(from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Henry Colville)
As I sit in my sunlit kitchen after our last 'deep freeze' thinking that we are actually in spring, I realize I hear the sound of trickling water outside. It's been awhile. That magical time of the year is here; getting the water garden up and running and reconnecting with a serene quality that a water garden brings, absolutely transcendental.
A few years ago I had the privilege to work on a large mixed use project south of France in a tiny nation state on the Mediterranean Sea. It was a wonderfully complex and layered program comprised of a series of public and private functions civic, institutional and commercial recreational in nature. It was designed as a series of buildings varying in program size integrated into park like green spaces at ground level, vast living green walls and green and park like roofscapes.
The entire project was envisioned to meet European Triple 100 sustainability initiatives generating it's own power on site using solar energy technology embedded in building envelopes, harnessing hydroelectric power from tidal and wave action, wind energy from turbines as well as energy from processing on site waste. A tall and complex undertaking, likely extremely expensive to accomplish, and certainly pushing the boundaries of some current and emerging technologies.
The institutional side of the program was to contain a research centre focused on a range of environmental issues, a 'Green Atheneum' for Environmentalism and Ecosystem research. One of the allied foundations related to environmental initiatives that has a particular interest related to water in our planets ecosystem was the HSH Prince Albert ll Foundation of Monaco. It was through some of this peripheral project related research my interest was drawn to the current issues of water energy in particular and water quality as it affects us all.
Water is by far one of our most precious resources, it powers our planet along with the sun. As I delve into the subject more, it's not exactly what you would call a renewable resource, our water supply is really part of a closed loop within our ecosystem. Latterly I am coming to believe that our world view where we differentiate between renewable and non-renewable resources belies a certain truth..........that there exists a fine balance and a fixed leger of ecological assets........our perspective on what is renewable and what's not masks this truth.
It is really only in the last two and a half decades or so that we have become far more concerned about water energy, water quality and sustainability, the life that water is home and host too, how it sustains us, and how as a critical element within the planetary system it affects all other components of the ecosystem. It is easy to take all that it is, all that we need from water, and how much water is part of our industrialized life, for granted.
With that acknowledgement I prefer to take a positivists perspective and consider how better we can support life being more eco-efficient with what we have. On the revolutionary side of the water equation is the awesome energy potential it contains. Hydroelectric power has been available in different forms for centuries, more commonly for electricity since the close of the 19th century for those countries that have an abundance of water. Typically in the form of man made dams, pumping plants and damed up rivers the associated footprint has frequently had very negative environmental impacts.
Tidal and wave power generation is somewhat newer and still in it's infancy, has had a range of phantasmagoric visions, but is settling down to some serious propositions with possibilities, significant research investment and ongoing practical application trials. Biomimicry is playing an informing role in some of the designs of these systems, and in general the systems can be broken down into three functional categories-wave, tide, stream.
BioPower Systems is an innovating Australian company that has developed an interesting array of wave, tidal, and stream action machine designs that focus on generating electrical power. They currently have a number of pilot demonstration projects in Tasmania and Victoria, Australia, with pr-commercial demonstration projects in Cantabria, Spain.
bioWAVE is designed to operate in ocean swell waves absorbing both surface and lower water wave potential energy and converting this energy into electrical power fed into a grid. The current prototype is operating at a 30m depth while the planned commercial 1MW model will operate at 40-45m depths. The pivoting structure sways back and forth in the water movement (kinetic energy) and transforms this kinetic energy into electricity.
The bioSTREAM design uses an oscillating hydrofoil system to extract energy from moving stream water, akin to a fishes tail in a swimming motion. An on board computer continually adjusts the hydrofoil relative to the stream flow changes. Australia and Scotland are two of a few countries seeing the significant benefit of wave energy and supporting research and pilot programs.
Off the coast of Scotland and the Orkney Islands huge pilot programs have been initiated by the Scottish government with three large players competing, MeyGen, Pelamis Wave Power and Aquamarine Power Limited in the race to win significant stakes in this sustainable energy niche.
The scale of these projects is significant as are the risks. To be sure, like wind farms, they are likely to have their own environmental issues to overcome however they possess the potential for significantly less ecological and environmental impact and degradation than our current dependence on traditional fossil fuels and represent significantly cleaner energy alternatives.
Urbanized daily life moves our consciousness away from the basic necessities and our tenuous place in the planetary system. As we are experiencing the rapid escalation of climate change I have hope in innovating technologies that capture natural kinetic potential energy in a way that does not alter or undermine the natural system. At the very least, has significantly less impact than where we are today with fossil fuel extraction.
On the survival side of the water equation is basic human needs that are still not met with global equality. My thoughts are that water is not a commodity, it is an ecological shareholding for each and every citizen on the planet. It is not a commodity it is a fundamental part of life. The commodification of water is not realistic as it is an intrinsic component of our biosphere.....without it being protected and kept in balance in the global environmental leger sheet......we are at extreme risk as a species. This week Archbishop Desmond Tutu was here in Alberta's north aligned with the indigenous peoples talking about climate change and resource extraction. Water and water quality is a looming crisis very close to us.
Flying home from the West Coast of Mexico over our North American prairies a few months ago, the landscape was still covered in snow. It felt late to disappear, winter was too long, but I reminded myself that without this cycle the farm land lying underneath would be an arid barren landscape as is elsewhere around the globe. My thoughts reached out months ahead of me visualizing that yearly ritual around the reinstatement of our water garden. It's presence is a conduit to a spiritual connection with water, it's elusiveness as it is in everything obvious and not obvious. I think water's strength of pull in our imagination is because it is the stuff we are made of. What it is or becomes, is what we are or become.