Friday, October 28, 2005

"Green" buildings as a productivity enhancement?

The "Green" building idea has been long in development. The ideal is to make the buildings in a way that they're less damaging in multiple ways. For example, not built from materials that cause the occupants sickness. Or built with passive solar heating and/or cooling features. Or installed with toilet plumbing that uses less water.

Selling green buildings with people power (By Martin LaMonica, Staff Writer, CNET, Published: October 28, 2005, 4:00 AM PDT)

The idea here is that what will drive the adoption of "green buildings" is employee productivity gains. The article cites a few sources claiming productivity gains. Which makes me wonder where they might be coming from, and the article doesn't really point to the source of the productivity gains.

Clearly if a building is built so it doesn't impede the health of its occupants, then they'll be sick less often and you might spin that as a productivity gain. But how does installing solar panels on a building make the occupants more productive?

Not that I'm resisting installation of solar panels. I'd be excited to have more businesses doing so. And there can be an effect on business bottom line, because once the solar panels are paid off the company has free electricity (minus a few administrative and maintenance costs). While that affects the health of the business, how can it affect employee health?

Clean Tech Venture Forum ( Hosted a "venture forum" from which this article seems to have been derived.

The Cleantech Venture Network is a unique opportunity for investors and others to profitably facilitate the growth of young companies with the potential for delivering major economic, environmental and social benefits. Cleantech organizes Venture Forums, provides deal flow, publishes its Venture Monitors and offers related services to investors and entrepreneurs. In doing so, the Network will accelerate the development of the next and necessary wave of ventures.

U.S. Green Building Council ( A council of leaders in the building industry that promote green buildings.

Green Building Expo (

LEED building rating system

Developed by the USGBC membership, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is a national consensus-based, market-driven building rating system designed to accelerate the development and implementation of green building practices. In short, it is a leading-edge system for designing, constructing and certifying the world’s greenest and best buildings. The full program offers training workshops, professional accreditation, resource support and third-party certification of building performance. LEED for New Construction and Major Renovations (LEED-NC), was launched in March 2000 following review by the entire USGBC membership and a national pilot testing program. LEED-NC is designed for rating new and existing commercial and institutional buildings; however, active member committees are developing criteria addressing other project types.

Liberty Property Trust ( Is a real estate investment trust (REIT) corporation who is said in the CNET article to have committed to building and operating only green buildings. REIT's own and administer real estate for rental, so for a REIT to operate only green buildings means that decision has affected dozens or hundreds of companies. However it seems from the article this is only a pledge, as they are said to be seeking LEED certification. On Liberty Property's web site they don't discuss green buildings.

Building Investment Decision Support ( is a program developed at Carnegie Mellon University that helps someone make decisions around green building features. WARNING: The dumbasses made this specifically for Internet Exploiter.

Carnegie Mellon’s BIDS, Building Investment Decision Support, is a case-based decision-making tool that calculates the economic value added of investing in high performance building systems based on the findings of building owners and researchers around the world. The framework of multiple life-cycle variables to cost justify key design innovations within a rich data base of international case studies, and the EVA/NPV calculator that incorporates a range of financial assumptions linked to international organizations, is fully patented by U.S and Pennsylvania law as well as legally adopted by all ABSIC members.

But ... it's not all roses: LEEDing Us Astray? Top green-building system is in desperate need of repair (By Auden Schendler and Randy Udall, 26 Oct 2005,

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Global warming evidence in remote northern lakes

Lake algae confirm global warming link (29 October 2005)

ALGAL growth in remote Arctic lakes is confirming what ecologists suspected all along - that entire freshwater ecosystems are altering in response to climate change.

Neal Michelutti and his colleagues at the University of Alberta in Edmonton collected 30-centimetre core samples from the bottom of six lakes on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. From levels of chlorophyll a in the sediment, which they measured using a technique called reflectance spectroscopy, they deduced that plant life in the lakes began to increase 150 years ago and is now growing almost exponentially year by year.

The most likely reason for the change is climate warming, Michelutti says. Cycles of plant and alga growth in the lakes last only a few weeks, and lengthening that period by even a few days would be noticeable in the sediment, he says.

Past experiments have failed to show a convincing link, either because they covered too short a geological period or because they were conducted in areas where human activity could have affected the results. The core samples of Michelutti's experiment contain 5000 years' worth of data from an area almost untouched by human activity.

"These are pristine lakes that mankind hasn't directly affected," he says. "But there has definitely been an indirect effect."
From issue 2523 of New Scientist magazine, 29 October 2005, page 19

Monday, October 24, 2005

Low power computers and being "green"

Remember a few years ago there were power blackouts in California? They were a big problem, the governor (a Democrat) trying to get the federal power agency to step in to do something but they refused. Conveniently this issue was a hook later used in the recall campaign won by that third rate actor from Austria allowing the Republicans to gain some control over California. And those same power blackouts were later found to be caused by highly illegal "gaming" of the power distribution by Enron and others (Enron conveniently being highly friendly to President Bush, as in Bush used Enron's corporate jet during his presidential campaign).

Cronyism aside, there was a technical issue at play. The .COM boom was well underway, which led to a massive increase in "server farm" construction. A "server farm" is a room jampacked with "server" computers, the kind that run web sites. It's seen to be most efficient to jam as many server computers into as small a space as you can, because real estate has a cost proportional to square footage of the rooms it occupies. The less square footage, the lower cost, generally.

But what that meant was you suddenly had a greater density of power demand than the power companies had planned for. A single building housing a server farm might have a power usage level equivalent to a small town.

See, there are several costs in running a server farm. In addition to the square footage, you have to provide electricity, backup generators, air conditioning, lighting, and staff. The more computers you have in a room, the higher the electric bill, the larger the required backup generators, the huger the air conditioning system, and the more people you must have onhand to handle the required work.

But, that makes an assumption that each server takes the same power requirements as all other servers. Fortunately that's not true. Just as you can buy light bulbs that produce the brightness but using less power (e.g. compact flourescents use 1/3rd the power to make the same number of lumens), you can find server computers that handle the same compute load for less power.

For example, Sun Microsystems is lately talking loudly about new Opteron based server computers that use greatly less power than competitors (video and feature article), and a few years ago RLX Computing tried to make headway selling server computers using the Transmeta CPU which was designed for lower-power-consumption and meant for portable computers.

When a computer uses less electricity to perform the same work, you see a decrease in electricity consumption, air conditioning, and backup generator requirements. The decrease in AC needs itself decreases electricity consumption. And all that in turn decreases the environmental impact.

See: DEC veterans prepare chip challenge for Intel, AMD, IBM and Sun (By Ashlee Vance in Mountain View, Published Monday 24th October 2005 21:23 GMT)

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wind power isn't a panacea?

In California's Altamont Pass there's a long-running experiment in alternative energy resources. There are hundreds of wind generators that collectively generate around 5 megawatts of electricity. I live nearby and regularly drive through the pass, so they are a familiar sight in my life.

It is such a beautiful idea. The wind blows, spins a machine, and the machine makes electricity. No muss, no fuss, and you can still use the ground for other purposes such as the cattle grazing on those same hillsides. Cleanly produced electricity that can be made anywhere.

The problem are the bird-kills at the site. The level of bird-kills in the Altamont Pass site has tarnished wind energy in general with a meme of the towers being unsafe to birds.

Unexpected Downside of Wind Power (Will Wade, Wired News, 02:00 AM Oct. 14, 2005 PT)

This article covers a plan to study the bird-kills in a new way. The situation in the Altamont Pass site has already been studied carefully, learning several useful things about the siting and design of towers. Newer towers don't have the problems the very old towers at Altamont have, plus there is a lot of knowledge now about where to place the towers so they aren't near birds to begin with.

In this new study they plan to shut down portions of the wind farm. Assumably as each set of towers are shut down, they're going to compare bird-kills and learn some more about which tower design is worse or better.

Altamont isn't the only scene of a showdown. Environmental groups have already blocked a proposed wind-power facility in the Mojave Desert, and opponents of another project, in Nantucket Sound, have cited wildlife concerns in their lobbying efforts. A recent government report found that sites in other regions could pose a threat to bats.

Clearly wind energy is turning out to be a mixed blessing to environmentalists. On the one hand it offers such cleanly generated electricity, how could any environmentalist complain? Well, we can't lose sight of the big picture, and often a solution to one problem creates problems elsewhere. That's what is happening, the environmentalists are perhaps saying "wait a minute, let's not create more problems here, let's study and see how to solve both problems". Though, in the case of the Nantucket project, the opponents strike me as being more worried about their property values (supposedly the wind towers are ugly) and not the birds.

e.g.: Miller stressed that the Center for Biological Diversity is not opposed to wind farms, but said they must be built in areas where they will have minimal impact on wildlife. "We definitely support wind power, but it needs to be sited in appropriate areas."

Here's to more truth, and here's to clean energy.