Category Archives: energy

Amazon gets reseller for stylish NEST learning thermostat

Amazon becomes the latest retailer to sell the trendy NEST learning thermostat, which was designed by the guys that were responsible for the Apple iPod design. The thermostat is really quite a eye-catcher for your futuristic home and it may save you some household energy costs. NEST should learn your habbits and your daily life schedule in order to control your heating and temperature settings. Its one of the first examples of a new generation of smart home appliances that support you manageing your systems at home.

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Turning Stolen Joules Into Shining Jewels With Weekend Projects

Make’s latest Weekend Project combines two projects into one to create a piece of wearable fashion technology, the Solar Joule Bracelet! A joule (pronounced like “jewel”) is a unit of energy – in this project we’ll be sourcing that energy from the sun with the aid of PIN photodiodes wired in series, which along with a supercapacitor and Schottky diode will function as a solar battery (we built a similar project previously, the Solar USB Charger). This energy will then be stolen by the “joule thief” circuit, consisting of a choke (inductor coil), transistor, capacitor, and resistor all wired together. Oscillations through this circuit will eventually exceed the adjoined LED’s forward voltage rating, causing the LED to shine like a jewel! These oscillations occur in bursts, but once fully charged the oscillations will happen so fast the LED will glow continuously.

Together a solar battery (left) and a “joule thief” (right) power this Weekend Project!

The solid wire loops that connect the PIN photodiodes make perfect eyelets for sewing through, so we mounted ours on a cuff made from salvaged neoprene. Feel free to modify the design and install the circuit where and how you wish, for example on felt, onto a hat, or on your backpack – wherever you want a solar-powered LED!

How-To: Lily Pad Pool Warmers

Lily Pad Pool Warmers from MAKE Volume 23

With temperatures on the rise and the first day of summer only 3 weeks away, pool season is just about upon us. Back in MAKE Volume 23, rocket engineer Edward Hujsak shared an efficient, low-cost, safe, and easy way to warm your pool. His project is the Lily Pad pool warmers, and they’re essentially made of hula hoops covered with black polyethylene film. The how-to is freely available for you on Make: Projects, where community member Daniel Busby commented, sharing the video he made of his Lily Pad build. The only difference between Edward’s instructions and Daniel’s build is that Edward used a soldering iron to spot weld the plastic to the hoops, and Daniel chose to use a household iron. Here’s Daniel’s video:

In his article, Edward also included an interesting sidebar titled “The Pool Owner’s Dilemma”:

The thermal behavior of swimming pools is complex, due to a number of factors that act to cool the water, while the sun and artificial means work to keep the water warm. Cooling forces are at work day and night, and include evaporation, conduction into surrounding soil, air current effects, and nighttime longwave (infrared) radiation into space.

Gas-fired heaters are the most common pool warmers, but up-front costs for equipment and installation run into the thousands of dollars. And then there’s the operating cost and the price of natural gas. These heaters are prodigious polluters; for an average-sized pool, a 1°F rise in temperature results in spewing 50lbs to 60lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Roof-mounted solar heaters are a second option. Water from the pool is pumped through solar-heated heat exchangers and returned to the pool. Like gas-fired heaters, solar heaters are costly and are generally unsightly. They’re also a problem in frost-prone areas.

Bubble plastic blankets are passive devices that cover the pool. They function mainly as water conservation devices by inhibiting evaporation, thus slowing evaporative cooling. They also block nighttime radiation loss. Manufacturers claim these blankets also behave as warmers, transmitting additional energy from the sun into the water. But water already has a very low albedo (ratio of incident energy to reflected energy). It’s about .10 for deep water, a bit higher in white-bottomed pools, and it’s doubtful that bubble covers improve on that. (The low albedo of water is the reason for the great concern about the receding of the polar ice caps. Open water warms much more rapidly than ice fields, which reflect more than 80% of the sun’s energy.) Moreover, pool blankets destroy the aesthetic appeal of a backyard pool; they’re hard to manage, difficult to clean, and unsafe where small children are around; and they’re often dumped after a single season.

ZBoard electric skateboard

The ZBoard is an amazing weight sensing mobility device combining a skateboard with an electric drive. To ride you simply have to lean forward on a front panel of the ZBoard to accelerate and to lean back in order to brake. The project was originally started through a Kickstarter crowd funding initiative. The board can reach a max speed of 17+ MPH and offers its pilot a range of 10 Miles. The board is equipped with a 400W electric drive and weights around 30 lbs. The ZBoard costs around 500$ and can is ordered and  shipped through their webshop.

nest – the learning thermostat

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Nest was designed by the former fathers of Apples iPod (e.g. Tony Fadell) is advertised as the first thermostat that learns from you and that is as intuitive to control as other Apple products. You can teach Nest about your daily schedule well to stay comfortable at home and save energy when you’re away. Its all about changing your old thermostat with new intuitive and learing technology. Nest automatically programs itself in about a week. It creates a personalized schedule based on the temperature changes you’ve made and continually adapts to your changing life. About two hours after you’ve left the house, Nest will also sense you’ve gone and automatically adjust the temperature to avoid heating or cooling an empty home. It also helps you to keep track of your energy usage history, in order to identify devices or contexts in which you are using more energy than necessary. Some rumors mentioned that Nest’s Internet-savvy climate control could soon be in Apple Stores, presumably across the US, for the same $249 as it costs to buy one through Nest itself.

Audi eBike


One of the highlights on the Audi stand this year’s Wörthersee automotive festival is the bicycle technology concept known as the Audi e-bike – a sport bike that does not fit into any of the usual categories. It is neither a pedelec nor a conventional bike, but is best described as a high-end pedelec made by Audi for sport, fun and tricks. The bike offers cool design, lightweight construction, networking and electric mobility. The 26-inch wheels are made from CFRP that weigh only 600 grams (1.32 lb) each and have innovative large-area blade-pattern spokes. The Audi e-bike Wörthersee’s ultra-light carbon-fiber frame weighs only 1,600 grams (3.53 lb). It makes use of bionic principles derived from nature. Material reinforcements are needed only at the points where loads actually occur. The swinging arm for the rear wheel is also made of CFRP.  The peak output from the electric motor is 2.3 kW – a new top value on the e-bike scene. The complete bicycle weighs only 21 kg (46.30 lb), equivalent to a power-weight ratio of 9 kg (19.84 lb) per kilowatt, or 7 kg (15.43 lb) per horsepower – another record-breaking value.

The lithium-ion battery is housed in the frame; it weighs about 5 kg (11.02 lb) and operates at a voltage of 48 V. Its capacity is 530 Wh and it can be fully recharged from a 230 V supply in two and a half hours. As an alternative it can be easily detached from the bike and replaced by a recharged battery.

The bike offers a top speed of up to 80 km/h (50 mph) can be reached and the action radius is between 50 and 70 kilometers (31 and 44 miles). In ‘Wheelie’ mode the power flow is electronically controlled in order to assist the rider when the front wheel is in the air. Alternative operating modes are available, and can be selected by smartphone or directly at the e-bike: either ‘Power Wheelie’ with an adjustable wheelie angle for less skilled riders, or ‘Balanced Wheelie’ for those with more experience. In the latter mode the rider’s balance is maintained electronically: as his or her weight is displaced forward or back, this is counteracted by either braking or accelerating the electric motor.

100.000 LEDs on Tokyo River = amazing

This weekend Panasonic was sending 100.000 EVERLED light bulbs down the Sumida River in central Tokyo, which made the river shimmer in an amazing shade of blue! The reason was that Panasonic started the Tokyo Hotaru (= firefly) festival by sending these 100K LEDs down the river, in order to look like fireflies as well as to remember the Japanese tradition of floating candles on the water. Panasonic assured that all the candles run on solar power gathered during the daylight and all/most of the LEDs are being catched by a fishernet afterwards. Avoid eating blue glowing fish in Tokyo these days 😉

The Battery is the Key

The world is discussing about green, renewable energy from solar, water, waves or wind. But the real key to get more independent from fossile resources is the battery. Without a storage all our efforts for producing renewable energy is just theatre for the masses. A functioning energy network is backed up by fast reacting power plants, such as gas or coal plants, in order to balance the usage peaks when wind or sun is not available. In countries like Austria, where we are lucky to own a lot of water power plants, we are using a really old technology to store our energy overproduction. This technology is called reservoir power station where water is simply pumped in a reservoir at a higher level, in order to reactivate a turbine when running back down. A really simple technology and completely failsafe and without the need for complex technology.
Another possibility is to research a new generation of power accumulators. In this talk at the TED 2012 conference, Donald Sadoway talks about a new generation of liquid power batteries which he and his team developed at MIT.