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September Scientific American: All About Green, Sustainability, Energy + Carbon

Scientific_american_september_2006_1 The September edition of Scientific American went completely environmental with topics ranging from nuclear power to renewable energy, from hydrogen transportation to sustainable building, from climate repair to carbon emissions, and from coal to advanced technology.  This issue really covered the important topics in a smart, sophistocated, and thoughtful way.  I wanted to relate some of the concepts that the magazine mentioned in its article by Eberhard K. Jochem, "An Efficient Solution."  Generally speaking, the crux of the article is that wasting less energy is the quickest, cheapest way to curb carbon emissions. 

Need for Green Building:
Swiss_re_tower_london Nearly 35% of greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, and 66% of all energy converted into a form usuable for human consumption is lost in conversion.  By improving the process whereby energy becomes usuable for human consumption, it is possible to reduce carbon emissions.  And more efficient buildings will play a role in this process.  If we assume that energy prices will continue to rise, every piece of technology that saves energy is an economic, business opportunity to be captured. 

Building Construction:
Many buildings are constructed with only the first costs in mind.  Maybe this is attributable to the process of bidding for projects, which seems to only include an analysis of the total build cost.  The life-cycle costs of a building, which would consider the operating costs, never enters into the calculation (unless developers request bids for products with green features and the life-cycle cost is implicit in the construction). 

Example – Green Renovated Apartments:
Edificio_malecon_hok_1The article mentions a project in Ludwigshafen, Germany, with 500 living spaces.  These places were difficult to rent.  So the apartments were renovated to adhere to low-energy consumption standards, which required about 30 kilowatt-hours per square meter per year.  Subsequently, rental demand for the apartments soared to 3 x capacity.  As a business person, this should ring a bell:  an automatic waiting list, pent up demand, nominal advertising as word-of-mouth grows legs, and a healthy business conscience.  Not a bad strategy. 

If you’re thinking about renovating, building, or replacing something, you should know about energy-efficient, green products before making the decision to purchase.  Here are some practical tips from the article for using less energy. 

  • Stove – Convection ovens can cut energy by roughly 20%.
  • Walls – thick cellulose insulation can prevent heat loss (winter) and heat gain (summer).
  • Refrigerator – new refrigerators use 25% of the energy required for a 1974 model (just buy all energy star electronics + appliances).
  • Compact fluorescent bulbs – uses 25% of the energy required for incandescents and last 8-10 times longer.Menara_mesiniaga_ken_yeang_1
  • Computers – LCD screens use 60% less energy than conventional CRTs.
  • Windows – Double panes filled with low-conductivity gas (w/ edge seals made of silicone foam) reduce heat flow by 50%+ . 

Overall, the entire magazine was pretty amazing and offered examples of how different buildings are saving money and energy.  Buildings mentioned include the Swiss Re Tower (London), Menara Mesiniaga (Malaysia), Edificio Malecon (Buenos Aires), ABN-AMRO Headquarters (Amsterdam), Szencorp Building (Melbourne), Genzyme Corporation headquarters (Cambridge, Mass.), and Procter + Gamble’s factory (Germany).  Go out, get a copy, and read it…you’ll be smarter for doing it.   

October 7, 2006: National Tour of Solar Homes Day

Asestourlogo119 To kick off the Natural Energy Awareness Month of October, the American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org) will be sponsoring the National Tour of Solar Homes on October 7, 2006.  A solar home tour will happen in most states on or near this date.  Depending on the state, the tour may (or may not) have modern homes, but this will be an excellent opportunity to get first-hand information on solar energy:  information relevant to the particularities of the state YOU live in. 

Del_junco_solar_residence To find a list of links relevant to the state you live in, click here.  The tour in Texas will be in Houston and costs a nominal $10.  This looks to be an awesome tour, and as of today, there will be 8 homes with various green features.  Here’s a link to the list of homes with pictures and a description of each sustainable home. 

This is an awesome opportunity for anyone thinking about retrofitting their house or building a new sustainable house.  Why not learn from the experiences of others that have already taken the green plunge?  They will be able to talk about solar power, solar heating, cooling, passive cooling, wind power, day lighting, and other various green building technologies.  The Texas tour includes access to all 8 homes, a guide book, and a free energy efficient light bulb.  I’m thinking of taking the 5-hour drive (from Dallas to Houston) just to see some of these places and learn about the tax incentives specific to my state. 

For my Colorado readers (and there’s a lot of you), my friend in the blogosphere, Tom Konrad, Ph.d., has some good info on what’s going on in that state.  Just an FYI…

2006 National Solar Tour Sponsor Links:
U.S. Department of Energy EE/RE
Sunplan.com
Solar Today Magazine
Find Solar
Renewable Energy Access
Fronius

miniHome: Modern + Green Urban RV

Minihome

Introducing the miniHome.  Technically, it’s an RV, but it’s also designed for year-round living in extreme climates.  Ask the company, and they’ll tell you it’s perfect as a ski chalet, vacation retreat, cottage, guest cabin, or simple + luxurious home-away-from-home.  The base price is about $107,000 USD (max price $167,000), and if you’re thinking of hauling it around, you’ll need a vehicle that can handle a 14,000 pound haul.

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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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