1. Embodied energy

by anyarchitectanyarchitect on 1220357451|%e %B %Y
rating: 0, tags:

The discussions on green buildings, etc. that keeps coming up in various forums remind me of how complex it is to really assess a piece of architecture. If we look at it very clinically, we sometimes seek recourse to reductionist approaches such as quick rules of the thumb and use of arbitrary and unrealistic technical recommendations that win "energy awards". In most fields, the use of reductionist (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reductionism) methods is over. I believe that we should seek more holistic ways of assessing our works. I believe that to know the whether a piece of architecture is sustainable or not, one intelligent approach is to use "Embodied Energy Analysis" However it is a very complex approach and it would require a lot of systemization in the way architectural information is made available to us. (I'll explain this shortly)

From http://alcor.concordia.ca/~raojw/crd/concept/concept000324.html:

"Embodied Energy is the energy required to provide a product, both directly and indirectly through all processes upstream (i.e. traceable backwards from the finished product to consideration of raw materials) Embodied energy does not referred to energy available or inherent in a material or product as a logical derivation of the words would suggest. … A more accurate term for embodied energy is “Cumulative Energy Demand”, because it represents the sum of all the energy inputs into a product system, from all stages of the life cycle which are included in the study developing the embodied energy data "

I look at Embodied energy as being analogous to the calorific value that is put on food products. A health conscious and systematic person can jot down these values as they are consumed over the course of day, and at the end of the day the total calories consumed can be found out. In a similar fashion, it is theoretically possible for a building to be scrutnized in terms of how much direct and indirect (and recurring) energy it consumed over its course of its lifecycle. That would give an indication of the total embodied (or trapped) energy that cannot be recovered. Lets a simple example of the embodied energy in a wall: How much energy is trapped in it? = energy was consumed to make the brick + energy for transporting the bricks + energy for generating the fuel used by the transporting vehicles + the energy consumed by the cement used in the mortar + the energy consumed by the raw materials …. all the way till you reach the source of the raw materials, etc. Add to that, the recurring cost of all the embodied energy of materials that get used on the maintenance of the wall from time to time. So there is a whole tree of possible energy consuming events that need to be traced and accounted for.

Once the whole tree of events is traversed, only then can the architect truly come to know how much irrecoverable energy is embodied in that project. And then can he/she make further decisions on how to reduce further consumption. EE analysis can happen only if we we architects demand that the embodied energy value of a manufactured good is published clearly on each product we use, much the same way how calorific values have to be published on foods … this can simplify the complex calculation of embodied energy consumption, just the way the a diet conscious person can track the calories consumed Many countries like Germany and Canada are into embodied energy and we should also group together and demand some official organization like the Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (MNES) to take up this cause.

See also: http://www.cdnarchitect.com/asf/perspectives_sustainibility/measures_of_sustainablity/measures_of_sustainablity_embodied.htm

Before we narrow our focus only on energy issues, we must not forget the other issues that are also part of architecture. For e.g. It could be possible for the embodied energy of a material which is toxic when it catches fire to be lower than one which is not toxic at all. So do we simply adopt the one with the lower embodied energy? Other confusing issues that need to be resolved: There could be materials such as local stone which may serve as a good low embodied energy material in some projects. But the scars that the local quarries would impose on the landscape will not heal for a million years… So we architects need to put our heads together over many issues … not just energy.

Maybe a whole unified way of looking at all issues faced on earth together holistically as suggested by the Gaia people?… See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaia_theory_(science) …Like someone pointed out before if we merely adopt western approaches, it may result in some ridiculous glass boxes in our hot climate (India)

Back to science

Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License