A Carbon Neutral Dream

If Thomas Edison was alive today, would he chose to be carbon neutral?

This post takes a conceptual look at the issue of a carbon neutral way of living. See also the Carbon Neutral template for a practical look at how we can achieve the dream of living carbon neutral.

Thomas Edison was a giant, a genius who set the tone for the modern technological development of the Twentieth Century. His invention of the electricity grid was a monumental shift in thinking for mankind from stand alone machines to enormous interlinked systems that delivered us the electricity grid and paved the way for our modern convenience society. Of possibly even more significance was how his thinking influenced his employee and then later best friend Henry Ford to think of systems of manufacturing when he implemented the first mass production lines to produce affordable products for the masses. The Electricity grid also set us on a path towards a fossil fuel instead of a carbon neutral economy. There was no choice at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Today there are many choices and we know a lot more about the effects of the various technologies on the environment.

What is the big deal with being carbon neutral? There was none when Edison and Ford set up their progressive new systems of providing affordable benefits to millions of people, but 250 years of industrial development and the constant quest to extend these benefits to all of mankind have led us to the point of understanding that our endeavors have grown so big that they are having an incredible impact on the environment. But saying it this way makes it sound benign and somehow distant.

Natures design ensures that every living organism has the right to enjoy the abundance that it provides while alive, but also has a responsibility to contribute to the ability of the planet to support and improve the conditions to support life while they are alive. We humans, have not yet fully acknowledged our responsibility to further improve the ability of the planet to support life. So far, in 250 years of industrial development, we have chosen to believe that we have a divine right to take resources from the earth and give back whatever waste outputs they produce from pollutants to the depletion of natural environments to trash which can take thousands and in some cases even millions of years to decay. Since Rachel Carson pointed out in the early 60′s that we are in fact affecting the ability of the earth to support life through our industrial activities, the awareness has grown to the point where in many surveys today, over 80% of people say they are concerned about or aware of the impact we are having on the environment. In the big scheme of things, the 3.5 billion years of life on the planet, that is already a long way to have traveled in understanding in 50 years.

The design of nature did not include the burning of fossil fuels and the resultant addition of CO2 and other substances to the atmosphere. A carbon neutral lifestyle describes one in which we as a species do not add more carbon to the environment than already exists, or if we do, that we find ways to reduce or remove it in order to restore the balance to what it should be for nature to continue it’s cycle of life. So what does this carbon neutral cycle look like? Vegetation and the oceans act as filters converting and therefore regulating the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by converting it into carbon contained in sugars or glucose and oxygen. That carbon is stored in the wood of trees leaves and vegetation after it dies and is eventually absorbed into the soil. Carbon itself is not the enemy! It is one of the building blocks of life! But like everything else in the miracle that is life, it needs to be kept within balanced limits.

Balance is the concept that man struggles with the most!

We understand concepts like progress,dominate, win, own, empower and control very well, but balancing our needs with those of the other living creatures and organisms has so far been beyond most of our understanding because it is so difficult to get a real grasp of the complex system that we refer to as nature and to conceive of the complex inter-relationships between our actions and their eventual consequences.

This is why such a simple concept as a carbon footprint is such a giant leap forward for us to have got to the point of being able to describe in a simple single dimensional number the magnitude of the impact that our lifestyles have on the environment  or better restated as the ability for the world to support life over the long term.

Before the industrial revolution, man participated in nature in a carbon neutral manner, taking only from nature what could be replaced by nature. Wood, food, oxygen, water, nutrients from the soil.

Today we have the ability to produce technical or man made materials such as plastics, chemicals and petroleum that nature did not produce. The problem is that we have only designed the top half of the cycle. The creation and use of things made from man made materials, not the return of the component parts of these things to nature or the ability to remake new things as nature does. In order to become carbon neutral, we have to design the lower half of the circle to create a return path back to new products and services instead of just disposing of our used products and expecting nature to take care of it. William McDonough refers to this as a Cradle to Cradle economy (like nature), rather than a Cradle to Grave economy, which is what our system looks like today.

It is a simple concept to grasp, but the trigger to make the change has so far not been there for most people meaning it always seemed that being carbon neutral would result in entities or a way of life that was less profitable than being carbon neutral. However, Ray Anderson, an incredible visionary business leader took it upon himself to provide the example of how we can align business goals with the goal of living carbon neutral and stated towards the end of his life that by providing an example of how this is possible, that it would therefore by implication make it feasible for all. His company, Interface, a carpet company that makes it products from petro-chemicals is already almost 80% of the way to becoming carbon neutral and is on a path to be there by 2020. The example is there and exists in many other examples from Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors to the Toyota Prius to the Nike Considered range of foot ware to the latest developments in LED lighting to Coca Cola’s plastics, aluminum and glass recycling efforts. The revolution to become carbon neutral is already well underway!

It has also been possible for a few decades to have a carbon neutral home. Building consume about 40% of all energy and about 34% of all water and are therefore a prime target for reductions in carbon consumption when aiming for a carbon neutral lifestyle. The technologies to have a home that does not use grid supplied electricity, gas or water exist, but have not been turned into convenient, affordable mass produced systems for homes yet in the way that Edison and Ford did for Electricity and transportation at the beginning of the twentieth Century.

As the new green or carbon neutral economy starts to emerge, many of these technologies are in that phase of transition from one-off, almost hand crafted products to mass produced low cost commodity products. You can see the evidence of this in our Green Home Gallery where there are many examples of carbon neutral or zero energy homes.

The dream of a carbon neutral economy is slowly morphing into a reality. In his ever to thoughtful and practical way, Ray Anderson referred to it as a mid course correction on our journey to becoming an advanced species.

Consider what that means for a moment. scientists talk about the next step in the development of our civilization as being the shift from being a single planetary species to becoming a multi-planet species. In order to achieve that, we will need many things, but primarily, we will need to understand how to create the conditions for and nurture the conditions for life and that means getting to grips with our carbon habit and excessive use of the earths resources such as water! We are already past the point of imagining it and are actively on the road towards solutions that will change how we live and consume.

Read the articles on this site for practical things you can do to progress your journey towards a carbon neutral lifestyle.

 

Progress on Net-Zero Housing

Changing the way we live from net consumers to net contributors to the conditions for sustaining life is necessary for us to assimilate our industrial, man made world into the natural world.

I think this is gradually becoming clear that our purpose or destiny in the Universe to be the responsible for maintaining and developing the conditions required to sustain life.

A grand vision indeed.

Bringing that down to the practical level the first steps are to improve the efficiency of our man-made world. What I love about this notion is how it ties both sides of the argument about global warming together. You should do it if you want to reduce CO2 levels in the atmosphere and slow and then reverse global warming. You should do it if you don’t care about global warming, but believe that as the superior beings that it is our destiny to explore and conquer the heavens because you are going to need highly efficient life sustaining systems out there in the universe to allow you to return from your journey.

Building use 40% of our energy so starting t turn them from net consumers of energy to net contributors of energy to the grid would be a great start. Buildings that consumer less than they give back are called Net Zero Energy buildings. The same can be done for water, sewage, heating and cooling.

Producing a building that can achieve these goals is possible. We have the technologies to achieve this. Producing them at a cost that residents are willing to pay for is where we are applying our innovation efforts at the moment.

Lancaster, California has gone a step further. The mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, is committed to turning the whole town Net Zero and turning his whole town into a strong competence and innovation hub for green tech in the process. Hats off to you for a gutsy commitment Mayor Parris. We are committed to spreading the word about your progress and shaming other cities into following in your footsteps.

What can we learn from this initiative:

- using the mayor’s office can vastly accelerate the progress. The mayor can call for meetings amongst important players who need to work together

- create local tax structures to drive investments and actions in the right direction

- set up the legal and administrative framework to accelerate the number and size of projects

KB homes were asked to work with the City to produce an affordable Net zero energy and water home called “Doublezero” which saves home owners $4,452 in annual electricity and water bills.

Many of the challenges of meeting a Net-Zero state revolve around financing. Finding business models that will work to make these investments in infrastructure appealing also requires a lot of innovation. Much of the math is starting to work now as our aging energy Infrastructures improvement costs become apparent and the costs of silicon continue to come down.

Electric Cars update Spring 2014

To the list in the article below we can add a few new entrants to the rapidly expanding electric car offerings: the new BMW i3 which is stylish and the lightest EV on the market. It uses a liquid-cooled 22-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack to deliver 90-plus miles of range. The i3 is also available with a small gas engine that essentially doubles the range. A 170-horsepower electric motor drives the rear wheels. It costs $42,200

The BMW i8 is an expensive sleek futuristic plug-in hybrid supercar. The car is powered in a one-two punch by a powerful 96-kilowatt (129-horsepower) electric motor driving the front wheels—and an efficient 230-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine motivating the rear wheels. $136,000 with a range of 25 miles plus a gas range (unknown)

Chevrolet Spark Electric Vehicle This vehicle is available in Oregon and California only at the moment. 82 mile range and 400 pounds ft of torque! $19,185. Read about the impressive list of ways that Chevrolet has tried to maximize the eco nature of this vehicle

The Cadillac ELR boasts an electric-only range of 35 miles and a total combined range of about 340 miles. The ELR shares most of its technical elements with the current Chevy Volt, including its 1.4-liter gasoline engine and 16.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. But the ELR features Cadillac’s signature creased, mean, angular look. $76,000

The Mercedes Benz B-class E-cell electric car competes directly with the BMW i3. While Daimler has not widely promoted the B-Class Electric Drive, company executives say it will outperform the i3 for speed, range, comfort, and overall driving characteristics. Its powertrain is provided by Tesla Motors. $42,375

And last but definitely lot least the Tesla Model X. The Model X is Tesla’s follow-up vehicle to the award-winning Model S sedan. The X shares about 60 percent of the content from the sedan—converting the sleek Maserati-looking five-passenger model into a stylish crossover utility vehicle. This vehicle has a range of 230 miles and will cost $80,000 later in the year as a 2015 model.

Smart Electric Drive at only $12,490 and 107 mile range, this little car will make you want to take the scenic route every time.

There is also a VW Golf and a Kia Soul in the works, but not officially announced yet.

This would make 20 electric cars offered in 2014. This time, it is really happening, we are getting an alternative to the gas powered car and with the number of new models coming through, apparently automakers have committed to the technology for sure!

Yeah!

Electric Car Update Spring 2013

Sales of electric cars continue to climb showing a similar trend to hybrid cars right after their introduction a few years earlier.

The offerings for 2013 are the Tesla Model S,Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, Smart Fortwo, Fiat 500e, Coda, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Honda Fit EV, Toyota Rav4 EV, Weego LiFE, Mini E.

Cumulative growth curve for Electric cars in the USA over the past two years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric Car sales have grown and now represent 3.77% of the new car market share in Q1 2013, continuing the steady growth through 2012. If you have ever worked with Wal-Mart on new product introductions, you would know that they do not consider getting into a market until a new concept represents about 10% of the total market. That should happen in roughly 3 years based on present market growth.

It is worth pondering this for a second. We have had cars and car innovation for over 100 years and in the space of 5-6 short years electric cars are likely to represent 10% of the market! In other words mass acceptance? Wow! Best you get yours now!

Toyota is bucking the trend though with a big announcement last September that they were killing their plans for electric cars and increasing their Hybrid production to 21 models by 2015. We’ll take that. In fact, I would be very surprised if Toyota don’t insert a hybrid drive system in every car before the end of the decade. It makes a lot of sense, pushing up the numbers and therefore helping them to get to economies of scale and cut the costs even further and what Driver would not want to be able to enjoy the better mileage that it would deliver. They say that they don’t expect to sell more the 2,700 of the electric Rav 4 in the next 3 years. Well something is definitely wrong in their calculations. To date this year over 9,000 electric vehicles have been sold already.

Anyone want to take a bet that there will not be electric propulsion system of some sort (hybrid/power assist/range extension…) in every vehicle by the end of the decade?

Why?

It is hard to deny the story in this chart. Electric will always be substantially cheaper than gas. Perhaps much cheaper. Anyone seen gas prices going down at a pump near you over the long-term the past 5 years? It will just keep going up.

electricity versus gasoline per gallon equivalents in a shart until 2035

Go Green

Why do we each need to make the commitment to go green? The present path we are on, the path that was set for us during the industrial revolution and its development of  massive systems for generating electricity, delivering fresh water and processing sewage and storm water are contributing enormously to the greenhouse gasses that are causing the earth’s temperature to rise and consequently our climate to change. Over the next century, in other words during our children’s life times, these changes will have serious consequences.

Given the scientific understanding that the way we are living now is responsible for the climate change it makes sense that we need to go green, to find a new way to live. That way has already been invented and has reached a cost that is close to if not cheaper than the present way of living. It not only makes sense because it is the right thing to do, but also because it is more than likely going to be the cheaper thing to do in the long run as well!

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Solar Power Growth Trends Per State in the USA

Solar power is on a strong growth curve in the USA over the past few years. In this article you can find the available solar capacity per state and see the trends in how fast it has been growing over the past few years. Sadly, what you read about is generally the bad news about what is going on in the solar industry. This article focuses on the good news!

The graphs are shown in the rank order of the states installed solar capacity in the USA from largest to smallest. You can find the state sponsored solar Incentives per state here and you will see a fairly direct connection between solar growth and state incentives still for most states.

Investing in solar is a form of inflation insurance. The sooner you and therefore your state converts to solar, the sooner you get off the cost of living rises that are an integral part of an oil based economy where the price of oil is controlled by OPEC or global corporations.

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Be the first solar home on your street!

…and we’ll feature your home in our gallery.

 

Here’s why we think it is important for you to become the pioneer on your street.

Who will install the first solar powered roof in your neighborhood? Research shows that the presence of a single solar power home in a neighborhood accelerates the adoption of solar power much faster than any other type of marketing because neighbors can talk to the owners, find out how it works, see the electricity meter spinning backwards for themselves, see the bills of $5 -10 a month and really understand first hand that solar works.

If you have the first solar roof in your street, send us an email and attach a photograph of your home with the solar panels visible and we will post your home as a leader in solar in our photo gallery.

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The Rapid Growth Of Solar Power In The USA

2012 has been a bumper year for utility scale (over 10MW installations) solar power in many states across the USA with total installed capacity of new solar power installations over 10MW totaling 3GW of capacity in a year for the first time. This was up from 2.3GW of new utility scale solar power installations in 2011. The total installed utility scale solar power in the USA is now 8.5GW, or a 35.6% growth, according to a recent PV TECH article. This figure, while impressive and growing rapidly still leaves the US trailing the world leader, Germany by a considerable distance. Germany already has 31.62GW of solar power installed as of October 2012 which is 3% of their generating capacity and they expect to reach 25% solar powered electricity generation by 2050.

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Clive Roux, CEO

Headshot of Clive Roux, CEO

Clive Roux, CEO

Clive Roux is the founder and CEO of Live Green. He started his career as an Industrial Designer, designing products for Philips, GM, P&G, Coca Cola and many other global brands.

Clive has started a Green Design consultancy, honing his techniques and thinking about how to contribute to pushing the world towards a greener more sustainable path. He has also served as the CEO of two design non-profit organizations.

For more on Clive’s career download the PDF: Clive Roux Resume Dec 2012  or for a summary of his career, go to his LinkedIn Profile.

Living Green Links

Live Green is a site to help homeowners to make their home green, to explain the concept of a sustainable, net zero energy home and to present the facts about our carbon footprints in the USA. We recognize that there are a lot of other factors that can significantly improve your carbon footprint in terms of what you eat, the cleaners you use and the products you purchase. That is why we have compiled an easy to find list for you of sites that provide this sort of information.

Resources for living green:

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