Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Local water supply in rural India

Local water supply in rural India from the New York Times

  • Dr. Nocera at MIT is reserching the ability to capture energy through photosynthesis, so that we can harness solar energy at night
  • A cap and trade system for carbon emissions is looking like it is gaining consensus as the best option for  accounting for externalities of pollution, but how much will it cost our society?
  • More on green schools, this time talking about “the halo” system that enables natural light to shine into the classroom even on cloudy days at Da Vinci Arts Middle School in Portland, Oregon
  • Design your own graywater capture system!
  • Google tackles office greening in London. Best way to increase recycling? Take away trash cans at individual desks.
  • How can a hotel go green but still cater to visitor needs? Take a hole out of the soap bar…
  • A new analysis report was released recently, showing that India could face a severe water supply problem if they do not change their usage patterns soon

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A solar array on top of a San Francisco reservoir (NY Times)

A solar array on top of a San Francisco reservoir (NY Times)

In the past couple weeks, some big green news has been coming out of San Francisco.  First there was the news that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have approved a plan to construct the largest solar photovoltaic array, with 5 MW capacity, on top of Sunset ReservoirRecurrent Energy will construct the array and sell the power to the city at a fixed rate of 23.5 cents per kWh, plus 3% inflation per year.  The city could potentially get cheaper rates by constructing it themselves, but they would not be eligable for the significant federal tax breaks that a private company gets, which could cover up to half the cost of the project.

And last week, Mayor Newsom announced that the latest numbers on San Francisco’s recycling program were in and they were achieving 72% diversion from landfills, which seems like they are well on their way to 75% diversion by next year.  The SF program includes recycling of almost all plastics, mandatory construction material recycling, and a food scrap collection program which generates compost that is sold to local farms.  Compare that to NYC’s 2008 residential diversion rate of 16.5% and you can see what an amazing achievement this is.  Hopefully they can teach the rest of the country some tips.

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Check out these awesome street ‘redesigns’ from the GOOD Livable Street Contest. There’s lots of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of how people would redesign their streets to make them more walkable, breathable, and permeable. While some of them would likely face technical challenges, they represent a good slice of the ideas out there for making better streets.

The contest is closed now, but due to the overwhelming volume of responses, they’ve given the judge an extra week to pick a winner. Check back May 18th for an announcement……


Treehugger brings word of the new Z-Competition: Re-skin old buildings to make them zerofootprint. Or at least, come up with scalable designs for retrofitting older, energy-inefficient buildings to reduce their consumption and improve functionality.

The competition will be judged on the aesthetics, energy efficiency, smart technology, return on investment and potential as a solution for a large number of buildings.

Like the X-Prize, this isn’t just a design competition. Five finalists will be chosen, their designs implemented and monitored over three years. The Z-Prize ca$h will be given to the building that has most reduced the energy per square foot.

Retrofitting existing buildings is one of our most pressing global challenges. It’s the most bang for the buck, the most quickly implemented, and with billions and billions of square feet of building stock out there, could represent a serious dent in carbon emissions.

The competition welcomes teams from all over the world.The deadline for the submission of designs is September 1, 2009.

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Solar and Wind Powered Monitoring Station (USGS(

Solar and Wind Powered Monitoring Station (USGS)

Setting up monitoring stations in remote places can be difficult without things we take for granted like an energy source to plug in to.   Solar powered systems are ok, but what if you need accurate information on rainy days?  The USGS Maine Water Science Center solved the problem by using solar and wind power combined on a snowfall measurement device.  The devices are essential to prediciting flooding hazards and projected reservoir volumes associated with snowmelt.  The combination of the two systems enable the use of a ” windmill that powers our measurements on windy and cloudy days, and solar panels that power them on calm, sunny days,” says Bob Lent, chief of the USGS Maine Water Science Center in Augusta.  USGS plans on installing 4 of these systems this summer, after testing in Agusta last winter.

(via EWRI)

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Chartwell continues to be a leading example of quality green building.

Here’s the write up from AIA, as well as the complete list of all Top Ten Green Projects 2009.

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Photo courtesy of Sucraseed

Photo courtesy of Sucraseed

Mowing your lawn may be able to provide you with a homegrown source of power for your home.  The Catskill Watershed Foundation started a study in central New York recently that will examine the feasability of pelletizing grass clippings into a form that can be burned in a pellet stove.  The study will look at cost effictiveness of the pellet process, as well as the heating efficiency of the stove (both indoor and outdoor) and air quality of the exhaust.

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110 Embarcadero. Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli

110 Embarcadero. Courtesy of Pelli Clarke Pelli

Writer Allison Arieff’s most recent By Design column for the New York Times – “Blue is the New Green” – discusses the importance of water, and mentions the panel we gave at this year’s West Coast Green conference:

Although 70 percent of the earth is covered with water, just 3 percent of that water is fit for human consumption. This isn’t going to improve anytime soon. Failures in water-related infrastructure result in lost biodiversity, higher temperatures, increased flooding, massive impact on energy and unsafe, unsanitary water.

But important advances have been made in water resource management — and they are far more compelling than the term “water resource management” would suggest. (Earlier this year, a panel at the sustainability conference West Coast Green was titled “The Sexiest Large Scale Design Applications We Have Ever Seen.”)

On the panel, Bry Sarte joined Paul Kephart of Rana Creek to bring some sex appeal to “Water Resource Management” and “Water-Related Infrastructure,” terms which may not exactly role off the tongue or come up often in cocktail chatter, but are increasingly becoming critical concerns for everybody.

In her column, Arieff discusses several issues that we covered on the panel, and routinely deal with in our work, including:

  • Treating water as a resource instead of a waste.
  • Building multiple uses for water into our designs.
  • Recognizing that Water=Energy, and balancing the two.

She also lists several strategies to accomplish these goals including Living Roofs, Living Walls, Greywater Reuse, and Rainwater Harvesting. The photographs demonstrate that these designs can be both beautiful and practical.

In discussing his work designing the Living Roof for the Academy of Science, Paul Kephart noted that, “We have 42 acres of impervious surface in San Francisco. With 29 acres of roofs we could solve forever the runoff issues.” This would not only save water, but energy and money as well; while improving the health of the city.

Fortunately, this type of thinking is catching on. The California Public Utilities Commission is exploring water-energy efficiency programs:

The CPUC’s Water Action Plan calls for strengthening water conservation programs to a level comparable to the energy efficiency achieved by energy utilities. The Water Action Plan specifically calls for a 10 percent reduction in energy consumption by water utilities, emphasizes the importance of reducing the amount of energy needed by water utilities for water pumping, purification systems, and other water processes such as desalination, and encourages programs to reduce energy waste by water utilities from causes such as system leaks, poorly maintained equipment, defective meters, unused machines left idling, and improperly operated systems.

And it’s not just government agencies and designers that are finding the “sex appeal” in water design. As the dozens and dozens of thoughtful comments to Ms. Arieff’s column indicate – people all across the country are interested in making “Blue the New Green.”

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