Evaluation of the energy performance of UC Davis’ Net-Zero Community


In the global competition for appealing clean energy solutions, a leading entry is the new West Village at the University of California at Davis (UC Davis), which today celebrated significant progress toward its goal of becoming the largest planned “zero-net energy” community in the United States.

Seven years ago, I was one of nine jurors who selected the winner in a competition to establish the nation’s first university-based center on energy efficiency (and yes, it’s hard to believe that this didn’t happen until 2006!). UC Davis finished first in a distinguished field, and it has more than justified expectations in the years since.

Among the Energy Efficiency Center’s proudest achievements is the beautifully designed space next to the main campus that bills itself as the nation’s largest planned community to reach “net zero” – annually consuming less electricity than it produces while emitting no carbon pollution.

The “West Village” is proceeding in stages and will ultimately house 3,000 students, along with 500 staff and faculty families and a cluster of retail and commercial buildings. By making those buildings far more energy efficient than even California’s rigorous standards require, the West Village architects were able to balance all their projected electricity needs with onsite solar photovoltaic (PV) power production. The UC Davis Center made a commitment to regular evaluations of the West Village’s performance, too, and the inaugural report was released today.

In the first year of substantial occupancy and fully powered PV systems, roughly 1,500 people in more than 500 apartments and a half-dozen mixed-use buildings came hearteningly close to “zero net-energy”: about 87% of the way, to be precise. Thanks to local experts from the Davis Energy Group, we know pretty much exactly what caused the gap, and what to do about it.

The solar power systems performed pretty much exactly as advertised, although the evaluators think we can squeeze out a few more megawatt-hours of electricity with occasional cleanings of the solar panels (to remove dust emanating from local agricultural operations). Also operating as predicted were the buildings’ cooling and heating systems, and the one- and two-bedroom apartment units taken as a group. Consumption was higher than expected in two principal categories: three- and four-bedroom units, whose occupants loaded up on plug-in electronics and showed remarkable variation in monthly electricity use; and water heat, where a high-efficiency technology relatively new to U.S. markets (heat pumps) created some siting and operational problems that contributed to higher power use.

The West Village managers are confident that they can cover the remaining distance to “zero net energy” and I agree with them. The water heating glitches are already mostly fixed. For the larger apartments, a host of strategies are being deployed to identify and motivate the largest electricity users to waste less energy, starting with the repeatedly proven social science insight that the best way to change behavior is simply to show people that their neighbors are doing better.

Regular performance reports will help with that message, as well as show the world continuing progress and any remaining barriers to reaching the community’s laudatory goals.

The next West Village performance review is due in early 2015. I look forward to sharing the results, and I’ll close with the quote that I authorized for use in the news release accompanying today’s report:

“The West Village is what a sustainable energy future looks like for California and the rest of the world. Its commitment to comprehensive evaluations like this one is an important part of the good example that the community is setting for all the rest of us.”

Article by Ralph Cavanagh, a senior attorney and co-director of the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Link to article: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/rcavanagh/what_the_future_looks_like_wes.html


Green building and sustainability

If you are in the construction and design industry, you probably very often hear the words “green building” and “sustainability” nowadays. The use of these two key terms can create confusion through misstatement and misconception. Green building and sustainability do not mean the same thing, and yet we often see them being used interchangeably. This is understandable – both concepts contain similar underlying elements and are often interconnected. In order to explain the key differences between the concepts of green building and sustainability, it is very important to understand the actual meaning of both.

Green building, or building green, is essentially building based on concrete and responsible actions to reduce harmful impacts on the immediate environment. For instance, in a green building process, the building materials chosen are those with little or no amount volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and have low embodied energy. The efficient use of water via water-saving appliances, water/greywater recycling and rain water recycling are also considered in the development of green buildings. All these are all tangible actions which reduce the negative environmental impacts of the building procedure.

As for sustainability, it is not just an environmental concept, but it is in fact but made up of three spheres, encompassing environmental, economical and social components. Therefore, in a way, sustainability is much more complex than merely saving energy or reducing carbon emissions. In terms of ecology, the word sustainable describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time without causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem’s health. In the human context, it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources. In terms of the construction and design industry, it is the process whereby consumption (either of a material or of energy) is undertaken only when it is organically maintainable.

One common misconception that I come across is the use of “green technology” to define green building. Does the addition of solar panels on a building make the latter green? Solar power provides “free” energy, not requiring the burning of fossil fuel, therefore using solar power reduces harmful impacts on the immediate environment. However the resources it takes to manufacture solar panels and the disposal of the often toxic remains of the solar panels and batteries is not sustainable! Take the example of solar air-conditioning. Using solar power is a green act but if the building was not designed to limit and naturally dissipate solar heat gains through careful passive design, then the use of the panels does not make up for the fact the the building was poorly designed in the first place. I mentioned this fact in one of my very first presentations at the Eco-building conference in 2010, as I wanted to highlight its importance. If a building is not designed with the right passive strategies in mind, then sticking Photovoltaic panels on top of it does not make it a truly green, let alone sustainable, building!

It is the holistic environmental process that is sustainable, not merely the technology or material. For example, building with wood is, in itself, a green building practice because wood is a durable, natural resource however, if the wood is not FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified, then it is simply not sustainable. Building with wood sustainably means that the environment is not being damaged faster than it can be renewed through replanting. In order to be truly sustainable, the wood should be sourced locally from a wooded area that is replanted so as not to leave lasting environmental damage.

In conclusion, it is easy to confuse these two key terms, “green” and “sustainable” – not everything labelled as “green” is really good for the environment or sustainable. You need to use your judgement to make careful choices in order not to be greenwashed!

Emma Ozsen - Sustainability Consultant
By Emma Ozsen
Building Design Analyst and Sustainability Consultant

Locations of sorting / recycling bins across Mauritius

Recycling points provided by Mission Verte across Mauritius:

Flacq: Parking Way

Trianon: Parking Shoprite

Grand Baie: opposite Store 2000

Tamarin: Parking Kaddy +

Mahebourg: Parking London

Tamarin: Ecole Paul & Virginie

Labourdonnais: Parking Ecole du Nord

Beau Plan: Grays (for their personal use)

Caudan Waterfront: near the Casino

Barkly: Centre of Learning, Rue Maingard, B-Bassin

Floréal: Parking National Store (behind Hédiard)

Forest Side: Parking Winners

Bel Air: Parking Winners

Phoenix: Parking Phoenix Commercial Centre

Moka: Ecole du Centre

Belle Rose: Couvent du Bon et Perpétuel Secours (private)

Cap Malheureux: Cité Pavillon

Tamarin: Tamarina Villas

Riv du Rempart: Riverside Mall

Find your closest recycling point on Google Maps:


List provided by AMORIS Environnement Ltd. on Facebook:

Earth Day, 22 April 2011

Today, 22nd April, is EARTH DAY. What does it mean? What is Earth Day about? Here are a few facts:

– It is meant to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment.
– It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) as an environmental teach-in in 1970.
– Earth Day is celebrated in many countries every year.
– The first Earth Day was in 1970. Earth Day is in spring in the Northern Hemisphere and autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.
– It is a time for making a difference and cleaning the planet.
– 2010 happens to mark the 40th year that it has been celebrated.

This year, Earth Day’s theme is “A Billion Acts of Green” and The Earth Day Network has set up a website for people around the world to pledge a green act.

You can join the network of millions of people around globe by making a pledge and committing, e.g. to recycle more, walk to work, use energy-efficient light bulbs, install a solar water heater, etc.

What will be your pledge?

Access the Earth Day Network and pledge here: http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2011

The power of building codes: why fewer died in Chile’s earthquake than in Haiti’s

According to an article on Bloomberg.com: “Earthquakes, heat waves, floods, volcanoes, super typhoons, blizzards, landslides and droughts killed at least a quarter million people in 2010 — the deadliest year in more than a generation. More people were killed worldwide by natural disasters this year [2010] than have been killed in terrorism attacks in the past 40 years combined”.
This is an alarming statement!

Image copyright: BBC

Even with the most sophisticated weather tracking tools, it is not always possible to predict when a natural disaster will occur.  Although we can track how a cyclone develops, it is very difficult to tract the exact path it will take and the severity with which it might hit when it reaches land.  However, there is one thing we can do: prepare and adapt.  The way we design and build our buildings can save lives. This is the reason why we build reinforced concrete structures in Mauritius, and rightly so, because we are prone to cyclonic conditions.

When it comes to earthquakes, it is estimated that 80% of deaths that occur during an earthquake is attributed to the collapse of buildings. As an example, in Haiti, where most of the population lived in poorly built structures, about 220,000 people were killed.  In contrast, the earthquake in Chile, which was about 500 times stronger than that of Haiti, caused less than 1,000 deaths.  One of the reasons for this is better building codes and better construction.

An interesting article below from BBC, talks about a system that helps buildings stay up, called the “strong columns weak beams” system, and helped prevent Chile’s buildings from collapsing.

Link to article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8543324.stm

Global CO2 emissions down by 1.3% in 2009..

(Reuters) – Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2009 fell 1.3 percent to 31.3 billion tonnes in the first year-on-year decline in this decade, German renewable energy institute IWR said on Friday.

Read more: http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/08/13/us-germany-carbon-survey-idUSTRE67C1IU20100813