From Waste to Energy
Other than solar, wind, and hydropower, bioenergy produced from anaerobic digestion and gasification is another prominent source of renewable energy. Generation of renewable energy from biomass not only diversifies the energy portfolio, “this space also solves a waste problem” states Yuzon. The biomass used for producing energy includes municipal solid waste (MSW), wastewater, agricultural waste, and forest waste; this diverts waste from going to the landfill.
Our Precious Natural Resource: Water
Water is pumped from the Sacramento Delta and the Colorado River to irrigate the fields of CA’s Imperial Valley.
This practice is energy intensive and much water is lost due to transport and evaporation in the hot temperatures, points out Swiller. He proposed that instead of farming water intensive crops, solar power should be produced in the valley to reduce the water demand. However Gelobter argues this proposal would be contested by farmers unwilling to forfeit their water rights. Desalination has become more viable now that it’s coupled with solar power, but it is currently still too expensive.
Public Private Partnerships (PPP): Government Policy
For California, policy has been pushing for sustainable practices involving renewables with AB32 (Global Warming Solutions Act), AB 341 (75% diversion of solid waste), and SB1122 (generation of 250MW from bioenergy projects). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has also been involved in facilitating solar and wind energy development on public lands. However for Swiller, working with BLM is avoided, instead he stresses the importance of connecting with local groups and getting them involved in the process when acquiring land for renewable energy projects.
Financial Solutions: Funding and Cash Streams
“Financing can help a small market scale into a massive market, but is unlikely to create a market of any size from nothing” comments Oros of KPCB Green Growth Fund as he provides insight about investing in the market. With the demand for renewables providing a niche in the market of few competitors, Catepillar Financial Services Corp funds small scale projects for the long term (10+ years). Projects can have multiple revenue streams stemming from different steps in the process, Yuzon uses wastewater treatment as an example as nutrients, biogas, and carbon credits are all generated as part of the procedure.
Technology and the California Experience
“Biomass is very old stuff, but innovative use and development remake old practices for the new world” explains Gelobter. He accentuated the demand for software to track RE use, decide locations for project sites, and optimize use of multiple resources. Also noted is the recent change of attitude from preservation to optimization toward natural resources, particularly some undeveloped land. With California policy leading the use of renewable energy, technologies developed and implemented here are proposed for adoption other states. Renewable energy is a prominent step towards a sustainable future.
Sylvia Qi is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley majoring in civil and environmental engineering with an immense interest in sustainability and renewable energy.