Solar Lights Hit the Streets

From California to Cairo, LED (Light-Emitting Diode) street lights are becoming the norm and resulting in money and energy savings. Here’s a look at a few cities that are going solar.



Ann Arbor, Michigan


Ann Arbor launched a successful pilot project by replacing their downtown globe street lights with LED lights. Reduced maintenance and energy costs are saving the city $100,000 each year. Greenhouse gas emissions will also be reduced each year by 267 tons of CO2. According to the city, “Each LED replacement bulb saves $962 in energy and maintenance costs over its 10-year lifetime. At this savings rate, the new bulb pays for itself in 4.4 years.” Learn more about how Ann Arbor is lighting the way to energy savings.



Cairo, Egypt (and Beyond)


Egypt’s adoption of solar street lights began in 2013 throughout Cairo’s major districts, then expanded to Suez, Sharm el Sheikh, Alexandria, and many others. The country is now investing $157 million in LED street lights across the country. The significant energy savings is expected to pay for the project in 17 months, lighten the load on the electricity network, and prevent blackouts. Learn more about Egypt’s widespread adoption.



Raleigh, North Carolina


Raleigh residents can expect to save an estimated $215,000 annually in maintenance and energy because of their city’s LED lighting initiatives over the last 10 years. More than 40 projects include solar lighting on the streets, parks, parking decks, and more. Learn more about Raleigh’s LEDs.



San Diego, California


San Diego saves about $250,000 each year in energy costs with its 3,000 street lights using GE’s LightGrid technology. It was the first city in the U.S. to use this intelligent lighting system, which not only provides more efficient lighting, but also “provides accurate energy metering per light pole, allowing municipalities to pay only for the energy they actually use,” according to Cleantech San Diego. While super high-tech, the lights still have downtown San Diego’s historically charming look. Learn more about these intelligent wireless street lights.


Wonders of Recycling: Plastic-Bottle Homes

According to EcoWatch, Americans throw away 35 billion plastic water bottles every year. So it’s good to know that there are now initiatives around the world that are building houses out of plastic water bottles.



Recycled Home Sweet Home


Recycled Home Sweet HomeEcotech developed the technique to build solid walls out of water bottles. The bottles are filled with sand and stacked sideways, then bound together with mud or cement. TakePart’s article reports that the structures are “well insulated, incredibly strong (20 times stronger than brick), fire resistant, and even bulletproof. A typical two-bedroom home with a toilet, a kitchen, and a living room requires 14,000 plastic bottles and costs a quarter of what a conventional house would.”



Community Initiatives in Developing Countries


Community Initiatives in Developing CountriesWhile the price is right, there is still much effort required by many people to collect bottles and fill them with sand. But the technique has proved to be successful in many developing countries with large homeless populations. Ecotech projects have organized clean-up campaigns and recycling drives within communities.


Locals also help to fill the bottles with sand and those who are unemployed and handicapped are trained to do the construction. In addition to homes, Ecotech has used water bottles to build everything from schools and community centers to water tanks and urban benches.


Check out these pictures from to see plastic-bottle homes, offices, buildings, greenhouses, and other structures in Honduras, Bolivia, Africa, Serbia, Taiwan, Argentina, and Tokyo. There’s even a picture of a bottle wall constructed in the world-famous Morimoto restaurant in New York City. It was made with 17,400 plastic bottles!



More Plastic Facts from Eco Watch


Before you go, here are a few more surprising facts about plastic.


  • Over the last 10 years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century.
  • Enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the earth four times.
  • The production of plastic uses around eight percent of the world’s oil production.
  • It takes 500 to 1,000 years for plastic to degrade.

Get the complete list of facts here.


Cool Roofs

Made of reflective paint, tiles, or shingles, a cool roof can stay more than 30 percent cooler than a standard dark roof by reflecting more sunlight and absorbing less heat. So it can help you lower your air-conditioning costs and conserve energy. Pretty cool, huh?



Cool Benefits


Cool BenefitsWhen many buildings in a community have cool roofs, it can lesson what is called the “urban heat island effect,” which is the phenomenon of buildings soaking up the sun’s radiation and then re-radiating that heat after sundown. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lowering the amount of energy used to cool buildings “reduces local air temperatures; lowers peak electricity demand, which can help prevent power outages; and reduces power plant emissions, including carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury.”



Cool Savings


Cool SavingsMany types of cool roofs are the same price as standard roofs and some utility companies offer rebates. Beyond that, you’ll enjoy savings from a lower air-conditioning bill year after year. You can also receive up to $500 in a federal tax credit for a cool roof. Learn more about this federal tax credit.



Cool Roof Types


Cool Roof TypesThere are many different cool roof systems for both existing and new roofs. They all use thick coatings with reflective pigments. Some also offer restorative features and water protection. The Cool Roof Rating Council is a nonprofit organization that was created to conduct third-party tests and give accurate ratings on cool roof systems. You can search their online Rated Products Directory to compare options and find the cool roof that meets your needs. Check it out – it’s free!



Cool Walls, Too


Cool WallsYou can also use reflective paint on your exterior walls to cool your house – especially if you live in a warm climate. These “cool paints” are on the Federal Energy Management Program’s Promising Technologies List, which prioritizes technologies that help save energy but are underused.


International Energy Efficiency Scorecard

The largest economies in the world – a total of 16 nations – were ranked for their energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The results may surprise you.



U.S. in 13th Place


U.S. in 13th PlaceThe United States ranked 13th out of 16, surpassed by both China and India. The only economies that ranked below the U.S. were Russia, Brazil, and Mexico. The rankings are calculated by a variety of metrics, mainly focusing on the sectors most responsible for consuming energy in these economically developed countries: transportation, industry, and buildings. One reason America ranked so poorly is transportation. Not only do Americans drive more than anyone else ranked, they also came in last place for using public transportation.





Another area that America needs to improve: national energy efficiency building codes. This could make a tremendous impact on energy efficiency. For example, we know that buildings account for 40 percent of all U.S. energy used and that windows are responsible for 25 percent of a building’s consumed energy. Imagine the difference energy-efficient window film could make if its use was more widespread.


As Rachel Young, ACEEE Research Analyst and lead author of the report explains, the U.S. needs to become more energy-efficient if it wants to remain competitive in the global marketplace: “Countries that use energy more efficiently use fewer resources to achieve the same goals, thus reducing costs, preserving valuable natural resources, and gaining a competitive edge over other countries.”



And the Winners Are…


And the Winners AreGermany took top honors, followed by Italy, the European Union as a whole, China, and France. Germany’s Dr. Philipp Ackermann commented that “every kilowatt hour of electricity that is not consumed saves on fossil fuels and the construction of power plants and grids.” This speaks to a possible overall economic advantage over the U.S. because, according to the report, “using less energy to produce and transport the same economic output costs them less. Their efforts to improve efficiency likely make their economies more nimble and resilient.”



To learn more, download the entire report.


Report Shows How Ultra High-Definition TVs Drain Energy

You wouldn’t think that one little word, ultra, would make such a big difference. But it turns out that going from a High-Definition (HD) TV to an Ultra High-Definition (UHD) TV does make a difference – a $1 billion difference according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).



Ultra Costs


Ultra CostsBasically, that would be the additional annual cost to U.S. viewers’ utility bills if everyone switched to UHD TVs without the energy-efficient bells and whistles. However, there are some UHD models, such as those that are ENERGY STAR certified, that are just as efficient as the HD TVs. But since there are no regulations in place enforcing those efficiencies for all of the UHD TVs, there are many that use almost one-third more energy on average.


“The national energy and environmental consequences of the transition to UHD TV will be profound unless the TV manufacturing industry devotes sufficient time and resources to improve the efficiency of the TVs brought to market,” explains senior scientist Noah Horowitz, director of NRDC’s Center for Energy Efficiency. “The good news is that there are steps consumers, manufacturers, and policymakers can take to make sure our newest-generation televisions are not needlessly wasting energy.”



What Consumers Can Do


What Consumers Can DoIf you’re thinking about buying a UHD TV, the simplest thing you can do is buy an ENERGY STAR certified one. You can shop using filters on the Find and Compare Products section of ENERGY STAR’S website. If you already own a UHD TV, make sure to enable the Automatic Brightness Control. If your UHD TV is connected to the Internet, turn off the quick start feature, which will stop the standby power from being used, which can add up to considerable energy use. There are probably other electronics and appliances throughout your home that are also drawing unnecessary energy. To learn more, read “Save Energy by Slaying Vampire Power.”


Shining Innovations for LED Lighting

New advanced products and lower prices continue to make LED lights a no-brainer for conserving energy. One new standout bulb is the 9.5-watt Cree LED Soft White, a 2016 Top Ten Reviews Gold award-winner, which lasts for up to 22.8 years! For just $7.97 a pop! The manufacturer, Cree, made Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Companies 2015 for its breakthrough LED lighting technology.



The Incandescent Light Bulb’s More Energy-Efficient Twin


The Incandescent Light Bulb’s More Energy-Efficient TwinCree’s new 9.5-watt LED Soft White looks just like a traditional bulb. It fits into standard-size outlets. And it operates just as a traditional bulb would – lights immediately in all directions and dims without buzzing. But it uses up to 84% less energy, which earned it the trusted ENERGY STAR certification. Cree chief marketing officer Betty Noonan explains, “As a company on a mission for 100 percent LED adoption, we take pride in being risk-takers and disrupting the lighting industry with breakthrough, innovative products.”


To see how much money you can save with Cree LED bulbs, check out their savings calculator.



Dazzling Impact


Dazzling ImpactThe U.S. Department of Energy’s 2014 LED adoption report shines a light on just how impactful LED lighting can be to saving energy and money:

“Annual source energy savings from LEDs in 2014 were approximately 143 tBtu (equivalent to a cost savings of about $1.4 billion), but would have approached 4,896 tBtu (saving $49 billion) if all applications had switched “overnight” to the best-available LEDs.”


Indeed, more and more communities around the world are adopting LED lighting. For example, according to CleanTechnica, India is replacing all of its street lights with LED ones in the next two years. The projected annual savings of switching the 35 million street lights is “9000 million kWh of electricity annually, worth over $850 million.”



For even more bright ideas, see how you can save energy with solar lights, too.


Energy Calculators and Other Nifty Tools

Because it’s in everyone’s best interests to lower our energy consumption, there’s a surprising amount of tools out there to promote energy conservation. Here’s a look at a few resources offered right online.



ENERGY STAR Calculators


ENERGY STAR CalculatorsThe U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set strict guidelines for products to prevent greenhouse gas emissions. Products that meet these high standards are awarded with an ENERGY STAR designation. They’ve also made it possible to see how much energy and money these ENERGY STAR products can save with interactive calculators.


The calculators vary from product to product but they’re all designed to provide a ballpark of savings. For example, the calculator for an ENERGY STAR central air conditioner has you choose your city and fill in such information as your electric rate, cost of the unit, and its Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating – or you can just use their average default values. Then it calculates how much you can save with an ENERGY STAR central air conditioner and gives you a summary of benefits, which in this case is the following:




ENERGY STAR Home Advisor

ENERGY STAR Home Advisor
With the ENERGY STAR Home Advisor program, you create an online profile of your home’s energy use. It then analyzes your data and gives you customized recommendations on how you can improve your energy efficiency. Then, you can create a to-do list and keep track of your progress, making it easier to manage the process and ultimately, save more energy. Pretty cool, huh? Check it out.



Energy Incentives by State


Energy Incentives by StateDSIRE – a nationally-funded initiative at the N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center at N.C. State University – makes it easy to see what incentives are available in your particular state with an interactive map of the U.S. You click on your state, choose a program type and a technology, then a list of incentives appears. It also lists the latest policies that promote energy efficiency and renewable energy. Updated in real-time through database content, it’s the most comprehensive resource of this type of information in the nation. Take a look at the incentives offered in your state. It’s encouraging to see that so many rewards and policies are in place to help shape a more efficient future.


Honda’s Smart Home

Yes, that’s right. Not a smart car or a smart phone – a smart home. Considering that 3D printers are printing food these days, a smart home is not such a stretch. In fact, Statistica says revenue for smart houses in North America will hit $9.4 billion next year – a 42 percent jump from 2012. Honda’s smart home hints at the direction we’re heading, and it’s unique in that it was developed to show how both a house and an electric car can be powered by renewable energy. According to Michael Koenig, the project leader for the Honda smart home, the initiative was designed to showcase “Honda’s vision for zero-carbon living and personal mobility.”



Welcome to the “Zero Net” World


Welcome to the Zero Net WorldAll of the energy used in the house and to charge the car is monitored and controlled by a Home Energy Management System (HEMS) designed by Honda. Solar energy is stored during the day and then used at night when more electricity is demanded and the car needs to be charged. All in all, the 1,944-square-foot Honda smart home actually produces more energy than it uses – 75% less than a typical home – which makes it a “zero net” home. It’s fitting that Honda’s smart home dwells in an entire community that’s zero net, UC Davis West Village in California – the largest of its kind in the nation.



Bye-Bye Old-School Heat and AC


Bye-Bye Old-School Heat and ACWhat may be most amazing about this home is that it remains comfortable to live in without an air conditioner and heater. This is achieved in a number of ways, from sloping eaves on the windows, to thicker walls, to a roof that reflects light. But the real star of the heating and cooling show is a unique heat pump system that regulates the indoor temperature. Holes are dug into the ground to use the earth’s temperature to heat or cool water, which is then run through the house in pipes under the floor and in the ceiling on the second floor. This isn’t a new idea. What is new is the size of the holes they dug. Typically, they’re dozens of feet deep and small in diameter. Honda’s smart house heat pump holes are 24 inches wide by 20 feet deep. According to Jonathon Woolley, one of the engineers at UC Davis who designed the system, this can reduce the cost of the heat pump system by 90 percent!


With innovation like that, smart homes could become mainstream before we know it. To learn more about Honda’s smart home, check out this video.



Save Energy and Enjoy the Tiny House Lifestyle

There’s a whole “tiny house” movement in the U.S. that’s appealing for a number of reasons, one of the most compelling being that tiny houses significantly lower your carbon footprint. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 80 percent of a house’s greenhouse gas emissions over its lifespan are due to fuel consumption and electricity. Since most tiny houses are only 400 square feet at their largest – as opposed to the average American’s house of 2,600 square feet – they obviously have less space to heat and cool and use much less fuel and electricity.

A Stepping Stone to Financial Freedom

A Stepping Stone to Financial FreedomWhile conserving energy is top of mind these days as a way to protect our natural environment and stop global warming, there are other very real benefits to downsizing. According to a survey conducted by the Demand Institute, 40 million Americans are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing payments, property taxes, and other home expenses. Another survey by revealed that 76 percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. The tiny house movement says that you don’t need to live your life saddled with a mortgage payment. Instead you can use that money to travel or enjoy other adventures. Speaking of traveling, that’s another benefit of a tiny house – you can literally put it on wheels and take it with you.

Choosing Experiences Over Stuff

Choosing Experiences Over StuffCornerstone to the tiny house movement is the idea that when you clear the clutter from your life, you can focus on what makes you happy. Financial freedom means you have more time to do what you want, and when in a tiny house, it goes without saying that you’ll spend a whole lot less time doing chores around the house. To learn more, check out this video where tiny house owners talk about what living in a tiny house means to them.


How Window Film Reduces Greenhouse Gases

Greenhouse gases (a combination of vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone) are in the earth’s atmosphere and act as a giant blanket that makes the earth warmer, referred to as the greenhouse effect. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by nearly 40% since pre-industrial times – the current level is higher than it’s been in the last 800,000 years.


Window film is applied to glass to provide solar protection and increase energy efficiency by helping to reject heat in the summer and retain heat in the winter. This helps to reduce greenhouse gases in the following ways:


  • Less electricity and natural gas are used for heating and cooling
  • Fewer fossil fuels are burned
  • Less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere


Vicious Cycle


Vicious CycleStudies show that electricity (which is used for heating and cooling homes and businesses) is the biggest culprit for producing greenhouse gas emissions, which causes global warming, which causes climate change. One obvious result of this cycle is warmer temperatures. According to the First Biennial Report of the United States of America, 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States, and the 12 hottest years globally all happened in the last 15 years. Not surprisingly, greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use by homes and businesses went up 28% in the last 15 years.



Window Film to the Rescue


Now for some more encouraging facts from the International Window Film Association:


  • Buildings account for 40% of all U.S. energy used
  • Windows are responsible for 25% of a building’s consumed energy
  • 40% of commercial buildings and 33% of residential buildings have single pane glass

So there is vast potential for window film to lower greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s a look at just one example: the Safeco Plaza in Seattle, Washington, was ahead of its time and installed window film in 1996. Not only did they reduce their carbon emissions each year, they also enjoyed annual savings of $200,000 – not to mention the government incentives and rebates they received. And with the way the U.S. government has been strengthening its charge to stop global warming as of late, those incentives will no doubt only get better.