Energy in intelligent settlements

>> Friday, February 19, 2016

Ike Señeres

The human settlements of the future need a balance of everything. It is not enough to have basic needs, because human life has become complicated far beyond human civilizations have ever imagined. Basic needs are needed in order to survive, but then, new technologies have now made it possible to provide for more advanced needs at more affordable costs. As it is now, we already have the technologies to improve the quality of life in human settlements, and with costs no longer a hindrance, the only remaining challenge is to produce the policy frameworks that would enable us to avail of these technologies and to put them in good use. The irony here is that in order to make use of these technologies towards the goal of having intelligent settlements, we need national and local leaders who are intelligent enough to understand what we need, and how we could provide for these needs.
Some power companies are already claiming that cooking with electric induction stoves is already more economical than cooking with gas. That might be good news at the household level, but it does not sound too exciting at the macroeconomic level, because most of the electricity we are using now is produced using fossil fuels, just like the cooking gases like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). As I see it, we should only get excited about electric induction stoves if most of our electricity is already produced from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Assuming that that will not happen yet at the national level, we should still get excited if an affordable array of solar panels could already power one or more electric induction stoves.
It seems that we have already given up on biogas even before we have tried it. Tapping biogas does not need rocket science and besides, the technology is already available and affordable. In the case of landfills, there is yet another incentive to tap methane as biogas, because not unless it is tapped, it causes damage not only to the ozone layer, but also to human health as it escapes into the air. Do not get me wrong, but I am actually opposed to the idea of having landfills, because I believe that almost everything could be recycled in which case landfills would really become unnecessary. Of course, I am also opposed to dumpsites even if these are already banned, on the same reasoning that proper recycling would make dumpsites obsolete.
There is a prevailing theory that human excreta could not be tapped for biogas, because it is not potent enough. There is however a solution to that problem, because the potency will increase when animal wastes are added to human excreta. There should be no problem doing that in the rural areas, but there is also an alternative to use environmentally safe additives that could be as good as animal wastes in increasing the potency of human excreta. On the question of what to do with food wastes and other kitchen wastes, these could either be added directly with the mix of wastes, or be fed to earthworms by way of vermiculture. Mature earthworms could then be used as protein sources for animal feeds and vermicasts could be added to the mix of wastes or used as organic fertilizers.
Green cities and smart cities are not necessarily one and the same, because it is possible for a city to be green and yet not smart and vice versa, it is possible for a city to be smart and yet not green. Rather than chose one over the other, I would rather have intelligent settlements that are both green and smart, and they need be cities actually, because they could just be small villages everywhere, even in the remote islands and the isolated mountains. The common denominator between green and smart is sustainability and affordability. These two should actually work together, because nothing could be sustainable if it is not affordable.
Needless to say, it is energy that is at the core of everything that is green and smart. For one, energy can produce clean water that in turn could be used to produce food. As energy becomes cheaper, everything that depends on it would also become cheaper, such as water and food. Producing biogas however is just one way to produce and save energy. Other than the obvious renewable sources such as wind and solar, there are many other sources that are waiting to be tapped, such as river flows, waterfalls, ocean waves, gasifier and even solid wastes. Gasifier technology is also known as dendro thermal technology, meaning the use of commercially grown wood species to produce the feedstock.
 Although I am open to the idea of burning solid wastes to produce electricity, I think that it would be such as waste (pun intended) to just burn any material that could be recycled. In theory, recyclables are not garbage because of their commercial value. That is the reason why I say that any village or city that does not have a materials recovery facility (MRF) could not claim to be green. More so they could not be considered smart, if they are too dumb enough to just dump recyclables into a dumpsite or bury them in a landfill. On top of that, they also could not be considered smart if they do not collect rainwater or recycle used water.
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