Monday, December 28, 2009

Redhook Becoming Center of NYC's Solar Awareness

It seems like great minds think alike when looking for places to drive change.  I am excited to see the work that the Beautiful Earth Group is doing to drive the awareness of a solar powered option as well as a electric vehicles.  I guess that Redhook will be the first stop on a NYC Eco-Tourist vacation. Hey that's an idea!  

Our building will include provisions for a solar powered charger for a car and motorcycle.  All we need is the electric car.  If any electric car manufactures (GM, Telsa, Fishker, Mini or Audi) are looking for great places to test new products keep me in mind.  I just love evaluating and writing about new technology, especially in cars!

by Yuka Yoneda, 12/15/09
Beautiful Earth Charging Station, beautiful earth, new york, nyc, ev charging stations, bmw mini e, brooklyn, electric vehicle
We have great news for green-eyed New Yorkers who have been coveting San Francisco’s sophisticatedelectric vehicle charging systemsBeautiful Earth Group, a New York-based sustainable energycompany, just unveiled its solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station in Red Hook, Brooklyn. The new station is the first ever in our city and another momentous stepping stone of a greener future for NYC.
Beautiful Earth EV Charging Station
Located on an industrial lot near the Beautiful Earth’s headquarters overlooking downtown Manhattan, the off-grid, modular station is constructed of recycled steel shipping containers and powered solely by 235 wattphotovoltaic panels. The car that is currently being charged at the station is a 100% electric BMW MINI E, and is now one of the few cars in the world to run exclusively on solar power. The vehicle has a range of just over 100 miles and takes about 3 hours to charge.
With so many major car companies planning to launch electric or plug-in hybrid cars next year, it makes sense that one of the biggest cities in the world, NY, will need charging stations. And BE’s station isn’t just for charging automobiles. It can also produce enough energy to power a small home, and has a battery bank that can store electricity 24/7 for on-demand usage.
Beautiful Earth EV Charging Station
It never ceases to amaze me, when I get behind the wheel of this 95 mph sports car, that it doesn’t use a single drop of gasoline, and that all of its power comes from the solar energy we collect right here on the Brooklyn waterfront,” said BE president and CEO Lex Heslin about the groundbreaking development.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Evolution Continues

The design team has been hard at work completing the details of the design, testing assumptions and continuing to prepare the drawing for submission to obtain permits. During this process, it became obvious that the solar (PV) panels would not drive a high enough yield positioned on the top of the garage/workshop as the sun is partially obstructed a point in the day.  The decision was made to relocate them to the top of the main building, but in order to do so; a redesign of the roof and associated terraces would need to be done. 

As you can see in the newest rendering, Jim and his team have done an amazing job of integrating the panels on to a new roof awning that cantilevers over the fourth floor deck.  This provides us protection from the sun and double the usable roof square footage.  Another change is the integration of the glass panels that sit atop the brick; they are nearly two and a half tall glass panels that wrap both structures.   They provide light and flow-through ventilation, given half of them are fully operational.  There are many other evolutionary changes and will be more obvious as I post different views and new renderings.

During early January, we will begin to develop a “thermal model” in order to maximize engineering options and to validate final design. Thermal modeling answers questions about airflow and temperature distribution under various weather conditions.   In addition it allows control over PV design and performance. The goal of energy modeling is to accurately predict the energy use of this building.  While costly, this will allow us to play ‘what if’ with various products, finishes, and design options to insure we reach our goal of net zero-energy, before we actually begin construction.

Make sure to check out a great article on the project on gbNYC.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

US lab aims to build better, cheaper, zero-energy buildings

Reposted from Greenbang
While cars, trucks and planes might come to mind first as carbon emissions Enemy No. 1, all our buildings aren’t quite as environmentally innocent as they might appear.

In the US, for example, buildings account for 40 per cent of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. In the UK, that figure is even higher: around 44 per cent. Much of those emissions are related to the energy needed to keep our buildings liveable, heating and cooling in particular.
In an ideal world, our buildings should be able to generate all the energy they need all by themselves, both cleanly and on-site. And that kind of “net-zero energy building” is exactly what a new test facility in the US aims to develop.
Berkeley Lab Window Testing FacilityUsing $15.9 million in stimulus funds from the US Department of Energy (DOE), the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory plans to build and operate a new National User Facility for Net-Zero Energy Buildings. The facility will contain all sorts of testing systems to figure out how best to tackle the technical challenges of building net-zero energy buildings.
“This facility will serve a national audience — and need — in an aggressive pursuit of DOE’s energy efficiency goals for widespread implementation of affordable net-zero energy buildings by 2030,” said Stephen Selkowitz, head of the Building Technologies Department of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division.
Berkeley Lab researchers plan to tackle the effort with a broad base of users in the building design and construction communities, as well as manufacturers, building owners and operators, and the academic community.
“We will also take maximum advantage of Berkeley Lab’s proximity to Silicon Valley and the growing interest in ‘Greentech’ innovation and investment to draw on experts there, as well as our location in a state that leads the country in applying research and advanced technology, supported by aggressive policies, toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions,” Selkowitz added.
Net-zero energy buildings generate as much energy as they use on an annual basis through highly aggressive energy efficiency and on-site renewable energy generation, making them a key element in the effort to cut carbon emissions. The new laboratory facilities will help researchers develop, test and validate the technologies, systems and design approaches that will allow net-zero energy buildings to be built and operated affordably.
The new test facility will feature a series of unique energy-efficient building systems testbeds to be located in new and existing buildings at the lab. Researchers will be able to change out prototype building systems such as windows, lights, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, energy control systems, roofs and skylights.  The idea is to measure initial energy use and environmental conditions to understand how the systems perform, and then to redesign and optimise their capabilities and performance.

An exciting use of stimulus funds to help push the envelope (here in the US) on products to make projects like ours a bit easier in the future.

Have a great weekend.  I am off to look at electric cars at the LA Car Show :-)


Friday, December 11, 2009

So Much Confusion, So Little Time

Since the press release last week, publically announcing Redhook Green, there has been so many questions, comments, criticisms and confusion regarding the project that I thought I would devote a few posts to clearing up some of them.

There seems to be a general lack of clarity on the relationship between “Zero-Energy Building (ZEB)”, “Carbon-Neutral”, and “Sustainable” when it comes to construction as a whole and specifically as it relates to this project.  Each of these very important strategies are tools in helping the way we live fit more cohesively with the needs of others and our planet in general, but practicality needs to play a role as the various objectives are weighed and implemented.  For me they include feasibility, environmental impact, upfront cost, long term cost, availability and reliability.

There are three primary concerns relating to the energy consumption of Architecture:
1.  Energy to construct
2.  Energy to heat and maintain
3.  The total of both over the lifespan of the structure

From my simpleminded perspective, a net zero energy building is a great place to start.  It seemed to me if we could design a home that based on the nature of it’s construction, could consume significantly less electricity heating and cooling and then generate the power we needed using the sun and trade the rest for times we can’t, we would have to be a great start.  I like the fact that it’s reasonably easy to measure success here, if I sell ConEd as many kilowatts of electricity as I buy, then I am net zero energy.  Cool.  Right?

Next if you do a search on the web for a definition of “carbon-neutral”, in many cases it defaults to the ZEB definition and discusses renewable sources.   As I understand it, a building that is carbon-neutral uses no fossil fuels in its operation, creates no direct greenhouse gases, and, as a result, does not contribute to global warming. Also power drawn from the utility grid but it must be “clean,” produced by wind turbines, photovoltaic, or other renewable energy system. So, a building that is both Carbon Neutral and Net Zero Energy produces at least as much renewable energy as it uses each year.   But (big BUT) most definition neglects to discuss a very important use of energy that must be taken into consideration for a true carbon neutral structure.  That is embodied energy or as I mention above the energy to construct.

The Wikipedia defines “embodied energy (or emergy) is defined as the available energy that was used in the work of making a product. Embodied energy is an accounting methodology which aims to find the sum total of the energy necessary for an entire product lifecycle. This lifecycle includes raw material extraction, transport, manufacture, assembly, installation, disassembly, deconstruction and/or decomposition. “   Basically all the materials used in the house consume energy during manufacturing, delivery and installation on site.  Would you imagine that aluminum requires more energy than steel to be manufactured?  Or that recycled aluminum and steel use half of the energy to fabricate (just a few fun facts from a discussion with Jim)?  There is embodied energy in any processed product, from a drinking cup to a car. In embodied energy terms, buildings represent a huge, relatively long-duration energy investment.



Energy Coefficient 
Mj per unit

Timber, rough



Timber, air-dry, treated



Timber Glulam



Timber, kiln-dry, treated



Timber, form work






Building paper



Gypsum board






Structural steel









Asphalt, strip shingle



It seems to me that as the operating energy required for buildings declines, the embodied energy they represent becomes a more significant percentage of the total energy buildings use. In coming years more efforts will probably be directed toward measuring and reducing the amount of embodied energy in buildings.

So as you can see, this all gets very difficult to measure accurately. Measuring embodied energy is still in an early phase, but is very important.  But from my perspective for this project (right now) while I think that it is an important objective to build carbon-neutral buildings,  it might be less practical to get 100% there.  Remember ability to execute is everything!  So we move forward to reach our net zero goal while keeping our carbon footprint to a minimum via the materials we choose and construction methods employed (modular really helps).

If you want to learn more about what you can do, or how much embodied energy is used in different popular products visit, WattzOn.  It is an early stage online tool to quantify, track, compare and understand the total amount of energy needed to support all of the facets of your lifestyle with the goal of helping you find ways to reduce your personal power consumption.

More to come, including my thoughts on sustainability.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Out In The Open

At 8:00 AM today, this release hit the wire, unveiling our very ambitious project to a larger group.  The reaction has been great and I have been getting a bunch of press inquires.  

New York City’s First ‘Zero Energy Building’ Coming to the
Red Hook Section of Brooklyn

Innovative Facility To Be Completed by Summer 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE New York, NY – December 03, 2009 Designs for New York’s first sustainable zero-energy, live/work building are nearing completion, with ground-breaking scheduled for February and completion planned for summer 2010.  This structure is expected to become a distinctive new addition to the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

As defined by the US Department of Energy, “a net zero-energy building (ZEB) is a residential or commercial building with greatly reduced energy needs through efficiency gains such that the balance of energy needs can be supplied with renewable technologies.”  Basically the ZEB concept is the idea that buildings can meet all their energy needs from low-cost, locally available, nonpolluting, renewable sources such as solar or wind power.

This approximately 4,000 square foot facility will house a studio/workshop, offices for a digital business, garages and an apartment, as well as outdoor green space. The form of the house is inspired by the shipping containers stacked along the adjacent waterfront. Modular units, proportioned similarly to shipping containers are stacked and shifted to create a variety of terraces and overviews to take advantage of the areas amazing harbor views.

The project, called ‘Redhook Green’ is the brainchild of New York technology and media entrepreneur, Jay Amato. 

“I’m thrilled that Redhook Green will become a very visible symbol of the continuing reinvention of one of New York City’s oldest neighborhoods,” said Mr. Amato.  “But I’m even more excited that I could practically illustrate the movement towards zero-energy building to the world’s greatest city.  Bringing to bear exciting new building materials, improved wind and solar technologies and more energy-efficient HVAC and home appliances, as well as state of the art sustainability strategies, Redhook Green will be a powerful answer to the question of what urban centers can do to reduce our dependency on foreign oil via renewable resources and to significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

With a long history as a shipping port and industrial district, Red Hook – not quite two miles across from the Battery at the tip of Manhattan – is thoroughly urban. In the evenings, however, it is as quiet as a remote and leafy suburb, bounded by water on three sides and the elevated Gowanus Expressway on the remaining side.  While other Brooklyn waterfront neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Dumbo have developed an image of youthful urban chic, Red Hook remained a gritty industrial district until the recent addition of Fairway, IKEA and the New York Water Taxi. Now, Red Hook's eclectic mix of artists and industrial businesses has created a neighborhood dubbed "Residustrial" in 2008 by artist and resident John P. Missale.

Award winning New York firm, Garrison Architects, located in Dumbo, Brooklyn, is the chief designer overseeing Redhook Green. Garrison has assembled a unique group of designers, engineers, and manufacturers to innovate for this project.

"Jay Amato’s Red Hook project draws from several promising trajectories – abstract modernism, modular construction, and zero energy consumption.  By combining state of the art approaches to all three in one structure we have moved the potential for affordable, ecologically sound, urban dwellings several steps forward," said James Garrison, Principal in Charge of Garrison Architects.

Simple and cost effective sustainability strategies are used to conserve and produce energy, conserve resources, and create a healthful environment. This sustainability approach was developed though an extensive research project that included digital energy modeling, detailed life cycle cost analysis of construction components and their related maintenance and replacement costs. Here are a few of its features:

·       8kw annual photovoltaic generating capacity, grid connected.
·       8kw annual comprehensive household energy budget including heating and air conditioning.
·       High performance building envelope that eliminates thermal bridging and achieves an average thermal resistance of R50.
·       Wall and roof systems vented to eliminate moisture build up and use “smart” moisture barriers to allow air movement in warm months.
·       Integrated south facing thermal solar wall generates warm air that is fed to the building ventilation system.
·       Heating and cooling provided by high efficiency electric heat pumps.
·       Whole house heat exchange ventilation system insuring air quality and recovering energy from conditioned air.

“In my entire career building and leading businesses, nothing has given me more satisfaction than developing this project,” added Jay Amato. “We are transforming what is essentially an empty space into a structure that can serve as an example of how we can live and work responsibly. This is truly gratifying.”

To view a chronicle of Redhook Green, design plans, technology and project status, visit:

For more information, contact: 

Laura Landers
PersonalScreen Media LLC

Tamara Gruber
Garrison Architects

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

It's All in The Details

The original schematics for our building are being detailed and a finalized design is emerging.   It is our hope that we will be presenting the completed package to the NYC Department of Buildings for permit approval.  I promised that I would share details as they became available, so as I asked Jim Garrison to describe the building from his perspective as well as more of components that get us to zero-energy!

This structure combines open and flexible planning with integrated gardens, state of the art sustainability strategies, and modular factory fabrication. It is designed to be a zero energy structure, as it will produce as much energy as it consumes.

The first floor consists of large live/work loft areas arranged on either side of an exterior court. Glass walls adjoining the court (see images) can be opened to allow the complete integration of the garden, living, and work areas. The form of the house is inspired by the shipping containers stacked along the adjacent waterfront. Modular units, proportioned similarly to shipping containers are stacked and shifted to create a variety of terraces and overviews.

Simple and cost effective sustainability strategies are used to conserve and produce energy, conserve resources, and create a healthful environment. This sustainability approach was developed though an extensive research project that included digital energy modeling, detailed life cycle cost analysis of construction components and their related maintenance and replacement costs. Here are a few of its features:
  • 8kw annual photovoltaic generating capacity, grid connected. 
  • 8kw annual comprehensive household energy budget including heating and air conditioning. 
  • High performance building envelope that eliminates thermal bridging and achieves an average thermal resistance of R50. 
  • Wall and roof systems are vented to eliminate  moisture build up and use “smart” moisture barriers that allow air movement in warm months. 
  • Integrated south facing thermal solar wall generates warm air that is fed to the building ventilation system. 
  • Heating and cooling provided by high efficiency electric heat pumps. 
  • Whole house heat exchange ventilation system insures air quality and recovers energy from conditioned air. 
We are putting the final touches on the press release.  It's an amalgam of many of these postings, but I will put it up as soon as it hits the wire.  Thanks for your interest.  Jay