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What You Need to Know about the War on Solar

With everything happening in the news lately, you might hear of the “war on solar” and think it’s just another hyped up headline, but solar power being pushed out by big utility companies is anything but hype.

2016 was the hottest year on record according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, and 2017 has seen heat waves, hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires that have caused mass devastation worldwide.

It is a well-known fact that if greenhouse gas emissions go unchecked, things will only get worse. And scientists, policymakers, and activists are striving to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change as quickly as possible.

The good news is we are beginning to see a surge  of alternatives, a push for renewables, and more scientific studies looking at local and global solutions to global warming.

In Florida and Nevada, however, those efforts were severely dampened when solar power, a huge opportunity for homeowners in those areas and also a boon to the environment, was all but edged out by utility companies and politicians.

One of the major problems hindering “Big Solar” from really taking off is IOUs or Investor-Owned Utility companies. IOUs want to keep solar from taking off for obvious reasons, it would deeply impact their earnings, and in turn, their investors would also lose big.

An article by Rolling Stone put it best while explaining the dangerous monopoly that has become utility companies.

“But in recent years, the nation’s IOUs have been abusing their monopoly powers to profit from massive infrastructure projects….For investors, the formula is simple: More infrastructure equals more profit,” writes Tim Dickinson in “The Koch Brothers’ Dirty War on Solar Power.”

Solar power has the potential to majorly disrupt utilities because homes won’t have to depend on the grid as much, and more solar means fewer power plants.

But before we cover those big changes, let’s discuss net metering laws.

Currently, 41 states have net metering according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Instituted as a way to credit people back who took advantage of renewable energies for any power they would “feed” back into the grid, net metering laws were a win-win for all but the utility companies.

The financial power of IOUs is seemingly unmatched, which is why so many attempts to bring solar power to its full potential are effectively edged out, through well-financed campaigns, lobbyists, and political figures, funded in some way by the gas and coal industries.

Unfortunately, money seems to be at the root any efforts to block solar. Dickinson in his article talks about how Florida could massively benefit from solar power (it is called the Sunshine State for a reason), but the state is a money making machine for IOUs.

What’s worse, Florida forbids anyone but the power companies to buy and sell electricity. If you want to try and get solar power in Florida, you need to be able to pay the upfront cost, and that can be expensive.

Companies and groups like the Edison Electric Institute and the utility industry’s trade association are doing the best they can to keep solar off the table.

Florida is just one state where solar is struggling, another state that’s been making headlines regarding its floundering solar companies is Nevada.

Solar power used to be huge in Nevada, according to NPR, and business was booming.

However, The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) removed incentives for homeowners who wanted to install solar power leaving once-thriving solar companies like Robco Electric in Las Vegas and SolarCity to lay off workers and in some cases leave the state entirely.

The PUC decision is in direct response to net metering, feeling that it is unfair for people to profit off of power the utility grids are not providing.

All’s not lost though for solar customers in Nevada as big solar pushed back, and in June of this year, Governor Brian Sandoval proposed plans for a bill that would bring back net metering.

The war on solar has attracted some big names who are taking a stand, for example Cecily Strong from SNL was featured on National Geographic’s Years of  Living Dangerously project.

The comedian and actress went to Nevada herself for a video spotlight feature and learned more about solar companies and the struggle to keep the lights on.

Strong sat down with Bryan Miller, who is the Vice President of SunRun, a solar company in Nevada for an interview in the National Geographic clip.

According to Miller, “rooftop solar is the first form of competition that utilities have ever faced” and if there is one thing utilities are not ready for, it’s competition.

This is just another reason why the utilities are pushing back so strongly to keep renewables away.

Utility companies are not built for competition and as renewable energy alternatives gain more and more traction the stronger the pushback will be to keep IOUs from losing money.

Policy makers are beginning to feel the heat of unhappy residents who want more solar and renewables. Solar is poised to be a major player in both reducing the effects of climate change but also driving economic development.

Time will tell if IOUs and the gas and coal industry will switch their strategies to be better equipped to handle renewable energies, but for now, the fight to bring solar to the forefront continues.

How to Save Money With Renewable Energy and Green Home Improvements

No matter what time of year it is, you can always make improvements to your home to reduce the amount of energy you use. Melting snow and warmer weather may have you thinking about spring cleaning and home improvement projects. Or cooler weather in the fall may get you considering how to better and more efficiently heat your home.

Stop and consider money-saving green home improvements before you get busy with your toolbox or call your favorite contractor.

What makes your home green?

A green home promotes the health of your family without making a harmful impact on the environment. It features renewable resources, sustainable building practices and is energy efficient.

Home Inspections

You can enjoy the benefits of green home improvements and renewable energy technology without spending a lot.

Before you spend resources on home improvements, it is a good idea to take some time to do a thorough home inspection. You can do it yourself or hire a reputable contractor to do it for you. Many firms offer free home inspections and estimates for home repair work.

Energy Audits

An energy auditor is a specialist trained to examine how your home utilizes energy. Unlike a home inspection, energy auditors use specialized equipment to determine how energy efficient your home and appliances are.

The inspector will examine your property and provide a comprehensive report detailing the areas that need improvement for maximum results. You can learn more about the benefits gained from getting an energy audit by visiting resnet.us, the Residential Energy Services Network website.

Leaking Money

Do you have high heating and cooling costs or rooms that are uncomfortably hot or cold? Is dusting a constant chore and allergies a constant problem? Leaky, dirty duct works may be your problem. Old or inadequate insulation is another common problem area.

Repairing ducting and replacing old fiberglass insulation with environmentally friendly materials will greatly reduce wasted energy use and lower heating and cooling costs right away. If you have a quiet portable air conditioner, then doing simple maintenance tasks like cleaning the filter and making sure its draining properly can keep those costs down.

Clean and Seal Duct Works

Heating and cooling your home eats up nearly half your energy budget and even small increases in efficiency will make a difference. You do not always need to upgrade to a newer system to get better efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, cleaning and sealing leaks in the ducting can improve

HVAC efficiency by as much as 20 percent. Regular cleaning benefits your family in other ways as well. Clean, well-maintained HVAC systems dramatically reduce the dust and airborne allergens inside your home. This keeps your family comfortable and less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma attacks caused by indoor air pollution.

Insulation

The EPA estimates that ten cents of every dollar you spend on energy is lost due to inadequate or old insulation. Your energy audit will reveal leaks around windows and doors, flashing around chimneys and other areas.

Many of the repairs are simple DIY projects but insulating inside walls may call for a professional. Some eco-friendly insulation options for attics, walls and crawlspaces are recycled cotton and cellulose. Sustainable insulation home improvements qualify for federal and state tax incentives. Improved efficiency and lower heating/cooling costs will save more than the cost of installation over time.

Hot Water Heaters

Older tank type hot water heaters waste energy keeping the water warm all the time. Consider replacing your old unit with new energy efficient tankless hot water heater or a solar hot water heater. On-demand, tankless systems produce hot water with less energy usage and can last much longer than tank type water heaters.

Solar water heaters are available in a wide variety of designs and they cost nothing to operate. The Department of Energy offers a useful site that helps homeowners decide if solar water heating is a good option for their situation.

(read more: Estimating the Cost and Energy Efficiency of a Solar Water Heater)

Tax Credits for Sustainable Energy Home Improvements

Making your home more efficient is save money on energy and a good way to put some extra cash in your pocket at tax time. Federal tax credits pay back up to ten percent of your investment for energy efficient home improvements and many state and municipal governments also offer energy efficient home improvement tax incentives.

The government wants to help you with credits of up to 30 percent of the costs for installing renewable energy systems. Federal tax credits and incentives help offset the cost of installing residential solar, wind and geothermal energy systems. Visit energy.gov/savings/residential-renewable-energy-tax-credit to learn more about the Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit.

Put some green into your maintenance and home improvements this year with sustainable, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Even with a limited home improvement budget, there are improvements that will make your home more energy efficient and cost less to heat and cool.

Even small increases in your home’s efficiency saves money on energy costs immediately and over time the improvements will pay for themselves.

 

10 Incredible Innovations In Alternative Energy

A great deal of research has gone into developing useful alternative energy sources. Here’s a look at some of the incredible innovations in the industry.

Beta.Ray: The Magic Sphere

Rawlemon, headed by the German architect Andre Broessel has created a spherical generator called the “beta.ray.” It generates energy twice as effectively as standard solar panels, despite having a smaller surface area.

This spherical solar generator is cost-effective, compact and can be placed on inclined surfaces. Moreover, it is fully functional during the night and in low light areas as it stores energy and can generate power from the moon.

Space Solar Power Systems (SSPS)

Posing as the fountainhead of hope for future generations, Space Solar Power Systems is working on wireless transmission of energy, eliminating the use of conventional cables. The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) has successfully demonstrated a trial via a microwave unit and hopes to fully implement this orbiting solar panel technology by 2030.

Tree-Shaped Wind Turbines

The French company New Wind has developed a 26-foot-high, tree-shaped wind turbine that can generate energy from winds moving as slowly as 4.5 mph. The tiny blades inside the “leaves” generate electricity using the smallest of wind currents and more efficiently than conventional wind turbines.

3D-Printed Solar Energy Trees

Recently, 3D printing has moved into the alternative energy field with flexible energy harvesting trees. Made using organic solar cells, the printed trees pick up kinetic energy from wind and heat energy from their surroundings.

They are functional both indoors and outdoors, effectively powering electrical appliances like small air conditioners.

Solar Leaf

Daniel Nocera and Pamela Silver, professors at MIT, developed the Solar Leaf. The system makes liquid fuel from carbon dioxide, sunlight, and water. The name is derived from the way the system mimics real-life photosynthesis in leaves.

Makani Energy Kite

The Makani Energy Kite is capable of generating 50% more energy while using 90% less material than standard wind turbines. This lightweight gadget, operated by smart software, works in areas where conventional turbines are not suitable.

The kite rises to an altitude of 800 feet with the help of rotors on its wings and utilizes high-energy winds to generate electricity by moving in a circular pattern.

Hydrobee

The ground-breaking Hydrobee invention acts as a USB power source from nature. It is the size of a 250-ml can and uses solar, kinetic and thermal energy to spin its turbine and generate electricity. It can be effectively used to power electrical appliances in off-grid areas using water, wind, sun or exercise as a power source.

PowerMod

PowerMod is a 20-by-20-foot portable electricity generator specifically designed for use in areas suffering from natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. Portable and easily assembled in 15 minutes, PowerMod is made of thin fabric coated with a film of solar cells that can produce 4.5 kilowatts per day. It is extremely economical.

Kymogen Wave Generator

The Kymogen Wave Generator generates electricity from tidal movements rather than rushing water. It uses the movement of the waves in lakes, rivers, and seas to drive the flywheel inside its floating platform and generate electricity.

It can generate up to 100 kilowatts per day, which can effectively serve a small village.

Printable Solar Panels

Silicon-based, conventional solar panels are bulky and rigid.  Paper-thin printable “solar ink” panels are printed onto plastic rolls up to A3 size and only require an industrial printer.

Various inexpensive methods can be employed to apply the ink, including screen printing and spray coating. Low-cost, lightweight and flexible, solar ink is usable on a wide range of devices and materials, from computers and smartphones to windows and consumer packaging.

Global perceptions on renewable and alternative energy have changed as technologies become more innovative, adaptive and increasingly advanced. These breakthroughs are making renewable energy more accessible, effective and powerful.

The above alternative energy sources contribute to the most efficient use of the Earth’s natural, renewable resources.

 

This Could Be the Next Big Renewable Energy Source

In a 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications, Columbia University biophysicist Dr. Ozgur Sahin and colleagues assert that evaporation from reservoirs and lakes in the U.S. could produce 325 gigawatts of energy. That’s almost 70 percent of the average annual amount of energy the U.S. produces now.

This research marks the first time evaporation’s capacity as a renewable energy source has been studied. Although the new findings come from experiments conducted in a lab, researchers said they were excited about the real-world possibilities.

How Evaporation Creates Power

Evaporation can create usable power with the help of some microscopic friends. Sahin and his colleagues have developed a machine that uses a shutter to control humidity. The fluctuations in humidity encourage bacterial spores to contract and swell.

The energy from the movement of the spores is then transferred to a generator, where it is converted into electricity. Sahin and team call the machine they’ve invented the Evaporation Engine. Their new study was meant to examine how much energy the machine could produce in the U.S.

Solving Renewable Energy Problems

As the U.S. and the world try to offset the climate changing effects of burning fossil fuels, solar and wind energy have become key players in the energy industry. However, opponents of these renewable energy sources often point out that these methods cannot generate sufficient electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

And while the go-to solution has been large batteries that can store solar and wind power, these batteries must be manufactured using dangerous chemicals. They also create an additional financial hurdle for those who want to generate solar and wind power.

Evaporation, however, wouldn’t require a battery, Sahin and colleagues pointed out. And evaporation tech would be able to generate electricity on demand.

Saving Water

As drought concerns grow in the Western U.S. and other regions, saving water has become a priority for state governments. Those same state governments might be eager to get their hands on evaporation technology if Sahin’s findings ring true.

Roughly half of the water that evaporates could be saved during the process of harvesting energy, according to this study. In the scenario Sahin and his research team modeled, that could come to an estimated 25 trillions gallons of water each year. That’s around 20 percent of the water used in the U.S. annually.

Where It Could Work Best

Although Sahin and team said evaporation could be useful anywhere, they noted that places with hotter weather would likely see the most benefit from evaporation tech. They specifically mentioned California, Nevada, and Arizona.

These states also happen to struggle with water loss and drought. That means they could also benefit from the water-saving potential of evaporation technology.

The Future of Evaporation

Sahin said in a press release that evaporation tech could be used as a primary power source in the U.S. And when the conditions are right, solar and wind energy could supplement it.

This technology is still in its infancy, but Sahin and colleagues are refining the process to improve its efficiency. They said they hope to test evaporation tech in a greenhouse or on a lake or reservoir in the near future.

If you’re looking to reduce your energy footprint, one thing you can do is use ENERGY STAR rated appliances that do a better job of using energy. For small air conditioners, this could mean using a double hose model that funnels warm air outside of the home in order to better cool the air inside. 

 

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