The Neighborhood Energy Forum on Brooklyn Independent Television

April 15, 2010

I was proud to help organize Sustainable Flatbush’s Neighborhood Energy Forum on March 20 at Brooklyn College.  We are currently tracking twenty energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that got started at our event.

Brooklyn Independent Television really captured the spirit of the day.


On the Path to Energy Efficiency and Affordability

March 1, 2010

Join us for the Neighborhood Energy Forum on March 20

Neighborhood Energy Forum logo

About a year ago, Sustainable Flatbush’s Executive Director Anne Pope and I sat at Sycamore Bar and Flower Shop on Cortelyou Road.

I had just become the Director of Energy Solutions at SF, and we were strategizing about the best ways to meet the urgent need for energy efficiency upgrades in our neighborhood, to bring down soaring energy costs and reduce our carbon emissions.  With new incentive programs from government and utilities, Anne and I realized the time was right to leverage funds that would bring major energy efficiency and renewable energy projects to Flatbush.

So we conceived the Neighborhood Energy Forum.  For the past year, SF’s Energy Solutions Initiative has been working diligently to bring the Neighborhood Energy Forum to fruition.  We’ve been fortunate to join forces with a fantastic group of sponsors and partners, the Flatbush Development Corporation, the Energy Smart Communities program of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), ConEd,  and National Grid.

Join us on March 20 at the Brooklyn College Student Center, from 9:30 to 2:00.
Admission is free!  Here’s what it’s about:

Multi-Family and 1-4 Family Tracks

We understand that large buildings face different challenges than smaller homes, so depending on the size of your residence, we have information tailored to your needs.  Representatives from NYSERDA, National Grid, and ConEd will highlight low- and middle-income incentive programs to help building owners, co-op boards, tenant groups and other stakeholders understand what needs to be done and how to take the first steps.
Energy  Contractors

Meet Contractors Who Can Do the Work at Our Energy Fair

Energy auditors, building engineers, renewable energy installers—basically anyone you need to talk to—will be on hand offering their services.  You will gain important knowledge about how to move forward by talking to the experts, and may even find someone to work with on your project.

A Perfect Storm for Renewables in NYC

With federal, state, and local tax credits and abatements, plus a solar-electric (photovoltaic, or PV) incentive rebate program, 2010 is the year for solar–not just PV but solar heat and hot water too.  So if you’re one of those people who have asked us, “How can I get solar for my home,” come to the Neighborhood Energy Forum and catch up with renewable energy vendors at the Energy Fair.

Check-in with Your Elected Officials

Members of the New York State Assembly and Senate as well as New York City Council will be on hand to let you know what they’re doing to support energy efficiency and renewables in our city.  See the Neighborhood Energy Forum page to get the story on who will be there.

To find out more, visit our Energy Forum page, or jump right to our registration form.  Send me an email if you have any questions.  See you there!

Relevant Links:

Can the Electrical Grid Be as Smart as Your Cell Phone?

February 4, 2010

Yes, and make it quick!

If the designers of our telegraph and telephone system traveled more than hundred years into our time, they could not begin to imagine how our “smart phones” put the world into our hands.  But our electrical grid has pretty much remained the same since its inception in the late 1800s.  And it’s time to make a change.

Bob Catell, a speaker at yesterday’s forum “Smart Grid for Smart Cities” at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, used that jarring comparison to bring home a point that everyone in the energy industry understands.  With electricity costs and demand growing out of control, the urgent need to reduce our emissions in a carbon-constrained world, and a growing mandate to use more renewable resources, our electrical grid needs a revolution like the one that has transformed the way we communicate.  With a Smart Grid, we can meet our energy efficiency goals, stem the tide of global warming, and make energy affordable.

The Smart Grid Controls Costs

New York City residents pay more than almost anyone else in the country for electricity.  With demand projected to rise a couple of percentage points a year in the foreseeable future, New York City energy planners say costs could go up 20% over the next 5 years. The Smart Grid brings detailed information about how much energy we’re using and how much it’s costing us right into our kitchens and living rooms, and runs on “auto-pilot” to limit our consumption they way we tell it to. Controlling our consumption is the key to keeping costs down in the future.

In the Smart Grid, functions are automated system-wide also, to level out the hills and valleys of our city’s daily and seasonal demand.  That’s good news, because right now the system has to have enough capacity to meet our electrical needs at times of peak demand–afternoons in the middle of summer when everyone is cranking the AC, or winter evenings when we get home from work and turn on the lights.  The rest of the time we have excess capacity that doesn’t get used.  The Smart Grid promises to optimize what we have so we don’t have to keep building more power plants just to meet our growing peak demand.

Making Renewables a Reality

Finally, we won’t be able to realize the full potential of renewable energy without the Smart Grid.  While the current system can handle some integration of small solar and wind installations, electricity is really meant to travel from large power plants in one direction to electrical consumers.  In the 21st century, we need “distributed generation,” for electricity to travel in all directions from large and small generators to wherever it’s needed.  And for that we need the automated system controls of the Smart Grid.

While there are a number of pilot projects right now, we won’t see full implementation of the Smart Grid for about twenty years.  Getting us there is the job of New York State’s Smart Grid Consortium of utilities, corporations, governments, academic instutions and non-profits.  It’s an expensive proposition, and we’ll all have to share the cost burden in the short-term.

But as the head of the Smart Grid Consortium Bob Catell said at yesterday’s forum, “The question isn’t, how much is this going to cost if we do it, but how much will it cost if we don’t?”

An Off-Grid Educational Solar Array for a Flatbush Cafe

October 5, 2009


Here’s another great project from Sustainable Flatbush, a photovoltaic (solar-electric) system to provide night lighting for Vox Pop Cafe, on the corner of Cortelyou and Stratford.

The lamp, a replica of the Statue of Liberty and the second of its kind for the popular Flatbush gathering place, has a tumultuous history.  The original lamp was stolen from the front of the cafe earlier this summer.  On July 4, in a troubling turn of events, the thieves posted a video of an extremist-style “beheading” of the statue on YouTube.  A few weeks later, after the mobilization of many neighbors, a Manhattan restauranteur generously donated the second statue.  Here’s an article about Lady Liberty’s triumphant return home.

Vox Pop approached Sustainable Flatbush (SF) to turn the tragic incident into an opportunity to teach our community about the value of clean energy.  As the director of SF’s Energy Solutions Initiative, and general techtopia geek who likes to make things, I designed the system to keep the flame burning through the night even in the middle of winter.  In summer, there’ll be extra energy for cafe patrons to charge their laptops and keep their music pumping.  Local kids will help build, maintain and teach about the system. We’ll be building it early next year.

So without further adeiu, I present to you the People’s Voice Solar Array!

Get Charged Up

September 16, 2009

I finally put together the little charger I’ve been wanting to build since my Solar Energy Educator colleague Bill Rock showed me the one he made as a demonstration project with his students.   When Anne Pope, the executive director of my local sustainability organization Sustainable Flatbush, asked me to get some solar going at SF’s eco fair at the Flatbush Frolic this past Sunday,  I knew it was the perfect moment to break out my wire strippers, roll up my sleeves and blow a few fuses.


The original plan for this charger comes from a Popular Science DIY article from July 2007.  With guidance from Popular Science–and especially from Charlitron who shared his version of it with lots of illuminating supporting material—I present the Sustainable Flatbush Suncharger.

Stay tuned for much more detail for those of you who really want to build this thing!  Like, how do you solder a guitar plug onto a cigarette socket????

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10-watt photovoltaic (PV, aka solar-electric) panel:
Voltage: max. power 17.6V, open circuit 21.6V
Current: max. power 0.57A, short circuit 0.61A.
Pop Sci used a 5-watt panel, probably to keep costs down, but if I’m bothering to build it, I want to get more out of it! The charge controller can handle an even bigger panel, too.

12 amp-hours

4 amp charge controller:
I love this elegant little thing. Here is the spec sheet from the manufacturer. The charge controller keeps the battery from overcharging or discharging too deeply, both of which can ruin the battery.

The Pop Sci article used a 10A meter, which doesn’t do much when the panel is only rated at around .6 amps! If about .7 is all you’re going to get at peak power, then the 1 amp meter will do the trick.
In the video you’ll see that I used a cheap multimeter to measure current for now, but I’m going to add an analog panel meter like this one between the panel and the controller.  I’m also going to add a meter or two between the battery and the load to put numbers on what this baby can actually do.

I got connectors at Radio Shack.

Have fun!

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Cast Your Vote for Mobile Clean Power in Brooklyn!

June 22, 2009
Turn the crank to point the panel to the sun!

Turn the crank to aim the panel at the sun!

Last week, Sustainable Flatbush, my favorite grassroots community organization in Brooklyn, submitted a proposal to the SunChips/National Geographic “Green Effect” Competition to build a mobile solar-electric PowerBike.  To find out why we think this project is so important, view our entry at:

If you feel so moved we hope you will rate it, comment—applause, critique, whatever is on your mind—and pass it along to your friends too.  Help us model the possibilities of our clean energy future!

A “New Deal” for Energy

January 19, 2009

Here it is.  A comprehensive plan to revolutionize our dirty, wasteful energy inftrastructure.  The Post Carbon Institute’s proposal, “The Real New Deal,” calls for a massive investment in renewable energy.  The proposal acknowledges the need for fundamental, systematic change, not just clean power plants and fuel efficient cars.

The energy transition must not be limited to building wind turbines and solar panels. It must include the thorough redesign of our economic and societal infrastructure, which today is utterly dependent on cheap fossil fuels. It must address not only our transportation system and electricity grid, but also our food system and building stock.

The title of the institute’s report is a reference to President Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s and 40s, massive government investment in infrastructure and jobs programs to help jump-start the global economy and pull the U.S. out of the Depression.

As President Obama prepares his own economic stimulus package, the Post Carbon Institute knows that what happened in the 1930s needs to happen again, with a focus on energy.

I think the Manhattan Project could just as easily serve as the historical model here.  Back in the 1940s we decided to create the atomic bomb, and we wanted it fast.  We poured resources into it until we got what we wanted.  We need that same concrete objective, that same sense of urgency, that same sharp focus on our goal, to get this done.  But this time, we need to act fast to preserve life, not to destroy it.