January 2012 Archives
January 06, 2012 |
by Beth Buczynski
We had the pleasure of an extended stay with family over the holidays. It’s always funny to spend time in a home inhabited by an older couple, because you’re likely to spot remnants of “the way life used to be” before cell phones and laptops took over.
One thing I noticed was that my older relatives have TONS of clothing catalogs, and more arrive in the mail almost every day. The idea of shopping from a catalog seems totally foreign to me, but they would rather thumb through the pages of a catalog rather than conduct a targeted internet search and quickly scrolling through the results.
And she’s not alone.
As a recent TriplePundit article pointed out, “each year, about 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers. It means that every American receives more than 60 catalogs every year on average. Why? Because according to the Direct Marketing Association, printed catalogs provide a 7 to 1 ROI and an impressive direct order response rate of 2.24 percent. With such impressive figures, is it surprising retailers are printing hundreds of billions of catalogs every year?”
But as the author, Raz Godelnik, goes on to state, this ROI is only impressive because neither consumers nor retailers are forced to acknowledge the immense environmental impact of this outdated marketing tactic:
- 53 million trees that produce 3.6 million tons of paper,
- 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, and
- 53 billion gallons of wastewater
Thankfully, the digital revolution means that the days of print advertising, even entrenched concepts like direct mail catalogs, are numbered. And a new iPad app, Catalog Spree, hopes to speed the change by appealing to the millions who found an Apple tablet in their stocking last weekend.
The free app offers all the glossy images and browsing pleasure of a catalog with out all the planet-killing, mailbox choking paper. And unlike those paper catalogs, Catalog Spree allows shoppers to track their favorite items, share them with friends on Facebook, and receive special promotions via email.Reprinted with permission from Insteading
by Chris Keenan
Solar power is proving to have a ton of different applications, allowing us to continue to have a technologically advanced way of life, while reducing our burden on the planet. People have installed solar garage doors and water heaters, use solar powered gadget chargers, and more. One city is taking the solar movement to the next level, and is now the solar capital of the United States.
Most people would think that this city must be in California, but they would be wrong. The city quickly ramping up their solar electrical generation capacity is a medium sized Florida city called Gainesville.
Many wonder how they did it when many cities around the country are scrambling to figure out how they are going to handle the expected increase in demand for electricity in the coming years.
Part of the reason that Gainesville has seen such strides is through the use of a “feed-in-tariff” (which is similar to net metering.)
What this is, essentially, is a way to add electrical generation capacity without actually building new facilities. People who have solar panels on their homes can now generate extra income by receiving cash for the energy they feed into the grid. Through this process, excess energy produced by people with home solar capacity is fed back into the system and can be used to help meet demand. The owners of the power are paid for each kilowatt of energy that they produce for the overall grid.
This is a win-win situation. The homeowners cannot use the excess energy, but the ailing grid can. The homeowner is then compensated for the energy provided and clean, renewable energy is fed into the grid.
This policy provides incentive for homeowners to go solar and to go green. By installing solar panels on their home, they can provide their homes with clean, renewable energy. They can then sell any excess power generated to the city, providing others with clean, renewable energy that might not otherwise have that option. This did not require massive capital inputs as the city merely tapped into to resources that already existed and provide incentive for people thinking about taking the solar plunge.
Do you have solar panels on your home? If you haven’t, would it be something you would consider doing? Please share your thoughts in the comments.Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
by Kristy Hessman
Even if you don’t live in a region of the country prone to droughts, like California or Texas, where water rationing measures can go into effect at a moment’s notice, knowing how to reduce your water usage is a useful skill. Especially when you’re trying to save money, or protect valuable resources.
Now, there’s a tool out there to help you do just that. Enter the Water Saver. The device tells you how much water you are using when you water your lawn or your flowers and was recently featured on RedFerret.
The Water Saver screws onto the end of a garden hose and lets you monitor your water usage through an LCD screen that measures the water output volume in either gallons or liters. The Water Saver was devised with reducing lawn and garden water usage in mind, along with reducing water used when doing chores like washing the car. Users can calculate the cumulative total of water over a period of time, or use the device’s reset button to measure water output for each individual use. A 10-second auto-shutoff is also designed into the Water Saver to help save battery power.
The Water Saver is said to fit standard hoses, spray-nozzles and outdoor faucets. It’s available online or at your local Sears or Home Depot with a price tag of $24.99. Depending on what you pay for water – do you even know? – it’s not hard to imagine the device inspiring a passion for miserly water use that has you recouping the cost of the purchase in just one summer.
Unlike low-flow garden hose nozzles that are currently on the market, this product requires you to note how much water you are actually using when you water your azaleas. So the trick is to always be cognizant of the amount of water you use each time and then change your habits if you are using too much.
The Water Saver reminds us of another water saving device concept recently featured on EarthTechling, called Eco Tunes. Instead of saving water while cleaning cars, the Eco Tunes helps people monitor their water use while cleaning themselves. The concept hooks to your showerhead and visually and audibly tells you how much water you are using. The LCD screen suctions to the wall, and displays water-use data, just like the Water Saver does. But in addition, the ECO Tunes is coordinated to music. When you’ve used too much water, about 9 gallons, the music stops playing.
It would be great if the Water Saver was able to play music while you washed your car, but you’d have to be sure to have rinsed off all the soap before the music stopped.Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
by Kristy Hessman
The cost of electric vehicle chargers could go down by as much as 50 percent over the next three years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The department has announced research and development funding totaling $7 million that will be spent to improve the design and function of the chargers, all while reducing their cost to consumers.
The funding is being split among four different projects across the nation. Delta Products in Fremont, Calif., will receive $1.9 million to develop residential electric vehicle charges that rely on low-cost wireless networks to connect the chargers directly to electric utilities. Siemens Corporate Research in New Jersey will get $1.6 million to redesign its electric supply equipment and charging stations in residential areas.
General Electric Global Research in New York has been awarded $1.3 million to improve the design and infrastructure for commercial chargers for fleets of electric vehicles. And Eaton, in Pennsylvania, will receive $1.8 million to show that comercial electric vehicle chargers can work with and support the smart grid.
“Improving the functionality and affordability of electric vehicle chargers is an important step in supporting the deployment of electric vehicles that can help to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement. “Developing smart electric vehicle chargers will provide more options to consumers and accelerate the build-out of charging infrastructure in ways that strengthen the electric grid.”Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
by Charis Michelsen
Encourage customers to shop more by offering to deliver their bags to the garage for free? On tiny little electric four-wheelers? Akihabara, land of electronics, totally has that covered.
Akihabara, also called “Akiba” and “Electric Town,” started their new experimental service yesterday. Customers who want to wander the shops and buy all of the new, classic, or just plain weird electronics and geeky merchandise (no, seriously, it’s either amazing or horrifying, I can’t decide which) without hauling all that heavy stuff back to their cars just need to get the attention of one of the operators, who will take everything back to the garage for you.
The social-technological experiment is called the “Akiba Robot Mobility Porter Service” (yes, those are all English loan words, except for the first one). It’s based out of the underground garage below the Akihabara UDX building (Chiyoda Ward, Soto Kanda 4, if you’re curious). Participants are expected to fill out a survey, for which they get an hour of free parking.
How Is This Green?
I’m glad you asked – the porter service isn’t using traditional vehicles to haul your stuff around for you. They’ll use the COMS, manufactured and sold by Toyota. It’s 79” long and just over 37” tall, and seats exactly one person. (And your stuff, in the box in the back.) The COMS runs on lead acid batteries, so there are zero emissions and zero noise added to the already enthusiastic district.
The program was set up by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, jumping on the green bandwagon and trying to think of environmentally friendly pilot programs. The Akiba project is just one of several under way in an additional 4 cities in 2 prefectures. The idea is to see how tiny green vehicles integrate with local traffic – and there’s nowhere in Japan that has more local traffic than the various districts of Tokyo, and nowhere in Tokyo more likely to embrace neat little EVs than Akihabara Electric Town.Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0
by Gavin Hudson
A recent Bloomberg survey of key energy decision-makers concluded that China shows more government support than any other country for funding renewable energy. It also shows equally high support for transformational clean technologies, like smart grids and electric cars. With the right government backing, China could address its own energy security issues with technology to spare for export.
The graphs charting China's economic growth and energy demand mirror one another: each resembles the left side of a mountain with no peak in sight. By the IEA's reckoning, China's electricity demand alone will nearly triple by 2035. On the surface, this may come across as resoundingly bad news to environmentalists. However, China's industrial cloud has a strong green lining. And unlike the Olympics, China's not just using green paint this time.
This year, Bloomberg Businessweek Research Services in partnership with ABB surveyed energy professionals, government officials and CFOs about the future of energy, the opportunities and the barriers. Among the results of this 2011 Energy Survey, China emerged as the strongest government supporter of clean energy technologies.
China's renewable energy: Readers may remember that China's wind power capacity surpassed the United States in 2010, and continues to grow. The National Development and Reform Commission estimates that China, the world leader in wind, could generate as much as 1 TW of wind energy by 2050. Similarly, this year China bumped its four-year targets for solar generation up by 50 percent, and the shear volume of solar panel production from the People's Republic had US solar manufacturers suddenly in a panic.
Where will the greenbacks for China's green energy growth come from? The Bloomberg survey shows that nearly 90 percent of Chinese energy decision-makers believe that the government should fund renewable energy growth. That makes China far and away the most enthusiastic about government support of renewables. By contrast, fewer than 40 percent of Americans surveyed think it's the government's role to fund clean energy. In the ongoing war of words between China and the US over climate change and energy security, those numbers speak volumes.
Smart grids: China will likely soon also be the world's biggest smart grid market. Last year alone, it invested 3.7 billion US dollars in modernizing its electricity grid, and the so-called "12th Five-Year Plan" calls for wide installation of smart meters, IT software and other components of a smart grid over the next few years. The 2011 Energy Survey reflects the same strong government support of smart grids as for renewable energy. All of the decision-makers surveyed agreed that updating China's is either somewhat important or very important. Moreover, as with renewable energy, over 90 percent believe that continued investment in China's smart grid will come from the government.
Electric vehicles: With a smart grid with vehicle to grid technology in place, electric vehicles (EVs) also become a convenient way to store and provide energy to the grid. China's planning to have one million EVs on the road by 2014. To support these electric cars, it's building 400 electric vehicle charging stations by 2016. According to the 2011 Energy Survey, over 80 percent of Chinese decision-makers believe that the Chinese government should support the EV infrastructure, a full ten percent more than the next leading country and a great deal more than the USA, where fewer than 40 percent agree with government support for EVs. To this tune, the Chinese government is investing 100 billion Yuan (15 bn USD) in alternative fuel vehicles over the next ten years.
The 2011 Energy Survey is still open for participation for members of the public to give their input on the future of energy and compare their views with those of energy market decision-makers. Take the survey. You can also view a detailed list of the survey's conclusions and watch related videos. For a summary of the conclusions, see this infographic.Earth & Industry
by Anissa Dehamna
One of the key drivers for community and residential energy storage is distributed solar photovoltaics (PV). This is because distributed PV causes fluctuations on low-voltage networks (the end of the line of the grid, essentially). In order for the residential side of the market to take off, customers need an incentive to prioritize either onsite consumption of renewable energy or dynamic pricing for residential electricity rates. Either will work, but both will require customers to have better information about energy and how they are using it.
To that end, California-based solar PV developer and manufacturer SunPower has introduced a smartphone application for Android that delivers information to customers on the energy performance of their residential solar system, their home’s energy usage, and environmental savings on an hourly, monthly and annual basis. The app also gives users access to historical data and the option to share data. This mirrors the tracking data available on the firm’s website, but delivers the information more conveniently and without the need to log into a website.
Although this doesn’t present a financial incentive for residential energy storage, apps like these improve the energy awareness of homeowners much in the way that smart meters do. Presenting residential PV owners with more information about their energy generation and use is the first step in helping customers understand whether or not they would benefit from optimizing distributed renewables by using storage.
Other apps in a similar vein include Radio Thermostat, which lets users who have installed physical radio thermostats in their homes to remotely manage the temperature from a smartphone. Many more applications are educational, teaching users how to improve energy efficiency and perform energy audits. These apps are just scratching the surface in terms of home energy management, but are nonetheless important because they are making information accessible, easy to understand, and most importantly, easy to use.Anissa Dehamna is a research analyst for Pike Research with a concentration on emerging energy technologies and sustainable development.
by Charis Michelsen
Not all green vehicles have wheels – the French company Rhea Marine recently introduced a diesel-electric hybrid boat. The Rhea 850 Electrica is compact, efficient, and pretty easy on the environment as well as the eyes.
The Rhea 850 Electrica isn’t quite a standard hybrid – the diesel engine powers a generator rather than the boat itself. The generator then charges the batteries which power the motors (this is beginning to sound like a nursery rhyme…). With enough patience, it should be possible to replace the diesel engine and generator with an even greener source of power, but the 850 Electrica is pretty fuel-efficient as it is.
The electric motors run off of two 38.5kWh lithium ion battery packs (one per motor, of course). Neither of the battery packs can be removed or plugged into a standard outlet for charging, but the diesel engine can charge the batteries within half an hour while the boat is running. Each motor has a peak output of 145kW and a continuous output of just over 100kW.
At 99 lbs. per motor, the electric motors and batteries don’t add too much to the weight of the boat, and not being directly powered by a combustion engine doesn’t make it unbearably slow. According to Rhea Marine, the 850 Electra has a top speed of 29mph.
Fuel efficiency depends on the speed of the boat – the slower you go, the less fuel you burn. The manufacturer claims that at a speed of 7mph, the 850 Electra gets 17.4 mpg. At 9mph, fuel efficiency drops sharply to 4.4 mpg, and at 17mph it goes down to 2.9 mpg (not bad for a boat).
Would you buy an electric boat? Let us know in the comments, below.Reprinted with permission from Gas 2.0
by Zachary Shahan
As indicated in a study Josh wrote on just a couple weeks ago, the lifespan of a solar power system is far longer than the 20 years most analysts use to calculate solar power costs. Last November, Susan featured one that was going strong at 30 years. A Facebook fan notes that solar panels at the Technical University of Berlin have been in operation for 31 years. Similarly, Kyocera, one of the oldest solar panel manufacturers in the world, recently posted on the fact that a number of its early installations continue to generate electricity reliably nearly 30 years after installation.
I would also note that technology has improved, solar panels have become more durable, and if early solar panels produce electricity for far more than 20 (or even 25) years, what to expect of today’s solar panels?!
Here are a few case studies Kyocera highlighted in its recent article on the matter:
- In 1984, Sweden’s first grid-connected photovoltaic system was built in Stockholm. Since its installation, the facade-mounted 2.1kW system has been continuously and reliably providing the residents of an apartment building with environmentally-friendly electricity. The modules’ average annual power generation performance is still reliable — with no significant change since the system was installed 27 years ago.
- Also in 1984, Kyocera established its Sakura Solar Energy Center just outside of Tokyo. At the time, the Center was equipped with a 43kW solar power generating system which to this day continues to generate a stable amount of power for the facility.
- In 1985, Kyocera made a donation of a 10kW solar power generation system to a small farming village with no electrical infrastructure located at an elevation of 2,600m (8,500ft) in Gansu Province, China. In 1993, the area received electrical infrastructure, and the solar modules were moved to a regional research facility for clean energy, where after more than 25 years, they are still producing consistent levels of electricity.
The deployment of sensors in 15 regions of the world’s oceans shows an extremely wide variation in how rapidly waters are becoming acidified, according to research conducted by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Scripps scientists have deployed more than 50 of the sensors, which measure pH and temperature in the top 230 feet of the ocean, as part of a continuing study to see how rising atmospheric CO2 levels are impacting the world’s oceans. Initial findings show great variation in ocean acidification. Around Antarctica and the Line Islands of the South Pacific, for example, there is limited variation in pH. But in regions where large upwellings bring CO2-laden water to the surface from the deep, such as off the coasts of California and the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the waters are more acidic. Indeed, in some regions, Scripps scientists measured levels of acidity that were not expected to be reached until the end of the century, according to the study, published in the journal PLoS One. Acidic waters can inhibit organisms, such as oysters and coral reefs, from forming shells. Scripps scientists said their long-term study will help document how marine organisms are responding to changes in ocean pH.
Photo by Franco Vallejos/flickr/Creative CommonsReprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360
by Rhonda Winter
Marijuana activists in the Pacific Northwest are sponsoring a new ballot initiative which would legalize marijuana in Washington state for all adults 21 years of age and older. The group fighting for cannabis legalization, New Approach Washington, has stated that they have collected over 100,000 more signatures than the 241,153 that are required for Initiative 502 to be on next year’s ballot in November 2012.
Unfortunately, the proposed new law would not legalize growing cannabis at home. The only source for weed would be state-licensed and regulated stores. The informative marijuana blog, Toke of the Town, recently highlighted some salient details about the pot reform initiative in Washington:
“I-502 would authorize the state Liquor Control Board to regulate and tax cannabis for those 21 and older. Licensed production, limited possession, delivery, distribution and sale of marijuana in accordance with the provisions of the law would be allowed.
Unfortunately, the initiative would allow the legal possession of only one ounce of dried cannabis, and home growing would be prohibited. Amounts in excess of 1.5 ounces could result in a felony charge, as could any attempt to grow your own. State-licensed stores would be the only legal sources for marijuana under the scheme.
Equally unfortunately, in a bid for middle-of-the-road support, initiative sponsors also included language which would make active THC levels of five nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml) and above per se proof of DUI marijuana, subjecting many medical marijuana patients to arrest even when unimpaired.
Sponsors of I-502 say it would generate at least $215 million a year in tax revenue, about $80 million for the Washington state treasury and the rest for research, health care, and other purposes.”
Majority Favor Pot Legalization
“New Approach Washington has reported $1.1 million in contributions, which have helped pay for signature gatherers, according to records filed with the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission. The largest contribution came from Peter Lewis, former CEO of Progressive Insurance, who kicked $250,000 toward the campaign.”
No Change to Existing Medical Pot Laws
Washington state voters already legalized medical marijuana thirteen years ago in 1998. Medical cannabis patients are currently allowed to grow up to 15 plants and possess up to 24 ounces of dried medicine. The proposed new initiative would not change the current law for medical marijuana patients.Reprinted with permission from Ecolocalizer