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

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.

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