Thursday, April 1, 2010

Which games were the greenest?

Some people are still calling the 2010 games were the greenest yet.  But without any analysis to support the claim.

So how does it compare to previous games? 

At the 1956 Games in Cortina d'Ampezzo all the venues except one were in walking distance of each other.  I am not sure how the 2010 games with their highway expansions projects and fleet of thousands of SUVs could be considered "greener" than that.   Even the precious gams in Turin made and kept a promise to not expand road infrastructure for the games yet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Misleading statements In BC Pavillion

Signs at the BC Pavilion claim that "British Columbia is taking action onclimate change" and "Our carbon footprint is getting smaller"

Unfortunately these statements are not true.

BC is the only province that saw emissions from industrial sources INCREASE in 2008. Even Alberta managed to at least keep its emissions steady.

The province's own reports admit that emissions will also increase from highway construction projects that are currently under-way. There are plans for over 1,000 km of new highway lanes including the controversial Gateway Program. While the province has reduced funding for almost all other services including public transit, it has kept the funding for new highway projects.

Transportation is the largest source of ghg emissions in the Province.

The province has also not reduced the subsidies for oil and gas companies. Fossil fuel production is the second largest source for ghg emissions in the province.

The sign makes reference to electrical generation which only accounts for 2% of the province's ghg emissions. So changes in this sector will do little to reduce our carbon footprint.

Given this factors it is almost impossible for the province to meet the one third reduction mentioned in the poster.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Cauldron as Symbol

At the Olympics opening ceremonies a huge cauldron on Vancouver's waterfront was unveiled and lit.  Shortly after that it was revealed that the cauldron would be kept in place after the games.  What is not so clear is if the cauldron will remain lit indefinitely or only for special occasions.

The media has focused on the controversial fence surrounding the flame.  But many people have come forth to question the cauldron itself.

Prior to the games there was much speculation that this cauldron might be a radical departure from previous games in keeping with the "greenest games" theme that VANOC was trying to promote.  Some people promoted the idea of a "cauldron" that used efficient LED lighting powered by BC's relatively clean power sources.

Instead VANOC chose a cauldron that consisted of not one but four huge natural gas flames.  Compared to the huge greenhouse gas footprint that the games will leave, the emissions from these flames are relatively minor.

But, more important is the symbolism associated with the cauldron.  If VANOC was really taking sustainability seriously why didn't they choose a design that produced fewer emissions than previous cauldrons?  Even if they had to keep a small flame there could have been a spectacular design that combined a smaller flame with some LED lighting.

And one has to question the symbolism of the city of Vancouver keeping the flame around even if it is only lit occasionally.

photo by GillTy. / CC BY-NC 2.0

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The First Passivhaus in Canada

The LEED buildings being used for the winter Olympics are often described as "leading edge."  LEED certification does mean that a building has a significantly better energy performance than the average North American building.  But if one takes a global perspective this certification can hardly be described as "leading edge."

That label might be more accurately applied to the Passivhaus standard that has been developed in Europe.  There are over 20,000 of these buildings now in Europe and about 10 in the US. Canada's first PassivHaus recently opened in Whistler.  It is currently being used by the Austrian Olympic team but will be turned over the Municipality of Whistler after the games.  It is interesting that despite the rhetoric about sustainability from VANOC and the Province this project was initiated by other parties.  In my mind it is one of the few truly sustainable elements associated with the 2010 Olympics.

I had an opportunity to tour it recently.  Note that the information below is based on my hastily scribbled notes and I welcome corrections and additions.

Part of the core design of a Pasivhaus are walls, floors and ceilings that are supper insulated.  There is also an attempt made to eliminate all thermal bridges.  The Whistler Passivhaus walls and roof were built using prefabricated 10 cm thick solid wood panels that were also structural.  On the outside of the wood panels was 36 cm of insulation for the roof and 30 cm for the walls. On the outside of the insulation was a breathable barrier, a venting space and then the cladding.

Since 40-60% of heat loss occurs through windows these are also important elements in the design.  The windows used have U-value of 0.85 W/(m².K) or an imperial r-value of 7-7.5.  Wood fiber insulation is used in the window frame.  The windows provide twice the insulation value of a typical 3 pane window.  Most of the glazing is on the south side, with some of the east and west and none facing north.  The windows do have overhangs designed to provide some thermal shading in the summer.

The building is also very airtight.  It scored 0.28 on a blower door test.  Because it is so air tight the building uses a heat recovery ventilation (HRV) system.

Heating is provided by a ground source heat pump.  The geo-exchange field is is only 100 m² and located on the south side of the building (for solar recharging).  It contains 200 m of pipe in a buried in a horizontal loop 2 m deep.  The heat pump itself is small - only 3 kW but has COP of 4.5.  There is no backup or auxiliary heating for the heat pump.

Heat from the heat pump is delivered through in floor hydronics located in some sections of the floor.  If need it can also be sent through the HRV.  This heat pump also is used for domestic hot water.

Because the system is optimized for lower occupancy they are actually having to deal with over-heating during the winter games.

The 300 m² building is expected to use a total 35 kWh/m² of energy.  Approximately 17 kWh/m² for heating and the rest for other electrical use.  The costs were about $370 / m² but it is expected that future projects in the area will be around $300/m².

This infromation was compiled with the help of Vancouver Renewable Energy and Salal Permaculture.

Is the Athlete's Village the Greenest Neighbourhood in the Word?

The Olympic Athlete's village in Vancouver, also known as South East False Creek (SEFC), recently received LEED Platinum certification.  Politicians and the media were quick to call it the "greenest neighbourhood in the world."   But they offerred little evidence to support this cliam.

It is an important development that is certainly one of the greenest in the north America.  But in the world?  What about other neighbourhoods in the world?

Take for example Vauban, Freiburg, Germany.

Vauban is completely car-free. SEFC is not.  In fact, the development will increase motor traffic on a section of the Ontario bike route.

Vauban has 100 units that meet Passivhaus standards. SEFC has zero (Passihaus is a much higer standard than LEED).

All units in Vauban meet the low energy standard of 65 kWh/m2. I am not sure about SEFC but it is probably not that low.

Vauban has municipal composting of food waste. SEFC - not yet.

Vauban has an organic food coop. SEFC - you might find some in Urban Fare.

Vauban has a working urban farm. SE FC has planned for a "demonstration" community garden.

Vauban has an efficeint district heating system using bio-fuels. SE FC also has a highly efficient district heating system but still uses some natural gas (proably a higher ghg footprint).

Vanuban has onsite electrical generation (co-gen plants and photovoltaics). SE FC has none.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not Quite Zero Waste

The Olympic Games organizers have set a goal of zero waste for the games.  Apparently they are achieving this through incineration - burning some of the waste generated.

You would think that they would also make an effort to eliminate disposable products as much as possible.  Apparently not.  An article about the German team reports that athletes are eating off paper plates and using plastic cutlery in the Whistler Athlete's village.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Greenwash Games are Underway

A few years ago the 2010 Winter Olympics Games were promoted as the “greenest” games. But as they approached it beame evident that environmental sustainability was not a real priority and that a more appropriate label might be “greenwash games.” The Olympics helped start a massive highway expansion program, tens of thousands of trees were cut down, two separate red-listed (endangered) habitats were paved over, sponsorship deals signed with the worst greenhouse gas emitters, VANOC revealed a fleet of SUVs and they failed to meet their own ghg offset targets.

As the games began critics of these policies made their voices heard. When the Olympic torch arrived in Vancouver opponents took to the streets in large enough numbers that the torch had to be re-routed twice. And as the opening ceremonies began thousands marched through the streets for several blocks until they were finally stopped just across the street from the site of the ceremonies. People were in the streets for a variety of reasons including the social and financial costs of the games. But one of the prominent themes on protester's signs was the ecological costs.

Protests continued the following day. The media focused on the destruction that occured at the more militant protest but that action was not the only one in the region. Community leaders from first nations affected by the Tar Sands spoke to a crowd outside the RBC's main Vancouver branch. RBC is one of largest funders of the Tar Sands. In the suburbs another First Nations group temporarily blocked a bridge to protest the ecological damage done by that project. On a quieter note cyclists participated in Vancouver's first “tweed ride.” And campaigners dressed as polar bears prepared to be deployed.

The first few days of the games have brought above normal temperatures. But organizers and sponsors still seem to be a long way from taking responsibility for climate change.