Climate Compass Blog

3 reasons to light the holiday season with LEDs

Image courtesy youngthousands, Flickr.

On a dark winter night, twinkling holiday lights lift our spirits. Over the centuries we have gone from decorating trees with candles (not the best idea) to using electric-powered lights, which were first draped around a tree in 1882 by an inventor who worked for Thomas Edison.

Today, thanks to three Japanese scientists who recently won the Nobel Prize for their development of a blue light-emitting diode (LED), we can move beyond Edison and choose an energy-efficient and environmentally friendly light source, the LED bulb. Although they’ve been on the market for some time, LED lights are now coming down in price, making them an even more attractive option for everyday and holiday lighting.

When decorating this season, keep in mind these three reasons why LEDs are a better way to brighten your holidays.

  1. LEDs are a better choice for your pocketbook. With continued advances in LED technology (especially around heat regulation) by producers like GE and  CREE, the cost of home LED bulbs is now nearing the price of compact fluorescent lights. Since lighting is responsible for 14 percent of a home’s electricity use, more efficient bulbs can reduce home energy bills. If you’re wondering how much you could save by making the switch, check out the CREE LED calculator. When it comes to holiday decorating, LEDs will lead to significant savings over the years. For example, lighting the tree with incandescent lights will cost you around $122 over 10 seasons (including replacement strands), compared to just $33 for a tree adorned with LED lights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if all decorative strands purchased this year were ENERGY STAR rated, Americans would save $45 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 630 million pounds annually.
  1. LEDs are safer sources of light. About 150 house fires a year are caused by decorative lighting, costing almost $9 million in property damage. LEDs are cooler than other bulbs, making them less likely to spark a fire in a dry Christmas tree. And because LEDs draw far fewer kilowatts of energy from the outlet, the risk of electrical fires is reduced. In fact, manufacturer specs allow for connecting up to 25 LED holiday strands in one outlet.
  1.  LEDs are better for the environment. A quarter of the world's electricity is used for lighting, and most of that energy is produced from high-carbon fuels. As demand for energy rises around the globe, more efficient lighting technologies are one strategy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. LED bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. Moreover, the long life of LEDs – up to 25 years for household bulbs - means less material heads to the landfill.

The long life of LED holiday lights -- up to 10 times longer than regular strands -- means the same strands will be like keepsake ornaments you unpack year after year. It's very likely that the first holiday lights junior recognizes as a toddler will be the exact same lights he comes home to during winter break in college. And family traditions are another way to brighten those long winter nights.

How we engaged employees, strengthened community ties, and made the world a little greener

Nearly 2,000 Alcoa employees, their families, and members of their communities learned how to save energy, save money, and help the environment at green fairs over the past three months.

These fairs, organized by the C2ES Make an Impact program in partnership with Alcoa and the Alcoa Foundation, are an example of an evolving approach to corporate social responsibility and employee engagement.

Building awareness of environmental challenges is important, but it isn’t enough. A new approach, bringing together several engagement strategies, aims to build a work force that is both knowledgeable and active in local organizations. The goal is to create stronger relationships among a company, its employees, and community stakeholders, a win-win-win.

Employees, community members and even two mayors came to Alcoa Green Fairs to meet with local businesses and groups providing sustainability solutions. The events took place on weekends or during work breaks in Fullerton and Torrance, Calif.; Hampton, Va.; and Warrick, Ind. Participants could ask questions and get tips about recycling, saving energy and water, and making choices to promote sustainability.

Hands-on activities made it fun. For example, at each fair, we challenged people to see how much physical energy is needed to turn a hand crank (pictured at left) and produce enough power to light an old-fashioned incandescent bulb compared with a modern, efficient compact fluorescent bulb, which requires 75 percent less energy.

The team from Virginia Naturally challenged Hampton fair-goers to guess how long it takes for different types of litter to decompose, driving home the importance of recycling. California employees answered trivia questions from Heal the Bay about storm water management and water conservation.

The fairs informed employees and strengthened Alcoa’s connections to its local communities. More than 50 organizations participated, paving the way for future partnerships and employee volunteer opportunities that will improve the sustainability of each community.

Understanding climate change, even if you're not a scientist

A catchphrase has cropped up in discussions about climate change: “I’m not a scientist…”

You hear it from some elected leaders opposed to taking action to reduce climate risks. It’s usually followed by an argument that climate science is too hard to understand or there’s not enough information that climate change is a serious problem.

With this in mind, we’ve revamped our Science and Impacts webpages to ensure we’re providing understandable, up-to-date climate science information so that anyone can connect the choices we make in producing and consuming energy to the risks of climate impacts.

Firsthand lessons on public charging for EVs

Description: C:\Users\Nick\SkyDrive\Pictures\2014\2014-09_Labor_Day_Weekend\20140828_092039_Android.jpg

My ride for the weekend: BMW’s first mass-produced all-electric vehicle.

Washington, D.C., is well-situated for day trips with mountains, forests, beach and bay all a short drive away. On a recent weekend, I was lucky enough to tool around in style. BMW lent me their new electric car – the i3 – and asked that I race it around the DC metro region. (Or perhaps that’s just how I heard them.)

The car handles beautifully the way you’d expect a BMW to, and proves there’s no performance tradeoff by going with an electric vehicle (EV). For most drivers, EVs like the i3 can accommodate daily driving needs. The average American only travels 30 miles per day. In particular, EVs are well suited for commuting because a driver can charge at home or the workplace. But day-tripping with an EV can take more planning and I learned firsthand that a robust public charging network is essential if EVs are to make more headway in the marketplace.

At C2ES, we often cite the importance of public charging stations to extend the range of EVs and give drivers confidence that an EV is a practical replacement for their conventional car. To allow EV drivers to travel as they would with a gasoline car, quick charging stations are needed along major roadways. Multiple, slower charging stations (referred to as Level 2) should be at key destinations to provide redundancy in case stations are in use or down for maintenance. Those are some of the conclusions of our new paper assessing the public charging infrastructure in Washington state and the same can be said of Washington, D.C.

SaskPower unveils first commercial-scale, coal-fired power plant to capture carbon

For the first time ever, a large-scale, coal-fired power plant is capturing carbon dioxide to keep it from being released into the atmosphere – a milestone for a technology critical to addressing climate change.

Canadian electric utility SaskPower has switched on unit 3 at its Boundary Dam power plant, about 10 miles from the North Dakota border, and will hold an official grand opening Oct. 2. Following a $1.2 billion retrofit, the 46-year-old, 110-megawatt coal unit is now on course toward capturing 90 percent of its carbon emissions. Other upgrades reduce nitrous oxide emissions and capture 100 percent of the unit’s sulfur dioxide emissions.

Numerous commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology projects have been deployed in the industrial sector. In the power sector, demonstration-scale projects have been deployed, but this is the first commercial-scale project.

We will need to construct hundreds of such projects (along with other zero- and lower-emitting technologies) if greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced to levels that avoid the worst effects of climate change. According to the International Energy Agency, more than 440 terawatt-hours (TWh) of CCS must be generated between 2020 and 2035 to give us a chance of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. To get a sense of that scale, SaskPower’s unit 3 can produce up to 1 TWh of electricity per year.

The Boundary Dam project is important not just because it’s the first of its kind, but because it demonstrates a way to help make carbon capture technology economically viable -- by turning unwanted pollutants into valuable commodities. SaskPower has agreed to transport and sell its captured carbon dioxide (CO2) to an oilfield operated by Cenovus for use in enhanced oil recovery (EOR) operations. The captured CO2 helps coax additional production from declining oil fields and results in the permanent storage of the CO2 underground. (In addition, captured sulfur dioxide emissions will be used to produce 50 tons per day of sulfuric acid for industrial customers, and SaskPower will sell the plant’s coal combustion residuals, also known as coal ash, for use in construction products like drywall and concrete.)