Archive for December, 2010
» posted on Thursday, December 30th, 2010 at 11:57 am by Woody Wilson viewed 107 times
Review this very strong video on solar energy from Earth4Energy: Solar Video
By CHRISTY SWIFT
Published: December 27, 2010
SEBRING – Walking into the Million’s pleasant Sebring home all decorated for Christmas, you would never know that it’s almost entirely powered by the sun.
Jerry Million, 87, and his wife Elli, 83, showed off their most recent electric bill: $13.
“Just a little bit of a change,” joked Jerry, who admitted a typical bill in the past ranged from $150-$200 a month.
The Millions have two hot water heating panels and 22 photovoltaic solar panels on the backside of their roof with plans to install 12 more. It’s hard to get a look at them without climbing up on the roof or backing far enough away from the house to see the sloping shingles with discreet, black rectangles attached.
How do solar panels work?
The water heating panels are designed to do just that – heat water for the home. They do not produce electricity. The Millions installed their two hot water panels 15 years ago. “They won the contest 15 years ago for being the most efficient,” said Jerry. “I paid an outrageous price for them – $650,” he said, keeping the jokes going. “It was such a good deal, I think. They pay for themselves every three years.”
The Millions were very impressed with the results from the hot water panels, saying that they never ran out of hot water once and that the temperature of the water was “boiling hot.”
Jerry decided he wanted to go ahead and start installing photovoltaic panels, which are able to convert the sun’s rays into electricity that can be used to power the rest of the home. They had 22 panels installed in June 2009 by a local company known as One Solar.
Photovoltaic solar panels make use of clean, renewable energy from the sun and are connected into the home’s electricity meter. When the panels make electricity, it causes the meter to run backwards and when the household uses electricity, the meter runs forward. At the end of the month, the electric company (in the Million’s case Progress Energy) sends them a bill for the difference. If the home produces more energy than the household uses, the electric company actually purchases that electricity from the homeowner.
The Millions haven’t made any money off their panels yet, but they are expecting to once they get the next 12 panels installed. “General Electric is coming out with new panels with a substantial operating efficiency. Much better than what we have now,” said Jerry, excited to take advantage of the newest technology.
He figures that if he can get a $13 electric bill with 22 older model panels, the 12 new upgraded panels should make a big difference. “Right now we’ve got a big irrigation system because of the two vineyards on the property,” he added, speaking of his 1.5 acres of muscadine grape vines. “You can’t even tell that we’re using big electrical pumps.”
But is the new installation isn’t really about making money from the electric company. Jerry and Elli have their eyes on the future. “My thinking was, quite honestly, we’re getting to run out of oil and it won’t be too many years and then what the heck is mankind going to do?” said Jerry.
A big Warren Buffett fan and stock trader himself, Jerry quoted the legendary investor. “Warren Buffett said one thing: in 20 years the cars coming off the line will be predominantly electric.” Jerry plans to buy an electric car and fuel it from his roof.
Which car is he planning to buy? “He’s studying that,” said Elli.
“I probably at this particular moment, and excuse me for saying it, but the Chinese are out in front,” Jerry admitted. “The Chinese are going to have one according to Buffett that goes 250 miles with no recharge. That gets me over to the V.A. hospital in Bay Pines and gets me back.”
How much did it cost?
The hot water panels cost the Millions $650 fifteen years ago, but the photovoltaics were another story. They had to come up with $37,000 for installation of the 22 panels up front, but have since received a federal rebate for $11,000. The state of Florida owes them another $20,000 rebate, which the Millions have yet to see. If the state comes through, that would put the Millions’ total cost of ownership at $6,000, which means the panels would pay for themselves in two and a half to three years.
The Millions are not pleased about the delay in the rebate payment, but Jerry feels worse for those who had to borrow money in order to go solar. “A lot of people took out a loan with the bank. They haven’t gotten their money yet, but they’ve gotten (to pay) interest on it!”
Retired and relaxing
A retired photographer with the Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps, the direct ancestor of the U.S. Air Force which was in place from 1914 to 1918, Jerry pursued a career in photography and journalism for most of his life. The Miami native met his wife Elli at age 78 through an online computer dating ad.
“He’s the luckiest man in the world!” Elli chimed in.
Elli is currently the second vice president of the Highlands County Democratic Women’s Club and has a background in politics and government. In fact, she was responsible for pioneering volunteerism in the Dade County school system back when volunteers were not allowed in public schools. Her program, which was originally started to help migrant children who were falling through the cracks, was later picked up by the Dade County School Board.
“I’m in the first history book of ‘Women Who Make a Difference’ in Dade County,” Elli admitted.
For now, the couple enjoys making wine and using the electricity that they generate without so much as lifting a finger.
“It makes sense. If that sun is up there and I can go ahead and operate this whole property, everything about it, with the energy that falls on those panels, why not take full advantage of it?” said Jerry.
He predicted that the rest of the world will eventually catch up to them, especially here in Florida where there is plenty of sun 360 days of the year to run a home with rooftop panels.
“We’ve got so much solar,” admitted Elli. “Why not use it?”
» posted on Thursday, December 30th, 2010 at 11:49 am by Woody Wilson viewed 206 times
Dec 29, 2010
An ongoing criticism of solar energy is that it only works during the day. This problem is being tackled in a plethora of different ways, from oversizing solar systems and connecting them to battery backups and thermal storage to creating syngas (synthetic gas) via algae. New research from CalTech and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are looking at a new way of producing hydrogen and syngasses in another way, by using solar funnels.
CalTech Professor and researcher Sossina Haile and her colleagues published their research in the Dec. 24, 2010, edition of Science. The device that they developed is able to concentrate solar radiation and heat it up to 1,600 degrees Celsius. The resulting heat is used to split water or carbon dioxide into their constituent elements.
The device consists of a quartz lens that focusses the solar radiation on a reaction chamber. The reaction chamber is internally reflective, capturing most of the photons that enter the chamber and converting them to heat. The device heats up at a rate of 140 degrees Celsius a minute until it reaches about 1,250 degrees Celsius, and stabilizing at more than 1,400 degrees Celsius.
Through a two-step process, the device’s catalyst ceria (cerium dioxide) converts carbon dioxide or water into its constituent elements. “Ceria is a metal oxide, what that material will do when heated is it will release oxygen.…It happens at high temperatures, when we cool it back down it wants to absorb oxygen,” Haile said. The ceria replaces the oxygen by stripping it from the supplied material, carbon dioxide or water, thereby creating carbon monoxide—used for syngas, or hydrogen—which can be used directly. Either resulting fuel could be used to store the sun’s energy for use in power generation.
The funnels can be small, but they’re not nano-sized. “It’s like a sponge it’s porous and the gasses flow through it,” Haile said. But “it’s not nano because these temperatures are too high for nano-structures.”
At this point, the material isn’t efficient enough for commercial use. The prototype is inefficient, converting between 0.7 percent and 0.8 percent of the solar energy in the funnel into fuel. With advances that could change. “We calculated efficiency should be between 15 percent and 19 percent,” according to Haile. “We’re working with University of Minnesota on that. Right now it’s limited by the thermal design of the reactor. We need a better thermal design,” she said.
Widespread Changes Can Lead to Big Results; 30 Tips for Cutting Your Energy Bill
Here is a simple checklist of things you can do to reduce your energy bill—30 things in total! You’re sure to find some solutions to save money—and reduce your energy consumption.
- When using an air conditioning unit of any sort, set your thermostat for 78 degrees or higher.
- If you plan to be on vacation, set your thermostat for 85 degrees or higher during warm seasons.
- Use a shade or covering with an air conditioning unit’s condenser.
- Use awnings and trees to shade windows and doors.
- In colder months, set your thermostat as low as possible for your comfort level. Aim for 68 degrees or lower.
- When using central air conditioning or heating, close vents to rooms in your home that are not being used.
- During the day, keep windows and doors closed. Use blinds and shades to cover doors to reduce heat and cool air loss.
- Only use your dryer when it is full—or air dry clothes.
- Insulate your attic and ceiling. Proper insulation may reduce energy costs by as much as 25 percent.
- Insulate walls and doors to prevent air from escaping. Concrete foam is a popular solution.
- Weather strip doors, windows, pipes, and ducts.
- Seal electric outlets and boxes with foam or fiberglass gaskets.
- Update single-pane windows to storm or thermal windows.
- Promptly repair holes in the roof, walls, ceilings, floors, and windows with proper insulation.
- For a dish washer, set the thermostat to 120 degrees to 140 degrees.
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Use low-flow showerheads and water faucets.
- Use only cold or warm water in your washing machine.
- Insulate your water heater with a blanket or insulating protection.
- Only open the refrigerator and freezer doors when necessary. Close them promptly when finished.
- Clean refrigerator coils.
- Use only one refrigerator. A second unit could cost about $200 per year.
- Don’t preheat your oven.
- When cooking in the oven, cook several dishes at one time, if possible, to reduce the amount of time your oven is in use and consuming energy.
- When cooking and reheating smaller quantities of food, use your microwave rather than your oven.
- For lights, use dimmer switches or timers to limit the amount of time your lights are active—and the wattage you consume.
- Turn off lights when not at home—or when they are not needed.
- Switch your light bulbs to compact fluorescent and avoid using older-model light bulbs. You’ll save 2/3 energy and won’t need to replace your bulbs for 10 times as much time.
- When cooking food, use a range top instead of an oven, whenever possible.
- Clean pool cleaning equipment properly before each use.
- Use a pool cover when not using a pool to reduce evaporation.
Use any of these 30 energy saving (and cost saving) tips to reduce your reliance on energy—and to cut your electricity bills significantly. You’ll love the results you get by making small, manageable changes like these.
» posted on Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 at 10:43 am by Woody Wilson viewed 170 times
Plus, patented software from EcoFactor
A doctor can tell if you’re sick by taking your temperature.
EcoFactor is concocting software that can do the same for your house.
The startup — which has invented a home energy management system that gets sold through utilities and communications carriers — has obtained a patent for calculating the thermal mass of a building. Software derived from the patent crunches historical weather data, data on how much you use your heater and air conditioner, and other factors to diagnose your home and pinpoint any problems.
In a test case in Fort Worth, Texas, for instance, a consumer had purchased an ultra-high efficiency air conditioning system but was still experiencing extraordinarily high bills. The software helped find the problem: crushed ducts and a dryer duct that was venting into the home’s air handler.
“He was losing money every time he turned on the air conditioner,” said co-founder and senior vice president of products Scott Hublou.
In another house, the software detected a clogged furnace filter that boosted HVAC consumption by 8 percent to 9 percent.
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The company will use the technology to optimize its own services. In a nutshell, EcoFactor links its software-as-a-service to your thermostat and then dynamically adjusts the temperature all day, within comfort parameters set by the homeowner, to save energy. Oncor is currently reselling the service to its customer base in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. EcoFactor claims the system can curb energy consumption by 25 percent to 30 percent; it is particularly effective in muggy areas like the Southeast where air conditioning is a way of life.
But the patent could also conceivably be used to analyze small commercial buildings. Another idea: using the software as a prelude to a full-blown energy audit and retrofit.
“You could quantify the actual savings,” said John Steinberg, CEO and the other co-founder. “It is less labor-intensive than an audit.”
EcoFactor has an number of other patent applications winding their way through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, so expect to see more of these. Disclosure: although many reporters and analysts disdain patents and whine that patents, particularly software patents, stifle innovation, I believe intellectual property remains the bedrock of Silicon Valley.
Patents are “something that we think have absolutely helped us on the funding side,” said Steinberg. “I don’t think there is any question that it is helpful to have a deep and wide patent portfolio.”