Snippets

The University of California–Davis has opened its West Village development, which aims to be the largest net-zero-energy community in the country  (via BuildingGreen.com). The bankruptcies of three American solar power companies in the last month, including Solyndra of California… have left China’s industry with a dominant sales position — almost three-fifths of the world’s production capacity — and rapidly declining costs (via NY Times).  China was the United States’ number one source of and destination for PV products in 2010.  The U.S. imported approximately $1.4 billion worth of PV products from China, while exporting between $1.7 billion and $2.0 billion.  This resulted in a positive trade balance with China with net exports of $247 million to $540 million (via Greentech Media).

Pecha Kucha Rundown: Denser, Part 2

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Noelle and I had fun at Pecha Kucha in San Francisco at the SPUR Urban Center on June 21.  For those unfamiliar with the Pecha Kucha format, each speaker has 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide. The format makes for a fun but focused look at what a wide range of professionals is working on and thinking about. Presentations are loosely organized around a theme. The theme this time was “Denser.”

Using my notes, I am putting together a set of posts that lists the presenters in order, along with links to their website (if I could find them) and any major thoughts I jotted down. For some presentations, I took a number of notes. Other presentations have fewer notes (maybe I was looking at the images more carefully?). All of the presentations were more interesting and beautiful than revealed by my notes and these posts.

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Elizabeth Shreeve – Principal – SWA Group

looking at what vertical cities and high density mean for the ground plane

high tower in Dubai – a building becomes a city district by itself

65% of the firm’s work is in China right now

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Paul Jamtgaard – Architect, Urbanist – Group 4 Architecture

“Intensity in 10 Cities”

density x uniformity = monotony = DEATH

density x diversity = intensity = VITALITY

diagram of density in cities

density of people per square km in Portland, Mumbai, New York City, Tokyo, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Istanbul, Copenhagen…

housing = human storage? or urban living

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Ben Grant – Public Realm + Urban Design Manager – SPUR

city skylines as a bar graph of property values

looking at historical increasing density of use of same lot in NYC – eventual mandating of air shafts

density / setbacks – effect above the ground plane

residential density vs auto ownership [looked at 2 maps]

green architecture in the 1970s was away from the city

aesthetic integration of greenery + verticality

Donald Appleyard – Livable Streets (1981)

SFPUC looking at how to manage stormwater

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Part 1 is posted here. Part 3 will be posted tomorrow.

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California’s Clean Energy Future, Part 2

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On Tuesday, January 25, I was in the audience at the SPUR Urban Center in San Francisco as Panama Bartholomy, CEC, and Emma Wendt, PG&E, gave presentation about California’s clean energy future.

The post below consists of Part 2 of my record of the presentation – the second part of Panama Bartholomy’s presentation. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine. I also added any photos or images.

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Panama Bartholomy

… …

That’s the context. Let’s get into solutions. On is zero net energy new buildings…. All new homes will produce as much energy as they use by 2020. But our challenge isn’t really new buildings. Our challenge is existing buildings… … We have 3/4 of the units in California built before there were energy codes. So that’s a real challenge….

So we adopted a very ambitious plan in California… the Long Term Energy Efficiency Strategic Plan… [highlighting retrofit goals] If you look just at the building sector and where the GHG emissions are coming from… Lighting represents 12% of all the emissions from the building sector. All the pieces get more and more efficient… Except for the “misc” category… which is basically plug loads… Flat screen TVs are 10% of residential energy consumption… and 1% of California’s total electricity consumption…. So we created standards… We had a choice of either building power plants to power all those TVs, or making efficient TVs… we chose efficient TVs.

… …

The CEC now has the authority to enforce energy reduction in existing buildings… We’re going to start by eventually requiring labeling of buildings… Eventually requiring upgrades at different parts in the lifecycle of buildings to improve energy efficiency… Please join us at the rulemaking.

But there are major market barriers… awareness… lack of coordination among the various programs… lack of a trained home performance workforce… lack of home energy rating system. And lastly, a significant lack of access to capital… One of the ways we’re addressing this is with a new program… Energy Upgrade California.

Now I want to talk about renewables… It’s a law that by the end of 2010, all IOUs need to provide at least 20% of their electricity to consumers through renewables… The IOUs have enough renewables under contract to get to 33% by 2020… … There has been intense growth in the Renewable Portfolio Standard capacity over the last few years…. …

Geothermal right now is the number 1 producer, then wind, then a significant amount of small hydro … You can get the most updated numbers on the CEC website….

There are a huge number of renewable projects going through permitting at the state and local level right now… Almost 51 MW total. Obviously, not all will get through permitting, and not all will get built, but that’s a significant number.

… …

One of the reasons the CEC was created is because we were having trouble getting new power plants built in California in the 1970s… thermal plants. We don’t do solar and we don’t do wind… The average solar project site is over 125 times larger than the average natural gas plant. So there are some major issues there… And the Mojave Desert is not a wasteland – it is a fragile ecosystem.

(Image credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Is solar a renewable resource if it destroys a fragile ecosystem that can never be replaced? … We’re seeing a need to reassess what we mean by renewable energy in California. So we’re developing the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan… Starting to created a program for the future of responsible renewable energy in the Mojave Desert. … Achieving all cost-effective energy efficiency reduces the renewable energy needed to meet electricity demand… this means we can have much more strategic placement of the projects…

It comes down to a choice. California’s residents, who live mostly in cities, can put down new power plants on tortoises, or they can change some light bulbs …

… … [looking at a map of where the good wind, solar sites are] So either we need major power lines from spots in the desert to where the people are, or we need to put some PVs on a roof… or on a parking lot… …

With electricity you have a lot of options… With natural gas, you don’t have a lot of options. One is solar thermal… And we better do it quick… … Right now in China, you can buy a system for about $200. The alternative is to heat water with electricity for about $150 per year. In the US a system costs about $7500…

In California, about 42% of union trade members are on the bench right now… [looking at a chart] For every MW of construction, we can look at how many jobs are created for different generation technologies… You can invest in renewable, which are a little more expensive up front, but create jobs…and it’s pretty much free after that except for some maintenance…

Now, to summarize Brown’s plan:

  • Build 12,000 MW of localized electricity generation…
  • Build 8,000 MW of large-scale renewable energy…
  • Federal and state agencies should carry out one integrated environmental review…
  • Reduce peak energy demands and develop energy storage…
  • Increase efficiency of buildings and appliances…
  • Develop more combined heat and power…
  • Appoint a clean energy jobs czar…
  • Develop CEQA Guidelines that accelerate permitting of renewable energy projects…
  • Deliver targeted workforce training programs…

We’re not going to achieve these goals in Sacramento… Politicians don’t retrofit homes… … The only way we achieve any of these goals is through leaders in community, leaders in industry, and the leaders in this room. Thank you very much for your time.

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Part 1 is posted here. Part 3 will be posted soon.

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Chris Field – Director of Dept. of Global Ecology

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On Friday (10/1) and Saturday (10/2), I was in the audience at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley, California, as Chris Field, Director of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, gave a presentation titled “The Velocity of Climate Change: 2010”.

The post below consists of selected snippets of my record of the presentation. All portions are included in chronological order.

An ellipsis (…) indicates that I was not able to capture the words or thoughts skipped. The presentation is transcribed as accurately as possible – punctuation choices are mine.

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… What I want to do is talk about pace … in four different contexts … We already know enough to make smart decisions and the challenge is how we go from at atmosphere of doubt to one where we can really make decisions … … The idea of a threshold isn’t necessarily the best way to think of this issue – there are some places that have probably already passed their threshold … we need to instead think of risk management …

Risk = probability x consequence

In terms of the calculation of risk, there’s risk in high-probability events, but also risk in low-probability events that happen over a wide spectrum … Steve Schneider compared climate change to playing with loaded dice …

… … …

Today, I want to talk about the velocity of climate change in terms of the rate of climate change, the history of understanding climate change, the velocity required for ecosystem and societal responses (adaptation), and commitments to future changes.

The warming of the climate system is unequivocal … there is some indication that the pace is increasing … What we do in the future makes a huge difference … It’s really striking that there’s still a tremendous amount of uncertainty about where we’ll wind up … We can see a very wide range between the low end and the high end of temperature impacts … We need research into coping and adaptation strategies …

There is now more thinking about climate change impacts in the context of risk … fire in the western United States … risk of extreme events (2003 heat wave in Western Europe) …

There is also thinking about velocities of ecosystems on the ground … the plants and animals that are best at moving and taking advantage of climate change are the weeds and pests …

… … …

… We are not looking at consequences of a century or two of climate change, but essentially fixed changes … The inertia in the system is really dramatic … The Hoover Dam was completed in 1936, and we are still using it … When we’re thinking of setting up energy infrastructure for the future, we need to remember that the infrastructure lasts for a long time. We’re building the energy infrastructure for the next century now … There are significant emissions commitments from existing infrastructure … In China, much of the infrastructure is new and won’t be retired very fast. In the United States, we have mostly old infrastructure, so the committed emissions could drop rapidly. This type of analysis gives us a sobering picture of the amount of climate change we can’t avoid …

In looking at where the missions are coming from, it’s useful to look per country and per capita … the United States still has fives times the emission per capita as China …

… … …

In terms of the pace of human responses to climate change, there are many reasons we might want to delay: to avoid unnecessary expenditures, to allow natural progress with technology development, and to start from a position of greater wealth … But there are questionable economics in the study of rapid emissions reduction. In a paper in Nature (Wigley et al, 1996), it was concluded that if you want to optimize economically, you would stay with “business as usual” but then deploy technologies aggressively. But the paper didn’t really discuss the implications of delay. Delay doesn’t mean do nothing – it has to mean get prepared with investment and readiness to aggressively deploy technology …

Is the technology available? Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial knowledge now to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half century …

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This exchange was followed by a question and answer session with the audience.

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Assorted Links

U.S. Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced a new bill for e-waste legislation: Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010. The bill is geared toward stopping companies from being able to export electronic waste to developing countries — an action that is causing environmental damage and harm to human health in places like Ghana and China.

Siemens has bought SureGrid, a building management firm from Texas, the latest in a string of acquisitions in efficiency and automation. The deal highlights two major trends in green. First, building efficiency, particularly commercial building efficiency, has emerged as one of the strongest growth markets. The second trend is the creeping conglomeritis of smart grid and green technology in general.

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