Tag Archives: Climate Change

Is solar power a viable alternative to fossil fuels in New England?

By: Jessica Damicis, Senior Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

Solar power is increasing in popularity as a renewable energy resource.  Reasons for the surge in popularity of solar power include rising energy costs, improved and more cost-effective solar panel technology, widespread interest in sustainability, and the need for resilient electricity.

Photovoltaics (PV) which use receptor panels to produce energy from the sun can be placed on open land or roof areas to produce energy for businesses or residences, which may then sell excess energy back to the electric utility. The use of these PV systems can reduce dependency on fossil fuels, the electric grid infrastructure, and reduce risk of power outages in strong storms. The reduced dependency on non-renewable energy can help the business or residence become more sustainable, lessening their impact on the environment through carbon emissions. Unlike other renewable energy sources such as wind and hydroelectric, solar panels require little maintenance and their productive life can be 25 years or more.

A common belief is that PV’s are only effective in regions with bright, year-round sun. While it is true that solar power potential is more modest in New England compared to other sunnier regions of the United States, the total solar power potential easily exceeds the entire electric needs of the New England region. For example, Rhode Island’s State Energy Plan suggests the state could develop over 1,800 MW of solar energy by 2035.

For residents and businesses in Massachusetts and Rhode Island there are several options for solar power—even for those who do not own their property!

Homeowners and businesses who own the building they occupy can do an assessment to see if solar power is viable for their property. Many solar companies offer these assessments to interested property owners and provide quotes for initial cost and payback period.  Owning the PV panels is a greater cost advantage to the property owner, and loans are available to aid in the initial upfront cost.  Property owners can also elect to lease panels for minimal upfront costs.  Leasing is a great option for a property owner who is unable to afford the upfront costs, does not want to wait a year for tax incentives, or who wants to avoid dealing with maintenance of the panels.

Green power programs are another great option and are available for those who do not own their property or who are unsure if they are ready to install PV’s. These programs do not have the same cost savings benefit or property resiliency benefits that installing panels on-site provides, but it is a great way to promote green jobs locally and to support sustainable power. These programs— such as the ones offered through Mass Energy (www.massenergy.org) in Massachusetts and through People’s Power and Light (www.ripower.org) in Rhode Island—allow energy users to switch to renewable energy by paying a few cents more per kW on their energy bill. For an average residential household this might be around $10-20 per month. The green energy programs use the revenue made to invest in new renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and to maintain existing infrastructure. While this is an extra cost instead of savings compared to owning PV’s, these payments into green energy programs are 100% tax deductible.

With so many great options to utilize solar power, there are many ways to “green” your electricity with photovoltaics. Ultimately, the best option depends on the goals a property owner or renter is looking to achieve. It is clear, however, that even in New England solar power has many benefits for power consumers.

To learn more about solar power, please visit

 

From LEED to Envision: Expanding Green Design to Infrastructure

By Matt Alford, P.E., ENV SP, Senior Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

Green design and construction practices have been around for some time, and there are several industry rating systems to help with implementation.  Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), a sustainable rating system for buildings, is the most widely used system around the world. The LEED program guides the design, construction, operations and maintenance of buildings toward sustainability. It has been 16 years since the first version of LEED, and the number of buildings receiving LEED certification increases each year. And it’s not just about the shiny plaque! It has proven to increase building performance throughout the lifecycle of the building while enhancing the experience of the occupants.  The program provides real long-term cost savings in the operation and maintenance of these buildings. This was demonstrated during the economic downturn of 2008-2009 when, despite the economy, the number of registrations increased. “Green” sustainable design can increase the efficiency of a building, provide long-term cost savings, increase public recognition of a project, and improve quality of life.

But, what about infrastructure? Infrastructure changes the way we get around, communicate, and view the world—it is an essential element to our culture. However, it has different challenges than buildings. Often coordination between several organizations that each have their own agendas and budgets is one of the major challenges when implementing sustainable design for infrastructure.

Similar to how LEED is focused on the occupants of the building, the new Envision Rating System focuses on the stakeholders affected by the project.  Envision is an objective framework of criteria and performance achievements that helps users identify ways in which “green” sustainable approaches can be used to plan, design, construct, and operate infrastructure projects. It also looks to enhance the social, environmental and economic aspects of a project by providing a holistic project assessment and guidance tool to tackle these challenges.  Using the design and building of a new industrial plant as an example, Envision encourages cohesive planning so that how the new plant impacts the historical value of the community is as important as how clean the air is being released thru its smokestack.  The goal of the program is to best use taxpayer dollars, reduce our environmental footprint, and enhance the overall quality of life in our community.

Types of Infrastructure Envision Will Rate

 

Envision is broken down into five categories to evaluate how a project contributes to the overall sustainability of the community.

  • Quality of Life – addresses a project’s impact regarding the health and well-being of individuals and the community as a whole.
  • Leadership – engages the project stakeholders and team leaders to provide meaningful commitment, collaboration and communication with each other.
  • Resource Allocation – dives into the use of recyclable materials and overall waste reduction for the long-term operation and maintenance of the infrastructure and construction.
  • Natural World – how the project preserves and renews ecosystem functions.
  • Climate and Risk – looks at two main concepts: ensuring resilience and minimizing emissions of a project both in the short-term and long-term future conditions.

Using Envision demonstrates an organized and comprehensive approach to decision making.  It embraces the use of best practices and garners support from stakeholders. Effective sustainable infrastructure development cannot be completed without involving several parties.

Similar to the LEED program, Envision has four award levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Even if an award is not pursued, it is strongly encouraged to use Envision criteria as a guide or a set of standards for creating sustainable infrastructure. Envision is laying the groundwork for making sustainable design the new standard for all infrastructure projects.

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And why not!?!   Here are some advantages to doing so:

  • Quantifying the qualitative benefits, including preserving local character
  • Applying a consistent, transparent approach to sustainability
  • Helping communities address long-range needs
  • Evaluating environmental and economic benefits
  • Extending the useful life of a project
  • Improving the efficiency of a project
  • Demonstrating good governance of resources

Just as using a sustainable building rating system as a guide for development has proven to be worth the investment for new building construction, Envision will help guide decisions about sustainable infrastructure projects to be made proactively instead of re-actively in our communities. Imagine a world with less congestion, cleaner waters, purposefully-developed communities, and tax dollars being used more efficiently.  Envision provides the framework to improve the way we develop the infrastructure and its impact on our daily lives

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Energy Efficiency: A Revolution in Applied Sustainability at Home

By Sarah Antolick, Engineer at Pare Corporation and a member of Pare’s Sustainability Committee

 

Whether you are a climate-conscious homeowner or are simply looking to keep a few extra dollars in your pocket, sustainable homes have become a hot topic in the past few years. In 2010, 40% of U.S energy consumption was from residential and commercial buildings and accounted for nearly 40% of carbon dioxide emissions [1].  As environmentally conscientious citizens and engineering professionals with a stake in the construction industry, we have an imperative to improve our built environment.

Building codes set a standard for the design and construction of our homes while setting a reference point for health, safety and wellness.  Updating the building code is a powerful tool for improving new construction, which comprises a significant portion of our housing market. According to a study by Statista published in 2017, residential housing growth between 2015 and 2016 amounted to 880,000 new units [2]. These new housing units are among the most sustainable and energy efficient as we are seeing higher standards and codes on both the national and local levels.

However, new construction cannot compare to our existing housing, as it is estimated that there are 135.58 million total residential units in the United States as of 2016.  Therefore, it is in our existing homes that we can make the greatest impact on our environment through energy efficiency improvements.

There are many easy ways to reduce energy usage and save money in our homes without starting from the ground up. Savings vary depending on home size, age, current technology usage, product brand, etc., but collectively these technologies provide significant savings.   Items such as LED light bulbs, low-flow shower heads and aerators, and programmable thermostats are simple fixes that can help reduce energy waste.

The impact that can be derived from these simple changes includes:

  • LED light bulbs use 25-80% less energy and last 3-25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs [3].
  • Phantom energy is energy consumed by appliances that are plugged in but not in use which can account for 15% or more of a household’s total energy consumption. Advanced power strips can eliminate this inefficiency [4].
  • Water heating is the second largest contributor to most households’ energy consumption. Simply fixing a leaking faucet can save $35 annually [5].
  • Low-flow shower heads can save both water and energy consumption for water heating. Low-flow fixtures can translate to 25-60% reduction in water consumption annually [5].

Additional savings can be achieved through larger investments such as air sealing by using double pane windows, added insulation, upgraded HVAC systems, and energy star appliances.

The cost of these systems and energy savings vary greatly.  Locally  both Massachusetts and Rhode Island encourage homeowners to invest in these retrofit options through their rebate programs. Mass Save provides services at subsidized cost and provides interest-free loans on long-term investments [6]. Rhode Island has paired up with National Grid to provide both auditing services and rebates for eligible homeowners [7].

Residents of Rhode Island can take advantage of companies such as RISE Engineering for a full spectrum of services from auditing, design, vending, and  installation through the financial incentives process. RISE is one of the oldest providers of energy auditing services with over 35 years of experience working on over 25,000 single-family residences totaling over $800 million in energy improvements. They work with utility companies, municipalities, and program sponsors to offer a comprehensive energy retrofitting experience. https://www.riseengineering.com/

Likewise, in Massachusetts, HomeWorks Energy is one of the companies tackling energy efficiency one home at a time as part of the “Mass Save” program.  This program is to provide Massachusetts residents with home energy assessments including installation of free products including low flow shower heads and LED light bulbs, and recommendations for future improvements through HVAC, weatherization, windows, and solar. HomeWorks collaborates with home owners, municipalities, contractors, and other community partners to help take advantage of Mass Save incentives. https://www.homeworksenergy.com/

A sustainable future starts in our homes, and the first step in unlocking these opportunities is through home energy assessments. Learn how you can start the process at https://energy.gov/energysaver/do-it-yourself-home-energy-audits

Additionally, The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) maintains a comprehensive national database of Energy Incentive Program resources for organizations, businesses, and residents which can be accessed at https://energy.gov/eere/femp/energy-incentive-programs.

 References:

1-  http://buildingsdatabook.eren.doe.gov/

2-  https://www.statista.com/statistics/240267/number-of-housing-units-in-the-united-states/

3-  https://energy.gov/energysaver/how-energy-efficient-light-bulbs-compare-traditional-incandescents#4- https://energy.gov/energysaver/reduce-hot-water-use-energy-savings

5- https://energy.gov/energysaver/reduce-hot-water-use-energy-savings

6- https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/energy-assessments/ and https://www.masssave.com/en/saving/energy-assessments/homeowners?gclid=CjwKCAjw1ufKBRBYEiwAPI_r4XLc7hejP5qFEKr-CNvIojqk_8T0rqkUiS2e0feHPIyZVWAFsQUj-xoC9OIQAvD_BwE

7- https://www.nationalgridus.com/RI-Home/Energy-Saving-Programs/ and https://www.nationalgridus.com/RI-Home/Energy-Saving-Programs/Home-Checkups-Weatherization

The Results Are In!

By Danielle Goudreau,  Engineer at Pare 

The results from the Pare Climate Change Survey are in!

Pare’s Climate Change Committee would like to thank all who participated in our survey.  We appreciate your thoughtful responses, and have explored answer patterns and concerns below.

Climate change is a very important topic with many differing opinions about causes, implications, and even its existence. However, it’s been established that in order to combat climate change, it will require a broad consensus, and this survey did a great job of establishing how close to that consensus we currently are.

Among survey participants, there is a consensus that climate change is happening and that it is concerning.  It wasn’t surprising (based on the title of the survey) that a majority of respondents believe climate change is occurring.  Approximately 95% of the respondents believe climate change is occurring, 3% do not believe it is occurring. 2% did not express an opinion.  The aspect of climate change participants find most concerning is storm frequency and/or intensity (33%) followed by sea level rise (23%) and ecological changes (20%).

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As far as whether or not we can reduce climate change, there is a split consensus.  Approximately 42% of respondents believe that we are able to reduce the effects of climate change. However the majority of participants (about 50), believe we can’t or won’t do anything to change the effects.  Approximately half of the respondents who believe we can reduce climate change also believe we will make changes to reduce the effects.

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Who should be responsible for mandating changes that may reduce climate change? One third of respondents believe that the Federal Government should be implementing regulations.

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Contest winner Ann Cote at Bryant University provided us with an optimistic view of the future (albeit with a major caveat):    “Only once society is educated on the topic and the seriousness of it, will ideas come forward and the passion to correct the issue surface.”

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Thanks to your participation, Pare’s engineers are now even more equipped to assist in providing clarity and recommendations to the state of the consensus among those associated with or working in the fields of architecture, engineering, and construction.

 

Take Our 3-minute Climate Change Survey!

Over the past month we have all heard a variety of updates, opinions, and developments regarding the Paris Climate Summit and the Global Climate March, a gathering that produced significant awareness and opened the dialogue between hundreds of thousands of people. Although there is still much debate about the causes of climate change, there is growing evidence that storm severity may be increasing, and sea level rise and coastal erosion are well documented, especially in the Northeast.

As one of our founding fathers Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Sparked from the interest of our employees and in an effort to stay up to date with the possible ramifications climate change could pose, Pare’s Climate Change Committee (PC3) was born. Active for almost a year now, the committee has become a critical clearinghouse of climate change-related information and includes representatives from each division at Pare. PC3 includes committee chair Ryan McCoy from the Geotechnical/Waterfront Division, Chue Kue from the Transportation Division, Travis Johnson from the Environmental Division, and Briscoe Lang and Marc Gabriel from the Civil Division.

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Committee members Travis Johnson, Briscoe Lang, Ryan McCoy and Marc Gabriel (missing from photo: Chue Kue)

It has become more and more apparent that the A/E/C industry will hold a crucial role in responding to climate change through innovation, adaptive design, and proactive planning. Pare believes it is imperative to integrate proactive measures into our projects to better protect the public and our clients. In addition to collecting information and advising staff and clients, PC3 is continuously adding to our extensive in-house library so Pare can provide our clients with best practices for their projects. In most cases this will mean creating resilient or adaptive designs that minimize infrastructure and environmental damages resulting from severe storm events, flooding, and sea level rise. By doing so, Pare can better ensure post-storm continuity of business and reduce the amount of maintenance and repair that may be required from storm damage.

To help us understand how climate change impacts you, we invite you to complete the following short survey. We promise it will only take about three minutes of your time, and all who complete the survey will be entered in a drawing for a solar and hand turbine-powered American Red Cross Emergency Radio (which will even let you charge your cell phone when the power goes out!)

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Results of the survey will be posted in a future Pare Blog. The survey also allows you to provide an email address if you would like us to send you the results. If you have any questions about the survey or PC3, please send us an email at mailto:PC3@parecorp.com. Thank you in advance. Your input is greatly appreciated!

Pare Gets Resilient!

Pare’s Ryan McCoy Presents at the ASCE COPRI Coastal Structures Conference in Boston

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From September 9-11, 2015, Ryan McCoy, a project engineer with Pare’s Waterfront/Marine team and co-chair of the Pare Climate Change Committee (PC3), attended a 3-day conference in Boston, Massachusetts hosted by ASCE-COPRI (Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute). The “Coastal Structures and Solutions to Coastal Disasters Joint Conference” highlighted resilient coastal communities focusing on coastal protection and the vulnerability of the coastal infrastructure to coastal storms. In addition to attending technical sessions with topics ranging from coastal storms and flood mapping to tsunami response and protection to climate change and sea level rise, Ryan presented on day 2 at the conference’s poster session. Ryan discussed the Salisbury Tide Gate project, highlighting the resiliency of the structure which was designed by Pare with construction completed in 2014.

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Oxford dictionary defines Resilient as “able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions.”   The Salisbury Tide Gate project exemplifies the resiliency that is required when future sea level rise and the intensity of coastal storms are unknown. Pare reviewed available data including FEMA flood maps which indicated a 100-year flood elevation several feet above the embankment’s crest. In lieu of raising the crest elevation of the entire embankment (over 1 mile long), Pare incorporated resiliency into the embankment and tide gate design by allowing the site to be overtopped during significant storm events. Pare’s engineers designed the structure to be reliable and robust in order to preserve the structural integrity and water control required for post-storm recovery.

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The reconstruction of the site included the reconstruction of the embankment, replacement of the single culvert with twin culverts, and the installation of new tide gates. In order to make the site resilient, the new design included the installation of a steel sheet pile core wall driven to effectively eliminate seepage through the embankment, installation of armor stone on both sides of the embankment to reduce the effects of erosion potentially caused by flood waters, setup of remote water level sensors upstream and downstream of the embankment to alert DPW employees to rising flood waters, and new tide gates designed as combination sluice/flap gates to provide additional water level control during predicted flood events. In addition to these hard and fast solutions, proper tidal exchange and flushing of the sensitive salt marsh was reestablished, which restored the health of the resource area and provided a natural buffer during storm events.

These types of design considerations are going to be required as coastal communities look to improve public or private infrastructure across the country. Pare’s Climate Change Committee has worked diligently to understand the effects that climate change may have on future projects and the civil engineering industry as a whole. By remaining current with the science and policy of climate change, PC3 and Pare will provide our Clients with knowledgeable recommendations to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change through resilient design that is adaptable to a dynamic environment.