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Measuring and reducing carbon emission through sustainable life choices

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When something is labelled as “zero carbon,” it indicates that it does not emit carbon at all. Some eco-friendly homes are considered as being zero carbon, for example, because they have their own renewable and clean energy sources, such as solar panels, and hence do not rely on fossil fuels to provide electricity.

 

“Net zero” is synonymous with “carbon neutral.” Because it is still a relatively new phrase, you may hear it used interchangeably with other words when discussing matters related to sustainability. However, as governments and enterprises throughout the world embrace net zero objectives, organisations such as the United Nations and the Science Based Targets Initiative are beginning to agree on a definition.

 

When a company or organisation claims to be “net zero,” it means that they have reduced their emissions as much as possible in accordance with what scientists prescribe.

 

Carbon offsetting reduces CO2 from the environment in both net zero and carbon neutral scenarios. That removal must be permanent and accredited or licenced in order to be considered. Carbon off-setting projects can range from local tree planting to sponsoring projects that empower developing-country families to minimise their reliance on fossil fuels. Reforestation, replanting, and conservation are some examples. Alternative investments can be made in programmes that minimise greenhouse gas emissions, such as improving cattle feed that helps to reduce cow methane output.

 

Is it possible for us to be truly zero carbon in the way we live? We might need to reduce our reliance on modern electronic equipment. Instead of reading digital books on electronic tablets, we could opt to read hardcover books printed with papers that were produced from sustainably-sourced timber. Instead of hopping onto your car for that short trip to the grocer, we could opt to hop onto our skate-scooter or bicycle, maybe skateboard? Instead of chugging at the game-controllers, why not play a game of chess, a good old board game or card game with your spouse, friends or family? 

 

One good first step is to understand how much carbon our lifestyle is generating so that we can better understand the impacts of our activities and make changes accordingly. I discovered a carbon calculator that is made by Singapore’s SP Group and you can use it to measure your carbon emission. 

First of all, I must highlight that from the looks of it, it is just a simple modelling exercise because the owner also did not declare the sources of the database that they use to build the model. It’s more for improving awareness of sustainability and green living and I think it’s good enough for that. The calculator will take you through a series of questions to which you must answer as truthfully as possible, in order to generate the annual carbon emission of your family. 

 

So here’s my test score for carbon emission. 

The results are quite interesting and did not deviate far from my expectations; it stated that my emission is lower than an average Singaporean which I believed to be quite accurate because I really make a lot of conscious effort in my daily activities to be as environmentally-friendly as possible. I am aware of this because in my monthly utility bills, there’s comparison between my monthly utility expenses with the average of all my neighbours’ monthly utility expenses.

 

Most of the time, I consume much less electricity (approximately 30% to 40% less) than my neighbours, maybe because I do not dabble with bitcoin mining and play video games. Maybe, I do not know. But in reality, there really are those who consume a lot of electricity with bitcoin mining operations, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. These people will configure their highly customised bitcoin mining machines by rigging it with super coolants, plus their endless rounds of video and computer games while waiting for the bitcoins to drop into their pockets. Sometimes I accept their invitations to join the online games but I quickly get angry at myself (not at them) for spending my time in this manner.  

 

At first, my eyeballs literally popped out when I heard how much they spent on utility bills given the number of family members in their household. Each of their monthly household utility bills are easily in excess of what I consume in 7 to 8 months. Still, it’s their lifestyles, everyone has the freedom to choose what they want to do. At times, I feel like it’s almost futile for me to explain why it’s prudent and environmentally-friendlier to keep such activities in check because it usually ends up with replies like they are able to afford it so why not? 

 

Other times, I’d try to come from other angles, explaining about how everything is a zero-sum game and also on the point about the limits of resources. At times, I get replies that are similar to the responses I get when I used to explain about the pending extinction of sharks due to shark fins harvesting. For this, I hear replies like, “Oh, the sharks are going to be extinct so we better eat as many sharks’ fins as we can.” Nowadays, what I hear more often is, “Oh the fishes/ salmons might be extinct soon so we better eat as many fishes as we can.” 

 

If things get priced more expensively, they’ll say they can afford it, so what? If you explain that things are going to disappear because of over-consumption, they’ll say it’s better to buy it up as fast as possible. I know how excruciating it can be to respond to such arguments because they usually do not care about the larger environmental picture.  Their perspective is more self-centered and incline towards consumerism. You need to appeal to their thinking to achieve a win-win outcome. 

 

There is however a third approach to convincing people about the detrimental effects of certain human activities on the environment, i.e. to explain how pollution directly impacts the human population. I almost laughed out loud when I saw a published article that explained how pollution is linked to shrinking penises. That article was actually based on the book “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race” by Dr. Shanna H. Swan. I highly recommend that you read this book when you have the chance to do so.  

 

Anyway, back to my carbon emission score, I’ve always thought that I was already doing quite well environmentally, especially when this calculator showed that I scored 5,696kg CO2/year, compared to the average Singaporean’s score of 8,280kg CO2/year.

 

However, it seemed like I had to reduce my emission to less than 3,000kg CO2/year in order to be really environmentally-friendly in their terms. Just my commute alone already comprise 67% of my carbon emission. Even if I reduce my other activities like utility consumption, waste, food consumption and spending habits to literally zero, I still would not be able to go below 3,000kg CO2/year. 

 

The greatest impact will come from changing the way I commute and this could be achieved by switching to public transport, changing to an electric vehicle or riding a bicycle/ skate scooter/ skateboard. 

Alternatively, I could also try to plant trees to offset my carbon emission. In this case, the calculator stated that about 283 rain trees are needed to absorb my annual emission. So, this means that if I planted about 190 trees (67% of my carbon emission), I would be able to offset the carbon emission resulting from my commute. One highlight is that the results will not be immediate because trees take time to grow. I remembered planting two fruit seeds and it took about 5 to 6 years to reach about 3 metres in height. A rain tree also takes about 5 years to produce about 550 kg (1210 lb) of green forage (Staples, Elevitch 2006). So, while I am waiting for the trees to grow fully, I would need to continuously plant more than 190 trees per year to offset the carbon emitted during the wait. 

 

It is certainly faster to achieve results by switching my ride. The question is; is taking public transport or switching to an electric vehicle really good for the environment? Are the alternatives always better? Many bus operators have already started to replace their bus fleets with electric buses. It seemed like it would make even more common sense to use public transport powered by batteries. The media narratives portray electric rides as the all-time saviour and public transport as the carbon neutral choice, combing the two is perceived as a sure-win solution.

 

The question on my mind is, don’t electric vehicles harm our environment in any other ways? What about the metals that’s being used to manufacture the batteries? Do metal mining operations degrade the soil condition in our ground or maybe affect the social lives of those who live around the mining activities? Could it be that we are making choices based on the lesser of two evils principal? If that’s the case, can we push ourselves further to find solutions that elevates us beyond this state?

 

In my recent research on a Southeast Asian country, I discovered that tin mining operations in certain parts of that country have destroyed large tracts of mangroves. In doing so, they have also significantly reduced the population of shrimps in that region. The shrimps depend on the mangroves for food and as natural habitat. Interestingly, the communities living around that area used to make good money by harvesting these shrimps and grinding them with chilli paste to produce spice condiments. 

 

Ever since the tin mining operations started, more people realised that it is more profitable to be involved in tin mining than catching and farming shrimps. The locals know that mining is bad for the environment, but they have no alternative, plus they can get up to $10 a day from tin mining which is double what they would get working in the agriculture industry. Plus, more people from other places also started to travel to this region to find work in the tin mining trade. All these further complicates the sustainability of the local ecosystem. 

 

I know that it is a highly sensitive and complicated issue therefore it is not realistic to simply adopt a “regulate and ban” approach. It involves livelihoods, social issues, business licenses and to a large extent, the votes of the people and all these requires a careful calibration between the public, private and people factions to deliver a balanced solution. Easier said than done, I rest my case.  

 

More importantly, the idea that I want to bring across is that everything is connected, literally a zero sum game therefore it would be prudent to carefully explore alternatives to fossil fuel.

 

References

Pollution Is Shrinking Penises, Scientists Warn. (2021, 03 23). Men’s Health. Retrieved 10 27, 2021, from https://www.menshealth.com/uk/sex/a35911756/small-penis-pollution-fertility-sperm-count/

Staples, G. W., & Elevitch, C. R. (2006). Samanea saman (rain tree). Species profile for Pacific Island agroforestry.

Echo chamber risk and the role of middle management in information flow

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I kept encountering the phrase “Echo Chamber” this week and even though I know what it stands for, I can’t help but to look up its meaning on Wikipedia. On Wiki, it defined Echo Chamber as,

Echo chamber (media) An echo chamber is “an environment where a person only encounters information or opinions that reflect and reinforce their own.” In discussions of news media, an echo chamber refers to situations in which beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a closed system and insulated from rebuttal …

 

Just think about it, recent history is replete with examples of leaders being entrenched in their own interpretations of truth, particularly when circumstances turn against the company. Instead of responding logically to the cautionary signals all around them, they dig further into their echo chamber, listening to the deputies that they’ve surrounded themselves with.

One of the most dangerous aspects of echo chambers is that they lead to a lack of creative ideas, similar viewpoints, and identical concepts. On an organisational level, I seriously think that this can limit our chances for progress and stifle constructive discussion.

Now, with the vast quantity of information available on the internet, I don’t really think that it is difficult to obtain “evidences” that support a committee’s viewpoint. The challenge, and very useful one indeed, is to discover dissident ideas and views that do not correspond to your own point of view and build these insights into our strategy, and this can only be achieved by deliberately seeking out people and groups that are not so similar and also maybe from other industries.

The risk is, deputies or middle management might tend to form committees that comprise people who more or less mirror the views of the head honcho. Importantly, these middle managers represent the company’s culture by encouraging and implementing appropriate beliefs and behavioral patterns throughout the organisation.

Fundamentally, the flow of information in an organisation is also controlled by middle management. They are privy to crucial information and gossips (important too!) and it is up to them to communicate (or not) the critical information to the appropriate supervisors or departments. Failure to surface critical information can sometimes lead to the fall of the leader or worse, the organisation.

Perhaps leaders could also consider to be more purposeful in surrounding themselves with advisers who are competent, logical, confident, and genuine in order to counteract this Echo Chamber risk, otherwise they risk slipping into this fatal communication gap.

One good example would be Nokia; its fall from being the world’s finest mobile phone firm to losing everything by 2013 has become a case study that professors and students in business management classes have examined. Not only did they formed an echo chamber, they also fostered a very toxic work environment. According to a study (Vuori & Huy 2016) with 76 Nokia top and middle managers, engineers and external experts, they discovered the following about Nokia:

  • Nokia was plagued by organisational anxiety at the time;
  • The anxiety in the organisation was rooted in a culture of toxic working environment filled with terrified middle managers;
  • Top executives frequently intimidated middle managers by accusing them of not being ambitious enough to achieve their objectives;
  • Middle management was afraid to reveal the truth for fear of getting sacked;
  • Middle management lied to top management because they believed stating the truth was pointless; top management lacked technical knowledge, which affected how they could judge technology limits during KPI formulation; in comparison, Apple’s top management were all engineers;
  • Middle management were hesitant to openly admit that Symbian, Nokia’s operating system, was inferior;
  • Top executives were terrified of losing investors, suppliers, and consumers if they admitted to Apple’s technological superiority;
  • They were aware that developing a superior operating system capable of competing with Apple’s iOS would take several years; and
  • Rather than committing resources to long-term aims such as building a new operating system, Nokia management chose to create new phone handsets to meet short-term market demands.

Nokia’s demise was precipitated by a series of poor decisions, yet none of the company’s errors were unavoidable. I think that there are several lessons to be drawn from the demise of this technological behemoth.

Reference(s):

Vuori, T. O., & Huy, Q. N. (2016). Distributed Attention and Shared Emotions in the Innovation Process: How Nokia Lost the Smartphone Battle. Administrative Science Quarterly61(1), 9–51.

 

Turning a crisis into an opportunity: Crippling effects of increased level of carbon dioxide and global temperature on hydroelectric power plants in tropics and subtropics regions

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Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh

 

Written by Zeng Han Jun

A recent survey showed that there is a slight shift in people’s interest in favor of renewable energy. According to this survey, governments should consider exerting more influence in raising environmental consciousness and bridging the gap between people’s desires and realistic energy alternatives (Zhang, Abbas,Iqbal, 2021). Popular renewable and clean energy options include hydroelectric, geothermal energy, wind energy, solar energy, etc.

 

By bridging the gap between people’s desires and realistic energy alternatives, the government could realise people’s expectation and also reduce the burden on our environmental ecosystem, but it is also important to note that operationalising, has its fair share of challenges. For example, in the United States, there is general consensus among some people that harnessing wind energy could be one of the solutions to alleviating the energy challenge. Among those who agreed, some have the Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) mindset and do not want any of those power plants near their homes. 

 

Some cited personal health issues and environmental degradation, while others say that the construction will destroy the view from their houses and devalue the properties in the vicinity. All these concerns stand in the way of implementation and of course, I have to agree that these are indeed issues that should be addressed accordingly and dealt with properly. 

 

In the tropics and subtropics regions, we could be witnessing other increasingly challenging issues stemming from global temperature and carbon dioxide increase, its effect on the natural ecosystem and this might possibly disrupt the operations of hydroelectric power plants.  

 

Let me explain why.

 

As the global temperature and carbon dioxide increase, we might discover that it becomes more difficult to maintain biological control on the proliferation of aquatic weeds in many parts of the world (Baso, Coetzee, Ripley, Hill, 2021), more so in the tropics and subtropics. The tropics and subtropics region are located in parts of the world in which the sun is directly overhead at least one day of the year and is found within a band on either side of the equator from 23.5°N, and 23.5°S. These aquatic weeds can grow rapidly to cover the entire surface of lakes and rivers, some even setting deep roots and form strong lateral connections to each other as well. 

 

As mentioned earlier, these growing aquatic weeds might cause operational difficulties for hydroelectric power plants. It could lead to reduced throughput and eventually cause severe blockages. Hydroelectric power plants that are situated in Southeast Asia, would be at the greatest risk. Southeast Asian governments must anticipate these types of obvious problems and develop an integrated and multi-phased roadmap to tackle the upcoming challenges.  

 

So, do not naively assume all types of green are good. Some types of green when left unchecked, can contribute to severe environmental and commercial consequences. 

 

One of the problematic aquatic weeds is the water hyacinth species. This species grows very fast and some even flower under the right conditions. Many in fact think that it is very beautiful.  It  has a rapid growth rate in warm temperatures (Mitan, 2019) and can potentially cover the entire lake if left unchecked. This prevents sunlight from reaching the bottom of the lake and disrupts the lake ecosystem. In other parts of the world, local communities have tried to use pesticides to control aquatic weeds. Some tried to introduce insects such as weevils to feed on the water hyacinth to slow its growth but such methods also have its consequences.

 

Apart from meeting the issue head on, central and local governments could also try to mitigate the risk by transforming/ retrofitting the affected hydroelectric power plants to harness other forms of renewable and clean energy. It is more cost-effective to install alternative renewable energy devices on infrastructures that can already receive, store, transform and transmit electricity. 

 

Also, it is worthwhile to explore tapping on the creativity of the private sector to transform the issue into revenue-generating ideas such as collecting aquatic weeds, processing it and mixing the by-products with polymers to create fabrics that can be used for weaving garments thereby paving way for sustainable fashion. Or, the aquatic weeds could be harvested, processed and strengthened with chemicals to produce furniture thereby giving birth to sustainable furniture. Additionally, the private sector could also explore processing the aquatic weeds into edible food for humans, animal feeds and fertilisers, and export the final products to other countries (Oa, & Cf, 2015).

 

By including additional later stages such as breaking down these final products with pyro technology then harvesting the by-product as fertilisers (Ramirez, Pérez, Flórez, Acelas, 2021), the government, with the help of the private sector would be able to close the loop and further develop the entire idea into a circular economy. This can help to create new jobs, improve the economy and certainly goes well with the media.  

 

There are many ways to tackle the issue. The main enabler is to have a properly designed, integrated and multi-phased roadmap to guide the entire transition. 

 

References

Baso, N. C., Coetzee, J. A., Ripley, B. S., & Hill, M. P. (2021). The effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentration on the biological control of invasive aquatic weeds. Aquatic Botany, 170, 103348. doi:10.1016/j.aquabot.2020.103348

Oa, S., & Cf, O. (2015). Utilization of Treated Duckweed Meal (Lemna pausicostata) as Plant Protein Supplement in African Mud Catfish (Clarias gariepinus) Juvenile Diets. Fisheries and Aquaculture Journal, 06(04). doi:10.4172/2150-3508.1000141

Ramirez, A., Pérez, S., Flórez, E., & Acelas, N. (2021). Utilization of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) rejects as phosphate-rich fertilizer. Journal of Environmental Chemical Engineering, 9(1), 104776. doi:10.1016/j.jece.2020.104776

Zhang, Y., Abbas, M., & Iqbal, W. (2021). Perceptions of GHG emissions and renewable energy sources in Europe, Australia and the USA. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. doi:10.1007/s11356-021-15935-7

Genkii ! says Hi to the World! Hello Everyone!

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After many sleepless nights of staring at the computer, I am happy to announce the birth of Genkii !. Genkii ! is a digital bazaar for consultants, advisors and professional service providers to come together to offer their expertise and services to entrepreneurs, companies and organisations, anytime from all over the world. 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic is still raging and  continues to affect many people’s lives. It is clear that traditional employment practices will no longer have as strong a foothold as before. Many people lost seemingly stable jobs even though they have strong experiences and competent skills. Now, companies also face exceedingly difficult challenges as countries inch forward to opening their economies. 

 

As the economy rebounds, many companies will not be able to grasp the available opportunities because of the lag in talent acquisition/ hiring and also because of how employees’ mindsets are very much different post-Covid. As much as companies are rethinking the #FutureOfWork, employees are also rethinking the #FutureOfLife. Due to some companies’ inability to position themselves strategically for the future with the right talents, many will lose their rankings and find it difficult to retain their competitive advantages moving forward. I expect to see some companies lose their footings entirely and fade away while their competitors race ahead. 

 

Many are discovering work-life balance, and as long as they have the right skills coupled with a growing portfolio of useful works, they are still able to continue to value-add to employers and achieve a good quality of life.

 

On the other hand, some companies are discovering that certain skills are critical to a company’s growth, that’s why they are strategising to recruit those talents and prevent competitors from accessing this pool. 

 

The idea of Genkii ! is to provide a platform for consultants, advisors and professional service providers to continue to provide their expertise during the pandemic, at their own time and from anywhere. People who signed up to the Genkii ! platform will be able to list their expertise at their desired pricing and will be able to make use of our integration with Paypal and Stripe to charge for the services provided. 

 

We want to enable business professionals with the right skills to contribute to the corporate ecosystem and grow their portfolios. We want to help business professionals to succeed and achieve work-life balance.  We want to enable everybody along the entire corporate spectrum to contribute, earn a decent living no matter the situation. 

 

If you are interested, you can also sign up for an account with Genkii ! here. We’ve just integrated Google, Facebook and Linkedin sign ups and logins over the weekend so that the signing up process is a breeze for all! I’ve tested the system and it is good to go!

 

Looking forward to you signing up, listing your expertise and growing your portfolio of works! In the meantime, we will still continue to develop our digital bazaar and will be meeting a series of companies throughout the year to promote the digital bazaar and your services as well!

 

Psss, Genkii ! is still works-in-process and we will be making improvements along the way! Stay tuned for more good highlights.

 

Keep on hustling!

 

Update: All news that are related to Genkii ! have been shifted to this blog.

20 runs – 0.6 rate – 2030

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20 runs of simulation to Year 2030

Average temperature change: 2.535000 Degree Celsius

Observation: Simulation run 16 presented an anomaly scenario. The temperature change in 2030 for that run showed 1.7843573490387437 Degree Celsius with Air Carbon Dioxide concentration at 27 (The second highest record among the 20 runs) and Ocean Carbon Dioxide concentration at 0 (Lowest among 20 runs) and yet there was significant recovery of the Arctic ice.

Stepping up to prepare for possible power outages when our environment becomes colder or hotter with work-from-home arrangements

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Photo by Pixal Bay

 

Written by Zeng Han Jun

As the climate continues to change, some parts of the world will become hotter and other regions will become colder. Combined with an increasing reliance on electronic devices to carry out our work and express our lives, our energy demands can only continue to grow and it will increasingly burden our existing electric grid system. 

 

Compounded with Work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, the matter might become worse, especially during winter/ summer. We have already been through one summer and one winter during this Covid 19 pandemic and already witnessed how it played a role in causing power outages in several regions around the world. Moving forward, we could expect to witness more power outages throughout various parts of the world.  

 

Office and industrial buildings are often located on the most capacious sections of a metropolitan electrical grid.  However, most residential area’s electrical grid system is generally built to support heavy consumption in the early mornings and nights, with hours to cool off throughout the day. Can residential area’s electrical grid system support WFH arrangements and perform at the same level as the electrical grid systems that are located in office areas?

 

Consumption patterns in cities such as New York and California have already shifted as a result of the Covid 19 epidemic, with demand peaking throughout the day. Overall use is already increasing by an average of 7% in New York City apartments (Meinrenken, 2020).

 

 graph of electricity consumption before and during covid-19 pandemic

Source: Columbia University

 

There is no reason to believe that the changes we are seeing in New York City are not happening elsewhere. Where energy loads are predominantly residential and there is no proportionate drop in non-residential load, we should expect overall energy demands to continue to rise, with a higher risk of disruptions to current energy supply and distribution systems.

 

The danger of failure in aging transformers, cables, and other equipment grows when the summer heat and winter cold continue to hit new highs/ lows while heaters or air conditioners remain on throughout the day.

 

There are three things that household should be encouraged to do: 

  1. Do an energy stock take of all the electrical appliances within the household; 
  2. With the new found understanding of the energy consumption patterns, further identify the essential energy usage so that households can quickly make backup plans for those services during times of emergency; and 
  3. Obtain alternative energy sources to tide over the emergency. Renewable energy sources and battery storage  must be able to provide sufficient energy for essential usages. 

 

Even if governments provide temporary reliefs during power outages in face of increasing/ decreasing temperature events , many companies that rely on remote workers in these regions will be affected by the reduced productivity.

 

As WFH arrangements continue, the oldest and most exhausted transformers and transmission equipment may be affected. Reduced commercial demand would jeopardise power companies’ revenues and, as a result, their capacity to replace outdated components in the long run, perhaps leading to widespread breakdowns in the future.

 

Governments must keep anticipating and prepare for possible future events and step in to work with power companies to audit the current electrical grid system. 

 

References

Meinrenken, C. J. (2020, April 24). New Data Suggest COVID-19 Is Shifting the Burden of Energy Costs to Households. Retrieved from  -->

This Month I Learnt: Gel Electrophoresis

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For fun, I decided to commit to learning one new thing per month. Something that is completely out of my knowledge domain. This month, I decided to learn to perform a simulated experiment of a process known as gel electrophoresis. Basically this process is used in clinical chemistry to separate proteins by charge or size and in biochemistry and molecular biology to separate a mixed population of DNA and RNA fragments by length, to estimate the size of DNA and RNA fragments or to separate proteins by charge.

 

 

We used dyes for this experiment. The samples are then transferred to the gel electrophoresis box, segregated by internal wells within the box so that they do not mix. These dyes differ in size, with the yellow dye being the smallest, the blue dye being larger and the purple dye being the largest. 

 

Always remember to balance the test tubes within the micro centrifuge before activating the spin. 

 

An electric field is applied to transport molecules (such as DNA) along the agarose gel. The electric field is made up of a negative charge on one end that pushes molecules through the gel and a positive charge on the other end that pulls molecules through the gel.

 

The charge determines how far the dye migrates in the gel; the purple dye has a greater negative charge per mass than the blue dye. As a result, it migrated farther than the blue dye in the gel, despite being larger in size.

 

By choosing an agarose gel of different concentration, we can also sieve the molecules according to their lengths, the shorter molecules move faster and migrate farther than longer ones because shorter molecules migrate more easily through the pores of the gel. This phenomenon is called sieving. So, it is either sieving by electrical charges or by the length of the molecules. 

15 runs – 0.6 rate – 2030

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15 climate model simulation runs for Year 2030.

Average temp = 2.438667 Degree Celsius

Beneath the Mysterious Canals Of Venice (Narrated by Leonard Nimoy)

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During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Venice, Italy was a major financial and maritime power, as well as a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto. It was also an important centre of commerce, particularly silk, grain, and spice, and of art from the 13th century to the end of the 17th century.

Now, the city is facing issues like sinking city and rising sea-levels. This video about Venice is very interesting but the latest finding showed that its foundations are weakening. Narrated by my favourite Spock actor, Leonard Nimoy.

 

 

Rethinking our electrical grid system and explore alternative sustainable energy sources to complement photovoltaic energy

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Photo by Maegan White

 

Written by Zeng Han Jun

There was a recent debate in South Korea about how solar panels are responsible for deforestation and possibly even linked to forest fires. It is not new. This argument has been going on for more than a decade but the stakes are much higher now. Investments in solar panels have been increasing steadily as energy providers try to diversify their business. Some of the oil companies are throwing significant investments into the solar business. That South Korea government unit acknowledged the report but neither agreed nor disagreed with the findings. However, the unit did share some best practices in solar panel installation, which is mainly about how the solar panels should be sloped during installation. 

 

To be honest, solar energy production in cities is clearly one of the many ways to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and could be a good way to mitigate global warming by lowering Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Although photovoltaic (PV) renewable energy production has increased, questions remain about whether PV panels and PV power plants cause a “photovoltaic heat island” (PVHI) effect, similar to how an increase in ambient temperatures relative to wildlands causes an Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect in cities (Barron-Gafford, Minor, Allen, Cronin, Brooks, Pavao-Zuckerman, 2016). 

 

Cities are fundamentally concretised urban landscapes and the most significant impact of cities on local weather is the UHI effect. Heat islands are urbanised areas with higher temperatures than surrounding areas. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure absorb and re-emit more heat from the sun than natural landscapes such as forests and bodies of water. Urban areas, where these structures are densely packed and greenery is scarce, become hotspots for outlying areas.

 

Some studies have pointed out that PV panels and PV plants change the structure of the landscape, in how incoming energy is reflected back to the atmosphere or absorbed, stored, and reradiated. Energy absorbed by vegetation and surface soils can be released as latent heat in the transition of liquid water to water vapour to the atmosphere through a process known as evapotranspiration (Masson, Bonhomme, Salagnac, Briottet, Lemonsu, 2001). PV kind of disturbs that process. So, a PVHI effect might be caused by a measurable increase in atmospheric warming as a result of a change in the balance of incoming and outgoing energy fluxes caused by the transformation of the landscape.

 

Research on PVHI is still ongoing while more investments are pouring into this domain. On the other spectrum, there are people who are very optimistic about this technology and even suggested using PV panels to pave roads and open space car parks. Their research has shown that PV pavement decreases surface temperature by 3 to 5 °C in summer and generates 11 to 12% less heat output at various climate conditions, all while generating electricity at the same time (Xie, Wang, 2021). 

 

PV technology is very important because we have an abundance of sunlight in most places but still we should not rely too much on a single energy source. It never makes sense to put all eggs into the same basket. Very cliché but I think that there is a lot of sense in that sentence. 

 

Given the current climate change condition, the scientific community still cannot collectively conclude how our environment will turn out in the future. Nobody dares to put a finger to it, especially when it has been discovered that climate models deviates a fair bit from real world conditions. To be fair, it is not easy to build a climate model because the climatic conditions are so complex, our mathematical models are good but there is the possibility that the math might not perform as expected when more factors come into play.  

 

Apart from using mathematics to forecast possible scenarios, people have also turned to observation of weather conditions on nearby planets as an indication of how Earth might turn out to be in the future. A lot of studies were performed on planet Venus in the 70s and 80s? Now, the people’s attention has shifted somewhat to the planet Mars but the scientific community are still onto the planet Venus though. Many within the scientific community agree that the study of the planet Venus could be one of the keys to understanding planet Earth’s possible future. 

 

First thing first, planet Venus looks beautiful from a distance but it is hellish within the planet’s  atmosphere, with surface temperatures in excess of 400 °C. Space probes sent to scout the planet, melted in an hour or two upon entering into its atmosphere. All the water had disappeared. An explanation stated that the water has broken down and the hydrogen escaped into space. Carbon dioxide and sulphuric acid are in excess throughout the planet. Quite literally a burning hell in our part of the universe. 

 

Some postulated that Venus used to be like Earth but later experienced a greenhouse effect. It then escalated into a runaway greenhouse effect. A runaway greenhouse effect, simply explained, is when there are too much greenhouse gases (usually water vapour) in the atmosphere which results in an increasing amount of heat trapped within the planet. The runaway greenhouse effect is most often associated with water vapour as the condensable GHG. In our case, the water vapour could reach the upper space limit of our planet Earth and escapes into space, resulting in a dried-up planet. This may have happened in the early history of Venus.

 

In the meantime, sea level will still continue to rise, for centuries to come. Many studies have shown that even if human-caused carbon dioxide emissions were to completely stop, the associated atmospheric warming and sea-level rise would continue for more than 1,000 years. These effects are caused in part by the residence time of carbon dioxide. The greenhouse gas can continue to stay in the atmosphere for a long time after it is emitted by industrial processes (NASA, 2017).

 

Flooding will continue to plague low-lying or coastal cities therefore there is a strong need to rethink urban planning and the grid system. Places with underground utility cables must reimagine how they deliver energy to houses and workplaces. Rising temperature might affect the insulation covers of the utility cables, exposing electrical wires to potential flood situations thereby causing danger to nearby humans/ animals and also pose obstacles to delivering energy to places beyond the power plant. 

 

We could explore siting power plants on top of individual buildings with cables delivering energy from the rooftop to respective units below. PV panels can continue to work at lower efficiency when clouds become denser and when the humidity increases. Still, we must be prepared to obtain energy from alternative sustainable energy sources, to augment the reduced output of PV power plants. 

 

Cities without alternative energy options will be at the greatest risk. Some of these cities are unable to harness renewable energy options like wind and hydro energy. As such, these cities must quickly pay more attention to less popular but emerging energy possibilities like hygroelectricity (converting humidity to electricity), piezoelectricity (obtaining electricity from crystals, dry bones or similar materials), etc. 

 

Last month, a Japanese team managed to successfully carry out an hygroelectricity experiment to power a very small motor (Komazaki, Kanazawa, Nobeshima, Hirama, Watanabe, Suemori, Uemura, 2021). I feel very encouraged by the results of their experiment. Even though the electricity output is very small compared to what PV panels can achieve, I feel that there is a lot of potential in scaling up this technology. The hygroelectricity generator could be constructed into a panel but mounted on external walls of buildings. Of course, there are still a lot of challenges ahead for this technology but I see some potential too. 

 

In fact, we must actively think out of the box (Very cliché, I know. We should really just do away with the box) and explore different alternative energy sources. There are significant advances in harnessing energy from sound (vibrations), heat (not geothermal), radioactivity, etc and we should reimagine how different energy sources could be wired up to a single battery station that delivers electricity to a localised building so that services could sustain even in the event of an intense and persistent flood. Of course, this is just a suggestion and there are many other ways to go about it too but first, we need to spark more conversations on this issue. 

 

References

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Aggarwal, V. (2021, May 28). How Much Energy Does A Solar Panel Produce?: EnergySage. Retrieved from https://news.energysage.com/what-is-the-…

 

Average monthly humidity in Singapore, Singapore. (1970, July 30). Retrieved from https://weather-and-climate.com/average-…

 

Barron-Gafford, G. A., Minor, R. L., Allen, N. A., Cronin, A. D., Brooks, A. E., & Pavao-Zuckerman, M. A. (2016, October 13). The Photovoltaic Heat Island Effect: Larger solar power plants increase local temperatures. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/srep3507…

 

Evaluation of Electric Energy Generation from Sound Energy Using Piezoelectric Actuator. (2016). International Journal of Science and Research (IJSR), 5(1), 218-225. doi:10.21275/v5i1.nov152677

 

First Real Images Of Venus – What Have We Discovered? (2020, December 12). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fbdojp9L…

 

Hygroelectricity. (2020, June 03). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hygroelect…

 

Komazaki, Y., Kanazawa, K., Nobeshima, T., Hirama, H., Watanabe, Y., Suemori, K., & Uemura, S. (2021). Energy harvesting by ambient humidity variation with continuous milliampere current output and energy storage. Sustainable Energy & Fuels, 5(14), 3570-3577. doi:10.1039/d1se00562f

 

Masson, V., Bonhomme, M., Salagnac, J., Briottet, X., & Lemonsu, A. (0001, January 01). Solar panels reduce both global warming and urban heat island. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10….

 

Runaway greenhouse effect. (2021, July 31). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runaway_gr…

 

Short-lived greenhouse gases cause centuries of sea-level rise – Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. (2017, January 13). Retrieved from https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2533/short…

 

Xie, P., & Wang, H. (2021). Potential benefit of photovoltaic pavement for mitigation of urban heat island effect. Applied Thermal Engineering, 191, 116883. doi:10.1016/j.applthermaleng.2021.116883