Archives For Green Tech

solar decathlon 2011 winnerEach year the U.S. Department of Energy sponsors a competition for the design of a home that can maximize the energy of the sun for affordable, sustainable living. This year, the team from the University of Maryland took home the competition’s top honor for their project entitled: Watershed. Rather than a visual manifesto on the rebranding of the single family home, the success of the design revolves around the integration and interconnection of a series of technologies and systems to create a compact, efficient and welcoming residence. The result can serve as a model to progressive home building in many ways–an area where our country needs no shortage of help in understanding how sustainability can be integrated into everyday living.

Merely building a small home that gathers the most solar energy would not snag you the blue ribbon in this competition. The Solar Decathlon is judged on a series of criteria including affordability, engineering, communications, comfort zone and market appeal. This is integral to the success of the challenge because despite the fact that sustainability’s public image may revolve around solar panels and wind turbines, the true meaning of the word is a holistic notion of balance that affects all aspects of living. Continue Reading…

cutting dollar billAt the beginning of the recession there were many forecasters that foretold a dark future for sustainability after years of increased spending on numerous fronts. The result was quite the opposite, largely due to the amount of stimulus spending that guided money back into sustainable endeavors like renewable energy, home efficiency upgrades and high speed rail. However, now that the spigot has been closed on the unsustainable flow of stimulus dollars and sights are being set on spending cuts, the day of reckoning, though delayed, may finally be approaching for a number of industries. While some sustainable goals may still find success in a marketplace with shallower pockets (notably those that center around saving money) it is likely the most well known items that may suffer the most, challenging the level of frontage and recognition by the average American that greener goals have enjoyed. Continue Reading…

Dear Mr. Droz,

I recently came across an article on that lead me to your presentation critiquing wind power. The decree that wind power is “an insult to science and mankind” seems a bit alarmist and wrought with exaggeration. I understand that you have labeled wind power as a deficient source of power generation and based this conclusion on seven points of criteria that you claim reasonable power sources should strive to meet. These points include:

  1. Can it provide large amounts of electricity?
  2. Can it provide reliable and predictable electricity?
  3. Can it provide dispatchable energy?
  4. Can it serve as more than one grid element?
  5. Can its facility be compact?
  6. Can it provide economical energy?
  7. Can it make a consequential reduction in carbon dioxide?

According to you, wind energy has failed all but the first point, after which you claim it to be an overly expensive, intermittent and restrictive form of energy production–something the world should stop devoting time and money towards. Instead, we should focus on improving our existing technologies so that they can be improved and better utilized to achieve environmental progress.

Though your individual assessments cannot be labeled as “incorrect”, I think you are unfairly painting a grim picture of wind energy while denying it both its accolades and opportunities for further improvement. Wind energy is a great industry and one of a number of technologies that will eventually allow us to reduce our environmental impact and reach a more balanced, sustainable society. I think a full critique of wind should include not only the shortcomings (which we all know exist) but the possibilities.

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high tension power linesPerhaps the largest bane of renewable energy is its intermittent nature that fails to provide a predictable, steady flow of “baseload” power to the grid. After all, the sun is not always shining; the wind is not always blowing; waves are not always crashing—but how often are all sources weak at the same time? European countries are embarking on a renewable energy master grid that will pair different technologies in different environments to help mitigate the natural ebb and flow of any one source.

According to an article in the Guardian, nine governments are involved in planning a €30 billion ($43.5 billion) network of high voltage, direct current cable that will connect the renewable power sources indigenous to their respective climates. The players include Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK. Together they can collectively utilize energy from solar, wave generation, tidal, wind, geothermal and hydro-electric.

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As Americans, one of our biggest challenges in steps towards sustainability is surmounting routine and questioning social norms. Acts of repetition, some that have lasted for generations, provide a knee-jerk adversity to progressive change in daily activities even if the resulting changes would be minor. I spent my holiday season in London for ten days and my foreign surroundings seemed to be a testament to how little most would notice a number of positive changes.

When it comes to setting a benchmark for sustainability in daily routine, what I saw in England was what I would hope the American landscape will come to emulate (even if one could argue we should already be there.) Admittedly, my time in Europe is embarrassingly limited and that could explain the intensity with which I noticed some of the encouraging differences from the American culture that I am used to.

In London, efficiency seemed to be a given. Staying in two different flats (read: apartments) while I was abroad and visiting numerous establishments, nearly everywhere I went utilized technology proven to reduce consumption. Incandescent bulbs were rare, traded for either fluorescent varieties or dimmable halogens. In both residences, every toilet had dual-flush capabilities. Every sink was low-flow. Water-heaters were smaller with less capacity and had timers to shut off at night while nearly all appliances were more compact. I was not taking any meter readings, but I have to imagine these flats (not markedly smaller than New York equivalents in terms of square footage) used much less energy and water than their American counterparts.

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