March 25, 2022
"Homes of any size and for any income level can be designed to meet their own energy needs," argues author Jared Green in his gorgeously illustrated book Good Energy: Renewable Power and the Design of Everyday Life. Fifteen of its 35 case studies deal with housing; the remaining 20 include community spaces, schools, offices, and power plants, with roughly half from the U.S. and half from overseas.
The book is a visual treat that doesn't duck difficult questions. For instance, the reader learns that El Paso's new 73-unit complex for seniors and people with disabilities earning 30 percent or less of the annual median income "produces all the energy the community consumes in a calendar year." While it cost about twice as much to build as a conventional public housing project, maintenance costs are low, and the complex pays nothing for energy.
How does this new net-zero, energy-positive world work? The book's introduction points to a few tactics, like extra planning and openness in the face of policy and regulatory obstacles, financial innovations that lower costs, integrating novel technologies and approaches that serve multiple functions, and using these projects to educate local communities. The author also suggests replacing mined and processed materials with "local, sustainably harvested structural wood that stores carbon or reuses waste materials."
The text includes both high- and low-end projects in widely differing locales and addresses difficulties. One brief mention reaches beyond design: "To protect our remaining ecosystems and biological diversity, there needs to be more compact infill development in urban and suburban centers. Development outside these areas should be strictly reserved for regenerative projects that support ecological preservation and restoration."
This seems likely to be a tough sell. Can advanced building designs like these pave the way for urban planning boundaries with teeth?