There are several main schools of thought when it comes to how to save our environment and ourselves from manmade climate change. The people on one end of the spectrum believe that with enough technological innovation and economic development, we’ll figure out a way to solve our environmental problems. The other side believes we need to learn from nature and encourage only environmentally sustainable economic practices.
The best answer may lie somewhere in between the two extremes. Technology may eventually provide substantial solutions to our environmental woes. Ignoring our impact in the meantime, however, could have disastrous consequences — especially since some scientists are warning we may be nearing a dangerous climate tipping point.
Technology and the environment may actually be more closely linked than many think. Our technological innovations have the potential to harm our environment, but if we use them wisely and develop sustainable ideas, they could also help solve the ecological problems we’ve created. Tech may not be the lone answer to climate change, but it may be an important part of the solution.
Here are six ways technology is helping the environment today.
Some of the most recognized and important eco-friendly tech advancements in recent years have been in the clean energy sector. Renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and hydroelectric power have become much more widespread, as well as cheaper.
The technology is advancing as well. Technological improvements have made renewables more efficient. Products like Tesla’s solar panels, which look just like regular roofing tiles, have made them more accessible and appealing to consumers.
Businesses and individuals are using way less paper than in years past, thanks to computers, smartphones and cloud storage.
Many companies send bills, newsletters and other communications over email rather than regular mail. Files are stored in the cloud, which is easily accessible from anywhere, rather than in physical filing cabinets. People are more frequently taking notes and managing their schedules on their smartphones rather than physical notepads and calendars.
All of this adds up to a “new normal” that has lessened our dependence on the world’s tree population, and helped to reduce deforestation.
Technology is also being used to ensure that environment-related laws and regulations are being followed.
In areas where poachers frequently hunt endangered animals, conservationists have begun using drones to keep an eye on the area. The drones act as security cameras that can cover vast distances, making it more difficult for those hunting illegally to get away with breaking the law.
The government also uses technology to monitor whether companies are following environmental regulations. Geo-Spatial Measurement of Air Pollution systems draw in air around gas and oil facilities to test the amount of pollutants present. Plus, Environmental Simulation Testing helps ensure new products and technologies are up to standards before they hit the market and start to affect our planet.
The Sharing Economy
The sharing economy is a recent development that reduces our environmental impact by enabling individuals to purchase less and use fewer materials.
Companies like Uber make it easier to get around without owning a car. Airbnb helps homeowners and travelers take advantages of spaces that aren’t being used, which consolidates the area and resources needed to travel. Services such as Netflix have reduced the number of DVD rentals in favor of online streaming, which is reducing the need for postage, transporting the items and creating physical copies of movies.
While ridesharing companies enable us to use fewer vehicles, those vehicles are also becoming more sustainable. The number of electric cars in use has risen steadily over the past few years. Hybrid vehicles have also become more common.
The price of electric cars is dropping as well, due to technical improvements in the costs of the batteries needed to run them. In fact, experts predict they’ll be cheaper to own than traditional vehicles by 2022.
The home is one of the biggest energy users, but new technologies are helping to change that. Devices like smart thermostats and motion-activated lighting make it easier to only use power when you really need it, which saves both money and energy. These gadgets can be used in both the private home and in businesses, and they have the potential to reduce our energy usage significantly.
While technology and the environment might seem like two completely different areas, nature and our most high-tech devices are more interconnected than we may think.
Nature inspires technology. It gives us a reference from which we can innovate, and teaches us what will and will not work. Technology has the capability to change nature — either for better or for worse.
One lesson we’re just now learning from nature is that we need to use our technology in a sustainable way. Tech can help us to use less, power our lives differently and be more aware of our effect on the environment. Tech can be part of the solution or part of the problem. We’re finding more and more ways to make sure it helps us rather than harming us, which is a trend we need to make sure sticks around.
Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.
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.
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.
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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