Portable solar devices to power your world
With just over 100 shopping days until Christmas, here are some nifty gadgets to make your toes curl. Portable solar units enable you to power electronics and give you the creature comforts you deserve when you are on the move. Portable solar devices are perfect for powering small items like iPods, cell phones and GPS devices when you are camping, traveling or using recreational vehicles. Using solar energy offsets carbon emissions from traveling while saving you money on utility bills. Larger portable solar systems are big enough to power construction sites, outdoor events and emergency response efforts when earthquakes, hurricanes or floods take their toll. Solar panels work where conventional energy sources don’t. They may be a little more expensive than a generator, but they are quieter, cheaper to run and better for the environment.
Solar powered backpacks are perfect for camping and hiking in remote regions. You can buy backpacks with solar panels incorporated into them or with clip-on panels that can be attached to a backpack you already own. The panels are lightweight and waterproof. Built to withstand the jostling, bashing and general wear and tear associated with the great outdoors, these robust plastic panels are made from recycled plastic bottles. Lightweight batteries store power and are compatible with a large range of electronic devices. The backpacks and clip-on panels come in different sizes and have different capacities.
Roll up solar panels or mats make use of thin film solar technology to provide you with electricity. The thin, flexible panels are so lightweight that you can stash them in your suitcase, backpack, and picnic basket or even on your bike. Keep one in your car as part of your emergency kit. Even the military is investing in roll up solar mats for troops in the field. The roll up panels come in all shapes to suit your needs and can be wired together to increase output. The smaller, single panels will cost you around $70 while the larger models (up to a mile long) will only set you back a couple of hundred dollars.
Solar purses are a practical solution for busy women. Plug your electronic items into your purse to charge while you are on the go. The bags are made from natural fibers and are biodegradable as they are made from all natural materials such as hemp. The purse batteries can be fully charged in about 6 hours, just leave the purse in the sun while you are at work or at home. The batteries will hold their charge for several days. The bags are available online or from stores across Canada. Not only for women, the bags also come in trendy school-friendly versions for techno-junkie students.
Large energy output does not have to mean less portable. If you are having an outdoor event, are working on a remote site, need extra electricity on your construction site or wish to camp in style, what you need is the Solarline portable solar generator (PSG). These sleek little gems incorporate high-efficiency mono-crystalline solar modules mounted to a trailer which you can hitch to your car. The tough 235-Watt solar panels generate an output powerful enough to handle 3,500 watt loads. The PSGs come with 2 to 6 solar panels, depending on the amount of power you need. The neat cargo trailer has a lockable storage space for your extra gear. Quieter, safer and cleaner than a generator, this innovative system is the future of mobile energy.
Solar power gains strength as moratoriums on nuclear power stations are passed across Europe
Fukushima: as the smoke continues to billow from reactors at the crippled nuclear power plant, many nations across the world are reconsidering their nuclear options. The disastrous fallout at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant has resulted in the contamination of land, sea and air and the release of 11, 500 tons of radioactive water into the ocean. Italy stands alone as the only Group of Eight nation that has no nuclear power. In 2008, the Italian government signed a deal to build nuclear reactors which would be operational by 2020; Fukushima changed that.
The contamination levels in all areas, aside from the 20km no-entry zone surrounding the Fukushima plant, are said to be at levels below limits set for surface radiation. However, nuclear specialist Helen Caldicott claims that the epic nuclear fallout at Fukushima will cause a major medical catastrophe. External radiation, says Caldicott, may be below recommended levels and is harmless to humans and animals. However, when this radiation is internalized through inhalation, skin absorption or ingestion, the consequences are dire. Radioactive elements are absorbed by animals and plants and passed through the food chain to humans. This radiation is insidious; causing mutation in cells until the carrier contracts leukemia after five years, or cancer a decade after initial exposure. Too remote are these consequences to join the dots back to the original radiation. The EPA states that up to 25% of people exposed to the Fukushima radiation will develop cancer.
Reports like this one have prompted the Italian government to impose a year-long moratorium on nuclear development. The picturesque Italian town of Montalto di Castro is home to the shell of an old nuclear power station. The power station was abandoned after the Chernobyl nuclear incident prompted a similar moratorium in 1987. The skeletal remains of the power plant act as a reminder to the residents of the possibility of a nuclear future. The current moratorium has not appeased residents of Montalto. Deciding to take fate into their own hands, they have approved plans for one of Europe’s largest photovoltaic farms in the hopes that providing renewable sources of energy will put the kibosh on government nuclear ambitions. Solar technology has improved dramatically over recent months, surpassing nuclear as the cheapest way to produce energy.
Italians are not alone in their aversion to all things nuclear. Germany’s Chancellor Merkel, a former proponent of nuclear power, announced a three month moratorium on nuclear development and ordered the temporary closure of the seven oldest nuclear plants in order for security checks to be carried out. The plants are scheduled to be phased out in favour or renewable energy sources by 2030. Switzerland followed suit by suspending plans to build three new nuclear power stations.
The remaining European countries have been reticent to join the fray, agreeing only to test 143 nuclear plants to ensure safety. Europe has, of late, relied heavily on nuclear power to end its dependence on fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. However, as popular opinions sour, anti-nuclear protests are springing up and putting pressure on their governments to seek other means of powering Europe.
Solar power arrives in rural communities thanks to the Barefoot College and their female solar engineers. “They come here as women, but leave as tigers.” — Sanjit “Bunker” Roy, school founder.
Solar systems are a godsend for the developing world. Most developing nations enjoy an abundance of sunshine which can be converted to energy with the aid of solar power systems. Solar panels require no infrastructure, are easy to maintain and cost little to acquire. Still, very few people are able to make use of this windfall technology due to a lack of expertise. There simply aren’t enough qualified solar installers to install and maintain solar systems. The Barefoot College is working to change that.
Mahatma Ghandi found the people in rural villages to be capable and innovative. Although they lacked education, they were eager to learn new skills. He wanted to develop the skills of local villagers rather than rely in foreign expertise. It is upon this principle that the Barefoot College operates. Bhagwam Das is the coordinator of the Solar Education program: “The Barefoot College believes that development programmes don’t need urban-based professionals because para-professionals already exist in the villages whose wisdom, knowledge and skills are neither identified, mobilised nor applied just because they do not have an educational qualification.”
When members of a rural village express a desire for solar power systems, a Village Environmental Committee (VEEC) is formed. This committee consists of the village elders (both men and women). Households who wish to benefit from solar installations must contribute financially so that they have a sense of ownership of their solar system and will endeavour to take care of it. Payments are calculated according to income. The VEEC then selects members of the community who will travel to the Barefoot College in Rajasthan where they will study for six months. The Barefoot College encourages students of all ages and educational backgrounds. The villagers will build a small workshop for the Barefoot Solar Engineers (BSEs). A percentage of the fees paid by the villagers for their solar systems will go to the BSEs. This provides an opportunity for the poorest members of society to make an income. It means that those without education can acquire skills and it keeps the money generated by the village, in the village. BSEs must learn to assemble and install solar lamps, lanterns, choke coils, charge controllers and transformers. They must be able to install and maintain a solar system by themselves.
Over the last 25 years, the Barefoot Collage has trained thousands of people. They have installed 819. 88 KWP (Kilowatt Peak) across India and in 17 countries across South America, Africa and Asia. The solar installations have included lighting, parabolic solar cookers for healthy snacks, solar water heaters and solar powered desalination plants.
This worthy organizations relies on donations. If you wish to know more, visit the Barefoot College website.
Nuclear power is a hell of a way to boil water. -Einstein
The devastation of the Japanese earthquake and the massive loss of life is a tragedy of such epic proportions that it is hard to assimilate the true magnitude of human suffering. The nuclear threat posed by the damage to Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant promises to escalate the already desperate situation. Gaping holes in statements released by the government do little to quell the fears of the Japanese people. With traces of radiation discovered as far afield as California, British Columbia and Iceland, the fear has spread and the very future of nuclear power plants is being called into question.
At this precarious time in the evolution of nuclear energy, it seems incongruous, insensitive even for hearings by the Ontario Power Generation (OPG) on the future of the Darlington nuclear plant to proceed. The hearings were orchestrated to entertain concerns about the two new nuclear reactors planned for the Darlington nuclear facility and the refurbishment of ten reactors at the Darlington and Bruce Power stations. The project will cement the province’s reliance on nuclear power for the next 20 years. The proposed refurbishments were originally estimated to cost $6 billion, but have since ballooned to a mind-blowing $33 billion dollars; a sum that will double hydro bills by the time the project is complete. A number of NGOs and citizens have voiced their opposition to the project. Green Peace protestors chained themselves to tables in an attempt to delay proceedings until a full investigation into the disaster at Fukushima in Japan could be conducted. A Greenpeace spokesman, Shawn-Patrick Stencil said that the protestors wished to prevent the hearings as they were only being held to legitimate the process.
Their argument that opposition to nuclear power is not heard by local government holds weight. When the Canadian Safety Commission gave permission for 64 decommissioned steam generators to be transported through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence waterway to Sweden, massive protests ensued. Mayors from cities en-route and tribal chiefs opposed the initial shipment of 16 generators. The commission heard protests, but gave the green light despite the fact that no environmental assessment had been carried out.
Do the NGOs have a point? Are incidents like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima unlikely or is nuclear power unsafe? Wade Allison, a nuclear and medical physicist from the University of Oxford, joins the ever-growing horde of proponents of nuclear power whose litany of assurances sounds remarkably like those issued by the Japanese government. The consensus is that the radiation, as a result of the Fukushima disaster, is not in levels that pose a danger to the public. This contradicts actions by the Japanese and American governments, who recently banned foodstuffs from the affected area and advised parents that the Tokyo water supply was not safe for consumption by minors. Allison argues that the fallout from Fukushima is only 1% that of Chernobyl. He says the acceptable rates of exposure are set too low at 1 mSv per year when a British person is already exposed to 2.7 mSv per year and that a cancer patient is exposed to 20 000 mSv to combat tumours. He suggests that the cells of cancer patients are able to regenerate and that this proves the body’s resistance to radiation. He also stated that no one died at Three Mile Island and that only 28 people succumbed at Chernobyl with a further 15 cases of childhood thyroid cancer which could have been prevented had the children been given iodine tablets.
Helen Caldicott, an outspoken opponent of nuclear energy, cites a New York Academy of Science study which places the death toll of Chernobyl at over a million. Radiation is insidious and may take years or decades to appear as cancer, birth defects and diseases that are difficult to tie to the original exposure. She agrees with experts that claim that surface radiation is low and is akin to radiation experienced during an X-ray. However, this radiation is absorbed into plant and water ecosystems and, consequently, by the animals that live in these systems. These are ingested by humans with disastrous consequences; “A very very tiny amount can mutate a single regulatory gene in a single cell to give you Leukemia in five years, or cancer 15 years later.” said Caldicott. Mutations in ovaries and testes result in birth defects and genetic diseases, thereby passing the legacy of exposure to future generations.
Caldicott appeared at the Darlington hearings with stern warnings about the safety of nuclear power. She claimed that small amounts of radiation leech from nuclear plants increasing background radiation in the air and water around them. She also pointed out that nuclear power is touted as ‘clean’, but the mining and enrichment of uranium is a wasteful process that produces a plethora of greenhouse gases.
Safety is not the only argument against nuclear power in Ontario. A recent study by NC WARN showed that the cost of solar energy has dropped to less than 15₵/ kWh while nuclear power costs 20₵/kWh. This does not take into account the cost of refurbishment and construction of nuclear facilities in the province. This makes the actions of the McGuinty government and its stalwart support of the nuclear programme even more baffling. Solar has proven to be reliable and clean and no one has ever died of solar fallout.
Voice your support for solar energy by joining the Stand Up for Solar initiative.
You can also protest the Darling nuclear initiative by signing the Greenpeace petition.
We investigate innovative solar solutions to power problems.
Developing countries may not have running water, paved roads or electricity, but they do have mobile phones. Mobile phones enable even the very poor to communicate, access the Internet and pay for goods and services. Cell phones require power and for this, a different kind of infrastructure needs to be created.
The first obstacle is creating base stations in remote areas. The task of powering these stations has traditionally been the vestige of diesel generators. Apart from the obvious noise and air pollution; transporting fuel and generators, paying for diesel and theft have all been issues to surmount. By 2014, increased fuel prices and the decreased costs of renewable resources such as portable solar power systems make them the more attractive option. Once initial costs are recovered, ongoing maintenance is negligible. China mobile has already deployed 800 solar power cell sites in parts of China and Tibet.
In rural African towns, getting a cell phone charged may require travelling great distances. Solar powered phones are the partial answer to this conundrum. Phones without a battery are 40% cheaper, but can only be used during the day. Vodafone has released an improved product; eight hours of charging provides eight days of standby and four hours of talk time. The phone made its debut in India last year and cost only $32. Cheap phones are not the problem though; second hand phones are available in abundance from first world countries. Instead, providing cheap ways to recharge existing phones would be a welcome solution.
Enter stage left – the solar powered blanket. I kid you not. Local African sewing groups stitch flexible solar panels into blankets. The blankets fully charge in three hours, providing six watt hours of charge stored in an incorporated battery, enough to charge a cell phone and provide ten hours of bright white LED light. This innovative answer was designed by Portable Light iTEACH program in Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Small solar panels are fast becoming a popular alternative to power cell phones. Small solar panels are installed on village huts for an initial cost of $80 and are able to charge a cell phone and power four lights. Locals save on kerosene (normally used for lamps), charge other villagers to power their phones and make a little extra money.
The ultimate solution to power remote areas comes in the form of a portable power station. Meet the mobile solar work unit. These little beauties start at 12 feet in length and can go up to 20 feet and pack between 5 and 19kWh of solar power punch. Most third world countries have an abundance of sunshine and this amazing piece of hardware can supply enough power to run a small village, generate income, and help with remote builds or disaster relief. They are mobile and study and the trailer provides extra space for equipment storage.