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5 Ways You Can Use Technology to Become a More Environmentally-Conscious Consumer



iphone by Gonzalo Baeza via Flikr

Technology is often seen as part of the problem when it comes to climate change, and it’s not hard to see why with recent reports showing that the majority of our electronic waste ends up in landfills in developing nations rather than being recycled.

But since technology isn’t going anywhere, it’s important that we find ways to make it part of the solution too, and there are countless apps and gadgets that can help us shop more sustainably, conserve energy at home and minimize our carbon footprint.

Not sure where to get started? Here’s a quick look at some of the most effective ways technology can help you become a more environmentally-conscious consumer.

1. Shop with green apps

One effective way to reduce your carbon footprint is to make more environmentally-friendly purchases, and thanks to all the ‘green’ apps that are being developed these days, it’s becoming a lot easier to figure out which products have the lowest impact on the environment.

For instance, you can find apps that help you to locate farmer’s markets and sustainable eateries in your area, apps that let you scan a product’s barcode to check for carcinogens or toxins and even apps that tell you how and where you can dispose of household items and electronics responsibly.

3. Invest in a few smart power strips

Leaving larger electronics like Televisions, DVD players or computers on standby or plugged in when you’re not using them can use up a surprising amount of energy, especially if you’re leaving a lot of appliances on standby 24/7 throughout your home.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average U.S. household spends around $1,900 on energy each year, and between 5% and 10% of that is used by appliances that are left plugged in unnecessarily.

This is where smart power strips can help, because rather than having to unplug each appliance after use, a smart power strip automatically cuts the power when an appliance goes into standby mode.

3. Install a smart thermostat

Little slips of the mind like forgetting to turn off the heating or air-conditioning when you leave the house can waste a lot of energy, which is why using a smart thermostat can help you conserve energy without even really thinking about it.

Some smart thermostats will monitor your usual habits, such as when you normally leave for work, when you come home or when you go to sleep, and will then be automatically programmed to fit your lifestyle. Others may simply allow you to control the temperature in your home remotely or program a weekly schedule in advance.

4. Use solar energy whenever possible

Even if powering your home entirely with solar energy is too expensive for you at this moment in time, you may be able to switch some of your appliances or electronic devices to solar energy and still make a big difference to the environment.

For instance, research shows that by 2019, the greenhouse gases produced by smartphone charging will be on par with the yearly emissions of 1.1 million cars, so even just investing in a portable solar battery charger for your smartphones and tablets can help.

If you want to start using more solar energy around the home, check out this infographic for examples of innovative gadgets that allow you to harness the sun’s power, including solar backpacks, solar-powered sound systems and solar generators.

5. Use an energy-management system

Unless you’re tracking your energy usage, it will be difficult to get a clear picture of how much energy you’re using, where and when it’s being used and what sort of changes you might make to cut down on your energy consumption.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to use an energy-management system. There are numerous apps that can provide you with a clear overview of your household’s energy consumption and allow you to track it in real-time from your phone, but some energy providers have started providing this service, so check with your energy provider or consider switching to one that offers free energy-monitoring.

Marianne Stenger is a writer with Open Colleges. She covers everything from career development to life hacks and sustainable living. You can connect with her on Google+ and Twitter or find her latest articles here.



Responsible Energy Investments Could Solve Retirement Funding Crisis




Energy Investments
Shutterstock / By Sergey Nivens |

Retiring baby-boomers are facing a retirement cliff, at the same time as mother nature unleashes her fury with devastating storms tied to the impact of global warming. There could be a unique solution to the challenges associated with climate change – investments in clean energy from retirement funds.

Financial savings play a very important role in everyone’s life and one must start planning for it as soon as possible. It’s shocking how quickly seniors can burn through their nest egg – leaving many wondering, “How long your retirement savings will last?

Let’s take a closer look at how seniors can take baby steps on the path to retiring with dignity, while helping to clean up our environment.

Tip #1: Focus & Determination

Like in other work, it is very important to focus and be determined. If retirement is around the corner, then make sure to start putting some money away for retirement. No one can ever achieve anything without dedication and focus – whether it’s saving the planet, or saving for retirement.

Tip #2: Minimize Spending

One of the most important things that you need to do is to minimize your expenditures. Reducing consumption is good for the planet too!

Tip #3: Visualize Your Goal

You can achieve more if you have a clearly defined goal in life. This about how your money can be used to better the planet – imagine cleaner air, water and a healthier environment to leave to your grandchildren.

Investing in Clean Energy

One of the hottest and most popular industries for investment today is the energy market – the trading of energy commodities. Clean energy commodities are traded alongside dirty energy supplies. You might be surprised to learn that clean energy is becoming much more competitive.

With green biz becoming more popular, it is quickly becoming a powerful tool for diversified retirement investing.

The Future of Green Biz

As far as the future is concerned, energy businesses are going to continue getting bigger and better. There are many leading energy companies in the market that already have very high stock prices, yet people are continuing to investing in them.

Green initiatives are impacting every industry. Go Green campaigns are a PR staple of every modern brand. For the energy-sector in the US, solar energy investments are considered to be the most accessible form of clean energy investment. Though investing in any energy business comes with some risks, the demand for energy isn’t going anywhere.

In conclusion, if you want to start saving for your retirement, then clean energy stocks and commodity trading are some of the best options for wallets and the planet. Investing in clean energy products, like solar power, is a more long-term investment. It’s quite stable and comes with a significant profit margin. And it’s amazing for the planet!

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What Should We Make of The Clean Growth Strategy?



Clean Growth Strategy for green energy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By sdecoret |

It was hardly surprising the Clean Growth Strategy (CGS) was much anticipated by industry and environmentalists. After all, its publication was pushed back a couple of times. But with the document now in the public domain, and the Government having run a consultation on its content, what ultimately should we make of what’s perhaps one of the most important publications to come out of the Department for Business, Energy and the Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in the past 12 months?

The starting point, inevitably, is to decide what the document is and isn’t. It is, certainly, a lengthy and considered direction-setter – not just for the Government, but for business and industry, and indeed for consumers. While much of the content was favourably received in terms of highlighting ways to ensure clean growth, critics – not unjustifiably – suggested it was long on pages but short on detailed and finite policy commitments, accompanied by clear timeframes for action.

A Strategy, Instead of a Plan

But should we really be surprised? The answer, in all honesty, is probably not really. BEIS ministers had made no secret of the fact they would be publishing a ‘strategy’ as opposed to a ‘plan,’ and that gave every indication the CGS would set a direction of travel and be largely aspirational. The Government had consulted on its content, and will likely respond to the consultation during the course of 2018. And that’s when we might see more defined policy commitments and timeframes from action.

The second criticism one might level at the CGS is that indicated the use of ‘flexibilities’ to achieve targets set in the carbon budgets – essentially using past results to offset more recent failings to keep pace with emissions targets. Claire Perry has since appeared in front of the BEIS Select Committee and insisted she would be personally disappointed if the UK used flexibilities to fill the shortfall in meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, but this is difficult ground for the Government. The Committee on Climate Change was critical of the proposed use of efficiencies, which would somewhat undermine ministers’ good intentions and commitment to clean growth – particularly set against November’s Budget, in which the Chancellor maintained the current carbon price floor (potentially giving a reprieve to coal) and introduced tax changes favourable to North Sea oil producers.

A 12 Month Green Energy Initiative with Real Teeth

But, there is much to appreciate and commend about the CGS. It fits into a 12-month narrative for BEIS ministers, in which they have clearly shown a commitment to clean growth, improving energy efficiency and cutting carbon emissions. Those 12 months have seen the launch of the Industrial Strategy – firstly in Green Paper form, which led to the launch of the Faraday Challenge, and then a White Paper in which clean growth was considered a ‘grand challenge’ for government. Throughout these publications – and indeed again with the CGS – the Government has shown itself to be an advocate of smart systems and demand response, including the development of battery technology.

Electrical Storage Development at Center of Broader Green Energy Push

While the Faraday Challenge is primarily focused on the development of batteries to support the proliferation of electric vehicles (which will support cuts to carbon emissions), it will also drive down technology costs, supporting the deployment of small and utility-scale storage that will fully harness the capability of renewables. Solar and wind made record contributions to UK electricity generation in 2017, and the development of storage capacity will help both reduce consumer costs and support decarbonisation.

The other thing the CGS showed us it that the Government is happy to be a disrupter in the energy market. The headline from the publication was the plans for legislation to empower Ofgem to cap the costs of Standard Variable Tariffs. This had been an aspiration of ministers for months, and there’s little doubt that driving down costs for consumers will be a trend within BEIS policy throughout 2018.

But the Government also seems happy to support disruption in the renewables market, as evidenced by the commitment (in the CGS) to more than half a billion pounds of investment in Pot 2 of Contracts for Difference (CfDs) – where the focus will be on emerging rather than established technologies.

This inevitably prompted ire from some within the industry, particularly proponents of solar, which is making an increasing contribution to the UK’s energy mix. But, again, we shouldn’t really be surprised. Since the subsidy cuts of 2015, ministers have given no indication or cause to think there will be public money afforded to solar development. Including solar within the CfD auction would have been a seismic shift in policy. And while ministers’ insistence in subsidy-free solar as the way forward has been shown to be based on a single project, we should expect that as costs continue to be driven down and solar makes record contributions to electricity generation, investment will follow – and there will ultimately be more subsidy-free solar farms, albeit perhaps not in 2018.

Meanwhile, by promoting emerging technologies like remote island wind, the Government appears to be favouring diversification and that it has a range of resources available to meet consumer demand. Perhaps more prescient than the decision to exclude established renewables from the CfD auction is the subsequent confirmation in the budget that Pot 2 of CfDs will be the last commitment of public money to renewable energy before 2025.

In short, we should view the CGS as a step in the right direction, albeit one the Government should be elaborating on in its consultation response. Its publication, coupled with the advancement this year of the Industrial Strategy indicates ministers are committed to the clean growth agenda. The question is now how the aspirations set out in the CGS – including the development of demand response capacity for the grid, and improving the energy efficiency of commercial and residential premises – will be realised.

It’s a step in the right direction. But, inevitably, there’s much more work to do.

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