The Road Powered By…The Sun?

December 6, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Guest Posts, News, Solar

With the Autobahn in Germany and the US’s extensive highway system who would have thought that Italy was actually the first country in the world to build motorways? Completed in 1926, the road from Milan to Lake Como, or the A8 was the first true motorway. Well, the Italians are at it again with the advent of the World’s first 100% solar-powered motorway!

What is a solar-powered motorway?
Good question! I did quite a bit of digging to truly understand the concept, and it is quite revolutionary. Focused on a reduced environmental impact for the long-haul for both the ecological system and the human system, the roadway will boast the newest innovations in energy, safety, and construction. This motorway, the Catania-Siracusa, is the first large-scale integration of major infrastructure and distributed power generation. It will feature 80,000 PV panels along the road that will power the lights, tunnel fans, road signs, emergency telephones, and all the services and street furniture. The PV cells are hoisted in 3 artificial tunnels on the road and are estimated to produce 12 million kWh on an annual basis. This will reduce an approximate 31,000 tons of oil and 10,000 tons of CO2 emissions annually. WHOA!

The additional ecological efforts included “the planting of thousands of trees and plants, improving existing tree lines and hedges, and increasing the extension of local woods.”

How far along are they?
The construction portion is complete and is scheduled to open to the public in January 2011. 1/4 of all solar panels were installed and operational at the end of September, and their steady progress has continued. To date they are expected to finish on time. Although the Italians have a little bit of experience in this sector having built out solar panels along the A20, Messina-Palermo motorway, totalling 368 kWp to provide electricity for all of the building located along the 183km motorway. They have also done a similar project near the Alps.

These are quite impressive numbers and efforts made for long-term sustainability through out Italy. Now if only we can learn from their efforts and do the same when our “season of Road Construction” starts up in the US after the winter months.

To learn more about solar-powered roadways, check out the Matter Network’s article.

Where do you think we should build solar-powered roads in the US? Have you heard of the Idaho man who suggests building roads WITH solar panels in place of asphalt? Now that is turning roads into truly productive and usable spaces.

Photo Credits: Reverberi Italy

Solar Power to Go Down in Price?

October 22, 2010 · Filed Under Green, News, Solar

The solar company 1366 Technologies has finally received enough funds to bring their process of producing solar wafers at a fraction of their current cost into production. The Direct Wafer manufacturing process in which they developed could help bring the cost of producing solar panels by almost 80%.

The current process of producing solar wafers contains several steps. Not only is this a lengthy process, but a good portion of the original silicon is often wasted during the process. Both factors contribute to the higher cost. The Direct Wafer on the other hand avoids all these steps and converts silicon directly into the wafers. A wafer can then be produced in as little as seconds.

The plan is to start making silicon wafers in 2012, start selling them to a major Chinese solar manufacturer. They could then make their way to the US approximately a year after that.

Let’s hear Frank van Mierlo, CEO of 1366 technologies explain this process.

This sounds like a really promising process that could help bring the cost down so that using solar energy can compete with cheaper sources of energy.

Solar Panels Planned For White House

October 7, 2010 · Filed Under Government, News, Solar

Interesting news just came out on Tuesday that the Obama administration has plans to put solar panels and a solar water heater on the White House.  This move is drawing heavy praise from the solar industry.

Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, had this to say about the move:

Putting solar on the roof of the nation’s most important home is a powerful symbol calling on all Americans to rethink how we create energy

I have to agree completely with this statement and in high support of the move.  The White House uses a large amount of energy annually and there is lots of space on the roof to accommodate solar panels.  Also, the President will no longer just praising renewable energy without actually using it.  The White House will now be running off of clean renewable energy.

What’s even more interesting is that Obama was not the first President to think about Solar Energy for the White House.  The history of solar panels on the White House actually dates back to the Carter Administration.

Video by Newsy.

The solar industry is also pushing to have solar panels put on government buildings across the country.  The hope is that this move will encourage others to begin thinking about renewable energy or at least support it’s future. Let’s hope that this move can in fact do that and help stimulate the renewable energy market.

China’s Solar Roof Water Heaters

August 11, 2010 · Filed Under Environment, Green, Solar

Solar water heaters are one of the most affordable ways that a household can generate hot water year round.  These solar water heaters can be seen on the roofs of many of the homes throughout China.

Solar Water Heater

Photo by {link:http://www.solarchoice.net/}Solar Choice{/link}.

Besides the attractive feature of paying no cost for your yearly water energy consumption, the cost of one of these systems is priced at only a few hundred US dollars.  That cost can be recouped by the average house in as little as a few years.  It’s no surprise then that nearly 10% of all homes in China currently have a unit on their roofs along with a high year growth rate.

Solar Water Heater on Roofs

Photo by {link:http://www.flickr.com/photos/leondznanjing/417218816/}leondznanjing{/link}.

The biggest question I have is why systems like these become more popular in other countries trying to switch to renewable energy?

What is confusing is that China has found a way to have an affordable price for these units and make them commonplace in China.  It’s very rare to see a unit like this in America.  I know we are now picking up on tankless water heaters, but it’s still a mystery as to why these units haven’t become more popular.  Or is it?

As compared to China, units in America are priced in the thousands.  Even with tax credits, they are still priced much higher than a comparable system you would find in China.  What also could be a factor is the fact that we live in much larger homes as compared to China.  Many of the residents live in smaller city apartments and the idea of “Suburbs” don’t exist.

Imagine if more countries could offer these systems at affordable prices like China has.  They would be immensely popular since it would help dramatically lower our energy costs while cutting carbon emissions.

What are you thoughts?  Would you buy a solar roof water heater if the priced dropped down?

Sustainable Snacking?

May 7, 2010 · Filed Under Green, Products, Solar

I have always been a fan of Frito-Lay brand Sun Chips, as I think they are a healthier (and tastier) alternative to potato chips. The last several times that I have purchased Sun Chips at the grocery store, I noticed that the packaging had a little green “e” icon on it. After Googling the little green “e”, I was able to find out that the Green-e logo is actually a carbon offset program created by the Center for Resource Solutions (www.resource-solutions.org). Intrigued, I went to the Sun Chips website to learn more about the company’s commitment to green energy. According to www.sunchips.com, they have one factory that relies on solar power as its main source of electricity. The Modesto, California plant is currently the only Sun Chips factory (out of eight total) that utilizes solar power, but as their website claims, “it’s a small step in the right direction.”

On my most recent grocery shopping trip, I realized that there has been another change to the Sun Chips bag. Now the package advertises that the bags themselves are fully compostable and claim that they will successfully break down in about 14 weeks. Another example of “green washing” intended to draw in socially conscious shoppers? Maybe. But it seems that other companies are now following suit.

Boulder Canyon Natural Foods, which produces All Natural Kettle Cooked Potato Chips, has also introduced a compostable snack bag, unveiled during Earth Day week. Snyder’s of Hanover, not to be outdone by the other companies, has also made plans to market their organic line of pretzels in compostable packaging. According to www.sustainablelifemedia.com, Snyder’s compostable bags will be derived from plant-based materials and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 52% during the production process.

Is the switch to more ecologically responsible packaging due to a consumer demand for greener products or, is this simply a clever marketing tactic that allows these companies to add substance to their green statements? Mother Earth News asked a similar question in the article, “Mother Earth News Finds Compostable Packaging Claims Half-Baked.” After testing several brands of trash bags that were marketed as being compostable, Mother Earth News came to the conclusion that most of the bags did not break down as promised. While the magazine tested trash bags and not snack bags, it makes one wonder how the new compostable snack packaging would fare.

So, what is the bottom line here? If you do not mind the surprisingly loud crinkling of these bags, which makes secret snacking nearly impossible, then I would recommend giving one of these brands a try. If the new compostable packaging lives up to even part of its claims, then there is a clear savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and in the amount of waste left behind when you have finished the products. When faced with the choice between a snack packaged in a compostable bag versus one that is made from a petroleum-based material, I know which one I will end up in my shopping basket.

Kohl’s Stores Are Going Green and Giving Back

April 23, 2010 · Filed Under News, Solar

Kohl’s Inc. – a retailer with almost 1,100 stores in the United States – made news recently by announcing its plan to bring solar energy to ten of its stores in Colorado.  According to Newsweek, Kohl’s “[h]as the largest solar power program of any retailer globally.”  Currently, eighty-six Kohl’s stores in Maryland, California, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Oregon, and New Jersey use solar power.

In addition to its solar power initiative, Kohl’s plans to donate $2 million to nonprofit organizations in honor of Earth Day and National Volunteer Week, and Kohl’s A-Team Volunteers – comprised of Kohl’s employees – will practice environmental responsibility by participating in environmental initiatives throughout the month of April.

At a time when some companies are only going green because it pays to go green, it is always good to hear about a company that is actively contributing funds to environmental causes.

Save Energy With Solar-Powered Speakers

March 3, 2010 · Filed Under Solar

Share your music anywhere with this solar-powered speaker unit. Small and lightweight, the unit is ideal for travel, with an integrated solar panel providing power away from a mains supply. The stylish black speakers use wireless technology to connect to Bluetooth compatible phones (including the iPhone) or MP3 players. For gadgets without Bluetooth a 3.5mm connector is supplied. The 2 x 2W speakers also contain a built in microphone. When paired with a suitable phone they allow Hands-Free communication. A clear touch screen is user-friendly, with Fast Forward, Playback and Volume control.

Solar Speakers

A solar panel, running across the top of the speaker unit, charges an internal Lithium-ion battery. When fully charged the battery allows up to 12 hours continuous play from devices using Bluetooth, or 36 hours play via the 3.5mm cable connection. The speakers can play and charge simultaneously, with a complete charging time of between 12 and 24 hours from sunlight, or 4 hours from a mains AC/USB supply. With this many charging options, you’ll never have to face the day the music stopped! The unit comes with a protective case, AC/DC plug and charging cable. Share your music freely, or simply enjoy stereo sound without headphones.

The solar speaker is available to buy here.

This is a guest post by Rob from WasteCare.

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