Chevy Installs Green Zone Power Stations Nationwide

Chevy goes major on it push for electric car production by harnessing the power of the sun to install solar-powered electric charging stations for its Volts at dealerships in North America.  The Green Zone initiative will generate electricity equivalent to 12 full vehicle charges per day and excess electricity created will help supplement the dealership's power needs.

Stated in PR Newswire, "The Chevrolet Green Zone will provide our U.S. dealers with added flexibility when it comes to charging their vehicles, while also reinforcing GM's commitment to renewable energy projects, "said Chris Perry, vice president, Global Chevrolet Marketing and Strategy.

American Chevrolet in Modesto, California, and Al Serra Auto Plaza in Grand Blanc, Michigan, are the first U.S. dealerships to complete their solar charging capability by installing Green Zones on their property.  Each canopy generates enough electricity for up to 4,500 charges per vehicle annually.  Enough renewable energy to power two to three homes per year is provided by just one of these canopies.  Perhaps we should all invest in solar car ports with our electric car purchases?

The Chevy Green Zone Initiative is part of GM Ventures' recent announcement to invest $7.5 million in Sunlogics, a solar panel manufacturing and development company that will supply the panels and install the dealer charging stations.  Both American Chevrolet and Al Serra Chevrolet partnered with Sunlogics for installation of their Green Zones.

 GM is the leading user of renewable energy in automotive manufacturing.  It has three of the largest automotive rooftop solar power installations in the United States, and the world's largest rooftop solar installation at its car assembly plant in Zaragoza, Spain.  Additionally, GM has started construction on a new solar field at its Detroit-Hamtramck facility and completed construction on a solar array on top of its Baltimore Operations facility.

From Concrete Fortress to Solar Palace

When we think of parking lots and garages typically a first thought may be a large blank wall of concrete, disconnection from the neighborhood, dead streets, waste of good real estate, would be better below grade, or any other hundred issues you can think of.  These vast surfaces take up hundreds of acres throughout our nations cities, suburban malls, and shopping centers, often times half full with cars baking for hours in the sun.  Imagine harnessing all of that energy wasted on baking cars day after day and using it to feed our energy grids.  A handful of energy companies have actually taken to this idea and installed large canopies of solar grids raised above parking, serving a double purpose as an energy producer and shade for parked cars.

University of California San Diego Parking Structure

Modular installations like EEPro's Solar Carport and Envision Solar's Solar Grove turn barren lots into solar farms via photovoltaic shade structures, generating energy while keeping carls cool and, in some cases, providing charging stations for electric vehicles.  A smart compromise that gives good purpose to these otherwise wasteful places.


Philadelphia's Garden City Progress

Long ago William Penn set out to plan his "Green Country Town", Philadelphia, which has quickly over the past decades faded from green to grey and black, with growing development depleting urban forest, paving of natural surfaces in residential areas, and lack of tree planting compared with growth of development.  Philadelphia has large swaths of land where asphalt and concrete predominate and tree and lawn cover is hard to find.  This is why the program to reforest the city is so important and revolutionary.

Philadelphia's ambitious tree planting initiative is to plan 300,000 trees over the next five years and to double the city's tree canopy by 2026.  Unfortunately the plan may be too ambitious due to City Council opposition last year of $2.5 million for tree planting allocated for the Department of Recreation's budget.  But, according to Patrick Morgan of the Recreation Department, there is still $2.5 million set aside in the city's budget for tree planting, plus $1.6 million in federal stimulus funds to pay for a year-long project to use laser technology to map with precision the city's tree canopy from the air.

Trees are ecological machines working as part of a global engine that powers our planet.  They remove pollutants from the air, absorb the runoff of storm water, thereby reducing the likelihood of floods or the necessity of building storm water holding tanks to manage sudden accumulation of water ( ever hear of a forest flooding?).  Trees also reduce the "heat island" effect, which occurs in dense urban environments where concrete and asphalt surfaces trap radiant heat, heating the air from the ground surface raising temperatures higher than necessary.  Remember last friday July 22, temperatures were well over 100, and even with total overcast of cloud cover you could still feel the heat rising from the sidewalk beneath you, not something you want to go through every day.  This is the reason the temperature is always several degrees higher in Philadelphia than in northern and western suburbs.

Overall, Philadelphia's tree canopy is much lower than its urban counterparts.  Tree cover in Philadelphia amounts to 15.7 percent of the city.  New York and Baltimore average 21 percent; Boston 22 percent; Washington D.C. 28 percent; and Atlanta 37 percent, according to the National Forest Service.

The ideal is a 30% tree canopy, according to Alan Jaffe of the Horticultural Society, and the goal of the tree initiative is to take it to that level over time.  This would mean doubling the existing inventory, estimated to be 1.5 million trees in parks and natural locations and about 130,000 trees now planted on city streets.  The problem is that Philadelphia's tree canopy is poorly distributed.  zit is dense in some areas, mainly close to parks and almost non-existent in others.  Philadelphia's most tree populous neighborhoods are Chestnut Hill and Germantown.  The most sparse sections are Central North Philadelphia and South Philadelphia.

South Philadelphia

Chestnut Hill/ Germantown

Street trees are expensive and require a lot of maintenance during the first year of planting.  A tree can cost up to $500 to plant, depending on whether sidewalks need to be cut and how many are planted at one time< trees cost less when purchases at nurseries in bulk.  During the first year of a tree's planted life, deep-soil watering with 15 to 20 gallons per tree on a weekly basis is crucial.

Significant Benefits of Trees

Aside from their tremendous boost to aesthetics and peace of mind in beautifying streets and neighborhoods, increasing tree cover in urban areas has many serious advantages.  Added benefits of a healthy substantial tree population include; significantly improving air quality (the US Forest Service estimates that 100 trees remove 1.2 tons of CO2 per year and 130 pounds of other pollutants); reducing home air-conditioning costs by as much as 30%; adding an additional 10% to property value per large tree on your lawn; improving physical health and preventing flooding by capturing rain water and filtering out impurities.


Bloomberg Thinks Beyond Coal

The New York Times reports that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York announced on Thursday that his main charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies, would donate $50 million over four years to the Sierra Club's campaign to shut down coal plants and move the United States toward cleaner sources of energy.

Appearing with the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, near a coal plant in Alexandria, VA., Mr. Bloomberg said he hoped that his gift would help the environmental group retire as many as a third of the nation's oldest coal-fired power plants by 2020.  Coal provides nearly half of the nation's electricity but is also responsible for roughly a third of the country's output of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering greenhouse gases, as well as millions of tons a year of pollutants that damage human health and the environment.

"If we are going to get serious about reducing our carbon footprint in the United States, we have to get serious about coal," Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. "Coal is a self-inflicted public health risk, polluting the air we breathe, adding mercury to our water and the leading cause of climate disruption.

The campaign's goal is to cut electricity production from coal by 30 percent by 2020 and to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent.  The new money will be used to expand the club's campaign to 45 states from the current 15 and increase the member base to 2.4 million from 1.4 million, the group said.

Since 2008 Germany constructed a 30 MW thermal pilot plant at Schwarze Pumpe called the Vattenfall project.  The plant is the world's first coal-fired power plant to use carbon capture and storage technology, in which carbon dioxide is stripped out the plant's emissions and pumped deep underground.  This "clean coal" technology has been hailed as a possible way to get cheap energy without further contributing to global warming.

The pilot plan has been in operation from the middle of 2008.  The initial testing program will run for three years.  Thereafter, the pilot plant will be available for other tests.  The plant is planned to be in operation for at least 10 years.  Critics have questioned their effectiveness in keeping emissions sealed underground.  Some experts have even wondered whether clean coal plants are a realistic option for large-scale energy production.

In the United States, companies are pursuing a different approach to clean coal, using a system called integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) that converts coal into a cleaner-burning gas before combustion.  There are currently four IGCC plants in operation in the U.S. and Europe that could produce concentrated CO2 streams suitable for capture and storage, but these plants currently vent the emissions into the atmosphere.

Transit News

SEPTA makes headway on the implementation of its new fare card system Thursday, when the SEPTA Board's administration committee reviewed a $9.2 million consulting contract with LTK Engineering Services.  LTK will be providing management support for the contract and assist in task like testing out smart card equipment both in the front and back ends of the system.

Money to pay for the contract will come out of a $175 million loan fund administered by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. that will also pay for the construction and installation of the system itself.  That contract, expected to cost about $100 million, is still expected to be awarded by the end of the summer.  Meanwhile SEPTA is waiting for a report by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, which is consulting stakeholders on how the regional rail system will operate with the new fare card.  

It should take several years before the system is fully operational.  Several years is too long considering how out of date we are compared to our sister cities, New York and D.C.  This should have been an issue 10 years ago. To think that we will probably have to wait until 2014 before we see at least a smart card system for city transit is unthinkable.  We should be tapping our credit cards or paying with mobile phones by then.  Philadelphia has to do better than this....


Stade de Foret

The French embark on a brand new state of the art stadium in Bordeaux, France.  The 40,000 seat stadium designed by Herzog & de Meuron and landscape design by Michel Desvigne is now ready to break ground.  Slated for completion in 2015 the 'Grand Stade de Bordeaux' will be located within the cit's existing green belt district.

Photos by Herzog & de Meuron

The buildings design provides a natural sense of fluidity, easily approachable from its multiple staircases at all points of the stadium and the open transition from exterior to the interior, never really enclosing itself leaving all points exposed to the elements.  A large focus of the concept incorporates the surrounding environment blending with the building, as reflected in the concave roof which is supported by a series of thin white columns, appearing like a forest of birch trees.  Home field to the FC Girondins de Bordeaux, the 'Grande Stade de Bordeaux' will also host a variety of cultural events.


Beirut Residential Tower

In Beirut, Lebanon designers of Accent Design Group creatively worked around typical sight restraints faced when building in an urban environment.  Given the possibility of having future buildings go up on two sides of the site, designers created a building that offered priceless views to all residents as well as providing a clean and aesthetic design that speaks for itself, borrowing from the historic fabric and throwing in a bit of ingenuity and sustainable practices.

The tower stands adjacent to a central transportation artery for the city of Beirut, and is situated at the nexus of two urban fabrics.  The design addresses issues of scale, unit diversity, views and zoning regulations.  The building rises as stackable glass boxes are positioned to maximize buildable area, as well as provide comfort and access to the outdoors for all residents.

Cantilevering balconies and terraces pay homage to the old urban fabric while creating a vertical neighborhood rich with panoramic views of the downtown, the city and the sea.  Shading louvers provide relief from abundant east and west sunlight while creating zones of outdoor privacy and facilitating a green screen.


Philadelphia Progresses On Greenworks Initiatives But lacks in Planning for Climate Change

As the city continues to make headway on its list of sustainable initiatives, it realizes much more still needs to be done to plan for future climate change.  At Tuesdays Planning Commission meeting, Katherine Gajewski gave a progress report on the city's environmental mission statement, Greenworks Philadelphia.  As of today 26 of the initiatives have been achieved and 109 are currently in progress.  This accounts for a majority of the initiatives.

Percy Street was recently paved with porous pavement.  The city's recycling rate, spurred along with an incentive program, has hit 30 percent, up from 5 percent three years ago.  The water department now operates a solar array.  A region-wide energy efficiency fund offers low-interest loans to residential and commercial energy efficiency projects.  An on-going retrofit of 85,000 city traffic lights with LED bulbs will save $1 million a year in utility bills and, because they require less frequent bulb changes, workers will have more time for other projects.

Summary of Greenworks Progress

Water departments solar panel

In coming months, her office will be working with other city departments and outside entities to do more.  Through a partnership with Philly Car Share, about 20 new electric vehicles will be brought into the car share fleet this fall.  Greenworks will be working with urban farmers and gardeners to make it easier to grow on vacant city lots.  The city also learned that its tree canopy cover is stronger than they thought, but still intends to plant roughly 250,000 more trees.  Because the greatest opportunity for planting is on the privately owned land of institutions and residences, the city is working on an incentive program to foster more tree planting.

Despite all of these efforts Gajewski says the city must establish a plan to deal with climate change and create " climate adaptation strategies,"  Many major cities have already looked at how they would deal with rising temperatures and water levels.  Some programs to be discussed or made public are; the water departments plan for the cities rain water collection on public thoroughfares; How the energy companies plan to tap into renewables sources like solar and wind energy in our region; SEPTA and PATCO's future plans on creating more cohesive and fluid connections throughout the tri-state area; or the Zoning Board and Planning Commissions plans to carve out designated districts for a concentration of economic growth, resources, and entertainment throughout the city.

 Philly 2035 Transit and Community growth plan

Urban wind turbine park in Southeast Asia


Transportation Apocalypse in The City of Angels

News outlets on the west coast have been busy with the unfortunate excitement of an inevitable transportation disaster cause by construction on the 405.  The traffic situation is said to be more paralyzing than an earthquake and more immobilizing than a hurricane.

Route 405 links the northern and southern parts of the greater Los Angeles metro region, and construction this past weekend was predicted to be so disastrous that news outlets dubbed it " Carmageddon."  Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Lieutenent Andrew Neiman and even even California Department of Transportation regional director Mike Miles have all had relatively the same message for Los Angeles drivers tempting to get on the road this past weekend: "Just stay home."

Daredevil Planking the 405

Demolition of the Mulholland Drive Bridge

While L.A. residents were panicking over the idea of not being able to drive for three days, JetBlue saw an opening in the market and went for it. The low-cost air carrier offered flights from Burbank (just north of L.A.) to Long Beach (just south of L.A.) for only $4.  A sweet deal considering the rest of the city was predicted to be a post-apocalyptic nightmare of gridlock by Saturday afternoon.   Would this have happened in any major Northeast City like New York, Philly, or D.C.? Probably not, simply because there are other ways to get around.

This is part of what makes having transportation choices so desirable for so many people.  Americans are increasingly choosing to live in areas with access to trains, subways and bike lanes- or in neighborhoods where jobs, homes, schools and shopping are within distance of one another.  Being dependent on only one form of transportation, like Los Angeles residents are finding out, can be limiting.

Despite the bad transportation publicity, the city of Los Angeles is already working to create more diverse  transportation options for its residents.  The city's ambitious 30/10 Initiative aims to build 30 years' worth of mass transit in just 10.  The initiative will improve public transportation options in the city, a strategy proven to reduce congestion better than expanding roads, and in doing so will create thousands of jobs in the city and offer more efficient alternatives than the car.

The closure was a Success!