San Diego’s Building Industry Association played host to an outstanding and dynamic presentation earlier this morning on the topic of energy and the 2016 California building codes that went into effect at the beginning of this year.

The panelists included a great mix of building professionals and thought leaders that don’t merely speculate on the impact of green building — they live it:

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Kevin Nute, writing for the Washington Post:

A building’s primary purpose may be to keep the weather out, but most of them do such an effective job of this that they also inadvertently deprive us of contact with two key requirements for our well-being and effectiveness: nature and change.

In the 1950s, Donald Hebb’s “arousal theory” established that people need a degree of changing sensory stimulation to remain fully attentive. And 30 years later, landmark research by health-care designer Roger Ulrich showed that hospital patients in rooms with views of nature had lower stress levels and recovered more quickly than patients whose rooms looked out at a brick wall.

Unfortunately, many buildings — especially in cities — are not blessed with green surroundings. I am part of a group of architects and psychologists at the University of Oregon that has been examining ways to overcome this problem using an aspect of nature available anywhere: the weather. Think of rippling sunlight reflecting from water onto the underside of a boat, or the dappled shadows from foliage swaying in a breeze. Other examples can be seen at vitalarchitecture.org.

How a building’s design, use of materials, the amount of natural air and light allowed, and — perhaps most importantly — how it is operated, all have measurable and well-established impacts on building occupants.

As Megan Fowler point out at ArchDaily in response, these concepts shouldn’t be reserved solely for new buildings, but in fact, we desperately need to apply them to the existing buildings that make up the vast majority of our building stock.

The dilemma of course, is how do you allow more weather in, while simultaneously protecting occupants (and sensitive building components) from that weather in order to comply with basic building code requirements? Besides integrating advanced technologies into the design and construction process, I predict this challenge will become critical to the future of our industry in coming years.

Bloomberg’s Mark Bergen reports:

Alphabet Inc.’s secretive X skunk works has another idea that could save the world. This one, code named Malta, involves vats of salt and antifreeze.

The research lab, which hatched Google’s driverless car almost a decade ago, is developing a system for storing renewable energy that would otherwise be wasted. It can be located almost anywhere, has the potential to last longer than lithium-ion batteries and compete on price with new hydroelectric plants and other existing clean energy storage methods, according to X executives and researchers.

Where does the salt and antifreeze come in?

Two tanks are filled with salt, and two are filled with antifreeze or a hydrocarbon liquid. The system takes in energy in the form of electricity and turns it into separate streams of hot and cold air. The hot air heats up the salt, while the cold air cools the antifreeze, a bit like a refrigerator. The jet engine part: Flip a switch and the process reverses. Hot and cold air rush toward each other, creating powerful gusts that spin a turbine and spit out electricity when the grid needs it. Salt maintains its temperature well, so the system can store energy for many hours, and even days, depending on how much you insulate the tanks.

Molten salt is the medium used for several high capacity solar energy production facilities, so it is a somewhat proven technology. Should be interesting to see what the real-world data shows as far as efficiency goes once this system goes online.

One very interesting tidbit from the article states that California discarded more than 300,000 megawatt hours of solar energy due to a lack of viable storage options.

Solar panels leveraging photovoltaic (PV) technology to convert sunlight into electricity are notoriously inefficient. According to research by the International Energy Agency, one way to improve PV efficiency is through the implementation of Statistical Performance Monitoring combined with some advanced machine-learning.

In their report, the researchers identified 4 different methodologies for improving solar panel efficiency, all of which depend on constant monitoring:

The first system for residential solar analytics was developed in Australia, where solar irradiation data is made available free of charge by the government. This system comprises a simple energy meter installed on the PV system feed into the electrical power‐distribution box that collects data. Using statistical analysis, the data on generated electricity is compared to an expected generation profile from the irradiation data and system configuration. The system owner has access to real‐ time electricity generation data and fault diagnosis that identifies issues and what to check if performance was not as expected.

The second system uses machine learning to predict next day’s hourly production by small residential systems for aggregation into virtual neighborhood power plants for the benefit of grid managers. This system requires only inverter data feed to the system server. The algorithms work on the inverter feed and meteorological prediction extracted from commercially available meteorological servers. No irradiation data or system configuration data is required. Applying these algorithms on yesterday’s weather history, as opposed to weather predictions, produces an immediate indication of system health. Tracking daily system health, which is simplified to qualitative ratings from A to F, enables even the smallest system to positively ascertain that the system is performing as expected or that a service call should be made.

Fault prediction is the topic of the third system described in this report, which is also based on machine‐learning algorithms. Clustering statistical methods are used to predict future faults that will affect power production. This system requires only an inverter data feed and access to historical meteorological data extracted from commercially available meteorological servers. No irradiation data or system configuration data is required. This system has proven so far to predict future 9 loss due to faults, though work continues to classify the specific fault that will occur in order to enable the owner to undertake appropriate preemptive corrective action.

The fourth method is only theoretical it seems, and involves “application of artificial neural networks.” That’s a topic for another time…

Too often, we as a civilization tend to view buildings — particularly the ones we live in — as disposable, impermanent and temporary. What if we could instead embrace what was built before us and add to  or modify it, instead of of tearing everything down to start over, or worse, spoiling undeveloped land.

Kate Reggev, writing for Dwell, highlights 4 projects that build on the ruins of previous structures:

While the English word ruin comes from the Latin “ruina”—meaning “destruction” or “downfall”—ruins can be the literal and figurative foundations for stunning new contemporary additions, insertions, and renovations.

Ruins have long been romanticized, praised, and studied; they attest to what once existed, to buildings that were formerly whole and functioning. During the Renaissance, ruins became the subject of observation and appreciation by the cultural elite, spawning the development of neoclassical ideals and architecture. Today, ruins are still seen as evocative, ethereal, and arresting, but they are also understood to be ripe for modern interpretations and additions where contemporary architectural language contrasts with history. Here, we take a look at four projects that incorporate existing ruins as functional and aesthetic elements in new, contemporary design.

California will require that all residential housing comply with zero net energy requirements beginning in 2020. My own personal conversations with many of the builders in Southern California points to a real reluctance — if not outright denial, in some cases — about meeting those goals.

Patrick Sisson, writing for Curbed, reports that across North America, it is clear that some builders are bucking the status quo resulting in some rather positive news:

According to a new report by the Net-Zero Energy Coalition, while its still on the fringe, this type of sustainable construction is rapidly gaining popularity. In 2016, 33 percent more net-zero units were built across the U.S. and Canada than the previous year. The 8,023 new single-family and multifamily units will eliminate the equivalent of 16,406 cars and 77,929 tons of CO2 emissions each year, versus buildings that met code compliance.

The majority of the new buildings, 61 percent, were part of larger, multi-unit projects. The largest multi-unit project (663 units, completed and occupied) and the largest single-family project (350 units, in design) are both at the University of California Davis’s West Village, a huge residential project that’s expected to grow substantially in the coming years due to expansion.

It should come as no surprise to longtime green building professionals that UC Davis is leading the way. The school has been home to many of the most pioneering green building benchmarking and best practices research over the past several decades.

Energy modeling is not exactly a brand new science, but it certainly hasn’t been around very long, either.

In essence, energy modeling is a software-based approach to predicting how much energy a given building will use based on its location, orientation, wall/roof/slab design, windows, doors, etc. In California, for example, energy modeling is a critical aspect of designing any project and carries a great deal of influence on the permitting process. In Europe, there are very real country-wide energy usage agreements that set measurable goals for building performance. (more…)

According to a press release by the University of British Columbia, researchers have developed a concrete formulation that includes recycled tires for a more resilient and sustainable building material:

The researchers experimented with different proportions of recycled tire fibres and other materials used in concrete—cement, sand and water—before finding the ideal mix, which includes 0.35 per cent tire fibres, according to researcher Obinna Onuaguluchi, a postdoctoral fellow in civil engineering at UBC.

Recycled-rubber roads are not new; asphalt roads that incorporate rubber “crumbs” from shredded tires exist in the U.S., Germany, Spain, Brazil and China. But using the polymer fibres from tires has the unique benefit of potentially improving the resilience of concrete and extending its lifespan.

“Our lab tests showed that fibre-reinforced concrete reduces crack formation by more than 90 per cent compared to regular concrete,” said Onuaguluchi. “Concrete structures tend to develop cracks over time, but the polymer fibres are bridging the cracks as they form, helping protect the structure and making it last longer.”

Fiber admixtures are certainly not a new concept in concrete, but by using rubber from old tires, this product is diverting waste from landfills, thus helping to offset the heavy carbon footprint associated with concrete production.

Lucy Wang, writing for Inhabitat:

The nation’s tallest wooden high-rise will soon take shape in Portland, Oregon. Funded by a $1.5 million-dollar award from the U.S. Tall Wood Building Prize Competition, the innovative timber building, named Framework, will be built from domestically sourced and engineered wood products. LEVER Architecture designed the mixed-use high-rise as a beacon of sustainability with its use of low-carbon materials, green roof, and resilient design.

Why is this a big deal? Once completed, this will be North America’s first timber high-rise. Currently, the building code does not allow for wood-framed structures over 85-feet, nor may they exceed 6 stories.

There are numerous benefits to using heavy timber and engineered wood products in general, versus metal, especially when it comes to sustainability. Framework is expected to use 60% less energy than a similarly sized building, 30% less water, and is estimated to offset 1,824 tons of carbon.