Archive for the ‘Sustainable Cities’ Category

The 2050 City

In this TEDxYouth@MSC video, architect Gregory Kiss walks us through the next 38 years, in which the world’s urban population is expected to double. This shift, emphasizes Kiss, means that cities are where the “future environmental footprint of the world is going to be defined.”

After acknowledging the world’s most important renewable resource, The Youth (or, to his young audience, “you guys”), Kiss goes on to talk about all the other renewable resources we’re going to have to rely on in the year 2050.

Kiss has been working in “the art and technology of environmentally responsible architecture” for over 20 years, founding Kiss + Cathcart Architects in 1983. And he seems to have spent much of that time wondering – is it possible to build a truly sustainable city? One that generates its own energy renewably and provides its own food and water sustainably? During his TEDx talk, Kiss shows a slide with a picture of a city inside a dome: “Now we’re not suggesting that we want to build cities in domes,” he laughs, “but we’d like to see if it’s possible to have cities that perform that way.”

Kiss then walks us through modern day NYC’s use of the resources necessary to sustain such a city. The most striking set of slides first shows a pea sized spec on the map that represents the aggregated acreage of fields used to grow the vegetables eaten in NYC (data is for 2010). Kiss then jumps to a slide showing a basket-ball sized circle representing the amount of land is used to grow the vegetables that feed the animals that we eat.

But the slides are meant less as a scare tactic and more for baseline comparison. Kiss projects that by 2050 – through improvements in technology (solar panels, hydroponics) – we can shrink the geographic requirements for all these energy needs to an almost city-sized scale.

Kiss goes on to talk about some real-life projects he is working on in NYC that include adding features such as solar panels, rain gardens and green roofs to existing infrastructure, with varying results (one project generated about 25% of its own energy, while another was paying energy back into the system with 108% “energy independence”.)

His grand finale is a series of slides showing the design for a non-real project that he developed for a museum. It is an impressive, sustainable, and beautiful “mini-city” housed in a building that incorporates greenhouses, helicopter landing pads, movie theaters, wind turbines, and more.

The talk is worth a watch – it’s aimed towards kids, so don’t expect anything revolutionary, but seeing Kiss bristle with a restrained excitement and an optimism for our future is absolutely inspiring. It’s a great reminder that there are smart folks out there working on the kind of real-world problems that face us in the next few decades.

Private Financing for Energy-Saving Retrofits on the Horizon

Photo by aylamillerntor. Some rights reserved.

As we posted in June, President Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative updated tax incentives aimed to encourage retrofitting buildings to reduce energy bills. Although considered the “low-hanging fruit” of carbon reduction, financing of commercial building retrofits for energy efficiency has largely remained in the realm of public subsidies. Opening the floodgates of private financing could expand the scale and reach of such projects, and a study released Tuesday by the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation aims to nudge lenders to do just that.

Energy savings projections have accompanied building and financing proposals for some time, but loan underwriters have long looked at these projections with a skeptical eye, rarely incorporating them into underwriting models. There are no consolidated results showing energy savings from subsidized retrofitting projects – around since the Carter administration – nor from the Energy Star programs run by utilities across the country, leaving little data for the underwriting models of financial institutions. Similarly, energy audits are not usually subject to follow-ups and are subject to little accountability. Which is where the Deutsche Bank study comes in.

Analyzing the accuracy and reliability of energy audits associated with more than 230 apartment building retrofitting projects in New York City, the study offers data to instill a measure of confidence in lenders who have generally been reluctant to underwrite energy savings. The Foundation touts that their data-driven findings lay the foundation for lenders and builders to collaborate to develop standards for reporting, best practices, and energy monitoring. The New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation will take this next step, using the data to pilot underwriting guidelines as a starting point for the first transactions that underwrite energy-saving projects.

Accompanying the study is a companion document summarizing the wide ranging benefits of energy efficiency retrofits for building owners and tenants. A New York Times article from June describes the demand for the Deutsche Bank study, and a November article covers some of its early findings.

Solar PV Modules and Masdar City

Yesterday the Department of Energy announced its dedication to collaboration with Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s “multifaceted renewable energy initiative,” in the testing of new solar photovoltaic coatings designed to address moisture and cementation problems “faced by PV module producers worldwide.”

However, specifics in the press release about the solar PV coating technologies ended there. The following seven paragraphs went on to extol only the benefits of the cross-border cooperation. The partnership was cemented last year, when the DOE and Masdar signed a Memorandum of Understanding pledging to work collaboratively to “develop viable renewably energy solutions.”

Masdar Headquarters Model. Photo by Imre Solt. Some rights reserved.

And how has this work manifested? Masdar’s most impressive project (developed in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) has to be Masdar City, an “ambitious but achievable” sustainable urban development where such renewable energy solutions can be “showcased, marketed, researched, developed, tested and implemented.” The solar PV coating announcement took place at the solar test field located within the city.

The city aims for carbon neutrality, through a combination of low-carbon-footprint building practices and significant carbon offsets. Ten years after the completion of the final phase of the project (currently estimated to be around 2025), the city also hopes to operate with absolutely zero waste going to landfill by a vigorous system of composting, recycling, and various “waste to energy” processes. Masdar City will also rely entirely on renewable energy.

In a region where sunny summer temperatures routinely surpass 110 degrees, solar PV modules will be put to good use. And who will be building and operating the solar power plant in Masdar City? A quick search on knowledgemosaic’s SEC Filings page reveals a Form 6-K and attached press release naming TOTAL S.A. and Abengoa Solar as joint partners with Masdar in the venture.

While many of the project’s goals are a long way from being realized, the bold innovation and enthusiasm driving Masdar make it a great sustainable star for the DOE to hitch its wagon to. No surprise, then, that TOTAL S.A.’s stock climbed more than 10% in the week following their announcement.

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