February 2012 Archives
February 03, 2012 |
by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg
Almost exactly five years ago, I took at look at Transcendentist, a Berkeley based “green dentistry office” that combined environmental responsibility with a very different approach to patient care. Rather than the typical clinical approach, the founders of Transcendentist created a spa-like atmosphere… complete with foot massages. Even then, the idea was taking off: nothing like a little calm to take the edge off of that fear of the dentist thing.
Now, five years later, the concept has gone national (in part because of the work of Transcendentist founders Ina and Fred Pockrass)… so, yes, you can even find eco-dentists here in the Midwest! In Chicago, the hub of all things green in the region, the ORA Dental Studio has really picked up the concept and run with it. Not only do they offer what is now the typical combination of Earth-friendly dental equipment in a relaxing atmosphere, but they do it in a certified green building: their Wicker Park location has received the LEED Gold designation “for its eco-friendly and high-performance design, construction and operation.”
Among the office’s features:
- Motion-sensor lighting, with all lighting consisting of LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs)
- Low-flow plumbing fixtures and Energy Star appliances
- Doors made of recycled resin
- Low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint and flooring
- Reclaimed cabinets
- A high-efficiency mechanical system (Once installed, the system worked even more efficiently than originally envisioned, enabling ORA to surpass the LEED Silver rating it originally sought and achieve LEED Gold.)
And, as you can see, it’s also gorgeous… I probably won’t be taking a trip to Chicago for a teeth cleaning, but it’s tempting. If you are in the area, ORA Dental Studio is celebrating with specials on both routine visits (cleanings and such), as well as teeth whitening at the new LEED-certified office.
Reprinted with permission from Sustainablog
by Susan DeFreitas
Sure, you love your go-anywhere little wireless computer mouse. But do you love those hard-to-recycle batteries loaded up with heavy metals you’re blowing through every month? If you’re reading this article, chances are, you don’t.
Greener options of course exist, such as the DX-ECO wireless mouse, which eschews those many AAAs and lithium-ion batteries in favor of a quick-charge system, reducing e-waste and material use; or HP’s Wireless Eco-Comfort Mobile, which is said to be so energy efficient that its single AA battery can last up to seven months (it also features recycled plastic and packaging components). But in the future, you may have an even more attractive option in greener computer peripherals in the Leaf Wireless Kinetic Mouse.
This concept design (which comes to us via Yanko Design) builds on a commonsense insight: the main thing we do with a computer mouse is move it. That movement, properly harnessed, could create energy, which in turn could power the mouse. The brilliance!
Designers Lu Hairong and Zhang Xuehui make use of a basic circuit board and internal battery powered by a “self-powered” kinetic energy system that produces 3 volts of electricity to keep you happily clicking away. Laser tracking keeps the mouse’s movements consistent with the movement of your cursor on-screen, while its slim, ergonomic design keeps the mouse comfortable in your hand.
Now, if only everything we moved around on a regular basis could produce electricity. How about the computer keyboard itself? Not to mention kinetically powered iPods, iPads and—why not?—Nintendo Wiis. Concept designs such as this could help to get our various electronic devices off the dole and on the road to self-sufficiency, which could spell real changes in the way we use energy. Kinetic energy for all!Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
by Silvio Marcacci
In a decision that could have major implications for smart grid efforts around the country, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) yesterday ruled 4-0 that utility customers could opt-out of smart meter installations.
The decision comes after a year of contentious debate between Northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and customers who were concerned about safety risks and privacy concerns.
Opting out, for a fee
The CPUC’s ruling provides customers with the option of paying a premium to keep their older analog meter. Those choosing to opt-out will have to pay a one-time $75 fee and a $10 monthly fee for as long as they keep their analog meter. Low-income customers can pay a reduced $10 upfront fee and $5 monthly charge.
The new charges would make up for the cost of re-installing analog meters on homes that want to switch back and the cost of having meter readers visit homes every billing cycle.
PG&E had advocated for the CPUC to allow customers to switch radio transmitters off inside installed smart meters, but that option was still controversial to customers who were concerned about electromagnetic radiation. The CPUC had found that even though PG&E’s smart meters emitted radiation frequency when the radio was turned off or removed, it was still below allowable FCC standards.
PG&E has plans in place to install around 9.7 million smart meters for residential and business customers by the end of 2012. The company says around 90,000 residential customers had signed up for its “delayed installation” list to avoid having a smart meter installed before the CPUC ruling was finalized. PG&E had estimated that almost 150,000 customers would opt-out if given the chance.
The biggest, but not the first
While the CPUC’s ruling will have the biggest impact on smart meter plans to date, it is not the first state to allow customers to opt-out of utility installation plans. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established an opt-out program for the 612,000 customers in Central Maine Power’s territory in May 2011.
Customers have two options – they can either keep an analog meter for a $40 one-time fee and $12 ongoing monthly charge, or have a modified smart meter installed with the radio turned off for a $20 initial charge and $10.50 recurring fee.
Ultimate opt-out effect?
Ultimately, consumers who opt out may incur even greater financial losses. California has aggressive smart grid plans, including time-of-use pricing and demand response programs, both of which empower customers to make smart energy consumption decisions based on more accurate power costs and offer financial incentives to reduce electricity use during peak demand. But, both programs require two-way communication between utility and customer, and neither can truly work with an analog meter.
A 2010 CPUC survey found much of the controversy surrounding PG&E’s smart meter initiative stems from the company’s lack of customer service when installing the meters and dealing with subsequent concerns.Reprinted with permission from Cleantechnica
Semprius says it's reached a new world record for concentrating solar PV modules of 33.9 percent.
The previous record was 32 percent. This new module will become commercially available later this year.
Using a propriety, micro-transfer printing process, Semprius makes the world's smallest solar cell - about the size of a pencil point.
"This is a significant milestone for Semprius and the entire PV industry," says Scott Burroughs, vice president of Technology at Semprius. "For the first time, we have been able to convert more than one-third of the sun's energy into usable electricity. This demonstrates how concentrated PV can leverage rapidly increasing efficiencies to continue driving down the cost of solar generated electricity."
The module was tested indoors at Standard Test Conditions by the Instituto de Energia Solar at the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid. The result was confirmed by outdoor measurements at the Institute of Concentration Photovoltaic Systems in Puertollano, Spain.
Semprius developed the module with support from the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Lab. Semprius is now ramping up global deployment of demonstration systems while completing construction of a pilot plant in Henderson, North Carolina. Commercial production at the plant will begin during the second half of 2012.
Photo by SempriusReprinted with permission from SustainableBusiness.com
by Lauren Craig
Picture yourself in a car with a transparent roof. You have just finished a long commute; and you take a moment to switch off your car’s engine to enjoy a view of the stars from your driver’s seat. Now, imagine that you accidentally drop your keys into that frustratingly impossible-to-reach crevasse between the seat and the console.
If you were in any other car, you would curse the inability of your interior lights to illuminate the dark expanses of this key-devouring abyss. But, this car is special. When you need light, you simply switch on your light-up moon roof, which is made of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) that give off a soft, ambient glow inside the car.
As futuristic as this scenario sounds, it could actually be closer to reality than you think. The OLED car roof concept is the product of a collaboration between Dutch electronics manufacturer Philips and German chemical giant BASF. An OLED is a light-emitting diode (LED) that contains a layer of organic semiconductor material that emits light in response to an electric current between two semiconductor layers. The car roof concept is based on Philips’ Lumniblade OLED technology.
Using dyes developed by BASF, the team has engineered highly efficient OLEDs that are just 1.8 millimeters thin. The lights are so thin that they can be made to appear transparent. The concept is engineered to provide light within the vehicle when turned on, and remain transparent while switched off, allowing the driver to see outside the vehicle. The transparent OLED structure can also be “sandwiched” with transparent solar cells to provide solar charging capabilities.
“This combination allows the driver to enjoy a unique open-space feeling while it generates electricity during the day and pleasantly suffuses the interior with the warm light of the transparent, highly efficient OLEDs at night,” said Dr. Felix Görth, head of Organic Light-Emitting Diodes and Organic Photovoltaics at BASF.
The two companies have been working together, as part of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s OLED 2015 Initiative, since 2006. Last year, the team marked the second phase of the initiative by launching the “TOPAS 2012” consortium project. “TOPAS” stands for “thousand lumen organic phosphorescent devices for applications in lighting systems.” In this project, the partners will focus on developing new materials, component architectures, and new production machines for OLED lighting solutions.
Although these technologies might not be quite ready the next time you drop your keys between the seat and the console, they could be the future of automotive lighting.Reprinted with permission from EarthTechling
The first plants to colonize the planet about 470 million years ago may have plunged Earth into a series of ice ages, according to a new study. Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience, a team of researchers suggests that the earliest plants — including the ancestors of today’s mosses — caused silicate rocks, such as granite, to release calcium and magnesium ions. This process removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and formed carbonate rocks in the oceans, a phenomenon that would have caused the global climate to cool by about 5 degrees C, researchers say. In addition, because new plants also extracted phosphorous and iron from the rocks, the plants would carry those elements into the seas after they died, fueling the growth of plankton that would ultimately sequester carbon at the sea bottom. “Although plants are still cooling the Earth’s climate by reducing the atmospheric carbon levels, they cannot keep up with the speed of today’s human-induced climate change,” said Timothy Lenton, a researcher at Exeter University and lead author of the study. In another new study, researchers suggest that an unusual period of global cooling that ended in the late 19th century — an era commonly known as the Little Ice Age — might have been caused by a series of massive volcanic eruptions between 1275 and 1300 A.D.Reprinted with permission from Yale Environment 360