Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Affordable Short Range Electric Vehicle

Yet another really interesting article on Ecogeek this week. There is going to be a new short range electric vehicle on the market soon that sells for less the $7,000! Wow. Now that is really something. I mean $7,000 is quite affordable for anyone, especially if you were to put it on a 5 year auto loan! There are a few less exciting details but over all it's still a great concept!


The $7,000 doesn't include the batteries which would have to be leased separately. Its a cool idea that the batteries are going to be a lease. I mean you know they are going to go bad and start taking less of a charge, so why not lease them and get new ones right away when it's time. The proof however is in the pudding. The question as to how cool the idea of leasing the batteries is how much they are going to cost! Time will tell at this point.

Short Range

So apparently for this vehicle, short range is going to mean 25 miles. Now depending on how far your daily work commute is this could really be great for you. If you are within 25 miles round trip (or one way if you can plug in at work) then you are now going to be able to buy a brand new electric vehicle for under $7,000 and it could really be your main car.

For me my daily round trip is more like 30 miles. That's more then the max even when the batteries are brand new. Since I don't have the option of plugging in at work this it's not going to work for my daily commute. I'm trying to think if I make enough around town trips to justify a $7,000 investment. I mean there are certainly trips to the store, or to friends houses that are within the 25 miles, I just am thinking there I don't do enough of that to make the $7,000 worth it. However, for $7,000 it might be cool enough and cheap enough to buy as a toy.

Top Speed

I've seen short range electric vehicles in the past and they seemed more like glorified golf carts. Their top speed was like 30 mph and you had to keep them on the back roads and away from highways. The great thing about this new short range vehicle is that has a realistic top speed. They are talking 74 mph! So you can go no the highway without any worry of getting run over by and 18 wheeler!

That makes the short daily work commute even more realistic. Lots of folks have short commutes, let's say 10 miles or less, but that does include a short trip on the highway. Which means unless you can get safely get up to 65 mph or more, it still isn't viable. But at 74 mph you are in business.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chevy Volt vs. Nissan Leaf

Rally car battery sticker
I admit there are many other competitions out there when it comes to green vehicles (namely the Prius) but these are the two that I'm really thinking about when it comes time for my next new car. They both have the advantages and disadvantages. 

Nissan Leaf

The Leaf a a true electric vehicle. There is no gas or other fuel that you put in it other then electricity which is stored in batteries. This is a great. I mean, just like any other electric vehicle, how green it is really depends on where you get the electricity from. Ideally you have solar panels or wind turbines and it's totally zero emissions. But if you plug it in you wall then coal or natural gas (maybe nuclear) is being burned to get those batteries filled. It is still going to cost you much less per mile then gas though.

The trick is that depending on the weather it sounds like the Leaf can go 80-120 miles per charge on new batteries. For most people in America this will definitely take care of their daily commute which is great. You can plug in every night and just run off the batteries to get to work and back and you are set. The trick is if you want to take it on vacation you are not going to make it. You are still going to need a back up gas car for something like that, unless you have a series of friends 100 miles apart along your route to the beach that will allow you to plug your car in overnight!

Chevy Volt

The Volt is also an electric car but it can burn gas as well. The difference between the Volt and the Prius model though is that the gas is used to generate electricity to run the electric motor, which the Prius is a true Hybrid of gas engines and electric motors. Basically the Volt will go about 40 miles on a full charge and then switch over to the gas and give you average gas mileage. It's range is shorter then the Leaf mainly because it has the added weight of the gas engine. It's a give and a take.

Even the 40 miles is enough for many American's round trip commute. Even if it isn't most people will only use a very little bit of gas for the end of their trip each day. The other perk is that you can take the Volt on long road trips if you like. You'll drive the first 40 miles on the battery charge and then change over to gas. Then it's just like a gas engine vehicle for the rest of your long road trip. But you have the option of long trips and don't need a back up vehicle with the Volt.

So it's a give and take depending on how long your daily commute is and if you need to use it as your only car and would be stuck having to rent a car if you wanted to go on a long trip. I'm really torn and don't know which I'll choose. My wife and I both need a car so we would have the option of buying a Leaf and having the other car be a gas engine which we'd take on long trips. I also don't have solar panels or a wind turbine at the rental home we have now so that is a concern for me as well. But realistically if you compare the coal/natural gas electricity to the gas from the pump the impact is still bad. At least with the electric car we've have the option of finding a zero emission source where with gas there is no such thing. In a couple years when we buy a new home I am planning to incorporate solar panels so hopefully it'll be a non issue then.

I'm excited with either option really but I'm really torn. As I think of it maybe I would go with the Leaf first, and then when it's time for the 2nd car to be replaced go with the Volt. Then which ever of us that has the shorter commute could drive the Volt and the Leaf would go for the longer commutes (either way the Leaf would be enough for either of out daily commutes). Then when we want to drive on a longer trip for vacation or work we would just take the Volt.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Great Stuff Pic

An example of a gap in my basement around a water pipe filled with Great Stuff...

Great Stuff - Sealing Up Your Home

wall textureYou know some of the simplest ways to save money around your home are often the ones you over look. I'm not sure why this is, but is always seems to be the case at my house. I'll be thinking and planning and doing larger projects, all the while little stuff is just sucking money out of my pocket and energy is wasting away!

My most recent example of this is in the basement of the house we just started renting this summer. I remember noticing a few cracks here and there in the foundation and some spots that could get sealed up around pipes and other openings to the outside. I noticed this in the first week or so of moving in. It was summer time and I wasn't so conscious of it because I wasn't constantly thinking about the level of the fuel oil in the tank like I am now.

Well I happened to be doing stuff in the basement the other day with the kids during the day and looked at one spot where I could actually see daylight! Yikes! That was it. It was time for Great Stuff. Great stuff is my favorite thing ever! Partially because it does such a good job so easily sealing up crack and partially because I think it the most genius name for a product ever! I mean seriously, how did I not think of calling a product Great Stuff before they did right? I mean you can't not buy something that is called Great Stuff! How good is this stuff? It's GREAT STUFF! lol.

Anyway, I got a one can for about 5 bucks from Home Depot and it filled all the cracks I had and some were sizable. I even have about a half a can left, but I'm sure it'll be all dried up when I got to use it the next time. It's my own fault because if you clean out the straw and seal the top of the car it'll stay, but I never do. Next time I see a crack I'll go spend $5 and do it again.

So do yourself a favor and the go spend $5 and seal up the cracks in your basement. Just go along the foundation where it meets the house and look for any place where something go through the outside wall. Seal around it. Also look for cracks in the foundation of good size that should be filled as well (not just a hairline crack below ground).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Rio 20 - Another Conference

Teamwork 1
Rio 20 - June 2012

It seems like every year or so there is some big conference of nations that is supposed to be the beginning of saving the world. They usually start with a few letter and followed buy a number. G8, G20, Rio 20, etc. Rio 20 is the next of these types of conferences. The interesting twist with the Rio 20 is that it focuses not just on the environment but on sustainable development. It seems idea is that they world is going to grow in population (we just hit 7 Billion and 8 Billion is probably just a little more then a decade away). Much of this population growth seems to be in developing nations. So if we as a planet can get involved and try to get this development to happen in a green way right from the start we can at least stem some of the bad effects that developed nations went through. 

Will it end in Disappointment? 

Like I mentioned it seems that most of these conferences just end in disappointment. Part of the problem though is that they come in with such lofty goals. Like they are hoping that the leaders will come to some kind of conclusive decision on some key point. They really want it to go their way because it will really set the world in motion to being greener, even though they know all the folks with money who back all the campaigns of all these leaders are against it. What do you think is going to happen right? It seems like every time the leaders make it look like it was really close and they say they really wanted to but they just couldn't agree to some small issue and it all fell apart. What a surprise!

So far I haven't heard of any such lofty goals for the Rio 20. So from that stand point it appears its more of just a meeting without specific goals so it would be hard to classify anything as a failure. They really just are saying they are trying to launch a global conversation. Now, don't get me wrong I'm all for this, but at the same time without some kind of concrete goal it hard to see them really getting anything does except for collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points. I sincerely wish them luck though and hope they succeed. We as a planet really need to shift our thinking and begin to change our actions. We are going to run out of oil and it is going to dynamically change how we live, especially because there are just too many people in the world to sustain without oil energy! The only real question is how early we as a population really realize we are close to this kind of crash. The early we start acting the softer the landing is going to be. If we wait until we just can't afford gas for our car anymore it's going to be a really rough go!

So for Rio 20, and any other conference with some letters and numbers for that matter. I wish you luck but then again its not folks like me you have to convince, it's the folks with all the money that pay for election campaigns!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Doing Your Dishes Green

ConvenientSo a few months ago I moved with my family to a different house which doesn't have a dishwasher. It's been a real adjustment since we moved in to taking the time each night (and often throughout the day to hand wash all the dishes). Yesterday my wife came back from the market with new dish sponges that were supposed to be a green product. It got me to thinking about the whole dirty dish process in our house and the environment. 

Are the sponges really "Green"?

The first question I thought about was if the sponges were really green. The problem with green products is that the word "Green" is relative. I mean the definition of green is that it is good for the environment. But really what the heck do I know about sponges anyway? So for all I know they could actually have a worse environmental impact the the regular sponges we had been using. But since they say "Green" on the label my wife and I was assuming they are better for the planet.

How much better? Who really knows?  That the other problem with Green being a relative term. So say they are just a very tiny amount better for the environment. Like so little that it really makes no impact as far as saving the planet. But I'll still pay an extra dollar for two of them because I feel like I'm doing my part. There are products out there that I know a good amount about and can make an educated decision as far as their impact but when it comes to sponges I guess I'm just counting on the label. I wish there was some kind of standard or rating system that you know know for sure how much good you are doing.

Hand washing dishes vs. a Dishwasher

The next thing I got thinking about is what impact am I having on the planet by hand washing my dishes now compared to a dishwater? I mean there is the electrical and water cost to running a dishwasher. But when I do them by hand I'm going to guess that I'm really using more water then what a new modern dishwasher would use. I'm also thinking that any electricity used by the dishwasher would be compensated for buy the efficiency of the dishwasher over hand washing.

Now like all appliances not all dishwashers are made the same. You need to look for the Energy Star label and then look for the best Energy Start appliance you can afford. But assuming you have a really efficient model I'm thinking I'm using more energy (not even including my own) but hand washing. And a dishwasher is going to really wash them better and remove more germs in it's process.

So I guess that's it. I need to get out dishwasher shopping and start saving money and time (and not to mention my feet and back!). Good thing my wife bought those Green sponges!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Solar Power Airships - Awesome!

Jetsons here we come! Ecogeek his a home run again in their latest email. If you don't all ready get the email update, get signed up! Among the interesting stories in this weeks email was one about a new technology concept that deals with airships. - Solar Ship is Half Airship and Half Flying Wing

Solar Airships

The idea is basically there would be a light airship which would be made even lighter with a pocket of helium. It would then take much less energy to lift off and fly. The great part is that while it is filled with helium it isn't burning it or using it in anyway, so you never have to refill it unless there is a leak of some kind.

Even better is that the top of the airship is covered with solar panels which it appears could produce enough energy to fly the airship. What that means is that it would have an indefinite flying range. Once it took off the solar panels would power it to where ever you want to go for as long as you want to go!

The trick there is that in order for the solar panel to produce all the power you need then the cargo weight is going to have to be very light. If you want to carry heavier items and deliver them far away then you are going to need some kind of fuel. In this case you are talking about a hybrid of some kind. So like a Chevy Volt, the solar panel's produced electricity would take you as far as it could and then when depleted the fuel would kick in and power the airship.

Cheaper then Trucks?

I guess someone has done some research and is knocking in the ideal of airships in general, even if powered by solar or other cheaper hybrid means. Essentially their argument is that when you compare the cost involved with these airships would still be cheaper to transfer goods and cargo in general by 18 wheelers.

The article on Ecogeek made a really good point though. That cheaper truck cost assumes there are all ready maintained roads available to drive on. It would be kind of hard for a truck to travel across a forest, where an airship could take off and land for the same cost whether it was traveling over the forest or a populated area. So because of these these airships are getting additional attention for their lower cost to travel to remote areas. Places like the Arctic and more general areas that are currently considered too remote for delivery of items.

For me I think a concept like this is great for two reasons. One it obviously will serve a need that isn't currently being served so it's a great invention. Imagine if you have a sick child in a remote area that is saved because these airships exist!! The other great thing that comes to mind is that this is a great example of energy efficiency being built in right from the concept level of a new invention/product!

Typically when there is a new invention it's all about the idea. I mean this makes sense. The idea is lets get this thing working and then when we perfect it, if the public yells for it we'll try to figure out how to make it more energy efficient. In this case right from the beginning the makers seem to understand that we as a population are going to have to live with less energy. So everything we create is going to have to use less energy. So instead of coming up with an idea and running with it before looking at the impacts, this time it's part of the invention process itself!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Got Over the Look of New Bulbs!

I saw a good article on EcoGeek today about a new LED bulb. It is a very cool looking new LED technology light bulb. It's much more energy efficient and it's stats look really solid. One of the other selling points is that it looks very much like a incandescent bulb even though it's an energy saving bulb.

And it does! Look at that.

But it got me to thinking. Really who cares that it looks like an incandescent bulb? I mean the fact that it looks similar to what Thomas Edison dreamed up about a 100 years ago isn't all that important to me. Really I just want to be able to see when I walk around my basement and not hit my head on a beam or stub my toe!

In fairness I do understand why manufactures covet the old look. They are trying to get the masses to adopt the new technology. The more the new technology looks familiar the more likely they are to pull the trigger. And I am all for anything that gets people to be more energy efficient. I just wish you didn't have to sell it so hard to people just because it's something new and different.

I mean if you find something that works better then the old version and will save you money are you not going to buy it just because it looks different? Are you more concerned about what it looks like or how it works? Especially when its something like a light bulb? I mean I guess I could see the argument if it was something like a car or clothes where the look can be very important. But a light bulb is suppose to give off light. It just just look like a thing that gives off light!

So go read Who Moved My Cheese and get over the effects of change and get with the program. We need to use less energy and if there are bulbs that save money, use less energy and give off the same light, there is no reason not to get them today!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dual Flush Toilets - Save Water - Save the Planet

One major area I talk about here on Saving Green is water conservation. There are many area that water conservation touches. Part of it has to do with global warming because newer weather patterns are taking the rain to un-populated areas and leaving populations in drought. Also there is the energy needed to pump the water to your house for use (remember that energy is required even if you have town water, you just aren't directly paying on your bill, but 's built in!). Another area is over population because more and more people are in new homes that are drawing more and more water for a reservoir that is holding less and less water.

Dual Flush Toilets

I found a really cool item that can help when it come to home water conservation and ease the issues with all of the above areas. I've actually heard about these for a little while now but when I saw a conversion kit at the end of the isle at Home Depot this weekend for $20, I knew it was just time!

So the basic concept is that you need much less water to flush urine and a small amount of toilet paper then you do solid waste. I know it sounds gross but when you get over the factor of using bathroom words, it comes down to very basic water conservation. You existing toilet is going to use the same amount of water every time it flushes no matter how much water it really needs. Typically toilets that were manufactured after 1994 use 1.6 gallons per flush (before 1994 I believe it was 3.5 gallons - Yikes!). For solid waste 1.6 gallons is appropriate, but for urine much less will do the trick.

Dual Flush Installation

So I bought the kit for twenty bucks. It claimed that I could install it in 10 mins with no tools. Well I won't say that is really true but it was very basic. I ended up using a screwdriver and a pair of pliers (I also used a battery powered sawzaw but that was just because I didn't want to waste time carefully taking out the old handle and I knew my kids would think it was really cool :).

You just take out the old flapper and handle. Follow a few basic steps and pop in the new mechanism and flush button. Read the directions and do a few basic and quick adjustments to make sure it's flushing how you'd like. Wa La!

There is one round button split into two. The top is for a "quick flush" and the bottom is for a "full flush". Simple as that. In the short run I probably used more water because my kids kept testing/playing with the new flusher. But starting tomorrow we are going to really save some solid gallons.

How Much Will I Save?

They don't give specific stats as to how much the quick flush uses vs the full flush. Although like I say a regular toilet uses 1.6 gallons so I would guess the full flush is the same. I would also ballpark that the quick flush is about half that. Which means every time someone in my family uses that bottom compared to the old flusher we are saving about .8 gallons. Think about how many times you toilet gets flushed in a day. That savings is going to add up!

I have a drilled well so for me the big money savings is the savings on my electric bill because my well pump will kick on less often. But also from a planetary standpoint that is quite a bit less water I'm going to be pumping out of the ground each year.

The box claims that the average family of four will save 15,000 gallons per year if they install this on their most used toilet in their house. They also say that is enough water to be equal to stacking water bottles 45 miles high!

New Dual Flush Toilets

This technology is really catching on. Recently I stayed at a Marriott in Baltimore, MD and noticed they toilet was a dual flush. You can also pretty commonly now buy new toilets with dual flush technology as well.  If you are going to by buying a new toilet anyway then you should pull the trigger on the new technology. Your water/electric bill will be lower and you'll be doing your part to save the planet.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Population and the Environment

One of the big things I always seem to come back to when I am looking into all the bad things that are going on with our environment these days it that there are just too many humans! Humans do lots of bad things for the environment but one of the major issues with this is that there are just so many of us. If there were far fewer of us then the bad things we do would have a much smaller impact. 

With that thought in mind I was very interested with an article I saw in the Oct 31, 2011 article of TIME called Head Count, which talked about how the world population just hit 7 Billion, and what impacts it is having. Mainly it was a lot of interesting facts that relate to this very topic. I'll give you a few here, they are really interesting stuff!

1. In 1804 the world Population was 1 Billion. So in just over 200 years the world population has gone from 1 Billion to 7 Billion!!!

2. The world population is expected to go to 8 Billion in 14 years, and then 9 Billion in 18 years after that. Yikes!

3. In the history of the world there has been approximately 108 billion humans. That means the 7 billion alive today represent 6.5% of the total history of human population. That is a lot of humans on one planet at the same time!

4. If you put the world's current population in a population density equal to that of NYC, we would all fit in an area the size of Texas. This was actually kind of comforting in a way for me. I mean 7 Billion is way too many, but it put it in perspective that it didn't feel quite so big.

5. 19% of the world's population lives in China. It's scary to think China is one of the emerging industrial countries, and they all ready have rules in place to reduce population growth. That is scary!

6. 50.4% of humans are Male. I just thought it was interesting how balanced this was.

7. 73% of the worlds population doesn't use the internet. I get it when I think about it, but this was very surprising when I first read it. We need to increase this number so more people can read Saving Green :)

8. The US is the third most populated country at 310 million, behind China at 1.3 billion and India at 1.2 billion.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Holiday Guilty Pleasure - Christmas Lights

So if you think of almost any Christmas scene in your mind which brings that nice warm fuzzy feeling to your heart and brings you back to your childhood, you will more likely then not notice that there are at least a few Christmas lights. Now being that I'm constantly trying to do what I can to reduce my carbon footprint and save money at the same time, I am constantly walking around the house turning off lights behind my kids. I always make sure to mention that they left the light on and I had to turn it off for them so we weren't wasting power. I have to admit there are occasions where they catch a light I left, which is annoying and makes be proud at the same time.

So I am really conflicted when it comes to Christmas lights. I grew up with them. It was a holiday tradition at our house growing up to string the lights out on the front bushes and on the roof line. I remember how cool I thought it was when technology came around so that we could have the traveling lights along the roof and twinkling ones in the bushes. Cool stuff for sure. The problem is there is no real need for the lights so really I'm just wasting power to put them out there. But there has to be some joy in life right?

The happy medium for now is that I at least make sure that all the lights we are using are LED lights. This saves quite a bit of power and they don't get as hot at the old style Christmas lights so I don't worry about fires either. That's a win win for sure! I also make sure to have them all plugged into a photocell timer as well. No point in having the lights on at 2 in the morning. If someone happens to drive by the house at 2 and misses out on seeing my lights, I'm OK with that. The photocell timer is pretty cool and I picked it up a few years back for like 2 bucks. It has different settings on it, but the one I use turns on the lights when it gets dark and keeps them on for 8 hours. Really simple, and saves me money. I'm sure it's paid for itself by now!

The new things I've heard about but don't have yet is solar Christmas lights. My understanding is that there is a solar panel of some kind that you put on the roof and let it charge the batteries during the day. Then when it gets dark they kick on and run until the battery dies. I'm not sure how long they are able to run and how bright they are but for me the concept at least is the ultimate in guilt free Christmas displays! I mean if its all solar then why not put up as much as you want and run them as much as you want right? Like I say I'm just not sure how well they actually perform. If possible I'll probably buy at least one set of the solar ones this year and see how they I'll report back.

I'll also put a link to all the kinds of products I've mentioned here below.

So I guess I can't always be the power grinch all the time, even though most of the time it's needed so we can save this planet, so go ahead and deck the halls. Just make sure you are at least using LED Christmas Lights!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Electricity Monitor - How to Keep Track and Save

I talk here on Saving Green a lot about how to save electricity (and power in general for that matter). Most of this stuff I talk about is ideas on ways to change your routines and habits in a way that would reduce you usage. This however is a way to track how you are doing and potentially change your usage based on solid stats that relate specifically to you and your home.

I'm talking about an electricity monitor, which is a little gizmo that you plug into your wall and then plug something into it. It will then tell you how much power you are using for that item. The key with these is they show you absolutely how much power you are using for each item you use. So you might not think your TV and all the electronics that go with it are really using that much electricity but when you put your power strip into it you are likely going to be surprised. Might make you think twice about leaving everything plugged in while you are aren't there. Or for that matter you might even watch less TV!

There are many makes of these types of devices these days but one of the first and still most popular is called the Kill A Watt. The idea is that if you know for sure how much each appliance is using for power you can find the really big drawers of power and avoid them. Or in some cases you might even want to get rid of them and replace with new more efficient options. Cost is always a factor but if you find that you are using so much more power then you would with a new one, then sometimes a new appliance will pay for itself in the first year! These are the kind of decisions a Kill A Watt will help you discover and make.

The other effect one of these electricity monitors will have it similar to that of folks who wear a pedometer. They say that people who wear a pedometer that keeps track of how far you walk, tend to walk more in a day, simply because they are conscious of how far they are walking. So they do better simply because they are now keeping track of it.

The next cool step in all this electricity monitoring is going to be down the line when all the appliances we have, have their own IP address. Then we could have an app on our phone that would show how much each item is using, in real time and over time. Once you have real time easy to access feed back that's when you'll see something that really has the power to change the way we use electricity.

Even further down the line is going to be smart appliances that actually talk to the power grid. So in the summer time if it's really hot out and the power grid is getting maxed out, then the grid can talk to your appliances to save power for a while until the load dips and can return to normal. For example you might be running your dryer and the grid is maxed out. The grid will talk to your dryer and tell it to keep running but turn off the heat for a while. If it does this for many houses in the area it can get through the tough stretch and then turn the heat back on. Impressive right? Then next piece of this is when a power plant is maxed out and an auxiliary plant will have to come on line. Sometimes there isn't anything you can do to avoid this. However it is most wasteful when the auxiliary plant is just barely needed. Again the same theory could be put in place. Turn off items in households that aren't mission critical at the moment and get through the surge and avoid having to do anything with the auxiliary plant at all! Now that is Green!


While doing a little research about electricity monitoring I came across this little gem! It is similar in theory to the Kill A Watt but it monitors the power your whole house is using, IN REAL TIME! It looks like you don't need any special electrician skills. Just basic clips at your power box that anyone can clip on. Then it transmits to a base station you can keep in a convenient location. I am definitely getting one of these babys!!!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Teaching Kids to Save Energy

I'm sure you all remember you old mad standing in the door you just walked out of saying something like, "Close the door! I'm not paying to cool the whole neighborhood!". What's funny about that whole statement is that back in the day when you father was yelling that at you electricity was very cheap. Even if you account for thing being cheaper back then electricity was still very cheap. You could run all the lights in your house for the whole month and still only owe a couple bucks.

These days there is really two facets to teachings kids about saving energy. One there is the fact that you want to pay less for your monthly utility bills. Two there is the global warming angle to teach them about as well.

Paying Less For your Monthly Utilities

Since your kids don't pay the bills they don't really care if they use a little more electricity. If you catch them young in life you can hopefully instill that being wasteful is bad, but that is the best you are really going to do until they have a place of thier own. My kids are still young and are in the range where I can get their attention by teaching that wasting is bad. But as they get older I'm thinking about reducing their allowance based on how many kilowatts we use on each month. I haven't decided what the exact parameters are going to be but it'll be something basic like this. There will be a baseline weekly allowance, let's say ten bucks. I'll then look at the bill and decided where we should be at for monthly usage. If that's how much we use for a give month then each week of the following month they'll get their ten bucks. If we use less then that then they could each a bonus up to say $12 bucks. If we use more then that it'll either cut back to $7.50, or if it's really bad then it could be $5. I'll lay out all the rules at the beginning and even show them how to read the meter so they can check where they are at mid month. It'll save me money, and they'll learn the value of a dollar at the same time. Especially for something so tough as a utility bill that they aren't going to have to pay.

Dealing with Global Warming with Kids

They are aspect to teaching kids about saving energy is the effect of their actions on global warming. We always talk about doing the right thing so that out kids will inherit a clean Earth. But this is even more direct because it's what the kids themselves are going to be doing to affect the kind of world they are going to live in.

So I would talk to the kids about all the effects that are all ready happening. Melting glaciers, change of habitats, loss of land, stronger hurricanes, moving weather patterns, etc. Then you can talk about how much the decisions they make with energy effect global warming. You can even do the math. So if you see them leave a light in their room on all day while they are at school, then you can do the math and figure out exactly how much carbon they caused to be released into the atmosphere today. Then use the method above to potentially cut into their allowance. That one two punch should really open their eyes!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Should We Save Electricity?

1350215For many people the reason they try to save electricity is to save money on their power bills. This makes total sense and it's what should be happening. Sure we'd all like to save the planet if we can, but really for the day to day people who are stressed and working for a living they are driven by money. They want to either make more or spend less. This is how our economy works and it's how we work. So saving money is a really good reason to trigger someone to turn off a light, or try to find more efficient appliances, or any other host of ways to try to save electricity. 

Environmental Reasons to Save Electricity

So let's say you have tons of money and you don't really care how much you electric bill is. Why not just leave on all the lights and turn the air conditioner way up and juts go crazy. Well the problem with that is that most of the power plants here in the US (and around the world for that matter) burn some kind of fossil fuel to create that electricity you are wasting. So sure you aren't actually burning the fuel that is creating the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and creating more global warming, but really aren't you? I mean if you didn't use that much electricity then less would have had to be created and there for less fuel burned, so really you are indeed causing global warming.

Now I know there are going to be people that write in and say yes but the power plants aren't on a one watt to one unit of fuel basis. And you are right. Just because specifically you left that light on all night in the basement doesn't mean that someone at the local power plant is going to get a report and have to turn up the process. But there is a point where a power plant hits a level where either they turn up the dial, or more likely they call and turn on the auxiliary plant to deal with the additional demand.

Loss of Electricity Due to Friction in the Power Lines

Not only would be you wasting power in the above scenario but even though you don't know it you are wasting more then you actually use. Actually all of us are using more then we are actually registering at the meter. This is because electricity has to flow through power lines to get from the power plant where it's created to our house. This about the power lines in your area during winter. Remember all those birds that cluster on the power lines? Why do they do that? It's because the lines are warm. And why are the warm you ask? It's because of the friction of the electricity flowing through the power lines. As those electrons flow they cause friction with the molecules of the power line itself. Friction causes heat. There is a reduction of the amount of electricity created compared to what is delivery to homes because a percentage is lost as heat energy along the way.

It is a good amount lost to heat too. As a percentage it's about a high single digit. That might not sounds like a lot but think of all the electricity that is used around the world in a day. Imagine if that was 7% less? Think of all the fuel that wouldn't have to be spent if we didn't have to create 7% of the electricity anymore! That would make a big dent in global warming right there!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Solar Roof Shingles in the US

I've yet to jump into the solar panels on the roof idea but I am very eager. I have been hesitant for a couple of reasons. One has been the initial cost to buy and install and wire the panels. The other is that from everything I read, unless you get some really solid governmental subsidies, then the life span of the panels (25ish years) aren't long enough to repay for themselves in electrical savings. This blog is called Saving Green for a reason. Yes I am all about the environment and I want to save the planet for sure, but I want to do it in a way that will save people money too. Otherwise I believe the masses just won't do it.

So one other option that I've really been eyeing for quite a while from a far is solar roof shingles. These are roof shingles similar to asphalt shingles commonly used. However these shingles has solar panel on top of them and wires run from them into your attic and eventually wire into the grid to save you money on your power bill. I really just think this is a great idea.

Well I noticed on a blog today that they are going to be come largely available in the US for the first time in 2012. They are going to roll them out in Colorado with many more states coming by the end of 2012. Check out some of the details here.

Apparently these shingles' solar panels are made of a less efficient type of solar panel without the silicone. The bad news is they are less efficient but the good news is that they are much more durable. So they can take the beating of being walked on and a hail storm now and again. And since you are going to cover your entire roof edge to edge with them then you are still going to get a good amount of electricity from them.

One nice side effect is that since these panels are soaking up the sunlight they are also keeping that heat from transferring to the roof below them. So you are going to use less power to cool your house anyway.

In the long run I'm not sure that these shingles will become more widely used then regular panels but I really think they have the cool factor down! I did see someone mention that because each shingles is it's own panel then there are obviously going to be a lot of electrical connections on your roof. That alone is fine but the problem is there is a high change of needing lots of maintenance as those connections begin to fail with time.

Over all I think solar of any form is a great idea and I really want to push in that direction myself. In the next couple years I hope to buy the house that I'll retire in, and hope that the cost of solar panels/shingles will have come down to a point where it makes financial sense as well as green sense too!

Waste Reduction


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It's the first one!

There are a lot of things we can all do day to day to help the environment in many different ways. One way that tends to get overlooked quite often is just reducing the amount of everything that we consume. Not only does it keep stuff out of landfills, but it also reduces the amount of stuff that needs to be manufactured. This cuts down on impact on the planet at so many steps along the way!

This about all the stuff that you by and how much packaging came along with it. Christmas night at my house is always spent patching up cuts on my fingers from trying to open those plastic clam shell packages. I wouldn't miss them at all. Stores love them because they display the products nicely and cut down on theft. However if we at a population stopped buying products that came in this kind of wasteful packaging stores would change their tune very quickly!

Thinking of how to reduce the amount of waste we create can be overwhelming but there really is one very easy way to track it. Start paying attention to how full your trashcan is each week when you bring it out to the curb. Make it a game with your family to try to make it as empty as possible each week. First try to get all the stuff you can into the recycle bin instead. Then start expanding the ways you can put less in your trashcan. Extend it out as far as your shopping habits. If you have two options for a product you need and one comes with less packaging then choose it.

I remember watching a documentary a few years ago where a women said that should could put everything that she throws away in a year into a coffee can! Can you imagine?! She was really committed and I'm very jealous. She did her food shopping at an organic co-op. She obviously used canvas bags to bring her goods home. She would bring containers with her which she was reusing and would use them to buy her bulk food. She would make sure any containers she did need to buy could be recycled. She would also sometimes make the hard decision sometimes that even though she wanted something she just couldn't find an option that didn't include way too much wasteful and unneeded packaging, so she wouldn't get the product. Maybe she'd wait a few years until the product was in the market for a while and then try to find it at a garage sale or Craig's list or something like that.

Once you really start thinking about the stuff that you throw away and how you can maximize waste reduction it gets to be a game. It's always disappointing me to on garbage night to have a can overfull. The good news is that there are weeks when it's so empty that I really wonder if it's worth putting the can out. Now I just need to figure out how to do that every week!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Water, Water, No Where!

1279403I hear about it all the time these days, both on the news and in documentaries warning about the future. We are running out of drinking usable water! While it would be nice and simple if there was just one reason for this, there really are multiple reasons. 

Global Warming and Drought

Intuitively you might think that the one thing that global warming is good for is reduction of drought. I mean the polar caps are melting so that has to create more water and less drought right? Well that's not actually the case. Yes the polar caps are melting and the ocean is going to rise. But we don't drink salt water unfortunately which is where that water is going. The oceans rising isn't going to increase the level of water from the sources where humans get their water. Inland lakes and streams aren't going to rise because the oceans do.

What Global warming is really doing is shift around where the water is because it is changing water patterns. There are literally areas where lakes and rivers were counting on for decades (and longer) for drinking water that are just drying up. Just look at the drought in Texas this year. It's wasn't just a week with no rain. It affected them this whole summer and continues to do so. They are having to sell cattle at a loss because they can't afford to provide them with drinking water. It's either sell them early or let them die!

Increasing Population

You might have heard on the news recently, as a planet we just hit 7 billion (yes that's with a B!) human population level. This means that while global warming is reducing the amount of water available for drinking, we are doubling the amount of water we use over the last few decades. That is a formula for disaster!

When it comes right down to it, yes it's partially the way that we all live, but really all the environmental problems have a lot to do with the fact that we all live! There are just way too many of us to be comfortably sustained by this planet. We need to find smarter ways of using the resources we have left so that we can get as much bang for our buck as possible while there are so many of us. We also as a planet should really be putting some thought into how we might want to reduce our population over generations too!

What Can We Do to Solve the Water Shortage?

The good news is that while the water supply situation isn't good right now there are some things we can do to reduce it's severity. There was a great article in Time a few weeks back talking about this very issue (Droughtbusters). They list a few great ideas for how to help reduce the water shortage. First was expanding the use of water treatments plants that convert sewage back to usable drinking water. It sounds horribly gross but I've heard of this before and apparently we do indeed have the science to make it happen and end up with completely drinkable water with no trace of it's former life as sewage. My only concern here is that I've heard recently that many if not all sewage treatment plants don't have the capability to remove some items that weren't even considered decades ago when they where conceived and built. Mainly these are the pharmaceuticals that we are all taking. Some of them are expelled in out waste and would end up back in the drinking water having who knows what kind of affect on us! I'm sure if the treatments plants are planned to filter these items as well it wouldn't be an issue in the future though. So as long as that little hitch can be handled then I'm all for it.

The next way they talk about reducing the water shortage is seawater desalination. This is a great idea in theory the trick is that it tends to be very expensive to do and is really only feasible for those cities that lie close to oceans. Even if a city in the mid-west was willing to pay for a desalination plant the cost of piping that water from one of the coasts would make it unfeasible. Apparently the cost of desalination is coming down because of new technologies though so it will likely be a more and more feasible piece of the puzzle moving forward. And I suppose if the coastal city lean hard on desalination as a solution then that's more water for the inland cities from traditional sources.

Rainwater harvesting is another great option that they suggest. Many folks like to water their lawn and flowers to keep them looking nice. That is great but as the world water shortage because a real daily hardship on the population as a whole it'll become evident that having your front lawn look nice should be a much lower priority then being able to bath and drink water. This is something I'll definitely be looking into this summer. It can be as simple as a rain barrel that sits at the bottom of your downspout from your roof gutters. Then you use that to water your plants and lawn. I do remember reading online that there are roofing materials that should be used that are non-toxic if you are going to try to consume the water your collect from your roof. Depending on rainfall in your area this can really save significant water usage.

Incentivizing conservation is another suggestion. If a municipality has the resources to offer this it can make a real difference. Whether it's giving a rebate for installing appliances that are water efficient, or rain collection set ups, or even removing the grass lawns all together, it really will reduce the amount of water needed. Of course this is going to be offset by the increased demand because of population growth, but every little bit is going to help!

So yes the over all population and population growth is a major drain on all resources of this planet and water is no exception. In lieu of actually reducing the population over generations though, we need to find a way to both increase the water we have access to (desalination and rain collection) and reduce the amount we use (conservation though more efficiency and simply reducing the assumption of how much water we need - like taking a shorter shower or having smaller lawns).