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

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Old Solar: Equal Rights to the Sun


“Produced by Bonnie Symansky, this video, Equal Rights to the Sun (1979) documents citizen [led] solar energy projects organized in the Boston area by the Urban Solar Energy Association (USEA - founded by Barbara Brandt [Susan Baldwin, George Mokray, and Ambrose Spencer]).

Cities in the northeast have the greatest energy needs yet resources are often scarce. Solar enthusiasts are working hard to solve energy problems through neighborhood cooperative efforts. Equal Rights to the Sun documents some of Boston's self-help urban solar projects, demonstrating that solar is working in cities and it need not be expensive. Includes examples of building a breadbox heater, converting an attic into a solar greenhouse, the addition of passive wall collectors, enclosure of a south-facing porch and construction of a solar skylight. Solar energy shines on every part of the city. Shows that all we need is a little ingenuity and cooperation to take advantage of it.”

Many of the people in this 1979 video continued in the renewable energy field, even through the lean decades after 1979, when Reagan was elected and all movement stopped dead in its tracks.  It’s one reason why I say Reagan killed us (although he’s had a lot of help since then).

 The Urban Solar Energy Association became the Boston Area Solar Energy Association ( which hosted school programs, a long-running lecture series, and other events.  They plan to resume activities soon.

Here’s an upate on one of the USEA barnraised solar air heaters:
Old Solar: 1980 Barnraised Solar Air Heater

Some late 1970s context:

Old Solar:  JImmy Carter’s Green Deal

Another example from those days was the New Alchemy Institute in Cape Cod and in 2019 the Guardian looked back at it after 40 years

I believe we knew what we were doing then and practiced positive protest by constructing the alternatives we wanted to see.  There is a positive future but only if we start building it now and continue building it daily.  One group which is doing that today in the Boston area is the Home Energy Efficiency Team [HEET] ( which started by doing weatherization barnraisings,proceeded to local gas leak monitoring, and is now starting a pilot GeoMicroDistrict to prune back gas lines by replacing them with geothermal heat pumps with the local utility, Eversource

Earlier entries in the Old Solar series:
Old Solar:  Eames Solar Do-Nothing Machine

Old Solar:  Keck and Keck Twentieth Century Modern
Old Solar:  1881

Old Solar:  Venetian Vernacular

Old Solar: 1980 Barnraised Solar Air Heater

Old Solar:  JImmy Carter’s Green Deal

I always thought you could teach the rudiments of solar energy in about a half hour and over the years produced a series of short videos that attempts to do that:


But then I also thought the site-built, community renewable energy movement would produce something like this

Do It Yourself Solar:  Austrian Self-Build Coops

Monday, December 20, 2021

Solar: Not Sold in Stores

 Recently, I’ve seen TV ads for a $10,000 home battery system, the PWRcell* ( and two versions of a solar light and motion sensor, the Bionic Floodlight# (, for $20-30 but “not sold in stores.”  Quite a price spread.

*  "PWRcell’s revolutionary battery storage technology captures and stores electricity from solar panels or the grid. The energy stored can be discharged during peak demand times when the cost of utility power is higher, which helps you save money…  The PWRcell battery storage system starts at $9,999 MSRP+. This price point includes 1- Inverter, 1- Battery Storage Cabinet, and 3 – battery modules. Special financing, as well as state or federal rebates, tax credits, and other financial incentives are available, and make the PWRcell even more affordable.”

#  $30 Version:  “Each of the three separate panels on the Bionic Floodlight can trigger 108 high-intensity LED bulbs when motion is detected, to blast a bright, penetrating light.”
$20 Version:  “8 LED lights… SPECIAL OFFER: Get a 2nd Bionic Spotlight for only $6.95!"

I’ve also seen 
Solar light/chargers for
$27 - 

Solar light/charger/fan

Another interesting product is an LED bulb with built in battery 

For decades now I’ve been saying and practicing my own solar civil defense with a $10 solar bicycle light and charger that’s now available wholesale for $5.80@ or less

Thursday, December 02, 2021

ANAI: 40 Years of Ecological Development in Costa Rica

 I wonder how many people remember the New Alchemy Institute which, from 1969 to 1991, experimented with wind power, solar power, intensive regenerative agriculture, aquaculture, and many other ideas now becoming big business and a way out of climate chaos.  I first visited with them around 1974 and am still in contact with some of the old New Alchies today, and continue to believe their vision of the world is the way to an ecologically restorative future. 

One of the founders is Bill McLarney who 40 years ago started a Costa Rican version of New Alchemy, ANAI (, to integrate nature conservation and sustainable development in the Talamanca region.  I’ve supported his work there with a small annual donation for most of that time and, in return, get a short annual report.  This year’s brought more than a smile to my face and demands to be shared:

"With the indispensable assistance of Bioeducators, we have finally completed a long deferred project to produce laminated sheets with photos of almost all of the 50 species of freshwater fish we have identified from the La Amistad Caribe watersheds, with scientific names plus common names in Spanish, English, Bribri, Naso and Ngobe.  Getting the indigenous names right was a challenge which required sending our indigenous Bioeducators on errands to remote villages to visit 'old timers' who were thoroughly familiar with the names of the fish in their native languages, and putting them together with younger people fluent in the recently created written forms of the four languages.  Thus a byproduct of our biologically focused work was to fortify the indigenous cultures….

"For many years, ANAI’s signature program was organic agroforestry.  Over the years, and in keeping with our philosophy of maximizing local responsibility and involvement, this responsibility has been passed to APPTA (Talamanca Small Producers’ Association) ( which has become the world’s largest organic farmers’ cooperative.  ANAI’s most recent contribution to APPTA’s success has been in securing funding to obtain and install three industrial driers, which tremendously increases their capacity to purchase, process and market local organic farm products….

"As what was once merely ANAI’s vision of how things should be matures, we are ever more forcefully reminded of the links between terrestrial, aquatic and marine biodiversity, and the crucial role organic agroforestry plantations on small farms can play in reducing fragmentation and protecting landscape integrity.  Toward this end, we are planning to initiate a process of mapping all existing forested corridors, and gaps, in our service area extending from the Rio Estrella watershed in Costa Rica to Almirante Bay in Panama, and from the cost to the Continental Divide...

"All of the activities reported here - strengthening old and creating new organic agroforestry farms, fomenting the community Water Observatories movement, advocation for the needs of migratory fish - play into this vision.”

ANAI can always use donations at
The New Alchemy land in Hatchville, MA on Cape Cod is still continuing the vision in different ways, with some of the original New Alchies, as you can see at
John Todd, another of the founders and a pioneering ecological designer, is still working (one of his latest projects is on greening the Sinai Peninsula) through