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I Knew If I Dreamed Long Enough, Solar Bikinis Would Be Born

Custom clothing maker Solar Coterie is now taking orders for a line of custom solar bikinis.  That’s right ladies, not only can you be hot, but you can also use your hotness to generate and collect small amounts of energy powerful enough to sustain your iPhone or iPod while you’re out there making us all talk like a bunch of bumbling idiots.  Here, let me show you what I mean:

Ok.  So there we go.  A suit made of solar thinfilm, terminating into a female USB connector allowing you to juice up that iDevice in the summer, or anywhere that the sun is shining that you won’t freeze your dumps off.  My only question is – if you’ve ever felt a solar collecting fil;m while it’s collecting, they do tend to get pretty hot to the touch.  Is the Solar Bikini going to get ridiculously hot while the wearer is sporting it?

Now I gotta believe the men’s version of this is coming, too.  A little less appealing is the only thing I can say about using my own junk to power my iPod.

Thanks, CleanTechnica!

The State of Electronics – Karl von Moller’s Documentary on the Electronics Industry

Have you all heard about this cool documentary that’s being made by Karl von Moller?  Karl’s making a “State of Electronics” documentary on the history and progress of the Electronics Industry in Australia.  Electronics is a wide industry – but I think what a lot of people forget is that semiconductors is a large part of that industry, and semiconductors is a very large portion of the modern industries of light.  Solar cells, light emitting diodes (which I think I like calling “leds” a lot lately) and other optoelectronic components and systems.

That kind of blows my mind for a minute there – after going to Photonics West in SanFran this last January, I realized how little I actually knew about life.

Check out the first teaser for the State of Electronics series first:

State of Electronics – Trailer from karl von moller on Vimeo.

then watch this newer one – “Roll Call – State of Electronics,” which has Dave Jones of the EEEV Blog! (I love this dude, I could only DREAM of being that huge of a brain!)

Roll Call – State of Electronics from karl von moller on Vimeo.

Fill up your brain! Be full of knowledge and less full of bulls**t! :)

There Has Never Been a Better Time to Stop Using Non-Renewables, Ever

This is going to seem like a ramble, and I’m okay with that, but I think that something needs to be said. It’s time that we stop depending on the Middle East and despotic regimes like Libya for the oil we use to light our world. While we’re at it, we should also convert from using coal and natural gas to forms of energy that we’re not going to run out of to forms of energy that are essentially good forever. I mean, really – when solar power runs out, we’ve bigger problems to worry about then, don’t we.

Doesn’t this seem like such a no-brainer? Switching from a fuel that is going to run out to a fuel that will never run out?

In my perfect Utopian world that obviously only exists in my head, we harness solar fully in just three states, wind in just two states, tidal and wave on the coasts, and provide the necessary gear for people to very easily use solar and wind at home. I’m a lighting designer, and I imagine a world where every touring production travels with a truck that has a solar and battery setup to self-sustain the show’s power needs. Wouldn’t that be just awesome and amazing?

Those kind of systems exist now. Yep, that’s no bull.

You know what the really sick and creepy thing about all of this energy generation business is? We actually CAN do exactly what exists in my head. We have the technology, desire, and ability to turn our power from coal and oil to wind, solar, geothermal, and tidal, among other forms. But, as we live in a country (and on a planet) that is so addicted to non-renewables like oil and coal, a change like this can only come if we demand it. All of us. Together.

When a place like Libya undergoes a revolt like is experiencing now, everything goes to sh*t around the world. Gas prices skyrocket. Everything costs more because the price of oil goes nuts. I just heard on NPR a few days that a barrel of oil just hit $100 bucks on the market. It’s not expected to get much cheaper any time soon, either. How can we continue to keep doing this, folks? It’s not just our gas that’s going to continue to climb honed and higher, it’s going to be everything in our lives – electricity bills, heating and cooling costs, light and lighting, food, clothing, all of it.

Something that we cannot overlook now is the danger of nuclear power.  Our brothers and sisters in Japan are experiencing the repercussions of the dangers of nuclear power for light after this last unprecedented earthquake and subsequent tsunami.  Have you been watching the news about the fires happening at the Fukushima Daiishi and Daini plants outside Tokyo right now?  Wider protection zones are being requested and considered by high ranking officials around the nuclear power plants in Tokyo, we’re haring news about meltdowns, radioactive fallout, and radiation sickness dangers.  It’s not a secret that nuclear power plants are powerful – but if you compare the bi-products and danger considerations versus those for renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave, is the danger really that worth it?

When the earthquake and tsunami first hit, the stock market was all a buzz about how solar stocks would triumph in this moment of our time.  Now the same people are saying that oil, coal, and gas are making big leaps and bounds because of the earthquake.  How screwed up is it that people spend more time trying to profit from a disaster like the one that just happened and is growing ever stronger and worse, day by day?  Why aren’t we trying to get solar and wind power in there now to help people out?

Think of the amount of energy needed to harvest pretty much every single non-renewable – oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear fuel – each of these methods requires several multiples of the energy actually gained just to make it in the first place.  Renewable energy sources require nearly no extra energy (or carbon footprint).  Why is this so hard for everyone to understand?

We cannot afford to rely on these non-renewables for our light any longer. We just cannot afford to be petroleum slaves anymore.  Our technological development in light is moving in the wrong direction when we base it on what coal, oil, and nuclear power are dictating.

There are so many advancements in solar technology happening right now, as well as with wind, geothermal, tidal, and wave power generation that it is staggering to think we’re not completely utilizing these sustainable sources of power. We are destroying our home with the mining of oil, coal, and natural gas.  Fracking, for example (fracture drilling for you Battlestar Galactica fans), has been proven to cause earthquakes.  Spent nuclear fuel (and live nuclear fuel for that matter) is so dangerous to humans that it must be buried deep underground to keep it away from us.  We have got to knock this stuff off and get involved in having a home that will be around for a long time. At our current rate, we are absolutely screwed.

Over the last few years as politicians have been lobbied by the CFL and LED manufacturers, we as lighting designers have all gotten our underwear in a bunch over being told we can’t use incandescents.  What sucks about that is that yes, it would be awesome to have a replacement for incandescent sources so that our light sources don’t draw a lot of power.  Well, my frank opinion is that if we were able to generate new electricity nearly free of cost, who cares what light sources we use?  Should we keep developing?  Of course.  Should we keep looking for an incandescent replacement?  Of course we should.  We should also work on improving our current power grid so that we have better distribution of power – it would stun your mind how many places across the country (and world for that matter) are operating on an industry-birth set of infrastructure that is as old as the industry is itself.  How much sense does that make?

Of course, what do I know – I only spend 8-12 hours a day looking at the advancement of light in our society.  I know we can do better, we just have to do it.  I want the best for us!  Most of all, I want us to start thinking sustainably – we’re not gonna make it if we don’t.  That is, of course, just my educated opinion.  But again, what do I know?

Melting, Burning, and Generally Obliterating Stuff with the Power of the Sun

I always find that I discover cool stuff when I am teaching about it – right now, for example, I’m lecturing to my introductory Stage Lighting classes about reflection, refraction, the Index of Refraction, reflectance, normal angles, and all of that kind of stuff.  I love it, I’m a nerd to the Nth degree.  I’m also lucky that my research karma is good!

Something I find quite sexy is capturing solar rays for the purpose of just destroying stuff in a non-military way.  Yes, I’m one of those campers who loves campfires for the sheer awesome power of them.  I came across a few videos of people harnessing the awesome power of our Sun into a small few centimeter-square area for the purposes of, well, burning stuff.  I have two examples – one is an expensive solar capture device that focuses a few square meters of sun into an area of an inch, and the other is a homemade solar reflector made from a satellite dish.  Even though the cheaper one is cheaply made (I mean comparatively, not offensively), it harnesses some amazing solar power!

Check out this first video – a lab environment, a huge mirror, and thousands of degrees of sunlight:

Here’s the second video, a homemade SOLAR DEATH RAY!

Awesome.

Thanks Hack-N-Mod!

Cleaning Solar Panels – Yeah, There’s a Gadget for That

If you read the news with regards to lighting, power grid, and renewable energy, you’re going to read a lot about solar.  Solar companies, solar panels, solar panel efficiency, and all kinds of other stuff that has to do with using the sun to generate electricity.

Here’s something wacky – nobody ever talks about cleaning their solar panels!  I mean, it’s probably not something you have to do each weekend, but as grime, dirt, and pollution build up on them, they do need to be cleaned off in order to efficiently capture the sun’s rays.  German company Schletter GmbH has just released news of their crazy new photovoltaic power washer for exactly this problem that nobody knew we had – solar panel cleaning!

I’ll be honest – most of the people I know who either manage or own PV installations just clean them with a freaking hose and some tap water.  But Schletter is going to be changing that in April 2011.

Hold onto your horses, folks.  This thing is a solar panel cleaning party animal!

Wow. Now THAT is some solar cleaning! I think. At least that’s what I’ve heard. All I can really say is that I didn’t invent this thing, but it seems cool! Probably a lot easier than the 20-foot-long handle with a carwashing brush on the end, huh?

Thanks, CleanTechnica!

From the WTF File: Xcel Energy Drops Out of Colorado’s Solar Market

In a move that is less than popular, energy company Xcel Energy has pulled its support out of the Colorado solar energy market.  You might remember Xcel Energy from a story I wrote back in 2009 about how Xcel Energy was charging solar customers who were using their solar panels to make electricity but not drawing power from the power grid.  I thought that was kind of a pretty rude move.

This one is yet another unpopular decision by Xcel Energy.  I find it kind of hilarious that their catch phrase is “Responsible by Nature.”

So back in 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 37 – the amendment says that by 2015, Colorado’s energy market will have 10% of the total contribution be from renewable energy sources.  At the time in 2004, 95% of the energy coming to the grid was from fossil fuels (coal and gas), and only 2% was from renewable energy sources.  From an article at Inhabitat:

Ammendment 37 was passed by Colorado voters in 2004 and required that public utility companies set aside money for a renewable energy portfolio. A small percentage of that power needed to be installed on consumer roofs where demand was great. Many companies opened shop or grew as the price of solar was cut nearly in half. As prices for solar equipment fell, and Xcel Energy met Ammedments 37′s requirements, they have gradually been able to lower the rebate amount to balance the total cost, while still maintaining a predictable pricing scheme for customers. The rebate money comes from a 2% charge on rate payer bills.

Hmm.  So what exactly does the pulling out of Xcel Energy have to do with Colorado and its future?  Well, tons, actually.  Job losses are expected to be about half of the total renewable energy jobs in Colorado, which is about on par with the entire number of fossil fuel gigs in the state.  Again, from Inhabitat:

While the solar industry was relying on a stepped approach for reducing the rebates, their sudden elimination has put nearly every planned residential and commercial project on hold. Being a capital heavy industry many solar company’s cash flow will be severely restricted, limiting opportunities for distributed generation.

One such project that was finalized the day of the announcement puts solar panels on the Denver Rescue Mission by the nonprofit Atmosphere Conservancy in order to help them reduce energy costs. Executive Director Alex Blackmer said that three solar projects the Atmosphere Conservancy finalized would have to be renegotiated and may not go forward after the announcement. Hundreds of  halted projects  will result in real job losses for a workforce that today totals more than 5,300 people and growing. Early estimates reveal that half of these jobs will be gone – more than the total number of jobs in the coal industry in the state.

Energy companies across the world: if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.  One of these days soon, the population of the world is going to get its collective head together and bring you to task for this kind of bullsh*t.  It’s time for one of these corporations to stand up and man up in order to change our future.  Profits are just profits – you all already have more money than you can possibly spend in your lifetimes – how about helping the rest of us by changing the future of the planet Earth?

Where exactly is the disconnect here, Big Oil and Coal companies?  Don’t you realize that if you switched to renewable energy sources to push on the market that you would make unbelievable amounts of money that won’t run out?  Even my neighbor’s five year old daughter realizes this fact.

Perhaps we need to let companies like Xcel Energy know how displeased we are with their decisions.  After all, a corporation by definition has rights and privvies like US citizens do.  If we made poor decisions publicly, people would call us on them, or we go to jail.  If you are affected by this decision or if you want to let Xcel Energy know how it’s doing, you should send the company an email at [email protected].

Burning in the Sun

Have you seen trailers for this movie Burning in the Sun? Below is not a trailer, it’s an in-depth video about the film’s subject, Daniel Dembélé. You have got to check it out.

From Al Jazeera:

Twenty-six-year-old Daniel Dembélé is equal parts West African and European, and looking to make his mark on the world.

Seizing the moment at a crossroads in his life, Daniel decides to return to his homeland in Mali and start a local business building solar panels – the first of its kind in the sun-drenched nation.

Daniel’s goal is to electrify the households of rural communities – 99 per cent of which live without power.

Burning in the Sun tells the story of Daniel’s journey growing the budding idea into a viable company, and its impact on Daniel’s first customers in the tiny village of Banko.

Taking controversial stances on climate change, poverty and African self-sufficiency, the film explores what it means to grow up as a man, and what it takes to prosper as a nation.

This is something that inspired me this morning to drive 2011’s possibilities of solar, wind, geothermal, and wave power as hard as I can. I’m tired of hearing stories about how gas is going up higher than five or six bucks a gallon soon, and how companies like BP are skirting around the legal system like it was a flea market in which the only penalty is paying too much.

Let’s kick ass in 2011 to make up for 2010’s shortcomings!

A Homeless Lighting Story

Something happened to me this morning that might have changed my life a little.

I went out to my truck this morning to go get a cup of coffee, and on the way there I was confronted by a man coming from the city bus terminal.  I was a bit thrown off by this because of some events that happened yesterday (long story short, I got into a physical altercation with a man stealing from my truck the day before), so I was a bit reserved about someone approaching me by my vehicle in a parking lot.

The conversation started like this:

“Hey, you’re Jim.”

And?  Who are you?”

“I just wanted to ask you about light, man.”

For the next 30 minutes, this guy and I talked.  He explained why he knew who I was, and what he was approaching me on the street to talk about in the middle of the morning.  Let’s just call this guy “Mike” for purposes of concealing his real name.  Mike explained to me that he sleeps across the parking lot from where my truck was parked, and he noticed the bumper sticker on my truck window with the website name on it.  Mike then told me that because it’s so hot outside here in Oklahoma City, people with no place to live go to the library and other places around town with air conditioning to spend their days until they get kicked out back into the street.  It’s been consecutively in the 100’s here for the last few weeks, so Mike told me he does a lot of web surfing.

It turns out that Mike isn’t an uneducated guy, but he explained that he’s a bit bipolar, got messed up with being a drunk, and has a hard time holding down a job.  Mike said that he’s not into meth (and had all of his teeth), and that he’s just trying to stay alive while he “plays the game of figuring” his life out.

Mike then asked me, and I’m paraphrasing:

“A lot of these crazy m***f*** around here like to mess with a man when he’s tryin’ to sleep.  I have a flashlight that I keep in my bag that’s heavy, and those big batteries cost money.  Is there something I can find that has a solar power collector in it that I can charge during the day and use at night?”

I have to admit that I figured the next step was “hey man, can I also have a few dollars?”  After I stared at him for a few seconds, I felt incredibly bad that I prejudged this guy who generally just wanted to know about what he asked, and I snapped out of my dazed stare and we talked about solar flashlights, person to person.  After about 10 more minutes of conversation, I asked Mike if he wanted me to give him my solar flashlight that I had in my apartment, and Mike said no thanks.

I tried to convince him that he could just use it for a few weeks if he wanted (I’m not naive, I realize I’d probably not see it again, but that was perfectly acceptable for me) and then give it back “some time.”  Mike told me that he didn’t want any money and that he could take care of himself.  I finally got Mike to say “yes” to the flashlight, so I asked him to just wait there while I ran and went for it.  As the story seems to go, Mike was gone when I got back.

I went back to my apartment.

I also completely forgot to get coffee.

My life has been absolutely effing surreal lately.