Author Archives: Dan Bihn

2011 Fukushima and the Smart House

Summer, 2011, six months after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, I visited Fukushima and Tokyo – about 1 week after the hottest day this year, and the peak summer electrical load. It was an inspiring trip. In Fukushima, I met a mother of two who told be about the topsoil of her children’s playground being replaced. I also met a Kyocera factory manager there who showed me their new 250KW solar array and smart-grid controller that help them avoid rolling blackouts — even when a cloud comes over head. Many more stories.

Here is the Solar Today article published early 2012.

2011 Where Wood Works in Colorado

Tim Reader, utilization and marketing specialist for the Colorado State Forest Service, asked me to create a Colorado version of Where Wood Works. The budget allowed for a significant number of site visits where I was able to shoot content-driven images. The faces of people that made these stories are a key part of this publication’s success.



Tim Reader came up with the idea of a graphical technology selection guide – relating building size to fuel type, heat output, and biomass usage.

Very simple – very effective.

Solar Today, March 2011 “Harnessing the Sun”

Early 2010, a French couple I’ve known since grad school sent me an email saying they wanted to visit me in Colorado and, if possible, visit the Lakota Nation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota.

Kind of hard to say no that that sort of request. Trees, Water & People, an amazing non-profit based here in Fort Collins, runs a few energy-based programs on the rez, so I offered my photographic services in exchange for them setting up an eco-tour for my friends (Antoine and Cathy). We had a great time sleeping in teepees and riding horses (ouch, by the way).

Solar Today ran with the story, and ran a few of the images.

Solar Today, March 2011 “Harnessing the Sun”

2011 Solar Today, March Cover

Colorado State University has a very special utility/energy engineer on their facilities staff. Carol Dollard. I’ve known Carol for a decade and have always been impressed with her engineering competence, her vision for a sustainable future, and her unique and effective style of working through bureaucratic webs that would trap and immobilize a lesser soul.

Late 2010, Carol kidded me into taking this picture and pitching her story. “Geeze Dan, why did Solar Today put a small 200KW PV system from some other university on their cover, when CSU has a new 5MW system?” Good point! I wound up 50 feet in the air shooting Carol (the red dot in the lower right of this cover).

Solar Today, March 2011 Cover

2011 Governor’s Biofuels Coalition

Agricultural biofuels was a key part of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter’s (term 2007-2011) New Energy Economy. The Governor’s Energy Office engaged me to create an overview ePublication of Governor’s Biofuels Coalition – the public-private partnership that led up the efforts.

This publication blends the human and technical aspects of the program (and some of the controversy).

[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=7 linktext=’Governors Biofuels Coalition’ /]

2002-2010 Fort Collins Utility Advisory Board

For 8 years I had the honor and privilege to serve on the “Electric Board” of the City of Fort Collins. During that time, we pioneered one of the nations first comprehensive energy supply policies that sought to increase renewable energy and reduce overall energy consumption. Later we adjusted to plan to use carbon reduction as one of the key metrics.

I also directly worked our utility staff to create our Smart Meter roll-out plan that allowed for skeptical and concerned customers to opt-out (this was based on avoiding the experience of PG&E debacle).

2010 Flex Energy for Buildings

Flex Energy for Buildings is a simple design support process (checklists, design patterns, and suggestions) that helps you and your team design buildings with the flexibility to adapt to the changing shape of energy in the 21st century — because your design decisions today can make adapting to this change easy and affordable, or needlessly difficult and expensive. Continue reading

Solar Today, Getting Started, October 2009 cover

This may just be my favorite cover so far. The assignment: find and photograph a solar home that makes sense for 2010. To me, that meant finding home that a normal human being could both afford to own and want to live in. I asked around for something “fun and on the small side.” Several folks independently suggested this home. It turned out to be John and Yayoi Shaw’s place. I’ve known both of them for several years now. John through the solar industry; Yayoi from the Denver Japanese Consulate. Small Planet. Right size home.

Solar Today, Getting Started, October 2009 cover

Solar Today, July-August 2009 cover

One of the coolest things about being both an engineer and a photojournalist, is that I get to talk with my engineering colleagues about what they are doing. These conversations often turn into geek-fests — as was the case with Abound Solar’s Tim Barry. He used to work for Atmel Semiconductors that made the really cool (and cheap!) microcontroler I used for a greenhouse control system I developed in the late 90’s. Sharing the excitement for his new gig in the solar business helped defuse the fact that I had a big fat 16-35mm lens pointing at him.

Solar Today, July-August 2009 cover

2009 The Salvation Army’s High Peak Camp

The Colorado Governor’s Energy Office and the Colorado State Forest Service had challenged me to find good candidates for wood biomass in Colorado. I was looking for places that heated with a lot of relatively expensive propane. I couldn’t find a government agency that could tell me where the natural gas grid ended. But a helpful (and busy) Century 21 real estate agent in Estes Park knew. “Try the Salvation Army Camp.” I drove over and, as has been the case so often, was warmly and enthusiastically greeted by the resident managers. It took a few years (and the leadership of Joe Duda), but it happened.

This 12-page document tells how – and why the guy on the cover is smiling. This project included my first video production – though the delivery technology didn’t support its inclusion into the final product.

[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=5 linktext=’Making Wood Work for Colorado Camps’ /]

2009 Mountain Park Environmental Center

The Colorado Governor’s Energy Office (now the Colorado Energy Office), engaged me as both a technical advisor and project communicator for one of the coolest wood biomass projects in Colorado: the Mountain Park Environmental Center in Beulah. Dave and Helene Van Manen are heroes in every sense of the word. They’ve transformed a Depression Era summer mountain camp into a year-round environmental education center.

This printable ePub brings the human and technical aspects together in a straightforward and engaging style. Each page tells a complete part of the story.

[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=4 linktext=’Mountain Park Environmental Center’ /]

Solar Today, March, 2009 cover

You can read about the little adventure I had making this picture on the Solar Today website. It was great fun (as usual), and the staff at Solar Today made this look great (as usual). This home is on the market for something like $3.9M. If I hadn’t put all of my assets into Madoff Securities, I’d buy a few of these for my friends. What was I thinking?

Solar Today, March, 2009 cover

Solar Today, Get Started, October 2008 cover

Sometimes the sun goddesses smile on my photography. I had one day and two homes. The weather, which had been uncooperative the day before, cooperated. The flowers were in perfect bloom (and out of in nearly perfect focus).

This is one of Bella Energy‘s solar installations. I think the most beautiful one in Colorado. It looks like the whole roof is made of solar panels — and one day they all will be.

This was a special edition funded by a US Department of Energy grant. About 160,000 copies were printed  – probably the most ink I’ve gotten, or most biomass I’ve made… depending on how you want to look at it.

Solar Today, Get Started, October 2008 cover

Solar Today, September-October 2008 cover

Colorado State University does it again! I was asked to communicate “young people getting ready for an exciting career in renewable energy.” These two grad students are developing next generation lithium battery technology — ultimately for use in electric vehicles. The “storage problem” of intermittent renewable energy sources is anything but a problem for these student. It is an opportunity to make a difference and have cool career!

Solar Today, September-October 2008 cover

2008 Solar Today, March-April Cover Story

The March-April 2008 Solar Today issue is very special to me. It was my first cover story for this national magazine. The article, “Local Lessons for Global Policy” described the City of Fort Collins’ policy journey towards a more sustainable future. Most of the ideas that wind up changing the world start in communities, then move the state level, and final emerge at the national and global issue. It is never an overnight process – and almost never starts from the top down.

I short the cover photograph on a tour of our local, fairly-nearby, wind farm in Medicine Bow, WY. When I was laying on the dirt taking this, everyone assumed I must be crazy a real photographer.

Thanks to their amazingly create art director, Allison Gray, Solar Today won the 2008 APEX Awards for Publication Excellence for this cover.

[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=17 linktext=’March-April, 2008, Solar Today’ /]


2008 Jump Start: Arizona Biomass Assessment Project

In early 2008, Herb Hopper invited me to join his Jump Start team to conduct an on-the-ground survey of potential new wood biomass opportunities.

Due to it’s brevity and visual design, this report was widely circulated. When a document is short and engaging, it is much more likely to be forwarded up the command chain. “Hey, take a quick look at this.”

Traditional reports have far too much detail and are far too long – impossible to quickly absorb the key points. Busy high-level managers will either have their staff review and summarize it, or just discard it. In either case, an opportunity to directly communicate with a senior decision maker is lost.

[wpfilebase tag=fileurl id=3 linktext=’Jump Start: Arizona Biomass Assessment Project’ /]

Solar Today, January-February 2008 cover

I made this picture of the LED holiday lighting in downtown Fort Collins. It shows how efficiency can be beautiful and popular — as save money.