Welcome Back to Exponential Thinking: Part 2.1
The benefits of aquaponics go far beyond high-quality taste, appearance, and aroma of growing your own food year round. It is demonstrably one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture currently being used. This is in large part due to the potential to use sustainable energy sources to power the world’s aquaponics systems. Using sustainable energy to make our systems energy independent takes aquaponics one step closer to being a truly closed-loop ecosystem. In this month’s installment of Aquaponic Abundance, we will be continuing our exploration of how aquaponics taps into exponential technologies by diving into the possibilities of renewable power.
We’ll be covering renewable energy sources including:
- Solar Power
- Anaerobic Digesters and (Renewable) Natural Gas
- Syngas Renewable Gasoline
- Hydro and other Natural Forces, Tapping “the Wheelwork of Nature”
The Father of the Electric Age on Renewable Energy
Nikola Tesla is known as the “Father of the Electric Age” for his numerous groundbreaking contributions to the electric system we now take for granted. Many of us today know his name from the famous electric car company named in his honor. Tesla is commonly referred to as an outright genius with an intuitive understanding of electricity at a fundamental level. He predicted innovations like robotics and even the smartphone over 100 years ago. I love his autobiography, My Inventions, and suggest everyone read it. I first read it around the same time as discovering aquaponics for myself. There is one quote that struck me as particularly powerful and I think it is relevant to the topic of renewable power. Tesla was a major proponent of renewable power and even built the world’s first hydroelectric dam at Niagara Falls, which used to power the Eastern seaboard of the United States.
In, My Inventions, he says, “it is a mere question of time when men will succeed in attaching their machinery to the very wheelwork of nature.” This quote jumped out at me for a few reasons.
I believe that aquaponics represents a technology that Tesla is speaking about. We are harnessing the power of nature, of natural ecosystems to provide us with high-quality food and other benefits. On top of that, aquaponics has the potential to hook in to the sustainable energy sources that he envisioned, all those years ago.
Tesla was convinced that fuel as we know it today was not necessary and that the cosmic radiation from our Sun and other stars provide ample energy for all of humanity’s power needs. However, due to many different forces at play, Tesla was unable to carry out his plan for a global energy system to fruition.
Now here we are a century later and solar panels are just starting to really hit their stride. Prices per panel drop every year. Meanwhile, the light capturing efficiency continues to raise annually. This is a good sign for the future of harvesting the energy of the Sun directly.
Solar panels have begun to be a commonplace sight over the last few years. Government subsidies, energy buyback programs, and innovative leasing programs help make the panels affordable to a larger and larger population every year.
This is all good news to the aquaponics farmer, as she has lower energy costs than most farms and solar panels are a viable option for supplying a bulk of the total energy needs. Depending on the size of the installation, it is possible to make an aquaponics entirely sustainable.
However, the costs of the panels can still be extremely high, pushing actual payoff of the panels into the future. Rob Torcellini of Bigelow Brook Farm recently told the world in his interview on the Visionary Aquaponics podcast that the solar panels he uses won’t pay for themselves for a few decades.
He tells us that when deciding to use solar panels it is vital to look at all the factors.
- How much sun does your area get every day?
- What is your area’s energy buyback program like?
- Will you produce a surplus and bring in an income to offset the cost?
- Will you get enough panels to power your entire system or just part of it?
- Is today the day for these panels or in a year or two when they are cheaper and more effective?
Ask yourself these tough questions before moving forward.
Or you can just go for it because solar is awesome and you simply don’t want to use non-sustainable energy forms to power your aquaponics system. I can certainly relate to that feeling, which is what keeps me interested in every innovation in renewable technologies.
Innovations in Solar Power
Right now, there are some incredible innovations in the solar panel industry. One that has me particularly excited is the red solar panels from Soliculcture, a collaboration between UC Santa Cruz, NASA, many California growers and Silicon Valley.
I saw these red panels for the first time at Ouroboros Farm in Half Moon Bay California. They were test-driving a few of the red panels on their greenhouse.
Ken Armstrong told us about how the red color of the panels traps only the green spectrum of light for energy, while letting the rest of the light pass through the panel. Plants don’t really use green energy even though green light has the highest solar intensity (there is the most of it in the spectrum. That means these panels can actually be used as greenhouse glazing, turning your entire greenhouse into a solar energy collector.
The best part is, the panels contain a special gel that converts the portion of the light spectrum least used by plants (green light) into the red light that plants love. The energy created in that conversion equals the power generated by the panels!
One of the coolest side-effects of these panels is increased disease resistance due to the reduced burden of green solar energy. It acts as a gentle shade for all of your plants!
This is a groundbreaking technology that stands to revolutionize how greenhouses are used by farmers. Aquapioneers like Ken at Ouroboros are paving the way for a new type of aquaponics greenhouse that creates food and renewable power at the same time.
Solar power, and harnessing the sun’s energy is just one of the many renewable energy sources that can help us power our aquaponics systems. These renewable energy sources not only make growing with aquaponics even more sustainable but over time keep reducing the operating costs for aquaponic systems and farms. It is our belief that renewable energy sources will be a key part of creating the repeatable model for a City that Feeds ItselfTM.