Category Archives: Architecture/Environment

New LED bulbs hit the market

A few months back I wrote about the new E-Core LED lightbulb developed by Toshiba.  At that time the E-Core had received a lot of fanfare coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show, and seemed poised to be the first LED bulb to be made widely available on the US market.  Well as it turns out the other big players in the light bulb industry where not far behind with their own LED bulbs.  GE, Panasonic, Philips and Osram Sylvania, amongst others have all jumped in the race to provided their own LED light bulb by the end of the year.  It seems all but decided that Light Emitting Diodes will shortly become the new standard of luminescence, however at a price of $30-$40 a piece, any mass transition may not occur for some time.

The reason these manufacturers are focused primarily on 60-watt equivalent bulbs is because the standard 60 watt incandescent bulb represents the highest proportion of replacement bulbs sold today.  By taking on the mainstream market bulb makers are actively seeking to rapidly distribute this new technology with the end goal of driving down the purchasing cost.  The price of a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb has already dropped considerably, from around $90 2 years ago, down to about $30 per bulb.  The problem is that standard incandescent bulbs are extremely inexpensive, around $0.50.

So here lies the challenge; how to convince a consumer to pay $30 when they can meet the same immediate need for just 50 cents.  The new LED bulbs are far and away more efficient than their Incandescent and compact florescent predecessors, using only 9 watts of electricity and lasting up to 12 times as long as standard bulbs.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s difficult to sell a consumer on a product with superior efficiency when over-time savings are reflected in decades rather than individual months or years.  Light bulbs are considered a disposable product, in some cases nothing more than a chore or a nuisance, something you HAVE to take time to replace every so often.  Can you really turn that into a $30 – $40 proposition to the average consumer? Well maybe…if you make it free!

Earlier this month, in an article posted on GreenTech:Media, it was mentioned that once these LED bulbs approach a $20 price point it is feasible that utility providers my begin providing them to their customers for free.  The rational for this argument is that once you get bellow a certain price per unit the efficiency savings in energy usage outweigh the cost.  If utilities can take measures to reduce energy usage (a counter-intuitive point, I agree) they inevitably reduce the need to bring new power plants online in the future.  Next to delivery infrastructure, new power plants are by far the highest costs facing most energy utilities.  Several years ago when Compact Florescent bulbs where flooding the market we saw several utilities implement similar strategies of providing vouchers for free CFL bulbs.  Though CFLs are far less expensive it remains a relevant precedent because it also reveals the marketing potential for such a program.  Energy utilities have spent millions in trying to make their brands appear more environmentally responsible, some have even set up entirely new subsidiary brands to cater to a rising eco-audience amongst consumers.  While actual supply and production metrics tell a strong story, marketing may add an even more compelling element to the future rise of LED bulbs. It would be very interesting to explore how this business logic could be applied to other energy efficient products.  In the mean time get ready for a new kid on the block when it comes to light bulbs.

latest in LED tech: ECORE lightbulbs from toshiba

image via gizmag.com

One of the heroes from last months CES expo was the super efficient ECORE LED lightbulb developed by Toshiba.  The introduction of the bulbs to the US market are part of Toshiba’s “Vision 2050” initiative, a long-term sustainability plan aimed at increasing the companies overall eco-efficiency.  The performance lightbulbs produce a 265 lumen output (similar to a 40 watt incandescent) getting 50 lumen per watt and using only 5.3 total watts.  In other words, a bulb that will last 40 times longer than traditional incandescent lightbulb (about 40,000 hours), is compatible with existing commercial and residential uses, and reduces CO2 emissions by 85 percent.

Though off-the-shelf LED technology like ECORE has been available in other countries like Japan for several years they have only begun to pop-up state-side.  This has had a lot to do with cost, LED lighting remains a very expensive alternative to incandescent and fluorescent alternatives.  A cost-benefit analysis of LED lights may have to cover many years to show any kind of compelling advantage to the average consumer. This is why factors such as CO2 emissions are crucial to understanding the true impact of such efficiency products, and to the conversion of more consumers to accept them.  The advantages of energy efficient technologies have traditionally been expressed in terms of cost, which is certainly important.  However, growing awareness of the environmental issues and the acceptance of sustainability principles by many has opened the door to greater considerations when it comes to adopting new technologies.  By placing a greater value on long-term impacts such as CO2 emissions and potential maintenance/replacement liabilities, I think we will soon see a greater shift towards the advantages of  LED and other still emerging technologies.

best of the 09: green building products

Each year Environmental Design + Construction magazine publishes a list of the top 15 products from their New+Notable, and Products Focus sections.  The final selections are actually determined by the number of reader requests they received, and thus should represent some idea of what those who work in the industry consider most important in green building.  The movement for sustainability in construction and building design is in many ways far more developed than that in product, packaging, and even service design.  There are several reasons for this, just one being the development of LEED standards over the last decade and a half.  The advancement of LEED has created very comprehensive set of metrics with which a buildings “greeness” can be thoroughly tested throughout it’s planning, construction, and use phases.  One of the other pressures that has contributed to the green building push has been the consistent hike in construction and utility costs.  Unlike products, which have a comparatively short life-span, a building incurs these costs over an extended period of time.  This is the reason why higher efficiency with regard to water and energy use are at the very core of the LEED criteria.

With the development of better standards such as LEED and a growing awareness of a future of higher costs and shrinking resources, their has been a boom in new building technologies and products that can achieve greater efficiencies. This past spring I myself became a LEED accredited professional so I am always very interested to see just what can be achieved with the latest innovations.  This years list of finalists seems to weigh heavily on products affecting water efficiency and conservation. This is not surprising given that a buildings’ water use can be easily affected by the use of newer appliances, and better plumbing system approaches.  However, it got me thinking that a lot of the products on this list don’t seem to have the stand-alone appeal that one would expect from a “best of” list.  This is mostly because what this list shows are actual practical, usable solutions.  So much of what is written about in today’s mania over “green” are either untested, uneconomical or in some cases ineffective.  Missing from this list are the glut of solar arrays, home wind generators, and adaptively reused objects like shipping containers, that seem to flood most other forums on creating sustainability in the built environment. Regardless, here are the top 15 from ED+C:

1. Sloan AQUS Greywater System

2. The Silva Cell Tree and Stormwater System

3. Gravelpave2 Porous Pavement System

4. Tierra Rapidly Renewable Ceiling Panels

5. Tumbled Landscape Glass Mulch Alternative

6. Senior Series Water-source Heat Pump w/ Energy Recovery

7. Terreon RE Recycled Content Solid Surface

8. WaterSense Flapperless Toilet

9. Versa low-VOC Designer Wallcovering

10. EcoBatt Glasswool Insulation

11. eSolution Water Conserving Program

12. HALO Recessed LED Luminaire

13. MeTechno Insulated Standing Seam Roof

14. Turffalo Low Maintenance Low Water Grass

15. WoodWorks FSC-Certified Wood Ceiling Panels

(images via JetsOn Green)

new regional credits for LEED 2009

LEED regionalHaving become a LEED accredited professional this past spring, I will hopefully be writng more and more about the interesting state of the Green building industry.  Of particular interest, has been the recent transition to LEED 2009, the 3rd and most thoughrough version yet of the increasingly adopted green building rating system and design criteria.
Part of the new criteria has been the inclusion of more regionally appointed credits.  One of the challenges in creating a trully wholistic set of standards has been the difference in environmental priorities between various regions of the country. For this reason the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has included a new set of regional credits as part of LEED 2009.

These new credits are intended to address the specific needs of different geographic regions regarding the design, construction and operations of buildings. To accomplish this the USGBC used it’s regional councils, chapters and affiliates located accross the country to identify which of the existing credits where particularly important to the environmental issues faced by their specific region. This effectivley weights certian credits, so that they can earn “bonus points” when applied to a project located in the region where the credit has unique environmental relevance.

Though still not perfect, the LEED green building rating system is truly changing the face of most industries having to dowith built environment.  The inclusion of this regional point system is likely just a first step in LEED  becoming more evenly applicative accross the country. As the USGBC continues to grow it gathers increasing experience and experteise towards creating a world leading standard for efficiant, well designed buildings and environments.

more tools for the “sustainability trade”

ecotect-image-10-thumbAutodesk, a leading provider of software tools for the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industries, has added a new tool to its arsenal aimed at simplifying energy-efficient and otherwise green building design and renovation.  Ecotect Analysis 2010 is a whole-buildig performance analysis tool, geared towards meeting the increasing demand for greener buildings.  The program provides engineers and architects a range of simulation and analysis features that are able to process just how various environmental factors, such as lighting, thermal, solar, shading, and airflow effect a buildings overall performance.  This allows for a better understanding of just how certain design decisions will affect a project’s green goals, and will allow users to make better informed decissions much earlier in the design and building process.

To supplement the new Ecotect tool, Autodesk has also created the Autodesk Guide to Sustainable Design; an online resource for designer that illustrates a variaty of sustainable design principles and technologies for the various phases of the building product life-cycle.  This will provide even more access to the latest comprehensive collection of green building stratagies, alowing designers to consider multiple options for approaching a buildings specific needs. These are both exciting new tools, in a rapidly expanding industry that has already begun to shape our built environment.  By giving designers easier access to information and the analysis tools to validate their decisions, Autodesk is giving a definite push to the movement for more responsible buildings. Cheers to that.

a measure of impact

pmscreenshot

You may have heard talk of the recent rise in “smart grid” technology, that is products and systems being developed to help create greater balance of use and efficiency in our sprawling electrical power infrastructure.  As energy costs rise along with consumer and business consciousness, the need to better manage our use of electricity, and reduce overall costs is driving major companies to invest in these emerging technologies.  Not surprisingly Google is at the top of the list.  According last weeks article in the New York Times, Google has developed a free web service called PowerMeter that can be used to track energy use of an home or business.  To be clear, the PowerMeter technology isn’t actually calculating energy use, rather it is designed to collect information from other devices within the home or business and display it through an intuitive interface.  Though Google has yet to identify exactly who they will be partering with to provide these other devices, there are numerous providers already out there and countless more right around the corner.  Devices that can directly measure energy usage in things like large appliances, heating and cooling systems, lighting, as well as factor in the fluctuating demand in various regional grids would create the opportunity for consumers to take more educated action in how they use energy.    Google hopes to begin making the PowerMeter technology available in the next few months, so It will be very interesting to learn more about the application and the technologies that will support it.