Archive for solar power

Two Big Solar Projects for 2011

As promised, here’s a rundown of a couple big solar projects announced this year.  The first has actually been in the works for several years now.  Arizona-based First Solar has teamed up with China to build what will be the world’s largest solar farm (2 Gigawatts!) in a remote area of Inner Mongolia. Though the deal was first announced in 2009, it wasn’t until earlier this month that the project got a crucial go-ahead from Chinese regulators (approval of a pre-feasibility study and negotiations over what payments the companies would receive for feeding the power to the grid), allowing work to commence.  The solar farm will cover 25 square miles and will be built in stages from 2011 through 2020, with the initial stage producing 30 Megawatts.  Guangdong Nuclear Solar Energy Development Co. will become the majority partner in the deal, giving First Solar the backing of a recognized name in Chinese energy markets (they own 2 nuclear power plants and are constructing 4 more).  The two companies will work jointly on the construction phases, however, the thin-film panels will be produced by First Solar’s Malaysia plant, avoiding the necessity of turning over company trade secrets.  This is good news for American alternative energy companies looking to get a foothold in the growing and ultra-competitive Chinese renewables market, one that’s traditionally been quite difficult to navigate in a way that satisfies both company interests and Chinese regulations.

Executive spokesmen announce the Solexant deal, showing example panel using their technology.

Next up, here on American soil, 2011 welcomes the construction of Solexant’s new manufacturing plant in Gresham, Oregon (already home to the states largest ground-mounted solar array in the Northwest), one that upon completion will be the world’s largest nanotechnology manufacturing facility.  As with the China deal above, Oregon and California-based Solexant announced the deal last year, but until this year’s construction is complete, Solexant will operate out of an existing plant, where they will manufacture their proprietary ultra thin film solar cells using a roll to roll printing process developed in conjunction with the DoE Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.  This process uses deposition of nanocrystal inks on a flexible substrate, producing a cell which is both flexible and amazingly thin.  First phase development promises to produce enough panels to create 100MW of energy, enough to power about 10,000 homes, and once completed, Solexant plans to add more 100MW production lines.  The venture has received funding/loans and tax credits from the Oregon Department of Energy in return for bringing the state the potential of more than a thousand new jobs over time.

Solexant uses roll-to-roll printing technology to make their flexible cells.

If these two projects are any indication, 2011 promises to be a huge year for solar, here’s to hoping that the trend continues!

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Turning a landfill into an energy hill

There’s been chatter recently among members of the environmental movement that it makes little sense to create enormous solar farms on pristine desert land in the American Southwest when there are so many structures and other urban locations for installing solar power.  Well, here’s one community in Georgia that’s giving their local landfill the ultimate green makeover by installing solar panels atop the plastic lining that covers waste within.

From a mountain of trash to a tower of solar power

DeKalb county is planning to convert the Hickory Ridge landfill into a massive solar power plant by placing flexible solar panels over a specially designed extra-think plastic cover (pictured above).  The project, designed by Carlisle Energy Services and built in collaboration with BFI Waste Systems and landfill operator Republic Services is one of only two in the country, the other one being in San Antonio Texas.  The county hopes to generate enough power from the flexible panels to power 400 homes, not bad for land that’s traditionally considered an eyesore!  The flexible panels are a a better match for such setups than traditional panels because as landfill contents settle, hard panels would require a lot of readjustment to maintain proper light exposure.  The flexible panels will simply adjust to the ground they’re given.

I’m excited to see projects like this, which utilize spaces society has used to the point where they are no longer attractive for communal entertainment or enjoyment. It’s ever better to see that this project received $2 million in Federal stimulus money to get the plant up and in operation, better that than some of the other places our federal funds have gone lately!  With the announcement of the world’s largest nanotech thin-film solar plant to be built in the United States and the world’s largest solar farm getting the go-ahead in Mongolia (more on these tomorrow!), let’s hope those panels find use in outside-the-box settings like this where they can go beyond generation to actual community restoration.

Want to find out more?  http://bit.ly/e3Frst or http://bit.ly/f6sTG1

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Resolutions for 2009

It’s that time of year again… time to dust off last year’s resolutions and slap a new title on ’em.  No, of course not!  To me, the best thing about writing down resolutions is revisiting them in the far future as a sort of diary of where you were in life at that moment. I’ve gone every way – make one and stick to it, make fifty and try to hit as many as possible, and pretty much everything in between.  In doing so, I’ve hit on a system that seems to work pretty well in terms of actual achievement:  these days, I make as many as will fit on the front of one piece of paper, then post it on the wall of my clothes closet.  In the mix are at least two very easy things to achieve, at least one hard one, and at least one long-term carry over from years past.  Oh, yeah, and ushering in world peace, which I can only hope will be achieved in my little lifetime!

So what does 2009 bring? The Solarious experiment has been going strong for ten months now, making this the first Jan 01 I’ve encountered here.  From a starting posting frenzy, posting has fallen into a few lulls as life business crowded its way into the forefront.  So my first resolution is to find a comfortable posting schedule that will allow you to get all the latest info while still keeping food on my table.  Isn’t that the great game of life anyway? But on to the good stuff… what’s new here at Solarious!

Interviews Galore!

I resolve to make this site a premier destination for people who are looking to reduce their burden on the planet.  I will introduce a monthly interview series with political and environmental leaders and with people who are making great changes in their own lifestyles so that you can hear firsthand how easy taking the green path can be.  I’ll also be profiling green (and not so green) cities and communities to show you real-world examples of places taking action against global warming and other such monsters.  If there’s someone you’ve been dying to hear from, let me know, and I’ll try to make it happen.

Second, I will be introducing an organic series discussing gardening tips, food purchasing tips, home decorating ideas and interesting low-cost ways to bring organic products into your home.  Check back every few weeks for a new installment.

I’ve been reading (and reviewing) books like crazy this year. And until the library runs out of titles, you can expect more of the same in the coming months.  Look out for an improved rating system which helps define which titles are good for general info versus one which give you practical tips you can implement now, and also a library page which will allow you to search reviews by topic.

Class Time!

Class Time!

The solar power class is up and running now (check out the Photovoltaic class page), but again, look for improvements such as a searchable list of places offering photovoltaic classes around the country and an expansion into wind and other renewable technology theories.  I’ll also be adding a practical projects gallery, complete with photos of completed installations and a rating system denoting how difficult each was to complete and how well it works. The other back pages will be getting more updating love too!

The summer sunshine seems like a distant memory right now after a week of rain, but the solar cooking section will also be getting its own page, complete with recipes and a larger variety of cooker and dehydrator projects for you to complete.  I’m hoping to get a few “beta testers” and a rating system for the dishes as well, so that you can get a better idea of how things taste.  My cats will be so disappointed to have their job outsourced, but sacrifices must be made in the name of science, no?

Thats a Lotta Carbon!

That's a Lotta Carbon!

I’ve also made a personal commitment to make this blog carbon neutral.  Every day, I will offset the carbon used while plugging in to post. Because there’s nothing I want less than to make MORE pollution!  If you want to do the same, check out my last post, “making you computer carbon neutral” for some tips on reducing your digital burden.

And the super long-term goal? Well, like many of you, I’d like to completely cut the power lines in life.  Having no power at home and having sold the car as outlined months ago, I’m already pretty far along with that goal… but until I get off my butt and install some real solar power, I’m still internet cafeing it (which entails eating some pretty long miles-to-plate meals, no doubt) and using municipal water for basic human needs.  So, those activities are on the chopping block as I look for ways to cut back even further.  Teaching people about the joys of alternative energy is one way I can reduce this burden without actually making life any more spartan. Every time you implement something you learned here or pass it along to someone else who does, the total planetary energy load is reduced by that much, which makes me so very happy.  So in closing, I ask you this: if you see something of interest here and implement it, share your experience with the rest of us or at the very least, tell your friends! Together, we can make 2009 the tipping point for renewable energy and sustainable living to bring both into the mainstream for a brighter, cleaner future. 

Blessings to all of you, and thank you for a wonderful year here at Solarious.

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Lessons From Today’s Economy

When making a commitment to switch to renewable energy in your life, the factor most often cited for delaying the switch is the upfront cost of installing an alternative energy generating system.  This is understandable, especially given the large amount of press coverage from the days when solar panels were VERY expensive and no tax credits existed to help a homeowner out of the financial hole created by purchasing fifty grand worth of panels.  However, these days it is possible to jump start your energy generation renovation without breaking the bank.

Of course, when you’re struggling just to keep up with this month’s gas bill, any additional expenses can seen like an insurmountable burden.  This is the case with many homeowners today, who are just trying to stay afloat with huge mortgage payments and utility bills.  Which brings me to my lesson of the day.  You see, there is a paradox in today’s world that goes something like this: when times are good, you don’t look for alternative solutions to problems because you have the leeway (read cash) to do things in the relatively inefficient way that you’ve always done them without breaking your bank account.  When times start to get bad, people don’t invest in alternative solutions because our natural human tendency is to imitate the ostrich, complaining about the squeeze but doing nothing to change the paradigm which produces said results.  The head in sand approach carries us through until Phase Three, the collapse of market sustainability.  Did we really think that our financial woes started yesterday with the mortgage crisis?  No, it’s been coming on for years, while we all sipped margaritas by the heated pool and pretended we could really afford the cars in our driveways. At this point, survival becomes king and all innovation gets laid by the roadside unless it costs practically nothing to implement.

This is the situation we find ourselves in now.  Another winter looms dark and cold in front of us, but in the struggle to keep up with growing bills and shrinking wages and savings, we feel we can no longer AFFORD to make the investments required by alternative energy, regardless of their future value.  Which is a shame if you ask me, because this is potentially the BEST time to get into generating alternative energy.  Not only have the renewable energy tax credits been renewed and expanded at a national level, local solar and wind initiatives are cropping up across the country that offer innovative ways to finance the switch.  Here in Los Angeles, Mayor Villagarosa announced a couple weeks back a new solar initiative which calls for installing 500 Mw of solar power on city-owned rooftops, a huge investment in concentrated solar power generation out in the Mojave desert, and a residential solar rooftop program that together promise to make the program the largest municipal solar program in the country, if not the world.  Home efficiency products like computer-run zone control systems are also experiencing a renaissance of innovations which are bringing the price down into the reach of the masses.  But alas, most homeowners are so deep in the hole that we risk losing many of these innovations to crippling financial woes within the small business sector as no one implements their ultimately sensible technologies.

Where does this leave the individual investor?  Well, let me say this.  Our inability to seek change when we have the financial capabilities to do so undermines the entire potential for distributed alternative energy generation.  If you are having trouble with your mortgage today, the time to invest in solar was a few years back when you still had cash in your bank account.  If you’re still sitting relatively pretty today, now is the time to invest, not a year from now.  You see, there are several alternative energy technologies which are eligible for tax credits and also have a relatively fast breakeven point.  Take solar hot water heating, which costs little to install and in most climates can easily provide most of your home water heating needs.  The federal tax credit allows for a 30% rebate on the total cost of installing the sytem.  This no-cap rebate is by far the best offer that the federal government has ever made to homeowners wishing to adopt alternative energy.  So take them up on their generous offer BEFORE everyone, nation included, runs out of funds to support the program.  Those who installed their systems years back are now enjoying minimal heating bills while the rest of the country shivers up to their fireplaces hoping heating costs go down.   (Which, incidentally, they have recently, but only due to total financial collapse, and that’s no prize!)

Housing starts are at an all-time low right now, but for those considering building a place, radiant heating is another option which makes imminent sense for a small up-front investment.  By heating water using solar power which is then pumped through pipes within the flooring material, your cold winter morning runs to turn on the shower will be replaced by a nice warm stroll over to the tub across your new radiant heat floor.  All for adding a few extra pipes in the concrete foundation you already planned to pour.   To me, with my childhood memories of shivering in bed and calling out to my bro to turn on the shower and let it heat up before I would venture out of the covers, that alone would raise the quality of life immensely. And for those who already have a structure in place, you can use the same concept for radiant wall heating for far less upfront expense than retrofitting a floor.

But back to the lesson at hand.  If you have been lucky enough to plan your finances well enough not to be irrevocably hurt by this impending crisis, you are in a uniquely great position to further the market for alternative energy here in the US.  As it stands right now, though the US is the largest producer of solar panels and wind turbines in the world, most of the product produced is shipped abroad to places with a stronger national investment in alternative energy than our domestic programs.  As the incoming administration plans to shift some traditional manufacturing sectors over to producing more renewable generation equipment, we need to uplift the market here in the US so that it becomes cost effective for emerging US companies to sell to US customers rather than simply shipping abroad.  If you can afford it, making the switch to alternative energy will not only help your pocketbook in the long run, it will help our nation’s crippled financial system learn to walk again.  And this time, we can take green steps toward to future instead of our previous dirty footprints.

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Great News for Solar!

It looks like the tax credits for alternative energy are getting renewed after all!  The “Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008″ preserves the previously expired (at the end of 2007) tax credits for homeowners who install one of the following technologies: insulation, replacement windows, water heaters, and certain high efficiency heating and cooling equipment. Be sure to check EnergyStar.gov for rules and more details, as not all Energy Star rated improvements are eligible for the tax credit.  This includes solar water heating and several other technologies.

You will only be eligible for the credit for construction starting in 2009 or later, so consider holding off on the home handy work for a few months (like we need another excuse to procrastinate!).  Here is a partial list of the credits available, as taken from this site:

  • Windows: 10% of cost, up to $200, for qualified ENERGY STAR windows, skylights and storm windows
  • Doors (exterior): 10% of cost, up to $500, for qualifying doors (most ENERGY STAR doors will qualify)
  • Roofs (metal): 10% of cost, up to $500, for qualifying ENERGY STAR metal roofs
  • Insulation: 10% of cost, up to $500, for qualifying insulation (not vapor retarders or siding)
  • Air Conditioning (split or package systems): $300 for qualifying systems, not all ENERGY STAR systems qualify
  • Water Heaters (tankless only): $300 for qualifying systems
  • Cars: Credits are available for certain cars, and is limited by 60,000 per manufacturer before a phase-out period begins
  • Solar Water Heating: 30% of cost, not available for water heaters used for pools or spas
  • Solar Power (Photovoltaic): 30% of cost, must provide electricity for the home
  • Fuel Cells: 30% of cost, up to $1,000 per kW of power that can be produced

H.R. 1424 improves the federal solar tax credit from a flat $2000 to 30% of total system and installation costs (and anyone who has done an installation of this type knows how huge a news item this really is!), and also gives commercial solar companies and power utilities the opportunity to get in on the rebate action too, so now you may be able to talk to total price of a commercial install down into the realm of affordability.

Of course, let’s not forget that many states offer their own incentives for switching to solar or other forms of alternative energy in addition to this tax credit, so you may end up getting well near 50% off of your installation costs!  Now that’s something any shopper can appreciate!.  The credit is now extended (as part of the Wall Street Bailout) for the next eight years, so expect some great new solar innovations soon as companies rush to fill the market demand.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Light Revolution

The Light Revolution

Health, Architecture, and the Sun

by Dr. Richard Hobday

In times past, we instinctively understood that our lives depended on the glowing warmth of the sun.  Without space heaters and microfleece, every winter was a stark reminder that the sun’s warmth can be all too fleeting on a winter’s day.  And in the spring, great rites and festivals celebrated the coming of longer, more fertile days.

Somehow, however, the sun’s importance in modern architecture has diminished over the course of the twentieth century, often even as firms attempt to “green” buildings by reducing airflow (and therefore, heat loss).  The Light Revolution is a beautifully researched book about the sun’s journey over time through our collective consciousness.  It is also a medical book, celebrating the healing power of sunshine, which has been known to cure a whole host of diseases and other maladies. Even as a solar enthusiast, I learned a lot about ways in which solar power and medicine has been utilized in the past, and also about why current architecture has strayed from its heliocentric past incarnations.  When you realize just how many things the sun can cure, and how many very respectable people have argued its merits over the years, it is almost hard to figure how the box factory/warehouse/office building came to be.

What I liked most about the book was its discussions of quality of light.  After all, sitting under a tree is hardly the same as sitting on a beach, though both can be considered daylight.  According to Dr. Hobday, our modern lighting systems are negatively affecting our health, and costing us billions of dollars in loss of health and productivity.  The quality of indoor light is most often below the luminant threshold necessary for internal vitamin D production.  As you’ll discover in the book, vitamin D is absolutely critical to our ability to prevent and heal infections and diseases.

Rounding out the interest to readers is an interesting look at how political considerations often eclipse design considerations in the planning and construction of buildings.  He showcases some nice attempts at solar building design from the past, and shows how each achieves or falls short of its goals.  In the end, the lessons from the past serve to greatly underline the future potential of light therapy and its applications in health and architecture.

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QUICKIE: Solar Powered Christmas Lights

Looking for an easy way to integrate a little alternative energy into your holiday festivities?  There are a lot of exciting solar products coming out of Asia these days, as several eastern countries have gotten the jump on the US in terms of R&D and product development.  Which isn’t so good for the US’ current energy market, but it is good for solar energy enthusiasts!  Why don’t you try a string of solar powered Christmas lights in your front yard?  They turn themselves on automatically at dusk (if you want them too), similar to existing solar lawn lamps, they have solid light or blinking options, and they can easily be strung around fences, eaves, railings and wreaths to create a cheerful effect that’s also effortlessly green.

I have a set of white fairy style lights of this type, and they are great.  Not having a yard, I simply place the receiver in the window each morning and come sunset, I have a 60-LED solar powered flashlight for late night reading that lasts several hours! They throw a surprising amount of light for their tiny size.  If you’re interested in these or any other solar power accessories such as solar powered flashlights for emergency or off-grid use, head to ebay today and search for solar lights.  Finally, sunshine you can hold in your hand!

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