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Monday, September 1, 2014


The Virtual Water Dilemma: Act 2 – Energy

water droplet falling

When we flip on the TV and hear about water scarcity, the suggested ways to conserve are usually to water our yard less and use less water in our home.  It might interest you to know that even turning on that TV is using water in the form of virtual water. Virtual water is all the water that goes into the production of a product; and it often goes unnoticed by consumers.

Like food, energy consumption is another area where we are guilty of using virtual water. Because the production of both electricity and fuel use large amounts of water when consumed, we increase our virtual water footprint on an ongoing basis. As already discussed in Act One, more than 50 percent goes into our food production. But water is also used up in the production of the energy that we rely on to support our everyday lives. On average, an American relies on about 670 gallons of water a day just in energy consumption.

oil refinery

You might find yourself wondering how water consumption is related to gas consumption. But the fact of the matter is that most of our industrial processes, including gas production, use extensive amounts of water. Water is intimately related to the production of fuel and in the case of oil water is used in the following ways:

  • Injection: During injection water is injected into the reservoir to compensate for the drop in reservoir pressure after production is started. It’s also used to displace and aid with oil extraction.
  • Refining: During refining water is used in the boiler to generate superheated steam, to power the equipment through heat transfer. Water is also used to dilute the salt content of crude oil before the distilling process. And lastly, water is used in cooling.

The sources of water that are used in these processes include: seawater, rivers, estuaries, aquifers and waste water in certain cases. But all the water is treated depending on what it is going to be used for. Ultimately, it takes about 13 gallons of water to make one gallon of gasoline. Estimates also indicate that the US uses 1 to 2 billion gallons of water to refine 800 million gallons of petroleum products every day.

nuclear power plant

But petroleum products are not the only energy products that we use every day. Most of the electricity in the US is generated by thermoelectric power plants. These power plants use water to make the steam that turns turbines and generates electricity. Some 49 percent of water withdrawals in the US are for thermoelectric power plants.

So what can consumers do to reduce water consumption? Trying to carpool, driving a fuel efficient car or driving less will help cut down on our virtual water waste that goes into transportation. To cut back on energy related virtual water waste make sure your home has energy efficient light fixtures, don’t leave the lights on and turn off your electronics when not in use. Not only will it save on your electricity bill but it will also help to reduce your virtual water impact. Knowing the impact of our daily activities is key to helping us make the right kind of changes. We can all help to save virtual water.

related: alternative energy

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Gidgi solar charging smartphone case – a green Kickstarter project

gidgi smartphone solar charger

Why not tap into solar energy to keep your ravenous iPhone charged at all times? Smartphones are constantly in use, guzzling energy and demanding more juice. Many companies have tried and few (if any) have succeeded, in creating a one-size-fits-all solar charging case for the ubiquitous smartphone.

gidgi solar charging phone case

A little Minneapolis start-up, Solar Surge, has designed a solution, a versatile smartphone solar charging case – the Gidgi – that can accommodate a wide variety smartphones – keeping your phone charged via free solar energy – indoors or out. The idea of a group of young college grads who are seeking crowdfunding via their recently launched Kickstarter project.

iphone gidgi solar charger

The Gidgi features a case made out of durable, good looking components that are intended to have a long lifespan. The life cycle of the Gidgi is further extended by its ability to charge (more…)

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kickstarter Project: ProGo propane powered motor scooter

progo 3000 propane powered scooter

Have a short commute? Like to zip around city streets and sidewalks like a motorized 10-year old? Zev Charles Ellenberg and his company, ProGo Recreation, are trying to revitalize the motorized scooter market by going green. The ProGo 3000 propane-powered scooter has an on-going Kickstarter project with the modest goal of raising $18,000 for the production and marketing of their low-emissions scooter. Propane’s high octane and low-carbon and oil-contamination characteristics have resulted in greater engine life and significantly lower carbon emissions than conventional gasoline engines.

progo folded

The small, 16.4 oz., propane canister used to power the ProGo 3000 is readily available and easy to change. You can even pack an extra canister in your backpack to insure you don’t run out of fuel while you’re bopping around campus or running errands. Unlike electric scooters that need to be recharged for up to 4 to 8 hours to provide an hour or so of ride time – a single propane canister is estimated to keep you zipping around for 2 to 3 hours at speeds up to 20mph – without the smell, mess and emissions associated with a similar gasoline powered engine. progo engine and tank

Some features:

  • EPA AND CAPB Approved / California Legal
  • Easy pull start
  • 25cc 4 stroke propane engine
  • Lightweight, durable steel frame
  • 20 mph top speed – 2-3 hours run time per 16.4oz propane canister
  • Folds for convenient carrying and storage
  • No Choke, no priming, and no carburetor gum-up, no need for winterizing

Propane pluses:
Utilizing propane as a vehicle fuel source instead of gasoline reduces U.S. dependence on foreign oil and increases energy security.  Propane’s fuel mixture is completely gaseous and doesn’t suffer from the cold start problems associated with liquid fuel. Propane is nontoxic, nonpoisonous, and insoluble in water. Compared with vehicles fueled by conventional diesel and gasoline, propane vehicles can produce lower amounts of many harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases, depending on vehicle type, drive cycle, and engine calibration. source: The Alternative Fuels Data Center

The GoPro 3000 will retail for around $449 when it ships in October, 2014. If you pledge $399 you can get one at a reduced price.

Check out the ProGo Kickstarter project which runs through August 24th.

related: more alternative scooters featured on The Alternative Consumer

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Friday, July 18, 2014

5 of the Best Companies That Use Alternative Energy

solar panel and sun

Alternative energy sources reduce carbon emissions and offer a sustainable solution for power use. By using renewable energies, these companies are helping the country shift away from its dependence on fossil fuels. This is a major environmental movement, and several big names are leading the way.

Intel Corporation: Massive Purchases of Energy Credits
The Intel Corporation has an annual usage of more than three million kilowatt-hours (kWh), 100% of which is sourced from green power resources. Intel uses biogas, biomass, small-hydro, solar, and wind power. It purchases the majority of its power through renewable energy certificates. However, Intel also generates some green power of its own through 18 solar plants with a capacity of about 7,000 kilowatts (kW). Altogether, the company’s use of green energy has the equivalent impact of taking more than 455,000 passenger cars off the road annually.

Kohl’s Department Stores: On-Site Renewable Energy
Kohl’s uses more than 1.5 million kWh annually, but manages to get 105% of its energy from renewable sources. By producing more green energy than it uses, this company is able to actually put excess renewable energy back onto the grid. Kohl’s purchases renewable energy credits that offset 100% of its power usage. On top of that, the company uses solar panels on select stores. These panels can provide up to 40% of the store’s power in 156 locations across 12 states.

Kohl’s also activated wind turbines on two sites. Vertical turbines outside a store in Findlay, Ohio generate approximately 40,000 kWh a year. Horizontal turbines in Corpus Christi, Texas provide 14,000 kWh annually. Wind turbines are an innovative option that are often powered by the same transformers used for more traditional forms of energy, which allows companies like Solomon Corporation to gradually enter the green market with wind turbine projects.

Whole Foods Market: Energy Efficient Stores
Nearly everything about Whole Foods Market is designed to create a greener environment, so it’s no surprise that this company supplies 107% of its energy usage through renewable resources. A recently constructed Whole Foods store in Brooklyn showcases the extreme lengths to which this company goes to create a green environment. The store uses energy-efficient lighting, refrigeration, and heating systems. Solar canopies in the parking lot supply 20% of the store’s energy, and the lot’s street lights are powered by small-scale wind and solar power systems.

Whole Foods has regularly purchased renewable energy credits to offset its power usage since 2006. The company’s trucks are gradually converting to biodiesel fuels as well.

Staples: Hitting Impressively High Goals
Staples has lofty goals when it comes to its green vision. The company aims to offer only sustainable products, recycle 100% of the technology that it sells, and produce zero waste in its operations. Though it hasn’t hit these goals yet, it’s come particularly far in its attempt to maximize renewable energy use. The company gets 106% of its annual power use of more than 630,000,000 kWh from renewable sources.

Not only does Staples buy energy from renewable sources, it has solar panels on the roofs of many stores to provide additional green power. Staples has also partnered with companies that are pioneering sustainable business practices, such as Rainforest Alliance SmartSource, the GreenBlue Sustainable Packaging Coalition, and CarbonFund.

Unilever: Shifting Energy Usage
Unilever, like the other companies on this list, offsets 100% of its energy use through the purchase of renewable energy credits. While this goes a long way toward supporting the use of renewable energy, it doesn’t actually reduce the amount of non-renewable energy that the company uses upfront. Unilever is taking its energy campaign a step further by striving to cut down on the total non-renewable energy that it consumes.

The company reports that by the end of 2013, renewable energy made up 27% of the company’s total upfront energy use. This is a marked improvement over 15.8% from 2008. Unilever’s goal is to get 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Consumers who want to support green energy initiatives can do so easily by shopping at retailers who are part of this movement.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Martifer Solar: BIPV – building-integrated photovoltaics

Martifer Solar Mineirao Brazil stadium

Building-integrated photovoltaics (BIPV) are an innovative way of making buildings and public structures more energy independent – a practice that is becoming more common as companies become more focused on sustainable energy practices and green building. BIPV installations are used to replace conventional building materials in parts of the building exterior envelope, windows, roof, skylights, or facings to capture solar energy.

One company that has been expanding the use of solar installs in building construction on a global scale is Portugese-based, Martifer Solar. Martifer participated in the installation of 6,00 solar panels on the brand new Mineirão Brazil World Cup soccer stadium (above). The stadium’s photovoltaic installation will produce 1,600 megawatt-hours per year, enough to supply power to 1,200 households. The stadium itself will use 10% of the energy produced by its solar array, with the rest being distributed to local consumers.

The company is increasingly incorporating solar panels into the construction of new buildings to augment or replace grid-based energy.  The seamless integration of solar panels into new, or retrofitted buildings (BAPV / building-applied photovoltaics), can save construction materials and labor costs associated with that portion of the building.

Below are photos of a few more Martifer 360° solar turnkey solutions:

Martifer Solar facade install

Martifer Solar rooftop panels

Martifer Solar rooftop project

Martifer Solar car port

Martifer Solar ground mounted photovoltaics

Martifer Solar’s growth reflects the trend toward a transition to production of renewable energy. The company is growing fast and has projects in more than 20 countries over 4 continents that produce a total of over 560MW of photovoltaic solar energy – up from 100MW in 2010. They also specialize in off-grid and small solar power generation projects.

The big picture
Global solar energy production capacity is estimated to have increased by 26% in 2013. The continuing drop in the cost of PV cells is making solar energy much more competitive on a cost basis with fossil fuel energy sources – without the emissions. Every day, we see more and more innovative companies, both large and small, installing renewable production capacity to their headquarters and manufacturing facilities. Some of the largest companies in the world – Google and Apple – are building vast solar and renewable energy capacity to power their businesses.

Renewable energy is the future.

related: more alternative energy articles from The Alternative Consumer

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