Posts tagged alternative energy

Too Much Wind! (Where do I sign up?)

Too Much Wind?

Wind Turbine

It seems that utilities in Denmark have stumbled upon a problem.  On windy days, the wind turbines they use to generate 20% of the country’s power needs are intermittently producing TOO much energy, reducing power costs to $0.   Yup, that’s zero.  So power company Dong Energy (from Denmark) and Project Better Place (located in California) are teaming up with Renault and Nissan to build a fleet of electric cars with lithium ion batteries that can be recharged during periods when the power grid is carrying too much energy.  Then, this national fleet will get infrastructure, as Denmark plans to roll out a nationwide charging station initiative.  Nice!  To top things off, in looking for ways to “spend” the extra power, Denmark has also gotten cozier with some of its neighbors, selling inexpensive power to those such as Norway whose own energy needs are greater at certain times.  Now that’s international relations as it should be. 

What I want to know is: if Nissan and Renault are already going to build this fleet of purely-electric cars for Denmark and a similar program in Israel, why don’t they release them state-side as well?  Since the death of the EV1 in America, the only electric car we’ve had is the new plug-in option on the Toyota Prius.  Here’s to hoping they make a few with steering wheels on the left side. 

MDI Air-Car

Speaking of steering wheels, have you heard about the new car from MDI that runs on air?  AIR.  It has a 80s VW meets PT Cruiser kind of body, but inside seems pretty nice, and features… a steering wheel in the center of the car, so it can be driven anywhere in the world.  Why did it take someone so long to think of this?  Really.  Right now the car is only being tested in India, but with a promise of $3 fillups (that’s for the TANK, not a gallon) and 180 miles between each one, a lightweight fiberglass frame, and considering you get the car and a home air compressor for less than $20,000, I’m pretty certain it won’t be long before people want one worldwide.

 

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Quickie: Renewable Energy Installation Database

For all you Earth Day surfers out there, here’s a good site to check out, courtesy of the Stella Group in Washington DC:

Geographic Database of Renewable Energy Installations

It’s a nicely compiled state by state listing of proposed and operational energy installations.  If you’re looking for a little “been there” inspiration or want to know what sorts of alternative energy are well-suited for your area, start here!

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Solar Plastic: Film of the Future

National Geographic article on Solar plastics

Sargent Group – Inventors of Solar Plastic

Ted Sargent’s Home Page (the inventor, a globally recognized young innovator)

So this article is from 2005, not exactly hot-off-the-presses.   But it’s an interesting look at a new technology: solar cells that absorb both the visible and infrared spectrums of light and process them into usable energy.  Not only that, they’re based in a spray solution for ease of application across a variety of surfaces.  A spray-on plastic coating that could charge your car while driving or your cell-phone while walking are great ideas, with a billion more applications to be dreamed up along the way.  I’m now going to search for more information on this technology, and will report whatever I find to you as it comes in. 

Even now, I’m envisioning spray-painting a backyard deck/patio with a plastic coating that weather proofs it, and makes it more attractive, all while powering solar evening lamps or CMOS security sensors around a property’s perimeter, perhaps also powering a sensor-activated automatic watering system for garden plantings.  Or, on a less serious tack, maybe creating a line of ultra-mod swimwear that uses solar plastics and a closed system of lighting to create light-up fashions?  How cool would that look underwater?  What do you see in your solar dreams?

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BOOK REVIEW: Power of the People

I just finished reading Power of the People: America’s New Energy Choices (2007), a nice short read about the history of, current usage of, and the future possibilities for energy consumption in the United States. At 188 pocket-sized pages, the book doesn’t take more than an afternoon to thumb through. This is thanks to the concise way in which Carol Sue Tombari explains things. She writes as though you’re sitting down together to share a nice salad lunch, not stuffy, not too complicated. But in the mix, she throws in a surprising amount of information about the current energy landscape. You see, Ms. Tombari knows what she’s talking about, after years working for both private and governmental authorities on the topic of energy. So when she talks about the ways in which power utilities fell victim to disincentives for innovation when they “reregulated” in the 1990s, you can bet she saw it happen from the front lines.

Power of the People

The book is divided into two main sections of two chapters each. First, you find out why all this is important anyway. What IS the energy crisis? Then on to Energy 101, a brief discussion of the current power generating technologies and what is already possible in terms of augmenting power load both at the personal and utility level. I learned a lot about how the utilities work (and why this model is outdated). The next main section focuses on the future. What will we have to do to survive the looming power shortage? In the first chapter, she outlines the different players in the energy system, and then discusses how each is challenged by setbacks, and suggests how that challenge will have to be overcome. The last chapter outlines the future and its many possibilities.

I really liked the format of the sections, in which each technology is presented in “the good”, “the bad”, and “the balance” sections. This allows you to get a clear overview of the limitations and promises without delving too deep into science. If you are looking to implement alternative energy solutions in your life but don’t know which one fits for you, I’d recommend this book heartily. If you already have a clear idea of what’s going on, you’ll still find a nicely written essay with interesting photocopy-friendly facts to quote.

The best audience for this book, however, are those who are looking for a way to change energy consumption on a societal level. Buried within the outlines of various technologies is an underlying cry – “Innovate!”, challenging readers to help find the solutions alternative energy implementation barriers. Only a few logistic issues separate most alternative technologies from gaining wide-spread acceptance. What is the power of the future? Could you be the mind to crack the riddle?

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DIY Wind Turbine for your home

Here are full instructions for building your turbine

DIY Wind Rotor

This guy builds a nice wind rotor for home power generation. He claims to get 1000 Watts Average in 20MPH Wind. Either way, the design is attractive, scalable, and doesn’t look like it will scare the neighbors too much. Check it out!

NOTE: since this was posted, the listed page has been removed.  Here are two more links to low-cost vertically constructed turbines:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Build-your-own-Savonius-VAWT-Vertical-Axis-Wind-T/

http://www.instructables.com/id/Faroun-Savonius-Wind-Turbine/

and a smaller scale project to whet your appetite:

http://www.instructables.com/id/Pringles-Wind-Turbine-Pleech—Version-One/

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Using grade-school tech to meet global power needs

Energy Tower

Researchers at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology claim they have created a conceptual power plant that could meet all of the globe’s energy needs… fifteen times over! It’s called the Energy Tower, and it uses the weight of cooled air to power generating turbines at the bottom of a tall tower. The air is cooled by water pumped to the top of the tower and released amidst air warmed by the sun. This reaction causes the newly cooled air to fall down the tunnel, allowing for the collection of power. Technically solar, certainly hybrid, and zero-pollution, if the concept translates into a working prototype it will be a major breakthrough, as it will be capable of producing power at less than present costs. It may also possibly operate to desalinate water, which is a generally expensive process as a byproduct of the power generating sequence.

Read more about the Energy Tower here.

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SUCCESS: Cooking Bell Peppers

Hello again from the kitchen. Since I stay in a kind of industrial area, it is easiest to cook undisturbed on weekends. So, it’s Sunday and it’s also partly cloudy. Thought it would rain this morning, but it never did get around to it, and by 1 pm, the clouds were scattering.

At that same time, I assembled the cooker and set chopped sweet peppers out to steam. Back to basics for now. This time, I’m using two round black baking pans clipped together with magnetic memo clips. And in the bottom of the now upturned colander is a stone. Overall things seem much sturdier. But the sun is still deciding on whether to join the party. It keeps coming and going, which can’t provide that much heat.

The sun is officially out at 1:30. It’s windy, but nothing is blowing over today. Finally. The temperature in the bag is right below 100°, and it’s a “chilly in the shadows” day. That’s after more than 1/2 hour out. Obviously clouds are not going to be my usual dream-laden friends when it comes to solar cooking.

Solar Cooking for Home and Camp

While we wait, I might as well review the book I just finished… Solar Cooking for Home and Camp by Linda Frederick Yaffe. This book is much less than some about how to construct a cooker or why you should try one (although both are discussed). It assumes you’re ready to get cooking but have no idea what to prepare. Sounds like me! The recipes are organized by groups as in a regular cookbook, and most sections contain at least one recipe with “easy” in the title. Most require few ingredients and little preparation. And they sound good, too, though there aren’t any pictures. Here’s a sample recipe that sounds delicious:

Pecan Salmon

1. Place in an oiled pot:
4 Salmon Steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
2. Mix together in a small bowl:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3. Spread the mixture evenly over the steaks.
4. Cover and place in the solar cooker for 2 hours, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Simple and easy to understand, yet gourmet. It doesn’t take more than an hour to get through this book, short of stopping to MAKE things along the way. Speaking of hours, let’s check in on the peppers one hour on the stove.

Right as I wrote that, the whole oven crashed off its ledge, so I got a chance to see what state things were in. As usual things SMELL great. The peppers are soft, but still have a tart edge. There is a tear in the oven bag so I taped it with aluminum foil tape. The magnets fell out of the clips, and the plates were hot. Everything reassembled, I moved to a wider ledge that allows for a bit of rotation leeway and set back up. It’s now 2:20 as I write this.

Bell Peppers

At the 2:45 mark, it was time to head out for the afternoon so I checked again. Everything was done to perfection! Some positive reinforcement at last, after the debacle the other day. Things smelled, looked, and tasted great. The pot was hot but not untouchable. Mental note… the less water, the faster things heat up. Veggies are good for this, as proved by my partially cloudy day results. Perhaps one of these days I’ll work up to main dishes. For now, bon appetit!

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