cooling

Chaotic summer balcony provides some shade

晩夏のベランダの庭は混沌としています。いろいろな多年草と一年生植物、花と野菜でいっぱいです。夏草と常緑草で出来ているグリーンカーテンで、アパートの中を涼しくしています。この長くて狭いバルコニーのスペースにはエアコンと洗濯機と物干しロープもあります。

The balcony garden in late summer is chaotic. A variety of perennials and annuals, flowers and vegetables, seasonal and year-round plants form a green curtain that provides some shade and cooling for the apartment. The long and narrow space also includes the air conditioner, washing machine, and clothes line.

Inside a Japanese nuclear power plant

原発についてたくさん勉強になりましたけれども、毎日の生活とエネルギーの本当のコストの問題が残っています。

A fascinating short video from IDG News Service’s @martyn_williams shows the inside of a functioning nuclear power plant in Japan. It’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear plant, on the Japan Sea, also known as the East Sea of Korea.

In the past two weeks, we have all learned many details about nuclear power generation: from containment vessels to doughnut-shaped torus, steam venting, cooling pools, basement pumps and generators, and dangers from radioactive iodine and cesium. While the Daichi survived the earthquake, several days without electricity led to pressure build-up, exposed fuel rods, explosions, and radioactive releases.

Most Japanese school children are given tours of nuclear facilities to encourage familiarization and acceptance. Watching the video above, I am struck by the incongruity of these images of rational organization with the recent realization that a lack of power can quickly turn these engineering marvels into a grave threat to human existence.

It is interesting that the video above, and I am certain the hundreds of school tours, fail to mention that the reactors serve a second and equally dangerous function: they are the storage locations for spent nuclear rods. While the active rods have control rods and secured cases, the spent rods seem to be in less protected parts of the reactors.

The explosions at the Daichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima have literally blown the lid off a scary reality that is normally kept far from conscious thinking. Everyone knows that nuclear waste and the long-term dangers it poses are the by-product of this “clean,” low carbon energy. What is less known is that these spent rods remain near population centers and alongside ocean coasts that routinely experience tsunamis and earthquakes. They remain hidden from view within the plants because the rods are difficult to transport safely and few communities would welcome them.

I expect that as the crisis becomes less acute, there will be more attention to the questions of how much energy we need, how to balance what is possible with what is prudent, and how to make visible the true costs of energy production, including the wars used to “secure” petroleum from hostile regions, and the potential contamination of people and land from nuclear power and waste.

In the coming weeks, this blog will focus on recovery from the nuclear crisis, including increased city bicycling, reduced power consumption, and other positive developments. I will also show signs of Tokyo’s spring, and other evidence that the natural world continues in spite of human activity.

Watermelon grows vertically on balcony

My watermelon plant has produced an enormous amount of growth in just two months on the balcony. It was very easy to train the vines onto the metal rod balcony. Now there are two fruits the size of oranges. I love the shape of the leaves, and am looking forward to having a watermelon party when they are ripe.

There are many previous posts about my balcony garden. It is approximately 1 meter by 6 meters, and includes the air conditioner, washer dryer, clothes line, a small stand, and about 100 plants. In addition to the permanent railing, we recently installed a summer green curtain net for extra shade and cooling.

Clip-on retrofit of cities

Vanessa Keith has a provocative article about urban reforestation. Rather than focus on new buildings, a small percentage of any city, Keith proposes rebuilding through a “clip-on” to existing urban structures and infrastructures. Keith considers roofs, walls, and highways as valuable surfaces that increase by factors of two (for in-fill structures) or six (for free standing structures) the total surface area of a city.

Her clip-on ideas include green roofs, roof ponds, vertical gardening, waterfalls for cooling and power generation, wind bands, and more urban trees. I like how she connects urban solutions with rural deforestation, and considers government incentives and the potential role of large developers and community groups in creating a demonstration block in New York City.

Eco house with green roof

CNN video about Kawasaki eco house with green roof

An interesting video from CNN about one Kawasaki family’s choices in constructing a house with minimal environmental impact: passive daytime lighting, low flow faucets, double paned windows, solar water heater, and a roof garden for cooling the home and providing vegetables. There is also discussion of Panasonic’s Eco Idea House with an energy management network and fuel cells.

Panasonic projects a 66% reduction in carbon emission levels from 1990 to 2010 in the house of the future. And it also envisions “universal design” principles to allow for optimal usage by the elderly and disabled.

Panasonic eco house, carbon reduction

The floor plan shows the existence of “grandmother’s room” and a home theater room, along with a “wellness corner” and “energy corner.”

Panasonic eco house, floor plan

Real estate ecology

Mitsubishi Estates Heat Island District Plan

Mitsubishi Estates, one of Japan’s largest real estate companies, has created a comprehensive plan for the downtown business district of Otemachi-Marunouchi-Yurakucho, where it owns one third of the land.

Mitsubishi Estates’ size and ecological principles lead the company to think beyond the scale of individual buildings. District heating, cooling and hot water systems provide energy efficiency for 65 buildings. Rooftop greening lowered summer temperatures 25 degrees celsius compared with concrete slab roofs, mitigating the heat island effect. Other efforts to lower the summer temperatures include sidewalk sprinklers, street trees, vertical gardens, and permeable sidewalks and roadways.

Mitsubishi Estates Marunouchi properties

I am impressed that Mitsubishi Estates is not only improving the environment and efficiency of its own buildings, but taking a leading role in improving the city’s environment. Working on the district level, Mitsubishi Estates relates their greening efforts to a larger goal of using their district to connect cooler breezes from Tokyo Bay across the office towers and into the Imperial Palace grounds and other parts of central Tokyo.

Inujima Art Project and ARUP

Inujima Art Project and ARUP Illustration ©Sambuichi Architects

Last week I met with the sustainability lead at ARUP, who discuss this global construction engineering firm’s work on the Inujima Art Project near Okayama. Located on a small island that once served as a copper refinery and granite quarry, this abandoned industrial site has been reclaimed as an environmental art work, with architecture by Sambuichi Hiroshi and art by Yanagi Yukinori. The art combines remnants of famed novelist Mishima Yukio’s house, Inujima granite, Inujima Karami bricks and slag.

Inujima Art Yukinori YanagiPhoto ©Daici Ano, Inujima Art Project website

All lighting and cooling is done through passive cooling and natural light using the chimneys from the original refinery. ARUP contributed computer modeling and design for the no-carbon energy systems including wavy wall tunnels to maximize cooling, solar modeling to minimize heat absorption, and modeling of all potential climates and earthquake potential. There is also a grey water system that uses plants to clean waste water, which is then used for orange and olive trees. 

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