From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Toward Net Zero Energy: Tiny Houses on Up

The Laney College Carpentry Department in Oakland, California built a net zero tiny house, the Wedge, in 2016 for the SMUD Net Zero Tiny House Competition


That tiny house is for sale for

Laney College carpenters are currently building two other prototypes tiny houses, the Pocket House, for the unhoused and homeless in Oakland

The Northern Nomad is another net zero tiny home designed and built by a group of students from Carleton University in Canada as this video from 2019 shows:
Northern Nomad Tiny House 

Reading Design Guidelines for a Net Zero Tiny House ( and Guide to Off-Grid Tiny Houses (, the core idea seems to be energy efficiency first, last, and always:  the less energy you use the easier it becomes to supply it with renewables onsite.

That core idea of energy efficiency applies to all houses, not just tiny houses.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Zero Net Energy - August 9, 2020

 Santa Monica civic building will produce net positive energy and going for full Living Building challenge certification

An affordable Passive House development that’s “aggressively green"

A ski chalet in Utah which will be a net-positive energy building, generating 364% more power than it needs

Link City - proposed self-sustainable city-forest, using an urban operating system with an AI (Artificial Intelligence)

Park Avenue Green - affordable passive house apartment building in the South Bronx, the largest passive house development in North America

Wellesley College Global Flora greenhouse "exceeds the Net Zero Water & Energy requirements of the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most rigorous certification of sustainable construction."

Energy neutral school in Utrecht

AI to identify energy wasting homes
Watthome, an earlier version: 

Arctic Nordic Alpine  - Exhibation on Snøhetta’s work including Hotel Svart in Svartisen, the Arctic World Archive Visitor Center in Svalbard Island, and the Museum Quarter in Bolzano
hat tip to Heath Row’s Media Diet:

Orford Mews - energy-positive, carbon positive, zero construction waste nine-unit development planned for London

Moonstone House - test bed for energy efficiency started in 2002 is still evolving

Self-sufficient skyscraper proposed for NYC


Wednesday, May 06, 2020

COVID19 and Energy: What McKinsey Thinks

On Tuesday, April 28, I attended an online seminar on Energy and COVID19 organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Clean Energy Group ( with Scott S. Nyquist and Luciano Di Fiori both of the consulting firm McKinsey and Company. I’ve heard Scott Nyquist speak on energy a few times over the years, usually at MIT, and have found him to be informative even though our perspectives are very different.

The COVID19 scenaria McKinsey is examining now include
Virus contained — based upon China’s 6-8 week shutdown  
Vaccine — 12 – 18 months away plus the time it takes to innoculate the world population (at least another 12 – 18 months), similar to the expectation author Laurie Garrett reported to Frank Bruni in the NYTimes over the last few days
Waves — there will almost certainly be a second wave of COVID19 and possibly multiple waves until we have a vaccine.

In terms of energy, liquid fuels demand will take 2 — 4 years to recover; gasoline use is estimated to decrease 60% under lockdown; natural gas is down 5-10%. There will be excess supply and dropping prices which means that fracking will become even less economic (a conclusion I draw which Nyquist and Di Fiori did not offer). Global oil products demand will be down 6.7 -13.0 million barrels per day pushing refinery levels and margins to historically low levels and LNG [liquid natural gas] may take 5-7 years to come back to stable prices, lower with occasional flare ups of higher prices as things equalize. McKinsey expects no long-term consequences to demand, but is monitoring for changes. I don’t agree with McKinsey about no long-term changes in demand.  

Electric power demand is down 3-5% and peak load down by 18-24%. Electricity peak times and amounts have changed due to more people staying at home, primarily from increased air conditioning.

The airline business is down to 20% of its former business and will take a long time to come back. Cruise lines are in an even worse position with worse projections for the future.

GDP growth is going to be negative for about 2 years and then come back but to 2019 levels, at best.  

There may be a very cautious consumer culture, as after the Depression, coming out of the pandemic. The frugality imposed by the Great Depression affected all the generations that lived through it for decades afterwards.
Economic growth may be much slower after this. Companies will be less likely to hold debt and become very cash conscious.  

Nyquist believes that governments will be much better prepared for the next pandemic but “we have to pay for this” and government debt will be much higher. I do not have as much confidence as Nyquist does in the future preparations of any government in the USA but will be happy to be proved wrong.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Zero Net Energy - March 23, 2020

Sheridan Small Homes - affordable net zero single family homes in Providence, RI designed by architects and students from RI School of Design

Dutch Railways adult swing set for generating power

Net zero community planned for Hamburg, Germany

Vertical City, a proposal for urban development through a series of modular, zero-energy skyscrapers anchored to the ocean floor

Unisphere, one of the largest net zero energy commercial buildings in the world

Park Avenue Green - the largest passive house development in the USA, 154 low income housing units, 46 of which are for formerly homeless tenants

Net positive 47,000-square-foot building living building opens at Georgia Tech

Prefab homes that require "84% less energy per square foot to operate than a conventional stick built home” making net zero energy eminently achievable
They can be ordered with solar power and a battery back-up

Canada’s first net-zero carbon, mass timber college building

Green Concept House - a zero-waste, 100% self-sustaining home, including growing food

"Edwina Benner Plaza is among the first affordable housing projects in the nation to have zero operating emissions.”  It has 66 apartments in Sunnyvale, CA

Vertical Oasis - concept for a green solar-powered skyscraper

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Simple Solar Education

Back in the early 1980s I made some 15 second PSAs for the Urban Solar Energy Association [USEA] that were actually shown a couple of times late at night on the local TV stations.

In the early 1990s, I made another set of 30 second PSAs for the Boston Area Solar Energy Association, the successor organization to USEA, but none of them were broadcast as local TV stations all had their own approved non-profits to soak up public interest broadcast time requirements by then.  Or so I was told.  At the same time, I was producing the monthly lectures of the Solar Association and putting them on local cable access.

In the last decade or two I’ve put my share of solar video online at Youtube.  You can see them at

So I’ve been dabbling in solar video for a long time.   But not for a long time.  These are relics of what I’ve thought and done with simple solar throughout my life.

The presentation may be amateurish at best but I believe the majority of the information and ideas is accurate although I may have made some mistakes in the details here and there.

May these be of use.

One Square Foot of Sunlight 
come from the early 1990s and were the 30 second PSAs I was trying to get local TV to broadcast.

Simple Solar Principles

Solar Is Civil Defense
Cell Phone Solar
Minimum Solar Light
Homefront Advantage - WWII posters
A South-facing Window Is Already a Solar Collector
Solar Windowbox Air Heater
Insulating Roller Shade
Old Solar:  1980 Barnraised Aolar Air Heater
Old Solar:  1990 Boston Area Solar House Tour

I believe you can provide people with the essential concepts of practical solar energy within a very short period of time and can even present it as a series of short segments like these Youtube videos

Simple Solar parts 1 - 8
is my one attempt at trying to assemble a curriculum that leads from one possibility to another.
At a skill share.  Whatever happened to those?

Providential Experimentation
Worms, worms, worms
expands the concept beyond direct solar energy into secondary sources and regenerative systems leading to full geotherapy.

Simply Questions
is an attempt to visualize that system in terms of basic logistics

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Net Zero Energy Buildings at the Poles

The NYTimes published "The Coolest Architecture on Earth Is in Antarctica" by John Gendall on January 6, 2020. (
It was a general overview of new research stations and their designs to cope with the "world’s harshest environment."

According to the story, designer architects are bringing "aesthetics — as well as operational efficiency, durability and energy improvements” to the new buildings planned or under construction.

The Halley VI research station of the British Antarctic Survey, designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, is credited with changing the state of the art.  The Halley VI is built on hydraulic stilts, "allowing operators to lift it up out of accumulating snow drifts. And if the entire station needs to be moved — it sits on a drifting ice shelf — skis at the base of those stilts make that possible."

India’s National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research’s new research station, is built, partially, out of the shipping containers the rest of the materials came in, designed into the process from the beginning by the German architecture firm of bof architekten.

The article quotes Ben Roth of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science, or AIMS, the National Science Foundation initiative to modernize the USA’s McMurdo Station, as saying the existing buildings there are “energy hogs” which create additional problems for scientific research.

It was a good article but, since I’ve been collecting links to developments in net zero energy buildings since 2013 (, I was surprised that the world’s first zero emission polar research station with a decade’s worth of operating experience, the Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica (, the research station of the International Polar Foundation based in Brussels, was not mentioned at all.  I’d like to know if the Princess Elisabeth Station is still the only zero emission polar research station and if so, why;  but both the station and the concept of net zero energy seems to absent from the architectural context of this particular article in the NYTimes.  

The fact of the matter is there are net zero buildings at every scale, at every price in every existing climate, including net positive energy buildings in polar regions.

Snøhetta is the company to watch as they have completed the world’s northernmost energy-positive building, an 8-story, 18,000 square meter Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, Norway "which produces, on average, more than twice as much electricity as it consumes daily”
and another far Northern net positive energy office building
They also worked on Harvard’s HouseZero, a near net zero retrofit of a 1940s building in Cambridge, MA.

In addition, California’s Title 24-2019 is the first state code in the USA in force now to require solar panels and nearly net zero levels of energy consumption in all new homes through improvements in the building’s thermal envelope and demand responsive technologies including battery storage and heat pump water heaters 

The EU has near net zero building standards as well through their Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or EPBD which "requires all new buildings from 2021 (public buildings from 2019) to be nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEB)” meaning "a building that has a very high energy performance... The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent from renewable sources, including sources produced on-site or nearby."

We have built net zero energy buildings in every climate on Earth.  Over the next few decades we will rebuild our structures to those standards and, eventually, replace the energy from the grid that goes into our buildings, about a third of all energy the USA generates in a year, about 33 quadrillion btu’s with energy efficiency and energy production onsite.

This is the reality coming down the pike.  The more we recognize it, the faster it will happen.  Changing building codes across the USA is a significant leverage point for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy waste, improving resilience and preparedness (Solar IS Civil Defense), and building a renewable future now as Justin Gillis has recognized, also in the NYTimes

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

What I Read in the Green New Deal for Public Housing Bill

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act (these comments come from the draft but the actual bill has now been filed at is the first binding legislation drafted.  It will reconstruct "the entire public housing stock of the United States, as swiftly and seamlessly as possible,” into zero-carbon homes, "a highly energy-efficient home that produces on-site, or procures, enough carbon-free renewable energy to meet the total annual energy consumption of the home” within a decade.

Public housing stock will be eligible for deep energy retrofits, including 
energy-efficient windows; 
super insulation of roofs and exterior walls, including the addition of new cladding to buildings and the rerouting of plumbing and electricity; 
electrification of water heating and building heating systems using electric heat pumps; 
and electric heat pumps to provide air conditioning, where feasible; 
materials and technology to increase airtightness of the building envelope, including air sealant paints; the acquisition and installation of heat-recovery ventilation systems; 
and energy monitoring devices including smart meters and smart thermostats.  

There will be grants "to build and expand community energy generation in public housing, including 
the construction of and ongoing costs associated with renewable energy rooftops; 
renewable energy generation; 
photovoltaic glass windows; 
the bulk purchase of clean energy supply from energy utilities; 
and community-scale energy storage."

What the bill is calling a zero carbon home is also known as zero net energy housing or, more commonly, net zero energy buildings, structures which produce as much energy as they consume and such buildings have been built in just about every Earthly climate, from the Arctic Circle to the South Pole;  at single family and skyscraper scales;  at low, moderate, and luxury prices.  I’ve been collecting examples of Zero Net Energy buildings and technologies for years at if you want to see what is operating now, is being built, and some of the design visions for the future.  CA is already transitioning to a net zero energy building standard for all low-rise residential buildings now (2020) and the EU is moving to a “near net zero” standard now too.  Both will have a net or near net zero building standard for all buildings, including rehab, by 2030.

There are positive net energy buildings as well (see

In 1979 Jimmy Carter’s energy plan called for insulating 90% of American homes and all new buildings and use solar energy in more than 2.5 million homes by 1985. There were 1.3 million solar installations in the USA in 2017 by one count and may be 1.9 million in 2019 by another.  The DOE is predicting there will be 3.8 million solar homes by 2020.

Carter also wanted "20% of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000."  Renewables, wind, solar and hydro, are at just about that level now, 20 years behind his schedule.

Carter was thinking in terms of his next four years in office. Extinction Rebellion is demanding that “Government must act now to halt biodiversity loss and reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025.”  The Green New Deal has a 10 year timeframe.

Jimmy Carter in 1979 was more ambitious than we are now. 

The Green New Deal for Public Housing also provides for community resilience centers, "a communal space in public housing that is used as a cooling center, heating center, or disaster relief center during extreme weather.”  This fits in with the idea of emergency preparedness, civil defense, no matter what the opinion of climate change.  After all, Solar IS Civil Defense (and entry level electricity for the billion or so people in this world who don’t yet have access to minimal electricity for light, communications, and other things.  See Personal Power Production:  Solar from Civil Defense to Swadeshi ( for more on these concepts and Personal Power Set ( for a look at current available technologies.

Community resilience measures include a "grant program to help provide the purchase and installation of energy storage, including batteries, flywheels, compressed air, and pumped hydroelectric or thermal energy storage, in order to ensure energy backup of not less than 48 hours in the event of an emergency or disaster;  the construction of childcare centers and ongoing costs associated with childcare centers;  the construction of senior centers and ongoing costs associated with senior centers;  the construction of community gardens and ongoing costs associated with community gardens.”

This will allow public housing to become islanding microgrids, housing that can power themselves when the grid goes down.  Grid interconnection will also allow public housing to feed energy back into the grid and offset costs.

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act also authorizes the "training and development of skills necessary for career development in the fields, trades, and services reasonably determined during the first public comment period held in accordance with subsection (b)(3) to be of interest to public housing residents,” at a wage of $15  per hour with "stipends valued at not less than $250 per week to individuals participating in the workforce development program.”

Using the reconstruction of the USA's public housing as a job development program in energy efficiency and renewable power is supported by the results of the 2019 US Energy and Employment Report [USEER]* which found that there are currently more clean energy jobs available than workers to fill them.  The lack of trained people was highlighted by virtually all surveyed sectors as a growing problem with lack of experience, training, and technical skills almost universally cited as the top reason for hiring difficulty by employers. The need for technical training and certifications was also frequently cited, implying the need for expanded investments in workforce training and closer coordination between employers and the workforce training system.

US Energy and Employment Report [USEER]*  also found that energy efficiency has the most overall growth and potential for jobs.  It is about 41% of energy sector jobs now.  More than 1 out of 6, 17% of all USA construction jobs are in energy efficiency.  E2 [Environmental Entrepreneurs] ( has an Energy Efficiency Jobs in America report that goes deeper into this subject (  Cities like Boston have found that energy efficiency retrofits, electrification of existing residential buildings, and improved transportation are the most impactful strategies for reducing carbon emissions (
*Summary of the report at
Full report at
Webinar at
More at

There are 3.3 million clean energy jobs
2.3 million in energy efficiency
508,000 renewable energy
254,000 clean vehicles
139,000 grid and storage
38,000 clean fuels

The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act requires biannual reports
"on the impact that the grant programs established under subsection (a) have had on—
(1) the rehabilitation, upgrades, innovation, and transition of public housing in the United States;
(2) total greenhouse gas emission output, and quarterly data on greenhouse gas emission reductions from individual public housing developments, specifically as they relate to—
(A) home energy carbon pollution emissions in each public housing development, as calculated using the Carbon Footprint Calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency;
(B) waste-related carbon emissions in each public housing development, as calculated using the Carbon Footprint Calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency; and
(C) total greenhouse gas emissions released by individual public housing buildings and homes within a public housing development, as calculated using the Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency;
(3) the amount of Federal money saved due to energy cost savings at public housing projects, on a quarterly basis;
(4) the amount of energy savings per KwH at each public housing project, on a quarterly basis;
(5) public housing residents, including—
(A) access to economic opportunities through compliance with the hiring and contracting requirements described in subsections (c) and (d) of section 3 of the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968 (12 U.S.C. 1701u);
(B) the impacts, if any, those residents have experienced to their individual economic growth as measured by individual and household income;
(C) the specific career skills acquired;
(D) the impacts, if any, those residents have experienced to their overall health; and
(E) the specific educational or technical certifications acquired; and
(6) changes to the overall community health indicators in public housing developments and their surrounding neighborhoods, including asthma rates, air quality, water quality, and levels of lead and mold.”

"Before the start of the second fiscal year beginning after the date of enactment of the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, and quarterly thereafter, the Secretary shall require each public housing agency to monitor, measure, and report to the Secretary on the economic impacts of this section on the community in which housing developments of the public housing agency are located, including

‘‘(A) the aggregate dollar amount of contracts awarded in compliance with this section; 
(B) the aggregate dollar amount of wages and salaries paid for positions employed by low- and very low-income persons in accordance with this section;
(C) the aggregate dollar amount expended for training opportunities provided to low- and very low-income persons in accordance with this section; and
(D) the aggregate dollar amount expended for training and assisting public housing resident-owned businesses for compliance with this section."
The Green New Deal for Public Housing Act guarantees "the right to housing for every individual… all housing in the United States is habitable, highly energy-efficient, and safe; and… that the Federal Government should act and build new public housing where there is a serious need that the free market cannot address or is not addressing responsibly.’’

Most, if not all. of the Green New Deal for Public Housing necessitates "SEC. 10. REPEAL OF FAIRCLOTH AMENDMENT. Section 9(g) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437g(g)) is amended by striking paragraph (3), Faircloth Amendment which forbids HUD to "fund the construction or operation of new public housing units with Capital or Operating Funds if the construction of those units would result in a net increase in the number of units the PHA owned, assisted or operated as of October 1, 1999."
Faircloth Amendment - HUD