“Green Day?” mocks Mayor Phil Gordon. “We’ve got Green Week!”
Well, it could a’ happened.
Fire it Up got the ball rolling on Sunday, March 8, with the first post to our irreverent blog, which is devoted to going solar in the Valley of the Sun.
On Wednesday, the mayor took advantage of the momentum we generated to unveil “Green Phoenix,” his plan to make our town “America’s Greenest City.” (Peak beneath the hastily Photo-shopped Green Day album cover and you’ll see the real plan, which looks like this and can be downloaded here.)
Then, on Friday and Saturday (again following our lead) the Southwest Build-it-Green Expo & Conference, trumpeted as Arizona’s largest green expo, came to town.
Fire it up was there to cover the event with our crack team of reporter.
Here’s our first glimpse inside the Expo.
The uniqueness of the Green event is readily apparent. Nothing quite like this has been seen in the Valley before.
It’s closest rival, the annual Home & Building Expo, is a different beast altogether, as you can see in the picture below, taken at last year’s event. Look closely at the top picture. Notice anything? That’s right. No kettle-korn! These are some seriously green folks. The photo below is a bit fuzzy, but trust me: every person in it is either eating kettle-korn or looking for a stand where they can buy some.
Both events use the same template, which isn’t surprising because they’re both creations of the same Arizona big media company. It’s named AZ Big Media.
I’m not kidding.
I see this as a good news, bad news situation. The Build it Green Expo can be just as overwhelming as its Home & Building cousin: row upon row of companies hawking their wares from booths pimped out with colored lights and foam-core signage; a gauntlet of red-eyed salespeople demanding that you “check it out,” as they shove one more pamphlet into your hands, and, oh, the humanity! Waves of sore-footed people, many with children who were probably told they were going to a really fun place and now shuffle sullenly through the cavernous room, dragging their feet in rebuke.
OK, now for the bad news.
I kid. Again.
The good news is that all of the bad news above (which I have exaggerated a little) can be taken as a sign that “green” is going mainstream. Solar panels will soon be just as American as Ginsu knives. (Both were invented in the USA, BTW. You can look it up.)
In two years there will be insomniac ads with Crazy ‘Green’ Eddy screaming about his “cut-rate 1000 kWh panels assembled to form the adorable endangered species of your choice, all for the low, low price of…” whatever the market will bare.
The real difference between the Expos was, of course, the products themselves.
There were all sorts of hybrid and full-electric cars. The one shown here is no longer available, but it’s pretty cool seeing what’s possible. The car was from Green Motors, Inc., a local company that specializes in converting “regular” cars to full electric, and hybrids, such as the Prius, to plug-ins. Their website shows a very sweet, red (what else?) 1984 Pontiac Fiero sportscar that now has a trunkfull of batteries and can go 50 miles on a single charge. Alas, it’s been sold on Ebay.
There were also lower-tech solutions for increasing energy efficiency. The Arizona Cool Roof Council had a simple setup, but it really makes their point. The picture on the left show two roofing panels, both made from the same mineral shingle material, and both positioned under identical heat lamps. The only difference is that the one on the far left is painted white. But that makes all the difference: Digital readouts attached to temperature sensors tell the story. The unpainted black shingles are a sizzling 207° F; the ones painted white register at 123°F. That difference translates into reduced need for air conditioning and cuts down on our “heat island” problem — that’s when night temperatures stay higher than normal as dark roofs radiate stored heat back into the sky. This might not sound very serious, but it is, increasing deaths during heat waves, altering wind patterns and increasing smog formation.
On a more esoteric note, one booth had a display counting down to the time on January 1, 2010, when manufacturers will have to stop making the particularly nasty compound, R-22. The refrigerant not only gobbles up the ozone layer but is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than the better-known CO2.
The booths where I spent most of my time, though, were the ones devoted to solar panels. You know, the components of . . . The Array.
The first solar PV booth I stopped at was run by Bruce, the energy consultant from EnergyPro who was out at my house measuring the roof last Tuesday.
Bruce was sitting beneath a particularly clever solar project. It was a pergola, a traditional Italian shade structure. I had built one for our house back in Iowa years ago with wild grape vines transplanted to provide the shade.
Instead of grapevines, the EnergyPro pergola had solar panels. Producing electricity while providing shade — an elegant idea.
(The pergola in the Iowa photo was taken out by a tornado a few years ago and tossed into my neighbor’s backyard. And so it goes.)
Bruce is already working out a proposal for us that includes the solar project, a new “green” roof that doesn’t add to the heat island effect and an upgrade to our electrical panel. Since that’s still in the works, I said “Howdy” to Bruce and headed off to talk with other solar contractors. I talked with several, and three contractors will be submitting bids before long. One is David from Dependable Solar Products & ETA Engineering. They installed an array (if it’s not on my roof, ‘array’ reverts to lower case) on a neighbor’s house and she was happy with the process, and is still happy with the panels.
I also talked with some folks who seemed very knowledgeable at PerfectPower, Inc.
It was a company I hadn’t heard of before, SolarCity, that really grabbed my attention (not an easy feat by mid-afternoon). They lease solar panels, reducing the steep upfront costs that discourage many people who would like to go solar.
But that’s not what got my attention. No way. In fact, all a salesperson generally has to do is say the words “no money down” and it’s as if they’ve chanted some magical incantation: I vanish. Or maybe they’re the ones who disappear. All I know is that suddenly I’m far away from the salesperson who had promised me great things for free and I am filled with happiness.
So, it’s to SolarCity’s credit that neither of us vanished and the conversation turned to the specific technology they use: thin-film solar panels. In the picture below, that’s a byte-sized sample of what one of their panels looks like.
I had been hearing about advances in thin-film solar PV for some time. SolarCity uses panels made by First Solar, with corporate headquarters in the Valley. I’ve read that First Solar, is one of the leaders, if not the leader, in thin-film technology and manufacturing. Several weeks ago they announced they had broken the $1/watt manufacturing barrier. That’s largely due to volume. Their large arrays are found throughout Germany, Spain, France and Italy.
What interests me about thin-film is the claim that they produce electricity more efficiently than do other solar panels in extreme heat. Like, say, during summers in the Sonoran desert. The output of all solar panels drops when it’s 115° F, but thin-film panels don’t lose as much as the standard PV panels do. That alone earns thin-film high ratings for eco-conscious desert dwellers. The problem for homeowners like me has been that First Solar panels were only available in large quantities for industrial or government buyers. Just in the last year did they start inching into the consumer market. They may not be the way to go for my particular circumstances. Still, it was a nice surprise finding them at the Expo. I’m just sorry that I couldn’t have both thin-film solar technology and kettle-korn under the same roof.