Earth Day: Preserving Irvine’s Earth-Friendly Tradition

earth day 2014 poster.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com.

Irvine’s Earth-Friendly Tradition

The City of Irvine has long been a leader in earth-friendly environmental policies, green technology and environmental awareness.  Irvine’s environmental programs have been on the leading edge of advances in green building and construction, environmental education, recycling, water conservation, waste disposal, and energy saving.

Irvine has also demonstrated its commitment to green buildings through the enactment of the Irvine Build Green Program, which encourages builders to create environmentally sensitive, healthier developments for its residents, businesses and visitors.

sanjoaquin.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com.  photo by Geoff Fox.

In addition, Irvine’s Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, under the jurisdiction of the Community Services Commission, advises the City Council on matters related to climate protection, energy, recycling, waste management, sustainability, transportation, and water, helping the City serve the community through advancing environmental policy initiatives and programs.

The Irvine Chamber of Commerce is also helping Irvine get greener with its new Irvine Green Business Certification Program, which helps improve its members’ bottom lines by reducing energy and waste costs, and by providing access to tax credits, rebates and incentives. This certification will also allow the Chamber to encourage Irvine businesses to take steps to “green” their business as a means to protect the environment, save money, and use energy more efficiently.

Irvine.green.sanjoaquin.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com. photo by Geoff Fox.

Irvine also offers numerous other environmentally conscious programs, including the National Mayor’s Challenge for Water Conservation, in which Irvine residents and businesses are encouraged to join this friendly, national competition by pledging to conserve water and other resources. This program and other environmental programs are detailed on the City of Irvine’s website, as are the City’s Annual Earth Day Tips to Save Resources and Money.

Irvine’s Open Spaces

Irvine.sunset.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com. photo by Geoff Fox.

One of the best — and most distinctive — qualities of Irvine is our commitment to preserving open space. The City of Irvine has more than 16,000 acres of permanently preserved parkland and open space – remarkable for a city of our size.

In 1974, early in our city’s history, voters approved multi-million dollar measures to fund public parks and recreational facilities, and for the acquisition and development of bicycle trail and hiking trail improvements.

In 1989, the City negotiated an historic agreement with the Irvine Company that set aside more than 9,500 acres as permanent open space marshlands, bike trails, parks, nature conservancies and agricultural areas, protecting fully one-third of the city from development.

In addition, in 2006, nearly 37,000 acres of the Irvine Ranch were selected as a National Natural Landmark, a designation which reflects the outstanding condition, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education of the natural resources on the land.

Irvine.trail.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com. photo by Geoff Fox.

As our Irvine Open Space Preserve website explains, “Since its incorporation in 1971, Irvine has had a strong desire to balance the built and natural environment. As this incredible master-planned community has grown, each phase of development has been accompanied by the preservation and enhancement of natural open spaces, creating the network of parks, trails, and wildlands that residents and visitors may enjoy today and for generations to come.”

Irvine: A Bicycle-Friendly City

Irvine bicycle sunset.  Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox. melissafoxblog.com.

Irvine has also been recognized as the most bicycle-friendly in Southern California by the League of American Bicyclists, the oldest and largest membership organization of cyclists in the United States.

Irvine is indeed a wonderful city for biking, whether for commuting, exercising, or just enjoying the outdoors. We currently have 301 miles of on-street bike lanes and 54 miles of off-street bikeways.  Our bicycle trails are some of the most beautiful, and peaceful, places in Irvine.

We also know that we can — and will — do even better in the future.  As in other California cities, Irvine residents primarily rely on their cars to get around town.  But Irvine has also made it a priority to support and encourage other, environmentally conscious, forms of transportation – including walking and biking.

In fact, we’ve just conducted an important study to better understand how residents, employees, and visitors walk, bike or get around Irvine. The results of this study will help us make better transportation decisions for our community, and help us increase the ease and safety of biking and walking around town.

Irvine as Solar Capitol USA

Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox at Solar Decathlon

Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox at Solar Decathlon

Irvine is now an international center for the development of efficient, environmentally conscious solar energy as the home of the United States Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, the award-winning international competition held every two years that challenges college teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.

In 2013, the Solar Decathlon was held for first time outside of Washington, D.C.– at the Great Park, here in Irvine. The 2015 Solar Decathlon will be held once again here in Irvine, which can now claim the title of the nation’s energy innovation capitol.

Keeping Our Commitment

From its beginnings as a visionary master-planned community developed from the Irvine Ranch, the City of Irvine has striven to be simultaneously people-friendly, business-friendly, and earth-friendly. That success can continue into the future, as long as we insist that each phase of our City’s development be accompanied by careful planning and the preservation and enhancement of our environment.

The 2013 Solar Decathlon Opens in Irvine!

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Solar Decathlon Teams 2013

As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, we are used to new houses being built in Irvine.

But these new houses in the Great Park are special.

These are state-of-the-art solar-powered houses – each of them vying for the title of best solar-powered house in the world in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002. The competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011.

This year, the Solar Decathlon will be held for first time outside of Washington, D.C. – at the Great Park, here in Irvine, California.

From October 3-6 and 10-13, 2013, twenty collegiate teams will be competing – and showing their state-of-the-art solar-powered houses to visitors – at the Great Park, free of charge on eight days over two weekends.  Public hours will be from 11:00 AM to 7:00 PM:

  • Thursday, Oct. 3 – Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013.
  • Thursday, Oct. 10 – Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013.

The Solar Decathlon is an award-winning international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production.

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to help remove barriers to the adoption of solar energy technologies by:

  • Educating students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions;
  • Demonstrating to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable-energy systems available today; and
  • Providing participating students with unique training that prepares them to enter the clean-energy workforce.

Solar-Power Competition: 10 Contests

Solar Decathlon, Melissa Fox, Irvine Commissioner Melissa Fox, melissafoxblog, melissajoifox

Commissioner Melissa Fox at Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon is a competition.  Like the Olympic decathlon, the Solar Decathlon consists of 10 individual contests. These individual contests are designed to gauge how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. Each individual contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a competition total of 1,000 points.

The 10 contests are:

  • Architecture – Teams are required to design and build attractive, high-performance houses that integrate solar and energy-efficiency technology seamlessly into the design. A jury of professional architects evaluates each team’s construction documents and the final constructed house, looking at architectural elements, holistic design, and inspiration.
  • Market Appeal – Teams build their houses for a target market of their choosing. Teams are then asked to demonstrate the potential of their houses to keep costs affordable within that market. A jury of professionals from the homebuilding industry evaluates how well suited each house is for everyday living, determines whether the construction documents would enable a contractor to construct the house as intended, and assesses whether the house offers potential homebuyers within the target market a good value.
  • Engineering – Team houses are evaluated by a jury of professional engineers for functionality, efficiency, innovation, and reliability.
  • Communications – Teams are judged on their success in delivering clear and consistent messages and images that represent the vision, process, and results of each team’s project through web sites, communications plans, and student-led house tours.
  • Affordability – Teams are encouraged to design and build affordable houses that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems, and earn points for building less expensive houses.  For this contest, teams can earn the maximum 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. A sliding point scale is applied to houses with estimated construction costs between $250,001 and $600,000. Houses with estimated costs that are more than $600,000 receive zero points.
  • Comfort – Teams are encouraged to design their houses to maintain steady, uniform indoor environmental conditions.  Points are awarded for maintaining narrow temperature and relative humidity ranges inside the houses.
  • Hot Water – Teams need to demonstrate that a solar-powered house can provide all of the energy necessary to heat water for domestic uses. Teams score points in this contest by successfully completing several daily hot water draws.
  • Appliances – Teams need to demonstrate that solar-powered houses can provide power for the appliance use and amenities of the average U.S. home while using less energy. Teams earn points for refrigerating and freezing food, washing and drying laundry, and running the dishwasher.
  • Home Entertainment – Teams earn points for demonstrating that houses powered solely by the sun can deliver more than just basic household functionality and also provide power for electronics, appliances, and other modern conveniences.
  • Energy Balance – Teams earn points for demonstrating that the solar-power can produce all the energy necessary for the daily energy demands of a small household.  Each house is equipped with a utility meter that measures the energy a house produces and consumes over the course of the competition. A team receives points for producing at least as much energy as its house needs.

The Teams: From 13 States and 4 Countries

The teams in this year’s competition (with links to their web pages) are:

Click here for a gallery of the solar-powered houses.

Click here for virtual tours.

XPO: Clean Energy Exposition

The Solar Decathlon is also part of XPO, a clean, renewable, and efficient energy exposition, simultaneously being held at the Great Park.  The XPO features visionary and innovative companies, products, and educational opportunities.  Through fun, interactive exhibits and activities, the XPO provides visitors with information about the broad spectrum of energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Visitors will experience actionable ways to implement energy efficiency today and into the future, with the goal to leave the XPO with tools and resources to live differently.

XPO features include:

  • The SunShot Innovation Pavilion will feature an educational trade show connecting consumers to clean, renewable, efficient energy companies, products and services and will also showcase the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, featuring educational activities and displays from a variety of solar companies.
  • The Powerful Ideas Symposium will feature guest speakers and panelists presenting useful, innovative ideas related to clean, renewable, efficient energy and its connection with the world and our everyday lives.
  • The Powerful Ideas Classroom will feature educational activities and lessons focused on science, engineering, architecture and energy for preschool through high school students.
  • The Competitors Pavilion will showcase the colleges and universities competing in the Solar Decathlon, providing opportunities to learn more about the technology and innovation used in the student teams’ homes. This Pavilion will also feature the U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards and the American Institute of Architects Orange County Student Design Committee Awards.
  • The Transportation Zone will feature electric vehicle demonstrations, ride-and-drives and competition.
  • The Arts and Culture Zone will feature artistic gallery exhibitions where guests can explore, discover, and experience how art can be influenced by environment and the environment by art.
  • The Farm + Food Zone will feature exhibits and workshops on the benefits of locally grown food and how to grow nutritious, delicious food and maintain healthy gardens.

What the Solar Decathlon and XPO Could Mean for Irvine

It was an incredible achievement in January 2012 when the Great Park team was awarded a $1 million grant to bring the 2013 Solar Decathlon and the XPO in Irvine – the very first time such an award had been made and first time the Decathlon will be held outside of Washington, D.C.  As then-Great Park Board Chair Beth Krom stated at the time, the Solar Decathlon will “bring worldwide attention and economic development to the Great Park and the region and raise public awareness about the benefits of clean energy and energy conservation.”

Indeed, Irvine – with its well deserved reputation for leadership in urban planning, innovation, conservation and green technology – is really the perfect place for the Solar Decathlon.

More than other 300,000 visitors are expected from across the nation and around the world.

(Public transportation is available through Metrolink and local shuttles).

I am tremendously excited about visiting each house in the Solar Decathlon and seeing what new solar energy technology and cutting edge innovative thinking can achieve.

I am also excited about the potential economic and technological impact that the Solar Decathlon will have for Irvine and Orange County in the future.