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If you visit a city these days, you are sure to see Lime, Bird, Spin, or Skip electric scooters zipping between traffic and pedestrians or parked in rows near busy restaurants and malls. But these electric scooters might not be as green as you think. Shared electric scooter companies like to boast about their carbon-free credentials but that is not the whole truth.
Love them or hate them, electric scooters seem to be here to stay. Shared or “dockless” — meaning riders don’t have to return them to a charging station after a ride — electric scooters rolled onto U.S. city streets in 2018 and ever since, have been rented millions of times over.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials revealed that 38.5 million trips were taken on shared electric scooters in 2018, overtaking station-based bicycles as the most popular form of shared micro-mobility transportation in the U.S. in just the first year they were widely available.
The eclipse of the docked bicycles was mainly due to the introduction of a staggering 85,000 electric scooters available for public use in U.S. cities compared with 57,000 station-based bikes.
As electric scooters have become more widely available to the public, a micro-mobility revolution has surfaced: U.S. citizens increasingly opt to travel the “last mile” by alternative over traditional transport methods.
The changing landscape of urban transportation can be boiled down to two factors. The first is the ubiquity of electric scooters and smartphones. People can easily locate and rent shared electric scooters by using an app. After a small financial transaction conducted through a smartphone app, the renter can ride a scooter for a set period of time. The ability to pay from a smartphone app using a credit card makes the process of using an electric scooter extremely convenient.
The second factor is the dockless appeal of the shared micro-mobility devices. It is easy to see why electric scooters eclipsed the number of docked, station-based bikes in 2018. If a rider rents a docked bike, they need to return it to a docking station. But the dockless electric scooters can be found, ridden, and left almost anywhere. The convenience of hopping on an electric scooter, riding it from A to B, and leaving it wherever you want contributes significantly to the popularity of these shared micro-mobility devices.
Scooters don’t charge themselves. Throughout the day, the scooter service deploys people driving cars or trucks to collect scooters that have run through their electric charge. Batteries must be plugged in, and the maintenance person who picks them up must haul them to a workspace to recharge tired scooters.
Besides the source of power used, moving scooters from where the last rider left them to a recharging center — which may be someone’s home — produces the same CO2 output as the car or truck used. It’s a two-way trip and scooters must be redistributed where riders are likely to find and use them. We can’t calculate the total emissions, but if you are looking for a green ride, seek scooters from companies that document how much mileage and the types of vehicles used to collect and distribute their two-wheeled transportation.
At face value, electric scooters appear to be carbon-free modes of transportation. But what you can’t see may come as a surprise.
Just like all other modes of transportation, electric scooters need fuel. With traditional modes of transportation such as cars, it is easy to see the pollutants being emitted from their tailpipes. But that is not the case with electric scooters. Although electric scooters may not directly emit emissions through tailpipes, they do contribute greenhouse gases once you factor in the energy used to charge the scooters.
The widespread use of electric scooters and the energy needed to keep the wheels rolling has had a direct effect on the environment. Research from Electric Scooter Insider revealed that, once you factor in the CO² that is released as a result of producing and delivering the electricity needed to charge the scooters, 146.21 grams, or about a third of a pound, of CO² is emitted for every mile ridden.
Bloomberg reported that the scooter riders average 1.5 miles per trip. Combining this with the 38.5 million trips, approximately 57.8 million miles were traveled on electric scooters in 2018. In fact, electric scooters contributed 9,308 tons of CO² in 2018, equivalent to the energy use of an average house for 650 years.
However, it’s not all bad. The amount CO² emissions would have been far greater if those 57.8 million miles were traveled using gas-powered cars. Traveling that distance by car instead of electric scooters, the amount of CO² emitted could have been more than double (22,720 tons).
Electric scooters may not be carbon-free but they still contribute 59 percent less CO² compared to the average car in America (356.91 grams of CO² per mile).
In 2018, fossil fuels made up the majority (63.5 percent) of U.S. electricity generation. This played a significant role in the CO² per mile emission factor for electric scooters.
Charging an electric scooter using clean energy sources would substantially reduce its carbon footprint. The current status of renewable energy sources for the U.S. accounts for only 17.1 percent of all electricity generated. The growing popularity of electric scooters is just one more reason the U.S. needs to expand its investment clean, renewable energy.
The electric scooter, if powered by renewable energy, is a win for the environment. It’s up to you to learn about the power sources a scooter service uses.
How clean electric scooters are is totally dependent on the energy source used to generate the electricity needed to charge them. As such, conscious consumerism will play a significant role in the future of these micro-mobility devices and their impact on the environment.
As environmentally conscious consumers, we should know the source of our energy. If you don’t know how your electricity is generated, ask your electricity service provider. If your electricity comes from a clean, renewable energy source like wind, solar, or hydropower, you can feel good about riding and charging your electric scooter — or electric car.
Josh Frisby is the founder of Electric Scooter Insider, a site that reviews and recommends the best electric scooters. He also conducts extensive research studies into the micro-mobility industry to uncover interesting insights that spark debate and increase the exposure of electric scooters to the general public.
Feature image courtesy of Marek Rucinski from Unsplash
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Young people are spending more and more time on devices. Kids between the ages of eight and 12 spend nearly six hours online daily on average. Although this statistic seems quite high, it is important to consider what children are doing online.
There are many educational websites and online games that teach children about nature, the climate crisis, or how to recycle. Unfortunately, some of these are not all that engaging, judging from my kid’s responses to them. Others teach about the natural world but don’t specifically teach young people about living greener lives.
Let’s explore some of the best green websites for young people.
Super Sorter is an engaging game that takes children to a materials recovery facility to sort mixed recyclables. Plastic bottles, glass containers, and cardboard boxes appear on a conveyor belt where they must be sorted by one of four different technologies. Each sorter specializes in capturing different types of materials so players purchase and place the sorters strategically to have the highest recovery rate.
After watching kids play this game, it does seem to genuinely teach the concept that specific infrastructure is needed to have high recovery rates for single-stream recycling. It is ideal for late elementary age students and older.
The PBS Kids website has a collection of nature games for elementary school-aged kids with a variety of themes. Gamers learn about ecosystems, bird species, constellations, soil health, geography, and more while playing. The object of the games is sometimes being a steward of nature or the environment, like managing renewable energy production, feeding winter birds, and creating wildlife habitat.
Much of the information is offered as a narrative during the game, which some kids might tune out. If nothing else, kids will gain exposure to certain vocabulary that could be helpful later on. These games are ideal for elementary-age children and often don’t require the ability to read.
The National Geographic Kids website has a variety of resources that teach children about different animal species, planets, and special places. Kids can take a pledge to cut back on the use of disposable plastic, learn about amazing animals, or test their knowledge on a given topic with a quiz.
Rich graphics help keep this site interesting to kids, but aside from the videos, many activities require an ability to read. This website is ideal for late-elementary-age students and older. Most early-elementary-age children will need some help from an adult but will likely find the content interesting.
Ranger Rick is an interactive website that teaches children about different animals, provides instruction on craft projects, and has some jokes and games. Like National Geographic Kids, the website has excellent graphics and is well organized for young users.
Although Ranger Rick teaches children about the natural world, the website doesn’t necessarily teach children much about more sustainable lifestyle choices and conservation. One year of full access is $10. Because many activities require an ability to read, most early-elementary-age kids will need some assistance from an adult.
Have you found other educational green websites and online games that your children like? Share them with the Earth911 community in the Earthling Forum.
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Many people want to install solar panels but their roofs are very shaded. Is it worth it to go solar?
Obviously, solar panels produce more power when they are in direct sunlight, but they do generate some power when shaded. Here are the typical reasons for shady roof areas and how to place solar panels to take advantage of the light that is available.
It is ideal to install the solar panels on a south-facing roof.
When the panels point either west or east, they will not get as much direct sun during part of the day. If the panels face east, they will produce a lot of energy in the morning but very little in the late afternoon. The reverse is true if they face west. It is not recommended to install solar panels facing north as they will receive almost no direct sunlight.
To determine the generation loss due to orientation, use the PVWatts calculator tool and edit the azimuth field, which represents the angle at which your solar panels must be placed.
Although trees are wonderful for so many reasons, they are not necessarily compatible with solar panels unless they are planted on the north side of the home.
Trees on the south side can be most problematic because they can block midday sun, which is very important for overall power production. Trees can also prevent passive solar gains that can keep your heating energy use down in the winter.
There are a few things to keep in mind with trees. They could shade your solar panels more in the colder months when the sun is at a lower angle (especially if you live farther north). It is also important to consider the type of trees and how much they will grow.
Some smaller trees can be pruned to keep them small while some trees are just immense. Deciduous trees will shade your panels less in the winter months than conifers because they lose their leaves. However, even branch shade does have an impact on energy production.
These roof features are another culprit for solar electricity production. Aside from strategically placing solar panels where they aren’t shaded, there are few ways to get around these architectural obstacles.
An experienced solar installer will be able to place the panels where they receive the least amount of shading. Unfortunately, this might limit the size of the array.
Keep in mind that you can install panels on a garage, as an awning, on a carport, or even on a trellis. This will probably increase the installation cost, especially if you need to purchase materials to reinforce the trellis or carport. Yet, these structures can be useful solar locations and provide other benefits.
Community solar gardens or farms are owned by a group of people or a company. They allow a group of households and businesses to use the renewable energy that off-site solar panels generate without installing the solar panels on their properties. Solar farms are ideal for renters, apartment dwellers, low-income households, and people with shaded roofs.
Some states have legislation in place making this arrangement more feasible and economical. Currently, Massachusetts, New York, Minnesota, and Colorado are the the top states for community solar farms. But 15 other states also have policies supporting community solar projects, and in several other states, utility providers and other groups are working to offer community solar. If you live in one of these states and have a shaded roof, joining a community solar farm might be a great option.
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Technological advances have transformed the solar energy industry in recent years. Solar panels are significantly more efficient, producing more power in the same amount of space. Meanwhile, prices continue to fall, reducing the cost of solar electricity.
But with the introduction of new technologies comes uncertainty. Which solar panels are the most reliable and durable? What technology creates the least amount of pollution in the manufacturing process? Let’s explore some of these critical issues in the pursuit of the best solar panels on the market.
Solar panels have become significantly more efficient in recent years. And the more efficient a solar panel is, the more energy can be generated in a given space. Space becomes more critical when there are constraints due to the size or your roof or property. Unfortunately, more efficient panels typically cost more. If space isn’t an issue, efficiency becomes less crucial. For installations limited by space, panel efficiency is an important consideration. It is also important to consider the long-term efficiency of solar modules.
Like most other things, solar panels degrade over time. They become less efficient in turning sunlight into electricity. This is important because solar panels can last 30 years and you want your solar system to be churning out a lot of energy a couple of decades from now, even if someone else owns the home.
Solar panel manufacturers offer a power production guarantee to ensure a certain level of output over a given time. Many solar panel manufacturers provide a guarantee of 90 percent production for 10 years and 80 percent for 25 years.
Some manufacturers differentiate themselves by offering stronger warranties. SunPower, for example, leads the industry by offering a 92 percent performance guarantee for 25 years. The higher the value of the 25-year production warranty, the more power the panels will generate 25 years down the road.
Product warranties cover defects and failures. Solar panel warranties vary a lot by the manufacturer. SunPower, LG, and Solaria all offer a 25-year warranty, whereas Trina offers just a 10-year warranty. The longer the warranty, the lower the investment risk. In many cases, a more extended product warranty means higher solar panel prices.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) is dedicated to a safe and sustainable solar photovoltaic (PV) industry. They produce a solar scorecard that rates manufacturers on extended producer responsibility, supply chain, workers rights, emissions reporting, module toxicity, greenhouse gas emissions, conflict minerals, and water use. The companies with the highest ratings are the most sustainable.
Look for DNV GL test results. The company tests solar panels for reliability and durability for common degradation mechanisms. Solar panel performance has a huge impact on the solar electricity of an array over time. Such testing helps ensure high-quality panels, reducing financial risk.
DMV GL produces a list of top-performing PV panels that lead in product reliability.
Most solar panels are manufactured in Asia, Europe, or North America. Modules that are made in the United States tend to be more expensive. But some solar shoppers want to support domestic manufacturing. Many companies produce panels in two or three countries. For example, SunPower products are made in the United States, the Philippines, and Mexico. Keep in mind that the manufacturing location and the company’s headquarters are not necessarily the same. Also, the manufacturing location isn’t necessarily an indication of quality. Panels that are manufactured closer to the installation site might have lower emissions related to transportation of the product.
We compared the efficiency, warranty, environmental performance, and more of the following solar panel models in the comparison chart below.
At times, supply delays and surpluses have plagued the solar industry. For example, China slashed solar subsidies for domestic solar installations in May 2018. This move created a lag in demand, causing a surplus of solar panels and falling prices across the industry. Thankfully, this surplus supply has helped offset the impact of the U.S. solar tariff that was recently enacted.
Because solar panel technology is advancing, the market is very dynamic. New products are frequently being released as others become obsolete. The most efficient solar panels on the market today will probably not seem so efficient in a decade as the technology matures. Companies that are relatively unknown could capture a larger share of the market.
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