Worldchanging reports on renewables

August 6, 2008

Mapping the World’s Renewable Energy Potential

by Sarah Kuck

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/008318.html

As renewable energy technologies become more competitive, investing in them is becoming a more viable venture. Yet, uncertainties about cost and ROI are still keeping some investors at bay.

Wind blows, rain falls and the sun shines, but differently at different times and locations, making wind, hydroelectric and solar power dependent upon weather and climate systems. A new Northwest-based energy efficiency company, 3TIER, is using their science skills and computer smarts to remove some of that guesswork.

Over 90 percent of the renewable energies used for electricity generation are weather-driven; in other words, they are completely dependent on the weather/climate system for their fuel. So while these sources of renewable energy have the capability to liberate us from our dependence on fossil fuels, they introduce another complicating dependency: the weather. This dependency affects all aspects of weather-driven renewable energy projects: from proper placement to ongoing operation and integration.

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This map of the United States shows the amount of available solar power, ranging from from 4 (blue) to 5.5 (red) kWh/m/day.

The 3TIER team uses their technology-assisted powers of analysis to calculate the weather and climate and its impacts on renewable energy. The group customizes their forecasts with data from each client’s site to help them save money and optimize power. They take multiple readings from the site, for an extended period of time, and combine the reading with weather and climate knowledge for that region to tell wind farmers, for example, an estimate of how much energy they’ll be generating, and at what time.

The group recently finished helping oilman turned renewable energy propent T. Boone Pickens illustrate his national plan to help propel the U.S. energy economy with wind. Using wind maps from 3TIER, the Pickens Plan explains how the U.S. can use wind power to meet more than 20 percent of its electricity demand within 10 years. (View a video about the plan here).

3TIER is currently working on a project called REmapping the World, which combines their prediction technology and analysis with Google maps to assess solar and wind energy potential from locations around the world. So far, they have mapped North America, but they plan to map the renewable energy potential of the entire world by 2010.

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Take a FirstLook at the project’s “Find Wind Fast” function. Here clients from renewable energy project operators to developers, financiers to marketers, can select the height of a proposed turbine and its location to get an estimated read on how much wind power is in that area. For more exact details, clients can order custom reports that provide information like monthly windspeed and power capacity, hourly windspeed and power distribution and more.

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But you don’t need to be one of their clients to play around with the maps, and it is pretty fun to look at the potential from afar as well as to click around and see how much specific potential lies where.

Potential just happens to be the perfect word to describe this project, this company and the renewable energy movement. Being able to more accurately estimate how much we can depend on renewable energy systems will only aid in their much needed proliferation, and hopefully, forecasting where the wind will blow will only become more valuable with time.

Image credits: The 3TIER Group


Worldchanging Summit Blogging – Ecocity Highlights

April 28, 2008


Highlights from the 7th EcoCity World Summit

http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/007996.html

 

In order to transform our cities, we need to move from ego-culture to eco-culture.”

—Rusong Wang
President, Ecological Society of China

The EcoCity World Summit (see my intro here) wrapped up on Saturday afternoon in San Francisco. An incredible assemblage of the world’s brightest minds that are working to build greener cities and towns gathered for three and a half days of presentations, discussions, city tours, arts & culture, and celebration. As an urban planner for whom the sustainable cities movement is not only a passion but also a raison d’etre, professionally speaking, I found the conference to be nothing short of mind-blowing.

A vast amount of information and ideas was exchanged, and after letting it all sink in for a day or so I’ve summarized what I thought were some of the most interesting concepts and initiatives presented at EcoCity.

The Big Picture for Saving the Planet: Sustainable Cities

Amazingly, somehow I have worked as a city planner in Oakland, California for almost a year without knowing that right here in my own neighborhood is one of the leading green city advocates in the country, if not the world: Richard Register. Dubbed “EcoCity Master” by his conference co-organizer, Rusong Wang of China, Register is the President of non-profit EcoCity Builders.

Looking critically at the environmental movement, Register asserts that humanity is “winning the battle but losing the war.” Despite lots of successes – stronger environmental legislation, recycling programs in most metropolitan areas in the U.S., and the like – ecological degradation continues and is, in fact, worsening. That’s because, says Register, we’re not paying attention to the big things. And the big things, first and foremost, have to do with the design and functioning of our cities. Urban population is on the rise the world over, and cities are by far the greatest sources of natural resource consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other pollutants. For this reason, a sustainable global future cannot be achieved without re-thinking and redesigning cities to reduce their ecological impact.

An important point that Register makes is that the eco-city concept is not a new phenomenon – it’s actually hundreds or even thousands of years old. The old city, the expression of humankind still living more or less in harmony with our natural environment, was much more ecologically sustainable. So working now toward eco-cities is really more of a reclaiming of past ideas about city form and function, as well as a revival of smart and ecological alternatives that have been neglected or suppressed for the past few decades. “All the solutions are here,” says Register.

Americans are Connecting the Dots

Parris Glendening is the former governor of Maryland and the current president of the Smart Growth Leadership Institute. His talk on the importance of compact, dense urban land use patterns that are well served by multiple and sustainable modes of transportation – a theme that was well covered at the summit – was informative. But for me the most insightful of Glendening’s contributions to the dialogue was his observation that mainstream Americans are starting to “connect the dots.”

What he’s referring to is the shift that is starting to take hold in our collective consciousness about the degradation of our quality of life and how this relates to issues like land use and transportation that, in the past, have seemed irrelevant to the layperson. But “common folks,” says Glendening, are starting to understand that our ever-diminishing free time, the loss of sense of community, rising gas prices, the sub-prime mortgage implosion, and a whole range of other current societal problems are all pieces of a bigger puzzle. We’re starting to understand that all of this points toward a fundamental problem with the way America has designed and developed our communities over the past 60+ years. This shift in thinking among the American mainstream is beginning to bring about the popular and political will to rectify our past errors.

EcoDensity in Vancouver

No serious discussion about urban sustainability goes far without somebody bringing up Vancouver, British Columbia. Vancouver is highly lauded and well studied for its achievements in city planning and sustainability. It ranks #1 on many a list of the the world’s most livable cities. But like a true overachiever, Vancouver says it still isn’t doing enough.

Planning Director Brent Toderian spoke about the City’s new EcoDensity initiative – a groundbreaking public outreach campaign and dialogue about what he calls “strategic densification.” Toderian explains that from a physical standpoint, including the street grid system, zoning code, etc, Vancouver is ready to accept higher density development on a large scale. But the more crucial question (and city planners everywhere will nod their heads in understanding) is, is the city ready to accept density from a political standpoint?

This was the impetus behind the EcoDensity initiative, which involves lots of media coverage and extensive public participation. The goal is to increase public understanding about the ecological value and necessity of denser urban areas, and to allay some of the common fears and misconceptions about density. The campaign is using innovative tools, like community publications, video, and a great website that summarizes the deliberative public process.

Curitiba, Brazil: It’s About the Kids

Jaime Lerner is the man behind one of the world’s greatest urban success stories as the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. He was the highlight of the summit for me (and not just because he drank out of my water bottle since they didn’t stock disposable cups at the water dispenser in the exhibition hall).

One of the most memorable moments of the conference was the recounting of how Lerner, a former architect, came up with the idea for the bus-boarding tubes that help make Curitiba’s transit system so efficient and successful. He was thinking about the design of a subway system, with its tunnels, cylindrical form, and stations for entering and exiting the trains, and started to move his hands back and forth in the shape of a subway tunnel. It seemed to Lerner that building an efficient transportation system on the ground was simply a matter of bringing the subway-boarding concept to the surface. That’s brilliance in action, if you ask me!

Perhaps what endeared Lerner to me the most was his philosophy that making a better city starts with the children. A lot of effort has been made in Curitiba to teach environmental ethics and stewardship to children in the schools from an early age. And then, Lerner explains, the kids teach their parents. “This is the fastest way to make people understand that it’s possible to make their lives better.”


Live Blogging Day 1 @ Ecocity 2008

April 26, 2008

From our friends at worldchanging:

Cities are part of what it means to be human. We need to build cities as much as birds need to build nests. And if we want to have a future, then EcoCities must be part of who we are.”

—Paul Downton, Architect, Adelaide, Australia
Greetings from the EcoCity World Summit in San Francisco!

Delegates from around the world are gathering this week in San Francisco to share ideas and innovations, network, and advance the international movement for sustainable cities. This is the 7th international EcoCity Summit, hosted by Oakland-based EcoCity Builders and partner organizations. The conference is back in the Bay Area for the first time since the first EcoCity Summit took place in 1990, having been hosted since then in Australia, Senegal, Brazil, and China.

Why focus on the city in searching for solutions to environmental problems? The conference’s co-convener, Richard Register, President of EcoCity Builders, explains that cities are “directly connected to the state of the planet’s environment as well as to local problems and solutions, both ecological and economic.” The EcoCity World Summit brings together key innovators – elected officials, scientists, business leaders, architects, city planners, non-profit organizations, and activists – who are shaping the global conversation around ecological and sustainable cities and villages.

Inspiration, energy, and a renewed sense of hope are running high as some of the world’s foremost leaders in the transformation toward sustainable urban development share their success stories, strategies, and insights. Richard Register framed the dialogue by asserting that cities could run on a fraction of the energy – and generate a fraction of the ecological impact – that they currently do if they were really well-designed, lean, and efficient. For Register, an essential question in fulfilling this mission is, “Where do innovative ideas come from?”

Last night’s keynote address was given by Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, which is widely renowned as one of the most successful models for sustainable urban design and planning. For Lerner, innovation is simply starting. Drawing on his nearly 40 years of experience with rethinking the concept of the city, Lerner sees urban areas not as challenges or threats to ecological sustainability, but rather as opportunities, boldly claiming, “The city is the solution.”

Curitiba’s success is based on a broad and interdisciplinary approach, centered around the core concepts of good design, mobility, and social cohesion. But Lerner also attributes much of the city’s progress to a short-term approach that he calls “urban acupuncture” – creating focal points like parks, street markets, cultural facilities, and other great urban spaces, that produce immediate and tangible results.

EcoCity attendees also heard last night from leaders from San Francisco’s delegation, Mayor Gavin Newson and Department of the Environment Director Jared Blumenfeld. Newsom and Blumenfeld shared an impressive list of San Francisco’s accomplishments in promoting sustainability, and emphasized the importance of political leadership and the need to take significant political risks in advancing an environmental agenda.

The EcoCity World Summit continues through Saturday, April 26th. Stay tuned for more updates over the next few days….

 


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