Wednesday, December 28, 2011

rethinking the grid

Spending the last few days of 2011 in Southern California has been a wonderful opportunity to see how far the state and its cities have progressed in their efforts to repair and protect a fragile ecology. Los Angeles still suffers from a layer of brown smog that hangs over the region, but the air here is much clearer than it was in the past. Policies aimed at reducing fossil fuel combustion are working - incentives for buying fuel-efficient cars have led to consumers and taxi fleets adopting hybrids in extraordinary numbers (Priuses are ubiquitous here) and programs meant to increase renewable energy generation have made this the leading state for rooftop photovoltaic installations. The best part of this progress is how visible it is.

The prominent locations of electric car charging stations on the street (above) and in places like Santa Monica pier (left) help normalize the technology and begin to make it a part of everyday life. This is as important as financial incentives to making people comfortable with adopting new technologies and practices. The same was true of recycling, which is now so common in California that state parks have recycling cans for collecting water bottles at the end of hiking trails, and of landscape design, where people are encouraged to follow the state and municipal governments' efforts at using plants adopted to the dry climate (xericulture) in order to conserve water.

The solar panel array (left) at Santa Monica pier probably does not offset a large portion of the amusement park's energy load, given that it is not much larger than the one we'll install at tin box. But, like the nearby rainwater treatment facility, it plays an important role in emphasizing the necessity of environmental sustainability in our built environment. As agents of public education, their didactic function is as important as the electricity they produce.


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