Archives for the month of: March, 2014

Consumers heading down to their local Best Buy for a new laptop or microwave will now be able to pick up solar panels as well. Best Buy and SolarCity have announced a new partnership to sell off-the-shelf photovoltaic systems in 60 Best Buy stores in Arizona, California, Hawaii, New York, and Oregon. To give the new program an exuberant kick off, SolarCity is giving every customer a $100 Best Buy gift card when they sign up for solar service through Best Buy before Earth Day on 22 April, 2014.

Green Halo - Best Buy Now Sells Solar PanelsThe San Mateo solar company hopes this new partnership will reach homeowners too wary or intimidated by installing solar panels on their homes. The initiative is an expansion of a pilot program the two companies carried out last year at Best Buy stores in California and New York. Previously, the company also teamed up with the Home Depot and Honda to provide affordable solar panels.

Despite these efforts, a recent SolarCity survey of U.S. homeowners detailed that only 45 percent of residents thinks that solar power is more affordable than it was three years ago. SolarCity has a long history of experimental strategies to reach more consumers. Before this new program, the company provided systems for free in exchange for long term contracts, or financing installations through investment institutions like pensions and hedge funds.

If you would like to get in on the deal, you can sign up here for a free consultation to discuss a plan. SolarCity promises to install photovoltaic panels for free with no up front costs. As long as the customer is enrolled they will receive green, renewable energy at a lower price than they currently spend on electricity.

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A cloud of smog has enveloped Paris – and on Friday air pollution levels were actually worse than notoriously smoggy Beijing. The French capital is taking emergency measures to reduce air pollution – over the weekend the city made public transportation, bike sharing and electric car sharing free, and starting Monday private cars and motorcycles with even registration numbers will be banned. 700 police officers are stationed at checkpoints issuing $31 (€22) fines for violators. Electric vehicles, hybrids and cars carrying at least three people are exempt.

While Monday’s air quality is improving in parts of the city, a check of the Real-time Air Quality Index (AQI) still finds “hazardous” levels of air pollution at Boulevard Haussmann in the eighth and ninth arrondissements. The fine particulate (PM2.5) index value of 880 is dangerous, and authorities have warned that “everyone may experience more serious health effects.”

Green Halo - Paris Air Quality Worse Than BeijingExperts blame last week’s unsafe pollution levels — the worst in France since 2007 — on a combination of unseasonable warm and sunny days and cool nights with low wind speeds and precipitation. These factors kept toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide near the ground instead of dissipating into the atmosphere.

France’s extensive use of diesel fuel is being scrutinized as a contributing factor to the unhealthy levels of air pollution. An estimated 60 percent of French vehicles use diesel-powered engines, and in 2011 70 percent of French car sales were diesel. Since World War II the French government has subsidized the use of diesel and there is a powerful corporate diesel lobby. The problem with diesel is that while it reduces carbon emissions compared to gasoline-powered engines, it increases fine particulates that cause air pollution. The World Health Organization has also found that diesel fumes are carcinogenic.

To curb pollution, authorities in Paris and the Île-de-France region surrounding the capital will also be lowering the speed limit, urging people to not burn wood in their fireplaces, requesting that trucks with heavy loads avoid traveling around the city, and asking factories to work on a reduced schedule to cut back on emissions.

Extreme smoggy conditions also hit northern and eastern regions of France, with the smog belt extending to Belgium and Germany. Similar pollution-reducing measures such as free public transportation have also been implemented in other European cities.

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In a permanent extension of a 2007 law, San Francisco has made it illegal for the City to buy or distribute plastic water bottles. Bottled water contributes to massive amounts of litter and plastic waste all over the world. San Francisco has an aggressive plan to achieve zero net waste by 2020. In 2013, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors appeared ready to enact one of the strictest bans on bottled water in the nation. Days ago, the proposal became law, and plastic water bottles smaller than 21 ounces will no longer be allowed on city property starting Oct. 1, 2014.

Green Halo - San Francisco Bans Bottled Water on City PropertySan Francisco’s legislation, introduced by Supervisor David Chiu, “does not prohibit private business from trading in small plastic bottles of water.” Rather, it restricts the sale at events of more than 100 people (not including marathons and other sporting events), and on all city property and parks. San Francisco Airport will also be allowed to sell plastic bottles indefinitely.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors supported the legislation unanimously. Prior to the vote, Chiu held up a water bottle that was a quarter of the way filled with oil. The move illustrated just how much oil is used in the production and transport of plastic water bottles.

“He also reminded San Franciscans that the current fad of buying bottled water only started in the 1990s when the bottled water industry mounted a huge ad campaign that got Americans buying bottled water,” reports the San Francisco Bay Guardian. “Somehow, Chiu noted, ‘for centuries, everybody managed to stay hydrated.’ He, and the rest of San Francisco seem confident that they can learn to do so again.

Not surprisingly, the American Beverage Association and bottled water industry were less than enthusiastic about the bottled water ban. These critics claim that banning bottled water at concerts and other large events will drive them to choose alcohol or carbonated beverages instead of healthier water.

Learn more about this new legislation here.

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A coal mine fire burning for almost a month is forcing residents of an Australian town from their homes after pollution more than 22 times above recommended safe levels triggered a health alert.

Green Halo - Australians Flee Beijing-Style Smog as Coal Mine BurnsFirefighters are pumping as much as 84,000 liters of water a minute, the equivalent of about two Olympic-size swimming pools an hour, onto the burning mine at GDF Suez’s Hazelwood power station in Victoria state, according to local authorities. Pollution readings in the nearby town of Morwell, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Melbourne, peaked last month at levels beyond hazardous on the Air Quality Index.

Residents have abandoned more than half of the 750 homes in the worst-affected area, as families with pregnant women, elderly people and young children take up A$1,250 ($1,128) weekly payments to temporarily relocate, according to the state government. Victoria’s Premier Denis Napthine has urged people in the region to offer vacant holiday homes to those seeking respite and pledged use of his own coastal vacation property.

“The ash falling out of the sky every day was getting in to every part of the house that wasn’t air tight, it smelled like an ashtray,” said Nick Albon, a 30-year-old engineer who moved out of his home about 500 meters from the mine’s northern boundary on Feb. 16. “Headaches were the first thing to instantly hit. As soon as you got out in the smoke, you could taste it in your mouth whenever you were outside.”

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Japan’s tallest building opened this week. Asia’s third-biggest metropolitan economy aims to lure tourists and stem businesses from moving to Tokyo.

Kintetsu Corp. (9041), one of the main rail operators in western Japan, spent 130 billion yen ($1.3 billion) and four years constructing the 300-meter (984-foot) Abeno Harukas skyscraper, according to the Osaka-based company. It will surpass the 296-meter Landmark Tower in Yokohama, about 20 miles south of central Tokyo.

Green Halo - Osaka Tests Tokyo Dominance With Japan’s Tallest SkyscraperThe new 60-floor complex, which includes a Marriott International Inc. (MAR)hotel, and a separate proposal for a 500 billion-yen casino resort are the latest attempts to bolster the city’s economy. Rather than tall towers, the metro area of 11 million people may need business zones with fewer regulations, according to Rakuten Securities Economic Research Institute.

“The building will be a success, but total demand won’t improve,” said Masayuki Kubota, chief strategist at the institute. “Osaka should try special economic zones and create new businesses from those zones.”

Japan wants to spur growth by easing restrictions in test zones under economic reforms pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The government is considering measures from cutting corporate taxes to loosening building restrictions in the zones.

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Tagging sharks to monitor their movements is nothing new, in fact, through organizations like OCEARCH, it has helped us learn a lot more about the threatened species and their behavior. Now scientists have taken tagging a bit further by using a gadget made up of sophisticated sensors and a video camera to get a sharks-eye-view of the ocean.

Researchers at University of Hawaii and University of Tokyo created the rig to see where sharks are going, how they are getting there, and what they are doing once they reach their destinations.

“What we are doing is really trying to fill out the detail of what their role is in the ocean,” said Carl Meyer, an assistant researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. “It is all about getting a much deeper understanding of sharks’ ecological role in the ocean, which is important to the health of the ocean and, by extension, to our own well-being.”

Green Halo - Gadget Made up of Sophisticated Sensors & Camera to get a Sharks-Eye-View of the Ocean

The gadget has already disproved some misconceptions about the way sharks travel, for instance, they found that sharks used powered swimming more often than a gliding motion, which is contrary to what scientists previously thought. They also found that deep-sea sharks swim in slow motion compared to shallow water sharks.

“These instrument packages are like flight data recorders for sharks,” Meyer said. “They allow us to quantify a variety of different things that we haven’t been able to quantify before.”

“It has really drawn back the veil on what these animals do and answered some longstanding questions,” he added.

Next up for the research team is creating an ingestible device that would help them to understand the sharks’ diets and feeding patterns. The instruments track ingestion and digestion of prey and can help researchers understand where, when, what and how much sharks are eating.

Check out the video below to get a glimpse of that shark’s eye view:

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