7th to 9th May

Wednesday 7 May

This morning, we take the bus to go to Quito. Once again, it’s easy to put the bikes inside the bus, and they do not ask us for any tip or extra. The road is always turning. No more than 100m without a curve! And fortunately, we do it by bus, the weather is awful, raining, cold, foggy. Here too, we should have been able to see many volcanoes, but we see nothing but some green forests.

As we arrive in Quito, the soft rain transforms into heavy rain. We’ll wait inside the terminal, hoping the weather will improve. We eat typical fried things: fried corn, fried empanadas of floor or corn, ! we’ll burn all this fat this afternoon. We arrived in the South terminal of Quito, and we have to go to the North of the city. We will be hosted in the house of Dunita and Luis, the parents of David, a classmate of Mick.

Crossing the city is a hardship: sometimes it rains, and 5 minutes later, it’s sunny and hot, the air is also lacking (Quito is pretty high, 2850m, it’s the second highest capital of the world), there’s a huge traffic, and we have to breathe the exhaust gas of the car (when an old van is in front of you creating a black cloud, you’re happy). Just like La Paz, the city is hilly, with steep streets. In Quito, the new thing is that many roads are in only one direction. So many times, we have to go contrary to the normal direction, or go to another deviation.

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We finally arrive at the house, and are received as kings by David’s parents. During the dinner, we have an interesting talk with Luis, an engineer in oil, about the oil in Ecuador. The peak production has already been reached, and the current production of the country in around 540 000 barils per day. All the oil fields exploited are now considered as mature, that is to say, that they already use advanced technology to retrieve what’s remaining of oil, but it’s getting more and more expensive. If you compare it to the neighbouring countries, Equator is a small producer: Peru produces 700 000 barils per day, Colombia around 1 million, and Venezuela 3 million.

Ecuador is a boiling country. It has developed at an extremely fast pace these last years, under Correa presidency, building many roads, hospitals, schools, universities, energy plants, one refinery, many industries ! by borrowing money or working force to foreign countries, mostly the Chinese. The objective is to change the energy production matrix, from a dependence on fossil fuels, to have nearly all from hydroelectricity (Ecuador is the country with highest number of rivers per square kilometre) or renewable energy. And also, Correa wants to develop industries in the country, so that it does not depend only on the oil price (the crisis of 2001 in Ecuador occurred because the oil price fell down).

The problem of this urgency in developing the country is that now Ecuador owes a lot to China, and will have to produce oil for them for many years to compensate! and if the current oil fields are getting empty, then they’ll have to exploit new ones, like the one in Yasuni, even though it’s a catastrophe for the local population, for the environment, and for the future of Ecuador (eco-tourism in Yasuni would bring more money, and in a sustainable way than a production of oil for a few years).

In Ecuador, many people are against the exploitation of oil in the Yasuni region, but also many people approve it: they think that it will help develop the country (which is probably true in short term). And look on the other side of the border, in Peru: they are already exploiting the oil. As the oil ignores the borders, and it’s liquid, what is pumped in Peru is in some way money lost here in Ecuador (and the Peruvians are also using pipes under the border to pump the oil way into the Ecuadorian land).

As you see, the situation is quite complex, and no one is black or white (but again, the Chinese got the perfect deal!!)

Thursday 8 May

It’s our first day in Quito, and we have a bad weather, with showers. This morning, we have a meeting at the INER, at the former job of Alexandra (the friend of Mick, who hosted us in Playas and Cuenca). We meet Jerko Labus, who explain us about the institute and the projects they are currently having.

INER: INER stands for Instituto Nacional de Eficiencia Energética y Energías Renovables. It is a public institute, created two years ago, and depends on two ministries: the ministry of electricity and renewable energy, and the ministry coordinator of strategic sectors. The INER looks in two directions: Renewable Energy (with solar, wind, geothermic, biomass) and Energetic Efficiency (for transports, buildings, industry and public lighting).You can find more information on their website: http://www.iner.gob.ec/.Iin the future, the institute will calculate the energy balance of the whole country. Currently, it is working on 13 projects, has already finished one, and will soon start four more projects. This institute is growing very rapidly, because in Ecuador, there are so many things to do, in so many fields, and the government is aware of it and does its best to catch up on the more advanced countries. For each project, there is a partnership with industry or universities, mainly from Ecuador, but also some foreigners (Canada, UK, !)

Let’s have a looks more in details in these different projects:

Biomass: A brand new laboratory has been built in Quito, to analyse the biomass and characterise the Municipal Solid Waste of the city. This laboratory is a first step to use in the whole city (and later the whole country) the biomass to produce electricity. Another project is the production of biofuel from waste through the co-gasification: the Urban Solid Waste gas is burnt, passes through a Fischer-Tropp reactor and is then liquefied into fuel. There is also a study that will be conducted in Galapagos islands, to assess the possible energy generation use of the residual biomass from the project “Jatropha curcas for Galapagos”.

Solar: Also in Galápagos, there is a plan to use alternative energies for the maritime transports between the islands. Concretely, four solar boats, of 40 pax, will make the shuttle between the Baltra island and the Santa Cruz island. The project was launched last August, and the boats are being built in Guayaquil. The INER is also developing with the INAME some methods for quality control and data supplements of meteorological parameters related to the renewable energy use. Currently, there are not enough meteo stations installed in Ecuador, and 17 are being built.

Geothermic: Some investigations have been launched near Cuenca in order to see the applicability of the geothermic energy, and its possible development. It is geothermy with low enthalpy (i.e. with temperatures below 140ºC). Also, studies are made to start using the ground as a heat well on the coast, in order to replace the cooling towers. With digging at little depth, like 60m, it is sufficient to have these heat pumps working. In parallel, they are assessing the environmental impact of such technology. Another project that could start (if funds are found) is to realise an atlas of the geothermic potential of Ecuador. In Ecuador, there are more than 60 volcans, of which more than 40 are active, so there is a very interesting potential in this field.

Wind: Near Loja, in the South of Ecuador, high in the mountains, a wind farm has been installed, in order to analyse the performance of the wind turbine. There are currently no modelisation of eolic energy production at extreme conditions (high altitude, here 2600m), so they couple the GIS (Geographic Information System) with different methods. The problem of the altitude is the quantity of wind gusts.

Transport: The goal is to improve the energy efficiency in this sector. First, the INER will establish a baseline research, in order to point out what the main problems are. For example, in Ecuador, there is no rail transport (the only train is the touristic luxurious line Guayaquil Quito through the mountains). That’s why we see so many trucks on the road. In addition, many heavy vehicles go empty between the cities and the coast because they receive subsidies for it. There are still talks to build a (heavy transport) train between the coast and the highlands (Quito, Cuenca).

Building: A study is made about low consumption buildings in Yachai. A prototype house was built for a congress in Ecuador, and afterwards moved to Yachai, the new scientific and technological pole Ecuador is building in the Imbabura department, North of Quito. This prototype monitors around 50 data. The INER is creating a methodology to find the best solution for such low consumption buildings, among millions of possible parameter values. A new project of the INER is the implementation of the laboratory for thermal evolution of materials and constructive elements in sustainable buildings, being developed in both Quito and Guayaquil.

Industry: The INER is currently assessing the life cycle of electricity generation, with the hydroelectric and thermal plants it has. It includes an inventory of all the material used. In Ecuador, there the government aims at changing all the cooking stoves, from gas to induction (and thus to be able to reduce the subsidies to the gas). The INER studies the impact of these induction cooking machinery on the grid, and the requirements that derive from it.

Street lighting: The INER has implemented a laboratory for energy efficiency assessment of street lighting.

We enjoy the rest of the day walking in the historical centre of Quito. As we had glimpsed yesterday, the street in the centre are narrow, allowing only one direction of traffic, generally sloping, and with cobblestone. There are many churches to visit around here. The most impressive the Jesuit one: it is of barrocco style, with decorations everywhere. And the painting of the columns, decorations, ! gathered a total of 54kg of gold! (Sorry the pictures below are of other churches of Quito)

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In the evening, as we are at the Plaza de la Independencia, a woman, Mercedes, invites us for a drink. She has been protesting for hours in front of the government palace, and as she saw we are foreigners, she invited us for a Pony Malta with crisps. Pony Malta is a very sweet drink with gas (a little like syrup, but with gas). Then, David comes to pick us up. We go with him and two of his friends, Diana and Daisy, to a street with bars. We try local dishes such as empanadas and mote (corn cooked in boiling water), with a musician playing and singing live in the small bar. Very nice!

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Friday 9 May

This morning, Santiago, David’s brother, brings us to the “Mitad del Mundo”. It is a monument built some ten kilometres North of Quito, on the equator line (well, in fact a few hundred metres at the South of the line, while the Incas already had found the correct line). In commemorates the “Expédition Géodésique Française” (French Geodesic Expedition) of 1735-1743, whose goal was to measure the length of the equator line: at that time, there was a controversy to know whether the the Earth radius was bigger at the poles or at the equator. So France sent two teams of scientists, one to the equator area, in the Spanish empire (here in Ecuador), and the other one to the North pole, to settle down definitively the dispute. The equatorial expedition was lead by the French geographer and scientist La Condamine, and the then Spanish (born in Riobamba, current Ecuador) Maldonado. Thanks to this expedition, the country, once fighting for its independence, will take the name or Ecuador.

Along with the monument, in the glory of the many scientists of the expedition and the 3 countries who participated (France, Spain, Ecuador), there are several pavillons for temporary exhibitions. And there are also some experiment. Do you know that you weight less here in the equator line than in the poles: here g=9.79m/s2, whereas at the poles, g=9.83m/s2. Also, we can reproduce the experiment of putting an egg in equilibrium on top of a nail. It takes a good dose of patience, but after some moment, it works. Apparently, here at the equator line, it’s the only place we can do it.

Next to the monument, we see the future headquarters of UNASUR. What’s that? It is one of the most ambitious geopolitic project nowadays: they want to realize the union of the countries of South America, following the model of the European Union (at least the good things…). They aim at free movement of people in the whole continent (partly true now), single market, integrated economies, cooperation for infrastructures, and are talking of acquiring a common currency.

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After a glimpse at the Pululahua crater (under the rain, and between the fog), we go for lunch, a typical menu of Ecuador, with a soup, and then rice with lentils and meat. Then we come back home.

In the evening, after the delicious dinner with corbina (a delicious sea fish) prepared by Dunia, we go out in a few bars, at the most trendy place of the city: Plaza Mariscal Foch (I don’t know why it is called like this, but it pleases my patriotic feelings).

And here comes a video of these days: