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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Green Energy - is there an economical way to get in on it?

The simplest way would be to sign up for a program through your energy company if you have one similar to ours in Wisconsin, called "Energy For Tomorrow." This program allows me to decide any percentage I want of my energy payment to be allocated to Green technology, such as solar, wind turbine and others.

This kind of program allows the energy company to do the work of deciding what is the most efficient use of Green dollar investment, and can use the combined money of many energy users to create capacity and build infrastructure that a single energy user could not.

You can advocate for your state to develop a program like this one if you don't already have something like it.

I like to think of Green energy in this way;
you can see your property as a single "unit." Everything coming onto your property is the "inputs" and everything leaving is the "output."

The money you make working determines any variations to the natural inputs and outputs, and you get to decide how to use your dollars to "vote" for what you want to influence in the economy. If you spend your money on an apple grown two states away with lots of agricultural inputs (like pesticides and artificial fertilizers) then you are "promoting" this type of business and trade. If you plant an apple tree, you get apples that 1. don't need to be transported from 2 states away, 2. don't need chemistry to help them to grow in a large scale monoculture (unless you apply it to your own apple tree.)

So, (inputs) your property gets sunlight, rainwater, ground water, wind and can grow things native to that area with little help. If the property was undeveloped and you just lived there under a tree and only ate what grew there, you would have the lowest possible carbon footprint, provided you didn't cut down all the trees for firewood and changed the ecosystem entirely. You could burn a dead tree, cut a few living trees but keep planting others, in other words, manage the ecosystem to keep it somewhat stable while including your presence. (Just like the other animals.)

As output, its everything you leave to others to deal with. Ideally, you minimize this as much as possible. You can produce energy for your neighbors by using your property to generate some kind of energy, and also gain income from this. Here, sustainability is the key. If you simply move in and cut down all the trees, dig up all the coal under the ground, drain the oil, and sell whatever can be sold, like the rocks (a quarry), the topsoil, and capture/kill the animals on it, then this is all non-renewable, because when its gone, its gone. If you generate pollution and waste that needs to be dealt with by your community through a municipal dump (storage), or air or water pollution, you are putting costs onto the community, as well as the environment. This includes if you produce food using toxins that later have health repercussions on others (your farm workers, those consuming your product, yourself and family.)

My local co-op has a zero garbage challenge. The idea is to commit to a certain period of time where you produce zero garbage that goes into a landfill. This is a fun exercise to try. Its very "eye opening."

You first carefully purchase only things that have minimal residual garbage left after its use. You use up the product to the end of its practical "lifespan." Then you re-use whatever you can that isn't used up. Then you recycle everything possible out of that. You compost anything that can be composted. What's left is your "garbage footprint." Some manufacturers will take back their products after its use and apply their resources to recycling or safely disposing of it. (For example, I know of a carpet manufacturer that takes back all of its used carpeting.) I got my output down to 1/5 what it was formerly, just by being conscious of what I was actually throwing away, and not buying things that I then would need to throw away.

Examples of sustainable outputs are energy generated through wind, solar, water and creative power. Food crops are sustainable if you take back the compost from your customers in some fashion (directly or indirectly.) Wind power is mostly sustainable if you re-use or recycle the turbines, minimise the impact on birds, ect. Water power is somewhat sustainable if you are careful to not block the entire waterway and prevent fish migration. As in a water wheel to power carpentry tools or for grinding grain used to be. Crafts you make can bring in cloth from others, that you make into a quilt, for instance, adding value to the materials, and sending the cloth input back out as a useful product, but making sure not to generate toxic waste during the production. Shipping your products very far away would not be as sustainable as selling them locally to your community.

I think there are many green things that people used to do that could be done again easily, but I think they simply went out of fashion.

For instance, my grandmother put all her laundry outside to dry in the sun. The sheets always smelled so good. She had a dryer, but preferred to line dry most of her laundry for this reason. The UV rays also provides some disinfection function. In my suburban neighborhood, you aren't allowed to line dry clothing because of the perception that it looks "tacky." I think it looks homey and sweet.

People used to compost everything. Pigs and chickens got a lot of it, and the rest helped the vegetable garden grow. The pigs and chickens "outputs" also contributed to the vegetable garden. You can buy nightcrawlers very cheap to use to turn kitchen scraps to top grade humus in a very small space -- a bin under the sink, in the garage, or in the basement. If you could have a "gentleman's farm" in your area, you could own a goat, which cut the grass for you, and get the side benefit of goat's milk. There is this cool, moveable chicken shed that houses a few chickens. When the chickens have left enough fertilizer on the ground (through the chicken mesh floor) the chicken coop is moved to another garden spot. The chickens eat the extra bugs.

Most homes had a cistern. They collected rainwater from what fell on the roof to use in doing laundry, housecleaning, watering the garden. You can buy large plastic rain barrels in my village from the township at cost and attach them to your downspouts, which lessens the amount of rainwater that ends up in our over-burdened sewer system. We have a local artist who paints them with interesting designs if you want that.

Almost everybody had a small kitchen garden, right outside the back door, where the cook could grab fresh herbs and salad fixings every evening, (lessening the need for taking vitamins -- most of the vitamins in fresh vegetables evaporate within hours, even refrigerated.) This lessens the need for refrigeration.

Most everyone had a root cellar, which was like a free refrigerator. In my area, the weather is cold enough most of the year to allow us to not need to use a freezer at all, yet everyone in our neighborhood has freezers that they pay to run all winter inside their heated homes. What a waste.

In girl scouts, (well, my church called it "Rangerettes") we learned to cook using the sun with reflectors. Lots of people used the sun to dry foods, which is probably the most natural preservative that exists. Saving a lot of chemical exposure.

Houses used to have very tall windows, with vents at the top. They used sun roofs, to get as much daylight and ventilation as possible, and many workplaces didn't even have artificial lighting. People went to sleep when the sun was down, and woke up when the sun came up, mostly. There is a lot of natural ventilation that is possible just from designing a home with the local breezes and topography in mind.

You can plant deciduous trees on the south side of your house for shade in the summer (trees that drop their leaves in the fall) and evergreens to the north for protection from the wind in the winter. You can change the temperature of your home up to 10 degrees this way. You can use a system of extremely fine mist to cool your patio without any fancy equipment, just using the natural cooling action of evaporation.

People used to travel "up north" in the summer, and go south for the winter, having two smaller homes instead of one large one.

People used to "use things up" instead of replacing them so quickly. They passed clothing from one person to another, some pieces becoming heirlooms. I have my grandmother's apron and wear it proudly. I have another grandparent's cast iron skillets (which will never be used up -- they will outlast me and four more generations...)

I make coffee and tea with a Melior pot. Also called a French Press. You put loose tea or ground coffee in it, pour boiling water in it, and use the press's filter when its ready to serve. No electricity required, and mine is so well made, it looks like new and is 12 years old. No waste, no paper filter is required, although you can add one for more refinement, but the ones that fit the melior are half the size of the other drip kind.

My favorite idea, that I hope someone will do someday, is to make gym equipment generate electricity. I went 3 miles on the eliptical trainer at my gym and I wish I could have converted that chemical energy into electricity to run the radio I was listening to. We all eat way too much (costing us energy in more ways than one) and then run like hamsters to work it off, producing nothing valuable with all that physical energy.

There is someone who invented a speed bump that generates electricity for a street light. Perhaps we can have stairways that move slightly each time we step on them, operating something else (a well water pump, for instance.) We have so much inventiveness, its a shame we have spent so many generations inventing things to use up fossilized energy so we can sell more of it to each other, instead of finding ways to get things done on site without having to sell or transport energy from one place to another. Sometimes the simplest and the low tech/high inventiveness solutions are the best.

A NASA engineer designed a sewage system that takes what comes out of a typical bathroom, runs it through a greenhouse, and produces clean water for a pond behind his house that he stocks with fish.

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