Matt Wheeland

May 052014
 

top us solar cities[Editor’s note: This post, by Kristine Wong, originally appeared on SolarEnergy.net.]

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the amount of sunshine that drives solar energy growth. Instead, smart local and state policies, utility leadership and strong state renewable portfolio standards are key to that growth, according to a recently released report analyzing solar capacity in 57 U.S. cities.

The total amount of installed solar capacity for all 57 cities currently exceeds the amount installed across the entire U.S. at the end of 2008.

“Solar power is growing much faster than many would have imagined, thanks in great part to local officials who have recognized the environmental and economic benefits,” said Rob Sargent, the energy program director at nonprofit organization Environment America and a lead author of the report titled Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.

And the top 20 cities with the greatest solar capacity — an amount that collectively weighs in at over 890 MW — is greater than the entire U.S. capacity just six years ago, the report found. Here’s another tidbit from the report: Though its combined geographic area comprises 0.1 percent of land in the U.S., its total installed solar capacity represents 7 percent of U.S. capacity.

Researchers drew from a variety of data sources — including utilities, city and state governments, grid operators, nonprofit organizations and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Open PV database to rank the 57 cities as of the end of 2013. Only cities where more than a negligible amount of solar had been installed were eligible to be included in the analysis.

The report ranked the top U.S. solar cities as follows:

Principal City State Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity (MW)
Cumulative Solar
PV Capacity Rank
Los Angeles CA 132 1
San Diego CA 107 2
Phoenix AZ 96 3
San Jose CA 94 4
Honolulu HI 91 5
San Antonio TX 84 6
Indianapolis IN 56 7
New York NY 33 8
San Francisco CA 26 9
Denver CO 25 10

Source: Shining Cities: At the Forefront of America’s Solar Energy Revolution.

While each city’s path to solar has varied, the report breaks down common factors that has helped facilitate growth, such as:

  • Commitment to specific solar installed capacity goals, such as what San Jose, Denver and Portland are doing by installing solar on their public buildings
  • Passing building codes that require new structures to be “solar ready,” thus making installation easier
  • Implementing policies that reduce the “soft costs” of solar, such as
    • Chicago residents can get solar PV permits in under a month, thanks to its Green Permit Program
    • Portland and San Francisco residents can apply online for permits
    • San Jose has cut down its permit application to one page and reduced the permit application fee
    • Philadelphia reduced its permit fees down to the cost of labor (cutting out the costs of labor in the process)
  • Partnerships with local utilities, such as in Seattle’s partnership with Seattle City Light, where renters and apartment dwellers can participate in virtual net metering through buying solar panels in community solar gardens located off site
  • Strong state, local and federal policies (among states, Hawaii, California and Delaware are the strongest)
  • States can streamline permitting, and set rates that make installing solar attractive
  • The federal government can continue to use tax credits and other incentives

Even cities located in states with no renewable energy standards can emerge successful with the right combination of supportive local and state policies. Such is the case of New Orleans, ranked by Environment America as No. 11 nationwide.

The city’s investor-owned utility, Energy New Orleans, turned things around from zero installed capacity in 2007 to a total of 22 MW over seven years — in part from reducing the amount of paperwork needed to apply for a solar permit from 50 pages to two pages, as well as requiring that net metering be allowed. Louisiana also passed solar tax incentives in 2007.

New Bedford, Mass., is one city that’s linked solar growth to more than just a healthy economy. With a low income population, one might guess that the city would not prioritize renewable energy. Yet in 2010, it established an Energy Office tasked with installing 10 MW of solar power by 2015.

“New Bedford’s renewable power program is strengthening our city’s economy, our education system, and our environment, while saving taxpayers considerable money in the years ahead,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell.

How did it do this? The city shrewdly linked its solar development goals to progress on other socioeconomic issues it wished to improve on, including brownfields use, education, job training and local industry growth. Specific projects included:

  • Creating a program to promote solar farms development on brownfields land
  • Setting up a solar farm on brownfields land next to a school where teachers will take students out to the land to learn about renewable energy, as well as solar industry job skills
  • Installing solar on a group of public buildings, including a gym, three schools and a government agency

As a result of this multi-pronged approach, the city is now on track to accomplish its goal over a year ahead of time.
“Every city in America should be doing what we are doing here in New Bedford,” Mitchell concluded.

The post Top US Solar Cities Made Possible by Policy as Much as by Sunlight appeared first on Solar Power.

Apr 292014
 

solar farms[Editor’s note: This post, by Scott Thill, originally appeared on SolarEnergy.net.]

Consolidating precious natural resources in a warming world is a must. Which is why literal solar farms make sense — and maybe dollars — to Stanford scientists recently researching a colocation approach for simultaneously creating solar power and biofuels. It’s a simple idea, really: Grow some agave plants beneath vast solar farms across Earth’s increasingly arid regions, and voila! You’ve got a potential agritech solution for decreasing lethal emissions, and perhaps a reliable source of domestic fuel.

More microcosmically, the solar sector could reduce its water footprint by relying instead more heavily on agave, and what Stanford’s colocation announcement called “other biofuel crops,” to capture runoff and moisture to keep our photovoltaic panels cleaner in inhospitable climates. It sounds good on paper; specifically, the new issue of Environmental Science & Technology wherein Stanford’s scientists explain their collocated energy concept.

“It could be a win-win situation,” said Stanford postdoc Sujith Ravi in a press release. “Water is already limited in many areas and could be a major constraint in the future. This approach could allow us to produce energy and agriculture with the same water.”

Ravi and Stanford earth science professors David Lobell and Chris Field sound like they have their hearts and minds in the right place. But the science and math are eventually where this battle for the next generation of energy will be fought and won, and the numbers on biofuels are crunching more complicated these days. A recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change argued that transforming corn into ethanol (“and other biofuels”) degrades soil carbon and releases more greenhouse gas than gas itself. “It’s final,” Forbes wrote, “corn ethanol is of no use.”

“Unlike corn or other grains, most of the agave plant can be converted to ethanol,” Ravi explained in the Stanford announcement. “Of course, creative solutions don’t always work in the real world, but this one at least seems worthy of much more exploration,” added Lobell, perhaps not forcefully enough.

Because although the colocation approach is a brilliant idea, water is growing quite scarce and biofuels emissions, whether from corn or agave, are what we need to be moving away from, not toward. Maybe we should just skip that stage and just grow agave to keep the solar farms company.

Solar farm photo courtesy of Stanford News Service.

The post Turning Solar Farms into Actual Farms, Too appeared first on Solar Power.

Mar 312014
 

This month’s roundup of leading solar innovations and breakthroughs in solar technology highlights two innovations at established solar equipment and module manufacturers that have real near-term potential to boost sunlight conversion efficiencies for crystalline solar cells – with albeit incremental gains. Also explored is a new record efficiency for an organic PV cell.

Merlin works his crystalline magic

Developer: GT Advanced Technologies

How it works: PV manufacturing equipment supplier GT Advanced Technologies in mid-March announced a new “flexible grid” metallization and interconnect technology targeted at solar cell producers. Marketed under the name “Merlin,” the production line add-on can be integrated into existing solar cell manufacturing lines, enabling producers to replace the traditional three silver bus bars on solar cells with thinner grid fingers. This produces less shading on a solar cell – meaning that more sunlight can be absorbed by the active crystalline-silicon semiconductor material and converted into electricity.

What it promises: According to GT, the manufacturing technology has the potential to cut expensive silicon paste used in the production of crystalline solar cells by up to 80 percent. It also can eliminate the need for cell stringing and tabbing machines used to produce modules – further reducing manufacturing costs. Eliminating shading has the potential to improve the efficiency of conventional crystalline PV cells. The New Hampshire-based company claims that modules made from cells relying on its Merlin technology will be more reliable and durable because the new flexible grid structure is more resistant to cell cracking.

merlin cell

Commercial arrival: In an investor presentation on the technology, GT said a pilot manufacturing line equipped with Merlin went online in the second half of last year. It expects to receive certification for its first Merlin-equipped commercial manufacturing line in the second half of this year at an undisclosed location, with commercial activity commencing in 2015. Given GT’s long track record of introducing new PV manufacturing technologies for conventional crystalline silicon cells, Merlin’s chances for commercial magic are good.

Back-contact solar cells

Developers: Trina Solar Ltd. and the Australian National University (ANU)

How it works: Researchers from Chinese crystalline silicon producer Trina Solar and ANU’s Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems have developed a so-called interdigitated back-contact (IBC) silicon solar cell capable of converting an impressive 24.4 percent of sunlight into electricity. IBC cells are a type of rear-contact solar cell that achieves higher efficiency by putting both contacts on the back of the cell, thus eliminating shading.

What it promises: If successfully transferred from the laboratory into commercial production, this could mean that a larger percentage of higher-efficiency solar cells will become available – since Trina is one of the world’s largest PV manufacturers.

Commercial arrival: Trina says it is developing a commercial version of its IBC cell in addition to a new module made of these cells. A 22-percent efficient IBC cell from Trina already is available in commercial modules. Trina’s press release on the innovation did not predict the precise market launch for the higher-efficiency version. It stated, however, “Though it is currently in laboratory scale, the new solar cell will soon be ready for industrialized mass production.”

Record-efficiency organic PV

Developers: VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, IMEC International, Fraunhofer ISE, Imperial College, Corning SAS and others

IMEC solar cellHow it works: Funded by a grant from the European Union, Belgian research institute IMEC International in March presented its laboratory-scale organic solar cell with a sunlight conversion efficiency of 8.4 percent – a record for this type of solar cell. IMEC achieved the record efficiency by stacking three layers of active semiconductor materials that boosted the potential sunlight absorption spectrum. IMEC’s approach does not use fullerenes, which are the most common acceptor material in organic PV cells – which, however, aren’t common at all.

What it promises: IMEC’s laboratory achievement is a signal that perhaps organic PV cells shouldn’t be completely ignored in the wake of several commercial failures in recent years – which were in part the result of the technology’s disappointing, low single-digit efficiencies. IMEC is a member of the EU-funded ArtESun collaborative effort to develop high efficiency organic solar cells capable of converting more than 15 percent of sunlight into electricity, along with roll-to-roll manufacturing equipment for this flexible solar cell.

Commercial arrival: Although an impressive collection of research institutes and companies are collaborating on this project, the reality is that organic PV cells remain far away from commercial relevance – even if very limited commercial sales of such cells already have occurred.

The post Solar Innovation, March 2014: Real-time Efforts to Boost Solar Efficiency Rates appeared first on Solar Power.

Feb 282014
 

solar bike chargerAnother month, another slew of solar innovations! This month, while we’re continuing our ongoing “solar everywhere” theme of explore the many places where solar can go beyond the roof, we’re also seeing an emerging trend: electric vehicles of all kinds. While not specifically solar-powered in most cases, it is only the tiniest of leaps to get from an electric vehicle to a solar-powered electric vehicle. So bear with us: Although it seems like we’re straying from our self-imposed mission, this is how the pieces all come together.

Solar bike charger: To start off our roundup and underline our point, let’s look at the new Spark solar charging station (pictured above at left) designed by electric-bike manufacturer Xkuty. Inhabitat reports that the Spark recharging station “doubles as a parking unit and it adapts to almost any environment — it can be easily integrated into houses, buildings and shared spaces.” Sadly, at this point the Xkuty One e-bike — and it’s fancy new charger — are only for sale in Europe.

solar-bikeFord’s electric bike: The Ford Motor Company is also getting into the electric bike game, showing of the new Ford Supercruiser electric bike. Created by Pedego Electric Bikes and licensed and branded by Ford, the Supercruiser is a seven-speed e-bike with a 600-watt motor that goes up to 20 miles per hour, and can carry you between 15-30 miles per charge, depending on your size and how much you pedal. As cool as it looks and as great as it sounds, the price tag will likely give you pause: According to ElectricBikeReview.com, the Supercruiser will set you back $3,595. That’s enough to get you a a down payment and eight months of a lease on a Nissan Leaf — or just about the sweetest non-electric bike you can imagine.

electric snow sledThe Electric Snow-Sled: Speaking of sweet rides, Gas2 writes about the MTT-136 an electric sled that doubles as so much more:

The MTT is seen throughout much of the demo video connected to a sled-type platform pulling along its passengers at an undefined, but adequate looking pace. As fun as this looks, what I find more intriguing are the multitude of other uses Martel has found for his invention. The MTT-136 is seen operating on dry land as well as snow, opening up a plethora of additional uses. He pulls logs, goes down stairs, cuts through knee deep snow and pushes a car (a Pontiac Montana in neutral on snow) to show what his creation can do.

Although the MTT-136 is still seeking funders to move it to production, it looks cool and hyper-practical, particularly given the snow that has steadily dumped on most of the country this winter.

kenguru EVThe Wheelchair-friendly Electric Car: Over at Grist, Holly Richmond points us to the The Kenguru, a very small electric vehicle designed specifically for people in wheelchairs. Originally conceived of by a Hungarian engineer, the Kenguru found a second home — and, more importantly, investors — in Texas, and is going into production this year. Richmond writes: “The EV’s sticker price is about $25,000, but thanks to mobility and clean energy tax incentives, buyers may not have to pay nearly that much. The cars, which are even smaller than a Smart Car, are made in America, feature LED lights, and can go up to 25 miles per hour (they’re designed for local use, with an estimated range of 60 miles). Batteries power two 2-kW motors in the back, and the Kenguru takes about eight hours to charge.”

solar healthcare suitcaseSolar-Powered Healthcare Kit: We’ve seen a number of solar-powered tools aimed at the developing world, all of which promise to make great strides in improving quality of life and potentially helping to improve the environment in those regions. Ecopreneurist tells the story of the Solar Suitcase, a healthcare kit that aims to provide more reliable light for hospitals and field medical workers where lights are either currently lacking or too intermittent to be reliable. The Suitcase, built by the nonprofit WE CARE Solar, includes 40 to 80 watts of solar panels, a lead-acid battery, medical-quality LED lights, a universal cell phone charger, a battery charger for double- or triple-A batteries, outlets for up to 12 DC devices, and the maternity unit comes with a fetal heartrate monitor. So far, WE CARE has distributed 300 Suitcases to 25 countries, but is seeking donations to provide more units to the Phillippines, Nepal and Tanzania.

traffic robotThe Congolese Solar-Powered Traffic Robot: Let’s file this under “you just couldn’t make this up:” The capital of Congo, Kinshasa, has installed two giant solar-powered robots to serve in lieu of traffic police, directing cars, bikes and pedestrians, using embedded cameras to identify and later fine any drivers that ignore the laws. Commenting on the impact the robots have had so far, one Congolese driver told CCTV Africa, “As a motorcyclist I’m very happy with the robot’s work. Because when the traffic police control the cars here there’s still a lot of traffic. But since the robot arrived, we see truly that the commuters are respectful.”

traffic robot 2

The post Solar Everywhere: Electric Bikes, Sleds and Cars, the Solar Robot & More appeared first on Solar Power.

Feb 282014
 

solar bike chargerAnother month, another slew of solar innovations! This month, while we’re continuing our ongoing “solar everywhere” theme of explore the many places where solar can go beyond the roof, we’re also seeing an emerging trend: electric vehicles of all kinds. While not specifically solar-powered in most cases, it is only the tiniest of leaps to get from an electric vehicle to a solar-powered electric vehicle. So bear with us: Although it seems like we’re straying from our self-imposed mission, this is how the pieces all come together.

Solar bike charger: To start off our roundup and underline our point, let’s look at the new Spark solar charging station (pictured above at left) designed by electric-bike manufacturer Xkuty. Inhabitat reports that the Spark recharging station “doubles as a parking unit and it adapts to almost any environment — it can be easily integrated into houses, buildings and shared spaces.” Sadly, at this point the Xkuty One e-bike — and it’s fancy new charger — are only for sale in Europe.

solar-bikeFord’s electric bike: The Ford Motor Company is also getting into the electric bike game, showing of the new Ford Supercruiser electric bike. Created by Pedego Electric Bikes and licensed and branded by Ford, the Supercruiser is a seven-speed e-bike with a 600-watt motor that goes up to 20 miles per hour, and can carry you between 15-30 miles per charge, depending on your size and how much you pedal. As cool as it looks and as great as it sounds, the price tag will likely give you pause: According to ElectricBikeReview.com, the Supercruiser will set you back $3,595. That’s enough to get you a a down payment and eight months of a lease on a Nissan Leaf — or just about the sweetest non-electric bike you can imagine.

electric snow sledThe Electric Snow-Sled: Speaking of sweet rides, Gas2 writes about the MTT-136 an electric sled that doubles as so much more:

The MTT is seen throughout much of the demo video connected to a sled-type platform pulling along its passengers at an undefined, but adequate looking pace. As fun as this looks, what I find more intriguing are the multitude of other uses Martel has found for his invention. The MTT-136 is seen operating on dry land as well as snow, opening up a plethora of additional uses. He pulls logs, goes down stairs, cuts through knee deep snow and pushes a car (a Pontiac Montana in neutral on snow) to show what his creation can do.

Although the MTT-136 is still seeking funders to move it to production, it looks cool and hyper-practical, particularly given the snow that has steadily dumped on most of the country this winter.

kenguru EVThe Wheelchair-friendly Electric Car: Over at Grist, Holly Richmond points us to the The Kenguru, a very small electric vehicle designed specifically for people in wheelchairs. Originally conceived of by a Hungarian engineer, the Kenguru found a second home — and, more importantly, investors — in Texas, and is going into production this year. Richmond writes: “The EV’s sticker price is about $25,000, but thanks to mobility and clean energy tax incentives, buyers may not have to pay nearly that much. The cars, which are even smaller than a Smart Car, are made in America, feature LED lights, and can go up to 25 miles per hour (they’re designed for local use, with an estimated range of 60 miles). Batteries power two 2-kW motors in the back, and the Kenguru takes about eight hours to charge.”

solar healthcare suitcaseSolar-Powered Healthcare Kit: We’ve seen a number of solar-powered tools aimed at the developing world, all of which promise to make great strides in improving quality of life and potentially helping to improve the environment in those regions. Ecopreneurist tells the story of the Solar Suitcase, a healthcare kit that aims to provide more reliable light for hospitals and field medical workers where lights are either currently lacking or too intermittent to be reliable. The Suitcase, built by the nonprofit WE CARE Solar, includes 40 to 80 watts of solar panels, a lead-acid battery, medical-quality LED lights, a universal cell phone charger, a battery charger for double- or triple-A batteries, outlets for up to 12 DC devices, and the maternity unit comes with a fetal heartrate monitor. So far, WE CARE has distributed 300 Suitcases to 25 countries, but is seeking donations to provide more units to the Phillippines, Nepal and Tanzania.

traffic robotThe Congolese Solar-Powered Traffic Robot: Let’s file this under “you just couldn’t make this up:” The capital of Congo, Kinshasa, has installed two giant solar-powered robots to serve in lieu of traffic police, directing cars, bikes and pedestrians, using embedded cameras to identify and later fine any drivers that ignore the laws. Commenting on the impact the robots have had so far, one Congolese driver told CCTV Africa, “As a motorcyclist I’m very happy with the robot’s work. Because when the traffic police control the cars here there’s still a lot of traffic. But since the robot arrived, we see truly that the commuters are respectful.”

traffic robot 2

The post Solar Everywhere: Electric Bikes, Sleds and Cars, the Solar Robot & More appeared first on Solar Power.

Feb 072014
 

dan river spillWe spend a lot of time talking about the many positive benefits of solar energy, but the flip side of the discussion is at times just as important: The reason that solar isn’t taking off as fast as it could is because of the many incentives that serve to lower the cost of fossil fuels and make them seem like the only viable option.

However, that reliance on fossil fuels carries a heavy price, and sometimes the only way to see that high price is when there are major fossil fuel disasters stemming from our reliance on oil, gas and coal.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of these disasters, and it’s been a terrible couple of weeks for transporting fossil fuels — compounding an already-terrible seven months, since the Lac-Megantic oil train derailment and explosion last July that killed 47 people and destroyed the town.

• North Carolina: On Monday, a pipe under a Duke Energy coal-ash storage pond ruptured, sending as much as 82,000 tons of the highly toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants into the Dan River. (Photo above, courtesy of Appalachian Voices.) While Duke Energy and state water officials originally said that the water is safe to drink, the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources early on Wednesday warned that the water is not safe. And the effects are devastating: The AP reports seeing “gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than two miles. The Dan had crested overnight, leaving a distinctive gray line that contrasted with the brown bank like a dirty ring on a bathtub.”

• West Virginia: In early January, a little-known industrial chemical used for coal processing polluted the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians; a new report out of Charleston suggests that the spill caused $61 million in economic losses over the next four days, as businesses closed down, hitting particularly hard the lodging and service sectors.

And late last month, the West Virginia-based Mountain Institute released a report showing how solar could benefit the state’s environment and economy without competing with coal.

• Minnesota: In what is at best a near-miss for a large-scale disaster, a train carrying crude oil leaked 12,000 gallons of oil near Winona, Minn., along about 68 miles of railroad tracks. While that sounds like a lot, and spilling that much crude is no joke, 12,000 gallons is just half of one tanker car’s payload; and because the spill is so dispersed, the state has no plans for a cleanup at this time.

The Minnesota leak came even as federal regulators fined three firms for mislabeling the oil they shipped by rail — since some kinds of oil, particularly the oil out of the Bakken shale oil formation in North Dakota is likely more prone to explosion in an accident.

The post Another Reason for Solar: Fossil Fuel Disasters in N.C., W.V. and Minn. appeared first on Solar Power.

Feb 072014
 

dan river spillWe spend a lot of time talking about the many positive benefits of solar energy, but the flip side of the discussion is at times just as important: The reason that solar isn’t taking off as fast as it could is because of the many incentives that serve to lower the cost of fossil fuels and make them seem like the only viable option.

However, that reliance on fossil fuels carries a heavy price, and sometimes the only way to see that high price is when there are major fossil fuel disasters stemming from our reliance on oil, gas and coal.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of these disasters, and it’s been a terrible couple of weeks for transporting fossil fuels — compounding an already-terrible seven months, since the Lac-Megantic oil train derailment and explosion last July that killed 47 people and destroyed the town.

• North Carolina: On Monday, a pipe under a Duke Energy coal-ash storage pond ruptured, sending as much as 82,000 tons of the highly toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants into the Dan River. (Photo above, courtesy of Appalachian Voices.) While Duke Energy and state water officials originally said that the water is safe to drink, the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources early on Wednesday warned that the water is not safe. And the effects are devastating: The AP reports seeing “gray sludge several inches deep, coating the riverbank for more than two miles. The Dan had crested overnight, leaving a distinctive gray line that contrasted with the brown bank like a dirty ring on a bathtub.”

• West Virginia: In early January, a little-known industrial chemical used for coal processing polluted the water supply of 300,000 West Virginians; a new report out of Charleston suggests that the spill caused $61 million in economic losses over the next four days, as businesses closed down, hitting particularly hard the lodging and service sectors.

And late last month, the West Virginia-based Mountain Institute released a report showing how solar could benefit the state’s environment and economy without competing with coal.

• Minnesota: In what is at best a near-miss for a large-scale disaster, a train carrying crude oil leaked 12,000 gallons of oil near Winona, Minn., along about 68 miles of railroad tracks. While that sounds like a lot, and spilling that much crude is no joke, 12,000 gallons is just half of one tanker car’s payload; and because the spill is so dispersed, the state has no plans for a cleanup at this time.

The Minnesota leak came even as federal regulators fined three firms for mislabeling the oil they shipped by rail — since some kinds of oil, particularly the oil out of the Bakken shale oil formation in North Dakota is likely more prone to explosion in an accident.

The post Another Reason for Solar: Fossil Fuel Disasters in N.C., W.V. and Minn. appeared first on Solar Power.

Jan 312014
 

The start of the new year certainly brought us a fresh crop of solar innovations — as always in our monthly “Solar Everywhere” series, we look at where solar is popping up beyond the roof.

We’ve got a broad array of findings this month, so let’s start small and work our way up.

First: A solar street bench. As part of the city of Boston’s overarching Complete Streets initiative, which aims to make city life more efficient, people-friendly and green, the city just two benches with solar panels included, which can be used to charge mobile phones while people sit and rest.

 

solar soldiers

 

Solar soldiers: Writing in Forbes, Navigant Research points us to trends in solarizing soldiers, allowing fighting forces to carry solar panels instead of a dozen pounds of batteries. Among the products are two that bear acronym-friendly names that would only exist in the military: the Rucksack Enhanced Portable Power System (REPPS) — pictured at right — a portable solar power source, and the Soldier Worn Integrated Power Equipment System (SWIPES), a wearable charging system.

 

 

solar roof tileSolar roof tiles: OK, so this doesn’t fit our mandate of looking only at solar freed from the roof, but it’s pretty neat nonetheless. Via Inhabitat, a look at Swedish company SolTech, which has created the SolTech system, using glass roof tiples to heat or even power a house. Frida Jeppsson writes, “The tiles are installed on top of a black nylon canvas, under which air slots are mounted. The black colour absorbs heat from the sun and the air starts to circulate. The hot air is then used to heat up water, which is connected to the house’s heating system via an accumulator. The beauty of the system is that it cuts energy costs throughout the year, during dark winter days as well as night time, due to its capacity to store heat in the isolating layers of air under the canvas.” They look quite pretty, as well!

 

solar ELF bikeSolar-powered trike: The ELF is a solar egg of a bike, a three-wheeled pedal machine created by Organic Transit, it combines the best parts of a car and a bike, and it’s powered by the sun (and your feet). With a hard shell and an electric pedal-assist engine, the ELF aims to make it impossible to resist biking — you could commute in style with minimal effort an sweat, or you could push your giant egg across town and glow with pride at your eco-lifestyle (and a fine sheen of sweat). Either way, at $5000 to start, the ELF isn’t for the faint of heart or weak of leg, but it’s a fine-looking machine.

 

140131-solar-everywhere-5The solarest bridge in the world: Move over, London Bridge, there’s a new landmark on the Thames: The Blackfriars Bridge features 4,400 solar panels and can generate up to half the electricity needed for the Blackfriars train station. Writes BusinessGreen: “First Capital Connect, which runs Blackfriars, expects the panels to cut the stations’ carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes a year, further reducing the carbon footprint of its train routes to the south east of England…. The bridge will also act as a major advertisement for London’s efforts to become a sustainable city, with tourists and workers viewing the panels as they enter the capital.”

 

Solar drought solutions: Finally and biggest-ly, with California in the throes of an epic drought, The Guardian offers a look at solar-powered desalination, which could potentially solve one of California’s most pressing problems: chronic shortages of water for either state residents or the state’s ag land (which feed much of the nation). Oliver Balch writes:

WaterFX’s solution comes in the unlikely shape of a vast bank of parabolic mirrors and an advanced “multi-effect” evaporating unit. The Aqua4 system offers a renewable method of desalinating briny water, which, if its developers prove right, could put California “on a path to water independence”.

How does it work? Unlike conventional desalination, which uses a high-pressure reverse osmosis system that forces salt and other solids through a membrane, WaterFX cleans water through use of a 400-kilowatt solar “trough” – hence the mirrors. This concentrated solar still collects the sun’s energy, which heats a pipe containing natural oil, providing heat for the subsequent distillation process.”

And that wraps up our small-to-big rundown of solar innovation for the month. With the Super Bowl coming up in just two days, we will be curious to see if solar makes an appearance — for instance, when is SolarCity going to run a SuperBowl ad?

The post Solar Everywhere, Jan. 2014: Solar Soldiers, Bridges & More appeared first on Solar Power.

Jan 142014
 

solar roofsWe’ve talked a lot about the solar boom here in the United States, as states use smart policy and homeowner enthusiasm to dive in to rooftop solar in a big way.

But the U.S. is far from alone in this boom — in fact, as with most aspects of the global sustainability movement, the U.S. is actually a ways behind more forward-thinking countries.

In the past week, we’ve seen two stories from other parts of the world that showcase how quickly solar is taking off everywhere. First, Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator, the government agency that oversees that country’s clean energy efforts, announced that there are now 2 million small-scale solar installations in Australia. The figure includes 1.1 million rooftop solar systems and about 842,000 solar hot water systems.

If that milestone isn’t impressive enough, consider how quickly it happened: Just eight months ago, Australia was celebrating its achievement of 1 million small-scale solar installations. This speed of adoption is similar to what we reported earlier in January, when California installed 30 years’ worth of solar in 2013 alone.

The Clean Energy Regulator attributes the rapid solar boom in Australia to both falling solar panel prices as well as financial incentives put in place to help the country meet its renewable energy target, which calls for 20 percent of the nation’s energy to come from renewables by 2020.

Meanwhile, slightly closer to home, the United Kingdom government announced this week that 500,000 homes have gone solar in England, putting the country on track to hit its target of 1 million solar homes by 2015.

England’s solar boom has picked up speed since the country put a feed-in tariff in place, paying solar homeowners a set price for every watt of clean electricity they send to the grid.

And back in the United States, the solar boom continues apace. New research from Solarbuzz breaks out the size of solar markets in each state, finding that two states would be among the top ten global markets if they were independent nations. Michael Barker from Solarbuzz writes:

If each US state were analyzed as an individual market, California would rank as the fourth largest driver of PV demand globally during 2013. During 2014, we forecast that North Carolina will join California as a global Top-10 driver of PV demand. Furthermore, at least four states will be in the Top-20 for global demand in 2014.

Solar roofs photo CC-licensed by Kevin Baird.

The post The Global Solar Boom Continues as Australia, England Hit Milestones appeared first on Solar Power.

Dec 312013
 

It’s the end of the year, and the news cycle slows down significantly as the year winds down. But even though the news is stocked full of year-end lists, there have also been a good number of interesting solar tidbits — enough to flesh out one last Solar Everywhere for 2013. Read on to see how we’re winding the year down with solar in unexpected place.

solar smokersSolar for smokers: Leave it to France to use solar power to help with the problem of smoking bans. Over at the Energy Collective, Boyd Arnold writes about how the French government is helping smokers cope with a ban on indoor smoking: outdoor solar parasols. Boyd writes: “Their solar-powered parasols create heat from the solar power for those under the parasol, and absorbs the cigarettes. This dual function provides a seamless integration of solar innovation while catering to the needs of smokers and government policy.” The parasols also relieve restaurants and bars of the need to rely on gas-powered heaters to keep smokers warm during the winter months.

solar tentSolar tents: In the first — and sillier — of two stories this month about solar-powered habitats, Inhabitat points us to Bang Bang Tents, which are designed to help make festival-going or car-camping a little more electrified. The four-person tents “come equipped with a solar panel that can be slid into a pouch on the exterior of the tent. The 5W solar panel trickle charges a lithium battery bank that has a USB charging adapter and can charge most low voltage devices. Use the solar panel and battery backup to charge cameras, phones, or computers or use them to run speakers and LED lights.” At £249.95 (US$415), they’re not cheap, but would certainly help you stand out at the campground.

solar shelterSolar shelters: We often say that solar is a force for good in the world — but usually that’s because solar homeowers save money and reduce their emissions. IKEA, however, has developed flat-pack, solar-powered shelters for use by refugees. The shelters are everything you’d expect from IKEA: quickly assembled, spacious, cleanly designed — and are also powered by the sun. After six months of lobbying, IKEA has gotten the Lebanese government toapprove a test run of the shelters for refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war and suffering in the intense Lebanese winter.

solar lights 1Solar lights overseas: Putting the sun to work at night is in some ways the holy grail of the solar boom, since it means the development of affordable, reliable battery technologies. One of the earliest places that solar batteries have taken off is in the solar lights market, and two companies this month helped bring light to regions that desperately needed it. First, the Estonian nonprofit Andakidz sent a team of engineers to the Philippines to provide solar lights to villages devastated and left powerless first by an earthquake and then three weeks later by Typhoon Haiyan.

solar lights 2Second, Panasonic has committed to sending 100,000 of the company’s solar lanterns to regions without electricity, and engaged the public and 11 artists from around the world to design paper solar lantern covers as a way of spreading the word about how solar can help meet some of people’s most basic needs.

solar scooter chargerSolar scooters: Solar Tribune offers us a brief glimpse at a new solar-powered charging station for electric scooters, from Current Motor, a Michigan-based scooter manufacturer. The company’s Super Scooters can run for 50 miles on a charge, and are then recharged in about six hours by a solar-powered charging station.

ugly solar outfitSolar clothing: Last but certainly not least, Grist points us to a new fashion item that incorporate solar panels into the design, for better or worse. The new prototype Wearable Solar outfits, are the result of a collaboration between Dutch professor Christiaan Holland, fashion designer Pauline van Dongen and solar expert Gert Jan Jongerden. Grist’s Holly Richmond explains that the outfits are supposed to be able to charge a phone in two hours of wearing, but nails the description: “Unfortunately, the clothes are — how do we say this nicely? — really ugly.”

Here’s looking ahead to a solar-filled 2014 — thanks for reading!

The post Solar Everywhere, Dec. 2013: Refugee Shelters, Ugly Dresses & More appeared first on Solar Power.