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Posts Tagged ‘distributed systems’

Funding small-scale solar projects for widespread gains

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on May 3rd, 2012

Photo by Rajiv Patel (Rajiv’s View) via flickr CC

From “Solar rooftops sought in poor communities” by Bernice Yeung:

San Diego is home to more than 2,600 solar residential rooftops – more than any other California city – but in the neighboring lower-income community of National City, there are only about a dozen.

A bill before the California Assembly Committee on Utilities and Commerce this month seeks to equalize renewable energy installation in the state by promoting small-scale solar rooftops in the disadvantaged communities. The bill targets neighborhoods with high unemployment rates and those that “bear a disproportionate burden from air pollution, disease, and other impacts from the generation of electricity from the burning of fossil fuels,” the bill said. Bill author Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Mountain View, said the legislation would create jobs and build “cleaner, safer, and healthier neighborhoods.”


The legislation would require the state to install enough systems to produce 375 megawatts of renewable energy – or about 1,000 small-scale projects – in disadvantaged communities between 2014 and the end of 2020. Utility companies are required by a 2011 state law to achieve a 33 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2020. The renewable energy systems supported by Fong’s bill would take the form of rooftop solar installations on apartment complexes and commercial buildings, and each project would be limited to producing 500 kilowatts of power, a project the size of a typical Costco rooftop. Advocates say passage of the bill could improve both the health and economy of these low-income communities.

Through a program known as “feed-in tariff,” the owner of the solar panels would be able to earn revenue by selling back unused energy to the local utility company. Additionally, the bill promotes the hiring of local workers to install the solar panels. And because reliance on carbon dioxide-emitting power plants used during periods of high energy demand – called peaker plants – could be decreased with an increase in renewable energy creation, there are health implications to the bill, said Strela Cervas of the California Environmental Justice Alliance, which sponsored the legislation.


Read the full article by Bernice Yeung on California Watch.

Adaptive Capacity: Design for Resilience and Resourcefulness

Posted in Movements, Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 13th, 2011

Source: Core 77

© Shelterbox UK

From “Building Adaptive Capacity: Towards a Design for Sustainability 3.0” by Michael Sammet:


Designing to expand adaptive capacity means creating objects, templates and platforms that allow people and systems to survive and even thrive in a complex and uncertain planet. In a world increasingly shaped by peak oil, global warming, economic uncertainty and environmental disasters (Deep Water Horizon, Pakistani floods, Fukushima), designers are coming to grips with how to help users create local resilience and self-reliance. In fact, the concept of resilience has become an important term that designers are just now grappling with. An emergent property of systems that is related to the “longevity” tenet of sustainability but qualitatively different from its “no impact” focus, resilience is concerned with cycles of change and positive adaptation. Resilience thinking integrates social and environmental factors into a holistic framework that helps users prepare for —or even take advantage of—shocks to a system.

In their 2006 book Resilience Thinking, Brian Walker and David Salt explain the concept of the four phases of the adaptive cycle: rapid growth, conservation, release and reorganization. They argue that building adaptive capacity based on resilience, not optimal efficiency, allows systems to absorb and prepare for external disturbances without crossing thresholds that shift to another regime. Designers need to consider differentiated, integrated strategies for change rather than rational, efficient strategies that maximize and exploit the growth of early stages. These growth-focused systems certainly yield more substantial paybacks but at the expense of resilience, such that they are more prone to massive shakeups after significant fluctuations. As Salt and Walker explain, “any proposal for sustainable development that does not acknowledge a system’s resilience is simply not going to keep delivering goods and services. The key to sustainability lies in enhancing the resilience of social-ecological systems, not in optimizing isolated components of the system.”

Design for resilience, which has surfaced at the burgeoning conjunction of environmental science, localism and business scenario planning, is just now beginning to appear on designers’ radar and can be implemented on many different levels. At the most practical level, ShelterBox can help a group of ten survive major disaster for a prolonged period. Transition Towns are popping up all over the globe as people begin to redesign their cities in response to the rising cost and resource depletion of fossil fuels. Forage movements, permaculture projects and farmers markets are all examples of ways of building resilient food systems. After recent government interference of communication systems in the Middle East, resilience thinking led designers to consider how to create decentralized, localized Internet and cell phone systems, not just new, faster and lighter versions of the old models.

From a larger article on Design for Sustainability by Michael Sammet for Core 77.

Check out this excellent article about Food Connect’s small local network delivering food to residents in the Brisbane floods. KA

From Resilience Theory To Practice: 11 Commandments

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 6th, 2011

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre: Research for governance of social-ecological systems.

Photo of Neural Sky by rox sm via flickr CC

From “The 11 Commandments: Brian Walker presents 11 issues to think about when applying resilience theory“:

[Stockholm Resilience Centre Senior Research Fellow] Brian Walker has been instrumental in formulating social-ecological resilience theory. At a time when resilience has become a widespread term used by scientists, politicians, business leaders, NGOs and other practitioners alike, Walker is starting to see the need to develop ideas on how to apply resilience theory into practice.

“This need has become apparent in my work with a range of different practitioners, from Australian farmers hit by climate change effects and global economic trends to the government officials who have to develop appropriate policies. It becomes doubly difficult when you’re dealing with regions that involve more than one country, like the Arctic”, says Walker. “Generally, the resilience concept is a very useful tool in communicating with practitioners. A common problem, however, is that people tend to focus too much on one scale — the scale that most concerns them. A lot remains to be done when it comes to the practical work of implementation”, he continues.

At the recent Resilience 2011 conference in Arizona, Walker presented 11 areas where more attention is needed in order to tackle problems with applying resilience ideas:

  1. You cannot understand or manage a system by focusing on one scale.
  2. Increasing resilience at one scale can reduce resilience at other scales.
  3. Social-ecological systems are essentially self-organizing systems with thresholds.
  4. Thresholds can move.
  5. There is a hierarchy of thresholds with some embedded within others.
  6. Trying to make the system very resilient in one way can lead to loss of resilience in others.
  7. While theory development around specified resilience (identifying thresholds, etc.) is active and encouraging, the theory on general resilience lacks rigour and needs research.
  8. Both specified resilience and general resilience are important and interact.
  9. The proposition of panarchy has become popular and widely used, as a concept, but it, too, lacks rigour in application.
  10. Resilience and transformability are not “opposites”; they are compatible aspects of a complex adaptive system that functions at multiple scales.
  11. Navigating the combined influences of exogenous shocks and endogenous changes calls for adaptive governance.

Read the full article for links to Brian Walker’s presentation and a video illustrating resilience in humans and ecosystems.

Dispersed Cities Vs MegaCities

Posted in Opinion by Kate Archdeacon on February 7th, 2011

Via Trendwatching

Image of Mumbai by Abhisek Sarda via flickr CC

As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration?

Foreign Policy article Urban Legends: Why suburbs, not cities, are the answer by Joel Kotkin:

The human world is fast becoming an urban world — and according to many, the faster that happens and the bigger the cities get, the better off we all will be. The old suburban model, with families enjoying their own space in detached houses, is increasingly behind us; we’re heading toward heavier reliance on public transit, greater density, and far less personal space. Global cities, even colossal ones like Mumbai and Mexico City, represent our cosmopolitan future, we’re now told; they will be nerve centers of international commerce and technological innovation just like the great metropolises of the past — only with the Internet and smart phones.

It’s far less clear whether the extreme centralization and concentration advocated by these new urban utopians is inevitable — and it’s not at all clear that it’s desirable.

Not all Global Cities are created equal. We can hope the developing-world metropolises of the future will look a lot like the developed-world cities of today, just much, much larger — but that’s not likely to be the case. Today’s Third World megacities face basic challenges in feeding their people, getting them to and from work, and maintaining a minimum level of health. In some, like Mumbai, life expectancy is now at least seven years less than the country as a whole. And many of the world’s largest advanced cities are nestled in relatively declining economies — London, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo. All suffer growing income inequality and outward migration of middle-class families. Even in the best of circumstances, the new age of the megacity might well be an era of unparalleled human congestion and gross inequality.

Perhaps we need to consider another approach. As unfashionable as it might sound, what if we thought less about the benefits of urban density and more about the many possibilities for proliferating more human-scaled urban centers; what if healthy growth turns out to be best achieved through dispersion, not concentration? Instead of overcrowded cities rimmed by hellish new slums, imagine a world filled with vibrant smaller cities, suburbs, and towns: Which do you think is likelier to produce a higher quality of life, a cleaner environment, and a lifestyle conducive to creative thinking?

So how do we get there? First, we need to dismantle some common urban legends.


Read the rest of this article by Joel Kotkin on the Foreign Policy site for some interesting points about future suburbs (clusters of services in the places people live) and some eye-candy (if you like cities, which I do).

Interconnected Wind Farms: Distributed Harvest, Improved Consistency

Posted in Research by Kate Archdeacon on April 13th, 2010

Source: Environmental Research Web

Image: vattenfall via flickr CC

From Joined-up thinking smooths wind power:

When it comes to incorporating more wind power into electricity supply systems, a key worry is the renewable-energy source’s variability with time as wind speeds fluctuate. Now a US team has found that linking up offshore wind turbines spread over a distance of roughly 2,500 km down the eastern seaboard of the US could help smooth out this variability.  “When location of wind farms and transmission are picked to make best use of large-scale meteorological patterns, there is a dramatic improvement in how steady we found the produced electric power to be,” Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware told environmentalresearchweb. “In five years of data, there was never an hour with no power production.”  Not only would such wind farm interconnection reduce variability and remove periods of zero power production, it would also mean that any remaining variations in power output happened more slowly. This would give electricity suppliers more time to ramp up or down alternative sources or transmission links to meet consumer demand.  Together with colleagues at Stony Brook University, US, the Delaware team analysed wind-speed data from eleven meteorological stations off the east coast, stretching from the tip of Florida in the south to Maine in the north. The researchers used this data to estimate power output from turbine arrays for the period 1998 to 2002.

Currently power supply operators use existing systems such as reserve generators and redundant power-line routes to manage the variability in wind-power output; as well as combining remote wind farms via electrical transmission, as discussed here, it’s also possible to employ energy storage, either at a central location or at distributed sites, for example through home heaters or plug-in cars, to smooth supply.  There are plans for wind-turbine arrays with a total power capacity of about 2,500 MW off the eastern coast of the US. This amount, which is roughly equivalent to the output of a large coal or nuclear power plant, is only 0.1% of the available wind resource in the region.  The researchers say that to connect these turbines would require 350 miles of submarine cable, which would add around $1.4 bn, less than 15%, to the estimated $10.5 bn installation costs. This supplement is roughly equivalent to levelling wind output via existing generation, which as a rule of thumb adds 10% of the wind-power cost for an electricity mix containing up to 20% wind power, and more for higher levels of wind power. And it’s much cheaper than smoothing output via energy storage schemes, such as pumping water into higher-level reservoirs – these have capital costs roughly equal to those of generation.

Read the full article on Environmental Research Web.

London Orchard Project: Community Fruit

Posted in Models by Kate Archdeacon on April 12th, 2010

Source: The Ecologist

Image: London Orchard Project, Wilton Estate via

From “The London Orchard Project: bringing fruit to car parks” by Jason Gleeson

Every year between June and October, the Hackney Marshes in north-east London (UK) are covered with sweet, luscious blackberries. Families bring buckets and collect the free harvest, turning the berries into jams, smoothies and many other recipes. They are so abundant that most of the succulent berries are never picked.  Yet larger supermarkets will sell blackberries for as much as £3 for a small handful, and people will buy it. Most Londoners don’t know about this abundance and have never had this close a relationship with their food and local wildlife. The London Orchard Project aims to change all this.

Founded by Rowena Ganguli and Carina Dunkerley, in less than a year the Project team has assessed, prepared and planted orchards on 12 sites in nine boroughs around the capital; and trained 50 orchard leaders in orchard management skills.  The London Orchard Project is working in partnership with community groups and local authorities to design, plant and maintain community orchards. They provide training in orchard management and support to community groups – including mapping and developing new local food distribution models and in effect creating a network of Londoners engaged in orchard activities.