Up on the housetop: home solar energy going utility-scale

houses with home solar panelsEveryone knows the utilities hate home solar power. Not everything everyone knows is necessarily true.

It’s true that power companies feel threatened by rooftop solar. They’ll cooperate with it where they must. They’ll oppose it where they can.

Duke Energy, for example, resists solar installations for its North Carolina customers. North Carolina law does not favor home solar.

In neighboring South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley signed the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act in 2014. Duke Energy promptly announced a solar rebate program.  It helps its South Carolina customers offset the high upfront costs of installing home solar.

The state of New York has likewise inspired a major utility to cooperate with distributed energy. Its experiment has nationwide implications. Continue reading

Water conservation at home: why and how

water conservation at homeInfographic provided by Damien Kenny, Water Filter Men

Americans waste a tremendous amount of water. We need to become more intentional about water conservation.

On a planet that’s mostly water, how can we have water shortages?

For one thing, we treat water to make it clean enough to drink. Then we use it for flushing toilets, washing cars, watering lawns, cooling power plants, irrigating crops, or other applications that don’t require that level of purity.

In those cases, in other words, we don’t so much waste water itself as we waste drinking water. It eventually returns to lakes and rivers, and then to water treatment plants. More than a century of industrial pollution makes treating it very expensive. Continue reading

The Benefits of Choosing Bird Friendly Coffee

Contributed by Tess Bercan

Cuppa cappuccino--bird friendly coffee

Cuppa cappuccino–bird friendly

When you indulge in your morning coffee, what comes to mind? Most likely, you enjoy the pep-up factor, warmth, and delicious aroma.

But however wonderful the sensory enjoyment of a cup of joe, the beans you choose can actually have an impact the environment as well. Continue reading

The real truth about renewable energy subsidies

Solar system, Kennedy Space Center, not Duke Energy

Utility-scale solar installation, Kennedy Space Center

Have you noticed that critics of renewable energy always complain about subsidies?

After all, if an industry can’t compete in the marketplace without feeding at the government’s trough, can it ever amount to more than a niche player?

They paint a picture of the solar and wind industry spending time and money fighting to renew their subsidies. They claim that, if the industry had any chance of success, it wouldn’t need them after all these years.

Most of these critics conveniently neglect to acknowledge the heavy subsidies the fossil fuel industries enjoy. The remaining few still fail to demonstrate that renewable energy doesn’t deserve to receive so much. Continue reading

Why recycling can’t save the environment

recycling containerNo one talked or thought about recycling on that first Earth Day in 1970.

Municipal recycling programs got off to a rocky start, but the recycling rate rose to 25% in the 1990s. In recent years it has stagnated at about 35%.

Some cities, including New York, want to stop using landfills entirely, which requires a 100% recycling rate.

That would be bad for the local economy. It might be bad for the environment! Continue reading

Colossal waste of paper? Here’s what we can do

 giant waste paper ball

Minnesota’s giant paper ball, which set a Guinness record, represents what Minnesotans discard every 30 seconds.

Do you have any idea how much paper you account for every day?

Start with what you use at home plus what you use at the office plus the mail you receive plus packaging of your purchases plus your share of government paperwork plus . . .

Well, you get the idea. If you’re an American, your share of all paper used in the US includes much more than you ever personally see.

Too much of it gets discarded after a single use. Despite recycling, waste paper accounts for a high percentage of total volume in landfills.

According to the following infographic, Americans use more than 65 billion sheets of paper every day. I have tried to verify that number and found it difficult. Most statistics are expressed by weight. An article I found posted in 2014 suggests half as many pages, but another article estimates that use of office paper doubles in about three years. Continue reading

Spring greening your home room by room

spring cleaningAh spring, when so many people’s hearts turn to thoughts of spring cleaning.

I have only met a few people who actually enjoy cleaning. It’s a dreadful chore for most of us.

The stores have prepared their shelves and announced their big sales on an overwhelming variety of specialized cleaning products that are supposed to make spring cleaning more convenient:

  • one cleaner for floors
  • another for counters
  • another for glass surfaces like windows and mirrors
  • a few more more for various other surfaces like wood, plaster, upholstery, or metal
  • one for drains
  • something else for toilets.

Whew! Isn’t one of the objects of spring cleaning to declutter? So where are you supposed to put all that stuff? So much for convenienceContinue reading

Cashing in on a home solar system

EnergySage home solarSunlight is free. Electricity from sunlight is not, but in recent years, costs have declined dramatically.

Is this a good time for you to consider installing a home solar system? It’s a great time, but the process can be complicated.

You will need solar panels. Because solar panels produce DC and your house runs on AC, you will need inverters. You can get a single inverter for the entire system, or you can get a mini inverter for each panel.

The legal and regulatory requirements depend on where you live. So do the amount of sunshine you receive and the cost of electric utility service, which directly determines how much money your home solar system will save you. Continue reading

Bioplastics: potential solution to plastic pollution

Biodegradable plastic utensils bioplastics

Knives, forks, and spoons made from a biodegradable starch-polyester material.

You know that plastic doesn’t break down into other compounds, so it basically lasts forever. Did you ever wonder why? After all, it’s made from petroleum, an organic substance.

And did you ever wonder if it’s possible to make a biodegradable plastic?

The answer to the latter question is, yes. Unfortunately, the current generation of bioplastics doesn’t solve plastic’s environmental problems.

Not yet, anyway. Scientists are working on it. Continue reading

How Much Plastic Do You Use Every Day?

bales of blue plasticContributed by Edward Woodward

A lot of people don’t realize just how much plastic they use on a daily basis.

Even if you do recycle it, it’s still better if you don’t use too much of it in the first place.

Plastic accounts for around 10 percent of the total waste we generate.

Take a moment to think about all the things you use that are made from plastic every day. Most people use things like plastic bottles, food containers, bags, beauty products, cleaning containers and household tools. Continue reading