My Volt Love Story

2008 Chevy VoltWhen I saw the first production design Volt in 2008, I was fascinated.  It was a great looking car, and the idea of running on electricity was particularly alluring.  Now, if the truth be told, I had not been a fan of GM since I was a kid coveting the Camaro or many other of their muscle cars.  The beginning of my spiral down was when we went through five clutches on our ’74 Vega before discovering that the flywheel was actually off balance.  And I continued to shake my head with disgust over the years at the declining quality of GM’s cars.

I’m pretty sure I saw Who Killed the Electric Car after I discovered the Volt, but I was certainly pleased to see GM offering an EV again.  What was particularly appealing to me was the backup generator that would allow you to drive an EV most of the time, but still have the flexibility of driving long distances.  Frankly, I think their ingenious EREV platform will help us make the transition from ICE to electric.

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Film Review: Merchants of Doubt

“We’re the negative force—we’re just trying to stop stuff.”

merchants-of-doubtMarc Morano, Executive Director of, a leading site for climate change skeptics.

This quote sums up the theme of Merchants of Doubt, a hard-hitting and at times discouraging documentary which details the campaign to discredit scientific climate research. Morano is one of those talking heads you’ll find on the cable news networks, grinning from his side of a split-screen shot, the other side occupied by a slightly rumpled but well-meaning and credentialed scientist. “I’m not a scientist, although I do play one on TV occasionally,” Morano laughs in the film, “Okay, hell, more than occasionally.”

That doesn’t deter him from spreading doubt in the guise of information: “Communication is about sales. Keep it simple. People will fill in the blank with their own, I hate to say, biases, but with their own perspective in many cases.”

Morano is just one of a host of unsavory characters presented in the documentary, all putting their remarkable communications and sales skills at the service of the fossil fuel industry. None of these persuaders would necessarily deny that climate change is happening, but they’ll do their best to cast doubt on the science and paint the green movement as the public face of a socialist uprising. Continue reading

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Team Microgrid Rides Again!

Microgrid EnergyOnce again, Microgrid Energy sponsored a team to ride in the 2015 Bike MS: Express Scripts Gateway Getaway Ride on September 12-13.  We first formed a team in 2014, and raised over $5,000 for the Gateway Area Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Our goal is to raise at least that much again this year.

The event, long held in central Missouri in and around Columbia, was relocated to the beautiful campus of the Lewis & Clark Community College in Godfrey, IL this year.  While this location was certainly less convenient for mid-Missouri residents, the bulk of the riders in the annual event are from the St. Louis region, so this was a welcome change for most.  The new location offered much more comfortable amenities, including indoor showers, a swimming pool, an air-conditioned dining hall, and an all-around more attractive surrounding than the fairgrounds that regularly host livestock and equestrian events. Continue reading

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10 Questions About Solar (+ 10 more)

Solar reflection

A business colleague’s daughter is taking a STEM class at Lutheran High School South, and was tasked with asking an industry professional questions about solar.  I thought she did a very nice job of coming up with the set of questions below, and suspect that many people have similar questions.

While each of these questions alone could potentially generate an essay, here’s a fairly quick response and easy read.


  1. Can I become energy independent by using solar panels at my house?

Yes, but this is challenging.  The average home uses 12,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy annually, and you’d need about a 10 kW system (about 40 solar panels, which would take about 750 ft2 of roof space) on your roof to produce that much energy.  Ideally, you would deploy a number of energy efficiency and conservation strategies to reduce your usage, so that you’d need a smaller array. Continue reading

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Disruptive Innovations in the Energy Industry

Sun behind TowerThis is an exciting time in the energy industry, unless you work for an electric utility company.  Just like changes that happened in the telecom industry not too long ago, these utilities are in for a shake-up. The three-prong disruptive forces of electric vehicles, solar photovoltaics (PV), and energy storage are combining to create a whole new world of clean energy. Each of these are covered below in more detail. Continue reading

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No More Gas for the Grass

Black & Decker SPCM1936Americans love their lawns.  Though manicured grasses originated in England, we continue to adorn our homes with expansive lawns that require a lot of maintenance, including water and mowing.  At our suburban home, we’ve been slowly reducing the size of our own lawn each year, yet it still requires an hour of mowing and trimming every week or two during the summer.  In addition to the nonstop noise pollution of our gas-powered mower, each hour of mowing is equivalent to the emissions from four hours of driving a car.  So I started looking at electric alternatives several years ago.

Like most people, my first impression of an electric mower is the traditional corded variety, which requires a long extension cord and a lot of caution and patience.  As I admired a nearly antique Black & Decker in my 90 year-old neighbor’s shed, she offered it to me as a gift for helping her with some things around her home.  All it needed was a sharpened blade and it was ready for service, even after no maintenance for years. Continue reading

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Green Hotels

HIX Front DeskChances are that if you’ve stayed in a hotel lately, you’ve seen cards inviting guests to choose to re-use their towels and have their beds made without changing the linens.  This certainly began in areas where water is less abundant, like California, but has made its way into even mainstream hotels in the Midwest.  Laundering less saves a significant amount of not just water, but also energy and other resources.  And why not?  How many of us change our bed linens or towels after a single use?

The more progressive hotels are taking a longer, harder look at making their operations more sustainable.  In addition to the water-saving programs mentioned above, many hotels are installing low-flow faucets, showers and dual-flush toilets, and are choosing to serve water in their restaurants only on request.  In 2014, the EPA launched their WaterSense H2Otel Challenge to encourage water savings, and help participants gain a competitive edge in the process. Caesars Entertainment was the first company to embark on the challenge, and saves millions of gallons of water each year, along with a significant amount of energy that would have been used to heat that water. Continue reading

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Modern Flames

Modern FlamesFireplaces have long established a sacred spot in the center of our living or family rooms.  The nostalgic sound, feel and smell of a crackling wood fire has a cozy, romantic feel.  Many traditionalists believe that a natural wood fire is well worth the mess and effort it takes to build the fire.  And yet, in our never-ending quest for “easy,” many have sought cleaner, easier ways to create the coveted fire in the hearth.

As natural gas became more prevalent, many fireplaces were built or retrofitted with a gas fuel line to more easily start the wood fire.  However, this still required a supply of wood and the need to clean out the ashes and chimney on a periodic basis.  To eliminate this nuisance, artists created realistic looking ceramic logs to resemble burning wood, with glowing embers beneath.  These fires could be created with the turn of a knob, or even the flick of a switch.  Other artistic creations used glass or stone pebbles out of which the gas-fueled flames would rise, creating soft, elegant fires that warmed the senses. Continue reading

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Cropped Citadel from the Southeast

Machu Picchu city from just inside the Sun Gate, with Huaynu Piccchu mountain just beyond

Ecotourism is a new way to embrace sustainability in travel.  Per the backpacker’s motto – “Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.”ecotourism is a style of travel that has a low-impact on the environment, and usually involves pristine or undisturbed natural areas off the beaten path of more commercial destinations. Travelers that choose this alternative vacation are typically eager to learn more about the area they visit, and often see it as a way to support the economic development of the local communities. Ecotourism can be a powerful means to encourage respect for diverse cultures and to support human rights.

After reading The Celestine Prophecy in the mid ‘90s, I became enthralled with Machu Picchu, fascinated by the history and culture of Peru.  I’d read the book after an enthusiastic recommendation from a good friend, and after years of talking about going, we finally decided to put it out on the calendar and make it happen.  After exploring the many options, we chose Peru Tourism to help us plan a two-week ecotour to explore all three distinct and diverse geographies of Peru – the coast, the mountains, and the rainforest. Continue reading

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Recycling Can’t Get Any Easier

Republic ServicesGrowing up, our family started recycling because my frugal father received a small pittance for our aluminum cans and newspapers, so we had special bins in the garage for each.  We’d crush the cans to optimize the space requirements, and haul them off to a specialized facility that would weigh them and pay us by the pound.  It might only be enough to go buy another six pack, but it was incentive enough to help rationalize recycling.

These days, rather than getting that small reward, we actually pay to recycle.  But that’s because recycling is easier than ever.  Most waste haulers offer single stream recycling to enable customers to put all recyclable items into a single container.  The waste hauler collects everything together, and hauls it to a central Material Recovery Facility where recyclables of all kinds are sorted, compressed and baled, then sold and shipped off to be reused.  Smaller MRFs use a lot of manual sorting, but these days there’s a lot of expensive equipment to expedite the sorting process.  After touring a $20 million facility operated by Republic Services, one of largest waste haulers in the country, I was amazed at the speed and immensity of their operation. Continue reading

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