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Patient H.M. – Luke Dittrich

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Patient H.M. – Luke Dittrich

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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Solar energy production has skyrocketed in recent years in the United States. With more than 49 megawatts of installed solar capacity, there are now enough solar panels to power 9.5 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Are you interested in getting on the solar bandwagon? Ultimately, determining if it is financially savvy to go solar depends on numerous factors, including the cost of electricity in your area, the price and output of the solar system, and available solar energy incentives.

Is 2018 a good year for you to go solar? Here are some tips on making an informed decision.

Understand Your Local Net Metering Laws

Net metering laws require power companies to bank excess credits for solar electricity fed to the utility grid for later use by the homeowner. For example, let’s say your solar panels generated 10 kWh of excess electricity for the grid during a sunny day and then you consumed 10 kWh of electricity at night. Under net metering laws, you would neither owe money nor be reimbursed for this power, given that you provided as much power as you later consumed.

In 2015, 43 states had net metering laws. Now, only 38 states do. In some areas, solar homeowners are not rewarded at a retail rate for the excess power they supply. Find out what the laws are in your state to better understand the return on investment of your solar system. In some areas where net metering laws are changing, existing solar system owners are grandfathered in under the old system. If the new rules haven’t taken effect yet, you still might be able to get compensated under the old, higher rate.

Consider Solar Equipment Warranties

Solar product warranties vary among manufacturers, and they are an important consideration before installing a solar system. Equipment warranties can protect you, making solar a safer long-term investment. Ask your solar installer or conduct independent research to determine product warranties, as they can vary widely by manufacturer and product. Recently, some manufacturers have been setting themselves apart by offering exceptional warranties.

Solar panel warranties, in particular, are an important consideration, as they are typically the most expensive equipment in your solar system. Over time, even the best solar panels produce less energy due to product degradation. Although all solar panels are less effective at generating electricity over time, the degradation rate varies by the panel. Performance guarantees help ensure that solar electric panels are producing at a certain percentage of their original generation capacity after a given number of years.

Currently, many manufacturers guarantee 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years. Some panel manufacturers set themselves apart by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years.

Most solar panel manufacturers also protect against defects. Many solar panels have a 10-year equipment warranty on the integrity of the panel. Now, SunEdison, Solaria and SunPower solar panels have a 25-year equipment warranty.

Shop around when installing a solar system to find the best price, warranties and solar equipment quality. UnderstandSolar is an excellent free service that links solar shoppers with top-rated solar installers in their area for personalized solar estimates, and EnergySage allows you to make apple-to-apple comparisons.

Take Advantage of the Federal Tax Credit and Solar Incentives

There is a federal tax credit in effect that reduces the total net cost of a solar system by 30 percent! A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal income taxes owed, so it is more valuable to the taxpayer than a tax write-off.

If you install a $10,000 solar system, you can qualify for a $3,000 tax credit. This solar incentive will start scaling down in 2020. Keep in mind that some states or municipalities offer incentives for using solar.

Start with Energy-Efficiency Improvements

Although this is not a new development in 2018, it is important to consider whenever someone is going solar. Before sizing your solar system, look for ways to cut your home electricity use. Refrigerators, lighting, electric water heaters and air-conditioners are common electricity hogs. In many cases, it is worthwhile to replace old appliances with high-efficiency models.

Also, explore if you have any vampire loads that suck power even when appliances or electronics are turned off. Home entertainment and office equipment often continuously drain power. Smart power strips are a great solution to stop energy vampires in their tracks.

Consider Solar Loans

As the solar energy industry matures, there are now more solar loan products available than ever before. Solar loans make the most financial sense when the amount you pay on the loan is less than your monthly utility savings. This means that the loan allows you to save money on your solar system from day 1. Make sure to take the loan fees and interest into consideration. A home equity line of credit is another option, and the interest is likely tax-deductible.

Ultimately, the decision to go solar is multifaceted. Many homeowners choose solar because they want to do their part to help stop climate change or to wean themselves off of fossil fuels. Now that the cost of solar has dropped so much, many install solar systems merely for the cost savings. In much of the U.S., 2018 is a good year to go solar.

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4 Tips for Going Solar in 2018

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5 Native American tribes are gearing up for a legal battle with Trump on national monuments.

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5 Native American tribes are gearing up for a legal battle with Trump on national monuments.

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Transforming metals could make planes lighter and more fuel-efficient.

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Transforming metals could make planes lighter and more fuel-efficient.

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Most Democrats and Republicans agree: Arctic drilling is a bad idea.

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Most Democrats and Republicans agree: Arctic drilling is a bad idea.

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Australia just plugged the world’s biggest battery into its grid.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s strategy to bring the public discussion, which ended Wednesday, “to the heart of coal country to hear from those most impacted” backfired when a few legacy coal miners like Nick Mullins of Kentucky came to testify.

“I don’t want [my son] to be a sixth-generation coal miner,” Mullins said, adding that the plan could lead to diverse job opportunities that won’t endanger his family’s health. When Obama announced the Clean Power Plan in 2015, the EPA estimated it could prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA to stop the plan’s implementation. The rules would have forced states to cut emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. It was a big piece of the United States’ compliance with the Paris climate accord, which President Trump now plans to leave.

“As long as I can draw a breath, I’m going to keep working to fight climate change and protect the land and country I love,” said Stanley Sturgill, a Kentucky resident living with black lung disease after more than 40 years as a coal miner. “For the sake of my grandchildren and yours, I call on you to strengthen, not repeal, the Clean Power Plan.”

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Australia just plugged the world’s biggest battery into its grid.

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The Sky Is Not the Limit – Neil de Grasse Tyson

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The Sky Is Not the Limit – Neil de Grasse Tyson

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Physics – Scientific American Editors

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Physics
New Frontiers
Scientific American Editors

Genre: Physics

Price: $4.99

Publish Date: May 22, 2017

Publisher: Scientific American

Seller: Macmillan / Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC


In the world of physics, very little in the universe is what it first appears to be. And science fiction has imagined some pretty wild ideas about how the universe could work – from hidden extra dimensions in Interstellar to life as a mental projection in The Matrix. But these imaginings seem downright tame compared with the mind-bending science now coming out of physics and astronomy, and in this eBook, Physics: New Frontiers, we look at the strange and fascinating discoveries shaping (and reshaping) the field today. In the world of astrophysics, the weirdness begins at the moment of creation. In “The Black Hole at the Beginning of Time,” the authors discuss theories of what might have come before the big bang. Could our 3-D universe have sprung from the formation of a black hole in a 4-D cosmos? The math says: maybe. Later, in “The Giant Bubbles of the Milky Way,” the authors describe massive structures dubbed “Fermi bubbles” at its center – structures that no one noticed until recently. Technological innovations make much of this new science possible, as we see again in “Neutrinos at the Ends of the Earth,” where 5,000-odd sensors frozen deep within a cubic kilometer of ice in Antarctica aim to catch neutrinos in order to study distant cosmic phenomena. Scientists are also dissecting molecules with the most powerful x-ray laser in the world, as explored in “The Ultimate X-ray Machine.” Even our most fundamental notions of what reality is are up for debate, as examined in “Does the Multiverse Really Exist?” and the aptly named “What Is Real?” in which the authors question whether particles are indeed material things at all. While all of this abstraction might seem like a fun exercise in mental gymnastics, living things must also abide by the laws of physics, which, according to “The Limits of Intelligence,” may prevent our brains from evolving further. Then again, as we’ve learned, things could be different than they appear…

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Physics – Scientific American Editors

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The U.S. could have avoided Puerto Rico’s water crisis

The numbers associated with the current situation in Puerto Rico, one month after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory, are baffling.

More than 2.5 million residents are still without power. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is able to offer 200,000 meals to Puerto Ricans daily — but it needs to feed 2 million people. Perhaps most baffling, or at least exasperating, President Donald Trump gives himself a perfect 10 for his response to the storm’s aftermath.

One of the most pressing issues on the island is access to clean water. Officials estimate that more than 1 in 3 residents in Puerto Rico doesn’t have it. Aid agencies on the ground say the number is closer to 1 in 2. Families are drinking water contaminated with sewage and dead animals. Others are drawing from toxic Superfund sites. There have been at least 10 cases of leptospirosis from drinking contaminated water — and officials are investigating four deaths which may have been caused by waterborne bacteria.

Simply put, this is an ongoing public health crisis.

Puerto Rico was in a tough spot before Maria tore through the Caribbean island. Economic and political factors complicated disaster response: The territory was already facing a debt crisis. And limited local resources and poor roads made it difficult to get supplies to storm survivors.

But aid agencies and relief experts believe the current predicament could have been avoided. There are international standards and a clear blueprint for how to get safe water to people after a disaster. But so far, the federal response has failed in providing both immediate help and longer-term solutions — and part of the reason for that could boil down to discrimination.

“We’re a very capable nation, yet we don’t seem to have deployed our capabilities in this instance,” says John Mutter, a Columbia University professor and international disaster relief expert. “This isn’t rocket science. We know what we’re supposed to do. The fact that we’re not doing it needs explanation.”

According to the relief organization Oxfam, the minimum standards for disaster response have not been met. The aid group follows Sphere minimum standards — a set of universal benchmarks for humanitarian responses established in 1997 — which require, for instance, four gallons of water to be provided per day per person for bathing, cooking, and drinking. The water should be delivered in safe containers through water trucks, water bladders, or filters. And initial assistance is supposed to arrive within three to five days after a disaster.

In this case, there has not been enough overall coordination of relief, according to Martha Thompson, Oxfam America’s program coordinator for disaster response in Puerto Rico. Truck deliveries of bottled water are sporadic, and she says that the military has sent water trucks to several sites without providing clean containers to safeguard the water.

U.S. Northern Command, which is coordinating the military’s aid efforts in Puerto Rico, confirmed reports that people are using potentially contaminated containers — often washed out detergent bottles — to collect water. In response, it’s distributing five-gallon collapsable buckets to residents to avoid the possibility of clean water being contaminated by dirty receptacles.

“The military is focused on delivering safe and drinkable water,” says Navy Lieutenant Sean McNevin. “We are very concerned about the safety of Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane and we’ll make those recommendations and adjustments to what we deliver based on what we know on the ground.”

According to Peter Gleick, a climate and water scientist with the Bay Area public policy nonprofit the Pacific Institute, the U.S. government could have taken steps prior to or immediately after Maria hit Puerto Rico to speed up recovery. Within days of the storm’s landfall, Gleick recommended that the United States quickly move military assets, like desalination units that pull salt out of ocean water, to the islands.

He adds that there should be more aggressive water testing to assure residents that they are using safe water sources. “The idea that there are communities forced to take water from wells on Superfund sites is completely inexcusable,” Gleick says.

On Thursday, CNN reported that Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech environmental engineer who ran tests on the contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, had concluded that samples taken from wells at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Superfund Site, near Puerto Rico’s capital of San Juan, were safe to drink.

Still, residents searching for water on toxic sites or relying on bottled water are the sort of problems the aid community says should have been dealt with long before the one-month mark. Recovery efforts should be transitioning into more sustainable long-term solutions.

“It’s unacceptable that people are still depending on water bottle deliveries for day-to-day survival,” says Oxfam’s Thompson, adding that people continue to fear that future shipments won’t arrive.

By now, what’s needed are water filters and solar-powered generators that communities can use to run pumps to access wells. There also needs to be significant improvement to the territory’s municipal water system, which wasn’t in great shape before the storm hit.

Earlier this year, the Natural Resources Defense Council published a report that found that Puerto Rico had the highest rate of drinking water violations of any state or territory in the United States.

“There’s a question as to whether or not the population was receiving safe drinking water before the storm,” says Adrianna Quintero, NRDC’s director of partner engagement. “So we can only expect that it’s going to be worse post-storm.”

The island’s current safe water shortage is closely tied to power outages, says Peter Gleick. With more than 70 percent of the island lacking power, he says, wastewater treatment and water delivery systems have stalled out.

“This isn’t just a water problem,” Gleick says. “It’s an energy problem.”

Ultimately, Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory might be behind its slow recovery. As part of the United States, the island hasn’t seen the type of international aid that an independent developing country might receive. And yet Puerto Ricans have had to assert their U.S. citizenship to a federal government that allocates them no say in the electoral college or a Congress representative who can vote on legislation.

“There’s this idea that these are not American citizens who are going through this, which is blatantly false,” Quintero says. “I think there’s an element of discrimination there.”

According to Columbia’s Mutter, FEMA’s response to hurricanes Harvey in Houston and Irma in Florida seemed to show that it had learned its lessons from Hurricane Katrina. Critics attributed the agency’s slow response to the 2005 storm and the resulting humanitarian emergency in part to the fact that they affected a primarily black and poor population.

“Now it just seems like they’ve forgotten their lessons,” Mutter says about FEMA. “It seems callous, but it looks like maybe they don’t care as much about Puerto Rico.”

FEMA did not respond to requests for comment.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló seemed to agree with Mutter when he met with President Trump in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. “Give the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico the adequate resources,” Rosselló pleaded. “Treat us the same as citizens in Texas and Florida and elsewhere.”

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The U.S. could have avoided Puerto Rico’s water crisis

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We Rise – Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

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We Rise

The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $11.99

Publish Date: September 5, 2017

Publisher: Rodale Inc.

Seller: Rodale Inc.


Challenge the status quo, change the face of activism, and confront climate change head on with the ultimate blueprint for taking action. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 16-year-old climate activist, hip-hop artist, and powerful new voice on the front lines of a global youth-led movement. He and his group the Earth Guardians believe that today’s youth will play an important role in shaping our future. They know that the choices made right now will have a lasting impact on the world of tomorrow, and people–young and old–are asking themselves what they can do to ensure a positive, just, and sustainable future. We Rise tells these stories and addresses the solutions. Beginning with the empowering story of the Earth Guardians and how Xiuhtezcatl has become a voice for his generation, We Rise explores many aspects of effective activism and provides step-by-step information on how to start and join solution-oriented movements. With conversations between Xiuhtezcatl and well-known activists, revolutionaries, and celebrities, practical advice for living a more sustainable lifestyle, and ideas and tools for building resilient communities, We Rise is an action guide on how to face the biggest problems of today, including climate change, fossil fuel extraction, and industrial agriculture. If you are interested in creating real and tangible change, We Rise will give you the inspiration and information you need to do your part in making the world a better place and leave you asking, what kind of legacy do I want to leave?

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We Rise – Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

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