Nov 202013

solar pedi-bikeWelcome to our monthly installment of Solar Everywhere, a brief roundup of where solar is appearing when it’s not on your roof and not in a gadget — we draw the line at solar gadgets (though we reserve the right to change our mind if the right solar gadget comes along). This month brings us an interesting range of solar applications, from a solar bicycle to a floating solar system to solar for the developing world.

Without further ado, let’s jump in:

The solar pedi-bike: Rhoades Car, makers of four-wheeled, multi-passenger pedi-bikes, has just released two new models: the SOLARped and the SOLARide, sit-down bikes that can carry anywhere from one to four passengers and feature a roof-mounted solar panel to help you cruise along the road. The SOLARped is a seven-speed (or 42-speed, if you live in a hilly region) bike that features a 190-watt solar panel and a 750-watt pedal-assist motor. It retails for almost $7,000, so it’s not for the faint of heart, but you could certainly take the family out for an epic Sunday ride in one of these…

solar backpackA taxpayer-funded solar backpack: Cleantechnica points us to the Enerplex Packr, a backpack featuring a 3-watt solar panel. Developed in part with funding from NREL (which we as taxpayers fund), it’s great to see these cutting-edge research programs result in tangible, if pricey, goods (the EnerPlex Packr retails for $99).

solarwindow testSolarWindow to see the light of day: New Energy Technologies, Inc., just announced that it is about to bring it’s new, see-through solar window technology to market this year. The SolarWindow, a new building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) product, is just one of the company’s applications for its electricity-generating coatings, which the company says is a see-through coating that can be applied to glass, flexible plastics, and even airplane fuselages, will soon hit the market and be available for integrating into a building (or plane) near you.

Solar parking canopy: Around certain parts of the country, a solar parking canopy is no big deal — if I bike for 15 minutes from my house in the East Bay, I can pass under at least three different canopies — but NRG Solar is rolling out a new wrinkle on the solar canopy: a freestanding, modular, grid-connected or off-grid solar canopy. The idea is that something as simple as a parking structure or shelter can provide enough energy to offset some of the energy used by a home (or more likely, a business), but could also include a battery system for providing off-peak or even emergency backup power.

solar parking canopy

nokero solar lightSolar-powered light bulbs: Moving on from the fairly Western-consumer-focused aspects of this month’s solar roundup, Silvio Marcacci at the Energy Collective offers us a look at the Nokero, a solar-powered light bulb that is designed to end the reliance on kerosene lamps in the developing world. The company makes three light bulbs that range in price from $6 to $45, about which Marcacci writes: “Over 10 years, one solar lantern could replace 600 liters of kerosene and cut 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions, while solar lighting could save up to $800 million in avoided fuel purchases.”

solar water pumpSolar water pump: In another move targeting the power of solar to provide leapfrogging technologies for the developing world, SunEdison has just announced the launch of its solar-powered water pumps, large-scale systems designed to help farmers in India provide more regular watering to their crops, as well as grow crops in fields that they currently could not reach with irrigation.

Floating solar power plant: Last but not least, Vice Magazine points us to a new solar power plant currently under construction in Switzerland that consists of three floating islands on Lake Neuchâtel, each holding 100 solar panels. The islands will also be able to rotate 220 degrees to track the sun, and boast a generating capacity of 33 kilowatts. The CEO of Nolaris, the company behind the solar islands, believes that a solar island a mile across could generate 190 megawatts of power.

solar island

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Oct 232013

solar fightI wish we could just chalk the ongoing battles between energy companies and home solar advocates and installers to “haters gonna hate,” but the stakes are so much higher than just a difference of opinion.

If you recall, over the last few months, we’ve seen utility companies and their friends in state legislatures have worked to slash incentives for solar homeowners — trimming net metering policies, attacking renewable portfolio standards, and so on.

If there’s good news to come out of the debate so far, it’s that most of these attempts have failed. Not only did California enact sweeping pro-solar legislation back in September, but looking back over pro-dirty energy groups’ efforts in the past decade, the Center for American Progress found that every time they attacked solar standards, they failed.

But solar is still under attack: In Arizona and Colorado, for instance, the dominant utilities are working hard to cut or eliminate incentives for solar homes. And they’re fighting back against pro-solar attempts to save solar subsidies.

Greentech Media’s Herman K. Trabish has a rundown of the anti-solar argument this week, which attempt to link solar power to a wealthy elite, as well as to the Solyndra boondoggle from 2011.

“We are in a political battle,” APS spokesperson Jim McDonald told Greentech Media. “We didn’t ask for it. But we are not going to lie down and get our heads kicked in. We are just not. We are obligated to fight. It is irresponsible to our customers not to fight back.”

On the other side of the battle, solar advocates are also using heated language to describe the fight. Speaking at Solar Power International in Chicago this week, PV-Tech reported SEIA CEO Rhone Resch as saying, “You can be sure of one thing: if you don’t get involved and we as an industry don’t participate in a committed and shared effort, we will only make it that much easier for our critics and enemies to silence our roar.”

Despite the constant push and pull among advocates and industry, the public as a whole voices overwhelming support for solar power: Even in the immediate aftermath of Solyndra, at least three-quarters of Americans approved of solar power regardless of their political affiliation.

Top photo via SolarCity’s ad for solar in Arizona.

The post The Solar Fight Heats Up Between Utilities and Solar Lovers appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 242013

The big news in large-scale solar this week comes from the Ivanpah solar concentrating plant outside of Las Vegas, Nevada: The ambitious project, in which Google has invested $168 million, has just sent its first electricity to the grid, and clearing the preliminary hurdle to bringing the 392-megawatt facility online.

Ivanpah is a huge accomplishment that has come about through the investments of three major partners — BrightSource Energy, NRG, and Google — and when it is fully operational, it will represent nearly 4 percent of the nation’s total solar output. Most importantly, Ivanpah will show that you can create utility-scale energy, using the same steam-turbine technology as coal-fired plants, but rely entirely on the sun.

Ivanpah solar concentrating plant

As cool as Ivanpah is, it seems to me that it’s not scalable to the same extreme that rooftop solar is. There simply aren’t as many 5.5-square-mile chunks of sun-drenched open land situtated close to major metropolises in the United States to power everyone.

So when I saw the announcement about a record-breaking crowdfund effort for a community-scale wind farm, I thought, why can’t we do this for solar?

In the Netherlands, wind-energy pioneers Windcentrale have brought together 1,700 households that have contributed a cumulative €1.3 million (about US$1.75 million) to purchase a Vestas V80 2MW turbine from 2005 that will provide them with clean electricity for the next 12 years. The 1,700 households together bought 6,648 shares in the turbine, with each share costing €200 and representing 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year for the next 12 years.

So why can’t we do something like this for rooftop solar? Whether we’re crowdsourcing funding for large-scale installations or helping to bring down the cost of panels by pooling resources, it seems that the time is right for collective investments in solar.

Our parent company, One Block Off the Grid, got its start in just such an endeavor: the original goal was to help neighbors join together to buy solar as a way of reducing the costs for everyone, and to spread solar adoption. Of course, since that time the costs of solar have already plummeted, and solar leases help make it easy — if not free — to install rooftop solar almost anywhere.

Then I came across this episode of the Local Energy Rules podcast, which looks at “solar gardens” legislation, which offers an alternative to the Ivanpah projects of the world: “a vision of helping community members pool their resources, produce their own energy, and keep their energy dollars local.”

solar garden photovoltaic systemIn Colorado, a solar gardens law passed in 2010, allowing neighbors to pool their money and share in the benefits of a larger solar panel system. When the first project opened for investment, shares in the 9-megawatt system sold out in 30 minutes.

Between the amazing incentives that are on offer in states across the country to encourage homeowners to install rooftop solar, as well as the steadily decreasing price of solar installations, great progress is happening in the move to a low-carbon economy.

But getting more regions on board with legislation like these solar gardens will make it possible for just about everyone to share in the many benefits of solar.

For more information about solar gardens and community shared resources, see the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s overview page on community solar, and the National Renewable Energy Lab’s Guide to Community Solar [PDF].

Solar garden photo courtesy of ILSR.

The post Can Crowdsourcing Bring Solar to Scale Better than Google? appeared first on Solar Power.

Sep 092013

To some extent, solar power has long had a gimmicky side — look no further than this solar-powered “dancing flower” or the Nivea skincare ad that includes a solar panel to charge your phone.

But at the same time, these unbelievably broad applications of solar as a technology, as a power source, are also key to its success. You can use a solar panel to power just about anything these days. As Zachary Shahan at CleanTechnica wrote about that Nivea ad: it means that “solar is becoming mainstream.”

In the last few days, I’ve come across a good number of examples of just how mainstream solar is becoming, as solar-powered doo-dads of many kinds hit the newswires. In no particular order:

•  Solar Clothes Dryer: Today, German appliance manufacturer Miele unveiled its T881 EcoComfort clothes dryer, which connects to a home’s central heating system and then to a rooftop solar installation to dry clothes with clean energy. The system is pictured below, and according to Inhabitat, this dryer-to-rooftop solar setup gives the machine an “A+++ energy efficiency rating, which is up to 80 percent more efficient than competing clothes dryers.”

solar clothes dryer schematic

Schematic for Miele’s solar-powered clothes dryer

•  Solar laptop: Last month, Solaptop unveiled the specs on what it’s calling an “all-terrain off-road sport utility laptop” — a $400, solar-powered, Linux-based and waterproof computer.

solar laptop

Solaptop’s solar-powered, rugged laptop

•  Solar travel by air and sea: When the Solar Impulse landed its cross-country flight from San Francisco to New York last month, it marked a pretty momentous achievement for solar flight, and drew comparisons to Elon Musk’s achievement with Tesla (though the Solar Impulse was not, as IEEE’s Spectrum reminds us, the first cross-U.S. solar-powered plane flight). The Guardian offers a broad look at solar-powered travel, from Solar Impulse to the solar-powered motorboat the MS Tûranor PlanetSolar, which circumnavigated the world between September 2010 and May 2012 (20 months to travel around the world is fairly equivalent in speed to the Solar Impulse’s 24-hour trip time between Washington, D.C., and New York City).

• Solar drones: While the rest of the world was talking about the miraculous XXX-hour flight of the solar-powered airplane mentioned in the article above, The Economist was putting together this look at solar-powered drones, unmanned aircraft powered by solar cells that could be used to “survey pipelines and power cables, perform aerial filming for anyone from television news stations to estate agents, monitor fires, assist in search-and-rescue operations” and more.

• Not-exactly-solar bikes: The two products that got me thinking about this post were electric bikes, namely something called “The Beast, which is a bamboo-framed, electric-powered mountain bike, and the NTS 2×4 electric Cargo Bike (pictured below). Granted, these are not solar-powered, but as electric vehicles, it’s just the easiest thing in the world to plug them in to your solar-powered home and create a zero-carbon mode of transport (which doesn’t really answer for me the question of why you really need an electric bike anyway, but then I live in a pretty flat place…).

electric cargo bike

NTS’s 2×4 electric Cargo Bike

With all these applications of solar tech already on the market, I can’t wait to see what my next “Solar Everywhere” roundup will bring.

The post Solar Everywhere: Dryers, Drones and More appeared first on Solar Power.

Jul 232013

colored solar panels

I will admit to still being new to the whole universe of home solar energy, but I’m confused by what is apparently one of the more common obstacles to solar adoption: The panels themselves are eyesores.

This to me is such a befuddling argument — how often do you currently look at your own roof? Of course, maybe if you’re worried about the neighbors complaining, that’s a different story — but then that also seems like a silly thing to base your energy-purchasing decisions on.

However, if the unsightliness of current solar systems is truly an obstacle to adoption, it may be a short-lived one: Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, Germany, are working on design and manufacturing techniques that could broaden the range of color options available to solar buyers (the range currently runs from roughly black to blue-gray).

Using transparent, nano-scale materials as an outer layer on solar cells not only allows the Fraunhofer team to capture more light — project manager Kevin FŸchsel estimates about 20 percent efficiency for panels made from these cells — it also allows for new colors by changing the thickness of that outer layer, which changes how much light gets refracted by the cells.

If the research project pans out, FŸchsel and his team expect the new shades of solar to help engineers and architects more design flexibility. The photo above is a rendering of how the Frauhofer Institute for Applied Optics could look with a facade constructed of the new solar panels.

And if the research does pan out and solar systems can come in almost all shades of the rainbow, hopefully it’ll help skirt the strange objection of “what would the neighbors think?”

Article By: Matthew Wheeland

Photo courtesy of The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics.

The post Would Multi-Colored Solar Systems Convince You To Invest? appeared first on Solar Power.

Jul 122013

Originally posted on

One question a homeowner considering solar might ask is, “how much of an impact will putting panels on my roof really have when I’m just one person?” The average home installation generates about 6 kilowatts of energy, whereas the average power plant generates about 667,000 kilowatts. It’s pretty easy to think that the power plant dwarfs the average house, right? But think about this: as more systems are installed, their cumulative effect creates a number of benefits for both the individual homeowner and society as a whole.

To get a better understanding of the big picture, let’s take a few steps back.

where does solar energy go? Residential vs. Commercial vs. Industrial Solar.

First, some facts. In 2011, energy generated in the U.S. was distributed fairly evenly among residential, industrial, and commercial categories, at roughly one-third each with residential having a slight edge over both commercial and industrial. So, although power plants generate a whole lot more power, when put in the perspective of consumption, the playing field evens out quite a bit.

But then we have that slight edge that residential has over commercial and industrial categories, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Since residential is the largest consumer of electric power, its size allows solar to make more of an impact than if we focused solely on the other sectors which makes it a natural target for reductions. However, the size of the consumption is not the only reason to focus there.

If we take a look at the three categories in another way, this time looking more granularly at their demand in monthly increments, in the “Historical peakiness” graphic below you can see that residential power consumption is also the “peakiest” on both a daily and monthly scale. Peakiness basically means the points at which demand is highest. Residential power dominates this, which means that it rules the demand sector for power as well, especially in the winter and summer months when there is a direct need for heating and cooling in the home. Why does this matter? Because “peaky” power is the most expensive power.

Historical peakiness of solar Source: EIA

“Peaky” is expensive because grid operators and utilities dispatch power starting from the cheapest and moving to progressively more expensive power. The cheapest power comes from nuclear and hydro dams, then coal and wind, when available, are dispatched. Finally, natural gas turbines match the exact demand, spinning up and down as necessary. This ability to move up and down with the grid is what keeps the lights on and prevents brownouts or surges, but it is very expensive to do this. On the hottest summer days, when all of the cheapest power is already in use, demand dictates the most expensive power be purchased.

However, it does not need to be that way. As it turns out, solar generates power right at the same time it is needed the most — at the peak. For all intents and purposes, solar generation has the effect of shaving the peaks off. Take a moment to really digest that: solar works best when energy is most needed, so a solar home essentially bypasses the entire nuclear-hydro-coal-wind daisy chain. (Incidentally, this has utilities companies freaking out.)

We can actually see this in action in Australia, where solar is being added at a furious rate. For each year that solar is added, the peak summer demand has been shaved progressively downward. Since 2008, that demand has fallen by 15 percent. Furthermore, overall demand fell by 3 percent, whereas it was previously predicted to rise 10 percent! If the trend continues, it will translate into lower demand for new power plants and the transmission lines needed to distribute that power.

The implication of this trend is that residential solar is perfectly suited for reducing society’s most expensive power. That is all well and good for the altruists out there, but there is also a very pragmatic element as well: Whether you want to save the planet or not, as a utility ratepayer you are ultimately footing the bill for that expensive, peaky power in the form of higher costs in the summer and winter. Adopting solar means shaving down your demand, which in turn means that you will see some significant savings on your utility bills, and that always feels good whether it’s for the planet or your wallet – or both.

The post Why Residential Solar Energy is Mightier Than Its Industrial and Commercial Counterparts appeared first on Solar Power.

Jun 132011

Google has created a video on its Green Blog detailing its green transportation initiatives, which include biodiesel campus shuttles and solar panels on buses. More than 3,000 Google staff ride a shuttle bus to the company’s Mountain View headquarters every day.

“Google continues to drive innovation and leadership in the workplace. The results of their clean transportation efforts are remarkable, taking the equivalent of over 2,000 cars off the road every day,” Coulomb executive vice president Bret Sewell said.

“We’re only one company among many, so we hope our green transportation initiatives serve as a model for other companies to incorporate sustainability programs into their own workplaces,” Google’s technical program manager for electric transportation Rolf Schreiber said.

via Google and Coulomb Install 70 EV Charging Stations.