Google supports green energy initiatives
Google is the most successful search engine in the brief history of the Internet. So iconic has Google become that it can be used as a verb (I Googled myself), a national pastime (I Googled myself) and a way for people to connect (I Googled you.) ‘Google’ has even made it into the illustrious Oxford English Dictionary where it has achieved official recognition as a verb. The overwhelming success of Google must surely come as a surprise to its creators who could never have foreseen the behemoth that Google would grow up to be. Affectionately known as the ‘Google guys’, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are going to great lengths to use their new-found super powers for good.
They started by replacing the company’s official motto which was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” with the more memorable “Don’t be evil”. “Don’t be evil” is a motto that they seem to be living up to as the core members of the group realise their promises of using their powers for good. I know what you are thinking, big corporations only window dress their charitable contributions, while secretly harbouring desires for world domination. Google seems to be the genuine exception. Not convinced? Go ahead… Google it!
Mojave Desert Solar Plant
The Mojave Desert will be the site of Google’s latest contribution to renewable energy development; the Ivanpah solar farm. This $168 million solar farm will have a capacity of 392 MW once completed in 2013. The production of CO₂-free energy will be the equivalent of taking 90 000 cars off the road during the solar farm’s expected 25 year lifespan. 173, 000 Heliostat mirrors will be set up in the desert and will focus the sun’s energy on 450 feet tall ‘power towers’ which convert water to steam.
Moving closer to home, Google announced recently a $280 million partnership with solar installers Solar City. The money will go to cover the capital outlay of solar systems. Residents across the States can rent the systems from Solar City, thereby alleviating the expense of setting up their own solar arrays. Solar City is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the solar system during the lease period. Residents can lease the solar systems and still save on their utility bills, without the necessity for a large capital outlay. This initiative brings Google’s investment in solar energy to date to an impressive $680 million – not so evil now, are they?
Winds of Change
A 350-mile stretch of the United States’ Atlantic coastline is about to be transformed into the first offshore wind farm to supply almost 2 million American homes with clean energy. Situated 10 to 15 miles off the coast, the development is an initiative of the Atlantic Wind Corporation. The project’s total cost of $5 billion got off to a good start with Google investing 37.5% so that the company can begin installation.
This not-for-profit was created with over a billion dollars of Google shares. The organization has to date funded the development of electric cars, supported research to develop renewable sources of energy that are cheaper than coal and donated $100 million to schemes that alleviate poverty and create awareness for climate control. They support a number of third world initiatives that hope to develop education and essential services and stimulate growth for small and medium businesses.
Solar energy is good for the environment and your well-being
Much maligned in recent years for causing skin cancer, sunshine is back in fashion. Natural light affords us considerable savings on energy and provides for our general well being. The elevation of mood that occurs when you wake up to a sunny day, or when the sun shines after a rainy day is your body’s way of saying what’s best for you.
A sunrise a day….
Not getting enough sunlight can increase your chances of getting cancer by up to 70%. Insufficient supplies of vitamin D (which is produced when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun) negatively affects your bone density and immune system. This leads to a plethora of diseases:
- Adrenal malfunctions and autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Colon cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- An in allergies
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Infertility and PMS
- Type one and two diabetes
- Learning and behavioral disorders
- Heart disease and obesity
- Cavities, osteoporosis and psoriasis
Lack of natural light affects your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous cycles that all living things follow throughout the course of a day. Natural light is the trigger for various biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes. The presence of natural light directly affects circadian rhythms and therefore general well-being by disrupting sleep patterns. A lack of sleep leads to a decrease in performance and alertness and symptoms resembling jetlag.
Several studies, dating back to the 1940’s espouse the need for natural lighting in the classroom. Most recently, studies by Hathaway (1994), Taylor and Gouisie (1980) and Hawkins and Lilley (1992) showed a significant increase in concentration, an improvement in mental
attitude and vision and an increase in levels of comfort and happiness when students were taught in classes that were naturally lit. Students who work in artificially or poorly lit classrooms suffer increased hyperactivity. Natural light (at least 20% of the wall space should be devoted to windows) fosters increased student achievement. Perhaps the most significant study in this regard is one conducted by the Heschong Mahone group in 1999. The study was conducted in more than 2000 classrooms across three school districts and it showed that students in the best lit classrooms scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests than students in artificially lit classrooms.
In addition to the health benefits that natural lighting offers, it can also offer warmth. Utilization of passive solar thermal massing is an increasingly important aspect in Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs). NZEBs produce all the energy they consume through a combination of insulation, passive solar heating and renewable energy technologies. This reduces greenhouse gases and increases the quality of our environment. Although renewable sources of energy (like solar photovoltaic cells) are utilized, thermal masses inside the home and insulation of the walls, doors and windows must improve the energy efficiently of the home by 60 to 75% over standard guidelines in order to be dubbed an NZEB. Thermal masses work by absorbing natural sunlight during the day, storing the heat energy, and radiating it back into the house at night when ambient temperatures are lower. The effectiveness of the mass material depends on what it is made of. Thermal mass elements should be relatively heavy, good at conducting heat and dark or textured. The orientation of the building, to maximize the absorption of light, is critical in the effectiveness of passive solar technology. If the house is correctly oriented and the envelope provides appropriate insulation, thermal massing can reduce heating costs by up to 85%.