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GSBN:Research to combat solar warming

Time to step up on solar straw bale!

To: 'nytnews@nytimes.com'
Subject: Global warming research on renewables


Andrew C. Revkin

New York Times


October 31, 2006


Dear Mr. Revkin,


            A well prepared and research article on research funding and the battle with global warming. The failure of the utilities to do any research (spending less than 0.1% per year v/s industrial average 3% and competitive industries often 30%) and the failure of the labs (most research funding is on nukes) to have much impact is linked to a failure in accounting - not technical issues. More funding for Federal labs or Federal research initiatives is not necessarily going to do much good. I have often felt NREL sometimes was a negative rather than positive force for solar. Steve Baer is even more skeptical than I am. If NREL had gotten involved in the straw bale movement they would have help kill it, as they did the passive solar movement. Academic versus practical research is a serious problem, this is not rocket science. The challenge is make it durable, low-tech and low cost and no academic gets rewarded for this.

            The most practical solar systems have been ignored. Domestic hot water systems, second most cost effective after solar clothes dryers (which are illegal in most of California thanks to homeowner association CCRs), are almost extinct in the U.S. Perhaps less than 10,000 installations take place a year. We don't even know as no data is taken. We have known how to do good solar water heaters since F.A. Brooks excellent University of California publication in 1936 (this is not a misprint).




      The next most practical solar application is also well understood. We can cut energy use for heating and cooling 90% in most climates with climate responsive solar design. This applies to large buildings and homes. The ING bank is a 500,000 sf office building that achieved 92% reduction in energy demand in Amsterdam. 

      A tract home redesign in Davis California cut annual energy use for heating and cooling 70% and reduced the cost of construction. Computer modeling performance for house designs in representative U.S. climates shows that we can reduce energy demand in any type of climate. El Centro is very hot! Tampa is hot and humid. Philadelphia represents the challenge of the BoWash megalopolis. Denver illustrates the rapidly expanding mountain West, and Fresno the hot summer/foggy winter of the San Joaquin Valley. 

      The heating and cooling demand in my home town, San Diego, should be zero. In the last 16 years I have found first an apartment and later a townhouse to rent that were inadvertently "solar" designed and required no heating or cooling. 












Fresno, CA





Cooling BTU





Heating BTU





1671CDD 2523HDD





Tampa, FL





Cooling BTU





Heating BTU





3366CDD 674HDD





Philadelphia, PA





Cooling BTU





Heating BTU





1104CDD 4523HDD





Denver, CO





Cooling BTU





Heating BTU





625CDD 5673HDD





El Centro, CA 



Roof pond


Cooling BTU





Heating BTU






                1010HDD                                                                                                              Average reduction 89%


>From Jennifer Rennick, Ken Haggard, Polly Cooper and Phil Niles and SLOSG


            The challenge is not technical, it is political. As Mr. Stern noted in reporting on the cost of global warming, the issue is about "externalities". Taking the subsidies away from fossil fuels, nukes and big hydro is essential. If we do this the transformation will take place quickly.

      If we try to assemble a true cost comparison of energy sources it looks something like this. A more careful appraisal is long overdue. 


Energy source                                    Current cost     With health and environmental cost

                                                            kwh equiv.        local regional and global                        


Integral solar heating/

climatic cooling                               $-2 to 5¢          $-2 to 5¢                P

Integral solar water heater                     2-10¢               3-11¢               P

Active solar water heater                      3-10¢               4-11¢               P

Wind                                                    4-5¢                 6-7¢                 H, bird kills, P

Geothermal                                           6¢                    9¢                    H, P

Hydro-small                                         6¢                    9¢                    H, D, P

Hydro-large                                          4¢                    8¢                    large H, massive D, P, fish kills, GW*

Biomass                                               8¢                    10¢                  P, N, minor GW

Solar thermal                                        8¢                    10¢                  H, bird loss, P

Natural gas                                           6¢                    12¢                  N, GW, H, D, P

Photovoltaic                                         10¢-$1+          12¢-$1+          P

Oil                                                        7¢                    20¢                  N, GW, H, P, X (Gulf Wars)

Coal                                                     7¢                    21¢                  P, acid rain, N, GW, H, D, X

Nuclear                                                10¢                  20¢+                H, D, P, X (risk) 



N = nitrogen pollution, GW = global warming, H= habitat loss, X = health, D = habitat destruction and degradation, P= Pollution. * = global warming impacts from cement production.


      A visible market and true cost accounting would trigger fundamental changes in the way we use and provide energy. It would allow consumers to make choices based on real costs and would drive a rapid transition to sustainable building design and wise material and appliance choices. As we now know, is relatively easy to create structures in almost any climate that are close to 100% self-reliant for space conditioning. These naturally heated and cooled and naturally lit buildings are more comfortable, secure, quiet, healthy, and have much lower life-cycle costs than the fossil fuel supported buildings we now endure. These better buildings are not designed or built because the energy market is beset with subsidies, perverse incentives, incomplete accounting, and is not transparent. 

      As global citizens we need to acknowledge these destructive economic policies, eliminate subsidies for non-renewable fuels, incentives that lead to environmental destruction, illness and decreased productivity, and press for true cost accounting. 


I would suggest a follow-up article!




David Bainbridge


For additional information

Bainbridge, D.A. 2006. Adding ecological considerations to "environmental" accounting. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. October. 8(4):335-340.

Bainbridge, D.A. 2006. Affordable houses require affordable materials. The Last Straw: The International Journal of Straw Bale and Natural Building. 54:29

Bainbridge, D.A. 2005. A solar workshop for college students. Society of Building Science Educators News. Spring:4. 

Bainbridge, D.A. 2005. Houses of straw. Resource Engineering and Technology for a Sustainable World. 12(4):7-8. (and cover photo)

Bainbridge, D.A. 2004. The price falls short. Solar Today 18(5):62,59.

Bainbridge, D.A. 2004. Sustainable building as appropriate technology. pp. 55-67, 75-77. In J. Kennedy, editor. Building Without Borders: Sustainable Construction for the Global Village. Island Press, Washington, DC. 

Bainbridge, D.A. 2003. Sustainable development: obstacles and opportunities. San Diego Daily Transcript. Feb. 26

Bainbridge, D.A. 2003. Life cycle cost and value. p. 7. In. C Wanek, The New Straw Bale Home. Gibbs Smith Publisher, Layton, UT. 

Bainbridge, D.A. 1997. The nitrogen pollution problem. Newsletter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, California Section. 7(3):3-4.

Bainbridge, D.A. 1987. Energy self-reliant neighborhoods. pp. 398-402. In D.A. Andrejko and J. Hayes, eds. 12th Passive Solar Conference Proceedings, American Section International Solar Energy Society (ASISES), Boulder, Colorado.

Bainbridge, D.A., J. Corbett and J. Hofacre. 1979. Village Homes' Solar House Designs. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.

Bainbridge, D.A. 1976. Planning for energy conservation. Living Systems for the City of Davis, California, 83 p.

Costanza, R., J. Cumberland, H. Daly, R. Goodland, and R. Norgaard. 1997. An Introduction to Ecological Economics. St. Lucie Press, Boca Raton, FL 275 p. 

Davidson, E. 2000. You Can't Eat GNP. Perseus, NY 244 p. 

Dresner, S. 2002. The Principles of Sustainability. Earthscan, London 200 p. 

Daily, G.C. ed. 1997. Nature's Services. Island Press, Washington, DC 392 p.

Daily, G.C. and K. Ellison. 2002. The New Economy of Nature. Island Press, Washington, DC 260 p.

Eley and Associates. 1996. Act2 Davis Residential Energy Site EEM Impact Analysis PG&E. Home design by Davis Energy Group. 

Elizabeth, L. and C. Adams. 2000. Alternative Construction: Contemporary Natural Building Methods. John Wiley and Sons, NY. (see esp. Chapter 4: Natural conditioning of buildings).

Hanley, N., J.F. Shogren, and B. White. 2001. Introduction to Environmental Economics. Oxford, UK 350 p.

Hawken, P., A. and L.H. Lovins. 1999. Natural Capitalism. Little Brown and Company, NY 396 p.

Kennedy, J.F., M.G. Smith and C. Wanek, editors. 2002. The Art of Natural Building. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC 289 p. 

McDonough, W, and M. Braungart. 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. North Point Press, NY 193 p.

Roodman, D.M. 1998. The Natural Wealth of Nations. WW Norton, NY 303 p.

Socolow, R., C. Andrews, F. Berkhout and V. Thomas. 1997. Industrial Ecology and Global Change. Cambridge University Press, UK 500 p.

Steen, A. and B. 2001. The Beauty of Straw Bale Homes. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT. 113 p.

Steen, A. and B., D.A. Bainbridge, D. Eisenberg. 1994. The Straw Bale House. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, VT. 297 p.

Wanek, C. 2003. The New Straw Bale Home. Gibbs Smith, Layton, UT 188 p. 



David A. Bainbridge

Associate Professor, Sustainable Management

Marshall Goldsmith School of Management

Business & Management Division

Alliant International University

10455 Pomerado Road

San Diego, CA 92131

(858) 635-4616

(858) 635 4528 fax

WEB: marshallgoldsmith.alliant.edu


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