Down on the farm

20040612-CRW_0583.jpg An Italian olive grove and vineyard is on its way to becoming the world’s first carbon neutral farm (they claim). According to the BBC, the Castello Monte Vibiano Vecchio estate in Umbria is converting to electric vehicles (and biofuelled mini-tractors) and has installed a “solar filling station” designed by Austrian company Cellstrom, based on an array of solar panels feeding a “flow battery” – a new battery technology that allows greatly increased energy storage.

Depending on the amount of usage, the battery centre can store solar-sourced electricity for up to three days. They are working to extend that to 10 days and more, enabling the farm to continue operating through foggy days when the sun does not shine. It means that golf carts and electric bikes will become the key means of transport for farm workers and that they can all charge up at the battery centre.

Cellstrom estimates the farm can save 4,500 litres of petrol every year and reduce CO2 emissions by 10 tons.

According to Lorenzo Fasola Bologna, Monte Vibiano’s chief executive, it will take about five years to recoup the initial investment.

Flow batteries store negative and positive electrolyte solutions (based on vanadium salts) in tanks, and pump them through a reaction cell to charge and discharge. Energy storage is therefore linked to storage tank size, not the number of cells in the system. This makes them ideal as backup storage for wind and solar energy generation, making the energy available even when the sun’s not shining or the wind’s not blowing. New Scientist has a good backgrounder here (behind a paywall, sadly), and there’s also information on the Cellstrom site. Another company in the field is VRB Power Systems of Canada, who have been working with Australian-developed technology.

Back in Umbria, the Italians are covering all their carbon-neutral bases by planting 10,000 trees to mop up any excess emissions.

By the end of next year they hope to be the first farm, anywhere, to reduce their inherent net carbon footprint to zero – ie without using off-site offsetting projects. “It will be great,” says Lorenzo, “to pass on this great, green enterprise to my children and their children.”

Chez Hot Topic we have a vineyard and an olive grove, and I’m already planting trees to offset at least some of our emissions. I wonder if there’s a flow battery in an off-grid future down on our farm?

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False equivalence and the climate “debate”

One of the more bumptious of NZ’s tame sceptics is University of Canterbury philosopher and “eminent scientist” Associate Professor Denis Dutton. A key member of the NZ C”S”C, he is perhaps best known for creating the rather good Arts & Letters Daily web site – and selling it for a considerable sum. He has now embarked on a new site – currently in beta – called Climate Debate Daily, with another UC philosopher, Doug Campbell. You might expect me to welcome a new and “neutral” climate site, but I believe it completely misrepresents the reality of any “debate” that might exist, and is in effect a new tactic to give credence to sceptic effluvia. Here’s how they describe their aims:

Continue reading “False equivalence and the climate “debate””

Clearing the decks

A few quick links before I post on the government’s just announced energy strategy: cleaning out the tabs in my web browser…

  • Professor Graham Harris of the University of Tasmania addresses the issues I raised in my “ecological overdraft” post a few days ago, in Sleepwalking Into Danger – an article for ScienceAlert: “It is time to admit how little we know and face the risks of planetary degradation – this goes way beyond climate change. Biodiversity isn’t just birds, primates and whales; it is planetary function and resilience.”
  • The Royal Society For The Protection Of Birds is planning [Guardian, BBC] to allow the sea to reclaim 728 hectares of coastal land in the Essex marshes on Britain’s east coast to restore habitat for wildlife – and as a pragmatic adaptation to rising sea levels. Could we see the same sort of thing here?
  • The Andrill project – a sea floor drilling effort under the Ross Ice Shelf involving NZ and US scientists – is using nifty Apple computers, so Apple has posted an interesting perspective on the work being done. New drilling season starts soon.
  • Brian Fallow in the Herald takes a look at the cost of carbon in the new ETS and speculates about ongoing impacts on the government’s accounts.
  • Carbon emissions from shipping may be much higher than previously thought, according to The Independent (UK).
  • German solar power company Conergy is planning a 500 turbine windfarm near Broken Hill in New South Wales. Meanwhile, BusinessWeek (US) profiles entrepreneur John O’Donnell, who has bought into Aussie scientist David Mills solar thermal designs, and plans to build a lot of generation at costs competitive with coal. With Silicon Valley money, and soon.
  • The Dominion Post digs up some advice to government on dealing with “environmental refugees”. NZ will probably want to help small Pacific nations, but refugees from the Asian megadeltas might be another matter.