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This Company Is Leading the Charge to Expedite Renewable Energy
I'm fascinated by companies that are leading the charge in transitioning our energy use from fossil fuels to clean energy. One company that wasn't yet on radar, until I met them at the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day festivities in DC, is Building Energy.
I had the pleasure of meeting several top players in the company and had the chance to interview Building Energy's CEO Fabrizio Zago and Managing Director of North America Andrea Braccialarghe.
In just a few years Building Energy has achieved an impressive track record:
- 230 MW (megawatts) total plants completed worldwide;
- 110 MW of plants in operations;
- 212 GWh (gigawatt hour) annual global production;
- 150 MW photovoltaic systems produced directly or indirectly in Italy;
- 81 MW largest single photovoltaic project completed (Kathu, South Africa);
- Development pipeline for a total of approximately 2,000 MW from photovoltaic, mini- hydroelectric, wind and biomass technology in 24 countries worldwide.
When I first arrived at the Alcantara Magic Garden-Connect4Climate pavilion, the Building Energy crew was busy installing the first-ever solar array on the National Mall to power the pavilion using energy entirely from the sun. The 3,000-square-foot solar field—about the size of a basketball court—was just hundreds of feet from the Washington Monument.
While visiting the pavilion, I sat down with Zago and Braccialarghe to learn more about their company.
Spear: How long ago did you start your company?
Zago: We started Building Energy in 2010 in Italy. It was a very interesting time because Italy was seeing huge investments in renewable energy. More than 20 percent of electricity used was made by renewable energy at that time. Today we are an international company with our world headquarters in Milan, Italy and other offices in Cape Town, South Africa, Washington DC for North and Central America, Tokyo for the Asian market, Dubai for the Middle East and Belgrade for Eastern Europe.
Spear: Are the majority of your projects large-scale solar farms?
Zago: In South Africa we have several projects we’ve recently been rewarded for solar, wind, biomass and hydro. Seventy percent of our business is in Africa. We have several projects we’ve done in the U.S., including a solar job at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, completed last year, and projects in Eygpt and Jordan. We started as a solar company. Eighty percent of our business is in solar, but the other big part is in wind. And, now we have two projects in biomass, one in South Africa, which is the first biomass plant in South Africa, and one in Serbia. The biomass plant in South Africa burns the by-product of producing sugar cane—the parts of the sugar cane plant that are considered waste. The biomass plant produces electricity for the electrical system of South Africa.
Spear: What’s your role with the company, Andrea?
Braccialarghe: I’m leading the U.S. efforts based in Washington, DC. In America we also do projects in solar, wind, biomass and hydro. But, different from our work in South Africa where we have large utility scale projects, in the U.S. we are more focused on distributed generation. One of our flagship projects is a wind project in Iowa. The project is based on different wind turbines located in a radius of 50 miles providing energy to different communities. We are a very flexible company. We can install a 18 kilowatt system like we did here on the Washington Mall, but we can also build multi-scale, multi-megawatt solar plants in South Africa.
Spear: How do you see the mission and vision of your company helping to mitigate climate change?
Braccialarghe: Building Energy’s expertise is its ability to develop new solutions for the production of energy from renewable sources. This is crucial in countering the harmful effects of climate change because it contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions and to the decrease in the dependency on fossil fuels. Moreover, the company’s commitment in the fight against climate change has been recently shown also by its participation in the Global Citizen 2015 Earth Day, the most famous world event about environmental protection, and by the partnership with Connect4Climate, the global community launched by the World Bank Group and the Italian Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea to raise global awareness and expand the debate around climate change issues.
Spear: What countries have the most appealing policies to implement renewables?
Braccialarghe: The U.S. is taking some steps to fight climate change. In June 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed the Clean Power Plan, aiming to decrease carbon pollution by 30 percent from the power sector by 2030, also through an expansion in the production of energy from renewable sources.
However, one of the most promising markets for renewable energy is South Africa, thanks to its decision to invest in this field to make its economic growth more sustainable. In order to move away from a market historically focused on coal, in 2011, the government launched a National Energy Plan with the objective of changing the energy balance within the country by 2030. The National Energy Plan, which aims to increase available power while diversifying the country’s energy sources, also includes the Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program.
Spear: What are you hoping to see at the climate talks in Paris?
Zago: We hope that, through the United Nations conference in Paris, world leaders will manage to reach an agreement, accepted by all nations, to stop the harmful effects of climate change. Governments need to set some fair rules, but also ambitious targets, so that every country, within their grasp, might give their contribution to the climate change fight. And we’re sure that renewable energy could play a decisive role in helping countries reach their goals.
Watch this video Building Energy created in celebration of Earth Day 2015:
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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