This story is part of The Salt Lake Tribune’s ongoing commitment to identify solutions to Utah’s biggest challenges through the work of the Innovation Lab.
Sarah Wright, of Utah Clean Energy UCE, had a vision for a hub, a community-centered facility for climate solutions in Salt Lake. Trained as a geologist, Wright has worked with UCE for twenty years, since her son was just three years old.
Back then, the future seemed bleak for her son and future generations.
Developments in solar, wind, and geothermal energy, and green building design - all work UCE has been involved in - gave Wright hope and a reason not to, “end up in the fetal position.”
The work Wright sees to be done on climate change is far from over, thus the need for a climate solutions hub.
Wright said she wanted a building that “gives more than it takes.”
The problem? Constructing a new building would produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases.
If you walk by the corner of 200 South and 400 East in downtown Salt Lake City, you’ll see a spacious, modern-looking vacant building. This building, which used to be a salon, is what UCE hopes will be the answer to this challenge.
40% of greenhouse gas emissions come from the built environment. By retrofitting an existing building, UCE hopes to minimize these impacts.
“Most of the homes and buildings that will be here in 2050 have already been built,” said Wright. “So while we need to transform new buildings, we also need to figure out how to retrofit our existing buildings to be clean-air and climate-friendly.”
With the help of Arch Nexus, a Utah-based architectural firm focused on energy-efficient design, UCE plans to reinvent the space as the nonprofit’s zero-net energy headquarters.
“We don’t need to wait for 2030 or 2050 to do good things,” said Kenner Kingston, president of Arch Nexus, referring to the 2030 challenge many institutions have adopted for addressing climate change. “We need to do the good things right now. The climate needs us right now.”
Kingston refers to the design of the building as an “island.” That is, a construction that is energy independent and a unique offering in sustainable building.
Kingston wants to design a space that welcomes nature to the city by repurposing existing building materials, installing solar panels, maximizing natural light, building a garden, improving insulation, and, eventually, turning it into a net-positive energy property that produces more sustainable energy than it consumes.
“I like the fact that they are using existing technology,” said Heidi Mossberg, an interested community member of the project. “This isn’t a big stretch. This is just applying things that have been used in other projects around Utah and just applying them to this building in a smart way.”
There’s still loads of work to be done before the envisioned UCE headquarters and community climate hub becomes a reality. Currently, the project is about 15% complete, according to Kingston. However, once all the permits are granted and the design is finalized, UCE hopes to move into its new building by the fall of 2022.
Wright looks forward to that day.
“We’ll be able to gather in this space to not only do our work,” said Wright, “but to share it with the community and bring people together for solutions.”