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News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. “Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that,” says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University’s Environment Institute. “Our understanding of what’s likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change.” The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. “Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster,” says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. “However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates.” The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the ‘fertilising’ effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. “The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe,” says Professor Nagelkerken. “Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management.”


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.eurekalert.org

University of Adelaide researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. "Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that," says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University's Environment Institute. "Our understanding of what's likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change." The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. "Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster," says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. "However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates." The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the 'fertilising' effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. "The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe," says Professor Nagelkerken. "Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management."


News Article | April 27, 2017
Site: www.rdmag.com

Researchers have constructed a marine food web to show how climate change could affect our future fish supplies and marine biodiversity. Published today in Global Change Biology, the researchers found that high CO2 expected by the end of the century which causes ocean acidification will boost production at different levels of the food web, but ocean warming cancelled this benefit by causing stress to marine animals, preventing them using the increased resources efficiently for their own growth and development. The result was a collapsing food web. “Humans rely heavily on a diversity of services that are provided by ocean ecosystems, including the food we eat and industries that arise from that,” says project leader Professor Ivan Nagelkerken, from the University’s Environment Institute. “Our understanding of what’s likely to happen has been hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single levels of the food web. In this study, we created a series of three-level food webs and monitored and measured the results over a number of months to provide an understanding of future food webs under climate change.” The researchers constructed marine food webs based on plants which use sunlight and nutrients to grow (algae), small invertebrates that graze on the plants (such as shrimp), and fish that in turn prey on small invertebrates. They had 12 large aquaria with different species to mimic seagrass, open sand and rocky reef habitats, simulating tidal movements with circular currents. The food webs were exposed to the levels of ocean acidification and warming predicted for the end of this century. Over several months, the researchers assessed the basic processes that operate in food webs like predation and growth of organisms. “Elevated carbon dioxide concentrations boosted plant growth; more plant food meant more small invertebrates, and more small invertebrates, in turn, allowed the fish to grow faster,” says PhD candidate Silvan Goldenberg, who is supervised by Professor Nagelkerken and Professor Sean Connell. “However, ocean warming cancelled this benefit of elevated carbon dioxide by causing stress to the animals, making them less efficient feeders and preventing the extra energy produced by the plants from travelling through the food web to the fish. At the same time, fish were getting hungrier at higher temperatures and started to decimate their prey, the small invertebrates.” The researchers found that ocean warming would be an overwhelming stressor that made food webs less efficient, neutralised the ‘fertilising’ effect of elevated carbon dioxide and threw the fragile relationship between predators and prey off balance. “The consequences for marine ecosystems are likely to be severe,” says Professor Nagelkerken. “Oceans in the future may provide less fish and shellfish for us to eat, and larger animals that are at the top of the food web, in particular, will suffer. We hope this study will provide predictive understanding which is critical for effective fisheries management.”


Once upon a time, in the distant 60s and 70s, the Great Barrier Reef faced imminent destruction. Tenement applications for drilling and mining covered vast swathes of the reef, with both government and industry enthusiastically backing the plans for mass exploitation. In the face of the reef’s impending doom a motley collection of ordinary Australians shared a common determination that something had to be done. But the odds didn’t look good. The poet turned campaigner Judith Wright wrote that “if it had not been for the public backing for protection of the reef that we knew existed, we might have given up hope”. The optimism of the poet was well founded. First in the hundreds, then in the tens of thousands, a people’s movement grew to defend the reef. Everyday Aussies turned activists and campaigners. Scientists and lawyers came forward with vital expertise. At a crucial moment the Queensland Trades and Labour Council approved a total black-ban by all affiliated unions on oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. As hard as is now to believe, the Murdoch-owned Australian opined that the ban would have an unprecedented measure of public support and would probably succeed. It deserved to. Only finally did the politicians follow the will of the people. Through the power and determination of the Australian people, the greatest marine park in human history was established and the Great Barrier Reef lived to fight another day. Inherently democratic in its size and closeness to the shore, the Great Barrier Reef is truly the people’s reef. Looking back on the first great struggle for the reef between the Australian people and the fossil fuel industry, Wright wrote that “if disasters in the shape of weather, accident and climate change lie ahead, the work done already has shown what can be done to shield it from such dangers and has proved that people will agree, in the event, to supplying the help it needs”. Unhappily, those disasters are now upon us. Global warming brought the great bleaching of 2015-16 and the dreadful and unprecedented sequel over the summer that has just finished. Our reef is in dire trouble. But while the people’s reef is grievously wounded, it is still very much alive. And life fights for life. Innumerable animals are now doing what creatures do, navigating the hazards of life as best they can to survive and reproduce in the warming waters. Given time and the right conditions, the people’s reef can recover and life will flourish again. So how this time around do we supply the help the reef needs? The big lie propagated by Australian government and big business is that it is possible to turn things around for the reef without tackling global warming. As scientists have made clear, it isn’t – we have to stop climate pollution to give our reef a chance. It is true that Australia can’t save the reef alone because climate change is a global problem. But that does not mean we are powerless to act and we should not be deterred. Because when you love something deeply – as we Australians cherish our people’s reef – then you do all that is within your power to save that thing which you hold so dear. And there is much that is within our power to do. So what is to be done? The answer does not lie in false techno-fixes or the faux-democratic farrago of the government-business funded Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s greatest contribution to global warming is through our coal, exported and burned in foreign power stations. So our most determined Australian efforts to save the reef must be directed to closing down the coalmining industry, while ensuring decent new jobs and fair transitions for all affected workers and communities. Again, the balance of power seems loaded against us. First the Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and now the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, have betrayed both the reef and the trust of the Australian people by snivelling across the seas, pledging allegiance to the Carmichael coalmine. All too often, the rest of big business is complicit in the crisis by explicitly or tacitly supporting the coal industry. Financial institutions such as CommBank continue to invest in the fossil fuel projects that are bringing disaster to the reef. But, once we are roused, never underestimate the power and determination of the Australian people to defend our iconic animals and the natural beauty of our lands and seas. The extraordinary success of the Stop Adani Roadshow – which sold out across the eastern Australian capital cities reaching an audience of thousands – is just a glimpse of the popular will to fight the coal industry for the future of our reef. We have the opportunity to write our own story, not of despair but of defiance. If we, the people of Australia, stand determined together against coalmining and the rest of the fossil fuel industry then the future of our reef is not bleak but hopeful. The roadmap to full recovery for our reef will be decades or even centuries in the making. And it is going to get worse before it gets better. But we, the Australian people, can again agree to supply the help it needs, to give the reef we love the best chance of future flourishing. Now is the time to get involved. • This op ed is a modified version of comments made at Global Warming and the Mass Bleaching of Corals, a public event held by the Sydney Environment Institute of Sydney University on 31 March.


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 | 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 | 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 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 | 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 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.

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