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Pearl River Tower, Guangzhou, China

Pearl River Tower This is the architectural rendering of a building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; it is planned to be 71 stories, 2.2 million square feet, and have a "net" zero-energy footprint. The building is designed to use wind turbines, radiant slabs, microturbines, geothermal heat sinks, ventilated facades, waterless urinals, integrated photovoltaics, condensate recovery, and daylight responsive controls. I first noticed mention of this incredible project in an article of Architectural Record Magazine.

According to Roger Frechette, director of MEP Sustainable Engineering at SOM, Chicago, the building’s facade was designed "to accelerate the wind as it moved through the opening in the building." Power potential is the cube of wind velocity, and SOM initially estimated that the design would increase wind velocity to 1.5 times ambient wind speeds. Actually, models tested wind speeds of up to 2.5 times ambient wind speeds in some cases. In translation: the building design could generate power 15 times greater than a "freestanding" turbine.

According to a PR Newswire article, groundbreaking is set for July 2006 (which I’m not sure if this happened or not) and occupancy in fall 2009. In addition to the wind energy concept, the building will be designed with avant-garde solar technology to capture solar rays for conversion into energy.

So what are the benefits of a modern, sustainable commercial office building? First, the building looks amazing! Second, it can be an experiment and model for future buildings. Third, buildings that are built to be sustainable, or energy independent, are better. They are not dependent on the grid. They aren’t levered to the cost of grid energy (such as the price of coal, nuclear energy, or even other alternative sources provided into the grid). They leave a lighter footprint on the earth and its atmosphere–zero energy buildings are the epitome of natural resource frugality. Fourth, it can be healthier to live in. Fifth, it will create attention and draw tenants for publicity and other reasons. Sixth, the operating costs of this type of building are optimized and likely to be minimal when compared to non-sustainable buildings. Etc. Etc.

This building is a step in the right direction for commercial building design. I hope more and more buidings of this caliber can be transplanted all over the United States. Through sustainable design, countries can place themselves in a position to be less reliant on natural resource providing countries. As we’ve seen with the oil situation, that can be a big-time jam. Sustainable building–commercial and residential–is the road we should be taking.

Extra Links:
+World Architecture News

+Business Week/Architectural Record

Tower of (Solar) Power – EnviroMission

Enviromission_2 A few years ago, my brother sent me an email link to a couple hundred acres of land in the middle of Nowhere, Nevada. Seriously, it was the ugliest land in the world with no development—no lines, no fences, no roads? I told him that there was a reason the land there was selling for such a cheap price, and while I couldn’t put my finger it, I’m sure there was a real good one (like aliens or nuclear waste dumping). He said, “don’t be dumb, dude, land’s land, there’s always value in it.” Well, not really, but I’m starting to think this land might have been a good deal. Here’s why…

EnviroMission is on the verge—it’s tested and ready to go—of breaking ground on the world’s first commercial solar tower power station. Todd Woody from Business 2.0, did an awesome article on this technology. It’s so serious that a half-mile tall solar tower is in planning for China and EnviroMission is hunting for land in the Southwestern United States.

Here are some of the pluses: (1) there’s no fuel (no exploration, transport, disposal, smog, or landscaping costs), (2) you can put it in the desert and it will be perfect—no one will live out there anyway, (3) the primary cost is in the initial development as operating costs are minimal, (4) it produces enough energy to power 100,000 homes sans pollution or planet-warming gases, (5) as compared to wind farms, the sun is more consistent (in the right locations), and (6) a large version of the tower could produce energy for the same cost (or better) as conventional power plants. Oh yeah, it looks good, too.

Enviromission The cool thing about this technology is its potential to be disruptive. When you consider the costs of using coal, you can’t just think in terms of the purchase price (if you’re a commercial entity, the government, or public person). Why? Because there are hidden costs associated with things like coal: smog, mining deaths/accidents/health concerns, and transportation costs. With China and Australia on board with the solar tower, the global supply for other varieties of energy increases. They stop using coal as much as before. Ex: if China uses the solar tower instead of coal, then there’s more coal for other people to use. Coal will then get cheaper to use for those people that can’t use/afford the solar tower (or other alternative energy). My economics might be a little jacked, but I still think this will be an interesting business to follow.

Extra Links:
+Solar Mission Technologies, Inc.

+Wentworth Shire Council Solar Tower Web Page

+19th World Energy Congress, Sydney, Australia, September 5-9, 2004

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