Re: Re: A New Knowledge Campus for the Customs House Area

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I have outlined a couple of items below, which relate to public policy creation, industrial scale strategy and utility scale investments.

Where did the CFL light bulb idea come from?

There is nothing more fun than to endlessly take shots at light bulb energy saving fanaticism. (After all, it is like a development of the classic light bulb joke) David MacKay’s light bulb video is always good for a laugh.

I particularly enjoyed a recent blog post of his about plastic bottles. He is so cynical some times, it is really funny. But he is right.

The real point about light bulbs, is that LED technology is upon us. Philips have shut down their production plants in the UK, that make either ordinary light bulbs or CFL bulbs. The aspirations behind the CFL bulb weren’t too bad, if you know where it is coming from. When I read the UCD ERG consultation report for Part L energy conservation regulations 2008 I understood a lot better what is going on.,15660,en.pdf

Only Fools and Horses

As all kinds of products are rejected in other countries, as not being energy compliant, there will be an un-bearable desire on the part of builders in Ireland to take advantage of quick and easy deals, for bulk shipments of under performing parts. Kind of like ‘Only Fools and Horses’. I have seen what can go wrong when a load of non-standard cheap plastic ductwork from China was built into a project. Before the builder had a chance to catch the mistake, most of the work had been done. Trying to find a fix due the knock-on problems caused by one component meant cutting out hundreds of pieces of solid concrete. These things can happen on jobs, but you try to minimise it as much as possible.

I think there was a rescue mission to the Hubble space telescope that almost came unstuck, when an in-conspicuous item, the service hatch door refused to close after the astronauts had performed the servicing. It was only a cheap item in the whole assembly, but it still treatened to compromise a whole multi-million dollar mission. I am all for economy in choosing the components of the assembly where possible. But one has to think these things through from a systems engineering point of view where possible. This is what exposure to the workings at industry level can help one to see.

Investment roll out in renewable generation

If we are not careful in Ireland, we might be spending loads of money on renewable gadgets. Where the investment in renewables is only allowing us to go on being inefficient in other areas. On the other hand, take the example of the man living in a bungalow in the middle of Ireland somewhere. He likes to have his open fire and burn his logs, coal, turf or whatever. It is a social ritual for him for years. The solar panel technology on the market now, is an ideal way for this man to offset his carbon emissions in other areas. That is the sort of situation, where I think renewables do have a roll to play.

The neat thing about putting a solar panel up on your bungalow too, is the fact that the owner of the dwelling can replace the unit himself when the time comes. But if the solar panel was on the roof top of a multi-dwelling development in a city centre, who is going to bother fixing or replacing the panel in a decade?

Investment in renewable technology could be compared to investment in other things that go out of date quickly. Take computer technology as a good comparison. Renewable kit tends to go out of date very fast as progress in the technology marches on. I recall when I bought my first couple of computers, I made terrible buying decisions. I didn’t put enough space between my purchases at all. I think I ended up with a couple of systems, all of the same generation. Which didn’t allow me enough cash to benefit from later generations of computer technology.

With PV solar technology, the flat screen TV revolution is driving down the price of PV solar panels. There is so much to know about PV technology. I mean that isn’t like the food supply chain problem, where suddenly corn that was destined for third world markets, ended up in first world markets being used as a substitute for petrol. With the PV technology, I think we are seeing a better synergy between a consumer product and a renewable energy generation product. It is about finding those synergies in the industrial supply chain and taking advantage of them. I read a blog post at gunter portfolio recently.

It mentioned a study done of existing PV installations on roofs. In one installation, whatever way the panels were wired together, one of the panels was under performing and that panel dragged down the performance of the entire installation. So in going for renewable technology, we need to treat it as a work in progress. We need to follow up with intense study and after sales analysis of how the things are performing. (I guess in practice that means programs run in the universities . . . Eirgrid will maintain, there is a tonne of engineering research to be done in this area) Certainly, if you listened to Howard Liddell of Gaia architects, he doesn’t think any of these technologies have a great life span at all.

Industry versus Utility

We need do develop efficiencies and energy awareness, I suppose, at all skill levels and trades. There is a tendency to think that consultant architects can somehow know all of this. That a really smart and energy aware designer can take us out of difficulty with some brilliant solution. But the truth is, if we allow our construction industry in Ireland to become too run down and in the dog house, in the long run, we stand to loose a lot. The construction industry in Ireland in needed badly to oversee standards in many stages of the process. They are responsible for efficiencies and savings that we cannot even begin to imagine. Certainly, a lot of the kids who play around with AutoCAD and draw buildings don’t see this.

Then you can move from industry scale up to utility scale. Executives at ESB networks say that electricity is the fuel of the future. Much of the investment in the supply infrastructure is done already, by the nation of Ireland. It is great to be able to build high density mixed use development, in the right places, where people can walk to work etc. Having that mixed use development served by electricity makes the project so much more viable to do.

Howard Liddell’s argument would seem to support the ESB networks argument for electricity as a fuel over the long haul. At least nothing is going to break down with the electricity network. Well, things will will break down, things will need replacement. But with the ESB, there is an maintenance support built around the utility which enables it to stay working. Contrast that to a lot of renewable installations, does anyone seriously re-visit the projects after 10 years and see how many of the gadgets still work. Or if they are working, that they are working to the full capacity. I mean we have all gone to school in secondary schools where gadgets have a tendancy to die two years after the school is opened.

Then again, as one moves away from the city centre (in places where you have more space available) more emphasis aught to be placed on renewables and group heating etc. Adamstown for instance had the space available next to roads to lay all sorts of new utility lines down cheaply, as part of the general building roll out process. They managed to get the sequence planned in advance, and there is great savings to be made in that.

South Facing Aspect

There does seem to be some low hanging fruit available with providing south facing aspects to all dwellings. But then again, should that be more applicable in sites in the outer suburbs where you can manipulate one’s site layout more? ? ? The good thing about south facing aspect in dwellings, is that is something built into the dwelling for all time. It is not like the PV panel that goes out of date or is smashed up by vandals. That south facing aspect stays with the structure for all time.

It seems to me that as you get in towards the central districts, you are already more sheltered. The micro-climate in central locations is different. The exposure to the external environment is much less usually, there are more party walls shared with neighbours and so forth. You are getting so many great savings already in terms of overall sustainability. Perhaps the energy conservation regulations should lighten up on the use of electricity as a fuel? In central locations, is the south facing window in all dwellings really that necessary?

This is something that consultant architects love to recite like it was a dogma these days. They like to look down their noses are existing built dwellings that don’t have this wonderful south facing aspect. But does every single dwelling in the inner city project need to have this manditory south facing aspect. If one can accept the thesis that a south facing window is for passive solar gain, then why shouldn’t other dimensions of sustainability be taken into consideration. Such as the fact, that someone living in the town centre might take their bicycle to go to the shops.

Based on my experience working at industry level, I would be much more in favour of designing the best bicylce parking possible, than restricting designers to all south facing dwellings. I know a lot of central developments, where the bicycle was only an after thought. I was actually shocked myself, at the level of demand there is today in new developments in towns for bicycle spaces when buying or renting units. We existing multi-dwelling designs we simply cannot give everyone the bicycle they so desperately desire. Public authorities and architects should focus more on things like that for dense inner urban development. Rather than getting all high and mighty about ‘south facing’ aspect.

Another thing we need to do in inner urban locations, is improve footpaths. If optimized properly they should become the primary arterties of movement for the public to use. The trick though is to avoid un-healthy pedestrian experiments such as Temple Bar, Grafton Street and Henry Street. They are places which remind me of the statement: No one goes there anymore, it is too crowded.

Brian O’ Hanlon

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