Could Sensors Help Green Roofs Grow?

Could Sensors Help Green Roofs Grow?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 - 4:00pm

CONTENT: Article

How environmentally green, really, are so-called green roofs like the one that’s on top of the Walmart store in north Portland?

Just as wireless sensor networks increasingly are helping building owners and tenants keep track on energy efficiency and water conservation inside, they are also at the center of several new research projects – including one at the aforementioned Walmart site – that aims to build a better understanding of their performance.

After all, it isn’t all that practical or safe for this sort of information to be collected manually by humans.

First, a definition, since green roofs are still relatively rare. Their main feature is native vegetation that has three jobs to do other than look pretty: provide better insulation against the elements, absorb and collect rainwater, and mitigate the heat island effect often caused by dark roofs. They are usually with a foundation structure and different layers for drainage and protection from the sun.

Walmart’s roof in Oregon isn’t completely covered with plants: about 40,000 square feet is planted in three sections, while the remaining 52,000 square feet uses the sort of white membrane roofing material you’d typically see on a big warehouse store of this nature. (It’s actually the fourth largest eco-roof built so far by the giant retailer.)

Over the next two years, both sections will be wired up with dozens of sensors and a weather station as part of a two-year research project with the Portland State University Green Building Research Laboratory. The data collected will offer a side-by-side comparison of surface temperatures, water flow and building operations (underneath each part). The results will also be compared with similar information being collected at Walmart’s store in Chicago (pictured), which is slightly bigger.

Sensing a potential future business opportunity, enterprise software company SAP is also involving itself in green roof research projects, in collaboration with the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. The software company is hoping to come up with a replicable sensor monitoring network design that could eventually be the foundation of future cloud analytics services that gather and process information on behalf of commercial or residential building owners. People would be able to access this information through Web or mobile applications remotely, according to SAP executives.

Continue reading the original article on Forbes about SAP and optimizing green roofs >>

Original content on Forbes.