Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Water, Water, Everywhere...

Earning a platinum designation from the U.S. Green Building Council is tough and only the most determined institutions make the attempt.

Essentially, the building has to produce about as much energy as it consumes and should have no carbon footprint.

Yale's under-construction Kroon Hall is aiming for platinum, which is laudable.

How a building of laboratories and classrooms can produce as much energy as it consumes is a puzzle. Either the building has to use a minimal amount of energy, or must come up with ingenious ways to generate electricity.

It would be easy to reduce energy consumption to zero. Just eliminate lights, heating, and electrical sockets. True, the interior would be freezing and dark for several months a year, and then hot, stuffy and dim.

That doesn't seem practical. Solar power in New England is not a great idea because about one out of three days is cloudy. Likewise, New England does not have large plains that naturally generate wind.

Here are a few suggestions: Internal fans, connected to generators, spun by the wakes of walking students. Have students wear thermocouples. Line the halls with copper coils and have students wear magnets as they walk from one room to another.

The Kroon plan does include an intricate water system that will supposedly save 500,000 gallons annually. How in the world could Kroon Hall even consume that much water, unless they are converting bauxite into aluminum?

The water system is intended to treat storm water run-off. Not anything as gross as sewage. Just relatively pure rain that has flowed through turf and soil. The first rain water is dirtiest and it's diverted into a large tank. So is gutter water.

This water is then directed into a pond containing aquatic plants that serve as biofilters. Clean water then flows into a harvesting tank. There it will be used for toilets and irrigation.

So basically, the storm run off still ends up in the sewage treatment plant and/or Long Island Sound, but first it runs through some pipes and a pond. Why bother to clean water that will be used in toilets?

Unless the slope of the pipes is carefully designed and adjusted, moving the water will require pumps, or students turning a big wooden wheel connected to a pump.

The expense of the pipes, pond, and tanks hardly seems worth it. How long will the storm water project take to pay for itself?

By then we'll all be using fusion power.

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