Topics of the day: energy consumption awareness, smart meters, energy storage, seawater-air-conditioning, smart architecture, OTEC, Rapa, environmental activism, bicycle-warriors
Today we actually wanted to meet Terii Vallaux to ask him some (uncomfortable) questions – he probably sensed this and called in sick a few minutes after we arrived in his office. At 11:30 we had a meeting with Jean-Louis Cailly at SEDEP (Société d’Etudes et de Développement Polynésienne) a very clued-up and open-minded scientist who shared his knowledge about renewables in French Polynesia with us.
He had a quite vivid presentation with stick people to give politicians (and kids) a feel for electricity generation and consumption. If you convert the mechanical work a person could do on an average workday (lifting up a 50 kg bag of copra 1 meter 720 times) each person would need 180 energy slaves to cover their electricity “needs”. Quite striking if you look at it like this, isn’t it?!
Then he mentioned a study that SEDEP has carried out for Nuku Hiva (an island in the Marquesas which has 3200 inhabitants). If they started using their pine-forest stand (in a sustainably sound way – complying with “eco-certification-standards” (I think he could have meant FSC)) and produced their own wood for construction purposes (which they are currently importing) they would have enough biomass (waste – only about 20% can be used as timber) to cater for their electricity needs (about 700 of the 1650 hectares of exploitable pine forest would suffice).
Jean-Louis literally flooded us with words we asked about the seawater-air-conditioning. The new hospital which is being built will chew up about 5% of the electricity generated on the whole island once it’s opened! Burning fossil fuels in order to produce electricity, transmitting it to the hospital (with losses of about 12%) just to turn it into cold air really is a waste of energy. It would be a lot more efficient pumping up cold water (from a depth of about 930 meters which is reached roughly 3 km off the cost – the water here has a temperature of around 4-5°C). Jean-Louis thinks the planned pipe-diameter of 800 mm should be increased to 900 mm in order to double the refrigeration capacity (from 7,5 MW to 15 MW) and cater for the cold-air “needs” of a few more buildings as well. He is envisioning a grid of pipes (derived from 4-5 bigger pipelines coming from the ocean) bringing distributing cold water in an urban network (for all of Pape’ete). The water leaving the hospital (it’s cooling devices require a temperature of 5,5°C) at 12-15°C could be used a second time (in buildings equipped with under floor cooling) before being pumped back into the ocean.
I mentioned smart architecture which is most efficient because it doesn’t need air-conditioning in the first place – he totally agreed: apparently someone built a hotel “bioclimatique” back in the 80’s – most ideas have been around for quite a while – why isn’t mankind smart enough to use them?
Furthermore he compared the system here to wearing a belt and suspenders at the same time… he thinks the capacities are calculated in a much too pessimistic (exaggerated) manner – to ensure the uninterrupted service/supply guarantee and prevent the voltage from collapsing when there is a short circuit or peak (high demand). But if households had equipment (like capacitors) for example to prevent computers from crashing when there is a dip in the frequency (short circuit somewhere in the grid) and smart meters that make current consumers aware of their consumption and can switch off unnecessary equipment like air-conditioners for a few minutes (until the peak is passed) those capacities wouldn’t be necessary. Smart meters can also switch on deferrable appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers (when there is an overproduction – for example a lot of wind and sun at the same time).
We also talked about intelligent grids (combination of different renewables linked with a (sun, rain, wind, wave) forecast system) and energy storage (if there is for example a prediction of strong wind and waves hitting the coast (wind turbines and wave power plant) the water level behind the dams (hydropower plants) can be lowered instead of burning biomass).
In addition to pumped storage hydroelectricity and biomass (solar energy stored in plants) he pointed out that the ocean with its immense thermal mass and convection currents represents a reliable storage capacity. At night, when air-conditioning isn’t needed (as much) the temperature difference between the cold water (which is pumped up) and the warm water on the surface could also be used for electricity generation (OTEC).
The more I learn the more convinced I am that energy-self-sufficiency is not as difficult to achieve as everyone (the fossil fool lobby) claims. Why don’t politicians listen to people who know what they’re talking about?
After our nearly four-hour long conversation Raphael and I walked out of the building, looked at each other and thought the same thing: if people like Jean-Louis worked for the government we wouldn’t waste so much time talking – we’d see some serious movement in the field of renewables – achieving energy autonomy wouldn’t seem like trying to build Utopia anymore!
At about 16:00 we met Roti Maka (an activist, politician, artist and couturier) who was in touch with Thede to chat about energy-autonomy on Rapa (southernmost island of French Polynesia, Australs, inhabitants: 500, area: 41 km squared, length of roads: 12 km, gasoline power plants: 2, freight ship arrival: 1 per month). Rapa became independent in 2000 (Roti’s initiative) but is still under French protectorate until they can manage themselves (if I understood her correctly).
Roti told us tales about Rapa and said everything (people) changed about 30 years ago when the first store opened and imports and money appeared in the country…
Somehow we got talking about bicycles and traffic jams – so we spontaneously decided to plan a bike-demonstration in Pape’ete to encourage people to cycle (more) and ask the government to support cyclists by introducing bicycle paths, terminals to borrow bikes (seems to work in cities like Paris) and tax benefits (bikes are way too expensive here).
Final thought of the day: It’s time for NVDA!