Monday, October 24, 2011

2011-10-24 "UC Davis West Village touts zero net energy living; UC Davis enclave plans to generate all its power" by John King from "San Francisco Chronicle"
Davis --
Sustainable design is often measured by the use of recycled materials and power-saving gadgets. But architecture itself can embody the quest for conservation, as is the case in this university city 80 miles east of San Francisco, where a new 130-acre development aspires to be the nation's largest zero net energy community.
The first 23 buildings have just opened, so it's too early to say whether the enclave will consume no more energy than is generated by the on-site solar panels. But the goal takes form in the sunshades that rake shadows across large windows and in the park's artful circular courtyard, which doubles as a basin where rainwater can be absorbed into the earth - touches that give a flavor not found in other Northern California projects of this size.
Though the "village" is the work of private developers, it occupies land owned by UC Davis. The site west of the campus across Highway 113 is conceived as a neighborhood unto itself, with three- and four-story student apartment buildings radiating out from the village green. The green is flanked by ground-floor space reserved for shops and university offices, along with a free-standing outpost of Sacramento City College that will open in January. Land north of the green is being readied for what will be 343 houses reserved for UC Davis academics and employees.
The target population is part of what sets UC Davis West Village apart from such recent mixed-use projects as those erected near BART stations. Another difference is that zero net quest - a desire that adds layers of site-specific architectural detail.

Stylish shutters -
You see this at the village green, designed by SWA Group amid buildings by Studio E Architects of San Diego.
The residential structure on the east edge is cloaked in loose-fitting corrugated metal that's open at the base and roofline, allowing surface heat to rise up and out rather than be absorbed by the units inside. Other surfaces are stucco, yet they have a more substantial presence than the infill norm. There's a reason: The building's plywood-clad form is wrapped in an extra half inch of insulation before the outer skin is applied.
Then there is the assertive use of sunscreens.
Building rooftops extend 6 feet beyond outer walls. Slatted screens that form upside-down L's deflect afternoon sun. Other facades come with shutters that rest flat on rollers against the building; a resident can open a window, reach out and pull the shutter into any position he or she desires.
"We've wanted to do shutters like this forever, and we finally got the chance," said Eric Naslund of Studio E. He described the airy corrugated wall as "a pretty dumb ventilated facade, and pretty inexpensive to do."
As for the central open space, one corner slopes down to a landscaped nook reached by a circular path with low walls ideal for seating. It's one of several "bioswales" planned for the district - low spots that will capture rainwater that otherwise would go into storm drains.

Design for climate -
Another subtle touch: SWA's master plan arranges buildings in loose clusters so as to allow afternoon breezes from the delta to filter through the site.
These moves are keyed to the Davis climate, where summer days often are accompanied by triple-digit temperatures. And while the cumulative effect is to conserve resources, the units fit within the market-rate budget of developers Carmel Partners and Urban Villages.
As exotic as zero net energy might sound, the concept is taking hold as a tool to lessen development's impact on the environment.
One example is in Emeryville, where an 8-acre industrial site slated for housing is the subject of a zero net energy design competition sponsored by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and the San Francisco chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Looking into the future, California's Public Utilities Commission has called for all new buildings in the state to meet this standard by 2030.

Selective zero -
To be sure, the zero net notion can be viewed with a skeptical eye.
At UC Davis West Village, the record keeping won't tabulate the embedded energy of the giant wall-mounted televisions in the lounge or the exercise machines that fill the gym on the floor above. Or the full bathroom that comes with each bedroom in the undergraduate suites.
But as long as a large subset of Americans want and expect the latest in creature comforts, designers must take advantage of every tool that reduces the amount of energy we consume in the process. If an added bonus is distinctive buildings and landscapes with a fine-tuned sense of place, all the better.
Online resources

UC Davis West Village: Zero net energy community. [].
Architecture at Zero: Design competition. [].

West Davis Village in Davis, Ca., on Friday October 21, 2011. West Davis Village is reported to be the largest community in the country to be a "zero net energy" community, that is one that generates as much energy as it consumes.
Credit: Michael Macor

Saturday, October 22, 2011

2011-10-22 "Changers' Maroshi changes up solar power" by Klaus Werle from "San Francisco Chronicle"
The young entrepreneurs behind green startup Changers are from Berlin, but they're launching their product in California, where they can take advantage of the sun - and social-network thought leaders.
On Thursday, they were in San Francisco to unveil their new device: a small, solar-charged system designed to power smart phones and other USB-enabled devices. The module, called Maroshi, can be attached to any window or sunny surface.
The energy is stored in a solar battery, which can power up a smart phone or tablet via USB, recharging the device as quickly as a wall socket will. There also are eight adapters in the kit, which sells for $149. In all, the company says, the product can connect to more than a thousand devices.
But Changers, backed by German solar-tech company Centrotherm and founded last year by Markus Schulz, Daniela Schiffer, Dirk Gamboa Tuesta and Hans Raffauf, is not about technology. It seeks to set up a green social system.
"We want to enable every single person to produce their own energy, and in doing so, think more consciously about it," Raffauf said.
The battery, called Kalhuohfummi, tracks how much power it generates and uploads the data to an energy marketplace at Changers. com, where users can compare and share their savings via Facebook or Twitter.
"People like to compete, and here they can compete in something sustainable," said Kushtrim Xhakli, who oversees digital media for Changers.
The goal: to make shrinking your carbon footprint as valuable to social networkers as increasing your number of Twitter followers.
"If you really want to have an impact on global warming, you've got to start with the end customer and change their behavior," Raffauf said.
In essence, Changers is looking for a few popular users to help their idea go viral. That's one reason the company is introducing its product in the Bay Area, a hub for renewable energy enthusiasts.
"The Bay Area assembles the opinion leaders in social-network technology," Raffauf said. "It's here we can find the most early adopters."
In fact, at the Web 2.0 summit this week, the company nabbed its first customer: Mary Meeker, a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
By the way, there's a meaning behind the components' names. Maroshi is the name of a Maldive island. Hundreds of years ago, during the Maldives' fight for independence from Portugal, Maroshi was a key port for Kalhuohfummi, a vital supply ship during the battles. Today, the Maldives are under a new threat: global warming and a rising sea level.
Some would say that the techie Maroshi and Kalhuohfummi carry on the tradition.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

2011-10-06 "Oakland allows urban farmers to sell produce" by Matthai Kuruvila from "San Francisco Chronicle" newspaper
Oakland -- You can now legally sell peas grown from your backyard in Oakland.
The City Council voted Tuesday to eliminate the ban on selling homegrown produce, a relic of an era when cities wanted to distinguish themselves from rural areas.
But the old code, which was updated, has come into conflict with a growing but relatively new movement, urban farming. Urban farmers generally seek deeper connections to their food by growing it themselves, and the money helps. Kitty Sharkey harvested 80 pounds of heirloom tomatoes Tuesday from the 3-by-24-foot raised bed at her home in the Havenscourt neighborhood of East Oakland. She thinks she could make up to $400 at a farmers' market, which would help her finances.
Until now, she gave away or bartered what she couldn't eat, cook or can.
"A little bit more money makes it more enticing," said Sharkey, 47, who devotes time to being an urban homesteader and growing almost all of her own food. "I might work a little harder on that winter garden."
Others saw a larger significance in the change.
"It's the first step in legitimizing urban agriculture in Oakland," said Esperanza Pallana, 37, who has a 1,200-square-foot backyard plot in the Grand Lake neighborhood and has been pushing for the change. "It's also preserving our right to grow our own food for ourselves and our community."
The code change altered the definition of "home-based businesses," which previously required that it had to be indoors. The new code allows outdoor vegetables as long as farm equipment isn't needed to produce them. Previously, all it took was one phone call from a neighbor to bring down the city's wrath on someone selling backyard carrots.

Not a primary occupation -
Eric Angstadt, the city's deputy planning and zoning director, said that anywhere from one-half to three-fourths of urban farmers in Oakland will be protected by this change.
"These are people for whom urban farming is not a primary, money-making occupation," he said. "These are maybe people who are just trying to recover their own costs of growing, or maybe people who are trying to see if it can be a possible commercial occupation."
There's little if any controversy over this code change - the first and perhaps least disputed element of the city's desire to revamp its urban farming rules. But that's partly because of what this does not address.
Farmers whose operations are so big they need a tractor won't be covered by this code change. Nor are cooperatives that sell produce boxes or people who grow on vacant lots - because those lots aren't considered yards.

Farm animals not addressed -
But the biggest reason Tuesday's change attracted little hubbub was because it didn't address the issue of farm animals.
The city's vegans and farm animal lovers have been battling over this issue. The vegan farmers say animals should not be used in farming because they are almost always slaughtered. Those who want to have animals on their farms say they help the vegetables, by tilling soil, eating bugs or providing manure.
Livestock prompted complaints to the city against Novella Carpenter, who wrote about the creation of her West Oakland farm in the book, "Farm City." Rabbit rights activists complained about her rabbits and other farm animals after learning that she was slaughtering rabbits and offering rabbit pot pies from her farm to people willing to donate cash.
The city forced Carpenter to apply for a $2,800 conditional use permit to grow vegetables and raise a small number of animals. None of Tuesday's changes would have helped her because her farm is on an empty lot adjacent to her apartment - but the lot is not considered a yard at her home.