Discussion With A Green Design Expert: The Rise Of Solar And Renewable Energy

by Steve McGuire

by Steve McGuire

Steve McGuire, AIA, LEED AP has been a proponent of green and sustainable design techniques since 1970. In this Q&A, Steve answers questions about solar and renewable energy and how we design to make the world greener.

Q: For the Kansas City region, what are the most common/popular forms of renewable energy?

A: Geothermal is the alternative energy resource that we use most frequently - not as a fuel, but as a means to provide heating and cooling from a non-fossil fuel source. Solar energy, however, can be concentrated on a larger-scale as well as for hot water systems.  Wind in our region is not much of an option on a per project basis but is available for purchase as green power offset.

Q: Many people have heard that solar power is expensive. How have advancements helped to lower the cost? 

A: Per a study done by MIT, the cost of PV (Photovoltaic devices) has dropped dramatically by about 75% since 2004. This extreme change has been fueled by a huge amount of Chinese investment in manufacturing strategy coupled with new technology and a higher quantity of materials purchased.

Q: What’s the payback of using solar technology? 

A: Making buildings as efficient as possible is good for the environment and good for the customer. To be good stewards of the environment, companies are offering more and more rebates to entice prospective users of solar. Investment made in alternative energy sources pay off in about two years. The ROI is outstanding, and adds long-term value to property, especially with equipment lasting 20-25 years with little to no maintenance. That’s a gain of about $25/sq ft that sticks with the property.

Once the initial investment is returned, the potential for savings with a much greater return on that investment is huge.  And it is the right thing to do.

Q: What are the incentives for using renewable energies (tax credits and rebates included)?

A: There are incentives provided by both the federal and state governments. Each state is different of course, but filling out paper work for rebates has become the norm and not the rarity. Companies are now used to it. At this time, rebates are only offered locally in Missouri via KCPL but do not include Kansas.

Q: How can clients with very tight budgets incorporate environmental design?

A: Manufacturers have discovered a way to offer solar PV panels to clients with varying budgets. They are making equipment available to purchase or lease. The benefit of a complete purchase would be the cost savings to our client over an extended period of time. Clients will still save money if they lease the equipment, just not as much. This is all determined by the customer and their budget. If the goal of a company is to use less fossil fuels but they don’t have the funds, leasing is the best option. Ultimately, a purchased system saves you more money. 

Q: What are other short and long term benefits clients would receive by investing in either solar power or an alternative energy source for their project(s)?

A: Dollars and natural resources are saved, recognition by peers in your industry, positive image, and again, because it is the right thing to do. Two of our residential clients have not had an electric bill since their system was installed several months ago!

Q: What is GastingerWalker&'s solution for clients?

A: We don’t immediately jump to recommend solar energy to our clients. Through conscientious architectural design, we systemically evaluate ways that clients can take advantage of efficiencies that are already available at no extra cost. Factors we take into account are the building’s orientation and shape; site; building envelope efficiency; materials used; how the heat gain and loss is managed; and space efficiency. These influences need to be considered first. At that point, a mechanical means to effect comfort conditions may be integrated into the design. We will run the numbers to help our clients discover what's best for them.

Q: What projects has our firm completed with energy saving incentives?

A: We have energy savings projects in all of our sectors. They range in building type, scale and budget.

Additional clients who have benefited from incentives include:

-          UMB, various locations

-          Richard Bolling Federal Building, Kansas City, MO

-          Capitol Federal, various locations

-          BKD, Various Locations

-          Fort Leavenworth Building #465, Army Management Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS

-          Potawatomi Early Childhood Center, Mayetta, KS

-          Overland Park Environmental Education Center, Overland Park, KS

-          Kansas City, MO Library System, Kansas City, MO

-          Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City, MO

-          Meneilly Center, Overland Park, KS

-          Westwood Park Residence, Kansas City, MO

-          Wildcat Glades and Audubon Center, Joplin, MO

-          Various Foutch Brothers projects, including Mitchell Park Plaza in St. Joseph, MO

-          Bell Street Residence, Kansas City, MO

Q: So if someone is thinking of switching to Solar Power, can they go “off the grid”?

A. On average, residents receive five hours of quality solar power a day, when the sun peaks overhead. This depends on the weather and the season. Houses and businesses still need to stay on the grid for electricity use at night, especially with larger appliances.

Q. How do we stay ahead of the trends in energy?

A. We are constantly attending seminars, meeting with vendors, and keeping well-read on the latest energy trends. A recent technological advancement that we incorporate into most projects is the correct placement of an air/moisture barrier on the exterior skin of our buildings. Efficient air barriers have become so important, in fact, some municipalities now require them in their code. More and more building science data is becoming available about how heat and moisture effect our buildings and the results are significant. As a result, it is becoming more utilized in commercial construction.

Glass technologies have improved dramatically as well. It is not unreasonable to specify commercial glazing that has an R-value of 3.5 - equivalent to the insulated qualities of most Styrofoam beer coolers. And you can see through it!!! Pretty amazing when you think that you can hold boiling liquids in your hand with a 1/8” Styrofoam cup.

If you have a new or existing project that would benefit from the use of solar energy or other sustainability and efficiency techniques, we would be happy to discuss the possibilities!

Some of the energy saving strategies are:


New York Life Building, Historic Renovation, Kansas City, MO: Designed with high efficiency chillers in the basement to make ice during low cost rate periods in order to produce cooling during peak demand hours.



Ecoworks 1 and 2, Lenexa, KS: The first LEED Certified Speculative Office Building in the United States: water-cooled air conditioning units and computerized monitoring. Sustainable elements include wind power, storm water reuse, native and naturalized plant materials.


Cottey College, Nevada, MO: To help offset an increase in energy consumption of the added 30,000 sf to the campus, 60kW (kilowatts) of solar panels are being installed on the roof.