January 2009 Archives

I went to a release in San Francisco the other night celebrating NEXT 10's new 2009 California Innovation Index, which is the premier report tracking the emergence of the Green Economy in the Golden State.

The report, authored by Mountain View, CA-based Collaborative Economics, has found that green sector job growth has outpaced other job growth by a 10 to 1 factor in California. Venture capital for clean tech in California reached $3.3 billion, accounting for 57% of the nation's total.

California is the leader in solar, wind and battery patents, and has been 68% more productive than the rest of the nation per unit of energy in producing Gross Domestic Product.

2008-01_sf_solar_incentive.jpgSan Francisco city solar installation, Moscone Center

What does all this mean? More jobs nationally will be the bottom line result of the carbon reductions the nation is trying to achieve: The Obama Administration has said it will use the California model of climate change regulations--from alternative fuel vehicle standards to more efficient electricity use--in order to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% in 2050 from 1990 levels.

Which makes sense, as the precedent-setting California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 set the national stage (and Obama's 80% 2050 reduction target) for a large-scale effort to reduce carbon through the greening of industry, transportation, land use and planning, and energy use.

The text of President Obama's speech on Monday devoted to sustainability was surprisingly not reported in the media beyond a few nuggets on automotive fuel standards.

In Obama's comments we get a sense of how this century's challenges will be wound up in planning for energy and climate security, transportation, infrastructure and economic development while systematically reducing reliance on foreign oil.
barack_obama dem convention.jpg
Obama drew upon what the European Union has been devoted to for the past four years (and Sweden for 30 years) in preparation for the Gazprom-like incidents, energy terrorisim and climate security incidents that will be flaring up on a regular basis for all the industrialized world. 

No surprise that the one place I could find the complete text was in the Houston Chronicle, which demonstrates how the energy industry "gets" what is unfolding in a way the rest of the nation does not. 

Obama laid out a systems approach to solving multiple problems. It's astounding to have a politician that will actually discuss the "elephant in the room"--our nation's foundational addiction to increasing amounts of foreign energy while generating ever-growing amounts of greenhouse gases. 

Smart planning focused on wise investments in infrastructure and technology, can be applied on a massive scale with the "American Recovery and Investment Plan" that is making its way through Congress.

In highlighting what the Green Economy will look like, Obama artfully put forward the best foot of sustainability policy in terms of energy for buildings. He didn't even touch on the number of jobs and benefits that will come from making the US transportation, agriculture or manufacturing sectors more sustainable and thus more competitive.

Here are the numbers on what the building energy sector plan will generate:

  • 460,000 new American jobs
  • doubled capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years
  • 3,000 miles of transmission lines to deliver this energy to every corner of our country
  • $2 billion a year in taxpayer by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient
  • Working families will save hundreds of dollars through weatherization of 2 million homes (that's on the order of $600 million - $1 billion yearly saved through a fraction of investment!)

After wondering for so many years why architects ignored local climate and energy efficiency in service of trendy design, I was schooled last night in how at least one global design firm is making green super sexy.

I gave a talk on green city trends at the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), the commercial design, urban planning and building engineering firm, and was given a tour by Design Director Michael Duncan.

SOM-designed Pearl River Tower in Guangzhou, China. When complete later this year it is intended to be China's first zero-net energy skyscraper in terms of operating energy. (Left shows air baffle detail, where wind turbines are located.)

Duncan took me around to look at the models and schematics of dozens of projects, many of them in China. The exquisite craftsmanship of some of the miniature-scale building and neighborhood models was mesmerizing enough (a future version of the Chicago Art Institute's Thorne Miniature Rooms), but most impressive was that in terms of energy efficiency, building design science is now also a high art.

We looked at computer-generated 3-D plastic San Francisco models (proprietary to SOM), showing every single bulding orientation, down to Tenderloin District message parlors (no, you can't peer into windows), so designers can understand planned new building solar and wind impacts.

Individual buildings were modeled with solar orientation on their exteriors, so that windows can be designed to block hot sun in summer and to allow warming light in winter. Interiors used parametric modeling to heighten passive solar access for maximum office productivity. Thermal imaging software is used on every project to create energy efficient performance.

parametric modeling.jpg

Parametric modeling of window glazing, (courtesy SOM)

Green building science now tracks the sun's movement across and interaction with a building at all times of day. Just think if this kind of technology could be integrated into the residential market. We would each save hundreds or thousands of dollars on heating and cooling energy, and would have more comfortable lives overall, while hacking away at global-warming-causing greenhouse gases.

Green materials were less evident in the models and schematics I saw, so in terms of true sustainability, the life cycle impacts of materials and other areas (particularly water supply and use) need to be better understood. Then there is the issue of how people get to these office buildings. Is there transit nearby? How easy is it for them to walk or bike to stores, entertainment and errands?

SOM is also developing geothermal heating and cooling designs along with integrating active PV solar skins into its buildings. Such advances are critically needed, considering that China is firing up one or two new coal-burning power plants each week to meet its growing electricity demand.

But in terms of one key element of green building, passive energy design, I've seen the future and hopefully it's coming to your neighborhood soon.      



About the Author

    Warren Karlenzig
Warren Karlenzig, Common Current founder and president, has worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (lead co-author United Nations Shanghai Manual: A Guide to Sustainable Urban Development in the 21st Century, 2011); United Nations Center for Regional Development (training of mayors from 13 Asian nations on city sustainable economic development and technology); provinces of Guizhou and Guangdong, China (urban sustainability master planning and green city standards); the United States White House and Environmental Protection Agency (Eco-Industrial Park planning and Industrial Ecology primer); the nation of South Korea ("New Cities Green Metrics"); The European Union ("Green and Connected Cities Initiative"); the State of California ("Comprehensive Recycling Communities" and "Sustainable Community Plans"); major cities; and the world's largest corporations developing policy, strategy, financing and critical operational capacities for 20 years.

Present and recent clients include the Guangzhou Planning Agency; the Global Forum on Human Settlements; the Shanghai 2010 World Expo Bureau; the US Department of State; the Asian Institute for Energy, Environment and Sustainability; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the non-governmental organization Ecocity Builders; a major mixed-use real estate development corporation; an educational sustainability non-profit; and global corporations. Read more here.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2009 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2008 is the previous archive.

February 2009 is the next archive.

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