The University of California at Davis (UC Davis) plans to build America’s biggest zero net energy community and have it ready for initial occupancy adjacent to its core campus by this fall.
Environmentalists, energy authorities and policy makers generally agree that we need to reduce our consumption of (foreign) oil to ensure national security. Some feel that we need to cut back fossil-fuel-based electricity production to slow global warming. But most acknowledge that we simply can’t get there from here. Politics is too divisive, the economy too shaky, the most compelling force behind energy conservation (slowing climate change) too tenuously documented, according to a new Gallup study.
In light of those perspectives, the UC Davis West Village enterprise couldn’t have happened at a better time, or to a more deserving educational institution. The Mideast may be in political free-fall, but California – the country’s most forward-thinking state (at least in terms of energy policy) – is ready to show the way forward, and UC Davis is ready to be the teacher. According to ScienceWatch (2010), the university leads the nation for the number of environmental papers written between 2005 and 2009.
The UC Davis/West Village Community Partnership LLC consortium also includes such luminaries as Carmel Partners out of San Francisco and Urban Villages (the Denver division), two real estate firms focused on a full spectrum of services, including sustainable development.
When completed, the 200-acre housing development will shelter about 4,500 individuals, either in affordable student apartments or homes that faculty and staff can purchase at “below market” rates. So far, the only challenger to its title as the largest U.S. net zero energy community is in Vancouver.
The overall aim of the development, beyond establishing a paradigm for future sustainable housing, aims to make it possible for staff and students to live close to the UC Davis campus without mortgaging a first-born or the sum total of future life earnings.
The central element of the West Village’s net zero energy backbone is a 4-megawatt (MW) solar system which will deliver 100 percent of the electricity needed for the initial phase of rental units (housing 2,000) and retail space. The solar energy array is expected to deliver about 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually and offset at least 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels every year. This is the same as taking 338 cars off America’s roads, or planting 44,199 trees and letting them grow for a decade.
Delivered via rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) and canopied solar PV parking, the system is courtesy of San Jose-based SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ;SPWRA), which provides high-efficiency home-based or utility-scale solar power in every application from PV to Stirling engines (including Building Integrated Solar PV, or BIPV, roofing shingles). Utility-scale renewables are generally defined as greater than 1 MW at a single site.
In addition to solar, the village will improve on current energy-efficient building standards by 50 percent, including reflective roofing, energy-efficient lighting fixtures, extra insulation in walls and roofs, and Energy Star-rated appliances, including air conditioning. It will also reduce, reuse and recycle water, so essential to California agriculture – and so threatened by recent federal water legislation.
Incorporating architectural features like deep overhangs to provide shade, and Smart Meters so that renters can control their own energy use, the village will be designed to facilitate bicycle commuting, and offers such features and amenities as a fitness center, recreational pool and spa, a village square housing shops and stores, and a branch of the Los Rios Community College.
The most important thing about the West Village is that it will define the way forward to that clean and secure energy future outlined by President Obama, and that it does so in measurable dollars and cents, tangible appliance choices, and sustainable design features arrived at either through historical precedent or advanced technology.
Designers are calling it West Village. A better name might be Exemplar.
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