Booming Solar: Hope for the New Year!

December 31, 2008

Our last article for the year is good news. Amidst an economy that has been said to be in a depression, there’s one industry that’s doing quite well, in a place where it’s least expected — up on the roofs.  Solar panel sales are booming. Leading sales and installation companies are reporting a 45% increase in sales, and anticipating creating over 100,000 new jobs each, within the next few years. That doesn’t begin to address the other jobs created in manufacturing and distribution of the panels. Great news, but there is a catch.

Many of these installations are made feasible by government rebates. One job was sold at $66,000, but the homeowner recouped over $40,000 of that, making his net cost about $22,000. Who wouldn’t want a solar electric system for 1/3 of the regular price? But the money to pay those rebates has to be coming from somewhere, and that somewhere seems to be the taxpayers themselves. While we’re glad that people are getting with the program, at least one state has declared that they’re out of funds, cannot afford to issue any more rebates, which could bring the momentum to a grinding halt if more incentive funds and lower consumer costs aren’t sorted out soon.

President-Elect Obama has talked about the government getting involved in rebooting the economy. Most of his talk has involved shoring up bridges and roads, and that may be long overdue, but it would be wise to put a large chunk of that revitalization into things which will increase our independence from foreign fuel while reducing the carbon footprint. If his administration focuses on Green industries, millions of new jobs could be created in producing the technology domestically alone. Pivotal to it all is Alternative Energy proving affordable to install and cost-effective in the long run. Luckily, improvements in solar technology are coming in fast and furious, and cost reductions can be expected right behind them.

As we say goodbye to 2008 and make our New Year resolutions, let’s keep Going Green in mind, make the idea central to our plans. As we welcome the Obama administration into the Oval Office, let’s make sure that he knows he has our full support for economic stimulus and incentives that propel our nation towards a more Green and prosperous tomorrow.

Wishing you all a very happy new year,

Going Green News

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Furnace Not Required

December 30, 2008

Central Germany is cold — very cold.  Yet a growing number of passive thermal houses are being built that require no furnace at all to keep their inhabitants comfortable all winter long.  No, not another Earthship, just some rather sound, sensible improvements

For starters, the builders take advantage of the high-quality insulation available today.  Add windows that are made for heat to stay in and cold to stay out, doors that are truly sealed.  What you end up with is a nearly hermetically sealed box — and here’s the big exception: Previous attempts at this maintained temperatures, but were musty and humid, due to stagnant air.  Today’s passive houses are employing a heat exchange.   Fresh air is brought in alongside the hot air going out, warming it as it does so, greatly reducing the heat loss due to ventilation. Viola!  A comfy home that is so energy-efficient, you can actually raise the interior temperature by the inhabitants’ body heat!

Great, but how many millions of dollars does it cost?  Water heaters and other such devices all contribute to the overall temperature within the home.  Some of these parts, such as the windows and heat exchange, are not made in the U.S. and must be imported, adding to the cost.  Those differences aside, insulating and sealing a house this well only adds about 5 percent to the construction costs!  In short, by planning well, constructing wisely, and limiting yourself to about 500 square feet per person, you can have a very affordable home and nearly no heating bills, for very little money.

Isn’t it great to see people applying themselves to the problems, and solving them?  We’re glad to see Germany going Green, and look forward to seeing more houses like these all over the planet!
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Wave Power Generation Systems

December 28, 2008

Most of the emphasis these days is being placed on the latest solar and wind turbine systems to generate electricity.  Part of the reason for that is that hydro generation has traditionally meant dams closing off rivers, which is both expensive and disruptive to nature.  The Columbia River’s dams, for example, have taken major fire for that they interfere with salmon spawning.  Any time a dam is put up within a state, those downstream of it will be upset that their source of fresh water is controlled by those upstream.  The Rio Grand is a mere trickle of a stream by the time it gets to the Mexican border, and complaints about damming up the Colorado River are myriad and longstanding.  The bottom line is that this has given people the erroneous perception that hydro-generation isn’t feasible.  In this article, we’ll take a look at technologies that are entirely passive, and some new ideas that could generate considerable electricity by harnessing the power of the moon’s gravitational pull, tides and waves.

Wave power generation is not science fiction.  Scotland’s Islay Wave Power Generator has been working continuously for years. New technology holds even more promise, in the form of anchored systems which would ride just below the surface.  One such system, called the Anaconda, is boasting major production by harnessing wave motion, and can be placed well offshore. There are other sea-snake-type methods as well.

As early as 1970, methods of harnessing the ocean’s energy were already being put into motion. These were massive, ingenious and ambitious projects which relies upon the temperature differential between warm surface waters and the cold depths to drive the turbines. Unfortunately, the technologies of the time were not sufficient to the scale that the projects were built for, and they were not deemed cost-effective.Today’s techologies allow us to make far more responsive units, and to employ arrays of them rather than developing mammoth pipe systems such as OTEC-1. Some have even suggested using hydro-turbines very similar to surface wind turbines. New concepts in water wheels can generate electricity without damming up river waters. With so many methods and possibilities, hydro-electric solutions seem well worth investigating. The tremendous power of the ocean can easily move power generating turbines, and our technological abilities are now up to the task. Let us not forget these passive power harnesses as we move forward into non-combustion energy resources for our future.

MO Commission Stiffles Alternative Power Generation

December 27, 2008

The people of Missouri have gotten on board with generating energy via wind and solar technologies.  Their Easy Connection Act is a law specifically intended to promote alternative energy solutions.  just as the people of Missouri  are climbing on board, though, the Missouri Public Service Commission imposed a regulation which would most certainly stop homeowners’ and small businesses’ efforts dead in its tracks.

The MO Public Service Commission (MPSC) has instituted a requirement that anyone who generates less than 10 kilowatts must carry $100,000 in liability insurance, while those generating 10 to 100 kilowatts must carry 1 million dollars in liabiliity insurance.  This requirement goes directly against the spirit and intent of the state’s “Easy Connection Act,” which encourages generating power by harnessing solar and wind, and prescribes the crediting of electricity put back into the grid.  Obviously, whatever the cost of such insurance, it would drive people away from generating their own electricity by forcing them to incur a recurring annual insurance which could very well be more costly than the value of the electricity generated.

Missouri Renew, the citizen’s action group which pushed for the Easy Connect Act, has filed suit against the MPSC.  They cite that there has been no incident of loss, no lawsuit, and that there is no basis for the requirement.  The Commission counters that they want to be protected in case someone is harmed while messing with the connection box.

If the state wants to be protected, perhaps it should be the one purchasing the policy.  It’s certainly not a realistic concern, and obviously moves in direct conflict with responsible generation of electricity.  We’re forced to wonder whose side the Commission is on.

The MPSC can be reached at 573-751-3234, by email at:, or by mail to the Public Service Commission, Governor Office Bldg, 200 Madison Street, PO Box 360, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0360.  The Commissioners are: Chairman Jeff Davis, Connie Murray, Robert Clayton III, Terry Jarrett, and Kevin Dunn.
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Rechargeable Batteries – Fact, Fiction and Reality

December 26, 2008

We’re in love with portable devices and this is a digital world. Digital cameras (SLR and point & shoot) use 4 AA batteries. Digital voice and music recorders use them. Wireless headphones use them. Guitars, keyboards, effect pedals, clock radios… the list is obscenely long, and that’s not even counting all of the battery-operated toys the kids just got for over the holidays and for their birthdays.

Most of us would be broke if we bought high-quality one-use Alkaline batteries for these devices, so we’ve moved to Rechargeable batteries. Ah, nirvana! (No, not the band.) We’re in heaven! For the first few weeks, it’s magic. Just stick ‘em back in the handy-dandy recharger, and you’re set… if you’re one of the lucky ones. Sometimes, they never even take a charge the first time. Returning them to the store may gain you more hassles as they examine everything suspiciously, making sure you’re not pulling a fast one. Eventually you return with a new pack of batteries, ready to be elated again, only to find that these are duds too! What gives?

What gives, mostly, is the science in the batteries you’ve bought. Lithium Ion batteries are used in laptops, but you won’t find AA and AAA LiIon batteries. They’re still a bit too dangerous to let the consumer play with them. So mostly what we can buy are Nickel-Cadmium (NiCad) rechargeables. These store power in crystals. As the crystals are depleted, they become smaller. But if you don’t discharge them all the way, they regrow over the old stones while being recharged. This is why they sometimes don’t last as long as they used to. There are other things that can happen to them, (including overheating on cheap chargers) but we’re trying to keep it simple here.

Discharging them completely (sometimes called cycling or re-cycling) is one way to try to regain the other hundreds of charges the manufacture has promised. Few chargers will give you that option (and none of the cheap “plug it in the wall” types. The Fujifilm S5600 camera has that utility, but you’ll have to hunt for it… or explore a bit via Google and find out how to put a resistor to them, if you’re handy that way. Once discharged, so long as there’s SOME trace of current potential left, they should be given a full charge and be right as rain, or nearly so.

Sometimes they need a kick in the crystals to get their lungs started. That’s most often performed by allowing a paperclip to join the two positive terminals together (though we cannot recommend or endorse any such method, of course.) The lawyers make us say that, but really, if you manipulate the batteries, you do so at your own risk. Once again, having cleared the battery, it should be up for some more charges.

The problem is two-fold. First there’s the batteries themselves, which are often an exercise in marketing misinformation. Yes, perhaps they spec at twice the milliamps that they used to, but that doesn’t mean they MAINTAIN that charge for very long at all. Some only go days or hours. And part of that MIGHT be attributed to the second aspect, which is the charger. As a general rule, poor chargers do a poor job. You’ll often find them bundled with batteries at the checkout area for $10-20. Fair warning: It’s in their best interest that the charger NOT safeguard your batteries. Once invested, you’re more likely to buy their brand again, putting more batteries into the same irreverent unit. Not all manufacturers are that unscrupulous, but if you get a short lifespan or hot batteries, or both, it would be unwise to put more NiCad cells in that charger.

NiCads are best charged slowly. Charging them rapidly can be done, but burns away a lot of the battery’s life expectancy — and not consistently either. Then you’re left trying to figure out which of the four cells is bad. Unless you’re truly in urgent need, you’re far better off to buy an extra set of batteries and keep them at ready, always doing a slow overnight charge instead. See the next paragraph for a solutions to all these problems.

There may not be any such thing as a free lunch, but there are some reliable, quality chargers. One such option is the La Crosse Technology BC-900 AlphaPower Battery Charger. It can take over on automatic, or you can monitor the batteries’ status on various factors via the LED displays — one for each cell. This unit features 4 modes (charge, discharge, recharge and test) Four AA nad four AAA batteries and a carrying case are also included, so at about $40, you’re getting a nifty gadget, eight more batteries and adding hundreds of charges to your existing batteries!

There is another model for a few dollars less, but it doesn’t include the batteries or case: La Crosse Technology BC700 Alpha Power Battery Charger. Like the BC-900, this model also performs in 4 modes (charge, discharge, recharge and test) but we recommend taking advantage of the package deal.

Another important factor is the quality of the batteries themselves. Of course, we always prefer Green companies, and so here we can recommend Green Batteries.

We’d also take this opportunity to remind you of the solar-powered battery chargers which we’ve written up before and highly recommend.

Summing up, while rechargeable batteries are a great innovation and good news for the planet, slow-charging will let your batteries last a lot longer. Fully discharging them is important, and investing in a quality charger can save a bundle! Thanks for doing your part in Going Green!

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Thinking Of Mom On The Holidays

December 25, 2008

She gave us a womb to develop in, and then birth. She has kept us warm, sheltered, safe, nurtured, and given us a sense of stability and security. She tends to our needs, while giving us the freedom to wander and explore and figure out our place in life. She provided us with siblings to learn from, to know and enjoy. We take romps with her, we frolic in the sun, in the water, in the rain and snow with her. We play in the mud, and grow into men and women with her. We build our homes with her, and when we pass on from this life, she cradles us again. The earth is indeed our mother.

This holiday season, amidst all the festivities, the kids and decorations and food and parties, let’s pause for just a bit, think of all the times shared with our mother, Earth. Let’s be thankful for them, reminisce a bit, and renew our pledge to protect her as she has protected us.

None of us would intentionally do anything to harm either of our mothers, right? Take a minute to think, now, of the ways we may have hurt either of them unintentionally. Perhaps it was a careless word or gesture, some thoughtless unintentional act. Moms absorb a lot, they take a lot without a word of protest, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt them, and that doesn’t mean we should add to the already heavy burden that they both carry for us.

So call up your mom, tell her you love her. Remind the both of you of the good you’ve shared, thank her, and remember to be gentle with her. Hold your tongue — and your trash. Pitch in, lend a hand, so she doesn’t have so much to do. Remind the both of you that you do appreciate and love her. Make your new year’s resolution early. Vow to be kinder to your mother from now on — not just on the holidays, but every day. It’s gotta be tough. She does so much for all of us kids. Let’s make her life easier from now on.

Happy Holidays, Mom!

Top Five Solar Power Advantages

December 24, 2008

We’ve pretty well established that Going Green News is all for environmentally safe, sustainable and renewable resources. In other writings, we’ve defined that as (primarily) solar, wind and water generated. Hydrogen technologies are not yet commercially viable, so we don’t include them at this time. In this article we’ll be looking at the advantages that Solar power offers over other Green technologies.

  1. Low/no maintenance. Once a solar farm is set up, the panels go on collecting energy for a long time with minimal care.
  2. Low space requirements means that they can be mounted most anywhere, including rooftops (which are often wasted space.)
  3. Solar isn’t just photo-electric. It can also be used to heat homes, heat water for cleaning and bathing, etc.
  4. Small solar chargers can deliver portable energy to gadgets and light-duty devices, freeing us from plug-ins.
  5. As we become more energy conscientious, more devices will be engineered to operate on minimal energy (and solar cells will become more effective at harnessing the sun,) making solar devices as common as the solar calculators we’ve been using for decades.

These five points go far to demonstrate how solar power is feasible and useful now. People have been using solar energy as their primary source for a long time, and the advancements in solar technology just keep on coming. When we consider the nearly incalculable power of the sun’s rays, it’s clear that solar technologies must be a major part of our Green energy solutions.

Solar Power-Advantages and Disadvantages

Top Five Solar Power Disadvantages

December 23, 2008

Going Green News is decidedly in favor of renewable, sustainable energy sources, no matter what their origin. The basic groups are Solar, Wind, and Hydro generated. Biodiesel, ethanol and other combustion engine fuels don’t qualify, as they still have significant carbon footprings, and are often destructive in their production. But what about the big three? Are they as good as they seem? Let’s take a look at some of the DIS-advantages of solar power. Here’s a list:

  1. Relatively low output, which equates to a much longer return on the financial investment.
  2. Needs to be stored in batteries. The power simply isn’t strong enough to be stored any other way.*
  3. Relatively expensive to produce, and its components still have a carbon footprint.
  4. Whether lead, lithium ion, or some other technology, batteries aren’t exactly kind on the environment either.
  5. While they can produce in overcast conditions, most agree that solar panels require strong sun to be efficient.

Improved battery technologies may alleviate some of the concern, but it remains that solar farms are going to have to be located in very sunny places. They will sprawl. Then the energy will have to be transported via wire (loss of power) to the places it is needed.

One mitigating concept we’ve been employing thusfar is to produce and use the solar-generated power locally. Solar can charge up smaller batteries easily enough, which works great for small patio lamps, gadget recharging, etc.  Depending on locale, the sun’s rays can also be used to suppliment hot water for washing within the home.  Just don’t expect to power your car off of a rooftop solar panel any time soon.

* A M.I.T. professor has developed a hydrogen generator that can theoretically run on a solar panel, but this is not an available technology.

Solar Power-Advantages and Disadvantages

100 MPG Blast From The Past

December 22, 2008

Watching this video earlier today, I found a comedic blast from the past. The vehicle? The Peel P50, a 1962 one-seater 49cc 4.2 horsepower 3-wheel car, sans reverse, that gets 100 mpg. Yep. In 1963, a vehicle was made that sports a headlamp, windshield wipers and gets 100 miles per gallon. The top speed of 40 mph may be achieved depending, as the commentator notes, “on what you’ve had for breakfast.” When the entire vehicle weighs in at 130 pounds, weight is a factor.

While the video is quite a bit of fun, it also points something out: Even if we were to get 100 mpg, we’d still be stenching things up with fossil fuels. Improve the engine all you like, and it’s still bellowing out smoke. Give it a reverse gear and higher performance engine, so it gets 60 mpg and goes 70 mph, you’ve still got the same basic problem.

What if a similar vehicle were made with an electric motor? Well yes, it’d still be a scary little box to be driving around in, considering that it makes a Yugo into a full-sized sedan, but the smoke goes away, the noise goes away, top speed is improved, and a reverse would probably be inherent. So even if our comedic blast from the past doesn’t quite set the world on fire, it still shows us some valuable information as we navigate our way through to truly Green technologies.
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Making Conversion Dreams Come True

December 19, 2008

Tom Hanks is a long-time proponent of the electric car. His RAV4, an electric conversion, has been driven over 48,000 miles and consumed not one drop of gasoline doing so. The conversion owns at least 93 miles between charges, more than enough for most commuters, and includes electric windows, a high-quality stereo, air conditioning and even an onboard GPS mapping system. Who says you can’t have it all?

Tom Gage, president and CEO of AC Propulsion in San Dimas, California, has been performing conversions like this for several years now. AC Propulsion has it down to a science, and a model called the E-Box. This unglamorous van-style vehicle gets at least 120 miles per charge. You just plug it into a 220 outlet. Maximum capacity is achieved overnight.

The E-Box’s battery? Make that an unlikely plural. Lithium Ion laptop batteries get the job. While your laptop computer may have 6 or 8 cells in it, the E-Box relies upon 5,000 of them strung together by Tom and employees, forming a large, flat battery that sits low in the bottom oft the E-Box. Like Tom’s RAV4, the E-Box has all the basic creature comforts: AC, power windows, stereo, etc. Hanks is outspoken about his vehicle of choice. He has hybrids, he says, but prefers the E-Box for running around L.A.

The price is a bit steep on a conversion, though. You’re looking at about $55,000 — plus your original car. But then again, the cost per mile is down to something like 2 cents, so the savings does come to you. Tom Hanks has had his E-Car for some 3 years now, and offers no complaint.

Is this the car of the future? Expect the future to look even better. As solid as AC Propulsion’s conversions are, a car that’s built from the ground up to be an electric car may not give you all the same stylings you’d prefer, but it’s bound to be more cost effective. No need to wait. Functional E-Cars are already here!
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