Sustainable green roofs and solar walls in urban landscape design

Amazing but true: the price of solar panels after dropping at about 6% per year for a decade, the price of solar panels is now dropping at 20% per year. If this continues for 5 years solar power is going to be cheaper than coal power. But the cost of electricity transmission is not falling so it will be advantageous to have solar panels as close as possible to the buildings in which the electricity is used. So the likely future of urban design is: solar panels on the walls and vegetation of the roofs. No more dead walls and, since pv panels are reflective, we can look forward to sunlight being reflected into the previously dark corners of cities. Retaining the ‘matchbox’ form of recent cities would not be sensible. We can look forward to some entirely different urban forms and to a much fuller integration of landscape design with architectural design.
Images courtesy afagen and mgifford,

22 thoughts on “Sustainable green roofs and solar walls in urban landscape design

  1. Christine

    One of the best potential aspects of the integration of solar panels into architecture will be the capacity to design with light on the facades in a sustainable way: here are some visuals – [ http://media.treehugger.com/assets/images/2011/10/419523.jpg ] and [ http://images.brisbanetimes.com.au/2012/05/03/3268436/wintergarden_729-420×0.jpg ]. These facades are for internal buildings & yes are better as artwork than the usual blank walls.

    The medium – supported by solar power – could go much further so that the transparent boundary that windows represent is also respected & considerations of light pollution as well as the aesthetics and ecology of day and night skies, and visual harmony is streetscapes and the urban realm are part of the repertoire.

    Solar panels, noise attenuation, visual design and freeways seem like a natural fit to me! The solar panels could then power networks of electric car charging points. What would this new form of ‘petrol’ station look like?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Many wonderful things would result from cheap solar-power. Just imagine the joy with which we would rid the world of power stations and wind farms. I am not enthusiastic about the steep population growth which Malthus would predict but increasing wealth seems to be the best way of limiting population growth. So solar power could be the means of continuing this trend https://www.google.co.uk/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&met_y=sp_pop_grow&tdim=true&dl=en&hl=en&q=world%20population%20growth
      But we could be dreaming about cheap solar power too soon if the current price levels are the result of an over-supply glut http://grist.org/news/what-does-the-collapse-of-solar-panel-giant-suntech-mean-pricier-panels-probably/

      Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      We will, as you imply, know we have been successful when the world hedgehog population is rising. They are one of my favourite animals. Their prickles provide good insulation when they fall from moderate heights. I would worry about them falling of roofs but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a hedgehog-rich urban roofscape.

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  2. Christine

    Should we start a save the hedgehog hedge fund?

    I am not sure about the habits of hedgehogs and how the would survive on urban roofs. There are hedgehogs in NZ but none in Australia so I am probably suffering from hedgehog envy? [ http://www.new-zealand-nz.net/animals/hedgehog.html ]

    [ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8592678.stm ] Or rather realising that hedgehogs are welcome in some environments but not in others. So perhaps, if hedgehogs populations are on the increase in the UK that is great for conservation, but if their numbers are on the increase in New Zealand this is bad for conservation.

    Yes. When do you think the first solar powered smart phone and devices from apple will hit the market? [ http://www.techhunter.co.uk/gadgets/solar-powered-iphone/03531/ ]

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I am pleased to say that we are life members of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society. I know that Australia’s wildlife has very many compensations but it is sad not to have hedgehogs. Nor would it be good to introduce them, though I keep wondering if I could introduce penguins to Scotland. Does the fact that hedgehogs have not changed much for 15 million years (reported on the NZ website) indicate that they have got something wrong, or that they have got something right? It sounds like a pretty sustainable way of life to me and if sustainability is the Great Goal should we learn from the hedgehog? When transporting them to NZ, someone should have warned them against eating ‘ eating eggs of banded dotterels, black stilts and black-fronted terns’.
      Solar powered mobile phones would not work well in Scotland in winter. My vote would go to fabrics which incorporate solar cells.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_cell_fabric It is one of those inventions which has been about to happen for years. But there’s another good tip from hedgehogs. When it gets cold they just climb under a pile of leaves and go to sleep.

      Reply
  3. christine

    Apart from light sculptures [ http://www.dundee.com/news/giant-penguins-invade-dundee.html ] it seems that penguins have indeed found a home in Scotland.
    [ http://creatednotfound.aminus3.com/image/2013-04-01.html ] I am not sure whether their arrival in Dundee meant they were finally safe from becoming stewed penguin and champagne! [ http://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/media/articles/ ]

    The hedgehogs are pretty adorable as are penguins, but it seems they are getting up to more than just eating the locals eggs.

    I am not for killing hedgehogs as this NZer recommends, [ http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/blogs/in-our-nature/7248769/Wildlife-baddies-The-Hedgehog ]particularly since they are putting the Kiwi on a crash diet [ http://cdn.cutestpaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/l-KiwiBird.jpg ] by eating 80 percent of the same thing. Rather, it would be great if the hedgehogs in NZ could be domesticated (like the guinea pig) and lead an indoor life.

    Great idea to have climate adapted inventions in solar technology!

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  4. Christine

    Perhaps the British Hedgehog Preservation Society could repatriate some of the New Zealand Hedgehogs? Although if this was to happen they would most probably have to be quarantined for diseases local to the Southern Hemisphere prior to their reintroduction.
    [ http://www.massey.ac.nz/massey/fms/Colleges/College%20of%20Sciences/Epicenter/docs/RobynGortonMVS.pdf ]

    “The first hedgehogs recorded in New Zealand were a pair received by the Canterbury
    Acclimatisation Society in 1869 from the purser of the Hydaspes (Christchurch Press,
    4 October 1869).”

    It seems like there was an Adam and Eve of hedgehogs in NZ. I am wondering if they have genetic data for hedgehogs in NZ now? It may be that it would also be good, as well as domesticating New Zealands hedgehogs as pets to protect the wildlife, to also have wild insurance populations in Sanctuaries, as New Zealand is the only country where hedgehogs have been successfully introduced.

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      During the UK epidemic of Mad Cow Disease the Indians offered to take them into India – we were slaughtering and burning them at the time. The Labour Party had a Mad Minister, Scots, who used to be on our TV screens every night saying ‘slaughter, slaughter, its the only thing’. I was most grateful to the Hindus for their peaceful offer and wish we could extend a similar offer to NZ hedgehogs. We need them and they must be fed up walking about with their prickles pointing in the wrong direction.

      Reply
  5. Christine

    Yes, animal diseases are a particular predicament, particularly if the animal is part of the food chain.

    You made me laugh a lot at the image of a hedgehog with its prickles pointed in the wrong direction! Why are the UK hedgehog populations declining? Is it due to loss of habitat or the dangers of increasingly busy roadways to negotiate or an increase in badger numbers? [ http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/news/4575963/Hedgehog-all-white-on-the-night-thanks-to-caring-Andy ]

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      They say the hedgehog decline is the result of habitat loss. I have no counter-evidence but am sceptical, because the British countryside does not seem to have changed all that much in the half-century I have known it. There was a wicked period when the government gave subsidies for ripping up hedgerows but that has ended and there has been a long period of subsidies for putting them back again (or rather for making new habitat areas). I demand new research!

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  6. Christine

    Here is an interesting description of hedgehogs and the hedgehog personality! [ http://twelvemilesaminute.wordpress.com/2013/04/09/on-hedgehogs-and-hedgerows/ ] It has me wondering when the hedgerows were first planted? Were they part of the move to enclose the land?

    Could there be a link between the culture of the gypsey’s and their tradition work in agriculture and the cultural landscape of the hedgehog?
    [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hedgerow_removal ]

    Did the hedgehog live in the ancient woodlands and use the hedgerows and a wildlife corridor? Are the two habitat types equally important for hedgehog survival?

    Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Habeas corpus seems like a ‘small detail’ in the operation of a civil society but is in fact a principle of the first importance. Could it be that planning for the welfare of hedgehogs is in the same category ie something which seems like a ‘small detail’ but which could have profound importance?
      Re hedgerows, a high proportion of the surviving examples in the UK and other parts of north Europe date from the enclosure movement. But it is very likely (I mean that I think it is certain but can’t point to the evidence) that they were also planted round ‘open fields’ and ‘gardens’ in the preceding centuries (probably since Roman times in the UK). I have put the terms in quotation marks because their meanings have shifted.
      Re ‘ancient woodlands’, the term is best used for woodland which has never been cleared and yes, it is likely that they make much better hedgehog habitat than manged woodland, but I am guessing.

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  7. Christine

    Yes, perhaps it is. If the hedgehog is having difficulty surviving in its native environment then it begs the question are there are creatures which are a little bit less obvious to us (but nevertheless vitally important) which are also struggling? (ie. the bees…but perhaps others too?)

    It would be worthwhile knowing the relationship between the amount of hedgehog habitat (woodlands and hedgerow)and the number of hedgehogs in the UK over time. And whether the woodlands are the ‘settled’ habitat of the hedgehog (for breeding) and the hedgerows the ‘travelling’ habitat of the hedgehog (allowing different hedgehog populations to meet up and/or increase their food gathering range)?

    Is there an optimal number of hedgehogs? What important work do they do in the environment? And what is the critical survival number of hedgehogs for their existential value?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      For the UK, I would be happy to return to 36m hedgehogs, from the present 1m. And yes, scientists have been wasting time on genetic engineering which should have been spent on investigating the Hedgehog Holocaust of the past half-century. Personally, I do not believe the story about ‘loss of habitat’ and nor do I see how anyone with a scientific background can propagate the tale. Are they seriously suggesting that the Uk ha lost 97.33% of its hedgehog habitat in 50 years? This is obvious rubbish and here is, for me, a more convincing explanation (and the video suggests that hedgehogs get better health care than patients of the UK’s National Health Service!):
      http://www.harperaspreywildliferescue.co.uk/hedgehog.html
      Hedgehogs are very useful visitors to any garden. They eat slugs, beetles, caterpillars, and a variety of other cute creepy crawlies, and in fact everything that makes holes in your plants will probably be the prey of these spiky fellows, making them a must have in any garden. They have declined from 30 million in the 1970’s to around 1 million now. We as humans are pretty poor at looking out for the wildlife we share our space with but this is one of the most horrific examples of our lack of caring. Pesticides kill!
      Slug pellets and pesticides kill slugs and insects because they are poisonous. That poison means they suffer a very painful death, do not use them. These insects and slugs do not eat to annoy you they eat to survive. The poison ensures a painful and slow death. It can be passed onto larger animals that eat them and go right through the food chain. The poison will end up in our water table when it rains. Whilst this may sound extreme it is not. We must protect our planet and maintain the balance. We can still progress but must strive to find greener solutions to everyday issues. If we all do just that little extra everyday we will be working towards a greener planet. What have you done today to make a differnce

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  8. Christine

    Whoops…At first read my imagination was of one very enormous hedgehog instead of very very many small ones!

    The website says most hedgehog deaths occur during their hibernation period while in the hedgerows? This is a bit of a curious death statistic? I am wondering if they have a statistical breakdown on the different causes of hedgehog deaths and the numbers dying from each of these causes and whether the mortality profiles are changing over time?

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    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I makes me sad to think about it, but I have reason to believe that hedgehog deaths are not a major research concern in the scientific community. For myself, I can easily imagine that their metabolic systems are not fully operational during the hibernation period and that, in consequence, they are more than usually affected by insecticides during this period.

      Reply
    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I have to admire, and envy, the hedgehogs ability to hibernate. The envy is because our recent winters have been cold and wet and miserable. I think I could transform myself into a ball to maintain my heart temperature but one breath every few minutes might be difficult.

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  9. Christine

    Hmmm. So it may well be possible to design hedgehog friendly green roofs or elevated green roadways, combining the highline with the highway. If the design was based on hedgerow ecology and provided the hedgehogs with warmer drier environments in which to hibernate during the extremes of weather, hedgehogs may do better when it is cold, wet and miserable.
    [ http://farm1.static.flickr.com/156/364960123_89c7ac7718.jpg ] Oh, and less use of chemicals in agriculture!

    To improve the hedgehog breathing technique perhaps some scuba diving training? [ http://www.totalexperience.com.au/assets/products_lg/Scuba-Diving-with-Sea-Dragons-Melbourne_large.JPG ]

    Reply

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