Posts tagged hydro

Celebrating Labor Day

What better topic for Labor Day than reduction of necessary labor by moving off the grid? When you make the decision to cut the power lines, you are making a contract with yourself: to do whatever labor is necessary to keep your alternative energy system running to provide your necessary power. Luckily, whether with solar, wind, or micro-hydro power, once you’ve invested in the initial construction phase, you’ve gotten a lot of that work out of the way and you can let nature take it from there.

However, all systems do require upkeep. Solar panels need dusting and readjusting, wind towers need tuning, and hydro systems must be cleared of debris.  This upkeep is one thing that turns a lot of people off about off-grid power. It SEEMS like a lot of work when one is addicted to simply having on-demand power by signing a check every month.  However, when you see the bigger picture of your energy consumption scheme, things make more sense.  The majority of the power generation in an off-grid system is generated by nature.  This is also true in a utility power generation system, but there, workers must transport the raw materials (usually coal) to the power generation site and physically feed the burners.  Between the labor costs of mining the materials and getting them to the power station, and then the labor required to string and maintain power lines to transport the electricity to you, you’ve racked up a lot of human capital for each kilowatt hour you consume.  By taking a pledge to do minimal maintenance on your own system, you are freeing up human capital for other tasks, like designing new generations of alternative energy delivery or other such noble tasks.  (I won’t expound on humanity’s likelihood for picking such noble professions over, say, sleeping on the couch on a holiday like today.  There are limits – enjoy your time off!)

In fact, this discussion underlines a concept that interweaves into a lot of simple living theory.  In order to see your real savings, you should be able to see outside your own life to the greater good of our neighborhoods, nations, species, and planet. By investing a small amount of time, you can count yourself a philanthropist.  Go ahead, put it on your resume! After all, time is a luxury of which each of us only has so much.  You’ll probably find that you end up freeing more time by not having to work to pay certain bills than you will spend in upkeep.  In conclusion, if you want to save energy, your fellow man, and the planet all at once while building your karmic bank account, start planning a way to get off the grid today.  That way, by Labor Day next year, you might celebrate by DOING some labor for a change, instead of needing a break from your daily grind. Happy holiday!

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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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BOOK REVIEW: Power of the People

I just finished reading Power of the People: America’s New Energy Choices (2007), a nice short read about the history of, current usage of, and the future possibilities for energy consumption in the United States. At 188 pocket-sized pages, the book doesn’t take more than an afternoon to thumb through. This is thanks to the concise way in which Carol Sue Tombari explains things. She writes as though you’re sitting down together to share a nice salad lunch, not stuffy, not too complicated. But in the mix, she throws in a surprising amount of information about the current energy landscape. You see, Ms. Tombari knows what she’s talking about, after years working for both private and governmental authorities on the topic of energy. So when she talks about the ways in which power utilities fell victim to disincentives for innovation when they “reregulated” in the 1990s, you can bet she saw it happen from the front lines.

Power of the People

The book is divided into two main sections of two chapters each. First, you find out why all this is important anyway. What IS the energy crisis? Then on to Energy 101, a brief discussion of the current power generating technologies and what is already possible in terms of augmenting power load both at the personal and utility level. I learned a lot about how the utilities work (and why this model is outdated). The next main section focuses on the future. What will we have to do to survive the looming power shortage? In the first chapter, she outlines the different players in the energy system, and then discusses how each is challenged by setbacks, and suggests how that challenge will have to be overcome. The last chapter outlines the future and its many possibilities.

I really liked the format of the sections, in which each technology is presented in “the good”, “the bad”, and “the balance” sections. This allows you to get a clear overview of the limitations and promises without delving too deep into science. If you are looking to implement alternative energy solutions in your life but don’t know which one fits for you, I’d recommend this book heartily. If you already have a clear idea of what’s going on, you’ll still find a nicely written essay with interesting photocopy-friendly facts to quote.

The best audience for this book, however, are those who are looking for a way to change energy consumption on a societal level. Buried within the outlines of various technologies is an underlying cry – “Innovate!”, challenging readers to help find the solutions alternative energy implementation barriers. Only a few logistic issues separate most alternative technologies from gaining wide-spread acceptance. What is the power of the future? Could you be the mind to crack the riddle?

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zeroHouse – Making Your Home Work for You

Nice. No, really, everything about this concept is nice, from the idea, to the execution and the website. So nice that you’d better go check out the website for yourself, so I’m only going to provide one chart here as a teaser.

zeroHouse by Scott Specht

This house does it all. Collects water, uses high-capacity solar, makes its own compost, and looks amazing while doing it through your laptop. And you can construct one in under a weekend. How’s that for simple? It’s certainly inspiring.

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BOOK REVIEW: Power With Nature

Alternative Energy Solutions for Homeowners Updated
Power with Nature Second Edition: Alternative Energy Solutions for Homeowners Updated (this review is based upon the first edition, but hey, newer is better, right?
I picked up this book while on a “shopping spree” at the library and promptly set it aside. Which is a shame, because once I did pick up this book, I read it from cover to cover. And I would do it again, except that it’s a popular item at the library, and they want it back. The story starts with a fable, a little tale designed to lull your brain into thinking that you are reading for fun, not education. All the while, it’s filling you in on all the basic details and considerations you need when deciding of off-grid living is for you. And then, if that isn’t enough, the second section of the book backs up the fable with lots of practical examples and configurations for solar, wind, and mini-hydro projects that will save you money. And it’s not written in geek-speak. Thank you, Mr. Ewing!

Thanks to this book, I now have a much clearer idea of what my little solar panel will (and will not) do. Dreams of charging my computer with only this little panel and a battery seem a bit more distant, but the new opportunities and food for thought that were provided instead were well worth that disappointment. And here’s to finally understanding the difference between watts, amps, volts, and all that jazz, which is worth another college education, at least! I cannot recommend this book enough. In fact, I’m headed to the library right now to see if they have Rex Ewing’s newest off-grid living book: Crafting Log Homes Solar Style: An Inspiring Guide to Self-Sufficiency.

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2007: an Analysis of the Renewable Power Industry

Consider these facts, taken from the Renewables 2007 Global Status Report:

  • Renewable electricity generation capacity reached an estimated 240 gigawatts (GW) worldwide in 2007, an increase of 50 percent over 2004. Renewables represent 5 percent of global power capacity and 3.4 percent of global power generation. (Figures exclude large hydropower, which itself was 15 percent of global power generation.)

  • Renewable energy generated as much electric power worldwide in 2006 as one-quarter of the world’s nuclear power plants, not counting large hydropower. (And more than nuclear counting large hydropower.)

  • The largest component of renewables generation capacity is wind power, which grew by 28 percent worldwide in 2007 to reach an estimated 95 GW. Annual capacity additions increased even more: 40 percent higher in 2007 compared to 2006.

  • The fastest growing energy technology in the world is grid-connected solar photovoltaics (PV), with 50 percent annual increases in cumulative installed capacity in both 2006 and 2007, to an estimated 7.7 GW. This translates into 1.5 million homes with rooftop solar PV feeding into the grid worldwide.

  • Rooftop solar heat collectors provide hot water to nearly 50 million households worldwide, and space heating to a growing number of homes. Existing solar hot water/heating capacity increased by 19 percent in 2006 to reach 105 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) globally.

Alternative Energy is (very) ready for its time in the spotlight.  With the quick adoption rates that these numbers reflect, one can only wonder how long it will be until 50 or even 75% of our power could be renewable.

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