Living And Working In Sustainable Environments – Introduction

In 1977 I tried to get into alternative energy, mainly because Uninterruptible Power Supplies were not available and Computers did not like frequent power failures, so was considering fuel cells as using hydrogen and oxygen to create electrical energy appeared to me a good way of creating electrical energy without environmental impact. Siemens in Germany held significant patents on that technology so I contacted the patent holder within Siemens only to hear “we are in nuclear energy right now – we have no wish to further develop or make fuel cell technology available to anyone” – that was that. So in 1978 I went on to my city to get planning permission to add Photo Voltaic (PV) solar panels to the roof structure, as I wanted to produce my own electricity, when the local authority came back to say “you can do that but be advised we will also cut you off all other utilities, water, sewer and refuse collection” – and that was that.

Now times have changed but a little of that attitude still persists today. Energy providers that were trusted with the management of federal funds will apply them only to schemes that will keep the dependence on the energy provider. For example, offer re-distribution of federal funds for grid connected Solar PV generation only but not for off-grid solar. Although, both equally save generation requirement, in fact the off-grid solution saves more than the on-grid solution. Also grid connected systems have a separate meter that the electricity company charges you, the supplier, a monthly additional meter rent so they can measure what you have provided. They also control what they are willing to pay to you for the generated energy and their contracts often force you to provide a minimum amount of energy a year keeping you responsible for the upkeep of the solar panels and inverters. So bottom line – using the grid for storage is a raw deal.

Many people I asked believe that a sustainable working environment means sweating in overheated rooms in the summer and chilling in the winter, having dim light and going back to poorly lit neighbourhoods. Well, that is no longer the case if you are willing to employ the latest in technology and controls managing your energy use automatically. I found that despite the availability of sustainable technology that assists in achieving sustainable work and living environments the biggest obstacle is that people believe it is too good to be true and the second biggest obstacle is that people do not like change, even is the change is for the better or has no negative qualitative impact.

I am working and living in a super-efficient environment, which has been created in part from components of the company I worked for and from other commonly available goods like high-efficiency insulation of walls and ceilings, painting the roof and walls white on the outside (we live in Texas), 3000 gallon sealed underground water tanks for the air conditioning system, LightSpace Management and Building Automation Controls.

Working in this environment is actually a pleasant surprise as the rooms are adequately cool in the summer and warm in the winter, the lighting is adjustable to the level the people working in the area are comfortable with. This means sometimes a little less  Sonavel  and sometimes a little more light depending on the task at hand, the mood and the supplemental daylight available. Conference rooms where you just walk in and the light comes on, the air condition turns on to higher level dealing with additional heat to be removed. Hallways that dim if nobody occupies them. Hot water produces cold in the water loop that can be used by the air conditioning system to cool another room. Cold storage and server farms that heat the buildings in the winter. All this is not utopia but possible today at insignificant extra cost as systems that facilitate such designs have become more developed.

It is easier to plan and build sustainable structures than to convert existing structures to be super-efficient. However, either way it is far easier than getting a man to the moon. Things to consider on a new build are summarized below and detailed in separate articles in this series:

Electrical
Hopefully soon electrical companies will embrace low voltage wiring more than they do today and I have to re-write this paragraph. If you can separate your home or office wiring into three categories, 48V-DC low voltage (LV) for Lighting and 48V-DC Air Conditioning, 120V-AC for computers and wall sockets, 240V-AC for Air Conditioning and Heating. The lighting should be LV wiring to a central point where you can have the power supplies for the lighting, a good lighting technology the LED will never fail but the Power Supply using current available technology eventually will.

Load Balancing
In some environments energy providers offer significantly lower rates at night times if you already have a DC battery system for your PV or Wind generator you may be able to supplement with cheap grid energy. We have compiled the electricity providers in North America allowing such arrangements.

Energy Storage
If you use Solar PV, Wind or both you need to have a space for batteries, preferably accessible from the outside so that you can change and maintain batteries conveniently. There are a number of battery types suitable for short-term storage and repeated discharge and a compromise between cost and performance has to be made.

Mechanical
To be super-efficient means you have to do things differently which, unfortunately today, a run-off-the-mill Air Conditioning Contractor will not subscribe to. To convert an existing system can be challenging, not insurmountable but definitely challenging. The Mechanical Challenges Section is divided into Equatorial Plus/Minus 30 and North and South of 30° as there are different challenges depending on the climate region that the system has to operate in. A third section deals with fresh air and plenum ventilation.

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