After 4 years of severe drought and this year’s winter snowpack at a pathetic 8% of typical levels, it’s obvious that California will have to find real solutions as populations rise and the effects of climate change worsen. We rely on the High Sierras’ snowmelt throughout the year for everything from our green lawns and fresh food (throughout the US) to our hydroelectric power.
Governor Jerry Brown’s recent mandate for cutting water use by 25 percent was overdue and necessary, but communities will have to step up conservation efforts in a big way. Ever since the Governor’s big announcement ideas for how best to curb water use have been flowing. So why should PV solar power generation be at the top of the list? What does water conservation have to do with solar?
Solar is an increasingly important solution to water scarcity as well as energy security. With no sign of a solar slowdown in California—we are the first state to get 5% of its energy from solar—strong generation records are likely in coming years. While solar has been included in some communities’ plans to reduce water use (such as in the Los Angeles “pLAn“), many people are unaware of this solution. Communities, individuals and businesses installing rooftop solar can make a real positive difference for California’s dire water situation.
Run on Sun has been following the exciting developments of Solar Impulse since it’s prototype began its groundbreaking test flight across America in 2013.
After the lessons learned from the American flight, an upgraded Solar Impulse 2 was developed with a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, more than 17,000 solar cells and 1,300 pounds of batteries. Amazingly, the aircraft still weighs no more than an average car!
Finally, this morning, on March 9th, 2015, Solar Impulse 2 and her team were ready to embark on their record-breaking aeronautical journey around the world. The first leg officially departed from Abu Dhabi at 7:12AM UTC+4. Landing in Muscat, Oman at 20:13PM UC+4 pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg rested for a few hours before continuing onward to Ahmedabad, India.
With a top speed of 50 mph, the entire circuit is planned to take four or five months before returning safely back to Abu Dhabi. You can follow their flight online as well as chat with the mission control center and view cockpit measurements like solar battery storage and pilot heart rate!
Solar Impulse is not only about accomplishing the first round-the-world solar flight. Behind the development of this technological feat lies a very powerful message. Piccard and Borschberg are using each landing as an opportunity to reach out to governments, NGOs, education centers, and the broader public to share what is possible with clean technologies.
“We shouldn’t be listing targets, but rather solutions – ways of meeting those targets. Because these solutions exist. Our society could already cut energy consumption in half by replacing old, outdated, polluting technology with clean technologies. Couldn’t we, all together, persuade governments to modify the legal framework so as to encourage the replacement of polluting technologies by cleantechs? That would at least make debates constructive and international climate conferences interesting.” - Bertrand Piccard
In conjunction with Solar Impulse’s round-the-world flight, the pilots started an online campaign called “Future is Clean”. In December 2015, they will share the largest collective voice in favor of clean technologies with global leaders at COP21, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. You can add your pledge and share with your networks at www.futureisclean.org.
Here in SoCal discussions on water conservation are a regular occurrence. We all know the management of water resources in California is critical given increasing populations, increasing strains on our enormous agricultural ‘breadbasket’, and ever-decreasing precipitation as the effects of climate change worsen. However, how many of us think about energy in terms of water conservation?
According to the International Energy Agency, energy production accounts for 15% of the world’s water withdrawal – water withdrawn from groundwater. Thermoelectric power plants account for over one third of the fresh water withdrawn in the US. Shockingly that volume is greater than the water used to grow our food!
So which energy sources are hogging our precious water and how? Actually, most energy generation technologies — including coal, nuclear, biomass and even concentrating solar power – consume astounding amounts of water. It is necessary primarily for cooling thermal power plants, as well as fuel extraction, transport and processing. This results in both the depletion of available freshwater resources and affects the quality of our remaining resources downstream due to the polluting effects of energy-related outputs.
Sunlight, on the other hand, is an infinitely abundant resource in most water-stressed parts of the world, including here in California. The World Energy Outlook, published by the International Energy Agency reported that photovoltaic (PV) solar energy is one of only two electricity generation technologies with negligible water consumption.
PV energy systems provide a sustainable solution to the water-energy nexus by generating clean electricity with little to no water use. With the smallest carbon footprint, lowest life cycle water use, and fastest energy payback time in the industry, thin-film PV modules provide a sustainable solution to water scarcity and energy security.
Water conservation must be a priority in water-stressed parts of the world. While PV solar is unlikely to provide enough power for the entire state any time soon, individuals and businesses installing roof-top solar can make a positive difference. It turns out, not only in reducing air pollution from dirty energy but also in saving our water resources!
It is important to note the other half of the energy-water nexus. Energy is required to produce, treat, and distribute water. So, even if solar is providing your electricity, the water you use is still linked to polluting energy sources. Combining smart water conservation techniques, such as those suggested in this EPA list of household water saving methods, with going solar is the best bet for ensuring our planet’s resources will continue to provide for our future.
As its moniker suggests, the Internet of Things (IoT) is about the connectivity of ‘things’, not people. Hence, managing our hyper-connected world by using data from remote sensors in our devices to provide control in a smarter, more efficient way. As nebulous and vague as the ‘Internet of Things’ is, it has been cited as the hot technology trend of the future. In a recent Business Insider report, they estimate IoT growth will increase connections from 1.9 billion devices today, to 9 billion by 2018 (see chart below).
In fact, IoT is already a reality with 24/7 connectivity to laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and even wearable devices.
One of the best known applications for IoT is the smart metering of electricity, water, and waste systems as well as integrated management of home and building systems. Building temperature, humidity, ambient light and occupancy could be monitored by sensors and used to control heating, lighting, air-conditioning, and the operation of doors and windows, etc.
Smart thermostats such as Google’s Nest allows home owners to manage their heating requirements remotely via their smartphone. Where utilities participate, users can program their biggest energy inefficient appliances (heating and cooling systems, washers and dryers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, and pool pumps) to respond to varying energy tarifs and avoid peak demand periods. Sometimes demand reward credits are offered by utilities.
While these applications may make the workplace and home more comfortable and secure, the real motivation for adoption of such systems will be from potential energy benefits and hence cost savings. Avoiding peak periods would also have the broader environmental benefit of spreading demand, allowing power plants to operate more efficiently and reduce the need to build generating capacity to meet demand spikes.
But opinion seems divided over whether the Internet of Things will deliver improved energy efficiency overall. The exponential growth in the number of connected ‘things’ that all consume power could negate many of the efficiency gains of things like smart thermostats. More than $80 billion in power is wasted by connected ‘things’ according to an IEA (International Energy Agency) report. This is what is known as “vampire power”, or “vamping", and refers to energy used when devices are switched off or in standby mode. The IEA report notes the problem could result in $120 billion USD wasted by 2020 due to vamping!
One potential smart solution to vamping is to make appliances in the off or sleep mode actually power off but respond to a timer which is only responsive to the “on” switch during a portion of each second. The long term key to whether IoT improves energy efficiency lies with improving the energy efficiency of the devices themselves while at the same time providing innovative applications.
The wider potential of the Internet of Things is enormous and exciting. Wider ’smart grids’ could make our urban centers dynamic and responsive to energy demands, optimizing city-level energy use. As the Internet of Things continues to grow, the opportunity for bigger energy and environmental benefits from applications like smart grids could become a valuable reality assuming the overall efficiency of our ‘things’ also continues to improve.
California Governor Jerry Brown’s inauguration was historic in more ways than one. After all, this is his fourth term - despite the legal limit of just two (the term limit was imposed in 1990 after his earlier terms in the 70’s). But perhaps even more historic was the content of his exciting inaugural speech. Among many plans for a healthier and more economically viable state, Brown proposed ambitious green energy goals including growing renewable energy to 50% by 2030. Coincidentally, on Tuesday we posted a blog encouraging readers to support the policies and politicians defending and expanding solar opportunities.
Gov. Brown described California as an environmental policy trendsetter. We already lead the nation in solar energy usage, energy efficiency overall, cleaner cars and energy storage. However, with the majority of scientists agreeing that we must limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, much more comprehensive measures are necessary.
If we have any chance at all of achieving that, California, as it does in many areas, must show the way. We must demonstrate that reducing carbon is compatible with an abundant economy and human well-being.
He outlined the following three goals to accomplish by 2030:
California is already on track to reach its goal of one third energy derived from renewable sources by 2020. So, although 50% by 2030 sounds bold because no one else is doing it, it is actually feasible. This could mean the continuation of tax breaks and other financial incentives for homeowners to go solar. Given that transportation accounts for 40 percent of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, incentives and infrastructure to get drivers in electric cars are also likely.
I envision a wide range of initiatives: more distributed power, expanded rooftop solar, micro-grids, an energy imbalance market, battery storage, the full integration of information technology and electrical distribution and millions of electric and low-carbon vehicles.
It won’t be easy accomplishing Brown’s goals with the oil industry leaders and some politicians opposing anything green. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, we must remain diligent in supporting policies and politicians fighting for a cleaner world. By his speech, Governor Brown once again demonstrated that he is such a politician, with his practical and no-nonsense stance:
Taking significant amounts of carbon out of our economy without harming its vibrancy is exactly the sort of challenge at which California excels. This is exciting, it is bold and it is absolutely necessary if we are to have any chance of stopping potentially catastrophic changes to our climate system.
We are at a crossroads. With big and important new programs now launched and the budget carefully balanced, the challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it, to live within our means and to keep California ever golden and creative, as our forebears have shown and our descendants would expect.