Vertical Farming gets ready to Grow

by John Brian Shannon.

Brooklyn Grange, a one acre urban farm on top of industrial 6 story industrial building in the Long Island City neighbourhood of Queens.
Brooklyn Grange is a 1-acre farm on top of an industrial 6-story building in New York City. Plans are on to lease some of the top floors which will turn Brooklyn Grange into a true Vertical Farm – as opposed to an outdoor rooftop farm. brooklyngrangefarm.com

Vertical Farming to increase local food production in cities

As the global population tracks toward 10 billion by 2060 and evermore potential farmland is scooped up by developers for residences, commercial buildings and industrial use, vertical farming looks to be a viable way to grow fruits and vegetables within cities — as opposed to hundreds or thousands of miles away.

According to the UN, the combined land area under agricultural land management on the planet is equal in size to the entire South American continent. Before 2060, an additional land area the size of Brazil will be required to grow crops for human consumption and to grow feed for livestock if we continue to employ present agriculture policies. Only the best land can be used for agriculture or the crops simply fail, while livestock underperform in sub-optimal conditions.

Finding more locations with acceptable levels of rainfall and sunshine, nutrient-rich well-drained soil, and the proper topographical profile will become even more of a challenge in the coming years. Of prime importance for food producers is the location of farming and ranching operations as spoilage/shipping costs often soar with increased distance-to-market.

Potential to Save billions of gallons of water

The huge water capacity required for conventional agriculture and ranching is a major issue. Extremely high levels of water usage result in high costs for farmers which are then passed on to consumers. Soil erosion, water shortages, and massive contamination of waterways are also significant and growing problems. Unimaginable quantities of water are required for crops to flourish, while astonishing water loss rates due to evaporation and fertilizer/pesticide runoff polluting our rivers and coastal areas now rank among our most serious marine pollution problems.

In Arizona, it takes an average of 25 gallons of water to grow one head of Romaine lettuce. In California, growing a head of Romaine lettuce requires 20 gallons of water. In the vertical farming scenario, growing one head of Romaine lettuce uses only .33 of a gallon, and with zero pesticide use involved and no losses to wildlife/drought/flooding. 

You might not think it, but agriculture is one of the most studied sectors on the planet. Even NASA is involved. Data is downloaded from high-tech NASA satellites and is made available to farmers and ranchers on a daily basis. Radar, thermal imaging and weather satellites all contribute their datasets to help the people who grow our food, to produce even more. And it works. Almost every year, the U.S., Canada and Europe show a larger ‘bumper crop’ than the year before.

All of these factors however, conspire to add to the final price that consumers pay. This means that we have a system that works, as it produces plenty of food and crop yields seem to increase every year. But it is extraordinarily expensive. Let’s review (conventional production method) costs that affect the final price at the market.

  • Entire satellite systems and government departments devoted to enhancing crop yields.
  • Massive transportation systems to move and warehouse food.
  • Obscene levels of water consumption/wastage.
  • Highly contaminated water runoff into formerly pristine rivers/lakes/coastal ocean areas.
  • High rates of food spoilage during transportation/storage (up to 30% in some countries).
  • Land contamination and degradation, including soil erosion.
  • Loss of natural habitat for wildlife.
  • Loss of land for human uses, such as homes, or sport & recreation.
  • Gigatonnes of fertilizers and pesticides which are derived from highly-refined petroleum.
  • Price spikes due to extreme weather events such as drought, hurricane/typhoon, flooding.
  • Expensive GMO technology to combat natural pests and weather challenges.
  • Huge research budgets (government, industry and academia) to solve crop failure/livestock disease problems.
  • Chemical sprays or radiation treatment (irradiation) to control bacteria prior to transport or storage.

Vertical Farming to lower food costs for consumers

Vertical farming adroitly bypasses all of the above problems and more by producing food (and small livestock) very close to, or within population centres. In the vertical farming scenario, all of the food produced is consumed locally, thereby negating the need for warehousing, trans-ocean shipping, trans-national rail, producer-to-city and city-to-city trucking.

Food spoilage/wastage is dramatically lowered due to the rapid delivery times that are possible when delivering ultra-fresh produce within one city — as compared to shipping/warehousing produce grown hundreds or thousands of miles away.

No multi-billion dollar NASA satellite systems required! No loss of animal or human habitat, no polluted waterways, no GMO’s, no price spikes. Perhaps most profoundly of all, millions of gallons of water per hectare/per season are no longer required, thereby freeing up that water for human consumption, for use by fish and wildlife, and for hydro-electric power production. Some rivers in the United States have stopped flowing their historic route to the sea, as ALL of the water in the watershed gets diverted for farming and ranching use long before it reaches the ocean. Bad for the fish that once lived in those river systems too.

Can you think of a better use for vacant office towers than hydroponic food growing operations?

Lower pollution levels due to dramatically lower transportation mileage (per megatonne of produce) is just one reason why governments may want to assist with startup funding for such operations. Want another reason? Many more local jobs will be produced — permanent jobs that can never be outsourced to another state or country.

Yet another benefit concerns grocery store operators; Fresh, undamaged produce that is only one-day away from their store shelves. “The Bridge is Out” or “Snow Closes Highway” or “Train Derailment Blocks Access to Town” — all of these types of news headlines are non-problems for Vertical Farming operations, grocery stores, and the customers who rely on the stores.

Vertical Farming Quiz: Did you know?

  • In the United States most food travels an average of 1500 miles from producer to consumer
  • Indoor hydroponic farming uses 80% less water than conventional farming techniques
  • Vertical farming operations filter massive amounts of pollutants out of city air
  • Vertical farming continuously recycles the water it requires

Some foresighted organizations have already embarked on such projects. In Milan Italy, they are building purpose-built concrete highrise residential buildings with a forest as part of the architecture. Milan’s attempt to clean that city’s incredibly polluted air now include an outdoor vertical forest — equal to a natural forest 1-hectare in size — that will purge tonnes of pollutants and particulates from city air. Bosco Verticale (see below) is Milan’s first such project.

Bosco Verticale. Milan, Italy.
Bosco Verticale. Milan, Italy. (This two-building complex will be ready for Expo 2015 in Milan, Italy)

 

Vertical farming, offices and residences combined. Urban cactus Rotterdam, Netherlands
Vertical farming, offices and residences combined. Urban Cactus, Rotterdam, Netherlands. (This combined luxury office tower and residential suites complex is already complete and occupied)

Vertical farming image for illustrative purposes only. Vertical farming by Chris Jacobs
Artistic rendering of a Vertical Farming purpose-built building. ‘Vertical farming’ by Chris Jacobs. (Cylindrical building shape allows more natural light to fall on the plants)

Additional Vertical Farming information:

Working Vertical Farming operations:

Vertical forest/office tower/residences/air pollution mitigation system, under construction:

Future Urban Farming Event:

  • International Conference on Vertical Farming and Urban Agriculture 2014 (click here to visit website). September 9-10, 2014 at the University Of Nottingham, UK

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter at: @EVcentral

Renewable Energy: The Time for Greater Ambition is Now

by John Brian Shannon.

Just as some in the renewable energy world were beginning to imagine that the battle against fossil fuel was largely won and that it was only a matter of time before we achieved 100% renewable energy globally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has issued a warning informing us that now more than ever, the push for renewable energy must not lose momentum.

That’s on account of our cumulative CO2 additions to the atmosphere which are in the billions of tonnes annually. It’s one thing to add gigatonnes of carbon dioxide and other gases to the atmosphere, but it’s quite another for the Earth’s natural systems to process and absorb those gases out of the atmosphere at the same rate as they are added.

The planet’s natural systems are capable of absorbing up to 40 gigatonnes of CO2 per year which is produced by decaying organic matter and such natural phenomena as forest fires and volcanoes, but it’s not capable of handling an additional 15 gigatonnes of anthropogenic (man-made) carbon dioxide annually.

As the (IPCC) AR5 report has recently said, “the time for greater ambition is now.”

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

“We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the present and for the future.”

Why we have Global Warming

It has also been proven that as many gigatonnes of CO2 as cannot be processed annually by natural Earth systems, will linger in the atmosphere for up to 200 years. That means that the present unabsorbed accumulation is an extremely large amount of carbon dioxide which would take 40 years for the planet’s natural systems to process and absorb, if we permanently stopped every internal combustion engine and every man-made combustion source on the planet. We know that’s not going to happen.

This extra 600 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide is the ‘carbon hangover’ which began during the industrial revolution causing the atmosphere to retain more of the Sun’s heat as compared to the benchmark pre-industrial-era atmosphere. Accumulations of CO2 in the planet’s airmass have already increased the global mean temperature by nearly 2º C since the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1760.

There are other greenhouse gases more potent than CO2 which have even more Global Warming Potential (GWP). For instance, sulfur hexafluoride stays in the atmosphere for 3200 years and causes 23,900 times more global warming per tonne, as compared to carbon dioxide.

See a partial list of these gases below:

Global Warming Potentials chart
Global Warming Potentials chart shows different pollutants and their effects

If we had planted an extra 600 million trees forty years ago, we wouldn’t be facing an extra 600 gigatonnes of CO2 now, as a typical large tree can absorb 1 tonne of carbon dioxide per year converting much of it into life-giving oxygen in the process.

As per the IPCC AR5 update of March 31, while a number of things are going right in the energy sector in terms of advancing renewable energy, the lowering of pollution levels in many cities and adding green jobs to the economy, now is not the time to reduce our efforts thereby shirking our responsibilities to future generations.

What happens if we just ignore the problem?

Of course, we could just ignore the entire problem and spend more money on increasing health care costs, non-stop rebuilding of coastal shorelines, and the dual but related costs of severe weather and increasing food prices.

But here is what that looks like.

Climate Action vs. Inaction
The cost of Climate Action vs. Climate Inaction

Scientists have concluded that for each 1º C increase in the global mean temperature, the cost to the world economy is roughly $1 trillion dollars per year.

It’s already a foregone conclusion that we will see a global mean temperature increase of 2º C (minimum) 2001-2100 due to ever-increasing 21st-century accumulations of CO2. That future temperature increase will be in addition to the previous ~2º C increase which took place during the 240 years between 1760-2000.

What the discussion is all about these days, is capping the second global mean temperature increase to 2º C — instead of ‘policy drift’ allowing an even higher level of climate change to occur.

The energy status quo is no longer affordable

The energy status quo is simply no longer an option as we now discover that the cost of climate inaction is higher than the cost of climate action. Switching out of coal via renewable energy and increasing the energy efficiency of buildings and electrical grids might cost us $500 billion globally — but could cap our generation’s contribution to global warming at 2º C.

Interestingly, $500 billion is roughly equal to the annual subsidy paid to the global oil and gas industry, which totalled $550 billion last year.

The last anthropogenic ~2º C temperature increase took place over 240 years, from 1760-2000. The best-case scenario for us 2001-2100 is to hold the next anthropogenic temperature increase to no more than ~2º C (for a grand total increase of ~4º C increase over the 340 year period from 1760-2100). If all the stars were to align perfectly this goal is just barely possible.

But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. As the IPCC has said, “the time for greater ambition is now.”

Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) theme: Act Together, Think Creative

Next-up on the agenda for people who care about our planet, the health of our citizens, and the high costs to consumers — who are, after all, the ones footing the climate bill via higher taxes and higher food and health care costs — is the fifth Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) meet-up in South Korea May 12-13, 2014.

CEM5 Seoul, South Korea May 12-13, 2014

Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM5) group government ministers and representatives will meet May 12-13, 2014 in Seoul, South Korea, under the theme of “Act Together, Think Creative” which suggests increased collaboration and innovation by the 23 participating governments as the preferred way to achieve real climate action, culminating in a new international climate agreement in 2015.

From the CEM5 website:

With four years of work behind the CEM, this year’s gathering presents an opportunity to evaluate how the CEM has performed to date and plan for how this global forum can be more effective and ambitious going forward. As in years past, CEM5 will provide ministers with an opportunity to be briefed on the latest Tracking Clean Energy Progress report from the International Energy Agency, hear the status of global clean energy investment from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, participate in public-private roundtables on key crosscutting clean energy topics, and assess progress made through the 13 CEM initiatives. 

Most importantly, CEM5 will offer ministers an opportunity to discuss ways to increase collaboration and action for greater impact—to generate more rapid progress toward CEM’s overall goal of accelerating the transition to a global clean energy economy. The discussions will focus on identifying smart policies, programs, and innovative strategies to increase energy efficiency, enhance clean energy supply, and expand energy access.

CEM5 will feature six public-private roundtables on the following crosscutting clean energy topics:

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter at: @EVcentral

Vehicle to Grid connection saves money, stabilizes grid

by John Brian Shannon.

Nissan’s LEAF-to-Home programme is a tiny but great example of what a fleet of electric vehicles can do for an electrical grid, and it’s a programme that could theoretically be scaled-up to any size.

Such Vehicle to Grid systems are presently undergoing testing at various facilities around the world, and admirably, Nissan is the main driver of this technology so far.

In a Nissan office tower in Atsugi City, Japan, Nissan has six LEAF electric vehicles connected to the building’s electrical power system via Nissan’s PCS charging system. During the hours of peak electricity demand/peak pricing, the six LEAF batteries provide a substantial amount of power to the building, but are fully recharged and ready for driving by the end of each workday.

So far, Nissan reports no problems and they further report that these six LEAF’s have saved 25.6 KW of electricity (equivalent to $5000/year) at the Atsugi City office building.

Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some 25.6 KW per year -- saving $5000. per year in peak electricity costs.
Nissan LEAF testing in Atsugi City, Japan powers office building during peak electricity demand, saving some $5000. per year in ‘peak electricity rate’ costs. Image courtesy of Nissan.

Time to Scale it Up?

Imagine a large corporation, government department, delivery service, or other fleet that operates (let’s say) 12,000 cars, and each group of six cars saves them $5000. per year on peak electricity charges, as per the Nissan results. We’re talking savings of $10 million dollars per year.

Part of employee remuneration packages

Many organizations provide a ‘company vehicle’ as part of the employee remuneration plan, but why shouldn’t that organization ALSO save $5000. per each six cars on peak electricity charges per year, AND allow their employees to take the cars home at night to help the employee save money on their electricity bill (by plugging the car in and feeding off of the almost fully charged vehicle battery at home) as a further remuneration perk.

Hint to employees; Remember to retain enough battery power in the car to get to work in the morning, and then leave at the end of the workday with a ‘full charge’ courtesy of the company you work for. Yes, every workday of the year.

Not only does this minor perk save the employee from ever paying for ‘fuel’ as all the recharging is done at the office via the employer’s connection, but the corporation receives a very significant benefit when the LEAF is plugged in at the office by lowering annual electricity costs.

Assuming an organization has a ‘company car’ programme, this is the one employee perk that doesn’t cost the company any additional money, it saves the company money. For example, while a gasmobile costs the company $32,000. to purchase, the LEAF with PCS likewise costs the company $32,000. to purchase — but significantly, the LEAF saves the company $833. every year (or more) for the life of the car in electricity costs, and features much lower maintenance costs than a gasmobile. 

Your corporate fleet change-up

If your corporation’s vehicle fleet is comprised of one-thousand cars, you should get a nice promotion for suggesting that your corporation could save $833,000. (per year, every year) on it’s electricity bill, and simultaneously help it to stabilize the office building electricity flows, by switching the fleet to the Nissan LEAF and the Nissan LEAF PCS charging system as it becomes available.

Electric Vehicle batteries store incredible amounts of energy

Not only that, even with most of the fleet on the road during the day, the remaining connected vehicles could easily power the entire complex should a grid power outage occur. Your fellow employees might not realize that a major power failure has occurred unless they hear about it on the news channel.

While your competitors are off looking for flashlights and candles and checking to see if the phones still work, your company will continue to take orders for goods and services, and get the orders that your competitors normally would get, were they not in the dark.

Your boss will love you. Say it with me; “Promotion… plus bonus.” It has such a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

So, how much are those Nissan LEAF’s anyway?

With incentives and rebates included, the LEAF costs about the same as any comparable car (at least in the U.S. and Canada) especially once you factor in the (Nissan figure of $833. per year/per LEAF) peak demand electricity savings and much lower maintenance costsThe decision to choose the LEAF over a comparable gasmobile is a no-brainer, once the LEAF PCS charging station hits the market. 

*Depending what your local utility company charges during periods of peak demand, your corporation’s annual electricity savings could be less, or significantly more as peak rates rise over the coming years.*

The Microgrid Scenario

Where Vehicle to Grid battery storage might really shine is in the microgrid scenario. For this, we need to think about a remote island or town, located far from major electrical grids. So distant, that it would cost multi-millions, or even billions of dollars to run ‘pylons and powerlines’ to that remote location.

A surprising number of towns and small cities in Australia, China, Russia, and many African countries face this very dilemma. Towns or small cities are often remotely located for good reasons such as local resource extraction projects or agricultural production and would require multi-millions of grid connection dollars and lengthy timeframes for such infrastructure to be built.

Alternatively, on-site diesel generators could be employed (and often are) but come complete with a constant supply of diesel fuel tankers to feed the always-thirsty generators.

Both have been employed over recent decades to meet remote energy demand. In both scenarios the electricity is supplied to the remote location — but the economics don’t work and in both cases, the rest of the customer base ends up subsidizing the whole operation whether they realize it or not.

Where a (solar) microgrid is not connected to a larger grid but some of the cars remain plugged in during the day, much more of the electricity collected all day by the solar panels can be stored — thereby becoming available for later use.

It is typical of most solar panel arrays that they collect vastly more energy than most locations can utilize during the day, which then becomes wasted energy if it can’t be stored. Adding a fleet of usually plugged in electric vehicles to the equation changes that factor significantly. In that case, almost all of the power collected by the solar panels is stored for later use.

Scalability of Vehicle to Grid

Getting back to the ‘scalability’ of the Vehicle to Grid equation; Imagine if half of the cars in a large metropolitan area like Beijing, Tokyo, or Sao Paulo, were EV’s connected to the larger grid when they weren’t being driven. Say goodbye to fossil fuel power generation! Solar arrays and wind farms combined with V-to-G technology could power our cities and add plenty of capacity to our grids.

Oh, and parking meters, remember those? Well, those could be the new charge-up/charge-down stations, so that all cars can connect and contribute to the grid whenever they’re not being driven, yet retain ample charge for driving when their owners return.

Talk about transformative change!

If half of Beijing’s cars were electric vehicles instead of gasmobiles, many thousands of tons of airborne pollutants would no longer block the sunlight all day and be filtered through the lungs of Beijing residents 365 days of the year. And this could be done in many of the world’s major cities, not just Beijing. Clearly though, the air quality in some of China’s cities has significant room for improvement as the Chinese economy continues to thrive.

Just the health care savings alone would become monuments to visionary politicians who enact and promote such positive and ultimately, historic change.

Vehicle to Grid is such a transformative idea, it would be unthinkable to not pursue it. I fully expect the wonderful and accomplished C40 Cities Initiative to adopt V-to-G as a solution to the air pollution problem in many of the world’s cities and I have every hope for V-to-G to become one of the C40’s prime directives.

It might just prove to be what the doctor ordered for the health of residents in cities and towns everywhere.

The Promise of Vehicle to Grid technology

  1. Saving corporations thousands, or millions of dollars per year in peak demand electricity costs 
  2. Adding value to employee remuneration packages 
  3. Adding to grid stability and capacity
  4. Precluding the entry of thousands, or millions of tons of airborne pollution, thereby significantly helping to clear the skies in the world’s largest and most polluted cities 
  5. Lowering national health care costs and improved citizen health

That is the promise of Vehicle to Grid technology.

If you want cleaner air, lower electricity costs, a more stable grid with more capacity and lower health care costs for your region, email your politicians and tell them you want those benefits for your city, courtesy of Vehicle to Grid technology.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @EVcentral

Smart Microgrids – ‘Plug & Play’ power for communities

by John Brian Shannon

Smart microgrids represent the best opportunity for developing nations to bring reliable electricity to rural areas

Significant cost saving opportunities also arise by employing smart microgrid systems in developed countries and reliability of electricity is enhanced, as the vast majority of blackouts, brownouts, or other electricity interruptions arise from grid problems and not from the power plants which are often located hundreds of miles away from customers.

Microgrid graphic courtesy of GE.
Smart microgrid graphic for illustrative purposes only. Image courtesy of GE.

The Galvin Electricity Initiative defines smart microgrids as, “…modern, small-scale versions of the centralized electricity system. They achieve specific local goals, such as reliability, carbon emission reduction, diversification of energy sources, and cost reduction, established by the community being served. Like the bulk power grid, smart microgrids generate, distribute, and regulate the flow of electricity to consumers, but do so locally. Smart microgrids are an ideal way to integrate renewable resources at the community level and allow for customer participation in the electricity enterprise. They form the building blocks of the Perfect Power System.” — The Galvin Electricity Initiative

Not much of a factor a decade ago, microgrids are expected to explode into a $40 billion-a-year global business by 2020, according to Navigant Research, a clean-technology data and consulting company. In the U.S., about 6 gigawatts of electricity — enough to power as many as 4.8 million homes — will flow through microgrids by 2020. Reporting by Bloomberg

The microgrid market is heating up quickly, with deployments occurring around the world in a variety of application segments. Navigant Research forecasts that global annual microgrid capacity will increase from 685 Megawatts in 2013 to more than 4 Gigawatts by 2020 under a base scenario. Reporting by Navigant Research

Paul Orzeske, president of the Honeywell International Inc. says “We are seeing requests for proposals going up significantly, 30 to 40 percent higher than last year.” Honeywell built a $71 million microgrid for an FDA research center in Maryland and the agency is in the midst of a $213 million addition that will be online early next year. Reporting by Bloomberg

The industry is moving into the next phase of project development, focusing on how to develop projects on fully commercial terms. As the microgrid market is evolving, innovative solutions are coming to the fore. For example, two new subsegments – grid-tied utility distribution microgrids (UDMs) and direct current (DC) microgrids – are attracting increased market attention. Reporting by Navigant Research

The Navigant Research report is available for purchase by clicking Microgrid

Smart Microgrids Save Money and Lower Carbon Footprint

It must be said that one of the many benefits of a smart microgrid installation is the saving of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars per month, in electricity costs. One example is the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) smart microgrid system which saves that institution about $850,000. each month in electricity costs.

UCSD can also sell any excess power their smart microgrid produces at various times of the day or night to the main California grid through a net-metering connection.

U of C San Diego’s mixed conventional and renewable energy smart microgrid generates 92% of its electricity demand with 42 MegaWatts (MW) of peak power.  Not only does it save UCSD $10.2 million dollars per year, it adds valuable stability to the campus electricity service.

“Our campus does $1 billion a year in research,” said Byron Washom, the university’s director of strategic energy initiatives. “We have an electron microscope that every time we have a supply disruption, it takes six weeks to recalibrate. We can’t let that happen.”

These savings aren’t an anomaly. The FDA estimates it’s already cutting about $11 million a year off its electric bill through both self-generation and the ability to sell power back to the grid — savings that will rise to $25 million a year when an addition is completed in 2014. — Reporting by Bloomberg

We all know that saving $25 million dollars per year (at just one FDA office complex!) is a big deal. That’s a savings of over $2 million dollars, each and every month.

Incidentally, during Hurricane Sandy, as millions of people were forced to survive without electricity, the smart microgrid at the FDA research centre and at Co-Op City, a 45,000-resident housing cooperative in the Bronx, New York, kept the power flowing by automatically disconnecting from the obliterated grid and running in what’s called “island mode.” Reporting by Bloomberg

In the U.S.A. alone, electricity service interruptions cost the business community some $200 billion dollars per year. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has said that lost ‘business continuity’ (resulting from outages and electrical power quality issues) add another $80 billion to $150 billion to that figure.

Historic Utility Business Model Under Threat

Utility companies are feeling the pressure from numerous sources these days as renewable energy threatens their longstanding business model generally, and specifically, their Merit Order ranking, along with stricter environmental standards for energy producers. Now along comes smart microgrids to completely ruin their day.

However, some foresighted utilities see smart microgrids as an adjunct to their existing operations and as a way to add power generation capacity nearer to electricity demand centres, saving millions of dollars in the combined costs of land acquisition for new transmission line corridors, the initial ‘pylons and power line’ construction and annual maintenance.

Not to mention capturing some much needed green energy points with increasingly environmentally responsible consumers.

Some utilities are hedging their bets. With the help of $10 million in U.S. Energy Department and state grants, SDG&E has set up a microgrid in the remote desert town of Borrego Springs, about 90 miles northeast of San Diego. When a severe rainstorm knocked out utility power to the town last month, the microgrid’s collection of rooftop solar panels, micro-turbines and batteries was able to keep electricity flowing to nearly half the town’s customers, including buildings sheltering the elderly and ill from the desert heat. — Reporting by Bloomberg

Ultimately, whether smart microgrids are owned by foresighted utility companies seeking to protect market share and lower electrical transmission costs, or are owned by investor groups, cooperatives, individual investors, local governments, or any combination of those — multi-billions of dollars worth of microgrids are going to be installed by 2020.

Smart Microgrids are Powering Up

And even that $40 billion dollar business might just be the tiniest of microgrid beginnings if the stars align between local rooftop solar power producers, local wind farms, and local biomass power plants.

If utility companies fail to adapt to 21st century thinking by creating smart microgrids that serve the needs of their customers — people living in rural communities and small cities may no longer need standalone utility companies, and decide to set up their own electrical generation facilities.

Smart Microgrid in Sendai, Japan - Natural Gas plus Solar Power. Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy Berkeley Lab
Smart Microgrid in Sendai, Japan – Natural Gas plus Solar Power. “Perhaps the most well-known microgrid demonstration on this planet, The Sendai Microgrid Project was one of the four major New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) ones carried out in Japan between 2005 and 2008.” Image courtesy of U.S. Department of Energy Berkeley Lab

See also:

Nation’s Largest Microgrid Online

See the excellent UCSD microgrid video

Island of Opportunity: Microgrid Technology Comes to the Bay Area

Microgrids and “Micro-municipalization” Do they threaten the traditional utility business model?

Microgrids on the March: Utilities Are Building Out New Business Models to Make Islanding Work — GreenTech Media

Reinvent Fire: Change Energy Use Forever video  Quote from this video about the U.S. switch to renewable energy; “By investing $4.5 trillion we can save $9.5 trillion and make our energy problems history.”

IPCC says climate change brings risks and opportunities

by UNEP

IPCC Report - A Changing Climate Creates Pervasive Risk but Opportunities Exist for Effective Responses
 

IPCC Report: A Changing Climate Creates Pervasive Risk but Opportunities Exist for Effective Responses

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report today [March 31, 2014] that says the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The world, in many cases, is ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming.

The report, titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, from Working Group II of the IPCC, details the impacts of climate change to date, the future risks from a changing climate, and the opportunities for effective action to reduce risks. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.

The report concludes that responding to climate change involves making choices about risks in a changing world. The nature of the risks of climate change is increasingly clear, though climate change will also continue to produce surprises. The report identifies vulnerable people, industries, and ecosystems around the world. It finds that risk from a changing climate comes from vulnerability (lack of preparedness) and exposure (people or assets in harm’s way) overlapping with hazards (triggering climate events or trends). Each of these three components can be a target for smart actions to decrease risk.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “The latest science cited by the IPCC assessment provides conclusive scientific evidence that human activities are causing unprecedented changes in the Earth’s climate. It is time to take immediate and robust action to mitigate the impacts of climate change. The clock is ticking and time is not on our side. As recent studies show, greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates would induce changes in the oceans, ice caps, glaciers, the biosphere and other components of the climate system. Some of these changes would very likely be unprecedented over decades to thousands of years. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.”

“Climate change is a long term challenge but one that requires urgent action today, given the risks of a more that 2 degrees C temperature rise. For those who want to focus on the scientific question marks, that is their right to do so. But today, we need to focus on the fundamentals and on actions. Otherwise the risks we run will get higher with every passing day,” he added.

“We live in an era of man -made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of Working Group II. “In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face. Investments in better preparation can pay dividends both for the prese nt and for the future.”

Adaptation to reduce the risks from a changing climate is now starting to occur, but with a stronger focus on reacting to past events than on preparing for a changing future, according to Chris Field, Co-Chair of Working Group II.

“Climate -change adaptation is not an exotic agenda that has never been tried. Governments, firms, and communities around the world are building experience with adaptation,” Field said. “This experience forms a starting point for bolder, more ambitious adaptations that will be important as climate and society continue to change.”

Future risks from a changing climate depend strongly on the amount of future climate change. Increasing magnitudes of warming increase the likelihood of severe and pervasive impacts that may be surprising or irreversible.

“With high levels of warming that result from continued growth in greenhouse gas emissions, risks will be challenging to manage, and even serious, sustained investments in adaptation will face limits,” said Field.

Observed impacts of climate change have already affected agriculture, human health, ecosystems on land and in the oceans, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods. The striking feature of observed impacts is that they are occurring from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.

“The report concludes that people, societies, and ecosystems are vulnerable around the world, but with different vulnerability in different places. Climate change often interact s with other stresses to increase risk,” Field said.

Adaptation can play a key role in decreasing these risks, Barros noted. “Part of the reason adaptation is so important is that the world faces a host of risks from climate change already baked into the climate system, due to past emissions and existing infrastructure, ” said Barros.

Field added: “Understanding that climate change is a challenge in managing risk opens a wide range of opportunities for integrating adaptation with economic and social development and with initiatives to limit future warming. We definitely face challenges, but understanding those challenges and tackling them creatively can make climate -change adaptation an important way to help build a mo re vibrant world in the near -term and beyond.”

Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, said: “The Working Group II report is another important step forward in our understanding of how to reduce and manage the risks of climate change. Along with the reports from Working Group I and Working Group III, it provides a conceptual map of not only the essential features of the climate challenge but the options for solutions.”

The Working Group I report was released in September 2013, and the Working Group III report will be released in April 2014. The IPCC Fifth Assessment Report cycle concludes with the publication of its Synthesis Report in October 2014.

“None of this would be possible without the dedication of the Co -Chairs of Working Group II and the hundreds of scientists and experts who volunteered their time to produce this report, as well as the more than 1,700 expert reviewers worldwide who contributed their invaluable oversight,” Pachauri said. “The IPCC’s reports are some of the most ambitious scientific undertakings in human history, and I am humbled by and grateful for the contributions of everyone who make them possible.”

Watch UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner’s video from the IPCC ARG WGII Opening Session: Here

FURTHER RESOURCES

About the IPCC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change. It was set up in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to provide policymakers with regular assessments of the scientific basis of climate change, its impacts and future risks, and options for adaptation and mitigation.

Working Group II, which assesses impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, is co -chaired by Vicente Barros of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution for Science, USA. The Technical Support Unit of Working Group II is hosted by the Carnegie Institution for Science and funded by the government of the United States of America.

At the 28th Session of the IPCC held in April 2008, the members of the IPCC decided to prepare a Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). A Scoping Meeting was convened in July 2009 to develop the scope and outline of the AR 5. The resulting outlines for the three Working Group contributions to the AR5 were approved at the 31st Session of the IPCC in October 2009.

A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors, representing 70 countries, were selected to produce the Working Group II report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1729 expert and government reviewers provided comments on drafts of the report. For the Fifth Assessment Report as a whole, a total of 83 7 coordinating lead authors, lead authors, and review editors participated.

The Working Group II report consists of two volumes. The first contains a Summary for Policymakers, Technical Summary, and 20 chapters assessing risks by sector and opportunities for response. The sectors include freshwater resources, terrestrial and ocean ecosystems, coasts, food, urban and rural areas, energy and industry, human health and security, and livelihoods and poverty. A second volume of 10 chapters assesses risks and opportunities for response by region. These regions include Africa, Europe, Asia, Australasia, North America, Central and South America, Polar Regions, Small Islands, and the Ocean.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter at: @EVcentral