Friday, January 6, 2012

Latest from: CleanTechnica

Latest from: CleanTechnica

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Gainesville, Florida, Becomes a World Leader in Solar

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 07:19 AM PST

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

You don’t have to be big to go big on solar power.  That’s the lesson from the Gainesville Regional Utilities, the electric utility whose feed-in tariff solar policy has brought over 7 megawatts (MW) of solar to the city’s 125,000 residents.  The raw number isn’t much, but it puts Gainesville among the world leaders in solar installed per capita, beating out Japan, France, and China (and besting California, with 32 kilowatts -kW- per 1000 residents).

The basic premise behind the feed-in tariff program is that anyone who wants to be a solar power generator can connect to the grid and get a 20-year contract for their power from the municipal utility. 

The long-term contract makes getting financing for solar projects easier and the prices are attractive. The utility pays 24 cents per kilowatt-hour generated for large-scale ground-mounted systems and up to 32 cents for small, rooftop systems.

The price differentiation helps accommodate solar arrays of various sizes, from residential to larger commercial installations, spreading the economic opportunity.  The differentiation may also help small-scale residential projects that can’t use federal tax incentives for businesses (depreciation).

Thus far, approximately one-third of the city’s 7.3 MW of solar power is in relatively small systems, 100 kW and smaller.  About half the installed capacity is in projects 500 kW and larger.

The solar feed-in tariff program also brings value to the local community and electricity system.  A report released earlier this year found that the grid benefits and social benefits of solar power far outweigh the typical valuation of solar power by utilities.  These benefits include reduced stress on the utility distribution system and reduced transmission losses.

The feed-in tariff program also means local economic development.  With a rule of thumb of 8 jobs per MW, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study of the jobs created from renewable energy development, Gainesville has already generated 56 jobs.  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that each megawatt of solar adds $240,000 to the local economy, and if Gainesville’s solar projects are locally owned, the value could be much higher.

More than anything, Gainesville provides an important lesson in local energy self-reliance.  While many communities must await action by a state legislature or investor-owned utility, the municipal utility has the authority to act quickly in support of the community.  And when the utility is locally controlled, it can mean big things for local solar power.

For more information on feed-in tariffs and their success in supporting solar power, see CLEAN v. SREC: Finding the More Cost-Effective Solar Policy.

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Rick Santorum Receives the Least Oil & Gas Money of All Remaining Republican Candidates

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 07:04 AM PST

Rick Santorum

…but still vehemently denies the existence of climate change

Everyone’s jumping up and down: who is Rick Santorum? Who is Rick Santorum?!

The former Senator from Pennsylvania seemed all but invisible over the last year as a series of candidates stole the position of ‘person most likely to be the Republican nominee if it isn’t Mitt Romney.’ First Trump, then Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain, then Gingrich. All fell away after a few weeks in the spotlight, and now it’s Santorum — along with Ron Paul — who’s getting all the attention after he nearly beat Romney in the Iowa primary on Tuesday.

We’ll leave it up to The Washington Post, the BBC, et al to give you a primer on Santorum’s general take on things. One particular detail about Santorum caught our attention: he has received the least donations from oil & gas companies of any of the remaining Republican candidates.

That’s according to recent figures from the Federal Election Commission, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Santorum has received a measly $5,250 from oil & gas companies and their employees so far in this election cycle, it says. Newt Gingrich has received $18,650; Michelle Bachmann, who ended her campaign after coming sixth in Iowa, $37,290; and front-runner Mitt Romney $313,200. The champion, though? Rick Perry, with a whopping $750,408.

Of course, Santorum has received less donations overall, too, as he’s widely been seen as a minor candidate. But if we divide this figure by the candidates’ overall fundraising, we can see roughly what percentage of their funding comes from the oil & gas industry. The results are striking: Rick Perry has got 4.3% of funding from oil & gas; Romney, just under 1%. Rick Santorum? Just 0.4%.

(This extremely unscientific, as the overall fundraising figures are for only the first three quarters of 2011, while the oil & gas figures reach into November. But it’s enough to get the gist.)

You might think, given this massive disparity, that Rick Santorum might be considerably less of a shill for oil & gas interests than his rival candidates. Sadly, not so much. As Grist pointed out earlier this week, Santorum is a denier of the grade-A class.

Mitt Romney has expressed qualified concern about climate change over the years, and then vacillated about how much of it is human-caused and whether we should try to do anything about it.

No wobbling of that sort from Santorum — he’s an out-and-out denier. “There is no such thing as global warming,” he told a smiling Glenn Beckon Fox News in June 2011. That same month, he told Rush Limbaugh that climate change is a liberal conspiracy: “It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life and I’ve never been for any scheme or even accepted the junk science behind the whole narrative.”

The only difference, it seems, between Santorum and other oil-loving politicians is that Santorum’s dirty fuel of choice is coal.

Santorum made a point of announcing his presidential candidacy this spring near the coalfields where his grandfather worked — so that’s your first clue as to how he feels about the dirtiest of all fossil fuels. During his 16 years as a member of Congress and then senator from Pennsylvania, Santorum was a big coal booster – and he’s continued to play that role even after his defeat in a 2006 Senate race…

But Santorum’s an equal-opportunity fossil-fuel lover. “Drill everywhere” is his philosophy when it comes to oil, he told [Glenn] Beck.

Oh well. At least we can say in the case of Santorum that he’s a denier because he means it, not because he’s been paid to be.

Source: Center for Responsive Politics | Picture: WikiMedia Commons

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Keeping the Lights On: Why Concentrating Solar Power is Vital to Tomorrow’s Energy Mix

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 07:00 AM PST

Picture a solar power station. You think of a bunch of solar panels, right? Photovoltaic (PV) solar power, which uses cells to turn the sun’s rays directly into electricity, accounts for, by far, the majority of solar power installed worldwide. FIGURE?

But it’s another kind of solar power, concentrating solar power (CSP), which might prove even more important. Look at a CSP power station and you’ll see not solar panels, but acres and acres of mirrors, all focusing the sun’s rays onto a single central tower, in which fluid is heated to very high temperatures by the focused sunlight. The super-heated fluid can then be used to generate power much like a steam engine.

CSP is a fairly recent development, but it’s growing fast. Over 7 GW of CSP are expected to be installed in the US in the next few years. But many people don’t understand the advantages CSP offers. Now, GreentechMedia has published a great new guide to why CSP has to be a vital part of our future energy supply.

Flexible beats baseload

You often hear advocates of fossil fuels talking about ‘baseload power.’ Coal and gas stations can supply a constant flow of power which, it’s argued, is needed to keep the lights on at night when PV doesn’t operate, and during times when there’s little wind so turbines don’t spin.

As a sun-powered technology, CSP can’t provide baseload power (which comes with its own problems). But it can provide something better — flexible power. Because CSP produces thermal energy (the heated fluid), its energy can be easily stored using simple thermal energy storage technology. As GreentechMedia‘s piece puts it, “PV doesn't entirely answer the needs of the transmission system, while CSP with thermal energy storage (TES) can.”

This energy can then be converted into electricity as and when it’s required. "Dispatchable CSP can discharge from storage to serve high-price peak loads that occur outside the daylight hours, including the late afternoon and early evening,” Dr Udi Helman, a director at BrightSource Energy, told GreentechMedia.

This flexibility makes CSP every bit as useful as coal or gas power in terms of keeping the lights on and people’s kettles boiling — if not moreso.

PV cannot be dialed up or down, whereas by channeling more or less CSP output to storage, it can be ramped. Once in storage, it can also be released in varying amounts. This is the kind of flexibility conventional generators have which allows utilities, by altering the level of their output, to accommodate the forecast uncertainty and variability of non-dispatchable renewable generation. This provides grid operators with ramping reserves and regulation services.

It’s not a zero-sum game

By providing a highly flexible source of power that can make up for shortfalls in supply from other sources, CSP could actually enable the use of more PV and wind power.

CSP plants with TES have the flexibility of conventional thermal plants, according to Helman, and "offer higher ramp rates and ranges than large thermal plants." This could not only replace some conventional generation but could "provide a more flexible generation mix" that would "result in greater use of non-dispatchable solar PV and wind."

In short, CSP is just as important to a renewable future as PV or wind power. And it makes it possible to foresee a future energy supply which meets our needs without fossil fuels or nuclear.

Of course, in some countries, hydropower — which, like coal and gas, is relatively constant — can fill the role of providing baseload power without emissions or hazard. But in the US, CSP deserves to be a central part of the mix. And if the Desertec project gets its way, CSP installations in the Sahara will also be central to Europe’s energy supply in future.

For more on flexible vs baseload power, see Baseload Power "Gets in the Way".

Source: GreentechMedia | Picture: WikiMedia Commons

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China Development Bank Finances LDK-SPI Solar International Expansion Plans

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 06:53 AM PST

Photo courtesy LDK Solar

Roseville, California-based SPI Solar, a US subsidiary of China’s LDK Solar, today announced it has secured $44 million in construction financing from China Development Bank (CDB) to carry out solar photovoltaic (PV) projects with KDC Solar in New Jersey. Separately, LDK secured $20 million in CDB financing for two projects in California for which its providing engineering, construction and procurement (EPC) services to SPI.

SPI and LDK last June announced that they would provide construction financing and “facilitate” long-term financing, supported by LDK, of up to $750 million for solar energy facility (SEF) projects as part of their preferred provider agreement with New Jersey’s KDC Solar.

CDB Financing US Solar

China Development Bank is the Chinese government’s economic development bank. As such, it’s the only Chinese bank authorized to issue corporate bonds, short-term commercial paper, super-short-term commercial paper, medium-term notes, packaged SME notes, and the underwriting of private placement bonds.

One of CDB’s strategic focal points is financing emerging industries in China, which includes solar power and other forms of clean energy. In line with China’s “Go Global” export-oriented policy directives, it’s been scaling up its international lending, with its book of outstanding domestic and foreign currency loans totaling RMB 4.51 billion (~USD 714 million) as of year-end 2010.

CDB’s been expanding credit rapidly in recent years. Total funding reached RMB 1.78 trillion (~USD 283 billion) in 2010. Issuance of RMB-denominated debt securities rose from RMB 365 billion (~USD 58 billion) in 2005 to 855 billion (~USD 135 billion) in 2010.

An increasing proportion of that has been coming from international investors and foreign currency denominated debt securities. Of the 2010 total, RMB 5 billion (~USD 794 million) was issued in Hong Kong’s international market, while foreign currency-denominated debt securities issuance amounted to USD 86.2 billion.

CDB has supported LDK’s growth into one of China’s largest integrated solar PV companies since the solar power company’s founding in 2005, and continues to do so now, when LDK is struggling to stay solvent amid the collapse in solar PV cell and panel prices and growing uncertainty regarding government support for solar power in key markets worldwide. Without that support, it’s likely that both companies would be scaling back, rather than expanding, amidst an industry shakeout and a possible drop in demand that’s put LDK on the verge of insolvency.

LDK-SPI US Solar Expansion

For its part, SPI is adding to its large-scale solar project pipeline both domestically in the US and internationally and is applying to CDB for additional financing. On Jan. 3, SPI announced it had been awarded an EPC contract by New Jersey’s Seashore Solar Development LLC for an 11.3-megawatt (MW) fixed ground mount SEF in Egg Harbor Township that will supply clean, renewable electricity to southern New Jersey’s power grid.

In addition to helping meet the clean energy targets established in the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, the Egg Harbor SEF is expected to create some 200 local jobs during construction. Construction is due to begin in the first quarter contingent upon Seashore Solar closing project financing.

"Our successful relationship with CDB is a direct result of our close working relationship with LDK," said Steve Kircher, CEO for SPI Solar. "As we continue to develop our pipeline of projects globally, our partnership with CDB grows stronger."

China and the CDB are in a much better fiscal position to adopt counter-cyclical economic policies than is the case in the US or European Union (EU). Stepping up government support now, at a time of flagging demand and deflationary forces at work, is the correct Keynesian macroeconomic policy response. Having provided monetary and fiscal stimulus in both credit expansions and contractions, the US and EU are much more limited in their ability to pursue such a course now when it’s needed.

For better or worse, the US and EU aren’t able, or as prone, to employ further fiscal or monetary stimulus, nor would it be likely to work to as great effect as in China given the burden of accumulated debt and leverage that’s been accumulated in the US and EU during the past decade and more.

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Is China Preparing to Implement a Carbon Tax?

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 04:00 AM PST

China’s airlines may be bristling over being forced to join the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme, but it seems the Chinese government is still focused on its own emissions reductions plans — all the more so, we’d imagine, since they agreed to enter talks over joining a successor to the Kyoto treaty at the Durban conference last month. The People’s Republic recently increased its target for new installations of solar power by 50%, to 15 GW by 2015 (just a handful of months after it doubled the target from 5 GW to 10 GW). But this news could be much more significant: the Chinese government is reportedly preparing to implement a nationwide carbon tax.

The state news agency Xinhua announced the new policy yesterday. The plans are still being finalised, but are expected to come into force before 2015. The tax would be applied to the biggest consumers of fossil fuels, most likely energy companies and heavy industry — and, possibly, airlines. The tax would start at 10 yuan, about $1.50, per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, but at some point that would rise rapidly.

To put that in perspective, carbon permits under the EU’s emissions trading scheme cost about $8 per tonne.

Strange that on the very day China’s airlines said they wouldn’t pay the EU’s carbon levy, their government looks set to impose its own. But the move wasn’t totally unexpected — as Reuters points out, China’s National Bureau of Statistics last year started developing a system to measure emissions by major industrial companies, an essential tool for implementing a carbon tax. We reported in April 2011 on China’s decision to start taxing energy-intensive industries, and Susan discussed China’s decision to implement a cap-and-trade program way back in June 2010.

The move will make China part of an elite club. Finland, Sweden, Norway and Australia are the only countries currently taxing carbon directly, although Ireland taxes oil and gas, and India taxes coal. (And, of course, Boulder, Colorado has a carbon tax on electricity.)

It’s the latest in a line of positive steps China’s government has taken in recent months to get its spiralling emissions under control. Its latest five-year economic plan, released last March, contained a slew of environmental targets and measures, including plans for 40 GW of new nuclear power, 120 GW of new hydropower and, most demandingly, a target to reduce the economy’s carbon intensity — the amount of carbon emissions per unit of economic growth — by 17%.

Of course, not all of that development is uncontroversial — in particular, China’s grandiose hydropower schemes have been criticised for their damage to the local environment. But if a carbon tax is implemented, it should shift the focus of carbon reduction efforts away from giant government projects and towards more efficient business. And given that China now accounts for more CO2 than the US and Canada put together, every bit of progress is to be welcomed.

For more on China’s efforts to green its economy, see China: Yet Another Strong Renewable Energy Push.

Source: Reuters | Via: BusinessGreen |  Chinese pollution via shutterstock

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Chinese Airlines: We “Will Not Cooperate” with EU Air Traffic Carbon Tax

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 03:46 AM PST

An Air China 747

How quickly things change. Just a few weeks ago, it seemed that China had gone from obstacle to advocate in the battle over restricting climate emissions. The surprise deal at the UN Convention on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa in December, which saw India and China agree for the first time to discuss joining up to a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, seemed to usher in a new era of cooperation between developed and developing countries to reduce their mutual carbon emissions.

But here’s a worrying sign that Chinese businesses, at least, remain dead-set against strong action on emissions. China’s leading airlines have said they have no intention of paying a new levy on airline carbon emissions in the EU, something that just came into force on New Year’s Day.

The levy requires all airlines flying to and from airports in the EU to participate in the EU’s emissions trading scheme. Previously, the ETS has only applied to European energy companies and heavy industry. Now, it’ll apply to both EU and foreign airlines if they use European airports, requiring the airlines to buy carbon permits through the scheme. Airlines flying without permits could face fines of €100 per tonne of CO2. (A 1-tonne permit currently costs about €6.)

But the China Air Transport Association, which represents the People’s Republic’s four biggest airlines, says it has no intention of paying. ”China will not cooperate with the European Union on the ETS, so Chinese airlines will not impose surcharges on customers relating to the emissions tax,” says deputy secretary-general Cai Haibo. He estimates the levy would cost his members around €94 million each in the first year.

In fairness, China’s airlines aren’t the only ones squealing at the new charge. A group of American airlines (including, yes, American Airlines) brought a legal challenge against the levy in a London court last year. But the European Court of Justice ruled in December that the inclusion of airlines in the ETS, whether European-based or not, could go ahead, and it seems American airlines are now resigned to paying the fine.

So, what happens now? Some further legal shenanigans, most likely. The first fees don’t actually have to be paid until 2013, although the counting of tonnes of CO2 that have to be permitted has already begun. So, there’s time for more court cases before the Chinese airlines actually face fines. If the levy isn’t overturned by the courts, and the Chinese airlines still don’t pay, they could theoretically be banned from EU airspace.

For more on the European Union’s Emissions Trading Scheme, see EU Will Tighten Cap to Fix Carbon Price Collapse.

Source: The Guardian | Picture: Chinese airplane via Christopher Parypa / shutterstock

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Banish Vampire Drain with These Mushroom-Shaped Chargers

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 03:26 AM PST

Bracketron's GreenZero charger

Tread carefully. You may not realise it, but your house is full of vampires.

Vampire appliances, that is. That’s any appliance that sucks up power from your socket whenever it’s plugged in, even if it’s not in use. Common culprits include laptop power supplies, battery chargers and, in particular, chargers for gadgets and mobile phones.

And we all have a lot more of those these days, don’t we? If you’re rocking a smartphone, tablet PC, and an e-reader, for example, you may have three chargers plugged in by your bed 24/7. For a few hours every couple of days they’re useful, but the rest of the time they’re just draining your power. That’s bad for your bill, and bad for emissions.

Of course, you could make a point of unplugging chargers and devices when you’re not using them. But be honest — can you really imagine doing that every day? Remote devices to switch certain appliances off at the mains, like the Bye Bye Standby range, can make it easier for you, by letting you cut the power to unused gadgets with a remote control. But you could still forget, and besides, for every eco-minded somebody who does do it, there’ll always be 1000 who don’t.

No, the real answer is to eliminate vampire drain by designing gadgets and chargers that don’t use power when it’s not needed. And the last few years have seen some progress on that. In 2010, for example, Apple brought out a AA battery charger in order to allow users to charge the batteries in its wireless keyboard, mouse, and trackpad products, and made its low vampire drain a key selling point. But that’s just one type of charging. What about Kindles, phones, iPads, mp3 players…?

Well, these GreenZero chargers might just be the solution. Designed by Bracketron, a company better known for designing holders to mount a phone on a car dashboard, these chargers can power anything that can charge via USB — which includes most modern hand-held widgets, including the iPhone and iPad. So far, so standard. But here’s the clever bit: when you want to start charging a device, you press the big green button on the charger. When your widget is full to the brim with juice, the big green button pops out, and — the company says — the charger stops drawing power from the socket.

In reality, the big green button is a bit of a gimmick (although less of a gimmick than chargers which physically detach from the wall when they’re done, like the Leech Plug). Any button will do — the crucial thing is that this device stops drawing power when it’s done, and won’t start again until you press the button.

Of course, there’s a downside to that — if your device is something like a phone that uses power constantly, by the time you get back to it, it may have stopped charging and used up 20% of its power again. In the long run, the future to this problem isn’t buttons, but smarter electronics which stop drawing power when there’s no need, but know when it’s time to start again. In the meantime, though, these GreenZero chargers — set to launch next week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — should help you keep your personal carbon footprint a little lower. And it looks like it might be fun putting your own footprint on them in order to turn them on, too.

For more on how to love both gadgets and our planet, see Energy Efficiency Apps for Your Smartphone – Top Five.

Source: Bracketron | Via: Gizmag | Picture: Bracketron

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It’s a Motorcycle! It’s a Car! No, It’s the C-1!

Posted: 06 Jan 2012 03:16 AM PST

Most drivers who wouldn't touch a two-wheeled vehicle with a ten-foot pole (motorcycle, scooter, you name it) will tell you that they're dangerous and uncomfortable; what's to stop them from tipping over and it's just cold and wet anyway and I will be in my nice warm quiet car, thank you. The proponent of said two-wheeled vehicle will then insist that their bike is super fuel efficient, accelerates (and brakes) quickly, is more maneuverable, takes up less space (yay, easy parking), and so on.

And the debate will never ever end, because both parties are entirely sure that the other person is full of, uh, hot air. One possible solution is what Lit Motors came up with – the C-1 is fully-enclosed, has two wheels, and has a controlled gyroscopic stabilizing system to keep it upright. It's even fully electric. While the C-1 doesn't actually exist yet, Lit Motors has an operating model of the stabilization system and a fiberglass mock-up of the vehicle. The next stop is a working prototype, which they claim will be done in a few months. They are willing and eager to share details, though.

The Company

Lit Motors is based in San Francisco and headed up by Daniel Kim, who traveled the world for a year and used the opportunity to evaluate transportation challenges and innovations all over. In an interview with Gizmag, Kim said:

“I met thousands and thousands of people, and learned how cultures function and how people get around. It was an amazing experience. That’s basically what inIformed me, for the rest of my life.”

The Specs

There are supposed to be a number of different versions of the C-1, aimed at different markets. Differences include the battery pack (8-10 kWh for developed countries and 4-6 kWh for others) and the range (somewhere between 150 and 220 miles for the bigger-batteried bike). Both models will have hub motors in the wheels and reach a top speed of 120 mph (yes, you can break all the speed limit laws).

Flywheels below the vehicle floor, as previously mentioned, will help stabilize the vehicle and generage 1300 ft/lbs of torque. Kim told Gizmag that the C-1 will not be unstable when going really fast around corners (a problem with some previous attempts at gyroscopically stabilizing bikes).

The bike will also stay connected to the internet, in order to monitor traffic, construction, and weather. I have to wonder if, like the Audi A2 concept, it will also automatically connect to social media like Facebook. I can't see that as being a positive. Traffic updates, on the other hand, are pretty awesome.

The first run of vehicles is expected to be about $24,000 USD, and the bike is supposed to go on sale late next year if all goes according to plan. Once the vehicles are in full production, the price should drop to $16,000 USD.

You Can Order It, If You Want

While the bike, as we said, doesn't actually exist yet, Lit Motors will take a deposit ($250, refundable, so not a bad deal) if you want one of the first ones out the door. They don't have too many yet, but that may change.

The C-1 addresses some of the sticking points between motorcycles and cars; it's great that it's enclosed, and it's great that it moves quickly and goes pretty far before it needs to be charged. It seems fairly positive by all initial accounts, but I think I'd like to (make someone else) drive it before passing final judgment.

What do you think – want one? Let us know in the comments, below.

Source: Gizmag | Image: Lit Motors.

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Plug n’ Play Solar PV Systems Aim to Juice the Home-DIY Market

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 11:14 PM PST

Image courtesy Onyx Service and Solutions

Borrowing a design concept from the consumer electronics industry, ‘Plug n’ Play’ solar photovoltaic (PV) systems are making their way into the consumer mass market. Plug n’ Play solar PV systems offer homeowners the possibility of purchasing a complete, pre-packaged solar PV system that can be set up at low cost with relative ease. Perhaps the greatest advantage they offer is the ability to start drawing clean, renewable energy from the PV panels by simply plugging in an extension cord.

The first two versions of an “all-in-one” 330-Watt (W) “Plug-N-Play” solar home PV system designed by Colorado’s Onyx Service and Solutions were due to arrive at a demonstration site in Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, on schedule for press and prospective customers to get a first-hand look at them from installation to operation.

Plug N’ Play Solar Power

Manufactured by “fabless” (Onyx’s Chinese manufacturing partner), the Onyx Plug-N-Play systems both come with a 330-W panel, a built-in microinverter, and a standard U.S. AC power outlet plug. One system, the OSPP330-2, adds a high-capacity lithium battery that’s incorporated into the unit.

Both Onyx’s Plug-N-Play solar PV systems are aimed directly at the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) market. In September, Westinghouse Solar introduced an “all-in-one” DIY solar home PV system. Onyx’s system takes the Plug n’ Play concept a step further by eliminating the need for relatively costly wiring and installation by a professional electrician. That can significantly reduce the ‘balance of systems’ costs of purchasing and installing solar home PV systems. So-called ‘balance of systems’ cost is the total cost of installing a solar PV system beside the cost of the solar PV panels themselves.

“You can literally point the panel at the sun and plug an extension cord directly into the panel for immediate power – alleviating complicated wiring and typical installation requirements,” according to Greenwood, Colorado-based Onyx Service and Solutions’ press release.

“The new panels are designed to be bought right off of the shelf in a hardware store, attached to any surface with 4 screws and immediately be put into service, powering a computer, fan, light or even a medical device. This new configuration will also help allow remote residences worldwide to have easier access to the power of the sun.”

At the demonstration site in Orlando, Plug-N-Play model OS330-1 will be used to power a water well pump. The OS330-2 model, with a lithium battery, will be used to power the air conditioning system of a residential building. A PowerPoint schematic with system specs is available here.

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In a Manufacturing First, Innovative Material is Grown by Fungi

Posted: 05 Jan 2012 07:27 PM PST

Normally manufacturers must rush their products off the assembly line, but EcovativeDesign has a novel approach. They just wait, up to week, and let mycelium do the manufacturing work to construct everything from insulation to packaging materials.

In a completely new way to make stuff, they let mycelium – a fungal network of threadlike cells - grow the material by combining itself with agricultural byproducts like plant stalks and seed husks. Mycelium is like the "roots" of mushrooms. In 5 – 7 days, in the dark, with no water, and no petrochemical inputs, the mycelium digests the agricultural byproducts.

Once the mycelium has bound the agricultural waste, then a quick  heat-drying treatment at the end halts the organic growth, resulting in a stable, strong, waterproof structural material.

Over the last ten thousand years, we humans have put many plants and animals to work for our ends, but it is likely that this marks the first manufacturing work by the kingdom of fungi.

Because the mycelium acts like a natural, self assembling glue, it can replace the toxic adhesives like formaldehyde that hold particle board together, and any of the uses for styrofoam and other packaging materials could be replaced by this fungi-grown stuff.

Here’s the work flow:

  1. Truckloads of agricultural byproducts arrive from regional farms.
  2. Several types of farm waste are stored in large hoppers and then mixed in different ratios to meet specified material properties.
  3. A patented continuous steam pasteurization system cleans the crop wastes of any mold or bacterial contamination that may have come from the field.
  4. The pasteurized substrate is inoculated with mycelium, and molded into a form.
  5. These forms are loaded into pallet racks, and growth occurs indoors for about a week.
  6. Lastly, the parts are popped out and dried in order to deactivate the growth.
  7. Finished parts are shipped to customers.

Although just starting up, this is not some small scale cottage industry either. Because of the promise of this novel approach, 3M is working to help the founders scale up their process. Their materials are protecting NOAA's scientific buoys during deployment.

Their in-house testing facilities can give results for

  • Compressive strength and elastic modulus
  • Tensile strength and elastic modulus
  • Flexural strength and elastic modulus
  • Face shear
  • Planer shear
  • Thermal conductivity
  • Thermal diffusivity
  • Specific heat
  • Environmental aging from -50ºC to 190ºC, relative humidity from 0-95%
  • Water sorption
  • Drop testing: cushioning and resilience
  • Screw hold test
  • Fatigue testing
  • Creep testing

They can custom design and produce shapes needed to order. It can grow itself into whatever shape is desired, in a mould. First you can get a sample of this strange new material to see if it will work for your needs. Almost any business that ships things could use such a  sustainable alternative to the usual toxic resource-depleting packaging materials.

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