Archive | Energy Efficiency

Caribbean Clean Energy Projects Get Funding Boost

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Oct. 14 (UPI) — Caribbean clean energy development received a boost with new funding made available for innovative projects that are designed to ease the burden of fuel costs for the region’s poor countries and help them switch over to sustainable sources for domestic and industrial use.

The funding was pledged as grants from the Global Village Energy Partnership, an international non-profit organization that seeks to reduce poverty through accelerated access to modern energy services, and Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit, based in Eschborn, Germany.

GTZ is an international cooperation enterprise that promotes complex reforms and change processes in tough conditions in poor countries, to enable people to improve lives on a sustainable basis. GVEP International is based in London.

Caribbean countries were hit hard by the credit crunch brought on by the recession and accompanied by high energy costs.

Petrocaribe and other regional arrangements providing energy on special payment terms have not helped to alleviate conditions in communities that cannot afford crude oil and other conventional fuel imports, but also lack resources to explore or switch to sustainable energy sources.

The region is currently benefiting from biofuel development projects funded by U.N. agencies, but analysts say progress is slow.

The grants were channeled through an “IDEAS” contest for innovative uses of local conditions and materials to produce clean energy.

The contest was launched in March by joint sponsors GVEP, GTZ, the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of South Korea.

The contest received more than 1,000 proposals for improving energy efficiency and expanding access to renewable energies in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Winning entrant Ken Aldonza, director of Applied Renewables Caribbean, and two colleagues received $198,000 to develop a plant using excess and waste bananas to produce ethanol for use in transport fuel on the island of St. Lucia. The plant will be self-sufficient in energy, NewNet information service for new energy reported.

Bob Hathaway, a naval architect, will receive $83,000 to build an indirectly charged solar ferry to reduce damage to the island’s ecosystem caused by traditional stroke engines.

GVEP funding will also go into production of bio-ethanol from cheese waste in Chile, turbines for slow-moving rivers serving remote communities in the Amazon and pico-hydro franchises for rural Honduras.

The Ashden Award for Sustainable Energy has also called for entries by Oct. 20 for regional programs. Six winners will receive about $30,000 each and about $60,000 will go to an overall “Energy Champion” selected to send a strong message of sustainability to the Caribbean and Latin American region.

Prince Charles, heir to the British monarchy, who presented the prizes in 2009, said the awards “demonstrate what is possible, not only for small-scale projects, but what is achievable for the whole world. So much of what we need to build cleaner and more efficient communities is already with us.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Efficiency, Ideas, Humanities, & Education, Other, People, Regional, Solar0 Comments

Findings Show How Global Greenhouse Gas Emission Cuts Can Work

NEW YORK, Oct. 8 (UPI) — New findings by two U.S.-based research organizations show global greenhouse gas emissions, widely seen behind current climate change, can be reduced to meet targets set for 2020 if world communities set their mind to concerted policy change and action.

The U.N. Foundation, a public charity, and the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan research institute, unveiled an analysis of what they see as the core elements of the fight to combat climate change.

In a joint presentation UNF President Timothy E. Wirth and CAP President John D. Podesta said 75 percent of the emission cuts needed to be in place by 2020 could be achieved through energy efficiencies, greater uses of renewable energy, conservation of depleting forests and a more sensible and sustainable use of land.

The measures could offer up net savings of $14 billion, they said.

The findings were released amid mixed messages from the preliminary round of U.N. climate talks in Thailand before the scheduled climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Global improvements in energy efficiency are currently estimated to be growing at a rate of 1.25 percent, said the study.

If the rate is pushed up to 2 percent by 2015 that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 percent below the rate likely to be prevailing in 2020. That reduction would represent a net saving of $98 billion by 2020, the study said.

Likewise, if electricity generated through renewable sources is increased to the point where it represents a fifth of the world’s total electricity production in 2020 that would mean a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by that year.

The findings also calculate that halving the rate of tropical deforestation at the same time as improving land use can lead to a 50 percent cut in emissions by 2020. The study recommends more sustainable forestry and land management and greater attention to how and where livestock is raised.

The report calls for introducing programs of national adaptation in the least developed and vulnerable developing countries to better prepare populations for a more sustainable approach to use of resources.

“A new international agreement is urgently needed to address climate change,” said Wirth. “It must include emission reduction targets by developed countries, nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing countries, financial assistance to developing countries, and technology cooperation.”

He said the core elements of a new agreement should include areas where all countries, both developed and developing, can take immediate action to reduce emissions. He said such action would also help economic growth, energy security and public health.

Wirth said the findings showed how “very substantial progress can be made toward the emissions cuts we need over the next 10 years at very low cost — in fact, with a net benefit to the global economy overall.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Conservation, Electricity, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Organizations, Pollution & Toxins, Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Russian President Wants to Turn Russia into Energy Efficiency Champion

MOSCOW, Oct. 5 (UPI) — President Dmitry Medvedev wants to turn Russia into an energy efficiency champion.

How do Russians regulate their heating system in the winter? Well, they simply open their windows. That may sound like a joke to you, but it really isn’t — Russians are notorious for wasting power. And why should they bother? Gas and electricity prices are too low to do so. One of the world’s biggest energy powers, Russia hasn’t exactly cultivated an atmosphere of resource conservation.

Medvedev wants this to change.

In a speech last week Medvedev said he wants to increase his country’s energy efficiency by 40 percent.

“Russia can resolve this task even by means of existing technologies and close this gap,” Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted him as saying before a crowd at the Kurtshakovskij Institute, the lab that several decades ago helped make the nuclear bomb for the Soviet Union.

Medvedev promised that talking days are over; he said that the Russian Duma would consider an energy efficiency law that should come into effect by Jan. 1, 2010.

“The situation with Russia’s energy efficiency is depressing,” Medvedev said, according to Itar-Tass. “Russia’s energy intensity, the ratio of energy to GDP, exceeds that of industrialized countries many-fold, while heat losses are higher than 50 percent.”

Medvedev has vowed to modernize the Russian industry, which is old an energy-inefficient. Russian companies consume four times more energy than their Western competitors. Nearly half of the gas Russia produces is wasted because of aging machinery and pipelines.

Moreover, the country’s state-subsidized low prices for heating and electricity fail to prompt people to save energy in their daily lives. The president seems to be aware of that problem.

“We don’t know how to save. … We are very tough, we are very big and very rich. We don’t even turn off the light all the time,” he added. “So this means a revolution in the minds too.”

Medvedev said the Kremlin will set an example regarding energy efficiency.

“When promoting the energy saving policy, the state should begin with itself, with state-owned organizations,” he said, adding that saving energy would save people money.

Earlier this year Russia and Germany joined forces to launch RUDENA, a bilateral energy agency aimed at introducing energy efficiency measures in Russia.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Conservation, Electricity, Energy, Energy & Fuels, Energy Efficiency, Nuclear, Organizations, People0 Comments

Companies Threaten to Revolt at U.S. Chamber of Commerce Over Climate Change Stance

The largest U.S. nuclear power plant operator, Exelon, said it would withdraw from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest its stand on global warming.

The move is not an isolated incident. The national chamber, which has more than 3 million members, has seen a few defections lately over its stance on climate change, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The chamber opposes an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to set limits on harmful greenhouse gases, which would likely be used if Congress failed to act on a new climate change law, the Times said.

Pacific Gas & Electric in California and PNM Resources, which owns the largest utility in New Mexico, have also said they would drop out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

“There will be significant vibrations from this. It’s a bit of an earthquake,” said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Exelon’s Chief Executive Officer John Rowe said, “the carbon-based free lunch is over. Breakthroughs on climate change and improving our society’s energy efficiency are within reach,” he said.

The Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer David Chavern said, “We just think the EPA is the wrong venue to be dealing with climate change issues.”

Posted in Energy, Energy Efficiency, Global Warming & Climate Change, Other0 Comments

India Warns that Climate Change Gaps Could Widen

NEW DELHI, Sept. 24 (UPI) — Gaps between developed and developing nations could widen farther in the absence of a global agreement on equity and burden-sharing on carbon emissions, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari warned.

Without such an agreement, climate change negotiations would likely spill over to other multilateral, regional and bilateral negotiation platforms and would “further accentuate existing divisions,” Ansari said, The Hindu reports.

Ansari opened a two-day conference in New Delhi Thursday on sustainable development and climate change, just after world leaders gathered in New York this week for the United Nations summit on climate change.

India now ranks fifth worldwide in the production of greenhouse gas emissions.

In comparing India’s emissions with other large polluters, Ansari stressed that developing nations such as India should not be held responsible for climate change.

Ansari said that India, with its rapidly growing economy and 17 percent of the world’s population, accounts for just 4 percent of carbon emissions, compared to the United States and China, which account for more than 16 percent each.

On a per-capita basis, India’s annual greenhouse gas emissions of 1.1 tons is “minuscule” compared to the 20 tons emitted by the United States, Ansari said.

The vice president pointed out that India’s primary energy consumption growth rate is 3.7 percent a year despite a GDP growth rate of about 9 percent.

“This contrasts with the pattern seen in developed countries and even a few major developing countries where higher GDP growth has followed the traditional pattern of increased use of energy,” he said.

During a roundtable session at the U.N. climate change talks Tuesday, India’s External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna said the outcome of climate change talks in Copenhagen in December must ensure that developing nations can pursue “accelerated development” and have the resources “to cope and adapt to climate change,” the Press Trust of India reported.

India has “repeatedly reaffirmed that our per-capita emissions would never exceed the average per capita emissions of the developed countries, even as we pursue our development objectives,” Krishna said.

He noted that India is engaged in a number of domestic adaptation and mitigation actions on a voluntary basis, including solar energy, extensive deployment of renewable, use of clean coal technologies, boosting energy efficiency and promotion of green agriculture.

India’s domestic actions, Krishna said, should not be “crimped by an international review obligation”.

“The way forward must ensure that developing countries can pursue growth and poverty eradication,” he said, while pledging that India would pursue unilateral voluntary measures for the year 2020 at national level.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

Posted in Coal, Consumption, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Global Warming & Climate Change, Other, Regional, Solar1 Comment

Minnesota Governor Pawlenty: Abandoning Environment Concerns for Politics?

If you have time to do so today, read up on the latest news concerning Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and his views on climaate change and related issues. The New York Times has an excellent article that suggests Pawlenty may be abandoning his real concerns in favor of gaining political backing from his republican colleagues.

Why? Perhaps for a run in the 2012 presidential campaign.

New York Times ClimateWire author Evan Lehmann has more…

Minnesota’s Republican governor used to make soaring speeches about defusing climate change. Now he’s making jokes, and some environmentalists are wondering whether his gone-missing support amounts to “bait and switch” politics.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is stoking frustration among Democratic state lawmakers and prominent climate thinkers for becoming “totally silent” on two major efforts to stem greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota and in a strip of states stretching from Canada to Kansas.

The turnaround is striking because it was the governor who powerfully promoted the initiatives. Now, chafed participants believe Pawlenty is abandoning climate action to mend his conservative credentials before taking a stab at the Republican nomination for president in 2012.

“What we’re seeing from our governor currently is all focused on his national political ambitions,” said state Rep. Bill Hilty, the Democratic chairman of the state’s House Energy Committee.

It may not be that simple. The governor is cooling toward bold climate steps that could raise costs on businesses and residents, his supporters say. There was no way to know how big the price would be without delving deeply into the issue, one supporter said.

Not long ago, Pawlenty and Hilty were cooperating on muscular legislation to slash greenhouse gas emissions. Hilty introduced the bill and Pawlenty signed it in 2007, establishing Minnesota as an early carbon-cutter. The law set goals to reduce emissions 15 percent by 2015 and 80 percent by 2050.

Pawlenty went further. He named more than 50 science and business leaders to an advisory group tasked with designing ways to meet those targets.

“Our global climate is warming,” Pawlenty said when he named the group in April 2007. “We cannot solve it by ourselves, but we need to lead and do our part.”

Governor is ‘delaying action’

A few months later, Pawlenty punctuated his commitment to pulling the nation back from its climatic “tipping point” when he was elected chairman of the National Governors Association.

“Our nation is too dependent on imported sources of energy, and greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow too quickly,” he said. “Governors have a tremendous opportunity to lead the country toward a cleaner, more independent, more secure energy future.”

Those were remarkable words coming from a Midwestern Republican in a state where coal cars click-clack on rail lines and river barges filled with the black stuff float through the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. About 75 percent of the state’s power comes from coal, compared to the national average of 55 percent.

Then something happened.

After more than a year of meetings, tussles and compromises, the Minnesota Climate Change Advisory Group sent the governor its recommendations. The list included capping carbon by the ton, energy efficiency measures and renewable power mandates. Silence from the governor.

The recommendations are getting dusty, according to participants. Lawmakers plan to introduce legislation addressing some of the issues, like a low-carbon fuel standard, but the governor’s new position is feeding uncertainty about the likelihood of success.

“I think you would say that’s delaying action,” said J. Drake Hamilton, a member of the advisory board and a climatologist with Fresh Energy, a renewable energy group. She believes Pawlenty is “ignoring” the recommendations of the group he established.

“At best, it’s disingenuous to have created and staffed a process that says we’re going to create economic opportunities around clean energy in the Midwest, and then to abandon that process without offering any other way to move forward,” Hamilton added. “What does this man really believe?”

Using ‘climate change’ against Obama

Aides to Pawlenty did not respond to requests for comment or to appeals for an interview with the governor. But Pawlenty appeared to break his silence on global warming last week. He used the term “climate change” to mock President Obama’s health-care initiatives at the GOPAC conference in Chicago.

“It appears that President Obama is making great progress on climate change,” the governor chided, according to Politico. “He is changing the political climate in the country back to Republican.”

Posted in Cars, Coal, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Other, Policy, Law, & Government0 Comments

Habitat For Humanity & Home Depot Go For the Green in Sustainable Living

Habitat for Humanity and Home Depot are teaming up together to spear head a sustainable living program that exceeds a budget of $30 million dollars and hopes to have constructed over 5,000 energy efficient homes with in the next five years. This big move to push forward for sustainable living comes from a successful pilot program where 260 sustainable homes were constructed by 30 affiliate builders.

Of the 260 homes built, some were able to cut energy use by 50 percent and are now LEED Platinum certified for their excellence in energy efficiency.

The national roll out of this sustainable living program will begin at the end of August when Habitat for Humanity affiliates will be receiving certified spending grants to being construction in 45 states. There are high hopes to help sustain current homes and structures as well as build new energy efficient homes that are affordable and Energy Start certified.

The process will also be contributing to greenhouse-gas reductions, shedding 11 tons of annual household carbon and greenhouse-gas emissions when compared to standard home building, or the equivalent of plucking 250 cars off American roadways.

Read the full article for more information on how Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity are pioneering sustainable living.

Posted in Energy, Energy Efficiency0 Comments

Federal Stimulus and Cleantech Infrastructure

No doubt, cleantech companies were upbeat when the White House stimulus package allocated 13 percent of the total $104 billion stimulus package for green technology. Much of the economic stimulus will flow to cleantech infrastructure, but exactly where will it go?
Cleantech sectors, which were big winners, include smart grid technology with $4.5 billion, energy efficiency for federal buildings with $4.5 billion and wind and solar with $6 billion for new loan guarantees.
It’s an unheard of sum for cleantech. And a recent survey of technology experts by Changewave Research sheds some light on where the impact will be felt most. Changewave surveyed 409 members of the Changewave Research Network, people who work for companies involved in infrastructure projects. The March 12-17 survey covered infrastructure spending in the transportation, electricity/smart grid and broadband sectors. But for this blog I’m going to focus on the results for the smart grid.

Industry respondents were asked which infrastructure areas they think will benefit most from the U.S. economic stimulus package in the next 12 months. Not surprisingly, transportation infrastructure (62 percent) was the winner, followed by alternative energy (44 percent). Electricity/smart grid (29 percent) and water infrastructure (11 percent) also stood out.
In terms of outlook on areas expected to experience the most growth over the next 12 months, electric powerline projects were viewed by surveyed experts as being strong, accounting for 36 percent of the growth. Control systems like generators, switches and circuit breakers registered only 22 percent. On the smart grid side, the investment in smart meters or meter infrastructure registered 37 percent.
What are the companies most likely to benefit from the uptick in spending on the electric grid infrastructure? The survey identifies General Electric and Siemens AG as well-positioned grid infrastructure suppliers. ABB and EMCOR are seen as the prime beneficiaries in the area of powerline infrastructure.
How about the downsides? Those surveyed indicated the biggest barrier to the upgrading of the electric power grid as not-in-my-backyard issues (NIMBY, 43 percent). The other barriers cited included too much bureaucracy (41 percent) and not enough funding (37 percent).
Those barriers will be challenging but the need for an overhaul to the 40-year-old infrastructure is long overdue. –Lee Bruno

Posted in Buildings, Electricity, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Infrastructure, Other, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar, Transportation, Wind0 Comments

The Abundance Choice: A Prevailing Challenge of Scare & Finite Resources Facing Humanity

The prevailing challenge facing humanity when confronted with resource constraints is not that we are running out of resources, but how we will adapt and create new and better solutions to meet the needs that currently are being met by what are arguably scarce or finite resources. If one accepts this premise, that we are not threatened by diminishing resources, but rather by the possibility that we won’t successfully adapt and innovate to create new resources, a completely different perspective on resource scarcity and resource policies may emerge.

Across every fundamental area of human needs, history demonstrates that as technology and freedom is advanced, new solutions evolve to meet them. Despite tragic setbacks of war or famine that provide examples to contradict this optimistic claim, overall the lifestyle of the average human being has inexorably improved across the centuries (ref. Humanity’s Prosperous Destiny). While it is easy to examine specific consumption patterns today and suggest we now face a tipping point wherein shortages of key resources will overwhelm us, if one examines key resources one at a time, there is a strong argument that such a catastrophe, if it does occur, will be the result of war, corruption, or misguided adherance to counterproductive ideologies, and not because there weren’t solutions readily available through human creativity and advancing technology.

Energy, water and land are, broadly speaking, the three resources one certainly might argue are finite and must be scrupulously managed. But in each case, a careful examination provides ample evidence to contradict this claim. As we document in the post Fossil Fuel Reality, known reserves of fossil fuel could provide enough energy to serve 100% of the energy requirements of civilization at a total annual rate of consumption twice what is currently consumed worldwide; there is enough fossil fuel on the planet to provide 1.0 quintillion BTUs of energy per year for the next 300 years. In addition to fossil fuel there are proven sources of energy such as nuclear power, and potential sources of energy such as solar, geothermal, and biomass, that have the potential to scale up to provide comparable levels of power production. With these many energy alternatives, combined with relentless improvements in energy efficiency, it is difficult to imagine human civilization ever running out of energy.

Water is a resource that appears finite, and indeed in many regions of the world the challenge of meeting projected water needs appears more daunting than the challenge of producing adequate energy. But water is not necessarily finite. There are countless areas throughout the world where desalination technology can provide water in large quantities – already nearly 2% of the world’s fresh water is obtained through desalination, and for the large urban users, desalination is affordable and requires a surprisingly small energy input. Another way to provide abundant water is to redirect large quantities of river water via inter-basin transfers from water rich areas to water poor areas. Finally, water is never truly used up, it is continuously recycled, and by treating and reusing water, particularly in urban areas, there should never be water scarcity. (ref. India’s Water Future, Arctic to Aral, Affordable Desalination, California’s Water System, Sverdrups & Brine, and Decentralized Wastewater Treatment.)


Being an environmentalist should not require rejecting free
market solutions, or accepting global warming alarmism.
(Photo: Ecoworld)

The question of finding adequate land for humans is clearly different from that of finding energy or water, since unlike energy or water, land is truly finite. But even here, key trends indicate land is now becoming more abundant, not less abundant. In 2007 the population of humans became more than 50% concentrated in cities, and within the next 25 years this concentration is expected to grow to 75%. Humans, in general, prefer living in urban environments, and this massive voluntary migration to cities from rural areas is depopulating landscapes faster than what remains of human population growth will fill them. This seismic shift in population patterns, combined with high yield crops, aquaculture, and urban high-rise agriculture, promises a decisive and very positive shift from land scarcity to land abundance in the next 25-50 years. (ref. Sustainable High Density, Skyscraper Farms, India’s Green Future, Biofuel Feedstock, and Green Abundance.)

Human population growth, along with increasing per capita standards of living, taken at face value, obviously could suggest we are racing towards disaster. But as noted, resources to accommodate greater rates of overall human consumption are more resilient than is commonly accepted. And, crucially, most of human population growth has already occurred. The welcome reality of female emancipation, female literacy, and increasing general prosperity is causing human cultures all over the world, one by one, to shift from rapid population growth to negative population growth. The demographic challenge we must prepare for is not too many people, but too many old people. Our long-term challenge is not resource scarcity, but how to create robust economic growth on a planet where humans have an ever-increasing average age, and a population in slow numeric decline.

If one accepts the possibility that humanity is not on a collision course with resource scarcity, entirely new ways of looking at policy options are revealed. Rather than attempting to manage demand, based on the premise that supplies are finite, we might also manage supply by increasing production. While, for example, utility pricing might still be somewhat progressive, if we assume resources will not run out, it doesn’t have to be punitive. If someone wishes to use more energy or water than their neighbor, if their pricing isn’t so punitive as to effectively ration their consumption, but instead is only moderately progressive, then over consumption leads to higher profit margins at the utility, which in-turn finances more investment in supplies.

Another consequence of rejecting the malthusian conventional wisdom is a new understanding of what may truly motivate many powerful backers of the doomsday lobby. By limiting consumption through claiming resources are perilously scarce and by extracting them we may destroy the earth, the vested interests who control the means of production will tighten their grip on those means. Instead of pluralistically investing in this last great leap forward to build mega cities and infrastructure for the future – in the process extracting raw materials that can be either recycled or are renewable – the public entities and powerful corporations who benefit from scarcity will raise prices and defer investment. It is the interests of the emergent classes, whether they are entrepreneurs in prosperous, advanced economies, or the aspiring masses in destitute nations, who are harmed the most by the malthusian notion of inevitable scarcity.

Abundance is a choice, and it is a choice the privileged elite must make – in order for humanity to achieve abundance, the elites must accept the competition of disruptive technologies, the competition of emerging nations, and a vision of environmentalism that embraces resource development and rejects self-serving anti-growth alarmist extremism. The irony of our time is that the policies of socialism and extreme environmentalism do more harm than good to both ordinary people and the environment, while enabling wealthy elites to perpetuate their position of privilege at the same time as they embrace the comforting but false ideology of scarcity.

Posted in Business & Economics, Consumption, Energy, Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, History, People, Policies & Solutions, Population Growth, Science, Space, & Technology, Solar1 Comment

Sustainable High Density

Modern urban centers from Manhattan to Hong Kong now boast neighborhoods that house well over 100,000 people per square mile, while providing their inhabitants an excellent quality of life. As world civilization voluntarily and inexorably urbanizes, new megacities will be built everywhere. It is estimated that within the next few decades the number of megacities on earth – defined as an urbanized area with over 10 million inhabitants – will increase from around 20 today to over 400. So what innovations being pioneered today will enable cities like this to provide a high quality of life, and how will cities of such size and density reduce their vulnerability to economic or physical disruptions?

In a way, a megacity is antithetical to the notion of being “off-grid,” yet in important ways it is the megacity that needs to be as self sufficient as possible, since having 100,000 people per square mile (20,000 per square kilometer) means that any resource that needs to be imported, stored or removed is going to have to be handled in very high volumes. Therefore energy efficiency, waste management, as well as energy and water harvesting and treatment are technologies that are extremely important to the megacity – along with smart systems to interconnect all of them. So along with energy and water efficiency, harvesting and reuse, how else can a megacity exist relatively off-grid? Equally important is the closely related question of how can a megacity experience a postive balance of payments – supporting itself economically?

Cities could become food exporters.
(Image: VerticalFarm.com)

To explore this question beyond the usual suspects there are two evolving technologies (both are evolving, not emerging, because both have illustrious histories) that promise to transform megacities in important and very positive ways, one is high-rise agriculture, and the other is massive tunnelling systems.

It is common for the smart growth crowd to say “build up, not out,” but this misses two key points. First, of course, the smart growth advocates tend to forget that the smartest growth is unplanned. Centrally planned growth tends to actually promote sprawl, because those of us who don’t want to live in towers simply buy land and build homes on the far side of whatever “greenbelt” they manage to decree. But more on point, building up instead of out ignores building downwards as well. Some of the greatest urban gridlock ever seen has been ameliorated by tunnelling – anyone who tries to get to Logan Airport from downtown Boston during rush hour will have nothing but good things to say about the much maligned “big dig.” It’s too bad we don’t have more big digs – in the heart of urban centers we could put freeways and rail underground, and our cities could reach for the sky, and there would never be a traffic jam.

Tunnelling on a grand scale can seem mundane until you learn more about it – then you realize it is a fascinating field that is advancing at breakneck speed, incorporating new technology across multiple disciplines as fast as it becomes available. From GPS systems that allow a tunnelling machine to always know precisely where it is beneath the earth, to better cutting bits, to debris removal conveyers, to conveyers to bring forward shoring material, to worker shelter and control rooms, modern tunnelling machines can exceed a mile in length and cost billions to acquire and operate. The global leader in tunnelling systems is Herrenknecht AG. A good website that covers the world of tunnelling is tunnelmachines.com.

As the megacities of the future are built, tunnelling machines will play an integral part in endowing these cities with efficient transportation systems. Tunnelling underground to create utility conduits to transport water and energy will also be necessary in cities of ultra-high density. Using the volume of underground space to host much of the physical plant of megacities will make the surface areas far less congested, and far more pleasant for people. The underground systems of megacities can include large-scale water cisterns, or even enhanced geothermal power stations to extract power from the heat in the earth’s crust.

The imperative to build upwards is already a part of the new urban vision, but what about high-rise agriculture? The technology to grow food at extremely high volume indoors is already well understood – the Netherlands, for example, is a net food exporter in spite of being the most densely populated nation in Europe. But what the Dutch do using advanced hydroponics and lighting, in greenhouses that glow for miles across the reclaimed polders all year long, might instead take place on the stacked stories of a skyscraper.

One of the pioneers of high rise agriculture is Dickson Despommier, a professor at Columbia University and the founder of Vertical Farms LLC. Most of the technology to operate a vertical farm is already here, as well as much of the infrastructure. A properly designed vertical farm imports grey water (plenty of that in a mega-city) and pumps it to the top of the building, then allowing it to trickle downwards through hydroponic media on floor after floor. With mirrors and energy efficient lighting, along with daylight, a high-rise farm would probably consume, overall, less energy and water per calories grown than a greenhouse, since heating would be far more efficient in a multi-story structure. Despommier estimates a high rise farm on one city block (30 stories, 100,000 square feet per floor) could produce enough food to meet the needs of at least 10,000 people (possible much more, read “The Vertical Farm” .pdf, 2004). Every type of produce except for grains is potentially cost competitive to land-intensive traditional agriculture.

The implications of building upwards and downwards, employing novel technologies ranging from enhanced geothermal to high-rise farming, hold forth not only the oft-wished for promise of attracting humanity’s billions off the land and into densely populated megacities, but also the promise of cities that live nearly off the grid, cities that may, despite their magnitude, require very little from the rest of the world. Cities that might actually export power and food.

Posted in Energy Efficiency, Geothermal, Homes & Buildings, Other, People, Science, Space, & Technology, Transportation, Waste Management, Water Efficiency2 Comments

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