Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nation's Largest Community Owned Solar Array Goes Live in Rifle, CO

Chalk one up for community owned solar! This is another example of folks coming together to generate clean, renewable power. Holy Cross Energy, the Clean Energy Collective, and Garfield County, Colorado collaborated to install a 1,500 MW solar PV array that will supply electricity for about 350 residents. The solar array was installed at the county airport. Here's to adding more community-powered renewable energy to the grid through cooperation!

NREL's Research Support Facility: A Lesson in Sustainability

Credit: NREL
This past week I was fortunate enough to attend CORE's Sustainability Breakfast on renewable energy certificates (RECs) located at the National Renewable Energy Lab's new Research Support Facility (RSF) in Golden, CO. The speakers at the breakfast were engaging and each had a somewhat unique perspective on RECs. The highlight was a full tour of the RSF. This new 220,000 sq. ft. building is a prime example of sustainable construction and energy efficient building performance. The architects also took into account human behavior or the way humans use energy throughout the day in an office building. NREL is targeting a LEED Platinum rating. I hope they get it. Some of the more interesting technologies utilized are:

  • Electrochromatic windows on the West side that automatically tint when a sensor detects direct sunlight,
  • A transpired solar collector that captures warm air, transmits it to a basement thermal mass labyrinth, and then circulates it throughout the building,
  • Lighting switches that force a person to turn them on but automatically shuts them off when they leave the room,
  • Light louvers on the southern windows that deflect direct light to highly reflective interior paint on the ceilings and, 
  • 1.6 MW of solar photovoltaics on the RSF and on the covered visitor parking. 

There is so much more to this building that will serve as a model and inspiration to all future sustainable building construction. We are fortunate here in Colorado to have an incredible renewable energy research laboratory.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

GE Combines Natural Gas, Wind, and Solar

Credit: GE via Technology Review
First off, I must say that I have a minor addiction to MIT's Technology Review. The writers render hyper-techie information into a digestible format that even grandpa can understand. Ok, cool science magazine plug out of the way, we have interesting news from GE. They've created this hybrid solar thermal/wind/natural gas plant. They say that a solar thermal and natural gas combo is nothing new, but the additional element of wind is something new. I think all three of those elements working in conjunction is fascinating. The plant uses renewable solar thermal to help heat the water to create steam to turn the turbine. In addition, the plant uses natural gas to do essentially the same thing when the sun is not shining, and the new element is the use of a wind turbine to supplement electricity generation. As we've discussed before natural gas is a better fuel than coal for use with the variability of wind. This trifecta of fuel for a power plant (two renewable fuels and one fossil fuel) will be a great way to reduce the overall amount of natural gas. GE has announced that they will implement this new technology at a power plant in Turkey by 2015. I can't wait to see the numbers once this thing comes online.

Wishful Thinking

*Before adding PV, wind, or solar thermal to your residential or commercial structure, the first step is to analyze this structure's energy consumption through a professional energy audit. I'd like to see some public education on the importance of an energy audit for any structure. Remember Smokey the Bear's forest fire shtick drilled into our heads over the last few decades? How about something like, "Henry the House" desperately wanting to know how much energy he consumes and wastes throughout the day?

*With over 300 sunny days a year on the Front Range is it too much to ask for solar PV and thermal modules on every residential and commercial unit (after an energy audit of course)?

*How about affordable plug-in electric cars that go more than 100 miles on a charge with PV and wind powered recharging stations?

*Dreaming of companies large and small adopting business sustainability practices to maximize profits, reduce their carbon footprint, and enhance the lives of their employees and the communities that surround them.


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