Friday, May 29, 2020

AFP VIDEOS 
I CAN'T BREATHE 
GEORGE FLOYD  PROTESTS USA


Trump announces probe of Chinese companies listed in US

ONE OF THOSE COMPANIES WOULD BE FOXCONN, SUPPOSEDLY BUILDING A FACTORY IN WISCONSIN 
AFP / MANDEL NGANUS President Donald Trump said his administration would be looking into the practices of Chinese comapnies listed on US exchanges, of which there are around 156
US President Donald Trump on Friday ordered a probe into the actions of Chinese companies listed on American financial markets as tensions flared anew between the world's two biggest economies.
The announcement followed Beijing's move to implement a new security law on semi-autonomous Hong Kong that critics say would stifle freedom, as well as with Trump's claims that China obfuscated the origins of the coronavirus that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States.
"I'm instructing my presidential working group on financial markets to study the differing practices of Chinese companies listed on the US financial markets with the goal of protecting American investors," Trump said, without providing details on what steps his administration might take.
"Investment firms should not be subjecting clients to the hidden and undue risks associated with financing Chinese companies that do not play by the same rules. Americans are entitled to fairness and transparency," he added.
As of February 2019, 156 Chinese companies with a market capitalization of $1.2 trillion were listed on US markets, at least 11 of which were state-owned, according to the Congressionally-mandated US-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Among the largest were e-commerce giant Alibaba, China's largest oil producer PetroChina and Sinopec, the world's largest oil refiner.
Starbucks competitor Luckin Coffee debuted on Nasdaq last year with a market value of about $4 billion, but was asked to de-listed earlier this month after a massive fraud scandal.
The announcement of the review came as Trump said he would be suspending the entry of certain Chinese citizens and reviewing US relations with Hong Kong, which saw seven months of huge and sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests last year.

Chinese pterodactyl wings its way to the United Kingdom

UNIVERSITY OF PORTSMOUTH
IMAGE
IMAGE: THE ATTACHED IMAGE SHOWS WIGHTIA DECLIVIROSTRIS FLYING OVER AN OXBOW LAKE IN THE VALLEY OF THE ANCIENT WESSEX RIVER THAT FLOWED FROM DEVON TO THE ISLE OF WIGHT. view more 
CREDIT: MEGAN JACOBS
The first ever specimen of a pterodactyl, more commonly found in China and Brazil, has been found in the United Kingdom.
A fossil hunter recently discovered a peculiar shaped fragment of fossil bone while out walking his dog in Sandown Bay on the Isle of Wight.
Not sure what it was, he passed it to University of Portsmouth Palaeontology student Megan Jacobs, who thought it might be the jaw bone from a pterodactyl. Further research proved she was right.
However, this was no ordinary pterodactyl jaw. This one lacked teeth and was remarkably similar to a bizarre group of pterosaurs called 'tapejarids'. They are better known from China and Brazil and have never previously been found in the UK.
Just last year a team from the University of Portsmouth discovered as similar specimen in North Africa (Morocco) which they named Afrotapejara.
The new specimen from the Isle of Wight has been named Wightia declivirostris.
Megan Jacobs said: "Although only a fragment of jaw, it has all the characteristic of a tapejarid jaw, including numerous tiny little holes that held minute sensory organs for detecting their food, and a downturned, finely pointed beak.
"Complete examples from Brazil and China show that they had large head crests, with the crest sometime being twice as big as the skull. The crests were probably used in sexual display and may have been brightly coloured."
The researchers determined that the Isle of Wight example seemed more closely related to the Chinese tapejarids rather than the Brazilian examples.
Co-author of the study Professor David Martill, a palaeontologist from the University of Portsmouth, said: "This new species adds to the diversity of dinosaurs and other prehistoric reptiles found on the Island, which is now one of the most important places for Cretaceous dinosaurs in the world."
The finder has kindly donated the specimen to Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown, where it is hoped it will go on display in the future.
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The new discovery is reported in the scientific journal Cretaceous Research.

Fed chair warns of widening inequality as US consumption dives

AFP/File / Eric BARADATFederal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the central bank is focusing on supporting employment
The coronavirus pandemic could widen inequalities in the United States, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell warned Friday, as government data showed consumer spending plunging by a record amount.
The world's largest economy is in dire shape with more than 40 million layoffs since lockdowns were imposed in mid-March to stop the spread of COVID-19.
And with low-wage services workers bearing the brunt of the job losses, Powell warned the pandemic could be "a great increaser of inequality."
"The pandemic is falling on those least able to bear its burdens," he said in a videoconference.
The Fed has rolled out trillions of dollars in liquidity to support industries walloped by the downturn, and Powell reiterated that supporting employment was the central bank's main goal.
"Everything we do is focused on creating an environment in which those people will have their best chance to keep their job, or get a new job, or maybe go back to their old job if they've been furloughed," he said.
The unemployment rate skyrocketed from near-historic lows just before the pandemic hit to 14.7 percent in April, and Commerce Department data released Friday showed personal consumption plunging by a record 13.6 percent in the first full month of nationwide lockdowns.
Prices also dropped by 0.5 percent, the biggest drop in more than five years, according to the monthly personal income and outlays report, as the mass layoffs slowed consumption.
- Rising pessimism -
A separate survey showed consumers are becoming more pessimistic about the prospects for the post-pandemic recovery, yet another indicator of economic damage in addition to the more than 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus.
AFP/File / JIM WATSONUS shoppers stayed home in April, sending consumption plunging by a record amount
"Household spending will likely continue to be impacted going forward by a more cautious attitude by consumers as job losses continue to mount," Rubeela Farooqi of High Frequency Economics said.
"However, we think April likely marked the bottom and activity could be less weak in May and June."
Fueling the $1.89 trillion drop in consumption were decreases in spending on food and accommodation as people stopped traveling and going out.
And that drop sent the personal savings rate soaring by 33 percent with shoppers holding on to $6.15 trillion -- money that could perhaps be unleashed to aid the economy's recovery or stashed for hard times ahead.
Income took an incongruent turn, shooting up by 10.5 percent in April, but that spike was caused by the government's massive $2.2 trillion CARES Act which boosted unemployment benefits and included direct payments to all Americans, including children.
When those payments are excluded along with other government social benefits, income actually fell 6.3 percent, which Harvard University economist Jason Furman said would be the largest decline ever.
And he warned on Twitter that if Congress fails to extend the expanded unemployment payments beyond their expiration in the coming weeks, "these numbers will turn ugly in August."
The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index was practically flat in May, according to the survey released Friday, ticking up only half a point as consumers held back their buying.
But the index measuring future conditions plunged six points to 65.9, according to the report.
The CARES Act has "helped to stem economic hardship, but those programs have not acted to stimulate discretionary spending due to uncertainty about the future course of the pandemic," the survey's chief economist Richard Curtin said.
Consumers were, however, expecting the economy to improve in the coming months, Curtin said.

US officer charged with murder over unarmed black man's death

AFP / Kerem YucelState Patrol officers block a road on May 29, 2020, the fourth day of protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota over the death in custody of an unarmed African American man
The Minneapolis police officer accused of killing a handcuffed African American man was charged with murder Friday as authorities declared a curfew after three nights of violent protests left parts of the city in flames.
Derek Chauvin, the white officer filmed kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, was charged with one count of third degree murder -- unintentionally causing a death -- and one count of negligent manslaughter.
 
AFP / Kerem YucelProtesters hold up their fists as flames rise behind them in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during demonstrations over the death of African American George Floyd in police custody
"This case is now ready, and we have charged it," said county prosecutor Mike Freeman amid outrage over the latest death of an African American in police custody.
Relatives of the 46-year-old Floyd -- who spoke Friday with President Donald Trump -- welcomed news of the arrest as a "step on the road to justice," but said they hoped for tougher charges and action against the other officers involved in Floyd's detention and death.
Freeman said the three other officers were also under investigation, and that he anticipated charges. All four officers were fired from the police department Tuesday after video surfaced of Monday's arrest.
- Troops deployed -
The announcement of charges came hours after hundreds of troops were deployed to the streets of Minneapolis and St. Paul to try to prevent a fourth night of violent protests.
AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARYProtests took place in cities including New York -- pictured here -- Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Portland, following the rioting in Minneapolis
Scores of buildings have been burned and looted across the so-called Twin Cities, including a police station associated with the four officers.
Mayor Jacob Frey declared a night-long curfew Friday and Saturday as protesters began to appear on the streets in Minneapolis and St. Paul again Friday afternoon.
Some chanted "I can't breathe" -- Floyd's words as Chauvin's knee pressed on his neck.
"We don't care about this," said one African-American demonstrator, indicating the burned-out buildings.
"If this is what it takes, we're willing to do more. You'all were already killing us, when we weren't doing anything. ... Let's hope it makes a change," he told AFP, without giving his name.
Police were out in force in other cities as protests took place in other cities including New York, Washington, Atlanta, Houston and Portland, hoping to prevent recurrences of the violence that hit Minneapolis.
- Charges criticized -
Floyd's family issued a statement acknowledging Chauvin's arrest, but calling the charges against him insufficient.
AFP / TIMOTHY A. CLARYNew York police officers arrest a demonstrator protesting over the death of African American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis
"We want a first degree murder charge. And we want to see the other officers arrested," they said in a statement.
"The pain that the black community feels over this murder and what it reflects about the treatment of black people in America is raw and is spilling out onto streets across America."
The third degree charge though reflected the official autopsy saying that even though Chauvin held his knee to Floyd's neck for two minutes and 53 seconds after he became "non-responsive," Floyd did not die of asphyxiation or strangulation.
"Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease," the charging document said.
"The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by the police, his underlying health conditions, and any potential intoxicants in his system likely contributed to his death."
- 'This shouldn't be normal' -
After beginning the day attacking the protesters as "thugs" and threatening to send in federal troops to deal harshly with them, Trump shifted tone later on Friday, announcing he had called Floyd's family to express his "sorrow."
"I understand the hurt, I understand the pain. People have really been through a lot. The family of George is entitled to justice and the people of Minnesota are entitled to live in safety," he said.
Former president Barack Obama said in a statement that he shared the "anguish" of millions of Americans over Floyd's death.
"We have to remember that for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically, painfully, maddeningly 'normal'," he said. "This shouldn't be 'normal' in 2020 America."
Obama's former vice president Joe Biden, who is running for president, also spoke to Floyd's family.
He called for justice and said it was time to heal the "open wound" of systemic racism in the United States.


Canada immigration sharply curtailed by virus: study

AFP/File / Lars HagbergClosed gates are seen in Lansdowne, Ontario at the US-Canada border in March 2020
Canada had hoped to welcome a record wave of immigrants in 2020 but will likely take in approximately half the previously expected number of people due to the coronavirus pandemic, a study published Friday showed.
In March, the government announced that it planned to accommodate some 370,000 new permanent residents this year. But according to a new study by the Royal Bank of Canada, some 170,000 fewer immigrants are now likely to enter the country.
Ottawa announced its plan to allow a heightened number of immigrants just four days before Canada implemented travel restrictions that have virtually halted immigration.
In 2019, Canada set a record with 341,000 new permanent residents.
"We expect immigration levels to be down sharply in 2020," study author Andrew Agopsowicz said. "A recovery in 2021 will depend in part on the course of the pandemic."
Repercussions from the decrease will be felt throughout the economy, he said, given Canada's dependence on foreign labor and its aging population.
Some of the worst-off areas will be industries with labor shortages, urban rental and housing markets, and universities, according to the report.
"Canada will need a younger and growing population to maintain growth and support the unprecedented expansion of the fiscal deficit that came in response to the crisis," Agopsowicz said.
Only foreigners with permanent resident status or a study permit approved before March 18 are allowed in the country. Already in March, 30 percent fewer people gained permanent residency compared with the previous year.
"If these restrictions last all summer, we expect to see 170,000 fewer permanent residents entering the country in 2020 than planned," Agopsowicz said.

Virus-battered Italy faces worst recession since WWII

AFP / ANDREA PATTAROItaly was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic and imposed a strict two-month lockdown which paralysed much of the country's economic activity
Facing its deepest recession since World War II and with business confidence collapsing, the coronavirus pandemic is hitting Italy's economy hard.
Business confidence in the eurozone's third largest economy in May plummeted to its lowest level since official statistics institute ISTAT started the index in March 2005.
The figure is "alarming", said small business federation Confesercenti.
"The health and economic emergency has swept businesses away, especially in shops, services and tourism," it said.
Its members are particularly concerned "by the lack of liquidity necessary to pay costs and salaries... we are close to a point of no return and that's why the measures decided by the government (loan guarantees, SME subsidies) must be operational immediately," said federation head Patrizia De Luise.
"We need to reduce bureaucracy and accelerate and simplify procedures, because if support is delayed again, many businesses will have no option but to stop," she said.
The government last week accused banks of not acting quickly enough, but they said that they had already passed on around 400,000 loan requests worth more than 18 billion euros ($20 billion) to the state-backed Central Guarantee Fund.
- A million jobs threatened -
Italy was the first European country to be hit by the pandemic and imposed a strict two-month lockdown which paralysed much of the country's economic activity.
As a result, the country is set for a drop in GDP of between nine and 13 percent, the Bank of Italy said on Friday.
Data also showed that the economy shrank 5.3 percent in the first quarter -- worse than the 4.7 percent initially estimated.
It had not seen such an "exceptional" decline in the first quarter since 1995, ISTAT said.
This year's losses could amount to 170 billion euros, equivalent to the GDP of Veneto, Italy's third biggest industrial region, a Mediobanca study said.
The head of the country's main business confederation Cofindustria, Carlo Bonomi, said that up to a million jobs could be threatened nationwide.
"We're waiting for figures at the end of May but indications are that between 700,000 and a million jobs are in danger," he said.
"Jobs are only created if there is growth, innovation, investment. The car manufacturing crisis can't be solved with subsidies or furloughing. You solve it by looking to the future, by investing in new technologies," he said.
Italy is set to be the main beneficiary of a European Union 750-billion-euro recovery plan but it still may not be enough.
- No aid -
Italian citizens are slightly more optimistic, but far from celebrating. The pandemic has killed over 30,000 people.
Consumer confidence went from 100.1 points in May to 94.3 in March, its lowest level since December 2013.
While the state has paid for furloughs or handouts for those no longer able to work, many have slipped through the net.
They include Eleonora Fogliacco, 35, a fitness and swimming teacher in Lombardy, the hardest hit region where gyms were ordered closed at the end of February.
"I didn't qualify for the 600-euro monthly government handout because I earned more than 10,000 euros last year," she told AFP.
"During the crisis I had peaceful days and days when I felt completely lost, without any state help. I could no longer see the future and I didn't know what to hold onto," she said.
"I don't buy anything. I depend on my partner for the shopping," said Fogliacco.
"This situation has changed everybody's way of life (and) everything will be very complicated" in the future, she added.
According to a Confcommercio-Censis poll published on Tuesday, 53 percent of Italian families see their future negatively and 68 percent see the country's future negatively.
Because of lockdown, 42 percent of families have had to reduce their work and income, 26 percent have stopped work and 24 percent have been furloughed.
Six out of 10 families fear losing a job, as a result of which 28 percent have decided to take no holidays nor long weekends.

Material and genetic resemblance in the Bronze Age Southern Levant

UNIVERSITY OF VIENNA
IMAGE
IMAGE: GENERAL OF MEGIDDO view more 
CREDIT: © DR ISRAEL FINKELSTEIN, TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY
A team around Ron Pinhasi at the University of Vienna carried out a detailed analysis of ancient DNA of individuals from the Bronze Age Southern Levant known as 'Canaanites', to provide insights on the historical and demographic events that shaped the populations of that time and area. The scientists aimed at answering three basic questions: How genetically homogenous were the people from the Bronze Age Southern Levant, what were their plausible origins with respect to earlier peoples, and how much change in ancestry has there been in the region since the Bronze Age?
The team extracted and studied the DNA of people from five archaeological sites in the Bronze Age Southern Levant. They all share the "Canaanite" material culture and seem to be descending from two sources: People who lived in the region at earlier times and people who arrived from the area of the Caucasus-Zagros Mountains. These populations mixed at roughly equal proportions.
The data shows strong genetic resemblance, including a component from populations related to Chalcolithic Zagros and Early Bronze Age Caucasus introduced by a gene flow lasting at least until the late Bronze Age and affecting modern Levantine population architecture. These groups also harbor ancestry from sources that cannot fully be modeled with available data, highlighting the critical role of post-Bronze-Age migrations into the region over the past 3,000 years. The study provides evidence that the movement of Caucasus/Zagros people is already evident 4,500 years ago and likely started even earlier. This movement continued (although not necessarily continuously) throughout the Bronze Age.
"Populations in the Southern Levant during the Bronze Age were not static. Rather, we observe people movements over long periods of time - not necessarily continuously - from the northeast of the Ancient Near East into the region. The Canaanites are culturally and genetically similar. In addition, this region has witnessed many later population movements, with people coming from the northeast, from the south and from the west", says Ron Pinhasi.
The area at the site which supplied most of the samples for the aDNA study (the picture shows the relevant layers, dating to the MB III-LB I.
From the viewpoint of archaeology and history of the Ancient Near East, the team was surprised to see the strength of the Caucasus/Zagros component in the population of the Bronze Age, and that migration from this area continued as late as the second millennium BCE. According to archaeological findings, the Bronze Age Southern Levant was divided into city-states, which present similar material culture. Now it can be concluded that similarity between these populations extends also to genetics, showing that it is a case of cultural unity associated with shared ancestry. "Our results provide a comprehensive genetic picture of the primary inhabitants of the Southern Levant during the second millennium BCE", says Pinhasi.
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Publication in Cell:
Agranat-Tamir et al., The Genomic History of the Bronze Age Southern Levant, Cell, May 28, 2020.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2020.04.024

Tackling airborne transmission of COVID-19 indoors

UNIVERSITY OF SURREY
Preventing airborne transmission of Covid-19 should be the next front of the battle against the virus, argue experts from the University of Surrey.
In a study published by the City and Environment Interaction journal, scientists from Surrey's Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE), together with partners from Australia's Queensland University and Technology, argue that the lack of adequate ventilation in many indoor environments - from the workplace to the home - increases the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19.
Covid-19, like many viruses, is less than 100mn in size but expiratory droplets (from people who have coughed or sneezed) contain water, salts and other organic material, along with the virus itself. Experts from GCARE and Australia note that as the water content from the droplets evaporate, the microscopic matter becomes small and light enough to stay suspended in the air and over time the concentration of the virus will build up, increasing the risk of infection - particularly if the air is stagnant like in many indoor environments.
The study highlights improving building ventilation as a possible route to tackling indoor transmission of Covid-19.
Professor Prashant Kumar, lead author and the Director of the GCARE at the University of Surrey, said: "These past months, living through the Covid-19 crisis, has been truly unprecedented, but we must turn this global tragedy into an opportunity to better prepare for similar threats. An improved indoor ventilation is an important step that can be taken to reduce the risk of infection. However, more must be done to recognise and understand airborne transmission of Covid-19 and similar viruses, to minimise the build-up of virus-laden air in places typically containing high densities of people."
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Note to editors
The full paper: Could fighting airborne transmission be the next line of defence against COVID-19 spread?

Gap between rich, poor neighborhoods growing in some cities

Study of Columbus shows deepening polarization
OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY
IMAGE
IMAGE: HOUSING PRICES REBOUNDED IN BEXLEY AFTER THE GREAT RECESSION, BUT DIDN'T IN LINDEN. THE RESULTS SHOW DEEPENING POLARIZATION OF NEIGHBORHOOD VALUES IN COLUMBUS. view more 
CREDIT: OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY, CENTER FOR URBAN AND REGIONAL ANALYSIS
New research provides insight into how housing prices and neighborhood values have become polarized in some urban areas, with the rich getting richer and the poor becoming poorer.
The results of the study, done in Columbus, Ohio, suggest that some of the factors long thought to impact neighborhood values - such as the distance to downtown, nearby highways, or attractions such as city parks - no longer matter much to changing housing prices in an area.
Instead, what drives neighborhood values are the unique, local amenities and characteristics of each area, such as local businesses, schools, crime rates and social networks.
And these features are self-reinforcing over time, said Jinhyung Lee, lead author of the study and graduate student in geography at The Ohio State University.
"Over 15 years, we see the divide between rich and poor neighborhoods getting deeper and wider in Columbus," Lee said.
The results suggest that government officials need to provide direct investments in low-valued neighborhoods to break the self-reinforcing negative effects, he said.
The study, led by researchers in Ohio State's Center for Urban and Regional Analysis (CURA), was published online recently in the journal Geographical Analysis.
Researchers used a high-resolution housing transactions database provided by the firm CoreLogic that allowed them to analyze nearly 480,000 home sales in the Columbus area between 2000 and 2015 to see how housing values have changed in specific neighborhoods.
Traditionally high-valued neighborhoods, which include suburbs (Upper Arlington, Grandview Heights, Bexley), became even more prosperous over the 15 years. Low-valued neighborhoods in the city (Linden, Franklinton) lost value.
The study captured the impact of the Great Recession on the value of houses in the Columbus area.
Housing prices dropped significantly in all parts of the city between 2008 and 2011, as they did throughout the United States. But the recovery did not happen equally throughout the Columbus area.
"Areas that traditionally had high housing prices regained much of the recession-induced loss, while other areas did not," Lee said.
"This unequal recovery made the polarized neighborhood values in Columbus even worse."
Overall, high housing prices were clustered near the center of the city and in suburban areas, Lee said.
"In contrast, the areas between the city center and suburban areas had low housing prices, resulting in a donut-shaped housing price landscape," he said.
The researchers calculated how far each neighborhood was from major Columbus amenities, including downtown, the nearest rivers, Ohio State's campus, the Columbus Zoo and the closest city-maintained park.
Analysis of the data showed that the distance from these features didn't shape patterns of neighborhood value over time, as some long-standing theories indicated they might, Lee said.
"This suggests that the reasons why neighborhoods are becoming more polarized has more to do with what is going on each individual neighborhood," he said.
Results showed that the location of major highways in Columbus, particularly U.S. Interstate 71, shaped polarization. Many of the richer neighborhoods are clustered west of I-71, with the poorer neighborhoods to the east.
"This is consistent with work by public policy and urban history scholars documenting that highways were constructed to purposefully cut through poorer, minority neighborhoods and avoid more affluent ones," Lee said.
"It has served to further reinforce patterns of economic segregation."
The findings suggest that low-value neighborhoods are unlikely to improve over time on their own, according to Lee.
"Our research underscores the need for direct investments in neighborhoods to spark a development process," he said.
For example, governments can invest in job market training programs in low-value neighborhoods to offset the self-reinforcing negative effects that can make these neighborhoods worse off over time, he said.
Lee said he expects similar polarizing trends exist in neighborhood values in cities across the nation. But the exact ways they get there may differ depending on factors like the size of the cities and their levels of decentralization.
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Co-authors on the study were Nicholas Irwin, assistant professor of economics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Elena Irwin, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics and the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State; and Harvey Miller, professor of geography and director of CURA at Ohio State.
Contact: Jinhyung Lee, Lee.7738@osu.edu
Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grab

Hydropower plants to support solar and wind energy in West Africa

KU LEUVEN


IMAGE
IMAGE: SOLAR STREET LIGHTING IN NIGER. view more 
CREDIT: SEBASTIAN STERL

Hydropower plants can support solar and wind power, rather unpredictable by nature, in a climate-friendly manner. A new study in the scientific journal Nature Sustainability has now mapped the potential for such "solar-wind-water" strategies for West Africa: an important region where the power sector is still under development, and where generation capacity and power grids will be greatly expanded in the coming years. "Countries in West Africa therefore now have the opportunity to plan this expansion according to strategies that rely on modern, climate-friendly energy generation," says Sebastian Sterl, energy and climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KU Leuven and lead author of the study. "A completely different situation from Europe, where power supply has been dependent on polluting power plants for many decades - which many countries now want to rid themselves of."
Solar and wind power generation is increasing worldwide and becoming cheaper and cheaper. This helps to keep climate targets in sight, but also poses challenges. For instance, critics often argue that these energy sources are too unpredictable and variable to be part of a reliable electricity mix on a large scale.
"Indeed, our electricity systems will have to become much more flexible if we are to feed large amounts of solar and wind power into the grid. Flexibility is currently mostly provided by gas power plants. Unfortunately, these cause a lot of CO2 emissions," says Sebastian Sterl, energy and climate expert at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and KU Leuven. "But in many countries, hydropower plants can be a fossil fuel-free alternative to support solar and wind energy. After all, hydropower plants can be dispatched at times when insufficient solar and wind power is available."


Hydropower plant in Gui, Ghana.
The research team, composed of experts from VUB, KU Leuven, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and Climate Analytics, designed a new computer model for their study, running on detailed water, weather and climate data. They used this model to investigate how renewable power sources in West Africa could be exploited as effectively as possible for a reliable power supply, even without large-scale storage. All this without losing sight of the environmental impact of large hydropower plants.
"This is far from trivial to calculate," says Prof. Wim Thiery, climate scientist at the VUB, who was also involved in the study. "Hydroelectric power stations in West Africa depend on the monsoon; in the dry season they run on their reserves. Both sun and wind, as well as power requirements, have their own typical hourly, daily and seasonal patterns. Solar, wind and hydropower all vary from year to year and may be impacted by climate change. In addition, their potential is spatially very unevenly distributed."

West African Power Pool

The study demonstrates that it will be particularly important to create a "West African Power Pool", a regional interconnection of national power grids. Countries with a tropical climate, such as Ghana and the Ivory Coast, typically have a lot of potential for hydropower and quite high solar radiation, but hardly any wind. The drier and more desert-like countries, such as Senegal and Niger, hardly have any opportunities for hydropower, but receive more sunlight and more wind. The potential for reliable, clean power generation based on solar and wind power, supported by flexibly dispatched hydropower, increases by more than 30% when countries can share their potential regionally, the researchers discovered.
All measures taken together would allow roughly 60% of the current electricity demand in West Africa to be met with complementary renewable sources, of which roughly half would be solar and wind power and the other half hydropower - without the need for large-scale battery or other storage plants. According to the study, within a few years, the cost of solar and wind power generation in West Africa is also expected to drop to such an extent that the proposed solar-wind-water strategies will provide cheaper electricity than gas-fired power plants, which currently still account for more than half of all electricity supply in West Africa.

Better ecological footprint

Hydropower plants can have a considerable negative impact on local ecology. In many developing countries, piles of controversial plans for new hydropower plants have been proposed. The study can help to make future investments in hydropower more sustainable. "By using existing and planned hydropower plants as optimally as possible to massively support solar and wind energy, one can at the same time make certain new dams superfluous," says Sterl. "This way two birds can be caught with one stone. Simultaneously, one avoids CO2 emissions from gas-fired power stations and the environmental impact of hydropower overexploitation."

Left: current policy plans Right: West African Power Pool scenario

Global relevance

The methods developed for the study are easily transferable to other regions, and the research has worldwide relevance. Sterl: "Nearly all regions with a lot of hydropower, or hydropower potential, could use it to compensate shortfalls in solar and wind power." Various European countries, with Norway at the front, have shown increased interest in recent years to deploy their hydropower to support solar and wind power in EU countries. Exporting Norwegian hydropower during times when other countries undergo solar and wind power shortfalls, the European energy transition can be advanced.
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