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Monday, November 28, 2011

My Last Post (maybe)

I think this is going to be my last post, as you might've guessed from the title. I'm a little bit sad. I had to do this blog as an assignment for a class, but I've actually enjoyed it.  For me, blogging was all about the learning. I've learned a lot about renewable energy: different types of it, its costliness, scientific advancements, etc. I feel decently educated about this topic now. I don't know how good of a job I've done passing on what I've discovered, but hopefully I've at least sparked an interest and made you want to read more about these things. If you feel the need to expand your knowledge, my favorite websites were:

I said "maybe" in my title because I don't want to say that I'll never blog again. If I come across something interesting, I might post it. Hope you've enjoyed reading!

More on the Game Day Challenge

So I blogged a while back about the Game Day Challenge that UT competed in. I wanted to be able to announce the winner in one of my posts, but I don't think I'm going to have the opportunity. I spoke to Jay Price, the environmental coordinator for UT, and he said that the winner probably wouldn't be announced until mid-December. He did, however, tell me some interesting things that I wanted to share.

As I mentioned before, the South Carolina game was the one that was designated as the game day for the challenge. We did not have a particularly huge crowd for this game, but according to Jay, we recycled 12.5 tons. Our goal was 18 tons, so we didn't reach that, but even with a smaller crowd this year, we still increased by 2.5 tons compared to 2010's game. Also noteworthy is that this is the most we've ever recycled for one game! Jay said that we were close to recycling 50% of our waste this year (compared to 30% last year). And, Jay shared something else... he has an idea of who probably won the Game Day Challenge for the SEC..... drum roll...... UT! He doesn't know for sure just yet, but he said that he feels pretty good about the likelihood of UT winning first place.

I have several more numbers that I want to share and then I'll quit bragging about my awesome school... In the 2006 football season, we recycled 16 tons, followed by 18 tons in 2007, then 22 tons, 34 tons, 54 tons, and then probably 80 tons this year (that's a 5-fold increase over just 5 football seasons!!).

So obviously I am proud of UT for what we have achieved thus far. But we still have room for improvement: we currently recycle only 15% of our waste. Jay said that we could easily recycle 50% (or more!) of our waste. So, let's work on that next!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who wants to save money??

So I've blogged before about the benefits of energy conservation in our homes, e.g. saving money. I linked to a website where you could get an approximate calculation of how much money you could save, but I didn't have a whole lot of data. Now I do. Julie Satow, a writer for the NY Times, recently posted an article that addresses this. She writes that Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and Living Cities commissioned a report that illustrates the significant benefits of efficiency in homes. An 88-unit, 2-building housing complex in Manhattan saved 50% of fuel costs by installing new boilers and heating controls. Another building saved $551 a year per apartment. "Marc Zuluaga, a vice president and director of the multifamily energy services group at Steven Winter Associates, a building consultant in New York" was interviewed for Satow's article. He pointed out that these savings were achieved without implementation of any "particularly exotic technologies" like solar panels. They just made small changes to make the homes more efficient. One way that people were inspired to make these changes is that each apartment was responsible for paying the electric bill. When the money was coming from their pocket, they cared more about saving money. If it's this easy, why isn't everybody doing it? I don't really know. Partially because there isn't much data to support these claims. But here is an example of one study at least that does prove that you can save money!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Good ol' Hicksville

Honestly, when I first saw this I just laughed. The name of this delightful little getaway is Hicksville Trailer Palace.  According to the Palace website, it was created as a sort of hideaway for artists to express themselves without being bothered by the outside world. It boasts several different themed trailers, a tipi, underwater speakers, a hot tub, salt-water swimming pool... and other random things that one might desire access to on vacation. So why, you might be wondering, am I blogging about it? One amenity in particular caught my eye: the salt-water swimming pool; the website says that it is solar-powered. Apparently, the "hotel" as they call it, is largely solar-powered. I read on Wikipedia that it is 95% powered by solar energy; I couldn't find that information anywhere else though, so I'm not sure how true that is. But regardless, it's still pretty cool that an entire hotel-like place is run by solar.

Hicksville Trailer Palace website:

Website where I got that picture:,0,7611395.photogallery

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cool Invention

I was looking online for something to blog about, and I came across something that I thought was pretty neat. Jack Robertson, a Stanford University graduate and fromer BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) CFO, has come up with a pretty incredible idea. He calls it the "Hydrogen Hub." According to, it "would be a power plant that uses water and air to produce a form of ammonia, then burns the ammonia to yield hydrogen energy." Robertson believes that his invention would curb the need for our current major types of energy (coal and gas). He proposes the idea because he thinks that the current hydro power methods are inefficient. In the spring, there is actually a surplus of energy because of the melting snow and increase in winds. The article says that some people were actually getting paid to take power in the spring. Then in the summer, prices soar because there is such an increase in demand; everyone needs air conditioning. Robertson is quoted as saying, "It's feast or famine, because of the way the system is designed." One of the biggest issues he faces with his Hydrogen Hub is efficiency. He plans to do some experimenting to see how efficient he can make it. One thing that disappointed me a little bit about this article was the date; it was from 2009. Granted, that isn't very long ago, but this is the first time I've heard about it. I hope this doesn't mean that he was unable to make it efficient enough!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

What's the best source of energy for a very sunny country? Wind, of course! Wait... what?

     When I first started this blog, I said that I was going to write about many sources of renewable energy. I said this partly because I wanted to explore the many different types, but it was also because I was afraid that I wouldn't have enough material if I chose only one. But I have been pleasantly surprised at how much solar info is out there! I've had much more to write about than I initially expected. My reason for saying all of that, though, is that I am switching gears a little bit (finally) to talk about wind energy. 
     I was reading on the Celsias website again and came across an article entitled "Sunny Egypt Interested in... Wind Power." As hot, sunny, and desert-y as Egypt is, one might expect them to utilize solar energy. But recently, they have decided to increase wind's current 1% contribution to 12% by 2020. Apparently, Egypt is actually a good place for wind power. The article says, "Jonathan Walters, transport and energy manager for the World Bank's Middle East and North Africa regions, said that 'high and persistent' winds in the Gulf of Suez suggest Egypt has 'excellent potential for wind power - among the best in the world.'" 
     The Egyptians built a wind farm, called Zafarana, in 2001 and last year it generated 1,147 gigawatt hours of electricity. They are presently trying to get more funding to build an even bigger wind farm (a 1,000 megawatt). 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Floating Energy

More and more people have a desire to utilize solar power, but many don't know how it would be possible for them. More specifically, I'm talking about some winery owners in Napa County, California. The president and CEO of the Far Niente wineries, Larry Maguire, said that he didn't want to replace vines with solar energy. From an economical point, I suppose that is sensible if he is making a large profit from his vines (even though businesses save money by incorporating solar energy, it does require funds to get things going). Maguire is quoted as saying, "“Yet, we recognize that our environment is facing significant challenges, and as an agriculture-based business we have an obligation to do our part.” Thankfully in this case, we have someone who sees that he has responsibilities beyond simply money-making, but (naturally) he also wants to do whatever is smartest economically. Believe it or not, there was a solution that could satisfy these different desires: a Floatovoltaic Solar System. The company SPG Solar Incorporated designed "a series of solar panels installed on pontoons that float upon the winery’s irrigation pond." After government rebates, the total cost of these panels was $4 million. It sounds like a lot, and it is; but, there is an excess of energy that the winery owners are able to sell back to the grid. Therefore, the winery owners will make back all of the money within 12 years. The solar panels actually last for 25 years, so the owners will end up profiting from this.

This is an incredible example of people who didn't just give up because something seemed difficult. Not only did they come up with a solution, but they came up with a profitable one!

Here's where I got my quotes and my story:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Record-Breaking Recycling!

I still am unsure of the results for the Game Day Challenge that I blogged about a few days ago (if anyone finds out, please comment on this and let me know!), but I wanted to say that UT recycling collected 12.54 tons of recycling last Saturday! This amount is an all-time record for the University of Tennessee, according to the UT Make Orange Green Facebook page (I still think you should "like" it if you haven't already). I don't know if 12.54 tons is enough for us to win the challenge, but the fact that we recycled that much is awesome whether we win or lose. It is so exciting to see the changes that are being made. Rather than a loss of interest, it seems that recycling is gaining momentum with students, alumni, and other football-lovers. Let's keep it up!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

More cool things from the solar world

     On the same site that I read about spray-on solar, I read about some other pretty neat things. The researchers at the National Renewable Energy Lab have come up with new solar cells that absorb more wavelengths of light (currently, solar cells are only able to absorb wavelengths of the red spectrum). And, we already know that they work: these special cells have been used to power space technologies on Mars. The NRE Lab has worked with other companies, and now they have improved solar cells to a 43% efficiency, a big increase.
     Still another new technology is solar-powered LCD screens. Apparently, about 50% of light is lost and wasted when LCD screens are in use. UCLA researchers have figured out a way to use this excess light to make the LCD almost like a solar cell itself. They are continuing research in the hopes that they can use this method without reducing viewing quality.

Here is the site where I got this info:

Go Big Oran---, er, Green!

So I've written before about what UT is doing to be more sustainable. We have battery-powered bicycles, campus-wide competitions (who conserves the most energy, who recycles the most, etc), and we're now involved in these types of competitions with the whole nation. Yesterday, the Tennessee Volunteers played the South Carolina Gamecocks; although everyone was interested to see how we would perform on the field, the EPA's Game Day Recycling Challenge was also a concern. Last year, the University of Tennessee recycled 54.7  tons (that is a huge amount!) of waste during the football season, and we got third place in the SEC recycling category. This year, the goal is 80 tons, which would be 10 tons per game. Sadly, we lost the football game, but hopefully we'll win the Recycling Challenge! I'll keep you updated..

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spray-on Solar?

I was reading articles on a site called Celsias ( and came across a really interesting post about some new solar energy things we'll be seeing. One that I found especially intriguing is the idea of spray-on solar. Apparently, the geniuses at M.I.T. have found a way to print solar cells on paper (similar to printing ink on paper, except instead of ink, an organic semiconductor material is put on the paper).It looks like this:
(picture is from the Celsias website)

 The paper can still be folded and is virtually indestructible, according to the article. The article also said that the researchers are working to improve this method so that eventually the solar cells could be sprayed on a variety of surfaces. How cool would that be??

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Will and Kate cycle, too!


     Okay, so you might expect to see the title of this post on an entertainment site, rather than on a solar energy blog; that's an understandable thought. But, I think it relates to my subject matter...
     Obviously the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are hugely popular. Not only are many Brits fascinated by them, but many people all over the world are interested in them as well. It is their worldwide popularity that makes me think this story is blog-worthy. So, what exactly did the couple do that is so exciting? They went on a bike ride. (Sorry if you were expecting something more dramatic, but the title should have given it away).
     I understand that a bike ride doesn't seem particularly newsworthy, but the reason that I am writing about it is that it draws attention to sustainability. In my sustainability class, we read an article by Michael Pollan in which he wrote about the importance of getting everyone "on board" with something before a change can be made. He was writing about issues in the food industry, but the same can be applied here. Until a majority of people care about living sustainably (and doing things like riding bicycles instead of driving cars), it is difficult to make significant changes. When people who are in the public eye (like William and Kate) practice sustainability, it sets a positive example for everyone who is watching them. I think this is a sign of progress, and I hope more public figures will act in a similar manner.

*Note: The Duke and Duchess reportedly rent Boris Bikes, a program that seems similar to Autolib (which I  blogged about last week)

**Photo from

Monday, October 10, 2011

Autolib! (Don't worry, I don't know what that means either)

     I was reading a green energy blog (check it out:, and one post led me to an interesting site. The website ( is entirely in French, and my Google Translate wasn't working properly; so unfortunately, I wasn't able to read it (if anyone speaks French, I'd be interested to know what it says). 
     Even though I wasn't able to read anything, I watched a video on the site that is pretty clear, and I read what blogger David Jolly wrote explaining the program. Basically, France is implementing a new car rental program that enables people to rent electric cars. Jolly writes, "The city says the goal is to reduce car ownership, traffic and tailpipe emissions, improving residents’ quality of life." This program follows a similar project that they did several years ago: Velib. The idea of Velib was to provide bicycles to decrease the number of people in vehicles and thus reduce pollution. 
    I think it's pretty neat that France is putting an effort into taking care of our environment. And, now I'm going to brag a little bit... UT is doing something similar! Recently, UT students have had the privilege to test out electric bikes. A station is set up in Presidential Courtyard (where many freshmen live) where the bikes can be picked up and later returned to re-charge. This program is the first of its kind in the nation according to WBIR. Now, if only it would catch on!

Read more about the bikes and watch an interview of the project initiator:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Continuing Effects of Solyndra Failure

I blogged last week about the failure of Solyndra, the solar energy company that received some pretty hefty funding by the US government. It has stimulated more doubt in the importance of solar energy and prompted investigation by the House of Representatives Republicans and the FBI. Now, Jonathan Silver (an energy loans official) has resigned from his position. Even with his resignation, though, the investigation is likely to continue. Even with all the legal issues, President Obama does not want to cease progress in this field. In a recent talk, he said, "If we are going to be able to compete in the 21st century, then we've got to dominate cutting-edge technologies, we've got to dominate cutting-edge manufacturing" (qtd in Energy loans official leaves in wake of Solyndra), referring to the necessity that the U.S. be competitive with China and other countries who are constantly advancing their technologies. It will be interesting to see if people can focus on what's important (having clean energy) rather than making the issue solely a political problem.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Updated Solar Energy

     Currently, solar energy technology is what staff writers for Space Daily call "mechanically brittle and reliant on a relatively rare mineral." So, researchers are seeking improvements. Mark C. Hersam, Tobin J. Marks, and Vladimir N. Ipatieff (from Northwestern University) are leading current research, and have actually come up with a new way of harvesting solar energy: using carbon-based materials. The new technology is very flexible and could even be placed in fabric and clothing, which Space Daily says "enabl[es] portable energy supplies that could impact everything from personal electronics to military operations." The carbon nanotubes would also be more accessible because of their more reasonable price (carbon is obviously not a "rare" material like the current indium tin oxide that requires the element indium).
     I think it  is great to see that people are working to improve solar energy, because this means they have faith in it. They think there will be a great demand for this alternative energy in the future and thus it needs to be efficient. Making solar energy more cost-efficient should attract more potential users, and hopefully its popularity will continue to grow!

Here is the source of my story and picture:

Monday, October 3, 2011

Fail... What happened to Solyndra?

     Some may be familiar with Solyndra, but just in case you're not, I'll tell you about it. The business, based in California, manufactures thin-film solar panels. These panels' popular characteristic was their lack of silicon. Several years ago, polysilicon was not cheap; but just as Solyndra was approved to receive a $535 million loan, the silicon prices significantly dropped. With the competitors' prices much lower, Solyndra was struggling to survive.
     In a country where people are already afraid of solar energy, this was quite the setback. The solar community has difficulty getting funding as it is; Mike Koshmrl and Seth Masia wrote that "Chinese banks have offered Chinese solar companies a staggering $40.7 billion. For perspective, U.S. solar manufacturers have received $1.4 billion in DOE loan guarantees since 1705's inception"** {1705 authorizes loan guarantees for alternative energy systems}. So, the failure of Solyndra is not helping an already-existing problem.

**Here is the website where I got my information:

Friday, September 30, 2011

$ave $ome Money $$$$

I think fear of change is one reason that solar energy is not more commonplace. Many don't want to make an extra effort if they can just keep things the same. But do all of these people realize that solar energy can save you quite a bit of money? I just calculated how much money my household would save and it would be $138 a month; that's $1,656 a year! Before you completely disregard the possibility of solar energy, see how much money it could save you. Here's the website I used...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Futuristic City

I've written several blogs about the Dome Home, and I've mentioned how structurally innovative it was for its time. Although the idea may have seemed crazy to some people, the home was a success. This article reminded me of that...

The reading is about Bangkok and the difficulties they face as a result of flooding and sea level rise. Politicians, scientists, and anyone who cares are all trying to think of solutions to these looming problems. One architect firm in particular has an interesting solution: rebuild the city above the water. There is much disagreement and skepticism, but the architects of the firm S+PBA insist that their idea is plausible. It, like the Dome Home, would utilize solar energy as a source of power. It also would have tunnels with roads, homes, shops, etc. Whether or not they will be given the opportunity to prove that their idea is valid remains to be seen, but if it is indeed possible it could save a lot of money and more importantly, a lot of lives.

Here is a picture that can be found on the website, courtesy of S+PBA:
That is a digital image that predicts what the structure might look like.

Friday, September 23, 2011

It's the Little Things

     I hope that I haven’t sounded too negative in my posts because that wasn’t my intention. Although I believe that more could be done to help our environment, I am also noticing that more and more people are trying to make a difference. In fact, just last night I attended the Make Orange Green Kickoff. It was an event designed to ignite an interest in environmental sustainability. They had several tables set up, guest speakers, energy-efficient cars, and... free ice cream! The ice cream was great, but that wasn't the best part about the kickoff; it was so exciting to see that people actually do care. 
     One table had some facts displayed, and this one caught my eye: "Knoxville was the 19th worst city for ozone pollution in 2009"- American Lung Association. That's terrible! I hate to read that, but it's so important that people hear about that sort of thing so that they are inspired to make a change. Kim Green, the CFO of TVA, spoke last night of the importance of the little things you can do. Turning off the lights, unplugging electronics, etc, are easy adjustments that we could make... we just have to do it! 
     Another important point that Ms. Green made was this: spread the word. Each person can certainly have an impact, but the more people that are involved, the greater the impact. Tell your friends how easy it is to conserve energy (and if you don't care about the environment, maybe you care that it can lessen your electricity bill?). UT Make Orange Green has a facebook account: 

Check it out, and if you think it's a good idea, "like" it... I just did!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Water in the Dome Home

     I've explained how the energy worked in the Dome Home, but I would like to write a little bit about its water supply as well. My grandfather built troughs around the domes to capture the water. The water then ran through a filter and into a completely enclosed 55,000 gallon tank under one of the domes. You might think: what happens if it doesn't rain for a while? That was never an issue. Because the tank held so much water, even if rain was scarce, there was never a shortage of water. Another issue might be the cleanliness, but that, too, was not a problem. Their water supply actually tested cleaner than the Naples (Florida) city water supply. So here we have another necessity (clean water) that was made available just by utilizing natural resources. This picture shows the trough on the side of the dome: 

Another interesting fact about this home is how strong it is. It has been hit by Hurricanes Andrew, Wilma, and Tropical Storm Fay and is still standing. My grandfather sold it after it survived Hurricane Andrew, and sadly it has been through a lot since then. Although it is no longer livable, its condition is impressive. Here is a link to a recent article about it:

This is a photo of the inside of the home after Hurricane Andrew:

Some pictures of the home before the hurricane:

And here is a picture (from the website I attached a link to above) of the Dome Home now... apparently it is quite the party hot spot:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A little bit MORE about the Dome Home

As I said before, I would like to go into a little more detail about the home that my grandfather built. While he was building the domes, he used batteries (that were powered by a generator) as a source of electricity. As the building process was nearing completion, he bought solar panels in California. To understand how to use his purchase, my grandfather had an electrician who was familiar with solar panels come out to the island and teach him what to do with them. They installed the panels and then connected them to large batteries in the "control room" that was under one of the domes; the batteries were connected to a converter that was 12V power (now, you could buy a converter for regular power). They shopped all over the country for the appliances; the light bulbs actually came from a yacht supply company.

I find this all incredibly interesting. Obviously I'm biased because he was my grandfather, but I don't think many would argue that this was a pretty significant project for its time. Keep in mind that the Dome Home was completed in the early 1980's. So why does it sound so innovative? Why aren't these types of structures more commonplace? Granted, more and more places are beginning to use solar energy; I am not at all suggesting that my grandfather was the only one to do this. But, I know that I rarely see solar energy being utilized in restaurants, hotels, etc. I think this should change. If the technology was available in the eighties, it is definitely available now, in addition to many new things. So, let's make use of it!

Here are some more pictures of the Dome Home if you're interested:

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A little bit about the Dome Home

     I can't remember a time that I was unaware of solar energy. As I mentioned before, my grandfather was always working on ways to conserve our planet's resources. He constantly made improvements to his own inventions, which were already impressive considering the time period. As early as the sixties, he built a house and strategically installed pvc pipes and ran water (that was heated by the fireplace) through them to provide heat for the floors. In the same house, he placed skylights to lighten and heat the rooms. The house was positioned to make the most use of the sun. He was very aware of the sun's potential for energy and began researching ways that he could utilize it.
     His biggest solar energy accomplishment was the completion of a self-sustaining Dome Home. The 3-bedroom, 3-bath island house was powered totally by solar energy; it had a hot tub, two refrigerators, ceiling fans, air conditioning, satellite TV... everything (and more) that you would expect in a home.
    For my next post, I will describe in more detail how the solar energy was used and what he used as a water supply.

Here is a picture of my grandfather and my uncle installing the solar panels:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

One more slightly unrelated (but interesting!) thing

So I know that I have yet to really focus on solar energy, the topic of my blog. But I keep coming across interesting things that deserve to be passed on (even if they're not directly related to my subject matter).

I attended a lecture last week by Lauren Buckley, a biologist from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She spoke about an ongoing experiment in which she, and others, have tested the response to climate change by organisms and how their various traits help (or hurt) their ability to adapt. Her main focus has been on reptiles and amphibians, and she talked a lot about her work with lizards. She paid special attention to operative environmental temperature and organisms' activity time (laying eggs, etc). Buckley also looked at body size and insect abundance. One result that she found was that a South Carolina lizard could survive at a broad range of temperatures (as opposed to lizards of other locations that had more difficulty adapting); at this time, she is unsure of the reason for this observation. Something else she noticed when analyzing her mechanistic models was the northern movement of lizards in response to climate change. Another organism that Buckley mentioned is the butterfly. Her models predicted that butterflies would have less flight in lower elevations because of the increased heat, while flight in higher elevations would occur more frequently because of cooler temperatures.

Of course, her lecture included much more data and sophisticated discussion of this topic than I am able to convey, but I wanted to share a little bit and maybe spark someone's interest.  For more information, I recommend checking out her website:

And in case you were wondering, I plan to start writing about solar energy in my next post!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Before I Dive in..

      Before I really begin to discuss ways to make homes more energy efficient, I want to write about (and share with you) an interesting video I came across. I know that many people believe that alternative energy is important and something that is worth our time and attention; but not everyone agrees. It is not those who disagree that most upset me, however; it is those who don't care. People are content with the way things are, so they don't want to see any changes. They don't realize that not doing anything will cause much more harm in the long run. But my point is this: alternative energy is a GOOD thing, and more people need to realize that.
      This video evidences some benefits of solar energy. It stated that fifty-thousand Bangladeshi are without electricity. Although Bangladesh's power plants are unable to support its large population, there is certainly plenty of sunlight. One million homes (in only two years!) received solar panels. Although we take such things for granted, this technology is so precious to these people.
      If I don't have you convinced yet, please keep checking for new posts!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Reminder that Alternative Energy IS a Possibility

Clean energy alternatives are in existence and have been for decades. So why is this important field of study progressing so slowly? Why, when we have so much knowledge, are our homes so energy inefficient? My blog is going to explore ways to change this problem. I will discuss home features that can not only save people money, but also work toward the goal of preserving our planet. Some ideas for these types of features may also be found on sites like    Additionally, I will address specific forms of clean energy that we could use e.g., solar, hydro, and wind energy. Although I would like to take credit for the home improvement ideas I will write about, the credit belongs elsewhere. My grandfather was a geologist and a person who was passionate about taking care of our earth. Many years of his life were dedicated to experimentation and invention. He, along with many other scientists, made such progress in that field of study. It seems that people have either forgotten or choose to ignore that we have other options. Now, when the sustainability of our planet is such a crucial concern, I want to remind people of his original ideas: alternative energy IS a possibility.