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Three Cool Inventions For a Greener World

Staff, Urban Gardens
This summer has been one of the warmest on record in the northern hemisphere. 97% of Greenland’s surface ice thawed in an historical four days. Maybe it’s time to take a look at the grass roots of the green world to see what some folks are doing on a small scale level to tackle climate change.

Self-Watering Greenhouse
As part of a university project with the University of Central Lancashire, one green-hearted grandma, above, decided to build a greenhouse almost entirely of plastic bottles. Although most bottled greenhouses are made by primary school children, this one possesses the incredible ability to water itself without human assistance.

Although the 68-year-old did indeed begin the project as part of her masters degree, the greenhouse highlights the versatility of how green thinking can be implemented in every part of our lives…

Solar Thermal Plastic Bottle Water Heater
Utilizing recycled bottles again, while at the same time discovering an innovative invention from yet another retiree, this latest invention is pretty remarkable: a solar thermal heater made from water bottles.

Attempting to tackle recycling issues in Brazil, retired mechanic Joe Alano, above, has invented a cheap alternative to corporate solar thermal panels…

An Energy-Making Hotel
Not every hotel offers you a comfortable bed and at the same time the opportunity to help save the environment. The Crown Plaza Copenhagen Towers offer guests that very privilege with their electricity-producing exercise bikes.

With monitors installed into the bikes, any guest who produces more than 10 watt hours will be rewarded with a free meal. Excellent if you’re looking to keep fit on your holiday…
(2 August 2012)

Take Back Your Gadgets! 6 Reasons To Love DIY

Jaymi Heimbuch, Treehugger
During July, we’ve put a special spotlight on the DIY ethic and how it plays out in the sphere of technology. From questions about repairability and empowerment, to diving head first into projects, we wanted to zero in on the importance of DIY in electronics and what it means for people, business, community and the environment. Here’s your chance to catch up on everything we covered.

Long Reads
1. The DIY Ethic and Modern Technology: Why taking ownership of your electronics is essential
“This small but intriguing trend toward getting comfortable with working on electronics is an important one not only for our self-confidence and joy, but for the planet as a whole. Relying on ourselves to come up with gadgets we need and want to use in daily life, fixing the devices that break, and knowing how and when to repurpose components to make something new are all part of relieving ourselves from the pressures and costs of consumerism. We are avoiding the environmental footprint of constant upgrades and piles of outdated devices, we’re participating in the recycling stream by finding value in and reusing old parts, and we’re contributing to the creativity of our future world.”

2. How The DIY Electronics Trend Is Empowering People, Communities, Businesses
“When it comes to our electronic devices, why would we not demand easy-to-open cases, replaceable batteries and components, screws instead of glues, easily accessible documents and drivers, and so on? Without these things, ownership of a device you’ve bought and paid for is actually still quite questionable. If you can’t — no, if you are actively discouraged — to open up and tinker with devices then you don’t own it, you’re just renting. In a culture that adores ownership, why do so few people care about truly taking ownership of items?”

3. How DIY Electronics Benefit The Environment
“A DIY attitude toward gadgets includes using old parts for new purposes, even to the point of disassembling old parts to use just small components of them for new projects. This kind of focus on reuse — on knowing how to reuse — is an important way of minimizing the footprint of electronic devices.”

4. 10 Coolest DIY Technology Resources from Tools to Tutorials
“Our gadgets seem to get more refined and complex as technology advances, and yet every day, it gets just a little bit easier to bring the DIY ethic to electronics thanks to some phenomenal resources. While there are many tools, locations, people, online resources and tutorials to help you, we’ve chosen ten of our favorites. Check out these great devices, websites, events and locations that will help you dive in to hack, modify, repair and rebuild your devices.”

5. The DIY Ethic and Creating Technology Independence
“DIY is not just for people who like to get hands on with products. It is a state of mind — a state of being — that alters culture and economy. It is the root of sustainability in technology. And it is the root of freedom, of independence from companies like Apple that happily erode the environmental integrity of products and try so diligently to strip self-reliance from makers. DIY is a way to take back our gadgets, so to speak. It is not just for makers and hackers, it is even for people who prefer not to dive in to their devices and rather hand over their old gadgets to someone — a neighbor or local repair shop owner — who can fix or reuse them.”

6. Why Gadget Repairability Is So Damn Important
“It’s incredible to think of the amount of control we give companies over our lives because we buy stuff that we can’t hack, modify or customize for ourselves. We give them control over repair services, warranties, how often we replace our devices. We give them control over design, functionality, and features. When we can’t even get past the “Will Void Warranty” stickers, then we are simply leasing a device until we buy the next new model. We don’t actually own it, it isn’t ours to do as we’d like with. Where then, is the pride of ownership? Where then is the responsibility one takes for their devices?”
(25 July 2012)

Innovative Financing Can Help Small Businesses and Nonprofits Invest in Solar Power

Staff, Goodvia Balle
For many years, solar customers paid for their panels in the same way they might pay for a TV: upfront or in installments. But as the solar industry has grown, new opportunities for financing solar projects have emerging. Some draw lessons and inspiration from microfinance and peer-to-peer lending, making small-scale solar available to families and community organizations, like schools and nonprofits, that could not afford the purchase on their own.

Years ago, Dan Rosen tried to get solar panels installed on his high school and couldn’t find the financing. Now, Solar Mosaic, the Oakland-based company he cofounded, allows individual investors to fund just that sort of solar project. Investors can bankroll solar systems in increments of $100, represented as “tiles.” One of the company’s first big projects will power the Asian Resource Center, an Oakland community group. The project has 982 tiles, all of them funded.

The opportunity, as Rosen puts it, is to “decentralize finance and energy”—to maximize the solar energy out there by obtaining funding from many sources and installing clean energy in many places. Investors might not be able to afford a whole solar system, but they can contribute to one.

Simpa Networks, which is selling solar panels on a pay-as-you-go system, is also drawing lessons from microfinance to help “make good customers.” Instead of loaning customers money to buy a solar system like a bank would, the company loans solar panels to their customers until they’re paid off. The company has also considered microfinance techniques like group loans or community incentives to keep their customers loyal…
(16 July 2012)