Solar Boom: US Solar Industry Growing

The US solar industry is growing at staggering rates according to a report by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.  The report projects that this year will have added over 7 gigawatts to the country’s capacity – and notes that in this past quarter, the country has just surpassed the 20 gigawatt mark.  That’s enough energy to supply about 3.3 million households.  The solar industry is growing more and more each year – if we continue on this trajectory, we will see the US’s solar capacity nearly double by the end of 2016 with an additional 18 gigawatts.

The growth is being fueled by a number of incentives: low interest rates, declining costs, and the federal solar investment tax credit.  The study included data from all sectors: from residential rooftop installations (which showed the most growth, up 70% from last year) to utility-scale solar farms like the Comanche Solar project.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, the total US electricity capacity was measured at over 1000 gigawatts in the year 2012.   Solar may seem to be insignificant in comparison, but its growth rates show it is becoming more significant year after year.  Between the incentives of tax credits, technological innovations, and promotions like Google’s Project Sunroof, we can expect to see renewable energy become more and more the normal in coming years.

For more information, check out this article from The Washington Post.

UT Recycling: Zero Waste Goals for Neyland

Last year, Game Days at UT accumulated approximately 21 tons of waste per game in and around Neyland Stadium, nearly all of which is recyclable or compostable.  Thank goodness UT Recycling was there to lead Zero Waste Gameday – they were able to divert about 50% of waste away from landfills.  This year, they’re raising the stakes, hoping to divert as much as 90% of this waste from the landfill to recycling and composting that is processed right here on campus.  In order to meet this goal, they need all the help they can get.  You can volunteer a part or all of your Saturday to Zero Waste Gamedays here.

If you already made your tailgating plans and your ticket is paid for – there are still ways for you to help. Make sure you’re using the right waste receptacles. If you don’t know what goes where, don’t hesitate to ask one of the many Gameday Volunteers wearing the green shirts! And when you do recycle or compost – make sure to snap a picture. If you post it to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtags #UTvsOU and #VolsRecycle you could win a football signed by Head Coach Butch Jones!

There are seven home games this season – dedicate one to Making Orange Green with UT Recycling!

For more information on Zero Waste Gamedays, check out this article in The Daily Beacon or check out UT Recycling’s website!

Golf Course Turned Solar Farm in Japan

Golf, once a popular sport, is fading away before our eyes.  Participation is down, equipment sales are tanking, and the number of courses closing each year dismisses the few that dare to open up. In the US (measured by 18-hole equivalents), 2012 saw 154.5 closes against a mere 13.5 openings. This isn’t just a problem unique to the US – Japanese participation in the sport has dwindled to a little more than half of what it was at its peak in the 1990s, leaving more abandoned golf courses out to dry in the shining sun, and leaving us to question what to do with them.

Kyocera, a Japanese producer and supplier of solar energy panels, has a solution. They began construction on June 28, 2015, of a 23-megawatt solar power plant on an abandoned golf course in Kyoto prefecture, Japan. It is estimated to be able to provide clean, renewable energy to power approximately 8,100 households. The project is expected to be operational in September of 2017. They are also in the development stages for repurposing another abandoned golf course in Kagoshima prefecture into a 92-megawatt solar power plant (rendered above), which would produce enough electricity to power approximately 30,500 households.

The idea is perfect. Golf courses are characteristically large expanses of land with high sun exposure and a low concentration of shade trees. The land being used to develop these projects would otherwise be left to nature – of both ecological and human varieties – like it has at a 54-hole course in Myrtle Beach, SC.

To learn more about this project, check out the press release here.

Dutch SolaRoad is Successful, Still Testing

Last November, the Netherlands opened up the world’s first public solar roadway, called SolaRoad. The project is located in a Dutch town called Krommenie, and is to be studied for the next three years so as to gather information necessary for taking this project from pilot to product.

The road is 70 meters long, built of concrete modules 2.5 by 3.5 meters and fitted with solar cells underneath a layer of 1-cm thick tempered glass. Sunlight that falls on the road surface is absorbed by solar cells and converted into electricity, which then is funneled into the national energy grid. It serves as a commuter bike path for the time being, and has been used by more than 150,000 cyclists within its first month.

SolaRoad is thus far considered a success.  After half a year, the bike path produced more energy than expected – about 3,000 kWh.  That amount of electricity can provide a single person household with electricity for a year, or power an electric scooter on a trip around the world 2.5 times.  Based off of its performance thus far, the road can be expected to produce more than 70 kWh per square meter per year.  And with the approximate 140,000 km of roads in the Netherlands, an area of approximately 400-500 km2, that could put a decent dent in the country’s electrical needs.

A challenge the prototype faces is creating a safe driving surface.  Asphalt, the traditional road surface, was engineered to provide increased traction; glass, on the other hand, isn’t known for being especially skid resistant.  Before even dreaming of building a publicly accessible prototype, the scientists and engineers behind SolaRoad looked to ways of creating a top layer that meets the needs for converting sunlight into energy but also meets roadway safety requirements. The top layer has to be translucent and repel dirt in order for sunlight to be able to pass through to the solar cells, but it also has to be skid resistant and strong enough to bear the weight of large vehicles and withstand the shock of falling objects.  There are also environmental factors like heat, cold, and salt to contend with.  At the end of December 2014, a small section of the coating on the road actually delaminated because of temperature fluctuations that caused the coating to shrink.  Repairs were quickly made and an improved top layer is now in advanced stages of development.

Another challenge that SolaRoad faces is the upfront costs. So far, about $3.7 million has gone into the project, provided largely by the local government and investments from various partners.  It’s difficult to figure out how much it will cost to produce these roads once they have moved from prototype to production, but so far, based on the techno-economic feasibility study, they can say that the roads will pay for themselves within a lifespan of 20 years, and they are eventually aiming for a payback period of 15 years or less. This may seem like a long time, but given that the lifetime of the roadways is expected to be approximately 20-25 years, you can expect that the roadways will also incur an income with a little patience.

This Dutch project is comparable to the American startup company based in Ohio, called Solar Roadways, best known for its crowdfunding campaign. They may both be in prototype stages, but they are very different in the technical details. Solar Roadways is working to build a road that serves as a source of solar electricity, but they are also trying to integrate dozens of features at the outset, including LED lights in the panels that signal traffic changes and pedestrian crossings. SolaRoad is focused entirely on generating electricity, and only afterwards will consider the integration of other functions. They believe that this will streamline the process and help them reach a well-functioning and practically applicable solution as soon as possible. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll collaborate with the UK’s charging highway!

To learn more about SolaRoad, check out their website here.

Get InVOLved: Environmental Groups on Campus

The beginning of the year is a time for trying new things. Lots of interest meetings are available, obligations from the previous year melt away, and the time is perfect for exploring your options. If you want to make environmental sustainability a part of your year, why not try going to a student organization that focuses mainly on sustainable issues? There are tons of student orgs that deal with the environment, but here are some of the few we work with most often.

SPEAK (Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville)

SPEAK works to increase awareness of and seek creative solutions to local, regional, and national environmental issues. In the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, they aim to build a community of leaders who act on stewardship and sustainability. They are heavily involved in advocacy and awareness initiatives. SPEAK meets every Monday in Dunford Hall room 2326 at 8:00 PM. For more information, visit their VolLink page. 

EcoVols

EcoVols is a peer-to-peer environmental education program within the residence halls aimed at reducing energy and water usage, reducing waste and increasing recycling, and promoting other sustainable living habits. They also aim to be a reliable source of information about important environmental issues. Their activities include residence hall assessments, the annual POWER Challenge, UT Recycling events, RecycleMania, Earth Month events, and other miscellaneous programs the EcoVols create throughout the year. The EcoVols meet every Wednesday at 8:00 PM in HSS 203. For more information, visit their VolLink page or email them at ecovols@utk.edu.

Food Recovery Network

The Food Recovery Network is a national organization that unites students at colleges and universities to fight food waste and hunger by recovering surplus perishable food from their campuses and surrounding communities that would otherwise go to waste and donating it to people in need. At the University of Tennessee, FRN’s aim is to eliminate as much food waste as possible from sporting events, dining halls, campus convenience stores, and other dining locations. Currently, UT composts nearly all of its food waste, which releases large amounts of methane gas, which is far more harmful than carbon dioxide–Not to mention this food could potentially feed one of the nearly 250,000 people in East Tennessee that access emergency food supplies. All recovered food goes directly to Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee, which helps feed 18 surrounding counties. The Food Recovery Network is also an advocate for the students of UT in areas of sustainability, campus dining, and local food insecurity issues. For more information, visit their VolLink page or email them at frn@utk.edu.

Project V.E.G.G.I.E. (Vols Educating about Growing Gardens and Inspiring Environmentalism)

Project V.E.G.G.I.E. is one of the newest and most ambitious student organizations on the University of Tennessee Knoxville campus. Project V.E.G.G.I.E., which stands for Vols Educating about Growing Gardens and Inspiring Environmentalism, is a mission to give UT students the opportunity to cultivate their gardening skills, save money by growing their own food, and educate students about the advantages of working with nature and its devices. Members of Project V.E.G.G.I.E. learn how to manage a garden (if they don’t already know how), gain experience in growing fruits, vegetables, flowers, and more, have access to free fresh and natural fruits, vegetables, and flowers, build long-lasting friendships with people who have similar interests, and are a part of UT’s first ever main campus community garden! Project V.E.G.G.I.E also works in conjunction with many other UT organizations that have similar initiatives and the Student Government Association in order to provide members with affiliated opportunities and information. Additionally, Project V.E.G.G.I.E. works with a UT professor to supply garden workday service hours for students who are required to complete specified hours for class credit. Not only can students learn to view soil, food, and gardening from a different perspective, but they can also be involved in a sustainable methodology for living. For more information, visit their VolLink page or email them at veggie@utk.edu.

Drought is Sinking California

Californians are in the fourth year of one of the worst droughts the state has seen in the past century. Having only gotten just over 4 inches of rain on average in the last year, Californians are faced with depleted reservoir stores and must turn to their underground water stores that can’t refill fast enough.  The drought is literally sucking California dry, and much like a sponge – the state is shriveling.

NASA released a report on Wednesday of last week (8/19/15) that illustrated this shriveling, or in more technical terms – subsidence ([sub-SIDE-dense] noun. the general caving in or sinking of an area of land).  They collaborated with Japan and Canada to use some of the world’s top of the line satellite and aircraft technology to create maps of this subsidence, accurate within fractions of an inch.  By compiling data of the four year period of 2006 and 2010, and a more recent eight month period between May 2014 and January 2015, they were able to demonstrate how the subsistence in California has changed physically over time.

The largest affected area spans 60 miles around Corcoran, CA.  Between 2006 and 2010 the ground sank approximately 37 inches at its deepest point – a rate of about 0.8 inches per month.  Between May 2014 and January 2015, the ground sank an additional 13 inches – a rate of about 1.6 inches per month (illustrated in the image above).  The rate of subsidence is not just continuing, but growing larger and becoming more of a problem.

NASA attributes this subsidence to the pumping of water from the stores beneath the ground, known as aquifers. Drawing water from the ground generally isn’t a problem, but when the ground doesn’t refill it compacts and the surface sinks.  Some types of aquifers are able to bounce back after compaction – these layers of the water table are unconfined and are easily permeable.  The trouble is when the other layers are drained, which are known as confined and are less permeable therefore harder to refill.  When they become compacted, they can’t bounce back and they lose future water storage potential.  For a state with a drought problem, this isn’t good news.

The trouble that the state already faces from the drought (increased wildfire activity, endangerment of wildlife, and the troubles in the agricultural sector with crop, revenue, and job losses) is only being added to with these rapid geographical changes. The subsidence is responsible for costly damages to all sorts of structures: bridges, roads, and even canals that deliver water up and down the state.

There are no simple fixes to this issue, but legislation and policies show that the state is taking it seriously. Plans are being made to do things like monitor the pumping of groundwater and prevent further damage to underwater stores beneath the state, as well as fixing structures that have been affected by the subsidence.

To find out more about the drought, click here.  To learn about your contribution to the drought (even if you don’t live in the Golden State), click here.

UT Sponsors Smart Trips

The University of Tennessee has become a sponsor of Smart Trips, a program that promotes alternatives to driving alone.  “Here to help you become a mobile genius,” the program promotes various alternatives to driving alone to and from work, such as: carpooling, taking transit, biking, walking, and telecommuting to work.  On their savvy and user-friendly website, you can log your commutes, connect with other commuters, and calculate your commuting costs (gas and GHG emissions).

The US Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the Tennessee Department of Transportation, and Knox County all come together to extend this free service to those who live or work in Knox, Blount, Sevier, Jefferson, Anderson, Loudon, and portions of Roan and Cocke counties.

Why should you use it?  Well, first: you can save money.  A 12-mile commute to work by car daily costs approximately $4,000 a year in gas, repairs, insurance, and depreciation.  Second: you can lessen your impact on the environment.  The US government ranks the air pollution in this region as the 7th worst in the nation, and about half of that air pollution comes from the vehicles we drive.  Third: think of all the prizes you can win!  Gift cards from Bliss, Café 4, Just Ripe, Mast General Store, Panera Bread, Regal Cinemas, Three Rivers Market, and The Tomato Head – and the Annual Commuter Challenge prizes include iPads, Amazon Kindles, or even a $1500 vacation package, courtesy of AAA Travel.

It’s all so easy – they’ve even got you covered in emergencies with their Emergency Ride Home program. They will provide you a free ride home from work for people who have an emergency on a day that they used alternative transportation. And for those of you who already invested in a downtown parking pass? Smart Trips encourages you to cancel it in favor of a leaner and greener commute! They’ll even throw in four free parking passes for you (for the days you’re driving the carpool of course).

For more information or to sign up, check out Smart Trips’ website.

New T Route to Pellissippi and ORNL

UT’s Parking and Transit implemented a new T bus route on Wednesday of last week (8/19/2015) to connect the campus community to Pellissippi State Community College’s Hardin Valley campus and Oak Ridge National Laboratory.  In offering this new route, the university is taking steps to lessen the carbon footprint of the community – taking advantage of mass transit is a sustainable alternative to commuting by personal automobiles.

The route was created as a collaboration between UT, PSCC, and ORNL to benefit the many members of the UT community who are affiliated with PSCC and ORNL.  The vice chancellor for research and engagement, Taylor Eighmy, emphasizes that the route will support the steadily growing number of internships, graduate assistantships, and shared faculty between ORNL, the Breseden Center (a joint institute between UT and ORNL), and the Bridge Program with Pellissippi State.

This T route will run every weekday, picking up at the intersection of Cumberland Avenue and James Agee Street to take a round trip to Pellissippi State Community College’s Clayton Performing Arts Center, and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Visitor’s Center before returning to UT. Before riding this T, riders are required to present their UT ID or their ORNL badges to ride to PSCC and ORNL respectively.

For more information on this new route, check out the TN Today article. For more information about scheduling and other specifics on the ORNL/PSCC T bus route, click here, and for more information about all the T bus routes, including the real-time tracking system check out Ride the T.

Google's Project Sunroof Calculates Solar Savings

Google is promoting solar power in their latest project, called Project Sunroof. Using Google Maps data, they can calculate a roof’s solar energy potential. With their database of aerial imagery and maps, they can measure rooftop area and estimate the amount of sunlight it can receive based on geographical location, rooftop orientation, shade from nearby buildings and trees, as well as weather – all coming out to a realistic figure as to how much money you could save by placing solar panels on your roof. They even link you to local solar providers to take it from notion to reality. This complication free assessment takes the hours and days of research out of solar power and boils it down to about 10 seconds.

At this time, the website only works in the San Francisco Bay Area, Fresno, and Boston, but will be expanding to other regions in the next few months.

For more information, click here.

UT Engineers Work on Improving Batteries

A team of engineers here at UT is on the cutting edge of science, developing better batteries that are safer and more reliable.  The group is led by Joshua Sangoro, an assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the university.  Sangoro’s team is trying to change the design of traditional batteries, including the substances inside of them, in a way that will solve the problems that traditional lithium ion batteries pose.  The biggest of which being overheating, which leads to unwanted chemical reactions that can create hazardous situations involving poisonous gasses and fires.

We use so many things in our day to day lives that involve portable power in the form of batteries: cell phones, laptops, vehicles, airplanes, even children’s toys – they’re everywhere.  The work of Sangoro and his team will have an impact on the world and shape the way we think about power.  Their work will extend past powering personal devices, expanding the capabilities of anything needing a portable power source – including things like solar cells.  The National Science Foundation recently awarded the team a grant of $348,000 to continue their work.

Check out the article from Tennessee Today to learn more about this promising project!