Friday, May 8, 2009

Sci-Fi Meets Cleantech: Space Based Solar Energy Becomes a Reality

Like something straight out of a science fiction novel, renewable energy company SolarEn plans to launch solar panel arrays into space to capture the rawest form of solar energy and send it back down to earth.


Solar energy innovations have been brewing across the board the past couple of decades; but it’s recently been made known this week that solar technology company, SolarEn, has struck an agreement with California’s Pacific Gas and Electric company to achieve something new and dynamic within the renewable energy industry. SolarEn has come up the zealous goal of launching solar panel laden satellites into orbit that will then capture the rawest forms of solar radiation from more than 22,000 miles above the Earth.

Transporting the solar technology itself into space can be done utilizing existing rocket technologies, but it’s transferring the energy back into power grids on earth that really seems like the most intriguing part of all of this.

SolarEn expects to start beaming down electricity to earth by 2016.

The company plans to convert the captured solar energy into radio frequencies that would then be sent back to earth. This sounds like the kind of stuff we’d see in the science-fiction world, but this fantasy is steadily turning into a reality. Marking the first real attempt at tapping into the ceaseless potential energy stream in space that the sun provides, SolarEn plans to initially provide 200MW of electricity to Pacific Gas and Electric utilizing their new method.

Although not exactly a new concept, sending solar energy technology into space this time around has a lot more promise. Plans by the US Government to achieve the same thing have been undertaken by NASA and the Pentagon as early as the 1960’s. Critics cite the costly nature of sending the satellites into space; but SolarEn ensures that their technology is commercially viable unlike any previous endeavors trying to achieve the same thing.


Here's a diagram that illustrates the basic concept of the proposed space based solar array. SolarEn also cites the higher energy potential of the raw solar energy available in space, noted by the color intensity of the orange.

Another top concern that SolarEn must engage in is the perception that the RF signals transferring the solar energy could interfere or adversely affect things here on the surface. SolarEn’s founder, Gary Spirnak, explained that the technology they’re going to use has been developed and implemented through other communication satellites. The near constant stream of energy traveling back to Earth by way of RF signal won’t present any cause for worry, Spirnak assured. Spirnak went on to explain that humans won’t be affected and that planes could fly through the signals without a hitch.

The sheer energy generation potential that lies in space could very well be where solar energy needs to make its future.

It’s estimated that the raw, unfiltered solar radiation from the sun provides nearly ten times the energy compared to the sun’s rays that current technologies capture. SolarEn’s agreement with the PG&E is currently pending review by regulators from the California State Government; it’s likely this proposal’s purported technological feasibility is a reason that it might actually stick.

But, as with any daunting renewable energy project, it all comes down to funding. The average renewable energy project of this magnitude would ordinarily cost somewhere around $200m, but because of the technology, Solaren expects that it would need funding within the range of a few billion to get this project off of the ground.

Article by Victor T. Barrera

Consumer Energy Report

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

NRDC Launches Renewable Energy Site With Mapping Tool

Today, NRDC is launching a new feature on our website ( and I’d like to know what folks think of it. This new tool is designed to help regular people from farmers to politicians, financiers to reporters understand that renewables are here now and poised to become major players in our energy mix. This site will help you determine whether renewable energy systems such as wind turbines, anaerobic digesters, solar installations and biomass energy facilities make sense for you or your community, and to help you understand how legislation being debated right now could help you adopt one.

Of course, the resources available to you depend on your site specifications. That’s why the central feature of the new site is a mapping application. You can find your county on the appropriate map; select the different map layers to see current renewable energy sites and resource potential; and then read about the latest technologies to see which mix of energy opportunities might work for you and your community.

And if you live in Florida, Ohio, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, or Tennessee, you can get even more detail about what’s going on with renewables in your state. We’ve started with these five states because we had to start somewhere and these states are key battlegrounds in the debate about what sort of action our country should take to stop global warming. By being able to see actual projects and renewable resource potential in each state, we hope everyone—and especially the folks in these states—will realize that renewables and other solutions to global warming are not something that someone else somewhere else will be worrying about but really opportunities for all of us often right in our own backyards.

Now, more than ever, America needs the ingenuity and resil­ience of our farmers, builders, engineers and business people to meet the growing energy chal­lenges shaped by the issues of global warming, national security and domestic job loss. Climate change threatens all of us with more unpredictable weather, stronger storms, more pests and diseases, and longer and more intense droughts. Reliance on foreign oil also puts us at the mercy of political affairs and currency exchange rates.

Fortu­nately, local action can make a difference. Each technology featured here can contribute to better air quality, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, add good jobs to the economy and protect environmental values such as habitat and water quality. When these technologies are combined to use the by-products of one system as the input for another, the economic and environmental benefits are even greater. Across the country, we are poised to tackle these problems and reap the myriad benefits of homegrown power generation: clean energy can bring jobs back to America, enhance our national security, promote conservation practices and reduce harmful pollution. Working together, farmers, investors and policymakers can forge these connections to help build a sustainable future for America and the planet Earth as a whole.

The site was designed to show the enormous potential for new energy systems that reduce global warming emissions, protect critical environmental values and move the United States toward energy security. Please check it out. Poke around. Try the maps. And let me know if you think it’s cool or helpful or maybe even inspiring. And then check back in regularly. We’re going to be adding details on more states, more technologies, and more of the critical policies need to stop global warming and build our supply of clean, home-grown renewable energy.

NRDC Launches Renewable Energy Site With Mapping Tool

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Wireless Electricity is Real and Can Change the World

A revolution in the method of transmitting and receiving power is taking place, and the results as it pertains to the everyday consumer may not be far behind. In fact, some forms of the technology will be made available this year.

Picture yourself never having to worry about recharging your phone, IPod or laptop as long as you were inside a wireless energy zone. That zone can be located in your house, on the train, in the airport, or at your workplace.

“Laptop batteries are always burning out and always need a charge. What we did was build a coil into a standard laptop computer and it gets its source from behind a wall in your office,” said Eric Giler, president and CEO of WiTricity. “You could move them around the room and the laptop will continue to charge.”

With major competition along many different technological avenues of bringing wireless power to the market, it’s almost assured that some form or another will be used in the mainstream before too long.

Companies such as Sunnyvale, Calif., based PowerBeam, showcased their wireless lamps and picture frames which were powered by technology that can beam optical energy into photovoltaic cells using laser diodes, at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Although not successful at the time, Nikola Tesla is considered to be the first to try out the wireless electricity approach when he attempted it in 1890.

Another method is the eCoupled wireless electricity technology, created by Fulton Innovation, that utilizes a technique which by leveraging the physics of near-field inductive coupling eliminates the need for power chords by creating an electromagnetic conduit.

The ramifications of such technology hitting the market are endless.

Businesses, both large and small, would be sure to purchase such technology once proven that it can run in an efficient and dependable manner. Cluttered work-spaces often caused by a tangle of wires can be completely cleaned up when the technology is installed in an office with multiple desks and workstations.

The eCoupled technology has garnered widespread support in the form of partnerships with some major corporations. The company website lists Motorola, Bosch, Energizer and Texas Instruments as partners in the development of their technology.

“By integrating our wireless power technology into partners’ products, we continue to prove that there are no boundaries for the application of eCoupled technology,” said Dave Baarman, Director of Advanced Technologies for Fulton Innovation.

While the eCoupled method is extremely high-tech — it is capable of transmitting digital messages between the power source and electronic device in order to convey important information such as power requirements, batter remaining, and if the device is capable of being recharged, using the same magnetic field used to power the devices — the downside is, that it can only operate at close range.

Nikola Tesla was the first to experiment with wireless electricity, but ultimately failed after losing his key financial backing in the late 1800's.

A similar technology, but one that works at a longer range, is the WiTricity concept.

Designed by Marin Soljacic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it utilizes what Soljacic calls a “highly coupled magnetic resonance.”

Not dependent on line-of-sight, WiTricity is capable of powering an entire room, and even an entire house.

Magnetic resonance can launch an energetic response in something far away, much like a professional vocalist can shatter glass with sound waves alone.

All in all, the wireless electricity industry has taken off.

According to a study by the Department of Energy, more than 700 million power-supply devices (chargers, charging stands, transformers etc.) will be sold in the U.S. in 2010, a $6 billion market. Worldwide, the market runs to about $30 billion.

“As far as we can tell,” says Andrew Fanara, the team leader for the EPA’s Energy Star Products Group, “there are at least two external power adapters in the world for every man, woman, and child on the planet — about 12-to-15 billion of them.”

Eliminating the cost of purchasing various products to charge electronic devices will continue to assist in the push for this new technology - that is, if the savvy tech itself isn’t enough of an encouragement.

Another perk, is the fact that the new technology is more ‘green’ compared to the current charging methods. According to the Department of Energy, electronic devices consume on average 75% of their energy when the device is not in use.

Wireless Electricity is Real and Can Change the World

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Energy Efficient Appliances and Electronics

When shopping for appliances and electronics look for the Energy Guide and Energy Star Label. Here's the difference:

Energy Star Label: When you see this label on appliances and electronics, strict energy saving guidelines have been met. These guidelines have been established by the US Department of Energy and the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Energy Guide Label: This label provide very useful information regarding energy consumption and energy efficiency. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) requires these labels be placed on most appliances but excluding ovens, strove ranges and home electronics (examples: computers, televisions). By comparing labels you are able to determine short-term and long-term costs.

And remember, the amount of energy appliances and electronics consume is a major factor in the lifespan of the product.