Business & Technology

Umbra on eco-friendly detergents

Dear Umbra, Like a good guilt-ridden liberal, I’ve switched to supposed earth-friendly dish detergent. And, on the basis of previous Ask Umbra columns, I don’t rinse my dirty dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. Here’s the thing: About 10 percent of items are still dirty when the dishwasher pronounces things clean. So then I rewash these items, either by hand or (perhaps futilely) in the dishwasher. Doesn’t seem terribly eco-friendly. Scott D. South Portland, Maine. Dearest Scott, No one said being an environmentalist would be a tiptoe through the tulips. There are going to be setbacks, struggles, moments when …

Idaho's progressive utility rules

Rewarding utilities for conservation success through ‘decoupling’

Utilities are among the few remaining large companies that are relatively solvent and profitable. Harnessing their might to offer retrofits for all would be a powerful step toward economic stimulus. But most utilities in Cascadia are conflicted about helping their customers save energy. On the one hand, they’re legally obligated to do it. On the other hand, if they do it successfully, they don’t make as much money. Resolving this conflict in favor of conservation requires an innovative form of utility regulation called “decoupling.” A decoupled utility makes profits not in proportion to its sales but in proportion to its …

Financing retrofits for all, II

Mysteries of on-bill financing revealed!

In my last post, I described a nonprofit bank’s program for financing building energy retrofits, as a way to speed the green-collar recovery. Here, I describe two new, innovative approaches to financing efficiency upgrades in buildings — meter loans and local improvement districts — and one old-school, utility-run approach that may be the best bet of all. First, though, a couple more points about the challenges of financing energy efficiency improvements in buildings. One big challenge is to guarantee that retrofits will save enough money to repay the loans, not only on average across all buildings but also in each …

Detroit goes green

If the automakers won’t, the city leaders will

Introducing the Detroit Office of Energy and Sustainability. Who woulda thunk it?

Where is this bridge leading, exactly?

Cellulosic ethanol’s bumpy ride

The so-called Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 lays out ambitious targets for production of cellulosic ethanol: a gradual increase to 16 billion gallons per year by 2022. Rounding off to the nearest 10 million, producers are churning out approximately zero gallons of the stuff today. That had better change quickly. By 2010, the act mandates that 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol be mixed into the car-fuel supply, rising to 250 million gallons by 2011. Not going to happen, says a report by the investment firm ThinkEquity. According to an account of the report on Greentech Media, ThinkQuity …

They're No. 1, but trying harder anyway

Hertz to offer car sharing service like Zipcar

Hertz is going to experiment with hourly rentals a la Zipcar. Here’s hoping they make a go of it, and the other national chains follow. Every person who realizes you can live well — and inexpensively — without owning a car is a plus for the environment.

Chrysler to electrify entire product line

CNNMoney reports that electrification is key to Chrysler’s bailout pitch

CNNMoney has the surprising story of “Chrysler’s plan to beat the Chevy Volt“: Chrysler is pinning a huge part of its future on a plan to produce a full line of electric vehicles, at a reasonable cost to both the carmaker and the consumer … Chrysler’s strategy hinges on keeping it cheap. The carmaker will dispense with flashy designs in exchange for low cost and flexibility. And it plans to pile on more electric-powered models quickly once the program launches in 2010. “We aren’t a one-electric-vehicle company,” Lou Rhodes, Chrysler’s vice president for advanced vehicle engineering, told CNNMoney in an …

Chu-ing the fat of the land?

New energy chief’s enthusiasm for cellulosic ethanol makes me uncomfortable

"World demand for transportation fuels is growing fast, and biofuels have a major role to play in meeting that demand. That’s why BP is investing in a range of biofuels-related activities around the world, all aimed at bringing biofuels into the mainstream by making them more widely available to motorists." – From a BP press release hailing a partnership with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory On Gristmill and other parts of the greenie blogosphere, the nomination of Steven Chu as secretary of energy has inspired a a kind of euphoric reaction. The title of a recent post by Joe Romm …

Ring in the new with a ‘natural’ bottle of bubbly

Fewer chemicals in our sparkling wines? We’ll drink to that. Nothing says festive quite like the pop of a chilled bottle of bubbly. But while sparkling wine delivers a party in a glass, things are typically less thrilling out in the field. Like most wine, bubbly tends to come from grapes grown in large monocrops — vines as far as the eye can see. And they’re more likely to be swathed in a cloud of pesticide spray than in a farmer’s careful attention. These grim conditions generally hold sway at all price points, from $5 headache bait to the brand-name …

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