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World's Largest Solar Project and Floating Wind Turbine Signal Global Shift to Renewable Energy

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World's Largest Solar Project and Floating Wind Turbine Signal Global Shift to Renewable Energy

Two new eye-popping structures have joined the rapidly growing renewable energy sector. First, Japan has just finished installation of the world's largest floating wind turbine. Secondly, China has kicked off construction of the world's largest solar power plant. Efforts from the respective countries make it clear that the global shift from nuclear and fossil fuels is well under way.

The giant turbine is located at Onahama port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.
Photo credit: The Fukushima Wind Offshore Consortium

Japan's 7 megawatt Offshore Hydraulic Drive Turbine stands at 344 feet (about 40 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty) and features three 262 feet-long blades and a rotor diameter of 538 feet. Significantly, the structure is located about 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, an area infamously wrecked in 2011 by a powerful earthquake and tsunami that caused a catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The project is built and operated by the Fukushima Wind Offshore Consortium, which has already installed a 2 megawatt wind turbine in November 2013. The organization boasts that their structures can shoulder the brunt of extreme weather. (Inclement weather was certainly a problem during construction of the massive turbine, as engineers had to stall installation four times due to typhoons).

"These turbines and anchors are designed to withstand 65-foot waves," Katsunobu Shimizu, one of the chief engineers, told NBC News. "Also, here we can get 32-foot-tall tsunamis. That's why the chains are deliberately slackened," in reference to the loose chains that connect the structure to the seabed and fortify it against large waves. The turbine is also fastened to the seabed by four 20-ton anchors, UPI reported.

As EcoWatch mentioned previously, there are plans to add a third floating turbine with a generating capacity of 5 megawatts later in the year, which will bring the total output capacity of the project to 14 megawatts. The $401 million project is led by Marubeni Co. and funded by the Japanese government with research and support from several public and private organizations.

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The goal of these turbines is "to explore the commercial feasibility of wind power as an alternative to nuclear power, as well as to examine whether this could become a potential industry which Japan can export overseas," according to NBC News.

Japan is seeking alternative forms of energy in the wake of the 2011 disaster. NBC News noted that before the earthquake, nearly one-third of of the country's energy mix came from nuclear energy. The Fukushima plant, as well all 48 of Japan's nuclear reactors, have been taken offline since.

Meanwhile, China—the world's largest producer and consumer of coal—has taken a big renewable energy leap with the construction of its first commercial large scale solar power plant that will spread across 25 square kilometers in the Gobi desert in the Qinghai province.

Once complete, the 200 megawatt "Delingha"—developed by BrightSource Energy from California and the Shanghai Electric Group in China—will surpass California's Desert Sunlight Solar Farm as the world's largest and be able to meet the electricity needs of one million Chinese homes.

According to E&T, "the plant will use concentrated solar power technology, relying on a set of six solar towers processing light reflected by an array of solar mirrors. The plant will also be equipped with heat storage technology capable of storing up to 15 hours worth of electricity."

Although consumption has lowered in recent years, coal still represents nearly two thirds of China's total energy consumption, which is why the country is amping its clean energy production.

Impressively, the new solar plant will be able "to offset the usage of coal by around 4.26 million tons per year and reduce CO2 and SO2 emissions by 896,000 tons and 8,080 tons respectively," Oil Price reported. Still, China burns more than 4 billion tons of coal each year, so the People's Republic will have to build a lot more solar power plants.

China, however, should be given more credit for its investment in clean electricity, as the head of the International Energy Agency pointed out to BBC News. Maria van der Hoeven said that China is spending as much as the U.S. and Europe put together on clean power.

"People think about China in a way more representative of previous decades," she said. "They are now the largest wind power market in the world. They have increased their power generation from renewables from really nothing 10 years ago—and now it's 25 percent. These are very important signals that China is moving into the right direction."

According to Edie.net, "between 2005 and 2014, China increased its solar capacity by 40,000 percent to 28 GW, and the country is expected to install 17.8 GW of solar PV capacity alone in 2015, accounting for almost 40 percent of global installations."

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In early October, Britain's Prince William teamed up with conservationist David Attenborough to launch the Earthshot Prize, a new award for environmentalist innovation. The Earthshot brands itself the "most prestigious global environment prize in history."

The world-famous wildlife broadcaster and his royal sidekick appear to have played an active role in the prize's inception, and media coverage has focused largely on them as the faces of the campaign.

But the pair are only the frontmen of a much larger movement which has been in development for several years. In addition to a panel of experts who will decide on the winners, the prize's formation took advice from the World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace and the Jack Ma Foundation.

With more and more global attention on the climate crisis, celebrity endorsement of environmental causes has become more common. But why do environmental causes recruit famous faces for their campaigns? And what difference can it make?

'Count Me In'

"We need celebrities to reach those people who we cannot reach ourselves," says Sarah Marchildon from the United Nations Climate Change secretariat (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany.

Marchildon is a proponent of the use of celebrities to raise awareness of environmental causes. In addition to promoting a selection of climate ambassadors who represent the UN on sustainability issues, Marchildon's team has produced videos with well-known narrators from the entertainment world: among them, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," Marchildon explains.

"Sometimes they reach out to us themselves, as David Attenborough did recently. And then they can promote the videos on their own social channels which reach more people than we do — for example, if they have 20 million followers and we have 750,000."

Environmental groups focused on their own domestic markets are also taking this approach. One Germany-based organization that uses celebrities in campaigns is the German Zero NGO. Set up in 2019, it advocates for a climate-neutral Germany by 2035.

German Zero produced a video in March 2020 introducing the campaign with "66 celebrities" that supported the campaign, among them Deutschland 83 actor Jonas Nay and former professional footballer Andre Schürrle. They solicit support as well as financial contributions from viewers.

"Count me in," they say, pointing toward the camera. "You too?"

"We are incredibly grateful for the VIPs in our videos," says German Zero spokeswoman Eva-Maria McCormack.

Assessing Success Is Complex

But quantifying the effectiveness of celebrity endorsement of campaigns is not a straightforward process.

"In order to measure effectiveness, first of all you need to define what is meant by success," says Alegria Olmedo, a researcher at the Zoology Department at the University of Oxford.

Olmedo is the author of a study looking at a range of campaigns concerning pangolin consumption, fronted by local and Western celebrities, in Vietnam and China. But she says her biggest stumbling block was knowing how to measure a campaign's success.

"You need a clear theory of change," explains Olmedo. "Have the celebrities actually helped in achieving the campaign's goals? And how do you quantify these goals? Maybe it is increased donations or higher engagement with a cause."

A popular campaign in China in recent years saw famous chefs Zhao Danian and Shu Yi pledge to abstain from cooking endangered wildlife. While the pledge achieved widespread recognition, both Olmedo and Marchildon say it's difficult to know whether it made any difference to people's actions.

"In life we see a thousand messages every day, and it is very hard to pinpoint whether one campaign has actually made a difference in people's behavior," she explains.

Awareness Is Not Enough

Many campaigns that feature celebrities focus on raising awareness rather than on concrete action — which, for researcher Olmedo, raises a further problem in identifying effectiveness.

"Reach should never be a success outcome," she says. "Many campaigns say they reached a certain number of people on social media. But there has been a lot of research that shows that simply giving people information does not mean they are actually going to remember it or act upon it."

But anecdotal evidence from campaigns may suggest reach can make an active difference.

"Our VIP video is by far the most watched on our social media channels," McCormack from German Zero says. "People respond to it very directly. A lot of volunteers of all ages heard about us through that video."

However, some marketing studies have shown that celebrity endorsement of a cause or product can distract from the issue itself, as people only remember the person, not the content of what they were saying.

Choosing the Right Celebrity

Celebrity choice is also very important. Campaigns that use famous faces are often aiming to appeal to members of the public who do not necessarily follow green issues.

For certain campaigns with clear target audiences, choosing a climate scientist or well-known environmentalist rather than a celebrity could be more appealing — Attenborough is a classic example. For others, images and videos involving cute animals may be more likely to get a message heard than attaching a famous face.

"We choose celebrities who have a lifestyle where they are already talking about these issues," says Marchildon from the UN. "You need figures with credibility."

McCormack cites the example of Katharine Hayhoe, an environmental scientist who is also an evangelical Christian. In the southern United States, Hayhoe has become a celebrity in her own right, appealing to an audience that might not normally be interested in the messages of climate scientists.

But as soon as you get a celebrity involved, campaigns also put themselves at risk of the whims of that celebrity. Prince William and younger members of the royal family have come under fire in recent years for alleged hypocrisy for their backing of environmental campaigns while simultaneously using private jets to fly around the world.

But Does It Really Work?

While environmental campaigns hope that endorsement from well-known figures can boost a campaign, there is little research to back this up.

"The biggest finding [from my study] was that we were unable to produce any evidence that shows that celebrity endorsement of environmental causes makes any difference," says Olmedo.

This will come as a blow to many campaigns that have invested time and effort into relationships with celebrity ambassadors. But for many, the personal message that many celebrities offer in videos like that produced by German Zero and campaigns like the Earthshot Prize are what counts.

The research may not prove this conclusively — but if the public believes a person they respect deeply personally cares about an important issue, they are perhaps more likely to care too.

"I personally believe in the power this can have," says Marchildon. "And if having a celebrity involved can get a single 16-year-old future leader thinking about environmentalist issues — that is enough."

Reposted with permission from DW.

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