Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step


July 8, 2010

Air Conditioning: 100 Percent Efficient (Minus Travel)

Category: Climate Change,Observations – Tom Harrison – 1:25 am

It was 97°F in Boston this week, and we didn’t turn on the air conditioner. Or fans.

That’s because we’re not home. We have vacated the heat of the city. Where we are, it’s a little chilly at night. We have the ultimate luxury. It’s not a central air system. It’s not a super-insulated house. It’s a very small, spartan cottage, on the water of Penobscot Bay in down-east Maine, which I share with my sisters.

My mom, who is in her 80’s lives here in Deer Isle, Maine, year-round, and visited tonight. She was born in Baltimore, and as we discussed the heat wave along the East Cost (consistent with the predictions of climate change), we asked how people managed to tolerate the heat in Maryland in the 1930’s. She said that her rich friends all got out of town and headed for the ocean. (more…)

March 3, 2010

Working from Home: Green and Productive

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Observations,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 8:56 am

Energy Circle

My new home

After five years of talking about energy conservation, and all the things we have done in our house, I am now proud to report that I am officially … working the talk — I have joined Energy Circle LLC.

Energy Circle helps home owners learn how to make an energy efficient house, sells home efficiency products, and now, we’re creating a set of tools and services to help home energy efficiency professionals find customers (and home owners find them).

Now I am now working at a company with an unabashedly green mission — this is important to me. Of course this isn’t the first time I have written about Energy Circle — we have been collaborating since last Spring, and then I did some consulting last year until that was pretty much all I was doing. I am the Chief Technology Officer, and working to make a top notch website, with expanding services and capabilities, reliable, easy to find, and with a strong brand. I hope you’ll check out Energy Circle — I joined not because it was another job, but because I completely believe the mission, and know that good people are out to “do well by doing good”.

Working From Home Is Efficient

But, the company is too far away from my home to commute — so I don’t. I work from home most of the time, and I have to say, working from home is almost always a good thing. It’s very efficient.

Commuting Footprint

Obviously my commuting footprint is as small as possible (although for several years I commuted to my old job on my bike, at least when the weather didn’t suck, and I drove my Prius the short distance when it did). But there are many other benefits of working from home, and a few things I am beginning to learn. (more…)

July 10, 2009

We Love Hot Cars; We Need a New Hotness

Category: Companies,Energy Independence,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:23 am

Today’s Times reports that the new Camaro from GM is selling well. The base V-6 model gets a mediocre 22 MPG. A quote from the article sums it up for me, discussing

… Scott Wilbur, a 40-year-old elementary school principal who bought a silver V-8 Camaro in June.

Mr. Wilbur had not purchased a G.M. vehicle in a decade, and traded in his Honda Civic hybrid to buy the Camaro.

He even gave up his California-issued sticker to drive in hybrid-only carpool lanes to get behind the wheel of his new muscle car.

“I might not be as environmentally friendly, but at this point I don’t mind waiting in traffic to drive this,” he said.

To be fair, he says might buy a Volt next year (by the way, how does an elementary school Principal afford two new cars, one very expensive, in two years?).

But c’mon, folks — this is not what we need. We love our hot cars, and have for years. Do we need to define a new “hot”? In the 1980’s women with big hair were “hot” (for that matter, in the 1680s, women with big thighs were “hot”). Tail-fins were in then out. Pocket-rockets were in. Why can’t we figure out how to make a car that people love that they don’t love because of the roar of its internal combustion engine soaking up gasoline?

I see why GM needed to get bailed out, and I see GM changing their views on the way things are. I don’t see the American populace picking up the cues.

I am writing now from Europe. There are a lot of nice cars here, but very, very few are large. Perhaps that’s because gas costs 1.32 per liter, or $6.95/gallon. So people have made some very hot (or cool, or funky, or interesting) cars that also happen to be far smaller.

But perhaps more important, people have created better ways of travel that work (and are not cars).

November 21, 2008

Got AAA for your Car? Here’s a Better (World) Option

Category: Companies,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 2:47 pm

AAA with a Conscience

AAA with a Conscience

I have had a Automobile Association of America (AAA) membership since I had a car, but I just switched to BetterWorld Club — same service and price but better environmental objectives.

Have you ever read the magazine that AAA sends every month? Yeah, most of it is promoting their services, vehicle safety, insurance and all, but they also report on their legislative lobbying agenda. As far as I can see they are on the wrong side of a lot of discussions.

I am sure they are nice folks, and mean well and all, but they have a mission to advance the use of cars. Here’s a quote from a Sierra Club report:

…the organization is now a major force in pushing for more highway spending, fewer pollution controls and less money for mass transit. As investigative journalist Michael Rivlin has written, the 43-million-member-strong organization “is on the record against virtually every proposal for cutting automobile pollution.”

While that was from several years back, it’s clearly true that AAA’s direction and mine have diverged.

BetterWorld Club provides pretty much the same services, discounts, at the same cost as AAA. They offer a Hybrid discount, and they even offer roadside bicycle assistance. But instead of lobbying for automotive agendas, BetterWorld advocates for an environmental agenda. What’s not to like?

October 3, 2008

Start a Walking School Bus

Category: Fun,Household,Save Fuel,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 12:49 pm

A walking school bus is a simple idea. One or two parents sign up to be drivers, routes and times are set, and every day, our kids walk along to school.

An industrious parent in my daughter’s elementary school organized ours. She found leaders and started four routes last week; I have been “driving” one. We have about 10 kids in our route, and I think the others do as well.

Of course all I care about is that it’s “green” :-) But there’s so much more.

It’s convenient for parents — they just drop their child at a stop at the appointed time and say goodbye.

It’s fun for the kids. Friends who didn’t know they lived close to each other have met. Several kids who were a little uncertain at first are having a blast.

It’s painless for the driver. (more…)

June 22, 2008

Not All Hybrid Cars are Created Equal

Category: Save Fuel,Technology – Tom Harrison – 12:27 pm

It is a wonderful thing that car manufacturers are moving to hybrid versions of their vehicles.

Like many of the incremental features introduced in cars over the years, the good ones catch on. Shoulder belts, air bags, anti-lock braking, and many others have made cars safer.

And now, many cars are available with hybrid engines. This adds to the price of the car a little (or sometimes, it seems, a lot). And a hybrid system makes the car greener, right?

Why, the Chevy Tahoe is the green car of the year if you can believe that. (It costs $11,000 more to get the “green” hybrid version, so the car can get a paltry 22 miles per gallon).

A hybrid system does not make a car “green”, it just makes a car a little less of a bad thing. (more…)

June 17, 2008

A Car that Runs on Water (Alchemy makes its grand return)

Category: Companies,News,Technology,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 3:51 pm

Reuters is reporting a water powered car by a company called Genepax. Almost every source I could find left it at that: you pour in some water (any kind will do) and its generator will separate hydrogen from water, then use the hydrogen to power the vehicle. Just pour in more water to make the car go further. Just like the press release says. Nothing more.

Phew — our energy problems are solved!

(Oh, except for one little thing. Pesky annoying laws of physics. (more…)

April 15, 2008

Congestion Pricing: Simplicity is the Key

Category: Economics,Policy,Save Fuel,Technology,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 9:22 pm

New York City recently failed to pass a law that would change the price of tolls based on the time of day—higher prices during busy times and lower prices off-peak.

It’s not hard to see why this well-intentioned law didn’t pass. Take a look at this article (actually a “Freakonomics” Blog Post) in the New York Times. Are your eyes glazing over? Mine were.

The thing is, this is not only something near and dear to my environmental leanings, it is the main topic that I wrote my bachelor’s thesis on in college: change the price of something based on predictable patterns of use. So it’s possible that I am slightly more willing to understand this stuff than most people.

But my eyes glazed over anyway. (more…)

June 14, 2007

Hilton: Not Really Interested in my Public Transit Ideas

Category: Companies,Economics,Little Things,Observations,Rants,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 6:23 pm

Last week, I wrote about high gasoline prices in Chicago and my realization that I could have easily taken public transit to the airport, rather than the cab that was ever-so-conveniently waiting for me, with the ever-so-convenient assistance of the personnel at the hotel to whisk me away to the airport.

I presented my ideas to Hilton Hotels via their website, and got prompt replies … but I didn’t get a strong sense that there was any real interest in providing an “active” effort, just the “if you ask, we’ll tell you” response. I doubt I would get anything more substantive from other major hotel chains, but perhaps this is worth trying.

I could be wrong about my perceptions of the response I got, so here’s the email thread (in reverse chronological order, with contents bolded and with the personal details removed) for your perusal. I would encourage others who think this simple step might help to contact Hilton and other hotels. (more…)

June 10, 2007

My $4.00 per gallon Chicago cab ride

Category: Economics,Take Actions,Tips,Transportation – Tom Harrison – 11:26 am

As I was in a cab, along with a mass of other vehicles moving out of Chicago on Thursday I noticed a gas station changing $3.97/gallon. Oh my god — it’s still at around $3/gallon here in the Boston areas. This explained why the driver had all the windows open and no A/C on a 93 degree day.

I asked my cab driver about high gas prices and he said he was not making enough money to keep driving, and that many other drivers had quit. He showed me an article in a paper in which cab drivers had requested a fare increase to City Hall, which they had denied. Yes, the free market is working, as it usually does. Slowly, and brutally. (more…)