Disruptive Innovation 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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Ecotourism

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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Team Microgrid Rides for MS

MS Jersey FrontAfter two wonderful years riding with Team Christner, we finally had enough critical mass to establish a company-sponsored team from Microgrid Solar.  In the last year, we’ve hired a number of new people who are avid cyclists, and ride to work on a regular basis.  Rick Hunter, our CEO and company owner, created a corporate culture that encourages this, allowing employees to wear shorts in the summer and change clothes as needed.  We installed a bike rack in our front stairwell, and offer subsidized transit for people to bike and ride.  As a result of this, Microgrid was awarded a Silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclists.  In addition, Citizens for Modern Transit honored us along with Washington University with an award for 2014 Best Workplaces for Commuters.  . It’s fitting that such a cycling-centered company would have its own team! Continue reading

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St. Louis Hotel Makes Energy Efficiency and Sustainability a Top Priority

HIX ExteriorFrom the ground up, the Holiday Inn Express near the Lambert – St. Louis International Airport was designed to be a “green” hotel.  Owner Vinod Patel of OHM Hotel Group envisioned an energy-efficient and eco-friendly hotel that would appeal to business travelers who want to reduce their carbon footprint while on the road.

“We are pleased to offer this kind of a lodging experience for our environmentally-conscious guests,” said Patel. “We are thrilled at the response we’ve gotten from our guests,” he said, noting that the hotel has been completely booked on a regular basis since it opened in July 2014.

The combination of renewable energy, efficiency and conservation will likely enable the facility to be registered as an Energy STAR certified building after the hotel has been in operation for over a year.  The building will serve as a model for future hotels, which may also include additional features such as solar water heating and solar outdoor lighting. Continue reading

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Sustainability: A National Strategic Narrative

A National Strategic NarrativeWe all have our “story” – that which defines us either individually or as a group.  As Americans, we have long held the belief in our democratic values.  And yet, as the world has progressed, we are coming to find that we must adjust our policies and goals to reflect new realities.  We need a new “story.”

After World War II, George Kennan published an article The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which established the framework for a new story – that the United States was “the leader of the free world against the communist world; that we would invest in containing the Soviet Union and limiting its expansion while building a dynamic economy and as just, and prosperous a society as possible.”  This led to a non-partisan effort to craft the National Security Act of 1947, which would be the basis for our national defense strategy for the next 50 years and beyond.  Unfortunately, we are finding that the challenges we are facing in the 21st century are far different, and require a much different approach. Continue reading

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Living the Better Life

Better LifeThey say having children will change your life – for the better, of course.  When my wife and I had our first child, we called it “redefining normal.”

When lifelong friends Tim Barklage and Kevin Tibbs began their families at roughly the same time, they watched as their toddlers crawled around the floor and put just about everything that would fit into their mouths, including the fingers that touched nearly every surface within reach.  While many parents angst over the countless germs that their children are exposed to, Tim and Kevin were more concerned about the hazardous residue from the variety of household cleaners that they used to clean their homes. Continue reading

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