Green Products and Technology

Friday

Green is Durable

 
Have you ever tripped and fallen down in public? I am not talking about the humiliating type of falling-down-in-public that fails to meet other people’s expectations. No, I am talking about the moment of humiliation that comes from failing to put one foot in front of the other in order to stay upright.

Saturday

Your Personal Source of Clean, Affordable Energy

As it turns out, the gas-guzzlers in every home are the costs of heating and cooling, which can account for up to 50 percent of your utility bill. Taking drastic action may be tempting but before considering an investment in a green energy solution, ask your local utility if they have an energy audit program in your area.


This first step will help uncover some simple ways to reduce your household’s energy consumption and hopefully your utility bill as well.


Also, it makes good green sense to take a look at the energy efficiency of your appliances—are they over ten years old?—because these big energy consumers play a fundamental role in what it will take to offset your electricity bill.

Once you have those two items checked off the list, you will be pleased to discover that residential renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind, are growing in popularity. According to Amy Westervelts article Rooftop Pipe-Dream the market for “small wind” turbines that are mounted to rooftops grew 13 percent in the United States in 2009.

An Energy Ball Turbine by Home Energy



These statistics would be more exciting if this burgeoning renewable energy market were not fraught with concerns around noise and human health, overzealous manufacturers and a lack of regulation in the industry.


A few years ago, I wrote an article informing readers that if your home is on half an acre of unobstructed land with average wind speeds of 10mph, consider residential wind turbines that are mounted to a tower on your property.


According to Westervelt, these tower-mounted turbines have been proven to work whereas the rooftop turbines only work in very specific settings “and almost never in urban areas” because there are too many physical structures blocking the wind.


The SkyStream 3.7 pictured below features a sleek plug-and-play design that connects directly to your home to provide power when the wind is blowing. Homes are powered by the utility as usual when the wind isn’t blowing.  

The takeaway lesson here is that when it comes to green energy technology, whether solar, the wind or geothermal, be sure your installer is certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners—You want expert knowledge and a commitment to ethics so that all the proper steps are taken to ensure your financial investment will meet your expectations.

SkyStream 3.7 Residential Wind Turbine and Energy Wind System

Friday

Solar Empowerment

Gary Gerber, CEO, and founder of Sun Light and Power in Berkeley, California has been working in the renewable energy field for more than 30 years. “I am a general contractor involved in sustainability, and I have been traveling down the road of green construction for over ten years, with a keen interest in the bigger picture of energy,” says Gerber.


He successfully steered his solar design and installation company through the lean years when the country all but abandoned solar energy to the more recent second solar boomtimes. Sun Light and Power (SLP) is at once a pioneer and expert in the field of solar design and installation and has amassed an impressive portfolio of over six hundred installations throughout the Bay Area and is an industry leader in solar thermal and solar electric design and installation.


Renewable Energy in the United States

Gerber remembers the precise moment when he realized how important it is to preserve the world’s vital resources. He was at UC Berkeley where he was studying energy and heat transfer. “We had a guest speaker come in and talk about the different forms of energy being used throughout the world, and he said there is about enough coal for 200 years and enough oil for 50 or maybe 100 years. When you think about these things in geological terms and even human terms, it is a blink of an eye,” says Gerber.  


For Gerber and others like him, solar and wind power stood out as the only energy technologies that had any real future. SLP offers the latest technological advancements in solar electricity, solar hot water, and radiant heating, with half of their business coming from residential projects and the other half from commercial.


In many cases those customers find us through word of mouth, explains Gerber. “We make a real effort to develop relationships with repeat customers— building professionals such as architects, builders, roofers, and housing developers. West Coast Green was also a huge success for us, and we do well at other targeted home shows too.”
While skyrocketing energy prices have encouraged people to turn to solar energy, Gerber finds people are looking at the bigger picture, not just their pocketbooks. “I do find that global warming is on the minds of almost all of my clientele.  They recognize there is a problem and they want to be part of the solution,” says Gerber. He also sees a stronger interest in solar energy in California, especially Northern California, compared to other regions of the country. Statistics confirm this is indeed the hotbed of solar energy. In the last eighteen months California has seen a massive influx of venture capital money; in the first half of 2006 $1.6 billion dollars were invested in ”clean tech” companies compared to $1.4 billion in all of 2005.
   

Energy Efficiency is a Critical Component

The current solar renaissance is due in part to the passage in 2006 of the largest solar program to date—the California Solar Initiative (CSI).
The 10-year, multi-billion dollar program seeks to install 3,000MW of rooftop solar systems by 2017. However, CSI’s new rebate program has more restrictive rules than the old one, Gerber points out, and rebates are lower than they were before, making selling harder. “What is going on now is that the CSI requires energy audits from everyone who wants to apply for a rebate, and I believe this will move the industry in the right direction in energy efficiency,” says Gerber, whose initial approach includes working with the network of raters from Build It Green for home energy performance measurements.


While most solar companies do not offer any additional services beyond solar installations, energy efficiency contracting is already an emerging part of the SLP business model, and Gerber expects this area to grow. He plans to bring what he calls “Total Energy Solutions” to his clientele. These solutions will include reducing the most obvious inefficiencies in a home and recommending the solutions that have the best paybacks as part of a package. “The best approach is to reduce your demand first, before you start spending much money on a solar system to satisfy a demand that is too high, to begin with,” he says.
For new homes to qualify for the CSI PV rebate, they must exceed Title 24 energy efficiency standards by 15%. “Solar hot water is another one of the best and easiest ways to take your home above and beyond Title 24,” says Gerber. While the financial backing and enthusiasm for the CSI are strong, overall there is less certainty in the rebate program from a sales and promotion perspective. “It is going to be a robust and growing industry, but it is a much more challenging industry today than it was even a month ago to sell systems in,” he says.


Three Strikes for Solar Energy Rebates

In preparation for the CSI taking effect, SLP has hired an additional rebate assistant for their full-time contract manager, Sarah Diaz. “Keeping on top of rebate issues for your company, if you are not big enough to have a dedicated person in that role already, is going to be difficult and make it harder to avoid getting strikes,” Diaz says. Any sign of fraud or incompetence in installing systems and applying for rebates counts as a strike against the installing company, and three strikes mean that the company is locked out of rebate applications, according to Gerber. Even though the majority of companies designing and installing solar systems have done a high-quality job, there are always a few, as in any industry, which hasn't.


However, these new requirements can even affect the good players, according to Gerber, who sees routine inspections as the solution for shutting down people defrauding the system, and the way to identify errors made by legitimate businesses. “There is a big difference between intentional fraud and the occasional goof, and you do not want to penalize the company that has every intention of getting it right but goofs once in awhile,” says Gerber. Any one strike expires after a year for businesses that install 200 or more systems per year.


SLP, a company with an excellent reputation for quality, installed nearly 200 systems last year. The one thing about high volume businesses, Gerber worries, is that any company that does enough business might eventually pick up a few strikes just by the law of averages. Somebody could make a mistake on the job site or fill in the wrong number on a form, and then the company would be stuck with a strike. The bottom line is that if a company is excluded from this program for one year, then they are effectively out of solar business in California. Work remains to figure out how to make this new requirement practical for all solar installers. The CPUC has created a Solar Forum and will hold regular meetings between the CPUC and all interested parties to hammer out these issues over the lifetime of the program.
Solar Panel Growing Pains


Rebates and fraud consequences are not the only changes—even the old familiar design tools are taking on new forms. In the past SLP solar designers have used PVWatts, an online performance calculator for grid-connected PV systems, says Gerber. Going forward, anyone wanting a rebate on solar energy in California will have to use the CSI Expected Performance Based Buydown Calculator. It is a standardized design tool because the rebate has to be applied consistently to all systems now, explains Gerber.
Looking ahead Gerber likes the fact that the 10-year guaranteed lifespan of the CSI incentive program will encourage more solar manufacturers to jump into the game. This is good news for California’s solar industry and economy although solar companies still have to learn to navigate through uncharted territory.  “I think what is going to happen with the solar industry is we are going to need to get more knowledgeable and effective with our energy efficiency,” he says. That is a good thing. With Gerber at the helm, Sun Light and Power will no doubt continue to be a leader in solar energy systems.


SLP employees are also passionate about the company’s overall environmental commitment to promoting renewable energy sources. “Many of our installers volunteer their time with Grid Alternatives doing one or two systems a month. These are weekend installations of free solar systems throughout the Bay Area, installing systems for Habitat for Humanity as well as other low-income housing providers,” says Gerber. Their company motto: “Changing the world one roof at a time.”  

About Tracy Pfiffner:

Tracy Pfiffner is a content marketing strategist and former member of United States Green Building. Her articles on sustainable building, products, and technologies have appeared in nationally recognized trade and consumer publications. This article originally appeared in Home Energy Magazine.

Tuesday

Deck of a Deal: Wood Composite Decks Save Trees


Summer is the time for barbecues, sprinklers and outdoor entertaining. It is also a good time to think about replacing an old worn out deck, and for those who don’t have a deck, to think about building one. After all, outdoor living spaces are ideal places to gather with family and friends.


Choosing the best green material for your deck can be a challenge though. Many building products tout eco-friendly attributes and in some cases, it takes a savvy consumer to see through the green-wash.

Monday

Get Plastered: Eco-Friendly Interiors





The walls are the largest surface area in a room, but I bet you never thought of the role they play in your indoor air quality (IAQ). Of course, low- and zero-VOC paint choices abound and are an awesome green option to spruce up your space. However, if you are looking for something unique and maybe even gorgeous and jaw dropping

Ground Cover: Permeable Pavers

As a kid, did you ever stand outside looking up into the sky when it was raining with your mouth wide open? As an adult, ever wonder what happens to those raindrops once they hit the pavement?

Thursday

Is Blogging Green?

Okay, so today I decided to set up my "mobile device" on my blog account. I cannot imagine posting an entire blog from my phone because on my phone, I type with 2 thumbs, not 10 fingers and there is no spell check! I wonder, is there a green spin here? Am I saving energy? Water? Or, maybe even time? I think none of the above.

How about formatting. Will there be a space between the two blocks of text I just created or just one long blog paragraph? I prefer smaller chunks of text. Well, thank you for bearing with me or is it baring with me... hmmmm I'll have to get back to my computer and get back to you on that one.

Wednesday

Clearing the Air: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Standards


My father was a cabinetmaker for fifty years before passing away after a long battle with lung cancer last fall. I occasionally worked with him on home remodeling projects and I recall with clarity the toxic smells emanating from the stains and finishes he used to create the rich colors and lustrous finishes on his beautiful cabinetry designs.  

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that the cabinetry’s interior panels and shelving were composite wood products, laden with adhesives made from urea formaldehyde that would one day be declared as a Toxic Air Contaminant by the state we were living in at the time.

Good Green Guidelines



Not long ago, the field of sustainable design was a new concept for many people. However, due to the increasing number of green messages from advertisers and on-going conversations about climate change, everyone pretty much gets the idea— “green is good.” Nevertheless, it is more important than ever to discern a green product from one that somebody might be trying to sell you as eco-friendly. It seems everyone wants to cash in on the green bandwagon.

Living Well with Wool Carpet

Wool carpeting offers several natural advantages over synthetics carpets, which have a relatively short life cycle. After all, wool carpeting has been around for centuries and is what the synthetics try to emulate. Wool is stain resistant, repels liquids and naturally flame-retardant, so it doesn’t need to be treated with toxic coatings.

Wool is also a renewable resource that has a long useful life span (25 years is average for New Zealand Wool carpet) before it can be recycled or biodegrade.

Low-VOC Paint and Indoor Air Quality

 

The walls inside your home are a blank canvas and for relatively little investment, you can paint them with either a subtle hint or a powerful punch of color. But what about indoor air quality (IAQ)? One whiff from a standard can of paint and you will know that it contains a cocktail of toxins, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which emit harmful chemicals into your home while you are painting and often times, long after the walls have dried.

Monday

Green Energy

As it turns out, the gas-guzzlers in every home are the costs of heating and cooling, which can account for up to 50 percent of your utility bill. Taking drastic action may be tempting but before considering an investment in a green energy solution, ask your local utility if they have an energy audit program in your area.  This first step will help uncover some simple ways to reduce your household’s energy consumption and hopefully your utility bill as well.

Is Green Mainstream?


Homework has a new meaning. Once a straightforward concept relating to students, it now applies to those of us who have long since graduated high school and college. Whether a student, an entrepreneur or household manager we all work at home. There are so many “jobs” right here under my own roof, I can endlessly distract myself from the real task—an assignment to find a story on another blog and relate it back to my blog.  Does anyone else have ADHWD (Attention Deficit Homework Distraction)?

Friday

April Fools?

Nope. Although, I almost got my son today when I brought home some handsome new clothes with the explanation that I was reading a college blog, and it stated the university he will be attending this fall recently instituted an informal dress code in their engineering department. There was a pause, a look of disbelief and then an audible sigh of relief when I said, "April Fools!" I love getting my family and friends on April Fools Day! I told my neighbor, who is traveling with her son on a college visit that her dog ran away (I was the pet-sitter)... not one of my better ideas.

Anyhow, here are some stats that might have you wishing I made them up specially for today's post. 

Thursday

Blog Intro: Green Means...

In its infinite number of shades, green symbolizes growth, money, healing, and peace. Green is the most restful color for the human eye and suggests stability and endurance. 

It is also endowed with the hopeful role of saving our planet in the 21st century, despite our apparent efforts to pollute and ravage the land and air that sustains our lives. Today, you might think it embarrassing not to know what green building and sustainable lifestyles really means.