Research and development in the renewable energy sector is vital. Reducing dependence on fossil fuels is urgent- despite the very serious dangers posed by climate change, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and on a global scale, and no country is acting as fast as they could be to change that.

The message is going out loud and clear, both from government sources and NGOs- reduce energy use, install insulation and double-glazing, and leave the car at home once in a while, but until green power becomes available in every home, residential energy use is still going to be a major contributor to climate change. Lobbying governments and large corporations to get moving and invest serious money in alternative energy generation is one way forward, but some communities are taking a different approach. DIY energy research isn’t something for every family to get involved in- it’s a lot more complex than recycling or growing your own veg- but nonetheless, small scale research projects can make a difference, especially when they’re backed up with real world action.

The more people experiment with generating their own green energy, the more knowledge will be acquired. And the more examples of practical, affordable eco-friendly power there are, the more people will take up those ideas and use them to cut down their own carbon footprint.

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage in northeastern Missouri is one community pushing forward their own micro-scale energy research. The goal is to not only to identify the best environmentally friendly power options for one particular site, but also to take those findings forward and demonstrate their potential. The ecovillage is a permanent settlement of around 50 people. There are already several homes on the 280 acre site, and a significant portion of the food consumed by residents is grown there.

Like most small villages, Dancing Rabbit isn’t filled with PhD qualified engineers. They’re ordinary people, some with interests in formal scientific research, some with a focus on organic farming or green building methods, so they decided to launch a renewable energy internship to encourage interested engineers and university-level engineering students into the community for a summer.

There are two three month internships on offer, covering the summer of 2011. The interns will be expected to research power generation options that might work at Dancing Rabbit. Various solar thermal, biomass burning, and thermal storage technologies should be appraised for suitability, and the research project will also include an investigation of the most appropriate ways the different viable methods can be used at the village.

Once the research phase is over, Dancing Rabbit residents will try to put the findings into practice. As the village expands they’ll need more power to support more buildings and more people, so there will be plenty of reason to build new green electricity generation infrastructure.

Does Dancing Rabbit think a couple of internship summer internships will be enough to figure out the most efficient, environmentally friendly and renewable energy generation method and give them all the research backing they need to build it? No, of course not. But will it show that small-scale research can enable real-world, practical small-scale power generation? Hopefully, the answer is yes.

Jess Spate is a friend of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage and an independent green business consultant. She works for companies selling everything from women’s outdoor clothing to garden fountains.

Images courtesy of Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

This article was distributed by Nathan Brown, founder of and promoter of diy solar info online.