~ Archive for Sustainable urban development ~

Quick thoughts about 2021 and moving forward

0

Like many, I left 2021 with a lot of thoughts but I’ll try to summarise. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the main things that keeps me awake at night. I don’t think that AI is going to reach the intelligence level of humans yet, but at the current level of development, it certainly has the potential to replace a lot of people in their jobs. 

 

Many organisations employ roles that involve retrieving, processing and sending information. Any processes that involve digital data, are at risk of being replaced by AI. At the moment, some of the latest startups are able to take on work that used to be done by a much larger company. 

 

As company structures become leaner, some say that the gap between the top management and the workers will become greater. On the other hand, I think it’s going to be closer. I think that the coming period will be very testing for top management. This will be especially so for management that thrived on the old management models.

 

The availability of AI tools, freely available knowledge on the web and a workforce that’s more educated than ever before, will equalise the playing field. The coming generation will be drastically different from the earlier generation. I’ve already witnessed children as young as five years old, doing simple computer programming, producing videos, discussing in detail about the human body’s anatomy and its functions, etc. Imagine what they can achieve in the future.

 

The workers of the next generation will increasingly challenge their seniors and supervisors, believing themselves to be equal if not better. Leaders will no longer be able to rely adequately on past experiences or knowledge to secure their positions. The younger generation, with the help of AI tools and internet hive mind, will only measure success according to current results. 

 

I’m guessing that in the mid to longer term, different types of company structures might become popular. One possibility could be in the form of cooperatives. Cooperatives are formed on the principle of participatory governance, and its structure encourages the sharing of resources among members and a democratic style of management. This form of enterprise might become more popular when more power shifts towards content creators, professional service providers and original thinkers. 

 

Chasing after money is outdated. The trend right now is for money to chase after original contents. Copycats will be second class to original thinkers. In the increasingly digital age, it’s only going to be easier to sieve out the original thinkers from the copycats and blockchain technology could be a huge part of that movement. If you remembered, BMW wasn’t a top car maker until it decided on the strategy to be original and cutting-edge. The same will apply to companies and maybe even countries. Money will chase after the original thinkers. 

 

Places that rely on immigrants to grow their economies will experience immense pressures. Incentives to work overseas will diminish when work-from-anywhere arrangement becomes common. Cryptocurrency might make it worse.  If any one of the cryptocurrencies becomes the common standard for global transactions, then why the need for the British Pounds or the US Dollars? The concept of growing the economy with immigrants will become outdated.  

 

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) trends will also destabilise many companies, to the point that some might no longer be able to carry on with their businesses. The same fate will fall on some of the companies in both developed and developing countries. Sustainability of business will depend on the willingness to drive operational and contractual transformation. 

 

All these trends, together with the development of blockchain technology might affect the relevancy of today’s government models. The current government models are already facing immense pressure of being relevant in the face of a changing landscape. Reinvention for relevancy is needed more than ever. Creativity plus vision for the future is critical to charting pathways. 

 

Anyway, I think it’s going to be very exciting in the future. I can’t wait to witness how the technology of the future will shape the next episodes. I think that the future is going to be exciting for problem-solvers.

How climate change could bring humans and animals closer, and intensify the spread of zoonotic diseases

0

Climate change is changing the natural behaviour of many plants, animals and insects, and this actually has major implications on the human population as well. Studies are showing that due to climate change, the dry regions will become drier and the wet regions will become wetter. 

Overall, most of the places around Earth are steadily heating up and some places are at risk of running out of water. Based on new data inputs from the natural environment, climate models’ results are slowly converging to roughly about the same prediction outcomes as to where the liveable locations are on Earth. Even the birds have begun to change their migration patterns in response to climate change.

This is a serious concern because firstly, cities are going to be denser as more people start to move into urban areas. Secondly, new urban environments are going to sprout up in places where it is going to be more liveable and less affected by climate change. Thirdly, animals might also seek out the same liveable spaces to ensure their livelihoods. 

Animals will want to seek out places where they can find food, water and safe living spaces. When forest area reduces, there is a high possibility for the animals to forage beyond natural greenery. Inevitably, we could eventually find that we might have to live even closer to the animal kingdom than we previously thought.  

City people have poor animal husbandry practices, if any at all. Combined with high density living in urban areas, the social distance between humans and humans, also animals and humans, could only get less and less as the years go by. We are being led by our nose into a future whereby the spread of zoonotic diseases will only intensify. 

I was running through several climate models and showed particular interest in tying the results to the population density model. Just take a brief look at the following visualisations. 

The density of the blue spots is an indication of the population density of any country. If you look at the visualisations that are presented for Jarkarta, Indonesia, it looks like it could do well with some decentralisation. Indonesia has a lot of land spaces (white areas) but everyone chooses to congregate in Jakarta. 

The Indonesians made their choices which I am sure are certainly based on practical reasons but there is a serious need for decentralisation. The density of the red spot indicates hyper densification and West Jakarta is growing steadily to match the likes of Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. 

These cities are real living proofs to how dense a living space can become. 

Just for information, a study found that at least 500,000 species of mammal virus are estimated to have the potential to spread in human populations, but the vast majority are currently circulating in wildlife, largely undescribed and undetected by disease outbreak surveillance (Carlson, Zipfel, Garnier, Bansal, 2019). Birds can also be carriers of diseases that could harm humans. Now, there is a growing body of evidence and research also showing that bird migratory patterns are changing due to climate change. It is subtle but surely happening. 

I zoomed into birds because countries are going to find it difficult to close its borders to this class of animals. This visualisation was produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and helps us to better appreciate the migratory pathways of birds. From this, we can see that it is possible for avian disease outbreaks to spread from as far as Russia to Australia and vice versa. 

While governments are busy tackling the negative effects of the Covid-19 virus, certain parts of Europe and some East Asian countries are signalling red alerts for the appearance of Avian flu such as H5N5, H5N8 and H5N1. 

H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes a highly infectious, severe respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza (or “bird flu”). Human cases of H5N1 avian influenza occur occasionally, but it is difficult to transmit the infection from person to person (Taken from WHO). 

H5N8 is a subtype of the influenza A virus and is highly lethal to wild birds and poultry. H5N8 is typically not associated with humans; however, seven people in Russia were found to be infected in 2021 (Taken from Wikipedia). 

H5N5 virus is a type of highly pathogenic avian influenza that is supposedly replicating among domestic ducks and wild birds that share the same water. Such new subtypes of influenza viruses may pose pandemic threat (Li, Lv, Li, Peng, Zhou, Qin & Chai 2021).

There are already 6 avian influenza outbreaks in Europe this year. Now, health officials have stepped up to warn that large scale infections are possible if many variants appear during the same window period. 

While this is not an immediate danger at the moment, governments and planners around the world should keep tabs on such developments and find ways to grow sustainably and safely. 

References

Carlson, C. J., Zipfel, C. M., Garnier, R., & Bansal, S. (2019). Global estimates of mammalian viral diversity accounting for host sharing. Nature ecology & evolution, 3(7), 1070-1075.

Li, X., Lv, X., Li, Y., Peng, P., Zhou, R., Qin, S., … & Chai, H. (2021). Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza A (H5N8) Virus in Swans, China, 2020. Emerging infectious diseases, 27(6), 1732.

The rise of seawater level and how it impacts coastal landscape

0

Heat waves, flooding, ice storms and drought are some of the many currently foreseeable scenarios that many countries will face in coming decades and many experts are attributing this to climate change. 

Many reports have repeatedly highlighted the risks and its potential impact to the lifestyles of those who are living along the coastal areas. Aside from the usual narrative that focuses just on the rise in seawater level, many experts are also trying to understand how the rise in seawater will impact livelihoods and how tolerable communities will get before they start to exhibit migration behaviours. 

Property values in most coastal real estate markets do not reflect this risk at all. For better appreciation of the challenge, I highlight a study that was performed on the USA market and it showed that more than 300,000 of today’s coastal homes, with a collective market value of about USD$117.5 billion today, are at risk of chronic flood in 2045—a timeframe that falls within the lifespan of a 30-year mortgage issued today (Dahl, Cleetus, Spanger-Siegfried, Udvardy, Caldas, 2018). 

The last thing that most planners might want is mass panic that is caused by frequent media reporting on high sea water level rise scenarios. This narrative only creates anxiety and confuses homeowners and migration patterns.

Forecasts serve as guiding beacons, and are built with predictive analytic techniques that depend heavily on historical records and other highly-correlated factors. It cannot be ignored but we must also understand that the predictions can change when the current condition changes.  

We could stay passive throughout the entire 20 years period and wait for the potential future to arrive. Or we can refer to these forecasts for science-based policy making, create tools to better understand our environment and also contribute what we can to help the environment on other fronts.   

Understanding how tolerable communities are to changing climate is a tiny shift in research perspective but if it is taken up by the reporting platforms, it could serve as a balancing voice by enabling a slightly more in-depth understanding of how flooding interacts with natural terrains and built environment elements and even perhaps spark more research on how one could live with water. 

Because of my background in sustainable urban development, I’ve always been quite interested in understanding how climate change will affect coastal communities and low-lying islands. One of my research interests is Guam island which is about 540 km2 and its highest point to mean sea level is about 407 m. I like the island’s profile because it is quite similar to about 40% of the island countries that are existing currently. 

This was a modelling that I recently performed on Guam island and when based on extreme scenarios, we can see that the flooding could become really bad: 

Year 2040: 1.8 ft = 0.54864 metres

Year 2060: 3.9 ft = 1.18872 metres

Year 2080: 6.69 ft = 2.039112 metres

Year 2100: 10.47 ft = 3.191256 metres

Based on the visualisation presented by the modelling, it is clear that the communities that are living in the perimeters will be most affected. The entire area that I’ve highlighted in blue represents the potential land loss if the seawater level rose to around 0.55 metres. The modelling showed that this could be possible by 2040. 

In another scenario, we can see that the situation becomes even worse when the seawater rises to about 3.2 metres. Most of the outlying land area get consumed and it is assumed that this would take place by 2100. 

This gives me a better understanding of how the seawater will interact with the outermost perimeter of Guam island and certainly sets me rethinking about the much coveted coastal living. 

So far, I’ve not seen much research on how the rise in seawater level will affect the geotechnical profile of the subsoil strata inland. If it does weaken the inland clayey strata, high-rise buildings that are built on soft ground might be at risk. Planners might have to delve into the intricacies of subsoil conditions to augment current urban planning methods – arranging for higher rise buildings to be built on stronger foundations that comprise mainly of rocks and granite. 

I’d be very interested to learn more about this area.  

References

Dahl, K., Cleetus, R., Spanger-Siegfried, E., Udvardy, S., & Caldas, A. (2018, December). Using the Quantified Risk of Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding to Coastal Real Estate Markets as a Tool for Engaging Communities and Financial Actors. In AGU Fall Meeting Abstracts (Vol. 2018, pp. PA41D-1359).

Measuring and reducing carbon emission through sustainable life choices

0

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

1

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

ø

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

20 runs – 0.6 rate – 2030

ø

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

ø

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  -->

15 runs – 0.6 rate – 2030

ø

15 climate model simulation runs for Year 2030.

Average temp = 2.438667 Degree Celsius

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

ø

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

(n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/heatislands

 

6 Causes of Urban Heat Islands and 4 Ways to Offset Them. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.buildings.com/articles/27532…

 

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