"Now is the moment to act in common cause.”
-United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on climate protection
Blasting Past Net Zero, a narrative
Peter Rumsey is a guy I’ve known for some time.
We met in Manila, then flew to Bangkok where I stayed with him and Anna. Trained as a mechanical engineer, he was working for the International Institute for Energy Conservation in Thailand. My job at The Results Center was to document the most successful energy efficiency practices in Southeast Asia. Together we wrote a compendium of case studies.
At that time Peter headed up Supersymmetry USA with Eng Lock Lee in Singapore and Ron Perkins in Houston, specializing in super-efficient building systems. Next, he founded Rumsey Engineers in his garage. It’s now a 40+ person firm of dedicated engineering professionals who share “a passion for high performance.” They’ve just engineered the most efficient data center in the United States. Rumsey Engineers was the first firm to earn four LEED Platinum distinctions, Peter is a senior fellow at Rocky Mountain Institute, and he has been named AEE Bay Area Chapter Engineer of the Year. Click to check out Rumsey Engineers.
We’re at his very hip, converted warehouse space along the tracks in Oakland, super eco-friendly offices, and we talk net zero. Staff is hard at work; there’s a cornucopia of fruit for all in the kitchenette. Peter’s work is deep and technically advanced. Rumsey Engineers is way into designing net zero buildings, recently focused on the nation’s first zero-energy, zero-carbon commercial building. I’ve got a notion in my head that it’s a hugely expensive proposition.
He debunks it: A net zero building need not be that much more expensive in terms of first cost. Peter points to commercial construction and the comparative costs of marble, glazings, and building furnishings, and advanced energy systems. Studies of the “marginal costs” of LEED buildings find little correlation between LEED rating and cost per square foot, especially with deliberate planning.
My own net zero experiences are at the New Alchemy Institute and in its Ark -- no heating system required – and then at Rocky Mountain Institute and growing bananas at 7,200 feet in winter. My Colorado home largely relies on passive and active solar heating. Years of free energy thanks to practical orientation, foot-thick insulation, argon-filled glass, and three sturdy hot water panels. Not quite net zero, but close.
This influenced my remarks at the Southwestern Law School Clean Tech conference last week, “The Big Energy Picture: Blasting Past Net Zero.” It began with a grim view of the state of “total dependence” on oil, coal, gas, and nuclear. The Faustian Bargain -- the deal with the devil for eternal youth or knowledge – was in this case for power. Vivid images – from strip mines to emissions and smog to nuclear calamity – paint the picture of stark tradeoffs for energy.
Net zero. Net zero what? Net zero source energy? Net zero carbon? Net zero costs? Different net zero scales: household, neighborhood, city, region, and nation. California’s goal is for all residential construction to be net zero by 2020, all commercial new starts to be so by 2030. Danish wind cooperatives showcase community-scale net zero works. Wind in Denmark now provides 23% of total electricity.
Commercial net zero installations are no longer novelties. There’s a net zero PV manufacturing plant in Germany. For those with adequate roof real estate and facades, this once-elusive notion is no longer relegated to analysis and academic demonstrations. A tannery in New Jersey is net zero.
Iceland has taken net zero to national scale, with well over 75% of its total energy fulfilled by domestic, renewable resources – notably geothermal. It is now exporting this know-how all over the world. Denmark exports 90% of the turbines that it manufactures. These countries are past net zero for profit.
So what’s better than net zero? Just plain zero?
Energy “autarkic,” a new term for me, a building trend. It is zero. It is true independence from fossil fuels and unsustainable sources. Energy autarky is a state of supplying 100% of energy needs throughout the day. Energy autarkic regions, such as islands and communities isolated from the grid, mix renewables and storage systems to balance production with consumption. I present a variety of storage systems, from pumped storage to electrolysis and fuel cells, to flywheels, compressed air, advanced batteries, and molten salts. Abengoa in Spain is storing solar heat in salts for 24 hours with minor losses.
Anything beyond autarkic? Energy Plus providers! They generate more than they consume. Not all homes and buildings can be producers. Someone’s got to over-produce. The best rooftops become Energy Plus community generators. Excess generation bills and feed-in tariffs allow for this, providing revenue streams for property owners with sunny rooftop assets.
UN 2009 Summit on Climate Change
Seventy days, 12 hours and counting.
The count-down to COP15, the fifteenth Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Denmark. December 7 – 18, 2009; 190 countries expected.
Hopes have been fading for an effective agreement to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol developed in 1997 at COP3. To motivate the political will and “strengthen momentum for a fair, effective, and ambitious climate deal in Copenhagen,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited the nations of the world to New York on September 22. The President of the Maldives wrote in the Huffington Post that, “We need our political system to cross a tipping point, too, to move from feel-good statements to actual solutions, cutting emissions quickly enough to meet the demands of science.”
Pressure is building on wealthier states. This summer, the European Union committed $15 billion each year for the next decade to climate protection. Some are critical of the U.S., concerned that domestic policies on the economy and health care reform will take precedence to climate protection, at least until after 2010.
The UN summit drew 100 world leaders and encouraging signs. Japan committed to cut CO2 emissions by 25% below 1990 by 2020, and challenged others to follow suit. China’s President Hu Jintao spoke of reducing emissions from 2005 levels by “a notable margin” by 2020. He promised to slow the growth of GHG emissions in the next decade, achieve a 15% penetration of renewable power, and plant trees to cover more than 300,000 square kilometers (741,316 acres).
President Obama made clear that climate protection is an American priority.”We understand the gravity of the climate threat. We are determined to act. And we will meet our responsibility to future generations.”
Chinese BYDs, RUFs, and Better Place
China has a unique opportunity to build an effective mobility infrastructure. Its $850 billion plan for a high speed rail system would create the world’s largest and most effective network. Its car companies are eying zero-emissions. While Japanese cars have been a staple for years, and Korean models are more common, prepare for “the world’s factory” to get serious about cars.
BYD is a major battery maker; its batteries range from industrial applications to IPods and IPhones. Five years ago, entrepreneur Wang Chuan-Fu bought a defunct car company. It is now the maker of China’s most popular sedan, the F3, and employs 130,000 workers at 11 factories.
Its new all-electric F3DM was featured at the Detroit auto show, has a 62-mile range, and sells for $22,000. Thereafter, its “fuel costs” are a third of typical car. Plans have not yet been announced for entering the U.S. market. Warren Buffett has a 10% ownership share in the company, worth $230 million.
RUF cars: Designed in Denmark and featuring dual operating modes: They can be driven like a normal car or joined to a mass transit system configured like a conveyor belt for automated highway driving. Imagine elevated tracks built alongside the Long Island Expressway, and California’s freeways. See www.ruf.dk..
Better Place? Sounds great. “The premier global provider of electric vehicle services, systems, and infrastructures.” Some day we may all subscribe to Better Place to access its network of charging and switch stations. Yes, switch stations: Renault has introduced the world’s first switchable battery electric vehicle. Run out of charge? Pop in a new battery.
The 2009 Frankfurt Auto Show was abuzz with EVs. Better Place was featured. But skepticism continues. Will EV use explode or remain a niche market for the foreseeable future? Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyoata’s head of research and development for environmental technologies, described the rush for electric cars as "a fever" through the industry. Toyota leapt into the EV frenzy in the 1990s; some say that there have really been no major EV breakthroughs since then.
Ten Principles of One Planet Living
1. Zero carbon
2. Zero waste
3. Sustainable transport
4. Local and sustainable materials
5. Local and sustainable food
6. Sustainable water
7. Natural habitat and wildlife
8. Culture and heritage
9. Equity and fair trade
10. Health and happiness
Farmers Markets of Los Angeles
A thirty-year story of supply and demand began with four farmers in 1979 at a church parking lot in Gardena. The word of the farmers’ profits spread quickly.
A strawberry grower in Oxnard had just laid off workers and quickly jumped at this new business opportunity. His sons and grandsons now sell a wide assortment of produce to 40 farmers markets from San Jose to Seal Beach each week.
Farmers markets “have been a God send for farmers” used to having prices dictated to them by wholesalers. At the farmers markets, they get the retail price for what the market will bear.
Thirty years later, Los Angeles County now has 121 farmers markets, more than any other county in the country. The farmers markets of LA draw 250,000 people each week to 1,000 vendors. Some markets accept food stamps and social program coupons.
Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa recently announced a food policy task force to address school food, access by the poor to fresh and nutritious food, and a permanent market hub. The Mayor has also signed a pledge with LA chefs to give preference to locally grown food.
A few weeks ago, Crown Prince Frederick of Denmark dedicated the world’s largest offshore wind farm. The Horns Rev 2 wind farm has a maximum output of 209 MW. It is also the furthest offshore. This must be a first too: Wind farm overnight accommodations are available: A three-level platform will house 24 persons per night.
The wind farm is made up of thirteen rows of 2.3 MW Siemens turbines connected to a transformer station; a submarine cable takes the power ashore. Each blade is 93 meters (305 feet) in diameter. The wind farm is in waters that range from 9 – 17 meters (30 – 55 feet); average wind speeds in this North Sea region are 10 meters per second, or 22.5 mph. The first turbines were erected in March 2009.
More than 100 GW of offshore wind projects are being planned in 15 European Union (EU) member states and other European countries. In its economic stimulus package earlier this year, the EU earmarked 4 billion Euros for energy networks, including 565 million for offshore wind projects.
European Wind Energy Association’s goals are for 40 GW by 2020 and 150 GW by 2030 to support national 20% renewable energy mandates. Grid interconnection is now the biggest concern. EWEA called on the European Commission to create a policy for a European offshore grid linking 11 operating networks and 21 planned in the North Sea and Baltic Sea.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, gave the green light for three offshore wind parks with a total of 192 turbines in the North Sea. The German authority has approved 25 parks in the North and Baltic Seas.
The U.K., which has the EU’s most offshore wind capacity, could accommodate 25 GW in addition to the 8 GW already built or planned. Positioned between the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean, the British Isles also have about 15% of the world’s usable tidal current resources, which the Carbon Trust estimates could generate 5% of domestic electricity demand.
In related news, renewable energy production increased by 104% in the UK in the five years leading up to 2008, according to new statistics released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The fastest rate of growth in generation from renewables was recorded in Northern Ireland with 489% growth.