Friday, 2 November 2012

Green Roof Tops could become the next green innovation for Smart Cities of the future.

Photograph By Diane Cooke and Len Jenshel
I recently came across a fantastic idea that apparently has been around for some time. Jean O'Dwyer on her popular Facebook page called The Earth Story explains the concept far better than I could possibly hope to: 

The concept of the green roof is not a new phenomenon; with its basic functionality being utilised for several centuries. A green roof (also known as an eco-roof, nature roof, living roof or roof greening system) is a living, vegetative system that contains a substrate (growing media) and a vegetation layer at its outermost surface. Green roof systems can be used as a way of compensating for the increase of impervious surfaces, providing a visual and recreational escape from the ‘concrete jungles’ of urban landscapes.

One of the most attractive qualities of green roofs is that they wholly encompass the idea of sustainability. Sustainability can be broadly defined as an attempt to provide the best outcomes for the human and natural world both now and into the indefinite future. It relates to the continuity of economic, social and environmental aspects of human society, as well as the non-human environment.

Green roofs offer advantages socially, economically and environmentally which are all necessary to fully achieve any step towards sustainable development.

Environmental Benefits: 
  • Storm-water management   -  Retrofitting a green roof system on a pre-existing rooftop can become an onsite water retention facility. Depending on the rain intensity and the soil depths runoff can be reduced by 15 to 90 %.
  • Reduction of the urban heat Island effect -  Concrete and asphalt structures absorb the ultraviolet radiation from the sun during the day. At night however, this radiation is released as thermal infrared radiation which creates a dome of higher temperatures over cities. Because green roofs store water in the growing media and plants, latent heat loss is accomplished via transpiration from plants and evaporation of moisture from the growing medium collectively referred to as evapo-transpiration.
  • Reduction of air pollution -  Plants can reduce the concentration of airborne pollutants in a number of ways. The leaves of the plant fix particulates, and then when it rains the particulates are washed down into the soil substrate where they become trapped in the soil substrate or growing medium. Through plant photosynthesis and respiration air containing carbon dioxide and toxins is absorbed through the stomata and transformed into glucose and water. Airborne particulates become trapped on the plant foliage until it rains. The particulates are then washed into the soil substrate and become entrained in the substrate mix preventing the dusts being dispersed downwind.
  • Promotes Biodiversity - Green roof offer habitat patches in areas which otherwise would be void of ecosystem services. Even in densely populated areas green roofs can attract a range of beneficial species of birds, bee’s, butterflies and other insects. The fact that the habitats are created at a height is actually beneficial, particularly to species that do not interact with human beings. By creating new habitats for plants and animals valuable ecosystem services can be reinstated into urban areas.
Economic Benefits:
  • Prolonging the existing roofs life - The average life span of a conventional roof is only 20 years attributed to damage and stress from cooling, heating and exposure. If a green roof system is incorporated into design the temperatures do not get too high due to evaporative cooling and frost damage to the roof structure is avoided as the soil takes the worst of it. It is estimated that the installation of a green roof can double or even triple the life span of a roof, hence reducing maintenance costs significantly for a small by comparison initial investment.
  • Reduction in Energy Costs - Accredited to the natural thermal insulating properties of vegetative cover green roofs discourage heat build-up. This results in a decreased need for air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter. It is estimated that a one story building can save anywhere between 20 and 30% of electrical energy requirements with the addition of a green roof. 
Social Benefits:
  • Green roofs can help to visually ease the stress created by a lack of green space in urban communities. By intertwining culture and nature, we can actively design to regenerate human and ecological health. 
As a whole, the need to divorce our relationship with consumerism and resource use is of utmost importance and the relationship between humanity and nature must be rekindled. Green roofs are not only a tool towards environmental sustainability, but can act as a visual reminder of the importance of nature in our lives!

Jean O'Dwyer, The Earth Story

Well there we have it and what an amazing and innovative development to aid energy efficiency in the world's built environment and hopefully, something that will catch on and become a major contributor in the energy efficient mix for sustainable Smart City developments of the future.

    Monday, 15 October 2012

    Some UK Schools Still Have ‘F’ and ‘G’ EPC Certificate Ratings

    Some UK schools still have Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) grades of ‘F’ and ‘G’ even though the April 2018 deadline for buildings to be legal is set at an energy certificate rating of ‘E’ or above.
    A look through a few public display certificates for schools across a variety of regions in the UK, has revealed that many are in dire need of energy efficiency improvements. The fact that most of these schools are still using oil burners to heat their property and suffer from bad insulation, is arguably the key as to why they have such poor grades, even down to an appalling ‘G’, the lowest grade possible.

    In relation to heat waste, insulation is a key feature that must be upgraded to appropriate standards before anything else is considered. The amount of money and heat lost through bad insulation, especially in such a large building can equate to thousands of pounds wasted each year.

    Considering money is scarce in the education system surely investment in loft and wall insulation would be an economically viable proposition both to lower the schools carbon emissions and save much needed money, that can be put back into where it counts i.e. education.

    From the point of view of heat source, replacing the old oil powered boiler with an alternative heat source such as a biomass boiler, for example, would be an extremely economic, energy efficient and viable option. Oil has risen in price by 160% in the past five years i.e. five years ago oil was 25p per litre – today it is approaching 65p.

    A wood-fuelled boiler can offer a very simple and cost-effective means to heat buildings whilst realising significantly large savings in carbon emissions. Replacing a fossil fuel burner with wood fuel will typically reduce the overall carbon emissions by over 90%, with the assumption that the wood supply is managed sustainably. There will also be an approximate reduction of around 40% in energy bills from day one of making the change, on top of the huge savings to the environment in emissions.

    The heating of public buildings represents a significant opportunity for savings in carbon emissions. Wood fired heating such as the above can be used widely for public buildings with heating requirements of 30kW and above, as well as on a domestic scale. Currently Sheffield City council can proudly boast having the largest district heating scheme for public buildings in the country and they are looking closely at biomass, amongst other renewable heat sources, to further lower their emissions and save on public expenditure.

    There are even companies out there at the moment that will supply, install, repair and maintain a wood pellet biomass boiler free of charge, usually taking their cut via the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) and passing all the cost and energy saving benefits to the customer.

    So there is no excuse for public buildings, especially schools to be having such terribly low EPC ratings. As of April 2018, it will be illegal to sell or rent any building that has an EPC certificate rating of ‘F’ or below so surely public buildings must follow suit along with the domestic and commercial sector.

    Wales is home to the UK’s first completely energy efficient school, fully powered and heated by renewable energy sources and fitted with energy efficient modifications, having achieved an A++ EPC rating, so it just goes to show how unacceptable it is that a school in the UK should not achieve at least a ‘D’ rating on its EPC report card.

    Appropriate insulation and the use of wood-pellet burners can all be initially installed for practically free, so it’s time the government re-educated their heads of school about the cost-saving and energy saving benefits of becoming energy efficient. On a final note, would it not be good to set an example to the children in the schools about being energy efficient and protecting their environment, by way of at least allowing them to learn in a low carbon, low waste, cost-effective environment?

    Friday, 12 October 2012

    How Energy Efficient Are We Really As A Nation?

    Today all the talk is about energy efficiency, climate change and reducing carbon emissions. How energy efficient are we really as a population?

    Studies made by the DECC have shown in surveys that the majority of Brits are still unconcerned, unaware of or simply ill-informed about the dangers of climate change, dwindling fuel resources and why it is important and what it means, to be energy efficient.
    The majority of kids today, for example, are more interested in the new I – Phone 5, the latestCall Of Duty XBox game or who’s going to win the prestigious X-Factor, to possibly have time for all this reality. That, while a sad fact of life and consumer culture, can perhaps be forgiven, as they are kids. Being a responsible adult however, it is surely important to educate oneself on such pressing global matters and at least be aware of the immediacy of the situation and the ways in which we, as a people,can help to make progressive change towards a common goal of sustainable and community orientated, energy efficient living.
    The environmental movement in the UK has seen many changes throughout the decades and now people that were once called tree huggers or referred to as eccentric, for their crazy ideas about living sustainably in a community minded, organic manner, are now the educators of those that ten years ago, would have dismissed them as a bit out to lunch, as it were..
    In the UK there has never been so much marketing and publicity centred around environmental issues as there is today and therefore, it seems crazy that there are still many people who are unconcerned, unaware, ill educated or simply don’t have the time to be bothered about such issues. While the government are notorious for spin, the problems we face today regarding our environment are real and whatever the political motivation for measures the government are now taking, we must, as a nation think of the future of our children and their children and work towards living in a sustainable and interconnected manner.
    If you are are a parent, set your kids a good example and try to educate yourself so you can educate them on the importance of conserving energy and being energy efficient. Learn about your carbon foot print and gain an understanding of carbon emissions, what they are and how they affect the planet.
    Learn about renewable energy, as it will become the energy of the future and the more you know, the better equipped you will be when the technology becomes common place, as it is now on it’s way to doing.
    Perhaps the easiest thing to learn is how to become energy efficient in your home and work life. Not only does it benefit the environment but it also benefits your pocket. Is your home or commercial property energy efficient? Have you considered the environmental and financial savings you could begin to make straight away, with a few simple energy efficient changes to your home or business?
    The best way to find out how energy efficient your property is, for example, would be to have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) issued for the building. This explains how high or low the carbon emissions of your building are and shows how much money you could be saving, by making energy efficient implementations to your property. These could be loft or wall insulation, which many companies are offering free, LED lighting, Solar PV, an upgraded boiler/central heating system and so on.
    Armed with this knowledge, you can not only help the environment by living more sustainably but you will see more money in your pocket by way of lower energy bills. This could be less heat escaping from your house because of better insulation, thus lowering your emissions and saving you money or light bulbs that only need to be replaced once every ten years.
    So if we strive to educate ourselves about climate change, living sustainably by way of being energy efficient and environmentally friendly, we set a great example to our children and save money along the way, while being part of a growing community of like minded well informed individuals. The more educated you become about the various types of renewable, the more you understand about what is the best clean technology for you to use in your home or work place to maximise on efficiency and savings.
    While it might seem to some that people are simply jumping on the green bandwagon, the facts are still real and they are not going to go away. We have to work together sustainably, both in our home lives and our work lives and do it not just for us but for our children and their children to come. And if we can save some money along the way, then what is there really to lose?

    Thursday, 27 September 2012

    Water, Water Everywhere But Is It safe To Drink?

    I woke up this morning, sat up in bed and switched on my TV to be greeted by a news story about the number of people that die each day because they do not have access to clean drinking water. 

    I thought to myself, “what century are we living in?”  

    Is it not about time, on a global level, that everyone should pull together to ensure that this fundamental resource is available to every human being on the planet? 

    Two minutes of research identified that, according to the united Nations, 884 million people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. This is roughly one in ten of the world's population. Furthermore, over 2.6 billion people do not have access to proper sanitation systems.

    On average 2,000 children die a day from being denied this basic human right and nescessity of clean and safe drinking water!   

    I know Water Aid have done an enormous amount of work and a quick look on their website revealed that for every $1 invested in water and sanitation, an average of $4 is returned in increased productivity, not to mention the millions of lives it saves.

    Scientists have recently discovered the Higgs boson, is it not about time that the great minds of this world create a widget/device/system that is cheap and simple to solve this problem. 

    I’m not a scientist and I don’t know how to invent such a widget/device/system, so come on clean technologists, there must be something or someone out there that is working on a solution. 

    Please send in links, feeds, stories or anything you can about research and/or technology looking into a solution. This situation has to be addressed now, as a matter of urgency and the public must be made aware of this atrocious and unconscionable situation. 

    Rant over.                                                                      


    Tuesday, 28 August 2012

    New Self Charging Battery That Generates And Stores Energy

    Renewable energy technologies generally consist of two distinct processes: energy generation (using sources such as coal, solar, wind, etc.) and energy storage (such as batteries). These two processes are always accomplished through two separate units, with the first process converting the original form of energy to electricity, and the second process converting electricity to chemical energy. Now for the first time, engineers have demonstrated that energy can be generated and stored in a single device that converts mechanical energy directly to chemical energy, bypassing the intermediate step of electricity generation. The device basically acts as a hybrid generator-battery unit, or in other words, a self-charging power cell.

    Read more at:

    Friday, 24 August 2012

    The New Era Of Energy Efficient Technology

    Energy Efficient Technology on the rise as sustainable growth picks up momentum

    Spending all my days on the net writing about energy efficiency and renewable technologies, I am constantly amazed at the amount of passion and energy that is put into this industry. New technologies are emerging daily and governments are creating more and more legislation to make sure that sustainable growth is here to stay.

    While our own government is in internal conflict with the Treasury and George Osborne, about expenditure into renewable technologies, it has not stopped the rest of the industry from soldiering on in the face of adversity. We are now in a time when sustainability is paramount, as the old ways of generating energy are becoming redundant, as research has shown time and time again, that they are no longer ecologically or economically viable.

    Our resources are running lower by the day and no matter what the politicians would have you believe, we are in the midst of not just an economic crisis but an ecological one of giant proportions. Climate change is not going to go away and the best we can hope to do is to try and slow it down. Renewable technologies are the way forward and while there are many people who dispute this, the facts speak for themselves.

    In the UK, energy efficiency has really taken off and with news that we are number one in the global energy efficiency league table, we should give ourselves a well deserved pat on the back. However, this does not mean that we can afford to be complacent, as there is still a tremendous amount of work to do before we can even think of slowing down the pace.

    Renewable technologies are advancing every day and new and innovative designs and systems are appearing on the market at a rapid rate. Only the other day there was an article in the press that covered new solar thin-film technology, that can be stuck to windows and doors and is 70% transparent to the human eye. The technology utilises infra red rays that humans cannot see, to create electricity and it has a higher output than traditional solar panels. This technology will revolutionise the solar market and while solar panels will still continue to be used, thin film solar cells will undoubtedly become the norm as the price drops and more people see the benefits.

    As the technology is changing at such a rapid rate, it begs the question as to whether anything will stay on the market long enough before it is overtaken by something more advanced, compact, powerful, faster, sleeker and stronger.

    A great invention to be released next month from Ireland is the latest energy efficient Iameco laptop tablet that is 80% recyclable and has an extremely low carbon footprint. My favourite part of the tablet is the fact that it has a wooden casing that is made from sustainably sourced off-cuts from factories. Wood you believe it?! (groan)

    Vertical axis wind turbines are another little known advancement on wind technology, that destroy the usual complaints associated with normal turbines. The latest version of the McCamley MT101 MK2 turbine makes very little noise, is clearly visible to animals so they do not get caught in them, can be erected in urban areas owing to it's size and it is self starting, requiring very little maintenance, a huge cost for normal turbines. Furthermore, It has no cut-out speed and can continue to operate in storm winds. It will allow residential blocks and urbanised areas access to clean energy. This should put the 'wind' up George Osborne as he battles to install gas plants and nuclear stations all over our country. Who is he really working for I wonder?

    Developments for commercial energy efficiency are always cropping up on the market and with the Commercial EPC ( Energy Performance Certificate ) now being a compulsory standard in the commercial property sector, energy efficient building design and practice have become paramount. The UK's building stock accounts for almost half of our total carbon emissions, so energy efficient re-fits are now essential to help commercial properties reach carbon neutral emissions targets.

    The same can be said for the domestic property market, as landlords have been taking advantage of government grants to re-fit their properties. As with commercial properties, the Landlord EPC is now also compulsory in order to market a property for sale or rent and the attached sheet of recommendations, drawn up by the energy assessor, on how to raise the energy efficiency rating of a property, has provided invaluable information. Cavity-wall and loft insulation, upgraded central heating systems, Solar PV installations and underground heat pumps are just some of the upgrades that landlords are implementing in their re-fits and tenants have reported greater comfort and significant reductions in their fuel bills, as a result.

    So the tide of energy efficiency, backed up by innovations in renewable technology and government legislation continues to grow as we move into a new, sustainable future. The moves we make now are crucial to our survival as a race, yet there are those out there who would still hang on to outdated ideas and selfish ambitions, in their attempts to control the world's energy resources for their own, hollow ends. With that in mind it is important to keep raising awareness through any means available, about the benefits of renewable technology and sustainable growth and warn against the dangers of staying as we were and destroying the fabric of our environment.

    Article written for Just EPC by Paul Patane

    Thursday, 23 August 2012

    Solar Powered Windows And Doors With New Transparent Thin Film Solar Cells.

    Researchers from the UCLA have developed a new transparent thin film solar cell that is a move towards enabling windows in homes and other properties to generate electricity while people can still see outside.

    The UCLA team describe a new type of polymer solar cell (PSC) that can produce energy by absorbing mainly infra red light, making cells almost 70% transparent to the human eye. The device has been designed using a photoactive plastic that actually converts the infrared light into an electric current. Imagine this being applied to a huge skyscraper. The electricity generated would be considerable!

    I remember writing about this new technology last year when it was in it's infancy and it is great to see it becoming a reality.

    Check out the full story at ScienceBlog