LED Market Heats Up Again

The LED light bulb market is heating up again which is good news for consumers.  Phillips will be introducing a 60-watt LED bulb retailing for under $10 (or $9.97 to be exact).

It produces 800 lumens for a mere 10.5 watts and is a direct competitor with the Cree 60 watt LED bulb.  The following comparison chart shows the head-to-head specifications for each bulb.   A major feature of the Phillips bulb is that it does not use a metal heat sink.  This means lower materials cost which should translate in to lower retail prices in the future.


The chart is probably somewhat dated, however, because the Cree sells for $10/bulb in most Home Depot stores.  There are some differences in the light quality that are mostly preferential in nature depending on the use.

In any case, consumers now have more options to chose from when purchasing LED bulbs.  Click here for more information.

How renewables can keep the lights on when the sun doesnt shine : TreeHugger

Renewable energy is the future, and more people are coming to realize that.  Although fossil fuels and oil in particular, are the most energy dense and concentrated form of energy ever discovered by humans, they are not renewable.  Energy companies are scouring the ends of the earth while using ever more destructive exploration technologies to squeeze the last drop of oil out of the earth.

But at what cost to our health and the environment?  How much more climate change do we need?

Comparing renewables to fossil fuels solely on the basis of availability is a slanted comparison.  So I thought this was an interesting article because it explains how renewables can be incorporated in to our lives.  Please click the link below for more information.

Thanks for reading.

How renewables can keep the lights on when the sun doesnt shine : TreeHugger.

Listen Up: What Solar Panels Should I Buy?

This podcast is an excellent discussion about solar panels from buyers perspective.  It tells you what to look for and goes in to a lengthy discussion about the difference between the major manufacturers.  Anyone who is thinking about purchasing solar panels should listen to this program.  It would be well worth your time.

Please click the link below.

Listen Up: What Solar Panels Should I Buy?.

Solar Plane Pilot Plugs Renewable Energy – HispanicBusiness.com

It was remarkable to watch a plane traverse the US powered by nothing more than solar energy.  The implications while unclear at this moment, are certainly far reaching.  Obviously solar planes will never be able to replace jet airliners, in fact they likely won’t be able to replace private planes.  The weight issue is far to great an obstacle to tackle.

But there must be some entrepreneurs and innovators out there who will start thinking about the possibilities for solar, and ask ‘why not’?  Please click the link below for more information.

Solar Plane Pilot Plugs Renewable Energy – HispanicBusiness.com.

Energy Democracy

A January 2013 report by the Edison Electric Institute predicts that solar energy could be the undoing of the electric utility industry.  Largely unnoticed in the media, this report has broad ranging implications.  Increasing distributed energy generating resources coupled with demand side management programs result in decreased revenues for the electric utility industry, reduced earnings and so on.  David Roberts of Grist wrote a couple of good articles on the issue.  One of them is here.

Change is not always a bad thing, and in the case of the electric utility industry it’s actually a good thing.  The electric utility industry has relied on the same business model for over half a century.  Centralized generating capacity is more efficient when you have an unlimited supply of fossil fuel resources to burn.  Obviously they present their own set of problems though, and fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) are becoming more difficult and expensive to find and extract; especially in the case of oil.

People in Industrialized countries, to a large extent, take energy for granted because it’s always been so convenient and readily available (until there’s a black-out then the phones at the utility company start ringing).  Utilities make money by selling electricity and historically prices have been low because fossil fuels were cheap.  But now we’re discovering they’re not as cheap as first thought, because of the externalized costs of health concerns and climate change.

Energy democracy means people have a say in how their energy is produced and what resources are used.  It means they have more control of their energy destiny, because energy is an integral part of a civilized society.  It may sound like touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo; but personal liberty is a very broad concept not fully appreciated by many; except during a black-out when people develop a much greater appreciation for energy, if only until the lights come back on.

Investor owned electric utilities have become rather comfortable operating as regulated monopolies since the passage of the Federal Power Act in 1935.  They are guaranteed a profit, and as a result they have less motivation to innovate and develop new technologies. Renewables contribute less than 1% of our total energy mix, but that has to increase dramatically as fossil fuels continue their inexorable decline.  Looming scarcity of fossil fuels means higher energy prices for everyone.

The utilities don’t make money by implementing demand side management programs or distributed energy generating technology.  These don’t contribute to the bottom line and as corporations, the bottom line is the primary concern of the investor owned utilities.  Utilities serve an important function as part of our society, but if the utilities are unable, or  unwilling to facilitate the transition to renewable energy technology, they will become dinosaurs.  We all know what happened to the dinosaurs.

Thanks for reading.

Curt Sommer


Museletter 251: There’s Only One Real Option for Averting Economic and Ecological Ruin | Richard Heinberg

It’s somewhat comforting in a perverse sort of way that I’m not the only Cassandra out there.  The sooner we wake up to he reality that we live on a finite sphere with limited resources, the better off we’ll be.   The age of conspicuous consumption for the sake of consumption really needs to end.

Renewable energy is great, I love it and believe we must transition away from fossil fuels.  The problem is that they’re so entrenched in our society that to go cold turkey would send the economy in to a death spiral.  We need to make a expeditious but gradual transition by implementing stringent energy conservation measures.

Heinberg goes in to greater detail about how this would work.  I encourage everyone to read it.  Click the link below for more information and thanks for reading.

Curt Sommer

Museletter 251: There’s Only One Real Option for Averting Economic and Ecological Ruin | Richard Heinberg.

Spring Has Sprung

Actually, it will have sprung as of 7:02 AM EDT on Wednesday March 20th, 2013.  So I’m a little premature, but I can’t help myself.  I’m tired of the cold and cloudy days, but I suspect that won’t change for a few weeks yet either.  That’s just the Pacific Northwest.

All the same, our solar system is starting to ramp up production again.  January was our_solar_install 059actually a little higher than last year, but February was slightly lower than the previous year.  We’re currently at 195 kWh, which is almost 60% of last years output with twelve days to go.  Who knows, maybe we’ll beat last years output.

Of course production is not going vary significantly from year to year because the number of solar hours per day will not increase significantly.  However, it would be helpful to cut down, or at least prune a couple of nearby trees; especially the very large Doug Fir.  Unfortunately, that isn’t on our property.

The Vernal Equinox is a big deal, but it doesn’t overshadow the fact that March is the true-up month for homes with solar systems in the Portland General Electric (PGE) service territory.  The solar year for PGE runs from April through March.  At the end of this month we hope to see a check from the power company for the electricity that we supplied to the grid for the previous twelve months.  How often does one get a check from the power company?

Thanks for reading.


Curt Sommer


Silicon Valley Investors Shifting to Power Grid After Solar Sours | Renewable Energy News Article

Solving the energy storage issue is the holy grail of renewable energy development.  Solar and wind technology are not capable of ‘storing’ energy by themselves.  Solar has the advantage of coinciding with peak demand but the sun isn’t always shining and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Geothermal and wave energy have the advantage of consistency in that the energy from underground and the waves doesn’t go through cycles.  But as with wind and solar they can’t ‘store’ energy in and of themselves.  It requires specific technology to do that.

Small scale battery systems would likely be more practical so the energy can be stored on site where it will be used.  This would avoid transmission loses to a large extent but utility scale battery systems will likely be necessary to some extent as well.

Better late than never but these are the questions we should have asked 20 years ago, like President Carter suggested.

Please click the link below to read the full article.

Silicon Valley Investors Shifting to Power Grid After Solar Sours | Renewable Energy News Article.

Solar 101


Image provided courtesy of Microsoft.

The process of producing electricity with a solar system is not really a great mystery.  It’s actually a very simple process, and the real mystery is why the US isn’t using more of it.  The purpose of this post is to provide a brief overview of how solar PV systems work.  In essence, the light from the sun hits the panels, and the electrons in the solar cells become activated.  What this means is that they start moving around a lot more and in doing so, they start bumping in to each other more frequently.  The interaction of the electrons produces electricity in the form of friction.

A solar panel or module, is comprised of individual solar cells.  A solar cell is primarily silicon with some circuitry.  The more cells contained in a panel, the more energy it can produce.  A string of panels makes up an array and multiple arrays comprise a solar PV system.  A PV system (Photo-Voltaic) is different from a hot-water system which is used specifically to heat water.  A Concentrated Solar Power system (CSP) uses mirrors to focus sunlight on water, causing it to boil producing steam, which is then used to generate electricity.  However, the focus of this post is specifically on PV systems.

Solar PV systems are generally connected to the grid, but for people in more remote locations a battery back-up system is often more practical.  There are two primary types of solar panels; mono-crystalline and polycrystalline.  Without going into a lot of detail there are advantages and disadvantages to each.

Silicon is most often used in solar panels as the primary active material in a solar cell because it has unique chemical properties.  A silicon atom (Si) is comprised of twelve electrons on three separate ‘shells’ or layers.  The outermost ‘shell’ has four electrons that are highly reactive.  The outer electron shell of a silicon atom is seeking reach of state of equilibrium by ‘sharing’ its electrons with other atoms.  Conversely, those other atoms will share their electrons as well.


Image provided courtesy of Solar City.

Of course they’re always moving to begin with but the energy from the sun causes their rate of interaction to increase.  By bumping in to each other more frequently they generate friction.  This friction is a source of electrical energy.  From there it’s just a matter of channeling the current through all the wiring to the inverter.  The inverter converts the electricity from direct current to alternating currently because the electrical grid is not designed to handle direct current.

The transformed current flows to where the demand is the closest.  Depending on the demand within the building, the current will go there first to satisfy any existing demand.   In a grid tied system any excess current is supplied to the grid.  If it’s an off-grid system then presumably there is a battery back-up system to store excess current generated by the system for later use.

Most solar systems are designed to meet the average load of the building they serve, but they are typically not over-sized.  Over-sizing a system is not very economical and utility companies generally don’t approve them in the first place.  Producing electricity from the sun is a very practical way to meet our electrical demand.   Producing energy in the same location it is used is more efficient than transporting it over great distances.

For a more complete description of how solar produces energy please refer to the following article.

Thanks for reading.


Curt Sommer


Climate Changed

While climate change deniers were disputing the reality or causes of climate change, Hurricane Sandy happened.  Climate change probably did not cause Hurricane Sandy to happen, because hurricanes have been happening for a long time.  But it most likely exacerbated the effects in terms of property damage and loss of life.  Linguist George Lakoff likens the misunderstanding among the public as the difference between “direct causation” and “systemic causation”.  Our climate is moister and much warmer than has been historically, and this is what enhances the devastating effects from previous tropical storms.

In the last 400,000 years the average daily temperature has not risen above 2 degrees Celsius for a significant period of time.  The Vostok temperature graph below indicates temperature and CO2  readings over the last 400,000 years, from an ice core in the Antarctic.  Current projections indicate that average global temperatures could increase between 2.4 and 10.5 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of this century.  The climate has been relatively stable for the past 400,000 years because the temperature has not varied to a significant degree.


The debate around climate change centers around whether CO2 drives temperature or vice versa.  In this graph, CO2 levels lag temperature increases by as much as 800 years.  Is that sufficient justification for completely disregarding the data?  I think it depends on how much you value a stable climate. Can we say with absolute certainty that CO2 is not a driver of temperature increases?  I would argue most definitely not.  Current CO2 levels are approximately 394 PPM.  Dr. James Hansen of NASA predicts CO2 levels must be 350 or lower to avoid runaway catastrophic climate change.

Even the insurance industry which is one of the most conservative industries in the country, recognizes the threat posed by climate change.  Managing risk is the central focus of this industry and it recognizes climate change as a serious risk.  Denial is not an appropriate response when the fate of future generations, and potentially the human species hangs in the balance.

The Precautionary Principle dictates a proactive response to the potential threat of climate change.

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”

Dr. Roy Spencer is very persuasive and he presents one of the more cogent arguments that climate change is natural in origin. He believes climate change might be, could be or is possibly the result of natural forcing.  That is a far cry from definitely is the result of natural forcing.  Coupled with the fact the overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe climate change is anthro-pogenic (human) in nature makes it difficult to believe climate deniers are objective.  His theories do not disprove human caused climate change, and if anything, merely suggest we need more data.

Does the climate go through cycles of cooling and warming on its own?  No scientist worth their salt would argue otherwise, but the question is how much is the current warming trend due to human activity?  Essentially, this is the largest science experiment ever conducted but we have very little control over it.  It would be irresponsible and imprudent to subject future generations to devastating effects of climate change when they had no part in creating it.  We must begin to act now.  If we’re wrong, and we created a more sustainable world for nothing, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Thanks for reading.

Curt Sommer