University creates “World’s First Walkable Solar Panel Pathway”

By Ben Coxworth

The university’s first-of-its-kind Solar Walk (Photo: The George Washington University)

We typically see photovoltaic panels up on roofs, as they’re broad, open surfaces that receive a lot of sunlight. You know what else spends a lot of time in the scorching sun, though? Sidewalks. With that in mind, a team at Washington DC’s The George Washington University has created what is claimed to be “the first walkable solar-paneled pathway in the world.”

The 100 sq ft (9.3 sq m) rectangular Solar Walk was made using walkable PV floor panels manufactured by Spanish tech company Onyx Solar. Designed to be walked on, each solar energy-harvesting panel has an anti-slip surface and can support a load of up to 400 kg (882 lb).

The path, designed to demonstrate the capabilities of the technology, incorporates 27 of the translucent panels which together have a peak capacity of 400 watts. That’s enough to illuminate an array of 450 LEDs that light the pathway at night, shining up through the panels from beneath. It also includes a trellis that hosts additional solar panels on top.

Studio39 Landscape Architecture built the Solar Walk, which can be found on the George Washington’s Virginia Science and Technology Campus.


Solar Power Coming To Airplane Windows?

by Pete Danko

No, the idea isn’t to power commercial air travel with photovoltaic solar – that’s being left that to super-lightweight, experimental efforts like Solar Impulse.

Nevertheless, a French collaboration this week plans to unveil a new way of bringing solar power to aircraft, with a photovoltaic window. The pitch is that it can automatically adjust the amount of light shining into the airplane without any complicated connection to the plane’s electrical system, while also potentially producing and storing energy that can be used for lighting and charging.

Image via Vision Systems Aeuronautics

The solar-powered airplane window comes from Vision Systems Aeronautics, working with SunPartner Technologies and its product called Wysips Glass.

That incarnation of the technology works by layering a thin, photovoltaic surface with a network of micro-lenses, which renders the crystal PV cells invisible. Folks at Engadget who tested the mobile-device technology earlier this year seemed to suggest the not-quite-transparent transparency and fairly scant charging ability still left something to be desired. The company, continuing to work to improve the technology, “is optimistic that Wysips Crystal will be ready for prime time at some point next year,” according to a new post on the Smithsonian Innovations blog.

Wysips Glass, meanwhile, promises 60-90 percent transparency, with up to 30 watts per square meter of power production. That’s more than enough power, Vision Systems says, to allow the electronically dimmable windows to run on their own.

“Drawing its electricity directly from either solar or artificial light, Energia no longer needs to be connected to the aircraft’s electrical system, saving money on the miles of cabling and hours of maintenance with traditional systems,” the company says. The diagram of the window provided by Vision Systems indicates a battery to store energy, which apparently could be used to plug in and charge.


Next Year, Your Smartphone Might Actually Charge Itself Using Solar Power

Credit: SunPartner Technologies

Tired of budgeting how much time you spend using your smartphone? Wouldn’t it be great if smartphones could just simply recharge themselves?

Well, perhaps as soon as next year, they will. That’s the tentative time frame that French startup SunPartner Technologies hopes to finally bring to the consumer market its Wysips Crystal technology, which overlays “invisible” solar cells onto the smartphone display. The company claims that Wysips, which stands for “What You See Is Photovoltaic Surface,” can capture energy from any light source, natural and artificial, indoor and outdoor, and convert it at a rate of 15 to 20 percent efficiency. This translates to an additional 1o minutes of talk time for every hour the cells are exposed to light. And the kicker is that the company assures everyone that human eyes won’t even notice the thin layer of solar cells that’s embedded into the touchscreen.

“We’ve had users test out prototypes with the latest version of Wysips and they were pleased with how it worked,” says Matthieu de Broca, SunPartner’s Marketing and Sales Director for Wysips.

The material, comprised of photovoltaic crystals, is made invisible through a process that bonds the tiny cells with optical micro-lenses. De Broca says researchers are continually working to refine the technology, noting that in some cases, it may be possible to reach 92 and even 95 percent transparency (Wysips has reached 90 percent). However, the drawback with improving clarity is that doing so requires decreasing the amount of solar cells used. The challenge then is to find the right balance to ensure that the feature works as a useful addition while also not taking away from the user experience.

Engadget blogger Sean Cooper tried out demo products modified with the the 90 percent transparent film back in January and felt at that time the “invisible” claim was still a bit of a misnomer. “Honestly, the demo sets available were pretty worn out looking,” he wrote. “Though the overlay spoke for itself in that it was still visible at extreme angles but barely when viewing straight on.”

Still, de Broca is optimistic that Wysips Crystal will be ready for prime time at some point next year. SunPartner is already in talks with Chinese electronics giant TCL Communications to develop smartphone consumer models that include Alcatel One Touch phones. TCL Communications is the seventh largest mobile phone company and de Broca estimates that mass-produced integration of the technology would only cost manufacturers an additional dollar or two, which he thinks is reasonable since he doesn’t expect the technology to replace the need for charging devices.

“Wysips is more like a supplementary feature, so it won’t compete with existing technology,” he adds. “All we’re doing is just making smartphones smarter.”


Air Force Pilots New Solar Power Storage System

Air Force Pilots New Solar Power Storage System (via Clean Technica)

In yet another demonstration of the US military’s transition to renewable energy, the Air Force Research Laboratory is eyeballing a computer center in Hawaii to demonstrate an advanced system for collecting, storing and using solar power. The aim…

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The Path To A Net-Zero Water Building Using Reclamation Strategy Steps

Water harvesting is no different than renewable energy – opportunities abound in buildings to capture a free resource and turn it into an economical solution.

The key is to have the right systems in place. But what if the only water you could use had to be collected solely from rainstorms and recycled from your restrooms? Would your water habits change if you were responsible for treating all of your sewer excess? A net-zero water building is an innovative strategy that pushes your building to be fully responsible for generating its potable water needs and treating all discharge waste.

“Net-zero water turns your property into a self-sufficient water resource,” explains Amanda Sturgeon, vice president of the Living Building Challenge. “On the supply side, all of your water must be either harvested on-site or sourced from a closed-loop system. For discharge, no water leaves your project site through city pipes – all waste water is treated and reused or infiltrated within your property. Net-zero water means you’re living within your means of what your site can both provide and clean.”

It sounds like an extreme approach, yet aging infrastructure costs may push more and more responsibility on facility managers to meet their own water demands. The Bullitt Center is one of the first buildings in the U.S. to pursue net-zero water. While net-zero water is technologically feasible for existing buildings, costs are another matter, as are square footage limitations and code complications. This approach is best suited for new construction, where space can be set aside from the onset for storage tanks, additional piping, and filtration systems. FMs in existing buildings can nonetheless steer their facilities toward water independence with a host of conservation strategies that capture, process, and recycle this natural resource. Improve your bottom line and your sustainability commitments with these five strategies that reclaim greywater and stormwater.

Manage with Meters

Water meters are just as critical as energy meters to understanding consumption habits. While main utility meter reports how many total gallons are used, it doesn’t break down loads among occupant, mechanical, and irrigation needs. A typical building may consume equal volumes between these areas, but pool areas, dining facilities, or laundry machines are major variables.

You can expand your submetering to virtually any space or system that consumes water on the property, recommends the EPA. These can include individual tenant spaces, cooling towers, HVAC systems, steam boilers, irrigation, water features, pools, and industrial processes. “Once you have metering in place, you can understand what your systems are doing at any given moment, trend this data, and make adjustments accordingly,” notes Jeffrey Kling, a mechanical engineer with Gibbens Drake Scott, an MEP design firm.

As with any improvement project, you need to capture a before and after picture. This type of granular usage data will help you determine the feasibility of different systems, model diversion rates, and verify savings. This information may direct whether you want to focus on a harvesting solution like greywater capture or a conservation measure such as faucet aerators. It may seem like a given to focus on low-flow fixtures, but if your irrigation needs are your largest consumer of water, you could see greater returns by focusing on rainwater harvesting.

Leaks can also represent a huge source of water waste within a building, yet without metering they can be hard to detect, according to WaterSense, a product labeling program offered by the EPA. A sweating toilet may seem like a low priority, but a unit that’s leaking 0.5 gallons per minute could add up to over 21,500 gallons a month. Using an average rate of $8.25 per 1,000 gallons of water, that’s over $2,000 a year for a single malfunctioning toilet.

Any harvesting system should also have meters – it’s imperative to know how much water you can viably collect, treat, and recycle. As with renewable energy, your water “generation” is typically dependent on weather events, seasonal demands, and in the case of greywater, occupant habits. The same fluctuations also impact when and where you can distribute treated water. Irrigation and cooling demands are likely higher during certain months, whereas flushing volumes probably maintain constant levels. These potential end uses for recycled water Read more »