What are the Sustainable Jobs?

Solutions for the 21st Century

Instead of remaking of the jobs we had in the last boom, we need to innovate around the sustainability challenges ahead. There are many books with emerging agreement on what will be the 21st century solutions to the world’s economic, social and environmental problems.

Renewable energy is an obvious fisrt step including Wind Power (in Ireland and offshore) and Solar Power (in sunnier climates). Biomass (heat) and Biofuel (transport) are seen as great opportunities for land use. However environmental concerns over habitat destruction, replacing necessary food crops and pesticide use mean the direction is shifting to 2nd Generation Biofuels (from forestry and agriculture waste). Stems, leaves and husks can all be used as well as various grasses. Food production is another area where Ireland has potential to replace up to €6 Billion in imports.

Other technologies on which consensus is growing include Smart Grid Controlled Heat Pumps (for home heating and horticulture), Electricity Storage Technologies, Biochar (wood charcoal with the benefits of both soil enhancement and continuous carbon capture). Ireland may also be a leader in Wave Power.

For waste management, Canberra Australia has developed a “Resource Recovery Park”, where all waste in a region is brought to a Central Location, sorted and reprocessed on site adding value to all waste, exporting what can’t be used and disposing of what little is left. The waste from each process supplies another. Such a Centre could be located in Ballinasloe.

But what could happen if we developed a similar concept to merge food, forestry and energy and developed a Centre for Practical Sustainability?

A rural example site is Carrowbrowne, located on a breezy bog. Rather than producing electricity, new wind turbine technologies can produce compressed air . Electricity can be produced during peak hours as the stored air is released through a turbine. Some energy is wasted compressing air but this wastage can also be stored as heat. Electricity is worth 10 to 30 cents per unit during peak times but only 2 to 3 cents in the middle of the night so the payback is very good if costs can be kept low. Any surplus energy the grid won’t buy can be used to make heat from heat pumps (which are more than 500% efficient, using the abundant bog water as a heat transfer source). This heat could be used in a nearby garden centre or local organic gardens for off-season growing and to produce vegetables, fruit, flowers and plants even in winter. One new Storage Technology uses containers conveniently the size of articulated lorry trailers so the energy could be transported to the nearest grid where connection is absent. Molten salts can be used to store waste heat energy which can be transported to Industrial and Domestic sites for district heating.

Another rural opportunity is in the soil rich hinterland around Tuam (formerly a Sugar Beet hub) and with cheap local energy could provide many new crops outside of the traditional season. Tillage waste (straw), waste grass, cuttings and forestry thinning could produce 2nd generation biofuel for transport. Forestry waste could be obtained from the Mountbellew area. Animal waste and the 2010 Food Waste Regulations provide a great opportunity for Anaerobic Digestion (which produces biogas) . The competence Centre for Biorefining and Bioenergy located in NUI Galway could provide much expertise here.

An urban example site is Parkmore Industrial Estate located on a windy plateau. The estate could become an energy storage park where one or more of several interesting storage technologies are tested and brought to market. New storage techniques include heat (Gravel Batteries stored in blue & red silos), Gravity and more efficient Compressed Air. The electricity produced could be used to lower the energy costs of the factories and provide extra local resilience. Surplus waste energy could be used to aid heating the factories, and produce hydrogen or heat for off-site export.

Transportable heat (molten salts) allow the set up of Utility Co-Ops where people buy weekly heat on demand. The heat production costs would be 2 cents per kilowatt hour using night rate electricity and heat pumps or even less if it’s a use for waste energy. Heat for several houses could be pumped into large insulated warm water tanks at the back of some houses. Residents could buy into a district heating system which works out much cheaper than oil (9 cents/unit). Residents giving up some yard space for storage could be given a discount. Economy of scale means capital costs would be much lower.

This article highlights “what” jobs are possible and the next article on Co Operatives highlights “how” we could fund them.

Interesting books:

Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air – David JC MacKay – http://www.withouthotair.com/.

Ten Technologies to save the Planet – Chris Goodall

Our Choice – Al Gore – http://ourchoicethebook.com/

Heat – George Monbiot – http://www.monbiot.com/2006/11/07/heat/

Picture example (of a (waste) Resource Recovery Park) is provided below:

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