26 January, 2009

Your Electric Bill - part 3

How to understand it, what to do to make it smaller.
So far we've covered the electricity bill in overview, and how to use less energy for air conditioning.  There are still a few tips for all the other energy consumers, and a few things to note about your electricity suppliers.

Another tip about the electric bill:
Some suppliers allow you to install so-called "smart meters" which charge you at a different rate depending on which time of day you consume the electricity.  This is useful for the power companies because they get hit with severe usage at peak periods, so they need to run a lot of generating plant to cover that peak.  And it takes a lot of money (which they can't recover the cost of) to crank up and shut off that generating plant.

Therefore, they charge a premium price to consumers with normal meters, and consumers with smart meters during the peak periods - but then when the peak is over, they encourage smart metered consumers to use electricity in off-peak time with the incentive that it will end up cheaper for them.  That slightly reduces their peak load, and slightly raises their offpeak load, so that the generating equipment can be run at a more consistent load.

So you can save money by making sure your main power draws occur in the offpeak time period, if your power company has an offpeak, and if you get them to install a smart meter for you.  You can do this by installing (for example) a timer to turn the hot water system off during peak times, and perhaps your air conditioning or electric heating as well, if the peak period isn't too long.

The last three energy wasters:
Refrigerating your food is the next cost.  A refrigerator is a heat pump, it uses electricity to pump heat out of the inside of the cabinet to a radiating element on the outside.  Every time you open the door, all the cold falls down and out, because cold air sinks.  That means hot air has flowed in around the top, and now the fridge has to use up more energy to pump that heat out.  The simplest way to save energy on refrigeration then, is to open the door less often, and keep it open for shorter periods.  Another thing that may work for you is to put some strips of  plastic along each shelf so it keeps the cold in on the shelf below, but to do this your shelves need to be solid, not the old style wire racks.

Freezers.  Side opening freezers lose the cold just like fridges, only it's a LOT more expensive to re-chill the freezer.  If you can get a top-opening chest style freezer, that makes the most sense, as the cold will tend t stay pooled inside even if you do open the lid.

And if you have a coolroom or pantry with cooling built in, get freezer curtains installed and again, make sure the door is opened as few times, and for as short a period, as possible each day.  You paid for that cooling, don't waste it!

Now we come to the huge range of convenience devices, things such as microwaves, TVs, DVD players, computers and their peripherals, and the whole slew of things that sit there prodigiously consuming your dollars and the environment.  Computers can, depending on their configuration, chew up between 100W and 800W.  LCD monitors can similarly chew through 200W - 400W depending on their size, brightness settings, and so forth.  As well, they both produce waste heat which you then have to use more energy to pump outside with your A/C system...

Also things like your TV and associated set top boxes, satellite decoders, players and media centers, these all draw power like crazy when turned on, and generate heat to boot.  They still generate heat and draw power in so-called "stand-by" modes too.

And quite often, when you put the TV into standby mode after watching, or put the PC to sleep, the majority of ancillary devices remain switched on...

A suggestion:  There are a number of so-called "smart" powerstrips out there, which turn everything plugged into the "switched" outlets completely off when a device attached to the "master" socket stops drawing power.  In other words, you're swapping five or more devices on standby power for one device on standby power (the TV or computer plugged into the master socket) and a small amount of standby power for the powerstrip itself.  Buy several of these strips and plug one "master" device into it, say the DVD player or whatever draws the least stand-by current and still has a remote, and you could be on your way to saving another 50c to $2.00 per day, depending how many of those vampire power devices you take off your energy needs.  Doesn't sound like much but on a typical electricity bill just doing this alone can save you between $10 and $45 in a single bill.

And PCs have an even more power-conscious smart strip, which relies on the USB port of your computer to activate, so there's not even any vampire power circuit inside there drawing current.  Look out for more and more of these devices to come on the market as manufactuirers realise that people like saving the odd fifty bucks per power bill.

The main thing is - you can unplug these devices for now, and only plug them in when you need them.  If everyone in the house has a PC and/or a laptop, do they all really need to be on all day and all night?  I have a PC which is my media center and which quite often got left on just to play MP3's or the FM radio.  Just by having a small radio around and playing my music on that, I've managed to save about $2 a week on my power bill, as I now only turn on the media PC when I want to watch TV or a video.  That's about $26 per electric bill, right there.  (I get mine each quarter.)

Last thoughts - do you really need the microwave clock to be on all night?  How about all the home entertainment system?  Does it really have to be ready to respond ot the touch of a button, or could you perhaps manage to switch on a master switch and then sit and enjoy remote control convenience?

These are all, of course, your choices, all up to you whether you act on them or not.  But in the end, it's not only your dollar but your world and your life that are being eroded away a kilowatt at a time... 


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25 January, 2009

Why Have There Been So Few EVs?

If this is electric racing, then let me in for some of that...  And let me ask you - if these cars can beat the arse off top fuellers and other technology that's been developed for the past century, then how come car manufacturers couldn't make a decent EV fifty years ago?

Part of the answer of course is that they did, but stopped.  And there has to be a reason behind that failure to develop better tech.  Not any conspiracy, but a nice cosy relationship between the big auto and big oil, the fact that refining is easier than retooling, and a desire to make as many dollars as possible.

Why are the big auto companies still not serious about making good EVs?  That, in a nutshell, is the question.  But when the fastest, highest-accelerating car in the world is powered by batteries and an electric motor, and the most economical and clean in terms of pollution produced per mile are electric, it sometimes seems there's a conspiracy to pollute as much of the Earth as possible and see how many people die off, doesn't it?

Not helping are the pathetic lame-arsed piles of crap the auto companies are trying to lead off with, starting with Toyota's much-vaunted Prius which is really not that much of an advance over most any small economical petrol-engined car.

Why do I say that?  Because to be really serious, Toyota should have led off not with a stupid petrol-engined car that uses electric power like some kind of glorified clock spring reservoir, but a diesel car with plug-in electric capability right from the start.  As we've just seen, despite their protestations, the damn technology IS TOO there, and has been for decades.

And a huge part of the reason is (get braced for it) - US, dear people.  If you dug your heels in and asked at the dealer for a car that's able to run on electric rechargeable power and relatively clean biodiesel at need, then by now that vehicle would exist.  But by buying "one more while I'm waiting for the new clean vehicles" we're all contributing to the feet-dragging.  A bit like "aw, just one more cigarette," really...  And meanwhile, we're shortening the lifespans and reducing the living standards of our children and grandchildren, and working on leaving a many generations legacy of the not-so-good kind behind us...


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23 January, 2009

Your Electric Bill - part 2

How to understand it, what to do to make it smaller.
Last article, I posted a typical electric bill and decoded some of the obscure bits.  Then I laid out the recording phase of reducing your energy bill, where you investigate what your appliances draw, how long they operate for each day, etc.  You should have a notebook page or three full of figures, notes, and observations.  If you don't, it's probably time to go back and re-read that article, and do take the notes.  
Now for a few thoughts to reduce that energy bill.
How do I reduce my energy usage?
Look at your notepad.  The four most common things that increase your energy bill are listed here.  I bet you'll have found at least two of these things in your own list.
  1. Environment Climate Control.  By this, I mean air conditioning, heating, and use of fans.  And most of the time, you can markedly reduce this and save energy, money, and environment.
  2. Refrigeration and Food Storage.  Whether you have a single refrigerator or a huge pigeon pair plus a freezer in the garage and a coolroom pantry, there are still energy saving tips.
  3. Computers and computer related devices.  A surprisingly large portion of your energy sheet will be consumed by computers and peripherals.
  4. Vampire power.  By now most people are familiar with the term "vampire power."  It means the current flowing when a device is "switched off" but still on standby so that you can save getting up, and instead awaken the device with the remote control.
I'll tackle these in order.
Air Conditioning Tips:
When you checked your A/C, you would have found one of several types.  A refrigerated air conditioning system, which is best in terms of keeping the house cool, but expensive to run.  An evaporative cooler system, which is much cheaper to run but won't get as cold as a refrigerated system.  And then there are the newer so-called "inverter" systems which are a refrigerated A/C but save you a little on power - and more if you take the advice I'm about to give.  One other important difference, refrigerated A/C systems can also come as a "reverse cycle" unit that heats as well as cools.
The only type of air conditioning system which you should have running with doors or windows open is the evaporative style cooler.  These have a large (generally 600W - 1200W) motor for the fan, and a small (< 100W) motor to pump water over the cooling screens.  These systems actually need windows or doors open, and the best place to do that is on the side away from the prevailing wind, so that the waste air is sucked out of the house and thus assists the evaporation and the fan.  There's little practical difference between running such systems in "air only" and "cooling" modes, because in cooling mode you're only turning on a small water pump.
If you have a refrigerated A/C system and any doors or windows open, then you deserve the electricity bill you're going to get.  These systems consist of two motors:  A) a fan to move air, as for the evaporative system above, but much smaller because these systems don't need to move quite the volume of air which evap systems need to move, and B) a motor to drive a compressor to provide the cooling.  The fan motor will be running constantly to move air, and the compressor will cut in each time the thermostat clicks on due to the air over it being too warm.  
The compressor motor will draw the majority of the energy, so it's important to keep heat out of the air.  That means, if you have a window or door open to the outside, the thermostat will be on almost contuinuously, and so will that compressor motor, chewing through your dollars...
Keeping the heat outside, by closing doors, drawing curtains on the sun side, etc, should be your primary concern.  The less times the compressor has to run each day, the less will be your energy bill.  Note that by setting the thermostat for not quite so cold a temperature will also result in substantial savings.  The primary best thing a refrigerated A/C does is to remove excess humidity from the air, and that will actually make warmer air seem sufficiently cold, so sometimes just 5 degrees below outside temps can be sufficient.  
The same sorts of things need to be applied in the case of heating, or running the A/C in reverse cycle mode - keeping the outside out is your main priority.
One exception is the new breed of "inverter" A/C units.  These don't just switch the compressor on and off, they can vary the amount of cooling effort of the compressor, so that you don't get the heavy and expensive "surge" that happens each time an electric motor is turned on.  It actually saves you a significant amount over older style A/C systems, and perhaps if your A/C is getting a bit old, an inverter system should be on your list of things to do.
Here's a much less obvious source of poor energy efficiency with air conditioning systems - power wasters in your home that produce heat.  The refrigerator that you're also checking on the energy use of - it uses energy to remove the heat from your foodstuffs and pumps it into the air inside your house! Where your A/C has to process it a second time and cool the resulting hot air...
Less obvious sources of heat again are:  Cooking heat (is your range hood in good order, and does it move that heat outside not back into the house again?) and the heat from TVs, PCs, monitors, and other devices.  Best way is to feel above them with your hand - are they generating a steady warmth even when on standby? When operating?  
The best answer is to not leave such devices running, have a range hood over the cooking area, and if you have a refrigerator in an alcove, try and get some form of venting installed above it that takes the heat outside the house.
Two last things to consider when you're looking at your climate control bill - is there insulation in the ceiling and the walls, and is there a ventilator for the ceiling space?  These two things together can cut your climate bill by a quarter.
In part 3 I'll cover the other power wasters and how to deal with them.
(to be continued)


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21 January, 2009

Basic Engagement Survey

Quick - survey! Please pop over to SurveyMonkey and take the three minutes to let me know what you think!


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20 January, 2009

Your Electric Bill - part 1

How to understand it, what to do to make it smaller.
So (in this time of increasing energy costs) you've just received your electricity bill, and done a double take at the final number in the bottom right hand corner.  Problem is, the rest of the bill looks like gibberish, and even if you're one of the people to whom the bill makes sense, it still doesn't help you because, like, umm - what can you do about it?

I'll try and explain the bill, and also give a few tips about what you can do to perhaps make it significantly smaller next time.  That way, you're not only doing something nice for your wallet, but also something good for the environment.  And quite possibly, for your health, too.

First, let's take a look at an electricity bill that left its recipient floored.  (No, it wasn't me, it was a friend who had just moved to a new house, with all sorts of new gotchas.  After we discussed it, they now have a strategy in place and expect to have a bill that's only half this amount, next time.)


The bit that the electric company charges you for, I've outlined that in yellow.  The difference between the previous meter reading and the current meter reading, that's the amount of energy you've used during the billing period.  I've outlined that in red in the picture, you can do the maths yourself if you like, but generally, electric companies are pretty good at doing basic math.  The next bit, which I've outlined in green, is the price per unit of energy.  For this person, that rate changed on Dec 31 to a new, and much higher, rate, hence the bill is split into two sections.  And lastly, there's the dollar amount that this energy has cost you.

There is also a "service to property" charge, that's pretty much profit to the energy company as once the power line is supplied, it ceases to need much in the way of service.  But this money is often put towards repairs to street power lines etc.

What is a "unit" of electricity?
In general, (and you might want to check this with your electric company as they generally don't put this information on the bill) a unit of electricity is a kilowatt/hour. (kWh.)  That is, it's how much electricity a 1000watt device will consume in an hour.  A 100watt device will take 10 hours to consume a kWh, a 2000watt device will consume that kWh in half an hour.  It's pretty simple maths.  If all your gadgets and appliances draw 10,000W between them, and are turned on all together for six minutes (one tenth of an hour) they will chew up one kWh, which is generally one unit.

Your aim is to examine all your appliances and work out how much energy they use, and for how long each day they are drawing that amount of energy.

So what should I do next? 
Start by looking at the devices and appliances you have sitting around the house.  They generally have a ratings plate somewhere on them which will give you the energy consumption of the device.  Ignore "energy star" ratings stickers which give you the total energy consumption of the appliance over a full year of average use for the moment - we'll use those energy star ratings a bit later to check our work.

For now, you need a notepad and patience and a few days to write things down and work them out.  Start by writing down all your major appliances, (give them a few lines each, you'll be adding details to each one as we go) and then check the ratings plate and write down the rating of each device.  For an electric kettle or jug, for example, you'll generally find a small plate on the jug or it's power base saying something like "240VAC, 2200W" - it's the "W" part you want, so write down "Jug/kettle, 2,200W" in your notebook.

Do that for all the major appliances in your household, fridge, A/C, hot water system, etc.  Don't panic at this stage if you add them all together - this is their rated energy draw, most of these devices aren't using this much power continuously.  Phew!  Don't forget to add TVs, home theatre systems, plasma and LCD, portable heaters or coolers.

For air conditioning (A/C) systems and units, the rating is often given in horsepower (HP) and for a reverse cycle system (which is on that both cools and heats) there will usually be two ratings on the plate, one for normal cycle one for reverse cycle, you'll need to use whichever one is relevant at the time you're recording it.  If your A/C's rating is in HP, work on the rough basis of 900W = 1HP. It's close enough for this purpose.

Now for some less obvious ones.  How many PCs and laptops, LCD and old style screens, DVD players, phone chargers, PDA and iPod bases, old style filament bulb security lights, and so forth?  Even if you don't know exactly what they draw (many don't explicitly state it on the plate) write each of them down.

Here's a rough guide: (I emphasise - it is a rough guide only!)
  • A PC running or with screensaver will draw about 100W.
  • In hibernate mode it will still draw 25W or more.
  • A normal 19" LCD monitor will be around the same.
  • A laptop will run 90W operating or charging, about half that when hibernating.
  • Leaving a laptop or ipod or phone charger plugged in but not connected to a device, count about 5W - 15W per device.
  • Each TV, DVD player, or other device plugged in and on standby will draw between 5W and some TVs go as high as 50W in standby mode.
  • Each ADSL router, WiFi router, or printer will draw about 40W when running.  
  • Each old style filament light bulb will have its wattage printed on it.  The average is 70W.
  • Larger outdoor security and flood lights will draw 150W to 300W apiece.  Ratings on each bulb.
  • Each CFL energy saving bulb will also have its wattage written on it, average is 11W.
And now, you watch and wait.  For the next week, watch each of the things on your list, and estimate how many hours a day they are working and drawing power.  (Also, in the case of chargers, TVs, and other devices, whether they get unplugged when not in use or are on "standby" power - i.e. plugged in and ready to be switched on by a remote or by just plugging the phone or iPod in.)

I'll continue this article in a few days - for the moment, keep your notebook and start to get a feel for how often the major appliances operate each day, record notes and times and anything else you think of next to each item in your notebook.

(to be continued)

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17 January, 2009

Blame The Right Things.

A week ago I listened to Lance Armstrong and what stuck with me wasn't anything to do with bicycle racing, it wasn't his philosophy, it wasn't even really his work with Livestrong.  No, it was the flat blaming of the cancer itself.

Everyone does this. "It was the cancer that got her, lung cancer"  or "Colon cancer.  Colon cancer killed him."

No. No! NO! The cancer was caused by something!  Foods with additives, cigarettes that addict, fumes that cling to towns and cities and sicken the people.  Cancers are the executioner, but the other things are what kills people.

And if you say that cancer was around forever and we just never knew what it was, I say crap.  Almost all causes of death from a few hundred years ago to millenia ago are known, and cancers weren't in anywhere near as much proliferation as we now have.  Cancer is very much a 20th and 21st Century phenomenon.

And my research for The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook emphasised the close relationship between additives and cancers and inflammatory diseases.  Additives = illness.


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16 January, 2009

Throwing Out The Baby

I do so admire the clean tech sites like Gizmodo's Treehugger site.  Set up to promote awareness of clean and sustainable technologies, the site is the hippie's answer to existence.  Or is it?  In these two separate articles, Treehugger is expressing very negative sentiment about some of our cleanest technology, solar PV cells.

It's the kind of bullshit wibbling behaviour they've started to become famous to me for.

Every TreeHugger worth their roots loves solar power. After the (not always low) upfront costs are paid back you get free power from the sun, without emitting greenhouse gases or supporting continued extraction of fossil fuels. What’s not to like, right? 

And it's right, in a limited way.  Yes you get "free power from the sun" but THAT'S NOT THE POINT OF DOING IT YOU KNOB ENDS! It's the second bit, the bit about no more fossil fuels and no more greenhouse gas emissions that we do it for!

Unfortunately, both those articles go on to lambaste the solar PV cell industry "stronger supervision needed" and "toxic byproducts: up the wazoo - FFS get over yourself!  Over the 25 year life of those solar panels, they will take away the need for burning fossil fuel or "clean coal" that will more than balance out what it took to make the PV cells in the first place.  Once solar factories cotton that they can eat their own dogfood and use solar electricity to power the manufacturing process, you'll have one less thing to whinge about.  And when, in 25 years' time, they figure out how to extend the life of the arrays or recycle them into better PV cells, another bastion of your whinge will have fallen.

It's like nuclear power - every whiny little greenie is up in arms dead set against nuclear power plant - but the fact remains that even if 10% of them melt down over their lifetimes, they would still provide clean low impact power with less damage to the ecosystem than "clean coal" and fossil fuels and all the manufacturing steps inherent in those would cause in the same time.

Non-Treehugger question - why is the USA wanting to keep GMO's out of their food chain? Considering that the first time two primitive amoeba played mummies and daddies they were already indulging in genetic modification something akin to REussian Roulette?  Don't forget all those cheap DNA labs in people's homes, with people now hacking DNA.  Nothing will remain sacrosanct any more.  And your "policies" won't be able to do a damn thing to stop any of them anyway.  These GMOs, by the way, are designed mostly to have less impact on the environment, provide better yields or better quality, and are going to be the only way to save the States (and soon, other countries) from famines.

But no, in both cases the baby gets thrown out with the bathwater, and it's usually done in an effort to make sure baby stays clean.  Hate to say it but being ecologically sound also means being good to ourselves, and it means that we need to pick the best of a not very perfect set of options.


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15 January, 2009

Spinning A Carbon Web

Some schemes calling themselves "green" are a bit umm...   dubious perhaps.  There's a site where you go and get to watch videos; and that is supposed to generate "carbon points" and donations to your favourite charity and cash for you.

I initially logged in there and poked around, but there seems to be very little to their site that looks like it could generate the kind of revenue that means that they can offer the readers money, (or offer to pay money to charities on behalf of the reader,) and put money into the carbon offset projects they claim to be supporting.  The carbon offset projects themselves are dubious, as with most carbon offset projects, and I noticed that most seem to be pretty unknown to the world in general. These things make me wonder about what the real point of the site is.

There's another reason I find this place to be a bit dubious.  Considering how much it costs each time you do a Google search, perhaps this isn't the way to achieve greenness.  If you're not making a lot of money to begin with (likely scenario) and out of that you're paying staff wages, server hosting costs, electricity costs; and you then take what's left of the money and apply that to some dubious carbon offsetting scheme; and assuming that the amount of offsetting that can take place for your fiscal input is going to be quite small; then you have to ask yourself "did that just cover even the carbon cost of running our servers, and the accommodations of our staff, and our office?" and most likely you'll find that you've just put your wage in your pocket, and cost the earth a bit more greenhouse gas emissions than you saved.

But what really clinches it is this superyoubeaut email I got, exhorting me to get back in there and generate my share of carbon emissions, suck down my share of "it's not advertising it's serious videos", and I could be the next person to create my bit of instant wealth.  All that was missing was a Netherlands address to send my details to, honestly...

Hi Ted,
We wanted to inform you that we have a new winner in Save the Planet and Win!
He participated in a Movic Records promotion that consisted of watching music videos to offset his carbon, and won the grand cash prize offered.
Click Green and Win is green entertainment that rewards the planet!
Every time you view an ad or video from a Click Green and Win promotion, sponsors will thank you by:
- Neutralizing a portion of your personal carbon footprint with accredited carbon offsets.
- Supporting your favorite social causes with sponsor money.
- You also earn real-live cash every time, or trade points for more carbon offsets.
- You are entered for a chance to win Grand Cash Prizes instantly.
For a list of other lucky winners, please access www.savetheplanetandwin.com and go to our "Winners" section inside the "Community" label.
Remember that with Save the Planet and Win the earth is always the big winner... but you can run a close second!
Thanks for being part of the Solution!
The Save the Planet and Win team. 

Want me to take you seriously?  Seriously?  Then if you're sending one of these "we have a WWIINNAAHHHHHHH!" emails, either mention the name of the wwiinnaahhhh (it's kind of de rigeur for these kinds of announcements,) or else leave all gender references out and make the point that the winner wished to remain anonymous, so that I can at least half believe this crap.

Oh - and saying to go to the site and see the "other lucky winners" is just a blatant ploy to get hits on the homepage, so you can point out to your customers (the ones making the videos and wanting exposure for them) how many people are seeing their product.

Go there if you want to feed their hit counter, and decide for yourself if it's spam, scam, or something real.


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12 January, 2009

Browner Shades Of Green

Examples of when "greenwashing" just isn't enough:

http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/ces-2009-green-is-here-but-its-made-to-stand-in-the-corner.php
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/ces-2009-horizons-renewable-energy-science-kits.php
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/ces-2009-the-6-in-1-solar-toy-kit.php
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/01/ces-2009-powermat.php

... need I say more?

And sorry for the "random links yanked from a site" format but I want to make the point that so many companies aren't taking the message seriously, from minimising green at their CES booths to not using recycled materials in toys meant to raise awareness of ecologically important issues, to making claims but not demonstrating them.


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09 January, 2009

Does One EV Look A Lot Like Any Other?

Maybe that's because it is.  Mitsubishi is licensing their "i MiEV" to European car manufacturers.  If you check out the main players in the EV field, you'll see that many either have a similar looking product, or else it's deliberately "out there" and concept car looking.

No idea why the styling has to be so stand-out, but it's perhaps one of the reasons why small utilitarian EVs aren't quite as accepted yet - what the Toyota Prius achieved with distinctive styling and building a green reputation around it, perhaps these are efforts to cash in on that, maybe if cars are shaped weird, people will realise that with such weird shapes, these just have to be green cars, right?

The bigger marques seem to have gone more with their traditional styling, while all the start-ups seem to have either low-slung sports styling, or else they look like the old car the Jetsons would have in their archaic garage.

I'm still in favour of making mod kits for existing cars, as I've repeatedly said here on the blog, because this would mean the least manufacturing footprint with the most benefit.  You still have your petrol-engined car, and can drive on it as per normal.  It still looks like the car you're used to.  Braking gets better because you use regenerative braking to help your normal brakes, brakes wear less.  And a few stops and starts after the battery has run out of charge, regen braking will ensure that the battery assist will have enough juice in it to assist you on the next hill, saving you fuel.

There's now an external kit which supposedly clips over the rear wheels of existing cars and provides some battery/electric assist, but A) it's ugly and B) it's very clumsy.  And, C) from the look of it I wouldn't trust it at anything other than very slow bumper to bumper speeds.  It doesn't look like it's particularly robust.  And I've misplaced the URL to it, it's from about three months back and has apparently generated no more news so perhaps it's resting...

If you're interested in owning an EV and doing your bit to keep our cities unpolluted, and you're wondering why we don't seem to have that many EVs in Australia, go here and do your bit.


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08 January, 2009

Making Your Burgers Cheaper (To Make.)

It's always good to see how a garage inventor can come up with the goods, in the face of all the big corporations - just by recognising a need.  Big corporations don't see the need to help other big corporations trim costs, it takes someone who's actually in touch with the problems faced by those franchise operators to see a need and fill it.

(Are large corporations really that out of touch?  I say hell yeah - once you get to that kind of altitude in the business ecosystem, you just can't have the kind of vision that's needed.)

Anyway - back to the invention, the Vegawatt.  Just brilliant.  Toss in the cooking oil you were using to pump out fries and heart-attack-burgers, and it saves you up to 10% of your energy costs by providing electricity and hot water.  (I bet though that they won't take 10% off the price of that burger though!)  Of course, this also saves load on the local power grid, which is a good thing.

It neatly takes care of all the drums of waste oil sitting around out the back waiting to be collected, which cuts down on smell and mess.  And for those who say "what about the biofuellers?" I have to say I always thought that having to go collect and process all that oil was pretty much a drain on the resources, most people can use that time far more efectively.

Sorry to say, but if you're a biofueller mainly because it's cheaper, then think again.  Reducing greenhouse waste emissions isn't about economy, it's about survival of the world.


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07 January, 2009

Electric Cars - Why Don't We Have Them Yet?

Mahindra, who made one of the first affordable small 4WDs I'd ever seen back in the 80's, are now planning to release a 4 seater electric vehicle by (here comes that effing arbitrary date fished out of some sales exec's ass again!) 2010.

At four seats, it handily beats the REVA, which is sold in the UK under some other geewhiz name, ah yeah that's it, the G-Wiz.  The new Li ion battery REVA may just pip the Mahindra in the range stakes though, and seems to have managed to lay down a bit of a track record by now.

ZAP has a whole slew of little electric buzzabouts, but in all it's been a very quiet 2008 for ZAP, it seems.

I notice, reading all those articles, that these little cars are approved in the UK because they are classed as a low speed, low power 4 wheel cycle, meant for low speed traffic conditions.  I also noticed that the REVA has been full front crash tested at 25mph and apparently passed that test, but I guess the question is - who feels safe in a little tiny peapod when they're sharing the road with buses and SUVs the size of a small tank?

I'm not sure what the state of play is in Australia, but I think we classify the EVs as cars, and therefore they all don't pass the roadworthiness tests, and in fact as far as I know, none have been tested yet.  I might lobby for a change of laws, because if it wasn't for them, I could have been driving a ZAP or REVA four years ago, and saving thousands on petrol, as well as producing considerably less pollution.

Look at car sales figures - surely that's saying something?  It's not just that people want to wait for a "more stable market" or a "more opportune time" to buy a new car.  It's that they aren't sure where the price of petrol is going, having been bent over and loved one too many times by petrol multinationals, and I think most would rather just avoid all that happening again.  If ever there was a clear sign that we need to change the roadworthiness laws and the classification of small EVs to allow us to own them, don't our politicians think this might be it?

I've ridden a scooter in between the semi-trailer road trains around Fremantle Port, and I think an electric car would be brilliant in that kind of situation.  And probably safer than a 50cc scooter.  So I'm going to ask you to email your member of parliament, ask them why we still can't import a cheap electric vehicle that makes so much sense in today's stressed ecosystem?  And make the point that you personally would like the choice to buy a small EV rather than feed global warming.

Maybe an email such as this would work: (change the name to your MP or whoever you send it to)
Mr Rudd - Can you please explain why the REVA and ZAP electric vehicles and many others are considered roadworthy in the UK, and are saving UK citizens hundreds of dollars a year, saving the UK hundreds of tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year - and yet I as an Australian citizen don't have this choice?  In a land blessed with more sunshine than almost anywhere else in the world, where a solar charger on my carport roof and an electric vehicle in that carport could save me and my family thousands of dollars, why are we still not changing the laws to allow me to do so?



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05 January, 2009

Bring On The Uber-Cute hedgehogs!

Treehugger, I can't believe you said that... 

It's NEVER okay to bring in an outside species for any reason whatsoever.  In Australia alone, our two biggest "integration" stories are cane toads (now spread to almost half the places we human Aussies frequent and killing or supplanting hundreds if not thousands of native species) which were meant to control the cactoblastis moth.  It turned up it's bufus nose at the moth grubs and ate everything else in sight, and since it's poisonous, it also killed off most of its predators...

And rabbits...  (For which we ended up having to put up one of the longest continuous fences, the Rabbitproof Fence...)  Rabbits brought in partly for food, and partly for sport among the rapidly-increasing members of the well-to-do set.

We're still fighting a rabbit plague to this day, and losing the battle.  We're losing the battle to keep cane toads from spreading and destroying.  Can you see a common thread here?  The words "losing the battle."  You just can't import a species and expect that everyone will keep theirs locked up safely.  How's your battle with the sewer alligators going?  Squirrels?  And the hundreds of other out of place invasive imported species?

With our rabbits, also imported were foxes, which damage stocks of an animal we did also import for utility, the chicken.  Which, as any good imported species should be, is totally useless at surviving in the wild and supplanting native fauna. Yet our good friend and import, Brer Fox, is totally brilliant at eating chooks and native animals alike, and finds rabbits (which it was among other things imported to control) too much hard work.

And I won't speak about the damage abandoned pet cats and dogs do to the native fauna shall I?  Nor the spiders which arrive on loads of fruit at our seaports and have interbred creating several hundred new species of totally uncatalogued, totally unknown, and generally totally venomous spiders that are now spreading out all over the country and wreaking God knows what damage among native insects.  (The large majority of which we haven't even discovered yet and which will probably all be extinct before we get the chance to...)

So I'm sorry - as cute as hedgies may be, as cute as an 11-year old kid taking on the City Fathers and winning may be, as much as you paint that as a feel-good story, I just can't see a shred of ecological responsibility in the way you've chosen to report that.


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02 January, 2009

Get Your Vitamin D Dose With - Mushrooms?

We (should!) all know that Vitamin D deficiency causes all sorts of complaints including brittle bones and rickets.  And we should all know that ten minutes of exposure to the sun every day or two, allows us to manufacture our own Vitamin D (well, one of the forms of Vitamin D, luckily for us one of the two that are important, D2 and D3) and thus avoid rickety bones.  Vitamin D2 is more often the one present in foods, while D3 seems to be the one we synthesize most.  However, it appears that they do broadly the same job, so our bodies can use them interchangeably.

You should also know that oily fish, prawns, beef liver, and a range of other foods contain enough to meet our requirements on average, if we have a varied diet.  But mushrooms, once listed as only a minor contributing source of Vitamin D, can actually be enough to fill our average daily requirement.

In The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook, I mentioned mushrooms as a source of natural selenium, which - despite current research that fails to find benefit for prostate cancer sufferers (flawed research, as I've since discovered) - was only one of the benefits of mushrooms I mentioned, the second benefit being vitamin D.  (Because I'd got hold of brand new research which had been the precursor to the articles I quoted above, you see.  I was very thorough in my research.) 

Modern mushrooms are low in Vitamin D because they are grown in the dark, away from sunlight.  It's another example of how we unknowingly adulterate our food.  Mushrooms grow in dim sunlight in nature, and absorb significant amounts of UV-B that way.  It *was* part of the natural balance of things - we couldn't stay in the sunlight enough but mushrooms sat on the forest floor, faithfully absorbing and storing our sunlight for us, waiting until we collected them, put them into baskets and carried them home.

The significant take-home you should have gleaned from reading the articles is that you can make *any* mushrooms richer sources of vitamin D by exposing them to UV-B - especially *after* they have been harvested.  

If your question is "how can I find enough UV-B to activate my mushrooms, and will it work with any mushrooms?" then I have a solution and an answer for you:  The mushrooms tested - although it's not specifically mentioned in the articles - are those that are grown artificially in the dark bunkers, i.e. they are the mushrooms that show up on your supermarket shelves, portobello, swiss brown, button, and so-called "field" mushrooms.  The technique should work with all of them.

And the technique is equally simple - spread fairly freshly-harvested mushrooms heads-up on a suitable flat surface (maybe inside a shallow flat cardboard box you used to bring your groceries home in) and leave them out in the sun for 20 to 60 minutes depending on how good your sunlight is.

One more note: The way our skin synthesizes vitamin D is that it combines certain cholesterol type compounds and alters them, that produces (in about ten minutes of exposure) our average requirement.  After that requirement is met, the skin continues to produce vitamin D but it is destroyed as fast as it's produced, so we don't get vitamin D poisoning or something.  I would suggest that a similar process occurs in mushrooms (after all, nature re-uses successful techniques) and after a certain amount of time, all that is happening is that the mushroom is converting its essential compounds into vitamin D and then destroying it.  In other words, past a certain point, the mushroom will actually start losing nutritional value.  Since we have no way of measuring the amounts of nutritional value, I've given a rather broad range of exposure times, but I tend to stay at the lower end of that time for bright sunlight, and have more mushrooms...


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NOTE: If you're interested in why I believe research into selenium benefits is deeply flawed, I'll post an article on this shortly.  For now, get a copy of my book, read it, and then you'll probably see it for yourself.  There is a HUGE difference in the way the diet uses the nutrients and the way the researchers applied them.  This is because researchers are specialists and they rarely look outside the parameters they know, and that's in fact how even the specialist dietitians missed the simple home truths I discovered while being a broad generalist...

01 January, 2009

The Cookbook Scores Another Hit.

Here's some more positive evidence supporting The Body Friendly Zen Cookbook.  It's one of the components of the diet and I can't stress enough the importance of using grapeseed oil and extra virgin olive oil together in cooking for the simple reason that the oily vitamin E helps your body absorb the beneficial antioxidants much more readily - and now there's another reason.

Of course, again it has to be stressed that direct application of the extract of grapeseed onto leukemic cells isn't exactly the same as ingesting the extract, but the links between grapeseed oil and reduction in tumors and dysplasic cells seems to be established enough to warrant its inclusion in the diet.


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