solar

General thoughts on pending restorations to the ‘Hobbit Hole’ cabin

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QUICK CABIN FACTS: I’ve calculated the enclosed square footage of this cabin as 273’ sq., including the loft and the ‘sun room.’ The construction is rough-hewn post-and-beam with kiln-dried members interspersed. Insulation unknown. Exterior cladding of shakes over marine plywood (of which I am suspicious). Interior floors of smooth-worn marine plywood just begging for me to find some nice, cheap oriental rugs. No indoor water except what you haul. All indoor lighting is either rechargeable or a combination of oil and candle lamps. There is no power at the cabin. Upon occupancy the cabin had not been thoroughly cleaned in years, and certainly never vacuumed since completion.

The improvements I’m set upon are in keeping with the limited scope and scale of this cabin and the ethos of the property as envisioned by the shepherd of this place, my landlord Alban.

  • I want hot and cold running water indoors and at an outdoor shower site formerly located below the cabin deck, on its south face.
  • I want to be able to flood the interior and proximate exterior spaces with light for living, entertaining, and winter sanity-preservation purposes.
  • I want to be able to charge a phone or laptop; maybe even power the odd low-wattage household appliance (e.g., immersion blender).
  • I want to build an two-part enclosure to process the cabin’s humanure (as recommended in Jon Jeavons’ The Humanure Handbook).
  • I intend to repaint the cabin’s outdoor toilet and rebuild its foundation.
  • I want to extend the beach-stone ‘walkway’ up and away from the cabin to provide downhill traction in wet months.
  • I am already collecting & cutting 1” sections of found wood to assemble into a corduroy footpath for some of the boggier spots on the 100m+ walk up to the cabin.
  • If I can locate an inexpensive source of sheet plexiglas or similar clear substance I want to build a small passive solar feature into a south-facing windowsill in the ‘sun room’ to help preserve the exposed window frame and shelter a section of the south wall of that room that shows a certain amount of past infiltration of water.
  • I intend to finish a cut and discarded piece of logwood by installing slabwood shelves, finishing with spar varnish, and securely mounting it to the corner of the deck.

Some of these projects appear pretty low on the list, as things that would be nice if I can get to them before winter. This cabin being the builder’s first, there are some fundamental mistakes that require thoughtful remediation if this is to remain a healthy place to live. Most important is to have spotted the problems. The ability to combine solutions for these with certain of the new projects listed above reflects my thorough, reflective nature and personal mania for efficiency.

The first project –the one I’m in the midst of now– is bringing water to the cabin, deeper analysis of which I will leave for my next post.

Germany sets record for solar power generation; equivalent to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity.

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This just in from the first industrialized nation to prove that renewable energy can generate power sufficient to the needs of industry. Yes problems remain (e.g., load-leveling, storage, ‘smart-grid’ technologies yet in development), but the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations operating at full capacity is not to be sniffed-at.

German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity – equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity – through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think-tank said.

The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be replaced by renew-able energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass. Norbert Allnoch, director of the Institute of the Renew-able Energy Industry in Muenster, said the 22 gigawatts of solar power fed into the national grid on Saturday met nearly 50 per cent of the nation’s midday electricity needs.

“Never before anywhere has a country produced as much photovoltaic electricity,” Allnoch said. “Germany came close to the 20 gigawatt mark a few times in recent weeks. But this was the first time we made it over.”

It’s not that America can’t do this: it’s that we won’t.

Democratizing the energy market

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The idea that distributed electric power generation systems (individual home- or small-business-based generation capacity) are going to be the next generation of major power producers receives a serious boost from laws such as this one passed by the city of Pasadena, which will require electric utilities to compensate owners of power generation systems (e.g., solar, wind, biomass, &c) for the excess energy they contribute to the grid.

Democratizing the energy market in this fashion will encourage many small producers (homeowners being perhaps the best, most readily understood example) to invest heavily in private electric power generation systems with the knowledge that the excess electric power they generate will result not in the billing offsets available to most small electric power producers today, but actual cash payments which could be used to retire some of the initial capital outlay or finance upgrades.

For the foreseeable future there will be a need for the multi-megawatt production plants that currently form the backbone of our grid, but in an era of increasing pressure to invest in renewables, the liberation of small-scale generators to earn cash payments for their surplus electricity would be an excellent example of government’s ability to open vast new markets through deregulation.