Category Archives: Sustainable built environment

Q&A with Green Empowerment Fellow Patrick Pawletko: Micro-Hydro in Myanmar, 2015-16

Published at www.Greenempowerment.org    [Questions and responses edited for  continuity.]

Patrick graduated from Purdue University in 2014 with a degree in Civil Engineering. While studying there, he participated in a team collaboration to develop a locally sourced, locally fabricated micro-hydropower facility in the rural community of Bangang, Cameroon, where he gained his early lessons in micro-hydropower (MH) as a sustainable energy solutioPatrick Pn for rural communities. He carried these lessons on to his work with Green Empowerment, first as an intern for our partner organization Tonibung in Malaysian Borneo, and more recently as a GE Fellow in Myanmar, where he has spent a year exploring the possibilities for GE collaboration in developing MH facilities for rural villages with no other access to electricity. The opinions he offers are his own, and not necessarily those of Green Empowerment or of the other networks mentioned in this article.

How did you decide to focus your work on Micro Hydro solutions to rural development?

I’ve always been intrigued by small hydropower production—especially with all the new technologies coming out. I love to geek out on solving the engineering problems—and nothing can match the cost per kilowatt of Micro Hydro, if it’s done right.

Fresh out of a one-year internship, you took on a Fellowship assignment as GE’s solo man-on-the-ground to explore MH possibilities in Myanmar. How did that feel, starting out cold and alone, and not knowing the territory?

It felt cold and alone! But I had a good foundation to stand on. Shortly after graduation in 2014, I had worked as a “deck hand” at an HPNet* practice-to-policy event in Myanmar. I photo-documented the event, and was fortunate to meet a number of local MH developers. Volunteering at that conference planted the seeds for my fellowship work this past year.  [*HPNet = Hydro EmPowerment Network a community of MH actors whose mission is “Knowledge exchange for Community Micro Hydro in South and Southeast Asia.”]

Two key people paved my way into the MH community in Myanmar. GE’s Asia Regional Director, Gabe Wynn, had already established a solid landing environment for me. And HPNet’s Coordinator Dipti Vaghela guided my path to getting settled here. She also wasn’t shy about telling me the DO’s and DON’Ts about this work.

What sort of DO’s or DON’Ts did she recommend?

My early mentality was: “Find funding! Establish partners! Identify tech transfer opportunities!” But Dipti taught me that it’s not always about planting a flag for the rest of the world to see. Sometimes it’s important to stay behind the scenes.

Together with local developers we wrote a proposal to the biggest players—in the government and various bilateral development partners, for a Development Plan for Micro and Mini Hydropower Implementation of the NEP of Myanmar, using a Public-Private Partnership Approach. It lays a plan for the best chance for the MH sector to become sustainable. She taught me the important nuances of this proposal coming from local developers, not outside agents or NGOs. So the Small Hydro Power Association of Myanmar (SHPAM), a local practitioner’s association, authored the proposal, and we kept largely to the background.

What do you see as the most pressing issue affecting MH development in Myanmar?

Definitely the National Electrification Plan (NEP). It’s an ambitious plan which calls for 99% connection to the national grid by 2030, whereas currently only 30% of households are connected. The 1% not included in the grid-extension area would mostly access electricity through solar home systems, because they are too remote to connect to the grid before 2030, or maybe ever.

The target for sustainable MH mini-grids is primarily the half-million households in the “pre-electrification” zone, where their connection to the grid is 10-15 years out. MH is preferable to solar home systems for several reasons. Locally manufactured and maintained, it creates jobs in the local economy. And unlike solar, it runs both day and night, so it can power both income-producing end-uses like cottage industries, pumps, and rice mills, as well as evening household needs, and socially important facilities like schools and health care centers.

There are many—somewhere around 1,000—MH mini-grids built by private sector actors in Myanmar over the past 30 years, at a time when the former government was not paying much attention to rural electrification. These community-owned mini-grids are facing an uphill battle, because solar home systems can be implemented more quickly and on a larger scale than technologies like MH or biomass gasification, and the anticipated encroachment by the national grid is a disincentive for many MH mini-grid developers to pursue high quality sites, except in the most remote regions of the country. It isn’t clear what the new democratically elected government, led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), will do next. We hope to support our local partners, primarily the Renewable Energy Association Myanmar, make the case for MH mini-grids, and decentralized renewable energy solutions in general, as part of the new government’s energy planning process.

 After your year of internship in Borneo, you blogged that “nothing trumps the culture element in community Micro Hydro. It is the single most accurate predictor of project success and failure.” Is that still your main takeaway, after a year in the field in Myanmar?

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Wellfleet Audubon Center LEED Platinum

Wellfleet, MA Audubon Center

Welfleet Audubon Center

Welfleet, Massachusetts Audubon Center

The Wellfleet Audubon Center, a LEED Platinum Certified building, was a partial-new (2003) construction, partial-renovation of the original 1990 building and grounds. Excavation for the addition was minimized; demolition and recycling of waste followed highest LEED guidelines.  Renovation increased building from 3000 sf to 8000 sf. To offset the added area, Audubon bought 5 acres of land to maintain as greenspace. Access road is of crushed stone, and walkways of permeable pavers. Local architect Andrew Miao designed this as his first green building, and landscape designer was Chris Oriuchi.

US Green Building Council LEED logo

US Green Building Council LEED logo

Materials in the renovation/new construction are of high recycled content: engineered wood-scrap beams and joists, shredded newspaper blown insulation and acoustic ceiling covering, recycled tire rubber flooring, pine floorboards salvaged from demolition in NJ, recycled plastics carpet and bathroom partitions, imitation slate from concrete & fly-ash, composite decking outdoors, and countertops of newspaper/resin composite. The exhibit provides hands-on samples for visitors to examine. Some new materials were used: “plyboo” and wheatboard office walls, Azek (vinyl) window trim, argon-filled double pane windows, and sustainable forest certified wood trim.

Engineered wood scrap beam

Engineered wood scrap beam

Recycled fly ash slate-look floor

Recycled fly ash slate-look floor

Welfleet Audubon Center recycled plastic wood boardwalk

Welfleet Audubon Center recycled plastic wood boardwalk

Composting toilet information plaqueGreen/LEED features are explained for visitors

Composting toilet information plaque
Green/LEED features are explained for visitors

Sited in the woods on Cape Cod, there is no sewer or septic system. Composting Clivus toilets use 2oz. alcohol-based foam per flush into a large composting storage bin in the basement below; twice a year the bins are emptied to an outdoor compost bin; every 2-3 years the compost is used to fertilize plantings (non-edibles.)

One of four rainwater collection cisterns
One of four rainwater collection cisterns
Bog garden irrigated by underground drip lattice

Bog garden irrigated by underground drip lattice

A rainwater collection system irrigates the bog garden, using 4 partially subterranean 400-gallon cisterns that supply a latticework of perforated pipes under the bog and alongside plantings. A well provides drinking and cooking water. A wood furnace heats the entire building, using local Black Locust, which burns quite completely at high temperature and puts out clean exhaust with very little carbon content. Backup biodiesel fuel has never been needed. Natural ventilation provided by ceiling fans, operable ceiling windows, and heat-exchangers obviates the need for air conditioning, thus ground-source water cooling was deemed unnecessary.

Welfleet Audubon Center solar array

Welfleet Audubon Center solar array

Photovoltaic panels, a 3KW array on roof of new building and an 18KW array next to the bog garden, provide 30-40% of the building’s power. Consumption is minimized by use of occupant-sensors, T-5 bulbs, skylights, and natural ventilation. A planned wind turbine on the property will eventually take the building to net-zero energy consumption.

Native plantings

Native plantings

Outdoor new plantings are of native species; the hummingbird and insect garden contains a few non-natives, transplanted from the previous site. Joe Lawler, who gives a great tour of the facility, is particularly fond of the “All Persons Trail” of crushed schist, accessible to wheelchairs and persons using walking aids, which gently slopes to marsh and bay views. From a blind on the trail, walkers may see a Kingfisher diving in the marsh for its dinner.

Watching from the blind, as kingfishers dive for food

Watching from the blind, as kingfishers dive for food

Joe Lawlor leads a walk through the marshPermeable paver walkway leads to crushed schist trail

Joe Lawler leads a walk through the marsh
Permeable paver walkway leads to crushed schist trail

Essex County Greenbelt Association LEED Retrofit

The Essex County Greenbelt Headquarters Building, Essex, MA

by Eleanor Burke

Essex County Greenbelt HQ  220 year old farmhouseRetrofit includes water-permeable parking lot

Essex County Greenbelt HQ 220 year old farmhouse
Retrofit includes water-permeable parking lot

The Essex County Greenbelt Association (ECGA) is headquartered in a 220-year-old farmhouse situated in a marshy meadow on the tidal banks of the Essex River. The building was expanded and renovated in 2006-07, to improve its usefulness to the owners and to make it as “green” as possible within the given budget, and in visual harmony with the style and period of the original building. Nine full-time employees use the building daily; as many as 30 people gather periodically in the meeting spaces.

A builder/designer coordinated the integrated planning for the renovation. He is conducting the documentation process for LEED certification, which may turn out to be Silver level. Because the mission of the ECGA is to preserve green spaces, the team maintained a clear focus during design and construction decisions. Through strategic use of grants and donations, the designer/owner/occupant team was able to “go greener” than they originally thought they would.

Icynene foam insulation, R29, water based, low VOC

Icynene foam insulation, R29, water based, low VOC

The building envelope was insulated with Icynene foam (water based, low VOC, 100x expansion to fill all cavities, R=up to 29) on exterior walls and attic ceiling. Double-pane operable windows replaced the originals, allowing fresh air 3 seasons/year and rendering the air conditioner rarely needed. A gas furnace (97% efficient) and forced hot air system replaced the old oil/radiator one. A 1000-gallon cistern recaptures and stores rainwater for gray water uses such as flushing and outdoor spigots. In dry spells or deep freezes, town-water is the backup system. Black roof shingles donated locally were a trade-off in the construction-cost v. green-goals of the project.

Table made from up-cycled floorboards

Table made from up-cycled floorboards

Construction waste was reused onsite or recycled. The old floorboards, for example, formed the desktops for all the offices and meeting room tables. New materials such as rugs and wall coverings were selected for recycled content and no/low VOC off-gassing. New floorboards and slate entry tiles came locally, from Vermont.

A few decidedly 21st-century features were added for green-modeling purposes. A small (1.5kw) photovoltaic unit of 10 panels provides about 10% of the power used in the building. Because the roof was not oriented for solar exposure, the unit is free-standing and rotates to follow the sun at 15˚/hr. A computer program monitors the PV energy use (tracked daily by a contracted German company); at peak use in summer it provides 17% of the building’s energy load, and in winter on a cloudy day, only about 2%.

Solar panel and cistern behind ECGA HQ

Solar panel and cistern behind ECGA HQ

The Essex County Greenbelt Association Headquarters walks its talk and models its mission. What a wonderful place to work, volunteer, or ramble through the meadows!

LEED Silver building: Lexington DPW

Lexington DPD Slver LEED

Lexington DPD Slver LEED

The town of Lexington, MA, opened a new LEED Silver building complex, 80,000sf for Public Works and Facilities on the 9.6 acre site of the old DPW. An Open House on Sept. 26, 2009, celebrated the new green building and invited the public for tours and information from the architect and building occupants/ operators. Winter solar gain is achieved in southern facing design. During construction, the site was decontaminated from the remnants of the 1900-1920 B&M RR Trolley Barn ($250K), including proper disposal of oil-contaminated soils, and 85% reuse or recycling of materials in the old buildings. Construction debris was also separated and recycled; new materials included 40% recycled content whenever possible, and were delivered from within a 500-mile radius.

Rainwater is collected, stored, reused (for washing town vehicles), and/or bio-filtered for aquifer recharge.

Green roof

Green roof

The roof of the building channels the rainwater either into the 10 x 500-gallon storage tanks (with tank hookup for street sweepers), or onto the 10,000sf section of green roof, or into one of four bio-swales on the site, which filter and drain in 24 hours into the local aquifer. The three systems are designed to handle a “100-year storm.” Parking spaces (though not truck through-ways) are of semi-permeable asphalt.

Bioswale--filters, drains, and stores water

Bioswale–filters, drains, and stores water

Most spaces have natural light from clerestory windows, skylights, and/or light-wells, and need no artificial lighting in daytime. Indoor rooms have occupancy sensors for lights on/off control, and use T5 CFLs. Ventilation air exchange is on demand (by CO2 sensors), and an enthalpy wheel recaptures heated or cooled/dehumidified air for reuse of the dry air and heat. Garage doors are minimized, with none facing north; ceiling fans pull summer night cooler air through louvers on north walls, maintaining day temp of 70˚ on a 90˚ outdoor day. Radiant heat in garage ceiling beams warms objects (not air), with temp maintained at 45˚ in winter. Concrete slab floor serves as thermal cool/heat mass.

Bikeway access to Lexington DPW

Bikeway access to Lexington DPW

The Minuteman Bike trail is adjacent to the DPW facility; a connecting link to DPW site encourages biking to work, and a bench/water fountain at the link invite passing riders to enjoy the use of the facility. The building has a bike rack and shower/changing rooms for staff who bike or walk to work or who exercise during lunch break or end of shift.

This is not your grandfather’s DPW facility!

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School Sustainable Building and Grounds Features

A short powerpoint presentation can be seen here:

L-S Green Bldg & Grounds Features

Or for the full report (20pp.) hit the “Continue Reading” button

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Offsetting your carbon footprint? RECs? Huh?

How effective and/or practical are U.S. “voluntary markets” to curb carbon emissions?

by Eleanor Burke,  August 2010

Carbon Markets: Venturing into the Labyrinth

Carbon offset economic theory is a labyrinth that would confound even the Minotaur who lives within it. Theseus, a mythological Athenian hero, managed to slay the Minotaur while it slept, and found his way back out of the maze by following a golden thread. We will follow Theseus’ golden thread into the labyrinth to attempt to conquer—by understanding—the beastly notion of what it means to “offset” one’s carbon footprint.

First we will distinguish between the mandatory carbon markets and the voluntary markets. This will allow us to narrow our focus to the voluntary market, which can be a leaping off place to understand the bigger global one. We will consider its tools, how—or if—they work, and whether this economic instrument is an effective way to promote clean energy production and diminish dirty[i] energy production, that is, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and begin setting the ship of climate changing on a less disastrous course. Continue reading →