Home Insulation – Slash your Energy Bills, Stay Snug in Winter (and Cool in Summer)

You can add insulation to almost any home. Depending on the structure of your building, the best areas to add insulation are normally the loft, and also the cavity between your home's inner and outer walls. Insulating these saves a lot of energy and based on calculations for a British home, usually covers its cost within 2 years. What’s more, if you properly insulate your home you will prevent several tonnes of carbon dioxide being emitted into the atmosphere each year.

Insulating your cavity walls and loft will have the biggest impact on your bills. More heat is lost through walls than any other route – approximately 33% in an un-insulated home. 270 mm (10 inches) of loft insulation can save up to 25% of a home’s heating costs.

In most houses in the United Kingdom built after the 1920s, the external walls are made of two layers with a small air gap or 'cavity' between them. If your home has unfilled cavity walls, a considerable slice of your energy bills will be spent heating the air outside. Filling the gap between the two walls of a house with an insulating material massively decreases the amount of heat which escapes through the walls. It will help create a more even temperature in your home, help prevent condensation on the walls and ceilings.

Cavity wall insulation is quick, clean and relatively inexpensive to install. It's injected into the cavity from the outside, taking between two and three hours for a three bedroom semi-detached house. In the United Kingdom it typically costs around £250, and with the savings homeowners then make on their heating bills, it can pay for itself in under 2 years.

Another really important area to consider is that you could be losing up to a third of the heat in your house through your roof and loft insulation can cut this right down. The recommended depth for insulation is at least 270mm. If you currently have insulation that is less thick than this you may consider adding another layer, although the payback time is longer.

There are various materials that you can use to insulate your loft. Most frequently used is mineral wool, although you can now use real wool if you want a natural alternative.

In the United Kingdom most people prefer to use a professional insulation contractor, who should also help you get government grants to reduce the cost. Because of the grants, using a contractor is normally cheaper than doing it themselves and with a professional you know that the job will be properly done.

Other cheap and easy steps which are well worth home owners considering include insulating their hot water tank, insulating the home’s pipe-work and installing draught-proofing. Many homes are leaking heat through gaps in the joins on the panels that make up their windows and doors. In a typical home 20 per cent of all heat loss is through ventilation and draughts. Draught proofing is one of the least expensive and most effective energy efficiency measures for the home - yet it is too often overlooked.

Draught proofing offers a quick return, frequently paying for itself within a year and then saving year after year. There are many types of product - for around windows (sash, metal, timber); external doors (including weatherbars for door bottoms); internal doors - particularly kitchens, bathrooms and main living areas; the loft hatch, and even letter boxes, key holes and cat flaps!

Insulation, although not as headline grabbing as solar panel and wind turbines , is definitely the first place to start to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient.

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Peak Oil and the '08 Election

The headlines this month have been taken by the most insidious of America's vices: black gold. Oil futures are now projected to exceed $100 a barrel until 2016, and continue to sit comfortably near the $115-120 a barrel mark. Many different causes have been blamed for rising prices at the pump, ranging from massive speculation to supply instability in some oil-producing nations. However, one factor must surely be worrisome to most every American: oil companies haven't been getting enough of the stuff out of the ground.

Exxon Mobil's $11 billion quarterly profit disappointed Wall Street and investors alike, their shares falling 4 percent on May 1st. The largest oil company in the US has seen stagnant margins in most quarters since 2005 without being able to increase production. In fact, their overall production fell 10 percent. Demand in the US has also contracted 2 percent since the beginning of the credit crunch last summer, so Exxon's profits have been reaped in large part because of increasing price pressure on consumers, many of whom have looking to Congress for some relief. They may be looking for a while, as representatives have been less than forthcoming on bipartisan measures since they passed the economic stimulus package into law in February.

The two Democratic candidates running for President have sharply contrasted on how to address record oil inflation. Both Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican Senator John McCain have endorsed the idea of temporarily removing the federal gas tax over the summer months. Their reasoning is that consumers will feel the pinch of driving costs most over the summer, which means some offset in price would be more appreciated. However, there is no guarantee that the tax break will reach consumer directly, as many other secondary industries besides the oil companies price their profits into gasoline. Senator Barack Obama has also criticized the two candidates, stating that they were "reading from the same political playbook." However, he hasn't offered forth an alternative.

It is therefore difficult to project how difficult it will be for hard-hit US consumers in the near term, much less come November. Ethanol conversion and use is another issue that will continue to influence price inflation, as greater demand for alternative fuels increases. Many economists already believe that the globe has reached peak oil, or the zenith of possible oil production. This means that energy will only become scarcer and more expensive, and the 18.5 cent federal gas tax will only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to government intervention. Oil prices aren't going down by much even if such a tax break is implemented, primarily because demand from developing countries like China and India continues to grow. Indeed, their combined oil consumption outpaced that of the US for the first time in 2007. Some type of initiative between oil-producing nations will eventually have to be made to move towards more sustainable levels of consumption, but growing divisive political sentiments make it unlikely for anything major to happen until someone new is in the Oval Office.

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Democrats Good for Fuel Efficient Cars and Alternative Fuels

Americans demonstrated their concerns over middle eastern energy dependence on fossil fuels and rising gas prices with a landslide defeat of Republican energy policies. These concerns are inextricably linked to fuel efficient cars and cleaner alternative fuels. The Democrats big win was a major bolster to green cars and alternative fuels.

Among the most striking politcal changes is the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Previously it was Republican James Inhofe, who referred to global warming as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on mankind,". Now Barbara Boxer is in, a California Democrat who strongly advocates mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

A close second to the most striking changes is in the House Resources Committee. Jerry McNerney, a California Democrat and wind-energy executive, will replace the current Republican chairman, Richard W. Pombo, who fought to open public lands to private interests.

Fuel efficient standards are emerging as a major political topic. Fuel-efficiency has declined during the past decade for nine of the 13 major manufacturers selling vehicles in the United States, according to a new study by the Consumer Federation of America.

Money losing U.S. automakers say that they can't compete with fuel efficient imports as they suffer from a more than $1,000-per-vehicle disadvantage of higher costs for health insurance and pensions and therefore require government bailouts. This argument is continuing to lose steam though as profitable companies like Honda now produce more than 80% of their vehicles in the US and Canada.

Democrat Edward Markey has proposed raising combined light truck-car standards to an average of 33 miles per gallon by 2016 models. Democrat Barack Obama proposed increasing the average to 40.5 mpg for passenger vehicles and 32.6 mpg for the light-truck category, which includes SUVs, by 2020. Jerry McNerney, who defeated Pombo in California, says he will "dramatically increase the fuel efficiency of new vehicles."

Fuel efficiency and energy independence is already taking a foothold in the next presedential election as likely Republican presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona and Democrat/Independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut both wish to address global warming. This will put even more pressure on the current Bush administration to cooperate with the Democrats as the Republicans look to avoid another blowout.

The future is definitely looking a little greener.

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Are Alternative Fuels on the Road to a Solution?

There are many innovative solutions to the current questions concerning high gasoline prices and greenhouse emissions. Crops grown especially for fuel. Ethanol made from corn has no harmful emissions it is made from a reusable resource, the US government is pushing for 80% bio-fuel mixed with 20% gasoline, they can better than that! Bio-fuels produced from crops such as soybean and corn are at an effective alternative to gasoline both being a renewable resource that helps the farmers have a constant demand for their crops all the better for a continuous cash flow. However, if all the corn currently grown in the US was used to produce ethanol it would only meet only around 12% of the current demand for fuel, more and more land is being bought up for the production of ethanol, and it's largely dependent upon the weather, a yield of around 18 gallons of oil from corn can be produced per year per acre, more can be possible with genetic alterations, the growing process also requires fertilizes, pesticides and heavy machinery to harvest, effectively adding to soil contamination. It is also estimated the process uses as much energy to produce and transport as regular oil. There are also concerns that the farmland required for producing ethanol from crops will take up valuable space previously used for food crops, as recently food crops have suffered from extreme weather conditions and natural disasters pushing food prices higher, is then using this land, to produce ethanol feasible or even ethical?

Other alternatives being looked at are probably more efficient but less appealing to some, include reusing vegetable oil, a converter with filter, which can be placed in any diesel engine to allow it to take 100% used vegetable oil such as that from restaurants, it is refined slightly after being collected, and then sold at less than half the price of regular gasoline, higher end cars such as Saab and Mercedes are using this technology.

Water powered cars are also a reality by splitting the hydrogen oxygen (H2O) combo, that comprises water, and using the energy that is produced when they are put back together, these cells can be effectively be installed into cars reliant on petroleum, tailpipe emissions? Water.

Bio-gas energy sources have come up with a process of using organic wastes solids or liquids, do you remember in the movie back to the future, when the professor came back from the future at the end of the movie he stuffed garbage into the fuel tank and converting it into a usable gas product. Well at biogas energy sources they take food waste with other degradable organic matter like grass clippings, and by placing them through in holding tanks, they decompose naturally, the gas is siphoned off and the methane is used for powering generators boilers etc, or it can be refined further to make fuel for transportation.

However, the most exciting development of bio-fuel is that of using algae it is a fast growing high-yield product, 50% of it's body weight is an energy source, it is quickly grown on ponds and requires no pesticides or fertilize to flourish, 20,000 gallons per acre per year can be produced on open surface ponds, Glen Kertz of Vertigro explains that different strains of algae can be used to meet other transportation needs for jet fuel and diesel if produced in contaminate free Vertigro, they grow the algae vertically in plastic bags hung in a green house, enabling more surface area to to exposed to sunlight and enabling an enormous amount of the water to be continually recycled, it also takes up far less space and therefore yield per acre is much more than 20,000 gallons per year.

With all these alternatives, when will it be feasible for these methods to be available the general public?

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What Are Amorphous Silicon Solar Panels?

Solar panels are generally made of either amorphous or crystalline silicon. So, what is amorphous silicon? Well, amorphous just means that the solar cells have no crystal structure. When you look at many solar panels, you will notice a mosaic pattern. This mosaic is the various silicon crystals that have grown together in different orientations.

Amorphous type silicon solar panels do not have crystal structure. They are like glass or obsidian. The silicon atoms are all frozen together in a random way. However in crystalline type silicon solar panels, the silicon forms a lattice or regular repeating crystal structure.

The advantages of crystalline type solar cells is that they are generally more efficient. However, the crystals take time to grow and are therefore more expensive to produce.

Amorphous silicon panels are cheaper to produce, because there is no crystal structure that needs time to form. However, amorphous solar panels are less efficient.

Some solar panel manufacturers such as Sanyo have produced solar panels that use a combination of amorphous and crystalline silicon for maximum effect. The high efficiency crystalline silicon may be used to capture the majority of the energy, but layers of the amorphous variety of silicon are added to capture what is left.

So, what are amorphous construction silicon panels? They are solar panels made from the non- crystalline variety of silicon.

note: When purchasing crystalline or amorphous silicon panels it is important to weigh efficiency with cost. A crystalline silicon panel may be very efficient, but the cost may out-way the benefits. Amorphous panels are less efficient, but they are also cheaper. So, there is always a balance between cost and benefit.

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Car Industry Going Green?

Over the years the car hire industry has had many critics for having a dreadful impact on the environment. Environmental sympathisers have put forward the argument that car hire is simply a means for people to carry on selfishly travelling alone when their time and money could be spent on public transport, a far more ecologically sound method of travel. Public transport creates better fuel economy per passenger than a car and subsequently the argument centres on the fact that your carbon footprint will be larger if you travel in your own car or a vehicle from a hire company. It is not always the case that public transport is an option however, in predominantly isolated rural regions, sometimes the traveller is forced to hire a car; there are however methods which the industry can employ to make their environmental impact less.

In the past the car hire industry has purported the rather lame argument that if you use hire cars rather than owning one the instances of using a car will be lessened and hence less damage will be caused to the environment. Car ownership in the current world climate of high fuel costs is still surprisingly growing; it may be the case in the future that many of us will have to hire a car rather than own one, simply due to the exorbitant cost of fuel. Seemingly the industry has realised this and is now pursuing strategies that will make their fleets and business operations less environmentally harmful, an added bonus for hire companies is the new found ecological guilt present in consumer's mind today.

One of the most forward thinking strategies is to create hire fleets with larger numbers of 'green' cars. This does not mean they will be painted green but instead means that they will be less harmful, with fewer emissions and greater fuel efficiency. Hybrid cars are at the top of the list as a stop gap measure to make the car hire industry friendlier to the environment. There is a firm in Sweden, a remarkably ecologically aware country, which has incorporated hybrid cars into their fleet wholeheartedly. While the Swedes have a well developed sense of environmental fairness due to the stunning surroundings, unfortunately the rest of the world has not yet developed this need for greener options wholesale.

Carbon emissions that give travellers an idea of their own carbon footprint have also become a popular method of making the customer more ecologically aware. Some car hire companies have published tables of their entire fleet's emissions; by giving the customer a black and white choice of a greener car it is hoped that their own guilt for the environment will lead them to make the friendlier choice. This subversive way of convincing customers to go green is advisable as rather than ramming it down their throats it allows the customer to make up their own mind.

As a result of this carbon publishing some car hire companies have realised the importance of carbon offsetting. This put simply is an initiative in some companies where every pound of carbon that is emitted either by one of their cars or by the company itself, means a bush or tree is planted to balance the negative effect on the environment. Ultimately the company is striving to make itself neutral in terms of the carbon it produces, more importantly for many is the publicity that can be gained from such an initiative.

These environmentally friendly approaches are in no way widespread across the car hire industry. It is mainly small independent chains who are carving a niche in the market by giving customers the greener choice. As these companies seem to be doing well however it seems the case that the larger players in the industry are taking note. As more and more consumers demand these types of services it is understandable that the major players will follow the lead from smaller companies. If enough of the population requests this kind of service, it could well become a standard across the industry.

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