An amendment to the transportation bill by Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to block air toxic rules for industrial boilers failed to pass, despite gaining several Democratic votes in support of the Republican minority. The lobbyist-designed amendment (SA 1660 to S.1813), which would have killed the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Boiler MACT” rules rules for air toxics from incinerators and industrial power plants, failed to reach the required 60-vote threshold on a 52-46 vote. Democrats supporting this attack on public health included Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Mark Pryor (D-AR), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
by Virginia Lacy and Victor Olgyay, reposted from Rocky Mountain Institute
Big Hairy Audacious Goals. Jim Collins and Jerry Porras described them in their book Built to Last as a success strategy of visionary companies. What exactly is a big hairy audacious goal (BHAG)?
A BHAG is an “audacious 10- to 30-year goal to progress toward an envisioned future… A true BHAG is clear and compelling, serves as unifying focal point of effort, and acts as a clear catalyst for team spirit. It has a clear finish line … people like to shoot for finish lines.”
In 2008, the California Public Utility Commission established a few BHAGs of its own: By 2020, all new residential construction in California will be zero net energy (ZNE). The regulators defined zero net energy as a project that “employs a combination of energy efficiency design features, efficient appliances, clean distributed generation, and advanced energy management systems to result in no net purchases of energy from the grid.” By 2030, all new commercial construction will meet the same goal.
California calls its ZNE goals Big Bold Energy Efficiency Strategies, or BBEES, “not only for their potential impact, but also for their easy comprehension and their ability to galvanize market players.” Indeed, ZNE captures the imagination and inspires action. A goal to achieve zero net energy provides a tangible benchmark with an ostensibly clear finish line—at least on the building or community level.
But what about the system level? Does a world of zero net energy buildings make for a sustainable energy future?
Applying ZNE design principles has the potential to create superior environmentally sustainable buildings with multiple benefits. The design considerations that go into making a ZNE building dramatically more efficient can also simultaneously improve indoor environmental quality, comfort, and occupant satisfaction. For example, buildings that use daylight as a primary source of ambient lighting will generally have better indoor visibility. Attention to airflow in buildings results in better ventilation, and fresher interiors.
Also, by design, most ZNE buildings will interact with the electricity grid. While no one definition standard exists, ZNE is often defined as achieving a net-zero energy balance annually through on-site renewable generation, provided from sources such as solar photovoltaics (PV) or biogas-powered fuel cells. However, while the time scale of ZNE is annual, our electricity system operates on a smaller time scales—starting with milliseconds. Unlike other commodities, electricity cannot be stored cost effectively, which means supply and demand must be matched at all times. No more, no less.
Although the total amount of energy demanded from the grid is smaller through efficiency and on-site renewable generation, the ZNE’s demand profile changes substantially. On smaller timescales, such as hours, day and weeks, the amount of grid power that must be imported or exported could fluctuate considerably. In fact, a ZNE building’s peak demand on the grid could be when it is exporting power. These phenomena represent a fundamental shift in the formerly one-way power system from both a technical and institutional perspective.
With the proliferation of more ZNE buildings, there could be steeper peaks and valleys that the grid will have to meet. If the building-grid interaction at smaller time-scales is not considered, as might be the case for some ZNE buildings, these buildings could have unintended consequences for the electrical grid and/or miss opportunities for additional value creation.
In Reinventing Fire, RMI looked out to 2050 and asked what it would take for the U.S. economy to dramatically and profitably reduce fossil fuel consumption for the benefit of our nation’s security, health, environment, and pocket books. What is the future vision, and what would the transition entail? In the buildings and electricity sectors, two key themes emerged: efficiency and flexibility.
First, efficiency will remain the least expensive, least risky option for meeting our growing demand for electricity services in the 21st century. Not only is efficiency the most cost-effective option for customers in the short run, it also enables massive cost savings for the system in the long run. The more electricity we save, the smaller the investment in infrastructure we must build to generate and deliver it.
Second, flexibility will become increasingly valuable in an evolving electricity system, which will require new operating and planning mechanisms, rules, and market structures. That need for flexibility will be twofold: 1) strategic flexibility to respond and adapt in a changing environment and 2) physical flexibility in the grid to adapt to major renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which fluctuate with the weather. On the latter, having sufficient flexibility, in the form of responsive demand, fast-acting power plants, or even storage, will be key.
The Implications—And Opportunity
These principles also apply to how we define and design ZNE buildings and communities. Like investments in the electricity sector, buildings have long lifetimes; decisions made today define our future. Our designs must be flexible in not only how they perform for occupants but also in their interactions with the system at large. A more flexible load shape will have significant value in the emerging future.
To create a truly sustainable energy future, we must coordinate and calibrate our ZNE and grid interactions. Connected to larger ecological and utility systems, ZNE buildings will need to operate as metabolic nodes, exporting electricity to the grid and acting as electrical or thermal storage systems when needed. By itself, ZNE is insufficient to describe the energy performance of a building and its role as an active participant and contributor to the electricity system of which it is a part. To be the most beneficial, ZNE will need to take into account the interaction with the electricity grid. Recent conversations around the world are starting to explore methods for integrating quantitative indicators, which designers could include as they consider design options.
Advances in IT and demand-side technologies that enable bidirectional power flow, distributed intelligence, and operational control will enable the interaction between buildings and the grid to be “richer” in information and interaction. Like biological systems, they will be able to flexibly sense and respond to optimize their interaction with their surrounding environment. As a result, the role that customers and buildings play will expand.
We have the opportunity to design new avenues of communication between utilities and buildings, which are both critical aspects of the same overall system. The ZNE building future is fast approaching us, with broad appeal and manifold implications. Figuring out how the interdependence of these components are optimized may be the biggest opportunity for us to implement our BHAG of a low carbon renewable energy future.
Virginia Lacy is a Senior Consultant for Electricity at RMI and Victor Olgyay is an AIA Principal for Buildings at RMI. This piece was originally published at the Rocky Mountain Institute website.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced yesterday that the state will provide $1 million in grants to help implement the new anti-bullying law passed last year. The law, a response to the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, is the most comprehensive anti-bullying provision in any state, but was deemed unconstitutional in January because the state had not provided funding for its implementation. These new grants seek to rectify that concern, and in addition, Christie said he will form a seven-member task force to review the law and assist in its implementation. Watch his announcement:
Even the least expensive white roof coating reduced peak rooftop temperatures in summer by an average of 43°F
by Patrick Lynch, re-posted from NASA
On the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was measured at 42 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the traditional black roof it was being compared to, according to a study including NASA scientists that details the first scientific results from the city’s unprecedented effort to brighten rooftops and reduce its “urban heat island” effect.
A new study of how different white roofing materials performed “in the field” in New York City over multiple years found that even the least expensive white roof coating reduced peak rooftop temperatures in summer by an average of 43 degrees Fahrenheit. If white roofs were implemented on a wide scale, as the city plans to do, this reduction could cut into the “urban heat island” effect that pumps up nighttime temperatures in the city by as much as 5 to 7 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, said the study’s lead scientist, Stuart Gaffin of Columbia University. Image credit: Patrick Theiner, Creative Commons
The dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces of some New York City roofs reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit on July 22, 2011, a day that set a city record for electricity usage during the peak of a heat wave. But in the largest discrepancy of that day, a white roofing material was measured at about 42 degrees cooler. The white roof being tested was a low-cost covering promoted as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.
On average through the summer of 2011, the pilot white roof surface reduced peak rooftop temperature compared to a typical black roof by 43 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study, which was the first long-term effort in New York to test how specific white roof materials held up and performed over several years.
Widespread installation of white roofs, like New York City is attempting through the NYC CoolRoofs program, could reduce city temperatures while cutting down on energy usage and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, said Stuart Gaffin, a research scientist at Columbia University, and lead author on a paper detailing the roof study. The paper published online Mar. 7, 2012, in Environmental Research Letters.
The urban landscape of asphalt, metal, and dark buildings absorbs more energy from sunlight than forests, fields or snow- and ice-covered landscapes, which reflect more light. The absorption leads to what scientists call an “urban heat island,” where a city experiences markedly warmer temperatures than surrounding regions. New York City’s urban heat island has a more pronounced effect at night, typically raising nighttime temperatures between 5 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit relative to what they would be without the effect, according to Gaffin’s previous research.
This comparison of white and black roof temperatures at a test site on top of the Museum of Modern Art in Queens reveals the consistent discrepancy between the surface temperature of the two during a period of June-August 2011. The white surface here was the acrylic paint coating promoted by the NYC CoolRoofs program. Credit: Gaffin et al.
The problem leads to everything from spikes in electricity usage and greenhouse gas emissions to poorer air quality and increased risk of death during heat waves. In recent years, city planners worldwide have discussed cutting into this effect by converting dark roofs to either “living” roofs covered in plants or to white roofs, the far less expensive option. The options tested in this study included two synthetic membranes requiring professional installation and a do-it-yourself (DIY), white-paint coating that is being promoted by the city’s white roof initiative.
“Cities have been progressively darkening the landscape for hundreds of years. This is the first effort in New York to reverse that. It’s an ambitious effort with real potential to lower city temperatures and energy bills,” said Gaffin. “City roofs are traditionally black because asphalt and tar are waterproof, tough, ductile and were easiest to apply to complex rooftop geometries. But from a climate and urban heat island standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to install bright, white roofs. That’s why we say, ‘Bright is the new black.’”
With climate change, the urban heat island problem will likely intensify in coming decades, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and a co-author on the paper.
“Right now, we average about 14 days each summer above 90 degrees in New York. In a couple decades, we could be experiencing 30 days or more,” Rosenzweig said.
The study found similar temperature reduction when all the surfaces were first installed, but that the professionally installed membranes maintained their reflectivity better over multiple years.
The fraction of incoming solar radiation reflected skyward determines what is called a surface’s albedo. The citywide program is in effect an “albedo enhancement” program. In addition to measuring rooftop surface temperature, the study also looked at how the reflectivity and emissivity of the white surfaces held up over time. Reflectivity measures how much light a surface immediately reflects skyward. Emissivity measures how much infrared radiation a surface emits after absorbing solar radiation.
Both the reflectivity and emissivity of the professionally installed white membrane coverings (which cost about $15 to $28 per square foot) held up remarkably well after even four years in use. These surfaces continued to meet Energy Star standards, set by the EPA’s Energy Star Reflective Roof program. The effectiveness of the white coating (which only costs about 50 cents per square foot) was about cut in half after two years, ultimately falling below the Energy Star standard. However, Gaffin said, the low-cost surface improved albedo markedly over typical black, asphalt roofs.
“It’s the lowest hanging fruit. It’s very cheap to do; it’s a retro-fit. You don’t need a skilled labor force. And you don’t have to wait for a roof to be retired,” said Gaffin referring to the DIY acrylic method. “So if you really talk about ways in which you brighten urban albedo, this is the fastest, cheapest way to do it.”
NASA studies the urban heat island effect to better understand and model how urban surfaces and expanding urbanization might impact regional and global climate, said Marc Imhoff, a biospheric scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
“We’re trying to build a capability where we can expand our knowledge with data on more locations, and ultimately develop computer models that would allow us to predict urban heat islands and urban temperatures on a town level,” Imhoff said. “Eventually, we could incorporate our findings into large-scale, global climate models.”
Patrick Lynch is with NASA’s earth science news team. This piece was originally published at NASA.
Some ingenious and generous businesses have found creative ways to contribute to the work of social entrepreneurs and nonprofits when you choose to support their businesses. This one-for-you one-for-them approach to corporate social responsibility not only makes your purchases more fun, it makes them more community beneficial, too.
Halfsies Restaurants to Donate to Nonprofits, Social Enterprises to Fight Hunger
This concept should put a smile on your face. Halfsies, operating on the assumption that if we share, there will be enough to go around, has developed a fund-raising concept for nonprofits focused on hunger. Their scheme: Whenever you order half-sized meal (a “halfsie, otherwise known as a healthy portion), from one of their partner restaurants, that restaurant saves on food waste, and makes a donation to an organization fighting hunger.
They’ve got some great statistics in this video to back-up their concept:
- Most restaurant portion sizes are 2x to 4x larger than recommended by government health authorities.
- Nearly half of all the food produced in the US is thrown away, totaling close to 200 million pounds or $44 billion worth of food waste every single day.
- Food waste contributes to climate change by rotting in landfills where it produces methane, a greenhouse gas that’s 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
- 1 in 7 people or nearly 1 billion people go hungry every day.
Halfsies is starting a pilot project in Austin, Texas and hopes the concept will spread. If you’re a restaurant owner, why not check it out as a great addition to your socially responsible business?
Video Production Company Uses Buy One, Donate One Scheme
In another act of corporate generosity, a Belgium online video production company called Timbooktwo has pledged to make a free video for a charity for every paid video they produce. This is at the heart of their business model, not just a passing promotion.
Timbooktwo’s forte is report-style travel videos for the web, operating all over the world in any language, so making videos about some of the great social enterprises and charities working around the world is a natural fit for this company. Their theory is that when nonprofits and social entrepreneurs can show, in video, their projects, they’re able to raise more money to continue their work.
It has been announced today, 8th March, that Britain’s first Green Investment Bank will be based in London and Edinburgh. The bank will finance new green energy sources and develop carbon capture technology, with its headquarters in the Scottish city, with the main transaction team in London.
Vince Cable has said in a statement:
“Edinburgh has a thriving green sector and respected expertise in areas such as asset management. London, as the world’s leading financial centre, will ensure that the GIB’s transaction team can hit the ground running.
Could this help accelerate the UK’s transition to a green economy?