30 June 2012

A price on air pollution

Does the price of an iPhone include the services provided by nature? No, it does not. Ecosystems which naturally filter water, forests which clean the air, or organisms which provide medication are all available… and free. The price of an iPhone neither includes the cost of the damages caused to nature.

This situation has to change since these services become more and more rare due to the level of exhaustion nature is attaining all over the world. There must be a price to pay for endangering nature, and for contributing to climate change. Nature does not renew itself at the pace humankind requires today…

Political leaders slowly realize that reducing pollution must be encouraged and that the transition to a low-pollution economy must start. Australia, which has the highest level of carbon emissions per capita among the developed countries, understood this and will not allow its businesses to pollute the air for free any more.

Carbon Price

Coal-fired thermal power station - 
The UK will soon have regulations to 
permit new construction of coal-fired 
thermal stations only if they are equipped 
with carbon capture and storage. 
This technology, still under development, 
captures the carbon from the combustion 
of the coal and stores it underground.
From the 1st of July Australia will not be the same as its economy and culture will head to a low-carbon approach. Indeed from this date a carbon tax, also called Carbon Price, will be effective.This not without a vast controversy and many speculations about the economic impact of this decision. The decision being to tax the carbon emissions of around 300 companies which represent two thirds of Australia’s total emissions (the other third being car transportation and farm activities). Companies concerned are mainly electricity providers, but also coal and gas companies, aluminium producers and cement companies.

A smooth mechanism

The companies concerned by the Carbon Price will legally require a permit for each ton of carbon that they release into the atmosphere. Every year a fixed number of permits will be established so that the total emissions of these companies are controlled. Between 2012 and 2015, the Australian government will regulate the system. The price of a ton will start at 23 US dollars.

During these first three years there will be enough permits so that companies can adjust progressively to the system: companies will start to treat pollution as a cost of doing business.

After 2015 the price of the permits will be fixed by an emission trading system. The number of permits available will get tighter over time. Companies will need to invest in cleaner ways of producing energy, for instance, by exploiting Australia’s renewable energy potential. They will also need to invest to be more energy efficient.

This governmental initiative has the potential to reduce up to 1,1 billion tons of carbon emissions by 2020. This is the equivalent to reducing by 2020 Australia’s emissions by 25% compared to 2000 emissions. This is also equivalent to permanently removing 70 million cars of the road by 2020.

From where the money comes and where it goes

Many Australians fear this tax will raise the prices of their expenses. According to the recently published report The Carbon Price and the Cost of Living by The Climate Institute, an independent Australian research organization, this tax will not necessarily increase greatly those expenses. In the worst case scenario, the Carbon Price could result in a 0,6% increase in the cost of living of the Australians over the 2012-2013 period. This worst case scenario corresponds to companies passing to the consumers 100% of the cost of the tax. This will probably not be the case since the companies would lose too much competitiveness and will prefer to avoid buying permits. Quite naturally the companies will rather invest in greener ways of doing business…

With the money that will be recovered from the Carbon Price, the Australian Government will mainly: cut specific taxes and other payments to households; financially help concerned companies to adjust; and promote energy efficiency, renewable energies and other low-pollution support.

Video from the Australian Government explaining the impacts of climate change as part of their Clean Energy Future plan.

As these 300 companies will look for ways to reduce their environmental footprint, every citizen can do the same. Simple changes in behaviour or investing in energy efficiency are making a difference!


Australia is not the first country to implement a carbon tax. As shown in the here-after table, European countries have taken similar measures. Each country’s tax diverges one from the other depending on the concerned fuels, types of industry or pollution sources.

Source : The Climate Institute


26 June 2012

Sydney provoking 2030

Why are Melbourne and Sydney regularly declared two of the most liveable cities in the world? Access to education and health, culture, infrastructures, the criteria are numerous. Other criteria are environmental care and sustainable development. And in these fields, Sydney has started the transformation from an old town to a green and sustainable city… a proactive transformation which will soon be an example for any major city around the world.

Political determination

We met Bhakti and Nik on April the 27th,
at Sydney City Hall. On this picture is Nik!
In 2008 the City of Sydney launched the program Sustainable Sydney 2030 and committed the city to becoming a “green, global and connected city”. At the end of April we met Dr. Bhakti Devi and Nik Midlam who work for the City of Sydney as managers defining and implementing the program. Bhakti is managing water strategy and Nik is responsible for carbon strategy. “Around 5 years ago, global context made the climate and carbon emissions issues be in the forefront”, says Nik. Bhakti adds : “the City of Sydney has an old city center, with old systems. It had to be rethought. The ambitious program could start, with the push of Allan Jones who is the leader of the development program and who performed a similar and successful job before in London”.

“A key objective of the program is cutting down the carbon emissions”, Bhakti says. “The City of Sydney has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% below 2006 levels by 2030”.

A leading environmental performer

Solar panels on the roofs of
Sydney City Hall.
Nik explains : “It is a global transformation that will occur. Concerning the choice of renewable energy, solar energy will be promoted as much as possible. The City of Sydney has the chance to be located in a sunny region”. Bhakti adds : “We are also working on adding a new pipe in the water supply network, a recycled water pipe, which shall be used for flushing for instance. Adding a second pipe in the water networks is a big investment but it will allow saving lots of energy. Today in a building an average 20% of the consumed water is used for flushing! Recycled water should be used instead of drinking water.”

The program sets out a global path for reaching the targets by improving energy efficiency, encouraging people to cycle and walk, utilising waste as a resource, converting non-recyclable waste to energy, recycling water and… implementing a Decentralised Energy Network, powered by Trigeneration.

What is Trigeneration?

The City of Sydney requires approximately 4 million MWh of electricity per year. Traditionally, this electricity has been provided by large, regionally located coal fired power plants. These power plants produce large amounts of electricity, but also produce significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. The electricity sector is responsible for approximately half of all Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions as well as approximately 80% of greenhouse gas emissions within the City of Sydney (City of Sydney).

Nik explains : “Trigeneration is the simultaneous production of electricity and the exploitation of waste heat from the generation process to supply heating and hot water needs. In addition, the heat can also be converted into cooling via a heat–driven chiller”. Electricity, heating and cooling…
Trigeneration system (Picture: City of Sydney)
In a first instance, the trigeneration system will burn gas, which is a fossil fuel, and therefore will not provide carbon free electricity. However the system produces far fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the traditional coal fired power stations.

Presentation of trigeneration

Subsequently, renewable gases will be used. “These renewable gases will come from the city waste! They will be created using waste to gas conversion technologies”, says Bhakti. This will displace fossil fuel gas in the trigeneration systems, enabling them to provide carbon free electricity, as well as carbon free thermal energy for heating and cooling…

Nik concludes : “By 2030, the City should have the capacity to meet up to 100 per cent of electricity demand by local electricity generation". A self-sufficient green city let’s follow Sydney!

City of Sydney Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Target -
AU : Business As Usual (Picture: Kinesis 2008)
In addition to the trigeneration system, several changes will allow Sydney to reach their emission reduction target : lighting technology, renewable electricity, transport…


On the other side of Australia, we met Oscar Arteaga who works as a Senior Engineer for Smart Grid development at Western Power, a State Government owned corporation which operates the electricity network in Western Australia. He explained us that a significant investment is underway to step out of a conventional electricity grid and put into operation a Smart Grid!

What does it mean? A Smart Grid is a more reliable, sustainable and economically efficient electricity network.

More reliable because it uses smart meters and electronic sensors to monitor its performance and increase its ability to repair itself following a system disturbance. All this reduces the frequency and duration of power outages.

More sustainable because consumers actively participate. They can visualize their real-time energy demand to better manage their electricity consumption, especially during peak periods. Consumers and network operators can also control, via the smart meter infrastructure, the operation of major power-consuming devices. Smart Grid can also accommodate many small energy sources, such as on-site renewable energy generation.

More economically efficient because energy providers can have real-time and historical information of their network performance in order to improve network utilisation as well as power reliability and quality.