Solar Powered Shelter Wins Design Award

By: Anmar Frangoul

Better Shelter

An emergency shelter that uses solar power has won both the Architecture award and 2017 Grand Prize at the Beazley Designs of the Year awards.

A temporary, weatherproof structure, the Better Shelter has been designed for use by people displaced by conflict and natural disasters. The IKEA Foundation and the UNHCR — the UN Refugee Agency — were involved in the Better Shelter’s development.

The issue of displaced people is an increasingly serious one. In June 2016, the UNHCR said that a total of 65.3 million people had been displaced at the end of 2015.

Solar power is integral to the Better Shelter’s design, with a panel installed in its roof. The panel charges an LED light within the shelter, which can be used for four hours during the night when fully charged. Mobile phones can also be charged via a USB connection in the lamp.

Praising the Better Shelter design after its award last week, judge Jana Scholze, from Kingston University, said that it tackled “one of the defining issues of the moment: providing shelter in an exceptional situation whether caused by violence and disaster.”

“Providing not only a design but secure manufacture as well as distribution makes this project relevant and even optimistic,” Scholze went on to add. “It shows the power of design to respond to the conditions we are in and transform them.”

According to its makers, over 10,000 Better Shelter units were delivered to humanitarian operations in 2015.

“We accept this award with mixed emotions – while we are pleased that this kind of design is honored, we are aware that it has been developed in response to the humanitarian needs that have arisen as the result of the refugee crisis,” Johan Karlsson, Better Shelter’s interim managing director, said in a statement.


4 New Ways to Store Renewable Energy With Water


Photo: DNV GL Earth, Wind & Water: DNV GL’s energy island concept creates a lake in the ocean that stores wind energy by pumping water out.

If Elon Musk has his way, in the future we’ll all be storing renewable electricity inside big banks of lithium-ion batteries. But let’s not forget the energy storage situation today. In the United States, 97 percent of utility-scale storage in 2014 was in pumped-storage hydroelectric plants, according to research by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in Tennessee.

In traditional pumped hydro, a dam separates a lower reservoir from an upper reservoir. When a utility company needs to store energy, the system pumps water from the bottom to the top. It generates electricity when water flows back down through a turbine. In 2015, Citibank estimated that the cost of power from pumped hydroelectric was about 5 percent of the cost of grid-scale battery-stored electricity. The problem is that there are many places that “consume high amounts of power but don’t have geological opportunities to build conventional pumped-storage plants,” says Jochen Bard, an energy processing technology manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES), in Germany.

In 2017, a number of new pumped-hydro technologies should achieve milestones. They aim to bring the low cost of the technology to geographies that ordinarily wouldn’t allow it. Here are four you might hear about:

Photo: Fraunhofer IWES Energy system technology

The Concrete Bunker

Stensea (Stored Energy in the Sea) is a hollow concrete sphere with a built-in pump turbine. It sits on the seafloor and, in its discharged state, is filled with water. To store energy, the system uses electricity to pump water out into the sea. When discharging, the pump works in reverse, generating electricity as water refills the sphere.

In November, Fraunhofer IWES installed a 3-meter-wide pilot sphere in southern Germany’s Lake Konstanz at a depth of around 100 meters. It ran a successful four-week test of the system with full charging and discharging. Following a year-long feasibility study, the team is now developing the concept for a 5-megawatt, 20-megawatt-hour full-scale system. The spheres will have certain geographic needs: a water depth from 600 to 800 meters and a surface flat enough to prevent tilting. Potential sites for such a project include locations in the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Norwegian trench.

Photo: Hydrostor

Compressed-Air Bags

Hydrostor’s system consists of weighted-down balloonlike bags that are placed underwater and connected to a system on the shore. To store energy, it uses electricity to compress the air and fill the underwater bags. (A heat exchanger and underwater bath capture heat lost during compression to help preserve efficiency.) When electricity is needed, the air flows back out of the bag into a machine that expands it to drive a turbine. [See “Stashing Energy in Underwater Bags,” IEEE Spectrum, August 2014.]

Hydrostor commissioned a 660-kilowatt pilot plant with undisclosed storage capacity in November 2015 at Toronto Island, and the company is currently optimizing the performance. It has proposed new projects in Canada, the United States, and Mexico. And it’s now constructing a 2-MW, 7-MWh facility in Goderich, Ontario, that uses underground salt caverns instead of bags, which could be followed by a 1-MW, 6-MWh storage system with bags in Aruba later this year.

Photo: DNV GL

Energy Island

In DNV GL’s energy island concept, a dike encloses a 10- by 6-kilometer section of the North Sea off the Dutch coast [artist’s rendering, left]. To store electricity, the system pumps interior water up and out to sea. Letting water flow through a turbine on its way back generates electricity.

Unlike with traditional pumped storage, the inner lake can be built out in the sea as long as the seafloor has a sufficiently large layer of clay to prevent the ocean from seeping back in. There would also be some trade-off between more energy storage gained from a deeper ocean and increased construction cost.

For now, this energy island is only in the concept stage. DNV GL, based in Norway, is running a business case analysis with partners in the Netherlands and discussing plans to build a large-scale system. It hasn’t settled on a power rating or storage duration yet, but a small-scale prototype wouldn’t work for something like this, according to the company.

Photo-illustration: Naturspeicher

Wind Turbines With Water Storage

In a system by Naturspeicher and Max Bögl, wind turbines are built on the top of a hill with a pair of water storage reservoirs at their bases that raise them by an extra 40 meters above a typical turbine. A man-made lake sits at the bottom of the hill; energy is stored when the water is pumped up into the reservoirs, and electricity is produced when the water falls back down to the lake.

Adding an extra 40 meters of height should boost generation about 25 percent, but it also requires weight balancing that would ordinarily be expensive. In this case, however, the company says, water in the reservoirs naturally balances the mechanical load on the cheap.

The system “integrates harmoniously into the landscape without major disruption,” Naturspeicher says. It plans to have a wind farm on line by the end of 2017 in the hills of the Swabian-Franconian Forest, in Germany, with pumped storage following by late 2018. It expects the system, when completed, to store 70 MWh and deliver up to 16 MW.



Green Energy Features Big Among Trump’s Top 50 Infrastructure Projects

By: Christopher Helman

President Trump orders federal fast track of Keystone XL and North Dakota Access Pipeline. (Credit: Shawn Thew / Pool via CNP /MediaPunch/IPX)

Energy projects on Trump’s “Priority List” could add 9 gigawatts of clean power.

A list emerged this week; it appears to have been prepared for then President-elect Trump, and is titled: “Priority List: Emergency & National Security Projects.” It’s 50 pages for 50 infrastructure projects — quick facts on a host of highways, bridges, powerlines and airports, the construction of which would naturally make America greater, cost $140 billion, and require enough engineering and construction work to keep the equivalent of 24,000 people employed for 10 years.

Surprisingly, the list contains no mention of a Great Wall on the Mexico border, nor the Keystone XL or Dakota Access pipeline projects. The one pipeline project on the list is the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would move natural gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale down to the Southeast. Owned by Dominion Resources, Duke Energy and Southern Company, the pipeline would cost about $5 billion and provide 10,000 job years.

The rest of the energy infrastructure projects are surprisingly green and may give a glimmer of hope to renewable energy fans worried about the potential for Trump to roll back the Clean Power Plan and promote coal and oil over the likes of wind and solar.

Project #9. The $2.5 billion, Plains and Eastern Electric Transmission Lines, which would carry 4 gigawatts of Oklahoma wind power 700 miles to the southeast via direct current. Developed by Clean Line Energy Partners (CFO Dave Berry appeared on the 2012 Forbes 30 Under 30 list).

Project #16. TransWest Express, a $3 billion 3-gigawatt line, backed by billionaire Phil Anschutz, which would move power from a Wyoming wind farm to Arizona, California and Nevada. The project is deep into the permitting process. Would provide 3,000 jobs.

Project #17. That Wyoming wind farm, to be built on is called Chokecherry & Sierra Madre Wind Energy. Plans call for 1,000 wind turbines, at a cost of $5 billion. The Bureau of Land Management this month approved the first 500 windmills. Generates 1,000 jobs.


Scotland Sets ‘Landmark’ Target on Renewable Energy

Scotland has led the way on renewable energy sources such as wind farms (Photo: PA)

Scotland is aiming to become one of the world’s leading low-carbon nations by setting a “landmark” target of meeting half its energy needs through renewable sources by the end of the next decade. The aim, set out by the Scottish Government as part of its draft energy strategy on Tuesday, met with cross party approval and was hailed by environmental groups, who said it was an important step towards building a totally green economy.

Under the plans, Scotland will commit itself to meeting 50 per cent of its overall energy needs using renewables by 2030. In 2013 this figure stood at just 13 per cent, so the target is highly ambitious.

As part of efforts to meet the commitment, 13 low-carbon and renewables projects across Scotland have been earmarked for a share of a £50m fund, with the details set to be announced next month.

The target comes after what environmental groups described as a “record-setting” year for Scottish renewables. Last August, the nation’s wind turbines generated more electricity than was used by consumers on a single day for the first time.

Setting out policies and proposals for the heat, transport and electricity sectors, Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said he wanted to make “more progress” on renewables to ensure that Scotland met its climate change commitments.

“The renewable energy sector, which now employs more than 11,000 people in Scotland…has the potential to grow even further, helping us meet our climate change targets through extending our success in decarbonising electricity supplies,” he added.

Climate change The energy strategy is designed to work alongside the Scottish Government’s climate change plans, which were unveiled last week with the aim of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 66 per cent by 2032.

Another proposal includes exploring the “re-powering” of existing power stations, which could see Longannet in Fife reopen as a coal-fired station through Carbon Capture and Storage.

The possible creation of a Scottish Government-owned energy company, with responsibility for helping the growth of local and community energy projects, will also be examined.

“With 50 per cent of all energy to come from renewables by 2030 and 100 per cent of our electricity well before then, this plan sets us firmly on course to becoming one of the leading low-carbon nations in the world,” said Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Jenny Hogan, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said the document was “a landmark moment in Scotland’s transition to a low-carbon economy”.

Mr Wheelhouse also confirmed that a public consultation would shortly be launched on the controversial issue of fracking, which is currently subject to a moratorium in Scotland. Environmental groups and some political parties are pressing for an all-out ban.


India Headed For A Green Energy Revolution: Harvard Scientist

KOLKATA: Harvard chemist and energy innovator Daniel G. Nocera is a man on a “renewable” mission. The inventor of the artificial leaf and co-creator of its bionic version plans to launch a pilot of the advanced technology in India with the assertion that a “renewable energy revolution will take place” in the country.

“I have no doubt about it. The revolution in renewable energy will happen in India. When you look at places in the developed world like the US, you are looking backwards, meaning that’s what it used to be like (coal, oil and gas) and the emerging countries have a decision to take: Do they want to build something looking back or do they want to do something different,” Nocera told IANS in an interview here on the sidelines of SABIC (Symposium on Advanced Biological Inorganic Chemistry) 2017.

Nocera, currently the Patterson Rockwood Professor of Energy in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University, invented the artificial leaf which used solar power to split water and make hydrogen fuel.

Because society isn’t set up to use hydrogen, to circumvent the problem of storing and using hydrogen, he and his team went one step further with the bionic leaf. They made liquid fuel.

The bionic leaf turns sunlight into liquid fuel. It uses solar energy to split water molecules and hydrogen-eating bacteria to generate the fuel. The system churns out energy 10 times more efficiently than natural photosynthesis. Nocera collaborated with Pamela Silver of Harvard Medical School for the bionic version.

Now, the 59-year-old intends to set up a formal collaboration with the Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT) in Mumbai and supply some of the science and the engineered bacteria to the scientists to take the technology forward.

“I want to start anything that goes for the commercialisation of the bionic leaf, for instance. I want do it in India. I am not doing it with American companies. Because ICT has such great chemical engineers I am hoping we can do it. I want to start a pilot project. We already have a MoU in place (Harvard with ICT) but we haven’t worked out the details of the project. We will do it now,” Nocera asserted.

The USP of the technology, which relies on unique catalysts that are biocompatible, is that it allows the use of any kind of water, even dirty water.

“You could imagine anybody with an artificial leaf. If you have sunlight you can use any water source. It doesn’t have to be pure water. It is totally distributed. It can use dirty water and sunlight; it’s the way to distribute fuel production,” explained Nocera, who pitched his technology as being for the poor.

But will it be cheap enough?

“It’s cheap enough, but it’s not cheap enough to use now because nobody is going to invent anything that is cheaper than coal, oil or gas. Nothing is ever going to be cheap enough. That’s a bogus argument, in my opinion. The only way to make it cheap enough is to put new policies in place which scientists don’t do. They don’t like to work with policy people. I work with them,” he averred.

Nocera has given almost a hundred invited talks on the artificial system (that resembles a sleek modern-day smartphone) and has received his fair share of criticism as well for what has been called his “radical” approach. But he remains unmoved, maintaining whenever one does things differently, one is criticised.

“We used silicon in the artificial leaf which absorbs light and separates the charge. The catalysts get energised by that and splits the water. It was extremely hard. For 40 years, people were trying to make a single magic material that absorbs the light, separates the charge and does the catalysis. Our system has different components and that’s how photosynthesis works,” he elaborated.

Nocera, as the co-founder of the Sun Catalytix start-up (from where the hydrogen/artificial leaf story began in 2009) had also started working with the Tata group in India on hydrogen as a fuel. However, due to the lack of infrastructure to use hydrogen, his company turned to developing a flow battery to store the power and plug it into the grid. Lockheed Martin acquired the start-up in 2014.

Envisioning a future where households will have rooftop bionic systems, Nocera believed it’s a tough call for India — which has a 100 GW solar power target for 2022 — to continue using fossil fuels to keep the economy growing or to set up a whole new infrastructure for renewables.

“I am hoping (India can achieve it). You have to really understand the pressure politicians are under: Everybody in India also wants his economy to grow. So do I put in a whole new infrastructure for renewable energy or do I just keep using fossil fuels to keep the economy growing,” he wondered.