Generate electricity from killing flies! Or water your garden with CD’s.
Going off-grid takes a certain amount of ingenuity, and the willingness to explore the world and invent solutions to problems. Wallace & Gromit’s series, The World of Invention, encourages this mindset and really inspired us to think of new ways to meet our needs for electricity, irrigation, and hauling heavy items. The series is not so much the perfect, complete way to go off-grid, than it is a sounding board for ideas you’ve been brewing in the back of your mind. If you’re the garden shed inventor type, that puts you in the ranks of inventor Emily Cummins who created a refrigerator that runs without electricity when she was still in school. Meet inventors like Emily and learn more about some green inventions you can do at home with kids in this week’s issue of Making Ripples in The Free Weekly!
Here’s a video of how robots generate electricity by consuming dead flies. If you’d like to watch the Wallace & Gromit “World of Invention” series, and see another robot that uses flies to generate electricity (and fly paper to attract them by itself) then head down to the Fayetteville Public Library where it’s available for check-out.
I love animals, and recently discovered ways that pets can help us “go green”.
Check out the latest issue of the The Free Weekly for great articles on pets, including the latest Making Ripples column. Want more information about how hamsters can generate electricity? Here’s the link to a few videos explaining how the process works, including how a hamster wheel can charge your cell phone, and a hamster ball that can vacuum your carpeting. Amazing stuff! So how does this relate to Ripples’ work? We’re considering adding a bunny mower, aquaponics bed(s), hamster charging station and other animal-related features to our home, rather than simply keeping lots of pets without considering how they might help our mission to live a sustainable lifestyle. I’m sure it’s more fun to be in a bunny mower or running around the house in a hamster ball, than living in a small cage in the basement. These green changes can improve the quality of life of our pets, too!
An introduction to killing watts with this fun toy!
This week’s issue of The Free Weekly (which came out last Thursday, sorry for the delay) is worth a look. If you haven’t used one before, Making Ripples column talks about using a Kill-a-Watt meter to reduce energy consumption from entertainment appliances like the TV and video games.
Hey all, this is Ryan finally hoppin’ in here to add some detail to this post. Measuring appliance energy consumption can be tricky. The easiest appliances are those that pull a steady amount of power as long as they’re plugged in. These include things like TVs, stereos, and other items that are not pulling energy to simultaneously power the device and charge a battery – they run, pure and simple, on wall power while powered on. However, as you’ve probably heard, these devices also usually draw energy while powered off, to maintain various internal functions like clocks, “instant turn on” functions, and other things. This is often know as a device’s “phantom pull,” though I’ve also heard it called “vampire power.”
The more intriguing appliances include refrigerators, laptops, and other devices that draw power sporadically or consume varying levels of energy depending on at what stage in the recharge cycle their batteries happen to be.
Our old apartment was 100% electric, meaning that not a single appliance used gas or any other form of energy. By watching the movements of the meter, I could determine that we would use, when we avoided using the heating/cooling wall unit, between 3.0 and 4.5 kWh of energy per day. This apartment provides a more useful comparison to the kind of living conditions we’ll have in the off-grid earthbag house.
That all said, let’s look at a few of our devices:
Our “entertainment center,” which consists of an ancient 13″ CRT television, DVD player, and VCR (which mostly just acts as an RF modulator for the DVD player) varies between 60 – 80 watts while fully powered on, and has a phantom pull of 13 watts when everything is powered off but the power strip remains active. This series of devices would leach nearly 1/3 of a kWh every day if we didn’t turn off our power strip when finished with it.
Our refrigerator uses 13o watts while running, and the frequency it kicks on depends on how often it’s opened, how good the seals are, how much/little is inside of it (actually having more is better since the items inside store and radiate cold, which helps modulate the internal temperature), how hot it is in the house, and how clogged the air intake filters are. On average, during a warm day, ours would run for about 16 hours per 24-hour period. This equals just over 2 kWh of power consumed. This actually accounted for, generally, more than half of the power we would use day to day.
In our old apartment, we used to have an electric stove. Classically, converting electric power to heat is one of the most inefficient ways to use it. Every bit of heat you feel radiate off of something hot is “lost” power, which is not being channeled into your food. This is why one coil on an electric range uses 1000 watts, a full kilowatt of power at all times while active.
In the same vein, our old heating/cooling unit would use 6,000 watts of power, which blew my mind so much that we made every effort (most of them involving shivering like crazy) to avoid using it. That used to floor me until my dad told me about the industrial-strength heating units hanging from the ceilings of some parking garages. Each unit, spaced about 20-feet apart, and totaling perhaps 50 or more for the whole garage, used between 20,000 and 30,000 watts. EACH UNIT! This is 1,000 and 1,500 kilowatts of power, which would consume 1.0 to 1.5 MEGAWATTS of power every hour. I am humbled, and slightly sickened, I must admit.
Our various laptops use anywhere from 25 – 75 watts of power. The netbook, from ASUS, uses the least, charging at around 40 watts to start, decreasing to 10 when the battery is almost full. When shopping computers, I always look for the EPEAT designation, which means the device is made with many environmental considerations in mind.
And that’s just a snapshot. If you’re curious about anything else, just let us know!
The light bulb came on above my head while watching this film.
Solar Mamas was presented to a small Fayetteville Public Library audience at 2:00 this afternoon. It showed how the Barefoot College in India is training women to become solar engineers. I watched it like I have viewed many documentaries, but in this unusual case I realized just how much Ripples has changed the way I engage with new information. I didn’t want to donate money to the impoverished people on the screen; rather, I wanted to pay them to teach me their skills. View full article »
Have fun with solar lights, jack-o-lanterns and candles!
The Free Weekly’s out today, and as some of you may already know if you’ve read Ripples’ latest column, I just carved my first jack-o-lantern! This experience was unexpectedly scintillating. I was jump-for-joy excited to find this rainbow, medium-sized pumpkin at the Farmer’s Market, but then to look inside of it and hollow it out, then watch it glowing while our living room began to smell like pumpkin pie…words cannot express. Today we roasted the pumpkin seeds from inside our jack-o-lantern, and flavored them with vegan butter, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper. Here’s a photo slideshow to share our experience with you, and a link to the National Wildlife Federation where you can learn about making snack-o-lanterns for your backyard wildlife as a way to recycle your used jack-o-lanterns!
As Ryan & I decide on our best choice for transportation to & from our Ripples homestead in the future, we have many factors to consider. The midwest isn’t necessarily the best place to own an electric vehicle, for one thing. This infographic from CarInsurance.org fascinated me, and pushed me further in the direction of starting a car or truck co-operative among friends to share costs and avoid owning a personal vehicle that wouldn’t be used as often. What do you think? View full article »
Check out these additional earthbag building resources!
The latest issue of The Free Weekly is out today, and Ripples’ column talks about our earthbag home design and why we’re building an earthbag home. Read the latest issue here, and enjoy these extra resources on building with earthbags –
Recommended Reading & Viewing:
Basic Earthbag Building: A Step-by-Step Guide, Owen Geiger, DVD.
Earthbag Building Guide, (engineer approved) Owen Geiger, 2011.
Earthbag Building: The Tools, Tricks & Techniques, Kaki Hunter & Donald Kiffmeyer, 2004.
What do you use to light your home without electricity? I’ve seen some people use candles, or solar lanterns, or strings of paper lights powered by the sun during daytime. Has anyone tried using glass jars with candles? I was totally impressed with this idea and plan on trying it. I haven’t yet figured out how to attach the metal chain through the lid, but assume there are alternative options. This is such a cool idea to light the way without harming our relatives and friends in Appalachia via mountaintop removal. But don’t get me started on candle types. Some candles are more harmful to the world than others, and I tend to purchase soy wax, beeswax, or all natural candles. Do you have any alternative lighting tips? Share with us!