London's Green Olympics are Looking Brown


Image from London2012 : Olympic Park

London's 2012 Olympic pledge, to be the greenest Olympic Games ever, started with great enthusiasm. But some wondered about that goal when McDonalds was announced as the official supplier of food. Then came the stories of construction going over-budget and of course the recession kicked in....

Now it has been announced that a plan to build a massive wind turbine on site has been scrapped. It was supposed to have produced 20% of the Olympic Park's energy needs from renewable energy. It's a sad story about high hopes being dashed by the reality of the present-day economy.


Image from the Telegraph: Mascots: Wenlock and Mandeville

The turbine would have been 83 metres high, with 47m high blades. It was meant to be a "green beacon" for the East London area and an important legacy of the Games. However the turbine has been deemed "no longer feasible" because the preferred bidder had pulled out and no one has come forward to replace him. The supplier felt hampered by new health and safety regulations requiring an internal operator lift. A spokesman from the Commissioner for a Sustainable London 2012 said "We have carried out an exhaustive process with the industry and suppliers over the last two years to find a viable way of delivering a wind turbine on the Olympic Park site. However, the industry environment has changed and that means the project is no longer feasible."

Given the huge cost of large wind turbines, wind energy developers like places where there is a good potential for lots of wind. Some think that the wind turbines never would have worked because there isn't enough wind speed in the Stratford area. Wind speed is reduced over cities because buildings dissipate much of the energy. The best place for them is in the open countryside.

Alternatives are being considered, such as solar panels and biomass fuel unit, but these are conceptual at this point, with no private sector money to fund them. One wonders why solar panels weren't considered part of the initial concept on the Olympic village apartments and other areas of the park in the first place. However, the lack of sun may be part of the answer.


Image from London 2012: Aquatics Centre by Zaha Hadid

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 "provides assurance to the Olympic Board and the public on how the bodies delivering the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and legacy are meeting their sustainability commitments." In a recent report, they blasted the Games because the roof of the new aquatic centre used 3,000 tons of steel. They said "That is a lot of steel just to cover a swimming pool and it is not necessary to have that much." In addition, the games will not be car-free. Apparently there will be lane closures all over to allow athletes and officials to get around quickly; shades of Moscow. Up to 3,000 chauffeur-driven BMW's with standard, not hybrid engines, will be needed to drive them from venues.

Apparently, the stadium is the lightest ever Olympic stadium, using a quarter of the concrete used for the Beijing games. It features a lighting system suspended from a compression wheel made from re-purposed gas pipes left over from a different construction project. The velodrome is an especially good example of sustainable design, with its ultra-lightweight roof and natural lighting and ventilation.


Image from the Guardian

There are also concerns about the amount of steel used in the new sculpture, the ArcelorMittal Orbit tower, by Anish Kapoor in the Olympic park. Not only will it require vast amounts of steel, but the environmental principles of the sponsoring company are questionable. One columnist said that it was "a steel empire with emissions matching that of the Czech Republic."

Tags: London | Olympics