Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Hundredth Monkey

Where do we join the daunting process of transforming a fossil fuel addicted, artificial culture into a solar, sustainable one? Is each of us responsible to make changes or do we wait for the ‘hundredth monkey’ and total system change? Some would say we have to begin by changing our imagination since we cannot share a future we cannot visualize. We do seem to need a vision that can energize us to leave the Egyptian brickyards and lead us into a promised land. But vision alone has never guaranteed a generation won’t get lost in the wilderness. Then there are those who say, ‘just do it’. Do anything rather than wait for the herd mind to move us. Surely we need dreams and actions, but neither is the controlling factor in change. So where do we place our fulcrum and lever to shift the world.

If we find ourselves in one state or condition that we cannot pay for (read, sustain) and want to create another set of conditions, we begin a process known as transformation. In the transformative process, the limiting factor is finding extra accessible energy. Without a surplus, no change can occur at any level. You cannot ask a single mom supporting two kids to build a new house! She is in survival mode as surely as an African villager. But there are always surprising sources of extra energy available even if they are not perceived by those in a survival mode like most of us.

We must begin a transformation of our personal lives with some accounting of energy—its cost, availability, and form. Right now, we are totally dependent on fossil fuels. The end of this supply is drawing to a close and we are prepared to fight wars to ensure the supply. The real problem with our addiction is that our own technology will shortly choke us off. Oil industry analysts have warned that in the near future if will take a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of oil in the U.S. Then there is the expense that is measured in the cost of guarding supply lines, shown in military increases and possibly measuring near $500 a barrel.

We must learn to use new energy sources and save energy by recycling our waste on site. On our farm, we are capable of producing electricity from biogas (using grass clippings and manure in a digester), wind power from a 1 kw wind turbine on top of a 100-ft tower, and solar power from 8 PV panels.
We are by no means there yet, but we are traveling towards having at least one house powered totally by alternative power sources. During this transition, we are experimenting and seeing what works.

As we learn to conserve and cut expenses, however, we will slowly be able to convert to a sustainable compound powered by alternative energy sources

If all the major cities of the U.S. composted their solid waste, ten million acres of farmland could be organically fertilized—saving five tons of oil for every ton of artificial fertilizer. Since 1990, New York City alone puts out over 100 billion pounds of compostable garbage annually.
- Secrets of the Soil, Peter Thompkins and Chris Bird.

The choice of technology for cleaning up our environment is one place we can demonstrate the efficiency of natural systems over mechanical ones. What does it cost to plant and maintain a tree compared to a machine that has to work twenty-four hours a day for thirty years and cannot clean up after itself?
An acre of trees will
*Remove 2.6 tons of carbon from the air a year
*Trap and hold particulate pollutants like smoke and ask
*Produce enough oxygen in the process for eighteen people every day
*Absorb enough carbon dioxide each year to equal the amount an individual produces by driving 26,000 miles.
*Cut your electric bill by as much as 15% if you have large trees around the house.
- taken from an article by C.I, Baker in The Growing Edge Vol. 4 #4

Below is a set of plans for Meinel cusp, four power solar concentrator (click on the picture to enlarge it). It's a pre-heater for a hot water system. It should not be installed as the primary source of hot water.

Will it help you?
Check the solar band zone map to determine what percent of your water can be heated by the sun.
Can you build it?
Well, it took about 2 days of fooling around. You may write me for more detailed plans.
Why this kind of heater?
There are many types of solar heaters, but not many concentrators. Because of the shape of the arcs, you get four times the heat, and this one has the advantage of collecting rays from 180 degress as soon as the sun rises until sunset.
What's the downside to this thing?
It is heavy and bulky--not as clean looking as the plate collectors like the $1500 Copper Cricket, but for a backyard system, I don't think it can be beat.
How much does it cost?
We has a custom stainless steel tank made fora bout $160. The rest of the materials came to about $100 with stuff like R-19 insulation blanket in a double-walled box. The mylar reflector was only $ emergency blanket from K-Mart.

1 comment:

lowell said...

Hello Dan,

I met you many years ago, when you first met David Mckenzie. I was his sidekick when we first came to Kenya together.

Just dropping a note to say I am looking forward to meeting you again when you come to the HOPE thing in June.

I am fascinated by what you are doing, and deeply interested, as we have bought a piece of hillside in Japan ( where I live and work with HOPE) and are trying to model sustainability. Water harvesting, solar, etc, plus driving a old vehicle on recycled Tempura cooking oil and a prius (must confess a tad more convenient and comfortable. We are moving onto the property this summer and are are working through all kinds of issues to do with alterntative energy, what trees to plant, how to make the land productive etc.

In any case, I look forward to hearing what you have to say and gleaning what I can for our little project in the hills of Japan were we are trying to model something. YOu are much more advanced than us.

Lowell Sheppard