What’s around in mid June

I will try to make this a monthly update, as much for my own interest as for anyone else’s, although this time there is actually not much change from mid-May in either the weather or activity on the garden.

Our weather has mostly been settled in its standard, gorgeous, cool dry-season pattern – 10C overnight dawning to blue skies and a top of 24 (each temperature only varying by 2C either way) with low humidity. That pattern has been interrupted occasionally by a few days of cloud and a little rain but we have been watering the garden quite regularly.

As for the wildlife, it’s easier to say what’s different from last month than to list it all again. Of the butterflies, the Eurema, Hesperidae and Orchard Swallowtail have gone but all the others are still here and we now have quite a lot of the Dingy Bush Browns, Mycalesis perseus, and a few resident Melanitis leda. Of the moths, we now have few or no Hawk Moths but that’s the only difference. Everything else is much the same; there’s no reason why not, really, since the weather is much the same.

Days are a little cooler and shorter (and I do mean a little: the shortest day of the year is next week but we will still get 11 hours between sunrise and sunset). That does make the butterflies sleepy earlier in the afternoon; I caught these two Chocolate Soldiers bedded down for the night in a tangle of Pentas at about 3.30 this afternoon.

Two butterflies on Pentas flowers
Chocolate Soldiers (Junonia hedonia)


An unexpected visitor

Most of the animals in my garden – in anybody’s garden, for that matter – are insects, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have larger residents. Possums live here (sometimes in our ceiling space!) and so do lots of birds; and we get occasional visitors. I looked up into the top of one of our palm trees yesterday and saw something a bit odd. A bit of broken frond? No. Look again:

Flying fox in palm tree
High in the palm tree ...

It was a flying fox, sleeping through the daytime as they do. We hear them quite often at night, squabbling as they feed on the nectar of our  poplar gum or paperbark, or the fruit of our bananas, but they normally fly home to their colonies near dawn.

I don’t  know why this one was here alone but it stayed all day – just moving into the shadier foliage of a nearby bauhinia around lunchtime. He or she is a Black Flying Fox, Pteropus alecto (Wikipedia has more information). Here are some close-ups (as usual, click on then for larger images).

Flying fox close-up front
Front view
Flying fox close-up 2
Love the red fur on the shoulders!

Good news on renewable energy

RealClimate, my favourite way of keeping up with climate science, runs a monthly ‘open thread’ to which anyone is welcome to contribute a question or interesting bit of news. Two submissions which attracted my attention this month were about the development of renewable energy.

The first referred readers to BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy – still respected in spite of the company’s Gulf of Mexico disaster. Its section on renewables notes that:

  • Renewable power consumption grew by 15.5% in 2010, the fastest rate of expansion since 1990. While the share of renewable power in global energy consumption is still only 1.3% (up from 0.6% in 2000), renewable power now contributes a significant share of primary energy consumption in some individual countries. Eight nations have a renewables share of more than 5%, led by Denmark with 13.1%.
  • Solar power generating capacity grew by 73% in 2010, picking up the pace again after a brief slowdown in 2009. Total capacity grew by 16.7 GW to reach 40 GW, more than double the 2008 level. That is still only around 0.1% of total electricity generation but the rate of growth, which has averaged 39% pa over the past 10 years, suggests rapid changes in that figure.
  • Wind power generating capacity grew by 24.6% in 2010, with capacity increasing by a record 39.4 GW. The trend rate of capacity growth over the past 10 years is 27% pa, which implies a doubling of capacity every three years, and the fastest growth is occurring in China and India.

The second drew attention to a post on the highly-regarded ClimateProgress blog, ‘Ferocious Cost Reductions’ Make Solar PV Competitive. Exerpts:

There’s a joke in the solar industry about when “grid parity” – the time when solar becomes as cheap as fossil sources – will happen.

…The truth is, it will happen in phases – one market and one technology at a time. But according to two top solar executives – Tom Dinwoodie, CTO of SunPower and Dan Shugar, formerly of SunPower and current CEO of Solaria – “ferocious cost reductions,” are accelerating that crossover in a variety of markets today.

…Manufacturing costs have come down steadily, from $60 a watt in the mid-1970’s to $1.50 today. People often point to a “Moore’s Law” in solar – meaning that for every cumulative doubling of manufacturing capacity, costs fall 20%. In solar PV manufacturing, costs have fallen about 18% for every doubling of production. “It holds up very closely,” says Solaria’s Shugar.

…As SunPower’s Dinwoodie puts it: The 17 GW installed in 2010 is the equivalent of 17 nuclear power plants – manufactured, shipped and installed in one year. It can take decades just to install a nuclear plant. Think about that. I heard Bill Gates recently call solar “cute.” Well, that’s 17 GW of “cute” adding up at an astonishing pace.

…Here’s another important statistic: When SunPower built the 14-MW Nellis Air Force Base system in 2007, it cost $7 per watt. Today, commercial and utility systems are getting installed at around $3 per watt. In 2010 alone, the average installed cost of installing solar PV dropped 20%.

…So what does all this mean? It means that the notion that “solar is too expensive” doesn’t hold up anymore. When financing providers can offer a home or business owner solar electricity for less than the cost of their current services; when utilities start investing in solar themselves to reduce operating costs; and when the technology starts moving into the range of new nuclear and new coal, it’s impossible to ignore.

According to SunPower’s Tom Dinwoodie: “The cross-over has occurred.”

That is all talking about the USA, of course, but much of it applies here as well. And it is all good news.

A lucky escape

One of the great things about watching the wildlife in your own back yard is that you can observe individual creatures from one day (or month) to another. Wandering past my tough little spider’s web yesterday I saw that it had caught a little orange wasp.

Orange wasp caught in spider's web
Oops! This could be serious!

But had it?

No. As I watched (and took photos, of course), the wasp struggled free and flew up to a leaf above the web.

Orange wasp on macadamia leaf
Phew! That was close!