Through their solar suitcases, the We Care Solar Club of Elk Grove, California is reaching out to the developing world.
Hal Aronson and his wife, Dr. Laura Stachel launched the solar suitcase program through their charity Women’s Emergency Communication and Reliable Energy. When high school engineering teacher, Tim McDougal attended a “solar schoolhouse” given by Aronson, he was convinced the suitcases would be a perfect engineering project for his class.
In turn, the students, hoping to make a difference, have taken on fund raising in addition to suitcase construction. They have raised money for and built two suitcases so far. The first will be sent to the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico next week.
Teacher, McDougal hopes to see the program in all Elk Grove schools next year and Dr. Stachel said a group of students in Colorado is also planning to join the project.
Four University of California San Diego mechanical engineering students created an analytical tool making it easier for both UC San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District to determine cost, energy output and payback time when applying for Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs).
The San Diego Unified School District ultimately secured the most CREB allocations of any one agency in the nation totaling $74 million for 111 projects. UC San Diego will receive $15 million for 15 renewable energy projects.
Jan Kleissl, the students’ advisor, heralds the project’s success as a much needed step in making San Diego the solar capital of the nation.
Recently, Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity Corp., revealed the technology his company is developing that will make the use of power cables and cords virtually nonexistent. Or so he hopes.
In July, Giler presented at the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, England. He showed off an Apple iPhone and Google G1 phone that were able to charge wirelessly, as well as a commercially available television that operated sans power cables. Imagine it: a world where wires aren’t getting tangled at your feet or ugly cords aren’t draped across rooms. It’s possible, and Giler believes it can be used for technology ranging from phones to electric cars. You could drive your car into the garage and it would automatically start charging!
The technology is based on work by physicist Marin Soljačić at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and uses resonance to accomplish its goals. When two objects have the same magnetic resonance, they can exchange energy through their fields, which can then be turned into electrical power.
To accomplish energy transfer, the company uses coils that have the same resonant frequency. One coil is embedded in the wall/ceiling/floor and plugged into an electric source. The other coil is built into your device, whether it be a laptop, phone, television, etc. When the device is within range of the main coil, energy would begin to flow between the two devices automatically, and a voltage would begin to build up in the device, charging it up, no plugs or cords needed!
The technology is perfectly safe because it uses magnetic fields. Depending on the device, anywhere from milliwatts to kilowatts of power can be transferred between coils. And, it can be transferred over a range of centimeters to several meters. The energy is also transferable through most building materials (yes, it will go through the wall or ceiling) and can bend around metal objects that would otherwise block the magnetic waves.
While the idea of wireless transfer of energy has been around for a while (Nikola Tesla, an electrical and mechanical engineer who lived from 1856 to 1943, hypothesized we would one day be working electronics wirelessly), this demonstration of practical use is a huge step in the process, and this is the first time a company has unveiled plans to commercialize the technology. One day in the near future (WiTricity is saying possibly within a year and a half), we won’t have to fumble around with our power cords or desperately search for our phone chargers!
To learn more about the science behind WiTricity’s wireless powering, visit their website at www.witricity.com.
Computers. Big screen TVs. Air conditioners. The modern-day conveniences that many take for granted are starting to take a toll on our current energy grid. Demand has skyrocketed for the past few years and the grid is struggling to keep up. Blackouts and brownouts have started to occur with more and more frequency.
That’s where the smart grid steps in.
Smart grid technology is the new way of thinking. The concept has been around for years, but recently, smart grids have been touted as the environmentally friendly alternative when receiving your electricity. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, if the current grid were just 5% more efficient, then the energy we’d save would equal eliminating the fuel and greenhouse gas emissions of 53 million cars. With the federal stimulus package specifically setting aside funds for green technologies, smart grids have gotten a giant helping hand in the form of political support. Already, cities like Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, have begun testing out the benefits of smart grid technology.
One aspect of smart grids is the automatic monitoring of systems. Instead of waiting for a customer call about a blackout, utility companies will be able to pinpoint and respond to problems faster. Smart grids also track energy consumption and mark periods of high and low usage. Companies will then charge variable rates on electricity consumption: more for higher demand periods and less when energy usage is at a low. Homeowners and businesses would have a “smart meter” to track when and how much energy they are using. Smart meters can also provide consumers with efficiency advice, real-time price information, and even coordinate household appliances so they automatically take advantage of non-peak hours, saving you money. Experts expect this to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability in service.
The smart grid is a two-way communication. Not only will it provide energy to consumers, but it will allow energy to be put back into the system. So the solar panels on your roof could be helping the neighbor down the street. This will allow greener energy producers, such as wind turbines, to be integrated into the system with greater ease.
While the smart grid system reality is still years away, companies and higher institutions of learning have begun to do their part to speed up the process.
Whirlpool announced that they plan to make all their electronically controlled appliances smart grid compatible by 2015, while working to create an open, global standard for appliances to transmit and receive signals by 2010.
The Illinois Institute of Technology is partnering up with the Galvin Electricity Initiative to bring a smart grid—called Perfect Power—to power the campus. IIT will be working on the grid through 2013 and predicts that it will pay for itself in savings within five years.
Even Google is jumping on the smart grid wagon. Currently in development, the Google PowerMeter will act as a liaison to smart meters, relaying users’ information about electricity consumption and what appliances are using it. Google employees have been testing out this new software, and Google hopes that they will be able to roll out the application to the public in the near future.
This week the United States government said it would open 3.9m acres of land in Alaska for oil drilling as a means to help curb rising petrol prices. However you feel about the issue of drilling within Alaska’s north coast, there’s one thing you can count on: the engineering job market at the very top of the country is about to explode, and most likely remain steady for the foreseeable future.
President Bush lifted the 27-year-old federal moratorium on energy exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, but still needs congress’ approval to move forward. Even before these recent developments, the associated press was reporting that “Alaska’s oil industry looks to fill more jobs“. A proposed natural gas pipeline through the region is slated to become the largest construction site in North America. Coupled with the increased demand, is the fact that the majority of existing engineers in the area are now aging and slated to retire within the decade.
BP promises to be one of the biggest employers in the region and are currently looking to fill hundreds of engineering jobs in the area, most of them recent graduates. Take a look at their engineering graduates page where you can match your degree to current career opportunities.
BP Alaska has hired 600 people in the last 2 1/2 years, many of whom are recent graduates who could help offset anticipated retirements, Utsler said.
Even if the next presidential administration increases their effort toward renewable energy, America’s oil consumption is still far from going away. Our country, which constitutes just 5 percent of the world’s population, consumes 45 percent of its gasoline. Sounds like solid job security to me.
That said, what are the dangers of increased drilling in one of the last pristine areas of wilderness in America, and why do so many people oppose it? In 2005, a pipeline operated by BP leaked out 260,000 gallons of crude oil, covering two acres of land just 60 miles from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where Bush has proposed drilling.
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