1.22.2014

Renewable Energy Continues to Grow

Buildings Magazine recently published an article "Renewable Energy Surges Ahead" which indicated that wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and hydropower are giving coal and natural gas a run for their money. While that may be good news on the surface the total percentage of renewable energy production is still is only 11.2% of total generation for 2012. 

While this is laudable and an important step for renewable energy, the important fact I saw was that over the report period of 2000 to 2012 renewable energy accounted for 56% of all new generation capacity. That in itself is pretty astounding. Most of that is reportedly from wind and PV solar.

These are impressive numbers, but for all the increased capacity from renewable sources, commercial buildings are only getting about 1% of their power needs from renewable sources. More reform needs to be done at the legal organization level of power generation. Many states regulate power generation for the benefit of large, centralized power companies. Most of their new generation from clean sources have come from large wind and solar farms at some distance from the consumer of power. This continues to perpetuate the centralized generation paradigm they are most familiar with. So much so, in some western states there is a movement from the utilities to stop roof-top solar PV installations because they say it is an unfair advantage to the homeowner to use their distribution systems without any cost. The reality of these arguments is that it really makes the utility distribution systems more effective and reduces the overall transmission energy losses because as the energy comes in from one house it can be immediately used by a neighbor close by. 

If distributed, clean energy is ever to work effectively our state governments are going to have to realize distributed energy production is in everyone's best interest, including the power generation companies. As the markets and technolgy change, so our utilities are being called on to change and grow too. 

If you support clean energy production and more sustainable power generation, then you should be in support of all generation, recovery, and conservation opportunities. One of those is to allow small groups of individuals and companies to form local power cooperatives which reduce transmission losses by generating power close to the point of use and encourage local diversity at the neighborhood level, rather than relying on singular power generation sources. That diversity also provides greater security and reliability for all users. 

To gain this benefit we have to change the state laws and regulations on the formation of utilities and power cooperatives. The large utilities don't want to give up their regional monopolies they have held for decades, but it's time we moved ahead and looked seriously and thoroughly at the benefits and risks involved with distributed, multi-source power generation. Write your state legislators about this issue and help them learn about the benefits of distributed power generation in your state.

1.17.2014

Google and your eyes, Round 2

Good news for those of our population who suffer from diabetes. Google X, the secret "skunkworks" development lab at Google unveiled a prototype of a medical device which gives diabetics the ability to know their glucose levels without a prick to test blood.
Recode's article Inside Google X’s Smart Contact Lens is interesting on several levels.
(See related article on Hospital Monitoring)

First, point of interest is the breadth of interest Google seems to have in our lives. 
Second, all of these interests are tied to data about how we live
Third, they seem to be able to move beyond the traditional technology platform form factors, reversing the Moore's Law paradigm from bigger, faster, less cost to smaller, efficient, cost less important.

So this seems to be the second round of Google using our eyes as a portal to our lives. First it was Google Glasses and now the diabetic monitor contact lens. The old saying that our "eyes are the windows to our soul," may have some significance when it comes to devices which monitor the use we put to our eyes. Google glasses could be used to control our environment around us by turning lights on and off around us or controlling heating and cooling equipment by noticing our activity levels and location within a structure. Even working with our cars to help them make it safer for us to use the road by integrating our steering decisions with where we have looked just prior to the decision to change direction with a vehicle. 

Sensing the nature of our bodily functions and performance opens a new gateway to the brave new world of implanted sensors to augment our sensory perceptions, memory and even how we interact with each other socially.

Many of you know I'm often a proponent of advancing technology, just as long as it is a beneficial and safe tool for our lives. Yet, this being said, there are often unintended consequences for these seemingly benign tools. So, while I applaud the efforts of ex-professor Brian Otis from the University of Washington, I'm also wary of how any corporate entity would use and protect such sensitive personal data about me, should I decide to use such a device.

It is up to all of us to continue our education and raise our awareness of how our technological world both benefits us and puts at risk while delivering those desired benefits.

Also see a related article on the transformation of hospital care delivery when remote monitoring is added. 

This article is based on information appearing to be reliable. It is a continuing thread of ideas about the connections of ideas which link seemingly unrelated ideas and technology as strings of connected realities.

1.14.2014

Goolgle Takes Big Step in AEC World

Google may be your favorite search engine, but they just took another step into another part of your life, well that is if you have a Nest thermostat in your home. Google understands the conservation of power on the grid is one way we can help create a more sustainable environment, so the Nest programmable / learning thermostat is a logical acquisition for them. Besides it gives them a platform to allow them to understand more about the living cycles of one of the most active buying segments in our economy.

You may be a skeptic or a naysayer, but, as the saying goes, "The train has already left the station." when it comes to the advent of the "internet of things." Nest is just another one of a growing segment of things which are connected to the larger electronic network we all live in.

12.12.2013

Googlizing the AEC Industry

IPD-BIM and SMART Culture Launches AEC Industry to New Levels

I recently posted an article "Googlizing the AEC Industry" on our NoSilos.com site outlining the basis of a new series of live seminar and workshop events to be held in 2014 and 2015. In keeping with our goal of breaking down silos of information and operation within companies and project, we are offering a full two-year training effort called "The Smart Built Culture" to transform those who attend this series. There will be other webinar and free website information and presentations to inform our readership about these resources and presentations so, even if you can't make the live events, you will be able to get some of the benefits of our research and experience over the past ten years in this emerging business model.

11.08.2013

"ick" Factor of Recycled Water...Just Get Over It-Now

Some of you know I live in the desert SW, specifically in Cochise County, AZ. We are officially in an extended drought, like most of our neighbors in NM, CO, NV and CA. All of us share the larger watersheds of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers. This year we have seen warnings that flows in the Colorado watershed will be restricted for the lower Colorado River. Tucson recently met their recharge goals ahead of time, but now we are facing a reduced allocation from the Colorado, which means the recharge rate in coming months will likely be reduced, just when we are getting this water supply thing in hand.

11.02.2013

BIM mandates ... Is Snake Oil not far behind?

Many of you know I'm a very strong proponent of Building Information Modeling for many reasons, but when I start seeing government mandates for public works projects I have to take pause. Why? Well frankly after being involved with several GSA projects here in the US for remodeling, repurposing and new construction, I've not seen the GSA leverage the reality of BIM in their life-cycle use and maintenance.

What happened? I thought what we were doing was going to make a long term difference in the cost of operations for our government, but as I dug deeper, I found the operations folks didn't have the appropriate tools to take advantage of the products we delivered to them. Further, they didn't know if they would ever get the tools to leverage our work for their benefit.

8.03.2013

Formula 1, Babies and Buildings A String of Connected Possibilities

A recent Ted Talk Peter van Manen of Mclaren electronics visits the possibilities of taking the thousands of data points of a Formula 1 car and applying them to to a pediatric intensive care ward. I applaud the inventiveness of the folks at Mclaren for taking a system which helps the most competitive motor sportscars perform at the highest level, to increase the survival of babies in their most fragile time of life.

As I listened to the presentation by Mr. van Manen I was intrigued to think if we monitored buildings with the same level of density as a Formula 1 or Indy car what would we learn about the interdependencies of the systems of the buildings we create. While racing teams build a new car for each season and then continually  refine the car with new parts over the racing season, buildings aren't tuned to the same level of razor edged performance. But how could buildings benefit from the clouds of information such systems create and how could they be built to allow for more constant upgrading to increase performance?

While the real-time streams help teams during the race, the real benefit to the teams is the pattern analysis of different systems interacting and the stories they tell about the performance of the vehicle. Patterns of interaction which warn of impending failure. Today there is a distinct possibility of converting buildings from acting like consuming appliances to being a cooperating, interdependent network of producers of power and electricity. But to accomplish this task will require a nervous system at the level used in the Formula 1 auto racing business.

So while we are using the continuous monitoring of and using real-time analysis of the data to forecast future performance of both machines and mankind, we might also be thinking of applying the same ideas to buildings to raise their performance levels, extend their lives and provide greater comfort and safety all at the same time.

See related article about Google Contacts


This is a continuing chapter in the interrelationships of discovery and application of technology and the built environment. The suggested connections and links between seemingly different applications can open new possibilities as a String of knowledge to make our lives better.