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Nov 202012

By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

If you’ve been in the business of shopping for holiday lighting the past few years, you’ve probably noted some not-so-subtle changes in the offerings at your local home and garden store.

Those old-style incandescent lights? They’re still around, certainly. But more and more, they’re being crowded out by the new kids on the illumination block: The longer-lasting, more energy-efficient Light Emitting Diode (LED) option.

LEDs have been around for a few years now, and they’ve got quite a bit going for them. Promotional materials tout energy savings of 80 percent or more over their incandescent brethren. Claims that LEDs will burn more brightly and last up to 20 years are sure to get your attention, too. If you’re really looking to go all-out, they come in configurations that are easily programmable, too.

Of course, there’s usually a catch, and it won’t take you long to figure out this one.

LED lighting comes in all kinds of sizes, shapes and colors.

For the third straight year, we made our pilgrimage to the local Home Depot to check out the best and brightest of this year’s holiday lighting options. Mostly, we were interested to see if industry claims about LED prices coming down were actually true.

The answer: Yes…and no.

A year ago, we priced a box of 150 white C6 LEDs (a 49.8 foot string) from Home Accents Holiday at $28.98. This year, the same string was selling for $24.97.

A string of 200 LED minis (66.4 feet) from the same company that sold for $28.98 in 2011 was offered for $27.97 this time. And a string of 50 white C5 LEDs (16.3 feet) that cost $12.98 a year ago was available for $11.97 this year.

So, yes, prices have come down, but not dramatically. And those costs still make it prohibitive to buy in much volume, particularly when compared to the following incandescent options:

  • 300 white minis (68.6 feet) from Home Accents Holiday for $8.98, down from $9.98 a year ago.
  • 100 white minis from General Electric (24.7 feet) for $5.48, same as last year.
  • 100 white minis from Home Accents Holiday (20.7 feet) for $2.69.

To try to compare apples to apples, you could get 10 strings of Home Accents Holiday white minis (1000 lights) for $26.90. Or you could get one box of 200 LED minis for $27.97. To come up with 1000 LED minis, you’d have to shell out $139.85 versus $26.90 for incandescents.

Of course, we’re really not comparing apples to apples. While the two sets of lights may not look all that different, they definitely are.

When we made the fateful trek into the attic to retrieve our holiday lights recently, our first box yielded 10 strings of three-year-old green LEDs and 12 strings of incandescents purchased within that same three-year span.

The LEDs all fired up dutifully and seemed to be as bright as ever. Of the 12 strings of incandescents, however, two were completely dead and two more were missing anywhere from one-quarter to one-half of the string. On two more strings, the color had faded so significantly that they were no longer of any use.

Sound familiar?

To simply get back to last year’s inventory, I would have to go back to the store and buy six new boxes of incandescents (assuming I could find the same kind). Meanwhile, my LED replacement bill was $0.

Improvements were made in response to early complaints that LEDs were neither bright enough nor warm enough for holiday use.

There are other advantages to LEDs. They stay cool, greatly reducing any potential fire hazard. They’re also easier to work with. While most boxes of incandescents advise against putting more than five strings on a single outlet, LEDs can accommodate 15 to 18 strings on a single plug. If you are planning any kind of elaborate outdoor display, that kind of flexibility can make planning a whole lot easier.

Avoiding unnecessary aggravation during the most wonderful time of the year is a good selling point, too.

My wife is in charge of decorating the Christmas tree in our living room. A few years ago, after spending hours winding multiple strings through just the right places on each limb, affixing each ornament in just the right location and deciding all was good, she plugged in the lights.

Voila! The perfect Tannenbaum!

A few minutes later, she returned from the kitchen, celebratory beverage in hand, only to find that a string – in the center of the tree, of course — had given up the ghost. All of a sudden, an investment in LEDs seemed quite a bit more reasonable. (And, we agreed, they looked better, too!)

For those unfamiliar with Light Emitting Diodes, they’re a type of semiconductor that generates light when an electric current passes through positive and negative materials. Different colors and efficiency levels result from altering the composition of those materials.

Early on, LEDs found applications in traffic lights, DVD players, cell phones and other electronic devices. Ongoing improvements in the technology are allowing LEDs to expand into new markets.

While making the monetary commitment to LEDs can be a difficult call for the average consumer, manufacturers find themselves in a quandary as well. Conventional business has been based on the assumption that customers need to replace lights regularly. Now, companies are forced to adapt to a different business model, acknowledging that better products means less frequent sales.

If the stock at our local home and garden store is any indication, more homes and businesses are making the switch. While LEDs accounted for perhaps a third of the lights offered just a few years ago, the mix last year was about 50-50, and LEDs seemed to have a slight edge in our less-than-scientific survey of 2012.

We conclude that many consumers have figured out that LEDs make sense in the long run, saving enough electricity to make up for their higher upfront cost.

The EPA’s Energy Star program put the choice into perspective with this example: “The amount of electricity consumed by just one 7-watt incandescent bulb could power 140 LEDs — enough to light two 24-foot (7.3-meter) strings.

The math makes sense.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Aug 012012

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Other than the 2012 Olympics, it’s been a discouraging hot, drought-y month this July.  Greenland ice sheets are melting ominously.  India plunged into darkness and panic amid two days of massive electrical outages. Cargill recalled about 15 tons of tainted hamburger in the Mid-Atlantic and the New England states.  And there are disheartening reports about crop failures in the mighty U.S. “bread basket”.

Where’s the hope? We found it clinging to the edge of the screen in lesser headlines and in a few viral postings by perpetual optimists on our Facebook and Twitter feeds. We’re not sure these few nuggets of positive action are enough to save the planet, but they did make us feel better, briefly.

Here are some of those promising developments and discoveries from the summer of 2012.

1 – A bipartisan energy plan   

Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.) has proposed a bipartisan energy efficiency bill with Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio).

Yes, you read that right, the words ‘bipartisan” and “plan” in the same sentence, a sign we could be breaking deadlock on energy issues.

The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act (S. 1000), co-sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Sen. Bob Portman (R-Ohio), aims to save American consumers $4 billion per year in energy costs, while adding 80,000 jobs by 2020, with savings growing to $20 billion per year and 159,000 new jobs added by 2030.

All this would happen through benign energy efficiency measures such as requiring more energy efficient building construction and retrofitting. Voluntary stricter building codes would reduce energy use in residential and commercial buildings, which consume 40 percent of all energy used in the U.S., and in the industrial sector, which consumes more energy than any other sector of the  economy.

In addition, the law would require that the nation’s single largest energy consumer, the federal government, adopt better building standards and smart metering.

‘Course it hasn’t been passed yet.

Bob Portman (R-Ohio) has teamed with Shaheen on S. 1000.

If S. 1000 does make it through Congress, it would help manufacturers finance energy-efficient production technologies and practices, in part by expanding the existing Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantee program to include efficiency retrofits. (See a summary of the bill from Shaheen’s office.)

This plan is far from being an omnibus energy bill that would set national renewable energy standards or strip subsidies from fossil fuel providers to level the playing field for clean energy, but it is a step that seeks middle ground, and should appeal to cost-cutters and environmentalists. Both groups live on planet Earth and could celebrate that this law would bring a projected reduction in CO2 emissions of 108 metric tons by 2030, the equivalent of keeping 21 million cars off the road.

2- Solar Film that’s super thin and clear

Transparent solar polymer developed by UCLA team. (Photo: UCLA)

Solar power in the U.S. has suffered from scandals over government funding, cost thresholds that have curbed acceptance and what some see as unfair dumping by manufacturers in China.

But scientists aren’t giving up on solar technology. UCLA researchers announced last week that they have produced a new organic nearly clear film that produces electricity from infrared light. This solar film, a potential game-changer according to a report by veteran environmental writer Dean Kuipers in the Los Angeles Times, improves on similar products because it is virtually clear and could conceivably be painted or draped on a variety of buildings and products.

But wait, there’s more. This film could be used as a coating on electronic devices, effectively helping them power themselves, and it won’t cost that much to produce, according to team leader Professor Yang Yang.

“Our new PSCs are made from plastic-like materials and are lightweight and flexible,” Yang said in a UCLA release. “More importantly, they can be produced in high volume at low cost.”

Made using silver nanowires, the solar film collects only infrared rays and is less efficient — converting 6 percent of solar rays into electricity compared with 11-12 percent by existing PV panels. But its compact size and transparency, compared with the blue or black color of silicon solar panels, opens the door for many new applications.  On a window, for instance, it could simultaneously produce electricity and filter out damaging light.

3 – A City that’s Seizing Solar Power

CPS solar panels near San Antonio. (Photo: CPS)

San Antonio,  the nation’s 7th largest city, has moved a step closer to becoming the solar powerhouse it envisions becoming.

Last week, the municipally owned CPS Energy  signed a deal with OCI Solar Power that will support five solar plants  to be built in and around San Antonio or in West Texas, where the energy can be collected for use by the city. These solar farms are expected to produce 400 megawatts of power, enough to supply 70,000 households with all their electricity needs.

The new deal  will be supported by a $100 million high-tech manufacturing plant, estimated to create 805 new jobs, to be built by Nexolon America  on the city’s southern side, according to a city report.

The agreement between CPS and OCI calls for the utility company to buy all of OCI’s power for 25 years, providing a powerful incentive for full build-out of the solar installations.

San Antonio’s Mayor Julian Castro has promoted clean energy as a way for sunny San Antonio to grow and remain economically strong. Other Texas cities could take their cue from Castro, whose trailblazing might just wake up the rest of the state, which also enjoys tremendous solar potential.

“San Antonio continues to see economic growth with good-paying, sustainable jobs,” said Mayor Castro, in a prepared statement on the OCI deal.  “CPS Energy’s pursuit of clean energy and energy efficiency has attracted seven clean technology companies and a commitment, thus far, of a million dollars to local education. Those are the kinds of partnerships we welcome as we focus on our city’s current and future needs.”

4 – The Energy EGG

The Energy Egg turns it all off.

Four years in the hatching, the TreeGreen “Energy Egg”, developed by a British father concerned about rampant home energy use, will soon be distributed in the U.S..

The Energy Egg concept is simple — when it senses a room is empty, it turns off all the electronics — TVs, computers and games — using wireless technology.

A story in The Mail explains that software engineer and 37-year-old dad Brian O’Reilly, conceived of the idea as he roamed the house each night shutting down electronics and computers that his three daughters and wife had left on.

“So Brian went to his workshop and hatched an idea for the ‘Energy EGG’, which uses clever technology to sense when a room is empty and turn off unused electrical devices,” according to The Mail.

This summer O’Reilly signed a deal to distribute 100,000 in the US.

5 – Overpasses and underpasses that help wildlife safely cross highways

An overpass in the Netherlands invites animals to cross without risking their lives.

These aren’t new, but they’re making a splash on the Internet this summer, due to a story on The World Geography website.

Europe seems to be leading the pack with these humane bridges that assist wildlife in avoiding dangerous highways. The Netherlands, which helped start the trend, has more than 600 of these wildlife crossings, according to the story.

Wildlife corridors over roads also turn up in the United States (crossings in Montana and Washington are pictured), Canada and Australia. Nice.


Copyright © 2012 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

May 022012

Missing the Point on Climate

Andrew Winston

The media seems intent on giving climate skeptics much more than equal time. On Monday, the New York Times printed a cover story about the last arrow in the climate skeptics arsenal, the argument that cloud cover will adjust to a warming world and let more heat escape to space.

The science of cloud cover is important for understanding how our climate will change and how fast, but the scientific debate here isn’t actually the point. The big problem with this article, and nearly every other discussion of climate change, is that it rests on a deeply false premise: the idea that tackling climate change will just cost too much. This is hogwash.

It does not cost more to reduce carbon emissions; it costs less. Companies, consumers, and countries save money when they reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Study after study — and the constant experience of companies saving billions in eco-efficiency — prove this point over and over.

Some great books cover this terrain well. See Climate Capitalism by Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, for example. Or explore the latest data-rich entry into the canon of eco-savings from one of its founding fathers, Amory Lovins. Just peruse the executive summary of his latest book, Reinventing Fire for the calculations.

We can cut out huge quantities of carbon from our economy while saving literally trillions of dollars at a high IRR by investing in energy efficiency — just looking at the built environment, buildings have nearly $2 trillion of untapped savings over the coming decades at an IRR of 33%. (For this story at the microeconomic level, watch this video of Tony Malkin, owner of the Empire State Building, talking about the business benefits of the energy retrofit of the world’s most iconic building — a 38% cut in energy use, less than 3 year payback, higher rents from tenants.)

And none of these purely fiscal calculations include the significant health and national security benefits, which alone are enough to justify a quick exit from a carbon-based economy.

So it’s absurd, yet not shocking, that the Times lets two seemingly damning quotes in the article go completely unchallenged. First, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher: “There are people trying to tell us that we have got to accept draconian changes in our way of life.” Second, the climate skeptic and self-proclaimed cloud cover savior featured in this article, Dr. Lindzen: ” “If I’m right, we’ll have saved money” by avoiding measures to limit emissions.”

Very few people are looking for “draconian” changes at this point — radically more efficiency perhaps. But explain to me how insulated buildings with top-notch windows that make us more comfortable at far lower cost…or cars using no oil and causing no money to go to petro-dictators abroad…constitute threats to our way of life? Still, Rohrbacher is right to some extent but not how he intends: the longer we listen to naysayers like him and avoid making smart investments in our future, the harder the change will be. We will most certainly face draconian changes if we wait any longer. And Lindzen’s comment that we’ll save money by continuing to pump carbon, which is a waste product, into the atmosphere is just false.

Let’s be clear: These denier statements are big, fat, ugly, dangerous, and very expensive lies.

(Sign up for Andrew Winston’s blog, via RSS feed, or by email. Follow Andrew on Twitter @GreenAdvantage)

Aug 022011

Remodeling is one of the very best investments you can make in your home. When done correctly, remodeling allows you to take advantage of the latest energy savings technologies that increase your home value, lowers your monthly energy bills and adds aesthetic beauty to your most important asset.

Many of these energy savings improvements should be done by professional installation companies such as Statewide Remodeling. We have talked about the need for installing adequate attic insulation and a radiant barrier. Upgrading your existing windows to the more energy efficient Energy Star rated windows is another way to substantially decrease your utility bill as well as make it more comfortable, quiet, and aesthetically attractive.

But additionally, Weatherization is an important and relatively inexpensive way to save energy that Statewide Remodeling addresses when we come out to your home. Why is this important? Because leaks and cracks allow drafts to undermine all of your hard work and well-spent money.

While it may sound simple, the first step is to simply seal up any and all leaks in the walls of your home.

We can use caulk and seal air-leaks where plumbing, air ducts or electrical wiring penetrate through exterior walls, floors, ceilings or cabinets. We check both inside and outside for these leaks, which can be taken care of by sealing with caulk, sealant or weather-stripping.

Additional areas of leakage can also occur in the outlets and switch plates on exterior walls. The installation of rubber gaskets behind these plates can resolve the problem easily. Also checking your chimney flue and make sure it is a tight fit. If not properly sealed, the flue will release cooled or heated air 24 hours a day!

We also recommend insulating the hot water pipes- the first 8 to 10 feet is most important–and hot water storage unless it is an efficient unit with 3 inches or more insulation from the manufacturer. The hot water tank is the second largest user of energy after the air conditioning system in the house. Wrapping the hot water heater in a heater blanket or our radiant barrier product can save up to 75% of the heat loss from the water heater.

One of the other things we do during our energy assessment is check for air leaks in the air conditioning ducting and plenum. If there are any holes or punctures in your AC ducts, then you’re paying a lot of money to pump cold air into your attic!

Find out how easy it is to “Go Green” while saving hundreds of dollars a year or more on your heating and cooling bills. Call Statewide Remodeling today at 888.270.7206 or visit us online to sign up for a free in-home estimate of your energy savings needs.

May 252011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Building new green buildings can be exciting. But taking old buildings, like a giant college dormitory built in 1965, and making them as energy efficient as they can be, there’s real satisfaction in that, too.

Morrison Hall at UNC won last year's Battle of the Buildings.

And dollar savings.

Last year, Morrison Hall, an iconic dorm at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, saved a cool quarter million on its annual energy use after making a series of changes to reduce and conserve. The university repaired and fine-tuned its solar hot water system; adjusted fans in the HVAC system; changed out 250 bulbs to lower wattage CFLs and LEDs, and used “economizers” to pull in outside cool air when temperatures were under 65 degrees to reduce the load on its AC compressors.

All these changes brought down energy use at the red brick, mid-century dorm, helping Morrison Hall win the EPA ENERGY STAR’s inaugural Battle of the Buildings contest in 2010. Morrison reduced its “energy intensity” – a calculation of energy used measured against the space involved – by 35.7 percent, beating out the other 13 contestants for the biggest percentage reduction.

The competition will be even more rigorous this year with 245 buildings across the U.S. taking up the challenge. The 2011 entrants include several churches, schools, hospitals, municipal buildings, courthouses, hotels, a handful of skyscrapers and even an office building on Wall Street, 60 Wall Street. They may have to reverse their thinking at that last building; this contest rewards contraction not growth.

The U.S. Mint wants to save energy dollars.

Other buildings range from the esteemed, like Hauser Hall at Harvard Law, the Hawaii State Capitol Building and the GSA-Social Security Administration building (could energy savings here be a first step toward saving the system?), to the every day, such as an Office Depot in Tallahassee, Fla.; the Arlington County Fire Station 4 in Arlington, Va., and the Caterpillar AC Building in Mossville, Ill.

It shows how everyone has a stake in energy savings, no matter what their ideology or industry.

Contestants include the Kimberly Clark World Headquarters, makers of disposable paper products, and the U.S. Mint, makers of disposable income.

Asbury Methodist in Tulsa is an entrant in the Battle of the Buildings.

Churches entered include Methodists, Unitarians and Evangelicals. Schools are represented from several states, including what looks to be every single elementary, middle and high school in Wylie, Texas. Someone’s jazzed about energy conservation at that suburban Dallas district.

The Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce also has entered their handsome building. Hope their national office doesn’t mind.

Each of the 2011 entrants has been assessed a current Energy Use Intensity score that conveys how much energy they consume compared with the total floorspace of their building. Buildings have different intensities of energy use based on their activities. Hospitals, for instance, have a high EUI – with lots of energy-using tech equipment and the need for round-the-clock heating and cooling. Schools and retail stores have lower energy use intensity scores.

The competition will compare a building’s EUI between two 12-month-periods: 9/1/2009-8/31/2010 and 9/31/20010-8/31/2011.

The entrant that shows the greatest percentage reduction in EUI between those two time periods (with the EPA making some “weather-normalized” adjustments) will be declared the winner. The top finishers will be announced in November.

New York Hospital, Queens, aiming for an energy bill of health.

The competitors are urged to follow Energy Star guidelines for reducing energy use during the period of the competition. Those guidelines encourage a stacked, orderly approach in which changes maximize if taken in the right order. For instance, if the building proprietors first seal all air leaks, then added insulation will be more effective or HVAC repairs will be more effective.

Morrison Hall was last year’s winner, but all the competitors achieved some level of energy use reduction, resulting in nearly $1 million in saved electricity costs for the 14 buildings. Many of the schools and retail outlets accompanied their hardware changes and repairs with education for employees, encouraging better energy habits. Employees learned to put computers into sleep mode and were reminded to turn off lights in bathrooms and break rooms.

The Courtyard Marriott in downtown San Diego offered employees bonuses for energy reductions, as did the Solon Family Health Center in Cleveland, which awarded changes by offering to remodel break rooms for winning teams.

Retailers and office building managers installed occupancy sensors for hallways, conference rooms and other areas, which automatically shut off lights when no one was around.

The JCPenney Store #1778 in Orange County, Calif., employed programmable lights, among other features, to reduce its Energy Use Intensity by 28 percent and finish third in the 2010 contest.

All together the 2010 winners’ energy reductions also greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of nearly 600 homes.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Mar 112011

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Rep. Joe Barton’s last bright idea – to apologize to BP for having to make reparations for the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – earned him national ridicule.

His pandering may not have misfired (much) in the conservative-leaning Texas district he represents, but it was a rude affront to those who earn a living on the gulf, and anyone who cares about the workers and wildlife there.

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton

Now, less than a year later, Barton again appears to have his finger on the pulse of the mean-spirited minority.

And there’s a connection. Once again, Barton is thumbing his nose at America’s urge to become more energy efficient. His plan: Roll back  a 2007 law that requires light bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient than old-style incandescent bulbs starting in 2012.

Yes, it’s come to that. Even new light bulb technology is now suspect in certain circles. Oh, how far  we’ve strayed from more ambitious attempts to curb our energy use. Forget carbon pricing or fees on big smokestack polluters. Now, even a nudge in the right direction ignites a controversy.

Rep. Barton and some like-minded cohorts in the House,  Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Steve Burgess (R-Texas) , who also represents… well, it doesn’t matter who he represents, because this group may not be representing the public, so much as they’re representing an ideology, and possibly corporate supporters.

These three have  introduced, H.R. 6144, known as the “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act,” which argues for sticking with outmoded technology and would stymie efforts to reduce household electricity consumption.

The question is why?

Barton (whose office declined to comment for this story) has said it is important that we stick with old-style light bulbs because a U.S. light bulb factory recently closed in Virginia. He’s also concerned about mercury in CFL light bulbs, which we’ll get to in a moment. And, he says, old incandescents are  cheaper to buy (but only if you count just their upfront cost).

CFLs consume 25 percent of the energy of old-style light bulbs.

Let’s start with the jobs. It’s true that 200 people lost their positions when the last incandescent light bulb factory in the U.S. closed Winchester, Virginia last year, marking the end of an era.

What Barton fails to mention is that new lighting technology has been creating thousands of jobs, many of them in the U.S., as companies like North Carolina’s Cree, a leader in LED lighting, Philips and Sylvania  expand operations. Cree is even developing a new LED that mimics the old incandescent. These are jobs that would be jeopardized by a political showdown over advanced lighting technology.

But Barton and company are not really worried about jobs. Truth be told, they  just don’t want government telling us what to buy. And they’ll follow that ideology off a cliff.  (One survey, by a conservative pollster, did show that about 70 percent of the respondents didn’t want to “be told” what light bulbs to buy. But the answer might have been generated by the way the question was asked. Good thing the law on the books doesn’t “tell” anyone what to buy. It requires manufacturers to make more energy efficient light bulbs of whatever type they choose.)

Lighting might seem like a filament on the large stage of energy debates. But it accounts for about 20 percent of our household electricity costs. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that the switch underway to lighting that’s 30 percent more efficient would save the U.S. $10 billion a year on electricity.

The savings could actually be much greater because CFL light bulbs actually use only about 25 percent of the energy of an old incandescent. What’s more, those who like that friendly warm glow from incandescents will find it replicated not just in newer CFLs, but in new more efficient incandescents coming onto the market, as well as those LEDs that aren’t quite ready for the consumer just yet.

The argument to stick with the light bulb that Edison invented 130 years ago seems to vaporize when you shine a light on it.

So hail to the old ways! Let’s go back to refrigerators with ozone-blasting CFCs and cars without seat belts. They could be powered by leaded gas!

Sounds silly. But this has become a huge battle in Congress, with a corollary bill in the Senate to shutdown lighting progress drawing support from several senators. (Here’s the latest on that.)

Yes, Barton is spot on when he says CFLs are an imperfect solution to the old style incandescent light bulb. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury and must be dealt with very carefully if they break.  The EPA advises the public to take specific steps — to clear the room, avoid handling the debris directly and to dispose of it properly. It’s onerous. But new technology doesn’t always roll out perfectly, and where was the outcry over the mercury that’s been hanging around for decades in all those long tube fluorescent lights in offices and garages everywhere?

The mercury content in CFLs is miniscule, about 4 milligrams, a fraction of the 500 milligrams that floated around in those old-style thermometers, according to the NRDC.

The NRDC argues that newer, more efficient light bulbs will do far more to protect the environment from mercury pollution than they ever could to contaminate it.

Using CFLs could save households $100 to $200 in electricity costs and cut national energy use by an amount equivalent to that consumed by all the houses in Texas every year. The concurrent reduction in air pollution from coal-fired power plants would greatly reduce mercury emissions nationally. Let me say that again, mercury emissions would decline, because we’d be saving energy. (It’s a key point often missed in news stories on this topic.)

“These standards will help cut our nation’s electric bill by over $10 billion a year and will save the equivalent electricity of 30 large power plants,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council. “That translates into a whole lot less global warming pollution being emitted.”

Most CFLs also last a long time, compounding their efficiency. Some of mine are six years old, and I can attest to their energy-saving ability. Only two, in a ceiling fan fixture, expired before their time, and were recycled via a Lowe’s recapture center.

As for this breakage issue. I can understand why people with small kids might worry. This is a legitimate concern. But some CFLs come with an extra coating around the “squiggly” part, as Barton calls it, that contains the breakage with an outer sheath. You can also buy CFLs that have the lowest mercury content thanks to a green lighting guide produced by the Environmental Working Group. And it’s possible that LEDs, even more efficient, and mercury-free, will conquer the home lighting market.

So I’m searching for the problem here.

Perhaps those who want to dismantle the energy progress promoted by this Bush-era law  have special interests cheering them on; special interests that prefer the status quo.

Some of Barton’s biggest supporters include electric utilities and oil and gas companies.

We shouldn’t assume, though, that every utility or power provider wants us to waste energy.

MX Energy President and CEO Jeffrey Mayer recently noted that some power companies want to help shape a more sustainable world.

“The transition to more energy efficient lighting is just one example of how a universal small change – something as simple as changing a light bulb – can produce a dramatic and substantial impact on our energy consumption as a nation,” Mayer said. “Some people may be surprised that as an energy provider we would support a move that will translate into people using less of our product. However, the issue of sustainability and energy efficiency has always been at the core of who we are as a company.”

I like to think Mayer, whose company has been carbon neutral for the past few years, is not alone; that he represents the vanguard of the power industry.

But maybe some of Barton’s supporters just aren’t there yet. The electric utilities and oil and gas companies that gave him $350,000 of the $2.38 million he raised in the last election cycle may not be ready for new ways to save energy.

Guess they’re still in the dark about how we need to tread more lightly on this planet.

  • Read more about the value of keeping new light bulb technology moving forward at this NRDC fact sheet.

Copyright © 2011 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 062011

The modlet is expected to pay for itself through energy savings.

From Green Right Now Reports

ThinkEco, Inc. is debuting the first wirelessly communicating intelligent outlet at the Consumer Electronics Show this week in Las Vegas.  The “modlet” — short for modern outlet — is designed to reduce energy waste from plugged-in appliances and other consumer electronics.

New York City-based ThinkEco‘s modlet will be available for home use this spring, priced at $50 for a starter kit that includes a two-plug modlet and a USB receiver.

The company says its modlet is expected to pay for itself through energy savings, on average, within six to nine months. Power consumption is controlled through the modlet’s web-based interface, which allows users to see where they are wasting energy, and empowers them to take immediate action by accepting modlet-generated savings-plan recommendations.

“There are more appliances and consumer electronics in homes today than ever before, and many draw power all the time, even if they are not being used. This wastes energy quietly and invisibly, in stark contrast to the very visible waste associated with other resources such as keeping your faucet on or idling your car,” Jun Shimada, president and CEO of ThinkEco, Inc., said in a statement

ThinkEco’s modlet was named an International CES Innovations 2011 Design and Engineering Awards Honoree.


Oct 042010

This LED uses just 6 watts.

From Green Right Now Reports

As with other technologies, advances in lighting just keep coming. Now that you’re somewhat comfortable with CFL — compact fluorescent lamp — bulbs, get ready for things to change again.

The latest generation of LEDs — light-emitting diodes — are here and manufacturers claim they rival the look, dimming ability, and light quality of incandescents. Better yet, LEDs contain no mercury, and last up to five times longer than CFLs and 50 times longer than incandescents. They are pricey — many sell for $60 or more — but one can save about $300 in electrical costs over its life compared with an incandescent.

Until recently, LEDs lagged in light output and were considered useful mainly for task and exhibit lighting. But ENERGY STAR notes now that LED lighting is more efficient and versatile than incandescent and fluorescent lighting. LEDs emit light in a specific direction, whereas an incandescent or fluorescent bulb emits light — and heat — in all directions.

LED lighting uses both light and energy more efficiently. For example, an incandescent or CFL bulb inside of a recessed can fixture will waste about half of the light it produces, while a recessed down light with LEDs only produces light where it’s needed — in the room below.

Other key features of LED lighting include:

  • Reduces energy costs — uses at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting, saving on operating expenses.
  • Reduces maintenance costs — lasts 35 to 50 times longer than incandescent lighting and about 2 to 5 times longer than fluorescent lighting. No bulb-replacements, no ladders, no ongoing disposal program.
  • Reduces cooling costs — LEDs produce very little heat.
  • Is guaranteed — comes with a minimum three-year warranty — far beyond the industry standard.
  • Offers convenient features — available with dimming on some indoor models and automatic daylight shut-off and motion sensors on some outdoor models.
  • Is durable and won’t break as easily as a bulb.

Here are few models that we found — and not all of them are as costly as we’ve been warned:

Sep 092010

From Green Right Now Reports

Who says it too expensive to change out the bulbs?

Cree LEDs are more energy efficient and cooler than the halogens they're replacing. (Photo: Cree.)

Not the Furniture Row Companies, a large family-owned retailer with 330 stores across the U.S., which is switching its showroom lighting to Cree Inc. LED lights

So far, Furniture Row has installed about 13,000 Cree LRP-38 LED spotlights, out of more than 80,000 planned, at its stores, which include the Sofa Mart®, Oak Express®, Bedroom Expressions® and Denver Mattress Company®.

Rod Schnurr, store planning coordinator, said the family wanted to be good “environmental stewards”, but also wanted to remain  “fiscally responsible.” Finally, the stores needed quality lights to properly showcase the woods and fabrics within the room vignettes.

While 11-watt Cree lights that are replacing 90-watt halogen bulbs do cost more upfront than some other options, but they provide superior lighting and long term energy savings. They produce less heat, which saves on air conditioning costs, according to Cree and Furniture Row.

The first Furniture Row Shopping Center to install Cree LED lights saved $4,200 on monthly energy costs compared to what the store paid using the previous  lighting, Schnurr said.

The Cree lights also are expected to last 50,000 hours, far more than the halogens they’re replacing, according to a Cree news release.

LEDs are popping on in other applications, and faring well when compared to other bulbs, including passing muster against compact fluorescents in recent Consumer Reports tests.

Jun 242010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You can hear them rattle in the winter, and rumble in the summer. Whether they’re underfoot or overhead in the attic, these unseen monsters can really make a difference in your home’s heating and cooling bills.

Yes, we’re talking about your ducts or duct work, and we don’t mean to be personal when we say, you’d better have your ducts in order when it comes to saving on cooling costs.

Leaking ducts typically drain away 20 to 25 percent of the cool air your air conditioning unit is trying to pump throughout the house. If they’re not well sealed, tightly affixed to the AC unit and efficiently arranged, they can be the phantom culprits on your high energy bill.

“Ducts can be big energy wasters, especially when they run through areas that are not heated or cooled. That’s your attic or a crawl space; sometimes they’ll even run through a garage,” says Doug Anderson, a home energy expert with Energy Star.

A duct problem “can throw off the whole heating and cooling balance in your home.”

Cooling your attic via leaky ducts just doesn't make sense (Image: EPA)

So let’s take this step by step. If you suspect you’ve got leaks, you’ll want to get the right supplies in place, take a look behind the scenes of your home HVAC, and then seal up the weak spots, or hire a professional to do the job.

Step One

Get supplies. But don’t use duct tape. Despite its name, duct tape is ineffective, especially if it’s the cloth-back matte gray type. In a hot attic, this stuff just dries up and falls off. The shiny foil or metal tape is better, and works adequately well on flexible ducts. The best stuff to seal up air leaks on solid duct work and in some cases on flexible ducts, is mastic, a goo that you can get at the local hardware store.

You’ll also need a) a flashlight and b) an incense stick and c) plastic ties intended to strap flexible duct together.

Step Two

Inspect it. Peer into your attic, crawl space or the basement ceiling where your ductwork resides. Remember when the kid in Home Alone saw the mighty furnace huffing at him in the basement? This won’t be that scary. But it can help you find the answer to your horrifying electrical bills. According to Energy Star protocol, you should climb into the entrance to your attic, if that’s where the ducts are, but not go any (or much) farther than the threshold. Turn on the light or shine your flashlight around to get the lay of the land. Look for twisted, smashed or disengaged ductwork. Look for gaps and cracks.

Step Three

Get systematic (about finding the leaks). Anderson says that he can’t in good conscience recommend that homeowners crawl around in the attic and do their own repairs. Some folks just aren’t that handy and could make matters worse, and there’s the danger of stepping through the ceiling…. At the same time, we know that many of you will do your own work. So here are some tips: Don’t just crawl around empty handed. Use a burning incense stick to detect drafts. The thin smoke line will help you spot air flow. If you want to get more aggressive, get some theatrical smokes and put it near an air return or at the air blower. Then watch the ducts to see where this nontoxic smoke escapes. Be careful not to trip on electrical wiring or tangle with the fiberglass insulation.

Step Four

Fix it. (Or skip to Step Five.) Again, use mastic or metal tape to seal up cracks and gaps. For big gaps, use drywall netting and mastic. (If you don’t know what drywall netting is or where to get it, proceed to Step Five.) If you’ve got a length of ductwork that has been ripped or crushed, you may be able to replace that entire section. Measure the damaged segment carefully; you don’t want to come up short. Remember too that not all ductwork has the same circumference. Take the damaged piece to the hardware store to match it to a new section. Install the replacement section using mastic, metal tape and the plastic closure ties you will get when you buy the duct work. See Energy Star website for more details on fixing your own ducts.

Step Five

Hire someone. There are as many reasons to hire someone to make leak repairs as there probably are spider webs in the far corners of your duct system. Your attic may be vast, or difficult to navigate. If your ducts are in a crawl space, you could have mold (and there are solutions for mitigating mold at the same time you get the ducts fixed) that you shouldn’t touch. Some more really good reasons to hire professionals: You may have system problems that go beyond leaky ducts, such as a loss of coolant in the system. They can handle that on the spot. Many HVAC experts can also check your blower, AC condensation unit and so on, to make sure the entire system is working well. Anderson recommends yearly checkups for your AC and heating systems (one in the spring and one in the fall). These can help head off problems, and while the experts are there you can ask them to run a check for leaky ducts. The cost for this should be moderate, and you will recoup the expense eventually on your electricity bills.

“If they just sealed up a few leaks, they might charge 200-300 bucks to do that and you’ll recoup that money in two to three years,” Anderson guesstimates.

The pros also can do a “duct blaster” test that pressurizes the system, allowing them to better check for leaks, Anderson said. They’ve also got the cool tools (that you can’t afford) such as infrared cameras or “smoke pencils” that can pinpoint all the escaping hot or cool air in your attic, crawl space or even the walls, where duct work is sometimes found.

They’ve got other tricks in their tool chest. Some may cost you a bit, but they can be effective. You’ve probably heard of the door blower test in which HVAC inspectors pressurize the entire house to check for leaks everywhere from the attic to the basement and along windows and doors. These can be pricey though.

Anderson suggests checking with your local utility to see what they offer. Some will run an efficiency check (though not a door blower test) on your house for very little, or in some instances, for free.

While these checks might seem like extra expense, they can pay off in unexpected ways, uncovering the mystery of why one room fails to get cool, or prolonging the life of an AC unit.

“Having somebody take a look at the system can be a good idea,” Anderson says, “and it can be a much cheaper fix than getting a whole new system.”

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Apr 192010

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

coal plant Braden Gunem Dreamstime

Coal-fired power plant (Photo: Braen Gunem/Dreamstime.)

Sitting in a heap atop the list of climate change offenders is coal. Coal-burning power plants account for 20 percent of all carbon emissions worldwide. Their smokestacks spew sulfur and nitrogen dioxide as well, contributing to the stew of greenhouse gases that are heating the Earth’s atmosphere.

Despite the growth of renewable energy sources, coal remains the single largest provider of power for America, at 45 percent. And its toxic footprint doesn’t end with air pollution. The industry’s waste, leftover ash, is laced with metal oxides.

Thousands of coal-fired power plants are chugging away around the world, poisoning the air –  all day, every day.

Around coal mines, runoff carries pollutants and heavy metals that befoul waterways and contaminate fish. The environmental nightmare caused by blasting away mountaintops to reach coal (known as Mountain Top Removal or MTR) has compromised dozens of mountains in Appalachia, deforested the land, smothered streams and valleys, stripped the soil and left tons of waste in its wake. Of course, there are the well-known health and safety threats to those who work inside mines.

Coal is cheap for energy companies, and it has been historically plentiful, but the Earth pays a steep price for it. A National Academy of Sciences report places a $62 billion price tag on coal’s environmental toll annually.

What’s your part in this? You can find out how much of your power comes from coal at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Power Profiler.

This problem is so large, surely one person can’t make a difference. Wrong – everything starts with someone, and today that someone could be you.

Here are 6 ways that you can conserve energy and decrease the use of coal.

Aerial view of a mountain top removal operation (Photo: Appalachian Voices)

Aerial view of a mountain top removal operation (Photo: Appalachian Voices; flight courtesy Southwings)

1. Buy Green Power. You may be able to buy green power and don’t even know it. The U.S. Department of Energy provides a map and links to various power providers who can offer more environmentally clean sources of electricity. If you can’t get green power directly, you can buy Renewable Energy Certificates that will go toward defraying the cost of more-expensive green energy. RECs help support clean energy being used elsewhere on the grid, when none is locally available.

2. Get Conservative at Home. The smart folk at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs have a Home Energy Saver tool that lets you bore deeply into potential energy savings at your home.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy also has a consumer checklist to help people make immediate changes to save energy — and use less coal — such as turning down the setting on your water heater to warm, caulking leaky windows, switching out incandescent light bulbs to CFLs (or LEDs) and changing dirty HVAC filters so the system runs efficiently.

3. Buy Energy Star. Starting with refrigerators, which can take the biggest energy gulp of all household appliances, to computers and TVs and assorted electronic gadgets, almost everything that plugs in (and a few things that don’t, like windows) is now assessed by Energy Star, the joint project of the EPA and DOE to help tamp down power use. The energy savings adds up.

4. UnPlug. Your house (and everyone else’s) may be the single worst energy glutton going, but did you know that more than 5 percent of your home’s energy can be sapped daily by computers and TVs and video-game players and all your other electronic gear – when they’re not being used. Just pushing the off button doesn’t stop the energy drain. Unplug them when you can. Use a power strip on entertainment centers to turn the whole set-up off when it’s not in use. Cell phones charged? Unplug them.

5. Hang It Out. Still in the mood to save money? Try a clothes line. Or put a line or rack in the garage if you think the neighbors might scowl. Your clothes dryer uses a lot of electricity (making things hot uses more power than making things cold). Reduce your dryer use, and remember to wash your clothes in cold water or get a front-loading washing machine and you will save several hundred dollars a year.

6. Cover It Up. The biggest home-energy wasters? Pool and spa pumps and heaters. Just getting a pool cover to preserve the water’s warmth will immediately shave off hundreds of dollars from the cost of heating. Downsize to a smaller, more efficient pump and you’ll save even more.  Install a timer to minimize how long the pump operates saves more.

Keep the pool a few degrees lower and there’s more money. When its time to replace the pool heater, go with a solar pool heater and get a pleasant sticker shock at the sight of your energy bill. All of this and more is on the government’s Energy Savers site.

Bonus points: Buy a home energy monitor. You can find some for around $130 and you can keep constant, real time tabs on your electricity use. This story provides more details about home energy management.

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

More Earth Day coverage:

Mar 222010

(In this piece, reprinted from a collection of essays assembled by the World Economic Forum, a Switzerland-based non-profit commited to improving the state of the world, U.S. Secretary of Energy argues that making buildings energy efficient can rack up substantial energy savings. Chu also discusses why businesses and individuals have previously failed to pick up on this opportunity.)

By Steven Chu


Steven Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy

For the next few decades, energy efficiency is one of the lowest cost options for reducing US carbon emissions. Many studies have concluded that energy efficiency can save both energy and money. For example, a recent McKinsey report calculated the potential savings assuming a 7% discount rate, no price on carbon and using only “net present value positive” investments. It found the potential to reduce consumer demand by about 23% by 2020 and reduce GHG emissions by 1.1 gigatons each year — at a net savings of US$ 680 billion.

Likewise, the National Academies found in 2009 that accelerated deployment of cost-effective technologies in buildings could reduce energy use by 25-30% in 2030. The report stated: “Many building efficiency technologies represent attractive investment opportunities with a payback period of two to three years.”

Some economists, however, don’t believe these analyses; they say there aren’t 20-dollar bills lying around waiting to be picked up. If the savings were real, they argue, why didn’t the free market vacuum them up? The skeptics are asking a fair question: why do potential energy efficiency savings often go unrealized?

I asked our team at the Department of Energy to review the literature on savings from home energy retrofits. We are pursuing energy efficiency in many areas — from toughening and expanding appliance standards to investing in smart grid — but improving the efficiency of buildings, which account for 40% of US energy use, is truly low hanging fruit.

In this review, we looked only at studies that compared energy bills before and after improvements and excluded studies that relied on estimates of future savings. We found that retrofit programs that were the most successful in achieving savings targeted the least efficient houses and concentrated on the most fundamental work: air-tight ducts, windows and doors, insulation and caulking. When efficiency improvements were both properly chosen and properly executed, the projected savings of energy and money were indeed achieved. In science, we would call the successful programs an “existence proof” that efficiency investments save money. Too often, however, the savings went unrealized, due to a number of reasons, including poor efficiency investment decisions and shoddy workmanship.

There are other reasons why energy savings aren’t fully captured. Market failures include inertia, inconvenience, ignorance, lack of financing and “principal agent” problems (e.g., landlords don’t install energy efficient refrigerators because tenants pay the energy bills). To persuade the skeptics and spark the investments in efficiency we need, the Department of Energy is now focused on overcoming these market failures.

First, the Department is working to develop a strong home retrofit industry. We are creating a state-of-the-art tool that home inspectors can use on a handheld device to assess energy savings potential and identify the most effective investments to drive down energy costs. We’re also investing in training programs to upgrade the skills of the current workforce and attract the next generation. The Department is also focused on measuring results — to both provide quality assurance to homeowners and promote improvement. For example, we’re pursuing new technologies such as infrared viewers that will show if insulation and caulking were done properly. Post-work inspections are a necessary antidote and deterrent to poor workmanship.

To address inconvenience and to reduce costs, we’re launching an innovative effort called “Retrofit Ramp-Up” that will streamline home retrofits by reaching whole neighborhoods at a time. If we can audit and retrofit a significant fraction of the homes on any given residential block, the cost, convenience and confidence of retrofit work will be vastly improved. Another goal of this program is to make energy efficiency a social norm.

To help pay for investments, we’re working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to encourage new financing tools. For example, homeowners might pay back energy improvement loans via an assessment on their property tax bill. Out-of-pocket expenses are eliminated and energy savings will exceed the increase in property tax. Both the savings and the loan payments would stay with the house if the owners decide to sell.

Another opportunity comes when a property changes hands. Banks require a structural inspection and a termite inspection; they should also ask for the last year’s worth of utility bills, which speaks directly to the home’s affordability. If improvements are needed, the costs could be seamlessly tacked onto the mortgage.

The greatest gains can be realized in new construction. By developing building design software with embedded energy analysis and building operating systems that constantly tune up a building for optimal efficiency while maintaining comfort, extremely cost-effective buildings with energy savings of 60-80% are possible.

Regardless of what the skeptics may think, there are indeed 20-dollar bills lying on the ground all around us. We only need the will — and the ways — to pick them up.