From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Is It Time to Talk About Solar Civil Defense?

Solar power for the flashlight, communications, and extra batteries we are supposed to have on hand in case of emergency and disaster is also entry level electricity for those billion and more people around the world who don’t have access to power.

With solar lights now available at a retail price of $5 @ or less all around the world (this Mini Portable Hand Crank Dynamo 3 LED Solar Powered Flashlight Camping Torch CM ( for example), Solar Electric Power to the People ( is not only practical but affordable.

The next step is Solar Swadeshi (, using solar the way Gandhi used the spinning wheel.  Nonviolence requires practice and the practice of swadeshi, local production, every day was, according to Gandhi, the heart of satyagraha.

As we rebuild in the face of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Jose…. and the fires in forests in the Pacific Northwest and Greenland and other places…  the floods, landslides, earthquakes…. we might want to start thinking about a solar civil defense, personally, socially, politically, economically, and culturally.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Net Zero Energy Now

Over the last few years, I’ve been collecting links on zero net energy buildings and communities (archived at, systems which produce at least as much energy as they consume.   There are now net zero energy buildings operating from skyscraper scale down to low income single family homes and both the EU and CA are phasing in net zero building standards between 2017 - 2030 and beyond.  My city, Cambridge, MA, has a zero net emissions policy in place and many communities are considering net zero standards, ideas, and developments as well.   

Net positive buildings are also coming on like gangbusters and there is a German village that produces five times the energy it needs through renewables.  Please note that this article about it is from 2013 and the state of the art has moved on since then.

Another example are these net positive townhouses in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston

Net zero energy is not just for new buildings as well.  A retrofit home in Whatcom County, Washington produces twice the energy it now consumes.  In this area, the solar insolation is 3.5 - 3.0 kWh/square meter/day.  Germany, with that 500% net positive village, has an average solar insolation (or irradiance) of 2.9 kWh/square meter/day.

It’s not just one-at-a-time as construction companies like Sekisui Heim of Japan builds "zero-utility cost" houses and has constructed over 160,000 units with "solar generation systems"

Buildings can achieve net zero almost anywhere in the world.  Here’s information on the Northernmost net positive energy office building (so far):

The Southernmost is the Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica

From pole to pole, in most building types, as eco-districts and net zero cities, Net Zero Energy Vermont focuses on making Vermont the first zero energy state

I also collect links on City Agriculture (archived at and have found that urban agriculture and net zero energy buildings are merging. 
Daniel Libeskind, the “starchitect,” has designed both net zero energy buildings
and vertical gardens

This synergetic trend is only going to continue and speed up, expanding to include buildings that not only produce as much energy as they consume or more while feeding the local population and even improving the air.
Agora Gardens in Taipei - a green building that absorbs CO2
Net zero energy buildings like trees:  Oas1s

The poet Lew Welch wrote, "We remain alert so as not to get run down, but it turns out you only have to hop a few feet to one side and the whole huge machinery rolls by, not seeing you at all.”  We have the tools at hand to change our energy and economic system radically, quickly if we want to take them up and make that little hop to one side or the other.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Zero Net Energy - January 18, 2017

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes - greenest building in the world?

Dutch net zero retrofitting on an industrial approach
hat tip to Gil Friend

Newstead, Australia, population 500, planning to be 100% renewably powered within 5 years

Agora Gardens in Taipei - a green building that absorbs CO2

Smart green tower in Freiburg Im Breisgau, Germany, 16 stories, net energy plus solar with lithium ion battery storage, rooftop garden

KU students build net zero, Passive House, LEED Platinum certified home

Heidelberg Village - 162 apartments built to Passive House standards

Passively heated and cooled building in Austria

CO’s net zero energy districts

RMI’s An Integrative Business Model for Net Zero Energy Districts

ReGen Village designed to produce all its own food and energy

Northernmost net positive energy office building (so far)

Monday, December 05, 2016

McKinsey Talks Energy and Climate at MIT

On November 21, 2016 Scott Nyquist of McKinsey & Company ( spoke to the public at MIT's Sloan School (

Over the next 20 years, there are projections for 80% more demand on resources as a result of growing populations and growing economic production.  However, higher energy intensity, efficiency, and slower GDP growth leads McKinsey and Company to consider a less than base case view.

McKinsey sees 74% of our energy still coming from fossil fuels by 2050, with an energy related CO2 peak by 2035, and a similar peak in transportation by 2025.  COP 21, the Paris Agreement, has businesses going ahead and beyond waiting for negotiation, regulations and governments.  Nyquist pointed us toward not only the Energy Transitions Commission (, 28 leaders from business who recognize that COP21 is not enough and are setting zero carbon as a planning goal but also the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (, 10 companies with 20% of global oil and gas production, which has pledged $1 billion for low carbon technology.

The top 4 emitters, US, China, India, the EU, are planning 4 - 2.5% improvements per year in energy productivity now and that will continue.  China is forecast to exceed the EU, US, India combined in zero carbon energy growth over the next 20 years.  They will have a large nuclear component to their energy mix. Even the Saudis are diversifying from oil.

Autonomous and sharing vehicle systems may reduce transportation emissions dramatically by 2030.  Private cars are going away, says the Senior Partner in the Houston Office of McKinsey and Company and leader in both McKinsey's Energy Practice and the McKinsey Sustainability and Resource Productivity Network.

Solar electricity, photovoltaics, are expected to be competitive in most USA states by 2025. A third of the USA now finds solar electricity competitive with other energy sources, including, in some areas, natural gas, even without subsidies.  Solar is beyond the tipping point today, even with the election of Donald J Trump.  Utility clients are optimistic about the possibilities of storage and micro-grids but still waiting for the technology.  Nyquist did not directly address demand side management or advanced energy efficiency.

According to his conversations, fossil fuel companies understand that the carbon budget is 900 Gt of emissions to keep within the 2ºC increase in global temperature rise while fuel reserves are already 3-5 times that amount.  Scott Nyquist called out  the oil and gas industry and the Republican Party for their conduct on climate change.  The topic of stranded assets was not addressed in this talk.

Nyquist spoke almost exclusively of emissions without really exploring sinks.  All the carbon capture methods he mentioned,  briefly, were industrial.  He concentrated on sources of greenhouse gases rather than sinks, flows much, much more than stocks.  Geoengineering did not come up nor did the idea of geotherapy, amplifying existing natural carbon sinks by ecological design.

At the very beginning of his talk, Scott Nyquist said that there is geological evidence of sea level risings as much as one foot per decade.  That is the context in which McKinsey and Company are thinking about energy and climate change.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Zero Net Energy - November 21, 2016

5 companies leading the field in net zero building

Zero net energy row house project in Sweden

Heidelberg Village PassivHaus development of 162 units, including rooftop and vertical gardens

RMI’s report:  An Integrative Business Model for Net Zero Energy Districts

Hampshire College’s RW Kern Center, zero net energy built to Living Building Challenge standards

Zero net energy retrofits for a Whole Foods grocery and a mixed use historic building with 91 low-income residents in SF

UK Green Building Council’s office renovation for lowest carbon footprint

Zero emissions hydrogen fuel cell train

Regenerative villages

Aruba commits to 100% renewables by2020

Santa Monica requires all new single-family homes to be net zero energy

Ecocor - prefab Passive House construction

Monday, August 01, 2016

Zero Net Energy - August 1, 2016

I’m noticing a cross-over now between zero net energy building and city agriculture, two subjects I follow and publish links lists on.  The archive of the city agriculture links list is at
Net Zero Plus
The NetZero Plus Electric Training Institute (NZP-ETI), opened recently in Los Angeles, and is the largest net-zero plus commercial building retrofit in USA which “will function as a living laboratory, educational facility and demonstration center for advanced and emerging clean energy technologies."

I’ve built a version of this for myself and it seems to work although mine is just a small test model

All terrain off the grid survival vehicle

New home construction moving towards net zero

Retrofit home in Whatcom County, Washington produces twice the energy it now consumes (in an area with solar insolation of 3.5 - 3.0 kWh/square meter/day)

Virginia Beach,VA 10,500-square-foot Brock Environmental Center turns rainwater into drinking water, produces 83% more energy than it uses

Net Zero Energy Vermont - blog focusing on making Vermont the first zero energy state
Net zero energy feasibility study for Vermont buildings (and beyond)
Net zero downtown Montpelier design competition

Siemens new Munich headquarters, using 90% less electricity and 75% less water than what the building it replaced

Los Angeles net zero solar powered  20 unit apartment building:  Hanover Olympic 

Nanjing China zero net energy Green Light House

Net Zero community in Salt Lake City

Telus Gardens in Vancouver, LEED Platinum with indoor gardens

LIAR Living Architecture
"This project will develop blocks able to extract resources from sunlight, waste water and air. The bricks are able to fit together and create ‘bioreactor walls’ which could then be incorporated in housing, public buildings and office spaces.”

Floating House - 100 sqm residential unit, 12 m in diameter and 4 m high, made entirely of recycled laminated timber on a recycled aluminium hull.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Solar Electric Power to the People

I like direct action, positive protest that has immediate, practical, social and economic use.  
That's why I say, Solar IS Civil Defense - light, phone, battery can be supplied by a few square inches of solar electric panel.  The solar bike lights on my backpack over the last decade have proven the concept to my satisfaction (

Light, phone, battery are also entry level electricity for the 1.4 billion or so of us around the world who don't yet have access to reliable electric power.  Emergency preparedness at home, entry level solar power to the people who've never had it is essentially the same thing.
Bare minimum solar electricity for all, as long as the sun shines and the batteries hold out, is technically and practically feasible now.  
It is rapidly becoming affordable too.  

I know of one company that is reaching the price point of $1 per unit production costs for solar rechargeable lights ( and believe that there are others that are doing the same or better.  That's $1.4 billion in production costs (or less, given economies of scale) to supply everyone among the presently powerless or $200 million if we start with one solar lighting system per family at a global average of 7 people per family.
How much more for delivery and setting up the infrastructure?  The Dominican Light Project ( is beginning to provide solar lights for every family in the Dominican Republic at a proposed cost of $5 each to the customer's door.  They raised some of their money through crowdfunding (
Bare minimum solar electricity for all, as long as the sun shines and the batteries hold out, is not only technically feasible but also affordable and practical now.
in 2015, the world's military forces spent $1,676.0 billion annually or $4.59 billion per day
2016 USA Presidential election spending to July 22, 2016:
Amount raised by candidates:  $904 million
Amount raised by Super PACS supporting them:  $492
Just for reference.
Conceivably, there could be ad hoc popular movement for crowd funding the end of electrical energy poverty within the next 3 to 5 years.  A day of what we spend on warfare or a US Presidential campaign could give everybody who needed a light, a light.  This is solar electric power to the people.
Now, add a bicycle or a hand-crank and you have two reliable sources of electricity day or night, by sunlight or muscle power.
Here are a few solar lighting buy one, give one programs:
One Million Lights


Buy One Give One for Malawi

LuminAID Portable Solar-Powered Inflatable Light

10 Inspiring "Buy One Give One" Projects - Mashable