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Guest Column: Using a Hybrid Car for Storm Resilience

BY GAYATHRI VIJAYAKUMAR

Storm after storm, including the two nor’easters we’ve experienced in Connecticut over the past week, Mother Nature continues to show us that even though it is critical to focus on energy-efficient building designs and renewable energy systems, we must also include storm resiliency as another component of designing truly sustainable buildings.

While traditional portable gasoline generators are widely available to provide emergency back-up electricity to a home in the event of a power outage, these don’t necessarily scream “sustainable”.

A few years ago, after suffering a hurricane related power outage in Connecticut, I decided to take up a somewhat unique precaution against potential electrical power outages. While I am able to generate 100% of my annual electricity through solar PV panels, it was not cost effective to buy batteries just for the sake of a power outage. I instead chose to outfit my hybrid car to serve as a back-up generator to my house in New Haven.

This approach relies on an inverter, which I purchased from ConVerdant Vehicles*, which happened to be less expensive (~$700) than a standard gas generator. It required a quick and inexpensive (~$100) modification to my car by a mechanic and the installation of a traditional generator transfer switch in my garage, which was done by an electrician (~$500).

In the event of a power outage, I simply disconnect my house from the grid, move my car outdoors, hook up the inverter to the car and transfer switch, and start the car up. The whole process takes me less than 10 minutes. The inverter generates enough electricity (~1,600 Watts) to run the critical circuits in my house, including pre-selected lights, refrigerator, and the electric ignition to the tankless gas water heater, and even a few not-so-critical circuits, like the cable box/modem and TV.

This approach is more “sustainable” since it takes advantage of my hybrid’s efficient engine to provide electricity with half the fuel of a traditional generator, and is much much quieter.

I was not prepared for our first power outage in Connecticut, but we were able to use the gas stove for cooking and our gas fireplace kept the first floor at well over 70F. Being without a fridge and hot water was a challenge though. Now that we have the inverter, being able to provide basic power for three days on just one tank of gas makes me feel good about my home being energy-efficient and sustainable, even during a storm.

*While ConVerdant is no longer selling the inverters, other inverters are available, but perhaps at smaller capacities.

Gayathri Vijayakumar is a Principal Mechanical Engineer with Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

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Bridgeport Installs State's First Microgrid Generator

 

BRIDGEPORT, CT — From the City of Bridgeport: Mayor Ganim and City officials today flipped the switch on a first-of-its-kind 'microgrid' generator that will supply cleaner energy to power City Hall, Police Headquarters, and the Eisenhower Senior Center. The microgrid project is a standalone power generation system providing uninterrupted, environmentally friendly and reliable power to all three facilities. (See the video below)

This project combines a new traditional natural gas reciprocating generator that can run around the clock with a microgrid distribution system. While the generator will use less fuel to make a comparable amount of energy and emit fewer emissions through higher conversion efficiencies, the microgrid will provide foolproof power in the case of a blackout or inclement weather.

"This project has been in the works for a long time and we are excited to be able to see it come to fruition," said Mayor Ganim "It is an important step towards making Bridgeport a resilient city with the benefit of being more sustainable and environmentally conscious. The microgrid propels us forward in our progress for more resourceful and effective ways to be energy efficient. As an added benefit, the microgrid will provide security in knowing that the City will be able to operate at full capacity in the event of a power outage."

Not only will the microgrid generator provide power, the excess heat will be used to provide a significant amount of heating and cooling to these government buildings. In addition, the system gives the city the option to expand in the future to other vital city buildings like the Margaret E. Morton building, Fire Headquarters, and even non-city buildings in the event future regulation or market factors make this viable.

The Bridgeport Microgrid is a partnership between Controlled Air, Inc., OR&L Construction, and Power Island Energy with a design assist and professional services from BL Companies. The project is a part of a municipal pilot program launched through the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in 2013. Key Bank was the principle financier with secondary financing from CT Green Bank and grants through DEEP.

Read the original article from Patch.

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LEED for Cities grant program unveiled

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), creators of the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) green building program, with support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, have announced a new grant program designed to recognize the sustainability and green building achievements of U.S. cities pursuing LEED for Cities certification.

Initial grant recipients include San Jose, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; Phoenix; Atlanta; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago. Each grant will consist of financial assistance to aid in the pursuit of LEED for Cities certification, educational resources and customized technical support, according to a release.

LEED for Cities enables local governments to measure and track citywide performance by focusing on outcomes, rather than intent. Cities are evaluated across 14 key metrics, including energy, water, waste, transportation, education, health, safety and equitability. Washington, D.C., and Phoenix are the first cities to achieve certification through the program and earned LEED platinum, the highest level of certification.

“A sustainable city not only focuses on the environmental footprint but also how it is working to provide a better quality of life for its residents,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president and CEO of the USGBC. “LEED has been a transformative tool for buildings, and we are taking what we learned and applying it to help cities achieve a higher level of performance. LEED for Cities helps tell a sustainability story in a way that encourages a city’s citizens to be more engaged, and with the support of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, these six grant recipients are committing to delivering a more sustainable future today.”

The Bank of America Charitable Foundation previously supported the Affordable Green Neighborhoods Program, which, starting in 2010, provided assistance to eligible nonprofit and public sector developers of affordable housing to ensure that every new unit of affordable housing meets the highest standards of sustainability and offers residents the healthiest communities possible. The LEED for Cities grant program provides entire cities with the financial and educational support to improve performance over time through the pursuit of LEED for Cities certification.

Performance for cities is continuously tracked through Arc, the digital platform that connects all sustainability progress in one place and generates a performance score between 0 and 100. There are a total of 25 cities participating in LEED for Cities globally.

Read the original article from Proud Green Building.

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Second U.S. "Living Building" Home Certified

From Architect Magazine:

A recently completed home in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the second home in the country to be named to the rigorous Living Building Challenge. Certified late last year by the International Living Future Institute, the 2,200-square-foot home borrows from the characteristics of 200-year-old Tuscan farmhouses, with a 2,400-square-foot barn and workshop. The buildings sit at the center of 15 acres of depleted farm land.

A 20-person design/build team led by homeowners Tom and Marti Burbeck spent five years executing the project with primary contributors Michael Klement, AIA, principal at Architectural Resource; Bob Burnside, CEO of Fireside Home Construction; and Amanda Webb Nichols, senior project manager at Catalyst Partners, who managed the LBC certification process. The house also received LEED-Platinum certification.

The LBC certification comprises seven performance categories—site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. These are subdivided into a total of 20 imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence, such as urban agriculture, net-positive water, net-positive energy, and responsible industry.

“The materials imperative was the most challenging project component I’ve come across in my 21 years in the green building industry,” says Burnside. “Multi-component mechanical, electrical and appliance products were the toughest. Working with Catalyst Partners, we vetted more than 900 products, around 500 of which we used in construction.”For example, to receive full “Living” certification from the Living Building Challenge, a building cannot use any materials on the LBC Red List, such as formaldehyde, halogenated flame-retardants, lead, mercury, phthalates, or PVC/vinyl.

Another challenging LBC imperative concerned the wood used for the project. Almost all the wood was certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council, which verifies that it was grown and harvested in local forests in a sustainable manner. The rest of the wood used for the project was either reclaimed or salvaged. The team also advocated the creation and adoption of third-party certified standards and fair labor practices for sustainable extraction of stone and rock, metal and other minerals.

Other high-performance features include:
1. A rainwater and snow harvesting system that captures runoff from the roofs to supply 7,500 gallons of in-ground cisterns, currently for non-potable water. A new well provides potable water to comply with Michigan building codes, with a future-ready potable rainwater filtration system.

2. Passive solar design with a very tight thermal envelope and a tall cooling tower that minimize loads for heating and cooling.

3. A 16.8-kilowatt photovoltaic system that provides electricity to the house and the grid using 60 solar panels covering the south plane of the barn roof.

4. A closed-loop geothermal system that provides radiant floor heating during winter, forced air heating during shoulder seasons, and potable water pre-heating.

LBC certification is based on actual measured performance, rather than modeled performance. To earn “Living” certification, projects must demonstrate compliance with stringent performance standards dictated by the 20 LBC Imperatives for 12 consecutive months of operation.

This story was originally published in Builder.

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Green buildings provide billions of dollars in additional benefits, claims Harvard study

A new sponsored study from researchers at Harvard University claims that green buildings deliver billions of dollars of social and health benefits beyond those associated with reduced energy consumption. The researchers examined a subset of green-certified buildings over a 16-year period in six countries: the U.S., China, India, Brazil, Germany and Turkey. The study identified nearly $6 billion in combined health and climate benefits. The results are published in the peer reviewed Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology.

In some countries, health and climate benefits far exceeded – in dollar amounts – energy savings. Globally, the studied green-certified projects saved billions of dollars in energy costs. The report identified how 33,000 kilotons of CO2 were avoided, equivalent to 7.1 million fewer passenger cars on the road for one year. This equates to $4.4 billion in estimated public health benefits from fewer, deaths, hospital visits, asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments and lost days at work. The total is also made up of around $1.4 billion in estimated climate benefits from reductions in carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

This is all in addition to $7.5 billion in energy savings from the green-certified buildings studied. The buildings studied included only LEED certified buildings, which are approximately one-third of the global green building stock, total benefits worldwide would be even greater.

The HEALTHfx study found that on average, for every dollar saved on energy costs by green buildings, another $0.77 was saved in health and climate benefits. In China and India, the effects were even more dramatic, with approximately $10 in health and climate benefits for every dollar in energy savings.

Dr. Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science and Director of the Healthy Buildings program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, led the research. “The energy savings of green buildings come with a massive public health benefit through associated reductions in air pollutants emitted. We developed the Co-benefits of the Built Environment (CoBE) calculator in this study as a tool that people can use for understanding the health impacts of building portfolios, investments and building strategies. The decisions we make today with regard to buildings will determine our current and future health.”

This latest study builds on the team’s 2015 COGfx Study which looked at the brain’s cognitive function – which showed 101 percent improvement in cognitive function test scores when workers spent time in an office with high ventilation, low CO2 and low volatile organic compounds, compared to when they were in a “conventional” office environment. In 2016, the team expanded the experiment and found that, in green-certified buildings, employees scored 26 percent higher on cognitive function tests, reported 30 percent fewer sick building symptoms and 6 percent higher sleep quality scores. With HEALTHfx, it’s been shown that better health is found not just inside better buildings – but outside those buildings as well.

Read the story at Workplace Insight.

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