28 December 2016

Earth’s inside for better air 2

In our 2012 article Earth’s inside for better air, we explained that New Zealand is a country where geothermal energy is widely developed. We mentioned Wairakei power plant, the second commercial geothermal plant opened in the world. This was in 1956. New Zealand was world leading! Well, being in New Zealand again, we decided to go to the plant…


“We are committed to protect the quality and quantity of water to New Zealanders,” Rosanne says. We had the chance to meet Rosanne Jollands, Community Relations Manager and Genelle Slack, Senior Environmental Advisor, at the power plant. The installation has a capacity of 156MW. It is operated by the company Contact, employing 120 people on site.
One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Geothermal
Genelle on the left and Rosanne on the right.
Geothermal plants exploit natural hot underground waters to generate electricity. They release very few quantities of greenhouse gases compared to coal or gas power plant. Fortunately New Zealand has decided to use its strong geothermal potential. Genelle says: “Currently 82% of the energy comes from renewable sources. It is a very good figure. The objective is to reach 90% by 2020.” New Zealand runs a national carbon emission trade market where “the price of one ton of CO2 is currently around 18 NZD. Such a trade market aims to reduce the country’s emissions year after year by progressively increasing the price of an emitted ton.”
 This small chart describes how a geothermal plant works. ©Mercury

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Geothermal
We used a nice plug-in hybrid
car to visit the plant!
Genelle adds: “Still our power plant generates greenhouse gases. This is why we invest in projects to reduce further the carbon footprint, and then pay less within the emission trade market. One ongoing project deals with two gases produced during the operations, carbon dioxide and methane. Today they are released to the atmosphere. We want to inject them into to the cold water which is going back to the ground. Such an additional process is viable only thanks to the carbon price.” The experts working on the international negotiations on climate change agree that a major next step is the definition of a carbon price, at the international level.


“Earlier this year the World Geothermal Conference was held in Melbourne,” Rosanne explains. “Right after the Conference, Contact received many visitors here at Wairakei plant. All these visitors wanted to know more about how we operate here.”
A prawn farm, right outside the power plant.
Rosanne adds: “We do not only produce electricity here, the extracted hot water also goes out to few places nearby. One of them is a prawn farm; another one is hot pools!” Direct use of geothermal waters can supply heat for industrial processes. For instance, in Kawerau, northern New Zealand, the geothermal hot water is directly used by a paper mill. In Iceland, Hellisheidi plant is one of the several plants of the island; it provides 300MW of power but also hot water to the Capital city Reykjavik. Likewise, in numerous districts around the world, the extracted water is used to heat buildings. Earlier this year, we could visit the ecodistrict Fort d’Issy, in France, where 1500 modern apartments are heated by a geothermal installation. Philippines and Italy are other world leaders in geothermal energy. Let’s follow them!

Hellisheidi in Iceland, and the ecodistrict Fort d’Issy On Power/ ©Ville d'Issy-les-Moulineaux).


In 2013 New Zealand generated 7,6 tons of CO2 per capita, way lower than its neighbor Australia, who produced 16.3 tons but a little bit more than France with 5,1 tons which is the same figure as the world average. The country who emitted the most in 2013 was Qatar with 40.5 tons per capita. More from the World Bank database here.


07 December 2016

Store electricity, and everything can switch

Electricity is a beautiful thing. It changed our world during the 20th century, like motorized vehicles also did or like internet is transforming our society. Yet there is one standard which has to evolve about electricity: the storage of it. Today we do not store large quantities of electricity, or only occasionally. Humanity needs to find ways to store large amounts of electricity because in the future more electricity will have to come from solar and wind energy…


One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Powerwalls AFP
An example of pumped hydro storage
El Hierro island, Spain -
 This is the superior reservoir of
the installation
In some places around the world, there are days during the year when 100% of the electricity comes from renewables. Without electricity storage. But these places are Portugal or Denmark: a few million inhabitants in a sunny and/or windy coastal region. And depending on the weather, this 100% is not reached every day.

Solar and wind are intermittent. They do not necessarily produce the electricity at the moment we need it. Actually solar produces more electricity in the middle of the day and we need it more at the beginning and end of the day. The non-consumed electricity is just lost, except if you store it! In the previous article, we presented an exciting new class of solar cells. Progress in intermittent electricity generation will have to go with progress in storage.

Today the most common technology for storage is pumped hydro storage: pumping water up to a reservoir, and releasing it when electricity is required. The released water goes through a turbine which generates the current, like in a dam. We find such installations in Switzerland or France for instance. But this option has large footprints; it cannot be implemented everywhere. It looks like what we need is efficient batteries…


Innovation is giving us new batteries. These batteries will store more electricity and will cost less, together with a very small environmental footprint. They will change the game! Actually the change has started. Big batteries can be installed at your house or at your office building. They store electricity coming from solar panels, for instance, and provide it when you need it. For several years already this home battery has been available for purchase, however the real change has started recently. The Californian company Tesla is helping…

In New Zealand, Vector has installed nearly 200 Tesla home batteries during the last 5 months. Vector is the New Zealand largest distributor of electricity and gas. Several years ago the company decided to lead the switch to the green energy technologies. Since mid 2016 they have started to install the Tesla battery solutions, as the only distributor in New Zealand. We had the opportunity to meet Andrew Fraser who is the New Projects Manager at Vector. Andrew could tell us more about their part in this story.
One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Powerwalls
We met Andrew at Vector's head office, in Auckland.

There are two main Tesla products: the Powerwalls and the Powerpacks. The Powerwalls are designed for home; the Powerpacks are designed for businesses or institutions as they offer larger storage capacity. The home Powerwall is dimensioned to meet the demand of a family of four without problem, around 5kWh per day. Most of the time, Vector has provided both the home battery together with solar panels. This is the typical combination.  

Andrew explains that recently Rongamai School in South Auckland had a Powerpack installed, together with solar panels, for a four classroom block. The electricity consumption is monitored and the figures are thrilling: 95% of the consumed electricity comes from the solar panels! It does the job.
Vector CEO, Simon Mackenzie, Project Manager Paul Cannin and Minister of Energy and Resources, Hon Simon Bridges, at Auckland Glen Innes power substation (©Vector). On the 20th of October, the Minister opened the first grid-scale battery system installation of Asia Pacific. The substation homes several Powerpacks which will allow the suburb to better face the consumption peaks. The Powerpack is a cabinet containing 16 batteries like the one found in a Powerwall. In a Los Angeles western suburb, a similar project has started recently: the Long Beach facility will host a massive battery storage system.


The year 2016 was a ramp-up for Vector. The distributor sells the "Powerwall and solar panels" package at around 20000NZD (around 13500€), the Powerwall costing around 10000NZD alone. The prices will decrease in the near future together with the growing market, and with innovation. Innovation will allow Tesla and other designers to change the chemistry of the batteries. Also their environmental cost is high today, including the Tesla ones. But it will go down. The Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), in the U.S., is one of the numerous places developing encouraging solutions. One promising battery uses abundant sources such as oil waste or rhubarb. It is much cheaper and less toxic than current batteries.

Solar and wind farms producing and storing electricity will allow using less and less coal and gas power plants. Things will go even further since each building and each house could generate and store electricity. This is just the beginning...

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza PowerwallsOne Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Powerwalls
 The Sydney Tesla store exhibits the Powerwall.


In a 2012 article we talked about smart grids in Perth, Australia. Decentralized generation and storage of electricity will have to go with advanced electricity distribution grids. This changes the business model of electricity suppliers; they need to adapt to this switch.


15 November 2016

Solar equipment, everywhere

Two pieces of news these last days. On the one hand, the biggest brown coal plant of Victoria State in Australia, located close to Melbourne and operated by French energy company Engie, will shut down in 2017. This is positive on an environmental point of view since brown coal is the biggest emitter of CO2 among all the energy sources. On the other hand, the Californian company Tesla has presented an unexpected new product: solar roof tiles. The roof tiles themselves integrate solar cells and produce electricity. This is not what one imagines when thinking of solar energy. One would represent the technology by large plane panels with metallic structure. Well, there is an alternative solution, called… organic solar!


One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Organic Solar
We met David in BIO21
offices in Melbourne.
More here.
Tesla did not share any information about the technology behind the nice tiles. The solar tiles may carry organic solar cells. The most popular solar cells today are the silicon solar cells (silicium in French). It is what we find in the solar panels of solar farms or on roofs. Like the silicon ones, the organic cells convert solar energy into electricity. But organic solar cells are different; they use organic materials. They are made from carbon-based molecules or polymers and they have lots of advantages.

In Melbourne, a consortium of organisations has been working on the development of organic solar for several years. David Jones is the Project Manager representing the BIO21 Institute of the University of Melbourne. The Institute specializes in molecular science and biotechnology. Gerry Wilson is the Program Director from CSIRO, the federal government agency for scientific research in Australia.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Organic Solar
We had the chance to visit labs at CSIRO together with Gerry.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Organic Solar“For years already, organic solar cells have demonstrated a great potential. Today the main drawback of the technology remains their efficiency,” says David. A simple definition of the efficiency is the portion of energy from sunlight that manages to be converted into electricity. Gerry says: “The silicon technology has reached 25% efficiency whereas the current best organic solar is 13% efficient. However the silicon solar has plateaued out while the organic is improving every year. This is why there will be more and more commercialization of organic solar.” Indeed, besides a lower efficiency, the numerous advantages of the organic technology are exciting!


“We print the organic cells!” David explains. “We can print them on plastic, on glass or on metal or on textile. You can get thin, light and even flexible products.” Whereas the silicon panels are fragile, the organic solar items “can be rolled and transported easily. Camping tent can be covered with it. The Danish company infinityPV sells fine small phone chargers,” David says. “The solar panels we know go with heavy metallic structures. In India or in Africa for instance, they are very interested in lighter equipment.  

"Solar curtains" for the office? This tree with "solar leafs" should be installed next year.

Additionally we can make nicer equipment from an esthetic point of view. It is possible to alter the colors of the cells. There are even semi-transparent ones, which can be applied to windows for instance.” Gerry adds: “Also what is interesting with the technology is that the printing is not complicated; you can slightly modify a printer from the shelf and start to use it! It is one of the reasons organic solar equipment is simple to produce.”
The infinityPV phone charger. (©infinityPV)

“Compared to traditional solar panels made of silicon, the organic cells require much less energy during manufacturing,” says Gerry. “Indeed there are purification and heating processes for the silicon cells. Organic is much less intensive, basically it is much about printing only. And costs for input materials are lower. The chemicals industry already manufactures the organic molecules.” In the end production costs are significantly lower.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Organic Solar
Printers of the CSIRO Flexible Electronics Laboratory.

David concludes: “The technology is quite exciting. There is lot of enthusiasm among us working on it. There is plenty of room for improvement and innovation. We cannot imagine all the commercial applications behind organic solar!” Like the Tesla tiles, plenty of unexpected innovations will allow building the low-carbon society faster than we think.

On the left: SolarWindow designs windows which integrate organic solar cells. "Importantly, our liquid coatings are primarily made of hydrogen and carbon – two of the most abundant materials found in nature," says SolarWindow. SolarWindow)
On the right: Windows of this building in Yokohama, Japan, are covered with solar organic cells… (©Tasei)

In France, the construction of a “solar road” has recently started. Silicon solar is used among several layers and 15% efficiency is claimed by the designer WattWay. The future will tell us if it works! One important parameter to assess is how long the energy payback is.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Organic Solar

David gave an inspiring TEDx Talk in 2013.

According to the International Energy Agency, in 2015 renewable sources of energy have surpassed coal in terms of cumulative installed power capacity, with photovoltaic solar adding 49GW. These 49GW represents nearly a third of all renewable energies added in 2015. When it comes to solar, the electricity generation depends on the weather, but the increase in the installed power capacity is putting this energy source rapidly as a key and cheap solution.


24 October 2016

As pure as recycled

Michele in her kitchen.

Yesterday, in a kitchen in Washington D.C.:
   - Michele: “Drinking recycled water? What do you mean, my Dear?!”

   - Barack: “Well, in several places around the world, they purify sewage water and then drink it. The water is safe and good. You know, we will need more of that in the future!...”


One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Recycled Water Central Park
There is greenery everywhere
on the facades of the tower.
These guys are not cleaning
the windows, they are gardeners!
The Central Park block is located in Sydney city center. The green and blue edifices shine among older ones. Several buildings of the block were completed end of 2013, others are still under construction. The first tower was designed by the famous French architect Jean Nouvel. It is an apartment complex with a shopping centre. Thanks to its numerous green features, the tower was rewarded several times. One of these features is really exceptional and it is what we will talk about here: the waste water is recycled, on site!

The tower hosts the biggest recycled water facility in the world built in the basement of a residential building. We had the chance to visit the plant together with its best guide, Andrew! Andrew Horton is the Plant Operations Manager. He explains: “In this tower, we collect the apartment wastewater - bathrooms, kitchens, toilets and laundries - we purify it and send the recycled water back to the apartments! The building has two separated water networks: one for the traditional drinkable water supplied by the City of Sydney, and one for our recycled water."
One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Recycled Water Central Park

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Recycled Water Central Park
Andrew and Frédéric.

Of course the purification process includes several strong treatments. One of them is microscopic membrane fibres, which “remove bacteria, pathogens and viruses from the water.” A very sophisticated filter blocking very small things! Andrew adds: “Other robust processes are the ultraviolet and the chlorine treatments. At the end of it, the water goes out from the plant in one huge purple pipe. Purple is the official color for recycled water!

We do not drink the recycled water here, although we could. After all these purification processes, the water is as pure as spring water, if not more so!” says Andrew. At Central Park, the recycled water is going back to the apartment toilet flushing, washing machines and garden watering; it is not drunk.

Visit the plant with Andrew and us, click HERE! (Charts ©Central Park Water)

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Recycled Water Central Park
Stuart and Carolina, in Stuart's lab!
University of New South Wales, Sydney.

We wanted to know more about recycled water around the world, so we went to the University of New South Wales and met Stuart Khan. Stuart was recently appointed to the Water Quality and Health Technical Advisory Group of the UN’s World Health Organization. He mainly works on how hazards and weather events put water supply at risk; he also knows a lot about recycling water. “In Australia we do not drink recycled water yet. There are two main reasons for that,” says Stuart. “The two reasons are linked actually. We do not drink it first because of regulations and secondly because of public acceptance. Australian regulations still do not authorize it; there are political interests behind the issue and people are not ready yet.”

Drinking recycled wastewater may be hard to swallow, literally! In 2006 the citizens of Toowoomba, eastern Australia, rejected the idea through a referendum. However there are more and more stresses on water supplies. On the one hand population is growing. On the other hand, “global warming increases the severity of extreme weather events” says Stuart. “How to protect our water supply from events related to climate change? It is an issue I work on every day. Recycling water is part of the solution for securing drinkable water.”
At the City Gallery of Singapore
we could find explanations
about how the city recycles water.

Many cities are already incorporating recycled wastewater into the drinking water supply. It is the case in Singapore, the UK, the US and Belgium. Like at Central Park wastewater is purified to the highest standards. Not only is recycling becoming an option, the sustainable city will require it. 


In a 2012 article, we talked about Sydney working on a network of trigeneration plants. Well, there is a trigeneration facility in operation at Central Park! It is located in the middle of the block, inside an old brewery building. The station provides heat and chill water to the buildings around.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Recycled Water Central Park


"Extreme weather events include heavy rainfall and floods, cyclones,
droughts, heatwaves, extreme cold, and wildfires. Each of these types of events can potentially impact drinking water quality by acting water catchments, storage reservoirs, the performance of water treatment processes or the integrity of distribution systems."

Extract from a study by Stuart among others.


25 September 2016

GIY (Grow It Yourself)

© Disney
Do you remember Remy, the hairy hero of Disney’s Ratatouille movie? Do you think he still visits the neighbor's balcony garden to get some basil? Of course not! Now he has his own garden in his small Paris apartment!


Glen Barratt is a chef too. A real one. He is the chef at the Wild Canary bistro, located outside of Brisbane, Australia. The bistro offers colored meals elaborated with local ingredients only. The Locavore café, which we discovered in the previous article, also serves local food however Wild Canary goes even further: lots of the ingredients are grown at the bistro itself! Glen has a kitchen garden, at the entrance of the place...

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Grow It Yourself

We went to the bistro and met Glen. He could explain to us how fortunate it is to be able to grow food on site and how the garden influences the menu: “The meals are adapted depending on what is fresh in the garden. The weather also influences what we put on the menu. The garden allows the customers to see what is normally available in the season. For me, getting immediate access to fresh ingredients is fantastic!” Several times during our lunch we saw one of Glen’s assistant popping out of the kitchen and go pick something from the garden!

The young lady is picking up some apple mint for a tea!


“The garden is a nice mix of permaculture and organic,” Glen explains. Organic is now common in western countries. It consists mainly in avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which have negative impacts on the environment and on health. Then what is permaculture? In agriculture, permaculture is about natural methods of growing food. It promotes diversity and rotation of crops, in small areas. It is energy-wise and imitates the no waste, closed loops seen in numerous ecosystems. Also permaculture fosters the role each crop can play in a garden.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Grow It Yourself

For instance “there are good bugs and bad bugs in the garden,” says Glen. “The good ones eat the bad ones! For that I must have specific white flowers to attract these good predatory bugs. It takes place, but it is all more natural. If a crop is severely affected by bad bugs, we would recycle it and turn it into compost for example!”

Permaculture maintains the soils healthy, like other sustainable ways of growing. In France it has already demonstrated great results, in terms of productivity in particular. Today one-third of arable lands on Earth is degraded. In a sustainable society this will not be.
Carolina had a Roast Winter salad: pumpkin, sweet potato, parsnip, heritage carrot, fennel, grilled haloumi, pumpkin hummus, seeds, balsamic reduction. Knowing the story of the ingredients, the dish had a special taste!

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Grow It Yourself Glen adds: “Sometimes we grow things just so people can see that it's easy and something they too can do at home. Also in the past we have done many workshops here - like organic pest control or composting.” Right! We can all be gardeners! Of course having a house with a garden helps. Nevertheless today there are more and more options for growing food on a balcony or even inside an apartment.

© Botanic
It may not be possible to grow potatoes since they require deep ground, but growing herbs like basil is possible. More and more gardening shops offer solutions. In France, the shop Botanic sells vertical garden furniture. On a daily basis, gardening applications on smartphones can assist. Gardroid is an application in English. Mon jardin potager is available for French speaking planters.

Eating local food avoids transportation and refrigeration which generate carbon emissions.
A message of the Ratatouille movie is “Anyone can cook”, we say: “Anyone can grow”!

The garden is located at the entrance so that people can see it.

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza Grow It Yourself