Solar Pool Heaters: an Overview

Wondering about your options for a solar pool heater?

If you love your pool and want to use it more of the year, but don’t want the expense of using fuel to heat it, you may want to consider a solar pool heater.

Swimming pool solar heaters use the energy of the sun to warm your pool’s water. The way a solar heater works is by channeling water through your pool’s pump to the heater. The heater is a mesh of tiny, black rubber or plastic tubes that hold your pool water and maximize the amount of surface area receiving the sun’s heat. The sun heats the water and it is recirculated into your pool, warming it. Other devices such as timers and control valves can regulate your desired temperature and only run water through your filter during daylight hours. In the US, solar can extend your use of your pool to year-round in southern climates and extend it significantly if you live in a cold climate like the northeast.

Swimming Pool Solar Heater
CC flickr photo courtesy of Phil Wiffen

Continue reading “Solar Pool Heaters: an Overview”

Solar Chargers and Solar Lights for Backpacking and Camping

Looking for the best solar charger or solar lighting options for your next backpacking or camping trip? We’re here to help.

The great outdoors. The grandeur of Mother Nature and wide-open expanses. Beautiful vistas… And no power outlets. Here’s an overview of solar charger options for backpacking or camping.

If you’re navigating using GPS, taking photos, or are bringing along other small electronics, you’ll need to carry extra batteries — or carry one of these devices.

Solar Chargers for Camping
CC photo courtesy of chelle

Continue reading “Solar Chargers and Solar Lights for Backpacking and Camping”

Eco-news you can use for September, 2009

PE - Green News 9-2009 - FL Steve Rhodes newspapers curbside
Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes at Flickr.com

Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture. A lot of exciting things are going on right now, with greentech leading the way.

A company in Salt Lake City is developing a new type of deep storage battery. When used along with solar panels, backyard wind turbines, or biofuel microturbines, these could be a key component in a decentralized power grid.

There’s a pilot project in Boulder Colorado that could be the shape of things to come. It combines smart meters with some other neat tricks. The result is a power grid that gets more usefulness with less emissions. This type of system may be deployed nationwide in the near future:

The stimulus package includes $11 billion toward modernizing the electric grid, including the development of renewable energy.

While scientists and entrepreneurs are working on building a more efficient and green power grid, other research is showing surprising side effects from pollution. A small study in New York found a solid link between exposure to prenatal pollution and child development. This study is likely to strengthen the voices of people living in communities downwind of smokestacks or downriver of factories.

Advocates for environmental justice are also raising concerns about emissions from shipping. When cargo ships operate in international waters, they often burn some of the dirtiest fuels available. Many ships currently burn bunker oil; a low-grade fuel that is more like tar than the gasoline found at a corner gas station.

If these emissions are covered by an international carbon tax, there will be a huge incentive for shipping companies to use cleaner fuels. Already, many countries regulate emissions around their port cities, and the shipping lines switch to cleaner, more expensive fuels near shore. Because of this, most ships already have the capability to burn cleaner fuels, yet they choose to use cheap fuels that have dangerous emissions.

In the near future, the ocean may be the source of clean burning fuels. Exxon has made its first big investment in algae derived fuels, and the potential market for these 2nd generation biofuels is huge. Of course, that market could collapse if the oceans boil away first.

There are several major engineering proposals on how to combat climate change. These so-called “geo-engineering” projects include some pretty crazy ideas, such as putting mirrors in orbit to deflect sunlight or covering glaciers with insulation. A recently proposed idea is to stimulate algae growth in the North Sea. Transforming the North Sea into a huge carbon sink would have about as much effect as replanting all of the rainforest in Brazil, with the added benefit of stimulating devastated fish hatcheries. The side effects of massive engineering projects like this are largely unknown though, and that’s a major cause for concern.

Finally – here’s an interesting article about clam shell packages. It includes tips for safely opening these tricky containers (try a can opener) and a discussion about the environmental impact of heavy plastic packaging. By 2012, it’s estimated that roughly 1.1 billion pounds of resin will be trashed from these clamshells alone. As a result, there’s increasing interest in biodegradeable packaging that can also provide security for its contents.

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Photo courtesy of Derek K. Miller, penmachine.com at Flickr.com

How to clean a solar panel

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Photo courtesy of naturalturn at Flickr.com

Over time, solar panels will get covered with dust, grime, and even bird droppings. These obstructions block sunlight and will reduce power production. The solution is simple though – clean your solar panel when it gets dirty!

Each solar panel is different, so make sure to review the instructions from the manufacturer before cleaning the panel. Some panels are sensitive to certain chemicals, and others may have fragile components that you should be aware of. So, read those manuals first.

If your panel is a standard design, then cleaning a solar panel is just like cleaning a window. The “live” electrical components are isolated behind glass or plastic shielding, and all that needs to be cleaned is the outside. Before washing the glass, make sure that there aren’t any cracks or loose wiring. If there are, it might be a good idea to call a technician instead!

Here are the supplies you’ll need:

  • *A bucket full of water
  • *A soft sponge or towel
  • *A drying cloth that wont scratch the panels
  • *Cleaning soap (optional)
  • Green cleaning supplies do a great job on glass and solar panels. There are several varieties of streak free glass cleaner available commercially. You can also cook up non-toxic cleaning solution at home. Here’s a simple recipe for eco-friendly glass cleaner:

    Make a great all-purpose window cleaner by combining 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon liquid soap or detergent, and 2 cups of water in a spray bottle.

    Use the soapy water to wash the surface of the solar panels, and brush away any visible dust or streaks. Gentle scrubbing may be necessary. After wiping away dirt, it’s a good idea to dry the panels off. Dissolved grime has a tendency to move around rather than wash away. Wiping up the wet areas does a thorough job of removing all of the silt and it also prevents water spots.

    That’s it! Compare the output of your solar panels before and after cleaning. When output starts to fall again, it’s probably time for another quick rinse.

    PE - how to clean a solar panel - bkusler FL resized
    Photo courtesy of bkusler at Flickr.com

    For solar panels in hard to reach areas (ie; on the roof of an isolated lighthouse or attached to a satellite in space) automatic cleaning systems are a popular option. Most of these automatic systems work like windshield wipers, brushing dust away from the solar panels with a spray hose and mechanical arm. Automatic cleaning devices add a little bit of cost to a solar panel system, but they may be worthwhile in dirty or hazardous settings.

    Just a side note – roof mounted solar panels are sometimes laid out to be self cleaning. There’s less need to clean a solar panel if it isn’t dirty!

    Interested in building your own solar panels to save money? Check this out.

    How to use solar power without installing a solar panel

    solar-water-heater-london-permaculture-fl
    Photo courtesy of London Permaculture

    Under new Federal laws, you can get tax credits for 30% of most solar panel installations. Some states have additional incentives, and many utilities are also encouraging customers to install solar panels so that they don’t have to build new coal power plants.

    Even with these incentives, photovoltaic panels are pricey. In these tough economic times, it’s important to remember that there are many other ways to take advantage of energy from the sun. Here are a few low-cost options:

    Install a solar water heater – Passive solar systems cost a fraction of what solar panels cost and they are much more efficient at heating water (because they generate heat directly, without the need for inverters or battery storage of energy). Solar water heaters are also eligible for a 30% tax credit, the same amount that photovoltaic panels can earn. There are many different designs for solar water heaters, and some are more suitable for different parts of the country.

    Use a clothesline – For the cost of a sturdy rope and some clothespins, you can unplug your electric clothes dryer. Even on a cool day, a gentle breeze will suck the moisture out of clothes. Clothes that are dried on a clothesline last longer (there’s less wear and tear from tumbling in the dryer), they smell better, and they’re naturally sterilized by UV light from the sun. Switching to a clothesline can cut your electric bill by 10-15%.

    Turn out the lights – When the sun is shining, there’s no reason to keep the curtains closed. Instead of using a couple of hundred watts of electricity to power lightbulbs, turn off those lights and let the sunlight in! If Peeping Toms are a worry in your neighborhood, install slats or polarized window coverings for privacy. These window treatments will also filter out UV light and reduce carpet fading. Or, you can plant a window box full of kitchen herbs and obscure the view with tall plants while still letting in natural light.

    Build to take advantage of the sun – When drawing blueprints or choosing a place to live, remember that a building’s layout can make a major difference in the amount of air conditioning and heating that’s needed. One thing to consider is orientation – building short walls on the east and west sides reduces the surface area that’s exposed to early morning and late evening sunlight. Another thing to consider is solar massing – using thick, heat absorbent materials like adobe can insulate a building against hot weather during the day and cold weather during the night, cutting heating costs by up to 65%.

    Use trees – Trees provide wonderful natural shade, and they also capture solar energy the old fashioned way, by converting sunshine into firewood. Tree choices can also complement the way that buildings capture sunlight in the winter and block sunlight in the summer. One popular landscaping choice is to plant deciduous trees on the east and west sides of a building. That way, the leafy trees block sunlight in the summer (when leaves are full) and let sunlight through in the winter (after the leaves fall off).

    Try a solar cooker – Sunlight is a great way to boil water and cook food. It’s easy to focus sunshine with collectors, and simple solar cookers can be made for less than $15 using just about anything and aluminum foil. Here are instructions for making a solar cooker out of a used pizza box. There are compact solar cookers tailor made for camping and larger models suitable for crock pot cooking.

    In many developing countries and off-grid locations, solar cookers are reducing indoor air pollution by replacing firewood, charcoal, propane, and other fuel sources. These solar cookers can save thousands of lives each year, while also reducing deforestation and reducing conflict over limited resources. Since sunlight is free, solar cookers drastically cut the cost of boiling water for sanitation purposes. If you want to take advantage of sunlight without buying a solar panel, here’s a great recipe for Solar Baked Brownies!

    solar-cooker-rangorang-fl
    Photo courtesy of AIDG

    Links, links, green links. Get them while they’re hot!

    Photo courtesy of A. Kotula at Flickr.com.

    Here at the Practical Environmentalist, we’re green news junkies. We keep an eagle eye out for the latest science, social, and environmental developments and try to sum up the big picture here. This week, a lot of exciting things are going on.

    Discarded fishing gear is a major problem in the ocean. Lost nets and traps can get tangled with animals, catch boat propellers, and damage fragile coral reefs. Covanta Energy is doing something interesting – they’re offering a free waste disposal service that converts marine waste into electricity by incinerating it and filtering the emissions. The Fishing for Energy program is about to get a windfall too – thousands of yards of fishing line are about to become obsolete due to new laws about floating rigs. Instead of paying disposal fees, many fisherman were expected to dump the line overboard. Now, that rope can be used to reduce the amount of coal and natural gas burned in 2009:

    Derelict fishing equipment can threaten marine life, impair navigational safety, and have serious economic repercussions on shipping and coastal communities. Since the program was launched in February, more than 80,000 pounds of fishing nets, trawl gear, crab pots, and fishing line have been collected and converted into energy.

    Speaking of the ocean, new studies have shown that methane gas trapped under the ice caps is escaping. As glaciers recede, this greenhouse gas is accelerating the melting process. Since methane has more than 20 times the heat trapping powers of carbon dioxide and the amount of methane involved is enormous, this could have serious climate effects.

    Since the news lately has been a bit dark and scary, it’s important to focus on some of the amazing things that are also going on. For instance, have you seen what kids these days are up to? What were you doing when you were 12? This kid won a prize for designing next generation solar cells. That certainly trumps the tree house I built back in the 90’s.

    There are also some exciting things happening in our neighbors yards. Believe it or not – it’s possible to grow more than 10,000 tomatoes in a typical yard. Wouldn’t you get tired of eating tomatoes after about the 5,000th one? And, the next time you’re mowing grass or digging holes for new landscaping – keep an eye out for Paleo-Indian artifacts. That, and buried pirate treasure.

    Ever hear the adage “Everything that’s old is new again”? Companies catering to green tourists are using this truth to their advantage, with a rise in carbon neutral activities such as geothermal steam cog railroad trips, sky trams powered by water pressure, bookings on river steamboats, and even horse riding tours! Although, if you’ve ever been on the south bound end of a north bound horse, you know that carbon emissions aren’t the only thing there is to worry about.


    Photo courtesy of yourpicturesarejon at Flickr.com.

    Is there a green lining to the economic bailout package?


    Photo courtesy of Gemma Kate Thorpe at Flickr.com.

    The $700 Billion bailout bill has stirred up mixed emotions. On one hand, relieved sighs have been heard from Wall Street, but many people are spitting mad. In the aftermath of the bill’s passage, some key sections of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 have been overshadowed by chaos in the stock market.

    From an environmental standpoint, the biggest news is that the bail out bill renews the tax credits for alternative energy. After the bailout bill was defeated, language from the recently defeated Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 was added to the second version. It provides tax credits for wind, solar, fuel cell, micro turbines, co-generation, and geothermal systems and the benefits have been extended as far as January 1, 2017. Also, tax incentives were added for “marine and hydrokinetic renewable energy” (new technologies that capture energy from waves and tidal forces).

    The bill contains a few other surprises. The ceilings were raised on just about every type of tax credit. For instance, the maximum incentive for fuel cells was raised from $500 to $1,500. Wind turbines that produce less than 100 kW are now eligible for up to $4,000 of credit (that means projects up to $13,333 are eligible for a full 30% tax credit). Heat pumps qualify for up to $2,000 of credit. And solar panels now have an unlimited credit. Here’s a concise summary of the new tax benefits and other impacts.

    Also of interest – the Emergency Economic Stabilization Bill allows for up to $800,000,000 of Renewable Energy Bonds, with those bonds split between public energy providers, government bodies, and private energy providers. There are also tax breaks offered for “clean” coal, coal liquefication (for use as a gasoline substitute) and coal gasification (a process that improves burn efficiency within coal turbines). One of the biggest surprises is that the bill now rewards power companies and steel producers for capturing carbon emissions. There’s a requirement that 65-70% of carbon dioxide produced from coal must be captured and sequestered to receive credit, and the projects that sequester carbon better than their competitors are given the highest funding priority.

    That’s right – the benefits offered to coal producers and consumers come with strings attached. The bill even gives a tax credit for carbon sequestering! From page 175 of the 451 page bill:

    ‘‘SEC. 45Q. CREDIT FOR CARBON DIOXIDE SEQUESTRATION.
    (a) GENERAL RULE.—For purposes of section 38, the carbon dioxide sequestration credit for any taxable
    year is an amount equal to the sum of—
    (1) $20 per metric ton of qualified carbon dioxide which is—
    (A) captured by the taxpayer at a qualified facility, and
    (B) disposed of by the taxpayer in secure geological storage, and
    (2) $10 per metric ton of qualified carbon doxide which is-
    (A) captured by the taxpayer at a qualified facility, and
    (B) used by the taxpayer as a tertiary injectant in a qualified enhanced oil or natural gas recovery project.

    Since many oil companies are injecting CO2 into the ground already to boost production, it’s questionable whether the second half of this carbon credit will create any new benefits to the environment. There is also some concern that carbon dioxide injected into the ground can increase the acidity of groundwater and escape over time. But, if you have any great ideas about how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, now is the time to put them into practice. It may be a bit tricky to get financing though – despite the passage of the alternative energy friendly bill, many green companies are having trouble securing financing and now might not be the best time for an IPO.


    Photo courtesy of Gemma Kate Thorpe’s at Flickr.com.

    Tax laws are causing a solar installation frenzy, trying to beat end of 2008 tax credit expiration


    Photo courtesy of
    M.Barkley at Flickr.com.

    At the end of this year, an elevated tax credit for for alternative energy projects is set to expire. These federal tax credits will decline from 30% of the total construction cost to just 10%, and several alternative energy groups have been lobbying Congress to extend the benefit. Even though some states and local power companies offer additional incentives to invest in alternative energy, the reduced Federal tax credits will have wide ranging effects. Industry experts and analysts expect companies who sell solar, wind, biogas, microturbine, and fuel cell technologies could be wiped out by reduced tax credits:

    Without the credits, “I’ll essentially be out of business,” Tamas said. “Solar will be dead, other than for a little bit of residential.”

    Congress was expected to renew these popular tax credits, but the Senate and House have gone into recess without doing so. Since many of these projects require months and months of construction time, there could be a lag in construction even if the credits are renewed in September. In the near term, the uncertainty is creating a solar building boom.

    Many big retailers are attempting to complete green energy projects before the tax credits expire on December 31st. Wal-Mart, Kohl’s, Whole Foods, Safeway, REI, and BJ’s Wholesale club are just a few major companies that are accelerating their solar installation plans to beat the deadline. This means that solar workers are pulling overtime and likely to see big bonuses this year, but they may be getting pink slips in the spring.


    Photo courtesy of
    EGL Energy at Flickr.com.

    Have you driven on a solar panel today?


    Photo courtesy of brentdanley at Flickr.com.

    Where some people see heat mirages on a highway, others see potential energy savings. A company in the Netherlands has developed a way to use asphalt roads to produce energy. Considering the number of miles of blacktop we have worldwide, think about how much energy we could generate by adopting this technology!


    Photo courtesy of arnitr at Flickr.com.

    Want to win a green dream home?

    HGTV Green Home Giveaway 2008

    It’s that time of year again – HGTV is giving away a custom built home with amazing features. This year, the dream home embraces a number of green technologies.

    These features include:

  • A deep concrete pad designed to take advantage of the soil as a heat sink
  • Gypsum wallboard made from waste material
  • Extra insulation on the walls windows
  • Solar panels that provide up to 50% of the energy needs
  • A tankless water heater
  • Low flow water faucets and showers
  • Stormwater cisterns that capture 100% of rainwater for irrigation and toilet use
  • Energy Star appliances, including a front loading washing machine
  • Low VOC paints and hardwood floors for healthy indoor air quality
  • On the HGTV website, there’s an interactive map of the green home, video tours, and links to more information about energy and water saving innovations. Oh, and you can also enter to win the home. Good luck!

    University of Delaware receives $3.75 million grant for solar power research

    UD logo

    According to this article on the university website, the University of Delaware’s Institute of Energy Conversion will receive $3.75 million in grant money from the Department of Energy under the Solar America Initiative over the next three years. 

    Out of nine Universities receiving funding, Delaware is the largest recipient and will be working research projects with Dow Corning and SunPower corp.

    “The Solar America Initiative is an exciting program that will enable us to continue our research in established areas, as well as develop expertise in new facets of photovoltaics working with our industry partners,” said Robert Birkmire, professor of materials science and engineering and director of IEC.

    With Dow Chemical, the university will be working on flexible solar cells that are made by depositing semi-conductor material onto a flexible film.

    The collaboration with SunPower will work towards improving the efficiency of solar cells beyond 26 percent. 

    “We’ve developed a great group of people here — an integrated team of scientists and students from different disciplines, which is critical to this research,” Birkmire noted.

    Food costs are rising – and soon, so will the price of electricity.


    Photo courtesy of musicpb at Flickr.com.

    Recently, many commodity prices have gone through the roof. You don’t have to look any further than the gas station to see the effects of $110 for a barrel of oil. A visit to the grocery store will quickly reveal that prices are also jumping for corn and wheat, as well as chicken, pork, and beef. The high price of transporting food (as well as the secondary effects of corn being diverted for ethanol production) is directly tied to high oil costs, and these rising food costs are creating serious problems for the working poor.


    Photo courtesy of Leesure at Flickr.com.

    Even if you’re a model of self reliance and walk everywhere while growing your own food without chemical fertilizer, try this on for size – increased worldwide demand is causing a coal shortage. Since about 50% of the US electric grid relies on coal power plants, this means that rising coal costs are likely to cause rising electric bills (and/or increasing outages). That will affect the cost of green power purchased on the open market too – which makes solar panels look a lot more attractive (more marginal benefit from power savings and higher resale prices on grid tie-ins). Always look on the bright side!

    Photo courtesy of lifebegreen at Flickr.com.

    Mitsubishi Breaks Solar Efficiency Record

    On April fools day 1939, Mitsubishi launched a new product. It was the A6M Zero carrier based fighter plane, rumored to have been inspired by the H2 that Howard Hughes created. On December 7th, 1941 we learned the hard way that Mitsubishi had built a damn fine product.

    Thankfully, these days we are at peace with Japan, and by extension Mitsubishi. Mitsubishi is still doing wonderful things with technology, and now we can take full advantage of it.

    I’m talking about solar panels, and this company has now set the world record for the most efficient photovoltaic panels with a conversion rate of 18.6 percent; a small but significant improvement over their previous record of 18% in a 160mm square cell.

    The supply of silicon has not kept up with the great demand caused by the increased interest in solar technology. This is necessitated the production of more efficient solar panels requiring less silicon and producing more electricity.

    To achieve these increases in efficiency Mitsubishi decreased the reflectivity on the surface of the cell by creating a honeycomb texture using laser patterning and wet etching. In addition the company worked to optimize the efficiency of the P-N junction.

    Mitsubishi has stated that this new improvement in solar technology will be in production on April Fools Day, 2010. Let’s hope we’re still friends in December.

    The Dark Side of Solar Power


    Photo courtesy of Mischief 78 at Flickr.com.

    A major producer of polysilicon is under investigation in China for dumping waste on public land. This flagrant disregard for the safety of local workers has caused many solar power advocates to take a closer look at the business practices of the companies making solar panels. Since many of these companies rely on venture capital to finance their research and expansion (with P/E ratios several times higher than the market average), this black eye could become a major setback. Then again, this negative publicity could produce some pressure on China to enforce environmental regulations by creating demand for safely produced solar panels.


    Photo courtesy of nvaughn at Flickr.com.

    Side note: Neither solar power companies nor China have an exclusive lock on this kind of hypocrisy. A bio-diesel plant in Alabama was also recently caught illegally dumping waste material.

    How green is your cell phone tower?


    Photo courtesy of mtoreceptive at Flickr.com.

    In the developing world, where electric grids are less reliable, many cell phone towers have to generate their own electricity. With diesel generators, that means that energy costs can add up to 2/3 of the total maintenance costs. Theft and vandalism are also a big problem with these systems.

    As a result of these high energy costs, many cellular providers in the Third World have adopted green power supplies. In addition to wind and solar power, some of these cell phone systems incorporate biodiesel.



    Photo courtesy of Tirau Dan at Flickr.com.

    Designers are also rethinking the traditional cell phone tower. In 2007, Ericsson introduced the Tower Tube – a self contained concrete tower that has less visual impact and a smaller carbon footprint. Since they use concrete instead of a steel structure, and have no need for a perimeter fence, these towers release approximately 20% less CO2 than conventional towers. Other companies are getting rid of cell towers entirely by using trees!

    If you look closely, the cell towers near your house may already be using solar or wind backup power supplies. Here’s an example of a solar panel that powers weather monitoring equipment on a cell tower.

    GROW Solar Ivy mixes solar power and cool design

    smit2.jpg

    Well…solar and wind Ivy. SMIT, a new York based company that proclaim themselves “a sustainable design start-up company that is developing a new approach to solar and wind power” is currently exhibiting their revolutionary GROW hybrid energy system at the Museum of Modern Art. That’s right, its solar, it’s wind, and it’s art.

    The grow system uses recycled materials when possible and incorporates an intuitive energy monitoring system to allow users to control and fine tune the system on their own.

    g1_3.jpg

    On the outside, the patent pending system consist of bricks each with five “solar leaves”; Each one of the leaves created in a roll to roll printing process where conductive ink, and piezo generators are layered in. Then the rolls are stamped into leaves. The result is a bunch of ivy like leaves covering the side of a building, to pick up solar and tiny little piezo generators on the stems of the leaves to generate electricity from the movement of the leaves as they blow in the wind and twist.

    The first production of the GROW system will be a solar only version with a more traditional installation. With the wind/solar combination to follow…hopefully soon.

    g2_1.jpg

    Printable Solar Panel improves efficiency for photovoltaics

    tax-northwestern-university_140x105.jpgNorthwestern University Researchers have been working on a new flexible Solar Cell that has a 40 percent improved efficiency over organic photovoltaic cells, according to this article in the Chicago Tribune.

    The new flexible panels would be made using similar technology to that used in conventional media and package printing. Tobin J. marks co-leads the the project with Robert Chang.

    “You could incorporate flexible organic photovoltaics into roofing shingles,” said Marks

    The flexible material could be used for a wide variety of applications from portable roll up panels for camping or remote location use to massive farms covering hundreds of square miles. I’ve been through West Texas, we have room out there. Really this would allow the installation of cheap solar production in any area that exposed to sunlight.

    The panels consist of two organic compounds that when hit by sunlight give off both electron and hole current. The anode of the electrode is nanocoated with nickel oxide in order to allow the hole current but block the electron current which flows towards the cathode. The researchers have filed for a patent on this technology and are working to improve the process further still.

    “We see this as more than an incremental improvement,” Marks said. “We see it as a breakthrough.”

    Will Congress act to save Greentech jobs?


    Photo courtesy of taryn_* at Flickr.com.

    At the end of 2008, the cost of installing and operating alternative power generators is set to rise. There are currently federal tax credits that offer a 30% rebate on solar improvements (up to $2,000), but a sunset clause will reduce the rebate from 30% to 10% after January 1st, 2009.

    Also, there’s a production tax credit that offers incentives for utilities to use wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and other alternative power sources. It’s also set to expire at the end of 2008. Unless these two tax credits are extended, industry studies warn that the US could lose more than 100,000 green collar jobs.

    The open question is – how much truth lies behind these numbers? Even if the solar tax credit is allowed to lapse, there will be no effect on projects that cost more than $20,000. Is it possible that self interested alternative energy companies are trying to get legislators attention through fear? Since when did green power companies start behaving like coal lobbyists?

    Groundbreaking New Solar Panels

    nanosolarpanelsrmrhead_web.jpg

    Just the yesterday I was reading discussion about the expense of solar power opposed to coal plants and how solar will never be as cheap as coal; and then I found out that Nanosolar, a Silicon Valley company funded by the founders of google, has announced that it has shipped it’s first solar panels. Why is this a big deal?

    Our product is defining in more ways I can enumerate here but includes:

    – the world’s first printed thin-film solar cell in a commercial panel product;

    – the world’s first thin-film solar cell with a low-cost back-contact capability;

    – the world’s lowest-cost solar panel – which we believe will make us the first solar manufacturer capable of profitably selling solar panels at as little as $.99/Watt;

    – the world’s highest-current thin-film solar panel – delivering five times the current of any other thin-film panel on the market today and thus simplifying system deployment;

    – an intensely systems-optimized product with the lowest balance-of-system cost of any thin-film panel – due to innovations in design we have included.

    Breaking the $1 per watt barrier is important; that means that it is possible to build a solar system that is cheaper than a coal plant.

    The first solar panel off the line will be kept at the company headquarters for exhibit, the third will be donated to the tech museum in San Jose, and the 2nd was to be auctioned to the general public on eBay. That’s where Nanosolar hit a bit of a snag. When it became obvious that the bidding was going to be through the rough for this historic piece of equipment Nanosolar did the decent thing and decided to donate the proceeds from the auction to Charity. eBay however promptly canceled the auction because of some needlessly cryptic rule on charity auctions. After a short battle between Nanosolar’s legal team and eBay’s drones Nanosolar decided that they would just hang on to the number 2 solar panel and go back to making clean energy. Once again bureaucracy triumphs over the best of intentions.