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More embassies becoming environmentally friendly

Mar. 6, 2013 - 02:50PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments

The State Department this year will begin building a new $140 million embassy in Nouakchott, Mauritania, in northwest Africa, that will include a wind turbine to generate power.

The 50-kilowatt wind turbine — enough to power about 33 homes — is part of the department’s recent push to construct more environmentally friendly embassies and to incorporate renewable energy.

Donna McIntire, the energy and sustainable design chief at State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said environmentally friendly facilities are becoming standard as the administration pushes for more sustainable buildings and the costs of renewable energy projects come down.

“The technology is progressing to the point where it’s really cost-effective,” McIntire said.

Generating their own electricity is important for embassies for security and economic reasons, she said, because power in many countries is often neither reliable nor cheap.

Much of the growth in environmentally friendly embassies has come since 2009. In 2007, the State Department had one building that achieved LEED certification — an environmental rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Now it has four Gold-certified projects, three Silver-certified projects, seven regular LEED-certified projects and 35 more awaiting certifications.

Some examples of LEED-certified embassies:

• The LEED Gold embassy in Monrovia, Liberia, which features energy-efficient air conditioners and lighting and a 180-kilowatt solar panel array above the parking lot.

• The LEED Gold embassy in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, which has a solar hot water heater, sun shades and water-efficient fixtures.

• The LEED Silver embassy in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, which includes occupancy sensors to control lighting in vacant rooms and solar hot water heaters. All the water used on site is reused for irrigation.

State will be revising and releasing new environmentally friendly guidelines that will include new directions on making residential areas of embassies more energy efficient, McIntire said.

The guidelines will also include new standards to reduce overall lighting and energy use through efficient technology and daylight harvesting — when automatic shades work with lighting systems to lower artificial lighting levels when the sun is at its peak.

New guidance to change behavior — whether remembering to turn off electronics or using less water — could help reduce energy and water use by an estimated 15 to 30 percent, she said.

“There are so many rewards and benefits from no-cost options and operational changes,” McIntire said.

Bill Miner, director of design and engineering at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, said one challenge is that embassies have numerous facilities within a compound and require 24-hour-a-day security, lighting and staffing. So lowering or turning off lighting is not possible in certain places, such as around the perimeter of a compound or in highly secure areas. Similarly, allowing more natural light into buildings requires more glass windows, which compromise security and safety in the event of an attack.

“We are always trying to find a way to strike a balance between security requirements and smart energy use,” he said.

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