With the advent of LEED, Green Globe, and a myriad of other real estate-related energy conservation programs, interest in new building-applicable technology abounds. New products continue to bombard the investor and building owner, many of which, it seems, are destined to be outmoded before they gain acceptability. Some, however, have the potential of impacting the “green building” market for years to come. We’ve put together a list of the new products that we at Merritt & Harris, Inc. believe have the potential of piquing the energy-conscious building owner ‘s curiosity during 2011.
Improvements and innovations in solar energy equipment seem to be continuous. In recent years the advent of BIPV (building integrated photovoltaics) have given the conservation engineers exciting new tools. The BIPVs are lightweight and flexible and can be applied to almost any exterior building material, including structural fabric. The benefit of the new BIPVs, aside from their lightweight and flexibility, is that they require fewer system components and electrical connections and, therefore, less labor to install.
The most interesting solar innovation in the renewable energy segment may be the advancement of the organic photovoltaic(OPV) technology originally developed by Xiaomei Jiang, a University of South Florida physicist. An OPV product called SolarWindow™ by New Energy Technologies Inc. of Maryland is a patent-pending sprayed-on film that uses the world’s smallest functional solar cells (1/4 the size of a grain of rice). The ultra-thin film only slightly diminishes the transparency of glass (similar to tinting, a plus in sunny climates) and does not require the high temperature application or vacuum deposition process that other thin films require. Because of the OPV’s superior optical absorption capacity, there is no need to “point” the cells directly at the sun. For this reason New Energy Technologies Inc. envisions turning the entire glass surface of a high rise building into a solar collection site. According to Renewable Energy World.com, engineers modeled a 40-story building in Tampa and estimated that SolarWindow™ would result in a cost savings of $40,000 to $70,000/year, which they contrasted with a polycrystalline silcon aray on the roof that would produce a $20,000 energy savings/year. If this technology proves to be commercially viable and its efficiency can approach acceptablility, this will indeed be a hot product in the future.
The same New Energy Technologies Inc. is currently testing another interesting product. MotionPower™ harnesses excess vehicle energy (kinetic or rolling energy) and converts it to electricity. The collection device resembles a speed bump with a flat plate attached and is located where vehicles are rolling to a stop, such as at drive thru lanes, stop streets, toll booths, and similar locations. The manufacturer anticipates that MotionPower ™ devices placed at toll lanes will provide enough sustainable electricity to power the toll plaza.
Johnson Controls’ new York Model YK-EP Energy Plus 8,800 to 11,200 kW capacity chiller, can use entering condenser water temperatures as low as 55°F during off-design conditions. OptiSpeed™, an optional variable-speed drive, is touted by the manufacturer to save another 30% each year.
There is no doubt that any discussion of energy-conservative lighting has to conclude with light emitting diodes (LED bulbs). With a product that uses 80% less energy and lasts 50 times longer than a conventional incandescent bulb, there exists no reasonable argument regarding the efficiency of LEDs. The drawback for many is the current initial cost. A 60 watt equivalent indoor soft white LED is listed at $39.98 at Lowes in Brooklyn. NY, although less expensive deals can be found online. But the LED bulb industry is really in its infancy and the prices still reflect the high research and development costs. LEDs are available in tube configurations that allow the replacement of standard T-series florescent bulbs in existing light fixtures. We can expect that cost will reduce significantly in the near future. Even at today’s prices, however, the direct energy savings and heat load reduction can make the payback period reasonable.
One drawback for LED lighting has been its inability to be dimmed using in-place traditional dimming switches. LED bulbs are either on or off, and reducing the power, as occurs when dimmers (rectifiers) lower incandescent light levels, has no effect on the LED bulb until it goes out due to insufficient power. Cree Lighting, however, has developed LED bulbs that are dimmable to 20% of their original brightness using standard residential dimmers. This represents a big step forward for residential usage and lighting design.
Strange, but true
While the previous predictions for 2011 are extensions of on-going technologies, this one is, to say the least, different. NewScientist.com reported the discovery that the use of urine as an energy source may advance the technology of hydrogen fuel cells. It seems that the power of liquid waste comes from urea contained in the urine. Because the hydrogen atoms in urea are less strongly bonded than those in water, less energy is required to separate them. Hydrogen, therefore, can be harvested using less energy than separating out hydrogen from water by traditional means. Scientists have been able to reduce the energy required in the separation process from 1.23v to just 0.37v. The result is a significant reduction in cost and a giant step in the development of feasible hydrogen fuel cells. Those same scientists estimate that a 300-person office can generate approximately 2 watts of power a day. Using the same formula, a hi-rise office building could generate a significant amount of power. In the future, workers may hear a loud speaker announcement like this one, “The air conditioning is using more power today – drink more coffee.”