Posts Tagged ‘electricity’

Photo: robertharding/Alamy.
Ripe oranges in the gardens of Seville’s Real Alcazar. The city council employs about 200 people to collect the fruit after it falls and starts to rot. It’s now being used to produce electricity.

In sunny Spain, a pilot project to covert methane from fermenting fruit into clean power for a city water plant is creating hope for supporters of sustainable energy.

Stephen Burgen writes at the Guardian, “In spring, the air in Seville is sweet with the scent of azahar, orange blossom, but the [bitter] fruit the city’s 48,000 trees deposit on the streets in winter are a hazard for pedestrians and a headache for the city’s cleaning department.

“Now a scheme has been launched to produce an entirely different kind of juice from the unwanted oranges: electricity. The southern Spanish city has begun a pilot scheme to use the methane produced as the fruit ferments to generate clean electricity.

“The initial scheme launched by Emasesa, the municipal water company, will use 35 tonnes of fruit to generate clean energy to run one of the city’s water purification plants. The oranges will go into an existing facility that already generates electricity from organic matter. As the oranges ferment, the methane captured will be used to drive the generator.

“ ‘We hope that soon we will be able to recycle all the city’s oranges,’ said Benigno López, the head of Emasesa’s environmental department. …

‘It’s not just about saving money. The oranges are a problem for the city and we’re producing added value from waste.’

“While the aim for now is to use the energy to run the water purification plants, the eventual plan is to put surplus electricity back into the grid. The team behind the project argues that, given the vast quantity of fruit that would otherwise go into landfill or be used as fertiliser, the potential is huge. They say trials have shown that [2,000 pounds will] provide electricity to five homes for one day, and calculate that if all the city’s oranges were recycled and the energy put back into the grid, 73,000 homes could be powered

” ‘Emasesa is now a role model in Spain for sustainability and the fight against climate change,’ Juan Espadas Cejas, the mayor of Seville, told a press conference at the launch of the project. ‘New investment is especially directed at the water purification plants that consume almost 40% of the energy needed to provide the city with drinking water and sanitation.’ …

“The oranges look pretty while on the tree but once they fall and are squashed under the wheels of cars the streets become sticky with juice and black with flies. … The bitter oranges, which originate in Asia, were introduced by the Arabs around 1,000 years ago and have adapted well to the southern Spanish climate.

” ‘They have taken root here, they’re resistant to pollution and have adapted well to the region,’ said Fernando Mora Figueroa, the head of the city’s parks department. …

“The region produces about 15,000 tonnes of the oranges but the Spanish don’t eat them and most of the fruit from the surrounding region is exported to Britain, where it is made into marmalade. Seville oranges are also the key ingredient of Cointreau and Grand Marnier. …

“A handwritten recipe for marmalade dating from 1683 was found in Dunrobin castle in Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. Legend has it that a ship carrying oranges from Spain took refuge in Dundee harbour and local confectionery maker James Keiller was the first to find a use for the otherwise inedible fruit. This may be a myth, but in 1797 Keiller did produce the first commercial brand of marmalade.”

More at the Guardian, here.

When I was a child, we saved all our Dundee Seville marmalade jars. Clay ones like these are now collectors’ items.

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Photo: Blue Lake Rancheria
The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid powers a number of buildings on the reservation and helped provide energy when California’s Pacific Gas and Electric shut off power during wildfires.

In the following story, disempowered people lacking reliable services not only took action to help themselves but were generous to more-privileged neighbors who suddenly learned what it’s like not to have services.

This is a story about two kinds of power.

Erik Neumann reports at National Public Radio (NPR), “California’s largest electric utility took the unprecedented step of shutting off power to millions of customers beginning last October. The decision was meant to prevent power equipment from sparking catastrophic wildfires.

“Now a renewable energy microgrid on a tiny California Native American reservation is proving to be one solution to this ongoing problem. The Blue Lake Rancheria is located just north of Eureka, Calif. On the 100-acre campus, just behind the casino and hotel, Jana Ganion opens a chain-link fence. …

“Inside, in an area half the size of a football field, are more than 1,500 solar panels, slanted toward the noonday sun. Ganion is the sustainability director with the Blue Lake Rancheria, which includes about 50 members.

[Ganion] helped build this solar microgrid as part of the tribe’s goal to develop climate-resilient infrastructure and to be ready for earthquakes and tsunamis. But then beginning in October, it became useful in a whole new way. …

“As one of the only gas stations in the county with power, the reservation provided diesel to United Indian Health Services to refrigerate their medications and to the Mad River Fish Hatchery to keep their fish alive. The local newspaper used a hotel conference room to put out the next day’s paper. Area residents stopped by to charge their cell phones.

“Ganion estimates that on that day more than 10,000 nearby residents came to the reservation for gas and supplies.

“County officials had been warned about the utility shutoffs, but they didn’t know they were happening until that day, says Ryan Derby, emergency services manager for Humboldt County, where Blue Lake Rancheria is located.

” ‘Our entire planning model for the last 18 months got thrown out the window,’ Derby says. … ‘Humboldt County prides itself on being resilient,’ Derby says, ‘But I think in light of these public safety power shutoffs we realized how dependent we really are on electricity.’

“The county focused on residents who relied on medical devices like respirators or oxygen tanks. At the Blue Lake Rancheria, Anita Huff was directing emergency services for people with critical medical needs.

” ‘We had eight people here who could not have lived without electricity,’ Huff says. ‘So, we saved eight lives.’ …

” ‘Microgrids are very complex. In some ways they’re kind of like snowflakes where no two of them are the same because it depends on where you are on the grid and what your facility is,’ says Dave Carter, the managing research engineer at the Schatz Energy Research Center and the lead technical engineer on the [Blue Lake] project.

“Microgrids keep the electricity flowing to customers even after disconnecting from the overall power grid. During an outage, the Blue Lake microgrid goes into ‘island mode’ and a large Tesla battery system stores extra power and balances the energy supply and demand.

“By comparison, Carter says, conventional solar arrays have to automatically shut down during outages for safety so they don’t electrocute powerline maintenance workers or people who could come in contact with a downed line.

“Microgrids do come at a price. The Blue Lake installation cost $6.3 million. Five million dollars came from a California Energy Commission grant, and the tribe helped raise the rest. …

“Carter’s lab at the Schatz Energy Research Center is looking for ways to lower the cost of microgrids. In spite of the upfront price, he says, communities should consider what it’s worth to stay in control during a natural disaster. …

“Jana Ganion, with the Blue Lake Rancheria, says with future electricity shutoffs, rural communities, and Native American reservations in particular, need to be especially resilient.

” ‘Many, many tribal nations are located at the end of the line in terms of the electricity grid,’ Ganion says. ‘They may have no power. They may have poor quality power. Microgrids are just a way to do an end-run around all of that.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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In September, Victoria Lynden tweeted about Costa Rica’s clean electricity. Although hydroelectric and geothermal approaches sometimes have issues of their own and cars in Costa Rica still use gas, two months without using fossil fuels to generate electricity sounded pretty good to me.

Brad Plumer wrote at Vox, “Costa Rica is pulling off a feat most countries just daydream about: For two straight months, the Central American country hasn’t burned any fossil fuels to generate electricity. That’s right: 100 percent renewable power.

“This isn’t a blip, either. For 300 total days last year and 150 days so far [in 2016], Costa Rica’s electricity has come entirely from renewable sources, mostly hydropower and geothermal. Heavy rains have helped four big hydroelectric dams run above their usual capacity, letting the country turn off its diesel generators.

“Now, there’s a huge, huge caveat here: Costa Rica hasn’t eschewed all fossil fuels entirely. The country still has more than 1 million cars running on old-fashioned gasoline, which is why imported oil still supplies over half its total energy needs. The country also has cement plants that burn coal.

“What Costa Rica’s doing is nevertheless impressive — and a reflection of how serious the tiny Central American country is about going green. At the same time, a closer look at the story shows just how difficult it would be for other countries to pull off something similar.

“When many people think of ‘renewables,’ they tend to think of giant wind turbines or gleaming solar panels. But that’s not what Costa Rica is relying on. For years, roughly 80 percent of the nation’s electricity has come from a technology that’s more than a century old — hydroelectric dams …

“Another 12 percent or so of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from geothermal plants, which tap heat deep in the Earth’s crust and can also run around the clock. …

“So if Costa Rica can get 100 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, why couldn’t other countries do the same? Why can’t the United States, which is far richer?

“One obstacle here is that hydropower and geothermal are very location-specific — and only a few countries are lucky enough to have such rich resources. Iceland gets nearly 100 percent of its electricity from these two sources. Paraguay gets almost all of its electricity from the massive Itaipú Dam. Brazil gets more than 75 percent of its power from hydropower. But those are exceptions. For most countries, hydropower can only satisfy a portion of their power needs.” Read on.

Seems to me that when a country wants to be greener (whether for the environment or to save money or both), it has already taken the first step to finding solutions that work for its own geography.

Chart: Observatory of Renewable Energy in Latin America and the Caribbean


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Once again, Sweden is ahead of the curve, as it tests two versions of an electric road. The idea is to move away from fossil fuels and creative a more sustainable energy future.

Green Car Congress is a website that covered the story in June.

“Sweden inaugurated a test stretch of electric road on the E16 in Sandviken, thus becoming one of the first countries to conduct tests with electric power for heavy transports on public roads.

“The test stretch on the E16 is two kilometers long. The technology is similar to light rail, with contact lines 5.4 meters over the roadway. The truck has a pantograph on the roof that feeds 750 VDC to the truck’s hybrid electric system. The current conductor can connect automatically at speeds up to 90 km/h (56 mph). The test stretch is equipped with posts 60 meters apart that hold up the electric lines over one of the lanes.

“At a rest area, there is a transformer for low-voltage direct current of the same type as in the light rail network. Other traffic on the road will not be affected. …

“An electrified road is one in which the electricity supply for vehicle propulsion is continuously supplied in order to keep the vehicle moving and to avoid recharging requirements. …

“The technologies for electric roads have developed rapidly over the last few years, and are now mature enough that some of them can be tested. Last year, the Swedish Transport Administration, in consultation with Vinnova [Sweden’s innovation agency for sustainable growth] and the Swedish Energy Agency, decided to give support to two test facilities. The two systems differ as to how electric power is transferred to the heavy vehicles.

  • The test on the E16 in Sandviken is being carried out by Region Gävleborg, and involves a pantograph on the roof of the truck cab feeding the current down to a hybrid electric motor in the truck.
  • Outside Arlanda, the eRoadArlanda consortium company will test a technology that involves an electric rail in the roadway charging the vehicle during its trip. …

“The tests will continue up through 2018. They will provide knowledge of how electric roads work in practice, and whether the technology can be used in the future. The experiment is based on the Government’s goal of energy efficiency and a fossil fuel-free vehicle fleet by 2030, and will contribute to strengthening Sweden’s competitiveness.”

More here.

 Photo: Green Car Congress

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As I was driving home today, I heard a radio commentator say that the cost of solar has gone way down. John has solar now and can actually sell some of the energy produced back to the utility.

Nevertheless, the typical solar infrastructure is beyond the reach of many low-income people.

In Kenya, however, solar energy is being produced without the intermediary of the panels you may be picturing.

Derek Markham writes at TreeHugger, “Solar energy promises to be one of the backbones of our clean energy future, and its most well-known application is probably solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays, which can produce low-carbon electricity for homes and businesses alike. However, even as solar PV efficiencies rise, and costs drop, solar electricity is still out of reach for many people, as it requires a considerable up-front investment, as well as knowledgeable designers, manufacturers, and installers.

“In the developing world, small-scale solar, which can be used for lighting and charging mobile devices, is one of the solar technologies within reach of low-income residents, and while it can certainly fill some of the energy needs of people (such as a clean light source to replace kerosene, and to keep cell phones charged up), it’s only one piece of the energy puzzle.

“Another larger energy demand is for producing heat, whether it’s for cooking or water sterilization, which is often met by using electricity (at the risk of regular blackouts and high costs) or wood (which contributes to deforestation and indoor air pollution), but there is a viable and sustainable alternative solution in the form of solar thermal technology.

“Using the sun’s rays directly, without the need for expensive and complex components, is a perfect fit for quite a bit of the developing world’s energy needs, as well as being an appropriate technology even in First World countries. …

GoSol is demonstrating what is possible with several pilot projects, including a solar bakery and a peanut butter cooperative in Kenya, and is offering up plans for its solar concentrator at a very reasonable cost. …

“The GoSol Sol4 uses 4 square meters of mirrors to produce an estimated solar thermal output of 2 kW (said to be roughly equal to a standard gas stove) at a construction cost of between $350 and $500 USD (depending on whether recycled or new materials are used), and can pay for itself in the developing world within a year.” More here.

Simple and smart. Makes me think of Boy Scouts learning to start a fire with a magnifying glass that focuses the sun’s rays. GoSol sounds creative.

Photo: GoSol

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John is a great source for articles on cutting-edge technologies. He sent me this one Thursday about using plants to make electricity. The students in Spain who designed the technology are nothing if not ambitious. Their goal is to have the whole world covered in trees making electricity. You can watch their video, below, or bear with me as I channel Google Translate’s English rendition of a Spanish blog post.

, at Blog Think Big, says, “Thanks to Bioo system, created by the students of the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Ramón Llull University with the startup Arkyne Technologies, families could cover their basic electricity needs through 10 × 10 meters of vegetation panels. But how?

“The prototype initially created by the students of the UAB is a plant in a pot that lets you charge a mobile phone. According to the explanation for the 4YFN space last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the system ‘generates power 3-40 watts per square meter from some vegetable panels and a biological battery that takes energy waste (matter organic) that plants need not despise.’ [Oops: that has to be Google. Shall we change it to ‘plants don’t need’?]

“Thus, the device is able to steadily produce electricity through a self-supply system. In addition, according to the engineers, the operation does not affect the plants and is economical.

“Students are betting on a ‘smart city’ concept that allows people using Bioo buy or sell electricity. The goal, in addition to developing these systems in homes, [is to extend them to] agriculture or green roofs of public buildings.”

Maybe you better watch the video. But there’s more here, if you read Spanish.

Video: Bioo Lite

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“In rural Uganda,” writes Madeline Bishop for Global Envision, “light streams from the Ssenyonjo family’s windows through the night. The children inside sleep soundly, free from worry of snakes and thieves. They are prepared for the morning’s classes after an evening of study. What’s more, their lungs are healthy – no one wakes with coughing fits or fevers.

“But for nearly one-fifth of the world’s population that does not yet have solar power like the Ssenyonjo family, this vision of clean energy is still a dream. Some 1.3 billion people live without access to electricity. …

“Many companies are now taking on the achievable goal of increasing access to clean energy across the globe.

“For their solar programs to be successful, these companies focus on tailored marketing strategies to make sure the products are affordable, accepted, and culturally appropriate for the people who could most benefit from them. …

“Some solar manufacturers and energy distributors are helping people skirt [up-front] costs through creative financing models. …

“Customers can finance their own solar systems for less than what they would otherwise be spending on kerosene. [African solar company] M-KOPA reports a savings of $750 per household over the course of four years and 125 hours of fume-free lighting each month.”

Read about the wide variety of approaches to this work in developing countries here, including why Barefoot College has a “training program for grandmothers, who are more likely to stay put and use their knowledge for the good of their communities. … They learn how to install, maintain, and repair the solar systems and, upon graduation, receive a monthly salary for their work.” Hear, Hear!

Photo: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

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When I first read about the discovery of a snug getaway in a Toronto tunnel, I thought, of course, of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. You remember the black man who finally gave up hope of being treated like a regular human and, realizing he was already invisible to most people, established a hidden pied sous terre, lavishly draining off electric power to light his home underground.

The Toronto story turned out a bit different.

The NY Times had the first episode. “It was a baffling discovery,” Ian Austen wrote, “a hand-dug tunnel just over 33 feet long, tall enough for an adult to stand inside, fed with electricity, drained by a water pump and expertly reinforced with lumber and plywood. It started in dense woods near a tennis stadium — and it did not lead anywhere.

“After more than a month of investigation by the Toronto police, the identities and motives of whoever built the tunnel remain as mysterious as they were the day it was found. So … the police turned to the public for help. …

“The news of the tunnel prompted swift speculation on cable television that it might be part of a plan for a terrorist attack on the Pan American Games, which will be held in Canada this summer. The stadium, located on the York University campus, is scheduled to host tennis for the games. But [Deputy Chief Mark] Saunders said repeatedly … that there was no evidence to support that theory or to indicate that the tunnel was intended for anything illicit at all.

“ ‘There’s no criminal offense for digging a hole,’ he said. …

“Chief Saunders said that the tunnel was equipped with ‘a moisture-resistant lighting system’ and that, despite the bitter January weather, ‘it was very comfortable inside,’ with a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. A 12-foot aluminum step ladder gave access to the tunnel, and a small pit near the entrance held a Honda generator and an air compressor. The pit was lined with thick foam, apparently meant to muffle the sound of the machinery.” More.

A US News & World Report follow-up story is here. Can you guess? It was nothing nefarious — just a comfy man cave that a couple buddies built to get away from it all.

Photo: USNews.com
Toronto’s Deputy Police Chief Mark Saunders explains evidence photos as he speaks to the media about solving the tunnel mystery.


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Trust those Finns to come up with a crazy idea that really works.

Timon Singh writes at Inhabitat.com about a team of Finnish researchers from Aalto University and their electricity-free computer powered by water droplets.

Singh writes that the researchers “developed a new concept for computing that doesn’t require standard electric power. Instead, the team creates collisions of water droplets on a highly water-repellent (superhydrophobic) surface. The research, which was published in the journal Advanced Materials, could form the basis for tomorrow’s electricity-free computing devices.

“After a series of experiments, the team determined that the ideal conditions for rebounding water droplets on superhydrophobic surfaces required a copper surface coated with silver and chemically modified with a fluorinated compound. This allowed the surface to be so h2o repellent that water droplets rolled off when the surface was tilted slightly. Using superhydrophobic tracks, the droplets were able to be guided along designed paths.

“Using this method, the researchers demonstrated that water droplets could be used to demonstrate ‘superhydrophobic droplet logic.’ In the university’s press release, the team used the example of a memory device that was built where water droplets act as bits of digital information.”

If you aren’t deterred by the technical language, read more here.

Now I just need to know if the earth has enough water to make this green technology for computing a reality. We have an awful lot of computers.

Photo: Inhabitat.com

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I was thinking about “evaporative cooling” as I got out of the shower this morning and shivered.

In summer’s heat it’s nice how the evaporation of water on your skin cools you down, but in winter, the process is not so welcome.

Still, the principle is something that innovators in hot climates think about a lot, applying it to keeping produce cool so it lasts longer.

Stephanie Buglione, at Nourishing the Planet, has a story on this concept. She focuses on a nonprofit group called Practical Action and how it is using something called zeer pots to reduce food waste.

She explains, “Practical Action, a nongovernmental organization that works with farmers in Southern Africa, Latin America, and South Asia, encourages the use of earthenware refrigerators called zeer pots to help prevent post-harvest food waste. The pot-in-pot refrigerator design keeps fruits and vegetables cool by harnessing the principle of evaporative cooling. These pots can extend the shelf life of harvested crops by up to 20 days by reducing storage temperature.

“The design consists of a large outer pot and a smaller inner pot, both made from locally available clay. Wet sand is added between the two pots and is kept moist. Evaporation of the liquid in the sand draws heat out of the inner pot, in which food can be stored. …

“Zeer pots can provide flexibility for farmers by enabling them to store crops and sell in response to market demand, which can translate into greater income. Extended shelf life also translates into longer-term food sources for farmers and their families. Ultimately, this inexpensive and low-tech system can help farmers and low-income households save food and prevent waste.” More.

Sometimes the best technology is the simplest.

Photo: Noor Khamis/Reuters
Nairobi, Kenya. Many Africans are challenged to keep their fruits and vegetables fresh if they lack electricity for refrigeration. Zeer pots are a low-tech solution that uses the principle of evaporative cooling.

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It’s a good day to think about someplace warm.

I was standing around chatting with friends while waiting for the train tonight. We were all complaining about the weather. When I said we should count ourselves lucky because it’s 35 degrees F below zero in Minnesota, a woman standing near me piped up saying that she was from Alaska and it’s 60 below there.

So this is about balmy Curacao.

Santiago Ortega writes at AlertNet (a “free humanitarian news site”) about Curacao’s plan to turn seawater to energy.

“A Dutch company called Bluerise B.V. and the company that owns Curacao’s airport  – Curacao Airport Holding N.V. – are exploring building a small 100-kilowatt marine power plant that will use the temperature of the seawater as a power source.

“In the tropics” — ah, the tropics! — “the sun heats the ocean surface and keeps it warm all year long. But at a depth of one kilometre (0.6 miles), sunlight can’t reach and warm colder waters, circulated from the Arctic.

“Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) works by deploying a pipeline in the ocean to pump cold, deep water to the surface and take advantage of the difference in its temperature with the warm surface water.

“Cold and warm waters are used in a process to condense and evaporate ammonia, causing it to move inside a closed-pipe circuit. Evaporated ammonia powers a turbine that generates electricity, and then is condensed to continue the cycle.

“The downside of the process is that the difference in temperatures is not very large, so the efficiency of the process – and thus the power production – is low when compared to conventional power plants. The bright side is that the energy resource is as abundant as the ocean itself.” More.

Photograph:  R. Norman Matheny/Christian Science Monitor
Costumed dancers perform a folk dance for tourists in Curacao, a Caribbean island nation that is considering using seawater to generate electricity.

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An Associated Press story on an “innovative program that allows inmates to reduce their sentences in exchange for generating power” caught the attention of NPR today. It seems that prisoners may volunteer to help “illuminate the town of Santa Rita do Sapucai [Brazil] at night.

“By pedaling, the inmates charge a battery that powers 10 street lamps along a riverside promenade. For every three eight-hour days they spend on the bikes, [the volunteers] get one day shaved off their sentences.

“The project in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais is one of several across Brazil meant to cut recidivism by helping restore an inmate’s sense of self-worth. Prisoners elsewhere can trim their sentences by reading sentences — in books — or taking classes.

“Officials say they’ve heard a few complaints the initiatives are soft on criminals, but there’s been little criticism in the country’s press or in other public forums.” Read more at National Public Radio.

Here is what such a bike might look like.

Photograph: Eric Luse, The Chronicle / San Francisco

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