Tuesday, September 6, 2011

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A collection by Neal McKenna 

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Image Via Redrock On Air
Getting Off the Grid
— by Neal McKenna © 
It has happened before and now it’s happened again. You wake up and you know you’ve overslept because it shouldn’t be this bright at 6:00 a.m. The face of the clock radio is dark and even though the sun is shining brightly, you are in the dark too. It may be 2011 but it’s 2007 and '08 all over again. Rolling blackouts are back and your neighbourhood has lost the draw again! It’s the perfect start for a bad day. Sadly, between now and 2016, this is less a prediction and more of a fact of what our future life will be in South Africa.  
As of this moment, Eskom is scarcely keeping up with power demand which steadily continues to grow. South Africa’s electricity supplier, in its own inefficient way, struggles to maintain the status quo even though it is obviously a moving target. Environmental impact aside, poor quality coal – and the lack of it – makes wide-spread blackouts a near certainty. So what are we to do? Sit in the dark and live in fond memory of brighter days in the past? Not likely! It’s time to get off the grid and generate your own electricity.
But not so fast! Alternative power generation tends to be pricey. Solar power panels are horrifically expensive and a typical home gobbles energy like an escapee from a fat farm snarfles fudge brownies. Even if you cut electric consumption by converting to gas for hot water, home heating and cooking, a family household remains an energy glutton.
Earth 4 Energy
Image Via Max Updates
With solar cells providing juice for the refrigerator/freezer, lights, compute­rs, small appliances TVs and stereo equipment you would need 600 watts per hour. Now, don’t even think about an air conditioner. That means your daily consumption soars to 14,400 watt-hours every 24 hours.
On the other side of the equation, it would take 26 square meters of solar panels to produce this much electricity and would set you back more than R110,000.  And because the sun only shines for part of the day, you would also need to buy an inverter/battery pack to store energy for night time use, so you can double the price. That’s why you don’t see much solar power activity in the city. The grid, even with its price hikes, is cheaper by far.
And why are solar panels so expensive? Well a good part of the steep price is because nearly half the silicon used in them is wasted, ending up as dust on the shop floor when they are cut. However, that’s about to change. A team at Caltech, headed by chemist, Harry Atwater, are currently “growing” silicon microwires and coating them with light-absorbing materials which are then embedded in a clear polymer with a reflective backing.
These wire arrays require only one percent of the silicon presently used in the production of standard solar panels and are flexible so they can be applied to roof tiles or curtain walls. “They have the photovoltaic properties of conventional solar cells,” says Atwater, “but have the mechanical properties of a plastic bag.” Unfortunately, this technology is still in its infancy and may take years before it is available to the public.
What about wind power? Well, that’s more practical but if you live in the urbs or the ‘burbs and already have grid power, commercially-installed windmill packages including a tower will generally be cost prohibitive. Instead, you’d be better off to buy an inverter-charger system with hefty deep cycle batteries. This will provide power automatically during load shedding for lights, TV, computers and so-on. There is no need to run the fridge or freezer for a 3-4 hour power cut so pull the plugs on those. Just remember to plug them in again once regular service resumes.
Image Via Offroader.Com
But, you don’t have to entirely give up on the idea of wind power just yet. Electricity generated by the wind via micro-turbines is one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly forms of renewable energy available today and you’ll be doing your bit to help slow global warming. If you are a handyman – or have access to one – you can assemble your own personal wind power generator on the cheap. Do it yourself guides available on the Internet provide detailed instructions on how to construct your own wind power generator as well as the cost of materials. A good place to look is www.residential-wind-power.com. With an investment of no more than R1,500 you can start cutting your electricity bill and you’ll have basic power when the neighbourhood goes dark.


Video Via Popular Mechanics
A new spin in the works is a device called a “windbelt,” which would be next to perfect for use in cities. Invented by a 28-year-old American named Shawn Frayne, it is a taut membrane fitted with a pair of magnets which oscillate between metal coils and is also powered by the wind. Prototypes built in 2004 generated 40 milliwatts in a moderate breeze of 13 km/h, making his device 10 to 30 times more efficient than the best micro-turbines. A year later, Windbelt Technology was 100 times more efficient than the original, capable of producing 3 to 10 watts of power. 
The Windbelt can power almost anything when several of the systems are combined to satisfy the power needs of applications such as lighting, TVs and computers. Requiring a wind speed of just 6m/s to operate, Windbelt systems are so quiet their noise output is undetectable above ambient neighbourhood sound levels. Best of all, this technology is just about ready to springboard into the marketplace and it won’t be just affordable; it’s going to be down-right cheap!
Bottom line, each of us is going to have to make a move. Rolling blackouts aside, electricity rates are rising in excess of 25% per annum and this will continue for the next few years, if not longer. It makes sense to seek out an alternative and you can do it with Eskom’s blessing in the form of a rebate for consuming less electricity. The national power supplier seems hell-bent on putting itself out of business.
But just think of it. If private homes were off the grid and generating their own electricity, Escom’s only customers would be industry, business and government. Load shedding wouldn’t affect our homes and there would be less chance of someone plugging in and hijacking your electricity at the pole. Having that kind of autonomy would be a no-lose situation we all could live with.
In a conventional wind generator, gears help transfer the motion of the spinning blades to a turbine where an electric current is induced. The Windbelt is simpler and more efficient in light breezes—a magnet mounted on a vibrating membrane simply oscillates between wire coils.       Read more: Popular Mechanics   

Question: On the Western Cape, what did they use for lighting before candles and kerosene lamps?

Image Via Popular Mechanics

Chucking away food waste may not be the worst environmental sin, but it certainly is wasteful. All Seasons' Bokashi Composter not only adds planet-friendliness to your life by promoting recycling, but also saves money by cutting out trips to the nursery to buy the commercial equivalent. Even better: this unique composter kit fits indoors. It recycles kitchen scraps into an organic compost soil conditioner for your garden. Tip scraps (including meat and bones) inside, sprinkle over a thin layer of the supplied bran compost accelerator, and expect to break down food waste in less than half the time of conventional composting methods, without odours. You'll pay about R325 for the kit and about R65 for more compost accelerator once the initial 1 kg packet is depleted. Contact The Green Shop on 021-419 9605

The Street Side is the Death Side

Via That Will Buff Out

Here’s a commercial for the three-door Hyundai Velostar. It didn't get approved, maybe because it shows someone actually getting hit by a car? And are only three doors actually safer? Well, I think this is a definite safety feature. It has worked on minivans for ages, so why not in cars? 
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