The Reality of Wind Energy at Home

The sun is constantly bombarding the Earth with energy.  Even from 93,000,000 million miles away, we acutely feel its dense radiation bringing warmth and life to our planet.  That energy is the mother source of all the permutations and manifestations of energy we see on Earth.  Plants use the sun’s energy to grow, then transfer their energy to animals.  When plants and animals die the energy contained in their physical bodies is released by fire or decomposition in the form of heat.  There is sun energy stored deep in the Earth’s molten core, released through volcanos, hot springs, and geysers.  The sun’s warmth creates kinetic energy in the movement of our massive oceans.  That matter movement transports warmth all around the planet, from east to west, north to south.  Earth’s atmosphere attains kinetic energy as well, matching the movement of the watery currents.  The air is constantly shifting across the globe, spreading entropy from continent to continent in the form of wind. 

As humanity continuously develops our ability to live on this planet, we have learned to harness the energy available on our planet through many means.  We unleash the sun’s energy stored in the organic matter transformed to oil and coal within Earth’s crust.  We create electricity from the endless undulation of ocean waves, directly from the sunlight itself, and from the ceaseless wind that roams the surface, across ocean, plains, and tundra. Zooming in our focus specifically to Albuquerque, we have an abundance of energy.  Most obviously, the sunlight we feel here is intense and persistent, soaking into the city and keeping us nice and warm.  We also have a significant amount of wind.  Anyone who has lived here across the course of our four seasons knows that wind is especially strong in the spring.  We even know of some areas like the Sandia Crest where the wind blows hard, all year round. 

During our most recent windy season, I distinctly felt the energy of the air movement all around me, everywhere I went in the city, bending cottonwoods, breaking elms branches, and funneling dirt and pollen statewide into our streets and homes.  During this time I hiked the Sandia Crest and was reminding the wind in the city was nothing compared to the incessant boom roar of the crest wind. 

While standing out over the edge of the Tree Springs tail crest overlook, with the intense, cool breeze steadily pushing against my weight, I found myself highly aware of the wind resource we have here.  I wondered small rooftop wind turbines or little windmill sized generation systems are not everywhere around town.  The more I thought about it, I realized I had never seen any small scale wind turbines in Albuquerque, in New Mexico, or anywhere I have every been and I decided it would such a cool renewable application to look more into.

While we do not always have wind here in Albuquerque, I figure we have a strong enough wind, often enough to justify at least some residential wind turbines in prime locations, to better offset our non-renewable energy reliance.  However, after doing some research online, I learned the most practical modern applications of wind turbines for residential power is not in the middle of a sprawling city, but rather is in rural and/or remote locations.  In the city, physical obstacles like trees and buildings are too abundant, preventing wind from sustaining high and steady speeds.  But out in our mesas and farming regions, there are significantly less obstacles, allowing for more consistent, faster wind speeds and therefore a greater amount of energy to harness.  I learned 30 feet over the top of nearby obstacles is where the main, unimpeded body of air movement can be found. 

In order to get a wind turbine into the air stream, towers have become a common part of most installations.  However, in the densely packed city, where we commonly see 50 foot tall ponderosas and equally large mulberry trees, not to mention tall building and billboards, building the 80-foot-tall towers needed becomes a complicated and expensive endeavor.  If built, they are also noisy and intrusive to the skyline, blocking our beautiful views of the mountains.  On the other hand, in the remote parts of the state, the complications and expenses are reduced.  Zoning permits for building towers are significantly more lenient and compared to the cost of tying a new home into the nearest electrical grid, the cost of building independent wind power systems is often less expensive. 

Even though rural areas are the prime candidates right now for these types of small wind generating systems, there still reasons for looking at urban applications.  Approximately 7% of generated electrical energy is lost when electricity is transmitted through transformers, booster and transfer stations, thousands of feet of wire, etc. to point-of-use locations like homes and businesses.  If we can shift or electrical generation to the point-of-use locations, there are certain losses that can be avoided by only traveling 20 feet to your circuit, instead of 20,000 feet.

Regardless of the ethereal concepts of urban versus rural areas, there are actually metrics that can be used to look at the difference between one location to another, certain cut off points that determine if your specific property is a good candidate for a wind powered system or not.  The Wind Energy Foundation recommends the following bare minimum conditions be met before considering a small wind turbine generating system.  In order to be worth consideration, your location needs to have: 1) an average of 10 mph (4.5 m/s) per year, 2) a high cost for utility provided power (10-15 cents per kWh), 3) low fees for tying your renewable generation into the grid, and 4) good incentives from your utility for generating power back to the grid.  Going over each recommendation one by one for Albuquerque at large: 1) the National Renewable Energy Lab’s average yearly wind speed map for New Mexico shows Albuquerque gets about 4.5 m/s average wind and a second source, the Windfinder app, shows data for Albuquerque from 2010 through 2018 with an average windspeed of 9 mph putting our city at the minimum value recommended; 2) our city’s electrical rates from PNM average about 12 cents per kWh which falls right within the recommended range for high utility cost; 3) the local cost for renewable tie-in is about $1,000 and often can be wrapped into the overall cost of installation for convenience o the consumer, and 4) PNM offers a cash value rate for generating electricity and putting it back on the grid,  but it is not very high, at about 3 cents for kWh right now and it is decreasing as more and more renewable systems are tied into the grid.  Then, after looking at your specific location in Albuquerque more closely, if you determine it is a good candidate for a wind installation, you can apply for a 30% rebate from the federal government to help offset the cost.  That rebate can be applied to the overall cost of material and installation and is still valid through the end of 2019, but then reduces to 26% after that until 2021.  There are other factors besides these four to consider when looking into a system like this, such as the actual cost of installation before rebates.  Less than 1% of currently installed wind turbine systems are in urban environments, so most statistics are based on rural and remote setups, and while they still generally apply there will be some difference between the two areas.  A typical rural home installation costs approximately $30,000 total, but can range from $10,000 to $70,000.  This cost incorporates tower, battery pack, and inverter installation.  On the bright side, there are some ways to reduce this cost.  While towers are responsible for a great portion of the overall expense, they are not always necessary.  In some areas with few obstacles, roof mounted wind turbines can produce enough power to meet the demand.  If a rooftop installation is not possible, some companies have started testing and manufacturing inflatable, helium elevated wind turbines.  They are significantly less expensive than tower installations and can easily be moved to different locations.  The battery and inverter installation is also a big part of the overall expense, but they can be designed to be a one-time cost.  If they are intentionally sized for future capacity, they can handle additional renewable power from extra wind turbines or solar panels, making the cost of a full size functioning system less expensive for each subsequent installation. 

Another factor to be considered is the reliability of wind generating equipment.  Given small wind turbines are only recently coming into high demand, the market has historically allowed for less regulation and products that have been known to fail quickly.  To appease this concern, there is now an organization called the Small Wind Certification Council that certifies wind turbines based on reliability, quality of manufacturing, and value of product testing. 

After system installation is complete, a new factor to considered is maintenance.  There are not many certified technicians right now, but as more systems are installed, that number will increase. 

Also, wind powered generating systems can balance out some of the downsides to solar powered systems.  Neither system produces electricity all the time, but they each tend to produce the most energy at different times.  While solar production might drop off in the winter, wind production tends to pick up.  During times when neither system is generating (like on a still night), grid tie-in or preferably a battery system can provide your buildings power needs. 

For those concerned with the noise generated by wind turbines, scientists and engineers are working on different systems that are as less noisy as they are more efficient.  There is a new design shaped like a snail’s or nautilus’ shell and it has proven to be very efficient, quiet, and quite frankly beautiful.  More options will continue to present themselves as the scientific and engineering communities continue to research and test new designs.

While wind powered generation systems might not seem viable or practical in most urban environments, there are many locations that do not yet have wind generation that could greatly benefit from it.  Local areas that have constant wind, like the Sandia Crest, could greatly benefit from wind generation.  Facilities on the crest like the High Finance restaurant, Sandia Ski resort, and radio tower cluster all require electricity and could benefit from the great power of the wind.  A study produced by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) shows that New Mexico also has great potential for remote wind generating facilities, if built in certain parts of the state (see image below).  Projects like the Sun Zia above-ground power line are working hard to extend power grids into those highly windy locations and facilitate new wind generation facilities, bringing jobs and money to New Mexico and increasing our potential to reduce reliance on fuel burned power.  At the end of the day, (no pun intended) while solar is the most cost effective renewable resource available right now, wind has potential to work along side solar and continue to transition our communities to a renewable, clean future.  For anyone interested in looking into the viability of small wind turbine installations, please feel free to contact me here at Vibrantcy; I would be happy to work with you!

-Trevor Keegan

Microgrids - Incorporating Sustainability and Resilience in Power Systems

Do you ever wonder what happens when you turn on a light? Where did that electricity come from? How far did it travel to get to you? What was used to generate it? Most of us don’t know the answer to this which is a pretty daunting thought. It is a commonly accepted fact that humans are contributing to climate change by producing excess amounts of carbon byproduct from our use of fossil fuels. Energy production in the form of electricity is a major proponent of the use of fossil fuels but, as many of us don’t directly interact with this industry, it is hard to understand why this is the case and how we can help to change it. On top of that, power demands are increasing worldwide, and the race for upkeep of our power generation, transmission, and distribution systems (the grid) has become a greater challenge. Most of the operating transmission lines in the U.S. today were built in the 1950’s and 1960’s and were given a 50 year life-expectancy. This means that the vast majority of transmission lines are outdated and have a much greater chance of failing. In addition to operating past life-expectancy, over 640,000 miles of those lines are at full capacity. In the event of an outage, transmission lines often need to be taken down and repaired or replaced which requires that their power load be re-routed through other lines. Since most of these lines are at full capacity this leaves the grid in a vulnerable situation.

It has been seen time and time again how easily a power grid can be taken offline for days, weeks, and even months. This can be due to natural disasters, failing infrastructure, and even cyber attacks. The Ukraine experienced this first hand in December 2015 when Russia led a cyber attack on their power grid effectively gaining access to their control system and shutting down breakers for power distribution. This left 230,000 in the dark for about 2 to 6 days and required manually switching breakers to get the system back up. The control system however, took two months to get back online as the hackers had re-written firmware which made access almost impossible. This is concerning for the U.S. because most of our grid has no manual capabilities and if a cyber attack were to occur there would be no way to restore power without access to the control system.

Natural disasters are another major concern as climate change has been making storms, earthquakes, and fires much more extreme. It has been painfully clear for Puerto Ricans who, after hurricanes Urma and Maria, were left without power for months. Even today, more than 6 months later, over 150,000 homes still have no power. This has been a direct result of an extremely vulnerable power system with single points of failure and no infrastructure set in place as redundancies in the event of this type of disaster. While this may been seen as a worst case scenario, in reality it is a very real possibility for the U.S. and other countries around the world.

 

So how can we change our power systems to be resilient to these types of disasters, failures, and attacks?

Microgrids, or local area power and energy systems (LAPES), are an integrative approach for adding reliability and resistance to a power system without taking it offline. Microgrids are just as they sound - micro-sized grids - and can be implemented anywhere. They utilize a combination of power generation technologies to meet energy demand and can operate in conjunction with the main grid or in ‘island mode’, essentially providing power to only their local area and operating autonomously. A typical microgrid uses photovoltaic panels, fuel cells, batteries, and generators to achieve the availability of power required for undisturbed distribution.

While the term ‘microgrid’ is relatively new, first used in 1997, the use of them can be found as early as the 1880s. All isolated grids are considered microgrids which can be found on large electric ships, remote areas and even the space station. The concept is not new but incorporating these into the main grid certainly is. After the 2011 earthquake in Eastern Japan many of the affected towns decided to increase their resilience by using microgrids. While this was just an afterthought for most towns in the area, there was one microgrid which endured the 2011 earthquake. In Sendai, Japan a campus microgrid provided power through the earthquake with only a couple of hours of down time. This system used battery stored power and gas engine generators to make up the difference while the main grid was out and proved to be a key addition to increasing availability during the outage.

 

What other benefits can we reap from the use of microgrids?

Demand for renewable energy has increased on a global basis and with this there has come an inherent difficulty for incorporating these types of generation into the grid on a large scale. The difficulty stems from renewable sources providing power during their optimal times, such as solar only providing power while the sun is up and wind turbines only providing power while the wind is blowing. What problem does this create for the grid? Energy demand is an instantaneous occurrence which requires supply to meet demand exactly equally. Conventional power generation, such as coal plants, will use rotating turbines to ramp up or down energy to meet the needs of the consumer. Solar and wind on the other hand cannot be changed instantaneously to keep up with this demand. Storage systems such as batteries are critical for providing this aspect with renewable energy but incorporating this on a large scale for the main grid would require an immense amount of storage. By incorporating renewable energy into microgrids the availability of a system can be maintained without relying so heavily on storage because a variety of power generation features can be dispatched when it is optimal for that particular source. The microgrid can be controlled in such a way that the fuel cells and generators only turn on when the wind and solar cannot provide enough power to meet demand. This makes way for renewable energy to be the primary source and nonrenewable energy to be the back-up. As storage systems become more efficient and smaller in scale there will be the opportunity for renewables to take over power generation in full capacity. By using renewables in microgrids it not only provides for an easier transition long term, but also for better access to areas where these sources will achieve greatest output. It is typically not feasible to erect large power generation facilities where ever ones sees fit which makes it difficult to choose the optimal location for large scale solar and wind. By utilizing a microgrid the options for placement become much greater as they have a much smaller footprint.

Another appealing aspect of microgrid conversion is their adaptability to smart grid technology. Smart grids are still a relatively new concept but have been gaining popularity. The idea behind a smart grid is to provide more control to the customer and/or consumer on how and what they use their energy for. It is mainly economically driven but also environmentally driven. There are two schools of thought behind this: one being the customer (the utility companies) and the other being the consumer (households and businesses). The first advent of smart grid technology was smart meters which provided for power usage feedback for the customers and consumers. This enabled people to be more aware of how they use their energy which has inherent benefits for improving energy usage. The next step would be to provide control systems with real time feedback and interfaces for consumers to choose how and when they would like to use the energy they pay for. With a large conventional grid providing power to tens of thousands of households and businesses it is challenging to give each individual any control over how power is produced and managed. Microgrids are inherently local which enables the local community to make decisions which will better suit their needs and provides a level of control which is not necessarily attainable with mass distribution.

Having access to electricity is an often overlooked privilege and the mechanisms that make it possible can be somewhat daunting and mysterious, but they don’t have to be. By using renewable energy such as solar, which can be incorporated in your home, and converting to microgrids with smart technology, any person can take part in how we power our world. With more people involved, the road towards sustainability and efficiency will become easier to travel.

Ally Jackman

 

Kwasinski, A., Weaver, W., & Balog, R. S. (2016). Microgrids and other local area power and energy systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

PHYSICS IS FUN! THE JOY OF EFFICIENT DRIVING

 While I used to think the best way to have fun driving was to head out to the track, I have been shocked to discover maximizing fuel efficiency can be just as fun!  Yes… FUN.  I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out.  In hopes of sharing what I have learned, I am writing this post to try ad inspire others to follow a similar path and learn how interesting and rewarding efficient driving can be.

     My revelation began about 3 years ago, when I bought my first hybrid.  As a fast-car lover, friends and family were surprised I went with the “efficient choice” instead of the “fast choice”. To be fair, the car was technically a sport-hybrid (Honda CR-Z), but that is beside the point.  The efficiency of the car was pretty good, but nothing amazing.  The true value this car offered was its role as a learning instrument.  It completely changed the way I drive, and has helped both my fuel efficiency and gas savings to sky rocket! 

     By upgrading to 2015 hybrid technology, the newest and most effective tool at my disposal was the mpg display.  This display both gave me an average mpg over a chosen distance AND an instantaneous display of how much gas was being used at the moment.  As monumental as the first speedometer or tachometer, this display grants the driver a deeper awareness into what the car is doing behind this complex machine is doing behind the scenes.  It encouraged me to maximize saving gas by enabling me to test different methods, then measure the efficiency result both in real-time and averaged over a set distance.  When I first bought the car I averaged the same efficiency as the EPA rating: 33/38 mpg in the city/on the highway.  Then, after a couple months of testing various techniques, I consistently produced an average of 42 mpg city and 53 mpg on the highway…. WOW!  Busting out the ol’ calculator, that is an efficiency increase of over 30%!  And I did not without modify the car at all, just my driving habits.  Now, I apply this understanding to ever vehicle I drive, both lowering carbon emissions and saving money simultaneously: WIN WIN. 

     For the first time, I am excited to put what I have learned done in writing and share it.  To put this driving mentality concisely: Maintain Momentum.  Momentum is at the heart of engine efficiency.  In short, engines are most efficient when maintaining a low speed and least efficient when increasing speed to make the car go faster.  Below are 8 Means of Efficiency.  In-depth, yet concise, I have included explanations to go with each one.

1)      ACCELERATE SLOWLY: Watch your engine speed (rpm) on the tachometer and try to keep within 2,000 to 3,000 rpm while accelerating. At mid engine speed the engine gets the most power for the least gas.  At low engine speed there is a lot of friction to overcome and at high engine speed the heat becomes a problem.

2)      BRAKE RARELY:  Braking is the enemy of efficiency.  According to Sir Isaac Newton, “an object in motion stays in motion”, requiring energy to change speed.  All the energy put into moving cars is wasted when we slow ourselves back down.  Luckily hybrids and electric vehicles can capture some of that braking energy through regenerative braking.  This is where an electric generator creates electricity using the wheels’ rotation, then storing it on the battery while slowing down the car.  However, it is not a perfect system and braking should be avoided by everyone, as often as possible.  Just make sure to still put safety first!

3)      BRAKE EARLY: When you do need to slow down, start braking early.  Most events we slow down for are temporary and often clear-up quickly.  For example, when a light turns green and traffic takes time to get moving, it only takes a few seconds for it to get up to speed.  The longer it takes for you to get to that traffic, the faster it will be when you reach it.

4)      COAST OFTEN:  Once you get up to speed, do your best to stay there, gently adding just enough gas to keep you going.  When you might need to stop, start slowing down from a distance by letting off the gas and using air resistance.  Gentle is the key word for maintaining momentum.  Imagine carrying a cup of coffee on your dashboard and trying to not spill a drop.

5)      USE HILLS:  Hills are simultaneously amazing and horrible.  While climbing hills requires a lot of speed and kinetic energy, potential energy is being built up in your vehicle the whole ride up.  Coming down the other side then unleashes the energy again and returns the speed.  To take advantage of this, use the least amount of gas as needed to get up a hill, slowing down as you climb, just like a semi-truck.  This will store your power as potential energy.  Then, use the downhill slope to regain the energy the energy as speed, barely using gas, while allowing gravity to do the work.

6)      WATCH TRAFFIC:  It is a good practice to constantly be aware of the traffic around you.  If you can anticipate future braking, you can act now to avoid it.  For example, someone turning several cars ahead of you, will likely slow you down, but if you are aware, you can change lanes ahead of time.  Another example is on the freeway, when brake lights are visible far ahead of you, brake early and potentially arrive as the braking is clearing up.  If you see traffic is completely stopped, for something like an accident, you could potentially exit early to avoid it.  Being aware of your surroundings will increase your ability to choose.

7)      WORK WITH TRAFFIC LIGHTS:  Many traffic lights are set up to get operate as efficiently as possible.  Most use timers that are programmed match the flow of traffic.  These timers are usually modeled around a car averaging the speed limit.  To try and minimize stops at red lights, drive the speed limit.  You will theoretically get all greens along one street.  Some lights are timed differently than others, so you may need to go slightly slower or faster depending on the street.  Once you learn a street’s system, it should always work as long as the timing doesn’t change.  Some streets with timed lights I use regularly are Montgomery, Wyoming, Lead, and Coal.  If you get with the main flow of traffic on these lights, and generally stay the speed limit, they will consistently have green lights, allowing smooth, steady, and efficient travel.

8)      GREEN INDICATORS:  As you approach a red light, there are indicators that tell you when it will switch to green.  A common one to watch for is what oncoming traffic is doing.  If it is stopped at the light, then your light will likely stay red for a while longer, but if it moves through the intersection, your light will likely get the green soon as well.  Another indicator is surprisingly simple.  Sometimes the perpendicular green light of an intersection is visible as you approach a red light.  Seeing it turn yellow, then red, is a sure way to know your light is about to become green.  Knowing how long your red will last can help you better regulate your driving in time with the light and likely increase your efficiency.

     Each of these methods can be optimized and added to; these are some base ideas.  If anyone reading this has anything to add, has questions, or just wants to geek-out about the joy and reward of efficient driving, feel free to contact me here at Vibrantcy!

Trevor Keegan

Facade Analysis

One of Vibrantcy’s core offerings during an energy modeling project is façade analysis, which encompasses many different factors, but ultimately aims to find the optimal combination of materials. Our engineers typically evaluate glazing ratios, glass types, window frame types, window setbacks, shading devices, and a multitude of insulation combinations. We like to provide project teams with detailed information when evaluating various combinations of facades, considering the following factors:

·        IECC Climate Zone Requirements

·        Tradeoffs between exterior fins and overhangs

·        Innovative Double Skinning

·        Thermochromic and Electrochromic

·        Thermal Bridging

·        Diminishing Point of Return for Insulation (R-Value/Thickness)

·        Winter-Time Solar Heat Gain

·        Summer-Time Solar Heat Gain

·        Access to Views

·        Infiltration Improvements

Once we arrive at the optimal exterior we like to offer creative ways to bolster building performance while enhancing the project’s aesthetic duty to its users and neighborhood. If you’ve had a chance to check out our Pinterest page online you’ll know that we take precedent studies to project meetings from other creative and successful façade techniques.    

While the southwest is not always a practical region for double-skinned facades or active window-fins, a building’s façade can be its biggest success and biggest downfall. Successes provide intrigue to the passer-by and create a sense belonging, in acknowledgement of the building’s micro-climate and scale relative to its location. I would be lying if I said that a glass-skinned building isn’t elegant and visually striking, but as we continue to experience year-after-year record temperatures the days of irresponsible façade design are ending. There is no obvious silver-bullet for every building’s exterior, and industry is bringing tools to our desktops which will allow us to get close them, but without any effort to mitigate unnecessary energy use we’ll be reminded that hindsight can be a strict teacher.

  Last year we began using IES-VE for façade analysis, by thermally mapping each façade to identify hot and cold-spots. This effort has brought tremendous insight to insulation and glazing studies during design, allowing our teams to understand the benefits of orientation-specific strategies. And this is not a “one-and-done” process, we like to provide an iterative review of concepts in order to refine the building’s life-long thermodynamics.

- Matt Higgins

 

A Quick Look at Salt Lake City’s Culture & Energy Market

As Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee, I’d like to use this blog post as an opportunity to introduce myself, my interest in energy efficiency research, and hopefully share some perspective on my current home town of Salt Lake City, Utah -- where I expect to be working on Vibrantcy eQuest models in the coming years.

Introducing Myself

My family moved to Utah from Knoxville, Tennessee in 2007 to allow my father to take a position at the Energy Dynamics Laboratory. As may already be evident, I come from a family of engineers. For over 30 years, my father has performed and facilitated energy-related research for a number of national labs and universities; my mother is a Civil Engineer and storm-water control specialist.

At a young age, I often heard my parents discussing workplace challenges and successes. These formative years sparked an interest in science, technology, business and politics that directly influenced my career and academic choices.

Research Interest in Building Energy Modeling (BEM)

As readers may know from exploring the Vibrantcy website, I am pursuing my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering alongside my work at Vibrantcy. In my coursework, and research, I plan to combine both technical and economic analysis of building management as is commonly done in industry (e.g. cost comparison between different HVAC systems, insulation, renewables etc) via GIS modeling and EnergyPlus.

 In the past 10-15 years, researchers have been improving methods of modeling cost-dependent factors across the entire spectrum of energy-efficiency and renewable technologies. As many of this blog’s readers may well know, building energy consumption can be highly variable with respect to time and location.

Attempting to model multiple buildings, entire campuses, or even entire cities has been a growing field of research in the recent past -- the motivation for this due to increasing urbanization in nearly every country around the world. Some predictions estimate that 75% of the United States will live in urban areas by the year 2050. If researchers and city-planners can accurately perform large-scale modeling of building consumption, generation potential, and even predict consumer behavior inside buildings, the economic benefit to the electricity grid will be tremendous.

There are currently two methods of modeling buildings, and the method you choose depends on what factors you’re trying to look at. For single buildings, modeling is commonly done via open source energy modeling software such as EnergyPlus or eQuest. This type of modeling is referred to as “bottom-up” modeling in the research world, because several archetypes are developed to represent similar buildings, and are altered to match building data of similar buildings.

The second type of energy modeling I’d like to discuss is Geographic Information Systems (GIS) modeling. Many large-scale energy consumption models use GIS technology to model energy consumption or production-potential that is location-dependent. This approach to multi-scale building modeling is known as “top-down” modeling because it does not look at individual buildings, but rather, uses statistics to calculate location-dependent parameters. GIS is used in many other fields of study such as geology, cartography, civil engineering, and was even used by the makers of Google Earth.

The accuracy and usefulness of this type of building modeling is very dependent on the data available for the area in question. One of the biggest issues with this approach currently seems to be in the acquisition of building usage data. Currently lots of researchers are exploring consumer behavior prediction using a method called “Machine Learning”. I see the field of energy data acquisition and behavior predictions becoming a much more relevant field in the next 5-10 years.

An Introduction to Salt Lake City

 Of my 10 years in Utah, I’ve lived in Salt Lake for about six -- 4 years of college, followed by about two years as a solar CAD & technical support engineer. Despite some of the negative perceptions that my non-native friends and extended family seem to have about Salt Lake, I believe that it is a thriving and quickly growing city. I’d like introduce readers to a few of my opinions about Salt Lake City’s infrastructure and recent policy that may be pertinent to readers of this blog.

First, let’s take a look at the advancements that are being made in city infrastructure: specifically, public transportation, access to rideshare services, and alternative modes of transportation. In my opinion, the Salt Lake Valley is way ahead of other Western US cities in this area. For about $2.50, one can board “Trax” and travel to their choice of downtown markets, to the University of Utah, the hospital, and the airport. Places of employment for thousands in the “Silicon Slopes” are all connected by this incredibly affordable train system. For students, the Trax system is included in tuition. For many other demographics (primarily socioeconomic status and age) reduced-fare is available.

I’ve put Salt Lake City’s public transit system to a test recently after a nighttime collision with a moose on the highway. Having fixed up my bike primarily for exercise, I began to also use it for commuting and personal transportation. I fell in love with the ease of hopping on my bike, and getting around town. Biking, walking, other alternative modes of transportation seem to work just fine in day-to-day dealings in Salt Lake City for those who choose to use them.

Similar to these other societal benefits, I’ve read up on Salt Lake City’s efforts for energy efficiency and CO2 reduction. Our primary goals are as follows:

●        Transition the Salt Lake City community to 100% renewable energy sources by 2032,

●       Reduce 80% of Salt Lake City’s carbon emissions by 2040

●       To achieve these goals through energy efficiency as an important cost-effective measure

An ordinance was recently passed that requires municipal facilities and certain large private buildings to be benchmarked annually and for the energy performance rating to be made transparent in the market. Similar policies have been implemented in Denver, Colorado, Minneapolis, MN, Kansas City, MO, and Atlanta, GA.

Summary

 I hope you have enjoyed learning a little bit more about Vibrantcy’s newest remote employee. I have just begun to get my feet wet with this company, and am excited to work in a field closely related with my current academic interests. Please reach out at john@vibrantcy.org for any follow-up questions or comments.

- John Muhs

Sharpened and Battle-Ready

It has been four great years since I ventured out into the industry and have worked with a handful of amazing clients, sub-contractors, and colleagues to arrive where we are today. In case you haven’t visited the office in a while, I’m going to share a bit about each of our staff.

Rex Stockwell - Rex wrote a recent blog about his role in the company, and specifically in relation to the point he has reached in his career (it’s a good read, check it out). What Rex didn’t mention was that he was recently given the distinguished honor of ASHRAE Fellow. This is an amazing accomplishment in his very full and rewarding career, highlighting Rex’s depth of knowledge and stewardship to our industry. While all of us here at Vibrantcy know of Rex’s exceptional contribution to the company’s projects, some of you may not know that he is providing a good deal of our commissioning services and guiding Colin and I through an in-depth visioning process.

Megan Mentillo – Providing technical energy analysis and mechanical engineering, Megan is gaining the reputation of getting LEED projects back from the GBCI with no review comments. If you’ve ever submitted an energy model for LEED you know that this is a rare feat, much less a reputation! She has also begun Vibrantcy’s foray into becoming third-party LEED Project Reviewers, giving her an inside view of the modeling review process. Megan is invaluable to Vibrantcy mechanical and plumbing engineering projects as well, beginning to serve our projects in very important management roles.

Victor Ceballos – Victor is Vibrantcy’s most modest staff member, though he has reason to jump up and down and celebrate his recent Certified Energy Manager (CEM) certification by the national Association of Energy Engineers (AEE). This credential is an important step in any energy engineer’s career path, which Victor is keenly aware of as he is becoming the company’s controls specialist. Having navigated many building automation systems this year, we are becoming experts in third-party controls review. He is also an invaluable energy modeler, diving into some exciting LEED projects, while managing several retro-commissioning projects.

Tony C’de Baca – I worked with Tony prior to his role at Vibrantcty, having the past privilege to get to know his outgoing demeanor and exceptional personality, and was excited to know Colin would be bringing him on. Tony has been supporting our M/E/P projects, using his deep experience to guide projects through successful completion. The addition of Tony to our team has given us a great deal of confidence to pursue larger design projects, especially when Tony and Rex are able to combine their shared experiences.

Theresa Lujan – As Vibrantcy sharpens our skillsets and tool-base, Theresa is building our foundation, with strong Revit and CAD Standards. With Theresa’s attention to detail and strong organizational skills our M/E/P engineering projects have a more solid foundation and workflow than ever. We are excited to see Theresa back at UNM, finishing her construction management degree, a program that I have deep appreciation of myself. We are thrilled to have a black-belt Revit/CAD coordinator on our team in Theresa, supporting M/E/P projects and laying out solar PV arrays for our energy projects.

Emily Scrimshaw & John Muhs – Speaking of school back in session, both Emily and John are wrapping up mechanical engineering programs. Emily is finishing her undergraduate degree at UNM and we’re eager to get her on more energy modeling and drafting projects. John is a new hire and Vibrantcy’s first hire in the State of Utah, working to support our budding projects in and around Salt Lake City. If John isn’t busy helping out on energy modeling projects, he is working through is masters of mechanical engineering with a focus on Site Specific Energy Systems.

Amy C’de Baca – Like Tony, I had the privilege of working with Amy in the past, giving me the impression of someone who is truly dedicated to quality and timeliness. Much to my excitement, Amy was recently brought on to help with administrative tasks, RFPs, and general office organization. Now that we have anywhere from 20-30 active projects at any given time, Amy’s addition will only further our ability to deliver successful and moving projects.

Colin Evans – Since the early days of cramming into a shared office downtown to traipsing across the city to a larger office, to finding the awesome place we call home, Colin and I have shared some adventures in our young partnership. Because we sew a common thread of energy efficiency, stitched with sustainability, we are able to see many of the same paths toward growth and realizing our goals. Colin has tackled the lion’s share of our small business compliance (insurance, benefits, 401k, etc.), and has been an excellent business partner to share a business with.

Myself – If you’ve ever asked me about the “leap” into entrepreneurialism you’ll know that I have no regrets and not a whole lot of fear. I’m truly excited about our future, and the future of our industry, fueled by realizing many of the goals I set out to achieve before taking the leap. As a team we were recently honored as one of New Mexico’s fastest growing business and earned two awards from PNM for our retro-commissioning success. Stop by some time, if nothing else but to say hi, we’re always glad to welcome visitors!

-MATT HIGGINS

Electric and Hybrid Cars: The Saga Continues

Last time I was here I talked briefly about the history of electric and hybrid cars and their slow, but sure, emergence into the market over the past 20 years. With the global climate change debate reaching new heights and the push to be less dependent on oil, we have seen standards been implemented here in the U.S. and abroad for gas and diesel engine emissions. By 2025 we should be seeing a gradual increase in real-world fuel economy to about 45mpg for the average car and 32 mpg for the average truck. This is huge, considering I currently drive a 2011 V8 truck that does 18mpg on the highway. On a good day! But who doesn’t love V8 power?? Even with progress in engine and transmission technologies helping improve efficiencies across manufacturing fleets, we are here to talk about hybrid and electric cars, and how their steady progress will soon enough grab hold of the automotive world.

I mentioned on my last blog entry that we’re starting to see that racing categories (Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship) have jumped on the hype-train regarding hybrid technologies and one racing category, Formula-E, has taken it a step further and is on its 3rd full season of an all-electric racing series. And the hype is definitely real! Mercedes Benz just recently announced that they are planning on pulling out of DMT (Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters), the NASCAR “equivalent” of stock car racing in Germany, to enter and focus its money in Formula-E for the 2019 season onwards. They are planning on battling it out with current manufacturers such as Audi, Jaguar, and Renault, who have already seen the racing series to be a proper investment. This will only lead to Electric Vehicle technology to take leaps in the next few years of competition alone.

This of course is driven by the push to get rid of as many emissions as possible. There have been talks of large city centers to ban diesel vehicles altogether by 2025; including Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens. I previously mentioned that Ferrari is planning on having its full car lineup be hybrid cars by 2019 and Volvo has been the first manufacturer to formally announce that by 2019 it will only sell Evs and hybrid vehicles. Be prepared to see this technology further blow up in the next two decades, especially since two governments, Britain and France, have also formally announced to ban all gas and diesel car sales from 2040 and beyond.

It is definitely time to accept, even for us petrol-heads, that this technology is here to stay. There are new electric and hybrid vehicles popping up more and more, including pickup trucks and semis. Even retrofit powertrains are beginning to be installed in fleet vehicles such as FedEx delivery trucks and even garbage trucks, to put focus on large trucks that burn more fuel than standard passenger vehicles throughout the year. While it’s sad for purists to imagine a day when there might not be new, gas-burning cars to enjoy in the future, it’s good to see that we’re working on improving the world for generations to come.

- Victor Ceballos

Future ‘Buildings’ of America

The construction building process in all its aspects is a passion of mine –from the administrative side, Building Information Modeling, and the ever-growing selection of building materials that are now emerging and those that have yet to make their debut!  But what intrigues me the most about this process is the future of construction and where we have yet to go!  Oh, the possibilities!!!

Some common building materials that are making advances in their use and composition include concrete, metal, & paint…but there’s a whole different type of building material that is generating quite the buzz and even energy… glass!  And no.  I’m not talking about photovoltaic solar panels.  I’m referring to sheets of transparent glass or plastic film that can generate electricity! 

Ubiquitous Energy, a technology company originated at MIT, is responsible for the development of the world’s first truly transparent solar technology called “ClearView Power”!  This widely used building material could very well replace the way we live, design homes and buildings, and charge our electronic devices!

This amazing, new technology is a great alternative solution for generating free power from multiple surfaces!  According to Ubiquitous Energy, “ClearView Power technology can be applied to the display area of electronic products—including wearables, tablets, internet-of-things devices, and digital signage—generating electricity to power these devices.”

Researchers from Michigan State devised a unique technique for collecting daylight.  Previous attempts at creating completely translucent glass failed because some form of medium was always required to collect the sun’s rays- however- with the utilization of a Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator (TLSC)- they could discretely harvest the ultraviolet and infrared parts of the spectrum and guide it to the edge of the glazing where thin strips of conventional photovoltaic solar cells convert it into electricity!

The amount of electricity generated will not be enough to power your home or electronics indefinitely but with each Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator having an efficiency of 10%, every little bit counts!  When you think about a large, high rise building, there is a lot of vertical space to provide some free electricity!  Affordability is also a high priority of Ubiquitous Energy.  From small applications such as personal electronic devices to large, industrial and commercial construction, their goal is to provide this ClearView Power Technology at a low-cost to all!  (Just another reason to love this innovative building material!)

Overall, this alternative solution paired with solar panels could very well help to dramatically reduce dependence on other energy sources such as oil, gas, and coal.  Any step towards global renewable energy usage is a win/win to me!

-T.Lujan

http://ubiquitous.energy/

Implementation of Commissioning and Monitoring as it Concerns LEED v4

The fundamental and enhanced commissioning credits in LEED v4 are similar to the credits in LEED 2009; however, the new requirements are more stringent and three additional points are available.  In addition, there are two new energy metering credits in the Energy and Atmosphere (EA) category in LEED v4, one is a prerequisite. These energy metering credits replaced the measurement and verification credit in LEED 2009. The LEED v4 commissioning and the monitoring credits are as follows:

·        Fundamental Commissioning and Verification - Prerequisite

·        Building-Level Energy Metering - Prerequisite

·        Enhanced Commissioning - Up to 6 points

·        Advanced Energy Metering – 1 point

The new fundamental commissioning and verification prerequisite has similar requirements to the old fundamental commissioning prerequisite, the main difference is the new required commissioning plan has more specificity.

The new enhanced commissioning credit has two parts, Option 1: Enhanced systems commissioning, and Option 2: Envelope commissioning.  Option 1 has two paths, path 1 has similar requirements to the 2009 enhanced commissioning credit, and will earn 3 points.  Path 2 is a monitoring based commissioning credit, and offers one additional point for including monitored system use and performance in an on-going commissioning plan. Finally, Option 2: Envelope commissioning (per ASHRAE 0-2005) can be added to either path from Option 1 for two additional points.

The building-level commissioning prerequisite essentially requires a commitment to share energy consumption data of the LEED certified building with USGBC for five years or until the building changes ownership.  This is also a Minimum Program Requirement (MPR) for LEED v4, and is required of all LEED projects. Monthly utility bills can be used for the energy consumption data.

Advanced energy metering requires that all individual energy end uses that represent 10% or more of the total annual consumption of the building must have sub-meters that are permanently installed, record data at intervals of one hour or less, and transmit data to a LAN, BAS, or comparable communication infrastructure capable of storing all meter data for a minimum of 36 months.

Therefore, installing sub-meters with logging capabilities along with increasing commissioning scope could potentially earn two additional LEED points. The real benefit of installing a continuously-monitored sub-meter system is the additional insight of the building’s continued performance, and the capability to fine-tune building performance in a holistic manner.

- Megan Mentillo

Company Spotlight: Rex and Vibrantcy

Rex and Vibrantcy

Why am I at Vibrantcy? After a full career in the consulting engineering business, why keep working? And, why work at Vibrantcy?

·       Because they asked.

·       Matt and Colin seem to find value in my experience and skills. Being in such an environment is a validation and a celebration of my career.

·       In the world of sports, lots of coaches … just keep on working. I can relate to that.

·       It feels good to still be engaged.

·       This is a special little firm. There is passion here. Passion for our clients. Passion for the work. Passion for the well-being of our staff.

Vibrantcy is unique. This firm has the potential to become very good. Matt Higgins has a highly-developed (and practical) talent for energy simulation work and energy-related commissioning challenges. Colin Evans has a passion for sustainable design and is an experienced and capable mechanical design engineer.

A word or two about “sustainable design”. I share with the staff at Vibrantcy a love for the physical environment and a desire to be a part of a sustainable future. I have been pro-environment my entire life. The first time I realized that I was a part of this minority was at a young age, probably about 10. I have been involved with pro-environment groups and activities throughout my life. It was not very popular 30 years ago to be a pro-environment engineer... there were not very many of us. Today, it is exciting to see the younger generation with a much greater commitment for a sustainable future. I am pleased about that and optimistic that good things will come from their leadership. At Vibrantcy, I see a sincere commitment to working for a sustainable future. I am impressed by the passion that lives here.

Rex history. Even though you didn’t ask, I’m going to tell you a bit about my personal history. Please check out if you are not interested. Perhaps one or two will continue reading.

My engineering career started in Cincinnati, at General Electric, designing jet engines. The obvious(?) next choice was, as you might guess, to work at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Washington D.C. There I worked on the Navy Polaris and Poseidon nuclear submarines, sometimes riding in the top of the sail with the captain. An interesting job, interacting with lots of intriguing people, many of them very impressive, indeed.

After that curious beginning, I decided to enter the crazy world of consulting engineering. And, more than 30 years later, after various roles ranging from design engineer to firm owner to university engineer to firm owner to design engineer, here I am at Vibrancy.

What am I doing at Vibrantcy?  I am gratified to be here … happy that the owners of this young company seem to appreciate that this old mechanical engineer may have something of value to bring to the table. At this point in my career, it feels good. It is validating.  

I’m like Allstate Insurance… I’ve “been there…seen that” regarding quite a few things in my career.

I occupy a unique position here, which is the token old guy. Just kidding, but, apparently, something about me has struck a chord with Matt and Colin. I strive to share some of what I have learned over the years. I strive to add value to this firm as it grows and prospers.

To that end, a part of my role here is to provide a bit of QA/QC for projects. And a bit of design. A bit of assist in several things. I hope to help keep them out of trouble. I hope to help them expand their visions. I want to help them to succeed.

It is refreshing and a new challenge to work with younger professionals who seem to place value on my experience and my contribution.

More history:

I’ve been blessed to be a part of some special design projects. Four come to mind.

·       The new Riley Hospital for Children at the IU Medical Center, an amazingly capable and compassionate place for very ill children, located in my hometown of Indianapolis, IN. My wife’s aunt, as a very young girl, was the fourth child to be admitted to original version of this wonderful hospital.

·       Master Facility Plan for Butler University Fieldhouse. This basketball cathedral, built in 1929, and considered to be one of the very finest places in the country to watch college basketball, has been a part of my life since I was 8 years old. I played basketball there in high school and was awestruck, like the boys from Hickory High in the movie “Hoosiers”.

·       The Birck Nanotechnology Center at Purdue University, a $56M research facility for multiple disciplines. As the University Engineer at Purdue, it was challenging and exciting to be working with so many very talented individuals on this very important state-of-the art research facility.

·       The GSA Land Port of Entry, a new $60M LEED Gold facility in Columbus, NM. My role was to be part of the review team representing the GSA. Again, the challenge and the stimulation was to work with all the many layers of federal agencies and design consultants assembled to design and build this new border facility.

I have basked in the glow of some great clients, like the longtime University Architect for Indiana University … who, when asked by another university to comment on my capabilities, said the following “he’s not any good, but he is better than everyone else”.

I’ve enjoyed some fun gigs in my career:

·       Riding on and working on Navy submarines was a highlight.

·       I feel most fortunate to have served for 6 years on the State of Indiana Commission for Fire Prevention and Building Safety, which is responsible for establishing and enforcing the building codes for the state. What a unique and fascinating experience. I learned so much, was a part of so many intriguing code issues, and got to work with so many different fascinating people. I loved the experience.

Wrapping it up: As you can surmise, I am making an effort to celebrate my career. I have been fortunate. But I’m not ready to pack it in. So, I’m also celebrating my present gig, which is the opportunity to work with this outstanding young firm named Vibrantcy.

Rex brief Bio: Please read on, at the risk of being swept over by a wave of boredom, and only if you feel you may want to know a bit more about my professional history.

Rex is a registered mechanical engineer with over 30 years of experience. His career has included successful roles in engineering and design, project management, staff management, client advocacy, and owner representation. His background includes extensive higher education and healthcare experience. He has excellent skills in planning, problem solving, and working on complex projects.

Rex has extensive technical expertise in large and complex HVAC systems, including building central air systems, chilled water and steam systems, automatic temperature controls, and mechanical codes. He has worked on dozens of projects that have incorporated sustainable features, including many LEED projects.

Rex's dedication to achieving desired outcomes is evident in his dedication to excellence. His projects are consistently responsive to the needs of the client. His projects have an excellent record of cost management.

Selected Significant Projects:

VA Hospital OR Expansion ($10M, 5-phase renovation), Albuquerque, NM

GSA Land Port of Entry ($60M LEED Gold), Columbus, NM, Review Team for GSA

GSA Montoya Building (100KSF), Santa Fe, NM, Master Facility Plan

PHS Lincoln County Memorial Hospital Master Facility Plan and Expansion Study (120KSF)

UNM Replacement Hospital Phase I (250KSF, LEED Silver), Albuquerque, NM

Commissioning of Indiana University, Multi-Discipline Sciences Building (LEED Silver)

Commissioning of Wishard New Replacement Hospital ($600M, 1.2 MSF, LEED Silver)

Cameron Community Memorial Hospital ($35M replacement critical access hospital)

Indiana University Jacobs Music Studio Building ($40M new LEED Gold building)

Utilities Master Plan for Indiana University and IUPUI main campuses