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Green Cities: 10 steps to zero carbon real estate

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How Real Estate will be changed by high cost energy. Cities are responsible for 75% of global energy consumption and 80% of all greenhouse gas emissions – mostly burnt up in heating or cooling buildings, and things like lighting the streets.  Just 10 simple steps can reduce energy consumption in many cities by at least 30%, using technologies that are proven, and mostly pay for themselves.

1. Low energy street lights

Street lighting uses up to 5% of all electricity in some nations – around 40% of the total we use in lighting.  This can be cut easily to less than 2% with new lamps which pay for themselves in four years, and go on saving up to 60% of usual annual electricity bills thereafter. They burn five times as long (10 years) and use less than half the energy (50-60 watts each).

2. Make great buildings - to last longer

40% of all energy used in the lifetime of a typical commercial building is spent putting it up (30%) and taking it down (10%).

It is a great scandal that most office blocks are designed with a life expectancy of only three decades.  Such poor quality would never be tolerated in the domestic housing market.

We need to encourage architects, engineers, contractors and buyers of commercial real estate to plan buildings as bold architectural and long-lasting statements, which will be loved by generations to come.

3. Polymer Cement – save up to 3% of global emissions

Up to 7% of all carbon emissions globally come from use of 2.5 billion tons a year of cement. Half the emissions are from energy in making it, and the rest is released when water is added. A ton of CO2 is released into the atmosphere for every ton of cement used.

Polymer cement alone could save more than 2% of global CO2 emissions, reducing the total energy used to construct new buildings by up to 10%.  Many concrete polymers are also lighter and have offer better insulation.

4. Better insulation

The fastest way to reduce energy use in existing buildings is to insulate them better – saving up to 40% at low cost – with 3 year payback period if energy prices are high.

5. Pump heat to save 50% energy

Up to 50% of energy used to heat or cool buildings can be saved in many locations by installing heat pumps.

Heat pumps could reduce global energy use by 2% by 2030 if installed in 1% of homes and offices a year, in developed nations. This is quite different from geothermal energy where heat is being tapped from deep into the earth’s crust.

Up to 70% of new homes in some parts of Sweden, 45% in New Zealand and 30% in Switzerland are already heated by heat pumps.
Heat pumps add to the capital value of the house, and pay back their installation costs in around 15 years.

6. Better boilers save more heat

Old-style boilers typically waste 60% of all the heat generated.  Condensing boilers waste only around 10%.

If everyone in the UK with gas or oil central heating installed a high efficiency condensing boiler with up-to-date heating controls, it would save enough energy to heat nearly 1.9 million homes for a whole year, around 6.7 million tonnes of CO2. These boilers can pay for themselves in as little as 2-3 years depending on fuel prices.

7. Combined heat and power generation (CHP)

Large, centralised power stations are very inefficient, wasting up to 66% of the fuel they burn.  If power stations are sited close to cities, towns, villages or industrial sites, this waste heat can be used in homes and businesses or used in manufacturing.

We can also convert heating boilers to power generators.  Such plants can be as large as nuclear power stations. Many corporations are already using cogeneration to reduce fuel bills, reduce product prices, gain extra sales and improve image.

We can also expect further development in micro CHP (up to 5 kilowatts maximum power) and mini CHP (5 to 500 kilowatts).

8. Better technology to control temperature

Large old buildings often waste up to 40% of their energy in heating or cooling, just because of poor systems and controls.

For example in one corner of a glass tower block, temperatures may soar when the sun is shining through windows.  Thermostats get turned down.  Other people then feel cold and being in extra heaters. The costs of a complete upgrade can be paid back in less than 4 years.

9. Roof Gardens to Cool Cities

Green roofs or roof gardens also save energy and improve the environment. 12% of roofs are “green” in Germany already - 12.5 million square feet of green roofs were installed in Germany in 2001 alone.  The Tokyo government estimates that if half their roofs were green it would save a million dollars every day in air conditioning energy use, which is why the city requires at least 20% of all new roofs to be “green”.

How roof gardens work to keep buildings cool

Studies on Chicago City Hall showed that roof temperatures fell by up to 30 degrees C on hot summer days and surrounding areas were cooler by 9 degrees C, after green roofs were planted.  Every degree  difference between internal and external temperature, can alter fuel bills by up to 10%.

10.  Better city design

Another way to reduce energy consumption is to design cities so people have to travel less.  When energy was cheap, many cities in nations like America became very spread out suburbia.

City leaders in places like Miami are planning new mixed-use developments, so people can walk to shops and use public transport.

Finally, we can expect growth of carbon-neutral cities.  The government of Abu Dhabi is creating an eco-city called Mazdar, over an area of 6.5 square kilometres, for 40,000 inhabitants and 70,000 workers.  It is being built in desert and will cost Abu Dhabi $22 billion, but they hope Maxdar will boost the economy by 2%.  Buildings will be covered in solar panels, and people will travel in electric robot-driven vehicles.  Two thirds of the energy used will be from solar, and all water will be recycled.

More on these issues: articles on all the innovations above - see links below and Energy menu option on top left.

 


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