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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy

From Andrew Hargadon’s blog:
Green Technology Entrepreneurship Academy
June 28 - July 2, 2010 @ the Tahoe Center for Environmental Science
Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Moving Sustainable Technologies Out of the Lab and into the World

The one-week intensive academy is open to science and engineering faculty, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and senior undergraduates working on research in green technologies. The academy combines seminars and networking sessions in an innovative format to help you learn how to commercialize your technology.
The workshop is presented by UC Davis. The application deadline is May 14, 2010.

For more information, see the complete posting in Prof. Hargadon’s article.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Green before our time

Last year, some of my students in my business plan class proposed creating a business to build “green” houses. They made it to the semifinals of the SVBPC, although ultimately the plan fell apart because it’s hard to start up a business building spec homes (particularly nowadays) if you don’t already have the capital to carry the houses while they are under construction. (Talking to a builder friend, the construction finance lenders have either withdrawn from the business or gone out of business).

One of the things I pushed them to do, however, is get their message straight. “Green” is so broad and vague that it doesn’t mean anything to buyers — particularly given all the drek out there in the name of green-ness. I encouraged them to focus on energy efficiency — very cost-effective and a clear message. Add a few other wrinkles, perhaps as optional features — water reclamation here, solar power there — but keep the message focused.

On Sunday, our local TV station ran a feature encouraging homeowners to buy or remodel their homes as “green,” largely focusing on energy efficiency. On the one hand, it validated my former students’ plan and the advice they came them, including the suggestion that such features could only command a 3% (or was it 2%?) premium. On the other hand, some of the ideas seemed pretty old hat. (Even ignoring that the EE story of the day was clearly the Merc’s coverage of Serious Materials’ multi-million dollar EE retrofit for the Empire State Building.)

The one that made me smirk was the suggestion that homeowners should buy a whole house fan rather than air conditioning to drastically reduce the electricity cost. Been there, done that.

The Bay Area home we bought in 2002 didn’t come with air conditioning, and summer heat was certainly a problem. The average high in July-August is usually around 85°, but many days are over 90° and 10-15 days a year it’s above 100°. As with most of California (except the Central Valley), hot days are rarely humid.

So before our first full summer, we installed two whole house fans, and nearly seven years later, we couldn’t be happier. It’s perhaps difficult to go to sleep 3 or 4 days a year — when the temperature remains above 80° after 9pm — but otherwise the fan (and good insulation) solves most of our cooling needs. Perhaps a few more days, I decide to work downstairs after 2pm rather than in my office, but with a laptop that’s no great loss (particularly since my least productive part of the day is between 1-5pm.)

What I’m particularly proud is that we were the first on our block to get a high-efficiency, (relatively) low noise whole-house fan, the 1000 CFM Tamarack Technologies HV1000. The fan had three winning features:
  • It was much quieter than a standard whole house fan.
  • It was almost trivial to install, because it fits between the ceiling joists.
  • Unlike most fans, with a self-closing R38 cap it doesn’t leak out warm air in the winter.
The PBS tv show “This Old House” featured the faster, noisier HV1600, but we decided to go with two smaller HV1000 fans in our 2F hallway. It gives us better control over the air flow, and it’s possible to sleep at night with only one fan running.

The fans were about $500 apiece, and they don’t seem to be much more expensive today. If I recall, it was about a day’s worth of labor to cut the ceiling, run the wires, and install the switch.

When we retire back to Oceanside in 10 or 20 years, we probably won’t need a whole house fan given that the temperature rarely reaches 90°. However, if we were to relocate to another part of California, I would certainly order more of the fans as a cost-effective, energy-efficient solution. (The one exception would be Palm Springs, where I’d check out the efficiency of the swamp coolers we used in my childhood rather than conventional AC.)