Food Inc. and Energy Anarchy
Jun 22, 2009 by

Last night Jocelyn and I saw this new documentary called Food Inc. http://www.foodincmovie.com/ which explores subject matter revolving around two books, The Omnivore’s Dillemma (by Michael Pollan http://www.michaelpollan.com ) and Fast Food Nation (by Eric Schlosser http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Schlosser and also made into a film directed by Richard Linkletter).  It’s one of those films that you feel like everybody should watch, and if they did, then the world would instantly become a better place.  I knew that there were implications to buying locally made food that involved saving the energy of transport.  But what this film really emphasizes are the less obvious energy inputs that factory farming consumes and which are subsidized by government legislation that is unjustly and exceedingly influenced by the large food processing corporations.  (Of course there’s a huge “health” issue that is really at the heart of the film and which is important, but being an Energy Anarchist I viewed it through the energy lens.)  Why can a fast food hamburger be sold for 99 cents when a pound of brocolli can cost almost 2 dollars?  The answer is the government subsidization of Corn and Soybean crops which prevent the true cost of the energy inputs to be factored in throughout the “fast food chain”.  What does this mean for Americans, particularly those with low incomes who are better able to afford a trip to BK than one to the local supermarket?  Obesity and an extremely high incidence of diabetes.

Overall this film made us feel particularly good about the choice we’ve made to support our new farming friend Christopher Totman, but it’s horrifying to see what our food chain has devolved into.  Energy Anarchists!  We have to eat differently!  It’s another way we can vote with individual actions and effect large and influential outcomes.  Go see this movie and find out why!

Another Great Micro-Energy Source!
Jun 18, 2009 by

I really think the key to developing a healthy and empowered “personal” relationship to power lies in the development of technologies which capture what I like to call “micro energy” sources and which this article refers to as “ambient energy” sources.  In this case the kinetic energy of cars in the parking lot in front of this UK grocery store are captured by “speed bumps” and used to power the cash registers!



Urban Farming, a Bit Closer to the Sun
Jun 17, 2009 by

“City dwellers have long cultivated pots of tomatoes on top of their buildings. But farming in the sky is a fairly recent development in the green roof movement, in which owners have been encouraged to replace blacktop with plants, often just carpets of succulents, to cut down on storm runoff, insulate buildings and moderate urban heat.

“A survey by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which represents companies that create green roofs, found the number of projects its members had worked on in the United States grew by more than 35 percent last year. In total, the green roofs installed last year cover 6 million to 10 million square feet, the group said.

“Tax incentives have accelerated the plantings of green roofs, particularly in Chicago, which has encouraged green roofs for almost a decade. … New York State has subsidies both for roofs with succulents spread out over a thin layer of soil and for edible plants covering a smaller area. A proposed amendment to New York City’s tax abatement for some roof projects would include green roofs.”

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/17/dining/17roof.html

Gadget Charger Harvests Wireless Power
Jun 9, 2009 by

Emerging technology: “Ambient electromagnetic radiation–emitted from Wi-Fi transmitters, cell-phone antennas, TV masts, and other sources–can be converted into enough electrical current to keep a battery topped up, says Markku Rouvala, a researcher from the Nokia Research Centre, in Cambridge, U.K.

“Rouvala says that Nokia’s prototype can harvest up to 50 milliwatts of power–enough to slowly recharge a phone, or keep it running in standby mode. “You can basically have it on standby indefinitely,” he says.

“Historically, energy-harvesting technologies have only been found in niche markets, powering wireless sensors and RFID tags in particular. If Nokia’s claims stand up, then it could push energy harvesting into mainstream consumer devices.

“Nokia is being cagey with the details of the project, but Rouvala is confident about its future: “I would say it is possible to put this into a product within three to four years.” ”

Full article: http://beta.technologyreview.com/communications/22764/

Energy Audits Vex Austin’s Home Sellers
Jun 8, 2009 by

“The city of Austin, Texas, has begun requiring homeowners to conduct energy-efficiency audits before they can sell their house, a move it says provides a model for cities and states seeking ways to push energy conservation.”

“The Austin ordinance requires residents selling single-family homes more than 10 years old to obtain an audit and provide the information to potential buyers. While San Francisco and Berkeley, where audits became mandatory in the 1980s, require owners to make recommended upgrades, Austin doesn’t.”

“Sellers who refuse the audit are subject to being charged with a misdemeanor….”    

Full article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124441959646192659.html

Stimulus Funds Spent to Keep Sun Belt Cool
Jun 8, 2009 by

“Many environmentalists say cutting electricity use for cooling is just as worthwhile as reducing the use of oil or gas for heating. But there are substantial questions about whether it is the most efficient way to save energy.

“Repeated questions have been raised about the effectiveness of weatherization in hot-climate states. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, which evaluates the program for the Energy Department, released a study last year questioning the program’s results in Texas, which will get $327 million in weatherization money from the stimulus law. The laboratory found that insulating homes did not save a significant amount of money on cooling, a finding it said was consistent with previous studies.”

Full article: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/08/science/earth/08weatherize.html  

Micro Energy Savings from your Plasma TV
Jun 7, 2009 by

Hey!  We all know that properly inflating your tires get you better gas mileage.  But did you know that properly calibrating your plasma TV can improve your set’s energy performance?  I didn’t!  But while I was searching for some technical information about how to connect the aforementioned antenna to my Panasonic TH42pz700U I stumbled across a review on CNET that illustrated the following performance enhancements from “calibrating” the set.  I had no idea that this was possible (nor do I know exactly how to do it do any of you?)  But that’s a significant savings of about 1/3 of the juice!


Panasonic TH-42PZ700U Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 464.07 318 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.62 0.42 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.58 0.58 N/A
Cost per year $141.28 $96.92 N/A
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor 



Did I Say No Sports?
Jun 6, 2009 by

OK.  So it’s not that I’m such a sports head, but I do like the drama of some of the larger events.  And today I was lamenting not being able to watch Roger Federer in the French Open Final tomorrow morning at 9am.  (A little early to hit up a bar don’tcha think?)

Anyway, I rode my bike over to JandR and I bought a 34 dollar “HDTV antenna” made by Terk.  I hooked it up to the TV and now I get all the major networks!  IN HD!  And it looks even better than it used to over cable because apparently it’s not compressed whereas the cable company has to squish down the signal to pump all those channels and signals through that skinny little coax wire.

It’s like WiFi for your TV!  What a concept.  And to think, this is how they did it in the old days.

A really helpful website that I found is called “Antenna Web”  http://www.antennaweb.org .  They have a nifty locator that lets you type in your address and it’ll tell you where all the TV signals are beaming from and will show them on a map.  That way if your antenna isn’t picking up the signal so well, you can point it in the right direction.  (If your antenna’s directional that is, some are omni directional.)  The site also explains a lot about what kind of antenna you need and what labels to look for on an antenna when you’re buying one.  (There’s a colorful pie chart symbol used by the CEA to indicate suitability for different applications.)

Check it out!

Unexpected Energy Savings from Eliminating Cable TV!
Jun 4, 2009 by

Like everybody we’re trying to save some money these days and after much deliberation, Jocelyn and I decided we could do without live sports (or at least we could watch them in public somewhere) and so we decided to get rid of all but high speed internet access from the cable company.  I realize this solution isn’t for everybody, but we had 2 DVRs (living room/bedroom) and a regular box (guest room) and, although this wasn’t a factor in our choice, the biggest surprise was we lowered our baseload electricity usage by about 100/110 watts.  I figured this out using TED our energy monitor. (www.theenergydetective.com)

Our TED Energy Monitor

Our TED Energy Monitor

TED works great for keeping an eye on your baseline average use, and for monitoring peaks in your usage.  I’ve never tried the Kill a Watt (www.p3international.com) but I’m planning to get one to check out individual devices with more accuracy which should be particularly helpful for determining “phantom” power draws of chargers and lamps and things.  The TED only has a 10 watt resolution so it doesn’t register the effect of small things like trickle chargers and LED clocks.

Anyway, I did the math and determined that, only factoring in the base load savings, getting rid of cable will probably save us almost 2 months of electricity at our current usage of just under 400KWH a month.  Not having an “always needs to be on” DVR also allowed me to install a switching power strip to the TV area where the amplifier alone draws a whopping 30 watts when it’s off!

How do we survive without cable TV?  The first crisis came when I came home and realized I HAD NO IDEA WHAT TIME IT WAS!  Yup, that ubiquitous cable box clock provides an atomic accurate time stamp that’s become the standard for BBQ timing and New Years revelry alike!  So first we got a clock and put it in the empty space where the DVR used to be.  Then we hooked up a ROKU box (www.roku.com) and an Apple TV.  The ROKU box streams content from your Netflix account and also allows you to buy or rent off the Amazon website.  The Apple TV let’s you view content from your I-Tunes account as well as buy or rent from the I-Tunes store.  The streamable selections in Netflix are pretty limited but we’ve been watching tons of interesting documentaries (these make great background while we’re preparing our home cooked meals made with farm fresh ingredients from Totman’s CSA!)  We also watched the first two seasons of 30 Rock in a crack-like frenzy when we first hooked ROKU up.  Lately we’ve been watching the new season by buying it on Apple TV but are doling it out an episode a week so as to savor it more.  (We learned our lesson during the bleak couple of weeks we withdrew from the first two seasons of 30 Rock!)  It’s an extra buck for HD so after testing the SD wide screen format vs HD,  we’ve been opting for the SD signal which looks great.  Apple TVs streams and downloads look a LOT better than those you get from Amazon right now, so I’m a big fan of the Apple TV and can’t quite figure out why everybody doesn’t have one.

I also got special cables to connect my MacBook Pro to the TV and we’ve been watching the latest season of CSI on streaming downloads from IMDB for FREE!  These are shown with commercials (hence the free part) but so far they’re only showing one every break.

But the biggest lesson we’ve learned is how much energy we were sucking up 24/7/365 with an accurate time-clock being the only justifiable outcome.  I think even if we went back to Cable again I’d probably put the DVR on a programmable timer so it wouldn’t have to be on all the time.  So hopefully this will encourage you all to think about your energy suckers and dump them or put a switch on them today!

Old Wood Is New Coal
Jun 3, 2009 by

“Power companies are burning more trees because the renewable fuel can be cheaper than coal and ignited without needing permits to release carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas blamed for global warming.”

Full article: http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=newsarchive&sid=ardNIC7rNzQE

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