Green Building News

Green Building News February 2001

February 21, 2001

Energy Smarts Help California Company Dodge Power Crisis

As many of California's businesses scramble to discover ways to lessen the impact of an out-of-control energy market and skyrocketing energy costs, those with alternative energy programs and comprehensive energy conservation programs in place stand at a great advantage.

Fetzer Vineyards uses a combination of ambitious energy reduction programs, an on-site photovoltaic system and 100 percent renewable energy purchasing to produce over three million cases of wine each year.

"Our contract for 100 percent renewable energy continues as usual with Enron Energy Services, so our costs are stable for the green energy we are purchasing," explains Patrick Healy, Environmental Manager at Fetzer. "We have more conservation programs coming on-line in 2001 that will result in dramatic usage reductions this year in spite of plans to increase production."

Fetzer benefits from 90 photovoltaic panels on the company's rammed earth Administration Building, which have generated 56,000 kilowatt hours of electricity in the past year. The electricity generated by the panels fully powered the Administration Building in 2000.

California Boosts Conservation and Renewable Energy Programs

California Governor Gray Davis announced that the state will spend more than $800 million this year to encourage energy efficiency and electrical load reductions. A new $404 million program will supplement the $424 million in programs already being carried out through the California Energy Commission and the Public Utilities Commission. The new program includes an additional $75 million in rebates for consumers who replace inefficient appliances, $50 million to improve energy efficiency in state buildings, and $50 million for reflective lighting and roofs, improved shading, and other measures for commercial buildings.

In a separate action, the Governor announced a legislative package to provide incentives to power up more renewable energy, distributed generation and co-generation. Governor Davis' legislative package for distributed generation, co-generation and renewable energy includes:

  1. $50 million to increase rebates for renewable distributed generation systems smaller than ten kilowatts.
  2. A 50 percent tax credit for the purchase and installation of renewable distributed generation systems larger than 10 kilowatts and up to 200 kilowatts for large facilities such as apartment complexes and businesses.
  3. $50 million for a commercial loan guarantee program for renewable power systems, distributed generation and co-generation facilities.
  4. $20 million for retrofit of distributed generation owned by municipal water districts to improve environmental performance. This involves retrofitting diesel and dirty natural gas generators with clean natural gas technology.
  5. Elimination of the standby charges paid by distributed generation end-use customers to the Investor Owned Utilities. This includes small co-generation facilities and only applies to units that generate less than one megawatt.

Co-generation is the simultaneous generation of electricity and heat or steam, usually on an industrial site. Typically, the electricity is sold to the grid and the heat or steam is used onsite in the industrial process. Distributed generation is a term used for a decentralized approach to generating electricity. Generally, the electricity is generated on the site where it is being used. It can include renewables (such as solar or wind power), fuel cells and micro-generators.

Governor Davis made his announcement at the UC Davis Medical Center Co-Generation Plant in Sacramento. The plant supplies not only all of the electricity but all of the heating and cooling, for the UC Davis Medical Center. It produces 26 MW of power. Since the Medical Center needs less than half of that, the excess power is sold back to the ISO, which pays the Center's utility bills.

"The UC Davis Medical Center Co-Generation Plant is a self-sufficient facility," Governor Davis added. "It is an efficient facility. It is a clean facility. And it is the kind of facility that we need a lot more of to meet our peak energy demands.

Utility Offers DHR Rebate to Commercial Customers

Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) will offer cash incentives to their non-residential electric customers who install drainwater heat recovery devices. Actual incentives will be determined by LIPA on a case-by-case basis with a maximum of 20 percent of projected annual electrical savings. Payments will not exceed 50 percent of installation cost.

The action resulted from LIPA's analysis of the GFX device. In a letter, LIPA Manager of Electric Product Sales, Steve Iseman said, "A careful review of the performance claims of the GFX device has been favorable and we are pleased to inform you that the GFX device is going to be part of our pilot rebate program. This program is designed to provide incentives to technologies that are not covered by one of our structured rebate programs." The letter was written to GFX inventor Dr. Carmine Vasile.

GFX water to water heat exchangers capture the waste heat carried by hot drainwater and transfer it into incoming cold water. This saves energy, boosts water heater efficiency (EF), capacity (First Hour Ratings) and productivity. Using waste heat to preheat makeup water can also prolong the life of most water heating tanks by reducing their load and thermal shocks to glass linings near water inlets. For commercial electric water heaters, DHR can dramatically reduce electricity demand and utility-demand charges.

The GFX Web site offers detailed technical information about the device and applications, plus a LIPA rebate form.

Study Confirms Energy Savings of White Roofing

The results of a Florida study confirms what many homeowners living in the Sunbelt have thought for years -- whiter, more reflective roofs lower the electric bill. In the first study of its kind, Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) sponsored a tightly controlled test project that compared commonly used residential roofing materials to evaluate their relationship to home cooling costs.

The four-month study is the first to quantify cooling performance on identical residences during realistic weather conditions. The six roofing materials evaluated were: Dark gray shingles, white shingles, white flat tile, white S-shaped tile, terra cotta S-shaped "Spanish" tile and white metal. Study findings indicate energy savings are most strongly influenced by the solar reflectance of roof materials. The study proves dark gray roofs reflect a mere eight percent of the heat associated with sunlight, while white shingle and terra cotta tile roofs reflect 25 and 34 percent, respectively. White metal and cement tile roofs provide the most dramatic results, reflecting 66 to 77 percent of the sun's energy. "The results of the study clearly demonstrate that white, galvanized metal roofing material saves the most energy as a result of its high reflectance and superior ability to cool quickly at night.

"This information, when applied, will not only result in lower energy consumption and cooling costs for the single-family resident in Florida, but for residents throughout the southern United States," said Craig Muccio, Conservation Program Evaluation Coordinator, for FPL.

A white, galvanized metal roof should save a customer who lives in an average-size 1,770 square foot home approximately $128 or 23 percent annually in cooling costs, compared with a dark gray shingle roof on the same home. For the same size home, white, S-shaped cement tile produces the second-best savings of $110 or 20 percent of annual cooling costs followed by white, flat cement calculated at $96 per year for a 17 percent savings compared to the dark gray shingles. White shingled roofs trim $24 or about four percent off the annual cooling bill, while terra cotta S-shaped cement tiles net a modest $15, or three percent compared to dark gray shingles.

The study, titled "Comparative Evaluation of the Impact of Roofing Systems on Residential Cooling Energy Demand in Florida," was conducted in Fort Myers, Florida by Florida Solar Energy Center for FPL with the cooperation of Habitat for Humanity of Lee County, Florida. The six identical, side-by-side, newly constructed Habitat for Humanity homes were built using various roofing materials. The homes were operated identically to ensure study accuracy. For example, temperature controls on the air conditioning thermostats of all the houses were set at a constant 77 degrees F. And, all six homes were studied unoccupied and occupied. FPL plans to use the results as a basis for a recommendation to update the energy performance calculations of the state building code and to examine how to best promote the selection of white and light-colored roofs to help homeowners conserve energy and save money on cooling costs.

Hotel Study Finds Energy Savings in Guest Rooms 

Lighting fixtures in hotel rooms can contribute greatly to overall building energy use. On average, there are generally five to six lights in each room, and as many as half of the 15 million hotel rooms in the U.S. are still using incandescent lamps. With this in mind, researchers Erik Page and Michael Siminovitch of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab set out to measure how much energy could be saved with simple changes to hotel room fixtures. Their research Lighting Energy Savings Opportunities in Hotel Guestrooms offers several insights and ideas for action.

A significant finding in this study is the relatively high usage and energy impact of the bathroom lighting. Replacing bathroom incandescent lamps with fluorescents would save $40 per year. Adding occupancy sensors to automatically turn off bathroom lights could save an additional $10 per year. Replacement of incandescent floor and table lamps with compact fluorescent lamps offers a simple payback of just 2 years.

Portland Adopts Green Building Standards

All facilities built or funded by the City of Portland, Oregon will have to meet minimum standards which promote resource efficiency and healthy design practices. The new standards were recently approved unanimously by the City Council after two years of input and review by the City’s Office of Sustainable Development (OSD), City agencies and building industry leaders.

“This policy is the City of Portland’s emphatic statement that it will not contribute to the environmental degradation associated with traditional building practices or construct inefficient, resource-depleting facilities that threaten people’s health and productivity,” said City Commissioner Dan Saltzman.

Soaring energy prices and electricity shortages make adoption of this policy timely, since facilities built to the policy’s standards will use significantly less energy than conventional structures. While studies show an increase of one to five percent in the initial construction costs of a typical green building, they also show impressive utility and other operational cost savings over the life of such buildings. And these savings will increase substantially as energy costs continue to rise.

A cornerstone of the policy is to make the City a leader in environmental building practices. To accomplish this, the policy directs new and major retrofitted City facilities to meet the certified level of the Portland LEED Green Building Rating System. Portland LEED, developed by the City, is based on the US Green Building Council's national Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system. This green building standard requires a baseline facility performance derived from a set of criteria to maximize energy and water efficiency, construction reuse and recycling, use of low toxic paints and sealants, certified wood, recycled building materials, and on-site stormwater and erosion control. Use of the LEED-based standard will ensure that the City’s facilities can be third-party certified as “green” and compared to similar facilities around the nation.

The development of the Green Building Policy is the first major accomplishment of the newly formed Office of Sustainable Development, created in September 2000.

Global Climate Change Already Affecting Life on Earth

Scientists with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) announced that recent regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases, have already affected many physical and biological systems throughout the world. Observed changes include: shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, later freezing and earlier breakup of ice on rivers and lakes, longer mid- to high-latitude growing seasons, shifting of plant and animal ranges toward the poles and into high altitudes, earlier flowering of trees and other indicators. These changes were documented in studies lasting 20 years or more. There are also preliminary indications that some social and economic systems have been affected by an increasing frequency of floods and droughts, although this could be the result of other socio-economic factors. The IPCC was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988. The full report is not yet available, but a "Summary for Policymakers" is available on the IPCC Web site.

Armstrong Reorganizes Under Chapter 11

A leading maker of acoustical ceiling tiles and other building materials has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Armstrong World Industries will continue to operate while it restructures its debt with the help of Chase Manhattan Bank. According to the company, bankruptcy stems from their asbestos liability and is not related to current operations, which are profitable. Armstrong has a special web site to communicate issues surrounding the bankruptcy.

February 2, 2001

Plant Promises Solution to Arsenic Contamination

University of Florida scientists report discovering a fern that soaks up arsenic from contaminated soil. The first plant ever found to "hyperaccumulate" arsenic -- a carcinogenic heavy metal often used as an herbicide -- the fern may prove useful in cleaning up thousands of sites contaminated by arsenic from industrial, mining, agricultural or other operations around the world. Arsenic is a key component of CCA (chromated copper arsenate), a compound commonly used to treat lumber for outdoor applications, such as decks and fences.

"It has great potential for remediating contaminated soils," said Lena Ma, an associate professor at UF’s Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences and lead researcher on the project. Ma’s research team found that the brake fern, Pteris vittata, not only soaks up arsenic but does so with staggering efficiency. They measured levels as much as 200 times higher in the fern than the concentrations in contaminated soils where it was growing, Ma said.

In that example, from a site contaminated by lumber treated with chromium-copper-arsenic solution, the soil had 38.9 parts per million of arsenic, while the fern fronds had 7,526 parts per million of arsenic. In greenhouse tests using soil artificially infused with arsenic, concentrations of the heavy metal in the fern’s fronds have reached 22,630 parts per million -- meaning that a startling 2.3 percent of the plant was composed of arsenic, Ma said.

To their surprise, the research team found the fern even accumulates arsenic in soils that contain normal background arsenic levels of less than 1 part per million. For example, the team measured 136 parts per million of arsenic in fronds of a fern growing on UF campus in soil that contained just .47 parts per million of the metal. Levels of arsenic in the plant easily eclipse the threshold of 5 parts per million for classification as an industrial-level hazardous waste based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard test. The findings are all the more remarkable because arsenic often is used to kill weeds and other unwanted plants on golf courses and lawns, said Ma, a specialist in trace metal chemistry in the IFAS soil and water science department.

"Why it accumulates arsenic is a mystery," she said, adding that her future research will focus on how the plant takes up, distributes and detoxifies the arsenic.

The findings suggest the fern could become a star player in a burgeoning industry known as "phytoremediation," or using plants and trees to clean up toxic waste sites.

Currently, some 400 plants are known to accumulate toxins. Many are used in a small but growing phytoremediation market estimated to be climbing from a range of $16.5 million to $29.5 million in 1998 to a range of $214 million to $370 million by 2005, according to published reports.

Because the fern accumulates 90 percent of the arsenic in its fronds and stems, the strategy would be to grow the plant on toxic sites, then harvest the fronds and stems -- its "above-ground biomass" -- and transfer them to a designated hazardous waste facility.

Worldwide, there are tens of thousands of contaminated sites, the result of mining, milling, combustion, wood preservation and pesticide application, Ma said. The fern seems all the more promising to clean up many sites because it is an easy-to-grow perennial that prefers a sunny environment and alkaline soil. Arsenic is more easily extractable chemically in alkaline conditions, Ma said.

In the greenhouse tests the plant seems to fare better in soils with arsenic than in soils without arsenic. But Ma said she is not ready to conclude the plant needs arsenic to live.

Other scientists involved in the research are Ken Komar, a former UF master’s student under Ma’s supervision; Cong Tu, a postdoctoral student in Ma's group; Weihua Zhang and Yong Cai of the Florida International University department of chemistry; and Elizabeth Kennelley at the IFAS Analytical Research Laboratory.


New Building Standards Help California Cut Energy Use

By a vote of 4 to 0, the California Energy Commission adopted emergency standards for energy efficiency in new buildings that will cut the State's energy use by 200 megawatts annually -- enough electricity to power 200,000 average-sized California homes.

The new standards emphasize leaky forced air ductwork which can reduce heating and cooling efficiency by 20 to 30 percent. They also require radiant barriers that reflect heat from the sun in attic spaces, and improved windows that will reduce solar heat gain and increase the air conditioning load. Efficiency of air conditioning units is also addressed through devices such as thermostatic expansion valves that improve equipment efficiency.

In nonresidential buildings, additional energy savings come from improvements in lighting and air-conditioning equipment. All of these additions offer builders several new options they can choose to achieve energy efficiency.

The changes -- most of which go into effect on June 1, 2001 -- have the support of utilities, window manufacturers, the California Building Industry Association and the Natural Resources Defense Council, among others. The Energy Commission plans to work closely with building officials, builders and utilities to provide training on the new Standards.

While creating new energy efficiency building standards normally takes several years, the latest emergency modifications were adopted in just 119 days. The new rules were mandated by the Legislature and the Governor this summer when Assembly Bill 970 was enacted in response to the State's increasingly vulnerable electricity supply.

"A watt not wasted is one that doesn't need to be created and transmitted through the State's power grid," explained Chairman Keese. "By both using energy wisely and adding new power plants, we can doubly protect our State's energy supply."


New Appliance Standards Announced

Just days before the end of the Clinton administration, the U.S. Department of Energy announced new energy efficiency standards for residential central air conditioners and heat pumps, residential clothes washers, residential water heaters, and commercial heating and cooling equipment. The efficiency improvements are projected to save consumers and businesses more than $19 billion through the year 2030. Taken together, the energy savings generated by the new standards can alleviate the need to build 91 new 400-megawatt power plants. The residential central air conditioner standard alone will avoid the need for 53 of these plants.

The department held a series of public meetings to get input from interested parties, including manufacturers, consumer groups and energy efficiency advocates on the department's analyses. Public input was instrumental in developing the standards.

"This rule takes a very balanced approach to energy savings, consumer preference and manufacturer impact," said Joseph M. McGuire, President of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, commenting on the residential clothes washers standards. "While its energy savings will be great, it also provides adequate time for manufacturers to comply with the energy requirements and to continue to provide consumers with a wide variety of models and product offerings."

The standards are manufacturing requirements. They set minimum allowable energy efficiency requirements for products to be manufactured for sale in the United States. For example, previous federal rules required air conditioners and heat pumps to have a Seasonal Energy Equivalent Rating (SEER) of 10. The new rule requires a SEER 13, roughly a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency. The higher efficiency is made possible by advances in technology; without the higher federal standard, however, these improvements would likely not find their way into new models of air conditioners and heat pumps.

“Our air will be cleaner, our monthly utility bills lower and our electric utility grid more reliable thanks to these standards,” added David Nemtzow, president of the Alliance to Save Energy.  “The nation is indebted to Energy Secretary Bill Richardson for his vision and leadership.”


Competition Focuses on Green Design

The Northeast Green Building Awards offer cash prizes in five categories: commercial and institutional buildings, residences, schools and other government buildings, solar electric buildings and student projects. The building should have an inspired design quality that speaks to and advances an aesthetic image of green building. Judges will assess:

  • Creative integration of renewable energy and/or energy-saving features.
  • Environmental impacts of materials, construction and operation.
  • Health of the building for occupants.
  • Cost of construction and operation.
  • The extent to which the building's design and energy features could and should be replicated by others.

The competition is sponsored by The Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust and organized by Northeast Sustainable Energy Association (NESEA). Winners will be judged and named at NESEA's annual conference Building Energy 2001, which will be held at Tufts University on March 21-24, 2001. Entries are due by March 15, 2001.


Energy Efficient Home Receives ASHRAE Technology Award

Rising energy costs will have little impact on the Idaho Springs, Colo., residence of the Otto Van Geet family. During 1999, the total energy for the home was only $100. Even with today's increasing energy costs, the energy costs at the home are not expected to top $150.

Van Geet and co-worker Paul Torcellini used computer simulations to design the house for the alpine climate that achieves total energy savings of 72 percent, including 66 percent less heating energy and 77 percent less appliance energy. Passive and active solar technologies provide 90 percent of the home's energy. A GFX device recovers heat from drainwater.

These energy saving features were recognized with a first-place Technology Award by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) at the Society's 2001 Winter Meeting in Atlanta, Ga.

"This design opens doors for other homebuilders to create energy-efficient, cost-effective, environmentally-sensitive housing," according to Torcellini and Van Geet, who work at National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, Colo.

One of the design goals was to minimize the total heating and cooling loads and the hot water and appliance energy demands. Cooling loads are met through natural ventilation, while heating loads are met with passive solar heating, active solar hot water and radiant floor and convection baseboard heating. Fluorescent light fixtures and a low-energy refrigerator were part of the package. A 1,200-watt photovoltaic array -- backed up up by a propane generator -- provides electrical power. Propane is also used for cooking and clothes drying.

The project also has low maintenance costs. The house features concrete walls finished with stucco, a metal roof and aluminum-clad windows, which reduces the need for painting and sealing. The house also is more resistant to wild fires, a threat in the environment in which it is located.

The construction cost for the house was typical for custom homes in the Denver area and the energy and environmental savings are substantial.

The ASHRAE Technology Awards recognize outstanding achievements by members who have successfully applied innovative building design in the areas of occupant comfort, indoor air quality and energy conservation. Their designs incorporate ASHRAE standards for effective energy management and indoor air quality.


Berkshire Hathaway Buys Johns Manville

Berkshire Hathaway will acquire all outstanding shares of Johns Manville for $13.00 per share in cash. Johns Manville -- a prominent maker of insulation and other building products -- will become a wholly owned subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway and will continue to be headquartered in Denver.

"The transaction will allow the company to grow our business and to continue meeting our customers' needs under an ideal ownership and capital structure," said Jerry Henry, Chairman & CEO of Johns Manville.

The tender offer originally scheduled to expire on January 29, has been extended to February 14 in order to allow certain clearances to be obtained and waiting periods to expire. Seventy-six percent of Johns Manville stock is held by the Manville Personal Injury Settlement Trust, which was established to pay claims against the company resulting from asbestos lawsuits.


Home Depot Responds to Western Energy Crunch

In response to the growing energy crisis that's gripping much of the country this winter, The Home Depot implemented a series of voluntary energy cutbacks at 80 stores in eight Northwest states to help conserve valuable energy during the peak cold weather months. In addition, the company will establish a $75,000 fund to support nonprofit organizations that assist low-income residents with energy related issues and launch "how-to" clinics on energy conservation.

"Conserving energy this winter is critical to minimize the threat of potential power outages, rolling blackouts and other energy shortages that threaten neighborhoods throughout the region," said Tom Taylor, the company's Northwest Division president. "The grants fund will primarily help residents address home weatherization needs, such as patching up a leaky roof, installing double-pane windows or mounting a programmable thermostat," he said.

The Home Depot voluntarily implemented the conservation measures in its Northwest Division stores located in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Montana, Idaho and Alaska. The company used its centralized energy management system, located at corporate offices in Seattle, to institute the energy cutbacks. The conservation measures include: Reducing the temperature point that triggers in-store heating systems. Turning off parking lot lights in most stores one hour after closing. Shutting off orange-colored Home Depot highway signs and building signage once the store closes.

The company will institute similar conservation programs at its divisional Store Support Center in Seattle, which employs 125 people. Taylor said that the company has challenged its associates to conserve energy at their own homes.

The grants fund will help nonprofit organizations that address the energy needs of low-income residents, including Christmas in April (a national Home Depot partner), Community Action Networks and the Opportunity Council's Energy Project. Home Depot associates also will volunteer their time and energy to help install energy efficient products or make other repairs. Home Depot "how-to" clinics will address a variety of energy conservation issues for homeowners and demonstrate the proper use of energy efficient products available in the store. Please check your neighborhood store for clinic listings and times.


Texas, New York Encourage On-Site Power Generation

Texans will find it easier to install grid-connection photovoltaic systems now that their Public Utility Commission (PUC) has approved pre-certification standards for distributed generation. These standards allow PUC-approved, nationally recognized testing laboratories to designate specific models as safe to interconnect to the Texas power distribution grid. The rules allow for each customer to interconnect up to 10 megawatts of distributed generation capacity and place the burden of proof on the utility to show if an interconnection should be disallowed. Last year, the State of New York also published Standardized Interconnection Requirements.


BP Opens First U.S. Service Station with Solar Canopy

BP Solar announced the opening of a service station that features a photovoltaic canopy. The Indianapolis station is the first U.S. "BP Connect" store, a model that BP intends to use for all new or significantly revamped BP service stations. A translucent canopy over the fuel islands protects consumers from the elements and allows daylight to shine through. Thin-film solar cells are embedded in the canopy to generate electricity. The BP Connect stores will also feature a cafe, electronic sales kiosks, internet kiosks, full accessibility and ... oh, yes, gasoline. BP is building similar service stations in Cleveland, Chicago, and Atlanta .


New Edition of Measurement Standards Released

The U.S. Department of Energy recently released the third edition of the International Performance Measurement and Verification Protocol (IPMVP). Developed in collaboration with hundreds of organizations and experts from more than 25 countries, the publication has become the international industry consensus standard for energy efficiency measurement and verification in buildings.

By providing an international standard to measure energy savings, the IPMVP will help nations improve the energy efficiency of buildings, lower the cost of financing energy efficiency projects, increase energy savings, reduce pollution and improve public health. Earlier editions of the protocol have already contributed to a reduction of several percentage points in the cost of energy efficiency financing loans, and saved energy. The department studied 1,000 building upgrades, and found those that followed strict protocol guidelines for energy measurement and verification before and after retrofits -- had energy savings 50 percent higher than those with little or no measurement and verification.

Estimates indicate that if all cost-effective energy efficiency improvements were made to public and commercial buildings in the U.S. in conformance with the protocol, within a decade, more than $10 billion in energy and water costs would be saved annually, 100,000 permanent jobs would be created, and greenhouse gas emissions would be significantly reduced.

The new edition is expected to increase investor confidence in renewable energy by describing measurement and verification options to quantify the benefits of projects involving wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy. For developing countries, the protocol offers cost-effective ways to construct energy efficient buildings, control the costs of new power and water treatment plants, and limit the costs of importing energy. The protocol has been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Portugese, Czech, Korean, Japanese, and several other languages.

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