The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

CSI Maps Wind and Solar Potentials Across Washington State

June 18th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure recently hired a Graduate Research Assistant to investigate the potential for renewable energy generation throughout Washington State. Read on to learn more about the findings and how they will inform our upcoming report, tentatively titled An Infrastructure Excellence & Jobs Strategy for Washington.

By Tyson West, Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure

Renewables are a fast-growing segment of the energy market with ever increasing support from citizens. Wind and solar power are at the forefront of the green energy transition across the world as well as in the US. Communities throughout Washington are now investing major resources to support this transition off fossil fuels, and fortunately the state is already ahead of the curve since it generates a substantial amount of power from hydroelectric dams.

Evergreen’s Center for Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI) has initiated conversations with legislators from twelve districts representing different parts of the state to explore bipartisan ideas that will support infrastructure improvements while generating new jobs. One idea is to help finance local investments in utility-scale clean energy projects.

As part of this effort, CSI has mapped the solar and wind potential of the 12 districts to provide examples of communities where these technologies will be particularly impactful. The goal is to “help local communities tap local resources to build local prosperity.” Identifying regions with the best solar and wind resources may encourage stakeholders to take advantage of untapped resources that will generate local jobs and allow them to become more self sufficient as opposed to outsourcing their energy production like most communities do.

For an area to have utility scale wind power, a number of factors are considered but the most important one is the daily average wind speed in a given area. 11 miles per hour (5 meters per second) is the industry standard for economically viable wind farms. Solar energy similarly has multiple factors that go into figuring out a site’s potential, but the most crucial factor is the average daily sunlight. For solar farms to be economically viable, the industry standard is 3.5 kilowatt hours per square meter.

Many regions within the 12 districts we’ve initially explored have the potential wind and solar resources needed to build economically viable energy facilities, especially on the eastern side of the Cascades where there are sunnier and windier conditions.

WA solar energy potentials, >3.5 kWh/sq.m/day = viable. Click to enlarge.

WA wind energy potentials, >5 m/s at 80-meter height = viable. Click to enlarge.

As it stands now, wind and solar power are becoming increasingly affordable, with wind power currently being the cheapest form of energy in the US, beating even fossil fuels. The levelized cost of energy (LCOE), which takes into account the production, maintenance, subsidies, and many other factors, is continually falling for both wind and solar. This is only making these technologies more profitable to implement, with upfront costs being the largest barrier to entry.

Washington State has a lot of potential to reinvest in its energy sector since there are so few solar projects and only a modest amount of wind farms in use currently. The state already produces much of its electricity from clean energy, but divesting from fossil fuels into wind and solar would put the state on track to become one of the first states to produce nearly all of its own power from clean energy sources, while saving tax payers money in the process.

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Aging Water Infrastructure and Public Health

June 12th, 2018 · No Comments · Water

By Emily Walsh — Community Outreach Director, Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

Maintaining the quality of our water supplies has always been a pressing issue. From the start of the industrial age, filtering out pollutants and testing drinking water has become a necessary step when supplying water to communities. However, contamination as a result of aging water infrastructure can bring toxins into our homes through our sinks and faucets. The concern generated from this contamination affirms that we often take the safety of our drinking water for granted.

With 19th century urbanization came water pollution and an overall sanitation crisis, including the spread of diseases like dysentery and cholera. Eventually, civilizations deduced that wastewater and drinking water must be kept separate. The introduction of indoor plumbing and running water dates back to the late 1800s, which included the installation of distribution piping and disinfecting supplies with chlorine. Today’s modern water system saw its emergence in the 1910s in major cities like Chicago and New York, but it wasn’t until the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 that wastewater began being treated.

Water systems have been handled on a repair, rather than replacement, basis in the United States since their initial implementation. Millions of miles of underground pipes stretch across the country, with many now reaching or exceeding their useful lifetimes. It is estimated that there are an average of 240,000 water main breaks annually throughout the U.S, leaking more than 2 trillion gallons of drinking water. This breakage is not only a waste of usable water, but creates the potential for hazardous water contamination.

Toxins in Water

The danger of aging infrastructure lies in the makeup of the pipes. Many water distribution systems were constructed when materials like lead, copper, and asbestos were king, before their harmful effects were made known. As the pipes corrode and decay, potentially high levels of these toxins enter into water supplies. Consuming tainted drinking water, depending on the type of contaminants present, may result in conditions ranging from rashes and digestive system issues to cancer. For instance, asbestos-cement pipes make up an estimated 15% of the United State’s water distribution systems. An increase of carcinogenic asbestos fibers released into drinking water may lead to serious conditions like mesothelioma cancer.

Under the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation, water providers are required to notify customers within 30 days of discovering water contamination. Leaking water from toxic pipe systems brings these substances into the natural water cycle. Additionally, hazardous waste from landfills or the nearby environment can leach chemicals into natural water sources like lakes and rivers. This not only harms the ecosystem, but also affects our drinking supply.

Failing infrastructure is especially concerning for lower income communities that may be unable to fund needed utility maintenance. In many cases, the use of materials like asbestos and lead have been banned or restricted for decades, but this fails to account for preexisting municipal pipes that have been an integral part of water systems for even longer. The lack of action to address drinking water contamination can be attributed to insufficient funding and a shortage of data about the full health risks.

The Importance of Funding

Legislation like the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act (1974) monitor the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water supplies. The majority of utility maintenance spending comes from state and local governments, while the federal government contributes on average less than one percent. This has caused water investments to fall behind. As portions of these underground water pipelines reach upwards of 75-120 years old, it is becoming increasingly important to address the issue before infrastructure failure becomes even more of a widespread issue.

According to the American Water Works Association, at least $1 trillion will be needed to fund the restoration of water pipes over the next 25 years, not including the cost of replacing infrastructure or servicing treatment plants. Although the price of water has been increasing, its revenues do not meet the amount of spending needed for infrastructure maintenance. Additionally, water usage has been decreasing since 2000, making it harder for cash-strapped water utilities to receive adequate funding.

In order to work toward a sustainable solution, the U.S. will likely need to reform its policies to ensure quality water is available and accessible to everyone. It may take sizable investments to get there, but continuing to repair unsafe systems will ultimately come at a cost to public health. Innovation will likely be the key to upgrading and protecting our water systems, keeping our water clean for the foreseeable future.

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Developing Sustainable Strategies through Entropy-Based Resource Management

May 11th, 2018 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--

During the development of their mid 1990’s watershed plans, Clark County was challenged by the environmental community to move beyond the construction of highly-engineered detention ponds in favor of developing “holistic, watershed-based solutions that mimic natural systems”.  This article outlines how the county met this challenge, and invigorated its Stormwater Capital Improvement Program, through the use of “Entropy-based Resource Management”, an Organizing Principle for the development of sustainability strategies.   The article briefly introduces this concept, and asks the reader to consider for a moment how this organizing principle might be applicable in your own particular field of study to help advance the cause of sustainability.  

By John Milne, Design Engineer with Clark County Public Works

“Mr. Malthus – meet Mr. Smuts”

An essay concerning sustainability and the restoration of natural systems. 

The popular modern concept of sustainability appears closely linked with Thomas Malthus’s old observation that population is limited by its means of subsistence.   To sustain ourselves as best we can, to maximize the population that any particular portion of the earth can hold, it is necessary that we manage our natural resources as efficiently as possible.  The question to ask is “how best can this be accomplished?”

An answer may be found in the concept of “holism” put forward by Jan Smuts.  Smuts recognized that natural systems appear to operate under conditions where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.  This implies the possibility of achieving a degree of management efficiency that cannot be realized if we focus our attention on any one single resource, as our individual agencies and organizations so often tend to do.  Perhaps not even by a collection of resource managers working diligently and efficiently on their particular resource of interest and then pooling those outcomes.

On the left, Thomas Malthus (1766-1834). On the right, Jan Smuts (1870-1950)

Working holistically on all resources at the same time is needed.  In matters related to the environment you have to consider the whole environment.  John Muir seemed to acknowledge this in noting that “when you try to pick out anything by itself you find it hitched to everything else in the universe”.

The concept of “entropy-based resource management” is offered here as a physical depiction of how we can manage our natural resources holistically and sustainably.  The underlying premise is that natural processes always act to minimize energy loss at all times and so leave all resources in a state of minimum entropy after each and every process has been completed.  By doing that, the resource is always maintained in its highest, most ordered state, at the highest energy level possible.  Entropy-based resource management emulates that “natural resource management” by trying to find simple, effective ways to maintain or create order, that is to  “create negative entropy”, in all our resource management activities.

It is essential that all resource management strategizing be holistic; you must consider all things, in all places, at all times.    And, beyond that, you must try to develop strategies that realize that extra benefit that Jan Smuts identified when he noted that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”.

Since natural systems already operate that way, the logical first step in any entropy based resource management strategy is to use those natural processes as much as possible.  That is, to simply let natural processes continue to function un-interrupted to the maximum extent possible.  Preservation of natural areas is an obvious policy to promote.  But, using natural systems as much as possible, for as long as possible, is the key concept for us to focus on.

Natural systems effortlessly accommodate movement across physical, chemical and biological boundaries.  To try to find means of moving across those same boundaries with that same facility is an important next step for us to take.  Though we cannot hope to develop resource management strategies that approach the near-perfect efficiency of natural systems, a sound management option might be to try to “mimic” those natural systems in some way.  Basically, this is what entropy-based resource management strategies, beyond simple conservation and the use of natural pathways, attempt to do.

Minimizing the entropy of a complex, interactive system is a daunting computational exercise.  However, where absolute understanding and perfect quantification is not achievable, we should not be deterred.   It has been said that “intuitive perception rather than mathematical calculation is the source of the truth of effective theories”.    This recognition leads us to apply entropy-based resource management in the form of a simple “organizing principle” that allows us to use logic and simple methods of analysis, rather than highly-detailed, single-issue calculations, when we are developing sustainability strategies.   For example, a simple watershed management game plan such as “pump up the groundwater as high as possible, then plant everything” can be highly effective, by assuring, as it does when followed diligently, that the annual rainfall falling on a watershed is retained in the watershed for as long as possible and photosynthesis within that same watershed is maximized.   Entropy-based resource management is simple, but not simplistic.

Good progress can be made by developing entropy-based strategies for whatever area of resource management that you are working on at any one time, then seeking out like-minded practitioners in other fields that are doing the same.  However, truly holistic strategies that achieve that “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” level of efficiency and success can only be fully realized by a group of dedicated professionals (biologists, engineers, planners, architects and others) working together as a team to address all aspects of resource management at the same time.  The resultant strategies can then provide a truly holistic response to a sustainability question or need.

Sustainability, and further, the restoration of natural systems and functions, can be achieved.  Use Jan Smuts’ approach to meet the resource management needs identified by Thomas Malthus.  The entropy-based resource management organizing principle can help you organize your thoughts and develop strategies.  Consider all things in all places at all times.  Work closely with others.  Use all the tools at your disposal (science, mathematics, engineering, even philosophy and literature) to the best possible effect.  The quest for sustainability will become clearer and within your reach.   

“The ultimate purpose of life, mind, and human striving: to deploy energy and information to fight back the tide of entropy and carve out refuges of beneficial order” – Steven Pinker

An introduction to entropy-based resource management can be found at:

https://www.ipwea.org/newzealand/viewdocument/life-liberty-and-the-pursuit-of-ne

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Snohomish PUD Energy Storage Program Generates Insights for Future Grid Management

May 7th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy

By Neil Neroutsos, Media Liaison and Jason Zyskowski, Senior Manager of Planning, Engineering & Technical Services
Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD)

At Snohomish PUD, it’s ingrained in our thinking that we take a long term view in planning for and investing in our energy resources amid a rapidly changing environment. We’re a utility that is constantly assessing a broad collection of options to meet our future needs.

As our utility adds additional renewable energy resources to its portfolio – much of which can be intermittent, such as solar and wind – energy storage continues to become a more economical means of managing reliability. We’re already seeing energy storage system prices come down – and not just the prices for equipment and hardware, but engineering time as we learn how to better design and operate the systems.

The PUD has installed two energy storage systems at local substations: the first includes a set of two large-scale lithium-ion batteries, and a second is based on advanced vanadium flow battery technology. Our engineers and project managers have learned that these systems are unique and you need to fully understand how to use each technology. For example, do you need 2 megawatts for three hours or 4 megawatts for six hours? And what are the systems’ charging and discharging limits?

We’ve learned that lithium-ion and vanadium flow systems have very different charging/discharging characteristics. Lithium-ion degrade over time as you cycle them, depending on how quickly you charge and discharge them and the number of cycles each day. The vanadium flow systems have a longer life limit – you can charge and discharge them as many times you want over a 20-year period. However, when you charge them, the energy you’re going to get isn’t as efficient. So you need to know your business use and how to best match it to the right type of battery.

Lithium Ion battery storage

As part of our energy storage research, we’ve worked with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to test use cases such as shifting energy from peak to off-peak times and using storage for load shaping to smooth out the rate of load changes. We’ve also partnered with the University of Washington and Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) to test a Distributed Energy Resource Optimizer (DERO) tool. It’s a software system that allows our Power Schedulers to optimize the value of our battery systems.

DERO interfaces with the utility’s IT infrastructure to get a live look at our load and resource status and communicate it back to our Power Scheduling system. It helps manage issues such as when an energy resource is removed from the system or when we see real-time changes in load forecasts and want to avoid imbalance charges from BPA.

We’ve also worked with our partners to use DERO to test how to coordinate transmission-level congestion relief. Another study with BPA looked at how demand response and battery storage could mitigate peak load demands.

Our team has learned that if you don’t have an easy way to control these battery systems, schedule them and monitor them in an automated fashion, you’re not realizing their full set of benefits. A large part of our success has come as a result of our work to standardize our battery operations, particularly how they communicate with each other, with our SCADA system and our power scheduling software.

Going forward, we’re now designing a third energy storage system as part of a Microgrid and Clean Energy Technology Center, located in Arlington, Wash. It will demonstrate multiple new energy technologies, including energy storage paired with a 500-kilowatt solar array. The system will be able to be “islanded” and run independently from the electrical grid. It also will demonstrate how PUD electric fleet vehicles can be used to benefit the electric grid via a vehicle-to-grid system that allows both charging and discharging into the grid.

The Clean Energy Technology Center will serve as the test load for the Microgrid and will showcase various technologies to the public, the business sector, researchers and other local agencies. The project’s multiple uses include grid resiliency and disaster recovery, renewable energy integration, grid support and ancillary services and the vehicle-to-grid component. The facility also could be utilized as an emergency operations site in the event of a major disaster, such as an earthquake.

Snohomish PUD’s energy storage program has greatly benefitted through $10.8 million in supporting grants from the Washington Clean Energy Fund.

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New Smart Bioreactor is Designed and Built at Portland State University

April 4th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Waste, Water

A new technique to stimulate specific beneficial bacteria for Phosphorus and Nitrogen removal was developed by Bashar Al-Daomi at PSU’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Dept. This technology recently won Bashar the final round prize of $5,000 at PSU’s CleanTech Challenge!

By Bashar Al-Daomi — Portland State U. PhD Student, Institute for Sustainable Solutions Fellow

Wastewater is a crucial environmental issue that we deal with every day. If wastewater is left completely or partially untreated and disposed into our rivers and lakes, it will leave behind high concentrations of organic matters, phosphorus and nitrogen. This will pollute and threaten water ecosystems causing risks to aquatic life species due to algal blooming and high oxygen depletion. Untreated wastewater also can hurt the local economy and humans’ activities on these water bodies such as swimming, surfing, and fishing due to bad quality water (fouling and black/green colored water)

At the American Water Works Association’s (AWWA) Water Quality Technology Conference in Portland, OR, November 2017, PSU Ph.D. graduate student Bashar Al- Daomi unveiled a new smart bioreactor he and Dr. Bill Fish have designed and created.

Microbes can do a great job of removing phosphorus and nitrogen pollutants from wastewater if we can design a perfect mutual collaboration between lab researchers, wastewater treatment plant operators and microbes. This collaboration provides us a better understanding of microbial metabolism while we support microbes with optimal life conditions (Dissolved oxygen, nutrients, organic carbon such as acetate, temperature, pH, ORP, etc).

In the Water Quality Lab of Dr. Bill Fish, PSU Ph.D. graduate student Bashar Al-Daomi stepped up to the challenge to develop a smart, simple, reliable, and efficient lab reactor. This reactor aims to show how different types of bacteria (phosphorus accumulative organisms PAOs, glycogen accumulative organisms GAOs, and ammonium oxidation bacteria AOB) grow and interact with each other responding to a variety of control conditions. This reactor focuses on simulating and modelling actual advanced wastewater treatment processes by studying at which low level of both oxygen and organic matter can achieve high phosphorus removal within Enhanced Biological Phosphorus Removal processes?

Bashar, working with technical assistance, created this sophisticated, automated research reactor at a reasonable cost and far less expensive than commercial bioreactors on the market. Bashar took a challenge and made it into an opportunity to develop a cheaper and better product. In fact, the need to be frugal became a central part of the innovation since his goal is to make low-cost wastewater treatment available to areas that cannot afford expensive municipal systems.

This lab reactor is smart since it operates itself automatically based on using timers, sensors, and controllers connected together in one control unit. This unit helps to control and adjust pH and dissolved oxygen measurements to match with different microbial needs. It also collects accurate lab data and builds a trustable database for developing bio-mathematical models.

This reactor can run as a Sequential Batch Reactor SBR that can cover cycles: Anaerobic, Anoxic, Aerobic and sedimentation stages by relying on time not space (controlling the time sequences between each stage). Also, it can be run as one of series of SBRs within continues treatment systems.

This lab system would be beneficial for our students at PSU on conducting capstone and graduate students’ projects besides some applications for environmental engineering course at CEE.

Since the Pacific Northwest-American Water Works Association PNWS-AWWA 2020 vision initiative seeks supporting new young professionals and students who are interested in working on water/wastewater treatment field. This smart bioreactor makes it affordable and easier for colleges and high schools to engage young students and inspire them to become future leaders in water and wastewater purification field. Currently, Bashar and his team are working hard on upgrading the reactor’s design and making it less expensive to fit with a business model that cover 10% of the colleges and high schools’ labs in Oregon and Washington.  Recently, Bashar won the first round of the Portland State University CleanTech Challenge for his reactor and received a $1500 prize. Also, his reactor was selected as one of five finalists. Bashar also won the final round of PSU’s CleanTech Challenge prize and was awarded $5000! PSU has selected him to represent the school to compete with other colleges in Oregon State for the final state $25,000 prize to be awarded this June.

Bioreactor Applications (Applicable Research Ideas)

  • This unit can be used to simulate microbial processes and optimize the metabolisms of organisms that are vital in waste treatment, such phosphorus accumulative organisms PAOs, glycogen accumulative organisms GAOs, and ammonium oxidation bacteria AOB.
  • Since this smart reactor uses process technology and automated control, it can be used for optimizing the consumption of dissolved oxygen. This can help with reducing the cost of consumed energy in wastewater treatment.
  • This system can help to develop biological and mathematical models for temperature control, bacterial growth rate, pH control, efficient organic carbon consumption.
  • Another main goal of this system is to combine EBPR technology (Phosphorus removal) with Annamox technology (Nitrogen removal) in one system by maintaining NH3/NH4 not oxidized at low DO as EBPR effluent combining with an anoxic reactor that already has nitrite to create anammox bacteria. This process aims to remove nitrogen with less both organic carbon (acetate or ethanol) and oxygen consumption.

Lab Bioreactor Components

  • A 5-liter jacketed glass reactor (double rings for temperature control),
  • pH sensor, controller (high and low pH)
  • 2 pumps (Acid and Alkaline)
  • Dissolved oxygen sensor and controller
  • Air blower, Oxygen bottle, and Oxygen pump
  • Temperature sensor
  • Oxygen Reduction Potential (ORP) sensor
  • Adjustable float level sensor
  • Adjustable timer/duration agitation,
  • Digital Stirrer
  • Fine air diffuser
  • Sludge drain valve (Ring shape)
  • Organic carbon solution (substrate) injection syringe,
  • Control unit, sensors and Ring diffuser-plastic support (wiring and 3D plastic printing were made by hiring an external technician).

Specifications

  • No complicated programming is required and high-resolution operational screen is clear and easy to navigate,
  • Reporting flexibility (data can be saved and emailed),
  • Stand-alone and computer sensor interface with a touch screen
  • Collect, analyze, and share sensor data wirelessly with iPad, and Android devices

Acknowledgement

  • Partial financial support for this work was provided by the MoHESR and PNWS-AWWA scholarships and Beta project and PSU Cleantech Challenge grants.
  • Clean Water Services for providing a mentoring program and UNESCO-IHE for providing innovative online courses on biological wastewater treatment.

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Institute for Sustainable Solutions Guides City of Portland’s Effort on Disaster Recovery

March 27th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

By Christina Williams, Institute for Sustainable Solutions
Originally featured on PSU Sustainability

Living in the Pacific Northwest means living with the risk of disaster. Major fault lines and climate change-fueled weather scenarios mean that local governments need to operate with seismic, flood and other disaster plans in place.

But after the initial emergency response, plans honed over time with disaster drills and multi-agency coordination, how will the recovery and rebuilding from a 500-year flood or major seismic event be coordinated?

Answering that question with the City of Portland is something that the Portland State University Institute for Sustainable Solutions (ISS) has been working on over the last year as part of a broader, international effort to involve universities in helping cities build capacity to take on sustainability-related issues.

Through ISS, Portland State is part of a 10-university Global Consortium for Sustainability Outcomes, a nonprofit spearheaded by Arizona State University. As part of the consortium, PSU received $34,000 early in 2017 to work with city agencies to begin cross-departmental infrastructure planning for recovery efforts.

Led by ISS staff, faculty, and students, the project is wrapping up its first phase and looking ahead to the next steps and further planning exercises for 2018. At the same time, ISS is sharing its experience with other universities in Germany, Mexico, and the U.S. as part of a broader effort to identify best practices for the ways in which universities can help city partners add capacity to take on complicated planning and implementation work.

“By having the university involved, there’s a heightened awareness of the project, we can convene not only the city agencies who need to be at the table, but the added assets of researchers and students who can support the effort,” said Fletcher Beaudoin, ISS Assistant Director and the project lead at ISS.

Early in the year, ISS brought together an initial group of city partners—the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management, the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, and the Bureau of Environmental Services. Together they identified cross-bureau infrastructure planning for disaster resilience as the priority project for the year. The goals were to get city bureaus thinking and talking about key assets that could be tapped for recovery efforts, and to prioritize the planning for that recovery.

The process started as many planning efforts do, with a meeting of key stakeholders—representatives from across city agencies tasked with starting the infrastructure planning exercise. After that initial planning step, completed in May, ISS and key city staff spent the summer coordinating dozens of interviews to further identify and prioritize opportunities for cross-departmental coordination. The year’s effort culminated in two 8-hour workshops, held at the ISS Data Visualization Lab, in November.

Leading up to the workshops, teams from the City’s infrastructure bureaus identified and mapped their most critical infrastructure assets—pipes, roads, facilities, etc.—which were uploaded as layers into an interactive GIS mapping program to be displayed across seven touchscreen units at PSU’s Digital Visualization Studio during the two workshops. One workshop focused on seismic recovery while the other focused on how best to recover from a 500-year flood event. During each scenario, bureau teams rotated from map to map, considering asset interdependencies, and engaging in cross-bureau conversations about the potential for collaborative efforts toward improving resilience.

The workshops resulted in improved general knowledge, opportunities for collaboration between departments, and a list of short-term and long-term projects. As an example, the Portland Water Bureau learned about wells at key city parks that could serve as alternative non-potable water supplies if a disaster compromised the city’s main water supply.

“The Resilient Infrastructure Planning Exercise created the time and space for inter-department collaboration and added depth and knowledge to our ongoing resiliency planning efforts,” said Michele Crim, Portland’s climate change policy manager. “Our goal is to be able to recover quickly from natural disasters and this process moves us closer to that goal.”

Now ISS is looking ahead to the coming year focusing both on coordinating with partner universities to distill a methodology for this kind of city capacity building as well as working further with the City to move the recovery planning effort along even further.

In partnership with Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in Mexico City, Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Leuphana University, both of Germany, ISS will develop a tool that takes into account five diverse project case studies for designing projects that support both city capacity needs and university goals.

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Green Infrastructure Summit Seeks to turn Cities from #GrayToGreen

March 21st, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Water

By Stewardship Partners
Originally featured in the Stewardship Partners blog

Stewardship Partners creates people-based solutions that engage Puget Sound communities as caretakers of the land and water that sustain us. When everyone understands their role, has access to resources, and has a sense of belonging to community, land and water, then positive change happens. Mixing optimism, realism and action, Stewardship Partners starts with empathy; we listen then co-create solutions with our partners, connecting them with their environment and each other to improve watershed health.

“I was shy, I was quiet, I would never be able to [speak to an audience like this]… Paulina gave me a voice… gave me a sense of purpose, gave me a safe place to do what I love to do which is to be an environmental activist for my community… in South Park and Georgetown.” These were the words of Daniella, a youth leader from the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps, speaking about her mentor, Paulina Lopez (who later received an award for youth mentorship from the City Habitats network). Voices and stories like Daniella’s took center stage at this year’s 3rd annual Green Infrastructure Summit as we continued a quest to make green infrastructure into a force for equity and environmental justice. A big part of that quest lies in making sure that as the Green Infrastructure sector grows, new jobs and career pathways become accessible and attractive to diverse and brilliant minds from communities disproportionately affected by pollution and environmental degradation.

On February 9th Stewardship Partners reached another landmark in our leadership role of turning our region’s cities and towns from #GrayToGreen. As we convened the Puget Sound Green Infrastructure Summit, a City Habitats event, it was amazing to see the difference this event makes for innovators across the region and sectors. As we continue to mindfully “connect the dots” (.com, .org, .gov, and .edu), we are seeing more and more collaboration between public and private sectors, as well as research and implementation. The vision that inspired us to create this event in 2016 is beginning to turn into reality: The Puget Sound region is taking flight as a “Silicon Valley of Green Infrastructure.”

As with both of the two previous summits, our cross-sector host committee (including Seattle Public Utilities, MIG|SvR, Washington State University, Salmon-Safe, Washington Environmental Council, and The Nature Conservancy) intentionally centered and highlighted equity within the agenda and speakers throughout the day. This year the main theme of the summit was green infrastructure jobs and youth pathways. A new companion event: The Youth Forum on Green Infrastructure Jobs and Youth of Color, held in January, allowed us to bring new voices and faces into the conversation, informing workforce decision-makers at the summit. The UW Bothell/Cascadia College campus (a Salmon-Safe certified campus) provided a powerful backdrop for the summit next to a created wetland and floodplain. Welcome remarks from Ken Workman, a direct descendant of Chief Seattle, Andy Rheaume, Bothell’s mayor, Anthony Guerrero of UW Bothell, and Aaron Clark, grounded the 220 attendees in time and place, ready to imagine and co-create our shared clean water and healthy community future. A few highlights from the day included: a keynote discussion on diversity in the green infrastructure field; an award for youth leadership given to Paulina Lopez of the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and the Duwamish Valley Youth Corps; a panel on pavement and it’s immense impacts on water, habitat, and pollution; breakout sessions on trees, codes and policies, maps, mentorship and equity, and research gaps; case studies throughout the day; and calls to action from Washington State Representative Derek Stanford and Steve Shestag from Boeing.

Like everything Stewardship Partners does, this accomplishment was a team effort. It included the entire SP staff, an immense community of partners (especially those from the City Habitats network), the host committee, and of course the generous sponsors who, at 13 financial sponsors, have more than doubled our sponsor base from the first summit we convened in 2016. To see the presentations, videos and other resources shared at the summit visit the summit webpage at: www.12000raingardens.org/summit

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Systems Improvement Team Groundwork Moving Along in WA

February 13th, 2018 · No Comments · Energy, Transportation, Waste, Water

By Scott Hutsell – Public Works Board Chair

The Interagency Multijurisdictional System Improvement Team, established under ESHB 1677, has been meeting on a regular schedule to lay out the framework and strategy to obtain developed outcomes from our strategic plan. The core group is led by the Public Works Board along with members from the Departments of Commerce, Health and Ecology. The team has developed a Memo of Understanding signed by all four parties how we are going to work together along with a Broader Group which has the potential of including multiple agencies both state and federal, stakeholder groups and industry experts.

The IMSIT team presented its work progress to the House Capitol Budget Committee and had its kickoff in January inviting members of the Broader Group to lay out some of the framework and strategy steps that have already been accomplished and to start to identify gaps, barriers and challenges to infrastructure financing. We have developed a page on the Public Works Board website to display all of the materials developed to date and an ongoing calendar of upcoming meetings, scheduled work sessions in Olympia and around the state. The IMSIT team is always open to suggestions and our meetings are always open to anyone that has a passion to improve the way infrastructure is financed. Stay tuned to more exciting news as we strive to better coordinate how we deliver better infrastructure projects.

Passionate about infrastructure!? The Interagency Multijurisdictional System Improvement Team (IMSIT) is a joint effort focused on improving the state’s infrastructure systems.

The Public Works Board, in concert with the departments of Health, Ecology, and Commerce are in the early stages of this work and invite you to check out the IMSIT website and come offer your perspective.

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Three Reasons Why Renewable Energy Leaders Are Optimistic

December 29th, 2017 · No Comments · Energy

By Sneha Ayyagari
Schneider Sustainable Energy Fellow
Republished with permission from the Natural Resources Defense Council

Deep in the heart of Austin, Texas, at the Green Tech Media’s U.S. Power and Renewables Summit, the room was buzzing with optimism and enthusiasm as utility company executives, renewable energy developers, regulators, and financiers shared their research and experiences from different angles of the rapidly evolving renewable energy industry.

Here are 3 key takeaways from the conference :

1. Extensive investment in renewable energy is already underway, and the future is bright with massive advancements and investment into clean energy technology and policy innovation.

Wind and solar prices are historically low and there is optimism about future investments despite some uncertainty. Commonly discussed sources of uncertainty were President Trump’s pending decision on the solar International Trade Commission case, federal tax reform, proposed changes in federal regulations by the Department of Energy (DOE). As my colleague, Miles Farmer, discusses here, the DOE’s proposed rule to bail out nuclear and coal power plants has received little support, and many representatives from companies and regulators alike expressed their discontent with this proposal at the conference.

There is considerable interest from corporations and utilities in powering their businesses using clean energy sources such as wind and solar. Forty-four cities and over 116 corporations have committed to goals to power their communities with 100% clean energy. This sends a clear signal to regulators and renewable energy companies that investing in renewable energy is already a priority across the country and will continue to be important over the next few decades.

Technological innovations and grid planning have helped spur increased investment in large scale wind. Research scientists described how large-scale wind power has become more efficient and cost effective as technology has improved. Proper transmission planning can complement the technological advances in efficiency. Taking inspiration from the Lone Star State, one scientist highlighted how wind comprised 20% of generating capacity in Texas’s electricity market (known as ERCOT) in 2016. Building out transmission lines to connect areas of high wind supply in North and West Texas to areas of high wind demand near Houston in the Competitive Renewable Energy Zones Process project was critical in making sure that the grid could support more wind energy. Scientists and regulators discussed how different electricity markets approach building transmission lines, and commented on how these planning choices may affect how much wind energy will be generated on a national scale for decades to come.

Utility executives and regulators explained that over the next few decades, utility companies will rely more and more on sources of generation such as wind, solar and storage, and natural gas that can be easily turned on and off to meet changes in demand (rather than more inflexible sources of generation like coal or nuclear that have dominated energy generation in the past). Technological innovations in wind and solar energy production have spurred growth in large facilities owned by utilities to provide renewable energy.

While the focus of the conference was on utility-scale power generation, distributed resources like rooftop solar, matter too. According to GTM, residential solar photovoltaic (PV) systems will provide savings to retail customers on their electricity bills in at least 38 states and Washington, D.C., by 2020.

2. Economic factors such as lower power purchase agreements (PPAs) have replaced state requirements as the key drivers of renewables procurement, but Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS’s) are still an important tool in pushing state-level policies.

According to GTM Research, RPS’s (which require a specific percentage of a state’s electricity mix to be generated from renewable resources) drove 85 percent of growth in 2014, but were a factor in only 24 percent of the 22 gigawatts (GW) of utility-scale solar that is currently in the pipeline to be built. As was highlighted in a panel discussion about what is driving down solar costs, RPS’s are still a critical tool in pushing state-level policies and informing long-term energy market design questions. Even though they no longer are the key factor in pushing down the cost of renewables, RPS’s are still important because they send positive signals to renewable energy developers and investors, and help drive the regulatory processes needed to plan for a reliable and sustainable grid in the long term.

Procurement by utilities and corporations, retail procurement, and the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) are the leading drivers of the U.S. utility-scale PV pipeline. PURPA, passed by Congress in 1978, broke up energy monopolies and allowed independent power producers to join the market. PURPA has become the largest driver of utility PV, and accounted for 43 percent of new projects in 2017.

Investment bank executives highlighted how lower Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) prices have been a major factor in financing renewable energy projects. Investment bankers expressed optimism about increased interest in investment by corporations in renewable energy and highlighted the Puget Pacific Northwest as a case study in successful cooperation between local utilities, corporations, and financiers. Consultants and analysts highlighted the many ways that corporations can benefit from the expertise of networks of other corporations interested in procuring renewable energy, and they described which contract structures were most appealing. Even without subsidies, solar power is more competitive on average than fossil fuel generation. According to analysis conducted by Lazard Ltd., the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) of unsubsidized solar energy production at $53-$194 per megawatt-hour (MWh) is lower and therefore more competitive than the (LCOE) of several fossil fuel generators.

3. Energy storage, advances in information technology, and electric vehicle technologies are three areas that are ripe for technological and policy innovations.

Energy Storage

As renewable energy generation increases, the need to be able to store and deliver energy becomes even more critical. Regulation at the federal level could change market rules to ensure that energy storage resources (such as batteries and heatpumps) are eligible to participate fully in wholesale electricity markets.

The price of battery storage has decreased rapidly over the past five years. GTM predicts that lithium-ion battery prices will reach $150/kWh in the next five years. While storage is still relatively expensive currently, there have been examples such as Tuscon Electric Power’s recent solar and storage project that shows how quickly storage is becoming an economically feasible technology. There has been a surge of investment in storage globally. Overall, GTM forecasts that U.S. energy storage annual deployments will reach 2.5 gigawatts , or enough to power 1,875,000 homes by 2022.

Advances in information technology

Technology companies and clean energy advocates say it’s getting easier to control energy consumption and pay for energy electronically with the help of new technologies. For example, we can control how much we use and spend on energy in our homes and businesses with the touch of a button on a smartphone from almost anywhere in the world. Artificial intelligence algorithms also can create “smart devices” which can monitor their own electric load and turn on and off depending on prices of electricity or use. And Blockchain, a technology that would allow devices to share information such as how much energy they are using or the cost of electricity, also generated enthusiasm and interest among utility companies.

Electric Vehicles

As more electric vehicles enter the market, utilities are exploring pricing structures and infrastructure needed to support an increased demand for electricity to run them. Worldwide, there has been a push for electrification of cars, buses, and trains as costs decline. For example,a fleet of buses will be electrified in Shenzhen, China by the end of 2017. Within the U.S., utilities are implementing pilot projects to analyze the impacts of electric vehicles on the electric grid. If designed properly, policies that incentivize electrical vehicles can complement goals to increase renewable energy deployment while still ensuring that the grid is reliable and efficient.

What can we learn from this?

There is an undeniable interest from corporations, utilities, financiers, researchers, and regulators in accelerating large-scale renewable energy deployment and complementary technologies over the next few decades. While the industry is headed in the right direction, more action must be taken to achieve the scale of renewable energy at the pace that is needed to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas pollution and keep us on track to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, as outlined in the NRDC’s Clean Energy Frontiers report.

Sneha Ayyagari aims to create more just and sustainably built and natural environments by advocating for clean energy policies and technologies. She works with the Eastern Energy team to advocate for sustainable energy policies. She also works with the Renewable Energy Policy Initiative team on analysis to promote advancement of renewable energy technologies. Prior to joining NRDC, Ayyagari has held fellowships at the Tomkat Center for Sustainable Energy and at Green Empowerment, where she worked with underserved communities to expand access to renewable energy solutions. Ayyagari holds a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Systems Engineering from Stanford University. She is based in New York. 

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How to Build a City That Doesn’t Flood? Turn it Into a Sponge!

December 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Water

By

Urban floods make the news with alarming regularity. Just in the past few months, Hurricane Harvey submerged Houston, and the seasonal monsoon crippled cities in South Asia. Dramatic floods from increasingly severe storms come with a steep cost, both human and financial, and the problem will only get worse with climate change. One of the biggest culprits for the deadly toll these floods wreak? Urbanization.

As cities develop, miles of impervious pavement are laid over forest or wetlands, displacing the natural flood management systems like creeks, underground streams, or bogs. In a completely uninhabited landscape, rainfall integrates into the natural water cycle by four different ways: it either soaks all the way to the ground and becomes groundwater; runs down valleys into bodies of water and finds its way to the sea; is taken up by plants; or just evaporates. In urban or suburban sprawls with paved roads, highways, and parking lots, water has nowhere to go, so every heavy rain can turn into a flood.

A “Spongy” Lower Manhattan — Photo by Shubham Pokharel

The number of cities around the world is growing quickly. In her book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity, Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Policy Project, reports that over the past 35 years, the number of cities in China alone has climbed from 193 to 653. As urban and suburban areas expand, the stormwater runoff problems will grow as well.

But now there’s a movement around the world to build smarter and “spongier” cities that can absorb rainwater instead of letting it flow through miles of pavement and cause damaging floods. From Iowa to Vermont and from San Francisco to Chicago, urban infrastructure is getting a reboot.

Creating better stormwater management systems requires using green infrastructure elements in urban planning and restoring some of the rain-retention capacity that cities have lost to urbanization. These elements can be roughly broken into two categories: the man-made engineered replacements of the natural water pathways and the restorations of the original water routes that existed before a city was developed.

Man-Made Solutions: Rain Gardens, Bioswales, and Porous Pavements

Traditional road construction, made with asphalt, gravel and sand, is a very compacted structure that leaves little space between the particulates, and thus no room for the rainwater to seep through. In the construction industry that gap measure is described by the term “air void,” which is typically set at four percent for the traditional pavement mix, says Richard Willis, Director of Pavement Engineering and Innovation at National Asphalt Pavement Association.

One way to make cities spongier is to use permeable pavements, such as porous asphalt made with a lot of large stones rather than fine aggregates such as sand, and with added cellulose fibers to hold the porous asphalt together. This creates more pores, and increases the air void up to 15 or 20 percent, allowing more rainwater to seep through. Porous pavements are typically laid on top of stabilizing material and a gravel layer, which functions as a reservoir to hold and eventually disperse the water into the soil underneath. Because water trickles through the top layers of porous pavements faster than through the traditional pavement, studies have found that winter de-icing budgets have the potential to be lower.

A diagram of a water retention system. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Another way to make cities hold water is by building rain gardens and bioswales. A rain garden is a depression in the soil seeded with native plants that helps soak up rainwater. With that setup, house spouts can empty into a rain garden instead of a sewer, decreasing sewage overflows in heavy downpours. A bioswale is a rain garden on a larger, more engineered scale. It is constructed by creating deeper and larger depressions where water can temporarily accumulate and drain out slowly. James Stitt, sustainability manager with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, explains that the retention of water is facilitated by a number of solutions. One is the soil medium (clay soils are replaced by more sandy compositions) and gravel. Another is a set of R-tanks—containers akin to plastic milk crates that can be stacked like Legos underground, capable of bearing large water loads and slowly releasing it into the surrounding soil.

To see how sponge cities could effectively work, take the example of Pittsburgh. For years the Steel City struggled with stormwater management. An aging infrastructure that served both storm and sanitary flow would go into overdrive when barely an inch of rain fell, discharging raw waste into local waterways. The solution Pittsburgh initially considered was to build a 12 to 15 mile-long tunnel in the bedrock beneath the rivers and along the riverfronts—to hold sewage overflows until the treatment plant would have the time and capacity to process the water. That solution was “gray”— meaning quite the opposite of green, Stitt says. But in 2013, Pittsburgh revisited the plan and opted for more sponge city elements, mimicking the natural hydrology of an area, and including rain gardens and bioswales in the design, Stitt says.

A rain garden can help reduce sewage system overflows. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Mother Nature’s Solutions: Restoring Forests

Green infrastructure for sponge cities can also include non-engineered solutions—such as restoring urban forests and increasing their ability to absorb stormwater runoff. In Seattle, urban planners got rid of invasive species such as English Ivy and Himalayan blackberries and restored native evergreens that do a better job of stormwater retention.

A water retention system in action. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

“These evergreens stay green year-round and when it rains, as it does so often in Seattle, the trees intercept the downpour,” says Joanna Nelson de Flores, Green Cities Director for Forterra, the region’s land conservation society. “If that vegetation didn’t exist, all of that water would just slide off into our streams and rivers so the trees also act as a natural filtration sponge.” Restoring urban forest tracts proved so successful in Seattle that the Green Seattle Partnership made up of Forterra, city staff, volunteers, non-profit organizations, businesses, and community groups has expanded to eight additional cities in Washington State to improve their stormwater management.

Seattle’s approach might have another factor working in its favor: cost. Engineered solutions, even green ones, cost far more money than planting trees, and require a continuous commitment from the city’s successive city administrations. Pittsburgh has seen a change in city government since the launch of the green infrastructure plan, but has taken care to get some early wins. For example, rain gardens and bioswales did not just help with stormwater management, they also won brownie points among town residents because of their aesthetically pleasing looks.

Rethinking Cities

For countries in the developing world, which are on the frontlines of climate change, the problem is more urgent and monetary resources are a problem. In these countries, solutions that follow the Seattle model are increasingly being embraced, says Sarah Colenbrander, Senior Researcher at the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development. From Kampala, Uganda to Bangalore, India urban wetlands and woodlands are being restored in many cities. The biggest stumbling block, according to Postel, is scalability: can one-off examples work on a larger country-wide scale? That can only happen with a significant boost from policy implementation and top-down legislation, she says.

Reducing the amount of impervious cover helps battle floods. Credit: Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority

Studies found that local building codes often create needless impervious cover while giving developers little or no incentive to conserve the natural areas that are so important for the natural water flow. The world needs to rethink its cultural expectations of what a prosperous and successful city looks like, Colenbrander says: “Is it a city like Sydney or Los Angeles where everyone has a white picket fence and a nice garden? Or is it a city more like Hong Kong or even central London where people live much more densely and have a communal green space together so you have less of an ecological footprint?”

Population and development pressures can sway sponge cities’ development. But a holistic approach ensures that zoning boards (which decide allocation of residential and business spaces), the parks department, and the transportation board take part in the same planning discussion. A cohesive implementation will go a long way in creating sponge cities. So despite difficulties, sponge cities are becoming more prevalent across the world. Chicago, for example, has instituted green roofs and bioswales as part of its green infrastructure modifications as has Philadelphia. Countries in Europe are following this concept too.

“If the twentieth century was the age of dams, diversions, and depletion,” Postel writes in her book, “the twenty-first century can be the age of replenishment, the time when we apply our ingenuity to living in balance with nature.”

Poornima Apte is an award-winning freelance writer who is happiest when her bedside stash of books resembles a Jenga pile. Find her at wordcumulus.com.

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Stormwater Strategies: Community Responses to Urban Runoff Pollution By: George Aponte Clarke; Water Resources IMPACT, Vol. 3, No. 1, Stormwater Regulation & Nonpoint Source Policy (January 2001), pp. 10-15, American Water Resources Association
AFTER THE DELUGE By: John A. Carey; Scientific American, Vol. 305, No. 6 (December 2011), pp. 72-75, Scientific American, a division of Nature America, Inc.
Adapting to Climate Change in Urban Areas: The possibilities and constraints in low- and middle-income nations By: David Satterthwaite, Saleemul Huq, Mark Pelling, Hannah Reid and Patricia Romero Lankao; International Institute for Environment and Development
‘Smart Growth’ Designed to Solve Urban Sprawl-related Problems By: Mary DeSena; Water Environment & Technology, Vol. 11, No. 4 (APRIL 1999), pp. 28, 30, 32-33, Water Environment Federation
Green Infrastructure and Urban Revitalisation in Central Europe: Meeting Environmental and Spatial Challenges in the Inner City of Ljubljana, Slovenia By: Nataša Pichler-Milanovič and Mojca Foški; Urbani Izziv, Vol. 26, supplement: GREEN INFRASTRUCTURE IN CENTRAL, EASTERN AND SOUTH EASTERN EUROPE (2015), pp. S50-S64, Urbanistični inštitut Republike Slovenije

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