Day 7 – Energy efficiency & aviation

Written by Alberto Serena

It’s already Day 2 on Week 2 and we are now fully into Energy scenarios and efficiency. Prof. Martin Patel’s lecture focuses on the recent renewable energy development and the Life Cycle Assessment technique.

The various energy sources are suitable to cover heating needs, transportation and electricity production differently, and the exploitation costs are strongly affected by the location and depend on the technology considered.

Solar radiation, the original source of the others (all but the geothermal one), is abundant and presents the greatest potential, thousands of times the most exploited sources (biomass, geothermal, hydro). It’s encouraging to know that the average irradiation on the Earth surface in one hour covers the total energy demand; however, albedo and absorption, ocean coverage, seasonal variations, weather, territory morphology and use reduce this potential. Additional constraints are the competition with agriculture, shadows, the source intermittency and the mismatch between production and load. The cost of this technology has strongly decreased in the last years, making it affordable to developing markets and no longer relying on incentives.

Wind energy promises a good potential too but wind farms are often in conflict with sustainability issues as protected natural areas, remoteness, interference with migratory flows. In the past decade, economy of scale and other factors triggered the development of bigger and bigger wind turbines; for the offshore ones, a single blade is now comparable in length as the wingspan of an Airbus 380!

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Last week the new record for the longest wind turbine blade ever constructed was hit by the joint effort of Adwen and LM Wind Power, with an impressive 88,4 m length.

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Solar PV panels and wind turbines installations surged in the period 2007-2010, the most active Countries have been China, USA, Germany and Italy (from an IRENA Report, 2015).

In terms of primary energy production, most of the renewable one, nowadays, is still from bioenergy, mostly through traditional combustion (cooking, heat – linked to pollution problem).

As a general trend, in the progressive transition towards renewable energy, CO2 emissions are reduced accordingly; different scenarios are proposed by two main Agencies (International Energy Agency and International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis): the energy mix will in any case still feature a relevant contribution by fossil fuels, especially coal. Stronger policies are needed to stay within the maximum 2°C global warming goal. Synergies among renewable energy contribution, energy efficiency improvement and  saving play a key role in order to compensate the intermittency and reduce the demand.

Renewable sources with different production profiles need to be matched, the grids extended, the storage capabilities improved. If the local population is engaged, people will become actors of the change.

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Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) addresses the need for a transparent information on a product or technology impact on the environment and for a fair comparison of the different alternatives.

This technique tries to consider all the stages involved: resource extraction, manufacturing, product use, waste management all along the product / stream life. It is useful not only for labeling, but also to identify possibilities for reducing environmental impacts. The analysis framework comprises the definition of goal and scope with the system boundaries, the inventory analysis, the impact assessment and finally its interpretation. Unfortunately, for recently developed technologies, it is difficult to assess some of the indicators (as the lifespan of solar PV panels and their recycle possibilities). When evaluating biofuels emissions, land use-related effects are determinant if the overall impact is considered. Second generation biofuels will possibly make use of agricultural wastes.

We are given an assignment to evaluate the convenience of near-zero energy (passive) buildings; the embodied energy of the additional insulation material is compared to the saved fossil-fuel energy relative to the benchmark case. Building materials for energy-efficient houses have a relevant embodied energy and CO2 footprint.

After an intensive morning on Energy Resources and Scenarios, we went to the Geneva Airport to learn about its development plan and sustainability in the aviation sector.

Geneva Airport occupies a total area of 340 hectares and is located only 5 km away from the city centre.

Airports provide worldwide connections and are crossroads of cultures and people, but feature a relevant socio-economic impact and energy hunger.

Jon Godson, Assistant Director – Aviation Environment, presents the main issues: legislations are rapidly evolving, and rather than burdens, they have to be seen as the opportunity of boosting innovation, especially to limit emissions and noise pollution (this through a noise absorber for indoor testing of the airplane motors), through mitigating measures which improve local air quality and cabin waste management, which is currently incinerated to avoid the transmission of diseases. Joint efforts are necessary: the aircraft industry is looking after alternative fuels, an environment committee advising the airport company policy is involved, additional problems with illegal protected wildlife species and ivory trafficking by criminals have to be faced too.

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The Corporate Social Responsibility covers a variety of social issues beyond environment (even ad hoc initiatives as humanitarian aid and employment of child labour) and, encouraging the dialogue with employees, clients, population, and human resources management, through ethical labour practices, is the right path towards a fair and sustainable development.

A complex infrastructure and logistic systems characterize the ground service: a Swiss Air Transport policy has been implemented in the last years: the main target is to compensate gaseous emissions (solar PV panels installed on the buildings, construction of energy positive buildings) and durably meet the demand of current and future transportation; the main initiatives are promoting sustainable mobility (free public transport ticket at arrivals and incentives to the employees). Very ambitious goals are set on the vehicle fleet, which is now 22 % electrically powered. Rainwater is recovered and used in the toilets. A new project will make use of the water from the lake to warm and cool the buildings.

Since 2014 a Sustainable Development Report has been published and updated every year. In order to preserve biodiversity, around 50 % of the area is covered by grass and features more than 200 plants (including orchids) and 11 endangered species, and for the fauna, a wildlife corridor and bird damage prevention are included.

We rushed back to the University to assist a very interesting session on Contemporary Challenges to Refugee Protection followed by a final and well-deserved Apéro!


[1] –twice-width-Airbus–erected-Essex-coast-2014-Siemens-Dong.html





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