Solar Impulse 2

Swiss pair launch effort to pilot solar-powered plane around globe

Solar Impulse 2A solar-powered aircraft attempting a historic around-the-world journey completed its first leg Monday, landing in darkness in Oman after a flight of more than 13 hours from Abu Dhabi.

The Swiss-made, single-seat plane — as light as a minivan but with the wingspan of a jumbo jet — left Abu Dhabi’s Al Bateen Executive Airport just as the sun was rising. It touched down in Oman’s capital, Muscat — more than 300 miles by air over desert and mountains — with its wings dotted by rows of lights.

“Confirmation: We’re down!” said the commentator on the mission’s official Web site. Applause broke out in the control room in Monaco.

The plane is to leave early Tuesday on its next leg, across the Arabian Sea to Ahmedabad, India.


solar impulse 2

Solar airplane soars to start first-ever round-the-world trip

solar impulse 2An effort to fly a solar-powered plane 20,000 miles around the world began Monday when the Solar Impulse 2 took off from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates.

The relatively short jaunt — just 250 miles (400km), in a 12-hour journey east to Muscat, Oman — is the first leg of a planned 12-stop global circumnavigation, the first by a solar aircraft. The longest segments are five-day trips over the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Those will be the most serious test of the plane’s design, which gathers energy from solar cells then stores it in batteries for overnight flying in the dark.

The project reported no problems with Solar Impulse 2 for most of the flight — but its accompanying chase plane had technical difficulties, and the Web site went offline, too.

Feats of aviation derring-do are as old as the aviation industry, including the Montgolfier brothers’ hot-air balloons in the 18th century and Chuck Yeager’s breaking of the sound barrier in 1947. Such efforts, while risky and sometimes fatal, often serve to advance the state of the art.

new york solar

New York Just Showed Every Other State How to Do Solar Right

new york solarNew York wants to get serious about solar power. The state has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and it’s already among the nation’s solar leaders. New York ranks ninth overall for total installed solar, and in 2013 alone it added enough to power more than 10,000 homes.

While that’s great news for solar companies and environmentalists, it’s a bit of a problem for electric utilities. Until recently, the business model of electric companies hadn’t changed much since it was created a century ago. (The country’s first electric grid was strung up by Thomas Edison in Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the 1880s, and some parts of it continued to operate into the 2000s.) Utilities have depended on a steady growth in demand to stay ahead of the massive investments required to build power plants and the electric grid. But now, that tradition is crumbling—thanks to the crazy growth of rooftop solar and other alternative energy sources and some big advances in energy efficiency that have caused the overall demand for electricity to stop growing. Meanwhile, utilities in New York are also required to buy the excess power from solar buildings that produce more than they need—a policy called “net metering”.

inhofe snowball

Snowball’s Chance: James Inhofe, Meet The Press, And The Climate Debate

inhofe snowballSen. James Inhofe (R-OK) brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to disprove global warming last Thursday. In the climate world, this was the viral equivalent of the seemingly gold-and-white dress that was actually black and blue. Except instead of dividing the world into two camps, the snowball brought universal ridicule to the chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works committee. Cue Jon Stewart.

Even Republicans were horrified. “The weather is changing…. It’s terrible for the Republican Party to look like we can’t acknowledge reality,” said Nicolle Wallace, former George W. Bush communications chief and senior adviser for the McCain–Palin campaign. “But it is moronic to throw snow in the Capitol and say, I don’t know, I don’t think anything is changing.”

Actually, the ridicule of Inhofe was not universal on TV — and I’m not just referring to Fox News. Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet The Press thought it was a “fun moment.” He teased his audience at the start of the show with an Inhofe clip, commenting (transcript here), “Proof that global warming is a hoax? Or just another example of show-and-tell Capitol Hill style.” Yes, those are the only two choices.


world's largest solar

Sunny days: The world’s biggest solar energy projects

world's largest solar

Clean energy is hot.

A groundswell of support for renewable power has sprung up around the world over the past several years, with governments, utilities and corporations racing to deploy or purchase green electricity.

Solar power is among the technologies leading the energy market in new deployments. In the U.S. last year, 36% of all new electric capacity came from solar, and the cost to deploy it has dropped more than 63% since 2010. In many U.S. states and in nations around the world, it’s as cheap to use solar power as it is to buy electricity generated through coal-fired power plants.

Corporations are taking note. For example, Apple last month announced it would invest close to $1 billion in a solar power plant being built by First Solar in California; the move rocketed Apple past Walmart as the largest corporate user of solar power. Venture capitalists, too, are investing in renewables to the tune of $310 billion last year. Put simply, solar power is no longer just the bastion of crunchy granola types and companies hoping to improve their public image.


solar impulse 2

Solar-powered plane takes off for test flight in Abu Dhabi

solar impulse 2The solar-powered aircraft Solar Impulse 2 took to the skies on Thursday for a test flight, days before its departure for its round-the-world voyage.

Si2, the first aircraft able to fly day and night without a drop of fuel, successfully completed its maiden flight in the capital.

For four hours early in the morning, professional test pilot Markus Scherdel tested the aircraft’s performance, taking off from Al Bateen Executive Airport.

Following the initial test flight, Andre Borschberg, Solar Impulse co-founder, chief executive and pilot, conducted a full-day test flight.

They soared above Abu Dhabi landmarks including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Corniche and Eastern Mangroves. The initial results are in line with calculations and simulations.

They were Si2’s first flights following the plane’s disassembly in Switzerland and reassembly in the emirate.

inhofe snowball

Watch Inhofe Throw a Snowball on the Senate Floor to Disprove Global Warming

inhofe snowballDuring rambling remarks Thursday afternoon, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, used a snowball as a prop on the Senate floor. The apparent purpose of this stunt: to show the recent spate of cold weather in the Northeast is a sign that human activity isn’t causing climate change.

The snowball was brought to the Senate floor in a sealable plastic bag.

Inhofe began his speech with the snowball at his side on the speaker’s podium. After he was introduced, he removed it from the bag, held it in his hand, and said, “I ask the chair, you know what this is? It’s a snowball, just from outside here. So it’s very, very cold out. Very unseasonal. Mr. President, catch this.”

Inhofe then underhand tossed the snowball in the direction of Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, who was presiding over the Senate at the time.

net metering opposition

How regulators and legislators make it harder for you to use solar power

net metering oppositionWhen homeowners or businesses install solar panels, state laws ensure utility companies pay for unused electricity that is routed back into the power grid – a practice known as net metering.

Currently, 43 states and the District of Columbia have implemented net metering policies, some of which are more favorable than others, but all of which turn the power grid into a two-way street.

The cost of rooftop solar-powered electricity will be on par with prices for common fossil-fuel power generation in just two years, and the technology to produce it will only get cheaper, according to Deutsche Bank’s leading solar industry analyst, Vishal Shah.

As Americans have warmed to solar power and its ability to reduce electricity bills, utilities are suffering revenue losses and have been seeking ways to recoup that money. Over the past several years, state utility commissions and legislatures have pursued policies that reduce the benefits of adopting distributed solar power systems for homeonwers and businesses.


solar decathalon

Raise the (Solar) Roof: Students Building Solar-Powered Home

solar decathalon
This rendering of the solar-powered home shows what the Solar Decathlon team plans to build. The home features two 400-square-foot modules and a central connector.
Flip a light switch, turn on the TV or open the refrigerator — you probably don’t think twice about the electricity powering your home.

A team of UT Austin students, on the other hand, has spent two years imagining how to power our homes and keep our day-to-day lives running on light from the sun. They’re building a solar-powered house this spring, which they’ll ship to California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in October.

The UT team, partnering with the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany, was one of 20 selected for the competition out of more than 150 teams that applied. Judges will score 10 different contests as part of the competition, from architecture and engineering to the performance of home appliances, affordability and how well the teams market and promote the solar-powered homes.


politics of solar

Solar energy’s new best friend is … the Christian Coalition

politics of solarThe politics of solar power keeps getting more and more interesting.

In Indiana, a fight over net metering — basically, whether people with rooftop solar can return their excess power to the grid and thereby lower their utility bills — has drawn out groups ranging from the state chapter of the NAACP to the conservative TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed) in favor of the practice.

Arrayed on the other side of the issue, meanwhile, are the Indiana Energy Association, a group of utilities, and Republican Rep. Eric Koch, sponsor of a bill that would potentially change how net metering works in the state. The legislation, in its current form, would let utility companies ask the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to include various “tariffs, rates and charges, and credits” for those customers generating their own energy at home.


A 50th anniversary few remember: LBJ’s warning on carbon dioxide

LBJ climateIt is a key moment in climate change history that few remember: This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first presidential mention of the environmental risk of carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels.

President Lyndon Baines Johnson, in a February 8, 1965 special message to Congress warned about build-up of the invisible air pollutant that scientists recognize today as the primary contributor to global warming.

“Air pollution is no longer confined to isolated places,” said Johnson less than three weeks after his 1965 inauguration. “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.”

The speech mainly focused on all-too-visible pollution of land and waterways, including roadside auto graveyards, strip mine sites, and soot pollution that had marred even the White House.


Why More Tea Partyers Are Rallying Behind Solar

debbie-dooleyThe Energy Gang chats with the leader of the Green Tea Coalition about expanding energy choice with solar.

For some conservatives, solar is a big green boondoggle promoted by a liberal president to benefit rich environmentalists.

But for a growing number of libertarians and conservatives, solar is seen as a tool for promoting competition in electricity markets and empowering consumers.

In this week’s podcast, we’ll talk with Debbie Dooley, founder of the Green Tea Coalition and Conservatives for Energy Choice, about why tea partyers are rallying behind solar PV as a way to expand personal freedoms.


Researchers use nanotechnology to increase solar power efficiency

brian-korgelResearchers at UT are working to improve the efficiency of solar panels, which could lead to lower energy costs in Texas, according to Brian Korgel, chemical engineering professor.

Korgel spoke at the UT Energy Symposium on Thursday about increasing access to solar and nanotechnology in Texas.

Korgel’s team is replacing silicon slabs in solar panels with cadmium telluride ink, a new synthetic material made of crystals, because the material is smaller and the crystals absorb sunlight better.


BNEF report

We Have Some Really Good News About How America Uses Energy

BNEF reportWhen you read headlines about how Congress is rife with climate change deniersand willing to vote in favor of a massive oil pipeline that could increase greenhouse gas emissions, it’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the US is headed on global warming. But when you look at some of the hard numbers about how Americans are getting their energy, there’s actually a lot to be excited about.

This morning Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a fat report on the state of US energy, and it’s chock-full of kickass facts and figures that reveal real, tangible progress on reversing the habits that cause climate change. Here are just a few of the most salient bits: