We wrote about the lovely solar roof shingles introduced by Dow Solar a couple of years ago and now they're finally going to be available to the masses. The solar shingles look amazingly like traditional roof shingles and fully replace traditional shingles on the home while generating electricity.
The shingles use thin-film solar cells, which are less efficient than the silicon cells in conventional solar panels, but actually much more durable. The first state where these shingles will be widely available is Colorado, with large quantities coming to a dozen other states by the end of 2012.
The solar roof shingles have an efficiency of about 10 percent, but if you cover your whole roof in them, you're still looking at a nice power pay-off. Another bonus is that solar panels of any type keep areas under where they're installed cooler, which means you'll need less electricity for cooling anyways.
Dow has partnered with major home building company D.R. Horton to build homes outfitted three kilowatts of their solar shingles. The homes will be large ones -- ranging from 2,205 to 4,115 square feet -- and will start at $485,950. On the green jobs front, Dow is building these shingles in a Midland, Michigan plant and says the facility will create 1,275 jobs by 2015.
Software is being created to help EV drivers to locate the nearest charging stations, but what about the EV driver that wants to find the best price on electricity? A new app being developed by IBM and Swiss utility EKZ will allow customers to find the cheapest electricity for charging their EV, as well as set up remote charging.
The app will link customer's mobile devices with an in-car unit and the grid. Customers will be able to view how much battery power they have left and the price of electricity at that time and throughout the day (peak vs. off-peak hours), then they can either have their car start to charge remotely or schedule a charge for later that day. The user can even choose whether to use renewable or conventional sources of power, if that option is available through their utility.
The user can also choose to let the utility schedule the charging based on grid demand, which could help prevent huge peaks in demand and the use of back-up sources of power, which are more expensive.
The app is still be pilot tested and should move to a full commercial trial by next year.
Shipping containers are intriguing artifacts of global consumer culture. While they are meant to be reusable, there is such an imbalance of trade that frequently they do not return to their country of origin, and shipping empty containers is inefficient for the shipping lines. So, while a small number of the containers end up being re-purposed, many more do not.
To address this problem, the Staxxon container can be folded up small enough that five empty containers will fit in the space normally filled by one ordinary container. Because the Staxxon containers are as strong as conventional containers, and since they can be moved and handled without changes to how containers are normally handled, they have the potential to make inroads in the shipping industry.
Several stacked containers are no heavier than a full container, so there are no special handling requirements in that regard, and operationally, fewer crane lifts and truck trips would be needed to move bundles of empty containers, so there are time and energy efficiencies to be gained with the adoption of these containers.
Bloom Energy will soon be installing 30 MW-worth of Bloom Boxes in Delaware in what will be the company's largest project yet.
Delaware regulators just approved the plan that calls for a factory to be built for the fuel-cell boxes. State utility Delmarva Power will raise a large portion of the funds required to finance the project by adding a $1.34-per-month surcharge to its customers' bills. That surcharge will add up to about $100 million over the next 20 years.
The state is also offering $18 million in incentives and the project hopes to receive federal grants as well.
Bloom Energy has already found customers in Google, eBay, Adobe, AT&T and through pilot projects with utilities PG&E, Southern California Edison and Tennessee's EPB, but none of these projects come close to the Delaware deal that could grow to as much as 50 MW.
Beyond a cleaner source of energy, the project will bring Delaware 900 new jobs at the factory and $300 million in annual economic activity.
A recent patent issued to compressed air energy storage (CAES) company SustainX could provide a significant improvement in grid storage of energy, especially for wind farms and solar power arrays.
Compressed air is one of the preferred methods for storing excess energy from renewable sources during periods of peak production. When there is increased demand, it can then be readily harnessed to provide additional electricity, instead of relying on fossil fuel burning 'peaker plants' or other, less desirable alternatives.
The problem with compressing air comes from thermodynamic effects. "Without heat transfer, a gas will increase in temperature as it is compressed; and as it gets hotter, it tends to resist further compression (i.e., each increment of compression must be performed on a volume of gas that is at higher pressure than if it had not been heated by prior compression)." SustainX has developed technology to provide isothermal compression and expansion which gives their system conversion efficiencies of over 90%. And, of course, better conversion efficiencies mean less energy is wasted.
With this technology, SustainX claims a 7x cost reduction over traditional CAES systems. Additionally, according to the company, "SustainX utilizes above-ground storage in the form of industrial-grade, off-the-shelf gas cylinders, eliminating the siting constraints and permitting concerns associated with classical underground CAES."
Nissan has announced that it has built a super-fast EV charger that can take your battery from drained to fully charged in a mere ten minutes -- a huge improvement over the typical eight-hour refueling time that most EV chargers require.
This new quick charger, built with help from Japan's Kansai University, was made by swapping out the traditionally-used carbon electrodes for tungsten oxide and vanadium oxide electrodes that proved to be far more efficient. One major drawback to this swap is that EVs today are made with charging components that work with those carbon electrodes, so EVs themselves would have to be updated to work with this new type of charger.
Nissan plans to fully commercialize this new charger, but it's likely to take about another decade until they're on the streets or available for your home. It's a drag to have to wait that long to see this technology produced, but it's also really exciting to imagine that in ten years you'll be able to recharge your EV in the time it takes to eat a snack.
In the past couple of years, we've seen many, many tests being carried out by numerous different airlines and agencies to study the possibilities of using biofuel as an entire replacement for or as a blend with conventional jet fuel. But biofuels as a replacement for petroleum-based jet fuel may not be the ideal solution.
Biofuels are better than straight petroleum-based products, but there are drawbacks to biofuels, as well. Dedicating cropland to grow fuel crops can cut down on the available land and farming resources for food production. There are arguments against algae-based fuels, as well. They don't compete with food for farmland, but the industrial infrastructure needed to produce algae-based fuel at scale is a daunting prospect.
Of course, conversion to any new material is a daunting prospect. The development of new technologies will eventually be necessary, one way or another. To continue to research alternatives and to find the best mix of feedstock for alternative fuels is importatnt not only for aviation, but for all energy technologies.
Virgin Atlantic, which is one of the many airlines to have tested biofuels, is now exploring a jet fuel replacement that, rather than using bio materials as feedstock, is derrived from waste industrial gas from steel production. But if that relies on petroleum fuels as the original feedstock, then the long term viability of that process is also questionable.
As much as is made of wind turbines being a threat to birds, they don't even come close to the biggest manmade killer of birds: buildings. Highly reflective window glass claims as many as one billion birds a year in North America, while city lights at night can cause migratory birds to become disoriented, often leading to their death.
San Francisco officials are hoping to help protect the 400 different species of birds that inhabit their city by introducing a new law called Standards for Bird-Safe Buildings.
The standards are mainly voluntary, but new buildings, additions and retrofits, buildings near urban bird refuges, as well as structures like freestanding clear glass walls, skywalks, rooftop greenhouses and enclosed balconies do have to comply with some mandatory rules.
To make these buildings and structures bird-safe, owners can place netting in front of windows or place ceramic lines or dots on glass to cut down on their reflectivity, while preserving the ability to see out. To keep from confusing migrating birds at night, buildings will also have to observe lights-out ordinances during the migratory season.
Chevrolet is bringing out a new "city car" model to be available in summer 2012, and along with it, an all-electric version of the same vehicle will be available starting in California in 2013. Both the non-electric and the electric versions are called the Chevy Spark.
The Spark is a small car aimed at Millenial generation consumers, particularly those living in dense cities. "The Chevrolet Spark is 14 inches shorter than the recently launched Chevrolet Sonic. It’s three feet longer than the Smart Fortwo and four inches longer than the Fiat 500."
The gas powered version of the Spark will have an 83 horsepower (61kW) 1.2L four-cylinder engine. The company has not yet released specific details about the price, driving range or performance of the Spark EV, nor what markets it will be available in. However, according to the company, A123 Systems will supply the advanced nanophosphate lithium-ion battery packs that will power the Spark EV.
Vermont's Department of Public Service has released a new Comprehensive Energy Plan that raises its renewable energy target to 90% by 2050, a huge leap from the 25% by 2050 target set in 2008.
The plan calls for a mix of new renewable energy projects, energy conservation, gains in residential and commercial energy efficiency, and developing plug-in vehicle infrastructure.
Vermont has a bit of an advantage going into this goal since it has the lowest energy demand in New England and also has no coal-fired power plants. The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant that supplies one-third of its electricity is closing next year, so the state is aggressively pursuing renewable energy, mainly solar and wind power, to replace it.
Pipistrel-USA, a team from Pennsylvania has won the NASA CAFE Green Flight Challenge by flying an electric plane 200 miles in less than two hours.
The Google-sponsored contest was created to spur development of electric airplanes and efficient aircraft designs and with a first-place prize of $1.35 million, it could very well succeed at that.
The contest took place at the Sonoma County Airport in California and required entrants to fly 200 miles in two hours while using less than one gallon of fuel per occupant or the electricity equivalent. Pipistrel-USA's plane, the Taurus G4, had two occupants and used less than a two-gallon equivalent of electricity. Check out the video above of a flight demonstration of the Taurus G4.
Both the winning Pipistrel-USA and the second place team flew electric airplanes. Only three teams out of 14 that registered met the contest's requirements.