Sunday, December 23, 2012

Is it time to put the brakes on runaway coal development? - The Globe and Mail

Is it time to put the brakes on runaway coal development? - The Globe and Mail

Click Here
The coal industry is booming in British Columbia, with a dozen new mines proposed around the province and the port of Metro Vancouver making expansive plans to become the biggest coal-exporting facility in North America.
But the flurry of activity is raising environmental concerns at both ends of the supply chain, and British Columbians may soon want to put the brakes on what is starting to look like a runaway coal train.
Environmental groups are opposed to the port plans, not just because of increased rail traffic and coal dust locally, but because of the impact the product will have on climate change when it is burned in Asia.
Kevin Washbrook, director of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, warned that at our current rate of fossil-fuel use, the world could be six degrees warmer by the end of the century.
“If that happens, it will be no comfort to our children that Metro Vancouver’s port once did a thriving business exporting coal,” he said.
At the same time, there are serious worries emerging at the other end of B.C.’s coal transportation line, where the mineral is extracted from the ground.
Last week, two environmental groups challenged a proposal by Centermount Coal Ltd., to mine 40 million tons over 20 years in the Elk Valley, just north of the small town of Elkford.
Ryland Nelson of Wildsight said the project would have a cumulative environmental impact that just isn’t acceptable.
“It would be added to five existing coal mines, four mine-expansion proposals and three exploration projects in the Elk Valley. This is simply too much stress for this watershed,” he said.
“A new open-pit coal mine next to the Elk River is a crazy idea,” agreed Sarah Cox, a Sierra Club spokesperson. “The Elk River already has alarmingly high levels of selenium from existing coal mines.”
Selenium is a metal-like element that British Columbians will soon be hearing a lot more about. It naturally dissolves from coal into water and has been migrating at low levels into streams in B.C. for thousands of years.
But environmental scientists have identified it as a serious, emerging threat now, because mining activity has greatly increased the flow of selenium into water.
In the Elk River, selenium may have already reached a threshold point, beyond which the survivability of entire fish populations comes into doubt.
Teck, one of the biggest mine operators in the valley, has been keeping track of selenium levels downstream of its mines for years. And the company is concerned enough about current levels, that it is building an $80-million water-treatment plant at its Line Creek mine, which is being expanded.
“We realize selenium is a problem and we have taken ownership of it,” Teck’s project manager, Matthew Day, told the Mining & Exploration journal earlier this year.
The plant will cost $5-million a year just to operate – but the mine expansion simply couldn’t go ahead without it, because the Elk River can’t take any more selenium.
Researchers have been measuring selenium levels in the water in insects, fish and birds along the Elk River for more than 15 years. And they have found a troubling trend, which shows the pollutant increases along with mining activity. Selenium levels are 100 to 200 times higher downstream from coal mines.
In some studies, eggs taken from apparently healthy cutthroat trout collapsed when exposed to freshwater. Some hatched, but produced deformed fish.
The Elk River is one of the top sports-fishing streams in North America because it has large populations of apparently healthy West Slope cutthroat trout.
But Dennis Lemly, a U.S. Forest Service researcher, warned when he released a definitive study in 2002, that selenium poisoning can cause a catastrophic population collapse because it harms the eggs, not the adult fish. In effect, the bottom drops out of a population, and then when the adult fish die off, there is suddenly nothing left.
“Selenium poisoning in fish can be invisible for a time,” he stated. “Because there is no apparent fish kill, species can disappear before you can do anything about it.”
That’s the trouble with coal. At one end of the supply chain, it causes invisible water pollution. At the other end, it vanishes in smoke, adding to our climate-change woes.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Tiny $57 PC is like the Raspberry Pi, but faster and fully open | PCWorld

Tiny $57 PC is like the Raspberry Pi, but faster and fully open | PCWorld:

'It would be difficult to overstate the popularity of the tiny Raspberry Pi computer that launched earlier this year, but it's just one example of a rapidly growing class of small, inexpensive, Linux-powered devices, as I've already noted on several occasions before.
The Cubieboard and the UG802 are two of the more recent examples to appear, even as the Raspberry Pi itself has been continually improved, but since then another came to light: the A13-OLinuXino.
“A13-OLinuXino is a low-cost single-board Linux computer in a very compact nano-ITX form,” explains Olimex, the product's Bulgarian maker.
Priced at 45 euros, or about $57, the A13-OLinuXino uses a faster processor than the Raspberry Pi does, and it's also completely open, its maker says. You can order it onlinefrom the Olimex site.
Android 4.0 and Debian
Included in the A13-OLinuXino is an Allwinner A13 Cortex A8 processor running at 1GHz (the Raspberry Pi runs at 700MHz) along with a 3D Mali400 GPU and 512 MB of RAM.
Four USB hosts are built-in--with one dedicated to WiFi--as is an SD card connector, VGA video output, audio output, five keys for Android navigation, and a UEXT connector for modules such as Zigbee or Bluetooth. Also available is an optional low-cost 7-inch LCD with touchscreen.
Regarding software, Android 4.0 is what comes included on the A13-OLinuXino, but it's also possible to run Debian and other Linux distributions, Olimex says.
All CAD files available
Perhaps best of all, both the industrial-grade hardware and the software in the A13-OLinuXino are fully open, Olimex explains.
Why does that matter? Well, not only are open source products fully customizable without constraint by any vendor, but you can even use them as the basis for products of your own to tailor and sell. All source code and CAD files are available for reuse in any personal or commercial project.
The A13-OLinuXino will work in industrial environments between -25C and 85C, Olimex says.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D.: Facing Up to a Finite Planet

Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D.: Facing Up to a Finite Planet:

He's sketched out that thinking in his two new books. The first, The Other Road to Serfdom and the Path to Sustainable Democracy, is Zencey's frontal assault on the "infinite planet" foundations of current economic thinking and practice. Because economic growth has led us to the limits of what the planet can handle, he says, we now see an increasing need for international resource regimes to regulate our collective ecological footprint. Taking on Hayek's argument that control of otherwise "free" markets is "the road to serfdom," Zencey argues that there is no such thing as a free market; every market system is structured by rules and regulations. Moreover, because economic growth within our market system leads us to need regulations limiting such things as fish harvests, the harvesting of wood through unsustainable deforestation and the pumping of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it produces the same result Hayek tried to avoid. "Free markets run on infinite planet principles are just the other road to the same result," Zencey says. The alternative is a market-based system run on finite planet principles, as espoused by ecological economics, an emergent school of economic thought that is grounded in the laws of physics and nature.
In the book Zencey explains this new school of thought and applies it to current political and economic concerns: the financial collapse, terrorism, population growth, hunger, the energy and oil industry's social control and the deeply rooted dissatisfactions felt by conservative "values" voters who have been encouraged to see smaller government and freer markets as the universal antidote to social ills that have in fact been wrought by cheap energy and an infinite-growth mentality. Finance and economics can be steep -- and boring -- topics, but Zencey covers them in a digestible form. As evidence of the power of these ideas and the elegance of his reasoning, Zencey's book carries powerful testimonials from Richard Heinberg, James Kunstler and Bill McKibben, indisputable leaders in ecological and environmental thought.
Zencey's other new book, Greening Vermont: The Search for a Sustainable State, co-authored with Elizabeth Courtney, tells the story of the Vermont environmental movement as it responded to economic and social changes brought into the state with the arrival of the interstate highway and the perpetual-growth hydrocarbon economy.
That book asks and answers the question, "Why didn't Vermont come to look like everywhere else?" It presents the work of the Vermont environmental movement as unfinished, given that no economy reliant on fossil fuels is truly sustainable, but as offering policies and strategies worthy of emulation. It points to the future work of the environmental movement in tackling problems that haven't previously been considered environmental, problems that will come as the withdrawal symptoms of a society addicted to oil (e.g., increasing food insecurity, social dislocation and ecological refugees). These are going to be complex and profound problems that will require a clear vision of the path to a sustainable civilization -- a path you can begin seeing in these two books.
You should read them, think about them, talk about them and most of all act on the ideas in them.

Follow Phillip A. Ortiz, Ph.D. on Twitter:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Avoiding the Nightmarish "Four Degree World" of 2060: We must Act Now | Informed Comment

Avoiding the Nightmarish "Four Degree World" of 2060: We must Act Now | Informed Comment

Avoiding the Nightmarish “Four Degree World” of 2060: We must Act Now (Giesen)

Posted on 12/06/2012 by Juan
Tom Giesen writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:
Global warming’s disasters once seemed far off and science-fictional. It is now becoming clear to the scientific community that, to the contrary, very bad things could happen beginning relatively soon. For Baby Boomers, from the the Cuban Missile Crisis or the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the early 1960s till now does not seem like such a long period of time. But in a similar span of years, taking us to about 2060, the world could well experience an increase in global average temperatures of some 4 degrees Centigrade[1]. If we consider the likely effects of this steep warming trend carefully, it becomes clear that the resulting “four degrees” world (as scientists call it) is far less hospitable for humans than our own, a world so inhospitable that we must avoid creating it at any cost.
This rapid change in the earth’s climate is being caused by massive dumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly by industrialized societies. Cutting back on carbon dioxide emissions has to date been an abject failure. Political leaders have, in general, taken the position that cut-backs must happen, but “not during my term of office”. About half of emissions are produced by about 1% of the population. 70,000,000 people are the problem. Because you are reading this, the odds are that you are part of that 1 percent.
If every country in the world actually met its pledges to limit or cut back on emissions, it is not impossible that in 2060 the temperature increase will be only 3 degrees C. But we’d likely get to the “four degree world” by 2100. If the world’s nations do not meet their pledges, warming by 4 degrees C. may occur even earlier, by 2060. Those are not end-points in warming; they are snapshots. Warming is a continuous process, not an event.
A four degree-extra (C.) world does not sound so bad on the surface, especially to Americans used to Fahrenheit. But for them, it actually could be a 7 degree-extra (F.) world in 2060, and it won’t be nice. Remember that the extra heat is not distributed equally everywhere.
Consider these scenarios, thought highly likely by scientists:
A temperature increase of 4 degrees C. will cause a 40% reduction in corn and rice crops, and loss of other agricultural produce, as well. The world doesn’t have fewer mouths to feed over time, and a decline in these key staples will likely produce widespread starvation..
People will be forced from their homes, like so many Syrian refugees, on a grand scale — from coastal areas because of rising seas; from areas no longer habitable due to high temperatures or drought; and from changing industrial and commercial practices.
Other effects include ice melting, weather extremes, ocean acidification, loss of coral reefs, changes in stream flows, large losses in biodiversity, water shortages, forest dieback and fires, and so on – the list is very long.
A temperature increase of 4 degrees C is now thought likely to cause the disintegration of an organized global community. A four degree world will likely be so altered that human society cannot adapt to it.
Temperatures are lower over the oceans (70% of global area), which absorb heat and carbon dioxide. Over land they are higher. So a 4 degrees C.-extra world would actually imply the following:
Up to 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F.) average increase over land;
Up to 8 degrees C (14.4 degrees F.) increase over China;
Up to 10 degrees C (18 degrees F.) increase over central Europe;
Up to 12 degrees C (21.6 degrees F.) increase over New York City (and people think they have to flee to the Hamptons in August now!)
Scientists have been warning about global warming since the middle of the last century; James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Space Center addressed Congress on the topic in 1988. A policy goal established in the 1990s, based on scientific evidence at the time, was to hold warming at 2 degrees C above the preindustrial (~ 1850) average. In 2002, a policy of “preventing dangerous anthropogenic [i.e. human-caused] interference with the climate system” was adopted by the United Natioins, and 2 degrees C of warming was the maximum allowable.
Mitigation of warming via reduced emissions has been a global goal, but very little of practical value has been accomplished. Emission levels continue to rise, and hence the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is rising as well. CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere recently reached 391 parts per million (ppm); the preindustrial level was 278; the increase is 40.6%. The global average temperature has now increased by almost 1 degree C above the preindustrial average.
Recent scientific papers have shown that the impacts of a 2 degrees C. rise are much greater than were indicated earlier. Impacts for a 1 degrees C. rise are now expected to be as great as those previously assumed for a 2 degrees C. rise. Worse, there is a scientific consensus today that holding warming to 2 degrees C is no longer possible given the emissions to date and the failure to cut back.[2] Hence, avoiding dangerous human-caused interference with the climate system is no longer possible. Now the question is, to what level will global average temperatures increase by (say) 2060, and at what time, temperature and total emissions will the global temperature average peak?[3]
While total historic emissions were disproportionately caused in recent history by the United States, China’s current annual emissions are the highest of any nation and are growing faster than any other large polluter.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Toyota Looks to Magnesium-Ion Batteries for Longer Electric Vehicle Range | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Toyota Looks to Magnesium-Ion Batteries for Longer Electric Vehicle Range | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building

Toyota, Toyota Prius, Toyota iQ, Toyota RAV4 EV, Toyota electric vehicle, magnesium-ion battery, lithium-ion battery, electric car, green car, green transportation, automotive
Last month researchers at the Toyota Research Institute of North America (TRINA) in Michigan published a paper in the journal Chemical Communications that describes Toyota’s experiments with a magnesium-ion battery. Magnesium-ion batteries use the same electrolytes as lithium-ion batteries, but their anode is made of tin. The new magnesium-ion batteries are also more energy dense because they have a positive charge of two, unlike one for lithium-ion batteries. In addition, lithium-ion batteries are expensive, but since magnesium is abundant, the new batteries would be cheaper to produce.
The lead author of the paper, Nikhilendra Singh was very positive about the initial results. “The potential is definitely there,” Singh says. “There are some improvements we need to make to its performance, which we’ve addressed in the paper as well. But overall, we’re very excited.”
It’s not known when the new batteries would show up in an electric car, but Takashi Kuzuya, the general manager at TRINA feels that they would show up in consumer electronics first. According to Venkat Srinivasan, researcher and manager at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory’s Batteries for Advanced Transportation Technologies program, the commercialization of magnesium batteries is more than 10 years away. “Once you have a breakthrough, meaning you have an anode, a cathode, and electrolyte, it takes maybe five years to reach the commercialization stage, and we don’t have all that with magnesium, so it’s going to take a while,” he says.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Blackouts Illuminate the Bright Side of Rooftop Solar | Climate Central

Blackouts Illuminate the Bright Side of Rooftop Solar | Climate Central:

'via Blog this
PV power panels went dark during Superstorm Sandy, because they were tied into the grid, and did not have battery backup.
If you run a plug in electric car, it could serve as your battery pack, as long as the car is at home, like at night!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Passivhaus Institut

Passivhaus Institut
english website of german passiv haus tech!

Passive House Institute and Rongen Architects have performed a research project dealing with Passive House and its specific requirements in different climate zones. Based on 5 locations representing different climate zones ranging from extremely cold to very hot and humid climates (Jekaterinburg, Tokyo, Shanghai, Las Vegas and Dubai), the project was aimed at identifying adequate technical solutions and analysing the impact of different parameters on a building’s energy balance for each climate. Based on these findings, building examples fulfilling high architectural standards were developed for each of these locations. The project was rounded off by a global definition of the Passive House Standard, applicable for all climates.
osts, although the concept of consistent heating and cooling load minimisation seems to reach its limits in extremely cold or hot regions.

The 500 page project report has just been released in English and German and is available for purchase through the PHI website.


The report is placed on the flash drive as a protected document, it is only readable if the flash drive is present. The corresponding reader works under Microsoft Windows XP, Vista und 7 only. Screenshots are not possible. You can, however, print the report to a paper printer.


Preis: 55.00 EUR
zzgl. Versandkosten
The key findings of this project: No matter the location, Passive Houses can be built in a cost- effective way with regard to their life-cycle c

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Smell of earth - Plant and Soil Digest

Smell of earth - Plant and Soil Digest

QUESTION: What is the peculiar smell of the earth after the first shower?
T.S. Chellamal AnniChennai
ANSWER 1: The characteristic earthy odour of soil is caused by the production of a series of streptomycete metabolites called geosmins.
These substances are sesquiterpenoid compounds and unsaturated compound of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The geosmins first discovered has the chemical name trans-1, 10-dimethyl-trans-9-decalol; however, other volatile products produced by certain species of Streptomyces may also be responsible for the characteristic smell.
An unforgettable attribute of the streptomycetes is the musty odour they emit, an odour reminiscent of freshly turned soil.
Streptomyces are primarily soil micro-organisms requiring a lower potential for growth. The most significant environmental adaptation of the Streptomyces group is their ability to withstand dessication. Geosmins are also produced by some cyanobacteria.
Dr. I. M. Sarawad
Regional Agricultural Research Station
Bijapur, Rajasthan
ANSWER 2: The piquant, musky odour that hangs in the air emanates from an odorous chemical buried in the soil called `geosmin' (literally, earth smell).
The smell is given off by Streptomyces bacteria, a genus belonging to the Actinomycetales order of Gram-positive eubacteria, also called actinomycetes. The soil normally contains a multitude of environmental saprophytic fungi.
Actinomycetes, a type of filamentous bacteria grow in soil when conditions are damp and warm. When the soil dries out, the bacteria produces the geosmin spores in the soil. Rain hitting the ground kicks up an aerosol of water and soil and spores into the air, where they are easier to smell. (just like an aerosol air freshener).
We breathe in fine particles of soil containing the bacteria.
K. KamalakkannanDoha, Qatar
ANSWER 3: A pleasant smell after the first shower is because of a group of filamentous bacteria Actinomycetes found in the soil. They grow well in soil when the conditions are damp and warm.
When the soil is too hot, the bacteria are not able to tolerate the dessication, so it produces spores as survival strategies. The spores remain invulnerable for years and are resistant to dessication and heat. During the rainfall, the spores are taken up in the air by the force of wind and suspended in the air as aerosol. When we breathe the air, which contains spores, we are able to feel the earthy "after the rain smell". Geosmine (dimethyl-9-decalols) is the microbial product found in the spores is responsible for the pleasant smell.
Dr. P. Mariappan
JJ College of Arts and Science
Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu

Tuesday, November 27, 2012



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    Monday, November 26, 2012

    Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis? | Environment | The Observer

    Growing food in the desert: is this the solution to the world's food crisis? | Environment | The Observer:

    It's the kind of thing an enlightened futurologist might have imagined for the 21st century, and to enter Sundrop's greenhouse from the desert outside, passing the array of sun-tracking solar parabolic mirrors that looks like something from a film set, is to feel you've arrived at a template for tomorrow-world. The warm, humid air laden with the scent of ripening tomatoes is in such contrast to the harsh landscape outside, where it tops a parched 40C for much of the year, that it feels as if the more brutal sides of both nature and economics are being benignly cheated. You can supply billions with healthy, cheap food, help save the planet and make a fortune? There has to be a catch.
    Food from the desert: Charlie PatonGreen shoots: Charlie Paton in his East London home. It was his discovery that led to the use of seawater in agriculture. Photograph: Hat Margolis
    There seems, however, to be only one significant person in the world who feels there is indeed a catch, and, a little bizarrely, that is the inventor of the technology, one Charlie Paton, the British lighting man mentioned earlier, who is currently to be found in his own experimental greenhouse, atop a three- storey former bakery at the London Fields end of Hackney, east London, feeling proud-ish, but not a little sour, about the way things have worked out 10,000 miles away in the desert between the Flinders mountains and the Spencer Gulf.
    If you are of an ecological bent, Paton's name may ring a bell. He is the multi-honoured founder of a veritable icon of the green world, a 21-year established family company called Seawater Greenhouse, originators of the idea of growing crops using only sunlight and seawater. Earlier this month, Paton was given the prestigious title Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts, and a few months earlier, Seawater Greenhouse won first prize in the best product category of the UK's biggest climate-change awards scheme, Climate Week. If Sundrop Farms takes off worldwide, the charming and idealistic Charlie Paton could well be in line for a knighthood, even a Nobel Prize; the potential of his brainchild – the ability to grow infinite quantities of cheap, wholesome food in deserts – is that great.
    There's just one problem in all this. Although he and his family built the South Australia greenhouse with their own hands, Sundrop has abandoned pretty much every scrap of the ultra-simple Paton technology regarding it as "too Heath Robinson" and commercially hopeless. Some of the Patons' home-made solar panels in wooden frames are still connected up and powering fans, but are falling apart. Nearly all the rest of their installation has been replaced with hi-tech kit which its spiritual father views with contempt. He dismisses Sundrop's gleaming new £160,000 tracking mirrors from Germany and the thrumming Swiss desalination plant and heat-exchanging tanks as "bells and whistles" put in to impress investors. Sundrop and Seawater have parted company and Paton accuses them of abandoning sustainability in the interests of commercial greed. He is particularly distressed by the installation of a backup gas boiler to keep the crops safe if it's cloudy for a few days.

    But we will return to Charlie Paton later; sadly, perhaps, developments in the South Australian desert are now overshadowing the doubts and travails of their original inspiration. And they are quite some developments. "These guys have been bold and adventurous in having the audacity to think that they could do it," says the head of Australia's government-funded desalination research institute, Neil Palmer. "They are making food without risk, eliminating the problems caused not just by floods, frost, hail but by lack of water, too, which now becomes a non-issue. Plus, it stacks up economically and it's infinitely scalable – there's no shortage of sunshine or seawater here. It's all very impressive."
    Food from the desert: tomatoesOn the vine … the blemish-free crop is effectively organic, but it can't be marketed as such in Australia as it is not grown on soil. Photograph: Hat Margolis
    "The sky really is now the limit," confirms Dutch water engineer Reinier Wolterbeek, Sundrop's project manager. "For one thing, we are all young and very ambitious. That's how we select new team members. And having shown to tough-minded horticulturalists, economists and supermarket buyers that what we can do works and makes commercial sense, there's now the possibility of growing protein, too, in these closed, controlled greenhouse environments. And that means feeding the world, no less."
    An unexpected bonus of the Sundrop system is that the vegetables produced, while cropping year-round and satisfying the supermarkets' demand for blemish-free aesthetic perfection, can also be effectively organic. It can't be called organic (in Australia at least) because it's grown "hydroponically" – not in soil – but it is wholly pesticide-free, a selling point the Australian supermarkets are seizing on, and apparently fed only benign nutrients. Sundrop is already being sold in local greengrocers in Port Augusta as an ethically and environmentally friendly high-end brand.
    Because there's no shortage of desert in which to site it, a Sundrop greenhouse can be built in isolation from others and be less prone to roving pests. Those that sneak in can be eliminated naturally. In this closeted micro-world, Dave Pratt with his trusty iPhone app is free to play God. Not only does Dave have a flight of in-house bees to do their stuff in the greenhouse (who also live a charmed life as they enjoy a perfect, Dave- controlled climate with no predators) but he also has at his command a platoon of "beneficial insects" called Orius, or pirate bugs. These kill crop-destroying pests called thrips, and do so – weirdly in nature – not for food but for, well, fun. So unless you feel for thrips, or believe food should only be grown in God's own soil and subject to God's own pestilences, Sundrop produce seems to be pure and ethical enough to satisfy all but the most eco-fussy.

    Friday, November 23, 2012

    Rotten Fruit: Why ‘Picking Low-Hanging Fruit’ Hurts Efficiency And How To Fix The Problem | ThinkProgress

    Rotten Fruit: Why ‘Picking Low-Hanging Fruit’ Hurts Efficiency And How To Fix The Problem | ThinkProgress:

    Change Incentive Programs
    How do we create the conditions to go beyond cream skimming in society as a whole? How do we increase project ROI itself? One way is to change how utilities create incentives for savings.
    The funny thing about many utility rebate programs is that they incentivize retrofits, such as lighting, that are so lucrative that any business or homeowner in their right mind would do them anyway. Perhaps the incentives do help by making customers aware of opportunities, but that can be done with education, not rebates. Rebates, instead, should be used as incentives for energy efficiency measures that would not occur without the rebates—for example, anything with an ROI below 15 percent. These measures are the “deep efficiency” we’ve been talking about, which get us to the scale needed to solve climate change. They include retrofits of pumps, motors, drives, boilers, furnaces, insulation and windows.
    Put in Your Eight Cents: Influence Policy
    Changing rebate programs to change the return on investment of energy efficiency projects requires something unexpected from corporations and individuals: policy advocacy. You’ll have to lobby your utility or government to help you out. At a national level, we’ll never solve the cream skimming problem until energy costs more in America. If we want deep efficiency, we need a carbon tax, which acts like a rebate program but on a national scale.
    Here’s how and why. I live in Colorado with two small children. I come home every day to a sink full of dishes. To hire someone to do those dishes, perhaps an hour of work, would cost me $15 on the free market. Instead, though, I will load the dishwasher, and in an hour, I’ll have clean dishes for a total cost of eight cents. But that’s insane: It doesn’t remotely scale with the market value of the work done, and the eight cents doesn’t account for the fact that the electricity used to do the dishes comes in large part from coal, which increases my children’s risk of asthma and other diseases, loads their blood with toxic mercury and crushes their chance of future prosperity by warming the planet. Eight cents.
    The extreme fix to this problem is to tax carbon to the point that energy price reflects its true cost (and value) to society. But while that would be nice some day, even if the price of energy goes up just a little, it will strengthen the market signal and drive more change. Another story further illustrates the problem of cheap energy. Touring an industrial plant in Minnesota, I asked the facilities manager why he hadn’t retrofitted the lights. “Do you know what I pay per kilowatt-hour for electricity?” the manager asked. “Four cents.” So all the projects I can barely get through in Colorado at eight cents are twice as hard in the land of ten thousand lakes.
    Who would have thought that a corporate energy manager’s job (or a mom’s or dad’s) is also to change energy policy, and perhaps even lobby for a carbon tax? But it is.
    Creative Financial Solutions
    Some good news is that problems like cream skimming and ROI thresholds aren’t simply being admired. There has been a lot of effort to overcome barriers to deep climate solutions such these and others. While there is no silver bullet, and all solutions come with their own baggage, two are worth mentioning: MESA and PACE.
    Managed Energy Services Agreements (MESAs) or just Energy Services Agreements (ESAs) are one way to approach energy efficiency that provide upfront capital and off-balance sheet accounting. Use your house as an example—today, you pay your energy bills, do efficiency projects and get your payback. A MESA program turns all that over to a third party, which manages energy procurement and efficiency. The third party charges for energy like a utility. It then installs more efficiency equipment in your house, which is maintained and operated by the third party. Last, the third party uses some or all of the costs savings from its retrofits to finance those improvements and earn a profit. Businesses can move the cost of efficiency retrofits off their balance sheets because what was once a capital expense (a new furnace) becomes an operational expense (your energy contract).
    Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) programs allow local governments to offer sustainable energy project loans to property owners. One of the big problems with home energy retrofits—particularly high-cost projects like window replacements or solar panel installation—is that they cost a lot up front. Many people don’t have thousands of dollars sitting around, and they’re reluctant to take on the debt. Another problem is that many homeowners don’t plan to own their houses long enough for investments like solar panels or new windows to pay for themselves, so they don’t pull the trigger. What’s unique about PACE is that the loan is tied to the property, not the homeowners mortgage, and repayment happens through property taxes. In short, project debt stays with the house, even after a homeowner moves. Often, a PACE annual payment will be exactly offset by the energy saving or energy generating project it funds.
    A New Reality
    Kevin Anderson, from the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of Manchester, and many others have argued that society is at risk of missing the opportunity to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius (2 C), the threshold widely seen to be the difference between adaptation and disaster. A 4 C rise in global temperature would threaten civilization. He writes: “There is a widespread view that a 4 C future is incompatible with an organized global community, is likely to go beyond ‘adaptation,’ is devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high probability of not being stable. (Meaning 4 C would be an interim temperature on the way to a much higher equilibrium.)”[7]
    In short, we live in a new world, one in which the best efficiency efforts of the past are not good enough by, roughly, an order of magnitude. Clearly, the challenge is enormous. But from a purely financial standpoint, the benefits are substantial. And if you add ethics to the mix, the rewards of rapid and aggressive action become infinite.
    3.         A good question for further discussion is “What in fact is a corporation’s full energy efficiency potential?” Amory Lovins would say it’s very high—perhaps 75 percent reduction—while others might argue that 20 percent is all an average business can expect to achieve while still focusing on its core business.
    6.         ESCOs are a good way to achieve deeper savings, but they tend to discriminate based on scale. Because ESCOs need big savings to make their financial models work, they focus on huge energy-using entities like schools, hospitals or corporate campuses. That leaves out companies that are aggregates of smaller buildings, smaller businesses or households.
    Auden Schendler is Vice President of Sustainability at Aspen Skiing Company and author of the book Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution. This article originally ran in the November 2012 issue of EDC and was reprinted with permission.

    Thursday, November 22, 2012

    The Electree+, A Solar-Powered, Induction Charging Bonsai Tree Hits Kickstarter | TechCrunch

    The Electree+, A Solar-Powered, Induction Charging Bonsai Tree Hits Kickstarter | TechCrunch:

    'via Blog this

    great idea, the traveling solar charging station, this sits on top of my biketrariler,  part of the self reliant energy system, it goes well with mobile living, and also have computer access, wireless internet and  all that!

    Wednesday, November 21, 2012

    Rice University Scientists Create 'Solar Steam' - Solar Feeds

    Rice University Scientists Create 'Solar Steam' - Solar Feeds:

    'via Blog this'

    high efficiency waterheating with simple tech, using nanoparticles dissolved in water exposed to the sun, real simple, can be in a pond inside the sunspace!

    China Gives Go Ahead on Eco-City - Solar Feeds

    China Gives Go Ahead on Eco-City - Solar Feeds:

    Designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, Chengdu Tianfu District Great City promises to become the world’s most energy efficient and sustainable city when it is completed in 2019.
    The 1.3 km2 uber-modern metropolis, which will be connected by mass transit links to the nearby megacity of Chengdu (14 million inhabitants), will become home to 80,000 people, none of whom will own a car. On account of the fact that they won’t be allowed. Instead, residents will be able to walk from one end of the new city to the other in just 15 minutes.
    The Architectural practice, well known for their innovative work in sustainable buildings, are predicting that the city will use 48% less energy, 58% less water, generate 89% less landfill waste and emit 60% less carbon dioxide than a conventional Chinese City of the same size.
    From a functionality point of view, the stand-alone city will offer residential, commercial and educational space, along with light manufacturing and office space and a full medical campus for the use of all residents.
    There are also plans for an Eco-Park on the north-west edge of the city which has been designed in collaboration with Mott MacDonald which will use seasonal energy storage technology to harness waste summer heat for winter heating. It will also include a power generation plant employing the latest co-generation technology to provide residents with both electricity and hot water.

    Monday, November 19, 2012

    Formlabs Creates a Low-Cost, Light-Based 3-D Printer | Wired Design |

    Formlabs Creates a Low-Cost, Light-Based 3-D Printer | Wired Design |

    'The team also wanted the machine to be easy to use, and recruited Yoav Reches, an industrial designer who had previously worked on mobile phone designs for Samsung to help formulate the entire printing process.
    Reches says “Existing 3-D printers cannot live in the office because they are too clumsy and messy. A friend of mine has a printer in his living room and when I visit him I see bits of plastic all over the living room.” He continues, “We’re dealing with resin, which is more complex than building with extruded material, so we felt we had to take responsibility for that.” This led the team to develop an included cleaning station called the “Form Finish Kit,” simplifying the parts cleaning process.
    According to Lobovsky, the resin is safe, but should be treated like bleach or epoxy – it’s fine to use in the home, but unsupervised children probably shouldn’t be playing with it. Eventually, there will be multiple resins available in different colors and with special properties, e.g., materials that can be melted in lost wax casting.
    With light-based printing, resin prices are one of the unknown variables. Cranor estimates the resin will cost about $149 per liter, but says “Kickstarter supporters who buy a Form 1 print package will be guaranteed at least 1 liter per month for $129 ($0.13 per cubic centimeter) or cheaper for the life of their printer.”  This is approximately three times more expensive than Makerbot-style extrusion printing; however, bigger companies charge between $300 and $800 per liter, and you can pay 10 times that with online print services.

    Thursday, November 15, 2012

    Translucent Dome / Solar Attic / Green Roof

    Translucent Dome / Solar Attic / Green Roof:

    Living in a green roof garden is possible, as seen in first photos. Many layers of plastic serve in an "envelope insulation system" which uses green house (or conservatory) spaces as a "partial thermal insulator". Another variations of this solar theme is linked here. Second photo: inside a solar attic rose garden. An Italian saying suggests: "forgive the thorns for the beauty of the rose". The challenge of living inside a greenhouse is climate control. Either some tolerance to tasteful imperfection is required or else climate control expenses are imposed. We chose economical tolerance and happily managed at low cost..
    I would offer more pictures here except that styling is not my point. Yes, we knew about more sterile approaches like hydroponics and newer 'aeroponics'. My wife, who tends it, chose live soil which introduces an complex 'wild' ecosystem. It requires continued work for the occupant but this kind of work is useful exercise and could evolve into more fun if web groups would foster the idea and eventually embed the idea in popular culture. Most of the work involves watering, tending to ventilation hatches, careful clean up of plant invaders debris and fostering of beneficials. (More on the "beneficials" appears several paragraphs below.)
    Transpiration by plants and evaporation generally improve indoor humidity. This is readily observed and humidity reduces static electricity too. I've not observed house mold issues or problems as might be expected, however snail-mail envelopes tend to stick shut after a few years (due to this level of humidity).  We never got around to mechanizing with automatic controls-- Which are actually more expensive, given our fairly low level income from outside work. Creative people are not highly sought after, to do work, according to our lifelong experience-- At least for long lasting careers.
    Frankly, i suspect that humidity "grounds out" or reduces electrical charges indoors and in so doing suppresses mild EMR pollution, (EMR means Electromagnetic Radiation). As i love Nikola Tesla's legacy, EMR pollution worries me less. I expect that intense radiation from cell phones and excessive wireless gadgetry can stress life needlessly. Mild EMR is unavoidable and i believe moderate humidity solves most associated radiation issues, through electrical dissipation in the humid air. Except where a person suffers from severe sensitivities and vulnerabilities. (We do not suffer such things).
    Moreover, a good level of humidity tends to weigh down dust particles, so that we need not breath them in. Broom sweeping becomes far less dusty. Compared with little ionizer devices which i tested. Live plants or even drying green firewood indoors, has maintained wanted humidity levels and ultimately costs less. I noticed that the ionizers tended to wear out the electrodes too soon and such maintenance is less fun than plant maintenance.
    The attic greenhouse works like a huge solar chimney when the vent is open. We partitioned the dome interior and zoned the climate levels. The attic climate swings widely between sun up and down. The attic never freezes nor fries the roses within it. Plant pests are always a great concern from insects to mildew as we have explored what is possible without use of commercial pesticides or toxic chemicals. I have observed commercial green house operators with health consequences due to agro- chemical treatments. My wife has tried a number of organic remedies,(bio degradable and generally non-toxic). This includes numerous strategies of pest management, especially organisms called beneficials, (largely from this source). I will try to briefly describe several as follows.
    We have wondered if purchased lizards survive well. Every once in a while one is seen, catching a fly or just quietly sunning itself, or lapping water from a leaf.  We hope the lizards find other beneficials too slow moving to interest them (as lizards hunt acrobatically with speed but never attack or bite humans).  I could try to photograph each beneficial but my camera is poor for close up pictures. Besides the internet has great photos and links already. We love lace wings but rarely see any, while many have been purchased and released inside. (We can only hope they are not lost to the lizards?). Crypts are often visible in the larval stage. Lady bugs come with the wind and are welcomed. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that lightning bugs are beneficials, though the very few we captured have not been noticed much indoors, as yet. North Eastern USA has abundant fireflies, spread the word, they are beneficials!
    Also an apparently good control for mildew is simple pressurized water spray followed by floor sweeping up. We get very little ventilation during winter due to conserving heat. Electric fans can use a lot of expensive AC power. Solar fans may one day make sense but the capacity needed is expensive. Another hope in my heart is use of ultra violet light treatment or perhaps ionized air or both. I bought a small unit but it was hard to tell if it accomplishes much. A big unit might do more, but it is hard to justify purchases like that.  Sadly, the ultra violet sun rays (UV) are filtered out by the dome shelter and the UV also wears out almost any material over time. With patience, society may yet find better building materials to let just enough UV in, as does the atmosphere. Developing a green thumb attitude really has been essential, but i am impressed at the crop of flowers and figs. We now patiently are trying avocados and peppers which can't propagate outdoors (here in Maine).
    The floors beneath ensconces a smaller orchid greenhouse to the south and other insulated rooms.   My wife is primarily interested in flower research. (As wedding flowers have proved our best income source, over the years. Better, actually, than was my sculptural concrete contracting and sales work. I never once had a request to build a solar attic garden space-- I never could afford promotion, outside of my website.)
    Natural lighting through a dozen layers of plastic sensitizes the 2nd floor rooms to daytime living. We have never felt it worthwhile to add insulating curtains, but originally intended more partitioning. Living an unfinished-house-lifestyle worked out best for us.The skylight aperture is too large to do this easily or economically. Nor have we chosen to reduce the day light aperture, by adding some opaque insulation. While the insulation value could be far higher with opaque insulation, we accept the heating sacrifices, to get that natural daytime lighting. Ultimately i believe that affordable translucent insulation will be marketed.

    Easy EyeLid Greenhouse Wigwam

    Easy EyeLid Greenhouse Wigwam: "This is a small structure with little head room and arguably the cheapest type to make. It allows full ceiling opening for better noon sun and full closure for cooler or excessive cold rains in summer-- Strange cold rainy, drizzly and foggy weather bighted 2009 gardens in the upper North Eastern USA. Hot houses seemed to have prospered for warmer loving crops like tomatoes. This should help in case we get that again! (I'm on call if anyone wants help like this-.) This year begins my effort to grow beans and a warmer variety too. To see if these might mature well and store well during the winter."

    'via Blog this'

    Sunday, November 4, 2012

    The Organic Grower's Dilemma: How to Manage Weeds Effectively Without Compromising Soil Quality - eXtension

    The Organic Grower's Dilemma: How to Manage Weeds Effectively Without Compromising Soil Quality - eXtension

    What About Weeds?

    Despite organic farming's enrichment of the soil, weed problems during the 9-year study were enough to lower corn and soybean—but not wheat—yields below those of no-till crops.
    But in another long-term experiment begun in 1996, Teasdale learned that adding more kinds of crops to the organic rotation helped control weeds.
    "Weeds tend to adapt to crops whose growth timetable creates conditions favorable to weed growth," Teasdale says.
    Planting the same summer annual crop year after year allows weeds suited to that growth cycle to keep maturing and adding their seeds to the soil. In organic systems, Teasdale showed that rotating diverse crops markedly lowers the numbers of weed seeds lying dormant in soil.
    In an ongoing experiment called the "Farming Systems Project," Teasdale and ARS soil scientist Michel Cavigelli showed that after 10 years, corn yields were higher in diverse organic rotations that included a perennial legume.
    "This is one of a few studies that consider the effects of rotation length and crop complexity on organic grain yields," Teasdale says.

    John R. Teasdale is with the USDA–ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Laboratory, Bldg. 001, Room 245B, Beltsville, MD 20705; phone (301) 504-5504, fax (301) 504-6491.

    Saturday, November 3, 2012

    A Simple Fix for Farming -

    A Simple Fix for Farming -

    Mark Bittman
    Mark Bittman on food and all things related.
    IT’S becoming clear that we can grow all the food we need, and profitably, with far fewer chemicals. And I’m not talking about imposing some utopian vision of small organic farms on the world. Conventional agriculture can shed much of its chemical use — if it wants to.
    This was hammered home once again in what may be the most important agricultural study this year, although it has been largely ignored by the media, two of the leading science journals and even one of the study’s sponsors, the often hapless Department of Agriculture.
    The study was done on land owned by Iowa State University called the Marsden Farm. On 22 acres of it, beginning in 2003, researchers set up three plots: one replicated the typical Midwestern cycle of planting corn one year and then soybeans the next, along with its routine mix of chemicals. On another, they planted a three-year cycle that included oats; the third plot added a four-year cycle and alfalfa. The longer rotations also integrated the raising of livestock, whose manure was used as fertilizer.
    The results were stunning: The longer rotations produced better yields of both corn and soy, reduced the need for nitrogen fertilizer and herbicides by up to 88 percent, reduced the amounts of toxins in groundwater 200-fold and didn’t reduce profits by a single cent.
    In short, there was only upside — and no downside at all — associated with the longer rotations. There was an increase in labor costs, but remember that profits were stable. So this is a matter of paying people for their knowledge and smart work instead of paying chemical companies for poisons. And it’s a high-stakes game; according to the Environmental Protection Agency, about five billion pounds of pesticidesare used each year in the United States.

    No one expects Iowacorn and soybean farmers to turn this thing around tomorrow, but one might at least hope that the U.S.D.A.would trumpet the outcome. The agency declined to comment when I asked about it. One can guess that perhaps no one at the higher levels even knows about it, or that they’re afraid to tell Monsantoabout agency-supported research that demonstrates a decreased need for chemicals. (A conspiracy theorist might note that the journals Science and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences both turned down the study. It was finally published in PLOS One; I first read about it on the Union of Concerned Scientists Web site.)