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Solar Design in Ancient Greece

“6,000 Years of Solar” is a series about the history of solar energy technology drawn from John Perlin’s new book Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy. The series profiles the fascinating people, from ancient Greece and China to late 19th century New York to today, who have made the present day solar revolution possible.

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Another successful Earth Day! Thank you.

We are proud to report 37,364 people attended Santa Barbara Earth Day this year! It's beyond inspiring to see so many people gather to share information, participate in community building, and celebrate this year’s theme “Local Roots,” which encouraged meaningful actions to help make a global impact. The festival was organized around the CEC’s five initiatives: Drive Less, Choose Electric, Go Solar, Ditch Plastic, and Eat Local.

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The Electric Vehicle Ripple Effect

Nearly everyone who works at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital knows that if you’ve got questions about solar panels or electric vehicles, Dr. Timothy Rodgers probably has the answers. During the lunch hour, you can sometimes spot Timothy, a specialist in Internal Medicine, in the hospital’s cafeteria — and a couple times a week, he’s chatting with someone curious about green technologies.

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From Selenium to Silicon and Beyond

“6,000 Years of Solar” is a series about the history of solar energy technology drawn from John Perlin’s new book Let It Shine: The 6,000-Year Story of Solar Energy. The series profiles the fascinating people, from ancient Greece and China to late 19th century New York to today, who have made the present day solar revolution possible.

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Rock out to electric tunes in your electric car

My dad was a Mercedes man. My favorite of his cars? A buttermilk 300E with matching leather seats. I loved to slip into that luscious interior and escape to the hardware store for father-daughter bonding. While different models came and went, the Mercedes always got the prime garage spot - with other cars relegated to the driveway.

You can imagine my surprise when I arrived at his house two months ago and encountered the Mercedes parked in the driveway.

Something had changed.

A squeaky clean Chevy Volt was now plugged into the prime garage spot. Dad had purchased the Volt and installed a rooftop solar system through a zero money down lease program. The Department of Energy and the State of CA helped fund his 240 volt charger (no pun intended), which is set to charge only during off-peak periods. With this setup, his electricity bills are about the same, though sourced from renewables instead of fossil fuels, and hedged against inflating energy costs. However, he's saving about $100 a month in gasoline.

To celebrate Dad's shift in priorities, I made him an electric car playlist to bump to while silently whirring down the highway.

I put a lot of thought into the order of these songs and thought there might be other plug-in / hybrid electric vehicle owners who would enjoy a playlist selected specifically for their automobile. I would love to hear what I might have missed and welcome your suggestions.

I hope you'll enjoy this playlist in your electric vehicle!

  • "Electric" by Lisa Scott-Lee
  • "Danger! High Voltage (Soulchild Radio Mix)" by Electric Six
  • "Electric Avenue" by Eddy Grant
  • "Electric Youth" by Debbie Gibson
  • "Electric Lady" by Con Funk Shun
  • "Electric Feel" by MGMT
  • "Plug In Baby" by Muse
  • "She's Electric" by Oasis
  • "Don't Bring Me Down" by Electric Light Orchestra
  • "Running On Empty" by Jackson Browne
  • "Charge Me Up" by Jennifer Lopez
  • "Electric Barbarella" by Duran Duran
  • "Electric Man (Radio Edit)" by Mansun
  • "Charge" by The Renegades
  • "Electricity" by Spiritualized
  • "Together In Electric Dreams" by The Human League
  • "It's Electric" by Metallica

Listen to the full playlist through CEC's YouTube page →

 

About the author:

Cherlyn Seruto is currently commuting 80 miles a day via gasoline, and is considering selling her soul for an electric Porsche Speedster a la Reverend Gadget.

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Dennis A. wants to be free from fossil fuels

My journey is one of many steps. Thirty years ago I built a modest house for our family near the upper end of Mission Canyon that was quite green at the time. Our utility bills were miniscule. Nevertheless, in 1999, we installed photovoltaic panels to generate most of our electricity. However, I was troubled by the fact that, living in upper Mission Canyon, we went everywhere around town in our cars -- yes, that is plural. The only way I saw to reduce this dependence on fossil fuel was to move downtown.

Concern about energy and resource use evolved from a basic value that I have held for a long time -- namely, the sacredness of all life. Spending a lot of time camping and backpacking as a child and teenager shaped this reverence for life and my becoming a conscientious objector to war.

As we know, tensions around the possession and exploitation of the planet's finite resources—fossil fuels being prominent on this list—have and continue to lead to many wars and the destruction of many creatures and habitats. I remember being stuck in long lines of cars waiting for gas during the OPEC oil embargo in 1973. That event sparked my involvement with solar energy and efforts to move away from our over-reliance on fossil fuels. This awareness has undergirded my path of using fewer non-replaceable resources.

About 6 years ago, we and 2 other couples began designing a 4 condo infill project just a few blocks off State Street. We harnessed the sun for powering the buildings in all ways—space heating, hot water, and electricity. This combined with rigorous energy conservation measures has nearly freed us from fossil fuels in our homes.

The next step was to get rid of my car, which I did about 8 months ago. Now biking or walking gets me wherever I need to go with the occasional negotiated use of my wife's car. Even though my geographic world has shrunk, my interactive world has increased. I meet more people—old friends, new friends and casual interactions—than I ever did in the past. Best of all, I love it.

Being a part of a small living community has also been wonderful. Visiting, helping, borrowing, lending and sharing on a daily basis is a lost pattern of living for most of America.

The frosting on the cake for this journey (and totally unplanned) is having our son, his partner, and their new baby – our granddaughter – living in the flat just above us. Multi-generations living together is prevalent in most countries of the world but not so common in the U.S. today. This old family living arrangement has brought us great joy and richness. It makes me think often of the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child."

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Jay H. soaks up the sun with solar panels

I have quite a bit of experience with solar systems in terms of remote telecommunications facilities where utility power isn't practical. These involve large battery banks and over-engineering to ensure reliable power for radio, microwave, and telephone relay stations that need to be up 24/7.

So, the idea of a solar system in a suburban area with plentiful utility power didn't make sense to me at first. Electricity is readily available at reasonable rates. It would be satisfying but not practical to pull the plug on Edison.

Then, I stumbled across a mention of solar "co-generation" on Southern California Edison’s website. Co-generation is when a customer connects a source of power such as solar or wind into the electric grid. With solar, California supplies a rebate to pay part of the cost, and the federal government provides an additional tax credit.

On further research I found the idea of co-generation kind of exciting. I can use the entire utility grid as my energy storage. I don't need a battery and I don’t need to design the system any bigger than my load.

I was also considering my electric vehicle (Chevy Volt). I decided the convenience of the 240-volt charger was worth it. Rebates cover half the cost of the charger and installation. If I came home from a day trip with a depleted battery I could plug in for a couple of hours and then go out to dinner on electricity. However, the Volt would be away from home when my solar panels would be generating power from the sun.

With co-generation, I just produce more power than I need when the sun shines, feed it to Edison, and then pull power from Edison at night to run my home and charge the car. I also switched to a rate plan that gives me much lower electric rates at night and credits me at higher rates in the daytime when the sun is shining and I'm producing electricity. Some friends were predicting that the Volt would cause my electric bill to skyrocket –ha!

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As luck would have it, I have a great roof for solar. It is south-facing and doesn't have any vents or obstructions. I had enough area to install panels that could generate about 4kW peak power. I'm good with my hands and have a lot of experience with wiring and electrical things. My initial plan was to install the solar as well as the level 2 car charger myself.

I quickly changed my mind about installing the solar because I'm not comfortable with the permit process and roof penetrations kind of scare me. I shopped around and chose Coastal Constructors to provide the hardware, do the mechanical work and take care of the permit paperwork. They did the wiring at the same time as they wired the charger, and everything passed inspection. Modern panels are a lot better looking than the earlier ones. I'm very happy with the appearance as well as the performance.

Another modification I considered was the inverter systems. Most grid-tied systems connect a number of panels in a series string to produce high-voltage DC, and then put in a large wall-mounted inverter to convert this to conventional AC power. I was not excited about this design. A fault in one panel can bring down a whole string. Due to the high DC voltages, the wiring is complicated.

I discovered a company in the Bay Area, Enphase, that does things differently. They manufacture micro-inverters. Each micro-inverter handles the output from one solar panel. One mounts underneath each panel and they connect in parallel. If one panel or inverter goes bad, the rest of the array keeps going. The DC wiring is low-voltage and needs no conduit.

In addition, my solar system has its own website that not only shows real-time and historical data for every panel, but can also alert me if there's ever a problem. If there's debris such as bird droppings on or an electrical problem affecting one panel, the other panels are not affected, and I get an email describing the issue and showing me which panel is in trouble.

It's now been in service for almost 10 months. I've ”banked” a bit over 6 megawatt-hours of electricity with Edison. Carbon offset a bit over 4 tons. Every month since installation I've produced more electricity than I've consumed. Not only am I driving on daylight, I'm powering my house with it and even providing solar energy to my neighbors via the grid-tie.

Kermit was wrong. It's easy being green. Take a look at my solar production >

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Film screening inspired Michel S. to buy a Leaf

Michel Saint-Sulpice is a gentle soul who takes his responsibility for the planet seriously, and always has. Growing up in France, his family was careful with resources, and he has carried forth that strong environmental ethic into his adult life as a Santa Barbara architect.

Michel aspires to be fossil fuel free by the end of 2012, and he’s well on his way. Solar panels provide his home with electricity, and he’s been driving a Toyota Prius since the second generation first hit the market. He completely removed his lawn to make room for a beautiful drought tolerant landscape. Greywater and collected rain water (with back-up well water) will soon irrigate a “food forest.” On the drawing board is a geothermal system that will heat the entire house (with cooling option), all his domestic water and his swimming pool year round. Since Michel produces all his electricity, his carbon footprint will be zero, and he will not be paying electric and gas bills any longer. He has taken these measures to express his deep appreciation for nature and beauty.

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