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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.
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By Tracy L. Barnett
Sources reviewed this article for accuracy.
For Sicangu Lakota water protector Cheryl Angel, Standing Rock helped her define what she stands against: an economy rooted in extraction of resources and exploitation of people and planet. It wasn't until she'd had some distance that the vision of what she stands for came into focus.
Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
Leaked documents show that Jair Bolsonaro's government intends to use the Brazilian president's hate speech to isolate minorities living in the Amazon region. The PowerPoint slides, which democraciaAbierta has seen, also reveal plans to implement predatory projects that could have a devastating environmental impact.