Urging me on was a not-so-shabby Chevelle. It passed me heading out the deserted Glenn Highway near Mirror Lake going about 90. I blew past it at what I discovered to be top speed, catching a little air on the rolling frost heaves outside Anchorage.
I'm getting that same sense of wide-open acceleration now, watching developments in clean energy. Technologies appear to be testing just how fast they can move forward.
Solar and LED lighting threaten to go mainstream with price reductions. But other technologies also show exceptional promise.
1. Passive House. A house at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History designed with no furnace -- honest -- has been completed and is already catching attention. The residence, which uses "passive house" design and technology, cuts its greenhouse gas footprint and utility costs to the quick. SmartHome Cleveland received a national write-up from Renee Schoof of McClatchy Newspapers.
"Because the house is so well insulated, it can hold heat from sunshine, body heat, lights and appliances," she wrote.
I did a piece on the house while it was under construction in January 2011, explaining how the passive house movement is gaining a foothold in Europe and possibly finding its way into this country. Super-insulated homes are hardly new, especially in the North. I worked on one at 14 in 1975 in Fairbanks. But their adoption has been slow going.
That may certainly change when people paying hundreds of dollars a month in heating bills see an option for cutting that to near nothing.
The stakes are high. Buildings account for about half of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. And while there's a big push nationally and worldwide to address that with retrofits, upgrades and better building practices, finding the mainstream remains a challenge.
But I'm feeling positive, especially with efforts like the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED building certification system, which was designed to improve energy savings, water efficiency and CO2 emissions reduction. And more stringent building practices, now in play, would make a big dent in greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.
2. Buildings that clean the air. This boggles the mind. Alcoa Inc. has developed a proprietary process, using a titanium dioxide coating, called EcoClean, that offers, in the company's words, "the world’s first coil-coated aluminum architectural panel that helps clean itself and the air around it."
Here's the way it works, according to Alcoa's website: titanium dioxide on Alcoa's EcoClean siding interacts with sunlight to break down organic matter both on and floating around the surface of the building panels, leaving the organic matter sitting on the surface. Rain washes it away. The Pittsburg, Pa.-based company says 10,000 square feet has the cleaning power of 80 trees.
Expect other companies to jump on the bandwagon. This is a simple way for corporate America to "green" their portfolios with minimal cost, and it could be a big deal.
3. Buildings that generate more power than they use. The IEEE released a report that says solar eventually could begin to challenge fossil fuels in electricity production. "Solar PV will be a game changer," said James Prendergast, IEEE executive director, in a statement. "No other alternative source has the same potential." The professional organization that promotes technological advancement says solar has been growing 40 percent a year over the past decade.
That means homeowners who install solar today may wind up selling their surplus capacity back to their utilities. This would create an entirely new dynamic and further advance the looks-like-it's-gonna-happen theory of Al Weinrub who wrote a fascinating report about how decentralized power generation through root-top and parking lot solar could be a game changer in California.
In Texas, Weinrub's vision is playing out. Dan and Karen Cripe of Round Rock, Texas are producing more energy than they consume in their energy efficient home, according to a story by ABC affiliate WOTV. "
Our electric bills have actually dipped into the negative range," says Dan Cripe. (A friend of mine sent the link.)
Expect to see more reports in this vein. That's why I used the Celica acceleration analogy. For one, that was a great car. Quite dependable. And it didn't go too fast, just fast enough to pass the Detroit standard-bearer muscle car.
Actually, there's more to the speeding story. The Chevelle took up my challenge and blew past me going about 120 mph. The driver and passenger were grinning, loving the race. Must have been headed to Palmer. Barely anybody lived in Wasilla back then.
Photo: SmartHome Cleveland courtesy Cleveland Museum of Natural History.