Battery Hogging Alternatives

What is more important than being green these days? If it is not a personal responsibility, it is an ethical duty for every citizen. You do what you can and it isn’t hard to play a part in the ecological movement. It is impinging upon us all to find a way to contribute to saving resources on the planet, lowering energy consumption, recycling

And more. It can be something as mundane as recharging batteries. Use your mind. You can think of a myriad of ways that each and every day you can protect the environment. As for me, I try to make machines work more efficiently. And there are a lot of them running our manufacturing sector. But I know there is more to do. Consult any website and you will see. That’s where I got the idea of using a rechargeable flashlight and searched online. I found this web site – http://www.flashlightpro.net/best-rechargeable-led-flashlights/. So many appliances and tools hog batteries and it adds up to a landfill pile of waste.

I think you have to have a certain philosophy and mindset about these things and I am here to prod you into a newfound belief. Don’t think that you don’t matter. Each and every one of us does. We add up to the millions that constitute greater humanity. Don’t shirk your duties or be ashamed. The planet does not have infinite life. You must care about the world around you if you are part of the human race. Can’t you at least recharge your batteries and use them for the myriad things they power? Think of all the battery-operated things like electric razors, toothbrushes, computers and tablets, cell phones, camping gear like outdoor lights, cordless power tools, and so much more. Who doesn’t use at least one or more of these things daily? They drain batteries like a monster sucking in mechanical blood. You go out and buy them in bulk and then they die and end up in the trash. Rechargeable isn’t just for the flashlight I mentioned. Some people have vacuum cleaners that use batteries, bicycle lights, cameras, and on and on. If you only used rechargeable batteries, think of the energy you would be saving. Sure the battery manufacturers will balk, but we aren’t to be concerned about them. If the battery can’t be recharged or recycled, we don’t want it.

I have trouble convincing lazy people to take the time to recharge. And you don’t even have to wait until the battery is completely dead. It can have a half-life left in it. If you set up your recharger in the kitchen or laundry room, it will be readily available and the job can be done quickly. No fuss, no muss. No excuses now that you know. This is a simple enough request. Let’s all join forces and support the green movement. Let’s all belief in sustainability and economy of resources. Let’s rejoice that it isn’t too late to save the planet from the havoc wreaked by mankind. That’s us! We owe it to the world to reverse our actions and to take others that are restorative. It is all about renewal.

Simple Ways to Reduce Your Impact on the Environment

It can feel like you, as one person, don’t have much influence on the world around you. But that simply isn’t true. If everyone thought that their own actions couldn’t make anything better and therefore didn’t bother, nothing would improve. Instead, think of yourself as the start of an avalanche. They may start out as a single snowflake or a tiny piece of snow, but when it all adds up, it can be an unstoppable force with an incredible impact on the surrounding environment. If others feel the same and start making changes, things could truly improve.

Not all of us can drive electric cars or hybrids. That does not mean you can’t reduce your gas consumption, however. You can try biking or walking to places nearby instead of driving. If that’s not an option, you can take mass transit or try a rideshare/carpool. Or you can simply try to drive more efficiently. Personally, I try to run all of my errands at once so there is less driving back and forth to my house. If you take good care of your car—such as proper maintenance and tire inflation—you will get better gas mileage, which means using less gas, which is good for both your wallet and the environment!

Another helpful thing is to be more conscious of what you are throwing away. If you have electronics that are headed for a landfill, see if maybe it can be sold for scrap instead or if a local electronics store has a recycling collection program. If you’ve got clothes that you are trying to get rid of, you have many options. You can try a consignment store, donating them to charity, or giving them to a friend. Organic materials like food scraps can be composted. Other materials, like paper and glass, can be easily recycled. As for plastics, look on the object to see what number plastic you have (it should be in the center of a recycling symbol triangle), which will let you know what you can do with it. Check with your local county office to see what items they will accept for recycling. You may be surprised at all the things you’ve been throwing away that can be recycled. If you take your lunch to work every day, invest in a nice lunch bag. They are durable, fashionable, and way easier to carry than paper bags. Use reusable containers instead of disposable plastic bags and that will help decrease your waste as well. In the same vein, you can use cloth grocery bags for everything from shopping to storing things. That will also reduce the amount of trash you have.

As for all that junk mail you receive, you can opt-outherefor prescreened Credit Card offers, and here for other herefor direct mail pieces. It isn’t a perfect system, but it is a start. Most companies have online billing now. That can actually save a lot of paper every month, and there is the added bonus of being able to pull up every bill online without having to rifle through your filing system. You can also contact any newspapers, magazines, or catalog companies you receive mail from to receive digital copies. It’s cheaper for them, and better for the earth, too.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. A small step forward is still a step forward, and if everyone followed these tips, the world would be a better place!

What is Biomass Energy?

I think one of the most important discussions we as a world should be having is about energy sources. We need to be investigating all of our options so that energy can be cheaper, more reliable, more efficient, and safer for both all of us and our environment.People need to be educated about alternative energy sources like solar and wind power. This includes other terms that they might not be so familiar with, like biomass energy. Many people have never heard of biomass energy, and disregard it out of hand because it sounds complicated and new. However, in actuality, it is a source that we as people have been using forever.

The process is actually rather simple. We all understand photosynthesis: plants gather and store energy from the sun, using light to nourish itself and grow. With the help of something like combustion, we can release that energy in the form of carbon dioxide. We can then utilize the energy created for heat or for power. Basically, that is a fancy scientific answer to something cavemen figured out eons ago: we can take a log from a tree and burn it to create heat.

That means if you’ve ever sat around a campfire or have a pellet stove, you have used biomass energy to stay warm. If you’ve used charcoal briquettes in your barbeque grill, you were cooking with biomass. It is a source of energy that man has been using instinctively since the beginning of recorded time. It was our first method for providing heat and light, and eventually even power—many steam engines relied on biomass to heat the water that would then generate steam.

The most common sources of biomass are wood products—for example, stump harvesting or scraps from lumber mills, dried vegetation from excess crops, or aquatic plant matter. Plants and trees are readily available, and it is easy to maintain supply when we are diligent about lifecycles and replanting. It allows us to use what would have been waste in a productive way.

There are some drawbacks to using biomass. There will always be pollution concerns with combustion. Distribution of materials is also a concern—biomass material can be bulky and heavy, which means they take up more space in transport and storage. Also, the sheer number of crops and trees it would take to power a city would be very large, and growing such vast qualities of plant matter has the potential to eventually strip the soil of any nutrients, making it impossible to grow on anymore.

While biomass energy is unlikely to ever overtake our dependence on fossil fuels, as an alternative source of energy—just like solar or wind energy—it is a great supplemental source.

Off the Grid

My boyfriend and I decided to go on a hiking/camping trip at a state park that is pretty close to where we live. We do maybe three of these a year, weather permitting. We both like being athletic, and we love being outdoors. Some of our best dates have been outside, and these long trips really help solidify our bond in a way that vegging out in front of the tv just cannot. I am sure that sounds idealistic and overly romantic, especially coming from someone as practical and methodical as yours truly, but it is something that has kept us happy and strong. We would live out in the middle of nowhere if we could. However, we’re also people who have to maintain some semblance of contact with our respective jobs, which means we have to bring our cellphones with us when we go camping. It isn’t so bad; as long as we are in the range of a cell tower, we can use them as a map or compass. Sometimes we go geocache hunting, too, using an app on my phone. Using the GPS on our phones, however, is a huge energy drain. We can’t just light a fire to charge them the same way we can to keep ourselves warm or cook (Go biomass energy! Yet another reason I love camping!) so we had to find another method. It folds up so it isn’t too ridiculous to put in a pack and it will charge our devices through USB cords. When we break for a meal, we set the panels up and charge whatever we need. It’s been a really great system. I like to joke that we’re the most off the grid yet forced to be on the grid couple ever.

Our packs were nice and light this time, just a change of clothes, the tent, sleeping bags, some food, the solar generator, a compass and map, some bug spray and sunscreen. We chose a path that was a fairly straight and easy shot to the campsite and talked about everything and nothing on the way. We don’t always take this particular path–it is mostly just trees and dirt with nothing especially scenic about it–but decided to change it up a little. We sat on a huge rock and ate our lunch. We also took the opportunity to take out the generator and top off our phones before setting off again. We got to the campsite around dinner time and put up the tent. Then we made a nice cozy fire, cooked our dinner, and headed into the tent for the night.

We were up at first light for breakfast, and we charged everything up as we were breaking down the campsite. Once we were repacked and loaded, we headed out on a much tougher trail to get back to the car. It is one of my favorite trails but can be so hard that it is impossible to talk, depending on the heat and the condition of the ground. We were lucky that the ground was firm, and it was neither hot nor humid, but we still barely had the energy to say more than a few words to each other at points along the way. We got back to the car, happy but exhausted, and headed home to shower and get cleaned up.

So that was my weekend. How was yours?

Water Conservation Ideas

I know I often talk about energy conservation and other alternative energy sources, but I’m also very big on conserving water. It seems like such a small concern, right? Most of the earth is water! That is correct, but unfortunately, much of it is not useable. Either it is polluted or salt water, neither of which is something we can use to clean ourselves, cook with, or drink. Not everyone has access to clean water, never mind actual plumbing. Those of us with ready access to water have a moral obligation to keep it clean and prevent water waste.

For those of us with lawns to take care of, they can be huge water consumers. Installing a rain barrel at the end of a gutter to catch the rain and then reusing it to water your lawn or flowers is a great way to avoid turning on the tap. Winterizing your outdoor faucets will help prevent burst pipes in freezing weather, which will prevent leaks and additional water waste. If you have automatic sprinklers, you can install a rain gauge. This will ensure that your sprinklers won’t turn on when your grass is already wet from the rain.

A simple way to reduce water waste is to run water less often, which depends on the person. That may mean shorter showers or taking them less frequently. It could also mean eliminating baths altogether—they require much more water than the average shower. It might also be turning off the water while you are brushing your teeth or shaving. Some people also flush their toilet less. You can also wait until you have a full load to run the dishwasher or your washing machine.

More involved methods would include checking all of your pipes and repairing any leaks. Another great idea is to install products that will help conserve water automatically. You can install a low flush toilet from Rate My Toilet that can help reduce your water use by a couple of gallons every time you flush. That can really add up! Insulating pipes will allow you to get hot water faster, which means you won’t have to run as much water before it gets warm. You can also install a tankless water heater, which will save you money on your heating and water bills. Low flow showerheads will also decrease the amount of water you use and are pretty easy to install. If the faucets in your house don’t already have aerators, they are also simple to install. They add air to the water, which decreases splashing while increasing your water pressure.

These are just a couple of ideas, ranging from the simple adjustment in routine to some serious home improvements. Hopefully, you will take one (or more) of these ideas to heart, and maybe it will inspire you to cut back on your water use in other ways.

Everything has Consequences

The problem with needing energy is that every source has drawbacks. Whether it is a byproduct of converting the energy or difficulty in obtaining the raw materials, there is something about every current method of energy production that is undesirable.

People have big concerns over fossil fuels, whether it be the cost, accessibility, or the harmful pollution we create as a byproduct of consumption. Oil, gas, and coal create pollution and can damage the environment when we attempt to access or transport it. These have been our primary sources of energy for so long that we tend to forget about the damage it causes to air quality or if there is a spill during transport unless it is a catastrophic event. People are even in denial over the fact that there is global warming despite numerous studies to the contrary.

But as we try to move away from fossil fuels, we have not found yet found a perfect solution. We already know about the problems with storing the byproducts of waste from nuclear power plants. And then there is the threat of explosions. Something as seemingly harmless as a wind turbinehasan impact on the environment. Birds are killed when they fly too close to the blades. The noise is not only undesirable to humans (and can actually cause headaches, insomnia, and other problems), but it drives animals out of the area, too. Solar power isn’t very efficient at the moment, and they are also incredibly expensive to make. And, unfortunately, if the panels are damaged or as technological advances make changes in the way they are made, outdated solar panels are incredibly difficult—if not downright impossible—to recycle, so they end up in landfills. Biomass energy is another great alternative, but the amount of vegetation we would have to plant in order for it to become anything other than an alternative power source is prohibitive, plus the constant use would eventually strip the soil of nutrients. Nothing would be able to grow there again. It would also be costly to ship biomass material to urban areas, which would take many trucks using diesel fuels. And other than the occasional vegetable oil powered vehicle, we can’t really use any of these sources to drive a car, so they haven’t solved one of our most basic problems.

There’s also ethanol, which we actually can use in our cars. It hasn’t worked out as well as we’d hoped. First off, it has only ever been an additive, and only 10% at that, which hasn’t done much to combat either pollution or petroleum consumption. Second, converting fields and growing practices have damaged soil and actually caused more carbon consumption. Electric cars still need to be charged, so they are still on the power grid. Parts can be costly to make, difficult to recycle, and can be an electrical hazard in an accident (much the way fire can be a hazard in gas powered vehicle accident). Same with hybrid car batteries, and those also need gas to run. I am not saying that gas powered vehicles are safer or better for the environment, I am just saying that everything comes with a trade-off.These methods are great, but they aren’t perfect.

But all of these drawbacks don’t mean that we should stop trying. They just mean that we aren’t quite there yet. We need to keep going. We need to find ways to mitigate the current problems with our energy sources while looking for new sources as well. We’ll only get there if we all work together to come up with better solutions to this energy crisis.

Outdoor Cure-All

I finally had two totally free days this past weekend, and the weather was supposed to be amazing. I decided to go to kayaking on the nearby lake. Work has been kind of stressful lately, so some positive physical activity and a chance to be outside seemed like the perfect antidote to everything that’s been ailing me. I don’t decompress over a glass of wine or crappy tv shows like some people. I would much rather get outside in the sunshine or sweat it out instead.

On Saturday, I got to the lake early as planned. That might not be everyone’s idea of a fun time to be up on the weekend, but that’s not the only thing that makes me weird. The water looked like glass and reflected all the gorgeous colors of the sunrise. It took my breath away and made me proud of what I do for a living, which was exactly what I was hoping for. The air was so crisp, and everything was so peaceful and still. I just stood there for a few minutes and took it all in. It almost felt disrespectful not to. Then a bird started screeching, and the spell was broken. I snapped back into action and got my fishing kayak down from the roof rack. In just a few minutes, I had it on the water and were ready to set off.

The weather really was perfect. We started across the lake, and the only sound was my paddle slapping the water and the occasional bird. I love kayaking. It is almost meditative when I am out on the water. I also like the fact that the boat moves because of me, because of the strength in the muscles of my upper body. It is quantifiable proof of how hard I am working to keep myself healthy—with every stroke, I see how powerful my arms are getting. It is a huge motivator for me. Total bonus that I get to be outside breathing the fresh air and experiencing the beauty of the world all around me while I do it.

Days like this remind me of why I am in the field I am in. Being able to feel the warm rays of the sun and think about how I’ve created systems that are powered by the sun to run machines. To feel the wind and know that I’ve designed machines that can run on harvested wind power. I can see the trees and know that if they need to be cut down for any reason, they can be used for anything from building materials or to soften the ground on a playscape or be a source of fuel. It is a great feeling to know that I am a part of that.

Yes, being outside definitely made me feel better.

An Exciting Day at Work

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As a mechanical engineer, I design machine systems and keep them running. The company I work for specializes in machine efficiency for various corporations, so a huge portion of my job involves submitting proposals to clients. They want to improve production and consume less energy; I give them an idea of what I can do for them, how much it will cost, and project how much they can save in the long-term. If our proposal wins, we then are tasked with designing and implementing their system.

Yesterday I got word that the biggest proposal I’ve ever made was accepted! I’ve had proposals accepted before, of course, but this one is especially sweet. The head of our department wasn’t even sure we should put in a proposal because this particular company has never chosen us before. He felt that they had a personal issue with us that we were unaware of. But I said that I would do the work and see if I couldn’t change our luck. To me, it would have looked odd if we didn’t submit something. I mean, this is right in our wheelhouse.  It would come off look like we were the ones with the problem, and I was afraid that would hurt us in the long run. Besides, they can’t pick a proposal you don’t write, you know?  I spent longer than usual to write it up. I knew it was good and that we would definitely be contenders, but I did not know for certain that we would get the job.

I get to help a manufacturing company with all aspects of their new production building and warehouse. We are going to use sustainable or recycled materials for as much of the mechanical systems as we possibly can, and create what we can’t as responsibly as possible. The rest of the details are proprietary and confidential, so you won’t hear any more about it from me! Just know that if I can pull this off, it is going to be totally awesome.

I am so excited to move on in the process. Now I get to get down into the logistics of everything I proposed and design the plans. Then a team of people will build them and get them in place. I keep in touch with the team and the company, making sure that everything remains on-plan, stays on schedule, and in accordance with the budget we’ve agreed on. Also that the client is happy with the work that is going on. It’s going to be very exciting.

Wish me luck, readers! This is a big one!

Going Solar?

going-solar

There is a huge movement in this country for people to go solar. Usually, when one house in the neighborhood puts solar panels on their roof, a slew of others follow suit. I love that solar panels are basically contagious. But before you put them on your roof, know that not all solar panels—or solar panel contracts—are created equal. Be sure you know what you’re getting into before you sign on the dotted line.

The main decision you will be faced with is whether you will be buying or leasing the panels. Buying is much more expensive up front, but leasing panels saves you less money over time. You have to decide which one is going to be better for you in the long term.

Obviously, buying solar panels can be a costly endeavor. Solar power companies may offer loans if you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for them. However, these loans often are not tax deductible, and you will likely qualify for better rates if you find your own lender. Another reason to take out the loan yourself is that if you use a home equity loan, the interest is tax-deductible, which will make the loan cheaper in the long run. The trade-off there, though, is that you’re offering your house as collateral—which can be a problem if you cannot pay the money back.

But once the panels are on your roof, you own them. If you want to take them down, you can. If you want to remove some panels, you can do that. If there are federal incentives or local tax breaks, you can receive them. You directly benefit from the power you generate from the panels. You also own any and all RECs (renewable energy credits—the financial value, that can be sold or bought, based on the amount of renewable energy created by a renewable source) that come from your solar panels. That’s more money in your pocket. Over the lifetime of the panels, you will save more money by owning than if you lease them.

If you lease the panels, you lose control of your roof. That may sound silly, but once you sign that contract, if the company decides they need more panels up there, guess what? You’re going to get them wherever they see fit. Most leases are fairly long-term, so if you plan to sell the house, you’ll either have to hope that you can pay the buyout costs, that the new homeowners won’t mind the existing contract, or that the panels can travel with you to the new place (which means the new house will have to support a likely outdated system, and that you have comparable sun exposure/similar zoning laws at your new place). The solar company also own the RECs, which they can do anything they want with—including selling them to a power company, who then gets federal credit for having solar panels on your roof even though they have nothing to do with them; power companies have to show that a certain amount of their power comes from renewable sources, so they can do that at your expense. The selling of RECs is one of the reasons solar panel companies can afford to put panels on your roof for next to nothing. As for the energy created by your solar panels, you buy them from the solar company at a discounted rate. That rate may increase dramatically over the life of the lease—check your lease to see if the rates are included. Leasing solar panels will still likely decrease your energy bill and put money in your pockets, and you won’t go into debt over it.

Either way, though, you are creating alternative energy and saving money on your energy bills, which is pretty great. It just depends on which method works best for you.