About the Author: Belinda Yong serves as an intern at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva.
When I arrived in February for the first day of my internship at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, I was immediately struck by the fiery-indigo solar panels that encrust the otherwise gray building. Officers and employees at the Mission proudly told me about the building-integrated PhotoVoltaic (PV) solar cells that make the U.S. Mission–Geneva “green.” They explained that the Mission is a member of the League of Green Embassies, a cooperative of American embassies and consulates committed to reducing their carbon footprint. Beyond energy-efficient light fixtures, recycling plastic and glass, and decreasing waste, we have also installed the solar panels and a low-emission, high-efficiency heating boiler in recent years.
For Earth Day 2009, the Mission will bring on-line its Magnetic Levitation (MagLev™) Chiller, the first sustainable compressor design in the air-conditioning industry. The design for this cutting edge system is based on magnetic levitation, the same principle that powers the innovative high-speed trains in Japan and other countries. But the technological basis for the chiller is even more advanced—it runs on one of the world’s first virtually friction-free compressors. The MagLev Chiller’s shaft and compressor turbine spins suspended and centered in an electromagnetic field. Hence, there is no friction, no wear on surfaces, and no oil contamination of the unit’s heat exchange surfaces. A conventional chiller compressor uses bearings that encapsulate the impeller shaft, which needs grease and oil to reduce the friction—this produces waste and unnecessary heat and is overall less efficient. The MagLev Chiller’s oil-free design eliminates oil maintenance, its costs, and environmental damage caused by oil use and disposal.
The MagLev Chiller, the solar panels, and other initiatives are in sync with President Obama’s agenda of reducing carbon emissions and to take full advantage of science and technology to do so. It is also very much in sync with its surroundings, the environmentally conscious host city of Geneva. In fact, the local energy company, Services Industriels de Genève (SIG), rewards the Mission for its green initiatives. For every centime of power produced by the PV panels, SIG pays the Mission a subsidy of 5½ centimes. The system reduces the frequency that SIG has to put its network on peak-load capacity—and that’s good for SIG, Switzerland, and the environment.
Today, on Earth Day, I’m proud of my post for being, arguably, the greenest diplomatic facility overseas of any country in the world and for leading the way toward making the Department of State and our embassies abroad more energy efficient and environmentally responsible.