Category Archives: energy efficiency
For those of us following the climate change debate, we’ve heard for years that before we can build a clean energy economy we need a “smart grid” capable of plugging into an array of big and small power sources — from residential rooftop solar panels to massive wind farms.
But, it turns out even here in Washington, D.C., there are those who see something more sinister in the smart technology. For some, the “smart meters” represent a massive new assault on the airwaves and public health.
It’s not exactly the kind of rabble rousing underway in Tea Party strongholds, where the meters are considered part of a United Nations’ plot to outlaw America’s beloved suburban sprawl and herd everyone into “smart growth” shoebox apartments and “walkable” neighborhoods. D.C. activists, however, are using some of the same arguments and links to rail against the technology update. That might be part of the reason they aren’t getting much traction with city officials or their own neighbors.
Read more about DC’s meter battle in my story in today’s Washington City Paper.
In this year’s Solar Decathlon wrapped up earlier this month with 19 homes – more than half of which cost less than $300,000 to build. Affordability was one of the 10 categories on which the homes are judged this year in the biannual competition pitting universities from around the United States and a few foreign countries. The new cost/affordability bar, which replaced the lighting contest, inspired the student designers to drive down the cost considerably. According to the event’s sponsor, U.S. Department of Energy, this year’s houses were about 33 percent cheaper this year than those that competed two years ago. “Solar for less” was just one of the industry trends reflected in this year’s entries.
Read my story in Architecture Week.
So it might not go with all outfits, it’s a much bolder fashion statement than the standard offerings. And so much padding would be comforting if one’s skull were on a crash course with the pavement. If this one’s not for you, the TreeHugger site has an array of cyclist headgear on parade today. Several swerve decidedly into the fashion lanes. Others tilt toward practicality. I also like the collapsible helmet; unattractive but easily stowed. As a Capital Bikeshare members, I get tired of carrying my bulky plastic helmet around with me.
Lately, I’ve been writing (and talking) a lot about the energy-efficient “Passive House” construction system. Here’s a link to my latest E Magazine cover story on the fledgling boom in these low-energy homes that take a mere fraction of the electricity the average household requires to heat, cool and keep the lights on. If you’d rather hear than read all about it, check out my interview today with Kathleen Dunn of Wisconsin Public Radio.
Small Business Majority, an upstart trade association that is challenging the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as the sole voice of the country’s business sector, has come out with a report concluding that “the Clean Air Act’s economic benefits have far exceeded the costs imposed on businesses.”
And that’s not the only eco-friendly position taken by the group, which says it represents the tens of millions of small businesses in the country. It also opposes limiting the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, arguing that it would penalize entrepreneurs who have already taken the carbon-busting plunge.
The venerable U.S. Chamber, in contrast, has challenged the EPA’s plans to use the Clean Air Act to regulate emissions and opposes any crackdown that would increase the country’s electricity rates. Those stances have prompted outrage from environmentalists (and this spoof by The Yes Men).
The Washington Post has a story about how “geoengineering” — let’s just call it the mad scientist approach to stopping global warming — is gaining ground in the absence of political will in Washington to deal with the problem through more conventional means such as capping and/or taxing carbon emissions, increasing energy efficiency, and phasing fossil fuels out of the economy.
What is geoengineering? As the story points out, the ideas gaining the most traction generally aim at reflecting the suns rays away from Earth and hoovering up the excess greenhouse gases that are warming the planet. Sound like science fiction? Well, these ideas are still more sci-fi than sci-fact though we may be seeing some of them deployed as global warming becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But nobody really knows what kind of reactions such evasive measures will take. Reporter Juliet Eilperin quotes House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.):
“The more you know about it, the more you’re concerned about if we can ever implement it,” Gordon said in an interview. “However, there may be a point where we’re up against the tipping point, and the consequences of climate change are even worse.”
Brings to mind a dieter who doesn’t really want to stop eating Twinkies or go for a jog, instead turns to untested diet pills, and ends up with irreparable heart damage.
People from Appalachia and around the country marched to the White House today to send a message to President Obama about mountaintop removal coal mining: Stop it immediately.
Mountaintop removal — or “mountaintop mining” — as coal companies such as Massey Energy prefer to call it — is a form of strip mining. The companies use explosives to blast off the tops of the mountains and heavy machinery to scoop up the valuable coal seams underneath. Tons of so called “waste rock” (the parts of the mountain of no use to coal companies) are trucked down into valleys, where they are dumped, a process called “valley fill.” Since mountaintop mining began a few decades ago, hundreds of mountains in Appalachia have been blown apart in this way and a couple of thousand of miles of streams and lakes have been buried under waste rubble, according to the EPA.
This news just in: The District Department of Transportation has installed the District’s first bicycle traffic singles at the intersection of 16th Street, U Street and New Hampshire Avenue N.W. Pretty cool. When I was in Berlin in the spring, these quirky little lights were directing traffic all over the downtown though not all bikers respected them. I saw tons of people riding the lights on their bikes without so much as tapping the brakes. And they were Germans! What can we expect of D.C. residents, who may not share that Germanic love of order?