A commuter bike loan program in Anchorage, Alaska and a heat sponge for thermal storage are among the energy news stories covered in this ongoing feature.
NONPOLLUTING MASS TRANSIT: Earth Cycles—a non-profit organization in Anchorage, Alaska—has started a commuter bike loan program, letting folks borrow single-speed, fat-tired bicycles to run errands or to sightsee. The two-wheelers are checked out on a first come, first served basis, and each cyclist leaves a refundable $5.00 deposit and a piece of identification at the group's headquarters.
THE HEAT SPONGE, a thermal storage unit suited for use in existing structures, gathers surplus daytime heat for nighttime release in a series of phase-change salt "shelves" arranged in a cabinet. The inventor says that five Heat Sponges—which may be plugged into standard electrical outlets—can save 500 gallons of fuel oil annually when used in a 1,500-square-foot house in the northeastern United States.
HATE TO DO YARD WORK? ... WELL, READ ON: Maryland researchers have found that a typical 121-square meter suburban lawn consumes the annual food equivalent of 173,000 calories in labor, water, fertilizer, and other resources ... and estimate that a household could grow 445 pounds of garden produce (including tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes) in the same amount of space, using only half the energy!
SUNSET FOR SOLAR ENERGY: The Reagan administration has dismissed 370 of 959 employees at the Solar Energy Research Institute (SERI) in Golden, Colorado and has cut the facility's 1982 budget to $50 million, a 50% reduction from current spending levels. The budget-slashing is based on the new policymakers' belief that private industry should fund most solar development work.
SUBSTANTIAL RESULTS IN ENERGY CONSERVATION—primarily through voluntary efforts in the private sector—are occurring faster than anyone would have predicted, according to a study performed by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory. Conservation measures taken since 1973—almost entirely in response to economic forces and without significant government planning—are saving about six million barrels per day of petroleum, researchers say. The major gains have been made in energy-conscious housing design and remedial residential projects, such as weatherproofing.
THE BUNNY THERMAL UNIT: A Grants Pass, Oregon man has combined his rabbit-farming and plant-raising businesses to produce a hare-heated hothouse. The nursery owner claims that 500 of the mammals, whose body temperatures average 103°F, are able to warm 25% of his 30,000-square-foot greenhouse to 58° even during freezing weather.
THE NEXT THREE MILE ISLAND? Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials have pinpointed what they believe will be the cause of future accidents at nuclear facilities: breaks in the stout metal jackets that surround the radioactive cores of older pressurized water reactors. Such containers—which are the "last line of defense" in averting reactor mishaps—have become embrittled through repeated bombardment by neutrons, and ruptures are likely if the sleeves are subjected to the stress of emergency core-cooling procedures.
THE NEW LAND RUSH: It's estimated that 10% of all the frozen food consumed in the U.S. passes through an 18,000,000-square-foot subterranean warehouse complex in Kansas City, Kansas. Developers of the "underground industrial park" are having no problem attracting tenants, since energy bills at the facility range from 40% to 90% less than they do aboveground thanks to the earth-sheltered facility's stable 58°F ambient air temperature.
JEFFERSONIAN SOLAR? The Southern Railway System—which has successfully experimented with photovoltaic railroad signals and solar-equipped cabooses—has broken new ground with the world's first sun-heated freight depot. In an interesting mix of old and new, architects were able to design solar features into a building whose appearance is "in keeping with the Jeffersonian architecture of Charlottesville, Virginia."
ENERGY-SAVING PROJECTS FOR THE HOME is a new 112-page volume from ORTHO Books containing information on cost-efficient heating and cooling alternatives for the household .... A SOLAR ACCESS TEST CASE—possibly the first in the nation—will be tried in Manhattan Beach, California, where the owners of a passive solar house are seeking to block construction of a condominium that would, by shading the dwelling for part of each day, hinder operation of the home's heating and cooling systems .... A retired New Zealand engineer claims he can travel 135 miles in his HYBRID CHARCOAL/GASOLINE VEHICLE using only 1 1/2 gallons of fuel and a burnerful of wattle tree-derived charcoal lumps .... The Department of Energy has admitted that 11,270 POUNDS OF RADIOACTIVE URANIUM HAVE BEEN RELEASED ACCIDENTALLY, during the past 36 years, from a government- owned nuclear fuel enrichment facility near Oak Ridge, Tennessee .... Civic organizations in San Luis Obispo, California have erected a PHOTOVOLTAIC-POWERED CLOCK, which has run flawlessly for more than a year, to promote public education about solar energy .... Detroit Diesel, a division of General Motors, has begun the first commercial tests of a machine—suited for industrial cogeneration applications—that COMBINES STEAM AND GAS TURBINES. The modified engine raises turbine efficiency by 30% to 40% .... Ore-Ida—a large food-processing company—has installed solar systems to heat the oil that the business uses to cook more than 4,000,000 POUNDS OF FRENCH FRIES A DAY. The Oregon-based company says that switching to alternative energy sources has allowed the firm to cut its energy bill by 16% since 1972.