Thursday, November 4, 2010

iphone app

Well here is another way to keep an eye on your green investment. The SunPower Solar iphone App lets you monitor how much energy your rooftop PV installation is producing at any given time. You can download the app from SunPower, or you can get it once you install your PV system.

 SunPower's new iPhone application makes it easy to monitor solar panel performance on the go, anywhere in the world. The application is just one part of the SunPower Monitoring System, which keeps track of SunPower solar panel performance with an in-home wall-mounted LCD display and an Internet-based program.

This iphone app tracks a variety of statistical information notably, current solar panel generating capacity, lifetime panel production, today's production, today's usage, and today's net difference between production and usage.

Of course, this app only works with SunPower mounted PV system and does not work with any other installation, but this is obviously part of the push to advertise and market their product.

There are few other solar companies that are doing something similar, but with different information on their display.

SMA America has developed an iphone app to monitor your PV system on the go. Developed by SunnyPortal, the Sunny Portal application provides a snapshot of any PV system. The application boasts a visual display of a system’s energy yield for the day, month, year and life-to-date of the system, in addition to listing its CO2 savings in tons per year. This data is uploaded daily via the SMA Sunny WebBox, a communication hub that continuously collects data from the solar inverters. This is not only for your rooftop PV system but this app also works for an entire solar power plant!

Further more, GainSpan is developing iPhone applications to monitor and control home temperature, water heaters, HVAC, and lighting, and Visible Energy's UFO Power Strip is controlled by an iPhone app.


 My Opinion: This is another great way you can monitor the money you will be making with your solar panels on your rooftop, similar to watching your stocks. I don't think even the regular utility companies have an app like this, and even if they did, its kind of useless. I think it would make me feel good, especially when i see how much CO2 that i have saved just by installing solar panels on my rooftop. Bravo SunPower and other companies who are innovating new ways to monitor the energy we use!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Solar snacks

Sun Chips. They are one of my favorites among the snacks isle at the local grocery store. Not only they are delicious and healthier than other chips, but every bag of Sun Chips (made by Frito Lays) is green. No I'm not talking about the color of the bag, but clean to the environment. They leave a 0% carbon foot print. They stay true to their name in every sense.

The people at Sun Chips take "going green" to every level of their management, starting at the corporate level down to the production line of every bag. It was someone's ingenious idea to power up a Sun Chips plant in Modesto, California using Concentrated Solar Power (CSP).
Built in 2008, the Sun Chips plant has been making greener and cleaner chips in every bag. This plant spreads over four acres of  land and produces enough power from the sun for almost all of the plant's operations. They constructed it with the support of National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL)

So just how much chips do they produce you ask? The solar energy that they collect makes it possible for them to produce 145,000 bags of snacks per day. According to Sun Chips the idea of using solar energy is natural as they produce Sun Chips branded snacks. Although solar energy is not used in any of their other factories, it is likely to be converted to solar in the near future. Moreover, producing snacks that is good for you should also be good for the Earth. (Source)

How do they do it? Well to find that out, lets look at how the CSP actually works. As i always say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so lets look at the illustration below. (Source)

Basically it has huge arrays of concave mirrors. These mirrors have a sun tracker which tracks the sun to make sure it gets the maximum amount of sunlight. The mirrors then focus all the sun's energy on a black tube that runs along the focal point of the array. This black tube is surrounded by a second glass tube that protects it from the air, allowing it to absorb solar energy more effectively. This super heated water passes through the black tube, the solar energy heats it up even more toan incredible 450 degrees F. This water then runs through a boiler system that uses its heat to generate steam,which helps to cook the wheat and heat the cooking oil used in the Sun Chips manufacturing process. Cooled water then flows back through the tube to the solar concentrator field to repeat the process. (Source)

Here is an actual picture of the Sun Chips power plant and their beautiful concave mirrors. (Source)

My Opinion: So as you can see, Sun Chips is committed to their product. Not only they are they healthier for you when you feel like snacking on something but also good for the earth. Its a goal of Frito Lays to convert the rest of their production plants into pure sun powered green facilities. Just thought I would share it with you, so that next time you walk down that snacks isle at your local grocery store, you will have a green spark of thought and do a little good to our Earth.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Austin City Limits

My first experience in ACL (Austin City Limits) music festival was amazing and i cannot wait till i go to it next year as well. First thing i noticed entering the park was this huge solar panel displayed inside the park.

Glad to see that ACL was doing its part for green energy. The display was to advertise Texas Solar Power company in Austin. They are installers of solar panels in and around Austin, Houston, and couple of other states. It was set up with an inverter and a huge battery pack to show that all that energy can be stored and reused during night. They were actually powering some of the medical equipments and some lights at night. Just wanted to share this with everyone.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Off the grid

There has always been a question in my mind about this. After watching videos like Homegrown Revolution

and movies like Food Inc.

I started to wonder, what if you can produce your own electricity and go completely "off the grid" and have that freedom? Is it even possible? Can a family living in an average sized house produce enough energy to not depend on the big energy companies for their daily energy needs? Is it possible TODAY? Well lets take a look.

First things first, WHAT is going off grid mean?
It means that you produce your own energy to provide to all your daily needs. Your house is self sustained, and it provides its own energy by means of natural sources like sun, wind, flowing water, etc and man made clean energy sources like hydrogen fuel cells, batteries, turbines etc. Your house is not connected to any power lines, it is not connected to any grid system, and it is certainly not leaving a carbon footprint.

Why go off the grid?
There are many reasons to go off the grid. We are depleting our coal resources every single day. As we use up all our resources, the price will inevitable go up for the scarce commodity. Therefore, the energy cost will go high as well. Generating electricity using your own small renewable energy system fits the circumstances and values of some home and small-business owners. Basically you are buying a lifetime of energy, NOW, and be free of rising energy cost. Its a freedom worth investing in. Although it takes time and money to research, buy, and maintain a system, many people enjoy the independence they gain and the knowledge that their actions are helping the environment. You will be one more person not polluting the only planet we have.
Its good to go off the grid just so that we wouldnt have to live like this in the near future....

How can you go off the grid?
There are many ways you can produce your own energy, sun, wind, flowing water etc. Of course, if you live in a big city, flowing water might not be the practical way to go. However, sun and wind are available no matter where you live. Installing a 4 to 5 kW solar panel system on your rooftop would be sufficient to power all the appliances that you need during the daytime. At night you can have batteries, wind turbines and hydrogen fuel cells providing all the power you need. Below is a model home which is off the grid. The only connection it has to the electric grid is for backup, and it doesn't use any electricity from the grid.

The image above shows all the different ways of going off the grid. Just as an example you can see there are several ways to have the energy freedom.

Here is another simple example of electrical connection for going off the grid
My Opinion: All the technologies to go off the grid already exists today. It is absolutely possible to go off the grid. If you think of them as an investment for a lifetime, then you will realize it is very lucid to invest in renewable energy, not to mention it increases the resale value of your house. I think the first step is to get rid of the HOAs*, because i can promise you that they will restrict everything you do! If you cant, then write to your state representative about the HOA* problems, because the state can always trump any HOA*. If you are the first in your neighborhood to go green, I can guarantee that your neighbors will follow suit after you show them how much money you are saving.

*HOA - Home Owners Association

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Top 10 countries using Solar Power

Solar energy is becoming more and more popular among the grown and the growing countries. This is mainly because of government recognizing the energy problems and giving out more and more incentives for going solar, to both the general public and the corporations. The countries are starting to compete, to lead the renewable energy race in solar energy. I started wondering about which countries have the most amount of installed solar systems. So i wanted to do a top ten list of the countries which uses the most solar energy (in Mega Watts, MW) in the world. I wanted to do this in a Letterman style but i think its better to write a short note about each country pointing out its highlights and some interesting facts. So here we go counting down.....

(image source)
10) India (120 MW) - One of the countries with fastest growing solar energy industry, India makes the top ten list for the solar power users of the world. A country of billion people has a very high energy demand. Located only 8 degrees above the equator, India gets plenty of sun each year. For these obvious reasons, solar was the smart choice for India to pursue. In July 2009, India unveiled a $19 billion plan, to produce 20 Giga Watts of solar power by 2020.

(image source
9) France (272 MW) - More than double the installed capacity of India is France. What helps france very much is their well designed Feed in Tariffs for Building Integrated PhotoVoltaic (BIPV). One important issue of concern in France is that although many MW of solar energy have been installed, a lot of them have not been connected to the grid. If this problem is resolved soon, France will be moving up on this list.

(image source)
8) China (305) - Although China gets a lot of attention these days for its renewable energy push (not surprising), its mostly in the wind sector. What we forget is that China is the biggest producer of Solar panels and this comes in no surprise that they installed a ton of it in their own country. The government has taken a vow to change cities like Linfen, Yangquan and Datong, which are the most polluted cities in China. According to China’s national energy plan, it is expected to reach a total of 20 GW by 2020. We shall wait and see if the Chinese can keep up with the growing demands.Fun fact: China has already overtaken US in the overall renewable energy investor ranking. It has become the most attractive country to invest in for wind and solar energy.

(image source)
7) Belgium (363 MW) - I would say Belgium was a surprise contender in this solar race. The Belgium government designed a well planned Feed in Tariffs. With a population of approximately 10.7 million, it has shown strong growth in its appetite for photovoltaics since the region’s government initiated its extremely appealing package deal in 2006.

(image source)
6) Czech Republic (465 MW) - This country installed the most amount of solar panels in 2009 next to Germany. There was a sudden boom in the solar market due to a generous Feed in Tarrifs by the government and local incentives. There are several US companies that are already investing in Czech solar market. 

(image source)
5) U.S (1650 MW) - Coming in at 5th place is the U.S. Solar market. I'm actually not so surprised by this result since U.S. government incentive is not very attractive and most of the major cities don't even have any policies or any plans towards going solar (one of those cities would be the fourth largest city in U.S., Houston). Most of the panels installed in U.S. are in California. The cap on the federal solar tax credit was lifted in 2009, promoting growth in this industry. Despite the recent recession, the US market for residential solar panels doubled in 2009, and increased 37% from 2008. Hopefully, we will be moving forward on this list after the economy starts to ramp up a bit.

(image source)
4) Japan (2633 MW)  - What you see above is a flexible solar technology as an AIST conference in Tokyo, Japan. Can you imagine a garden full of these solar flowers and plants on the rooftops? Government residential PV programs, net-metering, high national solar energy goals to reach 28 GW by 2020 and 53 GW by 2030. On top of this, the support of local authorities and the private sector make Japan a world leader in this field. 80% of new homes in Japan will have solar power installed with it by the year 2030. Japan is one of the fastest growing countries in the solar market and i would not be surprised if it moves up to the top position in the next few years.

(image source)
3) Spain (3386 MW) - Despite the fact that Spain was one of the countries that was hit with the economic crisis, it pushed forward on the renewable energy side to grab the third position. There was a delay in the new government subsidy programs towards the solar market in the first quarter of 2010. With expectations that both of these will improve in 2010, and considering its excellent sun irradiation and PV potential, Spain is expected to bump up its solar energy capacity again this year.

(image source)
2) Italy (4000 MW) - Every two months, Italians install more solar power than California does in an entire year. (To put that in perspective, Italy is slightly smaller in land size than California, with a fairly similar population). In the second quarter of 2010, Italy’s solar market grew by 127 percent over the previous quarter, according to research and consulting firm Solarbuzz.This success is due to a well managed FiT**, lots of government incentives, and of course plenty of sunshine. Going at this pace, I'm pretty sure that Italy has the potential to catch the top position.

(image source)
1) Germany (9785 MW) - Germany is clearly the world leader and will be the world leader for years to come. No other countries even come close to the installed solar power to this country. Above is the picture of the Gut Erlasee solar farm in Germany which produces about 14,000 MW hour annually which is enough to power a town of about 9000 residents. With cities like Sonnenschiff (which produces 4 times the energy it consumes purely from solar power), Marburg and Freiburg (entire city is powered by solar energy), it is no surprise that Germany is the world leader and it plans to stick to this position for years to come. 

My opinion - Well there you have it, the top ten countries in the world that harness solar power. I think that other countries will be following this trend and i expect more countries to join this race. The reason Germany is the leader is mainly because of the people. They clearly took solar power to their heart and made a commitment to crate a change. An energy revolution has to come from within. 

**FiT - Feed in Tariffs

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A powerful movie

I would say this movie is like Planet Earth but with a powerful message that makes you think, how much we have exploited our Earth. Now i don't know how accurate the statistics are in this movie, but the message that the movie is conveying to us is lucid. We are consuming more than our share, our demands are much higher than the available supply, and we are not aware of our actions which will lead to the imminent danger that is lurking in the near future.
What stuck me in awe was the fact that 20% of the world's population is consuming 80% of the resources. The world's richest 2% controlling the rest of the 98%. The countries with natural wealth don't have access to their own natural resources. Nearly 3 million farmers feeding 2 billion people.
I do like that this video, not only pin points the problem, but also provides a solution to this threat that we caused. If we create an awareness among people, we can work together for the common cause. We can learn from our ancestors and our mistakes. There is still hope to change our actions. Harnessing Renewable Energy is a key solution to this growing problem and that several countries are committed to change their course.

Please watch this movie called HOME and share your thoughts: HOME

If the link doesnt work, here is the actual address:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Personalized energy

I came across this very interesting video, which just boggled my mind. Its about personalized energy. Dr.Dan Nocera, an MIT chemistry professor has come up with this ingenious idea of artificial photosynthesis to generate your own personalized energy that will power your entire house, your electric car and all the appliances that needs to be powered from your house. Basically its what leaves do to survive, except its natural.

The Problem we have today:
In the world we live in today, the total amount of energy we use: 14 Terra Watts
By the year 2050, the total amount of energy we will use: 16 Terra Watts

The total amount of energy that is available for us to harness:
Hydro-electric - 4.6 TW
Nuclear - 8 TW
Tide/Ocean - 2 TW
Geothermal - 12TW
Biomass (crops) - 5 to 7 TW
Wind (10 m above ground) - 2 to 4 TW
Solar - 800 TW (with today's efficiency on solar cells)

His point is that even though there is all this energy available, it is simply not practical to harness all this energy to satisfy the world's energy demands.

His green solution:
Use sunlight to rearrange the chemical bonds for fuel, store the energy in high energy bonds.Take a look at his interesting presentation to understand what this is all about.

Solving our entire world's energy problem with an Olympic size pool of water!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Types & Efficiencies

Just a simple question: how efficient are today's solar cells? 
The answer to this question depends on several factors. High efficiency depends on a solar cell that can generate more electricity per incident solar power unit. Basically the solar cell's ability to produce more electricity in a given area. Theoretically speaking, to say that a solar cell has 100% efficiency means that the solar cell converts all of the sunlight it receives into electricity. Major solar panel manufacturers like Sharp, Q-Cell, First Solar, Kyocera Solar concentrate on improving the efficiency even by 1%. The more efficient, the more money that can be made.
The chart below shows the most efficient solar cells that has been developed and tested. Some of the high efficient solar cells have not been mass produced yet. 
As you can see from the above graph, the most efficient that we have gotten is about 40%. This is the absolute best that is available today.  Even though it may look like it is very inefficient, it is much better than today's commercially available solar panels, which are about 15% - 22% depending on the manufacturer. These efficiencies were measured The efficiency should be measured under real conditions and the basic parameters that need to be evaluated are the short circuit current, open circuit voltage. Just for a comparison your car runs at about 30% efficiency at best!

The efficiency highly depends on the material that the solar cells are made. The most common types of solar cells are:

Monocrystalline: These solar panels are made from a large crystal of silicon. These type of solar panels are the most efficient as in absorbing sunlight and converting it into electricity, however they are the most expensive. None the less, these are becoming more and more popular. Efficiency: 18% - 22%
Polycrystalline: These solar panels are the most common type of solar panels on the market today. They look a lot like shattered glass put together in a frame. They are slightly less efficient than the monocrystalline solar panels and less expensive to produce. Instead of one large crystal, this type of solar panel consists of multiple amounts of smaller silicon crystals. Efficiency: 15% - 18%
Amorphous (thin film): This type of solar panels consist of a thin-like film made from molten silicon that is spread directly across large plates of stainless steel or similar material. These types of solar panels have lower efficiency then the other two types of solar panels, and the cheapest to produce. Average Efficiency: 10%

It is interesting to see all the other types of materials that are being tested today....


Fun Fact: According to Encyclopedia Britannica the first genuine solar cell was built around 1883 by Charles Fritts, who used junctions formed by coating selenium (a semiconductor) with an extremely thin layer of gold.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Sail with the sun (not just the wind)

I've always wondered how the solar panel system works on a sail boat whether its luxury or a passenger vessel or a racing boat. How to implement solar cells or panels on a sail or just on the deck or on the roof? How efficient will they be? How would they interact with wind? What useful applications can we get from these solar panels on a boat?
Here are some cool concepts that i think are well worth looking into.

First concept sail boat is called the Volitan. This design is so revolutionary that some people think its not even going to make it to production. None the less this sail boat definitely has the cool factor to it and it looks very feasible in theory. This video shows how the concept could work.

Whats intriguing is the sail is utilizes both solar energy and wind energy to generate power for the boat. The sails are connected to a twin 220 HP/DC electric motor which has two suspended wings to help navigate the boat. In addition, a hydraulic/servo system located in the wings activates the sleek Volitan's unique performance sail system. It's dimensions are around 105'3 in (length), 24'8 in (height), 92'7 in (width with solar body) and 24'9 in (width at low body). This boat is designed by Dr. Hakan Gürsu, founder/chief designer at the prestigious Turkish design firm DesignNobis of Ankara, Turkey and Sözüm Doğan an assistant designer at the same firm. (Source)
Whether it looks feasible or not, it certainly looks possible on paper...
Of course, there are still many ups and downs to this concept but none the less, they need to hurry up and make a prototype and test it to see how it does.

The second solar boat is called "Solar Wing" developed by an Australian company called SolarSailor. They do mostly passenger vessels and ferries which are powered by solar panels and fuel (hybrid system).
"This latest development, the new solar catamaran ferries, is a very bright chapter in the environmental commitment" says the GM of SolarSailor company Cameron Halliday. This ferry is functioning in Hong Kong harbor today. This type of boats are excellent solution for one of the most polluted cities in the world.

The CEO of SolarSailor, Robert Dane, certainly knows the future of this technology and the direction its headed.

The third boat is a distinctive catamaran. While i was writing this article, i wondered what might be the largest solar powered boat in the world and I found the answer to be the "PlanetSolar". Meet the world's largest solar powered boat designed by Swiss manufacturer, PlanetSolar. Voila!
This sexy, sleek, modern day ark for today’s Noah, is a catamaran-styled yacht measuring at 102 feet long, almost 50 feet wide and 24-1/2 feet high (31 meters by 15 meters by 7.5 meters), but its most interesting feature is that it’s covered with 5,382 sq ft (500 sqm) of solar panels that gather sunlight and help it sail the sea nice and smooth.(Source)

"The boat can travel for 3 days and 3 nights before it needs to be recharged". That is pretty efficient. Weighing at 60 tons with a top speed of 15 knots can fit only about 15 people.

What i would like to see: In the near future, what i would like to see is a sail that is actually made up of solar cells and not a sturdy solar panel. What I'm talking about is a solar sail that does what today's normal sail does. The solar sail should, bend, curve, flex, retract, basically do everything that a normal sail would do and still produce solar power for the boat. I'm talking about implementing flexible solar panels onto a sailboat. The technology is already available, it just hasn't been implemented yet.
  So basically take this flexi-solar panel and make a sail out of it. I have not sailed before and I'm pretty sure its very hard. But these sails would provide dual purpose. Catch the wind AND the sun at the same time.

My Opinion: Installing solar panels, or solar cells on a boat is a great idea and a leap forward in the marine world and the green energy revolution, but most of the concept boats and the currently existing solar sail boats have a very low speed. I personally would not want to crawl through the sea even though it would be powered 100% by solar cells. I would rather have both speed and eco-friendliness. If we want more speed then we have to go with a hybrid system (solar + fuel). I personally would rather drive a hybrid Mustang that is eco-friendly than a Prius, if given the option.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Hello china!

I've been reading a lot about China's wind energy lately. Articles like "Great leap forward for China's wind energy", "Why China is getting wind energy right", made me want to take a look at China's wind energy a bit closer. Although china was on the bottom end of the wind energy race about five years ago, today China is the second largest producer of wind power after United States. At the end of 2009, China accounted for about 25.1 Giga Watts (Source). Thats more than Three Gorges Dam (capacity: 22.5 GW). In 2009, the Asia giant, installed more wind turbines than all of Europe combined. Fascinating figures from Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) indicated that China installed 13 gigawatts of new wind power capacity, compared to 10 GW in Europe and 9.9 GW in the United States. No doubt that China will surpass U.S. and lead this race in wind energy by the end of this year.

Before we jump into China, lets look at just the basics of HOW wind energy works. So here is a neat little animation video of how it works.

Pictures speak a thousand words. 
This figure shows the wind and solar distribution. The darker the color, the more we can harness. So it is obvious that China has a huge potential for wind energy, and it plans to utilize all of it.(Source)

The map above was a study done by Harvard University and Tsinghua University researchers. They combined meteorological and wind-turbine modeling to map China’s wind-energy potential. The potential output of 1.5 MW wind turbines is shown as a percentage of maximum output over time. Credit: Michael McElroy, Harvard University (Source)

Just thought this was interesting. Small wind turbines lined up along the streets of Shanghai, China. It looks so green and clean. This just shows that China is planning to use wind to its full capacity, whether its huge wind farms or small wind turbines along the streets like the above picture. This made me imagine how it would be if my neighborhood streets had a line up of small wind turbines,or in Chicago, the windy city. (Source)

In the map above, you can see where all the major wind energy companies have installed huge wind farms all across the country. The big players like Goldwind, Vestas, GE Wind, Gamesa, and Suzlon are betting on wind power. Without a doubt, it is showing a promising future in China.

We can see the China's market share of all the major players in wind energy, where Sinovel, Goldwind, and Dongfang are leading the nation's wind power. (Source)
Just to get an idea, here you can see the annual wind capacity around the entire world. Some interesting facts from the article i read...
  • Wind power showed a growth rate of 31.7 %, the highest rate since 2001. 
  • The wind sector in 2009 had a turnover of 50 billion €.
  • The wind sector employed 550,000 people worldwide. In the year 2012, the wind industry is expected for the first time to offer 1 million jobs. 
  • Asia accounted for the largest share of new installations (40.4 %), followed by North America (28.4 %) and Europe fell back to the third place (27.3 %).
The figure for 2010 is a prediction since the report is from the end of 2009. (Source)

My opinion: Can China move forward with wind? They certainly can, and they will. But they are going to have to import foreign help, and they already have begun to do so. Denmarks's Vestas will open it's fifth factory in China this year, and according to the China Wind and Energy Association (CWEA), General Electric and A-Power have already signed letters of intent to provide 900 wind turbine gearboxes and establish a joint venture to build a wind turbine assembly facility. China, being the most populated country and being the most polluted countries in the world (followed by U.S.), has no choice but to move where the wind blows. For China, it is critical because safe and sustainable development cannot be attained without cleaning up its act. Major companies like Goldwind Science and Technology, Sinovel Windtec Co, Gamesa Corporacion Tecnologica, Vestas Wind Systems, Dongfang Electric Corporation, GE Energy, and Suzlon Energy Limited are investing huge amounts of capital on Wind Power in China. I think that China will be leading the wind energy race next year. What do you think?
Interesting fact: A report release by state media in 2007 estimated that the average life expectancy of Chinese city traffic police is 43 years of age. The primary cause being air pollution. 

Some interesting facts about Wind Energy:

  • There is evidence that wind energy was used to propel boats along the Nile as early as 5000BC.
  • The earliest known windmills were in Persia (Iran) and looked like large paddle wheels.
  • In 200BC people in China and the Middle East used windmills to pump water and grind grain.
  • The largest wind turbine in the world is in Hawaii. It stands 20 stories high and has rotors the length of a football field.
  • Wind is the fastest growing energy source worldwide.
  • An average wind speed of 14mph is required to convert wind energy into electricity.
Ever wanted to be inside a wind turbine?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I feel bad for these people

Home Owners Associations (HOA) can be a good help or a HUGE roadblock from achieving anything. They put a lot of restrictions in everything! I would say this is one of the biggest reasons why Houston is not booming in residential solar energy industry. I came across this article this morning, and just thought i would share.
Please click here:
7 insane home owners association rules

My opinion: I feel bad for the people who live in these highly restricted, freedom lacking communities. If you live in one of these strict HOA regulated communities, don't expect to have solar panels anytime soon on your rooftops.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Solar Highways - A Novel idea

About a month ago, i was having a discussion with my friend about the solar industry and its future. We talked about the prospect of the solar business, and how U.S. is doing compared to the rest of the world. He asked me a question that intrigued me. "What if we had solar panels on all our roads?". This made me think and wanted to do some research. I came across this video about solar roadways. I just thought it was a novel idea. Lets look at this video.

We have one of the best road and highway system in the world. Ever since Eisenhower implemented the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways, commonly called the Interstate Highway System, we have had miles and miles of asphalts laid across all over the country. To be exact, as of 2006 we have about 46,876 miles (75,440 km), making it the largest highway system in the world (source). From this video, there are many good points and some vague points that popped out in my mind.
  1. Asphalt prices are increasing?  This definitely concerned me, so i decided to do some research. Three facts that popped out immediately from reading about asphalt (source). First point: Asphalt is a by-product of the residue that is left behind after the more desirable components of crude oil and petroleum have been harvested. One of these by-products, bitumen, is sometimes referred to as asphalt oil which is used in the mix. In plain English, it's the stuff left over after gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels are produced. Second point: The most common use of Liquid asphalt is for making asphalt concrete for roads (source). There are plenty of new highway and constructions projects that occur every year. Third point: An old rule of thumb is one ton will cover one square yard (3'x3') at 18 inch depth (source). Checking up on the prices, the price of asphalt has been steadily increasing over the past few years. Here is a sample price index for the state of New York: click here. Keep in mind that the solar panel prices have been steadily decreasing!!!!! One positive fact that i came across: Asphalt road surface is the most widely recycled material in the US, both by gross tonnage and by percentage. According to a report issued by the Federal Highway Administration and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 80% of the asphalt removed each year from road surfaces during widening and resurfacing projects is reused as part of new roads, roadbeds, shoulders and embankments. But the asphalt prices are still increasing steadily. This is because of the steady increase of oil price. Taking all these factors into account, it makes sense that the asphalt prices have soared. This USAToday article sums it up very well. To see an example asphalt price index, click here (this is for the state of New Jersey). The prices are per ton.
  2. Cover the roads with 15% efficient solar panels to meet all our power needs? This might need some detailed research and testing. While this might be true in rural areas where there isn't much traffic on the roads so the solar roads can actually absorb all the sunlight, this will definitely not be feasible in big cities. Common sense, there is constant traffic on the roads during the day while the sun is shining so the roads are constantly covered with vehicles. The only time big cities don't have traffic is at night when there is no sun! 
  3. The video doesn't show any type of storing method, maybe, batteries. The lines or those "slow down" signs on the roads need to be illuminated during night time when there is no sun. From the video they used LEDs for the signs. So to get the power to light up these lines during night, the only way they can get it is from batteries. But, I'm sure its being researched and developed, since this video is only about a prototype.
  4. I definitely like the fact that we can use recycled materials to make the panels for solar roadways. The fact that we can add organic materials and make them sturdy enough to satisfy all the requirements is amazing.  
  5. This project is very much possible since all the technologies to do this particular project already exists and we already know them very well. We know how to develop, manufacture, and use them. Combining them and doing something innovative is something that can revolutionize the way we see things today.
TED Talk about solar roadways

My opinion: Solar roadways is a novel idea. All the technologies already exist to make this happen therefore it is very feasible. I think this idea deserves a trial run and see how it performs. I'm eagerly waiting to see the results after implementing them in real time on a stretch of high way.

You can check out the solar roadways website: click here

Friday, August 20, 2010

Obstacles and moving forward

Houston, being Energy capital of the world, is not as green as we think it is. Why is this? Why is Houston not moving forward with green energy? Austin, being the most (and only) liberal city in Texas, has much better policies and incentives than Houston. Solar panels are being installed everywhere there. More and more roof tops are converting to solar. Why is Houston stubborn about moving forward with solar energy? We get plenty of sunshine don't we? Why hasn't there been a solar revolution in Houston yet? Here are some reasons why I think Houston is shy about going solar....
  1. City's policies
    • Houston's solar energy policy is still evolving and it is still being developed.
    • There are no set regulations and policies to implement solar energy in the city.
    • There are plenty (and i mean PLENTY) of utility companies in Houston, but only about 3 of those (Reliant, Centerpoint and Green Mountain) actually does green energy (none of them do solar, but only wind). I know for sure that Reliant and Centerpoint does net metering.
    • Unlike Austin Houston does not have friendly laws for green energy.
    • Solution: There are many activists groups and awareness groups such as HREG (Houston Renewable Energy Group) who are working hard towards policy change with the city of Houston every single day. We need to create awareness among people and how good solar energy can be. Make the city realize that Houston is the 6th most polluted city in US according to Forbes.
  2. HOA (Home Owner's Association)
    • I find this to be one of THE BIGGEST road blocks that Houston has encountered and preventing the city to move forward in the green revolution. 
    • People are very stubborn and don't want their neighborhood to look any different. I know people who live in a community where they cant even plant flower in their gardens or put up a satellite dish in THEIR roof! How ridiculous is that? Its YOUR house but you cant do what you really want to do.
    • Way too many regulations only leads to frustration!
    • Unless we open our minds and think about how serious of a problem this is, HOA will always be a huge hurdle with solar energy.
    • Solution: Make people realize that adding solar panels increases the value of their house significantly. The HOA needs to understand that according to the DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the houses with solar panels will SELL TWICE AS FAST than the regular houses. For the original article, Click Here
  3. Learning Curve
    • One other obstacle that needs to be overcome in the solar energy industry is the learning curve. 
    • This isn't your local mechanic shop or a coffee shop where people exactly know what it is and what goes on and how to use these shops.
    • Installing solar panels in your house comes with a learning curve, as in, you have to learn a bit about how solar energy works and how its connected to the utility provider or the main grid.
    • Solution: Educate people. Enlighten them about solar energy and all the advantages of installing the solar panels. People are willing to listen and willing to learn if we are willing to teach. 
  4. Finally, not enough Investors
    • I think this is the culmination of the above points. 
    • There isn't enough money coming in or investors willing to put their money in solar energy in the city of Houston YET. 
    • This is because of the above three hurdles.
    • Solution: Change the city's policy on renewable energy, change the HOA regulations, and finally educate people. The city of Houston will automatically ASK for more solar energy!
 This is for people who are STILL skeptical about whether or not your house value goes up. There is a commonly quoted study by ICF Consulting that puts some numbers to this. The study explains that saving $1 a year on energy costs adds $20 to your home’s value. In other words, saving $1,000 per year increases your home’s value by $20,000. Source: Click Here

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Why go solar?

Now that we have some idea about the cost of installing solar energy systems on your roof, WHY exactly would you spend all that money installing it in your house? Lets take a look at few advantages of installing solar...

Solar electricity is clean, green and even “free.” It will reduce your family or business’s green house gas emissions, which have been proven to contribute to global climate change. Sunlight is a renewable resource, unlike coal, oil and natural gas, the supplies of which are constantly depleting. With solar power, you’re strengthening our National Security by reducing our Nation’s dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Beyond these environmental and energy security benefits, converting to solar energy makes great economic sense. With solar energy, you bypass the rising utility rates and buy 20 years worth of electricity at a fixed rate that cannot increase. A solar electric system will also add substantial value to your home or business, and most states have legislation in place that prevents solar electric systems from increasing property taxes.
The following factors drive today’s booming residential and commercial solar power markets:
  • Rising Energy Costs and Utility Rates
  • Desire for Energy security and National energy independence
  • Concerns about Environmental Pollution and Global Climate Change
  • Uncertainty about the reliability of the Electric Power Grid
  • Threats to Centralized Utility Power from Weather Disasters and Terrorism
While these points are not just concerns but also good reasons that one should think about going solar.

Want another reason to go solar?
Federal, State and Local Tax Incentives
Shorten Pay-Back Period for Solar Energy Systems
  • Control Your Energy Costs
  • Near Zero Net Electric Bills
  • Excellent investment payback (typically 4-8 years)
  • Tremendous return on investments - typically 8-12% ROI (guaranteed)
  • Availability of financing options (PPA)
Some sources where you can find out how much tax credit and other incentives you can receive for installing solar systems in your house or business: source1, DOE, Energy Efficient Mortgages, stimulus bill tax credit

In my opinion buying a solar home system is like planting an acre of trees or preventing tons and tons of CO2 emission.

More reasons to go solar with environmental facts...
  • A typical 4 kilowatt Solar System will reduce a home or business’s carbon foot print by 10,960 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, or 128,000 pounds (164 tons) over the 30-year life of the solar modules. These figures are based on PEPCO's analysis of their carbon fuels mix used to generate electric power in their service area.  
  • The 164 tons of carbon saved equals the CO2 reduction achieved by planting 2.18 acres of trees. 
  • Most properties don't have 2 acres to cover with trees, but many do have unshaded rooftops or open land facing south. 
  • According to the EPA, if one million families added solar electric systems to their homes, CO2 emissions would decrease by 4.3 million tons per year, which is roughly equivalent to taking 850,000 cars off the road. 
  • Adding solar energy to your home and/or business equals doing your part to prevent ongoing and future pollution.
It is clear to see how much impact we have in our environment and the way we can change it.

Source: Click Here

Monday, August 16, 2010

How much will it cost me?

Some people just want to skip all the technical jargon and get down to the $$$$$. How much will this cost me? After all its a very important question. Well lets start with one question, How much is clean energy worth to you? To do a cost analysis, lets ask ourselves few more questions.
  • Would you like to own your own electricity?
  • How would you like to use clean, green energy with NO environmental impacts?
  • Want to stop worrying about cost inflation from your utility company?
  • Would you like to reduce your carbon footprint? 
  • Would you like to get complete freedom from the grid?
  • Would you like to prevent some pollution which contributes to global warming?
  • Would you like to MAKE money from a long term investment with a guaranteed return by the government?
  • Do you want to take care of the environment while you save and make money?
These questions are only here to help you take a step towards an energy revolution. Lets take a look at some facts.

Cost Analysis :
An average American family home with 3 bedrooms, uses about 1kW to 3kW per hour depending on the electrical appliances that particular house has. So obviously, if you have a hot tub, you will be more on the 3kW end of the scale. You can find out your usage in your monthly electricity bill. So lets take a couple of examples to illustrate how much it will cost you and how much you can save by installing solar panels.

Example 1: Average home that uses 2 kW per hour (monthly electricity bill of about $50 - $75)

Cost of Solar electric system incl. Installation: $22,000* (assuming $10 per watt system)
LESS: Government Rebate: - $6,600 **
LESS: Tax credit: -$1,155 ***
You pay only: $14,245
Example 2: Average home that uses 3 kW per hour (monthly electricity bill of about $80 - $100)
Cost of Solar electric system incl. Installation: $27,000
LESS: Government Rebate: - $8,100 *
LESS: Tax credit: -$1,395 **
You pay only: $17,505
* This cost varies depending on the solar panel brand, the person who installs it, efficiency, shipping cost. etc.
** Government incentive: 30% discount until the year 2016
*** Local tax breaks  
Find out how much government rebate you get in your state: Click Here

None of these examples include any local city and state incentives. None of these examples include net metring. You save even more when we include them

If we take the local incentives into consideration, the the total amount comes down even more. Many utility companies does net metering. Basically net metering is when you sell back any excess electricity (which was produced from you solar panels) that you don't use back to your utility company. The amount you sell back will be credited on your monthly bill. So you actually end up making money every month. At times, you can actually see your meter spinning backwards!
To learn more about net metering: Click Here

So let me ask you again, How much is clean energy worth to you?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Solar Market Analysis

So how is the Solar PV market doing? What is its future? How is the US market doing compared to other countries in the world? Well, lets take a look.

World solar photovoltaic (PV) market** installations reached a record high of 7.3 gigawatt (GW)* in 2009, representing growth of 20% over the previous year. Just for comparison, in 1985, annual solar installation demand was only 21 MW.

I'm a visual learner. So here is chart on the solar energy consumption of major countries in the world. It is safe to say that Germany is leading the solar energy race compared to other countries in the world.

 Cumulative solar energy production accounts for less than 0.01% of total Global Primary Energy demand. Solar Energy demand has grown at about 30% per year over the past 15 years (hydrocarbon energy demand typically grows between 0-2% per annum). Take a look at the charts below for a better understanding of where the solar energy stands in the global energy share.

Global Energy Consumption
Global renewable energy market share
Finally U.S. Renewable Energy consumption
source: click here 

So although 0.01% doesn't seem like much, according to SolarBuzz, a site dedicated to global solar energy industry, its research confirms that the Asia Pacific, Europe and US all are projected to have strong growth over the next five years.

The marketability of solar energy highly depends on the DNI index. Obviously we can only market solar energy where there is plenty of sunshine. Below is a map of where we get most amount of sun. It obvious to see that the equatorial belt gets the most amount.
Now lets look at just the U.S. and see where we get plenty of sunshine
source: click here

Currently in U.S. the solar energy industry has been booming in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, and Western part of Texas (you can see this for obvious reasons). California has been the leader in residential solar energy. There are other states such as New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Colorado that are quickly catching up to the solar energy demands. Please take a look at the chart below for the growth of the U.S. PV market over the past decade.It is clear that the market is going to explode upwards in the next few years.

According to Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC). In “U.S. Solar Market Trends 2009,” the IREC concludes that “in spite of poor economic conditions, solar markets continue to grow in the United States due to consumer interest in green technologies, concern about energy prices, and financial incentives available.
To see a full report of this study, click here (pdf)

So here is the bottom line...
Solar industry is growing despite of the global economic volatility. Some fast facts...
  • More Solar: The number of solar systems installed increased by 18% in 2009 from 2008.
  • Residential solar’s leading the way: Residential solar photovoltaic capacity doubled in 2009 since 2008 and represents 36% of all new grid-connected PV capacity. The non-residential sector experienced no growth.
  • Growth by State: California represents about half of all the solar PV capacity installed in the United States in 2009. In 2009, grid-connected solar PV capacity in New Jersey increased by 155%, in Colorado by 8%, in Arizona by 243%, and in Massachusetts by 174% from 2008.
Source: Click here

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How solar works? (just the basics)

Just like any new technology (although solar energy is not new, since we've been harnessing solar energy since the Greeks and Chinese used it thousands of years ago), there is a learning curve involved especially when we try to implement it with general public. The solar energy that the Earth receives from the sun in one hour is more than enough energy that the entire human population consumes in one year. If you ever wondered how solar power is integrated with your utility grid, please take a look at this interactive flash animation by clicking here

Or you can watch this simple YouTube video below just to get the basics of how to tie your home with the utility grid.....

Here is a little picture of how the grid tie works with installing solar modules....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Lets analyze Coal's future

Carbon capture could become commercial within 10-15 years. And while it holds the potential to significantly cut heat-trapping emissions, it may be noticeably more expensive than current technologies and thereby cause consumers to pay more.

According to the Government Accountability Office, current carbon capture and sequestration technologies would increase the cost of power by 30 percent to 80 percent, albeit it has greater potential to reduce carbon emissions than other ideas. The alternative to such progressive technologies is one that centers on improving efficiency gains, or reducing the amount of coal that is burned so as to limit emission levels. But those "ultra-supercritical" generation technologies are expensive and may only be worth it if the nation attaches a price to carbon and therefore increases the costs of coal. Otherwise, utilities may find it cheaper to build natural gas plants and particularly if the price of such fuel remains relatively low.

Coal now generates about half of all electricity in this country. By 2035 -- and because of pressures to reduce the level of harmful emissions -- it is expected to provide about 44 percent of all such power, says the U.S. Department of Energy. Coal now accounts for about a third of all carbon dioxide emissions. To that end, the Energy Department will spend $600 million to help commercialize advanced coal generation technologies.
Source: Ken Silverstein, EnergyBiz Insider, Editor-in-Chief

You might wonder, hey what about the "clean" coal technology that you see the ads for all the time?

Well according to IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme CO2 Capture and Storage Database; Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies Program at MIT, CO2 Capture and Storage Project Database, "There are no homes in America powered by 'clean' coal."

Clean coal technology is a marketing term used to describe technologies being developed that aim to reduce the environmental impact of coal energy generation.

If thats not enough, according to the article “Big Coal Campaigning to Keep Its Industry on Candidates' Minds,” Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 2008 (link); IEA Greenhouse Gas R&D Programme CO2 Capture and Storage Database (link); Carbon Capture and Sequestration Technologies Program at MIT, CO2 Capture and Storage Project Database (link): "The coal industry is spending millions advertising 'clean' coal, but not a single 'clean' coal power plant exists in the U.S. today."

"While you might have heard the phrase ‘clean’ coal during the presidential campaign, it's actually an oxymoron." Brian Williams, NBC News, Nov 18, 2008 (video)

Source: You can find more fun facts and quotes about "clean" coal by -------> clicking here

Take a look at these facts about Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS): Click here
Decide for yourself: what is the future of coal?

Here is the clean coal's dirty little secret:

And on the other hand, maybe coal IS clean

My opinion: Coal is not going anywhere, anytime soon. But, we can change this!