DC Considers New Energy Bill to Harness Community Energy Sources

March19, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

solar panels

The nation’s capital city, Washington, D.C., is considering legislation that would make solar power more attainable for its citizens–allowing even those residents and businesses in less sunny areas of the city to harness energy from the sun to power their buildings.

According to Steve Seuser, a member of the solar advocacy group D.C. SUN, “The problem is if people can’t do solar on their own roofs, there’s no way to connect a solar system they would have somewhere else on their Pepco bill. That’s what this bill would do.”

If enacted, the Community Energy Renewables Act of 2012 would make it possible for two or more individuals to draw solar energy from the same source, located somewhere within in the city–say from the sunnier building across the street, for example. Dubbed community solar, this project is designed to make access to solar power more equitable, allowing anyone within the city to benefit from greener, more cost-effective power sources.

Similar bills have been proposed in other areas of the country such as Maryland and Virginia, and there are community-based campaigns currently at work in several parts of Oregon:

“These campaigns, where neighbors buy or lease discounted solar energy systems in bulk as part of a limited-time offer, are lighting up the state from Portland to Pendleton,” writes Carrie Sturrock at The Oregonian. “Beaverton just put solar on more than 250 homes. West Linn and Lake Oswego will soon launch a joint campaign. Gresham is gearing up for one, as is Eugene. Northeast Portland is in the midst of its second.”

In D.C., Pastor Peter Spann of Promised Land Baptist Church considers community solar good news for his church. Part of an older building, Promised Land’s roof is oriented east/west, preventing it from grabbing the more predominant south-facing rays. But with the new legislation, it may be possible for the church to harness the energy from the sun and go solar.

New Venture Fund Seeks Sustainable Startups

March15, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

SJFIn exciting news for eco-minded startups throughout the country, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) recently announced the licensing of SJF Ventures III LP, the first nationally focused impact investment fund.

The fund “is yet another important new ally in SBA’s commitment to foster small business growth and job creation in emerging sectors,” said Administrator Karen Mills. “They’re an experienced team that is well-positioned to drive more investment in high growth, positive impact companies. We will continue to grow this and other public-private partnerships by licensing more funds and putting more capital in the hands of small business owners to grow and create good jobs.”

SJF’s four areas of eco focus will allow the fund to support and encourage growth in various green initiatives, such as efficiency and infrastructure; reuse and recycling; sustainable agriculture and food safety; and technology enhanced services. It will build upon the success of the first two SJF ventures, which involved 34 portfolio companies.

Already, returning limited partners in SJF’s fund include Citi and Deutsche Bank, Calvert Equity Portfolio, Armonia, Abacus Sustainable Fund and Trillium Asset Management LLC. There are also several new investors such as wealth management firm Caprock Group, family office OpenBox and wealth advisory pool ImpactAssets.

“The license from SBA makes it very easy for us to undertake this kind of investment,” said Andrew Ditton, managing director and co-head of Citi Community Capital. Because SBA has licensed the fund, it allows investors to bypass complicated documentation requirements that would be “very cumbersome,” Ditton said.

SJF Ventures III LP is committing up to $75 million of investment capital over the next five years.

Chevy’s New Malibu Eco 2013 On Sale Now!

March14, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

chevy malibu ecoThe premium Malibu Eco, the first of the Chevrolet’s brand-new line of Malibu mid-size sedan models, is now available for purchase at Chevy dealerships nationwide. With a pricetag of $25,995, including $760 delivery charges, this vehicle offers fuel savings in addition to a reasonable upfront cost in the realm of hybrids.

“The Chevrolet Malibu ECO is a smart choice for customers who want excellent fuel economy without the price premium of popular hybrid sedans,” said Rick Scheidt, vice president of Chevrolet marketing. “The Malibu ECO’s 38-mpg highway estimate is comparable with those hybrids.”

Unique to the American market, this five-passenger vehicle boasts a wide range of eco-friendly features that maximize its efficiency and fuel optimization. Its 2.4L Ecotec direct injection variable Valve Timing four-cylinder engine will allow the car to “offer up to 38 MPG on the highway–that’s better than Toyota Camry Hybrid,” according to chevrolet.com. The Malibu Eco also features the first-ever eAssist technology for a Chevrolet, a state-of-the-art system that uses battery power with a generator to boost driving power and fuel efficiency.

Other features include a sporty appearance with a powerdome hood and an integrated rear spoiler; outside rearview mirrors made for maximum efficiency; Chevy’s dual-port grille; standard 17-inch alloy wheels; and low-rolling-resistance Goodyear tires.

“The Malibu Eco is a smart choice for customers who want a great looking car inside and out with excellent fuel economy, but without the higher price of some hybrid sedans,” said Russ Clark, director of Chevrolet marketing. “In short, it’s an incredible value.”

To learn more about the Malibu Eco 2013, see Chevrolet’s recent press release, published March 8.

4 Tips for Sustainable Tourism

March7, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

(Image source: <a href="http://www.justpictureitnow.com/2011/02/16/time-for-green-travel/">JustPictureItNow.com</a>)

If you’re like many Americans, the spring and summer months bring more than warmer temperatures and longer daylight—these seasons mean new opportunities for leisure travel, from Spring Break to summer vacation. And whether your travel plans have you hitting the beach or heading out west, our eco-friendly travel tips will help you make the most of your journey, both for yourself and for the planet!

Pack Light. The less you pack, the less you have to carry, which is not only good for the sake of convenience, it’s good for your peace of mind. A lighter load means a lighter burden on your car or airplane, meaning less fuel consumed. Plus, as an added bonus, it means a lighter financial load, too, as you eliminate those checked luggage fees.

Take Public Transportation. If your travels will take you to a major city, consider cutting the gas and parking costs of driving your own vehicle, and use public transportation instead. According to the Federal Transit Administration, this is one of the most beneficial steps a person can take to helping the environment. A recent FTA study shows that “If just one driver per household switched to taking public transportation for [20 miles a day of travel], this would save 4,627 pounds of carbon dioxide per household per year—equivalent to an 8.1% reduction in the annual carbon footprint of a typical American household.”

Go Green with Your Lodgings. There are many ways to make eco-friendly choices in your accommodations, whether that means staying with a friend or looking for a green hotel. Among amenities, green hotels can “can use amenities like low-flow showerheads, give you the option to not wash your towel every day, offer eco-friendly shampoos and soaps, and clean it with green cleaners every day,” says Collin Dunn at Planet Green. “They can serve local and organic food in the restaurant downstairs, use furniture that doesn’t contain PBDEs and other icky chemicals, and put motion sensors on the lights so the lights don’t get left on all day when they don’t have to be.

Keep Up Green Habits. Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean the same eco-friendly habits you practice at home no longer apply. Turn off lights when you leave the place where you’re staying, avoid water waste, reuse your towels and look for ways to reduce your carbon footprint, both at home and away.

Sustainable Pesticides on the Rise

March5, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

pest control

As most of us know, spring brings more than fresh flowers and longer daylight—with the warmer days and green buds, it’s also bugs that seem to come out of the woodwork, multiplying fast, whether in the garden or on your kitchen counter. And for growing numbers of homeowners throughout the country, the way they choose to deal with these pests is with sustainable options.

“We’ve definitely seen homeowners in the last five years looking into lower-toxicity products and pesticides,” said Jeff Belmont, owner of Envirotreat Pest Control in Rockville, Md.

Focusing on making their pest-control efforts more efficient while also environmentally friendly, professionals like Belmont are learning more to think about the big picture of extermination efforts. And by looking at a whole structure, holistically, they find the best ways to prevent and control pests–ways that minimize toxins and environmental impact.

“People need to understand the ecological web,” said Ed Hulme, county parks and open space superintendent of Marin, California. “It’s all linked,” he added, as toxins can cause serious health problems and impacts, and what’s more–green alternatives are available.

Whether or not you have eco-friendly exterminators available in your area, there are simple steps you yourself can take in the right direction. Here are a few ideas:

KEEP CLEAN
Pests love messes, so don’t play into their metaphorical hands with an environment where they’ll be so comfortable. Keep things clean, whether it’s your vegetable garden (keep it free of garden and debris!) or your home (stay on top of all food remains or crumbs).

USE ECO-FRIENDLY PRODUCTS
There are plenty of sustainable bug-preventing products on the market, so there’s no reason to use conventional items. Take your pick when finding sprays or cleansers to use.

KEEP THINGS SEALED
All containers, doors and windows need to be tightly sealed and screened to prevent rodents and insects from being able to enter.

PROVIDE PROPER VENTILATION
To prevent not only termites but also mildew, make sure there’s proper ventilation in decks, porches and crawl spaces.

Whatever tips you employ and whatever pest control methods you seek, remember that the best pest control is the safest pest control—and with green, eco-friendly strategies, you’ll be able to protect both your home and the planet.

Italian Solar Development Sparks International Interest

March2, 2012 by Shannalee in Solar Living

Italian engineers are catching the world’s attention with a brand-new solar development that offers potentially significant implications: a prototype for floating solar panels that’s both cost-effective and efficient, as it will save property owners from taking up valuable land with their panels and use wasted resevoirs and detention ponds.

“Reactions from abroad have been very positive,” said inventor Marco Rosa-Clot, engineer and Florence University professor. ”Some Koreans came to Pisa to see us and we signed a three-year contract giving them a license to build this sort of installation in South Korea.”

The solar invention created by Rosa-Clot and his team, dubbed the Floating Tracking Cooling Concentrator (FTCC) system, is made up of flower-petal-like panels that float on water, designed to pull the sun’s energy at various times of day and kept at low temperatures through water. The 30-kilowatt prototype, which is a small-scale model, could sufficiently power around 12 homes.

“You can find other systems designed to ‘track the sun,’” said journalist TJ McCue at Forbes. “However few of them offer the special advantage that the FTCC does: it is water-cooled. The heat buildup in many solar installations can be problematic, but professor Rosa-Clot’s approach solves this with elegance: Put the system on water.”

Floating solar panels have also caught the attention of French developers, who plan to bring a new floating solar panel project to market by June, based on a collaboration of Solaris Synergy and EDF Group.

To learn more about the floating panels created by Rosa-Clot and his team, visit Scintec.it/ricerca/energia/index.htm (translator available through Google).

Solar Technology Melts Chocolate, Helps Make M&Ms Green

March1, 2012 by Shannalee in Uncategorized

solar power melts chocolate You’ve heard of solar power heating homes and lighting buildings—but are you ready for the latest sun-powered news? Mars Chocolate, the company behind beloved M&Ms, Mars Bars and Twix, through a newly launched solar garden at its Ethel M factory in Nevada, is now using the sun to melt down chocolate.

“At Mars Chocolate North America, we have the opportunity to make a difference in the world,” said Mike Wittman, vice president of supply for Mars, in a press release. “We are proud of the investments we are making to ensure we are using the earth’s resources responsibly. This newest solar garden moves us closer to our goals of eliminating our carbon footprint at our sites by 2040 and using 100 percent renewable energy.”

The new solar garden Wittman references is the largest installation of solar panels by any food manufacturer in Nevada, boasting 2,112 ground-mounted solar panels on 4.4 acres. It generates 1,258 megawatt hours of eco-friendly, zero-emission electricity annually—enough to power 115 Nevada households each year, offset 867 metric tons of greenhouse gas or to remove 170 vehicles from the road. It will fully power the chocolate factory during peak operating hours.

Demonstrating the sustainable focus made by Mars, this project is the second solar PV installation on its properties, the first being at its North American headquarters in Hackettstown, New Jersey.

“We are fortunate to have been a part of the Henderson and Las Vegas community for more than 30 years,” said Mack Phillips, site director of the Henderson plant. “We hope the completion of our solar garden demonstrates our continuing commitment to be an environmentally friendly citizen. Our goal is that every business decision we make will have a positive effect on people and the planet through our performance. This project achieves all three.”

At Soluxe Solar, we love hearing about new and innovative uses for solar energy and look forward to seeing how other industries follow the chocolate-maker’s example and set the world up for cleaner, more sustainable power!

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.

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