Tuesday, July 28, 2015
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Nashua;81.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nskc.png;2015-07-28 22:36:53

SolarCity targets solar power for small businesses

It seems like solar power for small businesses - convenience stores, car washes, pet stores, restaurants, barbershops etc. - would make more sense than solar power for homes. The businesses use more electricity, so they'll benefit more from the downstream cost savings, and they often have access to loans or lines of credit.

But that's not the case, apparently, juding from the to-do over SolarCity's announcement that it is targeting small businesses for solar power because the market is ripe for plucking, as reported in the LA Times.

The trouble is that it generally has cost too much to develop and install a solar array on the roofs of small businesses. The solar companies had to spend time customizing the system, which created design costs and legal fees. And with installation of the panels farmed out to subcontractors, the deal never made economic sense.

"It's the same work to get a 1,000-kilowatt system as a 50-kilowatt system," Rive said. "The work proportional to the profit doesn't make sense."

SolarCity expects to keep costs down by using the company's own installers and employing a simple panel design that has reduced installation to as little as two days from two to three weeks. SolarCity also will tap Property Assessed Clean Energy financing programs, which attach the solar lease agreement to the property where the panels are installed and allow repayment of upfront costs over 20 years as part of the property tax bill.

SolarCity entered New Hampshire this year, so perhaps we'll see some of this locally.

Podcast movie, including "Radiolab" (woo-hoo!), at local theaters Tuesday

The Cinemagic movie theater in Londonderry is among hundreds around the country that on Tuesday will show Cast Party, "a stage show simulcast to cinemas, celebrating the emergence of podcasting as a powerhouse medium with millions of obsessed fans. Like, the Lollapalooza of podcasts."

The stars of this show will be the two guys who do the podcast Radiolab, whose names I can't spell. I love Radiolab, which is pretty much what this blog would be if it could be a well-produced podcast. But I must admit the idea of watching a movie about podcasting seems a little unexciting. Still, who am I to say?

The show starts at 8 p.m. on July 28. Find out more here.

A $250 million operation breeding mice for labs is a surprising Maine institution

Last week I spent three days at the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, one of the world's best-known breeders of speciality lab mice for research. Aside from a chance to spend three days alongside Acadia National Park on somebody else's dime (the lab had a few grants for "press week" folks), I sat in on a half-dozen classes about modern genomics and the use of mouse models to tackle diseases from aging and schitophrenia to more cancers than you can shake a pipette at.

As a guy who abandoned plans for a biology degree halfway through freshman year, I was often over my head, but I also learned a lot about RNA, epigenetics, protein expression - and I will finally be able to remember what "phenotype" means.

I was going to talk about this in my column today, but I figured that alot of people don't even know that Jackson Labs exists, so I ended up writing a laymen's primer on how it came to ship out some 3 million specially bred (not GMO) mice to labs around the world, becoming the biggest employer in the county and a $250 million-a-year operation. It's also a big and growing presence in genetic-medicine research, with 50 researchers based in Maine and 35 more at a new facility in Connecticut.

Here's the column if you want to know more. To whet your appetite, it includes a sperm joke.

Eversource gets prize for fast solar hookups - in Conn., though, not NH

Eversource connected solar installations in as little as five days, taking top spot in a recent study of utilities around the country. But we can't really celebrate here since the study only measured the Connecticut branch (formerly Connecticut Power & Light, which is a much better name than Eversource), not the New Hampshire branch (formerly PSNH).

National Grid in Massachusetts also did quite well.

The study notes that there can be good reasons for delaying the step of hooking up solar projects to the grid, such as ensuring grid stability in areas where there's a lot of solar (like Hawaii), but that usually delays are the result of paperwork, inertia, or something more nefarious.

Here's a FierceEnergy story about it, and here's the whole study.

Higher math is "playing chess with the devil"

The current New York Times Magazine has a fascinating profile of Terry Tao, one of the prominent research mathematicians in the world. It is worth a read for anybody who wants a sense of what higher math is like (don't worry - no equations). Here's a tidbit to whet your appetite, but really, you should read the whole thing:

The steady state of mathematical research is to be completely stuck.It is a process that Charles Fefferman of Princeton, himself a onetime math prodigy turned Fields medalist, likens to ‘‘playing chess with the devil.’’

The rules of the devil’s game are special, though: The devil is vastly superior at chess, but, Fefferman explained, you may take back as many moves as you like, and the devil may not. You play a first game, and, of course, ‘‘he crushes you.’’ So you take back moves and try something different, and he crushes you again, ‘‘in much the same way.’’ If you are sufficiently wily, you will eventually discover a move that forces the devil to shift strategy; you still lose, but — aha! — you have your first clue.

As a group, the people drawn to mathematics tend to value certainty and logic and a neatness of outcome, so this game becomes a special kind of torture. And yet this is what any ­would-be mathematician must summon the courage to face down: weeks, months, years on a problem that may or may not even be possible to unlock.

Fidelity Investments is a big player in the open-hardware movement (wait - hardware?)

You probably know the Linux penguin, that cud­dly mascot of open-source software, but do you know the mascot of open-source hardware?

No you don't, because there isn't one. But I have a suggestion to fill the gap: Racky, the Fidelity Invest­ments server rack.

OK, maybe that idea isn't so great. But the rack is - a system of shelving to hold servers, the computers that line up to do all the number-crunching and storage need­ed in today's business world - and it's a good example of why the program known as the Open Compute Project is valuable to one of Nashua's biggest employers.

To read more about locate participation in OPC, just click here.

Heading out to spend a few days in Maine amid spacialty mice and biologists

I am heading out today to Bar Harbor, Maine, home of The Jackson Labs, which is world-renowned for its program of breeding mice for medical and biology research.

I'm going to learn what I can as part of the 56th annual Short Course on Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics, which includes a Press Week in which the scientists put up with questions from reporters. Press Week is designed to help spread actual information about genetics into the general population, which is cool, although I'm going mostly because I've always wanted to learn more about Jackson Labs.

As a result, I won't be posting much for the next few days. I realize this will ruin your life, plunging you into a gray and dismal existence, but try to maintain a stiff upper lip.

Not Just the Heat, It’s the Humans: UNH study connects 13,000 years of small mammal adaptation to warming

If you want to see how small mammals have adapted to a changing climate over thousands of years, where do you find your data?

In owl vomit, of course.

That's what UNH ecologist Rebecca Rowe and other did as part a study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They poked through the bones of small mammals in centuries of owl pellets left in a cave. (Actually, the pellets are the result of regurgitation because the material never made it to the owl's stomach - but "vomit" sounds better.)

The study compared the response of small mammals to a period of natural rapid warming almost 13,000 years ago and to contemporary climate warming. It found that warming associated with climate change is only part of the problem: Humans have played a role, too.

You can read the details written by UNH here. (I stole their "not the heat, it's the humans" headline) The study will be discussed on today's Science Friday on NPR.

Terrorism is frightening, but changes in the world's climate are more of a threat, says global poll

Climate change is what the world’s population perceives as the top global threat, according to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, with countries in Latin America and Africa particularly concerned about the issue. It is followed by global economic instability and the Islamic State militant group.

So says The Guardian in its story about the poll (read it here).

No wonder people are scared. Many of the folks who study this day in and day out - not just those of us who blab about it from the sidelines - think the world is, in a word, screwed. Check this well done but really depressing Esquire piece, which talks about how climate scientists are wrestling with despair and internal denial as they realize how very bad things are likely to be.

Aren't we past solar panel barn-raisings? Apparently not 

At a time when SolarCity offer no-money-down solar power, and solar panels have become so routine that"you walk through the mall, there's a guy hawking them," do we still need barn-raising-type events for solar power? Isn't that kind of 1990s-ish?

Nope, at least not accordig to Hillsborough County Area ReEnewable Energy Initiative, one of several groups that advocates for solar panels. As I note in a story in today's Telegraph, it's holding a "solar raiser" on Sunday to help a Hollis get put a whopping 7.5 kilowatts of panels on his house for out-of-pocket costs of about $10,000. He calculates a payback of about 3.3 years!

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About this blog

David Brooks has written a science column for the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph since 1991 - yes, that long - and has overseen this blog since 2006.

He chats weekly with New Hampshire Public Radio about GraniteGeek topics, around 5:50 p.m. on Tuesdays. You can listen to old sessions here.

Contact:   E-mail or call 603-594-6531.


Free, informal get-togethers at a bar that feature discussion among the audience (everybody is welcome) and experts in various fields. Check the website here.

NEXT CAFE: We take the summer off. Back in the fall.


Location: Killarney's Irish Pub, 9 Northeastern Boulevard (Holiday Inn, just west of Exit 4 on the turnpike).



June: Probiotics and "gut health". May: Trains. April: Who was here before Europeans arrived - and how do we know? March: How roads are designed. February: The science of sugar. January: Geothermal energy.


November: Medical screening; how much is too much? October: Flexible and printed electronics. September: The science of marijuana. June: Fluoridation in public water. May: Organic gardening. April: Tele-medicine, or doctoring from afar. March: Bitcoin - what is it? February: The science of allergies. January: Electric cars.

Multiple sclerosis. October: Genetically modified organisms. September: Aquaponics. June: Flying robots (drones!) May: PTSD and brain tauma in veterans. April: Cats vs. wildlife in NH. March: Mosquito-borne disease. February: The science of brewing. January: 3-D printing, with MakeIt Labs.

"Dark skies and light pollution" with Discovery Center. October: "The science of concussion." September: "The science of pain management." June: "Arsenic in our environment." May: "Invasive species in New Hampshire" April: "Nanotechnology in business and the lab". March: "Lyme disease in NH". Feb: "Seasonal Affective Disorder." Jan: "Biomass energy"

Nov.: "Science of Polling." Oct.: "Digital Privacy." Sept: "Vaccinations." June: "Future of Food." May 2011: "Climate Change"


Alternative power map

Click here to see my alternative-power Google map showing large-scale solar, wind, hydro and nuclear plants in N.H., plus intriguing alternative-power items.

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