Terror by electric bike in China?

Today’s Wall Street Journal has a great article about e-bikes in China.

Most people in China cannot afford a car yet, and there wouldn’t be room on the streets if everyone could afford them! Public transportation can be slow and crowded.

Bicycles have been a popular, low cost way for Chinese to get around for decades. But as incomes rose, many Chinese opted for faster motorbikes to get around on. The problem with gas powered motorcycles is that they were primarily cheap, two stroke models that caused massive amounts of air pollution. Chinese authorities banned them in many downtown and urban areas, just as the technology for electric scooters became good enough and cheap enough to be a reasonable alternative.

These days there are an estimated 120 million e-bikes in China. Most of them run on lead acid batteries, which are much cheaper than technologically superior lithium ion batteries.

So what’s the problem?

Officials were caught off guard when that environmentally appealing solution turned out to be deadly on the streets. In 2007, there were 2,469 deaths from electric-bicycle accidents nationwide, up from just 34 in 2001, according to government statistics.

That’s roughly 3% of China’s annual 90,000 traffic accident deaths. Still technically bicycles, they’re operating in a legal gray zone. Drivers of electric bikes don’t need to pass stringent driving tests to get licensed, and courts are struggling to sort out lawsuits.

Pedestrians complain that e-bike riders pay little heed to the rules of the road. Drivers of electric bikes are “totally devoid of conscience and respect for the law,” complained Wang Mingyue, a blogger on the popular Beijing News Web site.

9 Unique & Green Gift Ideas

Looking for unique eco friendly Christmas gifts for the environmentalist in your life? Here is a selection of green gifts to cover ideas from your office gift trade to your loved ones. Regardless who you are shopping for, remember a key to giving unique eco friendly gifts is to make sure they are both practical and usable gifts.

What’s the point of buying an eco friendly gift if it sits up on a shelf in the back of a closet? That’s a waste of energy to produce and ship the gift. If you choose usable eco friendly gifts wisely, you’ll be able to benefit the environment by your gift being used. It’s a win-win for the shopper and the receiver. Oh, and the environment, of course.

Here are 9 green gift ideas that will avoid storage in the back of the closet and you can feel good about giving!

1. Solio Portable Hybrid Solar Charger

solar charger

This portable solar charger is pretty cool. It’s great for someone always on the go, and always saying the battery is dying. The solar charger is topped with a carabiner and has a durable Lexan shell. So, clip it on a belt loop, bike, or even a briefcase. You don’t have to be in a car or at the desk to charge that cell phone. This solar charger doesn’t have to actively be in the sun to charge a device. It holds the charge for up to one year.

2. Envirocycle Tumbling Composter

envirocycle composter

Here’s the ultimate gift for recycling: a composter. This Envirocycle Tumbling Composter for $ 149.99 spins to aerate and mix the compost. Tumbling composters produce finished compost faster than standard composters. It’s a great eco friendly choice for a gift since it recycles food and lawn wastes and produces a great organic fertilizer for the lawn and garden.

3. Roadrunner Low Flow Shower Head

roadrunner shower head

The Roadrunner Low Flow Shower Head for $39.95 makes a perfect Christmas gift for the environmentalists. Help them save water and money on their utility bills! This low flow shower head even has a sensor to monitor water temperature. It pauses the water flow when it’s warm to prevent wasting water.

4. Raised Bed Garden Planter

raised bed planter

Do you need any unique Christmas gift ideas for locavores? You know, shoppers at the weekend farmer’s market looking for local produce. Here’s an eco friendly gift so they can grow their own organic food. The Raised Bed Garden Planter for $299.99 is great for small spaces, even a patio, deck, rooftop or balcony. It’s a 4 x 4 growing space. That’s perfect for the grower to get a lot of produce in a confined space, especially if they use the square foot gardening method. It comes with a watering system, too.

5. Kleen Kanteen Stainless Steel Water Bottle

kleen kanteen

Do you know anyone still drinking out of plastic water bottles? This Kleen Kanteen stainless reusable water bottle is a great gift for $17.99, especially for the office Christmas party. Help folks cut down on trash, and give them a non-leaching, toxin-free way to hydrate.

6. Reel Mower

A reel push mower makes the perfect unique Christmas gift. If you’re shopping for the person that has everything, chances are they don’t have one of these reel mowers. Reel mowers, also, make great gifts to newly married or engaged couples, and new homeowners. Prices range based on models, but here’s a Brill push reel mower for $249.99.

7. Bamboo Kitchen Products

bamboo bowl

Bamboo is becoming more and more popular as a renewable resource. Check out this line of bamboo kitchen products from Bambu. Contemporary in design, responsibly made, and affordably priced. They’re great kitchen products for everyday use, and impressive for a green dinner party!

8. Donate Money for an Environmental Cause

Here’s another green gift — donate money to a good cause. There are a lot of agencies working for environmental issues that will be more than happy to put your dollars to work. Two agencies you could consider are the Nature Conservancy and Trees for the Future. You can donate in someone’s name to help preserve the rain forest or plant a tree. Now, it’s not a gift in hand, so to speak. But, it’s still an eco friendly gift and you can decide the dollar amount you want to give.

Or readers, what’s your favorite environmental charity?

9. Reusable Gift Wrap

Don’t forget to be eco friendly when it comes to wrapping the gift. Here’s a gift that is truly respectable to regift– Lyziwraps reusable gift wrap. We found this gift wrap to be festive for the holidays but reusable for any occasion. They come in four different sizes and range from $6.00 to $10.00. Let the wrapping become part of the gift.

When giving eco friendly gifts think about the big picture, too, of giving practical, usable gifts. Things people are sure to use and not stick up on a shelf. It prevents waste. Giving eco friendly gifts supports your green ideas, but also, continues environmental stewardship by the gifts being used.

Do you have other ideas about green gifts that you’d like to give or receive?

Leave us a comment and tell us!

The Brammo Enertia Electric Motorcycle

“The Menace is loose again, the Hell’s Angels, the hundred-carat headline, running fast and loud on the early morning freeway, low in the saddle, nobody smiles, jamming crazy through traffic and ninety miles an hour down the center stripe, missing by inches. . . like Genghis Khan on an iron horse, no quarter asked and none given; show the squares some class, give em a whiff of those kicks they’ll never know. . . Ah, these righteous dudes, they love to screw it on. . . tense for the action, long hair in the wind, beards and ban­danas flapping, earrings, and stripped-down Harleys flashing chrome as traffic on 101 moves over, nervous, to let the formation pass like a burst of dirty thunder. . .”

-From Hells Angels, by Hunter S. Thompson.

I was young, and like a lot of guys my age, the idea of the open road, freedom, scaring the citizens on a bike with loud pipes and leather appealed to me.  And I’d be a liar if I said there wasn’t a part of me that it still does appeal to some days.

I sometimes look at the old photos of my 1953 Harley chopper and I miss it.  I forget all about getting pulled over by the cops all the time, and having to park around the corner to pick up my girl because her dad was a marine with Rottweiler’s and a distaste for biker trash.

It was fun, and exciting, and there was something amusing about soccer moms who had seen too many Roger Corman movies locking their car doors at a stop light when you pulled up.  It was practical transportation only if you were good with a wrench and where you had to be didn’t depend on you getting there without being covered in grease.   I wouldn’t trade those days for anything, and I still love motorcycles but I’ve calmed down a bit in my old age.

Motorcycle technology has come a long way since the day my old Harley rolled off the line in the 50s. Modern bikes of all makes no longer leak oil, and with modern fuel injection systems and electronic ignition, emissions are down and fuel economy is way up.  Even the big Harley Davidsons use less fuel than most cars, and are a lot more fun… even if you aren’t trying to “show the squares some class.”

In other countries, as usual, there have been diesel motorcycles for years.  A small diesel bike that would run off of veggie oil seemed to me to be the ultimate eco friendly transportation.

I’ve wanted one of the Royal Enfield diesels for years now, but they just aren’t common in this country.   Then I found out about the new Brammo Enertia Power Bike.

Front_3Q_Green 1000x667Let’s be clear. This isn’t the sort of bike that Brando would ride into town in “The Wild One.”   Dennis Hopper wouldn’t have ridden a chopped Enertia in “Easy Rider,” and Peter Fonda wouldn’t have packed Nancy Sinatra on one in the “Wild Angels.”  It doesn’t have the romantic appeal of a Harley, or the sporty feel of a Ducati.  This is a small commuter motorcycle that isn’t going to make anyone lock their doors at a stop light.  Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you.

With the Enertia, the folks at Brammo have put on the market a plug in full time electric motorcycle.  The bike gets up to 42 miles on a charge, and has a top speed of around 60 miles an hour.  You aren’t gonna cruise Route 66 on one, but if you are looking for a bike to run to the store or to commute to work on what could be better?

It takes no gas, and doesn’t leak oil all over you.  If you are lucky enough to have an eco-minded boss, you can plug it in to charge at work for the trip home.  In my case, I live less the 10 miles from down town and I could get to most places I want to go every day and make the return trip with electrons to spare.  If it were in my garage there would be a solar panel charging it bringing my fuel cost down to zero.

The aluminum framed two-wheeler weighs in at 334 lbs and will carry a combined rider/cargo weight of 600 lbs.  The battery is a Lithium Iron that requires 4 hours for a full recharge, and is good for about 2,000 recharges.

In addition to being green on the road, Brammo makes these motorcycles mostly out of recycled products. In fact, the entire bike is recyclable when the time comes.

The Enertia is presently sold through Best Buy stores. Even worse, as of today, only two Best Buy locations (both in Oregon where the bike is built) stock it.  The rest of us can order the bike online for $11,995, plus $500 shipping.

With tax incentives, fuel savings, and a lower carbon footprint it’s a pretty attractive deal.  I don’t know many people who would buy a motorcycle without being able to see it in person first, so let’s hope that these become available soon nationwide.

Click here for information on the Brammo Enertia Motorcycle.

10 Cool iPhone Apps for Environmentalists

Just about everyone I know has one of these iPhone things.  I played around my nephews the other day and was amazed at all the colorful, useless apps that he had on the thing.  I think there were a dozen “flashlight” apps alone.

But the iPhone really does have some legitimate apps out there for those of us that are a bit green conscious.  These represent to me the most practical of the bunch.  Ones that you wont just play with a few times and put aside, but apps that you might find yourself using day after day in your quest to live a more green life.

1) The Green Meter An iPhone app that “computes your vehicle’s power and fuel usage characteristics and evaluates your driving to increase efficiency, reduce fuel consumption and cost, and lower your environmental impact.” Pretty impressive. The app uses the iPhone’s accelerometer data combined with user supplied info about the vehicle to provide a real time picture of your fuel consumption and environmental emissions. $5.99

2) iRecycle is an application from our friends at Earth911.com. Simple but essential, you input what you are looking to recycle, and it not only tells you were to go, it also shows a map and gives you directions based on your current location. Free

3) GoodGuide is an app that: “Provides iPhone users access to the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental and social performance of everyday products and companies. That’s free, easy, mobile access to data on over 70,000 products — from shampoo to household cleaners.” Free

4) Bike Your Drive is a bike app that records GPS info, calories burned, gas saved and CO2 offset. This REI created iPhone application plots out a map of the distance you cover on a bike and even geo-tags photos you take on the way, so you can see where they were taken. It also allows you to share the details of your bike trip. Free

5) GreenSpot Available in  a free (ad supported) version, or a pay version for $1.99 GreenSpot delivers green oriented news from major news feeds directly to your iPhone. $1.99

6) Craigsphone Although not strictly an environmental app, buying used or even checking the free section of Craigslist is a great way to help the environment. You save space in the landfill, and you save the environmental impact associated with polluting. If you are doing home repair or remodeling check out the materials section. Often builders will have leftover supplies or fixtures removed from another house at a fraction of the cost of new. Craigsphone gives you the local craigslist and can dial the numbers for you. Free

7) Find Green provides a local, GPS based guide to green business in your immediate area. In addition, it lets the user add, rate and review their own favorite green business. It’s like a Yelp! for green businesses, and best of all, it’s free.

8 ) Uni-Bus provides bus routes, schedules and arrival times for many major cities using the google transit feed.  The app maps out bus stops and allows you to save favorite bus stops.  $1.99

9) Traffic gives real time traffic reports based on your location. By avoiding traffic jams and slowdowns, you can save gas and improve air quality.  The app allows you to view data in list format, or on a map.  $1.99

10) Green card No, this doesn’t have anything to do with immigration.  I have tons of business cards laying around my house that are now useless because an address, a phone number, or an email address changed.  Greencard allows you to send your business card electronically to all you contacts.  And if you change an email or phone number, all of those people holding your electronic card get an update within minutes.  Nothing goes to the landfill, no extra trees are harmed.  And it’s free.

Do you have a favorite iPhone app about the environment that we didn’t cover? Leave a comment and tell us about it! Be sure to use the exact name, so that people can find it on iTunes.

How to clean a solar panel

PE - how to clean a solar panel - naturalturn FL resized
Photo courtesy of naturalturn at Flickr.com

Over time, solar panels will get covered with dust, grime, and even bird droppings. These obstructions block sunlight and will reduce power production. The solution is simple though – clean your solar panel when it gets dirty!

Each solar panel is different, so make sure to review the instructions from the manufacturer before cleaning the panel. Some panels are sensitive to certain chemicals, and others may have fragile components that you should be aware of. So, read those manuals first.

If your panel is a standard design, then cleaning a solar panel is just like cleaning a window. The “live” electrical components are isolated behind glass or plastic shielding, and all that needs to be cleaned is the outside. Before washing the glass, make sure that there aren’t any cracks or loose wiring. If there are, it might be a good idea to call a technician instead!

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • *A bucket full of water
  • *A soft sponge or towel
  • *A drying cloth that wont scratch the panels
  • *Cleaning soap (optional)
  • Green cleaning supplies do a great job on glass and solar panels. There are several varieties of streak free glass cleaner available commercially. You can also cook up non-toxic cleaning solution at home. Here’s a simple recipe for eco-friendly glass cleaner:

    Make a great all-purpose window cleaner by combining 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.

    Use the soapy water to wash the surface of the solar panels, and brush away any visible dust or streaks. Gentle scrubbing may be necessary. After wiping away dirt, it’s a good idea to dry the panels off. Dissolved grime has a tendency to move around rather than wash away. Wiping up the wet areas does a thorough job of removing all of the silt and it also prevents water spots.

    That’s it! Compare the output of your solar panels before and after cleaning. When output starts to fall again, it’s probably time for another quick rinse.

    PE - how to clean a solar panel - bkusler FL resized
    Photo courtesy of bkusler at Flickr.com

    For solar panels in hard to reach areas (ie; on the roof of an isolated lighthouse or attached to a satellite in space) automatic cleaning systems are a popular option. Most of these automatic systems work like windshield wipers, brushing dust away from the solar panels with a spray hose and mechanical arm. Automatic cleaning devices add a little bit of cost to a solar panel system, but they may be worthwhile in dirty or hazardous settings.

    Just a side note – roof mounted solar panels are sometimes laid out to be self cleaning. There’s less need to clean a solar panel if it isn’t dirty!

    Interested in building your own solar panels to save money? Check this out.