PAE’s David Mead on net zero, refrigerants and Project Drawdown

Paul Hawken, Project Drawdown, Ken Edelstein, David Mead, PAE, Kendeda Building, Living Building Challenge, Georgia Tech

The International Living Future Institute’s Brad Liljequist gets some interesting answers on ILFI’s Trim Tab site from PAE Engineers’ Brad Mead in an interview about net zero building’s and Project Drawdown.

Liljequist is ILFI’s energy guru. Mead is part of the team that designed the Kendeda Building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems. And Drawdown, which I’ve written about here and here, is an attempt by celebrated environmental author Paul Hawken to reframe the climate change debate around meaningful, practical, quantifiable (but not necessarily sexy) solutions.

PAE Engineers, David Mead, Kendeda Building, Living Building Challenge, Georgia Tech
David Mead. Photo credit: PAE Engineers

Liljequist interviewed Mead because the engineer and architect signed on, at Hawken’s request, as a voluntary Drawdown “research fellow.” In April, Drawdown unveiled in book form the results of its study; it continues to get a fair amount of attention.

I was struck at the time by the number of high-ranking solutions related to green building. For example, “refrigerant management” (which few people probably have heard of as a climate- change issue) ranks at the very top when measured by potential reduction in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

A couple of Mead’s money quotes from Mead:

Within the realm of normalizing zero energy buildings, it’s clear that we are just at the very beginning of its growth—it’s behind the overall market uptake of solar energy generally. But the critical thing we learned was that if you look at the numbers, it is clear that zero energy has to target existing buildings and retrofits—we simply won’t reach our numbers if we don’t. …

[A] big surprise [from Drawdown’s research] was the refrigerant management impacts—refrigerants have a high global warming potential and the majority leak into the atmosphere out of HVAC equipment and appliances. I’ve always known that’s an issue, and we have talked about it within our firm quite a bit. But to see it be the number one solution in Project Drawdown is really concerning. In some cases, it can completely offset whatever emissions savings you’ll have from energy efficiency.

And then there’s this: “So what do you think it’s going to take to make zero energy the new normal?” Liljequist asks Mead.

I think a lot of society doesn’t know it’s possible. It’s not part of our cultural narrative. We have to show the broader culture that we can truly address climate change. We just need more examples, both at the high end and in everyday vernacular architecture, in more locations. And then we need to be sure people know about them—many people in Seattle still don’t know about the Bullitt Center.

Read the full interview at Trim Tab.

Photo at top of page: Paul Hawken signs copies of Project Drawdown last May in Atlanta. Photo by Ken Edelstein.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *