The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
A ‘SmartFlower’ Grows in Chicago: Innovative Solar Design Powers Affordable Housing Complex
A unique type of flower is growing in a community garden in Chicago's South Side.
The SmartFlower is a special type of solar panel array designed to open into the shape of a flower in the morning and generate electricity by following the sun across the sky during the day, like its namesake.
Its design makes it the perfect solar array for an urban area where space is tight, and that's why it has become one of the first community solar projects to be installed in Illinois since the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016 called for 400 megawatts worth of community solar installations by 2030, Energy News Network reported Wednesday.
The SmartFlower was installed in the vegetable garden of an affordable-housing complex run by The Renaissance Collaborative (TRC), which supplies affordable housing and job training to low-income communities in Chicago's South Side.
TRC Executive Director Patricia Abrams told Energy News Network that renewable energy projects like this one had a double benefit for community organizations looking to serve people economically.
"If you're going to deal with and provide services for the very low-income people, that means the government is picking up the tab," Abrams said. "How do you—in the long haul—make that sustainable and affordable? Energy efficiency is one of those things I think is a must."
Abrams told Energy News Network that the SmartFlower generated energy for the first time at a press conference in June, but has lain dormant throughout the rest of the summer as TRC waits for a full permit.
The TRC installation is the first in a partnership between community-solar developer Groundswell and the Mohawk Group, a flooring company dedicated to sustainability, to install 10 SmartFlowers in communities around the country within the next two years, Groundswell said.
The collaboration will save 3.3 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power 300 average U.S. homes.
For the Chicago installation, the groups also partnered with Elevate Energy, which is committed to expanding clean energy use to all who need it.
Elevate Energy Contractor Development Coordinator Eya Louis explained to Groundswell how the Chicago project also empowered the community to get involved with its own energy generation.
"We surveyed residents right away to see if there were any established electricians or carpenters or other tradespeople who could be a part of this project," Louis told Groundswell. "Next, we offered training in solar installation with a local company. At our unveiling, we had our solar trainees there to witness some of what went into the installation. The instructor talked to them about the permitting process and will continue to work with them," she said.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
- Newark Water Filters Are Working, Tests Suggest - EcoWatch ›
- Newark's Lead Crisis Escalates - EcoWatch ›
- Mice exposed to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor developed lung cancer within a year.
- More research is needed to know what this means for people who vape.
- Other research has shown that vaping can cause damage to lung tissue.
A new study found that long-term exposure to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor increases the risk of cancer in mice.
Six months: That's how much time Mexico now has to report on its progress to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.
It may seem innocuous to flush a Q-tip down the toilet, but those bits of plastic have been washing up on beaches and pose a threat to the birds, turtles and marine life that call those beaches home. The scourge of plastic "nurdles," as they are called, has pushed Scotland to implement a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic-stemmed cotton swabs, as the BBC reported.
By Tim Radford
Scientists in the U.S. have added a new dimension to the growing hazard of extreme heat. As global average temperatures rise, so do the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves.
Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist Jane Fonda was arrested on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Friday for peacefully protesting the U.S. government's inaction in combating the climate crisis, according to the AP.
By Caroline Hickman
I'm up late at night worrying that my baby brothers may die from global warming and other threats to humanity – please can you put my mind at rest? – Sophie, aged 17, East Sussex, UK