Archive for the 'going green' Category

The First Skyscraper to Generate Its Own Energy is Now Under Construction

We’ve been building skyscrapers for more than a century now and for past few decades cities all over the world were engaged in an arms race to try and be home to the world’s tallest building. Ever since the current record holder, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, was completed in 2009, that race seems to have died down. That is one of the many consequences of a global recession caused by a crash in the real estate market. However, it was recently announced that there will be a new skyscraper completed by 2020 that will be the first of it’s kind. Instead of trying build the world’s tallest building, Indonesia’s state-owned energy company Pertamina will be building a skyscraper that is designed to generate it’s own electricity. The tower is designed to open up at the top which will create a wind tunnel. Those winds will power turbines and generators and it is estimated that those generators will satisfy about 25 percent of the building’s energy demand. It’s not entirely self-sufficient but it will significantly reduce the demand it places on the city’s power grid which is far more than any other skyscraper can claim. I think that this skyscraper is going to be the first of its kind and future buildings are only going to emulate and improve upon this model.

Jakarta’s future skyline.

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Most Solar Panels Are Angled the Wrong Way

The price of solar energy has been steadily dropping over the years making it more and more feasible for regular people to install them on their rooftops. The benefits are that you use more energy from a cleaner source and as a result you cut your electric bills considerably. It turns out though that we had it all wrong in how we were installing those solar panels. The convention in the northern hemisphere has always been to angle the panels facing towards the south because generally speaking that is the direction that sees the most sunlight throughout the day. Well a new paper from the Pecan Street Research Institute has found that the conventional alignment is not the best way to do it. It turns out that pointing solar panels to the west towards the setting sun is a far better way to point them due to the way in which most of us live our lives.

The reason why is pretty simple. Generally speaking the time of day when a house consumes the most electricity is during late afternoon and early evening. Demand decreases in the middle of the night when we’re sleeping and during typical business hours during the week because no one is home then. A south facing solar panel generates most of its electricity exactly at a time when we’re least likely to be around to use it while a west facing panel can keep generating energy when we’re most likely to be using it. This study confirms that by reveling that south facing panels reduce peak energy demand by 54 percent while west facing panels reduce it by 65 percent. So there is a great tip if you’re thinking of installing solar panels. Pointing them west will make the greatest impact towards doing right by the planet and by your wallet.

West is best.

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Renderings of the High Line’s Final Section are Released

One of the coolest new things to recently come into existence in Manhattan was the High Line. What used to be an elevated rail line in the Lower West Side hasn’t seen a train roll over it since 1980 and sat abandoned and deteriorating for almost twenty years. The line was almost completely demolished in the late 1990s until some concerned citizens convinced the City Hall that they had a better plan for it. Since 1999 there has been a lot of work done to transform the rail line into a beautiful public park for all to enjoy. The first third of the new park was opened to the public in 2009 and the second third was opened up in 2011. Construction for the final third of the High Line began last year and is scheduled to open in 2014. However, there is one big piece of recent news regarding that final section under construction. For the first time, detailed plans and renderings of the completed northern section of the High Line were released to the public and those pictures look incredible. Especially impressive was the plan for the northeastern terminus which will look like a big bowl surrounded on all sides by trees and overlooking the Hudson River and 10th Avenue. The High Line is an incredible example of our ability to transform an obsolete eyesore into a beautiful attraction and I for one can’t wait to see the finished result next year.

New York likes their trains underground now.

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Why People Are Giving Up Cars

We’ve been experiencing a large-scale transformation in how we get around. Once the ownership of cars became sufficiently widespread in the 1950s we’ve seen explosive growth in urban sprawl and suburbs because car ownership allowed people to live much further away from where they worked. As an example, the town of Wayne, New Jersey is now a big suburb 20-30 minutes outside New York City with a population of about 54,000 people. Between 1940 and 1960 Wayne’s population exploded from 6,868 people to 29,353 people (that’s a growth rate of 427%) and that trend has repeated itself all over the country.

Now we’re seeing evidence that that trend is reversing itself. Right now the percentage of American households that don’t own a car is at 9.3 percent which is up from 8.7 percent where it bottomed out in 2007. Forbes has a fascinating article about what the contributing factors are to this trend.

Lack of a driver’s license – Believe it or not there is much less interest in getting a driver’s license compared to a decade ago. Young people who grow up in cities where car ownership is unnecessary are less likely seek a driver’s license when they’re old enough to get one because they don’t see a need for one. However, the biggest adult demographic of people without a driver’s license are people between the ages of 30 and 55.

Access to other transportation
– Mass transit, especially around urban areas has expanded to the point where it provides a viable alternative to commuters. Commuter bus and rail lines have expanded to much more areas and have allowed young commuters to be able to put off buying a car.

Cars aren’t available – Increasing population density decreases access to cars. Around 30 percent of people who live in areas with 10,000 people or more per square mile report they do not have access to a car. The further out you get into the countryside, the more that number decreases.

It’s easier to walk places – Walkable communities are hot real estate right now and there is great demand to not have to use a car to do routine errands like grocery shopping. Living in a walkable area decreases the need to own a car and some people are able to ditch it entirely as a result. Also there has been a rise in telecommuting and working from home which further decreases the use of cars.

All of that being said, we’re still a culture very much in love with our cars. Over 90 percent of American households own at least one car and 80 percent of commuters use a car at some point in their commute. But that is changing slowly but surely.

I don’t think anyone enjoys going through that every day.

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America’s Ten Most Energy Efficient Cities

When it comes to going green and adopting alternative energy sources, increasing energy efficiency is incredibly important. After all the cheapest and cleanest unit of energy is one that isn’t used in the first place. The challenge with energy efficiency is more of a financial one. Upgrading buildings and infrastructure to be energy efficient is something that is usually pretty expensive in the short term but pays off over a longer time horizon and that’s a tough call when you have government offices up for election every two years in some cases. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy recently put together a report where they listed the country’s 34 biggest cities in order of energy efficiency. The factors that they considered were local government operations, community-wide initiatives, building policies, utility policies, and transportation policies. What follows is a list of the top ten most energy efficient big cities in the country:

1. Boston, MA
2. Portland, OR
3. New York City, NY
4. San Francisco, CA
5. Seattle, WA
6. Austin, TX
7. Washington, DC
8. Minneapolis, MN
9. Chicago, IL
10. Philadelphia, PA

Red Sox Nation doesn’t waste electricity.

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Six Hidden Energy Hogs in Your House

In America power is relatively cheap compared to the rest of the world and that is both a blessing and a curse. Yes cheap power is great for our wallets but many of the electrically powered items in our homes have developed into energy hogs including some things you wouldn’t expect. When it comes to going green, the cleanest unit of energy is one that isn’t used in the first place. National Geographic has a great piece on some household items that use up much more power than you think and addressing them can save your wallet hundreds and the planet some extra greenhouse gas emissions:

Set-Top Boxes – Consider this another reason to be a cable-cutter. Those cable boxes are much more than just a clock even when you supposedly turn them off. Those things are always running on their full power requirements doing things like communicating with streaming content and recording your favorite shows even when you’re not watching. Cutting cable out completely will save you much more than just the monthly subscription fees for the hundreds of channels you don’t watch.

Furnace Fans – These are the fans in your house that circulate warm air in you house in the winter and cool air in the summer if you have central air. Unfortunately, many of these fans aren’t very energy efficient and are on a lot. In many households these fans eat up twice or three times as much power as a standard refrigerator. There are now more efficient models on the market that work with most furnaces that use about 60 percent less energy.

Battery Chargers – Think of all of the toys we like to enjoy like smartphones, laptops, and tablets. They’re all battery powered and need to be recharged on a regular basis. Unfortunately, when the chargers themselves aren’t charging your electronics, they are still using electricity. Standards are being developed to make them more efficient but you can still save yourself a few bucks by unplugging your chargers when they’re not charging anything.

Microwaves – Sure they eat up energy when you’re nuking something with it but 99 percent of the time the microwave is just sitting there being a clock and being ready at any moment to heat up some food for you. The average microwave uses up 36 kilowatt hours of energy per year just sitting there. If you don’t use your microwave very often consider unplugging it or switching up to a newer, more efficient model.

Game Consoles – The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (and the PS4 and the Xbox One) are incredibly powerful computers that can play games with nearly lifelike graphics. They also eat up a ton of power when they’re in use. When they are switched off into a standby mode they barely use any energy but the problem is that many gamers don’t turn them off when they’re not in use. The newer versions of the consoles are designed to switch off after a certain amount of time spent idle but older models will stay on indefinitely unless you change their settings. Remember that the $400 price tag for the consoles and the $60 price tag per game is not the entire cost of your gaming experience.

Pool Pumps – This is one of the hidden expenses of owning a pool. Many pools have pumps that only operate at one maximum speed only even when it doesn’t need to be. Get a multi-speed pump for your pool and run it on the lowest setting when the pool isn’t in use. By doing this you can use about 80 percent less energy and save thousands of dollars in electric bills over the lifetime of the pump.

Churchill has short-term corporate housing available Nationwide. Please contact us at 866-255-0593 or for more information.

The World’s Most Dangerous Nature Preserve

There are parts of the Earth that were once settled and inhabited by people that have since been abandoned for various reasons. Some of these places were once settlements of ancient civilizations that have been abandoned for centuries while some are more recent. In all of these areas, nature has a way of slowly taking back the evidence of human settlement. Structures deteriorate from the environment and weather and all kinds of plants and animals move in to replace the people who left. National Geographic recently released some amazing photos of one of the more recently abandoned areas of the world, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

The DMZ was established in the ceasefire that effectively ended the Korean war in 1953 and anyone who was living there at the time was moved out by the two governments. This buffer zone stretches across the entire Korean peninsula and extends out about 2 kilometers either way from the official boundary of the two countries. Despite its name it is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world and the site of the world’s largest minefield making any attempt for people to live there suicidal. This abandonment has turned most of the area into a giant nature preserve where plants and animals can live and thrive in peace. The Korean War more than anything else shaped what both Koreas are today and I find it quite interesting that 60 years later one of its most enduring legacies is the world’s most dangerous nature preserve.

It turns out that birds can coexist with land mines just fine.

Churchill has short-term corporate housing available Nationwide. Please contact us at 866-255-0593 or for more information.

Florida’s Future Beaches Could be Made of Glass

The Earth’s geology has long caused issues for the people living on it. Earthquakes, tsunamis, landslides, and volcanic eruptions have been going on long before humans were around and will continue long after we’re gone. However, the beaches in South Florida are facing a far less lethal problem for us and we’re coming up with an odd way of solving it. The sand on Florida’s beaches is constantly being drawn back into the ocean and keeping the beaches looking healthy and robust means constantly replenishing the beaches with sand. This problem is by no means old and for decades Florida simply took sand from elsewhere in the state and moved it to the beaches to keep them looking the way they do.

Florida is running into a problem though. They’re running out of land based sand to replenish the beaches. It has reached the point where Broward County is now looking at other more expensive alternatives. One such alternative would be dredging up sand from the seafloor just offshore and using that sand. That option is both expensive and environmentally destructive to the marine species that live there. Another more eco-friendly alternative is to pulverize recycled glass into a fine sand and use that on the beaches. Glass is made mostly from sand and if it is pulverized enough it is just about indistinguishable from beach sand. Such an idea was first proposed ten years ago but its implementation was derailed from state budget costs caused by the recession in 2008. Now seems like a good time to revive the idea though. It is a more efficient and more environmentally friendly way of recycling glass and it will help to preserve Florida’s beaches well into the future.

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Washington’s Newest Federal Employees: 58 Goats

The Congressional Cemetery in Washington DC has been having a bit of a problem with their landscaping. Like many other parts of America it is fighting a losing battle with invasive plant species that are putting the lives of the cemetery’s trees and headstones at risk. Furthermore, most of these species are plants like kudzu, poison ivy, and English ivy which are difficult to efficiently get rid of with conventional equipment like lawnmowers and weed-whackers. While this won’t bother any of the cemetery’s residents like J. Edgar Hoover and John Philip Sousa it’s becoming an increasing problem for those of us who are just visiting.

Well their grounds crew has come up with a novel idea to tackle this problem. Last Wednesday 58 goats rented from a local farm arrived and they were let loose to eat everything that they could find and they’re doing a great job at eating up all of the invasive species plaguing the cemetery. Mountain goats love to eat vines like poison ivy and can more easily access terrain that motorized equipment can’t reach. Additionally, using them has the added benefit of not having to use herbicides and pesticides that would pollute the local watershed. For the past five days they have been working 24 hours a day clearing about half an acre per day of unwanted vegetation. At a cost of only $4000 per week the cost of the goats’ services comes out to only 25 cents per goat per hour which makes them a huge bargain compared to people. So if by any chance you find yourself visiting the Congressional Cemetery soon, don’t be surprised if you see a goat stuffing his face and bleating at you. They’re just doing their job.

Churchill has short-term corporate housing available throughout Washington D.C. and Nationwide. Please contact us at 866-255-0593 for more information.

Underground Rivers are Resurfacing

Most big urban areas have underground rivers that their residents never knew about and more and more of them are being brought back to the surface. Underground rivers are the by-product of a century of urban development. Small streams on the surface were seen as mere obstacles by developers back in the day so they would either divert the streams or push it underground through a series of pipes making the land buildable. Most of these rivers would end up completely forgotten as the decades passed.

Now though several cities like Yonkers and Kalamazoo are bringing their subterranean rivers back to the surface for a variety of reasons. Environmentally, areas that are built over underground rivers are far more prone to severe flooding than if the rivers are open and exposed. Also the natural biological processes that break down water pollution work far more efficiently when exposed to sunlight enabling the cities to save money on water treatment while still having clean water. The benefits are also economic too. Some daylighted rivers are made into beautiful parks that bring people into the city and raise surrounding property values. It’s kind of amazing though that rivers we never knew existed are suddenly appearing in the middle of our cities.

The last time this part of the Saw Mill River saw daylight, Theodore Roosevelt was the President.

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