05/06/13 10:00am

Here’s a rendering of the classroom studio (and vegetable garden and recycled shipping container) that’s now under construction at the Monarch School in Spring Branch. North of the Katy Fwy. near Kempwood and Gessner, the school serves students with neurological disorders, and it says that the design elements and architecture of this very green 1,120-sq.-ft. studio from Architend will become part of the curriculum:

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05/09/12 4:09pm

The city recently bought 2 custom roll-off trailers so it could set up its brand-new fleet of 17 solar-powered shipping containers without having to hire contractors or cranes. And the method of opening the solar panels (or closing them before a hurricane hits the area) is now OSHA-compliant, says Andrew Vrana of Metalab, the local architecture and fabrication firm that designed them. (2 people on a ladder can do it pretty quickly.) The photos above show the unit installed recently at Fire Station 72 at 17401 Saturn Ln. just north of NASA Rd. 1, near the Johnson Space Center. “Yes they do produce a little power on a cloudy day,” Vrana reports.

All the units have now been delivered to their sites. In the event of a major power outage, the 140-sq.-ft. containers will become staffed disaster response centersair-conditioned information and water-distribution centers: a place to charge your cell phone or laptop, power a medical device, or keep medicines refrigerated. In short, the kind of space it might have been nice to have nearby after Hurricane Ike hit. (As long as the solar panels are folded in and latched, the units will withstand hurricane-force winds.) In the meantime, they’ll provide additional office space and power for the facilities that host them. The container at Lake Houston Park, for example, will become an office for the new woodland archery range.

Here’s a map showing the fire stations, schools, and other locations around the city where you can now find the completely off-grid structures:

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04/25/12 12:36pm

IT’LL TAKE A LITTLE WHILE TO ASSEMBLE THAT NEW IKEA ROOFTOP FURNITURE All the pieces are there, but now here comes the hard part. A scene familiar to many IKEA customers is now taking place on a large scale on top of the Houston IKEA store’s roof, where workers from contractor REC Solar are assembling flat-packed stacks of 3,962 solar panels into a 116,400-sq.-ft. PV array. The panels arrived on site at the end of last year, but construction won’t be complete until sometime this summer. When it’s done, the company says, the installation will generate enough energy to power 113 homes — or a larger number of in-store room displays. [Swamplot inbox; previously on Swamplot] Photo: IKEA Houston

12/06/11 2:26pm

HOUSTON IKEA GOING SOLAR Houston’s 300,000-sq.-ft. IKEA store on the Katy Fwy. near Antoine — along with 8 other southern-state locations and a distribution center — will soon be covered with rooftop solar panels. The furniture company’s U.S. solar program began late last year. Contractor REC Solar will install 3,962 PV panels measuring a total of approximately 116,400 sq. ft., which IKEA will own and operate, on top of the Houston store by next summer. A company press release estimates the Houston panels will produce 931 kW, for a projected annual electricity output of 1,317,500 kWH per year. [BusinessWire] Photo of panels installed earlier this year in West Sacramento: IKEA

06/21/11 5:47pm

Hanging out on the roof of Houston’s new Central Permitting and Green Resource Center at 1002 Washington Ave.: Solar panels, anchored by the first-ever commercial installation of Metalab Studio’s new PV-Pod. The local architecture firm developed the hollow high-density polyethylene pods with support from a UH Green Building Components grant. There’s one pod for each panel, and each is filled up with just enough water to resist required wind forces. This kind of assembly is much simpler to install than a typical photovoltaic-panel rack system with concrete ballast blocks, claims Metalab’s Andrew Vrana. It also allows for a more flexible layout. The new permit building opened for business yesterday.

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11/10/10 1:42pm

A small fleet of modified shipping containers outfitted with adjustable solar panels will soon serve as mobile emergency power supplies for the city of Houston. City officials are currently negotiating a contract to purchase 25 of the units, which are based on a prototype originally deployed as the green-themed sales office of a Montrose condo project. The solar-powered containers, called SPACE (“Solar Powered Adaptive Container for Everyone“), were created by a joint venture of local architecture firm Metalab, Joey Romano’s Harvest Moon Development, and design firm ttweak (best known for the popular “Houston. It’s Worth It.” marketing campaign). City sustainability director Laura Spanjian announced at the opening of the University of Houston’s Green Building Components Expo last month that SPACE and energy company Ameresco had been selected through a public-application process to supply the city with the mobile “solar generators.” Spanjian now tells Swamplot the contract should be complete “in a few weeks.”

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06/26/09 5:15pm

Hey, what’s happening to those fancy solar-powered recycled shipping containers on the corner of Hyde Park and Waugh, meant to attract eco-minded buyers to the $400K+ condo units in the Mirabeau B.?

Up and away they go! Did the Mirabeau B. meet its sales target? Nope . . . but it’s time for construction anyway, developer Joey Romano tells Swamplot:

Our financing is in place and we have signed our contract with Mission Constructors who have commenced work on the site. If all goes to plan at the City, the building work will begin in the next few weeks.

How’d that happen? With a little switch: to rental. But Romano says none of the project’s “green” features will be changed:

We’ll still plant our green roof; our 15 KW solar PV system will still power all common areas; and our rainwater retention system will still irrigate our native Gulf Coast plants. Our units will be large, open, and spacious, offering unique, high-grade finishes, high-end energy efficient appliances, and natural light in every bedroom.

So where are the shipping containers headed?

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06/08/09 1:19pm

There’ll be no new Texas rebates for solar panels after all: That combined-solar bill that appeared to have support from legislators in both parties died at the end of the session from a procedural manuever.

In its last incarnation, the legislation would have given rebates over the next 5 years to Texas homeowners and businesses who install solar panels, and required electric companies to pay a fair market price for electricity pumped back into the grid by its solar-powered customers.

The only solar-related legislation that passed, according to Luke Metzger of Environment Texas, was a provision to let homeowners finance their solar installations with help from the local government, and pay back the cost via extra property taxes over 20 years.

A new single bill providing rebates over the next 5 years for Texas homeowners and businesses who install solar panels — and requiring electric companies to pay a fair market price for the excess electricity solar-powered customers generate — now appears likely to reach the governor’s desk.

The Chronicle‘s Tom Fowler provides a local angle:

An installed residential solar system for a 2,100-square-foot home costs about $25,500, according to Houston-based Standard Renewable Energy. Existing federal incentives would knock about $7,650 off the price. In Austin, residents can get another $13,500 in incentives, in Dallas about $7,900, but Houston offers no such advantages.

02/26/09 10:57am

The solar-powered portable building fashioned from recycled shipping containers that’s been waiting patiently at the corner of Hyde Park and Waugh since last September isn’t just the sales office for the Mirabeau B. condo. It’s also a prototype.

Designers Joe Meppelink and Andrew Vrana of Metalab have teamed up with ttweak Renewables (creators of the Mirabeau B.’s sales graphics) and Harvest Moon (the condo’s developer) to market the structures, which they call SPACE. That stands for Solar Powered Attractive Container for Everyone — though more likely it’ll be for companies that want a sales center that also works as a big green sign.

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01/09/09 11:12am

A few months after Ike, this tricked-out FEMA trailer rolls into Houston as . . . art?? Paul Villinski’s reworked 30-ft. Gulfstream “Cavalier” trailer, which took the artist 7 months to mod, will be parked outside the Rice University Art Gallery starting later this month.

Re-born as the Emergency Response Studio, the trailer’s formaldehyde-ridden original materials are replaced by entirely “green” technology and building materials, including recycled denim insulation, bamboo cabinetry, compact fluorescent lighting, reclaimed wood, and natural linoleum floor tiles made from linseed oil. It is powered by eight mammoth batteries that store energy generated by an array of solar panels and a “micro” wind turbine atop a 40-foot high mast. Not only practical, Emergency Response Studio is a visually engaging structure with an expansive work area featuring a wall section that lowers to become a deck. A ten-foot, elliptical geodesic skylight allows extra headroom and natural lighting in the work area. Though designed as an artist’s studio and residence, Emergency Response Studio is an ingenious prototype for self-sufficient, solar-powered mobile housing.

Party on the back deck!

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07/18/08 3:34pm

AND JUST IMAGINE HOW WELL THEY’D DO IF THERE WERE JOBS OR SHOPPING NEARBY! Discovery at Spring Trails, Land Tejas’s gated and solar-panel-badged community north of Spring, is selling well, says Lisa Gray: “. . . only a few weeks after Discovery put itself on the market, and without even a finished house that would-be buyers can tour, most of the lots ready for building have been optioned, and the developer is scrambling to make more available fast. In fact, Discovery is off to the fastest start of any development in the company’s 11-year history, and Land Tejas expects demand to pick up even more this fall. Already, propelled mostly by Google searches, 200 to 300 people a week are touring the neighborhood’s ‘Discovery Center.’” [Houston Chronicle]