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Solutions and Sustainability

Crude Awakenings: Home Energy Savings
It’s easy to cut your costs and still maintain comfort

Chris Seper, Cleveland Plain Dealer
In the future, homes are made of foam. Diesel fuel comes from cooking grease. Home electricity is drawn from the sun. And your home energy bill is next to nothing.

Like the sound of the future? Make a dry run at it right now.

Americans can pick from a growing list of ideas to cut energy costs. Some methods are expensive and employ advanced technologies. Others are as simple as flicking a light switch.

Advocates of super-insulated homes, solar power and hybrid cars, among other things, say it is time to embrace new ideas. Gas prices crept over $3 per gallon, and Ohio natural gas companies plan to raise prices by up to 71 percent.

Many environmentalists want to conserve because they see a looming crisis from a shortage of oil and natural gas. But even if that theory is incorrect, cutting fossil-fuel use provides large savings for consumers.

“If you live in an urban area, we can save you a lot of money,” said EcoCity Cleveland transportation project manager Ryan McKenzie, who plans to start a local car-sharing network, City Wheels. Car-sharing businesses scatter vehicles across their cities, and customers reserve them for specific times.

…But homeowners have perhaps the most opportunities to save money. The U.S. Department of Energy is encouraging people to build zero-energy homes that produce as much energy as they consume. One of the best ways to cut costs is through better insulation, said Lew Pratsch, the zero- energy home project manager at the Department of Energy.

…Despite the innovations, less than 10 percent of American homes are efficient enough to reduce energy costs 15 percent below average, Pratsch said. Today’s “zero-energy” homes, as defined by the federal government, refer to structures that cut energy bills in half — not eliminate them.
(18 September 2005)
There’s a sidebar on tax credits in the new US energy bill: Paying to conserve. These articles are part of the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s series on energy, “Crude Awakening.” (series archives).

Scientists conduct wind energy projects

Associated Press via ENN
ATLANTA — In an effort to make the country less dependent on foreign oil, experimental wind energy projects are underway at opposite ends of Georgia.

Although scientists have been exploring wind power for decades, wind energy technology still is in its infancy a quarter-century after the energy crisis of the 1970s, said Bill Bulpitt, senior research engineer for Georgia Tech’s Strategic Energy Initiative.

“There was a sense of urgency at that time,” he said. “Sadly, 25 years later, we haven’t turned the corner … This country just has not done a very good job of taking care of its energy problem.”
(27 September 2005)

Ashland considers solar energy options

John Darling, Mail Tribune (S. Oregon)
Despite big new tax breaks that cover two-thirds of the cost, getting your own solar energy panel is still a big investment with a slow return. The city of Ashland wants to change that, possibly finding a way to “put up a big system and sell chunks of it,” said city energy director Dick Wandersheid.

The city power system is now fed by 60 kilowatts — less than one-tenth of one percent of the city’s power — from photovoltaic panels on five homes and four businesses or city buildings. City energy planners are looking for ways to increase this amount, said Wandersheid, and will present strategies to the City Council this fall.

“We could potentially put up a big system and sell chunks of it, pooling customer’s money, utility money and tax credits in a nonprofit co-op,” said Wandersheid.

…This approach would also solve the problem of solar access, as 80 percent of homes inspected for photovoltaic solar panels — which get a sizable tax rebate from the city — are too shaded by trees and other structures to qualify, said Larry Giardina, city conservation analyst.

The typical home-sized photo-voltaic system is 20 by 30 feet, generates 3,000 watts and costs about $22,500 installed, he said.
(27 September 2005)

Are You a Local?

Jeremy Faludi, WorldChanging
One of the most neglected but important parts of being an environmentalist is having a relationship with the place you live in. Some green thinkers such as Alan Durning (in his book This Place On Earth) and William McDonough (with his phrase, “What does it mean to be native to this place?”) have set people thinking about it, but most of us still haven’t done the legwork to get to know our corners of the world well. Especially those of us who live in cities, and too often think of nature being outside the city limits.

So how do urbanites get to know the nature in their cities? Do your own observation and exploration, but give yourself a huge head start with someone who’s done the research already.
(27 September 2005)
Many links at the original article.

As oil prices rise, Chinese join car pools

Tim Johnson, Knight Ridder via Seattle Times
BEIJING — As oil prices rise, car pooling is taking off in China’s biggest cities. But unlike in the West, authorities appear none too happy about it.

Web sites that serve as bulletin boards for those who want to car pool have popped up and are drawing huge amounts of interest.

“We have more than 20,000 members now, about 20 to 30 percent of whom have found satisfactory car-pool partners,” said Sun Yuou, who began a car-pooling Web site in Shanghai about a year ago.

Car pooling is popular among urban white-collar workers weary of shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on grindingly slow buses. Most don’t know how to drive or can’t afford cars.

…As crude-oil prices soar worldwide, authorities in many developed countries are encouraging gas-saving methods such as car pooling. But Chinese authorities may be ready to crack down on it, because they see the drivers as engaging in illicit commercial transactions and the taxi industry views car pooling as a front for outlaw cab services.

State-run news media have carried numerous declarations of officials saying car pooling is illegal if the driver receives payment.

“It is an illegal business operation without a proper license. Those who conduct it could be punished,” a Transportation Management Bureau official told the Jilin Daily newspaper. In Shenzhen, one transportation official, Sun Pulin, told a regional newspaper that anyone who offered car-pooling services for payment could face impoundment of the car.

Cities such as Beijing are groaning under a traffic strain. The number of vehicles on Beijing’s roads passed 2 million in 2004 and is expected to hit 3.5 million by the time the Summer Olympics are here in 2008. Urban traffic has slowed to a crawl, especially in bus lanes. Last year, city officials said bus speeds during rush hour had fallen as low as 3 mph.
(27 September 2005)

Ford, Maxol launch green fuel initiative

RTE News (Ireland)
Irish motorists will be able to buy an environmentally friendly Ford Focus car from November. The car runs on bio-ethanol, a green fuel that will be available at Maxol stations.

Ford claims that the bio-ethanol fuel, a by-product from cheese making, produces 70% less carbon dioxide than petrol.

The motor company says the new model Focus, launched today at Winfield Motors in Sandymount in south Dublin, will be capable of running on any mixture of petrol or bio-ethanol from a single tank with no reduction in performance.

…Ford has already sold 15,000 similar vehicles in Europe; in Sweden, 80% of Ford Focus cars are flexi-fuel models.
(27 September 2005)
Audio and video segments are available at at the original article.

The Manchester Bobber

Jamais Cascio, WorldChanging
Power generation based on the “motion of the ocean” offers significant long-term value, and arguably could eventually displace solar and wind generation for large-scale renewable energy projects. Hydrokinetic power (encompassing wave, current and tidal power) doesn’t have the “intermittency” problems facing solar and wind, nor are there as many issues about ruined views and overrun landscape. Costs remain high, however. There are numerous ocean power projects in testing, and while most show promise, I don’t believe we’ve yet seen the real breakout project putting ocean power at the front of the renewable energy race.

The latest contender is the “Manchester Bobber,” an ocean power platform design from the University of Manchester. The up-and-down motion of the water surface drives a generator; a full-size unit should be able to produce a mean power output of around 5 megawatts:
(27 September 2005)