Monday, February 22, 2016

THE Canop-E Project

Ahmed Suleiman is an Omani Farmer. He lives in a small settlement near Matrah, a few miles off the Omani capital of Muscat. Ahmed Suleiman works hard on his fields to grow food grains and also runs a shop in his town. Ahmed Suleiman's town has erratic power supply. Last year he lost a major part of his crop because of drought. The aquifer that his town was using went dry. Coupled with electricity woes it was impossible for Suleiman to save his crops. The sun shines intensely on the Omani landscape making it one of the most drought prone areas in the region. Today morning while walking to his shop after attending to his field, Suleiman fainted on the road due to the intense heat. The Passer-bys helped him up and gave him a little water. This incident was not new for either Suleiman or the Passer-bys. In his town almost every other day, some or the other person faints due to heat exhaustion. A few even die due to Sun strokes caused by the heat. Suleiman's wife Farah is concerned and worried for her husband.
It is strange that with present day 21st century technology and know-how we have not been able to harness the energy around us. But there is a way out. We can build a structure which will harness solar and wind power. Additionally it will provide water harvesting facilities for remote settlements. At the same time it will also protect the inhabitants of settlements from rain, sunlight and inclement weather the idea is Revolutionary as much as it is simple. it is fantastic as much as it is audacious.

I call it the Canop-E (pronounced C-A-N-O-P-Y). 'E' stands for Energy, Environment and Ecology.

The idea is to build a huge canopy of 1 Square Kilometre area 500 feet above the ground supported by around a hundred or more evenly spaced heavy duty pillars. The canopy will have solar panels installed on the outer aspect which will be exposed to the sunshine. The canopy will also be interspersed with small in wind turbines to harness wind power that will flow through the canopy in pre-designed gaps. Rain falling on the outer aspect of the canopy will be harvested. It will be led through pipes within the supporting pillars and collected below. An entire town can be located below the canopy. Buildings as high as 15 storeys can be easily built under the canopy.

There are several Benefits in building  the Canop-E.

The canopy will cover an area of 1 square kilometer. That is almost 250 acres of area (247 to be exact). It will be about the size of more than 170 football fields. The earth receives solar energy of around 1361 watts per square meter at the upper atmosphere. At sea level, the energy obtained per square meter is about 1000 watts per square meter. It means that the Earth receives more solar energy in one hour then the energy consumed by all human beings in one year. If we can harness a fraction of that power, our energy problems will be solved. Enter Canop-E.

The Canop-E will have a collective area of more than 1 Square Kilometer. That is 10 Million square feet of floor space calculation show that there is a capacity of 1 gigawatt of solar energy that can be harnessed in this area. Even at 40-50% efficiency of solar panels (which or now being scaled up) almost 500 Mega Watts of power can be generated for 12 hours of sunshine around 6 Giga Watt hours (Gwh) of energy can be harvested per day. Depending on the place where it is constructed this translates to about half to one and a half million Dollars' worth of power generated/saved per day. That  comes to around 200 million to Half a Billion Dollars per year. The material from which the Canop-E will be constructed can be built in panels and assembled on the canopy rooftop. We can use 1 to 2 meters thick polyurethane or hard Polyethylene plates/sheets. They are lightweight and the entire canopy will weigh around 10,000-15,000 tonnes. They can be supported by appropriately spaced and built pillars (either concrete or otherwise) 500 feet tall. Once the Canop-E is built, the wind patterns of the area will put immense stress on the structure. It will be like opening a sheet 170 football fields large. The winds will try to blow away the entire Canopy. But we must view this as an opportunity. Gaps will be provided in certain places for winds to pass through to and from the canopy. This is like providing holes in the very large sheet that we visualized. Only, the holes will contain small turbines which will rotate as the winds pass through it. These turbines will produce electricity as they rotate. Faster the wind more the electricity generated. Solar energy generated from such a structure alone will be about 2 Terawatt hours (Twh) per year. Electricity consumed by Oman per year is about 13.25 Terawatt hours. 7-8 such structures can easily provide most of the electricity for a country like Oman.

Water Harvesting
The average rainfall around Muscat is about 10 centimeters per year. if the canopy can harness this water it will amount to more than 1,00,000 tons of water (One Hundred thousand tonnes) of water harvested every year. This will be enough water for a small town. But the best use of water will be in the hydroponic factories under the canopy. Other countries with more rainfall can harvest more rainwater.

City Planning
Entire settlements with buildings, schools, parks, roads etc can be housed under the canopy. At an average usage of 25,000 kilowatt hours per year for every inhabitant, the canopy can easily house a population of more than 10,000 people. Appropriately spaced and sized glass panels throughout the canopy we let adequate sunlight to the ground below. Because intense sun rays won't reach the ground, the town under the canopy will be cool and comfortable to live in. Hydroponic units in buildings under the canopy will use the harvested energy and water to grow food for the inhabitants of the canopy City. In fact the canopy will produce surplus food which can earn revenue for the living unit that is built under the canopy. Because rain does not reach the ground, people will be protected from inclement weather.

Using Prefabrication Technology
The cost of setting up solar panels will be around 70 cents per watt. That comes to around 400 to 700 million Dollars. The light plastic roofing along with the support structure will cost another hundred million Dollars. The hundred pillars might cost anywhere from 200 million to 500 million Dollars depending on the place, method and materials used in construction. a total of 1.5-2 Billion US Dollar will be the cost of building the canopy. But the return will be obtained in around 3-5 years only considering energy, water and the food harvested by the canopy. To reduce the cost of construction prefabrication technology can be used to the maximum. The canopy panels, solar panels, Pillar material, Foundation material, framework superstructure, pipelines etc. can be prefabricated in assembly line Manner. This will save a lot of labor transport and material costs and also minimize wastage.
There are several advantages to the Canop-E living units.
1.   Countries with arid regions can set up canopy in those places remote settlements will be greatly benefited by the Canop-E.
2.   A canopy unit will cost around 1.5 Billion US Dollars to build.It is estimated that 1 Billion Dollars in investment creates 25,000 to 30,000 permanent jobs.Building Canop-E units will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
3.   Renewable energy usage will increase. This will reduce the carbon footprint of the nation that builds Canop-E units. Agriculture efficiency will improve as hydroponic units will produce more food in lesser area using renewable energy sources. Since the area under the Canop-E will be cooler in the surroundings cooling costs like air conditioning and watering is saved
4.   Cool comfortable living units- the land under the canopy is protected from the vagaries of nature therefore they will be very comfortable places to live in.
Canop-E units can be built on the outskirts of large cities. Once built, a part of investment can be recouped by parceling and selling land under the canopy at appropriate prices. People will be free to build their own living units i.e. houses, offices etc. within given specifications. Some areas will be earmarked for hydroponic units. The government can move some of its officers to under the canopy to encourage habitation. Energy intensive factories can be set up under the canopy. The canopy can sell energy during the day and buy it during night-time. This will even out the energy loads on the system. Canopy living units can be set up wherever there are arid areas with enough sunlight. Central Asian countries, Chinese and Indian Hinterlands, African Sahara, parts of North America, South America and Australia are ideal places where Canopy units can provide lot of benefits and ease the life of the people living in that area. 

Dr Kartik Hegadekatti

is a published Author and Administrator focused on Infrastructure and Development. His Books Include- How To Win Quiz; 501 Quiz Q&A; FUTURE TRACK INDIA; You Can Succeed In IAS

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