Google supports green energy initiatives
Google is the most successful search engine in the brief history of the Internet. So iconic has Google become that it can be used as a verb (I Googled myself), a national pastime (I Googled myself) and a way for people to connect (I Googled you.) ‘Google’ has even made it into the illustrious Oxford English Dictionary where it has achieved official recognition as a verb. The overwhelming success of Google must surely come as a surprise to its creators who could never have foreseen the behemoth that Google would grow up to be. Affectionately known as the ‘Google guys’, Larry Page and Sergey Brin are going to great lengths to use their new-found super powers for good.
They started by replacing the company’s official motto which was “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” with the more memorable “Don’t be evil”. “Don’t be evil” is a motto that they seem to be living up to as the core members of the group realise their promises of using their powers for good. I know what you are thinking, big corporations only window dress their charitable contributions, while secretly harbouring desires for world domination. Google seems to be the genuine exception. Not convinced? Go ahead… Google it!
Mojave Desert Solar Plant
The Mojave Desert will be the site of Google’s latest contribution to renewable energy development; the Ivanpah solar farm. This $168 million solar farm will have a capacity of 392 MW once completed in 2013. The production of CO₂-free energy will be the equivalent of taking 90 000 cars off the road during the solar farm’s expected 25 year lifespan. 173, 000 Heliostat mirrors will be set up in the desert and will focus the sun’s energy on 450 feet tall ‘power towers’ which convert water to steam.
Moving closer to home, Google announced recently a $280 million partnership with solar installers Solar City. The money will go to cover the capital outlay of solar systems. Residents across the States can rent the systems from Solar City, thereby alleviating the expense of setting up their own solar arrays. Solar City is responsible for the installation and maintenance of the solar system during the lease period. Residents can lease the solar systems and still save on their utility bills, without the necessity for a large capital outlay. This initiative brings Google’s investment in solar energy to date to an impressive $680 million – not so evil now, are they?
Winds of Change
A 350-mile stretch of the United States’ Atlantic coastline is about to be transformed into the first offshore wind farm to supply almost 2 million American homes with clean energy. Situated 10 to 15 miles off the coast, the development is an initiative of the Atlantic Wind Corporation. The project’s total cost of $5 billion got off to a good start with Google investing 37.5% so that the company can begin installation.
This not-for-profit was created with over a billion dollars of Google shares. The organization has to date funded the development of electric cars, supported research to develop renewable sources of energy that are cheaper than coal and donated $100 million to schemes that alleviate poverty and create awareness for climate control. They support a number of third world initiatives that hope to develop education and essential services and stimulate growth for small and medium businesses.
The solar industry has helped Ontario stay afloat during the financial slump. Private investment in the industry is expected to reach $12.9 billion by 2018. The success of this burgeoning industry is largely due to the province’s FIT and microFIT schemes. These schemes give incentives to home and business owners as well as farmers who set up solar arrays on their properties and sell the energy generated to the province at preferential rates.
A recent study showed that the solar industry had invested $2 billion in the province in 2011 alone, creating an estimated 8,200 jobs. A number which will increase to 11,400 in 2012 with 25 jobs created for every megawatt of energy installed by 2018, the solar industry is proving to be a real boon to the province.
Although many home and business owners are committed to switching to renewable sources of energy for the benefit to the environment, the FIT and microFIT incentives do make solar affordable to many who would not otherwise be able to install such a system. The ecoENERGY program provides rebates for the home owners who use solar technologies. These rebates are part of the government’s long-term energy plan which aims to reduce consumption by 14%.
The growing need for electricity will require the province to create new facilities and refurbish many of the old ones. By 2030, 70% of our electricity will be generated by new or refurbished nuclear facilities. The cost to the tax payer will be profound. Two nuclear reactors are already planned for the Darlington plant while 10 are being refurbished at Darling and Bruce power stations. The costs of these refurbishments will double hydro bills in the province by the time the project is complete.
Fall 2011 will see a review of the FIT and microFIT systems with an adjustment to tariffs issued to electricity producers. With an election looming in October, some political figure are blaming escalating hydro bills on the microFIT and FIT tariffs, threatening the future of these incentives and, as a result, the solar industry in the province. A study by ClearSky Advisors Inc shows that the cost of the FIT programs to residents of the province is expected to rise to 70c for a typical household bill by 2018. This amount is negligible when compared to the forecast of bills doubling thanks to refurbishments during the same time. The cost of installation and maintenance of solar systems is borne by the home or business owner making it one of the cheapest sources of electricity for consumers.
Solar energy becomes cheaper as technology advances and demand grows. The Ontario Power Authority also enforces a 60% local content law which stimulates growth of the solar design and manufacture. A recent breakthrough by the University of Alberta team (based on research from the University of Toronto) has lead to the viability of spray on solar technologies. Without the market interest in these technologies, Canada will not be able to be a market leader in the field.
The study shows the tremendously positive influence that the solar industry has had on the Ontario economy. The FIT programs have contributed to the growth of the solar industry in the province. Although revisions and adjustments of FIT tariffs is the natural progression of such projects, the programs themselves are well worth the investment. If you would like to take control of where your energy comes from, contact your local MP and voice your opinion. You should also investigate installing a solar system of your own. Use energy you can be proud of.
Solar energy is good for the environment and your well-being
Much maligned in recent years for causing skin cancer, sunshine is back in fashion. Natural light affords us considerable savings on energy and provides for our general well being. The elevation of mood that occurs when you wake up to a sunny day, or when the sun shines after a rainy day is your body’s way of saying what’s best for you.
A sunrise a day….
Not getting enough sunlight can increase your chances of getting cancer by up to 70%. Insufficient supplies of vitamin D (which is produced when skin is exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun) negatively affects your bone density and immune system. This leads to a plethora of diseases:
- Adrenal malfunctions and autoimmune disorders including multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis
- Colon cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
- An in allergies
- Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Infertility and PMS
- Type one and two diabetes
- Learning and behavioral disorders
- Heart disease and obesity
- Cavities, osteoporosis and psoriasis
Lack of natural light affects your circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are endogenous cycles that all living things follow throughout the course of a day. Natural light is the trigger for various biochemical, physiological and behavioral processes. The presence of natural light directly affects circadian rhythms and therefore general well-being by disrupting sleep patterns. A lack of sleep leads to a decrease in performance and alertness and symptoms resembling jetlag.
Several studies, dating back to the 1940’s espouse the need for natural lighting in the classroom. Most recently, studies by Hathaway (1994), Taylor and Gouisie (1980) and Hawkins and Lilley (1992) showed a significant increase in concentration, an improvement in mental
attitude and vision and an increase in levels of comfort and happiness when students were taught in classes that were naturally lit. Students who work in artificially or poorly lit classrooms suffer increased hyperactivity. Natural light (at least 20% of the wall space should be devoted to windows) fosters increased student achievement. Perhaps the most significant study in this regard is one conducted by the Heschong Mahone group in 1999. The study was conducted in more than 2000 classrooms across three school districts and it showed that students in the best lit classrooms scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests than students in artificially lit classrooms.
In addition to the health benefits that natural lighting offers, it can also offer warmth. Utilization of passive solar thermal massing is an increasingly important aspect in Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEBs). NZEBs produce all the energy they consume through a combination of insulation, passive solar heating and renewable energy technologies. This reduces greenhouse gases and increases the quality of our environment. Although renewable sources of energy (like solar photovoltaic cells) are utilized, thermal masses inside the home and insulation of the walls, doors and windows must improve the energy efficiently of the home by 60 to 75% over standard guidelines in order to be dubbed an NZEB. Thermal masses work by absorbing natural sunlight during the day, storing the heat energy, and radiating it back into the house at night when ambient temperatures are lower. The effectiveness of the mass material depends on what it is made of. Thermal mass elements should be relatively heavy, good at conducting heat and dark or textured. The orientation of the building, to maximize the absorption of light, is critical in the effectiveness of passive solar technology. If the house is correctly oriented and the envelope provides appropriate insulation, thermal massing can reduce heating costs by up to 85%.
Solar power has already proven its effectiveness as a renewable source of energy, but it also contributes significantly to our health, happiness and environmental well-being.
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.