Rechargeable Batteries-Fact, Fiction, Reality on Going Green

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!

Going Green in the Garden State-New Jersey Solar, Wind Projects

New Jersey is starting to seem like the most Green state in the nation. The Governor has ordered a billion dollars worth of wind turbines installed some 20 miles offshore, to power between 250,000 and half a million homes. New Jersey is obviously a believer in alternative energy sources. Their funding and incentives are considerable. Local communities have already solarized 17 of the 21 schools in the Toms River Regions School District. Now their Brick School District is asking that their 525 kilowatt system be added to the list.

This time it isn’t a matter of if they will put in a solar system, but whether they’re going to contract with another company to provide the equipment, or if they’re going to buy it themselves. If the contract, an outside vendor will supply the solar panels and related equipment, mount that equipment on school property, maintain it, and charge the school for the electricity. Of course, the company is there to make a profit, but how much more will it cost to contract for the power?

The difference is considerable. The school’s net savings is projected at $520,000 if they contract to purchase solar power. But if they finance the $4.75 million to buy the equipment themselves, the state will contribute another $1.25 million, and they stand to gain about $1.2 million in the same timeframe. What’s more, those figures are conservative. Revenues from selling solar power back to the grid could be considerably higher.

Either way they go, that’s not too shabby for having a few panels on the roof. Either way, everyone stands to gain from switching to alternative power. We’re pleased and proud to see the Garden State leading the way in alternative energies by Going Green!

Is your Business Going Green?

power-meter.jpgWhen it comes to effectively running a business of any kind, one of the largest focuses is on the bottom line.  Unfortunately, many businesses simply do not realize how much they can actually cut their overall energy costs simply by converting their energy usage to solar power.  There are several financial incentives involved when it comes to going solar, including net metering, tax incentives and even solar loans.

Net Metering – Many states in the United States are offering cost savings to businesses that go solar through net metering.  What this refers to, is state laws requiring utilities to purchase power which is generated by solar systems.  So if a business like yours is generating more solar energy than what is actually needed by the business, the building power meter will run backwards and the utility company will actually buy this excess solar energy.  If your business is only open on certain days of the week, any solar power that is generated while the office is using no energy will essentially create free money for the company.

Tax Incentives – Because most governments know that change can be initiated through economic benefits, they are often willing to grant tax incentives such as tax credits and tax deductions as a way to help businesses convert to solar energy.  Your business may see a tax credit or a tax deduction for as high as thirty-five percent of the cost of installing the solar energy system, which means a lot of money saved in the long run.

Solar Loans – There are even more benefits available to businesses that go solar, such as being allowed to participate in solar financing programs which are offered by many governments.  These loan programs generally offer incredible terms as a means of promoting this renewable energy source, and these programs make a lot of sense for any business regardless of whether they are just building or working on renovating their location.  You can typically find solar loans with between seven and ten year terms, with no interest or at least an extremely low interest rate.

At this point, if deciding to take your business solar is not the easiest decision that you ever made, you must not have truly considered all of the great benefits.  To benefit the health of the planet and the bottom line in your business, going solar may be the best financial decision ever made

Zagato’s PRT Pod – World Future Energy Summit

Zagato is much better known for such suave stylings as those made for Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin, but it was their Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) pod which seems to have gotten the lion’s share of attention at the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi this year. The PRTs are going to be used to transport students at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology this fall. For now, they’re on display and wowing the attendees.

The WFES has brought together heads of State, auto manufacturers, energy producers, scientists, and all manner of other concerned parties, both to network and to thinktank what our futures will hold. As you may have read, the Middle-east is sinking billions into alternative energies, and clearly taking the next wave of energy into their own hands — including acquiring the PRTs.The PRTs operate by calculating the number of revolutions of the tires, the direction traveled, and calibrating all of that by magnetic sensors which correlate with marked positions on the street. Sensors slow or stop the vehicle if there’s an object blocking the path ahead.

Studies have shown them to be much safer than having a human operator. The pods will travel to pre-determined stops, but will not run unless there are occupants, avoiding the waste of large bus routes which operate at all hours. Seating 4 comfortably (or 6 cramped,) the cost of these pods, once they’re being mass-produced, is expected to be about $40k each, will run on LiOn batteries from China, and will run for 3 hours before they need to be recharged. The pods are expected to play a big part in the zero-carbon city of Marsdar, as there will be 50,000 residents and another 40,0000 workers who arrive in the city every workday, all leaving their cars (if they have them) at the gate.  Similar craft have carried people in Europe already.  

2getthere, the same company which developed the PRT pods, has provided Holland’s Rotterdam with some 300 automated lorries, for example.  They also have developed human transport vehicles for use there in the Netherlands. The comfort and safety of the pods shows us a rather favorable vision of the future.  Ride on cushioned seats, holding hands or facing each other.  Have a conversation, catch up on the morning news.  The car will stop to let you off at your chosen destination.  Chauffeurs for everyone, and Green at that?  That’s our future?  Not bad.  Not bad at all! 

Wrong Tool, Dull Tool, or No Tool?

The Obama administration, which promised to be the most outspoken defender of wildlife and wild spaces since Teddy Roosevelt, seems to be falling far short of the mark at the hands of Secretary Salizar.  Though they started off strong by rescinding the last-minute oil leases the Bush administration had rubber-stamped, the track record since then hasn’t been terribly favorable.  In fact, it could be said to be unconcerned.

The latest in this trend is Salizar’s statement that the Endangered Species Act’s protections are the wrong tools to be using against global warming.  He said this in response to concerns about the polar bears.  The problem, Mr. Salizar, is that the bears themselves need something done NOW, not when you get around to curing global warming.    In fact, they’re one of the reasons we care about global warming.  So get a tool, any tool, and get at doing SOMEthing.  I’ll take the ESA as one. Or are you too dull a tool yourself?

If that seems overly harsh, realize that Mr. Salizar’s administration has also actively thwarted the efforts of several falconers to propagate species of eagles nad falcons.  These well-intended raptor enthusiasts want to spend their own money to import and breed the birds in captivity, ensuring their genetic survival.  But the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s CITES office prefers to respond by harassing them, burying them in paperwork for well  over 6 months, when that same CITES paperwork is routinely completed by other countries in a matter of minutes.   That’s just one of the many flaws and holes emerging in the Salizar story.

They say “The buck stops here.”  In Mr. Salizar’s case, we’re left to wonder if he knows what the buck is, or even where it starts… and this writer begins to worry that perhaps we didn’t get the change we voted for after all.

Ocean Power-World’s First Commercial Wave Generators Now Operating!

Three miles off the coast of Acuadora, Portugal, we find the site of the world’s first commercial wave-generated electric plant. In it’s first stage, the three Pleamis wave energy converters (PWEC) are operational. Each produces 750 kilowatts. Once the entire farm of 25-30 PWECs is complete, it is expected to generate some 25 MegaWatts of clean, Green energy, powering 15,000 households. This will eliminate more than 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The generators, which look like a cross between a submarine and a sea serpent, work by harnessing the energy of the ocean’s waves. The segments move on hinged joints, actuating hydraulic engines which move the generating mechanism. Each is tied in to a cable on the ocean floor, allowing several units to feed into the same electric line. Though some aspects of the manufacturing of the units may not be Green, the harvesting of the tides’ energy certainly seems to be.

Consider this: There are about 6.8 billion people on the planet at this time. In a worst-case scenario, if they had energy consumptions equal to those used in the above projection and there was an average of 3 people per household, 150,000 such completed wave farms could provide clean energy for every household on the planet! Considering that many households include far more than 3 people, it’s realistic to say that, in practice, they’d need between 75,000 and 100,000 such farms, which is even better news! Do we want to cover the planet’s oceans with wave generators? Of course not, but they’re not the only clean, passive harnessing of energy either. Wind farms, photovoltaic and other solar energy solutions will also play their part. What this does clearly demonstrate, though, is that we can have clean power for everyone on the planet, and that’s cause for celebration!

What’s the cost? So far, the combined investment is about 9 million Euros, but that includes R&D costs which would not be required once the generators are being made in quantity. The per unit cost is certain to drop well below 3 million Euros per unit, with each unit powering 500 households. Even at that price, though, it’s still only 6000 euros per household, to provide that household with clean and inexpensive passively generated electricity.

The British Wind Energy Association tells us that wave generators have the ability to displace 1-2 billion tons of CO2 emissions per year from conventional fossil fuel generating sources. The above paragraphs demonstrate that wave farms will be able to do far better than that. The biggest thing to gather from this article? Clean passive energy is not some far off futurescape. It’s possible, within our abilities now!

Windspire, the Small Footprint Wind Turbine Alternative

One of the most frequent objections to wind turbines is that some consider them an eyesore, and they take up a lot of space. Enter Mariah Power, a Nevada company, with their innovative designs. The Windspire solves the large footprint problem with a propeller-free design capable of operating in most any terrain or environment.

Unlike the traditional propeller-style wind turbines, Vertical Axis Wind turbines, (VAWTs) consist of blades positioned vertically, which rotate around a vertically placed axis. These blades can be either curved or straight.   The Windspire is a type of Giromill, a VAWT which uses straight-sided blades. Mariah Power researched the optimal airfoil configuration, developing the Windspire absent of self-starting problems normally associated with Giromill turbines.

Not only do Vertical Axis Wind Turbines offer the advantages of an exponentially smaller footprint than what we’re used to seeing, the heads don’t need to orient themselves with the changing wind directions.  This vertical design readily harnesses wind energy from any angle.  Though designed to be  extremely quiet, the Windspire can handle winds up to 100 mph.  They come equipped with a high efficiency generator, integrated inverter, hinged monopole and a wireless performance monitor.  Windspire’s manufacturer provides a warranty is a generous 5-year warranty.

The 1.2 kW Windspire is rated to produce some 2000 kilowatt hours per year under wind speeds of approximately 12 miles per hour.  The internal wireless modem (included) allows you to transmit power production information directly to your computer on a continuous basis, allowing you to check your power production.  The 1.2 kW Windspire is available now for around $5,000 USD including installation.  A low wind version, an off-grid or battery-charging version , and a 3 kW version are each currently in development.

It’s easy to see that Windspires could easily supplant the awkward and space-hungry Horizontal wind turbine designs in closed spaces, allowing the everyman to have a commercial-level generator in his own back yard.   This is amongst the many improvements in design which will lead us into energy independence.  As we move towarads the promise of renewable, passive energy sources, companies like Mariah Power will most certainly pioneer the solutions of tomorrow.

Windows to the Future – Integrated Solar

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has developed the window of the future by integrating solar collectors directly into the glass pane.  These new windows will not only provide a view and ambient light, but also harness the sunlight to power the home or building they are part of.  MIT engineers report a new approach to harnessing the sun’s energy that could allow just that.

The work, which will be reported in an issue of Science, involves the creation of a unique “solar concentrator.”  “Sun light is collected over a large surface (such as a window) and focused, or concentrated, at the edges,” explains Marc A. Baldo, leader of the work and the Esther and Harold E. Edgerton Career Development Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering.

The end result is that instead of covering the roof of a building with expensive photovoltaic cells (the semiconductor that converts sunlight into electricity), the solar cells only need to be around the edges of a flat glass panel.  In addition, the focused light increases the electrical power obtained from each solar cell “by a factor of over 40,” Baldo says.

MIT VideoThis technology is a huge advancement for solar generation because the system is easy to manufacture, and the MIT development team believes that it could be implemented within three years.  The system could even be added onto existing solar-panel systems to boost their power generation by 50 percent for a low installation cost.  This is a huge developmental step toward reducing the cost of installing solar electricity generation methods into existing buildings.

 Read the complete story, video, images at the MIT Web Site

Wind Power in China-Wind energy Going Green News

In China, nothing is done on a small scale.  The rate of growth and industrial development is staggering.  Ancient villages are being replaced by rapidly-growing cities at a rate that is unbelievable.  With 1.3 BILLION inhabitants, everything in China is huge.  Just to provide perspective, there are 40 million children under the age of ten in China.  That’s the same number as the entire population of Canada!  Shanghai, the largest city in China, is double the size of New York, and its high-speed train travels twice the rate of speed that the U.S. version travels.  Again, for perspective: that’s half the speed of an airplane. 

Providing energy for this explosive growth, burgeoning industry and huge population is a constant concern for the people of China, and the people of the world.  Increasing demand for fossil fuel from this nation is one of the factors causing rising energy costs worldwide, since China, like most developed nations, cannot meet its own energy demands.  China imports crude oil from all around the world, but recognizes that this rate of consumption and growth cannot continue.  As a nation, they are planning for the next generation of energy production: Wind power. 

The Global Wind Energy Council says that China’s installed wind energy capacity could reach 122GW by 2020.  The potential exploitable resource available is estimated at 1000 GW.  Gigantic wind energy projects were constructed in Northern China in the past two years, with an estimated capacity of 1GW.  Other projects are being developed in western provinces such as Gansu and Qinghai to meet the demand locally.  These projects reflect a decision by the central government of China to make wind an important alternative to fossil fuels, a secure energy supply, and a way to combat greenhouse emissions. 

Wind turbine manufacturers from around the world look at China as an important customer.  GE, Gamesa, and Vestas are all investing in Chinese projects, as are domestic Chinese companies such as A Power Energy Generation (APWR), Nantong CASC, Repower North, Nordex, and Hunan Hara XEMC Windpower.  Only GE, Vestas and APWR are listed in North America.  APWR recently signed 50 wind turbine contracts and expects a total annual production capacity of 1.1 GW by 2009.

Wind Power Energy-wind turbine electricity

wind-power.jpgWind-powered energy is a source of electrical power that is friendly to the environment, clean and completely inexhaustible.  Wind power is actually simply another form of solar energy, because wind is created by the sun’s uneven heating of the atmosphere on Earth.  The earth’s rotation and its surface irregularities are responsible for moderating wind power.  There are many factors which go into affecting the flow patterns of the wind, including the terrain, bodies of water and even vegetation.  Luckily, thanks to the great invention of the wind turbine, the energy produced by the wind can now be harnessed and used to create electricity and power to save on purchasing electricity from over-priced non-renewable utility company energy sources.

A turbine essentially works in the way that a fan does, if the fan were to be operating in reverse.  Instead of the electricity being in charge of spinning the blades to generate wind, the wind is responsible for spinning the blades which generates the electricity.  A wind turbine operates by having the blades spun by the wind, the blades spinning a shaft, and the shaft connecting to a generator which is responsible for producing the energy.

There are two basic types of wind turbines, a horizontal axis wind turbine and vertical axis wind turbines.  Horizontal axis wind turbines are the most commonly used wind turbines today.  These turbines are also available in two different forms, the two-blade horizontal axis wind turbine which spins downward, and the 3-blade horizontal axis wind turbine which spins upwards.  The power generating capacity of the wind turbine is influenced by its size.  Smaller turbines can produce 50 kilowatts or less, and are typically used for the powering of homes, telecom dishes and even water pumps.  Many people are now combining these smaller wind turbines with solar systems and photovoltaic cells to create on-demand power sources in places that are off the grid.

In general, these wind turbines are used to create a supplemental source of power for locations that are already utilizing local utility power or on-the-grid power.  There are many situations where a wind turbine simply will not provide an output, so it is often necessary for residential areas to derive their power from a utility grid.  Above seven to ten miles per hour of wind and the wind turbines will kick in, reducing the power supply of the grid significantly.  When excess power is created by wind turbines, the extra produced output is sold back to the public utility company, reducing the energy cost of a single resident by as much as fifty to ninety percent.  Depending on the amount of energy a typical residence uses, typically a small 5-15 kilowatt wind turbine is all that is needed.  These systems are generally only effective in areas where the average wind speed is more than ten miles per hour, and where at least ten cents is paid per kilowatt hour.  Larger wind turbine systems have much higher capacities, but they tend to be much more expensive to install and are only effective in situations where all or most of the produced energy can be used effectively.