Tips for a Green New Year

This year why not resolve to make a few simple lifestyle changes that could have a huge impact on the earth?

New Year’s Day is fast approaching, and along with it, all those resolutions. This year why not resolve to make a few simple lifestyle changes that could have a huge impact on the earth? To help you get started, here are 10 easy “green” New Year’s resolutions:
1. Ditch the plastic. Carry a reusable bag with you for groceries, shopping and take-out food.
2. Tuck in your computer at night. Turn off your screen saver and cut even more energy that your computer uses by putting it in sleep mode when it isn’t in use.
3. Clean with green. Clean your home with non-toxic and natural cleaning products. Just about anything can be cleaned with white vinegar, baking soda and a few drops of lemon.
4. Be good to your vehicle, and it will be good to you. Inflate your tires once a month or as necessary. Replace the air filter and tune up your engine regularly. A new air filter can get you 10 percent more miles per gallon, and a tune-up can boost miles per gallon from 4 percent to 40 percent.
5. Think globally, buy locally. Buy locally grown food that’s in season. Food that hasn’t traveled thousands of miles to your plate is fresher and tastier, and buying local food drastically cuts down on global-warming pollution.
6. Coffee — it’s not just for drinking anymore. The next time you brew a cup of fresh coffee at home, don’t toss the used coffee grounds into the trash. First, spoon some warm grounds into your hands and mix it with your favorite hand soap, then scrub away. The grounds will exfoliate dead skin and the soap will render your hands squeaky clean. Scatter remaining grounds around your evergreen shrubs and trees — it’s an energizing fertilizer for them.
7. Start composting today. A compost pile or composter turns your food and lawn wastes into rich mulch. It’s a great way to reduce your trash production, and if you start today, you’ll have rich compost in time for spring planting.
8. Don’t be a drip. Fix leaky faucets. A faucet that drips once each second can waste over 8 gallons of water per day and more than 3,000 gallons per year.
9. Turn dollars into sense. Save on energy consumption and your electric bill by turning down your thermometer and throwing on your favorite fuzzy pajamas.
10. Ease up on the pedal. Slowing down from 75 to 65 miles per hour will drop your highway gas consumption by about 15 percent.


Go Green for the Holidays

Make sustainable holiday choices when you are shopping, travelling, sending cards, decorating, and choosing gifts. When you save energy and resources, you protect the environment and safeguard health both now and for the future.

Are you one of those organized people who are already prepared for the coming winter holidays? Or do you still have plans to make and gifts to buy? Either way, why not take a second look at some of your usual holiday activities to see if you can make them more “sustainable?”

Sustainability is the responsible use of environmental resources in the present so that future generations will have enough to meet their needs. This is a lofty goal; how can any one person make a difference in reaching it? You may not realize that you are already working toward sustainability if you reuse and recycle; compost; walk, bike, take transit, or drive low-emission vehicles; conserve water and electricity; join community clean-up efforts; or otherwise save resources.

The more people who participate in these energy- and resource-saving activities, the greater effect they will have on our planet. And a sustainable planet will result in better health and longer lives for the people and animals that live on it.

For many of us, our priority during the holidays is time spent with family and friends. But the holidays can also be a time when we spend too much and create too much waste.

Consider these statistics:

  • Americans throw away about 25% more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve.
  • If every American family wrapped just 3 presents in reused materials, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields.
  • About 35% of Americans have an unused Christmas present collecting dust in their closets.1

If you want to incorporate sustainability into your holiday celebrations, we have a list of suggestions for you. Some of them may spark your creativity—and even be fun!

Decorate with items that are energy-efficient and durable.

  • Buy an artificial tree that you can use for years to come; make the most energy efficient choice. Safety and energy-efficiency should always be considered first.
  • Buy a living tree you can plant outside or keep as a houseplant after the holidays.
  • Dispose of your tree at a chipping facility or return it to the environment in other eco-friendly ways.

Use energy efficiently.

  • Consider using few or no lights in your holiday decorations.
  • Decorate with more energy efficient LED strings.
  • Plug your decorative indoor and outdoor lights into a timer to save electricity.
  • Decorate creatively and inexpensively with natural materials from your yard or with items you already own.
  • Save money and resources by making your own gifts.

Use fewer resources when you shop, give presents, and wrap gifts.

  • Shop online.
  • Take your own bags on shopping trips. Keep them in the car so they’re always available.
  • Conserve energy when shopping by combining several trips in one, using mass transit, or carpooling.
  • Give gifts that are durable, energy-efficient, recyclable, or made of natural products. Purchase gifts that are fair-trade, locally made or grown, or organically grown.
  • Support your local economy by buying from local merchants, craft shows, or antique shops.
  • Make your own gifts: knit, sew, bake, build, or create art; make calendars using your own photographs or a recipe book with favorite recipes.
  • Give in ways that also support your community: tickets to local theater performances, concerts, sports events, local attractions; museum memberships; gift certificates for a massage at a local spa, horseback riding, or a rock climbing lesson.
  • Give your time and skill—coupons for household chores, meals, gardening, cleaning, window washing, car detailing, scheduled dog walks, or lessons in computer or smartphone use for senior citizens.
  • Donate to a charity or service organization in the name of a friend of relative who supports that cause.
  • Use creative materials for gift wrap:
    • Scarves, fabric, handkerchiefs
    • Old maps, sheet music, advertisement
    • Reusable tins, baking pans, or other home or garden items.
    • Send email cards or make your own.
    • Buy cards made from “post-consumer” content and printed in non-toxic inks.
    • Reuse the fronts of old cards as holiday postcards or gift tags.
    • Give cards that are eco-friendly.

Consider alternatives to battery-powered toys. If you must provide batteries for a gift, be sure to buy rechargeable ones. If you are giving electronics, choose energy-saving items.

Eat sustainable food and avoid disposable containers and extra packaging.

  • Research sustainable food choices in your area, and buy locally if possible.
  • Buy snacks and beverages in bulk to avoid extra packaging.
  • Serve food with washable utensils, plates, and glasses, rather than disposable items.
  • Make homemade eggnog, hot chocolate or iced tea in large quantities.

Why not choose a few of these ideas that will be easy for you to incorporate into your holiday celebration? Not only will you contribute to sustainability and health, but chances are you will also simplify your life. And you may get more of what we all need at this time of year—time to enjoy family and friends and to focus on the joys of the season.


If We Want Renewable Energy, We Need Fully Digitized Power Systems

The New York Power Authority is pioneering an effort to monitor every one of its assets, from generating facilities to transmission lines to buildings, in real time–and to figure out how new influxes of wind and solar can fit into the system.

[Photo: NYPA]

By: Eillie Anzilotti

With 16 generating facilities and around 1,400 transmission lines, the New York Power Authority is the state’s largest electric utility and the largest state-owned utility in the U.S. And as of this month, it will be the world’s first fully digital utility–a move that NYPA hopes will help it hit Governor Andrew Cuomo’s goal of generating 50% of its power from renewable resources by 2030.

Through a partnership with General Electric, NYPA will create digital replicas of every one of its assets, from generating facilities to substations to transmission lines, which they will monitor out of its new Integrated Smart Operations Center (iSOC) in White Plains, New York. The iSOC will also monitor over 11,000 public buildings in New York State, which will allow NYPA to track how their clients are using energy, and determine ways in which they could optimize their usage.

The digitization progress will essentially allow NYPA to track power generation and transmission across all its assets, says NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones, adding that GE’s Predix platform, which the utility is adopting, will allow NYPA to monitor the health of all of its generating facilities, and to detect and possibly prevent power outages and grid meltdowns before they happen.

[Photo: NYPA]

For New York, this real-time, “smart” energy monitoring system will be crucial, Quiniones says. NYPA provides the energy which fuels, for instance, all 600 miles of New York City’s subway system and its major airports. It also provides energy to 51 smaller, local utilities across the state. And as more and more assets (like vehicles, for instance) switch from oil and gas to electric, it will be more important than ever for utilities to be able to track where energy is flowing, down to the smallest scale, like charging stations.Housed on the eighth floor of NYPA’s headquarters in White Plains, the iSOC will be the first of three new digital hubs for NYPA. Inside the iSOC, computers constantly analyze each of the digital replicas of the NYPA assets and buildings and operate, Quiniones says, “like a continuous MRI, so we actually know what’s going on 24/7. If we’re looking at an energy transformer, for instance, we can tell if there are dissolved gases in the oil of that transformer, which could create problems; we have digital infrared cameras monitoring it to detect if there are any spots where the temperature is too high.” The GE platform will be performing big data analytics in the background, and learning patterns of energy flow and usage that could precipitate disruptions or complications in the system.

This latter capability will be particularly necessary as the state begins to integrate energy from more renewable sources. Grid instability is one of the biggest concerns about converting to renewables–if there’s, say, a large influx of wind power at a particular time, utilities currently lack the flexibility and insight to be able to seamlessly integrate that new supply into the current system. But in the iSOC, Quiniones says, NYPA and GE have built out a lab specifically to simulate and track the power grid. For the lab, NYPA is partnering with other utilities and the grid system operator to “create a very granular and dynamic model of the whole grid system for New York,” Quiniones says. “By doing so, we can really take the planning and operation of the grid to a completely different level, because we can do a lot of ‘what if?’ scenarios.” NYPA now has the capability to model what would happen if they added another transmission line to the grid, or if they added input from a new wind or solar farm to the grid.

Apart from political opposition, uncertainty about the ability of the grid to handle renewables is perhaps the main barrier to more sustainable energy sources becoming mainstream. But NYPA’s effort to digitize its whole system in order to track exactly how energy flows around the state creates the necessary transparency for the utility to begin to integrate more renewables in a methodical, informed way.


Farmers Bank on Solar Power to Stave Off European Water Crisis

By: Steve Gillman

Solar-powered irrigation systems can help reduce water consumption by letting farmers know exactly how much water is needed and when. Image credit – MASLOWATEN

Rising populations and climate change are putting pressure on the water needed for agriculture but a solar-powered irrigation system may reduce the amount that farmers use – while simultaneously slashing the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Agriculture accounts for almost 70 % of the world’s water use, but with the global population expected to increase to nine billion by 2050, demand for this already scarce resource will increase by an expected 55 %. For dry climates, this is a huge challenge for the farmers – and those they feed.

‘These countries need to keep producing food so the efficient use of water is key for the future,’ said Dr Luis Narvarte, an associate professor at the Technical University of Madrid, Spain, who is studying the links between water and energy.

Meanwhile, climate change is causing temperatures around the world to soar, adding more stress to the water available in dry regions, while irrigation activity itself is also adding to the problem as the agricultural sector burns huge amounts of fossil fuel such as diesel to pump water around farms.

‘If we don’t reduce the use of water and traditional energy (fossil fuels), our food system won’t be sustainable,’ said Dr Narvarte, who is also the project coordinator of the EU-funded MASLOWATEN consortium, which has developed a solar powered irrigation system that can produce a 30 % reduction in water consumption.

Animal products are usually more water hungry than crops as it includes the water needed to produce animal feed. Animal products are usually more water hungry than crops as it includes the water needed to produce animal feed.

In the system, a series of solar panels, known as a photovoltaic array, is set up on a farm. It powers up a smart irrigation system that tells farmers exactly how much water is needed and when, reducing both water use and reliance on fossil fuels.

Dr Narvarte says that the total power needed for irrigation in southern Europe (including Portugal, Spain, the south of France, Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, Macedonia and Malta) is 16 GW. He thinks if this was substituted by solar power it could offset over 16 million tonnes of CO2 a year.

‘We produce a solution in order to have the maximum solar power production during the summer when farmers need water the most,’ said Dr Narvarte.

Energy Costs

Key to the system’s success is its ability to offer 75 % savings on current energy costs for irrigation.

‘This is the main driver to reach the market,’ explained Dr Narvarte. ‘The Spanish Federation of Irrigators have said that in the last 10 years the cost of irrigation has increased by 600 %.’

This is because electricity tariffs have increased, while higher environmental temperatures require more water to be pumped to fields so farmers can grow their crops.

Demand for an irrigation alternative is so high that when MASLOWATEN organised an educational seminar in Alicante, Spain, over 350 people showed up even though they had expected only 100.

Dr Narvarte expects demand for solar powered irrigation systems to create a global market worth EUR 9 billion.

The project is already expanding its solutions across Spain and has also set up pilots in Italy, Morocco and Portugal – regions also at acutely at risk from rising temperatures.

However, the potential for solar power solutions to reduce water demand is bigger than just farm irrigation, says Vittorio Marletto, head of research in agrometeorology at the Regional Agency for Prevention, Environment and Energy in Emilia-Romagna (ARPAE) in Italy.

He thinks photovoltaic panels that float on top of reservoirs could play a role in preventing evaporation while providing the energy needed to pump water to farmers before it enters their individual irrigation systems.

But to effectively tackle the future water crisis, Marletto thinks regional authorities need to know more about the long-term availability of rains.

‘In northern Italy we are in the middle of a water crisis and are experiencing a very long drought. We were waiting for rain all of October because there was none, which is very unusual,’ he said. ‘We are seeing the fingerprints of climate change clearly.’

Seasonal Forecasting

Marletto is part of the EU-funded MOSES project, which is combining weather forecasts with data from satellites and weather stations, and then adding it to regional information about crops, soil and water delivery.

This is all put through an analysis system which provides a seasonal forecast that helps local bodies manage crop-irrigation water and bring down overall energy costs. The goal of the MOSES research is to improve water access at farm level while helping water providers to better plan and manage water delivery during droughts and hot weather spells.

ARPAE is already looking to incorporate MOSES’s system into how it informs authorities and farmers on water availability in the region. Meanwhile the project is scaling up beyond its early phase and is already trialing the system in Spain, Morocco and Romania.

‘The objective is to bring a seasonal and shorter-term forecasting tool to markets all around the world,’ said Marletto.

This approach will become increasingly important in protecting crops, not just in terms of ensuring they have enough water but also in avoiding heat-related diseases that can wipe out entire harvests.

‘High temperatures stimulate the growth of fungi on maize,’ said Marletto. ‘You get a low amount of quality crop while you cannot sell the rest because it is poisonous.’

On top of that it will help protect dry regions from natural disasters as regional authorities can better plan if a drought or heat wave is expected.


What’s Under These Solar Panels Could Solve World Hunger

By: Kate Ryan

image via skeeze/Pixabay.

Solar panels may be old news when it comes to scientific innovations, but Japanese farmers are repurposing them in a novel way. In an attempt to revive aging farming communities and contribute clean energy to the local grid, two farms in northeastern Japan are growing cloud-ear mushrooms underneath the solar panels. Together, the farms will produce a combined 4,000 kilowatts of solar power and 40 tons of cloud-ear mushrooms each year.

This agricultural achievement is a team effort, powered cooperatively by the renewable energy startup Sustainergy, solar panel company Hitachi Capital, and Daiwa House company, a Japanese construction company that typically builds prefabricated homes. Together, they addressed two problems that have been plaguing Japanese agricultural communities. First, farmers were leaving their posts at accelerating rates, resulting in the 10% farmland vacancy rate officials are seeing now. For this reason, the government has dissuaded companies from replacing agricultural lands with solar power farms even though they tend to be more profitable. Luckily, a regulatory changeup in 2013 allowed for farmers to combine renewable energy and crops on the same land.

But why mushrooms? Growing them in Japan was the second problem. “The environment needs to be dark and humid for mushrooms to spawn,” Minami Kikuchi told Fast Company. Kikuchi heads the “solar sharing” department of Sustainergy and added that they “simply created the suitable environment for [mushrooms] by making use of vacant space under the solar panels.”

Though the idea of solar sharing itself isn’t new. Akira Nagashima, an agricultural machinery engineer first conceived of the idea in 2004. The only change is the program has since been brought to scale.

As global populations continue to grow at an exponential rate, solar sharing offers a viable solution to dwindling space and rising food and energy needs. With Japan’s first program in the works, engineers and farmers will get a better sense of solar sharing’s benefits and applications. For instance, Sustainergy predicts a wider variety of low-light crops can be cultivated under solar panels, including potatoes. Meanwhile, there could be a future in the U.S. where grazing livestock and shade-providing solar panels go hand in hand. Only time will tell what possibilities solar sharing holds for farming communities around the globe.