Archive for the 'alternative energy sources' Category

Published by Rosalind on 11 May 2009

Green Architecture in New York

On a visit to Black Rock Forest Consortium, a research forest in the Hudson Highlands, 50 miles north of New York City, I was excited to see all the green features used in the buildings. The 3830-acre Forest encompasses native terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems now increasingly rare in the region. This beautiful place has been managed for research from its founding in 1928 by Ernest Stillman, through its 40 years as part of the Harvard University Forest system, and to its acquisition by William T. Golden and the creation of the Consortium in 1989. As part of the Consortium’s work, green building standards have been used for recent construction, and visiting the Center for Science and Education is a treat!

It’s great to see how the green architectural features make the building comfortable year-round, with amazing energy efficiency. The building uses geothermal energy (Geothermal ground source heat pumps provide heating, cooling, and hot water, avoiding the use of conventional air conditioners and heating systems that use fossil fuels. Learn how the geothermal system works.) as well as solar arrays, composting toilets, and architectural features. Soon to be added is a wind turbine! To read about the green features in the Black Rock Forest buildings, click here:  Black Rock Green Buildings.

This small wind turbine will be used in a test of wind energy at the Forest.

This small wind turbine will be used in a test of wind energy at the Forest.

One of the composting toilets in the Ladies Room.

One of the composting toilets in the Ladies Room.

Helpful information for the composting toilet.

Helpful information for the composting toilet.

Solar Powered Stairs? No, but this roofed walkway helps provide electricity to the building.

Solar Powered Stairs? No, but this roofed walkway helps provide electricity to the building.

Here's the building itself.

Here's the building itself.

This solar array also provides shade for the picnic area.

This solar array also provides shade for the picnic area.


Published by Diana on 27 Dec 2008

A Totally Different Way to Think About House Design

Architects and engineers in Europe have figured out a way to make houses that don’t waste energy at all, even using the heat produced by our bodies to heat the house, without sacrificing fresh air. Check out this article: Houses That Save Energy

Published by Rosalind on 26 Oct 2008

Decarbonizing the USA

Speaking on October 24, 2008 in Rhinebeck, NY, well known environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. discussed possible timelines for decarbonizing the USA. Named a “Hero for the Planet” by Time magazine, Mr. Kennedy is known in the Hudson Valley for his work with Riverkeeper, which has helped to clean up the Hudson River over the last 35 years.

RFK Jr. told the audience about Iceland’s successful transition to energy independence — using geothermal energy. Sweden, which has a $150 per ton tax on carbon, has also had great success transitioning away from the oil economy. Other countries moving rapidly towards reliance on renewable energy resources include Brazil, Costa Rica and Israel. Describing the United States Midwestern plains as the possible “Saudi Arabia of wind”, Kennedy suggested that the United States could stop using all oil within 10 years, if we use existing technologies, rebuild our electrical grid, and fully understand the price of our oil (carbon) based systems for our economy and our environment. RFK Jr. estimates the current real price of gasoline at about $12 per gallon! To find out more about paths to a new energy economy, visit the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Published by Diana on 24 Oct 2008

Algae for Fuel

The Algae Biomass Summit is taking place in Seattle, a mere 17 miles west of my home. While oil reserves are limited, and getting more expensive all the time, many scientists think that future will bring cheap sustainable fuels made from algae, harnessing the energy of the sun to create fuel.

Scientific American writes about algal fuels and has a video of bubbling algae in their blog: Pond Scum provides the fuel of the future?

Published by Diana on 22 Oct 2008

More Windmills

While travelling on the Big Island of Hawaii, which is located in the trade wind belt, I saw several wind farms. Wind farms are arrays of wind turbines which capture the energy from local winds and use them to produce electricity.

Windmills near Hawi, Hawaii: photo by Jay Torborg

Windmills near Hawi, Hawaii: photo by Jay Torborg

On the Big Island, electricity is VERY expensive because it has to be locally generated by burning coal or oil. There are no coal mines or oil wells on the Big Island (as Hawaii Island, one of the five bigger islands that make up the state of Hawaii, is known), so all the fuel used to generate electricity is brought in by boat. The boat itself needs fuel and maintenance for the long journey, so the cost of the fuel is very high. Electricity rates on the Big Island are about four times what they are in the Mainland United States. That makes wind power and solar power much more attractive financially. I even saw one house with its own private windmill and solar panels on the roof!

This wind farm at the north end of the island takes advantage of the trade winds that blow across Hawaii. Trade winds are steady winds that blow at 15 to 20 miles per hour, given their energy by the rotation of the earth on its axis.

Published by Rosalind on 26 Sep 2008

Presidential Candidates and Science Issues

A group of concerned citizens and scientists called Science Debate 2008 has released the presidential candidates’ answers to the “top 14 Science questions facing America.” As you can imagine, it took a lot of work for the group to come up with only 14 questions — they started with 3,400 questions! Mr. McCain and Mr. Obama answered the 14 questions thoughtfully and at length, and the answers are presented side by side so you can compare them.

Here’s the link: Science Debate 2008

Published by Rosalind on 23 Sep 2008

New Ideas for Solar Power!

Check out this article and read about solar “lily pads” — this design won an international award. If these floating solar cells are used on a large scale, they will not only use sunlight from a new area — the river surface — but also give new meaning to the term “water power!”

Read about it here: Design Ideas

Published by Rosalind on 25 Aug 2008

Windpower in rural New York

Driving along the road in upstate New York, we cleared a small hill and saw modern technology rising above the farmlands and dairy cows. The silvery windmills spin lazily in the summer breezes — they’re either beautiful or ugly depending on who is doing the looking. Locally, in the Tug Hill Plateau area of New York, east of Lake Ontario, the wind turbines have caused lots of political issues. Some people say there is pressure by the power company to put up more windmills. Only people who have a windmill on their land get paid. Some local residents complain that the turbines make noise and cause flickering reflections and shadows. Neighbors and communities disagree over whether to permit additional wind farms. Local Amish farmers refuse to have them on their lands. 

The Maple Ridge Wind Farm includes 195 wind turbine generators, and as we drove along it seemed that each turn of the road brought more of them in sight. Some are set off in the fields, and others tower over barns and houses. Each rotor blade is 130 feet long. These are truly enormous structures! The wind farm looked to us like a positive turn for the future of rural New York, but we could see how this huge change in the familiar landscape would bring different emotional reactions as well as new money to the area. 

One thing that is clear is that more use of alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power will mean changes in many areas — for all of us. The megawatts of electricity being produced by the Tug Hill Plateau winds are mostly being used elsewhere in the state, so new wires were needed too. Solar farms and wind farms change the character of the areas where they are located. What do you think it would be like to live with a wind farm nearby? 

 Wind Turbine Tug Hill PlateauMultiple Wind Turbines Tug Hill Plateau

Published by Diana on 08 Jul 2008

T Boone Pickens

T Boone Pickens is a legendary Texas oilman with a reputation for plain speaking. Today he announced that he is getting into wind farming. For a Texas oilman to advocate alternative energy sources… well, you know this is the future.

Read all about it here:T Boone Pickens

Published by Diana on 06 Jul 2008

Electrical Power Generation from One Waterfall…

Snoqualmie Falls

Your traveling reporters went to Snoqualmie Falls, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Washington State. At 276 feet, Snoqualmie Falls are higher than Niagara Falls but carry far less water because the Snoqualmie River is smaller than the Niagara River. Flow through the falls varies considerably, depending on the season.

The Falls can generate enough electricity for thousands of houses and are part of the Washington State electrical generation system, which generates 75% of Washington’s electricity. The falling water is drawn into pipes (called penstocks, as shown in the left picture below) and then used to spin turbines, which actually generate the electricity by spinning a magnet inside a wire coil. The amount of electricity that can be generated depends on the height of the falls and the amount of water that flows over them.

Other major United States hydroelectric projects that generate electricity include Grand Coulee Dam (where the Columbia River was dammed to create an artificial drop in water level) and Niagara Falls (where the Niagara River drops more than a hundred feet naturally).

Penstocks at Snoqualmie Falls Falls and Power Station Snoqualmie Falls Lower Power Station and Pipes

While hydroelectric plants generate “clean” electricity, without producing carbon dioxide or other pollutants, they do have environmental impacts. Artificial dams (rather than natural waterfalls) may prevent migrating fish (such as salmon) from going upriver to spawn. Even with natural waterfalls, the lowered water flows caused by the hydroelectric generation may cause the river to be warmer than usual, as has happened in the Grand Canyon where the Colorado is dammed at Hoover Dam. In China, the Three Gorges Dam destroyed many villages and archaeological sites.