Energy Exchange

WORDS Nick Sisam & Pete Griffiths

 Nick Sisam, 4th year BLA Student, Unitec
Pete Griffiths, MLA, BLA, Programme Leader at Unitec

 

ABSTRACT

With increased growth predicted for Auckland, there comes an increase in the energy required to run the city. Auckland is already the country’s largest user of electricity.  Sustainable hydro electricity generation in NZ is vulnerable to weather fluctuations and the use of fossil fuel based generation is untenable for the future.  As a landscape architect this problem opens up areas for research and has the seeds of potential for the combination of open space design and efficient energy use.  For example... What if renewable energy technologies could help us to plan cities, suburbs and open space?  What if these technologies could be localised within regions?  This paper will explore possibilities around using renewable energy technologies as tools to help plan for growth.  A specific case study on Waiheke Island in Auckland will be used to test these ideas.

 

Canopy. Integral to areas along the walking tracks are groves of trees, which create thick canopies.  An intervention that mimicked the canopy of the vegetation stands was developed. This intervention creates a sense of the organic and utilises a thin film organic photovoltaic cell. This has an advantage over other silicon type cells as it means that it can be easily fabricated into flexible shapes and adhered to fabrics, as well as functioning well under low light levels and at non-perpendicular angles, as well as being semi-translucent. The vegetation stands have many small, hidden areas throughout the site. These were used to develop a sense of enclosure and removed from the openness and large landscapes of the rest of the site.

Canopy. Integral to areas along the walking tracks are groves of trees, which create thick canopies.  An intervention that mimicked the canopy of the vegetation stands was developed. This intervention creates a sense of the organic and utilises a thin film organic photovoltaic cell. This has an advantage over other silicon type cells as it means that it can be easily fabricated into flexible shapes and adhered to fabrics, as well as functioning well under low light levels and at non-perpendicular angles, as well as being semi-translucent. The vegetation stands have many small, hidden areas throughout the site. These were used to develop a sense of enclosure and removed from the openness and large landscapes of the rest of the site.

 

As urban populations continue to expand within New Zealand, the need to locate generation points closer to populations will increase in order to take advantage of a diversified range of sources, and will raise the visibility of electricity generation. Locating generation closer to the communities that will be using them also helps to decrease the loss of energy transmitted over longer distances. The Draft Auckland Energy Resilience and Low Carbon Action Plan within The Auckland Plan highlights that over the next 25 years, global energy consumption is predicted to increase by around 33%, with Auckland’s projected energy use within this timeframe to increase by a staggering 65% (The Auckland Plan, 2012). Addressing this situation, Auckland Council has proposed initiatives, including developing renewable generation, uptake of small-scale distributed generation, widespread adoption of low-carbon technologies, and applying precinct and district scale approaches to optimise renewable energy generation and smart grid networks (The Auckland Plan, 2012).

Cubes. Cube forms comprised of solar panels are drawn from the idea of the low lying ventilation structures that emerge from the land throughout the site which served the gun emplacements constructed during World War Two, and also in reference to the scattered boulders that surround Stony Batter as a result of a volcanic eruption over 7 million years ago.  A series of cubes have been laid out in the landscape to capture solar energy.  The cubes serve as markers, which frame views and create a disrupted sense of scale in the landscape.  Approaching the cubes from afar they appear to be nestled into the landscape, however whilst amongst them the cubes become significant structures providing shade, shelter, directing light for a range of ecosystems.

Cubes. Cube forms comprised of solar panels are drawn from the idea of the low lying ventilation structures that emerge from the land throughout the site which served the gun emplacements constructed during World War Two, and also in reference to the scattered boulders that surround Stony Batter as a result of a volcanic eruption over 7 million years ago.  A series of cubes have been laid out in the landscape to capture solar energy.  The cubes serve as markers, which frame views and create a disrupted sense of scale in the landscape.  Approaching the cubes from afar they appear to be nestled into the landscape, however whilst amongst them the cubes become significant structures providing shade, shelter, directing light for a range of ecosystems.


Rationale - Global Context

Energy-related carbon dioxide emissions produced through the use of liquid fuels, coal, and natural gas were responsible for approximately 35% of total anthropogenic (caused or produced by humans) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2010. GHG emissions grew more rapidly between 2001 and 2010 than in the previous decade, despite the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol both aiming to reduce emissions. The primary contributor to this was a higher energy demand associated with rapid economic growth and an increase of the share of coal in the global fuel equation. (Energy Systems, 2014)

Since the industrial revolution, around 500 gigatons of carbon has been released though the combustion of fossil fuels. A growing global consensus is that even a temperature rise of 2 degrees could have a severe impact on humanity ranging from severe weather events through to an impact on global food production. (Clark, 2013)

In order to have even an estimated 66% chance of halting a global temperature rise above 2 degrees from the late 1880s, the world can only emit around a further 300 gigatons of carbon. Around 10-11 gigatons are released each year currently, which suggests there is a window of opportunity of less than 30 years before the 800 gigaton limit is breached. (Clark, 2013)

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that if mitigation policies were not present, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions were expected to continue to increase, with fossil fuel and industrial emissions reaching 55-70 gigatons of carbon (GtCO2) by 2050. This corresponds to an increase of 80%-130% compared to emissions of about 30 GtCO2 in 2010. A fundamental change in the energy supply system is required in order to stabilize greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations at lower levels, and as energy production is the primary driver of these emissions, it is in this sector that major changes need to be made. (Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, 2014)

Many environmental groups, businesses and governments around the world have highlighted the cost effectiveness and relative speed in which forest-based carbon offsets can be implemented. Forest ecosystems store more carbon than the atmosphere, and eroding these ecosystems through deforestation adds approximately 20% to the atmospheric build-up of greenhouse emissions from the use of fossil fuels. As a result of this, attempts to incorporate sequestration of carbon in forests through reforestation and improved forest management has become part of many emissions trading initiatives.

Although carbon sequestration will play an important role in the future, not only for the purpose of the reduction of emissions released into the atmosphere, but also to halt the loss of forest ecosystems, this is not a viable solution unless other major changes are made in the consumption of fossil fuels and the way in which power is generated.

An example of this is the surface area required to continuously offset the anthropogenic CO2 emissions of the world through reforestation. This study was for 2006 CO2 emissions, which have since increased. Each country has been given a box that represents the surface area that would be required if that country planted new trees to offset its total CO2 emissions for the year. For 2006, 28.4 billion tons of CO2 were emitted, and to offset this would require 22.8 million km2 of new trees. (Surface Area Required to Offset Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Emissions by Reforestation Alone, 2009)

Turbine Peak. Low lying wind turbines are located at the highest point on the island, where wind resource is at its greatest.  Groupings of vertical axis wind turbines were placed low to the ground. These structures seem to emerge from the peak creating the opportunity for people to move over and around the enclosed turbines, as opposed to observing them from afar. The turbines are enveloped by vegetation and become part of the landscape.  The housing around the turbines is based on wind tunnel design, to help amplify the wind directed towards the turbines.

Turbine Peak. Low lying wind turbines are located at the highest point on the island, where wind resource is at its greatest.  Groupings of vertical axis wind turbines were placed low to the ground. These structures seem to emerge from the peak creating the opportunity for people to move over and around the enclosed turbines, as opposed to observing them from afar. The turbines are enveloped by vegetation and become part of the landscape.  The housing around the turbines is based on wind tunnel design, to help amplify the wind directed towards the turbines.


Rationale - New Zealand Context

In 2012 42,900 GWh of electricity was generated in New Zealand (Energy in New Zealand, 2013), primarily through the 5 major generating companies, which provided 92% of New Zealand’s electricity generation (Energy in New Zealand, 2013).

Hydro generation accounted for 53% of generation, a decrease from 58% in 2011 as a result of low rainfall, which correspondingly saw an increase in gas and coal generation to compensate. As a result of this, the share of generation from renewable sources in New Zealand fell from 77% in 2011 to 73% in 2012.

Because New Zealand’s hydro lakes have a limited storage capacity, the total national storage is only adequate for around six weeks generation (The New Zealand Energy Sector, 2011). This means that our primary form of electricity generation is highly sensitive to the level of inflows from rainfall and snowmelt. Lower levels of rainfall or drought conditions can have a major impact on the energy security of New Zealand, and require the use of non-renewable sources to cover any shortfall in generation. The majority of hydro generation occurs in the lower South Island, with most of the demand for electricity located in the North Island, primarily in Auckland, which results in large amounts of electricity being transmitted over long distances.

Other sources of renewable energy in New Zealand include geothermal, wind, and bioenergy (mainly through woody biomass consumed at a number of cogeneration plants located at wood processing factories as well as biogas created from digesting waste at wastewater treatment plants and landfills).

Fossil fuel generation remains an important part of the New Zealand electricity mix by providing base-load, backup and peak supply. There was an increase in gas and coal generation in 2012 as a result of lower rainfall, and coal generation increased from 2026 GWh to 3317 GWh, which was the highest since 2008 (Energy in New Zealand, 2013).

New Zealand’s dominant source of generation, hydro-generation, will be constrained in the future due to availability of suitable sites, competing demands for water resources, environmental impacts, as well as community concerns over loss of amenity values (The New Zealand Energy Sector, 2011). The need to diversify electricity generation and integrate it within expanding populations in order to increase generation and supply security in a sustainable way will involve both a move away from a reliance on large-scale utilities and distribution that is vulnerable to disruptions, but also addressing the aesthetic value of these generation points.

The ‘not in my backyard’ statement that is often evoked by communities highlights that many people have a negative view of the traditional forms of power generation, as well as emerging generation forms such as wind power. Communities generally are positive about renewable forms of power generation, as long as they do not have to see these points of generation, the ‘not in my backyard’ approach. Addressing the form of electricity generation and the aesthetic value of future projects will be essential in allowing distributed forms of generation to be integrated into communities in a way that does not create resistance that could result in projects not being implemented, and instead engages with communities around the points of generation.  

The 2006 Auckland blackout saw 1000 megawatts of supply lost (“Transpower Announces Reports on Auckland Power Outage in June; Recommends Building New Line by 2011”, 2006) when close to 2000 megawatts would normally be used, which resulted in an estimated 700,000 people being affected. Suburban commuter railway services were suspended, 300 groups of traffics lights were off, some hospitals were forced to close and left only emergency services in operation, and mobile phone and telephone service failures occurred, resulting in an estimated loss of $70 million in gross domestic product (“Power Restored to Auckland After Blackout”, 2006).

A corroded shackle connecting the Otahuhu to Penrose 220 kV line’s earth wire had been dislodged in 90km/h winds, allowing the earth wire to fall across the 220 kV line and the 110 kV busbar below, which knocked out supply to other substations. Once this occurred only one line was left in operation, the now dismantled Arapuni to Pakuranga 110 kV line, which was overloaded after 8 seconds. Subsequent investigation highlighted maintenance failures of the transmission system, as well as both major and minor design deficiencies in the Otahuhu substation.

Transpower’s Chris Roberts was quoted as saying that “these sort of incidents are probably going to occur once every 50 years” (“Power Restored to Auckland After Blackout”, 2006) and that the incident occurred at the worst possible spot. However the 1998 Auckland power crisis (a five-week-long power outage) that affected the downtown Auckland area illustrates that the potential for mass power outages is not as rare as often cited.
Both examples illustrate potential supply vulnerabilities to consumers that are reliant on a large-scale distribution grid where unforeseen faults or overloading could occur. Similar vulnerabilities exist within this form of power supply if problems occur at the major points of generation, ranging from anything such as a lack of available fuel source through to a software glitch.

Wind Stalks. A plantation of kinetic energy generating wind stalks punctures the landscape at a site on the walking track that historically served as the living area for soldiers and construction workers who created the ventilation shafts and gun emplacements on the island.  The inspiration for the wind stalks was derived from large stands of Nikau trees that are visible in the surrounding vegetation, which created a strong sense of the vertical. The number of stalks corresponds to the number of soldiers and workers that were based here. The intervention sways in the wind generating kinetic energy, which references the movement of people that occurred over the area and acts as an entrance to the gun battery area.

Wind Stalks. A plantation of kinetic energy generating wind stalks punctures the landscape at a site on the walking track that historically served as the living area for soldiers and construction workers who created the ventilation shafts and gun emplacements on the island.  The inspiration for the wind stalks was derived from large stands of Nikau trees that are visible in the surrounding vegetation, which created a strong sense of the vertical. The number of stalks corresponds to the number of soldiers and workers that were based here. The intervention sways in the wind generating kinetic energy, which references the movement of people that occurred over the area and acts as an entrance to the gun battery area.


German Renewables

Germany has doubled the renewable share of its total electricity consumption in the past 6 years to 25% in 2012, with forecasts pointing to it nearly doubling again by 2025, which is ahead of its own target of 50% by 2030 (Germany’s Renewable Revolution, 2013).

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the German parliament voted to close eight of the country’s nuclear plants immediately and the other nine by 2022, even though skeptics warned that removing 41% of nuclear energy output would have a disastrous affect on the economy, would cause widespread power outages, and would force the country to import power from foreign countries such as France. (Germany’s Renewable Revolution, 2013)

By the end of 2011 the German economy had grown by 3%, with a renewable energy industry that employed 382,000 people (Germany’s Renewable Revolution, 2013), as Germany committed its resources to employing German manufacturers, engineers and installers, rather than bringing in natural gas from Russia’s Gazprom as some had suggested.

Renewable output has risen by one-third in the last three years, and Germany’s mix of solar, wind, biomass, and hydro (amongst others) has meant that renewable generation capacity rivals the 82GW peak demand, with Germany rapidly becoming one of the world’s most energy-efficient countries through a drive towards renewable energy generation, smart-grid development, and consumption efficiency increases.

Although German renewable energy only accounted for 25% of electricity produced in 2012 as opposed to New Zealand’s 73%, it has seen an increase from 6.3% to 25% since 2000 (“Crossing the 20 Percent Mark, 2012), highlighting a rapid uptake of renewable energy. Germany is also focusing on diversifying its sources of renewable energy to ensure that it maximizes available resources and is not overly reliant on one form of generation that may threaten electricity supply security. This is in contrast to the New Zealand electricity market that is highly dependent on hydro generation that is susceptible to the available inflows, which resulted in a decrease of generation from 2011-2012 and forced the use of non-renewable fuels to cover the shortfall.


Community reluctance and changing needs

Public resistance to traditional wind and solar installations in their communities often leads to a negative perception of these technologies. To many people the addition of turbines to the skyline and solar strips on the landscape could be a form of visual pollution.

A move towards a renewable energy future requires a realisation that there is a difference between the old and new forms of energy production and the change to the built manifestations that consequently follow.

There will be an increase in the integration of energy production within the fabric of our communities, both commercial and residential. The need for large-scale exurban generation will not be entirely lost, but will necessarily be augmented by micro generation as well. Macro-energy installations in the landscape should integrate with their surroundings both visually and environmentally. Micro installations should integrate with the fabric of the urban community.
“Just as buildings and public art and land art exist as interventions in the fabric of the environment, so must power generation construction from our green fields to our suburbs to our downtowns react responsibly to their role as permanent additions to our shared experience.” (Monoian & Ferry, 2010)


The project – A series of Interventions

Techniques borrowed from land art, environmental art, and the notion of place have been utilised in order to attempt to situate energy producing installations into a walking track developed along the Eastern (currently unpopulated) side of Waiheke Island.  The overall combination of the track and the interventions attempt to key into the Waiheke Island local board priorities of “protecting and enhancing the environment, building the local economy, improving physical infrastructure, building a strong sense of community, protecting and enhancing character, and developing arts and culture.

Waiheke Island was selected as a site from within Auckland as islands are geographically disconnected from the grid. Islands are also traditionally places where accelerated and unique evolution occurs.  In addition to this, Waiheke Island has greater than average sunshine hours and higher than average wind speeds compared to the rest of Auckland. These factors lend themselves to the integration of renewable energy technologies in the form of wind and solar installations, and provide an opportunity to explore how these technologies can be utilised in a site-specific way.

The western side of the island is already developed, containing the main concentration of the Waiheke population, as well as being a popular destination for tourists during the summer months. This side of the island as a result has the most developed infrastructure, in terms of roading, recreational activities, established walking tracks, and artistic and cultural activities. The potential to expand and diversify to the eastern side of the island in terms of all of these aspects exists, as the eastern side is highly undeveloped currently, but has significant natural and historical elements that could be harnessed for the benefit of Waiheke’s resident population as well as tourist industry.

The investigation explores the potentials of the following four energy-generating options: solar, kinetic, photocell and wind, shown in the above Cube, Wind Stalk, Canpoy and Turbine Peak interventions.

These interventions are based on techniques drawn from the practice of land art, environmental art, and eco art.  Artists may create artworks directly in the landscape, utilising their natural surroundings and integrating the landscape itself into their work.  These movements also have the power to address local and global environmental issues, exploring a variety of intentions and ideas, which include environmental ethics, information about ecological systems and the use of natural forms and materials.  They help to reclaim, restore or remediate damaged environments and propose new models for sustainability. “A particular place can inspire…or otherwise inform an art piece. Allowing for public response or interaction relates to the idea of space, in that a new space can be created through an artist’s intervention: the existing site can be changed and a new space created.” (Parent, 2007)

The aim of the walking track is to develop areas that are derived from and influenced by the site and that allow for human interaction and reaction.

Conclusion

The potential benefit to households on Waiheke varies depending on the level of energy efficiency of each house, as well as the nature of Waiheke having a large number of holiday homes that are not permanently occupied. The average energy use of a house in New Zealand is 8000 kWh per year. Based on this level the interventions have a potential to power an estimated 692 houses. On the lower range of energy consumption is a ‘passive house’, which consumes around 1/3 of the energy an average house, and would mean that 2132 houses could be powered. Within this spectrum is a varying degree of energy efficiency amongst houses, which has the potential to increase the number of houses that the interventions could service.

The landscape of the eastern island is both imposing and intimate, with manifold layers of natural beauty and human interventions. The development of a track network, and indeed multiple interventions along the track, was not originally envisaged, but evolved from the reflection upon these layers of the surrounding landscape, and a realisation that a single intervention would struggle to capture the essence of this landscape. Through this reflection, a way to conceptualise and then create a track of varied yet related interventions emerged, which on one hand stand apart, and on the other are ‘of’ the landscape. The aim of the walking track was to develop areas that are derived from, and influenced by the site and that allow for human interaction and reaction. The western side of the island already has a developed network of walkways due to steady development over previous decades, but a desire from local residents as well as visitors is to ensure that connections are made to the eastern side of the island. Could the addition of a new track on the eastern side of the island that follows a similar formula to existing western-side tracks be a driver for this connection to be made on its own? Or could a network that reflects the uniqueness of the surrounding landscape in a form that is not present on Waiheke be the impetus for this cross-island connection and social landscape creation?

“Throughout history, the environment has undergone continuous design reinterpretations in response to shifting technologies and cultural standards…the renewable energy revolution will also have a resounding influence on public space and landscapes in the coming decades” (Monoian & Ferry, 2014). As technologies change and evolve, the opportunity to reimagine the use of renewable energy technologies evolves with it, and an opportunity presents itself to alter societies perceptions of energy generation and technology.

The technologies associated with renewable energy currently are derived almost entirely from an engineering perspective, with energy efficiency being the principal driver. While this efficiency will always be of concern, it has so far failed to capture societies imagination, and has for the most part resulted in power generation remaining out of sight of the public. As the project evolved, a shift occurred from one that sighted conventionally recognisable technology in the landscape with associated attempts to ‘soften’ their impacts, to one that embraced the need to engage people’s imagination. Could the interventions be nested within the landscape in a way that accentuated their ‘otherness’ as a productive object, yet were still objects that fitted within the landscape and engaged with people? Landscape architecture has the potential to step outside of the traditional role of providing visual impact assessments for sites of generation, and instead engage in a collaborative process that allows for a design aesthetic to become part of future projects and break away from generative applications of power generation.

These interventions are based on techniques drawn from the practice of land art, environmental art, and eco art. Artists may create artworks directly in the landscape, utilising their natural surroundings and integrating the landscape itself into their work. This in combination with landscape architecture has the potential to enlighten people about a broad range of social and environmental issues in a world that puts a high emphasis on design.  This series of interventions highlights the need to bridge the gap between a desire for a renewable energy future and the community level negative reaction to the application of these technologies, and highlights that “a fusion should occur between the necessary cultural function that art objects fulfill and their potential to serve as functional commodities.” (Monoian & Ferry, 2010)


On a larger scale the project attempts to address the local board priorities by potentially increasing economic activity through increased visitor numbers, as well as the creation of a walking track network. Currently there is no public transport to the eastern side of the island; so private vehicle access is required. The local board has expressed a need for a “series of linking, cross-island routes for smaller buses.” (Waiheke Local Board Plan, 2011)

The interventions also address many of the priorities of the Waiheke Local Board. Four of their key priorities are centred around building the local economy, improving physical infrastructure, building a strong community and a focus on arts and culture. While a generic engineering focused approach to power generation for the island would have contributed in some ways to these priorities, it is the through the lens of landscape architecture and an aesthetic concern that the priorities can be more fully addressed. The interventions have the potential to increase the local economy through increased visitor numbers to the island, as well as potential employment opportunities in construction and maintenance. The goal of creating cross-island routes could be fully realised with connections being made to the site from within Waiheke and points of access to the island that are served by the ferries. The objective of creating a strong community through the support of a network of arts and culture, educational and recreational opportunities on the island will be amplified through the interventions as a unique addition to the existing uniqueness of the Waiheke culture. Waiheke already has a profile as a unique location for arts and culture within Auckland, and by fusing art and renewable energy into a new design aesthetic can create a new experience for both the local residents and visitors as well as raising the islands art profile.

Outside of Waiheke the techniques developed throughout the investigation are transferable to virtually any site. The fundamentals of allowing the surrounding environment guide the development of future interventions allows for a virtually unlimited possibility of future designs based not only the uniqueness of whatever landscape they are situated in, but also the uniqueness of an individuals experiences and perceptions of these landscapes when it comes to the crossroads of intervention and imagination. The development of new technologies, as well as how these technologies can be employed will continually modify how design aesthetics can be adopted to greater engage with the communities that power generation is situated in, and could perhaps even strengthen the interconnectedness of human activity with the landscape. Landscape architects are uniquely positioned to help lead this adaptation in power generation and aesthetics as “landscape architecture’s public face has a very important role to play, with every edifice signifying its purpose and declaring its personality, its regard for the public realm, and its relationship to human activities.” (Monoian & Ferry, 2010)

Multi-layered benefits of combining the functional and aesthetic into a new form to capture the imagination of societies include city beautification, education, a healthier environment, economic development and innovation, as well as addressing the overall issue of power generation. These interventions could in future contribute to the energy security of both urban and rural environments through the development of sustainable distributed energy. In much the same way that art has the power to be “participatory, objective, decorative, conceptual, interactive, reflective (or) celebratory” (Monoian & Ferry, 2010), so to does power generation that responds to its surroundings and the community that it serves. Landscape architects are increasingly working within a collaborative world that brings together multifaceted industries in response to design situations. Landscape architecture as a profession can use this experience and design sensibility to contribute to the development of sustainable energy generation, as the profession recognises that  “a particular place can inspire… allowing for public response or interaction (and) the existing site can be changed and a new space created.” (Parent, 2007).