Experts say 2021 could be a pivotal year for EV adoption thanks to greater selection of EV offerings, rising consumer interest NEWS PROVIDED BY EDMONDS View the original article here
SANTA MONICA, Calif., Feb. 2, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Electric vehicle sales are poised to hit their highest level on record in 2021, according to the car shopping experts at Edmunds. Edmunds data shows that EV sales made up 1.9% of retail sales in the United States in 2020; Edmunds analysts expect this number to grow to 2.5% this year.
“After years of speculation and empty promises, 2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds’ executive director of insights. “We’re not only about to see a massive leap in the number of EVs available in the market; we’re also going to see a more diverse lineup of electric vehicles that better reflect current consumer preferences. And given that the new presidential administration has pledged its support for electrification, the U.S. is likely to see incentive programs targeted at fostering the growth of this technology further.”
“2021 is actually shaping up to be a pivotal year for growth in the EV sector” – Jessica Caldwell, analyst, Edmunds
Edmunds analysts anticipate that 30 EVs from 21 brands will become available for sale this year, compared to 17 vehicles from 12 brands in 2020. Notably, this will be the first year that these offerings represent all three major vehicle categories: Consumers will have the choice among 11 cars, 13 SUVs and six trucks in 2021, whereas only 10 cars and seven SUVs were available last year. For the full list of EVs expected to come to market in 2021, please see the table below.
This diverse spread of EV offerings should help encourage stronger loyalty among EV owners, which has dwindled over the years as shoppers have gravitated toward larger vehicles. According to Edmunds data, 71% of EV owners who didn’t buy another EV traded in their vehicle for a truck or SUV in 2020, compared to 60% in 2019 and 34% in 2015.
“Americans have a love affair with trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of EVs, which have until recently been mostly passenger cars,” said Caldwell. “Automakers should have a much better shot of recapturing some of the EV buyers who they’ve lost now that they can offer larger, more utilitarian electric vehicles.”
Edmunds analysts note that this infusion of fresh new products comes at a time where the market is also seeing a positive shift in consumer interest in EVs. According to Google Trends data, consumer searches for electric trucks and SUVs have recently hit a high point after trending upward for years.
“Besides affordability, one of the biggest barriers to increased EV sales has simply been tepid consumer reception — it’s been tough for companies that aren’t Tesla to crack the code of how to get shoppers hyped up for these vehicles,” said Caldwell. “But in the past year we’ve seen automakers throw huge advertising dollars behind their EV launches in an attempt to drum up some buzz, and it’s promising that consumers seem to at least be more aware of the options out there.”
As more consumers look to EVs as a possibility for their next car purchase, Edmunds experts emphasize that shoppers should take extra time to consider their alternatives and do their research.
“Buying an EV is an entirely different beast than a traditional car purchase, so extra research and diligence are key,” said Ivan Drury, Edmunds’ senior manager of insights. “Range and weather conditions play a huge factor in determining whether certain EVs make sense for your everyday needs, and whether you own a home with a garage or rent an apartment could affect your charging situation. Federal and state tax incentives are at play with these purchases. And with a number of manufacturers following Tesla’s direct sale model, there might not be opportunities to take a test drive, or even to trade in your current vehicle, like you would at a traditional dealership.”
To help consumers, the Edmunds experts have put together a comprehensive analysis of the true cost of powering an EV, and they also maintain an authoritative EV rankings page that highlights the best electric vehicles currently in production.
Electric Vehicles Expected to be Available for Sale in 2021
Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear.
Looking at the whole life cycle of EVs, the verdict is clear. Written By: David M. Kuchta View the original article here.
Are electric vehicles truly better than gas cars for the environment? Not in all facets or in all regions of the world, but overall, unquestionably, yes—and as time goes on, only more so.
While much clickbait has been written questioning the environmental superiority of EVs, the cumulative science confirms that in almost every part of the world, driving an EV produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants than a gas-powered car. The internal combustion engine is a mature technology that has seen only incremental changes for the past half-century. By contrast, electric vehicles are still an emerging technology witnessing continual improvements in efficiency and sustainability, while dramatic changes in how the world produces electricity will only make electric vehicles cleaner.
“We still have a long way to go, and we don’t have the luxury of waiting,” said David Reichmuth of the Union of Concern Scientists in a recent interview with Treehugger.1
The transportation sector generates 24% around the world and 29% of total greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in the United States—the largest single contributor in the U.S.2 According to the EPA, the typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year at an average of 404 grams per mile.3 Beyond carbon emissions, road traffic from gas-powered vehicles generates fine particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur oxides, the adverse health effects of which—from asthma and heart disease to cancer and pregnancy disorders—have been well demonstrated and disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color.4 EVs can’t solve all those problems, but they can make our world a more livable place.
The key to comparing gas-powered vehicles with electric ones is life-cycle analysis, which accounts for the entire environmental impact of vehicles from the extraction of raw materials to the manufacturing of vehicles, the actual driving, the consumption of fuel, and their end-of-life disposal.
The most significant areas of difference are in the upstream processes (raw materials and manufacturing), during driving, and in fuel sources. Gas-powered vehicles are currently superior when it comes to resources and manufacturing. EVs are superior when it comes to driving, while the issue of fuel consumption depends on the source of the electricity that fuels EVs. Where the electricity supply is relatively clean, EVs provide a major benefit over gas-powered cars. Where the electricity is predominantly coal—the dirtiest of the fossil fuels—gas-powered cars are less polluting than electric vehicles.
But coal is less of a major source of electricity around the world, and the future favors EVs fueled by clean energy. In two comprehensive life-cycle studies published in 2020, the environmental superiority of gas-powered vehicles applied to no more than 5% of the world’s transport.5 In all other cases, the negative impacts of upstream processes and energy production were outweighed by the benefits of a lifetime of emissions-free driving.
In the United States, given the decreasing reliance on coal in the electricity grid, “driving the average EV is responsible for fewer global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car everywhere in the US,” according to Reichmuth’s recent life-cycle analysis for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As Nikolas Hill, co-author of a major 2020 study for the European Commission, told the podcast How to Save a Planet: “It’s very clear from our findings, and actually a range of other studies in this area, electric vehicles, be they fully electric vehicles, petrol-electric, plug-in hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, are unquestionably better for our climate than conventional cars. There should be absolutely no doubt about that, looking from a full life-cycle analysis.”
Raw Materials and Manufacturing
Currently, creating an EV has a more negative environmental impact than producing a gas-powered vehicle. This is, in large part, a result of battery manufacturing, which requires the mining, transportation, and processing of raw materials, often extracted in unsustainable and polluting ways.6 Battery manufacturing also requires high energy intensity, which can lead to increased GHG emissions.7
In China, for example, the raw materials and manufacturing process of a single gasoline car produces 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide, while it takes 13 tonnes of CO2 to produce an electric vehicle.8 Equally, a recent Vancouver study of comparable electric and gas-powered cars found that the manufacture of an electric vehicle uses nearly twice as much energy as manufacturing a gas-powered vehicle.9
But the differences in manufacturing, including raw materials extraction, need to be placed in the context of the entire life cycle of the vehicles. The majority of a gas vehicle’s emissions come not in the manufacturing process but in the cumulative time the vehicle is on the road. By comparison, raw materials and manufacturing play a larger role in the total life-cycle emissions of electric vehicles.10
On average, roughly one-third of total emissions for EVs come from the production process, three times that of a gas vehicle.11 However, in countries like France, which rely on low-carbon energy sources for their electricity production, the manufacturing process can constitute 75% to nearly 100% of a vehicle’s life-cycle GHG emissions.12 Once the vehicle is produced, in many countries emissions drop precipitously.
So while EV manufacturing produces higher emissions than the production of a gas-powered car does, a lifetime of low- to zero-emissions driving leads EVs to have greater environmental benefits. While, as we saw, manufacturing emissions are higher in China for EVs than for gas-powered cars, over the lifetime of the vehicles, EV emissions in China are 18% lower than fossil-fueled cars.13 Likewise, the Vancouver study cited above found that over their lifetimes, electric vehicles emit roughly half the greenhouse gases of comparable gasoline cars.14 And the benefits of EV driving come quickly after manufacturing: according to one study, “an electric vehicle’s higher emissions during the manufacturing stage are paid off after only two years.”15
The longer an EV is on the road, the less its manufacturing impact makes a difference. Driving conditions and driving behavior, however, do play a role in vehicle emissions. Auxiliary energy consumption (that is, energy not used to propel the car forward or backward, such as heating and cooling) contributes roughly one-third of vehicle emissions in any type of vehicle.16 Heating in a gas-powered car is provided by waste engine heat, while cabin heat in an EV needs to be generated using energy from the battery, increasing its environmental impact.17
Driving behavior and patterns, though less quantifiable, also matter. For example, EVs are far more efficient than gas-powered vehicles in city traffic, where an internal combustion engine continues to burn fuel while idling, while in the same situation the electric motor truly is idle. This is why EPA mileage estimates are higher for EVs in city driving than on highways, while the reverse is true for gasoline cars. More research needs to be done beyond specific case studies on the different driving behavior and patterns between drivers of EVs compared to gas-powered vehicles.18
While most studies of the benefits of electric vehicles are understandably related to greenhouse gas emissions, the wider environmental impacts of non-exhaust emissions due to traffic are also a consideration in the life-cycle analysis.
The negative health consequences of particulate matter (PM) from road traffic are well-documented.19 Road traffic generates PM from resuspension of road dust back into the air, and from the wear-and-tear of tires and brake pads, with resuspension representing some 60% of all non-exhaust emissions.20 Due to the weight of the battery, electric vehicles are on average 17% to 24% heavier than comparable gas-powered ones, leading to higher particulate matter emissions from re-suspension and tire wear.21
Braking comparisons, however, favor EVs. Fine particles from braking are the source of approximately 20% of traffic-related PM 2.5 pollution.22 Gas-powered vehicles rely on the friction from disc brakes for deceleration and stopping, while regenerative braking allows EV drivers to use the kinetic force of the motor to slow the vehicle down. By reducing the use of disc brakes, particularly in stop-and-go traffic, regenerative braking can reduce brake wear by 50% and 95% (depending on the study) compared to gas-powered vehicles.23 Overall, studies show that the comparatively greater non-exhaust emissions from EVs due to weight are roughly equal to the comparatively lower particulate emissions from regenerative braking.24
Beyond manufacturing, differences in fuel and its consumption are “one of the main drivers for life-cycle environmental impacts of EVs.”25 Some of that impact is determined by the fuel efficiency of the vehicle itself. An electric vehicle on average converts 77% of the electricity stored in its battery toward moving the car forward, while a gas-powered car converts from 12% to 30% of the energy stored in gasoline; much of the rest is wasted as heat.26
The efficiency of a battery in storing and discharging energy is also a factor. Both gas-powered cars and EVs lose fuel efficiency as they age. For gasoline cars, this means they burn more gasoline and emit more pollutants the longer they are on the road. An EV loses fuel efficiency when its battery becomes less efficient in the charging and discharging of energy, and thus uses more electricity. While a battery’s charge-discharge efficiency is 98% when new, it can drop to 80% efficiency in five to ten years, depending on environmental and driving conditions.27
Overall, however, the fuel efficiency of a gas-powered engine decreases more quickly than the efficiency of an electric motor, so the gap in fuel efficiency between EVs and gas-powered cars increases over time. A Consumer Reports study found that an owner of a five- to seven-year-old EV saves two to three times more in fuel costs than the owner of a new EV saves compared to similar gas-powered vehicles.28
Cleaning the Electricity Grid
Yet the extent of the benefits of an electric vehicle depends on factors beyond the vehicle’s control: the energy source of the electricity that fuels it. Because EVs run on standard grid electricity, their emissions level depends on how clean the electricity is going into their batteries. As the electricity grid gets cleaner, the cleanliness gap between EVs and ICE vehicles will grow only wider.
In China, for example, due to a large reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector, electric vehicles were projected to improve from 18% fewer GHG emissions than gasoline cars in 2015 to 36% fewer in 2020.13 In the United States, annual greenhouse gas emissions from an electric vehicle can range from 8.5 kg in Vermont and 2570.9 kg in Indiana, depending on the sources of electricity on the grid.29 The cleaner the grid, the cleaner the car.
On grids supplied exclusively by coal, electric vehicles can produce more GHG than gas-powered vehicles.30 A 2017 comparison of EVs and ICE vehicles in Denmark found BEVs “were not found to be effective in reducing environmental impacts,” in part because the Danish electricity grid consumes a large share of coal.31 By contrast, in Belgium, where a large share of the electricity mix comes from nuclear energy, EVs have lower life-cycle emissions than gas or diesel cars.32 In Europe as a whole, while the average EV “produces 50% less life-cycle greenhouse gases over the first 150,000 kilometers of driving,” that number can vary from 28% to 72%, depending on local electricity production.15
There can also be a trade-off between addressing climate change and addressing local air pollution. In parts of Pennsylvania where the electricity is supplied by a high share of coal-fired plants, electric vehicles may increase local air pollution even while they lower greenhouse gas emissions.33 While electric vehicles provide the highest co-benefits for combating both air pollution and climate change across the United States, in specific regions plug-in hybrid vehicles provide greater benefits than both gas-powered and electric vehicles.34
How Clean Is Your Grid?
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator allows users to calculate the greenhouse emissions of an electric or hybrid vehicle based on the energy mix of the electricity grid in their area.
If EV drivers currently have little control over the energy mix of their electricity grid, their charging behavior does influence the environmental impact of their vehicles, especially in places where the fuel mix of electricity generation changes throughout the course of the day.35
Portugal, for example, has a high share (55%) of renewable power during peak hours, but increases its reliance on coal (up to 84%) during off-peak hours, when most EV owners charge their vehicles, resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions.”36 In countries with a higher reliance on solar energy, such as Germany, midday charging has the greatest environmental benefit, whereas charging during hours of peak electricity demand (usually in the early evening) draws energy from a grid that relies more heavily on fossil fuels.30
Modifying EV charging behavior means “we can use EVs to benefit the grid,” as David Reichmuth told Treehugger. “EVs can be part of a smarter grid,” where EV owners can work with utilities so that their vehicles are charged when demand on the grid is low and the sources of electricity are clean. With pilot programs already underway, he said, “we’ll soon see the flexibility inherent in EV charging being used to enable a cleaner grid.”
In the build-out of electric vehicle charging stations, the success of efforts to increase the environmental benefit of EVs will also rely on charging stations that use clean or low-carbon energy sources. High-speed DC charging can put demands on the electricity grid, especially during hours of peak electricity demand. This can require utilities to rely more heavily on natural gas “peaker” plants.
Reichmuth noted that many charging stations with DC Fast Charging are installing battery storage to cut their utility costs and also reduce reliance on high-carbon power plants. Charging their batteries with solar-generated electricity and discharging them during peak demand hours allows charging stations to support EV adoption at the same time that they promote solar energy even when the sun isn’t shining.37
End of Life
What happens to electric vehicles when they’ve reached their end of life? As with gas-powered vehicles, scrap yards can recycle or re-sell the metals, electronic waste, tires, and other elements of an electric vehicle. The main difference, of course, is the battery. In gas-powered vehicles, over 98% of the materials by mass in lead-acid batteries are successfully recycled.38 EV battery recycling is still in its infancy since most electric vehicles have only been on the road for fewer than five years. When those vehicles do reach their end of life, there could be some 200,00 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries that need to be disposed. A successful battery recycling program needs to be developed to avoid decreasing the relative benefits of EVs.39
It Only Gets Better
Periods in the life cycle of an electric vehicle can be more environmentally harmful than in similar periods of a gas-powered car, and in areas where the electricity supply is dominated by coal, EVs produce more air pollution and greenhouse gases than gas-powered cars. But those areas are far outweighed by the overall benefits of EV—and the benefits can only improve as EV manufacturing evolves and as electricity grids get cleaner.
Were half of the cars on the road electric, global carbon emissions could be reduced by as much as 1.5 gigatons—equivalent to the current admissions of Russia.40 By 2050, electrification of the transport sector can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 93%, nitrogen oxide emissions by 96%, and sulfur oxide emissions by 99%, compared to 2020 levels, and lead to the prevention of 90,000 premature deaths.41
The electric vehicle industry is young, yet it is already producing cars that are environmentally more beneficial than their gas-powered equivalents. As the industry matures, those benefits can only increase.
By Hannah Alcoseba Fernandez and Tim Ha View the original article here
From banks weaning off dirty energy to green jobs, Eco-Business spotlights the trends that could reshape society and business as the world moves into the post-Covid era.
As Covid-19 raged across the globe this year, policymakers and businesses ripped up more and more of their initial projections and expectations for the year. Memes on social media reflected the new reality of transformed workplaces and confinement to one’s homes.
But not all projections were inaccurate. Covid-19 has accelerated certain trends such as the growth of plant-based protein and the shift to low-carbon energy.
As more countries gear up for mass vaccination exercises, what will 2021 bring? Which impacts of Covid-19 will be enduring, and which will be fleeting?
Here are the trends that we believe will shape sustainability in the year ahead.
1. More lenders will walk away from fossil fuels—and not just coal
The capital flight from dirty energy will not only accelerate in 2021—it will go beyond coal to hit oil and natural gas.
Data by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) shows more than 150 major global financial institutions now have coal exit policies in place, with 65 banks committing to tighter lending guidelines this year alone. The future looks gloomy for the world’s filthiest fossil fuel. The outlook for oil and gas isn’t hunky-dory either.
Covid-19 has raised fears that oil demand could soon be in terminal decline, leading to cuts in long-term price forecasts. Meanwhile, mounting evidence of the tremendous amounts of climate-wrecking methane emitted by the gas industry has been a wake-up call for financial markets.
All major North American banks have ruled out support for Arctic drilling and 53 lenders worldwide have pledged to align their operations with the Paris climate deal. This month, New York State, with a US$226 billion financial portfolio, became the biggest pension fund anywhere to divest from fossil fuels. It should not come as a surprise that oil majors like BP and ExxonMobil have lost nearly half their market value this year.
Tim Buckley, IEEFA director of energy finance studies, said: “At the start of 2020, everyone talked about thermal coal becoming unbankable. At the end of the year, that is almost a given now. Financial markets are acknowledging that the capital flight from fossil fuels is accelerating, and its broadening into oil and gas will be the next big thing.”
2. Will Big Tech become the new Big Oil?
Not that long ago, oil powers ruled the economy and influenced world events.
But waning demand for fossil fuels in recent years and the crushing blow of the pandemic are some of the sweeping changes that have been ushering out the age of Big Oil, and heralding the Big Tech era.
“With the dominance of big tech players like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, and rise of China-based tech companies, the privacy side of security will be put into focus in the coming year,” said Thomas Milburn, director of United Kingdom-based sustainability consultancy Corporate Citizenship.
Deep tech’s ability to automatically create fake news, the impact of social media on young people, and the overuse of tech devices are particularly worrying, said Milburn.
There has been rising concern about ethics and how tech should be used for the good and well-being of humanity, and more regulation is needed in the coming year, Milburn said.
3. More ‘green-collar’ workers for the post-Covid economy
Although many governments fell short of using stimulus dollars for a green recovery from Covid-19, there have been signs of a transition to green jobs.
As part of its Green New Deal unveiled in May, South Korea will establish a Regional Energy Transition Centre to support workers as they switch to more sustainable sectors. An initial parliamentary proposal calls for an investment of US$10.5 billion over the next two years, with the focus on the creation of 133,000 jobs. The plan includes remodelling public buildings, creating urban forests, recycling, establishing a foundation for new and renewable energy, and creating low-carbon industrial complexes to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
Singapore is also trying to develop jobs in the field of sustainability. Its sustainability and environment minister Grace Fu said in August that climate scientists, engineers, technicians and food scientists will be needed as the city-state increases its capabilities in climate mitigation and adaptation.
Elsewhere in the world, the United Kingdom pledged to invest over US$5 billion in creating 250,000 new green jobs as part of its net-zero plan.
4. A more climate-conscious Belt and Road Initiative
This year, China pledged to become carbon neutral by 2060, bringing the world closer to its goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. But if the world’s biggest emitter keeps driving up emissions through its activities overseas even as it shrinks its carbon footprint at home, the nation wouldn’t exactly present itself as a shining model at next year’s climate negotiations in Glasgow.
Once the pandemic is under control, China is expected to revive its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure project spreading across nearly 70 countries from Asia to Europe. Following recent warnings that the initiative could lead to 3 degrees Celsius of warming, the greening of projects launched under the scheme will be a key theme in 2021.
As energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?
Tim Buckley, director, energy finance studies, Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis
There are signs that China’s activities beyond its borders are already changing. In Myanmar, for instance, Chinese companies dominated the nation’s first solar auction. In Egypt, a Chinese-backed coal power plant—the second-largest on the planet—was shelved indefinitely last April, three months after a Chinese corporation clinched a contract to build a 500-megawatt solar facility in the country. In November, a Chinese bank pulled out of a proposed coal project in Kenya, casting doubts on the venture’s viability.
“China’s ambitions to go global will resume after the pandemic,” said IEEFA’s Buckley. “But the BRI has been tarnished, so Beijing will need to make it friendlier towards recipient countries. And as energy security becomes more important, why would you build power plants that burn imported fossil fuels when there are plenty of cheap local wind and solar resources available?”
5. Work from home is here to stay
The coronavirus pandemic forced many firms to adopt flexible and remote working arrangements earlier this year. Having invested in remote work tools, many companies in insurance, financial services, technology, and media may not return to the old way of working anytime soon, even when a vaccine makes sending employees back to offices less risky.
More corporate leaders have realised that working from home works, and employees won’t be itching to leave the comfort of their homes and spend hours on crowded trains and buses each day. What will this mean for the transport and buildings sectors?
Many offices could be converted to other uses in the coming years as governments seek to address housing shortages, while shared spaces and meeting rooms will replace the traditional workplace. Fewer long commutes also mean a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability.
Paeng Lopez, sustainable health in procurement project coordinator, Health Care Without Harm
6. Has sustainable healthcare’s time finally arrived?
The healthcare sector is showing signs of greater eco-consciousness.
“From cost-efficiency to sustainable procurement methods, healthcare is increasingly leading the way towards sustainability. This is the kind of meaningful participation to address global problems that will go viral in 2021 and beyond,” said Paeng Lopez of Health Care Without Harm, a group which works to reduce the environmental footprint of healthcare worldwide.
Lopez said there has been a rise in healthcare facilities with solar rooftops. Healthcare facilities are some of the largest energy consumers, yet more than one billion people worldwide do not have access to health facilities with a reliable power supply, putting basic care at risk, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
Lopez noted that hospitals will also introduce more solutions to manage and limit medical waste, which is estimated to have added 1,000 tonnes of litter per day in Southeast Asia.
Even small health facilities in the region are adopting scalable waste reduction solutions, he said.
St Paul’s Hospital in Ilo-Ilo, Philippines is manufacturing its own reusable personal protective equipment to minimise waste, while Taichung Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan has designed a sealed barrier that features a pair of rubber gloves, allowing health care workers to safely perform countless nasal swab tests with less single-use equipment, as recommended by the WHO.
7. The great tourism reset
Covid-19 has upended travel and tourism this year, costing the industry more than 120 million jobs, according to some estimates. The silver lining is that it has given popular destinations a much-needed breather.
As countries seek to restart travel in 2021, tourism operators must heed lessons from the crisis and promote environmental and business resilience, as well as biodiversity conservation. The concept of regenerative tourism is growing.
Communities traditionally overrun by visitors can embrace local food sources, renewables, clean transport, green buildings, and better waste management, while travellers must be more mindful of their impact on local culture and the environment. This could mean paying a premium for a more responsible experience.
With the pandemic still raging across the globe, businesses will need to reopen responsibly. This could mean sticking to “travel bubbles” where visitors follow pre-determined itineraries and follow strict health protocols to prevent another wave of infections.
China and Korea have put in place the first travel bubble in the Asia Pacific region. Singapore, whose travel bubble with Hong Kong is postponed, has unilaterally opened up to Australia, Brunei, mainland China, New Zealand, Vietnam and Taiwan. Australia and New Zealand have announced a quarantine-free travel bubble agreement to start in the first quarter of 2021.
8. Will deep-sea miners wreck the planet’s last frontier?
Needed for solar panels and batteries, precious metals such as cobalt, nickel, and copper are essential for a low-carbon future. Some mining firms are arguing that this justifies the environmental damage caused by extractive activities.
One place they have been eyeing is the ocean floor, and there are negotiations underway that could pave the way for just that. As early as 2021, the International Seabed Authority could greenlight ocean mining in international waters.
But environmentalists have warned that mining of the deep sea could destroy entire habitats. They maintain that there are sufficient resources on land, especially as companies explore ways to recover metals from clean energy waste streams, reducing the need for raw materials.
The coming year will tell whether miners will get their way, or whether green groups can dissuade nations from exploiting one of nature’s last frontiers.
Adaptive reuse is when you go to an art gallery… in a former church, when you attend a community event… in an old barn, when you book a Costa Rican vacation and your hotel is made out of shipping containers! With the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of repurposing the built environment has become even more important. Vacant office space becomes a healthcare facility. Hotels turn into healthcare worker housing. A shopping mall is suddenly a medical center.
As an interior designer, I have always been intrigued by adaptive reuse projects. Projects where a design team has expertly executed a vision for a forgotten run-down building or interior space and brought it back to life. They hold a special place in my heart. When the opportunity arose to purchase, design, and renovate an abandoned auto garage in Boca Raton to use as a live/work space, it was a dream come true. As an adaptive reuse project, the most important initial points of consideration begin with safety, accessibility, and compatibility. These basic points are relevant no matter what is being considered, from energy to building materials to assessing current building code requirements.
Keeping the form or structure of a building intact while changing its function is challenging. However, it can provide significant environmental and economic benefits. Adaptive reuse projects have utilized sustainable design concepts long before LEED and green building became popular. Adaptive reuse is one of the most maximized uses of recycling. The value of reuse, recycle and repurpose is intrinsic to these projects.
Benefits of Adaptive Reuse
Adaptive reuse is sustainable
Greenest building is one that already exists
Reduction in building materials needed to transform a space
Reduces energy consumption associated with demolishing a structure
And building a new one to replace it
Potential cost benefits associated with greenfield development
Design and Construction Costs
Spaces may be useful for fledgling businesses
16% less costly than other forms of construction
Results in lower leasing rate
Faster than new construction
Renovated existing building ready for occupancy sooner
Preservation of local identity
Older buildings add and establish the character of local built environments
Preserves a local sense of place and authentic experience
Utilization of a previously developed site
Avoids development of greenfields
Utilizes existing utility infrastructure
Minimizes impact on watersheds and stormwater systems
Reusing existing building elements
Embodied energy savings
Construction waste savings
Utilize the character of existing spaces and materials
Below is my adaptive reuse project story. I hope you enjoy it!
Auto Body Shop Transformed into Live-Work Gem in Sunny Boca Raton
Boca Raton, Florida is well known for its affluent gated golf communities, manicured landscapes, and pristine beaches. Unlike cities such as Pittsburgh and Cincinnati where industrial is synonymous with the name, Boca’s industrial area is inconspicuous. That is why the unexpected location of this industrial section is the perfect setting for a hidden gem, a distinctive live-work studio. What was once a run-down auto body shop with ground contamination was transformed into an office, studio, and residence. With a commitment and passion for design, the built environment, and sustainability, this industrial property has been repurposed into a warm, inviting, and environmentally friendly enclave.
The base footprint of the building is 1,950 square feet. The front of the building houses the residential space which includes a kitchen, bathroom, open living space and a cozy loft which provides an additional 240 square feet. This portion of the building was designed to be self-contained with a separate entrance and electric meter should future usage needs change. A peek inside the space shows a metal spiral staircase leading to the loft. The spiral stairs were kept intact from the original body shop but painted a soft metallic gold as a nod to the design firm’s name Golden Spiral Design.
The small footprint of 1,950 square feet required creative design solutions to maximize the multi –
functionality of the space. The live work concept had to become truly integrated based on the building size. The residential component made sense to be in the front portion of the building which allows a separate entrance. The main auto garage became the office/studio but is designed as a flex space to accommodate large meetings or entertaining on the weekends. To delineate areas of the open space, furniture placement, lighting and plants were utilized.
The back portion of the building was originally an auto painting stall and allows for privacy once the large, colorful barn door is closed. High gloss cabinetry was added for much needed storage and includes a murphy bed. This space also contains an added ADA bathroom, free standing glass shower, and washer and dryer.
The walls are painted a crisp white which showcase the concrete block walls, their inherent imperfection, and years of use. A modified exposed interior was created with galvanized metal soffits that hide electrical and air conditioning components. The three original overhead garage doors are still intact and used as metal shades for privacy and sun control. The garage concrete floors were polished and sealed still showing the shapes, imperfections, and natural patina of the building. Old Chicago brick was added to both the interior and exterior walls to emulate the character of old industrial buildings.
The grounds were designed to visually create an inviting enclave. Sustainable fencing was installed which offers privacy and security. The front apex, once an eyesore, is a green oasis with bronze trellises, jasmine vines, orchids, and a custom mosaic. Sustainable, resilient and energy efficient principles were applied throughout the design and specifications of this building.
Below are key sustainable concepts that were utilized for this project.
Construction Waste Recycling
Adaptive Reuse of Undesirable Property
Highly Reflective Roof and added Insulation
No additional Building Footprint added
Solar Panels and Battery Storage
Energy Efficient HVAC
Energy Efficient Windows
Energy Efficient LED Lighting
Low Flow Plumbing Fixtures
Energy Efficient Appliances
Recycling and Composting
Low VOC Paint and Finishes
Exterior Drip Irrigation System
Converting this building to a multi-use habitable space was both challenging and rewarding. It was important to design the space using the existing building footprint (bigger is not better), to remediate the undesirable brownfield, to take advantage of the industrial character, and to promote sustainability throughout the entire design process.
With the arrival of the COVID pandemic it has never been more important to have a healthy and safe place to work. For questions about the adaptive reuse of this building – or the potential of a building you own – please contact me, Julie Lundin, at (561) 866-4741 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Like it or not, humans have become an indoor species, so buildings have a major impact on our health. That’s why the Healthy Building Movement is gaining momentum, say John Macomber and Joseph Allen.
Will you ever again step onto a crowded elevator without hesitation? Reach for a doorknob without concern (or gloves)?
Easing social distancing restrictions might reopen businesses, but as long as memories of COVID-19 lockdowns are still fresh in people’s minds, the experience of being inside an office building most likely will not return to “normal.”
Even before the pandemic struck, there were plenty of reasons to be concerned about air quality and ventilation in the buildings where we live and work. After all, healthier indoor environments don’t just keep us from getting sick—they also enhance cognitive performance.
“OFFICES WITH THE PREMIER HEALTH STORY WILL GET THE PREMIUM RENT AND GET THE TENANTS, AND THE OFFICES WITH A LAGGING HEALTH STORY WILL LAG.”
To convey to managers the benefits of the healthy building movement, John D. Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, recently wrote a book about it: Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, to be published April 21.
Although facilities managers might think they’re saving a few dollars on electricity and air filters, “There’s just no reason anymore to economize on airflow and filtration,” Macomber says. “That just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a cheap way to help people be healthier.”
Together with co-author Joseph G. Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Macomber explores “nine foundations for a healthy building” and studies how simple tweaks to increase air flow and quality can have dramatic effects on workers.
But the economic benefits don’t stop there. Macomber expects that a growing public focus on health measures will drive major changes across a variety of industries, but especially in travel and hospitality. Increasingly, Macomber postulates, savvy business leaders and landlords will begin to leverage healthier indoor spaces as recruitment tools and sources of competitive advantage. Anxieties over COVID-19 are likely to accelerate these trends, he says.
“I think awareness is heightened, and in this economy there’ll be a drop in demand for space, both for apartments and offices,” he says. “With those two things together, I think that the offices with the premier health story will get the premium rent and get the tenants, and the offices with a lagging health story will lag.”
Many elite companies already use their building’s efficiency or grandeur to send a signal to customers and workforce talent. As a result of the global pandemic, Macomber expects an emphasis on indoor air quality and other healthy building measures will diffuse through the rest of the economy.
As the country begins to return to work, concerns about the spread of infectious disease will “make it easier than ever to invest in the basics of a healthy building, notably around ventilation, air quality, water, moisture, and security,” says Macomber. “Those aren’t expensive to begin with. So, I think those will propagate through pretty quickly, and they’ll be must-haves, because the cost is not relatively very high, and the benefit is extremely high.”
As anyone who has ever felt sleepy on a stuffy airplane can attest, poor ventilation impedes cognition. “Casinos figured this out a long time ago, pumping in extra air and keeping the temperature cool to keep you awake at the gaming tables and slot machines longer,” Allen and Macomber write.
But through scientific, double-blind studies of workers in offices with various levels of air quality and flow, in which the workers were compared with themselves to gauge differences in personal performance, the authors of Healthy Buildings can quantify these effects.
Across all nine dimensions of cognitive function, which include things like “strategy,” “focused activity level,” and “crisis response,” performance was dramatically improved when study subjects worked in the optimal conditions (with high rates of ventilation and low concentrations of carbon dioxide and other harsh compounds).
“Think about that for one second—simply increasing the amount of air brought into an office, something nearly every office can easily do, had a quantifiable benefit to higher-order cognitive function in knowledge workers,” Macomber and Allen write.
Macomber is careful, though, not to make the leap from enhanced performance to increased productivity, because productivity involves so many different factors.
Among the nine foundations for a healthy building (see graphic) is “security,” a term the authors expect will take on a broader meaning in a post-pandemic world. Building security will involve monitoring not just who enters and what they are physically carrying, but also what they might be carrying internally. In addition to metal detectors, infrared scanners at building entrances will take visitors’ temperatures, to help prevent the spread of viruses and other pathogens, similar to technology already in place at some airports.
As people begin to internalize the collective nature of public health, sharing of personal health and air quality metrics—using wearables and smartphones—could lead to new applications that provide real-time information about the conditions inside buildings. Imagine an app that does for public health what WAZE has done for traffic congestion, Macomber says.
“There is going to be substantially more awareness and interest on the part of the public, in terms of the quality of the spaces that they’re occupying, and they’ll be selective about their airplanes and about their cruise ships,” he predicts. “And pretty quickly they’ll be selective about their apartments and their offices as well, and they’ll share that information with other people.”
Perhaps Henry David Thoreau was onto something when he set out solo for a cabin in the woods with the aim of becoming completely self-sustainable – for one, he wouldn’t really need to stress about a contagious pandemic.
Thoreau’s experience would later shape the 19th century literary classic Walden; or, Life in the Woods, detailing how he was able to rely solely on himself, including growing his own food and sourcing firewood for heat and light at night.
Whether he knew it or not Thoreau was excelling at social distancing and we could all take a leaf out of his book.
Because, while most of us have got the idea of self-isolation down pat, I bet few are likely to pass the self-sufficiency test.
You only have to look at recent purchasing trends to see some of the panic stemming from a lack of self-sufficiency to see this ‘test’ in action.
First it was the toilet paper and tinned food, before spreading to plants, with a nursery’s months-worth of vegetables and seedlings stock sold over one weekend.
Next up: renewable energy infrastructure, as demonstrated by one solar retailer experiencing a 41 percent jump in PV sales and a 400 percent increase in battery enquiries over the past two weeks.
But where were these eco warriors, cultivating their own veggie patches and living ‘off-grid’ before the apocalyptic hysteria hit?
If history is any proof, crises are often the perfect kindling for igniting change, especially when standards of living are threatened.
And the COVID-19 crisis has certainly given the energy world a wake-up call when it comes to sustainability.
Mother nature gets a well deserved break
Amid coronavirus-induced lockdowns, shutdowns and working from home, air pollution has significantly dropped worldwide.
In New York, carbon monoxide levels, largely produced from cars, have fallen by nearly 50 percent compared with the same time last year.
Greenhouse gas emissions in China have also plummeted with NASA releasing images where you can see the country’s reduction in nitrogen dioxide from space.
According to one analysis, the slowdown of economic activity in China led to an estimated 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions in just four weeks.
The restriction on air travel, or any travel at all, has also clearly played a role in reducing pollutants.
And whether you choose to believe the stories of wildlife returning to cities, like dolphins and swans returning to Venice canals, coronavirus has certainly given mother nature a well-deserved moment of respite.
However, this has been at the expense of economic development, of jobs and livelihoods – and it’s certainly not going to be long-term.
Air pollutants will likely jump once day-to-day normalities resume.
However, if we’re smart about it, we can use this period to re-evaluate our energy systems to help flatten the emissions curve and keep our air clean.
Energy systems under pressure
Aside from the closure of factories and reduction in fuel-consuming transport, we can’t forget that data centers and server-farms are also huge energy-intensive industries.
Collectively, these spaces represent approximately two percent of the United State’s total electricity use.
In the UK, there’s been reports of home-working intensifying pressure on the electricity network, instead of being in the office where lighting, heating and cooling are shared.
Now everyone’s either working from home, or just at home, internet use and streaming is peaking.
A study by SaveOnEnergy estimated energy generated from the 80 million views on Netflix’s NFLX thriller Birdbox was equal to the equivalent of driving more than 146 million miles and emitting just over 66 million kilograms of CO2 – what it takes to drive from London to Istanbul and back 38,879 times.
Beyond the environmental impact, coronavirus has brought more attention to the question of whether our current energy systems and frameworks can actually keep up with increasing demand pressures.
Several country-appointed energy councils have met to discuss electricity demand pressures related to COVID-19, with renewable energy a popular topic.
In a meeting between Australia’s federal, state and territory energy ministers, the transition towards a genuine two-sided market was emphasized – where consumers become prosumers by contributing excess rooftop solar and battery electricity to the grid.
This would play a large role in forming a ‘day-ahead’ market, to “address concerns that managing challenges like system strength is becoming increasingly difficult with only a real-time market”.
On top of this, the Australian Government’s Economic Response to the Coronavirus actually includes tax deduction incentives for commercial and industrial solar PV, in a bid to help alleviate financial pressure through reduced electricity bills.
Digital transformation is underway across the energy sector, with significant advancements in renewable energy technologies and the ways in which energy is distributed.
For any real change to occur, you need people to switch perspectives.
Powering new mindsets
Tough times spark innovation. Now is as good a time as any to test new energy systems and processes, and it starts with a shift in thinking.
Energy networks, retailers and operators have delivered services in much the same way for a century – driven by fossil-fuels.
New technology is making it easier, more effective and affordable to use renewable energy, and the costs associated with installing those technologies, such as solar and batteries are decreasing.
And most industry players recognise the need to change and evolve in order to remain relevant, or are at least are starting to, with a little nudge from COVID-19.
Self-generating renewable energy infrastructure gives people the power to become self-sufficient for their electricity needs, with some even going ‘off-grid’ altogether.
National Energy Market retailer Powerclub is one company already trialling new technology to help alleviate demand pressure on the grid via a Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in South Australia and is currently calling for more households to join.
The VPP enables Powerclub households with batteries to sell their stored, excess solar back to the grid during peak demand periods and price hikes, via peer-to-peer energy trading technology.
There is a huge benefit to the broader community in that the VPP gives those who may not be able to afford solar panels, or those who are renting, the opportunity to access clean energy.
As great as it is to think of only the environmental benefit that comes with using clean energy, a monetary incentive certainly makes the proposition more appealing.
Not only does a VPP provide renewable energy infrastructure owners with a passive income, it can also provide an incentive for others to install solar panels – knowing they’ll be able to pay back their investment faster.
Pair a VPP with home grown vegetables and you’re a little closer to achieving Thoreau’s vision for self-sufficiency.
Where to from here?
At the end of the day, it shouldn’t take a pandemic for people to reconsider their impact on the environment – but it has.
We’re now being given a chance to press reset on many areas of our lives and reconsider what it takes and what choices to make in order to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
Energy regulators are on the right track with numerous initiatives and policy changes currently underway.
But you could make a change right now – how we return to normal life post COVID-19 could lay the foundations for a cleaner and more resilient energy future.
Why does that matter? Well, as Thoreau said; “What is the use of a house if you don’t have a decent planet to put it on?”
Last year saw numerous developments in the electric-vehicle space, from manufacturers like Tesla, Ford, and Porsche.
In addition to the developments, carmakers made claims about how fast they’ll be introducing new electric and hybrid vehicles over the next few years — partially in response to tightening efficiency and emissions standards.
Some manufacturers have revised their earlier estimates and are planning to reach electrification targets sooner than expected.
The electric-vehicle market made big gains in 2019, across multiple car manufacturers — and the industry has even bigger plans for the years to come.
Rivian, for example, closed out the year with an extra $1.3 billion in investments. Tesla turned a profit, debuted the Cybertruck, delivered the first Model 3s built in its Shanghai plant, and announced a boosted range on its Model S and Model X. On the luxury end of the spectrum, the Audi E-Tron went up for sale, Porsche started production on the Taycan performance car, and Lamborghini announced its first hybrid supercar.
While plenty of tangible EV-related developments happened in 2019, it was also a year of promises made. As of late last year, auto manufacturers had pledged to spend a total of $225 billion developing new EVs in the near future, via The Wall Street Journal.
Increasingly restrictive emissions and fuel-efficiency regulations around the globe — but not so much in the US — are compelling carmakers to roll out vehicles more able to fit within those restrictions. Accordingly, in recent years, manufacturers have advertised a whirlwind of plans and timelines for bringing more EVs to market.
Scroll down to read more about what automakers see in their EV future.
Toyota — whose cars currently make up more than 80% of the global hybrid vehicle market, according to Reuters — announced plans to generate half of its sales from electrified vehicles by 2025, five years earlier than it previously estimated. Despite having its own battery-making operation already, Toyota will partner with Chinese battery manufacturers to meet demand.
Last year, Volkswagen said it will spend more than $30 billion developing EVs by 2023. The manufacturer also aims for EVs to make up 40% of its global fleet by 2030. Not to mention, Volkswagen plans to reach its target of 1 million electric cars produced by the end of 2023, two years ahead of its prior predictions.
In 2019, General Motors said Cadillac will be its lead brand when it comes to electric vehicles. Cadillac’s president said the majority of the brand’s models would be electric by 2030, and left open the possibility that the lineup would go entirely electric by then. He also confirmed that Cadillac would roll out a large Escalade-like electric SUV, which it expects to begin manufacturing in late 2023.
Last year, Ford unveiled the Mustang Mach-E, an electric crossover that gets its name from the company’s iconic sports car. But that wasn’t the only EV Ford had plans for. In 2018, Ford’s CEO said an increased investment in electric-car initiatives would result in a 2022 model lineup that includes 40 electric and electrified vehicles.
In 2019, Ford Europe said it will offer an electrified option for all of its future nameplates and announced at the Detroit Auto Show that a fully electric F-150 would launch in the coming years. The Blue Oval also showed off a lineup of 17 hybrids and EVs — both family haulers and commercial vehicles — it plans to bring to the European market by 2024.
Last year, Volvo released its first electric vehicle, the XC40 Recharge, which it expects will go on sale in the US in the fourth quarter of 2020. The brand also doubled down on its pledge to generate 50% of its global sales from EVs by 2025 and promised that, by the same year, it will reduce the total carbon footprint of each vehicle manufactured by 40%.
Plus, Volvo said it will release a new EV every year for the next five years. This is all part of the Swedish company’s plan to become fully climate neutral by 2040.
Honda revealed its Honda E city car in 2019, and also said every model it sells in Europe will be at least partially electrified by 2022. That’s a big jump from Honda’s earlier projections of a full lineup of electrified cars by 2025. The fully electric Honda E and hybrid Jazz, known as the Fit to US consumers, will jumpstart the initiative.
In 2017, BMW Group projected that electrified vehicles — a term that doesn’t necessarily equate to fully electric vehicles — would account for 15% to 25% of its sales by 2025.
In working toward that projection, BMW Group unveiled the electric Mini Cooper SE last year, targeting it toward “urban mobility.” In June, the Bavarian brand said it will offer 25 electrified vehicles by 2023, two years earlier than it had initially planned. One of those new models — an electric version of the 1 Series hatchback — may arrive as early as 2021.
BMW also projects a twofold increase in electrified vehicle sales by 2021, as compared with 2019, and a 30% growth in those sales year over year through 2025.
Nissan launched the Leaf Plus with a longer range last year, and plans to introduce eight new electric cars by 2022.
At last year’s Tokyo Motor Show, the brand unveiled the concept version of its new Ariya EV, and Car and Driver reported late last year that a production version could make it to the US by 2021. Nissan claims the high-performance crossover will travel 300 miles on a single charge and go from 0 to 60 mph in less than five seconds.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
In 2018, Fiat Chrysler announced it would invest $10.5 billion in electrification through 2022. By that year, FCA plans to offer at least 12 hybrid and all-electric powertrain options and launch more than 30 electrified nameplates. As part of that effort, the company announced a $4.5 billion investment in new and existing plants last year that would allow it to produce at least four plug-in hybrid Jeep models.
FCA began making good on that promise when it displayed plug-in hybrid versions of the Compass, Renegade, and Wrangler at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.
In 2017, Daimler, the parent company to Mercedes-Benz, unveiled plans to plunge more than $11 billion into developing its EQ series of electric cars, with the aim of introducing more than 10 EVs by 2022. The company also plans to offer at least one electric option in every Mercedes-Benz model series. Last year, Daimler confirmed that an all-electric G-Wagen is in the works.
As solar and heat pump prices fall, these highly energy-efficient homes are paying for themselves faster. Here’s how they work and why they’re spreading northward.
Home-builder Bill Decker explains some of the techniques used to create highly energy-efficient homes in chilly southeast Michigan. New research shows that the extra cost of making a home net-zero energy can pay for itself in under a decade in Detroit and 11.4 years in Chicago. Credit: Dan Gearino
LAMBERTVILLE, Mich.—On a drive down a country road, builder Bill Decker gives an off-the-cuff seminar about energy efficient homes.
He shifts from carpentry to electrical engineering, and then to theology—his belief that his faith compels him to take care of the earth. Every few minutes, he pauses and points out a house his family-owned company has built.
He has been in business since 1981 and only now is his industry beginning to grasp something he has been arguing for a while: Net-zero-energy homes—homes that are so efficient a few rooftop solar panels can produce all the electricity the home needs—can be built almost anywhere, even in places with brutal winters.
His case is bolstered by a recent report from the Rocky Mountain Institute showing net-zero energy houses can make financial sense in much of the Midwest as costs for some of the key components fall. The initial extra costs of making a new home a net-zero energy home pay for themselves through energy savings in less than a decade in both Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and in less than 14 years in most of the 50 largest U.S. cities, the report says.
At the forefront are custom builders who specialize in efficient houses and helped to create this market, people like Decker, 79, whose southeastern Michigan company, Decker Homes, is just across the state line from Toledo, Ohio.
“It isn’t just energy efficiency we’re talking about here,” he says. “It’s the whole world. We’re talking about climate change.”
Indeed, housing is responsible for about 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, including its share of power plant emissions.
Yet his sales pitch is largely about comfort. An energy efficient house doesn’t have chilly drafts, and the temperature varies little from room to room, and those are things that appeal to most people, he says.
‘It’s the Little Things that Add Up’
Decker parks on the dirt driveway of a house in progress as a light rain turns to snow flurries. In a living room that is studs and bare wood floors, he notes the features that make this house highly energy efficient. The key is making insulation an essential part of construction.
Decker walks to the corner of the room and points out an opening of several inches between studs to allow for easy placement of insulation. Builders call this a “California corner,” which is an alternative to a typical corner design that is much more difficult to insulate.
“It’s little things that add up,” he says.
Zero-energy homes start with well-sealed and well-insulated attics, walls and basements or slabs. They often use triple-pane windows, especially in places with cold winters. Inside, energy-efficient appliances, highly efficient LED lighting and smart thermostats help avoid energy waste.
Their designs often take natural lighting into account, too, and position windows and overhangs for additional solar heating in the winter and shade in summer. Since the homes are sealed to avoid letting cold or hot air in—and cool or warm air out—they also have ventilation systems customized to maintain comfortable circulation.
Decker recently completed his first house with an air-source heat pump, which is less expensive than geothermal heat or other electric options. In cold weather, the system extracts heat from the outside air and uses it to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. In warm weather, the process is reversed, with the system gathering heat from inside and transferring it outside.
He is starting to use air-source systems because newer models work well in below-freezing temperatures, which was not the case just a few years ago. Heat pump advancements are one of the main factors making highly efficient homes more affordable in many colder climates.
This is in addition to a cost factor that affects all climates: Rooftop solar prices have plummeted in recent years and are projected to continue doing so. That is true of battery power storage as well.
In Detroit, Net-Zero Pays for Itself in 9 Years
The costs and benefits of building net-zero houses vary widely in major cities, ranging from San Francisco, where the benefits would cover the costs in eight years, to Philadelphia, where it would take about three times as long, according to the Rocky Mountain Institute.
The largest savings tend to be in cities with high electricity rates and older building codes.
The key point is that energy efficiency pays for itself, which is not the case for many other major expenses in a house, said Jacob Corvidae, principal at Rocky Mountain Institute, a research nonprofit that focuses on clean energy.
“Zero-energy homes are actually affordable,” he said. This is important because many consumers, builders and policymakers are reluctant to consider zero-energy homes because of the perception that costs are prohibitive, he said.
In Detroit, for example, a 2,200-square-foot net-zero energy house would cost $19,753 more than the same house with no solar and typical efficiency. The energy-bill savings would be $2,508 in the first year, and the solar and efficiency costs would pay for themselves in about nine years with inflation and other changes taken into account.
Bill Decker’s son, Dale, shows some of the construction methods used to insulate and seal a highly energy-efficient home against air leaks and energy waste. Credit: Dan Gearino
The Midwest is well represented among cities with short payoff periods. Detroit is second in the report. Columbus ranks fourth, with a payoff of less than 10 years. Chicago ranks 10th and Indianapolis is 12th, with payoffs of about 11 years and 12 years, respectively.
Detroit has high annual savings in part because the city has some of the highest electricity rates, Corvidae said. Columbus’ high savings are in part because the city has an older building code, so standard houses do not have high efficiency standards.
A home with all the energy efficiency attributes of a net-zero energy house but not the solar panels will save customers money even more quickly, the report notes, though it doesn’t provide all of the climate benefits. In Detroit, a “net-zero-energy ready” house without solar would cost $1,574 more than a typical house and would pay for itself in less than two years. After that, the investment means hundreds of dollars in savings for the homeowner every year.
New California Mandate Gets Close to Net-Zero
Net-zero energy homes are a fraction of 1 percent of new housing being built, but their share is growing. Builders completed 13,906 net-zero housing units last year in the United States and Canada, a 70 percent increase from the prior year, according to a report by the nonprofit Net-Zero Energy Coalition.
California was the leader with more than 5,000 units, five times more than runner-up Arizona, where the Rocky Mountain Institute report shows net-zero homes in Phoenix can cover their costs in 11 years.
California’s lead is likely to grow because of a state building code update that takes effect in 2020 and will require solar panels on most new housing and have strict efficiency standards, the first state to do so. The code falls short of a mandate for net-zero energy housing, but it comes close.
Meanwhile, some of the country’s largest home builders, such as PulteGroup and Meritage Homes, are taking steps to offer net-zero energy options. In Cortez, Florida, Pearl Homes is building a zero-energy community that also incorporates energy storage and electric vehicle chargers.
The corporate moves are tied to consumer demand and because energy efficiency is becoming more affordable, said Ann Edminster, a consultant and architect who works with the Net-Zero Energy Coalition.
“We’re starting to see the tip of that iceberg, and when it really hits, it’s going to be huge,” she said.
Bill Decker thinks many more people would want an energy efficient house if they only had someone to explain the benefits. In his part of the world, that someone is him.
“It’s creating value, saving money, helping the environment,” he said. “In the end, you say to yourself, ‘Why would you do anything else?'”
Humans evolved on Earth over thousands of years before the invention of artificial light, under natural light conditions of sunlight, moonlight, and a relatively little bit of fire light. These natural light conditions are reflected inthe physical structure of the eye, with cones being tuned to daylight and rods to night time light conditions. Humans are diurnal (daytime) beings, while some other animals are nocturnal, so our normal pattern of wakefulness and activity is during the daytime.
There is another form of light sensor in the eye discovered more recently that does not contribute directly to sight yet plays a role in secretion of melatonin: the intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells (pRGC).
During the past ten years brain scientists have discovered that in addition to patterns of light being transmitted via the optic nerve to the visual center in the brain, there is also a branch that transmits data regarding light conditions to a command center in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN).
Light and the Endocrine System
The SCN processes the light data and sends command signals to several glands in the endocrine system to either secrete or suppress secretion of certain hormones critical to normal body function. The pineal gland, in the hypothalamus in the brain, suppresses secretion of melatonin in the presence of bright white light, specifically when the SCN has identified a narrow 10 nanometer band of light spectrum (out of 330 nanometers of human visible light spectrum) from 450 to 460 nanometers.
Action spectrum for melatonin regulation in humans
When melatonin secretion is suppressed we become more alert. Melatonin secretion normally occurs when exposure to the bright white light diminishes, e.g. at sundown, but only does so if the trigger has been set by bright white light exposure earlier in the day. Melatonin also serves as a powerful antioxidant which floods the body with natural anti-cancer agents while we sleep.1
The adrenal gland is also largely controlled by the SCN based on light conditions in an opposite way from melatonin. Cortisol secretion is stimulated in the presence of bright white light and suppressed normally at night. Cortisol serves as a wake up call to the body, raising our core body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure from a sleep state, and is also a factor in normal digestion. If the SCN does not signal the adrenal gland to secrete cortisol, we may be tired and listless. Changes in our digestive system could cause abnormal processing of foods especially carbohydrates and can be a factor in hypoglycemia associated with diabetes.3
Light and the Elderly
People that lack exposure to natural sunlight are the most prone to have issues with mental and physical well-being resulting from abnormal hormonal secretion. Many elderly people lack adequate sunlight exposure. Furthermore the lens of the eye thickens and yellows with age, resulting in a 75% reduction in light passing through the lens by age 75. The yellowing of the lens reduces the blue end of the light spectrum where the circadian rhythm spectrum is found. The result can be sleep deprivation and the many issues that accompany it, including depression and circulatory issues, among others.
Spectral Power Density of GE “Natural Light” Fluorescent tubes
Unfortunately, traditional lighting does not provide the specific spectrum of light required between 450 and 460 nanometers for normal secretion and suppression of melatonin. Even with specialized “natural” light fluorescent tubes, the required light spectrum actually is at a low point in providing the critical spectrum while there are peaks on either side of the narrow band. The problem of proper light exposure cannot be solved by simply increasing the level of fluorescent light.
Spectral Power Density of LG 5630 LED at 6,500 Kelvin
Fortunately, LED lighting is far more controllable in terms of light spectrum as well as in terms of dimming and low glare if well designed. Light being emitted from a source can be measured in spectral power density (SPD) at specific light spectrums measured in nanometers. It is possible to utilize LEDs in a fixture that has a perfect score of 100% SPD at the desired light spectrum. This is important, as the critical light spectrum can be passively delivered at reasonable levels of light in the ambient environment. Previously, light therapy devices required a patient to actively stare into a bright light box for two hours – which is an unpleasant experience to say the least – and not something many elderly residents can be expected to do. Delivery of the needed light spectrum passively will help assure all residents receive the desirable light and do not require active therapy.
If the LED fixture is designed as a side-lit panel, the light is indirect light and a pleasant glow to the eye, even at the higher light levels recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) for elder care facilities. With traditional lighting it is very difficult to even achieve the recommended light levels in a tolerable manner, and impossible to provide the critical light spectrum for circadian light. Assuring that elderly residents have adequate light levels to enjoy their interests and hobbies will raise their activity levels and mental engagement.
Spectral Power Density of LG 5630 LED at 2,700 Kelvin
There is a second part to the required light. While it is critical to have the bright white light especially in the morning, it is equally important to have warmer light with less blue light later in the afternoon and in the evening. If there is only bright white later in the day, melatonin secretion will continue to be suppressed.
LED lends itself to control so with modern wireless radio frequency control systems such as ZigBee, which is an IEEE telecommunication standard widely deployed by electrical power utilities to communicate wirelessly with smart meters and appliance among others, that facilitates implementation of automated lighting controls on a facility-wide basis for such functions as circadian light scheduling. By using an LED light fixture with both bright white and warm diodes, it is possible to control the light so the bright white is provided in the morning when needed and the warm light later in the day.
This is similar to how the light from the sun changes as the evening arrives. Furthermore, a ZigBee telecommunications platform can also connect with low cost light sensors to provide ambient light data to the control system that can adjust the level of intensity of the light as well as provide the capability to control other devices such as window blinds to further reduce energy consumption. The lighting system can also be linked through ZigBee to other automated sensor and control systems, such as fire detection and security systems.
In addition to the host of wellness benefits described above, LED lights can deliver up to 85% reduction in electricity consumption as well as providing maintenance-free lighting for up to 100,000 hours. For a light fixture on 24 hours per day, such as in a hallway, 100,000 hours of operation equals approximately 12 years. Light bulb maintenance is a significant component of facility maintenance and can free-up valuable employees to perform other maintenance tasks.
The flexibility of control of LED technology is arriving at a time when we can put it to good use for those living primarily indoors, as the elderly do. Opportunities now exist to deploy lighting designed to promote healthy endocrine system function. New eldercare facilities should be designed from a lighting perspective to IES standards, and they can also promote wellness of residents. The improved health can delay transition from Independent Living, to Assisted Living, to Skilled Nursing or Memory Care. In addition to the benefit to residents, making the most of LED capabilities can also reduce hospital transports, resulting in healthier bottom lines for operators.
2 Brainard, G.C. et al, Action Spectrum for Melatonin Regulation in Humans: Evidence for a Novel Circadian Photoreceptor, Journal of Neuroscience 21 (2001) 16, pp 6405-6412.
3 The Cortisol Awakening Response-applications and implications for sleep medicine, G.J. Elder, M.A. Wetherell, N.L. Barclay, J.G. Ellis, Sleep Medicine Review 2014 June; 18(3):215-24.
Light and Human Health: An Overview of the Impact of Optical Radiation on Visual, Circadian, and Neurobehavioral Responses, Illuminating Engineering Society, M.C. Figueira, G.C. Brainard, S. W. Lockley, V.L. Revell, R. White, TM-18-08, 2008
Lighting for Health: LEDs in the New Age of Illumination, United States Department of Energy, 2014 The Impact of Light in Outcomes in Healthcare Settings, A. Joseph, The Center for Health Design, 2006
CircadianDisturbanceinPatientswithAlzheimer’sDisease,D.A.Weldemichael,G.T.Grossberg, International Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2010
Lighting and the Visual Environment for Senior Living, Illuminating Engineering Society, ANSI/IES RP-28-07, 2007
SIRT1 Mediates Central Control in the SCN by a Mechanism that Decays with Aging, H.C. Chung, L. Guarante, Cell 153, 1448-1460, 2013
The Cortisol Awakening Response in Context, A. Clow, F. Hucklebridge, L. Thorn, International Review of Neurobiology, NIH, 2010; 93: 153-75.
What is IoT and why is it useful to workplace planning?
IoT = Internet of Things: The interconnection of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data via the internet.
In the real estate industry, understanding how our buildings are used is critical to understanding how to manage our buildings. Buildings may be built of brick and mortar, but they are not static; they constantly evolve based on the needs of their occupants. People change their schedules and their locations within a building; and the people and technology that they need access to change too.
For building owners, understanding how your second highest investment (your real estate) interacts with your highest investment (your people) is critical to your company’s long-term financial success. Do you have too much space? Not enough? The right type of space? The right quality of space? These are all questions that you need a good source data to understand, and the dataset should allow you to trend how your building is used. This trending data empowers your workplace planning team to spot opportunities to make meaningful changes.
A new data source for workplace planning: IoT-connected lighting
Workplace planners need a device to collect data. Rather than adding a ton of sensors to a building – or worse, to people – designers need something that is in every room, and that indicates how the space is used. The answer is likely above you right now. It is indicating that you are present, and is tuned to the needs of your current task. The answer, of course, is the lights.
IOT lighting data can help owners establish a workplace design strategy. While this isn’t the typical use-case for lighting system data, it can be used to understand space utilization and adds a powerful dimension to workplace planning and decision making.
As every space in a building requires lighting, and the only reason we have lights is for people, lights are the ideal candidate to use as a data source; and lights don’t need a lot of added intelligence to be a great data source. Here are three useful ways to track lighting data for workplace design:
Whether a light is on or off indicates if the room is occupied.
The number of fixtures or lighting scenes that are used in a room will indicate the type of function that is occurring in that room.
The total hours of fixture use can indicate the utilization of the space and, in the case of multi-use spaces, the most frequent activities that users engage in.
When all the above is tracked, trended, and analyzed, you will understand: which spaces in your building are used the most; which spaces don’t get used at all; and what type of spaces are over-used, potentially leading to resource constraint that your employees need to do their work. Trending the data across a building or campus will allow you to optimize your investment in changes to your real estate, perhaps allowing you to invest in a new way of using your space based on the best data sources available: your employees. That’s better than investing in a new building!
Powering LEDs through the Ethernet
The cost to implement an IOT lighting system can be reduced through the advancement in LED technology. Using LEDs reduce power consumption plus LED lights offer more options as to how to power those lights. LEDs are so efficient that it is possible to power them using an ethernet cord, eliminating a traditional power cord. Called Power Over Ethernet (POE), you can both control and power an LED light with one cord instead of two. The cost to install a power cord is the same as the cost to run Ethernet, and it eliminates the need for wireless or additional control wires in the fixtures – which results in a lower cost of installation. And using POE, light fixtures are suddenly accessible for IoT uses because they are connected to a two-way data line.
Once you have Ethernet connectivity to every fixture, the controllability and data collection opportunities sky rocket. You don’t need smart fixtures – you need just one centralized smart controller that sends, tracks, and trends fixture use. Once connected to a cloud-based interface, facility managers and building owners are granted instant information on their building utilization. Simply add POE technology to your next lighting upgrade, and you’ll open a whole new data source for your workplace design strategy team.
The wellness connection: how a POE- and IOT-connected lighting system contributes to an optimal work environment
POE- and IOT-connected LED fixtures can be used to increase health and wellbeing along with optimized energy performance. LEDs can modify the spectrum of light being supplied, which in combination with dimming capability, allows a lighting designer to optimize a space for human cognitive performance.
Humans evolved outdoors for thousands of years before moving inside to work under artificial lighting. People perform better, feel better, and enjoy their surroundings more when connected to nature. And natural light has thousands of permeations a minute, and constantly changes to reflect the time of day, weather, and surrounding surface reflections.
LEDs can be tuned to match the natural cycles of daylight, with blue hues in the morning giving way to red hues in the evening. This circadian lighting pattern allows interior spaces to mimic the natural rhythms of the outdoors. Programming artificial lighting to match natural light, has proven to improve cognitive performance. It can also help building occupants to wake up, fall asleep quicker at night, and stay refreshed longer.
The future is bright
IoT-connected lighting is more than a technology trend; IoT-connected lighting allows us to find new uses for old things and reframe our understanding of items that were once viewed as static. Lights, their power, and their controls can provide a rich data source that will allow you to optimize your real estate and your people, which improves the future of your business. IOT-connected lighting takes the guesswork out of many real estate needs, contributing to sustainability and wellness.