Five Ways To Save Gas While Driving

Following the eco friendly cars industry can sometimes be frustrating. On the one hand, it's awesome to see the futuristic technology that is being included in cars like the Tesla S and BMW i3, but on the other hand, if you can't actually afford these cars, you'll simply have to salivate over them the next time one pulls up next to you on the freeway.

But you need not spend a lot of money on a brand new car in order to reduce your gasoline consumption. By adopting a few easy driving habits, you can significantly lower your gas bills and get more mileage out of one tank:

  • Coast into stops: Keeping your foot on the pedal and braking right before a stop is inefficient. Try to anticipate stops by taking your foot off the gas and letting the vehicle coast, then apply brakes after it has already slowed down some.
  • Don't exceed the speed limit: Your fuel economy goes down dramatically once you go above 65 mph. When you're on the highway, stay in the 55-65 range (traffic permitting) and you can increase your efficiency by 7 to 14 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
  • Monitor your tire pressure: If you've ever tried riding a bike with flat tires, imagine how your engine feels when your car tires don't have enough air. Make sure you keep your tire pressure at about 30 PSI.
  • When driving above 60 mph, close your windows and use the air conditioner: Having your windows open creates drag, which makes your engine work harder than it does operating the AC unit.
  • Use cruise control: Keeping your car at a steady speed rather than accelerating and braking (and possibly changing gears, when at the right RPM) will raise your mileage.

Keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com for more advice on ways to save energy.

Asia And Middle East Play Central Role In Energy Future

On November 12, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual World Energy Outlook report in London, where it spelled out the current energy supply situation. The report revealed that Asia and the Middle East are slated to become the world's major energy consumers in the next two decades, and that in order to make a serious dent in carbon emissions, the world will need to do a better job creating new green energy solutions.

Overall, global energy demand is predicted to grow by 33 percent by 2035. India and Southeast Asia will play a major role in that growth while China's consumption will tail off somewhat. The report highlighted what the IEA called a difficult "trilemma": The need to balance energy security, sustainability and economic vitality.

To demonstrate this problem, one needs to consider that those areas where energy consumption will grow the fastest are also countries experiencing significant economic expansion. Countries such as India and Brazil have created relatively enormous wealth for their citizens in the last decade and should continue to see such returns for many more years. However, as their economies grow, so will their demand for energy. This presents two problems:

  • If this energy demand is met with conventional fossil fuels, it will result in an increase in emissions that will accelerate warming trends and create ecological disaster
  • The rise in demand will also raise energy prices, thereby slowing growth in other countries and inhibiting their ability to address the consequences of climate change.

The IEA's report demonstrates the difficult decisions and challenges that the world faces as more of its citizens come to rely on oil and gas. It also reinforces the point made by advocates of green technology that countries should continue investing heavily in renewable sources that can be scaled up and commercialized in the developing world.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue providing news and information on environmental issues, so keep checking back for updates!

Aquaponics Solves Problem Of Shorter Seasons

As part of an effort to raise student consciousness about aquaponics and sustainable agriculture, a Michigan Technological University (MTU) researcher has developed and constructed a system on campus that is providing food for the school's residence halls. Rob Handler was able to grow cherry tomatoes, kale, onions and basil in his garden, while also raising Tilapia to be used for fish tacos.

Handler is the operations manager of the Sustainable Futures Institute at MTU and his aquaponics system is educating students about the benefits of the process, which include higher yields, reduced water usage and the elimination of any pesticides or inorganic growing matter.

One interesting aspect of Handler's aquaponics is that his crops are rooted in clay pebbles, rather than using soil. He says this enables the plants to grow shorter roots, as nutrients are more effectively distributed.

"We've grown cherry tomatoes that grew so tall I need to harvest them with a ladder," Handler told Michigan Tech News. "It's the same interaction that happens in the natural world. We are just managing things with tanks and pipes."

The source points out that the practice of aquaponics traces back hundreds of years, when rice farmers in East Asia noticed they experienced better yields when they added fish to their rice paddies. The water the fish swim in is purified by the plant roots and soil, which benefit from the fish waste in the water. It creates a circular filtration system that requires very little water beyond the initial amount needed for the fish tank.

More importantly, an indoor aquaponics system can help lengthen what are normally very short planting and harvesting seasons in Michigan. Commercializing the practice could result in more local agriculture for the region, reducing their need to ship in produce and livestock from other parts of the country.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on the benefits of going green.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Decline In 2012

U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have declined for the third year in a row, sinking to their lowest levels since 1994. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its annual report on CO2 production on October 21, and the data showed some promising signs that the country‚Äč is moving in a more sustainable direction. While this is certainly good news for the environment, there are a few caveats to the news that should be noted.

The first is that the main reason we are experiencing lower emissions is due to increasing reliance on natural gas for electricity production. The report states that production from coal plants declined by 215.2 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) in 2012, but natural gas electrical generation increased by 211.8 billion kWh. Natural gas is a much cleaner fossil fuel than coal, but it still produces a substantial amount of carbon dioxide.

The second caveat to keep in mind is that much of the decline from when carbon dioxide emissions reached their peak in 2007 is due to the fact that the United States was experiencing a significant recession. The more economic activity that is taking place, the more energy is needed to fuel that activity. So more planes fly, more shipments are sent and more Xerox machines are operated.

However, none of this should take away from the fact that America is beginning to make great strides toward reducing its carbon footprint. As the EIA notes in its report, GDP was up 2.8 percent in 2012, but CO2 emissions were down 2.4 percent. So although the declines seen in 2008 and 2009 were mostly due to a shrinking economy, the country has figured out how to spur growth without an accompanying spike in emissions.

Check back with LifeIsGreen.com for news and energy conservation tips.

Efficiency software maker plans IPO

Right now, the biggest story on Wall Street is the initial public offering (IPO) of social media site Twitter. But analysts looking for an investment in green energy solutions that could pay big dividends down the road may want to take a look at Opower, Inc., a software developer that is planning to do its own IPO sometime in the near future according to the Wall Street Journal.

Opower designs computer programs that help utility companies promote energy efficiency with their customers. Electric companies contract with Opower to use its software to monitor customers' power usage, then send text messages, emails or phone calls to let rate payers know how much energy they're using compared with their neighbors.

The company's applications have already been used by 90 power companies, representing 22 million customers all over the world. Opower estimates that its software has helped these energy users save 3 terawatt-hours of electricity, the same amount of power it would take to run Las Vegas for a year.

Opower was founded in 2007. It's unclear what its valuation will be, but the company's CEO stated in 2010 that he had signed two contracts worth $30 million. It has also saved customers about $350 million in energy expenses, so it's clear that the product provides considerable value to both utilities and rate-payers.

Investment opportunities in green technology don't always get as much airplay as those offered by companies like Google and Facebook. However, given that the United States' energy priorities are moving in the direction of renewables while moving away from oil and fossil fuels, the savvy investor may want to consider putting some money in companies that are taking advantage of those markets early, before the rest of the financial industry takes notice.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide you with news and information about green business ideas, so keep visiting!

CCSE Receives $1.3 Million From DOE For Solar Standardization Efforts

The California Center for Sustainable Energy (CCSE) received a $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy on Wednesday that will be used to help streamline and standardize the solar energy industry in the Golden State.

CCSE plans to launch efforts that are meant to bring together solar installers, local governments and utility companies and reduce inefficiencies in the industry such as differences in permitting rules between cities. The goal of the program is to reduce the soft costs of solar, which include permitting, design and grid connection expenses that contribute significantly to the overall price of solar installations.

"There remain considerable ongoing barriers to scaling up solar in California, in large part resulting from inconsistencies among jurisdictions for project planning, permitting and utility interconnection," Len Hering, CCSE's Executive Director, said in a press release. "CCSE is proud to support the development of greater consistency and efficiency in the deployment of clean solar energy in California."

Solar panel prices have dropped significantly in the last ten years, and some industry observers believe that they could bottom out eventually. This means that any further reductions in the cost of going solar must come from somewhere else. Experts often point to the fact that neighboring localities will have different processes for obtaining permits, as well as differences in regulations, which make the cost of installations more expensive as contractors must navigate a complex web of rules depending on where they've been hired.

The hope is that CCSE can use its new grant money to iron out these inefficiencies, which would have positive long term effects on the price of solar power and the expansion of renewable energy in general.

LifeIsGreen.com is the number one source for green ideas, information and news, so keep visiting!

Could The DCSEU Be A Model For Other Cities?

On November 5, the Washington, D.C., City Council honored the D.C. Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), an administration that has helped D.C. residents and businesses improve their energy usage and save millions of dollars in utility expenses. Overall, the DCSEU has helped families and companies avoid 50,000 megawatt-hours of electricity use, enough power to run 6,000 homes every year. This has helped the community offset 45,000 tons of greenhouse gases and allowed D.C. to move closer to its goal of cutting citywide energy use in half by 2032.

What is the DCSEU, and how has it helped the DC community?

The DCSEU was founded in 2008 after the D.C. City Council passed the Clean and Affordable Energy Act. This law created a trust fund to help residents cut their energy usage and retrofit buildings to be more efficient. The DCSEU is the body that administers that fund. Contractors can become DCSEU-certified, and if homeowners hire them to make improvements to their property that would reduce their electricity and heat consumption, they can apply for forgivable federal loans that make the process free or low-cost.

The DCSEU also provides technical information and resources to educate members of the community on how they can easily cut their energy usage, holding various programs and events that are designed to raise awareness in the community about the benefits of green energy solutions.

Can other communities benefit from DCSEU-like organizations?

Absolutely, and in fact, many cities have similar programs that encourage residents to reduce their energy usage. The main problem seems to be that many citizens, particularly in low-income areas, are unaware that these resources are available, but with better promotion and media attention, they can more effectively distribute funding and support for efficiency retrofitting projects.

Keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com for more information on green housing and building.

Two Pesticides Linked To Gynecological Disorders

A new study draws a link between exposure to two pesticides and gynecological disorders in women. The report was published by researchers at the University of Washington on November 4 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The authors of the paper found that women who were exposed to beta-hexachlorocyclohexane and mirex were more likely to suffer from endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of it and causes pain and even infertility.

"Since endometriosis is an estrogen-driven condition, we were interested in investigating the role of environmental chemicals that have estrogenic properties, such as organochlorine pesticides, on the risk of the disease," Kristen Upson, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, said in a news release. "We found it interesting that despite organochlorine pesticides being restricted in use or banned in the U.S. for the past several decades, these chemicals were detectable in the blood samples of women in our study."

Although the study's authors were careful to point out that this doesn't necessarily mean there is a direct cause and effect relationship between the pesticides and endometriosis, it's still a troubling finding. The case against pesticide use has been building for decades, largely because of its affect on public health, in addition to the disastrous consequences for eco-systems. As the Pesticide Action Network points out, these chemicals are becoming more prevalent because farmers have had to increase their reliance as pests develop immunity and defenses against the chemicals

Furthermore, what this study points out is that even after such substances are banned, they can have serious affects on humans long after they've been removed from use. It's another reminder that if the United States wants to make progress on developing more sustainable agriculture, it needs to start now, and not later.

For more news and information about sustainability and going green articles, keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com.

Venture Capital Firms Investing In Green Startups

Most people think of smartphone apps and software companies when they hear the terms "venture capital" (VC) and "startups," but in the past several years there has been a significant increase in the number of investments that VC firms have been making in green business. The reason is fairly simple: eco-friendly companies are attracting more customers, which means there's significant potential for profit by gaining equity in such firms. 

A recent piece in the Washington Post highlights New Atlantic Ventures, a VC company that has put millions of dollars into green startups with inventive new ideas for bringing environmentally friendly products to customers. The article examines their involvement with Bambeco, a furniture manufacturer that uses sustainable materials for their pieces.

Thanasis Delistathis, co-founder of New Atlantic, tells the Post that he invested in Bambeco because their management team had previous experience in e-commerce, and because personal experience told him that there was significant demand for green consumer products. He shared an experience in which a friend who was shopping for outdoor furniture wouldn't even consider items that weren't made using environmentally responsible processes and components.

VC investment in green businesses is certainly a positive development for consumer goods, as these companies are typically more tolerant of risk and taking chances on new ideas. Particularly in this age of tight credit markets, it is harder for entrepreneurs to take out loans to start their own businesses, and companies like Bambeco required extensive capital in order to get off the ground.

For more news and information about green businesses and environmentally friendly careers, keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com.

Will Smart Lighting Revolutionize Energy Consumption?

In the past, we've written many alternative energy articles about the growth of renewable sources such as solar and wind, and how these technologies can eventually replace fossil fuels as our principle sources of electricity. However, it may be many years before they become both cheap and widespread enough to make a serious dent in our oil addiction. In the meantime, by making homes and businesses more energy efficient with current technology and practical habits, we can cut our fossil fuel consumption immediately and reduce greenhouse gas emissions considerably.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is to integrate smart lighting solutions into more buildings. Similar to smart thermostats, which we've covered before, smart lighting uses web-enabled light emitting diodes (LED) and fixtures to make lighting more efficient. As a recent Christian Science Monitor piece points out, smart lighting can cut energy usage by over 90 percent when it is properly incorporated into a structure's design.

Relying on an array of sensors that collect data about when the building is occupied and in what rooms people spend the most time, smart lighting networks anticipate when light is needed and when it can be shut off. They can also adjust brightness and other features of the light, providing occupants with more dynamic and flexible illumination, and internet connectivity means that lighting can be controlled remotely.

Probably the most promising aspect of smart lighting is that it hardly requires a massive technological revolution and market readjustment for anyone to take advantage of it. These days, most middle class homes are equipped with broadband internet connections, and LED technology has become much more affordable in recent years, so with more aggressive outreach programs, policy makers and manufacturers can spread the word that sharply reducing energy consumption can be fairly easily accomplished.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more on the benefits of going green!