Category Archives: Solar Power

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Solar Electric Cars more efficient than most Biofuels

“The analysis considered land-use, greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel use, and took into account the production and use life cycles of both the fuels themselves and the vehicles they power. …all things considered, a pretty clear win for solar-powered electric battery vehicles.”



…this is an interesting study, however it is not considering a much more efficient ethanol crop, algae!

Check this out:

Boston is the Premier Destination for a Green Experience

When one thinks of taking a vacation, it is likely that the last thing on their mind is if the place they have chosen has a strong recycling program or if amenities are powered by solar or wind. Perhaps the time has come to shift our thinking to ensure that the Earth is around for all future generations and make an effort to locate such resources in our destinations of choice.

This is just what Boston, Massachusetts has done by installing solar powered, compacting trash cans throughout city limits in place of all open cans. City limits in Boston also extends to the Harbor Islands and on a recent trip to two of these islands, Spectacle and Georges, it was pleasing to see that not only were these new cans installed and being utilized but that additional efforts were being taken on Spectacle to reduce energy and water consumption.

Spectacle Island, just a ten minute ferry ride from Boston’s waterfront, has a long and sordid past. The island has been home to fishermen, served as a quarantine spot for smallpox victims, had two hotels shut down for illicit activity, housed a horse rendering plant, and ran a trash incinerator which was shut down in 1935. Upon the close of the incinerator the island continued to be used as a dump until 1959 and pollutants were able to leak into the water until the early 1990’s.

The city decided it was time to put a stop to centuries of mistreatment of this island and when The Big Dig began in 1992 the resulting Earth that was removed was strategically placed on and around Spectacle to contain the leaking and create an entirely new island full of trees and trails that opened to the public, as part of the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area, in 2006.

When the island became a tourist destination for those looking to hike or to glimpse a wonderful city view it was clear that there could be a backlash in waste, as well as a demand on energy and resources, so strong efforts were put into place on and around this island to utilize renewable energy sources wherever possible.

Solar power is harnessed in multiple locations on the island such as self contained photovoltaic panels that power the emergency lights on the pier as well as thirty two large solar panels on the south face of the Visitor Center roof which are connected to the grid and feed back into the power supply. The photovoltaic panels on the Visitor Center roof are used to collect all the power needed to run the lights inside overnight as well as feed into a battery back up system.


In addition to the solar efforts, composting toilets were installed in all mens and womens stalls in the Visitor Center on Spectacle and in portable bathroom stalls (which also utilized solar to run the water to wash hands) on Georges. These toilets utilize waste as fertilizer and can cut water consumption but up to fifty percent. Additionally they are much quieter, reduce odor and can be used for more than just human waste — they will even compost dinner scraps and lawn clippings!

The final and all important area of any public park is the often overlooked maintenance needed. There are roads, the Visitor Center, the pier, docks, gazebos, benches, lawns and a myriad of other areas to maintain. On a daily basis a large amount of fossil based fuel would be needed to drive from place to place but the Solectria truck, named Flash, uses the energy created from the sun to run. Solar power is gathered by the roof panels and stored in batteries that are installed in the truck making Flash a zero emission vehicle.

The efforts on the islands do not stop at Spectacle and Georges as additional renewable resources are utilized on spots surrounding these two. A wind turbine in Hull creates enough power to run the town’s streetlights, plans are in place to install two additional turbines off the south coast of Spectacle, hydroturbines are used to feed energy back into the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority from the clean water pushed out of the plant on Deer Island (approximately ten percent of its electricity is powered in this way) and self generated steam heat (via steam turbine generator powered by the methane created during the treatment process) is used as the sole heat source for the MWRA plant for ten months of the year.
With so many ecologically responsible efforts, Boston is quickly becoming one of the greenest cities in the country and savvy, eco-conscious tourists are reaping the benefits of a cleaner, more breathable and progressive city.To support the Friends of the Boston Harbor Islands and ensure efforts such as these will continue please visit their website.

To learn more about the islands or some of the environmental topics in this article please follow the links below.
Spectacle Island
Georges Island
Composting Toilets
Photovoltaic Solar Collectors
Wind turbines


Smart Energy Technology:

Spotlight: Susan Rodgerson, Executive/Artistic Director – Artists for Humanity

While on the hunt for green inspired artists, a building in Boston called the EpiCenter continued to show up in searches. Upon reading various articles related to this building one thing became clear, the crew that helped construct this eco-friendly structure was certainly inspired to be hands on. The EpiCenter is the headquarters of Artists for Humanity, a group of at risk youth who are offered a chance to succeed through training and job placement in various areas of art. The students took an active role in every aspect of the completion of the structure, working with AIArchitects, from design to the opening of the doors. Susan Rodgerson, the founder of Artists for Humanity and an artist herself, was excited to share additional information related to the EpiCenter and its unique design concepts as well as how much she enjoys working with the youth in Boston who create inspiring art every day. All pictures are of art created by students.

Describe a day in your personal or professional life.

I’ve been working with folks at AFH for so long that my personal and professional life are one in the same in many ways. I have the great good fortune to work with folks I love and care for and want to be with. However working in the city in a very people filled and intensely creative environment, leaves me very little time to be alone in nature where I am in touch with my personal creativity and spirit. I live with a great guy in Hull, MA which is a beach town. When I am not at AFH I am probably on the beach or in the woods.

Who or what influences your work and why?

I am influenced by the spirit that has created and continues to direct the mission of AFH – because it is my fate.

Is it your personal belief that creativity, and the ability to create art, is innate?


Who or what inspired the construction of the EpiCenter building?

For 8 years AFH had the luxury of working in a 35,000 sq. ft warehouse loft in the Fort Point District and were spoiled by the open and light filled spaces that were constructed in the last century. The space was flooded with natural light and ventilation. We tried to replicate the space that helped to create us. And, since we were embarking on a capital campaign and going to the bother to renovate or create such a space, why wouldn’t we also think of how we could reduce our energy costs on into the future and incorporate renewable technology. I was somewhat involved in a solar project in the 80’s and was aware of the effectiveness, so seized the opportunity to make it happen.

What do you consider the most unusual aspect of the building’s construction?

When you build green – everything is important and considered. Probably the aspect folks want to hear about most is the natural ventilation system. Our cooling system is essentially designed to work like a simple attic fan. At night we open our operable windows and from 1 – 4 pm fans on the roof draw cool night air across the concrete floors, through the spaces and up an empty shaft to the roof. In the morning we close the windows and draw the shades. The night air has chilled the mass of concrete and helps to keep the building cool through the day. The system works reasonably well except when the night time temperature does not drop 10 degrees or so for a week at a time. In that case we take a sun day like we take a snow day in winter. It’s all good and we feel we have a partnership with the weather.

(Editors note: Please see this article for additional green aspects of the EpiCenter building)

Why was it so important to go green?

It is time for each and every person to take personal responsibility for living on this planet and most importantly take action and make change happen. I feel it is important that we the people do what needs to be done and not allow government to ruin our children’s future because we choose to be lazy and irresponsible.

How did you find neighboring residents and business owners responded to the construction of this structure?

Everyone that visits the Artists for Humanity EpiCenter leaves with a smile… honestly it is difficult to separate the building from the program and the program gives you such a sense of hope and inspiration. I guess the building leaves you with the feeling that a sustainable world is possible. If a grassroots organization such as Artists for Humanity, dedicated to the voice, vision and virtuosity of urban kids and the arts can build a platinum LEED building than others can too. It is just a matter of time and time is the matter indeed.

What type of artistic industries employ the youth in your organization?

At AFH we do business with all kind of industries – from designing and printing T shirts for Jasper Whites Summer Shack (a restaurant chain) and green centered designs for KEDS brand sneakers to designing a fountain made from antique plumbing parts for a local plumbing museum. We do lots of design work for other non-profits including arts organizations such as the Mass Cultural Council and the National Grant Makers in the Arts as well as local grassroots groups and young entrepreneurs. We have probably worked with nearly every type of business at one time or another.

Can you tell me about your creative process?

My creative process is one of intuition and response.

Where did your first inspiration come from?
I have always been a creative person – don’t think I have ever had a bored moment, but the highlight of my life as an artist was meeting the young people who co-founded Artists for Humanity. Something undeniable happened [in] art that time to set off the intuitive response that created AFH and the EpiCenter.

Were you influenced by the Green Movement?

I was greatly influenced by the green movement of the 70’s which unquestionably informed our plan to build the EpiCenter. When we began our building process in 2001 we were at the very beginning of the current movement and I guess you could say we were in the right place at the right time.

What have you incorporated into your lifestyle to facilitate going green and conserving energy?

I practice all the basics – replaced my incandescent lights, conserve water and energy, am very conscientious about buying products with little packaging, reuse and recycle everything possible and embarrass everyone I meet to do the same.

What is important to you about conservation and preserving our environment?
Without it nothing else matters.

What challenges have you had in your work?

On the job training is exciting and creative but has its challenges. There have been many times when I have had to think on my feet and make lots of intuitive decisions. I like making decisions so has been great fun but a bit scary at times. The hardest part of all we have done is fundraising for a start up organization.

Do you feel that the Internet has a positive or negative influence on art? How does the Internet affect your work?

That’s a tough question. Most things are both good and bad. I’m really not sure what I think about the question beyond acknowledging that it makes designing much easier and faster and is really good for business.

What is your greatest ambition as an artist?

To someday make a living selling my paintings.

What are you currently working on? Can you tell us about it?

I am currently working on dozens of things and the one I am most excited about is a feasibility study to examine the viability of an Artists for Humanity in Portland, Maine.

What are your long term career goals?

To expand the EpiCenter and employ more kids. To live a life inspired and useful until the end.

Are there any historical or contemporary artists that you specifically admire?

My taste and admiration is very fickle and I love, love, love certain artists when I am attracted to specific things.What advice would you give a young artist just getting started?
Practice, practice, practice and you will get results and the results will inspire you to practice more.

What “Green” Product would you recommend to our readers?

I believe in simplifying- such as using natural products like baking soda and vinegar for cleaning.

What is your best “going green tip”- for example turning off lights, or eating one meatless meal a week?

I believe we need to reprogram the way we live – giving daily thought to how we live with and are dependent on nature. However, probably for most people driving our vehicles as little as possible is the best way to reduce our carbon footprint.

How would your friends describe you?

Please visit the Artists for Humanity website for more information on this group.

Photos © Artists for Humanity

Smart Energy Technology:

Solar’s King: Zhengrong Shi

An electrical engineer called Zhengrong Shi has hit the jackpot. His valued net worth is $2.2 billion and growing. Few us knew about Mr. Shi and his environmental contributes over the years until now. He owns Suntech Power Holdings which is a prominent manufacturer of solar cells and panels. Suntech’s products can be beneficial for solar power. Replacing other sources of electricity with the incredible rays of the sun is an important part of the world’s environmentally conscious movement.

It’s estimated that Suntech is currently valued at 5.5 billion which will only increase as the demand for solar and alternative energy sources grow in coming years. The company is stationed in Wuxi city located in China. It’s the world’s eighth biggest manufacturer of it’s kind. Suntech is estimated to be included in the high ranks next to Q-Cells and Kyocera within three years time. Solar stocks are believed to sky-rocket in year 2010 and beyond as the need grows 30% each year. The only obstacle solar power and Zhengrong Shi has is the high cost of solar energy as a main source. For complete success someone must invent a method to harness the power of solar cells at an inexpensive cost for all areas. The breakthroughs at Suntech using silicon purification has elevated the potential for sunlight-conversion efficiency to an amazing 18%. Zhengrong Shi has a technological flair of inventing using untried unique materials like his thin-film solar cells or silicon purification engineering. Since 1988 learning and perfecting sunlight conversion into electricity has been a goal of Zhengrong Shi. With Suntech rising in the renewable energy trade the potential for solar to transform into a traditional electricity provider for the world is achievable.

Smart Energy Technology:

Sun Tube

From Inhabitat:

Sharp’s Solar Powered Television

solar television, sharp solar television, solar tv, sharp tv, sharp television, sharp solar sharp triple-junction thin film solar, low-power television, ultra-low powered television

As part of G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan, Sharp will be showcasing some futuristic new technologies in the Zero Emission House. Amongst the future-forward prototypes to be shown: a 26-inch solar-powered LCD television that can be powered by a thin-film photovoltaic panel! Sharp’s plan is to distribute the TV and solar module to areas that have no easy access to grid power.

The triple-junction thin film solar cell module is the cost effective panel to date that is being mass produced by Sharp. The panel can be produced to be made semi-transparent, to be as windows, and is manufactured to not require rare or scarce metals. The television itself is an ultra low-powered LCD screen that uses less than a third of the energy required by conventional LCDs. The area required to power this television would be similar to that of the TV screen, something which is not possible with current TVs.

So, is a TV really the most practical use for a new solar panel? Initially, we would’ve thought that people living off the grid with no access to electricity might want that electricity for something else — something more useful like lighting or cooking. Still, we have to admit, an ultra-low powered LCD is certainly a positive development.

Smart Energy Technology:

Another Reason To Love the Germans

From our (sort-of) ongoing series on Europe’s green engineering initiative [via ecogeek]:

A lot has been going on recently in Germany when it comes to solar, from various companies investing heavily in photovoltaics, to the government’s shrinking solar subsidy. But this weekend the small town of Marburg passed a law that will require all new houses and those whose roofs or heating systems are being renovated to install 1 square meter of solar panels for every 20 square meters of roof, effective October 1.

The town, which has about 80,000 residents, has mostly supported the decision made by the Social Democrats and Greens, but the opposition leaders are crying, saying that to force people to build with solar panels equates to a “green dictatorship,” and that “nobody dares to say anything.” Considering Germany’s recent past, drawing such obvious parallels seems grossly inappropriate, especially for an initiative that will benefit both the environment and humanity.

The average panels needed to comply with the law would cost about 5,000€ per home, with a payback of 15 years. For those who choose to skirt the law, they can expect a 1,000€ fine, much less than the 15,000€ that was bandied about. This is not the first such initiative in Germany. Last year the government of Baden-Wurtemberg started requiring that all new houses built had to generate 20% of their heating through renewable energies, with regulations tightening in 2010. Similar plans are popping up in the US, including California’s 1 Million Roofs initiative. With such new technology, laws encouraging or regulating it are bound to be hit and miss with the public for awhile.

Smart Energy Technology:

No More Power Bills … Ever?

Just found this on the always-great Scientific American site and had to share:

EAST AMWELL, N.J.—Mike Strizki has not paid an electric, oil or gas bill—nor has he spent a nickel to fill up his Mercury Sable—in nearly two years. Instead, the 51-year-old civil engineer makes all the fuel he needs using a system he built in the capacious garage of his home, which employs photovoltaic (PV) panels to turn sunlight into electricity that is harnessed in turn to extract hydrogen from tap water.

Although the device cost $500,000 to construct, and it is unlikely it will ever pay off financially (even with today’s skyrocketing oil and gas prices), the civil engineer says it is priceless in terms of what it does buy: freedom from ever paying another heating or electric bill, not to mention keeping a lid on pollution, because water is its only by-product.

Slide Show: Photos show what makes this house work

“The ability to make your own fuel is priceless,” says the man known as “Mr. Gadget” to his friends. He boasts a collection of hydrogen-powered and electric vehicles, including a hydrogen-run lawn mower and car (the Sable, which he redesigned and named the “Genesis”) as well as an electric racing boat, and even an electric motorcycle. “All the technology is off-the-shelf. All I’m doing is putting them together.”

“I’m a self-sufficiency guy,” he adds. Strizki, a civil engineer, has been interested in alternative energy sources since 1997 when he began working on vehicles fueled by alternative means during his tenure with the New Jersey Department of Transportation.

Strizki’s two-story colonial on an 11-acre (4.5 hectare) plot 12 miles (19 kilometers) north of Trenton is the nation’s first private hydrogen-powered house, which he now shares with his wife, two dogs and a cat. (His two daughters and son, all in their 20s, have left the nest.) It has been running entirely on electricity generated from the sun and stored hydrogen since October 2006, when Strizki—in a project that his wife Ann fully supports—built an off-grid energy system with $100,000 of his own cash and $400,000 in grants from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, along with technology from companies such as Sharp, Swagelok and Proton Energy Systems.

The Strizki’s personalized home-energy system consists of 56 solar panels on his garage roof, and housed inside is a small electrolyzer (a device, about the size of a washing machine, that uses electricity to break down water into its component hydrogen and oxygen). There are 100 batteries for nighttime power needs along the garage’s inside wall; just outside are ten propane tanks (leftovers from the 1970s that are capable of storing 19,000 cubic feet, or 538 cubic meters, of hydrogen) as well as a Plug Power fuel cell stack (an electrochemical device that mixes hydrogen and oxygen to produce electricity and water) and a hydrogen refueling kit for the car.

On a typical summer day, the solar panels drink in and convert sunlight to about 90 kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to Strizki. He consumes about 10 kilowatt-hours daily to run the family’s appliances, including a 50-inch plasma television, along with his three computers and stereo equipment, among other modern conveniences.

The remaining 80 kilowatt-hours recharge the batteries—which provide electricity for the house at night—and power the electrolyzer, which splits the molecules of purified tap water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is vented and the hydrogen goes into the tanks where it is stored for use in the cold, dark winter months. From November to March or so Strizki runs the stored hydrogen through the fuel cell stacks outside his garage or in his car to power his entire house—and the only waste product is water, which can be pumped right back into the system.

“I can make fuel out of sunlight and water—and I don’t even use the water,” he notes. “If it’s raining, it’s fuel. If it’s sunny, it’s fuel. It’s all fuel.”

The modular home—built in 1991—looks like a typical suburban house; its top-of-the-line insulation and energy-efficient windows look no different, and the facade hides the hydrogen-powered clothes dryer and geothermal system for heating and cooling, which pumps Freon gas underground to harvest heat in winter and cool in summer.

“Geothermal is another piece of free energy,” Strizki says, noting that he dug eight feet (2.4 meters) down into the granite under his home to take advantage of the constant 56-degree Fahrenheit (13-degree Celsius) temperature underground. In summer he can use the lower temperatures underground to cool his entire house, and in winter he can capture those warmer temperatures, supplementing them with a heat pump powered by electricity from hydrogen. “Nothing goes to waste.”

This year, Strizki is hardly running his $78,000 Hogen electrolyzer (manufactured by Proton Energy Systems in Connecticut, a company that makes hydrogen-generation equipment) because last year’s mild winter left him with full tanks. When he does turn it on, the excess hydrogen vents from a small pipe on the roof with the sound of an impolite burp.

That vented hydrogen speeds at 45 miles (72 kilometers) per hour through the atmosphere on its way off the planet—one of only two gases, the other being helium, that escapes into space entirely because it is lighter than air. In fact, Strizki’s quarter-inch thick propane tanks weigh less when filled with hydrogen than when depleted.

Of course, hydrogen is a highly flammable gas, but its quick escape eases Strizki’s fears that it might ignite or explode. It “disperses faster than any other gas,” he notes. “Hydrogen won’t sit around waiting for a flame.”

The final piece of Strizki’s energy solution is dubbed “Genesis,” his $3-million aluminum Mercury Sable, one of 10 that carmaker Ford produced in the 1990s to test how well the lighter metal would fare in crash tests. Ford gave Strizki the special model to drive in the Tour de Sol solar car race in New Jersey in 2000. Strizki installed a 104-horsepower electric engine (compared with a Toyota Prius’s 44-horsepower motor) that can reach speeds of 140 miles (225 kilometers) per hour. Pop the hood and next to the electric engine sit two fuel cell stacks that convert hydrogen and oxygen into water and electricity, propelling the electric engine forward smoothly and quickly.

The car never competed because it was not ready in time, but the unique vehicle does hold the world record for farthest travel on a single charge: 401.5 miles (646.2 kilometers), a distance which Strizki drove in December 2001. Today, Genesis shares the road with a variety of less costly fuel cell cars: Honda’s new hydrogen-powered FCX Clarity, which hit the market this week leasing for $600 a month, as well as the hydrogen-powered Chevrolet Equinox test-vehicle fleet from General Motors—part of a pilot program that aims to determine how hydrogen cars might function in everyday life. Both the Japanese and U.S. automakers are betting that these nonpolluting cars will one day replace the internal combustion engine.

GM is committed to building a “mass volume” of its hydrogen fuel cell powered Equinoxes in coming years, according to Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, but only if a way to refuel them exists. As it stands, the entire nation has just 122 hydrogen stations—compared with 170,000 gasoline and diesel stations.

This is part of the reason that not everyone is a fan of hydrogen. Former U.S. Department of Energy official Joseph Romm, a physicist, notes that it’s a waste of time and electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen instead of just using the electricity directly in an all-electric, plug-in hybrid car. The debate boils down to whether batteries or hydrogen are a better way to store and deliver electrical energy.

But Strizki argues that hydrogen offers benefits that batteries do not. For example, GE Global Research found that hydrogen might prove a better way to store electricity generated by renewable resources in remote areas—such as wind farms in North Dakota or solar arrays in New Mexico—than building expensive and costly electric transmission lines. Instead, the hydrogen generated in such locations could be pumped nationwide through existing natural gas pipelines, providing fuel for a fleet of hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Regardless of whether those future vehicles are powered by hydrogen or rechargeable batteries, both would move using an electric motor that does not require polluting (and newly expensive) fossil fuels. And they would come with another important extra benefit: the batteries or hydrogen fuel cells that run the car could also serve as a backup energy source for the home. “I can plug this car into my home and run it,” Strizki notes.

Strizki is now working to bring the price down enough to make homes powered by the sun and hydrogen affordable for average consumers. He says that he can build a solar-hydrogen system for as little as $90,000, thanks to dipping costs for solar panels and lessons learned in building his home. Even at that price, however, the off-grid system would be expensive compared with annual electric bills in New Jersey that average $1,500, although that number has been increasing every year, including a jump of as much as 17 percent this year.

But add gasoline costs to that—which average more than $3,000 annually, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration—and the price becomes more reasonable, particularly because the EIA figures were calculated back when gasoline was $2 per gallon rather than the present $4. “It didn’t make sense when gas was $1 but now at $4? A lot of things that didn’t make sense, now make a lot of sense,” Strizki says.

He is already overseeing construction of the second such home-energy system—estimated to cost $150,000—for a wealthy client in the Caribbean.

The backyard tinkerer is also working with several potential clients to construct off-grid homes in New Jersey, New York State and even Colorado, and has quit his most recent job as an installer of solar energy systems to concentrate full-time on the company he co-founded to promote the homes: Renewable Energy International. The key to bringing the price down will be newer, better generations of the component technology, particularly the electrolyzer. Fuel cell manufacturers such as ReliOn in Spokane, Wash., are already taking a page from the computer industry—employing removable individual fuel cells, known as “blades,” similar to the computer blades in data centers, that can be changed individually if problems occur.

Ultimately, this suburban home may become the first of a coming hydrogen-electric economy—one that eliminates or sharply reduces the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change—or merely another technological dead end, like Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome or dymaxion car.

“The only way to get a zero-carbon footprint is to grab the big power plant in the sky,” Strizki says. “Maybe [the solar-hydrogen house] is too expensive, maybe not as efficient as they like, but no one is saying it doesn’t work.”

Smart Energy Technology: