Monday, April 28, 2008
So it was with great interest that I discovered Worldometers, a web site devoted to telemetry on the world and the human race, odometer style. For example, the fact that human population is a few days away from reaching 6, 666, 666, 666 is readily apparent. As I visited the number was 6,665,960,705 and spinning up rapidly. Today's population growth was an additional 194,000 people with a blur in the last digits. I doubt the world will come to an end when the 6s line up, but there's still something ominous about the number of people coming on board our spaceship Earth and the speed with which the numbers are growing.
A striking set of ironies could be gleaned from the section on Food. While there were currently 887,997,539 undernourished people in the world and over 26,484 people died today from starvation, there were also 1,121,967,373 overweight people. In the USA alone, dieters spent over $11,073,058,898 trying to lose the excess pounds.
Then there's the section on Environment, which shows, for example topsoil erosion at 7,678,211,063 metric tons this year. Mismanagement has led to desertification of 4,827,772 acres so far this year. If that trend continues, how long before the undernourished and starving outnumber the overweight?
While the static numbers are in themselves powerful, there's something eerily seductive about watching the numbers spin, knowing that, at some point, some of those numbers will begin to level off and start spinning rapidly backwards and that each of us represents one of those digits.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Saturday, April 19, 2008
The Futureproof Dream Home will be a hybrid powered home that taps this resource in multiple ways for 100% of its power needs (including charging the family plug-in hybrid cars). You don't need to be designing a dream home to take advantage of the power of the sun, however. The principles and the technology can be applied to any home.
Think Passive Design First
My first dream home, The House on the Hill in the Woods, built in 1985, was a passive solar design with a very well-insulated building envelope with high-performance windows. It had a shallow two-story, south-facing solarium with floor-to-ceiling glazing and a black slate floor. The rear brick wall of this space housed two special heat-storage masonry fireplaces, which provided back-up heat, if needed. In the summer time, this space was shaded by the roof overhang and deciduous trees and it was ventilated at night with gravity displacement or stack-effect ventilation augmented by a high monitor with eight large awning windows at the peak of the roof. This nighttime ventilation cooled down all those tons of masonry and kept the house comfortable without air conditioning, thanks in part to its location among tall oaks. In the winter, the sun blasted the atrium space and heated the slate and the brick as the low winter sun angle and the leafless trees turned on the seasonal solar switch automatically. The high performance windows made electric lighting unnecessary during the day while also blocking heat gain, heat loss and UV radiation. They also allowed for effective cross ventilation and great views of the wooded hillside surroundings.
Any energy productive hybrid home should first take into consideration the site, (site selection and orientation be a future post) and a high performance building envelope that uses solar orientation and passive design features to harvest free energy the old-fashioned way; the way we had been doing it for thousands of years before we invented electricity and air conditioning. The more you spend on the passive features, the less you have to spend on expensive technology like solar collectors. This is the number one secret to designing high-performance buildings for about the same cost as regular energy hogs. If you optimize the building envelope, you can downsize the systems and save money up front and for the life of the building. Forget the minimums written in your local building code in terms of recommended insulation values for walls and roofs. If you build to code, you have built the worst building you can legally build and you will pay for that mistake every month for the life of the building. In Indiana, for example, our residential energy code is based on 1992 Model Energy Code and our current commercial code is the worst in the nation (doesn't quite meet 1989 Model Energy Code), which helps explain why Hoosiers are number two on the list of states in terms of coal consumption per capita (96% of the electricity generated in Indiana comes from coal-fired power plants). For every dollar you spend on making your building more energy productive passively, you will save about three to five dollars on alternative energy systems cost. Today we have good energy modeling software to do what-ifs to make intelligent decisions about the optimal combination of insulation and glazing investment verses system costs that results in the most cost productive, energy productive investment.
Optimization also applies to things like energy productive lighting, appliances and other things you plug in. The big three in this regard are refrigeration, water heating and lighting. By choosing an Energy Star refrigerator, by installing the new and improved low-flow shower heads, Energy Star dishwasher and clothes washer, and high-performance water heater (augmented with solar and geothermal in the Futureproof Dream Home), controlling phantom loads (all those things that are turned off, but still drawing juice), and upgrading lighting (to compact florescents or light emitting diodes) you can reduce the system load by more than 60%. This makes alternative energy systems much more practical and affordable.
Let's look at some potential components of a Futureproof Hybrid Home power system beyond the passive systems described above.
The power of a wind turbine is proportional to the cubed velocity of the wind. In other words, a small difference in wind speed makes a tremendous difference in power output. If you put up a popular Skystream model in an 8 mile-per-hour annual average wind speed, it will generate 1200 kilowatt hours per year. The same unit in a 12 mile-per-hour average wind will provide 4560 kilowatt hours per year. Often, homeowners try to get by with a shorter tower, but wind speed increases with tower height (the commercial units are typically at 300 feet). The top three things homeowners wish they had done was 1) taller tower, 2) taller tower, 3) taller tower. The difference between an 80-foot tower and a 120-foot tower could be four times as much power with the same unit.
That's all I will cover in this post, but stay tuned for information on other hybrid system components that make sense for some sites, such as microhydropower, biomass, combined heat and power and fuel cell systems.
Friday, April 4, 2008
For historic buildings, the greatest threat is the bulldozer driven by perceived irrelevance. Those bulldozers will be out in force as energy prices rise and older buildings that aren't upgraded and are viewed as energy hogs. Many historic buildings bit the dust for this reason during the last energy crisis. The energy crisis of the seventies was nothing compared to the one we will face in the next few decades (starting now due to declining supply, growing demand, rising population, climate change, inflation due to devalued dollar, pollution, regulation . . . but check back in a week for that post). We will all soon wax nostalgic about the current cost of fuel and electricity. We need not be nostalgic about our old buildings. We can take them with us into the carbon-constrained future and they will serve us well.
It was my good fortune to work on the Greening of the White House in 1993, which encompassed not only the White House, but the adjoining Old Executive Office Building, which is the largest solid granite building in the world (which was festooned with several hundred window air conditioners at the time). This comprehensive effort brought together six federal agencies and 100 volunteer experts to look at eight areas of potential improvement ranging from building envelope to building systems to indoor air quality to irrigation and pesticides. The resulting improvements have saved taxpayers about $380,000 per year in energy savings alone and it would a challenge any of the millions of annual visitors to point out the differences (except that the window air conditioners are gone). The OEOB was originally designed to cool itself using its own honeycombed granite mass, which took advantage of natural daylight and natural stack-effect ventilation. This design serves it well today.
The Greening of the White House led to the Greening of the Pentagon and eventually led to 12 federal agencies adopting green building standards for all of their major facilities projects, including hundreds of existing building renovations, many on the National Register of Historic Places. Two federal building renovation projects here in Indianapolis, for example, are pointing toward Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification. It is the fiscally-responsible thing to do, it improves our energy security, reduces pollution, increases building valuation, improves employee health and productivity, etc,. But what about other, less famous old buildings?
When considering a green upgrade to an existing building, there are at least two options to look at to achieve a green building certification. I will briefly describe three case studies here and point you to their more in-depth case studies and other related resources.
Can you turn relatively new office towers, built in 1998 and 2003, green and still save money? Beginning in 2001, Adobe began to green their headquarters and they eventually certified at the highest Platinum level of LEED for Existing Buildings.
Was that a good investment for them in their relatively new building or was it all hype? Consider the numbers: $1.4 million invested in 64 projects; $384,000 in utility rebates; and here's the cool part - $1.2 million in annual operating cost savings! If you subtract the rebates, that's less than a one-year payback and a 148% return on investment. See anything wrong with that as an Adobe stockholder? If you were an Adobe employee, you would certainly notice the difference in terms of better indoor air quality, greater comfort and probably a little bump in your paycheck, or perhaps a few more employees hired because of the extra cash. Chances are they can compete for the best employees because of their state-of-the-art Platinum facility and their existing employees are more likely to show up for work, less like to use the health insurance and more likely to stick around. Workers in certified green buildings are as much as 15% more productive than workers in brown buildings. How much more do green buildings cost? Wrong question! How much more is your brown building costing you?
Gerding Theater at the Armory, Portland, Oregon - 1891 building listed on the National Register.
This 1891 55,000-square-foot Romanesque Revival Gerding Theater Building was originally constructed to house the Oregon National Guard. A major renovation project completed in 2006, which achieved the highest LEED for New Construction rating of Platinum (53 points out of a possible 69). Among the unique features of this building is its 100' by 200' clear space spanned by Douglas fir arched trusses.
In fact, this project won the coveted Massachusetts Historical Commission Award in 2006, the same year it won the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council's First Place Exemplary Sustainable Building Award. As a major renovation, they pursued LEED for New Construction rather than LEED for Existing Buildings.