L.A. at Home

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Category: Solar

At Coyote House, every day is an Earth Day

Coyote House night
Oh, how far we've come from Earth Days past — when the phrase “green home” conjured images of straw-bale structures, when solar panels seemed like such an earnest novelty, when “LEED certified” hadn't yet crept into public consciousness.

With Earth Day 2012 almost upon us, nearly 60,000 homes in the United States are in the process of being certified in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Education and Environmental Design program, according to Nate Kredich, the organization's vice president of residential market development. Need more convincing proof of just how far we've come? Take a peek at the new home of architect Ken Radtkey and landscape architect Susan Van Atta.

PHOTO GALLERY: 26-picture tour of Coyote House

INFOGRAPHIC: How the garden roofs, cisterns and other green elements work

The husband and wife's three-bedroom house nestled into a Montecito hillside is dubbed the Coyote House, partly after the name of the couple's street, partly after the howling critters in the area. Beyond its abundance of energy- and water-saving features, however, the house is notable for its utter normality: On the most basic level, it is simply a comfortable and beautiful family home.

Coyote House veranda“Designing sustainably was a given for us,” says Radtkey, founder of Blackbird Architects, a Santa Barbara firm with an emphasis on sustainable design. “But the most important goal was to make a great home.”

To that end, the house starts with a modern take on the veranda, right. A covered room overlooking the front garden has a sliding screen and front and back sets of glass pocket doors that can open to the outdoors or seal it off in various ways, depending on the season and weather.

A dozen highly flammable eucalyptus trees — by coincidence, cut down just months before the November 2008 Tea fire that swept through the region — were used to build the front door, kitchen table, bookcases, stairs and banister. Other materials used for interior appointments were sustainable too: Cabinets are bamboo, the floors are cork or salvaged stone, most of the walls unpainted plaster.

Continue reading »

EnergyGlass: Windows that make solar electricity

EnergyGlassHouse1Almost 90% of electricity generated from the sun comes courtesy of roof-mounted panels made with silicon, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. But new technology using clear glass offers another option.

EnergyGlass, based in Riviera Beach, Fla., sandwiches a sheet of polycarbonate laminate infused with nanoparticles between two pieces of optically clear glass. When it comes into contact with various types of light, the light is directed to the pane's perimeter, where it's converted into electricity in the frame of a window or door.

The glass can convert sunlight, ambient light and artificial light into electricity, according to Saf-Glas, a 15-year-old manufacturer of bullet- and blast-resistant safety glass. The company introduced EnergyGlass last year for commercial projects, such as high-rise office buildings and hotels, that are already using significant amounts of clear plate glass.

Vertically mounted EnergyGlass generates about a third as much power per square foot as traditional photovoltaics, the company said. The advantage of EnergyGlass is that it generates electricity in spaces that otherwise wouldn't.

"Architects and designers and construction managers can use this like any other piece of glass. We can make this any size or shape, and it goes where regular glass would've gone anyway," said Steve Coonen, EnergyGlass chief technology officer. "We're taking advantage of the cost of the glass already going in and the labor to put it in. You don't need a rack to hold the solar panels because it's already part of the building."

The technology used in EnergyGlass is known as a luminescent concentrator, so called because "small particles in the glass absorb the light and reluminesce," said Sarah Kurtz, a spokeswoman for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Kurtz said the efficiency of luminiscent concentrators still has a ways to go before they are as efficient as silicon and cadmium telluride photovoltaics. It's a "difficult technology" that will take a few years to develop to become cost effective, she said, but "if you can take light that would otherwise result in heat load from the building and turn that into electricity, that's a win-win for everybody."

Coonen said a 30% federal tax credit and the fact that EnergyGlass simply substitutes for another type of glass make the product competitive in price to standard rooftop photovoltaics. So far, the company has installed the glass in two buildings: a government building in Taiwan and an office building in Delray Beach, Fla. A few other projects are slated for completion in South Florida.


Thin-film solar panels

Solar Decathlon moves to Orange County in 2013

Residential solar power in California still a hot topic

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A buildling in Taiwan outfitted with electricity-generating EnergyGlass. Credit: Saf-Glas.

Solar Decathlon will move to Orange County in 2013

The U.S. Department of Energy's worldwide competition to build solar-powered, highly energy-efficient homes will move to Orange County in 2013. The biennial Solar Decathlon had been held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., since its inception in 2002. 

"We wanted to find a way to extend the competition’s reach beyond D.C. and showcase energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies across the country," DOE spokeswoman Jen Stutsman said. By moving it to Orange County Great Park, in Irvine, "we’ll be able to reach millions of Southern Californians and demonstrate for a new audience the benefits that come with energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies."

The DOE selected Orange County Great Park through a national competition. The site was chosen for its ability to accommodate 20 houses, its visitor parking and easy freeway access, as well as favorable weather conditions.

"California has been at the forefront in leading America toward a clean energy future, developing and showcasing energy efficiency and renewable technologies like solar energy for many years," Stutsman said. "We’re excited to have the state once again play a role in building an American clean energy future that will create new jobs and help America to compete in the global clean energy race.”

For the Solar Decathlon, 20 teams from colleges and universities across the United States and the world spend two years designing, constructing and testing home designs that combine affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence, according to the DOE.

The announcement about the Solar Decathlon's move to Southern California in 2013 came on the same day that the DOE announced that three universities from Southern California had been selected to compete, including the Southern California Institute of Architecture, the California Institute of Technology and the University of Southern California. In 2011, Caltech and SCI-Arc competed as a single team -- the first time a So Cal entry had been accepted in the Solar Decathlon. SCI-Arc and Caltech will collaborate again for the 2013 competition.


2011 Solar Decathlon photos

Designs on energy efficiency

California team leads way in Solar Decathlon

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: A rendering of 2013 Solar Decathlon Solar Village at Orange County Great Park. Credit: Orange County Great Park Corp.


Home Tour: Photographer Jill Greenberg's hillside escape

Jill Greenberg bathroomThe house that Beth Holden designed for photographer Jill Greenberg and producer Robert Green takes cues from some of Greenberg's best-known photos: a cool (at times frosty) palette, a layer of glam and flash, a touch of playful surrealism -- all of which seems fitting once you've seen the hillside house's unbelievable view.

The homes we profile often fall into familiar categories: modern innovators, restoration wonders, budget remodels, small-but-smart spaces. This one? File it under L.A. fantasy, a live-work escape complete with artificial turf on the rooftop playground. 

Story and 360 panoramas

Traditional photo gallery

We have been tracking progress of this house for about two years, most recently so photographer Jill Greenberg panoramaBryan Chan could complement our article and traditional photography with 360-degree interactive panoramas that allow you to pan and zoom inside various rooms. Buckle up and enjoy the ride.


Time-lapse video: Eames living room moved to LACMA

Eames House restoration

Landmark Houses: The series

Homes of the Times: California design in photos

-- Craig Nakano

Photo, top: The second-floor master bathroom's corner window has a frosted lower half, providing privacy while still transmitting light. The skylight reappears on the rooftop, where it's situated as a glass table surrounded by built-in seating. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Photo, bottom: A screen capture from one of seven 360-degree panorama images accompanying the story. Credit: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times

University of Maryland wins 2011 Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathlon Maryland
The University of Maryland won the 2011 Solar Decathlon on Saturday afternoon, beating students from Purdue, a New Zealand team and a combined entry from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture in the U.S. Department of Energy's biannual design competition.

Photos: 41-image gallery of the Solar Decathlon entries

Solar Decathlon Purdue Maryland's entry, pictured above, earned about 951.2 points out of 1,000 from judges scoring criteria such as architectural merit, engineering and affordability of construction. The house's photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays can harness the sun to provide all of its power and to heat all of its water, and it also has been designed to filter storm water and recycle gray water.

Purdue, the Indiana school whose entry is shown at right, finished second with 931.4 points. The Victoria University of Wellington, whose entry is pictured below, finished third with 919.1 points. The Caltech and SCI-Arc team finished sixth with 899.5 points.

Nineteen teams competed, and complete Solar Decathlon final standings are posted on the event's site.

Solar Decathlon New Zealand 2

Continue reading »

Solar Decathlon 2011: Experimental houses open for judging [updated]

Solar Decathlon 2011 Maryland
The 2011 Solar Decathlon won't announce its overall winners until Saturday, but the University of Maryland entry pictured above placed first Wednesday in the architectural design category. On Tuesday, a team from Purdue and a combined team from Parsons the New School for Design in New York and Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey tied for first in the affordability category. Their energy-efficient home designs were estimated to cost less than $250,000 to build. 

Photos: Solar Decathlon 2011, the houses inside and out

The engineering judging will be announced Thursday. As about 20 teams rack up points in the U.S. Department of Energy's biannual competition in Washington, D.C., Maryland has moved into the overall lead, followed by Ohio State, Purdue and Middlebury, pictured below.

Solar Decathlon MiddleburyUpdated at 12:40 p.m.: In the Thursday judging of the engineering category, a New Zealand team from the Victoria University of Wellington placed first. The entry from the Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles and Caltech in Pasadena took second.

In the overall standings, Maryland remained in first, Ohio State in second, Purdue in third. The SCI-Arc and Caltech team surged into fourth. More judging to come; look for final results over the weekend.


Photos: Caltech and SCI-Arc's CHIP house

Article: Caltech and SCI-Arc at Solar Decathlon

The bizarrely complicated world of recycling

 -- Craig Nakano

Photos: Stefano Paltera / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Caltech and SCI-Arc's soft landing at Solar Decathlon

Caltech SCI-Arc CHIP
At the 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., one of the head-turning designs on the National Mall is CHIP — the Compact, Hyper-Insulated Prototype by a team from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture.  With insulation stretched around the outside of the frame instead of inside, the house looks like it's wrapped in a spacesuit.

The competition is meant to spur innovation in energy-efficient home design, and college teams invest a lot in making their ideas reality. CHIP took two years, more than 100 students and $1 million to build. Solar panels power an Xbox Kinect that has been turned into a master command center, allowing residents to turn lights and appliances on and off simply by pointing at them.

Article: Caltech and SCI-Arc introduce CHIP

Photos: CHIP's budget materials and interior features

We'll post more from the Solar Decathlon as winners in various categories are announced.

Caltech SCI-Arc CHIP 2

Photos: The greenest house in L.A.?

Photos: Green houses on the Baja coast

The bizarrely complicated world of household recycling

Photo credit: Stefano Paltera / U.S. Department of Energy

Los Angeles DWP to relaunch Solar Incentive Program Sept. 1 [Updated]

Solar panels L.A.'s Board of Water and Power Commissioners approved a plan Tuesday to relaunch its Solar Incentive Program, and the Department of Water and Power will resume accepting applications for the program Sept. 1 at 10 a.m. The program was placed on hold April 9 because demand for solar incentives exceeded available funds by a factor of three to one.

"As we relaunch the Solar Incentive Program in September, it is extremely important that we leverage the incentives to achieve the most solar power and encourage as much participation as possible," DWP General Manager Ronald O. Nichols said in a statement. "We also want to grow solar at a steady and sustainable pace while being prudent about the cost to all customers who pay for this program through their rates."

The DWP has increased the budget for the Solar Incentive Program to $60 million for the current fiscal year. It anticipates adding $60 million to the program annually in 2012 and 2013 as well. The $60 million in rebates over the next three years will be funded with revenue collected from ratepayers' electric bills.

For an average four-kilowatt, $32,000 solar power installation, the program previously covered up to 45% of the costs for residential buildings. Through April of this year, the Solar Incentive Program reimbursement rate was $3.25 per watt, or $13,000 for a four-kilowatt system. Starting Sept. 1, the rebate amount will be $2.00 to $2.20 per watt, with the highest rebate amount going to the most efficient systems. A four-kilowatt system with optimum orientation and no shading would be reimbursed $8,800, a less-efficient system, $8,000.

In a statement, DWP senior assistant general manager Aram Benyamin said, "Now that significant tax incentives are being offered by the federal government, we have an opportunity to reduce our incentive levels to be more in line with market pricing, which should give more customers the opportunity to build solar and increase the amount of solar [photovoltaic projects] that can be built through this program."

Homeowners who install solar power between now and the end of 2016 can receive a federal tax credit equal to 30% of the system's cost.

Many of the area's top solar providers, including Sungevity, SolarCity, Verengo and SunRun, oppose LADWP's revamped Solar Incentive Program. They say the reduced incentives would require homeowners who install photovoltaic systems to pay more for electricity than they would without solar panels; the payback period would also increase to as much as 14 years -- far longer than other areas in the state. [Updated 8-3-11, 1:10 p.m.: The original version of this post did not include feedback from solar installers.]

According to Nichols, "In the next few months, we will come back with more leasing options and other proposals for lower-income households."


Los Angeles DWP to again offer solar rebates

Solar power incentives make it easier to switch

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Rooftop solar panels. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

One Block Off the Grid expands with solar leasing

SolarpanelsIrfanKhan The group solar buying program, One Block Off the Grid, announced this week that it will begin offering leases for solar panel installations in addition to outright purchases.

Targeting homeowners who want to go solar to generate their own, renewable electricity but who don't want to bear the entire cost burden up front, One Block Off the Grid's solar lease lets consumers get a  price estimate online without a salesman coming to their homes.

One Block Off the Grid is a San Francisco-based company that, since 2008, has been gathering homeowners in L.A. and other cities into buying groups that allow the company to negotiate a reduced solar-installation rate from a single contractor. The rate is typically 15% below market average.

In the Southern California Edison service area, an average 5.2-kilowatt installation purchased outright through the company costs $5.25 per watt, or $13,800 after rebates and incentives. The same installation financed with a 20-year lease would cost about $125 per month with zero money down. 

Funded with referral fees from solar contractors, One Block Off the Grid has helped homeowners install 1,400 photovoltaic systems nationwide.

"The question was, 'How do we get solar to mass adoption?'" asked One Block Off the Grid founder Dave Llorens.

Llorens thought the best strategy was to allow the individual players in a solar power installation to each do what they do best. One Block Off the Grid gives the price estimate. California Green Designs installs the panels and handles the paperwork for applicable rebates from L.A.-area utilities. And the firm Sun Edison provides financing when needed.

With its entry into the solar lease market, One Block Off the Grid joins Sungevity, Sun Run and five other companies offering solar leases to homeowners.

-- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Rooftop solar panels. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times


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