Current Benefits

Plant walls are sprouting inside all kinds of buildings

One installer offers his thoughts on why, and what works.

BY: JOHN CAULFIELD, BUILDING DESIGN + CONSTRUCTION

Living Wall 1

Clover Payments, a payments software startup, installed a 30×22-ft living wall in its office in Sunnyvale, Calif., a net-zero-energy building. The wall provides air filtration for the company’s tenants. Image: Courtesy Habitat Horticulture

Improving air quality and reducing stress are two things that more businesses and homeowners want from their working and living environments. Plant walls can answer both of those calls, and are becoming more common in the built environment.

For example, a syndicated article posted this week reports on plant walls that were installed in Goodyear’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Another reports on a tech startup in Minneapolis, When I Work, whose lobby features a plant wall and big windows. Inhabitat’s website includes recent stories on “plant paintings,” indoor moss walls, and a “nature filled” office in The Netherlands.

There’s also a raft of do-it-yourself living wall systems available at home-improvement stores and online.

Plant walls are so pervasive, in fact, “they are almost passé,” quips David Brenner, the 32-year-old founding principal and lead designer for San Francisco-based company Habitat Horticulture, which has been enlivening interior spaces with plant walls since 2010.

This year, Habitat Horticulture is on track to install 35 commercial plant walls and 15 residential walls, both numbers slightly up from 2016.

The benefits of plant walls are numerous: they provide cooling through a combination of shading, evapotranspiration (the water in a plant’s roots that evaporates through its leaves), and surface reflectivity. They bring nature into environmentally hostile urban areas, and serve as interior air filtration systems. They absorb sound. And the presence of plant walls has been shown to enhance worker productivity.

Brenner, who while attending California Polytechnic University studied horticultural science and psychology, accepts the research that finds a cause-and-effect relationship between plant walls and stress relief. He also believes that plant walls can be “restorative” to people exposed to them on a regular basis.

Brenner’s first exposure to plant walls was during an apprenticeship at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London. He started experimenting with “going vertically” with plants in 2007 when one of his college professors gave him access to a 30- by 20-foot greenhouse on campus.

“It’s surprising what you can grow on a wall,” says Brenner. But some plants are more conducive to living walls than others. Evergreen perennials such as geraniums, heuchera, and fuchsia are the best species because, he explains, they stay green, keep their leaves throughout the year, and tend to hug or compact against the wall. “They make for a good base or backdrop.”

Herbaceous perennial species, on the other hand, are not ideal, he continues, because they tend to lose their leaves in in winter. Brenner also stays away from plants that get “woody or stemmy” over time for his backdrops, as they tend to come off the wall. These are better used as accent plants for dimension, but not as the wall base.

Like any garden, the success or failure of a plant wall usually comes down to designing for performance within a specific micro climate, and the integrity of the wall’s irrigation system. And if a client wants a low-maintenance wall, that will limit which plants can used.

More important is the integrity of a wall’s irrigation system.

Habitat Horticulture is a full-service provider. It prepares detailed shop drawings that integrate the plant wall into the site’s architectural plans, and outline his company’s scope of work. His firm helps clients select the plant palette and composition (depending on the installation, panels are pregrown off-site or are planted on-site), builds the framework for the wall, commissions the controls for irrigation/fertigation and lighting, and installs and waterproofs the wall system and irrigation/circulation systems.

The only thing its associates and subs don’t handle is electrical and plumbing.

It also trains key personnel and management in ongoing maintenance and operations. (Most of Habitat Horticulture’s installations are followed up with weekly or monthly maintenance schedules.)

Plant walls aren’t that heavy; about 8 pounds per sf planted and irrigated. They can cost anywhere from $100 to $175 per sf, depending on the complexity of the system. That cost typically includes water recapture, and measuring pH levels, labor, and structural requirements.

As part of its efforts to earn the International Future Living Institute's Living Building Challenge certification for its 8,200-sf office in Sacramemto, Calif., the design firm Architectural Nexus irrigated its plant wall with repurposed greywater. Image: Architectural Nexus

As part of its efforts to earn the International Future Living Institute’s Living Building Challenge certification for its 8,200-sf office in Sacramemto, Calif., the design firm Architectural Nexus irrigated its plant wall with repurposed greywater. Image: Architectural Nexus

Clients sometimes turn to living walls as part of their strategy for their buildings to earn green certifications. For example, one of Brenner’s clients, the architectural design firm Architectural Nexus, renovated its new office in Sacramento to meet standards of the the Living Building Challenge Certification. A critical component of that building’s water filtration function is its living wall, which is irrigated by greywater repurposed from showers and sinks on-site. The wall can be viewed from all desk spaces throughout the office and from the street.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also uses a plant wall Habitat installed to recycle water from its stormwater retention tank.

Four years ago, Habitat Horticulture installed three large plant wall and a living wine bar (live plants beneath a glass bar top) into DPR Construction’s office, which was the first certified net-zero energy building in San Francisco. Clover Payments, a payments software startup whose office is in a net-zero energy building that formerly was a racquetball facility, boasts a 30-ft-wide by 22-ft-high living wall that Habitat Horticulture installed in 2015, which helps provide cleaner air circulation for tenants.

More recently, Habitat Horticulture put in a plant wall at the main entrance of Westfield UTC, an open-air shopping mall in San Diego that is undergoing a $600 million renovation and expansion that will add 90 stories and 215,000 sf of retail space.

Healthcare could be Habitat Horticulture’s next frontier. Its portfolio includes a women’s health center. And Brenner says that some hospitals have “reached out” about adding a plant wall to their facilities. “Their biggest concern is infection control,” which he says can be managed by filters, testing and—to be on the safe side—injecting chlorine into the system.

February LEED Project Update

 

Julie

 

By Julie Lundin, Founder, LEED AP ID+C, NCIDQ, ASID
Director of Sustainable Interior Design for Emerald Skyline Corporation

 

 

Emerald Skyline Corporation in conjunction with Golden Spiral Design, is designing, renovating and repurposing an unoccupied industrial building located in Boca Raton, FL. This building was formerly an auto garage that stood vacant for several years and was environmentally contaminated. Our renovation includes many sustainable features with the intent to obtain LEED certification from the USGBC.

LEED certified building boca raton floridaWe are getting close… to completing the build out of the interior of our project. I would like to share some of the design details and finishes that we have chosen. This building is an old auto garage so we are keeping the existing open floor plan of the main garage space with minimum interior walls being constructed.   The perimeter concrete walls will remain intact without the addition of a drywall finish. The walls have so much character; the imperfections on the concrete block that have accumulated over the years are too interesting to cover up. The walls will be painted and some of the imperfections enhanced with paint layering. The 3 overhead garage door openings have been replaced with impact windows and doors with the center opening now serving as the main entrance.   Since it is important to our design concept to retain as many of the auto garage components as possible we designed this elevation to keep the overhead doors in place behind the new glazing. Manual lift mechanisms have been installed to enable us to raise and lower the garage doors. We are using the roll down doors as large metal shades for both privacy and sun control since the openings are located on the south façade. Broad horizontal stripes will be painted on the interior of the overhead doors to add a bold touch to the space when lowered.

Due to the absence of interior walls we will have an open workspace. Open work spaces can offer important benefits. Our windows and doors are south facing which will allow natural light to filter through the entire office and provide views of the outside. Studies have shown that natural light and views of the outdoors provide occupants attributes of increased patience, productivity and physical health. Open work spaces can be beautiful but do lend themselves to noise issues that need to be addressed in order to function well. Since we are not constructing interior walls, the spaces and their usage will be delineated by furniture and lighting placement. “Floating” furniture and fixtures will create visual separation as well as help control sound transference. The existing concrete floor will remain but be polished and stained. Hard surfaces do a poor job of absorbing sound, so we will be using large area rugs to help minimize noise. The ceiling height is 12 ft. in this portion of the building and is a great architectural element, yet can also contribute to unwanted noise. Once we are in the building and experience the day to day noise levels, additional soft acoustical materials may need to be added. In addition, plants provide sound absorbing capabilities that can work just as effectively in an indoor environment as an outdoor setting as well as provide health benefits, including improving oxygen levels. We may even include a living wall!

Since this is a LEED registered project the specifications for the interior build out as well as exterior choices will contribute to the certification of the building. There are many products available that are not only attractive but have the attributes needed to create a beautiful and sustainable space. Some of our selections include:

  • Low flow toilets and faucets
  • Energy Star Appliances
  • Low VOC paints and finishes
  • Bamboo wood flooring
  • LED Lighting
  • Reuse of demolition materials
  • ChargePoint Electric Vehicle Charging Station
  • Water Collection Cistern
  • HVAC Condensation Drip Lines for exterior vegetation

Two of my favorite sustainable design choices are on the exterior of the building. A recycled glass mosaic of an abstract nautilus shell was created to adorn the south elevation. Metal “green screens” will be attached to the front apex of the building to create a green wall that will add beauty and provide shading to the stucco exterior.

There is still much to be accomplished but we look forward to being in our new space and sharing the completed details and photos with you.

 

EMERALD SKYLINE PARTNERS WITH BLUE PILLAR TO PROVIDE THE ENERGY NETWORK OF THINGS POWERED BY AURORA

South Florida-based Emerald Skyline brings 21st Century technology to energy management.

“Over 75% of businesses say that Internet of Things (IoT) is critical to their future success, and nearly half of adopters are using IoT to support large-scale business transformation.” Vodafone IoT Barometer 2016

January 10, 2017 from Emerald Skyline Corporation (www.emeraldskyline.com)

BOCA RATON, FL, January 10, 2017 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today, Emerald Skyline announced that it has partnered with Blue Pillar, Inc. to provide the Energy Network of Things powered by Aurora for hospitals, office buildings, retail centers, industrial and municipal facilities. Together, we’re transforming the energy industry by developing intelligent energy management solutions to help facility managers achieve their energy resiliency, efficiency and sustainability goals.

Blue Pillar connects any energy “thing” (i.e., any asset that consumes, switches or measures electricity — including meters (water, gas and electric), generators, fuel tanks, automatic transfer switches, chillers, boilers, HVAC control panels, CHP, solar panels, EV chargers and just about any other intelligent mechanical equipment you can think of — into our Energy Network of Things platform.
Blue Pillar’s Aurora Energy Network of Things™ platform has an architecture that is open at the device and application layer, so it is perfectly positioned to solve the energy management data crisis. In addition to being open and providing ubiquitous connectivity, we also offer dozens of energy management applications the same way that a calculator or calendar app would be offered on your Apple or Android phone.

“As a sustainability and resiliency consulting and LEED project management firm, this partnership enables us to provide the industry’s most flexible platform for connecting and managing energy devices,” reports Abraham Wien, LEED AP O+M, Director of Architecture & Environmental Design for Emerald Skyline. “We are always looking for ways to provide superior products and services to meet our clients sustainability and resiliency needs and Blue Pillar is an IoT provider that we are proud to offer to the market.”

For nearly a decade, Blue Pillar has connected thousands of energy assets at a wide variety of deployment sites from hospitals and energy service providers to data centers and higher education campuses enabling them to work 75% faster and realize 30% more affordability.

To find out more information about the employment of the Blue Pillar IoT for building energy systems in your building or facility and unleash the power of real-time data that strengthens your infrastructure and improves not only your efficiency but provides opportunities for differentiation and even new revenue sources while providing for a greener tomorrow, please contact Abraham Wien at aw@emeraldskyline.com or call us 305.424.8704.

The electric car market is growing 10 times faster than its dirty gasoline equivalent

There will be two million electric cars on the road by the end of 2016.

Written by: Alejandro Dávila Fragoso
View the original article on ThinkProgress

evDespite low oil prices, plug-in electric vehicles (EV) are charging forward worldwide, with more than 2 million expected to be on the roads by the end of 2016, according to recent market figures.

Around 312,000 plug-in electric cars were sold during the first half of 2016, according to analysts at EV Volumes — a nearly 50 percent increase over the first half of 2015.

The rise in sales is attributed to a growing Chinese market, followed by sales in Europe and the United States, where Tesla Motors Co. is now dominating the luxury sedan market, according to recent reports.

And though EVs are a fraction of the global vehicle stock — less than 1 percent— the industry is growing about 10 times faster than the traditional vehicle market.

“What we have seen over the past few months is a complete culture change.”

This increase could be significant for public health and the environment in the United States and elsewhere. In the United States, transportation is now topping the electricity sector as the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, a key factor in human-caused climate change.

Moreover, fossil-fuel vehicles are known to be major contributors of air pollution associated with asthma, allergies, cancer, heart conditions, and premature death, according to the United Nations. And while EVs can reduce air pollution in cities, they also mean less oil extraction, which comes with air pollution and environmental issues of its own.

Right now, EVs’ presence is too small to affect fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, according to a 2016 International Energy Agency (IEA) report. However, the IEA noted this could soon change, with countries like Norway, the Netherlands, and China boldly turning to EVs as they aim to slash emissions in the next few years.

Norway, a small but rich nation, is now leading the world in EVs. One in three new cars sold there is electric, and that proportion is increasing due to tax breaks and investment in charging infrastructure, The Guardian reported. The Netherlands is following closely, since, like Norway, it wants to phase-out fossil-fuel cars within the next decade. According to a Transport & Environment report released Thursday, EV sales in Europe doubled last year to 145,000.

In China, the rise of EVs is noteworthy, too. One in four electric cars sold worldwide is sold in China. “What we have seen over the past few months is a complete culture change,” said Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at Transport & Environment.

This growth is expected to continue around the world. Some studies suggest that by 2030, EVs could account for two-thirds of all cars in wealthy cities like London and Singapore. That is likely to happen thanks to stricter emissions rules, consumer demand, and falling technology costs.

Batteries, a major factor behind high EV costs, are getting 20 percent cheaper every year, according to EV Volumes.


The State of the Electric Car Market in 4 Charts and Graphs

, LEAD POLICY ANALYST, CLEAN VEHICLES
View the original article here.
I’m guessing that over the past 3 months (or more), your news feed has been dominated by election-related stories. So you may have missed the recent good news about the electric vehicle (EV) market in the United States. To bring you up to speed (and provide a brief break from election hullaballoo) here are 4 graphs that explain what’s been happening in the world of EVs.

Graph 1 : EV sales are charging ahead (see what I did there?)

EV sales in the US just hit a new record. Over 45,000 EVs were sold in the third quarter of 2016, up more than 60 percent from the same time a year ago.

2

The sales increase can be partly attributed to the second generation Chevy Volt, which became widely available in March 2016 and includes 50 miles of electric range along with a backup gasoline engine. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) like the Volt allow many drivers to do all of their normal daily driving purely on electricity, without any fear of running out of juice because they can just fill up with gas if the batteries are drained.

Confused about the difference between PHEVs like the Volt and battery electric vehicles (BEVs) like the Nissan LEAF? Check out this explainer post.

Graph 2 : EVs are selling despite lower oil prices

EV sales reached this new high-water mark despite spotty availability of EV models across most of the country and continued lower-than-average oil prices, a factor often cited as hampering EV sales.

3

Low gas prices do take some of the spotlight off of EVs, despite their lower operating costs compared to gas-powered vehicles. But even with gas hovering around $2.30 a gallon, driving on electricity remains cheaper.

The US Department of Energy estimates that driving on electricity is like paying $1.15 per gallon of gas, and electricity prices have historically been much more stable and predictable than gasoline.

Graph 3: Sales would be even higher if they were more widely available

Generally speaking, EVs are not readily available outside of California. The current lack of availability is due, in part, to the fact that a major policy pushing automakers to offer EVs—theCalifornia Zero Emission Vehicle Program—does not require automakers to sell EVs outside of California (yet).

4

The requirements of the California program are set to expand to 9 additional states (ME, CT, VT, NY, MA, RI, MD, NJ, OR) in 2018, which together made up 28 percent of combined vehicle sales in 2015. So, the expanded role of policy pushing automakers to sell EVs in major vehicle markets outside of California will likely accelerate aggregate EV sales over the next couple years.

Graph 4 : More automakers are getting in the EV game

2017 should be an exciting year for EVs. Chevy is about to drop the Bolt, an all-electric car with over 200 miles of range and a price tag of around $30,000 after the federal tax credit. Toyota is releasing a new Plug-in Prius, now called Prius Prime, and recent pricing announcements put the cost similar to the price of existing Prius models.

Also in 2017, Tesla is aiming to ship their much-anticipated Model 3, and Hyundai will launch their Ioniq series that will include several electric drive train options. In 2018, Audi is slated to launch an all-electric 300-mile range SUV. Check this post for more detail on other EVs coming to showrooms soon.

5

Overall, more EV options mean more choices for drivers to choose a vehicle that is cheaper and cleaner than a comparable gasoline model (and fun to drive). Though the EV market still has to overcome some hurdles , the state of play right now provides real reason to be optimistic about where EVs are headed.

Floridians Overwhelmingly Support Solar In Primary Vote

A ballot measure approved Tuesday improves the economics of solar in the Sunshine State.

View the original article here.

Orlando Fernandez places a sticker on his shirt after casting his primary vote, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Hialeah, Florida. Voters approved a pro-solar measure by 70 percent. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALAN DIAZ

Orlando Fernandez places a sticker on his shirt after casting his primary vote, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016, in Hialeah, Florida. Voters approved a pro-solar measure by 70 percent. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/ALAN DIAZ

Solar advocates finally got a win in the Sunshine State on Tuesday, as voters approved a measure to get rid of property taxes on solar equipment.

With more than 1,970,000 Floridians checking ‘yes,’ the measure, known as Amendment 4, received more support than the state’s two U.S. Senate primary winners, Marco Rubio (R) and Patrick Murphy (D), combined.

It’s not surprising that the measure passed, although the overwhelming support was a morale boost for the industry, which has faced hurdles in Florida. Amendment 4 received 72 percent approval overall — and needed only 60 percent to pass.

“The passage of Amendment 4 is a victory for Florida’s taxpayers and businesses” — Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R)

The amendment was the culmination of a bipartisan effort from the state legislature to make solar more affordable, especially for big box stores and for solar companies that offer leased equipment. While homeowners themselves were already exempt from paying property tax on solar equipment that they owned, businesses were on the hook.

“The passage of Amendment 4 is a victory for Florida’s taxpayers and businesses,” State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R) said in a statement. “Floridians will benefit from lower taxes, reduced energy costs and the increased security of a diversified energy portfolio.”

Rodrigues cosponsored the bill putting the amendment on the ballot, along with fellow state representatives Lori Berman (D) and Dwight Dudley (D). The amendment had broad support from solar industry groups, environmental groups, and traditional business groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Florida Retail Federation. The amendment will now go back to the legislature to be enacted into law.

“With this Florida amendment, the economics of solar have improved.” — Ragan Dickens, Walmart

Supporters are hoping the tax break will spur companies such as Walmart, IKEA, and Costco, which have made massive investments in solar elsewhere in the country, to install solar panels on their Florida stores. It will also allow solar leasing companies such as SolarCity to improve their margins.

“While we don’t have any onsite solar installations at our stores in Florida right now, we’re always looking at opportunities to add solar at stores across the country where it makes economic sense,” said Ragan Dickens, director of sustainability communications for Walmart. “With this Florida amendment, the economics of solar have improved, and we’ll certainly evaluate our opportunities there.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a Washington, D.C.-based industry group, Florida has the third-most potential for solar in the country, but it is only 14th in amount of installed solar — even while installing 90 percent more solar in the past year. Massachusetts, Colorado, and North Carolina all have more installed solar.

“It’s clear Floridians want better access to affordable, clean energy options and this vote is a significant step in the right direction,” SEIA vice president Sean Gallagher said in a statement. “Now it’s time to keep the momentum going. To ensure a bright solar future for Florida, customers should vote NO on Amendment 1, the anti-solar amendment that will be on Florida ballots this November.”

Amendment 1 was certainly the dark cloud on the horizon during the Tuesday’s Amendment 4 party.

If Amendment 1 passes, it will prohibit Floridians from selling their electricity to third parties. In effect, it would do away with Floridians’ rights to lease solar panels, since, in that situation, the owner of the panels generally sells the electricity to the homeowner. Leasing solar systems has been an effective and popular way to allow homeowners to go solar without paying for the system up front.

Opponents have argued that the measure is designed to limit rooftop solar in Florida, and, as written, is intentionally confusing to voters, who might not understand what they are voting for.

“[Tuesday’s vote] is a big step forward for Florida, removing a longtime barrier to solar adoption, and the wide margin shows voters want rooftop solar,” said Will Craven, a spokesman for SolarCity. “But Amendment 1 in November could be three steps back, as it aims to trick these voters into supporting something that sounds pro solar, but would actually put a thriving solar industry further out of reach. Only monopoly utilities will benefit from a Yes on 1 vote, everyone else will lose.”

The state Supreme Court ruled against that argument in March and allowed the measure to go to voters during the general election.

Amendment 1 will also face a 60 percent threshold for approval, but there is expected to be a significant media campaign encouraging people to vote yes on 1.

Vote YES on Amendment 4 in August to Lower the Cost of Energy for Floridians

Solar Power: the Sunshine State Needs Your Help

JulieBy Julie Lundin, LEED-AP, Principal, Emerald Skyline Corporation

Vote Yes Amendment 4In April 2015, I wrote an article for our newsletter entitled “How you can help make Florida the Sunshine State again.” At the time, Floridians for Solar Choice, a coalition of solar advocates was seeking signatures on a ballot petition to expand solar power in the State of Florida. I volunteered and participated in obtaining these important signatures. The petition’s focus was to increase solar choice by allowing customers the option to power their homes or businesses with solar power and choose who provides it to them.

To get the initiative on the ballot, Florida required the coalition to first collect over 68,000 signatures of registered voters, and then have the initiative language approved by the state Supreme Court. This amendment failed to get on the November 2016 ballot due to being stymied when the utilities conducted a price war over petition gathering and they ended up in federal court suing their petition gathering vendor over billing practices. This proposal is now intended for the 2018 ballot. If passed, it will allow property owners to sign lease agreements with solar companies to finance and install equipment, a financing vehicle available in most states. Solar owners would then be allowed to generate and sell solar electricity to contiguous property owners as well as to area utilities.

Currently, there are two solar power amendments that will be part of our Florida elections this fall. Even as a person involved in sustainable building and design as well as a solar power supporter, I was unclear about the content and ramifications of Amendment 4 and Amendment 1. My hope is that this article will help clarify the amendments and lead to informed voter choices.

Amendment 4 will be on the August 30th Florida 2016 Primary Election Ballot. It is officially titled “Solar Devices or Renewable Energy Source Devices; Exemption from Certain Taxation and Assessment.” Explanation: If you were to install solar panels on your property, the value would be exempt from both the tangible personal property tax and the real property tax.

  • It also creates a new exemption for businesses, appraisers would exempt the renewable- energy from the ad-valorem tax levied on the tangible personal property of a business. Amendment 4 was put on the ballot by the Legislature, with unanimous votes in both the Florida Houseof Representatives and the Senate.

Amendment 1 also known as “The Florida Solar Energy Subsidies and Personal Solar Use Initiative” will be on the November 8, 2016 Election Ballot as an initiated constitutional amendment. According to BallotPedia, for a constitutional amendment to be enacted in Florida, it must win a supermajority vote of 60 percent of those voting on the questions. Amendment 1 was created by an organization with a grassroots sounding name, Consumers for Smart Solar. In reality the organization is financed by the state’s major electric utility companies. This measure qualified for the ballot in late January after getting nearly 700,000 signatures from Floridians. The competing measure that I referenced above, Floridians for Solar Choice, a group backed by the solar industry, did not get enough signatures and was derailed by the petition gathering price war. For in depth information on Amendment 1, read the following article titled “Are Big Power Companies Pulling a Fast One on Florida Voters?”

http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/03/florida-solar-amendment-utility-companies-electricity 

Solar Panel Installation
The following is an editorial by the Miami Herald Editorial Board printed on August 9, 2016. This editorial will help to understand the history and issues of solar power in the State of Florida and perhaps provide clarity for your vote.

http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/editorials/article94707982.html

Amendment 4: Vote Yes on this beneficial solar proposal on Aug. 30

This is the Sunshine State. However, the use of solar energy — dependent on sunlight, which we have in abundance, and not on nuclear or fossil fuel — is still sporadic and contentiously debated.

Cost and who profits almost always play central roles. But unlike the controversial solar consumer-rights amendment on November’s ballot, in the primary on Aug. 30, Florida’s voters can approve an almost universally supported constitutional amendment that will reduce the cost of installing solar panels — more incentivizing, less punitive.

The biggest barrier to solar panels is the upfront cost. Even though the cost of solar-panel installation has been dropping, it still is an expensive endeavor for many property owners. Amendment 4 would provide a tax exemption that makes it less costly to go solar.

It would extend a tax break for residential property owners who have installed solar or equipment for other renewable energy since Jan. 1, 2013.

In addition, the amendment would establish a new exemption for businesses. Right now, if a business installs solar panels, it gets hit with a “tangible tax,” an assessment for equipment, fixtures and furniture that an enterprise or rental property uses. But as the ballot language says, the constitutional amendment would authorize the state Legislature to “exempt from ad valorem taxation the assessed value of solar or renewable energy source devices subject to tangible personal property tax, and … prohibit consideration of such devices in assessing the value of real property for ad valorem taxation purposes.”

This measure will allow Florida to get closer to realizing the full potential of solar energy. Consumers can trim energy costs; encourage energy independence and tamp down on fossil fuels’ contribution to climate change.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Floridians use 40 percent more electricity than the national average. No surprise there, with air conditioners running almost year-round. So, yes, we can do much better.

Unlike other constitutional amendments, placed on the ballot through petition drives because state lawmakers preferred to punt rather than take legislative action, Amendment 4 reached the ballot via a unanimous vote in the Legislature.

The state cannot abate local taxes without going through the Florida Constitution. Lawmakers, this time, were following mandated process. And Amendment 4’s backers are a wide-ranging bunch, including, according to the League of Women Voters of Florida — itself a supporter — The Nature Conservancy and the Florida Tea Party; The Sierra Club and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Amendment 4 not only would expand the use of clean energy, beneficial for Florida’s singular environment, it would add to the 6,500 solar jobs currently in the state and strengthen the economy while lowering solar consumers’ energy costs.

The Miami Herald recommends YES on Amendment 4.

Below are links to organizations that have information on Amendment 4 and Amendment 1 so that you can be an informed voter.

http://www.yeson4.org/

Support-solar http://www.flsolarchoice.org/

  1. Spread the word on Amendment 4; Urge people to vote YES on August 30th! As a result of our collective efforts, lawmakers and other coalition partners helped place a solar tax abatement amendment on Florida’s 2016 Primary Election ballot.  This initiative would remove a barrier to solar by exempting the panels and other renewable energy equipment from property taxes for 20 years. If passed in August, this policy will lower the cost of solar, increase clean energy jobs, and greatly expand solar development across the state! Vote YES on August 30th!
  2. Say NO to the utility-backed ‘solar’ petition this fall: Amendment 1 is an effort by big monopoly utilities to choke-off rooftop solar and keep a stranglehold on customers by preventing them from generating their own power. In March, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled 4-3 to allow the utility-backed petition on to the November ballot.  The utilities may have more money, but they are on the wrong side of this issue. We need you to fight alongside us and urge your friends, family and neighbor: VoteNO in NOvember!

https://ballotpedia.org/Florida_Solar_Energy_Subsidies_and_Personal_Solar_Use,_Amendment_1_(2016)

Solar Technology Update: New Device Does the Work of Plants

KG ResizeBy Kendall Gillen, LEED Green Associate

ARTIFICIAL-LEAFThe latest in solar technology is unlike what you would expect. Traditionally, solar cells harness sunlight and convert it into electricity, which is then stored in batteries. This is one of the cleanest forms of renewable energy that can be used to power your home or business. This type of solar cell isn’t going away any time soon, but a different type engineered recently by researchers at the University of Illinois is capable of doing the work of plants. This new solar cell could be a game-changer as it “cheaply and efficiently converts atmospheric carbon dioxide directly into usable hydrocarbon fuel” according to Solar Daily. The process is powered entirely by sunlight and requires no battery storage.

What does this new solar cell mean as far as real world problem solving? The benefits are two-fold. If entire solar farms were made up of these so-called artificial leaves, it could greatly reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere while simultaneously generating energy-rich fuel. Essentially, we can reverse some of the climate change damage done from burning fossil fuels and decrease the concentration of atmospheric CO2.

The product of this process is synthesis gas or syngas, which can be burned itself or converted into other hydrocarbon fuels. The artificial leaves convert carbon dioxide into fuel at a cost comparable to one gallon of gasoline. Read below for an explanation of the chemical process that made this possible as explained by Solar Daily:

“The new solar cell is not photovoltaic – it’s photosynthetic,” says Amin Salehi-Khojin, assistant professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UIC and senior author on the study.

Chemical reactions that convert CO2 into burnable forms of carbon are called reduction reactions, the opposite of oxidation or combustion. Engineers have been exploring different catalysts to drive CO2 reduction, but so far such reactions have been inefficient and rely on expensive precious metals such as silver, Salehi-Khojin said.

“What we needed was a new family of chemicals with extraordinary properties,” he said.

Salehi-Khojin and his coworkers focused on a family of nano-structured compounds called transition metal dichalcogenides – or TMDCs – as catalysts, pairing them with an unconventional ionic liquid as the electrolyte inside a two-compartment, three-electrode electrochemical cell. The best of several catalysts they studied turned out to be nanoflake tungsten diselenide.

“The new catalyst is more active; more able to break carbon dioxide’s chemical bonds,” said UIC postdoctoral researcher Mohammad Asadi. In fact, he said, the new catalyst is 1,000 times faster than noble­metal catalysts — and about 20 times cheaper.

solar farm panelsThis is truly a breakthrough in the field of solar technology that can have large and small-scale applications. This is the first solar cell that could render fossil fuels obsolete based on its affordability and efficiency. Fuel could be produced locally as opposed to relying on unstable regions. Scientists have been working since the first ‘artificial leaf’ was produced last year to find a cost-effective process that uses only sunlight and carbon dioxide to mimic the natural process of photosynthesis in plants to produce fuel, and it appears they finally have something that will stick.

Emerald Skyline is always looking for ways to provide superior products and services to meet our client’s needs. My bachelor’s degree in biology allows me to bring a unique perspective on sustainability and mimicking the biological processes found in nature within the built environment. This allows us to provide our clients the latest technologies and largest and most open network available today.

Information on Emerald Skyline is available on our website: www.emeraldskyline.com.

This 21-Year-Old May Have Found The Way To Clean Up The Plastic In Our Oceans

by Alejandro Davila Fragoso Jun 28, 2016 8:00 am ThinkProgress.org
View the original article here.

plastic ocean cleanup
CREDIT: The Ocean Cleanup

Boyan Slat wants to start the largest ocean clean up ever with the help of nets and ocean currents. He began testing his prototype this month.

Boyan Slat was just 16 when he realized he wanted to rid the oceans of plastic. It all happened after he dove into the problem in the most literal way while snorkeling in Greece and finding more drifting plastic than fish swimming.

“I thought, that’s a real problem. How can we come up with a solution for that?” Slat recalled during an interview with ThinkProgress.

Indeed, the problem is real and large. Around eight million metric tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year, according to a 2015 study. In addition, recent research found so-called garbage patches in every major ocean. Plastic is so pervasive that it’s been found in sea ice, and also inside 50 percent of all species of seabirds, 66 percent of all species of marine mammals, and all species of sea turtles.

Once back in his native Netherlands, Slat delved into the topic as people told him that cleaning up the ocean was impossible. Still, Slat, a young inventor who by then already held the world record for most high-pressure rockets simultaneously launched, persisted until he found what he was looking for.

“I saw this animation where they used computer models to show that plastic actually moves” through ocean currents, Slat, now 21, said. “And then I thought, why should you move through the ocean if the ocean can move through you.”

Slat, chief executive officer of The Ocean Clean Up, has taken his eureka moment and turned it into a collection system based on floating barriers attached to the sea bed that use the ocean’s energy to gather plastic waste. After obtaining over $2 million through crowdfunding and more from Dutch government financing, Slat unveiled the first prototype last week in the North Sea, just off the coast of Netherlands.

ocean plastic cleanup 2
Less than a mile in length, this prototype is but 10 percent the size of the actual Slat wants to build to conduct what he describes as “the largest clean-up in history” on a large mass of marine debris floating in the Pacific Ocean called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The prototype will be in the North Sea for a year as the foundation tests if the system can withstand corrosion, storms, and more in the open sea.

“The question that we are trying to answer with this prototype is: can we build a floating barrier which is able to survive at sea for years,” said Slat. In the next twelve months, sensors will track the prototype’s every move and gather data to inform the development of the larger system. The North Sea’s minor storms are actually worse than the most powerful storms in the Pacific Ocean, Slat said. “It’s pretty safe to say that if it survives here it will survive anywhere, and certainly in the [area] of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch where we intend to deploy it.”

The Ocean Cleanup’s cleaning technology uses long floating barriers creating a v-shaped artificial coastline that catches ocean debris in its center. There, a solar-powered hydraulic pump and conveyor system scoop up waste that boats then collect and take to landfills or recycling centers. This suggests a massive logistical effort depending on how far from shore the system is placed, and the sorting of trash or other bycatch that would follow. Right now however, testing the floating barriers is crucial, so for the next year, they are focusing solely on the barrier. Therefore, plastic collection is unlikely. But “if that goes well we should be ready to deploy the first operational pilot system late next year, and that should put us on track to start the largest clean up in history by 2020,” Slat said.

Slat’s plan has received some criticism, however. One worry is that the barriers will cause too much by catch — where marine life gets accidentally caught and dies, normally in fishing nets — though the foundation’s preliminary impact statement study found a low risk of that happening. “There shouldn’t be any impact because the barrier is 1.5 meters deep (roughly 4 feet),” Slat said. “It’s really small when compared to the Pacific Ocean, and the current flows underneath it.” Still, he said this test is part of making sure the system is safe. “We are not only testing the technology,” Slat said.

Chelsea M. Rochman, a marine ecologist at the University of Toronto who’s studied the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, welcomed the clean up plan, though she favors preventing plastic from reaching the sea in the first place. “I personally think that preventing it before it goes into the ocean … is better than placing something that large in the middle of the ocean where it’s very hard to monitor,” she said. “Putting things like what he’s doing at the mouth of a river may also be more effective.”

One example of a comparable system placed in a river is Baltimore’s inner harbor water wheel, also known as Mr. Trash Wheel. This device uses the Jones Falls River current to turn a water wheel which picks up debris into a dumpster barge. When the current is weak, a solar panel is in place to provide the necessary power. Since 2014, the cartoon-looking Mr. Trash Wheel has collected 420 tons of trash, including hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles, polystyrene containers, plastic bags, and millions of cigarette butts, according to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

mister trash wheel

The Inner Harbor Water Wheel, or “Mr. Trash Wheel” to locals, combines old and new technology to harness the power of water and sunlight to collect litter and debris flowing down the Jones Falls River. CREDIT: Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

But whether the plastic collection happens in rivers or oceans, Rochman said solving ubiquitous plastic pollution requires “people like Boyan, who are doing it on their own.” At the same time, she said, more top-down solution like the federal ban on micro-beads approved in December or plastic bag bans need to happen. Furthermore, developed countries have to help emerging countries in creating better waste management, she said, since emerging nations are increasingly contributing to plastic pollution. In fact, more than half of all plastic reaching the oceans comes from China, Indonesia, the Phllipines, Thailand, and Vietnam, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

“I don’t think there is one solution to plastic debris, I really don’t,” said Rochman. “I think it’s like hundreds of little things and the more that we have that are out there and that are highlighted, I think the greater chance that we have.”

LEED Project Update

JulieBy Julie Lundin, Founder, LEED AP ID+C, NCIDQ, ASID
Director of Sustainable Interior Design for Emerald Skyline Corporation

Emerald Skyline Corporation in conjunction with Golden Spiral Design, is designing, renovating and repurposing an unoccupied industrial building located in Boca Raton, FL. This building was formerly an auto garage that stood vacant for several years and was environmentally contaminated. Our renovation includes many sustainable features with the intent to obtain LEED certification from the USGBC.

The above paragraph still holds true months later. However, we have had to re-think the project scope and move forward on a smaller scale. We spent months working on the design and drawings in preparation for submission as a development project. In our original design concept we envisioned a larger building footprint and a second floor addition. Vision often becomes qualified by reality, and our project is no exception. The property size cannot accommodate a larger building footprint and the FAR (floor area ratio) requirements limit the building size allowed. An addition of a partial second floor (FAR compliant) was our solution to the lot size and FAR restrictions. Although only a partial second floor was now being considered it would still require stairs and ideally an elevator. Also, the limited first floor square footage available to accommodate the new stairs and an elevator almost negated the second floor addition. Our conclusion was that adding the partial second floor was not adding the square footage desired, and the cost of construction and engineering did not make economic sense.

In January we made the decision to proceed with the project as a renovation of the existing building only. No additional square footage is being added. Our intent is to repair and replace what is there. The building will visually retain the auto garage industrial look but will be transformed into a sustainable, repurposed space.   As a sustainable consulting firm, it makes sense for us to not increase the size of the building. Our society often believes that bigger is better and we briefly fell into this way of thinking. Now we are committed to working within a limited space and we are re-focusing on creative design and the best use of that space.

As stated in our previous post, this project is a proposed LEED certified building. A key component of a LEED project is its reduced energy use. We have replaced the existing flat roof which was old and leaking with a new roof that has a high SRI (Solar Reflectance Index). We are also designing a high efficiency HVAC system and building envelope to optimize the energy performance of the building. All of the existing windows are being replaced with product that exceeds the Florida Code and are High Velocity, Hurricane Zone approved for Miami-Dade as our project is located in South Florida. In addition, to optimize energy performance in a hot climate our windows have a high VT (visible transmittance) and low SHGC (solar heat gain coefficient) to ensure adequate daylight is being admitted while still blocking significant quantities of solar radiant heat gain.

window radiation

LED lighting fixtures designed with specific task usage will be installed on both the interior and exterior of the building. The existing concrete floors of the auto garage are going to be polished and used as they are. The specifications of the interior finishes are just beginning and as an interior designer, this is the fun part. Low VOC products, adequate air ventilation, and controlled air temperature and humidity will be utilized to protect the buildings IAQ (Indoor Air Quality). Low flow toilets and faucets, and Energy Star appliances will all be specified to reduce the amount of water and energy that is consumed.

We hope to be in our new location by early fall. Once our building is completed we will post descriptions of the renovation details and photos. This project has been a long journey. We are proud that it is a shining example of a correct decision to repurpose a building that might have otherwise been overlooked.

The future in automotive transportation is available now: The Growing Market for Electric Vehicles and ChargePoint Charging Stations

PJ PictureBy Paul Jones, Director, Emerald Skyline Corporation

plugged in electric vehiclesFive years after the first mass-market electric car hit the market, plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) have not met with the success expected, but they are pacing the rate of hybrid cars. Numerous challenges are being overcome in the evolution of the electric vehicle – not least of which is the automakers approach to the production and marketing of the cars, the range EVs travel on one charge and the availability of charging stations.

The new generation of electric vehicles began with the introduction of the first Tesla car in 2008 and began its embryonic growth in 2010 when mainstream electric cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt went on sale. Throughout this time, plug-in car (PEV) buyers have repeatedly complained about poor consumer experiences. Last year, Consumer Reports published the results of a secret shopper study of 85 dealerships in four states, finding that staff at 35 of those dealerships (over 40%) attempted to steer buyers toward internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles instead of the PEV in which they had expressed interest. Thirteen of those dealers tried to entirely discourage shoppers from buying an EV. Legacy profits from on-going maintenance of ICE vehicles, most of which are not required for an EV, is considered a major incentive for dealers to steer customers away from EVs. Increased demand from consumers will be the key driver in forcing manufacturers and dealers to change their perception of EVs from a necessary regulatory evil to a new product category.

Range anxiety is the fear that a vehicle has insufficient range to reach its destination and would thus strand the vehicle’s occupants. The term, primary used in reference to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), is considered to be one of the major barriers to large-scale adoption of EVs. The main strategies to alleviate range anxiety are the development of higher battery capacity (Tesla S now sports a model with a 265-mile range and other manufacturers are working to follow suit with over 200-mile range EVs), battery swapping technology, and the deployment of charging station infrastructure.

Despite the obstacles in creating a new market, the fleet of plug-in electric vehicles in the United States is the largest in the world with over 400,000 highway legal plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) sold in the country since 2008 when Tesla introduced its first car through 2015.EV-sales-growing

As of March of this year, there are 26 highway legal plug-in cars available in the American market from over a dozen manufacturers plus several models of electric motorcycles, utility vans and neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). The number of EV drivers has increased ten times in the past four years and EVs are expected to comprise over 8% of all car sales by 2020. New EV cars with increased range are being developed by many auto manufacturers – and some new entrants like Apple which has its first car, code name “Project Titan” planned for release in 2019.

However, consumers have been cautious about putting the car before the charging station. “Infrastructure for EVs is crucial to the adoption of use of electric cars. You’re not going to buy a car if you don’t know where and how to charge it,” says Erin Mellon, Director of Communications with ChargePoint, which operates the world’s largest EV charging network. The first place drivers need to be able to charge is at home. Being able to charge at work is second most important.”where-drivers-charging-chargepoint

Equally innovative but decidedly less exciting is what is happening with the growing infrastructure of EV charging stations, a stimulant for expansion of the market for plug-in electric vehicles. As of January 2016, the US had 12,200 charging stations across the country, led by California with nearly 3,000 stations. In terms of public charging points, there were 30,669 public outlets available across the country by the end of January 2016, again led by California with 9,086 charging points (29.6%).

The following excerpt from an article published last September by Jones Lang LaSalle (“JLL”), a premier international commercial real estate brokerage, property and investment management firm headquartered in Chicago, entitled “Charging into the future: The rise of electric cars,” reflects cutting edge planning and action – much like being an innovator at the turn of the 20th Century who invested in gasoline stations rather than livery stables:

Sean McNamara, General Manager for JLL Property Management, began looking at electric charging stations for an office building in San Francisco several years ago. “In the beginning of the discovery process, there was just not enough demand or infrastructure,” he says.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu initiated the “Workplace Charging Challenge” in 2013 to increase the number of US employers offering EV charging stations – tenfold – by 2018.

“The proliferation of electric cars, has made these stations much more relevant over the past two years,” McNamara says.

Trophy and Class AA office buildings, such as the Georgia Pacific Center in Atlanta, were among the first to respond to Chu’s challenge. “Ownership and JLL are compelled largely because it’s the right thing to do for our environment. We are a LEED-certified building and our objective is to maintain the highest status possible,” explains Michael Strickland, a VP & Group Manager for JLL in Atlanta.

Strickland says that the Building’s 10 EV reserved parking spaces plus two public parking spaces equate to about one percent of the total parking spaces. “The Building has immediate access to public transport, which plays a role in how many building tenants drive and utilize the parking garage,” Strickland says. “It’s definitely a growing trend. But it’s not currently on par with having a sundry shop or a dry cleaner – yet….”

Today, McNamara is the General Manager of Southeast Financial Center, a Class A trophy office building in Miami. He oversees an 1,100-space parking structure with valet services and two EV charging stations. “In a Class A building, if the demand is there, the spaces will be added. Once the setup is done, sealing the delivery is even easier. Ultimately for landlords, it is not a matter of cost, it is a matter of appropriateness.”

Porsche Latin America, for example, a tenant in the Southeast Financial Center, installed two electric charging stations with special adapters, as a unique term of their lease. Then again, Porsche is not the average tenant. Earlier this month (September), the car manufacturer unveiled its first all-electric Mission E concept car at the Frankfurt Auto Show. It looks like a futuristic 911.

The Mission E, along with Audi’s e-Tron Quattro (scheduled to be launched in 2018), a hybrid SUV, would challenge Tesla’s Model S in the luxury category. Like Apple’s Project Titan, though, these models will take years to develop.

Until then, drivers can take their pick from available models such as the Nissan LEAF all-electric car, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, the all-electric Tesla Model S and the Toyota Prius Plug-in hybrid, and a growing public infrastructure in which to park and charge them.

For buildings being designed and built, or undergoing a major renovation, to achieve LEED certification under the 2009 rating system, providing one of the following earns up to three points in the SS Credit 4.3, Alternative Transportation for Low-emitting & Fuel-efficient (LEFE) vehicles category:

  1. Preferred parking (closed spot or price discount of ≥ 20%) for LEFE vehicles for 5% of site’s Parking Capacity (parking discount must be made available to all who drive LEFE vehicles and must be available for a minimum of two (2) years) OR
  2. Alternative refueling stations for 3% of site’s parking capacity OR
  3. LEFE vehicle and preferred parking for 3% of FTE OR
  4. One (1) shared LEFE be provided for 3% of FTEs with a minimum of one per 267 FTE for at least two (2) years (minimum one LEFE required)

Further, projects may be awarded one point for EP for instituting a transportation management plan that demonstrates a quantifiable reduction in the auto use through implementation of multiple options.

Even at this stage in the development of the market for EVs, which represents the future of automobiles, an EV driver plugs into a ChargePoint station every five seconds, saving over 12.5 million gallons of gas and over 41 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, Emerald Skyline is proud to announce that it has partnered with ChargePoint to provide for a greener tomorrow – for an emerald skyline!

“As a sustainability and resiliency consulting and LEED project management firm, this partnership allows us the latest technologies and largest and most open network available to provide our clients,” reports Abraham Wien, LEED AP O+M, Director of Architecture & Environmental Design for Emerald Skyline. “We are always looking for ways to provide superior products and services to meet our clients sustainability and resiliency needs.

With almost 28,000 charging stations, ChargePoint is the world’s largest network of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the US, Europe and Australia. ChargePoint stations set the industry standard for functionality and aesthetics and their innovative, cloud-based software gives station owners flexibility and control of charging operations. Stations on the ChargePoint network are independently owned businesses, which set their own pricing, access settings and much more.

demand-for-charging-stationsBeyond the workplace, EV charging stations are a distinctive and value-add amenity for hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and entertainment facilities – and a growing necessity for communities serving an ever-increasing demographic demanding an alternative to fossil-fuel driven vehicles.

An electric car will have to be able to travel long distances for EVs to break into the mass market. Like few other parts of the plug-in ecosystem, this has been demonstrated by Tesla Motors, which has built out its network of sites not only in the US, but in all their major markets. An 80% recharge that provides 200 miles or more in less than an hour enables Tesla owners to travel coast-to-coast with recharging breaks every three hours. And, despite the reticence of many in the industry about the prospect of being stationary for a half hour to hour break every three hours, Tesla drivers seem entirely satisfied with the network, to the point that congestion is an occasional problem while range anxiety is not.

The availability of a charging station will attract that additional guest or customer who will pay extra for the charge (yes, EV-charging stations can be an additional source of revenue by monetizing an EV-enabled parking spot). It will attract new customers to your business and encourage loyalty from a growing customer base of EV drivers.

Emerald Skyline Corporation will be providing ChargePoint EV Charging Station services and installations for corporate, municipality, and private entities. Together, we’re transforming the energy industry by developing intelligent energy management solutions to help people and businesses shift away from fossil fuels. impact-chargepoint-drivers

ChargePoint stations set the industry standard for functionality and aesthetics and their innovative, cloud-based software gives station owners flexibility and control of charging operations. Stations on the ChargePoint network are independently owned-businesses which set their own pricing, access settings and much more.

To find out more information about the installation of a ChargePoint Electric Vehicle Charging Station at your home, office building, shopping center, hotel or transportation hub and join the EV revolution for a greener tomorrow, please contact us at 305.424.8704 or go to www.emeraldskyline.com