Sunday, October 21, 2007

Energy Efficiency- District Heating/Public Buildings

I found the two readings, “Energy Efficiency and Renewables” and Chapter 9 in Green Urbanism to be extremely useful. As I was reading these chapters, I kept thinking about how the different tools discussed could be applied to my own community. I decided to look into district more in depth, since before doing these readings I had never even heard of this method. So, I used Wikipedia (don’t judge! The article is referenced), and I now I better understand the concept of this system. Say you have a regular steam-electric power plant, where electricity is generated through the burning of fossil fuels to create steam to move a turbine. In this traditional mode of production, the process converts only 47% of the fuel into electricity; the rest is lost as heat, which gets dissipated into the plant’s surroundings. With districting heating, a cogeneration plant is used. In cogeneration, the heat that usually gets lost is trapped and used to heat homes nearby. The heat is transferred through insulated pipes, either in the form of hot water or steam. While this form of power generation does greatly reduce the amount of fuel needed to power and heat homes, it is very expensive to install. District heating would be practical in a new community with high density, but to implement it in an existing low density suburb would be silly.

One of the problems district heating is experiencing in the United States is that it is poorly funded and maintained by power plants. As a result, the quality of the systems has deteriorated and not as many people get their heat through cogeneration plants. However, “Energy Efficiency” mentions the fact that district heating doesn’t necessarily need a power plant to be viable. For instance, a new hospital or school could include a higher capacity heater, and the excess heat produced by the new building could be distributed to nearby residential developments. This is particularly significant to proposed communities like the SouthWest project in Ithaca. A district heating system could be installed in a community center or other public building and then used to power the more high-density buildings. The heating system could be community owned and operated, leading to greater neighborhood capacity and sustainability.

I really like the idea of using public buildings to set examples for the rest of an area. In Green Urbanism, the author mentions Colorado’s Rooftop for Schools Program. Besides setting a positive example, a program like this has the potential to help generate revenues for an area that can always use extra funds. While researching wind energy for my group project, I ran across an elementary school that installed a single windmill and was able to sell the excess energy it generated back into the power grid. The profit was used to make improvements to the school and generally create a better learning environment for the students. This whole bit got me thinking about the possibilities of installing solar roofs on public schools in Baltimore County and what that would mean for not just the schools, but the entire county. Parents would become more aware of solar options, and individual solar units might not seem as futuristic and unattainable.

Green Urbanism mentions how cities in Europe compete with each other for the title of most solar-oriented, and I feel that his type of mentality could easily be applied to the state of Maryland. Counties are constantly competing with each other for business and population, so why not compete with each other for leadership in sustainable options like solar power? Howard County has already appointed itself as the leading green county, and I have a feeling other county executives won’t be far behind in trying to claim this title.

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