Category Archives: The green economy

Lifechanging information sources

The sources I list below have changed many millions of lives for the better (including my own). They contain timeless wisdom that everyone can benefit from – whether the information is new to you or you just need a refresher.

Three categories are presented (also the three cornerstones of this blog): health, personal finances and mental control.

Health

Healthy at 100 – John Robbins. This book convinced me shift to a much more plant-based diet – very impressive considering that I was a born and bred carnivore. It is a bit long, but definitely remains a worthwhile read. The accounts of the lifestyles of the world’s longest living communities were especially interesting.

50 secrets of the world’s longest living people – Sally Beare. Here we have a much more punchy and easy to read version of Healthy at 100. It also has interesting accounts of the lifestyles of communities enjoying extraordinarily long and healthy lives. In particular, this book got me to incorporate lots of nuts, seeds and berries into my diet.

The world’s healthiest foods – George Mateljan. This resource contains a number of interesting healthy recipes, but the most valuable aspect of it is the detailed nutritional information about the world healthiest foods. The information in this book is so powerful that it convinced me to eat spinach every day – something I would have seen as flatly impossible 5 years ago.

Personal finances

The automatic millionaire – David Bach and The millionaire next door – Thomas Stanley. These two books pretty much give the same message: Live within your means and automate your investments. It is very simple advice which clearly illustrates how people can become rich even on a modest income. Everybody knows this stuff, but reading these books will convince you to such a degree that you might actually start doing it.

The richest man in Babylon – George Clason. The message in this classic is much the same as that in the two millionaire books listed above. It is conveyed in a much more entertaining manner though – mostly through interesting stories from Ancient Babylon told in a wonderfully classic linguistic style. If you don’t have millionaire ambitions, but still want healthy personal finances, this is the only book you need to read.

How an economy grows and why it crashes – Peter Schiff. This is another book with a rather obvious message: saving and investment is good, excessive debt is bad. However, the very interesting way in which the message is conveyed makes it a thoroughly entertaining and convincing read. It also gives you a very nice understanding about the workings of a modern economy.

Mental control

Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz. Many people call this the only self-help book you ever need to read. It is a true classic that has changed millions of lives for the better through practical teachings on how to control your own mind. Thought habits and self-esteem are key elements in this timeless masterpiece.

177 mental toughness secrets of the world class – Steve Siebolt. Despite the rather corny title, this book is a great quick reference for the best mental control strategies. Each “mental toughness secret” is only one page long and simple to digest. I’d especially recommend the audio version where Siebolt and his co-presenter expand a bit more on each secret in a fun conversational style.

The “21 great ways” series – Brian Tracy. Although I sometimes find Tracy’s approach to mental control a bit too mechanical, his extensive 21 great ways series contains information that anyone can benefit from. The information is communicated in a punchy manner and you can select from a wide range of titles to suit your needs.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Consume information

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

Green transportation – e-bikes

Electric bikes are one of the more exciting offerings of the green economy at present and will only get more exciting in the future. If you live somewhere that is reasonably bike-friendly, this option is highly recommended for any of the five reasons outlined below.

Firstly, an e-bike is an incredibly efficient mode of transportation, primarily because it is very light, but also because electric drive is highly efficient. The figure below from shrinkthatfootprint.com shows how efficient a bike is in terms of carbon emissions (energy consumption). Note that the “indirect fuel” component of the footprint of cycling is related to all that fat you’ll be burning while cycling and will be similar for electric energy consumption with an e-bike.

sustainabletransport

 

Secondly, an e-bike allows you to keep your gasoline-powered car without any guilt.  Under most circumstances, one still requires the conveniences of a gasoline-powered car to live efficiently in our modern society (especially if you have a family).  Buying an e-bike and committing to using it for all trips where the range and carrying capacity of the car are not vital will drastically cut down on both the environmental impact and costs associated with a car.

Thirdly, an e-bike is great for your health which, as discussed in the first chapter of the One in a Billion project, is vitally important. Of course, if you are very fit (or you simply live in a very flat area), a regular bike is also a great option, but the effort of biking will keep most people from using a regular bike as a primary mode of transport. With an e-bike, however, there is no such excuse. In fact, you can arrive at your destination feeling refreshed (not tired and sweaty) and often complete the trip in a similar amount of time as you would have by car.

Fourthly, an e-bike is very an affordable up-front investment. Decent entry level e-bikes can be acquired for around $1000 which should really be easily affordable for any developed world citizen. Really the only legitimate reason for not buying an electric bike is if your environment is very bike-unfriendly making it stressful or even dangerous to cycle.

Finally, an e-bike offers a very convenient mode of transportation. You will face little problems related to traffic jams or parking, little hassle when it comes to maintenance and none of the range anxiety associated with EVs. It really combines the best of both worlds (bikes and motorized transport).

So, why not give it a try? In the worst case, if it just doesn’t work for you, you can simply sell it. E-bikes have pretty good resale value.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Green transportation – Cars

When it comes to transportation, by far the best way in which to save money and protect the environment is to move away from the most inefficient, yet most popular, mode of transportation we have: single-person-in-car. However, for the great many who cannot ditch their cars, the green economy is producing a number of attractive options for reducing your environmental footprint and even save a little bit of money in the process.

Firstly, we just need to get some perspective on just how far we still have to go. For example, the most car-loving nation in the world, the US, has one of the most inefficient vehicle fleets in the world (shown below). Thanks to the recently employed CAFE standards, the trend is moving in the right direction, but, given the long and traumatic US history of energy-dependence on the middle East, it is rather bizarre that the US vehicle fleet is still so terribly inefficient. For perspective, the vehicle fleets in places like Europe and Japan are almost double as fuel efficient as in the US.

US fuel economy

So, what options does the green economy give us to improve these rather terrible numbers? By far the most efficient type of car is a pure electric. Due to the efficiency of electric drive over an internal combustion engine, a typical electric car can get around 100 MPG (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent). However, electric cars remain more expensive than standard options and also have problems with limited range and longer charge times.

Another thing to remember about EVs is that they are only as green as the electricity they use. In some countries, they have very low emissions, but in most countries, a good hybrid or even a regular efficient diesel is a better choice environmentally speaking. Take a look at this excellent map from Shrinkthatfootprint.com.

EVmpgequivalent

An attractive alternative is a plug-in hybrid. These guys only have enough battery power for about 10 miles of highly efficient electric drive, after which the car switches to hybrid mode which achieves about 50 MPG (still not bad at all). However, these cars are still about 20% more expensive than regular hybrids.

In many cases, a regular hybrid is the best option. Hybrids are really cheap nowadays and get excellent fuel efficiencies of 50 MPG or even more for smaller city cars. Toyota has an especially interesting range of “Hybrid Synergy Drive” vehicles which leverage the strong points of both the gasoline and electric motors to give the best and most efficient driving experience under all conditions. This is explained in a little more detail in the video below.

Regular gasoline/diesel cars are still the cheapest though and are making some impressive gains in terms of fuel efficiency. Diesel is generally more fuel efficient, but a bit more expensive. It also involves some other potentially harmful emissions.

So, to summarize: If you live in one of the green countries in the map above and you can handle the price and range limitations of an EV, this is the best option. If you have range anxiety, a plug-in hybrid is a great alternative. For all other counties, a hybrid is the best option followed by an efficient gasoline/diesel vehicle if you are really price-sensitive.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Energy efficient housing

Insulate_house_diagramThere are several ways in which to make housing more energy efficient. In general, quite a few of these methods are only truly accessible to new builds, but there are also a few attractive retrofit options available to all of us who will probably not be building our own passive houses anytime soon.

When thinking about energy efficient housing, one generally thinks of reduced direct energy consumption, especially with regard to heating and cooling. Better insulation, draught-proofing and heat recovery ventilation are common themes in this regard. Depending on how energy efficient your home currently is, these basic green home options might provide some easy wins.

You can estimate the current level of efficiency of your home here. Note the large savings that can be achieved in a home with little existing energy saving measures. Once some initial measures are put in place, however, further savings become harder to achieve.

In a typical home, the best value can often be derived from properly insulating the loft. Since it is rarely used, aesthetics is less important, making insulation solutions cheaper and easier to apply. The ceiling also typically covers a large surface area over which heat can be transferred, making this the best place in which to get maximum bang for the insulation buck. For those who had no insulation before, payback periods from loft insulation are typically 1-2 years after which you win all the way.

Wall insulation can also result in very large gains in home energy efficiency, but can be more challenging and expensive to carry out. However, if you have cavity walls which are not yet insulated, this can be done quite cheaply, resulting in payback times around 3-4 years. Things become more expensive and challenging for solid walls though.

When it comes to floors, extra insulation is probably only a good option if you have suspended timber floors which can be accessed from below. For windows, double or triple-glazing typically does not offer very good value for money. Some heavy curtains can be a much better solution.

Some significant savings can also be cheaply achieved through draught-proofing. Payback periods of about 4-8 years are typical for professional installation.

Finally, heat recovery ventilators offer additional benefits as well as improved air quality. However, payback periods are longer and the overall solution is more complex than simple insulation and draught-proofing and should therefore be further down the home greening list.

In many cases, home energy saving is one of those things that just require a little bit of initiative to greatly improve your living environment in terms of finances and environmental impact. Don’t be lazy now. Let’s get it done.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Heat pumps (water heating)

The highly efficient heat pump concept discussed in the previous post can also be used to heat water. Pros and cons of heat pumps for water heating are a little different from those for space heating though. We will take a brief look at those here.

heat pump water heater

Similarly to a heat pump for space heating, a heat pump for water heating is only applicable to relatively moderate climates. If the temperature in your area regularly drops below freezing, a heat pump is not the best idea. For all the places where temperatures usually stay above this threshold, however, heat pumps can reliably deliver hot water for half the usual electricity cost and environmental impact of a standard electrical resistance water heater.

That being said, however, if you have access to natural gas in your area, a natural gas water heater will still be cheaper (in terms of upfront investment) while delivering similar running costs and environmental impact. Natural gas is an especially attractive option in cold areas where heat pumps and solar water heating are not effective. 

In mild to hot climates, however, both heat pumps and solar heaters can be very attractive solutions for hot water. The competition between solar water heaters and heat pumps is actually fairly equal, but the factor that can swing the balance to either side is the ratio between sunshine and ambient temperature. Heat pumps draw heat from the surrounding air and work better if this air is warmer, while solar water heaters capture direct radiation from the sun and work better in full sunshine.

Thus, if you live in a place where with a fairly mild climate, but regular cloudy spells, a heat pump water heater may well be the best choice for you. For places with mostly clear skies and lots of direct solar radiation, a solar water heater should be the better option.

So, have a little think about your local climate and do the right thing. Water heating consumes a surprisingly large portion of society’s overall energy usage and still has lots of room for efficiency improvements. Heat pumps can make a significant contribution in this area.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Heat pumps (space heating)

Heat pumps have been gaining in popularity in recent years due to rising energy prices and falling technology costs. As most people probably know, a heat pump can provide a substantially greater amount of heat than the electricity it consumes simply because it just moves heat around instead of generating it. The resulting ability to operate at 200%, 300% or even higher efficiencies gives heat pumps quite a bit of cool cleantech appeal.

air source heat pump cycle

However, heat pumps are far from a slam-dunk choice for home heating and are actually only the best option for people living in large open-plan homes located in mild climates who value tight temperature control very highly. This post will explain the reasons behind this narrow customer focus in a little more detail.

The most basic problem with a heat pump is that it loses efficiency as the outside temperature decreases. In other words, as you need more heat, the heat pump produces less heat. The graph below tells the story.

heat pump design temperature

Generally, if the outside temperature regularly drops below freezing where you live, heat pumps are not a good idea. You can install a dual system where the heat pump gets supplemented by another heat source when it gets very cold, but it will be difficult to justify the added costs and complexity in this case. Those living in cold climes will therefore get more value from a standard furnace system.

When comparing to a gas furnace, an air-source heat pump will generally cost about the same both in terms of up-front investment and running costs. More efficient ground-source heat pumps will have somewhat lower running costs, but mostly have a prohibitively large upfront cost. Running costs of different heating options in the US can be viewed in this regularly updated Excel sheet from the EIA.

If the electricity in your area comes mostly from fossil fuels (as in most places), the CO2 emissions from a heat pump will also be similar to those from a furnace. The difference is, however, that the furnace can stand alone while the heat pump will need backup at times when it is needed most. Furnaces also have much longer lifespans than heat pumps.

Effective use of a heat pump also requires an open plan design so that the heat can freely spread through the home. In this sense, electric panel heaters can be better to heat only single rooms as required instead of heating the entire home. If you are willing to follow such a modular heating strategy, simple and cheap panel heaters can actually work out cheaper than a heat pump because you will generally be heating a much smaller space.

One potentially handy feature of a heat pump is that it can serve both as a cooling and heating unit. However, this functionality is not required in many locations unless you really are extremely sensitive to temperature differences.

In general, heat pumps work best in moderate climates and when it is used a lot (to retrieve the initial capital investment over a typical 10-15 year lifespan). As far as I can see, a much better strategy in such moderate climates is to simply put on an extra sweater when it gets a little cold or turn on a fan when it gets slightly hot. If you really value the luxury of perfect temperature control, however, a heat pump can be a good choice.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

Solar water heating

solar_water_heaterIf there is one renewable energy solution that can be safely recommended at present, it is solar water heating. There is one condition though: keep it simple. Lots of complex system exist to pump water around, to place the water tank below the roof or to retrofit your existing geyser, but these solutions only bring additional costs and reliability issuesIn the end, a simple passive collector with vacuum tubes connected directly to the water tank is all that is needed. 

Provided that you select an elegantly simple solution as described above, solar water heating is a great deal for three primary reasons:

First of all, at the risk of sounding like a bit engineer-like, everyone should know that solar hot water respects the second law of thermodynamics. Basically, this law causes useful energy to be lost to heat every time that it is concentrated or converted from one form to another.

For example, traditional water heaters use electricity which was converted from coal or gas at a 40-60% efficiency in large powerplants operating at very high temperatures. Solar water heaters, on the other hand, only concentrate the heat from the sun a little bit in order to heat up water to the temperatures that you require.

This fundamental respect for the laws of nature together with the simplicity of a passive solar water heater leads directly to the second point: solar water heating is attractively cheap. When compared to solar PV, a simple passive solar water heating system would typically cost you about 4 times less per unit of electricity saved.

Finally, solar water heating mostly avoids the primary problem hampering solar PV: intermittent output. Because the geyser storing the hot water is well insulated, it can effectively store in the heat that was collected from the sun over a long period. In comparison to solar PV therefore, solar hot water not only serves its purpose when the sun is shining, but also after the sun has set.

Naturally, solar hot water will work a lot better in hot and sunny places than in cold and cloudy places. After a hot sunny day, solar water heater will typically still offer a burning hot water for your early morning shower. For a cold cloudy day, however, the electric heating element built into the solar water heater will be required if you want to shower in the morning.

Solar water heating is also an excellent poverty alleviation mechanism. It is cheap and simple, does not need any connection to the electrical grid, and most poor people live in hot climates which are well suited for solar water heating. Hot water might sound rather simplistic, but a simple hot shower can add great hygienic benefits and the boiling temperatures reached in the geyser can even be used for sterilizing drinking water.

Yes, solar water heating cannot solve our energy problems, but it can certainly make a contribution. Water heating typically consumes about 40% of the average household’s electricity usage and millions of households cutting most of this sizable component can certainly make a significant contribution to the big picture.

solar water heating capacity

So, if you live in a reasonably sunny location, please consider spending a few minutes on the Internet, finding a certified hot water heater installer, and getting one of these elegantly simple pieces of engineering on your roof. It is a great way to simultaneously save money and save the environment.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy