Friday, September 20, 2013

90 Percent Rule

I read a news about Tesla Working On 90% Autonomous Car.

It attracted my attention not only because Tesla makes very nice cars, and I also write about future mobility.
I liked Elon Musk's rule of 90 percent. It is very close to my rule which I apply to Performance Homes and integrated energy technology. I insist that we should strive to achieve 90% of efficiency. This is the most cost-effective target. If we want to move from 90% to 99%, we need to be prepared to spend the same amount of effort on top of it, i.e. double it. And what about the 100% efficiency (so called "net-zero" approach) ? You will likely need to triple or even quadruple the effort.  

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Performance Home, Part 2

Picture a hole in the side of your house that’s just as a big as a typical computer screen. Imagine the wind blowing through that hole. The hole is real. If you were to combine all the cracks and crannies in a typical Canadian home, they’d add up to almost 1,400 square centimetres, roughly the size of 2.5 magazine pages.

Plugging that hole is the simplest way for Canada to save energy. Plugging the hole also saves money, creates jobs, cuts greenhouse-gas emissions and makes our homes more comfortable.
We know how to find the hole. Canadians pioneered the use of a tool that can measure the airtightness of a building. Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has used this “blower door” to test more than 800,000 Canadian homes.
Canadians also know how to fix the hole. Way back in 1977, they built a house so airtight and so well insulated that a hair dryer could have kept it warm through the winter – in cold Saskatchewan.

Yet despite the fact that buildings account for roughly one-third of our national energy consumption and the fact that we’re world leaders in small building energy-conservation technology, Canadians still haven’t plugged the hole. Most of our existing homes remain quite drafty, and most of our new homes fail to meet decades-old efficiency standards.

Builders have long known that heat claims the lion’s share of the energy consumed in Canadian homes: 57% of the total, compared with 24% for hot water, 13% for appliances and 5% for lighting. They’ve also known that heat escapes wherever air escapes, mostly under doors and around windows.
A standard measurement agreed upon is: the number of times per hour the blowerdoor fan would suck all the air out of a house at a prescribed pressure of 50 pascals (Pa). The metric is called “air changes per hour (ACH)” at 50 Pa. With gaps totaling 1,400 sq. cm, the average Canadian home leaks enough air to result in 6.85 ACH@50Pa.

In the wake of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the Saskatchewan Research Council designed an energy-efficient home appropriate for the Saskatchewan winter. The oil crisis prompted many similar projects, with most focusing on new ways to trap solar heat within a more or less standard building. The Saskatchewan team elected, instead, to design a radically more efficient building envelope. The Saskatchewan Conservation House, completed in Regina in 1977, was likely one of the first buildings to combine three key elements: superinsulation, extreme airtightness and a heat-recovery ventilator.
In an era when nearly all houses were constructed of four-inch-thick walls filled with R-8 insulation, the two-storey Saskatchewan house featured 12-inch-thick R-40 walls and R-60 roof insulation. Likewise, single-paned windows were then the norm; this home had triple-glazed windows. The house also boasted extreme airtightness. Most new houses at the time scored in the range of 9 ACH@50Pa; the SCH achieved 0.8 ACH@50Pa. At the time it was likely the tightest house in the world.
To provide fresh air to the airtight house, the Saskatchewan team built an air-to-air heat exchanger. This device pulled in fresh (but cold) outdoor air through a series of baffles. Stale (but warm) indoor air was pushed out through the other side of those same baffles, and heat was transferred from the exhaust air to the incoming fresh air.
The SCH had no furnace. Instead, it relied on a system that collected solar heat during the day, stored it in a water tank, then released the heat at night. All told, the house required less than a quarter of the energy consumed by a standard home of the time.

That same year, the “House As a System” approach pioneered in Saskatchewan formed the basis for a new national building standard that required R-20 insulation, blower-door test results of 1.5 ACH@50Pa or better, the installation of a heat-recovery ventilator and the use of non-toxic materials. The new standard became a partnership between NRCan and the Canadian Home Builders’ Association. It was the toughest standard in the world at that time and presaged by decades the advent of green building initiatives such as BuiltGreen or LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). The new standard was voluntary, but its authors intended for its gradual integration into the national building code. With their sights set on plugging the hole in Canadian homes by the turn of the century, they named the new standard “R-2000.”

The above content is mostly a shortened re-print of the article High-Performance Homes - Why isn't Canada spearheading the movement to build more sustainable homes? published in June 2012 issue of Canadian Geographic.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Performance Home, Part 1

Those who have been following my postings undoubtedly noticed that I am trying to avoid using such terms like "sustainable", "green" or even "eco-friendly". Instead I prefer talking about the "performance home" or "performance building" (sometimes also called "high-performance building"). It is probably time finally to find out what is a Performance Home.
Is it a something like a sphere, which everybody familiar with thermodynamics knows is the most efficient shape? 

Is it a shiny futuristic glass cube, which is usually much more functional ?

Is it a house stuffed with all sorts of techno-gadgets?

Or, it is a some sort of combination? May be, but not necessarily. One has to look at the performance house as a system, which it undoubtedly is. Then one must recognize that it - as any system - consists from many smaller systems (structure, insulation, ventilation, heating and cooling, water supply, electrical etc) constituting the whole, and in turn is a part of a bigger urban system, community, natural environment etc.  Then it will be obvious that performance home to be built in Sun Peaks Resort on elevation of 2,400 m would be totally different from the one to be built in Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Future Mobility

Inspired by the Insecta urban car concept presented by Moovee Innovations at UBC

and following some of my previous posts on high-speed rail, as well as on future marine and air mobility I decided to descend back to Earth and check out what is in store for the near future urban commuters. I discovered - no surprise - that the work has been done for me by Inspiration Green.

Over the past few years a serious buzz has built over the electric car. The high-profile marketing and release of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf in the United States has prompted much of this attention while the mainstream press in Canada and the United States has been scrutinizing these products in  reports and editorials. Every car show around the world is featuring electric vehicles, and it seems that they could become the next big thing in personal mobility.
Electric propulsion of automobiles has been around for over 100 years, so why are electric vehicles only now making a serious run at the buying public?
One answer is that automobiles have become one of the most pervasive symbols of the fossil fuel economy that is devastating the natural environment. Cars have therefore become a regular focal point in environmental debates about “what is to be done” about green house gas emissions and climate change, issues that have now entered into mainstream consciousness.

A sense of urgency exists that action needs be taken by individuals, institutions and corporations in order to curb emissions. This has created a system where material objects are either perceived as friendly to the environment or damaging. The automobile industry is racing to capitalize on this notion with electric cars leading the way as the number one “green” solution.
In the United States, the confidence in electric cars shown by the traditional auto manufacturers is driven in part by President Barack Obama’s plan to help build the clean energy economy, which is seen by the administration as a key to the country’s competitiveness in the 21st century. The U.S. government has already invested US$5 billion to stimulate an industry and market for electric cars.

Ottawa, on the other hand, has yet to earmark significant funds to this industry, thereby leaving the country in a chicken-and-egg situation: without the government funds to foster an electric car industry and stimulate a market plus help develop the infrastructure to serve it [e.g. charging infrastructure], electric vehicles may not emerge as a viable option. In the event that electric cars come into general use, Canada’s well-established automotive sector — a major employer — could be adversely impacted if not properly prepared. More action by the Federal government to support this sector will be needed, or Canada could be left behind other auto-producing centres.
But should Canadian tax money be used to stimulate a burgeoning electric car industry, or would government funds be more successful in reducing emissions if they went to developing more accessible public transportation or create more and safer bicycle lanes like it has been done in Vancouver?
At first glance, zero emissions cars look like real solutions to stopping growing carbon emissions in a society and culture that is obsessed with cars as a prime form of transport. At this point we really do not have a lot of choice. In reality, however, the answer is much more complex and depends on whether one explores the collective versus the individual benefits of this technology, or, in other words, what overall impact the modest adoption of electric vehicles will have on cutting tail pipe emissions.

Also, depending on where you charge you electric vehicle, pollution could simply move upstream from the tailpipe to the coal-fired power generator. Another factor is that large amounts of lithium will be needed to power electric motors representing a horizontal shift in reliance from one extractive industry, oil, to another — lithium. And simply “greening” the automobile will do nothing to curb the destruction caused by roads, parking lots and traffic congestion.

Alone they are not a real solution, but viewed as part of an overall national strategy, the electric car, together with high-performance buildings and evolutionary transition to renewable sources of energy, could play a pivotal role in weaning society off of its reliance on fossil fuels.

Aptera electric car