Monday, February 28, 2011

Transphorm: Google's Investment Shows The Direction Their Bets Are Aimed

Google is making more strides in the realm of alternative energy and energy efficiency with their most recent investment into Transphorm, a company that deals in cutting edge power-converting modules.

There are plenty of bold mission statements floating around there today, but Transphorm's claim that their technology could be compared to "taking the entire West Coast off the grid" strikes me as one of the strongest claims to date.

Here is the nerdy breakdown of what this technology that I assume only 3% of you will understand/care about:
Currently, conversion modules are based on silicon, which struggles to efficiently convert power at high voltages. An estimated ten percent of energy currently generated in the U.S. is lost as electricity is converted back and forth from alternating to direct current. Mishra claims that gallium nitride can do the same conversion without wasting power.
This reduction in power-loss during transmission means that there will be less burden placed on utilities, meaning that there would be a reduction in GHGs across the board. Coupling this with the continued pursuit of more efficient products being introduced to consumers and the increased development of cleaner energy sources, it becomes easier to see big reductions in emissions in the future.

Either way, Google has been doing a good job steering America towards more sustainable solutions with their investment in the Bloom Box, the Wind Power backbone, and now Transphorm.

You can bet that I'll be paying attention to what they do next.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday Comics

I didn't have too much luck finding a good comic for today's segment, but I did find this comic that did a good job poking fun at the very searching process I was going through.

Ok, I'll be honest, I found this after 3 minutes of searching and then I stopped because this made me laugh. Enjoy the rest of you weekend!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Smart Design: Water Faucet Innovation

After a successful first meeting at my new job, I feel that I can finally concentrate long enough to write an article of substance, so here we go!

I was perusing through the other day and I came across a pretty ingenious design of a water faucet which I wouldn't mind investing in the near future.

This faucet is designed to distribute only 1 liter of water per use because, according to the designer, people will use up to 6 liters of water when only one liter is necessary. As you can see from the picture below, this design looks cool as well as serves an important function.

It may not come as a surprise to any of you that I am pretty aware of my environmental impact and I try to be as good as possible when it comes to consuming resources, but when it comes to water, I think we are all pretty guilty of overconsumption.

I know it is bad, but I really do enjoy taking long hot showers, and I have been known to leave the faucet running while brushing my teeth/doing dishes (even though I have been getting better).

With a design like this, I believe that many of those bad habits would be addressed out of functioning constraints and not conscious decisions. I know that leaving the faucet running is bad, but for whatever reason I am constantly forgetting to turn off the faucet.

Having a faucet that still works easily but keeps you using excessive amounts of water could be very useful for a person like me, and I suspect it would be well suited for the vast population of America/ROW.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Celebration Time!

I'm sorry to say that today I will not be posting anything of substance because I just got a job with the City of Evanston's Office of Sustainability and I'm still in celebration mode.

Not going to go into too much detail because:
  • For the most part I don't know the 500+ people that read this page.
  • You probably don't care
So instead of writing a lengthy article patting myself on the back, I'll just leave you with this animated picture of Kirby doing a victory dance.

Cheers until Friday!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Holy Renewable Energy Project, Batman: Norway and Jordan's Deal

I will be the first to admit that this blog focuses largely on the inner workings of America's alternative energy landscape, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that I live smack in the middle of the United States. However, this focus should not be mistaken for me being blind to the developments outside of America's scope.

Instead, it is more a nod that there is SO MUCH happening around the world in the realm of environmental energy that it would be impossible to cover it all in the three-post per week nature of this blog. Sure I could cover more if I didn't spend a ton of time researching my Sunday Comic segments, but lets face it, comics are awesome and I'm not going to cut a segment that creates 60% of this blogs traffic.

Putting all of that aside, there is an awesome development in the works between Norway and Jordan involving the Sahara Desert, water/food scarcity, and alternative energy: reports:
The chosen test site is a 200,000 square meter plot in Aqaba, a coastal town in the far south of Jordan, close to the shore of the Red Sea. The agreement also secured an additional 2 million square meters for later expansion. The Sahara Forest Project combines Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Seawater Greenhouses to provide a huge amount of renewable energy and sustainable agricultural solutions, essentially turning one of the world’s most inhospitable environments into a flourishing oasis.

Seawater Greenhouses use solar power to convert salt water into fresh water, which is then used to grow fresh vegetables and algae (to absorb CO2). CSP provides the energy to power the whole operation. CSP uses thousands of mirrors to direct sunlight upon a water boiler, heating it to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiler produces steam, which moves a turbine to create energy.
If this project is completed, this will be a huge win for the alternative energy movement that can act as an example for the rest of the world. The following image is a conceptual representation of how this project could eventually look.

To read more about the agreement between Norway and Jordan, click here.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday Comics

Same method applies to acquiring cleaner air to breathe. Pollution solved!

Now go enjoy your Sunday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Short Comment Friday: Bike Path Edition

Welcome to Short Comment Friday!!! This is a new segment spawned purely out of laziness, because lets face it, I'm on vacation in Florida and the 80°F weather has destroyed any ounce of productivity I may have had before I went to the beach.

While I have been down here on Sanibel Island, I have fallen in love with bike riding all over again. This island has bike paths all over the island that allow you travel quicker than you would be able to in a car.

Long story short, I wish all areas were like this.

Now I'm off to have a staring contest with this guy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

High-speed Rail: Florida Vacation Edition

Greetings from Sanibel Island! Right now it is 66°F and sunny, a nice change from the Chicago weather that I have been weathering (Editors Note: Word Play!) for the past few months.

Do you ever sit and watch television while traveling and enjoy how different the programming is when compared to your home's channels?
  • Why do the cheesy car dealership commercials seem even cheesier here?
  • Why do the Anchormen/women on the local news seem weird?
  • Where the hell is ESPN?
These are the questions I ask myself when I sleep in and wait until it is time to go to the beach. However, today I had to ask myself an even more serious question about the news...

Why the hell did Florida torpedo the high-speed rail that was planned between Tampa and Orlando?

The governor of Florida stated:
He also said if the project failed, the state would have to return the money to the federal government. Scott said he informed U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood of his decision earlier Wednesday.
I don't know enough about the finer workings of project funding, but here is the thing though: It wouldn't fail.

Orlando is essentially the hottest tourism spots in the nation, and the high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa is just a piece of a larger rail system. High-speed rail WILL be implemented in other states which will lead to revenue streams that Florida will lag behind and ultimately have to play catchup.

In a state which is hurting for new sources of revenue due to the housing collapse and the generally undiversified economy, you would think that attracting more tourism and new markets would be high on the list of things to do.

And here is my final point, which is also more of a finishing blow. If federal funding is such a bad thing and the governor expects private industry to take the initiative on these projects, then where do you think Florida would be without the Federal-Aid Highway Act and I-75?

There is no way that private industry would have constructed any highway system, and this state would be completely different without the artery that is I-75.

I'm getting kind of preachy, but here are the points to take away from all this:
  • High-speed rail needs to be the future of America's transportation infrastructure.
  • This won't happen without federal assistance.
  • Florida's rejection won't stop other states from pursuing these systems.
  • This will lead to Florida falling further behind other states.
I'm off to lay on the beach!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sustainability: Bamboo Cases For Your iPhone Made By Grove

Today's blogpost is a little self-indulgent, but the topic at hand is so clearly awesome that I'm sure most of you won't really mind.

Many of you already have gotten a case for your phone for one of the following reasons:
  • Protect your phone from accidental drops (Angry Birds won't protect itself)
  • Protect your phone from not-so-accidental throws after a dropped call (Thanks, AT&T!)
  • Aesthetic value (These cases can sadly be yours for >$200)
  • Disguise your phone to prevent theft (This case may accidentally land your phone in the fridge.)
Historically I have never liked cases because they have always either looked ugly, been too expensive, or made the phone feel clunky. Additionally, I have never liked the idea of purchasing a case that I will most likely not have a use for in 3 years when I get a new phone... at least until now.

I have just received a new case for my phone that is both awesome looking AND sustainable for ~$70!

Unlike most cases which are made from some form of plastic that is typically unrecyclable, this case is made out of bamboo, one of the most versatile and replenishable natural resources available. Bamboo is a member of the grass family, which informs its rapid growth rate (39 inches per day in certain conditions), and because it is a perennial, you do not need to replant seeds after harvesting the bamboo.

These cases are made by Grove in Portland, Oregon where they offer tons of customization to your handmade bamboo case. I went with the tree design because I guess I kind of like nature, but there are tons of other options that you can choose from. Additionally, if none of those preset designs strike your fancy, you have the option to design your own case which they will engrave for a small additional fee.

The only downside is that it took about a month and a half to receive my case, but honestly it was worth the wait. I love the look of this case and it has quickly become apparent that others love it as well.

Thanks to this case, I have already gotten the following comments/questions:
  • "Where did you get this case?"
  • "What is it made out of?"
  • "Are you single?"
  • "Why are you in my house?"
  • "Stop showing me your case."
Honestly, I just like this product because it serves as another example of how sustainable products do not have to be a burden, and instead can look amazingly nice.

I'll stop patting myself on the back for now, but if you have an iPhone, I really do recommend you get one here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Comics

Sorry for only two posts this past week, I'll make it up this week by posting 4.

Anyways, here is your Sunday Comic, or as I like to call it, the day traffic spikes on this blog.

I don't think I ever moved past Stage 1... That or I skipped straight to Stage 7.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Boiling Water: Electric Vs. Stove Kettles

This was supposed to be posted yesterday, but apparently Blogger's posting schedule option still escapes me, so apologies for that. I've been thinking about getting my own domain so I can have more control over the entire site and not have to bend to Blogger's constraints, however that would require money being generated from a job that I am still searching for, but I digress...

I recently bought a French press to really kick my addiction to coffee into high gear. Along with the French press I also had to buy a kettle to boil the water, and this is where I had to make a decision. I could either buy an electric kettle or I could buy the traditional kettle which I would heat with my gas stove.

What the decision boiled down to [editors note: PUN!] was determining the least natural resource intensive kettle. Here is a break down of where Chicago's electricity comes from:
  • 53% from Nuclear Power
  • 36% from Coal Fired Power
  • 7% from Natural Gas
  • 3% from Wind, Biomass, or Hydro Power
  • 1% Other
It is safe to assume that in the morning when I am making my coffee, most of the electricity I would be using is demand-response, which would mean that my electricity would be coming from coal.

Coal is filthy, and while natural gas still takes a toll on the environment, it is still a cleaner alternative, so I ended up buying the traditional kettle that I will heat with my gas stove.

I know that my one kettle isn't going to save the world, but I do think that the act of thinking these decisions through is good practice. It doesn't take much effort to find out where your energy is coming from, and I hope that on some level you begin to think about these options as well.

Now that I'm done ranting, I'm going to go ahead and enjoy my coffee! Have a great day!

Monday, February 7, 2011

SunShot: Our Generation's Sputnik Moment?

Sometimes I read an article about Steven Chu and it makes me want to be best friends with him in a totally non-creepy way. All I'm saying is I wouldn't mind having him come meet some of my ex-girlfriends just so I can say that we are best pals now.

Nerdiest rap reference EVER.
The most recent example of badassery is him publicly coining the term "SunShot":
Just as President Kennedy pledged in 1961 that the United States would land an astronaut on the moon by the end of that decade — a moonshot — Dr. Chu said the United States should attempt a “sunshot” by aiming to cut the cost of solar power by about three-quarters by the end of this decade, to $1 a watt for utility-scale projects. That would translate to an end-user price of about 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, he said. “That would make solar energy cost competitive with other forms of energy without subsidies of any kind,’’ he said in a conference call with reporters on Friday.
By making solar cost competitive without subsidizing the technology, you are effectively changing the entire energy landscape of the United States along with the rest of the world. People want to have cleaner energy, but cost will always be a constraint to the adoption of cleaner technologies.

Admittedly this is not a terribly long article and the point is fairly straight forward, but it is important to recognize that this was not just some political statement that someone said in passing. Shortly after Chu dropped this statement, the Energy Department pledged $27 million towards solar initiatives - not something that the government would do lightly.

Now sit back, relax, and revel in how awesome my photoshopped picture of Steven Chu is.  I'll be here all week.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Comics

A Sunday Comic dedicated to the insane amount of snow Chicago got blasted with this past week. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to watch the Puppy Bowl.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gallup Poll: Highest Percentage Of Americans Interested In Alternative Energies

This morning I received an email from a regular reader concerning a recent Gallup Poll covering possible actions that Congress should pursue.

The long and short of it is that 83% of the population sampled was interested in incentivizing alternative forms of energy. This is impressive because it is the highest percentage produced from a poll that included:

  • Overhauling the federal tax code (76%)
  • Withdrawing from Afghanistan (72%)
  • Immigration issues (43% - 55%)
  • Oil exploration (non-specific average rating)

I find this interesting for a multitude of reasons, mainly because environmental issues are typically secondary to issues concerning war and tax. While I am excited at the possibility of more interest falling on energy innovation, I am curious to see how the questions were phrased and exactly who was polled (especially when they only surveyed 1,000 individuals over the phone).

Either way, I am going to not be skeptical of this poll and instead let it act as a catalyst for a good mood that I will hold on to throughout the weekend.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Global Warming My Ass!

Global warming is a MYTH! It snowed a LOT in Chicago yesterday, and if global warming was true, then that totally would not have happened... am I right?!

*high fives conspiracy theorist and walks out of the room fist pumping*

In all seriousness though, climate change is the driving force behind my interest in alternative energy, energy efficiency, and sustainable practices. The science is sound when it comes to studying the long-term trends of global temperatures rising in relationship to carbon emissions, but it is still surprising to see articles focusing on how easy it is to manipulate the public.
The New York Times states:
Now, new research suggests that people’s opinion on global warming can be influenced not just by the weather, but even by the temperature of the room they’re sitting in.
The study, by Jane Risen, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago, and Clayton Critcher, a marketing professor at the University of California, Berkeley, found that university students placed in a heated room expressed higher confidence that global warming was a proven fact than those placed in a neutral control room.
I just find this interesting because even though I would like to believe that today the public generally believes that there is a relationship between our consumption levels and the rise in global temperature, that simply is just not the case. The sheer fact that people can be manipulated into giving certain answers by adjusting a thermostat and feeding them salty food is surprising/upsetting.

So I apologize for the relatively unexciting post today on a topic that I hope you are already familiar with, but I feel it is good to touch on the subject of global warming to keep it in the public domain.

Now if you will excuse me, I was NOT joking about the amount of snow we got yesterday, and now I have to go dig my Jeep out of a 4' snow drift.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Internet Issues: Students Record Earth From Space On The Cheap

Well, it would appear that the post I tried submitting yesterday did not go through because my internet was apparently knocked out the entire time I wrote it.

It really is too bad because that post was destined to change the world, but it is lost now, never to be seen again. In lieu of this tragic loss, I am not going to spend too much time trying to make up for yesterday and instead point you in the direction of this cool article I found on BBC.

The entire article can be found here, but here is an excerpt from the article which pretty much sums up the coolness:
University of Sheffield PhD students Alex Baker and Chris Rose used a helium-filled balloon to send a foam box containing two small video cameras and a GPS tracker into the atmosphere.
The video they recorded can be found below, which cost them a little over £350.

On a related note, I too have recorded videos in the past. For example, this one time I recorded one of my friends hitting another friend in the face with a pillow.

It was hilarious, and just as cool as this video. Right?

...Right? Guys?