Monday, May 20, 2013

Landscapes of Energy vol. 3. Invisible Energy.

Guest post by Luca Silvestrini, renewable energies engineer, based in Palermo, Sicily.

Biomimetic wind turbine.

Even if landscapes are sometimes illuminated by lightnings, meteors (or missiles) flying across the skies, thus generating a vast amount of energy, we never actually SEE the energy we consume.

Scientists like Amory Lovins with his Rocky Mountain Institute have stressed out the importance of energy efficiency, prior to that of renewable energies. They believe integrative design techniques, combining several efficiency tools, can achieve deep energy (and money) savings, increased comfort and better buildings, factories, cars and planes.

Why is that? Because they are more cost-effective in reducing pollution than adding new, even if green, energy. Some investments take only months to pay back, not years. In terms of landscape, energy efficiency can virtually have no impact on it.

Furthermore, many industrialized countries (like Italy) are actually needing LESS energy in the past few years, not MORE: the financial/economical crisis created a reduction in energy needs (both thermal and electrical). So we don’t really need so much NEW energy. (Even if gradually producing “green” energy instead of dirty is still important -> LINK al primo post). What we really need in the first place is using the energy we get more wisely. 
Nature can teach us a lot. In Biomimicry, Janine Benyus names an emerging discipline that seeks sustainable solutions by emulating nature’s designs and processes (for instance, solar cells that mimic leaves, vats of proteins that unleash their signaling power in computers; spiders that manufacture a waterproof fiber five times stronger than steel,  the nautilus' logarithmic spiral that inspires the design of turbine and fan blades, which can be made 50% more efficient).

So why are we still wasting a lot of energy in 2013? In part because (except in some special historical periods such as the Oil Crisis following the Yom Kippur War between Israel, Egypt and Syria in 1973) energy has been perceived by individuals, companies and governments across the “developed” world as CHEAP. 
Now things are changing and energy is becoming more and more important for any citizen.

Let’s take a look INSIDE a factory, an already existing one, without changing the landscape in which it is built. If we change an old, ineffective electrical engine with a new, more effective one, or if we design the piping systems of a factory to be smoother and wider, a viewer from the outside would not notice anything.
Even in our houses or offices, we can also better insulate roofs, windows, not to lose the heat (or cold) we produce. Adjusting room temperatures without having to wear jackets in summer or shirts in winter are other rational examples, seldom applied.

In this case we start to feel that energy is important, even if we don’t see it at all with our eyes.
But sometimes, on a micro level, things can be much more effective than on a more explicit, visible one. 

Luca Silvestrini