Electricity storage has arrived

models-powerwall@2xAlternative energy has cleared a major hurdle: what good is solar energy when the sun isn’t shining, or what good is wind energy when the wind isn’t blowing? Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors has unveiled a variety of lithium-ion batteries to store electricity.

Now, the sun and the wind can charge the batteries, and the batteries can supply electricity on the darkest, calmest night. Tesla has reduced the cost of battery storage to $250 per kilowatt-hour, which no expert expected to see before 2020.

Does this advance mean that we can all go off grid and the electric utilities can go out of business? No. First, even at a lower than expected price for the batteries, they do not yet make economic sense for homeowners. Second new batteries have advantages for utilities, too. Continue reading

Nature and People Are Not Enemies: Beyond Conservation

Yosemite_Valley

Yosemite_Valley

John Muir established the ideal of a national park as a nature preserve where no humans live at the end of the 19th century. He built a cabin and a water-powered mill in Yosemite, then a state park, and considered it a temple.

He wrote, “No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.”

Eventually, he advocated emptying the park of all other occupants, which meant eviction of the Miwok Indians, who had lived there for generations.

Since Muir’s day, the reason for establishing parks has shifted from preserving scenic areas to preserving biodiversity. Proponents of these parks consider that fragile, primeval nature risks collapse because of too much human use. It’s as if people are the enemy of nature.

Fewer than 10,000 protected areas existed worldwide in 1950. That number reached about 100,000 by the end of the 20th century. The amount of land now under protection comprises an area larger than the entire continent of South America. The model no longer works. It is not sustainable. Continue reading

Long Term and Short Term Benefits of Solar Energy

Contributed by Tim Smith

home solar energy
Via Modernize.com

When used properly, solar energy provides tremendous benefits to both residential and commercial environments. Many of these benefits are immediate. Some of the benefits do not become apparent until later on. These short and long-term benefits are what make solar energy a choice for those interested in long-term sustainable energy use. Continue reading

How Urbanization Affects the Environment

Infographic contributed by Kenneth Gray, Gottcha Wildlife

Until very recently, nearly all of the world’s population lived in rural areas and lived from farming or hunting, but the percentage who live in urban areas has recently increased dramatically. According to the Population Reference Bureau http://www.prb.org/Publications/Lesson-Plans/HumanPopulation/Urbanization.asp

  • about 3% of the world’s population lived in urban areas in 1800.
  • about 14% lived in urban areas in 1900, and 12 cities had a million inhabitants or more.
  • about 30% lived in urban areas in 1950, and 83 cities had a million inhabitants or more.
  • about 50% lived in urban areas in 2008. More than 400 cities had a million inhabitants or more, and 19 had over ten million.
  • by 2050, it is projected that the urban population will reach 70%, with most of the growth coming in currently less developed countries.

The article explains the social implications of rapidly growing population in the developing world. Cities also have a different environment than rural areas in terms of temperature, for example, or what happens to rainwater. The following infographic looks at the environmental impact of urbanization. Continue reading

11 Reasons Why We Still Need Earth Day

Earth Day 1970 speaker

US Senator Edmund Muskie, author of the 1970 Clean Air Act, addressing an estimated 40,000-60,000 people as keynote speaker for Earth Day in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia on April 22, 1970.

In 1969 Senator Gaylord Nelson conceived the idea of holding a national teach-in on environmental issues and picked the date of April 22, 1970.

The event, named Earth Day by one of the college students who helped coordinate events, succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination.

Earth Day has been observed on April 22 every year since then. Why was Earth Day necessary in 1970, and why is it still necessary now?

1. The economy depends wasteful spending

Have you ever heard economists and politicians complain that consumers don’t spend enough? Probably every time there is general discussion about economic troubles. It’s the number one complaint and has been since the Eisenhower administration.

The American economy suddenly faced a new problem in the prosperity that followed the Second World War. Always before, humans had to face problems of scarcity. Continue reading

Five New Environmentally-Friendly Technologies for Your Home

Environmentally-friendly technology

Internet of Things

Contributed by Maria Ramos

Sustainability through green, environmentally-friendly products is easier to achieve than ever before because of innovative new products for your home.

Expansive home security and home entertainment systems can be connected with a variety of other smart products such as speakers, light bulbs, or more complicated climate control systems.

Many of these are cheaper than traditional alternatives, and all are part of the “Internet of Things” (or IoT) aimed at increasing efficiency and reducing overall environmental impact. Here are five smart devices that will help you manage your home! Continue reading

Apps to Improve Home Energy Efficiency

Infographic by Stuart Amm, Half Price Shutters

I confess to dismay at how quickly computers, smart phones, and similar gadgets become obsolete and contribute to the growing mountain of electronic waste. I have never gotten in the cell phone habit, but I received this infographic that shows how smart phones can help you achieve more energy efficiency while they’re still new, spiffy, and usable.

Here are seven that are either free or very cheap. In one way or another, they all help to measure and control energy usage, which gives you more energy efficiency and therefore lower electricity bills. Do you want to know how much electricity your home uses and get ideas for what you can easily cut out? There’s an app for that. Several.

One of them even can even control the various energy vampires that are sucking money out of your pocket and giving you nothing of value in return. Continue reading

Composting and kitchen compost bin: a review article

my compost bucket pail container

My compost bucket

Last week I published a guest post about composting mostly yard waste. The author did mention food scraps, and since gardening season is nearly upon us, I would like to follow up on collecting food scraps for the compost pile.

Surely no one wants to take scraps there every day. So collect compostable material in a compost bin in the kitchen until you have accumulated enough to take out and the weather is pleasant enough.

Besides kitchen compost buckets, this post also reviews options for compost bins, in case you do not already have an established system.

I have had the green compost bin pictured here in my kitchen for about a year now. I am not an especially dedicated housekeeper. I should empty the bucket every week. I should rinse it out every time I empty it. I should change the filter every three months. I don’t. I have changed the filter once.

And my compost bucket does not stink. The last bucket full I emptied started out with orange peels. It smelled citrusy until the day I took it outside, but only when I opened the lid. Continue reading

Green waste: what’s usable for compost and what’s not

Contributed by Derek Lotts.

Green waste is grass, leaves, branches of ornamental plants and other similar garden waste generated in gardens. It is also what’s left over from your cooking, such as peelings, or uneaten food left on plates.

In other words, it’s organic waste. It’s compostable, or at least, most of it is. (In forming a compost pile, however, organic waste is divided into “green” and “brown.” These terms will be defined later.)

If you sort and separate your rubbish, you would see that organic waste makes up more than one-third of total waste in your household. The organic waste is all biodegradable waste, for example the remains of fruits and vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, tea bags, plant residues from the garden and so on. Continue reading

Why American Cars Aren’t Running On American Oil

Oil storage tanksAmerican oil companies, using modern hydraulic fracturing techniques, have reversed a trend that started in the 1970s.

American oil production has stopped declining and has begun to rise. In 2013, it reached its highest level since 1989.

If we produce more, then we should import less, right? Not yet, anyway. Continue reading