Showing posts with label Waste and Recycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Waste and Recycling. Show all posts

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Solar industry growth dimming with economy

(01-20) 14:38 PST -- The solar industry remains a bright spot in a down economy. But while the field continues to grow, the rate of progress may be slowing as the credit crunch and technological difficulties blunt the effect of government subsidies, industry sources say.

A layoff announced last week by Hayward's OptiSolar Inc. highlighted some of the issues facing the sector. The local company, which builds power-plant-size solar arrays, blamed the 290 job cuts on trouble securing financing. Industry observers said its troubles also reflect the challenges of moving new technologies from the lab to the field.

"The Silicon Valley plants are now coming to the proof of principle point," said Neal Dikeman, a founder at Jane Capital Partners, an energy investment firm in San Francisco. "Everyone has simply underestimated how difficult this is."

As the new Obama administration pegs its job-creation hopes on industries like solar, the question is not whether the field will grow, but whether it will grow faster or slower - and with what subsidies.

Last year, Congress enriched and extended a 30 percent federal tax credit on solar installations. California, which adds another 15 to 20 percent in incentives on top of that, has seen solar installations soar, according to California Public Utilities Commission analyst Molly Tirpak Sterkel.

"We have continued to see strong, in fact record, installations in California despite the economic conditions, and we are optimistic that it will continue in 2009," she said.

But industry sources say the nationwide market, while still growing, is growing slower.

Ron Pernick, with the market research firm Clean Edge, said solar installers are still hiring but at a slower pace in part because of the credit crunch and a wait-and-see attitude about government incentives.

"Until we get clarity from the Obama administration and the credit markets loosen up, it's going to be real hard for some of these solar outfits," Pernick said.

'Financing is a problem'
Barry Cinnamon, chief executive of Akeena Solar in Los Gatos, said his firm's solar installation business has slowed from a growth rate above 40 percent to something more in the 25 to 30 percent range. He hopes that falling prices for solar arrays, coupled with more generous federal tax incentives, will re-energize orders.

"The economics of solar have never been better," Cinnamon said. "But financing is a problem. They can't borrow money to put in the system."

Financial analyst Jesse Pichel, who follows the solar industry for Piper Jaffray, said all three segments of the installation marketplace are feeling the credit pinch to varying degrees. The residential sector must contend with plunging home equity and declining consumer confidence. Corporate buyers are leery of the capital expenditures required to put in huge arrays. The third solar market is for industrial-scale installations to sell power to utilities, and Pichel said it faces the largest financial and technical hurdles.

Focus on current contracts
OptiSolar falls into this last category. The Hayward firm says it will focus on completing current contracts, including a 550-megawatt solar plant for PG&E in San Luis Obispo. A PG&E spokeswoman said the utility remains confident OptiSolar will hit the project's Dec. 31, 2010, deadline. That deal is one of about 40 contracts PG&E has made with alternative energy suppliers to meet a state-imposed requirement that it get more than 20 percent of future power from renewable sources.

To spur installations nationwide, the solar industry wants Congress and President Barack Obama's administration to sweeten the new federal tax incentives.

Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, argues that tax credits work only when consumers and businesses pay taxes. With the recession hitting paychecks and profits, he says tax liabilities will shrink, making credits less appealing. He wants the 30 percent credit to be refundable, so even if buyers do not pay taxes on the installation, they could still get the benefit.

In a press conference after Obama's stimulus speech, Resch said solar companies have been talking about layoffs in the industry's 80,000-person workforce. He said the goal of creating 165,000 new jobs by 2011 would be jeopardized unless "these tax credits are improved."

Pichel, the financial analyst, said European countries have driven solar installations using a different strategy, promising to pay certain prices for solar-generated power. That has created large markets in countries such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece. Pichel said Europe now accounts for about 80 percent of global solar demand versus close to 10 percent for the United States.

"Solar continues to be an industry driven by subsidies," he said

Monday, December 15, 2008

E-waste certification program launched

• Commits to no dumping in landfills or developing countries

• ‘Our planet’s glut of e-waste is no longer a problem we can sweep under the rug’

The Basel Action Network and the Electronics TakeBack Coalition have joined with Electronic Recyclers International of Fresno to create the “e-Stewards Initiative” — a certification program for North America’s most responsible e-waste recyclers.

The e-Steward Initiative is described as the first independently audited and accredited electronic waste recycler certification program forbidding the dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries, local landfills and incinerators; the use of prison labor; and the unauthorized release of private data.

“Unfortunately today, most companies calling themselves electronics recyclers are scammers,” says Sarah Westervelt, e-Stewards project coordinator at the Basel Action Network (BAN) in Seattle. “They simply load up containers of old computers and ship them off to China or Africa.”

The e-Stewards announcement follows Sunday’s report on CBS’ 60 Minutes exposing fraudulent electronic recycling and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s recently aired Electronic Dumping Ground. These programs reveal that computers given to many recyclers in the United States and Canada are likely to be dumped in China or Africa, where e-waste is causing environmental and health problems.

“The genuinely responsible recyclers in North America face unfair competition from thousands of unethical, so-called ‘waste recyclers’ that would more accurately be called ‘waste shippers,’” says John Shegerian, chairman and CEO of ERI. “We strongly support a certified, audited program to separate the legitimate recyclers from the low-road operators.”

“Our planet’s glut of e-waste is no longer a problem we can sweep under the rug,” Mr. Shegerian says.

Funding to create the certification program was provided by 14 recycling companies.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Can you recommend a space heater?

I am looking to purchase two new electric heaters, to be used with timers, for my children's preschool. Do you have any suggestions where I can find information on electric heaters?

Thank you,
Jennifer Straw

The Green Guide replies:

Thanks for sending in your request for information, Jennifer.

As you probably know, safety is of utmost concern when choosing space heaters for any room that houses children. Some of these appliances pose a fire hazard if they can be tipped over, placed in proximity to flammable objects, or are otherwise operated in an unsafe manner. Indeed, according to the National Fire Protection Association, space heaters are a leading cause of home fires during the winter months, with kerosene models posing the greatest hazard. Gas heaters pose a similar risk of death from unvented carbon monoxide. Overall, according to Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are more than 25,000 residential fires and 300 deaths caused by space heaters each year.

Your first step, given these risks: confirm that the preschool's administrators have verified that any space heater -- that is, a freestanding appliance that does not connect with the building's heating and cooling ducts -- is allowable. If yes, check if restrictions, including the building's fire insurance policy, exist that stipulate the type of space heater permissable. For example, "vented" heaters may be mandated, requiring direct access to outside air in order to reduce fire hazards.

And before you get started in researching specific units, Jennifer, you'd be well advised to review a couple of key governmental documents on space heaters. Please see the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) brochure, by searching for "space heaters" on the web site (or to receive this free brochure by mail, call the CPSC at 800-638-2772). Please also see the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse brief on space heaters at or call 800-DOE-EREC (363-3732).

Since you asked about electric space heaters, we will start by providing manufacturers of this kind of appliance. Precisely which company has the most efficient model depends on your building's needs. We'll simply supply contact information for reliable manufacturers, with whom you can discuss the room's (or rooms') specifications, including size, ceiling height, and number of windows, etc. Once you've obtained product info from individual manufacturers, Jennifer, you will be able to make your own analysis, weighing the purchase price of the units against their cost of operation -- along with any drawbacks they might pose. (Please note our final section on safety tips, which should be passed along to the adult who will operate the appliance.)

Electric radiant heaters are a safe and energy-efficient choice. Because no fuel is involved, they offgas no fumes, and are often chosen by consumers with chemical sensitivities, according to the Radiant Electric Heat, Inc., manfacturers of a portable radiant heater on wheels. Radiant heaters work in the same way that the sun does: instead of heating the air -- which, when hot, rises, thus reducing energy efficiency -- radiant heat is absorbed by objects in its path, which, in turn, radiate back the heat. A drawback: some of the units cost several hundred dollars (depending on size). Go to or call 800-774-4450 to discuss your needs.

Vornado also manufactures a line of electric heaters that use fans to help warmed air circulate -- which can be noiser than fanless models. Go to (click on products) or call 800-234-0604. DeLonghi is another reliable manufacturer, although phone reps for this Italian company are difficult to access. To view the DeLonghi MG15E Magnum Oil-Filled Radiator, at about $100, go to (and note that this model is electric -- the oil it uses is sealed off and isn't combusted in any way, but is instead used to transfer heat).

Many space heaters on the market are powered by fuel as well as electricity; propane, natural gas, and kerosene are all common. These models are sold as "vented" -- requiring access to outside air -- and ventless (sometimes "vent-free"). According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, "most building scientists and indoor air quality professionals do not recommended ventless heaters...where small children and elderly persons live or where the heater is likely to be operated for more than two hours per day." The concern: "ventless" heaters often introduce carbon monoxide (CO), nitrous oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) into a room. While new models are subject to codes that reduce risks of tipping over and toxic emissions, we feel hazards still exist. We recommend that you either go to the trouble of venting your heater or go with the more expensive, electric models.

Safety Tips:

Select a heater of the proper size for the room you wish to heat. Do not purchase oversized heaters. Most heaters come with a general sizing table.

Locate the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater. Keep portable heaters more than three feet (one meter) away from any furniture, drapes, decorations, and walls.

DO NOT leave a portable heater running unattended or while you sleep. Do not use a portable heater in a bedroom.

Use only the approved fuel for your heater. Never use gasoline! Follow the manufacturer's fueling instructions. Fill portable heaters outdoors, wipe up spills, and do not use old or contaminated fuel. Never fill a heater that is still hot. Do not overfill the heater; you must allow for the expansion of the liquid. Only use approved containers clearly marked for that particular fuel, and store them outdoors.

Have vented space heaters professionally inspected every year. If the heater is not vented properly, not vented at all, or if the vent is blocked, separated, rusted, or corroded, dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can enter the home causing sickness and death. CO also can be produced if the heater is not properly set up and adjusted for the type of gas used and the altitude at which it is installed.

Whenever using an unvented heater, always open a window about a half inch (1.3 cm) to let in fresh air.

If dizziness, drowsiness, chest pain, fainting, or respiratory irritation occurs while using an unvented heater, shut off the heater immediately and move the affected person to where he/she can breathe fresh air.

Only purchase newer model heaters that have all of the current safety features. Make sure the heater has the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) label attached to it.

Only use portable heaters that have a tip-over safety shut-off device which will automatically extinguish the flame if the heater is knocked over.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'60 Minutes' examines the business of e-waste recycling

In Sunday's 60 Minutes, the CBS TV news magazine examines the lucrative but shadowy business of mining e-waste--junked computers, televisions, and other old electronic products--for valuable components, including gold. However, often illegal and hazardous activity creates toxic pollution, which in turn leads to brain damage, kidney disease, cancers, and mutations. In the segment, correspondent Scott Pelley examines the ethics of the recycling industry. (For the full 60 Minutes segment, see "The Electronic Wasteland.")

In the first clip, Pelley takes a tour of Denver electronic waste recycling company GRX, a member of "E-Stewards." The stringent program is run by the Basel Action Network, a watchdog group that certifies ethical recyclers that do not ship their toxic materials overseas.

In the second clip, the 60 Minutes crew chronicles piles of electronics blanketing the Chinese countryside waiting to be recycled. E-waste workers in Guiyu, China, where Pelley's team videotaped, put up with the dangerous conditions for the $8 a day the job pays.

In the third clip, scientists discuss e-waste, the fastest-growing component of the municipal waste stream worldwide, and the impact it has on those whose lives depend on it. The toxic pollution from black market recycling leads to brain damage, kidney disease, cancers, and mutations.

In the fourth clip, Pelley and his crew are attacked and threatened with violence by area gangsters overseeing the e-waste operations who tried to take the CBS team's cameras. The smugglers were trying to protect the lucrative business of mining e-wasted. However, Pelley's crew managed to escape and bring back footage of the hazardous activities.

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