Energy is no longer a forgotten topic
By Maddi Badiola
By Maddi Badiola
Two years after suddenly being on a worldwide lockdown, we are now out there protesting against what I call a complete nonsense and atrocious historical happening: Russia invading Ukraine, Ukraine being devastated by an autocrat’s hunger for power.
Power and money, two of the concepts that are making this world become a horrible place. And from a selfish point of view, as the main (if not the only ones) victims are Ukrainians, the entire world is suffering the consequences of this crisis, this game-changer.
Who does not know nowadays what inflation means? It is one of the new trending words. Going to the supermarket is around 30 per cent more expensive than one year ago and not only due to the product price increases, but the fuel. We now think twice before going somewhere. Truckers are on strike due to their unsustainable situation, creating logistical issues and making shipping /delivery times undefined. Last but not least, energy.
Our energy bills are unaffordable in some cases. Both industries and families are being impacted. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, many companies have reduced their working hours and even some have shut down their activities as they are not able to pay the energy costs. With regards to families, the most vulnerable are forced to choose between food and medicine, or paying bills.
I remember at the beginning of my aquaculture career, energy was the biggest forgotten topic. And it really surprised me because as an energy consuming system, I would have imagined that recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) would have been researched and investigated around it. Ten years later, things have changed. The reason for that is unfortunate, but fortunate in the way that this was needed.
The unwanted question
How much energy does your system consume per kilogram of fish produced? The answer, if well monitored, seems pretty straightforward. Nevertheless, it is funny how people struggle and/or try to go for other paths.
And why is this? My first guess might be because it is not well measured. Many industries really get surprised when they monitor all of the energy their equipment is consuming.
I used to work as business development manager in an energy-related company where we would perform, among other services, energy-audits. In more than half of the audits, people could not believe how much energy they were wasting due to lack of equipment, such as a simple variable frequency controller. At the same time, they were puzzled learning where the energy was mainly used.
Saying that, I will not get tired of repeating that an energy audit can help in the efficiency of a system. So, measure it, know it, and improve it. The second reason could be because claiming sustainable products seems not to be aligned with high energy consumption and people are afraid of being open with their real numbers.
Has the RAS industry yet realized the importance of energy as an operating expense or OpEx? Has the time arrived where we will openly talk about the actual kWh/kg numbers, efficiency and hence, the evidente, relative sustainability of the systems? It is either the industry reduces its energy consumption or increase its product prices. And we must tackle the subject honestly and with feet on the ground.
I attended RASTECH 2022 at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina where I was honoured to chair two of the session blocks. Overall, I got to see about 20 presentations, from equipment performances to real company businesses. I am glad to say that energy was mentioned in some of them; something that years ago, would not have happened.
Actually, the unwanted question was asked by the audience in different presentations with sometimes poor (and dubious) answers. However, I now see people more worried about this topic and so with that, I am somewhat happy and greatful.
Get to the source
Another issue is the source of it, one of the main reasons for Russia still bombing Ukraine. We are economically supporting the Kremlin by not stopping the use of their natural gas. Is this not a big enough reason to stop using non-renewables and shifting focus onto cleaner energies?
We need to look for substitutes for natural gas – both for heat and electricity – and work towards alternate, renewable energy sources. Bioenergy (i.e. the conversion of wood and other plant materials into energy), for example, seems to be on the table. It uses waste materials for energy that can have economic and climate benefits.
However, as many scientists have explained, harvesting trees to generate electricity and heat may increase greenhouse gas emissions over decades or even centuries. As such, not all renewable energies seem to be so green.
It is time, then, to reach a consensus on the evaluation methods and criteria used to determine whether a source is renewable or not, it is time to agree on what renewable (and sustainable) really means.
I personally hope that there is no need for me to speak about this invasion on my next article. Remember that sustainability includes social, environmental, economic and technological issues. And energy, I am afraid to say, is present in all four of those pillars.
Measure the energy continuously, if you really want to decrease environmental impacts and monetary costs. Do not forget that by using more energy-efficient systems (in parallel with proper business plans and properly designed systems), your species selection will be made based on market demands, instead of overriding environmental conditions and water quality limitations. And this will keep your business profitable as the product offer and demand will be met at expected market prices.
Maddi Badiola, PhD, PM, is a RAS engineer and co-founder of HTH full spectrum (fullspectrumaquaculture.com; HTHaqua.com) based in Getxo, Basque Country in Spain. Her expertise include energy conservation, lifecycle assessments and RAS global sustainability assessments. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her through LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram.