‘Social’ package pickups could cut online shopping’s energy use

‘Social’ package pickups could cut online shopping’s energy use(Midwest Energy News, November 26, 2012)—As the holiday shopping season kicks into full gear, some experts predict online businesses will rake in $2 billion in sales today, which retailers have dubbed “Cyber Monday.”

That also means millions of gallons of fuel will be consumed in getting all those packages to customer’s doorsteps. The good news: there’s reasonable consensus that online shopping consumes less energy than physical retail, says Tim Smith, director of the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise at the Institute on the Environment.

A big reason is because those delivery trucks run much more efficient routes than we do driving to multiple stores in our own cars.

That said, Smith sees plenty of room for improvement, especially in suburban areas, as online shopping grows into what Forrester Research expects will be a $279 billion a year industry by 2015. UPS already has more than 95,000 vehicles that collectively put on 2.5 billion miles per year to keep up with the surge in online shopping.

The biggest opportunity is in the “last mile,” which accounts for up to half of a retail transaction’s carbon footprint. It’s relatively efficient to ship bulk goods by boat, train, or truck to local stores and warehouses. The largest source of emissions is in the final leg of the trip to the customer’s door. Continue reading “‘Social’ package pickups could cut online shopping’s energy use”

Mild winter foreshadows climate stress for forests

(Midwest Energy News, January 9, 2012)—As I sit down to write this, the sun is shining, the sidewalks are sloppy, and it’s a balmy 46 degrees outside. It’s January in Minneapolis, but it feels like late March.

It feels fantastic, to take a deep breath outside without the burn of winter we expect here this time of year.

It’s also unsettling.

We’ve seen the news reports about how the winter-that-wasn’t has affected businesses and recreational activities. But as I walked the dogs Friday afternoon — gloves tucked in the pockets of my unzipped jacket — I wondered about the environmental impact of this weird and warm winter.

I called Lee Frelich, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Forest Ecology, to find out whether we’re likely to see consequences in our forests.

The short answer: it’s too soon to say. But a continued lack of cold or snow could cause stress for trees. And it foreshadows a climate shift that would bring huge changes to the region.

“One winter like this might not have a very big impact, but in the future, in a few decades, they mostly might be like this,” says Frelich. Continue reading “Mild winter foreshadows climate stress for forests”

How will Silicon Energy and TenKsolar manage in oversupplied solar panel market?

(Finance & Commerce, October 24, 2011)—Silicon Energy became Minnesota’s second solar-electric panel manufacturer when it started shipping rooftop units from its Iron Range factory in mid-September. It joins Bloomington-based TenKsolar, which began selling its commercial systems in 2010.

The companies are getting a boost from a made-in-Minnesota solar rebate program for Xcel Energy customers. And given the state of the industry, they’ll need all the help they can get.

“New startup companies are going to have a very, very difficult time competing with established companies,” said Junko Movellan, an analyst with Solarbuzz, a market research group in San Francisco. There’s a worldwide oversupply of solar modules now, and she predicts the industry faces a big shakeout in the months ahead.

On top of that, Minnesota isn’t the easiest place to sell solar-electric systems, but not for the reason you might think. Our weather is actually an asset; solar-electric systems perform better in the cold. Rather, it’s the state’s comparatively cheap electricity rates that make it harder for customers to recoup investment costs.

The industry has been called the “solar-coaster” because of all its ups and downs. How do these Minnesota startups plan to hang on? Continue reading “How will Silicon Energy and TenKsolar manage in oversupplied solar panel market?”

Closing the Loop on Electronic Waste

Make no mistake: Best Buy likes to see customers lining up for that next new, must-have gadget. The consumer electronics retailer is in the business of helping people upgrade their technology, whether it’s a mobile phone or a big-screen television.

For every new product, though, there’s often an old one made obsolete: last year’s iPhone, or a clunky analog TV set, or that computer your media collection outgrew. All of this stuff eventually starts to pile up in closets, landfills or incinerators.

It’s an environmental hazard, and it’s a customer hassle. That’s why Best Buy is seeking to help close the loop on the millions of pounds of electronic waste its stores and customers generate each year.

Best Buy has rapidly become a national leader in e-waste recycling since launching an in-store drop-off program in February 2009. Customers at its U.S. stores can bring in just about any old electronics, regardless of where or when they were purchased, and Best Buy will make sure they get recycled responsibly. Last year, the company collected more than 75 million pounds of unwanted electronics. (Continue reading…)

Closing the Loop on Electronic Waste

Read my story on water scarcity in Twin Cities Business

I spent a few months this spring looking into the potential risks and opportunities for Minnesota companies as development, pollution, population growth and climate conspire to strain our planet’s fresh water supply. The risk may seem distant here in the land of 10,000 lakes, but in an age when global supply chains span the globe, few industries will be unaffected. Some are already feeling the effects. Meanwhile, the Twin Cities is home to a promising cluster of companies and technologies that could play a role in addressing the coming global crisis. Read more in the July issue of Twin Cities Business magazine.

Minnesota wind farm drama may be entering final act

June 28, 2011, Midwest Energy News —  Two fronts have collided before Minnesota utility regulators, and now, observers on both sides are waiting to see which way the wind will blow in what’s been the state’s highest-profile and hardest-fought battle over wind turbine placement.

The proposed $179 million, 78-megawatt Goodhue Wind project would consist of 50 turbines spanning about 32,000 acres of farm land an hour drive southeast of the Twin Cities. The developer is a subsidiary of Mesa Power Group, which is owned by Texas oil-and-gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens.

Last October, about a year after the developer applied for site permits, Goodhue County adopted a setback ordinance that bans wind turbines within 10 rotor diameters, or about half a mile in this case, of any non-participating neighboring home. That’s in stark contrast with state law in Minnesota, which generally requires setbacks between 750 and 1,500 feet based on noise and other factors.

The local ordinance grew out of grassroots opposition from a group of county residents who fear the turbines will upset their quality of life. The developer, which has partnered with about 200 other local property owners, says the project can’t go through under the local setback rules.

Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission is likely to give its final say on the matter Thursday after months of testimony and discussion. Its decision will be the first major test of a 2007 amendment that gave counties limited authority to adopt more stringent wind setbacks than those spelled out in state law.

“It’s certainly something every wind developer is paying close attention to, because one way or another it affects how they’re going to propose their next project,” said Sarah Johnson Phillips, a renewable energy attorney with Stoel Rives in Minneapolis. Continue reading “Minnesota wind farm drama may be entering final act”

What I’m Working On

In this deadline-free, holiday-bookended week, I have to admit my work-motivation levels have been fairly low. A friend is visiting from out of town and in a few hours I’ll probably pack things up for the year and take tomorrow off. Here’s what I’ll be working on come Monday morning:

The Line: We’ll have a holiday half-issue on Wednesday of next week. I’ll have a report on the Center for Energy and Environment creating green jobs in 2010, as well as a brief about a south Minneapolis beauty shop that’s found an innovative way to streamline its scheduling. And before deadline on Monday morning I’ll be interviewing Tim Kapsner of Aveda about an upcoming green chemistry forum in the Twin Cities.

(Side note: Effective the end of January I’ll be stepping down as The Line’s innovation and jobs editor. It’s been a fun gig, but planning and writing an entire section every week has also scattered my energy/attention in more directions than I would like it to go. I plan to continue my relationship with The Line as a freelance writer, just not quite as regular as it’s been these past several months.)

MedCity Life: Earlier this winter I accepted a position as Twin Cities Editor of MedCity Life, a new city guide site for the medical industry. It’ll be a sibling site to MedCity News and is scheduled to launch on Jan. 15. I’ve spent the past several weeks asking people in the medical industry (hospitals, med-tech, etc.) about where they socialize and network. What are the go-to lunch, coffee, and happy hour spots where they’re likely to bump into their peers? What are the power breakfast spots? Where do people go to impress potential customers/partners or blow their expense accounts? Ideas? Let me know!

Mobile Devices: I’m working on a story for Twin Cities Business about how companies/organizations are making decisions about what mobile devices/platforms to support, and how they’re dealing with the rise in requests from employees who want to be able to check their work e-mail, calendars, etc., on popular consumer mobile devices such as the iPhone or Droid. If you’re a CIO or someone else who makes these kind of decisions, I’ll love to hear your thoughts on the pros and cons and complications related to mobile support.

Insurance & Climate Change: I’m working on my first assignment for Momentum, a great magazine affiliated with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The topic is insurance companies and climate change. I’m looking for sources who can help me understand how the insurance industry is responding to or preparing for climate change. If you know anyone who might have some insights in this area, give me a shout.

See you in the new year!

dan at danhaugen dot com

P.S. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to blog/share more in this space. We’ll see…