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Going Solar

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[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!

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environment
The Roomba's Creator Invented an Underwater Vacuum That Sucks Up Invasive Lionfish
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Invasive fish can be a major issue for waterways, since they can devastate native species and take a toll on environmental diversity. The red shiner, for instance, is a hardy fish that can survive basically anywhere, and in the process, outcompete and kill native fish species. Invasive species can travel far and wide, hopping across continents with human help (whether on purpose or by accident).

Colin Angle, who co-founded iRobot, the company that invented the Roomba, has an answer. It’s kind of like a robot vacuum, but for invasive fish, according to Fast Company. The Guardian, developed by Angle’s nonprofit Robots in Service of the Environment, is an underwater robot designed to stun lionfish, suck them up, and bring them to the surface.

Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific, are considered an invasive species in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, where they have few predators and huge appetites for both crustaceans and other fish. The fish can eat up to 20 other fish in half an hour, lay up to 40,000 eggs every few days, and live up to 30 years, making them a formidable foe for environmentalists. They may have been introduced in the mid-1980s by personal aquarium owners in Florida releasing pets that got too big for their tanks.

As part of the effort to rid Atlantic waterways of lionfish, the U.S. government has tried to encourage people to catch and eat them. If other species can be overfished, couldn’t lionfish?

The Guardian isn’t the only robot with a mission to eradicate invasive fish. Queensland University of Technology’s COTSbot is designed to kill crown of thorns starfish in the Great Barrier Reef. Unlike COTSbot, though, The Guardian isn’t autonomous. Someone above the water has to control it remotely, directing it toward fish to suck up using a camera feed.

That’s by design, though. The idea is that like the Roomba, the Guardian will be affordable enough for fishermen to use so they can hunt the fish and sell them in restaurants. (One unit currently costs about $1000.) The Guardian's ability to reach depths of up to 400 feet will aid fishermen in waters and reefs that can't be easily accessed.

Each Guardian can bring up about 10 live lionfish at a time. And while one robot cannot eradicate lionfish from the ocean alone, a huge number of them could make a dent.

The Guardian is currently in testing in Bermuda.

[h/t Fast Company]

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environment
Climate Change Could Resurrect the Dust Bowl
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Three Lions / Stringer / Getty Images

The billowing dust storms we know from black-and-white photos of the Great Depression could become a reality for future generations, scientists warn. As Gizmodo reports, climate change is grooming the southwest and central Great Plains for a new version of the Dust Bowl that plagued the region in the 1930s.

After gathering 12 years of satellite data (2003–2015), researchers at Princeton University and NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predict that dust clouds will increase in parts of the U.S. in the latter half of this century. As they lay out in their study in Scientific Reports, prolonged drought and barren landscapes caused by deforestation are set to create the perfect conditions for the same type of storms that drove people from the Great Plains nine decades ago. At its worst, this phenomenon could be deadly; when they're not breathing in dust, residents in the affected areas could be exposed to dangerous pathogens and chemicals carried by air currents.

Dust storms occur when winds stir up dirt particles into dark, massive clouds. During the so-called Dirty Thirties, soil loosened by over-tilling was a major contributor to the dust that enveloped land. Even with more sustainable farming practices, dry summers could create the same arid, dusty landscapes required for a repeat of the Dust Bowl.

While there's still much research to be done on the subject, the study authors hope their findings will get people thinking about how to prepare for the consequences. "Our specific projections may provide an early warning on erosion control, and help improve risk management and resource planning," co-author Bing Pu said in a Princeton University press statement.

That seems like an improvement over ideas for fighting the Dust Bowl that were proposed in the 1930s, which included paving over the Great Plains and bombing the sky. Fortunately, we still have a few decades to come up with better strategies this time around.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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