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Learning to Live with Solar Panels

Rob Hopkins, Transition Culture
The title of this post makes solar panels sound a bit like some unfortunate ailment, but moving from the instant hot water world to the solar world is definitely a process of learning a new way of doing things. It is now nearly a month now since our solar hot water system was installed by Sungift Solar of Exeter, as part of the Transition Town Totnes Solar Heater Challenge scheme. We went for flat bed panels, not for evacuated tubes, and the installation took a couple of days and was pretty painless. So now we rely on the sun for hot water, and our gas boiler sits looking slightly put out, its role now reduced to topping up the tank when requested (you can almost here it mumbling, grumbling about “the good old days”…). Although it has taken a bit of getting used to, I think having solar panels is quite wonderful…

One of the first things that has been useful for me has been getting my head round what those temperatures actually mean, being a fairly innumerate kinda guy. Anything under 45 is a pretty tepid shower, and over 60 is the kind of bath that hurts to get into (the kind I like but which are a pretty rare occurance nowadays). My teenage sons have become rather keen on spending hours lolling in hot baths, seeing showers as a fairly poor substitute. Now when the question comes “Dad, can I have a bath?”, my reply is now “I have no idea, check the box”. I haven’t yet told them that if there isn’t enough from the sun I can still top it up with the gas… we’ll just leave that piece of information out for now I think….
(8 October 2008)

Indian Tribes See Profit in Harnessing the Wind for Power

Felicity Barringer, New York Times
ROSEBUD, S.D. — The wind blows incessantly here in the high plains; screen doors do not last. Wind is to South Dakota what forests are to Maine or beaches are to Florida: a natural bounty and a valuable inheritance.

Native American tribes like the Rosebud Sioux now seek to claim that inheritance. If they succeed in building turbine farms to harness some of the country’s strongest and most reliable winds, tribal officials like Ken Haukaas believe, they could create a new economic underpinning for the 29,000 tribal members whose per capita annual income is about $7,700, less than a third the national average.

“We’re broke here,” Mr. Haukaas said. “We’re poor.” But, he added: “The wind is free. There’s energy here all the time.”
(9 October 2008)

Biofuels and a dwindling water supply

Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Boston Globe
AT LAST, many of the world’s political leaders have begun to realize that diverting land and food crops to produce biofuels leads to higher food prices. But an equally important consequence of this policy folly is being largely ignored in the public and political debate: Producing biofuels will further deplete the world’s already overtaxed water supply.

This is emblematic of a larger and increasingly dangerous disregard for the world’s most valuable, irreplaceable and finite natural resource: fresh water.

Seventy percent of all water withdrawal is already used in agriculture, and while all such activity requires water, growing enough soy or corn to create biofuels is especially water-intensive. For example, to produce just 1 gallon of diesel fuel, up to 9,000 gallons of water are required. Up to 4,000 gallons are needed to produce enough corn for the same amount of ethanol. By way of contrast, producing enough food to meet the caloric needs of one person for one day in, for example, Tunisia or Egypt requires about 666 gallons of water, and twice as much in California…
Peter Brabeck-Letmathe is chairman and former chief executive of Nestle. He wrote this column for the International Herald Tribune.
(8 October 2008)