Net Zero Energy Middle School Built in Arizona

A new Arizona middle school has joined a small but growing number of net zero energy buildings in the United States, after working with the International Living Future Institute to develop the net zero building. Colonel Smith Middle School, located in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will serve 330 students – mostly children of military families – in sixth through eighth grade when it opens its doors this fall. At Smith Middle School, students will learn about energy conservation through applied learning and will be able to see the benefits of saving energy firsthand.

Smith Middle School’s energy-efficient features include solar panels, three wind turbines, and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Students will learn about the 88,693-square-foot school’s energy systems through real-time data sent to their iPads, where children can follow the building’s energy usage. School programs include STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, which will feature an energy efficiency component to teach students about energy consumption and conservation as well as integrating lessons from the middle school’s conservation center and an outdoor education program.

The Huffington Post reports, “[Colonel Smith Middle School] was dedicated on Friday, August 3, in an opening ceremony where Tony Wall, Program Manager and President of 3W Management, was quoted as saying, ‘This is one of the great schools in America.’ 3W Management oversaw the construction of the building. … The school was designed to engage students in real-world problem-solving in a collaborative environment, with classes taking place both indoors and outdoors.”

Colonel Smith Middle School is among about two dozen net zero energy buildings in the United States, including two other middle schools (Irving, Texas’s Lady Bird Johnson Middle School and George V. Leyva Middle School, located in San Jose, Calif.); more buildings are expected to be certified as net zero in the near future. Net zero energy buildings are on the rise recently because of an increase in energy prices, the mounting threat of climate change, and the collapse of the economy. These energy-efficient buildings are no longer limited to industry structures; now, they are taking shape as schools and universities, libraries, homes, and businesses. Businesses, homeowners, and schools looking to save money on energy bills are creating net zero buildings more and more.

The first net zero energy building was constructed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 2000, and since then, the movement has grown as awareness rises about environmental issues and the cost of energy. Of the college’s decision to build the experimental efficient structure, Oberlin director of environmental studies, David Orr, said, “We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment — one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities.”

As conventional homes and businesses consume 40 percent of the country’s energy and produce greenhouse gases through the use of power, net zero energy buildings are a great way to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. With recent advances in technology, designing and constructing a net zero building is becoming more accessible to the public, and although this method of building is still not cheap, those who are dedicated to preserving the environment believe it is worthwhile.

The official definition of a net zero energy building, according to the United States Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a building that “produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.” While some net zero buildings use traditional electricity from the common power grid, they return that energy by producing power through solar panels or wind turbines.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/rurallearningcenter/3552299903

Google Unveils Energy Consumption Figures For The First Time

As with many tech companies, Google really wants to be green. The tech giant has revealed statistics about its energy use and emissions, hoping to defend against critics that question Google’s claim that its operations are truly environmentally friendly.

Although the company has publicized its efforts to be environmentally conscious, Google released on Thursday detailed information about its power-hungry data centers for the first time. Google, who provides a search engine, Youtube, and Gmail, reported that the company as a whole released 1.46 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2010 and 1.2 million metric tons came from data centers and offices. Despite these figures, Google claims the company’s electricity consumption is less than 0.01% of the world’s total electricity use.

Google’s fleet vehicles contributed about 11 thousand tons of emissions. Emissions from traveling, construction, and commuting added another 207 thousand tons.

Though Google has publicized its green efforts for years, such as using renewable sources of energy, the company has steadfastly withheld information about their energy use. Experts believe that information was kept secret to prevent Google’s competitors from using it against them or to gain an understanding how its data centers operate.

Google’s efforts in making their data centers and offices greener are comprehensive. Some of the measures the company takes to make their data centers use “50% less energy” than other companies include using efficient servers, power supplies, voltage regulators, evaporative cooling systems, and recycling all electronics. As a result, Google claims the carbon footprint of 1000 searches on its search engine is the same as as the carbon footprint from a glass of orange juice.

Additionally, Google minimizes air conditioning use and cooling which decreases energy use. Offices and data centers have thermostats set at a higher temperature of around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Employees allegedly are allowed to wear shorts to work.  Also, Google implements “free cooling” which is the practice of cooling facilities without using chillers. Because they use a significant amount of energy, minimizing the use of chillers and finding alternative cooling methods would yield a decrease in energy consumption and expenses.

Compared with other tech giants, Google is among the greenest. Along with Yahoo and Facebook, Google is a leader in minimizing energy consumption and costs from cooling. Yahoo claims its energy used for cooling is only 1% of the company’s total energy use. Facebook uses evaporative cooling like Google but has also designed their servers and computers to run in warmer temperatures.

Apple is a little slow compared to these companies, though. A new facility in North Carolina will triple its electricity consumption and will be generated by mostly coal (62%) and nuclear (32%) energy.

Despite of all the efforts tech companies are now making to become greener, each individual person can do their part in doing good for the environment. Consider participating in Earth Hour every year. The event by WWF for 2012 will take place on Saturday, March 31 at 8:30pm. Earth Hour encourages everyone to turn off their lights and keep away from using electricity for an hour to promote cutting down on electricity use.

Even though the event was intended primarily to raise awareness, some areas reported actual energy savings during Earth Hour. Officials at Columbia, Missouri, claims the city saved 2.5 megawatts of electricity during Earth Hour 2011, which is enough energy to power 98 homes in Columbia on an average day. In previous years, the city saved 1.72 megawatts in 2008, 1.27 in 2009, and 1.58 in 2010. In addition to the energy savings, more people are participating in the yearly event, fulfilling the event’s primary purpose.  President of the Columbia Climate Change Coalition, Monta Welch reported that 47 businesses observed Earth Hour in 2011, compared to only 27 who turned their lights off in 2010.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/29456235@N04/2926163305

More Efficient Trucks and Buses to Hit the Streets

In the Obama administration’s second major announcement about vehicle fuel efficiency this summer, President Obama and representatives of the trucking industry unveiled a plan Tuesday to cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions from some of the nation’s largest vehicles.  Under the new rules, large trucks and buses will be required to ramp up fuel efficiency for the first time in US history.

Though smaller personal vehicles have long been regulated to ensure a measure of fuel efficiency, similar standards have never before been applied to buses, semis, and other heavy duty vehicles.  This is somewhat ironic, as these very large vehicles account for nearly 20% of oil consumption in the US transportation sector.  The cost of fueling large trucks and buses is also a drain on the budgets of companies and government entities that use these big vehicles.

“Thanks to the Obama administration, for the first time in our history we have a common goal for increasing the fuel efficiency of the trucks that deliver our products, the vehicles we use at work, and the buses our children ride to school,” said US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “These new standards will reduce fuel costs for businesses, encourage innovation in the manufacturing sector, and promote energy independence for America.”

Under the new standards, tractor trailers and the biggest trucks will have to cut fuel consumption by 20% by the year 2018.  Meanwhile large vans and pickup trucks will be required to improve fuel economy by 15%, and garbage trucks and buses by 10%.  According to the administration, this will save 530 million barrels of oil and 270 million metric tons of the carbon emissions that cause climate change.

The new truck and bus standards build on the Obama administration’s successful efforts to implement stricter fuel economy standards for smaller, personal vehicles.  Under a rule announced in 2009, average fuel economy of cars and small trucks will be ramped up to 35.5 miles per gallon by the year 2016.  A second set of rules unveiled at the end of last month will increase the car standard to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

Working on those standards for cars apparently inspired administration officials to begin pursuing similar rules for heavy vehicles—a goal the administration saw as beneficial for both consumers and the environment.

“While we were working to improve the efficiency of cars and light-duty trucks,” President Obama said on Tuesday, “something interesting happened.  We started getting letters asking that we do the same for medium and heavy-duty trucks. They were from the people who build, buy, and drive these trucks.”

Sure enough, the new standards have enjoyed strong support from the trucking industry.  “Today’s announcement by President Obama is welcome news to us in the trucking industry,” said Bill Graves, President and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.  “Our members have been pushing for the setting of fuel efficiency standards for some time, and today marks the culmination of those efforts.”

Environmental groups praised the new standards as well, saying they will help reduce climate change and dependence on oil.  Cutting fuel consumption from large vehicles will also reduce air pollutants that cause illness and premature death in people.

“By setting fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for medium and heavy duty trucks,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, “we will, for the first time, be able to clean up and improve the performance of the delivery trucks, city buses and freight trucks that Americans rely on each day, clearing our air, saving truckers and businesses money at the pump, creating jobs and bringing the nation a step closer to moving beyond oil.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/cupcakes2/3621121666/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Higher Fuel Economy Standards Will Increase Car Prices And Slash Jobs

As President Obama pushes automakers to develop more fuel efficient vehicles, a study by the Center for Automotive Research predicts that higher mpg requirements would make cars more expensive, decrease the demand for cars, and cut jobs.

Based in Ann Arbor, the center estimates it would cost automakers between $3,744 and $9,790 per car to develop vehicles that would achieve the government’s proposed mpg standards, which would range from 47 mpg up to 62 mpg by the year 2025. The center’s estimate is much greater than what the Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration previously estimated, $770 and $3,500 per car.

The center also believes the increase in cost to produce vehicles will exceed the money saved on fuel, which will discourage potential car buyers. As these fuel economy standards only apply to newly produced cars, car buyers may be driven to shop for a used car instead. By 2025, the study predicts up to 5.5 million buyers could be lost due to the higher prices for vehicles which would result in 25% a drop in sales. This decrease in demand for cars translates to a loss of 260,000 car manufacturing jobs.

By 2016, the government wants the average fuel economy for vehicles to be 34.1 mpg. The NHTSA estimates from 2012 until 2016, it will cost automakers $51.5 billion to reach those standards.

Automakers have also been active in opposing high mpg requirements. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group consisting of Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, and other automakers, believe costs are much higher than what the EPA and NHTSA predict. They have been advertising on the radio that high mpg standards could take away jobs in the auto industry. One of the Alliance’s ads stated “we also know that a big drop in sales can lead to a big loss of jobs. Let’s wisely raise fuel economy levels, while at the same time preserving affordability and jobs.”

On the other hand, environmentalists and advocates of the 62 mpg standard by 2025 say estimates by automakers and their supporters are exaggerated. Says Ronald Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council, “Over the past four decades, the auto industry has consistently exaggerated the cost for meeting new pollution standards by as much as 9.5 times the actual costs.”

Also, environmentalists regard these studies and estimates as “propaganda”. They point out that the Center for Automotive Research receives substantial funding from federal, state, and local governments and some corporate funding from automakers. Says David Friedman, of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Clean Vehicles program, “The Obama administration should ignore this industry-advocate propaganda piece and focus on setting the strongest vehicle efficiency and global warming pollution standards based on credible scientific analysis.”

The center insists the study was not commissioned by the auto industry and consisted of data and information acquired from the National Research Council and J.D. Power and Associates. The center also claims that the estimated costs they presented were considered conservative by two automakers that analyzed the study.

Environmentalists also claim costs to make vehicles more fuel efficient will decrease as new technologies are developed. For example, some experts believe the new “P2” hybrid systems used in current hybrid versions of the Volkswagen Touareg, Infiniti M35, and Hyundai Sonata offer the same fuel economy as the hybrid system in the Toyota Prius, but can cost up to a third less.

The Obama administration has estimated a 47 mpg standard would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent and a 62 mpg standard would reduce emissions by 6 percent. The 62 mpg standard has been supported by 17 U.S. Senators, who wrote a letter last month expressing their support for higher mpg requirements.

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/foot-slogger/1328074340/

Japan Launches “Super Cool Biz” Campaign To Cut Electricity Usage

Well known for their strict office attire of a suit, dress shirt, and tie, Japan’s salarymen and office workers are urged by the government to dress more lightly to cut down on air conditioning usage and electricity costs. After the recent earthquake and tsunami, Environmental Minister Ryu Matsumoto kicked off the “Super Cool Biz” campaign, which included a fashion show, to help ease energy demands on the country’s power plants. The recent disasters left the nuclear plant at Fukushima in an inoperative state, putting stress on the rest of the country’s energy sources. If energy consumption is not decreased, officials say power shortages are likely to occur. Matsumoto estimates that energy consumption must be reduced by 15% to avoid power blackouts.

Super Cool Biz calls on company heads and their employees to change their choice of attire when going to work, especially in the summertime. Clothes can be more comfortable to wear, but, at the same time, appropriate to wear in an office setting. Also, companies are encouraged to set room temperatures at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit).

The idea of ditching the suit, dress shirt, and tie to save the environment is not a new concept. The original “Cool Biz” campaign was started in 2005, after the Kyoto Protocol was established. Yuriko Koike, Japan’s environmental minister at the time, suggested salarymen to avoid wearing jackets and ties to work. This would reduce the need for air conditioners and the energy savings would contribute towards the 6% reduction in greenhouse gasses the Kyoto Protocol requires.

Adding the word “Super” to the original Cool Biz campaign, the government wishes attain a higher goal with the current Super Cool Biz campaign when it comes to energy savings, by furthermore relaxing the dress code for office workers.

A fashion show organized by an environmental group and sponsored by the government was held at a department store in Tokyo to show sample outfits. Not only did models display summertime attire suitable for the office, but government officials also took part in the fashion show. Current Environmental Minister Matsumoto and three of the previous environmental ministers, Yuriko Koike, Tetsuo Saito, and Sakihito Ozawa, wore “Kariyushi” shirts. These shirts can be called Okinawa’s version of Hawaiian shirts. Since Okinawa typically has warmer weather than other areas in Japan, Kariyushi clothing is made of fabric that is more comfortable to wear in warmer weather. They feature special printed designs such as floral patterns, shisaa temple guardians, or even traditional Okinawan arts.

The campaign promotes other creative ways to beat the heat, whether at the office or not. Matsumoto suggests eating foods and drinking beverages that have cooling effects on the body. As an old proverb says, “In summer, eat foods that are sour to cool the body.” Also, a common drink available at restaurants in Japan is roasted barley water, served hot. Despite being served hot, it is favored in Japan because barley has been widely known to lower internal body heat.

Additionally, Matsumoto suggests using cooling pads, similar to the ones used for headaches, fevers, and sore muscles and joints. Also, employees should try to reduce their overtime hours and try working from home, if possible. And if given the opportunity for a vacation during the summer, employees should not hesitate and use that time to relax.

Despite the environmental benefits of the Super Cool Biz campaign, there is some opposition, especially among those more conservative. Afraid of looking different than the majority of their co-workers, some people that have supported the campaign would bring a tie or a pair of dress pants to change into once they arrive at work. Also, officials at Iwate feel that seeing office workers wearing jeans to work would make visitors feel “uncomfortable”.

However, as Matsumoto states, Super Cool Biz is more that just preventing potential power shortages this coming summer, but also a change in traditional lifestyles for the benefit of the environment. Says Matsumoto, “This is a big movement in which Japan is not only trying to survive this summer but to change its own lifestyle for the future.”

Photo credit: flickr.com/photos/eerkmans/3409565410/

White House Promotes Energy Efficiency Ratings and Advice

November 9, 2010
By: GreenAnswers Staff

Vice President Biden, along with Energy Secretary Chu, announced the launch of the “Home Energy Score” pilot program aimed at helping citizens understand how energy-efficient their homes are. A report will provide homeowners with a home energy score between 1 and 10. Homeowners can also view how their energy efficiency compares to other homes in their region.

Secretary Chu stated that “the Home Energy Score will help make energy efficiency easy and accessible to America’s families by providing them with straightforward and reliable information about their homes’ energy performance and specific, cost-effective energy efficiency improvements that will save them money on their monthly energy bills.”

The report will also provide estimated savings from weatherization and other energy efficiency projects, as well as providing a customized list of recommended efficiency upgrades.

The pilot programs will begin in cities including Omaha and Minneapolis, among others. After the pilot programs are completed, a nationwide rollout of the program will occur in 2011. 

Acquiring a Home Energy Score entails a short visit from a qualified specialist who will provide custom advice on how to cut the homeowner’s energy bills.

 

Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency, Cathy Zoi explains the Home Energy Score.

Environmental Benefits of Working and Shopping From Home Are Questioned

[img_assist|nid=193919|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=200]Sept. 17, 2010 (GreenAnswers) – Working from home and buying goods online is not necessarily more environmentally friendly, according to a study recently released. The study was conducted by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, a British professional body for those working in engineering and technology.

The IET study found that certain actions, previously believed to be beneficial to the environment, might actually have unintended consequences that overshadow those benefits. Specifically, the study found that shoppers must buy at least 25 items in a single online purchase in order to receive any environmental benefits. Otherwise, the energy required to send a delivery truck to that person’s home could outweigh the benefit of that person not driving themselves.

Additionally, the study also notes that buying goods online is more efficient only if it replaces three and a half traditional shopping trips or if the distance traveled to the point of purchase is more than 31 miles.

The study also looked at telecommuters, concluding that working from home can actually lead to a 30% increase in energy consumption. This is because working from home does not spread energy resources across a group, as is done in an office setting, and it also encourages workers to live in the suburbs, which contributes to urban sprawl and increased transportation needs.

Although some of the conclusions of the study are disheartening, the chairman of the panel that produced the report, Professor Phil Blythe, warned “we must not get overwhelmed by the task and use rebound effects as an excuse not to act.”