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 Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
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By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.