Tag Archives: Solar

SolarGaps Launch on Kickstarter



SolarGaps combine venetian blinds with solar panels to keep interiors cools and generate electricity. Easily mounted on the exterior of a property over windows, the SolarGaps smart blinds are a clever solution that’s available to all homeowners, not just those with roofs.

Todd interviewed Erik from SolarGaps at CES this year and as predicted, the products are now on Kickstarter for delivery in September. The campaign seems to be going well, with nearly 95% funding and 23 days to go – I think they’ll hit their target. There are different sizes available but for indicative purposes, a 3′ by 3′ blind costs US$390, which is 50% off the suggested retail price.

As smart blinds, the SolarGaps can do clever things, such as altering their angle to maximise sunlight on the panels, or automatically opening if someone comes into the room. SolarGaps integrates seamlessly with smartphones, Google Home, Amazon Echo, and the Nest Thermostat. It can either feed electricity back into the grid or into a battery system like the Tesla Powerwall. The SolarGaps generate about 100W per square metre.

Looks like a great “gen 1” implementation.


SolarGaps Solar Panel Smart Blinds at CES



The trouble with solar panels is that they take up a fair bit of space, typically on the roof of a property, which means that those living in apartments or condos often miss out on the opportunity to generate electricity from the sun. SolarGaps have a solution to this issue, with solar panels that also work as blinds, both generating power and shielding the interior. Todd talks to Erik at SolarGaps to find out more.

SolarGaps smart blinds are fitted to the exterior (or interior) of windows and automatically track the sun to maximise electricity generation and minimise heating effects. Installation is straightforward and each panel on the outside generates around 100 W-hrs per square meter so a south-facing 3 bedroom apartment could produce around 4 kW per day. As the blinds track the sun, the output is typically 20% higher than the equivalent static photovoltaic pnel. The blinds can be fitted inside too but this reduces the power output.

SolarGaps is launching on Kickstarter in February with a price around US$480 per square metre, rising to around $1000 per square metre when the product is launched, so if you are interested, get in early.

Todd Cochrane is the host of the twice-weekly Geek News Central Podcast at GeekNewsCentral.com.

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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.


Cook Your Food Anywhere with GoSun Stove



GoSunLogoCooking outdoors can present a lot of challenges. You need to have the right equipment and more importantly, the fuel to get your fire started. It’s certainly easier to set up a cookout at home where you’ve got access to nearby utilities. But what if you’re out on a camping trip or a long hike where modern amenities aren’t immediately available? GoSun Stove has the answer.

Scott talked with Patrick Sherwin, founder of GoSun Stove. Patrick talked about two products. The first is the company’s namesake – the GoSun Stove. This stove uses a series of compound parabolic reflectors to maximize solar collection and then use that energy to cook food anywhere. GoSun Stove can make a meal for two people in about 20 minutes. GoSun Stove actually retains the heat it captures inside making it possible to cook on cold or windy days. The second product is the new GoSun Grill which can make food for eight people in about an hour. GoSun Stove is currently on the market for $279 and GoSun Grill is expected to retail for $599 this summer.

Scott Ertz is a software developer and video producer at F5 Live: Refreshing Technology.

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Ford Debuts Solar Energy Hybrid Vehicle at CES



Ford Go FurtherWhen we think of hybrid vehicles, what comes to mind is a car that uses both gas and electricity. Ford has come up with something new.

The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept is the first-of-its-kind sun-powered vehicle. It is a hybrid vehicle that does not depend on a connection to the electric grid for fuel.

The Ford C-Max Solar Energi Concept uses a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass. It directs rays from the sun onto solar panels that have been placed on the roof of the vehicle. As someone who lives in “sunny California”, I am very interested in Ford’s new idea.

Right now, the Ford C-Max Solar Energy Concept is a concept vehicle (as you may have guessed from the name). It takes a day’s worth of sunlight to deliver the same performance that one would get from Ford’s conventional C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid (which draws power from the electric grid). The C-MAX Solar Energi Concept uses renewable energy from the sun.

A quick look at the stats about the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will give you a good idea of what the C-Max Solar Energy Concept is expected to be able to do. The C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid gets an EPA-estimated 108 MPGe city and 92 MPGe highway (which is a combined 100 MPGe).

The C-Max Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions that a typical vehicle owner would produce by four metric tons. Ford has data that suggests that the sun could power up to 75% of all trips made by the average driver of a solar hybrid vehicle.

You can check out Ford’s C-Max Solar Energi Concept at the 2014 International CES. They will be at the Ford book (LVCC North Hall #2222).


Making Solar Pay



I have always been fascinated by the idea of generating my own electric power. Back in late 1998 I installed a solar power system that has sixteen 75 watt solar panels, along with a 4,000 watt power inverter/charger and a bank of expensive deep-cycle batteries.  Mention solar power, and most people think that all of these elements are necessary, including the expensive bank of batteries.

It turns out there is a much better way to think of home solar energy – use solar energy equipment strictly to push power back into the electric company utility grid. Batteries should never be considered to be part of a solar installation unless utility power just isn’t available, say in a remote location. Battery technology is an albatross when it comes to being able to store enough power to meet real-world needs.

If electric grid power is available, there are only two elements necessary – the arrays of solar panels, and what are called grid-tie inverters. In this battery-free scenario, the math of pushing power back to the utility to offset electrical use becomes much more interesting.

Power companies in the United States are required by law to “buy back” consumer-generated power. A grid-tie inverter takes the DC power being generated by the solar panels, inverts it into AC power, and then sends it back directly into the grid via a standard AC power plug plugged in to a regular 110 volt outlet. It is possible to have more than one grid-tie inverters, which also come in different sizes.

The relatively high-end inverter that I have is capable of producing 4,000 watts sustained output. So, if I wanted to push 4,000 watts back into the electric company utility grid, I would need at least two more arrays of solar panels feeding DC current into the inverter.

In my case, the batteries died within about the first three to four years. I simply turned the equipment off and my youngest brother sold the battery carcasses to a battery recycler. The equipment sat dormant until yesterday. A friend that does solar as a hobby helped me check the inverter and get it up and running again. I contacted my electric company and they sent a man out this afternoon to look over and approve my system, an absolutely necessary step. So the net effect is that now whenever there is daylight, the inverter is pushing power back into the grid. Obviously the maximum amount of power is generated when the solar panels are in direct sunlight.

The electric company performed a test of the inverter to make sure that if there is a grid power failure that the inverter automatically cuts off its own output. This is quite critical to the power company, because they want to be absolutely certain that in case of a grid power failure, no user-generated AC current is being fed back into the downed power lines.

I was able to verify that my inverter was pushing power back into the grid by turning off all internal breakers in my house so that no power was being used. At that point I looked at the power meter out on the utility pole and it was actually running backwards! Of course, in normal operation with different things consuming electricity in the house it is unlikely it will run backwards much, but it will be slowed somewhat.

My local electric company is a rural electric cooperative and they actually encourage customers to set up these types of “selling” consumer-generating power systems. It helps them reduce peak demand, thus reducing the need for more electrical generating capacity on the utility’s side. Solar panels are generating electricity at peak capacity when peak demand is likely to occur when air conditioning demands are at their highest.

Can a system like this ever pay for itself? It depends on the initial cost of the equipment, installation expenses, and how long of a payback period you are able to live with. If you can do most of the installation work yourself, then obviously the math works better. Eliminating the batteries really helps the cost come down.

An HQRP 1,000 watt grid-tie inverter sells for $287.95 on Amazon.Com. Aleko brand 75-watt solar panels sell for  $149 dollars each. Sixteen of these solar panels multiplies out to $2,384 dollars. With brackets, wiring and installation let’s estimate a total package price of $4,000, which may or may not be wildly off one way or the other. The 1,000 watt electrical output of the inverter would have to offset $4,000 dollars worth of electricity over a period of years before it would pay for itself, which is likely a long period of years. If the price of the equipment and installation can be brought down, then the payback period shortens.

My electric company will only allow this type of setup to function as an offset. So, let’s say that someone was putting more power back into the grid than they were actually consuming. My power company will never issue a check for the power, so it’s really just an offset for how much I consume. With enough equipment feeding power back into the grid, it would be possible to bring electrical grid usage down to zero.

Many local and state governments offer tax rebates for new solar equipment installations, which could also help mitigate the cost.

The beauty of a battery-free grid-tie solar user-generated power system feeding into the electrical grid is that once it is initially set up, everything happens automatically. Since I already have the equipment and it is long since paid for, I might as well be utilizing it to offset a portion of my power usage.


PowerSkin Charges Smartphones and Portable Gamers



At CES International 2012, PowerSkin has announced new portable power solutions for smartphones and other rechargeable devices. SolarCharge, Key Charge and Gaming Skins are all designed to keep the mobile user going for longer.

PowerSkins SolarChargeThe SolarCharge is a universal charger for all types of smartphone including iPhone, Android and Blackberry, and it comprises a 1000 mAh battery paired with a solar panel in a one-piece housing. The SolarCharge recharges smartphones (and other devices) via a supplied micro-USB connector and other connectors are available for non-standard devices. The battery in the SolarCharge itself is recharged via USB from a PC, via a micro-USB mains charger or from the sun through the solar panel, so there are plenty of options for the mobile user. The blue rubberised skin has embedded LEDs to show the battery’s charge level.

PowerSkins KeyChargeThe KeyCharge has a smaller capacity at 750 mAh and is intended for a quick boost rather than a full recharge. Small enough to fit on a keychain, the KeyCharge only comes with a micro-USB connector and consequently is not suitable for use with iPhones or iPods. Two variants are available to cater for the different positions of the micro-USB connector on smartphones, i.e. side or bottom. As with the SolarCharge, the KeyCharge is recharged via a micro-USB connector, either from a PC or from a mains adaptor.

Also on display at CES will be PowerSkin’s Gaming Skins for iOS and Nintendo 3DS, which were announced in December 2011, along with an array of battery-boosting smartphone skins for all the popular makes.

PowerSkins

PowerSkin’s SolarCharge, $69.99, and KeyCharge, $24.99, will both be available beginning February on www.Power-Skin.com. Visit PowerSkin’s booth at the Hilton Suites, Booth # 28-128.


B-Squares: Modular Solar Powered Electrics



I sometimes think that between KickStarter and Etsy anything that can be imagined, will become reality…

Today’s funding opportunity from KickStarter are B-Squares, a 3D modular solar powered energy system that connects up using magnetic and electrical contacts. There’s solar cell square, a rechargeable battery square, an Arduino square, an LED square and iPhone charger square. The more squares you have, the more you can do.

It’s a project by Jordan McRae and Shawn Frayne, and it’s already been fully funded after just 5 days. There’s various levels of funding that you can go for, from $15 for a single solar square through to 15 squares for $250. There’s further coverage over at cnet.

If you haven’t already appreciated how brilliant these are, just watch the video. Then you’ll get it.


Dexim: Charging Solutions for Your Iphone or Ipod



Dexim offers several quality charging solutions for the iPhone and iPod. The P-Flip Foldable Solar Power which is a solar battery and dock. It allows you to charge and sync your iPhone or iPod using solar power. It takes about 15 hours of direct sunlight to do a full charge. You can also charge through the mini-USB cable that is included. The battery output 5VDC and has an input power of 5V 1000mA.

They also offers a P-flip Foldable Power which charges through the USB cable only and is a little smaller. Both the P-Flip Foldable Solar Power and the P-flip Foldable Power can extend talk time up to 8 hours, music up to 60 hours, video up to 15 hours and gaming up to 15 hours.

The Super Juice Power Case acts both as a case and a charger. It is made for iPhone 4 only. It extends talk time up to 6 hours, 40 hours for music, 10 hours for video. It has a 2000mAH lithium polymer battery. There is a micro-USB cable included which allows you to charge your phone without removing the case.

There is a built-in kickstand and an on/off switch included. If you are looking to save some energy at home you may want to take a look at the Visible Green Charge. When you are charging your iPhone or iPod a blue light flows through the charging cable.  As the charge reaches 65 percent the flow starts slowing down. When the iPhone  reaches a full charge the light flow stops and the charger shuts down. This can save up to 85 percent of the standby power, when your device is not charging. This is a fast and easy way to know when your device has finished charging and save some money while you are at it.

Interview by Tom Newman from Fogview

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GoalZero Portable Solar Charging Solutions!



Green was another big theme again at CES 2011 and GoalZero had a full line of portable recharging products. I have often been skeptical of these types of devices but it is obvious that GoalZero know what they are doing and use a very logical approach to their entire product line. If you want something that will simply charge a phone, or something that will keep a light on all night or charge a laptop they have it and it will scale.

Combining battery storage with solar technology is a great combination and the prices are such that any outdoor person would consider picking up some of their solutions. This is the portable solar powered charging solution that I can endorse without reservation!

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