Welcome to another two weekly review of energy and environmental events and developments from both here in New Zealand and around the world.

This week we start off with buildings. Not just any buildings, but good and bad ones. According to Rob Watson, the founder of LEED and the world’s most widely used building rating system, the term “green” has been overdone and buildings should be seen for what they are – good or bad. Good buildings save energy, water, time and effort – but most importantly to their occupants, they save money. As he said “This is not a fad. The bottom line of green is black”.

As our next article discusses, Rob really should have included, added well-being to his argument. Having the correct temperatures, humidity, air quality and movement, noise levels and levels of natural and artificial light are all important determining factors when it comes to employee health, wellness, comfort and not least – productivity. Achieving good Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) requires a robust HVAC system and operating strategy. An effective HVAC system will not only heat and cool the air, but also draw in and circulate outdoor air. As buildings are increasingly designed to have higher densities of occupants per square metre, cooling requirements are becoming increasingly important.

Which is why we are taking a look at an alternative cooling system. Based on a technology that has been in use for thousands of years, evaporative cooling in association with developments in membrane filters and desiccant drying, called Desiccant Enhanced Evaporative (DEVAP) offers to reduce energy consumption up to a whopping 75%. Traditional direct-exchange air-conditioners typically use 25% of their energy removing humidity and then 75% dropping the temperature. By contrast, DEVAP only uses energy for the first step - removing humidity, with the second step achieved simply by adding a little water.

So it is probably worthwhile taking a little time in speculating what the buildings of the future might look like. This article concludes that the future is in intelligent buildings, which could almost breath, think and be alive in ways we might never associate with a building. For example, growing food on external walls, generating its own energy, automatically adapting to weather patterns by opening and closing external vents and being made of self-cleaning materials that can also repair themselves. Intelligent buildings may cost about 6% more to build, but they are healthier, productivity is higher, enjoy higher rental value, see less staff churn and have lower running costs.

And as discussed in our next set of articles some of those smart features might include having LED concrete walls that can be programmed to change their colours and patterns as desired. Or perhaps constructing the building out of timber, such as what is being done for Forte, the new ten-storey (world record for a timber building) Melbourne apartment building, which is utilizing Cross Laminated Timber (CLT).

In the next two articles we see how networks can create efficiencies, not just reductions in power usage by talking to each other in a smarter way. Building intelligent network’s and devices (sounds creepy but we don’t envision “HAL 9000” here) in the energy, transportation, built environment and agriculture industries and the intelligent sharing of data is a shift from a  ‘transactional’   to an ‘interactional’   mind-set.

Optimisation of transport routes, M2M-enabled application to agriculture practices, building sensors into car parks, scanning lines at train or bus stations and even checkout lines would help us manage scarce time as well as fuel and resources. Cisco Systems and VMware (two of the world’s largest network companies) call this a ‘$14 trillion opportunity’ with obvious savings in energy and carbon.

We take a look at a collection of transport articles with the first discussing how virtual traffic lights could cut down on congestion and travel time using smart technology to replace actual traffic lights. All vehicles would communicate with each other, providing information on speed and location, with this information being shared between any vehicle approaching intersections, allowing optimum traffic management and flows. For example, the Wellington City waterfront features 12 sets of traffic lights along a 4.8 kilometre stretch of road. Anything that could improve the driving experience has got to be a positive!

We also look at ‘smart parking’. I’m sure many of you have experienced the frustration of trying to find a car park and the lost time and costs of petrol. In 2007, city drivers in a 15 block district in Los Angeles ‘tripped’ more than 950,000 miles (over 1.5 million kilometres), emitted 730 metric tons of carbon dioxide and burned 47,000 gallons of fuel searching for available parking. Imagine if finding a park could be easier? Advances in technology, smartphones, GPS technology, data management and software could in the future make finding an inner city parking spot a breeze (here’s hoping).

Driverless cars also offer some significant benefits. Not only could the occupant sit back and enjoy a great book or movie, while the car with the aid of interconnected and communicating technology does all the work. But better still, driverless cars will have the ability to safely ‘hyper mile’ (vehicles in tightly grouped vehicular road trains), which will cut travel times and boost fuel efficiency.

Ever wondered what happens to hybrid batteries come to the end of their vehicular life? Well, starting next month Toyota will sell electricity management systems that used recycled nickel-metal hydride batteries to Toyota dealers throughout Japan. It is hoped the energy storage systems will reduce electricity load during peak times and also be used during power outages and in emergency situations.

Our last article looks at an interesting proposal in the United Kingdom national education curriculum that rekindles how important it is to educate our future generations. Here in New Zealand we emphasise the importance of a sustainable world but over in the UK the latest proposed curriculum guidelines have only a singular reference to climate change and that is in the subject of chemistry, not geography as would be expected. This has prompted claims of political interference by the government and we can only guess what impact such changes could have on our future leaders. Something for us all to be mindful of…

Thanks for taking the time to read this issue and look forward to catching up with you again. If you have any items of interest you would like to submit, then please feel free to forward them.

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