The Natural Edge Project The Natural Advantage of Nations Whole System Design Factor 5 Cents and Sustainability Higher Education and Sustainable Development




"Janine Benyus is without question the world's most imaginative person in the field of environmental development and restoration. To be with her indoors is to be transported; to spend time outdoors with Janine is like walking through the looking glass of extraordinary beauty and landing in a meadow of possibilities about our world."
Paul Hawken, Natural Capital Institute





Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions 


Unit 2 - Efficiency/Whole System

 

Lecture 8: 10 step Operational Checklist to Achieve Whole System Design Optimisation[1]

         

Educational Aim
 

The goal here is to demystify the art of Whole System Design (WSD) as practised by WSD practitioners into easily understood operational steps. This operational check list will help to show how through Whole System Design big efficiency gains can be achieved. Some of these steps overlap with each other and some may seem obvious, however, each step is reinforcing aspects that are of importance in successfully implementing Whole System Design.

 

Required Reading

Hawken, P., Lovins, A.B. and Lovins, L.H. (1999) Natural Capitalism: The Next Industrial Revolution, Earthscan, London, Chap 6: Tunnelling Through the Cost Barrier. Available at http://www.natcap.org/images/other/NCchapter6.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.

Hargroves, K. and Smith, M.H. (2005) The Natural Advantage of Nations: Business Opportunities, Innovation and Governance in the 21st Century, Earthscan, London:

  1. Chapter 6 Natural Advantage: A Business Imperative. Achieving Radical Resource Productivity (through whole systems approaches) (3 pages), pp 89-101.


Learning Points

* Step 1. Ask the right questions: At this first step it is important to define the design challenge clearly. What needs and services are we attempting to meet here? Is this the best way to do this? Are there other possible approaches? Through re-examining the whole supply chain, new opportunities for energy and resource efficiency improvements can be identified.

* Step 2. Understand the system and benchmark against what’s possible: What level of Factor X improvement is possible? Is Factor 4, Factor 10 possible? Important steps toward achieving large energy and resource efficiency improvements are to understand the fundamentals of the process, clarify the essential services being provided, and benchmark the system against the ideal and the best practically achievable.

* Step 3. Review each step in the process and see what potential there is for energy and resource efficiency gains and the reduction of waste: Do not underestimate the importance of any potential energy and resource efficiency improvements. Together, all the small improvements compound, not just sum, to produce a large improvement. Hence, waste should be identified and eliminated in each step of the process and each part of the system. In addition, green chemistry and green engineering principles should be used to ensure that all chemicals used are non-toxic and to further reduce waste. Green Chemistry and Green Engineering principles are covered next in ESSP Principles and Practices in Sustainable Development for the Engineering and Built Environment Professions Unit 3.

* Step 4. The whole system should be optimised: Through designing and optimising the system as a whole, new synergies can be identified that create multiple new ways to achieve energy and resource efficiency improvements, better performance and reduced waste.

* Step 5. All measurable benefits should be counted: Components in a system are linked, so the right changes can yield a multitude of efficiency improvements throughout the whole system. Consider all impacts when comparing options.

* Step 6. The right steps should be taken at the right time and in the right sequence: There is an optimal sequence for designing and optimising the components of a system. The steps that yield the greatest impacts on the whole system should be performed first.

* Step 7. Start downstream to turn compounding losses into savings: As shown in the pipes and pumps case study, a typical industrial pumping system contains many compounding losses – from the generation of electricity at the power station, to transmission through the grid network, and subsequently at the pump motor to deliver the required power to pump the water – that only 9.5 percent of useful energy is ultimately available.

* Step 8. It is desirable to model system behaviour: Theoretical modelling helps to both inform what is possible and guide strategies for improvement.

* Step 9. Track technology change – six months is a long time: One of the main reasons there are still significant efficiency improvements available through Whole System Design is that the rate of innovation in basic sciences and technologies has increased dramatically in the last few decades.

* Step 10. Design to create options and choices for future generations: A basic tenet of sustainability is that future generations should have the same level of life quality, environmental amenities and range of choices as ‘developed’ societies now enjoy. But why should we not aim to ensure that future generations have an even greater array of choices and ways to meet their needs and improve their wellbeing?


Brief Background Information
 

Step 1. Ask the right questions.
What needs and services are attempting to be met here? Is this the best way to do this? Are there other possible approaches? For example, people want glass bottles or aluminium cans out of which to drink. To them, it makes no difference whether the glass or aluminium is made of recycled material or not. It does, however, make a significant difference to the planet’s ecosystems. This example demonstrates the potential impacts of design decisions. Decisions are made in the selection of system’s technologies and energy and resource inputs, and in the interpretation of the system’s provided service. A service-based perspective helps to clarify the system’s essential services, and identify alternative ways of providing those services. A service-based perspective can lead to substantially improved efficiency.

Step 2. Understand the system and benchmark against what’s possible.
It is often useful to develop a simple spreadsheet model of the system being evaluated. It is remarkable how useful this can be, as it forces the analyst to think about the interacting components of the system, and to evaluate the existing solution. This process of benchmarking helps to clarify how the existing system compares with the ideal and the best practically achievable. Benchmarking against ‘Best Practice’ is a dangerous strategy: existing best practice is actually best of a bad lot practice because the reference cases typically were designed decades ago and the financial criteria used to evaluate investments in efficiency are likely to have been very stringent (less than a three year payback period is a typical threshold). Today we should be able to do much better.

Step 3. Review each step in processes and see what potential there is for energy and resource efficiency gains.
Do not underestimate the importance of any potential efficiency improvements; waste should be identified in each step of the process. At most sites (from homes to large industrial plants) there is very limited measurement and monitoring of energy and resource consumption at the process level, and rarely are there properly specified benchmarks against which performance can be evaluated. Thus plant operators rarely know where the greatest potential for efficiency improvements lie. Measurement and monitoring help identify the system’s performance inadequacies, which, when improved, can substantially improve performance.

Step 4. The whole system should be optimised.

Optimizing an entire system takes ingenuity, intuition, and close attention to the way technical systems really work. It requires a sense of what’s on the other side of the cost barrier and how to get to it by selectively relaxing your constraints… Whole-system engineering is back-to-the-drawing-board engineering… One of the great myths of our time is that technology has reached such an exalted plateau that only modest, incremental improvements remain to be made. The builders of steam locomotives and linotype machines probably felt the same way about their handiwork. The fact is, the more complex the technology, the richer the opportunities for improvement. There are huge systematic inefficiencies in our technologies; minimize them and you can reap huge dividends for your pocketbook and for the earth. Why settle for small savings when you can tunnel through to big ones? Think big!

Rocky Mountain Institute, Summer Newsletter, 1997[2]

Refer back to the ‘Pipes and Pumps’ case study to see why Whole System Design is worth the effort. Over the last two decades, scientists and engineers armed with the latest science and technological innovations have been able to re-optimise many engineered systems.

Step 5. All measurable benefits should be counted.

This [checkpoint] might seem obvious, but the trick is properly counting all the benefits. It’s easy to get fixated on optimizing for energy savings for example, and fail to take into account reduced capital costs, maintenance, risk, or other attributes (such as mass, which in the case of a car, for instance, may make it possible for other components to be smaller, cheaper, lighter, and so on). Another way to capture multiple benefits is to coordinate a retrofit with renovations that need to be done for other reasons anyway. Being alert to these possibilities requires lateral thinking and an awareness of how the whole system works.

Rocky Mountain Institute, Summer Newsletter, 1997[3]


The ‘Pipes and Pumps’ case study lists numerous multiple benefits of applying a whole system approach to pipes and pumps to reinforce this message.

Step 6. The right steps should be taken at the right time and in the right sequence.
There is an optimal sequence for designing and optimising the components of a system. The steps that yield the greatest impacts on the whole system should be performed first. For example, consider solar-power for home energy supply. Solar cells are costly and provide perhaps one-half or one-third of the electricity consumed by a big heat pump striving to maintain comfort despite an inefficient building envelope, glazing, lights, and appliances. Solar cells are a wonderful technology, but the designers of such homes forgot something even more important: they forgot to start by designing the rest of the house equally cleverly. Suppose the building was first made thermally insulated so it didn't need as big a heat pump. (There are several much simpler ways to handle summer humidity.) Then, suppose the lights and appliances were then made extremely efficient, with the latest technologies that can cut the house's total electric load and heat to an average of barely over 100 watts. Now, the home’s heating and cooling needs would be very small; its electrical needs could be met by only a few square meters of solar cells; and it would all work better and cost less.

Step 7. Start downstream to turn compounding losses into savings.
Amory Lovins writes,[4]


An engineer looks at an industrial pipe system and sees a series of compounding energy losses: the motor that drives the pump wastes a certain amount of electricity converting it to torque, the pump and coupling have their own inefficiencies, and the pipe, valves, and fittings all have inherent frictions. So the engineer sizes the motor to overcome all these losses and deliver the required flow. But by starting downstream - at the pipe instead of the pump - turns these losses into compounding savings. Make the pipe more efficient… and you reduce the cumulative energy requirements of every step upstream. You can then work back upstream, making each part smaller, simpler, and cheaper, saving not only energy but also capital costs. And every unit of friction saved in the pipe saves about nine units of fuel and pollution at the power station.

Step 8. It is desirable to model system behaviour.
Mathematical and computer modelling techniques are valuable for addressing more complex engineering problems. For example, CSIRO has used computer modelling to make significant breakthroughs in fluid dynamics. Modelling of fluid dynamics by CSIRO is presenting opportunities for substantial efficiency improvements. A better understanding of how liquids and gases flow has also helped CSIRO designers to improve the efficiency and performance of processing technologies in a wide range of applications. From such modelling, CSIRO has developed the Rotated Arc Mixer (RAM), which consumes five times less energy than conventional industrial mixers. The RAM is able to mix a range of fluids that were previously not mixable by other technologies.

Step 9. Track technology change – 6 months is a long time.
One of the main reasons there are still significant efficiency improvements available through Whole System Design is that the rate of innovation in basic sciences and technologies has increased dramatically in the last few decades. Innovations in materials science, such as insulation, lighting, super-windows, ultra-light metals and distributed energy options, are creating new ways to re-optimise the design of old technologies. Innovation is so rapid that, today, 6 months is a long time. For example, consider the average refrigerator, in which most of the energy losses relate to insulation. The latest innovations in materials science in Europe have created a new insulation material that will allow refrigerators to consume 50 percent less energy. Another example is innovations in composite fibres that make it possible to design substantially lighter cars. A final example is an innovation in light metals, which can now be used in all forms of transportation, from air travel to trains to cars, to allow further efficiency improvements throughout the whole system.

Step 10. Design to Create Options and Choices for Future Generations.
A basic tenet of sustainability is that future generations should have the same level of life quality, environmental amenities and range of choices as ‘developed’ societies enjoy today. While most designers focus on best practice, some focus on designing to create more options for future generations by:

  • designing and building homes and buildings where the materials can be dismantled and used again, such as the award winning Newcastle University green buildings.

  • designing cars, electrical and office equipment so that over 90 percent of it can be re-manufactured at the end of its design life. Re-manufacturability is now a requirement in many countries in Europe and Asia, where the manufacturers’ responsibility for its products is extended to the entire life cycle.

  • designing new urban developments with dual pipes to allow grey water to be used on gardens. Dual pipes are a requirement for new building developments in many countries so that future generations can choose to reuse their grey water.

  • ensuring that new coal fired power stations built around the world can be used for geo-sequestration. There are significant concerns that many new coal fired power stations that are currently being built today are not being correctly sited nor designed to make geo-sequestration of CO2 emissions possible in the future.

  • designing and installing pipelines that can be used for the hydrogen economy in the future, such as the gas pipelines in China, which are being designed to also work for hydrogen.

 

Key References


- Hawken, P. Lovins, A.B. and Lovins, L.H. (1999) Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, Earthscan, London, Chap 2: Reinventing the Wheels. Available at http://www.natcap.org/images/other/NCchapter6.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.

- Lovins, A. (2004) ‘Energy Efficiency, Taxonomic Overview for Earth’s Energy Balance’, in Cleveland, C. J. (ed) Encyclopedia of Energy, vol 1, Elsevier.


- Rocky Mountain Institute (1997) ‘Cover Story: Tunnelling through the Cost Barrier’, RMI Newsletter, Summer 1997. Available at http://www.rmi.org/images/other/Newsletter/NLRMIsum97.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.

- Pears, A. (2004) Energy Efficiency - Its Potential: Some Perspectives and Experiences, Background paper for International Energy Agency Energy Efficiency Workshop, Paris. Accessed 5 January 2007.

- Pears, A. and Versluis, P. (1993) ’Scenarios for Alternative Energy’ in Western Australia Report for Renewable Energy Advisory Council, Government of Western Australia, Perth.

- von Weizsäcker, E., Lovins, A.B. and Lovins, L.H. (1997) Factor Four: Doubling Wealth, Halving Resource Use, Earthscan, London.

- Birkeland, J. (2005) Design for Ecosystem Services A New Paradigm for Ecodesign Australian National University, for presentation at SB05 Tokyo ‘Action for Sustainability: The World Sustainable Building Conference’, September 2005. Available at http://www.naf-forum.org.au/papers/Design%20Paradigm.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007.

- Ostoja, A. (2003) Existing Buildings: 360 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne, Australian Building Greenhouse Rating Second National Case Study Seminar, Sustainable Energy Development Authority, Sydney.

 

Key Words for Searching Online


Rocky Mountain Institute, Whole System Design, compounding savings, tunnelling through the cost barrier.

 

[1] The 10 step checklist for Whole System Design is a synthesis of lessons from leading experts of WSD optimisation for sustainability, namely Amory Lovins, Alan Pears, Janis Birkeland and Janine Benyus. TNEP has sought to distil into ten steps the key operational checks for engineers to ensure that best practice WSD optimisations are achieved. (Back)

[2] Rocky Mountain Institute (1997) ‘Cover Story: Tunnelling through the Cost Barrier’, RMI Newsletter, Summer 1997. Available at http://www.rmi.org/images/other/Newsletter/NLRMIsum97.pdf. Accessed 5 January 2007. (Back)

[3] Idib. (Back)

[4] Ibid. (Back)

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