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Hey Kids! It’s A DIY Solar Thermal Panel!

michael, Groovy Green
Solar Thermal PanelDIY anything connected to a renewable energy concept is generally nothing I like to try. It’s messy, complicated, and frankly-I’ve never been good at home improvement. However, the guys over at The Sietch have me rethinking my lack of skill with their super easy DIY Solar Thermal Panel. Total cost is less than $5! Let’s see: you need the back grill of a fridge, a floor mat, some window glass, tape, tubing, and foil. Put it all together and you’ve got a pretty efficient water heater-over 110 degrees on sunny days. Part one of this step-by-step simply shows you how to have water enter and then leave scalding hot. Part two will show you how to have a return system in place or thermo siphon. There are many uses for this type of heater, but I can immediately think of one: Hot Tub! Yea-check it out and let us know if you have any success in making green tea with this thing.
Link: Build Your Own Solar Thermal Panel
(22 June 2006)

SF mayor: Catch a wave to make power

Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross, SF Chronicle
Be it same-sex marriage or universal health care, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom never misses a chance to catch a wave, and now he has a new one — water power. Newsom hopes to ride the energy wave of the future by sinking turbines under the Golden Gate Bridge and current-catching generators off Ocean Beach. The idea: Produce electricity for the city to sell or use, or both.

“They’re just huge — they’ve never been done in America,” Newsom said of the generators that can convert water power to juice. Newsom appeared at The Chronicle’s editorial board last week to discuss his health access plan, but he also took time to preview two ideas in the works for tapping ocean power:

One would plunk turbine generators into the stiff currents beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

The other would put a generating plant off Ocean Beach to convert the energy of the Pacific’s rolling waves into electricity.

“These are real, not just fantasy,” Newsom said. The ocean energy idea — which already is taking hold in other parts of the world — got its first strong push three years ago locally when Newsom’s archnemesis, then-Board of Supervisors president and Green Party member Matt Gonzalez, won approval of a resolution calling for a tidal-energy power project.

After a couple years of serious study, the nonprofit Electric Power Research Institute concluded:

One: That San Francisco could tap enough wave power at Ocean Beach to keep the entire city lit — depending, of course, on how large a wave plant it chose to build.

And two: That the tides at the Golden Gate make that spot the best in the entire lower 48 states to produce tidal power, though the potential for installing turbine generators under the bridge is a bit limited by space.
(25 June 2006)

UK homeowners get green light for ‘eyesore’ wind turbines

Nick Mathiason, The Observer
The government is to sweep away planning restrictions so that millions of homeowners can put wind turbines and solar panels on their houses.

In a move likely to spark controversy over whether such ‘micro-technologies’ are an eyesore that could ruin the residential landscape, ministers will announce within 10 days proposals that mean homeowners will no longer need planning permission to install renewable energy technologies on their homes.

Micro-generation is seen by the government and environmental experts as having an important role in the country’s energy mix. Research by the Energy Saving Trust suggests micro-generation could provide 30-40 per cent of the UK’s electricity needs by 2050.

But turning your home into a mini-power station has until now largely been the preserve of the well-off. Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt, Darryl Hannah, Salma Hayek and Sir Ian McKellen have all installed solar panels or wind turbines at their homes. At upwards of £3,000, plus the expense of applying for planning consent, such energy-saving devices do not come cheap.

Many local authorities insist householders apply for planning consent. ‘It is patently absurd that you should be able to put a satellite dish on your house but have to wrestle with the planning process for small-scale micro-generation, which is no more obtrusive and can have a real impact on tackling climate change,’ Yvette Cooper, the planning minister, told The Observer
(25 June 2006)

Large-Scale, Cheap Solar Electricity

Kevin Bullis, Technology Review
A well-financed California startup is promising to build a solar-cell factory that could finally make solar power affordable.

This week, Nanosolar, a startup in Palo Alto, CA, announced plans to build a production facility with the capacity to make enough solar cells annually to generate 430 megawatts. This output would represent a substantial portion of the worldwide production of solar energy.

According to Nanosolar’s CEO Martin Roscheisen, the company will be able to produce solar cells much less expensively than is done with existing photovoltaics because its new method allows for the mass-production of the devices. In fact, maintains Roscheisen, the company’s technology will eventually make solar power cost-competitive with electricity on the power grid.

Nanosolar also announced this week more than $100 million in funding from various sources, including venture firms and government grants. The company was founded in 2001 and first received seed money in 2003 from Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

Experts say Nanosolar’s ambitious plans for such a large factory are surprising. “It’s an extraordinary number,” says Ken Zweibel, who heads up thin-film research at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO. Most groups building new solar technologies “add maybe 25 or 50 megawatts,” he says. “The biggest numbers are closer to 100. So it’s a huge number, and it’s a huge number in a new technology, so it’s doubly unusual. All the [photovoltaics] in the world is 1,700 megawatts.”

Today, the lion’s share of solar cells are based on crystalline silicon, which is about three to five times too costly to compete with grid electricity, Zweibel says.

Nanosolar’s technology involves a thin film of copper, indium, gallium, and selenium (CIGS) that absorbs sunlight and converts it into electricity. The basic technology has been around for decades, but it has proven difficult to produce it reliably and cheaply. Nanosolar has developed a way to make these cells using a printing technology similar to the kind used to print newspapers, rather than expensive vacuum-based methods.
(23 June 2006)
I’m not sure how scalable this technology is considering that Gallium and Indium are both considered rare. While the usage of these elements in a thin film should be modest, according to Wikipedia, the price of Indium has already risen from US$94/kg to US$800/kg since 2002. -AF