TBLI Weekly - July 4th, 2023


TBLI Weekly - July 4th, 2023

Your weekly guide to Sustainable Investment


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How one soccer team makes climate progress its goooal

The Vermont Green FC is the first team in the U.S. to make climate action a central tenet of its business plan. It's winning on and off the pitch.

As the torrent of rain slowed, then faded, the Vermont Green FC surged. The team had already turned a one-goal deficit into a 5-3 lead over AC Connecticut when, in the waning minutes of the match, Green forward Nacho Lerech slid the soccer ball into the back of the net.

The goal all but assured the Green a victory, which would improve its record to 7-2 in league play and send it to the top of the standings. The players rushed to the stands in celebration, and were met by 1,533 soggy diehards brandishing a frenzy of flags, drums and cheers. It was an archetypal sports scene, except for the 80-foot banner hanging to the left of the goal the Green had just scored on. In enormous white letters, it declared: “Climate justice is social justice.”

The sign was, by far, the most prominent in the stadium, rivaled only by an identical one behind the opposing net. And its message is one that the team contends is even more central to its identity than the wins it’s been racking up.

“Everything revolves around our mission,” said Patrick Infurna, one of the six people who co-founded the Burlington-based Vermont Green FC in 2020. The team plays in the USL2 (a fourth-division semi-professional league) and is in its second full season, which runs from mid-May through mid-July. “We’re trying to implement big things and spark big things.”

The Green certainly isn’t the first sports team to address climate change. Most franchises now have some sort of sustainability program and the Seattle Kraken play hockey in “Climate Pledge Arena.” But the Green is the only squad in the United States with climate justice as its driving principle, putting it at the vanguard of a burgeoning movement to make sports a platform for climate action.

“You see examples of environmental sustainability in all the leagues in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Casper, an associate professor of sports management at North Carolina State University who researches the intersection of sports and the natural environment. “But not to the extent that you see in Vermont…[it’s] a core value of the club.”

That was always the plan, said Infurna. The concept, he explained, was born in the early days of the pandemic lockdown and based loosely on the approach of the Forest Green Rovers, a team in England, which in 2018 became the first U.N.-certified carbon-neutral football club. But Infurna and his colleagues wanted to take that idea further by making climate justice a team’s central mission. While the average age of the group hovered around 30, they hoped their combined skills would be enough to make that a reality. One person, for instance, had expertise in climate science, another two — including Infurna — already had professional experience in the soccer industry. And everyone, it turned out, had a connection to Vermont.

“There was no better place to do this for us,” said Infurna, of Burlington, a city that elected liberally-minded Bernie Sanders mayor four times and has set an ambitious goal to eliminate fossil fuel use in housing and ground transportation by 2030. That hunch quickly proved correct.

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The Ultra-Rich May Actually Be Less Intelligent Than Lower-Paid People, Study Finds

Intelligence helps in making money, but only to a point.

Many people believe that the richest 10 percent are significantly smarter or more hard-working than people less wealthy than them. This is particularly prevalent among opinions of the ultra-rich, where some look to billionaires for guidance in all walks of life. But are they actually more intelligent than the rest of us?

A new study suggests the answer is no: the elite may actually be just like us when it comes to intelligence, though there is some correlation between success and intelligence before you reach the big leagues. According to a study of almost 60,000 men, there is a strong relationship between intelligence and wage until it reaches above €60,000 ($64,000) a year, where the correlation becomes almost negligible. Strikingly, those in the top 1 percent were found to be potentially less smart than those close behind them, indicating ultra-success could be due to something different entirely.

Previous literature has linked intelligence with economic success but hasn't considered the relative ability of top earners. The researchers sought to explore this by looking at data taken from Swedish military conscripts, who had cognitive scores and labor information available. In total, almost 59,400 men around the age of 40 were followed using 11 years' worth of labor market data, as well as a series of cognitive, physical, and psychological test scores taken when they were younger. These tests were compared against their wages and job “prestige” between ages 35—45 to look for any links.

The results showed an expected increase in wage and prestige as cognitive ability rose, but then a plateau as the wages reached the top end. At €60,000 a year, there ceased to be any differences in ability between those earning above and below it, and intelligence did not increase above 70 prestige (doctors, lawyers, etc.). They also found the top 1 percent scored slightly worse on cognitive ability tests than those in the income level beneath them.

This suggests that while greater intelligence may help push a person into the higher brackets, when it comes to ultimate monetary success, it likely plays little part and those earning extremely high wages may actually be less smart.

The study is limited in a number of ways, particularly in the lack of diversity in the sample. Limiting the analysis to only men lessens how well the results can be translated to the wider population, and the authors welcome further research with more diverse samples.

Still, if you’re looking for real intellectual role models, don’t necessarily use money as a guide, as you may actually be looking up to someone less intelligent than you.

The study was published in European Sociological Review.

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Don’t Wait, Desalinate: The Electrified Future of Clean Water

​​​​​Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is awash with the stuff, but water — specifically, the clean and drinkable kind — is inaccessible to billions of people.

A new purification system developed by researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology uses an electrified version of dialysis to separate salt and other unnecessary particles from the potable product. Successfully applied to wastewater with planned expansion into rivers and seas, the method saves money and saps 90% less energy than its counterparts.

The study appears in ACS Energy Letters.

If only stripping salt from water was as simple as waving a giant magnet above the Pacific or sifting liquid through a super-fine sieve. Once the shifty mineral dissolves, the separation process — christened desalination in scientific circles — becomes more expensive and uses more energy.

Desalination is further complicated by impurities and organic matter (the small specks you'd find suspended in a scoop of unfiltered ocean water), the removal of which spurs energy and cost budgets to swell.

“We need a way to purify drinking water that’s low-energy, inexpensive, and useful for the communities that need it the most. I see our solution as a platform to tackle both the energy and water crises,” said Xiao Su, a Beckman researcher and an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

De-salting water usually requires filtration or evaporation to separate out undesirable elements like sodium, chloride, organic matter, and assorted atomic stowaways. Heat, for example, does this trick well — a simple kitchen experiment shows that boiling salted water causes the liquid to evaporate and the salt to abide as a solid, briny crust.

Su and his colleagues took a different approach: electrodialysis. Just like dialysis of the blood, which, kidney-like, flushes salt and other toxins from our veins, electrodialysis removes salts and organic matter from wastewater to produce a clean, drinkable product.Electrodialysis is an effective desalination tool, but often comes at a high energy cost. This is largely due to its flagship water-splitting reaction, which pulls water molecules apart into two components: a positively charged proton and a negatively charged hydroxide. Because the building blocks of salt have charges of their own, splitting the water forces the mineral’s movement in a designated direction — like a moth to an oppositely-charged flame or a scrap of metal to a magnet.

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Clean technology: securing shipping’s costly fuel transition

Hirozaku Kaji, technical director at Nippon Paint Marine, explains why clean technologies are vital to ensure the transition to future fuels.

It goes without saying that one of the biggest issues in the maritime industry is decarbonisation.

Profit and commercial priorities are as important as ever, but today, they are underpinned by regulatory and reputational pressure to reduce emissions.

Not to mention the increasing demand from charterers and cargo owners for more transparency and operational and environmental efficiencies, which also has an impact on shipowners’ bottom line.

Decisive action is essential for shipping to meet its decarbonisation targets and build sustainable practices for the future. There is no ‘silver bullet’ that will get the maritime industry to net-zero emissions, despite alternative fuels such as methanol or ammonia being held up as anticipated decarbonisation panaceas.

Shipping companies must look at other solutions which can drive an immediate reduction in fuel consumption and emissions today, as well as deliver operational efficiencies that will enable the successful transition to future fuels in the medium to longer term.

A costly, complex journey

The delivery and uptake of a new generation of viable and proven zero-carbon fuels will of course have a huge impact on the industry’s decarbonisation and ability to meet IMO, EU and other stakeholders’ targets and expectations.

However, the ideal scenario of a shipping industry operating on purely future fuels and new sources of energy will not happen overnight.

The fuel transition process will be long and complex, as it requires a new sophisticated green shipping value chain to be created, including new bunkering infrastructure, associated regulatory standards, and the willingness of stakeholders across the industry to manage the transition – from owners, operators, charterers to financial institutions, fuel suppliers, storage providers and shipbuilders.

Creating these mechanisms will be costly, and there remain significant uncertainties over the availability and price of future fuels. Take methanol as an example. It takes two tonnes of methanol to get the same calorific value as one tonne of heavy fuel oil (HFO).

So, the ‘real’ price to operate a methanol-fuelled vessel is pushed up to $2,000 a tonne; over 300% more than current very low sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) prices, and over 200% more than marine gasoil (MGO) prices.

Future fuels will undoubtedly play a critical role in meeting shipping’s decarbonisation targets. However, these cost implications may prove commercially difficult and cost-prohibitive for many industry players, requiring other solutions to make a meaningful emissions reduction impact.

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Taps run dry on Thai island as tourism boom worsens water shortage

Public urged to use water sparingly on Koh Samui, as authorities say they don’t want it to become ‘a disaster zone’

Authorities on Koh Samui are working to tackle a water shortage that has left taps running dry often for months, saying they do not want the Thai island to become a “disaster zone”.

A lack of rain and a resurgence in tourism has put intense pressure on supplies, prompting Sutham Samthong, a deputy mayor of Koh Samui, to urge the public to use supplies sparingly.

Samthong said that water was being brought in from other areas and private reservoirs, to be distributed to the public. With careful management he believed the island could navigate the next two months, after which rain was expected.

“We are not complacent. We are trying to solve the situation. We don’t want the provincial or upper [administration] to announce that Koh Samui is a disaster zone,” he said.

Samui, famous for its white sandy beaches, scenic temples and luxury resorts, often struggles with a lack of fresh water during the dry season between March and May. It’s feared the El Niño weather phenomenon, which is associated with less rain, will result in more severe shortages this year.

Jutharath, who works in a massage parlour in the Bo Phut area, and who asked to give only one name, said that for the past three months, taps had worked only one or two days a week. “There was a time when it was gone, no water coming out at all for the whole week,” she said.

She was buying water from pick-up trucks, and had tanks and a small pool to save supplies.

“My neighbour, sometimes they even need to walk to the temple nearby, just to use the bathroom because there is no water,” said Jutharath, who said she had never experienced such bad shortages.

“I have a massage shop and rooms for rent. It’s really affected the business,” she said.

Ratchaporn Poolsawadee, the president of the Tourism Association of Koh Samui, said that rather than benefiting from a resurgence in tourist arrivals this year, businesses were instead having to use their profits to buy water. Not only was this costly, but supplies were also scarce, he added.

“When you run out of it you can’t just purchase it immediately, you need to plan ahead,” he added. “Everyone needs water at the same time.”

The number of rooms available on the island, including in hotels and villas, fell to just 5,000 during the pandemic. It has since recovered to 25,000, the same level as 2019, according to Ratchaporn.

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Solar farm pelted by giant hail as severe storm ripped through Nebraska

A solar farm in Nebraska suffered significant hail damage during an extreme weather event that swept through the Great Plains last week.

The 4.375 MWac solar farm in Scottsbluff was damaged on June 23 by the same storm cell that injured eight people at a Wyoming coal mine.

Molly Brown, executive vice president of corporate strategy for GenPro Energy Solutions, which co-developed the project with Sol Systems, said insurance adjustors were onsite June 29 to assess the extent of the damage.

Based on a visual inspection, it appeared that only the solar modules were damaged in the storm, though further testing will be required. It's unclear how long the project will be out of commission.

The Scottsbluff project features more than 14,000 JA Solar 380W modules, Brown said, and utilizes a single-axis tracker system with hail stow capabilities from Array Technologies. While it's unclear if the asset's hail stow program was activated during the weather event, damage to the face of the modules indicates it was not.

Brown believes it's important to note that the extreme weather system caused significant damage to clean and fossil energy assets alike. While storms are indiscriminate, Brown said this is the first major damage GenPro has sustained since its first solar farm was installed in Lexington, Nebraska in 2017.

"We do get a lot of hailstorms in the Great Plains region, but typically the roofs get more damage than the solar panels.," Brown told Renewable Energy World.

This is only GenPro's second insurance claim on a solar array, and the first involved just five modules.

The Scottsbluff solar project is one of several developed by GenPro, Sol Systems, and Mesner Development for the Nebraska Public Power District. The project is in the midst of a 25-year power purchase agreement between Sol Systems and NPPD, and participates in the utility's SunWise community solar program.

The PPA rate of $0.0519/kWh is the lowest rate NNPD has executed under its community solar program, according to a consortium that represents the three developers.

Renewable Energy World is in contact with NPPD, and has reached out to Sol Systems, regarding this story. Updates will be made as they come.

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