CLOSE
Original image

Going Solar

Original image

[caption id="attachment_76035" align="alignleft" width="550" caption="My son, Jack, eager for the installation to begin!"][/caption]

A couple months ago, I received a postcard in the mail advertising a new solar company based here in California called Sungevity. I usually toss such things straight into the trash bin, but I really liked the branding and design on the postcard so I sat down and read the offer. They lease you the panels at no money down and within a few years, you're saving money on your electric bill. Though you're never off the grid, the solar energy supplements the power you get from your local provider and, in some cases, depending on how much sun you're capturing, you can even get credit from your local energy supplier if you're giving back more AC to the grid than you're taking.

I was pretty certain at that point that it was time to give it a whirl. When I saw that they were offering a free iPad as incentive to the first 100 people who signed up, it became a no brainer because I was about to buy one anyway. Now, before everyone starts screaming "Shill, shill!" let me say that I don't care if you want to use Sungevity to power your home or not. I don't care if you take advantage of the $500 cash in your pocket I can get them to give you through our "Friends of the _floss" code or not. (Wait for it...) I'm really just writing this post because working with these guys has been one of the most pleasurable experiences I've ever had dealing with a power company, contracting company, building contractor, etc. In fact, they're right up there with the Apple care team in terms of friendliness, politeness and efficacy. I guess what I'm saying is, if Sungevity sold refrigerators, I'd buy them. Cars, I'd buy them... heck, if they sold and serviced nuclear energy solutions, I'd probably buy it! (Well, maybe not... but you get my drift.)

What follows is a photo essay of the installation process for those who are curious as to how this works and what's involved. From start to finish, the process takes about 3 months. First you have to go to their Web site and see if they service your area. Then you see if your house is solar-able (if your southern exposure is blocked by trees or a taller structure, you can't do it). After that, they send someone out to the house to check the structure from an engineering point of view. If that goes smoothly, they pull permits from the city and contact your local power company to get approval. Soon, they are pulling up to your house with the gear!

The next thing they do is unpack everything and install casings on the roof where the panel tracks will attach.

Meantime, the electrician arrives and is busy installing the converter that takes the DC and turns it into AC.

By now, the panel tracks are being installed on the roof. These will hold the panels steady and are suspended about 6" off the roof.

Meantime, the electrician is installing the meter on the back of the house.

And now, the panels are connected to the tracks!

More...

And the money shot!

And voila! She is all done!

Oh, and the free iPad... guess who commandeered that a week after we got it?

Again, it's worth repeating: Through the whole process, these guys really, er, shone brightly. So if you're interested, don't hesitate to get in touch with me at david 'at' mentalfloss.com and I'll forward you my special "Friends of the _floss" $500 cash in your pocket code. Shine on!

Original image
iStock
arrow
gross
London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
Original image
iStock

UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

arrow
environment
Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios