AN ERA OF ABUNDANT LAND, ENERGY & WATER
|High-rise urban farms will deliver water and food,
freeing up millions of square miles of farmland
The promise this green iteration of high technology makes is that we will achieve resource abundance. Because of high-tech green innovation, we will soon have abundant land, abundant energy, and abundant water. Smart growth policies that are based on conditions of scarcity are short sighted. Spot shortages of energy and water – as well as perceived shortages of land – may last a few more decades but will eventually be swept away in a wave of prosperity and abundance.
The human race, about 6.2 billion human beings, consume about 17 quadrillion BTU’s of caloric energy each year. For this reason we expend huge resources protecting our farmland. When the total human population begins to level out, at perhaps somewhere around 8.0 billion, we will require more caloric energy than we already produce. High rise farming will address this challenge, as well as enable us to take huge percentages of our farmland out of production. This will make land abundant.
Solar energy is now being tapped both using photovoltaic and solar-thermal technology. Breakthroughs in these technologies promise long-term exponential growth for solar power. Within a few years solar energy production could increase an order of magnitude to represent more than 1% of global energy production. And there is no reason to believe production of solar energy – using photovoltaic and solar thermal technology – cannot increase by another order of magnitude so that within a decade it offers 10% of world energy production. Combined with increased energy efficiency and other energy advances, solar energy is the wildcard that will fill whatever gap we experience in energy supply – it is the infinite and cost-effective, economically competitive energy alternative that guarantees we never run out of energy. Solar power guarantees energy abundance.
Advances in desalination are already making fresh water extracted from the ocean a major water source throughout the Middle East and Asia. The desalination option is being increasingly considered throughout the world, and it’s about time. Desalination only requires 2.0 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter of fresh water. Recent technological advances, already reflected in advanced desalination plants operating from Israel to Australia, have cut the amount of electricity required to desalinate water by 50% in just the last few years. The energy required to desalinate seawater is no longer a significant portion of any family’s energy needs – it requires less electricity than any major household appliance. Advanced desalination technology guarantees fresh water abundance. – Ed Ring
|CONCEPT & DESIGN|
|McDonough, Braungart Design Chemistry
If you’re looking for “cradle to cradle” design you can do no better than to call upon the duo who coined the term, William McDonough and Michael Braungart, whose 2002 breakthrough book “Cradle to Cradle, Remaking the Way We Make Things” has helped launch the latest green revolution. But you better get in line. McDounough and Braungart’s firm, MBDC, is in the forefront of green design with projects all over the world. For example, MBDC is playing a key role helping the Chinese develop new cities of 500,000 people each – cities that are springing up from nothing. These cities will produce their own energy and reuse their own water. They will have farms on their rooftops. They will leapfrog everything that has come before, merging the latest technologies with time-honored traditional designs, building on everything we’ve ever learned. There are many excellent green development and design firms, but MBDC is the leader of the pack.
|MANAGING GREEN CONSTRUCTION|
|Essential Software & Services
It is no longer possible to consider large scale development without needing to navigate extremely complex and constantly changing regulations. In order to make sure your contractors are in compliance, you need to track and fulfill these requirements from application to sign-off without getting off schedule. You need to manage a task involving dozens if not hundreds of public and private entities, and know who is doing what, where, when and how. You need to set and track goals for financial and operational excellence. Essential Software & Services is a company whose been helping developers and contractors accomplish these objectives for many years.
In the United States each year over 3.0 billion tons of rock is quarried and crushed. This amounts to over 10 tons of rock per person per year. About 25% of this rock is used in asphalt, 25% is for concrete, and the remaining 50% is used for the base rock in canals, embankments, and buildings. Asphalt is 95% crushed rock aggregate, and 5% heavy oil. A new technology pioneered by Astec Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of asphalt manufacturing equipment, allows the asphalt to be mixed at lower temperatures. By developing a method to mix asphalt at less than 285 degrees fahrenheit, which is the boiling point of heavy oil, Astec equipment requires less energy and emits significantly less air pollutants. Astec’s process also allows for much heavier, less usable oil to be mixed into asphalt. Astec also has new machinery that can recycle and remix into asphalt as much as 50% of old road surface – where previously only 15% of old road surface could be recycled and remixed into new asphalt.
Hycrete has invented an inexpensive, non-toxic sealant that mixes directly into concrete, rendering it impervious to water. Not a surface sealant, but a part of the concrete mixture, Hycrete’s additive is chemically bound throughout the mix. Not only does this mixture create sealed concrete, which is useful for far more applications, but it ensures the concrete chemically binds to steel reinforcing members inside the concrete, for greater endurance and better structural life.
Sipcrete has pioneered structural panels with a “sandwich” design that combines cement exteriors with foam interiors. Between the reinforced concrete exterior slabs, running through the foam interior are diagonal steel struts which give the panels extraordinary structural strength. These relatively lightweight panels combine drywall, insulation, and framing in one modular unit. They use far less materials than most alternative construction materials.
Photovoltaic electricity, which converts light into electricity, has the potential to greatly increase global energy production. Applied Materials (AMAT) occupies the leadership position in supplying photovoltaic manufacturing equipment for use in factories around the world. Several thin-film photovoltaic factories are currently under construction using AMAT tools, including some designed to output 500 megawatts of thin film panels per year. This is a staggering achievement, given the entire manufacturing output of photovoltaics in the world in 2006 was only about 3.0 gigawatts, and the entire installed base of photovoltaics worldwide is still only about 10 gigawatts. AMAT also is a leading supplier of tools to manufacture crystaline photovoltaics, which still dominate the photovoltaic market, and which are finally free of the shortage of polysilicon. The only primary materials you need to manufacture photovoltaics are sand and electricity – which itself is a product of photovoltaics. With manufacturing costs dropping below $1.00 per watt, and installed costs falling below $10.00 per watt, look for this energy source to explode in the coming years.
|SOLAR THERMAL ELECTRICITY|
Long the shy sister of photovoltaic power, solar thermal technology is now in a horse race with photovoltaic technology to become the dominant source of alternative electricity. Solar thermal electricity is generated by using mirrors to focus the sun’s heat onto a heat exchanger, superheating water to drive a steam turbine. The water is then cooled and returned into the system – almost no water is lost in this process. The breakthrough designs being pioneered by Ausra, Inc., promise to bring solar thermal electric generating stations into the mainstream of utility delivered electricity. A solar field of one square mile can deliver 175 megawatts of electricity in full sun; about 1.0 gigawatt-hour per day. Such a plant costs under $500 million, and has far lower operating costs than conventional power generating plants. Officials at Ausra believe they can get the cost per kilowatt-hour under $.10, a very competitive price. And adding extra steam storage capacity to allow a solar thermal power station to continue generating electricity into the night only adds about 10% to the cost of the entire installation. Solar thermal technology is going to be big.
Until energy can be efficiently stored all over the power grid, it will not be feasible to complete our transition to decentralized clean energy. Solar thermal power can be stored at the utility. But how do you store surplus photovoltaic electricity, generated during the day but needed at night? Gridpoint’s “Connect Series” energy management systems are turnkey energy management appliances that can manage electricity for a neighborhood, multi-family dwelling, or commercial building. Each unit is a turnkey energy management system that can decide whether to draw electricity from the grid, send surplus energy into the grid, or store energy. Each unit can store up to 12 kilowatt-hours of usable AC current. Stationary batteries are now down to $185 per kilowatt-hour of usable AC current. Gridpoint is the only company to-date that has an off-the-shelf product to allow storage and management of surplus electricity from on-site sources. This sort of storage solution is the key to distributed power – and unlike electrolysis / hydrogen / fuel cell systems which lose over 50% of the original electricity during conversions, these battery systems can charge and discharge electricity while losing less than 10% of the original electricity in the conversion.
|Energy Recovery International
The biggest secret in the water industry today is the feasibility, right now, of desalination. Recent developments in energy recovery, many of them innovations brought to market by Energy Recovery International, have reduced the power required to desalinate sea water to 2.0 kilowatt-hours per cubic meter of recovered fresh water. This is a major breakthrough, reducing energy necessary to desalinate by well over 50% over earlier technologies. A desalination plant, running on a constant energy input of only 60 megawatts, can desalinate enough seawater to provide fresh water to 1.0 million residential consumers. And a plant of this capacity would only cost about $500 million, or about $500 per residential customer. Practical, large scale desalination is one of the most important breakthoughs in the history of civilization.
Total water recycling is closer than ever to reality. In the USA each year, total water withdrawals are over 500 cubic kilometers per year, about 80% of it for agriculture. Treated sewage returns about 65 cubic kilometers of water each year to US watersheds, with only about 5% of that water reused for irrigation. This is all going to change. Epuramat, a Luxembourg company, has developed a breakthrough treatment that replaces expensive primary and secondary treatment methods with a much smaller, far less expensive system that hydraulically removes the sludge from the water. Methods to complete the process and go the last mile in water purification are just around the corner. Water recycling combined with desalination have the potential to eliminate water scarcity in the next few decades.
In California, public authorities are toying with the dangerous notions of water rationing for residences, when residential water use only represents about 10% of California’s water consumption. Meanwhile, wasteful flood irrigation consumes about 80% of California’s water, and this technique threatens to destroy California’s rich farmland due to salt buildup caused by years of flood irrigation. Clearly the Californian farmers need to consider drip irrigation, both above ground and subsurface. Such techniques have been used in Israel for years, and have reduced their agricultural water requirements by over 50%. What water scarcity? Move to drip irrigation. Netafim, based in Israel, has over 80% of the world market for drip irrigation equipment.
|General Motors “Volt”
Last but certainly not least, here comes the green car. The GM “Volt” is still on track to be in showrooms by 2010, and this is much more than a plug-in hybrid. The “Volt” is a series hybrid, meaning that while it has a gasoline engine, this engine is completely disconnected from the drivetrain. Instead, the gasoline engine turns an onboard electric generator, supplying power to an electric motor. The Volt also comes with a 400 pound lithium ion battery pack, which will power the car exclusively for 40 miles. But when the battery is drained, the gasoline engine (highly efficient because of no variable RPM requirements) can deliver a 600 mile range at a gasoline-only mileage of 50 miles per gallon. This car is a breakthrough – once cars like this a deployed by the millions, vehicular transportation miles will increasingly be fueled by electrons, not petroleum, and these electrons will come from renewable sources such as photovoltaics and solar thermal power stations. Energy, water, and land abundance is the destiny that awaits us, if we maintain our faith in free market innovations, and let green technology take us there.