March 7, 2011
The Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK is challenging you to solve the problem of reducing the country’s CO2 emissions by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The data behind the 2050 simulation is based on actual UK data. You read along and learn about how the country uses energy and then decide how you see its future. The program quantifies your ideas and prompts further questions about the impact of your choices.
When you are done you get a snap shot of what your world looks like – again nicely quantified and easy to understand – including geography references, scale and scope of development that would be required, nod to efficiencies realized and a literal count of things like wind turbines and nuclear power plants that would be required. You can return to your musing and try again or submit the results.
But what we really like about this sim is that it’s the foundation for the Pathway Debate. Eight climate and energy experts have set out how they think the UK could meet the target using the 2050 tool. Brilliant. This is one of the best online tools we’ve seen recently to help consumers understand the relationship between supply and demand. It’s about the energy mix and how all of the sources work together to power the future. So hop to it and take a spin or should we say a sim.
Really, everyone these days is an energy armchair critic, picking winners and losers and thinking they have a better idea. Now it’s your turn. You decide. And you just might learn something in the process.
February 10, 2011
In our recent post on the World Future Energy Summit, we discussed the need for policy change in order to achieve current climate change targets. Two scientists in the United States have taken that one step further. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of civil and environmental engineering, Stanford University and Mark A. Delucchi, research scientist, Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis; believe that all that is needed to achieve a totally carbon free, totally renewable, wind, water and solar (WWS) based energy system by 2030 is political will.
Well, maybe a bit more than that. We’ll also need:
- 490,000 tidal turbines, each with an installed capacity of one megawatt
- 5,350 geothermal plants, each with an installed capacity of 100 megawatts
- 270 additional hydroelectric plants, each with an installed capacity of 1,300 megawatts
- 3.8 million wind turbines, each with an installed capacity of five megawatts
- 720,000 wave powered turbines, each with an installed capacity of 0.75 megawatts
- 1.7 billion rooftop photovoltaic systems, each with an installed capacity of three kilowatts
- 49,000 solar focusing steam power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
- 40,000 photovoltaic power plants, each with an installed capacity of 300 megawatts
Basically, to achieve a totally renewable WWS energy system, we’ll have to totally renew the existing system. And that includes building a new, super-interconnected electricity transmission grid. It also involves scrapping all internal combustion engine vehicles and replacing them with electric or fuel cell vehicles.
And the cost estimate is only about $100 trillion.
The most fascinating aspect of this theory is that it might just be doable.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2030, world energy demand will be 16.9 terawatts (TW), or enough to power 47 60-watt light bulbs for every person on earth. But Jacobson and Delucchi point out that in a carbon-free world there would be no internal combustion engines, and internal combustion engines are far less efficient than electricity, so the actual requirement drops to 11.5 TW.
And if you think 3.8 million wind turbines is a lot, consider that auto manufacturers make 73 million cars per year. Also consider that much of the world’s electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is aging and will have to be replaced in the not too distant future anyway. And without all the transportation-induced air pollution, medical and environmental costs would decrease significantly.
As far as reliability of the system is concerned, a thoroughly interconnected grid will be able to re-route surplus electricity to wherever it is needed. Jacobson and Delucchi point out, perhaps a little simplistically, that if it’s raining in one place, it’s sunny someplace else, or if there’s no wind, it’s probably sunny. In other words, electricity will be generated somehow, somewhere.
The authors have determined that the only technical barrier might be the availability of rare-earth metals needed for batteries, solar films and fuel cells. But if we recycle old batteries and buildings, we should have ample supply of steel, concrete and things like neodymium and indium.
Which means the real barrier is political will, which ultimately means getting everyone onside. Most of us agree there’s a problem, but maybe it’s a little far fetched to try and achieve all this by 2030. Maybe it’s more realistic to try for 2050. Implement a more gradual shift, replacing old infrastructure as needed with new wind, water and solar generation. Maybe people will be a little more comfortable with that and a little more willing to put one of the 1.7 billion photovoltaic systems on their own roof.
February 8, 2011
A recurring theme at the recently held fourth World Future Energy Summit (WFES) was that the transformation to a clean energy future requires a new way of thinking. That new way of thinking was best described by Lord Nicholas Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics. “In order that climate change targets can be achieved, we face the need for a new industrial revolution. That industrial revolution needs policy change as a driver to reach the scale of change required. With fundamentally strong policy, we can also increase the pace of that change.”
One such policy shift described at the summit is government fuel subsidies. “Government subsidies of energy fuels leads to inefficiencies and waste through artificially high use,” said Dr. Fatih Birol, Chief Economist of International Energy Agency. “Coupled with the current gas glut this poses a real threat to future investment in renewables.”
Another policy shift is to refocus sustainable infrastructure development from established economies to emerging economies. “Developing countries offer a ‘clean sheet’ for renewable technologies as they often do not have the old technologies and infrastructure that developed economies have”, said Rene Umlauft, CEO Renewable Energy, Siemens, Germany. “This means that they can ‘leapfrog’ the problems that developed countries have in replacing old energy systems, making them a key investment market.”
Closer to Home
But policy shifts that drive green energy and sustainability are more than just ideas voiced at environmental summits. Closer to home, the Ontario government’s policies are the drivers of change.
In 2007, the Ontario Power Authority developed a 20-year energy policy that focused on “creating a sustainable energy supply, targeted to improving current natural gas and renewable assets at a sustainable and realistic cost.” That plan included the very successful Feed-in-Tariff program wherein small energy producers using renewable energy sources were paid for surplus power supplied to the grid.
In 2009, the Ontario government introduced its Green Energy and Green Economy Act and its Long-Term Energy Plan (660KB PDF) as an update of the 2007 plan.
During the 1990s, five coal-fired plants, all operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG), supplied up to 25 per cent of Ontario’s electricity. With the Long-Term Plan, all coal-fired units will be phased out by December 31, 2014. In doing so, Ontario will become the first jurisdiction in North America to eliminate coal-fired generation.
Closing coal plants actually started in 2005 when OPG decommissioned the Lakeshore generating station in Mississauga, Ontario. In 2010, it shut down two units at Nanticoke and two at Lambton generating station. Two more units at Nanticoke are scheduled to be shut down in 2011. Nanticoke was the largest coal-fired generating station in North America and the largest single emitter of greenhouse gases in Canada.
To make up for lost generating capacity, the single unit at the Atikokan plant in northern Ontario is being converted to burn biomass consisting of wood pellets and agricultural by-products. Two of the three units at Thunder Bay will be converted to natural gas. As well, units at Nanticoke and Lambton may be converted to burn gas or biomass.
Ontario expects that nuclear power will continue to provide up to 50 per cent of its electricity. This may call for refurbishment and modernization of units at the Darlington, Pickering and Bruce nuclear generating stations as well as the addition of two to four new reactors at Darlington.
The province will add capacity through upgrades to, and new construction of, hydropower facilities, wind farms and solar parks. Ontario already leads the country in wind and solar capacity.
Existing Feed-in-Tariff programs, which initially included biomass, biogas, landfill gas, wind, solar and small hydro, will be expanded to include small combined heat and power projects.
While policy is driving change in Ontario, it may not be the only driver. The first Industrial Revolution was driven by innovation and technology that allowed mass production. Similarly, recent advances have contributed to the economic viability of renewable resources such as wind power and solar photovoltaic energy and to the more efficient use of conventional fuels in new technologies such as combined cycle gas turbines. Without these advances, implementing policy change might be prohibitively expensive.
|Held in Abu Dhabi and hosted by Masdar, an Abu Dhabi based renewable energy and sustainable technology organization, the WFES is an annual event that promotes innovation and investment opportunities surrounding renewable energy and the environment. This year’s meeting was attended by more than 26,000 visitors from 137 countries. Delegates included political leaders, international policy makers, industry experts, investors,and academics.|
January 6, 2011
At the end of 2010, there were three electric cars (EVs) on the North American market – the Tesla Roadster, Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF. The next year or so will see the entry of up to five more and, again, their names tell us something about the marketing strategies used to sell a product facing increasing competition.
Take the Fisker Karma. The name goes beyond green to spiritual. Drive this car in this life and you’ll be rewarded in the next life. Except the Karma, like the Volt, has an internal combustion engine as a back up. True, it never directly powers the vehicle, but it does burn gas. It’s speedy, stylish, powerful and costs about $87,000. Maybe not so pious after all.
Daimler-Benz continues to target the intelligent car buyer with its Smart Electric Drive. As the name suggests, it’s the all-electric version of the Smart Fortwo. But smart? Well, certainly not the head of the class. Less expensive cars have more power, more speed and longer ranges.
For the musician, there’s the Coda Sedan. Coda is defined as “the concluding passage of a musical piece”, and the Coda Sedan is touted as the end of the internal combustion engine. In its price group, it’s above average in range, speed and power, and it seats four. But it’s not the end; more of an interlude.
Obviously, the Think City is targeted at the thinking city driver. Above average in everything except power and price. On the road since 1999, the Think City has already enjoyed great popularity in Europe. The only dumb part is that it won’t be commercially available in North America until 2012.
Not sure who is being targeted by the Wheego LiFe. The initial image is piggies returning from market, but they’re doing so in one of the more cost-efficient EVs. And, according to the manufacturer, there’s plenty of room for groceries.
January 4, 2011
The long-awaited semi-affordable electric cars are finally here! Almost three years after the introduction of the Tesla Roadster, both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF were delivered to dealers in the United States the week of December 20, 2010.
What makes these cars appealing is their lack of emissions and noise, smooth ride, low maintenance and economic operation, the same things that gave electric cars their enormous popularity in the early 1900s. What doesn’t appeal to consumers is their lack of range, lack of speed, and their higher cost, the same things that sank electric cars in the early 1900s.
So, how to attract buyers.
From the car names, it’s obvious that GM and Nissan have taken different roads. GM seems to be aiming at the power/performance crowd. Volt evokes images of lighting bolts and arcs of electricity – pure energy in the driving experience. And the Volt has more horsepower (150 vs. 110), a larger motor (111 kW vs. 80), and a higher top speed (161 kilometres per hour vs. 145).
Nissan, on the other hand, is looking to the green crowd. In fact LEAF stands for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable, Family car, hence the capitalized name. It has a larger battery pack (24 kW-h vs. 16) and a larger range (161 kilometres vs. 64). So green that it doesn’t come with a 1.4 litre, four-cylinder, gasoline-powered, internal combustion engine, such as the one that does come with the Volt.
The Tesla is named in honour of Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American physicist who invented alternating current. Maybe not as evocative a name as Volt or LEAF, but the Tesla roadster has a top speed of 201 kilometres per hour, a range of 393 kilometres and is styled after the Lotus Elise. Too bad it’s three times the price the other two.
July 10, 2009
Smart meters can provide real-time readings of energy use, providing more detailed information than conventional meters. Many energy companies throughout North America and Europe are in the process of replacing manual meter readings with these instant, automated systems.
If consumers know the time-of-use prices for its energy consumption, the hope is that they will think twice before doing a load of laundry or running the dishwasher during peak evening hours. The long-term goal will be to reduce overall electricity demand, therefore requiring less generating capacity.
Smart meters can cost anywhere from $250 to $500 depending on features. Critics argue that the cost of installing the new smart meters does not justify the expense, especially when used by low energy consumers, such as homeowners.
The cost of managing old meters is about 50 cents per unit, compared to the nearly $5 per unit for the smart meters. Although expensive to install, the idea is that meters will save money by eliminating the process of sending paid employees on-site to manually read or manage the meters.
Energy savings are expected to be around 10 percent per household, but in order for the system to be truly effective, the smart meters need to be coupled with a sliding pricing rate and data feedback to consumers.
With cooperation and ingenuity, smart meters can be another effective step towards reducing energy consumption.
July 8, 2009
Though it is as much of an oxymoron as dry cleaning, dry washing technology is here. The Sanyo Aqua AWD-AQ1 can clean clothes without water by converting oxygen in the air to ozone. Ozone has a strong oxidation action, which when sprayed on clothing eliminates bacteria, odors and dirt. It almost makes doing laundry…cool?
There are other simple ways to reduce your energy consumption and clean up your laundering ways.
- Use cold water: Nearly 90 per cent of the energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water.
- Energy Star and front-load washers will save enough energy to pay for themselves in utility savings.
- Try eco-friendly detergents which are phosphate and bleach-free.
- Re-usable softener and anti-static balls don’t have the chemicals and toxins found in many conventional dryer sheets. You can also make your own softener sheets by misting a moist washcloth with a dab of liquid fabric softener and tossing it into the dryer.
- Look for moisture sensor clothes dryers, which automatically shut off when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save the wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.
- Lay it on the line: Hang dry clothes. Electric dryers emit approximately one ton of carbon dioxide per household per year and they are the 2nd biggest energy suckers in American homes.
So make a clean start. By changing one simple thing, you can make a difference.
July 3, 2009
As the summer months heat up, so does the energy grid.
Air conditioning use is in highest demand on sweltering weekday afternoons. So what’s the solution? In both Canada and the US, governments are offering a Peak Saver program. Consumers are given a free programmable thermostat which is also installed and programmed free of charge.
It gives consumers the power to adjust their energy consumption, automatically reducing consumption when no one’s around. Out of the home or office unexpectedly? No problem—the thermostat can be adjusted via the Internet.
And in the blistering heat, utility companies like Hydro Ottawa, also have the option to “cycle” or remotely access your air conditioning unit to reduce electricity use for short periods of time. Generally, it means that the compressor gets turned off for about 10 minutes each half-hour.
The fan continues to run, meaning that the change in temperature is hardly noticeable. The temperature inside generally falls no more than 2 degrees. So utility companies can manage the sweltering heat outside without having to activate more power plants, and still keep consumers cool and happy on the inside.
Even better, energy savings can be as much as 10%, so there won’t be any blistering energy bills that leave you hot under the collar.
June 29, 2009
Home electronics jacking up power consumption
Today, more than one billion people are using personal computers worldwide; two billion have television sets and more than three billion are gabbing on their mobile phones. And the number of chargers for all those cell phones? Around 6 billion. That’s almost the entire global population.
Currently, 15% of household electricity consumption is used to keep those cell phones charged and those TVs and computers running. With these devices becoming an ever-increasing part of our world and that technology improving rapidly, this gadget gaggle is expected to triple the energy consumption rate over the next 20 years.
The International Energy Agency is calling on governments to legislate more energy-efficient gadgets. It predicts that 1,700 terawatt hours will be consumed by 2030, if current consumption is not curbed. Not only would that cost an estimated $200 billion in electricity bills, it is equivalent to the current combined total residential electricity consumption of the United States and Japan.
But what about all our technology improvements? Any efficiency progress that has been made over the last few years has mostly been cancelled out by the high demand for advanced devices that suck more power.
Canada is already leading the charge with some impressive appliance and electronic standards. The EnerGuide and Energy Star programs publish the names of the most energy-efficient brands and force appliance manufacturers to post their power-use ratings.
Simply using the best available technology would slow growth in consumption to less than 1 per cent a year through 2030.
Now that’s worth phoning home about.
June 12, 2009
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that approximately 15 percent of the world’s food is grown in urban areas. This number is expected to rise as the population increases, food prices sky-rocket, and environmental awareness swells.
But in places like Cuba and other developing nations, the new Green Movement is old news. When the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s, Cuba’s oil supply was cut off, reducing rations of imported foods. Cuba was forced to become self-sufficient and began planting thousands of cooperative gardens. They have been hitting pay dirt ever since.
Cuba may have been forced to go green, but now busy cities in North America are starting to pay attention. Vertical urban gardens are blooming on rooftops, beside parking lots and in vacant and abandoned spaces. Some architects are even beginning to design urban buildings to incorporate these rooftop gardens right from their inception.
And this ‘growing trend’ is catching on in Egypt, Singapore and Russia. Increasing oxygen production in some of these congested areas is nothing to cough at either. Energy, economic and environmental payoffs make vertical farming such a fruitful solution.
Vegetables and chickens: coming soon to a rooftop near you.