Solar Power

Labour could require solar panels for new builds, hints Ed Miliband

Ed Milliband’s heart is in the right place, but I think we need more than just solar panels. The last Labour government planned regulations that demanded all new builds be net-zero. The Tories, of course, threw them out.

All new builds should meet internationally recognised net-zero standards, there should be grants for energy saving technology on older buildings, and the minimum energy standard for rented property should be raised significantly. Then we might start getting somewhere.

Floating solar panels could completely power thousands of cities – The Verge

This sounds promising. Floating the panels in reservoirs also reduces water loss and increases their efficiency through cooling.

Floating solar panels could completely power thousands of cities – The Verge

A portable solar cooker, just what every Road Warrior needs

I keep finding cool kit that I could incorporate into Pickers. This solar grill is just the sort of thing you might need if you were trekking around a harsh wilderness. No fuel, no smoke (unless you overcook your meal), light, and portable, my characters would probably have one stored away somewhere.

Source: The GoSun Grill Is a Portable Solar Cooker | Digital Trends

How Solar Will Destroy The Power Companies – Business Insider

Barclays recently downgraded the entire U.S. electric utilities sector to "underweight" on the threat posed by widespread adoption of solar-storage. These systems allow homeowners to use rooftop solar panels and a battery to cut all but the figurative emergency backup cord to their local electric grid, putting a severe strain on an industry that has been a defacto monopoly.

via How Solar Will Destroy The Power Companies – Business Insider.

Petrol from air?

A small British company has produced the first “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

I can’t be the only one who wants to see the numbers before getting too excited. How much energy goes in and how much is produced? Depending upon efficiency etc. it could be a good way of storing energy generated by solar or wind when it’s not immediately needed by the grid.

Feed in tariffs on Radio 4

Costing the Earth on Radio 4 today examined the feed in tariff, which should become available with the new tax year, and the economics of buying yourself a windmill or solar panels. You can listen to it through iPlayer.

Normally listen and watch again programmes on the BBC site expire within a week, but this one says it’s okay until January of 2099.

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Hair solar 1

A Nepali teenager has come up with a way to use hair to replace silicon in solar cells. The melanin in the hair is photo sensitive and a conductor, and can be bought for pennies a kilo. Panels could be made for £23, or less when production is scaled up.

There’s no real explanation of what Milan Karki has done to the hair to take advantage of melanin’s attributes. If I find them I’ll investigate further.

Feed in tariffs for microgeneration start next year

I missed this when it was announced, but from next April homeowners with microgeneration systems will be guaranteed a payment for electricity they generate and feed into the grid. Exact details haven’t been released, and this article in the Guardian has some suggestions on that front.

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Dick Strawbridge on how it’s easy to be green

Top eco-warrior Dick Sytrawbridge addresses some of the common misconceptions about making your home low energy and eco-friendly.

4) Most eco-renovation take decades to pay back the cost

Every time we decide to make an investment in an eco-project, the subject of payback comes up. It is possible to do the sums, and before we spend any hard earned cash I like to make sure that it’s a good investment. For example, loft insulation can pay for itself in two winters, and with the 2010 feed-in tariff I would expect solar PV to pay for itself in about seven or eight years, and a DIY solar thermal system to heat your hot water should have paid for itself in four or five years. But surely this is missing the point: when it comes to environmentally friendly projects we seem unable to accept the fact that it can be an investment and will add to the value of the house. What is the payback time for a new bathroom or kitchen? If you install solar photovoltaic panels you can reasonably expect them to easily last 25 to 30 years. Everyone knows a new kitchen makes a house more saleable, but in the current economic climate, how much more saleable is a house that will cost the new owners very little to run or may even generate an income?

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A letter to my MP

Using the website I’ve sent an email to my local MP, John Leech-

Dear John Leech,

When the Government announced earlier this year that they wouild be investing several billion pounds in renewable energy there was a hint that there would be a new round of grants for home owners to buy solar panels and other energy saving/ generating technologies. However, I have not heard any more about these payments since.

Would it be possible for you to raise the issue with the relevant department or official and find more details of the proposed schemes? This may not seem like the appropriate time to be paying out such grants but I believe they would help stimulate the economy by giving money to an important sector of industry and saving homeowners money.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Pattinson

Hopefully the grants have started up and I just haven’t seen the announcement. If not then I’ll have to think of ways to get the issue raised more forcefully.

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Wanna become a solar powered good ole boy?

How to build a solar still to distill alcohol. This is a chapter from a book all about home production of ethanol to run your car, but I’m sure the Dukes would find a way to make moonshine with it. Obviously it works better the more sunshine you get, but I think it would work almost as well with winter sun as with summer, albeit for shorter periods. The active solar still described could have its pump powered by solar cells and theoretically run faster when there’s more sunlight, solving the regulation problems.

I’m against the production of ethanol as it’s currently envisioned by governments and corporations, because it’s taking away chunks of food producing land. The mash for the first brew should come from sugar loaded waste, not from perfectly good food products. On a domestic level would it be possible to make, say, an apple peel (and other compostables) brew that would taste vile but be a good basis for distillation?

Update Onfurther investigation I’ve found that the book has chapters on fermenting various base materials including starchy sources such as potatoes and cellulose materials including cor stalks and paper.

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Solar planes can stay in the air for days

The Zephyr is a prototype solar powered unmanned aerial vehicle which recently unofficially broke the world endurance record for unmanned flight. Obviously, it’s being developed for military use, but the company behind it are predicting civilian implementations. It’ll be a long time before the equipment is able to carry large payloads around the world, but high flying drones could be used for pollution monitoring and other forms of information gathering.

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Advice for Gordon- save the world by bribing the voters

I don’t have any particular interest in Gordon Brown staying on as Prime Minister, he’s possibly worse than Blair because he’s too much of a coward to actually do anything radical. If he were, however, to suddenly develop a spine and display some of the savvy he claims to have there are ways he could get re-elected, boost the economy and start taking big steps towards hitting carbon dioxide reduction targets.

All he has to do is bribe the electorate.

A small number of people choose to ignore the evidence on global warming and will shout about any environmental initiatives no matter that they often have benefits beyond the green. Let’s just ignore them. Others are determined to cut their footprint no matter what. These converts deserve rewarding, and will be as a bonus of what I’m suggesting. The largest number of people, across a range of scepticism to understanding, aren’t going green because of the initial expense. Also for many of them when Gordon says “Green” they hear the word “Tax”.

Give these people the money to go green.

The recent announcement of a £100billion green initiative by Brown did mention solar power and other grants. What’s needed is for these to be big enough to cover most of the cost of installing panels, insulation or whatever is needed, because at present the payback in reduced bills isn’t enough. Most people would be better off leaving their money in the bank and earning interest. It would also help the uptake if the rates to sell electricity back to the suppliers were better. Let’s say that power companies should write off one unit of power consumed for every unit generated- in summer or on a windy day the house could pay for the electricity it used when it was cloudy or still. After the bill balances then the microgenerator can still sell to the power company at, say, half the price per unit they were being charged.

As important as increasing the grants and improving buy back is selling them properly. Emphasis should be put on giving money back to the consumer and making them independent of big suppliers. Gordon’s too dull to do this well, so he’d have to hope he could find a minister who could do it for him. The Tories have already figured out that this is a good sell, with proposals for feeding landfill savings back to households that recycle more. Their ideas about modifying the tax on petrol are based on a similar idea but seem half baked at best.

Of course, per kilowatt generated and ton of CO2 saved an increase in the scope and size of grants for microgeneration will be far more expensive than offshore wind or any other scheme. But no-one ever seems to think about where this money will go. The workers who install photovoltaics, groundsource pipes etc. will all be based in Britain. With a bit of encouragement the companies creating the equipment could all be British as well. They’ll all pay tax on their increased income, and boost the economy with their spending, as will the households now with extra cash from the electricity they’re saving and generating.

Of course the main reason a scheme like this won’t go ahead is because it will do the one thing all politicians are terrified of- it will allow the electorate to become less dependent on the state and the big businesses that pay for all the lobbying.

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Energy independence begins at home

Gordon Brown has announced a £100billion renewable energy plan. The Daily Mail and its readers have reacted as you’d expect, ignoring the boost to the economy from all the jobs created and the opportunities through grants to go energy independent.

So, those of you who can, I’d recommend stealing a jump on the whingers and using their tax money to go off grid. When I researched grants for solar panels last month I found that the existing scheme had been phased out, which was annoying. I’m now willing to give Brown the benefit of the doubt and hope this was because they were gearing up to a new and improved scheme. It isn’t easy. I’m not as obnoxiously and knee-jerkingly anti Brown/New Labour as the Mail’s readers, but past performance does mark the Government as untrustworthy.

The schemes for householders will be announced later this Summer. I’ll be looking out for them and will try to do some number crunching on them when they arrive.

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Environmental news round up

Trees absorb less carbon dioxide as the world warms up.

The ability of forests to soak up man-made carbon dioxide is weakening, according to an analysis of two decades of data from more than 30 sites in the frozen north.

Oil price hits $100 per barrel for the first time.

German cities ban the most polluting cars.

Solar school in Trafford.

A School in Trafford is about to become one of the country’s ‘greenest’ when solar panels are installed on its roof as part of a renewable energy drive.

Sale Grammar School is being given the panels, which are worth about £20,000, by the Co-operative Group.

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