What have I learned from going green?
Herb’s Thoughts on Going Green—First page Second page
This morning I went out to water the garden and check the power system. The garden continues to thrive and it is clear that I will have to do a special section on the zucchini that ate the garden (it looks like I will have great abundance from squash and zucchini). Our strawberries are near the end of their season and I have numerous vegetables on their way to maturity.
Over coffee with Barbara, I reflected on what I have learned and the way my thinking about the environment has changed. As I noted earlier, I was originally of the mindset to simply let others do the “green thing” while I went about my life. I can now see that this was not socially or environmentally responsible. While still maintaining my conservative political views, I have embraced the need for a more green policy with respect to conservation of natural resources.
I had conducted enough research to conclude that an individual contribution to the reduction in energy consumption was an environmentally conscious thing to do. After building the solar system and the wind turbine, I was also mindful that even small contributions could make a difference, and I no longer looked upon our endeavor as insignificant. While I now generate and conserve energy on a small scale, I feel an obligation to also voice my opinions on conservation and share what I have learned.
I found, during my research, that there are many who profess knowledge but few who have actually done anything. Those that have built and installed energy systems are a fountain of knowledge that I admire. I am therefore going to share what I have learned in the hope that it will help others and perhaps inspire a few to also follow the path of going green.
Energy System costs – present and future:
We are not a wealthy couple, at least by American standards. We live within our income so it was necessary to undertake this project on a budget. Unlike other articles that I read about people spending $20,000 to install a solar and wind system, I wanted to do mine using skills, research and a minimum of money to achieve the goal. My original goal was to do the whole system solar and wind) for about $1,000.00 and to not have to spend it all at once. I almost made it.
The expenses for our system were:
While I plan to add a vertical axis wind turbine, some additional solar cells to an existing panel, an Arduino microprocessor for monitoring ($33.00) and an improved interconnect system on the roof, the additional expenses should be under $250.00 because I have most of the parts on hand. The VAWT wind turbine will be in addition to the horizontal one I now have installed so we will have two wind turbines on the roof when I am done.
Once I am able to acquire some additional batteries, (I would like to get an additional 6 so I have about 1000 amp hours of capacity) I will update the solar charger to a higher amperage model, add two additional solar panels to bring the peak solar day current up to between 15 and 18 amps. The vertical axis wind turbine output is unknown at the moment but I have a hope for 2 to 4 amps of DC. The theoretical output for the present horizontal wind turbine, on a moderate wind day, is about 6 to 8 amps. Therefore, I project that wind will generate 8 to 12 additional amps of charge current. The costs of the additions, solar panels, larger charge regulator and mounting hardware, is expected to about two thirds of the initial investment and will bring the total investment in power to a bit under $2,000.00.
With this configuration, I want to be able to run more of the lights in the house, the bedroom (air conditioner, fan, TV and satellite box), and the office (ham station and computers). The goal will be to reduce our summer power consumption in half. If I am able to do this, I will be able to pay for the system by this time next year (2009).
As a first start in our efforts to go green, in addition to generating part of our power, we have shifted to compact fluorescent light bulbs (“CFL’s”) based on this quote and others like it:
“Lighting accounts for close to 20% of the average home’s electric bill. Changing to CFLs costs little upfront and provides a quick return on investment. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified CFL, it would save enough energy to light more than three million homes and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those of more than 800,000 cars annually. “
This was from the Ohio EPA site and it is, I believe, valuable because it shows the need for each of us to do something to help our energy consumption as a nation. When I learned that Australia will ban incandescent bulbs after 2010, I began to understand the bigger global picture concerning energy consumption.
We’ve added a small Kenmore energy efficient air conditioner in the bedroom, and at night, turn our central air up to 85 degrees, and use a fan and air-conditioner (on low power) to keep us and the dogs cool at night. We also have a programmable thermostat that helps us to keep the temperature constant.
As an individual, I could make a small investment in time to change lights and shut down phantom power loads that would be part of a much larger savings in energy consumption. In addition I found that even a small solar/wind system can make a contribution to reducing consumption and can achieve a payback for the owner in a short period of time.
Until I met Barbara, my idea of recycling was using a plastic cup more than once before throwing it into the garbage. When Barbara and I married, it became a mandate that I recycle or Barbara let me know about it. I had to learn what could be recycled and what couldn’t. When the City of Dallas began an urban recycling program, it became a lot easier. Now our recycling versus garbage is about 4:1. We also have a compost site in the backyard, so we recycle a majority of our food waste through our composting.
Use of non-toxic cleaning supplies
Part of our social consciousness with respect to the environment is moving more to non-toxic cleaning supplies and hygiene items that do not harm the environment.
The addition of a garden, even on our residential lot, has not only provided me with a sense of pride I had not expected but has opened us to eating organic vegetables. While it took me a year to come up with a solution to the “critter” problem, I found that the investment in a solar powered electric fence from Home Depot will do the trick. While it lacks the aesthetic value I might like in a back yard garden, it is very functional, requires no additional power and is maintenance free.
Parenthetical note: Barbara, while sitting on the porch one afternoon, noted a squirrel starting to climb the chicken wire fence around the vegetable garden. The squirrel placed one paw on the fence, receive a jolt and took off for parts unknown. We have not been bothered since.
From our project of going green I have learned:
· If you have a lot of money, going green becomes infinitely easier and most commercial publications (e.g. “Mother Earth News”) are geared toward socially conscious individuals who are wealthy. If you must do it on a budget, it takes a great deal of research, perspiration, and man hours, but it’s worth every minute I’ve poured into our projects.
· Earth boxes, (plans are available from several places on the net) made for about $4.00 each, can provide a garden when setting up raised beds is not an option.
· Pot gardens can grow things just as well as planting them in the soil. They do require more attention but they work for balconies, patios, decks and small back yards. – anyone can make a small contribution. You don’t have to start big.
· using treated fence boards from Home Depot and 8 deck screws can make a raised bed enclosure for about $6.00.
· a four-pronged fork can turn over the soil if you add some muscle power to it. Not only do you get exercise but satisfaction from “digging in the dirt”.
· growing organic vegetables from high quality non-hybrid seeds is far cheaper than buying vegetables in the grocery store. If you purchase organic vegetables in plant form it is as expensive, if not more so, than buying conventional vegetables in the grocery store.
· drying herbs and some vegetables is cheap and healthy. (next step is to use the solar system to power the dryer and further reduce our grid consumption) – I also found that garage sales are a wonderful source of Ball canning jars that I use to store my dried vegetables in.
· how delightful it is to have fresh strawberries from the garden and that a dinner salad made with organic vegetables and herbs you have grown has a much nicer taste to it.
· that to effectively water a small garden a dedicated drip water system is the most efficient and economical way to do it. (my first system used a soaker hose from Home Depot).
· with any garden you need to plan ahead on how to store the vegetables you are growing because it is likely there will be a lot of them. Freezing, canning or drying are the choices so planning a garden is only the first step. Storing it for later use is the key to being successful. – the idea is sort of like pioneer days where you harvested and stored for the winter.
· 75% of the dead batteries we throw away die because of sulfication and that by using a PulseTech PWM charger they can be brought back to a useful and productive life. (it is not as easy as it may sound but it does work)
· building your own solar panels, while fun, is likely not the best way to set up a solar system. It is less expensive but some of the drawbacks are that the cells break as you are doing the assembly and other break because of heat. The construction required is not difficult but some additional planning is necessary. Mine are heavy and heat has warped the plexiglas cover. The output is near to what is the theoretical maximum, but it is clear that I need to improve the mounting and sun tracking aspects of the system to make better use of it.
· trees are a real challenge in choosing a location for the solar panels. Shade from a neighbor’s tree was not even considered a problem until I mounted the panels and could see how it did cause a problem. (do a real site survey and consider what the site will look like all through the solar day)
· a wind generator in an urban environment is not going to function well because the trees take all of the energy from the wind. While I built a horizontal axis wind turbine (HAWT), I am going to experiment with a vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) to see if it can overcome some of the site limitations. As it responds to wind from any direction, and it has a slower rotation speed, it should, in theory anyway, produce some useable power from the available winds I have to contend with.
· when you purchase a PM motor for a wind turbine on E-bay there is always a bit of guesswork and that it is best (read cheaper in the end) to go to a source that has experience in building wind turbines.
· to effectively evaluate any energy system it is necessary to have a methodology for monitoring and recording data. Without a monitoring system, there is no way to know how well the installation is performing.
As the experience of conserving energy and gardening have been an epiphany for me, it is difficult to describe the myriad of feelings that have surfaced during the process. First and foremost, I have a clear understanding of the need for every individual to make a contribution to the conservation of energy and it is hoped that this site will influence at least one person to take up the call to arms. I now know that collectively we can make a difference.
Helpful Websites and Reference Material:
The sites listed are just five of the ones I read when constructing the solar system and the wind turbine. The link to the back shed is particularly interesting as Glenn has provided a lot of practical, hand-on, construction information on his projects. The last one is a series of links to many very helpful sites.
Herb & Barbara our interests and family