China’s Solar Roof Water Heaters

August 11, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Solar

Solar water heaters are one of the most affordable ways that a household can generate hot water year round.  These solar water heaters can be seen on the roofs of many of the homes throughout China.

Solar Water Heater

Photo by {link:http://www.solarchoice.net/}Solar Choice{/link}.

Besides the attractive feature of paying no cost for your yearly water energy consumption, the cost of one of these systems is priced at only a few hundred US dollars.  That cost can be recouped by the average house in as little as a few years.  It’s no surprise then that nearly 10% of all homes in China currently have a unit on their roofs along with a high year growth rate.

Solar Water Heater on Roofs

Photo by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/leondznanjing/417218816/}leondznanjing{/link}.

The biggest question I have is why systems like these become more popular in other countries trying to switch to renewable energy?

What is confusing is that China has found a way to have an affordable price for these units and make them commonplace in China.  It’s very rare to see a unit like this in America.  I know we are now picking up on tankless water heaters, but it’s still a mystery as to why these units haven’t become more popular.  Or is it?

As compared to China, units in America are priced in the thousands.  Even with tax credits, they are still priced much higher than a comparable system you would find in China.  What also could be a factor is the fact that we live in much larger homes as compared to China.  Many of the residents live in smaller city apartments and the idea of “Suburbs” don’t exist.

Imagine if more countries could offer these systems at affordable prices like China has.  They would be immensely popular since it would help dramatically lower our energy costs while cutting carbon emissions.

What are you thoughts?  Would you buy a solar roof water heater if the priced dropped down?

Renting Electric Cars: 2011 Here we Come!

August 7, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Environment, Guest Posts, News

Traveling can be a sustainable living enthusiast’s worst nightmare. With air travel being an astronomical contributor to global emissions, and train travel often a few Federal funding dollars away, its important to try to make on the ground travel as low-impact as possible. Starting in 2011 you can do just that with Enterprise’s Rent A Car! They will be offering the Nissan Leaf Electric vehicles to their customers. With well over 5,000 locations scattered through out the U.S. one of these vehicles may just be in range.

Their initial investment of 500 vehicles is an excellent indicator of a few major trends. First, customers want more fuel-efficient, cost-saving, and environmentally-friendly forms of transit. Second, it demonstrates an increasing commitment toward electric vehicles from transportation industries. An important step after issues highlighted in the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car?” shed light on the auto industries extensive efforts to silence the technology not so long ago. Lastly, it signifies hope. Hope that as a society we are driving in the right direction toward lower greenhouse gas emissions and impact.

Where can I rent an EV?

EVs, or electric vehicles, will be available via Enterprise where the cities currently are or are in the process of becoming equipped to charge and handle the specialized vehicles. This includes Phoeniz & Tuscon, AZ, Knoxville & Nashville, TN, San Diego & Los Angeles, CA, Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. Enterprise is planning on playing a key part in the deployment of EVs and their growth outside of their rental chain through charging stations. They are already equipped with hybrid rentals, so they are tacking on one more service to these stations come Fall.

Me Not Work EV…

Have no fear, Enterprise is on it. Their employees will be undergoing extensive training to help EV new comers get comfortable driving the vehicles before pushing the pedal to the metal next winter. With the ability to travel 100 miles until needing re-charging, most rental car users shouldn’t need a new energy supply. And if you aren’t ready for the world of electrics quite yet, you can ask the office about hybrids (they have been stockpiling those as well…very sneaky).

How Dedicated is Enterprise to Alternative Transit?

Shockingly enough…a lot! At least a lot more than you may have originally assumed. They have a separate research institute looking into biofuels that began in 2007, they have developed a WeCar car-sharing technology for more localized rentals, and now with their changing fleets to include more sustainable living options they are looking good. What’s better though is that they are making internal commitments as well including reducing energy, recycling used motor oil and filters, planting trees, and even some design change implementations that are projected to cut their yearly CO2 emissions by 6.5 million pounds…that’s a whole lotta reduction.

So starting next winter, keep your eye out for the opportunity to test drive an EV through Enterprise Rent-a-Car! Of course a hybrid could suffice in the mean time. Also, keep your eye out for other rental car agencies that follow suit, hopefully Enterprise is a leader in what will become a new trend for the rental car industry.

Top Renewable Energy Users Rankings are In!

August 5, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Environment, Green, Guest Posts, News

The EPA’s Green Power Partnership just released the rankings of the top purchasers of renewable energy, and your city just may be one of them! The charts show how much energy is used and what percentage of that energy is renewables along with which renewables and their sources.

Purchasing green power can come by three ways according to the EPA:

  1. RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates)
  2. On-Site Generation
  3. Utility Green Power Products

So check out who is ‘in the know’ when it comes to renewable energy, it just may surprise you!

Here is a sneak preview of some of the obvious and not so obvious leaders:

  • Intel Corporation
  • Kohl’s Department Stores
  • Whole Foods Market
  • U.S. Airforce
  • Statue of Liberty
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Harvard
  • Texas A&M University System
  • Houston & Dallas, TX
  • DC
  • Chicago

Check out the rankings on the EPA’s Green Power Partnership’s website.

Photo Credit: Eco Electrons

Climate Change & the EPA Sittin’ In a Tree

August 4, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Environment, Guest Posts, News

Climate change was officially recognized by scientists in the 1970s, around the same time we started learning about ozone depletion and other harmful toxins. All of the toxins we discovered during that time have been banned, except for the majority of greenhouse gases. Why? Greenhouse gas emissions caused by humans (often referred to as anthropogenic sources) are very much tied to our lifestyles. Since the dawn of the industrial age, the expanse of plastics, and the study of synthetics we have been emitting exponentially higher rates of greenhouse gases.

Common Sense Abides

Let’s take a common sense approach and set international scientific consensus aside. First, as the World evolved it became more habitable for our specific species to survive. Second, over the last 100 years or so, we have developed machines and societies that have dug up this ‘stuff’ that was buried during this un-habitable times. Third, we now have exposed it to our current atmosphere as well as burned most of it, making it more mobile (because it is in a gaseous form). So based on this simple reduction of Earth Science, can we really say that we, humans, have no impact on the environment?

To Impact or Not to Impact

In fact, we should have an impact on the environment, we live here! Unfortunately, our current lifestyle is so extreme to our natural or at least the more natural form of evolution’s lifestyle for species, that it has put us at odds with the environment in many ways. Pays to Live Green is a great resource to understand different things that make up our daily routine that can be modified to make our impact a positive impact.

The Climate Change Connection

So how does this relate to climate change? Climate change is tied directly to our lifestyles, not a few consumer products. The CFC debate (mainly freon that was found in refrigerators) led to a ban in most countries (not all, so be careful) and then we were done with that chemical. Since anthropogenic climate change is tied to our lifestyle, not just a consumer choice, it gets more complicated (not to mention our jobs, industries, and sources of income in most cases).

The Climate Change Denial

But who wants to admit that we need to make some changes? A wise man once said:

It’s not that we mind change, it’s that we mind being changed.

Those who mind recognizing the change have put our global society at a very high risk. One company spent 2 billion dollars over the course of 3 years to deny climate change through the start up of ‘independent’ think tanks and even a false non-profit. They were fined, which for their profit margin was more of a slip on the wrist, and went back to denying climate change openly.

Most recently, the EPA has acted on climate change by identifying it as something that threatens our health (I guess you can’t file something that threatens our very well-being). A large contingency filed complaints stating that their decision was based on bad information. A few days ago the EPA said enough, and rejected their claims.

So why all the stink? Because this threat to human health provides the EPA and other regulatory bodies to act on climate change when our legislative bodies failed to do so this year in the US. This authority means that business as usual is at risk…but perhaps the EPA thinks that this risk is far less than the one we are taking by failing to act on climate change in the first place.

Will businesses that have embraced sustainability on the ground level survive? When it comes to regulation, the answer is yes and not only that, they will thrive and become the new leaders of our age. The landscape is quickly shifting from the status quos of yesteryear to the age of innovation that guides us into tomorrow. It will be interesting to see how the nay-sayers and the dreamers collide to create our respective future.

Cheers to reducing each of our own emissions while we ponder the future.

Photo Credit: Twilight Earth

Plugless Power’s EV Solution

August 3, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Electric, Environment, Guest Posts, Health, News

What’s one of the main catches of electric vehicles? Charging up. It’s one of the major barriers to people buying electric cars. What if I forget to charge my car? What if I run out of charge and am stuck somewhere?

Well the solution to one of those questions is on the horizon. A Company called Evatran is focused on what they have termed “Plugless Power“. They have developed a sensor system for EV users to install in their garage. Instead of remembering to plug in your car at night, just park it over this power station. Without any cords or hook-ups, the car gets charged and you can rest easy.

This invention has incredible potential and a few drawbacks.

First, the bad news

It isn’t as efficient as plugging in your EV (well, less than 10% efficiency is lost). For the dark green eco-enthusiasts out there, that means it uses more energy than it needs to to charge the car. Since the majority of our energy mix comes from non-renewable sources like fossil fuels or nuclear power, this isn’t great news. But as the company points out, this provides a solid reminder that emissions and energy use isn’t a one-sided transportation problem.

Now, the good news

If this technology takes off, it will be an incredible tool to implement in cities, parking garages, and metered parking. As EVs gain more traction, these types of solutions are becoming increasingly critical for its global survival and spread. They also help us get over the inconvenience of plugging in the car (although some may argue we are already conditioned to filling up our gas tanks…so what’s the big difference?).

Is EVs future as gloomy as its past?

No, but it is ominous. When the EVs of this century (yes the first cars were electric) came out they were celebrated as a huge leap in the transportation sector. Inventors competed to have the most efficient vehicle, and hope was abundant. Then something sad happened. The patent was purchased by an automobile company and they decided to silence the debate. The information was now private and would not be acted upon. There was a brief glip where EVs tried to take off in California, but through the oil and auto industries interests and some interesting legislation, they flopped. (Watch Who Killed the Electric Car for a somewhat comical review of the happenings)

Now, as we have grown more aware of climate change and the intricate ties our environmental health has to our societal health, EVs are making a comeback. But it isn’t without its own hurdles. First, since climate change and the hazardous compounds that burning fossil fuels emit have been common knowledge for a decent amount of time, the competitive landscape has changed. There is now competition over “what technology” will win the race. Will it be the EV? Or will we take hydrogen technology to the max. Perhaps we will give ethanol another go. This conundrum is one of the reasons many automakers have failed to invest in new technologies (although not the only reason). What if they build out the machinery for hydrogen vehicles only to find that no one will support hydrogen fueling stations?

The electric car isn’t a particularly new idea, nor is it foreign. Unfortunately, with so many years under our car-driving belt devoted to gasoline vehicles its hard for us to imagine any shifts in this marketplace. Due to rising gas prices, increased environmental awareness, and government incentives, hybrids were able to succeed. But the water is still lukewarm for EVs and their competitors.

One thing we do know, is that this product will revolutionize the attractiveness of EVs as a long-term solution. To learn more about this invention visit Plugless Power.

Photo Credit: Plugless Power

U.S.: Epic Fail?

July 25, 2010 · Filed Under Alternative Energy, Environment, Government, Guest Posts

This past week marked a sad day on the calendar for the United States. For those individuals focuses on sustainable living and making a difference, kudos to you for pursueing this despite a lack of national leadership. The United States failed to pass Climate Legislation, the most favored was a cap-and-trade system, this year. After Copenhagen’s Climate Summit left emotions reeling, there are a few trends to note. First, the business portion of the Summit was bombarded with signatures and declarations. Second, there was a distinct difference in the way Kyoto signers and Non-Kyoto Signers approached the conversation. Lastly, there is now a lasting sentiment of disappointment and in some cases international disdain for the United States’ lack of nation-wide action onClimate Change on a Federal level.

Is the U.S. A Climate Villain?

Yes and No. The United States is responsible for 25% of thegreenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis. This past month marked the first time China has surpassed the U.S. in energy usage, of course they also have a population that would morph the U.S. so it doesn’t keep them off the hook. The most proactive forces in the U.S. on Climate Change outside of advocacy groups have been state and local governments who inividually passed the Kyoto protocol and created the Chicago Climate Exchange as well as Government Agencies who are working to address the issue with or without legislative action. For instance the weatherization of homes that is being undertaken is going to significantly reduce energy usage nationwide, and since building inefficiencies are the single largest contributor to the U.S.’s emissions, this is important.

The real villain’s in this case are the politicians themselves.

With little to no discussion about climate issues, and more uncivilized cattiness surrounding the “debate” or lack there of, the true leaders had quite a road ahead of them. The fact that a few bills were formed is impressive given the concerted effort to continue to deny climate change’s anthropogenic source and to be accountable and responsible for the piece of the pie the U.S. makes up. No piece of U.S. legislation is perfect. It is touched by so many hands, special interests, and ‘deals’ that are irrelevant to the real legislation that the water-downed and battered version of a bill is at times utterly disgusting. Politicians who are supposed to be Civil Servants seem to have completely evaded that responsibility to pursue personal interests and gains.

The unfortunate part about this is two-fold.

First, the United States has once again failed to be a leader in the Climate Change arena, despite being its biggest negative contributor. Second, the United States will not feel, understand, nor suffer the consequences of climate change to the same extent as third world nations who minimally contribute to anthropogenic sourced climate change.

What we do know is that each of us through our personal actions, our professional life, and our political decisions can help guide better and more ethical decision-making into the future. Hopefully the disagreement next legislative term won’t be “if” something should be done on a national-scale, but instead “how” and “how soon”. If those questions come from a more honest place of understanding what sustainable living truly means and what being part of a global society really requires, then there is all the hope in the World to be had.

If not, then we better each use our individual voices and decisions to help create that world and environment if those representing us haven’t the sense, ethics, nor respect for all life on Earth to do so.

Photo Credit: Chris Madden.

Sustainable Snacking?

May 7, 2010 · Filed Under Green, Products, Solar

I have always been a fan of Frito-Lay brand Sun Chips, as I think they are a healthier (and tastier) alternative to potato chips. The last several times that I have purchased Sun Chips at the grocery store, I noticed that the packaging had a little green “e” icon on it. After Googling the little green “e”, I was able to find out that the Green-e logo is actually a carbon offset program created by the Center for Resource Solutions (www.resource-solutions.org). Intrigued, I went to the Sun Chips website to learn more about the company’s commitment to green energy. According to www.sunchips.com, they have one factory that relies on solar power as its main source of electricity. The Modesto, California plant is currently the only Sun Chips factory (out of eight total) that utilizes solar power, but as their website claims, “it’s a small step in the right direction.”

On my most recent grocery shopping trip, I realized that there has been another change to the Sun Chips bag. Now the package advertises that the bags themselves are fully compostable and claim that they will successfully break down in about 14 weeks. Another example of “green washing” intended to draw in socially conscious shoppers? Maybe. But it seems that other companies are now following suit.

Boulder Canyon Natural Foods, which produces All Natural Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, has also introduced a compostable snack bag, unveiled during Earth Day week. Snyder’s of Hanover, not to be outdone by the other companies, has also made plans to market their organic line of pretzels in compostable packaging. According to www.sustainablelifemedia.com, Snyder’s compostable bags will be derived from plant-based materials and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 52% during the production process.

Is the switch to more ecologically responsible packaging due to a consumer demand for greener products or, is this simply a clever marketing tactic that allows these companies to add substance to their green statements? Mother Earth News asked a similar question in the article, “Mother Earth News Finds Compostable Packaging Claims Half-Baked.” After testing several brands of trash bags that were marketed as being compostable, Mother Earth News came to the conclusion that most of the bags did not break down as promised. While the magazine tested trash bags and not snack bags, it makes one wonder how the new compostable snack packaging would fare.

So, what is the bottom line here? If you do not mind the surprisingly loud crinkling of these bags, which makes secret snacking nearly impossible, then I would recommend giving one of these brands a try. If the new compostable packaging lives up to even part of its claims, then there is a clear savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in the amount of waste left behind when you have finished the products. When faced with the choice between a snack packaged in a compostable bag versus one that is made from a petroleum-based material, I know which one I will end up in my shopping basket.

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