Category Archives: Green Technology

Pushing Power Back into The Grid



Phase Two Array ResizeI have always been fascinated by solar power. There’s something quite intriguing about the idea of simple sunlight hitting a solar panel and instantly producing electricity.

Home solar systems can take a few different forms. There are power backup systems that require the use of battery storage, as well as systems that allow people the luxury of electricity that live completely off-grid. Today, the most popular form of solar by far is known as grid-tie or Net Metering.

Grid-tie Net Metering

With grid-tie net metering solar power systems, no batteries are used. Grid-tied solar panels feed power back directly into the public electrical grid and can actually make the power meter run backwards. The more solar panels integrated into the system, the more potential power can be fed back into the connected electric grid. Power bills can either be reduced, or in some cases, completely zeroed out, depending on local electric power company policies.Solar Phase One

Solar panels produce DC or direct current. The power grid is AC or alternating current. Therefore, to sell power back to the electric utility, it is necessary to convert the DC power coming from solar panels into AC so it can be fed into the power grid. This is accomplished with DC to AC power inverters.Inverters Resize

I recently visited a home solar system installation where the home owner has been slowly expanding his net metering system over the past seven years. He initially began seven years ago with forty-three 100 watt 12 volt solar panels, placed on top of his workshop.

With this first system, it was necessary for him to run wires down the length of the interior roof to a bank of mounted micro-inverters that needed to be protected from the weather. One of the lessons he learned from this initial installation was that lengthy wires carrying 12 volt DC results in power loss. The longer the lines, the more the efficiency drops. Higher voltages don’t experience as much line loss.

The best way around this problem is to mount weatherproof micro-inverters directly to the backs of the solar panels. Once the power is converted to 120 volts AC, the length of the wires to the grid connection point are somewhat less critical because the voltage is higher.Grid Tie Inverter Resize

With the second phase of his foray into solar, he built a rack on a metal pole complete with a sun tracking mechanism that he built and wrote control software for himself. The rack contains nine higher efficiency 280 watt 24 volt panels with weather proof micro-inverters attached to the backs of the panels.

The weatherproof micro-inverters are of a modular design that can allow additional inverters to be plugged in to the to the system. The rack-mounted system produces as much power as the workshop roof-mounted panels, even though they have less surface area, primarily because they are higher-efficiency panels.Solar Porch Canopy

He is currently working on phase three of his system, which consists of panels that form a sort of porch canopy over the garage door entrance to his workshop.These are also 280 watt panels, each with its own micro-inverter. He is in the process of slowly adding additional panels to continue expanding his overall system capacity.Meter Output

At the moment when I took this picture of the system output meter, the total output was about 5.4 kilowatts.

A great way to learn more about solar panels, inverters and net metering is YouTube. Good search terms include solar power, grid-tie, and inverter.

Many recreational vehicle enthusiasts have developed a strong interest in attaching solar panels and power inverters to their RV’s, which can allow them to have a measure of generator-free and thus noise-free AC power and engage in extended off-grid camping.


Ohyo Folds Bag to Size at Gadget Show Live



Ohyo_400x400Several areas of the UK now charge for plastic grocery bags as a green tax and reusable shopping bags have become very popular. Mind you, carrying round a scrunched up bunch of old bags is never a good fashion statement. Fortunately Ohyo has designed a good-looking accessory which morphs from a pouch to a messenger bag before completely opening up as a shopping bag. Participating in the British Inventors’ Project at Gadget Show Live, I chat with Guy from Ohyo about his thing for folding.

Ohyo Folding Bags

Guy and Ohyo has worked with designer Felix Conran, the grandson of Sir Terence Conran, to create a flexible bag that changes shape to meet changing needs. The bag can be arranged into four different configurations, a tablet bag, messenger bag, a back-pack and a grocery bag. Available in four colours, the RRP is GB£79, but Ohyo are currently running a Kickstarter campaign where you can get in at £59. There’s just two days to go, so get in quick.

Ohyo have a track record in folding things – Guy’s previous invention was a collapsible bottle, which sold over 700,000 units and might be familiar to parents in Britain as it’s been previously sold in Marks and Spencer’s and Boots.


Biomethane Bus sets new Land Speed Record



Reading Buses logoWe don’t usually think of buses as being speedy things. And usually, we don’t actually want them to be going too fast. But a new type of bus, dubbed “Bus Hound” in England, has set a new land speed record for vehicles of its type. What’s even more surprising about this is that the bus is powered by biomethane made from cow manure.

While on a test track, Bus Hound reached a top speed of 76.785 miles per hour, earning it the accolade of fastest bus on Earth. Normally, these types of buses aren’t capable of exceeding 56 miles per hour. But Reading Buses, the company responsible for Bus Hound, made some adjustments to the vehicle in order to give it the 20+ extra mph needed to eclipse the previous record.

Bus Hound is painted with black and white spots, similar to the dairy cows that are responsible for most of the UK’s milk production. This paint scheme is also indicative of the bus’s biomethane system which is powered by fuel that’s created when special bacteria digest cow manure inside a bioreactor. The fuel is then compressed, liquefied, and stored in tanks on Bus Hound’s roof. Biomethane works in a combustion engine in a way similar to natural gas. The fuel is considered to be a green alternative to gasoline because it requires no extraction of fossil fuels from the ground and it also keeps the methane that would’ve happened naturally thru manure decay to enter the atmosphere.

No word yet as to just what Bus Hound smells like when it’s causing by at 56 miles per hour, however.


Safety First with the Babel Bike



British Inventors ProjectSafety (or lack thereof) is one of the main reasons cited why people don’t take up cycling for commuting and with over 20,000 bike accidents in London alone in 2013, it’s a reasonable concern. To prevent the most common cycling accidents, the Babel Bike has been designed for a new era of cycling safety with innovative features​ including a safety cage, seat belts and integrated lights. First shown at Gadget Show Live, the Babel Bike is launching on Indiegogo today, hoping to raise £50,000.

Babel Bike

Babel-Logo-GIFCrispin Sinclair at Sinclair Innovation, founder of Babel Bikes explains, “Our dream is to put a million more cyclists on our roads, and therefore take a million cars off them, and to do that we need to give cyclists their safety back. As a recent report put it ‘If we can tackle the safety issue, we could open the floodgates to a new era of mass cycling participation’, and that is exactly what we hope to do and with the help of the Indiegogo community.”

The bike has a custom-built frame and seat with the rider enclosed in an advanced safety cell and seatbelt restraint. Additional safety equipment includes Front and rear lights, indicators, brake lights and rear view mirrors. No mention of wet weather gear which would certainly help with the other reason for not cycling to work in Britain.

The Babel Bike isn’t cheap at £1,999 for the pedal-powered version and £2,999 for the electric version and if you are interested get in early for the best offers at Indiegogo. Delivery is expected in May 2016.


Voltz Electric Bikes at The Gadget Show



Personal electric vehicles were very much in evidence at The Gadget Show with bicycles, scooters and skateboards all on show from different vendors. Voltz Bikes covered two of these categories; bicycles and scooters.

First up is the Voltz eTrail, an electric mountain bike which was recently road-tested on The Gadget Show itself. With a range of up to 50 miles, the 1.9 kW motor can give some serious “oompf”, technically speaking. Looking over the bike, the attention to detail and component quality is impressive, which is not entirely unsurprising given that it costs around GBP £8,500, which is not cheap.

Voltz eTrail

Next is the brand new eScoot is a electric scooter with a range of 30 miles and a top speed of 20 mph. A range of accessories will be available including the neat trailer shown in the photo below. Also not cheap at £2000 but I could see myself buying one of these or similar – my job requires me to travel between sites that are usually no more than a few miles apart and a vehicle like this would be ideal for those journeys. No worries about parking either! Both the eTrail and eScoot are made in Britain which is great to see in these economic times.

Voltz Bikes Scooter

Dan, who helps make “awesome fun products”, reviews Voltz range with me at The Gadget Show.


Ford Electric Concept Car



Ford LogoTodd takes a look at Ford’s C-Max Solar Energi concept car, which amongst other things, features a solar panel roof that uses a special light concentrator lens similar to a magnifying glass to improve the efficiency of the photovoltaic cells. Ford reckons that a day’s worth of sunshine is enough to charge the hybrid’s battery, which is good for 21 electric-only miles.

This is good news for the environment as it would reduce yearly carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions from the average US car by as much as four metric tons – the equivalent of what a American house produces in four months. This probably assumes a perfect sunshine record and maximum electric mileage each day, but, hey, every little bit helps.

Review by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Xi3 Low Power PCs



Xi3 Corporation LogoDavid shows off Xi3‘s latest developments including the X7A modular computer and the Z3RO Pro. If you haven’t seen Xi3’s offerings before, you need to check them out – they’re small cube-like units totally unlike your normal case.

The X7A is aimed at the power user with a quad core AMD Trinity processor, Radeon graphics, 8 GB RAM, SSD (up to 1 TB) and more ports than you can shake a stick at. The modular part means that in future you’ll be able to upgrade components without replacing the whole unit. Prices start at $1099.

The Z3RO Pro is more budget friendly, starting at $549. With only a dual core processor and 4 GB RAM, it’s more suited to general office activities, but it will run two monitors. The killer feature here is that it consumes only 15W of power.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Switch Lighting LED Lamps



Switch Lighting Co.LED lamps are undoubtedly one of the most energy efficient ways of producing light, but even then the conversion from household AC to low voltage DC creates extra heat that needs to be dissipated. Switch Lighting Co have developed a technique that not only keeps the lamps cool but provides are more natural diffuse light. Todd and Don are illuminated by Gary Rosenfield from Switch Lighting.

Switch’s Infinia lamps are filled with a liquid silicone solution that distributes waste heat throughout the bulb, letting heat leave from a larger surface area. The warm white (2700 K) light is diffused over 300 degrees as well and the lamps can directly replace traditional 40W and 60W bulbs with equivalent Infinia bulbs of only 10W and 6W. The lamps are on-sale now with the 60W bulb available for around US$15 from good retailers nationwide.

Interview by Don Baine, the Gadget Professor and Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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Gigabit Powerline from Trendnet at CES



TRENDnet LogoNetworking over electrical power lines has come a long way since the first HomePlug specification back in 2008 which was was rated at 14 Mb/s. Today network specialists Trendnet have announced a gigabit class, Powerline 1000, with the launch of the TPL-420E2K adaptors.

Trendnet Powerline 1000Based on the HomePlug AV2 standard and using MIMO techniques originally used in wireless data transmission, Powerline 1000 doubles the speed of the previous implementation.

Zak Wood, director of global marketing of Trendnet said, “Trendnet’s TPL-420E2K is designed to easily handle multi-HD streams in a busy connected home.

For the first time, Powerline products use all three electrical wires: the live, neutral, and ground (earth) wires. MIMO technology sends information over the fastest two out of the three available electrical wires. If a user lives in an old home which is not cabled with ground wires, the maximum throughput is reduced from 1,000 to 600 Mb/s.

The TPL-420E2K connects over electrical lines for distances of up to 300 m (a little less than 1000 ft), which is roughly the size of 5,000 square foot home. Powerline 1000 is compatible with existing Powerline 500, 200 and HomePlug AV rated products but when connected to a lower speed adapter, speeds are reduced to the lower rated adapter.

As you’d expected, the communication between the adapters is encrypted and to reduce energy consumption, the TPL-420E2K units go into standby mode when not in use.

The MSRP is US$169 but the Powerline 1000 units are not expected until June 2014. I’m looking forward to testing these already, especially if Trendnet produces an adaptor which incorporates a fast wireless access point.


Device Renewal Forum Certifies Phone Reuse



Device Renewal Forum

With over 2 billion wireless devices (mobile phones) produced every year, the recycling and reuse of these gadgets is an important environmental issue. Todd chats to Perry LaForge of the Device Renewal Forum about how many major companies are now approaching the issue.

The DRF’s mission is “to expand the growth of the device renewal market through the development of a common and branded certification process for renewed wireless devices”, which means that for consumers, a DRF-certified device will have been properly processed, removing any traces of the previous owners data, and confirms that the phone meets the technical requirements for use on a mobile network. Several major companies, such as Sprint, are joining the scheme and for the sake of the planet, let’s hope the DRF is a success.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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