August 21, 2008

Great developments toward clean energy

I've been thinking and reading more and more about energy use and how we can fix the current mess. A big part of that relies on changing the kind of cars we drive, how we fuel them, and how we produce energy in general. And there's good things happening. Oh, and ethanol and hydrogen cars are NOT the answer!

GM plans the Volt electric car ...hopefully this time they won't collect the fleet of cars and then smash and shred them to prevent anyone from driving them!

Toyota will offer a plug-in hybrid by 2010. This will allow the user to do most daily commutes with no gas needed.

AirCar Factories is developing a car powered by compressed air (great video ) ...their hybrid version is projected to be able to travel from LA to New York on ONE tank of gas!

T. Boone Pickens can be a total schmuck. He heavily financed the inaccurately named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth (SBVT), who lied repeatedly about John Kerry's military service. Pickens then offered $1 million to anyone who could disprove these lies. A group of veterans sent Pickens detailed military records disproving TEN points claimed by the SVBT ...and Pickens refused to pay up. But his Pickens Plan holds a LOT of promise. It's hard to trust the guy, but this is a very good plan for renewable energy, and since Pickens stands to make a bunch of money from it, I DO trust him on this one. Check the web site and get familiar with the plan.

A FANTASTIC plan - perhaps the best option for saving our planet so far - comes from a company called better place. The idea is to replace the current oil-dependent cars of the world with electric cars. The cars have a range of about 120 miles on a current charge. One could charge the cars at home and at many other locations, and for longer trips, one would pull into one of the many stations at which one swaps out the battery - fully automated station - in under 3 minutes. The idea is to treat cars like cell phones: you pick the model you want, sign up for a pay-as-you-go plan or a set number of miles per month or other options, and then that's it. The plan is to ensure that user pay LESS for the electric car and usage than they do today for gas. Sounds crazy, right? But Israel, Denmark, several other countries, and the State of Hawaii are on board. Renault-Nissan Alliance is making the cars. Go to the better place site and read about it. AND better place is ensuring that the energy used to power the cars comes from renewable sources like wind and solar (NOT nuclear ...Adam Putnam, who is the US House rep from my district, refers to nuclear power as 'renewable' ...I was there at a candidate forum in Bartow Florida last week and heard him say it ...incredible ...nuclear is NOT renewable energy!!!)

We have some great progressive candidates (Kevin Beckner - for County Commissioner, Doug Tudor for US Congress, Barack Obama) from the local level on up to the Presidency. And there's a dramatically increasing number of innovative and DOABLE ideas for reducing or eliminating our use of fossil fuels, creating jobs, and cleaning up the environment.

Good things are happening.

Posted by Joe Litton | August 21, 2008 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 03, 2008

Car powered by compressed air

Many very promising advances are being seen in various technologies. My Portland buddy Barry pointed out this one:

They're also working on a hybrid that would use the fossil fuel to compress air for the car's engine. The projected range of the hybrid vehicle would allow one to drive from Los Angeles to New York ...on a single tank of gas!

Posted by Joe Litton | August 3, 2008 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 30, 2008

Driving a fuel-efficient car: 6 months in

I've been driving the Yaris for a little over 6 months now. I've tracked every tank of gas, and my average mileage is about 39mpg. I've gotten as high as 42mpg and as low as 36, but the average over the long haul is 39 miles per gallon, so that's not bad.

Except that things could have been so much better.

This evening Shirley and I watched the movie Who Killed the Electric Car. Back around 1980 I worked in a music store with a guy who drove one of these. I have no idea what the car cost or who made it, but it was fine for my colleague, who lived fairly close to the store and just needed easy around-town transportation. And there were various electric cars produced by the big auto makers, but through the mix of oil company greed, auto company short-sighted greed (quite rational focus on profit if you don't give a hoot about national security nor the environment), Bush administration actions, and other schmuckery ...the electric car efforts were killed.

Toyota was among the big companies that killed their electric car projects (an electric RAV4) once the US companies were stopping their own projects. But Toyota and Honda did move forward with their hybrid cars (US manufacturers abandoned hybrid work, only recently making some efforts at hybrid catch-up). So now, of course, Toyota is king of hybrids with the Prius, and will quite probably have a plug-in hybrid Prius in 2009. Sigh. The US companies had the skills, they had the technology, and they had the momentum ...but they blew it in favor of what we've seen far too often: the quest for short-term profits, at the exclusion of longer range thinking.

Hydrogen powered cars is just a ridiculous idea (from a consumer standpoint that is). Best estimates are that with a few miracles, they might be viable in 30 years. Or we could have had widely available electric cars on the road today.

Not being able to afford a Prius (and actually I would have preferred a Honda Insight if they were still on the market), I opted for the car model that got the best mileage at the time, and at an affordable price: the Yaris. And I've not been disappointed.

I especially look forward to 5 or so years from now when I truly believe we will have not only plug-in hybrids, but also a decent selection of completely electric vehicles available.

Posted by Joe Litton | July 30, 2008 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 18, 2007

Freecycle: lightened my load :)

FreecycleDuring the past year we've switched to using an electric mower instead of a gas-powered mower, electric grass edger and string trimmer instead of gas-powered devices, and disconnected our gas-fired water heater and installed a solar water heating system. A side effect of this is that our garage was now cluttered with the devices that we were no longer using. I was enjoying a beer Thursday evening with some friends and mentioned that I needed to get rid of this stuff. Smitty suggested I list the stuff on Freecycle. Duh! I'd heard of Freecycle a year or more ago and had forgotten about it. It works like this: instead of tossing something in a landfill, thereby polluting the ground and taking a useful item out of circulation ...'gift' it on Freecycle. Or if you need some item, check Freecycle and perhaps someone has the item you need and is ready to pass it on to a new owner.

In the words of Freecycle:

Please be gentle in your expectations, gracious in your giving and appreciative for the things you receive. Please treat each other as you want to be treated and remember, you are making a difference, one gift at a time!

How cool is that? So I popped on to the Tampa Freecycle group. I listed the items earlier today, and by mid-afternoon the items all had new homes. I have more room in the garage, and these perfectly good devices will continue to provide useful service. Words really can't express how much I enjoyed this.

Now I'm looking around seeing what else we can release :)

Posted by Joe Litton | November 18, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 17, 2007 reducing paper waste

Catalogchoice From their website:
Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to decide what gets in your mailbox. Use it to reduce your mailbox clutter, while helping save natural resources.

This is pretty cool! I just signed up today. I created a free account, listed our address and the names to which we receive snail mail. I then went through the rather extensive list of catalogs (using the search feature a time or two) and selected the various catalogs that the US Post Office delivers to our mailbox - and that we then deposit directly into the recycle bins. As Shirley and I were talking about it, we kept remembering more junk that comes to us. So now, ever so slowly over the coming months, the volume of junk mail that is delivered to us should diminish. The number of wasted trees will be reduced a little. A little less fuel will be wasted in the transport of the catalogs. And the companies who produce the catalogs will be wasting less money, since we don't buy from these catalogs anyway!

So lighten your load. Go sign up and reduce your junk mail.

Posted by Joe Litton | November 17, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 14, 2007

Tankless water heater installed

Back in April of this year we had a solar hot water heater installed. It's 100% passive, and I love it. But if we have a day with no sun (or several guests in the house) there's not enough hot water. We'd considered that this might be the case, and so had factored in the cost of a tankless gas-fired water heater as a supplemental system when we first decided to get rid of the original hot water tank. Fortunately for us, the local gas company (TECO Peoples Gas) has a program that allows customers to purchase a tankless water heater - installed - for US$25/month for 5 years. So it's a total of $1,500 (a little high), but the monthly payment gets included in the regular gas bill. So it's painless. I called ExpertGasPlumbers and booked it.

B4tanklessinside Here's the inside of the garage where the old tank used to be. If you click on the image and view it enlarged, you'll see the comments pointing out the piping from the rooftop solar water heating system.
B4tanklessoutside And here's outside where the tankless unit gets mounted. Because we're in a warmer climate, it works well to locate the heater outside, and there's no special venting needed. It does use a little electricity for the thermostat and the ignition (there's no pilot light).
Doneinside Things don't look much different on the inside with the installation all done. There is a small thermostat control, and a little extra piping. I went out to check during the installation and noticed that the guys had originally routed the pipes in a manner that would have bypassed the solar heater completely. D'OH! So I showed where things needed to be connected and they were extremely nice about it and rerouted things as needed. Whew! That could have been a fiasco!
Doneoutside Things look quite different on the outside, of course. Our new Rinnai R70 unit is up and running. When I first turned on the hot water inside, the new unit fired up ...once the hot water from the solar unit had flowed down, the gas-fired unit detected the water temp and shut itself off, letting the solar-heated water just flow on through. Perfect :)

Posted by Joe Litton | November 14, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (2)

November 02, 2007

Cool-N-Save - easy way to reduce A/C costs

Cs17We enjoy watching Living with Ed on television. Ed Begley, Jr. has been working to live ever-greener for 30 years, and the show never fails to give us several great ideas. A recent episode featured the Cool-N-Save product. The idea is to provide a gentle mist of water around the air conditioner condenser - only when the condenser fan is running - so that the evaporation of the water will help the air conditioner with its cooling chores. The projected energy savings are up to 30 percent! Given that the Cool-N-Save costs under a hundred bucks (US$87), it will be worth it even if our savings fall far below 30 percent. Here in Florida, air conditioning is one of the main power consumers of a home (for all-electric homes, water heating is the other real biggie).

Well, I've got quite a list of chores I've been wanting to get to around the house and the yard, so I took a vacation day today to tackle some of them. One of those jobs was installing our new Cool-N-Save unit.

The installation is very simple, although some might find the adequate instructions not quite detailed enough. So Shirley snapped a number of pictures as I installed the unit. We probably took 30 minutes to do the installation, but that was largely because we kept going back inside to fetch a felt pen, a wire cutter, a cable tie, etc. We've posted the installation sequence up on Flickr.

And with that, we are hoping that our footprint on the earth has perhaps become just a little bit smaller :)

Posted by Joe Litton | November 2, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (6)

September 23, 2007

Timer for outdoor compact fluorescent lights

Timer00A year or two ago we replaced the 3 lights outside our garage with compact fluorescents to save on energy use. That's good, but sometimes we'd go somewhere and not return until after dark ...with the lights still off, so that defeated the purpose of having outdoor lighting. And sometimes we'd neglect to turn them off in the morning, and they'd end up being on all day. Well I finally located a timer (from Swylite) that works with the low current draw of compact fluorescents. I figured this would be a pretty easy install - maybe 5 minutes. Wrong.

Timer01 The switch for our garage lights is in this strip of 5 switches. The one on the far right is a timer for the 'holiday' lights (we string up a number of LED lights around Christmas, and they are all connected into outlets that are controlled by this timer). The second switch location in from the right is where the garage light switch was, so this is the location for the new timer for the outdoor compact fluorescents. This would have been a quick install, but one of the wires I needed for the connection was, as fate would have it, located behind the left-most switch. Sigh. So I had to remove 4 switches and do the hookup and then squeeze all of that junk back into the proper locations. Ugh! It probably took me 30 minutes to do this little hookup, since getting things to fit in there and to all align properly with the switch plate was far more involved than it should have been.

Timer02Ah, but all's well that ends well, right? It finally all went together and now the lights turn on and off at the proper times. One nice little feature of this timer is that it allows us to set a 'variable' mode. This means that the lights will come on and be turned off within 15 minutes plus or minus from the times we set. So there is not an exact time every day when the lights go on or off. Just a little more security. And some energy savings and convenience :)

Posted by Joe Litton | September 23, 2007 in Earth friendly, House | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 11, 2007

Yaris is ordered :)

YarisWe do still plan to get a smart car - but that will be our little car. Our big car will be a 2008 Yaris liftback ...quite like the one pictured here. It will be about 3 months before we are driving it, since the only way to get one with side curtain airbags and ABS (both requirements for us) is to do a special order.

The Yaris and the smart car will each get around 40 mpg (a little under 6 litres per 100 km). Since we're buying the Yaris through Costco, we were able to skip all of the usual hassle of negotiating price and trying to decide what is truth and what is lies from someone just trying to make a sale. We met with the individual referenced from the Costco site, told them the options we wanted, and they showed us the invoice. We put down a US$500 deposit and when the car arrives, we will pay the rest of the invoice price and skip the nasty part of car buying. Very cool.

When our Blazing Blue Yaris shows up (a little brighter, I believe, than the image above), we'll sell Shirley's '94 Acura GS. It's been a pretty good car, but it requires premium fuel, is larger than we need, and is half as fuel-efficient as the Yaris and smart car will be. The plan is to then sell my 10-year old Subaru Outback when the smart arrives. We have mixed feelings about changing vehicles, since both of our cars have been pretty good. But it's time to downsize, go for better fuel economy, and get more safety features.

Any suggestions for vanity license plates?

Posted by Joe Litton | September 11, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 28, 2007

An inconvenient purchase

LawnhogWe are now edging, trimming, and mowing our lawn with a zero carbon footprint (aside from the impact of the manufacture and shipping process). We've been using corded (not cordless) edger and trimmer for years. By paying a little extra to the local utility company, all of our electricity comes from renewable sources (wind, solar, etc). And the mower I just bought today is a corded electric Black & Decker mulching mower. I'd actually bought a Neuton cordless mower, but it didn't have enough power to cut the St Augustine grass here in Florida, so I returned it. Well, now that I've tried the Lawn Hog, I'm real glad that the Neuton didn't work out.

The Lawn Hog was US$229, $184 less than the Neuton (the Neuton was $359 plus $20 for a mulching kit, plus $34 shipping). The price difference makes some sense, since this new mower has no battery. Batteries are expensive to buy, and also would have to be replaced every 2 or 3 years. By using a corded mower, we have no lead battery to deal with, no charger running 24x7, and this thing is powerful. I was amazed that it cuts better than our 6.5HP gas-powered mower! The first grass I tried it on was the small remaining patch in the fenced back yard, that needed about 3 inches of height cut off. The Lawn Hog hummed right through the tough St Augustine grass, and mulched it up with no problem whatsoever (we have no use for the rear bag, since we let the mulched clippings fall to the lawn).

Now, some folks don't like having an electric cord hanging from their mower. I can understand that. It is definitely inconvenient. But the very first mower we owned 25 or so years ago was an electric that we'd bought at a garage sale, so I was comfortable with the cord thing. And it's worth it to save money on the purchase, save hassle and expense on the maintenance of the mower going forward, and best of all, to know that mowing my lawn is no longer polluting the air. Oh, and it's quieter and doesn't stink :)

Posted by Joe Litton | July 28, 2007 in Earth friendly | Permalink | Comments (2)