Industry News Briefs

May 12, 2010

Energy

DOE Develops Design/Build Model for Net-Zero Energy-Use Buildings
Shale Gas May Be the "Game-Changing Resource of the Decade"

Land/Buildings

Steel-Based Floor System Allows Longer Spans, Faster Construction

Water

Water Efficiency Integral to Environmental-Friendly Design
New EPA Water Infrastructure Policy Seeks to Encourage Smart Growth

Transportation

DOT Report: Condition of U.S. Highways, Bridges Has Improved in Last Decade
FAA Chief Counsel Says Reauthorization Bill Welcome, But Cumbersome

Other

'Smart Dust' Project Would Deploy One Trillion Sensors Worldwide




Energy

DOE Develops Design/Build Model for Net-Zero Energy-Use Buildings
Architectural Record (05/10) Post, Nadine M.

A group in the U.S. Department of Energy is developing a new design-build project-delivery model for fast-tracked, net-zero-energy buildings, both public and private. The DOE calls the process progressing, performance-based design-build (DB). Haselden Construction, the contractor for the DOE's first application of the model, a $64 million Research Support Facility for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo., says the model is design-build "on steroids." The 222,000 square foot building is the largest known net-zero-energy building in North America. The new model will revolutionize how we look at producing high-performance buildings in the commercial buildings sector, according to DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Golden field office director Jeffery M. Baker. The facility is on schedule to open in June. Green DB is a major undertaking for DOE-NREL, which has no experience with DB or performance-based design. Despite requiring a total culture change to accommodate the process, Baker says it is a massive improvement over the government's design-bid-build process. The experience has been so positive for the DOE that it has already initiated five other projects, at a total value of $262.5 million, using the approach, including a second research support facility, two integrated biorefinery research facilities, an energy-systems integration facility and a parking structure.
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Shale Gas May Be the “Game-Changing Resource of the Decade�
Wall Street Journal (05/10/10) Jaffe, Amy Myers

A wave of drilling over the past decade has uncovered giant supplies of natural gas in shale rock. By some estimates, there is1,000 trillion cubic feet recoverable in North America alone, enough to supply the nation's natural-gas needs for the next 45 years. Europe may have nearly 200 trillion cubic feet of its own. New techniques have driven down the price tag and set the stage for shale gas to become what could be the game-changing resource of the decade, according to the author, the Wallace S. Wilson Fellow for Energy Studies at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. She notes that even before the shale discoveries, natural gas was destined to play a big role in the future energy market, and the advent of abundant, low-cost gas will prevent the rise of any new cartels. The shale boom also is likely to upend the economics of renewable energy, as it may become more difficult to persuade people to adopt green power that needs heavy subsidies when there's a cheap, plentiful fuel out there that's a lot cleaner than coal. However, the author also believes this offers a tremendous new longer-term opportunity for alternative fuels. With there no longer being an urgent need to make them competitive immediately through subsidies, since natural gas now can be used right now, the United States can pour that money into research so that renewables will be ready to compete without lots of help when shale supplies run low, decades from now. Skeptics say that shale-gas exploration is too expensive and that it carries environmental risks, but the author strongly disagrees. Regulations and enforcement must be tightened to ensure safety, she notes, but given the abundance of supply, producers can absorb the hit.

Land/Buildings

Steel-Based Floor System Allows Longer Spans, Faster Construction
Engineering News-Record (05/05/10) Rubenstone, Jeffrey

The new, $8.5 million, three-story dormitory being built by Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., features a prefabricated steel deck, which is joined and fitted with channels on the ground. The 30x30 steel panels are lifted into place by a crane. Once connections are made to the structural columns, a concrete slab can be poured. "That’s the genius of the system," says Aaron Ford, project manager on the dormitory project and associate principal with structural engineering firm L.A. Feuss Partners, Dallas. "We build all the pieces on the ground and raise it up." The method allows for spans of up to 35 feet between columns. The ripple design of the deck creates spaces for MEP runs, and there are no post-tensioned strands. By panelizing on the ground, it is far safer and requires less crane work. "Doing a tower in concrete, it’s one floor per week, but working with the erector we could get two to three floors per week with this panel system," says Bill Lindley, senior vice president and chief engineer for W&W. Vibration was a concern early in the process, but the method was found to meet American Institute of Steel Construction criteria. Using this design also enabled the university to get a 30 percent reduction in foundation loads because lightweight concrete could be used, and three vertical braces could be removed, compared to the original steel structure.
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Take the LEED
Transportation Management & Engineering (04/10) Vol. 15, No. 2, P. 11; Sanderson, Michael; Scharf, Danielle

Sustainability, as it applies to transportation, can be defined as "the ability to meet the needs of the present generation to provide for the movement of people and goods from one location to another without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the transportation sector accounts for about 33 percent of U.S. greenhouse (GHG) gas emissions, and federal and local governments throughout the globe are now examining and in many cases embracing policies that require GHG reductions. The U.S. Green Building Council, in conjunction with the Congress for New Urbanism and the Natural Resources Defense Council, has developed Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Neighborhood Development (LEED ND), a rating system that combines the precepts of smart growth, new urbanism, and green building into the first national neighborhood development design standard. Certain credits within LEED ND apply specifically to transportation, such as the Smart Location and Linkage (SLL) Credit 1. SLL Credit 1 promotes development within existing communities or public transportation infrastructure for the purpose of reducing vehicle trips and miles traveled and supporting walking, biking, and transit as transportation options. SLL Credit 3 encourages developments at sites with existing multimodal transportation choices, while SLL Credit 4 encourages bicycling as a transportation option. There are several credits relating to transportation within the Neighborhood Pattern and Design (NPD) category, one being NPD Credit 6, which encourages initiatives with high levels of internal connectivity and strong linkage to the community at large. NPD Credit 7, meanwhile, is intended to promote transit use through the provision of safe, convenient, and comfortable waiting areas and safe and secure bike storage facilities for transit users.

Using Cabling Systems to Support In-Building Personal Wireless
Cabling Installation and Maintenance (04/10) McLaughlin, Patrick

At the beginning of wireless communications, people regularly had to recall people due to losing a signal because they were entering a building or tunnel. Even today, people still often seek out windows or go outside to improve their wireless signal. However, user expectations of wireless connectivity are increasing, and service providers are working to meet these expectations. Wireless is now the preferred medium for personal communications, making access within buildings extremely important. Many organizations have experienced the benefits of installing in-building solutions for wireless connectivity. ADC offers the InterReach suite of distributed antenna systems (DAS) for in-building wireless coverage, which is often deployed in dense, high-traffic environments like convention centers, sporting venues, and airports. CommScope, which recently introduced a Wired for Wireless Solution, aimed at owners and developers of new buildings, notes that energy-saving features like heavily insulated walls and windows that reduce energy costs can also make it difficult to receive wireless signals. Whatever system is used to improve interior wireless signals, it is undeniable that there is a growing need for enterprise end-user organizations to support wireless personal communications.
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Water

Water Efficiency is Integral to Environmentally Friendly Design
Buildings (04/10) Vol. 104, No. 4, P. 46; Kind, Joanna

Water efficiency is of growing importance in efforts to facilitate environmentally friendly building management, and there are a number of principles that building professionals can follow to improve water efficiency. The first is to measure the amount of water consumed by landscaping, and building managers can track landscape water use and target reductions with submeters. A second principle is smart landscaping, and tips to realize this include planning a plant palette that can be sustained exclusively via rainfall, and creating an efficient water landscape using aids such as EPA's WaterSense Water Budget Tool. Water-efficient landscaping should be handled by a licensed landscape architect or a qualified site planner. To achieve uniform distribution of water, building professionals should specify that their irrigation system design, installation, and maintenance be managed by qualified professionals who follow best practices. Water should only be applied when necessary, and appropriate irrigation schedules can be created and maintained by various tools, including weather-based irrigation controllers, soil moisture-based irrigation controllers, rain sensors, freeze sensors, and wind sensors. Finally, proper service and maintenance of the irrigation system is essential, and methods include frequent monitoring and annual or biannual audits.
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New EPA Water Infrastructure Policy Seeks to Encourage Smart Growth
Washington Post (04/05/10) MacGillis, Alec

The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a policy instructing states to adopt smart-growth principles when allocating the $3.3 billion in water infrastructure funding the federal government gives to states each year. The policy says that states should prioritize projects that upgrade drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in cities, over projects intended to serve new developments in suburbs on the outskirts of a city. The guidance is arguably five years too late, particularly considering the home building boom that consumed massive amounts of land around cities. However, building will eventually resume, and EPA officials say the federal funding, from the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, could persuade states to deploy more sustainable forms of development. The policy has been met with criticism. The National Association of Home Builders is seriously concerned, and its senior vice president, Susan Asmus, says while the group recognizes the need to repair, replace, and, and upgrade existing infrastructure, it should not be done at the expense of new growth. Texas Water Development Board executive administrator Kevin Ward says that in many towns authorities that decide how to use water funds have no voice in planning and zoning decisions, and are simply obligated to provide service to a specific district. Smart Growth America president Geoff Anderson says he wishes the new guidance was more specific, and that the EPA should be exploring going further. For example, septic-based developments should be approved only if they can guarantee that their septic systems will function for a significantly long period.
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Clean Water Cause to Celebrate
Boston Globe (05/04/10) Valencia, Milton J.; Ballou, Brian

A recent water leak in Massachusetts highlights the need to reexamine how we manage the delivery of drinking water. A Massachusetts Water Infrastructure Finance Commission is expected to meet to discuss the state's aging system, which is believed to need $8 billion in upgrades and repairs. Residents of Massachusetts were using bottled water to brush their teeth, and were concerned about getting water in their mouth while taking a shower, or eating food after washing their hands. Towns in Massachusetts had to request truckloads of water from state emergency officials, in case the leak took a long time to repair, while some others relied on stores to provide for residents. "These are things we’re just not used to," says University of Massachusetts assistant professor Ellen Marie Douglas. "We are really lucky, and the reason we have had this increase in life expectancy, and health and life quality, a lot of it has to do with improving the infrastructure for our drinking supply and sanitary waste." Douglas says the World Health Organization reports that 1.2 billion people worldwide go without clean drinking water, something Massachusetts residents had to deal with only for a few days.
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Transportation

DOT Report: Condition of U.S. Highways, Bridges Has Improved in Last Decade
DC Velocity (05/06/10) Solomon, Mark B.

A report from the Department of Transportation states that the condition of the nation's highways and bridges has improved over the past decade, which contradicts the conventional belief that U.S. infrastructure is failing. The report found that the percentage of vehicle miles traveled on interstate roads having what DOT called "good ride quality" increased to 57 percent in 2009, up from 46 percent in 2000. Additionally, the DOT, citing data from the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the percentage of bridges classified as "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete" fell 29.4 percent in 2009, down from 30.9 percent in 2002. The DOT also found that most of the progress occurred in fixing "structurally deficient" bridges that are in need of significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. The DOT did caution that increasing freight volumes moving by truck would continue to put stress on the nation's roads. "Without adequate investment in the road network or diversion of freight to rail or water transport alternatives, there may be adverse consequences in safety and efficiency should road conditions worsen in the future," according to the report. DOT officials have launched an aggressive campaign to convince shippers to consider water and intermodal as alternatives to over-the-road trucking. The agency also cautioned that there are still significant challenges involved in addressing bridge deficiencies, and that current levels of federal, state, and local funding are "insufficient" to sustain the long-term condition of the bridge network. "If combined investment in the coming years is sustained at 2006 levels," according to the report, "the backlog of potential cost-beneficial bridge improvements is projected to increase 13.9 percent by 2026"
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Reauth Bill Could Stretch FAA Thin
Aviation Week (05/04/10) Schofield, Adrian

FAA Chief Counsel David Grizzle says FAA reauthorization will establish funding stability, but it will also place a major burden on the agency through new regulatory requirements. The reauthorization bill, being considered by the House and Senate, would mandate the creation of several new rules as well as up to 14 studies and 30 reports, according to Grizzle, who says the efforts are not "directionally wrong," but that they will occupy the FAA's rulemaking capacity for a year and a half, potentially pulling resources away from activities that have a greater impact on safety. Grizzle did note that the FAA's airport improvement program has been seriously hurt by having to rely on short-term funding extensions, with some projects being delayed or cancelled. On the whole, the FAA will be glad to see the reauthorization completed, according to Grizzle. Grizzle also admitted that the Joint Planning and Development Office created to oversee the NextGen reauthorization effort has failed to live up to its potential. The FAA is realigning the NextGen effort based on the recommendations of an industry-government task force. Grizzle notes that 21 percent of the current fiscal year's NextGen budget is committed to implementing task force recommendations, as is more than 35 percent of the fiscal year 2011 NextGen budget. As for the FAA's often-contentious labor relations, Grizzle says the agency has struggled to incorporate the controllers union in collaborative decision making, but that the union also needs to mature and recognize the limitations of budget constraints. FAA unions need to "separate professional and safety issues from industrial issues," though the agency is seeing more progress in this area.
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Texas to Be U.S. Transportation Testing Ground
CNet (05/05/10) Lombardi, Candace

Texas will serve as IBM's test subject for several telematics transportation technologies. IBM Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Texas Transportation Institute Director Dennis Christiansen are expected to announce the testing partnership, which will closely follow the federal intelligent transportation research agenda established by LaHood and the Obama administration. LaHood recently announced that the Department of Transportation is offering $775 million for transit agencies to upgrade their bus systems, and he is expected to announce another initiative to promote vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Vehicle-to-vehicle would give cars standard communication by combining a system like Wi-Fi with a global positioning system. Drivers could be warned of a potential collision, sudden lane changes, or a car in front of them breaking hard. An estimated 76 percent of crashes involving unimpaired drivers could potentially be prevented using this technology, according to the DOT. IBM's proof-of-concept and pilot programs, which follow the DOT initiative to implement IntelliDrive technology, will be rolled out in partnership with the Texas Transportation Institute at the state and local level in Texas. The programs will include road sensors and predictive analytics for determining future traffic patters. Some cars already provide real-time traffic information, but cannot predict future traffic. Predictive analytics transportation tools will allow transportation managers and drivers to make decisions and changes as much as an hour in advance. If successful, the programs could serve as a model for other states.
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Other

‘Smart Dust’ Project Would Deploy One Trillion Sensors Worldwide
CNN (05/03/10) Sutter, John D.

Hewlett-Packard (HP) recently announced a smart dust project it calls the "Central Nervous System for the Earth," in which the company plans to deploy a trillion sensors worldwide. The wireless devices will monitor ecosystems, detect earthquakes, predict traffic patterns, and study energy use. The researchers say that accidents could be prevented and energy could be saved if people knew more about the world in real time. HP has already made plans with Royal Dutch Shell to install one million matchbook-size monitors to help with oil exploration, says HP's Pete Hartwell. "We just think now, the technology has reached a point where it makes basic sense for us ... to get this out of the lab and into reality," he says. The sensors are accelerometers, similar to those used in smartphones but 1,000 times more powerful, and are about the size of a VHS tape after they are enclosed in a metal box. There are several real-world projects already underway that use wireless sensors to measure the environment and to monitor farms, factories, data centers, and bridges to promote efficiency and understand how these systems work. The power of these networks is that they eventually can be connected, says University of California, Berkeley professor David Culler. Privacy and security are issues for smart dust projects, but Berkeley professor Kris Pister says "we've got all the security tools we need underneath to make this information private."
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Bidding and Estimating Software Takes the Guesswork Out of the Equation
Compact Equipment (04/01/2010) Morgan, Jason

Estimations are a part of the construction industry, like when a top excavator eyeballs the grade, and while these "guesstimations" may be fine when the economy is strong and revenue is plentiful, during difficult times contractors need an edge, and there is no room for best guesses, particularly when bidding or estimating the cost of a job. Before work on a project even starts, contractors must predict the perfect storm of cost and labor to beat out competitors in the bidding, while still making enough money to be profitable. Fortunately, advancements in bidding and estimating software can simplify the process. There are a wide variety of concerns contractors must account for when bidding, including the risk of the project, man-hours associated with preparing the bid, the geographic location of the job, soil and job conditions, bonding capacity, and profitability, among many others. Bidding software can help contractors account for all these factors, and more, often using the contractor's own formula. "These formulas can be created as assemblies that are set up once and then used as needed in future estimates. In many cases, an estimator only needs to work up a pay item once and then make minor modifications as the item is used over and over again in future estimates," says HCSS chief operating officer Steve McGough. McGough says estimating software significantly reduces the time needed to produce estimates, while simultaneously increasing accuracy. "A company that uses estimating software is at a distinct competitive advantage against a company that does not, simply based on the volume of accurate estimates that can be produced quickly. In addition, estimating software allows for standardization of cost items, which sets the stage for cost tracking and eliminates double entry of budget information into accounting or job tracking software," says McGough.
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Bill Pitches Prison for Willful Workplace Violations
Daily Reporter (Wis.) (05/04/10) Snyder, Paul

The Protecting America's Workers Act, introduced by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., could mean company executives, project managers, and safety directors could face up to 20 years in prison for work site accidents. The proposed bill would let the Occupational Safety and Health Administration enforce stronger penalties for willful safety violations that result in serious injury or death. The bill has drawn criticism from the construction industry, which argues increasing penalties undermines efforts to improve safety. Madison, Wis., OSHA area director Kim Stille says the bill would establish intent as the difference between criminal charges and the standard fee. For example, if a worker is hurt by machinery, criminal charges may follow if the project manager, CEO, or safety director new the machinery had service problems and instructed workers to use the machinery anyway. Currently, such a violation would fetch a maximum penalty of $70,000. If the bill passes, the penalty could be $120,000 or 10 years in prison. Repeat offenders could face 20-years in prison. House Committee on Education and Labor press secretary Aaron Albright says a change in the law could slow accident rates. "From the legislative hearings we’ve held in committee and subcommittee," says Albright, "it’s obvious that penalties are not working." Stille says stronger penalties could create safer environments, but the change could also hurt OSHA's relationship with the construction industry. "I would like to think employers are providing a safe work environment for their workers anyway because it’s the morally right thing to do," says Stille. "There are some employers that need extra motivation, but it’s dangerous when penalties become a factor of doing business."
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Construction Industry Adds Another 14,000 Jobs in April as the Number and Scope of Stimulus-Funded Projects Continues to Grow
Associated General Contractors of America (05/07/10)

An analysis of federal figures by the Associated General Contractors of America shows that construction firms added 14,000 new jobs in April, marking the second consecutive month of employment gains in the industry. After more than two years of major job losses, the construction industry is again adding jobs, largely due to the increasing number of stimulus-funded projects now underway. "As today's report makes clear, the impacts of the stimulus are now being felt across a much broader section of the construction industry," says the associations chief economist Ken Simonson. "The good news is the stimulus is for now turning the tide on construction employment; the bad news is the stimulus is temporary while the construction downturn will be protracted." Simonson notes that the construction industry has added 40,000 new jobs since February, following more than three years of employment declines that cost over 2 million workers their jobs. Even after the two months of job growth, the industry's unemployment rate is still 21.8 percent, more than double the national average, and the highest April rate since the statistic started being recorded in 1976. Simonson says the job growth appears to be driven by the stimulus, with the nonresidential construction sector, where most stimulus construction funds are targeted, adding 24,600 jobs in April and 36,500 in March. Simonson warns that stimulus funding will most likely end before private-sector and state and local government demand increases, and that enacting the long-delayed highway and aviation bills, passing the Water Resources Development Act and the Building Star legislation, establishing a Clean Water Trust Fund and National Infrastructure Bank and keeping tax rates unchanged are the best ways to avoid post-stimulus job losses.
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