Tuesday, March 20, 2007


So I’ve been thinking a lot about electricity lately. We use it all the time, we’ve come to depend upon it for numerous things, and we think we couldn’t live without it. Of course that’s not true, but we think it is. The majority of electricity comes from non-renewable sources. All of these release copious amounts of pollution and may change the planet as we know it, even to the point where we cause our own extinction. So with that in mind, what do we really need electricity for? In our residences, that is. I’m not referring to schools or hospitals or anything.

Lighting? Well, um, no. We definitely need a source of lighting in the home, but we can get it any of a number of ways –from solar lights, to candles, to lamps powered by veggie oil.

Heating? Air conditioning? Well, if properly designed, a Masonic fireplace will heat an entire house –with sustainably harvested wood. Furthermore, proper design will keep the temperature in a house fairly constant all year round. If you live in a climate where oil heating is mandatory, I’d say you either need to adapt to the climate (the Inuit have lived in the Artic for tens of thousands of years) or move. Ditto that for the deserts.

Dishwashing? Dishes can be done by hand.
Cooking? There are other ways to cook food.

Water heating? Solar systems can do this renewably.

What about pumping water? There I have to admit a necessity –if you need treated water and/or don’t live near a well, stream, etc, electricity is necessary to pump your water from the local reservoir.
What about washing clothes? Okay, there I have to admit that while you can wash your clothes with a hand crank washer or something, it makes it so much easier. But line drying is definitely a way to avoid the dryer.

And of course, for electronics you have to have power.

I just think that there has to be alternatives that won’t kill the world. How about community centers, powered renewably, that have laundry facilities, internet and computer capability, and even televisions. Cuba has such centers and they work out well.
Thoughts anyone?

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Blogger QT said...

I recently found your blog and I am in the process of trying to rebuild sustainably, so I am interested to see how many of your experiments go.

I don't know why you couldn't use photovoltaics for the majority of your power needs on a residential basis. And I honestly wonder, if used properly, is a dishwasher more efficient than washing dishes by hand?

3/20/2007 11:38 AM  
Blogger RAS said...

Qt, thanks for visiting! Solar power is a good option, for those that can afford it or for small scale applications. But its expensive -$20,000 for a full home system. Plus, the panels are ultimately made of non-renewable materials -and there is not enough of them to equip all the houses in the industrialized world with them, much less everywhere else!

Dishwashers CAN be more efficient than hand washing, depending on how you define effecient. Dishwashers do suck more power. They do save some time. But they require a lot more dirty dishes, and often said dishes have to be prewashed as well! They can save some water and soap if run with full loads, but not much. You can wash a full sinkful of dishes, and rinse them, with less than a gallon of water if you do it right. But I was only talking about power usage, in this article.

3/21/2007 6:01 PM  
Anonymous Steven Woeste said...

Want another option for making and storing electricity? You can make it with a stationary bicycle, the right kind of generator, and a few other mechanical parts, coupled to a good (or several good) large batteries.

In a nutshell, it would be possible to have someone build this for you (not including the batteries) for a couple hundred dollars, IF you already have the bike, but you don't need either an expensive, or a new one.

The biggest expense is the batteries; presumably you'll want to be able to store at least 2-3 kilowatt-hours of electricity. For that, I'd estimate the batteries to cost at least $300-$400. That amount of electricity could power all the fluorescent lights in your home, and even a fan or two, a small television, and (for very brief periods) a small microwave oven, for a couple days.

Now, the hardest part is next; the effort you'll need to make that much electricity. If you are in any kind of shape, you might make up to 100 watts per hour on the bicycle. Or, ten hours of effort for every kilowatt-hour. Done every day, that's about 3 kilowatt-hours a month. You won't run central air, an electric oven or heater, etc. on it. But, it's another way to make a backup system, especially on cloudy days.

8/13/2007 7:30 PM  

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