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Posts Tagged ‘renewable’

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Photo: Steve Morgan/Alamy Stock Photo
Working on the Pelamis wave power converter in Orkney. The British island is leading the way on renewable energy generation.

This story about Orkney in the British Isles holds lessons for governments everywhere. If you are serious about generating the kind of energy that can save the planet, you have to invest. Orkney did so because energy from the mainland was costly and because the island had a wild amount of wind. But Orkney didn’t stop there, and now it’s leading the way for the rest of the world.

As Robin McKie reports at the Guardian, “It seems the stuff of fantasy. Giant ships sail the seas burning fuel that has been extracted from water using energy provided by the winds, waves and tides. A dramatic but implausible notion, surely. Yet this grand green vision could soon be realised thanks to a remarkable technological transformation that is now under way in Orkney.

“Perched 10 miles beyond the northern edge of the British mainland, this archipelago of around 20 populated islands – as well as a smattering of uninhabited reefs and islets – has become the centre of a revolution in the way electricity is generated. Orkney was once utterly dependent on power that was produced by burning coal and gas on the Scottish mainland and then transmitted through an undersea cable. Today the islands are so festooned with wind turbines, they cannot find enough uses for the emission-free power they create on their own.

“Community-owned wind turbines generate power for local villages; islanders drive nonpolluting cars that run on electricity; devices that can turn the energy of the waves and the tides into electricity are being tested in the islands’ waters and seabed; and – in the near future – car and passenger ferries here will be fuelled not by diesel but by hydrogen, created from water that has been electrolysed using power from Orkney’s wind, wave and tide generators.

“ ‘A low-carbon renewable future, which is much talked about elsewhere, is coming early to Orkney,’ says ethnographer Laura Watts in her book Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga. The book, published by [MIT Press], tells the intriguing tale of how Orcadians have begun to create their own low-carbon future against incredible odds and with only a little help from the mainland. …

“Orkney is leading Britain’s drive toward a carbon-free future. And the critical, vital ingredient in this revolution has been the manner in which islanders have turned the energy of the winds into a reliable source of power. Low-lying and exposed to both the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea, Orkney is battered by winds and gales throughout the year. Rainstorms sweep the islands with unbridled savagery, tear down sheds, rip slates from roofs, and can take out metres of coastline in a night. You don’t need an umbrella here, you need a riot shield, one islander told Watts, who has been a regular visitor to Orkney for the past decade. …

“In the early 1980s, Britain began experiments aimed at developing turbines that could turn wind power into electricity – at a test site on Burgar Hill, on Orkney. ‘However, the UK pulled the plug on it and instead the Danes and Germans went ahead and developed wind turbine technology – because their governments invested in it,’ says Watts. ‘They put in millions. The British government did not. We could have had a UK wind energy industry but we just did not invest.’

“The impact of wind turbine technology in Orkney was nevertheless profound and islanders took to its generation in a big way. ‘Orkney used to import its power but now generates, on average over the year, electricity that fulfils 120% of its own needs,’ says Watts. ‘So you have all this energy. The question is: what are you going to do with it?’

“Watts outlines the three options open to islanders: build a new cable so it can export its excess renewable energy to the mainland; use more electricity on the islands; or turn its excess renewable power into another fuel – such as hydrogen – and then store it. Finding the right course is likely to have a profound impact on Britain as the nation looks to the example set by Orkney and embraces its low-carbon future. …

“Energy cannot be simply collected from a wind turbine and exploited later when conditions are calm and windless – because there is as yet no reliable way to store it. It is a basic drawback that Orcadians are now tackling. On the Orkney island of Eday, a device known as an electrolyser – powered by renewable energy sources – splits water into its two elemental components: hydrogen and oxygen. The former can be stored and later burnt to generate electricity when needed. Already a fuel cell – powered by locally derived hydrogen – is being used to generate electricity for berthed vessels on one Orkney pier.”

Pretty exciting stuff, don’t you think? More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: http://www.a-r-e-d.com
The Mobile Solar Kiosk, invented by Rwanda’s Henri Nyakarundi, is one of 10 renewable energy startups highlighted by Africa.com.

Great ideas for renewable energy are blooming in Africa, where it’s important that energy be both accessible and affordable. Africa.com recently rounded up ten of the most promising technologies.

“Africa has an immense energy crisis,” says the website. “In a continent with a population of close to 1 billion, over 625 million people are without power. According to the International Energy Agency, that makes up 68% of the population. This is ironic considering the fact that Africa has an abundance of natural resources available.

“For instance, the continent has a large coastline where wind power and wave power resources are abundant and underutilized in the North and South. Africa has much greater solar resources available than any other continent because it is the sunniest continent on earth.

“Energy is an essential factor for the reduction of poverty and economic growth. Major sectors like agriculture, education, communication, and technology all require abundant, consistent, and cost effective energy to spur the much needed development of the continent.

“Currently, many African nations already have small scale solar, wind, and geothermal plants that provide energy in rural areas. These modes of energy production are becoming very useful in remote locations, because they bridge the gap created by the excessive cost of transporting electricity from large-scale power plants. …

“Here we look at ten startups that are utilizing the vast amount of the continent’s renewable energy potential. …

“Mobile Solar Cell Phone kiosk is an alternative solar-powered mobile kiosk that charges phones and connects communities in Rwanda. It was founded by Henri Nyakarundi — a Rwandese who lived in the United States — after struggling with charging his phone whenever he went back to Rwanda or Burundi for holidays.

“He also noticed that even though many people had cell phones, they faced a challenge with charging their devices. It is estimated that over 70% of the population in Rwanda own a cell phone; however, at the same time, World Bank estimates that less than 25% of the Rwandan population has access to electricity.

“Prompted by this need, Henri sketched his first design on a piece of paper. He devised a solar-powered kiosk that can be towed by a bicycle and provides concurrent charging for up to 80 phones. The Mobile Solar Cell Phone Kiosk uses a franchise model that is low income and motivated by entrepreneurial objectives.”

Others on the website’s list include M-Kopa, which “sells solar home systems to low-income earners by allowing them to pay in installments over the course of a year using mobile money”; Shakti, “a South African startup that provides an alternative energy solution to thousands of households that do not have access to electricity”; electric vehicles; LED lights; and “batteries in a bottle.” More at Africa.com.

(I need to mention that the website seemed to slow down my computer, but no real damage was done.)

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Photo: Pedro Alvarez for the Observer
Øvre Forsland hydroelectric station in northern Norway.

So while we’re on the subject of removing pollutants using artistic sculptures, how about an article on creating clean power in an artistic energy plant?

Stuart Dredge writes at the Guardian about “an unusually handsome hydroelectric plant” on the edge of a forest in northern Norway.

“Located in the Helgeland district in northern Norway, [Ovre Forsland is] a small hydroelectric power station capable of supplying 1,600 homes with power.

“Designed by Norwegian architecture firm Stein Hamre Arkitektkontor, it sits on a riverbed at the edge of a forest, with an exterior that aims to reflect the irregular shapes of the spruce trees forming its backdrop. …

“Says Torkil Nersund, production manager at the plant’s owner, energy company HelgelandsKraft … ‘This region is known for its spectacular nature, so we thought the building should try to live up to the surroundings.’ …

“ ‘Øvre Forsland does not only serve hydropower to people in the region. Its purpose is also to bring attention to hydropower, the history around it and the benefits,’ says Nersund. …

“Øvre Forsland is also angling for the attention of people who come to Helgeland for its hiking trails and beautiful scenery. Those visiting the power station can look through a tear in the building’s exterior that reveals its innards: the turbines. …

“The emphasis on this harmony, and on renewability in general, can be seen in the fabric of Øvre Forsland itself. The architects used Kebony wood, sustainable softwood that has been treated with a bio-based liquid to make it more like hardwood. …

” ‘We hope that the Government also sees that hydro power has a great future ahead and that they facilitate the development of Norwegian hydro,’ says Nersund.”

More here.

Hat tip: @VictoriaLynden on twitter.

 

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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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At the radio show Living on Earth, Steve Curwood recently interviewed Gary Cook of Greenpeace about an effort to get tech companies to be greener.

CURWOOD: “Back in 2012, you criticized Apple for using carbon-intensive energy from coal plants to power its servers. …

COOK: “Just after we spoke, they made a commitment to be 100 percent renewably powered, and as the end of last year, they even made that goal. So, it’s been quite a big shift.

CURWOOD: “100 percent renewable energy. How’s that possible?

COOK: “It requires some effort. Apple has done a lot in North Carolina where they have their largest data center in terms of deploying two different solar farms and an onsite fuel cell that’s powered with biogas energy, so it’s all renewable. They have several other data centers. … In Oregon they’re using wind; in Nevada they’re using solar.

“So they’ve actually shown a commitment from the top, been very aggressive, probably the most aggressive of any of the brands to make sure as they grow, they’re using clean energy.

CURWOOD: “Biogas. Where are they getting that from?’

COOK:” Currently, they’re getting that from landfill and some other renewable sources. The landfill is methane capture in the southeast, and they’re having that piped to where their data center is in North Carolina.”

The radio interview covers several other efforts tech companies are making. It’s a good thing, too, when you consider, as Living on Earth points out, “If the Internet were a country, it would be the sixth largest consumer of electricity in the world.” More here.

Photo: George Nikitin, Greenpeace
The Greenpeace Airship A.E. Bates flies over Facebook headquarters with a banners reading “Building a Greener Internet” and “Who’s The Next To Go Green?” Apple, Facebook and Google have committed to powering their data centers with renewable energy.

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Building energy savings into school design means more money for education.

At Yes! Magazine, Erin L. McCoy describes what planners did for the rural Richardsville Elementary School near Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“When Richardsville opened its doors in fall 2010, it was the first net zero school in the nation, meaning that the school produces more energy on-site than it uses in a year.

“Solar tubes piping sunlight directly into classrooms eliminate much of the school’s demand for electric light, while a combination of geothermal and solar power cut down on the rest of the energy bill. Concrete floors treated with a soy-based stain don’t need buffing. The kitchen, which in most schools contributes to 20 percent of the energy bill, houses a combi-oven that cooks healthier meals and eliminates frying. This means an exhaust fan doesn’t pipe the school’s temperature-controlled air to the outdoors all day long.

“Meanwhile, ‘green screens’ in the front hall track the school’s energy usage so kids can see the impact of turning off a light in real time.

“These and other innovations make Richardsville better than net zero. It actually earns about $2,000 a month selling excess energy to the Tennessee Valley Authority. …

“Three factors are essential to making a green school work: First, you need the participation of the community and the local power company; second, you can’t forget that a school is a dynamic learning environment; and third, you need to speak the language of money.

“Since the economic recession began in 2008, school districts have suffered. Local tax bases were shaken as property values plummeted, and states have cut back on funding to districts, which were pushed to cut funds wherever they were able. Addressing energy use made a lot of financial sense.”

More.

Photograph: Michael Heinz/The Journal & Courier/AP/File
Students gather on the first day of school at Wyandotte Elementary School near Lafayette, Ind., in 2011. Wyandotte is one of many US schools that have made cutting energy use a priority.

 

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Aren’t inventors great? There certainly seem to be a lot around these days.

Of course, I am still a bit high on the Mass Challenge Awards last night, thrilled about Erik and the other deserving winners, like the nonprofit GRIT (Global Research Innovation and Technology), which makes an inexpensive wheelchair for use in the Third World.

Here’s another cool invention, from Israel: a cardboard bicycle.

Ori Lewis and Lianne Gross write at Reuters, “A bicycle made almost entirely of cardboard has the potential to change transportation habits from the world’s most congested cities to the poorest reaches of Africa, its Israeli inventor says.

“Izhar Gafni, 50, is an expert in designing automated mass-production lines. He is an amateur cycling enthusiast who for years toyed with an idea of making a bicycle from cardboard. …

“Cardboard, made of wood pulp, was invented in the 19th century as sturdy packaging for carrying other more valuable objects, but it has rarely been considered as raw material for things usually made of much stronger materials, such as metal.

“Once the shape [of Gafni’s bicycle] has been formed and cut, the cardboard is treated with a secret concoction made of organic materials to give it its waterproof and fireproof qualities. In the final stage, it is coated with lacquer paint for appearance.

“In testing the durability of the treated cardboard, Gafni said he immersed a cross-section in a water tank for several months and it retained all its hardened characteristics.

“Once ready for production, the bicycle will include no metal parts, even the brake mechanism and the wheel and pedal bearings will be made of recycled substances, although Gafni said he could not yet reveal those details due to pending patent issues.” Read more from Reuters, here.

Check this video posted by Gadizmo.

Baz Ratner /Reuters /Landov

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