Mark Chalom


In mid-May, downtown Denver became the renewable energy hot spot of the world. The American Solar Energy Society’s annual conference was combined, for the first time, with the World Renewable Energy Forum and the International Solar Energy Society. Solar energy was featured, along with hydroelectric, wind energy, biofuels, bio char, wave power and more. Experts in all fields presented technical papers, new goals and achievements. The Denver Convention Center showed off its 300-kw photovoltaic system, installed by Namaste Solar, a Colorado company. The system provides 14-25 percent of the facility’s electricity.

We were presented with a worldwide view of renewable energies happening now and for what looks to be a very bright near future. But it’s not an easy path. There are choices that need to be made and hurdles to be jumped. Many of the main problems are political rather than technical. Many speakers pointed this out to us many times in many ways.

Each morning began with a plenary session. The speakers included US Energy Secretary Chu, Bruce Oreck, US Ambassador to Finland, Dan Arvizu, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Ed Mazria of Architecture 2030. All of these talks were positive, pointed out the directions we must go and the challenges we face. By 10:25 am we were broken-up into technical tracks dealing with many issues simultaneously. There were also forums, fast tracks, poster sessions, training workshops and a World Trade Fair showcasing the latest technologies.

My focus was climatically designed buildings. I was presented with a variety of options on that track alone. There are buildings in various parts of the world that have been artfully designed and built to meet or exceed the Architecture 2030 Challenge. These integrated designs are already working as planned. Their inspiring architecture blends with nature. I saw west-side façades covered with shades that moved in the wind and became kinetic pieces of art. Daylighting technology, utilizing the advantages of natural light, has also become an art form proven to benefit occupants’ health and productivity. Landscaping has come a long way in its ability to modify climate around a building, collect and process water, promote wildlife, provide usable outdoor spaces, save water, energy and the client’s money.

It was nice to see a strong presence of New Mexico solar businesses and industry. NM Solar Energy Association members came from Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Gallup, Silver City and Las Cruces and proudly represented our state at caucuses, technical sessions and general discussions. New Mexico companies such as Schott and Affordable Solar were part of the trade fair. Among NM’s VIP diplomats were Ed Mazria, Doug Balcomb and Marlene Brown. At the awards banquet, I was honored with a lifetime achievement award. I shared the Passive Solar Pioneer Award with Edna Shaviv, an architect and professor from the Israeli Institute of Technology. We were fortunate to have time to get to know each other and promised to continue communicating and sharing technical information. I was able to spend time with people from various parts of the world where there are many unbelievable projects.

Several projects particularly impressed me. The largest was the Desertec Industry Initiative, a multinational group working to generate electricity from concentrated solar in the Sahara Desert. The energy is intended not only to take care of northern Africa; it will also provide 15 percent of Europe’s needs via high-efficiency transmission lines under the Mediterranean Sea. This multibillion-dollar project, funded by the World Bank and other conglomerates, includes countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. Thermal energy storage will guarantee power 24 hours a day. When advantageous, wind generators along the western coast of Africa will be integrated into the system. Much of the work and research for this project was done at Sandia Labs in Albuquerque, financed by the US government. Countries such as Germany, Spain and Sweden are also to be part of the project. Desertec now has 56 partners in 15 countries.

The impact of the federal government on RE was clearly stated by Energy Sec. Chu and Undersecretary Dorothy Robyn of the Dept. of Defense. The DOD uses the most money on the largest amount of land, owns the most buildings and uses more energy than any other department in our government. The need for national security and energy independence is a key justification for their pursuit of energy conservation in buildings and utilization of renewable energies. The scale at which the DOD utilizes these two technologies makes a major impact on manufacturing costs and implementation on a national scale. They plan to have 3-gw of RE by 2025 and $1.1 billion in energy retrofits alone in 2013. The US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in the Mojave Desert region of California has a 270-mw geothermal plant that has been operating since 1987. Careful post-evaluation of the DOD’s RE initiatives has led to better programs and more efficient technologies. The money spent by the DOD alone creates many jobs and third-party businesses, as well as major savings to the government.

Colorado had its chance to shine in the sun at the conference. Former Gov. Ritter spoke at the awards banquet. He is a strong believer in renewable energy, especially for economic growth and creation of clean jobs. Colorado has more RE jobs per capita than any other state and now has more than 1500 RE companies, including three wind turbine factories and three photovoltaic module factories. Gov. Ritter worked with Colorado’s Excel Energy to develop RE. Many Colorado RE projects have received national awards.

The National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL), a co-host of the conference, had bragging rights to one of the most impressive buildings built to date. The Research Support Facility, a LEED-Platinum, zero-energy building with carbon neutral operations, is a 360,000-sq. ft. building housing 1,300 employees. It incorporates photo-chromatic and thermal-chromatic windows, east and west. Passive solar and daylighting is very well designed, with highly reflective solar louvers on the south, maximizing daylight while minimizing glare. With open interior workspaces, no one is more than 30 feet from a day-lit window. The building generates 1.6 mw of photovoltaic power through a Power Purchase Agreement; NREL does not own the system and pays a third party for its power. The walls are well insulated and incorporate a sandwich of concrete thermal mass. Aside from looking at every energy and material issue possible, they closely reviewed operations and human interactions. Occupants are notified on their computer when it’s a nice day outside, suggesting that they open up their windows for natural ventilation and comfort. The daylighting works so well, rarely is task lighting turned on. Even the janitors work during the day to minimize use of lights at night.

In 2006 Ed Mazria was a keynote speaker at ASES. At that time he was studying the impact buildings have on global energy usage. Energy that went into building and maintaining buildings had not even really been evaluated, compared to transportation and industry usage. It was shocking to discover that buildings were responsible for 40 percent of US energy usage. At that time Architecture 2030 was in its infancy, and Ed was starting to understand what was technically achievable to reduce a building’s carbon impact. He began to figure out the progression and stepped goals necessary to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030.

This year Ed was proud to announce how many architecture schools, architecture companies, the US Council of Mayors, most cities, states, the federal government and many countries have taken on Architecture 2030’s goals. He said that many architectural firms have already achieved carbon neutrality. This was a very uplifting presentation.

The Emerging Architecture Session was also very inspiring. The buildings presented use much less energy (well beyond LEED’s standards), push performance, provide social and community benefits and are catalysts for great change. We are now starting to address campus and citywide scales with regenerative ecology and buildings that learn and change. The Living Building Challenge is being met by many architectural firms. Here are some fine examples:

The Kensington High School for Creative and Performing Arts (Philadelphia, PA) – This net-zero building is so inspiring, the graduation rate went from 30 to 70 percent.

Chandler City Hall (AZ) – This is an infill Brownfield site and the anchor for a downtown revitalization district. It incorporates stainless steel plates hinged so that they become an art piece as well as a western shade screen. This is a building that truly inspires.

The Vancouver Convention Center incorporates a 6-acre green roof – the largest in Canada. It is a living machine; a regenerative ecology that processes all on-site wastewater as well as wastewater from visiting cruise ships. The building’s foundation was designed to provide fish habitat. The roof incorporates four beehives.

The Arizona State University Polytechnic Campus Building (Phoenix, AZ) celebrates the value of water, engaging all of the site’s storm water, developing a wonderful landscape environment. This encourages students to interact with the building and the community.

The Empire State Building (NYC) and its energy retrofit, which includes new windows, radiant barriers, controls for air handling and air-conditioning units, saved having to dig up city streets and replace the existing cooling towers. This project earned LEED-Gold certification and an estimated savings of $2.4 million the first year and 4.4 million after tenant renovations. It will pay for itself in less than three years. Even the famous colorful outside lighting display has been changed to LED.

Electric Vehicles

There was also much excitement at the conference about electric transportation. Battery technology has come a long way, making all electric and hybrid vehicles much more affordable, reliable and able to travel greater distances per charge. Electric charging stations’ availability is expanding. There was an area set up outside with EVs, from simple bicycles and motorcycles to family cruisers. To my delight, there was also a wonderful solar carport. Every public parking lot in Santa Fe and other cities should be full of these structures. It makes it possible to double-utilize land resources, bring distributed solar energy much closer to end-users in commercial spaces, minimize snow removal, harvest rainwater and maximize car shade. These structures in public parking lots will surely make community solar programs much more advantageous, financially affordable and able to take advantage of economy-of-scale.

One of the keywords I picked up and really believe in is “Community Solar Programs.” This is where the “utility company” is really a utility company. They or a third-party own and install the equipment and rent your roof or fields. You use the power, pay a fixed rate for 20 years, and have no financial investment. Infill sites, Brownfield sites, dumps and open fields are being taken over by large community-scale solar electric systems. This large system is then broken up amongst many owners buying in to any share they like. This makes solar electricity available to those who do not have good solar access or to families that rent or don’t have the financial ability to make a large investment in their own system. This concept of Community Solar is now being utilized for solar thermal hot water, wind energy systems and other RE sources. It’s a very exciting program, and we need to demand more of this in NM. Colorado is well ahead in its Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RES) requirements. PNM, sadly, is well behind. It’s not because we have less sun. As I drove through Colorado I was amazed at how many large solar PV systems I saw in many communities.

A few months ago I drove through Flagstaff and saw the 500 kw (expandable to 700 kw) Doney Park community solar project. This will also include eight kilowatts of wind. It included many homes wired together for a total of another 1,000 kw and a 500-kw storage system with lithium ion battery storage technology. This project helps Arizona Public Service exceed its RES requirements by removing barriers for customers and by meeting the growing demand for solar energy. In the May issue of Green Fire Times there was a report about a community solar project Kit Carson Electric has built in the Taos area. So these systems are happening in NM. I truly believe we will be seeing a lot more when it becomes advantageous to the Public Regulation Commission (PRC) and PNM to make it happen.

I have attended ASES many times, so I had a good basis to compare this year to others. The general attitude of all attending was much more upbeat than in 2006 and 2010. We were shown where RE is making an impact and is growing exponentially in many parts of the world. There were fewer global warming fear mongers. We were reminded there are many other very positive reasons for RE: stewardship of the Earth, air quality, homeland security, and of course, good, clean jobs. The US, sadly, is well behind many other countries, including Denmark Germany, China and Mexico. It is also very evident that NM has fallen well behind its neighboring states. Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, California and Nevada are well ahead of our energy policies and ability to integrate RE technologies. Even New Jersey is well ahead of NM. Our state must really make some key decisions; work with the PRC, PNM and other utilities to make this happen. We as the general public must demand this.

I left the World Renewable Energy Forum and the American Solar Energy Society National Conference feeling very good about the world’s energy future and our ability to meet energy demands with a combination of strategies and energy sources. It is now up to the world leaders and leaders in our country to take on this commitment for our future.


Mark Chalom is a Santa Fe-based architect (LEED 2.0) who has specialized in Environmental Climatic Design for the past forty years. He recently received a lifetime achievement award for his Passive Solar Architecture and research from the American Solar Energy Society., 505.983.1885,



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