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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Solar Backpack and Bicycle Back Up

My backpack became a solar backpack when I sewed a $5 solar tail light and a $10 solar headlight to it.  The plastic blister pack is the holder for the headlight.  I've been assembling my own solar backpacks from off the shelf materials for close to a decade and a half now and this is the third version.

This Solar headlight (links to sellers are from a search made on 11/26/17 and you should probably check others out even though these are now commodity products made in gross quantities)
costs about $10.  I've been using one for a year or two and it works fine.  The on/off button top came off during the first winter but it hasn't affected the switch's performance.

The solar light comes with a mini-USB to USB plug so I can supply battery power to another small device.  

This Solar tail light
costs about $5 and, again, I've been using two for a year or two, one on the rear fender of my bike and another sewn to my backpack, given one or two away, and they work fine. 

I have just ordered this bicycle chain charger with battery and USB connection for about $50 
I want to see how that works out.

The combination of solar and bicycle power gives anyone essential energy autonomy whatever the state of the grid.  Or the world.

The fact of the matter is, for less than $100 dollars you can have a 5, 10, or 20 year, depending upon the quality of the equipment and based upon my experience, supply of basic electricity:  light, phone, radio, batteries, possibly a computer....
Small solar and bicycle power can also be entry level electrical power for the more than 1 billion people who don't now, in 2017, have access to reliable and affordable electricity.

This is one reason why I say Solar IS Civil Defense.

It is also why I say a Solar Swadeshi ( is extremely practical and an entry into Gandhian economics, nonviolent economics, and a new sense of independence and self-reliance.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

4 Symmetrical Tetrahedra of 5 Platonic Solids

This is a video of a magnetic model of the Cube and the Tetrahedron broken down into its smallest symmetrical tetrahedra, what Buckminster Fuller called the A and B Quanta or mathematicians call Schläfli orthoschemes (I think).

The A and B Quanta make the equilateral triangle Tetrahedron (4 sided solid), square Cube or Hexahedron (6 sided), and equilateral triangle Octahedron (8 sided)

The A Quanta is 1/24th of a Tetrahedron, the smallest symmetrical tetrahedron to make up a Platonic solid.  Here is the net of the A Quanta which can be folded to make the left and right hand versions, both of which are needed.

The B Quanta plus the A Quanta makes the Cube or Hexahedron 
and the Octahedron,
two other Platonic solids
48 A Quanta + 24 B Quanta = 1 Cube
2 Cubes = 1 Octahedron


A third, the Dodeca Quanta, builds the Dodecahedron

120 Dodeca Quanta = 1 Dodecahedron

And a fourth,
120 Icosa Quanta = 1 Icosahedron

I've made magnetic models of the 5 Platonic solids with the magnets in the centers of the faces of the polyhedra.  The A and B Quanta have the same volumes and I suspect share that volume at the same scale, all four tetrahedra share one common right angle triangle, but I haven't tested that hypothesis.

Since I saw this video, I think the next model should be a set of these Quanta built as class 2 tensegrities with ball magnets at the vertices.  In fact, I'd commission someone to build it, for the right price.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

MIT Energy Hackathon Puerto Rico (Caribbean) Challenge Results

The MIT Energy Hackathon began on Friday night, November 3 and ended Sunday morning, November 5.  9 energy challenges were presented to about 300 people for 2 minutes each.  After a take-out dinner, each presenter had the chance to talk with individual and small groups of students for an hour and a half and to check back in over the weekend.   I presented my challenge,  Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes (, the only one submitted by an individual not a corporation, as best I could.  There were over 40 teams at the Hackathon working on problems with Shell and GM’s and other’ climate goals, beer and other food and beverage waste treatment, drilling fluids, building energy use, and other topics.

Three teams took the hurricane reconstruction challenge up.  Each of them concentrated on Puerto Rico although I had specifically reminded them of the situation on Barbuda which was a much smaller scale, about 2000 people rather than more than 3 million.  One team redesigned Puerto Rico’s electrical system as modular micro-grids with energy storage to provide 40% of the island's power from renewables within a reasonable time period.  Hawaii, with a population of about 1.5 million, is planning on 70% of its energy from renewables by 2030.  This team intends to keep working on their proposal for another upcoming hackathon.  

The second team proposed an app to identify what areas had electricity and what areas didn't and then link people with energy suppliers and systems, an app which is applicable not only to Puerto Rico but any disaster or emergency aftermath.  The third team would use SolarCoin (, an existing online currency, and blockchain using Mycroft, “an open source Alexa” or Siri, to bootstrap and crowd fund a solar transition for individual and groups as well as community solar installations.  The first team was also thinking of electrical current as currency with blockchain, an authentication or accounting system, something that can lead to what I call a solar swadeshi ( and, possibly, Gandhian economics (

There were nine finalists.  Two of the finalists were teams that took up the challenge of Puerto Rico:  the app team and the SolarCoin team.  Neither won any of the three top prizes but the SolarCoin team won the best in its challenge.

This particular challenge, building and rebuilding our energy and communications infrastructure in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and here in the USA, is an ongoing challenge, a problem that won’t go away without a lot of work.  

There are other discussions about climate resilience and disaster response ongoing, just as natural disasters and man-made emergencies are.  Here’s another set of design challenges that’s open until November 8, 2017:
Design BriefThis mission is time sensitive, as people who are affected by these disasters are in immediate need of solutions. We’ll be closing this mission and implementing the solutions devised November 08th, 2017.  
Field Ready ( has pinpointed eight categories of top-priority challenges that you can help with. We ask that you identify a problem where your unique maker powers could make a difference, then contribute your solutions as projects here. Field Ready can disseminate your instructions to its experts in the field who can get prototypes into production, and into the hands of those who really need it.
Choose a category of challenge from the list below. When creating a project, state in the first line which category you’re solving for so it can be easily forwarded on to the proper channels. All viable entries will be reviewed by experts on site and put into use as needed. 
Challenge #1 Desalinated WaterPropose reliable means of obtaining usable water through desalination techniques. 
Challenge #2 Sustainable Means of CookingPropose a safe way of converting seawater and non-potable water to cooking fuel.
Challenge #3 Water StoragePropose techniques to pump water up two stories (10 meters) using found or upcycled materials.
Challenge #4 Sustainable Food & Medicine StoragePower existing refrigerators, using found/upcycled materials like solar panels, to keep milk, medicines and perishables cold.
Challenge #5 Replacement PartsPropose a small, portable casting system that can safely melt found metals into replacement parts. Assume the use of recovered wood from fallen trees as a fuel source.
Challenge #6 TelecommunicationsPropose a system for connecting neighborhoods with local fire/police departments when the communications infrastructure is damaged.
Challenge #7 Maintaining Cleanliness for the Elderly and DisabledPropose a method of rapidly drying clothes and other belongings using little or no power when rain storms, high humidity, windy conditions, and lack of space hinder line-drying.
Challenge #8 Traffic Control 
Propose a temporary traffic control system when traffic signals are out of commission. Assume a lack of personnel to post at most intersections. Your solution should be easily dropped into any intersection and simple enough to program to direct traffic to specific patterns and include a self-contained power source that could last for up to 6 months at a time. 
Field Ready has access to fabrication tools (including woodworking, 3D printers, laser cutters, metal casting) that can be leveraged in the final solutions of projects, though upcycled and easily accessible materials are preferred. If creating an electronic/smart solution, Arduino and Raspberry Pi are preferred as they are both readily available and well known.  
The Make: team will make sure that all makers whose solutions are selected for testing or use by Field Ready teams are kept informed of the impact of their work. The results will be showcased on Maker Share and in Make: Magazine. 
Consult the Rules & Instructions for additional details pertaining to each of the categories listed above.

Monday, October 30, 2017

MIT Energy Hackathon: Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes

The content committee for the MIT Energy Hackathon, November 3-5, has accepted my challenge on "Rebuilding Energy Infrastructure in the Caribbean After the Hurricanes.”  With luck, an extremely 
knowledgeable and expert team of MIT and other students will study this question and propose solutions.  

My cunning plan is to see whether Hackathon weekend can snowball into a global brainstorm on the topic, sorta kinda like a World Game or World Peace Game for all those who want to participate, "for the benefit of all who will allow the benefit of all,” as my friend Milt Raymond used to say.  I think renewables are mature enough and affordable enough now to be a feasible alternative to the fossil fuel economy if you start from scratch.  And there are islands like Barbuda and areas of Puerto Rico which are doing just that.  This is an opportunity to design an accelerated renewable transition, something that was already buiding before disaster struck.

Here is the challenge proposal I submitted:

Challenge:  How do we rebuild the energy systems of Puerto Rico, the American and British Virgin Islands, and the other countries and islands whose infrastructures have been destroyed by this season’s hurricanes so they are subject to less damage the next time a hurricane or other natural disaster comes?

This challenge has to think along a variety of different scales and situations.  The island of Barbuda experienced 95% destruction of their infrastructure for their population, around 1800.  The United States Virgin Islands of St Croix, St Thomas, and St John also experienced wide-spread devastation for their population of about 106,000 people.  Puerto Rico with a population of around 3.5 million is in a similar situation compounded by their existing economic debt crisis.

Is it useful to think from the individual on up, from small community microgrids that have the ability to stand-alone as well as connect to a larger grid, to start from the existing grid on down, repairing what already existed and changing as little as possible?  What are the options, what are the possibilities, what are we missing as we go about this task which means the survival of many?

Solar Electric Light Fund is helping to distribute solar lights and chargers for Puerto Rico (  This is an individual person or family solution.  Can it be integrated into a kind of local microgrid which might also include bicycle chargers for AA, motorcycle, and car batteries?

Sunnyside Solar of Brattleboro, VT, a long-time solar installer, is fund-raising for community-scale solar electricity and water supply

The Coastal Marine Resource Center through Resilient Power PR is building mobile solar relief hubs, based upon their experience in NY’s Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy, as phase one of a project that they plan to develop for 100 mobile solar hubs so that each of the 78 communities in Puerto Rico will have at least one solar relief hub available, leading to solar for every home in Puerto Rico

Tesla (and other renewable energy companies) are helping to restore power and services

Experts are rethinking hurricane disaster response and infrastructure rebuilding, given the technologies now available and their relative costs compared to older energy infrastructure:

There is even already an MIT student response:

Existing Knowledge Base:
Islands Energy Program
"We aim to accelerate the transition to renewables in 10 island Caribbean countries, install 95 megawatts of renewable energy, and leverage $300 million in financing for island energy projects by 2020.”
This is a project of the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) in partnership with Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) ( including Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia (San Andrés and Providencia), Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos, and The Seychelles which has been underway for some time.

Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA)

The DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has an Islands Energy Playbook

Finally, MIT’s D-Lab has their Off-grid Energy Checklist

Final statement:  Can we reimagine the Caribbean energy infrastructure in such a way that we can rebuild from this season’s hurricanes with the result that the people of the Caribbean will not suffer as they are now suffering?  Can we provide a hardened and resilient energy system that is close to 100% renewably powered, wherever possible, at an affordable cost that will support the present standard of living and industry and, perhaps, provide the power for much higher standards of living and more robust industries?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Renewables in the Wake of the Caribbean Hurricanes

I couple of weeks ago, I suggested crowd funding solar lights and chargers for Puerto Rico and the other islands devastated by this year's hurricanes.  One of the groups I sent that piece to was the Solar Electric Light Fund ( and they let me know a few days ago that they have launched a crowd funding campaign for solar lights and chargers, using d.light's S300 mobile charger + solar light, LED Rechargeable Lantern (  You can contribute at with Catholic Charities USA distributing the systems to those most in need.

Rocky Mountain Institute has been working with the Clinton Climate  Initiative (CCI) and the Caribbean Electric Utility Service Corporation (CARILEC) ( on an Islands Energy Program ( aiming to accelerate the transition to renewables in 10 island Caribbean countries (Anguilla, Aruba, Bahamas, Belize, Colombia (San Andrés and Providencia), Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Turks and Caicos) and The Seychelles, installing 95 megawatts of renewable energy, and leveraging $300 million in financing for island energy projects by 2020.  I'm sure they are adjusting and speeding up their timetable.

Gov. Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico and Elon Musk of Tesla had a 25-minute phone conversation Friday night October 6, 2017 discussing relief efforts.  Teams from Tesla and Puerto Rico’s energy sector will continue the talks early next week, Rosselló told USA Today.  “I told him because of the devastation, if there is a silver lining, we can start re-conceptualizing how we want to produce energy here in Puerto Rico and distribute it and do it in a more reliable fashion,” Rosselló said. “It was a very positive first step.”

Richard Branson ( has said, "My thoughts are turning to working with others to help create a long-term Marshall Plan for the BVI, and for the Caribbean to be reconstructed and rejuvenated with clean energy and new jobs."

The Solar Energy Industries Association is coordinating efforts by the solar industry to aid relief efforts ( and I suspect that there will be a growing recognition of what this new energy industry can do on short notice and for the long term.

What is needed is renewable energy at all scales from basic - light, phone, radio, battery charging - to household, business, and enterprise microgrids (hospitals first).

Most islands going majority renewable are at the 10 - 15,000 population scale.  Hawaii is planning for 70% renewables by 2030 but Puerto Rico is 3.5 million and is facing months of repair to their old energy system before returning to normal.  Will small and medium scale renewables tide them over? There are, perhaps, some lessons to be learned from Bangladesh, in relation to renewables deployment and climate change adaptation:

Back in 2004 I wrote about a possible Solar Product Chain (

I want to make a series of steppingstone products to full solar electric power.  From the smallest button batteries up to dry cell and USB, 6 volt, 12 volt systems to integrate with bicycles, motorcycles, and cars, and to AC power through inverters.

solar powered LED light - flashlight, keychain or backpack fobsolar jewelry - rings, bracelets, necklaces, with solar charging brooch and rechargeable battery packsolar bicycle light (for visibility)This set of products uses button batteries, CR2016 and CR2032 size and hearing aid batteries, for instance. The simplest system is a solar cell, with a blocking diode, a set or rechargeable batteries, and a single LED

solar/dynamo flashlight/radio and battery chargerThe charger works on AA and other dry cell sizes, possibly up to 12 volts. A radio and flashlight are what is recommended in case of emergency and disaster. If the extra set of batteries is rechargeable, the solar/dynamo system can produce electricity day or night by sunlight or muscle power as long as the batteries can carry a charge.

solar car battery charger (one square foot)12 volt (and multiples)Every car can become a "hybrid vehicle" by installing an extra battery and a control system to charge from the alternator when the engine's battery is finished. Battery switching, with 12 volt or dry cell or even button batteries is a key concept in the solar transition.

one window solar electric system (four square feet)12 volt, with AC inverter and possible grid connectThe one window system is 4 square feet of solar collector and should be almost as easy to install as an air conditioner. Open the window, erect the frame, aim it at the sun, attach collector, plug it in, and close the window.
There should be a consistent look and feel to all the products along the product chain and as much inter-operability as possible.

I've contacted people at MIT who are about to have their annual Energy Hackathon ( about the possibility of working on Caribbean energy reconstruction and the possibility of opening up the Hackathon through MIT EdX to all those around the world who wish to contribute.  I dream of a global brainstorm to make the Caribbean 100% clean energy powered now.  There is also the start of a discussion around a presentation on this topic at the next NE Sustainable Energy Association's Building Energy conference in March 2018 (

Perhaps the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria can result in a transition to clean energy in the Caribbean at a scale and a speed that we have not yet dared to imagine.

RMI is using the Islands Energy Playbook to plan their approach ( and MIT's D-Lab has an Off-Grid Energy Roadmap ( which may also be useful as we build our clean energy future.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Crowd Funding an Emergency Solar Electric Grid for Puerto Rico and Other Islands

Solar lights and cell phone chargers are now $1or less production costs and selling around the world for $5 or less retail.  Add bicycle generators and you have independent indigenous emergency power now, day or night.  AA battery to car battery and better microgrids.

It is conceivable that we could crowd fund a basic emergency electrical system (lights, cell phones or radio, computers) for Puerto Rico (as well as the other islands destroyed by the recent hurricanes) within less time than the established grid can come back on line.

There are examples of islands which are planning and working toward 100% renewable power:
El Hierro, 7,000 people, one of the Spanish Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, uses wind and pumped hydro energy storage to supply 50% of its power

Kodiak Island, 15,000 people, in Alaska has been running its grid with wind and hydro power since 2012

Samsø, 4,000 people, in Denmark has spent over the last decade moving towards zero carbon with wind, solar, and biomass

Bornholm, 14,000 people, also in Denmark, is working towards a CO2-neutral society based on renewable and sustainable energy by 2025 and was the site of the EU’s Grid 2.0 project

and Hawaii, 1,400,000 people, has the goal of using renewables like wind, sun, ocean, geothermal, and bioenergy to supply 70 percent or more of Hawaii's energy needs by 2030

How about an ad hoc global online design charette and hackathon to rebuild Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, St. Martin / St. Maarten, the US Virgin Islands, and Turks and Caicos, Dominica… ?

That might be a good thought experiment.  Perhaps we could run it through the Small Island and Developing States UN organization

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.