Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bob's Renewal Energy Roundup Update

Renewable Energy Roundup September 2008
We went to the Texas Renewal Energy Roundup in Fredericksburg, TX this September and I wanted to give everyone a chance to see what was there. This information is not presented in any order of importance. I simply wanted to document as much as I could.

Texas-Wide Projects & Information

Texas has the most wind-produced energy in the United States and is far outpacing the rest of the nation. Pretty soon Texas will generate 15% of its electrical needs from wind alone. The state is building transmission lines to West Texas to get this power to the grid. We are on a good path to be a leader for wind energy.

As for Plug-In Hybrids and Electric Cars -- 2010 should be the year of the electric car and plug-in hybrids. You drive the car as usual, but when you get home, you plug your car into a standard 110 outlet and give it 3 or 4 hours to recharge. There is a small gas recharging engine allows the car limitless range, but the plug-in feature allows for rapid recharging at low electric rates. "Smart Chargers" will be available for home installation which will allow utility companies to limit when cars can be charged on the grid. There is a lot of extra capacity in the evenings and nights. It's estimated that the current electrical grid could accomidate 115 million cars at off peak times.

A standard gas cars produces lots of CO2, about 275 parts per million. Hybrids produce about 170 ppm. Plug in hybrids recharged using electricity from a coal-fired power plant equates to 190 ppm. But Plug-in Hybrids recharged on natural gas powered electrical plants only equate to 65ppm. So the coal fired plants are a necessity but they still have a ways to go to help the air quality. If we get the wind plants up and going at full speed, we can drive that down to zero.

Projects For Your Home

Solar Water Heating

A solar water heater has two basic elements. The Solar Collector which heats up the water and a holding Tank that holds it. The Solar Collector can heat the water directly or it can heat a water & anti-freeze mixture that is then used to heat the water. These are very efficient systems and they are used all over Europe and the Middle East. According the one of the speakers, similar systems were used up until the early 1900's when electric companies gave away free water heaters so that families would use electricity.

There are two versions of the Solar Collector that are popular. One is a flat panel, the other is vacuum tubes.

Flat panels are dark glass panels with copper tubes running through them. The disadvantages are that the panel is less effective when it's not aimed directly at the sun. As the sun travels across the sky, the panel loses effectiveness. Plus, if there's a hail storm, one hit to the panel will take down the system. (both systems are designed to take a 1" hail storm hit).

Sunrise Solar

The Vacuum Tube system has 10, 20, or 30 vacuum tubes each with a metal rod that heats up and then transfers that heat to the top of the rod and heats the water. The advantages are that no matter where the sun is, the tube is just as effective and even if one tube gets broken, the rest of them stay active. Both of these systems are around $6000. But with the 1/3 tax credit you get for renewable energy options, the cost is reduced to around $4,000.

Clean Energy

Home Wind Solutions

This is a vertical axis wind system. The advantages are that they work in lower wind speeds and they catch the wind from any direction. They are also very quiet compared to standard turbines. You can also put 2 or 3 on the same tower which can be a great cost savings. We will be getting a bid on this system for our home in a few months.

This is a new system called a wind ball. Again, because the fan blades are folded back, they are very quiet. We will consider this one but we like the idea of being able to mount several turbines on one pole.

Rain Water Reclamation

This is a project we completed this year. In essence you gutter your roof line and divert all water into tanks & barrels, saving that water for yards, pools, and outdoor use. Or you add purification and pumps and you use it for potable uses.

In a 1 inch rain, a 1000 square foot house can gather around 600 gallons of water. If you have a one story home with 2000 square feet of living space, you would get 1200 gallons in a 1 inch rain.

If you're using the water for outdoor uses, you can get by with rain barrels. There are many to choose from or you can even build your own with some screens and hoses. This barrel is one of the most expensive I've seen but it has large capacity. It's available from www.RainFilters.com.

This is a 300 gallon "Ong Jar" that is a beautiful way to hold water on your property. They are much more expensive than most but they are pretty. There are much cheaper ways to do this. Rain water reclamation is something city folks can do easily.

A Different Water Fountain

This water cooler requires not water hookup or tanks. This is a dehumidifier with at special coil that keeps the water from tasting metallic. This system only requires a little electricity and provides cool water in return.

Solar Ovens

Basically, these are Crock-pots powered by the sun.
Solar ovens use the sun to cook food at temperatures over 200 degrees. There are several varieties and options...you can even make one yourself out of your windshield sun screen. I purchased one made of recycled water bottles and I'll let you know how it does. Basically you load it with your cooking pots in the morning and face it towards the sun. About 4 or 5 hours later things are done.

Hydrogen Fuel Cells

This is a small Hydrogen Fuel Cell experiment put on by the Texas State Technical College of Waco. They had this same exhibit last year but it's interesting to watch a working fuel cell. We are not expecting to see production fuel cells for several years unfortunately.

Counter Tops & Floors

Flooring made of Cork and Bamboo are popular in the renewable community. Both are easily available. Cork is made from tree bark and bamboo grows like mad so it's easy to harvest and replant. This vendor also had American Hardwoods. When I asked him about these he said that since the American furniture industry has collapsed, there's no use for the timber. So consider that too. I personally love the bamboo product which looks so much like traditional hardwood. I just don't know if today's consumer is ready to see cork floors. You decide.

Environmental Remodeling & Construction

Counter tops made of recycled glass

Natural Formica...no oil or plastic products

Concrete Counter tops
contact www.element7concretedesigns.com

Building Supplies

This is an aerated concrete product. They pump oxygen into the concrete making it lighter and using less for the same space, but it's incredibly strong. See pictures of nails in the blocks.

Xella- Charles J Smith

This is a different construction method where Styrofoam forms are set with rebar and then concrete is poured into the form. These walls are very well insulated and extremely strong.

Solar Attic Fans

Solar Attic Fans can be installed on your roof and then they cost you nothing to run for the life of the fan. There were two vendors selling products at the Roundup.



Residential Photovoltaic Packages

This is what everyone thinks of with solar energy. The sun hits the panels, releases electrons and they flow down and provide energy to your home. Okay, there's a bit more to it but that's the overview. These cells are still very expensive and will most likely only provide a portion of your electric needs. Your first job should be to reduce your needs by doing an energy audit and taking steps to conserve. Solar works well in combination with wind energy so that both can work together. We're hoping that in the next few years cells will be reduced. Also, tax credits for solar and wind are available but only cover 1/3rd of the costs.


Laugh all you want, this is a growing market. Many people are running their large trucks on used cooking oil. People at the fair were selling stills you could use to clean and convert the oil in two or three simple steps. Getting the oil for little cost, if any, and then putting it in your tank is a big cost savings. Old Volvo and BMW diesels are being sold for good money these days. Check out www.BioDiesel.org

Home Builders
Solluna Builders - www.SollunaBuilders.com
Afordable Steel Home Builders - www.AlfordSteelHomes.com
Earth Sheltered Homes - www.EarthShelteredHome.com

Energy Audits of your home
www.SRE3.com They will help you determine what elements of your

Electric Inverters and Meters
ExelTech - www.Excltech.com

Green Coat Interior Paint Systems has Zero VOC (volatile organic compounds) by Kelly Moore Paints