4 low-cost ways get solar power at home

Did you know that the cost of installing a solar power system for all of your electricity needs can be well over $11,000? Ouch.

But wait, don’t give up on solar just yet! If making your entire home solar is out of your budget, you can still add smaller and less expensive solar elements that help save on electricity. Let’s take a look at the options.

Solar panels power this sliding smart lock

Outdoor solar lights

There are a multitude of stationary and portable lights that can run on solar power that you can easily add to your home.

Start your solar journey in your yard. I personally have solar walkway lights by my front door and solar twinkle lights decorating my garden. The installation process for these types of lights are pretty simple — you just place the lights where you want them and make sure the solar panel is turned toward the sky. 

While lighting your yard, don’t forget about your porch light. For less than $50, you can grab a solar option like the Avaspot Solar Powered Security Light ($20), Gama Sonic Solar Outdoor Wall Lantern ($32) or the ALLOMN Outdoor Solar LED Lamp  ($20).

Device chargers

Your phones and tablets need a daily recharge, so why not make the energy source green? Solar power banks, like the Portable Solar Power Bank ($25), the Kiizon Power Bank ($40) or the Anker Solar Charger ($52), come with USB ports that you can use to charge your phone, as well as other small gadgets. The best part is that these banks are portable, so you’re never tethered to a wall outlet.

The downside is that the solar power banks charge your devices slower than a wall outlet does. Luckily the banks can recharge with sunlight during the day and store that energy to charge your devices at night — when you don’t really need them to charge quickly.

No matter which solar-powered charger you choose, look for one that can charge your devices while also recharging itself in the sunlight. Also, check to see how many items it can charge at once and if it protects your device from being overcharged.

Making your kitchen appliances solar

Don’t stop at powering your devices with solar. You can also power your small kitchen appliances — like your coffee maker, toaster, Instant Pot, slow cooker or sandwich maker — without plugging them into a wall. While the monetary savings on your electricity bill will be small, the planet will still benefit from your use of renewable energy. Plus, during blackouts you’ll still be able to cook.

All you’ll need is a 25-watt power bank you can stick in a window and a DC-to-AC inverter to make it happen. The inverter simply plugs into the power bank, so it’s very easy to set up. 

If you want an all-in-one solution, Goal Zero makes solar power kits with large storage batteries. It has everything you need to power your small appliance.

Once you have it set up, just plug your small appliance into the power bank. They’ll run just like normal. The only drawback is that that you can only power one appliance at a time, unless you have multiple power banks.

Solar water heaters

Your typical water heater uses around $440 dollars worth of electricity per year. You can save that money by going solar. There are solar water heater kits you can buy for $250 to $1,200, so they pay for themselves very quickly. 

Typically, there are three different types of solar water heaters. One thing they all tend to have in common is that they heat the water and then store it in insulated storage systems to keep the water warm until it is needed.

Batch collectors, also called integrated collector storage (ICS) systems, are the oldest types of solar water heaters and they are still popular because they need very little sunshine to heat water and they are simple to install. 

You likely already know that anything painted black absorbs sunlight and gets hot quickly. Batch collectors use large black tanks or tubes to collect solar heat to warm the water inside of them. 

Flat-plate collector water heaters have a heat absorbing plate that collects heat from the sun, then transfers the heat to copper tubes. As the tubes heat up, so does the water inside them. The plates are usually installed on top of the roof to get the maximum amount of light during the day. The problem with this style of heater is it isn’t as dependable to heat water as consistently as some of the other choices. 

Evacuated tube collectors are considered the most productive solar water heaters. Glass or metal tubes full of water or heat transfer fluid are placed inside larger glass tubes, creating a vacuum. In this vacuum, very little heat is lost, so the water is heated very efficiently. Another benefit is it can even be used in outdoor temperatures as low as -40°F, according to the Environmental Protection Agency

Some things to look for when buying a solar water heater kit are durability and the amount of water the heater can heat up at a time. When it comes to durability, be sure that the any outside components are hail-proof, especially if you’re putting a plate on your roof. For the flow rate, look for heaters that can provide at least 2.1 gallons of hot water per minute.

New calculations may finally make fusion energy a reality

It’s well established that nuclear fusion — the reaction that powers our Sun — could be the key to unlocking clean, limitless energy here on Earth.

But one of the biggest challenges of modern science is how to harness the fusion reaction so that it produces more energy than it consumes. And a new paper claims to have found a way to do just that.

Instead of looking at how to optimize common fusion reactor designs, such as tokamaks or stellerators, a group of physicists experimentally tested some novel reactor types.

They found that a strange-looking sphere design could be the key to achieving net-positive nuclear fusion because, surprisingly, it has the potential to generate more energy than it uses.

The key difference, aside from its shape, is that this nuclear sphere would fuse hydrogen and boron, rather than hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium. And it uses lasers to heat the core up to 200 times hotter than the center of the Sun.

If the team’s calculations are correct, the hydrogen-boron reactor device could be built and producing net-positive energy way before any of the reactors currently being tested reach completion.

Even better, the hydrogen-boron reaction produces no neutrons, and therefore doesn’t create any radioactive waste as a byproduct.

“It is a most exciting thing to see these reactions confirmed in recent experiments and simulations,” says lead researcher Heinrich Hora, from the University of New South Wales in Australia.

“I think this puts our approach ahead of all other fusion energy technologies.”

Fusion reactions take the opposite approach to the nuclear fission reactions we rely on for our nuclear power today: instead of atoms being split, they’re combined, or fused, together.

It’s similar to the reactions that power the Sun, as lighter nuclei are fused to build heavier ones with the help of incredible temperatures and pressures.

As great as it sounds in theory, it’s proving very difficult to harness in practice. The past two years have been record-breaking for fusion reactors around the world, with Germany switching on their much-hyped Wendelstein 7-X stellerator reactor.

But despite all our advances, we’re not a whole lot closer to creating net-positive nuclear fusion. Put simply, that’s because these machines just take so much energy to generate plasma.

In fact, Wendelstein 7-X isn’t even intended to generate usable amounts of energy, ever. It’s just a proof of concept.

But for years, Hora and her team have been working on alternative designs. And in this study, they tested them out experimentally as well as through simulations.

Their hydrogen-boron reactor works by triggering an “avalanche” fusion reaction from a laser beam packing a quadrillion watts of power in just a trillionth of a second.

You can see what it would look like below.

hb fus 02Diagram showing a hydrogen-boron reaction. Image Credit: UNSW

The latest tests put the hydrogen-boron approach ahead of other similar technologies, including deuterium-tritium fusion, which is being explored at the National Ignition Facility in the US (and also has the drawback of producing radioactive waste).

The team also put together a roadmap for further development of hydrogen-boron fusion.

The best news? If future research doesn’t reveal any major engineering hurdles to this approach, the scientists reckon that a prototype reactor could be built within a decade.

While plenty of challenges remain in optimizing the necessary reactions and keeping them stable enough to generate electricity, if this new fusion technique can be made to work, the benefits could be huge.

“The fuels and waste are safe, the reactor won’t need a heat exchanger and steam turbine generator, and the lasers we need can be bought off the shelf,” says Warren McKenzie, managing director of HB 11, which owns the patents to the new technology.

The research has been published in Laser and Particle Beams.

Impressive solar-powered island resort opens in the Maldives

With a strong focus on sustainability, the Kudadoo Maldives Private Island resort is distinguished by its impressive photo-voltaic roof

With a strong focus on sustainability, the Kudadoo Maldives Private Island resort is distinguished by its impressive photo-voltaic roof

The wooden structure of the island retreat, including each residence, is built with eco-conscious materials

The wooden structure of the island retreat, including each residence, is built with eco-conscious materials

Reception desk at Kudadoo Island

Reception desk at Kudadoo Island

Eco-conscious materials, such as timber from sustainably certified forests in Canada, New Zealand and Indonesia, were used to build the resort

Eco-conscious materials, such as timber from sustainably certified forests in Canada, New Zealand and Indonesia, were used to build the resort

Passive house features include a minimum of five hours of shade for the decks of the private residences and lots of natural airflow

Passive house features include a minimum of five hours of shade for the decks of the private residences and lots of natural airflow

In creating the plans for the island resort, YYA wanted to integrate the solar panels into the island’s overall design

In creating the plans for the island resort, YYA wanted to integrate the solar panels into the island’s overall design

Kudadoo Island showcases what is truly possible for sustainable tourism

Kudadoo Island showcases what is truly possible for sustainable tourism

Two-bedroom villa deck

Two-bedroom villa deck

Each private villa includes an open floorplan with king-size bed and large lounge

Each private villa includes an open floorplan with king-size bed and large lounge

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

Kudadoo Maldives Private Island

The 320-kWp solar system at Kudadoo Island generates enough electricity to power the entire resort

The 320-kWp solar system at Kudadoo Island generates enough electricity to power the entire resort

The architecture of the island also features passive house features, such as natural light during the day

The architecture of the island also features passive house features, such as natural light during the day

The resort features a large swimming pool for guests

The resort features a large swimming pool for guests

The resort features a restaurant, bar and wine cellar

The resort features a restaurant, bar and wine cellar

New York-based architectural firm Yuji Yamazaki Architecture (YYA) is behind the design of the Kudadoo Maldives Private Island that opened recently in the Maldives

New York-based architectural firm Yuji Yamazaki Architecture (YYA) is behind the design of the Kudadoo Maldives Private Island that opened recently in the Maldives

The wooden structure of the island retreat, including each residence, is built with eco-conscious materials

The wooden structure of the island retreat, including each residence, is built with eco-conscious materials

 Each private villa includes an open bathroom and handmade furniture

 Each private villa includes an open bathroom and handmade furniture

Bathroom interior at Kudadoo Maldives

Bathroom interior at Kudadoo Maldives

One- or two-bedroom residences are available to guests and are located on the sand lagoon

One- or two-bedroom residences are available to guests and are located on the sand lagoon

King-size bed in the one bedroom villa

King-size bed in the one bedroom villa

The Real-Life Effects of Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks: 5 Takeaways From Our Investigation

For nearly two years, President Trump has pursued an aggressive, far-reaching effort, lobbied for and cheered on by industry, to free American business from what he and many of his supporters view as excessive environmental regulation.

The consequences are starting to play out in noticeable ways in communities across the United States.

An investigation by The New York Times showed how Mr. Trump’s deregulatory policies are starting to have substantial impact on those who experience them close up — and often are economically dependent on the industries the president is trying to help.

Here are five takeaways:

Trump has quickly undercut Obama’s legacy

President Barack Obama made protecting the environment a big part of his legacy. His administration, over eight years, carefully developed rules designed to clean up the environment, deter climate change and protect against dangerous chemicals. Many were completed in the final stretch of his presidency, often in ways that bypassed Congress.

But industry consistently balked at those regulations, calling them an overreach, duplicative and unnecessary, unleashing a backlash that has informed Mr. Trump’s approach.

So, with equal decisiveness, Mr. Trump has sought to undo his predecessor’s agenda by blocking, delaying and killing measures. The Trump administration cited its rollbacks as a victory and the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

The rapid change in policy direction shows how both presidents used their expansive executive powers — but for very different outcomes.

Environmental impacts span the country

The early impacts of the Trump rollbacks are beginning to emerge across the country, from California to North Dakota, Texas and West Virginia.

The Times visited the communities facing these changes, and found that local residents and business leaders are often divided. Some believe that the Obama administration went too far in imposing new environmental demands, while others worry that the changes the Trump administration is making will hurt their families, in particular their children.

The geographic diversity of the places grappling with the trade-offs highlights how pervasive the connections are between natural resources, health and economic opportunity.

In the vast farmlands of central California, day care centers have to take account of pesticide-spraying schedules. The local government’s revenues on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota have grown to $330 million from $20 million over the last 15 years because of vast fossil fuel reserves that can now be pumped from the ground using fracking. National forests 400 miles away can be clouded with haze produced by a coal-fired power plant near Houston.

The rollbacks touch air, water, chemicals and climate

No parts of the federal government during the Trump era have been more aggressive in rolling back rules than the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department, which between them regulate much of the intersection between the environment and the economy. Together their rule changes have touched nearly every aspect of environmental protection, including air pollution caused by power plants and the oil and gas industry, water pollution caused by coal mines, and toxic chemicals and pesticides used by farmers nationwide.

In short, what is at stake is the quality of the air we breathe and the food we eat, the cleanliness of the rivers that flow past us, and the pace at which the climate is changing. Two years after Mr. Trump took office, the policy shifts are not nearly complete; dozens of other rules have been targeted for rollback.

After decades of legislation and regulation, the environment in the United States continues to get cleaner. What has changed under Mr. Trump in most cases is the pace of improvement, which has been slowed in a number of key areas compared to what it would have been if the Obama rules had been preserved.

The decline of coal has not been stopped

If there is a single industry that has been at the center of the fight — both during the Obama expansion of rules and the Trump rollbacks — it is coal. Mr. Obama targeted the industry as a way to combat climate change. Mr. Trump has defended and promoted it as part of his populist political and economic strategy.

Mr. Trump’s approach has been to slow demands for further steps to curb air and water pollution caused by coal-burning power plants.

The tug-of-war involves coal mines as well, which were ordered by Mr. Obama to take steps to help clean thousands of miles of rivers and streams, only to be told by Mr. Trump that these measures were no longer necessary.

What has not changed is the decline of coal — both coal mines and coal-burning power plants. Even as Mr. Trump has used his executive powers to help the industry, coal production in the United States continues to decline. As the Energy Department announced this month, the country’s coal consumption for 2018 is “expected to be the lowest in 39 years.” The decline is mostly a result of power plants shifting away from burning coal.

Progress is slowing — but there’s still progress

At the core of the fight between environmentalists and the Trump administration is a debate over a simple question: How much improvement is enough? By some measures — such as overall emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, two major air pollutants that cause smoke and haze and a variety of health ailments — environmental quality in the United States has continued to improve in the Trump era.

That is in large part because of the rapid closure of more coal-burning power plants. But the pace of those declines would almost certainly have been greater had Obama-era policies continued. So what is happening in the United States is a slowing of the pace of progress — not a return to the era, before the E.P.A. was created in 1970, where a river in Ohio caught fire.

Another factor is that environmental change happens slowly. So the real impact of the Trump-era policies may not be fully apparent until years after Mr. Trump leaves office.

Shell Announces Major Pivot To Green Energy

Jason Hopkins | Energy Investigator

Royal Dutch Shell revealed an ambitious plan to double its investments in green energy in what appears to be the next phase in the oil giant’s efforts to decarbonize.

Shell will boost its expenditures on low-carbon energy to $4 billion a year — a staggering increase from its commitment to spend $1-$2 billion annually on green energy within the next two years. The Netherlands-based company has a total budget of $25 billion, the rest of which will still be spent on hydrocarbons.

“I would like my current business to be financially credible enough for not only the company, but shareholders, to want to double it and look at more,” Maarten Wetselaar, the integrated gas and new energies director for Shell, stated to the Guardian in a Tuesday report. Wetselaar indicated that if Shell sees enough return on its investments, the company will likely spend more on green energy development from 2020 and beyond.

Shell, under pressure from climate change activists, has made a number of environmentally-friendly commitments in recent years.

The oil and gas giant announced plans earlier in December to establish strict carbon emissions targets, and will incentivize senior executives to follow through on these targets by linking it to their pay.

A Shell logo is seen at a gas station in Buenos Aires

A Shell logo is seen at a gas station in Buenos Aires, Argentina, March 12, 2018. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci

“We will be systematically driving down our carbon footprint over time,” Shell’s chief executive Ben van Beurden stated to the media. “We all know the benefits of energy but there are associated effects that we have to manage.” (RELATED: Oil Companies Opposing Washington State’s Tax, But Promoting A Federal One)

Shell is a pledged supporter of the Climate Leadership Council, a group that supports the implementation of a carbon tax to fight global warming and establish a new welfare system to offset higher energy costs. The Dutch oil company has increasingly involved itself in carbon pricing battles in the U.S., where the company has praised carbon tax bills introduced in Congress and has quietly held talks with environmental groups regarding a carbon tax.

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Massachusetts adds 1,500 workers to renewable energy sector

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts has added 1,500 workers to the state’s renewable energy workforce in the past year.

That’s according to a new report from The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center — a state economic development agency. The report found the extra workers added in 2018 bring to 110,700 the number of employees in the renewable energy sector.

That’s an 84 percent jump since 2010.

The report found the renewable energy industry employs residents in every region of Massachusetts and makes up 3.1 percent of the state workforce.

Installation-related jobs are the largest source of clean energy employment, followed closely by sales and distribution. The fastest growing jobs were in engineering and research.

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The industry contributes more than $13 billion to the Massachusetts economy — or about 2.5 percent of the gross state product.

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This Cool-as-Hell, Lung-Inspired Design Can Turn Water Into Fuel

Breathing may seem pretty simple and natural to us, but to chemical engineers in particular, the mammalian act of breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide is still considered somewhat of a marvel. Scientists would love to figure out a way to reverse the process, that is, to suck in carbon dioxide and convert it into something useful life fuel. That’s why a new lung-inspired mechanical design that turns water into fuel could be such a boon for the clean energy industry.

Researchers from Stanford University announced yesterday that they’d designed an electrocatalyst – material that modifies and increases chemical reactions without being consumed in the process – that mimics the same two-way gas exchange our bodies perform tens of thousands of times every day. Their design, published in the journal Joule, draws on the unique structure of the lung’s alveoli to split water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules – and then re-use the oxygen molecules as fuel for the catalyst.

Li et al. / JouleWho knew breathing was so inspirational? 

Okay, remember ninth grade biology? Alveoli are the tiny air sacs that sit at the end of our respiratory system. Just one cell thick, alveoli allow for oxygen we inhale to diffuse through them and into the bloodstream; at the same time, carbon dioxide, a byproduct of cellular respiration, flows back through the alveoli and is then ultimately exhaled. Scientists at Stanford University, led by Yi Cui, incorporated an alveolus-like, ultra thin membrane made from polyethylene into their design to help with the simultaneous gas exchange. Who knew breathing could be so inspiring?

The hope that we could use “water as fuel” has circulated throughout the clean energy community for several years now. But the problem has always been a lack of efficiency. The energy needed to split hydrogen and oxygen was greater than the amount of energy ultimately generated. With this new lung-inspired design, oxygen is split from hydrogen and then used to fuel as continually power the mechanism. It’s all kept within the same system. And it’s cool as hell.

Though the design is still in a testing phase and not yet ready for commercial use, Yi Cui and his team hope their electrocatalyst will prove helpful for existing technologies, like fuel cells, which run as long as they have access to fuel and oxygen (And now water! Which could be that fuel!). They also think the tech could be useful for developing metal-air batteries.

It’s not clear whether large-scale adoption of this lung design could, oh, I don’t know, make use of the rising bodies of water threatening to sink, like, the entire east coast, but hey – one can always hope.

Lung-like device transforms water into a clean source of fuel

Time and Place

Get water in your lungs, and you’re in for a very bad time.

But when water enters a new type of “lung” created by researchers at Stanford University, the result is hydrogen fuel — a clean source of energy that could one day power everything from our cars to our smartphones.

Though this isn’t the first device to produce hydrogen fuel, the unique design could be the first step along the path to an efficient method of generating hydrogen fuel.

Looking to Nature

The Stanford team describes its device in a paper published on Thursday in the journal Joule.

When air enters a human lung, it passes through a thin membrane. This membrane extracts the oxygen from the air and send it into the bloodstream. The unique structure of the organ makes this gas exchange highly efficient.

Combine hydrogen with oxygen, and you get electricity — and unlike the burning of fossil fuels, the only byproduct is water. For that reason, researchers have been looking into hydrogen fuel for decades, but they simply haven’t found a way to produce it that is efficient enough to be worthwhile.

This is mainly because hydrogen doesn’t often exist on its own in nature — we need to isolate it, often by separating water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Take a Breath

The Stanford researchers’ lung is essentially a pouch created out of a thick plastic film. Tiny water-repelling pores cover the exterior of the pouch, while gold and platinum nanoparticles line its interior.

By placing the pouch in water and applying voltage, the researchers were able to compel the device to create energy at an efficiency 32 percent higher than if they laid the film flat. They claim this is because the lung-like shape did a better job than other fuel cell designs of minimizing the bubbles that can form — and hurt efficiency — during the energy-generation process. “The geometry is important,” Stanford research Yi Cui told New Scientist.

The team will now focus on scaling-up its design and finding a way to get it to tolerate higher temperatures — right now, it doesn’t work above 100 degrees Celsius (212 degrees Fahrenheit), which could be a problem for commercial applications.

READ MORE: Device That Works Like a Lung Makes Clean Fuel From Water [New Scientist]

More on hydrogen fuel: Cheap Hydrogen Fuel Was a Failed Promise. But Its Time May Have Arrived.

Kanye West wants President Trump to replace Air Force One with a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Jet called the Aerocruiser Designed by Shabtai Hirshberg

Courtesy Getty Images

On Thursday, October 11th, 2018 Kanye West told President Trump that he should ride in the “The freshest, the flyest,” and replace Air Force One with the Aerocruiser designed by Shabtai Hirshberg. Clean Energy News had the opportunity to discuss the project with the designer of the Aircraft…

Q. Tell us about your Redesign of a Commercial Aircraft for 2030 project?

A. The project started out by researching current commercial airflight. Looking ahead and forecasting usage patterns through 2030, the projections demonstrate that commercial passengers will double current airflight capacity. I was surprised that no one was doing anything about a solution.

Courtesy Getty Images

Q. What is the name of this Aircraft?

A. The aircraft’s name is Aerocruiser which is a combination of “aero” = aircraft + cruiser which derives from “cruise speed” = most optimal speed for an aircraft. The Aerocruiser is designed to travel at trans-sonic flight speeds of Mach ~0.89-0.95.

Q. Can you describe your aircraft and what inspired the design?

A. The Aerofoil design is intended for land and water take-off/landing capabilities. This design can help expand current airport capacities without negative impact to the surrounding neighborhoods while utilizing the world’s water bodies as a natural resource.

Q. Are you currently in collaboration with Kanye West and President Trump to replace Air Force One with the Aerocruiser?

A. Not currently but I would be very happy to work with them on this project.

Q. How will the Aerocruiser help with greenhouse gas emissions?
A. In addition to passenger capacity, the design requires less propulsion and as a result, less fuel and emissions. Side by side with a 787, this aircraft would take up less physical and carbon footprint. The Aerocruiser is more efficient.

Q. Why did you select Hydrogen as the fuel for the Aerocruiser?

A. This project was about a futuristic design, the choice to leverage hydrogen fuel cell technology would be to reduce impact on the environment. If we were to build this craft with today’s available technologies, I would consider leveraging turbo fans.

Q. What would a typical flight time be for this Hydrogen Fuel Cell jet?

A. At hypersonic (Mach 5) speeds, the Aerocruiser could fliy from NYC to London in 30 minutes.

Q. How would this aircraft help develop the Hydrogen Economy?

A. There is a possibility to leverage electrolysis to generate the hydrogen as the fuel source. Air vapor could be used in the Aerocruiser design.

Q. What other transportation design projects are you currently working on?

A. I am currently working with a London based firm on building an Aerocruiser 2.0 based on my aircraft design.