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Insulation: First the Body, Then the Home

Sunday, March 13th, 2011
By Christa

In light of last month’s post about lowering the thermostat to lose weight, I was totally jazzed to happen upon a really fascinating article about how clothing impacts comfort indoors in Low-Tech Magazine.

There is another way to reduce energy consumption for space heating that does not have any of these disadvantages: lowering the thermostat and putting on more clothes. Although room temperature is hardly ever mentioned as a factor in energy use, it is a decisive factor in the energy consumption of heating systems…The insulating properties of clothing can be expressed in “clo”-units, where one “clo” equals the thermal insulation required to keep a resting person (for instance, a couch potato) indefinitely comfortable at a temperature of 21° Celsius (70° Fahrenheit)…The clo is an interesting unit because it allows us to precisely calculate which clothes we have to wear to feel comfortable at any given indoor temperature. According to the “Encyclopedia of occupational health and safety”, the required clo-value to maintain a neutral thermal sensation rises to about 2.7 at an indoor temperature of 10° Celsius (50°F). When the indoor temperature drops to 0° C (32°F), the required thermal insulation rises to 4 clo…The energy savings potential of clothing is so large that it cannot be ignored – though in fact this is exactly what is happening now. This does not mean that home insulation and efficient heating systems should not be encouraged. All three paths should be pursued, but improving clothing insulation is obviously the cheapest, easiest and fastest way.

I don’t know about you, but it’s nice to hear some advocating the wearing of a little more clothing over jacking the thermostat. Particularly since I’ve got myself pretty well trained to reach for another layer when I feel a chill instead of bumping the numbers. Now that I read the article I linked, I’m really excited to get some awesome high-tech, slim-fitting thermal gear for next winter. What about you? Are you rocking the long undies?

Neckwarmer by Cushy Company

Can Greener, Smaller Cars Make a Dent In the U.S. Auto Market?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011
By Christa

Right now, from my window, I can see SUVs, van/wagon hybrids, full-size vans, and I kid you not, a Hummer. There are a lot of smaller cars, too, but I wouldn’t exactly call them small cars. At least not by the rest of the world’s standards. I remember being surprised when I lived in Germany and then in Costa Rica at how little the cars were. Even families with three kids were driving diesel hatchbacks – squeezing everyone in using wee carseats like the Coccoro.

It seems like in a lot of places, if you’re not contractor or hauling something, your car probably has just enough room to transport you, yours, and some travel gear. Not nearly enough space to haul a dog sledding team and a secondhand piano.

smaller green cars

But do we ever love our big cars here in the U.S.! Even though most of the time, a smaller car with a smaller engine means a more fuel-efficient car, which means a car that uses less gasoline and emits fewer emissions.

As it turns out, people shopping for cars talk a green game – there’s a growing interest in greener cars and smaller cars among buyers – but when it comes time to sign on the dotted line, shoppers in the U.S. are still more likely to go large. And that’s made it really hard for greener cars – including smaller cars – to gain a foothold in the market.

A clear example is shown in the seesawing fortunes of the Smart fortwo, which sold 24,000 in 2008 ($4.50 a gallon) and just 14,000 in 2009 ($2.50 a gallon). “People had their hands in their pockets in 2009,” said Jill Lajdziak, president of Smart USA, who undoubtedly had her hands full supplying dealers with the right number of cars.

In 2010, the top-selling vehicle in the U.S. was the Ford F-150 pickup truck. And in 2010, sales of gas-electric hybrids declined quite a bit. But in just a few months, GM is all set to get the ball rolling on the Chevy Sonic – the smallest car currently mass-produced in the United States. And people do seem pretty excited about the Nissan Leaf, the first mass-produced electric car for sale from a major manufacturer. It’s almost as if, as a nation, we have no idea what we want. Ideally, the U.S. would like a a ginormous electric pick-up that can haul sixteen racehorses up a mountain face and is made in China for a dollar.

Do you think smaller, greener cars will make a dent in or even take over the U.S. market? In the long-term, I think they’ll have to. But in the short term? Like I said before, we sure do love our big cars…

RI Wind Farms Set to Do More Than Expected

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010
By Christa

Deepwater Wind, the company behind Rhode Island’s first offshore wind farm, has apparently increased the size of its project and it is now projected that the wind farm will generate 1000 MW of green electrical power. How do you generate that much power? How about 200 wind turbines that will be placed at least 18 miles off the Rhode Island coast, where according to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, things can get pretty windy. Increasing the size of the project means that Deepwater Wind can sell the wind energy produced for somewhere between 15-18 cents/kWh, which is high for the U.S. but fairly close to the New England average. Sounds good to me!

Background: Those in favor of wind farms will tell you that a single utility-scale wind farm (350 mw) can generate enough clean energy to power 125,000 homes every year without users ever seeing a fuel adjustment charge. As for the offshore wind farms that had everyone in such a tizzy around my locale – hello, Cape Wind -they’re apparently set in deep waters, where they are virtually invisible from shore. The anti-wind farm crowd counters that wind power is intermittent and thus cannot generate enough energy to ensure a steady output, which means back-up coal or gas power plants will always be a necessity. I’m not going to bother with the argument that they ruin views of the natural landscape – I personally think big ugly factories and electric wires do the same, but I understand the necessity of both.

What do you think about wind farms and wind power in general? Are they a viable green energy option? Or just a stepping stone on the way to something more reliable?

If You Can’t Print, You Can’t Waste Paper

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
By Christa

It’s no secret that every day, entire forests are cut down to make paper. We can choose recycled paper or paper that comes from sustainably harvested forests (as certified by the Forest Stewardship Council). But generally, there’s not much we can do about friends, relatives, and coworkers who insist on printing out every email and doc they receive or even entire web sites.

Until now. The World Wildlife Foundation has created a new, green file format that can’t be printed. The .wwf format is designed to encourage people to think about where their paper is coming from and where it is going – along with saving a few trees here and there. A .wwf file can be opened in most programs used to view .pdf files, but there’s no printing option and and the WWF adds a little note about saving paper to the bottom of every .wwf documents.

Let the Light Shine In

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010
By Christa

Okay, I’m sure you’re sick of reading about wall coverings by now – hello, eco-friendly paint, hello, eco-friendly wallpaper – but I have to show you one more cool green thing for your walls. What is it? It’s LIGHT EMITTING WALLPAPER. Light emitting wallpaper was originally developed in 2008 by Jonas Samson, a Dutch designer, as a concept piece, but people went so nuts over it that a lot more money and time has gone into the idea since then.

Some have even theorized that light emitting wallpaper – with its low-energy LEDs or in some cases even OLEDs, wow – could begin to replace standard light bulbs starting as early as 2012. In some cases, light emitting wallpapers have a backing of LEDs in patterns, like in the images here, but in others it’s the entire wall that’s illuminated, creating an even glow that mimics sunlight.

And here’s some technical info about how light emitting wallpaper works when the illumination is coming from OLEDs:

Operating lifetime has traditionally been a problem with OLEDs, but LOMOX has found a way to achieve significantly longer lifetimes than fluorescent lamps with the use of holographically-generated nanostructures to eliminate the 50% loss of light emission, which currently occur with OLEDs. Previous work has shown that reactive mesogen (i.e., polymerisable liquid crystal) OLED emitter materials can be photo-patterned into multicoloured display pixels with no loss in light output due to the photo-patterning process. The technology will also be more efficient (producing 150 lumens/watt) as it only emits light along one axis. OLEDs can produce a more natural looking light than other forms of lighting.

Get all that?

Are Programmable Thermostats Green?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010
By Christa

In a word, yes. In a few words: Yes, programmable thermostats are green when used correctly.There are still people out there who don’t regulate their thermostat throughout the day because they believe that lowering the temperature at night just makes the heater have to work harder during the day, thus using more energy than it would at a constant temperature, but that’s flat out silly.

Thermostat setback (i.e., lowering the temperature when it’s cold) and thermostat setup (i.e., raising it when its warm) when you’re out of the house or sleeping will almost always save money and conserve energy. Yes, your heater or AC will have to work a little to bring the temperature back up in the morning or prior to your return, but not so much that it’s burning through crazy amounts of gas, oil, or electricity.

So what’s the problem? Too many people install programmable thermostats and then never use them or still believe that keeping the temperature constant 24 per day is less wasteful that regulating it throughout the day. Like so many things, a programmable thermostat is a great little gadget that can make your life a little greener, but only if you use and use it correctly.

Is Nuclear a Green Option?

Monday, November 15th, 2010
By Christa

In the wake of last week’s heavy protests and blockades in Germany against a train carrying nuclear waste from France, it seems only fitting to devote a little time to thinking about nuclear power. And it wasn’t just the transportation of nuclear waste to a German storage facility that was under fire. Against strong opposition, German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to extend the lifespan of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors. In 2001, then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder moved to phase out nuclear energy in the country, but Germany’s aging nuclear reactors are now set to do another 12 years of duty. Hmmm.

I think some people see a protest like this and think, “Wait, what?” For better or for worse, nuclear power has been framed as green by a number of people, businesses, and organizations, with the end result of a lot of folks associating nuclear power with two things: Chernobyl and eco-consciousness.

Proponents of nuclear power talk about how it’s a carbon-free energy source, how the amount of waste produced is very small compared to burning fossil fuels to create energy, how it’s cost effective, and the new safety measures in reactors that make it as safe as any other energy source. Opponents talk about how it’s really not carbon-free (nuclear power has more than just a little greenhouse gas attached to it from mining, building, and running a plant), the waste storage solutions currently in place are reportedly less than perfect, safety measures won’t matter if terrorists get their hands on a reactor, it’s not a good solution to Global Warming, and it’s not as cost effective as first thought.

Oh good, another ‘paper versus plastic debate.’* Seriously, when I look into all of the statements above, I can find some supposed expert telling me why it’s 100% true. I think this is one of the perils people who’ve chosen to go green face. There’s always someone who can make a pretty compelling argument in favor of one thing or another, which makes it incredibly confusing for the layperson. So what are us laypeople to do? Discuss it amongst ourselves, of course. I’m really curious to know what you think about the relative eco-friendliness of nuclear power, both as compared to other forms of energy production and as its own animal. Is nuclear really a viable option in the short or even the long term?

*The answer? Re-usable grocery bags that last a long, long time!

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