NATGEO | 10 Green-Tech City Solutions for Beating the Heat

Huge artificial trees outside a building in Singapore

City Forest, Singapore

Photograph by Wong Maye-E, AP

Using plants and trees in a unique way, Singapore officials opened Gardens by the Bay this year. The 11-million-square foot (1-million-square-meter) complex—the size of nearly 250 U.S. football fields—aims to curb the heat island effect while bringing botanical bliss to urbanites.

The centerpiece of Gardens by the Bay is a glass atrium that houses approximately 220,000 types of vegetation, or 80 percent of the world’s plant species, according to Singapore’s National Parks Board.

Outside the menagerie of plants is a grove of 18 “supertrees”— vertical gardens up to 164 feet (50 meters) tall that capture rainwater, filter exhaust, and are capped with solar panels that provide enough energy to light up the trees at night.

The heat island effect occurs in cityscapes characterized by pavement, asphalt, and concrete—all materials that can absorb warmth. The annual mean temperature of a city with one million people or more can be up to 5.4°F (3°C) warmer than surrounding rural areas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The effects cascade as summertime peak energy demands rise along with air conditioning costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

(Test your A/C acumen with our quiz: What You Don’t Know About Air Conditioning.)

The value of vegetation in urban areas goes beyond cooling and shade. City plantings can also help improve air and water quality through filtering mechanisms.

A new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that grass, ivy, and other urban plantings, in addition to trees, can reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter by as much as 40 and 60 percent respectively. Both are pollutants that are potentially harmful to human health.

(Read more about the water quality benefits of vegetation in National Geographic News’ “Philadelphia Cleans Up Storm Water With Innovative Program.”)

—Tasha Eichenseher

 

The dome of the Reichstag in Berlin

Greening Government Buildings, Berlin

Photograph by Robert Wallis, Corbis

The Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, was retrofitted in 1999 with a new dome that uses glass and mirrors to reflect daylight deep into the main chamber, reducing dependence on artificial lighting. It also employs a funnel to divert and collect rainwater.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the renovated Reichstag has become a Berlin tourist attraction and an energy saver.

The dome-reflector system also draws warm air out of the building. This feature, combined with the fact that the building can make its own electricity from refined vegetable oil, as well as store excess heat underground, brings the building’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions down by 94 percent, according to the architect.

Green buildings have myriad benefits, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and toxic materials use, improved air and water quality, and relief from the heat.

In the U.S. there is a debate brewing on Capitol Hill about how to define a green building.

The U.S. government requires all new federal construction to follow the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) requirements for a gold rating.

USGBC ratings—certified, silver, gold, and platinum—are awarded based on several factors, including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, and materials selection.

But, to the disappointment of some chemical and plastics companies, the USGBC’s rating system is expected to change next year and may discourage builders from using some products such as PVC piping. A coalition of chemical and plastics manufacturers is lobbying Congress to use another set of criteria.

(See how the U.S. government has gone green in National Geographic News’ “Pictures: Seven Supergreen U.S. Government Buildings.”)

 

 A barge with a greenhouse on the Hudson River in New York City

Floating Food, New York

Photograph by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

The Science Barge is a floating environmental education classroom and greenhouse on the Hudson River in New York.

Fueled by solar power, wind, and biofuels, the barge, which was built in 2007, has zero net carbon emissions.

Vegetables are grown hydroponically—with plants getting all of their necessary nutrients from water instead of soil—in an effort to preserve natural resources and adapt to urban environments, where healthy soil, or soil at all, is hard to come by. Rainwater and treated river water are used for irrigation, and pesticides are prohibited.

The original owner of the barge—New York Sun Works—designed it as a prototype for closed-loop and self-sufficient rooftop gardens in urban areas.

(See more pictures of urban agriculture in “Urban Farming Is Growing a Green Future.”)

Thousands of schoolchildren and adults have visited the barge, which is now operated by Groundwork Hudson Valley and docked in Yonkers, just north of New York City.

 

 A residential high-rise building near Copenhagen, Denmark

Sustainable Housing, Denmark

Photograph from Yonhap News Agency/European Pressphoto

There are no official global standards for green buildings, but hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of sustainable construction are found internationally.

8 Tallet—Danish for 8 Houses—surpasses the capacity of most other green housing developments in Denmark, and the world.

Designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, the suburban housing development—about a ten-minute train ride outside of Copenhagen—has nearly 500 apartments and incorporates a commercial district, so that residents don’t need to burn fossil fuels to shop for groceries or lounge at a cafe.

The buildings, officially opened in 2010, are oriented to capture as much daylight as possible, and an elaborate 18,000-square-foot (1,700-square-meter) green roof helps to deflect harsh rays and keep the grounds cool. Traditional tar-based or black urban roofing materials contribute to the urban heat island effect by absorbing heat and raising city temperatures.

(See more pictures of green roofs in National Geographic magazine.)

 

One of the world’s largest solar arrays on a building, in Dezhou, China

Solar Dominance, China

Photograph by Liang Baohai, Imaginechina/AP

The Sun-Moon Mansion is headquarters for what could become the biggest solar energy production base in the world, or the Silicon Valley of solar.

The office building, conference center, and training facility is the home of Himin Solar Energy, the world’s largest maker of solar water heaters. The company was founded by oil equipment engineer Ming Huang, a member of China’s Parliament known as the “Sun King.” Huang has expressed concern about a fossil fuel-dependent economy, and is working to transform the area around the Sun-Moon building into China’s Solar Valley.

The 807,000-square-foot (75,000-square-meter) headquarters also features insulation techniques that will help the structure achieve energy savings up to 30 percent higher than the national standard.

China is on a mission to meet 15 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020. The country is currently at 9 percent.

(Read more about the promise and perils of solar in National Geographic magazine.)

 

A glass housing development features green design elements

Eco-Village, London

Photograph by Marco Bulgarelli, Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

It takes a village … to truly go green. Quality of life and sense of community are key at the BedZED eco-village in London. Private developers completed the mixed-use community in 2002, making it the first such community in the United Kingdom. The village comprises a hundred homes and enough office space for a hundred workers.

With a rooftop garden, reclaimed building materials, efficient insulation, solar panels, ramped up recycling rates, and a very short commute, BedZED residents reduce their carbon footprint by nearly 50 percent, according to development partner BioRegional

 

A glass housing development features green design elements

Air Tree, Spain

Photograph from Art on File/Corbis

“Air trees” in the Madrid suburb of Vallecas are self-sufficient gardens that produce excess oxygen and energy.

Made from recycled materials, the air trees provide respite from summer heat with shade and natural ventilation. Solar energy collected by photovoltaic panels on the trees’ canopy is used to power sprinklers and other aspects of plant maintenance. Additional energy is fed back into the region’s electrical grid.

The trees were first installed in 2007.

(Read more about vertical gardens in National Geographic News’ “High-Rise Farms: The Future of Food?”)

 

Men sit near a wind tower in Abu Dhabi

Wind Tower, Abu Dhabi

Photograph by Ali Haider, European Pressphoto Agency

The Masdar Institute wind tower, just southeast of Abu Dhabi, is part of a planned city being built by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company with the help of government funding.

British architects at Foster + Partners aim to create a city that is 100 percent powered by renewable energy technology and produces zero waste. Masdar City, when completed, will be the “global center of future energy,” according to developers.

The wind tower circulates cool, carbon neutral, air throughout the grounds of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

 

Glass buildings on a campus in the U.K.

Low Carbon Campus, United Kingdom

Photograph by Ashley Cooper, Corbis

The section of England’s Northumbria University called City Campus East was one of the first buildings in Europe required to meet new green standards coming out of the United Nation’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

Opened in 2007, City Campus East provides housing for up to 9,000 students. In 2011, the building won the title of Low Carbon New Build Project of the Year—an award handed out by the U.K.-based Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

 

House and gardens in the U.K.

An Eco-Village, United Kingdom

Photograph by Matt Cardy, Getty Images

The Wintles estate in Shropshire, England, may look like your average suburban housing development, but the homes here are among the most energy efficient in the U.K.

Houses, apartments, and other residential dwellings account for just under 30 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, so the government is encouraging people to live in eco-villages such as Wintles.

 

Photo: Rooftop garden

Next Gallery: Up on the Roof

Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Huge artificial trees outside a building in Singapore

NATGEO | 10 Green-Tech City Solutions for Beating the Heat

Huge artificial trees outside a building in Singapore

City Forest, Singapore

Photograph by Wong Maye-E, AP

Using plants and trees in a unique way, Singapore officials opened Gardens by the Bay this year. The 11-million-square foot (1-million-square-meter) complex—the size of nearly 250 U.S. football fields—aims to curb the heat island effect while bringing botanical bliss to urbanites.

The centerpiece of Gardens by the Bay is a glass atrium that houses approximately 220,000 types of vegetation, or 80 percent of the world’s plant species, according to Singapore’s National Parks Board.

Outside the menagerie of plants is a grove of 18 “supertrees”— vertical gardens up to 164 feet (50 meters) tall that capture rainwater, filter exhaust, and are capped with solar panels that provide enough energy to light up the trees at night.

The heat island effect occurs in cityscapes characterized by pavement, asphalt, and concrete—all materials that can absorb warmth. The annual mean temperature of a city with one million people or more can be up to 5.4°F (3°C) warmer than surrounding rural areas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The effects cascade as summertime peak energy demands rise along with air conditioning costs and greenhouse gas emissions.

(Test your A/C acumen with our quiz: What You Don’t Know About Air Conditioning.)

The value of vegetation in urban areas goes beyond cooling and shade. City plantings can also help improve air and water quality through filtering mechanisms.

A new study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology shows that grass, ivy, and other urban plantings, in addition to trees, can reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter by as much as 40 and 60 percent respectively. Both are pollutants that are potentially harmful to human health.

(Read more about the water quality benefits of vegetation in National Geographic News’ “Philadelphia Cleans Up Storm Water With Innovative Program.”)

—Tasha Eichenseher

The dome of the Reichstag in Berlin

Greening Government Buildings, Berlin

Photograph by Robert Wallis, Corbis

The Reichstag, Germany’s parliament building, was retrofitted in 1999 with a new dome that uses glass and mirrors to reflect daylight deep into the main chamber, reducing dependence on artificial lighting. It also employs a funnel to divert and collect rainwater.

Designed by British architect Norman Foster, the renovated Reichstag has become a Berlin tourist attraction and an energy saver.

The dome-reflector system also draws warm air out of the building. This feature, combined with the fact that the building can make its own electricity from refined vegetable oil, as well as store excess heat underground, brings the building’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions down by 94 percent, according to the architect.

Green buildings have myriad benefits, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and toxic materials use, improved air and water quality, and relief from the heat.

In the U.S. there is a debate brewing on Capitol Hill about how to define a green building.

The U.S. government requires all new federal construction to follow the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) requirements for a gold rating.

USGBC ratings—certified, silver, gold, and platinum—are awarded based on several factors, including sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, and materials selection.

But, to the disappointment of some chemical and plastics companies, the USGBC’s rating system is expected to change next year and may discourage builders from using some products such as PVC piping. A coalition of chemical and plastics manufacturers is lobbying Congress to use another set of criteria.

(See how the U.S. government has gone green in National Geographic News’ “Pictures: Seven Supergreen U.S. Government Buildings.”)

 A barge with a greenhouse on the Hudson River in New York City

Floating Food, New York

Photograph by Tyrone Turner, National Geographic

The Science Barge is a floating environmental education classroom and greenhouse on the Hudson River in New York.

Fueled by solar power, wind, and biofuels, the barge, which was built in 2007, has zero net carbon emissions.

Vegetables are grown hydroponically—with plants getting all of their necessary nutrients from water instead of soil—in an effort to preserve natural resources and adapt to urban environments, where healthy soil, or soil at all, is hard to come by. Rainwater and treated river water are used for irrigation, and pesticides are prohibited.

The original owner of the barge—New York Sun Works—designed it as a prototype for closed-loop and self-sufficient rooftop gardens in urban areas.

(See more pictures of urban agriculture in “Urban Farming Is Growing a Green Future.”)

Thousands of schoolchildren and adults have visited the barge, which is now operated by Groundwork Hudson Valley and docked in Yonkers, just north of New York City.

 A residential high-rise building near Copenhagen, Denmark

Sustainable Housing, Denmark

Photograph from Yonhap News Agency/European Pressphoto

There are no official global standards for green buildings, but hundreds, if not thousands, of examples of sustainable construction are found internationally.

8 Tallet—Danish for 8 Houses—surpasses the capacity of most other green housing developments in Denmark, and the world.

Designed by the Bjarke Ingels Group, the suburban housing development—about a ten-minute train ride outside of Copenhagen—has nearly 500 apartments and incorporates a commercial district, so that residents don’t need to burn fossil fuels to shop for groceries or lounge at a cafe.

The buildings, officially opened in 2010, are oriented to capture as much daylight as possible, and an elaborate 18,000-square-foot (1,700-square-meter) green roof helps to deflect harsh rays and keep the grounds cool. Traditional tar-based or black urban roofing materials contribute to the urban heat island effect by absorbing heat and raising city temperatures.

(See more pictures of green roofs in National Geographic magazine.)

One of the world’s largest solar arrays on a building, in Dezhou, China

Solar Dominance, China

Photograph by Liang Baohai, Imaginechina/AP

The Sun-Moon Mansion is headquarters for what could become the biggest solar energy production base in the world, or the Silicon Valley of solar.

The office building, conference center, and training facility is the home of Himin Solar Energy, the world’s largest maker of solar water heaters. The company was founded by oil equipment engineer Ming Huang, a member of China’s Parliament known as the “Sun King.” Huang has expressed concern about a fossil fuel-dependent economy, and is working to transform the area around the Sun-Moon building into China’s Solar Valley.

The 807,000-square-foot (75,000-square-meter) headquarters also features insulation techniques that will help the structure achieve energy savings up to 30 percent higher than the national standard.

China is on a mission to meet 15 percent of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2020. The country is currently at 9 percent.

(Read more about the promise and perils of solar in National Geographic magazine.)

A glass housing development features green design elements

Eco-Village, London

Photograph by Marco Bulgarelli, Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

It takes a village … to truly go green. Quality of life and sense of community are key at the BedZED eco-village in London. Private developers completed the mixed-use community in 2002, making it the first such community in the United Kingdom. The village comprises a hundred homes and enough office space for a hundred workers.

With a rooftop garden, reclaimed building materials, efficient insulation, solar panels, ramped up recycling rates, and a very short commute, BedZED residents reduce their carbon footprint by nearly 50 percent, according to development partner BioRegional

A glass housing development features green design elements

Air Tree, Spain

Photograph from Art on File/Corbis

“Air trees” in the Madrid suburb of Vallecas are self-sufficient gardens that produce excess oxygen and energy.

Made from recycled materials, the air trees provide respite from summer heat with shade and natural ventilation. Solar energy collected by photovoltaic panels on the trees’ canopy is used to power sprinklers and other aspects of plant maintenance. Additional energy is fed back into the region’s electrical grid.

The trees were first installed in 2007.

(Read more about vertical gardens in National Geographic News’ “High-Rise Farms: The Future of Food?”)

Men sit near a wind tower in Abu Dhabi

Wind Tower, Abu Dhabi

Photograph by Ali Haider, European Pressphoto Agency

The Masdar Institute wind tower, just southeast of Abu Dhabi, is part of a planned city being built by the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company with the help of government funding.

British architects at Foster + Partners aim to create a city that is 100 percent powered by renewable energy technology and produces zero waste. Masdar City, when completed, will be the “global center of future energy,” according to developers.

The wind tower circulates cool, carbon neutral, air throughout the grounds of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

Glass buildings on a campus in the U.K.

Low Carbon Campus, United Kingdom

Photograph by Ashley Cooper, Corbis

The section of England’s Northumbria University called City Campus East was one of the first buildings in Europe required to meet new green standards coming out of the United Nation’s 1997 Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

Opened in 2007, City Campus East provides housing for up to 9,000 students. In 2011, the building won the title of Low Carbon New Build Project of the Year—an award handed out by the U.K.-based Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

House and gardens in the U.K.

An Eco-Village, United Kingdom

Photograph by Matt Cardy, Getty Images

The Wintles estate in Shropshire, England, may look like your average suburban housing development, but the homes here are among the most energy efficient in the U.K.

Houses, apartments, and other residential dwellings account for just under 30 percent of the country’s carbon emissions, so the government is encouraging people to live in eco-villages such as Wintles.

Photo: Rooftop garden

Next Gallery: Up on the Roof

Photograph by Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

 A residential high-rise building near Copenhagen, Denmark

Shellfish Deep in Antarctic Lake? Experts Doubtful

The Vostok research station in Antarctica.

Russian scientists live at this research camp near Antarctica’s Lake Vostok.

Photograph by Alexey Ekaikin, Reuters

————————————————–
Marc Kaufman

for National Geographic

Published July 9, 2013

Bacteria, fungi, shellfish, and maybe even fish live in Lake Vostok, the buried Antarctic lake that’s been likened to habitats that might exist on other planets or moons, a new study says.

But soon after the paper was published and widely reported, other Vostok experts voiced strong skepticism about its conclusions. (Related: “Race Is On to Find Life Under Antarctic Ice.”)

Nothing like the kind of multicellular life described in the paper has been identified in Vostok ice cores before, they said, and the paper does not provide the strong scientific support needed to back its extraordinary claims.

Study leader Scott O. Rogers, of Bowling Green State University in Ohio, acknowledged the other scientists’ doubts and said he expected it.

He said that his team used a new technique to concentrate and then analyze genetic sequences found in the sample, and that “time will tell if we’re right or we’re wrong.”

The paper, published July 3 in the open-access, peer-reviewed online journalPLoS ONE, identified the genetic signatures of more than 3,500 different life-forms in samples taken from the Vostok ice core 5G, which was drilled by a Russian team, with American and French help, in the 1990s.

The core section that was analyzed came from the U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver—not from the celebrated column recovered by the Russians in early 2013, a year after their team drilled into the lake for the first time. (Related: “Russian Scientists Breach Antarctica’s Lake Vostok—Confirmed.”)

The sample studied is from what is called “accretion ice,” which freezes on the bottom of the 2.5-mile-deep (4-kilometer-deep) glacier that sits atop the lake, which is roughly the size of Lake Ontario in North America. The accretion ice is formed from the top millimeter of the Vostok water column, which in some places is 2,600 feet (800 meters) deep.

Researchers have previously identified small but predictable numbers of single-celled organisms in various Vostok cores. But the new study’s discovery of DNA and RNA sequences from complex organisms is new—and controversial.

 A microbe found in a Lake Vostok ice core.

A microbe found in a Lake Vostok ice core.

Image from NASA/Photo Researchers

Not Convinced

Brent Christner of Louisiana State University, who has also studied Vostok and other Antarctic ice cores, said the presence of such a broad population of multicellular organisms would, if true, represent “a paradigm shift” in how life very deep under ice would be understood. (See “Antarctica May Contain ‘Oasis of Life.'”)

“It’s very difficult to reconcile the diversity reported with the existing body of data on the Vostok ice core,” he said, pointing especially to the dearth of food for more complex organisms to live on.

“It will take a lot more evidence before I’m convinced.”

And then there’s the question of contamination—that the genetic signatures found in the ice core may be from other organisms that accidentally got mixed into the sample.

Though the scientists were careful when transporting the ice, it’s still questionable whether the samples are free of contamination, Mahlon C. Kennicutt II, a professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University, noted by email.

“Unfortunately, once the integrity of the samples is called into question, the results will always be suspect, so these results need to be taken with caution and some skepticism,” Kennicutt said.

For instance, the Russian team at Vostok has long used kerosene to aid in drilling ice cores, and many have concluded that organisms in that fuel have contaminated the samples—especially the older ones from the 1990s. (Also see “Pictures: ‘Extreme’ Antarctic Science Revealed.”)

Montana State University’s John Priscu, a longtime researcher of subglacial Antarctic lakes, made his opinion clear in an email: “They have to stop playing around with kerosene-soaked ice and get a clean sample of bulk lake water before unequivocal conclusions can be made.”

In February, Priscu and his U.S. team reported the discovery of microbes hidden under more than a half-mile of ice in Lake Whillans, part of a vast system of lakes and streams deep below the surface of Antarctica.

Complex Science

Study leader Rogers agreed that the contamination issue was a difficult one, adding that it had broken up his collaboration with the leader of the Russian Vostok team, Sergei Bulat.

The Russian scientist has consistently taken the position that the single-celled organisms previously found in Vostok ice were the result of contamination from both kerosene and antifreeze used during drilling.

Reflecting the difficulty of coming to scientific conclusions about Vostok, Bulat surprised his field when he said early this year that the Russian team had found previously unknown bacteria in the Vostok ice that came from the 2012 breakthrough core. (Take an Antarctic quiz.)

But that conclusion was disputed by his own colleagues and has never been reported in a scientific paper.

Rogers and other U.S. scientists have argued that the contamination can be accounted for and that some native Vostok organisms can be identified as such.

Most of the life-forms Rogers found were bacteria. But he believes that multicellular creatures in Vostok—which was part of a temperate environment until 15 to 25 million years ago—could represent extreme adaptations by life-forms that existed in that warmer era.

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130709-antarctica-lake-vostok-life-science-russians

 

Climate Change Impact on Energy: Five Proposed Safeguards

http://images.nationalgeographic.com/wpf/media-live/photos/000/692/cache/energy-doe-recommendations-climate-change-flooding-north-dakota_69280_600x450.jpg
Flooding at an electrical power station near Fargo, North Dakota.

The Department of Energy is urging measures to protect energy infrastructure from climate events, including better protections for power stations like this one in North Dakota, which flooded in 2009.

Photograph by Allen Fredrickson, Reuters
——————————————————————————————————-
Marianne Lavelle
National Geographic
Published July 11, 2013

It’s the ultimate greenhouse gas irony.

As humanity’s use of energy has altered Earth’s atmosphere, climate change is disrupting the systems for producing and transporting that energy. On Thursday, a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report urged that action be taken to address the nation’s increasing risk of blackouts and other breakdowns in power and fuel delivery. (See related story: “Record Heat, Drought Pose Problems for U.S. Electric Power.”)

“Increasing temperatures, decreasing water availability, more intense storm events, and sea level rise will each independently, and in some cases in combination, affect the ability of the United States to produce and transmit electricity from fossil, nuclear, and existing and emerging renewable energy sources,” the report said. (See related story: “Obama Unveils Climate Change Strategy.”)

It catalogued a long list of impacts already occurring: the fuel shortages in New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy, the shutdowns of power plants in New England and Illinois last summer due to hot weather and drought, the restrictions placed on fracking companies’ access to water in North Dakota and elsewhere.

Such disruptions are likely to become “more frequent and intense” in the years ahead, the report said.

DOE’s conclusions are not surprising to those in the energy industry. “We are seeing more and more impact on the system, so the utilities and public utility commissions are more and more looking for solutions,” says Jeff Hamel, executive director of power delivery utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI).

EPRI, a nonprofit research and development organization funded by the U.S. electric power industry, is hosting a workshop of about 30 utilities this week at its Lenox, Massachusetts laboratory. Researchers are carrying out tests that involve, for example, trees falling on power lines, to test technology to minimize disruption during intense storms.

“The system is very reliable,” says Hamel. “We need to couple this with resiliency.”

Here are five key technologies the DOE identified for a more “climate-resilient U.S. energy sector,” some of them already being deployed.

Power Grid Upgrade

Many experts have highlighted the need to modernize the electric grid, including deploying “smart grid” technologies, to reduce the risk of widespread outages during storms. (See related story: “Can Hurricane Sandy Shed Light on Curbing Power Outages?”) The DOE report stressed the need for energy storage and improved grid monitoring. But rethinking the central power station model might be the ultimate solution. The report said development of “microgrids,” “controlled islanding,” and distributed generation—like rooftop solar and small wind power installments—would make the grid less vulnerable to climate disruption. (See related blog post: “As U.S. Plans $7 Billion Effort to Electrify Africa, It Faces Challenges at Home.”)

Crisis-“Hardened” Facilities

Hurricane Sandy’s ravages on New York were worsened because so much underground electric infrastructure was flooded with saltwater. DOE urged “placement of substations and other critical local electricity infrastructure in locations that are not anticipated to be affected by storm surges.” The report catalogued a long list of threats, and urged increased resilience of energy infrastructure “to wildfires, storms, floods, and sea level rise, including ‘hardening’ of existing facilities and structures” from transmission and distribution lines to offshore oil and gas platforms.

Less Water-Intensive Fracking

DOE noted that “unconventional” oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing (or fracking), was becoming an ever-larger part of U.S. fossil energy production. But fracking involves high-pressure injection of large volumes of water underground (and later, the wastewater needs to be disposed of.) (See interactive: “Breaking Fuel From Rock.”) DOE pointed out that some energy companies are beginning to reuse and recycle fracking wastewater. (See related story: “Forcing Gas Out of Rock With Water.”) It also said there may be opportunity for the industry to further reduce freshwater use, either through use of brackish water or development of “dry fracturing” processes, in which exothermic reactions, instead of water, would fracture shale.

Drought-Tolerant Biofuel Crops

Corn-based ethanol now makes up 10 percent of U.S. transportation fuel by volume (and about 5 percent by energy content); although it is displacing use of oil, it is also reliant on water. (See related quiz: What You Don’t Know About Biofuel.) The DOE report notes that water use in biorefineries has been reduced significantly, but on average, producing one gallon of corn ethanol requires 17 to 239 gallons of water for irrigation and conversion. (See related story: “Water Demand for Energy to Double by 2035.”)

The DOE noted that a move to cellulosic ethanol from non-irrigated perennial grass and other drought-tolerant feedstocks would reduce water use further. Use of salt-tolerant feedstocks such as algae also could reduce competition for freshwater. (See related stories: “Beyond Ethanol: Drop-In Biofuels Squeeze Gasoline From Plants” and “Growing Food Demand Strains Water, Energy Supplies.”)

Less Thirsty Power Plants

Steam-driven coal and nuclear power plants require large amounts of water for cooling, and operations have been affected in recent years by drought and hot weather. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Electricity.”) DOE noted that technologies exist to dramatically reduce water use for electricity; cooling towers added in 2007 to a Newnan, Georgia power plant reduced water withdrawals by 96 percent. Dry-cooling systems also have been installed in natural gas-fired power plants in Nevada and California. Although dry-cooling retrofits may be too expensive in many cases, DOE said some plants might be cost-effectively retrofitted to use “non-traditional” water supplies, such as municipal wastewater or brackish water, instead of fresh water from rivers.

Of course, there are two technologies, solar PV and wind energy, that don’t rely on water at all, and also happen to be free of carbon emissions that contribute to the climate change problem in the first place. “Solar PV and wind energy have experienced cost reductions, encouraging greater market deployment of these more climate-resilient technologies,” the report said. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Water And Energy.”)

Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/07/130711-climate-change-impact-on-energy-doe-report/

Optical Glass House – Hiroshima

Optical Glass House by Nakamura and NAP 6

Near a busy intersection in the bustling city of Hiroshima, Japan, a new modern residence rests quietly behind a wall of glass.  The Optical Glass House by Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP was built to provide a peaceful place to live within a busy city, while maintaining a visual connection to its environment.  The architect’s solution was to build a massive wall of glass bricks, each one crafted to spec and installed in this large crystalline fascia.

The glass wall acts as a sonic veil, deflecting the sounds of engines and horns and other ambient noises.  It allows light in from the environment, both from the sun and the lights of the city, with the former feeding plants and the latter providing the context of city living. Indoors, the house’s inhabitants enjoy a tranquil lifestyle with a sense of nature without having to depart from the city they call home.

Much of the interior is lit by its massive glass wall.  Its dining area, hobby room and living room all take in a bit of light from the glass, while carefully placed recessed lighting balances out the areas mother nature cannot fill.  While privacy would seem like a concern, the wall is only translucent to a point– like glass block, the walls of this home blur the light to protect the privacy of those within.  Last, private sections of the home, like bedrooms and bathrooms, are arranged away from the glass wall for total privacy.

This design by Hiroshi Nakamura and NAP is a refreshing concept for peaceful urban living.  The undertaking of constructing the glass wall, from fabrication to installation, may place a concept like this outside of most budgets.  However, it could signal a continued interest in glass as a structural building element, one that was so successfully explored in the Optical Glass House. [via designboom]

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Optical Glass House – Hiroshima | Gallery