Native Americans of Arizona knew the power of solar energy


In Canyon de Chelly, Ariz., Navajo people used the sun's energy in their vernacular buildings.
In Canyon de Chelly, Ariz., Navajo people used the sun’s energy in their vernacular buildings.

By Staten Island Advance
on December 06, 2013


Staten Island, N.Y. — It is possible to live in a building that is less dependent on oil delivered energy.

In principle, the form of a building and its composition can capture a great deal of solar energy; adding, foremost, comfort to our daily routines and reducing fuel consumption.

The solar radiation allowed into the building can be managed to immediately, or at a later time, warm spaces in a way that hot air systems or water filled radiators cannot offer economically, or environmentally.

Passive solar energy is not new. In fact, it has been used throughout history. Native Americans in the canyons of Arizona would use the southern cliff exposure of a canyon to heat their adobe buildings cleverly placed in caves just so that the low winter sun angle would soak them with sunlight while the summer angle would be higher and therefore missing the buildings.

Tracking the sun was part of life; many activities were dependent on the seasons and the sun path. Civilizations worshipped the sun for its power to generate and sustain life.

Although the reverence toward our star is not the same, the beliefs of earlier man still hold: A building is a receptor of energy and light. Its orientation is the most important factor to observe when planning a house. A properly oriented south facing wall will, with sufficient fenestration, allow solar energy to enter the building envelope and warm the interior.

To control this energy, storing heat for night use or limiting its entry in summer months requires the use of materials with great mass and canopy systems that block sunlight from entering into window openings.

Ceramic tiled floors or even concrete can absorb great quantities of sun energy during the day (thermal mass) and release it in the night hours passively repeating the cycle without failures.

Exterior canopies designed to block the summer high angle sunlight from entering, similar to American Indian canyon architecture, are a necessary feature of a passive solar house.

The building components of these homes and how they operate, are slightly different from what we are accustomed to. A basic knowledge of solar energy and its impact on buildings is probably most anyone will need to live in and operate a passive solar home. The daily heating cycles will repeat without human intervention.

Sizing of components such as windows, insulation, storage mass and canopies requires a professional. Because of their lack of moving parts, they will function for a long time without maintenance.

However, even the most well designed and properly sited solar building should not be without a conventional heating system. It will most likely be used sparingly with many savings.

The well controlled sun energy into our homes can be invigorating to its occupants. Plants, pets and ourselves enjoy time in the sun. Aside from the radiant quality, sunlight can define the space it fills, it can be filtered through drapes and glass with colored tones. Light bounces off shiny ceramic,metal and marble; it will show wood grain in furniture and blossom flowers in December. 


Ciro Asperti is a member of the Saten Island chapter of the American Institute of Architects. His column appears twice each month in the Home section. Contact the organization at 

Nine Tribes to Receive $7 Million From Department of Energy for Wind, Biomass, Solar Projects

Ernesto Moniz, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy
Ernesto Moniz, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

Nine tribes will receive a total of more than $7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for clean-energy projects, the agency announced on November 14.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe in Idaho, the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government in Fort Yukon, Alaska, the Forest County Potawatomi Community in Milwaukee, Menominee Tribal Enterprises in Wisconsin, the Seneca Nation of Indians in Irving, New York, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth Fund in Ignacio, Colorado, the Tonto Apache Tribe of Payson, Arizona, the White Earth Reservation Tribal Council in Minnesota and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska will use their respective funds to develop a variety of alternative energy sources involving wind, biomass and solar power.

The DOE highlighted the awards during the 2013 White House Tribal Nations Conference as a way to help American Indian and Alaska Native tribes use clean energy to save money, increase energy security and promote economic development.

RELATED: Native Leaders Air Concerns at White House Tribal Nations Conference

Today, we are very pleased to announce that nine tribes have been selected to receive over $7 million to further deploy clean energy projects,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said in his remarks before the conference. “A couple of examples in those awards, wind power for tribal government buildings at Seneca Nation in New York, energy efficiency upgrades to reduce energy use by 40 percent in Alaska. There are nine tribes that will have these efficiencies. And that addresses this question of mitigation, reducing carbon pollution.”

“American Indian and Alaska Native tribes host a wide range of untapped energy resources that can help build a sustainable energy future for their local communities,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in a statement announcing the awards. “Responsible development of these clean energy resources will help cut energy waste and fight the harmful effects of carbon pollution—strengthening energy security of tribal nations throughout the country.”

In remarks at the Tribal Nations Conference, Moniz said the government planned to work more closely with American Indians on developing energy sources.

“We are looking forward to establishing and advancing a subgroup of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, to really focus on energy development, energy deployment in Indian country,” he said. “I think, working together, with us and agriculture, EPA and other cabinet colleagues, we really want to harness the energy potential in Indian country—conventional energy, renewable energy—to expedite clean energy deployment and electrification. That is something that we will get together on and try to advance promptly.”

While Indian country officially takes up just two percent of the land known as the United States, that territory holds a good five percent of all U.S. renewable energy resources, the DOE noted.

The grants are part of an ongoing push to invest in tribal clean energy projects that began in 2002. The DOE’s Tribal Energy Program has put about $42 million into 175 such projects, providing financial and technical assistance as well along with its Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. Other grants were announced earlier this year to other tribes.

RELATED: Energy Department To Pump $7 Million Into Tribal Clean Energy Projects

The initiative also includes technical assistance.

RELATED: Ten Tribes Receive Department of Energy Clean-Energy Technical Assistance

Moniz said the DOE intends to continue and expand on these efforts.

“From community solar projects in New Mexico and Colorado, to the commercial scale wind projects in Maine, small biomass projects in Wisconsin, DOE is working with 20 tribes and Alaskan Native villages to empower leaders with tools and resources needed to lead energy development that can foster self-sufficiency, sustainability, and economic growth,” he told the tribal leaders at the conference. “At the Department of Energy I have certainly made it a priority to raise our game with state, local governments, tribes. We believe, in the end, a national policy needs to build from tribal, state, local, and regional policies and activity.”



Sioux Students Kindle Solar Knowledge

It started with a spark — an interest in green energy. This glimmer of curiosity led Lyle Wilson, an instructor at Oglala Lakota College in South Dakota and U.S. Army veteran, to start researching renewable energy technologies such as solar, wind and geothermal. Now sparked by Lyle’s interest, members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of the Pine Ridge Reservation are finding new possibilities in their clean energy capabilities.

Students and instructors at Oglala Lakota College designed, connected and built a mobile solar energy system over the course of two days. | Photo courtesy of Oglala Lakota College.<br /><br />
July 24, 2013
Minh Le
Program Manager, Solar Program

As part of his work at Oglala Lakota College, Lyle works with students in the applied sciences department to construct houses for members of the tribe. He envisioned taking the work a step further by integrating solar panels into new homes to help reduce power bills. To make it happen, Lyle reached out to Solar Energy International (SEI), which helps coordinate solar training courses for the Energy Department’s Solar Instructor Training Network.

From there, a group of students and instructors at the college signed on for SEI’s Photovoltaic (PV) 101: Solar Design and Installation course, in which they set up their first grid-tied photovoltaic system. This introduction served as fuel for their solar fire. Next, about 20 people took part in SEI’s PV 203: Solar Electric Design (Battery-Based) class. This course allowed them to install two 250-watt solar panels on their construction trailer.

“Most kids don’t want to sit in class — they want to get out and do things,” said Lyle. “We did a short one-day lesson in the classroom then went down to the yard and designed, connected, and built the system over two days. Our students were actually sort of stunned to learn how easy it is to do something like this once they understand the fundamental concepts.”

The mobile solar energy system built through the PV 203 course now provides enough power to run electric tools at construction sites, supports community service projects and serves as an educational resource for school-aged children.

Lyle sees these accomplishments as just the start. With more knowledge, more possibilities come into focus. Up next, the students hope to take another SITN course on setting up their own power grid. This would offer potential savings for the tribe, provide a degree of energy independence and empower students by bringing new job skills into the community.

“We could install 40 panels as a test to see how much money we could save by getting power from the sun,” said Lyle. “Then we could pass that information on to the tribe.”

US Renewable Energy Tops Record in 2012

Wind energy production increased by 16 percent in the United States from 2011 to 2012.Credit: S.R. Lee Photo Traveller | Shutterstock
Wind energy production increased by 16 percent in the United States from 2011 to 2012.
Credit: S.R. Lee Photo Traveller | Shutterstock

By Laura Poppick, Staff Writer  July 30, 2013

Renewable energy production hit an all-time high in the United States in 2012, according to a recent annual energy report.

A combination of government incentives and technological innovations has helped solar and wind power grow in the United States in recent years, the report suggests. From 2011 to 2012, production increased by 49 percent and wind energy increased by 16 percent, according to a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory annual energy analysis published earlier this month.

“I attribute the steady growth to technological advancements as well as tax incentives and state mandates for renewable energy,” said A.J. Simon, an energy analyst at LLNL, who wrote the report. “I would expect this to continue for a while.”


Though the trend is notable, wind and solar energy combined still accounted for only about 2 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption in 2012. Denmark and Spain, in comparison, produced an average of about 30 percent of their energy from wind power last year. [Power of the Future: 10 Ways to Run the 21st Century]

Oil and natural gas accounted for the majority of energy consumption in the United States, and will likely continue to dominate given recent investments in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” Simon said. Fracking is the forceful injection of water, sand and chemicals deep into shale rock that releases previously trapped oil and gas deposits.

By opening up reservoirs of cheap and accessible fossil fuels, fracking could slow efforts to expand renewable energy, though this remains uncertain, according to Simon.

‘Potential game-changer’

Still, those involved in solar and wind energy production in the United States remain confident that these alternative options will continue to grow despite advancements in fracking.

“The turbines are capturing more energy and [the wind industry] is managing to keep costs low,” said Jason Cotrell, the manager of wind turbine technology and innovation with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Recent efforts to improve wind power have focused on making the turbines taller so that they reach stronger air currents higher above the ground. This would allow wind farms to expand to areas that have previously been unsuitable for turbines due to low ground-level wind speeds.

“That would be the potential game-changer, when every state in the U.S. could benefit from wind,” Cotrell said.

Solar oversupply

Solar power has also benefitted from new innovations, but its recent success stems largely from a global oversupply of photovoltaic cells. The combined effects of the economic downturn in 2008 and overambitious renewable policies around the world resulted in an abundance of panels and a relatively small market, according to Tom Kimbis, vice president of Solar Energy Industries Association.

At this point, Kimbis said, expanding the reach of solar energy depends more on the price of the panels than improving their efficiency.

“The efficiency of the panels is now good,” Kimbis said. “The industry has been working to improve efficiency of solar cells for decades and it’s easy to buy a solar module with a 20 percent or higher efficiency today. That’s not really the issue right now. The issue that people care about is how much will it cost and will it work for them.”

Costs depend largely on government tax incentives, which vary from state to state and from year to year. Cotrell and Kimbis both believe that current work in innovating solar and wind power will continue to reduce baseline prices and increase the prevalence of renewable energy in the United States.

Follow Laura Poppick on Twitter. Follow LiveScience on Twitter,Facebook and Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

L.A. launches nation’s largest solar rooftop program

By John Upton, Grist

The first small shoots of what will grow into a sprawling solar power plant have sprouted in Los Angeles.

L.A.’s Department of Water and Power is rolling out the country’s biggest urban rooftop program, which will pay residents for solar energy they produce in excess of their own needs. That will give residents a reason to install more solar capacity on their roofs than they can use in their homes.

On Wednesday, the first solar-generated watts produced under the Clean L.A. Solar program came from the rooftop of an apartment complex in North Hollywood. From the L.A. Times:

The goal of the effort, the brainchild of the Los Angeles Business Council, is to generate 150 megawatts of solar electricity, or enough to power about 30,000 homes. The council hopes to attract investments totaling $500 million from a growing list of companies that want to invest in L.A.’s push to go green by setting up large clusters of rooftop solar panels.

“It is really a no-brainer,” said Christian Wentzel, chief executive of Solar Provider Group, which installed the North Hollywood panels. Long-term contracts with the DWP cemented the Los Angeles company’s plans to invest $50 million in 17 projects to tap the region’s sun-drenched climate.

Four years in the making, Clean L.A. Solar serves as part of the city’s answer to the state mandate to generate 33% of electricity using renewable sources by 2020. DWP officials project the solar purchasing program will help L.A. reach 25% of the state mandated by 2016.

So if you start noticing Angelenos installing solar systems that are much bigger than they should need, don’t dismiss it as typical L.A. extravagance.