Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Sustainability, From Greed is Good to Green is Good

Sustainability, From Greed is Good to Green is Good

Flagstaff, Arizona (7 August 2004)-

Today, the environmental and conservation movement is once again faced with ideological, political, and ecological challenges that could have serious implications on the sustainability of the environment and that of development. Reflective of the present political situation, there is a fierce and often personal debate on the state and effects of air emissions and climate change, how forests and national parks should be managed, what man’s relationship to biodiversity should be, how energy should be developed and utilized, in essence, how development should be sustained. Sustainable development, commonly defined as, meeting the needs of today’s generation without sacrificing the ability of future generations to meet their needs, has been adopted by competing ideologies, politicians, development agencies, civil society, and big business to push their own respective agenda. What was touted as the template for development in the 21st century has turned into a sober realization that more openness and understanding, humility, magnanimity, discipline, more partnerships are needed not only of individuals, but also of societies and of countries if sustainable development is to be achieved.

Sustainability is an on-going process, a journey, and a learning curve on how it is to be defined and operationalized. The recent Southwest Sustainability Expo, held last week (6-7 August 2004) at the Northern Arizona University in cool and ponderosa pine- covered Flagstaff, Arizona sought to show that sustainable development is real, achievable, and importantly, heading into the mainstream. It has the potential to transform our communities, homes, schools, energy requirements, and for states like Arizona, how to develop within the knowledge economy framework. The Expo’s 93 exhibitors/ sponsors, over 60 speakers, and 74 seminars/ workshops/ tours clearly showed how different sectors of society, from engineering, power, design and architectural firms, schools, government, civil society, Native American communities, and individuals are all seeking to develop the technology, systems, policies, and framework on sustainable development for the 21st century.

The 2004 Southwest Sustainability Expo coincided with the Southwest Renewable Energy Conference for Policy and Technology. Both programs brought together elected officials, industry representatives, renewable energy specialists and manufacturers, academics and researchers, and the general public to discuss and explore how each sector can work with each other to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and to improve the quality of life and of the environment in Arizona.

Apart from promoting awareness, the Expo’s other objective was showing how technological progress in sustainable energy, building, and transportation systems are already being implemented in the market. The congruence of the rising apprehension on the long-term stability of energy sources and energy prices, the rising costs of environmental impacts caused by pollution and resource degradation on the economy and health of the citizenry, the increasing pressure on Congress and government to institute and enforce environmental laws, rules, and regulations and the developments in environment-friendly and affordable technology, are creating the critical mass for the mainstreaming of sustainable systems.

Oil Supply Situation

In his keynote speech, Randy Udall of the prominent political family of Arizona, author, and Director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) based in Aspen, Colorado, as well as in Solar Energy International and Colorado Renewable Energy Society, soberly yet wittingly informed us that the U.S. has already consumed 65% of about 260 Billion gallons of oil produced within its borders as of year 2000, with peak production reached in 1970. Texas itself has used up 80% of its reserves as of 1998, so much so that it is now spending $5-6 billion a year to import oil. The American Petroleum Institute, according to Udall, stressed that the 31 states, which produce oil, have all passed their peaks such as Oklahoma in 1927, Colorado in 1956, Wyoming in 1970, and Alaska in 1988. The U.S. currently imports five supertankers, each carrying a volume of two million barrels, daily.

Global oil production is expected to peak between 2010-2020. Udall has written that about 794 billion barrels of oil have been consumed to date, with 991 billions barrels in reserve, and another 487 billion barrels to be found. The optimistic say that technology and man’s creativity (as well as tens of billions of precious dollars) will lead to further oil finds, but these will either be thousands of kilometers outside of the U.S. such as in Russia’s Caspian Sea or thousands of meters (5,000-10,000 ft) deep in the ocean floor such as in the Gulf. Except for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and a few deep-water basins, most of the reserves in the U.S. have been used up, in Udall’s words, like Swiss cheese. Why Swiss cheese, because of the 4.6 million oil wells drilled worldwide, 3.4 million have already been drilled in the U.S.

At present consumption rates, 180 billion barrels would have been consumed in the U.S. by the 1950-2020 baby boomers generation raised on the automobile and suburban lifestyle.

The other and more serious complication is that the U.S. is currently using 25% of the world’s oil supplies while the other industrialized nations are using way less at the moment, i.e. Japan (8%), China (5%), Russia (4%), Germany (4%), S. Korea (3%), England (3%), France (3%), and Italy (3%). The major oil producing countries are Saudi Arabia (26%), Iraq (10%), Kuwait (10%), Abu Dhabi (9%), Iran (9%) Mexico (6%), Valenzuela (5%), the former Soviet Union (5%), and the U.S. (3%), most of which are not exactly on friendly terms with the U.S., unless you count the close personal ties of the Saudi ruling family and the Bush family.

China Crisis

Just taking China (pop. 1.226 Billion in 1995) as a specific case, Udall stressed that the country will be hosting the 2008 Olympics. Hence, it will be building at least eight (8) cities, each the size of Boston. Unlike Greece 2004, it is seeking to finish construction two years early. China is also planning to build two power plants every 12 weeks for the next 30 years. At present, it has auto ownership figures of the U.S. in 1913. However, following the American automobile culture, it is registering 30,000 vehicles weekly in Beijing alone. And this is China only. What about India with close 1.1 billion people and rapidly progressing? Japan? South Korea? Once Africa solves it problems and Europe gets over its economic slump, economic activities are expected to increase, thereby increasing oil and energy consumption, as well as prices.

Renewable Energy

The Expo’s theme is that there are alternatives to the looming energy supply crisis, aside from going to war in the Middle East, and that is by increasingly adopting energy efficient and renewable energy systems. Solar and wind energy, it seems, have overcome its stigma of high capital costs and complex maintenance procedures. The price of photovoltaic cells has fallen 50% in the past 10 years and is expected to fall down by as much as 5% annually (Shell Solar’s goal) as the cost of silicon wafers decreases. Solar use is expected to grow 15% annually, after achieving 30% growth so far (Shell 2003). State rebates of up to 55%, income tax credits, net metering can help recover the approximately $12,000 solar electric system that a typical family in Arizona, California, Delaware, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island is expected to spend (Altair Energy), in lieu of the absence of action from Congress and the administration on promoting renewable energy systems.

For wind power, updated wind maps, the reduction of equipment costs, more modern, and even home-sized wind electric systems, and an increasingly organized maintenance and operations systems make it a feasible project for homes, schools, Native American utility companies, and local governments. Wind turbines can generate 250-300 kilowatts of power, which is 10x more efficient than the traditional European windmill (APS).

Other forms of renewable energy production (RE) discussed extensively were the successful use of biogas from CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) and landfills (methane), geothermal energy, biomass (from forest thinning operations) in different parts of the state by different entities from Arizona Public Service (APS), Sandia National Laboratories, to the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA). Notably, biomass (plant matter) RE systems now account for 7,000 MW of installed capacity, which is the second most utilized renewable power generation source in the U.S. In alternative automobile fuels, the use of hydrogen, compressed natural gas, electric, biodiesel/ bio-oil fuels were presented. Twenty-five (25) hydrogen-fueling stations have been set up the U.S. with another 53 in Europe, Asia, and Australia. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an Executive Order last April 20, 2004 calling for the completion of a hydrogen transportation network throughout the state by the year 2010 (H2Nation, 2004).

Green Building

Apart from RE, the Expo emphasized the need for green buildings not only to use energy more efficiently, but to maintain and improve the health and productivity of building occupants. Buildings account for 40% of the raw materials used annually in the global economy (including 25-35% of wood used), 30-40% of the energy used and emissions generated, 35-45% of municipal solid wastes, and 25% of water used (Chuck Burke-ADEQ). Clearly better use of resources is required. For example, a 5% improper installation of insulation translates into 50% heat/cooling loss.

“Sick” school buildings, those with poor indoor air quality, have caused 10 million school days lost to asthma attacks in U.S. children and poor academic performance. In fact, the sleepy schoolchild syndrome, experienced daily between 2-3 p.m. is partly attributable to poor air quality. The focus on school buildings is evident in studies that show that a high performance school building which has an integrated design, day lit classrooms, good indoor air, green building materials (no off-gassing), sustainable site planning, and ecological solid waste management, has resulted in a 20% and 26% increase in math and reading skills and 30% energy savings, especially in light of the fact that 76% of U.S. schools are in need of repairs. After all, as Chuck Burke of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality states, “schools are the heartbeat of a community”.

The increasing coordination, cooperation, partnering, discussions, and the exchange of information among many sectors of society and the different disciplines are leading to exciting and groundbreaking projects in sustainability and RE systems. With a healthy dose of political will and new policy thrusts, private sector and technological innovation, increasing research and development, and a supportive market, RE systems can have a bright future not only in the U.S., but also in the world. After all, Europe is planning to source 10% of its energy needs from RE. Shell seeks 20%. Honda and Toyota have forged ahead with hybrid fuel vehicle systems.

RE Successes

Successes in RE systems are evident. U.S. EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency,) Energy STAR program (March 2004) has documented the prevention of an estimated 48 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the annual emissions of 30 million automobiles and 175,000 tons of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in 2003. Consumers and businesses have purchased or committed to $14 billion of investments in energy-efficient technologies, which translated into $9 billion in savings for 2003 alone. In 2003, 115 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) and 20,000 megawatts (MW) of peak power (the amount needed to power 20 million homes) were saved. Savings of about $108 Billion are expected over the next 10 years from these energy saving technologies and systems. About 1,400 manufacturers have achieved Energy STAR labeling across 28,000 individual product models in 40 product categories, with one billion Energy STAR products purchased. EPA’s Green Power Partnership has 230 partners committed to purchasing more than one billion kWh of green power (equivalent to the annual output of a 425 MW wind farm).

Further, EPA reports that more than 2,000 builders have constructed 200,000 Energy STAR qualified new homes to date resulting in an estimated homeowner energy savings of $50 million annually. The same performance rating has been used to evaluate almost 19,000 buildings (33% hospitals, 24% supermarkets, 19% office, 18% schools, 5% hotels), with 14,00 buildings earning the Energy STAR rating. Lastly, 53 organizations have joined EPA’s Climate Leaders and committed to aggressive long-term goals of reducing their greenhouse emissions.

Implications for the Philippines

What are the implications for the Philippines considering rising oil prices, power rates, and a looming power shortage crisis? The nation has to leapfrog into a more sustainable energy development program and not copy the pollutive path taken by the developed countries. For one, how long can we afford to compete with the other countries for oil or coal imports as our primary energy sources? Energy efficiency and conservation measures go hand in hand with the development of RE systems. The approach must be holistic, participatory, and multisectoral. Encourage at all levels investments in energy conservation and efficiency systems, i.e. from new to old buildings, use of these equipment and products, and in encouraging communities to adopt these technologies/ systems. Existing buildings can be sources of power. For example, on top of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality building parking structure consists of 900 fixed solar panels on its roof which not only provide 204,120 kWh annually but prevents emissions of 190,648 lbs of carbon dioxide (CO2), 414 lbs of sulfur dioxide (SOx), 424 lbs nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 14.29 particulates a year.

Two, government should work with concerned groups in developing the informational database, rating, and labeling system for the most cost-effective and efficient products and systems.

Three, encourage invention and innovation in indigenous power generation technology and systems. The Philippines has been recognized as number five in geothermal energy development and is expected to be number two in a few years time. While environmental impact issues hindered some projects, the hard lessons of the past should pave the way for better-run facilities. Since these facilities are also located in upland areas inhabited by indigenous peoples (IP), a training and educational program to develop IP energy engineers should be initiated in the hope of creating their own utility cooperative similar to the Native American utility companies.

Companies such as the Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), Shell Solar Phils. and some members of the Lopez family (who are participating in the natural gas program) have pioneered either wind power or solar power generation in Ilocos, Palawan, and in other remote areas. This is commendable and should be further encouraged through a reevaluation of incentives. Further, information on our suitable solar and wind power sites should be disseminated not only to other investors but to local communities and organizations who may be interested in initiating their own programs and even uploaded into the Web. With over 1,000 of the country’s 7,100 islands inhabited, there should be enough investment space for those interested.

Fourth, as the developed countries shift into hybrid or more efficient vehicles, so should the Philippines. Let us avoid the temptation of importing these soon-to-be dumped (at significantly discounted rates) vehicles and leapfrog into clean and highly efficient vehicles. Toyota and Honda Philippines should be encouraged to bring their hybrid vehicles into the country. General Motors, Mercedes Benz, Ford, and Soletria Corp. are all either developing CNG-based, biofuel, hydrogen electric, or fuel-cell cars. I think Philippine engineers, physicists and agricultural engineers, are in a position to develop or build on biofuels, electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell engines technology that is currently being developed in Japan, the U.S. and in Europe. The lead of Subic Bay Metropolitan Administration (SBMA) in using CNG taxis serves as a good example.

Knowledge management (KM) will play a large role in the country’s quest for sustainable and renewable energy systems. The Expo introduced us to companies carrying multiple lines of interrelated RE products and services. This indicates to us that technology and service providers see the need to provide a holistic approach to RE systems to a diverse but growing clientele base. All have uploaded their products, service, and non-proprietary knowledge into the Web.

We have no choice but to develop these and other indigenous energy sources. With rising global population and increasing global economic activities, continuing to import oil and coal will simply be economically and environmentally disastrous. This is a national, multi-sectoral, and multi-generational effort. As Jim Underwood, the Sunrise (documentary on solar energy development) filmmaker told us, solar use will take many forms and involve many different types of groups from government agencies such as NASA, Coast Guard, Navy to farms and households. One thing is certain though; solar (and other RE sources) energy sources are here to stay. Randy Udall said it best that humans have a cultural affinity and desire to produce or make things, and producing renewable energy is one such desire that should be encouraged.

Twelve years since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992), 17 years since the publication of “Our Common Future”/Brundtland Report (1987), 22 years since the enactment of the U.N. World Charter for Nature (1982), 32 years since the Stockholm Conference on Development (1972), 34 years since the first Earth Day celebration (1970), and 42 years since Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring (1962), among others, the dialogue on environment, development, technology, and social justice continues. This dialogue has taken many forms and involved different kinds of individuals, organizations, and communities. During those heady days of the environmental movement, with the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the oil price shocks and energy crisis, the numerous ecological catastrophes, and the deconstruction of everything by the youth, academia, intellectuals, and critics, the environmental movement attracted some of the most committed, passionate, creative, and stubborn people in the planet. Thanks to those people, organizations, and communities and to the resilience of the environment, we all still live in a place that is habitable and can still meet our needs as individuals and as a society.

Randy Udall in a presentation entitled “When Will the Joyride End?” (nd) writes, “By 2050 a world of perhaps nine billion people will be consuming only as much oil as three billion did in 1950. There will be three times less oil per person. Oil will be more expensive. Is this a Doomsday message? Not necessarily. A more sustainable world may actually be a better place in which to live. The difficulty is getting from here to there.”