This solar-powered, glow-in-the-dark, Van Gogh-inspired bike path will blow your mind


People. There’s something in the water in the Netherlands (and no, it’s NOT what you’re thinking). The Dutch just can’t stop putting in solar bike paths. It’s like some sort of virus, only, instead of phlegm, it produces cutting-edge engineering that cuts carbon emissions, encourages people to get out of their cars, and harvests energy for the public.

As if this wasn’t enough, the newest path, located in the town of Nuenen, actually glows in the dark.

The path, which first lit up on Wednesday night, is named after Vincent Van Gogh, who once painted in Nuenen. The head designer was inspired by Van Gogh’s famous painting, “Starry Night,” and was able to make his idea come to life with the help of an innovative Dutch construction company. Here’s Slate with the science:

The path is coated in photoluminescent paint that’s also embedded with small LEDs powered by nearby solar panels. The path essentially charges all day so that it can glow during the night, and it also has backup power in case it’s overcast.

It’s kind of like those glow-in-the-dark stars you used to (OK, still do!) have on your bedroom ceiling: The substance inside them soaks up light during the day so the stars glow bright when the lights go out. Similar concept, only with a tinge more scientific finesse.

You gotta hand it the Dutch: They’re on a roll when it comes to saving the planet with alternative energy — and now they’re making it mind-blowingly beautiful. Nuenen’s path is just the first step towards a longitudinal goal of illuminating solar-powered roads all over the country.

Bartender, we’ll have some of whatever the Netherlands is drinking.



Oh Hey, Ikea Bought Another Giant Wind Farm

By: Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan


image: ankiro

Back in March, we learned Ikea had purchased an Illinois wind farm big enough to power all its US stores. Well, that was small potatoes. Today the company announced its largest investment in renewables ever: The acquisition of a much larger wind farm in Texas.

The new farm will be built in Cameron County, Texas, which sits at the tip of Texas, just over the border from Mexico (it’s actually the southernmost county in the entire US). Cameron is actually the same county where SpaceX has purchased land for a launch site, and it has several other wind farms already in operation. According to Ikea, it’ll include 55 turbines built by the wind energy company Acciona, each capable of generating three megawatts when the farm opens next year.

All in all, the new wind farm is more than 1.5 times the size of Ikea’s other farm in the US, and together, they’ll produce a remarkable amount of power: Enough to power 90,000 homes annually, and more than enough to power its stores. Of course, it won’t be used that way. As we wrote earlier this year, this is part of Ikea’s pledge to go offset its global energy usage by 2020. So while it might be way more than enough power to light up its stores directly, Ikea will sell the power these farms generate to offset its energy footprint overall.

It’s also worth pointing out that Ikea isn’t the only major company that’s buying up wind power: Google bought a huge wind farm in the Netherlands to power a new data center, too.



Solar Panels That Configure Themselves

A new solar power system is easy to add to a roof, and performs its own safety checks.

By Kevin Bullis

Ordinarily, installing and connecting a new array of rooftop solar panels takes days, weeks, or even months because the hardware is complex and various permits are needed. Yesterday, on a frigid day in Charlestown, Massachusetts, researchers completed the process in about an hour.

Homeowners can install the system themselves, by gluing it to a rooftop. The permitting is handled by a combination of electronic sensors and software that communicates with local jurisdictions and utilities.

Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute install novel, flexible solar panels with an adhesive backing and quick-connect cables. Photo courtesy of Fraunhofer | Susan Young Photography

Installation and permit-related expenses currently account for more than half of the overall cost of a new solar power setup. “By simplifying the system so that it’s like installing an appliance, we envision that the soft cost will be virtually eliminated,” says Christian Hoepfner, director of the Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems, which developed the system. Doing so would lower the cost of a typical residential solar installation from $22,000 to as little as $7,500, he says.

“It’s impressive to see how quickly the installation went up,” Fouad Dagher, manager of new products and services at the utility National Grid, said after the demonstration. “It makes it easier for consumers and utilities.”

Solar power can be dangerous if not installed properly. Heavy components may be blown off a roof if not secured properly, and solar panels can produce potentially deadly voltages if not properly grounded, and every wire protected.

The Fraunhofer system uses light, flexible solar panels encased in durable plastics. The panels can be securely attached to a shingled roof via an adhesive backing that anchors the panels even in winds up to 110 miles per hour.

The solar panels use electrical equipment, developed by the startup VoltServer, that breaks DC power into discrete, addressed packets, something like the data packets sent over the Internet. If one of these packets fails to reach its destination—for example, if someone were to touch a damaged wire, the current is instantly cut off, preventing injury—a feat demonstrated by a brave EnerVolt employee at the Charlestown demonstration when he purposely touched an exposed wire on the new solar installation.

The whole system is connected to the grid via a plug similar those used for fast-charging electric cars, which can handle high voltages safely.

Once plugged in, the system performs several tests to ensure it’s safe. Hoepfner says the software probably does the job more consistently than inspectors would. Test information would be sent to the local utility for approval over the Web.

While all the hardware exists now, and will go on sale soon, the automated permitting still needs work. Fraunhofer had preapproved the system with the authorities, who’d had inspected the process ahead of time. Commercialization will require developing new standards for solar power systems.

Homes will also need preinstalled outlets designed for solar panels, similar to the high voltage dryer connections in new homes. For now, installing the outlet will require a trained electrician, though it can be done in just a couple of minutes via a device that can be quickly attached to a meter.

Meanwhile, testing is ongoing to make sure the adhesive will keep the solar panels anchored in very hot weather. Because the panels are flush with the roof, rather than mounted on racks that allow air to flow under them, they get hotter than conventional panels, which also lowers the amount of power they can produce.



Solar power will give you non-stop water during bike rides

If you’re a cyclist, you know the anxiety that comes with running out of water in the middle of a bike ride — the last thing you want is dehydration when you’re miles away from home. Design student Kristof Retezàr may just set your mind at ease, though. He recently developed Fontus, a bike-mounted device that uses solar power to convert air moisture into water for your drinking bottle. The key is its use of thermoelectric cooling. Solar panels generate electricity that cools the top of the device, where air comes in as you ride; as the moisture condenses, it drips water into a bottle below. The bottom stays warm, but that only accelerates the condensation process above.

This is a design exercise at the moment, but Retezàr is looking at both crowdfunding and investors to turn this into a shipping product. It won’t need much refinement to be both cheap and effective, at least. The Fontus prototype cost less than $40 to make, and it actually works best when conditions are at their worst — it produces half a liter (17 fluid ounces) of water in an hour when subjected to hot and humid air. That may not be completely satisfying if you’re extremely thirsty, but it should be enough to tide you over until your next rest stop.



Acer Goes Green, Commits to 100 Percent Renewable Energy for U.S. Ops

by Paul Lilly

Every so often, you hear about a major tech company making strides in going green and/or leaving a smaller carbon footprint. This time it’s Acer America, which today announced an initiative to provide clean energy for its U.S.-based operations. Acer claims it purchased enough green power to offset 100 percent of its carbon emissions from electricity at all U.S. facilities — more than 27 million kilowatt-hours of green power in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs) in all.

On top of the its renewable energy purchase, Acer America has also become an EPA Green Power Partner and is now included in the Green Power Leadership Club, as well as listed on the 100 percent Green Power Users and Top 30 Tech & Telecom partner ranking lists.

“EPA is excited to welcome Acer America Corporation as a Green Power Partner and congratulates them on their No. 24 ranking on our Top 30 Tech & Telecom list of the largest green power users,” said Melissa Klein, communications director of EPA’s Green Power Partnership. “By opting to purchase renewable energy, Acer America Corporation is helping to grow the nation’s clean energy economy and reducing harmful carbon pollution. The company’s impressive commitment to use 100 percent green power serves as an example of leadership for others to follow.”

RECs are used by thousands of U.S. and Canadian organizations as a way to track and trade green power in North America. The RECs that Acer purchased are sourced from a blend of renewable energy types including wind power and biomass — they’ll reduce emissions from Acer’s U.S. facilities through the end of 2015.