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News Article | March 9, 2016
Site: www.techtimes.com

DNA profiling technique has helped the U.S. government to convict timber thieves involved in a landmark case. The technique was developed by the forest DNA forensics team at the University of Adelaide in Australia, who cannot be any more prouder. "This project has been a fantastic team effort here at Adelaide and we are all really proud that our work has helped secure such a landmark conviction," says researcher Eleanor Dormontt, Ph.D. Four suspects pleaded guilty for illegally taking away Bigleaf maple wood in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. What made the case monumental is the fact that it is the first instance the U.S. government summoned a party for unlawful interstate commerce of wooden goods under the Lacey Act. The Lacey Act was created in 1900 to prosecute illegal traffickers of wildlife materials. In 2008, the said law was amended to include plants and plant products such as timber and paper. The DNA evidence that the Australian researchers came up with was one of the key factors that helped convincing the court to rule against the timber thieves. The scientists from the university's Environment Institute developed the method by creating DNA markers for the Bigleaf maple. They collaborated with the U.S. Forest Service, World Resources Institute and timber-monitoring experts from the Double Helix Tracking Technologies. Together, these teams created the world's first DNA profiling resource index for the said wood species. Their work is recognized to be the only technique that has been verified for court use. How Does It Work? Humans each has a totally unique set of fingerprints, which is used as proof of identification or perhaps validating an identity. Trees have this unique characteristic too. The scientists used this concept to match bits of cut wood with the end piece of the trees where the wood originated. Such method may also help consumers to confirm if the wood they are buying was gathered under legal procedures, says Professor Andrew Lowe, who is also the chair of the university's Conservation Biology. According to their records, the chance of having two trees with the same DNA profile is about one in 428 sextillion. For comparison, the entire universe is said to have approximately 70 sextillion stars. Theft of Bigleaf maple has been a continuous public problem in the Pacific Northwest. This is because of the potential profits that different sectors may reap from the wood products. In fact, a log, when milled, may cost more than $100,000. Illegal logging is a global problem that contributes to the devastation of forests and vulnerable human populations. Tree profiling may offer significant help to halt illegal logging and assist lawful forest sectors. The DNA indicators created and used by the team was published in the journal Conservation Genetics Resources.


News Article | November 15, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

A group of conservation scientists and policy makers led by University of Adelaide researchers are calling for global action to combat the illegal timber trade. They say governments and organisations responsible for protecting wildlife and forests around the world and certification schemes need to "catch up with the science" and put in place policies and frameworks to ensure the legality of timber being logged and traded around the world. Consumers too need to play their part in demanding verification of the origin and legality of the timber items they buy, they say. Illegal logging is a major cause of forest degradation and loss of biodiversity, and accounts for between an estimated 15-30% of the global trade in timber, worth US$30-100 billion annually. The scientists have published their recommendations in the journal BioScience - detailing the range of scientific methods available for timber identification and how they can be applied within the timber supply chain. The work is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, timber-tracking specialists Double Helix Tracking Technologies, the USDA Forest Service, INTERPOL and other research and forestry organisations. The recommendations stem from work commissioned by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in support of the UN Resolution 23/1 from May 2014 on "strengthening a targeted crime prevention and criminal justice response to combat illicit trafficking in forest products, including timber". "We now have the scientific capability to identify and track illegally logged timber through the supply chain through DNA profiling, DNA barcoding and other means," says lead author Professor Andrew Lowe, from the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide. "But now we need the policy and regulatory framework to incorporate scientific verification." "Illegal logging is a huge problem globally, driven as much by demand from consumer countries (including Australia) as from producer nations," says co-author Dr Eleanor Dormontt, who was employed by the UN to write the recommendations. "Our paper is the first to bring together the various scientific methodologies available for timber identification and consider how best they can be applied in timber supply chains to promote legality. "We are all implicit in the exploitation of the world's forests, and even the most conscientious consumer has a reasonably high chance of purchasing or otherwise handling illegal wood products in their lifetime. Scientists, policy makers, NGOs, graders, foresters and the general public all have a part to play. "The reality is that changes to timber supply chains can be made to improve their transparency, legality and sustainability. We need a coordinated international effort to make it happen." Professor Andrew Lowe, Chair in Plant Conservafion Biology, Environment Institute, University of Adelaide (Currently overseas in Morocco). Mobile: +61 (0)434 607 705, andrew.lowe@adelaide.edu.au


News Article | December 19, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

Wild barramundi populations are likely to be at risk under ocean acidification, a new University of Adelaide study has found. Published in the journal Oecologia, the study is the first to show that even freshwater fish which only spend a small portion of their lifecycle in the ocean are likely to be seriously affected under the higher CO2 levels expected at the end of the century. "We already know that ocean acidification will affect a lot of marine species that live their entire lives in the sea," says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University's Environment Institute. "But this research has shown that fish such as barramundi - which only spend a short part of their lives in the ocean - will be impacted by ocean acidification." Most adult barramundi live in freshwater rivers but need ocean water to hatch their eggs. The baby barramundi and juveniles grow up in coastal areas (estuaries, swamps, shallow coastlines) for a few years, then they migrate upstream to join other adults in the river. The researchers found that in higher CO2 levels, the response by baby barramundi to less salty, warmer waters and estuarine smells was reversed compared to baby fish in waters with current CO2 levels. "Developing baby barramundis, hatched in the oceans, need to find estuaries as intermediate habitats before they move upriver to complete their lifecycle," says PhD candidate Jennifer Pistevos, who conducted the research under the supervision of Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. "They are therefore expected to respond positively to the warmer, less saline and smelly water of estuaries, but only once they've reached a certain stage of development. We believe the baby fish in acidified waters were responding to estuarine signals at an earlier stage than they should be. They may not be developmentally ready - a bit like running before they learn to walk." Professor Nagelkerken says the failure to adequately time their move to estuaries is likely to have serious consequences for adult barramundi population sizes. "Recruitment into estuaries is a delicate process and needs to be well-timed to match food abundance and to avoid predators," he says. "Barramundi could be considered a robust species in terms of fluctuating environmental conditions and it was thought they could possibly deal satisfactorily with acidified waters. But we've shown just the opposite. This will have a significant impact on fishing - both recreational and commercial - where there is dependence on wild catches."


News Article | September 22, 2016
Site: www.theenergycollective.com

South Africa shows how quick an energy transition can be. In four years, the country’s renewable energy program has mushroomed, while the building of coal power stations and the planning of a $50-$100 billion nuclear power project have come to a grinding halt. Recent events, however, have raised some uncertainty for renewables, writes South African based science writer Leonie Joubert. Article courtesy of the Energy Transition blog. South Africa’s energy sector is changing so quickly, this publication may well be out of date before the year is out. In four years, the country’s utility-scale renewable energy program has grown to encompass nearly 100 plants at various stages of development. The cost of solar and wind energy has dropped so significantly they are now cheaper than coal power. The country’s two new coal power stations, which should have been completed in 2011, are still not ready to go online. And in the past four months, the political ground has turned to quicksand under plans to build six to eight nuclear power stations. If anything, this shows how quickly a country’s transition away from mega-infrastructure carbon-intensive energy investment could be. In 2007, when construction began on the first of two new coal-fired power stations – Kusile and Medupi in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces – the two were designed to add 9.6 GW of electricity to the grid, and were due to come online in 2011. They were expected to cost R69.1 billion (US$ 4.5 billion at current exchange rates) and R80.6 billion (US$ 5.3 billion), respectively. By early 2016, the plants were still not completed. Their anticipated cost has ballooned to double the original price, now figured at R154.2 billion (US$ 10 billion), and R172.2 billion (US$ 11 billion). And their procurement has been dogged with accusations of corruption, which have been widely reported in local media. In the four years that these two coal stations have overshot their delivery date, the arrival of renewable energy has, quite literally, changed the face of SA’s energy future: almost 2.5 GW of renewables have been added to the grid; R190 billion (US$13 billion) has come in from private investments; and the cost of solar and wind energy has gone from being uncompetitive with coal to being significantly cheaper. The Department of Energy kicked off the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) in 2011. The aim was to bring 3.75 GW of power to the grid through a series of concentrated solar power, photovoltaic (PV), biomass, landfill, wind, or small hydro plants at various locations around the country. But the program had already exceeded that target about two-thirds of the way through the procurement process. REIPPPP has proved so successful, it has been hailed as a global success. While the construction of Kusile and Medupi runs behind schedule, REIPPP is finalizing the fourth of its anticipated five bidding rounds, and has over 100 projects at various stages of either bidding, contracting, raising finance, being signed off, or under construction. According to the Energy Blog, one of the most comprehensive databases of the REIPPPP projects, by mid-April 2016, some 47 of these plants were fully operational, and their combined energy production added up to nearly 2.5 GW to the grid. Professor Anton Eberhard, expert in infrastructure and associated policy development at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, has said that REIPPPP has contributed to more competitive pricing, transparency in the procurement process, and greater efficiency in project rollout. On the pricing matter, Eberhard wrote in a May 2014 report that in just two-and-a-half years since the start of REIPPPP, the price of solar PV and wind power dropped dramatically. In normative terms, he said, by 68 percent and 42 percent, respectively. South Africa is the only country on the continent with a nuclear power station, but its ambitions to build another six to eight were put on hold in March 2016, after the High Court in Cape Town heard that the state had sidestepped its statutory and constitutional obligations around transparency and public participation, as it wrapped up a deal with the Russian government to deliver the reactors. The controversial 9.6 GW fleet was expected to cost between R700 billion (nearly US$ 50 billion, at the exchange rate of late April 2016) to R1.4 trillion (approximately US$ 93 billion). This is the immediate cost of building, and excludes the additional cost of decommissioning the plants, handling waste, and interest on loans attached to what would amount to the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by this country. The R1.4 trillion, in 2015, was the equivalent to about a third of the current national budget. Following the court action, initiated by civil society organizations Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), the state announced it had put its nuclear plans on hold. Recent events have weakened the local currency and raised uncertainty for renewables, however. In November 2015, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired unexpectedly, and replaced temporarily by an inexperienced and unknown parliamentarian (it was soon confirmed that the president fired Nene because he opposed the nuclear fleet procurement). The decision sent the local currency into a spiral, from which it has yet to recover. This currency crash, along with rising interest rates in South Africa, is likely to impact the cost of the next wave of plants planned for the REIPPP process, according to local WWF energy analyst Saliem Fakir. Fakir explains that “the fourth REIPPP bidding round hasn’t closed, and we haven’t done the calculations yet, so we don’t know for certain what the impacts will be. But it could influence renewable energy prices for the projects built as a result of this bidding round. It won’t stop the renewable rollout, but it could push up the price.” If so, this could offset some of the gains in terms of cost reduction which were made in the first three bidding rounds, as discussed above. Several macro-economic trends are adding to the sudden challenges for renewable prices at the moment: the over-supply of PV panels globally has made this a buyers’ market; the SA government’s level of indebtedness impacts whether the state can stand as surety for private sector finance, as is the case at present (a form of indirect state subsidy but these guarantees are not limited to renewables only, says Fakir); and the strength of the local currency, relative to the Dollar and Euro. “If foreign firms are buying locally produced services and technology for these plants,” explains Fakir, “then their buying power will improve if the Rand weakens. If local firms are buying, then the reverse applies.” In conclusion, South Africa’s clean energy transition is moving at rapid speeds driven in large part by highly effective government policy and dramatically falling prices for both wind and solar power. Renewable energies are becoming competitive with fossil fuels; the energy transition in South Africa is thus no longer about ideology but about economic forces. After all, it’s the economy, stupid! Leonie Joubert is a science writer and journalist, and currently works as a fellow with theUniversity of Cape Town’s Environmental Humanities of the South, where she is looking at the political economy of the food system in her country. This article was first published on The Energy Transition/the German Energiewende, a project of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, and is republished here with permission.


News Article | March 22, 2016
Site: phys.org

The researchers say it provides further strong evidence that maintaining biodiversity among the world's species should be a high priority. Published in the journal Ecology, Australian and Chinese researchers from the University of Adelaide and Fudan University in Shanghai studied meadow vegetation at a 3500 metre-altitude research station in the Tibetan Plateau. They investigated the impacts of levels of biodiversity on the severity of a fungal disease. "There are two main theories about the biodiversity-disease relationship in non-human species," says Professor Corey Bradshaw, Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide's Environment Institute. "One is that with more species there is a greater pool of potential hosts for pathogens, so pathogens increase as biodiversity increases. The other asserts that disease decreases with higher diversity because of a 'dilution' effect, where the chance of a pathogen meeting its host species is reduced. "Unfortunately many, if not most, of past studies have used the number of species as the simplest measure of biodiversity but have confounded the results with the abundance of hosts. Another problem is that the evidence has been largely restricted to planting experiments, which limits the extension that can be made to natural communities. "Our experiments, on the other hand, used natural communities and species with similar abundance so we could control for confounding effects of species richness and abundance." The researchers manipulated species richness by removing specific groups of species. The experimental plots at the Alpine Meadow and Wetland Ecosystems Research Station of Lanzhou University are highly biodiverse – up to 40 species in a one square metre plot – making them an ideal "natural laboratory". Professor Bradshaw has been working with Professor Shurong Zhou and her team from Fudan University's School of Life Sciences for several years looking at variation in ecosystem functions in response to altered biodiversity. "The result was rather astounding," says Professor Bradshaw. "The variation in disease severity at the different biodiversity levels almost exactly matched that predicted under the dilution hypothesis. We showed unequivocally that greater biodiversity among the meadow plants reduced the overall incidence of fungal disease, even though there were more pathogens." A second experiment looked at the impact on disease of artificial warming and nitrogen fertiliser, and showed that both warming and nitrogen fertiliser increased the disease load. "Most interestingly, we showed that artificial fertiliser weakened the dilution effect of increasing host biodiversity, most likely by enhancing fungal spore production, infection success and lesion growth by the hosts," says co-author Professor Zhou. "Changing the delicate balance of a healthy community not only resulted in more pathogens but weakened the overall community's resistance to disease." More information: Warming and fertilization alter the dilution effect of host diversity on disease severity DOI: 10.1890/15-1784.1


News Article | November 14, 2016
Site: www.newsmaker.com.au

A group of conservation scientists and policy makers led by University of Adelaide researchers are calling for global action to combat the illegal timber trade. They say governments and organisations responsible for protecting wildlife and forests around the world and certification schemes need to “catch up with the science†and put in place policies and frameworks to ensure the legality of timber being logged and traded around the world. Consumers too need to play their part in demanding verification of the origin and legality of the timber items they buy, they say. Illegal logging is a major cause of forest degradation and loss of biodiversity, and accounts for between an estimated 15-30% of the global trade in timber, worth US$30-100 billion annually. The scientists have published their recommendations in the journal BioScience – detailing the range of scientific methods available for timber identification and how they can be applied within the timber supply chain. The work is a collaboration between the University of Adelaide, timber-tracking specialists Double Helix Tracking Technologies, the USDA Forest Service, INTERPOL and other research and forestry organisations. The recommendations stem from work commissioned by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in support of the UN Resolution 23/1 from May 2014 on “strengthening a targeted crime prevention and criminal justice response to combat illicit trafficking in forest products, including timberâ€. “We now have the scientific capability to identify and track illegally logged timber through the supply chain through DNA profiling, DNA barcoding and other means,†says lead author Professor Andrew Lowe, from the Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide. “But now we need the policy and regulatory framework to incorporate scientific verification.†“Illegal logging is a huge problem globally, driven as much by demand from consumer countries (including Australia) as from producer nations,†says co-author Dr Eleanor Dormontt, who was employed by the UN to write the recommendations. “Our paper is the first to bring together the various scientific methodologies available for timber identification and consider how best they can be applied in timber supply chains to promote legality. “We are all implicit in the exploitation of the world’s forests, and even the most conscientious consumer has a reasonably high chance of purchasing or otherwise handling illegal wood products in their lifetime. Scientists, policy makers, NGOs, graders, foresters and the general public all have a part to play. “The reality is that changes to timber supply chains can be made to improve their transparency, legality and sustainability. We need a coordinated international effort to make it happen.†Professor Andrew Lowe, Chair in Plant Conservafion Biology, Environment Institute, University of Adelaide (Currently overseas in Morocco). Mobile: +61 (0)434 607 705,


News Article | September 7, 2016
Site: www.chromatographytechniques.com

Nutrient pollution emptying into seas from cities, towns and agricultural land is changing the sounds made by marine life – and potentially upsetting navigational cues for fish and other sea creatures, a new University of Adelaide study has found. Published online in the journal Landscape Ecology, the research found that marine ecosystems degraded by ‘eutrophication,’ caused by run-off from adjacent land, are more silent than healthier comparable ecosystems. This marine ‘soundscape’ comes largely from the snapping of shrimps, but also the rasping of sea urchins and fish vocalizations. The researchers – PhD graduate Tullio Rossi, Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell from the University’s Environment Institute – studied kelp forests and seagrass beds in South Australia’s St Vincent’s Gulf, many of which have been impacted by excessive nutrients washing into the sea, particularly along the metropolitan coast of Adelaide. They compared audio recordings of these polluted waters with audio recordings at natural high-CO underwater volcanic vents, which show what water conditions are predicted to be like at the end of the century under global ocean acidification. Remarkably, they found the same pattern of sound reduction in both locally degraded ecosystems and those that show what oceans are expected to be like under climate change. “Kelp forests and seagrass beds are important ecosystems for commercial fishing and maintenance of marine biodiversity,” says Nagelkerken, of the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. “They also function as nursery habitats for a range of species. But the decrease in sound we found in these degraded ecosystems due to local eutrophication is of the same large magnitude that we find in ecosystems that will be affected by global ocean acidification. “We know that sound is very important for some species of fish and invertebrates to find sheltering habitats in reefs and seagrass beds. The demise of biological sounds is likely to have negative impacts on the replenishment of fish populations.” The study also suggests that soundscapes may be a suitable management approach to evaluating the health of ocean ecosystems ─ a new cost-effective monitoring tool. “Because ocean acidification acts at global scales, local reduction of nutrient pollution as a management intervention will strengthen the health of our marine ecosystems, and set them up for coping better with global climate stressors,” says Connell.


News Article | November 22, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's government has slowed its nuclear power expansion plans, according to a draft energy paper, although state energy utility Eskom said the country should stick to its original plan of bringing a new plant online by 2025. South Africa has the continent's only nuclear power station and is seeking to expand its nuclear, wind, solar and coal power capacity in the coming decades as electricity output barely meets demand. A draft blueprint of the government's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) said it now aimed to increase nuclear power output by just 1,359 megawatts (MW) by 2037, compared with a previous target of adding 9,600 MW of new nuclear power by 2030. Under the new IRP, nuclear power output would rise more rapidly by 20,385 MW between 2037 and 2050. The government cited additional generation capacity, lower demand forecasts and changes in technology costs among the reasons for scaling-back. Eskom , which will procure, own and operate new nuclear plants, said it will still request proposals this year from companies looking to build plants given long lead times of around a decade when building reactors. Energy analysts have said the 9,600 MW plan was ambitious on timescale and unnecessary, while opponents of President Jacob Zuma raised concerns about a lack of transparency in deals which could cost in the region of $80 billion. Several meetings between Zuma and Russian President Vladimir Putin over the last two years led to speculation that Russian state-run nuclear firm Rosatom had secured the deal before the launch of the public tender. South Africa's government and Rosatom denied this. The new electricity-focused IRP includes plans to add a further 37,400 MW of wind and 17,600 MW of solar power by 2050. "If I was an investor or project developer in the nuclear space, I would not pick up a pen before the IRP is finalised next year to submit any request for proposals, specifically considering the dark cloud hanging over the nuclear programme with alleged corrupt relationships," said Johan Muller, programme manager for energy and environment at Frost & Sullivan consultancy. The previous head of Eskom, Brian Molefe resigned after being implicated in a report by the anti-graft watchdog on allegations of influence peddling that has tarnished state-owned companies as well as Zuma himself. The government's nuclear programme also faces public opposition. South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI) and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg are in court next month in a bid to overturn the nuclear build programme.


News Article | September 25, 2016
Site: cleantechnica.com

Originally published on Energy Transition: The German Energiewende by Leonie Joubert South Africa shows how quick an energy transition can be. In four years, with coal and nuclear power stations on hold, South Africa’s renewable energy program has nearly 100 plants in development. Leonie Joubert takes an in-depth look. South Africa’s energy sector is changing so quickly, this publication may well be out of date before the year is out. In four years, the country’s utility-scale renewable energy program has nearly 100 plants at various stages of development. The cost of solar and wind energy has dropped so significantly they are now cheaper than coal power. The country’s two new coal power stations, which should have been completed in 2011, are still not ready to go online. And in the past four months, the political ground has turned to quicksand under plans to build six to eight nuclear power stations. If anything, this shows how quickly this country’s transition away from mega-infrastructure carbon-intensive energy investment could be. In 2007, when construction began on the first of two new coal-fired power stations – Kusile and Medupi in Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces – the two were designed to add 9.6 GW of electricity to the grid, and were due to come online in 2011. They were expected to cost R69.1 billion (US$ 4.5 billion at current exchange rates) and R80.6 billion (US$ 5.3 billion), respectively. By early 2016, the plants were still not completed. Their anticipated cost has ballooned to double the original price, now figured at R154.2 billion (US$ 10 billion), and R172.2 billion (US$ 11 billion). And their procurement has been dogged with accusations of corruption, which have been widely reported in local media. In the four years that these two coal stations have overshot their delivery date, the arrival of renewable energy has, quite literally, changed the face of SA’s energy future: almost 2.5 GW of renewables have been added to the grid; R190 billion (US$13 billion) has come in from private investments; and the cost of solar and wind energy has gone from being uncompetitive with coal to being significantly cheaper. The Department of Energy kicked off the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (REIPPPP) in 2011. The aim was to bring 3.75 GW of power to the grid through a series of concentrated solar power, photovoltaic (PV), biomass, landfill, wind, or small hydro plants at various locations around the country. But the program had already exceeded that target about two-thirds of the way through the procurement process. REIPPPP has proved so successful, it has been hailed as a global success. While the construction of Kusile and Medupi runs behind schedule, REIPPP is finalizing the fourth of its anticipated five bidding rounds, and has over 100 projects at various stages of either bidding, contracting, raising finance, being signed off, or under construction. According to the Energy Blog, one of the most comprehensive databases of the REIPPPP projects, by mid-April 2016, some 47 of these plants were fully operational, and their combined energy production added up to nearly 2.5 GW to the grid. Professor Anton Eberhard, expert in infrastructure and associated policy development at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business, said that REIPPPP has contributed to more competitive pricing, transparency in the procurement process, and greater efficiency in project rollout. On the pricing matter, Eberhard wrote in a May 2014 report that in just two-and-a-half years since the start of REIPPPP, the price of solar PV and wind power dropped dramatically. In normative terms, he said, by 68 percent and 42 percent, respectively. South Africa is the only country on the continent with a nuclear power station, and its ambitions to build another six to eight were put on hold in March 2016, after the High Court in Cape Town heard that the state had sidestepped its statutory and constitutional obligations around transparency and public participation, as it wrapped up a deal with the Russian government to deliver the reactors. The controversial 9.6 GW fleet was expected to cost between R700 billion (nearly US$ 50 billion, at the exchange rate of late April 2016) to R1.4 trillion (approximately US$ 93 billion). This is the immediate cost of building, and excludes the additional cost of decommissioning the plants, handling waste, and interest on loans attached to what would amount to the biggest infrastructure project ever undertaken by this country. The R1.4 trillion, in 2015, was the equivalent to about a third of the current national budget. Following the court action, initiated by civil society organizations Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI), the state announced it had put its nuclear plans on hold. Recent events have weakened the local currency and raised uncertainty for renewables. In November 2015, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was fired unexpectedly, and replaced temporarily by an inexperienced and unknown parliamentarian (it was soon confirmed that the president fired Nene because he opposed the nuclear fleet procurement). The decision sent the local currency into a spiral, from which it has yet to recover. This currency crash, along with rising interest rates in South Africa, are likely to impact the cost of the next wave of plants planned for the REIPPP process, according to local WWF energy analyst Saliem Fakir. Fakir explains that “the fourth REIPPP bidding round hasn’t closed, and we haven’t done the calculations yet, so we don’t know for certain what the impacts will be. But it could influence renewable energy prices for the projects built as a result of this bidding round. It won’t stop the renewable rollout, but it could push up the price.” If so, this could offset some of the gains in terms of cost reduction which were made in the first three bidding rounds, as discussed above. Several macro-economic trends are adding to the sudden challenges for renewable prices at the moment: the over-supply of PV panels globally has made this a buyers’ market; the SA government’s level of indebtedness impacts whether the state can stand as surety for private sector finance, as is the case at present (a form of indirect state subsidy but these guarantees are not limited to renewables only, says Fakir); and the strength of the local currency, relative to the Dollar and Euro. “If foreign firms are buying locally produced services and technology for these plants,” explains Fakir, “then their buying power will improve if the Rand weakens. If local firms are buying, then the reverse applies.” In conclusion, South Africa’s clean energy transition is moving at rapid speeds driven in large part by highly effective government policy and dramatically falling prices for both wind and solar power. Renewable energies are becoming competitive with fossil fuels; the energy transition in South Africa is thus no longer about ideology but about economic forces. After all, it’s the economy, stupid! is a science writer and journalist, and currently works as a fellow with the  University of Cape Town’s Environmental Humanities of the South , where she is looking at the political economy of the food system in her country. Buy a cool T-shirt or mug in the CleanTechnica store!   Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech daily newsletter or weekly newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.


News Article | September 23, 2016
Site: news.yahoo.com

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Activist groups are challenging a plan by South Africa's government to expand the country's nuclear power generation capacity on the grounds that the process was unconstitutional, they said on Thursday. Africa's most industrialised country has earmarked nuclear expansion as a key part of increasing its power generation but the price tag of up to 1 trillion rand ($74 billion) for 9.6 gigawatts of nuclear power expected to be operational by 2030 has raised concerns over whether the plan is affordable. Fears the nuclear project could be the most expensive procurement in South Africa's history, and that decisions could be made behind closed doors without the necessary public scrutiny, have been raised by opposition parties and environmentalists. Earthlife Africa Johannesburg and the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute said in a statement that the High Court in Cape Town would hear their case on Dec. 13 and 14 this year to block the nuclear power expansion. "We are very pleased that the court understands the urgency of this matter at a critical stage in South Africa's energy decision-making process," said Liz McDaid, a spokeswoman for the activists. Communications officials at the energy department were not available to comment. The energy minister has said the government will issue requests for proposals on the new nuclear fleet on Sept. 30, amid concerns the costs will be prohibitive as the country tries to cut its heavy dependence on coal-fired plants.

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