The newest benefits perk: Cheap solar power for your home



So your job gives you a 401k match and free pretzels? Cool, I guess — but your employer just got one-upped by a collection of big companies: 3M, Cisco, Kimberley-Clark, and the National Geographic Society just went in on the first corporate bulk solar purchase program. Now, their employees can install solar PV on their homes for about a third less than the national average. Brokered by the World Wildlife Foundation and solar marketplace Geostellar, the Solar Community Initiative program has the potential to reach over 100,000 people.

The WWF began by looking for sustainability programs to match with their corporate partners. “When we started thinking about major barriers for solar it kept coming back to cost and availability,” says Bryn Baker, WWF’s manager of renewable energy. “By leveraging the bulk purchasing power of that aggregate employee base, we tackled both barriers.”

There are a few different ways to use the power of numbers to defray the cost of solar, but until now, group power purchases have always been limited by geography, mostly because of state laws and specific policies applied by regional utilities. This is the first-ever nationwide solar purchase program, and the first to be sponsored by employers.

That bulk buying power, combined with Geostellar’s nationwide pricing program, is what makes the program work. By tapping the pool of 145,000 employees they were able to Read more »

Lockheed Martin To Provide Nanotech-Based Structures For Canal-Top Solar Power Projects In India

by Mridul Chadha 

After Gujarat’s success with canal-top solar photovoltaic power plants, other Indian states are also planning large-scale implementation of similar projects.

Image Credit: Hitesh vip | CC BY-SA 3.0

India’s northern state of Punjab plans to set up 1,000 MW of solar PV projects to cover several kilometres of canals over the next three years. The state government has announced a target to cover 5,000 km of canals across the state. Through this program, the government hopes to generate 15% of the state’s total electricity demand.

Understandably, the construction of canal-top power plants is technically and structurally very different from rooftop or ground-based solar PV projects. The mounting structures for the solar PV modules cannot be heavy, as it could adversely impact the structural integrity of the canal itself. The structures should be easy to work with, as they are to be set up over a slope.

This is where the Punjab government has asked Lockheed Martin for help. The US-based company has entered into an agreement with the Punjab government to develop lightweight mounting structures for solar panels using nanotechnology.

Canal and rooftop solar power projects are the only viable options for Punjab as it is an agricultural state and land availability for large-scale ground-mounted projects remains an issue. As a result, the state government has a relatively lower (compared to other states) capacity addition target of 2 GW.

Earlier this year, the world’s largest rooftop solar PV project, with a capacity of 7.52 MW, was commissioned in Punjab.

As per the agreement between Punjab and Lockheed Martin, the company will also offer solutions for the utilization of surplus crop residue, which the farmers otherwise burn. The government hopes to enhance its biomass-based power generation capacity.

Gujarat was the first to implement a 1 MW canal-top solar power project. The project avoids high land costs and also saves a significant amount of water through the prevention of evaporation. The state is now working to complete a 10 MW canal-top project.


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.