WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

THEME: Reconnecting You with Nature

World Environment Day is the biggest annual event for positive environmental action and takes place every 5 June. ‘Connecting People to Nature’, the theme for World Environment Day 2017, implores us to get outdoors and into nature, to appreciate its beauty and its importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth that we share.

The day isn’t just a day to read about the problems affecting the countryside, it is all about action and physically getting off your chair to do something to help preserve nature.

“We can enjoy nature year-round, but World Environment Day is when the whole world comes together to celebrate our beautiful planet,” said Erik Solheim, the head of UN Environment. “It reminds us of what a treasure nature is, and encourages us all to protect and appreciate our environment.”

We can implement our commitments to substantially cut carbon emissions and support investment in renewable energy, and support for programs delivering policies and actions to adapt and build resilience to the impacts climate change.

‘’But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself’’.

Rachel Carson

Recently, i had the chance of being part of the business delegation to Germany. The delegation consisted of a group of selected representatives from Kenyan and Tanzanian solar engineering service providers, industries with the interest in alternative renewable energy supply, mini grid operators and other companies looking for less expensive alternatives to their diesel back-up systems.

The trip offered us a great opportunity to get in contact with relevant suppliers and to participate in discussions on state-of-the art PV Hybrid & Storage System Solutions.

Now, we all know that Germany is a world leader in innovation. The energy and environmental technology industry in this country has been influenced by the political goal of ensuring that by 2050, 80 percent of the electricity produced in the German market will be generated from renewable energy.

Our site visits opened us up to see sophisticated energy storage solutions that can be adopted in our country. Yes, some of us are already there as our website indicates but there’s always room to do better. The first site visit was at a storage installation M5BAT at the University of Aachen

M5BAT is a hybrid of different battery technologies that optimally combines storage capacities for periods of seconds, minutes or hours, whereby the storage system is designed for a total storage capacity of around 5 megawatt hours (MWh). What’s special about M5BAT is its modular design, which combines different battery technologies in an optimum fashion.

This highly efficient and modular system offers a wide range of applications irrespective of location and therefore facilitates the integration of renewable energies.

In this initial phase, the M5BAT project is focusing on two particular aspects:

·         Testing the distributed provision of control reserve for stable grid operation

·         Electricity trading and the associated exploitation of electricity price arbitrage

See you on my next blog post. Stay Tuned!

 

                         “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” – Miriam Beard

Solar windows: the future of zero-carbon buildings?

The advantages of solar power as a source of clean, renewable energy seem obvious. Sunlight is abundant, free and, for all practical purposes, eternal. While the price of solar photovoltaic cells recently has plummeted and their efficiency has gone up, challenges remain around siting vast arrays of solar-electric panels and finding ways to integrate them into buildings and other applications.

Photovoltaic (PV) glass uses the same basic principle as solar panels that you see on roofs, but it is transparent. The technology used is known as thin-film, which simply means that the active PV layer is applied very thinly. Unlike conventional solar panels where silicon monocrystals are grown and sliced into wafers, thin-film technology vacuum-deposits a film onto a conducted glass layer.

Think about it:

If windows can generate electricity for use on site, the consumer would gain the advantages of free, non-polluting power and at least partial grid independence. The grid would reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, gain resilience and get relief from peak-use demands, which would slash greenhouse gas emissions. Solar windows would also be practically unnoticeable, meaning you could reap the benefits of solar power at home with a minimum of impact on you or the community around you.

 

Turning windows into solar collectors is the kind of disruptive technology that can revolutionize energy generation and consumption and contribute to a low-carbon energy future. Someday, buildings ranging from your own house to urban skyscrapers might generate much of their own electricity through innocuous luminescent solar concentrating windows.

A passive house takes an active stand for the environment

About an hour’s drive north from Boulder’s city center, a small cabin-like structure sits nestled tightly between three healthy Ponderosa pines. Its south face, with seven giant triple-pane windows, overlooks Rocky Mountain National Park and lets in rays of wintery sunshine. Andrew Michler, the building’s mastermind, architect and builder, calls this 1,200-square-foot space home. With unmistakable pride, he also claims it’s Colorado’s most energy-efficient house.

The building is in fact Colorado’s first internationally certified “passive house,” or, according to Michler, a house built according to a “globally-recognized building design technique that promises huge cuts in energy use.” By using super tight insulation and thick south-facing windows — trademarks of the passive house — Michler’s home relies almost entirely on its natural surroundings for its electricity, heat, cooling and water.

He doesn’t pay a gas bill; the sun does the work instead of oil. A 1,500-gallon rainwater catchment tank supplies all non-potable water. All of the electricity flowing through the sockets also comes from the sun. When it’s too hot inside, Michler simply opens the windows or blows air through a series of tubes that he installed underground, so as to let the earth cool down the air before diverting the streams inside. Altogether, Michler’s house consumes about 90 percent less energy than his neighbors.

“The passive house works surprisingly well in Colorado,” Michler says, due in part to the state’s 300-plus days of sunshine. However, it’s not just the sun that makes the off-the-grid house almost completely self-sustaining; its calculated structure and layout also play vital roles in its efficiency and success.

The wool-insulated walls — made of natural, durable, recyclable materials — are completely airtight, which allows Michler to precisely and reliably control the indoor air quality and temperature. The triple-pane windows are designed to maximize solar gain and minimize energy loss, so the sun can effectively heat the house, even in the dead of winter. This unseasonably warm snow season, Michler only employed an external heating unit once, when the internal temperature dropped below 62 degree Fahrenheit. (Outdoors it was minus 10).

Inside, Michler’s wife and two adopted stray cats, Serendipity and George, amble around the lightly colored wood living room. Inspired by Japanese tiny home architecture, Michler designed the whole house to be multi-functional, with movable, multi-use furniture, like the staircase with removable wooden storage boxes that can be used as tables or stools when guests are over.

“Most of the rooms flow together and can change use over time,” Michler says. “Depending on how many people there are, either two or 10 people, we can make everyone’s stay really comfortable.”

The passive house concept was born in the early ’70s by a group of experimental engineers at the University of Illinois. The 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo banning foreign petroleum exports to the U.S. (repealed by the Obama administration in 2016) had sent fuel prices skyrocketing and thrown household budgets in panic. Running the furnace harder and longer to heat drafty, cold houses was no longer a viable option. Thus, it fell upon structural changes in home building to combat the poor insulation and leaky windows and doors that made regulating warm indoor air nearly impossible.

The engineers at the University of Illinois pioneered a highly insulated building model they called the “Lo-Cal house” in 1976. The model, compared to the most-efficient design promoted by the Department of Energy at the time, projected saving 60 percent of energy consumption. A Canadian group of engineers caught on and rolled out an even more efficient “superinsulation house.” When solar energy entered the scene around the same time, William Shurcliff, a Nobel-prize winning physicist at Harvard, coined the term “passive house” to reflect the increasingly multifaceted nature of these high-performance buildings.

By the end of the ’80s, Shurcliff, who was as much concerned with helping household budgets as he was saving the planet from environmental disaster, summarized in the 1986 Energy Review what he considered the path of future building construction.

Passive houses should include five main principles, he wrote: thick insulation, airtight construction, prevention of moisture accumulation, steady fresh air supply and optimum window usage. When U.S. conservation initiatives waned in the ’90s, Wolfgang Feist, a German physicist, built upon Shurcliff’s work, further refining the modeling and product design while sticking to Shurcliff’s original five-pointed framework. These points became the cornerstones of the modern passive house.

In 2015, space heating was the leading cause of energy use in residential homes, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Initiatives like Michler’s passive house and like-minded projects are pioneering the possibility of major energy reductions in everyday homes.

The airtight seal around the house, while necessary for regulating temperature, also creates a prime environment for mold and condensation, hence Shurcliff’s concerns about moisture control and air supply. To avoid these issues, Michler installed an air-exchange system that uses two fans to circulate air around the house. Essentially, one fan blows out stale, used air and another fan sucks in fresh air from outdoors. Both streams pass over a mechanism called a heat exchanger located under the house, which ensures the heat from the indoor air can effectively transfer to the new air with no energy lost.

However, activities like cooking in the airtight space can be problematic, according to Michler. For appliances that need high-density energy, like a stove and his back-up space heater, he uses a small amount of propane gas that he purchases when necessary. But food and gas particles can be released into the air and potentially linger. He teamed up with University of Colorado Boulder’s Indoor Air Quality and Health research lab to ensure he was creating a healthy, livable space.

Ryan Militello-Hourigan, a graduate student at CU Boulder working on the research team, visited the house last fall and conducted several experiments to test its air quality.

“We found that overall the house has very good air,” Militello-Hourigan says. “[Michler] was conscious of potential problems when he was building, and so he used healthy materials. The thing we did notice was that the overall air exchange rate was fairly low compared to conventional houses.”

Michler isn’t a formally-trained architect. Everything he knows is self-taught, accumulated over years of writing about and working in sustainable construction. In 2012, he finally decided he’d try and create for himself what he’d been eyeing in magazines and theory books for years. Only seven months after initially sitting down to plan his house, Michler broke ground.

“Our team was young, not age-wise but experience-wise,” Michler says. “There is tremendous pressure [when building a passive house]. You have to get everything just right. One or two things wrong can compromise the entire system.”

Michler spent most of the past three years building and refining his home, staying involved in every step of the process. He predicts his home cost about 10-15 percent more than a conventional home, but was somewhat offset because he already owned the land, and the house created a much smaller footprint.

Last year his house received its certification from the German Passivhaus Institute. Building upon his acquired knowledge and riding the stoke of his success, Michler founded Passive House Rocky Mountain, an organization that now trains and supports architects, builders or anyone interested in constructing and certifying their own passive house along the Front Range. He envisions the possibility of schools, community buildings and many more homes transitioning to passive design, creating healthier spaces for future generations.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can push the envelope, especially in trying to make [buildings] more affordable and beautiful,” Michler says. “Shelter is as much about comfort as it is [about] energy performance.”

‘Major’ solar project gets the green light in Northern Ireland

A “major” solar project in Antrim, Northern Ireland, has been commissioned and is set to provide more than 32 megawatts of renewable energy to the grid.

In an announcement on Monday, solar energy company Lightsource said the project was Northern Ireland’s biggest solar development and would help to save an estimated 18,140 tonnes of carbon every year. In addition, it would cut the use of fossil fuels and boost energy security.

Lightsource said that the facility would be comprised of five sites linked by one single connection to the grid.

“We are delighted to complete this landmark project in Antrim,” Nick Boyle, CEO of Lightsource, said in a statement. 

“This is the most significant solar development on the island of Ireland to date. Domestically generated solar energy has an important role to play in relation to meeting Northern Ireland’s energy needs.”

This week has also seen Northern Ireland Electricity Networks (NIE Networks) announce that it has connected more than 1.2 gigawatts of renewable energy to the electricity network in Northern Ireland.

“We have worked in close partnership with the renewables industry to look at new ways to facilitate a wide range of micro, small and large scale generation in all parts of Northern Ireland,” Michael Atkinson, from NIE Networks, said.

“The electricity network develops with every new home, business or renewable generator we connect,” Atkinson added.

“Making the network ready for a cleaner, greener future has led to investment to strengthen or extend the electricity system in rural areas where wind farms, anaerobic digesters or tidal generators are being sited,” he went on to state.

UAE Sees $192 Billion Savings in Switch to Green Power From Gas

The United Arab Emirates forecasts that savings generated by switching half its power needs to clean energy by mid century will outstrip the investment costs. 

The Gulf state plans to invest $150 billion in renewable power to 2050, weening the country from dependency on subsidized natural gas power in stages, Minister of Energy Suhail Al-Mazrouei said at a conference in Berlin. Clean energy sources will help it save $192 billion, he said.

The UAE leadership is “bullish” about achieving the goal after realizing that the nation can forgo subsidies in the switch to clean power from LNG, Al-Mazrouei said. Sticking to the strategy will “save the environment and at the same time save us lots of money,” he said.

As the costs for solar power fall rapidly, Gulf and Middle East states are reevaluating their power strategies, which currently rely subsidiaries for electricity generated with liquid natural gas. The UAE has set an “incredibly ambitious” clean power target, starting from scratch just a few years ago, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In September, Chinese panel maker JinkoSolar Holding Co. and Japanese developer Marubeni Corp. won a tender for a solar plant in Abu Dhabi with a record bid of 2.42 U.S. cents a kilowatt-hour. About $1 billion has been invested in utility-scale solar in the UAE since 2007.

Middle East states need to break their reliance on subsidized gas power, where inefficiencies are endemic in the Middle East, Al-Mazrouei said.

“We have so many open-cycle power plants it doesn’t make sense to continue with them – they’ve very low efficiency,” said the former Abu Dhabi Investment Authority executive. “The reason they are there is because gas is subsidized.”

In future, the UAE will review every proposed LNG power project as a project that’s not subsidized, he said. The government also wants to drop support for power tariffs, he said.

“Many low hanging fruits” exist as potential savings in gas-powered generation, transmission and demand-side management, the minister said.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, the world’s biggest beer maker, plans to get all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

The move will require shifting 6 terawatt-hours of electricity from fossil-fuel plants to wind, solar and other renewable sources, the Leuven, Belgium-based company said in a statement Tuesday. That’s almost enough to power all of Spain for a month.

The company’s announcement comes the same day U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order to unravel rules to combat climate change, including cutting power-sector emissions. The timing was a coincidence, according to AB InBev Chief Executive Officer Carlos Alves De Brito. Fighting climate change with renewable energy is good for the bottom line, he said.

“This has no political connotations at all.” Brito said. “We just think this is good for our business and the environment.”

AB InBev plans to generate as much as 25 percent of its electricity itself, including by installing solar panels on its facilities. The company will buy the rest directly from wind and solar farms.

The plan includes an agreement to buy 490 gigawatt-hours annually from Iberdrola SA to power AB InBev’s facilities in Mexico. Iberdrola will build a 220-megawatt wind farm in the state of Puebla that will begin operations in 2019 to help supply the power.

Wind turbines inspired by insect wings are 35% more efficient

Wind turbines produce 4% of the planet’s energy, but they only work well when the wind is blowing just right. Now, by drawing inspiration from the flexible wings of insects, scientists have found a way to make wind turbine blades 35% more efficient at producing energy. If commercialized, the advance could make this green technology a more viable alternative to fossil fuels in the coming years.

Increasing the efficiency of a wind turbine isn’t simply a matter of getting the rotors to spin as fast as possible. In addition to becoming more prone to catastrophic failure, the turbines also become less efficient at higher speeds because they become more like a wall than a rotor, blocking the wind from flowing past the rapidly rotating blades, says Asfaw Beyene, a professor of engineering at San Diego State University in California, who was not involved with the work.

The optimal amount of power comes from intermediate rates of rotation, says study author Vincent Cognet, a physicist at the Paris-Sorbonne University. In order for them to produce power most efficiently, the wind must strike their blades at just the right “pitch angle” to apply just the right amount of torque to a generator.

Insect wings don’t have this problem. Because they’re flexible, the wings of bees and dragonflies are able to direct the aerodynamic load in the direction of their flight, increasing the power. And because they naturally bend in the wind, they can minimize drag to avoid damage.

To see whether such flexibility would improve the efficiency of wind turbines, Cognet and his team built small-scale turbine prototypes with three different rotor styles. One was completely rigid, one was somewhat flexible, and one was very flexible. All three turbines had three rotors, but the flexible ones were made with a pliable material called polyethylene terephthalate, whereas the rigid version was made with a stiff synthetic resin.

In wind tunnel tests, the most flexible blades proved to be a bit too flaccid, and they failed to produce as much power as their stiffer brethren. But the moderately flexible blades outperformed the rigid ones, creating up to 35% more power and allowing the blades to operate efficiently in a wider range of wind conditions, the team reports today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

The tests also showed that the improvement came from changes in the pitch angle: As the turbine blades flexed back or forth thanks, respectively, to wind pressure and centrifugal effect, the pitch angle changed slightly. Higher pitch angles (more “open”) performed more efficiently at lower wind speeds, whereas lower pitch angles (more “closed”) did better at high speeds. Indeed, faster winds lead to a higher rotation rate, which bends the rotor forward and closes the pitch angle slightly—helping to generate more power.

The next challenge, says Cognet, is scaling the technology up to work in full-sized turbines. “We have to find the material, which is flexible, but not too flexible.”

Beyene says the engineering side will take time, but his own experiments on morphing blades indicate that the 35% increase in power demonstrated in the new study is a perfectly reasonable expectation and would be a huge boon to a fully renewable future. His team is already actively planning larger prototypes that operate using the same principles. “The fluid mechanics and the physics make absolute sense,” he says. “There’s no reason why we cannot make morphing blades that will adapt to wind conditions.”

Renewables Accounted for 90% of Europe’s New Power Last Year

IN BRIEF
  • In 2016, 21.1 GW of the 24.5 GW of new energy sources added to Europe’s electrical grids were from renewable sources such as solar, wind, hydro, and biomass.
  • While impressive, renewables still count for a much smaller fraction of the continent’s total power capacity, so much work is still needed to end our dependence on fossil fuels.

NINE OUT OF TEN

Climate change is real — temperatures are rising, weather is getting more erratic, and glaciers continue to melt. According to experts, human activity is the main reason this is happening. Our dependence on fossil fuels and inability to address a fast-deteriorating Earth led us to this point. But thankfully, we can do things to help the situation.

Switching to renewable energy is a big part of combating climate change, and Europe just demonstrated the strides it has been making toward shifting to safer, cleaner power sources.

Last year, renewable energy accounted for 90 percent of new power added to Europe’s electrical grids. A total of 24.5 GW of new energy sources were built, and 21.1 GW were from solar, wind, hydro, and biomass. According to WindEurope, this is the first time that wind power’s capacity was higher than coal’s, allowing it to earn the distinction of being Europe’s second largest form of power capacity, behind just natural gas.

Thanks to countries like Germany, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, and Lithuania, all of which increased their wind capacity in 2016, wind farms accounted for over half of the renewable capacity. These increases included massive offshore projects, such as Gemini (a wind farm built off the coast of the Netherlands), Germany’s 582 MW Gode Wind 1 and 2, and the 144 MW Westermeerwind project, also in the Netherlands.

THE FUTURE OF RENEWABLES

These numbers may seem impressive, especially with Europe’s total wind power capacity adding up to 153.7 GW, but this figure is still very low relative to the continent’s total power capacity of 918.8 GW. It is a significant achievement, though, especially in comparison to the U.S. where only 63 percent of new energy capacity was from renewable sources.

Growth of renewable energy across Europe is evidently very uneven. Still, there’s every reason to be optimistic. Renewable energy has steadily demonstrated benefits to countries willing to invest in it, and it’s only a matter of time before the industry gathers the longterm support needed to ensure that a broader, regional shift to renewable sources happens.While coal is still fulfilling most of Europe’s electricity demand, a continued push for renewable energy and a concerted effort to meet climate change goals set for 2020 has left governments hopeful that the gap will eventually be closed. To that end however, experts have expressed concern about the direction of renewable energy beyond 2020, citing countries like Portugal, Italy, Spain, and Greece, which all supported wind energy in the early 2000s, but now only account for a fraction of new installations.