Renewable Energy

It's all about energy, from renewable sources to energy-efficient usage.

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Solar power is taking the world by storm. People are not only using it to produce energy by placing solar panels on their roof, but they are starting to use the technology in new ways. Here are some other unique uses for solar power:

Heat Storage Tubes

These modern and sleek-looking tubes seem like something from the distant future, but they could be making their way into homes much sooner. They are cylinders made out of fiberglass and filled with water. As long as they are placed in a location that gets sun, the water will heat up and become a heat source. The nice thing is that with the right theme in your home, you can use these as room dividers or just as part of your home décor.


Source: 7 Ways to Use Solar Power Around the House

Solar-Powered Water Heater

Instead of wasting precious electricity and gas to heat up water in a water heater, you could use the power of the sun. A solar-powered water heater is perfect for those who want to conserve natural resources AND save money on their electricity or gas bill.

Worried about the winters? Don’t be! The unit will charge during the sunniest days of the year, and that will be enough to keep water warm through the coldest days.

Naturally-Heated Pools and Hot Tubs

Just like solar panels can heat water in cylinder tubes and water heaters, they can do the same for your pool and hot tub. Many people don’t get a heated pool or hot tub because of the cost of heating it, but with solar energy, it would be free. There are special units that sit in the water that will generate heat from the sun, which will make your pool and hot tub a comfortable temperature. 

Solar Vehicles

Solar cars aren’t travelling down the streets of the U.S. just yet, but they will likely be showing up in a few years. Solar panels can be placed on the roof and even the sides of the cars to generate the energy they need to run. What’s great about this is that you don’t have to fill up on gas or plug in your car for charging.


Source: Stella, The First Four-Seater, Solar-Powered Vehicle Hits the U.S. Road

It won’t be too long before we start to see other solar-powered vehicles such as trucks, tractors, and other agriculture equipment. This will end up saving the environment even more by cutting down on pollution and the use of fuel.

Solar Paint

Solar paint is another invention that may not be too far away from being much more common. With solar paint, all you have to do is paint it on your home, and the solar cells will start to generate energy. It’s a less expensive and practical way to switch over to a renewable energy source.

With these unique ways to use solar energy, it’s likely solar-powered products will be becoming much more commonplace very soon. This is such good news considering that our natural resources are being depleted at alarming rates. Look out for the latest advancements in solar energy to ease yourself into a new way to power your home and office.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


 Transmission Line Dinosaurs

Click here to read Part 1 of The Wise Grid Series: Smart Meters are Not Smart by Camilla Rees.

A 150-mile transmission line project proposed in 2012 costing up to $1.3 billon is a “dinosaur” that is still haunting the Hudson Valley, even though the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) has more recently embarked on a new and truly “revolutionary” re-thinking of its entire energy strategy — the “REV” or “Reforming the Energy Vision” proceeding.

The REV, begun in 2014, has put on the table the idea of moving the State rapidly toward renewable distributed generation that is safe, reliable, resilient, sustainable, and more democratic.

Rooftop solar energy, battery storage, and community microgrids can replace the ancient, costly, and vulnerable centralized generation and transmission electricity system that has dominated New York and the entire nation — and advanced little technologically — for over a century.

A technical conference on the proposed transmission project was held by the PSC in Albany in July, and more hearings will be scheduled for the fall. The transmission project should have been pre-empted by the REV, which is far more in alignment with society’s values for sustainable renewable locally-generated energy.

Why the obsolete monster is still staggering around is not entirely clear. The ongoing capital spending trajectory of the utility industry, aiming to waste billions on obsolete and unneeded infrastructure, places it on a collision course with the technology and economics of distributed renewable energy — the path to an abundant, clean energy future for NY State and the nation. Considering large new transmission is precisely the wrong approach.

Key Issues with the ‘Energy Highway’ and National Utility Energy Generation

The “Energy Highway” transmission dinosaur project needs to die. Here are some reasons:

• A need for additional power lines to serve New York City is not supported by measurable evidence or by any independent determination of need. This was well documented in a report by Gidon Eshel (2014), Hudson Valley Transmission Line Plan: Assessing Need and Alternatives.

• The proposed power line project only serves the financial interests of utilities and suppliers increasing their bottom line, since all costs can be charged back to ratepayers. Billion-dollar electricity industry investments should advance the economic interests of residents of New York City and NY State, as with renewable energy and distributed (local) generation, not try to save an obsolete electricity system.

• New York utility customers paid 40 percent more for electricity over the past decade while the price of natural gas, the principal fuel used to generate it, has dropped 39 percent. One reason for this irony is capital spending by utilities, primarily on generation and transmission — $17 billion in that same period. Rates in New York are estimated to go up another 63 percent in the next decade. This rate trajectory is unsustainable and unjustified, both in New York and in the nation.

• The proposed transmission line project would renew a commitment to centralized electricity generation (largely fossil fuel-based) for yet another half-century, exacerbating the risks of climate change and global warming.

• Alternative investment encouraging local, distributed generation can move New York State toward sustainable long-term clean energy independence and abundance at a reasonable cost.  Such investment can also improve economic competitiveness, preserve natural resources, enhance national and community security, reduce potential health risks, improve resiliency from severe weather events, and help forestall the threat from man-made global warming.

• Renewable generation, especially solar PV, and “distributed” (locally-based) grid technologies are just as efficient at either small or large scale. By adding information technology, distributed (local) systems can actually be more efficient than conventional centralized systems and should be what we are investing in now.

• The nearer electricity can be produced to where it is used, the lower the transmission losses can be. With distributed solar within the distribution grid, long-distance transmission losses are completely avoided. With on-site generation and storage, even the local distribution losses are eliminated. Thus, the entire system could enjoy an efficiency improvement of 8–15 percent with localized generation and storage.”

• A structural transformation of the energy economy is underway — a shift in how and by whom energy in all forms is produced and consumed — and NY State would be wise to not resist it. “When considered within the context of the urgency brought by climate change and global warming, it is clearly possible that solar and other renewable energy could soon bring about an abrupt end to the age of fossil fuels.”

• The concept of a future grid based on centralized control of renewable energy, called an “Integrated Grid” by the Electric Power Research Institute, is not advised. It makes no sense to maintain centralized control of an inherently decentralized and simpler technology — to try to control a technological transformation where “distributed” should imply a more independent, democratic, community-based, smaller, simpler, and scalable electricity system.  The solar age has arrived.   The transformation underway should not be impeded by the excess baggage of a progressively obsolete and superfluous centralized grid.

• The New York Public Service Commission’s REV initiative— Reforming the Energy Vision — should be the principle focus of NY State for now. The program offers the opportunity to take a fresh and comprehensive view of New York’s energy future, establishing a platform to review technical and policy approaches for providing electricity in an economical, safe, secure, resilient and democratic manner to all people in NY.

• By New York State focusing on developing a clean and sustainable electricity system, a range of other risks from the proposed “Energy Highway” can be successfully avoided, responding to the increasingly vocal concerns of constituents. These include preventing wildlife habitat fragmentation; tourism decline; property devaluations; grid reliability issues with large, complex systems; financial waste from technological obsolescence; and the eyesore of large transmission lines, a “gratuitous industrialization of the natural landscape.”

• There are many promising technical and policy alternatives for developing local distributed renewable electricity generation and storage resources in New York. These include small-scale pumped hydro, river flow hydro, water main flow hydro, rooftop water tank-flow hydro, small scale wind, solar gardens, solar parking lots/structures, solar trees with electric vehicle charging, and community grid and commercial/industrial site storage with “flow batteries”, etc.

• A potentially important emerging technology known as Transactive Energy (TE) can help solve problems such as the variability of solar and wind generation in local electricity grids.  Now under development in Department of Energy labs, TE is a technique that can use advanced Internet communications to automatically and equitably balance supply and demand by trading electricity among homes, businesses and industrial users generating some of their own power.

• Now is an opportune time to build a new electricity distribution system based on the Five Pillars of Energy Democracy proposed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (Farrell, 2015), bringing an end to the rationale of utilities as “natural monopolies.” The five pillars are flexible, efficient, low-carbon, local and equitable. Today’s system, in contrast, could be considered intransigent, wasteful, polluting, remote and unaccountable.


In summary, the old proposed “Energy Highway” attempts to prop up investor-owned utilities by awarding generous cost-of-service rates and profitable guaranteed capital cost recovery without regard to societal priorities and with high potential for significant negative impacts.

To secure its energy future, New York State must rise to its potential for clean energy abundance, lowered energy costs and sustainable economic competitiveness through investment in distributed (or locally generated) electricity using renewable energy technologies. The PSC’s REV proceeding has the opportunity to do just that.  But, the people need to get engaged and help their PSC do the right thing, else the REV will just get hijacked by the utilities as has so often happened in the past.

New York State would be making an enormous and costly, wasteful, and strategic mistake to allow the Hudson Valley transmission project to proceed any further. It is time to put the dinosaur bones in a museum and to move from the past to a clean energy future.

Find Out the Full Story

For the full story, your can read my 40-page policy paper, The Hudson Valley “Energy Highway” transmission project: An idea whose time has passed?, published by the National Institute for Science, Law & Public Policy (NISLAPP) in Washington, D.C.

Timothy Schoechle, PhD is a Senior Research Fellow with the National Institute for Science, Law and Public Policy (NISLAPP) in Washington, DC, and Boulder, Colorado.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


You’ve probably seen yard signs for Solarize campaigns around your neighborhood. But what exactly does it mean to solarize? Is it really a new verb? Here we’ll explain the basics of a Solarize program, plus what the pros and cons are for your community.

What is Solarize? Community Solar? Group Solar?

Solarize programs can go by a variety of names; all are in essence a means by which groups of buyers can secure a lower price for solar installations through bulk ordering. A municipality, employer or other local organization chooses one company in the area to serve as the solar installer for their community’s Solarize program. Due to volume discounts, the solar installer can negotiate a price that’s often lower than what individual homeowners could achieve. In fact, the price tends to fall as more and more people join the program. To bring in as many homeowners as possible, the community organizer and solar installer typically launch a six-month campaign to educate community members about the benefits of going solar. After the educational campaign is finished, the installer then spends the next six months installing all the solar energy systems for homeowners who participated. Vote Solar, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and the Connect Green Bank have all organized Solarize programs for communities in the past.

The Pros of Solarize Programs

Great Way to Be Involved In Community Action. Being involved in a Solarize program can be a great way to take part in a larger movement within your community, and work with people who share similar goals.

Reputation Boost for Chosen Installer. Solarize programs are a great accolade for the installer that is ultimately chosen by the community. Many solar installers will use their selection for a Solarize program in future marketing materials.

Good Way to Accomplish a Shared Environmental Goal. If a town or municipality has a renewable energy or environmental goal, launching a Solarize program can be a great way to help them achieve it quickly.

Lower Risk to Take Action as a Group. As the expression goes, “there’s safety in numbers”. This is the driving idea behind Solarize programs, as larger groups tend to have better leverage in price negotiations with installers and outside parties.

Limited Choice Makes Decisions Easier. If you only have a few options when evaluating solar energy systems, then choosing the best one for you is a much shorter, simpler process.

The Cons of Solarize Programs

Unnecessary Restriction on Consumer Choice. Working with only one installer restricts the choices that consumers would otherwise have in terms of design and equipment. What’s right for your neighbor’s house or budget may not be right for yours, but using only one solar installer in a community restricts the options available to consumers.

Discourages Competition. Solarize programs were necessary when it was hard to find qualified installers, but now there are generally several well-established and reputable solar installation companies in each community.

Time Intensive to Find the Right Installer. Finding an appropriate installer can cost the organising body time and money, as it usually involves a lengthy review process. This is money and effort that could be spent elsewhere.

The Price You’re Quoted Isn’t Always the Actual Price. In most cases the price negotiated by the community organization is for the installer’s most basic solar energy system. The homeowner should expect higher costs if they want different panel types or colors, a higher efficiency inverter, or any sort of change from the basic package.

Backlog of Installations. The community education process often lasts six months, and during this period a backlog of new home installations can build up. This buildup can have an adverse effect on both the installer and homeowner. For the homeowner, by the time their installation takes place the price of a solar installation may have already dropped below the price they originally agreed upon. For the installer, having a boom and bust cycle in terms of installation volume can force them to hire and fire workers at irregular intervals.

Solarize programs can be a great way to motivate a community to achieve a common goal, and played a valuable role in the early days of solar. But the solar energy industry has matured rapidly over the last few years, and there are often more efficient ways to achieve one’s solar installation goals. Online solar marketplaces offer much more choice and transparency to solar shoppers, and $0-down solar leases can provide an alternative for cash-strapped homeowners. We recommend that interested parties weigh the pros and cons of Solarize programs carefully, given the restrictions it places on consumers, pressure it puts on installers, and time it demands of community organizers.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


The Cost of a Solar Panel System

While the most expensive part of going solar is paying for the equipment, it still only represents 25 percent of the overall expense. Soft costs, or the outlays that installers spend just trying to find you and appeal to you, also contribute a significant percentage. Here’s a break down of all the costs of going solar, and tips on how you can save money!

In 2010, the National Renewable Energy Lab completed an analysis of the price of solar installation. The Lab broke down the total price of buying a solar energy system for one’s house as related to the total number of watts that the system should produce (a calculation sometimes referred to as the gross cost per watt.) The Lab then went on to break down that per watt cost into smaller subcategories.

We have built upon this analysis, augmented it with data culled from our own network of solar installers and distributors, and broken down the average cost of going solar into six categories.

As with so many things in life, there are some factors you simply can’t control. Fortunately, however, there are a number of ways that you can drive down the costs of your future your solar energy system.

Marketing and Sales: How You Can Help Your Installer Save You Money

Learn About Solar: Installers spend a huge amount of time and money simply trying to educate shoppers about solar energy systems. If you are a solar-interested shopper, you can lower the amount of time your installer needs to spend educating you on the technology by using free public sources of information, such as Department of Energy’s gov website. The more educated you are about your potential installation, the more time you’ll save both you and them.

Shop Around For a Good Deal: Comparison-shopping websites are already popular when booking flights or hotel deals, and now that same technology is making its way into solar shopping. By using an online solar marketplace to obtain competitive bids from multiple installers, you can lower the “soft costs” that your installer must incur to find customers -- and they, in turn, can pass those savings on to you!

Hardware Choices: What Quality Is Right For You?

Type of Panels: The more efficient the solar panel, the more expensive it is. In most cases you actually don’t need the most efficient equipment to produce all the electricity that your home needs. EnergySage has analyzed testing information, and classified panels into three performance categories, premium, standard and economy.

Type of Inverter: There are three main types of inverters; centralized inverters, string inverters, and power optimizers. Centralized inverters serve the whole system, while string inverters and power optimizers are attached to each panel in a system. String inverters and power optimizers are generally more expensive than centralized inverters. Again, think of how efficient of a system you really need.

Type of Mounting System: A solar energy system can be installed on the roof of a building or on the ground. If the system is installed on the ground, it can be equipped with a tracking system to maximize its energy production. A more complex mounting system will increase your costs, so think about what’s really necessary for your own installation. Remember that you’ll want to have the solar panels facing south at a 30-degree angle for maximum production.

Labor, Installation and Permitting: Added Complexity Can Increase Costs

Warranties: From warranties on workmanship to warranties on equipment, having assurances on your solar energy installation can ensure that you get the most power from your system. Make sure you’re hiring the right installer that offers the right warranty to meet your budgetary requirements.

Complex Roofs: If your roof has multiple levels, an unusual angle, or dormers, installing your system may be more complicated than usual. Your installer should arrange the panels for optimal energy production, but added effort will increase costs. Distributing solar panels across multiple levels will add complexity, as will installations on certain roof types (such as tile and slate).

Landscaping: If you need to trim branches or landscape your area for optimal energy production, this may also add to the total cost of your system. To save money, consider doing this work yourself ahead of time (safety permitting!) or hiring a local tree pruner.

Improving Your Electrical System: Though unlikely, your electrical system could require an upgrade in order to be brought up to code. If needed, this added work would increase the costs of your solar installation. To spread these costs out, consider upgrading your electric system in one month and then going solar in the next.

By taking simple steps, you can significantly lower the costs of installing a solar energy system. Remember, the lower these upfront costs are, the faster that you’ll reach breakeven and start to make money off of your new energy system.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



Every year more of us try to incorporate green energy into our daily lives. Whether it’s buying a hybrid or electric car, installing a solar panel on your property, or even making your house energy neutral, going green has never been so popular.

Now our challenge is to use renewable energy on a larger scale, particularly with our power grids. Thus far the two biggest obstacles have been fluctuation in consumer demand and an inability to store sources of green energy such as wind.

Two companies, the Canadian-based NRSTOR and American company General Compression, recently proposed a solution to this challenge, based on a study they financed together. The solution is Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), which essentially means storing excess energy in salt caverns. If it succeeds, this new technology will change the way we use green energy. It will also impact the planet in a very positive way by reducing greenhouse gas emissions caused by traditional energy sources. Read on to learn more about CAES and its potential for changing the way we live.

What Exactly Is Compressed Air Energy Storage?

CAES is a new technology. Companies like NRSTOR are still developing it in a race to win business from utility companies. The premise of CAES is to store the surplus energy renewable sources sometimes generate so it can be put back in the grid at times of peak consumer demand or when green energy sources such as windmills underperform.

Similar technology has been used for natural gas compression, but this would be its first implementation with renewable energy. The implications are huge, both for people who care about the environment and for companies looking to cut costs and increase profitability.

CAES Will Make Renewable Energy Profitable and Efficient

Government investment in green energy companies was a source of controversy in the 2012 presidential election due to the bankruptcy of Solyndra and other profitability concerns. However, CAES would solve many of the current problems with using renewable energy in a profitable and reliable way.

For one thing, NRSTOR and General Compression predict that the use of CAES will cut up to $8 billion from Ontario’s energy costs over the next two decades. They will save money by eliminating the need to rely on expensive peaking plants, which are paid to provide extra power during times of high demand. Even times of lower demand currently cost the province money because it has to pay nuclear plants to reduce their production.

CAES will even out the grid during every level of demand, eliminating the expense incurred by varying trends in consumption. This saves Ontario and its taxpayers money. It also translates to lower energy costs for consumers.

We Can Reduce Our Carbon Footprint With CAES

Ontario made headlines last year when it closed its last coal-fired power plant. However, emissions are still produced by the aforementioned gas-fired peaking plants. By replacing peaking plants as the fill-in-the-gap energy source of choice, CAES can eliminate the future emissions such plants would put into the atmosphere.

Now imagine the use of CAES not just in Ontario but all over the world. Tons of greenhouse gases could be replaced by nonpolluting green energy. We could make this happen without government legislation or other penalties and incentives. All people would need to be motivated by is an appetite for cost-cutting and reliable power, an appetite already in existence. It’s no surprise, then, that the EU is already investing in CAES. With Canada and Europe leading the way on this new technology, the rest of the world won’t be far behind.

Photo credit Skitterphoto

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Off-Grid Wind Turbine 

Small wind turbines add some key values to any home: Free, renewable power, a visible demonstration of one’s commitment to living with less reliance on the fossil fuel grid, and of course, the undeniable cool factor.

For off-grid homes, energy needs are more acute than for grid-tied homes. Off-gridders are very much on their own when it comes to power (and practically everything else). They have self-reliance down to an art form.

Going far beyond the cool factor, here are some other reasons off-grid people love their home wind turbines.

Weather-Resistant Power

Power in wind or shine, day and night. This is important, especially when you’re off-grid and redundant energy sources are a must. It’s pretty simple: Your solar PV panels collect your power in daylight hours, your wind turbine chips in during the day and night, when solar is offline. And, your wind turbine shines on the days when the sun doesn’t -- especially during those wintry overcast months and stormy summer days.

Better Battery Life

Batteries of any kind are a significant investment. The most common off-grid systems use lead acid batteries, which typically need to stay above a certain level of charge (often 50 percent) and can’t sit at a partial state of charge without incurring damage. A wind turbine adds performance and life to any batteries, particularly those that thrive on staying charged. The additional rate at which wind-enabled off-grid systems charge batteries adds key storage and exercises the batteries at critical times.

Reduction in Gas Generator Use

It kind of takes the fun out of being disconnected from the fossil fuel grid if you’re dependent on a fossil fuel generator. Practically every off-grid system includes a backup generator (again, redundant systems are key). Having solar with wind added can drastically reduce the amount of time you spent running off the gas generator. This is good for the wallet, not just the heart and mind – gas generators of course require expensive fuel and regular maintenance.

Lifestyle Improvements

We’ve heard off-grid people remark, “I’m doing laundry on a cloudy day!” and “I’m running everything I need to run and not relying on a fossil fuel source.” The advantages of combining wind and solar go beyond system performance and floating batteries – it’s an enhancement to the off-grid lifestyle as a whole.

Wind and solar are always best together, and for off-grid homes, it’s a match made in self-sufficient heaven.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Have you ever wondered how wind turbines are assembled? This video shows exactly what goes into building these renewable energy superstars.

Video originally posted by: MidAmerican EnergyCo


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