Posts tagged energy

QUICKIE: Home Zone Control

If anyone in the greater Los Angeles metro area is looking to implement computerized home zone control in their home (smart home technology can reduce your home energy bills by up to 50%!), I work with an electrical expert who is quite reasonably priced and very experienced. Computerized home zone control, solar panel installation, and energy efficiency seminars are just a few of the services offered by the company.

To learn more or request services, contact me anytime either through this site or at solariousblog@gmail.com. With the new renewable energy tax credits, it is less expensive than ever before to make your home a truly green living space!

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My Letter to Obama about Energy and the Environment

Well, okay, it was to his energy and environment transition staff, but hey, you never know!  One of the things about this upcoming administration to which I’m most looking forward is their commitment to getting public feedback as a regular part of the legislative process.  So of course, when they asked for my (and your!) opinion on what we as a nation can do to invest in alternative energy and the environment, I had to do my part.  You can too by visiting http://change.gov/page/s/energyenviro and sending them a message of your own.  Below, in somewhat edited form, is the environmental and energy wish list I hope to see in this country in the upcoming years in hopes that it will foster debate here on the site and elsewhere about the most important conservation and resource generation issues we face and how they may be solved.  What do you want to see happen?  Comment below and then head over to Change.gov to participate today!

***** My Energy and Environment Wish List *****

I think the most important thing that people need to realize is how the current energy supply affects prices and the need for more infrastructure.  For example, the concept of peak load on power plants: though conservation initiatives often highlight using off-peak power, rarely is it explained that central utilities must offer enough wattage to supply the highest moment of demand in a year.  Therefore, redesign of total power loads is highly beneficial, such as the advantages offered by off-peak charging of electric/hybrid cars (and tractors/industrial vehicles?), use of alternative energy storage programs such as that by LADWP (which uses off-peak hours to pump water uphill so that peak hour demand can be offset using hydro power and the excess supply built into the system is not wasted), programs which reward consumers for reducing their PEAK POWER LOAD (and therefore also their total power bills!), and more localized power production which loses substantially less than the 50% average wattage which travels over wires and is better tuned to the needs of a particular location.  This form of savings would allow existing power plants to use their energy much more efficiently and reduce need for new utility construction all while increasing our national security from foreign attack.  (Oh yeah, and phase out incadescent lights and unnecessary “standby” mode appliances!)

Mandatory minimum Leed certification levels (or some similarly arranged standard) for new construction starts and promoting eco-remodeling over creating new buildings where possible (with corresponding tax incentives for each) will go a long way toward reducing environmental toxins and energy use loads while stimulating the building and sustainable material markets.  Of course, tax credits for passive solar design and thermal resources (geo and solar) should be in the mix to highlight these low-impact technologies, which have relatively fast break-even points.  Tax credits for using non-toxic building materials and for installing “greenswitches” (which allow you to deactivate wall outlets and lights from a single light switch by the door when you leave the house for the day or go to sleep at night) would be great too!  Also, promoting organic food and material production greatly reduces our overall need for petroleum supplies (for pesticides and herbicides), while helping to restore America’s soil health and ecosystems.  Community garden programs could also use a boost, maybe by offering a green roof gardening program on existing public roofs, producing food for community programs while reducing the buildings’ energy needs.  And incentives for greening cities (like the Million Trees LA program), with special emphasis on using plants which produce edible fruits, nuts, and other foodstuffs to increase urban agricultural density and further buouy city budgets (an interesting example of a group trying to promote this is fallenfruit.org).  Perhaps also offer incentives for people who spend locally and stimulate their towns’ and cities’ economies and efficiency?  (RecycleBank has an successful program along these lines)

More research should be done on using nature’s own arsenal of environmental restorers and protectors (for example, using mushrooms for reforestation and toxic chemical environmental remediation).  We can also use certain restorative biofuel feed crops to rebalance the natural soil cycle, preventing erosion and therefore water pollution.  Our water, in particular, is a resource we cannot continue to allow to be polluted by heavy metals and current waste streams.  Providing farms better incentives for (or harsher punishments for not) properly collecting animal wastes that end up in the water supply.  Also, active superfund sites, especially mining sites, need to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent further contamination downstream.

As for alternative energy sources, there are so many different exciting technologies out there in the prototype and early market stages, the next phase (besides, of course, funding more R&D and business development!) will be ensuring that we have qualified technicians who can utilize these developments and technologies within the current marketplace competitively.  Offering more GANN-style grants for alternative energy and resource management studies at both undergrad and grad levels and creating and/or expanding a GreenCorps (modeled after the PeaceCorps) program which could first be challenged to green all federal and governmental facilities are both interesting options.  They can also promote public awareness of the consequences of their waste disposal actions and maintain a national resource database, which would help to source materials from within the country and with minimal transport for manufacture and also further educate people about the natural resources of the areas in which they dwell.  America could easily create lease or loan programs modeled after Japan’s successful solar leasing program or the SELF (Solar Electric Light Fund) loan initiatives in developing nations.  Both have been extremely successful in increasing solar adoption in times of economic despair (Japan) and area with fewer monetary resources (SELF), and could easily be applied to other alternative technologies.  Cuba’s solar school mandate is another great application of initial investment leading to long-term savings.

Two side notes on R&D for alternative energy technologies.  First, we need further development of integrated technologies, such as solar roof shingles, which serve multiple purposes and fit within current design models.  Currently, most alt technologies are add-ons – you mount them onto something else that’s already there.  With integrated technologies, the need to do this would be reduced, such as cars that have wind driven motor rotation when traveling above certain speeds (when wind can be effectively funneled through existing structures).  The other side note is that the digital divide, while not expressly an environmental problem, is something that we and all other nations will have to address in the coming years.  If we could fund people seeking ways to power computers without grid power or create highly efficient digital components, this will obviously help reduce future energy burdens on the US and globally.

(well, it continues beyond here, but congratulations if you’re still reading, ’cause I know I can really get talking when it comes to saving the earth! ) What are your ideas? Do you have stories of people (other than the listed examples) already doing these things?

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BOOK REVIEW: Power Down: Options for a Post Carbon World

It’s book review time again!  If you’re the type of person who wants to read about the miracle technology that will single-handedly save humanity from the energy crisis… this book is not for you.  No, Power Down is decidedly pessimistic about our near-future options for creating a sustainable energy economy without major human sacrifice along the way.  After all, as Heinberg argues, in past societal collapses, evidence shows that an average of about 90% of a given population dies off in the wake of the social unraveling.  Those that survive are deligated to a life of hardship.  Heinberg puts forth a good case for why we should be comparing ourselves with collapsed societies in the first place, and includes a brief discussion of several promising energy technologies that may impact, if not invert, the current energy market.

So all is not doom and gloom.  To be honest, I felt inspired after reading about the necessary sacrifices that we will have to make in order to usher in the new sustainable global energy economy.  In all the heavy thoughts lie opportunities for change, and Heinberg makes a decided point of keeping a silver lining even on the cloudiest day.  The book also includes inspiring stories about nations that have made the rough transition to energy autonomy with varying degrees of success.  I learned as much about foreign policy from this book as about alternative energy technologies.

Overall, Power Down is a good read, and has been included on many prominent environmentalists’ must read bibliographies.  It is a tribute to the swiftness of developments in the energy industry that some passages in the book seem dated, though the book was published as late as 2004!  If you’re looking for a book that looks the problem squarely in the eye and suggests solutions, check out Power Down.

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Too Much Wind! (Where do I sign up?)

Too Much Wind?

Wind Turbine

It seems that utilities in Denmark have stumbled upon a problem.  On windy days, the wind turbines they use to generate 20% of the country’s power needs are intermittently producing TOO much energy, reducing power costs to $0.   Yup, that’s zero.  So power company Dong Energy (from Denmark) and Project Better Place (located in California) are teaming up with Renault and Nissan to build a fleet of electric cars with lithium ion batteries that can be recharged during periods when the power grid is carrying too much energy.  Then, this national fleet will get infrastructure, as Denmark plans to roll out a nationwide charging station initiative.  Nice!  To top things off, in looking for ways to “spend” the extra power, Denmark has also gotten cozier with some of its neighbors, selling inexpensive power to those such as Norway whose own energy needs are greater at certain times.  Now that’s international relations as it should be. 

What I want to know is: if Nissan and Renault are already going to build this fleet of purely-electric cars for Denmark and a similar program in Israel, why don’t they release them state-side as well?  Since the death of the EV1 in America, the only electric car we’ve had is the new plug-in option on the Toyota Prius.  Here’s to hoping they make a few with steering wheels on the left side. 

MDI Air-Car

Speaking of steering wheels, have you heard about the new car from MDI that runs on air?  AIR.  It has a 80s VW meets PT Cruiser kind of body, but inside seems pretty nice, and features… a steering wheel in the center of the car, so it can be driven anywhere in the world.  Why did it take someone so long to think of this?  Really.  Right now the car is only being tested in India, but with a promise of $3 fillups (that’s for the TANK, not a gallon) and 180 miles between each one, a lightweight fiberglass frame, and considering you get the car and a home air compressor for less than $20,000, I’m pretty certain it won’t be long before people want one worldwide.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Power of the People

I just finished reading Power of the People: America’s New Energy Choices (2007), a nice short read about the history of, current usage of, and the future possibilities for energy consumption in the United States. At 188 pocket-sized pages, the book doesn’t take more than an afternoon to thumb through. This is thanks to the concise way in which Carol Sue Tombari explains things. She writes as though you’re sitting down together to share a nice salad lunch, not stuffy, not too complicated. But in the mix, she throws in a surprising amount of information about the current energy landscape. You see, Ms. Tombari knows what she’s talking about, after years working for both private and governmental authorities on the topic of energy. So when she talks about the ways in which power utilities fell victim to disincentives for innovation when they “reregulated” in the 1990s, you can bet she saw it happen from the front lines.

Power of the People

The book is divided into two main sections of two chapters each. First, you find out why all this is important anyway. What IS the energy crisis? Then on to Energy 101, a brief discussion of the current power generating technologies and what is already possible in terms of augmenting power load both at the personal and utility level. I learned a lot about how the utilities work (and why this model is outdated). The next main section focuses on the future. What will we have to do to survive the looming power shortage? In the first chapter, she outlines the different players in the energy system, and then discusses how each is challenged by setbacks, and suggests how that challenge will have to be overcome. The last chapter outlines the future and its many possibilities.

I really liked the format of the sections, in which each technology is presented in “the good”, “the bad”, and “the balance” sections. This allows you to get a clear overview of the limitations and promises without delving too deep into science. If you are looking to implement alternative energy solutions in your life but don’t know which one fits for you, I’d recommend this book heartily. If you already have a clear idea of what’s going on, you’ll still find a nicely written essay with interesting photocopy-friendly facts to quote.

The best audience for this book, however, are those who are looking for a way to change energy consumption on a societal level. Buried within the outlines of various technologies is an underlying cry – “Innovate!”, challenging readers to help find the solutions alternative energy implementation barriers. Only a few logistic issues separate most alternative technologies from gaining wide-spread acceptance. What is the power of the future? Could you be the mind to crack the riddle?

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Tax Refund: Investing in Your Home

So you just finished standing in line at the post office, trying to get that dreaded paperwork off the the IRS in time to get your tax refund this year.  At least it’s easier to take when you think of all the green that will soon be coming your way.  

Tax refund check

If you’re really thinking, you can use that green to green another area of your life… your home.  Here’s a link to a great article from Forbes about how the Federal government allows for tax rebates when you remodel or improve your home.  It’s worth a look through to see in which ways you can actually make that refund work for you in the long run.  While the focus of this article is not expressly on green technology, you can easily apply green building principles to any of the remodeling projects you do decide to undertake.  Just remember to check the list to see what qualifies.

If you’re not looking to start knocking down walls, perhaps you can look into upgrading ceratin appliances in your house to Enrgy Star rated versions, or consider making small investments toward off-grid power use, such as buying a clothesline for your back yard.  (What?  You’re not even getting that much back?  Times are tough…)  Or you could consider spending a day at the local garden store buying plants, which will add value and utility to your house.  The apple or peach tree you plant today will be a welcome respite from the future sun and also provide you with food for barter or decreased dependence on the supermarket. 

Keeping your house in shape will also pay off in the long run because you won’t have to put major funds toward total replacement of items that you keep in good repair.  If we ever hope to green the world, we’d do best to start with our own spaces, leading by shining example, rather than, as the bible puts it, sweeping our neighbors porch when our own remains dusty.  So make an investment in YOUR environment, and put Uncle Sam to work for you.

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Rogue Waves: Putting it in Motion

There is a phenomenon in the oceans known as a rogue wave. For reasons until recently unfathomable, occasionally, a single ENORMOUS wave would arise from its surrounding brethren and cause devastation to anything whose path it crossed. Sort of like a 90 foot tsunami without the underlying earthquake, and out at sea. According to the History Channel, recent advances in marine science have allowed us a better glimpse into possible causes. They theorize that these waves, defined by being more than twice the size of any surrounding wave, are caused by undercurrents which slow down the wave and basically cause water to pile up high. Other waves also overtake this slowed wave and add to its strength and content, pushing it forward with great power. Here’s my oversimplified diagram:

To me, this seems like the perfect analogy for changes in your life. We are all just flowing along like waves, each on our own “wavelength” but still in accordance with the greater tide. Occasionally, we are slowed down by currents flowing in another direction, currents which underly our own existence and form the foundation of our own flows. History, media, physical laws. These base currents are traveling in their own wave pattern, and so they interact with each wavelength, or individual, differently depending upon where in their period the two collide.

Obstacles in life be they physical, emotional, or intellectual can cause us to literally slow our roll here on earth. It can be frustrating. What I like about this analogy is that when you slow down, your momentum and that of others actually catches up with you and feeds you force and strength. What you might perceive as a breakdown in the flow is actually a period of recharge for you to gain whatever strength you require. If you are trying to get your landlord to let you install drought-friendly landscaping, and he or she insists on calling you that “garden nut” no matter how many good reasons you supply about how much money this will save their business, you can either be frustrated or you can use that to your advantage. After all, now you have a big folder of solid reasons that xeriscaping makes sense at your disposal. A folder that you can take to local businesses at which you already shop and show them why it is in their interest to consider such installations at their storefront. You can start a business that outsources the work of it, and you make money and the world gets a little more responsibly beautiful BECAUSE your landlord frustrated you by asking for fifteen sources and still saying no.

Or, if the last scenario seemed too user intensive to you, how about this one? You sit down at your computer, frustrated by the recent response, and you start searching for that perfect source. Along one of the twisted lanes that Google weaves, you discover a chat room of people frustrated just like you. You start talking about what you’d REALLY like to happen in the world. It makes you start thinking a little deeper about it, and you realize how much you love plants. So much, that you might like to get a plot at the community garden. You get one and get to know people there as well as staying in touch with people from the chat room. When a big-city developer comes in and wants to turn your community garden into condos, you rant about it in your chat room, and someone, a lawyer, offers their services to save the garden free of charge. Garden saved. A garden that you weren’t even involved with until your landlord said… NO!

Rogue waves are the result of the interaction of many different energies, just like social progress. It can feel overwhelming to think you are only one wave in a big old ocean, but rest assured, there are other forces at work that you can’t necessarily see, and that just might work to amplify your cause in strange and unpredictable ways. You’ll never know until you put it into motion.

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