Posts tagged solar

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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QUICKIE: Home Zone Control

If anyone in the greater Los Angeles metro area is looking to implement computerized home zone control in their home (smart home technology can reduce your home energy bills by up to 50%!), I work with an electrical expert who is quite reasonably priced and very experienced. Computerized home zone control, solar panel installation, and energy efficiency seminars are just a few of the services offered by the company.

To learn more or request services, contact me anytime either through this site or at solariousblog@gmail.com. With the new renewable energy tax credits, it is less expensive than ever before to make your home a truly green living space!

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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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Living Roofs: A Little Greener than Usual

When installing a photovoltaic, solar heat, or wind generation system, one concept with which you’re sure to become familiar is that of structural load. The concept of a twenty foot wind tower on your roof spinning down free energy all year is nice, but in practice, you’d more likely rip a hole in your house without some careful consideration.  Therefore, sustainable roof design has adapted to include a variety of green techniques, each requiring their own load profile.  When used in combination, the elements can add a visual and technological depth to a space that is almost hard to describe.

Living roofs are required by law in some European cities, so it’s strange that so few people in the US have ever even heard of them.  Basically, in a city, roofs cover between 30-40% of the available land acreage. Streets cover a good percentage more.  By building a living roof, you offset the loss of porous surface area by simply elevating the layer above the structure.  New sustainable design firms tend toward relatively autonomous plantings so that care needs are minimized.  Varieties of drought resistant grasses or low-water plants like ice plants for a more spectacular display.  Traditional examples of living roofs often display a more cultivated cover.  Some are actually used as rooftop garden spaces, with fully functional plant beds in frames. They slow down water across their surface area and help promote local biodiversity.

The largest challenge in making a rooftop garden (besides keeping the frame watertight so it doesn’t leak onto your roof) is one of structural load.  Obviously, cubic feet of dirt are heavy – just ask anyone who’s done construction or landscape work lately.  On your roof, they bear down on the surface, creating stress on the seams between fastenings and structural supports.  It is important to find ways to relieve this stress either in the building phase, or, as is more common, in the design phase of a remodel. Soil scientists have designed artificial soils that weigh less than traditional soils, and other growing mediums such as local crushed brick can be used. But usually this involves restructuring the load on beams so that the roof avoids carrying actual weight.

As mentioned earlier, a living roof may not be the only alternative energy installation vying for structural load bearing on your house.  If you install solar panels or a solar heat collector, the same weight issues come into play, and careful siting along strong structural axes or retrofitting are necessary.  With wind, add in the force of the tower’s rotation and the wind profile of the actual tower and it’s probably better not to site a tower on your house at all unless you like weird noises and warped beams.  Save that for the back yard.

If you are considering installing one technology already which calls for boosting the load structure of your roof, why not design for the (future) implementation of another complementary technology now? As hurricanes so aptly illustrate, a little extra roof support ain’t gonna hurt you.  With as much roof space as we have in this country, we could probably meet half our food needs if everyone started a garden today.  Victory Gardens for a new millennium.  Even just switching from a traditional tar shingle roof (made from petroleum) to a gravel-based cover slows water loss considerably across your whole property.  Take a look at these examples of how nice living roofs can look, and consider integrating a little (more) green into your next roofing project.

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The Solar Necktie

It seems inevitable that eventually clothing designers will hop on the solar train and integrate solar power into their designs. Already, Noon Solar and several other handbag manufacturers are realizing nice profits creating stylish solar designs that charge your cell phone on the go. But this invention takes the solar geek award by a landslide. The Solar Necktie, brainchild of researchers at Iowa State University’s Textiles school, is a perfect integration of office style and solar cool. It even has a place to tuck your cell phone in the back while its charging!

I have to admit, I’d have expected to see this sooner on the runways of Calvin Klein than a university. And most of the other designs left a little to be desired in the style file. (though they designed a solar jacket, too, which has potential!) New Flexible Thin Film solar technologies will be greatly expending the potential for power generation in our daily activities very soon. They can be wrapped around buildings, woven into fabrics, and used in other compounds to generate power from all sorts of things. Though this design still pays obvious homage to the solar look we are used to, soon, you may not even notice that you are using a solar appliance until you actually draw power from it. Kudos to these researchers on a nice application and guidepost for future designers.

Read all about the products here: Research Bulletin

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Photovoltaic Class

To all my fellow travelers on the road to solar living! If you’re following along with the solar power class, be sure to note that the class now has its own page on the site (it’s at the top of the page on the right-hand side), where you can find all the lessons in one easy to remember place. If you are following along, stop by and say hello to your other classmates by commenting on that page, so we can facilitate discussion and learning for all involved. Also, if you find great resources that everyone will want to know about, post them there!

For my fellow Los Angeles classmates who are checking in, though all the information now posted is publicly available to all who visit the site, there will eventually some information and resources posted which are specific to our class that will be available only via password. By commenting and saying hello, I will know your email address to send you a password when such information is posted.

See you there!

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Solar Power Class: Kirchoff’s Laws

Whew! It’s been a busy couple of weeks in my photo-voltaic class. I was starting to fear that I’d have to take a math class to keep up with all the formulas! When I posted the first week’s lesson, I realized later that I’d given out misinformation, which is the danger of posting about something you don’t yet understand! So, from this point out, I’ll just post the lessons after I’ve been tested in the contents, that way you’re always getting the information someone has TOLD me I understand. Since we had a test this past weekend, here’s a new dose of mathematical fun!

This week: Kirchoff’s Laws. Last time, I discussed Ohm’s Law of DC power, which interrelated voltage, current, amperage, and power, and provided several formulas you can use to figure out any of the above for a circuit. If you’d like to review, check out the original post here. Now, let me repeat a few pertinent facts: a series circuit is when you basically hook everything up in a big loop, positive end to negative end in a chain. See the diagram below:

A parallel circuit is one in which the positive and negative ends are “shunted” together (parallel circuits are sometimes called shunts) creating a ladder effect. Again, see the diagram below:

Series circuits are called voltage divider circuits, because though a common current flows across the wire, at each stop along the way, voltage is dropped. These are two important concepts: 1. current is common. 2. voltage is divided along the circuit. Parallel circuits are the opposite. Though a common voltage flows through all the wires, the current is divided between the different potential paths. Therefore, in a parallel circuit, 1. voltage is common, and 2. current is divided along the circuit. Series circuits are called “voltage dividers” and parallel circuits are called “current dividers”. VERY IMPORTANT is you want to know how to manipulate these circuits later on.

There are even two formulae which will help you to calculate a voltage or current at any particular point along a circuit. Say you have three resistors along your circuit. In a series circuit, a voltage divider, if you want to know the voltage of resistor “b”, you would use the voltage divider formula: Erb = Et (Rb/Rt), where t represents total and Er is the voltage drop. Here’s an example:

In a series circuit with a total resistance of 100 Ohms, and a voltage of 120V, resistor b has a resistance of 25 Ohms. The total voltage drop across resistor b would be:

Erb = 120 v ( 25 Ohms / 100 Ohms ) = 30 V

Now, if you aren’t sure what the resistance of a particular resistor on the circuit is, then Kirchoff’s Law of Voltage (for series circuits only!) comes into play. His law states that the total voltage minus the voltage of each resistor, etc on the circuit will always equal zero. In other words, the Total Voltage equals the sums of all the voltage drops along the path. Here’s the official equation: Et – E1 – E2 – … – En = 0, where the circuit has n resistors. So if you know that one resistor has a voltage drop of 25 v and the third has a voltage drop of 50 v, and the total voltage is 130 v, then 130 – 25 – E2 – 50 = 0, and E2 = 55 v. Got it?

Now, on to parallel circuits, ones you’ll see a lot of in battery configurations. Because parallel circuits are current dividers, they need a separate formula for figuring out current drops around the circuit. This is called the Current Divider Formula (using Current at Resistor b): Ib = It ( Rt / Rb ). As with the voltages of a series circuit, if you need to know the current drop at a particular point, Kirchoff had a law for that, too. It’s called Kirchoff’s Current Law (for parallel circuits), and it states that the total current minus the current drops along the way, equals zero. So It – I1 – I2 – … – In = 0, where the circuit has n resistors.

Now, this is a LOT of information to absorb, especially in practice, so let me stop here for now, and we’ll pick up here tomorrow with the rest of the lesson. It seems like way too formulas to ever be useful, but once you get to solving practical equations with them, it’s not too bad. But let’s save that for the next lesson, sleep on it, and I’ll see you in class tomorrow~

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Link: “How I built my Solar Panel”

How I built my solar panel

The link above demonstrates a nice DIY version of a solar array, using damaged solar modules that can be bought at low price on eBay. This resourceful astronomer also built himself a DIY wind turbine, so if you’re considering doing either, this is worth a look.

This panel was designed to work in sunny Arizona (a beautiful state!), which is a perfect place for setting up an array, especially given the large number of off-grid properties there which would be prohibitively expensive to wire up to the utility power company.

He includes lots of good tips about what to look for when buying your solar panel modules to string together into the final product, so you can learn from his mistakes, and also know a bit more about what is actually important to the functioning of the modules. Above is a picture of the finished box containing the panel. Good luck with construction!

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