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Geneva company goes 97% solar for its energy

By Brenda Schory

July 7, 2017

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GENEVA – Riverbank Laboratories Inc. in Geneva installed a solar panel system that is expected to provide nearly all of the company’s electricity needs.

Company owner and president, 5th Ward Alderman Robert Swanson, said it was a step in the right direction for the environment.

“Every day, we are saving trees and keeping C02 emissions from going into the air – and it’s renewable energy,” Swanson said. “It’s not using coal or oil or natural gas that has a finite quantity.”

Carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels raise global temperatures by trapping solar energy in the atmosphere, according to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine website, nasonline.org.

Riverbank Laboratories, which manufactures and ships tuning forks, put on a new roof in April with installation of the solar system beginning soon after in May, company spokeswoman Mary Robinson said.

“Once you put the solar panels on, you do not want to take them off for a new roof,” Robinson said.

Rethink Electric, a Geneva company, performed the installation on the 6,500-square-foot roof, she said.

Swanson said he does not have solar panels on his house because large trees shield it from the sun.

“But it makes sense on a large, flat roof with no trees nearby,” Swanson said of his company building.

Since the panels went live May 31, they have produced enough energy to power 11,600 light bulbs for a day and saved 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being emitted – the equivalent of planting 150 trees – Swanson said.

“It’s the right thing to do, reducing our carbon footprint,” Swanson said. “Our customers appreciate our commitment to the environment.”

The system is designed to produce more electricity than will be used in the longer, sunnier spring and summer days, Swanson said. Excess power generated by the solar panels will go back to the grid for use by others.

“We get credit for that shared power on cloudy days when we draw our electricity from the grid,” Swanson said. “Over the course of a year, we expect to generate 97 percent of our electrical power needs via our solar panels.”

Mike Nicolosi, owner of Rethink Electric, said he has worked in the solar industry for 11 years and started his company three years ago.

“They are stepping out and showing, ‘Why not get power from the sun than from coal or a nuclear power plant?’” Nicolosi said of Riverbank Labs. “With solar power, there is no turbine or machine or anything turning or making smoke. You are eliminating the amount of CO2. That is a feel-good thing.”

While everyone might not care about reducing their carbon footprint, Nicolosi said, most will care that the cheapest way to get power is through solar energy – not buying it from ComEd or even from Geneva’s own electric utility.

“The cheapest is buying solar,” Nicolosi said. “There is nothing cheaper.”

According to a report by the nonprofit foundation World Economic Forum, the cost of solar and wind generation has dropped so much that it is competitive against coal and natural gas.

Solar power, shade coming to MSU parking lots

By RJ Wolcott

July 7, 2017

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EAST LANSING – Among the active construction projects on Michigan State University’s campus this summer is one that will keep parked cars cool. And research labs, too.

Solar panel parking bays — covered parking capable of collecting energy from the sun — are going up on five parking lots along the southern portion of campus.

Standing more than 14 feet tall at their lowest point and collectively spanning more than 700,000 square feet, the bays will collect between 10 and 11 megawatts of power during peak hours, according to Wolfgang Bauer, a professor of physics and senior consultant with the Office of the Executive Vice President.

“It’ll be the largest non-utility solar array in the state,” he said, adding that MSU’s array will provide an example to other institutions of what can be done.

Around noon on a sunny summer day, the array is expected to generate about one-sixth of the campus’ total energy needs. Annually, it’s expected to save MSU from having to generate or purchase around 15,000-megawatt hours of electricity, between five and six percent of energy consumption on campus.

“It’s a big chunk,” Bauer said, standing in the shadow of the first series of panels built on lot 89 at the corner of Farm Lane and Mt. Hope Road.

The bays are built tall to allow RVs and other vehicles driven by tailgaters on football Saturdays to park under them with ease.

The number of parking spaces in each lot isn’t expected to change as a result of the project, and parking fees won’t be impacted, Katie Gervasi, a spokesperson for MSU’s Infrastructure Planning and Facilities Office, said.

The parking bays at lot 89 will be ready for motorists by the start of the fall semester, with the other four lots coming online before the end of the year.

The array will consist of more than 40,000 individual solar panels measuring 6 feet wide by 3 feet tall.

Once operational, the solar panel parking bays will generate roughly 200 times more electricity than what’s created by the few hundred panels located on the main campus, Bauer said. Generating solar power instead of purchasing it off the grid could save MSU as much as $10 million over the next 25 years.

The parking bays are being built by Inovateus Solar, which will own the structures and sell all of the power collected to MSU at a fixed rate during the 25-year agreement. The panels are capable of turning 17% of the solar power collected into usable electricity, Bauer said, in line with the most advanced panels available today.

It’ll be Inovateus’ largest carport project once completed, said John Gulanick, a field installation supervisor with the South Bend company.

Each section is being anchored to the ground by a steel rod plunging 28 feet into the earth encased in concrete to ensure the bays can’t blow away. The panels can withstand hail and generate a small amount of heat, causing any snow to slide off.

 

Colby’s 5,300-Panel Solar Field Ready to Generate Power – and Academic Opportunity

By Caitlin Rogers

July 6, 2017

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Colby will flip the switch on a nine-acre solar field this fall, the latest step in the College’s commitment to sustainable and climate-friendly practices. The new 1.9-megawatt photovoltaic energy project, announced last May, will supply about 16 percent of the College’s electricity.

Colby declared carbon neutrality in 2013 and continues to work to reduce carbon emissions.

“Colby takes a holistic approach,” said Mina Amundsen, assistant vice president for facilities and campus planning. “We are always looking for the next way to promote sustainable practices.”

The project, undertaken in collaboration with NRG Energy, Inc., is located less than one mile from campus on a large, easily accessible, south-facing space to maximize the project’s capacity for power production. Approximately 5,300 solar panels will be installed to produce 2.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

This solar array is the latest in a series of sustainable energy projects implemented by the College. Colby already has a photovoltaic energy system on the roof of the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center that generates around 10 percent of its electricity from a steam plant on campus.

The biomass plant, booted up in 2012, saves a million gallons of oil annually by burning locally sourced forestry scraps to produce heat. Additionally, 15 of Colby’s spaces are LEED certified, and Colby is committed to seeking LEED certification—which indicates commitment to human and environmental health in its design and construction—on all new building projects.

Amundsen said Colby’s commitment to the environment includes not only sustainable energy, but also sustainable water, materials, waste, and consumption. Colby was only the fourth college or university in the country to become carbon neutral when it reached that milestone about two years ahead of schedule.

For more than a decade, Colby students have intensively studied environmental practices on campus and participated in sustainability projects; the campus’ first greenhouse gas inventory became an honors thesis in 2007.

The solar array provides another valuable learning opportunity for students, who will be able to study the system itself and the environment around it.

The cutest solar farm ever is now live on the grid

By Yi Shu Ng

July 5, 2017

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Who knew clean energy could be this cute?

China connected a panda-shaped solar power plant to the grid last week.

The project was built by the aptly-named Panda Green Energy, and has an output of 50MW, enough to power more than 8,000 U.S. households, according to Inhabitat.

It’s located in Datong, a city in the province of Shanxi, northern China.

Another panda is in the works on the site.

Two types of solar panels — white thin film photovoltaic (PV) cells and black monocrystalline silicon PV cells — give the plant the look of China’s favourite monochromatic animal.

It’s hoped that when the plant is complete, it will have an output of 100MW, and output 3.2 billion kWh of solar energy in 25 years.

The power plant is part of a UN Development Program (UNDP) effort to promote clean energy to China’s youth, and aims to teach young people about sustainable energy. It will host a summer camp organised by the UNDP and Panda Green Energy in August, for teenagers aged 13-17.

The UNDP is also organising open design challenges with Panda Green Energy.

“Designing the plant in the shape of a panda could inspire young people and get them interested in the applications of solar power,” Panda Green Energy’s CEO, Li Yuan, told state-owned Xinhua in May last year.

Panda Green Energy is hoping to build panda-shaped power plants in other countries in central and Southeast Asia, too.

The company is planning to expand into countries like Fiji and the Philippines, and wants to build over 100 panda-shaped plants in the next five years. The plants will include motifs inspired by local animals, like the koala or rhinoceros.

“I believe that the panda solar power plants will become a tourist hotspot, and in future we’ll export these panda power plants to other parts of the world,” Li told Xinhua.

Happy Fourth of July From SGE Solar!

Hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday 🙂

By Danica Bergmann

Californians take a shine to solar power

By Jocelyne Zablit

July 2, 2017

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Jacquie Barnbrook had grown tired of the high electricity bills and her gas-guzzling luxury car when she finally decided to take the plunge last year.

The 52-year-old Los Angeles resident joined an ever-growing number of Californians who are switching to for their energy needs in a bid to not only save money but to also do their part for the environment in a state setting the pace for the rest of the country in that sector.

“At this time of year, my power and water bills usually were around $400 a month,” Barnbrook said. “Right now, it’s $150 a month.”

As for her vehicle, Barnbrook said she ditched it in favor of a hybrid one that she now plugs in and charges at her house.

“I was previously spending $80 dollars on gas every three or four days and now I haven’t put gas in my new car since the beginning of March,” she noted.

“That’s four months ago!”

Nearly 4.9 million homes are powered by solar energy in California—the nation’s green trailblazer and the most populous state—and that number is expected to continue to grow, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a non-profit trade association.

Even President Donald Trump, an avowed sceptic on climate change, is considering putting on the wall he plans to build on the Mexican border.

Snake oil

Although solar installations have slowed this year due, in part, to a record number of people rushing to sign up in 2016 for fear of losing a tax incentive, the market is expected to continue to grow, especially in places like California which has a plethora of sunny days, experts say.

Driving this expansion is the plummeting cost of solar panels—which were traditionally limited to relatively affluent homeowners—and improving technology on batteries to store energy, they add.

“Right now, we’re in throes of rapid change in the solar industry,” said Rajit Gadh, director of the UCLA Smart Grid Energy Research Center. “As people process all the information out there and report their success stories and it starts to become mainstream … the momentum will grow.”

He said apart from cost, another reason average consumers have gingerly adopted solar power in recent years was the dizzying number of regulatory hoops they had to go through to get approval from utility companies and a lot of complicated information to process.

Moreover, as demand for the product has surged in the last decade, so have the number of companies—both serious and shady—jostling for a piece of the pie.

“Solar power is confusing and for a long time it really didn’t make a lot of economic sense,” said Ryan Willemsen, CEO and founder of the San Diego-based start-up Solar to the People.

“In California, solar is really getting a reputation because of some of the unscrupulous folks involved who are pushing solar super hard,” he added. “In San Diego alone, for example, there are over 200 solar operations.”

Ara Petrosyan, CEO and founder of LA Solar Group, a consulting firm, said he believes that once the dust settles and shady companies inevitably go out of business, consumers will be able to make more informed and affordable choices and the sector will take off like “a rocket ship.”

“In five years, so many rules and regulations have been added that you have to be a really good expert to stay in the business,” he said.

He added that a clear sign of where the industry is going is the number of installations—which cost between $15,000 and $20,000 for an average size house—his company is handling.

“When we started in 2012, we did about 10 installations a month,” Petrosyan said. “Today, we do about 120 a month … and it will definitely keep increasing.”

Such projections are good news for a state that has mandated that 50 percent of its electricity come from , including solar, by 2030.

Solar power is also growing fast in other states, including New York, which look to California as an example.

“The overall industry trend is that the cost of solar panels and other components is going down,” said Willemsen.

“And more and more standard folks are hearing it’s a good idea and once one person in the neighborhood goes solar, more and more follow.”

Exciting new material uses solar energy to remove man-made dye pollutants from water

By Phys.org

June 29, 2017

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A novel composite material has been developed by scientists in the Energy Safety Research Institute (ESRI) at Swansea University which shows promise as a catalyst for the degradation of environmentally-harmful synthetic dye pollutants, which are released at a rate of nearly 300,000 tonnes a year into the world’s water.

This novel, non-hazardous photocatalytic material effectively removes dye pollutants from water, adsorbing more than 90 % of the dye and enhancing the rate of dye breakdown by almost ten times using visible light.

The researchers, led by Dr. Charles W. Dunnill and Dr. Daniel Jones at the Energy Safety Research Institute in Swansea University, reported their discovery in the Nature open access journal Scientific Reports.

By heating the reaction mixture at high pressures inside a sealed container, the composite is synthesized by growing ultra-thin “nanowires” of tungsten oxide on the surface of tiny particles of tantalum nitride. As a result of the incredibly small size of the two material components – both the tantalum nitride and tungsten oxide are typically less than 40 billionths of a metre in diameter – the composite provides a huge surface area for dye capture.

The material then proceeds to break the dye down into smaller, harmless molecules using the provided by sunlight, in a process known as “photocatalytic degradation”. Having removed the harmful dyes, the catalyst may simply be filtered from the cleaned water and reused.

While the photocatalytic degradation of dyes has been investigated for several decades, it is only relatively recently that researchers have developed materials capable of absorbing the visible part of the solar spectrum – other materials, such as titanium dioxide, are also able to break down dyes using solar energy, but their efficiency is limited as they only absorb higher energy, ultra-violet light. By making use of a much greater range of the spectrum, materials such as those used by the ESRI team at Swansea University team are able to remove pollutants at a far superior rate.

Both of the materials used in the study have attracted significant interest in recent years. Tungsten oxide, in particular, is considered one of the most promising materials for a range of photocatalytic applications, owing to its high electrical conductivity, chemical stability and surface activity, in addition to its strong light absorbance. As a low band-gap semiconductor, tantalum nitride is red in colour due to its ability to absorb almost the entire spectrum of , and therefore extracts a high amount of energy from sunlight to power the degradation processes.

However, the true potential of the two materials was only realised once they were combined into a single composite. Due to the exchange of electrons between the two materials, the test dye used within the study was broken down by the composite at around double the rate achieved by tantalum nitride on its own, while alone was shown to be incapable of dye degradation. In contrast to other leading photocatalytic materials, many of which are toxic to both humans and aquatic life, both parts of the composite are classed as non-hazardous .

The scientists responsible for the study believe that their research provides just a taster of the material’s potential. “Now that we’ve demonstrated the capabilities of our composite, we aim to not just improve on the material further, but to also begin work on scaling up the synthesis for real-world application.” said Dr. Jones. “We’re also exploring its viability in other areas, such as the photocatalysed splitting of water to generate hydrogen.”

Solar Power Documentary Poster

Summer Movie Night: “Catching The Sun”, a Solar Power Documentary

“Before the Flood” brought all kinds of attention and opinions out of hiding regarding climate change, and spurred an interest and an appetite in the public for environmental filmography; but this Netflix film which premiered in April of 2016 focuses much more specifically on the solar power industry.

Directed and produced by Shalini Kantayya in her film making debut, the film covers a lot of ground in explaining, outlining, and debunking solar energy; it includes a brief history of solar tech in America, as well as a look into solar practices in China, and follows everyone from laborers to politicians to show their respective connections to solar and how it impacts their lives. Best of all, it examines the ideologies behind solar energy- how people assume it will impact the economy, how industries such as oil might continue without solar, how jobs can be created and structured for this upcoming energy field.

In-depth examinations into the solar power industry such as this are a wonderful resource for the general population, to not only help dispel rumors and assumptions but to give a more rounded perspective of how the technology works, how it applies to our economic market, and how it’s influencing the present and the future as well. If you have questions but prefer a more presentation-based format of answers, or just want to inform yourself on this quickly growing industry in the comfort of your home, then this documentary is just about tailor-made for your viewing.

If you liked the overview of “Before the Flood”, but are interested specifically in solar energy and how it has progressed in the United States, I would highly recommend this glimpse into the industry, offering insight and explanation of one of our most plentiful natural resources applied to power the nation.

By Danica Bergmann

Solar energy is taking off

By Skye Borden

June 26, 2017

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Last week in the Northern Hemisphere, we experienced the longest day of the year, when the sun showers our half of the world with bright and powerful rays of light.

Here in Missoula, that means more sunny hours to run up Rattlesnake, paddle the big wave or lounge outside with a cold local brew. It also serves as a reminder that today, and every day, we should soak up more of those rays of sunlight to power our communities with inexhaustible, pollution-free, solar energy.

It’s no secret that solar energy is taking off faster than ever before. Just in the United States, we have 43 times more solar today than we did 10 years ago — enough to meet the power needs of 8.7 million households.

So, we’re making progress. But of course it hasn’t always been this way. For so long — since the Industrial Revolution, really — we’ve relied on the extraction of old and dirty forms of technically sun-powered energy; long-dead plants and organic materials, pushed back into the earth and later pumped out as oil, gas, coal, and other fossil fuels.

We know now that extracting and burning these fuels for energy not only harms our environment and our health, but threatens the climate and the stability of the planet.

The time has come to move past such finite, dirty and increasingly expensive resources. Certainly we have the technical potential to directly use clean sunlight for nearly all of our energy needs.

In fact, the United States alone could power itself 100 times over just with the solar power that shines within our borders. Studies show that just around 2 percent of our land mass could power the entire country with solar; panels on American rooftops alone could power nearly 40 percent of the country’s energy needs.

The good news is, we’re reaching a tipping point for renewable energy in the U.S and across the world like we’ve never seen before. Ramping up our renewable goals is not a question of resources, science or technology. It is a question of political will. As more and more leaders in cities, companies, institutions and states commit to goals of using 100 percent renewable energy, we’ll only get there sooner and realize more of the benefits to Montana and our society.

Here in Missoula, we applaud Mayor John Engen for pledging committing to implement the Paris Accord. But, we can do even more. We urge leaders like Engen to commit to a 100 percent renewable energy future; a goal we can and must achieve.

So, on the longest day of the year, we should remember this: every minute of sunlight can be harnessed to create renewable energy to power our lives. We can and must meet this challenge. As we continue to use energy more efficiently, ramp up storage of renewable power and scale up our use of clean energy resources, we’ll make our air and water cleaner, and we’ll leave a legacy that we can be proud of.

Immigrant volunteer helps low-income families harness solar energy

By Karla Peterson

June 27, 2017

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It was a sweltering day in San Diego, and the sun was beating down on the roof of the Oak Park house like the sky had turned its high beams on. It was relentlessly bright and extremely hot. Just like Mohamed Hauter likes it.

Hauter is a volunteer with GRID Alternatives San Diego, the local branch of a national nonprofit that provides solar power to low-income families for a very low fee or no fee at all. At least once a week, Hauter takes a day off from his job as a project leader and software manager at Venator Solutions to help install rooftop solar panels on homes all over San Diego County. He makes up the job time by working weekends. The emotional payoff is more of a 24/7 proposition.

“Oh my gosh, solar energy is just beautiful. There are a lot of bounties in nature, and this is one of them,” the 32-year-old Hauter said, as he took a break from the day’s installation, an all-refugee effort coordinated by the Get Charged Up nonprofit group. “I know people, including my parents, who pay as much for their energy bills as they do for their mortgage. If I can help offset that, I can help make them a lot happier.”

Founded 16 years ago in Oakland, GRID Alternatives set up a San Diego outpost in 2008. Since then, the local branch has installed 842 solar systems and trained more than 2,240 participants through its installation training program. Like many of his fellow volunteers, Hauter came to GRID Alternatives because he wanted to learn more about solar technology. He did not expect the windfall of human perks.

Hauter joined GRID Alternatives in 2014. He quickly became part of the Team Leader Program, which gives participants expanded hands-on training and leadership responsibilities, along with experience that counts toward the National American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners professional installer exam. Hauter is proud to say that he recently received his California Solar Contractor’s license, which brings him closer to starting his own solar business. At this point, he could pack up his hard hat and move on. But he won’t.

“I could have stopped two years ago, and I would have been fine with my training,” said Hauter, who lives in Mira Mesa with his wife and their 2 ½-year-old daughter. “I’m still here because I love it. At the end of the day, when you look at the homeowner’s face as we turn on the system and they see their (electrical meter) going backwards, that means a lot. I grew up poor, so this is important to me.”

One of 10 children, Hauter grew up in Yemen. While it was once the center of civilization on the Arabian peninsula, Yemen is now a war-torn country struggling with extreme poverty and devastating famine. When you are living in the poorest country in the Middle East, it doesn’t take much to make you feel lucky. And by the standards of their homeland, the Hauters were lucky.

Hauter’s father was a farmer who split his time between Yemen and a newsstand he had opened in New York City. The kids didn’t have toys, and they didn’t always have shoes. But they had a roof over their heads and food to eat, and when Hauter was in high school, they had the rare chance to start over in much greener pastures.

In 2002, Hauter and his family moved to Fresno. It was a very good time to be out of Yemen and a terrible time to be a Middle Eastern refugee in the United States.

“It was extremely hard,” said Hauter, who could not speak English when he arrived. “Not because of the language barriers, but more because of all of the racism attached to 9/11. I was bullied a lot, and my name didn’t help. Basically, everyone saw a target on our backs, and they treated us as such. Pretty much all of our neighbors refused to communicate with us. My parents still live there, and they don’t know anyone but two of their neighbors.”

The language barrier fell pretty quickly, as Hauter became fluent in English and began studying computer engineering at Fresno State University. He went to school full time while also working nearly 40 hours a week in his father’s mini-mart. The racial barriers were still an issue, but Hauter and his siblings — most of whom are either college graduates or attending college now — would not be derailed by it.

“We just put our heads down and concentrated on the things that mattered,” Hauter said. “They were rough years, but they paid off.”

He came to San Diego in 2007 to take a job at Lockheed Martin. While he was there, Hauter got his master’s in degree in network engineering through an online program with UC Santa Cruz. When Lockheed closed the San Diego office in 2013, Hauter joined Venator Solutions. Then came GRID Alternatives San Diego and the giving-back light that will not go out.

Last year, the organization gave Hauter the Eugene Tucker Award, which was named after a standout volunteer and bestowed upon people who have followed in his generous footsteps.

“Mohamed is a smart person, and he has a very good way of making abstract concepts simple so that everyone can understand them,” said Laura Galavis, GRID San Diego’s assistant project manager. “He is quiet, but he will give you the information if you are eager to learn. And he is a very good guy. Even though he doesn’t really have to keep volunteering with us, he does. He is our right hand and our left hand. He could probably do the whole job by himself.”

Maybe he could, but he wouldn’t want to. As it turns out, the sun is not the only renewable energy source in Hauter’s life.

“In Fresno, a lot of people die of heat exhaustion because they can’t afford to cool their houses, and that’s sad. I would do anything to help people like that,” Hauter said, as he put on his hard hat and headed back to the roof. “When we came to the United States, we were helped by members of the community. They helped me get to where I am now. It’s my turn to give back.”