San Francisco requires all new buildings add solar panels — an energy adviser’s perspective

san francisco solar energy

San Francisco’s decision to require solar panels on all new buildings starting in 2017 is more evidence of the growing role of rooftop solar in commercial real estate, says Roy Palk, Senior Energy Adviser for national law firm LeClairRyan.

“No other major U.S. city has actually required that new buildings be constructed with solar arrays,” says Palk, a 46-year veteran of the energy business. “However, given the concern about climate change and energy efficiency in some communities, San Francisco’s proactive approach might well be a sign of things to come.”

Passed on April 19 by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the measure takes effect in January. It requires photovoltaic or solar hot-water panels on all nonresidential buildings with 10 floors or less and more than 2,000 square feet of gross floor area. The ordinance cites San Francisco’s vulnerability to climate change and desire to achieve energy independence as reasons for the measure. It also notes that installing solar panels at the time of construction is cheaper and easier for developers that adding them later. “California already requires ‘solar-ready’ roofs,” Palk notes, “so this is a natural next step.”

For decades, Americans thought of solar panels as an expensive novelty. However, the solar industry continues to make impressive gains in reducing the cost of the technology and boosting its efficiency. Little wonder utilities are growing more interested in leasing commercial real estate rooftops for solar power arrays, Palk says. “The likes of Duke Energy, Southern California Edison and Dominion Virginia Power, to name a few, are quite interested in this approach,” Palk says. “Bear in mind, the majority of states now require utilities to make use of green energy, and so utilities have a lot of incentive to leverage rooftops where possible.”

RELATED: Tips for planning your next retail PV project 

Landlords are not in the business of installing and maintaining solar panels, Palk notes, but utilities are much more comfortable doing so.

“In San Francisco, utilities could engage in power-purchase agreements with the developers of new buildings,” Palk says. “The utility would own, maintain and install the panels, enabling the landlord to comply with the ordinance, even as the utility took care of the engineering studies, permitting process and other expensive and time-consuming details.”

In addition to making rental payments to the landlords for otherwise-unproductive rooftops, utilities insure all equipment in such arrangements. “By owning the panels, the utility can include the power produced by them in its rate base and receive a return on its investment, even as it meets renewable-energy requirements imposed by the state and pleases consumers who are concerned about climate change and energy efficiency,” Palk comments.

And while some would argue that solar power undercuts the traditional power business, today’s utilities are better off getting ahead of the trend by leasing rooftops rather than trying to fight solar, Palk advises. “Should rooftop solar continue to grow without the involvement of utilities, this is of no benefit to them at all,” the attorney says. “Far better to have a seat at the table.”

As a trusted adviser, LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. In this role, the firm applies its knowledge, insight and skill to help clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimizing their legal risks, difficulties and expenses. With offices in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 390 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation.

— Solar Builder magazine

New Urbanism: America’s 10 Most Walkable Cities

You may know the best bars and restaurants in town, but what’s the ‘walkable’ rating of your city or closest metropolitan area to your home?  Aside from fresh air, exercise, and the ability to bump into new and old acquaintances, walking is beneficial to the environment.

80 Americans are killed per day due to car-induced air pollution.  Car exhaust also contributes to bronchitis, asthma, and other avoidable health hazards. (1)  The amount of exhaust in the air is altered by your daily decisions.

Rather than drive, think about walking more.  A number of advocate groups celebrate a newfound urbanism developing throughout popular US cities.  The following cities usher in a new-defined sense of urban living, enticing inhabitants to walk about more often.

Where are the top places the walking is occurring? Take a look at this list from Walk Score:

New York City

NYC is known the world over for its fame and history, but what pleases many visitors is how easy it is to get around.  NYC comes in at the top spot, with a walkability score of 85.  Where are people walking in the big city?  Little Italy, the Flatiron District, and SoHo are among the most popular places to be in your walking shoes while in the Big Apple.

San Francisco

San Fran is about a half a step behind NYC regarding walkability.  Though Northern California does not reach the same temperatures as its southern portion, the sites and West Coast weather get many people in the Bay Area outdoors on a regular basis.  What are trending topics in the locale?  How do subjects like kid friendly, ice cream parlor, and patio bar strike your fancy?

Boston

No need for cars and horrible imitations of Bostonian accents, especially during spring and summer months in the East Coast city of Boston.  Tie your laces for a trot through the vogue city areas of Beacon Hill, Chinatown, Downtown Crossing, and the Bay Village, all with great, respective walking scores.  Boston offers street art and sidewalk cafes with an overall score of 79.

Chicago

Chicago has as walk score of 74 and a transit score of 65, making the windy city great for visiting and inhabiting.  What do 2.6 million people do around town?  It’s likely they are in coffee shops in Printer’s Row or Dearborn Park; enjoying street art in Old Town; or, at a patio bar in Sheridan Park.

Philadelphia

Philly is the 5th-most walkable city in the US.  It’s no wonder 1.5 inhabitants are walking around, whether it’s a bustling workweek in Center City or a relaxing afternoon in University City.  Where are people seeing the sites?  They are walking to Penn Park, the Philadelphia Art Museum, and Boathouse Row.  Don’t forget to weigh-in on what vendors offer the best cheese steak.

Seattle

Seattle, with a total walk score of 74, serves host to most-popular strolling areas Denny Triangle, South Lake Union, and Belltown.  Residents embrace the ability to walk, as most of Seattle’s areas are engineered for foot traffic, allowing 68% walk score of 70 or above regarding the city’s peoples.

Washington DC

Washington DC gets a lot of attention throughout the world, hosting the nation’s political heads.  However, there are lots of pedestrian activities afoot in the DC metro area.  Ice cream shops, sidewalk cafes, patio bars, and others are popular social media tags aligned with the city.  Currently, Dupont and Logan Circle are two hot spots serving host to entertainment and community opportunities.

Miami

Miami, with an overall walk score of 73, gets attention for a lot more reasons than sunny skies and exciting nightlife.  Inhabitants keep smiling with the sun on their faces as they stroll through Overtown, Little Havana, Brickell, and other popular, locales within the southern city.

Minneapolis

In Minneapolis, 59 percent of residents have a walk score of 70 or above.  The areas of Loring Park and Cedar-Riverside each serve host to over 7,000 inhabitants respectively.  What are some trendy topics in the city?  People in town seek opportunity to awe at architecture, get tasty treats at the farmer’s markets, and see amateur and professional displays of public art.

Oakland

The Bay Area already has representation on the list as San Francisco is featured second. However, directly over the bridge in Oakland, people are just as delighted to take their feet out for a stroll, visiting the city areas of Lakewide, Old City, Chinatown, and the Civic Center.

Are your feet feeling itchy, ready to toe tap on popular US-city pavements?  The above are the most welcoming to those wanting to walk about.

Golden Gate Valley Library Reaches LEED Gold Status

Golden Gate Valley Library

When the Golden Gate Valley Library of San Francisco was renovating and updating to accommodate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the organization figured it was also time to green up the space and achieve LEED Silver for Commercial Interiors status. The building has since reached LEED Gold status.

Tom Eliot Fisch and Paulett Taggart Architects worked together on the project, performing a number of eco-friendly upgrades. Rather than adding a ramp or addition to the street-facing exterior, the team used a courtyard on the side of the building for a contemporary style, wheelchair-accessible glass and aluminum elevator.

The team also replaced windows with the most access to sunlight with high-performance glazing to reduce solar heat gain, and restored and cleaned the rest for added efficiency while maintaining the historical structure. They also added in a high efficiency mechanical system and energy efficient lighting to reduce energy use while improving comfort for visitors. Low flow faucets reduce water use, and low VOC paints and finishes improve air quality. Existing furniture was restored, and a photovoltaic rooftop system meets 25% of the energy demand.

To top it all off there is also an improved bike parking area, a new teen area, and improved accessibility for visitors with disabilities. The reservations, completed in 2011, have received several awards for its sustainable preservation of the building, originally built in 1918.

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The Road to #Greenbuild is Paved in Social Media

Mara Baum
Senior Associate, HOK
Greenbuild Host Committee

Greenbuild is finally making its way to San Francisco this November – and us Bay Area locals are really excited. The conference theme is aptly “@ Greenbuild,” referencing the mindboggling array of Internet and technology companies headquartered here in the Bay Area. The big names include Google, Yahoo, Twitter (who’s co-founder, Biz Stone, will join us at the Greenbuild opening plenary), LinkedIn, Yelp, and YouTube. Smaller social media outlets are also ubiquitous, including the likes of StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious, Yammer, Pinterest, and many more. Of the 17 companies mentioned in a recent survey on social media for designers, all but one are headquartered here. (Tumblr hails from New York. Rebels!) We also have our host of gaming companies, many of whom tap into social networks; gamejobhunter lists over 120 companies nearby, from tiny start-ups to titans like EA and Zynga.

The “classic” Silicon Valley stretches from Palo Alto to south of San Jose, CA.
Image source: Wikipedia

Our social media bonanza has roots in the original tech boom in Silicon Valley – named after silicon chip innovators – back in the 1970s. What is Silicon Valley exactly? Although the name originally referred to a specific region emanating out from Stanford University and San Jose, its tech prowess has now spread throughout the region; San Jose Mercury News recently asserted that “Silicon Valley” now includes five Bay Area counties. For many of us, though, Silicon Valley is more about a mindset and an approach to business that’s become synonymous with high tech innovation. It has remained in this area because, as I once learned in a city planning class, companies that demand a stream of employees with the tech sector’s specialized mindset and skillset tend to thrive when they flock together. (San Francisco’s tax break for tech companies probably doesn’t hurt.)

901 Cherry, home of YouTube: Photo copyright
Mark Luthringer, courtesy of William McDonough + Partners.

This brings us to where we are today – a vibrant and slightly avant-garde-geeky community about to host the biggest Greenbuild ever. I’m excited to be at the nexus of this tech + sustainability crowd as part of the Greenbuild 2012 Host Committee, made up of volunteers from USGBC’s Northern California Chapter. As the co-chair of the Host Committee’s Social Networking Sub-Committee, we’ll work with USGBC’s Greenbuild team to create the most networked show ever – with your help, of course (get those #Greenbuild tweeting thumbs ready!). This emphasis on the collision between technology and sustainability is especially appropriate because many of our local tech companies are also leaders in green building. Google, Adobe, SAP and Zynga were four of the first six to sign on to the California Best Buildings Challenge, a program by USGBC and its Northern California Chapter, and many others have substantial sustainability programs. Many of the Bay Area’s tech companies reside in LEED buildings or spaces, and YouTube now occupies 901 Cherry, an early green building landmark designed by William McDonough + Partners.

I’ll elaborate on some of these initiatives in future blog posts, along with other San Francisco highlights from the Host Committee’s Road to Greenbuild, a series of events leading up to the show. I look forward to “seeing” you in San Francisco this November – if not in person then via social media. In the meantime, you can follow @Greenbuild on Twitter, join the LinkedIn group, like the page on Facebook, and peruse Greenbuild pins on Pinterest. See you there!

The Road to #Greenbuild is Paved in Social Media

Mara Baum
Senior Associate, HOK
Greenbuild Host Committee

Greenbuild is finally making its way to San Francisco this November – and us Bay Area locals are really excited. The conference theme is aptly “@ Greenbuild,” referencing the mindboggling array of Internet and technology companies headquartered here in the Bay Area. The big names include Google, Yahoo, Twitter (who’s co-founder, Biz Stone, will join us at the Greenbuild opening plenary), LinkedIn, Yelp, and YouTube. Smaller social media outlets are also ubiquitous, including the likes of StumbleUpon, Reddit, Delicious, Yammer, Pinterest, and many more. Of the 17 companies mentioned in a recent survey on social media for designers, all but one are headquartered here. (Tumblr hails from New York. Rebels!) We also have our host of gaming companies, many of whom tap into social networks; gamejobhunter lists over 120 companies nearby, from tiny start-ups to titans like EA and Zynga.

The “classic” Silicon Valley stretches from Palo Alto to south of San Jose, CA.
Image source: Wikipedia

Our social media bonanza has roots in the original tech boom in Silicon Valley – named after silicon chip innovators – back in the 1970s. What is Silicon Valley exactly? Although the name originally referred to a specific region emanating out from Stanford University and San Jose, its tech prowess has now spread throughout the region; San Jose Mercury News recently asserted that “Silicon Valley” now includes five Bay Area counties. For many of us, though, Silicon Valley is more about a mindset and an approach to business that’s become synonymous with high tech innovation. It has remained in this area because, as I once learned in a city planning class, companies that demand a stream of employees with the tech sector’s specialized mindset and skillset tend to thrive when they flock together. (San Francisco’s tax break for tech companies probably doesn’t hurt.)

901 Cherry, home of YouTube: Photo copyright
Mark Luthringer, courtesy of William McDonough + Partners.

This brings us to where we are today – a vibrant and slightly avant-garde-geeky community about to host the biggest Greenbuild ever. I’m excited to be at the nexus of this tech + sustainability crowd as part of the Greenbuild 2012 Host Committee, made up of volunteers from USGBC’s Northern California Chapter. As the co-chair of the Host Committee’s Social Networking Sub-Committee, we’ll work with USGBC’s Greenbuild team to create the most networked show ever – with your help, of course (get those #Greenbuild tweeting thumbs ready!). This emphasis on the collision between technology and sustainability is especially appropriate because many of our local tech companies are also leaders in green building. Google, Adobe, SAP and Zynga were four of the first six to sign on to the California Best Buildings Challenge, a program by USGBC and its Northern California Chapter, and many others have substantial sustainability programs. Many of the Bay Area’s tech companies reside in LEED buildings or spaces, and YouTube now occupies 901 Cherry, an early green building landmark designed by William McDonough + Partners.

I’ll elaborate on some of these initiatives in future blog posts, along with other San Francisco highlights from the Host Committee’s Road to Greenbuild, a series of events leading up to the show. I look forward to “seeing” you in San Francisco this November – if not in person then via social media. In the meantime, you can follow @Greenbuild on Twitter, join the LinkedIn group, like the page on Facebook, and peruse Greenbuild pins on Pinterest. See you there!