Cities

The hybrid solar home

An alternative housing concept

Seattle is having a cold snap. It's 25 degrees outside. Our rare freezing winter days correspond with equally rare clear winter skies. Days like this make me wish I had a solar powered home that could harvest and store that free burst of energy for later use. The bottom line is that American homes are just too large to be cost effectively heated with solar energy. The push has been to get the cost of solar panels down. But, what would you get if you crossed an expensive solar heating and cooling system with an optimally sized home? By optimal, I mean not larger than you need. You would get an affordable solar powered home like the one shown above (click here to see the details). By affordable, I mean in the $150-200 thousand range excluding land, sewer, and water systems. Picture the north face with fancy wood and slate trim, a deck off of the loft doubling as a carport, double french doors, and lots and lots of windows (and window plugs). Essentially, this is a well insulated 10 x 40-foot park model trailer stocked with highly energy efficiency dual mode gas/electric appliances, and lots of diode lighting under a standardized solar energy system optimized for a given area of the country. Picture an entire neighborhood (or trailer park or commune) of these all facing south. Ninety percent of the people on this planet would jump at the chance to live in a home like that. Home size is relative, dependent on wealth and how far the "my house is bigger than yours" arms race has progressed. It's all a matter of perception.

Green suburbia bleg

How are you greening your suburban life?

Are you a green-living suburbanite? Do you want to tell your story to a major news organization? Even majorer than Grist? Tell us about your creative green approaches to living in the suburbs. Have you replaced your lawn with switchgrass? Offered to install solar power for everyone in your cul-de-sac? Organized a carpool to a commuter-transit junction? Share your adventures below in comments.

High-speed rail

High-speed rail, already kicking ass (in Europe), is set to kick much more ass (in Europe): Last July seven operators banded together to form Railteam, an alliance that is working to create a seamless, high-speed network across a large swath of Western Europe. Functioning much like an airline alliance, Railteam is setting up a common reservation system that’s set to begin operations in 2009. It is also helping member railways coordinate their schedules to reduce layover times. A frequent-traveler program will even be offered — another page from the airlines’ playbook. For now, Railteam does not include operators in Italy, …

Maldives builds higher-altitude island, can’t attract residents

The tiny island nation of Maldives is at high risk of being swamped in years to come: it rises a mere three feet above sea level. So officials are building Hulhumalé, a human-made island with an altitude of more than six feet, capable of housing as many as 150,000 of the nation’s 369,000 inhabitants. There’s only one problem: Very few people want to move there. In the words of one Maldivian, who lives contentedly in the capital city of Malé with nine relatives in 730 square feet of space: “People are just being shifted from one island to another — …

Mayoral climate-protecting agreement hasn’t necessarily translated into action

Mayors across the country have signed onto the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a nonbinding initiative encouraging city leaders to meet or beat the greenhouse-gas reductions outlined in the U.S.-shunned Kyoto Protocol. So about that nonbinding part: While some city officials have taken concrete steps to reduce emissions, others haven’t followed through at all. “I remember at the time I thought it was a good idea,” says Vista, Calif., Mayor Morris Vance, who asked city staff to “come back with some recommendations” that have not yet emerged. Jim Janney, mayor of nearby Imperial Beach, says “It’s not like we’ve ignored …

Iditarod sled dog race forced to change starting point

The famous Iditarod sled dog race is undergoing permanent changes as organizers cope with urban sprawl and a warming climate. For the ceremonial start to the competition on Mar. 1, racers will travel 11 miles instead of the traditional 18 miles. The race itself will kick off Mar. 2 from Willow, Alaska, 30 miles north of the traditional starting town of Wasilla. Says Stan Hooley of the Iditarod Trail Committee, “A lot of development in the area makes [Wasilla] less desirable, and there have been less-than-winter conditions.” And that’s no way to race a sled, dawg.

Tata Motors unveils world’s cheapest car in India

Photo: TaTa Motors The world’s cheapest car was unveiled in India today by Tata Motors, which hopes that its new $2,500 subcompact will help make car ownership a reality for tens of millions of people. The Tata Nano gets respectable gas mileage, up to 58.8 miles per gallon, and meets India’s emissions standards, but its introduction was met by protests from greens fearful that more-accessible autos will have a negative effect on the country’s pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. The auto industry, however, lauds the small five-seater — which has one windshield wiper and no radio, passenger-side mirror, central locking, power …

General Motors unveils hydrogen-powered concept Cadillac

Trading in your Chevy for a Cadillac-ac-ac-ac-ac-ac? You oughta know by now: at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, General Motors unveiled a concept Caddy powered by a combination of hydrogen fuel cells and battery power. Following the rule that all green car technology must have an insipid name, the new Cadillac Provoq (sigh) is designed to travel some 300 miles before refueling, zoom up to 100 miles per hour, and emit only water vapor. GM hopes to begin selling the Provoq in three or four years, and it’s sure to be a hit with people who have …

Connecticut will require expensive structures to be built green

Connecticut has introduced new green-building regulations — that apply to public and private construction projects costing $5 million or more. And that, children, is what we call “playing to stereotype.”

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