ENVIRONMENT

TEN IDEAS THAT WORK

Alexandra Shimo April 28 2008
ENVIRONMENT

TEN IDEAS THAT WORK

Alexandra Shimo April 28 2008

TEN IDEAS THAT WORK

Driverless taxis, offices where you don't freeze in summer: 10 novel, revolutionary, sometimes remarkably simple solutions

ENVIRONMENT

HOW GREEN ARE YOU?

A BETTER WAY TO CATCH SOME SUN

Solar power would be a near ideal way of generating electricity—clean, noiseless, and renewable—if it weren’t roughly four times as expensive as that produced by fossil fuels. Concentrated solar power cuts those costs by more than half, by greatly reducing or even eliminating the number of expensive photovoltaic panels. Instead, mirrors concentrate the sun’s rays on a single point, generating intense heat—temperatures of up to 1,500° C. This is used to heat a fluid (such as water), which drives the turbines, and these generate electricity. Concentrated solar energy is collected by power towers or by large plants spread over hundreds of hectares. In Nevada, a 140-hectare solar plant went online in June 2007. The plant produces up to 134 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, or enough to light up 14,000 homes—virtually the entire population of nearby Boulder City. With the rising price of oil, concentrated solar is becoming a feasible alternative, and construction of these plants is under way in several countries, including Spain, Australia, and the U.S. At present, it still costs about 17

cents per kilowatt hour, compared to about 10 cents in the U.S. for conventional power, but these costs are expected to drop as the technology improves. “It’s the quality of the sunlight that makes a difference to concentrated solar power,” says Pramod Kulkarni, a project manager at the research department of the California Energy Commission, which has been a world leader in this technology. “Canada has good solar potential, and there are a number of regions that have enough sunny days to make use of this technology,” he adds. Hint: Vancouver’s not one of them Alexandra Shimo

TURNING UP THE HEAT IN JAPAN

In May 2005, the Japanese government changed the future of summer fashion by launching Cool Biz, an ongoing initiative to lower national carbon emissions from air conditioning. Thermostats in all government offices were raised to 28° C from June to September, and companies were asked to follow suit. When it was first announced, the policy sparked a national debate on what to wear. A corporate culture defined by formality and tradition—white shirts, dark suits and ties—was thrown into sartorial confusion, and the government responded with fashion advice and clothing-suggestion sheets.

Today, Cool Biz is the new normal for offices. The Ministry of the Environment estimates that 48 per cent of companies comply with the voluntary policy. In the past three years, the campaign has saved tonnes of carbon—more than four million to date. It has also launched a new line of summer fashion. Jackets and ties are a nono in the government clothing recommendations, and instead, floral fabrics, like the Okinawan shirt—the Japanese equivalent of the Hawaiian—are in vogue. Some people find the higher temperatures a little too warm, but complaining about the heat is considered a social faux pas.—A.S.

FREEWHEELING IN PARIS

Parisians proved you can still get a free ride, with the launch of their celebrated bicyclerental system last July. Dotted about the city are 20,600 silver bikes in computerized stands for anyone to rent. The first 30 minutes of use are free; the bikes cost 1 euro, or $1.60, for the next half-hour and prices increase incrementally after that. The tab is calculated by the computerized stands that hold the bikes, and can be paid by credit card or with a prepaid card. The Vélib bicycle

system has been enormously popular with more than 11 million trips in the first four months. Sales of non-rental bikes have also spiked 35 per cent in the past year, as many discover that biking is the quickest way to get around the city for short trips.

The success has led the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to promise a similar system for his city. Dublin,

Sydney and Melbourne are reportedly consid-

ering similar bike-rental programs. The cost of Vélib was covered by selling the right to use the city government’s billboard hoardings to the media company that promised to provide the best bicycle system for residents. One downside: Parisians would prefer not to bike uphill, and the bikes tend to converge in the low-lying stands and frequently have to be trucked back to higher ground.—A.S.