Elegantly simple condensation cooling innovation promises massive greenhouse gas reductions.
Imagine an air cooling system which is self-adjusting according to the atmospheric temperature, never needs chemical cleaning and the only water it needs is harvested from rainwater.
Well, it’s real. This innovative idea, developed by Green India Building Systems and Services (GIBSS) was honoured with a WWF Climate Solver award.
“Conventional air cooling systems are responsible for as much as 70% of the energy consumption in buildings, usually through condenser systems or a cooling tower,” explains Mandar Kaprekar, Executive Director for Technology and Product at GIBSS. “We believe that zero-emissions buildings are possible, and our system goes a long way to achieving that goal.”
The innovation takes advantage of the fact that the earth retains a constant temperature throughout the year, and in the Indian tropical summer months in particular, this temperature is considerably lower than the atmospheric temperature.
The heat exchanger has an elegant simplicity: the building heat is channelled through a closed water piping system buried in the earth below the building. Harvested rainwater flows through this geofield system, rapidly dropping in temperature, before being channelled back into the building where it cools the air around it.
“In India alone, residential, commercial and public buildings account for about 89 million tonnes of CO2 emissions,” says Stefan Henningsson, Senior Advisor of Climate Innovation at WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative. “We recognised the innovative potential of the GIBSS system, with its potential to significantly reduce both emissions and costs.”
If the GIBSS system is adopted in new and retrofitted buildings, it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 million tonnes by 2022.
Since being named as a WWF Climate Solver company, GIBBS has installed its system in a number of buildings. Operating costs for these properties have dropped between 50 and 60%, which means that the system pays for itself less than two years after installation.
The company's commitment to the environment also extends to the safe disposal of redundant air cooling systems in retrofitted buildings. GIBBS buys the old systems from the building owners and provides certification of safe disposal, further adding to their green building credentials.
The social impact of the system is also significant. Since its establishment, GIBSS estimates that the power freed up on the grid by the system has been sufficient to light up as many as 149 small villages in the subcontinent.
After two centuries of burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases at an exponentially increasing rate, the earth’s climate is changing. Human-induced warming is disrupting a number of natural systems that we depend on.
Predictions are that a temperature increase above 2°C is almost inevitable, which will entail more extreme weather events, sea level rises, precipitation changes, disappearing coral reefs and ocean acidification. International climate change negotiations are not delivering sufficiently on the challenge to avoid catastrophic climate change, which make accelerated investments in solutions by business, financial institutions, countries and cities even more crucial.
It is clear that renewables must assume the full share of the global energy supply market to avoid 2°C global warming whilst preventing major water pollution, hazardous waste for generations, poor human health, proliferation of nuclear weapons and unnecessarily high costs.
WWF’s Energy Report shows that all of the world’s energy needs can be met cleanly and renewably by 2050, in ways that can be sustained by the global economy and the planet, and that such a transition is not only possible but cost-effective. Such an energy transition must put energy savings at the core which is also proven necessary in the latest reports from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, UN Environmental Programme and others.
Solutions exist and can be realised with the right combination of political, social and financial will. But the major innovation challenges ahead include the acceleration of business models that take solutions to market and the continuous cost-cutting of key technologies. We must deliver energy services in much smarter and more innovative ways in a future of decentralised sustainable energy rather than the current centralised unsustainable energy.
In order to accelerate progress we need to look at the conditions surrounding both large and small solution providers. We will need to see a wide range of innovative cleantech solutions quickly scale up over the next three decades. Agencies, governments, investors and businesses need to proactively collaborate as forces for change in transitioning towards a sustainable energy future on a global level.
Tracking the innovation activity of smaller cleantech disruptors that carry the hope of enabling a shift to more good solutions is the impetus for the Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2014 which is published today. The index demonstrates that countries will gain traction if they:
· are able to adapt to the growing demand for renewable energy (at home and abroad)
· are connecting start-ups with multiple channels (e.g. multinational corporates, public procurement) to increase their success rates
· are increasing international engagement to spur widespread adoption of clean technologies.
Together we must help enterprises which contain the pieces to the 100% renewable energy puzzle to grow more rapidly. We must join hands around the world in creating a more attractive future for all, and make it clear to decision-makers that we are ready and able to do so.
Read the Global Cleantech Innovation Index 2014 report here
Stefan Henningsson is a senior advisor on climate innovation for WWF International.
Every two years since 1970, WWF has been producing the Living Planet Index. This unique and comprehensive report measures two main metrics: the health of our biodiversity and the impact of humans on our planet.
The past 44 years have shown two clear trends: Biodiversity is showing a steady decline, and our ecological footprint, measured in terms of how many global hectares are required to sustain the lifestyle of each individual on the planet, is increasing
“What we see is clear: we are biting into our capital. We are rapidly reaching the point where we need the equivalent of two planets to sustain humans at the present level,” warns Dr Morné du Plessis, CEO of WWF South Africa.
“I know many people associate WWF with our work with animals, but if we don’t step up and do something at a scale that will change the ecological footprint trend, then all the WWF’s conservation efforts will have been for naught,” he says.
Small wonder then that WWF SA is looking at innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions. One such way is the Climate Solvers programme which falls under the auspices of the Living Planet Unit which is headed up by Saliem Fakier.
“Technology solutions are vital if we are to see a reduction in the carbon intensity of the economy and to mitigate the impacts of greenhouse gases,” Fakier says. “At present, fossil fuels are the sinews and blood of our economy. Society wants sustainable solutions, but the economy will take a while to adjust.”
The Climate Solvers initiative which recently saw three South African companies named as the country’s first Climate Solvers, is designed to give an opportunity to innovative technologies to move out of relative obscurity and be developed on the kind of scale that will make a real difference.
The first three award winners were Rhino Modified Wood which transforms soft South African pine into a durable hardwood; AgriProten’s Magmeal which harvests fly larvae for animal feed, thereby reducing the pressure on our oceans; and the Solar Turtle which brings solar energy and entrepreneurship to rural communities.
The initiative was started six years ago in Sweden, and since then 53 companies in Sweden, India, China and South Africa have had the opportunity to showcase their innovative solutions.
“We are looking for a fundamental shift in the way the economy works,” Fakier says. “What is the scale at which we need to operate to maintain our lifestyles and make a meaningful investment in our sustainability – that’s what we are trying to respond to with the Climate Solvers programme.”
Science tells us that we need to operate with 100% renewable energy by 2050 in order to keep climate change impacts within manageable limits.
“So our challenge relates to the timescales over which these changes are played out. This is long view thinking: We are making changes for our children and grandchildren,” Du Plessis says. “Short-termism is the predominant mindset, but the WWF has to take the long view in order to change the direction in which we are heading.
“We need mass mobilisation. We need innovative ideas such as the ones offered by our Climate Solvers but we also need a groundswell of participation.”
Du Plessis is calling on all South Africans to take the first step towards change by registering their climate change promises on http://www.wwf.org.za/what_we_do/earth_hour_2014/.
“I have pledged to always use the stairs for anything less than seven stories in a building,” he says. “I’m hoping that all South Africans will make their own promises to make a difference in time for Earth Hour on March 29.”
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