Emerging Trends and Technologies in High Performance Buildings

As we move into March of Twenten, we find winter begrudgingly winding down and tax season winding up. This time of year also brings with it one of the my favorite regional conferences, Greenprints. While small in scale in terms of exhibition, this conference consistently has some of the best industry speakers this side of Greenbuild.

I was fortunate to attend a session with one of the most knowledgeable professionals on the latest in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible design trends: BuildingGreen and Environmental Building News' Alex Wilson. You may recall my white paper on Trends in the Green Product Market, entitled GROWING GREEN, which was inspired by Wilson's presentation of the Top Ten Green Products at my first Greenbuild a few years ago.

Being a technology and gadget junkie immersed in the building products industry, I find Wilson's insights highly fascinating, valuable and relevant both personally and professionally. I gobble up his astute awareness and foresight much like our office does chocolate and candy. If you missed Wilson's talk on Emerging Trends and Technologies in High Performance Buildings at the 2010 Greenprints conference, allow me to share with you what I learned.


With the severe country-wide droughts well in our rear-view, the importance of H2O can easily be overloooked in the big picture. If there was a silver lining to the water shortage of a couple years ago, it was a heightened awareness of water as a finite resource, driving innovation in water efficient products and technologies. Wilson predicts that water could become as big a challenge as energy in the future - citing that 23% of U.S. power is generated via hydropower and that 40% of the fresh water in the U.S. is used to cool power plants. It's scary to imagine where we might be without adequate water supply, and I think these statistics put into perspective how valuable this resource is.

Wilson continued to give some examples of cutting edge faucets, fixtures, and rainwater harvesting products that help to conserve water, which I won't plug here because none of them are our clients. However, I was interested in the irrigation control technology he mentioned that predicts the need for watering based on feedback relayed from weather satellites. What a simple yet brilliant application of existing technology. This reminded me of the story from last year about the plant that uses twitter to tell its owner when it needs to be watered, Pothos. I was further impressed to hear from Robyn Zurfluh of Smith Dalia Architects, who has several ongoing LEED targeted restoration projects on Atlanta's own Piedmont Park, that this technology, among other water conservation methods, is being employed in the park.


Wilson says that significant boosts in the productivity of oil and gas extraction has lessened the influence peak oil has had on driving energy efficiency. He expects that the top influencer to reduced fossil fuel use will instead be the threat of climate change, showing scientific models that forecast a drastic increase in temperatures and rising sea levels across the U.S. should we continue at our current rate of consumption. Say all you want about the Jersey Shore or South Beach, but the world would not be the same without them.

Prior to joining Function:, the acronym CHP would made me think of that Erik Estrada guy on a motorcycle. Now I tend to think of the building rating system for schools similar to LEED. Wilson didn't talk about the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) or The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPs), and instead discussed something new to me: CHP, which stands for Combined Heat and Power. Apparently two-thirds of energy produced from power plants is lost as thermal waste, which I find appalling. According to Wilson, some European countries like Sweden are taking advantage of this heat byproduct and using it as a resource - to make hot water for circulation to homes and businesses, for example. Also called co-generation, this concept is being propelled by tax policy that incentivizes change, taxing heavily coal-burning plants and pollutants associated with them. If we are to be the leader in new energy technologies like President Obama wants us to be, we need to be on the forefront of these types of advancements.

Wilson continued on, drilling into specific energy conserving innovations across several different product categories, including thermal energy storage, lighting, solar energy and photovoltaics. The most striking takeaway here was a new solar technology that recently debuted in Phoenix, Arizona at the Maricopa Solar power plant. This innovation converts solar energy into grid quality electricity without use of water. What I didn't know is that typical solar power systems capture and apply heat energy to water, creating steam, which spins turbines to generate electricity. Seems kind of archaic "in light" of this new technology, right? Not only is it saving water but it solves the water supply dilemma intrinsic with the location of solar power leading states in the western U.S. Also interesting is the advancement of integrating Photovoltaic (PV) systems into new building components such a glazing.


Did you know that people spend 90% of their time indoors and recent studies have indicated that air pollution levels inside buildings can be up to 100 times higher than those outdoors? There has been so much focus on preserving our environment and natural resources that unfortunately our own health is sometimes an afterthought in creating the structures we occupy. Thankfully, companies such as The GREENGUARD Environmental Institute (GEI) are leading efforts to protect human health and quality of life through programs that reduce chemical exposure and improve indoor air quality.

During his session, Wilson mentioned that President Obama is addressing IAQ through amendments to the Toxic Substances Control Act, perhaps encouraging the much-needed shift in the onus of using hazardous chemicals from the public to the manufacturer. As awareness increases of the detrimental effects of the chemicals used in manufacturing processes, fire retardants and other hazardous compounds are expected to eventually be phased out (and hopefully not replaced with a similar but less studied chemical per usual).

Special thanks to Alex Wilson for providing another engaging lecture and to Southface, for your dedication to encouraging green building and design awareness in Atlanta and the southeast.

ted hettick

business development manager
we’re into building things through marketing, design and public relations

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ted!

    Many thanks for the kind words about the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute. The more we raise awareness about the importance of indoor air quality (IAQ) and its impact on human health, the better!

    Feel free to visit our Web site (www.greenguard.org) to learn more about IAQ and tips on how you can improve it. While there, you can also check out our free online product guide, which helps you find products that have been GREENGUARD Certified for low chemical emissions.

    Thanks, again, for helping to raise awareness about this very important issue!

    Rachel R. Belew
    Public Relations & Communications Manager
    GREENGUARD Environmental Institute


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