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Archive for the ‘Energy’ Category

Rechargeable BatteriesThinking of making the switch to rechargeable batteries? Like other energy efficiency tweaks, rechargeable batteries have an upfront cost, but the long-term benefits are very worth the investment and pay for themselves in just two years. One set of rechargeables can replace hundreds of single-use (disposable) batteries, billions of which are used each year in the US alone. Most of these disposable batteries are not recycled and there is no way to reuse them, making batteries quite the climate mess!

The good news is that rechargeable batteries work great, outperforming regular batteries in most situations (except when used in cameras). Rechargeables also consume up to 23 times fewer natural resources than disposable batteries. Upgrades in technology have allowed rechargeables to become slightly more affordable and better functioning over the years, too. There are now batteries that can be charged using a USB port, eliminating the need for a separate battery recharging station.

Here are some tips to make the switch to rechargeables:

  • Choose high quality batteries to power your life: Here’s a list of the best rechargeable batteries for 2015. Many of the same battery brands you are accustomed to using also offer rechargeables, and there are lots of new companies making great options. Stock up on a few sets, get a charger, and get started with the savings!
  • Don’t forget to charge ‘em up: One of the hassles with rechargeable batteries is that they need to charge, sometimes for a few hours each. Having backup batteries charged and ready to go can help alleviate the stress of an important toy or game that suddenly stops working (doubly important if you have kids who want to play NOW). Many rechargeables also come pre-charged for last-minute needs.
  • Be aware of the power slide: As batteries age, they may not store energy for as long as newer batteries. Rechargables also tend to lose juice as they sit, so charge a batch of batteries every few weeks if you find that you’re running out of power often. If you use a lot of batteries, perhaps keep a few regular batteries around as you get accustomed to regularly charging up your rechargeable stash.

Want to learn more about rechargeable batteries? Check out these great resources:

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battery image from America’s Best Organics

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energy efficiency for computersMost of us are pretty dedicated to the digital lifestyle, and with good reason. Who could possibly edit a photo, find the way to the bar, or make a meal without all the wonderful websites that make our lives so much easier? As you might suspect, our fascination with all things screen-based requires a lot of energy for both the source but also for the data: about 10% of global electricity usage is for the digital economy alone. According to Greenpeace, “if cloud computing were a country, it would rank sixth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses.” Yikes!

While there’s no way to truly eliminate our use of digital technology, there are some ways that you can make your computer and devices work smarter for you and for the planet.

Here are some tips to reduce the energy use of your computers:

  • Use the energy settings on your computer: Set up your energy saving mode as soon as you get your computer, as they are not set automatically by the manufacturer.
  • Put it to sleep or shut it down: Tucking your computer in for sleep mode (if it’s not automatic, see above) is the most efficient thing to do if you’re going to step away for a coffee break. If you are done for the day, you should turn it off completely. Energy.gov says that most computers will not wear out their on/off capabilities in their lifespan. These actions can save you up to $75/year in energy costs!
  • Use a smart strip: A smart strip is like a power strip but has “master” plugs that turn on other plugs. For example, if your desk has a computer, a printer, a charger and speakers, the computer would be the “master” that limits when the other items turn on and draw power, reducing the vampire power of the other items. When the computer turns off, all other items immediately turn off and are unable to draw any power. (Here’s more info about smart strips.) You can unplug all phone and tablet chargers when not in use to avoid the vampire power they suck up, too.
  • Darken the screens: For Androids and other devices with non-LCD displays, setting your screen (and themes in apps) to black or other dark colors can make a difference in battery usage and thus electricity use.
  • Skip the screensavers: They are mesmerizing indeed, but screensavers don’t actually save electricity. In fact, Energy Star says they can actually increase the energy usage of computers! Instead, turn your screen to black, put your computer to sleep, or turn it off entirely.
  • Clean up your cloud: The data that we store in the cloud seems safe and far away, but it is creating serious energy demands every day. All those apps, games, Instagram photos, and everything else saved in the cloud means your iPhone uses more electricity overall than a refrigerator! To reduce your overall cloud impact, delete what you don’t want and keep your files clean.

Want to learn more about how to decrease your digital footprint? Check out these great resources:

keep calm86054Leaf computer image from here; keep calm image from here

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energy-star-logoEnergy efficiency for electronics is a big action that can make a big difference. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the average house has about 25 different electronic gadgets, including televisions, phones, video game consoles, cable boxes, computers, and probably many more if you have little kids! All these gadgets and electronic items consume lots of energy throughout their short lifetimes — including when they are powered off, leading to several billions of dollars of wasted energy yearly.

Here are some actionable tips to help you make your gadgets as efficient as possible:

    • Do your research: Energy Star is a starting place for more efficient gadgets, but it can also be helpful to do some research to find which item is truly the best for your needs.
    • Choose second-hand carefully: Electronic technology evolves so quickly that an item only a few years old could be light-years behind technologically. Compare the energy needs of secondhand televisions, blenders, toys or other gadgets with their newer versions before making the purchase.
    • Be vigilant with the vampires: Even efficient and Energy Star electronics will use juice when they are turned off, so squash the vampire power by using a power strip, a smart strip or simply unplugging all your electronic items when not in use. 
    • Check the charge: Use a watt meter to determine how much energy your item is using, then make adjustments to reduce the flow. Learn about stand-by modes for gaming consoles and other gadgets. Some gadgets (like cell phones) will have built-in energy meters so you can see what’s using the most power. Take advantage of the energy-saving settings, and find hacks to continually reduce your usage.
    • Don’t forget to recycle the goods: At the end of their useful life, gadgets can give back by being recycled. Check out the EPA guidelines for e-waste recycling and read more about why electronics recycling is so important in our blog post.

Here are some more great resources for getting the best bang for your electronics buck:

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LED light bulb green livingTurning off your lights is an Action that is incredibly simple, yet incredibly important. Just how important depends on which type of light bulbs you have in your home or office. According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent and halogen lights should be turned off any time you leave the room because of high consumption of energy. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) should be turned off if you are not going to be using them for 15 minutes or more; the longevity of CFLs is affected by how often they are turned on/off and they wear out with quick on/off switches. If you have invested in LEDs, the most efficient option for long-term energy and money savings, you can save even more by turning them off each time you leave a room. The longevity of LED lights is not affected by switching on/off too often.

The Energy Collective puts it into perspective: “leaving lights on [while you’re gone for eight hours] costs you roughly 6 cents for a normal light and a bit over 1 cent for modern bulbs. Obviously this isn’t going to break the bank, but if that light switch you forgot to flick off actually runs five lights in the kitchen, we’re talking 30 cents a day, and that bad habit adds up to $110 per year!”

If you want to nerd out and calculate exactly how much you can save by flipping off the switches, the Department of Energy has detailed directions on their site. Keep in mind that daily or even weekly costs will be minimal. However, it’s important to look at all calculations in yearly cost and yearly energy savings. Extrapolating that data to your whole home, your office, your neighborhood, your city, and beyond can demonstrate how powerful a simple action like this can be for saving energy and reducing your footprint.

Can’t remember to turn out the lights? The image below is a fun way to help kids big and small remember to turn lights off. And this article has some great tips for teaching children about energy efficiency and reasons for turning off the lights.

If your family just can’t remember to flip the switch, invest in sensors, smart strips, or other automated home technologies so that you can turn the lights off automatically or remotely.

how-get-kids-save-energy_9411042c76bb513fdea8eef1a788fd6c_3x2lightbulb image from here

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A sneak peak at Oroeco's spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, and gives you personalized tips for saving carbon and money.

A sneak peak at Oroeco’s spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, gives customized tips for saving carbon and money, and rewards you and your friends for taking action.

Earth Day 2014 is upon us! We’re marking the auspicious occasion with the launch of Oroeco BETA, the world’s first service that automatically tracks your impacts on climate change, then rewards you and all your friends for taking actions that lead to a happier, healthier planet. The journey has really just begun. Oroeco’s team, advisors and intrepid beta testers have put in long hours to get us where we are now, but Oroeco is still only scratching the surface of the transformative tool for sustainability we think it can be. We’ll always remain a work-in-progress, as we hope to be adding a LOT more functionality and improving your user experience for many years to come.

Whether or not Oroeco puts a dent in climate change really depends on you. We’re only as powerful as the number of you using us, the amount you decide to take meaningful action, and the friends you encourage to do the same. So go ahead, sign up to take us for a spin; then invite all your friends. If you don’t have one already, you’ll also have to create a (free) Mint.com account to get started, and our About page and FAQ will fill in some details about how and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’d also love to hear your feedback about what you like, what you don’t, and what we should add next to make Oroeco as awesome as can be!

And if you dig Oroeco BETA, stay-tuned for our first awesome mobile app, launching soon(ish)! OK, we’ll get off our self-promotional soapbox now…

We’ve been a bit delinquent about blogging while diving neck-deep into Oroeco’s web app, but we’ll be reentering the blogosphere soon. We’re planning to delve deep into the nitty gritty scientific details of personal sustainability, but we could use your ideas for what you’d like to see us research and write about. So tell us, what burning climate conundrums keep you up at night? Paper or plastic? Trains, planes or automobiles? Cow-fart collectors? We are at your blogging disposal!

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Can gifts be green beyond the wrapping?

‘Tis the season to buy copious quantities of glorious gifts (many of which will promptly land in a closet or Goodwill donation bin). But before you pepper spray yourself to the front of the shopping frenzy, what’s the best way to make both your loved ones and the planet feel warm and squishy inside?

There are a plethora of products marketing themselves as green, as well as sites with green shopping tips for everyone on your list, but even green(er) stuff still generally takes lots more stuff to make it. In theory, a well-picked present could make the recipient’s life greener, particularly if it’s something that saves water or energy. For the gizmo geeks in your life, energy-saving power strips, LED lights and watt meters can make spiffy little bundles of negawatts.

If you don’t think a low-flow showerhead will put a twinkle in Grandma’s eye, you can always cut out the supply chain by employing your own crafty or culinary talents. Or you can just pretend you’re crafty and buy something off Etsy (though, as with food, often buying local doesn’t mean lower impact). Then there’s the vintage route, which cuts out all the production impacts from making new stuff (and rebirths treasures the world really shouldn’t live without, like Mr. T Water War).

But even lovingly crafted goodies take resources to concoct, and The Economist tells us a lot of our gifts aren’t really wanted (our homemade jam collection dates back to 1974!). So unless you gift wisely you’re wasting money, time and resources. Perhaps then a donation is the greenest gift you can give, with plenty of stupendous social and enviro orgs out there, like Kiva and NRDC. Heck, you could even buy offsets for Grandma’s carbon footprint from folks like TerraPass (for those of you who believe in such things).

Of course you’ll always have the Grinches, who insist you don’t gift them anything. And you’ll probably gift something anyway, stubborn treehugger that you are. We suggest a poem or interpretive dance performance. Or a large can of Defense Technology 56895 MK-9 Stream to keep the holiday cheer at bay.

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Keep cozy without your energy $s leaking out the window.

The average American family spends about $1,900 per year on home energy bills. Much of that goes out the window, quite literally. According to the Department of Energy, over half of home energy is wasted in inefficient appliance and under-insulated abodes. On the bright side, most efficiency improvements will pay for themselves quickly, and save you loads of cash in the long run. And there are plenty of free home energy assessment tools out there for owners and renters alike, as well as billions of dollars worth of state and federal incentives.

Heating & cooling make up the largest slices of the home energy pie.

A great place to start is the Home Energy Saver site, which will help you do a detailed home energy audit, then connect up with tax credits, rebates, and financing for efficiency upgrades. There’s also EnergySavers.gov, which has handy tips for greening both your home and your ride. Suggestions range from big investments (replacing windows and adding insulation), to quick fixes that pay for themselves in less than a year (or immediately), like weatherstripping, turning down your water heater, and slashing ~$200 per year off the vampiric tendencies of undead electronics with a power strip diet. If you prefer to be in the hands of a startup instead of government researchers, take a look at WattzOn, which hooks you up with personalized home efficiency and cash incentive suggestions.

Dear Not-So-White House, what’s the R-value of bulletproof glass?

If you want to go the high tech route, you can also take a thermal image of your personal palace with an infrared camera, which will give a stark visual of where heat leaks out while Jack Frost is nipping at your nose (which happen to be the same spots where heat sneaks in during the summertime). As a bonus, renting a thermographic camera will help you investigate paranormal activity, as well as spy on Obama’s R-values.

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