Could the Recent Fire in South Jersey Spell Doom for Rooftop Solar Panels?

Guest Post


Recently in South Jersey, a fire decimated a deli cold storage facility as firefighters were held back from attacking the blaze from the roof. The fear that personal injury would be sustained spurned from the 7000 solar panels that had lined the rooftop and were producing electricity. As the building was destroyed by the fire, it leads one to wonder if this is just the fuel that solar skeptics need to enforce a more strict development of using solar panels on rooftops. However, this could also become a method in which developers could patent an automatic shutoff at the panel to prevent such injuries.

The Power of Light
When you place a small solar panel in your hands, you don’t realize the potential for injury that the device has because a few volts and less than .001 amps wouldn’t penetrate your skin. However, that same panel could be a part of a system that can lead to a lethal dose of electrocution if not respected. This is the cause for concern that prevented Ron Holt, the Delanco Fire Chief, from allowing his firefighters to do what they do best.

Innovative Design Welcome
The technology is there, if we want to improve upon the development of such. How difficult would it be to attach a “circuit breaker” of sorts built right into the panel to cut the power flow? Unlike traditional electrical systems, many solar arrays feed directly into the inverter before being distributed throughout a location from the break box. Since there was no way to shut off power produced from the panels along the roof directly, it became off limits to the firefighters – water is a superconductor of electricity which could charge forward injuring anyone within contact.

Shut it Down
Such a design for a circuit breaker built into panels would need to have a means to trip the cut-off switch. For large panels, it’s common to have several hundred watts of power fueling the structure. Would a shut off switch be practical to assemble per panel, or would this increase the cost even further to damage solar power’s reputation? As the situation within South Jersey is still relatively fresh, it’s only a matter of time before “nay-sayers” speak out against rooftop solar panels.

At the Panel
The reason why this circuit breaker needs to be attached to the panel itself is because of the amount of power that each one can deliver. If the shutoff point was inside the facility, the panels would still be producing power along the lines from the switch back to the panel itself. As panels are tied in to each other, a single weak point in the cabling could complete the circuit sending a great deal of electricity along the water.

Other Instances of Fire
New Jersey isn’t the only state experiencing complications when dealing with solar arrays. In Pennsylvania, the Owen J. Roberts High School experienced $50,000 in damages from a fire recently as well. Although the cause is still under investigation, it originated at the solar panels the school has installed above the cafeteria. While this could be just coincidence, it will only add to the argument of the dangers of harnessing the Sun’s light.

Will it Burn?
While there is a growing fear within communities about solar panels causing fires, it is still a rare occurrence. Some facilities generate a great amount of energy annually and have never experienced a problem of any kind. The Jersey fire wasn’t caused by the solar panels, but they did hinder the extinguishing of the blaze. Improper installation of electrical devices could cause wire shorts to create a fire, but you take the same risk when running a new power line from the breaker to a new socket.

There is no doubt that someone is working on a patent for an automatic shutoff valve that is cost efficient to make. The question is how much more will a panel cost in order to benefit from this feature? The answer depends on how detailed the shutoff switch is designed. It needs to be something that can be turned off remotely for shimmying on a roof during a fire may not be the most ideal situation. If a way to prevent personal injury during a fire cannot be feasibly obtained, panels could begin to see a great deal of negative flack by communities harming future advancements.

Author Bio:
This post is contributed by Linda Bailey from She is a Texas-based writer who loves to write on the topics of housekeeping, green living, home décor, and more.

Farm Turns To Solar Power


With an ever-increasing electric bill, one Iowa farmer decided to take a green approach to fix his problem.

Alan and Maureen Jensen of Exira decided to invest in a growing trend, tapping the very same power that helps their crops grow.

The Jensen’s have been farming for decades. They farm 2,400 acres of corn and soybeans and raise 9,000 hogs. However, the bills that come with such a big operation started to add up.

“We use a lot of electricity with all the livestock and the grain that we have to handle and we kept seeing the rates go up higher and higher, almost to the point where it`s unaffordable,” says Alan Jensen.

The Jensen’s were seeing their electricity bill average $1,000 a month and they knew that number would keep rising.

“We started looking at different ways of making our own electricity and it`s good for the environment and it`s sustainable,” says Jensen.

They turned to solar power and installed a nearly 36 kilowatt solar array.

Three months later, they are already seeing the benefits.

According to the Energy Information Administration, the average Iowa home uses 900 kilowatt-hours a month. The Jensen’s were using more than 4 times that at 4,200 kilowatt-hours. Their new solar panels are producing an average of 5,300 kilowatt-hours a month. The extra electrons go back to the grid and can be used when the family needs it.

“We are building credits, because this Fall, all the corn drying fans will start blowing a lot of air. We`ll start using a lot of kilowatts and we`ll probably start working those credits we built up back down,” says Jensen.
Wind and Solar Specialists out of Alta, Iowa installed the solar array.

“It will produce year round, even on a cloudy day like today it`s still producing electricity,” says President of Wind and Solar Specialists, Rob Hach.

Hach says the Jensen’s are like many farmers turning to sustainable energy to sustain the farms future.

“The cost of the power keeps going up and as the bills keep getting higher and higher, I think this is the way to go,” says Jensen.

The Jensen’s say they haven’t paid an electric bill in two months.

However, the cost of installing a solar array can range from $20,000 to one million dollars.

The Jensen’s farm is the largest solar array privately owned in Iowa.


The 21st Century Economy Will Be Urban, High Tech, and Green

In my experience, even very sharp business leaders tend to misunderstand three facts when thinking about climate change.

The first is how much action we need to take. We’re used to hearing that we’ll need to reduce our carbon emissions by some percentage. The blunt reality is that to avoid catastrophic climate change, humanity needs to essentially eliminate all emissions. Rather than reducing our pollution by 20%, 50% or even 80%, we’ll need to, as the wonks say, “zero out” our emissions.

The second is how fast we’re having the need to act forced upon us. Previous goals, set when we knew much less about climate impacts and were more sanguine about early action, tended to focus on distant dates — for example, you still often hear that the figure that the U.S. will need to reduce its climate emissions 80% by 2050. We don’t have that kind of time. In order to avoid temperature rises that would be totally catastrophic to the global economy (not to mention humanity itself), we need to begin rapidly reducing global emissions by the end of this decade.

With better science, we’ve come to understand both the likely risk of raising the planet’s average temperature more than 2ºC, and the consequent necessity of not accumulating more than an additional 565 gigatons of CO2 in the atmosphere. Given our current rate of emissions, we’ll need a sharp slope towards a “carbon zero” world in order to stay within that budget. Hence the need to stop emitting and do it quickly.

But there’s a third fact many business leaders don’t always see: how much money there is to be made in this transition to zero. Climate action is the next great boom opportunity.

Quickly getting to carbon neutral societies cannot be achieved by tinkering at the margins. Up until recently, there’s been a kind of consensus image of what action on climate might look like: a pastiche of wind turbines, electric cars, green shopping and LEED buildings.

Such steps are insufficient: indeed, the climate action we need involves innovating at a systems level, not just improving the performance of the components of that system.

Take cars. Auto emissions — their manufacture and tailpipe emissions, together with the emissions created by the infrastructure, land use and businesses designed to support their use — make up the largest single source of greenhouse gasses in the U.S.

But the solution to the problem of car emissions will not be found under the hood: even the best cars we can imagine would be unsustainable in an unchanged context of auto-dependent sprawl.That context, though, can change. Indeed, it already is changing, and rapidly.

Compact, walkable neighborhoods are in high demand now, and it’s probably the best-proven finding in urban planning that dense communities use less energy on transportation and require fewer cars and less infrastructure to meet the needs of their residents. New housing growth that fills out existing communities, instead of creating more exurban sprawl; investments in walkability; improvements to mass transit; all of these not only dramatically shift driving needs, they improve quality of life. Rebuilding cities will cut auto emissions much faster than technological innovation in the auto industry. And we’re entering a city-building boom, both in the U.S. and internationally. Climate, energy and resource issues guarantee that those cities will not work as they do today.

Those ecological pressures mean many other systems within cities will be transformed. Buildings, for instance. Buildings themselves are not just being designed with greater expectations of innovation — for example, the Passivhaus design standard, which can reduce energy costs by up to 90% — but are being designed for consumers who use urban systems differently. Consider the increasing number of single-person households; singles tend to spend much more time out and about, and as a result we see the rise of micro apartments from New York City to Hong Kong. Or consider changing forms of urban consumption, which tend to emphasize having access to things rather than owning them (think of the difference between a gym membership and owning a home gym, or the difference between owning a stack of DVDs and streaming movie rentals online). Buildings in a low-carbon city are not becoming just lower-emissions, but a different kind of product.

Our cities will work very differently for other reasons, too — one that are not primarily ecological, but technological. Your walkshed is the area around you that you feel is within reach by walking. Walkshed technologies are those mobile technologies and distributed sensors and systems that surround a person on foot with a sea of information and access. Already, walkshed technologies mean:

– never getting lost (as long as we can pull up a map on our phone);
– knowing the timetables of services (from passing streetcars to open tables at restaurants);
– being able to see how your peers have rated and responded to the businesses and places around you;
– having access to a host of instant and delivered services;
– socializing and sharing information in networked and spontaneous ways;
– being able to quantify and predict and enhance the performance of urban systems, what some have called the “smart city.”

There’s more to come, though, much more, as walkshed technologies are gaining the power to do two really remarkable things: facilitate new patterns of association and collaboration, and make useful our surplus capacities. We see the former in trends like co-working (like The Hub), distributed employment (like Taskrabbit), new civic associations, data-driven and member-fueled political campaigns, even online dating. We see the latter in the explosion of sharing services, like car-sharing (like ZipCar), space sharing (Air BnB), tool libraries, and even “pop-up” stores turning empty spaces into profitable businesses on the fly. All of these changes undermine business models we’re long assumed were stable — and give rise to lucrative new business models.

Here’s the kicker: in this climate-friendly, new urban boom, there’s money to be made. Lots of money. Entire business categories are coming into being. Who took seriously car- and ride-sharing services as profitable businesses ten years ago? Who thought fifteen years ago that urban multifamily would be the next boom housing market? Who twenty years ago believed that green building would become not a good deed but an industry standard? The changing reality of cities in the age of climate consequences is throwing aside whole systems we’ve taken for granted and in their places are springing up new opportunities.

Climate change is not good news for any of us. But because of the massive size of the trends involved — eliminating carbon emissions across a vast global economy, rebuilding and reengineering the cities that at least seven billion people will likely call home by 2050 — the scales of those new opportunities are almost inconceivable.

The potential upside of climate action dwarfs even the great success story of the last 20 years, the rise of the technology industry. Companies can seize these opportunities, if they learn to see the landscape ahead through a new lens of climate necessity magnified by new capacities. This is not about corporate sustainability. It’s about fundamental focus. Our world is not what it once was: the situation is more serious, the timing is more pressing, and the fortunes to be made are more astounding. Climate neutrality is not a characteristic of the 21st century economy. It is the 21st century economy.


Gamesa supplies first low-wind turbine

Gamesa has signed an agreement to supply of 20 MW of its new G114-2.0 MW turbines, which are designed to yield more power at lower cost at medium and low-wind speed sites.

The turbines will be installed in the Big Turtle wind farm being developed by Heritage Sustainable Energy in northeast Michigan (US). The deal includes a 12-year operation and maintenance services agreement.

The Gamesa G114-2.0 MW wind turbine has low power density and a rotor spanning 114 m, which gives it a sweep area 38% greater than that of the G97-2.0 MW, while it produces 20% more energy a year.

“The G114-2.0 MW is the most competitive turbine in its segment anywhere in the world,” claimed José Antonio Malumbres, Gamesa chief technology officer. “Its development represents a significant evolution of the 2 and 2.5 MW turbines that will produce a major game changer in terms of significantly lowering the cost of generating power from wind.”

“Delivering a low cost of energy is one of the key drivers behind sustained growth in the wind industry,” said Gonzalo Onzain, vice president of sales for Gamesa in the US. “Our G114-2.0 MW model represents an important milestone in the evolution of an already proven technology. Its significantly higher capacity factor reduces the cost of energy by 10 per cent and will help keep electricity prices down in Michigan.”

The ten G114-2.0 MW turbines are scheduled for delivery mid-2014, while the facility is slated for commissioning towards the end of next year. Heritage has already secured a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with DTE Energy under which the latter will buy the power produced by the new wind farm for the next 20 years.

Gamesa has already installed 28 MW of turbines at Heritage’s Garden wind farm, also located in Michigan.


Plug & Play Solar Power Systems Growing In Use In US, Thanks To SolarPod

Plug & Play Solar Power Systems Growing In Use In US, Thanks To SolarPod (via Clean Technica)

If you’re a long-time reader of CleanTechnica, you might recognize the name SolarPod*. SolarPods are modular, plug & play solar power systems developed by Mouli Engineering. I think we first wrote about SolarPod back in April 2012, and then followed…

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