Category: Energy/Conservation

“The Smart Grid Is Inseparable from the Internet”

By Marcie Barnes

This is a live blog post from the talk entitled ”The Smart Grid Is Inseparable from the Internet” at SXSW. Speaker is Steven Collier VP Mktg & Business Dev Milsoft Utility Solutions Inc. and blogs at



The power grid began in late 1800s in New York City by Thomas Edison when he deployed Pearl Street Station. He invented the light bulb because he wanted to put the gas company out of business when they shut off his service. It’s been built over time to be “big” – capacity and redundancy (backup paths) have been the only tools. As electric consumption grew by leaps and bounds, power plants are being built bigger and bigger. Plants, transmission lines, and distribution centers are still the same with the smart grid – the only difference is the electric meter – make the meter smart.

Power plants take 10-20 years to build and get online, so there are going to be outages – the grid is in trouble. “The secret plan to kill the smart grid” is to tell the consumer they can’t use electricity when they want to or will have to pay way more, and have to manually monitor what is on or off in the home. This is the mindset of most big utilities, that they will be able to change consumers’ mindsets.

Nuclear power was supposed to be so cheap that it wouldn’t have to be metered. They almost always take much longer to build and cost way more than originally estimated and don’t produce the energy promised. Coal and gas-fired plants are not popular either.

Reports ask for a more intelligent grid – there is no reason why consumers shouldn’t expect the power to always be on in the 21st century. A smart grid uses digital technology to improve reliability, security and efficiency. Monolithic centralized grids are also targets for terrorists. We need a modular, flexible, self-healing grid.

In order to make the grid smarter, we need to use the internet – remote control capabilities, IP based, open standards, use enterprise analysis to collect and analyze data.

Phaser measurement units (PMUs) measure the electrical waves on an electricity grid so there could be syncing between when things should be turned on or off. Microgrids – local generators – would offer more security.

Enernet – a conjoining off all the challenges of the grid with the internet.

“The Internet of things” – connecting inanimate objects – is the next step in technological revolution.

Question about nuclear power – it could come back but we should be building smaller plants so events are more containable.





“Paper or Plastic? Social Media Can Restore Earth”

By Marcie Barnes

This is a live blog post from the talk entitled “Paper or Plastic? Social Media Can Restore Earth” at SXSW. Speaker is Michael Dungan Pres/CEO BeeDance

They are working to divert items from the waste stream esp. in the construction industry, and they are connecting the “waste makers” with artists, teachers etc. via  project called Zero Landfill in 25 US cities.

Biomimicry is an organizing principle as a design strategy – they looked at honeybees in order to learn how waste can be better managed/repurposed. Derived 30+ practices from honeybees and distilled them to 9 lessons:

• they work on a hyper-local basis: location-based & proximity-based apps are helping us be more like bees in this way
• they are motivated by the rules of attraction: they have finely tuned senses, they see strengths in nature
• they imprint and share knowledge: they share information and vote on issues as a matter of survival
• they are precise: can detect angles based on the sun and shadows
• they replicate best practices: the honeycomb is always the same and uniform and they use gravity to store honey and wax and build structures, which is one of the strongest shapes in nature
• they create value for multiple systems: they create additional transactions in the environment (pollenation) that is critical to food production
• they are regenerative: the queen is ousted when her egg production slows down – but she takes bees with her. Change for the positive, change for improvement
• they are diverse: monocultures are not good – things should not be grown in geographical “silos” – honey is made from diverse “crops”
• they are generous: they will make lots of honey given the right environment

How this applies to social media:

Two connections made via biomimicry:

• Inversion -  increasing value through a proprietary process (app)
• Forage – locating value bypassed by others (search)

Examples: Polyflow takes all types of plastics from the waste stream and makes fuels and chemicals out of it. The app will tell people the value of their “waste” plastic, and how much crude oil is diverted.

Zero Landfill creates a market for things that previously would have gone to the landfill. They have a mobile app to connect teachers and artists to manufacturers, etc.

We are literally throwing away high-value energy by throwing away plastic. When a factory discontinues things, a lot of waste is created. New value chains are created and behavior shifts.

Pinterest, Instagram, Highlight are important to the consumer, and they are acting like bees.




“Electric Car: Lessons Learned in a Global Movement”

By Marcie Barnes

This is a live blog post from the talk entitled “Electric Car: Lessons Learned in a Global Movement” at SXSW. Speaker is Benjamin Holland – Project Mgr, Project Get Ready, Rocky Mountain Institute.

Stimulus to support the development of batteries, infrastructure, etc. by President Obama to get more electric cars on the road is a big goal, but still only accounts for 1% of total fleet in America. Prius is an “early adapter vehicle” but considered mainstream.





Brief history:

This is not a new technology – Edison & Ford collaborated to produce affordable electric vehicle.

The discovery of abundances of oil accelerated the demand for the internal combustion engine.

Model T’s release in 1908 marked little hope for electric vehicles at the time.

Signaled growth, fueled economy but had negative consequences.

During the wars people were encouraged to drive less, share rides.

Economic costs of US oil dependence have been huge.

Now, every major auto maker in the world is planning to release an electric car of some kind.


On price:

The reduction in operational costs is the biggest feature of electric (not paying for fuel, about 1000 less moving parts).

Tax credits – federal and some in-state are available.

Batteries have 10 year warranties, are still useful after the car itself is retired, can be used for other purposes.



Range is a concern – not knowing what charging will be available. There are a lot of cities (Austin is one) that are wanting to be leaders in getting cities “EV ready”.

Data is being collected on charging stations to see how they are used, etc.

Tesla Model S can go up to 300 miles on pure electric, most people don’t drive more than 40 miles a day, anyway.

Charge time is a huge owner concern, not where to charge but how long it will take. “Fast chargers” are available, but not being implemented so much right now.

Most people are charging at home, there needs to be more workplace charging, less public charging (i.e. at rest stops or gas stations where people won’t stay for 5 hours).

Raleigh NC is a good example of a city holding events and educating people.

San Francisco is the most progressive in the US due to the progressive population, progressive utilities, and partly because Tesla is based there.



Argument: Are we replacing oil with a coal plant? In coal city WV the CO2 emissions are still less for an electric vehicle than gas, and coal plants are being retired so the grid is getting cleaner.

Since the grid demand is lower at night, it’s a perfect time to charge. In addition, windmills are more efficient at night.

Rare earth metals, plastic, etc. needed for EV: energy footprint is still 10x less in vehicle operation over it’s lifespan.

The grid:

Argument: that EVs are taxing the grid. Fact: 1M EVs = 1% increase in electricity. Adjusting charge times to off-peak hours will help balance the grid.

Smart grid, utility incentives, etc. are emerging, people need to get used to a different relationship with their utility where they may use apps or get texts, etc. in order to maximize their energy efficiency.

Battery-swapping is another idea where batteries are stored and you exchange your low batteries for full ones. Automakers need to build the cars to be compatible with this, Tesla is the only one doing that option right now.

Many new technologies on the horizon that will change the game.



How To Eat Green

By Marcie Barnes

Modified photo credit goes to Phil Romans on


You’ve probably heard plenty about how eating local and organic as much as possible is healthy for you and the planet. And it’s true. Although many organic (and local) products get a bad rap for being more expensive, it’s almost always related to the fact that the government subsidizes oil and corn (among other things) which make mass-produced, carb-filled foods cheaper. So, if you’re not a fan of the government skewing the free-market system, don’t continue to buy the mainstream, big-ag controlled products. Just thought I’d throw that out there on this day before we all give thanks for our food and blessings…

In that spirit, I’ve prepared a quick top five list of small things you can do in order to eat more green, be healthier, and support the health of Mother Earth:

5. Take smaller portions, and if you’re still hungry later, get seconds. This is a common tip for dieters but also a common-sense approach for not being wasteful (or even gluttonous). Throwing away food is an embarrassing thing that Americans do – literally on average each American throws away their body weight in food each year. This needs to stop.

4. Eat slowly and enjoy meals with friends, conversation, and perhaps a nice glass of wine or other favorite treat. Another common dieting tip is to chew slowly, but you also will do this naturally if you’re not eating alone or in a hurry. Make time for meals instead of relying on fast food or convenience foods and spend that time with people you enjoy being around. This way you consume less, but feel fuller and happier at the same time – win/win!

3. Make some of your meals vegan (if you’re not already) – Vegetarian is good too but I think it’s important to skip the meat-laden meals as much as possible – more on that in the next tip – and refresh your body with great, plant-based foods ideally once a day or more. Whitney Lauritsen (The Eco-Vegan Gal) has compiled a wonderful resource of recipes and videos at: if you need some ideas or inspiration.

2. Do not eat or purchase mainstream, factory-farmed or processed meat products – The current system by which most meat reaches your plate is horribly inefficient and consumes a staggering amount of oil (for transportation), water, feed and is also responsible for a lot of pollution, pesticide/fertilizer use, and general non-greenness. Not to mention there are well-documented issues with animal cruelty. Find places that sell local meats and eggs (farmer’s markets and Whole Foods stores are a good place to start) and cut down on the portions in order to justify  the bump in price.

1. Do not throw away food - I am echoing the sentiment again – and here are some more tips – freeze leftovers before they go bad in your fridge. This is often very easy to do with produce as well, prep and freeze anything that might be sitting around before it goes bad. Also, when you do buy whole birds to like (like on turkey day) boil the carcass to make stock for soups, which you also can freeze.  Also, I have a confesssion to make. I have been a vegetarian on and off my whole life, but I live with two boys (including my husband) who eat meat. Anytime there are leftovers that would otherwise end up in the trash – I eat them.  I would much rather eat the protein and utilize it for my own body than have it end up rotting in the landfill. So from now on, you can call me a greenetarian ;-)

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and green Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Are You Wiping with Rainforest Trees?

By Marcie Barnes

Modified photo credit goes to creativezazz on


This is a guest post written for (and cross-posted at)


You’ve probably heard of the the concerns that come along with the destruction of rainforests and other ancient swaths of virgin ecosystems. Among these include: loss of biodiversity (there is a long list of the things that are lost here), loss of carbon-sequestering trees and other plants, and loss of species that depend on those habitats.


…more than 80 percent of the Earth’s natural forests already have been destroyed. Up to 90 percent of West Africa’s coastal rain forests have disappeared since 1900. Brazil and Indonesia, which contain the world’s two largest surviving regions of rain forest, are being stripped at an alarming rate by logging, fires, and land-clearing for agriculture and cattle-grazing. – National Geographic


These are sobering statistics for any good treehugger, and should be for any human citizen of the Earth. But what is quite alarming is the reason behind all of this deforestation. One may naturally assume that trees are used for timber, which we need to build structures to house ourselves. That indeed is one use, but according to – the reasons are many:

  • wood for both timber and making fires;
  • agriculture for both small and large farms;
  • land for poor farmers who don’t have anywhere else to live;
  • grazing land for cattle;
  • pulp for making paper;
  • road construction; and
  • extraction of minerals and energy.

(There is also a large market for palm oil which is widely used as a food ingredient – most notably in cookies and candy).

Of course the focus of this article is #4 – pulp for making paper – which of course includes paper for such things as textbooks, printed materials, paper plates, napkins, towels, diapers, and of course, toilet paper.

Now out of all these things, most of which can be justified as necessities in American culture, it’s the use of paper products for hygiene (namely paper towels and toilet paper) that make the least amount of sense, especially in light of the fact that one is essentially using a tree to wipe themselves. Why? According to, humans have used things such as “rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, maize, ferns, may apple plant husks, fruit skins, or seashells” [not to mention water] for this task. Although “the first documented use of toilet paper in human history dates back to the 6th century AD, in early medieval China,” it appears that this practice was generally considered as non-hygenic.

It is obvious that corporate marketing has made this option much more desirable in the last 100 years.

Okay okay we hear you laughing – “I’m not going to wipe my butt with corn cobs!” and we understand…

So in the true spirit of what greenetarians is all about, we offer you this. Sure, toilet paper is a great (and convenient) invention that few of us would be willing to part with. Our ask is this, if you do one thing, please purchase 100% recycled paper products at every opportunity possible, and recycle as much paper in your own home and office as possible. Based on our research, the “big” brands you are familiar with, such as Charmin, Cottonelle (and their paper towel counterparts Bounty and Viva) are virgin-wood products and should be avoided at all costs. Many times, we found the prices (and comfort level, trust us) to be very similar with the exception of when the “big” brands go on sale, which unfortunately, doesn’t seem to happen very often with the recycled brands.

This Shopper’s Guide from the National Resources Defense Council asks you to avoid those brands and explains why.

Charmin toilet paper on sale beats the price of the 100% recycled brand, but the normal price of this Charmin pack is $7.19. Resist the urge to buy virgin paper on sale and use conservation techniques, such as scheduling your shower after your #2 time, in order to use less paper.


Once again, the paper towels, on sale, are cheaper. However, the regular price of these Bounty paper towels is $8.19. In this case, it's much easier (and cheaper) to buy a pack of cotton bar towels to use in the kitchen, which you can easily toss in the wash with your regular laundry.


When it comes to other paper products, it’s important (and confusing) to buy products made from sustainably-sourced or 100% recycled paper. Stay tuned for a later post in which we will delve more deeply into the (sadly) mind-boggling world of paper trade and certification.

One source of our inspiraton…and what green lifestyle design means

By Marcie Barnes

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “lifestyle design,” it was coined by bestselling author Timothy Ferriss about five years ago in tandem with the writing and release of his first book, The 4-Hour Workweek. You can read all about it on his blog. In short, Tim is all about choosing the most efficient paths in life that lead to health and happiness. And he’s done the research to back up everything he says, trust me.

Now those of you who know me are aware of the fact that I have been a volunteer member of Tim’s team since the very early days of 4-Hour Workweek. I actually stumbled across Tim and his book before it became a bestseller, and was fascinated and inspired by his personal case studies and writing. That said, I give a great deal of credit to Tim and his books (his most recent one, The 4-Hour Body, actually delves into more detail about why eating “green”, in particular, is also almost always the best choice for your health as well as for the health of the planet). Both books have certainly improved my life and have given me, in part, the insight and motivation to bring you this site — where we will delve more deeply into the world of green lifestyle design.

In this video, circa 2008, Tim addresses each of the major categories that we will also be addressing here — mostly conservation, food and transportation-related questions from our friends at treehugger. Most importantly, he talks about the kinds of choices we can make in our lives to be more “green” – without doing things like living totally off the grid and raising our own food. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But because, as Tim says, that would be completely unrealistic for most of us…and we agree.

Without further ado, I present to you Mr. Tim Ferriss on green lifestyle design:

(This is a 30-minute long video. For a short synopsis, go here and for an even shorter one-minute clip with synopsis, go here.)

SXSW Eco: Let’s Stop Talking About Sustainability: How Our Current Vocabulary is Failing Us

By Marcie Barnes

Panelists: Andrew Hutson – Project Manager, Corporate Partnerships for Environmental Defense Fund; Gary Lawrence – VP and Chief Sustainability Officer, AECOM; Jeff Nesbit – Executive Director, Climate Nexus; John Rooks – President and Founder, The SOAP Group; Brooke Buchanan – Director of Communications for Sustainability, Wal-Mart.

Perspectives on how to approach different audiences with a different narrative.

Nuggets from the panel:

Words like sustainability cause people’s eyes to glaze over all the time. What do we need to be doing differently? We need to be able to have a conversation. No one will use the word ‘climate’ in Washington right now. Don’t lead with ideas that threaten people’s core beliefs, etc. People seek out ideas that conform to their core beliefs. If you hear something that challenges your core belief, you tune it out or look for it’s fault(s).

You have to tell the story in a compelling way to each audience. We’re passionate but talk about it in sterile terms.

To most people ‘sustainability’ means nothing. Needs to be communicated that it’s about outcomes for humans, not the environment. It’s a great word for companies, executives, etc. but not for regular people. They understand simpler things like clean air, clean water.

The language in the national security and the ‘fundamental’ audiences is vastly different from in the environmental movement.

Wal-Mart does not plan to rate all of their products on their sustainability scale, they are working on it but there are too many.

The word happiness matters, sustainability tends to be all about risk. People like us can make a difference in the future in our species. The language problem is critical, we have to focus on the things that drive people’s daily concerns.

Correlation between evolution denialists & climate denialists – do not talk science with them, should be more about “creation care.” Recycling creates jobs, etc.

“We don’t need to save the planet, the planet will survive, we need to save us.” – Nesbit

We’ve dropped the moral argument, we need to make that argument without finger-wagging.

Empathy is very important when communicating with people who “don’t understand.”

“For the Bible Tells Me So” recommended to watch on Netflix. Unconditional love trumps all in difficult situations.








SXSW Eco: Building a Better Climate Movement

By Marcie Barnes

Panelists: Courtney Hight – Co-Executive Director, Energy Action Coalition; John Pflueger – Principal Environmental Strategist for Dell; Tom Brookes – Managing Director, Energy Strategy Centre; Bee Moorhead – Director of Texas Interfaith Power and Light.

Nuggets from panel:

More and more companies are publishing corporate responsibility reports. The climate movement is not an official one with a flag and a logo, but a defacto one. From the corporate perspective [Dell] pays attention to what customers want and ask for.

It’s not clear whether or not there is a climate movement. What is it? A left-wing campaign? A common agenda for change? A lifestyle choice? A new economic narrative? Is the left wing really inherently badly organized?

It is perceived to be a left wing issue, in the faith community, the synthesis is between rules and love, between two ways of engaging the world. About how do we live with each other. There’s not a movement that’s effective.

The movement is very fragmented. We need business, personal , individual, massive projects that the governement will invest in, people with coal plants nearby are already part of climate change issues, regardless of political affiliation.

It looks like there is a a positive ramp-up over time in recent years – a positive curve. The people occupying wall street have been personally impacted, climate change is not an immediate personal experience for most, but there are those dying from coal plant emissions, mining side-effects, etc…people are pissed and seeing the massive grip of corporate control and they decide to go wall street, we need to connect to that and learn lessons from that.

Graphic: Key Components of the Climate Change Denial Machine – should the climate movement go up against each point in order to move forward?  None of the political agreements (Kyoto, etc.) are doing what they were intended to do. The debate in America is more intense but the rest of the world is also not “up to snuff.”

Addressing the real problem means addressing the money chain / corporate component and also making personal choices. It’s hard to pinpoint one bad guy in the climate movement (in comparison to pinpointing Wall Street, etc.) Campaign finance reform will be an important avenue. Our President is not talking about climate change, it has become a hush issue.

We need to organize better. On power – we’ve got to give the other side some space in order to start a conversation, not keep yelling at them.




SXSW Eco: Eyes in the Field, Boots on the Ground: Citizen Science

By Marcie Barnes

A panel of four experts who use citizen science to gather information and educate the public.

Panelists: Sandra Henderson – National Ecological Observatory Network, Boulder, CO; Anne Haywood of National Geographic’s Bioblitz Program; Travis Gallo of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center; Janice Dickinson, a Cornell Professor.

Henderson: What is citizen science? Programs where individuals or networks of individuals collecting data outside of their “regular job”. They are hobbyists, love learning, are concerned, want to be involved. She directs

Haywood: Bioblitz started 6 years ago with the National Parks Service. Focus on building awareness around the parks and biodiversity. Also work with Project Noah – a smartphone app that allows people to explore nature and document via pictures, ask a scientist to identify something you do not know. Fieldscope is a GIS mapping tool to document nature findings.

Gallo: is a place for people to document invasive species in Texas. Citizens get outside and collect data – instead of a paper (typical) datasheet they are easily trained via the streamlined online datasheet and portal – helps with spelling of species names, etc. Getting a better understanding of where invasive species are being problematic. A sense of stewardship is built among the citizen scientists whether they collect data or start a program in their community to address invasive species.

Dickinson: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a new project in beta that is crowdsourcing sustainability called yardmap. They can draw a map on top of a satellite image and add objects (plants, rain barrels, solar panels, etc.) to the map. Focused on changing environmental stewardship and bird habitats – as well as things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. Also how to attract certain species to your yard (map). Help spread the contagious nature of sustainable practices.

Nuggets from Panel:

Project budburst helps track global warming effects by seeing when plants start to bloom, etc.

National Geographic helping a team in Mongolia to look for the tomb of Ghengis Khan via GIS and data collection from citizen scientists.

Texas invasive species data being used for land management, protecting endangered species, influencing policymakers via solid data.

The Cornell Lab has been tracking things such as acid rain and mercury effects on birds, species declines, create a state-of-the-birds report that is presented to policy makers. There is a deficit of people to analyze the complicated data sets, youth needed to go into the field of ecology to help with the statistical data analysis.

“Get people outside with a purpose” – one citizen got a grant (on her own) to work with 6th graders – to get them out and report data to their community.

Some blame technology for keeping people inside, these applications are using technology to get people outside.

Technology can be a hurdle because often the people interested are of the older demographic, but they overcome it. The iPhone makes it easier.

Darwin, Thoreau, Jefferson and others left a legacy of curiousity about nature, and were citizen scientists in their time. “create your own projects where trained volunteers and scientists together answer local, regional, and global questions, inform natural resource management decisions, advance scientific understanding, and improve environmental education.”









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