Monthly Archives: July 2010

D.O.E. targets home energy efficiency with $ 30 million funding

 By Nuel Navarrete (www.ecoseed.org)
Thursday, 22 July 2010

  The United States Department of Energy is releasing $30 million to fund building industry partnerships that will work on energy efficiency projects for homes.

The partnerships will be made up of experts in various fields such as retrofitting, finance and energy management, among others. Their main task will be to improve energy efficiency in United States homes.

Fifteen teams will each receive between $500,000 and $2.5 million, depending on their performance. The total amount of $30 million will be distributed during the initial 18 months.

A total of up to $20 million per year will also be made available for the partnerships, with three potential one-year extensions.

The project is under an Energy Department program that forges research partnerships across the residential building industry to come up with solutions to significantly reduce the average energy use of housing while improving comfort and quality.

Existing techniques and technologies in energy efficiency retrofitting – such as air-tight ducts, windows and doors, heating and cooling systems, insulation and caulking – can reduce energy use by up to 40 percent per home and cut energy bills by $40 billion annually.

“Home energy efficiency is one of the easiest, most immediate and most cost-effective ways to reduce carbon pollution and save money on energy bills, while creating new jobs,” said Steven Chu, energy secretary.

“By developing and using tools to reduce residential energy use, we will spur economic growth here in America and help homeowners make cost-cutting improvements in their homes,” he added.

The partnerships are expected to provide technical assistance to retrofit projects; research on and deploy new technologies and demonstration projects; and provide systems engineering, quality assurance and outreach for retrofit projects throughout the country.

One of the chosen teams, the Alliance for Residential Building Innovation, will focus on resolving technical and market barriers to large scale implementation of innovative energy solutions for new and existing homes.

Team members will work towards retrofit activities, providing considerable experience in audits, home performance contracting, marketing and finance.

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Our Beaker Is Starting to Boil

Op-Ed By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF  The New York Times: Published: July 16, 2010

These days, Mr. Breashears is still climbing the Himalayas, but he is lugging more than pitons and ice axes. He’s also carrying special cameras to document stunning declines in glaciers on the roof of the world.

Mr. Breashears first reached the top of Everest in 1983, and in many subsequent trips to the region he noticed the topography changing, the glaciers shrinking. So he dug out archive photos from early Himalayan expeditions, and then journeyed across ridges and crevasses to photograph from the exact same spots.

The pairs of matched photographs, old and new, are staggering. Time and again, the same glaciers have shrunk drastically in every direction, often losing hundreds of feet in height.

“I was just incredulous,” he told me. “We took measurements with laser rangefinders to measure the loss of height of the glaciers. The drop was often the equivalent of a 35- or 40-story building.”

Mr. Breashears led me through a display of these paired photographs at the Asia Society in New York. One 1921 photo by George Mallory, the famous mountaineer who died near the summit of Everest three years later, shows the Main Rongbuk Glacier. Mr. Breashears located the very spot from which Mallory had snapped that photo and took another — only it is a different scene, because the glacier has lost 330 feet of vertical ice.

Some research in social psychology suggests that our brains are not well adapted to protect ourselves from gradually encroaching harms. We evolved to be wary of saber-toothed tigers and blizzards, but not of climate change — and maybe that’s also why we in the news media tend to cover weather but not climate. The upshot is that we’re horrifyingly nonchalant at the prospect that rising carbon emissions may devastate our favorite planet.

NASA says that the January-through-June period this year was the hottest globally since measurements began in 1880. The Web site ClimateProgress.org, which calls for more action on climate change, suggests that 2010 is likely to be the warmest year on record. Likewise, the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University says that the months of May and June had the lowest snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere since the lab began satellite observations in 1967.

So signs of danger abound, but like the proverbial slow-boiling frog, we seem unable to rouse ourselves.

(Actually, it seems that frogs will not remain in a beaker that is slowly heated. Snopes.com quotes a distinguished zoologist as saying that frogs become agitated as the temperature slowly rises and struggle to escape, although it does not specify how the zoologist knows this.)

From our own beaker, we’ve watched with glazed eyes as glaciers have retreated worldwide. Glacier National Park now has only about 25 glaciers, compared with around 150 a century ago. In the Himalayas, the shrinkage seems to be accelerating, with Chinese scientific measurements suggesting that some glaciers are now losing up to 26 feet in height per year.

Orville Schell, who runs China programs at the Asia Society, described passing a series of pagodas as he approached the Mingyong Glacier on the Tibetan plateau. The pagodas were viewing platforms, and had to be rebuilt as the glacier retreated: this monumental, almost eternal force of nature seemed mortally wounded.

“A glacier is a giant part of the alpine landscape, something we always saw as immortal,” Mr. Schell said. “But now this glacier is dying before our eyes.”

An Indian glaciologist, Syed Iqbal Hasnain, now at the Stimson Center in Washington, told me that most Himalayan glaciers are in retreat for three reasons. First is the overall warming tied to carbon emissions. Second, rain and snow patterns are changing, so that less new snow is added to replace what melts. Third, pollution from trucks and smoke covers glaciers with carbon soot so that their surfaces become darker and less reflective — causing them to melt more quickly.

The retreat of the glaciers threatens agriculture downstream. A study published last month in Science magazine indicated that glacier melt is essential for the Indus and Brahmaputra rivers, while less important a component of the Ganges, Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The potential disappearance of the glaciers, the report said, is “threatening the food security of an estimated 60 million people” in the Indus and Brahmaputra basins.

We Americans have been galvanized by the oil spill on our gulf coast, because we see tar balls and dead sea birds as visceral reminders of our hubris in deep sea drilling. The melting glaciers should be a similar warning of our hubris — and of the consequences that the earth will face for centuries unless we address carbon emissions today.

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Hans Rosling on global population growth

From Ted.com: The world’s population will grow to 9 billion over the next 50 years — and only by raising the living standards of the poorest can we check population growth. This is the paradoxical answer that Hans Rosling unveils at TED@Cannes using colorful new data display technology (you’ll see).

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GREEN: First Look: 2011 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid Concept

GREEN:  First Look: 2011 Porsche 918 Spyder Hybrid Concept

From the March, 2010 issue of Automobile Magazine
By Georg Kacher
Officially it’s only a concept, but there’s no doubt that project XG10 — or the 918 Spyder concept — will pave the way for the next Porsche supercar. And what a supercar it is going to be: in addition to the normally aspirated, high-revving, 3.4-liter V-8 good for more than 495 hp, the striking 918 Spyder has three electric motors onboard that add another 215 hp to the tally. Says Wolfgang Dürheimer, board member in charge of R&D: “This car can lap the Nürburgring faster than the Carrera GT. At the same time, it averages 78 mpg [on the EU driving cycle] when driven gently. Are we going to build it? We will definitely bring some blank sales contracts to the Geneva show, but it’s too early to talk pricing, production volumes, and timing.

 

“The strategic aim is to demonstrate that even a supercar can be environmentally friendly. XG10 promises total driving pleasure—and a clear conscience. This is a trendsetting and sustainable premium product that uses the issue of social acceptability to its advantage. And it reflects the legacy of Ferry Porsche, who was convinced that sports cars would never go out of fashion.”

XG10 stands for X1, Geneva 2010. X1 is the code name of the 918 Spyder, which is only one version of many. Potential variations include a 918 coupe, an electric 918, and a 918 RS/RSR. This car can be either two- or four-wheel drive, have plug-in electric or gasoline power, come with an open top or a fixed roof, and be either a racer or a street machine. Its genetic evolution dates back to the 1997 Porsche GT1, which was a Le Mans–winning 911 on steroids. That car triggered project LMP 2000 (Porsche’s exciting Le Mans comeback car), which was halted at the eleventh hour by then-chairman Wendelin Wiedeking, who was always more of a numbers man than a car guy.

Thankfully, Wiedeking and his controller, Holger Härter, allowed Dürheimer to pick up the LMP pieces and convert them into the street-legal Carrera GT, which was launched in 2003 and found 1250 takers. In 2006, Porsche moved on to form the basis of the successful RS Spyder. Four years later, we’re witnessing the debut of XG10, which still uses several Carrera GT elements, such as the front suspension and the forward structure. For 2011, insiders are already predicting LMP1, a race version of the 918 Spyder, which would comply with planned hybrid-friendly Le Mans regulations.

“In terms of performance, XG10 will even eclipse the Carrera GT,” promises a beaming Dürheimer. “In terms of fuel consumption, it beats every microcar. It really does combine the best of both worlds. Thanks to the modularity of the engineering concept, hybridization can quickly filter down to the 911 and the Boxster, if required. Better still, all the R&D work was done in-house—and that includes the performance electronics and the electric motors. There was not a single systems supplier involved in the gestation process. As a result, we own all the intellectual property rights.”

The team of fifty specialists was led by Gernot Döllner, a seasoned and multitalented vehicle engineer. We asked him to name the three most critical crossroads of the concept-defining process. “XG10 started off as a conventional hybrid but then switched to the more practical and more advanced plug-in concept. The number of electric motors and where to position them was also an issue. In the end, we decided to integrate the rear motor in the housing of the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission. We are still experimenting with the packaging of the cooling system. The best solution may be a nose-mounted, low-temperature circuit complemented by a pair of mid-mounted, high-temperature radiators. The body style is not yet cast in stone. Although the show car is a Spyder, generating a coupe version would be simple.”

The design of the low-noise, low-emissions crowd-stopper is the work of Hakan Saracoglu, who works for department chief Michael Mauer. Inspired by such legendary Porsche racing cars as the 908 Spyder and the 917 Le Mans coupe, as well as by the current ALMS RS Spyder, the former Mercedes-Benz and Saab designer masterminded the creation of an emphatically modern sports car with a few familiar touches.

“In a way, the 918 is two cars in one,” explains the soft-spoken design director. “Its character can change from mild to wild and vice versa—mild as in wafting along in eco mode, wild as in switching the drive program selector to sport or race. In mild, the car benefits from the relatively low weight and strong aerodynamic performance. In wild, it improves downforce and stability by extending the adjustable wing, and it raises the two ram-air intake scoops to further enhance thermodynamic efficiency. Design-wise, it was our mission to visualize a brand-new, unique, and revolutionary vehicle concept. Big wheels were a must, the stance had to be positively ground-hugging, and an unmistakable front end was imperative, as was a pacesetting mix of classic curvatures and contemporary creases. There is no doubt that the XG10 marks an important evolution of our design language, certain elements of which are bound to appear on future production models.”

Continue article at www.automobilemag.com….

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Britain Curbing Airport Growth to Aid Climate

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
The New York Times: Published: July 1, 2010

In a bold if lonely environmental stand, Britain’s coalition government has set out to curb the growth of what has been called “binge flying” by refusing to build new runways around London to accommodate more planes.

Citing the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions from aviation, Prime Minister David Cameron, a Conservative, abruptly canceled longstanding plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport in May, just days after his election; he said he would also refuse to approve new runways at Gatwick and Stansted, London’s second-string airports.

The government decided that enabling more flying was incompatible with Britain’s oft-stated goal of curbing emissions. Britons have become accustomed to easy, frequent flying — jetting off to weekend homes in Spain and bachelor parties in Prague — as England has become a hub for low-cost airlines. The country’s 2008 Climate Change Act requires it to reduce emissions by at least 34 percent by 2020 from levels reached in 1990.

“The emissions were a significant factor” in the decision to cancel the runway-building plans, Teresa Villiers, Britain’s minister of state for transport, said in an interview. “The 220,000 or so flights that might well come with a third runway would make it difficult to meet the targets we’d set for ourselves.” She said that local environmental concerns like noise and pollution around Heathrow also weighed into the decision.

Britain is bucking a global trend. Across North America, Asia and Europe, cities are building new runways or expanding terminals to handle projected growth in air travel and air freight in the hope of remaining competitive.

That growth in traffic has been damped but not halted by hard economic times, and in the current global recession, business concerns have generally prevailed over worries about climate change. In the United States, Chicago-O’Hare, Seattle-Tacoma and Washington-Dulles all opened new runways in 2008.

On Tuesday, Kennedy International Airport in New York reopened its Bay Runway — one of four, and the airport’s longest — after a four-month, $376 million renovation that included the creation of two new taxiways to speed plane movements between runways and terminals.

Airport expansion plans have sometimes been modified or canceled because of concerns about noise or ground-level pollution. But Peder Jensen, a transportation specialist at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, said that as far as he knew, Britain “is the only country that had made a conscious decision based on climate considerations.”

Heathrow, one of the world’s busiest airports and a major connection point for destinations in Europe, South Asia and the Middle East, is already notorious for its flight delays and endless lines. It is the only airport of its size with just two runways; Paris-Charles de Gaulle has four and O’Hare has seven.

So even though the Conservative Party had been expressing growing reservations about the planned expansion since 2008, many businessmen were shocked when Mr. Cameron canceled the plan after coming to power in a coalition with Liberal Democrats.

“This is a new government that claimed to be business friendly, but their first move was to eliminate one of the best growth opportunities for London and the U.K. and British companies,” said Steve Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association. “We’ve run into a shortsighted political decision that will have terrible economic consequences.”

The British government counters that the economic effects of scrapping the third runway are “unclear” while the environmental costs of adding one are unacceptably high. Ms. Villiers said that a high-speed rail network intended to replace short-haul flights would be a better way to address the airport’s congestion than adding a runway.

“We recognized that just putting more flights and more passengers into the skies over southeast England wasn’t worth the environmental costs we’re paying,” she said. “We decided to make Heathrow better rather than bigger.”

Although it is often said that emissions from air travel account for 2 to 3 percent of global emissions, the proportion is higher in many developed countries: emissions from aviation are growing faster there than those from nearly any other sector.

The British government has calculated that aviation emissions accounted for just 6 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2006. But it concluded in a report that aviation could contribute up to a quarter of those emissions by 2030.

In the United States, the number of general aviation hours is forecast to grow an average of 1.8 percent a year, and to be 60 percent greater by 2025 than it is now, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. While airlines have worked hard to improve airplane efficiency, those efforts are dwarfed by the upward trend in flying.

Citizens’ groups in communities near Heathrow fought hard for nearly a decade against the airport’s runway expansion, complaining about noise and nitrous oxide pollution. As climate change became a more potent political issue in Britain several years ago, environmental groups with broader concerns jumped into the fray, camping out at Heathrow and occupying runways at smaller airports, shutting them down for hours.

“If you were a politician, how you felt about the third runway became a test of your commitment to dealing with climate change,” said Ben Stewart, communications director for Greenpeace U.K.

The temptation to expand airports is great for cities in search of new business and tourism. Airports in Europe are now mostly run by private companies, and for them, the more traffic, the more profit.

Some critics say the British government’s principled stand is pointless because airlines and travelers will respond not by forgoing air travel but by flying through a different airport. Instead of emissions being reduced, the critics say, they will simply be transferred to places like Barajas Airport in Madrid or Frankfurt International Airport, which have recently been expanded.

“My personal opinion is that the decision concerning Heathrow’s third runway was highly politicized and outpaced the science of what that runway might or might not do in terms of emissions,” said Christopher Oswald, a vice president of Airports Council International, an industry group. He suggested that a third runway might actually reduce emissions above Heathrow, because with less congestion, planes would spend less time idling on runways or circling in holding patterns.

But Dr. Jensen of the European Environment Agency said that building roads or runways generated more traffic in the long term because greater convenience draws people to a route.

Leo Murray, a spokesman for Plane Stupid, an environmental group that has fought new runways, called the British government’s decision “a turning point for aviation” although he added, “It is uncomfortable to have the coup de grace delivered by the Conservative government.”

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EPA Kicks Off Nationwide ‘Green Capitals’ Initiative

By GreenerBuildings Staff

Published June 22, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering comprehensive technical assistance to state capitals for the design and development of more sustainable neighborhoods — ones that incorporate green building and infrastructure to foster social, economic and environmental benefits.

The program called Greening America’s Capitals is a project of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaborative effort involving the EPA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

Under the program, design teams provided and funded by the EPA are to work with the cities to transform neighborhoods into models of sustainability.

The program is competitive and as many as four capitals will be selected to participate each year. The EPA announced the program last week and invited letters of interest to be submitted no later than July 9. The capitals chosen for the inaugural year will be announced in the fall.

The new program is the latest example of a growing effort to make communities more sustainable. 

In April, the U.S. Green Building Council launched the LEED rating system for Neighborhood Development (LEED-ND) as a national benchmark for community design. USGBC President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi has described LEED-ND as the vision for “the next generation of green building thinking” and an opportunity to apply lessons learned from individual green buildings to entire neighborhoods.

The unveiling of the Greening America’s Capitals program came on the heels of the annual U.S Conference of Mayors meeting.

In their 78th annual session, the mayors approved numerous resolutions on energy and the environment, including measures supporting policy and efforts to make communities — and the buildings in them — greener. In resolutions praised by the USGBC, the mayors:

  • Signaled their support for sustainable development in cities by calling on Congress to adopt the Livable Communities Act, the Enhancing Livability for All Americans Act, or similar legislation. The group also said it backs full funding for the Sustainable Communities Partnership in the president’s budget. In a separate measure, the mayors said they will continue working with the EPA, HUD and the DOT to advance the agencies’ partnership and its principles. 
  • Called on local governments to adopt Green Building Codes and the International Green Construction Code. 
  • Recognized the benefits of energy financing districts in making commercial and residential energy efficiency retrofit possible. Called on state lawmakers to adopt legislation enabling the establishment of such districts and mechanisms that include Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) bonds and Benefit Assessed Clean Energy (BACE), Clean Energy Assessment Districts (CEAD), contractual assessments, sustainable energy financing and special tax districts.
  • Called for its members to partner with local school districts to implement green initiatives. 
  • Supported green affordable housing and financing by calling for Congress to adopt the Green Act, the Energy Efficiency in Housing Act or similar legislation to modernize the U.S. housing market through energy efficient  and location efficient mortgages.

The full text of all the resolutions is available at http://www.usmayors.org/resolutions/78th_Conference/adoptedresolutionsfull.pdf

Read more: http://www.greenbiz.com/epa-kicks-off-nationwide-green-capitals-initiative#ixzz0uE7J57UP

Image of Boston buildings CC licensed by Flickr user David Paul Ohmer.

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