Tag Archives: solar

Administrivia

For the three of you that noticed we were unavailable yesterday, my normally drama free (and wind-powered) hosting service, Canvas Dreams, had a nasty power failure and moved my domains to a new server. Since I follow what I consider to be a best practice of managing my DNS with a separate company from my hosting service (I’ve had to many unreliable hosting service experiences prior to finding Canvas Dreams), my site didn’t survive the transfer without a DNS update and, as usual, this all happened while I was out of town on a business trip. We’re back today.

In the Bay Area and still wrestling with the concepts of cloud computing? NTEN has you covered with a Cloud Computing mega event on Monday, August 29th. I’ll be presenting, along with such luminaries as Holly Ross, Allen Gunn, Donny Shimamoto and more.

And, finally, a bit of bragging about something I’m really excited about: we now have solar panels installed at our home (making this a very green blog indeed). We took a leasing deal from highly-rated Sungevity that should significantly reduce our energy costs along with our carbon footprint. Bill Gates might think home solar is a fad for the wealthy, but, hey, I work at a nonprofit and I not only can afford it, it will save me money. The picture above is our roof with the last panel being installed.

What Bill Gates Should Know About Solar Energy

This post was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in May of 2011.

Former Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates gave a talk last month at TED on climate change. His overall point was dead on—we need big solutions for a big problem. And he’s a man who is willing to back what he speaks about financially. But, it was interesting to see him dismiss the small steps in a somewhat cynical fashion, characterizing home installations of solar panels as an ineffectual fad for the rich. Gates said:

The solutions that work in the rich world don’t even come close to solving the [energy] problem. If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.

There are numerous problems with this characterization of home solar customers and the impact they have on the climate. First, solar panels have dropped in costdramatically, to the point where middle-class families can lease them and, under the right conditions (roof design and placement) pay less per month for the lease and tiny energy bill than they would for their former electricity costs alone. We’ve hit a point where the economics are compelling, even if you aren’t on board with the carbon reduction goal. And, hey, my solar lease even came with a free iPad 2. There are plenty of incentives.

Secondly, the “cuteness” dig is pretty ironic, as the former president of IBM was rumored to have said of early graphical operating systems:

“Executives don’t want to click a ‘mouse,’ they want to issue commands!”

PC’s won out over the mainframes the same way that solar might ultimately win out over coal and nuclear: they were trendy at home, and the home users brought them to their businesses. Why wouldn’t the Microsoft model work for solar?

Of course, the climate crisis won’t be solved by homeowners alone. Businesses need to be on board and the energy providers have to transition from the legacy power sources. But that doesn’t mean that individual actions are worthless—far from it.

It’s not just that every little bit counts. It’s that winning the battle to embrace alternate power sources, like every battle, is about winning the hearts and minds of the people. And nobody should know that better than the man that took down the mainframes with his personal computers one house at a time.

The Environmental Legacy of Woodstock

This post was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in August of 2009.

Much is spoken about the legacy of Woodstock, the concert that defined a musical era, now celebrating a 40-year reunion. I came across this fascinating slideshow onTreehugger’s website, discussing the post-Woodstock environmental activities of some of the famous rock and folk musicians that performed there. While some might be skeptical as to how great a conference Woodstock was, discovering this 40-year history of environmental stewardship that followed speaks to the historic importance of the event.

The slideshow notes some fascinating environmental pursuits of classic 60’s artists. Here are some additional links and details on the musicians featured and their earth-friendly activities:

Joan Baez joined Julia Butterfly Hill in tree-sitting protests in support of community gardening.

Neil Young is a strong advocate for alternative fuels, who has not only re-invented his classic Lincoln Continental as an electric/biodiesel hybrid, but has also recorded a whole album about the subject.

The Grateful Dead joined Greenpeace in 1988 to save the rainforests. They were instrumental in founding the Slide Ranch, a teaching organic farm in Marin, County CA that introduces kids to the benefits of growing healthy foods.

Carlos Santana has incorporated solar panels into his business office and home. Like Young, he preaches what he practices, too.

Richie Havens has made teaching urban children about the environment a life’s cause, first with the Northwind Undersea Institute (now closed), a museum devoted to environmental information, and more recently with the Natural Guard.

Arlo Guthrie works with fellow folk legend Pete Seeger’s Hudson Sloop Clearwater, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the Hudson River. Guthrie also has a foundation that protects indigenous cultures from threats related to globalization.

Celebrating good music in healthy, open spaces is a legacy that we should leave for future rock fans. It’s nice to see that many of our greatest rock legends get that.

Greening Your Gadgets

This was originally published on the Earthjustice Blog in December of 2008.

It’s a conundrum: how can you reduce your carbon footprint without giving up all of your nifty electronic gadgets?  And, if this isn’t your conundrum, it’s surely your spouse’s, or your kid’s or your cousin’s, right? Cell phones, iPods,  PCs, laptops, TVs, DVDs, VCRs, DVRs, GPSs, radios, stereos, and home entertainment systems are just a fraction of the energy leaking devices we all have a mix of these days.  While selling them all on Ebay is an option, it might not be the preferred solution.  So here are some tips on how to reduce the energy output of those gadgets.

Shop Smart.  Look for energy-saving features supported by the product, some of which will be listed as such, some not.

1.    Energy Star compliance.  Dell and HP sell lots of systems, and some are designed to operate more efficiently.  The Energy Star program sets environmental standards for technology and certifies them for compliance.  You can browse Energy-Star compliant products at their web site.

2.    EPEAT. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool is a website that, like Energy Star, rates products according to environmental standards.  Focused on computers, laptops and monitors, this is another great resource for identifying green products.

Use Only What you Have To.  Most electronics continue to draw power after you turn them off.  This “feature” is designed to allow them to boot up faster and be more responsive, but it’s been widely deployed with no sensitivity to environmental or even budgetary concerns about idle power use.

1.    Truly turn off devices. Newer electronics, such as DVD Players and stereos, offer options to truly turn off when the power isn’t on, with an accompanying warning that the product might take longer to start up.  It’s worth the wait.

2.    Convenient, green charging. Of course, when you charge your phone or iPod, you don’t leave the charger plugged in when you’re done. But this makes it dangerously easy to plug a cord into your phone without remembering to plug in the other end.  Look for devices that can charge via the USB ports on your computer, instead of a wall charger, not because that takes less energy to charge them, but because it eliminates the need to plug and unplug the wall charger.

Be Virtual.  If there’s a way to do what you want to do without buying another electrical device, go for it!

1.    Backup online. Instead of buying a backup machine or drive for your computer, use an online backup service like Mozy or Carbonite (There are many more online backup options, as well – these are two popular ones).

2.    Squeeze multiple computers into one.  Sound like magic?  It’s not.  If you use a Mac and a PC (say, because you love the Mac but need a Windows machine for work compatibility), pick up Parallels or VMWare Fusion, programs that allow you to run multiple computer operating systems on one computer, and retire the second machine.

Go Solar. Costco, Target and other retailers are starting to carry affordable solar chargers, $30 to $50 devices that can replace your wall sockets as the power sources to charge your phones and iPods.

Be Vigilant.  Turn things off when they’re not in use, aggressively tweak the power settings on your systems, and make green computing a habit, not a special project.

Take it from a techie like me: we don’t want to abandon the 21st century in order to insure that there’s a 22nd.  But we do want to curtail our energy use as much as possible.  These are relatively easy first steps in our personal efforts to stop global warming.