Climate change heightens Californias drought and wildfire risks

October 31, 2019 by  
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Global warming and climate change are to blame for creating the strong winds and low humidity that are currently turning California into a tinderbox. Tracts of Golden State land are drying out, making them more prone to insect infestation, forest disease outbreaks and extended wildfire seasons. In response, two of the state’s main electricity companies, PG&E and SDG&E, have implemented brownouts, unplugging entire cities to minimize fire hazard risks. The California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection , or CalFire, recently reported that “while wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the fire season in California and across the west is starting earlier and ending later each year. Climate change is considered a key driver of this trend.” Related: Thousands of animals have been displaced by California wildfires The growing intensity of present day wildfires is a sobering reminder that greenhouse gas emissions and the global carbon footprint must be curbed, lest our planet be faced with irreversible climate consequences. Accelerated warming and the burning of fossil fuels trap more heat on the planet, shifting precipitation patterns and amplifying the risks of wildfires and their prolonged seasons. Temperature rises from climate extremes likewise lead to drier air that quickly desiccates vegetation on the ground. These drought conditions transform the landscape, inviting infestations of ravenous, bark-eating pests to excessively feed on trees, making them more susceptible to woodland diseases. These ailing California forests are thus compromised further, pushing them to the brink of mortality. High temperatures, strong winds, dry conditions and ailing flora are a formula for wildfire risks. But another variable to increased California wildfire occurrences is attributed to the sparks that can ignite the tinderbox; those sparks can be started by electrical utility infrastructure. Shutdowns of California power grids are now the new normal, according to the California Public Utilities Commission , which regulates services throughout the Golden State to “safeguard the environment and assure access to safe and reliable utility infrastructure and services.” To protect California, the regulatory board has implemented a number of climate initiatives that include a utility wildfire mitigation plan calling for electrical power-downs to customers, especially during exceptionally hot and dry conditions. Many customers in the Golden State oppose the electrical shutdown measures. So, what other solutions are there? California has been at the forefront of fighting climate change, even promoting renewable energy and solar power as go-to strategies. Similarly, insurance companies have been shying away from securing housing development in fire-prone locations, leading to a shift in household relocation trends. Plus, researchers — in academia, military and public and private sectors — are now studying fire-resistant or non-flammable materials to harden California buildings and houses in hopes of making them more resilient. Even with these ideas in place, the best practices will rely on curbing climate change, which increases the likelihood and frequency of wildfires in the first place. Via CNN Image via U.S. Department of Agriculture

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Climate change heightens Californias drought and wildfire risks

LEED-certified ‘Cocoon House’ has colored skylights that create rainbows inside the home

October 31, 2019 by  
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The Hamptons have long been known as a summertime haven for busy New Yorkers, and one architect has created a personal retreat that pays homage to the region’s vernacular in a very unique way. Nina Edwards Anker of nea studio has unveiled the Cocoon House, a gorgeous, LEED-certified family home that is “cocooned” into a curvaceous shell, where colorful skylights reflect rainbows throughout the interior. Located on the coast of Southampton, New York, the Cocoon House is a curved volume clad in cedar shingles. The unique design is reminiscent of the local pool cottages found throughout the Hamptons but with a modern twist. The best part? The home is a powerhouse of energy efficiency . Related: LEED Gold home celebrates Utah’s brilliant light and beauty The northern side of the home is covered with shimmering cedar shingles , creating a sense of privacy, while the southern side features an impressive 65 feet of continuous sliding glass doors, providing unobstructed views of the pristine landscape. Topping the inner curve of the home is a series of multicolored skylights angled to reflect light and create a vibrant stream of fun, rainbow hues throughout the interior. According to the studio, the tints on the bold skylights were inspired by Goethe’s theories on color. “The colors range from vermilion red, which signals sunset and rest, above the master bedroom, to deep yellow, which signals zenith and activity, nearest the living room,” the team explained. At either end of the home, rounded windows provide stunning views from the open living area on one side and the master bedroom on the other. In between both areas, the interior design is just as impressive as the home’s exterior. The furnishings, many created by Anker herself, are contemporary with plenty of whimsy, such as the origami-like wicker settee and twinkling chandeliers. Besides its breathtaking aesthetic, the home is also LEED-certified thanks to several energy-efficient and sustainable features. Solar panels power the home. Thick and heavily insulated walls retain heat while the transparent side lets in optimal natural light and air circulation. Adding to its strong thermal mass, all of the home’s doors and windows are Passivehaus-certified. Even the swimming pool, which is able to collect and filter rainwater, adds to the home’s efficiency. + nea studio Photography by Caylon Hackwith via nea studio

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LEED-certified ‘Cocoon House’ has colored skylights that create rainbows inside the home

Prefab alpine shelter boasts phenomenal views and a small footprint

October 31, 2019 by  
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On the border between Italy and France, a new alpine shelter with breathtaking views has been gently placed atop a remote landscape. Paolo Carradini and his family tapped Michele Versaci and Andrea Cassi to craft an all-black mountain hut to honor the memory of their son, Matteo, a passionate mountaineer. Named the Bivacco Matteo Corradini, the sculptural dwelling was prefabricated off-site in modules, transported by helicopter and reassembled on the construction site to minimize site impact. Located a few meters from the Dormillouse summit in the upper Valle di Susa, the Bivacco Matteo Corradini — also known as the black body mountain shelter — is placed at an altitude of nearly 3,000 meters. The hexagonal dwelling is wrapped in a black metal shell engineered to protect the alpine building from extreme weather conditions, shed snow and absorb solar radiation, while insulation ensures comfort in both winter and summer. Its angular form also takes inspiration from the landscape and mimics the shape of a dark boulder. The interior is constructed from Swiss pine , a material valued for its malleability and scent that is typically used in Alpine communities for crafting cradles and surfaces in bedrooms. The compact interior is organized around a central table with three large wooden steps on either side. These steps serve as sleeping platforms at night and function as seating during the day. Two large windows frame views of the outdoors and funnel light into the structure.  Related: This Norwegian alpine cabin fits together like a 3D timber puzzle “The volume rests on the ground for a quarter of its lower surface so as to adapt to the slope, while limiting soil consumption,” explain the designers of the prefab shelter in a press release. “Reversibility and environmental sustainability are key points of the project: a light and low-impact installation. The optimization of weights and shapes made assembly at high altitudes quick and easy and minimized helicopter transport.” + Andrea Cassi + Michele Versaci Images via Andrea Cassi and Michele Versaci

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Prefab alpine shelter boasts phenomenal views and a small footprint

California approves rule to require solar panels on new houses

December 12, 2018 by  
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The California Building Standards Commission has given its final approval to a new housing rule that is the first of its kind in the United States. Starting in 2020, the commission is requiring that all new homes built in the state include solar panels. “These provisions really are historic and will be a beacon of light for the rest of the country,” said commissioner Kent Sasaki. “[It’s] the beginning of substantial improvement in how we produce energy and reduce the consumption of fossil fuels .” Related: California waters could open soon to offshore wind farms In addition to the solar panel requirement, the new standard also includes an incentive for homeowners to add a high-capacity battery to their electrical system to store the sun’s energy. The rule does have an exemption for homes that are built in locations that are often in the shade. California has a history of setting trends across the country, and this new rule is the next step in the state’s progressive environmental policy. The state has a goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions and drawing all of its electricity from renewable energy sources. The California Energy Commission first endorsed the solar panel rule back in May as part of California’s Green Building Standards Code. This past week, the Building Standards Commission added the requirement with a unanimous vote. Drew Bohan, executive director of the energy commission, said that the homes built under the new rule should use about 50 percent less energy compared to previous standards. The new solar power requirement is for single-family homes and multi-family buildings up to three stories high. It will add about $10,000 to the upfront cost of a home, but the lower electricity bills should balance that out over time. Bohan said that over the course of a 30-year mortgage, a homeowner should save about $19,000. Homeowners will have the option of buying the panels outright, leasing them or taking part in a power purchase agreement with the home builder. Via NPR Image via Ulleo

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California approves rule to require solar panels on new houses

Minimalist TRIPTYCH house pulls the Quebec outdoors in

December 12, 2018 by  
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Nestled in the Laurentian Mountains about a hundred kilometers from Montreal is TRIPTYCH, a crisp and contemporary home that blurs the boundaries of indoor and outdoor living. Designed by Montreal-based architecture firm yh2 , the residence was built in the image of three interconnected pavilions fitted out in a natural material palette as well as full-height glazing to pull the forested landscape indoors. Envisioned as a “theatrical stage for the surrounding nature,” the sculptural abode was carefully situated and angled for optimized views accentuated by the roofs that slope upwards in three directions. Constructed over the span of two years in Wentworth-Nord, Quebec, TRIPTYCH includes 2,500 square feet of living space spread out across two floors. The main living spaces—comprising an open-plan kitchen, dining room, and living room—are centrally located on the first floor in addition to an office, spacious outdoor terrace, and a guest suite located in the west wing. The master bedroom, on the other hand, is found on the ground floor’s east wing beneath the living room and is separated from the interior parking garage on the east end by centrally located storage and utility rooms. “The architects designed this building with a classical triptych in mind,” explains the firm in their project statement. “It features a central piece, with direct views of Lac St-Cyr, and two side pavilions meant to be in more intimate contact with the nearby trees. The project is about the idea of fragmentation; it evolved from the desire to integrate three discrete shapes among existing trees on naturally sloping grounds.” The three pavilions are connected with two glassed-in passageways. Related: Decrepit lumberjack shack transformed into a beautiful retreat with minimal site impact Natural materials were predominately used in construction. Eastern cedar planks clad the exterior facade and continue into the entrance area to blur the line between the indoors and out. The interior walls and ceiling are mainly gypsum board or white cedar while the floors are white oak or polished concrete. Black aluminum casings on the wide patio doors and windows provide a pop of contrast against the light-colored wood. + yh2 Photo credit: Maxime Brouillet

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Minimalist TRIPTYCH house pulls the Quebec outdoors in

Solar-powered modular retreat design in Melbourne inspired by the local landscape

December 12, 2018 by  
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A family’s wish to spend time in a self-sufficient weekend home has resulted in a beautiful modular design. Located just southeast of Melbourne, the solar-powered Fish Creek Home is a prefab design, comprised of two Archiblox modules that boast various sustainable features that make the home completely energy efficient. The large home, which is 1,371 square feet, is clad in corrugated Colorbond in a slate grey color. A wooden pergola and wrap-around deck are made out of natural timber panels . Built to reduce impact on the landscape, the interior space is comprised of just two elongated modules, the main living area and the bedrooms. The sleeping module was oriented to the northwest to protect it from the wind. Strategic skylights allow for stunning night sky views. Butting up to a lush green forest, this part of the home is calm and quiet, the perfect atmosphere to enjoy a soak in the private outdoor bathtub that sits on the deck. Related: Australia’s first carbon-positive prefab house produces more energy than it consumes The living module was orientated to the North to make the most out of the amazing sea views. Multiple floor-to-ceiling glass facades and windows flood the interior living space with natural light . A pair of large sliding doors open up to a wrap around deck, creating a seamless connection between the indoors and outdoors. The two spaces are connected by sliding doors that can close to provide a noise barrier between the rooms. Additionally, closing the wall allows the home to minimize heat loss in the wintertime. The home’s beautiful design is not only pleasing to the eye, but also hides a powerhouse system of sustainability . The home runs on a rooftop solar power array. Operable windows and doors throughout the home provide optimal cross ventilation while a wood-burning fireplace keeps the energy use down in wintertime. Additionally, the home was installed with a rainwater collection system to reduce water waste. The landscaping around the home was left in its natural state, with expansive stretches of greenery that lead out to the sea. The homeowners plan to use this space to create a permaculture edible garden so that their home is 100 percent sustainable. + Archiblox Via Dwell Images via Archiblox

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Solar-powered modular retreat design in Melbourne inspired by the local landscape

INFOGRAPHIC: The challenges and benefits of autonomous vehicles

August 4, 2016 by  
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Autonomous vehicles have finally come of age and will revolutionize the way people commute by improving traffic flow, easing road travel hassles and improving road safety. But to achieve these goals, the autonomous vehicle industry will have to overcome a host of legal, ethical and engineering challenges. To learn more, checkout this infographic created by Ohio University’s Online Masters in Electrical Engineering degree program. + Ohio University

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INFOGRAPHIC: The challenges and benefits of autonomous vehicles

Super Bowl power outage sheds light on smart grid

February 5, 2013 by  
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The 34-minute blackout was a potent reminder of the electrical grid's vulnerability and how energy management startups are poised to prevent future outages.

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Super Bowl power outage sheds light on smart grid

Dominion and FuelCell Energy to Build North America’s Largest Fuel Cell Power Plant in Connecticut

December 18, 2012 by  
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Dominion , a large energy company based in Virginia, and FuelCell Energy Inc. (FCE), a Connecticut manufacturer of fuel cell power plants, have announced that they will be developing the largest fuel cell power plant in North America. Located in Bridgeport, Conn., the plant will use a clean-tech process to transform natural gas into electricity. The 14.9 megawatt facility will produce enough electricity for about 15,000 homes delivered through a local micro-grid. Read the rest of Dominion and FuelCell Energy to Build North America’s Largest Fuel Cell Power Plant in Connecticut Permalink | Add to del.icio.us | digg Post tags: clean , connecticut , Dominion , electrical , fuel cell , FuelCell , generation , power plant , renewable , renewable energy

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Dominion and FuelCell Energy to Build North America’s Largest Fuel Cell Power Plant in Connecticut

Self-Healing Circuits Could Lead to Longer-Lasting Electronics

December 21, 2011 by  
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A team of engineers at the University of Illinois have figured out how to create self-healing circuits in electronics and batteries, a discovery that could lead to longer equipment life and make a nice dent in the piles of e-waste plaguing the planet. As electronics have become more complex, one small circuit failure can render a device useless, especially since it is hard or often impossible to diagnose where that failure occurred to fix it. Nancy Sottos, an engineer working on the project said: “In general there’s not much avenue for manual repair. Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure.” The solution her team came up with was an army of microcapsules about 10 microns in diameter dispersed along a circuit. When a crack occurs in the circuit, the microcapsules break open and release a liquid metal that fills in the crack and restores the electrical flow. The time between a failure and the microcapsules filling the crack is only a few microseconds. In tests, 90 percent of the samples were healed to 99 percent of their original conductivity. It also require zero human intervention. Only the microcapsules intercepted by a crack opened while the others remained intact. The engineers see this breakthrough as especially useful for air and spacecraft where miles of conductive wire would have to be gone through to diagnose a failure. The team, which originally used microcapsules to create self-healing polymers, want to see what other applications they may have. via Physorg

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Self-Healing Circuits Could Lead to Longer-Lasting Electronics

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