Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Efficiency Is No Waste of Energy

In the opening plenary session at the World Renewable Energy Forum, Dr. Dan Arvizu, Director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said it makes no sense to shove green electrons into an inefficient system. This is sage advice. Most of our residential and commercial structures across the globe are quietly consuming copious amounts of energy to keep computers and lights on and to heat and cool indoor spaces. Whether the energy is green or not, it behooves us to identify ways in which homes or commercial buildings can consume less energy to reduce each structure’s carbon footprint and to save money. Thankfully there are methods that can be incorporated into new building design or into existing building retrofits that can save energy.

Freiburg Heliotrop. Photo Credit: Andrew Glaser, Wikimedia Commons
The Ignite session I attended on building design provided a glimpse into strategies to attain zero-energy buildings. Whether it was rebuilding a safe and eco-friendly city in Kaimishi, Japan; retrofitting a cooling-intensive ice cream shop; or students building a passive solar residential home with solar PV, solar thermal, and geothermal we learned the techniques to make existing structures or even new construction energy efficient. Key highlights from the session included:
  • Thomas Spiegelhalter’s “Designing Carbon Neutral Plus Energy Buildings With Site Adaptive Heliotropism Cycles”: I must admit I had to look up heliotropism but this was by far the most interesting presentation since it involved a bit ofbiomimicry, a subject close to my heart. These German presenters studied how native plants in the area used their flowers or leaves to follow the sun (heliotropism). The engineers then incorporated the physics of this motion into the building design. Essentially, the building’s solar PV module on the roof mimicked the motion of these native area plants through the day to maximize the capture of solar radiation. The building ends up with a surplus of energy at the end of the year.
  • Dan Staley’s “Trees and Solar Power, Coexisting in Urban Forest Near You”: We all know solar PV’s nemesis is tree shading. However, trees are an effective means of cooling, air cleaning, storing carbon, and providing natural beauty to the urban environment. How can we solve this dilemma? Through cooperation of course. Staley provided a blueprint of how arborists and solar providers can work together and plan an urban environment so that structures receive maximum benefit from trees and solar radiation. Staley suggested designing houses and tree placement before the lots are built and also changing street orientation for optimum solar gain. And he advised that there should be plant lists for neighborhoods with information on how fast they will grow and the canopy size as well as training arborists on solar smart pruning.
We all know the importance of making our buildings more energy efficient first and then adding renewables second and from the sound of it these presenters not only did it in that order, but it seemed like they came up with some unique methods in the process. What are others doing to make buildings more energy efficient?

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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