DJC Green Building Blog

Your patio can also be a power plant

Posted on May 17, 2013

The following post is by Silicon Energy:

Two Washington-based companies said they are joining forces to make solar systems easier to install and more flexible than traditional roof- or ground-mounted modules.

Silicon Energy, a solar photovoltaic (PV) manufacturer, and CrystaLite, a skylight and sunroom manufacturer, will create pre-engineered, integrated-PV systems. The new structures — including patio and carport coverings, electric car charging ports, and picnic shelters — will let solar contractors offer customizable, durable PV systems.

Silicon Energy said the modules are strong enough to withstand harsh weather and were recently rated the most durable among competitors by the federally funded National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

They were introduced at the recent Living Future's unConference in Seattle.

PV systems can be installed on different types of structures.
The structures are offered in modular 4-foot widths, and can incorporate CrystaLite railing systems with glass panel, aluminum pickets or stainless steel cable railings. Silicon Energy and CrystaLite PV-integrated structures can be grid-tied or battery-backed to generate electricity in remote locations.

Silicon Energy said its double-glass design allows light transmission through the PV module with a mounting system that fully encloses and protects the system wiring, delivering an aesthetically pleasing and practical shelter. The open-framed, shingle-like mounting of the Cascade Series PV Module and Mounting System maximizes shedding of snow, dirt and debris from the modules, which optimizes performance.

Silicon Energy’s modules come with a 30-year power warranty, a 125-psf load rating and Class-A fire safety rating.

"A paradigm shift is needed in how we look at PV,” said Silicon Energy President Gary Shaver. “We need to think beyond the roof and fields and integrate PV even more into our local communities, bringing the beauty and benefits of distributed generation of PV into our built environment.”

The systems will be available starting in July.

Silicon Energy was founded in 2007 and is located in Washington and Minnesota. More information is at www.silicon-energy.com.

Founded in 1982, CrystaLite is a Washington-based manufacturer of roof glazing, sunrooms and railing systems that are built by local employees. Primary vendors are in Portland and Hood River, Ore., and the company says 80% of its raw materials are from Washington and Oregon. For more information about CrystaLite, Inc., visit www.CrystaLiteInc.com.

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Canadian Building aims to be greenest in North America

Posted on April 27, 2011

Living Future 2011 in Vancouver, B.C . could have begun better. My first event was a tour of the new Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability space at University of British Columbia.  To get there, all 30 of us had to wait 20 minutes, get on a 40 minute bus ride and then trudge through 15 minutes of pouring, pouring rain. Needless to say, I should have remembered my umbrella. A kind soul on the tour (not from the Northwest, obviously, who

The inside of the CIRS building, as it looks today
DID remember her umbrella) gracefully let me half-hover under hers. Despite that, I am currently totally soaked through though my shoes and coat are now drying out.

Thankfully, the tour was totally worth it. The CIRS Center is poised to be an incredible project, once complete. The four-story, 60,000-square-foot dry-lab research building has targeted both the Living Building Challenge and LEED platinum. Its goal is to be the most innovative building in North America. The building should be ready for occupancy by the end of May. It was designed by Busby Perkins + Will.

When designing and building it, the team concentrated on equally balancing the need to be net positive, or to give back more energy and environmental benefit than the building took from the grid; to be humane, or being constructed and thought of with the best impacts on humans possible; and being smart, or cost effective and adaptive.

The inside office space of the new CIRS building. It is shaped like a horseshoe.
To do that, this building functions on a greater scale than just its footprint in two big ways. It captures wasted heat from the building next door and uses some of it to fully heat the CIRS building before giving the rest back. Doing this allows the building next door to reduce the amount of steam it requires for heat, which reduces money the university spends on natural gas, saving money and creating a net positive effect.

It will capture all rainwater, treat it and use it as potable water for those in the building to drink (this is what the Bullitt Foundation's Cascadia Center targeting living building status in Seattle wants to do, though code rules are making it tough). It will also treat all wastewater generated in the building and use it to flush toilets, urinals and for drip irrigation. This was a difficult thing to permit, said Alberto Cayuelo, associate director of the UBC Sustainability Initiative. All water will be treated, drank, reused, treated, reused and treated again. This is the first building in Vancouver, the team said, to do this. Water that hits the building's hardscapes will be redirected into the aquifer.

The building's price is $37 million Canadian, with a $22 million construction budget. Cayuela said the project will cost between 20 and 30 percent more than a LEED gold building.

“I’d be lying through my teeth if I said this building came in at no premium,” he said. “(But) on a total cost of ownership basis, we can recoup that investment in a few years.”

The project should save money through energy and water initiaves.

There’s a lot more that I can and will say about this project. But I’ m about to hear Majora Carter speak, so more info will have to wait for another story!

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With Finn Hill Junior High, team learned from past mistakes

Posted on December 23, 2010

In this week's DJC, I've got a story on the replacement of a school in Kirkland called Finn Hill Junior High that has a number of interesting elements to it.

First, the project will have a 400-kilowatt photovoltaic system that will produce almost half of the school's energy. Second, the school is "net zero energy ready," meaning it could produce all its own

Image courtesy Mahlum. Finn Hill from the air.
energy if the Lake Washington School District chooses to blanket the rest of its roof with solar panels. Third, and perhaps most interestingly, the school benefited from mistakes made at another school. Mistakes that might not have been discovered or identified without post occupancy surveys.

Oftentimes when little things go wrong on a project, nobody notices. The benefit of a post occupant study is that it looks at how a building performs once it is actually in use, allowing the team to go back and fix any problems that may have come up. Unfortunately, post occupancy studies are not always (or often in some cases) required on projects. Meaning something tiny - the wrong setting or a switch that was never flipped - can waste energy for years.  It can also be unclear who pays for post occupancy studies, though many firms in the Seattle area are using them more and more.

But most firms won't tell you when something's gone wrong. However Mahlum has spoken publicly about failures a previous project - Benjamin Franklin Elementary - had meeting its energy goals.  The failures were fixed but the really cool thing is that the firm is willing to talk about what it did wrong

The Finn Hill Junior High School entry, courtesy Mahlum
and then talk about what it has changed and is now doing right. Pretty much no one will tell you these things on the record. Anne Schopf, design partner at the firm, has advocated for more sharing of such information to let firms learn from other's mistakes.

Anjali Grant, project manager with Mahlum, said the school lost a lot of heat at Ben Franklin through its ventilation system. At Finn Hill, heat recovery units will capture heat in the ventilation system. There will be a mixed-mode system, allowing it to be naturally cooled when it is warm out and mechanically ventilated when it is cold to preserve heat.

It will do a post occupancy study of Finn Hill about a year after it has been occupied. “I think its really important to go back and check out the numbers after a project is done and occupied, otherwise you don't really know anything. It's really a good value for everybody,” Grant said.

For the new year, I wish other firms would tell you, easily and simply, what they've done wrong and what they've done right. A tough wish I know but like Grant says, it's a good value for everybody. Feel free to email me at katiez@djc.com or comment here if want to share your Seattle area experiences.

Happy holidays.

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GreenBuild Day 2: bifacial solar panels and natural swimming pools that use plants, not chlorine!

Posted on November 18, 2010

I've been through about an eighth of the GreenBuild Exhibition floor so far and wanted to share two of the things I've seen with you.

These are the Sanyo bifacial panels that will be on the Bullitt Foundation's Living Building on Capitol Hill. The collect energy from both sides while letting some light in at the same time. Bullitt was attracted by the transparency of the panel.

Sanyo panel, photo by Katie Zemtseff

And this is the BioNova Natural Swimming Pool. The swimming pools use natural systems (meaning plants in gravel) instead of chlorine and other chemicals to treat water. That means the water color is darker, looking more like a lake than a traditional pool. It also means that people that use them need to get used to the idea of sharing their pool occasionally with frogs or other critters. James Robyn, CEO of the company, said the pools aren't for everybody. "Whoever doesn't like that sort of thing shouldn't do this."

bionova

Robyn said the pool technology came from Europe, where it has been used for 20 years. He said it has a low carbon footprint, is all natural and is "perfectly healthy." Robyn, who is based in New Jersey, said he's being asked about the pool system all across the country. In fact, he was in Seattle giving a lecture last month though he said there are not yet any of his pools in process in the Seattle area.

There are basically five ways to build the pools but each involves about 1 square foot of treatment space for 1 square foot of pool. That means if you want an 850-square-foot-pool, you need 850 square feet of treatment space. It's more expensive but it certainly looks cool!

For more on BioNova, check out its Web site.

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Could pocket parks be power plants?

Posted on July 23, 2010
pocketpark_web

Cast architecture, a Seattle firm that focuses on using renewable energy, sustainable construction and innovative design to improve urban life, has an idea it says could lead to a network of solar-powered pocket parks that generate energy.

Cast said it is working with two community groups, Groundswell NW and the Sunset Hill Community Association, to turn a decommissioned electrical substation on 65th Street in Ballard into a park with photovoltaic solar canopies.

Matt Hutchins of Cast said the idea surfaced when Seattle City Light began the process of selling surplus land, including a substation in Sunset Hills. Neighbors wanted more open space rather than a new development, he said.
The proposal shows a 32-kW solar canopy, a large play area, plantings and a sculptural landscape element nicknamed the “Wedge.”

It would provide a gathering place as well as demonstrating renewable energy. Stormwater collected off the panels would feed a water feature, irrigate plants and could be filtered for potable use during an emergency.

Solar panels and equipment would be made in Washington to take advantage of new incentives to create green-collar jobs. Cast estimates the canopy would generate about 35,000 kWh a year. Revenue from selling the electricity would help maintain the park.

Hutchins said the group has finished a feasibility study and is starting to raise funds, expecting a mix of grants, public money, and private donations. The parkscape would be funded by private individuals.

Based on current estimates, the hard and soft costs would total around $996,000, Hutchins said. Land acquisition could add another $570,000.

He said construction is tentatively slated for 2011.

Cast is working with Puget Sound Solar and  Studio 342 Landscape Architecture.

More information about the project is at www.SunsetSubstation.org.

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Does solar work in Seattle? Yes, if you’re the aquarium…

Posted on August 18, 2009
Teams install the solar panels

In June, the Seattle Aquarium installed its first solar hot water demonstration system. The system preheats water used in the second flood cafe by way of five solar panels that are located on the building's south facing wall.

A press release from A&R Solar Corp., the company that installed the system, says the solar system isn't just doing well. It says the solar collectors are offsetting almost double their expected amount. Reeves Clippard, president and co-founder of the company, said if solar works this well in Seattle, "the rest of the country has no excuse not to act now."

Honestly, I don't really know what to make of this. It's a good thing that the system is performing so well. But a system that produces double what the models said it would makes me wonder what exactly that baseline was. Then again, we have had an amazingly hot, bright and sunny summer.

The system has a monitoring device that will eventually allow visitors to see how it is performing in real time. It uses Heliodyne Gobi flat-plate solar hot water collectors.

An outside view of the solar and the aquarium
Looking up at the panels
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Seattle’s getting more BigBellys!

Posted on July 31, 2009

BigBelly trash compactors that is. What's that you say? You don't know what a BigBelly is, other than the thing that seems to sit on your father in law's middle? Well friends, a BigBelly is a trash compactor that holds five times the trash of a normal can. And Seattle - which had three in March of 2008 - is about to be getting 20 more.

First, some history. I wrote about the BigBelly in March of 2008 here in the DJC after meeting

James Poss at the Globe 2008 conference, photo by Katie Zemtseff
its inventor, James Poss, at the Globe Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The BigBelly uses a solar panel to create energy, which it then uses to compact the trash inside it. This means waste haulers have to pick them up less often, which means the people paying haulers save money.

In 2008, Poss said the cans cost between $3,000 and $4,000 but pay for themselves quickly. Poss also said Seattle is a great climate for these things, because they work on ambient light, which exists when it is cloudy or rainy.

In Seattle, the 20 BigBellys will be placed along Third Avenue between Stewart and University streets by the Metropolitan Improvement District and Seattle Public Utilities. There will supposedly be a celebration at the first installation tomorrow (Saturday) from 10:30 to 11 a.m. at the west side of Third Avenue near the Stewart Street intersection.

Now, 20 BigBellys (which at $3,000 a pop totals $60,000) may seem like a big deal. But it's not. Not when you compare it to Philadelphia, that is, which has replaced 700 downtown garbage cans with 500 BigBellys, according to the AP story which ran in the DJC last week. The story says the cans cost between $3,195 and $3,995 each (do the math, even at the lower end, it cost Philly about $1.6 million) but should save $875,000 per year, basically paying for itself in two years and then continuing to save money after. A press release for the MID says Philly plans to save $13 million over the next 10 years from the compactors

The BigBelly in action
and recycling containers that will go next to them.

The story says the cans in Philly will be emptied five times a week as opposed to 19 times for a regular trash can. The cans also have a wireless monitoring system to tell the city when they are full.

But here's the interesting part: how many cans has Seattle been testing for over a year now? Three. How many cans did Philly test for a year before ordering 700? Three. I'm sure part of that difference has to do with the fact that Philly got some sort of a grant (the story doesn't say what) for installations. But I think it still underscores how cautious Seattle is about making big decisions. Is Seattle too cautious here or is it smart not to jump into something like this too quick? (If you want to read the negative perspective of BigBelly, check out EcoMetro here.)

The AP story says Philly's not the only one with BigBelly fever. Boston has 160, says they aren't concentrated enough and wants more. Entities in New York are using 100. Chicago has 60, and they are being used in parts of Australia, Israel and France.

Seems like somebody at least thinks they're a good concept.

And even if if weren't a good concept, the BigBelly sure inspires some great quotes. When I spoke with Poss for the 2008 article, he described BigBelly as "carpooling for trash."

And the AP story says Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter inititially asked, "What? Who's got a big belly?" when he was introduced to the devices.

What do you think? Is there enough of a payoff for Seattle to invest in more of these or is our system just fine the way it is?

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Janine Benyus at Living Future: mimicking nature and how it will save the world

Posted on May 7, 2009

Some keynote speakers leave you satisfied, some leave you disappointed and some leave you angry that you just wasted two hours of your time. Then, there are keynote speakers like Janine Benyus that leave you wanting more.

 

Benyus spoke last night at the Living Future Conference in Portland. Her talk was warm, personal, funny

and informative. Having never heard Benyus speak before, I now understand why she's considered such a big deal. The talk was pretty amazing.

Janine Benyus

 

The talk began with Sam Adams, Portland’s mayor (who is funny!!!), welcoming people to Portland. He was pretty straightforward about the general fear that you can’t make any money being green. Not true, he said: “If you take nothing else away from your trip to Portland, take this away: you can make money being very, very green.” Portland, he said, keeps millions in its economy because of its public transportation and green business.

 

Jason McLennan, Cascadia’s CEO then glowingly introduced Benyus, saying “I think you’re one of the most important figures in the planet today, period… I think you represent our species really well.” Not every day you hear that!

 

Then Benyus took the stage. She said the uncertainty in today's financial markets can be used to the benefit of biomimicry, building design and creating a better world. When cultural certainties disappear, she said, so does arrogance. She said the recession is creating a similar attitude that happened after the World Trade Center attacks – where “the world is open to listening to the next question ... As long as they’re listening, let’s make the vision as big as we can."

 

What can we learn fro, this luna moth?

 

In this same vein, she said building models for a place can be created by looking at how natural organisms in a location treat things like fire, wind etc. “Our buildings could have general organisms as their models.”

 

Benyus said she hopes we will be able to fly over cities in the future, and have them be functionally indistinguishable from the natural environment. That, she said, would be sustainability.

 

Benyus also plugged a tool she has been working on for the past year called asknature.org. The tool, she said, allows designers to ask how nature would fix a problem and learn from it. She also discussed how future areas of technology can be inspired by animal organisms. She and Paul Hawken, for example, are working on a new solar cell that is inspired by photosynthesis.

 

But in the end, she said, new technology or new laws aren't going to save us from ourselves. She said the only thing that can save us is "a change of heart and a change of stance towards the rest of the world."

These are just a few of the items she discussed. For more, stay tuned to a future story in the DJC. If you attended the talk, please comment below and tell me what you thought of it – or what you’ve thought about Benyus’ previous talks. If you didn’t attend the talk, I'd love to hear your comments. Is mimicking nature the future of building? How important is it compared to meeting netzero energy or netting zero water?

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Is this the future of solar?

Posted on October 7, 2008

Wired magazine's Wired Science blog had a great post recently about Solyndra, a three-year old company that makes very out of the ordinary solar panels indeed. Instead of the typical panel we know and love (or hate) that are flat and mounted up towards the sun, these solar cells are cylindrical and look like a long tube. They also contain no silicon.

The panels are marketed towards offices. According to Solyndra's Web site, wind blows through the tubes so no rooftop anchoring is required, making them a cost-effective business solar solution (wow, what a mouthful!) So far, the company says it has $1.2 billion in multi-year contracts in Europe and the U.S.

 For more information, see the Wired  post here. Or visit the New York Times here.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto!
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More images of ‘net zero’ townhouses underway in Issaquah

Posted on September 30, 2008

After a tumultuous year, the zHome project has started off on a new foot with its Monday groundbreaking. The project is a 10-unit townhome development in the Issaquah Highlands that uses smart design and technology to create all the energy it consumes. It plans have net zero carbon emissions and cut water use by 60 percent.

I first wrote about the project last December here when Noland Homes was the

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
builder on the project and planned to develop it at its own cost. A lot has changed since then: namely Noland dropped out and Howland Homes came on (and will develop it at its own cost). But the project has finally broken ground and, as Brad Liljequist, zHome project manager for the city of Issaquah, says in the project's inaugual blog post (yes it has a blog here) it "takes my breath away a little bit" to be at this stage in the project's life.

zHome has a nifty Web site that can answer all and any of your questions from what materials are being used to how they're doing it to how to buy into it. For more information, visit it here.

Courtesy of David Vandervort Architects
This solar panel from the groundbreaking comes wrapped in a bow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The latest rendering

 

 

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