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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Eco-friendly Outdoor Entertaining

Posted by SEPCO

4/26/12 9:30 AM

The warmer weather is quickly approaching and soon it will be time for outdoor entertaining. Although enjoying good food and great company outdoors is something that everyone enjoys, some of the parties can really take its toll on the environment. From the common disposable items that are generally used for parties and the energy used/lost through lighting and cooling, one simple party will not only gather high amounts of waste but also add up in cost as well.

To create an inexpensive and eco-friendly outdoor entertaining experience, consider some simple tips that only require a little investment and some creativity:   

Local Seasonal Food

Summer FoodsOne way to help promote local businesses and reduce the carbon footprint left from the transportation of imported foods is simply by purchasing seasonal produce from local farms. The food that’s ready during each particular season is guaranteed to be sustainable and fresh, which is something that everyone can certainly appreciate.

The day before the party, check out farmer’s markets or ask local grocers where all of the food came from. Chances are most will be locally grown and much cheaper than other chains that import everything frozen or offer fruits and vegetables that were picked much earlier than they should have!

Another option is to have a small garden at home. Whether it’s a container garden or small patches outdoors, it’s always fun to pick herbs, fruits and vegetables from personal gardens. They are fresh, very cheap and chemical free!   Grow several plants in one large container for a “ready to pick” salad with lettuce, herbs and tomatoes.

Solar Lighting

Solar Outdoor LightsSolar outdoor lighting is all the rage for outdoor entertaining, especially where there are so many different options available today. From solar powered path lighting to fun decorative solar lanterns, there are endless options for making and outdoor party look beautiful into the night.

Look for solar lighting with fairly large panels and as around for the most inexpensive types that are ideal for parties on a budget.  If it’s time to invest in something for the long-term, get a consultation with some of the experts to see which solutions work best and which ones will pay themselves off in the shortest time.

While solar panels to power an entire home are still a little expensive, there are many great products on the market that are worth the initial investment, especially when considering the amount of money that will be saved over the years. In the meantime, try out the more inexpensive decorative options to see how they stack up.

DIY Recycled Decorations

DIY DecorationsParties and entertaining guests properly is all about setting the best mood. The lighting will set the mood to one extent but nice decorations will complete the look and bring out the look and feel that’s desired for particular parties. To save on the waste and cost of common decorations, try creating DIY décor items from around the home. Arrange some herbs or plants from the garden as centerpieces, string up some mirrors old picture frames for a whimsical effect. One very simple way to add color and movement in an outdoor space is to drape light fabric around. A slight breeze with move the fabric around and give the surrounding area a light airy feel, which is very relaxing while enjoying a fun evening outside.

Miho loves to entertain and create fun eco craft ideas for parties. If you would like to learn more eco tips, please check out mihosuzuki.com.

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Topics: Guest Post, Green Ideas

Countries Paving the Future of Solar Energy

Posted by SEPCO

4/24/12 9:30 AM

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly desirable and viable alternative energy source. The sun can produce over ten thousand times more energy than our planet can, and many countries are now recognising the need to convert from traditional energy creation methods to those that are less harmful. These countries’ willingness to embrace this alternative energy source means that they are, as a result, leading the way in what is now a huge, multi-billion dollar industry that could shape the future of our planet forever. This blog post pays tribute to the top five, and the progress they have made in recent years.

Germany

Germany

For many years, Germany has been the leader in adopting solar energy technology, and shows no signs of slowing down. The Government announced in 2007 its objective to use one hundred percent renewable energy by 2050. In 2011, the country installed over 25 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) panels to both homes and businesses, providing 18 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. This now adds up to approximately 3% of the country’s total electricity consumption. Germany’s success in the solar energy field is down to a number of aspects, now embedded into German culture. First, the Government was one of the first to introduce many attractive financial incentives and assistance to businesses and individuals considering converting. Second, there are a large number of PV companies in the country, due to its large PV power plants (Strasskirchen Solar Park, Waldpolenz Solar Park, and Köthen Solar Park to name a few). Third, Germany has created an advanced level of public awareness, and therefore acceptance, of solar energy; its media has worked hard to portray the environmental and financial benefits, as well as heavily publicise the Government’s commitment to becoming a world leader in the industry.

Japan

Japan

Like Germany, Japan has big ambitions; the Government has set a target to reaching 53 GW of solar-generated energy by 2030. As a result, the country has invested heavily in incentives and programmes to encourage the installation of residential panels, as well as generous Feed-in Tariff systems. The Government is also extending its plan to public sector establishments; it has started to install solar panels to 32,000 of its schools and continues to invest billions of dollars in becoming a world leader in solar energy.

USA

USA

The United States is a major player in the solar energy world and is helping to pioneer alternative fuel technologies, largely due to its solar power plants. In California sits the Solar Energy Generating Systems facility – at 354 megawatts, it the largest solar installation in the world. The USA is also home to numerous other plants, such as Nevada Solar One and the DeSota Next Generation Solar Energy Centre in Florida. Perhaps due to an increasingly financially-savvy public – thanks to the country’s long-running recession – demand for the fitting of solar panels on homes doubled in 2009. The Government has also since introduced many incentives to help people pay for the cost of installing residential panels, which has ensured demand has increased significantly year-on-year. In the nineties, NASA in the United States helped set the scene. At the time the organisation was already making headlines with revolutionary consumer inventions such as a memory foam mattress, now available to the mass market; NASA then played a pivotal role in transferring solar cells to a flexible sheet that could be rolled up for storage. This later went on to become the basis for many of today’s mainstream solar panels.

Spain

Spain

Spain was a previous front-runner in the solar energy industry, before being overtaken by Germany in 2009. The country’s long-running economic slow-down has meant that ambitions to introduce a new Government initiative to help families and businesses install new PV systems was heavily delayed. However, Spain still remains one of the most advanced countries in terms of its solar energy technology and output – largely due to sunshine levels that are much higher than average. In 2004, the Spanish Government committed to “achieving a target of 12 percent of primary energy from renewable energy by 2010 with an installed solar generating capacity of 3,000 megawatts”. Spain is also a pillar of Germany’s success in the field, outputting 80 per cent of its solar power technology to the country. In 2010, Spain produced four gigawatts of power through solar energy, creating 6.9 billion kilowatt hours.

Italy

Italy

Italy is another country that has sunshine on its side. This, combined with its pioneering Feed-in Tariff systems, which enable the public and businesses to make money from producing renewable energy, has put Italy at the forefront of solar power. Photovoltaic panels have become extremely popular among Italians in recent years; in 2009, production of energy from PV panels rose 251% - this was, at the time, the second largest annual growth in the world. At the end of 2010, the country had over 155,000 photovoltaic plants, producing a total of 3,469 megawatts of energy.

Janet Redding is a freelance writer from England who specialises in covering everything from Tempur-Pedic comparison of organic mattresses to new energy sources

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power, Renewable Energy

Top 5 Environmentally Friendly Tips for Earth Day 2012

Posted by SEPCO

4/19/12 9:30 AM

Earth Day 2012

Earth Day is Sunday, April 22nd. What are you going to do for it? I know here at SEPCO we are always working on ways to improve the earth. I wanted to share a few different ways you can both at work and in your home.

1. Recycle – I know recycling is around us everywhere. Parks, schools, offices, homes, etc. all have recycling available. But did you know that you could be recycling more then just paper and plastic. 90% of the things we use on a daily basis can be recycled when we are done using them. Even things like clothing, books, cell phones, and many other things. There is even website out there that shows you how to recycle everyday items into new and completely different items. Check out Chica and Joe, Design Sponge, and Beach Petals for some ideas…they are a few of my favorite sites.

2. Garden – Start a garden this Earth Day in your backyard, porch, or even kitchen. Even simple things like herbs can be handy, save you money, and improve your space by adding something living to the space. If you have the room to plant your own fruits and vegetables, great! If not, see what you can grow in the space available to you. Even Topsy Turvy offers many options for places that don’t have a yard by and I’m sure you can even grow other things with them then just the seeds provided…try it out.

3. Flip the Switch – By turning off things you don’t use will not only impact the earth, it will impact your wallet as well. For example, electrical vampires can be all plugged into a power strip so the power strip can be turned off when not in use. To make things even easier, I have all my chargers in a single strip that is plugged into a light switch so when I leave in the morning I can turn the switch to the fan and the power strip off without even thinking about it.

4. Buy Energy Efficiency – Energy Star rated products are available almost everywhere you look today, even computers and cell phones have Energy Star compliant options. And the cost difference between more efficient products can be quantified by the overall savings during the life of the product. Shop around; some of the savings can end up paying for the product in the long run.

5. Renewable Energy – Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Biofuel, Biomass, and Hydropower is all around us. To the standard homeowner and business this may not be a viable option…or is it. Parking lots, streets, signs, etc. can be powered by commercial solar lights. Pathways around the house can be powered by smaller scale solar lighting. You can even talk to your city council about installing a renewable energy source such as a wind farm or a hydropower station.

There are many other things that everyone can do this Earth Day. What improvements can you make?

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Topics: Green Ideas

New Solar Panel Kit Could Make Solar Power Easier for Homeowners

Posted by SEPCO

4/17/12 9:30 AM

New technology in the solar panel kit market could make solar easier to install and more affordable than ever. 

For years consumers have heard about the benefits of solar power: lower electric bills; clean renewable energy; helping the environment. But most consumers were priced out of the market. The technology was simply too expensive, especially with a weak economy. And homeowners looking to save some money by installing their own system often had to navigate a tangled mess of racking, wiring, and building codes.

Now several manufacturers are offering solar panels that set up on the lawn, or on a deck railing, and then simply plug into the wall to provide power for your home. 

 Solar Panel Kit

This system from Spinray Energy is made to mount on a deck railing and plug into a standard outlet.

Made Possible By Micro-Inverters

Solar panels produce direct current (or DC) power and the standard American home needs 110V alternating current (or AC) power. Plus most standard grid tie inverters are expensive and bulky, so if you were buying a system you had to buy enough solar panels to make the inverter pay for itself. Thanks to micro-inverters, each panel now produces 110V or 220V AC power. 

UL Listings Mean They Are Safe

These kits have been rumored to hit the market for nearly a decade. The issue was that the producer was usually foreign and could not get past American and Canadian regulatory authorities. Producing power and simply pushing it into the home’s electrical system can be dangerous and not as easy as it sounds. The new kits have been tested and authorized by the Underwriters Laboratory, which regulates home electronics. This means that they are safe for homes.

Expansion Is Easy, and Infinite

These new systems are also easy to expand as your budget allows. Since each solar panel its own inverter, you can expand the system by simply buying more panels and inverters and plugging them into your existing system in parallel. Homeowners could start with as little as one solar panel, and then expand to 20 or 30 panels as needed. I’ve seen one family in Kansas add one panel every year on earth day, and they now have over 3000 watts.

 Solar Panel Kit 2

This unit is perfect for yard mounted systems and plugs into a 230V outlet.

Mounting Options Abound

Another sticking point with the old solar power systems was the mounting technology.  Homeowners were required to have a wide, south facing roof, which excluded the vast majority of homes. The new systems can be mounted on a deck or in the yard, which means almost anyone with limited shading can install a solar kit.  And the kits come with the mounting integrated into the back of the panel, so that installation literally takes minutes.

New technology has consistently brought down the price of solar power over the last decade.  With these new plug and play options, we’re sure to see solar become more affordable and easier to install than ever. 

About the Author: Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar expert from Colorado. He lives off the grid with his wife and two dogs in a solar powered home. For more information visit his site at solar panel kits.

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Topics: Guest Post, Solar Power, Renewable Energy

Light the Road to Witham Field with Solar Powered LED Lights

Posted by SEPCO

4/12/12 9:30 AM

Solar LED Street LightThe installation of solar LED lighting is a major portion of a current Martin County project to resurface the road and improve the utilities around Airport Road in Stuart, FL.  Stuart based contractor Sunshine Land Design substantially completed the $1.6 million project, funded by grants from the Economic Development Administration and Florida Department of Transportation, on March 30.   

The county chose to install solar LED lighting instead of conventionally powered sodium vapor or metal halide light sources. The 27 solar lighting systems were provided by Stuart based manufacturer Solar Electric Power Company (SEPCO).   According to Martin County Project Manager Paul Bangs, the county chose to use the solar lights in order “to do something innovative” and “likes that they are energy efficient.”

Solar LED Street LightingThe lights will save Martin County both short and long-term costs.  Besides eliminating future electrical utility expenditures, the solar lights do not require the additional installation expense of trenching wires to run power to each light pole.  Bangs stated, “You don’t have to run permanent power to the solar lights” which sometimes “can be a pain in the neck.”  Project Manager for Sunshine Land Design Mike Dexter added, “The lights are easy to assemble and install.”

Bangs also stated that he is “very happy with the LED lighting”, referring to the technology used in the light fixtures.  LED’s, short for light emitting diodes, provide a whiter and more efficient light source when compared with other lamp technologies, enabling lower wattage fixtures to be used while providing the same or better performance.  Airport Manager George Stokus echoes these sentiments stating, the LED lights provide “better lighting quality than the sodium vapor lights on the power poles” and “add appeal to the road.”

LED Solar Street LightAccording to SEPCO Project Manager Matt Cirrito, “Although SEPCO is an international manufacturing company, we have a large presence in Martin County and throughout the local area.  SEPCO has provided equipment for numerous installations of solar sign, roadway, and park lighting in Martin, St. Lucie, and Palm Beach counties.”

Cirrito adds, “We are very happy to have this installation of our product in our backyard.  As more counties and municipalities are made aware of the benefits and performance of solar lighting, projects such as this will start appearing more and more frequently.”

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Topics: Solar Lighting, SEPCO News & Information, LED Lighting, Street Lighting

13 Solar Bus Stop Lights for Sun Metro Transit

Posted by SEPCO

4/10/12 8:30 AM

Sun Metro Solar Bus Stop LightWhen Sun Metro Transit in El Paso, TX wanted to provide lighting for their bus stops in areas with little or no lighting, they purchased and installed SEPCO solar power bus stop lighting systems through TX-based Solar Wind Technologies and Environmental Lighting Services.

SEPCO’s ultra-reliable, vandal resistant solar bus stop lighting systems are programmed to operate from dusk to dawn and feature a high intensity LED light fixture that effectively illuminates bus stop areas to provide a better sense of security, improved visibility and aid in the prevention of buses passing up riders at night. See original article on the solar bus stop lights and the City of El Paso Press Release

Better still, SEPCO solar power bus stop lighting systems mount directly to existing bus stop poles—which saved Sun Metro Transit the additional cost of installing new bus stop poles.  The system’s unique design offers the benefit of mounting the solar module south towards the sun (as required) and the flexibility of mounting and orienting the light fixture in whatever direction is needed to illuminate the bus stop area.

Best of all, because SEPCO bus stop lighting systems operate purely on off-grid solar power,  Sun Metro was able to completely eliminate the cost of extending the AC-power grid to the bus stop pole. How's that for a green solution?

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Topics: Solar Lighting, SEPCO News & Information, Bus Stop & Shelter Lighting

Guide to Security Lighting: How to Implement

Posted by SEPCO

4/5/12 9:30 AM

Parking Lot Light at NightIn the previous posts on why to implement security lighting and where to implement security lighting we discussed the need and location for security lighting. This article will go on to the how to implement security lighting. Every application varies on the equipment used and how to use it.

Residential Security Lighting

Residential security lighting comes in many forms such as landscape lighting, perimeter flood lighting, and access lighting. Landscape lighting uses low light levels, but help by showing movement around the residence. Motion detected perimeter flood lights are a great way to secure the outside of a home as well as alert the homeowners of possible movement outside. Finally, access lighting, which is typically installed in doorways, allow the homeowner and visitor to clearly see each other. All of these types of lighting can be purchased from a home improvement store such as Home Depot or Lowes and have easy installation methods, especially when using solar powered landscape and security lighting. If you are working on the home's power, don't forget to turn off the breakers first!

Business Security Lighting

When a business is needing security lighting, they are requiring much larger scale lighting systems. These lighting systems are usually designed by a lighting engineer and require extensive electrical knowledge to install. Businesses that are open after dark need brightly lit walkways, parking lots, and entrances to make sure the employees and customers are safe. After the business closes, the lights sometimes can be dimmed down to lower the power consumption. These lights are purchased through a lighting manufacturer or distributor and require electricians for installation. If solar security lights are being used, the voltage is much less, but hiring an electrician still may be your best option for installation, but is not required.

There are many variations of lighting levels required by different types of businesses such as law enforcement, schools, hotels, gas stations, etc. The lighting engineer or manufacturing company you are working with for the security lighting will have knowledge of these needs and be able to help make sure the requirements are met. Talk to your lighting professional about what your needs are and they will find the right light for your project.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, General Lighting

Lighting Up Your World with New Technology

Posted by SEPCO

4/3/12 9:30 AM

Green LightWith the current phase out of incandescent light bulbs rapidly approaching, what are the alternative replacement bulbs on the market? Well let’s start with a little history and see where we are today.

Over a century ago, Thomas Edison created the first light bulb. This was great news for the modern world that was being developed at the time even though the lamps did not last very long and were complete energy hogs. The incandescent lamp was evolved year after year until in the early 90’s Phillips developed a lamp that could last up to 60k hours, or about 2.5 years. The cost of the lamp is low compared to the energy costs the lamp incurs over its lifetime.

Today, with the phase out of the old standard incandescent light bulbs, newer and more efficient lighting technology is being produced. Compact fluorescent and LED lamps are becoming the standard option when replacing the out of date incandescent lamps. Both CFL and LED lamps last longer, provide the same illumination, and consume much less power. There are variances between the two technologies, so let’s see which one will work best for your application.

CFL - Compact Fluorescent Lamps

CFL lamps are a twisted version of your typical fluorescent lamps. They include their own ballast integrated into the lamp and can screw into standard sockets making replacement painless. CFL lamps also use one third to one fifth the energy of an incandescent lamp, last ten times longer, and can provide the same color light. Even though the lamps cost a little more than the old style lamps, the payback is almost immediate.

LED - Light Emitting Diode Lamps

LED lamps are the newest technology and use solid state lighting and are now being configured with the same bases as incandescent and CFL lamps for easy change out. LED lamps use a fraction of energy and produce the same light output as CFL lamps. They also last longer, provide the same color light along with different colors of light for mood / decorative lighting, and use even less energy. The costs are high with LED lamps, but the costs are coming down and the efficiency and options are increasing every day.

Compact fluorescent lamps are a great alternative for people making the initial switch. There are a wide variety of options available from small candelabra lamps to large flood lamps. LEDs last longer than compact fluorescents and do not produce the heat associated with other lamps. They are also mercury free and more efficient. Whichever option you choose, remember the initial cost will be overcome by the savings in energy bills over the life of the lamp and you will be doing your part in helping conserve energy and switch to a green option.

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Topics: General Lighting

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