# Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Technologies for Early Adoption

August 31, 2012, 9:08 am
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## Conservation and Energy Efficiency

Conservation and energy efficiency are the obvious measures for early and widespread adoption. Conserving energy, water and materials by altering our behavior involves individuals and the groups to which we belong: families, neighborhoods, places of education, worship and work. This “behavioral wedge” can be pivotal for achieving savings and for sending signals into the marketplace. This shift is already underway and private and public sector incentives are needed to reinforce it.

Conservation and energy efficiency cut across all the wedges, and reducing overall energy demands can enable deployment of more small- and intermediate-scale power generators. Greater efficiency in industrial processes, buildings, transport and waste disposal will reduce demand and save money. These measures are the ubiquitous “low-hanging fruit” (McKinsey 2007b).

## Industrial Efficiency

Industry accounts for one third of total CO2e emissions, with steel- and cement-production being the most energy-intensive and GHG-emitting sectors (Worrell et al. 2004; Bittner 2004). Material substitution (e.g., fly ash and steel blast furnace slag for concrete), and product replacement (e.g., reusable cloth for petroleum-based disposable plastic bags), decreases energy use and waste. Life cycle analyses of industrial processes, including upstream supply chains and downstream marketing and transport, can identify elements for improving efficiency, resource use, occupational health and safety, and consumer protection.

### Green Chemistry

Green chemistry principles guide industrial chemists and molecular designers to create materials and products that maximize the use of biodegradable feedstocks and minimize waste (Anastas and Warner 1998). Green chemistry employs plant extracts as chemical platforms and avoids petrochemicals, many of which are persistent, hormone-disrupters and carcinogens.

The chemical sector consumes about 20% of the total fuel used by U.S. industry (Worrell et al. 2000) and fossil fuels are used for energy and for the products. Making ethylene, for example, is one of the most energy-intensive processes and is a platform chemical for plastics and medicines. Circumventing ethylene could, therefore, reduce energy use and shift dependence from petroleum for feedstocks.

Deriving plant platforms from highly productive algal ponds would obviate land displacement.

## Smart Grids

Apart from power generation, utility grids consist of transmission, distribution, storage and use. Over 50% of investments in U.S. utilities will go to upgrade these elements of our energy system. Intelligent technologies include movement sensors to turn on lights, and computer-controlled meters and sensors to identify and power critical functions within buildings (e.g., heating and refrigeration), and within cities (e.g., hospitals and nursing homes). Monitoring and feedbacks, made possible with digital transmission, are components of smart, self-healing grids that can cope better with stresses while stimulating innovation, jobs and enterprises.

A year-long Pacific Northwest Laboratory demonstration project on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington realized significant savings by using: 1. Electric meters to identify times with high prices and high use of coal; 2. Thermostats and computer software to curtail use during these periods; and 3. Remote devices to adjust the preferences. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that digital monitoring and control technologies could save consumers $70-$120 billion over the next 20 years and obviate the need to build 30 large coal-fired plants.

This illustration depicts the hybridization of power generation measures, the multiple scales of generation and the smart technologies and storage needed to provide clean, robust and reliable power grids. PV = photovoltaic; CSP = concentrated solar power arrays (discussed below). Graphic: David M. Butler, The Boston Globe

## Green Buildings

 Estimated Savings from Green Buildings in the U.S. (In 1996 $US) Respiratory disease$6 to $14 billion Allergies and asthma$1 to $4 billion Sick building syndrome$10 to $30 billion Worker performance$20 to $160 billion Total Energy Savings$70 billion Fisk 2000 Schools with Natural Light 20% faster on math tests 26% faster on reading tests Kats 2006 Stores with Natural Light 40% more sales Kellert et al. 2008 Hospitals with Better Lighting and Ventilation Improved patient outcomes and reduced hostpital stays Frumkin 2008

Green buildings include natural daylighting, argon-containing, tinted windows that keep heat in during winter and deflect it in summer, renewable energy sources and green environs. Green buildings provide energy savings and employ products derived from green chemistry and sustainable forestry (e.g., fast-growing woods and grasses like bamboo). The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) includes efficiency in construction, recycling, operating energy and water efficiency, improved air quality, and profitability. Green buildings can be cost-neutral or cost-saving by reducing the size of equipment powering and managing the buildings.

In the U.S., retrofits are planned for almost 1,000 existing buildings (a half billion square feet), using LEED standards. Estimated payback periods range from 2 to 2.5 years.

Studies at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory project that improvements in indoor air quality in green buildings offer tens of billions of dollars in savings.

A caveat: Some of the financial benefits listed (see box) may only be partially realized; further research is needed to assess the health and work performance benefits of green buildings.

The Bank of America building in mid-town Manhattan, designed by Cook+Fox Architects, will save water, energy and expenses, and provides pleasing and healthy working conditions. (Image: dbox forCook+Fox Architects LLP)

### Green Roofs

Rooftop gardens, with a diversity of plants and bases to capture rain water, have many benefits. Green roofs: 1. Cool buildings; 2. Draw down CO2, toxic chemicals, smog and heavy metals; 3. Absorb noise and shield rooftops from damaging UVB rays; 4. Attract birds that control insect herbivores; 5. Provide useful water; 6. Decrease the urban heat island effect; 7. Create enterprises and jobs; and 8. Make life more pleasant. The cost- and energy-savings more than make up for the upfront costs.

Rooftop gardens cool buildings, beautify cities and reduce the urban heat island effect. (Image: Cook + Fox Architects LLP)

## Distributed Generation

Distributed generation -- on-site power or that produced near the point of use -- can provide both baseline and back-up power for peak use and surges. Distributed generation (DG) can be fed into grids and, with “net metering” and “feed-in tariffs,” provide income for local suppliers. DG can utilize solar, small wind turbines, natural gas and, in most areas of the globe, ground source energy. Fuel cells can generate and store power, and hybrids of energy production modes increase reliability.

Combined heat and power: Many industries require steam in their operations. Generating steam heat and power simultaneously can: a) displace power from the grid; b) be sold to other facilities; or c) be fed into the grid to avoid the need for additional generation. The elegance of this solution has motivated its use at smaller and smaller scales, and residential combined heat and power units are now becoming available. Casten (2007) estimates that recycling waste energy can reduce the fossil fuel burned to generate electricity by one quarter.

## Solar Power

The sun provides more energy to the earth in one hour than all the energy consumed by humans in a single year (Zweibel et al. 2008). In

 Mimicking PhotosynthesisIn living plants, incoming wave packets of light (photons)excite electrons to jump up ladder rungs (quantumlevels), releasing energy as they fall back to intermediatesteps. Chlorophyll contains other components thatcapture, transfer, convert and store the energy. In photovoltaic(PV) systems, photons excite electrons to become energetic electric charge carriers in external wires. Nanotechnologies -- with components measuringbillionths of a meter -- increase the surface area ofcomponents, and have the potential to dramaticallyincrease efficiency and reduce costs. (Their benefitsand risks are discussed below.

addition to the solar energy stored in fossil fuels and plants, solar energy can be harnessed via: 1. Direct daylighting and heating buildings; 2. Heating water; 3. Reflecting and concentrating sunlight with parabolic mirror arrays; and 4. Photovoltaic cells.

Almost 40 million Chinese homes derive hot water from rooftop solar-thermal heaters (Brown 2008).

### Solar Desalination

Persistent drought in major agricultural regions, along with mounting demands on aquifers and surface water, threaten agriculture, hydropower and health in many areas (IPCC 2007b). Desalinated seawater in the Middle East (using oil for power) irrigates land and nourishes populations. Direct solar thermal evaporation and condensation -- and PV- and wind-driven electricity -- can provide communities and regions with freshwater (Morgan et al. 1998; Bourouni et al. 2001; Shannon et al. 2008).

The need for freshwater may become a driver for rapid deployment of clean energy.
In Mexico, water impoundment in lakes is being studied as a means to ameliorate sea level rise. Solar desalination of sea water to irrigate parched lands could play a contributing role.

## Ground Source Heat Pumps

Ground source heat pumps supply buildings with heat and air conditioning by tapping into solar (heat) energy stored in the ground. (Geothermal energy refers to heat from hot springs, geysers, volcanic hot spots and hot rocks deep inside the earth.) Ground source heat pumps benefit from near-constant underground temperatures of ~55°F down to 150-200 feet, exploiting the differential between that and above-ground temperatures. The pumps operate to heat and cool, performing the latter by efficiently drawing heat out of buildings. (This naturally-derived air conditioning can help cope with heat waves.) Depending on site characteristics, ground source heat pumps can be shallow, closed or open loops, or deep standing column wells. They can be installed almost everywhere.

Wind energy is plentiful on-land and off-shore. Wind turbines can produce power near the point of use and wind farms can produce significant portions of power for national grids. (Image: Elena Elisseeva/Dreamstime.com)

Due to drilling and construction costs, ground source heat pumps have payback periods of ~seven years; after that, minimal electricity (e.g., from wind or solar) is needed to drive fluids through the underground loops.

90% of Icelandic homes are heated and cooled with ground source energy (Brown 2008).

### High Cap/Low Op Technologies

Technologies with high up-front capital expenditures and minimal operating costs (“High Cap/Low Op”) can be facilitated with creative financial instruments, whereby intermediate companies purchase them, amortize the costs and lease them to individuals and businesses.

## Wind Power

Wind energy -- an alternative with competitive costs today -- can be used for distributed power generation and for central power for grids. There is great potential for wind power on land and in coastal waters (Kempton et al. 2007). Use of just 12% of the land suitable for wind power in the U.S. could generate about 1 TW (Lewis 2004). Off-shore winds have a higher potential; but distance from shore (i.e., grids) matters, and the costs are twice those for on-shore wind farms.

Globally, 1.5 million 2 MW turbines could produce 3 TW by 2020, one fifth of energy used worldwide today (Brown 2008).

Computer simulations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggest that very large wind turbine farms could affect local weather conditions and general circulation patterns. Given this potential, the precautionary principle suggests distributing wind farms geographically.

### Concern for Birds

Studies of modern turbines (with large, slow-moving blades) in the Netherlands demonstrate very low mortalities, with a higher risk of collision for local birds passing turbines (0.16%) than for migratory birds (0.01%) (Drewitt and Langston 2006). Most studies of bird collisions have found

 Avian Mortaliities U.S. bird deaths from current wind turbines 10,000-40,000/yr U.S. bird deaths from communication towers 5-50 million/yr Estimated bird deaths with 2,500,000 turbines worldwide 2.5-10 million/yr Estimated bird deaths from household cats (77 million, U.S.) 100s of millions Worldwide bird deaths from avian flu 200 million/yr Sources: American Bird Conservancy April 2006; M. Z. Jacobsen, pers. comm. 2007; San Jose Mercury News April 2006; World Health Organization 2002

similarly low collision rates; but flight patterns can be altered, especially for water birds (Krijgsveld and Dirksen 2006).

Comparisons of bird mortalities from cell phone tower guide wires and buildings, and due to climate change itself, indicate that the losses from wind turbines are orders of magnitude lower than from these other factors. The effect of wind turbines on birds is therefore projected to be small relative to the benefits of reducing fossil fuels; though siting with respect to avian flyways warrants on-going monitoring and research.

## Fuel Cells

Fuel cells, consisting of two electrodes separated by a membrane, were first developed in 1839. They generate electricity by stripping electrons from hydrogen molecules, which then flow spontaneously through external circuits. Because fuel cells produce electricity electrochemically -- not by combustion -- they are silent, clean and easily scalable (stackable). Fuel cells emit only hot water that can be used directly or for space heating -- giving them twice the efficiency of fossil fuel generators. A 5-to-7 KW fuel cell prototype -- the size of a refrigerator freezer -- can power a 2,000 square foot home.

 Green Chemistry in ActionOrganically-derived materials can be used to manufacturesolar cells, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), transistorsand batteries. The diagram below depicts a small fuelcell (that functions as a battery), with hydrogen derivedfrom sugar. Using photosynthetic-like processes andwind power to split H2O and link the derived H2 withfuel cells is a central challenge for providing and storingenergy derived from intermittent power sources(Kanan and Nocera 2008).

Fuel cells, the most reliable of all generators, are being used in hospitals and international banking institutions.

But, separating hydrogen from water, methane, propane, ethanol or gasoline requires energy. Thus, using cleanly-derived electricity to split water (hydrolysis) is necessary for developing the non-fossil-fuel-based  hydrogen economy.

A fuel cell battery using glucose, natural enzymes, mediators and electrodes, separated by a cellophane membrane. Image: Courtesy of Sony

## Sustainable Forestry

The condition of the world’s forests constitute some 20% of the greenhouse problem. Logging, land-clearing, droughts, forest pests, mounting demands for meat and declines in fisheries, are placing enormous pressures on tropical, temperate and boreal forests. The quest for biofuels is the latest threat to these essential biological resources. Every second, one acre of forest is felled, equaling 32 million acres (or 50,000 square miles) annually (FAO 2007). Forests, wetlands, soils and coral reefs constitute the primary stores of carbon on the surface of the earth.

Forests cool the earth, maintainhydrological cycles, provide essential habitat, produce oxygen and absorb CO2. We vastly underestimate the ratio of plant-to-animal biomass needed to sustain life on Earth. (Image: António Nunes/Dreamstime.com)

Forest pests are a growing threat associated with global warming. From Arizona to Alaska, pine bark beetles have exacted a heavy toll on North American forests, by overwintering, moving up in altitude and latitude, and increasing their annual generations.

Bark beetle infestations in British Columbia, Canada, have turned vast pine forests into carbon sources rather than carbon sinks (Kurz 2008).

Approximately 2,300 square miles in Colorado have vast stands of dead trees, setting the stage for destructive wildfires. Pine bark beetle infestations contributed to California’s lethal fires in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

An additional wedge of avoided CO2e emissions can be derived by properly managing and skillfully nurturing the world’s forests. Forest preservation, reforestation and afforestation (planting trees on previously un-forested land) contribute to climate adaptation, as forests absorb floodwaters and maintain regional hydrological cycles. Moreover, intact, diverse, healthy forests generate oxygen, draw down CO2, and are essential habitat offering nourishment and protection. Protective policies for U.S. forests include: 1. Extending timber rotations; 2. Banning steep mountain-slope logging; and 3. Prohibiting new roads and  off-road recreational vehicles.

Financial instruments to reward avoided deforestation and tree planting include “Debt-for-nature swaps” that offer payments to local foresters in lieu of debt-repayment to international banks (Lovejoy 1984), and well-monitored and verified carbon credits and carbon offsets. The United Nations Development Programme and World Bank initiative, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (or REDD), will require adequate funding.

By paying land-holders to preserve and plant trees, Costa Rica increased its forest cover from 20% in the early 1990s to 50% in 2007 (Arias 2007).

But climate stabilization is needed to protect and preserve healthy terrestrial habitat.

## Sustainable Agriculture

Soils store 1,100 to 1,600 GtC (FAO 2007) and, while carbon is added to soils annually, an equal or greater amount is lost from erosion, forest clearing and overgrazing (D. Pimentel, pers. comm. 2008).

Image: Courtesy of Brian Lindley, No-Till on the Plains, Inc.

Soils can be carbon sources or sinks, depending on how they are managed and nurtured. Crop residues, roots and litter store carbon; conservation tillage leaves them to minimize soil disruption, absorb flood-waters, maintain soil fertility, and reduce run-off and erosion. Conservation tillage (or no-till agriculture) can improve crop yields, preserve micro-nutrients, sustain plant and animal biodiversity, and mitigate climate change by holding stored carbon.

Diverse fields of crops, interspersed with trees and shrubs, store more carbon than do large open fields and monocultures. High-diversity grasslands generate approximately two and a half times the energy yields as do monocultures, measured over a decade (Tilman et al. 2001). Poly-culture practices provide resilience to weather-related damage and crop pests (Zhu et al. 2000; Mitchell et al. 2002), and organic agriculture eliminates pesticides and minimizes fertilizers (both fossil fuel-derived), while locally-grown food decreases the “food miles” that generate greenhouse gas emissions. With targeted policies and incentives to enable investments in land conservation and low-carbon agricultural practices, these measures, along with no-till agriculture, can provide an additional wedge of avoided carbon emissions.

## Less Intensive Livestock Rearing

Energy inputs and GHG emissions from animal agriculture stem from: 1. Animal-rearing; 2. Growing feed; 3. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicide production; 4. Animal waste, including methane; 5. On-the-farm fuel use; 6. Processing and packaging; and 7. Off-the-farm transport of meat and dairy products. Together these steps account for almost 20% of GHG emissions worldwide. (Material adapted from Koneswaran and Nierenberg 2008, unless otherwise indicated.)

The bulk of the loss stems from land-clearing. Of the 2.7 GtCO2 emitted by livestock rearing, 2.4 GtCO2 (or 1 GtC) is released from deforestation to create grazing pasture and fields to grow grain for feed. Eight-to-ten pounds of grain (and thousands of liters of water) are needed to produce one pound of beef. For hogs and chickens, the ratios for grain-to-meat are two-to-three to one, respectively.

Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, release CO2 and methane into the air and nitrates into ground water (Townsend et al. 2003). Nitrates have health (“blue baby syndrome”) and environmental consequences (eutrophication, “red tides” and “dead zones”). The air pollutants from CAFOs have been shown to increase asthma rates in children attending schools nearby (Mirabelli et al. 2006; Sigurdarson and Kline 2006), and intensive, industrialized farming requires high levels of antibiotics to prevent disease and promote growth, practices that encourage the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (Pew 2008).

Industrial livestock production has grown twice as fast as have mixed farms, and six times the rate of grazing systems. Globally, industrial systems account for an estimated two-thirds of poultry meat production, one-half of egg production, and two-fifths of pork production.

WaterPyramids are structures, placed over salty and/or contaminated bodies of water, which heat up in the sun. The water evaporates and condenses into water pure enough to be used for IV solutions; so pure, that minerals must be added for use in irrigation to ensure nutrient-rich crops. (Image: Martijn Nitzsche, Aqua- Aero WaterSystems BV, Sibanor, The Gambia)

Healthy practices include: 1. Free-range and pasture-based production; 2. Local production; 3. Improved waste management; 4. Methane capture and use; and 5. Changes in consumption patterns. U.S. residents consume 200 lbs of meat (including fish) annually and Chinese counterparts now consume 110 lbs per person per year. Reducing red meat consumption is recommended to save energy, water and land, and reduce obesity, heart disease and some types of cancer.

## Improved Municipal Solid Waste Management

Municipal sold waste (MSW) management is currently highly inefficient (as is municipal water management). In 2000, annual emissions from MSW were estimated to be 0.47 GtC/yr, and they are projected to double (0.99 GtC/yr) by 2054 (EPA 2002, 2005; Covanta and Trinity 2007). Increased use of recycling, energy recovery and energy generation (via landfill gas collection) have the potential to reduce GHG emissions more than 1 GtC/yr, thus comprising an additional stabilization wedge.

 Low Tech/High Opportunity MeasuresInnovative low tech solutions can be implemented in a variety of settings. They include:BicyclesBicycle-driven systems augmenting solar- and wind-poweredsystemsStairmaster- and bicycle-driven generators in health clubs and homesStairmaster-like kick- and hand-pumps for irrigation and small enterprisesKnee-mounted generators that turn “walks into watts”(Donelan et al. 2008)Powering vehicles with vegetablle oilSolar-powered desalination and water decontamination

 This is a chapter from Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Guidelines for Investors, Insurers and Policy Makers (e-book). Previous: Introduction  |  Table of Contents  |  Next: Technologies Warranting Further Study

Glossary

### Citation

Environment, C. (2012). Healthy Solutions for the Low Carbon Economy: Technologies for Early Adoption. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/153458