Category Archives: Energy

Is It Hot Outside?

By | Energy, Social | 6 Comments

It feels so good inside ourselves we don’t want to move.*

Obesity has been linked by some with the constant use of central air conditioning. I’m not sure i’d go that far, but it does help us maintain a comfortable sedentary existence which is generally the cause of a lot of our health problems as a society. Comfort is killing us.

There’s usually a struggle to find a way to design a house with livable and usable outdoor space while expecting the ‘inside’ of the house to stay airtight all the time. What about the dust? How would you stop the cold air from escaping? There are lots of alternatives to central air. It’s silly and selfish to keep a big indoor space cool when there’s no one in it.

Our bodies have not evolved with the luxury of a constant and perfect climate. We store food to have spare energy to burn when it gets a little colder than we’d like, or when there are days when food is scarce. Ramadhan is round the corner and as usual people will gain weight. There isn’t an easy answer to being healthy and living sustainably as a society both in terms of bodily and economic health.

We have to accept the reality that there are compromises that have to be made. A little less comfort can be a good thing, but I still don’t want to move. Change is hard and i’m comfortable right now.

*Sly

Biomimicry

By | Energy | 2 Comments
[ted id=1072]

If there was one thing that I would absolutely love to have in Kuwait, it would be the Sahara Forest Project. It is basically a hybrid desalination/greenhouse/concentrated solar plant. It uses concentrated solar energy which reflects sunlight to create heat that boils steam. The steam is forced through turbines and eventually condenses into pure water which would be used to grow crops. The video doesn’t do the system justice. There is such beautiful complexity in the way that every output is used as a resource to create value.

The great thing of course is that it doesn’t use any fossil fuels and has several useful outputs. It doesn’t look at energy production as a linear path, but as a closed loop. I don’t understand why we don’t already have several of these up and down the coast. Of course, the biggest challenge is what to do with the brine (very salty water) that is left behind. Kuwaiti waters are already saltier than normal because of our desalination, so we can’t expect to keep pumping more salt concentrations back into it. That seems to be the missing piece in all this.

Inputs

  1. Seawater
  2. Nutrients
  3. Carbon Dioxide
  4. Sunlight

Outputs

  1. Freshwater
  2. Reforestation
  3. Electricity
  4. Humid Air
  5. Food
  6. Biofuel

Kuwait 2030: Solar City

By | Energy | 3 Comments

I’m going to start a series of posts called Kuwait 2030 where I will outline  some ideas about where I would like Kuwait to be in twenty years. I’m going to outline each idea and then some realistic steps on how to achieve the goal.

Solar City

  • Kuwait as a worldwide hub for solar energy research
  • A new manufacturing industry for Kuwait exporting solar panels and creating manufacturing and research jobs for Kuwaitis
  • Kuwaiti energy supply to be 20% solar

    The idea is to create a brand new research and manufacturing industry in Kuwait. It is a challenge for the nation in the same way Kennedy challenged Americans to land on the moon. How can we achieving the goals outlined above?

    1. Create a Solar Institute somewhere out in the desert with a practically unlimited budget, as an offshoot of KISR or even as an entirely new entity. It should be an independent authority that is held accountable to agreed upon milestones and deadlines. It is a research center, patent holding entity and a post-graduate school.
    2. Purchase many established and new foreign Solar energy companies to acquire talent and patents to get a head start at the institute. All of the acquired firms will relocated some of their research and training facilities to Kuwait.
    3. Select the best and brightest young Kuwaiti engineers and guide them through PhD’s and promise them a generously rewarding future (both financially and scientifically). This would be a national patriotism project in the same way kids were inspired by NASA to become engineers in the 50’s and 60’s.
    4. Provide generous subsidies to Kuwaiti industrialists and allow them a financially feasible way to build solar panel manufacturing plants using the patents and methods acquired by the Solar Institute. Yes, that would be picking winners and losers, but we have to do this in order to start the ball rolling.
    5. Begin to slowly raise electricity prices while providing an energy rebate to compensate.
    6. Offer to install solar panels for free on rooftops in Kuwait which will be leased by the homeowners. That way, they cannot be resold, but the homeowner and the country benefit. If the solar panel is removed, the homeowner is fined.
    7. A national initiative whereby homeowners and industry can sell back excess energy generated by them back to the national grid. This means if your home generates more energy than it consumes, you can sell this energy back to the grid and make money doing nothing.

    This has been attempted by Abu Dhabi with their Masdar Institute. It’s a great idea, although their plans for Masdar City were  unrealistically ambitious. They have a big head start. I don’t see why we can’t do the same and share our research with each other. KISR have already been planning for something similar and I hope lawmakers take their ideas and calls to action seriously.

    Solar energy is almost perfect for the Gulf. We have so much capital now and all solar energy needs to take off is a huge initial investment in the research and manufacturing base. Once we have the research and the solar panels moving out the door, the whole thing becomes self sustaining. It is such a great investment for the future of our country and the GCC. The time will come when we will no longer have oil to sell to the world. Oil will run out, but the sun will always shine. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make some money off that too?

    A 1000KD Gift is a Terrible Idea

    By | Energy, Social | 11 Comments

    As if to prove my point, this 1000KD ‘gift’ is a perfect example of short sighted gimmickry. People don’t want to think about how it will cause accelerated inflation, how most of the money will be spent outside Kuwait and what it means when Kuwaitis think of this as a patriotic act.

    Patriotism is sacrifice. It is about working hard to make your country better than how you found it. It is about planning and preparing for a future that is not by any means certain. Kuwait and other petro-nations are driving towards a brick wall. Instead of wearing seat belts, slowing down and ultimately trying to avoid the wall, we’re shutting our eyes, listening to some great music and trying not to care. Some people feel that they can just jump out before it’s too late, and maybe they can, but the car is still going to crash into the wall.

    Kuwaitis will be fine, for now. But Kuwait won’t for long. Patriotism is about knowing which is more important.

    Solar Serpents

    By | Energy | 7 Comments

    Stuck in traffic during the hot summer months, nothing feels better than the cold air rushing through the air conditioner. We allow the sun to heat our cars and then use a lot of fuel to cool the inside. This seems rather silly when you consider this alternative, which is a project by the Swedish architect and urban strategist Mans Tham, called Solar Serpents.

    all images courtesy of mans tham

    The idea is really simple; cover the highways with an electricity generating shading device. This way, we do two things at the same time:

    1. Shade the road, meaning you wouldn’t need to cool down the car so much. This would save energy.
    2. We would generate immense quantities of electricity from the solar panels.

    It would make sense to think of it as a linear solar power plant that has the additional value of shading the highway underneath it.

    Bricks from Sand

    By | Energy | 7 Comments

    Ginger Krieg Dosier, a professor at the American University of Sharjah (my alma mater), invented an alternative to the traditional way of making bricks by using low-cost rapid-prototyping machines, sand, bacteria and pee.

    The process starts with sand, which is then printed with a layer of bacteria, calcium chloride, and urea. Microbes in the sand react with that mixture, forming a glue that binds the sand together. The bricks are built up in the printer, layer by layer. Once the process is complete, the bricks can be as strong as marble.

    Dosier dreams of replacing traditional bricks with her biomanufactured masonry which would reduce world-wide carbon emissions by “at least” 800 million tons a year. She recently won the Metropolis magazine 2010 Next Generation Design Competition, which aimed to find a “small and elegant” but also crucial fix that could have big-time impact if scaled-up.

    This reminded me of an ambitious recent project by Magnus Larsson at the Architectural Association. He proposed to use a similar process to solidify parts of the Sahara desert into livable architecture. This may seem like science fiction, but it really does work (on a small scale). It makes me wonder what a large, state funded research project aimed at studying this process and applying it at a larger scale would lead to. Are you listening, KISR?

    Efficiently Electric

    By | Energy | 5 Comments
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pSdnycHfLnQ&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x006699&color2=0x54abd6]

    Please watch the above 10 minute video about electric cars and the smart electric grid.

    First of all, I don’t really care about climate change. I’m not a denier, but I think it’s not the best ‘call to action’. People generally respond more to financial incentives rather than moral obligations. I believe that if we prioritize efficiency, then everything else will benefit as a result of that; climate change, Kuwait’s economic output and an increase in societal health and safety.

    How should we implement the smart grid? Electric cars are critical. The batteries would be owned by the state, or a state owned company, and are then leased to consumers. This is how Israel and Denmark are doing it, with Better Place. The advantage is that the up front cost for consumers is much less, since the batteries are very expensive and will need to be constantly upgraded. So you just buy the car. When you go to ‘fill up the tank’ (recharge) all you do is drive up to a gas station, and the empty battery will be swapped out and replaced with a fully charged one. The process takes as much time as you would filling up your tank with gas.

    Having the infrastructure set up is the first step. Next, we obviously need to abolish the fuel and electricity subsidy, gradually. It should be loudly advertised that the subsidy is going away and that people should invest in more fuel efficient cars and smart homes as soon as possible. People will start to shop around for the best deal and many will see the value in electric vehicles. Go Nissan Leaf! Of course, the government can help by subsidizing the more fuel efficient cars. That way you can entice the auto dealers to help instead of fighting the change. Taxis and government vehicles should all become electric first and this sudden shift in demand will make the dealers fight for this new market, driving down costs.

    Of course, no comprehensive energy/transportation solution is complete without having the Kuwait Metro. More options for people and less dependency on one mode of transportation.

    The beauty of having a fleet of electric cars parked and plugged in to the grid is that they become a sort of electricity demand buffer. As you can see in the video, people will be able to sell surplus electricity automatically back to the grid during the high demand hours. This is good because that will be when prices are highest. The cars will automatically recharge during the low demand and cheap hours, probably late at night. This is all controlled by your home smart meter which is what communicates with the grid.

    This all sounds very nice, but the fact is that it works. It works in Denmark and it works in Israel. We can benefit in so many ways by being ahead of the game and progressive about energy and transportation. Kuwaitis won’t change just because they’re asked nicely; Tarsheed proved that. People need easily understood incentives that punish waste and reward good behavior. Money talks and financial incentives speak louder than words.

    Sun Orientation

    By | Architecture, Energy | 6 Comments

    When deciding to buy a plot of land or a new house, never forget to bring a compass. You always need to know the orientation of the site to know where the sun would be. The sun predictably rises from the East, arches high across the South, then drops low and sets on the West.

    This is one of the first things an architect thinks about when starting a project. Direct sunlight is the enemy, for reasons of heat gain and light glare. However, i’ve met many people that come to me after buying the plot or the house and I have to explain to them that the site is in the worst possible orientation. You can manipulate the harsh sunlight through design, but it’s easier to just avoid the problem by picking the right site to begin with. Here are a few guidelines to follow when looking at a site:

    One Street:

    This is the easiest to deal with, and also the most important, since you only have one facade and you will face many problems if it’s in the wrong orientation. The best possible choice would be a North facing site. That is the optimum, as it will let in absolutely no direct sunlight. This means that the walls are always cool and you can have as many openings and have them be as large as you want without worrying about heat gain and glare. The neighbors will shade your house from the sun. Perfect.

    The worst orientation is South West. The problem here is that you have to worry about a hot high sun and a hot low sun that will penetrate deep into the house. The way to control high sun is different from low, and having both problems at once will increase the design detail.

    Two Street:

    The best orientation is having the opening on the North/South. This means that the neighbors will shade the low, hot Western sun, which is harder to deal with. Controlling the high South sun is easier, and mainly involves horizontal overhangs to shade the openings.

    A house on a West/East axis will have lots of light penetrating the house. This would be a good thing for a cold climate, but in Kuwait it means lots of heat gain in the house. Spaces will quickly shift from being cold to hot depending on where the sun is. It’s harder to control low sun as you need vertical elements to shade the openings.

    Corner:

    The best location for a corner site is one facing North and East. The Eastern sun is good, it’s mild and it feels pleasant waking you up in the morning and flooding the spaces with light. It’s not hot yet, and by the time it starts getting annoying it will have already turned the corner and gone away.

    The worst location is a South and West facing corner site. This has the worst of both extremes. Climate control must be a major factor in the design process for such a harsh site to be successful. The walls will be hot and the sun will pierce deep, but there are design options to help fight back.

    Of course, like I said before, it’s always better to solve the problem right from the start by picking the right site. It may not affect the price of the land, but the benefit is priceless.

    Screaming Solar Panels

    By | Energy | 4 Comments
    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94KzmB2bI7s&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0&color1=0x006699&color2=0x54abd6]

    Acoustic levitation is a way of using sound waves to move small objects. If you reflect the sound waves and manage to get them working together on all three axes (x,y and z) then you can levitate an object, like in the video above. Scientists believe that this is a great way to clean the dust away from the solar panels of Martian rovers. “The team tested the system on a solar panel coated with mock lunar and Martian dust. The output of the clean panel was 4 volts, but when coated with dust it produced only 0.4 volts. After four minutes of acoustic levitation treatment the output returned to 98.4% of the maximum.”

    Basically, all you need is a normal speaker capable of creating a high pitched noise and a sound reflector to reflect the sound back and create a standing wave. We only need to move the dust on one axis. When the dust ‘lifts off’ it gets blown away by the wind. Imagine an endless farm of screaming solar panels. It’s a scary thought, but it could be a great innovation.

    One of the main problems with having a giant solar farm here in Kuwait is that the panels will be coated with dust all year long. It would be very hard to keep them clean and working at full capacity. The acoustic levitation technology is cheap and uses readily found parts. The speaker and the reflector would probably not be attached to the panels themselves. I’d imagine they would slowly move under and over the panels on a fixed track, cleaning as they move along.

    When I visited Masdar a few weeks ago, dust accumulation was one of the main problems they had with their solar tests. Most of the panels never reached the levels they were capable of even when the sun was beating down. I don’t know if it makes sense economically, but it seems like the idea is worth exploring further.

    Energy Rebate

    By | Energy, Social | 18 Comments

    People in Kuwait have no incentive to reduce their energy consumption. I personally don’t really care about the Earth enough to let that influence the way I make my decisions, and i’d be lying if I said I was. The planet was here millions of years before we came to be and it will be here millions more after we pass. What I do care about is the inevitable transition that Kuwaitis have to suffer through as our oil begins to run out and become useless.

    It is myopic and childish to simply ignore the fact that our country is almost entirely dependent on a finite resource. Oil will run out eventually and sooner than most people think. How will this transition happen? What are we doing to make sure that it is as painless and seamless as possible? Over 90% of our labor force works for the government. Their wages come from oil revenues. We cannot sustain this incredible level of dependency on one single, finite resource. Seeing as how this is such a valuable commodity, and how dependent we are on it, shouldn’t we be trying to make sure that it lasts as long as it can?

    (The data is a bit out of date, but the general idea remains)

    I propose that we incrementally raise the price of gasoline over the next 4 years, raising it so that by the end it will have become 4 times the price it is today. This will be done without sacrificing quality of life or having it become a burden on people. The way to do this is by having an energy rebate. This was mentioned before in greater detail here and here. The government will have made 4 times as much money selling domestic petrol than it would have. This money will go straight back to Kuwaiti citizens in the form of a rebate check, or an added bonus onto their paychecks. The amount will be the average amount that every Kuwaiti has spent on energy that month. This means that if you consumed an average amount of fuel, the check will mean you broke even. If you consumed more than the average amount you will have spent more on gasoline overall that month, since the check is less than what you spent on gasoline. If you consumed less than the average you will have made a profit just by being efficient and not wasting petrol.

    The point of this initiative is that it alters behavior towards efficiency. The increase in cost has to be made public through a massive public awareness scheme so that people know for sure that in a few years time gas will be very expensive. This will make them think twice when buying gas-guzzlers and maybe think about buying a hybrid. The quality of life is arguably the same between the two, yet one is far more efficient than the other. The problem today is that people just don’t have the incentive to make that decision, and I don’t blame them.

    Of course, the revenues from this program will be much more than the rebate checks that get sent out, since the government will still be collecting from industrial, commercial and non-Kuwaiti residents. This extra cash must go into improvements in pedestrian infrastructure, bus subsidies and many more and better buses, and of course into building the Kuwait Metro.

    The point of this is to ease the transition into our inevitable, oil-less future. Will we enter that new age as spoiled brats that can’t do anything for ourselves, or as independent, reasonable and rational adults? The word ‘sustainability’ has become dreadfully overused, but our way of life just isn’t sustainable. We don’t have to sacrifice the quality of our life to be sustainable, we just have to live differently. Who knows, maybe it will turn out even better?