Sustainable Energy Policy to save EU €81 bn/year by 2030

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Accenture says a sustainable pan-European energy policy could save consumers €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030 and result in a cleaner utility grid model.
Accenture says a sustainable energy policy could save European electricity consumers €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030.

A recent report authoured by Accenture for EURELECTRIC says that if European nations work together towards an integrated and pan-European energy policy it could generate savings for electricity consumers between €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030 and the result would be a cleaner utility grid model.

Accenture is calling on European governments to phase-out renewable energy targets and renewable energy programme spending — replacing both with a carbon trading scheme, one that essentially rewards low carbon energy producers and penalizes high carbon energy producers.

All of this is happening during a time of unprecedented change within the European energy industry.

In the fascinating German example, that country shut down much of its nuclear power generation rather than spend multi-billions to upgrade its aging and oft-troubled nuclear fleet. Consequently, Germany is now burning record amounts of coal and natural gas to replace that lost generation capacity — in addition to the installation of record amounts of wind, solar and biomass capacities to the German grid.

In the decades following WWII, German utility companies operated in a cozy, sheltered environment. But few knew how expensive it was to operate and maintain on account of massive government subsidies and preferential treatment of the utility industry. German consumers never had it so good and likewise for sleepy German energy giants, which have now awoken to find that the energy picture has changed dramatically in little over a decade.

Hence, even more subsidies were employed to counter for the loss of German nuclear power via Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) for wind, solar and biomass capacity additions to the grid, partially financed by a hefty nuclear decommissioning fee added to every German electricity bill.

At least in Germany, it turns out that while nuclear has practically disappeared, and with no fuel costs to worry about, renewable energy combined to lower German electricity rates during the hours of the day that wind and solar are active, causing downward pressure on electricity rates. At the same time, German utilities burned record amounts of brown coal and expensive Russian natural gas to meet total demand which caused upward spikes in the electricity rate during the hours of the day that coal and natural gas were required to meet total demand.

In simple terms, the removal of nuclear from the German energy mix has resulted in higher electricity rates — not because some of that capacity was replaced by renewable energy — but because significant fossil fuel burning was required to meet demand, combined with nuclear decommissioning costs.

Were German politicians and their voters wrong to shut down the country’s nuclear power plants? Not a bit. Germany’s nuclear power plants were problem-plagued and the costs to bring all 19 reactors up to modern standards were prohibitive. Shutting down the German nuclear fleet was unfortunate perhaps, but necessary.

German consumers continue to yearn for clean energy and low energy costs. Unsurprisingly, the German public has reacted to energy that seems to be getting dirtier and more expensive by the day, and the massive nuclear decommissioning costs which will continue long past 2022, perhaps until 2045.

After the loss of nuclear, the German energy grid initially became cleaner with the addition of wind and solar, but then became dirtier than ever as record amounts of brown coal and natural gas were burned! Es ist zum weinen.

And that’s just the story in Germany. Every European partner country has its own story to tell in an electricity market that is undergoing unprecedented and rapid change — and each country’s electricity market is as different from each other as they are from the German example. Although each story is different, the net result is the same; The energy industry across Europe must adapt to the loss of (some) nuclear and the growing consumer disenchantment with fossil fuels, and to the huge consumer driven additions of renewable energy to the grid. And it must be done in a cost-effective way or utility companies and their respective governments will face consumer backlash.

Utility companies shocked by the unprecedented and rapid changes thrust upon them by nuclear shutdowns and the multiple demands of consumers are hoping that a harmonized set of rules across Europe will allow them to meet rising electricity demand.

If you look at what utilities really want, it is one harmonized set of rules across Europe. Europe is one market; it’s one playing field, and utilities really benefit from a harmonized set of rules.

It is like playing football; if you play football,you don’t want different rules for different parts of the field. — Sander van Ginkel, Managing Director, Accenture Utilities

“European electricity prices are rising fast. As a result, the overall increase in energy expenditure is putting mounting pressure on residential end-users and undermining the competitiveness of European industry. The implementation of the energy transition has so far lacked optimization on a pan-European scale. Without a concerted effort to more effectively manage the costs of the energy transition, expenditure on electricity and gas in 2030 could be 50 percent higher than it is today.

A step-change in the reshaping of the European energy system is needed — by reconfirming the European power sector’s support for Europe’s sustainability agenda through an optimized approach that avoids unnecessary costs. Doing so would put significant benefits within reach: our analysis shows that implementing an integrated set of levers could generate net savings of €27 to €81 billion per year by 2030. Such savings could be achieved by further integrating energy markets and the supporting regulatory framework at a European level and by leveraging flexibility throughout the electricity value chain — provided utilities, governments, regulators and consumers can forge a joint commitment to work together.” — Quoted from the Accenture/EURELECTRIC report

Accenture’s report says that Europe’s utilities must meet customer demands for more energy, but make it cheaper and cleaner and that the existing grid model will fail unless changes are made. Accenture has suggested four main ways to achieve these goals.

  1. Optimizing renewable energy systems
  2. Market integration
  3. Active system management
  4. Demand response and energy saving

“The restructuring of the European electricity system will have to be carried out cost-effectively if we are to gain the support and trust of energy consumers. This study shows that, with the right policies in place, the energy transition could cost each European citizen over € 100 less a year than if we continue with business as usual.” Hans ten BERGE Secretary General. Union of the Electricity Industry – EURELECTRIC

It seems reasonable that all of Europe’s utility companies acting together could arrive at a better solution. Complementary and overlapping energy capabilities may prove to be the model that works for Europe, as opposed to the direct competition model favoured in the U.S.

A carbon tax which reflects the true societal costs of fossil fuels could be a just solution to Europe’s present grid malaise. However, it is doubtful that a carbon tax will ever reflect the true cost to society of fossil fuels — which have been estimated to cost €30 per tonne of CO2 — but a carbon mechanism may well provide the impetus to foster a new and better European energy paradigm.

No matter the how the equation looks, it is sometimes only the answer that matters. A cleaner energy mix and reasonable electricity rates within a stable electricity grid is something that all sides can cheer for. How very European!

See the Accenture video (click here)

Smoothing the Flow of Solar Power in California

by Dr. Imre GyukU.S. Department of Energy.

This EnerVault flow battery stores power from the solar panels and releases it as needed. | Photo courtesy of EnerVault.
This EnerVault flow battery stores solar power from the solar panels and releases it as needed. | Photo courtesy: EnerVault.
________________________________________

Yesterday, an almond grove in California’s Central Valley hosted the opening of the world’s largest iron-chromium redox flow battery. Originally pioneered by NASA, these flow batteries are emerging as a promising way to store many hours of energy that can be discharged into the power grid when needed.

Traditionally, electric generation follows the demands of the daily load cycle. But as more sources of renewable generation such as solar and wind are integrated into the power grid, balancing demand and generation becomes more complicated. With energy storage, we can create a buffer that allows us to even out rapid fluctuations and provide electricity when needed without having to generate it at that moment.

Unlike other types of batteries, which are packaged in small modules, iron-chromium flow batteries consist of two large tanks that store liquids (called electrolytes) containing the metals. During discharge, the electrolytes are pumped through an electrochemical reaction cell and power becomes available. To store energy, the process is reversed. With Recovery Act funding from the Department’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, California energy storage company EnerVault has optimized the system to create a more efficient battery.

This pilot project in Turlock, California, can provide 250kW over a four-hour period, helping to ensure the almond trees stay irrigated and the farm is able to save money on its electrical bills.

This is how the system works:

The almond trees are most thirsty between noon and 6 p.m. The farm uses nearly 225 kW of electricity to power the pumps that get the water to the trees. Onsite solar photovoltaic panels can supply 186kW at peak power, not quite enough energy for watering the trees throughout the day. The balance could be taken from the grid, but grid electricity is most expensive from noon to 6 p.m.

This is where storage enters.

At night electricity is inexpensive, so the batteries begin to charge up. In the morning the solar panels help top them up the rest of the way. Then, during expensive peak periods, the needs of the trees are satisfied by solar and flow batteries — renewable energy optimized through storage.

While the Turlock facility is a unique application, flow batteries are not just for thirsty almond trees. For example, they could be an especially good solution for small island grids such as Hawaii, where severe wind ramps or rapid changes in photovoltaic generation can destabilize the local grid, or at military bases that need to maintain mission-critical functions.

Similarly, flow batteries paired with renewables can be used in a resilient microgrid that can continue to operate when disasters strike and power outages ensue.

In the face of changing climate conditions, energy storage and grid resiliency have become more critical than ever. Flow battery technology is expected to play a vital role in supporting the grid both in California and across the U.S.

Additional Information:

Dr. Imre Gyuk
Dr. Imre Gyuk is the Energy Storage Program Manager, Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Iron-chromium flow batteries store liquids, called electrolytes, that are pumped   through an electrochemical reaction cell to release power. The process is reversed in order to store energy. This means that the batteries can store energy from the grid, and release it when the load is heaviest.

Variability of Renewable Energy concerns not fact-based

by John Brian Shannon

Originally published on JBSNews.com

Merit Order ranking control room
Most utility companies have Merit Order ranking control rooms similar to this one where decisions are made about which power producer will contribute to the grid in real time. Microprocessors make the instant decisions, while humans are present to oversee operations and plan ahead.

 

On the Variability of Renewable Energy; The ongoing argument about renewable energy additions to national electrical grids.

Solar Variability

Some people argue that solar photovoltaic (solar panels) produce ‘variable’ electricity flows — and they assume that makes solar unsuitable for use in our modern electric grid system.

And it’s true, the Sun doesn’t shine at night. Also, if you are discussing only one solar panel installation in one farmer’s field, then yes, there is the variability of intermittent cloud cover which may temporarily lower the output of that particular solar installation.

But when grid-connected solar arrays are installed over vast areas in a large state like Texas, or throughout the Northeastern U.S.A. for example, it all balances out and no one goes without power as solar panels produce prodigious amounts of electricity during the high-demand daytime hours. If it’s cloudy in one location thereby lowering solar panel outputs, then it is sunny in 100 other solar locations within that large state or region of the country.

So, solar ‘variability’ disappears with many widely scattered installations and interconnection with the grid. So much for that accusation.

NOTE: The marginal ranking for solar is (0) and that ranking never varies. (More on this later)

Wind Variability

The situation with wind power is essentially the same, One major difference though; In many parts of the world the wind tends to blow at its most constant rate at night, which helps to add power to the grid while the Sun is asleep.

In fact, complementary installations of solar and wind help to balance each other through the day/night cycle — and through the changing seasons. There is even an optimum solar panel capacity to wind turbine capacity installation ratio, but I won’t bore you with it.

NOTE: The marginal ranking for wind is (0) and that ranking never varies.

Natural Gas Variability

What? Natural gas is not variable!

Oh really? Over the course of the past 60 years, how has the natural gas price per gigajoule changed? Got you there! The natural gas price has increased by orders of magnitude and wild price fluctuations are quite common.

OK, that’s not ‘output variability’ but it is a variable factor with regard to energy pricing. And that’s a variable that actually matters to consumers.

Natural gas prices have swung wildly over the years forcing utilities to peg their rates to the highest expected natural gas rate. No wonder investors love natural gas!

So there is ‘supply variability’ and ‘rate variability’ with natural gas, which is why it is often the last choice for utility companies trying to meet daily demand. Gas is a good but expensive option and it comes with its own variability baggage.

We won’t even talk about the associated CO2 cost to the environment. (OK, it’s about $40 per tonne of CO2 emitted)

Coal variability

Not to the same degree as natural gas, but coal also faces price swings and potential supply disruptions — again forcing utility companies to set their rates against unforeseeable labour strikes at a mine, a railway, or shipping line — and against coal mine accidents that can shut down a mine for weeks, or against market-generated price spikes.

These things are impossible to foresee, so this ‘averaging up’ of the price results in higher energy bills for consumers and better returns for investors.

Yes, there is variability in coal supply, coal supply lines, coal power plant maintenance cycles which can have a plant offline for weeks, and market pricing. These things can affect total annual output, yet another kind of ‘variability’. (Again, that doesn’t factor-in the other costs to society such as increased healthcare costs from burning coal which releases tonnes of airborne heavy metals, soot, and nasty pollutants besides CO2 — which some estimates put at $40-60 per tonne emitted — in addition to the environmental cost of $40 per tonne of CO2 emitted)

NOTE: Should we talk here about how much water coal plants use every year? More than all the other energy producers put together, and then some!

Hydro power variability

What? Hydro power is not variable!

Oh yes it is. Nowadays, many hydro dams in the U.S. can barely keep water in the reservoir from August through November. They cannot produce their full rated power in a drought, they cannot produce their full rated power in late summer, they often cannot produce power during maintenance, or during earthquake swarms. Just sayin’ hi California!

An impressive body of water behind the dam is meaningless when the water level isn’t high enough to ‘spill over the dam’. If the water level isn’t high enough to spin the turbines then all that water is just for show. Take a picture!

“In 1984, the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River generated enough power on its own to provide electricity for 700,000 homes because the water level of Lake Mead behind the dam was at its highest point on record. But since 1999, water levels have dropped significantly, and Hoover Dam produces electricity for only about 350,000 homes.” — CleanTechnica

 And then there is this problem; Global warming and its resultant drought conditions mean that some dams are essentially ‘finished’ as power producing dams for the foreseeable future.

Again, we have output variability; But this time it is; 1) lower power output due to reduced reservoir levels caused by anthropogenic drought and 2) the time of year that hydro dams cannot produce their full rated power.

Price variability: This is what Merit Order ranking is about

Merit Order ranking is a system used by most electric utilities to allow different types of electrical power plants to add power to the electric grid in real time. Thanks to a computerized grid, this occurs on a minute-by-minute basis every day of the year.

In the German example, electricity rates drop by up to 40% during the hours in which solar or wind are active, and this is what Merit Order ranking is all about; Using the cheapest available electricity source FIRST — and then filling the gaps with more expensive electrical power generation.

Solar and wind electricity are rated at (0) on the Merit Order scale making them the default choice for utility companies when the Sun is shining, or the wind is blowing, or both.

Why? No fuel cost. That’s the difference. And bonus, no environmental or healthcare costs with solar and wind either.

Once all of the available solar and wind Merit Order ranking (0) capacity is brought online by the utility company, then (1) nuclear, (2) coal, and (3) natural gas (in that order) are brought online, as required to match demand, according to the marginal cost of each type of energy. (German Merit Order rankings)

NOTE: In the U.S. the normal Merit Order rankings are; (0) solar and wind, (1) coal, (2) nuclear, and (3) natural gas, although this can change in some parts of the United States. Merit Order is based on cost per kWh and different regions of the country have different fuel costs.

(The one cost that is never factored-in to the kWh price is the cost of disposal for nuclear ‘spent fuel’ and for good reason, but that’s a discussion for a different day)

The Fraunhofer Institute found – as far back as 2007 – that as a result of the Merit Order ranking system – solar power had reduced the price of electricity on the EPEX exchange by 10 percent on the average, with reductions peaking at up to 40 percent in the early afternoon when the most solar power is generated.

Here’s how the Merit Order works.

All available sources of electrical generation are ranked by their marginal costs, from cheapest to most expensive, with the cheapest having the most merit.

The marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional unit of electricity. Electricity sources with a higher fuel cost have a higher marginal cost. If one unit of fuel costs $X, 2 units will cost $X times 2. This ranking is called the order of merit of each source, or the Merit Order.

Using Merit Order to decide means the source with the lowest marginal cost must be used first when there is a need to add more power to the grid – like during sunny afternoon peak hours.

Using the lowest marginal costs first was designed so that cheaper fuels were used first to save consumers money. In the German market, this was nuclear, then coal, then natural gas.

But 2 hours of sunshine cost no more than 1 of sunshine: therefore it has a lower marginal cost than coal – or any source with any fuel cost whatsoever.

So, under the Merit Order ranking of relative marginal costs, devised before there was this much fuel-free energy available on the grid, solar always has the lowest marginal cost during these peaks because two units of solar is no more expensive than one. – Susan Kraemer

It’s as simple as this; With no fuel cost, solar and wind cost less. Although solar and wind are expensive to construct initially (but not as expensive as large hydro-electric dams or large nuclear power plants!) there are no ongoing fuel costs, nor fuel transportation costs, nor fuel supply disruptions, nor lack of rainfalls, to factor into the final retail electricity price.

As solar panel and wind turbine prices continue to drop thereby encouraging more solar and wind installations, we will hear more about Merit Order ranking and less about variability. And that’s as it should be, as all types of grid energy face at least one variability or another.

Only solar, wind, hydro-electric, and nuclear have a predictable kWh price every day of the year. Coal, natural gas, and bunker fuel, do not. And that’s everything in the energy business.

Although utility companies were slower than consumers to embrace renewable energy, many are now seeing potential benefits for their business and henceforth things will begin to change. So we can say goodbye to the chatter about the Variability of Renewable Energy and utility companies can say goodbye fuel-related price spikes.

Buckle up, because big changes are coming to the existing utility model that will benefit consumers and the environment alike.

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @JBSNews_com

Modi changes India’s national conversation with Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon.

Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi of India. Image courtesy of: www.narendramodi.in
Prime Minister-elect Narendra Modi of India. Image courtesy: www.narendramodi.in

India’s newly-elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi says 400 million Indian citizens presently living without electrical service in rural areas of the country will have electricity within five years via upcoming, massive investments in solar power.

Not only that, but the country’s various electrical grids (which are not necessarily connected to each other, nor to the main national grid) will benefit significantly from thousands of distributed solar installations by adding to overall capacity and helping to stabilize weaker parts of the infrastructure.

PM-elect Modi sees no reason why each rooftop in the country cannot install a number of solar panels. Indeed, when millions of rooftops are involved with an average of 10 panels per rooftop (for example), and plenty of land that is unsuitable for growing crops and entire canal systems are already covered with solar panels, you know big numbers are coming.

So, what could India do with 1 billion solar panels?

For starters, every home and business in the country could have reliable (daytime) electricity. Many towns and villages in remote areas would have electrical power for the first time in their history, thereby allowing them entry into the world’s knowledge-based economy. With the advent of electricity, education and commerce should flourish and easy access to online government services will offer significant benefit to many millions of India’s citizens.

And for locations with home-battery backup or diesel-backup power, 24-hour-per-day electricity will become the norm. Employment and productivity in these regions could be expected to rise dramatically and online medical advice could be a lifesaver for those who live in remote areas. All of these are good things to have in a rapidly developing nation.

Then there is the possibility of electrical power sales between electrical power producers and energy consumers of all sizes, whether neighbour-to-neighbour or direct-to-utility, along the projected pathways of the constantly evolving grid system. Finally, (daytime) surplus electricity sales to neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Bhutan might become commonplace and profitable.

Mr. Modi is taking on an unparalleled task, fraught with challenges. Here is a comment on the present state of affairs in India as it relates to the proposed rural electrification of the country.

Four hundred million Indians, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined, lack electricity. An official of India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, recently said that his government wants every home to be able to run at least one light bulb by 2019. Administrations have made similar claims numerous times since India gained independence in 1947, but this time renewable power sources could bring the longstanding promise closer to a realistic vision.

In a sprawling, diverse country of more than 1.2 billion residents this task is tantamount to a second green revolution, the first being agricultural advances that relieved famine across the subcontinent in the middle of the 20th century. — ThinkProgress

India’s utility industry is at a ‘tipping point’

The Indian utility industry is comprised of a mishmash of coal-fired generation, less than reliable nuclear power plants noted for their high maintenance costs, oil-fired power generation, along with some hydro-electric dams and biomass power generation. The ‘pylons and powerlines’ component of the national grid in India is in need of a complete overhaul. On top of all that, the fossil and nuclear power producers have been heavily subsidized for decades and theft of electricity continues to be a multi-billion dollar problem.

Prior to the Indian election, the country’s utility industry was summed up by industry expert, S.L. Rao;

Power retailers were behind on 155 billion rupees ($2.5 billion) of payments to their suppliers as of Jan. 31, reducing their ability to provide electricity to customers. Blackouts may spread as state utilities in Delhi, Haryana and Maharashtra slash consumer bills in a populist wave before elections. That’s jeopardizing a $31 billion government bailout of the industry, which requires companies to boost rates.

“The power sector needs tough politics, and the only person in politics today who might be capable of that kind of toughness is Modi,” said S.L. Rao, the head of India’s central electricity regulator from 1998 to 2001, according to his website.

The Indian utility industry “has reached a stage where either we change the whole system quickly or it will collapse.” Rao, who was appointed to the regulatory body by an independent committee, said he maintains no political affiliation. — Bloomberg

On the bright side however, India’s outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had begun a process to inform citizens of the benefits of renewable energy and was instrumental in promoting a 4 GigaWatt(GW) solar park being built in four stages. At present it is only partially operational, with 1GW of power flowing now and construction of the three remaining stages continues at a brisk pace. When completed, it will easily be the largest solar park in the world.

Dr. Singh also directed policy towards massive wind power capacity additions, with major offshore wind installations due to come online in 2015. However, even with the efforts of PM Singh, only 4% of total electrical generation came from renewable energy in 2013. Prime Minister Singh’s policy goal of 20GW of solar by 2022 looks likely to be superceded by PM-elect Modi. Perhaps in dramatic fashion.

Tulsi Tanti, Chairman of the Pune India based wind power company The Suzlon Group, told the newswire today that, “the BJP-led government will provide an environment conducive for growth and investments, with major reforms in the infrastructure and renewable energy sector. This is important as India’s economic environment will act as a catalyst in reviving the global economy.” — Forbes

It is time to roll up our sleeves and get to work

Hundreds of thousands of direct and related jobs are expected during the 2014-2024 Indian renewable energy boom. And, bonus for consumers, the falling cost of solar and wind power electricity rates will have an overall deflationary effect on the national economy.

Later, as solar and wind power begin to displace fossil and nuclear power, declining healthcare costs, improved crop yields, cleaner air in cities resulting in a better quality of life for citizens — the new and stable energy paradigm will remove many of the historic constraints on the country and its people, allowing India to become all that it can and should be.

At this point, it looks like India’s transition to renewable energy may happen quickly and turn out to be the good-news story of the decade with massive economic, environmental, and human health ramifications — not just for India but for the region and the world. Hats off to India!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: @JBSsaid

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

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