Africa’s Fastest Solar Power Project was Built in One Year

Rwanda, perhaps best known as a once war-torn nation in the middle of Africa, has garnered the attention of clean energy advocates around the globe for constructing the fastest solar power project on the continent. The solar farm, situated in the famous green hills 37 miles east of the capital, Kigali, has a capacity of 8.5 megawatts (MW), That’s enough energy to power nearly 1,400 homes in the United States. For a rural nation like Rwanda, the same amount of energy has a much broader impact. But it’s not the size of the project that has wowed critics as much as the speed. The entire $24 million solar field went from contracts to connection in just one year.

This $24m project is the first utility-scale, grid-connected, commercial solar field in east Africa that has increased Rwanda’s generation capacity by 6%. Photograph: Sameer Halai/SunFunder/Gigawatt Global

From an aerial perspective, the solar field was designed with the shape of the African continent – a symbolic gesture that indicates this move toward clean energy isn’t just for the benefit of the people of Rwanda, but for the future of everyone in Africa. As opposed to a standard solar farm, where photovoltaic panels are stationary, the solar field in Rwanda uses computers to control the angle of the panels from dawn to dusk so that each panel follows the sun, realizing a 20 percent increase in energy conversion.

Rwanda, still very much a developing country, relied on international support to make this project a reality. The government agreed to a joint bid by Gigawatt Global, Norfund and Scatec Solar, which is backed by President Barack Obama’s Power Africa initiative. Construction began in February 2014 and only look five months. The solar farm went into operation in July 2014 and was converting the sun’s rays into usable electricity shortly thereafter.

In a small country – Rwanda is about the size of Maryland – that is primarily rural with sparse energy infrastructure, a solar project like this has an immeasurable impact. The project is built on land leased from the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, whose mission is to care for Rwanda’s most vulnerable children orphaned before and after the genocide 21 years ago. The lease now accounts for the largest portion of the village’s income, and a number of spin-off projects have been launched to provide solar panels to as many as 250,000 individual homes in the region.


Seven Easy Ways to Make Your Home More Energy Efficient


Wasteful energy consumption can cost homeowners thousands of dollars per year. Fortunately, there are many high-scale and budget-friendly approaches to amending this issue and making your home more energy efficient.

The tips below may seem surprisingly simple, at least in terms of how much you can save each year. It’s amazing how far some new light bulbs or a filter change can go toward reducing the cost of your energy bill — especially during particularly hot or cold months.

Here are seven ways to save money on energy costs:

Make Nighttime “Lights Off” Time

A device left on overnight here and there won’t make much of a dent in your electric bill, but consistently leaving your computer on standby or your TV blaring throughout the night can add up significantly. Make a list of devices in your home that consume energy and identify whether they are on during the night. In the instance of a computer, check for energy-saving settings that automatically shut your computer off if it idles for a certain period of time.

Change All Filters

From your air conditioning to your furnace, ensure all systems that use a filter are cleaned regularly. A blocked filter for any of these machines can result in it working harder, consequently using more energy. This is a very simple action, but it can save you money and help your system work much more efficiently.

Landscape With Energy in Mind

During the summer, homeowners can increase energy efficiency by planting trees and plants to serve as shading. If you place them in close proximity to your home’s windows, they can help keep out the heat, so you won’t have to spend nearly as much on air conditiong.

Use Energy-Minded Products

Fluorescent light bulbs use about one-third the energy of standard bulbs. Replacing all your home’s bulbs with energy-saving ones could result in substantial savings.

Update Old Electrical Appliances

Although your budget may not allow for an immediate upgrade, the tips above can help save on electrical costs. Those savings could be used to update old electrical appliances, replacing them with energy efficient upgrades. The impact of a new appliance can be massive. For example, 2001’s top-rated refrigerator uses 40% more energy than today’s top-tier refrigerators.

Insulate Wherever Possible

One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to save on energy consumption is to ensure windows and other locations in your house are correctly insulated. If any unnecessary heat or cold is seeping through cracks or gaps, it’s wasting your AC or heat.

Also, be sure to caulk any doors, windows, holes, and cracks that may be letting cold or hot air seep through. This includes electrical outlets, which are prone to holes since they may lead to outside walls.

Also, if you have a fireplace, it’s advised to install glass doors. That way, chilly gusts don’t enter your living space through the chimney.

Use Ceiling Fans Wisely

Ceiling fans have more power than you may imagine. They spread hot or cold air around considerably, aiding heating or cooling systems to the point where significantly less energy is used.

Run ceiling fans counterclockwise to help circulate cold air back into a room and clockwise for warm air. This is a simple yet effective trick that can significantly increase a heating or cooling system’s energy efficiency.

These seven tips can help you make your residence a more energy-efficient one, in both the cold winter and hot summer months. You’ll start saving money, and you’ll be helping conserve important resources, too.



Amazon Buys More Wind Power for Cloud Data Centers

(Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

By: Yevgeniy Sverdlik

Amazon Web Services, the e-commerce giant’s cloud services arm, has contracted with a wind farm developer for energy from a future 100 MW wind project in Paulding County, Ohio, to offset grid energy consumption of its cloud data centers, the company announced Thursday.

Utility-scale renewable power purchase agreements are becoming increasingly common among hyperscale data center operators like Amazon, its cloud services rivals Google and Microsoft, as well as Facebook, which does not provide cloud services but has multiple massive data centers in the US and Europe to support its user base. This year Equinix also started contracting for utility-scale renewables – something commercial data center service providers, whose customer base includes the aforementioned cloud giants, have traditionally been reluctant to do.

About one year ago, AWS made a commitment to power its operations entirely by renewable energy. The cloud provider said earlier this year that about one quarter of energy it consumed was renewable, and that its goal was to get to 40 percent renewable by the end of 2016.

Amazon’s Ohio data centers are not online yet. In a project announced earlier this year, the company is building data centers in at least three cities in the state: Dublin, New Albany, and Hilliard. It is advertising data center jobs in all three cities plus Columbus, possibly indicating plans for a data center in the state’s capital too.

Its current East Coast cloud data center cluster is in Northern Virginia, a region with one of the world’s highest concentrations of data centers.

The Ohio wind farm will be called Amazon Wind Farm US Central. Being built by EDP Renewables, it is expected to come online in May 2017.

Earlier this year, AWS announced wind and solar power purchase agreements with developers in North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia. It has also agreed to a pilot project in California to use new battery technology by Tesla for energy storage for data centers that host its us-west-1 cloud availability region. The pilot’s goal is to demonstrate an energy storage solution that can address the problem of intermittent energy generation by renewable sources.


Small Changes Could Yield Huge Energy Savings for Gaming PC’s

By Jonathan Keane

Iryna Tiumentseva/Shutterstock

Owners of gaming PCs could be sitting on some massive potential energy savings if they make a couple of changes to their rigs, according to new research from Berkeley National Laboratory.

Evan Mills, co-author of “Taming the energy use of gaming computers,” published in the journal Energy Efficiency, analyzed the aggregate global energy use of gaming PCs, based on industry benchmarking tools and found that PC gamers consume billions of dollars in electricity costs every year.

Gaming PCs only represent 2.5 percent of the world’s PCs, but make up 20 percent of PC energy use. That can cost a gamer hundreds of dollars a year to run their computer (depending on local energy prices). Mills claims that gamers can reduce their electricity bill and reduce global costs by $18 billion by 2020 by making a couple of changes to their settings and opting for greener components without sacrificing any quality or reliability.

“Your average gaming computer is like three refrigerators,” says Mills, who was spurred to investigate gaming’s energy costs when his son and co-author Nathaniel began building his own rig and found a lack of clear labeling on energy use.

Evan and Nathaniel built five gaming computers, each with more efficient component configurations to measure their energy use. They claimed they were able to achieve a 50 percent reduction in energy use without sacrificing performance. Further changes to operational settings on certain components led to further reductions, the study adds.

“When we use a computer to look at our email or tend our Facebook pages, the processor isn’t working hard at all,” says Mills. “But when you’re gaming, the processor is screaming. Plus, the power draw at that peak load is much higher and the amount of time spent in that mode is much greater than on a standard PC.”

The father and son have launched the website to provide information on energy efficient components.

According to the research, there is little information out there for gamers to make the best energy-efficient choices when they are buying or upgrading their systems. They recommend better product labeling, utility rebates, and minimum efficiency standards.


Should you buy energy-efficient appliances sooner or later?

By Marcie Geffner

The average U.S. family spends about $2,200 each year for energy costs, and the use of large appliances accounts for a hefty chunk of that total, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

That means families can save money by replacing old appliances with newer, more energy-efficient models, says Kateri Callahan, president of the Alliance to Save Energy, a nonprofit coalition that promotes energy efficiency.

For those on a tight budget, there are ways to cushion the cost of new appliances.

“You want to be smart and save money, you buy an energy-efficient appliance,” Callahan says.

Buy now or later?

But when should you buy an energy-efficient appliance? Is it thriftier to:

  • Replace a well-functioning appliance now with a machine that’s more efficient?
  • Wait until an appliance dies, and then replace it with something more efficient?

The short answer is that it’s complicated. A longer answer is that it’s usually better to wait until an appliance needs replacement. In the meantime, you should make the home more airtight. That’s a fast way to save money.

Cost versus savings

A new refrigerator, dishwasher, clothes washer, clothes dryer, water heater or other appliance is a major expense. Models that use less energy should cost less to operate than comparable models that aren’t energy-efficient.

Tie together the upfront and operating costs, and you get a conundrum: Do energy-efficient appliances save enough over time to recoup the purchase price?

With payback periods more often measured in years than months, homeowners need to do some research rather than assume the savings will or won’t be significant.

“In many instances,” Callahan says, “it will make a difference.”

Research is also essential to avoid what Callahan characterizes as “missteps” by manufacturers in the marketplace — appliances that save energy but don’t work very well.

When to buy

Generally speaking, caulking and weatherstripping a home pays back faster than new appliances, says David Arkush, director of the climate program at Public Citizen, a nonprofit advocacy organization in Washington, D.C.

That suggests it’s probably not sensible to buy new appliances just to capture the energy savings, especially if you haven’t yet invested in air-sealing and insulation.

If your appliances are operating beyond the end of their normal life span and you’re in the market for new ones, however, Read more »