A molecular approach to solar power (MIT News)

Originally posted on Open Matters:
The working cycle of a solar thermal fuel, using azobenzene as an example. (Courtesy of Jeff Grossman.) A molecular approach to solar power Switchable material could harness the power of the sun — even when it’s not shining. David L. Chandler | MIT News Office April 13, 2014 It’s an…

What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!

earthship brighton
figure 1: Earthship Brighton (Photo credit: ivanpope)

Have you ever heard of the concept of an “Earthship“?  I was introduced to the concept by my brother-in-law about 14 years ago and was blown away.  What is an Earthship then?  In a nutshell, an Earthship is an Eco-friendly home, made predominantly from recycled materials, designed to be as close to “off-grid” as possible.

The concept of Earthships arose in the halcyon flower-power days of the 1970s in various states in the southern USA.  The concept seems to have developed by Michael Reynolds, an architect from New Mexico.  As you can see in the linked Wikipedia article, his idea was not without problems, but it was, none-the-less revolutionary.  Michael has a website where he educates about, demonstrates and promotes the Earthship technology.  The site has designs for a number of systems that an Earthship needs if it is to meet code (see figure 2, below). Continue reading “What the heck is an Earthship? … maybe an idea whose time has come!”

Solar Lights Recycling | Your Solar Link

I am constantly looking for good environmental blogs and have been following a really good one lately named “Environmental world for all”.  The site is authored by a university student in peace studies with minor in environmental studies. One of the author’s recent posts discusses the benefits of solar LEDs for use as Christmas lights.  It is a […]

Hybrid cars – one buyer’s thoughts

Back in 2009, my family bought a 2010 model year Honda Civic Hybrid. The chart in the dealership, which was produced by an independent tester, gave the Civic a rating of 60 miles per imperial gallon (mpg) in the city and 66 mpg on the highway. A review of the Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) website […]

Who’s making money on bio-fuels and are they a good alternative to oil?

I just read an interesting paper from the MIT Centre for Energy and Environmental Policy Research and it had some interesting things to say about bio-fuels and politics.  The paper Some Inconvenient Truths About Climate Change Policy: The Distributional Impacts of Transportation Policies (August 2011), by Stephen P. Holland, Jonathan E. Hughes Christopher R. Knittel and Nathan […]

Solar light bulbs for pennies (Isang Litrong Liwanag/a litre of light)

A litre of light

I just ran across a wonderful innovationthat seems to have been around for a few years but just now seems to be garnering widespread attention. The innovation seems to be the brainchild either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or of Mr. Illac Diaz of the Philippines. It is as brilliant in its simplicity as it is as a light bulb. I am going to leave the description of the “bulbs” and how they are used to the foundation (and to two interesting YouTube videos (describing the why and how). One of the linked videos below describes this as an idea out of MIT and that makes sense because that institution seems to focus on a lot of simple projects to help the poor (see my earlier blog about solar powered water desalinators that were developed by MIT folks).

Continue reading “Solar light bulbs for pennies (Isang Litrong Liwanag/a litre of light)”

Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!

I spent 6 months living in Kathmandu back in the 90s.  It was commonplace for the power to go off each evening for 2 or more hours and to cope with the outages everyone had battery backups and gas-powered generators. 

But over here in Canada we have never needed battery backups or generators to keep things running.  The electrical system is far more reliable here than it was in Nepal in the 90s.  That being said, we do still get the occasional power outages but for the most part they are little more than an inconvenience.  The same cannot be said for solar thermal systems when the power goes out.  Continue reading “Solar Thermal – What to do when the power goes out!”

City of Ottawa – Help for Folks Installing Solar Thermal

The City of Ottawa has a nice new web page that acknowledges the existence of solar energy, and in particular solar domestic hot water (SDHW).  The site, which can be found on ottawa.ca gives information about two different types of SDHW systems: a CSA approved factory packaged system and not factory packaged system.  Both types of installation […]

Failsafe systems for solar hot water

As I mentioned in earlier blog entries, my system has a number of failsafe features to maintain system heat and pressure within tolerable boundaries. In the summer, the system dumps excess heat into the swimming pool, and in the winter it dumps the excess heat into a radiant water heater in the basement. This spring […]

Power Surges and Drops – Causing Electrical Problems?

I don’t know if you have noticed it too, but there seems to be a lot more power outages and surges these days.  I’m not talking about the 20 day variety like the one that hit us during the ice storm, but rather the one and two second ones that seem to come in bunches […]

The Story of Stuff Project – or why did I need this do-dad again?

Want an interesting way to explain to kids how consumer demand is created?  Want to get some interesting facts about bottled water? What to know what cap-and-trade really means and whether it is a good thing or not?  Want to know what all our electronic toys cost the planet? Why not mosey over to the […]

OpenEI Blog: Solar-powered desalinisation

I just ran across this interesting post about a small (1000 gallon per day) and smaller (80 gallon per day) solar-powered desalinization unit that could be deployed quickly and cheaply in disaster zones where potable water is hard to come by and electrical power even harder to come by.  You can read more about it here: […]

Public transportation woes in Ottawa

OC Transpo bus 4067
Image via Wikipedia

OC Transpo doesn’t have enough drivers or busses to make the public transit system work and the busses we do have aren’t large enough to meet demand. We need to address this issue in the short, medium and long terms. The municipal vision for a light rail system is a start because it gives us a glimpse of the long-term vision, but it leaves us with a broken system for the next 20 years. Further, even this long-term vision needs better documentation and communication. Continue reading “Public transportation woes in Ottawa”

So, what solar equipment do I need to buy (part 1)?

 Solar system components

 When you start to think about a solar system, you have to remember that the industry is relatively new in Canada.  It has been used in Europe for decades, but its penetration on this side of the Atlantic has been marginal until recently.  That means that you have to be conscious that some of the product on the market may not have been certified for use in Canada.  The components that were installed in our house and that I will be speaking about below were all CSA approved and the “non-packaged” installation proposal that prepared was certified as compliant with the Ontario Building Code by a professional engineer.

The solar collectors we use in our house are the CAREarth Vacuum Tube Solar Collector SJ Series Heat Pipe Technology.  Continue reading “So, what solar equipment do I need to buy (part 1)?”

But, it’s always cloudy and cold here! What good is solar heat here?

It is a sad fact, but if you don’t get any sun, you don’t get any solar heat.  But even the grayest areas of the country get a significant amount of sun.  Thermomax, a is a Canadian company that uses European technology to provide solar hot water products.  Its web site has done a great job […]

What are we doing to the planet? Watch the film “Home” to find out!

Director Yann Arthus-Bertrand (left) and Co-Pr...
Image from Wikipedia (fair use)

This is a bit of a departure from my past two posts, but I just saw this film and wanted to share the experience…

Ever wondered what makes the planet tick?  Ever wonder whether humanity is really having an effect on the planet and how it works?  Do you have children or grand children?  Want to see some amazing photography and hear some thoughtful commentary on these subjects?  Got a spare 90 minute? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, treat yourself to a breathtaking, if at times depressing experience and watch the film “Home (the movie)“.  Continue reading “What are we doing to the planet? Watch the film “Home” to find out!”