Environment Forum

Pure water from solar power; will it catch on?

water1 Remote villages in developing countries might benefit from these twin 40-ft long containers (left) — a water purification system driven by solar power — as a substitute for noisy diesel-powered generators, trucks bringing in water or people spending hours every day walking to fetch water.

That’s the hope of the makers, environmental technology group SwissINSO Holding Inc. The small company has recently won its first contracts to supply the systems to Algeria and Malaysia and is aiming to sell 42 units of what it calls the world’s “first high-volume, 100 percent-solar turnkey water purification system” in 2011.

The system, an interesting-sounding technology in a world where more than a billion people lack access to fresh water, could also have extra uses from disaster relief to construction sites or to helping armies stay healthy in remote regions.

Chief Executive Yves Ducommun (below right) says that the machines, housed in the two containers, can pump 100,000 litres of drinking water per day for 20 years at a price of less than $0.03 per litre, including running costs. The system costs between $800,000 and $1.2 million up front, depending on factors such as how many solar panels are needed to drive the purification, which filters out dirt and toxins, or salt from seawater, through a membrane.Yves_Ducommun_CEO_SwissINSO_Lausanne_23 Nov 2010

That is a lot of money for a village in sub-Saharan Africa – but water is often a huge cost over 20 years and governments or aid agencies might be interested: the makers reckon it supplies enough water for about 5,000 people. Freeing people from walking miles to collect water allows them to do other things, like work or study.

The quest to put solar power back on the White House

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Bill McKibben, founder of the green group 350.org, is on a quest to convince President Barack Obama to put solar panels back on the roof of the White House.

He’s at the end of a journey to Washington from Maine in a van fired by biodiesel carrying one of the 32 panels Jimmy Carter unveiled in 1979 during the first press conference on the White House roof.

Also in the van are students from Unity College, which got the the panels some time after President Ronald Reagan, no fan of alternative energy, had workers remove the panels during “roof repairs” in 1986.

Which countries make the grade in solar power?

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Germany is still at the top of the class when it comes to solar power, according to a new report by nonprofit Global Green USA.

The group graded 16 countries plus the state of California in terms of how much solar power they added in installations and what kind of policies they have for future development.

Germany– the world’s biggest solar power market — again got the highest grade, with an A minus.

Gaze into clean technology’s crystal ball for 2010

Clean technology investors who have suffered through 2009 can find cheer in a new report by the Cleantech Group that gives its top ten predictions for 2010.

The number one prediction: Private capital growth will recover, the research group said.

The group believes that the amount of money from global venture capital and private equity in clean technology in 2010 will surpass that in 2009 “by a healthy margin” and could be a record year. The group also is watching for major investments like Khosla Ventures’ raising $1 billion for renewable energy and clean technology funds, more capital in Asia and innovative fund strategies.

Smithsonian gets solar panel that once graced White House roof

U.S. President Barack Obama has made climate change legislation one of his top goals and has pushed for more clean, renewable energy like solar and wind power.

But back in 1979, when another Democrat was in the White House, 32 solar panels graced the roof above the Oval Office.

Part of an initiative called “Solar America,” the panels turned sunlight into electricity that heated water in the staff kitchen — which President Jimmy Carter often used. They were removed during Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1986.

Tuvalu turns to solar energy – against rising seas

With a highest point 4.5 metres above sea level, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu plans to shift to generate all electricity from renewable energies by 2020, hoping to push other countries to follow suit to fight global warming.

These solar panels (left) on the main soccer stadium in Funafuti, the capital, are the first step in the plan to end dependence on fossil fuels and slow climate change blamed for pushing up world sea levels. Tuvalu’s goal is to generate all electricity from wind, solar and other green sources.

By contrast, European Union nations have among the most ambitious goals among developed countries, aiming to get 20 percent of all energy from renewable sources by 2020.

From Suds to Sunshine in Brooklyn

A green contracting outfit based in a former Brooklyn brewery says it’s the first business in a major U.S. city that can sell power back to the grid that it generates from the sun.

New York state gave Big Sue, LLC, which has about 3,500 square feet of solar panels on its roof, the OK to sell any extra power it generates from the panels back to the grid.

For years, homeowners who have put solar panels on their roofs have been able to sell a bit of solar power back to the grid, which has helped them deal with the big costs of buying and installing the panels. For homeowners it can take 8 to 12 years to break even on the initial investment.

Economy leaves consumers feeling more blue than green

Has the global economic crisis got you feeling more blue than green? If so, you’re not alone.

U.S. consumers are pulling back spending on everything, and carbon-cutting products like hybrid cars and solar panels are no exception. After all, being green often requires us to pony up big chunks of change with the promise of cost savings later. That pitch, according to many green business owners, isn’t working so well these days.

“People are so scared about the future that they don’t want to commit to paybacks that have too long a window,” said Alan Finkel, owner of Santa Monica-based Green Life Guru, a company that helps homeowners reduce their gas and electricity usage.

Solar car “crashes” at end of round the world trip

Luckily for my colleague, photographer Kacper Pempel, this solar powered “taxi” was not going very fast when it smashed through a wall of polystyrene at the end of a 52,000 km trip around the world.

It stopped pretty much in the debris of the makeshift wall after the deliberate “crash” marking the finish outside the venue of Dec. 1-12 U.N. climate talks in Poland. (Click here for a story)

Driver Louis Palmer, a Swiss teacher (in blue, lower right), has driven through 38 nations over 17 months, the first time a solar-powered car has gone round the world. He ended the final stretch at U.N. climate talks with Yvo de Boer, the head of the U.N. Climate Change Secretariat as a passenger.

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