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SEPCO's blog on all things renewable and green

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Upcycling

Posted by SEPCO

6/19/14 9:30 AM

Instead of throwing things away after they have been used, upcycling takes what would typically become another added piece of trash in our landfills and turns it into something new. Upcycling is literally taking waste materials or useless products and turning them into new material or products. Upcycling has become a large part of the sustainable living movement happening today.

Finding Ideas

Upcycle-1

There are thousands of websites that exist today to help you upcycle just about anything and everything. My favorite place to look for inspirations is definitely Pinterest since it puts tons of different ideas in an “at your fingertips” fashion and there is never a lack of inspiration. You can even narrow down your search easily to find what to do with something you have left over or ideas for something you may want to do in the future. Or want to watch videos on how to turn that junk into something new, YouTube is always a great place to check out for tons of how-to videos.

Fad or Way of Life?

Pallets-resized-600

Upcycling isn’t just a fad; it is a way of life for a lot of people. Instead of throwing away what you think is useless junk, turning it into something new can give you a sense of pride and ownership of that new item, much more than running to the store and buying the same thing. And what you make doesn’t always have to be something useful, it can just be something artistic to show your passion for making the world a better place and being an eco-conscious person.

Finding Cool Stuff

yard-sale

If you don’t have something you are ready to upcycle at home, there are tons of great places to find things that you can upcycle. Craigslist, garage sales, thrift stores and local classified ads are the perfect place to start. You can usually get things at a really low cost or even free in a lot of cases. You can either upcycle what you get or use it as part of a larger project. Who knows, maybe you can even sell some of your amazing projects.

Now go forth and find all that cool stuff you can make into something new.

Img Credit: Dishfunctional Designs & Old Towne East

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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Solar Bus Stop and Shelter Design for a Brighter Transit System

Posted by SEPCO

6/12/14 9:30 AM

SEPCO has been working on improving our current bus stop and bus shelter lighting products. Our new design combines some of the best features of our standard solar lighting systems and new ideas for a perfect combination for bus stops and bus shelters, both integrating into existing areas and for new installations.

Solar Bus Stop Design

Solar Bus Stop Design

Our new bus stop design provides all night or push button lighting for bus stops. Our high powered ING LED fixture is integrated and recessed into a battery assembly for vandal resistance and provides down-lighting with no light pollution to other areas.

The solar panel assembly sits at a 45 degree angle for maintenance free cleaning of the solar panel by rain and does not allow for snow buildup in the winter. A typical flat panel designs collect dust and debris and requires regular maintenance and cleaning of the solar panel. The 45 degree angle also provides the most solar radiance compared to a flat panel system that only can grab the solar rays when the sun is high in the sky.

The solar panel assembly also easily mounts to a pole with U-Bolts that are integrated into the panel bracket and slip over the top of the pole and tighten down. Best of all, the entire assembly is easily adjustable up or down the pole for variations required due to ambient lighting.

Solar Bus Shelter Design

Solar Bus Shelter Design

Our new bus shelter design provides mounting of the solar panel assembly either on the roof or on a pole nearby. The light fixtures are integrated within a one piece unit to include all control electronics and batteries that mounts directly to the roof of the bus shelter. A single or double fixture application can be easily achieved without compromising aesthetics. The solar panel can be mounted at a 45 degree angle on a nearby pole or on the angled side of the roof that faces south. This keeps the panel clean and reduces maintenance.

Both the solar bus stop and bus shelter designs are perfect for integrating into an existing transit application or for new installations. Bus shelter systems can be integrated into any bus shelter unit and can even provide power to advertising panels and schedule boards. The bus stop lights can easily be installed at any bus stop and provide the safety to travelers at night.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Bus Stop Lighting, Bus Shelter Lighting

Light up that Double Sided Sign with a Single Solar System

Posted by SEPCO

6/10/14 9:30 AM

Not all signs face one direction. Some are sideways along a roadway to show information to people traveling in either direction. There are also ones that show a welcome on the entrance side and a thank you on the exit side. No matter what your sign says, lighting it at night will provide the information to the passersby’s no matter when they go by.

Rio-Monument-Sign-1

You can mount a single solar array to power a fixture on both sides of the sign. This design doubles the amount of solar required; however, it will provide the best option for these types of signs. Having a solar for each fixture doubles the maintenance and overall cost of the system.

Mediterranean-HOA-1

You can even do the same with an internally illuminated sign that shines the light out through both sides evenly. Either with LEDs or Fluorescent lamps, a single solar power system can provide the power for the light fixtures to provide lighting for both sides of a sign.

US-EPA-Facility

The solar power assembly can be located beside the sign, attach to the top of the sign, or even be placed up to 100 feet away so as to allow direct sunlight all day. The solar power system should be sized to provide a minimum of five days autonomy to allow for times of inclement weather and never allow your sign to be left in the dark. So next time you need that double sided sign lit up, consider using solar power to provide the needed energy and a green solution. 

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Sign Lighting

Amazing Changes Happening Now for Sustainable Living: Gardening

Posted by SEPCO

6/5/14 9:30 AM

With all the changes in the world today, we are seeing a shift towards sustainable living like never before. Developments in renewable energy and lowering our impact on the earth or need for store bought items is changing how we are working and living. This series will take an in-depth look at some of the largest movements going on in the world today. Stay tuned for a new post every week!

Urban Gardening Movement 

small__3756078760Urban gardening has taken over small porches, rooftops and yards in cities and urban areas all over. These gardens are allowing families to take control of what they produce at home and lower their dependency on stores for their produce. It allows them to provide healthy fruits and vegetables for their family and controls what they use for maintenance and keeping their plants pest free. With the rise of studies against using harsh pesticides and GMO seeds, and wanting to become healthier, urban gardens are a movement in the right direction. What is not able to be produces at home is now being pushed to organic purchases when having to go to the store.

Gardens can be containers large and small, and placed in just about any location that has sunlight available. If you can fill it with dirt, you can grow in it. Popular sites like Urban Organic Gardener are filled with ideas and information on how you can grow your own food from the smallest of areas. Don’t want to scour the web looking for information and ideas, check out sites like Pinterest that puts everything in one place.

Suburban Gardening Movement

Suburban_GardenGrowing food not lawns is becoming the movement in suburban areas. The cost of maintenance of a lawn that basically provides no value back to a homeowner is high. It is much less to turn that green carpet into something that will give back year after year. The reasoning is the same as urban gardens; however, with larger areas to cover, the production can be huge and allow a single family to provide all needed produce for their family as well as share with their neighbors.

These larger areas can also provide small animal farms for fresh eggs and other small animals such as rabbits and dusk to help fertilize the garden. Check with your local statute to make sure that your garden is not located where these animals are prohibited though. Vegetable Gardener has tons of great resources and information on suburban gardening, pest control, small animal and so much more to get you started.

Community Gardening

Community_GardenCommunity gardening approach is for a small neighborhood that can get together and all work together as a community for everyone to share the crops. This can be done in one place such as an empty section in a neighborhood, or in one or more person’s actual yard. Community gardens can also be started in public areas with the approval of the local government. There is a ton of information and resources available online. One of my favorites is the American Community Gardening Association where you can get information on setting one up in your area or even find one that already exists for you to get involved in.

 

Guerrilla Gardening Movement

Guerrilla_GardenThe guerrilla gardening movement is adding a little color or food to unused or abandoned plots of land. These plots range from a space in concrete along a sidewalk to larger areas around town. Instead of just leaving the area without anything but some dirt, people are stepping up and planting something. This ranges from flowers to a vegetable patch and they are being planted late at night in secrecy or during the day to publicly show that the land can be used for something. Guerrilla gardening has become a form of activism that does not create any harm but provides a little bit of life back into the area. There are even seed bombs that can easily be made and then placed just about anywhere.

Keeping the Bees

What about the bees? Urban gardening supports these amazing creatures that we wouldn’t survive without. Bees are essential to sustaining our gardens and keeping food crops alive. By planting gardens, especially organic gardens, and reducing the chemicals used to keep pests off, will ensure the bees will survive and keep our fruits and vegetables keep growing.

What other changes are you seeing in the gardening movement happening now?

photo credit: Bad Alley davidsilver {studiobeerhorst}-bbmarie urbanwild
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Topics: Green Ideas, Fun Green Articles

Solar Powered Pizza Oven for Fun with Kids

Posted by SEPCO

6/3/14 9:30 AM

Have you ever wondered what you could do with that leftover pizza box when all the pizza has been scarfed out of it?  Most of us will just toss it in the trash or recycling bin but next time keep it for a fun project that can teach kids about solar power and is fairly simple to put together. While you won’t be using the pizza box as your new oven it will be fun to see how it works and kids will love making simple things like hot dogs or even s’mores.

The Things you will need:

  • 1 empty pizza box  
  • Scissors
  • Aluminum foil                                                                    
  • Black paint and brushes
  • Shredded paper
  • Clear plastic wrap
  • Duct tape
  • Simple food (ex. Hot dogs, s’mores that leftover pizza that needs warmed up)

Instructions

pizza-box-solar-oven
  1. Cut a flap in the top of one pizza box. The flap should be cut on three sides, with the fourth side being closest to the lid's "hinge." Cut the flap quite large so that there is only 1 to 2 inches of lid surrounding the flap.

 

  1. Line the entire inside of the pizza box with foil (shiny side up), then spread the shredded paper across the bottom.

 

  1. Seal the shredded paper layer with another foil layer, shiny side up. This creates insulation to trap the heat inside the solar oven.

 

  1. Paint the top layer of foil with black paint. Let it dry completely. You can also paint outside of pizza box or even cover the whole box with foil

 

  1. Bend the lid flap up. Cover the underside of the flap with foil, shiny side up. Use the duct tape to secure the foil around the back of the flap. Pull the foil as smoothly as possible.

 

  1. Create a tight seal over the opening in the lid with the plastic wrap. Secure it with duct tape on the underside of the lid. Pull the plastic wrap tight so that the covering is smooth and wrinkle-free.

 

  1. Place the food inside the pizza box on the black-painted foil. Close the lid and ensure that there are no gaps for air to escape. If desired, lightly tape the lid seams with duct tape.

 

  1. Angle the lid flap towards the sun, so that the sun's rays are reflected into the plastic-covered opening. The solar oven will reach approximately 200 degrees on a sunny day

 


Now all you have to do is wait for the snack to warm up and viola your very own pizza box oven.  A little side note: Your pizza box oven takes about twice as long to cook something as a regular oven so patience is a virtue with this project. Also make sure it is above 60 degrees and sunny or the oven will not work as well or maybe not at all.

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Topics: Fun Green Articles

6 Steps for Businesses Who Are Ready to Light Their Parking Lots

Posted by SEPCO

5/29/14 9:30 AM

Parking_Lot

Want to provide more safety and security to customers and employees? Provide good lighting to prevent theft and vandalism. Here are six steps to completing a lighting project for a business parking lot.

Step 1 – Identify the area that is requiring lighting

What is the total size of your parking lot? How many cars can it fit? Does the parking lot wrap around your building or is it just to the front? Identifying the entire area that needs to be lit is the first step in the design process whether the parking lot already exists or is still in development and design phases.

Step 2 – Determine how long the lights need to operate

Is your business open all night or just until 10pm? When do the employees go home? When does it open in the morning? Does the parking lot require all night lighting or can they shut off a couple hours after your business closes and then on again before it opens? The less the lights have to operate, the lower the power usage will be. Even cutting back 3-4 hours a night can provide a drastic change to the energy requirements.

Step 3 – Research the lighting requirements of your area

Different cities have different lighting requirements, especially for businesses. Contact your local municipality to find out what their lighting requirements for your business are. Higher lighting levels can be required in more urban areas where lower lighting levels can sometimes be used in rural areas. Knowing standard IES requirements are also a great place to start when looking into lighting levels.

Step 4 – Speak to your lighting designer

Now that you have determined the area you need illuminated, the time the lights need to operate and the lighting requirements, it is time to talk to your lighting designer. They will help you determine the best fixture, height of fixture mounting, placement, etc. to complete the project successfully. They should also provide you a lighting layout to show you how your design will look once installed.

Step 5 – Figure where the poles would need to be installed

Once you receive your layout from the lighting designer make sure it fits well within the parking lot. Double check and see if poles are going to be installed in medians, on the edge of the roadway, in-between spaces, etc. This is also a good time to determine if you want to use an anchor base or direct burial pole, if the pole needs a foundation, and many other factors that can vary before final installation.

Step 6 – Decide if you want to use solar powered parking lot lights

The final step is to decide if you want solar powered parking lot lights or standard grid tied electrical lights. If your parking lot already exists or is still in development and planning phases, and there is no electric existing where the lights need to be installed, opt for a solar powered solution. This will cost less than bringing in the power lines, especially when trenching the lines or tearing up existing concrete, while also providing you lower costs overall as there will be no electric bill ever for the lighting.

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Parking Lot Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Safety with Solar Powered Vehicle Overheight Detection Systems

Posted by SEPCO

5/27/14 9:30 AM

Vehicle-Overheight-3The National highway system is a great way to get from one place to another in a short amount of time. Running all over the country, highways are full of travelers, including our busy truckers bringing product to its final destination. There are many areas that have not been updated to changing sizes of vehicles over the years. Overheight vehicle detection systems provides safety to truckers and other travelers on the road by making sure they can get through the area safely, or provide information for a detour to safely route the larger trucks around the obstacle.

A lot of these low lying bridges and overpasses are in rural areas where power does not exist. Solar powered vehicle overheight detection systems provide the needed power to these areas to power the systems to alert truckers on size restrictions. If the truck is detected to be too high for an upcoming bridge or overpass, a message will show with flashing beacons to attract the attention of the truckers allowing them to safely exit the highway and go through the detour. These systems can be installed in any location and use the solar power system to provide the power to the flashers, message board and detection systems.

The solar panel can be installed on the same pole with all other equipment necessary for this type of application. We work alongside companies to provide these DOT certified systems for installations all over the US. Our solar electric power assemblies are supplied to companies to provide power to their equipment in installations such as this. Since solar power is a great way to get energy where standard grid does not exist, providing a durable, long lasting solar power system with a minimum of 5 days backup storage is key to keeping our highways safe for truckers and travelers alike.
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Topics: Solar Power, Solar Powered Traffic Flasher

Eagle Scout Honors Veterans Lighting Freedom Rock at Night with Solar

Posted by SEPCO

5/22/14 9:30 AM

Freedom_Rock_1

Recently SEPCO took part in supplying Eagle Scout David S. with solar lighting for a project he did for his local Eagle Scout troop in Greenfield Iowa. Out on Hwy 25 stands an old graffiti rock that artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen began to paint yearly since 1999 on Memorial Day each year.  Sorensen paints the rock with his own money along with donations and sales of Freedom Rock merchandise.  The purpose of this rock is to pay respect and thank U.S. veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice to our country.  Over the years word of the rock spread and it has become a popular site for tourist and most notably veterans to visit each year. Looking through previous years images of the rock it is amazing that one person is responsible for such a beautiful sight.

Freedom_Rock_2

Last year David contacted SEPCO with his idea to relight the rock using solar lighting versus the single mercury vapor light that was failing. The old light did not do the rock much justice and was dim and needed to be replaced. The rock is visited both day and night primarily by motorcyclist traveling the road. Lighting at night of the rock is very important so the failing light needed replaced.  After meeting with the local co-op that manages the fixture David was given the go ahead to start his project, the co-op even volunteering to install the new equipment once it arrives.

Freedom-Rock-3

David’s project was recently finished and shortly after the install storms rolled in putting the lighting to the test from the first day. The light is working great and has been a great new addition to the Freedom Rock, SEPCO is proud to be a part of this project.   This has brought more attention to solar lighting in the area prompting others to inquire about what we can do for them.  We are glad we can help light the earth one solar light at a time. 

Freedom_Rock_at_Night

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Topics: Solar Lighting, LED Lighting, Landscape Lighting

The Worst Advice We've Ever Heard about Lighting

Posted by SEPCO

5/20/14 9:30 AM

There are a lot of different ideas in the lighting industry about what good advice is and what is bad. Here is a quick overview of some of the worst lighting advice we’ve ever heard and why.

Light levels don’t matter

LightingMisconceptions.jpgLight levels are important to any lighting project. If you can’t see what you need to, then the light is useless. Light levels need to be taken into consideration. If it is a sign people need to be able to read it. If it in a parking lot safety and security is the primary concern. Light levels vary from project to project and must be task specific. You don’t want you back yard lit up like the middle of the afternoon, but you also don’t want a parking lot so dimly lit that if you drop your keys at night you can’t find them.

Color doesn’t matter

Have you ever looked at those yellow lights that you see along the highway? Compared to crisper white light, they are strenuous on your eyes. You are used to seeing things in the daylight, and sunlight is about 5900-7500 Kelvin. Granted at night you don’t need the sun shining down on you to see, but you want to see as close to natural light as possible for your eyes to recognize things. With the amber colored low pressure sodium lamps you can hardly tell the color of a car, but with whiter light produced by LEDs, you can easily recognize colors, shapes and details much easier. Granted, in environmental conditions, like coastal areas, low pressure sodium or amber light is necessary to reduce the impact on wildlife.

The higher the wattage, the better the light

Every application needs different lighting levels, but a higher wattage light does not always produce better light. LEDs provide amazing light at much lower wattages than any other type of lamp. You also don’t want a huge bright spot light on a small sign or a huge high powered flood light for a roadway that potentially blinds travelers. Instead, using the right wattage light to provide the task specific lighting will save money as there will be no wasted energy. It will also be easier on your eyes.

You need full intensity light all night long

Security purposes require full intensity lighting to happen all night; however, a lot of applications allow for a dimming option. Between certain hours of the night, wasting the energy on full intensity lighting when no one is there is just that, a waste. Instead, if the area still requires lighting, dimming the fixtures down, which is now possible with LEDs, can save money while still providing some light. There can even be motion activators in the area to bring the lights back to full intensity when there are people in the area. Having the lights suddenly spike back to full intensity would also alert anyone nearby that there is someone in the area triggering the lights.

So there you have it. What advice have you ever questioned that you have gotten about lighting?
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Topics: General Lighting, LED Lighting, Solar Lighting Design

Making Your Community Green and Reduce Costs

Posted by SEPCO

5/15/14 9:30 AM

Communities all across America are trying to improve their green image and reduce costs, but some are having a hard time figuring out where to start. Here are some ideas that can help improve your community and lower overall costs in the end.

  1. CommunitySolarLighting.jpgBuild LEED – new buildings, either commercial or residential, should be done to the highest green standards. Using high efficient HVAC systems, energy efficient building materials such as Low-E or thermal windows, plenty of insulation and energy star qualified appliances will lower the energy pull for every building.
  2. Remodel to Higher Standard – the same as above can be used for remodels. Sometime the integrity of the original construction is what the community wants to preserve, but this doesn’t mean energy efficient improvements can’t be made.
  3. Use Solar Lightingsolar lighting can be installed anywhere since no electrical grid is needed. Solar lights for signs, parking lots, streets, billboards, etc. will lower the costs to the electrical company and provide more sustainable lighting systems.
  4. Provide More Bike Lanes and Sidewalks – people are becoming more eco-conscious and are doing things on their own. One of the largest issues is traffic for bikers. If communities would install more bike lanes or sidewalks where people can safely travel, more people will chose to use their own two legs to power themselves where they need to go.
  5. Promote Local Farming – if there is farm land nearby, promote using these farms for local restaurants and grocery stores instead of importing produce and meat from far away. The quality is usually better and lower transportation costs.
  6. Install Recycling Bins – Instead of just having trash cans everywhere, put recycling bins out as well. By making recycling easy, more people would be inclined to actually do it, even the not so eco-conscious.

Just doing some simple things will provide a much greener community. What steps has your community taken to improve its green image and lower costs?

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Topics: Solar Lighting, Green Ideas, Clean Energy, Recycling

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