by Bryan Bergeron, Editor
As highlighted by several articles in this issue, green innovation — using energy efficient alternatives to fossil fuel
and other methods of minimizing the release of carbon in
the environment — has bubbled to the surface of our social
consciousness. Increased gasoline prices at the pump, US
military involvement in the Middle East, and maneuvering of
political parties in preparation for the upcoming presidential
election, have reinvigorated the green energy product and
service industry and created opportunities for innovators.
Our per capita consumption of foreign oil and carbon
emissions can be minimized by forgoing driving in favor of
bicycling or use of hybrid vehicles, turning off unnecessary
lights, using stairs instead of escalators or elevators, and
adjusting the thermostat to reduce energy consumed by
heating and air conditioning systems. However, for most of
us, such measures are unrealistic or at least unacceptable.
Shopping mall operators aren’t about to turn down the lights
or reduce the air conditioning, and for many of us, conventional SUVs remain the safest, most affordable option for the
daily commute, shopping, and transporting the kids.
Fortunately, and paradoxically, technology has a central
role in going green. Consider the simple, painless step of
replacing halogen and incandescent bulbs with more
efficient fluorescent bulbs. More technically advanced
options include replacing traditional home heating and
cooling systems with geothermal units, installing solar panels
for generating electricity and heating water, smart thermostats
for more accurate cycling of heating and cooling, and motion-activated light switches to reduce power consumption.
Often, there are multiple incentives for thinking green.
For example, not only does fluorescent lighting technology
pay for itself through lower energy costs, but the up-front
purchase price is often subsidized by local energy
providers. See the Database of State Incentives for
Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) for information on state,
local, utility, and federal incentives that promote renewable
energy and energy efficiency at www.dsireusa.org.
According to the database, California’s Marin County
offers a $500 rebate for a photovoltaic system, $300 for a
solar hot water heater, and $200 for a solar pool heater. Of
particular note is that innovation is also rewarded by the
government. For example, as noted in DSIRE, the state of
Massachusetts offers a personal income tax deduction for
any income received from the sale of a patent or royalty
income from a patent beneficial for energy conservation or
alternative energy development.
Even if you can’t afford a solar water heater and solar
electric generator, and a wind turbine simply isn’t feasible in
your high-rise apartment or condo, you can make a
significant difference in how you impact the environment
with small behavior changes. Consider upgrading your
lead-based soldering equipment so that you can work with
lead-free solder. And make certain to contact your local hazardous waste disposal and collection service for information
on how to safely dispose of your unused lead solder.
Furthermore, when you order parts and printed circuit
boards for your next project, make certain that you buy
the lead-free varieties that comply with the Restriction
of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. RoHS
components typically cost a few cents more than leaded
components, but when you finally dispose of them, you
won’t be adding lead to the ground water.
Given the potential impact of electronic technology in
reducing carbon emissions, I’d like to dedicate a full issue of
Nuts & Volts to green innovation. But I need your help. If
you’ve succeeded in building a more efficient solar-to-power
grid converter, battery charger, or other electronic device or
system that reduces energy consumption, I encourage you
to share your innovations with our readers. NV