Green4Geeks Blog

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IKEA Gets It: Zero Emissions is Smart Business

IKEA_Flags

I've been an IKEA fan for years, and now I have something more to like about them.  IKEA just announced that they will be performing zero emissions home delivery in five major markets by 2020.  This means your home assembly adventures can be brought to your very door if you live in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, New York, Paris or Shanghai.  The rest of us may have to wait a while (2025 is the goal), but in the meantime, many of us may be able to enjoy EV charging stations while we wait.  All of it is detailed in the September 2018 press release.  

IKEA has been a leader on high efficiency, low emissions technology for a while; they have had among the lowest cost LED light bulbs available, and even went the extra mile to eliminate all non-LED lights from their shelves.  Most of their store/warehouses are topped with solar panels, and their educational outreach program even gave away free LED bulbs.  Does this make good business sense?  You bet it does - early adoption means they are already saving energy costs, and the experience that goes with it.  

I can't wait to see what EV will deliver my BILLY bookshelves; perhaps a new EV Volvo?


Phote attribution:  By J. James [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

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Lightning Distance Trick

I'm a huge fan of the webcomic XKCD.  When I saw this one today, it reminded me of a piece I wrote about lightning (The Ultimate Wireless Energy:Lightning) a few  years ago.  I got a good laugh out of this comic and wanted to share it.

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xkcd: Lightning Distance

Check out XKCD past work on their main site....
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There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Recently I came across a Facebook post that appeared to be great news - free energy from drinking water.  The premise is, by replacing a section of fresh water distribution pipes with a specially designed pipe with small turbines in it, the energy harvested from the fresh water running through the pipe and turning the turbine blades could be converted to electricity to do all sorts of things, even powering homes!  The special pipe is built by Lucid Energy.  This video explaining the process is a bit short on details, but has great production quality, and is very much a feel-good piece.  It was produced by a media company called ATTN:, and is one of a series of videos on various social and ecological topics.  The video on Facebook is can be found here.  The whole premise of this Green4Geeks site is engineering ecologically, going green because it is often the smarter long term solution, and basically just building smarter.  So when I see an innovative concept such as this, it really catches my attention.  I'm having a real problem getting behind this idea, and here is why; I believe this concept will use more energy than it creates.  

OK, so the water is going to be rushing through the pipe anyway, right?  It is fresh water that is going through water mains, that eventually makes it to the taps in our homes.  So, how does that water get there?  The answer is that it is pumped there from a reservoir.  Huge water pumps that are usually run by electricity create the flow and the pressure to keep the water flowing and under steady pressure.  Anything that is a blockage or impediment in the water's path adds to the energy it takes for the pumps to push that water through the pipe.  That includes the blades of the turbines that the video depicts.  So, while the energy appears to be free to the person downstream, something upstream is burning up energy to make it happen.  The only way I can see this working for free is if you are on a gravity system.  Most water systems here in the US are not gravity systems, they actively run pumps to keep all that water moving.  The water towers that you see around cities are actually there for mostly emergency use - when the power is out of there is an exceptionally heavy and sudden demand.

So, what i see is a rob Peter to pay Paul scheme here.  It really isn't free energy - someone is paying the bill at the pump.  The dismaying thing about this is that I observed a lot of positive comments, shares, and likes on the posting.  These are people that love the idea of free energy, but are trusting what appears to be junk science behind it.  Why does it work in Portland?  Their water source is up in the mountains and is primarily gravity fed - a rarity among water systems.  This project in Portland generates enough electricity to power about 150 homes, but it has cost $1.7 million to implement (so far).  They claim that there will be a $2 million savings over 20 years - not bad so long as there are no additional maintenance costs for the system.  I found this information here.   I'm not really sure how their math works out for the savings - I did a quick back of the napkin calculation and here is what I came up with:

Average $350/month electric bill * 12 months * 150 homes * 20 years = $12.6 million 

So, if you have saved $12.6 million in 20 years, you have more than paid for the system.  While it isn't clear whether the savings are an offset to the homeowners electric bill, the offset to construction costs, or both.  It should be noted that the savings calculations and actual energy produced and the homes powered varies widely depending upon where you read about it (the City of Portland, various reporters, and Lucid Energy) - I used the most generous figures for the calculation above.  Regardless, this works well in Portland, and two other cities are mentioned in the article, but for widespread use, not so much.  I would love to hear from any engineers that actually work on this and can correct any of my assumptions, or at least provide more detail on where the savings come in.  Either post in the comments section or email me directly.  

In short, feel good for the folks of Portland - for the rest of us, well, it is just a pipe dream.

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The Many Benefits of Living and Working Locally

Living and working locally has many benefits, including contributing to the economy of your own neighborhood, the opportunity to help small businesses and independent farmers, and the chance to start reducing your footprint on the earth. While some people can't imagine life without a commute, it can be empowering to make a big change and reap the positive benefits at the same time.

Part of living locally includes making a conscious effort to get everything you need from the area you call home and working outward. Instead of shopping online and using valuable resources like fuel and packaging, look for it at a store or seller near you. While you won't always be able to do this, you might be able to find an alternative that will work just as well.

Living and working locally can have a positive effect on your health, as well. Many areas rely on locally-sourced produce from neighborhood farmers, which can be a much healthier organic alternative to store-bought or canned vegetables and fruit. Not only will you enjoy the benefits of fresh items, you'll be helping to sustain a local farm. Additionally, living close to work means you may be able to chuck your car and take a bike or walk instead. This will save you money while working to help the environment.

One major benefit of staying close to home is local tax income. Businesses of all sizes pay a large amount of taxes every year, and the more successful businesses there are in your area, the more money your city will have to pay for new roads, signage, schools, and upkeep.

If you aren't able to find a reasonable place to live that is close to where you work, you might consider volunteering in your own neighborhood. Libraries, small businesses, hospitals, and animal shelters are always happy to have help. This ensures that you are doing your part to live and work in your community even if you aren't earning your money there. You can also help spread the word about small local businesses to urge outside commerce. Bringing money in locally helps everyone in the long run.

Getting involved in your community takes some effort, but it won't go unrewarded. If you live in a very small town that doesn't have a movie theater, for instance, find out what you can do to help raise money for one. The revenue will be great for local income and the citizens of your town will thank you later. Or, if you are involved in local government, consider organizing a county fair that relies on donations from local businesses. All the money raised could go to something for the town, such as an upgrade to a park playground. 

Photo via Pixabay by xusenru

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Engineering Meet Agriculture - I'll Drink to That!

I love it when creative thinking solves a difficult problem, and manages to do it in a 'green' way.  Here is the problem:  hops, which are a tight commodity in the craft beer making market, just don't grow well in the Southeast part of the US.  It isn't so much that they don't grow well, it is more that they don't grow as well as they can elsewhere.  Longer days make for more bountiful harvests, and in Florida, the daylight hours aren't quite long enough.  Add some LED lighting to their unique farms, and what you end up with is longer growing days, bigger harvest, and a locally produced crop!  I have a relative in Missouri who does the opposite to trick certain flowers to bloom during the long summer days.  He has blackout curtains in his greenhouses that are drawn on schedule to shorten the daylight hours for Chrysanthemums and Poinsettias, causing them to bloom when they wouldn't otherwise.  Traditionally, it has been easier and more cost effective to take light away from a growing environment than it has to add light to it.  Modern LED lighting has reduced the cost, and University of Florida is experimenting with different varieties of hops in Hillsborough County.

Hops are like many ingredients in other food products; the supply of ingredients is protected by the big players by contracting a year or more in advance with the growers.  This leaves folks like small craft brewers struggling for supply, and often paying top dollar for this crucial ingredient.  Opening up local supplies would help them greatly.  I hope to soon be hoisting a lovely IPA to their success!

Below, the link for the Hillsborough County article about the lighting (tip-o-the-hat to Johnna for the heads-up on this piece),  The second link is for for the good folks at 47Hops for a great article detailing the current state of the hops industry.

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Why Australia's New Batteries Are Important

640px-500kV_3-Phase_Transmission_Lines

Tesla's new battery installation in Victoria Australia just demonstrated something remarkable.  A coal plant had an event that caused it to drop off line instantly, and the result was a drop in frequency of the power grid overall.  In Australia, the power grid operates at 50hz, and the drop took it to less than 49.8Hz, It was slightly less than a half percent drop, but could start causing some issues, had it continued to drop.  This isn't an unusual event on power grids, and normally, another generation plant would fire up and start producing power and stability to the grid so that no consumers actually lose power.  What is different about having Tesla's massive battery online is the near instantaneous stability it added back to the grid.  Before the alternate power plant could complete it's start up cycle, the battery synced and supported the grid with hardly a waver.

Why is this so important?  There has been shift, that is growing, to alternative forms of power.  The big plants aren't going anywhere soon, but as the solar farms, wind farms, and other alternative forms of energy are added to the grid, stability is going to be even more important.  Let's suppose a community was able to get half of it's daytime power from the sun.  An eclipse or a sudden weather event could take away a significant chunk of power, requiring a boost from the grid.  These new alternative energy plants also serve smaller geographic areas, introducing the concept of 'local energy'. If big power utilities become more of the energy transport than they do energy production, stability will be king.  We could see parallels to today's mobile phone technology - companies vying for the best up-time and quality of service.  Local energy is on it's way.  Tesla just proved that stability is already here, on a large scale.

Follow the link below for a great read on the event described above - and a tip-o-the-hat to Steve Hamel for alerting me to this milestone!

 Transmission line photo courtesy of:  By Varistor60 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59368531


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Alien Ship or Comet - How Would We Know?

I have really enjoyed reading the speculation about the mysterious comet (named Oumuamua or Comet C/2017 U1) taking a spin through our solar system.  What evidence would there have to be to make the argument for, or against?  The article below, from Daily Mail Online does a great job describing the object, and is worth a read..  

This comet is unusual in many ways from previously observed comets.  First off, it's not from around here.  Comets from our past experience are trapped by our sun's gravitational pull, and for the most part share a similar plane to Earth and the rest of the planets.  This one is coming from a completely different and nearly perpendicular plane to ours.  It has come from outside our solar system and is not sticking around - after slinging through our sun's gravity well, it it shooting off and outside our solar system.  This is much like the maneuver our satellites and probes perform to get a speed boost to the outer solar system, and in Voyagers case, outside our solar system.  Another unusual aspect of this object is it's shape.  It is much longer than it is wide - roughly a ten to one ratio.  Most comets are closer to a ball shape. 

There are radio telescope scans being performed on it to see if it emanates any signals.  While I don't think it is a horrible idea, here are a few reasons I think the scans will not be fruitful.  

First, it it is an alien craft, it would have taken a long time to get here at it's current speed.  It would in fact take centuries to get here from the nearest of solar systems at this speed.  Given that it is spending this much time 'on the road', I would think that any kind of technological communication or operation would have to be something more efficient than radio frequency.  To conserve energy for the long haul, you don't want to spend any of it radiating away from yourself.  Light would be a better way to go - think how much less power a fiber optic cable uses than a radio link.  I believe that a true alien ship, capable of interstellar travel, would be beyond rf.

Next, it has been said that this shape is better at protection from radiation.  Does that still hold true if you are tumbling?  This comet is tumbling, more end over end than a cylindrical rotation.  Wouldn't that take away the radiation avoidance profile?  It's period of rotation is slightly over seven hours.

Lastly, it is similar in color of other known space rocks.  Would a ship be as irregular and similar in texture that of common space rocks?

I'm really hoping that the scans and any other types of observation turn up something, even if it isn't an alien ship.  It is just too interesting to simply wave goodbye to.  What do you think?

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Solar Decision

​One of my favorite online comic sites is XKCD.  If you have never seen this very unique site, do yourself a favor and check it out.  One of my favorite topics to write about is solar energy.  When I can combine the two, it is a happy day.  XKCD humorously documents the decision tree on where solar truly works.  Solar is fantastic on sites where you have some fixed real estate, there are relatively expensive energy sources, or non-existent and/or unreliable energy sources, and you have plenty of sunny hours in the day.  It does not work so well on moving objects, or where it is much cheaper to find other sources of energy.  This is why you don't see folks just bolting solar panes onto the family sedan.  First, you would have to cart around the batteries to store up the energy, and second, the real estate just isn't there for the power needs of the typical automobile.  Unless solar panels get dramatically more efficient, there isn't any way that you will get enough energy to store for your grocery runs.  Follow the link, and you will see how easy it is to break it down - just pick a use case, and plug it into the comic.  Brilliant!

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My Favorite Hollywood Robot

Robbie_Forbidden_Planet

I've always had a fascination with robots depicted inf films and on TV.  As a kid, Robby the Robot was my favorite.  He first starred in the movie Forbidden Planet, released in 1956.  I also loved him as a guest star in the '60's TV series, Lost in Space, where he played against another iconic robot, B9.  Robby has a ton of other credits in TV and movies.  He will always be the best in my book, and it appears that at least one collector felt the same way, and was willing to put over $5M down to hang on to this Hollywood icon.

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One of the Most Famous Movie Robots of All Time Just Sold for $5.4 Million

Long before robots like R2-D2 or the Terminator hit the silver screen, a 1956 movie called Forbidden Planet featured a humanoid automaton that, in all likelihood, blew your grandparents’ minds. Robby the Robot might be primitive by today’s movie prop standards, but the three-piece costume is so iconic that it recently sold at a Bonhams auction in New York for a staggering $5,375,000.
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Tesla Trucks!

​I've have been dying to see the new Tesla truck.  I'm really interested to to see how a battery operated 18 wheeler would work out.  This article talks about what others are doing - Tesla looks like it may have some competition in the area.  Follow the link below to WIRED's article.

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Best Robot Music Video Ever!

​OK, I'll admit it.  I totally geeked out on this new music video.  I've always loved listening to music loosely described as 'electronic'.  It is a category that is hard to define precisely, and there are many sub-categories or derivations of the genre.  For example, electronic dance music (EDM) is wildly popular, and most of it is created electronically with synthesized instruments or utilizes samples of instrument based music to create more comples patterns, rhythms, and melodies.  Other forms are classical compositions, but using only synthesizers, rather than traditional instruments.  I have pretty eclectic tastes and will listen to just about any type, but usually end up preferring a mixture of synthesis, traditional instruments and voice, and clever mixing to bring it all together.  Think Moby.

I came across this video that is the perfect mix - this guy programmed industrial robots to be the musicians and as you will see in the video, as actors.  They are playing traditional instruments, and well, you will have to see for yourself...  Enjoy! 


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Is This Smart Solar?

sun

I'm a vocal advocate of solar energy, but is forcing homeowners to adopt the correct approach?  I think not.  See the article in the St. Petersburg Times here.

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Is it Less Expensive to Heat a Cold Home or Cool a Hot Home?

hotcoldhouseWhich is better?  If you live in the North part of the country, most of your energy costs go towards heating your home for the larger part of the year.  If you live in the South, that money goes to cooling instead.  So what climate is the most energy efficient?  The answer might surprise you.

First, consider that depending upon the region and the local climate, the source of the energy to cool or heat a home can be drastically different.  In the North, oil is often used for heating, but that really isn't a great solution in the South for much shorter season where heat is rarely needed.  Electricity has a higher price point in the North for heat, but it the most frequently used energy source for cooling.  The bottom line is, you have to look at regions individually, taking into account the length of seasons, whether your long season is heating or cooling, and then the cost and efficiency of your fuel type.  To do a kind of quick and dirty study, I compared a few states with different climates.  First, let's look at Maine.  Below is a graph depicting the energy usage for heating and cooling as compared to the national average:

ME heatcool

 

Here is the same chart for Florida:

FL heatcool

 

If you are to sum up the measure depicted, just for a one year period (FEB2016 through JAN2017), you get 4,371 degree days for Florida, while totaling a whopping 7,519 degree days for Maine.  Here are several states compared to the national average:

 
State Degree Days
Florida 4,371
Arizona 4,832
National Average 5,354
Kansas 5,496
Michigan 6,818
Maine 7,519

 

As shown, the relatively warm and Southern states of Florida and Arizona are below the national average, while Michigan and Maine are significantly higher in degree days.  Kansas, right in the middle, was relatively close to the national average.

In short, running that air conditioner turns out to be a lot less than cranking up the heater.  That is a win for the warmer states.  That, and you don't have to shovel sunshine!

 

Source:  U.S. Department of Energy, http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/sled/#/

 

 

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Tech Problems From The Future

Tech Problems From The Future

MAR2024:  My %^*#& AI hacked my fridge, and leaked what I've been eating to my primary care AI. I've had it; no more cores for it, no matter how nicely it asks.  #TPFTF

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EM Drive - Hokum, or Holy Crap it Works?

EM Drive - Hokum, or Holy Crap it Works?

There is a certain amount of skepticism that is healthy in the science community. OK, usually there is a whole lot of skepticism, but many would argue it is still healthy. So, when an invention comes along that has claims that seem too good to be true, the skeptics pile on. Cold fusion anyone?  On November 17, 2016, a NASA team has seemingly validated some claims on a revolutionary new concept they call the EM Drive.  Some have been calling it the "Impossible Engine", claiming that for it to actually work, we would have to rewrite the laws of physics as we accept them today.  

The concept of the engine seems remarkably simple - a sort of a bell shaped resonance chamber or cavity reflects microwave energy from an emmiter, and as it resonates throughout this chamber the microwave radiation provides thrust; a very small amount, but thrust nonetheless.  A typical engine uses fuel and the reaction by-products ejected, to produce the thrust.  The EM Drive is known as a reaction-less drive, because no fuel is consumed.  In space, one has to bring along all the fuel one needs, while dealing with all that mass.  Not so, with the EM Drive.  This is just one step of many in testing this concept and completely validating the results, but it appears to show promise.  Keep in mind, there is an energy burden in creating those microwaves, but it sure beats literally hauling tons of fuel into space to be converted into thrust.

For a primer on reaction-less drives, and their history, see this Wikipedia article.  Also, National Geographic has done a great job explaining this concept and the latest independent test.  See their article here.

If this plays out and is validated, it just may pave the way of relatively low cost and higher speed space travel for the longer haul trips.

 

 

Cover Image by David A. Brady, Harold G. White, Paul March, James T. Lawrence, and Frank J. Davies. Eagleworks Laboratories, NASA Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center - 'Anomalous Thrust Production from an RF Test Device Measured on a Low-Thrust Torsion Pendulum' 50th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference paper, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49595842

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Amendment 1 in Florida Failed - Now What?

Amendment 1 in Florida did not pass.  Even though there were slightly more than 50% of the votes cast in favor of the the Amendment, it required a 60% majority to be enacted into law.  The power companies in Florida waged an expensive campaign to convince voters that this would be good for them.  As numerous newspaper editors, online posters, and other groups have pointed out, this proposed amendment really wasn't good for the average consumer.  I understand the power companies protecting their fossil fuel interests, and that dealing with the purchase of consumer's excess power could chip away at their profit.  What I have a hard time justifying on their behalf is the monopoly this would have created.  By the amendments passing, it would have meant that if I generate excess power from my house, I would be prevented from selling it to my neighbor.  I believe that we should be able to put energy on a free market, inter-house, inter-neighborhood, inter-state.

So, what happens now that the amendment failed?  Nothing, for now.  However, this could all change at the legislative level.  Don't think for a minute that the power companies will attempt to take a run at this again through the state's legislature.  It is critical that the consumers in the state of Florida keep an eye out toward future bills that may harm them.  Even that is not enough - Florida remains one of the few states where consumers are not allowed to sell their excess power to anyone except for the established power companies.  This has had a stifling effect on the growth of solar expansion in the 'Sunshine State'.  Florida legislators, are you listening?

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Florida's Solar Future: Voter Education is Key

sun checkWhen it comes to voting in Florida, it seems nothing is ever easy.  I've written about the ballot initiative "Floridian's for Solar Choice" here before (Freedom of Choice), and believe it to be a pretty solid idea.  Now it appears Florida voters have another amendment to consider, titled "Consumers for Smart Solar".  So, why two amendments?  With a nod to Isaac Newton's Third Law, in Florida politics there is nearly always an "equal and opposite reaction" to anything that anyone might propose.  Just for fun, I'm going to call it "Sexton's Third Law of Florida Politics".  If someone were to come out with an amendment stating that all kittens are adorable, it would not take long for an opposing group to be formed saying they are the spawn of the devil.  Think I'm wrong?  Just Google "Cat's are Jerks" and see how many references you come up with.  Just sayin'.

There has been a lot written about this in the past year, promoting or chipping away at both amendment proposals.  Floridians would do well to educate themselves on what is contained in both proposals, but in the age of the sound-bite and ever shorter attention spans, it seems that it is easier for proponents of both to tear down the other proposal than to support their own.  Both proposals could pass, one might pass without the other, or neither may pass.  All that is assuming that either one or both gather enough signatures to make it to the ballot.  In this case, that is 683,000 signatures for ballot initiatives that most Floridians have never even heard of.  I'm hoping that more editorial boards and local new outlets make this into more of a story.  Some are trying:  

Miami Herald - July 15, 2015 - Group attempts to undercut solar initiative with rival amendment

Sun Sentinel - July 16, 2015 - Second group launches solar energy ballot initiative

Orlando Weekly - September 15, 2015 - Who’s behind the battle over solar power in Florida?

Tampa Tribune - November 8, 2015 - Deception Cast Shadow Over Solar Amendments

 

Overview of Floridians for Solar Choice:

While Floridians for Solar Choice was first, and identifies itself as a grassroots organization, it does have some backing from corporate interests hoping to have greater flexibility in selling solar systems to Florida consumers.  For Florida homeowners, the cost of solar is prohibitive and the return on investment fairly long term.  One has to live in the home for a long while, or risk not getting the return on their investment if they have to sell their home before the system is paid off.  In other states, leasing companies install the solar systems, then "sell" the electricity back to the homeowner, offsetting the leasing expenses.  In Florida, only the big power companies that are highly regulated are allowed to sell power.  This keeps the leasing option off the table for the homeowner.  The Floridians for Solar Choice amendment language allows anyone to sell up to 2 megawatts.of energy to "the grid".  The intent is to cover the low capacity producers, such as homeowners, co-ops, and small businesses by allowing them to resell their unused capacity for use across the grid.  Some argue that this may cause increased maintenance costs on the grid that will be borne by the other consumers not on solar power.

 

Overview of Consumers for Smart Solar:

The second group appears to have made the scene primarily to contest the first group.  Consumers for Smart Solar may be a bit of a misnomer, as a large part of it's funding thus far appears to be coming from big energy companies, not consumers.  This group states that their goal is consumer protection, and that using non regulated utilities (the small home owners using leasing companies) sets up potential for overcharging customers, and straining the grid without paying for maintenance.  They believe this could lead to higher costs for non solar customers.  The creators of the web site are so adamantly opposed to the first proposed amendment that they do not even mention it by name, instead just referring to it only as the "Shady Solar Amendment".  They are concerned that the alternative amendment is "designed to benefit out of state solar companies".  Critics say that this new amendment has been created just to confuse the public, and take away from the 60% voter approval needed to pass.

 

 A Few Thoughts to Ponder

Consumer protection can be a good thing, to a point.  However, the free market does have a way of sorting things out.  Consider the inroads made by the likes of Uber and Lyft.  Both of these companies were, and often still are, working outside of consumer protections of the market segment they are competing in, within their local municipalities.  The consumers are still embracing both Uber and Lyft, and pressure is being applied on both the legacy players and the new ones to find middle ground.  Why can't that happen with solar?  If the maintenance of the grid is increasing because of more producers, and no one knows if that will really be true, then cover the cost through a service fee on purchased energy.  

The argument that the Floridians for Solar Choice amendment is designed to benefit out of state solar companies really doesn't hold water.  Since none of these solar companies can operate in Florida now, it stands to reason that they will all be out of state now.  Why start a company in a state in which you prevented from conducting business in?  Perhaps Florida should have in-state companies doing this business - wouldn't that be a good thing?  Suppressing Floridians options on solar and/or selling energy back to those that can use it is a real innovation killer.  For a state that is drenched in sunshine, Florida could be poised to be a front runner in renewable energy, lessening reliance on fossil fuels and the pollution that they create.

The Consumers for Smart Solar initiative appears to be proving Sexton's Third Law of Florida Politics.  Passing that amendment really doesn't do much other than to simply preserve the status quo.  If Floridians for Solar Choice is as horrible as critics say, why not just campaign against it, rather than run with another proposed amendment that pretty much does nothing?  In Florida, nothing is quite that easy.  If you are a Floridian voting in the 2016 elections, take the time to educate yourself on this - it may determine the "Sunshine State's" solar future.

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Is That a Wink or Blink?

wink hub XI don't have a good feeling about this.

I've been monitoring the various Wink forums, contributing my experiences here and there, and have posted a few articles here on the Wink home automation experience.  I really don't like posting negative items regarding commercial products, unless a product is just horrible or a sham.  I usually look for the best, talk about it, and where I think it may help, offer constructive criticism when it falls short of ideal.  I haven't seen much on this in the home automation forums (yet), so I may be among the first to point this out.  I think Wink may be on the ropes.

Allow me to offer my recent experiences with Wink (the company not the product).  As I've posted here previously, I've enjoyed experimenting with the Wink Hub, connected a variety of devices to it, and documented my experiences here, or within comments elsewhere.  As I say, this has been positive for the most part, and I've even gone as far to say that Wink has been gaining maturity in it's offering.  Here is the problem - once you get past the hub, and start with their other offerings, things start to get a little shaky.  First, there was the well documented and unfortunately highly publicized gaffe back in mid-April of this year.  If you missed it, Wink pushed out a firmware update to their Wink Hubs, but bobbled the security certificate.  This had the net result of a whole lot of dead (or at least non-communicative) hubs, where the users only choice was to snail mail the hub back Wink for an update at the factory, or for those brave souls that have some basic skills configuring their home routers, a process that you could do at home in about ten or fifteen minutes,  Until one of these two processes were completed, your home automation system was offline.

Wink, to their credit, offered a $50 voucher, for limited use on their site, to make up for the trouble.  Ordinarily, I would commend them on the gesture, and tell others that this is the way you work customer service and build brand loyalty.  It would be great reading in forums saying that Wink messed up, but they did the right thing, and now have a happy customer singing their praises.  It didn't really work out that way.  First, there was the second or third email from Wink saying that they were sorry, the first coupon code had been rescinded, because it was being abused.  To think that a single coupon code for all users to share would not be ripe for attempted abuse, is a wee bit naive.  The next "private single-use" code did not work, and finally, on the third try, a single-use personalized code was delivered to those affected.  For me, life was good again; I tweaked my router, had my hub updated, and had a $50 voucher burning a hole in my digital wallet.  Yes, life was good.

Not so fast.  In fact, really not fast at all.  I've been wanting to add some remote automation to my garage doors, so I thought I would purchase the Ascend garage door opener.  I did a lot of research before picking the Ascend, which is one of the Quirky Wink partnership products, and only available from the Wink site.  Even thought there are a lot of products available that can interface with my garage door openers, the only ones certified by Wink to work with their system were the Ascend and Chamberlain MyQ products.  As an aside - Wink, please add the Linear controls to your z-wave connected and certified product list.  Please?  Sorry for the digression, back to the two choices.  

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Star Trek Communicator

I must have one of these.  "Kirk here!" indeed.

This Bluetooth Star Trek Communicator Is Bad News for My Friends

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Freedom of Choice

sun legalOne does not usually hear the words 'Freedom of Choice' and then think electricity, unless you are living in the Sunshine State.  In Florida, there is a state law that only allows electricity sales from investor owned public utilities.  This has put a damper on solar or other alternative energy sources from small startups from even getting out of the gate.  Florida homeowners who want to install solar systems are usually still attached to the grid, and must install a meter to do so.  Most of us have heard of homeowners with large solar arrays who 'make the meter run backwards'.  In other words, they are selling the excess electricity they generate back to the utility.  Still, the utility is in control of the process; the homeowner-producer is breaking the law if they try to sell the excess electricity to their next door neighbor.  The homeowner produced it, so why can't they sell it to whoever they choose?  What if a startup solar farm wants to sell to just one small neighborhood, or the perhaps the neighborhood wants to form a small co-op to create power? As long as they play by the same environmental rules that the big utilities do, why not?

Most alternative energy intiatives have started from some of the larger utilities, but not had a lot of traction.  Since the biggest barrier to solar is the startup cost, why would even a well financed large utility spend a lot on such an initiative when there are plentiful low cost alternatives that are already well embedeed (coal, oil, natural gas, hydro-electric, etc.).  The large utilities in Florida spend a lot on lobbyists to ensure this system stays the way it is, and why wouldn't they?  Imagine that you are a widget maker, and a competitor convinces your state's legislature that you must now start using a different method to construct your widgets, but it causes your production costs to double.  I can't really fault the producers here - the state law now favors their system.  

Instead of railing against the utlities, why not change the law?  There is one group trying to do just that.  Floridians for Solar Choice is attempting to get enough petition signatures to place an amendment on the Florida constitution, that would allow homeowners this freedom of choice.  It should be cautioned that as of this writing, there is no ballot language available yet.  The backers of this initiative believe solar powered generation systems can be installed on a homeowners roof, and the electricity be sold to the homeowner by the insaller.  This would eliminate the startup cost of the system for the homeowner, and therefore allow more widespread adoption.  The site only talks about solar panel installations on homes or businesses, so it isn't clear yet whether this could work for non site generated power in addition.  I just think it is a good chance for Foridians to jumpstart anternative power generation methods.  Another concern might be that upon passing, the utilities would lobby for not being required to puchase excess power from homeowners.  That is a risk I would be willing to take.

There are other political barriers to this initiative.  Many amendments to the state constitutuion fail due to many voters beliving that this is not the sort of thing that constitution amendments should deal with.  Other popular amendments have failed for this reason.  In Florida, amendments to the state's constitution require a 60% majority to win.  That is going to require a lot of well funded public education on the topic, all while well financed public utility companies will likely run ads counter to this initiative.

I'm looking forward to seeing the language of the proposed amendment; it could soon be a sunnier day for solar energy in Florida.

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