Tag Archives: environment

Environmentally Responsible Contemporary Take On Classic Western Ranch Design

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The design for the Caterpillar House, sited on the rolling hills of the Santa Lucia Preserve, sought to accentuate a connection to the land. Having lived in a Cliff May home, the owner approached the project with a love of modern ranch houses and seeking an environmentally-conscious response to a beautiful site.

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The Caterpillar House implements sustainable elements while exploring a contemporary version of the ranch ideals: massing that is low and horizontal, an open plan with a strong connection between indoor and outdoor spaces, and main living areas that focus informally on the kitchen.

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Excavated earth was repurposed for the construction of rammed earth walls gently curving in response to the site’s contours and functioning as a thermal mass, regulating temperatures from day to night. Capturing rainwater for irrigation, three tanks sit close to the home.

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Large south-facing glass doors open the main living area to a large covered porch and to an outdoor patio with sunshades that expand and contract to allow for a flexible entertaining area that responds to the client’s needs. The glazing, natural ventilation and operable shading also act as a passive heating and cooling system, cooling the house in the summer and warming the house in winter. Artfully done, integrated photovoltaic panels enable the house to produce all of its energy requirements without compromising the graceful curve of the low roof against the hill.

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Caterpillar House is designed by Feldman Architecture

 

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North Beach House — A Contemporary Take On Environmentally Responsible Modernism


This low-impact, easy to maintain summer home provides contemporary functionality with minimum distractions from wooded land and open view. The solution places the house among mature fir trees located directly between the beach and an upland meadow — walls of glass look out upon both.

As part of the home’s contemporary functionality, the roof is vegetated, which filters rainwater that in turn is collected and stored for use in irrigation. Potable hot water and hydronic heating are aided by solar collectors on the roof, and PV panels above the vegetable garden provide supplemental electricity.

The home is intended for occupancy from May through October, and systems have been designed to zero out electricity use from the grid over the course of a full year.

Location: Orcas Island, WA
Architects: Heliotrope Architects
Contractor: David Shore
Building area: 2,070 sf

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Gas Prices: It’s Obama’s Fault!…Or, Is It? — Part 2: Refining Bottleneck

As a follow up to my October 11th post outlining the factors “not Obama” that are increasing gasoline prices, I was challenged by the same anti-Obama businessman I mentioned to explain this “supposed” refining capacity bottleneck.

Ok… here ’tis:

Here’s the bottleneck in a graph. No matter how much crude oil is brought out of the ground or imported, the bottleneck is that US refining capacity has not increased in over a decade (actually you’ll see later, it’s about two decades). That folks is what’s called a “bottleneck.” Very simple. The gap between demand and what we have the capacity to refine is imported at substantially higher costs.

“Yeah, well, you know dude, the free market will fix that!”

Really? ‘Cause here’s the federal EIA outlook up until 2030. Um…barely any capacity improvement. And the gap between demand and what the US can refine: goes from a shortfall of a little more than 3 million barrels of oil per day to a gap of almost 8 million barrels of oil per day. The gap is made up by importing expensive refined product from abroad.

Ooops! Looks like a lack of energy industry progress.

Now, let’s look at what the energy industry and the feds have to say about our refining capacity and the coming urgent problems:

From U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Refining: Petroleum & Other Liquids”

U.S. refining capacity, as measured by daily processing capacity of crude oil distillation units alone, has appeared relatively stable in recent decades, at about 16 million barrels per day of operable capacity—the level is a reduction from the capacity of twenty years ago. …the first refineries were shut down as demand fell in the early 1980’s. …additional refineries were shut down in the late 1980’s and during the 1990’s, always, of course, those at the least profitable end of a company’s asset portfolio.”

The report notes a mediating factor: “At the same time, refiners improved the efficiency of the crude oil distillation units that remained in service by “debottlenecking” [internally] to improve the flow and to match capacity among different units and by turning more and more to computer control of the processing.”

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Nonetheless two contravening facts deny the relief of improved capacity utilization efficiencies so that refineries continue to function as “the bottleneck:” 1) Continued shut down of refinery facilities reducing total potential capacity levels and 2) A turn to exporting American refined oil products to industrializing, higher profit margin international markets.

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From ”Rising Gasoline Prices 2012,” Congressional Research Service (R42382), March 1, 2012

Two large oil refiners in the Northeast, Sunoco and ConocoPhillips, have decided to close refining assets.  Sunoco announced the closure of its Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania refinery on December 1, 2011, followed by ConocoPhillip’s closure of its Trainer, Pennsylvania refinery later that month.  Sunoco also plans to close, its Philadelphia refinery. Together, these three refineries comprise over 50% of refining capacity in the Northeast.  Higher wholesale price margins would be required in the Northeast to draw supplies from other areas to make up for the loss in refining capacity.”

Separately, the Hovensa Refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands is also closing. Most U.S. refined product imports from Europe and the Virgin Islands go the East Coast.”

Europe, a major source of U.S. gasoline imports, has also experienced a reduction in refining capacity recently. It has been reported that Petroplus, the largest European independent refiner, has begun shutting down three of its five refineries.  (As a result of these closures, Europe may also seek to draw greater supplies of diesel fuel from U.S. refineries.)”

From EIA February 2012 Executive Summary of Report. “Potential Impacts of Reductions in Refinery Activity on Northeast Petroleum Product Markets”

“…price impacts are highly uncertain. …in the short term, prices can spike. In the longer run, higher prices and possibly higher price volatility can result…loss of the Sunoco Philadelphia refinery presents a complex supply challenge, and no single solution has been identified by industry participants… The industry will have a financial incentive to serve all markets in the Northeast, and companies are currently investigating options. However, companies are not [soon] likely to make significant investments in new logistical arrangements…”

From The White House, March 11, 2012, “A Secure Energy Future: A Progress Report.”

The U.S. refiners export gasoline, and that shrinks national supply. Though placing a positive spin by extolling the virtues of a “world-class refining sector,” the report revealed a “refining sector that last year was a net exporter for the first time in sixty years.”

Report by Ron Scherer at the Christian Science Monitor, ““As Gas Prices Rise, Should US Oil Industry Stop Exporting?”

The oil industry maintains it must export to stabilize profits and avoid layoffs. Observers contend the new status of refiners as “net exporter[s] for the first time in sixty years” keeps domestic supply low and gas prices high.

“The oil industry maintains the exports are necessary because domestic demand is weak. The industry says if refiners could not send American-made gasoline to China, India, Europe, and South America, the refineries would have to close as several have already done on the East Coast. Yet, other energy observers say exporting gasoline at a time of rising prices is sort of like throwing flammable liquid on a fire.”

TADA! US Refining Bottleneck!

Not the fault of Obama… the fault of industry.


Gas @ $3.79! It’s All Obama’s Fault!…Or Is It?

Two weeks ago I had the unfortunate displeasure of suffering cocktails with a confused businessman. He owns and manages a firm that processes payroll for a large city school district, so one might reasonably assume a certain level of intelligence and sophisticated thinking. Well, I did. Puh! Should’ve thought otherwise.

About a half hour into what had been otherwise a congenial conversation, and from nowhere, this fella spits out, “So…Obama…A fucking Communist, right!” I think my response nearly set his hair on fire.

The next thing out of his mouth is this party-line diatribe folks are attempting to foist onto the public: “My God! Obama has caused gas to skyrocket! His policies have practically shut down oil production in the US!”

Hummm? Gee I thought it was because the oil industry has chosen, under the reign of free market ideology, not to expand or build additional refining and gasoline processing facilities? ‘Cause, when I look at the numbers…they show more oil wells and more gas wells and more of practically everything geared to get product out of the ground…but no industry effort to expand processing to useable fuels for your SUVs. Gees, do you think that bottlenecks things? Maybe.

And, do ya think that maybe an industrializing China and India have increased total demand? Maybe. And do ya think that given the tensions between us and Iran (and the constant party-line drumbeat to Bomb Baby Bomb!) and the threat to the Strait of Hormuz through which most of the oil passes… that maybe the oil speculators have speculated oil futures high? Maybe.

Gees…this stuff isn’t difficult…just doesn’t fit with a mindset that thwarts all reasonable efforts to develop alternative fuels, increase our auto efficiencies, and implement effective and efficient mass transit across the nation.

No, I’m afraid it is shortsighted policies from conservatives and threats to oil transport and the pressures of speculation within a free market and industry refusal to expand gasoline refining capacity and a newly resurgent American economy that are driving gas prices higher.

Where were gasoline prices before the markets and the Bush economy crashed? Oh, yeah, about where they are now (Sept ’08 just before the crash: $3.86… March ’12 as economy grows again: $3.79). Things that make you (thoughtful people) go hummm….