World’s Highest Solar Plant on Tibetan Plateau

Located at 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, the village of Chek Kange in Lhoka (Shannan) Prefecture in Tibet will be the new location of Suntech’s newly announced 10-megawatt project. This solar plant will become the highest solar plant in the world. The plant is expected to be completed by the middle of this year and will produce some 20,000-megawatts of electricity per year.

Last month, the Chinese government announced plans to build a 10 MW solar plant in Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city, which is also the home to the huge Tashilhunpo Monastery built in the 15th century. While Suntech will not only provide the solar photovoltaics for the Chek Kange project, it will also oversee its engineering and construction. Both of the solar projects are intended to ease local power shortages.

Zhengrong Shi, Suntech’s CEO, said in a press release that, “with intense sunlight and cool temperatures, Tibet is extremely well-suited for the utilization of advanced photovoltaic technology. We’re proud to invest in preserving the region’s fragile ecosystem by providing an economically-viable and sustainable solution for electricity generation.”

Tibet has been using hydroelectric power that has been unable to keep up with the current demand due to the area’s increased development and recent droughts. The Suntech project was announced the day after the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s parliament-in-exile began month-long elections around the world to choose their next leader.


Floating Solar Power Plants

When it comes to solar energy systems, there are two major weaknesses: they must use a large amount of land in order to be built, and the cost related to the solar cells fabrication and maintenance is relatively high. However, a new technology has emerged which may overcome these and many more challenges: floating solar power plants.

The Franco-Israeli partnership developed this solar power technology, which introduces a new aspect to solar energy production. Solar energy has been a popular alternative to other energy sources which emit large amounts of greenhouse gases, and is considered to be a clean and efficient source of energy and electricity. The design phase of the floating power plants was finished in March 2010, and the implantation of the plants will take place in September 2011. The tests will take place at Cadarche, located in the South East of France. This site is positioned on the French electric grid and is close to a local hydro-electric facility, providing the water surface necessary to be used for the installation of the plant. For nine months, the plant will operate, and assessments will be taken on the system’s performances and productivity throughout the seasonal changes and water levels. By June 2012, the research team will hopefully have the information necessary to allow the technology’s entry on the market.

The Franco-Israeli partnership team has identified the untouched potential of solar installations on water. The water basins to be used are industrial water basins already in use for other purposes, not natural reserves, tourists’ resorts, or the open sea. Furthermore, the developers were able to reduce the costs linked to the implementation of the technology by reducing the quantity of solar cells used due to a sun energy concentration system based on mirrors. This sun energy concentration keeps a steady amount of power being produced. Another cost reducing initiative the team used was creating a cooling system using water on which the solar panels are floating. The photovoltaic system uses silicon solar cells, which often experiences problems linked to overheating and need to be cooled down in order to allow the system to work correctly. By using these types of solar cells, a higher efficiency is produced than with standard cells, achieving both reliability and cost reduction.

The system is designed in such a manner that on a solar platform it is possible to assemble as many identical modules as needed for the power rating desired. Each model then produces a standard amount of 200 kiloWatt electricity, and more power is achieved by simply adding more modules to the plant.


Power With A Time Limit

The people at Yanko Design have once again come up with an attractive (albeit over-engineered) design that is environmentally conscious and energy efficient. The Ring Socket essentially builds a simple timer into an electrical outlet so that the use must determine for how long they plan on using power. Once the timer has counted down, the outlet shuts off and prevents any more current from passing through. The current usage (standby, in use, and overload) from a Ring Socket that still has time on its clock is indicated by the color of the illuminated ring (taking advantage of the colors green, yellow, and red along with the meanings that have been so engrained in us by traffic signals).

Every effort should be made to conserve energy. While the Ring Socket takes a sophisticated and technological approach to the issue, means of energy conservation can be quite simple. By flipping off surge protectors while they are not in use or unplugging appliances that are only on for five or ten minutes at a time can have an impact on the energy efficiency of a home. You can read about Vampire Energy to get a fuller understanding of just how much energy is waste by appliances when they are still turned off.

The Ring Socket design takes a different approach to energy conservation because it is not a do-it-for-you piece of technology. Instead the Ring Socket make the user think about how long they intend to use an electronic device and thus how much energy the activity is consuming. Most importantly, the electrical connection is turned off automatically instead of relying on the user’s attentiveness to turn on and off. It is no stretch to say that people can be distracted or inconsistent. And if you are using a device and need more time, turn the ring right and give yourself another hour or too. This level of effort and attention could be considered inconvenient, but I believe it would be more accurate to say that our lifestyles, when it comes to energy use and conservation, are very lazy. No one should be complaining if they start to see their electricity bill decline.

Source: Yanko Design

Energy Waste in the USA

The graphic below, which first appeared on, shows the horrible inefficiency of the U.S. power grid. Considering that our primary energy sources and the ways electricity is transported remains largely unchanged over the last century (while energy demand has skyrocketed), it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that such energy waste exists. Much of the American infrastructure is still in operation from energy-unconscious decades past and it will prove challenging to find the funds to rebuild and reinvent these systems to respond to the growing demand. Decades worth of cut funding for public services and a continued dependence on fossil fuels has created an energy system that no one should be too proud of. We are backing ourselves into a corner, and though many have raised the alarm, public policy and state/federal regulations have done little to change the direction we’re going. In the end, pollution, health concerns, environmental change, and higher energy costs will force our hand.


EcoBulb Directional LED Light

The EcoBulb is a concept design intended to conserve energy above all else by changing the way light is used in a room. Energy conservation is the reason the compact florescent light bulb has quickly overtaken the incandescent and it is the reason that the LED bulb will eventually dethrone the florescent. The most responsive way to reduce air pollution and CO2 emissions is through fundamental energy conservation.

Through the EcoBulb concept, designer Seokjae Rhee has redesigned the function of the light bulb with thoughtful detail. Upon examining the form and function of the incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, it would appear that Rhee reached the conclusion that the technological advance only addressed the energy efficiency of light bulbs but not the way in which rooms are lit. Basically, Rhee decided that it was neither efficient nor necessary to provide light to an entire room using one central ceiling lamp. Because LED bulbs are simply a collection of individual lights, it is possible to activate only certain regions of the complete bulb in a kind of highly specialized dimmer feature. The best I can think to call it is directional lighting. The design allows the user to control the lighting area with a remote control. The buttons on the remote correspond to the six regions of the LED EcoBulb so that you can turn on the lights when you need them and in the direction that you need.

The LED bulb may be ten times more energy efficient than the incandescent, but the EcoBulb dramatically redesigns how technology is used to light a room. Through increased control, the EcoBulb can conserve energy and reduce the environmental impact of homes.

Turn Windy Days Into Bright Lights

At the beginning of the year, Honeywell introduced a product that will hopefully serve as a big step toward bringing sustainable and renewable energy to homes all across the world. The newly released Honeywell Wind Turbine, as picture below, is intended for home and business use (not all of us have hilltops, windy fields, or ocean bays in which to construct massive wind turbines, so a sturdy roof will have to suffice). The wind energy system, designed by Windtronics and licensed for production by the home appliances manufacturer Honeywell, can be found in Ace Hardware Stores all around the United States. This is truly one of the first wind turbine to be introduced to the public that produces a significant amount of electricity each year.

As explained by the brochure being distributed by Honeywell, “The Honeywell Wind Turbine is a gearless wind turbine that measures just 6 feet in diameter, weighs 170 lbs (77 kgs) and is able to produce 2752 kWh/yr in Class 4 winds representing over 20% percent of an average household’s annual electricity needs.”

The creation of the gearless turbine is the most innovative characteristic of this new wind energy system. A traditional wind turbine (the giant ones you see on the sides of hills) relies on an often complicated series of gears to created the high RPMs needed for the generator to create energy. Despite all the advances that wind turbine technology has achieved, such a mechanical design is fundamentally inefficient due to the high energy loss due to friction and mechanical resistance. For large wind turbines, this inefficiency can be overlooked due to the enormous magnitude of wind energy being caught by the blades. (In other words, as long as the tower is still standing, the blades still attached, and the generator still functioning, the system can be expected to generate a lot of electrocity.) For small scale systems, this simply isn’t the case.

Wind speeds near the earth’s surface are always slower and so wind turbines designed to generate electricity for homes need to respond to these slower speeds. The gearless design of Windtronic’s turbine gives it an efficient and lightweight build. This translates into more energy being generated and at lower speeds. Honeywell Wind Turbine generates electricity at a minimum wind of 2mph, a major achievement compared to the 7.5mph required by traditional wind turbines. This seemingly simple change will mean an entirely new level of energy generation and energy efficiency.

A new Windtronics system from Ace Hardware currently costs $4500, making it a serious investment for most American consumers. Doing the math, to pay $4500 for a system that produces 1580kWh each year means that you will see a return on your investment after 12 years of steady power generation. Put a different way, the wind turbine is free to keep if you are willing to maintain it’s condition for 13 years. And again, a 13 year investment term is another major achievement by this wind turbine considering the 25 year industry standard (ie traditional wind turbines and solar panels). Maybe a system just like this one will start to pop up on homes in your area.

Honeywell’s Wind Turbine certain has a lot of things going for it. The turbine is compact, practically silent, and energy efficient even under considerably calm wind speeds. Even a summer breeze will keep these blades spinning. Owners can expect to recoup the money in their investment in half the time of other alternative energy systems, particularity solar energy (which as you know, only generates energy during the relatively small portion of the day during which it experiences direct sunlight). Best of all, this system isn’t something you can hope to see in 5, 10, 15 years in the future, it is on shelves now and you know exactly what it is going to cost you. In the world of alternative energy, it absolutely doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Oh, and by the way, Windtronics has been relentlessly improving upon their design and so varies different models can now be found based on the original gearless design.

Lemon Powered Clock

So maybe this clock doesn’t have any practical use, but it is really cool nonetheless. Based on scientific principals mastered by kids in science fair projects all across the country, the digital clock is powered by the oxidation reaction between the citric acid of the fruit slice and the copper and zinc in the base of the clock. Believe it or not but a single lemon is able to generate enough electricity to power the clock for an entire week. I figure that ultimately the usefulness of the clock probably doesn’t extend past simple keeping track of long the sliced lemon has been left on your kitchen counter. But maybe I’ve got it all wrong and someone out there is searching for a way to time how quickly orange juice naturally seeps from a sliced orange.

Yhi Pendant Ceiling Lamps

These Yhi pendant ceiling lamps are the creation of designer Brian Steendyk. The light fixtures are  made from completely recyclable plywood, making then green and eco-friendly as well as elegant and sleek. Steendyk, who lives and works in Australia,  draws on aboriginal influences for the lamps’ design. The word Yhi is the name of the aboriginal sun god.
As an urban designer, architect, product designer, and interior designer, Steendyke makes every effort to include sustainability in his work.  For the Yhi pendant lamps, the flat design of the lamps allows them to be pack more efficiently, cutting down on shipping needs and the carbon footprint of the product. By making these simple and cost effective choices, people can greatly reduce the environmental impact of products. Consumerism tends to focus too much on the “cheap and easy” character of products rather than demanding environmentally conscious and quality products.

Foldable Solar Panels

Given the necessary amount of direct sunlight, this solar panel set can generate the same amount of power as your typical car’s dc outlet. Available in 6.5-watt, 12-watt, and 25-watt versions, these solar panels are tough, flexible, and very portable. They are perfect for recharging hand-held devices when you are on the go or leave then in a window sill and decrease the power consumption of your home.

Made with powerFLEX technology, the panels are lightweight, weatherproff and built to last. So take them camping in case of emergency or use them at home or work to keep your phone juiced up. The solar panels are made from CIGS (copper indium gallium diselenide), making then more efficient than similar foldable solar cell technologies.

Plus, it’s not a concept, it’s an actual product you can purchase here for $46 to $399 (depending on the capacity of the unit you want). Not exactly cheap, but these things are the real deal.

They Call it “Vampire Energy”

Little do consumers realize that most electronic devices are using up energy as long as they are plugged in. That means that your TV and home theater are wasting power while they are turned off. The popular term for this quiet energy consumption is Vampire Energy. There has certainly been a recent increase in public awareness of vampire energy, but most people are still throwing away a lot of money on their electricity bill because of electronics that they are not even using. In the simplest sense, the wasted power consumption is caused by the process of transforming electrical currents for AC to DC (the black box attached to the cord that heats up and wastes power in the process) and by more advanced devices like televisions, video game consoles, and desktop computers which contain on-board circuits that basically have to tell themselves  to “Stay Off, Stay Off, Stay Off…” as long as they are connected to the power grid. When you press the power button on you TV, you are not connecting/disconnecting the power but merely telling the device that is should turn the screen on/off. The convenience of being able to turn on your TV with a remote costs consumers in the form of vampire energy waste. Researchers have estimated that, in the U.S.,  wasted vampire energy accounts for over 4% of all the energy consumption. At first, 4% doesn’t sound like an awesome figure, but 4% of our energy consuption menas 100 million tons of oil each year. And since the U.S. uses more energy than any other country on earth, 4% of U.S. energy consumption translates to 1% of all the energy used in the entire world. Remember that we are talking about electrical devices that are, for all intents and purposes, turned off.

This image first appeared in a 2007 edition of Good Magazine as a comprehensive introduction to the significance of vampire energy. The figure shows some easy to understand stats about the costs of vampire energy. It should be quite apparent that once you add up the costs of all the electonic devices and appliances, vampire energy has a noteworth impact on the energy consumption of homes across the country. Until designs begin to adress the energy wasting character of devices, comsumers can take simple and hands-on steps to eleminate vampire energy in their homes. The best option is to install additional switches (next to the light swithes in every room) that connect and disconnect (turn on/off) all the wall outlets in the vacinity. If you use power strips or serge protectors for your most energy consuming devices, another simple solution is to turn off or unplug these outlets when they are not being used. This effort may feel tedious or inconvineint, but it is guaranteed to reduce the energy costs of your home and that means saving money on your next electricity bill. There is sure to be vampire energy in your home and it is up to you to eleminate the wasted power consumption.