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When I was laid off at the beginning of the decline in 2008 I began to hear things and started to further investigate the monetary system, economics, the banking system which lead me down the garden path toward Peak Oil.  I lived through the 1970s and the oil shortages where we spent a long time at a gas station for just a few gallons of gasoline or saw signs that they had run out.  Peak Oil doesn’t mean the same thing as what happened in the 70s but it means we will eventually see it on a permanent basis as prices only go ever higher heading to the day we run out. A day will come when we will see no more cars, gasoline or the lifestyle we have come so accustomed to with cheap fossil fuel energy.

Just a few years ago I began to question what will happen to the disabled community.  I’ve read a lot of books and articles on Peak Oil and no one even touches on this subject.  I emailed some people and I am still waiting to hear back.  A few seem to just throw their arms in the air with a comment like, I don’t know.

This took me on a long search and mind exercise taking me down some very dark alleyways and hidden places.  It seems we would rather forget about the disabled.  Many countries have places where the disabled live, hidden away from the rest of society.  The idea is that they can be better taken care of by people who have the necessary training.  It’s just a way for a society to put the disabled out of sight to not deal with them on a daily basis.

OK, back on track.  How will the disabled be cared for and live in a world without cheap energy.  I get the distinct feeling they won’t.  A time will come where they will not just be out of sight, out of mind, but rather completely forgotten and left behind altogether.  The disabled include the blind or low vision, mentally disabled, learning disabled, hearing disabled, physical disabled, and speech or language disabled.  There may be others but these are the main ones I came across most often.

The blind and hearing disabled could adapt to a future without an abundance of cheap energy.  Adaptation would require learning to grow their own food, fiber and fuel which is not beyond their abilities.  If a non-disabled person were to begin teaching blind and hearing disabled they could become independent from fossil fuels like anyone else without a disability.  It is the rest of the disabled community that worries me.

People with mental and psychiatric, physical, learning, speech or language disabilities that will have the hardest time and possibly they may never adapt.  How will these people care for themselves?  Who will care for them?  A whole new community will have to develop that not only cares for them but in addition grows food, fuel and fiber providing the basics.   What about people who take medications?  After supplies run out they will just have to go without since medications are made from fossil fuels.  Going beyond the disabled community to mention an example we have people who rely on medications to not reject organ transplants.  What will happen when they run out?  Die after their organs are rejected or will they just live with pain for the rest of their lives?

Because we have made ourselves so absolutely and completely reliant on petroleum we have put ourselves into a trap. Even if the wealthy create stock piles for themselves it won’t matter.  They have expiration dates.  Sure it can be safe to take them afterwards but a time will come when  medication will no longer be any good.  Then what?

I honestly don’t have an answer here.  I wrote this article to make people aware there are a lot of people who will be forgotten as we run out of cheap energy.  They may even be pushed aside altogether.  The only way I can see some of the people with a disability surviving is in a caring community that is willing to give of themselves to care for people who can not care for themselves.   I’m not looking for any comments, I just want people to think about the forgotten.

The one thing discussed somewhat on the sidelines is how do we even out our demand for electricity in such a way that we never notice increases or decline in need for electricity.  Also how do we do it without wasting any of it.  Energy Storage.

This idea is not new.  Water pumped uphill into a holding pond of some type has been used for decades, but never on any scale to accommodate large cities.  We all know about batteries as a way to store electricity  There are also capacitors and maybe people have heard of flywheels use to do the same.   These types of storage have limitations and would never meet our demand in the future.  Batteries wear out from the begin losing storage capacity.  Capacitors could never be scaled to handle whole cities, besides their application would be much better in cars and buses to temporarily hold the energy from braking which can be rapidly used to start moving the vehicle agian.   Flywheels need to be  continuously spinning because bringing them up to speed wastes energy which means you only part of the stored energy back out.

In the future we need to be much smarter and use what is off the shelf that would allow a home, business, or whole cities to store enough energy with little degradation while stored and yet be rapidly available when needed.  In my research the only form of storage that can meet scalability and on-demand needs is compressed air.

CAES as it is known – Compressed Air Energy Storage.  Many times it is discussed in terms of large underground caverns holding a huge amount of compressed air.  All well and good but it is not scalable and how to make sure a cavern is sealed to hold the compressed air.  The answer lies in what we already have available, tanks.

We use storage tanks now for a number of gases.  There are small propane tanks, to larger ones used in welding and even larger tanks holding Liquid Natural Gas.  They are so many types and sizes making it easy to tailor storage for any particular need, from a home, office building to a whole city.

At this time we can go through any city in the U.S. and find empty warehouses.  They can be outfitted with tanks that are computer controlled to store compressed air when there is more electricity available than is needed and instantly drive a turbine to produce electricity on demand.  These setups can even be designed to an average home.

There is one issue besides storage that would need to be dealt with, heat.  When air is rapidly compressed or put under high pressure then heat is created.  In one design it talked about a heat exchanger that would capture the heat and hold onto it until the air is released when the heat would be used to expand the air.  It didn’t go into much detail but it would eliminate the need for an external source of energy to pull heat out and then create heat to expand the air again as some have proposed.

I’ve had this idea for decades and it is only in recent years anyone has actually agreed it was possible.   Here is what I originally envisioned for a home.  This would not supply a home for days on end but it would be a way to meet a demand for a few hours or maybe even a day.

In the cellar, or a small shed, would hold storage tanks.  They would have computer controlled valves to direct the air into the tanks or toward the turbine.  When the house produced more than enough energy for itself with excess it would drive a compressor that would recharge the tanks.  Once  full the excess electricity would be sent to the grid.  When the home needs electricity, like at night, the compressed air would drive a turbine would meet the demand.

Some advantages I see right away are that tanks don’t develop a memory like batteries so their storage capacity would never diminish.   Air is plentiful, renewable, plants create it for us, and it is free.  Compressed air would never reduce air as a resource – its the same in storage as it outside storage.  Also, as I have said earlier, the whole thing is can be scaled to any size at any time as needed with off the shelf items available right now.  The cost of such a system could actually be much less when compared to the life of batteries and the need to replace them every so often.  What’s also nice about this idea is that everything, just about, is fully recyclable, unlike batteries where only part of them are recyclable and the rest goes to the landfill.

I am not saying this is the end all answer to our needs in the future.  We can still use pumped water as a way to store electricity and hydrogen in a limited way could too (with hydrogen you have too much of a loss in energy).  We could like they are currently doing in Germany build Biogas plants on farms to accept both crop residue and poop to make methane which is stored until demand for electricity goes up and then a generator is turned on within seconds to meet the demand.

Compressed air the way I envision is can meet demand at an instant, anywhere.  Tanks could even be transported to where they are needed.  Windmills could be dedicated to compressing air rather than producing electricity to help meet demand when it is there.

An article I read more than a decade ago talked about how at one time (maybe a hundred years ago) compressed air was also sold to homes to run various devices.  There is certainly no reason why it couldn’t again.  There is absolutely no reason why everything has to run on electricity, the blender could just as well use compressed air.

On the bus coming into downtown a friend boarded with whom I had a very interesting conversation.  It seems that every time I open my mouth there are a number of people on the bus I make uncomfortable and probably wish I would just shut up.  What do I say?

I said, we don’t much longer before we either run out of oil or it gets so expensive we won’t be able to afford it.   He agreed.  This made several people squirm in their seat, especially a young couple who look like they just got their first real jobs with more than a student level paycheck.  They look like they have money to spend by the way they dress.  Now it is not my intention to make people feel uncomfortable but it seems the truth does that to people.

My simple observation that we are running out of oil, and as a result fossil fuels, which will change our lives in such profound ways makes people uncomfortable.  People it would seem want to remain ignorant, oblivious to the truth.

I went on to mention to my friend that people will have a very hard time in the future as oil runs out.  Even the CEO of Shell mentioned just a few years ago how we are to expect $5 a gallon for gasoline by 2015.  We are well on our way.  What people don’t realize, we may have spikes from which the price will go back down but overall since the mid-1980s the price of gasoline has gone from 75 – 80 cents a gallon to around $3.80 currently.  A three dollar increase in 25 years which is more than inflation.  That’s actually more than a 4-hundred percent increase.

People have told me that technology will save them.  What they don’t realize is that technology is very heavily dependent on petroleum and can not save us.  It will never save us if we don’t have the energy.

President Clinton even mentioned in 2006 that we reached Peak Oil.  I’ve been telling people we hit Peak around 2007-2008.  We hit is sometime between 2005 and 2009 and we are not on a gentle slope of decline but rather heading for the valley below in increasing speeds until we hit bottom.  We fell off the cliff and bottom is getting closer and closer every day and yet people want to just continue to be entertained, numbed out of their skulls by useless stuff like TV and sports, and left alone so they don’t have to deal with reality, other than the manufactured stuff on TV.

Yes, this is turning into a bit of a rant, but it is good to get it out because too many people around me and in the U.S. as a whole want things to be left alone so they don’t have to change anything in their lives.  Colorado, where I live, has no plans to transition off fossil fuels.  The Transition Colorado group keeps teaching, and charging, for the same old classes rather than taking their lead from the original movement coming out of Ireland and England.

The transition techniques which have their origins in Permaculture were included in a student project overseen by permaculture teacher Rob Hopkins at the Kinsale Further Education College in Ireland. The term transition town was coined by Louise Rooney and Catherine Dunne. Following its start in Kinsale, Ireland it then spread to Totnes, England where Rob Hopkins and Naresh Giangrande developed the concept during 2005 and 2006. (www.wikipedia.org)

The problem with the Colorado groups that think they are helping are actually leaving out a large part of the population, namely working-poor, poor, homeless, and disenfranchised.  What I see happening is that only people who can afford to take classes, namely white-middle class, are getting a small piece of the pie, grow your own food, and everyone remains in the dark about how fast we are running out of cheap energy and what really needs to be done to keep some semblance of a society as we know it.

Even our governor keeps wanting to create jobs, grow the economy and keep Colorado prosperous.  Good luck when energy is running out and only getting more expensive.  I have been told we have plenty of coal left here in Colorado, not if you don’t have petroleum to run the machines to mine it you don’t.

We have to think differently.  We have to act differently.  We have to accept that we will no longer see a growing economy.  We will no longer see what we call prosperity.  We will no longer have it as good as we have had it in the past.  It’s over. Finished and the only thing we can do is prepare for a different kind of future.  We have to completely let go of the past, old ways of thinking, economic theories and even incomes and profits. They will all go away.

That is what I keep talking about and people don’t want to hear it, but they have to.  If they don’t want to have a future of chaos or one that is out of control then you have to get away from what has lead us down that merry path and make a new one.  We have to remake ourselves and everything around us. We don’t have a choice.

 

[ Sorry about the way this article looked. I am not sure what happened to the font. ]

Can we feed ourselves after the oil is gone?

This article is in response to an article in Permaculture magazine Spring 2012 issue, No. 71. The article,Can We Feed the World? Five experts give their views on the best methods of eco-farming, page 54 to 56.

These five experts each have their views with some cross-over. The five experts are, Bethan Stagg, Colin Tudge, Peter Harper, Patrick Whitefield, and John Ellison.

First there is Bethan Stagg who says we need to put into a practice techniques that take into account
local environmental conditions using intensification to get the most output possible. Saying it another
way, it is a type of polyculture farming technique.

Next Colin Tudge just says what I’ve have been hearing for some time now, we are growing enough to feed 14billion people but it all goes toward increasing profits rather than feeding people. Not completely true
as some of the food stuff are not meant for people but cattle or other farm animals because the grain has been genetically altered so people can’t eat it. He mentions the problem of wastage some of which can not be helped and that which can be helped should not be dumped but fed to people. People in industrialized
nations have been brain-washed into buying only the best looking and ignore blemishes or slight defects.
That needs to change.

Peter Harper talks about producing food in a post-carbon future. In other words, food production without
fossil fuels.

Patrick Whitefield is a strong promoter of Permaculture.

John Ellison and Bethan both agree that we can’t afford to rely on just one approach to solve our food
needs in the future.

They are all correct. We need to stop relying on mono-culture large factory farms and change the way we
farm altogether. This means we go back to the way we used to not too long ago. Also, we need to do away
with chemical inputs, tractors and so on to move away from oil and other fossil fuels, even biodiesel.

Based on their input and my views the answer to growing enough food is this:

  • We get away from the corporate farm and go back to many smaller farms.
  • We need to incorporate many approaches to grow the food we need.
    • Masanobu Fukuoka from Japan gave us no-work farming where there is no tilling of the soil, no
      fertilization, all organic and he has yields the same or better as farmers using tractors and
      fertilizer’s.
    • Sepp Holzer from Austria gave us poli-farming techniques. He combined fruit trees, herbs, grains, vegetables, hogs and fish all on the same land requiring again no equipment, no fertilization, and it is virtually self maintaining. He mostly spends his time harvesting and selling what he grows and does most of the work establishing his method and then there virtually no more work.
    • Polyculture at the most intensive manner possible geared to a local environment. This comes up in Permaculure in designing a Food Forest were in a small space you can feed more people than using traditional farming methods. Usually every three acres of Food Forest can feed around 8 to 12.
  • We need to produce food closer to where it is consumed. Places like the U.S. need to consume less calories overall, start by cutting the meat consumption by at least 50% the first year and again
    another 50% a few years later. Cows, pigs, chickens and other factory farmed animals need to be set free to feed the way they were originally intended, without hormones.
  • We need follow models like Cuba as a way to transition off oil and produce enough food for ourselves
  • The profit needs to be taken out of growing food, and feeding the people of the world.
  • Corporations like Monsanto need to be put out of business so food can again be put in the hands of
    people.

Everyone needs to decide what happens with their food, how it is grown and treated before it gets to theirtable. People also have to realize that for decades corporations (or governments) who have controlled their food have not had their best interests at heart only their own. That needs to stop. Our ancestors were either Vegetarians or near Vegetarians because they realized that it was a matter of survival and feeding an animal came second to their own survival. This meant that meat consumption was low.

Traditional methods of growing food need to be brought back and taught to everyone growing food if they
are to survive after the end of fossil fuels. Otherwise we will need to prepare ourselves, especially in the U.S., for food wars, riots, and uprising because people will want to eat and not know how to feed themselves in any other way than to steal it.

Aren’t all greenhouses ‘Solar?’  Technically yes, but they are not Passive Solar with the aim to store as much of that heat from the daytime to be used to offset heating costs at night.

If you’re not planning on depending on the grid where will you get your energy from?  The Sun, hamsters in wheels, and slaves riding bicycles.  Just kidding, but I think some people just don’t understand how simple it is to produce your own energy. Here’s the real answer: The Sun for heat and electricity, Wind for mechanical and electricity, Methane which can be stored for later use, then come the chicken and rabbits (no not in wheels) which give off heat as supplement, composting gives off heat, and heat pumps can help cool in the summer storing the heat deep under the greenhouse and withdraw it in winter. I think that covers it and no small animals in wheels or slaves needed.

Can you really grow enough food?  If Growing Power can in Wisconsin can we can too.

Will this actually be profitable enough to stay in business?  Yes. By not have to pay for energy there goes a major cost. Actually any excess energy can be sold for an additional income.

What follows may not be a proper EROEI (simple said – energy return on input)

Various sections:

  • Food:  unprocessed
  • Fiber:  plant, rabbit fir (combed out)
  • Energy:  electricity, methane, briquettes
  • Fertilizer:  liquid, compost

Food:  vegetables, fruits, honey, eggs, fish, chicken, rabbit
Fiber:  raw (combed or spun only)
products: gloves, mittens, socks, hats, scarves, vests, sweaters, shirts, sandals
Energy: electricity to grid, methane sold compressed in tanks, briquettes
Fertilizer: liquid – worm tea & from methane digester, solid – compost, mixed materials, poop, worm compost

Materials Input: egg shells, food waste, plants, nut shells, sawdust, cardboard, paper, leaves, branches, brewery waste, coffee grounds, poop, plastic bags, used cloths, wood pallets
(these are gathered from patrons who bring these items into the greenhouse to lower they purchase cost or are collected by employees)

How each input is used:

  • egg shells: ground and mixed into solid compost
  • food waste: methane digester, compost, compressed into briquettes
  • nut shells: ground and mixed with compost, briquettes
  • sawdust: composted, briquettes
  • cardboard: briquettes, sheet mulching
  • paper: briquettes
  • leaves: composted, briquettes
  • branches: mixed into compost
  • brewery waste: composted, methane digester
  • coffee ground: composted, briquettes
  • plastic bags: sandals(, woven into other products)
  • used cloths: mended it can, taken apart to make new cloths or sandals
  • wood pallets: compost bins, made into sawdust, create raised beds, other needed items (chair)

Methods for keeping the greenhouse on a more even temperature:

  • Deep underground heat pump to store summer heat and provide extra heat at night or winter
  • Compost
    • Jean Pain: mix wood chips, sawdust, branches, leaves and shredded paper – to help it get started inoculate with methane digester liquid (no inner tanks)
      – a cage or some method needs to be devised to make it easier, without the need to coil or uncoil long pipes by hand – could it be continuous feed?
    • traditional pile made of mixed materials that are turned from outside edge into center of compost area before it is removed and used to insulate the Jean Pain pile
  • Solar heat, Electric heating (backup), Methane, Oil from seed
  • Chickens and Rabbits each give off heat, as do people 

Even when I do explain things people seem to be stuck in their traditional ways of doing things.  I’m beginning to think I am too advanced for most people. Not sure though.

I’ve had some things on my mind lately and one of them is that people have a really hard time trusting other people going through life fearful of each other.  We aren’t necessarily taught to trust but to always look out for someone ready to take advantage of us.  Even the best intentioned people don’t trust and always hold reservation. This co-op project hits people at the core of this fear because to have a worker owned cooperative people need to trust one another and they need to be open, honest with one another and that may just hit the nerve people can’t stand to have touched. Too painful. Too uncomfortable.

In a worker owned cooperative you are asked to, 1) give your money to buy into the business in order to have a full say in the way it works. You have to trust everyone to hold onto your money. 2) to get raises, promoted or for anything to happen you have to let people see who you really are because if they don’t trust you then you get none of these things. 3) in a cooperative where there is consensus people have to speak up, speak honestly without emotion, like anger, and be heard and that much open honesty can be a scary thing for many people.

Everything about a cooperative is also new to people who their whole lives been told or have had a job where they were told what to do, when to do it by, and then wait, wait, wait for critique, some kind of reward or even a word that can take months, or a year, before the review by which time much is of it often distorted and you don’t end up looking as good as you really are or told how valuable you have been.  We are often critiques negatively hardly if ever hearing anything positive.

That’s what is different about a cooperative where people talk, talk all the time with one another, giving constant feedback, praise and even give assistance to do better in a world where we are taught we have to do it all on our own. Stand on your own two feet. On your own merit. We are judged by uncaring, heartless, distant people.  A cooperative goes against the whole notion of doing things for one self, ‘what’s in it for me’ outlook. That is taken away and replaced with, what’s good for all of us. Is what I am doing going to benefit all of us? How? And, there’s no quarterly returns.

That’s why I keep plugging away hoping someone (in Denver area) other than myself gets it and decides to join me in creating something better.

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.

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geothermal_heat_pump
http://www.heliossouth.com/documents/Brief%20History%20of%20Solar%20Cooling.pdf
http://www1.eere.energy.gov/solar/pdfs/solar_timeline.pdf