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History of Earth Day – a Grassroots Effort

Earth Day 2014

Since tomorrow is Earth Day 2014, I thought it only fitting to write a short history of this special day. What’s the purpose of celebrating Earth Day on April 22 every year? How did it start? These are questions you might be interested in if you are a keen observer of the environment. This celebration is not to be confused with a similar event, the equinoctial Earth Day which is celebrated around March 20 every year.

Well, the idea of the April 22 Earth Day is said to have evolved over a period of 7 years, which began in 1962. For very many years, individuals had been going about the politics of the world while ignoring issues related to the environment they are living in. It was not until November 1962, when the issue was brought into focus, thanks to the founder of this special day, Democratic U. S. Senator Gaylord Nelson (from Wisconsin).

The idea was to convince President Kennedy (who was the United States President at the time), to go on a national environment conservation tour. At the time, Senator Nelson flew to Washington to discuss the tour with Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Both the President and the Attorney General liked the idea very much. So the President started his 5-day journey across 11 states, with the aim of recognizing Earth Day. This trip was dubbed ”Conservation Tour”, and it happened in the year 1963. However, the tour didn’t succeed in putting the issue onto the limelight of the national political agenda.

But Senator Nelson didn’t give up on the struggle. Instead, he went ahead and talked to 25 more states about the issue. It was evident that the environment was degrading at a fast pace. America’s citizens were noticing this but the political establishment had not. At this time, most politicians simply refused to recognize it.

After the President’s tour, Senator Nelson was even more determined. He still had hope that the issue would somehow find its way onto the National political agenda. Six years later, he set out on a national conservation tour, speaking to people about the idea on a hot summer.

Senator Nelson traveled to champion for environmental conservation while an anti-Vietnam war demonstration was actively being carried out. It was given the name ”teach-ins”, and it had spread in college campuses all across the states. But then Nelson thought this was a good opportunity to organize a huge grassroots protest over the issues that were facing the environment.

Though it was a big gamble because he was taking advantage of the situation to force issues onto the political agenda of the country, his idea was bound to succeed because he was channeling the energy of students to rightful use.

Nelson organized a conference in Seattle in 1969 to announce that there would be a countywide demonstration on behalf of the environment. That’s the time when the announcement started spreading like wild fire. The media was all over it, so the news about the conference was taken serious by the masses.

Because of the grassroots factor, the idea was able to take off successfully this time round. Millions of people showed up on college campuses, secondary schools and communities across the nation. Since that time it has spread to 192 different nations and is celebrated by over 1 billion people each year.

 

Advantages of Solar Chargers – You Got That Sun?

Technology such as computers, tablets and smart phones come with batteries that require charging. Due to their sophisticated functions such as phone calls, Internet access, photography and many others, the devices consume power fast and furious and require frequent charging.

The last thing you want to see when using your iPad is a low battery message. Having a handheld solar charger may come in handy at such a time. These photovoltaic chargers utilize energy from the sun to charge your device.

All modern electronic devices come with their own free battery chargers (USB or wall socket) so one might wonder why you need to go out and purchase an additional charger. After all, if you can buy a smart phone, you most definitely have electricity in your home or office.

First, using solar energy is environmental friendly because it is renewable. It is therefore the ultimate choice for the environmentally conscious individual. These chargers are not tied to the grid which uses mostly coal, natural gas and nuclear power for generating electricity.

Second, a solar charger is portable and can be carried anywhere. You can take it with you to a conference, a camping trip, on vacation or any place. It will work in any location where there is sunlight and it can come in handy when you find yourself far away from a socket. All you need is to expose it to sunlight, connect it to your device and voila, you are good to go.  You do not have to stop working or enjoying yourself even when you find yourself in the remotest of places.

The third advantage is that solar chargers are small and compact and are easy to carry with you wherever you go. You won’t have to lug a lot of extra luggage when you are out communing with nature.

In the long run, solar power will prove to be cheaper for you and the planet since it is a one off investment. If a large number of people were to use solar chargers for all their small devices, imagine the amount of energy and pollution we could save for our planet.

And, it you ever get the hankering to build your own DIY solar charger I’ve included a link on how you can go about doing this.

 

Solar Energy Breakthrough in Australia

Even though China thinks that their scientists are ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to developing solar energy, recent reports have proven otherwise. There is actually an expert team of scientists working hard at the University of New South Wales (NSW) located in Sydney, Australia that recently was able to gain one of the most prestigious awards, within the solar energy field.

A Major Discovery

Professor Wenham worked directly with his UNSW team in order to discover that hydrogen atoms that are capable of effectively countering defects located in silicon cells found within many types of solar panels. That discovery alone led to a vast number of improvements in the design of photovoltaic panels in general. This level of breakthrough was not expected to be discovered and developed for at least another ten years.

What is the Benefit?

The overall process that was defined and developed by Professor Wenham and his team makes it possible for cheap silicon to actually become much better at absorbing light than the very highest quality silicon. It was this discovery that led to this team being recognized publicly for their achievements and awarded an AF Harvey Engineering Research Prize worth $560,000 AU. They were also credited by the President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) as playing a major role in the overall development and implementation of revolutionary silicon solar cell technology.

Exploring the Actual Results

Thanks to the hydrogenation process that was developed by Professor Wenham’s team, traditional silicon is now able to achieve a high level of performance and efficiency that is equivalent to commercial-grade, high-purity silicon – something that was not possible before their hard work led to this major achievement in science and technology.


What Will Be Done with the Money?

After receiving such a major cash prize, the team has already decided exactly how it will be spent. According to an interview conducted with Professor Wenham, the money will be used to expand a major research area that made it possible for this successful team to win their prize in the first place and gaining 30-percent efficiency on their solar cells.

 

External Resources

http://english.cntv.cn/20140129/103520.shtml

 

Biodiesel Production by Microalgae

By Guest Blogger Wilson Yeo

Biodiesel is fast emerging as a viable option in powering vehicles as reducing the impact of anthropogenic activities on the environment takes center stage.

Together with bioethanol and biogas, biodiesel form part of the biomass fuels that could form one of the array of replacements for fossil fuels as en energy source for powering vehicles.

Major producers of biodiesel like Brazil and United States, are promoting their usage by selling biodiesel/petroleum diesel blends and providing incentives in an effort to reduce the demand on diesel. Advocators also include celebrities like Willie Nelson and Daryl Hannah who have since jumped onto the bandwagon by producing biodiesel and more recently vehicles powered by biodiesel.

However in a bid to match this increasing demand of biodiesel in the world, some farmers have switched to growing bioenergy crops like soybeans and palm instead of food crops. These have led to a decrease in the supply of food and other related products causing problems like a spike in food prices, a drop in food aid and in general leading to global hunger.

One way to overcome this problem will be to utilise alternative sources of biodiesel production. One potential source worth considering will be microalgae. Algae have the potential to produce the feedstock for a number of other transportation fuels like gasoline and even jet fuel. Besides that, algae also possess advantages like a faster growth rate, can be harvested daily, not limited by land and water suitability and most importantly they do not disrupt the production of food crops. Some species of algae that have been worked on include Nannochloropsis sp, Spirulina sp and Chlorella sp.  Currently there is extensive research being carried out in NREL with guidelines provided to aid researchers in their analysis of their algal feedstock though studies have shown that one way to increase the proportion of oil for some algal species can be done via modification of their growth conditions.

All this ongoing research shows the potential in developing a microalgae-based technology for biodiesel production to improve the environment and help the world to gradually reduce its unhealthy dependency on petroleum and other fossil fuels.

 

About the author

Wilson Yeo is a marine researcher who does research on phytoplankton and plus an advocate of sustainable living and green energy from Green Energy Helps.

 

Innovations of Solar Panels Continue: Safer and Cleaner Energy

By Guest Blogger Liz Nelson

Contrary to the beliefs of many, the decrease in oil prices is not having as much of an impact as they thought when it comes to developments for solar power. In fact, the innovations and developments continue to progress in spite of the decrease in oil prices. Among these developments are those that pertain to efficiency and safety. As popularity grows for solar arrays, decreasing the overall costs of maintenance as well as improving features are what drives the sales for future products.

Increasing Efficiency

Overcoming Lost Energy – One obstacle that many scientists are trying to overcome is the efficiency in which light is captured by solar panels. Currently, only 20 to 30-percent of the light is actually absorbed by panels – which creates a great amount of wasted energy. If this manner of absorption can be increased, fewer solar panels could be used to generate greater amounts of power. As it is, scientists of the EU FP7 LaserNaMi project may have a method in which this efficiency can be increased.

Carving Patterns in Panels – The design of solar panels makes them reflective, which allows most of the light to be bounced off of the panel rather than being absorbed. Scientists of the LaserNaMi project believe that nanoscopic relief patterns can be essentially carved into the panel in order to trap the sunlight instead of it being reflected. These relief patterns decrease a panel’s reflective surface and allows it to absorb more of the light turning it into electricity.

Materials Other than Silicone – Developments for panels don’t merely stop at the reflective surface. The discovery of using perovskite in lieu of silicone has amazing promises for making solar panels cheaper and more efficient. Perovskite was discovered in the 1800s as having photovoltaic properties and has been experimented with since then. In 2013, it was found that there was a significant drop in lost electrons when using perovskite material in solar panels. As this material is in plentiful supply, the cost for manufacturing panels made of it would be greatly reduced as opposed to refining polycrystalline silicon – one of the main components in most solar panels.

Safety for Maintenance

Fire Hazards – Many stories are surfacing as of late about the hazards of solar panel fires. During a fire in a home or a business establishment, firefighters are having a hard time combating the blaze from above if roof top solar panels are present. Why is this such an issue? Because solar panels will continue to generate power even though the circuit breakers of the establishment are turned off. Thousands of watts and hundreds of volts are still being fed to the power lines of the array. If a firefighter hits an exposed power line, it could cause severe injuries and even death.

Power Shutoff “Valve” – An Australian company has developed the means to combat fires safely for those establishments that support roof top solar arrays. This Remote Solar Isolator is a device that is installed that operates by detected power from the grid. If grid power is shut off, the isolator reduces the power of the panels to manageable limits if not shutting it off all together. This means that the solar panels can be rendered useless by turning the power to the establishment off allowing firefighters to combat the blaze even while the panels are mounted on the roof.

Keeping the Panels Clean

Obstructing Light – One of the most painstaking truths about roof top solar installations is the aspect of keeping them clean of debris. Dust, dirt, leaves and other objects could reduce the efficiency of the panel and requires the homeowner or maintenance professional to keep them clear. Even a thin layer of dirt and dust can be detrimental to the panel’s ability to turn light into electricity.

Non-stick Panels – As with the development mentioned above for efficiency, the same nanoscopic pattern technology makes the surface of a panel non-stick and nearly self-cleaning. The development of this pattern has the capacity to reduce the dirt, dust and other grime from forming a film over the panel.

The interest in solar power drives manufacturers and scientists to develop more efficient and cheaper methods of development. The more enhanced these items get, the more the consumer will want to buy them. As the years pass, the technology will continue to see improvements. It’s a fundamental truth in consumerism. As long as people are still willing to shell out the money, solar arrays will continue to become safer, cleaner and cheaper.

Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Liz Nelson from WhiteFence.com. She is a freelance writer and blogger from Houston.

 

General Services Administration Calls for Green-Tech Innovators

By Guest Blogger Ken Myers

The United States General Services Administration (GSA) released a statement last week calling for all green technology companies and innovators to submit a request for information under the Green Proving Ground initiative. This allows green technology companies to use the government entity as a test run for determining the efficiency and sustainability of their products.

Three years ago, the GSA, which owns and leases over 9,000 government buildings, re-dedicated itself to making its buildings more efficient and environmentally-friendly through the Green Proving Ground. Already the agency had shown its dedication to the environment by requiring each GSA building undergoing construction or renovation to conform to the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED),and the Green Proving Ground encouraged GSA buildings to continue that push towards sustainability by interacting with green technology innovators. In a symbiotic relationship with green technology companies, the GSA provides independent evaluation of the product and reports on the durability and environmental friendliness through real world usage. This gains exposure for up-and-coming green technology companies and reduces energy usage in buildings around the country.

In prior years, the GSA has used the Green Proving Ground to install condensing boilers, which reduced natural gas consumption by 14%, set up advanced power strips to reduce electricity usage on idling machinery for a savings of up to 50% in some areas, and set up responsive lighting to prevent electricity waste in empty rooms. These innovations and more were rigorously tested and the total efficiency measured by GSA in its yearly report.

Some of the more interesting technologies that are being installed and researched in GSA buildings nationwide are chilled beams and integrated daylight systems. The chilled beams program was enacted in 2011. Rather than relying on bulky, loud air conditioning systems to circulate cold air during the summer months, chilled beams were installed in an office setting. These beams use pumps to move cold water rather than a fan to move air, which reduces energy usage by 10-30%. While the startup cost is high, it provides a more consistent indoor air quality and cuts down on noise pollution.

Integrated daylight systems are a light system that adjusts the lights in an office building to keep constant illumination throughout the day. This system of “daylight harvesting” leads to lower electricity use during the summer and mid-day when offices are oversaturated with light from overhead lighting and mid-day sun. This saved GSA buildings 35% in electricity costs and was supported by employees who no longer had to adjust to compensate for the glare during the sunniest hours of the day. These are only two of the dozens of green technology innovations being tested year-round in government buildings.

The GSA announcement for new companies to use the Green Testing Ground comes on the heels of the GSA decision to approve use of Green Globes in addition to the LEED certification for government buildings. While some considered the pro-industry Green Globes endorsement a step back for environmentally friendly government buildings, the GSA believes that having two certification processes will actually help construction and renovation in government buildings. Giving government contractors and architects two certifications to choose from when designing a green building can be beneficial considering the large range of buildings used by the government. From hospital laboratories to large office buildings, the option of two certifications ensures protection for the environment and flexibility in design.

Those interested in donating or providing their green technology to the GSA under testing agreements need to submit their request for information form by December 9th. The GSA is seeking green technologies that reduce water use, electricity and operating costs. The GSA Green Testing Ground program is a unique opportunity to generate independent research and marketing through the US government.

About the Author

Ken Myers is a father, husband, and entrepreneur. He has combined his passion for helping families find in-home care with his experience to build a business. Learn more about him by visiting @KenneyMyers on Twitter.

The Skinny on Thin Film Solar Cells

Thin film solar cells also known as thin-film photovoltaic cells are solar cells that are made up of one or more layer of photovoltaic material such as silicone, graphene or another substrate.

These types of solar cells are not really a new idea. They have been around since the inception of solar calculators. Of course these thin little strips that were used to power hand held calculators are more sophisticated now and much larger.

Thin film solar is being used today in building installations and to charge the new electric vehicles. This market has really blossomed since the early 2000′s with growth up by about 50-percent. It is predicted that thin solar cells will surpass other types of solar technology within a few years.

Application and Use

The thin nanometer to micrometer widths makes this an ideal medium to use in building construction. Sheets of this material are either laid directly on the roof or are integrated with the roof. The application of this type of solar film means no additional weight on the building from heavy solar panels.

Many consumers had to have large solar panels installed on their roofs or in spaces near their homes. This is not only an eye sore but the weight of the panels can cause undue stress on the roof. There may be other options, however, where advanced PV projects can offer more streamlined panel installations along with thin solar solutions.

Efficiency

Initially this thin solar material could only turn out about 12 megawatts. After research and development, thin film solar now offers about 40-50 megawatts and that is expected to grow and production costs drop.

Thin film is a very efficient type of material that can be used in many different applications to generate solar energy. Car manufacturers have found this material to be the material of choice to use in their electric and hybrid cars.

The efficiency is still not that of conventional panels but the prediction is that it will continue to improve because there is a definite market for the material. This is by far a much easier material to work with and to install and it is far less intrusive than traditional panels.

The Costs

Through advances in the industry the production costs have been greatly reduced which in turn has driven down the end cost. China has affected this market by mining large amounts of silicon which they have been using to produce very low cost (in comparison to previous years) conventional panels at cut rate prices.

The cost has fallen dramatically and with continued research and development into production strategies it is likely that this film will continue to decrease in price while it will increase in efficiency.

Thin film solar cells may be the answer to providing solar energy to homes and businesses that are located in urban areas where placing conventional panels is not possible. It is the goal of the industry to surpass the efficiency of conventional panels by 2014 – 2015.

 

More on Thin Film Solar

http://www.engineering.com/DesignerEdge/DesignerEdgeArticles/ArticleID/6456/Breakthrough-in-Thin-Film-Solar-Cells.aspx

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-04/thin-film-solar-tops-india-panel-performance-bnef-says.html

 

Interview with Brenden Sherratt from RideNerd.com

The other day I had a chance to catch up with Brenden Sherratt, the marketing manager for a green car comparison website called RideNerd.com and ask him a few questions. The basis of RideNerd is what happens when several IT guys get together and help consumers to find the greenest cars possible.

Q & A

Green Tech Gazette: Who is the “group of nerds” behind the creation of RideNerd.com?

Brenden Sherratt: We are a small team based out of Waterloo, Ontario Canada. There are 4 of us working on this project, I am doing the marketing and community management stuff, and Colin, Alex and Chris are doing the heavy lifting dev work.

Green Tech Gazette: What is the motivation behind creating a green car comparison website?

Brenden Sherratt: I was looking for a car, and trying to put together a list of options. I was comparing the different options, had spread sheets with different options… it was a mess. We got to talking and figured we could do something better. We want to help people make the right decision, whether they are deciding to buy the most environmentally friendly car on the market, or if they are looking for a car that will save them some money on gas. We focused on environmental data because for more and more people it is a significant factor in their final decision.

Green Tech Gazette: How will RideNerd help green car shoppers decide on a vehicle to buy?

Brenden Sherratt: We have pulled together all the data you need, from info on the impact of manufacturing the car, to the emissions coming from the tailpipe, to the cost of buying a hybrid vs traditional car. Buyers can easily understand the differences between two cars, and the size of each cars green footprint.

So, there you have it. If you’re in the market for a new car or are just curious and just want to compare green cars, then go see what RideNerd has to offer.

 

Solar Power for Business – Key Reasons to Make the Switch

By Guest Blogger Steve Richards

Understanding Solar Power

Energy is of different kinds; hydral, kinetic and solar being some of them. Solar energy is the kind of energy received from the sun, and when sunlight is converted into electricity, we call it solar power. There are two basic processes by which sunlight can be directly converted into electricity; using photovoltaics or PV and the other is by CSP or concentrated solar power that involves using solar energy to boil water which in turn provides power. Photovoltaics are generally used to power smaller or medium-sized appliances like a calculator, to larger off-grid houses that are powered using a photovoltaic array; a cost effective means of providing electricity in places where grid power is impossible, inconvenient or unnecessarily expensive. Inversely, CSP uses mirrors or lenses along with a tracking system that allows a large area of sunlight to be concentrated at a single point, as a beam of light. This kind of system works best for larger projects; businesses and power plants.

Commercial Uses of Solar Power

With the constant rise in demand for electric power, the significantly rising prices of oil and the environmental concern growing rapidly, many businesses are beginning to choose other renewable sources of energy and solar energy is definitely a sustainable choice, one that can be used in various applications. Whether a one-man powered affair or a multinational corporation, organizations today are being constantly urged to change to solar energy to power their offices, warehouses and labs etc. One major reason is the depletion of fossil fuels like coal and petroleum; not only are they scarce, but the by-products released from consumption of the same are harming the environment. Coal, when burned, releases carbon into the air, polluting it even further. It is also responsible for causing, smog, acid rain, toxic air, etc. especially in large organizations with big factories and production units. Solar energy is harmless, it does not pollute the environment, and this energy supply will never be depleted, as long as the sun continues to burn. Businesses can choose to install PV panels comprising of mono or polycrystalline silicon or amorphous silicon solar cells, and the panels themselves can be installed on roof-tops, or even mounted atop a special column, tower, etc. where there is an unobstructed source of sunlight.

Costs vs. Maintenance

When you begin installation of solar panels for your office space/factory/warehouse, etc. you might doubtful whether it’s worth spending the many dollars. However, news just out of New York today from The Business Review says solar panels have dropped 44% over the past 5 years. Meaning these solar systems are now more affordable than ever. Also, don’t forget that an organization can apply for loans or grants to help them with covering the fee of purchasing and installing solar panels; the cost will be worth in the long run since you won’t have to keep purchasing raw materials or spend monthly electricity bills. One major benefit is that solar panels are durable and able to withstand severe weather changes without getting harmed; regular cleaning or dusting will be required to keep dust, soot or grime off the top panels and regular inspections will help to spot any problem that might cause harm later on. But one doesn’t need to be worried, considering that the best solar panel brands come with a minimum of a 25 year performance warranty.

Benefits of Commercial Solar

Reduced Operating Costs

Solar powered systems will reduce and eventually help to eliminate your office’s electric bill. For both big and small industries, the monetary savings can have a tremendous positive impact. A solar powered electronic system is roughly equal to having pre-paid the bills for almost 40 years worth of energy, but at a tiny fraction of what you have to pay currently. The per unit cost of your present electricity/energy bills is higher than what you would spend had it been solar powdered; this means you can save so much more if you shift to a solar energy based system.

More ROI

Incentives from the local government and decreasing equipment costs means that using and implementing solar energy is a worthwhile investment, both long-term savings and quick returns are possible as well.

Maintenance-Free & Durable

As mentioned above, once you install a solar power system, it will require absolutely minimal maintenance, especially if you’re not using solar powered batteries. These systems are able to provide clean and efficient electric energy for a minimum of 25 and up to 40 years.

Eco-Friendly

Because solar energy does not involve burning of fossil fuels, there is no question of it pollution the environment. Reduced fuel consumption means a reduction in emission of greenhouse gases. Our planet is already being consumed by man-made disasters, and it’s time that more and more people and businesses use this green-efficient energy. Not only will it reduce operation costs but also be a great marketing and PR tool and a positive example in the corporate world.

 

About the Author

Steve Richards is a green tech writer and a team member at Infinite Energy, commercial solar power experts based in Perth, Western Australia.

 

Green Technology for Older Homes

Modern homes or homes built in the couple of decades or so are much more energy efficient. Rooms and strategic places of a new house are likely to be insulated and homeowners would have quite a few energy efficient fixtures.

Older homes neither have proper insulation nor are there any energy efficient fixtures. It is not practically possible to redo the entire design and structure of an old home to make it energy efficient. A green home can save a lot of money apart from contributing to the preservation of the environment which makes it an essential necessity as well. Thus, if one has to covert an older home into a green property, one has to endorse green technology that is affordable and can be put in place in an old home.

There are various ways to transform an older house to a green property. First, you can look at your water requisites and how you attend to all such needs. Your home would have water heaters, you may have plants and flowers that need water to thrive and you will need water for all your utilities. You can easily install a solar water heater instead of an old thermal water heater or electric water heater.

A solar water heater would be a one off investment and it can cut down your energy costs substantially. Solar panels that provide off-grid electricity for the home are another idea. Many older houses can be equipped with a set of solar panels quickly and easily.

To water the plants, flowers and for general washing of the driveway, outdoor areas and others, you can easily use rain water. All that you need is a rain funnel which will act as a rain harvesting system. You do not have an alternative to water requirements for all your utilities but you can cut down on waste. For instance, when you flush the toilet, it wastes a lot of water.

To flush liquid waste in the toilet you do not need several gallons of water a dozen times a day. You can easily install a dual flush toilet that will flush liquid waste with less water and solid waste with adequate water, thus saving dozens of gallons on a daily basis.

If you’re not a DIY expert, and if you live in the right location, then you may be able to get some outside help in turning your older home a bit greener. For instance, in the United Kingdom the Warm Up North programme will help with cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, boiler repair or replacement and energy advice. There are also other ecological consultants in the UK that can help with other environmental home issues that will make your dwelling a bit more habitable.

There are, of course, other ways you can create a green home, irrespective of how aged it is. Once again, if you live in the right location, you can replace your present heating system with a geothermal heating system. It will save you a lot of money and it is completely green. If your home is in a windy area, a wind turbine in your backyard would be very handy and if you have a running stream, microhydro can also help cut energy bills along with your carbon footprint.