Solarponics Hosts First Annual Nonprofit Volunteer Signup Day

Solarponics Hosts First Annual Nonprofit Volunteer Signup Day

Solarponics has partnered with local nonprofits to host the first annual Share the Sunshine Volunteer Signup Day event happening this Friday, November 18, from 11 AM to 1 PM at Solarponics office in Atascadero. Attendees are invited to meet a nonprofit that is a perfect fit for them to volunteer.

Solarponics created Share the Sunshine as a way to introduce their employees to nonprofit organizations in the community that need help. At Solarponics, every employee gets a paid day off to volunteer for a cause of their choice.

When employees started inviting family members and friends, they quickly realized how rewarding and valuable this program was for everyone involved. The idea quickly expanded to our community-wide launch of Share The Sunshine Volunteer Signup Day.

“We saw how our employees jumped at the chance to volunteer when the opportunity presented itself,” says Kristian Emrich, Solarponics president. “Share The Sunshine is that opportunity, made easy and approachable for everyone in the community.”

Over a dozen area nonprofit organizations are expected to be on hand to share what they do, and what type of volunteer help they need. Organizations attending may include; health services, animal rescue, faith, arts and education, food services, community development, environment, and more.

Come by and meet your local nonprofits Friday, November 18, from 11 AM to 1 PM at Solarponics office, 4700 El Camino Real, Atascadero. Find a nonprofit that is a perfect fit for you. Give your time, and your heart to those in need in our communities. For more information, visit

Real Christmas Tree Versus Artificial Christmas Tree: Which is Better for the Environment?

Real Christmas Tree Versus Artificial Christmas Tree: Which is Better for the Environment?

By Frank Scotti, Sustainable Energy Advocate – When you think of Christmas, you probably don’t think of how much impact a simple Christmas tree can have on the environment. Your Christmas tree, whether live or artificial, has a significant environmental impact considering Americans purchase over 48 million trees each year.

Let’s first look at artificial trees. It may seem obvious that a real tree is better than a fake Christmas tree from a sustainability point of view. But the reality is a little more complex. A Life Cycle Assessment study looked at factors like raw materials, processing, manufacturing, waste, water use, carbon emissions, chemical use, transportation, lifetime of product, and end of life disposal.

 

More than 23 million artificial trees are purchased each season in the U.S. alone. They are typically made of a combination of PVC and steel and are not recyclable at end of life. Artificial trees are also non-biodegradable so they never break down.

Artificial trees contain potentially harmful material. Part of what makes artificial trees so sturdy are the components used in their construction. PVC plastics are made from petroleum by-products, heavy metals are used to stabilize the plastics and the metal branches are mined from the earth. Flame retardants that cause cancer and other health issues are also added to artificial trees. In California, warning labels are even required on artificial trees to alert users of the potential risk of hazardous materials…including lead.

Most artificial trees are made in China and have to be shipped thousands of miles, in plastic sleeves and cardboard boxes.

The A.C.T.A, a group representing manufacturers, says the environmental impact of an artificial tree is less than real trees if you reuse the artificial tree five or more times.

However, a 2009 study by Ellipsos, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal, found an artificial tree used over six years still had three times greater impact on emissions and resource depletion than six real trees over six years. The study said an artificial tree had to be kept for 20 years before it would have a lesser impact than 20 real trees.

Artificial trees are not recyclable nor biodegradable and will eventually end up in landfill even after years of use. It takes centuries for materials like polyvinyl chloride plastic to decompose. Green America advises that consumers with artificial trees donate them rather than throw them away.

Now let’s look at real trees.

Again, a Life Cycle Assessment study looked at factors like land use, CO2 emissions from growing and harvesting equipment, chemical use, transportation, and end of life disposal.

25 million live trees are cut down for Christmas trees each year in the U.S. Real Christmas trees are primarily grown on Christmas tree farms, and aren’t cut down from large, wild forests, as some may think. Most Christmas trees are planted and grown on farms for the express purpose of harvesting them.

As Christmas trees grow, they clean the air, help the soil, absorb carbon emissions and provide a habitat for wildlife, all while being grown on land not suitable for other crops.

Once a tree is cut down for sale, another one to three trees are planted in its place, making for a sustainable, well-managed way to source an environmentally friendly Christmas tree.

According to Green America, an environmental advocacy organization, a real tree is even better for the environment when it is mulched and returned to the earth as ground cover.

In the same study, Green America also determined that thousands of tons of real trees wind up in landfill, where they produce methane — a pollutant 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Decomposition of real trees in a dump takes decades and produces a higher carbon footprint than incineration.

There are a lot of considerations, but I am able to come to a conclusion regarding which type of tree is least harmful to the environment.

Real trees have less of an environmental impact than artificial trees. Real trees have an even greater environmental advantage over artificial trees if they are organically grown,  locally sourced, and recycled.

If you already have an artificial tree, don’t go throwing it out though. Keep using it for as long as possible so you can keep it out of the landfill. Then donate it to extend its lifecycle even further.

Washing Away A Bad Laundry Habit.

Washing Away A Bad Laundry Habit.

By Frank Scotti, Sustainable Energy Advocate – October 01, 2022 – As far back as I can remember, my mom always used liquid laundry soap, or detergent, to wash our clothes when we were kids. Like most everything, my parents never questioned the product, or its environmental impact. Liquid detergent was just what you used. Then, when I moved out and was responsible to wash my own clothes, I, too, chose liquid detergent out of familiarity and habit.

But now I know that liquid laundry soap is not good for the environment. Heck, it’s not really even a soap. Detergents are mainly a synthetic combination of chemicals designed to produce optically clean clothes, but as a result, also introduce a ton of chemical pollutants. These chemicals include; phosphates, formaldehyde, chlorine bleach, ammonium sulfate, dioxane, sodium lauryl sulfate, optical brighteners, ammonium quaternary sanitizers, dyes, benzyl acetate, dichlorobenzene. After your clothes are washed, all of these chemicals are drain out with the water and remain in our water, forever.1,000 loads of laundry are started every second of every day in the US. Assume we use an average of 2 ounces of detergent per load, that equates to 492,750,000 gallons of chemical detergent pollutants added to our water supply each year from laundry alone.

In addition, 700 million empty plastic detergent jugs are thrown away each year in the US alone, with less that 30% ever being recycled. Factor in all of the water used to create the detergent, and all of the CO2 emitted to transport these heavy jugs from factory to consumer, the environmental impact of liquid laundry detergent is simply staggering.

Recently we have finally seen an innovation in the category, laundry detergent sheets.
Laundry sheets are lightweight, compact, don’t use water, are pre-measured amounts, and come in compostable paper packaging.

The basic ingredients of laundry detergent sheets are: deionized water, natural plant-derived surfactants, enzymes, and in some cases, a fragrance. A box of 100 load sheets weighs only  about 7 oz., compared to the equivalent liquid weighing almost 10 lbs. Plus, laundry sheets and packaging contain no plastic at all.

I tested a laundry sheet brand called Earth Breeze for one month. I use a front-loading wash machine, so the sheet goes in the top detergent cup, folded. I was skeptical at first. But here’s what I found.
The sheet dissolved fully. There was no residual residue or signs of soap or other chemicals. Surprisingly, clothes seemed to be just as clean. I did not notice any difference. I used both the fragrance free and the Fresh Scent. I did prefer the Fresh Scent over fragrance free.

Like I said no noticeable difference between the Earth Breeze laundry sheets and my other liquid detergent. I shall admit that I do not have heavily soiled clothes. Both my boys no longer live at home, and I don’t regularly work on cars getting oil stains on my work clothes. But the average garden variety soiling came clean with no issues. The switch for me is a no-brainer, especially since the cost per load of laundry sheets vs. liquid is about the same.

 

I have freed up extra space in the laundry cabinet to store other stuff I don’t need. I don’t have any large jugs to dispose of and hope they get recycled. I can take on with me when I travel. My clothes get just as clean.

No matter how hard I try, I really can’t find anything to complain about. Laundry sheets are an amazing substitute to liquid laundry detergent.

Since testing laundry sheets, I have not reverted back to liquid detergents. I think I may have finally broken the cycle of habit and complacency and made the full-time switch to laundry sheets. I suggest that everyone give them a try.

Why Are Solar Panels Always Black Or Blue?

Why Are Solar Panels Always Black Or Blue?

You may be surprised to learn that the color of solar panels is not just an aesthetic choice by the manufacturers. Solar panels are black and blue because those are the natural colors that silicon becomes during the manufacturing process. Additionally, manufacturers, installers, and the majority of customers are focused on efficiency, and black or blue solar panels, due to the manufacturing process, are the most efficient, the most widely used, so also the most affordable.

The two primary kinds of solar panel colors, black and blue, are monocrystalline and polycrystalline. Monocrystalline solar cells that are black are made out of silicon where each solar cell is a single crystal. This makes them considerably more efficient, especially since black as a color is more light-absorbent than the blue color. Blue solar panels are made from polycrystalline silicon where a single cell contains several silicon crystals, and the way those crystals interact with sunlight makes them appear blue. Polycrystalline technology used to be cheaper than monocrystalline, which is why you are more likely to see blue panels in older installations.

Illustration 63697988 © Kasezo | Dreamstime.com

Solar panels can be different colors, but at a significant sacrifice to efficiency and affordability. Dyes and coatings can be used to change the color of solar panels. However, dyes and coatings, as stated, also dramatically reduce panel efficiency. Colored solar panels created with this method are as much as 45% less efficient than the standard blue or black solar panels. Dyes and coatings also do not handle tough conditions well, so it’s likely that colored panels will eventually lose their vibrance over a panel’s 25-year lifespan. Thus, this aesthetic improvement isn’t worth the lost efficiency and greater cost for the average homeowner

A variety of new technologies are being experimented with to create more efficient colored panels, and a wider range of colors to suit more environments, color schemes, and aesthetics. For example, researchers in the Netherlands have developed a soft-print lithography technique that allows panels to reflect a specific color. Unfortunately, this still reduces efficiency, but only by about 10% compared to the 45% of other coating methods. With continued improvement, they aim to reduce that loss in efficiency to as little as 2%.

So, while we don’t have solar panels in all the colors of the rainbow available yet, the technology is definitely being worked on.

Sustainable Travel Tips: Eco Flying

Sustainable Travel Tips: Eco Flying

I recently came across an article in the AAA magazine, Westways, talking about sustainable travel. It was a bit basic and abbreviated, but touched on something that I had not really been aware of, something that I had to learn more about.

Air travel is the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions related to travel. The average CO2 emissions of a Boeing 747-400 international flight is about four tons of CO2 equivalent per person for a 4,000 mile flight. To put that into perspective, a typical gasoline vehicle produces 4 tons of CO2 emissions in an entire year. But don’t cancel your flight just yet. There are a number of airlines that are now using biofuels for their commercial flights because of the known fact that air travel is the biggest contributor to CO2 emissions of any long-distance travel trip.

The aviation industry is getting swept into the international movement to reduce C02 emissions partially due to a surge of eco-conscious travelers demanding greater eco accountability. By using renewable jet fuels derived from such things like algea, waste carbon, or corn-based ethanol, the airline industry may very well be able to reduce C02 emissions by at least 25% within a few short years.

“Algae is a good alternative fuel source for this industry. It’s an alternate feedstock for bioethanol refinery without the need for pretreatment. It’s lower cost than coal or natural gas. It also provides for a more efficient way of carbon capture and utilization,” says Joshua Yuan, chair of Synthetic Biology and Renewable Products in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Plant Pathology and Microbiology.

According to reportlinker.com, the biofuels industry is poised to grow by $1.31 billion between 2022 and 2026. That would be a compound annual growth rate of 6.74%. Exxon Mobil, for example, is investing $600 million in algae. Algae is highly synergistic with the established oil and gas industries, and it can be refined on the same site as is petroleum.

Airliners that have used biofuels for their commercial flights include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Azul Airlines, British Airways, Finnair, Japan Airlines, Jet Blue, KLM, Lufthansa, Scandinavian Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Australia, and Virgin Atlantic. As for Jet Blue , it is using sustainable aviation fuel at its hub in the Los Angeles International Airport. It is working with World Energy and World Fuel Services so that it can get sustainable aviation fuel.

“Sustainable aviation fuel is one of the most promising ways to rapidly reduce air travel emissions and help our industry move toward our net-zero goals,” says Sara Bogdan, JetBlue director of sustainability.

Other tactics that eco-friendly airlines are implementing include; sustainable in-flight products, eliminating single use plastics, sourcing local food service, coating technologies to make the planes lighter, and improved aerodynamics.

The next time you are planning a vacay that includes air travel, visit the website alternativeairlines.com which allows travelers to search for flights using biofuels. While the options are limited, the site did produce some very possible alternative flight itineraries.

Happy green traveling.

Energy Efficient Remodeling Ideas for Older Homes

Energy Efficient Remodeling Ideas for Older Homes


Energy efficiency is one of the largest topics for homeowners in recent years. Buyers want a property that will have predictable bills, and homeowners want to lower the monthly charges they’ve been seeing.

If you’re interested in finding energy-efficient remodeling ideas for your home: consider trying some of these tips!

Seal Your Home From Top to Bottom

Your home should be as sealed as possible. This means everything from the roof to the floor should be air-tight and capable of handling anything you throw at it. The most common areas people miss are their soffit, roof gaps, their HVAC system, and the exhaust from their washer and dryer, and stove. Make sure these allow for one-way flow only, stopping your home from filling with whatever temperature you’re avoiding.

Inspect Your Windows and Doors for Air Leaks

Windows and doors are the largest culprits for heating and cooling issues. Carry a lit candle near your windows and doors, and watch the flame carefully. If it suddenly pulls towards, or away from, any door or window: you have an air leak. There are a couple of options for what you can do next. You can either replace the windows and doors entirely, or you can go for something smaller like a window sash replacement and simply weatherstripping your door. Although eventually, you’ll want to replace them: this can be a fantastic fix in the meanwhile.
Check Your Insulation Levels
How well insulated is your home? Do you know the last time your insulation was checked? If you’re not sure, call a professional and ask for them to check out your property. Be aware that if your insulation hasn’t been checked in over forty years, the company you work with will probably charge extra in case of asbestos. This is a normal charge and will protect them from a potentially hazardous environment.
Know What Solar Can Do For You!

Solar can help both your home and the environment in one go. By absorbing solar rays and converting that power into electricity, it can lessen the amount of power your home needs to draw from the grid. Beyond that, this can also give you tax cuts that many homeowners are thankful to grab.

Although solar is expensive upfront, you’ll save enough money in the long term that this equipment will pay for itself over time. This isn’t a great fit for every home, depending on which direction it’s facing, but it’s a fantastic choice if you want to source your energy in a greener way.

Make the Switch to Energy Efficient Lighting

Your lighting could be doing more damage to your bills than you expect! Just like you wouldn’t expect roller skates to be useful on a crush-and-run driveway, you can’t expect the same old lightbulbs that haven’t been updated in sixty years to offer the amount of energy-efficient LED bulbs can. With brighter and clearer light, longer lifespans, and more energy efficiency, there’s no reason to avoid these bulbs. They’re very useful and offer everyone an affordable chance to have a greener home.

Replace Any Older Roof or Siding

Your old roof and siding could be holding you back. These both protect your home from the elements when they’re in good condition, but the second they’re older, you’ll realize they’re holding you back and leaking a lot of air (and possibly moisture!). Go for a roof that will last over fifty years and works great with solar, like slate shingles! For your siding, it’s vital that you pick something that’s both attractive and sturdy. Some types of siding can work well over thirty years, although they can be a little more expensive.

Check Your Foundation and Repair if Necessary

If you test your windows and doors, and over half of them are leaking, aren’t shutting correctly, and seem almost tilted despite being fine not long ago: it’s time to look at your foundation. One of the main reasons it’s vital to fill cracks in concrete is water can take a small issue and blow it out of proportion in no time. Keep an eye out for any foundational issues: and call a professional if you suspect something might be wrong.

Add Extra Shade On Your Home’s Windows

Although no tree should be anywhere near your roof: you can shade your home by using greenery that covers your windows to some degree. By planting shrubs and bushes along the exterior of your home, the light will be more filtered before it gets to your windows. This will allow less heat to come in and will protect your home. Beyond this, when paired with landscape drains, local shrubs can also help keep water out of your yard, an added bonus!

Every Property Can Be More Energy Efficient

Your property should be as energy efficient as possible. Take the time to follow these tips, and you’ll be amazed at how much your heating and cooling bills will drop!

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Susan Holmes is a contributor to Innovative Building Materials. She is an editor and content writer for the environmental industry. Susan is focused on helping fellow homeowners, contractors, and architects discover materials and methods of construction that increase property value, maximize energy savings, and turn houses into homes.

Chicago Announces Plan to Power City with 100% Renewable Energy

Chicago Announces Plan to Power City with 100% Renewable Energy

Chicago’s public buildings could all be powered by renewable energy under a plan announced by Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Aug. 8.

The mayor, along with Illinois Gov JB Pritzker, on Monday said the city has an agreement with Chicago utility Constellation Energy, along with Massachusetts-based Swift Current Energy, a renewable energy developer. The two spoke at a news conference at the Chicago Urban League. The deal would make Chicago one of the world’s largest cities to commit to using 100% renewable energy.

“I am incredibly proud to advance this commitment to transitioning all city operations to 100% renewable energy by 2025,” Lightfoot said. “The signing of this agreement demonstrates that the City of Chicago is leading by example and driving high-impact climate action, building the clean energy workforce of the future and equitably distributing meaningful benefits to foster the local clean energy economy for all.”

Climate Action Plan

Construction of projects related to the plan is set to begin by year-end. Lightfoot touted the plan’s job creation potential in addition to how it would reduce the city’s carbon footprint. “The 2022 climate action plan deepens our city’s longstanding commitment to climate action, and sets a goal of reducing emissions in Chicago by 62% by 2040,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor’s office said the agreement with Constellation will support the purchase of renewable energy for all city facilities and operations by 2025. An initial five-year energy supply agreement is expected to begin in January 2023.

“We are providing a clean energy solution that will help the City of Chicago,” said Jim McHugh, chief commercial officer for Constellation Energy.

Large Solar Farm Project

Lightfoot’s office said the agreement also will enable a supply of renewable energy for major organizations across Illinois. The city in 2025 will begin partly powering large facilities such as the city’s airports and other buildings with renewable energy from solar power, which will be generated from a Swift Current Energy solar farm—the 593-MW Double Black Diamond project—in Sangamon and Morgan counties in downstate Illinois.

The groups on Monday said construction and operation of the solar farm is expected to create hundreds of jobs, and would be among the state’s largest solar projects to date.

“We are thrilled to have the City of Chicago as a key customer for the Double Black Diamond Solar project,” said Matt Birchby, co-founder and president of Swift Current Energy, in a statement. “Double Black Diamond Solar has the capacity to create significant benefits for the State of Illinois. We commend the City of Chicago for their leadership in securing 100% clean, renewable energy for all city buildings and operations and Sangamon and Morgan counties for hosting this project.”

“Double Black Diamond makes Sangamon County a leading generator of clean solar power,” said Andy Van Meter, Sangamon County board chairman, in a statement. “We are pleased to host an infrastructure project of this magnitude that will create meaningful and long-lasting benefits for our area and the state. The project will employ hundreds of construction workers and directly create permanent, high paying positions. It will also create a significant, long-term source of tax revenue for our schools and community.”

The mayor’s office said the city also will purchase renewable energy credits from other sources for its remaining power uses, which could include the electricity supply for small- and medium-sized buildings, and street lights.

—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

What Kind of Backyard Grill Is The Most Eco-Friendly?

What Kind of Backyard Grill Is The Most Eco-Friendly?

Grilling outdoors is not only fun and tasty, it saves energy and money. But what type of outdoor grill is most eco-friendly?

We took a look at propane grills, natural gas grills, charcoal burning grills and wood burning grills for backyard grilling, and gave each an Eco Rating.

Charcoal Grills: Charcoal grills burn charcoal briquettes. Briquettes are a combination of elements such as lighter fluid, sawdust, wood by-products, a binder such as starch, and other random additives. Some contain borax, mineral carbon and limestone. When burned, the result releases 105 times more carbon dioxide than propane. Charcoal burning also releases volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) that may cause cancer and other diseases. Charcoal also typically travels a much greater distance from where it is manufactured to end up on our store shelf.

You can, however, buy “true charcoal” at some health food stores. Known as lump coal, this greener fuel is made from hardwood material and contains no chemical additives.
Eco Rating: 3 out of 10.
For comparison, a 1 out of 10 rating would be burning treated scrap job site lumber with lighter fluid. A 10 out of 10 rating would be a grill that releases unicorns that fly around and swallow existing VOC’s in the air.

Gas Grills: Although gas grills use a non-renewable fossil fuel, they produce far fewer carbon emissions than charcoal when burned. The Department of Energy found that gas grills generate 5.6 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour, while charcoal grills produce 11 pounds of carbon dioxide per hour (at 35,000 Btu’s). So, a gas grill is a good choice.

Propane vs. natural gas: Both have a small carbon footprint. Natural gas burns cleaner than propane. Given the choice, use natural gas. Eco Rating: 8 out of 10


Wood burning Grills: Wood burning grills, like Santa Maria style grills, are the preferred choice for full, smoky flavor and true flame. Wood burning bbq’s also burn off particles of soot and dirt that pollute the air. Smoke is a sign of incomplete combustion that occurs when wood burns. Burning wood also releases VOC’s. The smoke smells good, and tastes great, but long-term exposure can cause chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and other respiratory infections.

Hardwoods such as oak that has been properly seasoned, burn hotter and more thoroughly. Although way better than charcoal, the California EPA recommends that residents discontinue wood burning. To that, I say, not a chance. This is my preferred grill, hands down.

Just don’t inhale, and get a good burn going that minimizes smoke, and maximizes complete burning. Eco Rating: 5 out of 10

Wood-Pellet Grills: Wood-pellet burning grills were first introduced to the market about 30 years ago. They are electric and do not use lighter fluid. Wood pellet grills heat up faster than charcoal, and are easier to control the temperature setting, so that’s a plus. The National Cancer Institute has stated that wood pellet grills could potentially have a lower cancer risk compared to split wood grills.

Wood pellets are considered an alternative heat source, utilizing previously discarded sawdust and biomass, such as bark. Wood pellets are available regionally and locally, which helps them earn the distinction as being carbon-neutral. In other words, using wood pellets produces the same amount of carbon emissions that are absorbed by the tree growing process.

Wood pellets are generally thought to be a green fuel source. Eco Rating: 7 out of 10.

Electric Grills: Probably the consumer least favorite type of backyard grill is the electric grill. However, electric grill technology has come a long way in recent years. New electric grills have a very even, consistent heat distribution, and can reach temperatures just north of 600° F. Electric grills also have the advantage of coming in smaller sizes, and wood or charcoal space is not needed.

If you have a solar energy system, then you are producing your own clean electricity for the grill, and are now that much more environmentally friendly.

Electric grills have their advantage in a condo or apartment situation, where there are restrictions on open flames, and smoke. But in my opinion, an electric grill is not an option for backyard grilling. Expect to pay a bit more. But they tend to last longer. Eco Rating: 8 out of 10

But wait, there’s one more type of grill.

Solar Grills: Clean and infinitely renewable solar energy is always a winner. But is it good for grilling? Well, common sense tells me that they can’t be very good for grilling at night. Most of the solar grills on the market use reflective panels to capture and concentrate the light on one spot, thus increasing the heat potential.

The Helios Solar Grill boasts an innovative, futuristic design. About the size of an average charcoal grill, this solar cooker soaks up sun through a reflective parabolic dish and then transfers the energy to a receptor that heats a coil.

The GoSun Solar cooker promises to cook in cloudy weather. It uses an evacuated glass tube and effectively captures light from a broad range of angles, using parabolic reflectors and borosilicate glass.

There are more than 500,000 solar grills being used in India and China, and 100,000’s more being used around the world. And, although I understand the benefit of this type of solar grill, I do not see it as a viable option or replacement to a gas or wood burning backyard grill here in the US. Not yet, at least. Eco Rating: 9.5 out of 10