Monday, March 12, 2012

Going Alternative...

Internet Debris

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Getting Off the Grid

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 06:00. 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 2012 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. 
Image via Solar Navigator 
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 nighttime 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 Perfect Cube 
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. Click here for some good information. 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. 

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. 
Text via Internet Debris 

Getting a Glow On...

Marie Curie

Many library collections use special equipment, such as special gloves and climate-controlled rooms, to protect the archival materials from the visitor. For the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at France’s Bibliotheque National, it’s the other way around.
That’s because after more than 100 years, much of Marie Curie’s stuff – her papers, her furniture, even her cookbooks – are still radioactive. Those who wish to open the lead-lined boxes containing her manuscripts must do so in protective clothing, and only after signing a waiver of liability. 
Via Christian Science Monitor. Image from Wiki.

Spoooky Reading 

What lies beneath...

Chinese woman comes back to life 

six days after she 'died.'

A 95-year-old Chinese woman thought to have passed away stunned her neighbours - after waking up six days after she had been placed in a coffin.

LXiufeng was found motionless and not breathing in bed by a neighbour two weeks after tripping and suffering a head injury at her home in Beiliu, Guangxi Province.

When the neighbour who found her could not wake the pensioner up, they feared the worst and thought the elderly woman had passed away.
Back from the dead: Li Xiufeng, 95, stunned neighbours by 'waking up' from her coffin the day before her funeral
Back from the dead: Li Xiufeng, 95, stunned neighbours by 'waking up' from her coffin the day before her funeral
She was placed in a coffin which was kept in her house unsealed under Chinese tradition for friends and relatives to pay respects. But the day before the funeral, neighbours found an empty coffin, and later discovered the 95-year-old, who had since woken up, in her kitchen cooking.
Neighbour Chen Qingwang, 60, who originally found Mrs Xiufeng, said: 'She didn't get up, so I came up to wake her up. ...No matter how hard I pushed her and called her name, she had no reactions.'
'I felt something was wrong, so I tried her breath, and she has gone, but her body is still not cold.'
As Mrs Xiufeng lived alone, Mr Qingwang and his son made preparations for her funeral, and the 'dead' woman was left in her coffin two days after she was discovered.
The day before she was due to be permanently laid to rest, however, Mr Qingwang arrived at his neighbour's property and found her 'corpse' had disappeared.
Last respects: Mrs Xiufeng's neighbours had laid her in a coffin for friends and relatives to pay their respects, before she woke up (file picture)
Last respects: Mrs Xiufeng's neighbours had laid her in a coffin for friends and relatives to pay their respects, before she woke up (file picture)
MQingwang added: 'We were so terrified, and immediately asked the neighbours to come for help.'
Neighbours searched her property before finding the pensioner in her kitchen cooking. She reportedly told villagers: 'I slept for a long time. After waking up, I felt so hungry, and wanted to cook something to eat. ...I pushed the lid for a long time to climb out.'
Medics said Mrs Xiufeng had suffered an 'artificial death', when a person has no breath, but their body remains warm. A doctor at the hospital was quoted as saying: 'Thanks to the local tradition of parking the coffin in the house for several days, she could be saved. Despite cheating death, however, the same Chinese tradition left Mrs Xiufeng without any possessions, according to ritual, after a person dies, all their belongings must be burnt.
Text and images via Daily Mail UK

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