Stories tagged solar


The World Solar Challenge is a solarSolar powered race car: Source: Panasonic World Solar Challenge image gallery
Solar powered race car: Source: Panasonic World Solar Challenge image gallery
powered-car race over 3021 km (1,877 miles) through central Australia from Darwin to Adelaide. Started in 1987 by Hans Thostrup, this race was held every three years until 1999 when it was switched to a two year event. It's an energy efficiency challenge, all about creating a balance between sustainable speed and endurance, energy management and strategic planning.

Optional new rules require fewer solar cells

Entrants to the 2007 race chose between racing in the Adventure and Challenge classes.

Challenge class cars were restricted to 6 square meters of solar collectors (a 25% reduction), driver access and egress were required to be unaided, seating position upright, steering controlled with a steering wheel, and many new safety requirements were added. Competitors also had to adhere to the new 130 km/h speed limit across the Northern Territorial portion of the Stuart Highway. Click here see more rules.

Dutch Nuon Solar Team wins again

This year the Dutch Nuon Solar Team scored their fourth successive victory with Nuna4 in the challenge class averaging 90.07 km/h under the new rules, while the Ashiya team with their car Tiga won the race in the adventure class under the old rules with an average speed of 93.53 km/h.

World Solar Challenge website
National Geographic video


Solar home design competition

Solar Decathlon: The public flocked to see 20 solar powered homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)
Solar Decathlon: The public flocked to see 20 solar powered homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Credit: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)
The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The event took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 - 20.

To compete, the teams must design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun. The homes must be attractive and easy to live in. They must maintain a comfortable temperature, provide attractive and adequate lighting, power household appliances for cooking and cleaning, power home electronics, and provide hot water. These houses must also power an electric vehicle to meet household transportation needs.

The Solar Decathlon is 10 contests in one

Ten separate contests were scored, then added together to determine the winner of the Solar Decathlon. Each division below is linked to webpage for more information.

Winner: Technische Universitat Darmstadt

This team from Germany came to the Solar Decathlon hoping to have an impact on people, and it's safe to say that this happened. Darmstadt won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. The Architecture Jury said the house pushed the envelope on all levels and is the type of house they came to the Decathlon hoping to see. The Lighting Jury loved the way this house glows at night. The Engineering Jury gave this team an innovation score that was as high as you could go, and said nobody did the integration of the PV system any better. Darmstadt was one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. All week, long lines of people waited to get into this

Learn more about the 2007 Solar Decathlon


A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on
A solar powered telephone: And you thought the Death Star was sinister? Well that never destroyed our planet, so no. (photo by redjar on
According to Dr. Jesse Aubusel, the Director of the Program for the Human Environment at The Rockefeller University, renewable energy isn’t a super good idea. That is to say, he thinks it’s a pretty bad idea.

Using math and numbers, Dr. Aubusel figures that the amount of land necessary for “green” energy sources makes them extremely impractical, especially when compared to nuclear energy. According to Aubusel, were we to flood all of Ontario (900,000 square km), it would only provide 80% of the energy that Canada’s 25 nuclear power stations could produce. I guess that’s the end of my plans to flood Ontario. Or, to provide enough electricity for New York City, all of Connecticut would have to be turned into a wind farm (although, who’s to say that Connecticut would mind). Also, to grow a single pot of basil, it would take more dirt than there is in my whole room. So no basil.

Aubusel, in this article, always brings the issue back to the matter physical space required for renewable energy, and the number of watts produced per square meter. “Nuclear energy is green,” he states. He’s not referring to its radioactivity, I think, so much as to its relatively small physical footprint, and the potential to use already existing infrastructure.

It might seem to some that this is a pretty simplistic way of looking at things, but we should all make sure that we’re doctors before we disagree.

When asked if he could imagine technology that uses and creates energy more efficiently than those he based his research on, Doctor Aubusel states, “No.” When asked if he could possibly try, he replied, “That’s not really my style.”


Solar cells reduce your electric bill, but they are also very expensive to buy and install.  Are they worth it?: Photo by clownfish from
Solar cells reduce your electric bill, but they are also very expensive to buy and install. Are they worth it?: Photo by clownfish from

Some people are installing solar panels on their homes. These panels generate electricity from sunlight. Using the panels will lower your electric bill, and reduce demand from power plants (which often burn coal).
But, are they worth it?

On April 15, the San Francisco Chronicle said yes. They looked at the costs of buying and installing the panels, and weighed it against the benefits (which include getting a tax rebate). They found that, over 25 to 30 years, the average home would save about $33,000.

So, solar panels are a good idea, right? Not so fast! On April 14, the NY Times reported that solar panels never pay for themselves. Even accounting for electrical savings and tax rebates, they are so expensive that you never make your money back.

Well, the two articles can’t both be right. Right? Well, actually, they both seem correct -- but they are based on two very different scenarios:

  1. Different tax rebates in the two states.
  2. More sunshine in California, making the panels more useful.
  3. The panels are almost twice as expensive in NY than in SF.
  4. The NY Times assumed that, if you didn’t spend the money on panels, you’d put it in the bank or otherwise invest it, where it can earn money for you. The SF Chronicle did not take this into account.

So, whether or not solar panels are a good financial investment depends on a lot of factors. Whether they are good for the environment is much easier to answer – they produce electricity without pollution.

In the future, the debate may be moot – scientists are working on new types of solar cells that use nanotechnology, which may bring the costs way down.


California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons
California goes solar: photo from Wikipedia commons

California again leads the way

Almost every September my wife and I stay with some friends in California. Because their house has solar electricity and hot water we are told to not feel guilty about long, hot showers. Their electricity usage is also pollution free.

One million more solar panels

Californians are leading the way by supporting renewable energy. This week they passed a bill, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday, that calls for the installation of one million rooftop solar panels on homes, businesses, farms, schools and public buildings by 2018.

The solar systems would generate 3,000 megawatts of power and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 3 million tons, equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the state's highways and making California the third biggest solar producer after Japan and Germany.
The California Public Utilities Commission in January approved a $2.9 billion program to help pay for the solar program. The money will come from funds earmarked for solar energy and from gas and electric utility rates. Reuters


Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons
Satellite vulnerability: Photo from Wikipedia Commons

One possible solution

The high energy particles spewed out of sunspots can knock out satellites and electric power grids. To prevent this from happening the US Air Force and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have proposed using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from radiation "belts" above Earth and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days.

What are the consequences?

This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up, says Dr Craig Rodger of Otago University's physics department.
“Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system’s design and how it was operated,” he says.
GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. Otego media release

Is it worth it?

Can people like Joe can go without geocaching for a week. Smart bombs also would need to take a breather because they use GPS to find their targets. We are seeing a minimum of sunspot activity right now. Sunspots peak every eleven years. The last memorable blast from the sun was July 14, 2000 so we need to make up our minds before 2011.