Enerplex Solar-Powered Phone Cases Now Available On E-Commerce Sites

Enerplex Solar Phone Charging Case

One of the ways that consumers can integrate renewable energy solutions into their lives is by purchasing consumer products and accessories that can divert some of the electricity needs away from the grid and toward the sun, particularly as photovoltaic thin-film solar cells become more affordable.

Ascent Solar, a company that makes consumer-level solar products, will now be selling its line of solar-powered charger smartphone cases on many popular e-commerce sites, including Amazon. Customers who own the Samsung Galaxy SIII and Apple iPhone 4 and 4s models will be able to purchase cases specifically tailored to the designs of those phones. In addition, they’ll also be able to buy solar chargers that can plug into any smartphone with a USB connection.

“The growth of ecommerce as the preferred method of shopping by most American consumers is a trend which EnerPlex is perfectly positioned to take advantage of.”Victor Lee, President & CEO of Ascent Solar, said in a news release.

Ascent also makes thin film solar modules that can be used in other applications, such as construction and industrial processes. The goal of the company is to create off-grid solar products that are easily adaptable into a variety of situations. These products would be particularly useful to customers who are camping or operating in remote areas and need electricity to charge their handheld appliances, or in industrial applications when a wireless charging device would be needed.

One iPhone case by itself isn’t going to offset carbon emissions drastically. But if millions of consumer goods are fueled with sunlight rather than conventional grid power, the effect on emissions and electricity use wouldn’t be trivial.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information on environmentally friendly products.

States Celebrate National Plug In Day

States across the country celebrated National Plug In Day last weekend, drawing attention to the growing market segment of electric plug in vehicles (EV), both all-electric models such as the Nissan Leaf and hybrids like the Chevrolet Volt. Over 35,000 people attended events in 98 cities where they could test drive these vehicles and learn about the benefits of switching to cleaner operating automobiles.

National Plug In Day wasn't just about marketing, however. EarthTechling, an environmental news site, reports that several governors signed legislation meant to encourage the purchase of such vehicles, particularly in California, where Governor Jerry Brown has been supportive of green living and renewable energy programs.

Among the many bills that were signed into law in California were a renewal of the white and green sticker programs, which allow the owners of hybrid vehicles to use the HOV lanes on highways. Governor Brown also signed the Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act, which allows for the expansion of the state's network of EV charging stations and making these more accessible.

Additionally, the governor of Vermont announced new incentives for installing charging stations at an event in Burlington, Vermont, and Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee celebrated the opening of 50 stations in that state.

The growth of the EV industry continues to depend on subsidies from the federal government and the expansion of charging networks Events like Plug In Day are essential to promoting clean automobile technology and raising awareness about the ways they can help improve the environment and mitigate the threat of anthropogenic climate change.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more information about environmentally friendly products.

Student Movement Aims To Divest Colleges From Oil Companies

There is a growing movement within college communities that aims to force university endowment programs to divest their interests in oil and gas companies. Student groups at 300 schools across the country are behind an effort to encourage divestment due to the harmful effects of fossil fuels on climate change and the environment. 

The movement is being led by Bill McKibben, a veteran activist who has spent his career promoting environmental causes. A recent article in tech publication FastCoExist details the efforts at Harvard University. Harvard's endowment is the largest in the country at $34 billion, but its investments in fossil fuels only total about $34 million, a pittance compared to the profits earned by the world's biggest oil companies.

However, the goal of the students involved in the protests and activism is less to about causing economic pain for energy companies and more about the message it sends.

"We're basically saying that it is no longer socially acceptable to be investing in fossil fuel companies," Alyssa Chan, the lead protestor at Harvard who had previously been skeptical of environmental activism, told the source. "I saw divestment as a tactic that has real potential to change this equation."

University endowments are instrumental in financing college operations, particularly during rough economic times. They're typically managed by professional investors who are tasked with earning as much of a return as possible, which easier to do when buying shares of oil companies. But colleges also serve as a place where forward thinking, progressive individuals can demonstrate technologies and concepts that will make the world a better place. Hopefully these activists at Harvard and elsewhere can successfully convince the rest of the public that the future is in renewable energy, not in fossil fuels.

For more news and information about going green, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

Ikea To Sell Solar Panels

In order to tap into the growth of the renewable energy market, Swedish furniture giant Ikea will begin selling solar panels at its British stores. If successful, it seems likely this would spread to the United States, where subsidies for solar and wind power would make it a good buy for American customers.

Customers who buy the 3.37 kilowatt capacity systems (about average size for a mid-size home in the States) will also get an in-store consultation, along with installation and maintenance services over the life of the solar panels. 

"In the past few years the prices on solar panels have dropped, so it's a really good price now," IKEA Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard told The Associated Press. "It's the right time to go for the consumers."

Howard estimated that customers would make up the cost of the panels within seven years. Similar to many U.S states, Britain has a net metering program that lets rate payers sell excess electricity produced by solar panels back to the grid. Although the UK isn't one of the world's great solar countries – it has a total installed capacity of 1.7 gigawatts, less than a quarter of what the U.S. has – the country does generously subsidize solar panel systems, which makes it a good testing ground for Ikea's new product.

It could be a major boon for renewable energy in the U.S. if customers begin to see solar panels as a retail commodity that you can pick up at a local store, rather than something that requires months of bidding and work from contractors. With a low barrier to entry, the already-fast growth of the American solar market may accelerate even further.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more news about environmentally friendly products.

Radfan Wins First Annual EarthHack Competition

Radfan, a UK startup that has developed a fan for radiators to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, has won the first annual EarthHack, a competition that pits teams of designers against each other to develop products that fight climate change. The makers of the Radfan, which sits atop any heating radiator and redirects hot air into the room rather than to the ceiling, will receive a $15,000 prize and have the chance for their invention to be developed into a product to be sold by Ikea or Philips.

The device only costs $3 a year to run continuously, and raises the temperature of a room 2 degrees Celsius without the occupant having to raise the thermostat. Radfan estimated that if it were widely adopted, the product could limit carbon emissions by as much as a million metric tons per year. It could also save homeowners 20 percent on their energy bills.

One of the criteria for the EarthHack competition was that entries needed to be scalable. A product that limits energy use is great, but if it can't be easily commercialized, it will hardly have much of an impact on climate change and CO2 emissions. The Radfan was designed with mass production in mind.

"We're thrilled to have won the Marblar EarthHack competition," Radfan's co-founder Simon Barker told The Climate Group. "We're really excited to demonstrate how the Radfan can help home owners to feel warmer and save energy around the world."

Hopefully, one day soon you'll be shopping at Ikea and you'll be able to pick up a Radfan for your own home.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide the latest news and information on environmentally friendly products.

Drivers Willing To Pay More For Carbon Emissions Reductions

Policymakers often argue that the cost of reducing carbon emissions and averting global warming is great to be worth the effort. They say such measures would hurt the economy and cause problems for the average energy user. According to a new online survey by the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, most drivers don't seem to mind.

The study found that drivers were willing to pay $100 for a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions, or $250 for an 80 percent reduction, and that they would accept a reduction in fuel economy and space if carbon capture technology was integrated into automobiles.

"While most efforts at containing carbon dioxide emissions are directed at large-scale stationary producers….there has also been interest in considering the feasibility of carbon capture from….the gasoline-fueled internal-combustion engines ubiquitous in transportation," John Sullivan, an assistant research scientist in UMTRI's Human Factors Group, said in a news release. "Various methods are under development to capture and store these gases before they enter the atmosphere."

Carbon capture on cars would require that the CO2 emissions be stored in a separate compartment, which would take up room and add weight to the vehicle, thereby reducing overall fuel economy somewhat. But the survey found that drivers are willing to tolerate this if it meant improving air quality and the environment.

That the public is much more willing to accept the costs of going green and avoiding climate change is good news, but the key is to convey this fact to the people who guide environmental policy in government. Hopefully, more studies like the one from the University of Michigan will accomplish that.

LifeIsGreen.com will continue to provide news and resources related to green living.

New York Trying Out New All-Electric Bus

New York is typically the testing ground for revolutionary new public transit options, and the city's new all-electric bus pilot program is in keeping with this trend. Local transit authorities are testing out a new public bus that runs entirely on electric power supplied by three batteries, which allow the bus to travel 150 miles on one charge. If successful, the city could adopt the bus for all of its routes, allowing the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to save over $190 million a year in fuel costs.

The buses are constructed in China by a company called Built Your Dreams, Ltd. According to the New York Daily News, the company plans to open a manufacturing facility in California soon. 

So far, rider feedback has been positive. The batteries, located in the back of the vehicle, have resulted in limited headroom towards the rear of the vehicle, but overall those who have had an opportunity to board the vehicle say it is relatively comfortable and spacious.

"It's quieter than the other buses," Sze Wei Mah, 47, a Brooklyn travel agent, told the source.

In addition to saving on fuel costs, the MTA could also avoid the need for oil changes, which are required for the average diesel bus every 3,000-4,000 miles. A typical MTA bus gets its oil changed every 5 weeks.

The only issue is that the new all-electric buses cost about $800,000 each, twice as much as the diesel models that the MTA currently relies on. But over time, the high price tag could come down as a result of scaling and improvements in production and supply chain processes. In the meantime, New York will experience improved air quality and finances while setting an example for other metropolitan areas looking to make their public transit more efficient.

For more news and updates about environmentally friendly products, keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com.

California Legislature Passes AB 327 With Solar Provisions

The California legislature has passed Assembly Bill 327, a bill that would lift a pending suspension of the state's net energy metering program (NEM) at the end of the year, as well as a 5 percent cap on the amount of electricity that utilities would have to buy from renewable energy customers. It now heads to Governor Jerry Brown's desk, where it is expected to be signed into law in the coming days.

AB 327 has had an interesting history. It was initially seen as an attempt by California utility companies, namely Pacific Gas & Electric, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison, to put a stop to the exponential growth of rooftop solar energy. Originally, the law included measures that would have made solar panel installation much less valuable to California customers, while also raising electricity rates for people who don't use a lot of energy. It accomplished these goals by giving the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) the authority to approve a flat $10 fee on all electricity bills to cover fixed costs, such as transmission and distribution.

It also has language that would allow the CPUC to approve a flattened rate structure, a major change to the way Californians pay for their energy. After a rolling blackout crisis in the early 2000s, California legislatures allowed the CPUC to put in place tiered rates for power that charged more for entities that used more electricity, as a way of encouraging efficiency. AB 327 would lead to a flattening of those rates, so that there is less of a penalty for using more electricity.

This would also have made solar panel systems less valuable for high-power users, who have the most to gain from switching to renewable energy. With lower per-kilowatt-hour rates for those customers, it would take longer for them to earn a positive return on their investment in solar, especially since they wouldn't be exempt from the flat fee mentioned above.

These changes raised the ire of the solar industry, but thanks to the involvement of Governor Jerry Brown, several provisions have been added to the legislation that changed it from being a bill meant to kill renewable energy investment, to one that will spur more growth in solar, and potentially other sources such as wind and geothermal.

The most important change that was made lifted a suspension of net metering that would have occurred at the end of the year. Net energy metering (NEM) allows rate payers with solar panels to sell their electricity back to the grid when they don't use it, earning a rebate for each kilowatt-hour they sell. This program was set to expire in 2014, but with the passage of AB 327 it will continue indefinitely. In addition, the new law would lift a cap on the amount of NEM electricity that utilities must buy from their customers. Previously, that limit was set at 5 percent of the state's overall electrical use, but going forward there will be no cap, assuming the governor signs the bill.

"This is a banner day in California," Rhone Resch, the president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in a news release. "Once again, state lawmakers have set the bar high when it comes to the adoption of renewable energy. AB 327 provides a clear pathway for the continued growth of solar generation in California."

At a time when energy use is skyrocketing and the effects of global warming are becoming clearer, policy makers should be encouraging the use of environmentally friendly products rather than putting in caps and limits. The passage of AB 327 is further demonstration of California's ongoing commitment to green living.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more news on eco-friendly legislation.

New Research Hopes To Make Biofuels More Viable

A new report published in the academic journal Planta sheds new light on the growth cycles and oil production of green algae, which many scientists believe could be a viable source of renewable energy in the future if researchers are able to better understand how they operate. 

The main issue with using algae for oil production is that the conditions leading to higher rates of creation are detrimental to the health of the algae cells. Scientists have determined that depriving them of nitrogen causes more biofuel to be produced, but also results in slower growth. Ideally, one would be able to achieve high rates of fuel creation without inhibiting the development of the algae themselves.

The Planta study, written by researchers at the University of Florida, made some key discoveries about the way green algae react to limited nitrogen. The cells are able to begin producing lipids (oils) within just hours of being starved of nitrogen, and that 30 percent of those were created as the alga's cell membrane began to collapse under stress.

"Our hope is that what we have done will be helpful to understand what's going on in cells under nitrogen starvation and might help us to tweak the technique where we can use the cells to make lipids but not necessarily stop growth—that's our long-term goal," Bala Rathinasabapathi, professor of horticulture science at the University of Florida, told scientific news site Futurity.

Biofuels will be an important part of the world's renewable energy portfolio. Although burning these fuels produces carbon dioxide, they are derived from plants that absorb carbon from the atmosphere. If scientists can engineer production processes that are less energy intensive, it could result in a carbon neutral fuel for cars and electricity production.

For more information on going green, check back soon with LifeIsGreen.com.

The Advantages Of Double Paned Glass

As we discuss frequently on this blog, one of the most important aspects of going green is outfitting your home in such a way that energy isn't wasted. As you accumulate more appliances and electronics, your demand for electricity and climate control will also rise. To limit your carbon footprint, you'll need to adopt measures that keep your energy usage at a reasonable level.

Possibly the most effective way to do this is to install double-paned windows. There are a number of reasons for this.

  • Double paned glass is much better at insulating your home, compared to single pane windows. The half inch space between the two pieces of glass keeps heat from radiating outside. The San Francisco Gate estimates that homeowners can save hundreds of dollars and over 2,800 tons of carbon dioxide emissions by switching to this type of window.
  • Typically that space is also filled with a non-toxic gas such as argon, which accomplishes two things: It enhances the radiation dampening effect, and it also blocks out ultraviolet (UV) rays which can damage your carpet, paint and flooring. Excess UV exposure also leads to higher temperatures inside.

In addition to the energy saving benefits of double paned glass, there are other advantages. These windows are good at blocking noise from outside, making them ideal for homes located in crowded urban areas, near freeways or in neighborhoods where gardeners frequently wake you up in the morning.

Whether you live in a desert area that experiences extremely high temperatures in the summer, or a mountainous region with freezing winds and snow in the winter, you can save hundreds on your heating and cooling expenses by switching to double paned windows.

Keep checking back with LifeIsGreen.com for more green living and energy saving tips.