Chicago Gets New Electric Vehicle Station at Kimball Brown Line Stop

Friday February 17, 2012
Posted at 10:07

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Chicago electric vehicle owners and I-GO Car Sharing members are getting a new solar-powered charging station at the park and ride lot adjacent to the Brown Line Kimball El station.

The electric vehicle charging station, approved by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) in December, is the first solar-powered station to be installed on CTA property and is part of an I-GO project to add 18 solar charging stations and 36 electric vehicles to its fleet.

The company’s charging stations have solar canopies that cover four parking spaces and can power two electric vehicles, including one I-GO vehicle and one electric vehicle owned by the general public. Each canopy is topped with 44 solar panels and can produce about 10 kilowatts of electricity. Together, the company’s solar canopies will produce about 200,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, good for about 600,000 miles driven per year.

The Kimball charging station is slightly smaller. It has a solar canopy that covers only two parking spaces for electric cars, but will still be able to serve one I-GO car and one electric vehicle owned by the general public.

I-GO, formed in 2002, now claims some 15,000 members and more than 200 locations in nearly 40 neighborhoods and suburbs throughout the Chicago region. The company’s mission is to create a seamless transfer from public transportation to a pollution-free I-GO all-electric vehicle. According to I-GO, the average member spends about $2,520 per year to share its cars, roughly $5,000 less than what the average American spends to own, operate and maintain a car.

Sources

CTA Approves Solar-Powered Charging Station for I-GO Electric Vehicles at Kimball Brown Line Stop,” Center for Neighborhood Technology press release, Dec. 14, 2011.

Research Could Help Spur Adoption of Wind-Power Integrated Commercial Buildings

Thursday January 19, 2012
Posted at 16:27

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Commercial buildings that incorporate wind power turbines into their construction are rare, but new research conducted by a group of Texas college students could encourage more commercial building companies to adopt the technology into their designs as a way to help cut electricity costs.

A group of three seniors from the University of Texas at Austin mechanical engineering program recently completed a two month study on the effectiveness of building-mounted wind turbines for Building Turbines Inc., an Austin-based developer of rooftop wind turbine systems.

The students collected data on two wind turbines, one with a traditional vertical orientation, called a vertical-axis wind turbine, and one with a horizontal orientation, called a horizontal-axis wind turbine. The students measured the amount of electricity generated at various wind speeds and directions and found that the horizontally-oriented turbine outperformed the vertically-mounted turbine.

The results of the students’ research could pique the interest of the small, but growing market of wind-power integrated commercial buildings in the United States. Manufacturers have struggled so far to come up with a way to make vertical-axis turbine systems attractive enough for widespread adoption. Issues and perceptions related to the cost and performance of the technology — and the necessity of high winds — are likely key reasons why only a handful of U.S. buildings have been designed to accommodate wind power turbines in their construction.

An early example of the incorporation of vertical-axis wind turbines in the design of U.S. commercial buildings is Greenway Self Park, a parking garage in downtown Chicago that was completed in the fall of 2009. Self-billed as “Chicago’s first earth friendly parking garage,” Greenway Self Park integrated 12 vertical-axis wind turbines into the beveled southwest corner of the building. The turbines, which cost about $16,000 each, can start generating electricity in 11.1 miles per hour wind — perhaps not a challenging milestone in the Windy City. Under ideal conditions, each turbine can generate up to 4.5 kilowatts of electricity. The turbines, which together cost almost $200,000, were designed to generate enough electricity to cover the building’s exterior lighting costs.

Most recently, vertical-axis wind turbines have made their way into the design of a San Francisco skyscraper set to open next fall. The building, which is located near the famously windy intersection of 10th Street and Market Street, will be the new headquarters of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC). It was developed with the help of engineering professors from the University of California, Davis, and incorporates a “wing” of wind turbines that stretches all the way to the roof. The turbines, fed by wind funneled by three nearby high-rises, will produce at least 7 percent of the building’s energy needs.

Bruce White, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and former dean of the UC Davis College of Engineering, said that the PUC’s new building could be a model for effectively integrating wind-energy devices in high-rises. White said that although the wind environment in urban settings doesn’t produce the same power efficiencies as rural wind farms — even in windy cities like San Francisco and Chicago — the most important factor in urban environments is the ability for a building to generate and use its own power and, therefore, not have to rely as much on an electric utility.

According to White, integrating wind power into the design of urban buildings will allow building owners to be one-third as efficient as a wind farm and still be economically feasible. White agreed that horizontal-axis wind turbines could outperform traditional vertical-axis turbines, but noted that their use could increase bird strikes, a political issue in San Francisco that might keep more developers from adopting integrated wind power in commercial building designs.

Sources

UT Austin Mechanical Engineering Students Complete Design Study,” Building Turbines Inc. press release, Nov. 29, 2011.

Wind Experts Advise on Revolutionary Wind-Powered Skyscraper,” University of California, Davis press release, Nov. 17, 2011.

Building Integrated Wind in Chicago,” Jetson Green, Jan. 20, 2011.

U.S. Colleges Are Taking Charge of Energy Production and Costs by Going Solar

Friday January 13, 2012
Posted at 10:48

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Colleges and universities in the United States are managing their energy production while working to save money on monthly utility costs and decrease their carbon footprints by dramatically accelerating their adoption of solar power.

According to data released by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), U.S. schools have increased their installed solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity by 450 percent over the last three years. AASHE said that over the same period, the median size of the average solar installation project at U.S. schools increased six-fold.

The organization said that, as a result, solar installations at U.S. colleges and universities make up over 124 megawatts, or roughly 5 percent, of the total U.S. solar PV production of 956 megawatts. There are now 435 solar PV installations on 281 campuses in 42 states and provinces.

AASHE cited the University of San Diego and Butte College in California as two examples of the trend towards adopting solar power in higher education.

In 2010, the University of San Diego took advantage of federal and state incentives to install 5,000 solar panels on the roofs of 11 campus buildings with little upfront cost. The solar panels, which have a capacity of 1.23 megawatts and provide up to 15 percent of the campus’ electricity, are owned by a developer who sells the electricity they produce back to the university below market rates. Overall, the installations are estimated to save USD about $50,000 a year in utility costs.

When Butte College completed its third solar array earlier this year, it achieved the distinction of being the first institution in the United States to generate more electricity from solar than it uses. Although the college paid about $17 million — minus federal bonds and utility rebates — to install the 14,000 solar panels on parking and walkway canopies, the third installation produces 2.7 megawatts of electricity. Two previous solar PV installations on campus provide an additional combined 1.916 megawatts of electricity.

AASHE attributed the growth of the higher education solar sector, which is now worth over $300 million, to new financing options, federal and state incentives, and falling average installed per-watt solar costs — which, in the higher education sector, fell from about $10 in 2007 to about $6 in 2010.

Top 10 Biggest Solar PV Systems on U.S. Campuses

Here are the ten U.S. colleges and university campuses with the most total installed solar PV capacity, according to AASHE.

RankInstitutionTotal Capacity (megawatts)

1.

Arizona State University

11.341

2.

University of Arizona

6.428

3.

West Hills Community College District

6.0

4.

United States Air Force Academy

6.0

5.

Colorado State University

5.535

6.

Arizona Western College

5.105

7.

Butte College

4.616

8.

Los Angeles Southwest College

4.0

9.

William Paterson University of New Jersey

3.5

10.

Contra Costa College

3.2

Sources

U.S. Universities Are Going Solar,” Energy Efficiency News, Oct. 17, 2011.

U.S. Higher Education Solar Capacity Leaps 450 percent in 3 Years,” Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Oct. 6, 2011.

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Campus Solar Voltaic Installations Database.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ University of San Diego.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Solar Photovoltaic Installation @ Butte College.”

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, “Top Ten Solar Photovoltaic Installations Lists.”

Google Ends Homeowners’ Search for Solar Power (Sort Of)

Tuesday October 18, 2011
Posted at 08:18

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Internet giant Google has announced a partnership with a financing agency that will help homeowners pay for the installation of solar power systems that will help save energy and lower monthly electric bills.

Google has set aside $75 million to create a fund with Clean Power Finance that will help 3,000 homeowners finance the installation of solar power systems. According to Rick Needham, Google’s Director of Green Operations, the fund is intended to help homeowners overcome the initial costs of solar installation, which are daunting and can prevent people from adopting solar technology. Solar systems typically cost between $30,000 and $40,000, Needham said.

With typical solar panel installations, homeowners generate their own electricity and draw from the grid — and pay for — only what they need. If electric customers produce more power than what they use, they can sell it back to the grid.

However, under the financing plan from Google, homeowners won’t own the solar panels or any of the hardware, Google will. Instead, homeowners will be required to buy the power generated by the panels at a fixed monthly rate, which is supposed to be cheaper than their current rate and covers things like maintenance.

The fund brings Google’s total investment in green energy to $850 million. The company previously invested $280 million in solar power company Solar City, $100 million in a wind farm project and $168 million in a solar tower plant.

Sources

Google Helping Homeowners Get Solar Power with $75 Million Investment,” Digital Investment, Sept. 28, 2011.