|Going green – by the barrel and the board|
|Written by Mary Beth Hislop - Town Crier Staff Writer|
|Wednesday, 02 April 2008|
There may not be consensus that Earth’s atmosphere is warming, but that’s not keeping governments, groups and individuals from taking decisive action to assess their energy consumption and adopt sustainable strategies in conservation for the future of the planet.
As Earth Day, April 22, approaches, event coordinators are encouraging citizens to deluge Congress with phone calls on that day, insisting that lawmakers enact legislation promoting renewable energy and carbon-neutral buildings and calling for a moratorium on new coal-burning plants.
But two Los Altos residents aren’t waiting for action from Congress. If Marvin Bush and Kacey Fitzpatrick have something to say about what’s to come in the 39th year of Earth Day celebrations, it’s that a green movement can spur a green economy.
By the barrel
In 2006 California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act. The act mandates that emissions levels be reduced by specific years – by 2020, the state is targeting emissions reductions to 1990 levels, a 25 percent decrease.
According to a 2007 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based non-profit working for a healthier environment, the transportation sector is the largest source of global-warming emissions in California, and new standards for vehicles will be needed for the state to reach mandated goals.
Los Altos resident Bush may be able to help. Bush is founder, president and CEO of Adura Systems Inc., headquartered in Los Altos, which is expanding serial plug-in hybrid technology to buses. The savings could be substantial.
“We’re not looking at incremental technologies to improve fuel consumption by 20 percent,” Bush said. “We’re looking at leapfrog technologies that improve fuel consumption greater than 300 percent.”
With graduate work in computer science and business and experience working with software that facilitates the design and manufacture of integrated circuits and electrical systems, Bush said, “We’re extending a commercially viable platform. This is the right background for next-generation electric-powered vehicles.”
Serial hybrids are very different from hybrids on the road now.
“In a parallel hybrid, like a Prius, all of the power is derived from fuel,” Bush said. “The only way it creates electricity is through braking. The stored electrical power in batteries enables the gas engine to turn off at stoplights, provide electrical takeoff and assist on hill climbs.”
However, he said the Prius’ electric range is limited to a few miles, and while it works well in city driving, the car’s power for freeway driving comes from the gas engine.
“A serial hybrid is very different,” he said. “It is essentially a pure electric vehicle with an onboard generator.”
Bush said power comes from electricity stored in batteries. The batteries can be recharged by running the generator or plugging into a wall overnight when electrical rates are lower.
“Instead of relying on fuel to power the vehicle, we rely on electricity for many miles of emissions-free driving,” Bush said. “Because they are using mostly electric power while driving, the total emission output is dramatically reduced.”
Fuel is used to power the generator to recharge batteries and power the vehicle while driving during a recharge, he said.
With 80 percent of fuel usage attributed to trucks and buses by 2035, Bush has believers in the People’s Republic of China who want to reduce emissions and decrease their reliance on foreign oil – they have mandated building one bus for every 10,000 people.
“Sixteen of the top 20 most-polluted cities in the world are in China,” he said. “Our vision and China’s need are a perfect match.”
Bush estimates that serial hybrid technology can reduce fuel costs for buses – from 61 cents per mile to less than 20 cents per mile.
“In both cases, there are dramatic improvements in fuel economy,” he said, “better than 300 percent improvement. This also works out to saving over $45,000 in fuel costs per 100,000 miles for a medium-duty bus. The impact of these savings is huge to local mass transportation.”
And with chemical and particulate emissions that exceed California emissions standards and Euro V, Europe’s emission standards, the clean technology of the serial hybrid will meet those standards for years to come,. China’s first prototype is expected to roll in six months, Bush said.
Bush has not marketed the serial hybrid bus in the Bay Area yet, but he’d like to.
“Timing for clean technology is now,” Bush said. “While industries have matured and bubbled, clean tech will provide us decades of opportunities. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in technology that can better our environment – and our lives.”
By the board
California’s Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings were established in 1978 in response to a legislative mandate to reduce California’s energy consumption, Title 24 Part 6 of the California Code of Regulations. But it is Kacey Fitzpatrick’s love of nature, not a mandate, that spurs the Los Altos resident to focus her energy on designing sustainable housing.
“Title 24 is great, but we can do even better than … the legal minimum,” Fitzpatrick said. “I can design a building to be greater than 50 percent better than Title 24, and I try to do that whenever I can.”
When she established Avalon Enterprises Inc. in 1994, Fitzpatrick said she wanted to incorporate her skills in architectural design and construction with sustainability.
In those early years, Fitzpatrick said this was a difficult task.
“It mostly involved deconstruction, instead of demolition,” she said, “and using salvaged materials, recycled-content materials, as well as passive-solar design. Green building materials and technologies have come a long way since then.”
Motivated by the birth of her son four years ago and concerns about climate change, Fitzpatrick today exclusively designs eco-friendly, single-family homes or whole house remodels.
“Someday my son’s generation will grow up and ask of our generation, ‘How could you know about the climate crisis and not do something about it?’” Fitzpatrick said.
And green homes aren’t necessarily more expensive than conventional homes, she said.
“Passive-solar heating and natural ventilation are the starting points of sustainable design,” Fitzpatrick said, “and they offer the best return on investment because they are virtually free.”
Consumers may want a green home, but they need someone to give them options, Fitzpatrick said. A building is considered “green” when the materials, methods and technologies used respect the environment for the long term, she said.
“Cork and bamboo flooring are considered sustainable because they both renew themselves naturally in less than 10 years,” she said.
Fitzpatrick uses materials that require less maintenance. Prefinished fiberglass windows combine energy efficiency, durability and low-impact manufacturing. Strategic design of the plumbing system can save water and electricity, and sources of natural light throughout can minimize the use of electricity for lighting.
More importantly, green homes are healthier.
“Green-built homes typically have healthier materials in them that do not off-gas so much formaldehyde, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other toxic chemicals, common in conventional building products,” she said.
With increasing energy prices, media attention and former Vice President Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” Fitzpatrick said consumer awareness has increased, particularly in the past two years.
“For many years, it was an uphill battle to convince anyone to do green – they just didn’t get it,” she said.
For consumers who want to build a green home, Fitzpatrick said it is critical to work with certified green building professionals. Fitzpatrick is a certified green building professional and a green points rater through Build It Green.
The U.S. Green Building Council has developed a green-buildings rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, of which she is also an accredited professional. She incorporates both their guidelines in her designs, she said.
Fitzpatrick doesn’t stop at talking the talk and walking the walk in her business. Her home, which she designed, has bamboo flooring, a tankless water heater, solar panels and an organic vegetable garden. She composts, recycles, bags groceries with reusable canvas bags and drives a hybrid.
Her passion for all things green motivated Fitzpatrick to found Cool Los Altos, a grassroots environmental group that played an instrumental role in encouraging Los Altos to adopt the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and commit to creating a local climate action plan.
“We just can’t underestimate the importance of building sustainability in regard to climate change,” Fitzpatrick said. “This is my real motivator every day – wanting a better future for my son and knowing I can make a difference.”
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