Form follows Energy
Louis Sullivan's principle "Form follows function" has been the battle cry for many of my architect friends and a way of understanding what needs to be done to our built environment. Over dinner the other week, we were getting comfortable with a new paradigm--one that is becoming more and more apparent every day--Form follows Energy.
California is the 12th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world--the second largest user of transportation fuels--and the largest user if you look at it on a per capita basis. If you are looking at the problem through a greenhouse gas lens, our problems are sprawl development, and a very high percentage of car use.
My focus here is whether building form is influenced, or follows, energy demand--I'm going to leave the car problem to the smarter folks.
My basic thesis is that we will not conserve our way out of the problem--we need to develop for a world where energy is expensive. This will get the numbers working in the right direction, and then focus on delivering clean, cheap power as part of the solution. Why isn't conservation the answer? This is what happens when energy is cheap:
Every new home we add, every new apartment we build, every new office building developed--increases the demand for energy. If we are generating electricity from carbon based fuels, it increases the carbon loading of the atmosphere.
The average Californian requires about 7,500 kWh per year:
This is a little more than half of the national average, but we add 400,000 people per year in population. Part of the reason why our usage is so low is that we are blessed with a wonderful Mediterranean climate in our coastal regions. The problem is that the majority of these new arrivals will live in the interior of the state, where the summer heat is intense, and AC loads drive a "peaky" electrical demand curve. And no one wants a new power plant next to them.
Every new office building requires about 13 kWh per square foot per year to operate when fully occupied.
New data centers are being designed at 400 watts per square foot or 1600 kWh/SF/yr, more than 100 times your typical commercial office building. And data center demands are increasing, not decreasing as Google, Netflix, and Amazon becoming a more familiar part of our lives.
The value of the asset we create is diminished by the energy costs necessary to operate it, and augmented by its value to its occupants.
Our demand for power is becoming increasingly "peak-y" due to building more in the Central Valley--peak demand is very sensitive to temperature variations:
The rising cost of petroleum and natural gas as a feedstock increases awareness of how much, and what type, of energy is used, in our daily activities. Understanding energy flows can, and should, inform the design of our built environment.
How do I practice Form follows Energy development?
The most basic form of energy is the sun--so Form flows with the Sun--
Start by understanding the energy flows of the site. reflected in what is needed to be captured, deflected, or redirected. Think daylighting, cross ventilation, night flushing, pre-chilling, and thermal cycling.
Intervening--reflecting, redirecting, and catching the energy flows. Think shades, reflective roofs, and occupancy patterns.
Harvesting--solar electric--photovoltaics, and solar thermal--solar hot water and adsorptive chillers for air conditioning. Harvesting on an inefficient building is a dumb idea--like trying to row a leaky boat. Do you row faster, or fix the leak?
Methinks the answer is:
- more compact development patterns--ULI is already looking at this,
- net zero energy buildings--CPUC wants all new residential at net zero by 2020 and commercial by 2030,
- a revolution in how we fuel transportation,
- distributed electricity generation--think smart grid, solar, and wind, and
- a fuel tax/carbon tax/credit process to motivate us to do the right thing.
Creating incentives, building awareness, putting a cost to using energy unnecessarily. This is a "wetware" problem--the people, economics, and politics--putting the skills to work. We have won the hearts and minds, now we need to execute.
Form following energy, indeed.