Tag Archives: Solar

Eco-Friendly Mobile Floating Architecture – off the grid solar home (PHOTOS)


Taking it one step beyond “houseboat,” UK-based Kingsley Architects has designed its own brand of modern, low-carbon, mobile floating architecture, and dubbed it the SolarHome.


Is there anything this cool home doesn’t do? Located in the Lusatian Lakelands of Germany, this organic-formed floating piece of architecture was designed to blend with the nature that surrounds it.


The 75m2 SolarHome reinvents the concept of a camper van. SolarHome features eco-friendly, off-the-grid solar power, and has been designed to operate in one of two modes – Docked Mode, which requires some infrastructure for power, fresh water and water treatment; while in Self Sufficient Mode,


SolarHome can operate for a period of six to 12 months without any service requirements. How does that float your boat? For more information, visit Kingsley Architects.




On an island 20 miles off the coast of Maine, a writer, with the help of his daughter, built not only a room but an entire green getaway of his own.

Exterior view of modern cottage in Maine

The Porter cottage makes the most of its unwieldy site. The cottage was sited as close to the water as legally allowed to take advantage of the views and far enough away from the graywater leach field where the soil is deep enough to allow for proper run off. The screen porch was angled to capture direct southern exposure for the solar panels.

Living on one of the outermost inhabited islands on the American eastern seaboard requires a vigilance in numbers, and the villagers of the community of Criehaven (technically Ragged Island) take their record-keeping seriously, but not too seriously. The library—–still littered with evidence of a raucous game of Texas hold ’em—–is a fine example. In addition to portraits of the Crie and Simpson families, early residents of the 0.7-square-mile island 20 miles off the Maine coast, one mile south of Matinicus Island, there are photo albums dating back to the early 1970s documenting island life. There’s also a copy of the “2010 census,” a cartoonish rendering of the 20 family homes on the island. In it, a series of circumflex rooflines populate the page, save for an aberrant addition on the eastern end: a simple backslash of a roof, under which is written “Welcome Porters!”

 The deck off the front is also minimally furnished with elegant lines of beach rock and two Leaf chairs by Arper. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

The interior is furnished with Lubi Daybeds from CB2, which Howell and Porter designed to include hidden cubbies behind and beneath the cushions.

Bruce Porter, a journalist and retired professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has owned a roughly three-quarter-acre lot on this remote, off-the-grid island for years, but it’s taken nearly a lifetime for him to build anything. The Porters first came to Criehaven in 1971, the summer his oldest daughters, Alex and Nell, turned two and six, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he seriously considered building. “I was getting older and older, and I thought, If not now, when?” Bruce recalls. Over the course of 30-plus years, Bruce devised and abandoned countless plans for what to put there, including a Sisyphean scheme that involved shipping a tiny cabin from the Adirondacks. The lot, however, mainly sat empty and unused. It wasn’t until Bruce divorced, remarried, and adopted his third daughter, Hana, that he finally resolved to build. By that time, Alex had grown up and become an architectural designer, founding her own practice, Alex Scott Porter Design, and Bruce’s last and best plan was to have her design something. He’d envisioned an unobtrusive abode that would blend with the local color, to which Alex replied, “Well, Dad, if you want something like a Maine farmhouse, you don’t need me!”

 The interior is clad exclusively in white pine, the diagonal orientation adding visual interest to the neutral palette. Alex sourced utilitarian features like cattle fencing and plumbing pipe for the loft sleeping area. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

Alex devised a system that takes advantage of ocean views while protecting the cottage from that same northeasterly orientation. The large windows and doors can be shuttered with corrugated aluminum panels.

Despite the aesthetic differences, their first real hurdle was finding the borders of the lot, which had come to be known as “the floating acre” among the local fishermen. Nobody was exactly sure of the property lines, so as soon as she graduated from ­architecture school in 1997, Alex flew to the island with a surveyor. (In clement weather, chartering a flight to Criehaven is the cheapest and easiest way to get there.)

 Alex enjoys a sun-filled breakfast at the built-in dining table and bench, one of many space-saving designs. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

After determining the site lines, Alex, Bruce, and their contractor, Josh Howell, spent one stormy afternoon in June 2008 siting the house. From the shelter of a pup tent, Alex rendered the house in CAD on a laptop while Bruce and Howell braved the rain with a compass. The difficulty of this task made it clear that building on the island would require foresight and exhaustive precision. “I wanted the interior to be super simple, using local material,” Alex explains. “We did every­thing on a 24-inch grid. I’m in New York and Josh is up here in Maine, so I tried to make it very easy; you could always tell what size everything was going to be.” Additionally, over 90 per­cent of the building material had to be organized and shipped to the island on an amphibious vehicle, or “sea truck.” Compared to mainland projects, much of the construction work of the home was done without the aid of power tools, and the primary vehicle used to haul supplies on-site was
a converted riding lawnmower.

 One of the early challenges of building the house was defining the property lines of the lot, which had come to be known as "the floating acre" among the local fishermen. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

The deck off the front is also minimally furnished with elegant lines of beach rock and two Leaf chairs by Arper.

Time, it seems, has had a curious effect on Criehaven. Technologically speaking, it has moved backward, not forward. When the year-round population of ten lobstering families held tight, there was a telephone line and a power generator (plus a schoolhouse, post office, and general store). Over the years those services withered, leaving the island’s transient residents to their own devices. Personal generators are now the norm, but the Porters have challenged this by installing solar panels and an on-demand water heater. Bruce’s motivation for incorporating these systems, however, was more practical than ideological. After watching a friend haul propane tanks over from Matinicus then schlep them on foot to his house, Bruce was determined to make island life a bit more leisurely. Fortunately, Howell, an avid outdoorsman, armed with an equally intrepid crew, was up to the challenge of building in harsh conditions. The Porters would have been hard-pressed to find a better man for the job. As Bruce recalls with both horror and admiration, “Josh and the workers would drink straight from the cistern!”

Rooftop Solar Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Coal in the EU

Rooftop Solar Will Soon Be Cheaper Than Coal in the EUWind and solar will claim cost leadership in Europe, according to a new study.

A new study suggests that wind and solar plants are already competing economically with fossil fuel in Europe. Soon, even household rooftop solar PV systems will generate electricity more cheaply than coal.

The study from Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems says the cost of rooftop solar in the southern parts of Germany is already as cheap as €0.08 per kilowatt-hour. Even in northern Germany, where there is little sun, solar can be generated at €0.14 kilowatt-hour, half the cost of grid-based electricity.

By 2030, the study says, the levelized cost of energy (LCOE) from rooftop solar PV will have fallen to around €0.06 per kilowatt-hour. In sunnier regions, such as Australia, the Middle East, southern Europe and the western U.S., not to mention Africa and Latin America, the cost of solar will be lower still, at around €0.043 per kilowatt-hour.

The study claims onshore wind in Germany is already between €0.05 per kilowatt-hour and €0.11 per kilowatt-hour, a figure that is unlikely to fall further. Fuel costs for fossil fuel plants, however, are likely to rise.

“Even small, roof-installed PV systems will be able to compete with onshore wind, and also with the higher generation costs in the future from brown coal, hard coal and combined-cycle gas power plants,” Fraunhofer ISE Director Eicke Weber said in the report.

Source: Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems

He says it is clear that wind and solar will “win the race toward cost leadership” with coal and gas. Although offshore wind has higher costs, it also has more hours at full load operation. The higher costs for biomass systems are balanced by their controllability.

The implications of this are obvious. Having households that are able to produce electricity at the same cost of coal — not including the network, distribution, and retail costs that are added to centralized generation — is likely to dramatically change the business metrics of the utilities industry.

Fraunhofer says the availability of wind and sunshine is not the only variable in the costs of energy. Financing costs and risk premiums for new power plants can also affect the results substantially.

“Only by including these factors in our study are we able to realistically compare the levelized cost of electricity from the different technologies and thus convincingly present the cost-competitiveness of renewables.”

That means that project risk and financing costs may cause solar projects in African countries, for instance, to cost more than elsewhere. The U.S. and Australia, however, will be able to combine excellent solar resources and low financing costs.

The study said offshore wind technology still shows a large potential for cost reductions, whereas onshore wind has nearly reached its limit. Levelized electricity generation costs from biogas, widely deployed in Germany, is dependent on load and fuel type, and ranges from €0.14 to €0.22 per kilowatt-hour. Estimates for the cost of electricity from brown coal presently extends up to €0.053 per kilowatt-hour, from hard coal up to €0.08 per kilowatt-hour, and from combined-cycle gas power plants up to €0.098 per kilowatt-hour, respectively.

In the Middle East, considered to be the next big market in solar, oil-fired power plants show generation costs in the range of €0.13 to €0.17 per kilowatt-hour, compared to PV with an LCOE of around €0.08 per kilowatt-hour.

Freeing the Grid: Net metering & interconnection (VIDEO)

Net metering and interconnection are two of the most important state policies for making sure America’s homes, schools and businesses can produce their own electricity from solar and other renewables. Visit freeingthegrid.org to see if your state makes the grade.

These Mad Scientists Want to Replace Solar Panels With Potted Plants

Designer Fabienne Felder wants to reupholster jumbo jets with moss. In her vision, passengers will sit on verdant tufts while the bryophytes purify the air and use electrons captured during photosynthesis to power the Direct TV panels on the seat backs. Many would think Felder was crazy, but biochemist Dr. Paolo Bombelli and plant scientist Ross Dennis from the University of Cambridge were impressed with her brio and offered her the opportunity to collaborate with their lab.

The scientists are researching the potential of photo microbial fuel cells, or photo-MFCs, which are essentially potted plants that act like miniature power plants and transform sunlight into electricity that can power iPads. They aren’t as efficient as traditional photovoltaic solar cells, but are more eco-friendly to manufacture.

Bombelli and Dennis have worked with designers previously and created a concept design called the Moss Table—a surface covered in photo-MFCs that could supposedly power a lamp. In reality, all the prototype cells could power was a small LCD display, but it illustrated the potential. While they appreciated Felder’s gonzo vision, the scientists proposed a project that would be possible this year instead of a decade in the future and decided to build a humble FM radio.

The result is a sound system comprised of ten photo-MFCs housed in a frame meant to evoke the feel of a biochemistry lab. It looks like a science experiment, but Felder’s biophilic boombox can generate enough power to play a short song. The array and a hidden capacitor can only power the radio for a few minutes at a time, and listening to an entire baseball game would require hundreds of plants, but she’s still bullish on the potential of truly green energy. “Give the researchers a few more years and it will all change,” says Felder. “But despite these little steps forward, the breakthrough we’ve had with the radio is not to be underestimated.”

“I like the idea of getting closer to nature again–to use it in ingenious ways, without exploiting it.”

The University of Cambridge holds a patent on this technology and they’re finalizing an educational kit that will surely replace potato clocks in 3rd grade classrooms around the country. Beyond that, stabilizing the technology and expanding its efficiency is the next order of business.

Finding the perfect moss and growing them directly onto conductive surfaces could lead to efficiency gains, but more experiments are required. There are over 20,000 species of moss growing in Britain alone and aside from their ability to produce electricity they also insulate, muffle noises, filter the air, and have anti-fungal/bacterial properties.

“On a small scale I think we could soon-ish convert people’s normal houseplants into little power-generators for charging phones,” says Felder. “On a large scale, especially outdoors, the right mix of plants will be crucial and that will need more research, both in terms of plants and irrigation systems, maintenance, etc.”

The team’s well aware that it may take years before the technology is viable in the market. Even at maturity it might only make sense in developing countries. Despite the challenges, Felder is excited by the fact that current setups only convert approximately 0.1% of the electrons the mosses are exposed to.

Even with that meager efficiency, if a quarter of London’s residents used moss to charge their mobile phones for 2 hours every other day, it would save 42.5 million kilowatt hours, nearly $12 million dollars per year, and keep approximately 40 tons of carbon dioxide from the environment.

“I like the idea of getting closer to nature again and to use it in ingenious ways, without exploiting it,” says Felder. “I am a designer by trade, but a scientist at heart.”