Not in my back yard — that’s often the shortsighted response to clean energy development, right? But it can also be an appropriate response to more threatening forms of development; no one wants a nuclear or coal plant in their “back yard,” either. But this phrase (or the acronym NIMBY) can also describe another phenomenon: the notion that important efforts at sustainability occur somewhere across the globe, in the Arctic or the Amazon — but not in my back yard.
Heat and lighting are necessary elements for survival beyond bare-bones subsistence; in the developing world, however, these two necessities require a lot of labor for fuel sources that threaten the health of people who use them, as well as the planet. Women spend hours each week collecting wood for cooking, and lights, where available, are almost always powered by kerosene. Various social enterprises have worked to tackle the first issue with clean cookstoves; others are now stepping in to address the need for clean lighting with a variety of solar-powered technologies.
Few phrases get my blood boiling like “homeowners association.” Perhaps it’s because I’ve never lived in a neighborhood with one of these organizations, but I have this image of a handful of people snooping around the community looking for any deviation from the norm (like, say, solar panels), and hiding their lack of imagination under the guise of property values. I’ve told my wife many times that if we ever move into one of those neighborhoods, I’m going shopping for a flock of plastic pink flamingos.
A solar array, or a wind farm, can certainly have aesthetic appeal… but the visual interplay between the technology and its surroundings, or the beauty inherent in those panels and turbines themselves, usually isn’t high on the priority list of installers. The Bakken Museum in Minneapolis, which is dedicated to “exploring the mysteries of our electric world,” thought that beauty needed further exploration… and commissioned local artists to create works that “demonstrate a new, creative approach to using alternative energy sources.”
Many crafters have discovered greener ways to create their wares: reused and/or upcycled materials, for instance, have become very popular among the crafty set. But if your medium is something like glass or ceramics, heavy energy use is just a part of the process: it takes a lot of heat to melt glass for blowing or to fire up a kiln. A craft incubator program in North Carolina, the EnergyXchange, has figured out a way to lower the footprint of these artistic endeavors: landfill gas.
Almost exactly two years ago, we took a look at the ambitious plans for turning Staten Island’s closed Fresh Kills landfill into a massive recreational complex and park that rivals Central Park. Those plans have moved forward in the interim, and the Land Art Generator Initiative is contributing to the development of Freshkills Park with a design competition for “site-specific public artwork” that also generates energy from renewable sources.
When you think of international leadership towards a green economy, countries in Europe and Asia probably first come to mind: Germany’s leading the pack in terms of implementing clean technology, and China’s right there in terms of manufacturing it (even though it has a ways to go with its own environmental challenges). You might have a tough time thinking of an African nation contributing to the concept of economic growth through environmentally benign practices… and yet, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, nations such as South Africa and Kenya are creating green economic models that could serve as templates for other countries, both developing and developed.
An electric unicycle, iPad recycling, and creating your own bike lane on the go… this week’s green tech finds.
- California farmers leading the way on renewables: According to the USDA’s new On-Farm Renewable Energy Production Survey, “California farms and ranches now make up more than 20 percent of all operations in the nation with solar, wind and methane digester use.” (via Calfinder’s Residential Solar blog)
- Harvesting energy from slow tides: That’s the concept behind Minesto UK’s Deep Green technology, a “kite-like device [which] is tethered to the seabed and is steered by a rudder, which allows it to adjust the speed at which water enters the turbine.” The UK’s Carbon Fund has awarded Minesto £350,000 to test the device.
Tried arguing climate change science with someone who doesn’t buy it? Yeah, it’s tough… and getting tougher. Even as the science itself becomes more clear, fewer people are concerned about global warming and its effects. It’s enough to make a good greenie bang his/her head against the wall, or just move to a cave.
Or… we could just stop arguing about it.
T-shirts that detect pollution, wind power from transit tunnels, and solar power in coal’s heartland… your green tech finds for the week.
- The pollution-detecting t-shirt: NYU grad students Nien Lam and Sue Ngo’s Warning Signs t-shirts display either a heart or a pair of lungs that change color according to the levels of carbon monoxide in the air. Watch it work above… (via Green Energy News and @greeneconpost)
- All renewables by 2050? A brand new report from WWF claims we can get there, “…with only isolated residual uses of fossil and nuclear fuels.” (via Mail & Guardian Online)
Niles Heckman‘s Small World Energy is a wonderful little film telling the story of energy. Starting with the worst types of energy and finishing with the cleanest types of energy, his film shows what appears to be aerial views of these things. In actuality, it is a combo “of hand painting, photo collage, morphing, and texture projections.” He wrote of the film:
Being extremely passionate about clean energy and a sustainable future for the planet, I felt obligated to do my version of a public service announcement. The concept was to start dirty and end clean. Beginning by showing the most destructive forms of energy (deforestation, coal, oil, shale) in addition to some of their side effects and then transition to systems that are cleaner but still have major downsides associated (nuclear, bio fuels, hydro) and conclude with renewables (geothermal, tidal, solar, and wind) which have very minimal negative side effects and impact on our ecosystem.
Green tech spanning the globe, from Ohio to New York City to Algeria… your finds for the week.
What’s up with switchgrass: Remember all the discussion about biofuels produced from switchgrass? The talk’s died down, but the experimentation hasn’t… but there are still some arguments out there about the efficiency of this feedstock.
Ohio’s green economy: Ohio? Really? While it’s still small and growing, this Rust Belt state made the most of the manufacturing infrastructure already in place to create green jobs. (via Calfinder’s Residential Solar blog)
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Imagine: A massive open-pit coal mine next to a wilderness jewel. A scenario like that might have been routine in the past, but this is the 21st century, when many cleaner, more sustainable ways to power our economy abound. We no longer have to sacrifice an iconic landscape in order to burn some dirty rocks.
And yet a mining company got approval last month to open Utah’s first-ever strip mine for coal in the small community of Alton. Few new coal mines have opened in the West in the past decade since most developers focus on expanding existing mines, not reaching into untouched wilderness. And that’s what makes this mine so troubling: it will be located 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park.
The truth is we don’t need this coal. The developers claim they have a contract with a Utah utility, but they won’t disclose which one. It’s questionable whether local utilities even have the need for such sizeable quantities of coal. Instead, rumors indicate that a lot of the coal will be hauled to a West Coast port for shipping, possibly overseas. If the company is so confident there is a market for its product, it should name its buyers.
The West has a long history of outside companies extracting local resources, selling them elsewhere, and leaving nearby communities to clean up the mess often at taxpayer expense. No matter what they might tell you, there is no reclamation plan that can return an open pit mine to a natural, wild state. Once that untamed spirit is gone, it’s gone for good.
Some places are simply too special to industrialize. Bryce country is one of them.
Hemp cars, pedal-powered submarines, and lots of wave power… this week’s green tech finds.
Harnessing the surge: Finnish company AW-Energy is building a test plant in Portugal for its Waveroller concept, which “utilizes the so-called surge phenomenon found on ocean coasts.” (via Good News from Finland)
More wave power: Ocean Renewable Power Company is testing out the wave power potential for the US Coast Guard’s station in Eastbrook, Maine.
Property-assessed clean energy (PACE) financing has caught on quickly around the country: from Berkeley to Baton Rouge, localities and states have recognized the environmental and economic benefits of creating financing opportunities for renewable energy and efficiency upgrades for home and business owners.
Last week, government-backed mortgage lending agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac threw a giant monkey wrench into the growth of PACE by “refusing to accept loans on buildings in the program.”
Yesterday’s Boston Globe took note of Canton, Massachusetts’ negotiation to use a capped landfill as an energy production site. While many localities have discovered landfill gas as an alternative energy source, Canton plans to use about half of the 41-acre site as a solar farm.
Rickety carnival rides. Animal and agricultural exhibits. And fried… well, just about anything. State fair season is coming up, and future farmers, midway operators, and bands past their prime are ready to roll. At a few fairs around the country, you can add renewable energy vendors, green builders, and organic foodies to the mix: the greening of the state fair is slowly but surely underway.
At the federal level, the US tends to rely on various forms of tax incentives to spur consumer demand for energy efficiency and renewable installations. States and cities have tended to be a bit more creative in providing forms of up-front cost support, such as property tax financing and loan programs. Perhaps the feds should take a look at approach the new British government floated in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech: a “pay-as-you-save” loan program.
Lifelong Jersey City resident Adam Szpala describes himself as a climate change skeptic. And cap-and-trade programs? He “thinks [they're] crazy when the economy is suffering as it has been,” according to The Jersey City Independent.
But this contractor and rental property owner loves him some solar panels… and plunked down $45,000 four years ago to install them on his own house as well as the building next door he rents out. His incentive: cost savings on energy. Because he lives in New Jersey, which has had some of the most generous rebate programs in the country (they’ve dried up some lately), he’ll likely recoup his initial investment in just a few more years. He saves about $200 a month on electricity, and also receives Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SREC) payments to the tune of around $7000 a year.
Pennsylvania’s new $48 million Green Energy Revolving Loan Fund will supply capital for developing cost effective, energy-saving and renewable energy projects in existing, non-residential buildings throughout the state.
From players’ salaries (and egos) to stadiums and arenas, pretty much everything about professional sports is big… including the carbon footprint. You likely only need to take a look at huge, climate-controlled facilities with acres and acres of parking to figure that even single events are responsible for massive greenhouse gas emissions. Genuine reductions in that footprints will likely require major shifts in how fans experience the play of their favorite teams… for now, though, a number of pro franchises are doing what they can with LEED building standards, renewable energy installations, and fan education.
The Golden State Warriors basketball team will join that group tomorrow with the unveiling of a 9,641 sq. ft., 143.5kW solar installation on its practice facility in downtown Oakland.
Wind power opponents often cite aesthetics, noise, and bird kills as reasons for not wanting wind farms or turbines nearby… call it renewable NIMBYism. General contractor (and past installer of Christo projects) A.L. Huber has installing a next-generation vertical axis wind turbine at its Overland Park, KS headquarters that designers claim addresses all of these complaints lodged against wind installations.
Thankful for green technology? So are we… here are this week’s finds.
President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh today reaffirmed the global strategic partnership between the United States and India and launched a new and greener phase in their relationship.
If you’ve gone as far as pricing a renewable energy system for your home, you may have suffered a bit of sticker shock: solar and wind systems can easily run $20,000 — $40,000 before any incentives. Now, imagine the prices on systems for large businesses and institutions. It’s no wonder that these big players have sought out alternatives to buying systems outright, and often entered into power purchase agreements (or PPAs) for energy produced by technology owned by others.
Harvard University went this route yesterday when it signed a contract with Boston-based wind energy developer First Wind.