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Sustainability

The Future of Sustainable Roads and Motorways

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sustainable roads and motorways
Licensed from Shutterstock - By Chance LeLand McLaren

It is sadly true that science fiction is not often a reliable predictor of technological advancements. For example, 1989’s Back to the Future Part II imagined flying cars to be very much a part of the fabric of society by 2015 – and yet here we are entering 2018 with barely anything resembling the concept. But when you start to look into the future and, in some cases, the present of roads and motorways, many of the ideas sound like they are coming straight from a sci-fi film.

Visions like driverless cars and self-repairing concrete seem futuristic but we might very well see them soon becoming a common aspect of transport. But how much of these ideas are rooted in reality and which are likely to be confined to fiction? Speaking to Maltaward, a civil engineering contractor with years of experience working on British highways, I learned about how modern technology is changing roads and motorways, and what we could expect in the future.

Smart motorways

There’s no doubt that Britain is one of the leading innovators in technology on roads. It was one of the first countries to introduce active traffic management, in which traffic flow is controlled on very busy roads with techniques including variable speed limits and the use of the hard shoulder, which are controlled and relayed to drivers using overhead road signs. This concept has evolved into something know as smart motorways, in which drivers can be made aware of closed lanes as well opening the hard shoulder for traffic use and changing speed limits as necessary.

Stretches of road across England have been converted into smart motorways with plans for significantly more to be deployed over the coming years. If the scheme is successful in improving traffic flow and reducing accidents it is likely that smart motorways will be the norm, and the concept could be exported across the world.

Not every idea is a good idea

Many of the technologies that are being imagined for roads are created in order to help reduce congestion and the overuse of roads that is becoming a serious problem in virtually every city around the world. China’s imaginative traffic straddling bus was one such idea. The concept saw a mode of transport that would ride on tracks over a traditional road, allowing enough space for two lanes of traffic to run underneath it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this project ultimately ended in failure when 32 people from an investment firm that was funding the project were arrested with the suggestion of financial foul play. It was also revealed that there were serious concerns over the cost and practicality of the scheme.

Self-repairing concrete

But of course, it’s not just the flow of traffic that can be an issue on the roads. Civil engineering and roadworks can be a source of frustration for motorists, and as well as contributing to congestion, these can be a drain on resources that could otherwise be used to fund potential new ideas for integrating technologies into motorways.

One concept that has attracted attention is the idea of ‘self-healing concrete’. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, University of Bath and Cardiff University have been working on a concrete blend that features bacteria. When water enters a crack in the concrete, the bacteria get to work, producing limestone and sealing the gap before it widens.

This technology has the potential to virtually eliminate potholes, which present their own specific dangers to cars and cyclists. It remains to be seen whether it will translate effectively from a lab environment to the real world.

Driverless cars

One of the most famous innovations that has the potential to change the way that we use roads has nothing to do with the actual roads themselves. Driverless or self-driving cars had previously been largely the preserve of science fiction films until Google’s self-driving car hit the headlines in 2012 for having the potential to be on the roads within only a few years.

Self-driving cars have displayed the ability to recognise and react to very complex issues including roadworks and roundabouts. However, we are still a long way away from being able to consider self-driving cars as an innovation that will be rolled out across all roads. For the moment, we will need to look to technologies to change the roads themselves.

Solar Roadways

One project that attracted a significant amount of media attention is Solar Roadways. The concept of Solar Roadways is to replace standard tarmac roads with solar panels that would both have the ability to capture solar energy but also function in the same way as the smart motorways as mentioned earlier. The panels would be able to display speed limits, warn of lane closures and more.

Aspects of Solar Roadways have been criticised by some scientists who suggest that the project is either unfeasible on a large scale or prohibitively expensive. Once again, this may be a case of technology not quite living up to its potential, but as the idea advances it could have the potential to be used in the future.

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Energy

5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable

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sustainable homes
Shutterstock Licensed Photot - By Diyana Dimitrova

Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.

1. Weather stripping

If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.

Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.

Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.

2. Programmable thermostats

Programmable thermostats

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By Olivier Le Moal

Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.

Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!

3. Low-flow water hardware

With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.

Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.

Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.

4. Energy efficient light bulbs

An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.

New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.

5. Installing solar panels

Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.

Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.

From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!

These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.

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Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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