With the opening ceremonies underway in London at the 2012 Olympic Games, the world will be watching elite athletes competing over the next several weeks.
While the focus will be – rightly so – on the competitors and the pageantry, those that are interested in saving energy and money will be excited to learn that solar stadiums are generating clean, free solar power at the 2012 Olympic Games.
The Olympic Park at Stratford is aiming to slash its carbon footprint in half with solar panels and other sustainability measures at the London 2012 Energy Centre, Olympic pavillion, and the Main Press Centre. We have previously blogged about solar powered sports stadiums, but there is no other sporting event that gets the attention and press of the Olympics.
After the conclusion of the Games, the solar panels on the Main Press Centre will be moved to the roof of an adjacent parking garage. There, the panels will continue generating solar power that will be fed into the city’s grid. Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) Chief Executive Dennis Hone commented that the sustainability measures at Olympic Park are “a showcase of innovation and careful planning.”
We think this is great news for a number of reasons. First, many people consider solar panels for homes, but forget that they can be used on a much larger scale for corporations and events. Second, with the world watching the 2012 Olympic Games, broad-based exposure for solar power will result.
We’ve blogged about solar powered trash cans in the past, but this cool urban invention can save so much money and the environment that its worth talking about again!
So, what makes solar powered trash cans so special?
These receptacles, manufactured by BigBelly (photographed above), use free solar energy to operate an automatic trash compactor inside. The garbage is pressed down, making more room for additional trash and extending the time between garbage pick-ups.
Over the course of the bin’s life-time, fuel savings can really add up! This is because fewer garbage trucks are required to collect trash, and they can do so less frequently. The BigBelly also takes up less room and maintenance because it can serve as a recycling center, as well.
Although the price for a BigBelly solar powered trash can and recycling receptacles is currently a fairly steep $4000, the manufacturer expects them to be increasingly found in urban areas, sports arenas and community centers.
Pedestrians can easily separate refuse into items that can be recycled and composted. The remainder is set aside for the landfill.
This helps reduce the overall amount of trash to be collected. Plus, the solar powered trash compactor automatically makes more room in the bin.
Only when the trash can is finally filled will a garbage truck arrive to empty the bin. Specialized software contacts a central dispatch unit for the trucks.
This means that the garbage trucks only come when necessary and not on a pre-determined schedule, whether needed or not. By reducing the trips made by these trucks throughout a city, the municipality can save on fuel, reduce noise pollution and even minimize a source of traffic in the early morning hours, making streets safer.
What do you think about solar powered trash cans? Worth it, or just a gimmick?
Every time I meet someone new and they ask why I write a blog, I tell them about solar power. Yes, I usually discuss the upsides of going solar, but there are both solar power pros AND cons.
Only thorough information on both sides of the column – for and against solar – can guide a homeowner or business to a sound decision about whether to install solar panels. So let’s go over both sides of the debate!
Upsides of Solar - Solar Power Pros:
1. Long term payback for the investment. Solar panels increase the value of your home and can help your home sell faster, as well. Over time, you’ll pay for the solar panels with the money you save on monthly electricity bills. The return on investment (ROI) period has dramatically decreased in recent years as efficiency has gone up and prices of solar panels have fallen.
2. Live greener. Solar panels are an eco-friendly way to power your home. They are more environmentally-friendly than relying on coal. Even the manufacturing of solar panels causes substantially less impact to the environment than burning (let alone mining) coal.
3. Get paid by your utility company with Net Metering. When your solar panel array generates more power than you are using at the time, excess energy may be fed back into the grid. Your meter may actually spin backward, as you accumulate “credits” to be used if/when you need to draw on the grid in the future. Very energy efficient families may even make money by consistently feeding in excess solar power, rather than drawing on the grid.
4. Enjoy Low Maintenance Power. Contrary to popular belief, solar panels are incredibly low maintenance. Simply keep them free and clear of dust, debris, overhanging vegetation and snow – when possible! If something does go wrong, many manufacturers offer protective extensive warranties.
Downsides of Solar – Solar Power Cons:
1. Initial Investment. Of all the downsides of solar power, this one is the largest factor that prevents people from installing panels on their home or property. Fortunately today, you can purchase your own solar panels through a variety of financing options, including property assessed clean energy loans. There are other means to help afford solar panels, including leasing options and solar power purchase agreements.
2. Appearance/Aesthetics. Let’s face it: some people just do not like the look of roof-mounted solar panels. In fact, some homeowners’ associations believe that solar arrays reduce property value due to a negative aesthetic impact. But there is good news on this front, as well. Building Integrated Photovoltaics like solar roof shingles blend seamlessly into your roofing material, while generating clean solar electricity. In addition, attitudes are evolving concerning the look of solar panels. Some people actually seek out properties that “boast” their energy efficiency and green nature.
3. Efficiency Limitations. In recent years, manufacturers have developed more and more efficient solar panels. However, the technology simply does not work overnight, and they are less effective during inclement weather. No, it does not need to be a bright, sunny day. Solar panels generate electricity simply from exposure to UV light – even when filtered by clouds. Grid-tied systems can draw on power if the panels do not generate enough to serve their needs. Net metering allows consumers to off-set utility bills by any excess solar power they feed back into the grid. To go off-grid, however, you will need a battery in which to store solar electricity for use after the sun goes down.
What do you believe are the biggest upsides and downsides of solar power? Which factor has the greatest influence on a decision whether or not to go solar?
One of my favorite local non-profit organizations, The Environmental Center, is joining forces with two other companies in my hometown of Bend, Oregon – Sunlight Solar Energy and E2Solar, to offer solar power discounts through a three-month program.
Go Solar! Central Oregon promises to make residential solar power more affordable – at least for the next three months! Under the program, some home solar panel arrays may cost as little as $4.30 per watt installed vs. the national average of $5.89/watt.
With the cost of solar power so low, why wouldn’t you think about looking into the program?
For my readers in Central Oregon, The Environmental Center is holding a launch party for the program on Tuesday, July 10 from 5-6 p.m. at its offices located at 16 N.W. Kansas Avenue, Bend, Oregon. If you can’t make it to the party, you can at least register for the program online at www.gosolarcentraloregon.org.
You will want to register soon because the special pricing ends August 15, 2012!
If the solar power discount program is successful in Bend, Oregon, The Environmental Center may run it again next summer.
You can find similar solar power discount programs for residential solar projects in the following areas of Oregon: Clackamas County, Eugene, Gresham, Lake Oswego and West Linn.
Have you heard about solar net metering? The concept is that homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops can get credit against their utility bill for the excess solar power generated, but not used by them.
This is because some local utilities are required to buy excess power generated by their customers at retail prices.
The biggest benefit of net metering is that credits usually offset a consumer’s purchase of grid-based power during cloudy days and overnight. Property owners can enjoy a year’s worth of electricity at the price of an average monthly electricity!
On the other side, payments for solar net metering is not necessarily beneficial for the utilities. Not only do they lose payments from customers that would otherwise go to help support the cost of operating the power grid, but paying residential solar panel owners millions of dollars each year for the renewable energy they generate cuts into their bottom line. Experts believe that this will result in higher rate increases for the rest of the customers that cannot afford solar power.
Do you use solar net metering? What have you experienced as the pros and cons of such an arrangement?
One of my favorite subjects on this blog is portable solar power gadgets like this solar powered iPad charger.
These days, power-hungry devices like cell phones, computers, cameras and mP3 players can all be re-charged with free solar power. With embedded solar cells, these gadgets can absorb solar energy and convert it to immediate use, without having to find an outlet to plug into.
UK solar technology developer G24i has developed solar cells that can work on indoor light alone. This means that, not only can you recharge portable devices with sunlight, but also by exposure to florescent, incandescent or LED lights. All without looking for an outlet!
Logitech’s President Bracken Darrell commented that the development, “signals the future of small electronics.” Similarly, G24i’s chairman, Bob Hertzberg, who in an interview with clean-tech website businessgreen.com said that the incorporation of the solar cells, which generate a “trickle charge” from indoor light, was an extremely significant step forward.
With powerful small electronics like tablet computers, smart phones, cameras, etc., these battery draining devices can enjoy extended life via trickle-charging with solar power and indoor lights.
In May 2012, the U.S. Commerce Department approved a new tariff on solar panels manufactured in China.
SolarWorld Industries America Inc. launched the complaint that resulted in the announcement of tariffs on Chinese companies for accepting government subsidies and dumping products at unfairly low prices. According to the LA Times:
More than 60 Chinese firms, includingSuntech Power Holdings Co., the world’s largest solar panel maker, and Trina Solar Ltd., face a 31% duty on their exports to the U.S., retroactive to shipments made in February. All other Chinese exporters of solar cells will be hit with a tariff of 250%.
JA Solar Holdings Co., the world’s biggest solar cell manufacturer, is a Chinese company that will be hit hard by the new tariffs. It is now searching Western states for potential plant locations, with Oregon emerging as a lead contender.
Imposition of the new tariffs are intended to slow or stop the “dumping” of solar cells and panels by Chinese manufacturers into the U.S. market. From 2009-2011, U.S. imports of Chinese solar cells were up from $640 million to about $3.1 billion, comprising about half of the U.S. market for solar panels. As a result of the flood of solar panels from China into the market, U.S. manufacturers took a hard hit. At least four companies filed for bankruptcy in the past year.
Following the tariff announcement, investors and market experts began speculating about the impact on solar panel prices, demand, reduction in solar panel jobs, and the potential that some companies might move manufacturing from China to America to avoid the hefty tariffs. In addition, the new tariff on solar panels manufactured in China may spark a trade war between the countries. China is now challenging import duties on solar panels it alleges are unfairly priced.
While the long term effects of the solar panel tariff are yet to be seen, some experts are cautioning that the impact on prices of solar panels for consumers will be minimal. Mike Sheppard, a photovoltaics analyst at IHS, predicts a 75% drop in solar panels imported from China, which may boost prices for consumers by 12%, resulting in a lower average return on investment for a solar panel system by up to 2.5%.
Time will only tell how much the tariff on solar panels from China will affect property owners considering solar, and the cost of solar panels in the future. For now, the Department of Commerce’s initial ruling must be affirmed by U.S. Trade Officials in the fall.
Will there be a spike in demand for solar panels at their current, very low prices?
Have you considered residential solar panels for your home? If you’re like most homeowners, you are probably put off by the relatively high retail cost of solar panels.
Now, however, you can get residential solar panels for free!
Don’t believe me? Just go into your local big box home improvement retailer. Increasingly, stores like Home Depot, Lowes and Costco are offering solar installers space for a booth. When shoppers pass by, they can get expert information about solar panels and the potential of entering into a solar lease agreement whereby the homeowner merely purchases the solar electricity generated by panels, rather than the panels themselves.
Companies that offer the prospect of solar panels for free, such as SolarCity, Sungevity and SunRun, are thriving in the current economy.
According to a New York Times article, experts predict that solar leases may one day be bundled and sold as securities like mortgages and other loans.
While homeowners can still purchase solar panels outright and enjoy the benefits of tax incentives and rebates, more and more people are choosing to go the solar leasing route. In California, more than 70% of residential solar panel installations are pursuant to a lease agreement.
To learn more about leasing solar panels, click here.
One of my favorite applications of solar energy is via the small gadgets you can buy to keep your electronics charged.
Portable solar power is increasingly being used as technology advances result in smaller, and more powerful computers that often drain batteries quickly.
With this solar powered iPad case from Kudo, you can use energy from sunlight outdoors, or even artificial light indoors, to charge the 10,000 mAh battery. Its storage capabilities allow you to also plug in a smartphone, digital camera or mP3 music player.
The Kudocase is embedded with solar panels, yet remains a mere 4mm in thickness. According to the official website:
The KudoCase for iPad, iPad 2, and the New iPad 3rd Generation are pulling the plug on wasted power by using new solar ink technology to convert outdoor and indoor light into usable energy to continually charge the Apple iPad. Whenever light is shimmering around you this solar powered iPad case is charging your battery
According to the manufacturer, this solar charger can generate up to ten days of energy with average use:
The average user uses their iPad about two hours a day and accumulates either 14 hours of indoor light (windows, lamps…), one hour of sunlight (dashboard, windowsill…), or a combination of both per day. The Kudo iPad solar case brings in a constant trickle of energy throughout the day. Sunlight is much stronger than indoor light but we know our electronics are typically indoors, the Kudo is capable of drawing energy from the home or office as it continues to work even in low light environments. More light and less use means longer iPad time, conversely less light and more use means less iPad time before charging the old-school way. A lifeguard that only uses their iPad solar case a little may go weeks or months without needing a charge but an internet junkie living in a basement may only go a few days.
The solar powered iPad case has a hard-shell and rubber-coated body, and doubles as a stand for your device. The KudoCase has a built-in HDMI port, allowing you to stream content from the tablet on external projectors and TVs without taking it out of the case.
The case will come in black, gray, blue, pink and green. The KudoCase will retail for $190. You can now pre-order the solar powered iPad Case from Kudo, starting on May 11, 2012.
For property owners that enjoy DIY projects, choose among a variety of solar panel kits for eco-friendly homeowners.
Many people believe that residential solar panels are too expensive and difficult to install.
However, these solar panel kits include everything you need to start generating clean, free solar power: panels, brackets, inverter and charge controllers.
With minor assembly, you can install solar out of the box and have your solar array up and running within a day.
Solar panels kits are eligible for renewable energy tax rebates and/or other incentive programs for energy efficiency, which can reduce the cost to you as the homeowner.
Choose among different solar panel kits depending on your intended usage and energy needs.
1. This solar panel kit from Home Depot includes 10 Sunforce 123 Watt panels and a Pro Series inverter with a continuous output of 2500 Watts, and a surge power of 5000 Watts. Retail cost is nearly $9000.
3. Finally, DIY solar is made easy with one of the following PV panel kits, which can be used for outdoor excursions (hikes, camping, boating), RVs, or simply for back-up battery charging at home, in a variety of price points ranging from $90-500, all of which are available at Amazon.com:
If you consider yourself to be an eco-friendly homeowner, have you thought about solar panel kits?