2014 EARTH DAY
Earth Day 2014 will focus on the unique environmental challenges of our time. As the world’s population migrates to cities, and as the bleak reality of climate change becomes increasingly clear, the need to create sustainable communities is more important than ever. Earth Day 2014 will seek to do just that through its global theme: Green Cities. With smart investments in sustainable technology, forward-thinking public policy, and an educated and active public, we can transform our cities and forge a sustainable future. Nothing is more powerful than the collective action of a billion people.
As a teacher my goal was not just to increase awareness with my children about environmental issues but to encourage them to take action. Earth Day reminds us that planned and thoughtful action is necessary if we are going to ensure a more ‘healthy’ planet is left for future generations. As more and more people move to cities around the world we have an urgent task to challenge the old ideas of ‘growth is good’ with a seemingly impossible task of solving traffic movements during peak times and people choking on highly toxic pollution during their daily work. These problems of urban living have been with us for decades -we can get people on the moon, but we cannot solve the problem of polluted air and water, the lack of a roof over peoples’ heads, availability and affordability of fresh and nutritious food and decent health facilities for all. We need to wake up and apply ourselves to new actions and be part of the solution not just being more aware of the problems.
Take Action – some ideas (just click on the the titles)
Look at this great resource from breathing earth - an continuously updated map of the world, illustrating minute by minute CO2 emissions.
What about online action -helping cities become ‘greener’?
and a few specific examples of city action:
A New Kind of Solar Panel
A German architect by the name of André Broessel is totally redesigning traditional photovoltaic (PV) solar panels. Broessel designed and built the world’s first “Solar Orb,” that, according to him, is 35% more efficient at converting solar energy into electricity. As the architect himself puts it, “For the last 40 years we have tried to capture [solar] energy with PV panels, but the earth is moving around the sun, and the fixed panel is losing its efficiency.” So to address the problem, Broessel designed a glass orb positioned on a stand like that which a globe sits on, allowing the orb to rotate 360 degrees in any direction.
Inside the glass orb, on one end is a convex lens, also called a ball lens, and on the other end is a small array of solar panels and a stirling engine. The orb works by tracking the sun with its lens, and concentrating the light into the PV receptor behind the lens. Broessel claims that the orb can produce up to four times more electricity than conventional PV panels on cloudy days, and can concentrate sunlight and even moonlight up to 10,000 times.
According to Mark Thurber, Associate Director of Energy and Sustainable Development at Stanford University, “the most intriguing renewable energies are those that have the most room to improve.” Since typical flat PV panels only convert about 20% of the solar energy they get from the light that hits them into electricity, it is safe to say that the solar energy industry has much room to improve. André Broessel and his company, Rawlemon, are currently trying to raise another $120,000 for further testing and patent applications, as the solar orb is still very much in its prototype phase, but there is a strong possibility that Broessel’s new design may be the future of solar energy.
Image Credit: © Raw Lemon
Bhutan Cutting Fossil Fuel Imports by 70%
You may not have heard of Bhutan, the small, mountainous state in the Himalayas, but the country is making headlines when officials announced that they plan to cut fossil fuel imports by 70%. By using a variety of initiatives to achieve this ambitious goal, Bhutan will surely be one of the greenest countries on the planet.
In the summer of 2012, Bhutan announced that they plan to employ 100% organic agriculture techniques by 2015. Now, Nissan made a partnership with Bhutan, to further green the country, sandwiched between some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, China and India. Nissan will contract the EV Leaf to make Bhutan’s new taxi and government vehicle fleet. This will account for 15% of all of Bhutan’s vehicles and 3.5% of all the Leafs that Nissan has sold worldwide.
This is such a significant move because Bhutan is a huge exporter of hydroelectric from their 27 hydropower plants, but they still need to import crude petroleum to power things like transportation and residential electricity sectors. By greatly reducing the need to import fossil fuels, other neighboring nations, like China and India will need to supply less. According to Nissan press release, “The country currently only uses 5% of the clean power it produces, exporting the majority to India. But almost all of the revenue earned from selling electricity is spent on fuel imported from India to run the nation’s existing vehicles, which number some 36,000 vehicles in Thimphu alone.”
And in Mexico:
Mexico City’s Plan Verde
Previously known as one of the world’s most polluted cities, Mexico City is cleaning up its act, starting with Plan Verde (Green Plan). This 15-year initiative began in 2007, and is backed by the United Nations and the World Bank. Plan Verde aims to set aside approximately 8% of the city’s annual budget for implementing extensive and ambitious initiatives to make the city more environmentally friendly. These initiatives cover many topics of sustainability, but the main focus is on improving air quality and reducing traffic. Environmental awareness has been expanding throughout Mexico as efforts are made to preserve water supply, increase renewable energy production, and protect endangered species. Mexico City is leading the country in its environmental endeavors.
As a part of Plan Verde, citizens are being encouraged to bike, and avoid driving on certain days of the week to cut down the amount of emissions caused by congested streets. “Ecobici” rental bikes are being installed throughout the city as well. The Mexican government also has plans to expand the already extensive subway system, expand their new Metrobus system, and replace old taxis with more efficient vehicles through Plane Verde’s PROAIRE program.
Another part of Plan Verde focuses on land management. Successful implementation of programs like Bajo Puentes (Below Bridges) shows just how much can be done to change a city’s landscape. Through Bajo Puentes, businesses are setting up shop below the numerous underpasses that had become dangerous, illegal trash-dumping sites as well as campgrounds for the homeless. This plan leases land to businesses below the market value, under the conditions that they clean up the underpasses, and leave 50% of the underpass space open to the public. Outside of the city, Plan Verde has placed 13,600 hectares of land under protection as well as implementing a re-forestation project as part of initiatives created to protect the ever decreasing water table.
Thanks to these developments, Mexico City has received the highest ranking for environmental governance in the Siemens Green City Index for Latin America (2010). Mexico City’s valiant new attempts certainly serve as an example for other major cities of the world to follow as they continue to move towards a sustainable future.
Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Emissions-Free Transportation in Masdar City
Abu Dhabi has set out to create the world’s most sustainable and eco-friendly development project. It’s called Masdar City. The two-square-mile project aims to be almost entirely carbon-neutral, zero waste to landfill, and car-free. Masdar City will eventually be home to 1,500 businesses, 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters.
According to Masdar City’s website, “It is a community where cutting-edge cleantech research and development, pilot projects, technology testing, and construction on some of the world’s most sustainable buildings are all ongoing.”
There will be no fossil fuel-burning cars in Masdar City. Instead, the city is designed to encourage walking whenever possible. It’s also equipped with a Personal Rapid Transit system (PRT) and a Freight Rapid Transit System (FRT). Both systems consist of “electric-powered, automated, single-cabin vehicles” that are powered entirely by renewable energy. The vehicles use Lithium-Phosphate batteries and are capable of traveling about 60 kilometers on a 1.5-hour charge.
The PRT will contain 3,000 vehicles, which will make 130,000 trips per day to 85 stations. The FRT, meanwhile, will make 5,000 trips per day, each one with more than 3,000 pounds of freight.
Masdar City will likely complete construction between 2020 and 2025.
Africa’s Largest Wind Farm
Investment in Africa’s renewable energy potential is starting to pick up. The Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia—the continent’s largest wind farm—is officially open for business. The 120-megawatt wind farm has already transferred about 90 million kilowatt hours of electricity to the grid. Now that it’s at full capacity, it’s expected to contribute 400 million kilowatt hours per year.
The 84-turbine farm is located 18 kilometers outside the city of Mekelle—780 kilometers north of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Two other wind farms in Ethiopia—Adama I and Adama II—were also recently completed. Each has 51 megawatts of capacity.
“Various studies have proved that there is potential to harness abundant wind energy resources in every region of Ethiopia,” said Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. “We cannot maintain growth without utilizing the energy sector.”
The Ashegoda wind farm is a big step forward for Ethiopia, a country considered to be ripe for renewable energy investment. With this in mind, the country has instituted a development plan to boost its generating capacity from 2,000 MW to 10,000 MW over the next 5 years.
Ethiopia is leading the way in renewable energy generation in Africa.
Can we make green buildings for the future?
Living Proof: Thinking Outside the Box at the Bullitt Center
By DENIS HAYES
When the Bullitt Foundation determined to create the greenest commercial building in the world, we embarked on a quest that was ridiculously ambitious but enormously rewarding. I’d assumed that the toughest challenge would be to build a zero net energy six-story building in Seattle—the cloudiest city in the lower 48. That was indeed difficult, but probably not the hardest of the goals we set out to meet.
In a flight of rhetoric, I told the architects that I wanted them to do for buildings what the 707 did for commercial aircraft, what the first Macintosh did for personal computers, what the Prius did for automobiles. I wanted the Bullitt Center to redefine the whole category.
The instrument we chose toward that end was the Living Building Challenge. Like the X Prize (but, alas, without the monetary award), the LBC lays out a set of “stretch goals” that are so difficult that many people believed them to be impossible in a building of commercial scale located downtown in a major city. The requirements (which fill a small book) include:
Energy. A Living Building must generate as much energy on-site each year as it uses. Other than low-grade heat, all its energy is electricity. Nothing can be burned in a Living Building.
Water. A Living Building must use only the rain it can collect on its roof to meet all its water needs, including potable drinking water. Treated gray water must be returned to the hydrological cycle right on site.
Healthfulness. A Living Building must be constructed without using 362 common building materials that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, endocrine disrupting, or otherwise harmful to humans and other forms of life. The building contains more than 1,000 components that had to be screened.
Wood. All wood in a Living Building must either be recycled or come from forests certified to meet the very high standards of the Forest Stewardship Council.
Human Waste. A Living Building must use only composting toilets. We could not find any other examples of composting toilets in six-story buildings.
Figuring that this would probably be the only large building I would ever have the chance to develop, I decided to push the envelope even further than the LBC required:
Biomimicry. The Bullitt Center does not look at all like an organism, but it functions like one. It has a brain and nervous system that determine whether the windows should be open or closed, whether the external shutters should be raised or lowered, whether lights should be on or off. Occupants can override these systems, but only for a half hour at a time. The Center is a strong-willed building that, like a life form, always seeks homeostasis.
Durability. I set a design life of 250 years. The planned obsolescence built into large modern buildings is obscene, a triumph of net present value methodology over common sense.
Cars. The Bullitt Center can be easily accessed by bases, trolley, and light rail; it has ample parking for bicycles (and two showers on every floor). However, the Center has no parking lot for automobiles.
Exercise. The upper floors of the Center are serviced by an efficient, regenerative elevator. It is fully ADA compliant, with easy access to people with disabilities and those carrying heavy loads. However, the Center also has a glass-enclosed “irresistible stairway” with great views of the Olympic Mountains. The stairway lures most people to climb.
Lighting. To the greatest extent possible, the Center is daylit. We Homo sapiens have spent 99 percent of our existence on this planet responding to circadian rhythms and to full spectrum sunshine. We are happiest, healthiest, and most productive in natural daylight. Most of the Center’s artificial lighting is full spectrum LEDs. Still, I didn’t need to turn on a lamp (except in the men’s room) between April and the end of September.
We chose the members of the senior team—Miller Hull, PAE, Point 32, Schuchart Construction, and Solar Design Associates—for their demonstrated talent and creativity, but also for their ability to play well with others. We employed an integrated design process, with diverse charettes before beginning the design process. Professor Rob Pena from the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab attended weekly meetings of the entire team for more than two years.
Net Positive Energy
We determined the maximum surface area that could be covered with solar panels, the maximum efficiency then available in commercial panels, and the average insolation per year. We persuaded the city to create an ordinance providing for “solar canopies,” allowing arrays to extend over public sidewalks. Solar Design Associates calculated that, in an average year, our 570 SunPower E19 245-watt modules yield a maximum capacity of 242kWp to generate about 257,000 kWh annually. We built in a buffer of 27,000 kWh and set 230,000 kWh as the energy budget for the building. In architectural terms, for a building with about 50,000 square feet, that translates to an energy use intensity (EUI, expressed asKBtu/ft2) of 16.
Putting that in context, the average existing commercial building in Seattle has an EUI in the low 90s. A new building built to code would be in the low 50s. A LEED Platinum building with all its energy credits would be in the low 30s. An EUI of 16 was a challenge. But we blasted right past it!
PAE of Portland, our principal engineering firm, decided to expand into Seattle, and wanted to locate in Bullitt Center. After carefully measuring the energy consumption per employee in Portland, they found they’d have to reduce electricity use by about 70 percent. They selected computers, monitors, printers, copier and task lightsfor the Seattle office to use as little energy as possible. The new standard computer setup, with a thin client server and two monitors/desk uses, only 17 percent as much energy as the system it replaces—with no loss of computing power or functionality.
The Center is still undergoing commissioning. The third floor is heated and lit, but it has not yet been leased and occupied. Some tenants are still building their staffs and moving toward full occupancy. And the first three tenants arrived only about Earth Day (April 22), 2013. Therefore our dataset is limited. Even so, it offers some insights.
The solar equipment, installed under the deeply experienced guidance of Steven Strong, performs as expected. When the sun shines, it generates power. For the eight months through December 31, it produced almost exactly as much power as predicted.
The surprises were on the demand side. During those eight months, the Center used only about half as much energy as expected, for an astonishing EUI of 8.4! During these eight months, a six story building in cloudy Seattle produced more than twice as much power from sunshine as the building used.
But this must be taken with a grain of salt. It includes spring, summer, and autumn when Seattle’s sunshine is most abundant, but not winter, and the Center was not fully occupied. One of the six floors had no tenant (we kept it heated and lit, but there were no plug loads) and two of the other floors were not completely full. After another year of operation, we will have a much clearer sense of how the completed and fully-tenanted building operates, and But at this point, it appears likely to prove a stunning success.
Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, is board chair of the Earth Day Network.
This is an edited version of an article that appears in the March-April 2014 edition of SOLAR TODAY magazine.
Some education resources from EDUTOPIA:
The Bucket Buddies Project calls for students around the world to collect water samples from local ponds to answer the question: “Are the organisms found in pond water the same all over the world?” The lesson plans allow students to identify microinvertebrates in their water sample, share their findings on the web site, and analyze the data.
The Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program is NASA’s hands-on science program that allows classrooms to connect with scientists and science students from around the world. Schools can join their Student Climate Research Campaign and connect with classrooms near and far. While conducting science investigations and sharing their climate science studies, students will be inspired to look at climate-related environmental issues and Earth as a system.
ProjectExplorer and STEM Learning
ProjectExplorer’s library of two-to-four-minute videos was created to introduce students to the features that make diverse cultures and countries so fascinating. Start at the homepage by choosing your learning level (e.g., Upper Elementary), pick a spot on the globe that has a project marker, and take off. For example, in the Mauritius series, learn how the island was formed, about the science and the ancient origins of the helicopter, how mineral deposits created gorgeous multi-colored sand found only on that island, how fish breathe, and more. Supplement your “travels” in this series by tapping into National Geographic’s new Geo-Educator Community.
The Daffodil and Tulip Project
The Daffodil and Tulip Project was started by iEARN, which works to connect schools and teachers across the planet, and has a bank of great collaborative project ideas. This project offers a science/math/writing/friendship experience that can be as simple or as complicated as a classroom is ready to take on. Classrooms around the world choose daffodil and/or tulip bulbs to plant during the same week in November. Students collect temperature data throughout the experiment, including when blooms appear, and report their results — both to their classmates and to their partner classes in other locales. For Earth Day, you can compare the bulbs in your community to postings made by ongoing project participants.
This project’s description page shows participation from Jamaica, Israel, Iran and the United States. iEARN reports:
Participants enjoy interacting together while “waiting” for the blooms. Students have opportunities to use math skills, such as graphing, converting metric to English or the reverse, temperature conversions F to C and the reverse. In addition, they strengthen and practice science skills, i.e. hypothesizing what effects bloom date, collecting data, comparing and analyzing data. Also, students learn the importance of establishing and following a scientific protocol. The ultimate goal of the project is to promote building connections between students and their teachers, considering what affects plant growth, and peace!
Incorporate Global Lessons
Challenge yourself to turn any elementary science unit you’re studying into a vehicle for learning more about the wider world. For example, while teaching the water cycle and water conservation, see Teach UNICEF, Water.org