K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Oct 04 2010

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Moore’s Law for Green Building?

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In preparation for West Coast Green this week, I have been having a series of fascinating talks with dozens of the speakers and supporters of the conference. From these, a new meme emerged I found interesting.

Lorie Wigle is the General Manager of Eco-Technology at Intel. Intel chips power most of the computers in the world, but what can they do to be green? I was delightfully surprised to learn at some of the incredible efforts they are making beyond mere power consumption of their chips. With Lorie’s help, they are looking at the way the chips analyze data and measure information currently immeasurable. Inexpensive chips could be placed around a building to provide instant data around energy loss or water use. Such information could control the building systems to maximize efficiency.

The company is currently the largest purchaser of alternative energy: an estimated 1.3 billion kilowatt-hours in annual green power usage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest Top 25 list.

When asked about the limits of computer technology, Lorie brought up the famous Moore’s Law, which stated back in 1965 that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. Named after the founder, Gordon Moore, Intel has kept up that pace for 45 years. As the number of transistors has increased, the cost of production has decreased.

“Progress began to slow around 2007,” Lorie explained, “but a new breakthrough with 45 nanometer technology allowed this breakneck progress to continue.” Experts estimate they have another ten years before another similar scale breakthrough is needed. “And that’s what we’re working on now,” she added with a smile.

That same day I had a conversation with David Gottfried, founder of the U.S. Green Building Council. David was initially a Real Estate Developer who longed to get back to his roots in Engineering studying under Gil Masters at Stanford University. He wanted to make development more environmentally responsible and realized the best way to do that would be to create a non-profit to educate building professionals about greening their buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council was born. Now I know many of you probably have had similar feelings. The difference was that David did this in 1991, long before most of us really knew what green was and at a time when no other developer seemed interested.

We talked about what is needed today to continue to move green buildings forward, and David said, “We need a Moore’s Law for buildings. We need that same rapid innovation and development for building materials and systems.” A bell went off in my head. He was right: We need a competitive, innovative and leapfrogging approach to building systems and we need it driven by the same financial impetus as the microchip.

“It’s about transformation, and reinventing our world.” David continued, “A big chunk of our world are our economic systems. The root of economic system is the definition of value and wealth creation. When you look at value, it should be that Nature is valued; Natures rules are valuable. The ultimate value should be the preservation of Earth, but for us as a species, it should be preservation of life. I’m trying to take those elements and get them in the top line of the economic equation.”

“The Developer model is just a subset of the economy. The economy is a subset of what makes money. Developers will do the deepest level of Green Buildings…if the money is there. The [developer] world is about Return on Investment. Their model will shift as soon as the economic model shows this value.”

What codes, policies and assumptions need to change in order to create a Moore’s Law for Green Building?

This week, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times about a Moore’s Law for electric cars “the cost per mile of the electric car battery will be cut in half every 18 months.”

If the green car movement is doing it, then so can we. I plan on exploring this all week with my fellow compatriots at West Coast Green.

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Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

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