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President Barack Obama declassified satellite imagery that graphically show the effect of global warming.  The imagery was previously kept classified by the Bush administration.

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Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: July 28, 2009, 8:09 am | No Comments »

This interesting article in The Economist talks about two companies (one in Norway, the other in the Netherlands) who have created processes that harden softwoods so that they don’t rot and aren’t susceptible to bugs.

I know bamboo is a sustainable wood product that has been used for hardwood floors. It’s even been used to make fabric and cloth.  But treating softwoods to take on the properties of hardwoods is a new and potentially valuable technique. Softwood trees account for the vast majority (80%) of the world’s timber.  Making that timber into durable building products goes a long way towards sustainable development.

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: July 27, 2009, 3:36 pm | No Comments »

Photo of a home with a trellis heavily covered in greenery over a patio area on the side of the house.

Solar heat absorbed through windows and roofs can increase your air conditioner use. Incorporating shading concepts into your landscape design can help reduce this solar heat gain, reducing your cooling costs.

Shading and evapotranspiration (the process by which a plant actively moves and releases water vapor) from trees can reduce surrounding air temperatures as much as 9° F (5°C). Because cool air settles near the ground, air temperatures directly under trees can be as much as 25°F (14°C) cooler than air temperatures above nearby blacktop.

Using shade effectively requires you to know the size, shape, and location of the moving shadow that your shading device casts. Also, homes in cool regions may never overheat and may not require shading. Therefore, you need to know what landscape shading strategies will work best in your regional climate and your microclimate.

Trees can be selected with appropriate sizes, densities, and shapes for almost any shading application. To block solar heat in the summer but let much of it in during the winter, use deciduous trees. To provide continuous shade or to block heavy winds, use dense evergreen trees or shrubs.

Deciduous trees with high, spreading crowns (i.e., leaves and branches) can be planted to the south of your home to provide maximum summertime roof shading. Trees with crowns lower to the ground are more appropriate to the west, where shade is needed from lower afternoon sun angles. Trees should not be planted on the southern sides of solar-heated homes in cold climates because the branches of these deciduous trees will block some winter sun.

Although a slow-growing tree may require many years of growth before it shades your roof, it will generally live longer than a fast-growing tree. Also, because slow-growing trees often have deeper roots and stronger branches, they are less prone to breakage by windstorms or heavy snow loads. Slow-growing trees can also be more drought resistant than fast-growing trees.

A 6-foot to 8-foot (1.8-meter to 2.4-meter) deciduous tree planted near your home will begin shading windows the first year. Depending on the species and the home, the tree will shade the roof in 5–10 years. If you have an air conditioner, shading the unit can increase its efficiency by as much as 10%.

Trees, shrubs, and groundcover plants can also shade the ground and pavement around the home. This reduces heat radiation and cools the air before it reaches your home’s walls and windows. Use a large bush or row of shrubs to shade a patio or driveway. Plant a hedge to shade a sidewalk. Build a trellis for climbing vines to shade a patio area.

Vines can also shade walls during their first growing season. A lattice or trellis with climbing vines, or a planter box with trailing vines, shades the home’s perimeter while admitting cooling breezes to the shaded area.

Shrubs planted close to the house will fill in rapidly and begin shading walls and windows within a few years. However, avoid allowing dense foliage to grow immediately next to a home where wetness or continual humidity are problems. Well-landscaped homes in wet areas allow winds to flow around the home, keeping the home and its surrounding soil reasonably dry.

Reprinted from
EERE copyright: “Materials on the EERE Web site are in the public domain. EERE requests that it be acknowledged as the source in any subsequent use of its information.”
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Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation, How To. Date: July 10, 2009, 3:27 pm | No Comments »

Did you know that 24% of our trash in the landfill is composed of grass, leaves, and organic kitchen scraps?  That’s perfect compost!

This interesting article gives 5 great reasons to grow a Victory Garden.

It makes sense, too.  Growing your own stuff saves money, it’s healthier, and its good for the environment.

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: July 9, 2009, 4:52 pm | No Comments »

Want to drive one month for free?  Below are 5 simple steps towards better fuel efficiency that will help pay for your extra month of driving.  When the numbers are applied to the nation as a whole, the amount of conservation achieved is mind boggling.  A few thrifty, conservative tips will save you and our entire country save a whole lot of money.

Drive Like Gandhi

Ok, maybe Gandhi didn’t drive much, but can you imagine him driving aggressively?  Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. According to, aggressive driving can lower your gas mileage by 33beware of aggressive drivers percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town.

That’s 5% to 33% wasted gas because cutting off that idiot on the highway during traffic and getting one car length ahead makes you feel better.  What does that cost you?

At $2/gal,  that’s $0.10 to $0.66 per gallon!  Just a few summers ago, gas was over $4/gal.  Aggressive driving costs up to $1.32 per gallon!  That’s over 5 bucks for a gallon of gas!

Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.

Buy a manual transmission

I, personally, think a stick shift is more fun to drive, but it’s also significantly more efficient than a manual transmission.

Consumer Reports shows 10% better gas mileage on many common manual tranmission cars.  The same study also shows better 0-60 acceleration.

Why is that?  Because you, the smart driver, can shift earlier or later, as needed.   When I drive a stick, I conscious shift into higher gears earlier than an automatic transmission would.  I watch the tachometer sink to lower RPM levels, which means the engine is using less gas.  Likewise, you can ride out a lower gear longer when accelerating, giving you higher RPMs, which gives you more power to accelerate more quickly.

Corvette stick shiftMore than that, sticks just look cooler.  True story, my brother once bought a (used) Corvette when he was younger.  He wanted to look cool… except I made fun of him for buying a corvette with an automatic transmission.  I often look into the windows of Mustangs and other sporty cars.  Only manual trannies make the grade.

I’m pretty sure Gandhi would have loved a stick.

Observe the Speed Limit!

Gandhi wouldn’t speed either, would he?  Each vehicle has its own optimal cruising speed,Fuel Economy but all vehicles experience rapid decreases in efficiency after 60mph.

The rule of thumb is  about $0.24 per 5mph over 60.  Want to cruise at 70mph?  You might make good time on your trip, but you’re paying half a buck more per gallon for it.

Lose the weight!

Gandhi wasn’t a big guy and he didn’t have much stuff to haul around.  Each 100lbs. of weight costs you 1-2% fuel efficiency.  This impacts smaller cars worse than larger ones.

Got some golf clubs in the back you’re hauling around?  Get ‘em out!  Unless you are playing that day, store them in the garage.  Keeping them in your car is costing you money.

Keep your car in shape

The GOP may have teased Obama’s energy plan by giving out tire gauges labelled “Obama’s Energy Plan” during the campaign, but the President was right.  Keeping your tires properly inflated will improve efficiency up to 3% or 0.3% for every 1 PSI for all four tires.

Obama's energy plan is smartKeeping your car well-tuned and in good shape yields another 4%.  Regular oil changes and using the correct type of oil recommended by the manufacturer yields another 1-2%. (See stats).

Gandhi was a vegetarian, refrained from drinking alcohol, and refrained from promiscuity. The man would have taken good care of his car.


Gandhi believed in collective action. An individual is powerless, but a nation’s collective will is immensely strong.

What do all these fuel efficiency savings add up to when applied to the entire U.S.?  Hundreds of millions of barrles of oil and billions of dollars.

12,000 miles per year at an average of 25mpg is 480 gallons of gas or about $1,200. All of the tips above could reasonably achieve 25% gains in efficiency.  Reducing your bill by 25% means you’ll only spend $900.  $300 savings!

What, you aren’t impressed by $300 annual savings?  Let’s look at the big picture…

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics says there are over 250 million cars in the U.S. and the Federal Highway Administration says American drivers laid down 249.5 billion miles of rubber just in April 2009! That’s around 3 trillion miles driven annually.

Now, I think that’s a lot of miles, and what if we all achieved a mere 10% better fuel efficiency?  We, as a nation, would save over 300 billion miles worth of gas.  That’s a full month of driving everywhere in highway

How much oil is that?  Aren’t we all trying to reduce our dependence on foreign oil?

According to the Energy Information Administration, a single barrel of oil makes roughly 20 gallons of gas. The BTS says the average car in America gets about 22mpg.  So, one barrel of oil will power a single car for about 440 miles. Saving 300 billion miles of driving will reduce our need for over 680 million barrels of oil! (300b miles / 440 miles per barrel = 681m barrels). At $50 a barrel, that’s over $34 billion saved.

The EIA says we consume roughly 20m barrels of oil daily in the U.S., with nearly half of that (9m barrels) being used for gasoline.  Saving 680m barrels of oil by simply increasing fuel efficiency by 10% means we’d save 34 days worth of oil.

There’s your free month of driving.  See you on the highway, but first check your tires.

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation, How To. Date: July 9, 2009, 4:14 pm | 3 Comments »

Solar access is the availability of (or access to) unobstructed, direct sunlight. Your access to sunlight becomes important if you use solar energy for space heating (and cooling), water heating, electricity, and/or daylighting.

Solar access issues emerged in the United States initially as a means by which landowners could attempt to protect their “access,” or use, of solar radiation from present or future impairment. For example, a laundry with solar water heater collectors on its roof could legally alter any nearby structural development that could cast a shadow on the collectors and negatively affect system performance.

Early efforts to protect solar access took the view that every landowner’s right to natural sunlight deserved protection. It was later realized that broad solar access substantially benefited the entire community in many ways. Energy/cost savings, comfort, construction cost savings, enhanced market value, future solar energy utilization potential, and aesthetics were all improved.

Several communities in the United States have developed solar access planning guidelines and/or ordinances. Data gathering, policy determination and development, and integrating new and/or existing statutes with solar access are necessary steps in the process. Zoning is a common mechanism used to protect solar access.

Solar Landscaping

It’s important to encourage compatibility between landscaping, shading, and solar access goals. Studies by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimate a 25%–50% reduction in annual cooling energy consumption through well-designed landscape design. Additional benefits of energy-efficient landscaping include aesthetics, environmental quality, noise buffering, privacy, and spatial definition.

Solar Building Design

With optimum orientation, it is much easier to design buildings to incorporate solar features, such as passive space heating and cooling and daylighting. Many solar design strategies are highly cost-effective when incorporated into the initial building design. This typically reduces costs for initial capital investment in the building heating and cooling equipment, and ongoing operating costs.

The City of San Jose, California, for example, precisely describes what constitutes a solar access dwelling unit. There, the amount of shade on the dwelling unit defines its level of solar access. According to the City of San Jose, shading from a structure and/or vegetation must not exceed specific amounts.

Solar Energy Systems

Unobstructed access to the sun is necessary for the optimum performance of active and passive solar energy systems. There is generally no guarantee a solar system will always have unobstructed access to the sun. Every day, decisions about the built environment and landscape effect the future shading of existing or potential sites.

Solar access protection is clearly advantageous for the following systems in the associated locations:

  • Rooftop: solar water heater and space heating collectors and photovoltaic arrays
  • Walls: passive solar systems such as Trombe walls, attached solar greenhouses, and direct gain systems
  • Lot (south-facing): ground-mounted or detached active collector systems.

Data Gathering

A number of communities throughout the country have created solar access policies and regulations according to unique local situations. If a community wishes to develop a plan for protecting solar access, they must take a number of steps to achieve its goal.

If there are no local solar access laws, private citizens requiring access to sunlight may have to bear the cost of private solar access agreements through such devices as easements or restrictive covenants.

Legislative Barriers

Zoning ordinances and building codes can create problems for solar access. Most pertain to the following:

  • Height
  • Setback from the property line
  • Exterior design restrictions
  • Yard projection
  • Lot orientation
  • Lot coverage requirements.

The most important solar access regulation for subdivision development is a predominantly east-west street orientation. This promotes optimal building orientation for solar access.

Related Information

Learn More

Financing & Incentives

State & Local Resources

Related Links

Reading List

  • Starrs, T.; Nelson, L.; Zalcman, L. (1999). Bringing Solar Energy to the Planned Community (PDF 1 MB). U.S. Department of Energy. Describes neighborhood covenants as they relate to rooftop photovoltaic and solar water heating installations. Includes information on obtaining approval for your design, your legal options, and removing barriers to solar installations.
  • Zalcman, F. et al. (2000). “Overcoming Private Land Use Restrictions on Solar Energy Systems,” Solar 2000: Proceedings of the Annual American Solar Energy Society Conference, Madison, Wisconsin, June 16-21, 2000; pp. 169-178.
  • Huddy, P. (1999). “The Power of Community as a Basis for Advancing Solar Energy Use—The Tucson Experience.” Solar 99, Proceedings of the American Solar Energy Society Annual Conference and 24th National Passive Solar Conference. Portland, ME, June 12-16, 1999. 766 pp.
  • Ravetto, A. et al. (1997). “Site Planning and Solar Access,” Proceedings of the 22nd National Passive Solar Conference. Washington, DC, April 25-30, 1997. 381 pp.

Reprinted from
EERE copyright: “Materials on the EERE Web site are in the public domain. EERE requests that it be acknowledged as the source in any subsequent use of its information.”
See for more information on copyright

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: May 18, 2009, 3:23 pm | No Comments »

Rock Port, MO’s new wind turbines at Loess Hills Wind Farm will soon be generating more power than the local residents consume.  Four 1.25 megawatt turbines will generate 5 megawatts of power daily or 16 gigawatt hours (16 million kilowatt hours) annually.  The local residents historically uses 13 gigawatt hours.

At an average cost of $0.11 per kilowatt hour, that’s over $1.7 million in energy cost savings.  Excess energy is being bought by Missouri Joint Municipal Utilities.

This should be the new standard for sustainable living and development.

See these links for more information.

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: May 6, 2008, 8:53 pm | No Comments »

The Economist (one of my favorite magazines) is running an article about AeroGrow, a company producing a simple household appliance that lets you almost effortlessly grown fresh produce in your own kitchen.  The technique is not new.  Using “aeroponics” to grow plants quickly without soil has been practiced for a long time by those growing their own marijuana.  But this company is the first to mass market an appliance that’s inexpensive, looks good, and can produce quality stuff for you and your family.

The article talks a lot about the business model and the founder of the company, but you would expect this from a magazine called “The Economist.”

Fascinating read.  You can read the full here.

Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: March 11, 2008, 12:06 pm | No Comments »

10  Mar
Solar Power Basics

Solar radiation is a general term for the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. We can capture and convert solar radiation into useful forms of energy, such as heat and electricity, using a variety of technologies. The technical feasibility and economical operation of these technologies at a specific location depends on the available solar radiation or solar resource.

American Solar Map

Basic Principles

Every location on Earth receives sunlight at least part of the year. The amount of solar radiation that reaches any one “spot” on the Earth’s surface varies according to these factors:

  • Geographic location
  • Time of day
  • Season
  • Local landscape
  • Local weather.

Because the Earth is round, the sun strikes the surface at different angles ranging from 0º (just above the horizon) to 90º (directly overhead). When the sun’s rays are vertical, the Earth’s surface gets all the energy possible. The more slanted the sun’s rays are, the longer they travel through the atmosphere, becoming more scattered and diffuse. Because the Earth is round, the frigid polar regions never get a high sun, and because of the tilted axis of rotation, these areas receive no sun at all during part of the year.

The Earth revolves around the sun in an elliptical orbit and is closer to the sun during part of the year. When the sun is nearer the Earth, the Earth’s surface receives a little more solar energy. The Earth is nearer the sun when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere and winter in the northern hemisphere. However the presence of vast oceans moderates the hotter summers and colder winters one would expect to see in the southern hemisphere as a result of this difference.

The 23.5º tilt in the Earth’s axis of rotation is a more significant factor in determining the amount of sunlight striking the Earth at a particular location. Tilting results in longer days in the northern hemisphere from the spring (vernal) equinox to the fall (autumnal) equinox and longer days in the southern hemisphere during the other six months. Days and nights are both exactly 12 hours long on the equinoxes, which occur each year on or around March 23 and September 22.

Countries like the United States, which lie in the middle latitudes, receive more solar energy in the summer not only because days are longer, but also because the sun is nearly overhead. The sun’s rays are far more slanted during the shorter days of the winter months. Cities like Denver, Colorado, (near 40º latitude) receive nearly three times more solar energy in June than they do in December.

The rotation of the Earth is responsible for hourly variations in sunlight. In the early morning and late afternoon, the sun is low in the sky. Its rays travel further through the atmosphere than at noon when the sun is at its highest point. On a clear day, the greatest amount of solar energy reaches a solar collector around solar noon.

Diffuse and Direct Solar Radiation

As sunlight passes through the atmosphere, some of it is absorbed, scattered, and reflected by the following:

  • Air molecules
  • Water vapor
  • Clouds
  • Dust
  • Pollutants
  • Forest fires
  • Volcanoes.

This is called diffuse solar radiation. The solar radiation that reaches the Earth’s surface without being diffused is called direct beam solar radiation. The sum of the diffuse and direct solar radiation is called global solar radiation. Atmospheric conditions can reduce direct beam radiation by 10% on clear, dry days and by 100% during thick, cloudy days.


Scientists measure the amount of sunlight falling on specific locations at different times of the year. They then estimate the amount of sunlight falling on regions at the same latitude with similar climates. Measurements of solar energy are typically expressed as total radiation on a horizontal surface, or as total radiation on a surface tracking the sun.

Radiation data for solar electric (photovoltaic) systems are often represented as kilowatt-hours per square meter (kWh/m2). Direct estimates of solar energy may also be expressed as watts per square meter (W/m2).

Radiation data for solar water heating and space heating systems are usually represented in British thermal units per square foot (Btu/ft2).

Learn More

Department of Energy Resources

Reprinted from
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Posted by mgt, filed under Conservation. Date: March 10, 2008, 9:54 pm | No Comments »

South Carolina’s Port Authority willfully and knowingly seeks to dramatically increase the amount of diesel emissions in an already polluted area of Charleston. A proposal to develop a new port at the old North Charleston navy base is being pushed by the Port Authority, despite knowing the punishing environmental impact the port would have on the surrounding community. The local neighborhoods are poor and comprised mostly of minorities, which bears a striking resemblance to the poor and mostly minority community Hunts Point in New York.

Hunts Point, at the southern tip of the Bronx, just above Manhattan, has one of the highest asthma rates in the nation. Approximately one out of every three children has asthma in Hunts Point.

Given the connection between diesel exhaust and respiratory disease, it is not surprising that Hunts Point is also a hotspot of diesel pollution. The Hunts Point Cooperative Market includes one of the largest meat markets in the world, as well as the Hunts Point Produce Market, through which 80% of fresh produce in the New York area moves. The market draws hundreds of diesel trucks each day, which are a major source of the 20,000 diesel truck trips through the neighborhood each week. On average, a long-haul truck operator can have an 8–12 hour layover at the Hunts Point market while waiting to load or unload, or to comply with the federal rest period requirements. When trucks idle through this layover, the resulting diesel emissions place a serious burden on the people who live and work in Hunts Point.

Considering the connection between diesel exhaust and asthma, why would otherwise rational people choose to pursue a new port in North Charleston that would produce 250% more vehicular trips per day than Hunts Point? Does South Carolina’s Port Authority want to win the title “highest asthma rates in the nation” from New York? And this is using the port’s very low traffic estimate. The reality is more like 500% more trips/day.

You can help prevent this.

1. Contact your state legislators and express your disapproval! You can lookup your legislators here:

2. Consider this article a petition. Write your name and disapproval in a comment on this article. We will aggregate them into a formal complaint to local officials.

Help keep our air clean! Speak up now!

Posted by mgt, filed under Local Issues - Charleston, SC. Date: March 7, 2008, 8:11 pm | No Comments »

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