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Sustainable Chicago is Powering Down

June 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

The vegetated roof on top of City Hall was already old news when Sustainable Chicago wrote about it for our inaugural issue in the summer of 2008. But we were a new media outlet at the time, focusing on green building efforts in the Chicago market, and there was a lot of ground to make up.

Would there be enough news to write about in this sector? It was a genuine concern at first, what with our niched focus; really a niche wrapped in a recess inside an alcove—sustainability, in the Chicago region, within the architecture and design community.

And yet, we were never at a loss for content. Chicago is a fantastic city in the abstract, but it has few rivals when it comes to architecture. And over the last fifteen years or so, it has helped carry the torch of progressive environmentalism. From city government to non-profit organizations to commercial interests to grass roots community networks, the people of Chicago have shown their dedication to making the built environment more efficient and less deleterious to the planet.

We’ve chronicled the past and reported the contemporary on this site. And while there are plenty of great stories yet to be told, someone else is going to have to tell them. We launched when green building was an anomaly and now it is the norm. There are going to be a lot of exciting developments.

Thank you for your readership. Thank you for your passion for this city. And thank you for your commitment to the environment.

Chicago Commits to 100% Renewable Energy Among City-Owned Buildings

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has commitment to shift city-owned buildings to 100% renewable energy by 2025. If implemented, Chicago would be the country’s largest city to decarbonize the energy supply of its public buildings.
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Carbon Drawdown: The Next 15 years for the Green Building Movement in Chicago

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

By Brian Imus, USGBC-Illinois Executive Director

The U.S. Navy Bachelor Enlisted Quarters, designed and built by Wight & Co., was the first LEED-certified building to be constructed in Illinois. Since that time some 15 years ago, more than 1,000 LEED-certified spaces have been completed across the state. Today, Illinois is a recognized national leader in green building and sustainability know-how. This leadership is reflected in the advancement of innovative, cutting edge technological firsts, like the Evanston net-zero Walgreens and the recently completed Grainger data center in Lake Forest, the first LEED v4 certification anywhere in the world. Illinois consistently ranks in the top ten every year for the most LEED square footage certified per capita, leading the nation for three years in a row starting in 2013.
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The Rookery: Evolving Standards of Architecture in Chicago

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Baker

It’s tempting to assume that a landmarked building like the Rookery has been preserved in architectural amber. But the world-renowned structure isn’t exactly the one that Daniel Burnham and John Root designed in the 1880s. After the turn of the century, Frank Lloyd Wright famously applied a gilded eggshell cladding to the lobby. In the 1930s, William Drummond, formerly a Wright protégé, added Art Deco elements, including bronze elevators etched with birds matching the building’s moniker. The twelfth story was largely rebuilt in the 1990s when Burnham & Root’s original office was restored.

The latest changes to the building have been subtler. Like many other historic office buildings in the central business district, the Rookery has been busy for the last several years implementing sustainable strategies that will allow it to stay relevant for the next century.
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Global Snapshot: Carbon Emissions Stabilize, but Action Still Needed

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

By Linda Seggelke

For the third year in a row, global carbon emissions from the energy sector were flat, according to the International Energy Agency. What’s impressive is that this plateau in emissions comes at a time of economic growth around the world, suggesting that improved energy efficiency, renewable energy production and other factors are driving a decoupling of economic activity and carbon emissions.

However, the current level of energy-related investments needs to double to avoid raising the global average temperature by two degrees Celsius. That benchmark—two degrees Celsius—would still have a substantive effect on climate change, but is a goal preferable to allowing temperatures to climb without restraint. A separate report conducted by the IEA and International Renewable Energy Agency concludes that to avoid that temperature rise, emissions need to peak by 2020 and plummet from current levels by 2050.
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Enterprising Electricity: Putting Theory into Practice

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Electricity is so integral to our lives, but humanity’s ever-growing need for it is defacing the planet. There are many ideas on how to stop this, but to have an effect, those ideas need to take root in the real world.

By Matt Baker

Four years ago, the Illinois Institute of Technology transformed into an island. The 50+ buildings that make up the Bronzeville campus were put on a microgrid—a network of buildings, batteries and energy sources that can be detached, or “islanded,” from the power grid.

The benefits of a microgrid are numerous. They can function independently when necessary, such as during a power outage. Energy efficiency is another advantage; through the use of solar and wind generation, the IIT microgrid reduces the university’s power consumption by $1 million annually and carbon dioxide emissions are trimmed by 7%. On-site batteries store excess electricity while sensors in and around the campus buildings track energy use for optimal deployment.
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Chicago Slips to Third Among LEED-Certified Cities

January 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Baker

After three straight years at the top, Illinois has fallen to third on an annual ranking of green building projects in the U.S. The per capita list was compiled by the USGBC using U.S. Census data and commercial and institutional green building projects that were LEED-certified throughout 2016. Illinois totaled 151 LEED certifications last year, representing 2.82 square feet of certified space per resident.
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Chicago Leads the Nation Among Sustainable Rental Apartments

December 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nadia Balint

Green Apartment Construction Blossoming, Yet Renter Survey Shows $560 Rent Premium is Five Times Higher than Most Would Pay

When it comes to trends in real estate, some are transient, and some are here to stay and shape the industry. Sustainable buildings are proving to be the latter. Their ubiquitous presence all over the country is possibly the best clue that green living is quickly going from niche to mainstream in real estate. Investors, developers, architects and consumers are realizing the importance and benefits of building by standards that meet the needs of present and future generations.
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Power to the People: Expanding Solar Capacity Through Co-Ops

December 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Baker

In 2015, Illinois added 11 MW of solar power production, which was a 75% increase over the previous year. While this growth is encouraging, the state remains middle-of-the-pack for overall capacity, ranking 27th in the nation. So what can be done to encourage more solar panel installation?

Part of the answer may be shared renewables. These projects allow multiple energy customers to pool their resources into a small—though still utility-size—renewable energy source. Each household or business then receives a share of the output, offsetting the power they pull down from the grid.


Community Solar

When speaking specifically of solar power generation, these projects are often referred to as “community solar.” A community solar farm is a collection of solar panels installed most often on public or jointly-owned property. They are usually ground-mounted, though they can be affixed on a roofscape under certain conditions.

There are various models for a community solar co-op. Some utilities offer on-bill crediting, wherein residents and businesses buy one or more shares of a renewable farm and receive a credit on their energy bill. Under another model, some utilities allow customers to purchase a set amount of electricity at a fixed rate from a shared facility for a long, multi-year term. Utilities aren’t a prerequisite partner, however; community members can form a special purpose entity to develop a community solar project.

Despite the dropping cost of solar, it remains a cost-prohibitive project for many small businesses and homeowners. But there are other factors that would impel individuals from taking part in a community solar project, aside from cost. Renters and condominium owners don’t have domain over their roof and therefore can’t install solar panels. Even for property owners, the roof may be in the shade or oriented in a way that is not optimal for solar power harvesting. Even if a commercial building avoids those obstacles, it might be exempt because of mechanical equipment occupying too much of the roof real estate.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, there are more than 90 community solar projects up and running across 25 states. There is only one operation in Illinois, in the northwestern community of Elizabeth. The South View Solar Farm is operated by Jo-Carroll Energy, a member of the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives alliance.

Constructed in 2014, South View Solar Farm occupies three-quarters of an acre in Jo Daviess County. The array consists of 456 solar panels and has a capacity of over 125 kW. Subscribers purchased a minimum of one panel for $890, and each panel has a capacity of 275 watts. Subscribers receive around $50 per year per panel in utility credits, with an estimated return on investment of about 18 years.

Mapping Cook County

Thanks to a new, interactive map developed by the Cook County Department of Environmental Control and non-profit organization Elevate Energy, the potential for community solar in the Chicago region can now easily be ascertained. The parcel-level map allows users to do more than search the county by address; filters can fine-tune the information by property type, solar power potential, roof type and municipality or Chicago neighborhood.

Every viable site provides an estimate of the annual electricity generation that a solar array could provide if installed there. As alternative metrics, the site breaks it down to the number of homes an installation could power per year and the carbon offset in tons CO2 emissions.

“I think this project demonstrates the opportunity [for] all the various stakeholders—utilities, local government, developers, community planners and community members themselves—to begin to visualize what their role in a future solar economy might look like,” said Anne Evens, CEO of Elevate Energy.

After gathering the data, it became clear that only a quarter of Cook County households can viably install solar panels. Myriad reasons prevent the majority from doing so. Some rooftops are in the shade of other structures or face to the north. Many residents live in a multi-housing unit where they don’t own the roof or lack the financial means to front a solar installation.

In recognition of this, the Cook County Community Solar Portal is more than a map. It also provides business models, case studies, educational resources and other information on community solar. “The solar developers will tell you that the larger the better. But we’re looking at sites as small as 25 kW,” said Deborah Stone, Director of the Cook County Department of Environmental Control. “That size diversity is what’s going to help community solar succeed in Cook County.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has committed to reducing the County’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. As solar energy would be a critical way of reaching this goal, finding ways to engage all county residents in taking part is significant.

The Cook County Community Solar Portal was made possible with support from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Elevate Energy developed the online resource in partnership with the Cook County Department of Environmental Control, the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus. The community solar site is part of a larger effort to introduce and accelerate community solar installations in the region, a project supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative.

Exhibiting Sustainability, Subtly and Overtly: Legat Architects’ New Gurnee Studio

December 7, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Baker

Opening a new design studio requires catering to the needs of the employees while also being attractive to clientele. For Legat Architects, their new Gurnee office was also an opportunity to express the firm’s core values of design, performance and sustainability.
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