Environment Forum

Is this the greenest office on Earth?

Every workstation has a view. Much of the lighting comes from reflected sunshine. It’s so naturally quiet that unobtrusive speakers pipe in “white noise” to preserve a level of privacy. The windows open, and they’re shaded in such a way that there’s no glare. Even with the windows closed, fresh air circulates through vents in the floor. Extreme recycling prevails, not just of bottles, cans and kitchen refuse but beetle-blighted wood.

Welcome to the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which contains some of the greenest office space on the planet.

NREL’s headquarters in Golden, Colorado, is also the home to cutting-edge research on biofuels, photo-voltaics for solar power and other renewable energy technology, but the physical plant is a living lab for green building. At $63 million, or $259 per square foot for its construction cost, including interiors and furniture, the Research Support Facility as it is called, was hardly cheap to build. But with 220,000 square feet of space, it is the biggest energy efficient building in the United States.

The recycling is evident at the entrance, which is decorated with angled wall panels made of golden-colored pine. Look more closely and you see a bluish tinge on the wood, from fungus that grew after the pine tree that formed the lumber was attacked by pine beetles. A warming climate in the Western U.S. has enabled pine beetles to survive winters and reproduce to assault pine forests.

This building is highly energy efficient, but it still is responsible for some climate-warming carbon emissions because of some of the construction materials and emissions from vehicles and equipment used to put the building together. It offsets most of the energy it uses by drawing on electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

New Jersey has best payback on residential solar in U.S.

California may be the Golden State, but it’s New Jersey where U.S. residents get the best deal on their solar power systems, new research shows.

A survey by Global Solar Centertried to give an “apples to apples” comparison for the cost of solar power in all 50 states, the center’s chairman Jack Hidary told Reuters.

The common denominator turned out to be the cash payback, or how many years it would take a residential or commercial customer to recoup their investment and start seeing real savings, Hidary said.
“That takes into account the cost of the system, the sun at that spot, the incentives of that region, utility rates. It blends in everything all together,” Hidary said.

Another reason for bats to like Halloween

bat1.JPGHalloween is just around the corner, and it may be better than most years for one of Earth’s most unpopular species: the bat. 

Something sinister is happening to bats in the United States — not only are their numbers declining due to a mysterious malady, but large numbers of them are also being caught mid-flight in the spinning wind turbines that are cropping up rapidly across the nation.

The furry flying critters may get help this month thanks to an unlikely group of conservationists, wind energy companies and the U.S. government, who say they are undertaking a big effort to lower the number of bats killed by wind turbine blades.

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