European Future Energy Forum – opening session

Bianca Jagger at the European Future Energy Forum

The first European Future Energy Forum kicked off this morning in Bilbao.

The opening session in the main auditorium was addressed by the Chair of the World Future Council, Bianca Jagger, the CEO of the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC) which is mandated to undertake and drive the Masdar Initiative, Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the president of the Basque Government, Mr Patxi López and the President of the Regional Government of Bizkaia (a province in the Basque country), Mr Jose Luis Bilbao.

Both Jose Luis Bilbao and Patxi López talked up renewable energy and put the Basque country forward as an area with a strong interest in renewable energy technology. Spain is one of the world’s leading countries in the production of both wind and solar energy, (in January 2009 the total electricity demand produced with renewable energy sources reached the 34.8% saving €90m in gas imports!), however, the Basque country is currently languishing at 5.1% of demand sourced from renewables!

Hopefully Patxi López and Jose Luis Bilbao were impressed enough by the talks from Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and Bianca Jagger to try to increase that %

For their part both Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and Bianca Jagger gave very interesting talks. Dr Jaber discussed his Masdar project and talked of how Abu Dhabi has had a paradigm shift from a fishing and subsistence nased economy to an oil based one and how it now needs to transition to one based on renewables. Coming from a country which has depended so heavily on oil for its income for so long, it is both heartening and a little disquieting to hear that Abu Dhabi is now looking to get into renewables. Can you say Peak Oil? Dr Jaber also made the case for the headquarters of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) to be based in Masdar.

Bianca Jagger, the Chair of the World Future Council, gave a hugely impressive, fact based and impassioned speech quoting variously and at ease from Nasa’s Jim Hansen, Nicholas Stern (author of the Stern Review, former Chief Economist and Senior Vice-President of the World Bank) and the reports of the IPCC. Ms Jagger aimed a broadside squarely at the nuclear industry whom she accused of Greenwashing by trying to pass themselves off as non-carbon emitting. Every stage of nuclear generation, from mining to dealing with the waste byproducts generates CO2, she said and nuclear energy emits significantly more CO2 than wind, solar or hydro. Ms Jagger also referenced the foundation of IRENA and emphasised its importance and she finished off asking if the 20% renewable energy by 2020 goals of the EU were going to be enough to avert a climate catastrophe.


LEED certified buildings on the rise!

Adobe headquarters in San Jose received three platinum LEED ratings

Photo credit kqedquest

According to the US Green Building Council (USGBC) buildings account for 38% of CO2 emissions in the United States, buildings consume 70% of the electricity load in the U.S and CO2 emissions from buildings are projected to grow faster than any other sector over the next 25 years.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a Green building rating system which has been deveoped to provide a suite of standards for the design, construction and operation of high performance Green buildings.

According to the the LEED Wikipedia entry:

LEED certified buildings have healthier work and living environments, which contributes to higher productivity and improved employee health and comfort.

According to the USGBC January Green building by the numbers report (.doc warning):

By 2009, 82% of corporate America is expected to be greening at least 16% of their real estate portfolios; of these corporations, 18% will be greening more than 60% of their real estate portfolios

The green building products market is projected to be worth $30-$40 billion annually by 2010

With that in mind it was great to see the report that AMD’s Lone Star campus in Texas has achieved a gold LEED certification. Thanks to David Berlind for tipping me off on this.

According to the release this is the largest gold certified LEED commercial building in Texas and some of the sustainable design elements include:

  • Energy Use: Powered 100% by Austin Energy’s GreenChoice® electricity, which comes from clean, renewable energy sources such as wind power
  • Rainwater collection: Designed with a 1.2 million gallon capacity rainwater collection system, which is designed to provide water for the buildings’ cooling towers and irrigation
  • Construction materials: Incorporated more than 20% of construction materials based on recycled content, and with more than 20% of locally sourced construction materials
  • 100% Native Landscaping: AMD partnered with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to salvage the native trees, shrubs and grasses within the footprint of the campus, and replant them following construction.

AMD joins other well known tech companies who have rolled large LEED building projects like Adobe (Platinum) and Symantec (Gold).

To paraphrase Fr Ted – “Up with this kind of thing!!!


Is micro (home) generation of electricity good for the environment?

Home solar
Photo Credit benefit of hindsight

Microgeneration, the generation of electricity by home owners, is becoming increasingly common, especially with the cost of energy going up and the cost of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels for the home falling.

The majority of people deploying these solutions are doing so to 1) lower their home energy bills and 2) to help the environment.

What if I told you that often installing microgeneration equipment does not help the environment?

Bear with me while I try to explain. This is complex, counter-intuitive and I am not the world’s best communicator!

Grid operators have problems integrating renewable energy sources onto the grid right now because they are a variable source of supply. Couple that with the variability of demand and your grid starts to become increasingly unstable.

By far the most economic renewable energy source currently is wind but wind energy’s supply curve is often almost completely out of phase with demand (wind blows stronger at night when there is least demand for energy).

The more renewables that are brought onto the grid, the greater an issue this becomes with grid operators having to shut down production from wind farms in times of oversupply! Bear in mind also that there has to be enough generation capacity from non-wind sources (oil, gas, coal, nuclear, etc.) to pick up the slack on days when the wind doesn’t blow.

In times of oversupply from renewables, it would be far preferable to be ramping up consumption of energy using moveable loads, rather than shutting down production from renewables.

Now consider the home-owner who has deployed their own wind turbine. At times when the wind is blowing this home-owner is generating power thereby reducing their demand just when there is an oversupply on the grid! And if they have a net metering agreement with their utility, they further exacerbate the problem by pumping extra electricity into the grid, just when it isn’t required!

Conversely, on calm days, when extra energy is most needed, micro-generation contributes nothing.

There are two main problems:
1. There are no economic energy storage technologies currently available – though this situation is evolving rapidly with the ramping up of investment into battery research by the transportation industry in particular and
2. Real-time pricing data for electricity generation are not exposed to the consumer – if they were, and automated demand response mechanisms were put in place, you would see a radical shift in the energy consumption curve (people would consume energy when it was cheaper – i.e. when it is abundant).

If these two nuts were cracked i.e. economic energy storage mechanisms were available and real-time pricing data were exposed, micro-generators could generate energy when the wind blows, store it and then profitably sell it back to the grid when demand increases, or the wind drops.

For now though, while microgeneration may be beneficial in reducing your energy bills, it is of no benefit to the environment.

Note that I didn’t address CHP in this post because I was trying to keep things simple! CHP can be beneficial, as can any microgeneration, if the production of energy increases in line with the price of electricity.

As the price of electricity goes up, so too does its carbon footprint. If you consume electricity when it is cheap, you are facilitating the greater penetration of renewables onto the grid. If, as a micro-generator, you can produce clean power when electricity is expensive, then you are helping the environment.

UPDATE: Just to clarify, I fundamentally believe microgeneration is a good thing. However, given the current antiquated state of the grid in many countries, the disconnect between generation and demand profiles for wind particularly, and the lack of decent energy storage technologies, the environmental benefits of microgeneration are far from straightforward. This will change as energy storage options improve and demand response mechanisms and smart grids are deployed.


Why don’t we already have a real time market for electricity?

Supply and Demand
Photo Credit whatnot

If Demand Response is such a good idea and will help get more renewables onto the grid, why isn’t it being embraced by the grid management companies?

Most grid management companies have been in business for decades managing a grid in which the supply is manageable and the demand is variable but reasonably predictable – typically daily demand is “this day last year +2.5%”!

Now grid management companies are faced with a situation where an increasing percentage of their supply is coming from variable sources (i.e. wind) – if the wind blows more than anticipated, too much electricity is generated and if it blows less than anticipated, the converse is true. This totally messes up their planning and consequently grid management companies hate wind, and think of it as unpredictable, negative demand!

Instead of having such a negative attitude to renewables and shutting them down in favour of fossil fuels they should be asking how can we facilitate the greater penetration of clean renewable energy sources onto the grid.

In the coming years, the demand for electricity will increase significantly as transportation goes more electric (electric and plug-in electric cars, bikes, trucks, etc.) and as heating moves more to electricity. This will add demand to the grid system but this increased demand is eminently movable – for the most part you don’t care if your car re-charges at 7pm or 4am as long as it is re-charged when you want to leave for work at 8am. Similarly with heating, if you use storage heaters (and they will become more common) you don’t care when they suck in the heat as long as they heat the house the following day.

If you can move the demand to a time when traditionally the requirement for electricity was low, you can deliver it over the same infrastructure, thereby selling significantly more electricity without having to massively upgrade the network.

The upshot of this is that an increasing movable demand (the ability to time shift consumption) should be a strong business case for a real-time electricity market. Let demand be guided by supply (as indicated by price). With a real time market for electricity you need never shut down wind farms in favour of fossil fuels, you sell more electricity and you enable a greater penetration of renewables onto the grid. Win, win, win.

Why hasn’t this happened already? Ask your local grid management company.