August 22, 2012
Could the IKEA concept of “offering a wide range of well designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them” be expanded to include solar and wind energy?
With IKEA plugging into solar power for almost all of its U.S. buildings, could IKEA-brand solar panels for your home be far behind? Of, course some assembly would be required. And there would be an Allen wrench.
August 3, 2012
Ninth in a series on the ‘Now or Never” report of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources (ENEV).
Priority #9 highlights the importance of renewable energy to Canada’s energy future. And that’s possible because we have an abundance of water, wind, sunlight, geothermal and biomass resources. Renewable energy initiatives are often developed in response to addressing greenhouse gas emissions, diversifying energy supplies, meeting government regulations and satisfying consumer demands for renewable energy sources.
Renewable energy is primarily used to generate electricity. Hydropower accounts for about two thirds of our electricity generation here in Canada. The rest is generated by oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear. ‘Other’ renewables are also part of the mix but are just a sliver of our energy pie. The challenge is how can we grow that piece?
In Canada, the answer right now is slowly. But steadily. Canada’s wind power installed capacity is growing every year. Biomass-fired electricity generation (forest and agriculture waste, municipal solid waste and landfill gas) is being considered as an option to replace some coal-fired plants. Biofuel development is continuing to grow; all major oil refineries in Canada blend ethanol and biodiesel. And both solar and geothermal are heating options for residential and commercial development.
Canada certainly has the capacity to make good use of these resources if we can tackle the key issues. Upgrading of the electricity grid infrastructure is essential. Private and public funding of research we know is key to technology development and innovation. And realizing that municipal governments and consumers have a big role to play in developing renewable energy resources locally.
Today’s lesson is in your hands. I will supply you with sources about the big renewables in Canada, but as these industries are constantly evolving, I’d advise that you keep up with them. If you’re a regular reader of this blog you’ll know I’ve recently posted several stories on renewables, and am always looking for more.
Canada is an enormous country, and has amazing potential for renewable energy. This is an exciting time for renewables, so I would definitely recommend that you look at these sites now and visit often. There are some truly fantastic things happening.
Canadian Wind Energy Association – Canada’s wind farms
Ontario – Small wind for home and farm
Canadian Solar Industries Association – Solar energy 101
Solar decathlon – Who will compete next?
Canadian Renewable Fuels Association – Public policy
BC – Bioenergy strategy
Canadian Geothermal Association – What is geothermal?
NRCan – Tides, rivers and waves
FORCE – Tidal energy (watch the Fundy Tidal Research video)
July 17, 2012
These days it seems that no one can resist showing off their fancy new alternative fuel vehicle. I posted a little while ago about an electric car race around the world. Now it seems we have a similar situation, only this time via solar airplane.
The team attempting this feat is Solar Impulse. Flow first covered their adventures in April 2010, when they took the plane for a test drive. Their plans back then for an around the world journey in 2012 are still on track. So far their solar plane has been the first to complete an intercontinental flight. With this prototype’s success they are designing a new plane to circle the globe. These planes run day and night powered solely by the sun. It really is a marvel of modern technology, and something that should by followed by any solar fan, or any fan of technology for that matter.
I first found this story through National Geographic, which has an excellent selection of pictures from the missions, and some brief information. For a more in depth look at the project, including some amazing pictures and even video from the flight deck, check out the Solar Impulse website.
June 18, 2012
When you think of solar energy you often think of an attempt to get off the grid. To live off the land, to reduce your carbon footprint. However, many see the growth of solar energy as a genesis for new business ideas.
One such company is Solar Maid, a janitorial service for solar panels. Solar Maid specializes in cleaning of solar panels. Cleaning includes anything from dusting and washing to snow removal, and Solar Maid serves both residential and commercial clientele.
My first reaction to learning about Solar Maid was that their service seemed counterintuitive to the typical image of self-sustainability. As I browsed their website, I found that there was a response to this.
Solar Maid offers to teach their method to residential clients so they are able to perform tasks themselves. They even make light of this practice as being potentially bad for business. I found this particularly interesting in terms of a business plan.
Is this the direction that self-sustainability is headed? As technology changes, it could be. I would argue that paying for a service such as this provides me with the freedom to pursue other activities that help me be self-sustainabile. I also think I’d rather have a professional climb up onto my roof to clean my solar panels, but that might be just me.
May 18, 2012
The 95th Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition is coming to Calgary at the end of the month. Here’s an opportunity to get a free ticket.
The Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE) and the Department of Chemistry at the UofC are making 50 free tickets available to a talk by Thomas J. Meyer from the University of North Carolina. Thomas is one of the most highly cited chemists in the world and is part of the conference’s Energy Futures Symposium, which is sponsored by ISEEE.
His presentation is titled “Finding the Way to Solar Fuels”. Here’s the summary of the talk as provided by ISEEE – it will be technical.
“Concerns about long-term supply of hydrocarbon fuels and their environmental impact are creating an impetus for a new energy future. The sun may be the ultimate renewable energy source but it has limits. It will require energy storage on unprecedented, massive scales with daytime generation of solar fuels for storage and later use for nighttime power generation. Target solar fuel reactions are water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen and CO2 reduction to CO, other oxygenates, or hydrocarbons. Carrying out these multiple electron/multiple proton reactions with single photon excitation poses a considerable challenge. Natural photosynthesis provides a model but its approximately 1 per cent efficiency for biomass production is too inefficient for solar fuel applications. Multiple approaches are under investigation from solar thermal to direct band gap excitation of semiconductors. A promising approach, based on molecules and molecular level phenomena, is Dye Sensitized Photoelectrosynthesis Cells (DSPECs). They function like dye sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) with redox equivalents produced by molecular-level excitation and injection into wide band gap semiconductors. However, they are used to drive physically separated solar fuel half reactions instead of a photocurrent. Significant progress has been made on the underlying catalytic reactions for water oxidation and CO2 reduction and gaining an understanding of the dynamics of injection and back electron transfer under conditions appropriate for DSPEC water splitting.”
Still interested? Here’s how you can get one of the free tickets.
Register for this talk (scroll to the bottom of the page) and you will be sent a confirmation email. Bring this confirmation email with you to get into the talk. If you register and don’t get a confirmation letter, it is because the tickets are all gone.
When: 5-6 p.m., Tuesday, May 29
Where: Calgary TELUS Convention Centre (Exhibition Hall E), 120 9th Avenue SE, Calgary.
January 3, 2012
While BP steps away from the solar business, Google and Warren Buffet continue to invest.
April 25, 2011
Not that solar PV and concentrating solar power are aggressive. They’re active, and passive solar is more easy-going, don’t worry about electronics or mechanical devices; just let the sun do all the work.
Like its more active cousins, passive solar begins with design. Situate a building; let’s say a house, to take advantage of natural sunlight and natural air currents. That way, the house benefits from warmth and ventilation. Put lots of large windows on the south-facing wall (if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, north-facing wall if you live in the Southern Hemisphere), and maybe a deciduous tree or two outside the windows. Build the roof with a large overhang. Provide some sort of thermal mass, like a tiled concrete slab floor or a brick wall. And that is basically it. Sit back. Relax.
In the summer, when you really don’t need the heat, the sun is directly overhead and the overhangs and trees prevent direct sunlight from coming through the windows. In the winter, when you do need the heat, the sun is lower in the sky and the trees have shed their leaves, and sunlight comes directly through the windows, warming not only the room, but also the thermal mass. Once the sun sets, the thermal mass releases its absorbed heat to the room, reducing the need for furnace heat.
Let’s say you’ve done all this but when you stand back and look at your house, you think “Gee, the south-sloping roof looks bare, but I don’t want solar PV panels and all the wiring and batteries they entail. What can I do?” Well, you can consider a solar collector. Solar collectors consist of piping that is surrounded by dark, heat-absorbing material overlain by a transparent film or glass to avoid heat loss and backed by insulating material, again to avoid heat loss. The heat-absorbing material transfers its heat to a fluid circulating through the pipes that run into the house. The fluid, in turn, transfers its heat to a heat sink such as a water tank or thermal wall to be used for water or space heating.
With passive solar, the only work you’ll need to do is open the curtains. And close them at night; they make a good thermal barrier.
April 21, 2011
When we think of solar powered electricity, the image that usually comes to mind is one of solar panels on the roof of a building. Solar panels consist of many connected photovoltaic (PV) cells which are made mostly of silicon with other compounds. When light energy strikes a PV cell, some of the energy is absorbed, freeing electrons which then form an electric current.
Solar panels are most often used in small applications, such as providing electricity for a house or similar sized building. However, there are now solar parks, similar to wind farms, where large arrays of solar panels provide power to electricity consumers. The largest such solar park is the 80 megawatt Sarnia Solar Project, pictured here, in Sarnia, Ontario.
The overall efficiency, from panel to grid is about 15 per cent.
The other way to produce solar electricity is through a process known as concentrated solar power. Lenses or mirrors are used to focus sunlight on a small area to heat a liquid which flows through a heat exchanger creating steam to run a turbine. The two most common forms of concentrated solar power are parabolic troughs and solar power towers.
Parabolic troughs are, as the name suggests, troughs with reflecting surfaces in the shape of a parabola. The suns rays are focused by the parabola onto a pipe running the length of the trough. A synthetic oil in the pipe heats to 350 °C and is used to make the steam that runs the turbine. Efficiency is similar to that of PV cells.
Solar power towers consist of a field of mirrors which concentrate light on a receiver located atop a tower at one end of the array. The receiver heats a fluid that provides the heat for steam generation. Overall efficiency is slightly better than that for parabolic troughs.
April 18, 2011
This week just got a little brighter with the introduction of SolarBOT, an energy dynamo who can soak up the rays and heat up the town. Add in his ability to generate electricity and you’ve got a BOT who can take it easy and stay powerful at the same time.
One of the most familiar uses of solar energy comes with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Disturbed around the country on rooftops, ground-mounted installations and anywhere that sunlight can reach them, these panels can provide power to locations and devices that wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach the grid. Certain locations provide more sunlight for these panels, making areas including southern Ontario, Quebec and the prairies the best places in Canada for SolarBOT to kick back and absorb.
But SolarBOT does more than just keep power flowing, he also keeps Canadians warm. Active solar thermal systems use mirrors or metal plates to focus the sun’s energy, transferring the heat to air or water. And once that air or water has been heated, it can be distributed throughout a house, keeping it toasty warm.
And not all solar heating is active either. Passive solar heating simply involves constructing a home so that the sunlight naturally finds its way into the home and its heat is trapped by insulation. After all, what’s a nice sunbeam if you can’t relax?
In Canada, the solar industry is represented by the Canadian Solar Industries Association (CanSIA), which provides public information on solar power and industry information for companies in the business of harnessing the sun’s energy. Governments have also stepped into the business of promoting solar power, with Ontario’s Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program and its guaranteed prices for solar power being the most prominent example.
Around the world, solar power has been able to provide emission-free energy in a variety of locations, including large facilities like the 40-megawatt solar farm in Sarnia, Ontario. Globally, facilities like the US’s Solar Energy Generating Systems (SEGS) are providing megawatts of installed capacity, from North America to Europe and beyond. So even if SolarBOT occasionally likes to kick back, he’s always a powerful BOT.
March 7, 2011
The Department of Energy and Climate Change in the UK is challenging you to solve the problem of reducing the country’s CO2 emissions by 20 per cent of 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The data behind the 2050 simulation is based on actual UK data. You read along and learn about how the country uses energy and then decide how you see its future. The program quantifies your ideas and prompts further questions about the impact of your choices.
When you are done you get a snap shot of what your world looks like – again nicely quantified and easy to understand – including geography references, scale and scope of development that would be required, nod to efficiencies realized and a literal count of things like wind turbines and nuclear power plants that would be required. You can return to your musing and try again or submit the results.
But what we really like about this sim is that it’s the foundation for the Pathway Debate. Eight climate and energy experts have set out how they think the UK could meet the target using the 2050 tool. Brilliant. This is one of the best online tools we’ve seen recently to help consumers understand the relationship between supply and demand. It’s about the energy mix and how all of the sources work together to power the future. So hop to it and take a spin or should we say a sim.
Really, everyone these days is an energy armchair critic, picking winners and losers and thinking they have a better idea. Now it’s your turn. You decide. And you just might learn something in the process.