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Retrocap is here: time to save on your energy bills

October 19, 2014


Our retrofit analysis is available!

That’s right folks, we are kicking off pumpkin season with the alpha version of our retrofit analysis platform. And you are on the list!
Before you thank me, here’s a quick rundown of what’s on offer for the first five to submit their details:


  1. Input home details (e.g. info on lighting, appliances, and energy bills). Budget 15 minutes for this.
  2. Receive analytics detailing the savings available from various types of energy efficiency retrofits.
  3. Tell me that you are interested in conducting a retrofit, so I can connect you with home improvement retailers and retrofit contractors for discounts on your retrofit.

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Beijing Aquaponics Workshop Followup and Round II Event Announcement

June 27, 2013

Aquaponics Workshop Followup

Last month’s aquaponics workshop went very well. Following the event, I set up the Beijing Aquaponics Google Group for interested individuals to give one another feedback. As I stated at the event, I am in no way an expert on aquaponics, I simply was hoping to use the workshop to connect like-minded individuals and provide a platform for others to discover urban gardening more efficiently than I did. We ran into some early issues with some peoples’ fish dying early, and other peoples’ holes not draining the growbed rapidly enough. Overall though, I believe that it was a fun time. Fortunately, Nestor Santana, an attendee, wrote a blog post on the event. Later, David Li, of Shanghai Aquaponics and Xinchejian (a Chinese hackerspace), published a post on the event as well. It’s great to hear others’ enthusiasm for aquaponics.
Photos from the workshop, courtesy of Alvin Lin, Alex Ewing and Jack Marzulli, are available here and in the slideshow below.

I am happy to say that I will host Beijing Aquaponics Round II Sunday, July 7 — unfortunately, this will be the last aquaponics event I will host in Beijing for an extended period of time. The general structure of the event will mirror the first, 30 minute presentation, 30 minute build session, and 15 minute wrap up discussion. Email me at timquijano at gmail if you’d like to RSVP. The full workshop description (same as the first) is below.

–Build your own desktop aquaponics herb garden–


I will be giving a short presentation on the basics of aquaponics to a small group, then commencing to assist participants in building their own systems. Participants’ systems will include the following items:
  • ikea samla box and insert (fish tank and grow bed, respectively)
  • grow bed media (expanded clay pellets)
  • piping
  • water pump
  • electric timer
  • tomato and basil seeds
  • fish food
Two aquaponics systems

Two IKEA Samla aquaponics systems

Why aquaponics?

In addition to the environmental benefits of reduced pesticide use and water consumption, aquaponics is a great solution for urban gardeners because it uses space efficiently, requires minimal effort once setup, and grows food very rapidly. For more on the benefits of aquaponics, see the brief reading list below.

How to RSVP

If you’d like to participate, please email me at timquijano {at} gmail to RSVP by FRIDAY JULY 5 to arrange your aquaponics equipment. Please be aware that there will be limited space available (12 systems), so it will be advantageous to reserve a spot early. Those interested may attend as observers for free (without building a system).


  • Time: july 7 from 14:00-16:00
  • Cost: 200rmb (to cover the cost of the materials)
  • Location: 小萍 (XP) 北京西城区地安门西大街 地安门十字路口西南角 “秋栗香”后, Di’anmen Xi Dajie (southwest of the Di’anmen intersection, behind the Qiulixiang chestnut store)
  • Venue Phone: 6406-9947

DIY Desktop Aquaponics Workshop in Beijing

May 14, 2013

-Build a desktop aquaponic herb garden-

Tim Aquapanics
At this workshop, I will give a short presentation on the basics of aquaponics to a small group, then I will assist participants in building their own systems. Participants’ aquaponic herb garden systems will include the following items (photo of similar system below):
  • 22l ikea samla box and insert (fish tank and grow bed, respectively)
  • grow bed media (expanded clay pellets)
  • piping
  • water pump
  • electric timer
  • herb seeds
  • fish food
  • 3-4 goldfish

Why aquaponics?

In addition to the environmental benefits of reduced pesticide use and water consumption, aquaponics is a great solution for urban gardeners because it uses space efficiently, requires minimal effort once setup, and grows food very rapidly. For more on the benefits of aquaponics, see the brief reading list below.

How to RSVP

If you’d like to participate, please email me at timquijano {at} gmail to setup a time to meet with me to purchase a ticket. We will need to receive your fees BY MONDAY MAY 20 to arrange your aquaponics equipment. Please be aware that there will be limited space available (only 10 systems), so it will be advantageous to reserve a spot early. Please be prepared to state whether you would like a clear or black system.

If you are interested in attending, but are not interested in building a system, please email me to RSVP, so I can alert the venue about the expected number of attendees.


  • Time: Saturday, May 25, from 14:00-17:00
  • Cost: 200rmb (to cover the cost of the equipment)
  • Location:Venue phone: 6406-9947
    • 小萍 (XP) 北京西城区地安门西大街 地安门十字路口西南角 “秋栗香”后
    • XP, Di’anmen Xi Dajie at the southwest of the Di’anmen intersection (behind the Qiulixiang chestnut store)

Thanks to Nevin Domer from XP, David Li from the Xinchejian hackerspace, the Beijing Energy Network and Joel Shuchat from the Orchid, for all of their support! Thanks to Benson Kua for the goldfish photo and Liz Phung for the poster design!

A Green Roof Strategy for Beijing

April 16, 2013
green roofs in wangjing

Existing green roofs in Wangjing

Beijing air pollution continues to be a mainstay in conversations here in Beijing. International and Chinese friends often ask me how long it will take to reduce Beijing’s air pollution down to a reasonable level.

“A very long time,” I reply.

As I’ve stated before, Beijing is geographically situated in a basin that traps air pollution above the city. Air pollution, though, is not the city’s only environmental challenge. Beijing will continue to be confronted with a laundry list of environmental challenges, successfully confronting these challenges will require a diverse toolkit. One of these tools, as Gavin Lohry argues in a recent study on the value of green roofs in Beijing, may be green roofs.

Gavin’s report is an extended argument for the increased adoption of green roofs to mitigate environmental challenges in Beijing. This study is composed of two primary sections–benefits of green roofs and a calculation of their applicability in Beijing. Gavin first lauds the environmental benefits of green roofs: they reduce energy demand in both the summer and winter; they reduce storm water runoff; they reduce of air pollution; and they mitigate the urban heat island effect. Green roofs were initially developed for their insulation benefits, and this is generally considered their most valuable attribute. One study records heat gain reduction levels of green roofs at 70-90% in the summer and heat loss reductions of 10-30% in the winter. These numbers vary with the quality of insulation. Green roofs directly reduce air pollution by absorbing particulate matter, Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Sulfur Dioxide (SO2), and Ground Level Ozone (O3).


Extrapolation of the amount of potential green roofs in Beijing

Gavin’s environmental benefit assessment process

Gavin’s environmental benefit assessment process

The second part of Gavin’s study is the calculation of the feasibility of widespread of adoption of green roofs in Beijing. Gavin selected the Northeast Beijing neighborhood of Wangjing (望京) to extrapolate the value of the environmental benefits of a widespread green roof program to the city of Beijing. He maps out Wangjing roofs, examines each roof’s suitability as a green roof, and extrapolates this data across the entire city of Beijing to determine the potential benefit of widespread adoption of green roofs. His air pollution figures are below. Gavin summarized the environmental benefits of a widespread, 29 billion yuan (US$4.7 billion), green roof program in Beijing in a recent opinion piece.

Under this scenario, air particle pollution could be reduced by as much as 880,000 kilograms every year, equivalent to taking 730,000 cars off the road. The roofs could reduce storm water by 3.5 million cubic metres during large rain events, equivalent to filling the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square with two metres of water or 1,400 Olympic swimming pools.

In addition the average summer temperature in Beijing would be reduced by 0.32°C, with greater reductions during peak hours. Finally over half of the green roof area would see a significant increase in insulation leading to lower energy use for heating and cooling.

Block ACG DescriptionA chart detailing Gavin’s findings and how they are applied across Beijing is below. NRDC’s Sustainable Cities team works with the Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD) to encourage urban development policies that lower energy demand, reduce urban air pollution, and mitigate climate change.

Area Name
Roof Area 

Neighbor Area Size
Green Roof Cover %
Air Pollution Removal kg
A-Green Roof Area
A-Block Combine
Wangjing Area
Beijing Area

A Primer on the US Toxics Release Inventory and Implications for China

April 11, 2013

This post was produced for NRDC’s Fellows blog.

In 1995, Vice President Al Gore hailed the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) as, “one of the most powerful tools in this country for environmental protection.”[1] While largely unknown to the American public, TRI has been widely hailed by specialists as an integral initiative of the government’s environmental protection efforts.

In 1984, a toxic release at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India resulted in long-term health impacts to over 500,000 residents. This event, and another toxics release incident in West Virginia catalyzed the development of the US Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) in the 1980s. TRI is a powerful example of the “third wave” of environmental management, in which government agencies leverage broader stakeholder engagement, as opposed to command-and-control polices (first wave) and market-based tools (second wave).[2]

While TRI has largely been received as a successful program, which has dramatically reduced the amount of toxic chemicals released in the US, some critique the system for the following reasons: the regulatory burden on industry, a perceived lack of enforcement, and limited public awareness.

PRTR and TRI Nations

Nations in blue have pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) systems like the US TRI. Nations in yellow do not. A key effort of NRDC’s China program is encouraging the Chinese environmental authorities to adopt a PRTR system.

NRDC’s Open Information Initiative has partnered with Ma Jun’s organization, the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs, to produce the annual Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI), which ranks local Chinese environmental protection agencies on their level of environmental transparency. Through this effort, we seek to encourage China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection to establish a pollutant release and transfer registry (PRTR) similar to the US TRI. Stay tuned for the release of the fourth annual PITI, which marks a movement toward voluntary corporate disclosure.

The brief from which this post’s research was excerpted is available here.

[1] Environmental Protection Agency, “Incentive Effect of the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI),” link (Last accessed: 10 March 2013).

[2]Michael Toffel and Glen Dowell, “Toxics Release Inventory: A Case Study in Information Disclosure Regulation,” RegBlog, link (last accessed:  13 March 2013).

Could “Airpocalypse” mark a shift in Beijing’s environmental transparency?

January 17, 2013

A sketch of a normal weather pattern (left), and an abnormal weather pattern demonstrating inversion. (Encyclopedia of World Geography)

This post was produced for NRDC’s Fellows blog.

As has been reported in various media outlets, Beijing experienced experienced extremely high pollution this week. Experts chalk it up to a confluence of high energy consumption during the coldest period of the winter and a weather pattern in which a high warm less-dense air mass stifles a low dense (and in this case polluted) air mass from dispersing.


These photos were taken approximately one block away from NRDC’s office in Beijing’s CBD. (NPR)

Having lived in Beijing before, I was aware of the extreme levels of pollution that living in Beijing would present when signing on to a fellowship at NRDC, but this incident far exceeded standard pollution expectations. Only in forest fires have the levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) seen in Beijing this week, have recordings near this level been recorded in the United States. PSAs advised residents to avoid going outdoor if possible. Schools shut down and cancelled outdoor activities. Flights were cancelled due to low visibility, which was under 100 meters at the peak of the pollution. Hospitals witnessed spikes in respiratory afflictions.

This event, however, was discussed much more openly than many previous pollution incidents in China. On the spectrum of China’s state run media, even the most vociferous of party-aligned outlets such as the People’s Daily and the China Youth Daily (Chinese) spoke openly about the damage made by the air pollution and the need to address it. While a viral music video parodying the pollution incident has accrued over 650,000 views in the past few days.


A diagram of how to deal with air pollution problems. (Science & Technology Trends)

Environmental transparency has preceded dramatic environmental clean up campaigns in various nations. Brown clouds of yellow sand and aerosols blocked sunlight to the point that crop productivity was reduced in post-war industrializing Japan, before a series of successful environmental campaigns attacked the causes of acid rain and other pollution atrocities. This event could mark Beijing’s transition toward greater environmental transparency. Regardless, this incident marks a key moment of openness toward environmental transparency in China.

Kite-mounted air quality monitoring with f-l-o-a-t

September 2, 2012

Participants in the f-l-o-a-t project solder their air quality sensors (Elizabeth Phung)

In 2008, olympic cyclists from the United States arrived in Beijing wearing respiratory masks due to perceived health risks from poor air quality. Air pollution has thusly presented a perennial diplomatic challenge in the rocky Sino-American relationship. This June, in a direct attack on the US Embassy, which has been releasing onsite air quality readings through a Twitter handle, @beijingair (Twitter is blocked in China) since 2008, Wu Xiaoqing, Vice Minister of Environmental Protection, stated in Xinhua a state-run Chinese news outlet

 a foreign embassy’s monitoring and issuing of air quality data in China is technically inaccurate and goes against international conventions and Chinese laws (sic).

Recognizing this challenge as a space for international, creative community-building, Xiaowei Wang and Deren Güler organized f-l-o-a-t. From the website:

a participatory art/design/mapping project using air quality sensing kites. through the poetics + playfulness of kite flying, float sparks and initiates dialogue on urban environmental health issues, and gives agency to city dwellers to map, record and engage actively in the monitoring of their environment.

Through a series of workshops, participants put together circuit boards that recorded air quality readings, connected these sensors to a kite, and flew the kit hundreds of feet into the air to record air quality at the higher altitudes.

Beijing men handle their kites (Elizabeth Phung)

Kite flying is a very popular activity amongst retired-age Chinese men, so this aspect of the project provided for involvement of a diverse group of participants.

Unfortunately, I experienced an unfortunate turn of events toward the end of the workshop as I was speaking to a pleasant, curious Chinese couple. In the middle of our conversation, the the organizers pulled me aside while I was discussing my job (whoops!) with the couple to inform me that this “couple,” in fact, was a couple of undercover officers had been hassling them for the length of the project, which I must add was, of course, entirely innocuous.