New Commercial Buildings in France Must Get Green Roofs or Solar Panels

By Evan Ackerman

Photo: Getty Images

For the most part, Europe has been steadily advancing towards a smarter, more efficient power grid, heavily based on renewable energy as opposed to coal or nuclear power plants. There’s enough reliance on solar power, in fact, that solar eclipses have the potential to cause gigawatt-scale power fluctuations. France, however, is still primarily dependent on nuclear power, which provided over 80 percent of its power in 2012. In an effort to rebalance its energy mix, the French parliament has approved a law mandating that all new commercial buildings feature roofs that are at least partially covered in either solar panels or plants.

This new law applies only to new construction of buildings in commercial zones in France. Originally, environmental groups had lobbied for the law to apply to all new buildings, and for the requirement to be total rooftop coverage with greenery, but it’s been scaled back to allow partial coverage or solar panels, whichever the building owner prefers.

The benefits of solar panels are straightforward: when the sun is out, they generate electricity, which can be either used on-site or fed back into the grid. Green roofs, which are covered in dirt and living plants, are a little bit more complicated. They’re much more difficult to construct, since you usually have to plan for them in the design phase of your building. All those plants, the soil they live in, and the water that the system retains weighs a lot, with the most extensive, self-sustaining green roof ecosystems weighing up to 700 kg/m2. Without planning for that sort of structural overhead over your head, it’s sometimes impossible to greenify a roof of a building that wasn’t designed for it, an designing for it from the beginning can as much as double the roof’s cost.

In one respect, green roofs are similar to rooftop solar panels. There’s a significant up-front expense, but over time, there are also significant savings that (should) more than cover the cost of construction and upkeep. For example, a green roof protects against structural damage, and should last between two and three times as long as a conventional roof. Green roofs act as insulators, reducing summer cooling and winter heating needs by about 25 percent.

On a national scale, both green roofs and rooftop solar panels tackle several problems simultaneously. By either saving energy or generating electricity, they help to reduce power demands and stabilize the national grid, especially when demand peaks due to high temperatures. Green roofs also absorb water, helping minimize runoff during heavy rains. And when it’s hot out, they can temper the urban heat island effect, where all the dark and impermeable surfaces in cities (like streets, sidewalks, and rooftops) cause localized temperature spikes of between 1 and 5 degrees C. Furthermore, green roofs can help deal with air pollution, they provide an urban habitat for birds, and they’re also a very pleasant place for humans to enjoy, especially if they’re used to grow plants that can be made into salads.

Since 2009, Toronto Canada has had a similar mandatory green roof law in place, requiring green roofs on new buildings. Preliminary studies suggested that the city could save hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs while reducing ambient temperatures by several degrees Celsius. Changes like these don’t happen overnight on the scale of a city, and it may take decades for a nation the size of France to achieve measurable benefits, although on a per building basis, the benefits are immediate, and continuous. France is making an investment in energy independence, efficiency, and stability, and when it eventually pays off, the rest of us will be regretting not having started greening our roofs sooner.



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The Solar-Powered, Recycled House That Will Let Us Float in Style

By: Maddie Stone

If you’ve ever considered trading your house for a life on the water, but don’t fancy the idea of cramped, below deck living quarters, then this floating, solar-powered home, designed by renowned Italian architect Giancarlo Zema, might be just the thing for you.

As our climate warms and sea levels continue rise, our coastlines will change irrevocably. EcoFloLife, the firm behind Zema’s “Waternest 100,” has spent years designing a new generation of energy-efficient homes to accommodate our changing planet and lives. The 1,000 square foot Waternest 100 is made from recycled timber and a recycled aluminum hull. The design includes skylights, balconies, and large windows that offer sweeping views of the natural surroundings. The roof is essentially a giant solar panel, and best of all, the home can be set to float atop any calm body of water.

Here are some sneak peeks the floating homes that may one day pepper our waterways:

All images courtesy of the Giancarlo Zema Design Group

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Terra Sola Plans $3.5 Billion Solar Power Investment In Egypt

By: Mridul Chadha 

Leading solar power project developers are flocking to Egypt’s solar power market, which is set for a massive expansion.

Terra Sola has approached the Egyptian government with an intention to invest $3.5 billion to develop solar power projects. Terra Sola CEO David Heimhofer met with the Egyptian Prime Minister and shared his company’s plans.

The meeting took place only days after officials from SkyPower met the electricity minister and proposed to set up 3 GW of solar capacity in the country. With a proposed investment of $3.5 billion Terra Sola will, too, be able to install about 3 to 3.5 GW of solar photovoltaic capacity. According to reports, the company is planning to build an 800 MW solar PV park.

Terra Sola’s capacity addition plan is expected to generate an annual revenue of $760 million and provide employment to 20,000 people.

Project developers from around the world are interested in expanding in Egypt as it recently announced an ambitious renewable energy target to generate 20% of the electricity from renewable energy sources by 2020, and issued attractive feed-in tariff regulations. A recent auction of solar and wind energy projects organised by the Egyptian government received overwhelming response with prospective project developers willing to set up twice as much capacity offered by the government.

Fairly attractive feed-in tariffs have been offered by the government to solar power project developers. Solar PV projects between 500 kW and 20 MW in size will get 13.6¢/kWh, and projects between 20 MW and 50 MW will get 14.34¢/kW, with contracts for a 25-year term.

Terra Sola has concentrated its solar power investment in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, and currently has over 1.7 GW of capacity in pipeline representing a value of $2.76 billion.



Renewable Energy skyrocketing, From Solar Mosques to Wave-Powered Naval Bases

By Juan Cole

Here are some of the green energy good news stories of the past few weeks:

1. China put in a massive 21 gigawatts of new wind power in 2014, half of all the wind power installed in the entire world that year and four times as much as the US. China’s wind installations increased 40% over 2013. Lower oil prices are not expected to affect the continued rapid growth of renewables, since petroleum is mainly used in transport, not electricity production.

2. Turkey has announced that it will try to add 20 gigawatts of wind energy to its electricity production capacity in only 8 years. Turkey is taking this step in part because it has few hydrocarbons of its own, such that free fuel like wind is very attractive to investors there. In part, it is attempting to remain in line with European targets for green energy, since it is in the queue for European Union membership. (Although it is unlikely that Turkey will be admitted to the EU, it is good for Turkey to keep aiming at European standards.)

3. Australia has just opened the world’s first large-scale wave power facility. It will power a naval base.

4. The Jordanian government has announced its determination to install solar panels on the roofs of all 6,000 of the country’s mosques.

5. Germany cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 5 percent in 2014. The country increased energy efficiency, grew its economy, and increased the percentage of electricity generated by renewables from 25% to 28% year over year. One German state, Schleswig-Holstein,now gets 50% of its electricity from wind power. Germany also lucked out with the weather– 2014 was unusually mild. Still, the CO2 output would have declined even without this latter factor. In contrast, in 2014 the US increased its CO2 output over the previous year.

6. In the UK in January, wind turbines generated an impressive 14% of all the electricity used in the isles. Wind powered the equivalent of 8.7 million UK homes. On January 2, for a single day, wind provided almost one third of all the electricity generated in Britain. The UK has 12 gigawatts of installed wind capacity.

7. Denmark produced almost 40% of its electricity from wind in 2014, having doubled that figure in a decade.