Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Paint-On Solar Panels?

There's been a lot of news lately about "paint-on solar panels"... in which the paint contains chemicals that can take the sunlight through an electron transfer process to create a current that can be collected and transmitted through wiring to provide electrical current.

This is a nifty concept--but as the researchers say, it's still being studied and has a long way to go before being viable for common domestic use.

You want another way to create a solar panel from the mere act of "painting it"?

--Get one or more wood or metal panels (4'X8' or other size)
--Get some flat-black paint
--Get some reflective silver paint or mylar film (with glue/sealant)

--Cut the wood/metal into easily liftable sizes

--Paint one side (and edges) of the wood/metal with the flat-black paint.
--Paint the other side with the reflective silver paint (or line it with the mylar)

--Let the contraption(s) dry and set.

During the day (when it's cold outside), lay the panels black-side-up in the sunlight hitting your floor near your southern exposure windows. The panels absorb some of the heat and then that heat transfers to the rest of your home.

Later, when the direct sunlight is no longer streaming into your windows, turn the panels over--the reflective side will still send some of that valuable light deeper into your home... negating the need for turning on light bulbs (incandescent, fluorescent, or otherwise --LEDs?--).

This is sort of a BASIC concept... but it works. And anything, and everything, is worth a try.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Solar Energy Doesn't Have to Result in Electricity!

Although it seems that the big push nowadays is solar photovoltaic panels and their installation (to be off-grid most of the time!), you can also get a nice savings and benefit from using solar energy in other ways!

Solar water heaters--You can make your own and install it yourself (after getting the plans, it takes a bit of work, but it's gratifying when you have completed the project!) or you can get it from the manufacturer and have professional installers put it in for you. (See the picture at the right side of this blog!)

Solar air heaters--Same as above... you can get the plans and build it yourself, or you can get professionals to get it and install it for you.

Solar architecture--Just by making some modifications to where you live, you can take advantage of solar energy. In the northern hemisphere, winter is approaching. If you can arrange to have your east and south facing windows unblocked so that the incoming sun can heat the floor and perhaps a brick/masonry wall or two, you can take advantage of the "thermal mass" of the floor to help with your heating. As soon as the direct sunlight is no longer coming through those windows, close insulating drapes over them to prevent the captured heat from escaping.

Conservation efforts--If your home is not insulated well, you still should take the time now before the weather gets even nastier to weather-strip your doors and windows. Make sure your window-sills and cracks are sealed well. Make sure your doors close well and firmly against the jam. Warm air leaking from your home can cost you with more expensive heating bills.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Solyndra and Gecko Logic!

From a Solyndra press release, the following story: Solyndra Inc., a manufacturer of photovoltaic systems, has signed a new long-term sales contract with German solar integrator GeckoLogic GmbH. The thin-film solar panels for the contract will be manufactured at Solyndra's facilities in Fremont and Milpitas, Calif.

"Solyndra's light system weight and low wind-loading enables our firm to install solar on a large number of rooftops that otherwise could not support traditional PV systems," says Steve Gyoerffy, CEO and co-founder of GeckoLogic.

And while digging around to get this information, I found the following interesting solar/alternate energy site:

(And, if you are wondering what a Gecko really is, you are welcome to visit my Gecko Site Here!)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Best Way to Beat the Energy Crunch! Do It Yourself!

<--Photo by Dave Gardner. Row of Homemade Solar Ovens with a Parabolic Solar Concentrator Cooker.

I've been corresponding with folks who have come up with their own ways to beat the energy crunch. They are in the "Do It Yourself" (DIY) Mode. And this may be the most expedient and best way to get around the energy crunch!

It's well-known that you can buy photovoltaic panels and inverters, wind generators, hydro-generators, and storage batteries on eBay or through the many distributors throughout the world and close to your location. You can buy various books on how to set these alternate energy devices up with your home or business. You can either buy the nicely assembled plans and assembly instructions through some of the providers mentioned on this blog, or--if you are the "adventurous type" and you have a lot of time on your hands--you can do your own research on Google and other search engines and find free plans and instructions for setting up these devices.

The key, however, is getting out there and DOING IT.

I would like to hear from folks who have put together parabolic solar concentrators, solar water heaters, solar space heaters, solar swimming pool heaters, solar photovoltaic panels and inverter/battery combinations, wind-generators, hydro-generators, and so on. The wind and solar generators are very common in the boating industry -- large sailboats and yachts always seem to have these somewhere on deck.

So, if you have put these together and have had some success with these new options, let us know! If you have pictures that you'd like to share, let me know as well! We need the inspiration!

In the meantime, I'm adding some pictures of home-made solar collectors here.

<-- Close-Up of the homemade Parabolic Solar Concentrator Cooker. Chicken Drumstick being Cooked. Photo by Dave Gardner


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Upcoming events in Alternate Energy (wind power):

American Wind Energy Association
AWEA Wind Power Health & Safety Workshop
Denver, CO October 29-30, 2008

AWEA Wind Energy Fall Symposium 2008
Palm Desert, CA November 19-21, 2008

AWEA Wind Power Supply Chain Workshop
Cleveland, OH December 8-9, 2008

Windpower 2009
Conference and Exhibition
Chicago, IL May 4-7, 2009

Environmentally-Friendly, Energy-Saving Trains, Part Two

Kawasaki Heavy Industries is developing a high-speed train named the environmentally friendly super express train (efSET), that can reach speeds of 217 mph (350 kph). This train design is more energy-efficient and less noisy and uses 19% less energy than other trains currently on the Japan National Railway (JNR) rails. It's lightweight, aerodynamic, and uses "regenerative braking technology" to capture energy lost during braking. Japan currently has the world's fastest train network, with trains reaching up to 180 mph (300 kph).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Hybrid-Electric Trains (HET)?

Trains are an effective, environmentally-friendly, cost-savings method for transporting cargo across long land-distances--especially with the advent of intermodal tranportation, in which carriers maximize the efficiency, cost, and timeliness by integrating different transportation modes for their cargo--whether it's fare-paying passengers, dedicated cargo-containers, or the intermodal-trucktrailer-flatbed combo cars.

New innovations also need to be made for train transport--such that these innovations combine research in alternate energy sources and usage methods, cargo-production-and-destination studies, and new methods of containing and transporting cargo.

Imagine if you wanted to have a family trip to L.A. You could go by plane, but the cost of the tickets for a family of four, the rental car and fuel, the hotels, and whatever attractions you might find there could be prohibative. What if you could drive your car (a PHEV, of course) onto a specially-designed "container car" that accomodates vehicles, then leave your vehicle and walk to the passenger car of the train, where you could enjoy a high-speed, few interruptions, trip across the country or down the coast. You would be able to get up and walk with the kids to the dining-car, or perhaps purchase a meal and/or snacks from the roving attendants with the carts (as they do in Japan on many of the long-distance, non-commuter trains). Because you are on the train with maybe another 400 or so other travelers, you have effectively gotten 200-300 other cars off the road--thus saving fuel and emmisions. You are also experiencing less stress from the driving. Once you get to your destination, you walk through the cars to the one that has your vehicle stored, off-load the car, and away you go with your family. The return trip could be the same.

How to Make the Trains More Effective and Energy-Efficient as Well?

Hitachi has developed a system to use Hybrid-Electric/Diesel technology for trains. By using a battery-assisted diesel-electric traction engine, the battery is used when the train is stopped at a station or elsewhere and during early accelerations up to about 20mph (30kph). After the 20mph/30kph threshold has been reached, the conventional diesel engine activates for further acceleration. Hitachi's tests in Japan showed that the hybrid system cut emissions by 50% and fuel costs by 20%. This system is being worked on for production in Japan and Europe.

This could be another way that the U.S. and world could improve their energy "footprint". This technology is already being used for municipal buses and cars (the HEV and PHEV), so there shouldn't be much of an additional stretch to start applying it to trains.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Solar Plant Applications Being Accepted Again by BLM

On May 29th this year, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced that they would no longer accept proposals for new solar plants on BLM lands in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California. The BLM officials said they were overwhelmed by more than 100 proposals and required 2 years to study potential environmental impacts for those proposals. However, Nevada Senator Harry Reid and Colorado Representative Mark Udall put some pressure on the Feds; and on July 2, the BLM said that it would continue to accept new solar plant proposals--while they continued studies on the plant environmental impacts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Resources for Investigating and Building Your Own Energy Safety Net

Alternate Energy Resource Manual--Lots of ideas for ways you can build your own alternate energy sources for your home or small business.

Solar Power Design Manual--Teach Yourself All About Solar Power. Comprehensive Manual by Genuine Expert. Spreadsheet Included.

Renewable Energy Solutions--The Manual--The folks who put this together have been presented on TV, Google, and the New York Times as a source of Alternate Energy Information. Good stuff for those in need of Alternate Energy!

California City Takes First Step Towards Renewable Energy

The Tracy (California) City Council voted 4-1 last night (Tuesday, October 8, 2008) to put a solar or other renewable energy generation facility on 200 acres it owns in its southwest corner of city limits. The city originally acquired the property when the General Services Administration sold 50 acres to them, but then the GSA also released the rest of the land on the condition that it be used for recreation or education. One power company, GWF Power Systems, is already discussing whether it can build a solar farm on the land to supplement the local power plant.

The city was originally going to put sports fields on the land, but then they discovered that there were underground high-pressure natural gas pipelines and heavy industry (including the current power plant) in the same area. So the sports-field idea was squelched.

To be able to build the solar energy facilities, the city must now negotiate changes to the Federal requirement about "recreation or education".

Of course, they might be able to get around this by not negotiating with the Feds, but to use the solar or alternate energy facility as a teaching center and model for students and teachers (whether for elementary, secondary, or college studies). That would satisfy the requirement for "educational purposes".

There would have to be some coordination between the engineering and power company building the facility and educational representatives, but that could probably be worked out a lot more effectively than fooling around with negotiating with the Feds (the Feds seem to have a lot of other problems on their plates to fool with this little matter).

I, of course, being an ex-science teacher and having taken many alternate energy classes myself, propose to be one of their "educational representatives" to create educational materials for different grade-level audiences for all the students and teachers coming to take tours of the facility.

These resources would consist of coloring pamphlets and short and simple energy lessons for the younger crowd and more complex booklets for the older and more advanced students. Since I've taught elementary kids, junior high kids, and high-school level kids basic science (and I was a teaching assistant when I was in Grad School at the University of Guam), I feel that I have the qualifications to develop these materials. And, of course, it would be great to get "sponsorship" from PG&E, BP, Exxon, Chevron, Shell, and other energy-companies in addition to that from ZomeWorks, SolarPower, Aram Solar, Bloom Energy, and Solyndra.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Solar Panels? We Need Options?

According to a report by the Solar Energy Industry Associaton--in 2007, solar installations in the U.S. rose by 45% to 150 megawatts. That's equal to the total energy use of about 37,500 homes.

But that's not enough.

There's no excuse anymore for building homes without consideration for energy conservation as well as at least partial self-generation capabilities.

In addition to proper construction with correct insulation, homes and business buildings should have energy-efficient designs, orientations, and landscaping. You can retro-fit homes and building with solar panels, wind-generators, and other energy-conserving or electricity-generating devices, and this would still be a good option. However, retro-fitting sometimes is "too obvious".

New buildings (for homes and business) can be built such that the alternate energy devices and construction is integrated into the structure. They can be built such that their positioning on the construction site takes into consideration the optimum conservation of energy and use of ambient energy. Landscaping can also enhance the buildings' efficiencies.

SunPower (controlled by Cypress Semiconductor) is a leading manufacturer of solar panels that work seamlessly with flat-roof tiles and the Spanish-style curved clay tiles common in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and other sunny areas. Lumeta, a division of DRI Energy, is also making similar "integrated panels". New advances in solar photovoltaic technology are enabling manufacturers to build solar panels into a wide variety of roofing tiles, walls, and even patio awnings such that they are not as obvious.

The time has come for folks to stop whining and complaining and fussing over the "Return on Investment" or "payback" on solar energy in the form of photovoltaic panels, solar air heating, solar water heating, and so on. It's now becoming a necessity--particularly in areas where ambient sun is plentiful.

When you buy a refrigerator or a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine or an air-conditioner, you don't ask "what's the payback time?" or "what's my return on my investment?". No, purchasing one of these things makes your life more convenient and has some benefit that you can enjoy. Refrigerators keep food from spoiling quickly, and thus can in the long run save you money (because you don't have to run to the store every day to get fresh food and you can save left-overs for extra meals--and you won't come down with food-poisoning so frequently). Vacuum cleaners are not a necessity--because you can always use a mop or broom and a dustpan. But they are time savers and perhaps more efficient at getting allergy-producing dust and dirt and pollen off your floors and other things needing to be swept. Air conditioners are also not a necessity. However, living conditions in some parts of the world would be borderline unbearable without an air-conditioner. Can you imagine a hotel (or worse yet, a hospital) without air-conditioning? Particularly in the southern part of the U.S. and in most tropical parts of the world, being stuck in a hospital bed without air-conditioning would not be pleasant. It might be downright dangerous. And... no-one fusses about the "payback time" or the "return on investment" for air-conditioners.

So, this being said, we should continue with research into new ways of capturing the power of the sun, geothermal, hydropower, and wind-power--and we should get our lawmakers to lighten up and help the construction industry and the citizens to bring electricity generation home and more in control of individuals.

More later....

Photo by Dave Gardner - Fuel-Efficient Toyota Prius Parked in Front of Home with Solar Panels. (If this were a Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle - PHEV - that had the engine converted to run on used vegetable oil, it would never need to go to a gas station! And it would be plugged in to the sun!)


Monday, October 6, 2008

Wind Energy Crunch...

A recent story in Design News mentioned that although wind-power generation projects have escalated during the past few years, the manufacturers of the wind turbines and generators are facing problems keeping up with the demand. There's more to engineering the aerodynamic blades and industrial-strength generators than what would be required for standard, on-the-ground, facilities. The Design News article explains it further.


Friday, October 3, 2008

Solar Power Conference Coming Up - In San Diego!

There's a solar power conference (Solar Power International) coming up in San Diego from October 13 through 16, 2008.

This event will be a wealth of information on solar energy (photovoltaics, concentrating photovoltaics, solar thermal electric or solar hot water). There will be 420+ exhibitors on the show floor and 65+ conference sessions to choose from to learn about the latest market, policy, finance and technology happenings in the industry.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

e-Jeepney? In Makati?

Okay, for some of you, the question may be.... "What's a Jeepney?"

A jeepney is a very common mode of transportation in the Philippines. And, yes, it's based on the general form of the WWII version of the American jeep. After WWII, there were bunches of jeeps left behind as the Allied Forces left the Philippines and headed for home. Entrepreneurial and creative Filipinos salvaged these jeeps, fixed them up, lengthened the bodies, decorated them inside and out, and put them on the streets as an economic "bus system" that is sort of a cross between taxi and bus service and abstract art gallery. They are usually ornately decorated with wild colors, chrome, and ornaments.

The local government of Makati City (suburb of Manila) is planning on having 10 electric jeepneys (e-Jeepney) by December of this year. They already have three out there running around, but they want to add 7 more before the end of the year. The eJeeps are locally designed and built by the Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturing Association of the Philippines (MVPMAP)--a consortium of about 130 Philippine automotive parts and components manufacturing companies.

They take a long time to procure and assemble because many of the components that make up an "eJeepney" are imported from foreign suppliers. (As with most finished products today, right?)

It will be interesting to see how the e-Jeepneys fare in the heavy traffic around Manila. Also, I'd be interested in seeing their "recharging stations" or whether they are pure-electric or whether or not they are hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV) or plug-in-hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEV). The flat roof of these vehicles would be a handy place to install photovoltaic panels to help keep the batteries charged while they are sitting in parking lots and at the curbs waiting for fares.

(much of the information in this post came from the Philippines Today newspaper Sept 25-Oct 1 edition)

Photo by Dave Gardner

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Ever Happened to Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC)?

Are there any operational Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plants anywhere?

Or, was this just another option that folks were scrambling to investigate during the "energy crunch of the 1970s/1980s--and it became a dead end?

As a former marine biology major at the University of Guam, I remember that researchers were finding that biofouling was a major problem. The intake pipes would quickly reduce in volume because algae, barnacles, and mussels would coat the linings and other internal areas. Another problem was how to protect the plants during tropical storms... some of the storms, such as hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones could severely damage the main structure as well as the accessory structures of such a plant.

OTEC was an interesting concept--but it didn't go very far.

OTEC uses the temperature differential between deep water and surface water to liquify and vaporize a coolant (much in the same way a refrigerator works). The cooler water liquifies the coolant, the warmer surface water vaporizes it. When the coolant is vaporized, the gaseous form can move turbine blades of a generator--thus producing the power. Back in the late 1970s, there was a pilot plant in Hawaii. Another was being investigated on Guam.

Evidently, the interest in this method of generating power has waned and the plants are no longer working (they've probably been scrapped by now).

Hawaii was investigating all sorts of power/energy alternatives--geothermal (with all their volcanos, this would be viable in some ways), wave action/tidal (these are also in action in France, I believe), biofuel (halekoa, tangantangan--a fast-growing legume/tree that many consider a weed--shredded and used for boiler-style electricity-generating plants), and small-scale hydroelectric (dams aren't that pretty and can wipe out indigenous plants and animals in their flood area--a major concern in tourist destinations).

However, the best bet for places such as Hawaii (and other places as well) is most likely solar. I was digging around again for solar info... and I stumbled over this solar contracting and research facility -- based in Hawaii: Sopogy. Their headquarters are in Hawaii, but they also have offices here in the U.S. --one is in San Jose, California.