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NASA awards seed grant to USF for wastewater research

NASA has awarded a one-year seed grant to the University of South Florida to research a sewage waste recycling system and energy/nutrient extraction system for potential use in space and on Mars explorations.

“Being able to grow food in places like Mars is really critical,” says Daniel Yeh, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, whose focus is environmental engineering. “NASA has made it a priority that they are going to have to develop technology to grow food on Mars.”

Yeh points out NASA already has proven technologies it is using at the International Space Station to recycle urine and sweat for drinking water.

“NASA already has within its portfolio many technologies for water treatment, including that for water recycling aboard the International Space Station (ISS), which has been running successfully for almost a decade,” he explains. “The NEWgenerator is being evaluated as a potential technology due to new desires and commitments by NASA and private companies for exploring deep space, including putting humans on Mars within the next 15-20 years.”

Starting this month, USF is working with the Kennedy Space Center to see if its NEWgenerator, which it’s been working on for the last decade, can be adapted for space. The amount of the grant wasn’t available.

“New technologies will be needed for new methods to grow food and the complete recycling of all wastes. This is why NASA is taking a look at our technology as a potential candidate,” he says. “This is a rigorous multi-year process with a lot of evaluations and tests along the way, to ensure that, whatever technologies are chosen, they will be high-performing, reliable and safe.”

While sewage treatment plants typically are large, and take up a lot of space, the new prototype must be compact. “Think of it as a very efficient sewage treatment plant in a small box,” he says.

The system uses a filtration membrane and microorganisms to break down the waste. The Earth’s elements are building blocks that are stored, used, pulled apart, and used again, similar to Lego parts stored in bins, he explains.

“Our first priority is to get rid of them [germs] so it will be completely sanitary,” he continues. “That’s something we can’t compromise on.”

They’ve done the groundwork in India and South Africa, where they’ve been treating toilet waste and testing it. “We’re getting really good,” he says.

For space use, the USF research will endeavor to make the system smaller, so it will serve four to six people.

“We need to make it appropriate for zero gravity applications,” he says.

An environmental engineering student starting his master’s studies, Talon Bullard, will be developing the prototype of a NEWgenerator for space as his thesis.

After the initial year, they hopefully can get another grant to further the research, he says. Eventually, it will need to be tested in space.

“You can only test it so far on Earth,” he says, explaining zero gravity “is difficult to mimic.”

A prototype also needs to be maintained in space. “You need to design the system so that undesirable failure will not happen,” he says.

That might involve changing parts during regular maintenance, before they actually break. “What’s exciting for us is learning about how they [NASA] handle risk and how they deal with failure, so we can actually engineer our system so that it’s incredibly reliable,” he adds.

Tech Bytes: Competitions spur tech innovation

A woman-owned business, VRenewables LLC of Tampa, claimed a $3,500 cash prize March 29 for its design for a hybrid, standalone streetlight independent of the electric grid.

Led by Vrinda Vairagi and Shesh Narayan Vaishnav, the company has a vision to work toward a better future. Its streetlight, which uses solar power, took the Social Entrepreneur Student Pitch Award, sponsored by local companies Connectwise and Sourcetoad.

Vairagi has experience in business relations and HR management while Vaishnav is in photovoltaic research industry, says Vaishnav, CEO. 

The award was given at the 2018 Innovation Summit organized by the nonprofit Synapse. “I am planning to invest this money towards the research and development of the hybrid street light which will be powered by both Solar Module and Wind Turbine,” Vaishnav says. 

“I think Innovation Challenges are the single most effective way to catalyze innovation and spur collaboration in a very organic, tangible way,” says Trey Steinhoff, Lead Designer and Challenge Organizer at the Summit. There truly is nothing more inspiring than having groups of passionate, talented people put their heart into building something on a tight deadline.”

Other award winners were Tracy Ingram, owner of Dade City's Intention Technology, in a Connectwise challenge; and Matt Spaulding, in the Metropolitan Ministries Hackathon for Social Good. Both also won $3,500 each.

Connectwise was looking for an inclusive interface for employees and other users. “I built a [mobile-friendly] bot that could be put on any existing site with a few lines of code,” Ingram says.

Metropolitan Ministries sought digital solutions to help those in crisis, so it can operate more effectively. Details were not immediately available.

These awards were sponsored by Connectwise, Sourcetoad and Metropolitan Ministries. 

The creative problem solving that is required to compete in these events forces competitors to push their assumptions and come up with solutions that no one saw coming, not even the partner companies,” Steinhoff says. “The cherry on top is seeing these competitors working together with each other and the partner companies at and after the event. I have been to a lot of tech and entrepreneurial events in Tampa Bay and have yet to see another event that molds deep, genuine relationships quite like a hackathon or pitch competition.

Read on for more local tech news.

Thomas Wallace, managing partner of Florida Funders, will be featured at the April Diary of an Entrepreneur program. Wallace, an active angel tech investor for 25 years, co-founded his first business at the age of 23. His talk, "Startups and Raising Capital," will include insights from his career as a tech entrepreneur, executive, investor and more. The presentation by TEC Garage is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 10, at Microsoft, 5426 Bay Center Dr., Suite 700, Tampa. The event is free, but reservations are requested because of limited seating. Learn more and/or register here.

• A panel discussion entitled “Cybesecurity – Skills, Trends and Industry” is planned at the next Trep Talks gathering for entrepreneurs at Hillsborough County’s Entrepreneur Collaborative Center in Ybor City. The event is planned at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, at 2101 E. Palm Ave. Sign up online here.

• Florida Venture Forum is hosting the 11th Annual Florida Early Stage Capital Conference and the 8th Annual Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition Friday, May 18, at The Westshore Grand in Tampa. Described as one of the largest angel and early-stage-investors’ gatherings in the Southeast, the event features pitches from dynamic Florida-based ventures, along with panel discussions, speakers and presentations. The deadline for presenter applications is Wednesday, April 18. Presenters are required to pay conference registration fees. Learn more here. At the event there will be two, $25,000 cash prizes to Accelerating Innovation Award winners from Space Florida.

• The U.S. Air Force is looking for help closing the science and technology gap, so it’s hosting a workshop Thursday, April 26, at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The workshop for the scientific community, academia, and business professionals will include ideas about how to facilitate a conversation about Air Force technological advances. The deadline to submit ideas is Friday, April 13. Learn more about the 8 a.m. event at CW Bill Young Hall.

• If you’re looking for recognition for your business, consider TechCo.’s Startup of the Year competition. It’ll give you the opportunity to expand your startup by providing opportunities to meet investors, gain insight, get funding and win prizes. Startups need to be innovative and have a live, viable product. Candidates must submit their applications before Monday, April 30. Check it out here.

• Florida Polytechnic University students in Lakeland have joined the quest for biofuel. Using algae from Polk County lakes, they are working with a professor of biology, Dr. Melba Horton, to find a renewable energy source. While algae already is being used for biofuel, this source would be cheaper. The research is being funded by Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

In other Florida Poly news, Dr. Kanwalinderjit K. Gagneja, a computer science professor, has won a $44,000 grant from the Florida Center for Cybersecurity at the University of South Florida to develop a new Digital Forensics course. Through hands-on training, the class would help address a shortage of cybersecurity experts.

The university drew a record crowd of 300 to its third annual Women in STEM Summit March 14, to hear a panel of successful individuals talk about how they applied science, technology, engineering and math to their careers.

• Knack, a Tampa-based peer-to-peer tutoring service, was as finalist in the 2018 Challenge Cup contest in Washington D.C. March 22. Tampa’s Preferhired was a semi-finalist in the contest hosted by 1776. The winning company was Caribu in Miami.


Tampa company works to cut power costs for businesses

The Tampa-based COI Energy Services has gone live with a platform designed to cut energy costs from 6 to 30 percent for commercial and industrial users. Among its first clients are the University of South Florida Research Park and an undisclosed Tampa-based utility.

We’re getting a lot of attention from utilities. This is definitely a problem that has not been solved [previously],” says Founder and CEO SaLisa Berrien. “It is a unique solution.”

The company is preparing for growth by raising seed capital to pay for 12 additional staff members needed to serve more than 1,000 customers. It’s hiring people in software engineering, marketing, business development, and customer’s experience within the next quarter.

USF Research Park was to be the first to use the platform. That installation was completed Thursday, Feb. 1, with training following.

The park also lined up a $1,650 rebate on a 150-ton air conditioning unit.

“Energy sustainability is an important issue at the University of South Florida Research Park, and we are proud to be one of the first customers for COI and explore how this new technology can provide us greater insight into how we use energy,” says Allison Madden, director of USF Research Foundation Operations.

Site inspections for some 100 users are required before the utility can utilize the system. “It will save in time and cost to support the grid. Simply put, our platform saves time, saves money, and saves the environment for both the utility and its business users,” Berrien says.

Another major customer is PBS39, a key account for Pennsylvania Power and Light.

A public demonstration is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 9, at the Galleria of USF Research Park. It is expected to attract investors, potential customers and partners. “Anybody that is interested in clean tech is welcome to come,” she adds.

The 2-year-old company helps energy users save in three key ways: 1) by alerting customers when are able to cut waste, and 2) notifying them about potential rebate programs they qualify for, and 3) facilitating the sale of renewable energy into the grid. It is designed for businesses with a peak use of at least 50kW.

“We can predict their bill, based on how they are using their energy now,” Berrien says. “If they’re fine with the way the bill looks, they can continue operating as they are.”

COI Energy already has outgrown its three-person office space at USF Connect in the Research Park. The staff is using communal office space at the facility while the company waits for a larger office. It also is considering space in Channelside.

Additionally, COI Energy has been participating in the climate economy innovation accelerator, Accel-VT, in Montpelier, VT. It is slated to complete the three-month program, aimed at helping with capitalization, next week.
 


Co-ops to help homeowners save money on rooftop solar panels

Tampa Bay Area property owners have yet another incentive to go solar: the solar co-op. By banding together to buy rooftop solar systems, landowners can save up to 20 percent.

“We’re hoping that we get more than 100 signed up that would be interested in pursuing rooftop solar,” says Dr. Rick Garrity, a Volunteer Coordinator with Hillsborough League of Women Voters, a partner in the co-op project.

The nonprofit Florida Solar United Neighborhoods is collaborating with the League of Women Voters, Hillsborough County, the Environmental Protection Commission of Hillsborough County and others to spread the word about co-ops. It held a meeting at the University of South Florida in Tampa September 25 to explain more about the opportunity to purchase discounted solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

“There’s never been a better time to go solar. Prices came down 65 percent in the last five years,” explains Garrity, who retired two years ago as Director of the county’s Environmental Protection Commission. “You get a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government, right off the income tax bill.”

Here’s how the program works. When about 40 sign up, Florida Sun puts out the specifications to vendors, who submit bids. “Florida Sun will then evaluate the bids, rank them and provide that ranking to the homeowners,” he explains.

Homeowners form a committee that decides which installer to use.

Members of the co-op don’t need to live in the same neighborhood, but they need to live in the designated city or county. The co-op remains open for about three months to sign up any additional members.

Folks who are interested in going solar can sign up at the Florida Sun website, without obligating themselves to buy a system. They also can RSVP for area information meetings at the website.

Three informational meetings are scheduled in Hillsborough County, the first one from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday, October 9, at South Shore Regional Library, Community Rooms 1 and 2, 15816 Beth Shields Way, Ruskin. Additional meetings are planned from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, November 8, at Jimmie B. Keel Regional Library, Community Rooms C and D, 2902 West Bearss Ave., Tampa; and from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, December 5, at Seminole Heights Branch Library, Community Rooms A and B, 4711 Central Ave., Tampa.

Pinellas County residents living north of State Road 60 can also sign up for a co-op. Informational meetings are scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, October 10, at the Clearwater Library, 100 North Osceola Ave.; from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, November 9, at the Tarpon City Government Office, 324 East Pine St.; and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., Monday, December 4, at the Safety Harbor Library, 101 2nd St. N.

A home solar system can cut your monthly power bill to $5 a month, but reducing the carbon footprint is important too, Garrity says.

“You’re doing your own little bit to decrease the amount of fossil fuels that are being burned,” he says.


Transit companies using new technologies to lower emissions, improve efficiency

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority has been awarded $1 million in federal funding earmarked for an all-electric bus and/or charging equipment. The allotment from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration comes from $55 million disbursed through its Low or No Emission (Low-No) Vehicle program.

The grant money was awarded to 51 projects in 39 states in September. PSTA was one of five transit authorities in Florida to receive an award.

“It’s a competitive grant.” says Henry Lukasik, PSTA Director of Maintenance. “We’re very thankful that we did receive it.”

We’re looking at all ways [of spending it] to really make sure that every dollar is maximized,” he adds.

Joe Cheney, PSTA’s Deputy Director of Fleet Operations, says PSTA has been moving toward all-electric buses for nearly 10 years. It already has some 70 hybrid electric buses, which make up about 36 percent of its fleet.

One of the big advantages we’re anticipating, obviously, are zero tailpipe emissions," Cheney says. “The overall life cycle costs would be lower over the course of 12 years.”

Two electric buses priced at $800,000 each are on order, and likely will be delivered in May or June 2018. PSTA will be installing overnight, plug-in chargers as well as a charging plate to partially recharge the battery while buses are on their newly designed route in downtown St. Petersburg.

Buses will pull over and recharge for about three to five minutes. “While it won’t recharge the entire bus,” Lukasik says, “it will keep it maintained at a level of charge where it can continue out there all day long.”

Ashlie Handy, PSTA’s Media Liaison/Public Information Officer, says PSTA also has secured nearly $600,000 through the British Petroleum settlement fund to reimburse victims of the massive Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. “We are actively seeklng partners and grant opportunities,” she says.

“We’re finding ways to bring money from other places. We’re not tapping into our reserves,” she explains. “These are monies we are bringing to Pinellas County.”

Riders will find the buses similar in layout to its other buses, but much quieter. “Because there’s not an engine, it will be very quiet on the bus, probably to the point where people can carry on a conversation,” Lukasik says.

Across Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority is awaiting the delivery of 15 compressed natural gas buses by the end of the year. It acquired 35 CNG buses in 2015-16, and 10 of its 25 additional buses earlier this year.

These new buses will be put into service in fall/winter 2017-2018, giving HART one of the youngest fleets in the state,” says HART’s Public Information Officer Sandra Morrison.

“Since 2015 we’ve saved approximately $720,000 using our natural gas compared to the cost of diesel fuel,” she says.

HART plans to transition the entire fleet of some 187 buses by 2025 as part of its move to cleaner, alternative fuel. The CNG buses cost approximately $300,000 less per vehicle than electric and have the ability to operate when the power is out, Morrison says.

Since 2014, the HART fleet has used the equivalent of 1 million gallons of diesel fuel.


Tampa tech company automates LED light sales proposals

Though LED lighting uses less energy -- and can reduce carbon emissions, convincing people to invest in it can be a tough sell. But Devon Papandrew is making the task easier.

Papandrew’s South Tampa company, SiteLite, automates the sales proposal preparation process, cutting the time needed from two days to 20 minutes. “It’s a software that does most of the work for the LED sales company,” he points out.

Currently about 96 percent of lighting is what Papandrew calls “legacy,” mostly metal halide or high pressure sodium lighting. Declining prices on LED or light-emitting diode lights have made it more affordable to convert.  

With a 10- to 15-year guarantee, LED can pay for itself in two to three years of energy savings. Still, talking people into spending money upfront requires solid numbers that usually takes time to compile. And it’s prone to error.

With SiteLite, the salesperson visits prospective companies with an iPad, iPhone, tablet or computer connected to the Internet. Using Google Maps, a digital photo or digitized floor plan, the salesperson can digitally alter the existing lighting in the software, substituting it with LED lighting. This allows users to quickly visualize the changes.

“They can do it all in one site visit,” he says.

Founded in February, SiteLite is a privately funded company that works primarily with small- to medium-size businesses in Florida and in the Southeast U.S. “There are a couple of quite large ones that we sell to,” he says.

Sales firms pay a monthly fee of $599 for a base package for up to 10 sales personnel.

LED bulbs can last at least 25,000 hours, than more than 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If everyone switched to LED lights in a 20-year span, the United States could slash electricity consumption by almost 50 percent while avoiding 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Papandrew, who holds a bachelor’s in science in Physics and Economics from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., came up with the idea of the company after seeing how much work was required to develop LED sales proposals. Although there are some other systems, what sets SiteLite apart is its visual component, quality and value. A patent is pending.

Raised in Largo, Papandrew formerly was employed as a bank business analyst who wrote up software requirements for software developers. He started out doing the same thing with SiteLite, then taught himself how to write the software code.

“I’m not writing requirements anymore. I’m just writing the software,” he says.


Natural gas-powered buses ready to roll in Pasco County

Pasco County Schools will soon be the first in Florida to build and run their own fast-fill compressed natural gas station. The first of its natural-gas buses will arrive in mid-May, when they will be completing the new gas station just south of State Road 54 along Interlaken Road north of Tampa.

“We are about a month away from taking ownership,” says Tad Kledzik, Manager of Transportation Services. “We will begin operations with start of the fiscal year [July 1].”

Thirty 2017 Bluebird Vision CNG buses will begin arriving, three at time, in mid-May, and be phased into the existing fleet of more than 400 buses. Some 48 of them are propane, which use the same motor but a different fuel.

Each bus costs about $130,000, about $30,000 more than a diesel bus.

Pasco County Schools are investing $3 million each in their fast-fill station and a maintenance, operations and parking facility for the new natural gas-powered buses. The district is expecting to pay an additional $3.9 million for the first 30 buses and potentially a total of $11.7 million for 90 natural gas buses at the facility. It also would use some 10 to 12 diesel buses already in the fleet.

There are a number of advantages of the buses fueled by gas from Louisiana and Texas, which is piped into Florida at Jacksonville.

“The big thing ... is cleaner emission,” Kledzik says.

It’s also less noisy, a plus when hauling a bus-load full of talking children. “That allows our drivers to hear a little bit better on the bus as to what is going on,” he says.

As a domestic source of fuel, CNG is less volatile in price. The ability to essentially lock-in the price gives the district a greater ability to manage finance costs. “What happens elsewhere is less likely to impact the cost of CNG here,” he explains. “There’s enough CNG here in the U.S. to meet certainly our needs and many more needs.”

The district has tapped into the system in the Odessa area. The CNG will be provided by Clearwater Gas.

A grand opening is scheduled at 9 am. May 16, says spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. The new buses will roll for the 2017-18 school year.

The district began looking into alternative fuel sources in 2012, before buses like these existed, Kledzik says. The vision for CNG came from Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd.

Though the Pasco district will be the first to build and operate its own station, others are already going green with CNG buses using third-party fuel providers. “Leon [County’s school district] has a similar facility to what we’re producing right now. Leon entered into contract with a 3rd party provider,” he says.

In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority became the first public transit authority in Florida to begin converting from diesel to CNG in 2014, according to Sandra Morrison, Public Information Officer.

HART currently runs 34 CNG buses in its fleet of nearly 200 buses, plus an additional 39 of its 61 HARTPlus vans and all eight HARTFlex vans. Some 25 additional CNG buses are arriving this fiscal year, Morrison says.

Hillsborough County public schools are running 50 propane buses and another 40 are on order. “We just didn’t have an interest in it [CNG], simply because of the cost,” says Jim Beekman, General Manager of Transportation.

The propane buses cost only $4400 more than diesel.

Pinellas County’s school district began running 58 new propane-powered buses this school year. The buses save the district money on fuel and maintenance, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, a spokeswoman says.

As the Pasco district's personnel are trained on the new buses, Kledzik says they plan to let surrounding districts in on the education process, which will include information on propane buses as well. “We’re looking to open it up and make it more a multi-county effort,” he says.

Kledzik says the new CNG buses are a way to “diversify the composition” of the fleet. He expects the school district will continue to invest in propane – and diesel. Diesel still is preferred for long trips outside of the county, and even longer trips within the county, he says.

“I don’t believe we’d get away completely from diesel buses,” he says.

Tampa Bay Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo is slated from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 at 11780 Tampa Gateway Blvd, Seffner.

More information on alternative fuels is available at the Alternative Fuels Data Center or the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Cities Program at 1-800-CCITIES.


Sarasota County launches solar energy co-op program for homeowners

The sun began to peek through the clouds on an overcast morning at the Florida House Institute, where solar advocates gathered in early January to launch a new solar energy co-op program in Sarasota County. 

Representatives from the Sarasota League of Women Voters, Florida Solar United Neighborhoods (FL SUN), and the Florida House Institute met with Sarasota County homeowners to explore ways to add solar energy to their homes at a discount by sharing solar panel purchasing power -- and knowledge -- in bulk. 

Solar co-ops is a competitive bidding process to select a single company to install solar panels in participating homes, providing a discount of up to 20 percent for homeowners who participate in the program. Each person signs his or her own contract with the installer, and the entire group not only receives the discount, but also benefits from sharing knowledge about the process of transitioning to a solar-powered lifestyle. 

Jon Thaxton, Senior VP for Community Investment with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, a FL SUN Sarasota partner, cites a report the GCCF issued on affordable housing in 2015. The housing report states that over 43,000 households in Sarasota County pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing--forcing them to make difficult decisions as to how they will afford food, transportation and childcare, Thaxton notes. 

"This initiative has promised to reduce the energy cost in these households, and thus reduce the financial strain on the budget on these service workers," Thaxton says, citing low income neighborhoods in Sarasota Springs, south Venice, Englewood and North Port.

"We are talking about, in terms of affordable housing, bringing not only hundreds, but thousands of these 43,000 cash-strapped households into a more sustainable situation with this initiative," Thaxton says. 

Phyllis Vogel, President of the Sarasota League of Women Voters, says that Florida currently lags behind other states in utilizing solar energy, and that programs like the FL SUN Sarasota co-op are critical to the Sunshine State's future. 

"Consider this: Florida, the Sunshine State, currently gets less than one-tenth of 1 percent of its energy from solar power," Vogel says. 

But recent public interest in solar energy is a catalyst for change.

"The defeat of Amendment One in the recent election is an indication that Floridians are ready to increase the use of solar power in our communities. We know it's cost effective, it's good for our local economy, and it's necessary for our future resilience as a coastal community," Vogel says.

Of the solar co-op initiative, Vogel states, "not only will it save homeowners and businesses money, but it will infuse our economy with a growth industry of well-paying green jobs. The League believes that solar energy takes a free market approach to putting power, literally and figuratively, into the hands of the people."

FL SUN Sarasota partners include The League of Women Voters, the Sarasota Classified Teachers Association, Sierra Club of Manatee-Sarasota, the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Florida House Institute, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, and FL SUN. 

To learn more about the co-op, Join FL Sun Sarasota for one of three upcoming information sessions:

Jan. 18, 1 p.m.
Venice Community Center
326 South Nokomis Avenue, Venice
RSVP here

Jan. 19, 5 p.m.
Selby Library
1331 1st Street, Sarasota
RSVP here

Feb. 24, 11 a.m.
Twin Lakes Park
6700 Clark Road, Sarasota
RSVP here

Solar co-op arrives in St. Petersburg, Sunshine City

Residents of St. Peterburg are serious about solar energy.

The city is the first in the area to develop a solar co-op committed to drive the city of St. Petersburg to 100-percent renewable energy. The idea for the co-op came about from a partnership between the Suncoast Sierra Club and the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg.

“We discovered that the League of Women Voters had been looking at developing a program like the East Orange co-op in Orlando, so we worked with the League and Community Power Network to bring a solar co-op program to St. Pete,” says Emily Gorman, Sierra Club 100% St. Pete Campaign Manager. “The St. Pete Solar Co-op is the first of its kind in the state as it is open to both home and business owners.”

Gorman says the co-op makes going solar easier and more affordable, with a payback period seen within 10 years of the system's 25-plus year lifetime. She cites East Orange co-op members who are saving more than $200 per month on their electricity costs.

Aside from the savings residents can see in their bills, Gorman states there is a larger economic byproduct of going solar.

“Solar installers are small, local companies. So, in addition to saving money on their own energy costs, solar panel owners stimulate local economy by keeping their dollars close to home.”

Those interested in learning more about the co-op are invited to attend an information session. The first session was held on July 28th at the Sunshine Center. There were approximately 80 people in attendance, with over 50 homeowners who registered with the co-op. Gorman says residents will still be able to sign up and join until December 2016.

For more information, visit Florida Solar United Neighborhoods.

Tampa father, son build tiny house as model for others

A father-and-son duo in Valrico are hoping to make a big impact with their little house. The 200-square-foot-home the two are building together will soon be going on a 20-city tour across the U.S. to teach others the importance of quality control in construction practices.

Paul Lynch, the patriarch of the team, is an attorney with Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP based out of downtown Tampa. Working with his eldest son, Corbett Lunsford, the two are building the tiny house to be efficient, with solar panels, a composting toilet, sensors built into the walls to measure performance and the highest-quality non-toxic materials available.

“My son is an expert in testing homes, like a doctor for houses, and in his view and those of his fans, once you have metrics about your home you can make educated decisions and get control,'' says Lynch. “Like the craze for Fitbit pedometers, or feedback displays in new cars, better information about how the things we own are performing means we become better owners.”

The first stop on the 20-city tour will be in St. Augustine in April 2016. For the purpose of the tour, the tiny house will be called the 'tiny lab' due to its innovative features including technology from Mitsubishi that uses an infrared eye to sense areas in the home that need the temperature adjusted. During the tour, Lunsford and his team will spend one week in each city offering tours, workshops and contractor training.

During the tour, Lunsford and his wife will also be taping a TV show called Home Diagnosis and a web series called Ms. Tiny Detective. According to Lynch, it really is a family effort.

“Not a lot of guys get the opportunity to build a house with their kids, so I'm trying to enjoy the whole thing,” he says. “Obviously it's a bit stressful, we're building a house that has to withstand a hurricane and earthquake at the same time. But it's going to make great memories, and I'm proud of what we've already accomplished with the structure.”

For more information on the tour, visit their website.

USF rolls out succesful share-a-bike program

Students at USF's Tampa campus now have an innovative solution to the challenge of maneuvering such a large property as the bike sharing program is rolled out. The Share-A-Bull Bikes program, which officially launched September 28th, allows students the opportunity to borrow one of the 100 bikes on campus to get to their destination.

“Since we have an urban campus with lots of traffic, we had to come up with an alternative to help students get where they need to go,” says Francis Morgan, Assistant Director for Outdoor Recreation. “There were three things that really pushed this initiative, one being that is would increase physical activity, the second being it would decrease carbon emissions and finally it would get people from one place to another.”

In order to participate in the program, students must enroll at which point they receive a 16 digit account code that they will use to unlock one of the bikes. Once they have unlocked a bike, they can ride up to two hours per day at no cost. Each bike is equipped with a GPS system, which helps student locate available bikes through a Smartphone app or through the USF website.

According to Morgan, there are over 1,600 active members who have registered to date.

“This program has been very successful,” he says. “In fact, it is six times more successful than any other bicycle system in the world.”

Share-A-Bull Bikes program is funded through USF’s Student Green Energy Fund, which is a student fee funded program that the student body voted on. The purpose of the fund is to reduce the carbon footprint on campus.

“This is something the students asked for, and from its success so far, it’s seems to be something they appreciate.”

Designing Tampa as a smarter city

Tampa is about to become a smarter city, thanks to Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

At a free seminar on June 12, local community leaders will have the opportunity to join national experts, such as noted futurist Daniel Burrus, in a discussion about technology-based solutions for cities.

The “Internet of Things: Smart Cities” seminar series will bring smart city experts to eight communities across the United States, including Tampa, where they will meet with local leaders to showcase the ways that the “Internet of Things” (machine-to-machine communication) can help cities increase economic growth, enhance safety, create more security and become more efficient.

The goal of the IoT Smart Cities seminars is to create cities that exemplify three distinct qualities: livability, workability and sustainability.

Discussion will likely include topics such as transportation and parking solutions, energy conservation, increasing citizen engagement, and how community leaders can redistribute available resources.

“With limited resources, municipal leaders are being tasked with finding ways to make their communities more efficient,” Dan Feldman, director of IoT Smart Cities at Verizon, says in a news release.

“Towns and cities can start with projects like energy-efficient smart streetlights, car sharing and smart parking,” Feldman explains. Then, by creating more energy-efficient or technologically advanced projects, cities can begin to save revenue that can be applied toward bigger investments, such as “tackling pollution and upgrading transit infrastructure."
 
Burrus, the New York Times bestselling author and technology futurist, entrepreneur and innovation expert, will be the keynote speaker at the Tampa IoT Smart Cities seminar. Burrus developed the “Hard Trend Methodology,” which has been adopted by city planners, government agencies and leading corporations as a method of connecting cities through technology.

A name familiar to many in the Tampa Bay area, Jim Shimberg, will be the event's guest speaker. Shimberg is the EVP and general counsel of Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment (which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are currently competing in the Stanley Cup playoffs), as well as the company representative to the Tampa Bay Partnership and the Tampa Hillsborough County Economic Development Corporation. Shimberg, who has over 30 years of experience practicing law in the Tampa Bay area, is also the COO of Strategic Property Partners LLC, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s real estate company (in late 2014, Vinik and his investment partners announced a plan to invest more $1 billion into 25 acres of land in downtown Tampa’s Channelside region).

The IoT Smart Cities tour is sponsored by Verizon Enterprise Solutions, a division of communications giant Verizon, in partnership with the Smart Cities Council. Along with Tampa, stops include Boston, New York, Chicago, Indianapolis, Phoenix and San Jose.

Tampa’s IoT Smart Cities seminar will take place from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Friday, June 12, at the Tampa Marriott Westshore, 1001 N. Westshore Blvd. To register or learn more about the event, click here.

USF Tampa wins green awards for renewable energy project

When Hometalk, the largest home improvement and garden how-to online network, wanted to offer readers cool eco-friendly and sustainable ideas for green living, they turned to the nation’s universities and colleges.  

“We decided who better to reach out to for great ideas than colleges students,” says Tikva Morrow, editor of Hometalk.  

A renewable energy project at the University of South Florida was among five projects selected by Hometalk staff as the best examples across the country for “green living initiatives” that readers could duplicate at home or work, says Morrow.

“Hometalk has a large audience and our readers are real people who want to find better ways of living that help the environment.” Says Morrow.  “It’s all about changing the world by helping people change their daily practices.”

USF’s project, called Renew-a-Bull-Biodiesel, is a student designed, operated and maintained project in which students pay a voluntary green energy fee toward the cost of turning dining hall waste oil into biodiesel to run university buses.  David Townsend, USF student and co-project leader, said the program is a “prime example of the efforts made at USF to reduce the university’s carbon footprint.”

While Morrow points out that readers might not easily develop their own biodiesel, they could reduce their carbon footprint with simple green practices, such as turning off lights and adding better insulation to reduce electric bills and using green cleaning products that are better for the environment.

To identify the top college green living initiatives, Hometalk staff researched sources that included the Princeton Review’s Guide to 322 Green Colleges. USF was one of only 22 schools in Princeton Review’s 2014 Green Honor Roll.

From several hundred possible university projects, the Hometalk staff then narrowed the list to 25 potential finalists. The next step was to reach out to the various schools and talk with student leaders who were running the projects, says Morrow.  After much discussion, the final five were named.  

The other university projects selected included a campus farm at Duke University in North Carolina; a water conservation program at Stanford University in California; a recycling program at Green Mountain College in Vermont ; and a green living program called Ecovillage at Berea College in Kentucky.

Hometalk’s designation is not the only green accolade that USF has earned in the last year. Sierra Magazine ranked USF seventh out of 173 schools in the annual Sierra “Cools School” green list. USF’s 20,000-watt solar charging station for electric vehicles was mentioned as an example of an outstanding green initiative.

Eckerd College focuses on climate science solutions

A summit held at Eckerd College on October 6th aimed to not only educate about climate science but also focus on tangible solutions.

The event grew out of a conversation with Governor Rick Scott in which he indicated that as a non-scientist he could not understand the dynamics of climate science. Rather, he urged scientists to focus on solutions. Knowing how important the topic is, faculty members at Eckerd decided to organize an event to explain it in a way that both scientists and non-scientists can rally behind.

In Florida especially, issues like rising sea level and a predicted increase in the severity and frequency of hurricanes pose real threats to health and safety.

"We’re really the ground zero for the impacts of climate change," says David Hastings, Ph.D. professor of marine science and chemistry at Eckerd College. "As scientists, we’re not just interested in focusing on the science but also in identifying the solutions that will mitigate the worst impact."

Solutions include both short and long term changes that will not only create new business opportunities but jobs as well. Entrepreneurs can explore innovative ways to use solar power as an alternative energy source. Another opportunity lies with using algae to create biofuels.

Eckerd hopes to bring forth the message that not only is an enhanced focus on climate change needed at the policy and business level, but there are also things individuals can be doing to reduce energy consumption such as installing more energy efficient windows and roofs.

The summit was hosted in partnership with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Clearwater Continues Greening Efforts With LED Streetlights

Residents of Clearwater will soon have softer streetlights and fewer outages as a result of the City’s latest efforts to go green.

The City is replacing the standard incandescent light bulbs in all 11,290 streetlights with LED bulbs. The new bulbs will produce the same amount of light, but use less energy and last longer.

"In light of the city’s green policy, we wanted to say the whole city is green and reduce the carbon footprint," says Paul Bertels, traffic operations manager for the City of Clearwater. "It’s important to the City Council and to the residents that we try to do everything we can to reduce our impact on the environment."

The major benefit from the move will be less outages. Standard bulbs typically have to be replaced every 18 months. The new LED bulbs will last an average of seven years before outage problems are experienced.

The decision was made by the City of Clearwater and Duke Energy, which currently provides maintenance for the streetlights. In a true public-private partnership, the bulbs will be funded by Duke Energy, so the replacement will be at no cost to citizens. Duke’s costs will be reduced due to less frequent maintenance.

Residents will mainly notice the white color of the lights vs. the orange color of the current bulbs. They will also notice a lot more stability with the less frequent outages.

The move is part of the city’s overall efforts to go green, which include a full service citywide recycling program, streetscaping, and water management.

"Clearwater has always been a very progressive place, and I think this policy on being green fits right in line with that thinking," says Bertels.

The project will begin in the Northeast quadrant of the city, with an estimated citywide completion in 18 months.   

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Paul Bertels, City of Clearwater
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