Happy (Energy) Independence Day!

As a special Fourth of July treat, here’s a sampler of some intriguing Web-based graphics related to solar power. Think of it as candy for the eye, brain and spirit.

Tracking oil imports over 35 years

Tracking oil imports over 35 years

Led by Amory Lovins, the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) has been promoting smarter energy policies and practices for decades. The graphic above comes from RMI’s Flash-video that uses a scrolling timeline marked with key historic events and “pipelines” that change size over time so that viewers can get a sense of how much oil the United States has imported, from where, over three and a half decades. Beautiful and revealing.

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Keep those electrons coming!

Keep those electrons coming!

In 2003, Writer/activist Bill McKibben wrote a wonderful piece about how instant feedback effects human behavior. In “My Mileage is Better than Your Mileage,” McKibben discussed his obsession with the real-time MPG readout on the dashboard of his Toyota Prius. Was it driven by his passion to fight global warming? he asked, rhetorically.

Not really. True, that’s why I bought the car in the first place, paid the two grand extra it costs to get the hybrid engine. But if you thought about global warming all the time, you’d be nuts. When I’m behind the wheel, I’m an American—competitive, score-keeping, out to win. As I pull out of the driveway, what I think about is: can I beat my last trip? Will I make it home averaging 60, or is the last hill on Route 125 going to knock me under?

That same American competitive spirit is behind the popularity of websites (there are thousands of them) showing realtime solar generation from individual solar arrays. The one above is from SPG Solar and shows the current power generation of one site. At night (left) all the electrons (represented by the flashing red lights) flow from the utility to the building. But during the day (right) green power races to the building, and the excess flows back to the grid (earning money for the panel’s owners).

It’s a great selling point for solar — watching all those pretty green electrons flowing from someone else’s system, via a computer screen.

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Solar energy yield

Solar energy yield

This one, from the McKinsey Quarterly, is a bit more esoteric, but I like it because it puts data in a graphically interesting format, one that cleverly mimics the subject’s theme. The image depicts countries as planets orbiting an (unseen) sun of “grid parity.” The farther the “planets” are from the “sun,” the greater the cost of producing solar energy.

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One final image for Independence Day.

Stars & Stripes | Come back safe

Stars & Stripes | Come back safe

I’ve heard some talk of creating a “solar flag” to show our commitment to clean, renewable energy. I think the one we have, made official on June 14, 1777 by an act of the Continental Congress, does the job just fine. After all, each state is represented by a star — what could represent solar power better?! (Ok, so they were colonies originally.)

To all our men and women serving in uniform, in harm’s way, thank you for your service, have a wonderful 4th of July, and come back to us soon! (Lieutenant Commander Jody Bruton, that goes double for you!)

Happy 4th of July to all.

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