City of Los Angeles Leads By Solar Example

The first week of November, 2008, has been one which will long be remembered.  First the historical win by Barak Obama, and then, at the end of that same week, the city of Los Angeles City Council announced its decision to install solar energy systems on rooftops  all over the city.

Although the city council does not need to put the solar program to a vote, they  will be doing so, putting forth the Green Energy & Green Jobs For Los Angeles proposal on the ballot for a March, 2009 vote.  This February, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had already announced the Solar Jobs Initiative, which would fund increasing solar capacity on city-owned and commercial rooftops, creating 350-400 jobs, at a cost of about 270 million dollars.

If the Green Energy & Green Jobs for Los Angeles proposal passes, the resulting solar systems would produce some 400 megawatts from the sun’s rays, which is the consumption of about 108,000 customers.

Why are they putting it to a vote if they don’t need to do so?  They want to ensure that the program continues beyond their terms in office.  A vote by the citizens would mandate the program, ensuring its longevity.  “It’s been expressed that this would represent buy-in from the public in investing in solar,” said the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst, Gerry Miller.  But this proposal is a lot bigger than the one that the city council just approved.  If passed, the project would cost somewhere between 1.5 and 3 billion dollars.  Revenue Bonds, private capital and Federal and State grants would provide the funding to put sunny Southern California in the Green.

Green Air Conditioning?

Every summer, we spend countless millions of kilowatts keeping things cool indoors.  This alone constitutes a good chunk of global warming, but we’d swelter, even die, without it.  So far, the most efficient way to cool things down has been the swamp cooler, but that’s only of use in relatively arid locations; Evaporative cooling does no good at all near any large body of water.

In the past, discussions about alternative cooling systems always involved huge sums of money. With all the more recent focus on solar and other renewable energy sources, though, scientists have been focusing their attentions on the problem.  We reported some months back about a MIT professor who had devised a solar-driven hydrogen power plant, for example.  Now Europe is talking about revisiting a cooling technology, modifying the concept to be fueled by the sun.  Could Europe have the solution to a Green air conditioner?

Like everything, it comes down to dollars (or Euros) and sense.  If the technology is better in some ways but costs twice as much to operate, it’s not going to catch on.  If it costs too much initially, again, it’s going to be left behind.  Let’s take a look at this new Euro concept from Thermodyna.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, Thermodyna has a lofty goal: build a household power plant which will make electricity, heat and and cool the air, and do so whenever you need it to. If they succeed, no air conditioner would be necessary at all. At the heart of the notion is what some have dubbed the “Schukey” motor, a solar-powered cool air machine. The operating cost? 5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is more than half, nearly two-thirds lower than conventional AC units.

According to Thermodyna’s Volker Bergholter, the unit employs just two motors, is driven by the sun, (which heats the water into steam, and from there into the energy that powers the cooling system) and turns damp, warm air into a comfortably climatized 68 degrees F. Sound like a pipe dream? Thermodyna has announced availability as early as 2010. This is all the more important, as experts predict that Europe’s demand for AC will increase at least 10 percent by 2020, a direct result of global warming. The Thermodyna unit would reduce CO2 emissions, and decrease the mid-day demand for electricity. Just when the sun’s rays are hottest, these units would be providing relief from the heat.

It’s not cheap. Right now, the cost is about 1500 Euros ($2490) per kilowatt. But the manufacturer is hoping to slash that by two-thirds within the next decade, and then they’d be even up with conventional technology. Idealists to the end, Bergholter says “In the short term we could bring about a revolution” with the Schukey motor. We tend to agree. What do you think?

Solar Energy News – Iran Completes First Solar Energy Plant

Some may doubt Iran’s intentions with nuclear power, but it’s hard to argue with these results on their solar intent. The Shiraz solar power plant was recently completed, and produces a modest 250 kilowatts of electricity. The completion is four years behind schedule, but breaks new ground in its design.

Rather than photo cells, their first solar energy plant is solar-thermal. Parabolic mirrors create a trough that cradles a tube that runs its entire length. The mirrors gather and focus the sunlight onto the tube. Within that tube, a liquid transfers the heat of the sun to a generator that produces steam and electricity.

The plant was constructed of domestic materials and labor there in Shiraz, within the Fars province. This solar-thermal electric plant is the first to generate electricity, but Iran already has some 4000 smaller solar-thermal installations throughout the country, providing solar-heated water for residents and public baths.

One 40-home village in Iran gets its power from photovoltaic cells, but in the overall Iran is focusing on solar-thermal technology. Part of their wisdom is likely in that they can produce the entire array domestically with thermal-solar, rather than purchasing photovoltaic equipment from other nations. Their independence is inspiring, and may go a long way towards explaining their insistence upon developing their own nuclear power as well.

For a nation to develop and produce their own domestic system in this fashion is commendable. We salute Iran for their efforts in going Green!