Solar Energy Accounts For 48 Percent Of New Power Added

Nearly half of all power added to the U.S electricity grid for the first quarter of 2013 came from solar energy according to a report by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).

723 megawatts (MW) of solar power were added to the national grid, which accounts for 48 percent of all new power added. That brings the total amount of solar energy fed into the U.S. power grid to 7.9 gigawatts (GW).  These gains where very well received by the SEIA

"Overall, these installations represent the best first quarter of any given year for the industry," the organization reported, according to Treehugger.com. "In addition, the residential and utility market segments registered first-quarter highs with 164 MW and 318 MW respectively." The source added that residential use increased to 53 percent year-over-year.

These gains in the residential market were welcomed by the SEIA, which noted that "the residential market continued its steady, incremental quarterly growth, and has not shown seasonality and market volatility on a national basis. Quarterly growth in the residential market has ranged from 4% to 21% in 12 of the past 13 quarters, and Q1 2013 sat in the middle of that range." 

Coming off a strong fourth quarter of 2012, when response to Government initiatives caused solar energy  to be added to the utility grid at a phenomenal rate. In fact, though the first quarter 2013 represents a year-over-year gain of 33 percent, it's still a drop of 45 percent from the fourth quarter 2012. Additionally, the source noted that up to 5.3 GW could be added to the total U.S. capacity before the year is out. 

This development represents a defining moment for the U.S. solar industry. Readers who want to stay informed about these and other milestones should continue reading the LifeIsGreen.com blog. 

  

A New Method For Estimating “Green Miles”

The southern United States boasts some of the most affordable gas prices in the nation. Coming in at under $3.30, these rates – while seemingly cheap – are actually nearly three times the cost of fueling an electric car to drive the same distance, according to the US Department of Energy's (DOE) eGallon.

The eGallon is a recently developed measurement of how much the energy cost would be for the driver of an electric vehicle (EV) compared to regular gasoline car or truck owners. It's calculated by taking the average distance that a gasoline-powered vehicle can drive on a gallon of gas (28.2 miles for comparable 2012 model year cars), and then calculating how much it would cost to drive the average EV that same distance.This system is designed to produce both regional estimates for the relative cost of gasoline for traditionally built cars, as well as a national number. 

It presents a quick visual of the energy consumption savings drivers can get by switching from conventional gas vehicles to an EV. The DOE also highlights the stable cost of electricity as compared to the fluctuating nature of gas prices. According to the DOE, gas prices will spike up and down based on world events, whereas electricity is produced regionally and prices are more easily regulated.

Other factors not mentioned, like time based rates – where the rate of utility billing drops during non-peak times – and free, public charging stations, mean the savings by going green with your next car could be far more than the eGallon tool suggests. The DOE reports that more Americans are switching to electric cars – the EV market achieved its 100,000th sale as of this past May –  as "technology continues to improve and the cost of the vehicles continues to fall." Currently, the cheapest EV on the market goes at just over $30,000 and qualifies for the IRS Plug-In Vehicle Tax Credit. 

Stay reading LifeIsGreen.com for more information on eco-friendly cars and other important topics in the green economy.

U.S. and China agree to reduce HFC’s

When people talk about anthropogenic climate change, its typically within the context of carbon dioxide and the energy consumption habits of Americans, because most global warming is the direct result of those two components. But other culprits that are often ignored in discussions of greenhouse gases are hydrofluorocarbons (HFC), a gas that is frequently used in a variety of applications including refrigeration and air conditioning. These gases are actually hundreds or even thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide (though they accumulate in much lower concentrations in the atmosphere) so it is important that environmentalists pay attention to these as well.

Recognizing the threat HFC's pose to environmental and public health, the United States and China have reached an agreement to cooperate in the reduction of HFC emissions. The partnership was announced on June 10 just hours after President Obama met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Palm Springs, California, over the weekend. The two discussed several matters, not least of which was the growing importance of the two nations joining forces to combat environmental issues, particularly as China becomes an economic powerhouse.

HFC's were actually meant as a replacement for chlorofluorocarbons (CFC), chemicals that were used for industrial purposes but which also depleted the ozone layer. CFC's were phased out by the Montreal Protocol.

"If the largest consumers of HFCs are agreeing to phase down these potent greenhouse gases, other countries should join the consensus and take real action to combat climate change," said Mark Roberts, international policy advisor for Environmental Investigation Agency, in a news release.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for more updates on the green living future.

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant In California To Be Shut Down

One of the most distinct features of the California coastline, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, will be shut down permanently. The owner of the nuclear power plant, Edison International, announced on June 7 that regulatory costs and safety concerns would make it unprofitable and dangerous to continue producing electricity from the plant's two nuclear reactors, which were suspended in January 2012. The decision to shut down the 2,150 megawatt (MW) power station will be seen as a victory by environmentalists and nuclear activists.

San Onofre became the target of much criticism and heightened scrutiny after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi reactor meltdown in Japan. It was later discovered that the plant had major design flaws that exposed the California coastline to radioactive water and meltdown hazards.

Nuclear power is a divisive issue. Some say it produces clean energy, but in fact spent radioactive fuel can pose a serious public health and environmental hazard for thousands of years, making the cost of mitigation efforts almost incalculable.

"I am greatly relieved that the San Onofre nuclear plant will be closed permanently," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in a statement. "This nuclear plant had a defective redesign and could no longer operate as intended."

This creates an excellent opportunity for the state to migrate to renewable sources to pick up some of the slack left by the decommissioning of plant. Renewable energy, which currently makes up about 12 percent of California's electricity sources, provides the same power with none of the environmental costs of fossil fuels and nuclear.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide updates on energy consumption news in the United States.

USDA And EPA Join Forces To Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge

A major challenge for anyone concerned about greenhouse gas emissions in America is to find ways to reduce not just fossil fuel energy consumption, but food waste as well. In addition to making up nearly 20 percent of all solid waste that finds its way into dumps, the garbage that collects there decomposes and produces methane, a potent climate changing gas. In response to this issue, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency have partnered to launch the U.S. Food Waste Challenge.

The Food Waste Challenge is a program that aims to reduce the amount of food that ends up in the trash. Through activities and incentive programs aimed at producers, restaurants, schools and government agencies, the hope is that consumption practices will be rethought and designed to be more efficient and make better use of food resources.

The EPA states that 133 billion pounds of uneaten food from restaurants, stores and homes ended up in landfills in 2010. This amounts to roughly $390 worth of food per U.S. consumer.

"Not only could this food be going to folks who need it – we also have an opportunity to reduce the amount of food that ends up in America's landfills," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement.  "By joining together with EPA and businesses from around the country, we have an opportunity to better educate folks about the problem of food waste and begin to address this problem across the nation."

The EPA and USDA hope to gain 400 partner organizations by 2015.

For more news about green living issues, check back with LifeIsGreen.com.

4 Tips For Conserving Energy When Air Conditioning Is Necessary

While there are alternatives to having an air conditioner (AC) in your home that will limit your energy consumption, such as a swamp cooler or simply a two-way window fan, some people live in parts of the country where it would simply be dangerous to not have an air conditioner in the house. Particularly if you're older or dealing with illness, a lack of AC can be a medical hazard if you live in the desert or the South.

We've assembled a few pieces of advice that will help you conserve electricity and keep your power bill from skyrocketing in the summer:

  • Have your AC unit regularly serviced: Even if it seems to be working fine, there may be ways in which your AC unit is wasting power that you're unaware of, and a certified repairman may be able to help fix such problems.
  • Insulate your vents: If you have a basement, block any vents between your home and this area. Cool air is denser and will sink to a lower room if vents to that room are not properly insulated.
  • Only buy an Energy Star-rated unit: Appliances rated with Energy Star status use far less electricity than equivalent components without this ranking. They're designed to conserve  power and use the latest technology.
  • Use a window unit: Cooling off a small room instead of the entire house saves a bundle on utility bills and helps the environment. Try designating a particular room as a cool zone, where you can spend time when the heat becomes unbearable.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide you with tips and advice on green living topics.

U.S. Military Adopting More Solar Power

The U.S. military spends $20 billion a year to power its facilities, vehicles and overseas bases, and most of that energy comes from non-renewable sources such as coal, oil and gasoline. This system has numerous drawbacks. Besides the fact that these fuels pollute the atmosphere, they are expensive to transport to combat zones. A report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), a trade group that advocates on behalf of the solar sector, states that although the Armed Forces pay about $1 a gallon for gasoline, it costs $400 per gallon to transfer that fuel to outposts in Afghanistan where it is consumed.

But according to SEIA, the military is moving toward renewable energy as a major source of its power needs. The report also states that the Department of Defense has plans to derive 25 percent of its energy consumption from renewable sources such as wind and solar power by 2025. There are currently 58 megawatts (MW) of installed solar capacity for the Navy, 38 MW for the Air Force, and 36 MW for the Army. At the same time, all three branches plan to build a combined 3 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity by 2025, of which 1.9 GW will be solar panel arrays.

There are many reasons for the military to pursue these goals. In addition to concerns about anthropogenic climate change caused by fossil fuel burning, it is also very dangerous to transport oil and gasoline into combat zones because fuel convoys are often targeted by the enemy. 

It's good to see that the U.S. is going green on all fronts, and LifeIsGreen.com will continue to update you on future efforts in this area.

California Wildfires Serve As A Reminder Of Climate Change Consequences

As summer approaches, residents of California are bracing for what could be one of the most disastrous wildfire seasons in recent memory. The onset of these catastrophes is a stark reminder of the challenges Americans face in dealing with climate change and altering our energy consumption habits.

CNN reports that firefighters have been battling a massive blaze near Palmdale, California, that has burned six homes and threatens nearly 1,000 more. The fire covered 32,000 acres as of June 3, and stands at 60 percent containment. It's just the latest in a series of disasters that can be attributed to drought conditions that leave many communities vulnerable to blazes.

Called the "Powerhouse" fire because of its proximity to the Powerhouse Hydroelectric Plant, it follows a similarly massive burning that occurred in Malibu in early May, which burned 28,000 acres.

California Governor Jerry Brown has gone on record as saying climate change makes wildfire season even more costly and dangerous. Lower rainfall levels coupled with faster melting of the snowpack has resulted in a longer dry season, leaving certain areas with vast acres of dry brush that can be ignited by lightning strikes or careless campers who don't properly extinguish campfires.

Advocates for renewable energy often point out the long term consequences of anthropogenic climate change such as rising sea levels and more intense storms during hurricane season, but the effects will be felt by almost everyone in some way. LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide information on this crisis as more becomes available.

Renewable Energy Becoming More Prevalent In California

Although there's still a way to go before Americans become entirely dependent on renewable energy sources, a lot of progress has been made to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and thereby limit carbon emissions. Reinforcing this point is the fact that recently, California set a record for solar electric generation from wholesale (utility-scale) sources.

KCET, a Los Angeles-based public broadcasting station, recently reported on new numbers from California ISO (CaISO), the agency that operates most of the power grid in the Golden State. On May 23, CaISO announced that solar energy had hit a generation peak of 1,872 megawatts (MW), a new record. Only a day later, they announced that an even higher record had been established of 1,892 MW. These are remarkable figures, considering that solar generation usually hovers around 1,600 MW.

In addition, on May 26, CaISO announced that wind generation hit a peak of 4,258 MW, well above the 3,100 MW that is typical. This figure represents 16 percent of the electricity in California's grid.

Although these numbers are peaks rather than average figures, it shows that energy consumption is gradually transitioning to cleaner technologies that mitigate the risks of anthropogenic climate change. Currently, 67 percent of electricity production in the United States comes from coal or natural gas, while another 20 percent comes from nuclear power plants. By contrast, only 12 percent is derived from renewable sources, but this number is steadily growing.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide updates on the country's long path toward going green.

New York Rolls Out Citi Bikes Sharing Program

New York may be known for its cab drivers and sprawling subway system, but now a new transportation program is being added into the mix. Citi Bikes, a bike share system that allows residents to check out a bicycle for short rides across town, has been introduced to Manhattan and Brooklyn. New Yorkers can purchase a $95 annual membership that allows them the ability to make unlimited 45 minute trips using the bikes, which can be picked up and dropped off at any of the 300 stations distributed throughout the two boroughs.

There are also 24-hour and 7-day memberships available. The goal of the system is to promote public health through exercise, alleviate traffic congestion and reduce pollution from automobiles.

Similar systems are currently in place throughout the world, in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Boston. Although Citi Bikes has been somewhat controversial due to concerns about land use and the placement of racks in front of businesses, it also provides a clean method of transport that is becoming more convenient in a city constantly adding better biking infrastructure.

Citi Bikes is financed by Citibank, and the system is being administered by NYC Bike Share, which is a subsidiary of a larger firm called Alta Bicycle Share that performs a similar service for the bike share programs in other cities. The racks and infrastructure devoted to the Citi Bike system were manufactured by the Public Bike System Company.

For more news about environmentally friendly products and services, check back with LifeIsGreen.com.