US solar panels may be partially produced via slave labor

January 19, 2021 by  
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In his first few months in office, President-elect Joe Biden will need to choose between working with Chinese companies on developing affordable solar energy solutions for the U.S. or ditching the possibly “dirty” solar for an expensive alternative back home. This follows reports that Chinese companies responsible for producing polysilicon and other solar panel components for the U.S. could be using slave labor. Most of the solar energy products from China are manufactured in the Xinjiang region, which has become synonymous with detention centers and forced labor. Over the past four years, China has established a network of detention facilities in the region, most of which contain factories. These detention centers are used to hold Muslim minorities, who are believed to be forced to provide labor for solar factories. Related: The afterlife of solar panels Unfortunately, the U.S., like many other countries, relies on China for solar panel parts. These materials are imported from Xinjiang and other areas under heavy government surveillance, where external observers do not have access. China became the dominant supplier of polysilicon in the world, following the 2014 tariff war with the U.S. In retaliation to U.S.-imposed tariffs, China imposed tariffs on companies in the U.S., South Korea and the EU and ventured into producing polysilicon and other materials. With that said, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the legal authority to stop the importation of parts if it finds proof of slave labor in the manufacturing. In July 2020, the agency stopped a shipment of human hair extensions, based on reports that the products were made using  child labor . In December 2020, CBP also seized shipments of cotton and computer parts from the Xinjiang region that were also believed to have been made by  prison labor . “It’s quite possible solar companies could be scrutinized by CBP regarding Xinjiang-related forced labor risks in their supply chains even if there is no regional ban because this issue is getting more attention,” said Amy Lehr, director of the human rights program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and the lead author of a report on forced labor in Xinjiang. At this time, the Solar Energies Industry Association is recommending that U.S. solar companies move their supply chains away from this region. John Smirnow, general counsel of the association, said, “We have no indication that solar is being directly implicated, but given reports, we want to ensure forced labor is never a part of the solar supply chain.” Via Buzzfeed News Image via Chuttersnap

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US solar panels may be partially produced via slave labor

Earth911 Podcast: Talking 2021 Home Energy Trends With Sense CEO Mike Phillips

January 18, 2021 by  
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Listen to “Earth911 Podcast: Talking 2021 Home Energy Trends with … The post Earth911 Podcast: Talking 2021 Home Energy Trends With Sense CEO Mike Phillips appeared first on Earth 911.

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Chic geothermal-powered home embraces indoor-outdoor living

November 18, 2020 by  
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Dutch design studios  Bedaux de Brouwer  and  i29  have blurred the boundaries between indoors and out at Outside In, an aptly named 400-square-meter villa for a family of four. Completed in September 2020, the luxury home makes a verdant green patio the heart of its living area and features expansive glazing all around to take in views of the surrounding garden. In addition to bringing nature indoors visually, the home also reduces its impact on the environment with energy-efficient technologies that include geothermal energy storage, a heat pump and rooftop solar panels.  A minimalist  natural materials  palette and restrained design approach define Outside In, a single-story family home wrapped in an all-black brick facade to make the building recede into the landscape. Large integrated planters with overflowing greenery sit just outside the front of the building to further soften the home’s appearance. In contrast, the interior is dominated by white walls and light-toned wood surfaces that bounce back the daylight that floods the home. “With a purist design approach and modest materials, Bedaux de Brouwer and i29 designed a villa that has a luxurious quality, without being pretentious,” the designers explained in a press release. “The biggest quality of this house is the harmonious integration of interior and exterior to the smallest details.” Unity is also achieved indoors through the use of  custom furnishings  — from cabinetry and sliding doors to beds and wardrobes — all made from the same light-colored timber.  Related: Old train shed is transformed into a gorgeous office and restaurant in the Netherlands The  solar – and geothermal-powered home is divided into two main parts. A spacious living area houses a dining room and kitchen that wrap around a lush light-filled interior courtyard. Meanwhile, the private wing includes a master bedroom and two secondary bedrooms that face a walled-in swimming pool and garden. + Bedaux de Brouwer + i29 Images: i29 / Ewout Huibers

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World’s largest solar power plant to supply energy to Australia and Singapore

October 22, 2020 by  
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The world’s largest solar power plant has been proposed for Australia . To be located at a current cattle station halfway between Alice Springs and Darwin, the solar farm’s location has been strategically selected to meet both logistical and engineering needs. Once the project is successfully completed, the solar power plant will be visible from space. The magnitude of the power plant is so huge that it is expected to generate enough power to supply a fifth of Singapore’s power needs. According to Sun Cable, the company spearheading the project, construction is expected to begin in 2023 on a 12,000-hectare area in Newcastle Waters. Sun Cable CEO David Griffin said that the project has been submitted to the Northern Territory Environmental Protection Authority for approval. Energy production is slated to begin in 2026 and the exportation of power would start in 2027. The project is expected to generate 10 gigawatts of power once operational. Related: New solar farm in Indiana boosts local pollinators According to Griffin, the team chose the cattle station for the project site due to its strategic positioning. “It’s on the Adelaide to Darwin rail corridor, which is brilliant for our logistics given the enormous amount of material we’ll have to transport to the site,” Griffin explained. “It’s a bit of a balancing act too, because it’s far south enough to get away from the main patch affected by the wet season, so it’s a steady solar resource throughout the year. There’s plenty of sun and not many clouds.” Upon successful completion, the solar farm will supply power to the Northern Territory, where some remote communities currently rely on electricity from diesel generators. This is both expensive and harmful to the environment. The $20 billion project is also expected to generate about 1,500 jobs directly and about 10,000 jobs indirectly during its construction, plus 350 permanent jobs. The new solar power plant will help Australia in its efforts to cut down greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the country contributes about 1.4% of the total emissions globally. + Sun Cable Via The Guardian and EcoWatch Image via Sanel Selava

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LEED Platinum-seeking home in Cincinnati asks $3.25 million

October 14, 2020 by  
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Near the border of Ohio and Kentucky, a stunning sustainable home has hit the market for $3,249,000. Designed by local architect Jose Garcia , the home was built with natural materials, from the exterior cladding of cedar and cypress wood to the interior use of century-year-old reclaimed Douglas fir. The Douglas fir was sourced from a demolished cotton mill and used for the ceiling and walls. The Cincinnati home is in the process of obtaining LEED platinum certification and boasts 38 solar panels on the roof, a geothermal energy system and a smart home system for optimizing energy efficiency. Located at 1059 Celestial Street, the custom, single-family home in the city’s Mt. Adams suburb spans 6,778 square feet on a quarter-acre lot with four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and a three-car garage. The home’s elevated location allows for stunning views of downtown Cincinnati as well as the Ohio River, which marks the boundary between Ohio and Kentucky. A rooftop deck with a fire pit and a vegetable garden bed takes advantage of these panoramic views. The main bedroom, which is bathed in light by a skylight, connects to a bridge that leads directly to the rooftop deck.  Related: Architecture students design and build a LEED Platinum smart home in Kansas Natural light and a sense of spaciousness define the interiors of the modern home, which is centered on an atrium . The atrium allows for direct sight lines from the entrance to the pocket sliding glass doors, which open up to a 45-foot-long balcony along the entire side of the home. Full-height windows, a natural materials palette and a courtyard garden also help to usher the outdoor landscape indoors, while tall ceilings and an open-plan layout direct views toward downtown Cincinnati. The abundance of wood that lines the interior is complemented by exposed brick and concrete in parts of the home. The kitchen cabinetry, designed by the architect, is bleached European White Oak and paired with white quartzite countertops. To meet LEED Platinum standards, double-pane windows imported from Luxembourg were installed throughout the residence. Two geothermal wells were drilled beneath the driveway to provide an additional energy source to solar, which collected from the solar array on the front part of the roof. In addition to home automation, the building is equipped with an air-purifying system that filters air in the entire home. The property is listed with Coldwell Banker . + Jose Garcia Design Images via Coldwell Banker

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Solar-powered House of Music mimics the shape of an orchestra

August 4, 2020 by  
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Bologna-based Mario Cucinella Architects has crafted the House of Music, a solar-powered community landmark in the nearby commune of Pieve di Cento that celebrates the town’s long-standing musical tradition. Designed to represent an orchestra with its individual instrumental sections, the timber-clad building comprises nine small, circular music rooms that connect to a central open space. The ventilated curved oak facade, a nod to musical instruments, not only helps to amplify sound like an instrument’s music box, but it also ensures high levels of energy efficiency .  Completed in 2017 after four years of planning and construction, the House of Music for Pieve di Cento is located in the former Lamborghini production area that had been previously reclaimed and transformed into a recreational park. The recently completed building benefits from an existing cycling path that connects the House of Music to the town center and beyond to an expansion area to the south. The public is encouraged to engage the building via the long curved bench that wraps around the exterior of the building and faces views of the park. Related: Mirage Architecture envisions a solar-powered glass cube for Lithuania’s national concert hall To maintain high levels of thermal inertia and sound insulation, Mario Cucinella Architects constructed the House of Music with a load-bearing masonry structure wrapped in curved oak slats. The flat roofs are topped with a series of curved and elevated disks that help deflect unwanted solar gain and are engineered to promote natural ventilation into the building. A photovoltaic array is located atop the roof as well. The energy-efficient design was informed by the architects’ bioclimatic study of the site.  The well-insulated interiors feature materials that enhance acoustics and reduce reverb. The nine music rooms open up to a central outdoor space that serves as a meeting space and area for ensemble rehearsals and recitals. The architects noted, “The House of Music’s exterior lighting makes it some sort of comforting lighthouse that encourages people to resume musical and recreational activities after the earthquake that shook the area in 2012.” + Mario Cucinella Architects Photography by Moreno Maggi via Mario Cucinella Architects

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Solar-powered House of Music mimics the shape of an orchestra

Luxury home in Kerala produces all of its own energy

July 30, 2020 by  
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Thrissur-based design studio LIJO RENY Architects has taken full advantage of Kerala’s sunny, tropical climate with its design of The House Within the Grid, a luxury residence that produces all of its own energy via rooftop solar panels. Commissioned by a doctor couple with four children, the solar-powered home is currently used as a holiday escape from the clients’ primary residence in Sharjah; however, the house will eventually serve as the family’s permanent home in the future. Located on a slightly elevated half-acre lot in the coastal neighborhood of Andathode, the House Within the Grid encompasses nearly 9,000 square feet of living space to accommodate the primary family of six and the clients’ extended family and friends on holiday visits. To provide privacy to the main sleeping wing, the architects divided the home into two connected yet distinct parallel bays — a single-story bay housing the public and semi-private areas on the east side and a double-story bay on the western side that comprises six en suite bedrooms and a compact office space. Two large courtyards are located in between the bays. Related: Mud and recycled materials make up this sustainable Kerala home “A mix of primary and secondary functions, with its two different room widths, creates a visible repetitive spatial pattern throughout the house,” the architects explained of the layout. “This project was an exercise in exploiting the spatial possibilities offered by the surprisingly flexible modular grid. Juxtaposing the rigorous but serene geometry of the house with the incoherent landscape of its site, a distinct spatial language evolved to become a subtle stage for the contemplative daily activities.” In addition to adding rooftop solar panels that meet all of the home’s electricity needs, the architects have strategically placed windows to tap into cross ventilation for natural cooling. Extended roof slabs also help protect against unwanted solar gain from Kerala’s intense sunlight. A rainwater collection system has been installed along the floating roofs as well to further reduce the home’s resource footprint. + LIJO RENY Architects Photography by Praveen Mohandas via LIJO RENY Architects

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Luxury home in Kerala produces all of its own energy

New solar farm in Indiana boosts local pollinators

July 15, 2020 by  
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Goodbye, dirty old coal-fired power plant. Hello, sunshine,  bees  and butterflies. That’s what the folks of Logansport, Indiana are saying as they trade their last coal power plant for a new 80-acre, 16-megawatt solar farm complete with a pollinator habitat. Inovateus Solar, headquartered in South Bend, is developing the solar installation for Logansport Municipal Utility (LMU). The project will take place on former  farmland  near the city’s light industrial area. LMU aims to reduce its carbon emissions and help stabilize customer costs. The solar farm will generate enough power for about 3,700 homes. Related: Celebrate National Pollinator Week from June 22-28 Power purchase agreement The old  coal -fired power plant toiled for over 120 years before recently shutting down. In its wake, Alchemy Renewable Energy financed a 30-year power purchase agreement with LMU. Alchemy is a portfolio company of Monarch Private Capital. Founded in 2016, Alchemy’s projects include building solar installations in North Carolina, Florida and Texas. A solar power purchase agreement (PPA) is a financial arrangement where the developer is responsible for designing, permitting, financing and installing a solar energy system on a customer’s property. The customer pays little or nothing for the setup but agrees to pay a fixed rate to the developer for the power generated. The developer gets the income from  electricity  sales as well as tax credits and incentives earned by the renewable energy system. After the term of the agreement — typically 10 to 25 years — the customer can buy the solar installation, extend the PPA or get the developer to remove the system. The contract between LMU and Alchemy Renewable Energy allows LMU to purchase the  solar  power at a fixed kilowatt-hour rate with no upfront capital costs. LMU has the option to eventually buy the solar energy system. “Inovateus is excited to be working with Alchemy to develop LMU’s first solar energy installation for the citizens and businesses of Logansport,” Jordan Richardson, Inovateus Solar’s business development manager, said in a press release. “We want to thank the City of Logansport, LMU, the Logansport Utility Service Board, Alchemy, Cass County, and all the residents who helped us to design a solar system that will create local  jobs  and enhance the city’s natural habitats.” Bees and butterflies The plan is to complete the solar installation construction in early 2021, then plant a  pollinator  seed mix underneath the solar panels. This mix will attract bees and butterflies more than traditional groundcover, which will be beneficial for these species and local farmers. Inovateus will partner with Fresh Energy and the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund for this phase of the project. Combining beneficial insects and solar is part of a growing trend. “Pollinator-friendly solar is rapidly emerging as a best practice for all solar farms build on arable soils or prime farmland,” Rob Davis, director of the Center for Pollinators in Energy at Fresh Energy, told Inhabitat. “Within the last year, Clif Bar, Aveda, Dr. Bronners, Organic Valley, Perdue Farms, Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Denison University, University of Dayton, and many more have announced or build and  seeded  pollinator-friendly solar project.” According to Davis, the 80-acre project site will plant more than 40 species of pollinator-friendly plants, including sky blue aster, purple coneflower, crimson clover, goldenrod and lemon bee balm. The project will benefit local  butterflies , bees and farmers, too. “We have about 430 species of bees, 140 species of butterflies, thousands of moth species…and many species of flower-visiting flies, wasps, ants, and beetles,” said Dr. Brock Harpur, an entomologist at Purdue University. “These new landscapes can provide nesting sites and food sources for pollinators that need it most.” Attracting more pollinators will also benefit certain  crops , Davis said. “Having a diverse assemblage of pollinators (not just one or a few species) can dramatically improve crop yield. By providing food and habitat for pollinators, we can, potentially, boost the number of pollinators in an area and help surrounding farms be pollinated more efficiently.”  Plants  will also benefit the solar panels by creating a cooler micro-climate. Deep-rooted plants can boost resilience to both drought and heavy rains. Celebrating solar After continuously operating coal-fired smokestack power plants for 122 years, Logansport closed its last one in 2016. The  city  looks forward to a solar future. In fact, people are so excited about it that Mayor Chris Martin signed an official proclamation naming June 26 as Bird & Pollinator-Friendly Solar Day. Fittingly, this date falls within National Pollinator Week. “We are proud to work with Inovateus Solar to bring the first ever solar energy project to Logansport,” said Martin. “How exciting to be a part of pioneering this clean, alternative energy source right here in our community that will help curb LMU energy costs for our consumers. The creation of a bee and butterfly  habitat  will also be a great environmentally friendly addition to the city’s west side!” + Rob Davis and Dr. Brock Harpur Images via Schuler Publicity

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Solar-powered coastal home opens up to views of the Arabian Sea

July 14, 2020 by  
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Mumbai-based architecture firm Architecture BRIO has transformed a decrepit coastal property into a solar-powered luxury home with a strong connection to the outdoors. Because the property was originally cut off from views of and access to the coastline by a tall boundary wall, the architects raised the site by 5 feet with demolition material from the original structure as infill, thus minimizing landfill-bound waste . Palms, pines and other thick vegetation surround the new contemporary building that the architects have aptly named the House in a Beach Garden. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/House-in-a-Beach-Garden-Architecture-BRIO-2-889×592.jpg" alt="aerial view of elevated black home surrounded by lush palm trees" class="wp-image-2274888" Located in the coastal town of Alibaug, just south of Mumbai , the House in a Beach Garden was built above the existing foundation of the former structure, which was completely demolished. The new 320-square-meter, four-bedroom house comprises two floors and is oriented toward the west to face views of the sea. The ground floor, which is flanked by outdoor verandas on the east and west, houses the living room, dining room and kitchen. The staircase is located in a double-height skylit space at the heart of the home and leads up to the four bedrooms, one of which can be converted into a den. Related: A Mumbai industrial complex becomes a modern, mixed-use campus <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/House-in-a-Beach-Garden-Architecture-BRIO-5-889×592.jpg" alt="black home with slatted screens over the top-floor windows" class="wp-image-2274891" <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/House-in-a-Beach-Garden-Architecture-BRIO-7-889×592.jpg" alt="black staircase under a skylight" class="wp-image-2274893" An indoor/outdoor connection is emphasized throughout the house. In addition to the outdoor living areas that open up via glazed doors on the ground floor, glass sliding doors were installed in all bedrooms to open the interiors up to expansive views, from the sea and the beach on the west side to a palm orchard on the east. Aluminum sliding screens create a second skin around the upper floor to provide privacy and protection from the sun. <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/House-in-a-Beach-Garden-Architecture-BRIO-6-889×649.jpg" alt="three hanging lights against a gray wall" class="wp-image-2274892" <img src="//inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2020/07/House-in-a-Beach-Garden-Architecture-BRIO-1-889×592.jpg" alt="aerial view of coastal home with solar panels on roof" class="wp-image-2274887" Next to the front garden, the architects have also placed a 20-meter-long swimming pool that points in the direction of the sea and is flanked by a row of palms. A solar photovoltaic array tops the home. + Architecture BRIO Photography by Edmund Sumner via Architecture BRIO

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Italy’s Relaunch Decree helps homeowners install solar photovoltaic systems for free

May 27, 2020 by  
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Italy has been hit hard by COVID-19 and is attempting to jump-start its economy through the Relaunch Decree, a revitalization package of 55 billion euros ($60 billion) that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his cabinet passed earlier this month. The stimulus includes tax breaks for clean energy projects and renovations; Italian homeowners are offered free rooftop installations of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems through the Relaunch Decree. To help Italy recover from the coronavirus-induced recession, incentives — like tax credits for homeowners pivoting toward energy efficient home improvement projects — are offered. According to Ernst & Young’s Global Tax News , “Individuals can offset 110% of qualified building renovation and energy efficiency costs incurred between 1 July 2020 and 31 December 2021 against their tax liabilities in five equal installments (up to certain thresholds).” Related: First home solar pavement installed on a driveway PV Magazine explained that the bonus is “for building-renovation projects from 65% to 110% and a jump in support for PV installations and storage systems associated with such renovation projects, from 50% of costs to 110%.” Any solar photovoltaic installations for the next year-and-a-half will be subsidized. Only a few weeks ago, Green Tech Media warned that Italy’s subsidy-free solar sector had stalled due to the pandemic, placing many projects on hold. While the solar industry is no stranger to vicissitude cycles, the pandemic added unexpected variables. “For the sector, the Relaunch Decree is certainly a great opportunity for the spread of photovoltaics on the roofs of Italian homes,” said Paolo Rocco Viscontini, president of PV association Italia Solare. Italy’s investment incentives for solar should come as no surprise, since Statista describes Italy as “the leading country worldwide for electricity consumption covered by solar PV.” Since the early 2000s, Italy has been a strong proponent of solar installations. In 2017, it unveiled its National Energy Strategy — a 10-year plan to decarbonize, expand renewable energy and promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. As of early 2020, Italy is second only to Germany in the photovoltaic sector, with solar power as the country’s preferred renewable energy source. In 2019, Italy had a 69% increase in solar photovoltaic installations compared to 2018. That growth was deemed “the most substantial recorded in Italy” by PV Europe with a grand total of 56,590 new solar power system installations in 2019, of which 50,653 were residential. While COVID-19 dampened photovoltaic growth for Italy’s first quarter of 2020, many nonetheless hope that the Relaunch Decree’s incentives can support a swift restart of the solar PV sector. Tom Heggarty, principal solar analyst for global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said , “Solar [projects are] pretty quick to develop and construct. So once we start to see restrictions lifted, the industry should, theoretically, be in a good place to bounce back quite quickly.” Via EY Global Tax News , PV Magazine , Green Tech Media , Statista and PV Europe Image via Giorgio Trovato

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