatt gas power plant and releasing an expression of interest for private companies to build a 100-megawatt output battery this year to be funding by a $150 million renewable technology fund.

The State has reportedly received around 90 expressions of interest regarding the battery system from countries including Australia, United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Switzerland and Hong Kong. Lyon Group was said to be just one of the companies interested in the tender with Carnegie Clean Energy and Zen Energy also expressing their interest. The expression of interest period has since closed and the South Australian government will be making their decision in the coming weeks.

chicago town hallChicago Town Hall

Green roofs (also known as living roofs) can provide a whole host of benefits to urban and commercial areas. What is a green roof? It is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with planted vegetation. As well as being simply pleasing to the eye, green roofs can be economically advantageous and beneficial to the environment.

A company looking to implement a green roof on their building could look forward to cheaper energy bills as the vegetation can keep buildings warmer in winter and cooler in summer. In the long term, this can also reduce maintenance costs on heating and cooling equipment as their usage is reduced and also extends their lifespan before they need to be replaced.

Green roofs not only look good on their own but the vegetation can also bring in wildlife including birds which can add to their aesthetic appeal. Depending on the type of green roof implemented, opportunities for community gardens can become available when choosing to plant fruit and vegetable trees and shrubs. Alternatively a shaded rooftop garden can provide a relaxing recreational space for office workers or apartment residents. Such improvements to a building can add to its overall value.

The vegetation on a green roof has the ability to absorb the airborne pollutants often found in commercial areas and improve the overall air quality. Rooftop gardens can even reduce the strain on sewer systems by halting the flow of stormwater. In a planted green roof, water is stored in the substrate which can significantly delay water runoff time. The substrate also acts as a natural filtration system for the water, which can be a welcome addition in heavily polluted cities.

In early 2015 the world applauded a proposed law in France which was to mandate all new buildings built in commercial zones to be at least partially covered in plants or solar panels. However the proposed law was met with resistance from the commercial industry who claimed building owners would refuse to pay the additional construction expenses and threatened to pass the costs on to consumers. Despite not passing, the proposed law did generate a great deal of interest and enthusiasm especially within the online community and also created an awareness of the problems that concepts like green roofs are trying to solve.

How electric cars can help save the grid

Tuesday, 04 April 2017 15:48 Published in Transport

How electric cars can help save the grid

Mark Andrich, University of Western Australia and Jemma Green, Curtin University

tesla car

Just think of it as a battery that can also take you to the shops. Steve Jurvetson/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

A key question amid the consternation over the current state of Australia’s east coast energy market has been how much renewable energy capacity to build, and how fast. The Conversation

But help could be at hand from a surprising source: electric vehicles. By electrifying our motoring, we would boost demand for renewable energy from the grid, while smoothing out some of the destabilising effects that the recent boom in household solar has had on our energy networks.

Australia’s electricity infrastructure was built largely without renewable energy in mind, and primarily to maintain reliability for when demand peaks. The high uptake of solar panels, while good for reducing carbon emissions, has reduced grid demand by 5-10% in Australia, and as a side-effect has lowered the value of network assets, raised power prices, and made the grid trickier to manage.

Electric vehicles can ease the pressure on spikes in electricity prices by adding storage capacity. They are effectively a distributed storage system - with smart meters they can feed electricity back into the grid when prices are high. These vehicles’ battery reserves can thus help with the balancing of the grid and provide energy in the peak period. Electric vehicles would also add battery storage to the grid at the same time, which can reduce the need to size the grid for demand peaks.

One way to think of electric vehicles is essentially as batteries you can drive. So before the government pursues plans such as spending A$2 billion on expanding the Snowy Hydro scheme, it should do a cost-benefit analysis comparing the returns from similar infrastructure investment in electric vehicles.

According to the Office of the Chief Economist, Australia produced 6 billion kilowatt hours of solar PV in 2015 – enough to run almost 2 million cars, equivalent to 10% of Australia’s total current passenger vehicle fleet. Increasing demand for grid-sourced electricity will put downward pressure on network prices, which typically are roughly half of the cost of a household energy tariff. At a time when demand has declined and policy settings have created lots of investor uncertainty, the increased demand will also encourage investment in new generation capacity.

Electric vehicles can also increase economic activity in Australia and improve air quality and health. Australia has nearly 20 million cars that together drive 280 billion km each year. Passenger vehicles alone consume 20 billion litres of fuel each year in Australia. At A$1.50 per litre, that is A$30 billion per year that is burned, with roughly half the revenues going to multinational oil companies and the other half going into federal coffers as fuel tax.

The health costs of pollution from vehicle emissions adds a further A$1,450 per household per year in major cities, an annual impost of some A$14.5 billion on household and government budgets – roughly the same as what the government earns in fuel tax.

If all vehicles were electric, the same distance could be driven with electricity costing less than A$15 billion, because electric motors are more efficient than internal combustion engines (although this is slightly offset by minor grid losses). This would thus deliver a double saving, in terms of both household fuel bills and reduced health costs.

Changing gear

Of course this won’t happen overnight, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The electricity grid will need time to adjust and add extra renewable capacity, as the cost of electric cars comes down and coal power stations get old.

Both economic analysis and recent political experience suggest that encouraging investment in renewable energy is expensive, especially if the only driving factor is the need to cut greenhouse emissions (important though that is).

Here is where electric vehicles can really help the grid. Swapping petrol or diesel cars for electric ones on a large enough scale will increase Australia’s flatlining electricity demand, making it more lucrative for energy suppliers to invest in new generation capacity. Given the increasing cost of gas, and the declining support for coal, on balance most of this demand will be met with new renewable capacity, facilitated by the addition of all these new “batteries you can drive”.

household energy use

A suggested pathway to energy sustainability via electric cars.Adapted from Andrich et al. Inequality as an obstacle to sustainable energy use, Energy for Sustainable Development

Government policy should be to set some high-level national interest objectives, such as maintaining gas for domestic use, and then simply not interfere with the market as much as possible. But political leaders are struggling to keep up with the rapid changes in technology and the market. The pathway to sustainability would have been smoother and faster if governments had looked to WA for a gas reservation policy, not intervened by closing coal, and reduced the subsidies that allowed solar power to grow so disruptively fast (particularly in wealthier households).

Making more effort to promote electric cars would also have allowed a more successful transition to renewable energy and reduced the price shocks being suffered by eastern Australia in areas such as the gas market. Fortunately, it is not too late.

Hitting the road

Investing in a new car is not a decision most households take lightly. This is especially true of electric cars, which are expensive, are not marketed widely, are available in only a limited range of models, and are subject to concerns about charging and range.

Presently, electric vehicles are only affordable for higher-income households, which is ironic given the benefits they would offer lower-income households in terms of fuel budgeting and reduced exposure to urban pollution and health costs.

One-third of an electric vehicle’s cost is batteries, which are rapidly coming down in price. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that by 2022, electric models will cost the same as their petrol counterparts. That will be the point of liftoff for sales.

Meanwhile, electric cars have an undoubted cool factor. Buying one is a powerful way to show you care about your community’s future. Pardon the pun, but just look at the way Tesla founder Elon Musk electrified the debate over South Australia’s electricity problems.

For governments, electric vehicles offer an opportunity to make significant inroads on environmental and health problems, not to mention urban planning and infrastructure. The demand for car batteries could also boost related industries, such as lithium mining, in which Australia is a world leader.

Feeling electric

Simple, inexpensive policies could encourage electric vehicle uptake, such as reducing registration fees and stamp duty on electric cars and allowing them to drive in bus or other priority lanes, while also hiking the tax on diesel cars that cause cancer.

Other emerging transport trends, such as car-sharing clubs and ride-sharing apps, could also hasten the uptake of electric vehicles. Sharing increases the number of kilometres driven by each individual vehicle, meaning that the upfront costs are paid back more rapidly, leaving the owner with a car that is paid off and cheaper to run than a petrol or diesel model.

These facts are not lost on the car manufacturers themselves. But given the potential co-benefits to the electricity grid and community health, we might expect power utilities and health agencies to join the push to actively promote electric vehicles – not to mention politicians who are looking to deal with our energy issues and win a few votes along they way.

 

Mark Andrich, Director, Sustainability and Finance Specialist, University of Western Australia and Jemma Green, Research Fellow, Curtin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

the conversation

 

Dubai to launch futuristic hover-taxis within months

Wednesday, 01 March 2017 09:40 Published in Transport

ehang

 

Flying cars may be one step closer after the news that Dubai will be launching the world’s first hover-taxis as early as July this year. A hover-taxi was on display during the World Government Summit in Dubai earlier this year. Since then, officials from the Dubai Transport Authority have confirmed that the vehicle on display was not just a model and that they aimed to have the hover-taxis operational within months.

The hover vehicle known as the EHang 184 looks almost like an oversized drone and in a way that’s not too inaccurate. The quadcopter is propelled by 8 propellers and is actually made by Chinese drone manufacturer EHang. Each vehicle is around 1.5 metres tall and weighs approximately 200 kilograms. The EHang 184 uses self-driving technology to transport one single passenger at a time. It will be able to reach speeds of 100km/h at an altitude of around 300 metres.

During its operation as a taxi in Dubai, each hover vehicle will make trips from a set list of destinations, up to approximately 16 kilometres away, which will take around 30 minutes. Self-driving technology is used to make the trip simple for passengers. "Passengers don't need to learn how to fly it, they don't need get to a pilot's license," says EHang co-founder Derrick Xiong. "They just need to press a button and then it vertically takes off, flies from point A to point B, and lands."

Those concerned about safety need not worry as the EHang uses a fail-safe system that can sense if there are any faulty or damaged components and automatically itself to avoid danger. A command centre will also monitor every vehicle 24 hours a day and make decisions on whether or not to fly the hover-taxis in bad weather.

The world will be watching the progress of the EHang 184 closely as hover-vehicles present a solution to the ever growing problem of traffic congestion. Whether or not we will see them in Australian skies any time soon remains to be seen. To see the Ehang 184 in action check out the video below.

 

 

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