Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Berkeley Approves City-Backed Loans for Solar Panels

Original Article

New York Times
Published: September 17, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — The Berkeley City Council late Tuesday unanimously approved a program to give city-backed loans to property owners who install rooftop solar-power systems. The loans, likely to total up to $22,000 apiece, would be paid off over 20 years as part of the owners’ property-tax bills.

Tuesday’s vote gave final approval to the creation of special property-tax districts, which property owners could opt to join. The final piece of the puzzle, however, is still missing: a deal with a lender whose capital the city would use to finance the program.

At first, the city seeks to raise $1.5 million for a pilot program for about 50 homes. If it program is successful, the kitty could eventually contain tens of millions of dollars, and hundreds of property owners could be eligible to participate.

If the early phase of the program lives up to the high expectations of its backers, the city government is likely to expand the field of projects it will fund, giving similar grants to energy-efficiency projects like putting in double-glazed windows or adding to a home’s insulation.

The program, said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California at Berkeley and director of the school’s Institute of the Environment, is designed to entice people who might be scared away by the high initial cost of retrofitting homes to incorporate solar power or become more energy efficient.

It allows homeowners “to think about creating clean-energy homes with basically no cost” up front, he added.

Participating homeowners would pay roughly $180 more per month on their property tax bills, though much of that cost could be expected to be recouped in savings on electrical bills.

“We have about 100 names of people who have expressed interest in the program,” said G. Craig Hill, a representative of the firm Northcross, Hill & Ach, which is advising the city council on the financial details. Mr. Hill is also negotiating with two private groups. He said they seem willing, even in the midst of the meltdown of large institutions on Wall Street, to try to resell the city-backed debt obligations in a skittish marketplace.

Christine Daniel, a deputy city manager working with Mr. Hill, said, “I would argue that this is very, very secure debt,” since it is backed by the property tax revenues in a city that collects 98 percent of the money it is owed each year.

The city’s mayor, Tom Bates, said in an interview shortly before the vote, “I think this is probably the most important contribution Berkeley can make toward taking on global warming,” and reducing greenhouse gases.

He added, “I think the idea is going to go like wildfire” through other city governments. Already, he said, nearly two dozen cities, from San Francisco to Annapolis and Seattle to Cambridge, Mass., have called indicating they want to follow suit.

As Ms. Daniel said, “We’re certainly gotten a lot of calls from cities that are interested, but most cities are saying: Let’s wait and see how Berkeley does.”

The overwhelming gloom in the national financial markets might hamper the program’s ability to expand, she said, but added, “If the secondary market is not as robust as we hope it will be, we believe the market will see the wisdom of this eventually.”

Mr. Kammen, the Berkeley professor, was not worried, pointing out that venture capitalists have been pouring billions of dollars into the development of alternative-energy technology and looking for new ways to finance potential breakthroughs. “There’s so much more money there than ideas,” he said.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

sustainable kitchen

KCRW Good Food


The Sustainable Kitches is 50 minutes into the show and summarized below:
Sustainable Kitchens (11:50A)

Deborah Tull shares tips for creating a sustainable kitchen. She has been engaged in sustainable living and environmental education for 15 years and runs Creative Green Sustainability Coaching.

Tip #1: Consider the types of food you will buy.

Tip #2 - Always store foods in ceramic, glass containers and stainless steel/aluminum containers.

Tip #3 - Pay attention to ways that you can conserve energy in cooking.

Tip #4 - A sustainable kitchen has the potential to create zero waste.

Tip #5 - Grow your own herbs and vegetable.

Tip #6 - Bring awareness and compassion to our relationship with food.

Tip#7 - Prepare yourself to be more sustainably "on the road" by carrying an "urban eco-pack."

Friday, 12 September 2008

Khaleej Times Online >> News >> BUSINESS Autodesk’s Revit Promotes Environment-friendly Designs

Original Article
dubai — US firm Autodesk has launched a new software that helps real-estate developers, among other sectors, incorporate in their projects some architectural and engineering designs supporting sustainable development.

This will in turn help users of Revit solutions increase the energy efficiency of their buildings through an accurate assessment of the projects’ lifecycles, according to Louis Khoury, the industry sales development manager of Autodesk Middle East.

“Autodesk’s solutions such as Revit enable architects and developers to minimise water and electricity usage thereby leading to significant savings for property developers over the long-term and the lessened production of harmful pollutants,” he said on Wednesday.

He noted that the UAE is witnessing a record number of innovative and landmark projects, which have adopted designs in line with the government’s move towards sustainable development.

During the launch of Revit on Tuesday night, Autodesk officials said Dubai and Abu Dhabi alone have at least 70 buildings awaiting green-building certifications.

This means that the real-estate industry is heading towards the total adoption of guidelines on sustainable development.

Christian Rust, the sales development manager for architectural, engineering and construction at Autodesk covering Europe, the Middle East and Africa Emerging, said Revit was launched in Dubai for its strategic location in the region.

He added that the UAE is the region’s biggest construction market.

In a statement, Autodesk said that a UAE building complying with the principles of sustainable development may save energy consumption of up to 50 per cent.

It stressed that 70 per cent of the average 30,000 kilowatt hours of electricity being used up by a building in the UAE is allocated for air-conditioning.

Autodesk is a global leader in 2D and 3D design software for the manufacturing, building and construction and media and entertainment markets

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Information Distribution - The Art of Aggregation and Information Archetectures

Tech's looming battle against rising energy costs

Driving the concentration of computational and information storage facilities globally. Density allows clouds to form which provide a concentration of information flows as well. Density allows a focus on energy balances, leading to sustainability and support of market dynamics.

The extension of the (computational) cloud to the Residential Living Units (RLUs) as well as to Enterprise Building Units (EBUs) allows the infrastructure to be, controllably, Transparent, Translucent, or Opaque as required.

Bank of America, for example, expects to cut as much as half its energy usage in 3,300 branches using "intelligent" building automation technology.

Telenor, a Norwegian wireless provider, worked with TAC to reduce its electricity usage from 300kWh per square meter to 100kWh. TAC designed a system where roughly 1,100 workplaces are individually controlled, and only areas that are in use and active are heated. Rooms are regulated with 600 multifunctional office nodes with sensors, while 900 valves control heating and ventilation.

Original Article

IT has gotten a bad rap when it comes to energy consumption. Walk into any datacenter, and you can almost feel the carbon emissions leaking into the atmosphere. However, research shows that the datacenter actually accounts for a very small percentage of a company's overall energy usage. And businesses are missing the other significant opportunities where they could cut energy usages -- and costs. Ironically, the same IT department that is reducing energy usage in the datacenter could lead the energy-savings initiatives across the enterprise.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the price of energy will continue to rise over the next 25 years, as global demand is poised to grow by 57 percent while the energy supply dwindles. As a result, businesses will find their profits reduced due to higher operating costs -- unless they do something about that energy usage.

[ Findout how USPS, IBM develop Highway Corridor Analytic Program to optimize mail transportation and to cut costs in the Sustainable IT blog | Read "Why IT should get in the facilities business" ]

Businesses' energy-saving initiatives often aim for the datacenter because it's a visible, easy target. "The datacenter is an absolute factory burning electricity, blowing freezing air, with storage service gear humming away 24/7. Naturally, the first place targeted for energy reduction is the datacenter," says Christopher Mines, a Forrester Research analyst.

Many IT shops have already reduced energy usage by switching to Energy Star-rated products, installing more efficient hardware, and maximizing the efficiency of their cooling system. But these efforts, while important, are just a drop in the bucket compared to the overall reductions that will be necessary to keep your company profitable.

In the coming years, IT could take the lead on saving energy, using its vast knowledge of the company's networks, equipment, work processes, and facilities. IT shops that have embraced the green-tech religion can transform that passion into something that will resonate, and pick up support, where it counts: in the executive boardroom. Energy-smart IT leadership can ensure the company remains in the black for the long term.

IT'sbig opportunity: Lead the energy-savings charge
Focusing on managing the power consumption of the datacenter and IT functions misses the full opportunity, says Glen Hobbs, a technology advisor with PricewaterhouseCoopers. IT has a much bigger role to play in improving business sustainability and identifying cost savings by enabling different ways of doing business, he adds.

"To achieve a commercially realistic advantage, organizations should consider more than just computing device efficiency," Hobbs said. "IT's contribution to an organization's sustainability should not just look inward to the operation of the IT function but outward through the IT supply chain to the operation and use of technology across the whole business."

[More ...]

Trends in Communicating with Fringe Devices

The "4th generation" of the net, as exemplified by the current tech trends:

1) at the fringe -

along with a total avoidance of real time data acquisition.

(but note that iPhone is saddly missing).

Original Article

Best of TechCrucgh50

Ventures in mobile computing and platform tools highlighted the TechCrunch50 2008 conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, with companies airing products ranging from a cross-platform environment for mobile systems to a next-generation text input technology.

TechCrunch50 has featured startups presenting their wares to the audience and panels of experts drawn from the entrepreneurial and investor realms. Among the panelists Tuesday was Mark Cuban, a technology entrepreneur perhaps best known as the outspoken owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team and a former contestant on the Dancing with the Stars TV show.

[ See the related story, "Startups pitch new tools for business." And for all the news from Demo Fall 2008 and TechCrunch50, check out InfoWorld's special report. ]

Projects detailed included Mytopia, which provides a cross-platform environment for Web and mobile systems. While the demonstration of Mytopia featured an online poker game functioning across multiple devices and a PC desktop, it also can be leveraged for all rich media applications, said Guy Ben-Atzi, CEO of Mytopia.

Using the company's RUGS (Real Time Universal Gaming System) framework, developers can code applications one time and automatically compile native builds for key Smartphone and mobile operating systems, including BlackBerry, Apple iPhone, and PalmOS. "RUGS is a rich content authoring environment and it starts with a developer who uses a customized Eclipse-based IDE. RUGS is going to ensure that content is going to be created in what we call a RUGS-compliant fashion," for cross-platform translation, Ben-Atzi said.

Swype presented its text input technology at the conference. Using either a stylus or a finger, users can quickly input words onto a screen. It is designed to work across devices such as phones, tablets, game consoles, and virtual screens. "Swype is the text input [technology] for the 21st century," said CEO Mike McSherry. Users can write 50 words per minute and multiple languages are supported, he said. McSherry asked screen designers and builders to talk to the company if they thought the technology would be applicable.

A cross-section of collaborative apps
Dropbox showed its technology for storing and sharing files in the cloud. Online sync, sharing, and backup are combined into a single interface. Files in the Dropbox folder are synchronized between computers and securely backed up online. Folders can be shared with others. The company announced Linux backing for the product Tuesday.

Devunity touted its cloud-based collaborative coding platform for developers, uniting programmers from around the world. "You don't have to mess with versioning. You can see what everybody's doing in real time," said Alon Carmel, CEO at Devunity.

Other technologies covered on Tuesday were in the collaborative and finance and statistics spaces. Sometimes, panelists offered sharp rebukes, such as Cuban's assessment of ImindI, which proposed a service to help like-minded thinkers connect on the Web. The service features a thought engine and artificial intelligence. The monetization plan involves rich contextual advertising.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but that just sounded like the biggest bunch of bull I've ever heard in my life," Cuban said. "I don’t get what the return is for making the investment in time" to use the application, he said. IMindi CEO Adam Lindemann defended the project as seeking to connect information to thoughts.

Panelists gave a thumbs-up to iCharts, which provides a platform for online charting. "I think it's a very interesting idea, maybe because I spend too many hours slaving over Excel," said panelist Roelof Botha, a partner at Sequoia Capital. "Anytime you can make something simple and easy, you've got a winner," said panelist Don Dodge, of Microsoft. "ICharts is your YouTube for interactive charts," said Seymour Duncker, CEO of iCharts.

Also presenting Tuesday was Tingz, which offers tools and services to gather Web content and distribute it to digital devices and social networks. Cross-platform, shareable widgets are featured. Applications are enabled such as browsing of movie listings.

Another presenter, Emerginvest, analyzes emerging financial markets with its application. And products for managing e-mail were shown both on Monday and Tuesday.

Proposed cures for e-mail overload
On Monday, the TechCrunch crowd heard from Joshua Baer, CEO of OtherInbox, which provides a service intended as a cure for e-mail overload. The platform offers a free e-mail account that organizes newsletters, social networking updates, coupons, and receipts from online purchases. Users can find the most interesting items and ignore the rest. OtherInbox helps e-commerce vendors send more targeted, relevant e-mails, Baer said.

Tuesday's e-mail technology presentation featured Postbox, a desktop e-mail application geared to help users spend less time managing e-mail. Cataloging everything in e-mail from text to Web links and pictures, Postbox provides a searchable platform and displays messages by topic. Postbox connects to content from any e-mail account, said Sherman Dickman, a founder of Postbox.

Friday, 5 September 2008

EElectrifying dances at world's first eco-friendly nightclub

Rotterdam - Hundreds of energetic dancers opened the world's first eco-friendly nightclub late Thursday in Rotterdam. Club Watt's moto is apt: "We want your energy."

Each night Club Watt will get about a third of the power it needs for its DJs from a special dance floor. Dancers' vigorous movements make the floor vibrate, and this is transformed into power with the help of mini dynamos.

Dancers can read just how much power is being produced on boards next to the DJs stage.

Everything is environment friendly at Club Watt, from the rain water toilet flushes to the bars with reusable plastic glasses.

The club's management says their eco-consciousness will ensure that they save a lot of energy, and money - enough to cover the costs of drinking water for 13,000 people.

Nightclub owners from Berlin to Paris and from Sydney to San Francisco have already expressed an interest in the unique concept developed by the Rotterdam disco.

Broadband Anywhere

Original Article

Sprint turns Baltimore into a giant wireless hot spot.

What if your laptop could wirelessly connect to the Internet as ­easily as your phone connects to the cellular network--with broadband data rates to boot?

That's the promise of a technology called WiMax, and in September, in the greater Baltimore area, Sprint is launching its first WiMax network. Several smaller companies offer regional WiMax service in the U.S., but Sprint has the national reach to take the technology into the mainstream.

Unlike Wi-Fi, WiMax uses licensed radio spectrum, so it can turn up the power without jamming other devices. A WiMax signal will travel kilometers, as opposed to the 20-odd meters of a Wi-Fi signal.

In Baltimore, Sprint promises a data rate of two to four megabits per second. WiMax achieves that kind of speed two ways. First, it uses antennas with multiple sending and receiving elements; second, it divides bandwidth into subfrequencies that overlap but don't interfere with each other, so more data can be crammed into a swath of spectrum.

But the same technologies are also the basis of the long-term evolution, or LTE, which Verizon champions as an alternative to WiMax. "When you look at 2015 and see who will have the bigger market share," says Arogyaswami Paulraj, a Stanford professor who helped pioneer both technologies, "until a year or two ago, the general view was that LTE might actually have a little more." But LTE probably won't be ready for deployment until 2011, Paulraj says, and WiMax is already popular in India. "I think WiMax is pretty well positioned at this point," he says.

This map shows Sprint's WiMax coverage in the Baltimore area: pink, accessible anywhere; green, accessible in suburban buildings, cars, and the street; blue, accessible in cars and the street; grey, accessible in the street.
Credit: Sprint Nextel

Intensifying the Sun

Original Article

A new way to concentrate sunlight could make solar power competitive with fossil fuels.

Marc Baldo poses with a collection
of glass sheets coated with
light-emitting organic dyes.
The dyes absorb light and
reëmit it into the glass, which
channels it to the edges of the
sheets. Baldo uses the devices
to concentrate sunlight, making
solar power cheaper.
Credit: Porter Gifford

The Video
In his darkened lab at MIT, Marc Baldo shines an ultraviolet lamp on a 10-­centimeter square of glass. He has coated the surfaces of the glass with dyes that glow faintly orange under the light. Yet the uncoated edges of the glass are shining more brightly--four neat, thin strips of luminescent orange.

The sheet of glass is a new kind of solar concentrator, a device that gathers diffuse light and focuses it onto a relatively small solar cell. Solar cells, multilayered electronic devices made of highly refined silicon, are expensive to manufacture, and the bigger they are, the more they cost. Solar concentrators can lower the overall cost of solar power by making it possible to use much smaller cells. But the concentrators are typically made of curved mirrors or lenses, which are bulky and require costly mechanical systems that help them track the sun.

Unlike the mirrors and lenses in conventional solar concentrators, Baldo's glass sheets act as waveguides, channeling light in the same way that fiber-optic cables transmit optical signals over long distances. The dyes coating the surfaces of the glass absorb sunlight; different dyes can be used to absorb different wavelengths of light. Then the dyes reëmit the light into the glass, which channels it to the edges. Solar-cell strips attached to the edges absorb the light and generate electricity. The larger the surface of the glass compared with the thickness of the edges, the more the light is concentrated and, to a point, the less the power costs.

Baldo, an associate professor of electrical engineering, published his findings recently in Science. On their basis, he projects that his solar concentrators could be made big enough for the electricity they help generate to compete with electricity from fossil fuels. Indeed, says Baldo, panels equipped with the concentrators "could be the cheapest solar technology."

Secret Ingredient
The process for making Baldo's solar concentrators begins down the hall in another lab. A postdoctoral researcher, Shalom Goffri, takes several bottles filled with colorful dye powders from a cabinet and measures the powders into small vials. Some of the dyes were developed for use in car paints; others have been used in organic light-emitting diodes. Both types of dyes can last for years in the sun, a quality essential for solar concentrators. Once he has measured out the powders, Goffri adds a solvent to each to make a liquid ink.

The next steps take place inside a sealed box, so that Goffri doesn't inhale the solvents used to make the dye. He reaches into the box, using thick black gloves mounted in its glass front, and carefully mixes together different inks. Determining the right combination of inks solved a fundamental problem that researchers have encountered with this type of solar concentrator. If the glass sheet is coated with a dye that absorbs sunlight in, say, the green-to-blue range of the solar spectrum and emits light of the same wavelength, the emitted light will be quickly reabsorbed by the dye, and little of it will ever reach the edge of the glass. The problem has limited the size of these solar concentrators, since the further the light needs to travel to the edges, the less of the light will make it.

By using certain combinations of dyes interspersed with other light-absorbing molecules, Baldo makes coatings that absorb one color but emit another. The emitted light is not quickly reabsorbed by the coatings, so more of it reaches the edges of the glass sheet.

The coatings that Goffri is making absorb ultraviolet through green light and emit orange light. Once Goffri has prepared the final mixture, he pours a small amount on a 10-centimeter-wide glass square--the largest that can fit inside a device that spins the glass at 2,000 revolutions per minute to spread the ink evenly. Within a minute or two, the solvent has evaporated and the process is finished. The solar concentrator, with its coating of orange dye, is complete.

The Prototype
To generate electricity, Goffri connects the solar concentrator to solar cells. He's making what is called a tandem solar module, a type of solar panel that uses two different kinds of cells to capture more of the energy in sunlight than a single kind could. Different wavelengths of sunlight have different amounts of energy; ultraviolet light has the most and infrared the least. Solar cells are optimized for particular colors. One designed to convert infrared light into electricity, for example, will convert most of the energy in blue light into waste heat. Likewise, red light will pass through a solar cell optimized for high-energy blue light without being absorbed. Ideally, solar cells for different wavelengths would be used in combination to collect the most sunlight, but this approach is often too expensive to be practical.

Baldo's concentrators offer an inexpensive way to combine solar cells optimized for different wavelengths of light: different colored coatings can be paired with different types of solar cells in the same device. To make a prototype, Goffri takes a type of solar cell well suited to high-energy colors and glues it to the inside of a plastic frame; then he slides the concentrator into the frame so that its edges line up with the cells. The concentrator captures ultraviolet, blue, and green light and emits orange light that the cells convert into electricity. The lower-energy light, from the red and infrared end of the spectrum, passes through the solar concentrator to the next layer. In the prototype, the next layer is a full-size, conventional silicon solar cell that isn't paired with a solar concentrator.

The prototype, Baldo says, can convert almost twice as much energy from sunlight into electricity as a conventional cell can, provided that the concentrator is roughly 30 centimeters square. This translates to a 30 percent decrease in the cost of solar electricity.

In the future, the cost savings can be much higher, Baldo believes. He doesn't use a concentrator for the infrared light because, so far, no good dyes for capturing those wavelengths exist. But he is confident that such dyes can be developed. When that happens, he will be able to add a second concentrator, for little additional cost, and replace the full-size silicon solar cell with smaller, cheaper cells attached to the concentrators' edges. If the cost of photovoltaics drops over the next several years, as expected, this setup could make solar power about as cheap as electricity from coal, he says.

There's more work to be done in the lab, such as improving the range of colors the concentrators can absorb, which will make it possible to tailor them to specific slices of the spectrum. But Baldo says that it's time to start moving the technology out of the lab and into the market. He and his colleagues have founded a company called Covalent Solar, which is starting to raise money. The company, based in Cambridge, MA, plans to have its first products--­probably tandem solar modules--available within three years.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A Green Energy Industry Takes Root in California

Original Article

Peter Rive of SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells in California.

SAN FRANCISCO — The sun is starting to grow jobs. While interest in alternative energy is climbing across the United States, solar power especially is rising in California, the product of billions of dollars in investment and mountains of enthusiasm.

In recent months, the industry has added several thousand jobs in the production of solar energy cells and installation of solar panels on roofs. A spate of investment has also aimed at making solar power more efficient and less costly than natural gas and coal.

Entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers say this era’s solar industry is different from what was tried in the 1970s, when Jerry Brown, then the governor of California, invited derision for envisioning a future fueled by alternative energy.

They point to companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the growth.”

SunPower, which makes the silicon-based cells that turn sunlight into electricity, reported 2007 revenue of more than $775 million, more than triple its 2006 revenue. The company expects sales to top $1 billion this year. SunPower, based in San Jose, said its stock price grew 251 percent in 2007, faster than any other Silicon Valley company, including Apple and Google.

Not coincidentally, three-quarters of the nation’s demand for solar comes from residents and companies in California. “There is a real economy — multiple companies, all of which have the chance to be billion-dollar operators,” said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the energy and resources group at the University of California, Berkeley. California, he says, is poised to be both the world’s next big solar market and its entrepreneurial center.

The question, Professor Kammen says, is: “How can we make sure it’s not just green elite or green chic, and make it the basis for the economy?”

There also are huge challenges ahead, not the least of which is the continued dominance of fossil fuels. Solar represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the $3 trillion global energy market, leading some critics to suggest that the state is getting ahead of itself, as it did during the 1970s.

The optimists say a crucial difference this time is the participation of private-sector investors and innovators and emerging technologies. Eight of more than a dozen of the nation’s companies developing photovoltaic cells are based in California, and seven of those are in Silicon Valley.

Among the companies that academics and entrepreneurs believe could take the industry to a new level is Nanosolar, which recently started making photovoltaic cells in a 200,000-square-foot factory in San Jose. The company said the first 18 months of its capacity has already been booked for sales in Germany.

“They could absolutely transform the market if they make good on even a fraction of their goal for next year,” Professor Kammen said. “They’re not just a new entrant, but one of the biggest producers in the world.”

Many of the California companies are start-ups exploring exotic materials like copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, an alternative to the conventional crystalline silicon that is now the dominant technology.

The newcomers hope that CIGS, while less efficient than silicon, can be made far more cheaply than silicon-based cells. Indeed, the Nanosolar factory looks more like a newspaper plant than a chip-making factory. The CIGS material is sprayed onto giant rolls of aluminum foil and then cut into pieces the size of solar panels.

Another example is Integrated Solar, based in Los Angeles, which has developed a low-cost approach to integrating photovoltaic panels directly into the roofs of commercial buildings.

In 2007, 100 megawatts of solar generating capacity was installed in California, about a 50 percent increase over 2006, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group.

That growth rate is likely to increase, in part because of ambitious new projects like the 177-megawatt solar thermal plant that Pacific Gas and Electric said last November it would build in San Luis Obispo.

The plant, which will generate power for more than 120,000 homes beginning in 2010, will be built by Ausra, a Palo Alto start-up backed by the investor Vinod Khosla and his former venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

The industry in California is also helped by state and local governments’ substantial subsidies to stimulate demand. The state has earmarked $3.2 billion to subsidize solar installation, with the goal of putting solar cells on one million rooftops. The state Assembly passed a law to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, which could spur alternatives like solar.

dditional incentives have come from a small but growing number of municipalities. The city of Berkeley will pay the upfront costs for a resident’s solar installation and recoup the money over 20 years through additional property taxes on a resident’s home. San Francisco is preparing to adopt its own subsidy that would range from $3,000 for a home installation to as much as $10,000 for a business.

The subsidies have prompted a surge in private investment, led by venture capitalists. In 2007, these seed investors put $654 million in 33 solar-related deals in California, up from $253 million in 16 deals in 2006, according to the Cleantech Group, which tracks investments in alternative energy. California received roughly half of all solar power venture investments made in 2007 in the United States.

“We’re just starting to see successful companies come out through the other end of that process,” said Nancy C. Floyd, managing director at Nth Power, a venture capital firm that focuses on alternative energy. “And through innovation and volume, prices are coming down.”

Whether any of this investment pays off depends, as it did in previous eras, on reaching the point at which solar cells produce electricity as inexpensively as fossil fuels. The cost of solar energy is projected to fall steeply as cheaper new technology reaches economies of scale. Optimists believe that some regions in California could reach that point in half a decade.

At present, solar power is three to five times as expensive as coal, depending on the technology used, said Dan Reicher, director for climate change and energy initiatives at, the philanthropic division of the Internet company. Among its investments, Google says, is $10 million in financing for eSolar, a company in Pasadena that builds systems that concentrate sunlight from reflecting mirrors.

“We’re at the dawn of a revolution that could be as powerful as the Internet revolution,” Mr. Reicher said. The problem is, he said, “renewable energy simply costs too much.”

At a conference of alternative energy companies in San Francisco last month, to discuss how to encourage the industry’s growth, Mr. Brown, the former governor, joked that if the participants wanted to make real headway selling alternative energy, they should try not to come off as flaky. “Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves,” said Mr. Brown, now the state’s attorney general. “You will be stigmatized. Don’t use too many big words and make it all sound like yesterday.”

Solar power for less than your cable bill

Original Article

Solar power companies have been working around the clock to drive down the price of clean electricity from the sun so it can one day be as cheap as the energy we get from dirtier sources, like coal plants.

Until we get there, however, some solar panel installers have come up with a solution that they say will give more people access to solar energy. How are they doing it? By allowing customers to lease, rather than buy, the photovoltaic solar panels for their roofs.

It’s the same idea, really, that has enabled some people to get behind the wheel of a luxury car they could otherwise not afford — low or no upfront costs followed by a monthly bill.

SolarCity, based in Foster City, California, is one company that recently started offering leases to its customers. Chief Executive Lyndon Rive told Reuters he wanted to do away with the hefty cost of buying solar panels — on average about $20,000.

“Even those who really want to make an environmental change can’t part with $20,000… the solution is just too costly for them.”

Under SolarCity’s lease program, customers with a small home could pay as little as $70 a month for a 2.4 kilowatt system, Rive added. The company is also allowing customers who sign up before July 31st to put no money down on their system. After that, upfront costs should be between about $1,000 and $3,000, Rive said.

“We can essentially make it so that everybody can now afford clean power,” Rive said.

The leased projects will be financed through Morgan Stanley, and SolarCity said it will serve as a one-stop shop for both installation and financing.

Right now the program is only available in California, but SolarCity is expanding to Oregon, Arizona and has plans to go to the East Coast.

GPEC and SolarCity Unveil Greening Greater Phoenix Initiative to Promote Region as Solar and Sustainability Leader

The Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC) announced a new sustainability initiative today to position Greater Phoenix as a location for solar and clean technology, green building, renewable energy and other "green industry" organizations. Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity promotes the region as an emerging leader in solar technology and renewable energy industries. Over the next several months, GPEC will launch a national and international awareness campaign for Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity, targeting companies seeking to expand or invest in a renewable energy market.

SolarCity, the West's number one residential solar power provider, recently expanded operations in Phoenix and is partnering with GPEC to make this effort a success. Also championing the regional initiative are the City of Phoenix, City of Scottsdale and City of Surprise -- all of which have committed to adopting solar technology and green-building standards to enhance economic development activity within their communities. Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity also complements Maricopa County's effort to become the greenest county in the nation.

"GPEC is honored to have SolarCity as our partner to continue the momentum of building a hub in Greater Phoenix for solar and sustainable industries," said Barry Broome, GPEC president and CEO. "Greening Greater Phoenix unifies our communities, stakeholders and partners while diversifying the economy with the creation of high-wage jobs in the renewable energy sector."

"Our mission is to help Arizona realize its obvious potential to be a national leader in solar power adoption by making solar affordable for more area families, and we've been thrilled with the initial response we've received from Greater Phoenix residents," said Peter Rive, SolarCity co-founder and COO. "Greening Greater Phoenix is intended to expand the early momentum we've achieved in solar to broader sustainability initiatives in the area, and we're proud to be a part of it."

Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity will drive regional competitiveness in the solar and renewable energy industries by:

-- Providing a regional framework to promote communities' sustainability efforts in relation to business development and foreign direct investment opportunities.

-- Launching a national and international marketing campaign to brand Greater Phoenix as an emerging sustainability and solar leader.

-- Recruiting industry expertise and green champions to serve in an advisory capacity and sounding board for GPEC's leadership.

The City of Phoenix has been a leader in the areas of water conservation, air quality and energy conservation for more than 30 years. Today, Phoenix remains committed to sustainability with the adoption of a long-term renewable energy goal set in April 2008. In close cooperation with the Environmental Quality Commission, the City of Phoenix established a goal for 15% of the energy used by the City to come from renewable energy sources by 2025. In addition to renewable energy practices, the City of Phoenix is a leader in green and sustainable building practices. In 2004, Fire Station 50 was awarded the first LEED certified facility in Maricopa County and was the second LEED certified facility in the country. The City Council adopted a policy in 2005 that, at a minimum, requires all of the new 16 city buildings constructed with 2006 Bond Funds be designed and built to the basic LEED standard.

"Phoenix has been called the first great city to emerge in the 21st Century," said City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon. "Our goal is now to become the first sustainable city in the 21st Century and beyond. A Greener, Greater Phoenix is more than a slogan, it is our destiny."

The City of Scottsdale's Green Building Program, the flagship of the city's green initiatives, was established in 1998 as a voluntary builder program to reduce the environmental impact of building. The program rates buildings in the areas of site, energy, building materials, indoor air quality, water and solid waste, and offers development process incentives to influence builder design and product choices. Details of the program, and information about the community lecture series, can be found at In addition, to further support this commitment to Green, the City of Scottsdale passed a resolution in 2005 that requires all new, occupied city buildings, of any size, be designed, contracted and built to achieve certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED(TM)) Program at the Gold certification level.

"The City of Scottsdale has long been at the forefront of engaging in and promoting green building and sustainable development," said City of Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross. "This new initiative ties into Scottsdale's mission to attract and develop cutting edge technologies that are better for our environment and create economic opportunities for our citizens."

The City of Surprise is an emerging West Valley leader in sustainability practices and industry attraction, with a booming population of 108,000 people and a 309 square mile planning area. The city recently began tracking its "green" efforts with the launch of its Green Surprise website -- Featured prominently on that site are the city's Water Conservation Ordinance, which cracks down on water wasters, and the air quality controls that are in place through the city's PM-10 rules, to reduce unhealthy dust particles in our air.

"Surprise is committed to sustainability and innovation," said City of Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt. "Taking a leadership role in developing solar technology fits exactly with our vision of Surprise."

Maricopa County established a Green Government Initiative to promote an environmentally-sensitive approach to county business. The program contains strategies to reduce energy and material use and save money, all while reducing the County's carbon footprint. Maricopa County is currently undergoing an energy audit of its eight million square feet of county facilities. More information on Maricopa County's green efforts can be found by visiting

"We're committed to working with local governments and enterprises to achieve a cleaner, healthier and higher quality Maricopa County," said Supervisor Fulton Brock, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

SolarCity will host six solar seminars in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Surprise on Sept. 20 and 27. Residents are encouraged to join others in the community to learn more about Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity. The instructor will cover the basics of solar and take questions from the audience about available government rebates, the home installation process and potential cost savings achievable with clean, solar power. To find a seminar in your area or to RSVP online, please visit To RSVP by phone, please call 1-888-SOL-CITY (1-888-765-2489). Scheduled seminars by date and location:

September 20
Phoenix - Hyatt Regency Phoenix, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Scottsdale - Granite Reef Senior Center, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Surprise - Rio Salado Lifelong Learning Center, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM

September 27
Phoenix - Hyatt Regency Phoenix, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM
Scottsdale - Granite Reef Senior Center, 10:00 AM to 11:00 AM
Surprise - Maricopa Northwest Regional Library, 10:00 AM - 11:00 AM

The Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity announcement preceded "Building the Green Business Case," a forum hosted by GPEC, Arizona Association for Economic Development, U.S. Green Building Council Arizona Chapter and GreenSummit. Solar and green building experts discussed trends and the adoption of sustainable practices. The event is the kickoff to the 2008 GreenSummit conference and tradeshow on September 5 - 6 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

For more information, visit

About the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (GPEC)

A true public/private partnership, GPEC is the regional economic development organization for Greater Phoenix. Working with its 18 member communities, Maricopa County and more than 140 private investors, GPEC attracts quality businesses to this dynamic region. By creating a high-performance economy through capital investments and jobs, Greater Phoenix companies enjoy a business climate where they can compete and thrive in today's global economy. Since 1989, GPEC has worked to achieve an economically sound and sustainable region. For more information about GPEC, visit

About SolarCity

SolarCity matches advanced solar power technology with a suite of installation services. The company's comprehensive offering removes the technical, regulatory and financing barriers to solar power, helping customers make smart renewable energy choices that can save money. Including the industry's most experienced team in solar system design and installation, and a proven track record of bringing new technologies to market, SolarCity is uniquely positioned to make solar power a practical choice for homeowners and businesses. SolarCity serves communities in California, Oregon and Arizona. Additional information about the company is available on the Web at

"We're committed to working with local governments and enterprises to
achieve a cleaner, healthier and higher quality Maricopa County," said
Supervisor Fulton Brock, Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

SolarCity will host six solar seminars in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Surprise
on Sept. 20 and 27. Residents are encouraged to join others in the community
to learn more about Greening Greater Phoenix Powered by SolarCity. The
instructor will cover the basics of solar and take questions from the audience
about available government rebates, the home installation process and
potential cost savings achievable with clean, solar power.
To find a seminar in your area or to RSVP online, please visit To RSVP by phone, please call 1-888-SOL-CITY
(1-888-765-2489). Scheduled seminars by date and location:

Juniper Research forecasts total mobile payments to grow nearly ten fold by 2013

Original Article

NTERNATIONAL. Purchases via mobile devices of digital and physical goods, contactless NFC (Near Field Communications) transactions and money transfers will together generate transactions worth over US$600 billion globally by 2013, according to Juniper Research’s Mobile Payments Study. This figure represents the gross value of all the items being purchased or the value of money being transferred.

The report determined that while the mobile market today is dominated by digital goods purchases such as ringtones, music, games and infotainment, there are three high potential markets which offer major new opportunities for the future: contactless NFC, mobile money transfer and physical goods purchases via mobile devices.

Report author Howard Wilcox commented: "We’re forecasting that all segments of the market will see growth over the next five years, driven by both the rapid availability of exciting, easy to use services, and the continued growth in mobile subscriber penetration, particularly in developing countries. As well as becoming multifunctional devices for many users, mobiles will become wallets that people won’t leave the home or office without.”

Highlights from the report include:

• Global annual gross transaction value will grow over ten times between 2008 and 2013

• Juniper Research’s 2008 forecasts show an increased growth rate of the global mobile subscriber base than previously, with in excess of 1 billion new users by 2013

• The top three regions for mobile payments (Far East & China, Western Europe and North America) will represent over 70% of the global mobile money transfer gross transaction value by 2013.

The study provides the 'big picture' view of mobile payments, exploring how the overall market will develop. The report provides forecasts of the main market segments (digital and physical goods purchases, contactless NFC and national and international money transfers and remittances), providing regional forecasts of gross transaction values. The report also offers profiles of 13 vendors and 17 service providers pioneering in this exciting market.

Whitepapers and further details of the study 'Mobile Payments Markets: Strategies & Forecasts 2008-2013' can be freely downloaded from

Further reports in the mobile payments series from Juniper are:

· Mobile Payment Markets: Digital and Physical Goods 2008-2013 (published in July 2008)

· Mobile Payment Markets: Contactless NFC 2008-2013 (published in July 2008)

· Mobile Payment Markets: Money Transfers and Remittances 2008-2013 (published in August 2008)

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Precision Indoor Personnel Location and Tracking for Emergency Responders

Third Annual Technology Workshop, August 4-6, 2008
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

This Workshop provided a forum for researchers and developers working in the important area of indoor location and tracking of emergency response personnel to share technical knowledge and to define the state of the art. The focus of this workshop was zero pre-installed infrastructure tracking, that is systems that do not require any previously installed wiring or equipment in the target building, such as is required by RFID-type systems. Further, the focus was on systems which provide complete tracking and position information on all equipped personnel to the incident command post. Simpler approaches ("homing devices") also were included in the Workshop. Also, a session was dedicated to the physiological monitoring of first responders. Select representatives of the governmental and user communities participated.

Conference Site

A Network That Builds Itself

Original Article

Mesh together: This prototype
relay node, developed by NIST,
features an LED that automatically
changes from green to red whenever
a new node needs to be set down.
Credit: NIST
Building an on-the-fly wireless communications networks is a vital part of firefighting, handling hostage situations, and dealing with other emergencies. But it is difficult to build such networks quickly and reliably.

Soon these emergency wireless networks could help build themselves. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently presented details of two experimental networks that tell emergency workers when to set down wireless transmitters to ensure a good signal.

Ad hoc wireless networks relay messages between transmitters, or nodes, without requiring any central control. But as things stand, emergency workers simply follow suggested guidelines for building such a wireless network--placing each node 15 or 30 meters apart and at key points, like the corners of a building. Or they periodically check back with the command center to make sure they're still in touch. Neither method is terribly efficient in an emergency, however. The process can also be costly if a large number of nodes are used.

The NIST prototypes, which have been under development for more than three years, use algorithms to monitor the signal-to-noise ratio of transmissions and automatically warn when a new node should be set down.

"We didn't want to have fixed rules, because there can be a lot of metal in walls or cinder block," meaning signal strength varies building to building, says Nader Moayeri, a senior technical advisor in NIST's Advanced Network Technologies Division. "Plus, you don't want to deploy too many, because of the cost factor as well as potential for communication delays."

Moayeri says that NIST considered having nodes ping each other with short messages to see how many messages were lost in transit. The problem with this approach is that the person deploying the network would not detect a weak connection immediately and might have to backtrack. Having an algorithm measure the signal-to-noise ratio instead avoids this problem and provides a clearer picture of connection strength.

NIST built two prototype networks using off-the-shelf hardware. One operates at 900 megahertz and uses Crossbow MICA2 Motes to transmit radio signals. The other, a Wi-Fi network operating at 2.4 gigahertz , uses Linux-based Gumstix transmitters. But Moayeri says that the NIST algorithm should work with any wireless hardware and on any available spectrum.

In the Crossbow system, each node has an LED that automatically changes color, from green to red, when a new node needs to be set down. The Gumstix system issues alerts via a handheld or tablet computer connected to the same wireless network.

Each hardware platform has different strengths and weaknesses. The Crossbow system can be customized easily but has a maximum data transfer speed of 35 kilobits per second, limiting the network to text messaging. The Gumstix system is less flexible but can transfer data at 54 megabits per second, allowing users to talk and send other data over the network. Both types of node measure approximately five by ten centimeters and cost between $200 and $300.

Moayeri's team tested the Crossbow network in an 11-story building on the NIST campus in Gaithersburg, MD, deploying 11 nodes in the stairwell. The Gumstix network was tested throughout another NIST building that goes 40 feet belowground and features winding corridors as well as a number of metal doors. A total of eight nodes were used to cover about 300 meters.

Moayeri says that the maximum transmission power for both prototypes was about 100 milliwatts. Since a typical police or firefighter radio transmits at one to five watts, far fewer nodes would be needed in a real-world scenario. However, it's not clear how much it will cost to make rugged and fireproof nodes.

A potential downside of the NIST prototype is that it does not include the ability to track location, unless it is in a building that already has passive RFID chips installed.

Moayeri and his colleague Michael Souryal presented details of the two prototype networks at the third annual Precision Indoor Personnel Location and Tracking for Emergency Responders technology workshop held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in early August.

Their presentation caught the interest of one workshop attendee--Alan Kaplan, chief technology officer at Drakontas, a company based in Glenside, PA, that makes communications software for public safety and security operations. His firm's software currently requires users to check connections between nodes as they are deployed. "What I thought was cool is that the technology seemed to help users as they built out this network, telling where they should actually place these nodes," says Kaplan. "Potentially, this is something that anyone who does public safety or security would want."

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Sprint Adds Location-based Apps to WiMax in Baltimore

Original Article

Imagine walking down a Baltimore street and by using your WiMax-enabled Sprint phone, you are told a mile down on the left, you can get find your favorite Five Guys burger. But you may need to go down a different street to get there because roads are blocked by police because of an accident, according to your phone. While you are in the area, stick around for a couple hours because at 7 p.m. Kanye West will be playing at an outdoor concert by the harbor.

That's the experience Sprint promises as it added today more location-based partners such as Yelp, a local business review site; Eventful, a local events guide done by map views; and Topix, a local news site. With the promise of faster access on WiMax, which the company compares to WiFi without the distance limitations of hotspots, the mobile experience around the corner is being described by carriers as one where your phone will know, based on where you are, how to direct you to any food, information, real estate and entertainment resources you may want nearby.

Soon those promises can be tested as Sprint launches its faster-than-ever WiMax service that currently is projected to cover about 70 of metropolitan Baltimore.

Powering Up

Original Article

FIRST there were the propane lamps. Then came wind turbines, followed by solar panels that powered William Shay’s off-the-grid vacation home overlooking Lake Billy Chinook.

And now, two decades after the first road was paved in Mr. Shay’s unusual central Oregon vacation community, sun-powered super homes hug the rimrock above his humble-by-comparison octagonal cabin.

“When I first came out here it was wild, wild West,” said Mr. Shay, who owns a vegetable oil distribution company in Portland, three hours to the northwest. “People walked around with six-shooters and you thought there was a snake under every rock.”

Now it seems more as if there is a Porsche Cayenne S.U.V. in every garage at the 3,800-acre Three Rivers Recreation Area, home to more than 500 off-the-grid vacation homes, from trailers too long in port to air-conditioned McMansions with solar arrays costing tens of thousands of dollars.

“The lifestyle here, you can get simple or you can be real extravagant,” said Lorne Stills, whose late father, Doug Stills, started Three Rivers roughly four decades ago. The history of Three Rivers has been a trend from the former to the latter.

At first, what today is perhaps the country’s only off-the-grid second-home subdivision was just juniper and bunch grass, grazing land for cattle and sheep across the Metolius River arm of Lake Billy Chinook from the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation.

Mr. Stills’s father originally envisioned building a hunting preserve, but his financial backers preferred the idea of selling lots to Portlanders and others looking to escape east of the Cascade Mountains on weekends, said Mr. Stills.

In the beginning people just pitched tents or parked their pickups on lots down beside the lake, said Mr. Stills’s widow, Delores. It was a place for working men to come and “let their hair down,” said her son.

“When the campgrounds were full or they got kicked out for being too noisy, they came up here,” said Ms. Stills. There was no marketing beyond word of mouth, but by 1979 all the lots were taken, she said.

Eventually rough cabins started replacing the tents and trailers, but one problem remained: no power, water or telephone service for miles around.

Most buyers were of modest means but significant ingenuity, so there was a period of experimentation in power sources, from windmills to simple generators to modified automotive parts.

Some tried lighting their homes with propane lamps, but “it was just about as dark inside as it was outside,” said Lorne Stills.

A hot shower was a coffee can with holes in the bottom hung from a peg out on the deck and filled with water heated on a propane stove. Or, if it was a hot enough day, a splash bath in the lake would suffice.

Three decades later, off-the-grid vacation homes have become practical for those not inclined to tinker and jury-rig car parts or shower under empty Folgers cans. And in today’s atmosphere of climbing energy costs and concerns about global warming, what once was obstacle is now amenity.

“Off the grid has huge appeal,” said Elaine Budden, a Three Rivers property owner for three decades and full-time resident for the last 12 years.

BUT because the “green” aspect of Three Rivers came about more by necessity than intention, the vibe is still more hemi than hybrid. At the Three Rivers office — no flat-screen TVs showing panning shots of Jack Nicklaus golf courses here — a whiteboard on the outside wall of the office lists phone numbers for firewood sales and raffle tickets for a quilt. Inside, residents jaw in chairs below Three Rivers Redneck Yacht Club T-shirts on the wall.

An asphalt road, which many old timers fought for years against paving, leads from the front gate down to the lake past posts where faded painted planks with family names point down roads called That Way Lane and Leisure Drive.

“Some people don’t even know their own house number,” said Chris Yonda, the office administrator. Before cellphone service most residents communicated using citizens band radio, and CBs can still be seen hanging under kitchen cabinets or on walls in many homes.

About 85 property owners live at Three Rivers full time, and roughly two dozen lots or homes are for sale currently, said Ms. Budden, a broker for Coldwell Banker Dick Dodson Realty in Madras who specializes in properties in Three Rivers. The cheapest is a five-acre lot for $125,000.

While pointing out the airstrip, A.T.V. trails and volunteer fire hall in her Boston accent, Ms. Budden reveals her tendency to divide the world into people who “get the deal” and those who “don’t get the deal.”

Among those who get the deal, in Ms. Budden’s view, are Shannon and Michael Neal, a Portland couple who bought a five-acre lot in Three Rivers last spring for $140,000.

For years the Neals had come to water-ski at Lake Billy Chinook, a reservoir at the confluence of the Crooked, Deschutes and Metolius Rivers also popular with house boaters and bait fishers.

In recent years they began looking around for a vacation home to take their four children, ages 6 to 14, and Malibu ski boat for weekends away. Their real estate agent pointed them toward Three Rivers.

“The things that scared us originally — the solar, the water, all that — they really started to grow on us and we thought, wow, that’s cool,” said Shannon Neal, 37.

THE Neals cleared two dilapidated trailers from their land and recently finished a 2,100-square-foot lodge-style home with a pine and juniper staircase and lava rock fireplace, beside which their children recently sat and watched Web video on a Mac notebook connected to their satellite-supplied wireless Internet network.

The couple have two Skype phones that run off the same connection, a tankless water heater and stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.

“We don’t lack anything,” said Mr. Neal.

Powering the home is a solar setup that cost around $25,000, which includes 12 190-volt solar panels, 16 forklift batteries, an inverter, a diesel generator and various other electronics. “It’s not cheap,” Mr. Neal said.

Once a system like the Neals’ is installed, they need only check the water level in the batteries every month or so and have the oil and filter changed on the generator regularly.

“A good system like that, you’ll need to replace the batteries every 10 to 12 years,” said Jeff Lugar, owner of All Season Solar in Bend, an hour south.

In addition, the Neals are paying about $20,000 to have a well put in, and they already have a roughly $12,000 septic system. (Most Three Rivers homeowners get their water delivered by a local service, which charges 5 cents a gallon, Ms. Budden said.)

The Neal home takes into consideration that a teenage girl might be using a hair dryer at the same time as the dishwasher runs in the kitchen, a far cry from the coffee can showers and outhouses still in use at some homes.

Besides being an education in amperage, volts and wattage for Mr. Neal, a business consultant, the home has provided the couple with a chance to school their children in energy and water conservation.

That sort of enthusiasm is registering with the country’s home builders, over a quarter of whom are heavily involved in green building, according to a survey this year by McGraw-Hill Construction.

That same survey estimates that today green homes, of which off-the-grid homes are a small segment, make up just 2 percent of new home starts. But by 2012 that figure is estimated to reach between 12 and 20 percent.

The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that 190 megawatts’ worth of photovoltaic panels were installed in 2007, compared with 141 megawatts in 2006, a 34 percent increase. One megawatt is enough to power about 250 households, the association estimates.

“People are digging to see if they’re doing deeper-level green stuff than just putting bamboo doors in the entryway,” said Lynnae Hentzen, executive director and co-founder of the Center on Sustainable Communities, based in Des Moines.

The availability and ease of use of new solar technology make it possible for families like the Neals to enjoy largely worry-free weekends off the grid, and more buyers are certainly on the way.

That is of some concern to long-time residents, people like James Butterworth, a retired mechanic for Freightliner Trucks. Mr. Butterworth, 67, spends his time at Three Rivers in a 40-year-old Fleetwood travel trailer, with a single solar panel for his refrigerator and a small windmill to charge a battery for his television set.

He likes to hunt coyote in the nearby Deschutes National Forest in winter, and do some four-wheeling and fishing in the summer. Fearing the place might get a little too crowded and refined, he stopped at the office on a recent morning while ordering a delivery of water for his trailer to point out potential hardships for a possible home buyer: for starters, the risk of wildfire and the presence of cougars and of rattlesnakes.

“I killed one just down the road here a couple of years ago,” he said.