Author: Inga Vesper

About Inga Vesper

Inga Vesper is a London-based freelance journalist specialising in science, climate and energy reporting. She is global news and features editor at scidev.net.

Bigger isn’t better for energy savings

Energy efficiency cars

The desire for more spacious cars and houses is cancelling out energy savings made by environmentally friendly improvements to heating and transport.

LONDON, 19 May, 2017 Advances made in the energy efficiency of heating and transport are lost because of people’s desire to have bigger houses and cars, two research papers have shown.

Researchers have found that houses in England, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand are getting bigger as people want more space and extra rooms. This means there is more air to be heated, destroying any climate benefits gained by better heating systems and more efficient insulation, they say.

The study, published in ScienceDirect, found that most house buyers struggled to understand the actual amount of energy their new home would use. Instead, they took information on energy efficiency as a yardstick for consumption.

This means house-owners may think their new, efficient home uses little energy, when in fact it may use more than their neighbours older, smaller houses, says Helen Viggers, a researcher at the public health department of the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, and a co-author of the paper.

Implicit trade-off

There is general knowledge in the public that both house sizes and insulation standards have increased, and a feeling that both of these are probably ‘good things’,” she told the Climate News Network. “But there is less understanding of the implicit trade-off in energy requirements with increasing house size.”

Viggers is critical of measuring energy usage by square metre, as this “immediately hides [the fact] that larger houses use more energy than smaller ones”.

The New Zealand team also found that larger, stand-alone dwellings featured more wasted” space – such as large lobbies, corner space and little-used hallways. They were designed in a less energy-efficient way than multi-home buildings or small houses.

The findings of the study mirror a 2016 paper by a team of scientists from the University of Barcelona in Spain. They compared Spanish car-buying habits with advances in the energy efficiency of engines, and found that, instead of actually saving energy, people would buy bigger and faster cars.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption,
people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint
while thinking they are helping the environment

The Spanish researchers found that fuel efficiency would have improved by 32% and 40% for petrol and diesel cars respectively, if the cars had stayed the same size. However, they learned that car weight increased by 31% for petrol cars and 26% for diesel between 1988 and 2015, meaning modern cars actually use more fuel than those from three decades ago, despite being more energy efficient.

The New Zealand researchers admitted they did not know whether increases in efficiency directly led to larger-sized consumer objects, or whether other factors influenced people’s buying decisions. But such consumer behaviour has dire consequences for the environment, both teams warn in their papers.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption, people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint while thinking they are helping the environment, Viggers says.

Attractive alternatives

She and her colleagues say policymakers and homebuilders need to come up with better, more attractive smaller homes, and should design some “stunningly good” smaller dwellings.

They should make the maximum use of the space available, have appropriate room sizes and be aesthetically pleasing,” says Viggers, “so that buyers can see an alternative that might work just as well as a larger dwelling for their family.”

She also supports the creation of mandatory energy certificates that take into account actual consumption, and not just heating efficiency, which would allow those moving into a new home to “make a more informed decision about what that dwelling is worth”.

Thermal modelling earlier in the design process also forces the designer and builder to explicitly choose the level of energy efficiency they want, and therefore the trade-offs they have to make,” she says. Climate News Network

The desire for more spacious cars and houses is cancelling out energy savings made by environmentally friendly improvements to heating and transport.

LONDON, 19 May, 2017 Advances made in the energy efficiency of heating and transport are lost because of people’s desire to have bigger houses and cars, two research papers have shown.

Researchers have found that houses in England, Australia, Canada, the US and New Zealand are getting bigger as people want more space and extra rooms. This means there is more air to be heated, destroying any climate benefits gained by better heating systems and more efficient insulation, they say.

The study, published in ScienceDirect, found that most house buyers struggled to understand the actual amount of energy their new home would use. Instead, they took information on energy efficiency as a yardstick for consumption.

This means house-owners may think their new, efficient home uses little energy, when in fact it may use more than their neighbours older, smaller houses, says Helen Viggers, a researcher at the public health department of the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand, and a co-author of the paper.

Implicit trade-off

There is general knowledge in the public that both house sizes and insulation standards have increased, and a feeling that both of these are probably ‘good things’,” she told the Climate News Network. “But there is less understanding of the implicit trade-off in energy requirements with increasing house size.”

Viggers is critical of measuring energy usage by square metre, as this “immediately hides [the fact] that larger houses use more energy than smaller ones”.

The New Zealand team also found that larger, stand-alone dwellings featured more wasted” space – such as large lobbies, corner space and little-used hallways. They were designed in a less energy-efficient way than multi-home buildings or small houses.

The findings of the study mirror a 2016 paper by a team of scientists from the University of Barcelona in Spain. They compared Spanish car-buying habits with advances in the energy efficiency of engines, and found that, instead of actually saving energy, people would buy bigger and faster cars.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption,
people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint
while thinking they are helping the environment

The Spanish researchers found that fuel efficiency would have improved by 32% and 40% for petrol and diesel cars respectively, if the cars had stayed the same size. However, they learned that car weight increased by 31% for petrol cars and 26% for diesel between 1988 and 2015, meaning modern cars actually use more fuel than those from three decades ago, despite being more energy efficient.

The New Zealand researchers admitted they did not know whether increases in efficiency directly led to larger-sized consumer objects, or whether other factors influenced people’s buying decisions. But such consumer behaviour has dire consequences for the environment, both teams warn in their papers.

With little awareness of actual energy consumption, people involuntarily increase their carbon footprint while thinking they are helping the environment, Viggers says.

Attractive alternatives

She and her colleagues say policymakers and homebuilders need to come up with better, more attractive smaller homes, and should design some “stunningly good” smaller dwellings.

They should make the maximum use of the space available, have appropriate room sizes and be aesthetically pleasing,” says Viggers, “so that buyers can see an alternative that might work just as well as a larger dwelling for their family.”

She also supports the creation of mandatory energy certificates that take into account actual consumption, and not just heating efficiency, which would allow those moving into a new home to “make a more informed decision about what that dwelling is worth”.

Thermal modelling earlier in the design process also forces the designer and builder to explicitly choose the level of energy efficiency they want, and therefore the trade-offs they have to make,” she says. Climate News Network

Eyes show that stress reduces climate concern

stress

An eye-tracking study reveals that stress levels affect how much attention people pay to climate change imagery, even if they are supportive of environmental issues.

LONDON, 14 May, 2017   People who are stressed pay less attention to climate change images and struggle to be receptive to messages about its impact, a study has found.

Researchers from Switzerland used eye tracking to measure how much attention a group of test subjects paid to images illustrating climate change. The goal of the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, was to find out how everyday stress affects the attention that people pay to global warming, even when generally they  have a pro-environment stance.

“The results of our study suggest that individuals might be more receptive if they are in a relaxed and unpreoccupied state,” says Silja Sollberger, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s department of psychology.

Based on their answers to a questionnaire, 71 men were split into two groups with either high or low environmental interest. They were then randomly put into stressful or control conditions and shown images related to climate change, alongside other negative images.

Eye movements

By measuring the eye movements of the test subjects, the scientists, from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, found that all the men, regardless of their environmental stance, paid less attention to negative imagery when stressed. This was true even for those men who were interested in climate change and considered themselves pro-environment.

The behaviour of the test subjects suggests that governments and non-profit organisations running climate change awareness campaigns should think carefully about where and when they broadcast their message.

“It might be more successful to place climate change posters in recreational places rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station”

“Climate campaigns might benefit from considering the mental state of target individuals at the time they are being approached,” says Sollberger.

“For example, it might be more successful to place climate change posters or to ask people for donations in recreational places – like parks, zoos and cinemas – and on weekends, rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station or employees during their lunch break.”

Climate change education

These findings are important, as budgets to raise awareness of climate change and educate people about its consequences are notoriously low.

Unesco, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has just $2 million a year to spend on climate change education, while the EU has a €63 million budget for climate action between 2014 and 2020. This compares with around $115 million a year spent by the fossil fuel industry on lobbying against climate change initiatives.

In their paper, the researchers admit that their selection of participant groups had an unintentional consequence. Men assigned to the unstressful conditions had on average higher incomes than those who were assigned to the stressed group. They wrote that low incomes contribute to chronic stress, which might exacerbate the effects of artificial stress placed on the candidates.

However, the researchers explain that the effects of stress on climate change interest observed in the study apply only to individuals. They say it is not possible to draw conclusions from their work about climate change attention in societies plagued by stress factors such as war or poverty.

Sollberger says that previous research has shown little difference between poor and rich countries in people’s attention to climate change. In fact, people living in poorer countries experience the impact of climate change much more strongly than those living elsewhere, which has a positive influence on their interest in the topic.

“Residents of poorer countries generally tend to be just as concerned about the environment, or more so, than residents of wealthier countries,” says Sollberger. – Climate News Network

An eye-tracking study reveals that stress levels affect how much attention people pay to climate change imagery, even if they are supportive of environmental issues.

LONDON, 14 May, 2017   People who are stressed pay less attention to climate change images and struggle to be receptive to messages about its impact, a study has found.

Researchers from Switzerland used eye tracking to measure how much attention a group of test subjects paid to images illustrating climate change. The goal of the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, was to find out how everyday stress affects the attention that people pay to global warming, even when generally they  have a pro-environment stance.

“The results of our study suggest that individuals might be more receptive if they are in a relaxed and unpreoccupied state,” says Silja Sollberger, a researcher at the University of Zurich’s department of psychology.

Based on their answers to a questionnaire, 71 men were split into two groups with either high or low environmental interest. They were then randomly put into stressful or control conditions and shown images related to climate change, alongside other negative images.

Eye movements

By measuring the eye movements of the test subjects, the scientists, from the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, found that all the men, regardless of their environmental stance, paid less attention to negative imagery when stressed. This was true even for those men who were interested in climate change and considered themselves pro-environment.

The behaviour of the test subjects suggests that governments and non-profit organisations running climate change awareness campaigns should think carefully about where and when they broadcast their message.

“It might be more successful to place climate change posters in recreational places rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station”

“Climate campaigns might benefit from considering the mental state of target individuals at the time they are being approached,” says Sollberger.

“For example, it might be more successful to place climate change posters or to ask people for donations in recreational places – like parks, zoos and cinemas – and on weekends, rather than targeting commuters at a busy train station or employees during their lunch break.”

Climate change education

These findings are important, as budgets to raise awareness of climate change and educate people about its consequences are notoriously low.

Unesco, the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, has just $2 million a year to spend on climate change education, while the EU has a €63 million budget for climate action between 2014 and 2020. This compares with around $115 million a year spent by the fossil fuel industry on lobbying against climate change initiatives.

In their paper, the researchers admit that their selection of participant groups had an unintentional consequence. Men assigned to the unstressful conditions had on average higher incomes than those who were assigned to the stressed group. They wrote that low incomes contribute to chronic stress, which might exacerbate the effects of artificial stress placed on the candidates.

However, the researchers explain that the effects of stress on climate change interest observed in the study apply only to individuals. They say it is not possible to draw conclusions from their work about climate change attention in societies plagued by stress factors such as war or poverty.

Sollberger says that previous research has shown little difference between poor and rich countries in people’s attention to climate change. In fact, people living in poorer countries experience the impact of climate change much more strongly than those living elsewhere, which has a positive influence on their interest in the topic.

“Residents of poorer countries generally tend to be just as concerned about the environment, or more so, than residents of wealthier countries,” says Sollberger. – Climate News Network

Climate impact means uneven UK wind power costs

London and south-east Britain face being the losers as climate change exerts a regional impact on UK wind power costs, researchers say. 

LONDON, 12 February, 2017 – Varying wind patterns caused by climate change could affect the cost of UK wind power, with northern Britain paying less than the south, a research paper suggests.

A simulation of changing wind resources by 2100 has found that the UK’s capacity for generating wind power will become more changeable, with some regions benefitting and others losing out. The year-on-year variation of wind power capacity will increase, the authors say.

The paper looked at what climate change will do to wind energy’s levelled cost of electricity (LCOE), the average value of one unit of power over the whole lifespan of the power source.

Across the UK, this cost is affected by the physical environment around the turbines and its impact on wind patterns, explains Iain Staffell, a researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London and co-author of the paper.

“An example would be the vegetation cover and topography, which affect how wind speeds change with height above ground,” he says. “Rougher surfaces create more drag, lower wind speeds and thus result in a higher cost.”

Policy implications

The researchers combined climate data sets to model changes in ground cover and what this would do to wind speed and availability in the UK. The simulation used by the researchers showed that LCOE is likely to rise in Wales and most of England, while it could fall in Scotland and over the North Sea.

The authors say climate change’s impact on wind patterns should inform government policy on renewable energy. For example, investors could be asked to provide better climate change adaptation plans for planned facilities under the Strategic Environmental Assessment framework or the environmental impact assessment for infrastructure.

“Companies are still finding their feet with how to analyse the impacts that climate change may have,” says Staffell.

The issue of greater variation in wind is also important, as it could have an impact on the cost of electricity produced by wind farms. Onshore wind farms in Britain run at an average of 26% of their full capacity, but this rises to 36% at offshore plants.

In 2013 the government put in place so-called strike prices for electricity, in order to protect consumers from sudden price hikes. This system – under which the government refunds power producers if market prices are below the strike price, but forces them to pay the balance if their energy is more expensive – might have to be revised under greater wind variation.

“ . . . The greatest wind resource is generally found offshore and the further north and west you go”

Staffell says that, if the LCOE increases, investing in wind farms could become less economically attractive. However, “the reverse is also true if costs decrease and investment increases,” he adds.

The results, published in the journal Renewable Energy, are from a single run of the model, and the researchers are keen to do a more in-depth study before making further policy recommendations.

They also say that choosing the right site for wind power remains paramount, as the impact of climate change on turbine efficiency is still less than the impact of a bad site decision.

Meanwhile they suggest looking at the energy grid to ensure that power can be easily transferred from the best wind power locations to where it is most needed. Staffell highlights the “spatial mismatch” of the national grid, which is at its most developed in the large population centres of south-east Britain.

“[But] the greatest wind resource is generally found offshore and the further north and west you go,” he says. – Climate News Network

London and south-east Britain face being the losers as climate change exerts a regional impact on UK wind power costs, researchers say. 

LONDON, 12 February, 2017 – Varying wind patterns caused by climate change could affect the cost of UK wind power, with northern Britain paying less than the south, a research paper suggests.

A simulation of changing wind resources by 2100 has found that the UK’s capacity for generating wind power will become more changeable, with some regions benefitting and others losing out. The year-on-year variation of wind power capacity will increase, the authors say.

The paper looked at what climate change will do to wind energy’s levelled cost of electricity (LCOE), the average value of one unit of power over the whole lifespan of the power source.

Across the UK, this cost is affected by the physical environment around the turbines and its impact on wind patterns, explains Iain Staffell, a researcher at the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London and co-author of the paper.

“An example would be the vegetation cover and topography, which affect how wind speeds change with height above ground,” he says. “Rougher surfaces create more drag, lower wind speeds and thus result in a higher cost.”

Policy implications

The researchers combined climate data sets to model changes in ground cover and what this would do to wind speed and availability in the UK. The simulation used by the researchers showed that LCOE is likely to rise in Wales and most of England, while it could fall in Scotland and over the North Sea.

The authors say climate change’s impact on wind patterns should inform government policy on renewable energy. For example, investors could be asked to provide better climate change adaptation plans for planned facilities under the Strategic Environmental Assessment framework or the environmental impact assessment for infrastructure.

“Companies are still finding their feet with how to analyse the impacts that climate change may have,” says Staffell.

The issue of greater variation in wind is also important, as it could have an impact on the cost of electricity produced by wind farms. Onshore wind farms in Britain run at an average of 26% of their full capacity, but this rises to 36% at offshore plants.

In 2013 the government put in place so-called strike prices for electricity, in order to protect consumers from sudden price hikes. This system – under which the government refunds power producers if market prices are below the strike price, but forces them to pay the balance if their energy is more expensive – might have to be revised under greater wind variation.

“ . . . The greatest wind resource is generally found offshore and the further north and west you go”

Staffell says that, if the LCOE increases, investing in wind farms could become less economically attractive. However, “the reverse is also true if costs decrease and investment increases,” he adds.

The results, published in the journal Renewable Energy, are from a single run of the model, and the researchers are keen to do a more in-depth study before making further policy recommendations.

They also say that choosing the right site for wind power remains paramount, as the impact of climate change on turbine efficiency is still less than the impact of a bad site decision.

Meanwhile they suggest looking at the energy grid to ensure that power can be easily transferred from the best wind power locations to where it is most needed. Staffell highlights the “spatial mismatch” of the national grid, which is at its most developed in the large population centres of south-east Britain.

“[But] the greatest wind resource is generally found offshore and the further north and west you go,” he says. – Climate News Network

EU climate spending criticised by auditors

EC parliament climate

The EU is billions of euros below its climate target and there are insufficient checks on where much of the €1 trillion budget is going.

LONDON, November 30, 2016 – The European Union could miss its climate spending targets due to fragmented funding and inflated numbers, warns the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Although in percentage terms the figures look small, the fact that the total budget is €1 trillion means a great deal of money is being spent on purposes other than mitigating or adapting to climate change.

A report by the ECA reveals that some of the funds labelled climate adaptation were “not proven” to be that. If other criteria were used, the actual spending on climate-related issues in fisheries and agriculture alone would be €33 billion less than estimated.

The report says the EU will spend just under 19% of its budget on climate-related activities by 2020, short of the union’s 20% spending goal. Between 2014 and 2016, EU climate spending hovered at around 17.6% of the budget, but did not increase significantly, the auditors found. Spending was meant to have reached 19.7% of the total budget by 2017.

With the EU budget for 2014-2020 standing at just over €1 trillion, the projected loss of climate investment could be in the billions.

Fragmentation

One reason for missing the target is the fragmentation of EU climate spending, the auditors say. Instead of pooling the funding into one climate action pot, the European Commission decided to channel money from different streams towards climate activities, leaving it up to the respective fund managers to decide how this would be done.

Sources of climate funding include fisheries, farming and technology development. In these areas there has been “no significant shift towards climate action and not all potential opportunities for financing climate-related action have been fully explored”, says the ECA.

Markus Trilling, finance policy coordinator at the watchdog Climate Action Network, thinks the EU needs better management of its spending. “Large parts of the funding to European farmers, both direct payments and under rural development programmes, are labelled climate adaption, but positive environmental impact is not proven,” he says.

Another reason behind the shortfall identified by the auditors in their 22 November report is the European Commission’s habit of using planned expenses, which, the report says, do not always mirror actual spending.

“The European Commission should immediately
improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’
methodology to get a more accurate picture of the
volume and actual impact of climate action spending”

However, a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s climate action directorate says efforts to ramp up climate activities are under way, and that the EU is still broadly on track to meet the target by 2020. “We have already managed to integrate climate-related spending into our policy and this is an achievement of its own,” she told Climate News Network.

Such efforts, however, have not extended to all parts of the climate action budget. Horizon 2020, the EU’s research programme, spends only 24% of funds on climate-related work, while its target is set at 35%, the auditors reveal.

Furthermore, they say that the EU lacked a specific plan as to how it would ensure programmes that have fallen behind will catch up. Spending on climate action would have to increase by 22% every year until 2020 for the target to be met, the report found. “Progress has been made, but in key spending areas it is largely business as usual,” says Phil Wynn Owen, the auditor who oversaw the compilation of the report.

Climate tracking

In addition, the EU’s efforts to track climate spending are poor, the auditors say. If the commission used what the court deems “internationally established methodologies”, such as those used by the OECD, actual climate spending under the agriculture and fisheries heading would be around €33 billion less than currently estimated.

“The European Commission should immediately improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’ methodology to get a more accurate picture about the volume and actual impact of climate action spending,” says Trilling.

The EU’s 20% spending promise is a vital contribution to meeting the UN emission reduction targets set out for its member states. According to Trilling, the EU cannot maintain its aspirations to lead on the Paris Agreement if spending is not ramped up in time to meet the promise. To be a climate action leader, “the whole EU budget has to be 100% climate-proof”, he says. – Climate News Network

The EU is billions of euros below its climate target and there are insufficient checks on where much of the €1 trillion budget is going.

LONDON, November 30, 2016 – The European Union could miss its climate spending targets due to fragmented funding and inflated numbers, warns the European Court of Auditors (ECA).

Although in percentage terms the figures look small, the fact that the total budget is €1 trillion means a great deal of money is being spent on purposes other than mitigating or adapting to climate change.

A report by the ECA reveals that some of the funds labelled climate adaptation were “not proven” to be that. If other criteria were used, the actual spending on climate-related issues in fisheries and agriculture alone would be €33 billion less than estimated.

The report says the EU will spend just under 19% of its budget on climate-related activities by 2020, short of the union’s 20% spending goal. Between 2014 and 2016, EU climate spending hovered at around 17.6% of the budget, but did not increase significantly, the auditors found. Spending was meant to have reached 19.7% of the total budget by 2017.

With the EU budget for 2014-2020 standing at just over €1 trillion, the projected loss of climate investment could be in the billions.

Fragmentation

One reason for missing the target is the fragmentation of EU climate spending, the auditors say. Instead of pooling the funding into one climate action pot, the European Commission decided to channel money from different streams towards climate activities, leaving it up to the respective fund managers to decide how this would be done.

Sources of climate funding include fisheries, farming and technology development. In these areas there has been “no significant shift towards climate action and not all potential opportunities for financing climate-related action have been fully explored”, says the ECA.

Markus Trilling, finance policy coordinator at the watchdog Climate Action Network, thinks the EU needs better management of its spending. “Large parts of the funding to European farmers, both direct payments and under rural development programmes, are labelled climate adaption, but positive environmental impact is not proven,” he says.

Another reason behind the shortfall identified by the auditors in their 22 November report is the European Commission’s habit of using planned expenses, which, the report says, do not always mirror actual spending.

“The European Commission should immediately
improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’
methodology to get a more accurate picture of the
volume and actual impact of climate action spending”

However, a spokeswoman for the European Commission’s climate action directorate says efforts to ramp up climate activities are under way, and that the EU is still broadly on track to meet the target by 2020. “We have already managed to integrate climate-related spending into our policy and this is an achievement of its own,” she told Climate News Network.

Such efforts, however, have not extended to all parts of the climate action budget. Horizon 2020, the EU’s research programme, spends only 24% of funds on climate-related work, while its target is set at 35%, the auditors reveal.

Furthermore, they say that the EU lacked a specific plan as to how it would ensure programmes that have fallen behind will catch up. Spending on climate action would have to increase by 22% every year until 2020 for the target to be met, the report found. “Progress has been made, but in key spending areas it is largely business as usual,” says Phil Wynn Owen, the auditor who oversaw the compilation of the report.

Climate tracking

In addition, the EU’s efforts to track climate spending are poor, the auditors say. If the commission used what the court deems “internationally established methodologies”, such as those used by the OECD, actual climate spending under the agriculture and fisheries heading would be around €33 billion less than currently estimated.

“The European Commission should immediately improve its so-called ‘climate action tracking’ methodology to get a more accurate picture about the volume and actual impact of climate action spending,” says Trilling.

The EU’s 20% spending promise is a vital contribution to meeting the UN emission reduction targets set out for its member states. According to Trilling, the EU cannot maintain its aspirations to lead on the Paris Agreement if spending is not ramped up in time to meet the promise. To be a climate action leader, “the whole EU budget has to be 100% climate-proof”, he says. – Climate News Network