Zero emissions buildings in sight

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.

Top Indian entrepreneurs harness renewable energy

Indian entrepreneurs have shown that some challenging feats are possible when it comes to renewable energy – and their work is being recognised. At the recent Climate Solvers awards in New Delhi, five small and medium enterprises presented their solutions to reduce green house gasses and provide energy to those who need it most. 
Many of the teams demonstrated how solar energy is harnessed, showing their solutions for how they meet some of the heating demands for industrial processes and achieve electricity savings without any upfront costs. Others showed how they put an end to wasted energy in industries through clever analytics, combat indoor pollution and inefficiency when cooking food as well as offer cheap electricity to aid night-time learning and local businesses in Indian villages – all by using renewable forms of energy.
The inspiring Climate Solver entrepreneurs delivering these services received their awards from Shri Prakash Javadekar (Indian Minister of State (IC) for Environment, Forests & Climate Change), Shri Ravi Singh (CEO and Secretary General, WWF India), Shri Upendra Tripathy and Shri V. Subramanian (Ministry of New and Renewable Energy). 
The Climate Solver India 2013 entrepreneurs are:
Naturetech Infrastructure – A solar microgrid that brings light, electricity and opportunities to villages in India. 
Envirofit – Biomass cooking stoves that save fuel and reduce pollution for poor families.
Aspiration Energy – A renewable energy solution providing heat for industrial processes at no upfront cost.
Ecolibrium Energy – A smart energy demand management system for industry.
Clique Developments – A solar boiler which helps meet half the manufacturing industry’s process heating needs. 
The awards also coincided with the release of a new report, which demonstrates how the needs of air conditioning and desalination can also be met through solar energy. Indian entrepreneurs, WWF and the Council on Energy, Environment and Water increased the scope for solar services to include industrial heating processes, air-conditioning, desalination and access to basic energy services.
Please read our press release here.  
Read the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting blog on conferring the Climate Solver awards here and watch Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar's key note speech here. You can also read the Economic Times article on the event.
Stefan Henningsson works as senior advisor on climate innovation for WWF International, and is based in Stockholm, Sweden.

Cleantech's Coming of Age

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.

100 Sustainable Innovations to Rock this World!

By Stefan Henningson, Senior Adviser Climate Innovation, WWF International

The train I’m on takes me to Oslo today as it is the day for the launch of SUSTAINIA 100. It will profile 100 exciting, inspiring stories of innovative sustainability solutions from around the world. These stories are shaping a better future for people and the planet than the world we live in today.

Worker at Guodian wind turbine plant, Baoding, Hebei province, China (© Thomas Haugersveen / WWF-Norway)

My colleagues and I had the pleasure of being on the advisory board, screening a pool of over 900 nominated solutions this year to select the 100 best enablers of the creative revolution we are in – solutions that are disrupting our old unsustainable ways of producing and consuming energy, water, food and fibre. These solutions are designed to take us beyond the old ways that no longer work to support a growing world population whilst staying within the resource and ecological boundaries set by our one and only planet.

The question in our minds while making these selections, is: How do we best shape new markets in a way that rethinks unsustainable consumption patterns and creates transformational changes for resource efficiency, catalysing a more circular economy?

These were my favourite SUSTAINIA 100 trend-setter stories that stood out this year:

  • Save energy: A 10-year performance lighting contract in Washington, DC in the United States will upgrade more than 13,000 garage lighting fixtures in the city to LED at no upfront cost. This will lead to a 68% reduction in energy consumption and prevent 11,000 tons of CO2 emissions. This is not too good to be true. The thinking of leveraging home energy use is similar to enabling solar power on home roofs. This story is a must-read for investors and city decision makers
  • Recreate power: Imagine a group of companies banding together to retrofit to create buildings that create more power than they use themselves. Meet Powerhouse Kjørbo. Buildings account for 40% of the world’s energy use. Higher upfront construction costs will be repaid over the building’s lifetime due to lower energy costs, making the building financially viable. These retrofits can be built nearly anywhere and use technologies that already exist. Not a bad bet for long term investors like pension funds as an alternative to investing in coal, oil and gas companies.
  • Move better: Proterra has developed the EcoRide electric bus. It has a fast-charging system that means it can stay on the road and avoid needing to stop and charge overnight. Guess how long a recharge takes? 5 minutes. Yes, 5 minutes. It’s composite  body  means a 20-40% weight reduction, meaning about $750,000 USD in fuel savings. Not to mention, it offers $130,000 in maintenance savings, compared to a diesel-powered bus over a 16-year life-cycle. I believe the EV bus market will explode in the near future – and Proterra is a beacon case.
  • Storing energy: The world is building a new path of more sustainable power sources like solar and wind power. One misunderstood argument is that these power types are intermittent – only when the sun shines or the wind blows. But that’s not the case if done right. Many SUSTAINIA 100 stories show how this can be done with intelligent energy storage.  Stories like Aquion Energy’s saltwater battery storage, Abengoa’s Solana plant, and Ambri’s Liquid Metal Battery storage. These storage systems are already commercialised and it is just a question of time until further innovation in renewables and storage bypasses and replaces coal, gas and nuclear within power systems around the world.

These stories are exciting for all of us – but most of all for investors. These are clear signals and opportunities for bets to be better placed: out of the problems and into the solutions.  The solutions enabling a sustainable zero carbon life are already here. Everywhere around the world in fact. Seize Your Power to invest in the solutions and a better future for us all.

Bending the curve toward a sustainable future

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

“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.”