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Dispatches from Greenbuild 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona

Posted by Jim Gunshinan on November 12, 2009
It took me about six hours to travel from my bed in Walnut Creek to the Phoenix Convention Center, the location of this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council, and then about an hour more to make my way to the Home Energy booth in the Exposition Hall. Big event; big venue. There are more than 1,000 companies and organizations here, representing every facet of green building, from mulch to windows to lighting to HVAC to water to insulation to… I don’t know the final count, but I heard there are more than 20,000 participants.

Thank goodness I had booked a few appointments. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to start. I met Graham Martin, Chairman and CEO of EnOcean Alliance. The Alliance brings together companies from around the world who work in wireless devices. The group got together to ensure that Company A devices could talk to Company B devices. For example, Verve Lighting System lighting control systems allow a person to wirelessly turn on and off all the lights and outlets in a house. Goodbye wasted standby power! It is being used in new construction and is especially appropriate for multifamily buildings, but it can be installed in retrofit buildings.

With Illumra controls, you can turn on and off whatever office lights you want from your iPhone, from wherever you are. And Graham was enthusiastic to show me EnOcean switching devices that need no batteries. The mechanical energy of one finger flipping a toggle switch is enough to power a wireless signal telling your air conditioner to shut down. According to Graham, EnOcean technology will take the smart grid into the home. “ZigBee is great technology to connect homes to utilities because it can use power from the network. But once inside, EnOcean technology uses so little energy that you never even have to change a battery.” Wow, it’s like the Smart Grid is learning to talk. Its first words are “Fight global warming.”

In the evening we were inspired by Vice President Al Gore at Chase Field, where the Arizona Diamondbacks play baseball. I got to watch from the press box, and we didn’t even have to be quiet. The food was pretty good and the beer was very good and I met some interesting people who write about glass, construction processes, and international trade relations. The “former next President of the United States” warmed up the crowd with some, frankly, corny jokes. There was one about a farmer and a pickup and cow, but I won’t waste anymore of my word count on that. He said, “We have enough ideas and technology to solve three or four global climate crises, but we only have one.” I like his optimism. The former next President called for a new Marshall Plan for energy security. “With the first Marshall Plan, we made sure that there would not be another world war in Europe. There are a lot of reasons why we have gone to war there, and there is a lot of interest in the area of the world that happens to sit on two-thirds of the world’s oil supply. We need to move away from fossil fuels so that we are no longer dependent on other countries for our economic security.”

But it was Gore’s last point that gave me a big boost. “I was thirteen years old when President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon. Most people thought that we didn’t have the technology or the knowhow to do it. “When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, the average age of the scientists and engineers manning their stations in Mission Control was 26. That means that they were 18 when President Kennedy made his speech.” I work with people every day who were part of the energy efficiency revolution of the 70s and 80s and who are still going strong. Gore asked for a show of hands of anyone 18 years old or younger. From the press box I saw a lot of hands.

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