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Apr 22

Green Living Tip | Pedal power: Bicycles on a roll in big cities

With gasoline prices hitting $4.40 in parts of California and averaging $3.85 across the nation this October, there may never be a better time to bike to work or school.

But for those who need more persuading, consider this: every 6 miles biked instead of driven save 3.5 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions and 9 cents in health care costs, according to Danish studies.

European cities — in particular Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Paris and Berlin — have long been bicycle friendly. In Copenhagen, officials say half the residents there commute on bicycles.

This spring, Copenhagen opened an 11-mile “bicycle superhighway” to the western suburb of Albertslund, equipped with air pumps every mile, footrests and lights. With the superhighway, and plans for more like it, city officials hope to encourage even more bicycle ridership. Studies show it cuts health costs by keeping people more physically fit and reducing pollution.

Copenhagen officials believe the superhighway will convince more people to take two-wheel transit as a serious alternative to regular train or car travel.

In the congested Danish city, bicycles are simply more convenient than cars, many point out. That feeling is shared by a growing number of people in American cities, including New Yorkers.

In the past six years, at the urging of Mayor Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New York City has added 255 miles of bicycle lanes onto streets previously dedicated to cars. In a recent poll by the New York Times, 66 percent of respondents said they were a good idea.

And in March, New York is scheduled to launch an ambitious Paris-like bike-sharing program, with 7,000 bikes at 420 stations.

Can a Manhattan “cycle superhighway” be far behind?

Henrik Dam Kristensen, Copenhagen’s minister for transport, speaks for many when he talks about the transformative power of peddling.

“When you have been biking for 30 minutes, you have a really good feeling about yourself,” he told the New York Times. “You really enjoy a glass of wine because you’ve earned it.”

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Apr 15

Dishwasher Debate: Scrape, or Rinse?

Ask a group of people if it’s best to rinse – or simply scrape — the dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, and you’re likely to get a discussion worthy of the U.N. Council on Foreign Affairs.

For the final word, we consulted the American Council for an Energy Efficient America. That group’s advice – whether you’re buying a new dishwasher or using an existing one — is as follows:

Avoid Hand-Washing
Studies are showing more and more that, when used to maximize energy-saving features, modern dishwashers can outperform all but the most frugal hand washers.

Scrape, Don’t Rinse
Studies show that most people pre-rinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher, even though dishwashers purchased within the last 5–10 years do a superb job of cleaning even heavily soiled dishes. If you find you must rinse dishes first, get in the habit of using cold water.

Follow Manufacturer Instructions
Completely fill the racks to optimize water and energy use, but allow proper water circulation for adequate cleaning.

Wash Only Full Loads
The dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it’s half-full or completely full, so nothing will save more energy than waiting to run your dishwasher. If you find that it takes a day or two to get a full load, use the rinse and hold feature common on newer models. This will prevent build up of dried-on food while saving time and water compared to pre-rinsing each item. The rinse feature typically uses only 1 to 2 gallons of water.

Use Energy-Saving Cycle Options
Pay attention to the cycle options on your dishwasher and select the cycle that requires the least amount of energy for the job. Use the no-heat air-dry feature on your dishwasher if it has one.

Turn Down the Water Heater Temperature
Since the early 1990s, most dishwashers in the U.S. have been sold with built-in heaters to boost water temperature to 140–145 degrees, the temperature recommended by manufacturers for optimum dishwashing performance. The advantage to the booster heater is that you can turn down your water heater thermostat to 120 dergees (typically half-way between the “medium” and “low” settings).

Apr 08

Live Green: Energy-Saving Ideas of the Future



Here’s a thought to ponder on your next jog around the park:  What if you harness all that energy you’re generating (and basically wasting) as you pound the pavement?

In fact, industrial design engineer Laurence Kemball-Cook has given the matter great thought.  Kemball-Cook wants to put people on the power grid by harnessing their daily expendable energy. “Imagine if your walk home in the morning could power lights for your walk home in the evening,” says Kemball-Cook, who has worked for one of Europe’s largest utility companies. His solution is Pavegen, a flooring tile that absorbs kinetic energy from footsteps and converts it into electricity.

Kemball-Cook hopes to present his ideas at the 2013 TED Conference. The annual gathering of top thinkers in technology, entertainment and design – described by some as a four-day “brain spa” — is scheduled Feb, 25 – March 1 in Long Beach and Palm Springs, Calif., and in the summer in Edinburgh, UK, During the conference, founded in 1984 in Silicon Valley, the planet’s most creative brains each get 18 minutes to pitch their ideas to a worldwide audience, which are live streamed.

Harnessing energy in innovative ways promises to be a big theme in 2013, as evidenced by ideas presented during the current talent search for speakers, TED bloggers report:

Sails: A more efficient wind energy?

Hassine Labaied, CEO of Energy Sahphon in Tunisia, North Africa, says wind will figure prominently as a future energy source.  But harnessing it viathe 400-year-old technology of windmill turbines – as it’s done currently — is expensive and only 30-35% efficient, he argues. Additionally, power produced by windmill turbines can’t be stored. Labaied proposes a zero-blade system inspired by sailboat design, which he says is cheap and clean, and produces storable energy.

Weather power:  Harvesting energy from rain, hail, snow and wind

Fourteen-year-old Raymond Wang says the idea hit him while he was lying in bed one rainy evening.  What if you could capture the energy produced by precipitation and other natural forces? In his presentation to TED curators in Vancouver, Canada, Wang argued that by using pizoelectric materials, the mechanical stress of precipitation can be easily converted into electricity.;TEDVancouver

Solar energy:  A tent over the desert

MIT researcher Otto Ng advocates suspending a canopy of of mirrors and sensors over sand, moving to reflect and capture the energy from the sun.  Ng, a technologist and architect, says his proposed “Powerscape” structure is 100 times smaller in scale than a solar energy infrastructure and can generate and store electricity for future use.;TEDSeoul;TEDSeoul

Biogas:  Human waste, put to good use

According to Josiah Omotto, 60 percent of Nairobi, Kenya’s 4 million people live in informal settlements, without conventional toilets. Omotto and his team at the Umande Trust human-rights agency have been working with communities to build biocenters that are capable of converting human waste into usable electricity.;TEDNairobi