Reality on TV … ?

Two years ago I wrote about something I thought would be a very important vehicle for education about peak oil and the energy crisis, a TV Drama.

I’m about to watch the second season of The Walking Dead on Netflix, but before I do I’ll be watching something very interesting I came across: A discovery channel show called “The Colony” filmed in 2009.

Regrettably its “Reality TV” but for what it is, its not too bad. It is exactly the kind of “vehicle for education” that I should have written about. Reality TV is not your typical scripted drama for obvious reasons, but it does contain plenty of drama. (eep :/ )

The Colony puts 10 people into a post apocalyptic world, the premise of which is some sort of virus or biological accident has rendered downtown LA and the rest of the world a dystopian nightmare. The Colonists must make do and survive and build back some semblance of civilization. Hey, that sounds an awful like a future reality we might actually face. The show employs some expert narrators also, one, a former homeland security advisor makes no bones about how “the world can change in an instant” … “natural disasters, human conflict, nuclear war, biological war etc…”

The reason I think the show is worth a watch is because it is structured to actually show the viewers exactly what problems you can face in such a situation, and exactly what kinds of solutions you can come up with. Hopefully some of this knowledge sticks. So far they’ve built a wood gassifier hooked to a small engine running an alternator for power and harvested rainwater … early days yet.

Check it out.

I know at some point they get some PV panels (which they manage to self shade quite well … fail) so I know its going to get better … and easier for them to stop squabbling over power usage.

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The Challenge

Welcome to part 2.

In the last post I detailed a situation which made me mad and depressed about the response of the government, energy industry and military industrial complex to peak oil; invasion for oil. (free up all the untapped oil reserves the world has, for the world market to maintain a suitable stable price, by force if necessary)

Obviously this is a response of only part of the population of the country, and a fraction of the population of the world. Other responses are much more positive and nuanced. And whole swathes of people haven’t got a clue what’s going on.

In this post I want to focus more on the positive aspects of what the future will bring, how I’m approaching it and detail some resources for research. ( Post Carbon Institute, and Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas 2,)

My Reaction

After I learned about peak oil and how it’s impending presence shaped the opinions and plans of those in power, in industry and government, I developed a set of coping mechanisms. I read all I could, researched the Transition movement, fell even more in love with Electric Vehicles and Solar Energy and looked at how life would change with crazy energy prices and possibly restricted mobility, food and other commodities.

I was being challenged, as we all are, with the very near future. It is a challenge to discover how to live much more sustainably, using less energy. It is also a challenge to widen that mindset and not only discover how to survive day to day, but also to enjoy it; the continued pursuit of happiness, if you will.

The importance of staying positive cannot be overstated, there is a lot to get very angry and worried about. Been there, done that, it’s time to give two fingers to naysayers and bystanders and do what’s got to be done. I’m writing my own story as I see it, and perhaps that will help others understand my perspective on the gravity of the situation.

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keeping the mind busy

Here are a couple of quick examples on how to size PV arrays and battery banks.
I’m taking a class, so I could be wrong, waaay off base or just plain nuts with these
figures and calculations. I just did them to keep the mind active and practice these
concepts.

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Battery bank sizing exercise (for a cabin or off grid system)

Average AC load per day: 1,500 watt hours
Inverter efficiency: 95%
Days of autonomy needed: 2 (DOA)
Maximum allowable depth of discharge: 50% (DOD)

Battery specs:

6v 200 Amp Hour
DC system voltage 12v

Find average daily amp hours:

1500 watt hours / 95% (9.5) = 1579wh
1579wh / Dc system voltage (12v) = 131.6ah average per day

Find number of batteries:

Parallel: 131.6ah x DOA (2) / DOD (.5) = 526.4ah / 200ah = 2.6 batts

Always round up to the nearest battery, this would be 3 batteries.

Series: 12v/6v = 2 batteries in series

Total batteries needed 3 series strings of 2 batteries. 6 batts total.
2 batts in series gives us 12v
3 strings in parallel gives us 600ah (>526.4ah)

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Array sizing exercise (for an average 2,000sqft home in Tucson AZ)

(for 100% PV power, net zero energy useage and also for 50% PV power)

Average yearly KWH useage: 8,250kwh

Average daily KWH useage: = 8,250kwh / 365 = 22.6kwh

22.6kwh / 6.5 PSH (peak sun hours, 6.5 is Arizona’s averaged out for the year)
= Approximately 3.47kwAC (DC side of a PV will be a few hundred watts more)

3.47kwAC /.95 (inverter efficiency) = 3.65KWDC
3.65KWDC /.88 (soiling, wire losses etc…) = 4.14kwDC

To provide a home that uses 8,250kwh AC with a net zero energy useage from PV
Conservatively a 4.2kw system would do the job. (further derating may need to be
taken into account, especially when considering seasonal loads and possible shading)

For 50% PV energy generation (essentually 4.14kw / 2 = 2.07kw)

22.6kwh / 2 = 11.3kwh
11.3kwh / 6.5 PSH = 1.74kwAC

1.74kwAC / .95 = 1.83kwDC
1.83kwDC / .88 = 2.08kwDC

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Garden & Solar Oven

Having $70 in home depot gift cards really helped here 🙂 (Thanks Megan! she redeemed them from online surveys)
I finally got a raised garden built, using 4″x4″x8′ posts. Looking at it now I wish I could build a larger one! We definitely will once we get the money, 4’x8′ ? that would be awesome.

This is more than enough to deal with for now, I have to go and get some fill dirt from behind the house, then mix in the mulch and some potting soil. I plan to grow some more seedlings and also plant most of the tomato plants I’ve already grown, they need to get out of their pots and stretch their roots 🙂

DSC_4571

Vegetable garden or toy fort, you decide.

I also got a chance to work on a satellite dish solar oven. I covered the dish a while back and I burnt a few things with it (works REALLY well) and even boiled a small amount of water in a cat food tin (not a great idea… smelt like fish :))
This is definitely version 0.1, the pot holder is adjustable up to a point, enough to fine tune. The dish mount can be adjusted to a desired angle (in conjunction with the pot holder so it stays level) depending on if the sun is high or low (usually best cooking times are between 10am and 3pm) I haven’t tested it yet with the camping kettle, but I will do soon. Hopefully it boils in under 10 mins 🙂

Cook things (hopefully) or just set things on fire.... :)

Cook things (hopefully) or just set stuff on fire 🙂

One more crazy invention:
Using an old TV projection lens and some simple electronics, I created an LED pumpkin face projector. Pics of the projection soon… should have included those 🙂

DSC_4522

Photos of the projected image soon ! It worked out pretty well 🙂

Written with current sunlight.

Just got finished changing the oil in my car. Drving 60 miles a day for 2 months (roughly 3750 miles, my service interval) adds up quick 😦 my last 2 tanks of gas also varied widely, 35.7 and 26.4 mpg respectively. Ouch. Talk about a pendulum. (something odd going on, but it averages out.)

So, last night I watched a very good movie, suprisingly so also. I didn’t have high expecations of it, but its on a subject I am pretty obsessed with; climate change. “The 11th Hour” is Leonardo Dicaprio’s take on the subject and I was highly impressed. It is a very human movie; it differs from Inconvenient Truth somewhat because it is not filled with a slideshow presentation with graphs and animations (which is also very good and packs punch) but it is a continual interview style film running through many many scientists, professors and concerned academia who really lend a great personal touch to the message they are conveying.

This really let the film collect momentum through various educated perspectives, one of which I liked a lot, mostly because of its unbelievable simplicity and the fact it stressed that climate change is not the planets problem, it is ours.

It went something like this: Way back when the human race appeared our population flatlined at about just under a billion people, this continued for many centuries, farmers, craftsmen, builders and laborers all worked from “Current Sunlight”. All the energy used to grow food and resources used in day to day life was energy directly from the sun; current sunlight. Therefore there was only enough energy to support a certain amount of people.
As human life progressed we developed tools, we progressed to eventually become chemists, miners & engineers, very good chemists infact, we developed a way to extract energy (hydrocarbons) from something that had captured sunlight from a long time ago; dead plants and animals in many forms.
The fossil fuel age had begun, and our population balooned from something like 2 billion in the 30’s to 3 billion in the 1960’s (just 49 years ago !) and slowly it has risen to the 6.5 billion today.

This sized population can exist because we are harnessing ancient energy, which as it happens is not being replenished. Now, I’m not saying all the progress the human race has made is bad, today we have some mind boggling technologies that have helped us as a race survive, and some have made the Earth a better place. But, the current trend cannot continue.

I’m not going to get into all the peak oil stuff and when thats going to happen (some say the peak was already reached a few years ago) But all our ways of going about life on this planet currently rely on something that could dissapear and is not going to reappear for another few million years.
Take oil away, and we’re in a nasty situation.

We have to, and will most likely be forced to go back to living off of current sunlight as our primary energy source. When I heard this is was an absolute shot in the arm. It makes so much sense !
In today’s world, we have many solar technologies to generate energy directly from our current sunlight, and this energy: Electricity.

We just have to convince everyone on the planet. That, there is the problem.
We could reduce humanities carbon footprint considerably if every house that gets sun year round (like in Arizona, California, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Mexico, Florida, Texas, Bermuda, the Phillipines, Hawaii, Many pacific islands, Spain, France, Portugal, China etc.. etc..) had some way of getting thier energy directly from the sun.

Now, I mentioned that this is our problem. It is, if we don’t want to see our population drastically & violently drop to sub 2 billion person levels when we run out of carbon based fossil fuels (remember, in 1960, only 49 years ago, the population was only 3 billion, the reverse could happen just as quickly, if not, faster.)
If we want to survive as a species and not become some post-apocolyptic warlike race scavenging for energy, then we have to adapt NOW.
And as climate change happens, keep in mind that things on this planet will make life here very difficult.
The planet will school us pretty well in inhospitible environment survival.

My favorite quote from the movie “The 11th Hour” was definately this:

The planet will survive this, the planet has all the time in the world; literally. We as a species, do not.

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Written with current sunlight; a very literal blog post title. My laptop is currently plugged into my “solar battery box” as it’s midday and the battery is charging; this is more efficient as more energy is being pushed to the battery, I can use this and still have the battery almost fully charged. Well, thats my opinion anyway 🙂 but it was formed from empirical evidence; my battery is dying a bit and lasts a lot longer if I do most task that are required of it, while its charging. If I wait till the sun goes down and the battery starts to hover around 12.7 volts and below (used to be it would hold 13v for a fair amount of time) then the work that can be done by it drastically deminishes.

Depression

It hits us at funny times, and for funny reasons but depression is definitely not funny.
I am depressed for several different reasons.

1. Being double house poor and having to choose between paying for a house that wont sell, or short-selling it, feeling guilty and ruining my wife’s credit (the original owner)

2. Not having any money to do the things that I feel scream for my attention. Building fences and finally getting around to planting some of the stuff I’m growing in the ground.
My electric Go-Kart project, this is a healthy fantasy.
A much larger PV system (20 to 1200watts, an upgrade of 1980watts, and a difference of around $9300 🙂

3. Electric cars vs reality. Now I know that I don’t have the capital to build one yet, that’s not my problem, what is my problem is the 40-50 year timespan its taken us to realize that we need electric cars DESPERATELY and the realization that the driving public is being controlled and lied to by the likes of GM.

The technology the bankruptcy dodging “Government Motors” is trotting out in their new Volt has been developed into healthy incarnations since the 70’s and many smart people know this. Heck GM knows this, just look up the EV1, the poster child for tortured EV drivers everywhere who know that we took the wrong fork in the road at the junction of destiny.

4. Directly related to reason number 3: Every day I see trucks and SUV’s on the freeway I drive to work occupied by only 1 person and doing an average of 10mph over the posted speed limit. This literally reaches the pit of my soul and takes a huge bite out of it. “You really don’t give a shit do you ?”
These people have been conditioned to believe that they know best, they live in the best country on Earth and they drive the best and greatest machine money can buy and they can drive them however they godamn please. How dumb can we be ? the answer lies all over this great Earth in showrooms, on freeways and television screens. That dumb.

There is a guy in my neighborhood who actually spent his hard earned cash on a Tahoe Hybrid. Good job buddy, you’re definitely doing your part !

I really want to type a set of very nasty words here, but I’ll go outside and yell them at the heavens instead. I’m sure the neighbors will love that.

Bright spot: Hopefully this fall I am going to take a weekend course for a month on photovoltaic installation, maybe I’ll meet a few people with brains.

Progressing…

Bought that 400watt inverter and it and the marine battery can easily handle our TV for 2 hours.
Happy about that. The first movie I watched I believe was appropriate; Little Miss Sunshine (another great movie Steve Carrell is part of) with the power of sunshine. 🙂