Energy. So much of life is about energy.........from electricity, fossil fuels, heat, food, hybrid, to vibrations, Qi, exercise, ecstasy, good health, etc. Its one of those things that we use a lot of without really knowing what it is, where it comes from, and what happens to it.
What is energy for you?
How do you engage with "energy"?
When you design for energy, what are key considerations?
I like the approach taken by my Tai Chi teacher in England. As we flow through the movements he questioned us, "what can we do less of?" We would explore how we can use less energy to do the same moves. Similarly in tea ceremony practice, the movements are about beauty and efficiency with as little waste as possible. Then there is aikido where I learned about how to redirect violent energy toward a constructive compassionate direction. I think these are important lessons for me, as I bring awareness of my daily movements and how I design my physical environment.
Below are some pictures and simple explanations from the energy tour that Doug and Sam Bullock ran during the PDC. I did not include our solar showers and various PV systems in this entry. Enjoy:)
The energy tour started with our beloved solar (boom) cart. I think this was a previous Pc (permaculture) Design Course project to give participants a basic understanding of the home solar electrical system. Free energy is captured on the solar panels and flows through a charge controller, volts/amps meter, a car-battery that runs a car stereo and speakers. All you need to do is plug your mp3 player or computer and bump that music.
We use the boom cart when we work in the gardens, in the kitchen, in the Aloha lodge for dance parties and movie nights. We are hoping to make a smaller and lighter version.....what else can we stack onto a solar boom cart? Maybe a mini fridge with beers and ice-cream? Switch that into a tea-water boiler for the winter. And some moving laser lights for late-nite dance parties.
Next on the tour is the solar dehydrator made of an old fridge painted black with a home-made solar heat collector. Air is sucked into the solar heat collector through vents on the bottom, then heated in a box painted black with a sealed glass lid. The hot air continues to rise to the bottom of the fridge unit and moves up until it exits through the chimney. It is essential to have the solar heat collector to be lower than the dehydrator in this type of design. There is a lot of resources online for you.
Our greenhouse is an excellent space for examples of energy use. Heat is an essential element in a green house and winter is the challenge/design opportunity in the Pacific North West. The gravel on the floor of the greenhouse acts as thermal mass that will absorb heat when the sun is out and radiate heat as the greenhouse cools. For the winter, we move our kitchen back into the greenhouse, so we are able to generate heat from our bodies, propane stove, and on-demand water heater for the sink. The sauna annexed to the greenhouse and the rocket stove water heater Doug is standing next to (for heating shower water), both release quite a bit of heat into the greenhouse. We are also making dehydrator racks for the sauna, so in the Fall when we have abundance of produce and much desire for the sauna, we can sauna then with the excess heat dry food.
The rocket stove above consists of two cylinders with water between (aka water jacket). The black color helps to heat water when the sun is out too. The silver object to the top left of the rocket stove is a hot water tank (with silver bubble wrap insulation). Its critical to locate the hot water tank above the rocket stove for the thermosiphon to work effectively.
Here is a brief description of rocket stoves,
"a rocket stove achieves efficient combustion of the fuel at a high temperature by ensuring that there is a good air draft into the fire, controlled use of fuel, complete combustion of volatiles, and efficient use of the resultant heat. It has been used for cooking purposes in many third-world locales (notably Rwandan refugee camps) as well as for space and water heating." (wikipedia) See below for a cob rocket stove for cooking.
Here is a demonstration of a thermosiphon, "a method of passive heat exchange based on natural convection which circulates liquid without the necessity of a mechanical pump." (wikipedia). The sun heats the water inside the black pipe (not covered by the tarp) that then flows into the top of the water tank as cool water exits the bottom of the water tank and travels down the slope to heat and recirculate. This is the mechanism for our 3 passive solar heated showers, rocket stove water heater, and solar dehydrator.
Think about how much these simple systems can save you on energy bills, and more importantly our consumption of fossil fuels that keep us dependent on some of the worst human rights abusing democracy-subverting organizations of the world.....energy corporations. Particularly the 6 oil supermajors: ExxonMobil (US), Royal Dutch Shell (Netherlands/UK), BP (UK), Chevron Corp.(US), Total SA (France), ConocoPhillips (US).
Large-scale energy independence is not only an essential step to restoring our life support system (the ecosystem), it would also be a great leap for building true democracy in a political system that continues to be manipulated by financially and politically wealthy corporations.
Yeah, thermosiphoning passive solar water heaters for democracy!
One of the books that heavily influenced my perspective and direction in life is "The Party's Over: Oil, War, and the Fate of Industrial Societies" by Richard Heinberg. He writes very simply but with extensive research on extremely pertinent issues related to energy and ecology. From understanding the basics of what energy is, what electricity is, what the laws of thermodynamics are and why they matter in our everyday life, to how our energy use and production has evolved through human history. I really enjoyed his brief exploration of Western history looking at the rise and fall of empires through the lens of energy. He also does a sobering examination of alternative energies in context of our modern society and industry attempts to maintain control through centralized systems. It makes so much sense that by consuming less energy we would solve so many problems that plague us today, but then again consuming substantially less in a consumer culture is a big leap for many.
Energy independence is a revolutionary act.
Here's a demo of how much electricity this set of PV panels are producing. There are several sets of PV systems on the homestead that either keep our water pumps going or run our electricity demanding appliances, power tools, and charge batteries . I might go more in depth of the PV systems later but my understanding right now is quite basic.
For anybody wanting a project to learn about PV systems, you might start with an all DC solar music unit.
BONUS: a few more energy related technologies we use.
Cob rocket stove made from clay harvested from the site. Cob is basically a mix of clay, sand, straw, and water. We have 2 rockets stoves, a pizza/bread oven, and a bath shell made of cob on-site. Rocket stoves are easy to make, materials are cheap or free, you can use small-diameter fuel (e.g. twigs and wood scraps), and it produces efficient concentrated heat. There are lots of variations of this and its up to your imagination what you can do. For example, http://small-scale.net/yearofmud/2009/04/27/building-a-rocket-stove-part-2-cob-bed-and-bench/
The hay (Yeah!) box. This is an amazing technology that can be easily made. Its basically an insulated box that utilizes the heat of the food that is being cooked to continue the cooking process. Like grains and beans. Just bring to a boil and throw it in the box overnight and if you did it right, you will have hot cooked food by morning. We also make yogurt in the hay box.
This one looks like a plywood shell, a cardboard inner box, with random pieces of wool stuffed in between. The lid (top left) is heavy and is probably insulated in a similar fashion. We stuff an old wool sweater around the pot or yogurt jars and put a cotton cushion on top before closing the lid. The more insulation the longer the heat will be retained. As an added bonus, pressure cookers can also save energy by cooking food much faster.
More about energy in the future. On a final note for today, it is important to be aware of embodied energy, the energy consumed to produce, transport the product, and the energy costs to retire them. Basically accounting for energy needed for the entire life cycle of a product.