Chicago: A City’s Ambitions to be America’s Greenest

Written December 1st, 2011 by
Categories: Green Building, Podcasts, Radio Programs

When it comes to buildings, Chicago has already done “tallest, biggest, and longest.” Now Chicago wants to be the “greenest”. We’ll find out how they’re raising the bar for all the other cities aiming for that same distinction.

Plus: From America’s biggest green-building expo, do-it-yourself 3D energy & carbon modeling — dark sunglasses for buildings — and devices that charge themselves up — all in this edition of Energy Priorities.


This program first aired in December, 2010

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Transcript

DENIS DU BOIS: BUILDINGS CONSUME ABOUT TWO THIRDS OF THE ELECTRIC ENERGY GENERATED IN THE UNITED STATES. AND THEY’RE RESPONSIBLE FOR A THIRD OF THE GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS.

BUILDINGS ARE ALSO ESSENTIAL — THEY’RE WHERE WE EARN A LIVING, LIVE OUR LIFESTYLES, AND EDUCATE OUR NEXT GENERATION.

THAT NEXT GENERATION WILL FACE SERIOUS ENERGY AND CLIMATE ISSUES. MAKING BUILDINGS GREENER — AND ESPECIALLY MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT — IS A TOP PRIORITY.

CHICAGO ILLINOIS IS GAINING CERTIFIED GREEN BUILDINGS FASTER THAN ANY OTHER CITY. THAT MAKES CHICAGO A FITTING LOCATION FOR THE 2010 GREENBUILD INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE AND EXPO, WHOSE THEME IS “GENERATION GREEN.”

GREENBUILD IS THE SUSTAINABLE-BUILDING MOVEMENT’S LARGEST PROFESSIONAL GATHERING, WITH MORE THAN 25 THOUSAND ATTENDEES.

THERE WERE SOME INTERESTING TRENDS AT GREENBUILD THIS YEAR. ONE OF THOSE TRENDS IS THE PROGRESS TOWARD SUSTAINABLE URBAN DEVELOPMENT IN CHICAGO SINCE 2007, THE LAST TIME GREENBUILD WAS HELD HERE.

Sustainable Chicago

ANY DISCUSSION OF AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE MUST INCLUDE CHICAGO. LOUIS SULLIVAN, FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT AND LUDWIG MIES VAN DER ROHE ANCHORED THEIR ILLUSTRIOUS CAREERS IN ARCHITECTURE HERE.

CHICAGO IS THE LAND OF SUPERLATIVES — IT HAS THE TALLEST BUILDING IN NORTH AMERICA, THE WORLD’S BUSIEST AIRPORT, LONGEST TRAIN STATION , AND LARGEST COMMERCIAL BUILDING…

AND THESE DAYS, ANY DISCUSSION OF CHICAGO’S IDENTITY MUST INCLUDE ANOTHER SUPERLATIVE: “GREENEST.” MAYOR RICHARD DALEY HAS DECLARED THAT CHICAGO WILL BE THE WORLD’S GREENEST CITY, AND HE’S BEEN MAKING STRIDES TOWARD THAT GOAL.

ONE EXAMPLE THAT’S VISIBLE AS YOU LOOK DOWN ON THE CITY FROM ONE OF ITS MANY SKYSCRAPERS, IS ITS GREEN ROOFS INITIATIVE. CHICAGO HAS MORE GREEN ROOFS THAN ANY OTHER NORTH AMERICAN CITY.

AND HERE’S YET ANOTHER CHICAGO SUPERLATIVE: MORE MILES OF ALLEYS THAN ANY CITY IN THE WORLD. WITH STORMWATER TROUBLES THAT COULD SET RECORDS OF THEIR OWN, CHICAGO BEGAN RE-PAVING ITS ALLEYWAYS WITH THE MODERN-DAY EQUIVALENT OF COBBLESTONES. THESE PERVIOUS SURFACES, AND THE GREEN ROOFS ABOVE, BOTH HELP MANAGE RUNOFF AND PREVENT FLOODING.

MEANWHILE, CHICAGO IS SETTING RECORDS FOR GREENING ITS BUILDINGS.

JUST 3 YEARS AGO, CHICAGO HAD ONLY 27 BUILDINGS CERTIFIED BY THE U.S. GREEN BUILDING COUNCIL, FOR LEADERSHIP IN ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL DESIGN, MORE COMMONLY KNOWN AS LEED.

TODAY THE NUMBER IS 92 — THAT’S MORE LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS THAN ANY OTHER CITY, AND IT SOUNDS LIKE A LOT — UNTIL YOU CONSIDER THERE ARE ANOTHER 500 CHICAGO BUILDINGS IN LINE FOR LEED CERTIFICATION.

MERCHANDISE MART IS THE LARGEST COMMERCIAL BUILDING TO RECEIVE A LEED SILVER CERTIFICATION — AND IT’S LIKELY TO KEEP THAT TITLE, SINCE IT’S THE WORLD’S LARGEST COMMERCIAL BUILDING, PERIOD.

THE WILLIS TOWER IS GETTING AN ENERGY EFFICIENCY UPGRADE — A TALL ORDER FOR THE TALLEST BUILDING IN NORTH AMERICA. MANY OF US STILL THINK OF IT AS THE SEARS TOWER.

FIVE CHICAGO NEIGHBORHOOD REDEVELOPMENT PROJECTS ARE CANDIDATES FOR LEED CERTIFICATION.

IN ONE BUSY NEIGHBORHOOD, A NEW 49-STORY BUILDING STANDS OUT FOR ITS EYE-CATCHING DESIGN. LESS OBVIOUS ARE THE FEATURES THAT MAKE THIS A CANDIDATE TO BE A LEED CERTIFIED GREEN BUILDING.

215 West Building photo on EnergyPriorities.com
The 215 West apartment building in Chicago is a candidate for LEED certification. One of its features is a green roof. (SCB photo).

215 West Building: Floating Island of Calm

HERE’S AN EXCERPT OF AN INTERVIEW I DID WITH THE ARCHITECT AND DEVELOPER OF THE 215 WEST BUILDING. DON SMITH IS A PRINCIPAL WITH JUPITER, THE OWNER AND DEVELOPER. AND JOHN LAHEY IS A PRINCIPAL WITH SOLOMON CORDWELL BUENZ, THE BUILDING’S ARCHITECT.

Don Smith: When we bought the site, it is a total urban redevelopment area within the downtown. It was a parking garage that was torn down. We bought two other sites. And you have surrounding the building several 50-story-plus office buildings. It’s very much a transportation corridor in the city of Chicago. Washington Street, I don’t know what the traffic count is, but the foot-traffic count’s about 38,000 people a day walking around this site, this building. And at the very end of the block, next door, is a major “L” stop that has four different “L” lines stopping there. And then the four or five blocks west, you have two major train stations. So it is a transportation, real urban-core type site.

John Lahey: Yes. As far as that goes, it is in the central core of the business district. And when you’re talking about sustainability, really having things that are transit-oriented, as this is, is really one of the most important things, because it doesn’t just cut emissions, make them less. It makes them nonexistent, because people are walking and using public transportation and not using their cars, which is a big step. The site is on two different streets, but the corner is occupied by an historic building. So, from a design standpoint, it made it a challenge, but one that really helped to drive the solution of the building.

The parking, which was below, wanted to be a certain-size footprint and wanted to be very efficient, and it is. The slab up above the apartments wanted to be another configuration. And so what we did is we made both of them their optimal, and that’s what really generated what the building looks like from the outside.

One part of it overhangs and is supported in a sort of cantilever fashion, which gives the building a very dynamic and distinctive appearance. It also gives it, since it is mid-block and in a denser part of the Loop, there is a visual corridor to the Millennium Park, the Daley Plaza, and the lake. And so we used that facade, which actually has quite a bit of space around it, it’s the eastern façade, as sort of a visual front of the building when you’re coming from the park or coming from the plaza, and it’s a very distinctive image that keeps in people’s mind and gives the building quite an elegant and refined appearance.

Don: Right. And one thing that we took pains to design is the facade of the building, with the parking structure particularly, that you really can’t tell one from another. The parking structure is glass-enclosed, with perforated steel for airflow. And it looks like part of the building.

John: It’s a building that is a little bit of calm within the business district. The lobby is directly off the sidewalk, but it’s a very calm, very simple portal that you come through, stone-clad, and then you come into a very restful space. And then, up to the apartments and the common areas, and then they have a “garden in the sky.” It’s surprisingly quiet and very restful.

Denis: And so the “garden in the sky” you referred to is the green roof?

Don: Yes, and it’s on top of the garage in back of the building. So, literally, as John mentioned, when you come up to our amenity floor, which is on 14, we have theater and business center and library and workout facility and party room. But then, outside that, on top of the garage, is the pool and gardens and barbecue area–basically, a very calm gardening roof deck.

Denis: So this was the first LEED-certified high-rise apartment building in the Loop….

Don: In the Loop, yes.

Denis: … Don, did you start out wanting LEED, or did John talk you into it?

Don: (Laughs) No, I think we talked each other into it. And that was a challenge because, when we started the design, what do you think, John, four years ago, I guess?

John: Yeah. Then that was not so widespread, the LEED certification.

Don: And the LEED process has changed because, really, John, you can speak to this. The process was really more for office buildings and government facilities than it was for residential high-rises. So we had to sort of change our plans and adapt along the way.

We brought in a large financial, insurance company partner and made the decision that it’s worth spending the extra, really, several percent of construction cost, two to three percent, to go LEED-certified, both for energy as well as just we think it makes sense.

215 WEST OPENED IN APRIL, 2010. THE 389 APARTMENTS RENT FOR BETWEEN 15 HUNDRED AND 5 THOUSAND DOLLARS A MONTH.

Greenbuild Trends

ANOTHER OF CHICAGO’S LANDMARK LEED-CERTIFIED BUILDINGS IS MCCORMICK PLACE WEST, A MASSIVE CONVENTION CENTER THAT HOSTED THE THREE-DAY GREENBUILD CONFERENCE.

USGBC Greenbuild photo on EnergyPriorities.com
The Greenbuild International Conference and Expo 2010 was held at McCormick Place West, the largest new-construction facility in the country to be LEED certified. The organizers boast 28,000 registered. (EP photo).

GREENBUILD TYPICALLY OPENS WITH A KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY WORLD-FAMOUS SPEAKERS. IN THE PRECEDING THREE YEARS, THE HEADLINERS WERE AL GORE, ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU, AND BILL CLINTON.

THE ENTHUSIASM RUNS HIGH. AFTER ALL, THIS AUDIENCE AND THOSE SPEAKERS ARE A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN. BUT AN OBVIOUS CRITICISM IS THAT THOSE SPEAKERS ARE PREACHING TO THE CONVERTED.

Greenbuild Colin Powell photo on EnergyPriorities.com
Keynote speakers at the opening and closing ceremonies included USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi, former Secretary of State Colin Powell (pictured), political pundits Mary Matalin and James Carville, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and Paul Hawken, co-author with Amory Lovins of “Natural Capitalism.” (EP photo)

THIS YEAR MARKED A NOTABLE SHIFT IN THAT PATTERN. THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER WAS RETIRED GENERAL AND FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN POWELL. HE WAS FOLLOWED BY POLITICAL PUNDITS MARY MATALIN AND JAMES CARVILLE. TWO OUT OF THOSE THREE ARE UNQUESTIONABLY CONSERVATIVE.

PERHAPS THE OBJECTIVE WAS TO SHOW THAT THE SUSTAINABLE-BUILDING MOVEMENT TRANSCENDS POLITICAL BOUNDARIES.

IF ONLY IT WERE TRUE. THE 2010 MID-TERM ELECTIONS, JUST TWO WEEKS EARLIER, DELIVERED A CLEAR RIGHTWARD SHIFT. CLEAN-ENERGY AND CLIMATE LEGISLATION WERE PUT ON INDEFINITE HOLD. THE SHADOW OF THAT RESULT — AND THE LINGERING DOWNTURN IN CONSTRUCTION AND REAL ESTATE — CAST A SLIGHT PALL OVER THIS YEAR’S CONFERENCE.

BUT THOSE SAME POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL PRESSURES SEEM TO BE BRINGING OUT THE STRONGEST ARGUMENTS IN FAVOR OF GREEN BUILDING. ONE OF THE BREAKOUT SESSIONS HERE WAS AN UPDATE ON CONTINUING RESEARCH INTO THE PAYBACK OF ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDINGS.

THE SPEAKERS PRESENTED RESULTS FROM STUDIES CONDUCTED BY REAL ESTATE MANAGEMENT FIRM CB RICHARD ELLIS AND BUILDING-INDUSTRY PUBLISHING GIANT MCGRAW-HILL CONSTRUCTION.

THE CB RICHARD ELLIS STUDY FOUND THAT CERTIFIED ENERGY-EFFICIENT BUILDINGS COMMAND 5 PERCENT HIGHER VALUATIONS THAN THEIR NON-CERTIFIED COUNTERPARTS, WITH 8 PERCENT LOWER OPERATING COSTS.

THOSE GREEN PROPERTIES ALSO HAVE 5 PERCENT HIGHER OCCUPANCY RATES; AND MORE SATISFIED TENANTS, WHO REPORT INCREASED HEALTH AND PRODUCTIVITY, AND ARE WILLING TO PAY SLIGHTLY HIGHER RENT.

ALL OF THESE RESULTS WERE MUSIC TO THE EARS OF THE ARCHITECTS AND DESIGNERS WHO PACKED THE ROOM TO CAPACITY. IT’S NO SECRET AMONG THIS CROWD THAT IF GREEN BUILDING DOESN’T MAKE DOLLARS, IT WON’T MAKE SENSE TO DEVELOPERS. THEY’RE THE ONES WHO ARE INVESTING MORE TO BUILD GREEN.

OR ARE THEY? IN AN EARLIER BREAKOUT SESSION, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPERS SPOKE ON THE ACTUAL COST OF ENERGY EFFICIENCY. THEIR CONCLUSION: IT DOESN’T COST THAT MUCH MORE UP FRONT TO MAKE A NEW BUILDING ENERGY EFFICIENT — AND IF YOU CONSIDER OPERATING COSTS, IT’S ACTUALLY CHEAPER.

CHARLOTTE MATTHEWS OF RELATED COMPANIES ILLUSTRATED THIS WITH A CASE STUDY: IN A NEW COMMERCIAL OFFICE BUILDING, THE 872 THOUSAND DOLLAR PREMIUM FOR ENERGY-EFFICIENT OPTIONS, LIKE BOILERS AND HEAT PUMPS, WAS ABOUT ONE FOURTH OF ONE PERCENT OF CONSTRUCTION COSTS. WITH THE RESULTING ENERGY-COST SAVINGS, THAT PREMIUM HAS A 1.2-YEAR PAYBACK.

IF THEY WERE TO ALSO CONSIDER THE HIGHER RENT AND OCCUPANCY RATES REPORTED BY CB RICHARD ELLIS, THOSE ENERGY-EFFICIENT CHOICES WOULD PAY FOR THEMSELVES ALMOST IMMEDIATELY.

COMING UP: ELECTRONIC DEVICES THAT HARVEST ENERGY FROM THEIR SURROUNDINGS, AND SUNGLASSES FOR BUILDINGS.

WE’LL TAKE A SPEED TOUR OF THE ENERGY-RELATED PRODUCTS IN THE EXPO HALL AT GREENBUILD, RIGHT AFTER THIS SHORT BREAK.

Break

Greenbuild Expo Energy Tour

USGBC Greenbuild photo on EnergyPriorities.com
This year’s trade show on green building was the largest Greenbuild Expo ever. (EP photo).

YOU’RE LISTENING TO ENERGY PRIORITIES, I’M DENIS DU BOIS. AND WE’RE IN THE EXPO HALL AT GREENBUILD 2010.

FROM ABOUT A THOUSAND EXHIBITS, I SINGLED OUT THE ONES I THINK HAVE THE MOST INTERESTING PRODUCTS FOR MAKING BUILDINGS MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT.

Autodesk

IF YOU’VE BEEN FOLLOWING THIS PROGRAM FOR THE PAST COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU KNOW BY NOW THAT I GET EXCITED ABOUT BUILDING INFORMATION MODELING. WELL, THE FOLKS AT AUTODESK ARE FAR MORE ZEALOUS ABOUT IT THAN I AM. AUTODESK MAKES COMPUTER-AIDED DESIGN SOFTWARE THAT’S USED TO BLUEPRINT BUILDINGS, AMONG MANY OTHER THINGS.

THE REASON I’M ENTHUSED ABOUT BUILDING INFORMATION MODELING IS ITS POTENTIAL TO MAKE ENERGY MODELING EASIER AND MORE ACCURATE.

IF ENERGY MODELING IS MORE CONVENIENT, MORE ARCHITECTS WILL USE IT EARLIER IN THE DESIGN PHASE OF NEW BUILDINGS. IF IT’S MORE ACCURATE, IT CAN DO A BETTER JOB OF PREDICTING THE IMPACT OF DESIGN CHANGES ON ENERGY COSTS.

THAT’S A BIG DEAL. U.S. BUSINESSES SPEND 195 BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR ON ELECTRICITY.

MY FIRST STOP IS THE AUTODESK EXHIBIT. AUTODESK HAS 2 NEW TOOLS TO HELP WITH ENERGY MODELING. THE FIRST IS REVIT CONCEPTUAL ENERGY ANALYSIS. JOHN KENNEDY IS THE SENIOR MANAGER FOR SUSTAINABLE ANALYSIS PRODUCTS:

John Kennedy: It’s integrated whole-building energy, and renewable energy analysis, as well as carbon emissions in RevIt, which is a building information modeling tool. It’s one of these advanced applications that the evolution of CAD, where it has a lot of intelligence in this model. And that allows us to, very quickly, start doing analysis on it. And so, the reason why this is pretty significant is; the majority of the big decisions an architect makes very early in the design, really constitute how much energy that building’s going to use over its entire life.

And so, getting this analysis at that point, where they’re deciding the number of floors in the building, the floor plate size, how wide it is, how thin it is, how much windows on each orientation, how much daylight. All these things that really impact the energy of the building, we can answer the question immediately, what are the energy implications, what are the carbon implications. What’s the renewable energy potential on the building site at that time. Very quickly, and inform them, which one of the options they are considering is the most efficient.

KYLE BERNHART IS A PRODUCT MANAGER AT AUTODESK. HE’S GIVING A DEMO OF REVIT CONCEPTUAL ENERGY ANALYSIS:

Kyle Bernhart: One of the things that we’ve done here, is we’ve made our models a whole lot smarter. And what I mean by that is; they now have a real clear understanding of where they’re located in the world. And so, this is pretty cool, here. So, before we’ve done anything; before we’ve even created anything, we able to select our locations anywhere in the world…

THE OTHER PRODUCT I WANTED TO SEE ISN’T REALLY A PRODUCT YET — PROJECT “VASARI” IS STILL IN THE LABS, BUT AUTODESK HAS A TECHNICAL PREVIEW AT GREENBUILD.

UNLIKE MOST OF AUTODESK’S PRODUCTS, THIS ONE IS NOT AIMED AT ARCHITECTS OR DESIGNERS. INSTEAD, IT’S A TOOL FOR NON-TECHNICAL USERS WHO NEED TO ANALYZE THE ENERGY AND CARBON IMPACTS OF A BUILDING. JOHN KENNEDY:

Autodesk Project Vasari graphic on EnergyPriorities.com
Autodesk’s Project Vasari is a tool for non-technical users who want to analyze their buildings’ energy and carbon in 3D. In this screen image, Vasari is showing the effects of solar radiation on one building for a specific date, time and location. (Autodesk graphic).

Kennedy: Architects certainly can use it. Engineers can use it, energy modelers of buildings. I would imagine homeowners can even use this tool. It’s really designed to be very easy to use; introduce people to the concepts of building design in an easy and fun way, as well as have this very easy energy analysis; carbon emission analysis on top of it. So, it’s extremely powerful. So, all the power you would have in RevIt Conceptual Energy Analysis is in project Vasari.

AUTODESK’S VISION IS THAT BUSINESSES WOULD DOWNLOAD THE PROJECT VASARI SOFTWARE, FREE, AND START USING IT TO CREATE 3-D ENERGY MODELS OF THEIR BUILDINGS. IT’S ABOUT AS EASY TO LEARN AS, SAY, MICROSOFT POWERPOINT.

Kennedy: It’s going to be on every business’s part to understand the engineering implications of what that business is about. So, the fact that large corporations, such as Wal-Mart, is requiring all their suppliers to provide sustainability measures, emissions measures; that really is a domino effect throughout the industry. To where anyone who is producing any sort of materials that are incorporated in products that are going to end up on the shelf at Wal-Mart, have to start tracking all of these things.

So, it’s a great way for people to start understanding how much energy a building uses. Not many people realize that buildings constitute 40 percent of the energy use, here in the United States, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions.

And so, this is really an effective tool to know what are those emissions about a building, or the building I work in? What are the things I can do to reduce that impact?

REVIT CONCEPTUAL ENERGY ANALYSIS AND VASARI HELP DESIGNERS MAKE CHANGES THAT ARE MOST EVIDENT ON THE OUTSIDE OF BUILDINGS. ALSO AT GREENBUILD ARE SOME SPECIAL-PURPOSE TECHNOLOGIES TO MAKE BUILDINGS MORE ENERGY EFFICIENT ON THE INSIDE.

enOcean Alliance

MOST LARGE BUILDINGS USE SOME KIND OF AUTOMATION SYSTEM TO HELP THEM OPERATE MORE EFFICIENTLY. THOSE SYSTEMS NEED TO KNOW THE STATUS OF THE BUILDING — THE INSIDE AND OUTSIDE TEMPERATURES, WHETHER ROOMS ARE OCCUPIED, WHERE WINDOWS ARE OPEN, AND LOTS OF OTHER DETAILS.

THAT MEANS HAVING SENSORS THROUGHOUT THE BUILDING — HUNDREDS, OR EVEN THOUSANDS OF THEM — SUPPLYING INFORMATION IN REAL TIME, SO THE BUILDING AUTOMATION SYSTEM CAN ADJUST COOLING, LIGHTS, AND OTHER SERVICES THAT CAN CONSUME A LOT OF ENERGY.

THE COST OF INSTALLING THESE SENSORS ISN’T SO MUCH IN THE DEVICES, IT’S THE WIRING BETWEEN THEM — AND THAT HAS SPAWNED AN INDUSTRY THAT CREATES WIRELESS SENSOR NETWORKS FOR BUILDINGS.

THE ENOCEAN ALLIANCE IS A CONSORTIUM OF 160 COMPANIES WHO GOT TOGETHER TO ADOPT A WIRELESS STANDARD FOR ENERGY EFFICIENT BUILDINGS.

GRAHAM MARTIN, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF THE ENOCEAN ALLIANCE, EXPLAINS:

USGBC Greenbuild photo on EnergyPriorities.com
enOcean Alliance Chairman and CEO Graham Martin holds a wireless card device that harvests mechanical energy from its use. (EP photo).

Graham Martin: The EnOcean Alliance member companies, they build switches and sensors to be able to provide you with this information. The unique thing about the EnOcean technology is it’s the only technology which is wireless and battery-less. So you can stick your switches and sensors wherever you want, move them whenever you want. You never have to worry about pulling a cable. You never have to worry about maintaining a battery.

Now it’s possible to go into buildings, retrofit them during normal operation, within a very short time. And all of a sudden, your building is using 20 or 30-percent less energy. And you have a return on investment within, in many cases, two to three years; in extreme cases, less than one year.

Denis: What are the extreme cases?

Martin: The extreme cases are buildings where people don’t pay the energy bill themselves so they don’t care. The extreme cases we’ve found is actually student dorms. So, just by going in and putting a couple of sensors inside the rooms in the student dorms, we’re saving 50-percent energy usage and getting a return on investment in less than one year.

THE SENSORS AND SWITCHES CAN WORK WITHOUT EVER CHANGING BATTERIES, BECAUSE THEY HARVEST ELECTRICITY FROM THEIR SURROUNDINGS.

Martin: We use three forms of energy harvesting. The first one is very simple: room light. So, solar like you use in your pocket calculator. The second form of energy is mechanical movement. So, just clicking a switch, pushing a card into a slot, turning a window or door handle, opening or closing something is mechanical energy. And we take that energy and turn it into electrical energy, which is then used to send a wireless signal.

The third form of energy harvesting is thermal-energy harvesting, which means, if we have a temperature difference of four degrees Fahrenheit, we can take energy out of that and use that for sending signals or even for turning on and off actuators or opening and closing ventilators.

THERE’S ALSO A COMPANY CALLED ENOCEAN, THAT PROVIDES WIRELESS MODULES TO THE ALLIANCE MEMBER COMPANIES, WHO HAVE INCORPORATED THEM INTO ABOUT 700 PRODUCTS, SO FAR.

Martin: The most important thing about the EnOcean Alliance is that we ensure that the products are interoperable. So, whether you buy a light switch from Siemens or GE or Leviton or Masco, you know it’s going to work within your EnOcean system.

Masco/Verve

MASCO IS ONE COMPANY THAT’S FOCUSING IN ON THE ENERGY SAVINGS OPPORTUNITIES IN THE “EXTREME CASES” GRAHAM MARTIN MENTIONED.

MASCO’S VERVE LIVING SYSTEMS SUBSIDIARY MAKES LIGHTING CONTROLS. ITS PRESIDENT, DIANNE PISAREK, TOLD ME VERVE IS CONCENTRATING ITS EFFORTS ON PLACES PEOPLE INHABIT — HOTELS, DORMITORIES, ASSISTED LIVING CENTERS, AND HOMES — BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE THEY CAN SAVE THE MOST ENERGY.

Daintree

DAINTREE SPECIALIZES IN LIGHTING CONTROLS FOR COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS. ITS COMPONENTS COMMUNICATE WIRELESSLY USING ZIGBEE, ANOTHER OF THE MANY, COMPETING WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES.

HERE’S DAINTREE CEO DANNY YU:

Danny Yu: At Daintree, we’ve focused on wireless as a very scalable system, and one that plugs into the facilities-management and larger building-management systems that facilities managers and sustainability officers are thinking about for, overall, other building controls that they’re familiar with, typically HVAC-related. From a technology standpoint, what we’ve done is we’ve created a wireless area controller and application software that manages all the wireless devices in the control system. So, you’ll have different devices, such as a fixture with a ballast. You’ll have a switch from maybe a different supplier, or an occupancy sensor from a third supplier. And those need to communicate wirelessly, because they need to sense the control, the messages from each other.

And frankly, also, now, with the focus around measuring what you’re managing, the technology that we use, which is ZigBee, allows for two-way communication, allows you to report, frankly, energy usage back up to the application. And because it’s Ethernet-based, you can have that centrally managed in the building or, frankly, over the Internet at a corporate headquarters.

So, all of a sudden, you have the ability to cut your energy usage as well as see it and report it in a way that, at the end of the day, you can see how much energy you’re saving, how many kilowatt-hours you’re saving, and also how much CO2 you’re saving …

BuildingIQ

BUILDING-IQ MANAGES THE TEMPERATURE IN COMMERCIAL BUILDINGS. IN ADDITION TO MAKING ADJUSTMENTS BASED ON CURRENT CONDITIONS, THEIR TECHNOLOGY ACTUALLY LOOKS A DAY AHEAD AND ANTICIPATES CHANGES IN THE WEATHER. I TALKED WITH MICHAEL ZIMMERMAN, FOUNDER & CEO OF BUILDING-IQ:

Michael Zimmerman: The company was created to commercialize a very unique type of energy-efficiency software that brings energy savings to existing buildings, and the whole idea is to get more out of your existing energy infrastructure.

So if you have energy systems already in place, a building-automation system and chillers and air-handling units and VAVs and all these things, our system is an overlay. It’s basically smart software that overlays the existing systems and then brings a whole bunch of additional value and intelligence to how those systems are run, and basically gets you energy savings without having to outlay a lot of capital. So the idea is our system plugs into the existing building-automation or building-management system you have that might be made by Johnson Controls or Siemens or Honeywell. And those systems are very good at getting the energy systems to respond to current conditions: “Hey, now go to this particular temperature, ” or “Do this in this zone right now.”

Our system is a predictive energy-optimization system, and what that means is we actually learn your building’s energy requirements and how the building responds to different external conditions. And then we bring in forecasting information that’s currently not brought in by any of those systems, and, basically, using some pre-planning, we can actually better optimize how the energy is used in the building.

So, we’ll bring in weather forecasts, your utility rates, which usually there are different time-of-use rates, and even demand-response signals. And then we look 24 hours ahead and say, “OK, well, how can we use what we know about how the building responds, what’s happening with weather, with rates, to optimize energy cost, consumption, and comfort, to get, basically, more out of your systems?” And we’re saving anywhere from 10 up to 30 percent, on an ongoing basis, in buildings, even in high-performing buildings, with this added layer of intelligence.

Sage Glass

THE MOST ENERGY EFFICIENT LIGHTING IS NATURAL DAYLIGHT. THE TRICK IS IN CONTROLLING IT THE AMOUNT OF LIGHT AND HEAT FROM WINDOWS AND SKYLIGHTS. SAGE ELECTROCHROMICS PLANS TO SOLVE THAT PROBLEM WITH ELECTRICALLY TINTED GLASS. JIM WILSON EXPLAINS:

USGBC Greenbuild photo on EnergyPriorities.com
Jim Wilson with a sample of Sage Electrochromics’ product, a high-tech glass that can be tinted electrically. (EP photo).

Jim Wilson: Sage glass is what we refer to as a dynamic glass. It’s an electronically tintable glass that’s capable of operating anywhere from a completely clear state to a heavily tinted state. And it’s a product that can have very, very big energy ramifications in terms of the energy performance of a building. But perhaps more importantly, it’s a product that can have a tremendous impact on the productivity and happiness and welfare of the people who occupy buildings. What Sage glass allows you to do is, when the sun is not in your window and you want light, for the purposes of daylighting and, potentially, for heating, the glass can be crystal-clear, enabling you to harvest as much natural daylight as possible.

But when that sun comes around in the afternoon, if you’re on a western exposure, the glass can tint anywhere from that clear state to a very, very highly tinted state. And when it’s in that highly tinted state, it’s blocking out a tremendous percentage. It’s blocking out over 91 percent of the sun’s radiant energy. So it’s providing you a very, very comfortable environment. It’s blocking out 98 percent of the visible light, which is essentially the equivalent of putting a very dark pair of sunglasses on the building. And you’re able to operate around that window completely comfortably, without any heat gain or glare issues. And the entire time, it never goes opaque. It remains clear. So I retain that view and connection to the outdoors.

Sunoptics

WHILE SAGE IS KEEPING SUNLIGHT OUT TO IMPROVE ENERGY EFFICIENCY, SUNOPTICSIS ALL ABOUT GETTING LIGHT TO PLACES WHERE THE SUN DOESN’T SHINE — LIKE DEEP INSIDE WAREHOUSE STORES. HERE’S ERIC HUFFMAN:

USGBC Greenbuild photo on EnergyPriorities.com
Eric Huffman holds a sample of the prismatic lenses (the white layers in his right hand) found in a Sunoptics skylight. (EP photo).

Eric Huffman: Sunoptics is a 32-year-old company, and we invented the prismatic skylight. Prismatic skylights are different than typical skylights, which most people think about. What a prismatic skylight does is it actually diffuses the light, so you get a nice, evenly diffused light anywhere that you put it in. So these are used primarily commercially.

Sunoptics has been in business for 32 years, so we have always focused on the commercial market, and primarily retail. Our biggest client is Wal-Mart. We’ve done over 3,000 Wal-Mart stores. In almost all of our designs, we typically focus on eliminating the need for electric lights during the day. In most stores, we average about eight hours a day, which is almost 3,000 hours per year of being able to turn their lights off. So they’re actually able to pay for installing the skylights by turning off their electric lights throughout the day.

HUFFMAN SAYS THOSE STORES CAN SAVE ENOUGH LIGHTING ENERGY IN 2 YEARS TO PAY FOR THE SKYLIGHTS.

Wrap

THIS EDITION OF ENERGY PRIORITIES MARKS THE THREE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY FOR THIS PROGRAM, AND OUR FIRST FULL YEAR OF PUBLIC RADIO SYNDICATION. WE HOPE YOU’RE FINDING THE PROGRAM VALUABLE — BUT DON’T THANK US, THANK YOUR LOCAL STATION, BY PLEDGING YOUR SUPPORT.

I CAN’T TELL YOU WHAT THE COMING YEAR WILL BRING, BUT I DO KNOW THAT ENERGY EFFICIENCY MAKES GOOD ECONOMIC SENSE IN DIFFICULT TIMES. WE’LL BE BACK WITH MORE GREAT STUFF IN 2011, AND WE HOPE YOU’LL JOIN US.

(CREDITS)

(END TRANSCRIPT)


Music credits

“Sweet Home Chicago,” Peter Green, The Best of Peter Green Splinter Group, Snapper Music 1997
“Things Can’t Stay the Same,” Doc Terry, Chicago Blues, JSP Records 1997
Energy Priorities theme music: Christopher Keister and Alexander Blu

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About the Author:
http://energypriorities.com
Denis founded Energy Priorities Magazine on Earth Day 2004 and hosts the radio program by the same name distributed by NPR. He has authored hundreds of cleantech articles for a variety of publications, ranging from Sustainable Industries Journal to the New York Times, and he has been interviewed by major news outlets, including FORTUNE and MSNBC. He lives in the Seattle, WA area. Follow him on Twitter: @Cleantech. Contact him here. Disclosure information.

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