Monday, October 22, 2007

Renewable Energy: Solar Urban Development

This week we were asked to choose a particular project, place or method that attracts us and do some in depth research. In the first assigned reading, Beatley provides some examples of European cities where urban development is being designed with solar energy “at its core”. These examples give environmentalists some hope that achieving their goal of incorporating solar energy as an element of the central design is not completely impossible. One town/project that was particularly attractive to me was the city of Linz, where planners created a design for a new solar city in the early 1990’s and they predicted that residents would occupy it in 2001. According to the city’s website, in 1992 the famous Austrian planner Roland Rainer was commissioned by the municipality to create a new regional urban plan for the Linz-Pichling residential neighborhood. One year later, the city set aside funds to conduct solar studies that would be tested in the new Linz-Pichling homes. In 1994, just two years after the initial comprehensive plan, the city’s most prominent non profit construction firms expressed their intentions to fund the planning and development of low energy homes in the Pichling district. One year later eight other firms committed to the project of constructing low energy residential areas in the Pichling district. This growing project was assigned to a team of planners, architects, and engineers who have been pioneers in sustainable development throughout their careers. The final plans were completed last year and construction has begun on what some consider the “city within a city” Solar City Linz. A note about the parameters for this sustainable energy efficient development: construction and design will achieve maximum possible density, maximum use, traffic routes that promote pedestrian and cycle traffic (the entire development will be closed to motor and vehicle traffic), individual homes will be built to make the most efficient use of space with green houses and winter gardens, and the development will also demand active citizen participation in that residents will be responsible for taking care of the development and other adjacent areas including public spaces. The most innovative aspect of this development is that the homes and other buildings will not be a part of the city’s electricity grid; instead, they will generate their own energy with solar installations that will eventually allow this development to be energy independent and even return surplus energy back to the city’s electricity grid. This solar urban development has ultimately become an example of how a solar energy community can be created and sustained. Beatley provides an overview of this inspiring example and through further research I was able to explore exactly how amazing this solar city within a city is developing. This example fits nicely into our class discussion and the topics that we have explored so far. The most pertinent aspect of this project, a reality that I continue to readdress, is the differences between implementing environmentally friendly and sustainable development in America and in Europe. There are real differences in process and even more real limitations in America that I don’t think are present in Europe. Just look at the timeline of the development in Linz-Puchling. Although construction is taking some time, the process of creating a comprehensive plan that incorporated innovative environmentally friendly development, allocating funds to the project, and getting a serious commitment from developers, the city and residents took less than 5 years. In reality this type of innovative solar urban development would be resisted in any American city. In American cities there isn’t a real concrete unwavering commitment to green development and protecting the environment. What I think I learned most from this example in Linz is exactly what I am being constantly reminded of in this course. Cities that are implementing innovative plans for “green urbanism” are doing so because they want to. American cities are failing because we don’t want to implement these types of innovative plans. It's really that simple. Unfortunately, there are real implications caused by our lack of desire to change, which include things like global warming and complete natural resource depletion. And of course the list goes on......and on....and on

Community Based Participatory Research

What is "Participatory Research" and why is it valuable?

"To be effective, researchers need feedback from the community about its needs," says Dr. Carol Horowitz of Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "It is important that community groups be clear about their priorities. It's really common sense," she says. "Don't go into a community to fix something unless you've asked them what they need. You can't fix people—you have to work with people."

How Is Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Different?

In CBPR, the community memebers play a direct role in the design and conduct of the research study.

This process is accomplished by:
  • Bringing community members into the study as partners, not just subjects.
  • Using the knowledge of the community to understand problems and to design activities to improve interventions.
  • Connecting community members directly with how the research is done and what comes out of it.
  • Providing immediate benefits from the results of the research to the community that participated in the study.
  • In CBPR, community members are also involved in getting the word out about the research and promoting the use of the research findings. This involvement can help improve the quality of life and health care in the community by putting new knowledge in the hands of those who need to make changes.

This was taken from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality website:

10/22/2007 Renewables

The issue of renewable energy actually seems to me to be the most achievable of all the topics we've discussed so far in class. There are a few reasons: in the end, the financial cost is much less when using renewables, people have been researching this very well and it seems like most of the available ideas are well thought out and feasible, people have been working on this apparently since the seventies or eighties, and the equity question seems more easily dealt with when organizing public access to power.

Basic public education on these matters as well as advertising on TV and radio, would initially help to encourage people's interest in switching to renewable energy, both in private homes and businesses and publicly. I feel like once people understand that they will, in the end, save a lot of money, they will be excited and begin the process.

For some reason, I think there has been a lot more solid research into renewable energy sources. Many of the examples proposed in the chapter "Energy Efficiency and Renewables" were presented with concrete examples where they've been used in places.

None of this is all that new, so I'm curious why many things haven't been implemented. Is it like the case of cars and transportation? In that case, people are seemingly addicted to the use of the car and the automobile industry has powerful lobbies. Perhaps energy companies also have such strong lobbies, but the people-addiction problem doesn't exist in the same way.

Really the difference is that switching to renewable energy will not directly and actually change the routines and habits of the people. It will change the way power gets to their homes. I see this as an achievable goal, and I can't figure out why it hasn't happened yet.

*Leading Authority on Climate Change **To Lecture at Cornell Plantations*

Here is a copy of a recent email annoucement for an interesting lecture at Cornell:

*FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 22, 2007*
Contact: Kevin Moss, Community Outreach Coordinator
Phone: 607-254-7430
*Leading Authority on Climate Change **To Lecture at Cornell Plantations*
* *
ITHACA, N.Y. — David Wolfe, professor of plant ecology in the Department
of Horticulture at Cornell University, will deliver the lecture “Climate
Change and our Gardens, Farms, and Natural Landscapes” on Wednesday,
November 7th. The lecture will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the Alice
Statler Auditorium in Statler Hall, on the Cornell University campus.
Dr. Wolfe’s presentation is part of the annual Fall Lecture Series
offered by Cornell Plantations, and is free and open to the public.

Dr. Wolfe’s lecture will focus on the opportunities, risks, and
challenges for gardeners, farmers, and land managers as the climate of
the Northeast changes. He will discuss invasive insects, disease, and
weed pests, and their control; the effects on biodiversity in our
natural landscapes; how our forests are likely to change; and the risks
to our agricultural sector, particularly the fragile dairy industry. A
variety of ways in which individual gardeners can help mitigate
greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change will also be

David Wolfe currently serves on the advisory boards for Cornell
Plantations, the New York Water Resources Institute, and the New York
Department of Environmental Conservation Climate Change Planning
Committee. He is a leading authority on the effects of climate change
and rising atmospheric carbon dioxide on plants, soils, and ecosystems,
and has published numerous articles on this topic.

Cornell Plantations is the arboretum, botanical garden, and natural
areas of Cornell University, and is open free of charge to the public
during daylight hours. For more information about out upcoming fall
lectures, and other exciting tours, classes, and events throughout the
year, please visit our website at
, or call 607-255-2400.

Challenging the norm...

This week’s readings offered many examples on how to both spread renewable technologies as well as strike at the core of energy issues by reducing the overall energy load. These are very important topics that need to be discussed and implemented all over the world to combat both energy shortages as well as global warming.

There are many ways to implement renewable energies. These include the standard examples of wind farms and photovoltaic arrays but also include much more traditional processes such as cogeneration and district heating and cooling. The prior has already gained widespread attention but cogeneration is somehow missed by many when the discussion of alternative energy comes into play. Cogeneration is an extremely important process and involves taking the waste heat from electric generation and pumps this heat out to the surrounding areas to be used to heat homes and hot water. This heat is otherwise wasted which results in the standard power plant efficiency of around 30%. A 30% efficiency means that nearly ¾ of the fuel’s energy is lost to the environment and nothing productive has come of it. Though typical measures of improving the combustion cycle may increase this efficiency, no amount of reheating or superheating will bring this efficiency to anywhere even close to 50%. The reason is that most of this energy results in a gas or fluid that is too cold to produce any extra electricity. Cogeneration, however, has found a way to take advantage of this waste heat. Though the fluid is too cold to produce any more electricity, it is still very hot in people standards where a hot shower is no more than 110 degree F. Cogeneration plants run the waste fluid through a heat exchanger which removes a large amount of it’s energy. This heat is transferred over to a water or steam line where it can then be piped out to the surrounding homes and businesses. This allows the heat which is worthless in terms of electricity production to supplement all of the heating requirements of the consumer and by finding a use for this waste heat, efficiencies can more than double reaching 80%-90%. Cornell’s COGEN plant has been achieving around 80% efficiency and will approach 90% after it’s upgraded COGEN turbines are completed.

This past example only shows one half of the energy issue which is the generation, but does nothing to combat the actual energy usage. A number of programs around the country and world have started up to offer incentives to energy efficiency projects. Heating and cooling account for a large part (up to 50%) of the energy usage in buildings so many programs have been started which help pay for improvements in this area. These come in the form of insulation improvements, higher efficiency windows, and gas fired boilers to supplement electric heater are widely seen. It is important that these programs continue. Many of the people who incur the highest utility rates reside in lower quality homes where windows and walls are drafty and much of the heat is lost to the environment. Because these lower quality homes are often found in lower income areas, a huge chunk of the resident’s income goes to keeping his family safe. This coincides with the idea of “economic multipliers” which addresses the idea that utility rates suck an enormous amount of money out of the community and further it’s economic disparity. These lower economic places should be the focal point of energy efficiency programs so they can live more comfortably and spend less on their energy bill giving them the freedom to reinvest these savings in their local community.

There are a wide variety of ways in which to reduce fossil fuel dependence and combat global warming. Though I have only addressed a few here, it is vital to take advantage of any opportunity to improve efficiency and failure to do so will only further our problems.