Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Habitat for Humanity Goes Green

Habitat for Humanity International is dedicated to the cause of eliminating poverty housing. Since its founding in 1976, Habitat has built more than 300,000 houses worldwide, providing simple, decent and affordable shelter for more than 1.5 million people.

While it's known for building quality homes for low income buyers who might not otherwise be able to afford a home, once the keys are handed over there are no guarantees that the new residents will be able to afford rising utility costs. Habitat acknowledges this challenge and is now building with green in mind.

A select group of volunteers dubbed the "Green Team" work nationwide with Habitat for Humanity to build more energy efficient homes for residents. Whether it be extra insulation in the attic or solar powered hot water heaters, Habitat for humanity is making a move to more sustainable construction and hopefully this is a trend that will continue for all new home construction.

Last year, Habitat for Humanity announced plans to build 5,000 green homes around the country for low-income families. These homes, would be built over five years, and would meet EnergyStar guidelines or other green building standards, like LEED. The project expands on a pilot program and is being done in conjunction with the Home Depot Foundation.

Although green building carriers higher upfront costs, approximately $5,000 for an EnergyStar and LEED certified home, due to the extra materials as well as the certification process itself and extra training, it's worth it in the long run. Increasing the typical Habitat home price tag of $75,000 by a mere five grand allows families to enjoy a rapid payback in terms of lower energy bills. From new energy-efficient water heaters and weather stripping to programmable thermostats and low-flow toilets and solar panels, families see immediate savings in their monthly utility bills. Knowing a family can afford to maintain and live in these new homes for years to come means so much to these new homeowners and to these communities.

Other green initiatives from Habitat for Humanity include a new development in Oakland, California. Here, Habitat has converted a brownfield into several green homes as part of its ongoing EastBay Project. With help from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and a slew of volunteers, Habitat built a 54-home development of affordable housing for low-income homeowners. The development site, a former battery salvage yard, was labeled a “blighted property” by the EPA and California’s Department of Toxic Substances.

While roughly 300,000 cubic yards of soil had to be removed and replaced, the effort was well worth it for the new residents. In December of 2009, after dedicating their time and energy to helping build their homes, as required by Habitat, the excited homeowners were handed the keys to their new green homes.

Some features these green homes in EasyBay include a passive solar design which eliminates the need for air conditioning. Homes with a basic passive solar design are elongated on an east-west axis, have south-facing rooms and windows, incorporate foliage for shade, use less space on the north side, especially for rooms that require the most light and heat, and have an open floor plan for optimal thermal mass.

PG&E also offered a $15,000 grant per home for the 1.8-2 kW worth of solar power panels installed on the EastBay homes, including the inverter. The estimated utility bills for these homes as a result of the passive solar design and solar electricity is a meager $9 per month for two bedroom homes and less than $15 per month for the three and four bedroom homes. The grants for the solar power panels came as part of PG&E’s Solar Habitat Program, an ongoing partnership between the utility company and Habitat for Humanity.

The solar panels installed on the East Bay Habitat homes generate nearly 300kWh of clean, renewable energy from sunlight each month, saving the families approximately $500 a year on energy costs. Each panel will also help avoid the release of more than 132,000 pounds of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere over the 30 year life of the system.

PG&E's Solar Habitat Program is a partnership between PG&E and Habitat for Humanity International to fund the full cost of solar electric systems on every Habitat built home in northern and central California. This partnership brings solar energy to families with limited incomes, to provide affordable, renewable energy to California residents.

Dying to Be GREEN - Solar Funeral Products

Green funerals, burials and cremations are becoming more and more popular. What's also coming to light is that funeral and cemetery products are going solar! Here are a few green options for your graveside memorials from Grave and Garden.

This beautiful Solar Light Cross is a wonderful tribute for a family member or friend and is a comforting gift to anyone who has lost a loved one. The Solar Light Cross charges by the sun everyday and lights up at night. The Solar Light Cross stands 14" x 10" tall and comes with an 8" stake that can be placed in the ground or in an existing vase. Two solar rechargeable batteries are included. Also marketed as the "Eternal Light Cross". Price: $33.99

The Solar Light Angel brings comfort and peace with her flowing detail and brilliant light. The Solar Light Angel stands 14" tall and 10" wide and comes with a stake and two solar rechargeable batteries. Also marketed as the "Eternal Light Angel". Price $43.99

The music on this waterproof picture frame plays automatically when visitors approach your loved one's grave. It's powered by the sun and you can personalize the epitaph window with your sentiments for free through Grave and Garden. The heavy golden memory frame measures 9.5" x 10" and comes with a stake. Price $39.99

As a side note, I recall a trip a few years back to my cabin in North Carolina driving along an old country road at night. From the distance I could see a glow and as I approached, it became clear what the glow was from - solar crosses. At first I thought it was very creepy, and had it been Halloween, I would have thought it was some kind of joke. But, after a few more trips past the cemetery during that vacation visit, I thought of the local folks who put those crosses on their families graves. It probably gives them great comfort to be able to see their father's or daughters cross glowing in the night from the road, even if they're on their way to town and aren't stopping in for a visit. So, to each his own.


*FYI - I am in no way affiliated with the products and services I represent on my blog.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Florida SunSmart Program Receives $10 Million

The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) was created by the Florida Legislature in 1975 to serve as the state’s energy research institute. The FSEC strives to bring energy independence to the state of Florida by conducting research, testing and certifying solar systems and developing educational programs. One of the latest initiatives to be implemented by the FSEC is the SunSmartSchool and E-Shelters Program.

Florida's Governor Charlie Crist recently announced the award of $10 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) grants to the FSEC in Cocoa Beach for the SunSmart project. This award will provide opportunities for state agencies, local governments and businesses to deploy renewable energy and energy-efficient technologies, resulting in economic development and job growth in Florida’s clean technology sector.

The SunSmart program award, is a portion of the $126 million the state received in State Energy Program funding for energy-related initiatives under the ARRA.

Through the SunSmart program, the FSEC has worked to increase the deployment of solar energy systems to schools and other public buildings in particular. There are two main parts to this new initiative, the E-Shelters (Emergency Shelters) and the SunSmart Schools program.

As part of the E-Shelters program administered by the FSEC, at least 90 schools will be selected to serve as emergency shelters and will benefit from the SunSmart program. Schools will be selected based on demographics, emergency shelter needs, partnerships and existing renewable energy education and outreach plans.

The E-Shelters program will provide free solar energy systems of approximately 10kW to public schools that have been designated by the state as Enhanced Hurricane Protection Area (EHPA) shelters. Nearly 800 schools in Florida are already designated such shelters, so the selection process will be highly competitive.

The new solar electric systems, also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, will provide enough power for critical energy needs such as lighting, communications and essential medical equipment. These system will feature a battery back-up that provides power to critical loads in the emergency shelter in the event of electrical power outage.

Ideally, at least one school shelter will be selected in each of the 67 counties in Florida. Obviously, some counties will get more than one school outfitted with a solar electric system. The locations chosen to receive a PV system will be selected based on the strength of each school’s application.

The second part of the SunSmart program, called SunSmartSchool, outfits selected schools with a PV system for normal operating uses and provides educational opportunities.

Elementary, middle, or senior high schools, vocational schools or colleges, and universities will also be competitively selected to receive a 1 or 2-kilowatt (kW) demonstration system. These systems can offset electricity costs to the school during normal operations and reduce greenhouse gases. Additionally, the SunSmart Schools program will not only provide the subsides solar energy systems to public schools but also, the program will include operation and maintenance workshops for facility managers. They also supports solar-energy education initiatives for students and renewable energy curriculum workshop training for teachers.

While there are a number of requirements that must be met in order for schools to be eligible to participate in this program, the application deadline for schools is March 29th, 2010. Following the receipt of the applications, after a review process, schools that have been chosen to participate in the program will be notified by April 9th of this year.

Similarly, there are requirements that must be met for system installers and component manufactures to participate. For instance, installers must be licensed electrical or solar contractors and all solar equipment purchased as part of the E-Shelters program must comply with the Act popularly known as the "Buy American" Act (41 U.S.C. 10a-10c). All solar equipment vendors must also comply with sections 2 through 4 of the Act of March 3, 1933. Furthermore, it is the sense of the Congress that, to the greatest extent practicable, all equipment and products purchased with funds made available under this Agreement should be American-made. Installers should also take note that their request for quotes (RFQ's) will be due May 7th, 2010 and selected installers will be notified May 21st.

With the hope of protecting the environment for future generations, and educating Floridians the FSEC created the SunSmart plan. Through this program, and by utilizing energy efficient technologies the FSEC takes a step forward in aiding and in strengthening Florida's economy by increasing its energy independence and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To move forward as rapidly as possible, they anticipate to have all systems installed by April 20, 2012.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Backyard Residential Solar Gadgets

Read this article now on Backyard Residential Solar Gadgets!

A plethora of residential solar gadgets have been hitting the market in the last few years. These new products can provide ecologically friendly ways to enjoy the outdoors while utilizing the power of the sun. For those not quite ready to invest forty thousand dollars or so in a full blown residential solar panel system, these tools provide some basic comforts. What's more important, they may be a stepping stone towards greener living, starting in your own backyard.

Solar Stepping Stones

In taking that first step towards cleaner, greener living, solar stepping stones are a clear choice. Creating a luminescent walkway through your garden with a stepping stone that lights up automatically at night is a unique idea. Solar lit stepping stones provide a lighted path for lawns or gardens, and since they include batteries which are recharged by the sun, no electricity is required. A built-in photo sensor automatically activates the light at dusk and turns it off at dawn. With the look of a carved stone, residential solar stones will provide over 100,000 hours of lighted bliss.

Solar LED Motion Sensor Lights

If you're looking for ways to provide extra light to illuminate dark sheds, porches, or walkways without using electrical power, consider solar LED motion sensor lights. By day they'll go unnoticed as they soaks up energy. By night, they're ready light up whenever you're near. Just walk within 25 feet of these motion-sensor lights, and they'll brighten the entire area. These weatherproof lights mount to virtually any surface and can be placed anywhere you might be prone to tripping, stumbling, or fumbling for keys.

Solar Umbrellas
This concept is very useful for people who eat outdoors or use patio furniture a lot. Using a solar umbrella allows you and your guests to enjoy the furniture at night. The canopy battery charges during the day with a solar panel on top and at night about fifty LED lights light up. Made of durable weatherproof material, solar umbrellas have a built-in solar cell on top that charges as the sun heats up. After a full days' charge it can light up the solar umbrella for up to eight hours, giving you the hearty, healthy glow of daylight even as the sun is setting. The mono crystalline solar cell recharges the solar umbrella discreetly without noise, wires or cumbersome plugs to extend the light of day for you and your backyard or barbecue guests, who will be impressed with your new, hi-tech solar umbrella.

Solar Powered Garden Fountains
Solar powered garden fountains come in many shapes and sizes and are the perfect addition to any garden. Some fountains use a unique underwater solar panel to power the low voltage pump, while others have the panel attached in a discrete way to the back or side of the fountain. The best part? Solar powered garden fountains add an air of tranquility with the sound of running water while using the power of the sun and requiring no additional operating costs.

Solar Powered Rain Sensor
Stop wasting water during unexpected rainstorms. By connecting a rain sensor to your irrigation system, your sprinklers can shut off automatically when it starts raining, so you won’t be watering your lawn unnecessarily. Best of all, using a solar wireless rain sensor requires no electricity or connection wires, so it sets up in minutes and won’t add to your monthly utility bills.

Solar Powered Speakers
Wireless speakers are great for inside, outside and even from one room to another. They're compatible with all audio devices that require speakers; from MP3 players and CD players to TV's and PC's. Sunlight is caught through a solar panel located in the top of the base and used to charge the battery, and generate sharp vibrant sound even when the transmitter is in one room and the speaker in another.

Solar Power Rodent Repeller

To make sure your next outdoor party doesn't include some uninvited guests, consider a solar power rodent repeller. These nifty little solar devices have a battery built in that charges itself using the sun's rays. Powerful sonic waves are produced at 20-40 second intervals, which in turn scare off rodents in the surrounding 4,500 square foot area. This product eliminates the use of harmful toxins which would normally be used to get rid of rodent inhabitants. The repeller operates off a NiCad battery, which has a low discharge rate when not in use. The internal battery is recharged by sunlight collected through the solar disk protruding toward the sun, saving electricity.

While the average consumer isn't going to convert to a tree-hugging environmentalist overnight, even the smallest of things count. Solar gadgets are going from being far fetched to becoming intertwined into our everyday use. It's true that a lot of the futuristic gadgets certainly appear to be just new gadgets. However, behind each new contraption is what appears to be the common motivation to preserve the environment so that perhaps our children's children will still have something green to enjoy. So, next time your shopping for a new thing-a-ma-bob, why not consider solar?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Solar Power Hanging Basket Rotator

This is an unusual use for solar power, but it actually does make some sense. It's a solar powered hanging basket rotator. Using the power of the sun, it'll spin your basket for you so that your plants get their fair share of daylight. But, do evenly exposed hanging plants justify the use of solar cells and electronics?

From Basket Rotator's website:

The Basket Rotator does all the turning for you. Just hang your basket from a Basket Rotator and the device does the rest; no need to keep an eye on it, no need to add batteries, just enjoy your basket display! ...the movement is silent and smooth so if you stand and watch you will only witness the slightest of movement but over 24 hours the basket will be turned at least twice and works even in the winter so great for showing off your autumn and winter hanging baskets.

On the one hand, how hard is it to rotate a basket yourself? Is it that necessary to add to the e-waste pile? But, on the other hand, it's really easy to forget to rotate baskets and ensuring even exposure is important for healthy plants. If it makes growing your own herbs or veggies that much easier, and will last at the very least a few years, perhaps it is worth it.

The device is priced at £11 ($18), which isn't too bad, and if it means more fresh herbs or tomatoes during this year's hanging harvest then it might end up paying for itself.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

Solar Powered Bird-B-Gone Bird Repeller

There's all kinds of random junk out there that someone saw fit to slap a solar panel on and call it cool. Well. Sometimes it turns out adding a solar cell does make it cool, and sometimes it doesn't. We're a bit on the fence about which sides the Solar Powered Bird-B-Gone Bird Repeller falls.

On the one hand, when you have a bird problem, you're willing to try pretty much anything. This device seems pretty harmless, and when you add the fact that it's powered by a renewable energy source, it's hard to be too annoyed - especially when you're the person with the bird problem. The device charges up with sunlight and does a bit of helicopter action to keep the birds at bay.

On the other hand, it's a piece of plastic with electronic parts that you're setting outside, which means it likely won't last as long as a piece of plastic that doesn't have electronic parts and can be just as effective - like those spiky things, or bird netting. Plus, it's a whopping $89 from Amazon.

Though, funnily enough, Amazon shows that people who bought this also bought motion-activated owls...can we make that solar powered??


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Solar Powered Backpacks

The original Eclipse Solar Backpack is the first in a line of backpacks with an integrated solar charging solution. Stylish and smart, this backpack combines the traits of a feature rich quality bag with a smart, effective solar charging module. The backpack has multiple pockets for your cell phone, PDA , hand held GPS unit, CD player or MP3 player, and a laptop computer. The MP3 pouch includes an inner mesh pocket and a convenient outlet for your headphones. External side mesh pockets can be used for a water bottle holder or other items for quick access. Included with the pack are large cavities for books or extra clothing when traveling. The back cavity houses a laptop sleeve that can be removed when extra space and lighter weight is needed. The front zippered accessory pouch includes pen holders, cd holders, an elastic lanyard for keys, and a removable clip for USB memory sticks.

The integrated solar charging module can be utilized by using a common 12V automotive charging adapter made specifically for the brand and type of personal electronics you own. Using a cell phone as an example, you can trickle charge the cell phone battery during casual commutes or long hikes with the backpack using your existing cigerette lighter cord (not included). The result is an extension of battery life, and a source for charging when traveling in remote areas where traditional charging sources are not available, or in emergency situations.

The result is the ultimate backpack for your mobile needs.

This solar panel is not designed to charge a laptop computer.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Solar LED Motion Sensor Light

Mention the Solar LED Motion Sensor Light in passing, and people will think you're talking about some device from a sci-fi film. But it's very real - and very useful. Attach it to your garage, shed, patio, or whatever. By day it'll go unnoticed as it soaks up energy. By night, it's ready light up whenever you're near.

Solar LED motion sensor lights are perfect for driveways, sheds, cabins, garages, backyards or anywhere you need some light. The super bright LED lights up a nice large area and lights automatically, at night, whenever motion is detected. Adjustable sensor and light direction. Will light for 2 hours on a full charge.

Weatherproof for outside installation. Easy to mount to virtually any surface.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Solar Powered Attic Fan

Many manufacturers now offer solar powered attic fans to ventilate attics and help keep attics cooler. Solar powered fans rely on a small (typically 10- or 20-watt) solar panel to power a DC motor when the sun is shining. The fans, which exhaust air at a rate of 800 to 1200 cfm, are installed with intake vents (such as soffit and gable vents) to provide high-capacity powered ventilation without electric operating costs. Most vents are mounted high on the roof, near the ridge, and combined with soffit or gable vents for balanced intake and exhaust air streams. Solar powered gable ventilators are also available.

Compared to powered vent fans, there is no need for electrical wiring, and a solar ventilator uses no electricity (hence avoiding operating cost). Although equipment costs are greater for solar powered attic fans than conventional powered fans (about $200 more), the cost to bring electrical wiring to the attic to supply a conventional ventilator closes the gap on installed cost.

Ventilation is only provided when there is ample sunshine to power the fan motor. The highest solar insolation (and, hence, fan speed) typically coincides with the time of greatest need for attic ventilation.

If there is inadequate attic intake air and poor sealing between the conditioned space of the home and the attic, powered attic fans can potentially draw air from the house into the attic. Not only can this compromise energy efficiency, it can increase the risk of attic moisture problems as well as increase the risk of drawing the byproducts of combustion into the house (a process called backdrafting).


2/14/10 - Here's an update for you...

Derek Odette of Attic Breeze was kind enough to email me some great information. According to Derek, Attic Breeze is the only solar attic fan on the market that is Florida Product Approved and has a LIFETIME WARRANTY. Worth checking out, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Solar Powered Lighter

This lighter uses solar power in a decidedly old school way: it's a curved mirror that reflects and focuses the sun's rays into a super hot point. Compact and convenient, it's an ideal survival tool for hiking or backpacking.

A Portugal-based company has reinvented the wheel and created fire from the sun, kind of. This solar-powered lighter doesn't actually create an open flame, but it does create a series of sparks that should be capable of lighting a BBQ grill. So in all reality, it is the environment-friendly lazy man's flint or sparker. The bottom is also a bottle opener! Just $19.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

DOE Announces $12 Million Funding for Solar

The Department of Energy has announced another $12 million in funding for solar technology research and development. The funds will go to four separate projects working intently on solar photovoltaics (PV), with all four working in conjunction with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Colorado. The goal is to facilitate the transfer of cutting-edge solar technologies to commercialization.

While the vast majority ($10 million) of the funds are allocated under the Recovery Act, they are being officially channeled through the DOE’s Photovoltaic Incubator Program, which works to put prototype solar tech into demonstration or full-scale projects. Roughly $3 million will be awarded to each company as part of an 18-month subcontract with the DOE. The four award winners are:

  • Alta Devices Inc. of Santa Clara, California. Alta will try to develop and commercialize a solar module with a conversion efficiency better than 20 percent. They plan for market entry in 2011.
  • Solar Junction Corp., based in San Jose, Calif. will develop a manufacturing process for a high-efficiency multi-junction solar cell. They are intended for use in concentrating photovoltaics (CPV).
  • Tetra Sun, another California company, will work on developing a back-surface passivation, which helps protect a semiconductor from contamination, for crystalline silicon (c-Si) solar cells. The result should be high-efficiency, low-cost c-Si solar cells, which are already the most efficient and durable solar cells on the market.
  • Moving eastward, Semprius Inc., based in Durham, North Carolina, will develop a “massively parallel,” microcell-based CPV receiver. The company will combine manufacturing techniques unique to solar power with the inherent benefits of CPV.

Solar Powered Luggage Tags?

Solar power...on your luggage tag. It's like combining a pen and a clock - do the two really need to go together? Do they actually compliment one another? This device attempts to put solar power in a handy, versatile place. But it doesn't seem to quite hit the nail on the head.

Granted, this might be a good idea if it's the only way you'll remember to bring a solar charger on your trip with you.

The device can recharge a set of AAA batteries, or USB-connected gadgets. That way, if you're on vacation and your camera battery dies, you could charge it up with sunlight. However, it might take your whole vacation to gather enough energy for a recharge using your luggage tag. Supposedly it can charge gadgets with just 4 hours of direct sunlight, or 8 hours of indirect sunlight, but that's likely an optimistic estimate.

The device is set to ship in February for $35. If you're planning a trip where you expect your luggage to be sitting around in places with ample sunlight, and this is the only way you'll remember to bring solar as a backup, then by all means...go for it.


Subsidies for Solar Power to be Slashed

Germany, the world's biggest market for solar cells, is poised to slash its subsidies for solar power by as much as 17 percent, Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said on Tuesday.

"I envisage an order of magnitude of 16 to 17 percent," Bruederle said at an energy conference in Berlin.

Electricity produced by solar power in Germany is sold at a minimum price guaranteed by the government to help producers compete with firms using fossil fuels and nuclear power that can produce power much more cheaply.

This guaranteed price has already been reduced gradually -- the subsidy was already cut by 10 percent from January 1 this year -- but pressure has grown on the government to accelerate the process.

Experts say the subsidy fails to spur competition in the industry, which represents less than one percent of the total electricity production in Germany, Europe's top economy.

The solar sector itself has said it is prepared to accept a cut in the subsidy, but that anything above 10 percent would be intolerable.

After years of dazzling results, Germany's solar industry has succumbed to the gloom enveloping the broader economy, with competition from Asia also taking the shine off the sector.

The world's top solar cell maker, Q-Cells, saw its turnover plunge by over 40 percent in the first nine months of 2009.