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.

Apple’s success as a company under Steve Jobs’ leadership was rarely about being first to market. Rather, Apple’s most successful products so far (Macintosh, iPod, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch) were challengers in existing product categories (personal computing, MP3 players, smartphones, tablets, wearables).

Apple’s entry into established categories was disruptive and ultimately successful due to superior design, quality, and empathy for the end user.

Tesla’s dramatic move to develop solar PV roof tiles as part of a complete system has clearly caught the attention of the building industry. However, one of Tesla’s market advantages may prove to be one of its biggest challenges: As the single-source provider for the product, many well-established potential distribution channels — through remodeling contractors, retailers, and others — are eliminated.

Which makes the following news from Scott Gibson at Green Building Advisor so very interesting:

The Forward Labs product, called Solar Roofing, looks like a direct competitor to Tesla’s Solar Roof, in which solar cells are embedded in glass-topped shingles. Tesla started taking orders for its roofing several weeks ago.

Forward Labs says that all wiring connections for the roof are made inside the attic. A roof can be composed of solar and non-solar panels, with the mix depending on the amount of electricity the homeowner wants to produce. Solar and non-solar panels look the same, with roofing available in eight colors.

Non-solar roofing — galvanized standing-seam panels — cost $8.50 per square foot. Solar portions of the roof produce 19 watts per square foot; at Forward’s list price of $3.25 per watt, that’s an installed cost of $61.75 per square foot for the solar collectors. By contrast, the estimated cost of Tesla’s active PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. roofing is about $42 per square foot. (Tesla’s non-solar tiles are about $11 per square foot.) Tesla, however, has not disclosed the output of an individual tile. An analysis by PowerScout estimates that the price of energy generated by the Tesla roof is about $4.75 per watt.

What’s more? The CEO of Forward Labs claims that their product can be installed in about half the time of a conventional solar panel array.

Inhabitat’s Kristine Lofgren reports that the order form and website for Tesla’s new solar roofing system is now live. In a previous article, Inhabitat had the following to say:

The seamless look of the new technology is thanks to “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware” according to Tesla’s website. Electrek said these features come from Zep Solar, a mounting equipment company SolarCity acquired before Tesla’s acquisition. Zep Solar engineers designed the rail-less system Solar City employed to slash solar installation times in half.


Britain has a problem. Chances are, the problem that Britain is facing also affects many jurisdictions in the US. What is this problem?

Energy modeling — the process of using sophisticated software to predict future building performance — isn’t as accurate as some industry professionals would like to believe. In other words, the supposed energy efficiency gains that should be realized by implementing specific strategies are not matching real world performance results. And since energy modeling is often tied to various financial and other incentives, as well as driving major design decisions affecting thousands of recently constructed buildings, this is causing quite the controversy, and should be a real cause for concern here in the US.

The Telegraph has more on a study by researchers at the University of Bath:

The researchers found that the building modelling professionals could not agree on which aspects were important and which were not, or how much difference to the energy bill changes to them would make. A quarter of those interviewed were judged to be no better than if a member of the public had responded at random.


Co-investigator and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology, Dr Ian Walker added: “Given our findings about how the level of relevant education and experience don’t separate the good modellers from the bad, we are calling on the government for educational and policy change to work with industry and universities to increase efforts in improving building physics education.

The UK Green Building Council, the British counterpart to the USGBC, added the following:

John Alker, Director of Policy & Campaigns at the UK Green Building Council said: “ “There is no doubt that the majority of buildings do not perform as they were designed to do. This is widely known in the construction sector, and it is something that the industry needs to get to grips with.

“The so-called ‘performance gap’ occurs for a variety of complex reasons, and needs action by all those involved in the property life cycle – such as architects, engineers, contractors and facilities managers – not just building modelling professionals.