WBEZ | solar power http://www.wbez.org/tags/solar-power Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Growing unrest in Libya, Mexico's drug strategy and the practicality of solar power http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-07-30/growing-unrest-libya-mexicos-drug-strategy-and-practicality-solar <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP120428155549.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We learn about a prison escape and new attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Journalist and author Alfredo Corchado joins us to assess Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto&#39;s strategy to combat drugs. Kate Sackman and Dick Co highlight the practicality of solar power.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F103290052&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-mexico-s-drug-strategy-and-the-practical.js?header=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/worldview-mexico-s-drug-strategy-and-the-practical" target="_blank">View the story "Worldview: Growing unrest in Libya, Mexico's drug strategy and the practicality of solar power" on Storify</a>]</noscript></p></p> Tue, 30 Jul 2013 10:59:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/worldview/2013-07-30/growing-unrest-libya-mexicos-drug-strategy-and-practicality-solar EcoMyths: Is Solar Power Practical Yet for Homeowners? http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-solar-power-practical-yet-homeowners-108224 <p><p>My home faces south with tons of windows, so we get really warm on a typical sunny day. Does that mean I am harnessing solar power? If I wanted to install solar panels, would it save me energy and money? On <em>Worldview</em> today, host Jerome McDonnell and I explored these very questions with Dick Co, managing director of the <a href="http://www.solar-fuels.org/management-team--staff.html" title="Find others who have worked at this company">Solar Fuels Institute</a> and environmental chemistry professor at <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/search?search=&amp;company=Argonne-Northwestern+Solar+Energy+Research+%28ANSER%29+Center&amp;sortCriteria=R&amp;keepFacets=true&amp;trk=prof-0-ovw-curr_pos" title="Find others who have worked at this company">Argonne-Northwestern Solar Energy Research (ANSER) Center</a>.<iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F103290717" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>Dick walked us through the basics of solar power for homeowners as well as some truly &ldquo;cool&rdquo; solar-harnessing technology to make fuel (yes, liquid fuel) for practical use in the near future. But first, he helped us explore the virtues of solar. Of course, sunlight is free, in the sense that it does not have to be mined, and it&rsquo;s abundant. Dick said each year we receive a whopping 120,000 terawatts of energy from the sun, but the world&rsquo;s population uses only 16 terawatts annually. That&rsquo;s a pretty good ratio. Also, once installed, there is no harmful waste or byproduct from producing solar power. In addition, studies show that going solar may increase your home value.</p><p>Dick confirmed that my house benefits from <a href="http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/passive-solar-home-design">passive solar home design</a>, which can be done a lot more effectively if the home is intentionally designed to absorb sunlight during the day and release the heat at night. Of course, you can install solar panels on your roof, known as <a href="http://www.eere.energy.gov/basics/renewable_energy/photovoltaics.html">solar photovoltaic (PV) cells</a>. They can be installed on a tracking device that follows the sun. Finally, there is <a href="http://www.doe.gov/energysaver/articles/active-solar-heating">active solar heating</a>. This process uses a solar collector to heat water or air for later use.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" height="263" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Solar.jpg" style="float: right;" title="Gaiam has solarized more homes throughout the U.S. than any other company; 60,000 to date. (PRNewsFoto/Gaiam, inc.)" width="236" /></div><p>We also explored the costs to homeowners and the various state subsidies that make converting to solar affordable. Some people produce so much solar power that they actually get a rebate from their local utility for returning energy to the power grid!</p><p>To read more about this myth, listen to the podcast of today&rsquo;s show, or go to the <a href="http://www.ecomythsalliance.org/">EcoMyths Alliance</a> website to read more about the costs and benefits of home solar production.</p></p> Tue, 30 Jul 2013 10:33:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/ecomyths/ecomyths-solar-power-practical-yet-homeowners-108224 Berwyn's Jolly Green Giant (Laundromat) and local theater http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/berwyns-jolly-green-giant-laundromat-and-local-theater-105355 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/laundromat.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>We&#39;re exploring Chicago suburbs and put out calls via <a href="http://twitter.com/wbez">Twitter</a>, <a href="http://www.facebook.com/wbez915?fref=ts">Facebook</a> and <a href="http://instagram.com/wbezchicago">Instagram</a> to get your ideas for our day looking for <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/day-berwyn-105207">stories in Berwyn</a>. And you gave us <a href="http://www.facebook.com/wbez915/posts/10151457987906000">so many ideas</a>, we had to enlist the help of some of our bloggers to answer your questions.</em></p><p><em>We have a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/diversity-spawns-creativity-berwyn-105351">story about the World&#39;s Largest Laundromat</a> and the unconventional ways it&#39;s building community in Berwyn. But it&#39;s also an interesting test case in using green technology to cut energy costs. WBEZ Environmental blogger <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley">Chris Bentley</a> talked with Tom Benson, the owner, about his solar-powered laundromat:</em></p><h2><strong>Solar-powered suds</strong></h2><p>World&#39;s Largest Laundromat owner Tom Benton first installed solar panels in 2002 after <a href="http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/servicerpt/natgas/chapter1.html">an unprecedented spike</a> in natural gas prices.</p><p>These are solar thermal panels, not photovoltaics, so they make hot water, not electricity. Depending on the season, his 36 solar panels can shave as much as 15 percent off his natural gas bill. That is one of his main expenses &mdash; all those washers use a lot of hot water.</p><p>The laundromat burned down in 2004, and Benson rebuilt the $175,000 solar panel system along with the rest of the building, receiving a minor contribution from the state for the renewable energy.</p><p>(The first time around, a state grant kicked in nearly half of the solar panel&#39;s costs). Interestingly that price signal that drove Benson to look at solar in the first place has not only subsided &mdash; natural gas is now one sixth the price it was in the early 2000s. Thanks to unconventional extraction techniques like fracking, massive domestic reserves of the fossil fuel have been discovered, which have prolonged Benson&#39;s payback period.</p><p>Though the solar panels still haven&#39;t paid for themselves, despite next to no maintenance costs, he is still glad he has them. Given the new economics of natural gas, he said he would have to think long and hard about whether he&#39;d install them again if asked to start over today.</p><p>They are scouting a new location in Chicago, which Benson said would likely include solar photovoltaic. It might also include efficient LED lighting, at least for the building&#39;s exterior. He isn&#39;t the only solar laundromat &mdash; in fact, he said one nearby on Ogden Ave. had solar panels &mdash; but he is one of few. Crain&#39;s <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20071117/ISSUE02/100028874/worlds-largest-green-laundromat">reported</a> that fewer than 5 percent of the 35,000 laundries nationwide use solar power, according to the Coin Laundry Association.</p><h2><strong>Theater in Berwyn</strong></h2><p><em>Lots of folks on Facebook <a href="http://www.facebook.com/wbez915/posts/10151457987906000">suggested</a> we explore the <a href="http://www.16thstreettheater.org/scripts/now_at_16thstreet.asp">16th Street Theater</a> in Berwyn. WBEZ&#39;s <a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/dueling-critics">Dueling Critic</a> Kelly Kleiman offered her two cents about the budding theater scene:</em></p><p>Ann Filmer founded 16th Street Theater to bring not just professional theater but new plays to Berwyn. It&#39;s becoming the affordable alternative to Oak Park for literate parents. Filmer has worked with other theaters (Teatro Luna) and with visiting artists</p><p>(Michael Fosberg, who performed his own compelling monologue about discovering in his mid-30s that he was black) but her real strong suit is discovering new plays with believable protagonists dealing with contemporary issues. &quot;Contemporary&quot; can be a pretty broad category--16th Street&#39;s production of The Beats focused on poets of the 1950s--but don&#39;t expect any costume dramas.</p><p>Right now 16th Street is working with visiting artist Lance Baker as he presents Mike Daisey&#39;s monologue The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, a &quot;J&#39;Accuse!&quot; about Apple&#39;s manufacturing partners in China and their mistreatment of their workers. Daisey originally presented the monologue on This American Life as reportage, but was soon forced to admit that it contained significant elements of fiction, and Ira Glass and his crew <a href="http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/460/retraction">retracted the story</a>.</p><p>Baker is presenting what purports to be a de-fictionalized version of the piece, but the shadow of Daisey&#39;s deception hangs over it. Interestingly, though, that makes the piece more resonant instead of less--obviously some portions of it are true, and the effort of trying to decide which those are makes the audience more engaged in--and, sad to say, more complicit with--the business decisions which produce our affordable iThings.</p></p> Tue, 05 Feb 2013 12:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/sections/media/berwyns-jolly-green-giant-laundromat-and-local-theater-105355 Solar titan faces funding worries after Solyndra http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-29/solar-titan-faces-funding-worries-after-solyndra-92651 <p><p>The spectacular failure of the <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/09/14/140461140/report-white-house-tried-to-rush-decision-on-loan-to-solar-firm">solar company Solyndra</a> has focused attention on the struggle of America's renewable energy industry to compete in a global marketplace.</p><p>But there may be a bright spot in Arizona, where manufacturer First Solar makes those iconic solar panels more cheaply than anyone else.</p><p>Last year First Solar had sales of $2.6 billion. Now, the solar titan is now trying to stay ahead of an industry in turmoil after Solyndra's downfall puts its federal support into question.</p><p><strong>A solar bright spot</strong><br> <br> In the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, it's hard to feel the gloom that's been shadowing the solar industry. There, First Solar is constructing its second U.S. manufacturing facility.<br> <br> Melanie Friedman, a cheerful First Solar spokeswoman, shows off the skeleton of a building. When it's done, glossy black panels will emerge from here and blanket the desert floor of a power plant near Yuma in the southwest corner of the state.<br> <br> "The whole reason we decided to build this factory in the U.S. Southwest was because of the growing demand in this area," Friedman says.</p><p>The power plant in Yuma is called <a href="http://www.aguacalientesolarproject.com/">Agua Caliente</a>, and 5 million solar panels will eventually power 100,000 homes there each year. The company is quick to say that when it's completed around 2013, it will be the largest solar project in the world.<br> <br> Industry expert Ryne Raffaelle with the Rochester Institute of Technology says First Solar grew into a global giant for a reason: cost. The company doesn't rely on silicon to make its product like most solar manufacturers. That's allowed First Solar to produce a panel for about 75 cents per watt, while most Chinese competitors can build it for a $1.10 per watt.<br> <br> "They've done some remarkable things," Raffaelle says. "They took that company from nothing to an international powerhouse. And I'd like to think there are some other First Solars still waiting to emerge from the U.S."</p><p><strong>Competing with China</strong><br> <br> America's solar industry is struggling to stand on its own, Raffaelle says. First Solar got more than $50 million in local incentives for the Mesa factory and up to $5 billion in federal loan guarantees to get its utility projects financed.</p><p>That's the same kind of help that California company Solyndra received before it went bankrupt. Now, the loan guarantees are increasingly unpopular in Washington.<br> <br> "First Solar is in big trouble. Big, big trouble," says Gordon Johnson, a senior research analyst for Axiom Capital Management.</p><p>Johnson doesn't believe American companies — even the biggest American company — can compete. Massive government investment in Asia is tipping the scale and helping Chinese manufacturers like <a href="http://www.gcl-poly.com.hk/eng/index.php">GCL-Poly Energy</a> creep closer to First Solar's envied production costs.<br> <br> "They are going after First Solar's pipeline, and they will win," Johnson says.<strong> </strong><br> <br> Johnson and others say there's another problem: Demand and incentives in critical European markets have fallen, leaving a glut of supply.<strong> </strong>Johnson points out that First Solar's stock has fallen by more than half from its 52-week high. "It's a disaster," he says.</p><p><strong>Lower costs, fewer subsidies</strong><br> <br> At First Solar headquarters outside of Phoenix, executive TK Kallenbach says the company will get through the uncertainty.<br> <br> "You have to be an optimist in this business," Kallenbach says. "You've either got to pull your costs down faster, or you're going to have a loss-maker."<br> <br> By 2014, he says, First Solar will get those production cost from 75 cents per watt down to about 55 cents, and that will go a long way to compensate for China's advance. To Kallenbach, reaching that goal is imperative.<br> <br> "You can't have a billion people in India and China coming on line with the kind of energy thirst we've had in the U.S. for the last 60 or 70 years. So you've got to do it," he says.<br> <br> What's more, the lower costs go, the quicker First Solar can wean itself from the political uncertainty of government subsidies. And that's exactly what the company says it wants — to shine on its own.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 KJZZ-FM.</div></p> Fri, 30 Sep 2011 03:02:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-29/solar-titan-faces-funding-worries-after-solyndra-92651 Report: White House 'tried to rush' decision on loan to solar firm http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-14/report-white-house-tried-rush-decision-loan-solar-firm-91970 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-14/obamasolyndra.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>One of the scoops of the day, <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/white-house-pushed-500-million-loan-to-solar-company-now-under-investigation/2011/09/13/gIQAr3WbQK_story.html?hpid=z1" target="_blank">from <em>The Washington Post</em></a>:</p><p>&nbsp;</p><blockquote><p>"The Obama White House tried to rush federal reviewers for a decision on a nearly half-billion-dollar loan to the solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra so Vice President Biden could announce the approval at a September 2009 groundbreaking for the company's factory, newly obtained e-mails show."</p><p>&nbsp;</p></blockquote><p>According to the <em>Post</em>, "the August 2009 emails ... show White House officials repeatedly asking OMB reviewers when they would be able to decide on the federal loan and noting a looming press event at which they planned to announce the deal. In response, OMB officials expressed concern that they were being rushed."</p><p>White House spokesman Eric Schultz tells the <em>Post </em>that the administration was expressing a "quite active interest" in the loan decision, but that it was left to career staffers at the Department of Energy to weigh the merits of the loan.</p><p>The<em> Post </em>adds that "it is not clear from the emails whether the White House influenced a final decision to approve the loan guarantee." The previous administration, of Republican President George W. Bush, had also been pursuing a federal loan guarantee for Solyndra.</p><p>Biden participated via satellite feed in Solyndra's Sept. 4, 2009, groundbreaking and "announced the Department of Energy has finalized a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, Inc., which manufactures innovative cylindrical solar photovoltaic panels that provide clean, renewable energy," <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/vice-president-biden-announces-finalized-535-million-loan-guarantee-solyndra" target="_blank">according to a White House statement issued at the time</a>. In May 2010, President Obama visited the company to tout the jobs it had created.</p><p>On Aug. 31 this year, Solyndra declared bankruptcy. George Avalos, a business reporter with the Bay Area Newsgroup, <a href="http://www.npr.org/2011/09/01/140124818/solar-panel-company-declares-bankruptcy" target="_blank">told <em>All Things Considered</em> earlier this month</a> that Solyndra was "never able to get [its] manufacturing costs low enough to be competitive with solar panel manufacturers in China, as well as solar manufacturer companies here in the United States."</p><p>The<em> Post</em>'s story comes, <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=140457180" target="_blank">The Associated Press writes</a>, as a House panel prepares for a hearing today to "examine what went wrong with Solyndra" and ask why "taxpayers on the hook" for the nearly half-billion dollar loan. As <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2011/09/01/140110449/solar-companys-shutdown-becomes-political-issue" target="_blank">we previously wrote</a>, the loan to the company and its subsequent failure has become a political issue.</p><p>Last week, <a href="http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=140291210" target="_blank">federal agents raided Solyndra's offices</a> as part of an investigation being conducted with the Department of Energy's Office of Inspector General.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Wed, 14 Sep 2011 08:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-14/report-white-house-tried-rush-decision-loan-solar-firm-91970