The Philippines will host the annual International Renewable Energy Conference (IREC) in July this year. The Congressional Commission on Science and Technology and Engineering (COMSTE), headed by Senator Edgardo Angara, will organize the IREC 2009. Participants in this year’s IREC would include local and foreign academics, scientists, energy investors, and entrepreneurs. Similarly, there is another IREC that started in 2004 as a result of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, where renewable energy was discussed a critical component for worldwide development. Nigeria was last year's host. In a statement, Angara said the hosting of IREC in the Philippines would strengthen the country’s plans to use renewable energy sources after Senate Bill 2046 or the Renewable Energy Act was passed in 2008. Angara expects that results of the IREC would include programs to help the Philippines develop its domestic renewable energy sources. Angara also hopes to create linkages with Spain and Brazil, which are already establishing their own domestic renewable energy sources. “The Philippines, as cited by Moody’s, moved a step in the right direction with long term solution of passing a comprehensive renewable energy law.But more importantly, it is a step towards sustainable growth, towards clean development,” Angara said.
March 2009 Archives
By Dennis Posadas Contributor THE ongoing debate between the environmentalists and the pro-nuclear advocates simply illustrates what is missing in most arguments around the world on clean energy and climate change. Too often, the typical argument by the environmentalists is to position renewable energy as the alternative to nuclear energy. What many people donâ€™t realize is that it is not as simple as not going nuclear, not going with coal and then just going renewable. It is nice to hear, and as a clean energy blogger (I run a blog called GO Clean Energy), I am also not that naive to say that renewable energy will solve all our problems in the near future. This notwithstanding the fact that technology is advancing in this arena; for example on the day of Barack Obamaâ€™s inaugural address as President, the firm FirstSolar announced that it had breached the $1/watt mark, at $0.98c/watt for its solar photovoltaic thin film cells. Granted that we can do a lot by conserving energy both voluntarily and technologically (think microchips to make appliances automatically adjust their demand), and that we Asians can tap energy sources like geothermal, and maybe even some good operating practices like staggered turn-on of large electricity consuming appliances like chillers and motors in our factories and shopping malls, the fact is that Asian societies have to move beyond simply mouthing phrases like No to Nukes or No to Coal, and actually educate themselves about what is out there as well as what is the state of the art. The problem that many are making is that they use what is basically a decades-old view of the situation and argue with that view. Such is the case particularly with vehement opposition to nuclear energy. Worse, they feel that they have already done a service by simply stopping there. But this is not an oped that argues for or against nuclear energy. Rather, I argue that IF a particular country decides that it will NOT go nuclear, then it should give its citizens the complete picture. Politicians and institutions should not simply argue that its citizens should go with renewable energy to the exclusion of nuclear energy, and then leave it at that. What they do not realize is that turning off that empty coffeemaker or that air conditioner in an empty room will probably result in less need for more coal and nuclear plants than some of these decades old slogans. Take for example renewable energy. Most Asians would like to see more of it, but they probably have some obsolete paradigms that prevent its widespread use. For example, many of us are operating with what is called the centralized utility approach. This means that most of us think of electricity as something that we merely consume, and it is only the electric utility that can generate power and distribute it to us. But for those that have bought their own generator sets, or their own wind generators or solar panels, or built their own power generation systems, there is also the decentralized way of thinking. It means that to a limited extent, we should ALL consider generating part of our own power needs, either as individuals, companies or communities, and sell it back to our power utilities for a change. After all, many renewable energy laws sprouting up across Asia now allow net metering, or the two way running of our electric meters, because precisely it allows us as citizens to sell back power that we generate ourselves to our utility companies. My point is that if we Asians will argue that we will no longer build regular (as opposed to clean) coal plants because these plants cause global warming, and some of us will not go with nuclear because of perceived safety concerns, then any movement that pushes these notions has to go beyond slogans. We need to offer real solutions because frankly there will be real power capacity problems in the future once the recession ends. How much that additional capacity will be is the function of how much growth we will get, how much energy conservation measures we can implement, as well as other factors. To simply say no to coal, no to nuclear and yes to renewable energy is incomplete. Without taking some responsibility as citizens on how we can utilize renewable energy or conserve electricity, we are not really helping. Asian governments and institutions need to educate people how to make these investments, how to participate in a new age of power generation, tell them about the limitations of renewable energy (the sun doesnâ€™t always shine and the wind doesnâ€™t always blow) and basically convince a large number of Asians to adopt a new lifestyle--one that encourages them to conserve electricity and makes them both power generators and consumers, and not simply insult their intelligence with incomplete slogans. Otherwise, you simply end up with a lot of nice to hear statements, but which at the end of the day, will simply result in more regular coal plants being built. Dennis Posadas is the Deputy Executive Director of the Congressional Commission on Science & Technology and Engineering. He is the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable to be published by Pearson Education Asia this 2009.
By Andrew Beatty Agence France-Presse CROFTON--A robot named Cosmo has become six-year-old Kevin Fitzgerald's unlikely ally in his uphill everyday battle with developmental difficulties. At a strip mall clinic in suburban Maryland, Kevin is at the unlikely intersection of new efforts to treat symptoms of autism, cerebral palsy and other developmental disorders with robotics and computer work. Here, he scrambles onto a swivel chair to examine a half-metre- (1.6-feet-) tall robot on the table in front of him. Prodding four brightly-coloured buttons near the robot's feet, he directs a cartoon version of the machine around a computer monitor, furtively glancing up at the real thing for encouragement. Kevin showed the first signs of learning difficulties when he was 18 months old, and was later diagnosed with developmental dyspraxia. "It is like having a stroke," his mother Patty Fitzgerald said. "His brain is intact, but his body doesn't do what he wants it to do." Some specific skills -- like pronouncing consonants, matching cause and effect or grasping relative concepts such as better and faster -- can be depressingly difficult for him to master. But for the last year, a small blue-and-yellow android called Cosmo has offered some hope. Programmed to respond to body movements, voice activation, or the four-button-panel dubbed "mission control," Cosmo is designed to teach basic behavioural and physical skills. It can gesticulate, reproduce phrases and move around when prompted. It also cheers and gives clues to help children complete specific tasks. As a piece of engineering, Cosmo is unspectacular. It has just nine moving joints -- a number that might underwhelm robotics buffs. But Cosmo's potential to help children has caught the attention of Minnesota's globally-acclaimed Mayo Clinic. There investigators are conducting a second phase medical trial to see if the robot can help kids with cerebral palsy develop movements -- such as twisting the wrist -- more quickly than traditional methods. "It is going extremely well," said Krista Coleman-Wood, a physical therapist at Mayo's biomechemical and motion analysis laboratory. Wearing a glove fitted with sensors, children are asked to make movements that copy and are copied by Cosmo, building up muscle tissue and improving motor planning. According to Coleman-Wood, it is too early to say if children make more progress with the robot than through traditional physical therapy, but fun levels are clearly in the robot's favour. "Imagine lifting and moving your wrist repeatedly, it gets boring very quickly. (with Cosmo) there is cognitive engagement, the children are engaged," Coleman-Wood said. Cosmo's designers hope a successful trial will mark a huge leap forward for robot-aided therapy. The robot's inventor, Corinna Lathan, believes it can vastly improve on traditional and computer-based learning, serving simultaneously as a toy, a friend and a teacher. "Manipulating a mouse or a keyboard is not the same as directly manipulating your environment," said Lathan, a graduate of Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also plans experiments for NASA through her research and development firm AnthroTronix. "There is a lot of research that indicates if you want to learn social skills or spatial skills, that interacting in a three dimensional space, not just on flat screen or computer (is helpful). "With the robot you can actually move from cause and effect to other developmental skills, you can move it round something, you can move it faster." According to Lathan, Cosmo can also help improve behavioural problems, such as lack of focus, which frequently accompany learning disabilities. "The idea is that rather than hiding in front of a computer you are actually starting to interact with a peer and the hope is that that starts to transfer to other peers, human peers -- adults, care givers, parents," she said. Five years after Kevin started therapy, Patty Fitzgerald says the last 12 months with Cosmo have proven revolutionary. "When we first started there would be times when I could not get him out of the car if he knew it would be something challenging. Now if I mention that Cosmo is going to be here, or the computer, he comes running down the hallway." According to Fitzgerald, Kevin's progress could allow him to continue to attend conventional schools, even if some adaptations are necessary. "We were expecting improvement in behaviour, being able to follow the rules, being able to share and take turns, but he has picked up some reading skills and some counting skills and he can write his name. "Family life is much better, we can go to a restaurant because we can discus the fact that you don't just throw your silverware on the floor, you do use a spoon instead of your hands," she added. And her long-term goals are now a bit bolder. "We would love to see him as an adult man, working a job, having a family, that kind of thing. So as much as he can possibly learn -- that is our goal."
By Marlowe Hood Agence France-Presse PARIS--Manmade climate change is set to hasten the disintegration of a massive ice sheet in Antarctica by 100,000 years, boosting sea levels some five metres (16 feet), according to a pair of studies published Thursday. The research, which matches new ice core data with a simulation of past and future changes in the West Antarctica Ice Sheet (WAIS), reveals for the first time regular cycles of "catastrophic collapse" and reformation reaching back five million years. Cycles lasted 40,000 years during the first three-fifths of this period, but have since more than doubled in length, explained David Pollard, a scientist at Pennsylvania State University and lead author of one of the studies. "But with global warming we are cutting short a natural cycle," he told AFP by phone. "The two studies combined show it is really likely that the WAIS will collapse in the next few thousand years. In the absence of human influence, it would probably happen only 100,000 years from now," he said. Rising sea levels is arguably the most serious long-term threat from climate change. The global ocean water mark is likely to go up by at least a metre before the end of the century, recent research has shown. That is enough to wipe out several small island nations, and to disrupt or displace tens of millions of people living in heavily-populated and low-lying delta areas in East Asia, African and the Indian subcontinent. Part of that rise will come from thermal expansion as ocean temperatures rise, a process scientists understand well and are able to forecast. But the world's two great ice sheets sitting atop Greenland and Antarctica remain climate change wild cards, with great uncertainty as to whether -- or how quickly -- they might shed their mass. A team of more than 50 scientists led by Tim Naish of Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand extracted sediment samples reaching 600 metres below the surface of the WAIS. The findings showed a geological metronome of massive change across five million years, and provided the first direct evidence of total collapse. "Before there were hints of it collapsing like that, but we really didn't know until now," said Pollard, a co-author of the study, published in Nature. The new data also confirmed that the cycles of ice destruction and formation are closely linked to shifts in the tilt of Earth's axis as it rotates around the Sun, a process called obliquity. The period covered by the sediment samples -- the early Pliocene -- is of special interest to climate scientists because it so closely resembles the conditions forecast for Earth over the next 100 years. With global temperatures set to rise about 3.0 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100, "more significance is being placed on the early Pliocene as an analogue for understanding the future behaviour of the WAIS and its contribution to global sea levels," the study says. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere -- some 400 parts per million (ppm) -- was also in line with projected 21st century levels, which have already hit 385 ppm and are still rising. In the second study, Pollard and Robert DeConto of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst simulate Antarctic ice sheet variations in a mathematical model over the past five million years in order to track the "grounding line", the shifting border between land and sea ice. "We found that the dominant mechanism attacking the West Antarctic ice has been variations in ocean melting under its large floating ice shelves," rather than changes in temperature or surface melt, Pollard said. "One of the next steps is to determine if human activity will make it warm enough to start the collapse," said Pollard.
By Annick Benoist AFP PARIS--Prehistoric bones and the skull of one of France's greatest thinkers, Descartes, are among thousands of curiosities going under wraps when Paris's Museum of Mankind closes for a four-year overhaul at the end of this month. Among the stars in the 70-year-old museum's 530,000-piece collection are tombs and bones of pre-historic humans, as well as their tools. Another starlet is the so-called Venus de Lespugue, a curvacious female figure carved from 15 centimetres (five inches) of prehistoric ivory, some 25,000 years old but not discovered until 1922 in southwestern France. The curator of the museum's anthropology collections, Philippe Mennecier, calls it the "most beautiful piece" in the whole museum. The statuette shares the ancient vaults with other prehistoric relics such as the skull of an early human known as Cro-Magnon, a 28,000-year-old relic dug up in the southern Dordogne region in 1868. The museum's shelves also hold 650 plaster busts, moulded from the faces of their living subjects at the end of the 19th century. Another big attraction is a human relic from relatively modern times: the skull of the 17th century French thinker Rene Descartes, who coined the philosophical saying "I think, therefore I am." Descartes died in his 50s in 1650 from pneumonia in Sweden, where he was teaching philosophy to the country's Queen Christina. He was buried in Stockholm but admirers of his intellect bribed the gravediggers to let them take his head as a souvenir. The rest of his remains were returned to France in 1667 and buried again in Paris, minus the skull, which turned up two centuries later at an auction in Stockholm, with inscriptions added by several of its former owners. The winning bidder passed it on to the Museum of Mankind, or Musee de l'Homme, Mennecier said. "That was no coincidence," he says. "That was where scientific disciplines were coming together at the time, following the ideas of Descartes which underpin science, rationalism and the separation of the mind and the body." The major renovation project is aimed at reinventing the museum's role after parts of its collection crossed the river to the flagship Quai Branly museum which opened in 2006. The venue when it reopens will show the "natural history of the human species," said its top director, Bertrand-Pierre Galey. It will "bring into the building the whole history of humanity, its past and its future." The museum opens free of charge next weekend for a last glimpse ahead of the renovation.
By Izah Morales INQUIRER.net MANILA, Philippines--Colored tags attached to tuna species like the “tangi” or “tambakul” can earn fishermen or consumers money rewards, an official of the Department of Agriculture said Monday. “This tuna tagging project carries a $10 reward for yellow tag, $50 for green tag and $250 for orange tag. The latter two have accompanying devices inserted in the body cavity of the fish (near the abdomen). The tag on the former is attached on the back of the fish near the second dorsal fin,” said Malcolm Sarmiento, director Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in DA’s press statement. “We are calling on our fishermen and the consuming public to surrender to BFAR or the LGUs, any tag found in fishes particularly big-eye, skipjack, or yellowfin tuna and other marine fishes, as these are part of scientific studies,” Sarmiento said. Sarmiento told INQUIRER.net that people can return the tags at the nearest BFAR office to get their reward. The official said the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute under BFAR would give the corresponding reward. The Philippines is part of a Tuna tagging project spearheaded by the Oceanic Fisheries Programme (OFP) based in New Caledonia, according to Sarmiento. “The tagging is done to aid the management measures and to validate the changes in migratory patterns of large pelagic species like tuna, which might be brought about by climate change,” added Sarmiento in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net. In a statement issued by OFP, the tagging project would provide information on fishery exploitation rates and population sizes in the Western and Central Pacific.
By Dennis Posadas Contributor IT looks like the previous prediction by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on sea level rise back in 2007 is actually an underestimate, according to scientists who presented their findings at the Copenhagen Climate Conference this week. This means that 600 million Asians living in low-lying coastal areas, including us Filipinos, will experience increased occurrences of flooding inland. Already, stronger storms and seawater creep into previously arable areas are some of the early signs of what to expect. Now we have a new Renewable Energy (RE) Act patterned after those in Europe and the U.S. which is actually key to our climate change efforts. Aside from incentives to renewable energy companies and investors, this RE Act actually requires the power utilities like Meralco to purchase a certain percentage of their power from renewable/clean energy sources. It also features incentives to spur the development of a local clean energy sector. But it does not stop there. Even with this RE Act, a lack of societal commitment by Filipinos to clean energy may undermine the success of this law. After being a top priority at $140/barrel, clean energy is again quickly becoming an afterthought. During my time as an electrical engineering student at UP Diliman, the evidence of renewable energy research was all around us in our laboratory. But now, very few engineering students are doing power and energy research. After all, for a time, crude was flowing cheaply from the Middle East until last year. Unfortunately, a clean energy commitment that ebbs and flows will not encourage its development, and will not encourage large scale innovation in this arena. The main issue here is that we often pay lip service to support clean energy, but when it comes to pulling out our wallets, we often reply "but fossil fuel generated electricity is still cheaper at this time." Then comes the follow through, “let’s just wait for the technology to become cheaper before we purchase it.”A variant of this thinking is, “let Meralco (or whatever local utility) take care of it, as long as they make it cheap.” That kind of thinking, the kind that insulates us from any role as consumers in propagating clean power, will not augur well for its success. Even with legislated mandates, utilities will not rush to make large capital investments in clean energy if we consumers at large will not commit to support it in the presence of cheap oil. Okay granted that if the price difference per kilowatt per hour is really large, we will think twice. But if the cost has reached almost what people in the industry call grid parity, then we ought to take a serious look. Even with incentives, the cost and revenue calculations sometimes do not make it competitive even over a period of several years if cheap fossil fuel based power will always be our comparison. On the other hand, in certain places where the price of electricity is already expensive, it may already a non-issue. The RE Act already has features to convince investors to lay down their cash. But these are just incentives. A predictable market decoupled from the price of oil needs to appear to support it. Although a mandate helps, a massive societal commitment by Filipinos to clean energy needs to accompany and strengthen it. Without it, we will not see the combination of economies of scale and innovation similar to what caused the prices of PC’s and semiconductors to drop and move forward technology-wise. If we Filipinos do not band together to support our Renewable Energy Act and put a premium on clean energy even with cheap oil, this mandate will not realize its true worth. Worse, it would be hypocritical for us to expect Europe and the U.S. to cut their emissions if we ourselves who will be heavily affected by climate change will not be at the forefront of supporting clean energy. Dennis Posadas is the Deputy Executive Director of the Congressional Commission on Science & Technology and Engineering. He is also the author of Jump Start: A Technopreneurship Fable, to be published by Pearson Education Asia this 2009.
Agence France-Presse SAN FRANCISCO--TED on Monday began hunting for heroes in hard-pressed lands. The Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) group famous for attracting outstanding entrepreneurs, scientists, and celebrities is opening its arms to embrace promising visionaries with life-changing dreams but meager budgets. The door to apply, or nominate people, to be TEDGlobal fellows was opened on Monday and will close on April 3. Those chosen for fellowships will take part in this year's TED conference in Britain at the expense of organizers. Fellowship application information is available online. "You can be from a small village in China or two hours outside of Dakar; if you are doing something amazing we want you to apply," TED community director Tom Rielly said while announcing the fellowships in February. "The alchemy of TED is the inter-connectness of all disciplines. It's that mix of bringing unbelievably cool people, regardless of ability to pay, from different parts of the world that will be remarkably fertile." The fellowship program is focused especially on attracting "remarkable thinkers and doers" from Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. TED Fellows attend annual conferences in either California or Britain. Some will go on to senior fellowships that last three years. TED will also provide 100 one-time fellowship opportunities in India at a conference in November in Bangalore.
By Marjorie Gorospe INQUIRER.net THE Philippine Utility Vehicle Inc. (PhUV) and Green Renewable Independent Power Producer, Inc launched an electric powered utility vehicle, dubbed E-jeepney, which can carry up to 14 passengers . This electric-powered vehicle comes with a battery that needs to be charged six to eight hours before use. The vehicle can travel up to 90 kilometers when fully charged. The vehicle can reach up to 60 kilometers per hour but proponents said it would be more efficient to travel at 45 KM per hour. It also uses manual stick shift. PhUV president Ferdinand Raquelsantos said that the e-jeepney has the same component parts of an ordinary vehicle but without because a combustion engine. Land and Transportation Office currently recognizes the e-jeepney as a regular vehicle requiring normal registration. “This jeepney will not cause any pollution such as carbon emission and noise. It’s also provides a comfortable ride because it doesn’t have the vibration you get from a normal vehicle,” said Raquelsantos. He added said that the e-jeepney is ideal for urban areas and villages that want to promote an environmentally friendly vehicle. Compared to a regular vehicle, the e-jeepney is cheaper since one will only need to spend P2.50 per kilometer. Using a diesel engine, one spends P15 per kilometer. He said that they have already talked to transport groups about the e-jeepney. “Once we complete this project, we can convert their existing engines to a total electric-powered one,” said Raquelsantos. The conversion would cost P300,000. Raquelsantos expects a good growth of e-jeepney years from now especially if more urban areas will embrace the green movement.