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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.



Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?



The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy




Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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