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Beijing Aquaponics Workshop Followup and Round II Event Announcement

June 27, 2013

Aquaponics Workshop Followup

Last month’s aquaponics workshop went very well. Following the event, I set up the Beijing Aquaponics Google Group for interested individuals to give one another feedback. As I stated at the event, I am in no way an expert on aquaponics, I simply was hoping to use the workshop to connect like-minded individuals and provide a platform for others to discover urban gardening more efficiently than I did. We ran into some early issues with some peoples’ fish dying early, and other peoples’ holes not draining the growbed rapidly enough. Overall though, I believe that it was a fun time. Fortunately, Nestor Santana, an attendee, wrote a blog post on the event. Later, David Li, of Shanghai Aquaponics and Xinchejian (a Chinese hackerspace), published a post on the event as well. It’s great to hear others’ enthusiasm for aquaponics.
Photos from the workshop, courtesy of Alvin Lin, Alex Ewing and Jack Marzulli, are available here and in the slideshow below.

I am happy to say that I will host Beijing Aquaponics Round II Sunday, July 7 — unfortunately, this will be the last aquaponics event I will host in Beijing for an extended period of time. The general structure of the event will mirror the first, 30 minute presentation, 30 minute build session, and 15 minute wrap up discussion. Email me at timquijano at gmail if you’d like to RSVP. The full workshop description (same as the first) is below.

–Build your own desktop aquaponics herb garden–


I will be giving a short presentation on the basics of aquaponics to a small group, then commencing to assist participants in building their own systems. Participants’ systems will include the following items:
  • ikea samla box and insert (fish tank and grow bed, respectively)
  • grow bed media (expanded clay pellets)
  • piping
  • water pump
  • electric timer
  • tomato and basil seeds
  • fish food
Two aquaponics systems

Two IKEA Samla aquaponics systems

Why aquaponics?

In addition to the environmental benefits of reduced pesticide use and water consumption, aquaponics is a great solution for urban gardeners because it uses space efficiently, requires minimal effort once setup, and grows food very rapidly. For more on the benefits of aquaponics, see the brief reading list below.

How to RSVP

If you’d like to participate, please email me at timquijano {at} gmail to RSVP by FRIDAY JULY 5 to arrange your aquaponics equipment. Please be aware that there will be limited space available (12 systems), so it will be advantageous to reserve a spot early. Those interested may attend as observers for free (without building a system).


  • Time: july 7 from 14:00-16:00
  • Cost: 200rmb (to cover the cost of the materials)
  • Location: 小萍 (XP) 北京西城区地安门西大街 地安门十字路口西南角 “秋栗香”后, Di’anmen Xi Dajie (southwest of the Di’anmen intersection, behind the Qiulixiang chestnut store)
  • Venue Phone: 6406-9947

DIY Desktop Aquaponics Workshop in Beijing

May 14, 2013

-Build a desktop aquaponic herb garden-

Tim Aquapanics
At this workshop, I will give a short presentation on the basics of aquaponics to a small group, then I will assist participants in building their own systems. Participants’ aquaponic herb garden systems will include the following items (photo of similar system below):
  • 22l ikea samla box and insert (fish tank and grow bed, respectively)
  • grow bed media (expanded clay pellets)
  • piping
  • water pump
  • electric timer
  • herb seeds
  • fish food
  • 3-4 goldfish

Why aquaponics?

In addition to the environmental benefits of reduced pesticide use and water consumption, aquaponics is a great solution for urban gardeners because it uses space efficiently, requires minimal effort once setup, and grows food very rapidly. For more on the benefits of aquaponics, see the brief reading list below.

How to RSVP

If you’d like to participate, please email me at timquijano {at} gmail to setup a time to meet with me to purchase a ticket. We will need to receive your fees BY MONDAY MAY 20 to arrange your aquaponics equipment. Please be aware that there will be limited space available (only 10 systems), so it will be advantageous to reserve a spot early. Please be prepared to state whether you would like a clear or black system.

If you are interested in attending, but are not interested in building a system, please email me to RSVP, so I can alert the venue about the expected number of attendees.


  • Time: Saturday, May 25, from 14:00-17:00
  • Cost: 200rmb (to cover the cost of the equipment)
  • Location:Venue phone: 6406-9947
    • 小萍 (XP) 北京西城区地安门西大街 地安门十字路口西南角 “秋栗香”后
    • XP, Di’anmen Xi Dajie at the southwest of the Di’anmen intersection (behind the Qiulixiang chestnut store)

Thanks to Nevin Domer from XP, David Li from the Xinchejian hackerspace, the Beijing Energy Network and Joel Shuchat from the Orchid, for all of their support! Thanks to Benson Kua for the goldfish photo and Liz Phung for the poster design!

A Green Roof Strategy for Beijing

April 16, 2013
green roofs in wangjing

Existing green roofs in Wangjing

Beijing air pollution continues to be a mainstay in conversations here in Beijing. International and Chinese friends often ask me how long it will take to reduce Beijing’s air pollution down to a reasonable level.

“A very long time,” I reply.

As I’ve stated before, Beijing is geographically situated in a basin that traps air pollution above the city. Air pollution, though, is not the city’s only environmental challenge. Beijing will continue to be confronted with a laundry list of environmental challenges, successfully confronting these challenges will require a diverse toolkit. One of these tools, as Gavin Lohry argues in a recent study on the value of green roofs in Beijing, may be green roofs.

Gavin’s report is an extended argument for the increased adoption of green roofs to mitigate environmental challenges in Beijing. This study is composed of two primary sections–benefits of green roofs and a calculation of their applicability in Beijing. Gavin first lauds the environmental benefits of green roofs: they reduce energy demand in both the summer and winter; they reduce storm water runoff; they reduce of air pollution; and they mitigate the urban heat island effect. Green roofs were initially developed for their insulation benefits, and this is generally considered their most valuable attribute. One study records heat gain reduction levels of green roofs at 70-90% in the summer and heat loss reductions of 10-30% in the winter. These numbers vary with the quality of insulation. Green roofs directly reduce air pollution by absorbing particulate matter, Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), and Ground Level Ozone (O3).


Extrapolation of the amount of potential green roofs in Beijing

Gavin’s environmental benefit assessment process

Gavin’s environmental benefit assessment process

The second part of Gavin’s study is the calculation of the feasibility of widespread of adoption of green roofs in Beijing. Gavin selected the Northeast Beijing neighborhood of Wangjing (望京) to extrapolate the value of the environmental benefits of a widespread green roof program to the city of Beijing. He maps out Wangjing roofs, examines each roof’s suitability as a green roof, and extrapolates this data across the entire city of Beijing to determine the potential benefit of widespread adoption of green roofs. His air pollution figures are below. Gavin summarized the environmental benefits of a widespread, 29 billion yuan (US$4.7 billion), green roof program in Beijing in a recent opinion piece.

Under this scenario, air particle pollution could be reduced by as much as 880,000 kilograms every year, equivalent to taking 730,000 cars off the road. The roofs could reduce storm water by 3.5 million cubic metres during large rain events, equivalent to filling the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square with two metres of water or 1,400 Olympic swimming pools.

In addition the average summer temperature in Beijing would be reduced by 0.32°C, with greater reductions during peak hours. Finally over half of the green roof area would see a significant increase in insulation leading to lower energy use for heating and cooling.

Block ACG DescriptionA chart detailing Gavin’s findings and how they are applied across Beijing is below. NRDC’s Sustainable Cities team works with the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) to encourage urban development policies that lower energy demand, reduce urban air pollution, and mitigate climate change.

Area Name
Roof Area 

Neighbor Area Size
Green Roof Cover %
Air Pollution Removal kg
A-Green Roof Area
A-Block Combine
Wangjing Area
Beijing Area

A Primer on the US Toxics Release Inventory and Implications for China

April 11, 2013

This post was produced for NRDC’s Fellows blog.

In 1995, Vice President Al Gore hailed the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) as, “one of the most powerful tools in this country for environmental protection.”[1] While largely unknown to the American public, TRI has been widely hailed by specialists as an integral initiative of the government’s environmental protection efforts.

In 1984, a toxic release at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India resulted in long-term health impacts to over 500,000 residents. This event, and another toxics release incident in West Virginia catalyzed the development of the US Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) in the 1980s. TRI is a powerful example of the “third wave” of environmental management, in which government agencies leverage broader stakeholder engagement, as opposed to command-and-control polices (first wave) and market-based tools (second wave).[2]

While TRI has largely been received as a successful program, which has dramatically reduced the amount of toxic chemicals released in the US, some critique the system for the following reasons: the regulatory burden on industry, a perceived lack of enforcement, and limited public awareness.

PRTR and TRI Nations

Nations in blue have pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) systems like the US TRI. Nations in yellow do not. A key effort of NRDC’s China program is encouraging the Chinese environmental authorities to adopt a PRTR system.

NRDC’s Open Information Initiative has partnered with Ma Jun’s organization, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, to produce the annual Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI), which ranks local Chinese environmental protection agencies on their level of environmental transparency. Through this effort, we seek to encourage China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection to establish a pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) similar to the US TRI. Stay tuned for the release of the fourth annual PITI, which marks a movement toward voluntary corporate disclosure.

The brief from which this post’s research was excerpted is available here.

[1] Environmental Protection Agency, “Incentive Effect of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI),” link (Last accessed: 10 March 2013).

[2]Michael Toffel and Glen Dowell, “Toxics Release Inventory: A Case Study in Information Disclosure Regulation,” RegBlog, link (last accessed:  13 March 2013).

Could “Airpocalypse” mark a shift in Beijing’s environmental transparency?

January 17, 2013

A sketch of a normal weather pattern (left), and an abnormal weather pattern demonstrating inversion. (Encyclopedia of World Geography)

This post was produced for NRDC’s Fellows blog.

As has been reported in various media outlets, Beijing experienced experienced extremely high pollution this week. Experts chalk it up to a confluence of high energy consumption during the coldest period of the winter and a weather pattern in which a high warm less-dense air mass stifles a low dense (and in this case polluted) air mass from dispersing.


These photos were taken approximately one block away from NRDC’s office in Beijing’s CBD. (NPR)

Having lived in Beijing before, I was aware of the extreme levels of pollution that living in Beijing would present when signing on to a fellowship at NRDC, but this incident far exceeded standard pollution expectations. Only in forest fires have the levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) seen in Beijing this week, have recordings near this level been recorded in the United States. PSAs advised residents to avoid going outdoor if possible. Schools shut down and cancelled outdoor activities. Flights were cancelled due to low visibility, which was under 100 meters at the peak of the pollution. Hospitals witnessed spikes in respiratory afflictions.

This event, however, was discussed much more openly than many previous pollution incidents in China. On the spectrum of China’s state run media, even the most vociferous of party-aligned outlets such as the People’s Daily and the China Youth Daily (Chinese) spoke openly about the damage made by the air pollution and the need to address it. While a viral music video parodying the pollution incident has accrued over 650,000 views in the past few days.


A diagram of how to deal with air pollution problems. (Science & Technology Trends)

Environmental transparency has preceded dramatic environmental clean up campaigns in various nations. Brown clouds of yellow sand and aerosols blocked sunlight to the point that crop productivity was reduced in post-war industrializing Japan, before a series of successful environmental campaigns attacked the causes of acid rain and other pollution atrocities. This event could mark Beijing’s transition toward greater environmental transparency. Regardless, this incident marks a key moment of openness toward environmental transparency in China.

Kite-mounted air quality monitoring with f-l-o-a-t

September 2, 2012

Participants in the f-l-o-a-t project solder their air quality sensors (Elizabeth Phung)

In 2008, olympic cyclists from the United States arrived in Beijing wearing respiratory masks due to perceived health risks from poor air quality. Air pollution has thusly presented a perennial diplomatic challenge in the rocky Sino-American relationship. This June, in a direct attack on the US Embassy, which has been releasing onsite air quality readings through a Twitter handle, @beijingair (Twitter is blocked in China) since 2008, Wu Xiaoqing, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, stated in Xinhua a state-run Chinese news outlet

 a foreign embassy’s monitoring and issuing of air quality data in China is technically inaccurate and goes against international conventions and Chinese laws (sic).

Recognizing this challenge as a space for international, creative community-building, Xiaowei Wang and Deren Güler organized f-l-o-a-t. From the website:

a participatory art/design/mapping project using air quality sensing kites. through the poetics + playfulness of kite flying, float sparks and initiates dialogue on urban environmental health issues, and gives agency to city dwellers to map, record and engage actively in the monitoring of their environment.

Through a series of workshops, participants put together circuit boards that recorded air quality readings, connected these sensors to a kite, and flew the kit hundreds of feet into the air to record air quality at the higher altitudes.

Beijing men handle their kites (Elizabeth Phung)

Kite flying is a very popular activity amongst retired-age Chinese men, so this aspect of the project provided for involvement of a diverse group of participants.

Unfortunately, I experienced an unfortunate turn of events toward the end of the workshop as I was speaking to a pleasant, curious Chinese couple. In the middle of our conversation, the the organizers pulled me aside while I was discussing my job (whoops!) with the couple to inform me that this “couple,” in fact, was a couple of undercover officers had been hassling them for the length of the project, which I must add was, of course, entirely innocuous.

The Movement toward Crowd-funded Renewable Energy

June 11, 2012

The explosion of crowd-funding in various areas (largely artistic projects and technology startups, see: has contributed a valuable path to increasing participation in and expanding access to capital deals. Unfortunately, this trend has been slow to work into environmental progress. Recognizing this delay, I posted the following tweet:

The article to which I link explores possibilities for strategies to expand access to energy in the developing world, a key, though, persistently unaddressed topic in energy politics.

There is a segment of the unserved market that poses particular challenges to business as they do not exert effective demand for products and services. However, opportunities do exist for business models to reach this group and there are instances, solar lighting being one, where payment for a device can be reimbursed through kerosene savings in just a few months. Small energy companies cannot get the loans to start-up, meaning that there is a lack of energy SMEs for investors to put money behind. There are only a few finance organisations, such as E+Co, that are helping and investing in start-ups. There is the need to educate local banks and other finance institutions and encourage them to invest in sustainable energy start-ups.

Within a couple of weeks of making the above post on Twitter, I was surprised to hear about Solar Mosaic, an Oakland-based solar micro-financing initiative that leverages community financing to expand access to solar energy. The following video introduces their concept.



A friend, Sustainable John, Senior research associate at Berkeley National Laboratory and world-renowned eco-rap star, had sketched out some rhymes upon the completion of a Solar Mosaic project at the Oakland St. Vincent de Paul. I lent a hand in the filming of the “Occupy Rooftops” video, which John recently debuted with this all star tweet which links to the following video:



There are several reasons that Solar Mosaic, specifically, and crowd-funded renewable energy, generally is a great step toward the future of energy.

Vacant ‘Tops, Sitting Pretty

photo courtesy of Bright Farms

Population density has encouraged the inventive use of rooftops in metropolitan areas. Rooftop farms, for example, are increasingly common. A deal was recently made to develop what at 100,000 square feet may be the largest rooftop garden in the world at a former Navy warehouse in Brooklyn. Rooftop solar only presents another creative, efficient use of space in an increasingly resource-crunched world.

Two Birds, One Stone: Expanding Accessibility to Financial Tools and Clean Energy

Contributing to the process of “greening” the grid is inaccessible to much of the population. As permanent installations, often costing above $10,000, how do renters and low-income residents support solar power?

Solar leasing provides clean electricity at rates usually than the household’s previous conventional electricity costs with no initial payments by leasing solar photovoltaic panels to consumers.  Traditionally, consumers were required to privately fund their panels and the installation, which requires the consumers to bear significant upfront costs. The development of this market has expanded access to solar energy, as detailed in a recent piece by Bill Scanlon at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The new business model lets homeowners save money the very first month, rather than breaking even a decade after an initial investment of $5,000 to $10,000. Analysts with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found that the solar lease business is surging in southern California. And the model is being adopted in less affluent neighborhoods that had avoided customer-owned systems. The NREL study found a positive correlation between customers outright buying solar energy systems and customers living in neighborhoods where the average household income was $150,000 or more. But for third-party-leased solar panels, that positive correlation appeared in neighborhoods where the average household income was just $100,000 or more.

Sungevity and SolarCity are two leading companies in this space.

Crowd-funding these projects further expands the accessibility of clean energy by allowing for renters to contribute to the installation of solar projects on the roofs of others.

The US is going Solar, but Big Solar Projects are not Ideal

EIA Maps States with Renewable Portfolio Standards, or laws requiring a certain of electricity generation to be procured from renewable resources (Green). States in yellow have goals, which are not bound as inflexibly by law.

A Renewable Portfolio Standard is a law that requires a state to procure a proportion of electricity from renewable sources by a certain date. California, for example, mandated 20% of its electricity from renewable resources in 2010 and 33% in 2020. The map above delineates which states have signed an RPS into law, and which have passed optional RPS-like goals. These measures among others have pushed recent growth in renewable energy generation in certain regions of the US.

Desert Tortoise III

The endangered desert tortoise habitat coincides with some of the most productive areas of the country for solar power (Sandy Redding)

Many states, such as my home state of California, have, as a result, turned to big (>50MW) solar projects in the desert. These projects, though, as industrial intrusions into otherwise undisturbed settings, present various environmental impacts, not least of which is their impact on desert-dwelling endangered species.

Moreover, large desert solar projects cause grid-integration complications. Transmission requirements for large desert solar projects–that is, the need for an infrastructure to transport power to urban consumption hubs–increase the economic and environmental costs of solar integration, reduce the amount of power available (due to conversion processes), and put additional strain on an already distressed American grid.

Rooftop solar, conversely, places power generation immediately above consumers, simultaneously obviating the need to develop more land and minimizing transmission requirements.

Moving Forward

Solar Mosaic is thus, appealing on many levels, attracting those interested in: improving air local quality, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reducing energy costs for local businesses, among other goals. Furthermore, beginning this summer investors will be able to earn returns interest on their investments in projects. The company, however, is currently in quiet period, with the header of their website presenting the following prompt:

On April 24th we filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission and several states to offer Solar Power Notes to the public, with proceeds going to fund solar power projects. While we work with regulatory authorities on the details of our offering we are very limited in what we can say about the offering.

Nonetheless, Solar Mosaic is expected to make a positive announcement this week. With Solar Mosaic’s regulatory challenge soon to be in the past, where do we go from here? How do we continue to make clean sources of energy more accessible?

Further Reading: