New world record a tall order

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers ...

Tagged: wind turbines, germany, tall turbines

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New world record a tall order

Cute toddler builds tall tower of blocks

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

Key Points

  • Germany built the world’s tallest wind turbine.
  • The tall towers take advantage of stronger, more-consistent wind higher in the sky.
  • The towers also have water reservoirs to store electricity. 

How tall things are is a big deal to toddlers.

My daughters ask almost every day if we can put a new marker on our door-jam height ruler. When we play blocks, the towers are built to be beautiful, and, of course, tallest in the whole kingdom. And I’m frequently asked if someday “I’ll be taller than you.”

It seems even engineering professionals are in on the height intrigue.

A team in Germany recently built the world’s largest wind turbines. I’m sure my little ones would approve of its impressive 809-foot height from base to tip of the blade.

In addition to some pretty great bragging rights (our tower is taller than yours!), the tall towers have energy benefits. The wind is generally stronger and more consistent higher in the sky. That means a tall tower can produce more energy than its shorter counterparts.

The new towers are more than tall and beautiful. They’re smart too.

They’re part of a pilot project that aims to solve wind’s reliability challenge.

Since we need energy even when the wind isn’t blowing, wind farms usually require some sort of back-up power. And building extra power plants just to kick in when the wind dies down makes wind less affordable.

The technology in these towers could help solve that.

They have water tanks built into them. When the turbines are making more power than people need, some of that energy is used to pump water from a reservoir up into the tanks. Then, when the wind isn’t blowing, or there’s a larger than normal demand for energy, the water can be released back down into the reservoir. As the water pours downhill, it goes through its own turbine that spins and makes electricity.

Whether building with blocks in your living room — or state-of-the art wind turbines in Germany — it seems taller really is better.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Bring on the burritos: Food trucks just got even better

There’s something about food trucks.

Maybe it’s that it gets you outside to enjoy a meal.

Or maybe it’s the novelty of hunting down your favorite meal on ...

Tagged: food trucks, Energy Efficiency, Green Energy

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Bring on the burritos: Food trucks just got even better

Customers stand outside the windows of a food truck.

A group of students recently collaborated with a chef to come up with a better food truck design. They named it the Synergy Truck. And we’ll forgive them for the name in light of the innovative solutions they brought to the food truck scene.

Key Points

  • Food trucks are fun and yummy but not very energy efficient.
  • A group of students designed a better food truck.
  • The truck generates energy from customers’ footsteps, has solar panels and wind turbines, and even generates light from the power of gravity. 

There’s something about food trucks.

Maybe it’s that it gets you outside to enjoy a meal.

Or maybe it’s the novelty of hunting down your favorite meal on wheels’ current location.

Or maybe it’s the fact that for some reason, having fried cheese layered around your taco seems like a perfectly reasonable option when it’s prepared by a hipster with a van.

Whatever the reason, there’s something fun about heading out for a good food truck meal.

But food trucks have a downside. Sometimes it’s hard to hear the birds chirping over the humming of diesel generators lined up behind the trucks. Transportable restaurants aren’t designed to be energy efficient.

Until now.

A group of students recently collaborated with a chef to come up with a better food truck design. They named it the Synergy Truck.

And we’ll forgive them for the name in light of the innovative solutions they brought to the food truck scene.

Here are a few of the Synergy Truck’s features:

Pavegen

A walkway along the length of the truck window, generating potential energy from consumers’ footsteps as they order their food.

GravityLight

Two GravityLights hanging to generate light from the power of gravity.

Insolar

Two Insolar umbrellas around the truck fitted with solar technology to enable phones and other USB devices to be charged, as well as solar panels on the roof of the truck to help power the kitchen appliances.

Capture Mobility

A Capture Mobility turbine on top of the truck to generate power from wind energy to help power the kitchen appliances.

Bio-bean

A grill unit using bio-bean’s carbon neutral Coffee Log briquettes to cook the food and bio-bean capture unit indicating the potential energy of the coffee waste collected.

MotionECO

A MotionECO capture unit indicating the potential energy of the waste cooking oil collected.

Check out this video for more details.

So when you need a reason to eat more fried-cheese-wrapped tacos, just remind yourself: Eating from food trucks tastes good and saves energy.

Green (salsa) never tasted so good.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Is this the best trick-or-treating town ever?

Your kids are probably starting to plan their Halloween costumes.

My daughters have opted to be princesses (shocking, I know).

One princess will be prim and proper.

The ...

Tagged: halloween, master planned community, sustainable energy

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Is this the best trick-or-treating town ever?

Illustration of a couple handing out candy during Halloween.

Babcock Ranch is a new, master-planned community with the goal to be the most sustainable town in the United States.

Key Points

  • The key to successful trick-or-treating is choosing a neighborhood with the best steps-to-treats ratio.
  • One new town in Florida is entirely walkable, making it a great place to max out treat potential.
  • The town aims to be the most sustainable town in the country by using solar and natural gas power and providing options for residents to walk or use autonomous solar-powered shuttles to get around. 

Your kids are probably starting to plan their Halloween costumes.

My daughters have opted to be princesses (shocking, I know).

One princess will be prim and proper.

The other will probably use her crown as a weapon.

Both will melt my heart.

Our neighborhood is pretty great for trick-or-treating, complete with an annual kids’ parade to kick off the sugar high.

But one town in Florida really takes the candy corn.

Babcock Ranch is a new, master-planned community with the goal to be the most sustainable town in the United States.

To achieve that, the town uses solar power when the sun is shining and energy provided by a Florida Power & Light natural gas-fired power plant at night. City developers say this combination of energy will make the town the greenest in the country.

Come Halloween, the ghosts, goblins and princesses who eventually live there will appreciate that the entire town is walkable. In fact, it’s designed with walkers in mind, making it the best place to really max out a neighborhood’s treat potential.

City planners hope that one day, residents in this community won’t even own cars.

To get around in daily life, residents can walk, use a solar-powered driverless electric car or hop on an autonomous shuttle — the first network of its kind in the country. Eventually, the town’s fleet of autonomous solar-powered vehicles will include pods for up to two people or larger buses, and they’ll all be accessible from an app.

The town also hopes to be a place where new energy solutions can be tried out, like innovative ways to store energy. City planners believe things tested there can one day be replicated in other communities nationwide.

According to Fast Company, residents will starting moving into their new homes in Babcock Ranch at the end of this year.

As for this Halloween, if you see a 3-year-old princess with a wild look in her eye and a sharp sparkly crown in her hand, run.

Trust me.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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These dog houses are more energy efficient than yours

Meet Miles.

His wardrobe is better than mine (I cannot pull off a monogramed scarf).

He owns a canine Fitbit ...

Tagged: miles, solar, dog houses

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These dog houses are more energy efficient than yours

West Highland White The

Groups were challenged to create dog houses that fit the dog’s size, personality and individual preferences. They also include sustainable features like rainwater collection, solar-powered lights, reclaimed materials and passive cooling.

Key Points

  • Miles is cool.
  • Way cooler than any of us.
  • His dog house will likely soon feature solar-powered water pumps to keep his dish fresh. 

Meet Miles.

His wardrobe is better than mine (I cannot pull off a monogramed scarf).

He owns a canine Fitbit and a doggy cooling mat for those hot summer days.

And now, thanks to a challenge from the U.S. Department of Energy, his house will soon likely be nicer — and more energy efficient — than mine.

You win, Miles. You win.

Miles, a 25-pound West Highland White Terrier, is going to flip when he sees the dog houses Denver-area architectural and engineering firms put together for the BARKitecture competition.

Groups were challenged to create dog houses that fit the dog’s size, personality and individual preferences. They also include sustainable features like rainwater collection, solar-powered lights, reclaimed materials and passive cooling. (One house has a solar chimney and underfloor heating system. Another has a solar-powered pump to circulate water to a drinking bowl.)

I can only assume that Miles prefers slightly chilled sparkling Perrier, but if he has to settle for flat water, he would want it fresh and circulated in on the hour.

Check out this slide show to see more canine creations.

These dog houses were inspired by the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon where college teams build energy efficient, solar-powered houses (for people, not dogs). The competition is taking place in Denver through Oct. 15 and is open to the public.

Miles will probably be escorted to Denver in his luxury dog car seat (yep, those exist too), wearing doggie sunglasses, and sipping a canine scotch on the rocks.

Because he’s Miles, and that’s how he rolls (and I’m a little jealous).


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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No tricks: M&M’s a renewable energy treat

Last year, I had a major Halloween fail. “Those kids don’t need any more candy,” I said. “These festive pumpkin-shaped pretzels will be just as fun! The kids will love them!” ...

Tagged: mars, candy, wind energy

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No tricks: M&M’s a renewable energy treat

Ghost made of chocolate-covered candies looks surprised

The best part is that Mars has been able to make progress on its renewable energy goals while keeping its energy affordable.

Key Points

  • Mars, Inc. is making a big commitment to renewable energy.
  • The company aims to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.
  • It already sources enough wind power to make all the M&M’s sold worldwide. 

Last year, I had a major Halloween fail. “Those kids don’t need any more candy,” I said. “These festive pumpkin-shaped pretzels will be just as fun! The kids will love them!” I said.

I. Was. Wrong.

As I passed a few out, I overheard a dad complaining about that “lame house” handing out pretzels.

So, I did what any good mom would do: I took my kids out trick or treating and left my husband to bear the backlash at home.

But this year will be different.

This year, I will pass out M&M’s.

Why?

Because Mars, Inc. sources enough wind power to make all the M&M’s sold worldwide.

Mars, Inc. just launched its Fans of Wind energy campaign with a goal to educate people about the value of renewable energy. The company already owns two wind farms and is committed to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2040.

The best part is that Mars has been able to make progress on its renewable energy goals while keeping its energy affordable.

Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer, said that the company is “doing this at cost parity or better than fossil fuel. … Any company can switch to renewables without penalty if you do it in a smart way.”

Making the switch to wind isn’t an easy one, even if it only takes a wind turbine spinning for one second to produce enough energy to manufacture eight packs of M&M’s (or so Fast Company says).

Wind has its challenges, like needing back up when wind conditions aren’t right for making energy. But the fact that Mars is figuring out ways to make it work in an affordable way is encouraging.

The campaign includes six ways for people like you and me to get involved:

1.Get informed. Learn about wind energy facts, trends and statistics. Check out the American Wind Energy Association for fact on wind power, costs and national and subnational analysis.

2.Find your footprint. Aspects of our everyday lives determine the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we are responsible for — our carbon footprint. There are several calculators available to help you find yours, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Carbon Calculator.

3.Be a smart energy user. Get tips for reducing your energy use and increasing energy efficiency, which helps the planet and your pocket by lowering your electricity bill. Check out the Department of Energy’s Energy Saver pageEPA Energy and Environment page and Energy Star program for starters.

4.Know your energy mix. Find out the power mix of your existing energy utility and the emissions produced by those sources with the EPA’s power profile report.

5.Buy green power. You can change your carbon footprint and support clean energy by purchasing electricity from renewable sources. There are many options — including installing solar panels, choosing renewable energy options from your energy service provider, purchasing renewable energy credits, or crowdfunding new, clean energy sources. You can start by calling your utility company or using the Green-e database to identify your clean energy options by ZIP code.

6.Get engaged. Learn about renewable energy standards in your state, and discuss your support with your local officials. You can volunteer with or donate to civil society organizations that support clean energy and climate action and support local community renewable projects in developing countries.

And here’s a bonus way: Pass on the pretzels and opt for the chocolate this Halloween. Believe me on this one. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Volkswagen’s comeback will be electric

Did you hear that Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back?

Only this time, it will be all electric with semi-self-driving capability.

And in a strange twist, ...

Tagged: Electric Vehicles, volkswagen, microbus

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Volkswagen’s comeback will be electric

Volkswagen microbus toy being held on the beach

So even though the microbus won’t be released until 2022, I decided to find out how feasible it would really be to go electric.

Key Points

  • Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back.
  • This time it will be all electric.
  • Getting an electric vehicle can have some perks and challenges. 

Did you hear that Volkswagen is bringing the microbus back?

Only this time, it will be all electric with semi-self-driving capability.

And in a strange twist, it’s really appealing to surfer dudes and middle-aged moms.

When I saw the story, I immediately started to dream about my future life as a microbus owner. We’d haul bikes and skis around for endless outdoor adventures. My daughters would name it after a cartoon character like Blaze, and I’d yell “everybody load up. Blaze is ready for some speed!”

But then I realized that if it’s all electric, I wouldn’t even know how to plan a trip to make sure I had enough charge to make it across my mostly rural state.

So even though the microbus won’t be released until 2022, I decided to find out how feasible it would really be to go electric.

Here’s what I found out:

  1. On road trips, map out your next charge. The Department of Energy recommends using this link to find fueling stations. The good news? It’s a nice tool. The bad news? The charging stations offered are pretty slim along my usual road trip routes. Even with the microbus’s 270-mile range, I might be pushing it to make it to the next public charging station. But as electric vehicles grow in popularity, by 2022, hopefully there will be more charging station options.
  2. Be good to your battery. You can make your battery last a little longer by easing up on the use of things like the A/C, entertainment centers and other accessories. But because I’m driving a microbus, I don’t need an A/C because clearly I’m already very cool. 
  3. Enjoy the perks. Of course there will be the obvious perks of ultimate hipness (Is that a California surfer or a Midwestern mother of two wearing mom jeans? Hard to tell.). But there are other perks that come with owning an electric vehicle. Some states let you drive in the carpool lane, even if you’re all alone. Some stadiums and other major destinations give electric vehicles primo parking spots. An extra perk for the microbus is that the batteries and electric engine are under the floor of the bus, making the interior more spacious. That frees up space for surf boards or, say, five ballet costumes for one spring dance recital.
  4. Consider the costs. To see what you’ll save on your fuel costs by using an electric vehicle instead of a gas-powered one, check out this link that calculates your cost per eGallon,. According to the Department of Energy, the price of an eGallon tells consumers how much it costs to drive an EV the same distance you could go on a gallon of unleaded gasoline in a similar car.

I’ll have to dream about the Volkswagen microbus for a few more years. Until then, hang 10. … See? I’m getting cooler just thinking about owning it.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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