Ideas that Matter

These ideas stood out from the infomercials and other junk information that clutter up our lives these days.

Along with the messages from the brother of the Nigerian Commerce Minister that promise to lead us to millions in unclaimed cash that somehow sneak past our e-mail's spam filters, EW's editors must sort through lots of junk information like infomercials from P.R. marketers who want to pitch products that have nothing to do with this industry, or misdirected mass mailings from direct marketers.

Fortunately, we hear about enough interesting news and developing trends in the electrical market to fill at least two magazines each month. Most often, we get this information the old-fashioned way — talking with and learning from industry thought leaders at conferences and seminars, surveying distributors, reps and manufacturers, and picking up the phone and calling people in the know.

I got to thinking about some of the coolest things I had run across over the past year or two and am passing them along here. It's a bit of a “dog's breakfast” — a somewhat unrelated mix of new and old ideas, that may make you think, laugh, or ask yourself, “Why didn't I think of that?”

Photovoltaic shingles and other building products that could power your home

The PV technologies that fascinate me most are BIPV (building integrated photovoltaic materials) products integrated directly into conventional building products like shingles, siding and windows. For instance, Dow Chemical makes a solar shingle that can be integrated with standard asphalt shingle materials, and Konarka Technologies Inc., Lowell, Mass., recently installed its Power Plastic BIPV materials on the exterior walls of its headquarters to produce electricity. Another interesting product is now under development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that could be applied as a coating to standard windows and allow light to pass through while converting the sun's ray into electricity.

Offshore wind farms close to the population centers that need the most power

The knock on large-scale wind farms is that some of the best places to harvest wind are hundreds of miles from the electrical grid and the millions of users that need the power. That's not the case with the Atlantic Wind Connection (AWC), a gigantic wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean that if approved by various governmental and environmental agencies would stretch 350 miles off the Eastern coast from New Jersey to Virginia and connect 6,000MW of offshore wind turbines to the East Coast megalopolis from Washington, D.C., to New York. One of the backers for this project is Google, which has a 37.5 percent stake (estimated at $200 million-plus). Built 10 to 15 miles offshore, the Atlantic Wind Connection would provide enough power to serve approximately 1.9 million households.

A gigantic solar installation in the Sahara that could power much of Europe

While we are on the subject of renewables on a massive scale, how about the controversial Desertec project? This is a proposed $566 billion network of centralized solar plants in North Africa that would generate 100 gigawatts — the equivalent of 100 large nuclear power plants. The Desertec Foundation's website ( says this power would be transmitted through undersea cables beneath the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Critics say the solar power plants will never break ground, in part because of the security concerns over a project that would provide up to 15 percent of Europe's total power in a region of the world that's been historically unstable.

Get new product ideas from the people who install them every day

With the hit rate on new product introductions so low, I am always amazed this idea is not woven through the fabric of every company's R&D efforts. The Construction Marketing Association, Naperville, Ill., estimates that the failure rate of new products in the construction industry tops 90 percent.

Pick up the phone or write a letter

Yeah, your teenage kids may tell you that house phones and other land lines are for losers because you can say all you need to say to people in misspelled text messages and Twitter tweets. Don't listen to them. You can cut through an awful lot of the clutter of data and informercials that clog up our email accounts, mailboxes and voice mail by picking up an old-fashioned telephone and calling someone, or by sending a handwritten note to someone you haven't been in touch with for a while.

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