Sure, no-one likes a blackout. But keeping the lights on is about to get expensive



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Dylan McConnell, University of Melbourne and Anne Kallies, RMIT University

A new official report shows blackouts in eastern Australia’s grid this summer are unlikely. While that’s welcome news, it casts doubt on the wisdom of a recent government decision to tighten electricity reliability standards – a decision that will cost consumers.

The report from the Australian Energy Market Operator, published this morning, is known as the Electricity Statement of Opportunities. It says no “unserved energy” is expected this summer and tight reliability standards will be met for the foreseeable future. This is largely due to increased installations of renewable generation, the return to service of a few coal plants after maintenance and lower electricity demand due to COVID-19.

For the first time, reliability was assessed against new standards substantially tighter than the last. State and federal energy ministers quietly agreed to tighten the standard earlier this year, and just last week the change was finalised.

While electricity supply is expected to be fine this summer, beyond that reliability will deteriorate, particularly for New South Wales, as old power plants close. That’s when the new standard will bite: a grid without power cuts is impossible and expensive.

Adelaide during blackout in 2016.
Adelaide during blackout in 2016. Eliminating outages entirely is expensive.
Daniel Mariuz/AAP

What is electricity reliability?

In electricity systems, reliability is a measure of the ability of electricity generation infrastructure to meet consumer demand.

When users require more energy than generators can supply, this can cause outages or blackouts. However, this is a rare cause of blackouts: more than 96% are caused by faults or other incidents on the network, such as trees falling on power lines.

In the National Electricity Market, which covers the eastern states, the term “unserved energy” is used to measure the ability (or not) of the power system to meet consumer demand. Unserved energy occurs through “load shedding”, when electricity to large groups of customers is cut to keep the overall system running.




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The former reliability standard required expected unserved energy be no more than 0.002% in a given year. In other words, the system was expected to deliver 99.998% of the electricity consumers demanded.

The new interim reliability standard reduces this to 0.0006%, out to 2023 when it will be reviewed. The tighter standard will cost energy companies money, which will be recouped from customers.

A $50 note sticking out of a power socket.
The cost of tighter reliability standards will be passed onto consumers.
Julian Smith/AAP

Why has the reliability standard changed?

It’s important to understand the extent to which consumers care about electricity reliability over affordability.

Last December, the Australian Energy Regulator published a review of reliability “values”. It found in general, residential electricity customers valued reliability slightly less in 2019 than in 2014, with the exception of customers in suburban Adelaide (presumably due to the statewide blackouts there in 2016).

So why has the reliability standard been tightened? Blackouts and outages are politically sensitive issues. Politicians, and the market operator for that matter, have strong incentives to ensure reliability, and yet don’t have to pay to achieve it.

For this reason, the reliability standard is supposed to be reviewed and set by an independent reliability panel . The reliability panel has not recommended an increase to the standard.




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Tightening of reliability standards is not a theoretical problem. In particular, we’ve seen the repercussions in the network sector – otherwise known as the “poles and wires”. Following network outages in NSW and Queensland in early 2004, both states rushed in tighter standards for network reliability. This contributed to multibillion-dollar network infrastructure upgrades which consumers have been paying off for years.

Tightening of the reliability standard will similarly increase the costs of generation. From next year, retailers may be required to enter contracts with electricity generators to meet their share of expected peak demand. Or the market operator may secure more electricity capacity when needed – such as by asking large energy users to power down, or bringing diesel or gas generators online.

In either case, the costs are passed on to consumers.

Workers perform maintenance on power lines.
Consumers were still paying for huge infrastructure upgrades to poles and wires in NSW.
Jason Lee/Reuters

Silver lining?

There may be a thin silver lining. The promise of “demand response” measures – when electricity consumers reduce their electricity demand to help supply and demand match during extreme peaks – could lower the cost of meeting the new reliability standard. This is because with less energy being used, fewer more expensive measures may be needed to maintain supply.

The government-appointed Energy Security Board has said tightening the standard may in fact encourage more demand response measures. Supporting demand response is an admirable goal, but tightening the reliability standard is an odd way to go about it.

While the outlook for reliability this summer looks good, the changes in reliability standard ring alarm bells for the future. Consumers are generally happy with their reliability, and the vast majority of outages are not the result of demand outstripping supply. The changes don’t appear well justified or targeted, and they will come at a cost. Things are going to get expensive.




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The Conversation


Dylan McConnell, Research Fellow at the Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne and Anne Kallies, Senior Lecturer, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to cut your fuel bill, clear the air and reduce emissions: stop engine idling



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Robin Smit, University of Technology Sydney and Clare Walter, The University of Queensland

The transport sector is Australia’s second-largest polluter, pumping out almost 20% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. But everyday drivers can make a difference.

In particular, the amount of time you let your car engine idle can have a significant impact on emissions and local air quality. Engine idling is when the car engine is running while the vehicle is stationary, such as at a red light.

Opting for a bike is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint.
Shutterstock

A new Transport Energy/Emission Research report found in normal traffic conditions, Australians likely idle more than 20% of their drive time.

This contributes 1% to 8% of total carbon dioxide emissions over the journey, depending on the vehicle type. To put that into perspective, removing idling from the journey would be like removing up to 1.6 million cars from the road.




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Excessive idling (idling for longer than five minutes) could increase this contribution further, particularly for trucks and buses. When you also consider how extensive idling may create pollution hot spots around schools, this isn’t something to take lightly.

Pollution hot spots

Reducing idling doesn’t just lower your carbon footprint, it can also lower your fuel costs up to 10% or more.

Drivers simply have to turn their engines off while parked and wait in their vehicle. Perhaps crack open a window to maintain comfortable conditions, rather than switching on the air conditioner.

Some idling is unavoidable such as waiting for a traffic light or driving in congested conditions, but other idling is unnecessary, such as while parked.




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When many cars are idling in the same location, it can create poor local air quality. For example, idling has been identified overseas as a significant factor in higher pollution levels in and around schools. That’s because parents or school buses don’t turn off their engines when they drop off their kids or wait for them outside.

Parked you car? Turn off the engine.
Shutterstock

Even small reductions in vehicle emissions can have health benefits, such as reducing asthma, allergies and systemic inflammation in Australian children. In 2019, Australian researchers identified that even small increases of exposure to vehicle pollution were associated with an increased risk of childhood asthma and reduced lung function.

Anti-idling campaigns make a difference

Overseas studies show anti-idling campaigns and driver education can help improve air quality around schools, with busses and passenger cars switching off their engines more frequently.

In the US and Canada, local and state governments have enacted voluntary or mandatory anti-idling legislation, to address complaints and reduce fuel use, emissions and noise.

The results have been promising. In California, a range of measures – including anti-idling policies – aimed at reducing school children’s exposure to vehicle emissions were linked to the development of larger, healthier lungs in children.




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But in Australia, we identified almost no anti-idling initiatives or idle reduction legislation, despite calls for them in 2017.

However, “eco-driving”, as well as a promising new campaign called “Idle Off” is poised to roll out to secondary school students in Australia.

What about commercial vehicles?

Commercial vehicles can idle for long periods of time. In the US, typical long-haul trucks idle an estimated 1,800 hours per year when parked at truck stops, although a significant range of between 1,000 and 2,500 hours per year has also been reported.




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Fleet operators and logistics companies are therefore in a good position to roll out idle reduction initiatives and save on operating (fuel) costs while reducing emissions.

In fact, fleet operators overseas have actively sought to reduce idling emissions. This is not surprising as fuel costs are the second-largest expense for fleets, behind driver wages, typically accounting for 20% of a trucking fleet’s total operating costs.

The transport sector contributes 18.8% of Australia’s total emissions.
Shutterstock

Various technologies are available overseas that reduce idling emissions, such as stop-start systems, anti-idling devices (trucks) and battery electric vehicles.

But unlike other developed countries, Australia doesn’t have fuel efficiency or carbon dioxide emission standards. This means vehicle manufacturers have no incentive to include idle reduction technologies (or other fuel-saving technologies) in vehicles sold in Australia.

For example, the use of stop-start systems is rapidly growing overseas, but it’s unclear how many stop-start systems are used in new Australian cars.

Emission reduction technologies also come with extra costs for the vehicle manufacturer, making them less appealing, although cost benefits of reduced fuel use would pass on to consumers. This situation probably won’t change unless mandatory emission standards are implemented.

In any case, it’s easy for drivers to simply turn the key and shut down the engine when suitable. Reducing idling doesn’t require technologies.

Reducing your carbon footprint

If reducing emissions or saving money at the fuel bowser is not enough incentive, then perhaps, in time, exposing children to unnecessary idling emissions will be regarded in the same socially unacceptable light as smoking around children.




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And of course, there are other measures to reduce your transport carbon footprint. Drive a smaller car, and avoid diesel cars. Despite their reputation, Australian diesel cars emit, on average, about 10% more carbon dioxide per kilometre than petrol cars.

Or better yet, where possible, dust off that push bike, or walk.The Conversation

Robin Smit, Adjunct associate professor, University of Technology Sydney and Clare Walter, PhD Candidate, Honorary Research Fellow, Advocacy Consultant., The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Urban growth, heat islands, humidity, climate change: the costs multiply in tropical cities



During a heatwave in late 2018, Cairns temperatures topped 35°C nine days in a row and sensors at some points in the CBD recorded 45°C.

Taha Chaiechi, James Cook University and Silvia Tavares, James Cook University

Some 60% of the planet’s expected urban area by 2030 is yet to be built. This forecast highlights how rapidly the world’s people are becoming urban. Cities now occupy about 2% of the world’s land area, but are home to about 55% of the world’s people and generate more than 70% of global GDP, plus the associated greenhouse gas emissions.

So what does this mean for people who live in the tropical zones, where 40% of the world’s population lives? On current trends, this figure will rise to 50% by 2050. With tropical economies growing some 20% faster than the rest of the world, the result is a swift expansion of tropical cities.

Population and number of cities of the world, by size class, 1990, 2018 and 2030.
World Urbanization Prospects 2018, United Nations DESA Population Division, CC BY



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The populations of these growing tropical cities already experience high temperatures made worse by high humidity. This means they are highly vulnerable to extreme heat events as a result of climate change.

For example, extremely hot weather overwhelmed Cairns last summer. By December 3 2018, the city had recorded temperatures above 35°C nine days in a row. Four consecutive days were above 40°C.

Cairns’ heatwave summer.
Authors, using BOM temperature data

For our research, temperature and humidity sensors were strategically placed in the Cairns CBD to represent people’s experience of weather at street level. These recorded temperatures consistently higher than the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) recordings, reaching 45°C at some points.

Highest temperatures recorded by James Cook University weather data sensors during the November-December 2018 heatwave in Cairns.
Image: Bronson Philippa, Author provided

Local effects magnify heatwave impacts

Urban environments in general are hotter than non-urbanised surroundings that are covered by vegetation. The trapping of heat in cities, known as the urban heat island effect, has impacts on human health, animal life, social events, tourism, water availability and business performance.

The urban heat island effect intensifies the impacts of increasing heatwaves on cities as a result of climate change.

Projections of increased heatwave frequency for Cairns region using visualisation platform on Queensland Future Climate Dashboard.
Queensland Future Climate Dashboard/Queensland Government, CC BY

But it is important to remember that other local factors also influence these impacts. These include the scale, shape, materials, composition and growth of the built environment in a particular location and its surrounding areas.

The differences between the BoM data recorded at Cairns airport and the inner-city recordings show the impacts of urban expansion patterns, built form and choice of materials in tropical cities.

The linear layout of Cairns has, on one hand, enabled the formation of attractive places for commercial activities. As these activity centres evolve into focal points of urban life, they in turn influence all sorts of socioeconomic parameters.

On the other hand, the form the built environment takes changes the patterns of wind, sun and shade. These changes alter the urban microclimate by trapping heat and slowing or channelling air movements.

The layout and structures of Cairns CBD alter local microclimates by trapping heat and altering air flows.
State of Queensland 2019, CC BY



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Shifting the focus to the tropics

To date, a large body of research has explored the undesired consequences of climate change and urban heat islands. However, the focus has been on capital and metropolitan cities with humid continental climates. Not many studies have looked at the economic and social impacts in the tropical context, where hot and humid conditions create extra heat stress.

Add the combined effects of climate change and urban heat islands and what are the socio-economic consequences of heatwaves in a tropical city like Cairns? We see that climate change adds another dimension to the relationship between cities, economic growth and development.

This presents a huge opportunity to start thinking about building cities that are not superficially greenwashed, but which instead tackle pressing issues such as climate variability and create sustainable business and social destinations.




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In cold climates, heatwaves and urban heat islands are not necessarily undesired, but their negative impacts are more obvious and harmful in warmer climates. And these harmful impacts of heatwaves on our economy, environment and society are on the rise.

We have scientific evidence of the increasing length, frequency and intensity of heatwaves. The number of record hot days in Australia has doubled in the past five decades.

Projections of changes in heatwave frequency for northern Queensland in 2030 and 2070.
Queensland Future Climate Dashboard/Queensland Government, CC BY

What are the costs of heatwaves?

Increased exposure to heatwaves amplifies the adverse economic impacts on industries that are reliant on the health of their outdoor workers. This is in addition to the extreme heat-related fatalities and health-care costs of heatwave-related medical emergencies. As a PwC report to the Commonwealth on extreme heat events stated:

Heatwaves kill more Australians than any other natural disaster. They have received far less public attention than cyclones, floods or bushfires — they are private, silent deaths, which only hit the media when morgues reach capacity or infrastructure fails.

Heat also has direct impacts on economic production. A 2010 study found a 1°C increase resulted in a 2.4% reduction in non-agricultural production and a 0.1% reduction in agricultural production in 28 Caribbean-basin countries. Another study in 2012 found an 8% weekly loss of production when the temperature exceeded 32°C for six days in a row.

The 2017 Farm performance and climate report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) states:

The recent changes in climate have had a significant negative effect on the productivity of Australian cropping farms, particularly in southwestern Australia and southeastern Australia.

Average climate effect on productivity of cropping farms in southwestern and southeastern Australia since 2000–01 (relative to average conditions from 1914–15 to 2014–15).
Farm performance and climate, ABARES, CC BY

It’s not just farming that is vulnerable. A Victorian government report report this year estimated an extreme heatwave event costs the state’s construction sector A$103 million. The impact of heatwaves on the city of Melbourne’s economy is estimated at A$52.9 million a year on average.

Impacts of heatwaves on Victoria’s main economic sectors.
State of Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, CC BY

According to this report, economic costs increase exponentially as the severity of heatwaves increases. This has obvious implications for cities in tropical regions.

As the next step in our research, we are examining the relationship between local urban features, urban heat islands, the resulting city temperatures and their direct and indirect (spillover) effects on local and regional economic activities.




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The Conversation


Taha Chaiechi, Senior Lecturer, James Cook University and Silvia Tavares, Lecturer in Urban Design, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Trump’s plan to dismantle national monuments comes with steep cultural and ecological costs



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The Trump administration will review the status of The Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, one of the country’s most significant cultural sites.
Bureau of Land Management, CC BY

Michelle Bryan, The University of Montana; Monte Mills, The University of Montana, and Sandra B. Zellmer, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

In the few days since President Trump issued his Executive Order on National Monuments, many legal scholars have questioned the legality of his actions under the Antiquities Act. Indeed, if the president attempts to revoke or downsize a monument designation, such actions would be on shaky, if any, legal ground.

But beyond President Trump’s dubious reading of the Antiquities Act, his threats also implicate a suite of other cultural and ecological laws implemented within our national monuments.

By opening a Department of Interior review of all large-scale monuments designated since 1996, Trump places at risk two decades’ worth of financial and human investment in areas such as endangered species protection, ecosystem health, recognition of tribal interests and historical protection.

Why size matters

Trump’s order suggests that larger-scale monuments such as Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, or the Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana, run afoul of the Antiquities Act because of their size. Nothing is farther from the truth. The act gives presidents discretion to protect landmarks and “objects of historic or scientific interest” located within federal lands. Designations are not limited to a particular acreage, but rather to “the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

Thus, the size and geographic range of the protected resources dictate the scale of the designation. We would not be properly managing the Grand Canyon by preserving a foot-wide cross-section of its topography in a museum.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the validity of larger-scale monuments when it affirmed President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1908 designation of the Grand Canyon as “the greatest eroded canyon in the United States” in Cameron v. U.S. in 1920. Cameron, an Arizona prospector-politician, had filed thousands of baseless mining claims within the canyon and on its rim, including the scenic Bright Angel Trail, where he erected a gate and exacted an entrance fee. He challenged Roosevelt’s sweeping designation and lost, spectacularly, because the Grand Canyon’s grandeur was precisely what made it worthy of protection.

By downsizing or dismantling a monument, Trump would be intentionally unprotecting the larger-scale resources our nation has been managing as national treasures. The loss in value would be considerable, and compounded doubly by the lost cultural and ecological progress we have made under related laws.

Cultural costs of downsizing

The Antiquities Act has long been used to protect important archaeological resources. Some of the earliest designations, like El Morro and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, protected prehistoric rock art and ruins as part of the nation’s scientific record. This protection has been particularly critical in the Southwest, where looting and pot hunting remain a significant threat. Similar interests drove the creation of several monuments subject to Trump’s order, including Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Canyon of the Ancients National Monument and Bears Ears National Monument. Thus, any changes to those monuments mean less protection for – and less opportunity to learn from – these archaeological wonders.

But we have learned that our past and our natural world are not merely matters for scientific inquiry to be explained by professors through lectures and field studies. Instead, scientists, archaeologists and federal land managers recognize the need to understand and foster continuing cultural connection between indigenous people and the areas where they and their ancestors have lived, worshipped, hunted and gathered since time immemorial. Many of these places are on federal lands.

While other recent designations recognized the present-day use of monument areas by tribes and their members, Bears Ears National Monument was the first to specifically protect both historic and prehistoric cultural resources and the ongoing cultural value of the area to present-day tribes. Unlike prior monuments, Bears Ears came at the initiative of tribal people, led by a unique inter-tribal coalition that brought together many area residents and garnered support from over 30 tribes nationwide. This coalition also sought collaborative tribal-federal management as a way to meaningfully invigorate cultural protection. As a result, President Obama also established the Bears Ears Commission, an advisory group of elected tribal members with whom federal managers must meaningfully engage in managing the monument.

This national investment in cultural collaboration brings great value – a value utterly ignored by Trump’s order. In fact, under that order, Bears Ears faces an expedited (45-day) review because, as Secretary Ryan Zinke noted in a recent press conference, it is “the most current one.” Though the order includes opportunity for tribal input, the Bears Ears inter-tribal coalition has yet to hear from Secretary Zinke, notwithstanding numerous requests to meet.

Ecological costs of downsizing

Because they preclude development, national monuments are also critically important for ecological protection. In fact, they often serve the objectives of other federal requirements, such as the Endangered Species Act.

For example, Devils Hole National Monument provides the only known habitat for the endangered Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis). This has meant that groundwater exploitation from nearby development is restricted to protect Pupfish habitat. Similarly, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is home to an array of imperiled wildlife, including the endangered desert tortoise and the endangered California condor, along with many other native species like desert bighorn sheep and peregrine falcons.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is among the national monuments vital to enforcing the Endangered Species Act.
Bureau of Land Management

Within the protective reach of a national monument, we are also likely to find important stretches of land officially designated by federal agencies as protected land, such as scenic wilderness, wilderness study areas, the Bureau of Land Management’s areas of critical environmental concern (ACEC) or the Forest Service’s research natural areas (RNAs). Each monument’s care is thus interwoven with the management of these other ecologically designated areas, something plainly apparent to the communities and agency officials long working with these lands.

Zinke’s backyard

These costs may hit close to home for Zinke since the Missouri River Breaks National Monument, located in his home state of Montana, is on the chopping block. President Clinton designated this 375,000-acre monument in 2001 to protect its biological, geological and historical wealth from the pressures of grazing and oil and gas extraction. Clinton noted that “[t]he area has remained largely unchanged in the nearly 200 years since Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled through it on their epic journey.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will need to assess the cultural and ecological value of a national monument in his home state of Montana.
CC BY-SA

The monument contains a National Wild and Scenic River corridor and segments of the Lewis and Clark and Nez Perce National Historic Trails, as well as the Cow Creek Island ACEC. It is the “fertile crescent” for hundreds of iconic game species and provides essential winter range for sage grouse (carefully managed to avoid listing under the ESA) and spawning habitat for the endangered pallid sturgeon. Archaeological and historical sites also abound, including teepee rings, historic trails and lookout sites of Meriwether Lewis.

The size of the Missouri River Breaks monument is thus scaled to protect an area in which lie valuable objects and geographic features, and a historic – even monumental – journey took place. And every investment we make in the monument yields a twofold return as it supports our nation’s cultural and ecological obligations under related federal laws.

The ConversationAt the end of the day, while Trump’s order trumpets the possibility that monument downsizing will usher in economic growth, it makes no mention of the extraordinary economic, scientific and cultural investments we have made in those monuments over the years. Unless these losses are considered in the calculus, our nation has not truly engaged in a meaningful assessment of the costs of second-guessing our past presidents.

Michelle Bryan, Professor of Law, The University of Montana; Monte Mills, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director, Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, The University of Montana, and Sandra B. Zellmer, Professor of Law, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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

Site is Moving House


There are some massive changes happening at kevinswilderness.com – it will soon not even be called that. The name of the site will be called simply ‘Kevin’s Wilderness and Travels and will be hosted on WordPress.com. The domain name will probably be disposed of, by simply letting it slip off into history.

The move has come about because of the dramatic rise in hosting costs – which jumped greatly after the hosting company was sold to another. It did concern me at the time that a major price rise would be on the way. So the rise has arrived as expected and I’m now moving on. I love the WordPress.com platform, so the move won’t upset me too much at all. Being able to have ‘kevinswilderness’ in the site name has been a great bonus also, as it will mean that previous site visitors won’t find it
too difficult to remember.

WordPress.com offers the opportunity for so much more social interaction with visitors to the site – especially through comments being available on every page hosted there. Expect more photos and videos at the new site, with these to be hosted at Flickr and YouTube respectively. There should also be opportunities for chatting on site (via a widget or a link to Pip.io), forums, etc. The move is an exciting one for furthering the capability and usefulness of the site.

Work is already well under way and I am hoping that the move will provide new stimulus to improve the site, as well as add new features along the way. The social network hosted at Grou.ps will become a more important associated site and I am hoping to try and promote that more and more. I may however look at some other bushwalking/camping social networks that are out there too – perhaps they will provide a better enhancement to the site. Time will tell.

Please visit the new site and add it to your bookmarks/favourites – the old site has only a month or two to go before it ends forever.

The site is moving across to WordPress.com at the following address:

http://kevinswilderness.wordpress.com/

ELECTRIC CARS COMING SOONER RATHER THAN LATER


In great news for the environment and consumers it seems that ‘green cars’ will be arriving in Australia sooner rather than later, with infrastructure for electric cars to be set up in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne within four years. The project is a joint venture between AGL, Macquarie Capital and Better Place.

The project aims to set up recharge stations for electric cars at workplaces, homes and shopping centres. It is thought that some 250 000 recharge stations will be built in the project. Such projects have already been set up in Israel and Denmark.

Macquarie Capital is to raise $1 billion to build the recharging network, with AGL to supply renewable energy for the project. Better Place will actually build the network.

Should the project go ahead and the infrastructure be built, motorists will be able to dump petrol and diesel vehicles and move to electric ones. This will of course be a great relief from rising fuel costs and help protect the environment from further greenhouse gas emissions.