Thursday, June 21, 2012

Are Humans Sustainable?

Answer: We’re getting there. It’s always good to ask the question of whether or not our society is sustainable. At home or within our places of business it is necessary to live within our means and do our part to reduce our consumption of natural resources, reuse things instead of throwing them away into a landfill, and recycle materials so that they can be reused in another product. The Thursday Ignite session at the WREF 2012 brought together a diverse array of speakers that understood the methods of becoming more sustainable. Overviews of each presentation are as follows:
Photo credit: BrightParks
  • One presentation touted the great opportunity of educating the large U.S. Hispanic market on the benefits of energy efficiency and renewable energy (RE). There are approximately 50 million U.S. Hispanics with trillions of dollars of buying power. The opportunity is ripe to start targeting this untapped market with renewables especially where a large portion of Hispanics live. In the Southwest U.S., Hispanics could be key to an economic recovery for the nation while giving a much needed boost to the RE sector.
  • Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” In the next presentation The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) advocated a new approach to solving our energy issues by using “systems thinking“. Roughly, systems thinking is the process of understanding how things influence one another within a whole. Our energy issues are so complex that we need to take everything that affects or touches the energy issue (environment, human health, economy, fuels, transportation, etc.) and think about how each of those work together to create this huge thing we label “the energy issue”.
  • Up next was a rep from the Solar Electric Light Fund, a Washington D.C. non-profit that uses solar to assist those living in energy poverty. My attention was peaked right off the bat when the presenter said, “Energy is a human right.” The organization helps poorer communities around the world take ownership of their energy needs with solar PV and thermal. For example, they provided a solar drip irrigation system in Benin, West Africa, which enabled them to rid themselves of a fuel generator which was always susceptible to fuel supply disruptions. The community is now able to bring fresh vegetables to the market on a regular basis, which also helps provide economic stability.
  • Finally, a novel idea presented by a recent Phd. took the Environmental Protection Agency’s “brownfield” project to another, more sustainable level called “BrightParks”. A substantial amount of the estimated 400,000-600,000 “brownfields” are landfills. The EPA’s brownfield project will take a landfill and either cover it with a solar array to supply electricity to the local community or they will create a public park on a landfill. The goal of BrightParks is to take this a step further and make these landfills a multifunctional space that produces clean energy, restores the native ecosystems, and creates a social space with a network of trails for people to enjoy.
The panel of speakers was impressive and truly provided methods of making our world a little more sustainable and renewable. How are you working towards a more sustainable and renewable world?

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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