Tesla introduces subtle solar roof option for homeowners


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Tesla’s solar roof in slate glass. (Tesla)
Jenna Ladd | May 23, 2017

The solar energy market experienced a 97 percent growth in 2016. In total, the U.S. has more than 42 gigawatts of solar energy capacity; that’s enough to power 8.3 million homes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is working to win over some U.S. homeowners who may be hesitant to install solar panels because of their bulky appearance. The company is introducing solar cell roof tiles to the market this summer that look just like conventional roofing options. The tiles are made of tempered glass, allowing the sun’s rays to reach solar cells tucked away within them. With four styles available: textured, smooth, tuscan and slate, the tiles are made to please the style-conscious homeowner.

As with many of Tesla’s products, the tiles will be cost-prohibitive for many when they first hit the market. The company estimates they will cost about $22 per square foot if a mixture of solar cell tiles and regular tiles are used and $42 dollars per square foot if only solar cell tiles are used. The company’s website reminds prospective buyers of the 30 percent Solar Investment Tax Credit, which allows consumers to deduct 30 percent of the total cost of installing solar panels from their federal income taxes.

The glass tiles come with a lifetime warranty and can allegedly handle hailstones traveling at 100 miles per hour with ease. Tesla compared this to conventional roof tiles, which shattered under the same conditions. Each tile’s solar cell is guaranteed to last 30 years.

The company started taking preorders in early May. It will begin installing roofs in California this June and complete installations throughout the country in the months that follow.

Wind turbines may improve growing conditions, study finds


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An Iowa State University study of a 200-turbine wind farm between Radcliffe and Colo found that turbulence from the structures have a positive effect on growing conditions. (jonbgem/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 22, 2016

Recent research from Iowa State University found that wind turbines may improve growing conditions for Iowa crops.

Gene Takle, a climate scientist at the university, and his team measured several factors including temperature, humidity, precipitation, as well as wind speed and direction on a 200 wind turbine farm in central Iowa. The researchers collected data from 2010 through 2013 using research towers.

Overall, the study shows that wind turbines have a positive impact on several factors that affect growing conditions. Turbulence generated by the turbines prevents the formation of dew and dries the crops, which can keep fungi from growing, researchers say. Wind turbines also alter the temperature around them. The turbulence increases nighttime temperatures by a half-degree to a full degree and cools daytime temperatures by a half-degree. Data shows that the wind produced by the turbines rustle up plants situated above cropland as well, allowing the sun to shine through.

Takle said, “That’s beneficial. It allows light to move deeper into the canopy.”

Iowa sources nearly 36 percent of its total energy from wind turbines, more than any other state. In all, energy companies have invested $12 billion in wind production in the Hawkeye state, and landowners earn $20 million each year in lease payments for wind farms.

The study is a part of a $20 million, five year grant from the National Science Foundation. Moving forward, Takle said that he is interested in researching the effects wind turbines might have on regional weather patterns.

He said, “If you had warm, humid air rising and cooling over a wind farm, it could lead to more cloud formations, possibly even enhance or influence … rainfall patterns.”

Takle added, “We’ve been measuring changes on the wind farm, but this would measure effects outside the wind farm.”

Bakken oil pipeline gets the final go-ahead in Iowa


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Bakken pipeline construction site (wittepx/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | July 27, 2016

The Bakken oil pipeline received a final go-ahead from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday for construction in Iowa. Dakota Access, a subsidiary of Texas company, Energy Transfer Partners, had already received full permission from all other states along the pipeline’s path including Illinois, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The company received notice yesterday from Corps of Engineers in Rock Island, Illinois that all construction in Iowa complies with federal environmental laws and is authorized.

The Army Corps of Engineers verification letter permits the construction of parts of the pipeline that cross bodies of water, including major rivers. While the Iowa Utilities Board previously granted development in parts of the state, this is the final regulatory hurdle for the Bakken pipeline. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a community organization that opposes the pipeline, is concerned about its crossing of 64 Iowa waterways.

Dick Lamb, a landowner in Boone county along the pipeline’s route, echoes their concern, “It isn’t a question of if, but when it will leak, and when it does it will irreparably destroy valuable Iowa farmland and the waterways we depend on.” An going lawsuit filed by 10 affected landowners challenges Dakota Access’ use of eminent domain to gain access to private Iowa land.

Many labor unions in Iowa look forward to the development of the Bakken pipeline. President of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council, Bill Gehard, said, “Thousands of American workers from labor unions throughout the Midwest are already benefiting from this project, and these final permits will secure their jobs for the entirety of construction.”

The water crossing permits mandate follow-up inspections for compliance to regulation and monitored wetland mitigation. The finished pipeline will run from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota to Patoka, Illinois, crossing 18 Iowa counties along the way. It will move 570,000 barrels of oil daily into Midwest, East coast, and Gulf Coast markets.

University of Michigan wins 2014 American Solar Challenge, Iowa State University finishes 3rd


Nick Fetty | July 29, 2014
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge which ended Tuesday. Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr
The University of Michigan took first place at the 2014 American Solar Challenge.
Photo by Ali Eminov; Flickr

For the fifth-straight year, the University of Michigan took first place at the American Solar Challenge which concluded Monday.

Michigan’s race team – which included roughly 20 students – overcame its fair share of setbacks including various mechanical problems earlier in the summer as well as acceleration issues at the start of the race. The Wolverines persevered though and finished just 10 minutes ahead of Big Ten rival Minnesota to take the gold. Team PrISUm from Iowa State University finished third. The Cyclone team was briefly slowed down after being pulled over by law enforcement while driving through Wisconsin.

The eight-day race – which went from Austin, Texas to Minneapolis this year – gives engineering students from across the country the opportunity to design, build, and race a solar-powered car. The first American Solar Challenge was in 1990 and has occurred every other year since with some irregularity. This year’s event featured teams from 22 different universities including representation from countries as far away as Germany, Iran, and Taiwan.

Bill boosting solar energy development gets OK from Iowa Senate panel


Solar Panels at Regions Bank in Waterloo, Iowa.  Photo courtesy of Paul McClure; Flickr.
Solar Panels at Regions Bank in Waterloo, Iowa.
Photo courtesy of Paul McClure; Flickr.

Under this bill, Iowa’s investor-owned electrical utilities would be required to provide their customers with 105 megawatts of solar energy.

The bill is aimed at bolstering Iowa’s solar energy industry, the Des Moines Register reported. 

Tim Dwight, the president of the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association, said the cost of solar energy is dropping on a monthly basis and is becoming a mainstream method of generating electricity.

Head to the Register to find out more.

Advancing Iowa’s Solar Power


Photo by Luther College Photo Bureau; Flickr
Photo by Luther College Photo Bureau; Flickr

Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center believes Iowa risks missing a key role in solar power.

“It’s time for Iowa policymakers to step up with supportive policies to seize the solar energy development opportunities and reject attempts to impose regulatory barriers that would stifle this clean new technology,” Learner writes.

For the full piece, visit the Des Moines Register.