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Best of Green Schools 2011 and Other Feel Good Stories

The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, with the goal of making sure every student has the opportunity to attend a green school within this generation, released its “Best of Green Schools 2011 List.” This list focuses on all levels of school (K-12 to higher education) and recognizes the leaders that create sustainable learning environments for their students. Here are a few notable highlights from that list:

  • The State of Ohio leads the way with more green school projects in the works than any other state. There are a total of 319 LEED registered and certified projects.
  • Lake Mills Middle School in Lake Mills, Wisconsin became the first public school in the country to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The school is now “45% more efficient than a conventional school, yielding a total annual energy savings of $85,000.” (www.miron-contstuction.com)
  • Policy makers on the Washington D.C. City Council passed the Healthy School Act 2010 which builds upon the requirement and encouragement for all schools to achieve LEED Gold Certification.

For more on “Best of Green Schools 2011,” click here.

Now I will present another type of leader in green education that we have had the privilege of experiencing firsthand. Last October at the Greenbuild Conference in San Francisco we met a group of students from the Developing Virtue Schools that were exploring the show for new and exciting technologies that they could incorporate into a year-long sustainability project. They became very interested in our PV Solar Shutter and immediately wanted to get one for their school. After the show, they remained in touch, sending us news of their campaign to get solar in their school. They raised renewable energy awareness and enough money from fellow classmates and teachers to actually get one shutter installed in a classroom, one of the more inspirational things I have witnessed.

Alisha posing with their new Solar Shutter!

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Filed under Conservation, Energy Efficiency, Green Building, Innovation, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

Think Big, Think Solar

Our office has recently discovered the brilliance of StumbleUpon. We realized that we can not only use it to discover some great news and information on the very things PNS Energy is interested in, but we can also use it to waste some time when the brain can handle no more.
Among the first things we “stumbled” upon were some very interesting stories about the future of the solar industry. One thing that kept popping up was the idea that solar can (and hopefully will) power the entire earth. In the rest of this post I will lay out some of the more exciting ideas floating around the web.
Click for larger image.
This awesome map shows the surface area required to power the entire Earth (that’s right, the whole world) in 2030. We pulled this map from Treehugger but they ultimately attributed this graphic to the Land Art Generator Initiative. When I first think of the numer of solar panels needed to power the entire Earth I think of an unattainable amount of panels, but when it is displayed visually on a map of the Earth, the actual surface area needed is relatively small.
Ultimately, we would need 496,805 square kilometers covered in solar panels, which is roughly equal to the area of Spain. This is quite large but this puts it into a more manageable perspective; “the Saharan Desert is 9,064,958 square kilometers, or 18 times the total required are to fuel the world.” (Land Art Generator Initiative)
One of the more alarming quotes from the map/article: “According to the United Nations 170,000 square kilometers of forest is destroyed each year. If we constructed solar farms at the same rate, we would be finished in 3 years.”
Going along with installing solar panels in the desert, The Guardian is reporting that an initiative called “Desertec” is breaking ground on a massive plan to install a network of solar farms, wind farms, and concentrated solar plants that will produce 15% of Europe’s electricity by 2050. Concentrated solar plants are different from solar farms in that they use large mirrors to reflect the heat from the sun to heat up large greenhouse that pushes hot air through turbines that produce electricity, here is an example of one being built in Arizona. This initiative is the result of a German physicist that wanted to estimate how much electricity was needed to meet the Earth’s demands. He quickly found out that “in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. If even a tiny fraction of this energy could be harnessed – an area of Saharan desert the size of Wales could, in theory, power the whole of Europe (The Guardian).”
  • Map showing how the Desertec plan would work.

Solar tower similar to the ones being considered for the Desertec program.

The last ‘out of this world’ example of solar energy production is just that. One day, scientists hope that solar arrays will be deployed into space. They will then collect unfiltered sunlight and beam the energy produced down to Earth. A solar satellite in space can be exposed to the sunlight 24 hours a day and can also transmit that energy to whichever area on Earth that has the highest demand at that time. This would ensure that whoever and whatever needed energy would have access to it immediately. Think of the impact this would have on groups like our military. Instant energy could be beamed to remote locations all over the world, allowing troops to set up small, mobile forward operating bases and still have access to all the energy they need. This idea appears to be in the very early stage of development but down the line, anything is possible.
All in all I hope to someday reap the benefits of these solar dreams and if scientific news is any predictor of the future, there is a good chance that I will see some sort of these plans put into actual use.

Picture the future of solar

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Have an Eco-Friendly Christmas!

You have GOT to check out http://www.adoptachristmastree.com, they’re eco-friendly, deliver the tree with singing elves and even pick it up for you after the holidays!  Please consider adopting a living Christmas tree this year, instead of a dead one that will be tossed in the trash after only a few weeks. 32 million trees are cut down each Christmas and most are thrown in the trash.  Adopt A Christmas Tree will lend you a tree for the holidays and collect it afterwards. The collected trees are then replanted in fire-devastated areas of East County. Did I mention that they are delivered by singing elves? Learn more at www.AdoptAChristmasTree.com (currently only serving San Diego, CA)


Consider a Green Alternative
In the name of tradition, many people still chose chop down a live tree for a mere two weeks of display, then throw the decomposing tree in the garbage which seems to be wasteful and can weigh on your green conscious. After about a week their needles often dry out and make a mess before they are discarded in the trash which takes up space in our limited landfills. This sounds very destructive but most Christmas trees come from a tree farm where they are usually sustainably harvested (for each tree cut down, one or two is planted), and taking select trees from fields of trees is much like thinning a garden (Indiana University) However it is nice to see alternative options where you can give your tree a second life.

 

Fake Trees are even worse…

 

“But we use our fake tree year-after-year, isn’t that being green?”

Most fake trees, made from non-renewable petroleum also eventually wind up in landfills and are clogging mother earth with PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is being banned by many medical associations and considered poison by environmentalists. That’s why you’ll see a label on faux Christmas trees cautioning you to avoid inhaling or eating any bits of lead dust that may fall from the “branches.” Fake trees cannot be recycled. When they are disposed of in a sanitary landfill, they will not disintegrate, but will remain there forever, taking up increasingly scarce landfill space. When a fake tree catches fire, it puts dangerous toxic fumes into the air. Fake trees are manufactured mainly outside of the United States and often by companies in China that do not observe high environmental standards.

-Bennet

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Imagine Solar on Every Rooftop in the USA

What would putting solar on every rooftop in the U.S. do?  I see three pretty big benefits.

  1. In the US alone, we generate a lot of electricity – almost 4,000 billion kWh of power —  and less than .01% of that comes from solar.   If we imagine solar on every rooftop, we could, according to some pretty good estimates and some sophisticated models, produce about a third of the energy that the US uses annually – about 1,400 billion kWh of power.
  2. That’s a lot of clean, renewable energy and a whole lot less dependence on coal and nuclear resources.    If we imagine solar on every rooftop, we would be able to reduce how much we worry about dirty air from burning coal, what to do with nuclear waste, and the possibility of reactor meltdowns.
  3. US system designers, installers, contractors, and solar maintenance workers would be needed to make this happen.   If we imagine solar on every rooftop, that could translate to millions of US jobs.

Solar on every rooftop?

Who knows, with increased US demand for solar modules, we might be able to lure PV cell and solar module manufacturers back to the US.

-Dan, PNS Energy

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Good Energy = Good Business

Having solar panels has, to this point, been a luxury item and, even in the corporate world, only the elite brands (those we all know make tons of money) have been making the commitment to change to solar power.

Kohl’s Department Stores has taken their commitment to using solar (as part of their energy usage reduction plan) so much more mainstream.

The brand recognizes that as a company that focuses on their retail stores, their biggest environmental impact is in energy usage.  How about these accomplishments (taken from http://www.kohlsgreenscene.com/Energy/EnergyEfficiency.html):

  • 50 ENERGY STAR labeled stores
  • 116 activated solar sites
  • #1 Retailer for Green Power Purchases, #2 Overall and #12 for On-Site Generation
  • 100% of all Power used by Kohl’s comes from renewable energy sources
  • Energy Star Partner of the Year Award—2010 and 2011

Kohls has Installed Solar Panels on 116 Stores (solarpanelspower.net)

You can check out the Kohl’s Green Scene to see the depth of their whole environmental commitment.  You can go to your local Kohls and see the corporate commitment in action.  How cool is it that more people can exercise their option to choose to buy from a company that is really practicing great environmental leadership?

As more companies prove that you can be both environmentally friendly and profitable, choices will open up.  For example, look at what is happening at Johnson & Johnson or IKEA or Google.   It is so exciting that it might be time to start looking at the companies we buy from every day and try to make buying choices that reflect environmental values.

-Ruth

The Johnson & Johnson Solar Array – the largest solar array in New Jersey

PNS Energy

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K3 Wind and Solar Charger

This blog post features a new product we have been messing around with at the office for the past few weeks. I will give you a quick review of our experience with the K3 Wind and Solar Portable Device Charger.

The K3 Charger sun-bathing

The first thing I noticed was the K3 is very easy to operate; just set it out in the sun during the day and let the elements do all the work. When you need a charge on your device and do not have your wall charger with you or you are away from an outlet you simply pull the cord out of the built-in storage area, then plug into the USB port on the charger, finally plug in the correct tip to your phone and watch as your device charges up (according to the instructions you are supposed to give it a full charge from the wall first).
According the the K3 website, the charger is “ideal for mobile phones, iPods/mp3 players, iPhone, smartphones/PDAs, portable gaming devices, GPS units, digital cameras, Bluetooth headsets, and more.” I intend to use mine mostly as a supplemental charge for my cell phone.
The design of the K3 allows you to prop it in many different posistions to take advantage of the the angle of the sun. I also found a good way to put the K3 in the back window of my car. I drive with the windows down most of the time so the wind turbine can work on my commute.

Propped up to take advantage of the sun-angle.

One negative thing that I accidentally found out  was when I made the mistake of falling asleep with my phone plugged in to the charger and woke up to a dead battery in th K3. This made me use the wall charger once again to refill the K3, thus eliminating the benefits of using the sun to power my cell phone. I also figured out that if I want a good charge from the K3, it needs to be fully charged from the sun, wind, or wall before plugging it into your device. I tried to charge my phone with a half full battery in the K3 and it didn’t last very long.

The K3 Charging a Phone.

Overall, I recommend the K3 Charger as a good, quality, portable mobile device charger. I can’t wait to take it with me on my next camping trip – I’ll no longer have to worry about conserving my cell phone battery!
Amazon page featuring the K3.

Positives: Durable, Wind AND Solar, USB port and multiple tip options, LED lights show battery life, Looks cool(there is also a black color option), Unique
Negatives: A little bulky, takes more time to charge than expected, relatively short phone charging time.
Ideal Uses: Camping, car travel, take it to work for that “mid-day boost,” backpacking, etc…

Two color options for the charger.

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Filed under Carbon Footprint, Cell Phone, Cell Phone Battery, Conservation, Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency, Environment, Green Technology, Innovation, Outdoor Adventure, Parks, Renewable Energy, Solar, Uncategorized

The Big “Green” Apple

My recent trip to the Big Apple led to some very unexpected discoveries along the way. Having never visited New York I had no idea what to expect and frankly, I was not expecting good things in the realm of sustainability. I immediately think of mass consumption, millions of cars, old inefficient buildings, and a mindset of profit over the good of the surroundings.
Just to let you know, I was not seeking out the so-called “green” places in the city nor did I do any research prior to my visit. I also know and have learned that New York and the Northeast is leading the way when it comes to sustainability. I was just a plain old tourist checking out the city. Here are some things I found that impressed me along the way.
First off, the public transportation system is in a class of its own. According to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority “MTA subways, buses, and railroads provide 2.6 billion trips each year to New Yorkers.” You can get wherever you want in the city without ever needing a car.
Another thing I noticed was the importance of public green space and the unique way some people have created a beautiful landscape out of a so-called concrete jungle. Everyone knows about Central Park but we discovered a relatively new creation called the High Line.

High Line water feature

It’s a stunningly designed piece of art/urban park. Basically, it is an old elevated rain line that has been inoperable since 1980. In 2009, Friends of the High Line in a partnership with the City of New York opened the elevated public park. They have preserved the sense of the old rail line by keeping much of the old track and designing the landscape around it. “It features an integrated landscape, designed by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, with architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, combining meandering concrete pathways with naturalistic plantings. Fixed and movable seating, lighting, and
special features are also included in the park.”

High Line

I also ran across a few businesses that seem to be leading their peers by making their surrounding environment a priority. We stopped in the  Brooklyn Brewery for some tastings and a tour. They recently expanded their brewing operations and were operating a very impressive business in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. We tried a few different beers and even though I am turned off by odd flavors in beer I was very happy with the Pumpkin Ale. During our tasting I noticed that they advertised these cool compostable cups. This lead me to do some more research and I also found out that “the company’s brewery and headquarters in Brooklyn are 100% powered by Newwind Energy.”

Cool Cups at the Brewery

Brooklyn Brewery New Expansion

Finally, we went to a very cool burger joint called Shake Shack. I had a burger and shake and they were excellent but what really stood out was a wall explaining their history and dedication to “going green.” They purchase wind power credits to offset 100% of their electricity and they also practice on-site composting and they recycle used cooking oil. In the construction of the building they used a plethora of sustainable building materials: walls made of fiberboard, wheat board tabletops and trash cans, ceiling tiles made from renewable wood, LED low voltage light fixtures, and they “introduced a green wall(recyclable modular unit and pre-grown living system) that will remain in bloom year round.”
Overall, I was very impressed with the dedication to sustainability shown by the people of New York – keep up the good work!

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