30 January 2017

Few degrees make a big difference

Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump Engeo One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza
The Sydney Opera House is one of the symbols of Australia. If the iconic edifice is a masterpiece of architecture, it is also thanks to engineering choices. Concerning ventilation, such a large building should have ventilation openings, or chimneys, or cooling towers. The Australian opera house does not. How is that? Thanks to a particular ventilation system which uses the cold or hot waters from the harbor nearby!


In a previous article we talked about geothermal energy: deep underground hot water is used to generate electricity or heat buildings. Well, regarding heating and cooling a building, a more simple technology also exists, called ground source heat pump (GSHP) system or geothermal heat pump system. Such system consists of pipes buried under the building and tied to its ventilation system (the pipes can also go through large liquid reservoirs). Water circulates into these pipes. During winter, the ground temperature is higher than outside. It means that hot water goes up to the building, and heats it. During summer, the system can be inverted. The ground is colder; cold water goes up and cools down the construction! The few degrees of difference between the ground and the outside do the job.

Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump Engeo One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza
Huw and Carolina in front of a geological
map of New Zealand.
“Heat pump systems exploit natural differences of temperature!” says Huw. Huw Williams is a Senior Hydrogeologist and GeoExchange Designer working at Engeo. In the past he worked for the United Kingdom Environmental Agency. Engeo is based in New Zealand and California and specializes in geothermal heat pump systems in particular. We had the chance to meet Huw in Engeo offices in Auckland, New Zealand. 

Advantages of the technology are numerous,” Huw says. “The consumption of electricity is much lower compared to a standard ventilation system. It avoids combustion and greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil-fueled electricity.” According to New Zealand Wairakei Research Center, energy consumption can be reduced by up to 70%. Huw adds: “Maintenance costs are lower. The system also requires less equipment than traditional ventilation: in large buildings it leaves lots of free space on the ground floor and on the last floors where equipment are usually installed. Finally the system is silent, whereas traditional ventilation material can be noisy.”

Since the pipes are buried underground, we asked Huw about their resistance against earthquakes. New Zealand is a seismic place. We could experience it when a strong earthquake struck New Zealand South Island in mid-November. “The pipes are made of an advanced plastic, high-density polyethylene (HDPE),” Huw says. “They are both resistant and flexible. After the major earthquake of 2011 around Christchurch in New Zealand, we found that nearly all the pipes were undamaged. Basically the pipes move with the ground!” The ground pipes actually have a life expectancy of 50 years.


With all these advantages, why isn’t the technology more common? “The answer is that the initial expenses are higher than traditional ventilation systems,” Huw replies. “Installation costs are high because of the drilling and the ground works. Also the upstream design activities are more complex. However in Europe, North America, China and Korea the adoption is high. Indeed the payback is not long: between 3 and 7 years. So lots of owners make the calculation and choose the geothermal heat pump system. After it is paid back, it offers many years of savings in energy costs!

Financial incentives and regulation shall help. In the United Kingdom, the Merton rule is a recent law which obliges all new large buildings to consume at least 10% of self-generated renewable energy. Thanks to it, more and more new constructions integrate a geothermal pump system. Huw concludes: “This underground energy is free. Globally speaking, each time nature offers energy for free, we should use it! In a sustainable way of course.”


In California, the biggest project in the world is ongoing: a large heat pump system will heat and chill 11000 homes, schools and malls. Also in the USA, the IKEA shop of Denver, Colorado, goes even further: the system creates ice during the night, at a low energy cost, in order to cool the building the following day! The overall electrical demand is much lower.

In Franz Josef, New Zealand South Island, a heat pump system will be used soon to heat pools! We went there and met Ana Vivas who is the Manager of the pool center. “Soon we will stop burning natural gas to heat our pools,” Ana says. ”It means less greenhouse gas emissions. Also the hazards related to our large boilers will disappear. The upstream system, including boilers and tanks, will be dismantled and replaced. The new upstream heat pump solution will simply be connected to the existing downstream distribution system. That will be soon, in March!”

 During our visit, Ana showed us the large volume of equipment (boilers, tanks, etc.) which will be dismantled after the heat pump system is on.

Like various other technologies, heat pump systems have been available for a long time but are not yet common enough. Innovation will be mandatory to build sustainable cities but promoting existing efficient technologies will also be necessary. Regulation must help.

Geothermal Ground Source Heat Pump Engeo One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza
We visited the site few days after the drilling works ended. Impressive drilling!


09 January 2017

RRR (Reuse, Repair, Recycle)

More and more we hear about circular economy. Not only from environmentalists, but also from economists and politics. What is it? Circular economy aims to stop the linearity of our goods' lifecycle. Products, or at least their constituents, should have multiple lives, not only one. A first major principle is to reduce mining and extractions of resources from the Earth. A second major principle is to reuse more, repair more, remanufacture more and recycle more. From the start, smart design should help repairing and recycling. An ongoing project in Wellington, Capital of New Zealand, is a fantastic example of industrial reuse!
This chart from Ellen MacArthur foundation illustrates the principles of circular economy. You will notice it describes “technical” blue cycles but also “biological” green cycles.©Ellen MacArthur foundation

One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza NZ Bus Wrightspeed New Zealand Wellington Electric SEB Fairphone Circular EconomyScott Thorne is General Manager, Strategy at NZ Bus. NZ Bus is New Zealand's largest urban bus service operator. We had the chance to meet him and he could tell us the great story of their future electric buses.

“The city trolley buses were supposed to end life in the middle of 2017. The local Council will take down the electrical network wires you can see above your heads in the city. Wellington is well known as a green city and the Council has a preference for low emission vehicles, but technology options for electric buses are limited. NZ Bus wants to be at the forefront of sustainable energy options and sees diesel and hybrid buses as dead end technologies. Furthermore, we really did not like the idea of sending our 60 trolley buses to the garbage dump. To combat that, we came with an idea: transform the old trolley buses into independent electric buses!
One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza NZ Bus Wrightspeed New Zealand Wellington Electric SEB Fairphone Circular Economy
Scott and Carolina, in NZ Bus offices.

We went to California and met Ian Wright. He is a co-founder of Tesla. Ian lives in San Francisco, but he is a Kiwi (a New Zealander)! And we discussed about retrofitting the buses. He and his company Wrightspeed drive projects like transforming Mack trucks to electric. We agreed on the technical solutions and this is how our project started!

The first stage of the project is the retrofitting of the trolley bus. We remove the old electric engine, trolley poles and related equipment, and we install a new power train and batteries. This retrofitting starts now in December 2016! Our 60 trolley buses should be renovated by mid of 2017.” The second stage is even more exciting. “We will retrofit diesel buses! Among our 700 buses, we have a first target of 30% of them renovated to electric, within the next 2 years.”

This beautiful project is quite unique; it gives a glimpse of what industrial reuse will be in the future.

©Ian Motion
In France, the start-up Ian Motion turns existing vehicles into restored electric ones. The first model they will restore is the Austin Mini! Also in France, last October, the automobile manufacturer Renault presented a new version of their electric car ZoƩ. A major evolution is the new battery (yes, we talked about batteries in a previous article!), which doubles the autonomy of the car. The company explained that this improved battery can also be installed on the previous version of the car. A nice upgrade! Generally speaking, the automobile industry is one of the industries which have already started to integrate circular economy concepts, recyclability in particular.

Within the electronic industry, a unique product starts to become popular: the Fairphone. In addition to its inspiring ethical ingredients (it is the only Fairtrade phone for instance), the smartphone has a robust design and it is the first modular phone. Its modularity allows a much higher repairability and easy upgrades. Recently the Dutch start-up commissioned an independent assessment of the phone, examining its environmental impact across its entire life cycle. The modularity of the phone “enables 30% reduction of CO2 emissions across lifecycle.” This is a very good figure!

[Left] The modular architecture of the Fairphone. If a component fails, buy only one of the modules, not a complete new phone.
[Right] Fairphone 2 was the first smartphone to receive Blue Angel certification. You can find on the german certification website other brands – like Philips - which are doing well. ©Fairphone

© Seb

Today the design of the manufactured products does not always allow a good repairability. This will change in the future. Already several brands make efforts in this area, such as Canon, Miele, Seb or Rowenta. The brands Seb and Rowenta produce household appliances. They committed to designing repairable products. They guarantee the availability of their spare parts up to 10 years and “a proximity network of more than 6500 certified professional repair centres worldwide.”

Another good example of change comes from Sweden. Since last 1st of January repairing costs are lower there. The Swedish government wants to tackle the “throwaway culture” and the tax on repairing services was divided by two. It applies to clothes, refrigerators and washing machines for instance. There is also employment behind a strong repair industry, like the recycling industry. Governments may also see this interest.

In the future our goods and products will be designed differently; they will be more beautiful in the sense they will be more durable…
One Climate One Challenge Gheung Meza NZ Bus Wrightspeed New Zealand Wellington Electric SEB Fairphone Circular Economy
Picture snapped with our Fairphone 2!
The sound of electric!
The electrical wires will be taken down mid-2017 by the City Council.

NZ Bus project has won several awards already:
1. Winner – Outstanding Contribution to Innovation in the New Zealand Road Transport Industry Awards
2. Winner – Renewables Innovation Award in the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards
3. Winner – EECA Business Energy Management Award in the NZI Sustainable Business Network Awards
4. Finalist – Innovation Excellence in the New Zealand Innovation Awards
5. Finalist – Innovation in Technology Solutions in the New Zealand Innovation Awards