A PC for the Practical Environmentalist

Those Oregonians (Yes, they are from our planet. They are people who live in the state of Oregon) have done it again! The Meridian SL700 is a new PC offered by Computer Technology Link. Its creators (scary Frankenstein-type mad scientists, from Oregon, no less!) claim that it uses significantly less energy than your typical desktop PC. The packaging is even eco-friendly and the motherboard is lead-free. When you’ve typed your computer to death, you can use a coupon to recycle your computer, free! If anyone has actually used and can give us a review on this computer, please send us a comment! See more info about this computer at TreeHugger.

New California Solar Energy Plan

California State energy regulators are pushing forward an impressive solar energy plan that includes generous consumer rebates for those interested in investing in solar technology. Their hope is that this initiative will stimulate more interest in solar energy and create new jobs in the alternative energy sector. Over the next decade, the goal is to install enough solar panels on private homes, businesses and public buildings to generate over 3,000 megawatts of solar energy.

Given the fact that California is one of the sunniest states in the U.S., this plan makes a lot of sense. In fact, this plan may place California back on the list of the world leaders in solar energy development, as they were back in the 70s.

These days, Germany and Japan have been getting more attention as the leading innovators and users of solar energy. Let’s hope Californians can do us proud and somewhat reverse the bad reputation the Bush administration has given the U.S. with respect to energy consumption and greenhouse gas production.
See here for more information.

Earthtoys December Emagazine

Earthtoys in Action

The Earthtoys December emagazine is now up! In this edition, you’ll find articles on green building education, Hydrogen Powered Micro Trigeneration Technology, hydrogen hybrid vehicles, and how to build a fall water garden. Additionally, there are some articles on energy conservation with strategies for how you can monitor your personal energy use to see just how much power you use (and lose!) in your home.

Earthtoys is an organization that gives a voice to those working in the alternative energy industry. They have an excellent Alternative Energy Directory featuring hundreds of earth-friendly companies throughout the world.

Smaller is Better, The Not So Big House

Sarah’s New Book

Sarah Susanka is the author of an important book on home design titled The Not So Big House (Taunton Press, 1998) which was found on the list of the top five best sellers on Amazon.com’s Home and Garden books for two years. Since then, she’s authored numerous books expanding on her philosophy that “bigger homes are not better homes.”

Her latest book, Home By Design was published in 2004 to much critical praise. I discovered her books just this year and really appreciate her pioneering work to “build better, not bigger.”

In the United States, big houses, big cars, and big food are often considered our life’s goals. However, Sarah convincingly writes that comfort and happiness, not to mention energy conservation, can be found in small, well-designed homes.

Since her debut in 1998, Sarah has gotten a lot of attention from the press, with appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Show and Charlie Rose. Articles about her work have also appeared in USA Today and the Boston Globe Magazine.

To find out more about her work, check out her website.

Saving time and energy by avoiding left turns?

Stay away from those pesky left turns if you want to drive more efficiently, according to this ZDNet blog post about UPS.

I’ve already read the tips about how keeping your tires inflated to the right pressure and unloading all the extra junk in your trunk can give you a boost in gas mileage. I guess if I really want to get obsessive, I should always plan my routes with turns to the right!

No such thing as an “Off” switch anymore!

Did you know that your cell phone charger is sucking electricity out of the wall even when you don’t have a phone plugged into it? Did you know that your television, VCR and cable box can suck up to 30 watts of power, constantly, even when you supposedly have all the stuff “turned off”?

This New York Times article about energy sucking devices says that on average, people have enough stuff like this in their house that it is constantly using around 150 watts, all the time. That’s like keeping a 150 watt light bulb turned on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (Registration required to see the article, but it is free.)

“As a country we pay $1 billion a year to power our TV’s and VCR’s while they’re turned off,” said Maria T. Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program, which sets voluntary standards for energy use, and grants its ratings to the most efficient products.

But fortunately, it looks like new standards for standby energy consumption are on the way, so that manufacturers will spend the extra 50 cents to drastically improve standby consumption.

In the meantime, can I send my electric bill to my cable company for partial reimbursement? After all, it’s THEIR cable box that is sucking away MY electricity, right?

Ethanol powered jets?

Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur behind Virgin Airways, says he is working on a way to create a new ethanol type of fuel that is made from plant waste instead of corn or sugar cane. If it actually worked, it would mean that you could recycle leftover plant waste from farming and logging and turn it into fuel.

“We are looking for alternative fuel sources. We are going to start building cellulosic ethanol plants (to make) fuel that is derived from the waste product of the plant,” he told Reuters in an interview in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates.

“It is 100 percent environmentally friendly and I believe it’s the future of fuel, and over the next 20 or 30 years I think it actually will replace the conventional fuel that you get out of the ground.”

But don’t think that Mr. Branson’s head is entirely in the clouds. He is also considering building his own traditional fuel refinery, since there is a global shortage of refinery capacity.

Wood Burning Stoves and Pollution

Higher energy costs are driving people to buy wood pellet stoves to keep warm at a lower cost. But burning wood for heat has its own problems, like increasing pollution.

What this USA Today article about wood burning stoves doesn’t mention is that the “lower cost” is really misleading. Most people would be better off over time investing in a high efficiency new furnace for their house instead of switching to wood burning stoves. It is a higher initial expense, but it pays for itself over a period of years with lower utility costs.

Economics are driving more Americans to wood, however. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted last month that Americans who heat their homes with natural gas will pay nearly 50% more this winter, while heating-oil users face a 32% rise.

The result: fat times for those who sell wood-burning appliances. Some pellet stoves, which burn nuggets of dried wood, are back-ordered 90 days, says John Crouch of the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association. Wood-stove dealer Stephen Magnotti of Pittsburgh says customers face five-week waits for a new model. And then there’s the fuel.

Energy Savers Don’t Wear Cardigans?

A New York Times article says that market forces can make an impact on energy efficiency.

There are reasons for optimism. One is that market forces can help provide solutions: higher prices, on their own, can make people cut back. Just how responsive consumers are to price changes – what economists call the elasticity of demand – has been the focus of much research. Today, economists believe that they have developed a pretty good rule of thumb for energy use. In the case of electricity, which is relatively easy to measure, they have found that when the price rises 10 percent, electricity use falls roughly 3 percent. At the gas pump, a 10 percent increase in price leads to a decline of around 2 percent in demand.

Here is my favorite part of the article:

How much more energy-efficient can we become? Amory B. Lovins, chief executive of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit energy research group in Snowmass, Colo., says that a barrel of oil today already does twice as much work as it did in 1975.

Energy efficiency makes a difference! And technology can help increase energy efficiency by substantial amounts.

Now I guess we’ll see if today’s high energy prices will result in another giant leap forward in efficiency, like the energy crisis in the 70s helped create.