Nissan announces major price cut for 2013 LEAF

The Nissan LEAF, one of the most visible electric cars currently on the U.S. auto market, is set to become a whole lot more affordable for consumers.

According to a press release from the automaker, a low-cost version of the LEAF is expected to hit markets this year in what is being called an "entry-level" design, which will be known as the S Trim series. The precise cut will be approximately $6,000, equal to a roughly 18 percent reduction. Additionally, depending on the state, prospective buyers can take advantage of electric car tax incentives that would lower this price even further to about $18,500.

Among the improvements included in the 2013 edition are reduced power consumption and batteries capable of charging both more efficiently and quickly.

This measure, reports green news source Treehugger, would make the new LEAF the most affordable 5-seater electric car available in the United States. Officials from Nissan stated that the purpose of the cuts was to enable a wider selection of drivers to have access to the rechargeable automobile.

"With nearly 50,000 LEAFs on the road globally, we are the leaders in zero emissions vehicles and our class-leading product just got better," Billy Hayes, a vice president for Nissan, was quoted as saying in a press statement. "From the very outset, Nissan has continuously advanced and refined the affordable zero emissions vehicle ownership experience. Now customers won't have to pay a premium for owning a green car that's really fun to drive, and that's exciting."

If you've been thinking about buying an electric car, this development is sure to be good news for both you and your bank account. Hopefully this will start a trend of more affordable green vehicles, which can help save families money and reduce our impact on the environment.

San Antonio set for innovative “bookless library”

In a world where books are steadily and surely being replaced by tablets and smart phones for reading, the question of what purpose the library serves has been quietly asked by towns across America. One city, however, has decided to push this community resource into the 21st century by creating a library that features e-booksinstead of periodicals.

According to Treehugger, a green technology news source, the city of San Antonio is developing a plan for a “BiblioTech,” which will be a study and resource center based around the idea of using computers instead of pages to do research or recreational reading. Set for the metro area’s South Side region, the prototype system will be opened to the public in the fall of 2013 with plans to continue enhancing the network in the coming years.

Nelson Wolff, a Bexar County Judge who spoke with the San Antonio Express about the initiative, said that generational concerns were the primary driver behind the project. Citing the need to keep up with current opinions about paper-based books and e-book technology, he envisioned BiblioTech has a way for libraries to stay relevant in a future without the Dewey Decimal System or long rows of encyclopedias.

“It’s not a replacement for the library system, it’s an enhancement. People are always going to want books, but we won’t be doing that in ours,” Wolff told the source.

He went on to say that the design ideas championed by Apple founder Steve Jobs were a direct source of inspiration for the project, with Wolff stating in an interview, “If you want to get an idea what it looks like, go into an Apple store.”

With the first library set to open sometime this fall, those in the San Antonio area should do what they can to visit this innovative information center. If this initiative succeeds, more libraries across Americacould begin swapping out their old, aging books for a set of tablet computers.

NASA to seek answers to climate change questions in atmospheric search

Hoping to establish some clarity on the phenomenon of climate change in the Earth’s atmosphere, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is launching an unprecedented effort that will include aircraft gathering data from the upper reaches of our world.

According to the U.S. aeronautics agency, the Airborne Tropical Tropopause Experiment (ATTREX) is set to undertake 30-hour-long flights utilizing a Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle to fly up to 65,000 feet in the air. During these excursions, a number of scientific payloads and tests will be used to determine if and how our atmosphere is actually evolving.

“The ATTREX payload will provide unprecedented measurements of the tropical tropopause layer,” Eric Jensen, the principal investigator for the project, was quoted as saying in a press release. “This is our first opportunity to sample the tropopause region during winter in the Northern Hemisphere when the region is coldest and extremely dry air enters the stratosphere.”

Among the subjects tackled in the ATTREX initiative is the question of how water vapor and the level of ozone in the upper regions of the atmosphere are influencing climate change. Chemical composition experiments will be conducted, as the scientists predict that the ecological effect of these natural forces can have a huge influence on temperatures and weather conditions down here on the surface.

Additionally, cloud formation will be cataloged during the Global Hawk flights in the tropopause region, where ozone concentrations rise and the interaction between greenhouse gases and the atmosphere are particularly noteworthy, the release stated.

The aerial experiment will be taking place this Wednesday, January 16, with five more tests planned between that date and March 15. Stay with for further developments on this important ecological study.

Penn State researchers seek to make more energy efficient electric trains

Hoping to one day enable train commuters to see significantly reduced fares – which are driven partially by rising energy costs – a team of researchers from Penn State is hoping to develop a computer algorithm that will help automated public transit systems to identify efficiencies and weed out wasteful power consumption. While still in the development and testing phase, this technology could change the way that metropolitan transportation authorities approach these complex issues.

According to a press release from the university, the group is focusing on the impact of industrial-sized batteries during day-to-day usage in large transit networks. They identified a key phenomenon, known as sulfation, which involves the decay of battery life caused by repeated depletion and recharging of the power source. This issue leads to routine replacements, which can cost railroad companies significant amounts of money as they maintain their locomotive fleets.

To combat the problem, the Penn State team began investigating methods for reducing the number of times that the batteries had to be rejuvenated. Additionally, the researchers started developing ways for transit supervisors to monitor batteries before sulfation rendered them unusable.

"We wanted to reverse the sulfation to rejuvenate the battery and bring it back to life," Christopher Rahn, a professor of mechanical engineering who is involved in the study, was quoted as saying. "We desulfated it, and we increased its capacity. We didn’t increase it all the way to brand new. We weren't able to do that, but we did get a big boost."

The study, which is partially funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is still ongoing. However, it highlights the fact that scientists are actively seeking to bridge existing transportation methods with new clean technology innovations.

U.S. highway safety watchdog proposes sound regulations for EVs, hybrids

Following consumer complaints about electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid cars that are too quiet to hear, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing a set of rules that would mandate carmakers to increase the sound level of these types of vehicles.

According to Treehugger, a green technology news source, the risks were first identified because slow-travelling EVs and hybrids emit very low amounts of noise. This creates hazards for a number of groups, including bicycles and both the visually and hearing impaired. Some communities in the United States have instituted ordinances against these types of vehicles, but the NHTSA move represents the first comprehensive action to solve this problem. At the heart of the changes is the requirement that any vehicle traveling below 18 miles per hour emit a certain level of sound.

"Our proposal would allow manufacturers the flexibility to design different sounds for different makes and models while still providing an opportunity for pedestrians, bicyclists and the visually impaired to detect and recognize a vehicle and make a decision about whether it is safe to cross the street," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland was quoted as saying.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the highway watchdog, released a separate statement which included a commitment to instituting rules for both highway and local travel. Additionally, carmakers will be awarded some time as they adjust to the new regulations, as long as they ultimately adhere to the mandates.

Treehugger reported that, according to the DOT, nearly 3,000 injuries or deaths would be prevented once the rules are given final approval. These changes, which are being crafted as EVs begin to be utilized more often in American communities, are an important part of this evolving market. Stay with Life Is Green for the latest updates about the energy-efficient automobile industry.

Green home cleaning tips to adopt in 2013

In years past, you may have vowed to be more environmentally friendly with your choices as a consumer, going green by purchasing LED bulbs or solar energy products. In 2013, however, you can benefit by adapting the same habits when choosing the items you use to clean your home.

While usually inexpensive, many popular cleaning products, such as those for floors, windows and bathrooms actually harbor toxins and chemicals that can not only be potentially harmful to those around you if used improperly, but bad for the environment in certain cases as well.

This year, you can further your commitment to the environment by purchasing green products that clean the following areas of your home:

Kitchens – Nothing improves the sight of kitchen countertops and cabinets like a quick polish. However, you may want to be conscious of what you're using to clean these areas. Using paper towels or newspapers, which often end up in landfills, may not be the best for the environment. Instead, green experts suggest microfiber cloths, as they are inexpensive and reusable.

Tubs and sinks – For homeowners, there may be nothing worse than a tub or sink that is caked with unsightly residue. For a green way to clean these areas, many experts suggest using all-natural products such as baking soda or Kosher salt on tiles, sinks and tubs. Similarly, mold or mildew in these areas can be removed with lemon juice or white vinegar.

Windows – Just like tubs and sinks, windows often take a beating on the interior and exterior of homes. Looking for a green alternative? Mother Nature Network offers some handy cleaning tools you can make for use in spray bottles or buckets.

Texas Instruments developing groundbreaking type of circuit

Electronics users understand all too well the frustration of having the batteries die while in mid-use. Whether you're in the middle of a conversation on your iPad or working on a final paper for a college class on your laptop, finite battery lives can be extremely inconvenient. But what if your handy device was designed to pull electricity out of the air instead? Texas Instruments (TI), maker of the popular eponymous line of calculators and other consumer technologies, is working on a new way to create self-charging products.

According to a press release from the Lone Star State-based company, the "NanoBuck" power converter is a pint-sized processor. In theory, it is capable of both producing its own energy while also significantly increasing the amount of power that it receives from another source. TI estimates a 70 percent boosted efficiency rate, which could drastically raise the amount of operating time that most consumer electronics currently have. However, as officials from the firm stated in press releases, there are a wide variety of applications this proposed design could have.

"Imagine not having to change the battery in your smoke detector – ever," Sami Kiriaki, a vice president in the company's power production division. "TI continues to develop circuits with very low operating current and high power efficiency that can manage microwatts to milliwatts and extract ambient energy. This new power circuit gives designers capabilities not possible with traditional battery-powered systems."

It may be some time before this technology reaches the testing phase, let alone the shelves at your local electronics store. But these kinds of innovations hold the promise that more types of clean energy will be available to consumers on a more consistent basis, helping them to both save money and reduce their environmental footprint.

Billionaire financier Warren Buffett purchases largest U.S. solar power plant

Warren Buffett, the billionaire investment genius and an ardent supporter of Democratic President Barack Obama, announced this week that his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is buying the largest solar production plant in the United States through a subsidiary.

The Mid-American Energy Holding Co. is paying out nearly $2.5 billion for the Antelope Valley Solar Projects facility, previously owned by SunPower Corp. The sale creates a partnership between the two organizations, though Buffett's company will reportedly be performing renovations and personnel changes in the coming months.

According to green news source Inhabitat the 3,230-acre Antelope Valley plant is capable of producing up to 579 megawatts of electricity. Southern California Edison, an energy provider in The Golden State, has been contracted to sell the produced power. This investment adds a considerable amount of technological muscle to Berkshire Hathaway, totaling a reported 1,830 megawatts of potential resources.

In a press statement, officials from both Mid-American and SunPower praised the deal as a good investment for California citizens. One of major benefits, cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is that the Antelope Valley facility is capable of offsetting nearly 800,000 tons of of carbon dioxide emissions per year once it's fully upgraded and functioning sometime in 2016.

"The Antelope Valley Solar Projects mark a historic milestone for the energy industry," Howard Wegner, an operations president for SunPower, was quoted as saying. "We are delivering highly reliable low-cost renewable energy at a very large scale. SunPower is proud to partner with MidAmerican Solar and SCE, recognized leaders in clean energy development, bringing critically needed jobs and economic opportunity to California and helping the state achieve its renewable portfolio requirement."

With big-name investors increasing their clean energy portfolios, the idea of having a comprehensive green power strategy in the United States is slowly becoming a reality.

California breaks solar power production record this winter

In yet another sign of solar power's increasing importance in American communities, a top green energy company in California announced that The Golden State produced more eco-friendly electricity than ever before this winter.

Back in August, California achieved the one gigawatt (GW) milestone, thanks to widespread investment by town and individual homeowners in photovoltaic (PV) solar panels systems. Roughly four months later, the West Coast state did it again by achieving a level of 1.235 GW as of January 2. The California Independent System Operator, which provides clean energy solutions, sent out a celebratory tweet that day that heralded the achievement.

"In addition to a record number of photovoltaic installations, the peak can be attributed to a clear blue sky across most of California, with cloud cover only in the mountains and extreme northeast corner of the state," wrote Chris Clarke of KCET, a California clean energy news source. "The coasts and interior valleys, which host the majority of the state's solar installations, have no clouds to impede the sunshine."

EarthTechling, a green tech media site that also covered the development, reported that the number released by CISO did not include commercial operations and off-the-grid systems that provide electricity in private communities. The source speculated that, if these figures were factored in, the actual total production capacity would be nearly double the released rate.

If you're a California resident, you should press community leaders to incorporate PV solar operations into your town or city's energy infrastructure. Not only do these set-ups encourage low-carbon lifestyles that are good for the environment, but they also help improve local finances that can be used for other purposes as well.