Kicking the Energy Issue up a Notch – The Green Power Community Challenge

Lucas Hamilton

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just launched a year-long nationwide campaign called the Green Power Community Challenge to encourage communities throughout the nation to utilize renewable energy as a means of helping address greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The Green Power Community Challenge aims to double the amount of renewable energy sourced electricity used by participating EPA Green Power Communities collectively. Throughout the year the EPA will track and report the standings of the communities participating on a quarterly basis.  

In order to participate, communities need to join EPA’s Green Power Partnership and buy or produce approved forms of green power (such as solar power) on-site. All the communities currently participating are listed if you want to check the communities in your area.

This program not only focuses on the use of renewable energy but also encourages generating energy on site as a means to cut down on our net annual fuel consumption.  Communities can either reduce as much energy as possible or identify ways to create power to subtract from their total consumption. 

One resource that can help communities and individuals meet the challenge is the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiencies (DSIRE). This site lists all the incentive and rebate programs by state. This is important because the incentives do vary from state to state.  In some cases, the incentives or rebates can help you recoup almost half of the cost to install photovoltaic roofs.

At the conclusion of the Challenge, the community that has the highest green power percentage and the community that uses the most kilowatt-hours (kWh) of green power will receive national recognition and special attention from the EPA.

It is exciting to see this type of involvement in reducing energy consumption on the community level.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

Will Solar Panels Ever Grace the White House Roof?

Lucas Hamilton

A firestorm has once again formed around the White House.  This time it is regarding solar roofing panels. You could say it is a wonderful example of where bureaucracy meets reality.  Bill McKibben an author, educator and founder of 350.org, a global organization focused on climate change journeyed to Washington, D.C. to ask President Obama to reinstall solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof while serving as President.  The White House declined.

I am not advocating that the President uses 30-year-old solar panels on the White House, but the mission was a noble one. As a building scientist and alternative energy supporter representing a company that is investing in the research and development of solar roofing products, I do feel that considering solar panels on the White House would be a strong statement in support of solar technology. It would provide encouragement and serve as an example for all Americans. Even if it were a part of the White House roof, it would send the right message.

The move to alternative energy sources is generating jobs, helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions responsible for global warming.

The Department of Energy is very focused on addressing the issues of climate, reducing carbon emissions, research and development of alternative energy sources  and supporting programs like the Solar Decathlon, which promotes solar power and sustainable, energy efficient construction. But is this too passive a statement of support for solar?

The White House, a significant and very visible symbol of America, would be the perfect place to harness the power of sun.

McKibben, was a guest on David Letterman on September 1, talking about the White House trip, climate change and his October 10, 2010 event Work Party for Energy.

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Solar Decathlon Europe – An Exciting, if Wet, Experience

The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E

The experience of serving as a sponsor of the University of Nottingham Solar Decathlon H.O.U.S.E. is one, I am sure, none of us who were directly involved will soon forget.

This was the first Solar Decathlon held outside of the United States, and Madrid, Spain served as the host. The University on Nottingham was keenly interested in participating and sought a sponsor who manufactured all the primary components they would use in the house. Saint-Gobain was the obvious choice, given the scope of our interior and exterior products that create and promote energy efficiency and sustainability. The Saint-Gobain companies that participated included Isover, British Gypsum, Saint-Gobain Glass, Solaglas, Ecophon , International Timber, Pasquill and Greenworks (Saint-Gobain Building Distribution). The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E design utilized an L-shaped, modular design that could be worked into rows, terraces or stacked.  The Team’s goal was to design and build an affordable, energy efficient house that would appeal to the general population.

During the construction week in Madrid, the H.O.U.S.E team lost several days due to the worst rain storms to hit Madrid in 50 years. The H.O.U.S.E. location was in the lowest part of the Villa Solar, below the water table, and the rain just poured down onto the site while construction was underway.  As the crane was placing the house modules, it slipped and significant damage was sustained.  There was no way to repair the damage to the house completely so the students made some adjustments in order to meet the construction deadline to compete.  While challenges such as this were a learning experience, the judges did not take the adversity into consideration.

The Nottingham team was the youngest team in the competition, with second and third year students while the other teams were fourth year or graduate students. The team that won, Virginia Tech, had participated in two previous Decathlons with the same house.  By perfecting their design and incorporating the feedback they received, they were able to return and win.

We are proud of what the students we sponsored achieved in the design and construction of the house, how they worked through the challenges and emerged able to compete.  They received second place in the sustainability section and were voted the most livable house by the visitors to the Solar Decathlon.  Several Spanish developers, as well as English developers, are interested in using the design for future construction. 

As part of our sponsorship, Saint Gobain provided training at our facilities to teach the students how to construct the house using our products.  This project wasn’t just about the H.O.U.S.E, it was about creating an energy efficient concept that could be mass produced by builders, the training and the solid hands-on skills the students gained that will set them apart when they enter the workforce. 

As for future participation in the Solar Decathlon, the expertise that was gained by participating would be in vain if the University of Nottingham did not participate in future Solar Decathlons especially since the same students could perfect the H.O.U.S.E which was very well received by developers and potential homeowners – the audiences that really count.

A Look at One H.O.U.S.E. of the Future

At the recent Ecobuild Expo and Conference in London, England there was an element that I thought merited mention:  The University of Nottingham entry to the Solar Decathlon Europe.

University of Nottingham Solar House at Ecobuild

University of Nottingham Solar House at Ecobuild

In June 2010, Madrid, Spain will host the International Solar Decathlon Europe. This event alternates years with the U.S. Solar Decathlon held in Washington, D.C.  University-based teams will travel to Madrid and reconstruct their solar designed houses. The entries are judged on 10 separate environmental areas, including solar systems and sustainability, market viability, and architectural merit. The University of Nottingham team dismantled and reassembled their solar house on the show floor at Ecobuild. It was exciting to see what they accomplished.

The Solar Decathlons – International competitions for colleges and universities to design and build the most effective and energy efficient house – are making great strides to prepare future architects to find the best solutions for creating sustainable homes, focused on solar power.

A key objective for the students was to ensure that the Nottingham H.O.U.S.E. would comply with the U.K.’s code for sustainable homes. The Code covers nine sustainability issues such as responsible sourcing of materials, limiting consumption of drinking water, health & wellbeing and of course Energy & CO2 emissions, the latter being the most important and the one that will be progressively converted into Building Regulations towards zero carbon. The students also have to live in the house to demonstrate its effectiveness and energy efficiency.

Saint-Gobain U.K. has partnered with The University of Nottingham, not only with many of the products but also with technical expertise.  This home meets both Code Level 6 of the code for sustainable homes and Passive House standards which, I am told, is an industry first for the U.K.

This type of partnering is a wonderful way to provide the designers and innovators of tomorrow with real world experience working with professionals who are currently designing and perfecting products for the marketplace. 

We should all take a closer look at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon when it comes around again in October 2011.  From what I saw of the Nottingham H.O.U.S.E., it is well worth the time.

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson

Eric Nilsson is Vice President, Corporate Marketing for CertainTeed Corporation.

Alternative Energy Sources Part 2: Technology vs. Humanity

 

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Albert Einstein once said, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.”  It is hard to believe he could have said that in the early 1920s.  What would he say today? I think human beings gamble that we can always figure out how to solve our problems because we are so smart and creative.  We have an inordinate faith in science, technology, creativity and ingenuity to find solutions for any problems we create. 

For example, we could not have developed to where we are without transportation.  But the global nature of business requires that products and people be available quickly.  Look at freight; according to CSX moving freight by rail is three times more fuel-efficient than moving freight on the highway. Trains can move a ton of freight more than 436 miles on a single gallon of fuel.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), freight railroads account for just two percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from transportation sources.  But if you need it there overnight it will have to go by air.  However, air travel greatly increases our carbon footprint.

When I was growing up traveling on an airplane was a major event.  But within, say, the last 30 years, air travel has become a way of life as opposed to a major life event.

As I said in Part 1 of this discussion on alternative energy sources, we need to diversify and have several, more efficient ways to produce energy.  For example:

  •  Solar has potential because of the amount of energy that enters our atmosphere every day in solar radiation. With deeper understanding, perhaps we can improve our efficiencies and make up for the fact that the Pacific Northwest, upper Midwest and Great Lakes region do not see sun for large periods of time.
  •  Nuclear - we haven’t issued a new permit for a nuclear power plant in the United States since Three Mile Island (TMI), which is a big mistake. We haven’t had a significant nuclear accident since TMI and although that event in 1979 had the potential to be tragic, it wasn’t.  One of the obstacles that day was the fact that there were only two telephone lines into the facility.  The people who knew how to address the problem could not reach the plant.  For nuclear power to be more palatable to the general public however we will need to find a more eloquent solution to handling radioactive waste than simply storing on-site.
  •  Wind – There is definite potential for wind energy but this is a newer focus and is not yet reaching the thresholds needed to support our ever-increasing needs for electricity.

Since cooling buildings is one of the biggest electricity hogs, we need to continue to produce products that can work with alternative energy sources to cut down on electricity consumption.  Products such as solar reflective and photovoltaic roofs, especially on commercial buildings, can help us take advantage of these big spaces and have them work for us, not against us. 

In a previous blog we touched on the fact that we need to improve our existing building stock as well as build smarter from now on. Because we reroof every 30-40 years, it’s a great opportunity to go back to existing spaces and apply products that work with the sun’s energy.  In order to succeed, we have to challenge people to use alternative products without mandating it.  The goal is to find the economic incentive for people to do the “right thing.”  One way to do this is to rephrase our outlook from upfront cost to life cycle analysis. Consumers have to take the long view on energy savings.  We have to change the way we value these things if we are ever going to fund economic incentives to meet the global warming goals of business backed initiatives like the Copenhagen Communiqué.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications, for CertainTeed Corporation

Harnessing the Power of Sun for the Future

Hello, my name is Shawn Beears and I am a Marketing Manager in the Insulation Group for CertainTeed Corporation

shawnbeearsWith all the current attention on identifying alternative sources of energy, it is no wonder that the Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy continues to be a great international event. This exciting competition brings together educators, students, manufacturers, and the general public to push the limits of design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient homes as well as to raise awareness about renewable energy and energy efficiency. As discussed in a previous blog entitled “Stars Align for Energy Efficiency”, this is another example of how the time is right for us to not only embrace, but retain the momentum to focus on efficiency and find alternative energy sources.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon is the fourth contest to be held since its inception in 2002 and will take place in Washington, D.C. in October.  Twenty teams from colleges and universities around the world were selected from submitted proposals to compete.  The purpose of the Decathlon is “to design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun.”  The homes are designed and built where the team members live and are then dismantled and reconstructed in “the solar village” on the National Mall.

The careful selection of products and how they work together is critical to achieving zero energy. The University of Kentucky team approached CertainTeed Insulation to use our CertaSpray™ closed cell spray foam for their project.  Closed cell spray foam offers superior air sealing and thermal performance which makes it a perfect choice for energy efficiency and moisture control.  We are excited to be a part of this project as a manufacturer that is committed to sustainable product development.

The goal of the Solar Decathlon is to create homes that are attractive and easy to live in; maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions; feature appealing and adequate lighting; supply energy to household appliance for cooking and cleaning; power home electronics; provide hot water; and balance energy production and consumption.

The 20 houses are open to the public from October 9 – 13 and October 15-18 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and the event is an exciting way to learn about solar energy technologies, energy efficient products available in the marketplace, and to take a peek at what the future may hold.

Of course, I will be rooting for the University of Kentucky in the Solar Decathlon.

Stars Align for Energy Efficiency

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

During the last presidential election, the candidates talked a lot about “energy independence.”  Behind the rhetoric and campaign promises, there is truth.  Like never before, the United States is in the position to fully embrace sustainability and energy efficiency.  Energy is a national security issue. We are sending money to parts of the world for oil when those countries have no long term interest in us. Less dependence on them will be a driver in identifying domestic sustainable energy resources. Truth is, we have “skimmed the cream off the milk” so now is the time to stand on our own whether we like it or not. There are four key influences that point to this alignment:

Social influences:  Consumers are more educated about energy efficiency; in part due to added focus by the media.  Television has Planet Green, news broadcasts focus on “Going Green” looking at what individuals and businesses are doing in this area. Baby boomers, who were children in the 1970’s, remember the gas lines and early public campaigns for energy efficiency and recycling. When energy became cheap and plentiful again, most of those efforts were cast aside and forgotten. Well here we are again.  Since those Boomers are now making the economic decisions, they have greater influence. After all, who’s buying hybrid cars? Baby boomers!

Economic influences: There is a great amount of venture capital and government grant money available for the development of alternative energy and energy efficient products.  Solar and wind have never totally caught on before because they were cost prohibitive.  Now, as demand grows, they will be more affordable and, therefore, embraced. Programs like Cash for Clunkers was successful partially because it motivated the consumer to move into a more energy-efficient car, keeping car manufacturers and dealers in business by creating demand and reducing the carbon footprint of poor performing vehicles.

Technology influences: This is fueled by the economic influences.  Research and development around wind, solar and ethanol as alternative energies are being funded.  Ethanol is not viable as a resource alone because of a variety of issues including water. It could, however, be a part of the solution. For manufacturers, like us, continuing to improve the energy efficiency of insulation or solar roofing products as well as finding new ways to improve other building materials, is critical.  When the housing industry is producing 2.2 million homes per year changes can’t be implemented easily.  But now, in a slower market, changes can be made to the building envelope to improve energy efficiency while keeping the home affordable.  Organizations like Oregon BEST and Cascadia’s Living Building Challenge, both of which we spoke about before, encourage the building community to take energy efficiency and net-zero building to the next level.

Educational influences: In the past, we didn’t have degreed programs around building science and sustainability. Now, this information is being incorporated into the curriculums for architects, engineers and other professionals who deal with construction. The professionals coming behind us will be prepared to take energy efficiency and sustainability to greater heights.

So, yes, the stars are aligned for lasting change with regard to lowering our carbon footprint both as individuals and corporations, embracing alternative sources of energy and leaving a legacy of innovation and sustainability for future generations. 

Your thoughts are welcome!

Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation. 

Stan Gatland photo_1Stan Gatland, Manager, Building Science Technology at CertainTeed Corporation contributed to this blog.