Tag Archives: solar

Permaculture Principle 2: Catch and Store Energy

I love this principle because it fits with my belief that we should look at every building and bit of land as having the potential to fulfill multiple functions and that each function should be maximized together as a system, not maximizing one discrete function at the expense of others.

For example, this house and yard are not just a place to house people and store things, but can also be a space to:

  • Create energy (or reduce energy use through good design)
  • Collect and store rainwater for later use
  • Move rainwater down to the soil and not into the storm sewer
  • Grow food for people, for pollinators, for critters
  • Promote learning
  • Heal people
  • Connect people and create community
  • Create beauty and appreciation for nature

Some would say that a green lawn is beautiful and that is its function. My personal belief is that beauty is not sufficient unto itself but that it should be part of each and every function mentioned above. Beauty and function should both inform the ends to which we hope to arrive.

So how does this principle of storing energy inform our decision making? We start by identifying where energy exists in our landscape and then look at ways we can capture it.

This is a simple, portable solar cooker.

This is a simple, portable solar cooker.

The Sun: Our solar panels collect sunlight and convert it to electricity, but there are a lot of less expensive or zero-expense ways to use the sun’s energy. We use solar lights in the garden and on our front porch to bring a bit of enchantment and illumination to the evening. For example, solar heating:

  • While we use solar hot air panels on the side of our house to collect heat from the winter sun, any house with a south-facing window can benefit from passive solar heat gain.
  • You can use the sun to make sun tea in a large glass jar or to cook food with a homemade solar oven.
  • You can dry herbs, berries, fruits and veggies with a solar dehydrator (or the back window of a car).
  • You can heat water either with panels for solar water heating or for camp showers. (Check out this kickstarter for a cool on-the-go hot water heater.)
  • You can build a greenhouse or cloche to capture solar heat and extend your growing season.

Wind power: A small wind turbine can generate electricity for home or garden use (if it’s not illegal in your area). A row of tall trees can “catch” wind and store it to prevent it from reaching your home or yard.

Biomass: Compost provides a lot of heat at certain times of the year. Our grape vines are planted near the compost, which keeps their roots warmer. I don’t know if that’s good for them but the ones by the compost are twice as tall as the one’s next to them that aren’t by the compost. Of course, little critters also know it’s a warm space and it’s not unusual for a mouse to jump out when we turn it over in the spring.

Biomass-intensive landscaping can also be used to store water in drought-prone areas. Swales and berms can direct the flow of water.

Food is energy, too. We can preserve food using the natural enzymatic process of fermentation. One permaculture website I read talked about the energy of milk being captured and stored by cheese. I’d never thought of it that way, but I quite like that idea.

Personal Permaculture: The Big Picture

Permaculture principles can also be applied in our lives and the folks in the Transition Longfellow Saturday group had lots of ideas for how to capture personal energy when we have it so we don’t need to expend it when we’re tired.

  • Prepare food in advance and put it in the freezer for quick reheating.
  • Get work ready the night before. Set out your clothes in advance.
  • From the women with chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, don’t put things off until tomorrow if you have the energy to do it today.
  • Work with your personal energy pattern (whenever possible). Plan to get things done during the time of day when you feel most alert and then rest.

Money is another form of energy. It can bring growth or stagnation, depending on how it is used or hoarded. For example:

  • Money spent at a local business rather than a chain store stays in the local community and is reused many more times, creating a lot more economic activity. Money spent at a chain store typically leaves the community.
  • Money deposited in a community bank is used to lend money in the community, building even more economic activity. Money deposited at national – too big to fail – banks may actually become a drain in the community, especially if that bank is responsible for a large number of foreclosures in your area.

The Three Actions Project Begins

In an effort to jump-start our 2012 challenge goal of becoming a zero-waste household, we’ve become part of the Three Actions project. The three ACTIONS Project is a community-action program designed to “support individuals in developing sustainable lifestyle habits and to capture individual experiences to inform greater change in community services, design, and public policy.”

We heard about the program through the Alliance for Sustainability. We checked out the website, and especially the menu of actions, and we liked the structured approach. If you click on each action, it provides information and a series of worksheets to help you develop a baseline and track your progress.

Together we’ve chosen to:

  • Eliminate all waste (our original goal for 2012)
  • Reduce our plug usage by 33%

Leslie has also chosen to eliminate food spoilage and waste (think garden produce) and Peter has chosen to live within his water budget.

We haven’t finished week 1 (baseline measurements) but so far we’re having a bit of trouble getting our heads around measuring. Waste and food waste haven’t been hard, but understanding how much rainwater falls on our house (natural water budget) was difficult. And we haven’t finished filling out the forms to understand electrical usage for each appliance. But we’re plugging away.

Let’s see what we can do in the next 60 days.

May 21 Events: Book Group, Boat Race, Dome Tour

It’s 50 and raining today but let’s hope next weekend is GREAT because there are a lot of interesting things happening – all on Saturday the 21st!

First the plug – the Longfellow Sustainability Book Group meets next Saturday from 10:30 to noon at Peace Coffee. We’re reading section 2 of the Transition Handbook – the part on The Heart. Don’t worry if you haven’t read it yet, just show up to listen and discuss.

Plant stuff: If you joined the Southside Food Hub, there is another plant pickup starting at 10 am at Powderhorn Park. If you signed up for trees at the city sale, you can pick up your tree between 7 am and 3 pm at the Minneapolis Impound Lot. And the Longfellow Garden Group plant swap from 11 am to 1:30 pm at Sanford Junior High, west parking lot.

Suffering a solar let-down now that the Living Green Expo is done? Check out the Solar Boat Regatta at Lake Phalen in St. Paul. Sponsored by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society, the boat builders include middle school and high school students, as well as individual inventors. Races start at 10 am and continue into the afternoon.

If you’re up for a road trip and have always wondered what goes on inside a dome home, there is a tour of dome homes, new and old, ranging from 1 & 2 bedrooms to large 4 & 5 bedroom homes. The tour is free but you do need to pre-register at Natural Spaces Domes.

Did I miss something? Add it in the comments below.

Sustainable Shelter and Food Activities Around Town

There are oh so many activities coming up in the next few weeks for folks interested in sustainable, green living. Here are a few you might want to visit.

Bell Museum of Natural History (until July 17, 2011):  An exhibit on sustainable shelter “reveals innovative new building technologies and strategies that can help restore the health and viability of natural cycles.” It looks at energy systems, the life cycle of building materials, an inside view of wall systems, household water systems, and more.

Speaking of shelter, check out the Minneapolis/St. Paul Home Tour, this Saturday and Sunday, April 30 and May 1. More than 50 “ordinary people” type homes will be on display. The online guide lets you find homes with solar or green features (the list is long).

Thinking of going solar at your home? Remember, there is a Community Solar Educational Workshop at Matthews Park on Monday, May 2, from 6:30 pm-8:30 pm. Speakers will highlight a Solar Hot Water/Air Heat Bulk Purchase Program.

Can’t wait to get your hands dirty in the garden (hoping it won’t snow again)? There are opportunities for plant buying and plant exchange galore.

  • Consider a membership (only $10) in the Southside Local Food Resource Hub. Seeds and seedlings will be distributed this Saturday. You can join at the event.
  • Friends School Plant Sale is on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 6, 7 and 8, at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand. Nearly 2,300 varieties of plants will be available — at least for the first half hour :). Note that there will be a class on making cold frames for your garden.
  • Dowling Garden Plant Sale on May 14th from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Dowling Community Garden at 39th Street and 46th Avenue South. This sale benefits the community garden.
  • Longfellow Garden Club Plant Swap on Saturday, May 21,  from 11 am  to 1:30 pm, at the Sanford Jr High west parking lot. Bring plants to swap. If you don’t have any, make a small donation to the Club’s Speaker Fund.

Introducing Our Energy Consultant: Ralph Jacobson

I don’t understand the basics of electricity, much less sustainable energy use so I’ve asked for help. My friend Ralph Jacobson, CEO of Innovative Power Systems, has come on board as our blog’s energy expert. He’ll be helping me understand what those numbers are on the killawatt measuring tool, what that number means if we were to try to use a renewable energy source to reach it, and some tradeoffs we can make

Ralph Jacobson, energy consultant

Ralph Jacobson, president of Innovative Power Systems

Innovative Power Systems designs, installs and services solar electric, wind electric, and solar thermal systems for residential and commercial projects.  The company is NABCEP certified for solar electric and solar thermal. They’ve installed hundreds of solar energy systems since 1991, when Ralph founded IPS.

Ralph is a board member of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society and President of the Minnesota Solar Energy Industries Association (MnSEIA). He works with legislators, regulators and utilities to craft renewable energy incentives and regulations.

Ralph teaches solar and energy-related classes at Century College that are open to anyone. Check out the class schedule at the Minnesota Renewable Energy  Society website. He’s got a class this month on photovoltaics and one on solar water heating.

While he was at our house getting this not-very-good photo taken, we pulled out last month’s electric bill. At 22.3 killawatt hours of energy use per day (759 for the month), Ralph tells us we are an average American household. We have plenty of room for improvement.