Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Solar Camera Strap Concept Shines

Grabbing your camera as you're about to head out, only to find it's running low on power is one inconvenience that designer Weng Jie is hoping he can solve.

The designer has recently created an incredibly simple yet brilliant conceptual camera strap that would do away with the need to worry about whether your DSLR was charged or not.

His eco-friendly idea takes a camera's normal neck strap and adds solar-film into it. If his vision was to become a reality, the solar-film neck strap would hopefully give the attached camera enough power to snap away, all thanks to the sun's forever generous rays.

Gizmodo pointed out that such gadgetry has been attempted before, but in the past solar chargers have been created for more power hungry devices like smartphones. If this concept were to become a reality, then the hope is it would work effectively due to modern DSLRs having very low power demands.


Linum Systems Makes Cool from the Heat of the Sun

Air conditioning powered by the sun, which bypasses the electricity grid?
Perfect for the Middle East.

It’s perfectly logical: When the thermostat rises on scorching hot days, the air conditioners kick in, causing a massive electricity surge that strains the grid. Summer blackouts and brownouts are already occurring in the US and in the Middle East. If mismanaged, they may cripple cities and damage local economies.

In April 2006, for instance, parts of Texas experienced rolling blackouts lasting as long as five hours that were caused by air conditioner use. Blackouts from air con use in California were first experienced in early 2000 and continue to be a major priority on the California utility companies’ list of problems. Blackouts happen regularly in Israel in the summer; Lebanon suffers blackouts daily, and they loom in Kuwait as summer sets in.

Now Linum Systems a young Israeli solar air conditioning company claims it could have the answer. The company is ’solar cooling’ and heating homes using an old approach combined with their own new patents and technology.

The company may just be a year old, but already it is attracting interest. The non-profit California Israel Chamber of Commerce, identified Linum (based in Pardess Hana in northern Israel), as one of a dozen or so new clean-tech companies from Israel worth meeting. The chamber sent them to California a month ago to meet local investors, utilities companies and possible strategic partners.

Linum was founded in 2009 by solar energy entrepreneurs Yuval Berson and Amir Hirschfeld, both businessmen and engineer grads from the Technion – Israel Institute of Science who had worked for solar energy start-up D.i.S.P.

Green and simple

Expected to go commercial by 2012, Linum’s CEO Berson tells ISRAEL21c that the company, with a staff of less than 10, has yet to produce a formal prototype, but does have a proof of concept. When installed on a 3,000 square foot home, in say, Arizona or Texas, the return on investment (ROI) could be seen within about three years, he estimates.

Berson says the solution can curb high-energy demands during peak hours and peak seasons, adding that it makes good economic sense and is good for the environment.

‘Solar cooling’ is the process through which solar radiation uses hot water to create cooling systems with no need for electricity. It uses a solar thermal collector, not photovoltaics.

“Air conditioning, you may or may not know, is a huge problem and challenge in today’s energy world,” Berson explains. “Clearly there is a connection between hot and sunny days and the electricity load. If you look at heat waves, they are almost always associated with electricity crashes.”

According to the US Department of Energy, residential heating and cooling account for more than 50 percent of the energy use in a standard American home. “In California as much as a recent 30 or 40% rise in electricity use is solely air conditioning oriented, and it’s a major issue for utilities to solve,” Berson continues.

Private homes and offices

Based on the process of absorption, Linum aims to increase the efficiency of existing technologies, making them affordable for every mid-sized home in moderate to hot climates. The company says its air conditioner can cut the cooling, heating and water-heating electricity bills by as much as 85% on a hot sunny day and 40% annually.

“The home owner couldn’t care less where the energy comes from but wants ongoing service,” Berson tells ISRAEL21c. “Ours is capable of switching seamlessly from electricity to heating: If the sun starts to set we can add electricity to keep the same level of cooling. Or at night if you still need air conditioning, it performs as a very efficient electric air conditioner.

“We are looking at the large private village or small office as our target. From a 2,000 to a 3,000 square foot house. Generally, we are not looking at apartments that have a lot of power demands with very little roof space.”

“We decided it makes a lot of sense,” says Berson. “Heat from the sun and air conditioning is linked with peak hours at sunny times of the day. What’s unique about our idea is that it’s practical. In the past systems were big cumbersome and expensive.”

Making cool air from the heat of the sun is not a new idea, and Linum isn’t the only company in the business. The company has identified two major competitors: Swedish company ClimateWell which makes a good, but expensive absorption cooler, and Yazaki from Japan. “They use absorption chilling, an old technology that’s not cost effective,” states Berson. “We use a different way to convert heat to cool. We don’t use chemicals but standard refrigerates.” And no, not the ones that deplete the ozone, he promises.

Cooling in summer, heating in winter

How efficient the solar system can be is a function of how sunny the region is. As one moves north, more collectors will be needed to convert the sun’s heat into cooling systems in the summer and heating for the winter. A beautiful byproduct is continuous hot water.

The consumer would decide how many collectors to install. Typically, about 161 square feet will do. Linum would provide advice, through distributors and high-end installation companies, about what sort of collectors to use. Berson says that Linum will probably recommend hooking up to their unit with the flat panel collectors that have vacuum tubes and are common in colder climates. The Linum unit resembles the traditional air conditioning unit in use today. It can also be installed on the roof near the collectors.

Linum has enjoyed an undisclosed amount of seed investment from the Israel-based clean tech investment house Terra Venture Partners, and is looking for a strategic partner. The company is currently looking to California for investors, but feels it’s still too early to take on a business partner.


Solar Icemaker

The ISAAC Solar Icemaker is being demonstrated in two small-scale dairy villages in Kenya. The project is hosted by Heifer Project International and was funded by the World Bank's Development Marketplace program.

The ISAAC Solar Icemaker operates in two modes to complete the cycle. During the day, solar energy heats the generator to make ammonia vapor which is condensed and collected. During the night, the generator cools and reabsorbs the refrigerant. As the refrigerant evaporates, the water in the evaporator is frozen.

The ISAAC Solar Icemaker operates on the ammonia absorption refrigeration technology. Ammonia absorption is used in industrial and commercial refrigeration. In domestic refrigeration, it was replaced by modern refrigeration with the development of
electricity and freon refrigerants long ago. But now it is important for small-scale uses because of the need to conserve electricity and fossil fuel and because of the needs for food security, especially in rural communities which do not have electricity.

The equipment is very durable. The ISAAC makes up to 50 kg of ice per sunny day, which is enough to chill up to 100 kg of food for a day. This gives the rural farmers and fishermen more time to market their products to the urban areas.

The ISAAC Solar Icemaker was developed by Energy Concepts Company. The Solar Ice Company is a sister company and produces and promotes the solar icemaker.

ISAAC - Providing ice for economically and environmentally sustainable rural development.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Solar Powered Car Race Finishes in Illinois

A four-state long race of solar-powered cars has finished in the Chicago suburb of Naperville and the cars are to be on display at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

The American Solar Challenge finished Saturday at Naperville North High School. The race started June 20 in Broken Arrow, Okla., and went through Kansas and Missouri before reaching Illinois.

Teams travel a set distance each day of the race and individual times are added up throughout the week.

Northwestern University sponsored a vehicle with a lightweight body made from carbon fiber and powered by solar cells. The finish of the race was part of the Naperville Sustainability Challenge energy fair.

The cars were to be on display at the Chicago museum on Sunday along with members of the Northwestern Solar Car Team.


Solar Rebates Out of Energy

In part for the "feel-good factor" of saving energy, Steve Marino equipped his guesthouse with a $35,000 solar electric system.

But some of those good feelings began to diminish when Marino learned the $20,000 in state solar energy rebates he expected from the 24 solar panels on his south Fort Myers property would probably never come.

The state doesn't have exact numbers, but Marino is one of thousands of Floridians owed more than $14 million in energy rebates. The problem is, the program is so popular not even an infusion of cash by the federal government can meet the huge demand.

Marino and countless others have their names on a waiting list in the Governor's Energy Office.

"I was very disappointed, Marino said. "Florida comes up with this program, people jump on board and start installing panels on the roof and on the ground and start producing their own energy. Then, the rug is pulled out from under us."

The office will still accept applications through Wednesday. Legally, the state must file these applications until the program ends, even if there are no funds available.

Without those rebate dollars or some form of government subsidy, Marino is reluctant to equip his own home - adjacent to the guesthouse - with the solar power.

The program provided a maximum rebate of $20,000 for homes and $100,000 for businesses. It also included money for commercial and residential solar water heaters and pool heaters. Anyone who purchased a system also was eligible for a 30 percent federal tax credit.

"There are some people that made out like bandits. They got a rebate check from the state and the full 30 percent tax credit from the federal government," said John McNicholas, owner and president of Key Power Services, a solar contractor that serves Lee and Collier counties.

Marino was not one of those people. Had he received the state rebate and federal tax credit, he would be out only about $7,000 for a $35,000 system.


Casino Signs Additional 20 MW Solar Panel Supply

The French retailer Casino Group announced that SunPower will supply an additional 20 megawatts of high-efficiency solar photovoltaic panels for solar power installations on Casino Group properties in mainland France. The agreement, which builds on a similar 15-megawatt agreement between the two companies last year, will enable Casino Group to turn under-utilized roof space and parking area into power plants to produce renewable electricity and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

"As an indication of the fast development of GreenYellow, the renewable energy subsidiary of the Casino Group, and to improve our continued commitment to sustainability, Casino Group is very pleased to extend our agreement with SunPower and install solar power systems on a significant number of additional properties," said Philippe Houins, chief operations officer of Green Yellow. "SunPower's proven high-efficiency technology delivers the highest energy density in space constrained areas. This permits us to maximize the amount of clean, renewable solar power that will be produced at our facilities, maximizing cost optimizations and environment benefits. The choice of SunPower reinforces our commitment to building-integrated solar systems which is today the best way to produce renewable energy by the valorization of non-utilized space."

"We are delighted to partner with Casino to further expand their use of solar power in France, increasing their total commitment to more than 35 megawatts. We are confident that, with SunPower's proven performance and reliability, Casino and GreenYellow will continue to achieve considerable return on investment over the 25-to-30-year lifetime of the solar panels," said Howard Wenger, president, utility and power plants, for SunPower.

SunPower will supply Casino with its SunPower E19 Series solar panels, which offer a world record efficiency of 19 percent or greater. The modules feature larger, more powerful all-back contact solar cells that deliver three percent more surface area per cell, boosting panel efficiency by reducing unutilized space. The panels also have an anti-reflective coating that allow for more diffuse off-angle light to be captured, generating more energy per rated watt than a conventional solar panel.

The combined 35 megawatt agreement will result in solar power systems at 18 of the company's properties, on rooftops and parking lots. In-store monitoring displays at Casino's facilities with solar power systems will provide customers and employees with information on how much solar power is being generated on site.

Casino Group includes 11,000 stores in 9 countries making it one of the largest French retail networks, and consists of more than 20 different brands of stores.

With its European headquarters in Geneva, SunPower systems have been installed on facilities operated by the Bon Preu Esclat supermarket chain in Spain, and on multiple rooftops for US-based retailers such as Target, Wal-Mart Stores, Macy's and Lowe's.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Thin Solar Panels to be Built in Idaho

BOISE, Idaho — A company formed by Boise-based Micron Technology Inc. and Origin Energy of Australia says it plans to start making extremely thin but highly efficient solar cells that will be available next year.

Transform Solar officials say the so-called sliver solar cells will be made at a plant in Boise where Micron once made computer chips, and the cells will be combined into solar panels at another plant owned by Micron in Nampa.

"There is nothing comparable to sliver (cells) on the market," Phil Mackey of Transform Holdings told the Idaho Statesman.

He said Transform Solar has hired 70 employees and expects to hire up to 50 more, with most of the jobs based in southwest Idaho.

Micron and Origin late last year announced the agreement that officials said takes advantage of Origin's experience in energy markets and Micron's expertise in making thin semiconductors.

Mackey said Transform Solar's manufacturing and research will be based in southwest Idaho, and more research and development will be done in Adelaide, Australia.

Company officials say that because the sliver solar cells are so thin, the cost of the silicon used to make them can be reduced by 90 percent, making the cells competitive in the crowded solar energy field.

The company says the cells are less than 50 microns, or less than two-thousandths of an inch, making them the thinnest in production, and bifacial, meaning they can capture sun energy from both faces.

Earlier this month, Transform Solar introduced its sliver technology at the Intersolar trade show in Germany.

Also, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter announced earlier this month that solar panels using the technology will be used in a $45 million facility proposed by Sunergy World near the Boise Airport that will be able to generate 10 megawatts.

"We've been engaged with Transform since late February and early March," said Mark van Gulik, president of Sunergy World.

Elected leaders in the region are hoping the hiring of workers to build the panels is a sign of better times ahead.

"Everybody in the state is cautiously hoping we've seen the bottom of this recession," said Nampa Mayor Tom Dale. "This is a turn in the right direction."


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Honors for the Nation's Largest Solar Power Plant

JUNO BEACH, Fla. -- Florida Power & Light Company was recognized by the Southeastern Electric Exchange with its highest honor today for outstanding performance in constructing the largest solar photovoltaic power plant in the United States -- the 25-megawatt DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center. The special Chairman's Award is given annually by the Exchange to the project it deems "best of the best" among all entrants in its 11 award categories.

"I'm extremely pleased that our development and construction teams have been recognized for their dedication to making the nation's largest solar photovoltaic plant a reality," said FPL Senior Director of Project Development Buck Martinez. "This plant is bringing significant economic and environmental benefits to Florida and making the Sunshine State a national leader in solar power."

The DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center was completed months ahead of schedule and more than $22 million under budget. The facility uses more than 90,000 photovoltaic panels that turn the sun's rays into electricity to power more than 3,000 homes. Over the course of its life, the solar array will avoid 575,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is the equivalent of removing 4,500 cars from the road every year. The project created hundreds of well-paying construction jobs and will generate more than $2 million in property tax revenue for DeSoto County in its first full year of operation.

Founded in 1933, the Southeastern Electric Exchange is a non-profit, non-political trade association of investor-owned electric utility companies.

FPL's parent company, NextEra Energy, Inc., is the nation's No. 1 producer of renewable energy from the wind and sun. NextEra Energy is listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and has been named one of the "100 Most Sustainable Companies in the World" five times by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors Inc. and Corporate Knights.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Solar Air Conditioners

LG Electronics has released a solar-assisted air conditioner that uses the sun’s energy to power the AC via a solar panel attached to the top of the outdoor unit. The company claims their solar hybrid air conditioner is capable of reducing around 212kg of carbon over 10 years.

Another company, Lennox has developed a similar system called SunSource which integrates solar power by using a single solar panel which provides power to assist the fan motor that moves air across the outdoor coil. Lennox says their system can cut energy consumption for heating and cooling by half.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Solar Heating Installed in Forest Preserve Restrooms

The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County recently completed the installation of five solar-thermal hot-water systems.

Sun-heated water is flowing at public restrooms at three forest preserves, Springbrook Prairie in Naperville, Hidden Lake in Downers Grove and Spring Creek Reservoir in Bloomingdale.

Solar-thermal systems are also at work at the headquarters building at Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton and the structural maintenance facility at Blackwell Forest Preserve in West Chicago.

The solar-thermal systems work in conjunction with conventional natural gas or electric hot-water heaters, which were already in use. Solar panels mounted on the buildings' roofs preheat water using energy from the sun, reducing or at times eliminating the use of natural gas or electricity. Through reduced energy costs, the district's return on investment is about eight to 10 years.

"Even on cloudy days and through cold weather in winter, solar energy can produce hot water," said Jason Berger of the district's structural maintenance department. "The systems are designed to last at least 20 years with little to no maintenance, so the long-term savings of both utility costs and conventional energy resources will be beneficial."

A grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation paid for 25 percent of the costs, and a rebate from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Solar and Wind Energy Rebate Program funded 30 percent.


Friday, June 18, 2010

New Mexico Announces New Solar Testing Lab

Albuquerque, New Mexico will be making contributions to the next generation of solar energy technology with help from a newly announced research facility.

This week, CFV Solar Test Laboratory reported that it plans to locate a new solar module testing laboratory in the city. The laboratory is jointly owned by the CSA Group, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, and other entities.

"The decision to place this new solar testing facility in New Mexico puts us in the epicenter of the PV installation market in the U.S." said Randall W. Luecke, the president of CSA International. "The conditions, from a business and testing perspective, made choosing Albuquerque a strategically smart move that will allow for market growth and excellent outdoor test conditions."

The planned laboratory will be located close to the Albuquerque airport, the Sandia National Labs, the University of New Mexico and other locations that are relevant to the solar energy industry.

The project, which quickly drew praise from Governor Bill Richardson for its significance to the industry, is expected to create as many as 40 jobs involving performance and safety testing of photovoltaic panels.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Foreign Firms Eye India's Solar Power Market

India's drive to ramp up solar capacity may trigger a stampede of firms from Asia, Europe and North America, chasing a share of the $3.5 billion of business up for grabs by 2013 and trampling over smaller domestic players.

Arizona's First Solar and China's Suntech Power Holdings are working on plans to enter the market as India commits to an ambitious $70 billion program to build 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar capacity by 2022, from about 30 megawatts (MW) now.

"Solar is the new activity. It is absolutely a game changer for the country," said Anil Srivastava, CEO at French group Areva's renewable energy unit, which is scouting for solar project contracts in India.

Foreign firms such as Suntech and First Solar, which have the scale and ability to sell solar gear cheaply are likely winners as this market grows, along with Taiwan's Motech Industries, which has signed a cell supply deal with India's Solar Semiconductor.

"As the market evolves, we're prepared to make the investments required to drive growth, including setting up a local office," said Rory Macpherson, a spokesman at Suntech, China's largest solar panel maker.

"In the near term, the Chinese and Taiwanese will be big beneficiaries," said CLSA solar analyst Charles Yonts, adding he expects a shift over the long-term to domestic production.

For now, though, those with advanced technology such as Areva and California-based solar-thermal developer eSolar Inc have a clear advantage.

Though India's rising power demand and high irradiation levels make it ideal for harnessing solar energy, the country is highly dependent on imports of critical raw materials including silicon wafer used for solar cells and panels. India is a manufacturer of solar concentrator collectors for another type of solar infrastructure -- solar thermal energy. But its industry is underdeveloped in terms of technology.

Unlike silicon-based solar cells found in panels that directly convert sunlight into energy, solar thermal harnesses the sun's heat using mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight on fluid, creating steam that runs turbines to generate electricity.

India is building an initial capacity of 1 GW by 2013, enough to power close to 1 million homes. It would then add 3-10 GW by 2017, before aiming to hit capacity of 20 GW by 2022.

India's top solar players including Tata BP Solar, a joint venture of Tata Power and BP, and Moser Baer have announced expansion plans. But limited resources and a lack of know-how could slow them down as they compete with bigger foreign firms for contracts with solar developers.

India's top power producer NTPC Ltd, through its NTPC Vidyut Vyapar Nigam (NVVN) unit, will lead the plan's initial phase via long-term contracts to buy the first 1 GW of energy from developers at Rs 15.31 per kilowatt-hour (kwh) for solar thermal and 17.91 rupees/kwh for solar module -- about eight times the cost of coal power.

Solar energy will be bundled with cheaper sources of electricity at the power utility and sold to distributors, who would reflect the solar cost on the rates they charge consumers. NVVN plans to award up to 700 MW of solar contracts this year. Opportunities in the solar sector are not without risk, say industry experts.

"Financing would be an issue," said Andy Kerr, director at the School of Geosciences at Edinburgh University, noting that a shortage of funds could threaten continuity of the India program. NVVN will harness an additional 2-3 GW of capacity, but has no mandate for now to issue contracts beyond that.

India hopes international funding and technological support would help build the rest of the capacity. Companies, for now, are keen to participate in various solar projects the government will develop in the next 3-5 years. "It's a big market and should offer opportunities for solar players," said Yonts.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lennar Home Buyers Can Rent Solar Equipment

The builder offers a financing option that allows buyers to lease their energy-generating cells, paying for the power they produce.

One of the country's largest home builders is offering a new financing option that could make it easier for people to afford solar-powered homes.

Calling it the first large-scale program of its kind, Lennar Corp. plans to announce Tuesday a partnership with solar panel manufacturer and installer SunPower Corp. to lease panels rather than requiring home buyers to purchase the technology outright along with the house. Last year, Lennar and SunPower launched a successful test run of the leasing option in 150 Sacramento homes.

Under the program, customers would essentially buy the electricity produced by the solar panels, making monthly payments to SunPower that the company says will average $65 over 10 years, or about $7,800 total.

Previously, the roughly $20,000 cost of the system was automatically folded into the price of a new home and added to the mortgage. The actual out-of-pocket cost was less because of rebates and tax credits.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Pennsylvania Pulls Back Solar Tax Credit

For a state that says it's trying to encourage more alternative-energy use, this is not an especially proud development. Which may explain why Pennsylvania put out no news releases and held no news conferences about it.

In fact, physician Mark Lounsbury said it was his own phone call to the state Department of Revenue a few weeks back that led him to a disheartening discovery: The state tax credit approved for a $75,000 photovoltaic system he added to his Chadds Ford home would not be coming.

Not for him or for the 109 other applicants OKd for more than $4 million in Alternative Energy Production Tax Credits since Gov. Rendell announced their availability last July. The credit was to cover 15 percent of a project's total costs, after all other grants and subsidies were subtracted, and was not to exceed $1 million per taxpayer. Lounsbury's share would have been $4,200.

Turns out that the money for those tax credits - about $50 million over eight years from the state's general fund - was eliminated as part of the 101-day budget duel last fall. The move came as the recession choked revenue streams and interest groups fought back a Rendell proposal for a new funding source - taxing natural gas extracted from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale.

"This is one of a number of good programs . . . that were unfortunately reduced substantially or put on hiatus," Rendell spokesman Michael Smith said this week. "We're still making great headway in building a green economy here."

In all, 142 such line-item cuts were made in the $27.8 billion budget ultimately approved in October, reducing spending by more than 1 percent from 2008, the year the legislature established the Alternative Energy Production Tax Credit.

"It's not a good thing," John Hanger, the state's secretary of environmental protection, said of the tax credit's elimination through at least June 2011. "But people need to know it's the result of compelled budget choices."

The cuts were necessary to ensure funding for public education, prison systems, and Medicaid for senior citizens living in nursing homes, Hanger said.

"Of course, it's much better for the solar industry and the future of Pennsylvania's economic competitiveness [in the green economy] if we could have maintained that tax credit, but I fully understand why we couldn't," Hanger said.

He offered no certainties about its revival anytime soon. Legislators are faced with "another horrendous budget," he said.

Federal tax credits and grants from the Pennsylvania Sunshine Program remain available to homeowners and small businesses for solar-system purchases, he stressed. Together, those can reduce the purchase price for a solar unit by nearly 60 percent.

New Jersey is considered well ahead of Pennsylvania on solar incentives, but times have turned tough there, too. Applications for solar rebates are not currently being accepted, as a result of $158 million in cuts to the state's Clean Energy Trust Fund ordered by Gov. Christie.

None of that is much solace to Lounsbury, though.

"It just burned my butt when I came across this," the anesthesiologist said of learning that Pennsylvania's tax credits evaporated without a single state dollar allocated.

He acknowledged that he was financially better-equipped than many to absorb such a curveball. But there are Pennsylvanians who aren't, which has Lounsbury - and a legislator he complained to - particularly vexed that the state chose to end the tax credit retroactively.

"It was done in a way that is unfair to the people who were planning on it," said State Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester).

Ross said he voted against the last state budget for a number of reasons, but he could not say with certainty whether he was aware at the time that it included the elimination of the alternative-energy tax credit.

And those Sunshine Program incentives? Adding insult to injury, Lounsbury said, he recently learned from his accountant that the state is going to tax as income the $22,000 in Sunshine funds he received to offset the price of his solar system.

"It's still the right thing to do," he said of going solar. "I just didn't expect all the baloney."


Friday, June 11, 2010

Solar Panels Lure Insects to Their Death

The siren call of polarized light from solar energy panels — in this case, masquerading as water to the hapless insects buzzing by — seems to be cooking bugs sunny side up. New research from Michigan State University shows that solar panels are beckoning bugs to their death. Attracted by water-mimicking polarized light that's reflected by the panels, the bugs are apparently unable to tear themselves away and exhaust themselves in flight over the panels. "It's like these organisms become dazzled to death," said study leader Bruce Robertson of Michigan State University. "It's like going to the most amazing 3D movie you've ever seen and you can't leave. They just fly and fly and fly over these surfaces, and they get exhausted and die."

The ramifications could mean more than a mere buzz-kill. More worrisome than the sheer number of dead insects is what their absence could mean for the local food chain. As solar energy installations become larger and more numerous, scientists worry about the effects on wildlife. It could become especially problematic in fragile desert ecosystems where sunshine plentiful and water is scarce; the reflections could fool bugs for miles around, drawing them to their deaths.

Two solutions may offer a way around the dilemma. Scientists have noticed that applying white strips to the panels that divide the area of polarizing reflections cuts down on their attractive effect. Many solar panels are already manufactured this way. Even better for wildlife is pushing for more solar installations on rooftops and parking lots in cities and developed areas, where the added value of solar energy doesn't come at the expense of tipping fragile ecosystems.

Beyond the decreased danger to insect populations, these smaller rooftop installations are safer for wildlife in other ways, too. Solar panels can change the microclimate of an area, provide perches for predators, and increase the population of certain opportunistic animals like crows and ravens. And, like any other construction, solar energy has a footprint (though relatively small) that can stamp out habitat. Since these factors already exist in developed areas, the addition of solar panels has less of an impact on native wildlife.

With climate change threatening species of all sizes, we can't afford not to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy like solar and wind; it just needs to happen responsibly.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Will Solar Storms Affect Smart Power Grids?

The sun is about to get a lot more active, which could have ill effects on Earth. So to prepare, top sun scientists met Tuesday to discuss the best ways to protect Earth's satellites and other vital systems from the coming solar storms.

Solar storms occur when sunspots on our star erupt and spew out flumes of charged particles that can damage power systems. The sun's activity typically follows an 11-year cycle, and it looks to be coming out of a slump and gearing up for an active period.

"The sun is waking up from a deep slumber, and in the next few years we expect to see much higher levels of solar activity," said Richard Fisher, head of NASA's Heliophysics Division. "At the same time, our technological society has developed an unprecedented sensitivity to solar storms. The intersection of these two issues is what we're getting together to discuss."

Fisher and other experts met at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum, which took place in Washington, D.C., at the National Press Club.

Bad news for gizmos

People of the 21st century rely on high-tech systems for the basics of daily life. But smart power grids, GPS navigation, air travel, financial services and emergency radio communications can all be knocked out by intense solar activity.

A major solar storm could cause twenty times more economic damage than Hurricane Katrina, warned the National Academy of Sciences in a 2008 report, "Severe Space Weather Events—Societal and Economic Impacts."

Luckily, much of the damage can be mitigated if managers know a storm is coming. That's why better understanding of solar weather, and the ability to give advance warning, is especially important.

Putting satellites in 'safe mode' and disconnecting transformers can protect electronics from damaging electrical surges.

"Space weather forecasting is still in its infancy, but we're making rapid progress," said Thomas Bogdan, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)'s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, Colo.

Eyes on the sun

NASA and NOAA work together to manage a fleet of satellites that monitor the sun and help to predict its changes.

A pair of spacecraft called STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory) is stationed on opposite sides of the sun, offering a combined view of 90 percent of the solar surface. In addition, SDO (the Solar Dynamics Observatory), which just launched in February 2010, is able to photograph solar active regions with unprecedented spectral, temporal and spatial resolution. Also, an old satellite called the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), which launched in 1997, is still chugging along monitoring winds coming off the sun. And there are dozens more dedicated to solar science.

"I believe we're on the threshold of a new era in which space weather can be as influential in our daily lives as ordinary terrestrial weather." Fisher said. "We take this very seriously indeed."


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Apple Patents Touch Solar Power Surfaces for iPhone and iPad

Apple has filed a patent for "media players" with integrated touch sensor solar panel surfaces." That's right: integrated. So Apple has been considering incorporating solar panels into the touch surfaces of their iPods and iPhones--maybe even their iPads. The panels would be completely hidden under the touch screen, so you could still keep the same slick design.

This patent was filed in late 2008 (it's just now hitting the internet, thanks to Patently Apple), and we have yet to see any solar devices from Apple. However, as Ecogeek points out, they just changed the metal back of the iPhone 4 to a glass one. The patent diagrams show an internal double-sided solar panel. So with a glass, solar-charging back to the phone... you wouldn't need to worry about what side you put it down on. Plus, it could be charging even as you talk on it.

Fingers crossed for seeing solar power in the iPhone 5!


Monday, June 7, 2010

Green Choices for Red Hot Sex

So, in my last post about Solar Powered Tattoo Machines, I wondered, "What's Next?" I guess I spoke (or thought) too soon. Here's the latest in having great, GREEN Sex. No, I'm not kidding!

You can indulge in a zillion sensory pleasures while being gentle on mother earth. All you have to do is be smart about it. The best part is that many of the green options are even more desirable than their less earth-friendly counterparts.
Here are five simple ways to get started!

Buzz Green
Yes, there are eco-friendly toys like the Earth Angel. It’s a vibrator that you hand crank. For every four minutes of cranking, you get 30 minutes of buzz. It’s 100% recyclable and made of recycled materials. And, believe me, it’s perfectly easy to crank and you don’t sacrifice a thing where it counts.
Or, if you prefer to let the sun do the work, you can try the solar powered bullet, complete with solar panel. Charge for eight hours, and enjoy for a full hour. No batteries required for either toy. It sure made me feel good about making myself feel really good.
If the whole green toy thing still feels a bit murky, you’re not alone, and GoodVibrations.com is a great resource. They even offer an entire “Ecorotic” line, which contain no phthalates and offer rechargeable batteries, giving you no reason to make bad choices.
Act Green
Get this ... You can recycle your sex toys. Don’t worry. They don’t sell them at a secondhand shop. They are disinfected, disassembled, separated by type and then delivered to an appropriate regulated recycling facility. After that, things like circuit boards are ground up and plastics are melted down. One website, ScarletGirl.com, will even offer you $10 off a new purchase if you send them your old toys in need of recycling.
Dress Green
Being eco-friendly shouldn't mean you have to give up the sexy factor, and lingerie companies are definitely getting wise to that notion. Look for items made of sustainable materials like bamboo and hemp. In the name of research, I decided to try out some separates like these bamboo ones. I have to say, I’m a big fan of the super-soft fabric and the breathability. And despite being simple, they are still very sexy. Trust me.
Glide Green
Sliquid is an organic lube, which is glycerin and paraben free. Even the bottle itself is 100 percent recyclable. Whenever you buy lubricant, massage oil, or other “accessories,” be sure to check the label first. There’s nothing sexy about slathering yourself with chemicals.
Play Green
Making some simple changes can really help the planet and your own fun quotient. Even though I’m generally a big fan of lights-on sex, try turning off the lights once in awhile. Or, go for the afterglow in a glow of candlelight. But choose wisely. Not all candles are created equal. I’m a big fan of Jimmyjane’s candles which are made from Jojoba, Shea Butter, Vitamin E, Soy, Aloe and other botanicals and are paraffin-free and lead-free. They even have a natural cotton wick. If you have a backyard, why not really get back to nature and play in the dirt? Or you can conserve water by sharing your shower. Better yet, draw a cozy bath for two. Oh, and never flush condoms down the toilet. A definite environmental no-no.
Being eco-friendly when it comes to sex is really just like being eco-friendly about anything else. Think first. Do your research. And if there’s a choice, go green. Sex is the most natural act of all, so, it only makes sense to do it naturally!

Solar Powered Tattoo Machines - What's Next?

Thinking about getting a tattoo and want to be GREEN?

The eco-innovators Jared Jared from Artistic Encounter Tattoo in Dallas, Texas, used a rotary tattoo machine connected to a solar panel to inscribe the solar tattoo. Ryan Marsh had been kind enough to offer his shaved leg for the maiden experiment.


Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Solar Power Plant to Be Built in Boise, Idaho

A renewable energy company has agreed to partner with Boise to build a $45 million solar power plant.

Mayor Dave Bieter announced the deal Wednesday with Sunergy World, an Idaho company that specializes in wind, solar and biomass energy projects.

Officials say once built, the power plant will be the first, large-scale solar facility in the state. Developers say it is expected to produce 10 megawatts of power, enough to power 1,200 homes annually.

The location for the facility is at a brownfield site near the Boise Airport. Construction is expected to begin this fall.

Bieter says he hopes the project will serve as a catalyst for the construction or relocation of more renewable energy projects and developers to the region.


Raise Solar Panel Efficiency By 20 Percent

Solar panels suffer from being an imperfect tech, and differences between the quality of each individual cell can even affect how efficiently the whole thing works. Enter National Semiconductor, with smart solar optimizer chips.

The electronics in National Semi's "SolarMagic" chips are the "solar industry's first" in-panel solution to optimizing the electrical light-to-power efficiency of photovoltaic solar panels, according to the press release, and NS is going as far as saying this means there's a whole new class of solar panel now: Smart panels.

SolarMagic's designed to circumvent the inefficiencies caused by "age, mismatch and shade" between the different photovoltaic cells that comprise a complete solar panel. Since each cell is typically a random arrangement of large semiconducting crystals, these "underperforming" characteristics are actually part of the production process, and they mean that when you bunch cells together in an array, then each unit produces slightly different electrical current, and that upsets the overall performance of the array.

SolarMagic adjusts the current and voltage coming from each cell in an array in a dynamic way that improves the efficiency of the array as a whole. It also includes lots of safety protection systems such as fire cut-offs. The board fits into a typical solar cell junction box, which is the one selling point of the SolarMagic system--it doesn't need another complex bit of electronics to make a solar array work.

The other big selling point is how well it seems to work, as a report in CNET notes, SunEdison retrofitted it into one of its photovoltaic arrays and observed efficiency boosts of up to 20%--a massive figure, that really improves PV's standing as an alternative electrical power-generating system.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Florida Solar-Power Plant to Generate 75 Megawatts This Year

INDIANTOWN — Florida Power & Light Co.'s newest solar-energy plant will have enough mirrors to cover 80 football fields. But those mirrors will focus sunlight onto surfaces that add up to slightly less than the area of a single football field.

That concentration of solar power will generate temperatures of more than 700 degrees — hot enough to make electricity for 11,000 homes.

The Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center here will rank as the world's second-largest solar plant when it begins pumping out as many as 75 megawatts of electricity late this year. It will also be the only system of its kind in the world.

Conventional wisdom holds that solar plants using mirrors — which generate heat that produces steam that, in turn, spins an electrical generator — aren't worth the effort in Florida because of the regularity of afternoon rain clouds much of the year. So far, all of the solar plants built in the state convert sunlight directly into electricity using photovoltaic panels, which produce a charge, if only a reduced one, even on cloudy days,

But FPL is building its "thermal" solar plant on a campus near Lake Okeechobee that already has 13 generators fueled by oil and natural gas. Steam from the solar plant will be combined with steam produced with the heat exhaust from four natural-gas plants to spin an existing generator — an approach not taken before. FPL thinks that makes thermal more feasible, because the utility won't have to spend millions of dollars building a generator for the solar plant.

The project costs about $420 million, which will add about 16 cents a month to the average FPL residential customer's bill.

FPL also owns the world's biggest solar plant, a thermal unit in California's Mojave Desert that is four times the size of the Martin County project. The Florida plant is based largely on the technology of the 30-year-old Mojave system, though it has been given far stronger pylons, frames and mirrors to withstand hurricane winds of up to 130 mph.

John Gnecco, FPL project development director, said dropping one of the California plant's glass mirrors could lead to much bad luck, because it would shatter. But the Martin County solar mirrors, though also made of glass, bounce unscathed when they hit the ground.

To demonstrate, Gnecco laid one of the curved mirrors on a gravel parking lot recently and jumped on it repeatedly, causing it to flex trampoline-like. The special mirrors were made in Spain, one of the few countries where FPL could find a suitable manufacturer with kilns large enough to temper the 56-by-67-inch pieces of glass.

The thermal unit's mirrors are also highly reflective — much more than a typical bathroom mirror — and there are a lot of them: more than 190,000.

Workers are installing the mirrors in aluminum frames to create long, linear dishes. The more than 6,800 frames each contain 28 mirrors and will be arranged in parallel rows that are linked together for a total length of about 50 miles.

Each frame also holds a tube a few feet in front of the mirrors. The tube contains a synthetic, oil-like fluid that costs $15 a gallon and is designed for heating to 740 degrees. The hot fluid flows through a separate component that acts something like a boiler to create steam.

The tubes are made of stainless steel and painted black but encased in the airless vacuum of a glass tube. Birds can land on the glass tubing and not be roasted, Gnecco said.

Nearly 150 miles of pipe and related plumbing, some as much as 30 inches in diameter, will hold 1.2 million gallons of the synthetic fluid.

The relatively costly project is likely to fuel the debate among state lawmakers about the risks and rewards of government incentives and mandates for solar-power development. FPL and other power companies — including Central Florida's two other major utilities, Progress Energy and Orlando Utilities Commission — have been experimenting with solar in response to growing government concern about climate change triggered, in part, by relatively cheap power plants that burn coal and natural gas.

One thing utility engineers hope to solve once the Martin County plant is operating is the problem posed by partly cloudy days, when some of the plant's mirrors will be reflecting full sunlight but others will be shaded. Plant engineers don't want alternating pulses of cooler and hotter steam arriving at an electrical generator that runs most efficiently, and with the least wear and tear, when operating conditions are kept constant.

But they'll have plenty of time to figure that out: Gnecco said the Martin Next Generation Solar Energy Center is likely to be operating for the next 50 years.