Friday, January 25, 2008

The Iceland Magic


Much of the investing world may be down on hydrogen and fuel-cell technologies, particularly those related to automobiles. But Iceland, the tiny volcanic country that gets most of its power from geothermal and hydroelectric energy, continues to push forward on its multi-decade plan of being a center for hydrogen innovation and deployment. It makes sense, given the country is blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources, and rather they be the test bed for these technologies than North America.
Jon Bjorn Skulason, who heads up Icelandic New Energy, predicts in this Reuters article that by 2035 most of Iceland's road vehicles could be hydrogen-fuelled. More interesting, perhaps, is that in April the country will launch the world's first hydrogen-powered commercial vessel. The goal is to prove that hydrogen fuel cells can be used on ships and boats, and the longer-term plan is to convert Iceland's fishing fleet to hydrogen. It makes more sense than cars, and as with stationary fuel-cell applications, there could be an actual market for fuel-cell powered ships. Kudos to Iceland for giving it a try and letting the rest of the world watch. I got a chance to visit Iceland back in 2004. Rode on one of its first hydrogen buses in Reykjavik. Toured geothermal plants. Swam in the Blue Lagoon. It was awesome. But the uniqueness of the country also means a hydrogen economy may have limited application in regions of the world that aren't blessed with the same renewable resources.

And we can't help think: With all that cheap, abundant renewable energy, wouldn't it make just as much sense -- if not more -- to embrace electric transportation using batteries? Iceland may well become an all-hydrogen microcosm on the world stage, but being such a small market, does it risk alienating itself from the rest of the world and ultimately hurting itself economically?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Energy Conservation and Home Automation


Home automation technology is becoming as synonymous with sustainability as it is with convenience. Incorporating smart home technology into a new or existing structure makes it easier to reduce energy consumption and the carbon footprint (your impact on the environment) a home or business creates. Why go green? Our actions over the last 50 years, such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, have led to increased greenhouse gasses (like carbon dioxide emissions and methane) which in turn cause global warming. Environmental responsibility is everyone’s responsibility, so do your part by making simple changes that not only help the earth, but will also save you money and add convenience to your home. With many new easy to install home automation products readily available, it’s now simpler than ever to automate your home and go green at the same time!

There are countless uncomplicated ways you can automate and green your home simultaneously. In addition to utilizing energy efficient lighting (like compact fluorescent light bulbs and LEDs), Energy Star appliances and alternative energy sources (such as solar, geothermal and wind power), you can integrate energy-saving smart lighting controls, power controllers that turn appliances off automatically and programmable climate control systems. Automated irrigation systems and automatic faucets can help you reduce your water usage, too. Many of these simple solutions are very affordable, so you won’t break the bank in the process. Plus, the money you’ll save on your energy bills will help offset the costs to automate your home.
Now, you know you need to turn appliances and electronics off to save energy, but did you know that once you turn them off, they are still using electricity? That’s right – many items in your home continue to draw energy even after they are shut down – items like your computer and its peripherals, your television, stereo, microwave and stove. These items go into standby mode once switched off and create what’s known as a “phantom load” which can add up to 8% to your electricity bill. Luckily, there’s an easy way to eliminate phantom loads – the Smart Strip power strip. The Smart Strip automatically detects when you have turned an item off and completely cuts power to a device so it stops drawing electricity and provides surge protection.

Another effortless way to green your home is to take control of your energy consumption by finding out exactly how much you’re using. Armed with tools like the Kill-A-Watt and the PowerCost Monitor, you can measure how much electricity an item uses, or find out how much electricity you’re whole household uses. Many electricity companies offer lower rates during off-peak hours, such as nights and weekends. Using appliances like washers, dryers, air conditioners and dishwashers during these off-peak hours can lead to substantial savings on your electricity bill, and you can use the PowerCost Monitor to confirm this. It can be programmed to reflect two rates—one for off-peak periods and one for peak periods—so you know how much money you’re spending on electricity at any given time. Once you determine these facts, you can reduce usage or replace energy hogs with more efficient items. These real-time energy usage meters will help you understand your habits and can get you to become more efficient with your energy consumption needs.

If you want to make a simple, quick change right now that will lighten the load on the earth and save you money, you can focus on just one thing: lighting. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 19% of global electricity generation is taken for lighting. A worldwide switch to efficient lighting systems would reduce the world’s electricity bill by one tenth, reports the IEA. So do something simple and make the change to compact fluorescent light bulbs, then take it one step further and add tools to help you reduce your electricity consumption even more. Turning off lights is an obvious way to reduce our energy consumption, yet we still forget to do it, so why not install an occupancy sensor, which means you’ll never have to remember to turn off the lights again. Occupancy sensors can be equipped with passive infrared and photocells which detect movement and will turn off if there is adequate natural light available.

When you’re ready to take the next steps towards automating and greening your home, check out Z-Wave starter kits, modules and whole-house systems. Z-Wave is an affordable home control system that connects your home electronics (appliances, lighting, climate control, security systems and more) into an integrated wireless network, allowing you to control these items with a remote control, with your PC, from the Internet and with your cell phone. Z-Wave systems are plug-and-play and wireless, so you don’t have to deal with any timely or costly installation, and they’re modular too, so you can add or remove as your needs require.

As you can see, home automation and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. Greening you home can add up to significant savings, both for you and the Earth, and adding home automation to the mix only makes your life easier!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tourism Companies are using Climate Change as a Marketing Tool


Tourism companies are now using climate change as a marketing tool: Visit the pacific island paradise of Tuvalu before rising sea levels swallow it in the next 30 to 50 years. See the Arctic while there is still ice and polar bears.

"Some companies are using climate change as a marketing pitch, a 'see it now before it's gone' kind of thing," says Ayako Ezaki, communications director for the International Ecotourism Society, based in Washington DC.

But "ecotourism companies are wary of using that, because we want our customers to see it and then act to protect it so it won't disappear," Ezaki told Tierramérica.

Climate change is reshaping the planet. Some islands will vanish and others will be uncovered as glaciers and ice sheets melt. Animals and plants are going extinct at a rate that will accelerate as the planet continues to heat up.
"Climate changes are impacting on all aspects of human and natural systems, including both cultural and natural World Heritage properties," UNESCO

Hundreds of natural and historic sites around the world are at risk, such as the potential loss of ancient ruins in Thailand, coral reefs in Belize, 13th century mosques in the Sahara, and the Cape Floral Kingdom in South Africa, according to the UNESCO study.

And there is a strong, perhaps perverse, desire in many people to go and see rare things: the last few tigers or lady's slipper orchids or a rapidly retreating glacier.

Scientists have become very reluctant to reveal any information about rare species for this reason, and even to keep collectors from scooping them up and selling them on the Internet, said Franck Courchamp, a biologist at University of Paris-South in Orsay, France in an interview.
Meanwhile, more people are travelling and they are going to more far-flung destinations than ever before.
"Tourism has been growing 4.3 percent per year for the last 10 years," says Louise Oram, of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), a business association of the top 100 largest tourism companies.

"And that growth will continue into the near future," Oram told Tierramérica from her office in London.

The industry generated seven trillion -- yes, trillion -- dollars of economic activity in 2007 -- 10.7 percent of global GDP. It is also directly or indirectly responsible for 231 million jobs around the world, she said.

Travel and tourism is the world's largest generator of wealth and jobs according to the WTTC. It is also an industry that has an enormous impact on the environment. That is something the industry is starting to come to grips with, acknowledges Oram.

Ecotourism and nature tourism -- which would include "climate tourism" -- is growing perhaps three times faster than the industry in general, estimates Ezaki, of the International Ecotourism Society.

Ecotourism operators are out front on this issue and try to minimise their impacts where ever possible, she says. "When tourism is not sustainable it hurts the environment and we're trying to change that."

While Society members in nearly 100 countries promise to follow a green code of conduct, there is no inspection and no one has ever been kicked out for violations, she says.

Mass tourism, like the typical tropical beach holiday that forms the bulk of the industry, is not sustainable and will continue to be the major problem into the future. National governments will have to step in and make every aspect of mass tourism as green as possible, according to Ezaki.
"The industry needs to show that green or ecotourism is something exciting and different and not just for backpackers or rich environmentalists."

Tourists can reduce their personal impact on the environment by taking direct flights, travelling for longer periods of time rather than taking several short trips of a few days. They should choose rail or bus for transport when possible and look at walking or biking tours, which offer an exciting way to experience a country, she says.

"The key to our staying in business is to keep the environment pristine," says Prisca Campbell, of Quark Expeditions, a U.S.-based nature tour operator that specialises in trips to the Arctic and Antarctic.
In the Antarctic, tour operators agreed many years ago on very stringent guidelines to reduce impacts on the delicate region, Campbell told Tierramérica.
"Customers tell us they travel to see penguins, icebergs and glaciers, and to learn about the first explorers."

Although the tourists might not mention climate change specifically, tour guides do tell them about the impacts at both poles. Six in 10 customers say they want to take action to make a difference on global warming, said Campbell.

"They're not climate tourists, but some will become climate activists."

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