Skip to comments.High Tech Buildings Use Sunlight, Sea Water to Save Energy
Posted on 11/02/2004 1:32:54 AM PST by Einigkeit_Recht_Freiheit
At Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the lights are controlled by sensors that measure sunlight. They dim immediately when it's sunny and brighten when a passing cloud blocks the Sun.
At a new middle school in Washington, D.C., the air conditioner shuts off when a window is open.
A wall of windows at a University of Pennsylvania engineering building has built-in blinds adjusted by a computer program that tracks the Sun's path.
Buildings are getting smarterm and the next generation of building materials is expected to do even more.
Windows could trap the Sun's energy to heat hot water. Sensors that measure the carbon dioxide exhaled by people in a room could determine whether the air conditioning needs to be turned up.
"More potential products have been invented in the last 15 years than in the entire prior history of architecture," said Philadelphia architect Stephen Kieran. "We're only beginning to tap the potential of those materials."
The new materials and technology are being used in a wave of buildings designed to save as much energy as possible. They range from old ideas, like "green roofs," where a layer of plants on a roof helps the building retain heat in winter and stay cool in summer, and new ideas, like special coating for windows that let's light in but keeps heat out.
Most commercial buildings in the United States still lack the most rudimentary technology, such as timers for lights, but the idea of buildings that use technology to save energy got a boost from the 2000 energy crisis, when California experienced blackouts and electricity prices rose.
That year, the U.S. Green Building Council launched a program to accredit building professionals in environmental design. Interest in the program, called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), has skyrocketed. Since 2000, about 19,000 people have been accredited, 9,000 in the last month alone.
About 4 percent of new commercial construction is now completed under LEED guidelines, said Taryn Holowka, a spokeswoman for the Green Building Council.
Many new building materials are first developed in Europe, where energy is more expensive. "The construction industry is behind the times in some ways, compared to many other industries," said Patrick Mays, chief information officer of architecture firm NBBJ.
Smart building technology in the United States was formerly reserved for large projects and college campuses.
"Now we're seeing it make its way down, even to the residential market," said Jim Jones, an architecture professor at Virginia Tech. Think of the motion-sensing lights common outside garages and front doors.
As technologies such as sensors becomes cheaper, their uses spread.
The elevators at Seven World Trade Center, which is under construction at New York's Ground Zero, have a dispatch system that groups people traveling to nearby floors into the same elevator, thereby saving elevator stops and trips. People who work in the building will enter it by swiping ID cards that will tell the elevators their floor; readouts will then tell them which elevator to use.
The building also has windows with a coating that blocks heat while letting in light.
More sophisticated building materials are in development. Architect Stephen Kieran's firm is working on "smart wrap" that uses tiny solar collectors to trap the Sun's energy and has transmitters the width of a human hair to move it.
"The materials in smart wrap are either commercially available or they've been developed in corporate or university research labs," said Kieran, a partner at Kieran Timberlake in Philadelphia. "They're poised to change the face of the construction industry in the next decade or so."
Still, relatively cheap energy costs in the United States mean most building owners remain unconcerned with efficiency, said Srinivas Katipamula, a research engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Of the roughly 4.7 million commercial buildings in the United States, only 10 percent have energy management systems or time clocks that turn lights on or off based on the time of day, he said.
Carlton Brown, chief operating officer of building developer Full Spectrum, is finishing a smart, green 128-unit condo project in New York City's Harlem neighborhood that took more than five years to get off the ground.
"We were talking about a green building and a smart building and people were not really interested," he said. Full Spectrum is finishing the project, which includes wireless broadband in every unit and washing machines that can be reserved via Internet.
Interest in smart, energy-efficient buildings is growing, especially among those who manage large facilities, such as airports, and buildings that traditionally use lots of energy, such as laboratories.
That's because "the operating costs of a building in its lifetime can be hundreds of times more expensive than the building was in the first place," said Doug Lockhart, who until recently worked as energy manager for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
A new building at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii will be a "net zero energy building," using no energy from the electric grid. The building will be cooled with piped-in 43 degrees Fahrenheit sea water and the condensation on the pipes will be used for irrigation.
New systems use energy when it's cheapest.
The Dallas/Fort Worth Airport installed a 6 million gallon thermal storage tank that lets the airport chill air conditioner coolant in the middle of the night, when energy is cheapest, for use during the day, when energy is more expensive. This has cut cooling costs by 91 percent during periods of peak electrical demand.
"This saves real money, while we use less resources and pollute less," said Jim Crites, executive vice president of operations at the airport.
Gray water systems, which recycle water from sinks and showers, were once largely the province of hippies.
But President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, has such systems, as will The Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park in New York, a 54-story building being developed by the Durst Organization.
Douglas and Jody Durst, co-presidents of the company, said they first became interested in environmentally conscious building when they worked on energy-saving retrofits to their older buildings during the 1970s.
"We realized there was a better way to build them from the start," Douglas Durst said
For security reasons alone, I think the US should seriously consider focusing energy policy on creating market incentives to adopt this type of technology. It would surely benefit American businesses, and surely harm the Saudis and Iranians. I can hardly think of a better proposition.
I can't refute this article, and don't feel sufficiently interested to research it. But the economics of other, already existing conservation and recycling efforts don't add up well. It makes people feel good but the net "savings" are negative.
Thank God. I thought I was having flashbacks.
YOu are absolutely correct. If these technologies made current economic sense than they would be implemented without a second thought.
IMHO the United States needs to make itself less dependent on imported energy. And that means we need to move away from oil. We have the wealth and technology to become an extremely efficient economy and using renewable energy that is available in abundance in our own country.
It is not as if the United States has shied away from creating market incentives in the past. For the sake of national security, this seems like an option that would only be upsetting the oilmen.
Someone has to pay for all these grand schemes.
If they are truly economical, they will happen by themselves without government intervention due to simple self interest.
Well, yes. But what is economical is not always desirable and, of course it depends on what you measure.
Burning coal without any filters in the short term is economical, but the damage caused via acid rain and other polluntants is harmful in the long term.
At the moment, using imported oil might appear economical, but the subsequent threats to our national security by dependence on foreign energy combined with the transfer of wealth to hostile or only nominally friendly nations may well be a bad long-term investment.
Thus, it depends on time horizon whether you think a government internvention in the market makes economic sense. In other words, is it cheaper for us to pay for it now, or will it be cheaper for our children/grandchildren to pay for the it and the consequences of delay in the future.
The point of the article is that option now exists. It is up to experts and leaders to make the necessary decisions for the future of a country. Once again, IMHO, based on current geo-political circumstances and the direction of the global economy, I think it is a decision worth taking.
The possible result also being that some oil fields would shut down due to becoming uneconomical, tending to level out prices.
If they are money makers now the only way they aren't money makers later is if the price stays low. If the price goes back up, they come back online.
Supply and demand.
Oil is steadily being depleted from fields. Fields which used to support cheap oil now will not support any because nobody will pay the necessary price. So, tending to level out prices. Like you said, supply and demand!!!
The laws of supply and demand would indicate that what you propose about collapsing oil prices as being absolutely correct. And I agree with the scenario.
What I do not agree with is that international competition will gain a signficant advantage.
It can be propoerly assumed that Europe and Japan, which constitute the greatest competition would follow the US lead. Actually since these countries already use 25% energy per dollar of GDP, the US would play catch up for a while. In fact, these countries are racing ahead of the US in terms of implementing new technologies because they have far fewer of their own resources. Don't forget a gallon of gas in Britain is $5 and their economy is doing splendidly.
In terms of developing countries - China and India - both also have few fossil fuels other than coal. Indeed, low oil prices would be good for their economies, which in turn would be excellent for the industrialized countries who wish to sell them added value products and services and their rising incomes increases demand.
I firmly beleive that given enough time and support renewables and efficiency improvements will evnetually be competitive with fossil fuels (because like it or not, there is going to be a charge on carbon).
Thus, low oil prices caused by reduced usage in the US, would likely have a minimal if not positive effect for the US economy and evetually lead to more technology exports rather than a comeptitve disadvantage.
Checked out solar for my house 5 years ago.
The cost was prohibitive. Serious problems with maintenance, also. I also questioned whether or not the cells could collect enough energy in winter when the clouds mask the sun for weeks on end.
What makes alternative energy especially unappetizing is the initial cash layout.
Keep working on it, though.
Once again, you are absolutely right. The cost is huge and the return on the investment is nil.
Thus only those who really want to be green and are willing to take a hit will do it.
In Germany, the government subsidizes every square meter of solar panle with 100. This has reduced the intial capital investment cost enough that their 100,000 roofs program reached its goal in 3 years instead of 7. Same thing is happening in Japan. The technolgies are advancing and it is German and Japanese companies that are making the advances.
This is true, but has nothing to do with energy policy. It has to do primarily with major structural problems.
In Japan it is about the financial sector.
In Germany it is about the labour market.
The energy programs are small potatoes in comparison and have had zero effect other than the ensure that the world's largest maker of windmills is a German company.
By the way, the Chinese just decided to produce 10% of their energy from renewable resources by 2010. It is a bonanza for German companies.
It is a bonanza for German companies. That should really suck up the wasted labor. Odd, you would think leftist governments that have solved the so called energy problem, would solve non productive citizen problems first. I guess it is Green over people.
Nice post. I agree that technology will be the way to energy independence, not drilling for limited fossil fuel reserves.