Archive for April, 2012

The Sun has been a source of inspiration and awe for a very, very long time. It can not be known how long ago people noticed that the Sun can warm the body or where a person lived but it can be safely said that it was well before any written language.

Solar Heating has been around for almost as long as we have build dwellings to live in. Here in Colorado we have Mesa Verde cliff dwellings that used the sun to keep warm in the Winter and cool in the Summer. These dwelling made use of Passive Solar gain rather than actively harnessing the Sun’s energy by building their homes in a cliff niche.

Around 400 BCE the Greeks made use of  Passive Solar Energy by constructing their buildings to take advantage of the free heat the Sun provided and when glass was invented used windows that kept the heat gain indoors for a longer period.  A quick timeline of the use of Solar Energy:

  • 3rd Century BCE Greeks and Romans used mirrors to concentrate the Sun’s energy to light torches and fires.
  • 2nd Century BCE Greeks used mirrors to set fire to enemy ships.
  • 20 CE a Chinese document talks about using mirrors to light ceremonial fires.
  • In the first 4 centuries of the Common Era Romans used large south facing windows to help keep bathhouses warm.
  • 6th Century CE the Justinian Code gave everyone right to the Sun and equal access – no one could block another’s access to the sun
  • 1200 CE cliff dwelling like those in Colorado made use of south facing dwelling to harness the Sun passively.
  • Horace de Saussure in 1767 created the first solar box collector used by Sir John Herschel in South Africa to cook his meals.
  • 1839 Edmond Becquerel after immersing two dissimilar metals in an electrolyte found that when exposed to the Sun produced more electricity thereby discovering the photovoltaic effect.
  • …and the number of discoveries only accumulate too numerous to list here.

Although not complete it gives someone the insight that harnessing the Sun’s energy (namely heat) has been something we has been done for a very long time.

Using the sun to cool on the other hand is a newer idea.  The idea first started with Michael Faraday (1791 to 1867)  who was the first to suggest and use a liquid that when allowed to vaporize cooled. The liquid he chose, and which later became used wide spread in early refrigerators, was ammonia. After compressing ammonia it was allowed to vaporize which gave the cooling effect he was looking for, and was the start of cooling and refrigeration.

In a solar collector system the Sun’s heat is used to bring a liquid to a boil and as it vaporizes it giving the same cooling effect without a compressor. Currently there are two types of solar cooling devices on the market. The first makes use of the traditional compressor driven by electricity from a Photovoltaic panel to create the cooling process. The other model makes use of evaporative cooling or absorption chillers.

Another way I recently found that comes out of Germany is the use of traditional Solar Heat Absorption Panels and Photovoltaic Panels. Both provide energy to the home year round. The heat first goes into a tank to be stored until needed. Once the tank is fully charged the heat energy is not ignored or wasted but instead a heat pump is used to move the extra heat into the ground beneath the home to store it. It is a kind of heat battery except slightly more efficiently. To heat the home the Sun’s energy can be used directly, or the heat in the tank and finally the heat stored in the ground. To cool the home a second heat pump is used to draw heat from the house which is then moved directly beneath the home for storage.  This set up, and this is from what I have gathered and has not been fully tested for any length of time as far as I know, is far more efficient than running air conditioners or chillers and direct heating in the winter. This method is called a Geosolar system.

Because the ground is used as both a source of heat and to store excess heat the whole system becomes more efficient.  The big issue with possible freezing of the ground which can happen as more heat is drawn out than is available is eliminated by putting heat back into the ground in warmer months.  Because both the heat source and electricity come from a renewable source of energy the efficiency of this system is in the neighborhood of 500%. That means you are getting more out than is being put in as with a traditional ground based heat pump which ranges from 200 to 300% efficiency. Not bad when a system like this is combined with a PassivHaus design that already has greatly reduced heating and cooling needs to begin with. With a PassivHaus such a system would actually become a secondary backup source of heating and cooling adding to its overall efficiency.

With a home and a system that are both with such high efficiency will allow it to last much longer than a traditionally designed system used only  for supplemental heating or cooling needs. Combining technologies is the answer because each efficiency is piggy backed on adding to the overall efficiency of a system.


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I am going to use the word Geothermal to mean more than the narrow definition of just producing electricity which many people think of when they hear the word.   Geothermal to me means ‘ground heat’ or heat from the Earth broadening its application.

Background and History

The word Geothermal has its root in Greek words for Earth and Heat. Geo or gaia means Earth and thermo or therm for heat or warmth.  Heat from the Earth has been known for a long, long time with many ancient people making use of thermal springs that naturally rose to surface. Some of them were enclosed to hold in the heat and create a hot pool in which to bath while in other areas the water would have been hauled a short distance for use. Ancient people used this form of Geothermal heat for bathing as far back as ten-thousand years.

It was not until more recent years that we have seen the use of the Earth’s heat to produce electricity.  July 4th 1904 the first power plant using dry steam from a geothermal source went online to produce electricity in Larderello Italy. In 1911 the plant was upgraded to industrial levels for higher electrical production.  It was the only power plant in the world producing electricity in this way until 1958.  The site has seen more than 30% drop in steam pressure from its peak in the 1050’s.

In 1958 the Wairakei plant in New Zealand made use of flash steam technology.  Pacific Gas and Electric began to operate a Geothermal plant in 1960 in California. A binary cycle plant was put into use in Russia in 1967 and in the 1970’s in the United States after the energy crisis. The binary cycle plant makes use of much lower steam pressure. Now there are some 60 plants world wide producing electricity.

Many of the newer power plants make use of wells drilled to pump water underground before it resurfaces as steam unlike older plants which made use of areas where steam naturally rose from the ground.

Some Pro’s and Con’s


  • compared to fossil fuels it is environmentally friendly and less polluting
  • it is a safe form of energy
  • for the most part it is renewable for as long as the Earth’s core remains intact producing heat
  • it can produce electricity at a fair price and is not subject to price fluctuations as fossil fuels are
  • it costs little to operate a Geothermal power plant
  • it reduces our dependence on fossil fuels and can be a transition energy source to include other renewable energy sources
  • more energy can be extracted by using the remaining heat in conjunction with Stirling engines to produce more electricity or for heating in nearby homes or businesses thereby getting a bigger return


  • it is costly to setup a Geothermal plant
  • the heat source does not last and begins to decline soon after a power plant goes online
  • is not available everywhere, very localized
  • it could release poisonous gases like hydrogen sulfide which is hard to deal with or dispose of
  • pipes can become clogged with mineral deposits shutting a plant down
  • Earthquakes and after shocks can occur do to the drilling and pumping of water underground
  • it has limited applications, heat and electricity production only

There is only one Con I can see that is never adequately discussed – is there any potential damage it could cause to the Earth’s core by extracting ‘too’ much heat at one time like if there were too many Geothermal plants built around the world to meet future energy needs. All the water pumped underground to extract the Earth’s heat could cause a cooling effect as has been seen with existing power plants where steam pressure is lost overtime as the heat in the area is lost.  Until this majorly important question is answered without a brush-off with words like, ‘there’s plenty of heat, it can’t happen’ I can not in all honesty support it as a ‘major’ energy contributor and only see it on the sidelines.

Now onto a way I am fully supportive of.  In Europe new home designs with a heat pump work in two ways have been used successfully for a number of years now and should in my opinion be used in the U.S. too. I will admit I have not absorbed all the information as I am not an engineer or scientist to fully understand the inner workings but I do know  enough to relay the information for you here.

First, the home is super insulated to make best use of the heating and cooling without wasting energy as typical McMansions or other low insulation construction methods do.  The home will have several solar panels to collect the Sun’s heat throughout the day storing excess heat in one or more tanks in the basement.  Once the tanks are fully charged the excess heat is not wasted but stored in the ground beneath the house using the heat pump.  When heat is needed it is extracted from the tank and then from underground.  In this way you maximize the amount of heat stored without wasting it.  In summer months the heat pump can act as a means of cooling a home by storing the heat underground for cooler months.  In new homes radiant heat can be installed in both the floors and walls but in older homes the old fashioned radiators or baseboard radiators can be installed.

By combining Solar Heat collection and heat pumps that make use of the ground beneath a home as storage and extracting the heat the whole system becomes more energy efficient with very little need for additional or backup heating or cooling. The ground essentially becomes a heat battery that is recharged part of the year and drawn from when needed. Makes sense to me.

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I might as well be honest, neither of these are something I would support and I thing we should not persue them rather we should be getting off oil as fast as possible.  Now let my explain why I am not a fan of either of these unconventional forms of energy, oil.

Tar Sands

Here is a partial list of some of the more glaring reasons why we should stop extracting oil from tar sands:

  1. Strip mining leaves the land destroyed for many lifetimes in the future.
  2. It uses millions of gallons of fresh water that is left polluted forever.
  3. It disrupts wildlife habitat for thousands of miles around, both in migration and in taking away their home by destroying it.
  4. It leaves huge, I mean so large you could not walk around, sometimes for miles very large waste ponds that poison the ground water and soil for a very, very long time.
  5. Any doubts about what I’ve said take a look at areal photographs of these ponds and the mining operation and it will become glaringly obvious to yourself the need to stop such nearly devastation to supply you with oil.
  6. The EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) is a good measure as to how financially viable it is going after any source of energy or will it actually take more input than it gives back. As for Tar Sands the EROEI is only 1.5:1 or one-half more than what is input. To say this another way, if you get 15 barrels out you spent 10 barrels getting it. There is one flaw with this, it doesn’t take into account the millions of gallons of water that are poisoned, the land destruction, the huge amounts of pollution create and takes to mine as well as process the sand into an oil that can be refined.
    Tar Sands is an overall energy loss no matter how you look at it, because two other crucial figures are left out, transportation and refining it which then takes the energy return into the negative. There you have it.
    Why go after Tar Sands? It’s a last ditch effort with the help of  huge subsides to keep it going and to damn with all the environmental  protection laws and regulations. The U.S. is a huge importer of this oil from Canada. This impost of oil is a cover for the fact we are running out of oil.

Some people online and in papers they have published claim the EROEI is much higher, as high as 4 or 4.5 for Tar Sands. They are only using deceptive manipulation of the numbers to raise the energy output by ignoring many of things I have mentioned already.  Below I will post a link to photographs of the Tar Sands so you can see the total devestation that has been caused to keep you supplied (in the U.S. namely) with oil, gasoline, diesel and plastics (along with the millions of other products made from oil).

My advice, get off oil as fast as possible and shut down the mining of Tar Sands today!

Shale (the rock that burns)

The EROEI is even worse for Shale than for Tar Sands. You can literally superimpose the reasons for Tar Sands onto Shale. Huge mountains are turned into rubble in the process expending a large amount of energy to get nothing in return.  Let me go into a bit more detail and EROEI for Shale to oil and natural gas.

The amount of energy it takes to mine, crush, process, ship, refine Shale leaves it with no more energy than a baked potato.  Including the millions of gallons of fresh water left poisoned and the environmental devastation involved which leaves the amount of energy in Shale far worse than Tar Sands, in the negative numbers.

Here in Colorado where I live several mines were abandoned after several years because without huge subsides, tax dollars given to the companies they were never profitable to mine and process shale into oil. Both Chevron and ExxonMobile gave up leaving the mines as huge scares on the land.

The gas production from Shale is hard to estimate as we have no idea what it actually costs to get at the gas as it is a secret Haliburton is keeping.  Here is what is involved: Fracking is a method of injecting under high pressure and high temperature water and a chemical soup Haliburton claims is proprietary leaving the ground water and surrounding land poisoned. First, several wells are drilled into the Shale deposit. Then huge trucks are brought in with the chemicals and water if it is not available in huge quantities on the surface or by drilling. Both are heated and pumped underground to fracture the Shale and it is this fracturing which releases the gas. If the area sees a decline in gas production then the process is repeated with more clean water mixed with the chemical soup to further fracture the Shale.

People who live in the area where Fracking have found their well water becomes mixed with the gas causing it to burn. Also, the chemical soup leaves the water poisoned and undrinkable unless a person wants to commit suicide. natural gas is sometimes even found to bubble up from the ground which adds methane a greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. Haliburton has so far claimed no responsibility yet everywhere they have done this process the same results have occurred in thousands of wells.

With huge energy inputs to extract gas leaves me to conclude the EROEI is very low or in the negative. It is nothing more than a last ditch effort to hide the truth from people, we are running out of Natural Gas rapidly!

I suggest people find every which way to reduce your dependence on oil and gas as quickly as possible. Some practical tips: insulate your home to greatly reduce your energy consumption. For people who have some land, not within cities as restrictions would be greater, build an underground methane digester to produce enough methane for all your cooking needs cleaning and storing any extra for colder months. If it is at all possible build or convert your fireplace to a what is called a Masonry Stove in the U.S. or Kachelofen in Europe. It uses less wood or other materials and provides more heat to the home. Park your car or get rid of it and use public transportation or bicycle. Walking won’t hurt you either. Buy organic food and natural fiber clothing or as little petroleum fiber clothing as possible. Grow as much of your own food as possible, even apartment dwellers can do this it just takes ingenuity and a will.

The ideas are by no mean comprehensive but at least it gives you options that take you beyond oil and gas. The more you do the less you use which helps. Encourage friends and family to join you. Make these types of operations more expensive by not using as much as you presently do to the point where they have to shut down because they can no longer make a profit. Become energy independent, decentralize energy production and distribution are the only way to rid ourselves of our dependence on fossil fuels.


Pictures of the Tar Sands:


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If you haven’t heard about Peak Oil you must not be keeping up or been living under a rock. We are running out. How fast is hard to say because all the data in the last couple of decades has been based on historical information or been lies by the oil industry itself and our U.S. government. Shell admitted to lying and even scaled back what it said it had paying some heavy fines for those lies. As for other big oil companies, they pass the buck to someone else claiming if there is any discrepancy it’s the other companies fault.

So, how long do we really have, pulling the curtain aside – decades at most. It’s not ‘when will we run out of oil’ but rather how long before there is so little the price becomes unaffordable. I am fifty this year and before I am seventy I will see real problems arise from the lack of access to oil and cheap energy. So, if you’re wanting to do something about that you had better act starting today and I’ll make my usual recommendations later on in this article.

Yes! There is a Peak in Natural Gas too. Peal Oil happened in 2008. Peak Natural Gas occurred between 2007 / 2008, really about the same time. That is why Cheney had secret energy meetings while in office and Haliburton has been busy fracking the nation to get at whatever is left in Natural Gas – it’s a last ditch effort to hide the truth.

We are on the downward slope for both oil and natural gas and running out very quickly. What can you do?

  1. Use public transit as much as possible. If where you  live you can buy a month pass then park you car, reduce the insurance on it as it’s a part-time vehicle and walk more too. If you are unlucky enough to live where public transit doesn’t exist or is very poor, move to where there is better public transit.
  2. Insulate your home. Add triple or quadruple window panes. Add a way to exchange heat with fresh incoming air to lose much less energy (it’s part of a typical Passivhaus design). Every two years increase the insulation until you are at PassivHaus design standards.
  3. Make as much use of Passive Solar gain as possible.
  4. Add Solar Photovoltaic panels to your home.
  5. Replace all the appliances in your home to use as little energy as possible.
  6. Do laundry only once a week by being more creative and not so wasteful. There is not need to do so many loads of laundry each week.
  7. Cut energy use in your home by shutting things off, putting things on timers or motion detectors.
  8. Replace all your lighting with energy efficient bulbs.
  9. Turn off you TV, permanently. You waste time and a lot of energy watching TV that only numbs your mind and adds nothing of value to your life. If you have trouble with this one, get counseling you are addicted and need to get over it!
  10. Look to Europe for energy saving devices and electronics. They are way ahead of the U.S.
  11. Every so often check online for news on what European’s are doing and on the price of energy while your bill stays level because you are prepared.
  12. Learn to grow your own food. If you don’t learn how to do this one forget doing anything else because it will all be for not. You will be warm, have electricity but no food or worse, you will have to stand in line for a meager morsel.
  13. There is no need to get a certificate in permaculture, just learn to grow organically and add some of the permaculture ideas, like a food forest or huglekultur (contoured mounds).
  14. For heat backup you can add a masonry stove on which you can also cook food. Learn to eat more raw food, it require no cooking therefore less energy.

It is very important to learn how to live with less, half of what you are currently using is wasted anyway. By cutting the waste you can still be comfortable, warm and have all the electricity you need if you don’t waste what you have.

In the Passive Solar Greenhouse Project I am looking to create uses as little energy as possible and quite possibly it will generate all the energy that is needed onsite to grow organic food as affordably. By making use of current technology right off the shelf the greenhouse could be self-sustaining with respect to energy right from the start. The additional up-front cost would pay for itself very quickly and the whole project could pay it’s own way by not using energy most greenhouses waste because they follow the old design model of too much glass and too little insulation. Many traditional greenhouses leak heat or cooling which causes them to run units to help regulate their temperature far more often than a greenhouse with a better design, like a passive solar greenhouse.

I hate to sound alarmist and I hope that my research is not correct but if I am correct then it is much better to be prepared than not prepared. We are running out of cheap energy that is a fact. It is just not exactly known how fast because it’s all become such a big secret. Besides what could it hurt for you to actually have a house that produces more energy than it uses selling the extra for an additional income. You will save by not using energy you are currently wasting which allows you to sell all the extra for a profit. Can that be so bad?

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