Entries Tagged as 'Energy'

Better late…

It’s been a quarter century after the automotive industry received a wake-up call and they seem to finally get it.

A few auto makers toyed with all electric vehicles in the early 90’s; but Honda introduced us to the hybrid vehicle, and Toyota catapulted it into a business success.

Both Honda and Toyota had hoped to introduce fuel cell technology vehicles, but with the world’s economy in shambles building out the infrastructure for that isn’t likely to happen any time soon.

Now we have virtually every auto maker introducing electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid; many are also introducing high efficiency (bio) diesel vehicles.

Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, Ford, GM, Volkswagen — just to name a few — have made a serious commitment to increasing the fuel efficiency of their fleet (and thus decreasing their carbon foot print).

GM announced a 100,000 mile, 8-year warranty on their new Volt — displaying to consumers that they have a great deal of confidence in their offering.  Other companies like Tesla have offered a pre-purchased battery replacement.

I haven’t done exhaustive research on all the offerings; the Prius is likely to continue to be a near term winner, it get’s a plug-in option next year; and the Insight get’s that the following year.  However the Volt goes the other route and is an electric car with a backup generator (giving it over 300 miles range, and a somewhat simpler design since it doesn’t require the complex drive system found in most hybrids).

I’m still driving my 1997 Toyota 4Runner, it’s got 350,000 miles on it and going strong.  I’d considered replacing it during the “cash-for-clunkers” program, but it just didn’t seem to make sense to me since I couldn’t find any suitable replacement vehicle that got better than 30 miles to the gallon — and the math just didn’t work out financially, nor did the impact on the environment for disposing of a perfectly functional vehicle seem right.

It might not be until 2014 or so that we really have a number of good options for vehicles that provide the features and economy we’re looking for… but finally we’re on a path that should reduce the environmental impact of the continuing car culture.

Originally posted 2010-07-27 02:00:24.

High Speed Rail might be de-railed

It’s very likely that one of the casualties of the mid-term elections will be the high-speed-rail grants.

Representative John Mica (R-FL) who is in line to be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has indicated he wants to re-examine all $10 billion worth of high-speed-rail grants that have already been awarded around the country.

High speed rail service would be an extremely cost effective competitor to increasing air transportation; it would be far more eco-friendly; use less energy; potentially use renewable energy; and unlike airports, high speed rail stations could be in the middle of busy metropolitan areas.

No question the US has to tighten it’s belt and bring it’s spending in line with it’s bank accounts — but investments in long term infrastructure improvements are likely what will allow the economy to rebound and gain a solid footing.

I’d say we need to look at all the spending and make sure we make cuts where it’s waste first — and then weigh the costs and benefits before making other cuts.

As I’ve posted before — we could cut down the salaries, retirement pensions, and health insurance costs for elected official… that’s a good start to savings — and elected officials should get the same “benefits” they approve for the American people.

Originally posted 2010-11-23 02:00:13.

Solar Lighting

I’ve been looking at several solar lighting products to potentially light my driveway, my walkway, and areas.

The first thing you notice is that prices are all over the map — for products that have very similar specifications.

You will find that some of the products have plastic housing, and some have aluminum (or even stainless steel) — but interestingly enough, that doesn’t seem to track their prices.  In fact one of the least expensive models for driveway/walkway lighting I’ve found is in a stainless steel case (now you do have to buy a six pack, but that’s actually about the right number even for short driveways).

For area lighting there’s a huge different in styles; and these are much harder to compare.  The biggest disappointment thus far with the area lights is the amount of light (Lumens) that they produce — they’re so low, in fact, that they seem like they’d be fairly useless without a backup light (run from AC).  In fact since I can run AC to all the locations I want area lights I’m considering just putting in motion/photo sensors and using outdoor LED lamps (that will use electricity, but it’s fairly energy efficient, and produces much more light).  One thing’s for sure, if you like the light your HID (like the sodium lamps I have) gives off, you’re not going to be happy with what you can get from a solar lighting system (or even an LED lamp).

I’ll do a little more “testing” and provide some brands (and where I found them) that you might want to consider; but keep in mind that everyone will have a slightly different set of requirements and there’s likely not going to be one model that’s right for every need.

If you want to buy something right away; make sure that you shop several different vendors before you decide — it’ll surprise you how much essentially the same item varies in price; and the “discount” stores don’t always have the best price!

Originally posted 2009-08-20 01:00:15.

LED Lighting

You think those CF (Compact Florescent) bulbs you’ve been buying are green???

Well — think again!

CFs do use considerable less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb, but they (like all florescent bulbs) contain a number of hazardous materials that negatively impact the environment when disposed of improperly (no — you can’t just throw them in the garbage can).

What’s a better choice?

Easy… technology from the 60’s comes to the rescue — LED based bulbs.  They’re made now in a number of configuration and bases to replace virtually any bulb you might have in your house.

OUCH — they’re kinda expensive.

I knew you’d say that… yes they cost substantially more than CFs (especially if you’re in an area where the utility companies are subsidizing CFs); but the thing you need to keep in mind is they consume substantially less energy than a CF and they last much longer.

I would love to tell you that if you factor in the energy savings and the longer life that they’ll work out to be less expensive than a CF; but if you’re buying subsidized CFs that’s not going to be the case.  One question to ask is why are utility companies subsadizing CFs and not LEDs?

LEDs have a much lower impact on the environment; and if enough people start using them we’ll see the prices come down… but doing what’s “right” often has a slightly higher price tag than what’s in “vogue”.

You can purchase LED bulbs at Sam’s Club.  They are selling “Lights of America” (see the link below) and “GE” LED bulbs — it’s rumored that a new Sam’s Club located near Cape Kennedy will use LED lighting throughout the store!

For the best pricing, check your local retailers and wholesale clubs as well as do a search online (consider sales tax and shipping when you compare).

GE Lumination

Lights of America

And maybe we should not only bring pressure on our utilities to subsidize LEDs rather than CFs (or at least in addition to); but get them added to the energy tax credit.

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For background information on LEDs (Light-Emitting Diodes) you can checkout the article on Wikipedia or do a search.

NOTE: LEDs lower power consumption make them the ideal choice for a home solar lighting system.

Originally posted 2009-08-21 01:00:51.

Carbon

Several years ago NPR and PBS put together an animated short series (five episodes) on carbon to help explain why global climate change occurs.

It’s fun to watch — and informative if you don’t have a solid background in chemistry.

Episode 1: It’s All About Carbon
Episode 2: Carbon’s Special Knack for Bonding
Episode 3: Break a Carbon Bond and — Presto! — Civilization
Episode 4: When Carbon Falls in Love, the World Heats Up
Episode 5: What We Can Do About Global Warming

Originally posted 2010-07-18 02:00:46.

Hydroelectric Power

On this day in 1882 the world’s first commercial hydroelectric plant (later to be known as Appleton Edison Light Company) began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, US.

Clean power was born in a time of dark and dingy coal powered factories and generation facilities… a small reprieve back to the days that spawned the industrial revolution where mechanical power was harnessed from flowing water just as it had been for many years before.

Today we have many hydroelectric power plants and a moderate amount of power in the US is produced from the flow of water (much more than from other renewable resources), yet by far most of the power produced in the US is from fossil fuels.  Fossil fuel imports accounts for a sizable portion of our trade deficit.

America has had several wake-up calls, and for well over thirty years has chosen to ignore the inevitable — we must use our resources more wisely, we must conserve, we must reduce, we must increase efficiency, and we must find alternatives.

Originally posted 2010-09-30 02:00:18.

The Anti-Green – Architectural Lighting

It’s estimated that US electrical plants burn six million tons of coal daily to power unnecessary outdoor lighting — this estimate doesn’t include the wasted hydroelectric in areas like Las Vegas used to power unnecessary outdoor lighting.  Another estimate puts the waste at three-hundred twenty thousand kilowatt hours per minute!

Often called “light pollution” this unnecessary outdoor lighting could be produced by individuals or businesses and both need to take responsibility for adopting more sustainable lighting policies.

Earth Day this year illustrated just how much “needless” light we humans produce… and just what the potential savings and reductions could be.

Consider that electricity isn’t free; it has the initial cost of purchasing the kilo-watt hour of power and the negative impact it’s generation had on the environment (even in areas where wind or hydroelectric are used there are negative impacts to the environment — and power saved there could be routed to areas using coal or natural gas for power further reducing the carbon footprint).

This is an excellent area where it doesn’t take much to save a great deal.

First, think — if the light doesn’t serve a useful purpose, turn it off; or use it sparingly.  Put it on a timer or a motion sensor if you’re forgetful.

Second, consider the lighting technology.  Lights that need to be on quite a bit should use technology that’s efficient, like LED lighting.  Lights that are on occasionally could use (and recycle your existing CF bulbs — remember production and disposal of those lighting elements have an adverse effect on the environment).  For lights that are rarely on, and heat does not pose a problem re-using your existing incandescent bulbs might make sense.

Third, consider using solar powered LED lighting completely for outdoor lighting.  While the rechargeable batteries in those devices do impose potential environmental impact, properly recycled their impact is greatly mitigated by their years of service lighting without drawing power from the grid.

In commercial applications it’s probably a no win situation unless the business takes directed action to improve their lighting; and that might require local, state, and federal government taking action to make it fiscally desirable — a combination of taxes and tax credits.  Here we as individuals might want to take the initiatives to make heavy consumers of electricity pay a “waste” tax (users who actually produce real goods and services would have a threshold for the tax than those who simply consume it for eye candy effect).

I certainly believe that an individual or company should be able to purchase and use electricity for whatever purpose they desire; however, I also believe that individuals and companies that waste that electricity without providing benefit to society as a whole should shoulder the costs of the impact on the environment more than those who attempt to use resources responsibly.

Originally posted 2010-05-24 02:00:04.

Hybrid Vehicles

There’s been a great deal of “buzz” over hybrid vehicles being green… but for a very long time I’ve had some serious questions about just how green they are.

Yes, there’s no question that their carbon emissions are substantially lower than gasoline powered vehicles (but remember, hybrids do use gasoline).

Yes, hybrids are a significant step forward (though the modifications to hybrids that allow them to be recharged and ran totally from electricity certainly makes them far more green; and really shouldn’t cost any more in a production model).

But the reality is green isn’t just about the emission in the every day use of the vehicle — green also has to do with the environmental impact of the production of the batteries and their disposal.

Most hybrids use lead acid, a few newer ones use Lithium Ion / Lithium Polymer… neither of which is exactly eco-friendly (I’d prefer them not to be buried in my back yard, or any where near where my water comes from).

Lead acid batteries have a limit life; how long they last depends on a number of variables, and some of the materials can be recycled and reused – but you need to make sure that your community has setup to deal with those issues before you buy your hybrid.  My reading indicates that only California has implement stringent rules for the warranty and handling of lead acid batteries in hybrid (hopefully more states will follow suit).

Lithium cells appear to be a great solution.  They’re small and dense; but the downside is they have a three year life span from the time they were manufactured.  And Lithium is an extremely dangerous substance to release into the environment.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy a hybrid; they are good choices for many drivers (particularly commuters who can’t use all electric), but consider the impact of the improperly disposed of batteries, and even the properly disposed of batteries resulting from normal wear and tear as well as accidents.

Green isn’t something you should try and see under a microscope — it’s an end-to-end game.

Originally posted 2010-01-17 01:00:52.

Off Shore Drilling

For years the oil and gas companies have been telling us (the American public) how safe off shore drilling is, and they’ve been trying to convince us that they have contingencies for anything that might happen, and that there’s no substantial risk to our environment.

Well, take a look at the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the relatively tame Gulf of Mexico and the inability of the world’s largest oil company to stop (or even really slow) a huge oil leak and consider who ill prepared the oil companies would be to handle a spill anything like this is the Gulf of Alaska (or any place near the Artic) in the middle of the Winter — or what could happen in the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic seaboard during hurricane season.

Yes, I think it’s a travesty that the Federal Government didn’t have any contingency plans for oil spills of this magnitude — but don’t point a finger at the current administration; you’ll find that’s been years and years in the making (and least you forget, we just had an “oil and gas man” in the Whitehouse for eight years), but in the end, it is the industry itself that is ultimately responsible for the impact of their decisions to use such a small amount of their profits to insure the safety of their endeavors — and it is the companies that should be made to pay for the damages they’ve caused.

Damages to the coastal ecosystem of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are increasing hourly as BP does little to stem the disaster — except possibly try and contain the public relations damage.  While BP stock is down 40%, first quarter 2010 saw record profits — and in the end, I suspect BP will find a way to pass all the costs and loses onto consumers and reward their investors.  BP CEO Tony Hayward has already assured investors that the company has “considerable firepower” to cope wit the severe costs… but missing are statements to the world that they’ll commit the “firepower” it’ll take resolve this disaster.

Bottom line, perhaps rather than increasing the leases for off-shore drilling it’s time to pull back all the currently unused leases and start heavily fining the oil and gas industry for any and all violations.

NASA Satellites’ View of Gulf Oil Spill

Originally posted 2010-06-07 02:00:25.

The Anti-Green – Junk Mail

Why does the United States Postal Service encourage companies to send “Junk Mail” by substantially reducing the costs of distributing it?

It just doesn’t make sense.

Sure, I understand that it may actually cost the post office a little less to distribute junk mail than it does to distribute first class letters and such — but take a look at how little junk mail you even look at… and how much ends up in your recycle bin (and I’m not even going to bring up the large number of people who probably don’t recycle since they don’t have curb-side recycling programs).

America needs to take action to reduce it’s carbon footprint — and as I have pointed out for the last few days it would be extremely easy to make a fairly substantial improvement without sacrificing anything most consumers care about — and in fact, it would probably improve the quality of life for most Americans not having a mailbox full of junk mail they have to sort through so as not to miss something that might be important.

Sure, the post office would probably have to raise the cost of postage, and possibly reduce the service level (hey — I have no problem with mail not being delivered on Saturday — of maybe being delivered only on alternate days or only a few days per week).  The overall effect would be a decrease in the waste (of natural resources and energy).

Originally posted 2010-05-10 02:00:50.