A Green Conversation with White House Correspondent Paul Brandus

July 24th, 2015

The SolarTown interns discussed the direction of renewable energy in the existing political climate with award-winning White House Correspondent Paul Brandus. Brandus, the founder of @WestWingReports, has over 200,000 followers on Twitter and is scheduled to release a new book in September entitled Under This Roof: The White House and the Presidency. Once we made our way to Chop’t, ordered our food, and sat down, we had the opportunity to explain each of our summer projects to Brandus and get his input on where renewable energy fits into politics at the White House.

Brandus with SolarTown interns Max Venezia, Naomi Rogoff and David Edelman (not pictured: Madeline Koelbl)First, Brandus reminisced on one conversation he had with a young Senator Barack Obama about his plans to put solar panels on the White House, if elected president. Once that Senator was elected, however, Brandus would ask the president for updates on the White House solar panels and the President would report back: “We’re working on it”. Five years later, the solar panels were finally installed on roof of the president’s residence. “Everything moves slowly here,” said Brandus.

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The Japan Experience: The Earthquake that Gave a Jolt to Solar Energy

July 22nd, 2015

There was very little good that came out of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan. The disaster did, however, cause Japan to rethink its dependency on nuclear power and caused a significant shift in the energy strategy for the country. Japan quickly identified renewable energy as the solution to a sustainable and reliable energy supply. Japan has become a major player in the solar industry with plans this year to install up to 12.7 gigawatts of solar power. Japan is an archipelago, which the National Geographic defines as a “group of islands closely scattered in a body of water”, and is occupied by hundreds of millions of people which does not leave an abundance of space to install solar panels. Recently, however, Japanese electronics manufacturer Kyocera has identified more than one method of efficiently utilizing space in and around the country’s land to install as many solar panels as possible in otherwise dead space. Japan, after being devastated by a natural disaster, is strategically planning its recovery to avoid a repeat of the 2011 Fukushima disaster while also investing in renewable energy that will benefit the environment and produce profits in the foreseeable future. These Kyocera projects demonstrate the potential available to maximize the efficiency of solar energy production with just a little creativity and ingenuity.

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New Solar Technologies Address the Elephants in the Room

June 25th, 2015

The big question with regard to solar energy is whether it can reliably replace fossil fuels as a major power source in the future, and this question is not easy to answer. Of the many criticisms that can be raised, two major issues are often levied against solar energy: the first is intermittency – the fact that the available sunlight at a given moment is insufficient to generate power; and the second is cost – the price of producing or installing the solar cells can counteract the money saved on using them in the first place. These new developments don’t necessarily solve all of the problems that can be associated with solar energy, they are addressing the larger, more frequent criticism of it; and, in so doing, they are helping to establish that solar energy isn’t a niche thing but a practical and desirable alternative to fossil-fuel energy.

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Solar Forward!

May 21st, 2015

Solar has arrived—on Earth! Just a few short years ago, most people associated solar with exotic uses like the wing arrays on the International Space Station or the small solar modules powering the Mars Rover. That now seems like ancient history as you will now find solar panels on your neighbor’s roof, your partner’s backpack (got to have that power for your cell phone), and on those solar lights in your garden (won’t exactly reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s a start). When SolarTown was just starting out six years ago, we were selling some of our home solar panels for $5.00 a watt. Do you know what that is today? On some of our modules, we have seen the cost to our customers go down by a whopping 80% or more. Sure there have been a lot of companies that are out of business, and the ones that survived showed that they could do the same job for a lower cost. The industry is now much more stable and mature. We would like to think that we have played a small role in helping our customers on their path to adopt solar as part of their life style and commitment.

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Battery Storage Bonanza: Tesla Rules the World

April 30th, 2015

Game changer is usually a term that is usually overused by entrepreneurs seeking a lot of your hard-earned money. But the shocking truth is that yes, the new battery announced by Tesla is potentially, in the words of our esteemed vice-president, a big f—king deal. Game changer may indeed be an understatement if the potential of the Powerwall is realized. Elon Musk doesn’t do things small. The Powerwall’s price is about $3,000 for a 7 kilowatt hour model to $3,500 for a 10 killowatt hour model. I have seen some estimates that this may add up to about 30 cents per kwh to get electricity from the Powerwall—compared to what you might pay about 12 -15 cents per kwh around Washington DC (some places like Hawaii is a lot more and would be ideal for the Powerwall). As the cost comes down even further as the technology improves, would you consider ditching your utility completely? Stay tuned for Musk’s next announcement.

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Portable Solar Chargers: Light Modules for Heavy Users

March 31st, 2015

Portable solar chargers are getting lighter and better. And the choices are expanding. One of the most popular purchases at SolarTown are portable solar modules. When you just have to have access to your cell phone, then there are various alternatives for portable solar chargers that you can purchase at SolarTown. We now are carrying the P3 and Sunlinq portable solar chargers, which you can find in our section on portable solar modules. These portable solar chargers provide a lot more power than the solar bags. The largest we now have is 124 watts, which can provide a lot of essential power. These solar chargers can provide power for GPS devices, satellite terminals, laser rangefinders, laptop computers and other devices that require much more power than just a cell phone. And the largest portable solar charger weighs just 6.1 pounds. We are not recommending that you spend your time cruising the Internet when you should be looking at the stars. But for power for some of your essential equipment, and particularly for emergency and rescue workers and others who need a lot of power, these portable solar chargers are a great choice.

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Solar Power: A Must-Have When the Power Goes Out

February 27th, 2015

Every winter, we hear the same complaints from homeowners who have lost their power. We live in a civilized world but we can’t even provide power to our abodes during a minor storm. When an emergency strikes, some of our customers are looking for a complete backup system and we have some of those systems under our solar backup and emergency kits. They are not going to power everything in your home but they will generally get you enough power for the essentials until the grid comes back on.

In previous years, you were told to prepare for emergencies by packing away the water, a flashlight and other sundries that would get you through the hardest time. Now you can add to your list a backup solar energy system just in case…

Even those with solar power may not have electricity. If you have home solar panels on your roof and are connected to the grid, when the grid goes down, so do your panels. The grid acts like a huge battery and you store your power there. When the grid is not supplying power, then you are like all your neighbors dependent on grid power.

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Your Help is Needed Now to Defeat Solar-Unfriendly Utility

January 16th, 2015

Join the momentum that is building against the proposed Exelon-Pepco merger right when we need it most. DC residents and business leaders turned out to set the record straight on why the merger would be a bad deal for the District. On Tuesday, more than 100 Maryland residents appeared at a Montgomery County hearing, demonstrating overwhelming opposition to the proposed merger.
But it’s not over yet, and the battle is far from won.

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Solar Lighting Manufacturers Kiss and Make Up

December 11th, 2014

The technology behind solar lights has not changed in many years. There have been a couple of changes. One major change has been in the cost of manufacturing and now almost all solar powered lights are manufactured in China. Another major change has been in the design of the solar light. Some of the manufacturers we represent at SolarTown have been innovating brighter solar lights with updated design. This is all well and good until they find that some of their competitors allegedly have ripped off their design. Some of the lights have a cord so that the light can be in the shade but the panel is in the sun. During the day the solar panel can catch the sun’s rays and send the electrical charge to the battery for storage. Then at night the solar light grabs the charge from the solar battery to light up your backyard. Now that would be an innovation, how to design a solar light that doesn’t need the sun to work.

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Solar Duels with Natural Gas and Oil

November 28th, 2014

There has long been a debate regarding whether solar power will compete effectively with other energy resources in price and reliability. States such as California that have provided economic incentives to solar energy have experienced explosive growth in solar energy utilization. Nevertheless, most states in US are still highly dependent on coal and natural gas. Solar energy is starting to compete with natural gas and oil, but the drop in the cost of natural gas has dimmed solar energy’s prospects. To solve the high front-cost issue, solar power is now still relying on government subsidies. Some researchers have been doubting if there is any way to end subsidies while still promoting green energy. One way would be to place a fee on CO2 emissions. Compared to expensive oil, relatively dirty coal and troubled nuclear power, renewable energy can definitely play a leading role in the energy needs of the United States. It will be a balance of cost, reliability, consistency, and government policy.

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