Archive for the ‘Solar’ Category
November 26th, 2008
Cities around the US are starting to embrace solar power in some pretty interesting ways. Last week Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa unveiled an ambitious long-range plan for producing enough solar power to meet one-tenth of the city’s energy needs by 2020. Villaraigosa is launching this initiative to help wean the city’s Department of Water and Power off of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.
In the plan, the largest share of solar power, 500 megawatts, would come from generating facilities built by private-sector companies in the Mojave Desert. An additional 380 megawatts would be achieved through smaller programs, including one that would help low-income residents add solar panels to their homes and another that would allow DWP customers to purchase shares of city-owned solar plants.
Further North in California the hyper-progressive City of San Francisco launched a strong solar incentive program this summer. The realized that fewer than 1000 rooftops in the city had solar panels and they needed to drive positive action to embrace solar power. The city’s Solar Energy Incentive Program provides rebates to home- and business owners who install solar panels on their buildings. Individuals can receive up to $6,000; businesses can be granted $10,000. They also launched a one-year pilot program to provide funding for solar installations at low-income housing and buildings owned by nonprofits. According to Grist.org, San Francisco currently generates less than 5 megawatts of power from 770 solar-powered rooftops, but hopes to boost that to 55 mw from 15,000 rooftops within the next decade. Learn more about the San Francisco program here.
Right across the Bay, The City of Berkeley is offering innovative loans to citizens to fund home solar installations. The program gives city-backed loans to property owners who install rooftop solar-power systems. The loans, which are likely to total up to $22,000 apiece, would be paid off over 20 years as part of the owners’ property-tax bills. Learn more about the Berkeley program here.
And just to prove that solar isn’t only a “West Coast Thing” the City of Chicago has created a very impressive program called the Chicago Solar Partnership. The Chicago Solar Partnership (CSP) is a public-private consortium managed by the Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA), to advance the development of the solar energy industry in the Chicago metropolitan area. The website is excellent and provides great information on different solar system options, costs, and rebates. The State of Illinois provides rebates for up to 30% of the solar installation with a maximum rebate of $10,000. Not too shabby!
My only criticism of the Chicago program is that they don’t provide links to actual solar installers— you can click here to find a solar installer in your area anywhere across the United States.
And an excellent resource for learning about state and local solar incentives in your area is GreenMadeSimple.com. Check it out!
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November 5th, 2008
If the current buyers’ market has you ready to buy the eco-home of your dreams, pick up a copy of Your Eco-Friendly Home: Buying, Building, Remodeling Green by Sid Davis. This guide gives you all the general home building, buying or renovating information you need, be it the low down on mortgages, credit scores, or contracting. But Your Eco-Friendly Home then takes you a step further, explaining how to make your home as green as possible while keeping your budgetary and other individual needs in mind.
Your Eco-Friendly Home is divided into 3 sections — buying, building, and remodeling — so readers can skip ahead to the section that’s most relevant to them. This no-nonsense book wastes no time convincing you why a green home’s desirable, as anyone who picks up the book is likely already aware of both the environmental and personal benefits a green living space provides. Instead, Your Eco-Friendly Home dives right into the thick of things, kicking off the first chapter by explaining why you should begin your home search not by immediately looking at houses, but by get your loan pre-approval letter.
Throughout the book, Your Eco-Friendly Home provides helpful checklists, such as “11 Things to Consider Before Making an Offer” and “Avoiding the 7 Biggest Mistakes that Many New Green Homeowners Make.” There’s advice on finding the help you need, whether it’s an eco-friendly real estate agent, a green architect, or a knowledgeable contractor. And there’s easy-to-understand information on how you can accrue passive energy savings, pick out the best ventilation system, and decide on whether to invest in solar and wind power, among other helpful tips.
Smaller remodeling projects — from creating a green roof to simply setting up a composter — are also covered, along with some basic information on cost-benefit analyses in evaluating what project to undertake. Of course, LIL’s own Environmental Impact Calculator can help you crunch the numbers on green renovation projects you have in mind!
I especially loved the way Your Eco-Friendly Home shows how green living extends outside the home by emphasizing the importance of location. As many environmentalists have pointed out, an eco-mansion in a far-off suburb that requires a lot of driving to get anywhere still gives you a pretty big carbon footprint. The book strongly recommends considering issues such as proximity to good schools, work, and amenities, with an eye to keeping your footprint as small as possible.
The appendix points to a wealth of resources and green websites to help you towards your eco-friendly journey — and even includes tips on selling an eco-friendly home!
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October 25th, 2008
Written by Joel Bittle, courtesy of GreenBuildingElements.com
Could the economic downturn hurt the green movement? Thomas L. Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist of the New York Times, breaks down the possibility in Bailout (and Buildup) of a tight economy and lower fuel prices leading to a greater reliance on foreign oil and a postponement of a national switch to cleaner energy. It is understandable that economic worries have pushed environmental worries to the background for most Americans, but as Friedman points out, a financial stimulus package is an ideal way to kill two birds with one stone - inject money into the United States economy, but invest in green technologies.Recently, we talked about the impressive return on investment for those who choose to install a photovoltaic system next year due to the Senate rescue package in The Future of Home Solar Power. Starting next year, the United States Government will pay for 30% of your cost to go solar. One of Friedman’s suggestions is a national renewable energy standard for utility companies, forcing them to produce 20 percent of their power through clean energy sources, including such non-CO2 producing sources as wind, solar, nuclear, and biomass. He mentions a proposal by Andy Karsner, the former assistant secretary of energy, to increase tax credits for investing in clean energy. But perhaps there is a way for homeowners or companies to recoup their investment in home solar and set a national energy standard for utility companies at the same time. I propose the following addition to the renewable energy standard: increase the percentage of clean energy that utility companies must use but allow the utility companies to buy some of that power from homeowners and companies.
That’s right, let’s allow the utility companies to buy clean power from us.
The vast majority of electrical power comes from coal power plants, easily the most environmentally destructive form of energy. Though several kinds of clean home power systems exist, since my previous posts have been on solar energy I’ll limit my discussion to photovoltaic systems. Depending on the size of the home and system, a photovoltaic system can reduce a home’s dependence on dirty energy by half. The more widespread home solar power becomes, the less reliant the United States will be on coal powered electricity.
If the United States Government imposed a new renewable energy standard on utility companies at a rate of 20 to 25 percent, but allowed those utility companies to buy clean energy credits - much like carbon credits - from homeowners and companies who create their own power, then homeowners and companies would have yet another incentive to install a photovoltaic system (or another type of clean energy system) and government can make good on promises of a cleaner, greener future. These purchased credits would count against their clean energy quotas. The more photovoltaic systems in use, the less demand on “dirty” energy.
The utility companies would not be able to meet the 25% clean energy requirement without major investment in large-scale clean energy plants, so the incentive will still be there to begin a shift from coal based electricity to a cleaner alternative. What my proposal does is decrease the overall demand for energy while rewarding those who invest in clean energy.
Of course this is a simple idea for a complex system. Energy systems vary by state, with some government controlled and others not. All systems are regulated to some degree. But if the goal is to encourage utility companies to invest in clean energies, allow homeowners to benefit from that investment.
Get solar at your house! You can find solar installers in your area here
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October 10th, 2008
Consumer Reports has done us all a service by digging into the motivations and affiliations of some organizations that sound green but may be wolves in sheep’s clothing. There are many think tanks out there now that seem to be rallying for good green ends, but are actually supported by some pretty dubious institutions.
For example you might think that “Americans for Balanced Energy Choices” supports renewable, alternative energy sources, right? Wrong. It’s backed by the coal industry.
How about the “Environmental Literacy Council”? We could all use some more environmental literacy. But do we want it to come from the American Petroleum Institute and Exxon-Mobile? Probably not.
The Consumer Reports piece provides us with useful insights into who is behind these “green think tanks” and there is also a fun quiz you can take to test your knowledge. Click here to learn more.
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October 7th, 2008
Every once in a while I like to take a carbon-free online cruise and check out what green gadgets I can find. I spent some time this weekend and found more solar gadgets than you can shake a stick at– some very useful and some utterly hilarious. From the sublime to the semi-ridiculous, here are Solar Gadgets Galore:
On the useful side of the solar spectrum, there are solar lights. Solar lights now come in more shapes and sizes than Baskin Robbins has flavors. There are solar tiki lights, garden lights, flood lights, and more. Check out solar lighting here.
Solar chargers are also very utilitarian– but also make you look tres chic. At left is the Brunton 4.4 Watt foldable solar charger. This little baby (it’s 19 ounces so we’re not kidding about little) will keep your cell phone running, your GPS tracking, and your digital camera recording. It’s not only an energy saver but also a safety device: take it with you hiking or keep it at home so you can always make that emergency cell phone call if run out of juice. It costs about $100 and makes a great gift, too. To see this and many other solar chargers, click here.
Also rating high on the style scale are solar backpacks and bags. There are many cool styles available from Voltaic– including the Generator model shown at right. The Generator is the first solar bag to be able to charge a laptop. But it will cost you, at almost $600. They have other cheaper bags, too. Voltaic bags use fabrics made from recycled PET i.e. soda bottles, and the fabric is light weight, extremely durable, UV resistant and water resistant. Another company that makes a wide array of solar bags is Eclipse Solar Gear.
Here’s something really nifty: a solar tent! Now you can camp in comfort with the luxury of interior lighting. This Eureka! solar family tent boasts interior lighting, powered by cutting-edge solar LED technology. During the day, the Eureka! solar-powered LED unit attaches to any loop on the fly to charge. An 8-hour charge provides 8 hours of light. The tent is 11′ X 11′, or 121 sq feet on the floor. I’ve also seen reports of a solar air-conditioned tent, but I can’t seem to find it for sale anywhere. If you know where to find this tent, please leave a comment!
Feeling a bit peckish? How about cooking up a tasty stew in your solar oven? This solar oven from Global Sun can heat to over 350 degrees Fahrenheit. To use simply position the Sun Oven so it faces the sun. Unfold the reflectors and use the rear adjusting leg to angle the oven so the solar heat is maximized. You can cook bread, cakes, muffins, meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, casseroles, and pasta. Bon appetite!
Tie one on, why don’ ‘cha. Yes, check out this solar powered tie. The tie was designed by researchers at Iowa State University, who have been working on inventing an effective use of photovoltaic textiles. The really cool thing about this Solar Tie is that the pattern used for the solar shells sort of looks like a cool pattern that would be used on a tie anyway, so it’s really not too obtrusive into everyday life. The Solar Powered Necktie even contains a hidden pouch for stashing your cell phone away while the tie charges it up, using only the power of the sun. The Solar Tie is a way to be green without looking like you’re trying too hard.
At the far end of the ridiculous comes the solar pith helmet. Yes, when you are out bird watching in you can cool yourself with this air conditioned pith helmet. (This is not an April Fools joke people.) Keep your cool with the help of a small powerful fan powered by a small solar panel atop the hat. Available in white and tan colors. And it’s only $60. Relive your Out of Africa dreams!
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