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Milan Plans To Pay Commuters Who Cycle To Work

23 Mar

In December last year, the city of Milan in Italy had to ban cars from the city centre due to such high levels of smog in the air. The city also had to ban their traditional end of year firework displays and so they decided to offer discount to commuters in the way of “anti-smog” tickets on public transport. While last year’s smog was unusually heavy, air pollution is nothing new to the residents of Milan. In 2008, Milan was named Europe’s most polluted city, and it has continued to be one of the worst on the continent since then.

Milan’s geography means that the city is particularly likely to suffer from smog. Due to it being in a valley, air pollution often gets confined in the city. With the past winter being especially dry and warm, the smog will have worsened. The city could experience an emerging pattern as climate change deepens. Milan is already routinely ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the EU.

With this in mind the city now plans to take another step closer to getting people out of their cars on a more permanent basis by paying commuters who choose to ride a bike. The plan to promote cycling is borrowed from a similar system tried in France in 2014, where employees were paid 25 cents for each kilometre they pedalled to work. The Netherlands and the United Kingdom have all also tried paying commuters to bike, at rates equivalent to about 30 cents a mile, tax-free.

Milan’s idea is to pay a higher amount to provide an improved incentive for commuters, but because of the money involved, the city needs a way to validate that people who claim to be biking to work are telling the truth. A possible answer may lay within our smartphones. They plan to implement an app that will track the speed of a commuters trip to work but the problem with this is the heavy amount of traffic on Milan’s roads. Bikers could potentially move faster than drivers anyway.

Milan is currently weighing up all of the options. “We are planning to do something similar,” says Pierfrancesco Maran (Milan’s mobility councillor). “To give direct money to those who go to work by bike, or to give them some other sustainable-mobility incentive.”

Even though there’s an obvious cost involved, Maran argues that it makes sense to encourage people to bike the same way that the government supports options such as public transport. “If we look at mobility all together, for example, even half of the cost of public transport is contributed by national funds,” he says. “So we will give a little money as an incentive for citizens to know that cycling is healthier than cars, and can be a good alternative in a flat city like Milan.”

Over the last few years change has been at the forefront as the city has seen a 50% increase in bike lanes and a doubled number of bike sharing stations, which more and more people are riding. A congestion charge for drivers in the city centre has been enforced which has led to a 20% increase in public transport use over the last four years. Paying people to bike on its own may not make a huge difference, but it’s part of a larger plan that does seem to be working. “Something is changing in the behaviour of citizens,” says Maran. “We want to help it change faster.”

Experts are however sceptical that the financial incentives will do much to change the way people in Milan commute. Although more cycling routes are being built, it is argued that the city is not necessarily bike friendly in all areas.

milan, italy, cycling, bicycle infrastructure, commuting, air pollution, smog, europe

Meet El Hierro…The first island powered 100% by wind!

11 Jul

Ahhh the Canary Islands the place of sun and sand…and the first place of 100% wind power! The smallest of the Canary Islands ‘El Hierro’ has become the first Island in the world to be 100% wind-powered. The island is owned by Spain and is located off the coast of Africa. They have built five wind turbines on the North Eastern tip of the Island for a capacity of 11.5 megawatts. The population of El Hierro is 10,162 as of 2003, therefore the 11.5 megawatts would be enough for all the people who live there.

According to the Ministry for Industry, Tourism and Commerce, El Hierro has become the first island in the world to be energy self-sufficient. They have achieved this through a €54 million project combining a greater than 11 megawatt wind farm and two hydroelectric projects.

They have even implemented a back-up plan for when the wind isn’t blowing! Back-up power will be provided from pumped water storage. The hybrid wind/pumped hydro storage system will store surplus wind power by pumping water up 700 meters (approximately 2,300 feet) to fill the crater of an extinct volcano. When winds are calm or when demand exceeds supply, water will be released from the crater to generate 11.3 MW of electricity, filling an artificial basin created at the bottom of the extinct volcano. Water in the lower basin is then pumped back up again to the upper reservoir when there is excess wind power.

In terms of their carbon footprint, the wind farm and pumped water storage will slash their CO2 emissions by around 18,700 tonnes per year. The project will also eliminate the islands annual consumption of 40,000 barrels of oil. This being said, as a back-up precaution El Hierro will maintain its fuel oil power station. Makes sense I guess?

The closed-loop hybrid wind/hydro system was tested at the end of 2013, and they expect to save approximately £2.5M per year (calculated with January 2011 oil prices).

Hopefully other island nations take encouragement from El Hierro. Many of the surrounding islands burn oil to produce their electricity. The alternative wind, hydro and solar options and much cleaner and potentially make fuel cost free after the initial set up costs.

As of May 2014, the island has become completely self-sufficient for electrical energy. Well done El Hierro!

Farm waste to create renewable energy

12 Dec

When we examine the development of renewable energy we automatically assume Solar, Wind, Hydro and Geothermal energies play their part in creating renewable energy. This is soon set to change as a new three year research project is currently in the works to see the agriculture, aquaculture and biogas sectors working together to develop renewable energy. The initiative establishes how refining sustainability, reducing waste and achieving operational efficiencies can be achieved simultaneously.

The EU led project is called BIFFiO and will prove important in contributing towards the EU goal of sourcing 20% of Europe’s energy demands from renewable energy sources by the year 2020.

At present, both agriculture and aquaculture sectors are producing a great deal of waste which is often unused or untreated. There has been impending pressure over the last few years for the farms to reduce their environmental footprint. A goal the BIFFiO project aims to achieve is to develop an advantageous method for both farmer and energy creator for handling the mixed wastes and turning them into usable renewable energy.

The project was launched in November 2013. Its first objective was to examine how waste can be treated and how used best to create renewable energy. They will also investigate what other nutrients are in the waste so they can be recovered for other processes. The secondary objective would be to replace existing technologies used in large scale waste treatments, with an economical biogas energy system which can be produced locally on or near a farm site.

In terms of wastes created it will be important to mix the waste so stock will be high. Generally, the waste will be used from fish farms and agricultural farming sites. The manure waste from farms will react well for the production of biogas, which in time can be used for renewable energy as well as supplying fertiliser to the agriculture industry.

Over the next three years, the project team plan to address the challenges faced by industry by looking at new ways to meet regulatory requirements, and to develop best practice for by-products.

Overall, the project aims to enhance hygienic and environmental standards in farming in terms of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, the project will have an overall positive impact on local social and economic conditions by tackling pollution problems from the agricultural sector.

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