The Cost of Building Green
Co-sponsored by AIA SF Committee on the Environment (COTE) and Structural Engineers Association of Northern California (SEAONC)
February 8, 2011 (Tuesday)
6:30 PM – 8:00 PM
AIA San Francisco, 130 Sutter Street, Suite 600
Peter Morris will be addressing ‘the cost of getting to zero’, looking at both Davis Langdon’s cost experience with very high performing and living buildings, and at strategies for budgeting these goals to ensure that they can be incorporated early in the project.
Peter Moriss is a Principal with Davis Langdon, an international Construction Consulting firm. Peter heads the company’s research group, with a particular focus on construction economics and sustainability. He has served as a member of the USGBC Research Advisory Committee since its establishment in 2006, and as its chair from 2008.
The event is free. More info and links to RSVP here.
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released a report in 2004 titled “Energy Down the Drain: The Hidden Costs of California’s Water Supply.” Especially in the western part of the United States, there is a tight connection between water and energy resources, as energy is needed to reliably treat and distribute water.
Because energy and water decision-making is often siloed, water planners are not generally taking into consideration the energy-related consequences of their planning.
The full report is available here as a pdf.
The authors carefully quantified the link between water and energy for three specific case studies – San Diego County’s future supply, the Westlands Water District, and the Columbia River basin (in the the Pacific Northwest). According to the report, the Westlands Water District is one of the largest agricultural users of water in the western United States.
The overarching message of the report is that decision makers should integrate energy issues in to water planning and decision-making. It also suggests a methodology for incorporating energy impacts into water planning.
The report contains numerous interesting tidbits:
- “The more than 60,000 water systems and 15,000 wastewater systems in the United States are among the country’s largest energy consumers, using 75 billion kWh/year nationally – 3 percent of annual U.S. electricity consumption.”
- “According to the Association of California Water Agencies, water agencies account for 7 percent of California’s energy consumption and 5 percent of the summer peak demand.”
- “Ninety percent of all electricity used on farms is devoted to pumping groundwater for irrigation.”
- “End use of water – especially energy intensive uses like washing clothes and taking showers – consumes more energy than any other part of the urban water conveyance and treatment cycle.”
- “When water is diverted for irrigation before it reaches a dam, an enormous amount of energy – the foregone energy production – is lost.”
There have been many analyses of the financial cost of energy production – in this post I am focused on the human and environmental costs.
It can seem like a huge practical joke – the fossil fuels that we have become so dependent on are tucked away into all kinds of inaccessible corners of the planet. And the more we need them to keep up with increasing demand, the harder and harder they are to find and to safely extract.
This issue of “safe” extraction has been in the news and on my mind a lot lately.
First, there was explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers.
Then, the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that is presumed to have killed 11 workers. The estimates of the size of the resulting oil spill are being revised upwards (again).
There have been numerous other disasters over the years, both in the United States and the rest of the world.
There is always initial shock and outrage at these disasters, of course. But the focus of the outrage is on whether proper permits were acquired and safety procedures followed. Doubt is and will be expressed at company management and government for their oversight and handling of the crisis.
But there is little shock and outrage over the potential long-term human and environmental cost of extracting these fossil fuels, and over how little we seem to value the resulting energy. There is real risk involved in getting energy from the source, into a usable format, and transporting it to the location where it will be used.
While we should absolutely improve oversight and regulation of these enterprises, a major lesson of these disasters is that we need to rethink why we really need this energy in the first place and to use this precious commodity with increased care.