New AT&T Eco Rating System Reveals Environmental Impact

February28, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

In collaboration with sustainability-focused BSR, communications company AT&T plans to launch a new eco-rating system later this year. Once activated, the system will provide a way for customers to measure the sustainability of products, taking into account various factors such as how a product is made, what materials are used, end-of-life treatment and energy efficiency.

“Increasingly, consumers are mindful of a product’s impact on the environment, “ said Jeff Bradley, senior vice president, Devices, AT&T Mobility, in a recent press release. “We are excited to work with leading third-party organizations like BSR and our suppliers to help make it easier for our customers to learn about the environmental impact of products they plan to purchase. Our new eco-rating system will make it easier for our customers to make more informed purchasing decisions.”

This new program comes in direct response to the researched wants and needs of today’s typical consumer: according to a recent Deloitte study, as many as 54 percent of shoppers take into account sustainability when buying a product.

AT&T plans to add the eco-ratings to in-store products this year, with a website providing detailed data on how the system’s ratings are devices. As technology, industry norms and sustainable practices continue to change and develop, the system will also evolve.

“With this initiative, shoppers may evaluate criteria such as a product’s energy efficiency, the percentage of recycled materials used in manufatur[ing], and the inclusion of metals such as lead, cadmium and mercury,” said Zachary Lutz of EnGadget, “…think of it as an easy way to get your green in gear.”

For more information on the sustainability efforts of AT&T, visit ATT.com.

(Image source: KnowYourCell.com)

6 Home Update Ideas to Reduce Your Environmental Impact

February22, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

Giving your home an update does more than lift your spirits—it can cut costs and boost value. This is especially true of sustainable updates that make your home more energy efficient and cost-effective. Consider these six home improvements that minimize your environmental impact while also benefiting your bottom line!

  1. Keep Your Boiler Serviced and Up-to-Date: “Older boilers are incredibly inefficient compared with the latest models,” says architect and home show presenter George Clarke. “You should think of renewing your boiler every 10 years or so.”
  2. Add New Insulation: “A poorly insulated home loses much of its heat through the roof and the walls,” says the blog Our Everyday Earth. “Replace the old insulation with new and improved insulation to save on energy and reduce your heating bills.”
  3. Install Solar Panels: We’ve written about the financial benefits of solar panels before at Soluxe Solar, so it should come as no surprise that we recommend installing solar panels to benefit your home. Solar panels can save energy, last for decades and qualify you for tax incentives. To learn more, see our previous post, “Why Go Solar? It’s All about the Bottom Line”!
  4. Install Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs:  According to Live Science, “Because CFLs use 75 percent less energy, swapping one incandescent bulb for a CFL reduces carbon dioxide by 500 pounds a year; replacing 17 has the equivalent effect of taking one car off the road for a year.”
  5. Install Energy-Efficient Appliances: While new appliances require an upfront investment, the energy savings they provide make up for the costs in time. As Ann Archer says at MSN Real Estate, “Appliance use comprises about 18% of a typical home’s total energy bill, with the fridge being one of the biggest energy hogs. If any of your appliances is more than 10 years old, the EPA suggests replacing them with energy-efficient models that bear their ‘Energy Star’ logo.”
  6. Install a Programmable Thermostat: A programmable thermostat makes it easy to control your heating and cooling costs. Especially for people who are away from home for set periods of time during the day, it can be a convenient way to cut expenses. “Through proper use of pre-programmed settings,” Energy Star says, “a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs.”

Artist Damien Hirst Plans 500 Sustainable Homes

February20, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

damien hirstOne of the world’s wealthiest living artists, Damien Hirst, announced plans recently to develop 500 new sustainable homes in Britain. Filled with green touches like hidden rooftop wind turbines, solar panels and state-of-the-art insulation, these homes will be designed to set the standard for eco development in England.

“[Hirst] wants these buildings to be landmarks that will stand the test of time and create a blueprint for quality, environmentally sustainable developments across the country,” said architect Mike Rundell, representative for Hirst at a planning meeting.

Hirst plans for the project to take place in his “adopted hometown” of Ilfracombe in North Devon, says Inhabitat. Once a popular tourist destination, Ilfracombe would greatly benefit from the revitalization of such a project, particularly amongst the investment-attracting efforts of other developments that include new homes, a primary school and more. Of the land included in his proposal, Hirst owns 40%, including Winsham Farm, which he purchased 10 years ago. Other areas include nearby Channel Farm and Bowden Farm.

Rundell told officials, “As you know, [Hirst] is a very successful artist and has very high ambitions for this project. He has a horror of building anonymous, lifeless buildings. He wants these houses to be the kind of homes he would want to live in.”

Beyond sustainable features, Hirst wants the homes to be in keeping with local design elements such as pitched roofs and bay windows, as well as to “be practical, make the most of natural light, be big enough to live in well and boast spectacular views.”

If all goes well with applications this summer, the eco-homes project could begin as early as 2013.

Green News: The Latest in Sustainable Development

February16, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

At Soluxe Solar, we’re always on the lookout for the latest and greatest news in the realm of green living, so here are some of the recent developments that have caught our eye:

  • Eco Homes from Southern Crafted Homes: Florida home builder Southern Crafted Homes is building green residences throughout the Tampa Bay area. These eco-friendly homes “are built to last, provide a healthy living environment, and increase energy efficiency, which saves the homeowner money, said Jim Deitch, chief operating officer for Southern Crafted Homes.
  • Jessica Alba’s Honest Company: Actress Jessica Alba recently launched The Honest Co., a line of eco-friendly baby products, in response to the prevalence of chemicals she saw in many children’s items. “There are a lot of toxic chemicals in baby products, and these toxic chemicals are linked to not just allergies and asthma, but also autism and ADHD and lots of childhood cancers, and I was horrified that products that were made for babies and children would have these toxic chemicals,” Alba said.
  • Eco Makeover for Radisson: A South Dakota Radisson Hotel is undergoing a complete “sexy eco-luxury” makeover, says Atmosphere Hospitality owner Adrienne Pumphrey, where everything, from top to bottom, is being updated to benefit the environment. Now called Adoba Eco Hotel, the facility will soon include a restaurant menu with organic and sustainable ingredients, eco-friendly bedding, improved energy use practices and more.
  • Blister Packaging at Versatile Packers: Florida contract packaging company Versatile Packagers recently added a new machine to its facilities that will enable it to offer “an eco-friendly substitute to the normal clam shell plastic packaging solution, which is very hard to open,” says Cameron Chai of Azom.com. Through blister packaging, Versatile hopes to provide more packaging benefits to customers, as well as reduced plastic usage, reduced packing time and reduced costs.
  • ADzero’s Bamboo-Bound Smartphone: Originating from a concept design from a Middlesex University student named Kieron-Scott Woodhouse, the ADzero is a green smartphone made from four-year-old bamboo, a raw and sustainable material that’s biodegradable. Half the weight of an iPhone and complete with a flash-enabled camera, this phone is set to launch between the end of this year and the beginning of 2013.

5 Tips for Greener Spring Cleaning

February15, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

It happens every spring: along with the warmer weather and colorful flowers, for many of us, spring means cleaning. And as so much new life is beginning all around us, it only makes sense to freshen up our homes, too.

Here are our top five tips for eco-friendly spring cleaning!

  1. Use Non-Toxic, Natural Cleaning Products. Many cleaning products available today are loaded with harmful chemicals and toxins that pollute the environment and can affect your health. That’s why it’s so important to choose cleaning products made from natural, non-toxic materials (or better yet, to make your own!).
  2. Eliminate Existing Toxins. While you are using eco-friendly products, why not also make spring cleaning a time to detoxify your home of existing pollutants, like Green and Clean Mom writes. Purge out old, toxic materials stashed away in the garage or basement. Throw out expired medicine and toiletries. Do an overhaul of the foods lurking in your pantry and get rid of anything harmful.
  3. Pare Down to Reduce Waste. Decluttering does more than get you organized—it puts your unwanted, unused items to good use for someone else. Go through every room in your house and determine what things you no longer want or need, and give away anything still usable to charity.  A good rule of thumb, according to the blog of green fuel solutions maker Bio Friendly, is this: “If you haven’t used it in at least 6 months, then you don’t REALLY need it.”
  4. Choose Low-VOC Paint. Sometimes, a fresh coat of paint is the best way to give new life to a room—but when you reach for the paint can, make sure it’s a type with low volatile organic compounds (VOC). Paints low in VOC minimize indoor air pollution, which is not only bad for the environment but also your health.  (For ideas on low-VOC brands, see this post from EcoVillageGreen!)
  5. Bring in Some Oxygen. Spring typically means warmer temperatures, the kind that invite you to open the windows and let in fresh air—pushing out trapped odors that may lurk inside your home. You may also wish to add houseplants to your environment, as they are known to naturally purify the air you’re breathing.

(Image source: TheRenewablePlanet.com)

Tesla’s Battery Powered Model X is Eco-Friendly

February15, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

tesla model X California-based auto maker Tesla is “making environmental purchases sexy,” says Krystal Peak of VatorNews in response to the car company’s recent unveiling of details on the new battery-powered SUV Model X.

“We’ve created a car that has more functionality than a minivan, more style than an SUV and more performance than a Porsche 911 Carrera,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

A sleek and stylish family-sized electric vehicle with “Back to the Future”-style falcon-wing doors that raise up instead of out to the side, the Model X is indeed something special. And among other things, it demonstrates the eco-friendly efforts made by Tesla, the auto maker that already received a $465 million federal loan in June 2009 to make electric cars at a California plant previously used by Toyota and General Motors Corp.

    Features of the vehicle, which is set to come out in 2014, include the following:

  • Designed to travel 270 miles on a charge
  • Both 60 kwH or 85 kwH battery options
  • Seats seven
  • Both rear- and four-wheel drive options
  • Second-row seats that slide all the way forward
  • faster than Porsche AG’s 911 sports car

Like Tesla’s Model S sedan, which has already 8,000 reservations, the Model X will qualify owners for a $7,500 federal tax credit available for electric vehicles. Set to release in 2014, the Model X is available for reservations now. It is expected to have a starting price of around $50,000, but which can raise as high as $100,000.

According to John Gartner, a research director at Pike Research, “As the first electrified models in the SUV/crossover category, the Tesla Model X along with the C-Max Energi have a chance to win over customers who, while generally not being as attuned to the environmental benefits of EVs, are also less price sensitive. The potential savings on fuel will be much greater for this larger class of vehicles than for compacts and is likely to provide a faster payback on its premium price. The successful launch of the Model X will validate the EVs as a technology and could accelerate the overall demand.”

To learn more about the Tesla Model X, see TeslaMotors.com/ModelX.

MIT Turning Photosynthesis into Solar Cells

February14, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

MIT grass solar cell

Thanks to Andreas Mershin, a research scientist in the MIT Center for Bits and Atoms, there’s exciting news on the horizon for the realm of solar energy: building upon the previous research of Shuguang Zhang, a principal research scientist and associate director at MIT’s Center for Biomedical Engineering, Mershin has built solar panels from an unlikely source—agricultural waste, such as cut grass.

“If you remember high school biology classes, you will hopefully remember a process called photosynthesis, whereby plants turn sunlight into energy,” explains Sebastian Anthony in ExtremeTech. “Mershin has found a process which extracts the photosynthesizing molecules, called photosystem I, from plant matter. Photosystem I contains chlorophyll, the protein that actually converts photons into a flow of electrons.”

Solar Power You Can Paint

The process, which Mershin deems as simple as taking chemicals, mixing them “with anything green” and then painting that combination on the roof, has powerful ramifications, especially for developing countries, where power is harder to come by. And because it relies on unwanted materials such as grass clippings or dead leaves, it has potential to be extremely cost-effective.

While the original system required expensive, sophisticated materials and equipment, Mershin’s version is revolutionary in that “virtually any lab could replicate it—including college or even high school science labs,” says an article published by MIT.

What’s more, the new version is more effective—as much as 10,000 times more effective—which is an excellent step in the right direction for solar power. Mershin says, however, that it still has a little ways to go before becoming most useful.

When the technology is fully ready, DIY enthusiasts will be ready, says Green Prophet. “If [they] can get their hands on a few grass clippings or other greenery and the substrate, then MIT only needs to ship out the zinc and titanium oxide and instructions for creating energy from this unlikely mix and a solar panel has been made.”

Can you imagine that? Your own solar panels made from the grass in your front yard?

To learn more about these developments from MIT, see their news release, “Harnessing nature’s solar cells” at MIT.edu.

U.S. Military Discovers Cost Savings With New Energy Sources

February14, 2012 by Shannalee in Financial News

us military solar savingsRecent research shows that the U.S. Military has a lot to gain through solar energy—as much as 7000 megawatts (MW) of solar power, or the equivalent output of seven nuclear power plants, through solar installations on four California military bases. A study released earlier this month showed that solar development in compatible areas could produce more than 30 times the electricity currently consumed by the California bases.

“The Department of Defense is seeking to develop solar, wind, geothermal and other distributed energy sources on its bases both to reduce their $4 billion-a-year energy bill and to make them less dependent on the commercial electricity grid,” said a recent press release about the study. “Such on-site energy generation, together with energy storage and so-called smart-microgrid technology, would allow a military base to maintain its critical operations ‘off-grid’ for weeks or months if the grid is disrupted.”

The bases in question include Edwards Air Force Base, Fort Irwin, China Lake and Twentynine Palms, and the combined acreage to be developed into solar power plants includes some 37,873 acres of land. The DoD hopes that through installations of solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative energy sources at these locations, it will be able to reduce costs enough to make the bases more self-supporting.

“On-site energy generation, together with energy storage and smart-microgrid technology,” writes Cheryl Kaften of PV Magazine, “would enable a military base to maintain its critical operations ‘off-grid’ for weeks or months, if the grid is disrupted.”

This is not the only solar push made by the U.S. military as of late: There’s also the upcoming launch of a new military-grade snap-on solar panel system, one which will add solar technology to golf carts and electric cars,

“As conceived by PowerFilm, the new solar panel doesn’t fully replace conventional power for charging up a golf cart battery,” writes Tina Casey at TriplePundit, “but it does help reduce battery charging costs, improve battery life, and extend the range of the vehicle.”

At Soluxe Solar, we’re always glad to hear about moves towards increased solar power, particularly when it involves major forces like the military, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing solar power benefit these California bases. For more information about the DoD’s study, see this recent press release.

How Do Solar Panels Work?

February9, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

solar panelsThe magic of solar energy is that it takes something natural and inexhaustible—the sun—and uses it to generate something powerful, useful and in-demand—electricity. Thanks to the increased publicity and popularity regarding both the environmental and financial benefits of solar power, many more consumers and companies are becoming aware of this phenomenon. Yet, despite increased awareness about the existence of solar energy, there are still few people who understand how it works.

If you’ve ever wondered how something like solar roof panels are able to channel sunlight into power that can turn on lights and charge batteries, this post is for you!

Photovoltaic (PV) Technology

Photovoltaic (PV) technology is the name of the technology that turns sunlight into electrical power—that’s why solar panels are often called photovoltaic panels. One of the most common ways to harness the power of the sun, solar panels can be mounted to the roofs of buildings in a way that pulls energy to make electricity.

How does PV technology accomplish this? According to the website Solar Home, solar panels essentially work like this: “Silicon is mounted beneath non-reflective glass to produce photovoltaic panels. These panels collect photons from the sun, converting them into DC electrical power. The power created then flows into an inverter. The inverter transforms the power into basic voltage and AC electrical power.”

Or in other words, broken down, they work like this:

  1. The solar panels you attach to your roof have silicon underneath non-reflective glass.
  2. When light shines on the panels, the panels draw photons.
  3. The panels convert those photons into what’s called direct-current (DC) electrical power.
  4. The power flows to an inverter.
  5. The inverter turns the power into basic voltage and AC electricity.

Even on Cloudy Days

One of the surprising things about solar panels is that they don’t only work on sunny days. While “the stronger the sunshine, the more electricity is produced,” according to Energy Saving Trust, the truth is that solar panels also work on cloudy afternoons.

“On a normal cloudy day there is always enough solar irradiance, by which the panel will produce electricity,” says Green Brilliance. “The production of electricity is not as high..[but] even on a cloudy day, your panel will produce electricity.”

The Bottom Line

Solar panels provide a virtually maintenance-free solution for generating power and can last for as long as 30 years. The U.S. Department of Energy states that “PV systems can be designed to meet any electrical requirement, no matter how large or how small. You also can connect them to an electric distribution system (grid-connected), or they can stand alone (off-grid).”

 

To learn more about solar panels, contact us at Soluxe Solar!

What Does It Take to Go Solar?

February9, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

The basics of solar installation

Although the actual solar-panel-installation process only takes a total of two to five days, it can be as long as four months before a solar array is up and producing at your residence or business. Most of the delay is caused by preliminary research, getting required permits and undergoing necessary inspections—but despite the initial investment of time and money, solar energy reaps strong financial benefits in the long run.

Here’s a breakdown of how the process usually works:

  1. Initial Site Survey. Unless you’re already sure of what contractor to use, you should receive estimates from various companies before deciding with whom to sign an agreement. That contractor will evaluate your site and be able to tell you how feasible, affordable and timely installation can be. Unsure of how to choose a contractor? Here’s a tip from Solar Energy Installers: “[Y]ou should ask for proof of necessary licenses, examples of previous installations in your area and past customers who can act as references. If an installer is properly licensed and has done quality solar installations in the past, you are much more likely to have an experience that meets all your expectations.”
  2. Rebate and Permit Applications. Because installing solar panels may qualify you or your business for certain rebates—you can find what your state offers at the Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency—you’ll want to apply for these financial benefits. Likewise, your contractor will obtain building permits before beginning construction.
  3. System Installation. The actual solar installation takes a few days and involves three steps: installing railings, installing panels and connecting the inverter box with the electrical system.
  4. Inspections. After construction, you’ll have a building inspection and a utility inspection, after which you’ll get connected to the utility power grid.

After the entire process is complete, you’re ready to enjoy the financial benefits of solar power, from tax credits to energy savings! You may also want to contact your home insurance provider to add the system to your policy.

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