Solar Energy, the Internet of Things, & Girl Scouts - the Direct Energy Buzz for July 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

Solar Energy, the Internet of Things, & Girl Scouts – the Direct Energy Buzz for July 2016

Welcome to the July 2016 edition of the Direct Energy Buzz! This month we’re going to take a peek at the progress of technology we covered back in May 2014, investigate potential pitfalls within the Internet of Things, and then blink in astonishment at how our own children mold our energy wasting behaviors whether we want them to or not.

Route 66 Welcomes Solar Road

Solar Energy, the Internet of Things, & Girl Scouts - the Direct Energy Buzz for July 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

Back in May 2014, we talked about Scott and Julie Brusaw’s modular solar road project. Their idea was to pave long, empty expanses of highways with special 4-inch-thick solar hexagon panels to generate energy. They received two rounds of funding from the Federal Highway Administration and were looking to raise more money for further development. They did — over $2 million, in fact.

The next stage in “Solar Road” development will be on the road America goes to get its kicks — Route 66. Solar Roadways recently inked a deal with the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Road to Tomorrow Program to install the panels on the walkways around at the Historic Route 66 Welcome Center at Conway, MO (45 minutes east of Springfield). The panels will be used to power the welcome center.

Eventually, the installation will be extended to the road as well. Not only do the panels provide power and are self-lighting, but they also have on-board heaters to melt snow and ice, eliminating the need for plows and de-icing chemicals.

No word yet on USB charging ports, though.

When the Internet of Things Sucks

Solar Energy, the Internet of Things, & Girl Scouts - the Direct Energy Buzz for July 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

Once in a while, Internet of Things (IoT) fans like myself need a reality check.

For example: let’s say I purchased the latest iPhone and a fancy Bluetooth smart video-camera/doorbell combo. Once everything is connected and it’s all working great, I’m all set for the next decade or so, right?

Wrong.

This grim realization comes from reading this article from TheVerge.com, The Internet of Things has a dirty little secret: it’s not really yours. The column reminds IOT consumers of one clear truth about the internet: it accelerates the Velocity of Obsolescence.

Take our Bluetooth smart video-camera/doorbell combo. The humble dumb button of yore could last decades — as long as the metal contact in the button held. Now with this new-fangled gadget, I’m beset with several new-fangled complications:

  • What happens when the Bluetooth spec in the gadget is no longer supported and become obsolete?
  • What happens when I get a new iPhone in 3-5 years and it no longer supports the gadget’s software or Bluetooth spec?
  • What happens if the gadget’s manufacturer is bought out next year and drops support? And this could be really nasty if I rely on the company website to stay connected to the gadget remotely. The danged thing might not work at all!

All of which means I could be left feeling very dumb holding onto this supposedly smart gadget!

IOT may offer us a vision of a fantastic contented world, but the article warns us about the sharks out there looking for fast bucks and short-term commitments. “What we really need from those building the Internet of Things is commitment. Companies should step up and guarantee the longevity of their products, no matter the cost or bind it might put them in.”

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Solar Energy, the Internet of Things, & Girl Scouts - the Direct Energy Buzz for July 2016 | Direct Energy Blog

As any parent knows, your children may learn a lot from their parents, but you also learn a lot from your children — especially when it comes to saving energy.

Case in point, a group of researchers from Oregon State University and Stanford University created a new energy conservation intervention program for children that took 327 Girl Scouts within 318 families (from 30 Girl Scout troops) and set about teaching them energy-saving behaviors to use for home, food, or transportation decisions. The project was called the Girls Learning Environment and Energy (GLEE) program. The hour-long lessons took place once a week for five weeks with the girls learning a variety of energy-saving methods that reduced energy usage by 3-5%.

Both participants and their parents filled out surveys at the beginning of the project to assess their energy behaviors. A follow-up survey was then filled out several months later. The results showed increases in energy saving behaviors by the Girls Scouts by 49% and parents by 27%. Girl Scouts in the Residential Energy Group showed increases in turning off power strips at night, adjusting refrigerator temperatures, and washing clothes in cold water.

Parents changed their behaviors enough to reduce energy usage by between 1% and 3%. This included adjusting refrigerator temperatures, with smaller changes apparent in hang-drying clothes and adjusting hot water heater temperatures as well.

The researchers found that “child-focused energy interventions may increase energy-saving behaviors among both children and their parents”. The study was published in Nature Energy.

Since the program has showed such a high level of success, it’s being re-tooled to be circulated to other Girl Scout leaders and might eventually find its way into 4-H programs and school curricula.

About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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