Going Green

[This post is part of a series about our net-zero residential solar project – to see a list of links to the full Solar Project series, click here or click here to bring up all Green-related posts. Next Post in Series.]

For reasons I cannot explain, solar energy has always fascinated me. So prepare yourself to see a bit more by way of green topics in this blog. A big part of the impetus for those posts is the impending conversion of our home to a net-zero solar-powered residence. What that means, for the uninitiated, is a house that produces 100% as much energy from the sun as it uses over the course of a year. In fact, if the design calculations are correct, and we scrimp and conserve power just a tiny bit more, we may even be able to eek out an actual surplus. Due to the benefits of net-metering, this means the power company will actually pay us more than we pay them in a year – a negative electricity bill – very cool. We are in the final planning and paperwork phases for of the project, so construction won’t start for a few weeks. Expect many more updates on the project to follow in coming months.

In the meantime, for my first general interest green post, I’d like to share a really cool new program worth checking out.

Many people looking to make a difference in terms of the environment find it challenging because the good intentions of isolated individuals become diffused and diluted in the sea of general indifference. Out of any given group of people, it is nearly impossible to get a critical mass of people who care enough to make a change. A new German start-up has devised a system they think might change that by better connecting the people who care.

What they are doing is trying to encourage people to use more renewable energy by making a solar mobile device charger that has social features. The company is called Changers and they are selling a mobile charging device that stores solar energy (4 watts an hour) in a battery that holds enough of a charge to recharge two iPhones, or several iPods, or a couple kindles, etc. The panel takes 4 hours to fully charge the battery, so you can leave it on the window sill or draped over the tent during the day and use it for your nightly recharge. What makes this system different from all the similar kits out there, however, is that the Changers system keeps accurate track of how much energy it has collected and stored, and transmits that data (via your computer) to your Changers account, where it can be shared, compared, and perhaps most importantly, converted into credits that can be used towards the purchase of items online.

The goal of their approach is to make solar energy fun, social, and viral by allowing people to compare energy stored, carbon off-set, and points accrued. (Two watt hours of solar electricity is equal to one gram of carbon emission.) They launched in 2010 and are about to go into beta with the hardware and the commerce site. You can sign up to be notified of updates to their beta program here.  The starter kit system of battery, solar panel and cables will cost US$149.

While I am certain that with a little research you could probably buy a more powerful charger pound for pound or square inch for square inch, or get equivalent watts for less money, there is something bold and fun about this effort to bring some social into the mix. And the device is beautifully designed and more practical than the sharp-edged, fragile bits and bobs you’d get at your local electronic parts store. Who knows if they can succeed, but they get a lot of credit for trying. Although all my devices will soon be solar powered whenever they plug into an ordinary wall socket, I wish the team at Changers well, and recommend them to anyone who does not have my whole-house option available to them.

[This post is part of a series about our net-zero residential solar project – to see a list of links to the full Solar Project series, click here or click here to bring up all Green-related posts.]

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  1. Great story — looking forward to future blogs on the home conversion, as well, and how it goes. I’d like to learn from your experience and do the same!

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