Green Power Research

Interesting takes on the world of Green Power

The real reason for the growth of solar – and it is not to be green

by Tony - May 28th, 2015

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Clip art of Solar Panel

Clip art of Solar Panel

The prediction of the boom in the growth of solar power seems to become reality. Many commercials on the radio or any advertisement for a career fair in the print media seem to feature companies in the solar industry looking to hire new employees to support the current growth.

Growth on the Solar Generating Capacity

The U.S. Solar Market Insight 2014 year in Review Report stated the solar industry grew 38% between 2013 and 2014. A whopping 32% of all new generating capacity in the U.S. was provided by Concentrated Solar power (CSP), residential and utility photo-voltaics (PV). The report projects within the next two years the United States will double its solar capacity.

The utility PV sector continues to remain the bedrock of demand within the U.S. solar market, accounting for 63% of all PV capacity brought on-line in 2014. The drivers of the growth can be attributed to three primary reasons.

Reasons Driving Growth in the Solar industry

First: the falling costs of solar installation as a result of the Solar Investment Tax Credit from 2006 resulted in the overall price of “going solar” falling. The Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC) is a 30 percent federal tax credit for solar systems on residential and commercial properties. For commercial projects the company which installs, develops or finances the solar project uses the credit while for the residential project the homeowner applies the credit to his/her income taxes. The credit is used when homeowners purchase solar systems and installed them in their homes.

Since the credit is due to expire at the end of 2016 the solar industry is motivated to get as many panels installed as possible prior to the expiration of the credit.

Secondly, the financial hurdles which limited projects in the past have been overcome using innovative methods. In the residential market, the advent of financial solutions including power-purchase agreements (PPAs), leases and solar-optimized loans opened a wide swath of demand which did not exist in the past.

A (Solar) Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) involves a developer who owns, operates, and maintains the photovoltaic (PV) system once built. The customer agrees to site the solar system on its property and purchases the system’s electric output from the solar services provider.  This type of financial arrangement allows the customer to receive lower cost electricity, while the solar services provider acquires financial benefits such as tax credits and income generated from the sale of electricity to the host customer.

The last factor driving growth is stable policy and regulation.  At the federal level, the industry benefitted from the federal 30% Investment Tax Credit and most state policies are relatively clear and transparent. As a result, businesses have been able to plan strategically and chart a clear course for solar expansion.

Additional factors in the rush to install panels include the necessity of meeting Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) obligations, and the utility PV’s growing economic competitiveness electricity market.

Reasons driving people to install solar now

An article in MarketWatch.com reported almost 75% of the reasons people reported for their recent installations of solar panels was because of or related to their cost. Interestingly enough 51% installed to save money and another 23% installed because the cost of solar is now competitive with other sources of power generation. In contrast the “Green” reason such as mitigating climate change and making America more energy independent were cited as the reason by 9% and 3% respectively.

Conclusion

The recent adoption of solar panels, while assisted by the policy landscape, in the end is not about the green manner we can choose to live our lives but about the green which goes in our pockets.

The Utility and its relation to sustainability

by Tony - May 18th, 2015

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Tony Green speaking to the Eco Green Group of Silicon Valley

Tony Green speaking to the Eco Green Group of Silicon Valley

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to speak to the Eco Green Group of Silicon Valley regarding utilities and their relation to sustainability.

The idea for the talk came in the aftermath of a meeting I attended about demand response and it became clear to me many of the attendees were not clear how we receive the electricity which powers our homes and businesses. My goal was to provide the attendees a better inkling on how a utility works, how this relates to sustainability and give some insight into techniques which had potential to make the way we receive our power more sustainable.

There were five trends I wanted to point out might become commonplace in the future. Due to time constraints these were not covered in as much detail as I would have liked so I thought I would cover them here.

DC high voltage transmission wires

Alternating Current has been used to carry high voltage electricity after Thomas Edison found this method to be more efficient in transmitting electricity across long distances. The adoption of renewable energy sources will require more transmissions lines to connect the sources of renewable energy to where the demand is. With the improvements in solid state power inverter technologies it will become feasible to use DC/DC converters and requiring only 2 wires instead of the three wires now used to carry high voltage electricity.

Over gen – curtailing of solar panels output

On occasions solar power panels will produce more power than the grid will be able to support. Since no methods to store the power produced are in place (Perhaps Tesla’s Battery will fill this void) the grid will not accept the power generated. The more formal term used by the utilities is curtailment.  Curtailment is a reduction in the output of a generator which would be produced otherwise. Curtailment of generation is been a normal occurrence with conventional sources of power and typically occurs because of congestion in transmitting the power or the lack of transmission access. This “overgen” condition will occur more frequently as more solar comes on board if large scale storage does not come on line.

Distributed Generation

Traditionally electric power is produced a long distance from where the consumption occurs. High voltage transmission lines are used to transmit the electricity. A distributed generation (DG) model is where the power is generated near the location where the demand it eliminating the need for large scale transmission. This model allows the possibility of micro-grids which are small self -contained communities. Possible DG technologies include, of course, solar power and wind power but also small hydro, Combined Heat and Power (CHP), Fuel Cells and small nuclear devices (SMR).

Grid Storage

Currently compressed air is by far the most used source to store energy produced until needed. The intermittent nature of renewable sources, namely wind and solar, require methods to store the power until the capacity is required.

Novel grid storage technologies are in development including flow batteries, Electric double layer capacitors (EDLC) and lithium-ion batteries which will be needed to support the various applications requires to fully implement renewable sources.

Small Modular Reactors (SMR)

One of the possible methods of providing power in a distributed power generation scenario could involve the use or small scale nuclear reactor or a small modular reactor. The reasoning is nuclear power proves a large amount of power in a small area which is the same reason why the U.S. Navy chose to power its ships with nuclear reactors. In addition, nuclear plants produce low CO2 emissions.

Knowledge of the history and present operation of a utility is pivotal in understanding how these new five emerging technologies will change the way we receive the electricity we all take for granted.

How close are emerging alternative energy technologies to your front door?

by Tony - February 1st, 2015

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Image of Flow Battery Installation in Turlock California

Image of Flow Battery Installation in Turlock California

I was Internet surfing and I found an article about the use of a flow battery in an almond plant. This came as a bit of a surprise, yet I was even more surprised when I read the location of the factory was within an hours’ drive from where I am writing this blog.

Flow Batteries

A flow battery, also referred to as a redox (reduction-oxidation) battery, is a device whose recharge capability is provided by two chemical components dissolved in liquids contained within the system and separated by a membrane. Ion exchange which provides the flow of current through the membrane while both liquids operate in their own space. A pump is used to move the electrolyte through the membrane. Similar to a battery and a fuel cell flow batteries convert chemical energy to electrical energy. The storage capacity can be recharged by replacing the electrolyte liquid in the same fashion a rechargeable battery can be recharged by using an electrical outlet.

The chemical components are metal with multiple oxidation steps which means there are many electrons available for transport. A flow battery batteries typical use vanadium and iron, however, other metals are used.

Energy Storage

Flow batteries are one type of energy storage. One of the greater challenges of implementing alternative energy is that the power it provides is intermittent. In other words, the amount of power received varies over time. Electricity needs to be consumed once produced or the energy will be wasted. Methods of storing the power where is can be retrieved in large amounts and be made available to the grid in short time scales are needed to ensure power is supplied to the load at all times. The technology has the ability to store a large amount of electricity is a cheap fashion.

EnerVault Installation in Turlock

The flow batteries being installed in Turlock are manufactured by Sunnyvale, California based EnerVault. The installation is the first using redox technology on a utility scale. The battery can provide 1 megawatt of energy from its 250 kW rated battery. This provides about 4 hours of energy. The Turlock facility has a solar panel system and the flow batteries are used to store excess energy created by the solar panel system allowing the energy to be released when needed. The chemistry used for these batteries is iron and chromium.

These differ from lithium ion batteries since flow batteries need to be able to hold significant amounts of charge indefinitely while delivering its kilowatt hours reliably and cheaply.

Flow Batteries in our Future

Once commercially available these batteries could replace gas fired peaking plants which are used for grid stabilization as a backup source of power. The batteries make no noise and operate with no pollution and the materials uses to build the batteries are cheap and easy to acquire.

The next time you are driving take a look around your neighborhoods and cities, what technologies which might change our future are emerging under your nose?

Image Courtesy of www.gigaom.com

I bet you never thought Lignin would be the topic of a blog on alternative energy

by Tony - December 31st, 2014

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A part of deploying renewable energy technologies are using them to convert something which was formerly

Logs composed of lignin and wood fiber

Logs composed of lignin and wood fiber

regarded as waste into a useful product. This practice not only reduces the amount of waste but in certain circumstances provides options to manufacture useful products from components other than those whose reserves are limited. In the long term, reducing the waste we eliminate combined with finding beneficial uses will assist in conserving our planet’s limited resources.

Lignin is a recent example of a material which has not seen much use until recent times. If you are unfamiliar, lignin is the glue which holds trees together. The sticky material is one of the most abundant organic polymers on Earth and constitutes 30% of non-fossil organic carbon and a quarter to a third of the dry mass of wood.

When paper is manufactured its wood fiber is removed using the Kraft Process and the separated lignin is discarded as waste. The wood fibers are processed to make paper. Historically, the material has been viewed as having no value since the material is difficult to break down as a result of its complex irregular molecular structure.

Recently engineers made the discovery the material can be broken down into aromatic molecules which can be manufactured into products. Aromatic compounds are hydrocarbons with alternating double and single bonds forming rings. These are recognized in nature to be pleasant smelling. Well-known molecules such as aspirin, naphthalene which are used in moth balls are aromatic in structure. The discovery will enable lignin to transition from waste to a valuable chemical precursor.

The aromatics contained within the lignin are useful since at the present time aromatics are derived from petroleum. Using a special process the polymerized chains are broken down into lower mass aromatics which can be further processed into green versions of plastics, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals.

As we become more sustainable what other materials will engineers be able to create solutions to produce value which are previously regarded as a waste stream?

A better use for the Municipal Solid Waste, errrrr, the trash we dump?

by Tony - June 29th, 2014

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Do you recognize the term Municipal Solid Waste? Or put another way

Image of trash in a a landfill

Image of trash in a a landfill

have you ever wondered what happens to your trash once it is thrown away?

Municipal Solid Waste

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), more commonly known as trash or garbage—consists of everyday items used in our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses which are disposed of, such as product packaging, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. MSW does not include industrial, hazardous, or construction waste since residences do not produce these items.

Interesting enough, some 30 percent of the garbage which is created is recycled and another 10 percent is managed by Waste-to-Energy (WTE) facilities. Therefore an alarming 60 percent of MSW still winds up being disposed in landfills.

In 2012 Americans generated about 251 million tons of trash and recycle. 54% of this amount was discarded resulting in 164 million tons of MSW entering our landfills in 2012. Can our landfills sustain this amount of material infinitely?

The Storage of Municipal Solid Waste

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 changed the way municipals store solid waste. The law required disposal facilities to line their landfills with layers of either plastic or clay, or both. These liners collect materials referred as the leachate, which are then hauled to sewage treatment plants.

This led to more advances of landfill technology which were more expensive to design and operate. To account for these costs, landfill operators began to emphasize economies of scale. The direct result was now there are a small number of mega-landfills instead many smaller ones.

Municipal Solid Waste and Landfills

Therefore, trash is required to travel farther from your kitchen to its final resting place, and longer trips mean more greenhouse gas emissions. Adding the fact that many states in the United States are taking advantage of the opportunity to store other state’s trash provided there is space available leads me to believe landfill space may not be the most pressing issue. Yet, other reasons exist to warrant a change in the landfill model which we utilize to dispose of our unwanted items.

Other uses of our Municipal Solid Waste

Waste to energy conversion projects can alleviate strains on landfills while simultaneously combating greenhouse emissions and serving as a power and fuel substitute sources. As the present hazards add up and new ones are identified we may see an increase in efforts, such as increasing Waste-to-Energy use to encouraging diversion from using landfills.

Where does methanol fit in the alternative fuel landscape?

by Tony - April 23rd, 2014

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http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-santa-pod-uem-super-twin-bike-image19681812

Methanol powered racing bike

 

Methanol is sometimes called wood alcohol and can be made from various biomass  resources such as wood, as well as from coal.

As an interesting bit of history, the ancient Egyptians used methanol in their embalming  process. During preparation for mummification the person’s blood was removed and  replaced with methanol prior to burial.

Methanol Production

Methanol production occurs via the Fisher-Tropsch process through the formation of “syn gas” which a combination of carbon monoxide and hydrogen which forms from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels (for the most part gas and

coal). Methanol is formed from a reaction of the “syn gas” with a catalyst composed of a metal oxide. The chemical also can be created straight from methane or natural gas through a synthetic gas process similar to the Fischer-Tropsch method. There is even research in progress which will enable methanol production from carbon dioxide and oxygen without the use of fossil fuels or methane.

Methanol Uses

Present uses of methanol include use as a feedstock for the chemical industry, for example, methanol is an intermediate product for formaldehyde, Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE ) (blended as an additive for gasoline) and acetic acid. The material is also used to produce paints, resin, adhesives, antifreeze and plastics.

Methanol is used the power vehicles on open wheel Indy racing circuit because of its high combustibility. Its superior compression ratio for engines (which is being able to extract more mechanical energy from a given mass of air-fuel mixture due to its higher thermal efficiency), permits use with smaller sized device then vehicles, example powering remote control airplanes. Additionally, the flammability is less than gasoline which makes the chemical safer to use in high performance engines. Finally, the methanol can be used in fuel cells as a direct source of fuel.

Methanol in the Fuel landscape

This brings us to the question of where methanol can participate in the fuel landscape. Firstly, methanol as a fuel is high octane and its energy density is half of gasoline, therefore when used as a fuel is more efficient than a gasoline powered engine. Secondly, it burns at a lower temperature than gas or diesel methanol reacts more fully resulting in lower overall emissions. An added benefit is the hydrocarbons released from its combustion are less photo-chemically reactive causing the ozone producing potential to be half of gasoline.

Some problems with adopting widespread use include it does not mix well in water and could corrode metals if prolonged contact. Perhaps even more important is the difficulty of cold starting a car with pure methanol since no vapor is present to cause ignition even under cold conditions. An M85 mix (15% methanol/85% gasoline) has been noted to address this issue.

Methanol in our future

In the future methanol will be a part of the alternative fuel solution. Bear in mind, no perfect answer exists to our problems and multiple solutions including compressed natural gas (CNG), ethanol, and liquefied petroleum) will be required meet the worthwhile goal of cleaner more environmental friendly transportation fuels.

Green Technology at Home

by Tony - March 23rd, 2014

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Image of a Green House

Green Technology at Home

The last few decades have seen a dramatic improvement in the green technology that is available for people to use in their own homes, but making the decision to invest in a green energy system can still be a difficult for homeowners. The arguments are often framed largely in financial terms, reducing the environmental benefits to a minor concern, and stressing that if you install solar panels, a wind turbine or micro-hydropower system, you will recoup the costs in energy savings and the boost to your property’s value. However, it can be difficult for homeowners to determine how accurate these claims are, and how much of it is pure hype. Are the financial benefits real, and are they the most convincing reason to invest in green technologies?

Running Costs and House Prices

One of the most commonly used arguments in favor of green energy production at home is that it can help to reduce energy bills, offsetting the cost of installation with the savings on electricity and heating. Plenty of evidence is available to back up these claims, although homeowners should look at their own energy consumption patterns before calculating exactly how much they could save. Households that have very low energy requirements could take much longer to recoup the costs of installation, and might therefore consider switching to a more environmentally friendly energy supplier instead, or setting up a community green energy project covering multiple houses. However, the Department of Energy estimates that the average homeowner spends about $2200 a year on energy bills, a cost that can be dramatically cut by improving efficiency or installing green energy systems. A simple solar water heater could save about $140 a year, while the savings produced by solar panels could cover the cost of installation within five years.

Evidence is also accumulating of the beneficial impact of green energy systems on property values. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, installing solar photovoltaic panels could add about 3.5% to the value of a property. The impact is particularly strong in neighborhoods that are popular with environmentally conscious homeowners, and it can be enough to cover the cost of the installation, meaning that the reductions on energy bills are pure savings. The NBER calculated that the average installation cost for photovoltaic panels in the US was about $20,892 when available subsidies were taken into account. It was matched by a $20,194 increase in property values, which meant that about 97% of the cost of installing solar panels was recovered when in the sale price.

This impact on house prices is likely to persist in the future, particularly as buyers are encouraged to think more about energy efficiency when they choose to buy or seek financing for a new property. In the UK, properties placed up for sale are required to undergo an evaluation to produce an Energy Performance Certificate, detailing its energy efficiency and the ways it could be improved. Improving a property’s EPC rating by two bands can increase its value by about $26,000. Although it is not mandatory to provide such information in the US, buyers do have the option of learning more about the energy efficiency of a property before they buy. For example, they may opt for an energy-efficient mortgage, which can fund improvements such as installing solar panels or geothermal energy systems, or measures to improve energy efficiency, including improved insulation or new water heaters, by adding them on to the home loan. The improvements that can be financed will be those recommended, with estimates of the monthly savings they could produce, following a professional Home Energy Rating System assessment of the property. The increased loan repayments can be balanced against the expected monthly savings.

How Important is Residential Green Energy Production?

Although the prospect of reduced energy bills is one reason why buyers will pay more for a house with solar panels, the feeling of contributing to a cleaner world is also important. The environmental benefits of green energy are clear and well covered elsewhere, but for many people considering installing green systems at home, the question remains of whether their own small contribution will actually make a difference. If one property makes the switch, the impact will of course be negligible, but if more homeowners can be convinced to make the change, the environmental impact could be substantial. The residential and commercial properties that could benefit from these types of green energy systems account for about 40% of all annual energy consumption in the US, with about 21% consumed in residential properties alone.

Financial or Environmental Benefits: What Matters to Homeowners?

Residential energy production is clearly an important sector for green energy production, with the potential to have significant environmental impacts, but we cannot ignore the financial implications of installing these types of systems in homes. Although both the financial and environmental benefits of investing in green technology at home may be convincingly accurate, this does not mean that they are particularly successful at convincing people to make the change. Homeowners still have legitimate worries about the costs of installation, which though they should be recouped through energy savings, may still need to be overcome with financial incentives such as loans and grants. The immediate impact of a boost to property values may prove to be more convincing, but the fact that it stems at least in part from the wish to show environmental consciousness means that we should not forget the environmental benefits of green technology.

If anyone reading this posting would like to correspond with the author please send an email to tonygreen@altenergyfinancewecan.com.

Keep your eye open for Biobutanol – here’s why

by Tony - February 28th, 2014

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s_butanolcg Bio-butanol structure

structure of biobutanol molecule

Recently ethanol and biodiesel have gathered headlines as potential alternatives to conventional transportation fuels, i.e. gasoline. One possible fuel which does not receive as much attention is bio-butanol.

Biobutanol (also known to chemists as butyl alcohol) is a four-carbon alcohol derived from the same feedstocks, or a raw material to supply a process, as ethanol including corn, sugar beets, and other biomass feedstocks.

Biobutanol blends of 85% or more with gasoline are alternative fuels as defined in the Energy Policy Act of 1992. Long term, bio-butanol can be a direct replacement for gasoline and has significant potential as an alternative fuel blend with ethanol (in E-85 as a replacement for gasoline). In addition to its use as a fuel in certain applications it is used as a chemical building block. Butanol is a key component for coatings, adhesives and inks and an intermediate in the manufacture of polymers. Furthermore, Butanol is also a critical constituent in the production of melamine resins, plasticizers and amines.

The difference between biobutanol and ordinary butanol is its method of production. Modern butanol is produced almost entirely from petroleum while bio-butanol is produced by the fermentation of feedstocks including fermentation of biomasses from substrates ranging from corn grain, corn stovers and other feedstocks. Microbes are introduced to the sugars produced from the biomass. Ultimately these sugars are broken down into various alcohols, which include ethanol and butanol.

Some of its benefits include its increased energy content since bio-butanol’s energy density is 10% to 20% lower than gasoline’s. Another benefit is the release of fewer emissions during its manufacture since the carbon dioxide captured by growing feedstocks reduces overall greenhouse gas emissions by balancing carbon dioxide released from burning bio-butanol. Additionally, since bio-butanol blends well with gasoline and ethanol, and it can improve blends of gasoline with ethanol. Another advantage is bio-butanol can be produced using existing ethanol facilities with few modifications.

What is the current status of butanol?  According to Informa Economics the world butanol demand was 1.3 billion gallons or 6 billion dollars, 3/4 of which were comprised of chemical related products namely acetate, acrylate, and glycol ethers with the remainder being solvents and plasticizers.

A commercial fuel trial by British Petroleum (BP) confirmed the compatibility of butanol with existing infrastructure and consumer satisfaction with the performance of the produced modified butanol.

Bio-butanol has been tested in real vehicles, on real roads and in all seasons covering a distance of more than 1.5 million miles. These tests proved bio-butanol blended up to 16% volume does not impact vehicle performance. Furthermore, bio-butanol can be produced for about the same cost as ethanol.

The future of using bio-butanol as a cleaner method of meeting butanol demand seems to be bright. There will be a day will part of the fuel we use to power our automobiles before we all use electric vehicles will be comprised of bio-butanol. However, I would not recommend taking a sip of bio-butanol in the same method you could with ethanol.

Image courtesy of butanol.com

If anyone reading this posting would like to correspond with the author please send an email to tonygreen@altenergyfinancewecan.com.

The problem is under the dirt we walk on – the need for soil remediation

by Tony - December 25th, 2013

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Alternative technologies including wind power, solar power and biofuel produce power which does not deplete our natural resources and minimizes the impact of the environment during their creation. Another way to utilize technology which mitigates the environmental impact is to undo damage from past practices.

Soil, in particular, is used to grow the crops necessary to feed the world’s population. Industrial companies historically have dumped chemicals and other waste materials into the ground at their factories where their products were produced. Once the land is no longer required for manufacturing, in many cases, as a result of the contamination, action is needed to ensure the soil is safe for its next intended usage.

Oil contaminating the soil on the ground

Oil contaminating the soil on the ground

Soil remediation addresses the removal of pollution or        contaminants from soil for the general protection of human    health and the environment or from a  site projected for  redevelopment.

There are over 200 different technologies for soil remediation.  However, these can be broken down into five basic  classifications. The first category is thermal which uses heat to  vaporize the contaminated materials after which the  contaminants are removed from the vapor stream by another  process such as carbon adsorption or thermal oxidation. The  second is solidification/stabilization which involved involving  reduction of mobility of the pollutants without destroying  them.  The third is physical which separates the hazardous  materials from the soil without altering chemical structure.    The next type of soil remediation is chemical in which  oxidation and reduction reactions are used to destroy or  detoxify the unwanted agents in the soil. The last classification  is biodegradation which involves using bacteria, fungi, and micro organisms to detoxify contaminated soil.

The problem with contaminated soil is when a spilled material  contains a contaminant, for an example in the aftermath of a gasoline spill these compounds can move upward in the soil and enter structures through basements producing explosion hazards or unpleasant odors. More ever many of the spilled materials are agents known to cause cancer or to be carcinogens.

According to the EPA’s website there are over 1,300 locations within the United States which have been placed on the The National Priorities List (NPL). The NPL is the list of national priorities among the known releases or threatened releases of hazardous substances or pollutants throughout the United States. Additionally, there are thousands of other sites did not make the NPL but which have been identified as being hazardous enough to be placed on the Hazard Ranking System (HRS) which assesses the relative potential of a site to pose a threat to human health or the atmosphere. This is the principal mechanism the EPA uses to place uncontrolled waste sites on its National Priorities List (NPL).

As we speak newer methods of cleaning contaminated soil are under development. This will make it possible to use these former industrial areas for growing food or even constructing dwellings or commercial buildings in the area while simultaneously removing the unsafe contaminants in the ground. In the long term, these activities will support efforts to clean the soil making the world a safer place. Technology withstanding, does this make you wonder what might be in the soil underneath where you live, work or play?

If anyone reading this posting would like to correspond with the author please send an email to tonygreen@altenergyfinancewecan.com.

 

How smart can a piece of glass be?

by Tony - August 30th, 2013

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Image of smart  glass in an office buliding

Image of smart glass in an office buliding

We have seen the introduction of technologically advanced or”Smart” devices and technologies, such as “Smart” phones and the “Smart” Grid, within the last ten years. A smart device, according to Wikipedia, is a device which is digital, active; computer networked, is user configurable and can operate to some extent autonomously.

The newest addition to the “Smart” device genre is “Smart” glass. Manufactured by View Glass Inc. (formerly Soladigm), based in Milpitas, California its innovative technology has the possibility to transform the way windows are constructed in commercial buildings by reducing their energy footprint while at the same time increasing the comfort level for the building occupants.

Anyone who works in a building with glass windows can relate to the glare and heat experienced if the sun shines on their part of the building.  View Glass manufactures glass panes, which are 5-feet-by-10-feet in size, with a special process which permits reducing the light level and heat passing through the pane by controlling the opacity (measure of light transmitted). Under varying environmental conditions these “Smart” windows can be controlled from a handheld device such as an I Phone or an I Pad.

The windows automatically transition between clear and variable tint, providing control over the amount of light and heat entering a building. In all conditions, the glass remains transparent, keeping the occupants connected to the outside world. The windows are wired to each other through a Controlled Area Network (CAN) and connected to a central panel with control by the use of Wi-Fi through its building management system (BMS).

The improved design would allow architects to design buildings using entire walls of glass without the downside of making rooms uncomfortably warm in the sun. The technology, developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, uses a nano-fiber coating applied to glass via physical vapor deposition and a second glass pane. A typical installation results in the reduction in the building’s annual HVAC and lighting energy consumption by 20 percent and the HVAC peak load by 25 percent.

Reducing the energy usage for office buildings can not only make its occupants feel cooler but enable the work environment to “look cool” doing it. Yes, I admit the idea may seem too good to be true. If the concept becomes a reality the windows might revolutionize the way commercial buildings are built.

Image Courtesy of www.greentechmedia.com