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Fort Bliss Plans to Create Largest, 10 SQ Mile Solar Farm

Ron_tudor_with_test_panels We don’t need no stinkin’ coal!  Fort Bliss is right on the money with their visionary plan to build a 1-gigawatt (yes, that’s what the article says), 10 square mile solar farm at Fort Bliss by 2010.  That’s a big solar farm, and supposedly, the largest solar farm in existence is the 12-megawatt one in Germany.  Various projects and technology development will continue under a partnership between Fort Bliss and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.  The new technology, including a controller than can extract energy even on overcast days, should cut the cost of solar energy in half. 

U.S. Representative Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) says the coal plants may not be necessary if the solar technology lives up to expectations.  The plan is to start powering Fort Bliss, and later, energy can be pumped into the national power grid to be exported nationwide.  In January 2007, post engineers will begin installing a 1.5 megawatt system.  After that, the project should explode with 20 megawatts in 2007, 40 megawatts in 2008, and 1 gigawatt in 2009. 

Interesting Applications:
"The new technology, which has been in development for about three years, is already charging the battery packs of soldiers in the 18th Airborne Corps and the 75th Ranger Regiment in Iraq and Afghanistan, Tudor said. That equipment includes hood-mounted Humvee panels that also can charge the vehicle’s battery, pack-mounted systems that charge batteries as a soldier walks, and tent-mounted systems that can provide power for a heated sleeping pad and to charge other batteries." via El Paso Times.  See also KVIA News Report

Case for State + Local Renewable Energy Rebates: Solar Umbrella House (2006)

Project_house Green Wombat reports that the Governator was pumping up California’s commitment to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar-produced, clean energy by 2017.  Think about that.  We’re talking about governmental support for empowering and supporting residents to generate their own energy.  Relatedly, the Solar Umbrella House is a modern + green example of what can happen when home owners take advantage of the governmental benefits of clean energy subsidization.  It was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2006, by architect Pugh + Scarpa.  What more can I say than that the Solar Umbrella House looks good and sunlight provides 95% of the electricity (less than $300 /year in energy bills). 

In addition to being designed passively to optimize the balance of sun and shade, the home has 89 amorphous photovoltaic panels that are connected to the grid with a net meter provided by the city of Los Angeles.  The house is decked out with energy-efficient everything.  Indoor air quality is perpetually monitored.  The design is LEED-H (v2) consistent.  Certified wood, recycled materials + salvaged materials were used all over the place. 

The photovoltaic system, solar hot-water system, thermally broken glazing, and energy efficient appliances cost about $39,000.  Not cheap, but that’s where rebates come in.  To pay for the solar panels, there was a $18,600 rebate from the City Department of Water and Power and a $4,000 rebate from the federal government.  After applying the rebates, the payback on this investment becomes 12 years, and the solar panel warranty lasts for 25 years.  Not bad. 

Books_and_stairs Bedroom_1 Back_yard

So what’s the big deal?  If your city isn’t on board with clean energy, there isn’t a 12 year payback and you continue to buy electricity created from dirty coal plants (unless it’s a green provider).  Which is better?  Option A) independent, site-generated electricity that pays for itself after 12 years + is warrantied for 25 years + creates lower electricity bills or B) no site-generated electricity + persistently increasing electricity bills + dirty air.  This is common sense, get your state and local governments to support renewable energy so that you can create a better living environment for your family.  If you do it like the Solar Umbrella House, you can do it in green style!

Lifetime Cost Case Analysis: Energy-Efficient, LED-based Commercial Signage

Lightmark_led_1 If you haven’t noticed, commercial enterprises use lots of neon in their signage.  I drove around the neighborhood and found a few gas stations and a Sonic Drive-in with neons wrapped around the structure.  You can tell because the neon lighting breaks at the nodes.  Well, LEDs, while still a nascent lighting technology, have the potential to become the future signage lighting behemoth, if building owners can catch on to their benefits.  To get to that point, however, the stars will need to align so that the key decision maker does a costing analysis incorporating the operational benefits, in addition to the sticker price (initial costs). 

LED Technology Benefits:
LEDs have energy savings of up to 80% over neon lighting.  In addition to the energy savings, LEDs differ in size and electronic control.  Point blank, with LEDs, there’s reduced maintenance, reduced energy consumption, better light quality output, safer + lower voltage requirements, and low temperature performance.  They last longer, too.  There’s no gap in the illumination like there is with the neon.  And with a technology like LightMark, the units are variable so you use just the right amount for the project. 

Lightmark_mcdonalds Lightscript_tsutayabig Arco_lightmark

Costing + Payback:
LEDs pay for themselves in about 2-3 years.  When a decision maker is comparing neons (or some other light source) and LEDs, it’s important to make sure that the comparison is apples-to-apples.  Use a "lifetime cost of ownership" analysis:  (1) initial purchase price + (2) initial installation costs + (3) lifetime energy usage + (4) lifetime maintenance charges.  I’d suggest two more external considerations, which aren’t factored into the lifetime cost of ownership.  First, consider the extent of liability (i.e., if neons tend to flame up at gas stations more than LEDs, there’s a tangible savings benefit [note – this may or may not be true]).  Second, consider the tax implications (i.e., state, local, or federal government offers tax credits/deductions for LED use, etc.). 

A few companies that have been incorporating this new technology include Arco, A&W, BP, McDonald’s, KalTire (Canada), Tsutaya (Japan), and Petro-Canada.  What it takes, however, is a paradigm shift from initial cost, or sticker price, to lifetime cost, and if owners aren’t making the change, the contractor should speak up and create value for the customer. 

Extra Links:
BP Case Study [TIR Systems]
LightMark + LightScript 
Energy-Efficient, LED-Based Signage [Grant Harlow –]

Jennifer Siegal, Office of Mobile Design, the Modern + Green Take Home

Take_homeQuoting Jennifer Siegal, founder of Venica, California-based Office of Mobile Design (OMD):  "I’m interested in how technology is influencing the way we form communities…because our lifestyles are demanding more lightness, our buildings shouldn’t be sitting so heavy."  Siegal was featured in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine, and praised as a "fresh face from the front lines of design."  In a world where renderings are common and completed projects are not, aka, the prefab world, Siegal is really staking a claim in this ultra-stylish, sustainable chase for comfortable, affordable living. 


Siegal’s work includes the Mobile Eco Lab (1998), Portable House (2001), Seatrain House (2003), and the Swellhouse.  Her most recent work is a modern, modular home product line called Take Home.  Go to the website and take a gander at her captivating architecture.  You’ll find also that her work goes beyond the realm of aesthetics and mid-century modern vernacular and into sustainability.  That’s going to be where architects will make a huge difference, I believe.  In addition to that, I think OMD is taking pro-active steps to clarify the pricing of their prefabs and make modern + sustainable living more affordable.

Take_home_3 Take_home_2 Take_home_4_1

Sustainability is a key issue in the design process at OMD.  Prefab presents the natural green benefit of avoiding all the construction waste that plagues stick-built construction.  With the Take Home, OMD also offers precision steel construction, high-end amenities (Italian Boffi kitchens + Duravit bathrooms), fully landscaped courtyards with pools, passive cooling systems, and AVAILABLE 100% solar power and water heating.  Also available is bamboo and radiant heated flooring.  Homes range in size from 800-5,000 square feet and cost $210-270 per square foot.  Not bad at all!

Extra Links:
Incoming! [Fast Company]
Office of Mobile Design [OMD + Prefab]
Siegal’s Desert Hot Springs Development [the take home]

Skyscraper Sunday: LEED Platinum Genzyme Center

Anton_grassl_genzyme_rendering This building is a little old hat for many of the readers here (it was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2004), but I think there are some important aspects of the projects that can be remembered and applied to new green projects.  This building is in the highest eschelon of LEED ratings, the platinum standard (LEED-NC, v2), and if you follow the links below, they’ve been generous enough to explain how they received all the points towards Platinum certification.  You can even take a virtual tour of the building if you’re interested. 

The building is the corporate headquarters for a biotechnology firm and houses 900 employees in 12 floors.  Here are some of the many green features:  high performance curtainwall glazing system with operable windows on all 12 floors; steam from local plant is used for heating + cooling; about 1/3 of the building uses ventilated double-facade that blocks summer solar and captures winter solar gains; the central atrium acts as a huge return air duct and light shaft; air moves up the atrium and out exhaust fans near the skylight; natural light is brought in from solar-tracking mirrors above the skylight and reflected deep throughout the building; the building saves water use comparably by 32% by using waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, automatic faucets, and low-flush fixtures; storm water supplements the cooling towers and irrigates the landscaped roof; partial electricity generation is provided by the building integrated photovoltaics (PV); nearly 90% of the wood is FSC-certified; and the building materials were chosen based on low emissions, recycled content, and/or local manufacturing.  Not a bad list!

Anton_grassl_layers_photo_1 Roland_halbe_interior

Really, I think this enormous achievement required the collective efforts of many different players with a similar vision.  Architect and lead designer was Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, executive architect – base building was House & Robertson Architects, tenant improvements architect was Next Phase Studios, landscape architect was Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects, and Turner Construction Company was the contractor. 

Extra Links:
USGBC Case Study Information
Top Ten Green Projects 2004 [AIA/COTE]
Genzyme Center Building Information + Facts [Genzyme Website]

Current Energy: The World's First Home Efficiency Store

Current_energy_map This is not an advertisement or a commercial.  I was going to the iPod store on Knox (in Uptown, Dallas) and noticed this new store right next door called "Current Energy."  Tag line:  "We’ll plug you in."  I liked the design of the store and decided to go in and check the place out.  First impression, these people are very friendly and eager to help.  Second impression, what are they selling?  That’s below.  The store was pretty cool, and the website‘s not too shabby either. 

Here’s what they are selling/explaining/consulting, etc.:  Rinnai tankless water heater, Rainbird irrigation control, Toto dual flush toilet, Honeywell digital thermostats + air treatment systems, Lutron + Crestron whole house controls, Mitsubishi Mr. Slim ductless air conditioner, Neptune cfl + lighting science group LED lights, Trane xl19i Seer air conditioner, Radiant Barrier products, Vista window tinting and solar screens, Owens corning insulation products, etc.  They have a consultation room, kids learning center (using state-of-the-art macs and computer games), and home energy resource library. 

They give you information on switching your electric provider (explaining both the low-cost options (Gexa) and green options (Green Mountain)).  They can talk you through the benefits of Energy Star and you can ask them all sorts of questions.  They provide energy audit services, etc.  I did stump them a couple times with my questions, but they were willing to get the answers.  If you’re thinking about renovating, buying, building new, or whatever, you should educate yourself and go talk to these people.  They’ll open your eyes to new ideas, that’s for sure. 

Blue_current_energy_logo_1 Dark_blue_current_energy_logo

Here’s the address for all you Dallasites:
3103 Knox Street, Dallas, Texas  75205

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