San Francisco adopts law requiring solar panels on all new buildings

San Francisco has this week passed landmark legislation requiring all new buildings under 10 storeys in height to be fitted with rooftop solar panels.

The city’s San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the new rule on Tuesday, making the metropolis the largest in the US to mandate solar installations on new properties

Source: San Francisco adopts law requiring solar panels on all new buildings

2014 Hottest Year On Record

By now you have, no doubt, seen the headline that 2014 is the warmest year since reliable record keeping began in 1880. This was jointly announced by two US agencies – NASA and NOAA – and corresponds with an announcement by a similar agency in Japan. I’m not going to retell that story here, but I do want to repeat some of the most alarming points.

  • The 10 warmest years in more than a century have all occurred since 1997. That’s new high temperature record in 10 of the past 14 years.
  • Average temperatures in the US have now exceeded the 20th century average for 38 consecutive years.       That’s every year since 1976.       Think about it. No one born after 1976 has known a year colder than average.
  • The last time the global temperatures fell below the 20th century average for a given month was in 1985.
  • The last full year of colder than average temperatures was 1976.
  • The last record cold year was 1911. That’s 103 years ago. Now go back and look at the first bullet point.

Here’s a graph illustrating the trend.

For those who think that climate change is a liberal conspiracy, my suggestion is to take it up with the Pentagon. In 2012 the Pentagon formed a climate change working group. The result of their work is the DOD 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, which was released in October 2014 and accepts climate change as a fact. About the report, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that “Politics or ideology must not get in the way of sound planning.”



People’s Climate March

Today is the People’s Climate March here in New York City. Sponsored by, the march here is joined by events in other major cities around the world, including London, Berlin, Bogota, Istanbul, Paris, Rio, Delhi, Melbourne, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Amsterdam. The marches and other events are intended to put pressure on international leaders who will meet at the United Nations Climate Summit 2014 on Tuesday to create the framework for a global agreement on emissions that (it is hoped) will be agreed upon in Paris late next year.

If that agreement occurs it will certainly be a case of politicians leading from behind. As I’ve noted here and here and here, researchers at organizations as diverse as NASA, NOAA, and IPCC have been telling us that the climate is changing now, that change is accelerating, and that we’ve already reached the tipping point in places like Antarctica’s Western Ice Sheet. And the news just keeps piling up. NOAA has announced that the combined average temperature across global land and ocean surfaces for August 2014 was a record high for the month, at 1.35°F above the 20th century average of 60.1°F, topping the previous record set in 1998. The global land surface temperature was 1.78°F above the 20th century average. Here’s a map of the global temperature variations compared to the base period of 1981-2010.

August 2014 Temps

The August report means that globally, June through August 2014 is the 5th hottest on record. The four periods that were hotter than this year have all occurred since 1998.

Since the founding of the IPCC in 1988 progress has been slow and halting (a history of UN climate actions can be found here). Let’s hope that strong action is agreed to this time.

Now, the Good Climate News

Ok, the headline is slightly misleading. There’s no good news about the fact of climate change, but there is some good news about the politics and the technology for mitigating it. First, the politics where there are several encouraging developments. First, as I’ve previously mentioned, Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer have launched an organization called Risky Business that focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of climate change. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and this is an example – people from across the political spectrum and with various perspectives on business and the economy coming together to advocate that we act now to do what we can to slow or stop climate change.

The second piece of news happened at a congressional hearing on June 18th (an archived webcast is available at the link). Four former EPA administrators, all republicans, were called to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. All four of them agreed that there is no debate on the reality of climate change and that immediate action is needed. Here are a few quotes:

William Ruckelshaus, first EPA administrator in 1970 under President Nixon: “Inherent in [a list of previously cited environmental challenges] was uncertain science and powerful economic interests resisting controls. The same is true of climate change. In all of the cases cited the solutions to the problems did not result in the predicted economic and social calamity. Scientific uncertainty or the inevitable industry resistance does not mean that nothing should be done unless we are willing to suffer the consequences of inaction.”

Lee Thomas, EPA administrator from 1985-1989 under President Reagan: “The issue of climate change is one that the EPA and the global scientific community have studied and analyzed for decades. And since my time as Administrator, the assessment of risk global warming poses to public health and the environment has continually improved and become more certain.”

William Reilly, head of the EPA from 1989-1992 under President George H. W. Bush: “Markets the world over eagerly seek clean energy technologies. … Technology and innovation are a comparative advantage for our country that will help control what we can and help find ways to replace the most serious contributors to the climate challenge. This is an enormous opportunity for U.S. entrepreneurs and exporters even as we deploy more clean energy at home.”

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA head from 2001-2003 under President George W. Bush: “Congressional action and leadership would be a preferable approach. But since Congress has declined to act, the EPA must.”

It’s getting harder and harder for the conservative crowd to deny reality. Sooner, not later, they’re going to have to admit that we face a global challenge. At that point they’ll have to decide if the U.S. is going to lead or follow. Industry and citizens clearly intend to lead. Consider the following:

On the technology front there’s more good news. In Hawaii the adoption of solar power has been so successful that the local power company can’t handle the power being fed into the grid. Beginning in December of 2013 the Hawaiian Electric Company told contractors to stop connecting solar panels to the grid because there’s so much energy that it may be a threat to the system. Until studies can confirm whether grid upgrade are needed, and what they are, solar panels can still be connected to homes and businesses but the excess energy cannot be fed back into the grid.

One solution to the problem is storage of the excess energy until it is needed. A new type of battery that uses vanadium in a solution of sulfuric acid is being developed that quickly charges and discharges with little loss of performance, even after 20,000 cycles. It’s called a vanadium redox flow battery. Read the article. It’s pretty amazing to read how smart people are able to solve whatever challenges are put in front of them.

First, The Bad Climate News

There’s more climate change news this week, some of it good and which I’ll get to in a few days.  First, though, the bad news.  According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) May 2014 was the hottest May ever recorded, and we have records dating back as far as 1880.

  • The combined average temperature over land and ocean surfaces was 1.33°F higher than the 20th century average, and the average temperature over land alone was 2.03°F higher.
  • The period of March through May was the third warmest on record, with global land surface temperature 2.27°F above the 20th century average.
  • he period of January through may was the fifth warmest on record, with a global land surface temperature of 1.19°F above the 20th century average.

Here’s a map showing the global temperature variations for May in degrees Celsius.


Combined with the just released report Risky Business, this is indeed bad news.  This report was commissioned by a new organization of the same name that was started by former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, and hedge fund manager Tom Steyer.  The report warns that, among other climate driven issues we’ll face by mid century, the number of days over 95°F will nearly double to between 45 and 96.  Outdoor laborers, including construction workers, may be unable to work for days or weeks at a time because of the extreme threat of heat stroke and even death due to the high heat.

Why do I keep going on about climate change?  Because it’s real, it’s here, and it does and will affect the lighting profession.  As long as we are still struggling to control greenhouse gas emissions to limit climate change we should expect to see it impact lighting designers and manufacturers.  First, we should expect to see expanded requirements for, and limitations on, lighting systems.  Lower lumen power densities (LPDs), more requirements for sensors and controls, and more requirements for load shedding all seem inevitable.  On one hand that may be good for the profession because fewer and fewer architects and interior designers are going to be able to execute their own lighting designs (more work for us!).  On the other hand it will probably be a struggle to get clients to pay us more for the additional work.

The second impact this will have on our profession is that of credentials.  Today, lighting designer credentials are entirely voluntary except for the lead designer on federal projects, who must hold an LC.  I think we can expect more clients to ask for higher levels of green certification for their buildings, whether that is LEED, Green Globes, Energy Star or some other.  To demonstrate that we have the education and training to design these buildings, green credentials are going to be more important in the near future.  Designers who do not hold a LEED Green Associate credential, at a minimum, will be at a disadvantage.  So get ready.  The work, and the rewards, of being a lighting designer are changing.

The Cost of Mitigating Climate Change (It’s Cheap)

Henry Paulson, former Secretary of the Treasury, has on op-ed piece in today’s New York Times in which he looks at the potential costs of climate change from a risk management perspective. His conclusion is that the most conservative thing to do, the thing that will hold down the size of government and our national debt, is to act now to mitigate climate change while the costs are low and we have more time. His solution is a carbon tax, which he predicts will “empower the market to find the most efficient response” and will “create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.” He makes several comparisons to the risks that were ignored leading up to the economic crash of 2008 and makes a point of urging his fellow republicans to avoid the same mistakes that were made then.

Conservatives reaction to a carbon tax, cap and trade, or any other form of legislation to curb emissions is always to claim that it will be disastrous for industry and the economy. However two recent studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dispute that. As I’ve noted before, the IPCC estimates that the costs of stabilizing CO2 is 0.6% to 1.3% of GDP. Perhaps you distrust the United Nations, so let’s take a look at what the Chamber of Commerce has to say. The chamber commissioned a study that was released in May. Deeply opposed to any form of energy or environmental regulation, they commissioned a report from an organization with similar attitudes – the Energy Institute. Their findings estimate the cost of carbon regulation at $51 billion per year through 2030. Now to you and me that’s a lot of money, but in the $21.5 trillion U.S. economy that comes out to 0.2%. To put that into personal terms, it amounts to about $1.20 per day per household.

I’m not saying that there is no downside. Jobs will be lost in extractive industries like coal and oil. I’ve been unemployed. I know what it’s like to worry about paying rent or buying groceries, and I’d like to see those who lose their jobs get retraining and even subsidized moves so that they can go to where the new jobs are located. But, I don’t think we should smother the planet in CO2 to save jobs that are going to be lost anyway or to hang onto that $1.20 per household. The times they are a-changin’ whether we like it or not. The goal should be to control that change to the benefit of as many people as possible. Acting now makes that easier to do.

Some Thoughts on Climate Change

The climate related news lately has been pretty bleak.  The news includes:

  • Separate studies by NASA and the University of Washington both find that the Western Antarctic ice sheet is collapsing into the sea.  At this point the melting is unstoppable and could raise global sea levels by 4 feet.  To put this into perspective, the average elevation of Miami is 6 feet above sea level.
  • The Carbon Tracker Initiative has estimated that 60% to 80% of our coal, oil, and gas reserves are “unburnable” if we are to limit global warming to a somewhat manageable 2°C.
  • According to NOAA, CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii have risen by 24% in just the past 56 years.

Which naturally had me asking what I can do as a citizen and as a lighting professional.  My initial thought was, “Not nearly enough to make a difference.”  But, once I recovered my balance I realized that things aren’t as gloomy as they seem.  Yes, we still have a long way to go in order to maintain a livable planet.  This includes that fact that some industries are going to fade away, be legislated away, or be forced to adapt to new circumstances.  The economic impact of that doesn’t worry me too much for several reasons.  First, the IPCC finds that the sooner we act the easier the transition will be, and that the cost of addressing climate change would result in an average annual reduction in economic growth of a mere 0.06% for the rest of this century.  Second, those industries that become obsolete will be replaced by new industries.  Imagine the jobs that would be created if every flat roof in every city were to be outfitted with solar panels.

We also need the Republican Party to join the real world.  When 97% of the world’s climate scientists in industry, government, and research institutions agree that climate change is happening and that the cause is man-made only a fool would join with the remaining three percent.  When someone like Marco Rubio says that he’s not convinced, he doesn’t mean that he’s reviewed the research history and, because of his deep expertise in this field, finds the conclusions lacking.  He means that some of his biggest donors are companies and individuals who rely on fossil fuels for their wealth and that rather than adapt they are going to deny.  Fortunately, although only 25% of Tea Party Republicans believe that there is evidence for climate change, 84% of Democrats and 67% of all American adults do believe the scientists.

On the positive side, our profession has accomplished quite a bit. For example, the maximum lighting power density (LPD) allowed under ASHRAE 90.1for an open office was 1.9 w/sf in 1986, 1.3 w/sf in 1999, and .98 w/sf in 2010.  And, our clients are asking for more.  Here are the number of LEED certified buildings 2000 – 2012.

Source:  U.S. Green Building Council
Source: U.S. Green Building Council


That last number is 4,605 projects in 2012, when 41% of all nonresidential buildings starts were green, as compared to 2% of all nonresidential building starts in 2005.  Better than that, Net Zero buildings are a reality, and as the design and construction industries adapt we’re going to see more of them. Other organizations are working on this, too.  For example, already has commitments from a number of U.S. cities and property owners representing about 100,000,000 square feet of real estate to dramatically reduce fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

So designers and builders have begun, and we’re moving with increasing speed toward reducing the effect of the built environment on climate change.  But there’s more to do, including convincing those who oppose action that a planned transition is achievable, affordable, sustainable, and in the best interest of the entire planet.