Friday, December 28, 2012

The Energy-Water Nexus: It's a Thirsty World and the Stakes Are High

“All the water that will ever be is, right now.” With this simple sentence in 1993, National Geographic summed up the challenge: How do we continue to supply 7 billion people with enough water from a finite supply and satisfy the needs of modern society with increasing population and demand?
Water and energy are the life’s blood of industrialization. These resources are inextricably intertwined and work together to quench our thirst for power. Water is integral to resource extraction, refining, processing, transportation and electric power generation. Conversely, significant amounts of energy are needed to extract, transport, treat, and use water in urban areas. The collision of these two resources is often referred to as the energy-water nexus.
It’s a thirsty world and the stakes are high. However, using no energy uses no water at all and consumers and businesses alike can take advantage of new technology to minimize energy use. According toSandia National Labs, “coal, the most abundant fossil fuel, currently accounts for 52% of U.S. electricity generation, and each kWh generated from coal requires withdrawal of 25 gallons of water. That means U.S. citizens may indirectly depend upon as much water turning on the lights and running appliances as they directly use taking showers and watering lawns.”

Fortunately, many new and proven critical technologies with real solutions are currently jockeying for position to strategically target market opportunities to reduce power use in the building sector. These technologies can chip away at building power consumption and improved policy could dramatically speed this process. For example, mandated efficiency targets or on-bill recovery for retrofits could transform the industry across the board.

Many of these technologies address multiple problems. For instance, SolaRover, a Colorado company, offers a rapidly deployablecritical-output mobile solar power generator system that properly configured, can deliver up to 50 kW of continuous power. These generators can be plugged directly into a facility and be used to reduce facility energy use and cost during times of peak load demand—the time when energy costs are highest. At the same time, these units reduce water use by reducing the facility’s power needs generated off-site. In the event of an emergency, like Hurricane Sandy, these mobile generators can be simply and quickly moved to where they are needed – without the need for fuel. Thus, mobile solar generators can provide a lifetime of energy and water savings.

The Green Power Resource Management multifaceted solar powered air conditioning unit can be further adapted to function as a virtual power plant can further minimize building energy use by combining PV technology with DC engineered air conditioning innovation.

More and more businesses are recognizing the potential to turn their company building, previously a pure expense, into a power generation asset that can generate abundant and clean electricity. Pythagoras Solar, a company focused on building integrated photovoltaics (BIPV), provides building owners the opportunity to achieve “ubiquitous solar” via integration of solar windows and solar skylights. The Pythagoras Solar window is a solar panel built around two panes of glass which allows it to function as both a window and an electricity generating source.

New innovations can further facilitate production of potable water without using fossil fuel powered energy to power filtration.  

Modern society is characterized by growth: Demand for energy and water is increasing while our water resource is finite. We are at a crossroads and the challenges that we need to address are daunting. Fortunately, with challenge comes opportunity and policy makers, businesses and consumers can take steps to reduce use by incentivizing a harmonized approach to energy-water planning and by incentivizing deployment and integration of technology that can reduce energy use and create a sustainable energy-water infrastructure. 

As a lead-up to Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, January 13-17, Masdar is sponsoring a blogging contest called “Engage: The Water-Energy Nexus.” The winner will be invited to Abu Dhabi as VIP media to cover the week’s high-profile events. Please vote for me here:






Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Arzu Studio Hope: A Sustainable Business Model for Transformational Change

It isn’t enough to talk about peace.  One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it.  One must work at it. – Eleanor Roosevelt
How do you lift women out of poverty in a country where women are marginalized and defined by their subordinate status?  According to Connie Duckworth, CEO of Arzu Studio Hope (Arzu), you use the tools you have available to design and build a platform for growth.    “There is dignity in work and self –reliance,” said Duckworth.  “Women are amazingly resourceful.  Women do the work of the world and are also the face of poverty.  They are peacemakers and mothers everywhere want the same things.  We want our kids to have opportunities, to be healthy and to have a future.”   
Arzu demonstrates that transformational change can happen even in the world’s most horrible places.  “Each one of us holds the power of hope and change in our hands,” continued Duckworth.  As a mentor to countless women coming up through the ranks at Goldman Sachs and an advocate for family focused policies like maternity leave, Duckworth has demonstrated a lifelong passion for women’s rights and economic sustainability.  Arzu is a reflection of that passion and with Arzu, Duckworth has created a roadmap that could be replicated to impact women globally.   “We’ve developed a successful business in Afghanistan, a conflict zone with no infrastructure, no power grid, no internet, no roads,” says Duckworth, “if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere.”
The concept is based on the mantra, “she who writes the check controls the agenda.”  Women that have an income can have a sense of independence that they would not otherwise have; with an income women gain authority.  The idea for Arzu grew out of an identified need.  Duckworth was asked to travel to Afghanistan as a business representative of the US Afghan Women’s Council, a Council created to ensure that in the restructuring of Afghanistan that women have a seat at the table.  They were the first delegation allowed to overnight in the country.  She describes it as stepping back in time 2000 years.  Kabul is a city devastated by civil war that flattened whole sections of the city.  On the way back to the airport the group stopped by a bombed out Soviet-style building and met dozens of women and children squatting for the winter with very little in the way of clothing and no heat, electricity or water.  Many, if not all, of these women were widows with no education and no way to support their children – and it is not uncommon for women in Afghanistan to have 7 or 8 children. 
Struck by these images, Duckworth knew she was going to do something to create a business to employ as many women as possible.  The challenge: start a business with no access to electricity, in a war-zone, without a shipping infrastructure or banking infrastructure.   While she did not have these things, she did have a vision.  She wanted to identify an export product that would create enough cash to fund the back end of the business including all the materials, all the social programs and provide for fair wages.
Here is where the process begins to emerge.
Step one in starting a business is to get as much information as you can.  Duckworth hired a woman at the UN to compile economic data.  One drawback was that the data was from 1975 but it still provided some framework to work from.  Afghanistan is extremely poor, extremely dry and access to water is limited – thus, no opportunity for agriculture.  To set the stage, there are really no employment opportunities for women or men.
Step two was to use this information to identify the product.  Weaving is a culturally acceptable activity for women, they can weave in their homes, and in theory the business could be started that day.    So, through trial and error, Duckworth essentially backed into high quality Afghan rugs as the target product. 
In life, success is based partly on the cards falling your way.  Bamyan Province has the first, and so far, only female governor, Habiba Sarabi.  She was appointed in 2005 and she invited Duckworth to start an enterprise in Bamyan.  Bamyan Province is home to the magical Buddha’s and translated means ‘The Place of Shining Light.’  Bamyan is one of the thirty-four provinces of Afghanistan.  According to the Regional Rural Economic Regeneration Strategies (RRERS), 

Bamyan is one of the poorest, most mountainous, and agriculturally least productive areas in the country. Much of the land is barren and inaccessible, with acute water shortages, small landholdings, extensive food insecurity, and poor soil quality characterizing much of the region. While specific communities in Bamyan have benefited from short-term relief efforts and some infrastructure improvements, substantial need for well-planned initiatives remains. 

Duckworth made the decision to start an enterprise around training and developing Afghan talent.  While still a segregated society, the company is run by two production managers: one male and one female.

Step three is to negotiate or garner the support of family and community.  To do this, Arzu went village to village and house to house negotiating with the male heads of households to create a social contract.  The deal was that in exchange for fair labor wages, the company would pay for “A” quality product and add a 50% quality bonus.  These are highly skilled and talented artisans.  Each year Arzu formally sits down with each family to negotiate and they truly understand what a job can do to transform a woman’s life and her social position in the household.
One story that Duckworth tells is that of a widowed woman weaver named Fatima.  Arzu gives priority to widows.  Before Arzu, Fatima was living in a refugee camp with her seven children.  Statistically, 25% of children in Afghanistan die by the time they are 5 years old, 95% of women will never have any medical care and Afghanistan has the second highest maternal death rate globally.  These women suffer from malnutrition and illiteracy and 85% of them suffer domestic violence.  If there is a history of being a sole wage earner, however, that woman’s respect goes up dramatically.  Fatima is now reading at a fifth grade level, supporting her family and is a shining beacon of hope for them.
Why does this model work?  Because, says Duckworth, these families are being economically incented to support the model.  “Follow the money,” says Duckworth.  “We believe that for this to work, women need to be empowered economically and also supported with an ecosystem.  You can’t just pull one end of the thread out of a ball of yarn.  You need to bring in education and promote health.” 
Part of Arzu’s success is because they consciously built an ecosystem of support that consists of three components.  First, the family must agree that the women get released to Arzu for 2 hours a day for tutoring.  One woman who realized this change in her life commented that, “reading is like a blind woman getting her eyes.”  It is amazing that things that we take for granted can make such a huge impact.  Second, the family must agree that all children in the household go to school and Arzu tracks compliance.  Third, the family must release the women for pre- and post-natal care health checks.   It is significant that since 2006 the community that lives within this ecosystem has not lost a mother or baby in childbirth in a country with one of the highest maternal death rates.   The difference is that the families have bought into the business model.  They are economically incented to do so and their success is based on their own performance. 
“If you follow the money and trace it back, you can figure out why people behave the way they do,” explained Duckworth.  For example, why do families marry their girls off at the age of 12? Economics -  the family gets money from selling the daughter to the in-laws.  If, however, we can figure out how to provide employment to teenage girls they are worth more to their families earning a consistent income.  Whenever possible, Arzu employs teenage girls for part-time jobs.  They are the teachers for the women weavers, they help in the garden.  Seventy female students are attending college.  The equation is simple: income = girls get to stay in college.     
Arzu demonstrates that if you can show someone that they can be the catalyst to set their children on the path to a better life, they will do what it takes to make that happen.  The message to us is that no change happens if you don’t start.  “It doesn’t matter what you do,” says Duckworth.  “Just start.  If each of us just did that one thing that we are capable of doing there could be a tsunami of change.”  Arzu has created between 700 and 1000 jobs in a place where there are no jobs, scarce resources, cultural challenges and overwhelming destitution.  Change happens with baby steps and celebrating small victories.  Arzu is an inspiration for promoting transformational change through sustainable business models. 
For more on Connie Duckworth’s vision and journey, listen in to ICOSA’s Driving Force radio and anyone can support by going to Peace Cord. 




Monday, December 3, 2012

Living Better Electrically AND Efficiently – Elevations Credit Union and the Denver Energy Challenge Team Up

It's almost unimaginable that consumers would have to be encouraged to use electricity to make their lives easier - but that's where we started.  To explain, we can look to the visionary known as the Wizard of Menlo Park, Thomas Edison.  It was Edison's vision to create a system to deliver electric light into private homes in the late 1800's and ultimately, his vision revolutionized our way of life.
During the postwar era of the 1950s and 1960s, the power industry's growth transformed America and the American way of life. The opportunities provided by electricity seemed endless.  Remarkably, in 1956, to keep demand high and increase public awareness, General Electric launched its "Live Better Electrically" campaign.  The campain, supported by 300 power utilities and 180 electrical manufacturers across the nation, was designed to extol the benefits of "better living by living electrically!"  The result was a revolution in the quality and ease of domestic life.  Consumers now had electric-powered vacuum cleaners, clothes dryers, toasters, refrigerators, televisions, raido and even air conditioned movie theaters.
Decades have passed since the “Live Better Electrically” campaign and with it remarkable changes to our energy landscape. First and foremost however, today, a campaign to encourage use is unnecessary. Indeed, our energy use has grown exponentially.  For Americans, electricity is both pervasive and essential. We love it and our appetite for it keeps growing. The average household today owns 26 electronic gadgets. Electricity consumption doubled since 1980 and is expected to grow by another 25 percent by 2030. We take for granted that when we flip a switch a light will come on and when we plug in those gadgets they will recharge.  One way to keep up with demand, however, is to reduce our energy use and luckily, we can save money and live more comfortably at the same time.  That’s the beauty of energy efficiency upgrades.  After all, the cheapest energy is the energy that we don’t use.
Gone are the days of Jimmy Carter and his red cardigan.  Welcome to a new world of efficient buildings that manage energy use and integrate new technologies to achieve huge energy savings and vastly improved comfort.  An added bonus, potentially huge money savings to the bottom line for homeowners and business owners alike.
It’s no secret that I’ve taken steps to reduce energy use in my home.  I talk about it on ICOSA Driving Force radio and on this blog.  For example, I have all of our electronics on power strips so that they can be turned off at the strip to prevent “phantom power” or the power drawn by gadgets and electronic devices when they’re switched off or not in use.  I installed a clothesline and hang our clothes to dry outside in the sun (thereby also earning the nickname of Laura Ingalls Wilder from my husband.)  I’ve installed skylight blinds for the summer months and honeycomb blinds to help insulate the windows.  As my old “Edison” light bulbs burned out I replaced them with energy efficient ones – which as I explain below should have been expedited.  But what else can you do and what if there are upfront costs?
These challenges: the upfront cost associated with energy efficiency retrofits and identification of the changes that will make the biggest impact, are two key hurdles for consumers.  Luckily, the Denver EnergyChallenge provides education, free support services through an energy advisor, along with financial assistance to residents and businesses in the City and County of Denver. 
The Denver Energy Challenge was created to expand energy efficiency services to residents and businesses in the City and County of Denver and its funding comes from the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Buildings Program (under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).  The fact is, decisions on energy efficiency and investment can be time consuming and can be confusing.  To address this, Elevations Credit Union has teamed up with the Denver Energy Challenge and Energy Smart in Boulder County to bring Elevations Energy Loans to eligible homes and businesses in Denver City and County and Boulder County. This team of experts provides access to energy advisors to help assess the business needs and make retrofit recommendations, connect them with qualified contractors to make the improvements and loan specialists to provide low interest loans (2.75% for homes and 3.75% for businesses).  Under this program, Elevations Credit Union is committing $35M in financing for energy efficient and renewable energy upgrades for eligible homes and businesses in Denver and Boulder Counties. 
In-line with the “Live Better Electrically” campaign, we each have some control over our energy use even without implementation of smart grid programs or smart appliances.  I enlisted the help of the Denver Energy Challenge and Elevations Credit Union to find out how.  What I learned was that I can make small changes to my energy use and make a big impact.  Some of these fixes require minimal up-front costs like the following three examples. 
1.      Lower the temperature of your water heater.  Why?  It reduces standby energy loss.  The report recommended setting the water heater to deliver at 120F or the lowest practical setting for your preferences.  “A good measure is if you can take a shower using only hot water (not adding cold water).”  Estimated savings in my home: $60/year. 

2.      Replace lighting with CFLs or LEDs.  Why?  They use less energy and heat output is much less which equates to less cooling required for hot summer months.  According to the report, “Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) use ¼ of the energy of regular incandescent light bulbs and last 8 to 15 times as long.  Replacing them with CFLs will save significant energy and replacement costs over time.”  Installed cost is estimated for my home at about $60 and the savings estimated at $124 per year.  I made these changes in the basement and my kids say it now looks like a stadium!  Brighter light and less energy use. Can’t beat that. 

3.      Sealing air leaks can make a big difference and it’s an inexpensive fix.  Caulk between the object and the drywall on all of the penetrations of walls and ceilings where you can see gaps.  In my home we found gaps in the outlets and switch plates on exterior walls, bath fans, duct boots in the ceiling and the exhaust vent over the microwave. According to the report,” air sealing is typically the most cost effective improvement you can make to your home. To properly seal out air leaks, a contractor will use a large fan called a blower door to depressurize your house. When this happens, the contractor can easily find the air leaks and take corrective measures. A good air sealing job will dramatically increase the comfort of your home and help you save significant energy.” 

Overall, it was estimated that with simple fixes alone I could save about $220 per year.  That’s $220 of warmer living with brighter more natural light in the winter and cooler in the summer.  That doesn’t even include my other Laura Ingalls Wilder type habits!   

Thank you to Elevations Credit Union, the Denver Energy Challenge, and Logan Faser (aka, “Saving Slick” from the Comfort Cowboy video seriesfor the thorough education, money saving tips and the increased comfort!