|Nadya Ivanova, a Bulgaria native, is a Chicago-based reporter for Circle of Blue. She co-writes The Stream, a daily digest of international water news trends. Interests: Europe, China, Environmental Policy, International Security.
FRIDAY, 18 JANUARY 2013 15:03
Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue
Polluted water and trash mingle on the bank of the Yellow River in Lanzhou, China. Click image to enlarge slideshow.
Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue
The Yellow River flows around a water-intake pipe to a purification building that has fallen into disrepair, forcing the residents of Liang Jia Wang, one of China’s many “cancer villages,” to drink water straight from the dirty river. Nearly 15 percent of China’s major rivers are not fit for any use, and more than half of the groundwater is labeled “polluted” or “extremely polluted.” Click image to enlarge slideshow.
Photo © Adam Dean for Circle of Blue
High nutrient levels from fertilizer runoff produce mats of thick algae in a main-stem irrigation canal in Liaoning Province.Click image to enlarge slideshow.
Photo © Aaron Jaffe / Circle of Blue
With no access to water aside from that of the contaminated Yellow River, residents of Liang Jia Wang, one of China’s many “cancer villages,” have noted the alarmingly high cancer rates in the area. The local government posts weekly updates about the hospitalized residents in the village, where the average life expectancy is around 40 to 45 years. Click image to enlarge slideshow.
Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue Trash and other debris, including empty plastic pesticide containers, foul an irrigation canal near Xian in Shanxi Province. Click image to enlarge slideshow.
Seawater greenhouse – just add solar
South Australia’s Port Augusta, with its abundant solar resource, has recently been pegged as the ideal location for the development of a concentrating solar thermal power plant – and understandably so.
But what about a 2000 square metre greenhouse? It would seem an unlikely match for hot, dry Port August, yet while the region’s CSP plant proposal remains just that, an enormous solar-powered greenhouse has indeed been built – and it’s producing a fine crop of tomatoes.
Behind the project is Sundrop Farms: a group of international scientists (and an investment banker) whose goal has been to devise a system of growing crops that doesn’t require a fresh water supply. How does it work? “It all begins with a 70 metre-long stretch of solar panels,” says Pru Adam’s on ABC Radio’s Landline: a series of concave mirrors which focus the sun’s energy onto a black tube that runs through the centre of the panels. The tube is filled with thermal oil, which is superheated up to 160°C, then pumped through the tube back to a little storage shed, where its heat is transferred to a water storage system. Some of this stored heat goes towards greenhouse temperature control, some to powering the facility, but most is used for desalination of the tidal bore water. When the heat goes to the thermal desal unit it meets up with relatively cold seawater and the temperature difference creates condensation.
“It’s pretty simple to understand,” said Reinier Wolterbeek, Sundrop’s project manager and head of technology development, in a 2010 television interview with Southern Cross News. “If you have a fresh water bottle from your refrigerator, and you put it in a room, then condensation forms on the sides. That’s more or less what we try to mimic over here; the cold sea water, from the ground, we put it through plastic tubes, we blow hot, very moist air against these plastic tubes, condensation forms on the tubes, we catch the condensation, and that’s actually the irrigation for the tomato crops.” The brine ends up in ponds and the salt can be extracted as a saleable by-product.
So, while this large-ish commercial-scale greenhouse (they’ve tested a smaller version in Oman), perched, as Adams describes it, “in the remains of flogged-out farmland,” really is an incongruous sight in Port Augusta, it’s there for good reason.
“We looked on a world map, and funnily enough, Port Augusta is the ideal place,” Wolterbeek told Southern Cross News. “It’s really close to the sea, so we have a lot of seawater available, and it’s very dry, which is good for the process of the technology.”
Philipp Saumweber, Sundrop’s managing director who is a former Goldman Sachs investment banker with an economics degree from Harvard, describes the project as unique. “Nobody has done what we’re doing before and to our knowledge nobody has done something even similar,” Saumweber told Landline. “What we think is so unique about our system is we’re not just addressing either an energy issue or a water issue, we’re really addressing both of those together to produce food from abundant resources and do that in a sustainable way.”
David Travers – CEO of the University College London’s Adelaide office, who became Sundrop’s chairman after being convinced of the merit of its technology – agrees. “Well it’s unique in the sense that it’s the only example we’re aware of in the world where there’s that complete integration of the collection of solar energy, the desalination of water, the production of energy sources from electricity through to heating and storage and then the growing of plants, in this case tomatoes and capsicums, in a greenhouse environment,” he told Landline. “It’s the totality of that system that makes it quite unique.”
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By Chris Nelder | August 22, 2012, 1:46 AM PDT
For full story: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/energy-futurist/the-energy-water-nexus-2012-edition/560
A blistering summer this year has brought the energy-water nexus into sharp focus: how much power generation depends on water, and how much our water systems depend on power.
We’ve had the hottest July on record in the continental United States, and so far 2012 ranks as the tenth-warmest year on record globally, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The heat forced the shutdown of the Millstone Unit 2 reactor at the Dominion Nuclear Connecticut plant in Waterford, Connecticut last Monday, when the water temperature in Long Island Sound reached a toasty 76.7 degrees, over the 75 degree limit for the plant’s cooling water. (As of this writing more than a week later, the reactor is still offline.) I suspect that heat may have played a role in forcing other nuclear plants to shut down in July, by causing electrical component failures. These shutdowns, along with others forced by faulty equipment, have taken U.S. nuclear generation to its lowest level in a decade, according to New Scientist.
The interdependencies of water, power generation, food, and climate are not news. We’ve had shutdowns of power plants due to summertime heat for the past decade or more. But the problem does seem to be getting worse every year.
Water for electricity generation
With the exception of hydroelectric and solar photovoltaic power plants, the core of a utility-scale power plant is essentially the same steam engine technology that was first used to generate electricity by Charles Parsons 125 years ago (which in turn was based on the perfection of the steam engine in 1769 by James Watt, after whom the power unit is named). Heat on one side of the engine causes gas to expand, then the heat is dumped on the cold side of the engine, causing the gas to condense again. The expanding and contracting gas makes the engine spin, turning an array of magnets and electromagnetic coils, which then converts the mechanical energy into electricity.
Water is most commonly used to remove the heat on the cold side. Some power plants are air-cooled, but they are less efficient (particularly in hot weather) because they’re less cold.
This makes the thermoelectric power sector — which generates 91 percent of the electricity in the U.S. — one of the nation’s largest water consumers. It accounts for 41 percent of freshwater withdrawals and about three percent of freshwater consumption, where 99 percent of the water used is surface water. According to the Sandia report, thermoelectric power generation in the U.S. consumes 3.3 billion gallons of water per day in total.
When water supply is insufficient (or insufficiently cold), it forces power plants to scale back or shut down altogether. That’s also when power demand for air conditioning is likely to be highest, stressing power transmission lines and creating ideal conditions for brown-outs or grid failures.
Water for energy production
The water needed for electrical power generation is vast. But the water demand for producing oil, coal and gas is enormous too, and even less elastic.
Fracking – the process that has brought a fresh boost of oil and gas production to the U.S. in recent years – consumes between 70 and 140 billion gallons of fresh water per year, according to a 2011 report from the EPA. At a typical consumption of 100 gallons of water per person per day in the U.S., that’s equivalent to the needs of two to four million people.
Trying to find reliable data for on the water demand of U.S. corn ethanol production is a short path to utter insanity, with a ridiculously large range of estimates offered. After reviewing a dozen or so academic papers and other sources, I concluded that a 2010 study by the Argonne National Laboratory was in the right ballpark. It estimated that it takes 82 gallons of water on average to produce 1 gallon of ethanol in the regions responsible for 88 percent of U.S. corn production, where the vast majority of that water is used for irrigation.
Petroleum refining also consumes a great deal of water: one to two billion gallons per day, according to the aforementioned Sandia study. Perhaps more usefully, the Argonne study puts water consumption for petroleum (which presumably includes water for petroleum extraction using enhanced oil recovery methods) in terms of water consumed per mile by passenger cars. Against 2,025,396 million vehicle-miles traveled by passenger cars in 2010, according to the Federal Highway Administration, the Argonne estimate works out to between 203 and 608 billion gallons of water per year consumed for petroleum.
In sum, the freshwater demand of our current production and refining of fossil fuels might be around two trillion gallons per year at the high end.
Energy for water production
The flip side of the energy-water nexus is also challenging. Webber estimates about 10 percent of U.S. electricity is used for waste and wastewater management. But in agricultural areas, it’s much higher. A 2005 study by the California Energy Commission found that one-fifth of the state’s electrical power is used to pump, treat, transport, heat, cool, and recycle water.
Water desalination also requires an enormous amount of energy: over 9,800 kWh per million gallons, according to Webber. As energy costs rise, so will the cost of turning saltwater into freshwater.
Water for energy transport
For a final perspective on the energy-water nexus, consider the Mighty Mississippi, which isn’t so mighty this year. Water levels on the country’s inland water transport backbone have reached near-historic lows, forcing barge operators to cut their loads by as much as 25 percent to avoid hitting bottom. In turn, this has increased shipping prices along the river.
A pair of images posted by NASA show how dramatically the river has changed since last year, with huge sandbars now exposed.
Mississippi River, August 14, 2011. Mississippi River, August 8, 2012. Source: NASA
According to data from American Waterways Operators cited in a recent post at Climate Progress, the Mississippi carries 22 percent of the oil and gas and 20 percent of the coal transported in the U.S.
It is feared that the low-water condition could persist through the fall season. If that is the case, it could add a non-trivial cost to the fuels that traverse the river, and slow deliveries to power plants both foreign and domestic, further increasing the pressure on power generators.
As mentioned earlier, wind power and solar photovoltaics are exceptions to the energy-water nexus. No water is needed to produce power from those sources, and insignificant amounts of water are involved in the production of the equipment. Marine energy, although being fundamentally a water-based technology, does not consume fresh water; it just moves around in salt water. In a warming world, these power sources will have a clear advantage. Conversely, hydroelectric power, being intrinsically dependent on rainfall, makes it an uncertain option in a future of changing climate.
Traditional geothermal plants need water for the cooling cycle, consuming about 1,400 gals/MWh per the Sandia study, as do traditional solar thermal plants, which consume 750 to 920 gals/MWh
A final thought: Updating the energy-water nexus story came with the disturbing realization that the data quality on this extremely important subject is poor. Apart from the Sandia report and one or two others, there seems to be a dearth of good, recent studies. Models of how climate change may affect energy and water in the future appear to be virtually non-existent. The available estimates of water demand and their deltas are much too large to be really useful to policymakers or investors, and the time vector is missing altogether. Compared to our data on energy markets, the energy-water data are pathetic.
I don’t know why that is. Perhaps we’re just beginning to discover the hard limits of our energy and water resources and it’s simply a new subject. Perhaps we’re still struggling to get our arms around its complexity. But given our enormous vulnerability and dependency on these systems, we must do better. Government agencies, NGOs, academia, scientific organizations and investors really need to get on the ball to better quantify the challenges in the energy-water nexus, and find ways to produce more energy with less water and more water with less energy.
Photo: The Millstone Power Station Unit 2 (Nuclear Regulatory Commission/Flickr)
By Lieu Thi Pham | August 8, 2012, 2:30 AM PDT
MELBOURNE — A new study by the CSIRO (the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), revealed that Australia’s oceans could supply 10 percent of the country’s electricity by 2050. This is the equivalent of powering a city the size of Melbourne, which has a population of around four million.
The Australian science agency study investigated the potential of harnessing the energy of the oceans — from waves, tides, currents and thermal energy — to power the country’s electricity from 2015 to 2050.
Their report, Ocean Renewable Energy: 2015-2050, showed that there are tremendous energy resources in Australia’s southern oceans, in particular near the west coast of Tasmania, the southern ocean in Victoria, and the south-west ocean of Western Australia.
This is the first time in Australia that ocean-based renewable energy has been assessed from resource to market development. Dr Susan Wijffels, a spokesperson for the CSIRO, said that the findings showed that wave power could be integral to Australia’s renewable energy plan.
“The idea [of ocean power] has been around for a very long time,” Dr Wijffels said. “It’s getting attention now because some countries are currently looking at how viable some of these technologies are. I suspect it has to do with the policy setting in an energy market.”
There are at least 200 wave energy converter (WEC) devices that extract the energy from either the surface motion of the waves or the pressure fluctuations below the surface. The range of this energy capture varies between devices and to differing degree of success.Some companies are currently conducting pilot tests and commercial demonstrations.
There are three main classes of WEC devices that can be loaded in various depths: Point absorber (a float that is free to follow the movement of the wave and gather wave energy from any direction); linear attenuator (a float aligned in the direction of the wave); and terminator (a device that faces the wave directly to collect the energy).
The fact that around 80 percent of Australia’s population live in coastal areas, suggests that wave power will play a very significant part in the country’s energy future.
Dr Wijffels claims that wave power holds many key advantages over solar and wind power, including its consistency (waves are generated both day and night), and predictability as an energy resource.
Solar and wind are subjected to sudden changes in weather, whereas wave power comes from the momentum of an ocean storm that can often take days to reach our shores.
“If you get a longer lead time, then you know that wave plant will give you power. The people that manage our electricity supply in the future will want to know when and how much renewable energy is coming in and how it will fit in to the grid,” she said.
“The other big challenge we have is getting the grid ready. How to shift power across the country very cheaply, quickly and in large volumes,” Dr Wijffels said.
She contends that the technology has the potential to be cost-effective, but this will largely be dependent on overcoming engineering challenges such as creating efficient energy farms and harvesters.
“Water is really heavy. When water is moving, it gets moved by either tidal forces or waves, and that’s a lot of momentum. The energy density, as a resource, is much higher than wind. If we can get the turbines to work efficiency, we’re using less real estate for more power. If we can build really efficient extractors that can be made cheap enough to maintain, then that advantage could be realised,” she says.
The CSIRO are careful to point out that there are many economic, technological, environmental and societal challenges that will determine wave energy’s place in Australia’s future energy mix. These include investigating the wider impacts of the technology as it relates to issues such as as marine life and aquaculture.
The CSIRO hopes that their report will encourage the renewable energy industry, government and the public to think seriously about the opportunities, as well as the challenges, for ocean technology in Australia.
Photo: WHL Travel/Flickr
Extract from: http://www.smartplanet.com/blog/global-observer/in-australia-oceans-could-supply-10-percent-power/6680?tag=nl.e660
As we discussed, below are a few thoughts around the topics of water, food and energy.
Unfortunately there is no silver bullet when it comes to transitioning to a carbon constrained future. Although some will argue that there is no evidence of man made climate change, this is just one of the consequences associated with the increase of CO©ü within the atmosphere. The greater effect will be the acidification of the oceans and the associated breakdown of oceanographic food chains. This will be become more evident as we discuss food security.
There will need to be a suite of energy sources, including coal in the short term, and will be dependent on geographical locations. Fortunately for the The Bellarine there is a large variety of energy sources available. Wind, tidal, waste to energy and PV solar are all viable small scale solutions, and with the Otway basin natural gas field and nearby Geothermal projects under development, the region could be self sufficient and even a net generator of energy.
Nationally the creation of large scale solar thermal plant will be able to provide 24 hour/day base load power. Although this will require the will of both the people and politicians to make happen as it will be a large infrastructure investment.
I think it may have been Mark Twain or WC Fields who said "Whiskey is for drinking. Water is for fighting over." Although we may have plenty today and the water authorities are saying that they have enough for the next five years, this is based on us getting average rain fall over that period. The climate models are predicting that South Eastern Australia will be overall dryer over the next ten year. This is also born out by the current state of the Southern Oscillation Index that has been negative for the past three months and is continuing on that trend and other makers that indicate we are on the boundary of an El Nino event.
We need to learn from the Israelis and recycle water for multiple reuse purposes. This means cascading its use, drinking / eating, washing / showering, flushing, watering, and done on a small to medium scale within the home or local community. Pumping it all the way to the Water Reclamation Plant and back again is simply a waste of energy resources. This could easily be demonstrated within development projects, however what we see currently is multimillion dollar centralised ¡®A¡¯ class plants being built in order to return the water to the estates many kilometres away.
Water will become a rare commodity and although I have talked generally about its recycle use on a local small scale there is an opportunity on The Bellarine to take advantage of the Black Rock WRP which current has an average influent of 55ML/day. A reuse strategy needs to be developed with community consultation to establish the best method of water use. This may require changes to crop locations and types to take best advantage of the resource.
Food security is linked directly to the two previous topics, however ensuring financially viable crop production is difficult when considering the price at the farm gate regardless of a plentiful water supply. As around the Werribee area, consideration should be given to vegetable growth production to take advantage of recycled water availability. Across the combined regions and access to Avalon Airport we should be able to be self sufficient for a large variety of vegetables and develop an export market.
I have attached a WHO report on food trends for your review. It talks about “the proteins derived from fish, crustaceans and molluscs account for between 13.8% and 16.5% of the animal protein intake of the human population”. The region has an opportunity to set up high value niche markets sending fresh and processed shellfish produce to Asia while again being self sufficient. Mussels, abalone and scallops are all native to the region and are ideal high value products. I have my original files from the preliminary concepts for scallop aquaculture that I would be happy to share.
World fisheries are in decline and an international cooperative is required to address this issue. Wild fish restocking by nations could be the answer. Free range fish? (I am not sure you can solve this on The Bellarine)
Here, however is my concern for the medium term viability of the ocean. The increased atmospheric CO©ü is being sequested into the worlds oceans (Daltons law of partial pressure). This is in turn altering the ocean chemistry thus increasing the acidity. The increased acidity is impairing the ability of calcifying organisms to develop shell and plate calcium carbonate structures. Research within this area is on going, however if the trend continues there will be a break in the food chain that will be devastating to ocean food production. The consequences of this situation has not yet been fully realised. This is the most compelling case for move quickly to a carbon constrained economy.
It’s not all doom and gloom there is plenty we can do. Work with like minded, passionate people to educate others and develop strategies and set direction for the region. A university base research and development town with niche businesses in high quality produce, biomedical engineering and specialty materials on the doorstep of an international airport would be a good place to start.
Talk soon, Steve
PS: All comments welcome
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