Can The United States Catch Up To Germany On Solar Power?

On August 22, it was announced that Germany had set a new record for solar generated electricity, a milestone for what has become the leader in installed solar power capacity.

On August 22, it was announced that Germany had set a new record for solar-generated electricity, a milestone for what has become the leader in installed solar power capacity. The country was able to produce 5.1 terawatt-hours of electricity in the month of July, six times the record in the United States. 

This raises the question of why Germany is doing such a better job of integrating renewable energy into its grid, and what the United States can do to start catching up.

As with many issues when it comes to energy, much has to do with having a favorable public policy environment that encourages more development of renewable sources and discourages reliance on fossil fuels. Though the United States has made a more urgent effort to promote wind and solar power in the last decade, a major impediment to the growth of these industries has been slow permitting processes and political opposition.

According to CleanTechnica, a clean technology news site, in Germany it costs an average of $2.44 per watt to install a solar energy system, compared to $4.44 in the United States. Much of the disparity comes from lower "soft costs" in the former – the parts of installation other than the panels themselves, such as labor, marketing, administrative costs and permitting fees. Although panel prices have fallen considerably in the last decade, they can only go so far, while in the United States soft costs have remained relatively flat over the last five years.

The good news is that Americans have in Germany a model for designing a renewable energy regulatory structure that works, so the remaining question is whether or not we'll be able to emulate it, or if we'll continue down the path of dirty fossil fuels such as oil and coal. 

To keep up with the renewable energy industry, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

EPA And Ford Revise Fuel Economy Numbers For C-Max Hybrid

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be revising its testing procedures and policies in light of a recent controversy surrounding the mileage ratings for the Ford C-Max Hybrid.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be revising its testing procedures and policies in light of a recent controversy surrounding the mileage ratings for the Ford C-Max Hybrid. The EPA had originally rated the C-Max with the same fuel economy as the Ford Fusion Hybrid, but after complaints from customers that they were unable to achieve the same numbers, the organization found that in fact the C-Max was not as efficient as originally reported.

The agency used the same ratings for both vehicles because the Fusion Hybrid has the same engine, test weight and transmission, leading regulators to believe that it would perform similarly. But small changes in the design and form factor contributed to lower gas mileage for the C-Max.

Original reported to achieve 47 miles per gallon (mpg) on both city streets and highways, the C-Max is now rated at 40 mpg on streets and 43 mpg on the freeway.

"They're trying to do it all with one test cycle and you just can't," said John O'Dell, senior editor for fuel efficiency and green cars at Edmunds.com, a car-shopping site, told the Christian Science Monitor. "The EPA rating has become sort of a gospel. It's not gospel, but we're tending to look at it as gospel."

Ford isn't the only company to have had the same issue. In November last year, Kia and Hyundai were forced to revise advertised efficiency ratings after they were accused of inflating this information. In a statement, the EPA said it would be working with consumer groups and manufacturers to revise rules relating to fuel economy standards and testing, though specific changes were not detailed. 

For more information on green living and environmentally friendly products, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

Is Hempcrete The Future Of Green Building?

Lately we’ve been talking a lot about the green building movement, and one area that deserves more attention is concrete and its alternatives.

Lately we've been talking a lot about the green building movement, and one area that deserves more attention is concrete and its alternatives. It's such a ubiquitous material that you hardly ever notice when structures and road ways are made out of it, but concrete's production and use have serious consequences for the natural environment and public health.

The first problem is that making concrete requires a great deal of energy. Cement, a mixture of clay and limestone that serves as a binding agent for the water and aggregate (stone) compounds found in concrete, needs to be ground into a powder, then heated to a high temperature that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. This process gives conventional concrete a high carbon footprint.

Enter hempcrete, a building material that uses the silica-heavy shiv, or core, of the hemp plant as part of the binding mixture that makes up cement. The material achieves a carbon-negative status because more carbon dioxide is consumed by the plant while it grows than is emitted during the production process.

Hempcrete can be used in the same way as concrete. Thought it lacks some of the strength of conventional cement alternative, it is still perfectly safe to be used for homes and smaller buildings. It's also a great insulator, helping you save energy, fireproof, waterproof and it's resistant to mold. Some manufacturers even claim that it's recyclable. 

The main obstacle to wider use of this material is that industrial hemp production is illegal in the U.S., due to marijuana laws. But hempcrete can be procured from abroad, and new producers are cropping up everywhere, so it's bound to become more accessible over time.

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

Green Building Turning Back The Clock

Recently we wrote about the green building movement and what this actually entailed.

Recently we wrote about the green building movement and what this actually entailed. Basically, a building is considered green if the materials and processes used to construct it are environmentally sustainable and responsible. For example, structures that utilize recycled materials and are built in such a way as to promote energy efficiency can generally be classified as green.

A new report from Navigant Research, a market research organization, sheds some light on this topic and provides some interesting analysis of trends in the construction industry toward more eco-friendly practices. The authors of the study found that many builders are turning to traditional materials that had previously been viewed as technologically antiquated, because the production processes used to make them are less energy intensive and come from natural, and often renewable, sources.

"Innovation in green materials is driving, in a sense, a regression, in which materials made from bio-based or quickly regenerating resources that are low in embodied energy and carbon, are re-emerging," Eric Bloom, senior research analyst with Navigant Research, said in a news release.  "Examples include timber structures and cladding, straw-bale construction, lime renders and mortars, cellulose insulation, bamboo flooring, and natural mineral and fiber floor coverings."

The report also predicts that the growth of the green building will skyrocket. The authors project that it will increase from a $116 billion market in 2013 to over $254 billion in 2020. Although the green building materials industry suffered somewhat during the Great Recession, it experienced less of a fall in demand than the conventional building materials market, and seems to be expanding at a greater rate.

Keep visiting LifeIsGreen.com for more news about green living.

Can Bioplastics Become Commercially Viable?

One of the more promising new innovations in the environmentally friendly products industry is bioplastics, which are synthesized naturally from microbes rather than from petroleum.

One of the more promising new innovations in the environmentally friendly products industry is bioplastics, which are synthesized naturally from microbes rather than from petroleum. The fact is that all of those plastic containers you throw in the trash every day are derived from the same oil that is used to make gasoline, and it's just as bad sitting in a landfill as it is being burned in an internal combustion engine. This is why scientists have tried to come up with other ways to create plastic that is more sustainable.

Bioplastics offer such a promise, but the problem researchers have run into is that these materials are expensive to produce. Typically, they're manufactured using giant fermenting tanks full of bacteria, which harvest glucose to produce Poly 3-hydroxybutyrate (PHB), a substance commonly used in plastics. This process is energy intensive and takes a lot of resources to pull off.

But EarthTechling, a clean technology news site, reports that new research presented at the 2012 Society for General Microbiology's Autumn Conference may provide a solution to the problem. Scientists were able to create bioplastics from bacteria raised in used cooking oil. The microbes produced three times as much PHB, and the process kills two birds with one stone as the researchers were able to make use of kitchen waste that is often tossed out.

If successfully scaled up, these bioplastics could be used in the manufacture of prosthetics and other medical devices. This would be a boon for patients, who could receive replacement limbs for a fraction of their current cost.

For more information on the science and research behind going green, check back with LifeIsGreen.com.

Will Lab-Grown Meat Replace The Real Thing?

Recently, a small group of food critics was given the opportunity to try a hamburger patty made from meat grown in a laboratory, rather than from a dead cow.

Recently, a small group of food critics was given the opportunity to try a hamburger patty made from meat grown in a laboratory, rather than from a dead cow. The burger was created by researcher Mark Post of the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, and was sponsored by Google co-founder Sergey Brin. The goal of the project is to develop meat that can be raised from stem cells and grown without killing an animal.

The environmental implications of such an accomplishment would be significant. Livestock produce one sixth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and animal welfare advocates are right to point to the factory farming system as unethical and unsustainable. The development of a lab-grown alternative could save trillions of animal lives and dramatically reduce climate change.

Unfortunately, the taste testers reported that although the burger had the feel of genuine beef, it was mostly tasteless (it was pure muscle tissue, and had no fat cells).

The biggest impediment to widespread use of lab-grown meat is that it is expensive. The hamburger that was tested cost over $300,000, and the process of making it involved using fetal bovine serum – blood derived from cattle fetuses – meaning that some animals had to die in the production of the meat.

But the process has promise. Some scientists believe fetal bovine serum could be replaced with blue-green algae, and technologies and processes often start out as costly experiments before scientists figure out ways to industrialize and scale them up for mass production. Post believes that we could see lab-grown meat in supermarkets within a couple decades.

For more information on new environmentally friendly products, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

Get Rid Of Mosquitoes With These Eco-Friendly Candles

If you live in a humid area close to a body of water, you’re probably spending many of your mornings and evenings dealing with swarms of mosquitoes that are feasting on your arms and legs.

If you live in a humid area close to a body of water, you're probably spending many of your mornings and evenings dealing with swarms of mosquitoes that are feasting on your arms and legs. The feeling is unpleasant, and can prove dangerous if any of those bugs transmit West Nile Virus.

But getting rid of them isn't all that easy. Insect repellant creams are gross and typically contain chemicals that may not be the healthiest for your skin, and mosquito zapping lights use a lot of electricity that can be saved by using candles.

Apartment Therapy, a small-living lifestyle site, provides a list of five options for those who want to get rid of mosquitoes without an environmental cost. Here are some of the best products they recommend:

  • Fly Away Sticks by Madison James –  These incense sticks will clear the area around you of bees and other insects, but you'll want to stick around to enjoy the pleasant aroma of orange and citronella oils. 
  • Without Mosquitos Candle Making Kit by The Greatest Candle – Using recycled vegetable oil, you can make mosquito-repelling candles yourself with the powder provided in this kit. You can also purchase premade candles.

Being comfortable and going green aren't mutually exclusive goals. These products can help you stay bug-free without making an environmental impact.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information about green lifestyles.

BMW Debuts The i3, A New Electric Car

Not satisfied to let Tesla dominate the luxury electric car market, BMW has introduced the 2014 i3, a hybrid vehicle which can travel 100 miles without a recharge.

Not satisfied to let Tesla dominate the luxury electric car market, BMW has introduced the 2014 i3, a hybrid vehicle which can travel 100 miles without a recharge. For longer trips, the i3 relies on a two-cylinder, 34-horsepower gasoline engine that increases the total distance it can travel without refueling to 200 miles.

With a listed starting price of $41,350 (higher if you want to include the reserve gasoline engine), the i3 is also much more affordable for American consumers than many people had expected from a BMW electric vehicle. The cost makes it competitive with electric vehicles from Chevrolet, Tesla and Fiat, and promises to make it popular with a wider group of drivers, although it's still much more money than the average buyer is willing to pay for any vehicle, gas or electric.

One of the key features of the i3 is the frame, which is made from carbon fiber. It's an expensive material, but it ways half as much as steel and a third less than aluminum. This allows the car to travel farther on less energy than if it had been constructed using more conventional materials.

Another major improvement over other electric cars is the fast recharging time. According to Time Magazine, the i3 will be able to fully recharge in 30 minutes, making it more for consumers who make many shorter but frequent trips around town.

While the driving range of the i3 is still limited compared to the Tesla Model S, it seems likely that the lower price and BMW brand will attract many buyers. In the long run, this will be good for consumers, who can expect car companies to continue competing to put out lower priced models.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue providing the latest news on environmentally friendly products.

Alaska Airlines To Purchase Sustainable Biofuels For Hawaii Flights

Part of going green is making sure that you support businesses that utilize sustainable, responsible practices, even if doing so requires higher costs than sticking with conventional methods for delivering products and services.

Part of going green is making sure that you support businesses that utilize sustainable, responsible practices, even if doing so requires higher costs than sticking with conventional methods for delivering products and services.

If you're traveling this summer and wondering which airline is greenest, you may want to check out Alaska Airlines. The company announced on July 24 that it had reached an agreement with Hawai`i BioEnergy to purchase 10 million gallons of biofuel a year to power its jets. The agreement will go into effect as soon as 2018, when Hawai'i BioEnergy receives regulatory approval to increase its production to meet this new demand.

"Alaska Airlines shares our goals of environmental responsibility and our commitment to sustainable, local energy production," Joel Matsunaga, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Hawai`i BioEnergy, said in a news release. "The development and commercialization of local, renewable energy is of critical importance to Hawaii, given the state imports 95 percent of its energy needs.

Alaska Airlines has been at the forefront of promoting green flying through the use of renewable energy sources such as biofuel. The company uses a 20 percent blend of biofuel, which is typically made from wood or used cooking oil, on 75 daily flights. Doing so reduces the carbon footprint of their airplanes. They also do this at considerable expense, as biofuels cost roughly six times as much as conventional jet fuel.

According to the press release, Alaska Airlines has shrunk their carbon emissions by 30 percent since 2011.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more news about renewable energy products and services!

The Three Best Hybrid Cars

Although the Toyota Prius has become the most ubiquitous gas-electric hybrid car in America, it is hardly the only one worth talking about.

Although the Toyota Prius has become the most ubiquitous gas-electric hybrid car in America, it is hardly the only one worth talking about. In fact, there are a number of models that have come out recently that deserve just as much attention, and according to some reviewers, a few manufacturers have actually surpassed the Prius in terms of quality, handling, comfort and fuel economy.

Below is a list of some of the most notable hybrids currently on the market:

  • 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid: This model was rated the 2013 Best Hybrid Car for the Money and Best Hybrid Car for Families by U.S. News and World Report, and it's not hard to see why. Featuring a 188 horsepower engine that achieves 47 miles per gallon (mpg) on both city streets and the highway, the Fusion also comes in at a very affordable $25,000, depending on which extra features you elect to install. Reviewers have compared its power and handling favorably to the Prius, which is thought by some to be a bit underpowered, even for a hybrid.
  • 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid: CNet praised the Jetta Hybrid for its acceleration and mileage (42 mpg streets/48 mpg highway), though the reviewer felt that the price premium over the standard Jetta without a hybrid engine was rather large, as the hybrid model costs about $31,000.
  • 2013 Toyota Camry Hybrid: Offering more space than many of the other automobiles in this category, the Camry does have slightly lower mileage than its competitors (43 mpg city/39 mpg freeway) but makes up for it with a roomy interior cabin, making it a great choice for families.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to bring you news and updates on the best environmentally friendly products.