Thursday, December 30, 2010

How To Have A Green(er) New Years Celebration

New Years Eve marks one of the biggest celebrations.  Countries all across the map celebrate all the happenings of the past year and look forward to another year of possibilities.

Utilizing a special kind of backwards logic, many people embrace this gift of new beginnings by raging until the early hours of the morning, often not remembering large chunks of the previous night. I am not one to challenge "tradition," but one of the casualties of this rockstar lifestyle choice is the waste that is generated from this careless attitude.

While having fun this NYE, here are some things that you can do to minimize your ecological footprint:

If you are serving beer, buy a keg instead of multiple cases.

Kegs are reusable as well as more economical.  The only clean up that you are left with are the dishes if you are using reusable cups. 

Buying multiple cases of beer is wasteful because you doubling your waste by having to get rid of cans as well as cardboard cases. As much as I would like to believe that you would recycle all of the waste, the last thing on many drunk people's minds is the proper disposal of garbage, which brings me to my next point...

Provide more recycling bins than trash bins.

Lets face it. People suck at recycling, and they only get worse when they are drunk. I have had parties where I asked people to recycle, and instead they decided that the best place to toss their empties were in a lamp shade.

By providing multiple blue recycling bins and not too many trash cans, people won't have much of a choice to recycle.  The only trick is that you have to make sure that the cups you are handing out are recyclable, but that isn't too difficult.

86 the confetti.

I get it. Confetti is a large part of the NYE tradition. According to the zero amount of research that I did, the tradition of tossing confetti at midnight stems from when ticker-tape parades were cool.

This was exciting stuff in the early 1900s. You know what else was exciting? Dressing like this.

I think it is time we start making some traditions of our own that don't involve shredding countless pounds of paper just to be thrown in the air. Every year they say they are able to clean this up, but I'm calling shenanigans because there is no way they get all of it.

Rent a limo with other people or use public transportation.

The vast majority of people go to hotels or other venues to ring in the new year. Aside from the obvious point to not drink and drive, it benefits the environment when you share rides or use public transportation.

Less cars on the road means less carbon being emitted into the atmosphere.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Solar Projects Tripped Up By Environmental Litigation

One of the things that hampers many alternative energy installations comes from environmental lawsuits.  These lawsuits often don't completely stop an alternative energy plant from being installed, but it does end up extending the amount of time it takes to start and complete construction.

This is a problem because many of these projects require large amounts of external funding, and it is hard to go to investors and say you need a large sack of money when you have cumbersome lawsuits on the horizon.

Recently, a Native American group has decided to hold up a number of solar energy projects in California with claims that the full impact of these projects have not been taken into consideration.  Legally, this is a strong argument because NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) has been constructed so that any large projects that may impact the environment must complete an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement).

If these solar projects haven't properly filled out an EIS, then the Native American group has a legally valid point.  However, I still believe that this is a petty claim even if some extraneous environmental impacts have been overlooked.  This is because when you ultimately compare the environmental impact that these solar installations make compared to a coal-fired plant, solar is infinitely cleaner.

I have a high respect for NEPA and everything that it stands to protect, but when it comes to these installations, I feel that filing these lawsuits is just cripiling America's opportunity to move into a cleaner future.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

High-Speed Rail: China Begins To Leave The US Behind

It is no secret that I think that high-speed rail is a necessary next step for the United States, because I have written on the subject multiple times in the past:

I have touched on this subject repeatedly in the past because I know it would improve our transportation system as well as reduce carbon emissions across the board.  There hasn't been too much talk about a system being placed in America lately, but China is forging ahead with their own system.
Crisp Green reports:
Developed through a partnership of the China North Vehicle Yongji Electric Motor Corporation and the Southwest Jiaotong University, the new energy fuel cell light-rail train combines hydrogen fuel cells and an advanced permanent-magnet synchronous motor/frequency converter to achieve top speeds approaching 220 miles an hour.
This is important for China for two reasons. One reason is that because China has quickly become the most pollution intensive country, providing a cleaner rapid transit system will help alleviate traffic as well as the carbon emissions that are smothering the country.

The other reason is that by developing their own high-speed rail technology, China is placing themselves in a position to sell their technology to other countries that are interested in installing their own high-speed rail systems.  This is something that the US could still pursue, but by putting off the development of our own high-speed rail system, the US is essentially handicapping themselves in the transportation marketplace.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Things That Should Be Solar Powered: Billboards

Alright, the holiday is over and it is time for me to get back at it. By "back at it" I mean "give you opinions you may not have asked for," but you are here reading what I write, so there you go.

Driving around any major city you will be inundated with ads from billboards along the major roadways.  Most of these draw electricity at some level.  At the low end you have billboards that have lights to illuminate the ads at night, and at the high end you have electronic billboards which flash animations at you in an attempt to make you crash into the read-end of that Mack Truck in front of you.

Regardless of the level of energy that these billboards require, I do believe that the owners of these billboard stands could make a profit by installing their own power sources in the form of solar panels which they could use to reduce their carbon footprint as well as the amount of money they spend on electricity.

In many cases, these billboard stand owners could actually make money by selling the energy that they aren't using back into the grid. I know that selling the electricity back into the grid is something that I have said time and time again, but it really is a great opportunity for business owners to earn money in an area they haven't enjoyed income from before.

So there you have it. Install some solar panels and thank me later, advertising industry.

Also, for all of those that emailed me yesterday complaining about the lack of a Sunday Comic:
  1. How did you get my email address?
  2. Here you go:

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holiday Break

I'm on break until after December 25.  Enjoy the holiday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Combining Infrastructures: Cellular Networks & Wind Turbines

I was driving today streaming Pandora Radio through my iPhone and I began to think about how this would not have been possible over 5 years ago due to the lack of high-speed data networks spread across the area.

For the most part high-speed networks are plentiful around big cities such as Chicago, but they are still lacking in the remote parts of the nation. A good example of this is when I was driving from Chicago to Ohio during Thanksgiving.

For the most part, Pandora was able to stream throughout Northern Indiana along 1-65, but it started to get choppy when I passed Indianapolis all the way along 1-70 to Columbus.  The choppiness could be attributed to the patchy high-speed coverage along the highway, and this is where I believe a logical solution presents itself.

Because data networks tend to suffer in remote areas and wind turbines tend to produce the most energy in the same remote areas, I think this is a great opportunity for cellular companies to partner with wind turbine manufacturers and construct hybrid wind turbine-cellular towers.

There are a few examples of these being built, but nothing on a large scale.  More and more people are relying on these high-speed data networks for their everyday lives, which means that these networks will need to be bulked up all across the nation.  This will increase their demand for energy, and I believe that this is a great opportunity for them to invest in clean energy.

By constructing wind turbines that double as cell towers they are essentially increasing their bottom line by not having to buy energy from utilities and instead being able to sell the excess energy back to consumers.

Like any of these energy solutions, this would require a larger upfront investment, but considering that America's information network is an ongoing project, I don't see a reason why they wouldn't attack both of these long-term projects at the same time.

When most business decisions come down to resource allocation, building one tower instead of two saves money and makes sense.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solar Sticks Its Energy "Where The Sun Don't Shine"

One of the big complaints about solar energy is that no matter how efficient the technology becomes, there still will not be any energy being produced at night or on a particularly cloudy day.

This concern has caused a lot of research to take place on the energy storage front, and today a big step has been taken towards storing solar energy to help combat against cloudy days and the night.  The US Federal Government has signed off on another large solar power plant which will make use of liquified salt to store energy:
A 100-foot receiver filled with liquid salt will be attached to the top of the tower. The heliostats will focus the sun on the receiver, heating the salt to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The liquefied salt flows through a steam-generating system to drive the turbine and is returned to the receiver to be heated again.
This liquified salt holds its heat for a long period of time making it a good candidate for moving the turbines during cloudy moments and during the night.

It is a good first step towards addressing the non-consistent nature of alternative energy, however, the salt solution does little to help store energy that is generated from wind energy, so I think the big goal is to find a storage solution that can be applied to to both wind and solar.

Monday, December 20, 2010

For The Nerds: Video Game Console Energy Consumption

Recently, a tradition has been developing with my family over the holidays.  I come home from the city, my brother comes back from Scotland, and we all get together and enjoy one another's company... for about 5 minutes.

After those blissful 5 minutes pass, my brother and I quickly retreat to the basement where I spend a good chunk of my time on this laptop job searching (hire me!) and he spends the better part of the day playing Call of Duty on Xbox 360.

Words cannot describe how annoyed my dad gets with us never moving from the basement, but what can you do?

This is relevant because today I read an article over on the NY Times Green Blog about power consumption levels and how the Xbox 360 is the most power hungry gaming system out there:
The Wii drew an average of 13.7 watts vs. 84.8 watts for the PlayStation and 87.9 for the Xbox. (The figures do not count the TV screens that the boxes must be connected to.)
It isn't surprising that the Wii is the least power hungry because Nintendo hasn't upgraded their graphics in at least the last 10 years.  It also isn't surprising that Xbox is the least efficient because the graphics are much more advanced than the Wii and the system itself hasn't truly been upgraded since its release in 2005.

Alone, these numbers aren't shattering records for energy consumption in the home, but when you consider the energy it takes to power a large television along with an internet router, along with the fact that there are over 41 million Xbox 360s sold around the world, it quickly becomes clear that these are true energy costs.

Do I think that people should stop playing video games? No.

Do I think people shouldn't play them as much? Probably... but good luck convincing my brother to do that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday Comics

This is a cartoon that I have been holding onto for a while.  It doesn't really have anything to do with any single post I have made on this blog, but I do think it is a clever statement that ties multiple issues together.

I'd typically go into a long explanation about how all the energy issues I talk about ultimately tie back into air quality, but it is Sunday, and Sunday's aren't meant for thinking.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Closed On Saturdays

Just a reminder of what I said on Monday, Sustainabili-City will no longer be posting entries on Saturdays.

I know this is probably devastating to many of you, so I have come up with a list of things that you can do in lieu of reading what I have to say:

  • Go outside.
  • Visit friends.
  • Read a book.
  • Look at Facebook for the 30th time today.
  • Is it 5 PM?
    • Yes? Then have a drink.
    • No? Are any sports on?
      • Yes? Have a drink regardless of time.
      • No? Have a drink because no sports is depressing.

I know none of these are remotely as thrilling as basking in the greatness of this blog, but tomorrow will be here before you know it.  See you then.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Energy Prices Predicted To Remain Relatively Stable

I'd like to wrap the week of with an article The New York Times published about the Department of Energy's new report on the future of energy prices up until 2035:
The information released on Thursday was based on what the government calls a reference case, or estimate; its report in March will also include a low case and a high case. Among the major changes from last year, it projected that the price of a kilowatt-hour of electricity in 2035 will be 9.2 cents; last year it estimated that would be 10.3 cents. The price in 2009 was 9.8 cents.
Lower electricity prices are important because as they decline, the economic argument for building nuclear reactors, wind machines or solar cells gets weaker, as does the economic argument for more energy-efficient appliances.
I do suggest that you go over an read the entire article, because there is a lot of good information outside of this small section I stole.  While my first reaction to this article was to throw up on my keyboard, there are a lot of things that this article does not address.

Though the NY Times is not-so-subtly hinting that alternative energy companies are screwed, this simply is not the case.  While future prices of energy don't look that threatening, this doesn't mean that there won't be a market for alternative energy and energy efficiency.

Many other countries outside of the United States (yes, the US is still in fact part of the rest of world) are still pursuing alternative energy at an aggressive rate.  China is a great example of this as they have become the #1 target for alternative energy investment.  Call me crazy, but I believe America would do well to try and compete within the international marketplace.

Also, lets face it, these predictions don't mean crap.  Yes they are formulated by highly educated people who would probably beat me at Scrabble, but that doesn't mean that they have a crystal ball that they can see the future in.

Mustaches! I see mustaches in my crystal ball!
Here is are two facts that are undeniable:
  1. Natural resources such as oil, coal, and natural gas are finite
  2. Even in more efficient manners, burning these resources produce large amounts of carbon emissions
I know that economic forces pretty much dictate anything and everything that occurs, but it does seem relatively backwards that we are still investing as much money and time into these industries that are clearly going to fail at some point.  Yes, it is near impossible to estimate the exact amount of these resources left, but this should scare the shit out of investors, not place them at ease.

Ultimately, I hope that America still provides friendly economic policies for these emerging alternative energy and energy efficiency companies, because in the long run they will be what keeps the US competitive in the world marketplace.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Sustainable Holiday: Gift Giving

The holiday season is officially here, which means that most everyone will be buying one another gifts to be hastily unwrapped and enjoyed.

The gifts are great.

The togetherness is great.

The wasted paper? Not so much.

One solution to all this waste is by wrapping your presents in reusable bags.  One of my friends posted a link to BAGGU, a company that sells reusable bags that can be used in any sort of situation. Clearly there are other places you can buy these bags, and many outlet stores already distribute reusable bags, such as Urban Outfitters.

You can then decorate these bags with ribbons and tissue paper.  By using tissue paper, it seems like you are defeating the purpose of abandoning wrapping paper, but this is still better because you are giving someone bags that they can use again and again.

Granted, not everything can be fit into a bag, such as the Tesla Roadster I have been asking for every year, but this is still a good step in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Visual Rationality: The Grid Is Inefficient

Now that the dust has settled after my post-graduation, endzone celebration of being done with school, it is back to business...

...By business I mean giving unrequited opinions on all things concerning the environment and energy related issues.

I recently opened up a Tumblr account for two reasons:
  1. I had heard that Tumblr recently raised at least $30 million on a valuation of $135 million and was curious.
  2. Wanted an area where I could post high quality pictures without the bloated features of Picasa or Flicrkr.
Needless to say, I now understand why Tumblr is getting so much attention from venture capitalists.  It is easy to set up, even easier to cruise through, and it is just fun.

After a while, I came across the following picture that accurately represents exactly how outdated some parts of America's electrical distribution system is.

This looks like a web that a drunk spider would weave.  I know it is not an easy task to redesign the power grid, but in a world where people call wind turbines ugly, I believe it wouldn't be hard to sell a more efficient power grid under the guise of aesthetic values.

A better grid wouldn't look like someone sneezed spagetti onto the skyline which would probably increase property value in some areas, and it would allow for more efficient transfer of cleaner energy.

Just something to think about.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pardon The Interruption

No new post today because... I AM OFFICIALLY DONE WITH SCHOOL!!!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Alternative Energy: The Super Friends

So there I was. One last final exam in between me and being done with school forever...and what do I do?

Naturally I spend a solid half hour relating the major forms of alternative energy to the Super Friends.

Procrastination at its finest!
Because alternative energy sources are going to have to work together in order to battle the Legion of Doom coal, I figured that this analogy would actually be relevant, so I'm going to go ahead and run with it.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells: Batman
  • Batman is clearly the strongest candidate for comparison to hydrogen fuel cells. Batman has no real powers and is heavily reliant on advanced technology to get the job done. The same can be said for Hydrogen Fuel Cells, which are heavily reliant on technological breakthroughs to truly make an impact.
Energy Efficiency: Robin
  • Robin suffers from being the side-kick to Batman, who is infinitely cooler than Robin could ever be. However, Batman would not have been as successful as he was without Robin. The same can be said for energy efficiency. All of these alternative energy sources are promising, but unless we are more efficient, power supplies will always be an issue.
Solar Energy: Superman
  • Obviously Superman is going to be related to solar energy. Without the sun, both Superman as well as solar energy are useless.
Wind: Wonder Woman
  • This is a weak comparison, but Wonder Woman had that invisible car, and wind is invisible, so there you go. Also, women are so full of hot air, yappin' on about this and I right fellas?!!!...(*looks around for high-five*)
Tidal: Aquaman
  • Tidal is one of the least talked about sources of alternative energy. Probably because it is so Aquaman. Seriously, what a terrible character.
In any event, this is probably my nerdiest blog post to date, but I've made peace with that because comic book heroes are awesome.  Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go attempt to actually study.

Blog News

Just wanted to keep everyone updated on how Sustainabilicity will be running from here on out.

Though I love keeping this blog updated daily, it has come to my attention that most people don't bother visiting on Saturdays (only about 45 people).  Due to this, I will no longer be posting anything on Saturdays unless something epically newsworthy occurs.

I know what you are saying.  "But Colin, you just like sleeping in on Saturdays."

To this I reply, "How would you know, stalker."

Now back to your regular scheduled programming.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Comics

It is Sunday, and if you are living in the Midwest of the United States, then congrats on surviving through this winter storm up until this point:

  • The Minnesotta Vikings had their stadium's roof collapse under all the snow
  • Chicago is certainly living up to its nickname with 40+ MPH winds cruising through the region
  • Indiana is still boring

Sidebar for my UK Readers:  You need to suck it up and not shut down your entire transportation system after a few inches of snow falls.

So this Sunday Comics is for you, UK.  Ya'll crazy.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Inefficiencies of Netflix

I came across this comic yesterday, and even though it isn’t Sunday, I’m going to go ahead and post it and talk about something other than alternative energy today.

This is actually was one of my fundamental complaints about Netflix because you typically only rent a few DVDs a month, and it takes anywhere between 1-3 days for you to get a new DVD after returning the ones that you have checked out.

Aside from the obvious inefficiencies of this system, Netflix has a huge membership base with approximately 194 million visitors to their website in 2008 (Thanks, Wikipedia!). It is safe to assume that a large portion of these visitors had DVDs delivered to their home multiple times throughout the year. This is an incredibly high use of shipping resources, and though I do admit that shipping the DVDs is not too much work, but it does add up to a lot of resources being used to get the DVD to your home.

The use of shipping resources has only grown since 2008 and with the expansion of Netflix to Canada; it is not unforeseeable that Netflix will continue to grow in international markets, burning even more resources.

These growing resource consumption numbers can be mitigated if more people started to switch their DVD delivery plans to the online streaming plan, which is cheaper and faster than waiting for a DVD to arrive in your mailbox. While the selection isn’t as vast as the DVD selection, that will certainly change, especially if consumers make it clear to Netflix that they are more interested in the streaming service.

Granted, with the streaming service you are essentially shifting the resource allocation from fuel for shipping to electricity for running the servers, but I think you know me well enough to know how I would address the electricity issue.

I’ll give you a hint:  It rhymes with “fallbernative crynergy.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Solar In Northern States Will Make Sense...Someday

Clearly I am on a solar kick, probably because it is just so damn sexy.

That and I recently talked some friends' ears off about the power grid and why we need more efficient means of distribution for alternative energy to work, so I'm just going to save that discussion (rant) for another day.

Today I was sitting around noticing how miserably cold it is outside and how happy I am that my radiant heaters are now fixed so they don't sound like espresso machines anymore.  Then a really broken line of thought broke out of my head:

Cold made me think of radiant heat
  Radiant heat made me think of microwaves;
    Microwaves made me think of food;
      Food made me think of a sandwich;
        Eating a sandwich made me sleepy;
          Being sleepy made me angry at the microwave for making me hungry;
            Thinking of the microwave somehow made me think of solar power.

Weird? Yes... But here we are.

At first I thought how it is too bad, by living in Chicago, solar power wouldn't make too much sense due to the lower levels of sun exposure during the fall and winter months.

However, after thinking more about it, solar would make a ton of sense for Chicago during the summer.  The single biggest line item on most people's electric bill is their air conditioner running during the brutally hot Chicago summer months.

It would be wonderful if solar got cheap enough where you could have a small panel to provide the electricity for an air conditioner without the traditional fear of a huge electric bill at the end of the month.

We aren't there yet, but peaking around the corner*, I do believe it is realistic that within the next 5 to 10 years solar power will have a low enough price tag that it could actually make sense to have some panels that you are really only using for a few months out of the year.

*..."peaking around the corner" made me think of this owl.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Solar Versus Wind: Solar Is Sexier

A recent poll taken inside my own head shows that sex sells; so guess what, baby? Solar is sexy.

A Google Image Search for "Sexy Solar" turned up some weird stuff.  Rawr.
Yes, the cost of wind energy is more competitive with energy produced from incinerating coal (if you like to ignore the social and environmental externalities that aren't taken into consideration), but solar is so much cooler.

This is because solar can be implemented on a more personal level.  They can be installed on a smaller scale allowing users to avoid many of the the NIMBY issues that plague neighborhoods debating whether they should invest in a wind turbine or not.  Homeowners can install solar panels on their roof to generate their own electricity and heat their water, and now drivers have been able to have a solar panel on the roof of their car to power their airconditioning (as seen in the 2010 Toyota Prius).

My rendition of the 2013 Toyota Prius - Wind Edition... Consumers will hate it.
These are things that people haven't been able to do on a small scale with wind turbines and solar keeps advancing on enjoying more applications.  One example of these advancements can be seen with Konarka, a company pursuing "solar plastic" as Grist reports:
Konarka of Lowell, Mass., says its "Power Plastic" has set a new record, achieving a 8.3 percent efficiency rate in converting sunlight into electricity. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory certified the efficiency rating....
...Now, 8.3 percent is less than half the efficiency of a conventional crystalline silicon photovoltaic panel like those found on residential rooftops. But it's a notable achievement for a solar cell that uses organic molecules to generate electricity. The great promise of organic molecules is that they can be produced at far less cost than standard silicon solar panels, but the low efficiency of organic photovoltaics has limited their use.
This is exciting because as solar panels become lighter and more customizable, they can be placed in even more places.  One example that Grist gives is that these plastic panels can be used as roofs for bus stop waiting stations to power lights and wireless routers.

I think this is great because as I mentioned yesterday, the faster that cities start placing more of their infrastructure "off-the-grid" with alternative energy sources, the more money tax payers will save.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How Cities Should Be Designed: Argonne National Laboratory

Before I start, I would first like to apologize for the lack of posts over the past few days.  I realize that about 100 people visit this blog on a daily basis, which is way more than I would have thought a blog of mine would get, so I should have probably tried harder to keep the posts coming.

On the other hand, I want to finish strong in school and my final papers seemed like a better use of my time, so a thousand apologies for not taking the time out of my schedule to write overly-sarcastic material and posting comics on Sunday - deal with it.

In any event, I came across this article posted about Argonne National Laboratory winning a federal award for energy savings a few days ago and I am just now going to get around to it:
Instead of bringing in outside consultants, Argonne reduced costs by using its own team of engineers and maintenance mechanics to identify projects to save energy. When the projects save money, Argonne reinvests those funds in additional projects. In 2009, Argonne ran 14 in-house projects that together saved nine megawatt-hours of power—enough to power 6,000 households.
Whoa whoa whoa. Wait a minute. You are telling me that people are saving money and THEN reinvesting the savings to pursue further savings and increased revenues? Get out of here.
The lab also installed outdoor light poles powered by small wind turbines and solar panels; the lights run entirely off the grid, and their battery packs can store enough energy to power the light for three days without sun or wind.
This is the really awesome part of what Argonne has done, and I hope to see more of this in the future in cities and towns.  Every day we drive, walk, and bike past hundreds of street lights which are all extracting energy from the power grid, but we never think twice about the money that this costs the taxpayer.

Imagine if Chicago replaced their street lighting with wind powered lighting systems.  The long-term savings would be huge; there are just no two ways about it.

Obviously there would be an upfront cost to installing these new systems, but you can say that about any new project geared towards infrastructure.  If we let initial investment costs deter us from pursuing new projects, there would never be any progress.

And for those that are really upset about not having a Sunday Comic, here is an awesome picture of two veterinarians dressed in panda costumes so that they can care for a baby panda:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Out Of The "Office"

I'm working on final papers through tomorrow, so I don't have time to feed everyone with little nuggets of information mixed with sarcasm.

I'll have a comic up for Sunday's comic series, but don't expect anything thoughtfully written until Monday.  Have a good weekend!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Michael Soulé's Work With Conservation Biology

This morning I had an interview/meeting in downtown Chicago and now I am looking to get a good chunk of work done on final papers as my last semester of school comes to a close, so unfortunately the blog productivity is going to take a bit of a hit today.

To make up for my mental absence today, I would like to point all of you in the direction of an interview that my friend and "colleague*" posted two days ago with Michael Soulé and his work with conservation biology.

It is easy for me to get distracted by alternative energy, energy efficiency, and all that when at the end of the day the thing that will benefit the most from these things is the environment.

So take a look.

Read a book.

Knowledge is power.


Thursday, December 2, 2010

It's Always Solar In Philadelphia

I wrote this article a few days ago, but I refused to post it until after the Bears played the Eagles because I didn't want to jinx Chicago.  As it would turn out, the Bears didn't need my help and made Michael Vick look stupid all Sunday:

Go Bears!
Even though the Eagles couldn't figure out how to stay ahead of the Bears in Sunday's game, Philadelphia has found a way to jump way ahead of the rest of the NFL (as well as many other institutions) by investing heavily in alternative energy:
The Eagles have contracted with Orlando FL-based SolarBlue, a renewable energy and energy conservation company, to install approximately 80 20-foot spiral-shaped wind turbines on the top rim of the stadium, affix 2,500 solar panels on the stadium’s façade, build a 7.6 megawatt onsite dual-fuel cogeneration plant and implement sophisticated monitoring and switching technology to operate the system.
This is an amazing idea for stadiums, and I will not be surprised if we see many other franchises adopting these energy platforms at their own stadiums.

7.6 MW is more than enough to power the entire stadium allowing the Eagles to be free from playing hefty energy costs down the line.  Also, there will be an excess of energy left over that the stadium won't be able to use allowing Philadelphia to sell this energy back into the grid and actually make a profit (they are estimating ~4 MW).

The idea of selling excess energy back into the grid is nothing new.  The reason that Philadelphia's situation is so unique is that during the offseason the Philadelphia Eagles will be using barely any of this energy.  This will allow them to sell almost all of the 7.6 MW back into the grid enabling them to make money all year round off their stadium.

With all the wind that shoots around Soldier Field in Chicago, this seems like an obvious investment that will happen sooner than later.

Go Bears!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

China Demonstrates The "Sputnik" Moment

Recently, Steven Chu gave a speech about how alternative energy is this generation's "Sputnik" moment. In short, he is referring to the fact that America is getting left behind in the race to be more advanced in our energy generation, and we can either sit back and watch or get up and fight back.

Echoing this point, Ernst & Young just released a report confirming that Asia is widening the gap in their use of alternative energies compared to the rest of the world.  For those keeping score, the rest of the world does in fact include the United States - a point that sometimes people tend to forget.

Because I don't want to do my own financial analysis of the alternative energy markets, I'm going to do what I do best and just copy and reference the work that others have done.  Take it from here Ernst & Young:
...Ernst & Young publishes a quarterly "country attractiveness" index for investors that ranks nations' renewable energy policies, renewable energy markets, and other factors...
...China's record spending on its wind industry this quarter represented nearly half of all funds invested in new wind projects around the world," the report states. "Figures released for the second quarter of 2010 showed that China invested around $10 billion in wind out of a global total of $20.5 billion...
 As I have stated before, money is the driving force behind any of these changes. Clearly China sees this, and other countries are indeed following their lead. It is only a matter of time before the policies in the US begin to open up more allowing for my investment and development, but it is quickly becoming clear that these things need to happen sooner than later for the US to stay competitive.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Traffic Hurt By "Wind Gazers"

For those of you that actually read my blog over the holiday weekend, you will know that I drove through Indiana on Friday as well as Sunday. Anyone that has driven through Indiana knows that the entire state is relatively boring in terms of scenery.

For as far as the eye can see you are overwhelmed by cornfields and nothingness (with the exception of Indianapolis which lasts for all of 10 minutes). However, the wind farms on 1-65 have broken up this sprawling boringness of the flat land with towering beacons of clean energy.

It really is impressive to see hundreds of these wind turbines moving at once, especially when you consider that each one of these things costs upwards of $2 million. Another cool aspect of this particular wind farm is its incredibly close proximity to the highway that the video below demonstrates.

However, there may be one small draw back for these wind farms in Indiana. I didn’t notice this on Friday because the roads were so empty, but on Sunday when everyone was heading back home from their holiday weekend the traffic was noticeably slower once we entered the wind farm.

Up until these farms traffic was chugging along at 70-75 mph, but once we entered the wind turbine fields, traffic dropped to around 60 mph. This doesn’t sound like a huge difference, but it was noticeably slower.

This is probably because many people are just not used to sprawling fields of towering pinwheels, and traffic probably wasn’t helped by people like me that were taking pictures and videos with their cell phones. Once we passed through the farms traffic jumped back up to its regular pace, but it was very interesting to witness these changes in speeds.

I'm just as guilty of taking pictures while driving.
I imagine (and hope) that as time goes by and these wind turbine fields become more of a standard sight people won’t be as distracted and almost mystified by these turbines – I just wonder how long that will take.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Sustainable Architecture: Taiwan's Green Building

The other week I talked about an energy efficient building down in Miami and how it is defying the view that ecologically friendly building practices are not as pleasing to look at as other ‘traditional’ forms of architecture.

I believe that post speaks for itself and supports my point, but today I wanted to highlight a building that is going to be in constructed in Taiwan because it is truly groundbreaking in design.

This building is set to be constructed in 2012 and will have a minimal ecological footprint as it is designed to collect and purify its own water from rainfall and will be heated through geothermal power.  It will also generate electricity through solar and wind powers.

Most notably, the design looks like something out of a video game (probably because it was inspired by them according to Romanian architect Stefan Dorin). As you can see from the above picture, the building looks similar to a tree and its leaf-like observation pods will move up and down the ‘trunk’ of the structure.

This is a great example of how green architecture can be really cool while also stimulating the local economy through increased tourism.

I’m fully aware of how our markets aren’t exactly friendly towards new construction projects in America at the moment, but it would be great to see some cities eventually follow Taiwan’s lead and invest more in these cleaner and edgier buildings.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Comics

I know I have been poaching off of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal a lot lately, but come on - how great are these comics?

Also, I want to thank a reader I'm going to call "Meg" for the following photoshopped picture which is a play on last week's awesome post of a seal photo-bombing a photo.

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Google Is The Best

Yesterday I drove through Indiana which has fields of wind turbines visible from I-65, which truly is a cool site.  It is hard to understand why people think that these turbines are so ugly, especially after you drive through Gary, Indiana which is infinitely less aesthetically pleasing.

This caused me to think of probably the understatement of the century:  Google is great.

Clearly, on the internet front, Google reigns king.  However, it looks like Google is planning on being a large contributor to our nation's energy system in the future.

Recently, Google has decided to be a major investor in a 350 mile cable on the east coast of the United States which will support up to 6,000 MW of off-shore wind energy.

The price tag of the entire project will be $5 billion and will help power around 1.9 million homes with clean energy.  Google has already invested tens of millions of dollars into this project and will continue to do so as the project is developed.

Google clearly recognizes that there is a lot of money to be made in this arena which informs their large initial investment, so one can hope that other large companies follow in their footsteps.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post-Thanksgiving: A Solar Solution To The Aftermath

Thanksgiving is great.

Food, family, more food...what isn't too love?  I'll tell you what. The cleaning (and the feeling like you can never eat again).

However, I do believe I have found a project that can help cut down on some of the garbage you may have accrued from Thanksgiving Festivities in a sustainable fashion.

Many people spend the night before Thanksgiving drinking with their family and friends. Then, as tradition dictates, they sleep in until the football games start and then spend the better part of the holiday eating and drinking again.

This generally unhealthy process leads to a lot of "soda" cans stacking up.  However, I found a website that teaches you how to make a solar heating panel from these spent "soda" cans.  The full tutorial can be found in the following link:

Inside this glass case are 180 cans painted black and stacked on top of one another.  According to the creator, he says that he as achieved temperatures between 80 and 120 degrees.

If this is interesting to you, I really do suggest that you visit the above link and get the details on how to make this.  It is incredibly simple and a good way to handle the buildup of cans that can occur over the holidays (even though if you have gone through 180 cans in one holiday, you probably need to seek help).

If this isn't interesting to you, just do us all a favor and make sure you recycle as much of your trash as possible - it isn't that hard.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving to everyone that has been reading the blog, sending in emails, and leaving "charming" messages on my updates on Facebook.

It isn't a secret that overconsumption is one of my pet peeves (another pet peeve of mine is the term, 'pet peeve').  However, we are going to forget about that because today is all about getting fat.

Get at it!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Problem With Recyclable Coffee Cups

I doubt that this is the first article ever written about coffee cups and it certainly won’t be the last, but I’m going to go ahead and write about it anyways because the only opinion that matters is mine*!!!!!
I typically start every weekday morning with some form of coffee from one of the coffee shops near me. Whether it is Starbucks, Dunkin, or a local shop (my favorite kind), they all serve coffee in a disposable cup.

Most of the time these coffee cups are made from recycled material. I imagine this makes people feel good when they are buying a drink. However, the whole ‘recycled material’ thing only really helps if people are turning around and recycling their cups after they are finished with their drinks.

I know many of these coffee shops have a recycling service within their shops, but this doesn’t help when most people are getting their drinks to go. Most of the time, people will just throw their cups in the trash because they either forget about recycling their own cups or, more often, they just don’t have an option.

I say they don’t have an option because many places just opt to not have a recycling bin. This doesn’t make sense to me, especially on public transportation such as trains.

Trains provide transportation for a countless (maybe not countless, but I’m lazy) amount of morning commuters, most of which are drinking their morning coffee out of these cups. Many of these people will finish their coffee on the train and then not have a choice but to throw their cup in the trash.

It is inevitable that recycling will become more widespread, but it is annoying that we have to wait for some accountant to deem it cost-effective. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing that individual people can do.

If you are a regular coffee drinker, then I suggest you get a mug that you can just rinse out after you are done with your coffee. Most places are more than willing to fill up a personal mug instead of giving you a disposable cup, and let’s face it, they are much cooler.

I love this damn cup.
That is my rant about paper cups. I expect that a widespread adoption of personal coffee mugs will take place tomorrow, dramatically shifting the paper-products market and mitigating deforestation.

You're welcome, World.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Solar Panels: The Eavesdrop Edition

This morning I had the fortune of being able to eavesdrop on two people talking in my local coffee shop about adding solar panels to their home (Yes. I get it. I’m a stalker).

The one person made a good point about it being a mistake to purchase the panels for their home right now. This is because Chicago already suffers from limited sun exposure during the winter months...though I don’t understand why because I was under the impression that the sun rotated around Earth, but I may have my facts wrong.

Solar technology is constantly improving its ability to capture energy from sunlight, even at low levels (Germany, a remarkably cloudy country, is leading the charge on many new solar technology advancements). However, the alternative energy of choice for places that have many months of low sun exposure is probably going to be wind.

These things aside, it was interesting to hear the other person’s reaction after hearing that solar may be the wrong way to go. He went on to say that if he couldn’t invest in solar energy then there wasn’t much that he could do right now (and then he started talking about the Chicago Bear’s playoff chances*). This fell right in line with a quote that I just read in Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce:
The environment is one more thing to worry about. It looms in the future at a time when we are beset with many other concerns. It is like being a single parent when the dog has run away, the children are fighting, the dinner is burning, the babysitter hasn’t shown up, we are late for the PTA meeting and have spilled gravy on the carpet—then someone doing a survey knocks at the door and wants to know how we feel about the proposed incinerator at the edge of town. Although the incinerator may affect our lives in the future, we are afflicted with pressing problems today.
This is a remarkably simple way of stating how environmental issues are treated in every day situations. Here is a person that had a brief moment to attempt and address an environmental concern through solar power, and once something got in his way he abandoned the idea and began to think about something else that was on his plate.

I guess the point of all this is that environmental issues require planning in advance because nature is inherently slow in its processes. This goes against our instincts to read and react in real-time meaning that we are going to have to train ourselves to place environmental issues further up our to-do lists when considering our options.


Monday, November 22, 2010

The "Energy Internet": The Next Big Boom

Underlying all my ranting about alternative energy and energy efficiency is the 'Smart Grid.'

Luckily, this was Dayaway Career's Energy IQ term for today, which saves me the trouble of writing up my own definition and instead just stealing theirs!
Smart Grid - is a form of electricity network utilizing digital technology. A smart grid delivers electricity from suppliers to consumers using two-way digital communications to control appliances at consumers' homes; this saves energy, reduces costs and increases reliability and transparency. It overlays the ordinary electrical grid with an information and net metering system, that includes smart meters.
I would feel bad for blatantly taking their material, but they got their definition from Wikipedia.  For all we know the Wikipedia definition was written by a 5 year old, and my moral compass tells me that stealing from children is permissible.

Social ambiguities aside, the development of a national smart grid is not only necessary, it is just a matter of time.  In order for any of the other developments in the sustainable marketplace to really make an impact, they are going to have to work together:
  • Electric cars communicating with wind turbine's to determine when it is cheapest to charge their batteries
  • Excess energy produced from a home's solar panels being sold back into the energy market
  • Appliances turning on and off in accordance to aggregated energy usage
  • Avoiding and preventing power outages that cause million's of dollars being lost
These are just a few examples of how a smart grid will benefit America (emphasis on the few).  Make no mistake, a national smart grid will cost a mind-numbingly huge number.  However, if America is going to even think about staying competitive with other countries (all of which are also pursuing the digital smart grid), then we will need to invest.

Like other huge infrastructure projects, such as the internet or the highway system before it, a smart grid will definitely offset the initial cost of development with untold benefits down the road.  This is why you are seeing around $350 billion spent on these projects annually.

So 5 years from now when you are charging your electric car, managing your appliances from some website, and making money from your solar panels, remember that Colin Brownell guy wasn't just making things up back in 2010.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday Comics

Sorry for not posting anything yesterday.  Blogger was being a turd and refused to actually upload what I wrote, so I'll just save that post for this week at some point.

To make it up to my thousands of readers (numbers may be skewed to support the author's ego), here is an extra-large serving of Sunday Comics!

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

Also, in relation to my post this past Tuesday about leaf-blowers, I found this following comic posted the following day.  Does this mean that the writer is an avid reader of this blog? Probably not, but I sure am going to act like it!

Savage Chickens

And finally, for no good reason whatsoever, here is the greatest photobomb ever captured.  Nature is awesome.

Hope the remainder of your weekend goes well! It is a short week (for most of us) this coming week!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Weekly Review - November 19, 2010

Biodiesel In Singapore

  • The What
    • The world’s largest biodiesel production plant has been opened in Singapore this week. This plant is rumored to be able to produce 800,000 metric tons a day.
  • Why You Care
    • I went into depth on this topic yesterday, but the most important point to take away from this (aside from the fact that Asia is beating our ass) is that a plant of this size signals that investors are beginning to recognize the potential of other clean fuel sources and we can expect more of these plants to pop up around the world.
    • Petroleum products aren’t going away any time soon, but these are vital steps towards a cleaner energy community.

Fort Collins Going Green

  • The What
    • Fort Collins in Colorado is going for a carbon footprint of zero.
  • Why You Care
    • I know what you are thinking. “An establishment in Colorado being environmentally conscious? Stop lying!”
    • If a military base can reduce its carbon footprint to zero, the certainly residential homes can also do it. Also, as I have said before, once the military begins to invest in technologies, the technology is developed even further and the price becomes lower for consumers.

Job Searching

  • The What
    • I’m looking for a job.
  • Why You Care
    • Plenty of other things happened this week (most of which you can find on Sustainabili-City’s Twitter page), but none of it was earth shattering as most of it was politics related, and I told myself that I would take a break from that while I am looking for a job.
    • If anyone else is going through the same excruciating process of job searching in the alternative energy or efficiency markets, I recommend taking a look at Dayaway Careers. They have a great listing of green companies and a list of jobs that is constantly updated – just don’t take a job that I am applying for, because I will find you*.

*Just kidding.**

**Not really.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nipping Away At Petroleum: Biodiesel

I'm feeling especially lazy today, especially as I am wrapping up my last semester of school and really turning up the heat on my job search (Editor's Note: A little known fact is that Colin Brownell will work for peanuts*).

However, in keeping with the daily nature of this blog, I wanted to touch briefly on biodiesel and the important role it is going to be playing in the near future.  As I have said before, there is no silver bullet in terms of one alternative energy acting as the sole replacement of petroleum.  However, there will be a collaborative effort with multiple sources (wind, solar, tidal, etc.) that will put a lot of pressure on the petroleum industry.

I will let the New York Times tell you why biodiesel is poised to be even more influential with the opening of the world's largest biodiesel plant being opened in Singapore just yesterday.  Copy & Paste time!
...What is being billed as the largest biodiesel plant in the world started production this week in Singapore. Operated by Neste Oil, the plant has the capacity to produce 800,000 metric tons of fuel per year. The fuel is made from vegetable oils or a combination of oils and waste animal fat sourced from the food industry. [Marketwatch]...
Aw, I don't feel bad.  NY Times stole this from Marketwatch.  Wait, there is more?
...The value of the green building market grew 50 percent from 2008 to 2010, to $71 billion, a new market report finds. The analysis, by the McGraw Hill Construction information service, predicts that the green construction market will grow to $135 billion by 2015. [Sustainable Business]
I think I am getting a hang of this blogging thing.  It seems like everyone just copies one another, and if the NY Times is just going to copy Sustainable Business and get paid for it, I am certainly not above copying them when time is short and I am looking for a job at the same time.

Obviously 800,000 metric tons of fuel is not going to be replacing our oil consumption any time soon.  I don't have the figures in front of me, but I think an American 7 year old burns through 800,000 metric tons of oil every 2 hours...that doesn't sound right.

The point is that while this one plant is not going to be replacing the petroleum industry, people are recognizing the potential of sources like this plant and are willing to invest money to begin the process of slowly replacing the use of oil with a combination of clean technologies and resources.

*Did that editor say peanuts? He meant money...definitely money.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Large Of An Environmental Footprint Do Renewables Have?

This morning I was sitting on the train and got into a conversation with a completely random person about alternative energy which I know is shocking to hear because it is a rare occasion for me to want to talk about this stuff...wait.

This person was asking me that if we are sacrificing so much land and resources to construct a wind turbine or solar energy field, are we really making a difference or if we are just trading one evil for another.

I can understand where this person was coming from, but I believe that this is a less complicated issue than they were making it out to be.  This is mainly because even though we are dedicating land and certain natural resources to the construction of an alternative energy infrastructure, these are mainly a one time "cost."  When it comes to coal or other non-renewable energy sources, these are ongoing "costs" to the environment through a constant emission of pollution.

The best analogy I can come up with is when you are taking off a bandaid:
  • Investing resources towards clean energy is kind of like ripping off a bandaid quickly.  It may 'hurt' in the short run, but in the long run you will feel a lot better.
  • Continuing with our current system of energy production is kind of like keeping a dirty bandaid on forever and you develop sepsis.  Yay!!!
In all seriousness, clean energy is clearly the way to go, and when you compare clean energy's costs vs. benefits against coal's costs vs. benefits, it is a no-brainer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things That Should Be Solar Powered: Leaf Blowers

I decided to start a new segment today called 'Things That Should Be Solar Powered.' The reasoning behind this is that often I will see something that (at least in my mind) should be powered by solar power.

Today's segment focuses on the leaf blower.

"I'm going to enjoy nature with my gasoline powered leaf-blower"
As you would expect from Autumn in Chicago, all the trees have been losing their leaves for the past few weeks which would inform the heightened level of lawn-care going on in all the surrounding suburbs. It has gotten to the point that every morning I am awakened by the sound of leaf blowers that sound like chain-saws, which frankly is the exact sound I don't want to be woken up abruptly by in my bed.

I have a few common complaints about leaf blowers:

  • What happened to good ol' fashioned child labor where neighborhood kids were paid one dollar to pickup leaves?
  • Is a rake really that troublesome to use? No wonder people are so out of shape.
  • A leaf blower makes little sense in an area that has been dubbed 'The Windy City.'
  • Must they all reek of gasoline? These engines can't be as efficient as they could be.

The last bullet point about gasoline use is probably my most serious point (right after child labor). Using gas to essentially power a big fan seems like a huge waste to me - especially when you can smell these damn things from 40 yards away.

I don't see any reason why a company can't develop a leaf-blower that you can initially charge by plugging into a wall and then mitigate power loss by having a solar cell attached to the blower. Most of these leaf-blowers already have a backpack for the engine or a fuel tank - so just 86 the tank and replace it with a solar cell and there you go.

I'm looking at you, engineers.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Rare Opportunity For Sustainability In New Orleans

It is easy to see that I am passionate about all things clean energy related.  However, it isn't as easy to see how these things are applied in real life because for the most part the application of clean energy and sustainable practices is scattered randomly across the nation on a small scale.

In New Orleans it is a different story.  Yes, Hurricane Katrina was a terrible event that is still indescribable on so many levels...but if there was a silver lining to this tragedy, it is the opportunity to rebuild the city in a cleaner, more sustainable fashion that can serve as an example for the rest of the nation.

Recently I was down in New Orleans observing the impact that the oil industry has had on the area (particularly with the Deepwater Horizon spill).  Aside from seeing a spider eat an entire frog right before my eyes*, I also visited the Lower Ninth Ward which was the hardest hit area in New Orleans during Katrina.

The interesting part about the Lower Ninth is that the opportunity to rebuild a whole section of a city is rare at best because it is typically impossible to justify the costs of tearing down an entire neighborhood in order to rebuild.  Tragically, the majority of the Ninth was destroyed, but moving forward it can now be rebuilt in a more sustainable fashion.

This is exactly what some organizations such as Global Green USA is doing right now.  Global Green is building new homes in the Lower Ninth which are LEED Platinum certified which is the gold (platinum) standard of energy efficient building.

I had the pleasure of walking through one of these homes and they really are quite impressive.  Solar panels on the roof, incredibly efficient appliances, energy monitoring software, responsible water usage in the bathrooms, and much more - these homes are amazing.

Also, there is no feeling that you are sacrificing comfort which I feel a lot of people assume when they hear about sustainable living.  The rooms are spacious and the materials are nice.  If you were to walk into this house without knowing that it was LEED certified, I would be willing to bet that most people wouldn't recognize a difference between these homes and other newly built homes in other areas.

It is wonderful to see that there are people out there that recognize the opportunity for sustainability in New Orleans and I hope that this becomes more and more common in other cities across the nation as time goes on.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Comics

This past Wednesday I talked about sustainable food markets and why it is important to be more aware of where our food is coming from.

So today's Sunday Comic shows how nature isn't made to support our overconsumption.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Reader Email: The Clean Coal Compromise

Yesterday in Sustainabili-City's Weekly Review I ended up talking briefly about John Boehner who is a strong proponent for clean coal and nuclear power. Understandably, this is troublesome for people who would like to see truly clean alternative energies begin to make a bigger impact in our electricity production.

However, as one reader points out, this doesn't necessarily mean that alternatives are doomed to a diminished rate of development for the next few years.
Mike says:
In my opinion, Boehner's push for clean coal and nuclear could be good in that it sets up a trade: $$ for that stuff so long as $$ go to renewables. Given the really, really long development time for clean coal and nuclear, the trade may work as renewable will bring more immediate results and people by nature are impatient.
This is a good point, and one of the numerous possibilities of collaboration from both sides of the "energy line" that can occur.

By dividing the funding that goes towards new energy plants, you can please both sides of the political spectrum by supporting the 'coal states' as well as mitigating the carbon footprint of these states with completely clean industries such as wind and solar.

Clearly, this an extremely oversimplified statement of how these policies are developed, funded, and implemented - but as we have seen in the past, strong-arming one-sided policies through our system just doesn't work because our checks and balances do their job wonderfully by allowing the minority side to slam on the breaks and halt all productivity.

Like I have said before and will continue to say in the future, these changes are going to require cooperation and compromises from all sides of the government.

On a sillier note, here is one of my more favorite viral videos about clean coal:

Friday, November 12, 2010

Weekly Review - November 12, 2010

Cost Competitiveness
  • The What
    • Biofuels are poised to become cost competitive with traditional forms of fuel as soon as 2012.
  • Why You Care
    • With so much attention on the potential limitations facing electric cars, it is interesting to see that biofuel may be transforming our auto industry instead. I am more partial to electric cars because they stand to help speed up the adoption of smart grid technologies as well as wind energy, but at least this is progress.
  • The What
    • There is a lot of focus on the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, especially with his focus on a ‘cleaner coal’ and nuclear power.
Time Change
  • The What
    • Majority of people ‘fell back’ this past week, leading it to be (temporarily) lighter out in the morning in the Northern Hemisphere and darker earlier in the afternoon.
  • Why You Care
    • If you are like anyone I have talked to in the past week, you are extremely annoyed about it getting dark around 5, but look at it this way – It is going to be so much worse when it starts to get dark at 4! (Yayyyyy)
Sustainabili-City Posts

Here are the posts since the last Weekly Review that you may have missed:

It was a pretty slow week in terms of new developments in the alternative energy industry and sustainable markets, mainly because the news has been dominated by the political landscape.

It is easy to get sucked into the political storm that is happening right now and allow you to adopt a defeatist attitude about the future of alternative energies, transmission, and sustainable movements such as high-speed rail – however I would caution against that.

Even though the political climate has been causing a lot of poor speculation about near-term developments of alt. energy & co., these things still stand to create a lot of jobs and make a lot of money. As soon as politicians stop setting up smokescreens to distract people from the issues, these markets will open up again and receive the attention that they deserve – it is only a matter of time (sooner than later, please).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Does Sustainability Mean Sacrificing Aesthetic Value?

One of the shallower complaints about alternative energy, most notably wind energy, is that the structures are not aesthetically pleasing.  These complaints hit a fever pitch during the debates about placing a wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod in the Nantucket Sound when old rich people said that it would ruin the scenery.

The fact is that these wind turbines would have been barely visible from the shoreline, amplified by the fact that most of the people fighting Cape Wind are over 60 with worsening eyesight, really rubs me the wrong way...but that is neither here nor there.

Today I stumbled across some pictures of some gorgeous sustainable architecture that can be found in Miami.  I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but these are great examples of the unlimited possibilities of green architecture and why we need to keep on challenging ourselves to be more efficient without thinking that we need to sacrifice style.

Estimated completion in 2011.

View from inside.

For more information and pictures, go to GreenMuze or Oppenheim.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Importance Of Sustainable Food Markets

Sitting back last night, I realized that I have spent a ton of time talking about alternative energy and energy efficiency technologies - it is almost like I want to get a job within those industries (hire me, please).

To switch it up today, I'm going to talk about the importance of moving towards a more sustainable food market because many people just aren't aware of the dangerous situation we are moving towards with our current food consumption rate.

Population continues to rise as the years pass, and I guess we have to feed these people as come into this world.  ("People need food? Thanks, Professor!")  Combining the increasing population with our trend of overconsumption and America's quest to make sure that at least 40% of our citizens are obese, obtaining food is already becoming a problem.

One of these problems is already visible in the seafood market.  The Bluefin Tuna has already been overfished nearly to extinction, made only worse by the fact that the market is now pricing a single fish at more than $150,000 which doesn't exactly say, "Don't fish me."

Yay! Charts!
This isn't to say that the Bluefin Tuna is the only fish experiencing problems.  As you can see from the graph above, pretty much everything is under attack.  Do people hate fish and have decided that they must all be destroyed? No.

Instead, it is just that people are not aware of how much work goes into their food getting to their dinner table, and this disconnect leads to increased consumption which then turns into rapidly increasing fishing rates.

A not so simple solution to this problem is to educate people so that they can make smarter purchases when buying their seafood dinner.  I, for one, absolutely love sushi (to the point where I'm fairly certain mercury poisoning is in my future), and lately to make sure that I'm not contributing to the overfishing of fish that are at risk I have been using a guide that CP sent to me the other week, which can be found in the link below:

Seafood Watch Pocket Guide

This guide is wonderful because it allows you to select the region that you are going to be buying fish in, and it outlines the safest choices, good alternatives, and fish that you should always avoid.  Combining this guide with a more responsible level of seafood consumption, we can start to form some habits that will benefit both us and the seafood industry down the road.

Oh...and the fish will probably appreciate the whole 'not going extinct' thing as well.