Wednesday, January 31, 2007
In 1931, Thomas Edison had a conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey
Firestone. He said, "I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy.
What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and
coal run out before we tackle that."
We have waited 76 years, but an innovative company may have finally
found a solution. The sun supplies enough energy to earth in one
hour to supply all of our energy needs for an entire year. But
currently solar power produces less than ½ of 1% of our residential
energy needs. Why?
In the past, solar power has been too expensive and too complicated.
To switch to solar, people had to invest their children's college
fund or sell their second car. The average consumer pays $40,000 to
convert their home to solar—plus you are responsible for the
installation, maintaining the equipment, getting permits—who has the
time (or the money)?
A company called Citizenre has a bold plan to remove all of the
traditional barriers to solar power. They offer: No system purchase.
No installation cost. No maintenance. No permit hassles. No
performance worries. No rate increases. No way!?
When we first heard about this from one of our readers, we were so
intrigued that we contacted the company. It seemed almost too good
to be true. Like most innovations, their model is so simple it makes
you wonder why no one thought of it before.
You simply pay Citizenre the same rate per kilowatt for power that
you used to pay your utility company—but it gets even better.
Citizenre will guarantee that your rate per kilowatt will not go up
for 25 years. With ever increasing electricity rates, this gives
consumers peace of mind and can add up to significant savings. They
even have a solar calculator on their website that shows exactly how
much you will save over 1, 5, and 25 years. I saved over $13,000 and
by using clean energy, it was the equivalent of taking 24 cars off
the road or planting 400 trees. Nice.
In the past, "going green" usually implied sacrifice. You get to
feel good about saving the planet but most "green" products are more
expensive than their "dirty" counterparts. With Citizenre, going
green can actually save you money.
This is all made possible by net metering laws that require the
utility companies to allow renewable energy to flow into the grid
and then allow the consumer to pull that same amount of energy off
of the grid at no cost to the consumer. Basically the grid becomes a
huge battery. The meter spins backwards during the day when the sun
is shining and forwards at night when the consumer pulls that power
back off the grid.
These laws were passed because residential energy production was the
number one cause of pollution in the US last year, but there are
still 9 states that have not joined the party. If you live in
Alaska, Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Missouri,
Kansas, Nebraska, or South Dakota, the Citizenre Solution is not an
option for you yet.
We were still a little skeptical, so we asked Rob Styler, the
president of their marketing division, some hard questions.
Q. How can Citizenre afford to install this complete solar system
with no upfront cost to the consumer?
A. Because we handle everything ourselves from the solar grade
silicon to the final installation, we create savings at each stage
of the production. Plus we are building the largest plant for solar
power in the world. When you combine our vertical integration with
our economies of scale, we are able to produce the final product at
half the cost of our competitors.
Q. This sounds like Citizenre required a large amount of money to
make all this happen?
A. $650 million.
Q. Now I know why no one did this before you guys. So the customer
does not have to give any money to have this complete solar system
installed on their house?
A. We require a security deposit, typically only $500, at the time
of installation. They get this deposit back, with interest, at the
end of the contract. If they don't pay their bill and walk away from
the contract, they lose their deposit and we come take the system
off their roof. They are also required to pay a monthly rental for
the solar energy system.
Q. And how is that rent calculated?
A. By the amount of energy that the system produces.
Q. But they are paying the same rate they were paying before, right?
A. Often it is actually less. We base our rates on the yearly
average for their utility. So we have to base our rates on the prior
year. Since rates tend to go up each year, many customers will save
money on their first bill, and this will only increase as the years
pass. We provide a calculator on our website that will tell
specifically what they will save with their particular utility and
their monthly usage. Many customers save over $10,000 just by
switching to the sun. Our whole mission is to help people join the
solution and stop being part of the problem.
Q. I like that. How long of a contract do they have to sign?
A. One year, five years, or 25 years. Over 70% of our customers sign
the 25-year contract because that locks in their rate for the entire
term of the contract. If they sign a shorter contract, their rate is
recalculated according to current energy rates at the end of their
Q. What happens if I sign a 25-year contract and I want to sell my
house in 10 years?
A. You have three options. First, you can ask us to move the system
to your new house. We do that one time for free. Second, you can
transfer the contract to the new owner. This can potentially add
value to your house because if energy rates keep going up like they
are and they are 60% higher in 10 years, then your buyer would get a
60% decrease on their energy bill because of your foresight. The
final option is that you can contact us, tell us that you just want
to end the contract and we will remove the unit. With this third
option you do lose your security deposit.
Q. So is my security deposit the most I can lose?
A. Obviously if you don't pay your bill there will be late fees or
if one of our franchisees comes out to your house to remove the unit
and you greet him with a shot gun and pit bull, we will have to take
legal steps to recover our property. But if the customer is
cooperative they should have no worries.
Q. Say I want a system on my house. How does it work? What is the
A. One of our Independent Ecopreneurs will help you each step of the
way. There are some simple questions to answer about your amount of
shade, the direction of your roofline, etc. After you sign the
contract, a solar engineer will come to the house to design your
Q. What if I don't like the design? Am I still obligated to the
A. No. You can back out of the contract with no penalty. You don't
even pay the deposit until after you approve the design.
Q. Okay. I like the design. I want the system. What's next?
A. The installation usually takes about half a day. The permit
process can take as much as 90 days depending on how cooperative the
local utility is, but we handle everything. All you do is sit back
and feel good knowing you are using clean energy to power your home.
Q. What happens if something breaks or goes wrong?
A. We have a complete worry free performance guarantee. If the unit
ever stops working, one of our franchisees will rush out to fix it
for free. The customer has no rental charges until the system is
working again so we are motivated to get it fixed fast.
Q. What if my kid hits a baseball through one of the panels?
A. It is just like renting a car or a TV. You are responsible for
returning it in good condition. We recommend that customers contact
their homeowners insurance to double check that the unit will be
covered under their policy. Usually there is not a problem.
Q. Wouldn't I save money in the long run if I just bought the system?
A. Actually, no. Renting can save you a significant amount of money,
and it protects you from a large investment risk. We can help the
consumer evaluate their options so they can make a solid decision.
Our goal is to have solar power producing 25% of our residential
energy supply in the year 2025. To make that happen, we removed
every barrier we could find to solar entry. We make solar simple.
Q. I understand that your manufacturing plant is not completed yet,
is that right?
A. Correct. The first systems will be ready to install in September
Q. So why would someone sign up now?
A. First because they lock in their rate as soon as they sign up.
Second, they get in line so they can get their system sooner once
the plant is producing. Third, it also helps us show the market how
many people will go green if we provide an offer that makes sense on
every level, including economically. To quote Ghandi, "Be the change
that you want to see in the world."
Q. So how does someone sign up?
A. You just go to http://www.jointhesolution.com/KeithJ-SunPower and you can
sign up for free right now.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
And for thoughtful commentary on Permaculture and Green Economics and Health go to Claude William Genest's Regeneration: The Art of Sustainable Living at http://eco-logical-solutions.blogspot.com/
Monday, January 22, 2007
The following pix show a week's worth of food for various humans. I think I'd prefer the Guatemalan diet actually.
Richard Heinberg's new website. MuseLetters, projects Richard is working on, where and when he's speaking, purchase his recent book The Oil Depletion Protocol: How to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse.
Read some excerpts from Stephanie Mills', Epicurean Simplicity on this page
Monday, January 15, 2007
I'll be adding more articles from the Permaculture Activist mag to this blog over time.
Peter Bane is the publisher of Permaculture Activist. Please contact us if you wish to reprint this article in any format, virtual or hardcopy.
Teaching for Change
by Peter Bane
Following a trail of slightly mysterious clues, I found my way into a Permaculture Design Course some thirteen years ago, in January of 1990. Emerging on the other side a rainy fortnight later, I felt a bit like Alice after she disappeared down the rabbit hole: nothing was quite the same as it had been before. Or perhaps it was, only more so. Whatever words I put to it now, my life had changed: There was no going back.
That heady combination of camaraderie, intellectual stimulation, intimacy, and holistic learning provided a peak experience, one I can still summon vividly to mind.
But what had changed?
On the surface and in short order, everything: job, career, relationships, residence, studies, daily activities, associations, friendships. What had changed fundamentally was my view of the world and my relation to it. As my core values had at last been linked with a coherent means of expression, all the outer forms of my life underwent an upheaval. I had found a way to live responsibly on earth, learned to see through present problems toward future solutions, and I think most importantly, discovered that there was important work to be done and that I could do some of it. The power of making these discoveries in the company of others similarly “turned on” was profound and long-lasting. Why should any of this matter? Of course, the turmoil and transformation were exciting and full of personal meaning, but the changes I embraced in my own life have, I believe, made a positive impact on society.
Moreover—and this is why I write—this personal experience of change offers some insight about the process itself. And the process of personal empowerment and transformation, engendered as I suggest by taking the Permaculture Design Course, lends credence to the strategy of teaching as a vehicle for progressive social change.
It would be foolish to imagine that my calling is the only way good work can come about in the world. Certainly permaculture is not the only answer to the world’s woes. But it does have a role to play. And those of us who carry this gift need to remember the value of sharing it.
What in the World Needs Changing?
Just as I begin each permaculture course I teach with a brief exploration of the global crisis, it seems necessary to point out the challenges and opportunities presently facing humanity as we call for change.
Readers of this magazine well understand the dimensions of the global environmental crisis: global warming threatens to disrupt planetary life-support systems; all ecosystems are polluted and many forms of that pollution are persistent and deadly to life; humanity is overspending its ecological budget, consuming more resources than the biosphere can provide sustainably; and we are enmeshed in a social, political, and economic system that depends upon this fateful consumption and at the same time shows increasing disparity between a rich few and an impoverished multitude.
Despite the fact that the vast majority of the world’s scientists are agreed that global climate shift is underway, will have dramatic effects on all living systems, and is undoubtedly driven by human activities, governments and most large corporations have thus far failed spectacularly to respond to this urgent warning. It’s clear that institutions worldwide are out of touch with reality. This appalling situation and the continuing scourges of hunger and racism point to a social and ethical crisis in our civilization proportional to, and, I would suggest, at the root of the environmental crisis.
We need a shift of behavior from the world’s most privileged citizens and we need it fast. Reducing fossil energy consumption worldwide by 90% in the next decade is probably the minimum price of admission to a livable future. Logically for this to come about, the economy will have to be re-oriented to reduce transport and waste, patterns of settlement and building must shift toward efficient use of land, energy, and resources, and renewable energy production must be dramatically increased.
These changes must be accompanied by widespread education for sustainability, and they must take place in dozens of cultures and languages everywhere simultaneously, in both industrial and traditional societies.
How Do We Do it?
The changes the world must make cannot be mandated by any single authority, no matter how powerful, but must rather be adopted by people everywhere from a sense that these are the best approaches we can make toward preserving a livable world. Everyone must have a stake in their success.
Seen from a mechanistic point of view, the changes required by the present crisis are unlikely to occur soon enough to be effective. Nevertheless, we must imagine and work for the possibility that they can occur. Indeed the present crisis, is in many respects, a product of unbalanced, mechanistic thinking, and of institutions based on that world view. To create a way forward, we must first change our point of view.
The only resource we have available to us that is equal to the vast, incredibly complex, and interlocking problems facing the world is human creativity. And it can only be unleashed when the barriers of ignorance and domination are removed. This is the role of true leadership today. My experience as a teacher of design has shown me what insightful thinkers have also pointed out—that people’s potential to solve apparently intractable problems is far greater than we imagine, but, if that capacity is to be realized, people must be given respect, access to information, and a sense of the importance of the job to be done. The Permaculture Design Course is a vehicle for meeting those conditions.
Permaculture is all about empowering people to take responsibility for their own lives by teaching them how to design living environments and economic systems that meet their needs. It is essentially a way of thinking holistically, grounded in the truths of nature, and works by shifting perspectives. The permaculture design system is based in a simple code of ethics: Earthcare, PeopleCare, and FairShare. Ethics tell us how to behave. The premise underlying the permaculture movement is that if ordinary people are able to design regenerative systems in accord with these precepts, they will not fall victim to the manipulations and follies of governments and wealthy elites, and more than that, they will be able to assume leadership in their own communities to bring about the changes in culture and technology the world so desperately needs now.
Teaching permaculture is a powerful experience. It changes lives for the better, and is a regenerative force, giving rise to more acts of healing and empowerment. I have taught 30 courses over the past decade and each has been a moving experience for me and for all the participants. I am sure that every permaculture teacher has his or her own stories to tell of careers launched, projects or journeys undertaken, and lives turned inside out. The collective bounty is immeasurable. Occasionally I hear from former students and the news is usually uplifting. A grandmother in a course I taught recently went home from the experience and restructured her not-inconsiderable investment portfolio. Unable to dig swales, but awakened to the need for sustainable economics, she got out of the stock market and is setting up a revolving loan fund for local permaculture projects. Such stories are but the tip of an immense iceberg of positive changes. Each time I teach, my own enthusiasm for permaculture work and for productive change is renewed. The energies of amazement, inspiration, gratitude, and relief pour out of people as they experience reconnection to earth and tribe. This feeling energy is the carrier wave that allows ways of thinking to shift.
Growth of Permaculture
Standing on the shoulders of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the permaculture movement has inspired and trained upwards of 100,000 people worldwide over the past 23 years. Bill’s tireless exhortation to his early students was to go out and teach others. Many did and their students and student’s students continue to take up that charge. Though magazines and books have helped extend public awareness of permaculture, and for most of the past decade the Internet has extended the communications reach of many practitioners and consultants, teaching has always been the lifeblood of this immensely creative and vitally needed social invention.
Permaculture argues for the importance of individual action. This is one of its strengths: it empowers people to take action for change. In no arena of work is this more important than in teaching. The hundred thousand and more who have trained in permaculture are students of perhaps 500-1000 teachers. Everyone who teaches permaculture makes an important contribution to solving the global crisis. Obviously, with six billion humans on Earth and more arriving every day, we need more people skilled in the creation of sustainable environments. But we especially need more people to step forward to teach.
How can this happen?
If my own experience and that of most American permaculture teachers is of any guide, teaching is more easily undertaken in teams. The Permaculture Design Course curriculum is a substantial body of knowledge and few people can hope to master all the many elements of human settlement design, least of all at the beginning of their training. The intensive nature of the design course makes teaching it solo an arduous task for anyone. And not least in importance, students learn better when they get to hear the same message in different voices and different persona. I know from feedback from my students that I’m a good teacher, but people learn in a variety of ways, and my ways of teaching don’t reach everyone equally well. Others, including the colleagues I work with regularly, are better story tellers, better dramatists, more empathetic, charming, or kinesthetic. It takes all kinds of talent to present holistic systems design. This is also in alignment with the first—and largely unwritten—principle of permaculture: GET HELP!
And lest we forget, for teaching to be effective, there must be students! The whole premise of teaching for social change implies that if people were truly aware of the imperiled state of the world, and if they knew what they could do to bring about positive change, then most of them would make the effort. Since by many measures the world continues to drift toward catastrophe, the only reasonable conclusion we can draw is that most people are unaware of the extent of the problems or lack knowledge of how to solve them. These are two distinct groups within the population as we shall see in a moment.
The transformative process that moves an individual from a state of unconscious ignorance to one of effortless mastery is marked by four broad stages. The points of transition between these stages are important for teachers and potential teachers to note.
1. Unconscious Ignorance: Lacking knowledge of a subject or subjects and unaware of one’s own ignorance or of the importance of that knowledge. Regarding the global nature of the environmental, political, and social crisis facing humanity, arguably half or more of the world’s people are uninformed, ill-informed, or deluded. Only a few of these are“blissfully ignorant.” Most are suffering as a consequence of that crisis, but don’t understand how or why.
The opportunity here is to reach people through their suffering. The remedial action needed for growth is inspiration and information. The result is awakening. Writing, publishing, public speaking, and media work can contribute to raising awareness. And there is an important niche in teaching work to be filled here. For every design course there need to be many newsletters and magazines circulated, many showings of relevant films, and many short talks, booths and displays in fairs, plus radio talks and interviews, presentations to civic groups, and the like. This is the ideal arena for new teachers to enter.
2. Conscious Ignorance: Lacking knowledge of a subject, but aware of its importance, and thus of the limits of one’s knowledge. Many people in western countries have had enough exposure through media and education to elements of the crisis that they have awakened to its importance. Though still a minority in society, this group constitutes tens and probably hundreds of millions of individuals. Most do not yet know how they can make a difference. This is an important point of intervention for permaculture. People in this condition can be reached through their awareness. Growth from this stage requires study, and in the practical arts, training. The result is an increase in capacity, or empowerment. This is the group at which the design course is aimed. The more awakened individuals we can train, the better chance we have of turning history around.
3. Conscious Knowledge: Having knowledge of a subject, along with the awareness of its importance, and deliberately working to extend that knowledge. Those in this group are agents for change. Awakened, inspired, empowered, and active, they are pioneers of a better way of life. Numbering hundreds of thousands to a few millions worldwide, their need is to contribute and to strengthen themselves. Most are engaged in various worthy social efforts. This group merits support and provides a good return on investment of resources. People in this group can best be reached through their work. There is a need to link individuals within this group to others in order to strengthen their collective efforts. Growth from this stage requires practice. The result is mastery.
4. Effortless or “Unconscious” Knowledge: Immersed in a subject and skilled in it such that exercise of that knowledge is second nature. Think of your own capacity to walk or talk. Most humans master these skills early in life. Though most adult humans have achieved mastery in some areas of work, few have mastered the knowledge and skills required for responding appropriately and effectively to the global crisis. Nevertheless, practice makes perfect, and there is no shortage of opportunities to apply sustainable design to human settlements. If the permaculture movement is understood as a form of activism, part of the effort to illuminate and transform destructive human patterns in relation to nature and society, then its chief role lies in helping individuals move from stage 2 to stage 3 in the above typology. Permaculture offers training and thereby empowerment. The design course is the chief means by which this takes place. This accords with the principle of working where it counts. The effort required to awaken, inform, and inspire vast numbers of the ignorant unconscious is more than a small group with limited resources can hope to achieve directly. But the training of large numbers of conscious individuals who want to learn is a task worthy of our best efforts.
Saturday, January 13, 2007
Pond Scum Offers Promise for Biodiesel
January 11th, 2007 @ 8:54pm
Ed Yeates Reporting
A new fuel for your car - made not from oil that comes from the ground, but scum! That's what could happen as Utah researchers make plans to build what could be the most unusual refinery ever.
Oil refineries, we know what they look like and what they do, but this may not even fit the word "refinery" anymore.
Utah State University researchers are looking at biodiesel fuel made from pond scum. That's right, the green, slimy stuff that grows virtually anywhere appears to produce as good, if not a better, quality biodiesel fuel than soybeans. Lance Seefeldt , USU Biofuels Program: "For soybeans, you get about 48 gallons per acre. And right now, the idea is for algae, we could get about 10-thousand gallons of oil per acre. So you can see it's about 200 times more oil per acre compared to soybeans."
Instead of prime agricultural land needed for soybeans or corn, pond scum can be grown rapidly on meshes or grids inside huge structures, fed by rooftop solar dishes. It's not a refinery, but a bioreactor.
Bright light comes through fiber optics from one single solar dish on the roof of the lab. Now, imagine what thousands of dishes could do in a massive bioreactor. Bioreactors built not on productive farmland, but on remote desert soils with thousands of grids inside growing the pond
scum from solar energy.
"For every square meter of parabolic dish, we can illuminate 10 square meters of algae surface."
Byard Wood, USU Biofuels Program: "We're talking about thousands of acres with these kinds of bioreactors to produce in quantity the amount of liquid fuel that we need to make an impact."
From prototypes, to a fuel, to the pump, the technology appears so promising it's got the backing of the Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative to the tune of six million dollars in seed money.
The first large experimental facility would be built in Utah. USU expects pond scum biodiesel fuels could become cost competitive by 2009.
Tuesday, January 9, 2007
My days are filled with webwork and developing our site for increased traffic and sales. Affiliate programs up the wazoo and lots of bogus scams and tedium. Just had a breakthrough trying to understand why I kept getting a broken link to a new pic on the site. Be forewarned. Never put the symbol '#' in the name of an image. It won't load in a browser and will keep giving you a broken link error message despite the fact that it shows up just fine in Dreamweaver.
So, I've updated the website, shrunk some pages by breaking them up into new pages (check out the recently uploaded Another Kind of Energy or ComPost-Modernism by Peter Bane,
about the amazing work of Frenchman Jean Pain and his work on heating with composted brush material and methane generation.
Also just added links to these new stories:
Rocky Mountain Magic: High, Dry and Flourishing by Peter Bane
about creating a thriving healthy food forest garden in the arid heights of Colorado.
Designing the Permaculture Links by Jerome Osentowski and Peter Bane
about redesigning a golf course that requires NO pesticides, herbicides, or biocides of any kind, and is also a wildlife habitat with lots of wild edibles for animals and humans. What a concept!
If you haven't read it (or seen the DVD) you should check out The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil by Megan Quinn. Cubans, it turns out, have already learned the lessons yet to be learned by most Americans (the average adult in Cuba lost 20 pounds while adapting to a sudden decrease in the amount of fuel available for farming). Havana now produces 40% of its food WITHIN the city limits.
The keyword of sustainable culture is Relocalization, which you can learn a lot more about at http://www.relocalize.net/groups/applebloomington
APPLE stands for Alliance for Post Petroleum Local Economics.
Mark Lakeman from City Repair is coming to Bloomington, IN this weekend to address the city council and neighborhood reps about redesigning the city for enhanced conviviality, sustainability, energy and transportation efficiency, and more.
Well, that was relaxing after the frustration of webwork, but, I must return to it. Ciao.