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Floating wind turbines could open up vast ocean tracts for renewable power | Environment

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In the stormy waters of the North Sea, 15 miles off the coast of Aberdeenshire, in Scotland, five floating offshore wind turbines stretch 574 feet (175 metres) above the water. The world’s first floating windfarm, a 30 megawatt facility run by the Norwegian company Equinor, has only been in operation since 2017 but has already broken UK records for energy output.

While most offshore wind turbines are anchored to the ocean floor on fixed foundations, limiting them to depths of about 165ft, floating turbines are tethered to the seabed by mooring lines. These enormous structures are assembled on land and pulled out to sea by boats.

The ability to install turbines in deeper waters, where winds tend to be stronger, opens up huge amounts of the ocean to generate renewable wind power: close to 80% of potential offshore wind power is found in deeper waters. In addition, positioning floating turbines much further off the coast helps avoid conflicts with those who object to their impact on coastal views.

Floating offshore wind is still in its early stages: only about 80 megawatts of a total of about 32 gigawatts (0.25%) of installed offshore wind capacity is floating. But some experts say the relatively new technology could become an important part of the renewables mix, if it can overcome hurdles including cost, design and opposition from the fishing industry.

The US has traditionally lagged behind Europe when it comes to offshore wind power, but that may be changing. Joe Biden has pledged to build more than 30GW of offshore wind by 2030. The Department of Energy says it has invested more than $100m in researching and developing floating offshore wind technology in an attempt to establish itself as a leader in the sector.

While the reliable winds and relatively shallow waters of the US east coast have made it the favored target for offshore wind projects, such as the recently approved large-scale Vineyard Wind off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, on the west coast the waters are mostly too deep for fixed-platform turbines. It’s here that advocates hope floating wind will take off.

In May, the Biden administration and California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, announced a plan to bring floating offshore wind to California. They have identified two sites: a nearly 400-square mile area north-west of Morro Bay, which could host 380 floating wind turbines, and another further north off Humboldt Bay. Together these projects could bring up to 4.6GW of clean energy to the grid, enough to power 1.6m homes.

“[The announcement] was a real breakthrough,” said Adam Stern, executive director of the trade association Offshore Wind California. “At a time when the effects of climate change are evident in California every day, in the form of wildfires and drought conditions,” he said, “offshore wind can provide clean, reliable electricity for millions of California residents.”

The International Energy Agency estimates that for the world to stay on the pathway to carbon neutrality by 2050 it needs to add 390GW of wind power (80GW of which would be offshore) every year between 2030 and 2050.

It’s a big jump from current numbers, especially for the offshore wind industry, which installed just over 6GW of new capacity in 2020. But wind power has been growing as costs fall and countries look to move away from fossil fuels to meet climate goals.

How much floating wind will factor in is unclear. Countries including Norway, Portugal, South Korea and Japan are installing or planning floating wind projects, with more than 26GW of capacity estimated to be in the pipeline, according to one estimate.

“Without a doubt wind is a big part of the solution for going to zero,” said Michael Webber, an energy expert and engineering professor at the University of Texas at Austin. But he believes floating wind is likely to take time to scale up, predicting that onshore wind and fixed-bottom offshore wind would dominate for the next decade.

Big hurdles certainly remain. Cost is a significant one. Floating offshore wind generation costs are about double those of fixed offshore wind, although these are expected to fall as technology advances and supply chains improve. Estimates by the research body the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) suggest floating turbine projects could achieve cost parity with their fixed-bottom counterparts around 2030.

One wrinkle is the number of designs to anchor the floating turbines, which some experts believe will make it harder to drive down costs.

Three floating wind turbine designs: spar, semisubmersible and tension leg platforms
Three of the main floating wind turbine designs include the spar-buoy (left), the semisubmersible (center) and the tension leg platforms (right). Photograph: Joshua Bauer/NREL

There are three main designs. The spar-buoy – the design of the Hywind floating turbines in Scotland – has a long, weighted cylinder tube which extends down from the turbine and below the ocean’s surface to balance it. Semi-submersible platforms, which are the most common for installed and planned projects, are modular and made up of floating cylindrical structures secured by mooring lines. The tension-leg structure has a smaller platform anchored to the seabed with taut mooring lines.

“I’ve lost count of how many concepts are actually out there,” said Po Wen Cheng, head of wind energy at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. “Ford didn’t make the car affordable for the big masses by making 30 different types of car – they just made a Model T. If we really want to lower the cost, we cannot tolerate so many different concepts,” he said.

Parts of the fishing industry have also expressed concerns that offshore wind could interfere with their equipment, obstruct fishing areas and negatively affect their livelihoods.

Semi-submersibale floating wind turbines off the coast of Viana do Castelo, Portugal.
Semi-submersibale floating wind turbines off the coast of Viana do Castelo, Portugal. Photograph: Hugo Amaral/Sopa Images/Rex/Shutterstock

The first floating windfarm in the US may end up in Maine, where the University of Maine, RWE Renewables and the Mitsubishi subsidiary Diamond Offshore Wind are developing a small demonstration project that would generate 12MW of energy.

It has faced enormous opposition from lobster fishers who say the turbines interfere with their business. They reached a compromise in July: this pilot project will go ahead but the state legislature approved a ban on new industrial wind projects in state waters until March 2031.

Fishermen have rung alarm bells about California’s projects, too. “Far too many questions remain unanswered regarding potential impacts to marine life,” said Mike Conroy, the executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations in a May statement about plans for floating wind in the state.

Walt Musial, NREL’s lead of offshore wind research, said even a large-scale deployment of offshore wind along the east or west coast would take up only a tiny portion of the ocean and turbines would be carefully sited. But he stressed the continued need for good communication “to ensure optimal coexistence and to help the fishing community adapt and continue to access the space within the turbines for fishing”.

The California government foresees offering commercial leases for Morro Bay and Humboldt Bay next year. Stern is hopeful that floating offshore wind would create thousands of well-paying clean energy jobs in the state, as well as accelerating the retirement of natural gas plants, reducing pollution in communities that disproportionately bear the burden of environmental impacts.

“There are a lot of challenges to get floating wind turbines running in US waters,” said Po Wen Cheng, “but there’s no doubt about the potential.”

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Facebook oversight board to review system that exempts elite users | Facebook

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Facebook’s semi-independent oversight board says it will review the company’s “XCheck” system, an internal program that has exempted high-profile users from some or all of its rules.

The decision follows an investigation by the Wall Street Journal that revealed that reviews of posts by well-known users such as celebrities, politicians and journalists are steered into the separate system.

Under the program, some users are “whitelisted”, or not subject to enforcement action, while others are allowed to post material that violates Facebook rules pending content reviews that often do not take place. The Xcheck system, for example, allowed Brazilian footballer Neymar to post nude pictures of a woman who had accused him of rape, according to the report.

Users were identified for additional scrutiny based on criteria such as being “newsworthy”, “influential or popular” or “PR risky”, the Wall Street Journal found. By 2020 there were 5.8 million users on the XCheck list, according to the newspaper.

The oversight board said Tuesday that it expects to have a briefing with Facebook on the system and “will be reporting what we hear from this” as part of a report it will publish in October.

The board may also make other recommendations, although Facebook is not bound to follow these.

The Journal’s report, the board said, has drawn “renewed attention to the seemingly inconsistent way that the company makes decisions, and why greater transparency and independent oversight of Facebook matters so much for users”.

Facebook told the Journal in response to its investigation that the system “was designed for an important reason: to create an additional step so we can accurately enforce policies on content that could require more understanding”. The company added that criticism of it was “fair” and that it was working to fix it.

A representative for Facebook declined to comment to the Associated Press on the oversight board’s decision.

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Philippines imposes 12 per cent digital services tax • The Register

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The Philippines has become the latest nation to impose a digital services tax.

Such taxes require the likes of Netflix and Spotify to pay local sales taxes even though their services are delivered – legally, notionally, and physically – from beyond local jurisdiction.

The Philippines has chosen a rate of 12 per cent, mirroring local value added taxes.

“We have now clarified that digital services and the goods and services traded through digital service providers should generally be subject to VAT. This is just a matter of common tax sense,” said Joey Salceda, a member of the Philippines’ House of Representatives and a backer of the change to the nation’s tax code.

Salceda tied the change to post-pandemic economic recovery.

“If brick and mortar establishments, which are the hardest-hit by the pandemic, have to pay VAT, the giants of e-commerce shouldn’t be exempt,” he said.

However, local companies that are already exempt from VAT by virtue of low turnover won’t be caught by the extension of the tax into the virtual realm.

Salceda’s amendments are designed to catch content streamers, but also online software sales – including mobile apps – plus SaaS and hosted software. The Philippines’ News Agency’s report on the amendment’s passage into law even mentions firewalls as subject to VAT.

The Philippines is not alone in introducing a digital services tax to raise more revenue after the COVID-19 pandemic hurt government revenue – Indonesia used the same logic in 2020 .

But the taxes are controversial because they are seen as a unilateral response to the wider issue of multinational companies picking the jurisdictions in which they’ll pay tax – a practice that erodes national tax bases. The G7 group of nations, and the OECD, think that collaborations that shift tax liabilities to nations where goods and services are acquired and consumed are the most appropriate response, and that harmonising global tax laws to make big tech pay up wherever they do business is a better plan than digital services taxes.

The USA has backed that view of digital services taxes, by announcing it will impose tariffson nations that introduce them – but is yet to enact that plan.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a global approach to multinational tax shenanigans is taking years to agree and implement.

But The Philippines wants more cash in its coffers – and to demonstrate that local businesses aren’t being disadvantaged – ASAP. ®

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How to ask your boss for more flexible working

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While returning to the office is now possible for many, some workers might still want the option of flexible working some of the time. Here’s how to broach the subject.

This week marked the beginning of a phased and staggered return to workplaces for many employees in Ireland.

It essentially marked the first official green light for employers to ready their offices and start putting plans in place for their staff’s return.

Click here to check out the top sci-tech employers hiring right now.

However, HR body CIPD Ireland urged employers to be mindful of anxious workers as they face “another round of upheaval” with the return to offices.

So, while employers are finalising plans about how, where and when their teams will work, some employees may be wondering how to go about expressing their preference, worried that it’s not in line with what the company wants.

While there have been plenty of discussions and remote work advocates calling for leaders to be more flexible and recognise that the future of work will be hybrid, the reality for individual employees can feel very different.

While big-picture debates around the right to request remote work are happening, how do you ask for what you want in the here and now, when your boss is determined to have a full return to the office?

Explain your reasons

If remote or flexible working isn’t something your boss is already willing to give you, then you must treat it like a pay rise request.

Explain clearly and concisely the reasons why you want more flexibility, how it will benefit you and make you a more engaged, happier worker.

While family commitments might be an important factor, so too is work-life balance and getting rid of long commutes. And, while there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, Covid-19 is still a very real concern, so don’t be afraid to express your reservations about this too.

Make a business case

When you ask for a pay increase, you provide proof of the value you have added to the company. Take the same approach here and explain to your boss how flexible working will actually be beneficial to them.

Some managers who resist remote working might still have an office-based mentality where presenteeism is key. But there are numerous studies that show that knowledge workers are more productive when working remotely.

And, when done as a purposeful business strategy, remote working can help teams prioritise work more clearly as well as allowing for more downtime and work-life balance.

Be realistic

Depending on your manager, your team and the work you do, it may not be feasible to ask to work from home five days a week.

It’s important that you are realistic about asking for what you want and also realistic about what you can deliver in return. Remote workers can be more productive but they can also be in danger of burning out so be thoughtful about what strategy will work best for both you and your manager.

Listen to their perspective

While conversations around remote working appear to be mostly positive, it can be a different situation behind the office doors.

Many managers and leaders are still hesitant about moving to a fully flexible working strategy and this can lead to workers feeling like they are not being listened to.

However, one of the best ways to combat that hesitancy from managers is to listen to their concerns and address them in a problem-solving manner.

Being able to alleviate some of your manager’s worries might make them more amenable to allowing for more flexibility.

Make expectations clear

If you do convince your boss to allow for a more flexible working plan than what they had originally considered, it’s important that both sides understand what is expected.

Without clearly defining the outcomes of the new set-up, misunderstandings can lead to disappointments and feelings of mistrust in the idea of flexible working.

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