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The Weekly Sun: Cooling Down Hot Cities

The Weekly Sun header image - city park

August 23, 2022

THIS WEEK IN SOLAR, RENEWABLE AND SUSTAINABLE NEWS.

In this week’s solar news, we look at climate-friendly ways to cool cities, store energy and re-use ash pits.


Persuading the heat

“We do not fight summer,” the great southern writer Eudora Welty once said. “We persuade it.”

She lived her entire life in Jackson, Mississippi, a place that knows hot summers, but she never installed an A/C unit.

As heat wave after heat wave sweeps across the northern hemisphere, many of us choose to fight the heat by huddling in our homes and cranking up the air conditioning.

The problem is, air conditioners don’t make the heat go away. They just shift it out of your home and into the great outdoors. So it gets even hotter out there. In fact, air conditioners produce more heat when they run just like any other powered appliance. That means they send even more heat outside than they take from inside your house. And if you aren’t powering your AC using solar, it’s probably powered by fossil fuels. That’s not good.

The result is that places where many people use A/C become heat islands, especially if they are made of heat-retaining concrete and glass.

Bloomberg recently highlighted a collaboration between the European Space Agency, NASA, and the U.S. Geological Survey on passive methods that cities use to cool public areas.

The most effective is also the lowest tech–trees. The EPA is a big proponent of using trees in urban environments to increase air quality and lower temperature. One of the things we love most about the new Inflation Reduction Act is its $1.5 billion investment in urban forestry.

Pavement makes up between 35-50% of the area of a city, and we all know that scorching hot walk across a big parking lot during the dog days of summer. The heat just radiates up through the soles of your shoes. On a hot day, asphalt can get as high as 140 degrees.

Pacoima, a community in Los Angeles County, is painting nearly one million square feet of black asphalt with a solar reflective epoxy paint that lowers the surface temperature by as much as 6 degrees Celsius.

The Moroccan desert city of Fez can get blistering hot, but one of its coolest neighborhoods is also one of its lowest-income neighborhoods. The Seffarine District’s narrow, unpaved streets and tall clay-brick buildings keep the area as much as 8 degrees celsius cooler than its surrounding areas.

Seville, Spain, has tapped into the wisdom of the ancients, using a millennia-old Iranian water-cooling method on Cartuja Island. Qanats. These underwater aqueducts will funnel cool water from the Guadalquivir river through nearby buildings where it will cool the ambient temperature by up to 10 degrees Celsius. In a twist on the ancient technology, cool water will run through the walls of buildings to cool the air. There will even be chilled benches in the area for pedestrians to rest on. How cool is that?


view of a dam from above

The most beautiful battery in the world?

When we plan for a future driven by solar energy, we have to contend with its primary limitation: It is intermittent. When the sun’s gone, panels stop generating power. Most of the time, we depend on nuclear or fossil fuels to power us through the night. Another solution is energy storage. For your home, that means a solar battery. But for utility-scale power generation, the Swiss are getting creative.

Yale’s Environment 360 reports on an innovative solution. The Nant de Drance power facility near the French border can provide power for half a million homes through a maze of 11 miles of hydroelectric generation tunnels. The water flows from the Emosson Reservoir into another reservoir to the south. But when there is surplus energy, water is pumped back up to the upper body of water. In essence, the apparatus works as a physical battery, storing energy in the form of water above the generator, with no rare minerals required.

This is all pretty technical, but what we’re really talking about is pumping water back into a stunning lake in the Swiss Alps to save energy. Also, we’d like to think that at least some of that generated power is used to make chocolate.

What's in the climate bill?

We have fallen in love with artist Nicole Kelner’s artwork, including this painting explaining the breakdown of climate spending in the new IRA 2022 legislation. Check out her website for lovely images of climate policy or how a Li-ion battery works. Naturally, our favorite is the one that shows how solar panels generate electricity. An artist after our own heart!


coal ash pile

“Can I get metaphors for $500, Alex?”

The Herald-Dispatch, the newspaper for Huntington, West Virginia, reports that a Berkley-county coal ash pile will become a utility-sized solar energy facility. The R. Paul Smith Power Station in Maryland had dumped the ash across the Potomac in West Virginia for decades. Twenty years of repurposing the ash byproduct to fuel concrete kilns played a big part in the remediation of the landfill.

The 26-acre site will house a six-megawatt array and is part of a larger effort from FirstEnergy Corp to repurpose many of their own fossil-fuel generation sites into clean energy generation facilities.

More like this, please.


The Weekly Sunsong

It’s late August, the perfect time to take the yacht out for a cruise around the cape. What? No cape? No yacht?

Okay, then just slip into the groove of some classic yacht rock and chill in the late summer sun.

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