Gunning Daily News

Intel Research Eyes Home Energy and Building Efficiency

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

When it comes to energy, Intel's biggest concern is keeping a lid on the power used at giant data centers. But researchers at Intel, a world leader in silicon innovation and processor technology development, are seriously looking at home energy as well.

During the recent Research@Intel conference in Mountain View, Calif., Intel set up a “Personal Energy Zone” that showcased its efforts to use computing to improve efficiency and boost the use of renewable energy sources.

One demonstration scheduled to go into trials soon is the Wireless Energy Sensing Technology (WEST), a device that plugs into a socket and uses a home wireless network to report power usage of individual items.

The device recognizes the "signatures" of major electrical loads in a home and will transmit the information to a PC, smartphone, or TV. The WEST prototype Intel showed is a box about the size of soda bottle that plugs into a regular electrical outlet.

Because large appliances, such as a refrigerator or air conditioner, make up the bulk of home energy use, getting better information on them will help people use them more efficiently. For example, the device could help someone better set the thermostat settings or find electronics that are on when no one is using them.

During a demonstration, an Intel researcher said more detailed monitoring could reduce energy consumption by 15 percent and higher.

Other demonstrations in the Personal Energy Zone of the conference included Eco-Sense Buildings, which use sensors to monitor indoor conditions such as temperature and occupancy. By gathering data from sensors and building management systems, Intel expects that buildings that are net generators of energy are possible.

Another area of research ties large-scale renewable energy with data centers. Getting renewable energy penetration on the grid beyond 30 percent is difficult because solar and wind vary, which makes it difficult for grid operators to ensure a stable supply of power. Intel is researching to see if the varying output of solar farms can be synchronized with data center electricity loads, so they would scale down power use when a solar farm's output drops.

Home energy challenge

Intel has been dabbling in home energy for a few years now and has signed on some companies to use its chips for touch-screen display for managing energy, home security, and media. Until now, Intel has largely talked about home energy and efficiency as an application that can be part of a home-automation system.

For example, Intel researchers have shown a prototype home energy dashboard that works with a smart meter for people to view energy data, control appliances, and do a few other tasks like leaving video messages for each other. It also published a reference design in the hopes of getting third-party companies to build add-on applications.

One advantage of Intel's plug-in sensor approach is that the installation is straightforward and should cost less than more complex alternatives. It could also tie into Intel's Home Energy Management System dashboard, the company said. Intel is one of many companies trying to make home energy management systems, including Cisco, Tendril Networks, and Control4, which are selling largely through utilities.

Home energy monitor makers say the devices are effective in shaving overall and peak-time energy usage. But one of the challenges with energy dashboards is the cost, which can be several hundred dollars, posing a challenge to direct consumer sales even with savings through energy efficiency. Another ongoing question is how actively consumers will be involved in energy beyond the occasional glance at bills.

There are already a number of whole-home energy monitors, which use different methods for surfacing information. Some get room-by-room energy profiles by attaching clamps onto wires going into a home's circuit box, which in many cases will require an electrician to set up. The PowerCost Monitor uses optical sensors attached to electricity meter, which can be done quickly, but it doesn't provide device-level usage information.

Another approach technology companies are pursuing is smart plugs that monitor power consumption. ThinkEco, for example, is coming out this year with a plug that will monitor energy and report it to a laptop over Zigbee wireless networks. Belkin purchased a small technology company that also has a system to recognize individual loads over a home's wirings, but that technology has not yet been put into a product.

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Question of the Day

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

Q: Can you negotiate interest rates?

A: A few lenders will negotiate the mortgage rate and number of points on a loan. However, this is more the exception than the rule with established lenders. As always, shop around and know the market before you enter a lender’s office. Rates are often published in local newspapers and on Internet Web sites.

You may have more luck when dealing directly with a seller who has agreed to finance your loan. He is likely to be more open to negotiation, particularly when motivated to make a quick sale.

Word of the Day

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

Appreciation. Increase in property value or worth due to economic or related factors; the opposite of depreciation.

Consumer Interest in Green Products Expands across Categories

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

Consumer appetite for green products has increased significantly in the past year, according to findings from the annual ImagePower® Global Green Brands Study, one of the largest global consumer surveys of green brands and corporate environmental responsibility. This year's survey, which polled more than 9,000 people in eight countries, reveals that consumers worldwide intend to purchase more environmental products in the auto, energy and technology sectors compared to last year. Now more savvy about how green choices in personal care, food and household products directly affect them and their families, global consumers are expanding their green purchase interest to higher-ticket items such as cars and technology. 

Industries protecting the environment
Consumers are divided on which industry currently does the best job of protecting the environment. 18 percent of American and 20 percent of Australian consumers say the energy industry does the best job of protecting the environment. By comparison, most of respondents in Germany (19 percent), India (22 percent), China (33 percent) and Brazil (22 percent) cite the technology sector. In the UK, more than 21 percent of consumers say the grocery store industry is the top protector of the environment. 

Where consumers are spending
While personal care, grocery and household products are the industries with the greatest representation among the top ten brands list, consumers in the US indicate that they intend to spend more money on green technology, energy and automotive products or services in the next year. When it comes to current usage of green products or services, the 2011 study reveals that the household products and grocery categories have the highest consumer adoption rates in all countries except China, where packaged goods/beverages and personal care are the most used categories, and in Brazil, where household products and personal care dominate. In all countries, consumers indicate that in the coming year they are less likely to buy green packaged goods and beverages, grocery and household products. 

"We're seeing a shift in the 'In Me, On Me, Around Me' mentality when it comes to purchasing green products," said Russ Meyer, Chief Strategy Officer of Landor Associates. "Consumers have a good understanding of how green choices in personal care, food and household products directly affect their families, and they are now seeing benefits like costs savings that attract them to higher cost items like cars and technology." 

Greater perceived value in developing countries
Consistent with last year's study, more than 60 percent of consumers globally want to buy from environmentally responsible companies. Respondents in all eight countries surveyed indicate that they are willing to spend more on green products. In developed countries such as the US and the UK, roughly 20 percent of those surveyed would spend more than 10 percent extra on a green product. 

In developing countries, however, consumers say that green products have a higher inherent value. Ninety-five percent of Chinese consumers say they are willing to spend more on a product because it's green—with 55 percent of them willing to spend between 11-30 percent more. Similarly 29 percent of Indian consumers and 48 percent of Brazilians say they are willing to spend between 11 – 30 percent more on green products. 

"Consumers in developing countries express greater concern over the state of the environment in their countries, which may contribute to their greater willingness to pay more for green products," said Paul Andrepont, Senior Vice President of Penn Schoen Berland. "Consumers in these markets also differ from their developed-nation counterparts in believing that selection, rather than cost, is the greatest barrier to buying green products. Brands that address these consumers' very real concern—over air pollution in India or deforestation in Brazil —have the ability to position themselves as premium in the market, a possible competitive advantage." 

Packaging is critical
Packaging continues to be a matter of great concern for US consumers. Seventy-one percent believe companies use too much material in product packaging—though only 34 percent of US consumers say they consciously purchase products that use less packaging. Almost half of American consumers feel that packaging that can be recycled is more important than packaging made from recycled or biodegradable materials. 

Packaging also plays a critical role in communicating product benefits to US consumers. More than 50 percent of American consumers say on-pack information helps them understand how green a product is. Additionally, 40 percent say that packaging is their primary source for information on environmental issues 
regarding products. 

"Other than price, the two biggest influences on purchase decisions are on-package messaging and prior experience with the product, both of which satisfy the consumer need to understand a benefit beyond 'saving the world,'" says Annie Longsworth, global sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe. "It's critical for green brands to communicate the real and tangible benefits of their products in addition to being green, which still feels like luxury to many consumers." 

2011 US rankings
For the first time since the inception of the ImagePower® Green Brands Study in 2006, the four brands perceived to be the greenest are "born green" companies. The full list includes: 

1. Seventh Generation
2. Whole Foods
3. Tom's of Maine
4. Burt's Bees
5. Trader Joe's
6. The Walt Disney Company
7. S.C. Johnson
8. Dove
9. Apple
10. Starbucks, Microsoft (tied)

"When we analyzed the approach of the top ten brands companies, using our Esty Environmental Scorecard™, it was clear that the winners achieve a product-value-information trifecta," says Amy Longsworth, partner at Esty Environmental Partners. "The top brands offer clear price value through co-benefits: a great innovative product that meets my functional needs plus green attributes that meet my values needs. These companies also tend to have robust life-cycle insight and complete sustainability strategies across their value chains, which enable them to draw from rich experience and data for their consumer communications."

An Aging Workforce Presents the Greatest Diversity Challenge

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

 Business risk caused by demographic change (aging) was cited as the greatest diversity challenge by 48 percent of the survey respondents. Rounding out the top three challenges were gender (29 percent) and nationality (18 percent). 

Thanks largely to recent debate in Europe about quotas for women and about the immigration of foreign talent, the topic of diversity management appears to be a focus at most companies: 80 percent of respondents said that their company had implemented at least three measures to enhance employee diversity. For example, the measures cited most frequently included flexible working-time models and parental leave—both seek to increase the proportion of women in the workforce. However, the survey also found that most companies apply these initiatives only selectively. 

"Our research has shown that the business case for diversity is clear and that HR needs to integrate such measures into its broader people policies. A modern workplace must represent its customer base in order to be truly effective and to deliver products and services that drive it to the competitive edge in a global environment," explains Stephanie Bird, an author of the report and the director of HR capability for the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). 

In addition, the survey results reveal considerable differences in how various groups of employees view the effectiveness of diversity initiatives. For example, older workers rate measures for promoting age diversity as less effective than their younger colleagues do. "In order for diversity to be successful, top management must visibly support the objectives, and the entire workforce must be integrated in the development and execution of the programs," explains Jean-Michel Caye, senior partner at BCG, expert in talent and leadership, and an author of the report. 

Diversity Is an Integral Part of HR—and the Entire Company
"Diversity is an integral element of HR work. It's a recurring theme that touches all topics, including workforce planning, recruiting, and career management," adds Pieter Haen, president of EAPM and an author of the report. 

Only initiatives that go beyond the minimum level of diversity required by legal mandates and social norms can help companies gain advantage. As a first step, companies must analyze which aspects of diversity can promote their business success. The BCG/EAPM report explains how employee diversity can be increased to advance business imperatives through several steps. 

• Create transparency. The foundation of all strategic HR work is strategic workforce planning—the quantitative and qualitative analysis of workforce supply and demand and of the individual capabilities of workers. Workforce demand should reflect overall business trends as well as a company's business strategy.
• Redefine recruiting. Tailored recruiting campaigns expand the existing talent pool by targeting underrepresented groups, such as female engineers. In addition, the employment of HR officers from outside Europe enables more efficient recruiting of international talent.
• Promote diversity. It is equally relevant to promote diversity within the company's existing workforce and among new hires. Evaluations of employee performance and potential, as well as career moves by managers, should be assessed for how permeable they make the company for new talent groups. The sooner the promotion of diverse talent is achieved at the lower levels in a company's hierarchy, the better the chance that the organization's internal diversity can be tapped and enhanced.
• Build leaders for the twenty-first century. At many companies, a 2x2x2+5 development program has proved successful. In such a program, aspiring managers are exposed to two business units, two countries, two functions, and at least five different projects.
• Retain employees. New groups of employees are presenting employers with new challenges. Financial incentives alone are losing their attractiveness—the ability to reconcile one's job with one's family is growing in importance. Modern incentive programs involve family members, for example, by providing health care for spouses or scholarships for employees' children.
• Make progress visible. Performance indicators for diversity must be anchored in a company's HR controlling function, so that proven progress can be quickly established. The HR department is responsible for setting the parameters of the framework—such as additional resources for department heads—to promote a corporate culture that is based on diversity. 

Further results of the survey will be published by BCG and EAPM in September 2011 in the latest edition of the "Creating People Advantage" report. 

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Great Minds Think Unlike: How Diversity Is Good for Business

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

Major European organizations display little diversity in the ranks of their top management. An analysis by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) of 40 randomly selected companies from the Euro Stoxx 50 index shows that, on average, 93 percent of the executive directors were male; 86 percent were native Europeans; and 49 percent were between the ages of 51 and 60 years old. By contrast, the market demands on these same companies are far less homogeneous: the purchasing power of women is steadily increasing; the companies generate, on average, approximately 40 percent of their revenues outside of Europe; and their customers are growing older. 

"Diversity must be seen as a strategic response to major business trends such as globalization, demographic shifts, and the talent shortage," explained Dr. Rainer Strack, senior partner at BCG, HR expert, and an author of the report. 

In collaboration with the European Association for People Management (EAPM), BCG has conducted its third study on the trends in people management, surveying more than 2,000 executives in more than 30 European countries. In the just-released Focus report "Hard-Wiring Diversity into Your Business," BCG and EAPM analyzed how 444 executives responded to survey questions about the challenges in diversity management.

Summer Gardening: How to Grow Great Tomatoes

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

There isn’t a person anywhere who wouldn’t agree that no store-bought tomato can compare in flavor or juiciness to one that is home-grown—and the good news is that you can successfully grow your own delicious crop no matter where you live.

From the gardening experts at Sunset Magazine, here is all you need to know to get on the right path to summer tomato heaven:

• Full sun is best – You’ll get sweeter tomatoes from plants in full sun than from those in partly shaded areas.
• Move the plot – Avoid growing tomatoes in the same spot each year, as diseases can build up in the soil and spoil future crops.
• Sure-fire varieties – Check with gardening centers in your area, but you can generally rely on ‘Early Girl’ varieties for a medium-slicer that does well in all regions, or cherry tomatoes like ‘Black Cherry’ or ‘Sun Gold.’
• Pots are fine – Cherry tomatoes, especially, do fine in pots and are a great choice for apartment or condo-dwellers. Choose a container at least 16 inches deep and wide and prepare to feed and water a bit more frequently than tomatoes growing in the ground.
• Growing time – It takes about three months from planting to harvest, sometimes faster with short-season varieties. Fruit may take longer to ripen—up to 50 percent longer—in cool summer climates.
• Pruning tips – In cool summer climates, you may want to prune thick foliage to expose the fruit to more sun. In warmer climates, prune minimally if at all. You want lush foliage to protect against sunburned fruit.
• Picking time – Pick ripened fruit only when fully colored. In the fall, if night temperatures dip below 55 degrees, you may pick tomatoes when partially colored and finish ripening indoors on a sunny windowsill. Fully green tomatoes will never ripe, so think about fried or pickled green tomatoes!

How to Manage Money as a Couple

June 10, 2011 11:19 am

Combine the expectation of divorce for new couples hovering around 50 percent with a variety of studies that suggest money is the most divisive topic for couples, and you get a formula for disaster. But one expert thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.

Jane Honeck, CPA and author of The Problem With Money? It’s Not About the Money!, believes that while a SmartMoney Magazine survey revealed that 70 percent of all couples talk about money at least once a week, the communication isn’t very effective. Honeck has some good advice that can help couples make arguments about money a thing of the past.

“Focusing on an overall vision and money plan will keep both of you moving in the same direction,” she says. “Once you have done that, the small everyday decisions about what to spend your money on take care of themselves with little or no effort. When we have clear communication and know why we do something, the ‘what to do’ with our money is easy.”

Honeck’s tips include:

• Talk: Talk, talk talk.
Money—like sex—is still a taboo topic and we often don’t have a clear idea about how our partner thinks or feels.
• Find Balance: Balance power around money. One person making all the decisions and having all the control is a recipe for disaster. Find ways for you both to be equally engaged in all money decisions.
• Make Decisions: Decide together what is mine, yours and ours. Most couples have their own hybrid system for what works best. Find the one that is best for both of you.
• Define Your System: Have a clearly defined money management system all the way from who handles the mail to who sends out the checks. Without a well thought-out operational plan, things fall through the cracks.
• Address Problems: When things get tough, address problems immediately (no secrets allowed). Avoiding the issue only makes it more toxic and drives a wedge in the relationship.
• Perform Checkups: Schedule an annual money checkup with each other. Things change and just like our physical health, money management needs an annual checkup to keep it healthy and relevant.
• Talk a Little More: Talk, talk and talk some more. The most important thing is to have open communication with no blame or shame. We all have hang-ups around money. Treat your partner with compassion.

“At the end of the day, couples need not argue about money,” she adds. “And it’s not just about communication. It’s about making a plan, and sticking to it together. Information gives you power over your finances. Not talking about them, not making a plan and not coordinating as a team makes you a victim of your finances. If you control your finances, they will never control you or your marriage.” 

Jane Honeck, CPA, is a money coach who specializes in tax and financial planning for professionals, small businesses and individuals. She is also a Certified Empowerment Trainer and has developed Cent$ible Living financial workshops and money coaching sessions to help her clients make meaningful and lasting change in their financial lives.

Question of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:19 pm

Q: Is it possible to buy a home below market price?

Certainly, but do not hold your breath. It takes a lot of determination and time to find a real bargain. But if you are adamant, here are some likely targets to pursue:
• foreclosed property
• a fixer-upper
• hard-to-sell new homes in a housing development
• tenant-in-common partnerships.

With the latter, you may be able to buy a partial interest in this form of title to property owned by two or more individuals because the partners often sell at a discount.

However, bargains are easier to come by in a soft real estate market, when the economy is in a recession, and when homeowners, builders and sponsors of condominium conversions are desperate to move unsold units.

Word of the Day

June 8, 2011 5:19 pm

Annual percentage rate (APR). Combines the interest rate with other loan costs—such as points and loan fees—into a single figure that shows the true annual cost of borrowing.