Monday, December 20, 2010

2010: Disastrous Year, World gone wild

Thestar: Monday December 20, 2010

NEW YORK: This was the year the Earth struck back.
Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010; the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year than have been killed in terrorists in the past 40 years combined.
"It just seemed like it was back-to-back, and it came in waves," said Craig Fugate, who heads the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency. It handled a record number of disasters in 2010.
"The term '100-year event' really lost its meaning this year."
And we have ourselves to blame most of the time, scientists and disaster experts say.
Even though many catastrophes have the ring of random chance, the hand of man made this a particularly deadly, costly, extreme and weird year for everything from wild weather to earthquakes.
Poor construction and development practices conspire to make earthquakes more deadly than they need be. More people live in poverty in vulnerable buildings in crowded cities. That means that when the ground shakes, the river breaches, or the tropical cyclone hits, more people die.
Disasters from the Earth, such as earthquakes and volcanoes, "are pretty much constant," said Andreas Schraft, vice president of catastrophic perils for the Geneva-based insurance giant Swiss Re. "All the change that's made is man-made."
The January earthquake that killed well more than 220,000 people in Haiti is a perfect example. Port-au-Prince has nearly three times as many people, many of them living in poverty, and more poorly built shanties than it did 25 years ago. So had the same quake hit in 1985 instead of 2010, total deaths probably would have been in the 80,000 range, said Richard Olson, director of disaster risk reduction at Florida International University.
In February, an earthquake that was more than 500 times stronger than the one that struck Haiti hit an area of Chile that was less populated, better constructed, and not so poor. Chile's bigger quake caused fewer than 1,000 deaths.
Climate scientists say Earth's climate also is changing thanks to man-made global warming, bringing extreme weather, such as heat waves and flooding.
In the summer, one weather system caused oppressive heat in Russia, while farther south it caused flooding in Pakistan that inundated 62,000 square miles (160,580 sq. kilometers), about the size of Bangladesh. That single heat-and-storm system killed almost 17,000 people, more than all the worldwide airplane crashes in the past 15 years combined.
"It's a form of suicide, isn't it? We build houses that kill ourselves (in earthquakes). We build houses in flood zones that drown ourselves," said Roger Bilham, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado. "It's our fault for not anticipating these things. You know, this is the Earth doing its thing."
No one had to tell a mask-wearing Vera Savinova how bad it could get. She is a 52-year-old administrator in a dental clinic who in August took refuge from Moscow's record heat, smog and wildfires.
"I think it is the end of the world," she said. "Our planet warns us against what would happen if we don't care about nature."
The excessive amount of extreme weather that dominated 2010 is a classic sign of man-made global warming that climate scientists have long warned about. They calculate that the killer Russian heat wave, which set a national record of 111 degrees (44 Celsius), would happen once every 100,000 years without global warming.
Preliminary data show that 18 countries broke their records for the hottest day on record.
"These (weather) events would not have happened without global warming," said Kevin Trenberth, chief of climate analysis for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
That is why the people who study disasters for a living say it would be wrong to chalk 2010 up to just another bad year.
"The Earth strikes back in cahoots with bad human decision-making," said a weary Debarati Guha Sapir, director for the World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. "It's almost as if the policies, the government policies and development policies, are helping the Earth strike back instead of protecting from it. We've created conditions where the slightest thing the Earth does is really going to have a disproportionate impact."
Here is a quick tour of an anything but normal 2010:
While the Haitian earthquake, Russian heat wave, and Pakistani flooding were the biggest killers, deadly quakes also struck Chile, Turkey, China and Indonesia in one of the most active seismic years in decades. Through mid-December there have been 20 earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 or higher, compared with the normal 16. This year is tied for the most big quakes since 1970, but it is not a record. Nor is it a significantly above average year for the number of strong earthquakes, U.S. earthquake officials say.
Flooding alone this year killed more than 6,300 people in 59 nations through September, according to the World Health Organization. In the United States, 30 people died in floods in the Nashville, Tennessee, region. Inundated countries include China, Italy, India, Colombia and Chad. Super Typhoon Megi, with winds of more than 200 mph devastated the Philippines and parts of China.
Through Nov. 30, nearly 260,000 people died in natural disasters in 2010, compared with 15,000 in 2009, according to Swiss Re. The World Health Organization, which has not updated its figures past Sept. 30, is just shy of 250,000. By comparison, deaths from terrorism from 1968 to 2009 were less than 115,000, according to reports by the U.S. State Department and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The last year in which natural disasters were this deadly was 1983 because of an Ethiopian drought and famine, according to WHO. Swiss Re calls it the deadliest since 1976.
The charity Oxfam says 21,000 of this year's disaster deaths are weather related.
After strong early year blizzards, nicknamed Snowmageddon, paralyzed the U.S. mid-Atlantic and record snowfalls hit Russia and China, the temperature turned to broil.
The year may go down as the hottest on record worldwide or at the very least in the top three, according to the World Meteorological Organization. The average global temperature through the end of October was 58.53 degrees (14.74 Celsius), a shade over the previous record of 2005, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Los Angeles, California, had its hottest day in recorded history on Sept. 27: 113 degrees. In May, 129 degrees (54 Celsius) set a record for Pakistan and may have been the hottest temperature recorded in an inhabited location.
In the Southeastern United States, the year began with freezes in Florida that had cold-blooded iguanas becoming comatose and falling off trees. Then it became the hottest summer on record for the region. As the year ended, unusually cold weather was back in force.
Northern Australia had the wettest May-October on record, while the southwestern part of that country had its driest spell on record. And parts of the Amazon River basin struck by drought hit their lowest water levels in recorded history.
Disasters caused $222 billion in economic losses in 2010, more than Hong Kong's economy, according to Swiss Re. That is more than usual, but not a record, Schraft said. That is because this year's disasters often struck poor areas without heavy insurance, such as Haiti.
Ghulam Ali's three-bedroom, one-story house in northwestern Pakistan collapsed during the floods. To rebuild, he had to borrow 50,000 rupees ($583) from friends and family. It is what many Pakistanis earn in half a year.
A volcano in Iceland paralyzed air traffic for days in Europe, disrupting travel for more than 7 million people. Other volcanoes in the Congo, Guatemala, Ecuador, the Philippines and Indonesia sent people scurrying for safety. New York City had a rare tornado.
A nearly 2-pound (0.9-kilogram) hailstone that was 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) in diameter fell in South Dakota in July to set a U.S. record. The storm that produced it was one of seven declared disasters for that state this year.
There was not much snow to start the Winter Olympics in a relatively balmy Vancouver, British Columbia, while the U.S. East Coast was snowbound.
In a 24-hour period in October, Indonesia got the trifecta of terra terror: a deadly magnitude 7.7 earthquake, a tsunami that killed more than 500 people and a volcano that caused more than 390,000 people to flee. That is after flooding, landslides and more quakes killed hundreds earlier in the year.
Even the extremes were extreme. This year started with a good sized El Nino, a recurring Pacific Ocean weather oscillation, which causes all sorts of extremes worldwide. Then later in the year, the world got the mirror image Pacific weather system with a strong La Nina, which causes a different set of extremes. Having a year with both a strong El Nino and La Nina is unusual.
And in the United States, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared a record number of major disasters, 79 as of Dec. 14. The average year has 34.
A list of day-by-day disasters in 2010 compiled by The Associated Press runs 64 printed pages long.
"The extremes are changed in an extreme fashion," said Greg Holland, director of the earth system laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
For example, even though it sounds counterintuitive, global warming likely played a bit of a role in U.S. "Snowmageddon" early this year, Holland said. That is because with a warmer climate, there is more moisture in the air, which makes storms including blizzards, more intense, he said.
White House science adviser John Holdren said people should become acclimated used to climate disasters or do something about global warming: "The science is clear that we can expect more and more of these kinds of damaging events unless and until society's emissions of heat-trapping gases and particles are sharply reduced."
And that is just the "natural disasters." It was also a year of man-made technological catastrophes. BP's broken oil well caused 172 million gallons to gush into the Gulf of Mexico. Mining disasters, men trapped deep in the Earth, caused dozens of deaths in tragic collapses in West Virginia, China and New Zealand. The fortunate miners in Chile who survived 69 days underground provided the feel good story of the year.
In both technological and natural disasters, there runs a common theme of "pushing the envelope," Olson said.
Colorado's Bilham said the world's population is moving into riskier megacities on fault zones and flood-prone areas. He figures that 400 million to 500 million people in the world live in large cities prone to major earthquakes.
A Haitian disaster will happen again, Bilham said: "It could be Algiers. it could be Tehran. It could be any one of a dozen cities."
World Health Organization's Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters:
World Meteorological Organization:
Swiss Re report on 2010 natural catastrophes:
U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency disasters:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Expansion in solar photovoltaic to generate RM200mil in opportunities

Thestar: Monday November 22, 2010


GEORGE TOWN: The solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in the country is expected to increase substantially to 11mega watt (MW) in 2011, generating about RM200mil in business opportunities for companies involved in installing solar power generation systems.
AWC Bhd managing director Azmir Merican told StarBiz that the 11MW capacity would provide for the grid-connected market in the peninsula and the off-grid market in East Malaysia, following the implementation of the feed-in tariff scheme under the Renewable Energy Law next July.
The feed-in tariffs proposed for residential buildings is around RM1.20 per kilowatt (KW) hour and for commercial properties around RM1.10 per KW hour, while the tariff to consume solar power from Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) is around 32sen per KW hour for both residential and commercial properties.
AWC, a provider of engineering services and integrated facility management solutions, is listed on the Main Market. Ithad just set up a joint-venture company, AWC Solamas Sdn Bhd, with Solamas Sdn Bhd to provide solar power integrated services to tap the huge potential of the renewable energy sector in the country.
Solar panels installed by AWC Solamas
We expect the commercial and government sectors to generate the bulk of demand for solar PV system installation, as the commercial enterprises and the Government would be interested in reducing power spending to stay competitive and to save money.
A large factory, for example, would require the installation of 1MW capacity, which would cost about RM16mil to install.
The RM16mil would include the cost of designing, building, and installing the solar PV system to suit the requirements of the customer, he said.
Commenting on overseas markets, Azmir said the joint venture company would also look into providing its services in the Middle East.
The Middle East is heavily investing into solar projects, and we would like to be a part of this, he said. In Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), for example, there is 1500MW capacity of concentrated solar power slated for development by 2020, and the installation for 100MW capacity has already started. The UAE has also invested about US$2bil into solar PV manufacturing.
Azmir said the company would also explore Africa, which has a large growth potential in the energy sector, and pursue opportunities in Malaysia and South-East Asia.
ETI Tech Corp Bhd, an ACE market renewable energy provider company, is targeting to sell between 500 and 1,000 sets per month of solar power generation system for off-grid applications in 2011 for the Sabah and Sarawak market.
We sold only about 60 sets this year, which generated over RM1mil in revenue, as we started the business some 18 months ago.
The off-grid solar PV market in Sabah and Sarawak is huge, as there are some 400,000 rural households which are still using diesel-generators as power systems.
ETI Tech has to date spent about RM4mil in research and development to produce lithium polymer batteries for off-grid applications in east Malaysia, ETI managing director K.K. Lee said.
Meanwhile, Gading Kencana Sdn Bhd managing director Guntor Tobeng said the company was now bidding for two 5MW solar power projects called by Johor Port in Pasir Gudang and by Tenaga Nasional Bhd for its solar farm project in Putrajaya, which would cost about RM180mil to install.
In 2012, the solar power capacity in Malaysia is expected to grow to 22MW, generating about RM400mil in business opportunities.
These business opportunities are in the supply of modules, system components, and provision of installation services to households and commercial buildings which generate solar energy for their own usage or those connected to the power grid for distribution. The capital barrier to these businesses is also very low, ranging between RM50,000 and RM3mil, Guntor said.
Based in Shah Alam, Gading Kencana is involved a providing consultancy and engineering services for renewable energy used in residential and commercial buildings.
The company has, so far this year, completed RM10mil worth of solar energy projects for rural areas in east Malaysia.