Flexible solar panels

A company in Germany (of course!) has invented flexible solar panels made from small, organic molecules on polyester films. They weigh a lot less than traditional solar panels, and they can generate just as much electricity! Solar energy is best collected in sunny and cloudy conditions.

Heliatek, the start-up company, has produced some proof-of-product demos, but they need a lot more money in order to build a larger (but still small) production factory. This little company needs a huge supply in order to make their product cost less. (Remember those good ol’ supply and demand laws you learned in macroeconomics? Here they are.) Currently, the flexible panels cost more than traditional panels, but as they sell more, and build a bigger factory, the cost of flexible panels could drop to 40-50 cents per watt!

A few other incentives for Europeans to start buying these panels

  • Builders won’t have to buy the heavy metal hardware to hold traditional solar panels.
  • The panels can be incorporated into concrete facades, not just windows.
  • Soon, policies in Europe will require buildings to produce as much electricity as they consume. (What!? That’s a great policy!)
  • They’re like tinted windows, only these ones produce energy.

It sounds like these will initially be sold to industries, not so much to individual consumers.

They need to become a little more efficient, but they have serious benefits to the future of solar power.

Heliatek’s complete panels (a panel is a collection of cells wired together) convert 8% of the energy in light into electricity (polymer solar panels are 3% to 5% efficient). Conventional silicon solar panels are 14 to 15% efficient, but the Heliatek technology’s good performance in low light  and high heat can make up for the lower efficiency.

Every little bit helps.

Thanks, Mashable, for this exciting story.

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Celebrate Earth Hour tomorrow

Saturday night, we will celebrate Earth Hour by turning off all (non-essential) lights from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.

More than 5,200 cities and towns in 135 countries worldwide switched off their lights for Earth Hour 2011. –EarthHour.org

Earth Hour raises awareness of energy consumption. More importantly, it shows you that you don’t need all the lights on all the time. So, light a candle and enjoy a quiet hour in honor of the Earth.

Will you unplug?

Today is the National Day of Unplugging. It started last night at sundown and goes until sundown tonight. (I missed it, so maybe I’ll try it tomorrow.) The idea is to get away from our glowing screens and reconnect with each other.

Shut down your computer,” the pledge states. “Turn off your cell phone. Stop the constant emailing, texting, tweeting and Facebooking to take time to notice the world around you. Connect with loved ones. Nurture your health. Get outside. Find silence. Avoid commerce. Give back. Eat Together.”

Can you live without your phone? Twitter? Facebook? Blogging? Email? Shopping? Pinning?

I’ll admit, I’m hooked on Twitter and Instagram, and my iPod is basically an extension of my hand. But I took the Facebook app off my iPod, so that’s no problem. Email, phone, shopping… easy to avoid for a day. Sadly, I have papers to grade and they’re all on the computer. Maybe I’ll pledge discipline to get those papers graded (without my online distractions extending the process) and spend more time with my family. I can make that pledge. Tomorrow.

Do you ever unplug?

Charge your electric car at Walmart

Electric vehicle charging stationDrivers of electric cars can charge their car for free at the Easton Walmart. The store recently opened the first public charging station in partnership with American Electric Power. More charging stations are popping up around Ohio as electric cars like the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf become more popular. American company, ECOtality (pretty cool stuff there!) provided the charging stations. –Columbus Dispatch

Walmart is also trying to innovate its shipping fleet with hybrids, biodiesel, etc. They estimate they could save $300 million.

Plastic bottle light bulbs

When people build shantytowns and impromptu housing (as millions do around the world), it’s hard to get sufficient light inside because of lack of electricity. So, people live in the dark or have to go outside to see anything. Solution: plastic bottle light bulbs.

Liter of Light takes empty pop bottles, fills them with water and a little bleach (to prevent mold), and installs them in the roofs. The result is similar to solar light tubes and it allows people to have light in their homes throughout the day, without electricity.

Good.is explains how it works: “plastic bottles refract the sun’s rays, scattering about 55 watts of light across a would-be pitch black room.”

(The video on Liter of Light is even better!)

Summer heat

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hot sun

It’s hot hot hot in NE Ohio. We talked about tips last summer. Here are some more.

  • #1 recommendation – never ever leave your dog in the car. Ever. The temperature in the car can quickly rise to over 130 degrees, even if the outside temperature is in the 70’s.
  • How to prevent/treat heat exhaustion.
  • Wet your clothes, like the sleeves of your shirt, to stay cool. But don’t waste water – a little water should do the trick.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • Use your stove less. Grill your dinner, or make cool meals during hot summer days. Using the stove or oven will heat the whole room, sometimes prompting the A/C to kick on and waste energy.
  • Use peppermint soap or lotion. Peppermint on the skin has a very cooling effect. (think IcyHot or BioFreeze)
  • Go to the library. Chances are, the A/C is blasting in there. Learn and cool off at the same time!
  • Remember, it’s summer… it’s ok to be warm. Turn down the A/C to save energy and money. You’ll also feel cooler when go you somewhere that is air conditioned.

Wikihow

Meet the push mower

Meet my push mowerA few years ago, we had a regular gas lawn mower, but I couldn’t start it, which was a problem when my husband traveled. So, we bought a push mower and we love it. Love! Ever since we brought it home, we both “offer” to mow the lawn. It goes a little like this: “I’ll mow the lawn, honey.” “No, that’s ok. I’ll do it.” “No, really, I can mow it. You just relax.” “Ok, but I get to mow next time.”

It’s so fun! You can smell the fresh cut grass (not gas), and the blades make a lovely whirring sound. If we had a slightly bigger yard, we would probably have to stick with the conventional mower, but for our little yard, it’s perfect.

TV Update

We’ve touched on TVs in the past, but the digital switch is coming soon, so I thought a review would be good. (A delay has been approved by the Senate with a house vote expected soon) The most important thing to remember is that you don’t have to buy a new tv.  If you have a very old tv that doesn’t have a digital input, you have several options…

  • Sign up for cable
  • Sign up for a dish (DirecTv or Dish Network, etc)
  • Buy a converter box. You can even get a rebate from the gov’t.

If you must buy a new TV, keep in mind that of the new options, LCD is preferable to the environment over Plasma screens. Plasmas use so much energy that new energy standards being considered in Europe may effectively ban plasma screens. In fact, I read that a plug in car uses less energy than a new plasma tv.

Slate has a great article about tv technology. It turns out that my old CRT (the old fat tvs) might use as much energy as a plasma. Yikes! Still, it’s best to let it die than to contribute to the new-product-production by buying a new one. When I do, I’ll get an LCD screen.

Home Depot will recycle your CFLs

Home Depot announced that all of their stores will have a collection point for compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). This is great news for those of us who have made the switch to CFLs to cut down on our carbon output, and our electric bills!

CFLs contain a small bit of mercury, which poses a problem when the bulbs are improperly disposed of.

Home Depot will accept any maker’s bulbs, no matter where you bought them. There are plans in place for other recycling systems for CFLs, but this convenient option offers a consistent drop off point and removes the burden from the consumer to find another solution. (75% of the nation’s homes are within 10 miles of a Home Depot – yikes!)

So, take your used CFLs to Home Depot when they burn out (in about 7 years) so they can be recycled.