We’ve been on a journey over the past 12 months to find white spots where we think we can help. The journey has uncovered many roadblocks to reducing carbon emissions and only amplifies our drive to take action. Even as renewable energy becomes more economically feasible and sustainable lifestyles are in reach, we see a log jamb in the river of change. Today’s policy, regulations, support towards special interests and the resulting web of business beneficiaries and systemic reliance continues to perpetuate to status quo.
One simple example was experienced early on with our desire to put focus on researching operational efficiency of utility scale solar PV by way of IoT, automation and alternative mechanical energy storage technology. Well, if you wish to develop new technology to help improve the ROI / LCOE of renewable energy, you need to have a system on which to research, develop and test. A simple business case can demonstrate a small utility scale solar farm can at a minimum cover its costs and then some. Policy and regulation is what prevents forward progress by way of limited distributed generation in our area of southeast Michigan. A business is at the mercy of the Michigan Public Service Council, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) energy market and local utility companies to allow market access to sell green energy. Green electricity generation will grow at the pace which is most profitable to the utility company in markets like ours under current regulations. There are many people, NGOs and businesses fighting to change this. We’ve stepped back from this aspiration for now as a result. Let’s hope change happens soon.
So where does that leave us?
We like systems. We see a gap where a systems approach can serve more efficient and resilient sustainable solutions.
Resilient Renewable Energy Systems
That leads us to our first project – one where we’re plan to solicit help from all the experts out there on different verticals of renewable energy. We want to build out an open source (crowdsourced) and scalable system model of many different renewable energy types we call verticals. Think solar PV, hydro, wind, biomass, biogas, storage, etc. Such a system can inform developers and planners of cities and communities about the right mix of renewable technologies to meet their demand based on their location and geography and resulting climate.
Once we have a better idea about how to approach this – we’ll put up a project page and start tracking progress.
We also see many tangents to this energy system with consumers, producers, impacted industries and technologies which all influence each other and can show system level benefits not visible in the individual vertical. We’re developing a conceptual and visual system diagram, which also gives us food for through on the next steps, the next verticals which have a high impact on sustainable life, beyond energy.
Our second project stems from this visual and focuses on future agriculture. We see a future of local community based farming leveraging new farming techniques like hydroponic, aquaponic, aeroponic and vertical. These approaches in farming have a much higher yield potential than conventional farming methods. Local farming can reduce the carbon emissions that come along with the logistics of produce – which can come from all over the world. Sourcing locally can also reduce refrigeration along the supply chain which has a huge impact to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. In fact, according to a Drawdown1 – a book summarizing the most relevant impacts to global warming based on the research of a coalition of scientist and researchers, refrigeration is top ranked culprit globally. There’s a host of challenges that come along with community farming, but again, a systems approach might be the key to solving those challenges. There’s many other benefits that come along with local for local farming.
More about this project here: Scalable and Sustainable Community Farm
- Hawken, P. (Ed.). (2017) Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming. Pgs 164-165. Penguin Books.