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Unplugging from the world’s power lines

Teo Kermeliotis,
You won’t hear much about it in the vast conference halls of the Copenhagen climate change summit, but living “off-grid” — beyond the water and power lines that intersect much of the modern world — could hold a solution to some of the planet’s worst environmental woes.

Initially adopted by hippies and environmental mavericks, the pioneering lifestyle has grown to attract thousands of devotees who choose to live completely independently of the local utilities power grid and instead generate their own electricity and water.

Some begin their off-grid quest out of environmental concerns and some see it as an antidote to rocketing energy prices and fears of economic collapse. Others simply want to be independent.

Off-grid practitioners generate most of their power from solar panels and wind turbines. They build rainwater tanks to harvest their water and chop wood to fuel their heating units. They use only what they can produce but can still live a rewarding lifestyle.

…In 2008, Rosen wrote “How To Live Off-grid: Journeys Outside The System,” which chronicles his travels across the UK in a vegetable oil-fueled camper van to meet off-grid practitioners representing all walks of life: from millionaires living in eco-palaces and business professionals in canal boats to backpackers who reside in traditional yurts and rely on torches for illumination.

…One such community is Scoraig, an 80-strong off-grid settlement located on a secluded peninsula on the north-western coast of Scotland. The land is owned by Lady Jane Rice, the estranged wife of songwriter Sir Tim Rice, and can only be reached by boat or a five-mile walk through the hills…
(17 Dec 2009)
Nick Rosen’s website, with extracts from his book, is here.

How Effective Are Renewables, Really?

Jens Lubbadeh and Anselm Waldermann, Spiegel online
The last 10 years have seen massive amounts of taxpayer money invested in renewable energies in Germany. Growth in the industry has been rapid. But has the development been universally good? SPIEGEL ONLINE takes a look at those renewables with promise — and those which might flop.

It was all very small when it began. A couple liters of biodiesel here, a small wind turbine there. Maybe a few solar panels with an output just enough to run a pocket calculator.

But then April 1, 2000 came along. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s government had been in office a mere year and a half. But on that day, a law came into power that was to completely alter the German energy market. The rather unwieldy name: Law for the Promotion of Renewable Energies — EEG for short. Later, the law regulating biofuel quotas was added, as was another measure governing the use of geothermal power. The aim was clear. The fuel, electricity and heating markets were to be revolutionized.

And the new laws were effective. High government subsidies massively increased the demand for wind turbines and solar panels. Germany was soon transformed into an ecologist’s paradise.

In the 1990s, the energy market was simple. Germans got their power from coal-fired power plants or nuclear facilities. They filled up their tanks with conventional fuel and heated their homes with oil or natural gas. But the last decade has seen a radical shift. Green power became popular, drivers switched to biodiesel and homeowners changed over to wood pellet heating.

Coal and nuclear power still dominate the market, as do oil and gas. But the tectonic shift has begun: Each year, the share of renewables rises. Indeed, electricity from renewable energy sources already supplies 15 percent of Germany’s electricity needs. In some German states, wind power supplies more than 35 percent.

Yet, far from all questions surrounding renewables have been answered. When, for example, will renewable energy sources be able to survive without subsidies? Will they continue to grow? Will we be able to develop a way to store energy generated from the wind and sun? It seems clear that, whereas some energy sources will prosper, others are destined for failure…

Part 2: Wind Power
Part 3: Photovoltaic
Part 4: Solar-Thermal Energy
Part 5: Hydroelectric Power
Part 6: Bioenergy
Part 7: Geothermal Power…
(16 Dec 2009)

Bringing Hope to Copenhagen With a Novel Investment Idea

Orville Schell, yale environment 360
As world representatives conclude their quest in Copenhagen for ways to slow global warming, something needs to be done to kick-start the discussion into a more concrete and collaborative phase. Otherwise, the UN conference will have failed to turn what so far has been a latter-day Tower of Babel on climate change into a more focused and hopeful multilateral discussion.

An already-existing feeling of global disarray was only heightened last month at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Singapore when, thanks to the U.S. Senate’s obstructionism, President Obama was forced to acknowledge that the world would not be able to reach a binding

Click here for the latest from the climate talks.
climate agreement in Copenhagen. The feeling of paralysis was compounded by the manner in which the “developed world” (especially the U.S.) and the “developing world” (most notably China, India, and Brazil) had fallen into a dysfunctional state of wrangling over who was responsible for the historical burden of CO2 emissions still in our atmosphere and who should assume what proportional role for reducing them in the future. Forward motion, much less accord, on a post-Kyoto agreement seemed far from assured.

Amid all the prevaricating and confusion, two things, at least, had become clear:

First, not all the alarmed scientists, concerned NGOers, born-again disciples of “greenness” and earnest officials in the world would ever be able to solve the climate change challenge on their own.

And second, until businesses could see a clearer way to make money reducing carbon emissions, there would be no meaningful solution.

…So, is there anything that can be done quickly to help prod the marketplace into action, even before the UN’s Copenhagen conference ends?

…The “First Loss Equity Quick-Start Fund,” for instance, would be a for-profit fund run by managers seeking to attract private institutional investors to projects in the developing world. Modest government backing would encourage the funds to take on some of the risk that potential investors often face when considering clean energy projects in poorer countries. The fund would focus on the myriad worthy — and potentially profitable — low-carbon projects that now languish in the global pipeline. Such projects would include energy efficiency initiatives, development of renewable energy, smart energy distribution, and so-called REDD programs (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) that pay countries not to clear their forests. Without some government support for a quick-start fund, uncertain policies often make conditions too risky for investors to move forward.
(Orville Schell Dec 2009)
This all sounds workable as long as the “projects” would not result in the kinds of community disempowerment that has happened when the global North comes in and take over the resources of the global South in the name of “carbon offsetting”. -KS