Daily Archives: December 20, 2009

Energy Utilization Is a Problem … But Water Consumption is a Bigger One!

The November 9th print edition of Canadian Business had an Opinion piece by Stewart Hall, titled “The Age of ‘Water Wealth’ Has Arrived in Canada”, that quoted a very scary statistic from the Water Footprint Network. The virtual water footprint of a full breakfast including juice, newspaper, milk, coffee, toast, two eggs and bacon weights in at a hefty 2,800 litres!

While one’s virtual water foot print is largely related to choice of diet, even a survival diet alone leaves a footprint of 1,000 litres per day. A vegetarian diet needs 2,600 litres and a high protein North American style meat-based diet runs the meter up to 5,000 litres of water per day. On top of this, we North Americans use twice as much water a day for our personal needs than our European counterparts, using 400 litres per day out of the tap to their 200, while a person in the developing world will use just 10 litres (and we each need 3 litres of water a day just to survive).

This isn’t a problem since the 71.1% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, right? Wrong! Only about 3% of the water on the planet is safe to drink, and two thirds of that is locked up in glaciers and unavailable for consumption. That leaves a mere 1% of potable water for over 6.8 Billion people to share. And with the UN estimating that ground water is already being used at a rate of 4% beyond it’s replenishment rate, that tells us that even those of us who are water rich are going to be in trouble within 25 years while those of us who are water poor (like China, India, and Pakistan who are currently pumping out twice as much water out of the ground as rain is replenishing) could be in dire straits within 5 years.

We need to reduce our consumption and do it fast, because, unlike the energy shortage which could be easily fixed with a sufficient investment (which, unfortunately, is still much more than anyone wants to spend as almost all of the investment has to be made up front), there are no limitless sources of renewable “clean water” to match the almost limitless solar, wind, and hydro potential that we can tap into.

So if you really want to be a forward-thinking socially-responsible supply manager, make sure you select sources of supply and production processes with minimal water utilization. You’ll save big-time in the long run.

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Smart Cars Are Here, But Where Are Our Smart Grids To Charge Them?

The November 9th print edition of Canadian Business had an article by Heather Li on “Charging Cars for Pennies …” that had an amazing calculation that, if it were more widely known, could totally change the way we look at smart cars. By using wasted power, smart grids can charge electric cars for 42 cents a night!

Let’s see … in a fuel efficient car with gas prices at about $3 a gallon in the US and over $4 a gallon in Canada, you’re paying at least $30 in the US and at least $40 in Canada for a tank of gas that will get you the same 400km to 500km of travel that an electric car with a high-performance lithium-ion battery pack will get you … which could cost you a mere $0.42 to recharge. Now, it’s true that the batteries will eventually need to be replaced … but as the new battery packs have an estimated life of about 250,000 km, you might replace the smart car first!

How could we do it so cheap? It has to do with the fact that while our power demands fluctuate throughout a 24 hour cycle, power production does not. Water doesn’t stop flowing, nuclear reactions don’t stop half way through the chain, and it’s just not practical to shut down coal plants. As a result, much of the energy produced at night goes to waste. In Ontario, the difference between how much is used and how much is produced in off-peak night hours is often 10,000 mega-watts — which is potentially enough power to support one million electric vehicles! And, as you guessed, the power companies lose money on this production (which they make up for by charging a rate for energy consumption that covers the average total cost of production over a 24 hour period, and not just the cost of the energy you use). But if we had a smart grid, that utilized new smart meters, it could be programmed to charge our smart cars during times of peak excess energy availability and the power companies could charge us a fraction of a penny per kWh (or just a few dollars per MWh, instead of the average consumer price of $27.59 per MWh in Canada in November) and still make a profit.

Bring on the Smart Grids!

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