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High-speed rail presents major opportunities for decarbonisation of transport

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High-speed rail (HSR) passenger activity totalled 625 billion passenger kilometres in 2015 with China, Europe and Japan together accounting for 95% of the global total. HSR is also the fastest growing passenger rail transport service worldwide – while global high-speed rail activity has grown steadily since 2005, growth accelerated to nearly 70% over 2013 to 2015, mainly as a result of a surge in China.

This shift to HSR represents an opportunity as the rail sector can play a key role in reducing CO2 emissions from transport, particularly in being able to displace short haul aviation.

The efficiency of rail is significant in relation to other modes of transport. For example, the railway sector accounted for over 6% of global passenger transport activity in 2015, yet was responsible for less than 2% of transport final energy demand and just over 4% of CO2 emissions from the transport sector. This is due to not only better energy efficiency of the rail sector compared to the road sector, but also a continued increase in rail’s dependence on electricity – and particularly renewables.

Despite these obvious efficiency benefits, the share of passenger transport by rail has fallen over the past decades in Europe and North America relative to other modes. However, Asia is another story, representing continued growth and 75% of global passenger rail activity in 2015.

Most of this growth can be attributed to the development of primarily high-speed rail networks in China, which have seen a remarkable acceleration over the past two decades. This change was accompanied by significant increases of rail passenger-kilometres in Korea and the ASEAN region.

The HSR sector in China in particular has been growing faster and at a larger scale than in any other country. Over the past decade the Chinese share of HSR activity (in passenger kilometres) grew from 4% to 62% of the global total, reaching 386 billion passenger kilometres in 2015. With nearly 20,000 km of HSR lines in operation in 2016, China also accounts for around 60% of today’s global HSR network and 82% of the HSR track-kilometres built between 2005 and 2015.

In 2016, nearly 11,000 km of HSR lines were still under construction and an additional 1500 km of lines were planned. This will raise the total high-speed rail network extension to 31,000 km by 2020, doubling the value of 2014. The Chinese government’s target is to keep expanding and upgrading the rail network so that all Chinese cities with more than half a million inhabitants, covering 90% of the Chinese population, benefit from rapid rail services.

HSR projects need to be accessible to a large volume of passengers in order to be economically sustainable, and are therefore more successful in densely populated areas. Many areas of China qualify for this because of their high population densities. Distances between Chinese cities also fall in the distance range (200 to 1000 km) allowing HSR to be highly competitive with aviation. When looking exclusively at the financial performance of HSR projects, only a select few HSR lines were profitable in 2016 including the Tokaido Shinkansen line operating between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, the Paris-Lyon TGV line and the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail link.

Nevertheless, HSR delivers important economic and environmental benefits that are not directly related to project financing. One potentially significant environmental benefit is the capacity to shift passengers away from aviation, a mode of transport with much higher carbon intensity.

While overall changes in global aviation activity due to HSR are relatively small, there are several examples of how the introduction of HSR has led to significant reductions, or even the curtailment, of air traffic on specific routes. These include Paris-London, which saw a 56% reduction in air traffic volume from 1993-2010, Seoul-Busan (54% reduction from 2003-2011), and Taipei-Kaohsiung (80% reduction from 2005-2008).

Such a shift can result in major energy and CO2 emission savings, as the energy use per passenger kilometre of HSR is about 90% lower than aviation. In addition, HSR has the potential to emit very low or zero CO2 emissions if paired with decarbonised electricity generation systems.

Ultimately, HSR could be part of the strategy to meeting global climate ambitions. In fact, in a scenario aiming to meet the goals outlined by the Paris agreement, nearly all global aviation activity at short to medium distances (up to 1000 km) is substituted with HSR by 2060.

HSR tends to be competitive when journey times are shorter than or similar to those offered by aviation, a common feature for distances less than 700 km. HSR also tends to be more competitive in densely populated areas. Japan, where the Tokaido Shinkansen is one of few profitable HSR connections globally, has 127 million people living mainly in large cities with high population density along the coastal strip. This allows HSR to connect a chain of large cities so that flows between different cities are combined in a highly efficient network.

This connection of cities leads to a broader benefit of HSR: the possibility of so-called “agglomeration economies”, with positive feedbacks on economic growth and industrial competitiveness. These economies can emerge through a network of large, but not oversized, urban agglomerations. This in turn can lead to wealth redistribution, for example due to lower costs of living in satellite cities.

These recent trends of surging HSR passenger volumes in China align well with global imperatives to improve energy efficiency and energy diversification of transport. Yet bringing about a global shift of the magnitude necessary to meet Paris Agreement climate targets is a major challenge and will require adding HSR capacity at a rate beyond any observed so far.

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Iran among five pioneers of nanotechnology

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Prioritizing nanotechnology in Iran has led to this country’s steady placement among the five pioneers of the nanotechnology field in recent years, and approximately 20 percent of all articles provided by Iranian researchers in 2020 are relative to this area of technology.

Iran has been introduced as the 4th leading country in the world in the field of nanotechnology, publishing 11,546 scientific articles in 2020.

The country held a 6 percent share of the world’s total nanotechnology articles, according to StatNano’s monthly evaluation accomplished in WoS databases.

There are 227 companies in Iran registered in the WoS databases, manufacturing 419 products, mainly in the fields of construction, textile, medicine, home appliances, automotive, and food.

According to the data, 31 Iranian universities and research centers published more than 50 nano-articles in the last year. 

In line with China’s trend in the past few years, this country is placed in the first stage with 78,000 nano-articles (more than 40 percent of all nano-articles in 2020), and the U.S. is at the next stage with 24,425 papers. These countries have published nearly half of the whole world’s nano-articles.

In the following, India with 9 percent, Iran with 6 percent, and South Korea and Germany with 5 percent are the other head publishers, respectively.

Almost 9 percent of the whole scientific publications of 2020, indexed in the Web of Science database, have been relevant to nanotechnology.

There have been 191,304 nano-articles indexed in WoS that had to have a 9 percent growth compared to last year. The mentioned articles are 8.8 percent of the whole produced papers in 2020.

Iran ranked 43rd among the 100 most vibrant clusters of science and technology (S&T) worldwide for the third consecutive year, according to the Global Innovation Index (GII) 2020 report.

The country experienced a three-level improvement compared to 2019.

Iran’s share of the world’s top scientific articles is 3 percent, Gholam Hossein Rahimi She’erbaf, the deputy science minister, has announced.

The country’s share in the whole publications worldwide is 2 percent, he noted, highlighting, for the first three consecutive years, Iran has been ranked first in terms of quantity and quality of articles among Islamic countries.

Sourena Sattari, vice president for science and technology has said that Iran is playing the leading role in the region in the fields of fintech, ICT, stem cell, aerospace, and is unrivaled in artificial intelligence.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Free And Equal Internet Access As A Human Right

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Having internet access in a free and equal way is very important in contemporary world. Today, there are more than 4 billion people who are using internet all around the world. Internet has become a very important medium by which the right to freedom of speech and the right to reach information can be exercised. Internet has a central tool in commerce, education and culture.

Providing solutions to develop effective policies for both internet safety and equal Internet access must be the first priority of governments. The Internet offers individuals power to seek and impart information thus states and organizations like UN have important roles in promoting and protecting Internet safety. States and international organizations play a key role to ensure free and equal Internet access.

The concept of “network neutrality is significant while analyzing equal access to Internet and state policies regulating it. Network Neutrality (NN) can be defined as the rule meaning all electronic communications and platforms should be exercised in a non-discriminatory way regardless of their type, content or origin. The importance of NN has been evident in COVID-19 pandemic when millions of students in underdeveloped regions got victimized due to the lack of access to online education.

 Article 19/2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights notes the following:

“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Internet access and network neutrality directly affect human rights. The lack of NN undermines human rights and causes basic human right violations like violating freedom of speech and freedom to reach information. There must be effective policies to pursue NN. Both nation-states and international organizations have important roles in making Internet free, safe and equally reachable for the people worldwide. States should take steps for promoting equal opportunities, including gender equality, in the design and implementation of information and technology. The governments should create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and enabling online environment in accordance with human rights.

It is known that, the whole world has a reliance on internet that makes it easy to fullfill basic civil tasks but this is also threatened by increasing personal and societal cyber security threats. In this regard, states must fulfill their commitment to develop effective policies to attain universal access to the Internet in a safe way.

 As final remarks, it can be said that, Internet access should be free and equal for everyone. Creating effective tools to attain universal access to the Internet cannot be done only by states themselves. Actors like UN and EU have a major role in this process as well.

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Future Energy Systems Need Clear AI Boundaries

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Today, almost 60% of people worldwide have access to the Internet via an ever-increasing number of electronic devices. And as Internet usage grows, so does data generation.

Data keeps growing at unprecedented rates, increasingly exceeding the abilities of any human being to analyse it and discover its underlying structures.

Yet data is knowledge. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. Today’s high-speed computing systems can “learn” from experience and, thus, effectively replicate human decision-making.

Besides holding its own among global chess champions, AI aids in converting unstructured data into actionable knowledge. At the same time, it enables the creation of even more insightful AI – a win-win for all. However, this doesn’t happen without challenges along the way.

Commercial uses of AI have expanded steadily in recent years across finance, healthcare, education and other sectors. Now, with COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions, many countries have turned to innovative technologies to halt the spread of the virus.

The pandemic, therefore, has further accelerated the global AI expansion trend.

Energy systems need AI, too.

Rapidly evolving smart technology is helping to make power generation and distribution more efficient and sustainable. AI and the Big Data that drives it have become an absolute necessity.  Beyond just facilitating and optimising, these are now the basic tools for fast, smart decision making.

With the accelerating shift to renewable power sources, AI can help to reduce operating costs and boost efficiency. Crucially, AI-driven “smart grids” can manage variable supply, helping to maximise the use of solar and wind power.

Read more in IRENA’s Innovation Toolbox.

Risks must be managed to maximise the benefits.

AI usage in the energy sector faces expertise-related and financial constraints.

Decision makers, lacking specialised knowledge, struggle to appreciate the wide-ranging benefits of smart system management. In this respect, energy leaders have proven more conservative than those in other sectors, such as healthcare.

Meanwhile, installing powerful AI tools without prior experience brings considerable risks. Data loss, poor customisation, system failures, unauthorised access – all these errors can bring enormous costs.

Yet like it or not, interconnected devices are on the rise.

What does this all mean for the average consumer?

Smart phones, smart meters and smart plugs, connected thermostats, boilers and smart charging stations have become familiar, everyday items. Together, such devices can form the modern “smart home”, ideally powered by rooftop solar panels.

AI can help all of us, the world’s energy consumers, become prosumers, producing and storing our own energy and interacting actively with the wider market. Our data-driven devices, in turn, will spawn more data, which helps to scale up renewables and maximise system efficiency.

But home data collection raises privacy concerns. Consumers must be clearly informed about how their data is used, and by whom. Data security must be guaranteed. Consumer privacy regulations must be defined and followed, with cybersecurity protocols in place to prevent data theft.

Is the future of AI applications in energy bright?

Indeed, the outlook is glowing, but only if policy makers and societies strike the right balance between innovation and risk to ensure a healthy, smart and sustainable future.

Much about AI remains to be learned. As its use inevitably expands in the energy sector, it cannot be allowed to work for the benefit of only a few. Clear strategies need to be put in place to manage the AI use for the good of all.

IRENA

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