New Solar Water Heater

Well, it happened. The heat exchanger on my old solar water heater developed a slow leak. Eventually, there wasn’t enough liquid in the collector loop for the pump to circulate. The heat exchanger was built into the potable water storage tank, so it was an integral and expensive component of the entire system.

It just so happens that I had already purchased 3, 310W PV panels to replace the thermal collector and all it’s related plumbing. I had already acquired a low voltage heating element to replace the 220VAC element in my water heater, and all the wiring to hook it up. Consequently, I didn’t hesitate to begin tearing out the plumbing for the thermal water heater and taking down the thermal collector to make room for the three large PV panels.

Unfortunately, the 930W of PV can’t compete with the 4’x10′ thermal collector (equivalent to about 3000W), but the plan is to have a dual element hot water heater with the lower element powered by solar and the top element powered by the grid, such that the water temperature is always maintained at a nominal (115F/45C ?) temperature when there isn’t enough sun to hold it at a higher temp. I don’t currently have a dual element water heater, so I’ll be getting by on what the sun will provide until I can get a good deal on a better water heater.

My thinking is that the PVs will provide some power throughout most days, with an average of a few hours a day at near 900 watts. If I just use the 3 hours a day at 900W as an estimate, that’s 2.7kWh/day with more in the summer and a lot less in the winter. I’ll probably need the grid backup sometime after the vernal equinox.

I’ll be posting pictures, more details, and maybe some video at a later date.

Another thing about Electric Vehicles

I know we are a long way from adopting EVs (electric vehicles) in the U.S., and the infrastructure has a long way to go, but I was thinking about another benefit of switching to EVs more broadly.

We often talk about the environmental impacts of making batteries for an exponentially increasing number of EVs, and that is a concern, but what about the impacts of shipping oil around the world, refining it, and then trucking it to gas stations. Electricity flows on wires, and “electricity spills” are not really a thing.

My point is that all the ships, trucks, trains and pipelines that currently move oil and produce their own pollution, including the occasional catastrophic spill, would go away if we didn’t need gasoline or diesel fuel. Of course, that is a long way off. I know I won’t see it in my lifetime, but it is a significant benefit.

Then there is the issue of refining crude oil into gasoline and diesel fuel. If you’ve ever seen a refinery in operation, and especially if you’ve ever lived near one, you know they are not environmentally friendly.

I could list a dozen other benefits to EVs, but to be fair, I’d also have to list the detractors, so I’m just going to leave this here.

p.s. Everyone I know who owns an EV loves it, and I’d like to have one (probably my next vehicle) just because of the nearly non-existent maintenance. For now, I drive a fuel efficient, gas powered vehicle (Ford Focus) that has a lot of good miles left in it. (The environmental impact of manufacturing any kind of vehicle is not insignificant, so replacing a perfectly good vehicle with a new one is not only a bad economic decision, but it’s not helpful to the environment.)

The Impossible Burger

In case I haven’t mentioned it, or you haven’t read my earlier writings, I went to a vegan diet about 2 years ago. Before that, I was a vegetarian. In the interest of full disclosure, I do violate my diet from time to time, although I try not to.

Anyway, I went to Red Robin to experience the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods. I had heard it had the same taste and texture as beef, but I had to give it a try. Red Robin knows how to prepare a burger, so I wasn’t disappointed. The burger itself was indistinguishable from a beef patty. One round of “bottomless” fries and the burger were enough to fill me up. I have no complaints about the Impossible Burger.

I do have some suggestions for Red Robin: The default configuration comes with cheese and mayo, which I had to tell them to leave off, there was no option for a whole grain bun; I avoid white bread like the plague because they are similar, and at $14 with fries, it was not something I could afford to eat often. Also, I guess Red Robin is still handing out plastic straws to people who don’t ask for them. I was disappointed by that.

The service was great and the burger was tasty. Overall, I’m pretty happy I got to give it a try. When the Impossible Burger hits grocery stores, I’ll definitely be purchasing them as a meat substitute, for those days when I’m feeling like a juicy burger. Even if you are not a vegetarian or a vegan, I’d suggest giving it a try. If we’re going to save the planet, we’ll have to come up with alternatives to beef and other animal products. Plant based alternatives like the Impossible Burger are probably going to be part of our diet in the future. In this case, the future doesn’t look (or taste) so bad.

Catching up …

Wow, I haven’t posted since before Hurricane Florence ripped through my area like a slow moving train wreck carrying a few trillion gallons of water!

Besides spending a lot of time cleaning up my yard and my precious woods (a job I’ll never finish), I installed all new PV (photo-voltaic) panels on my tower. I now have about 800 watts of solar attached to the house. I also have about 300W charging batteries and powering some devices in an outbuilding. I recently mounted those on a pole for better exposure and to make it easier to mow around them.

This was my first full year with some grow beds in my dome greenhouse, and I’ve been growing some leaf vegetables and radishes through the winter months. I’m transitioning now to summer crops, but obviously, the greenhouse isn’t as useful in the summer. My aloe vera has been propagating like weeds, so I have aloe growing all over the place.

I’m looking forward to some wild blueberries and blackberries in the coming months. Things could be a lot worse, although I am anxious about the upcoming hurricane season. Having seen what Hurricane Michael did to the Florida panhandle last year, I am wondering what will be left around here if we get hit by something similar.

I hope everyone did something for Earth Day. I helped with a roadside cleanup; something I do often. I went out and cleaned up a ditch full of water, today. I filled a 30 gallon trash bag with trash from the ditch, but there is always more.

On that note, I’ll try to do another update in the coming weeks. I’ve been working on a privacy fence because one of my neighbors decided to remove every tree in his back yard, which used to be pretty heavily wooded. Why don’t people understand the importance of trees? Sigh.

p.s. My new fence is being built from wood that I am milling out of trees that fell in the storm.

Changing the World

2018-05-17_snapping_turtle3.jpgI’m sure most people see things in our world that are in need of a major overhaul. I know I see lots of them. In my youth, I wasted a lot of energy trying to convince other people that my plan had long term benefits that would outweigh the short term costs. I eventually learned that my life was the only one over which I held significant sway, and so I had to lead by example. I conserve energy, pick up trash, and treat others the way I think we should treat one-another. I just hope the people around me see that doing the right thing can have significant, long term benefits.

I still wish I had a megaphone that would let me shout at the world and say, “What are you thinking?!”, but I know even that would have a very limited effect. The reality is that this world is one of our own making. It is a product of who we are as a collective. Sadly, it is a reflection on our entire species and our biological roots. It reflects our incredible abilities, and our limitations. As we evolve, so will our world. Unfortunately, I don’t think we will be ready to make the big changes that need to happen to avoid calamity.

We face so many hazards, it’s difficult to even speculate on what sort of cataclysmic event is going to strike first. It could be war, crop failures/famine, pandemic, sea level rise, economic collapse, a meteor strike, or something I haven’t even considered. I just hope people get their priorities straight and learn to care about one-another before we go off a cliff.

In the mean time, I don’t have the time or resources to change the world. I can only live my life the best way I know how and advocate for a cleaner, more peaceful world with less waste and more people who take the time to think about what they are doing and how it will impact our future.

We all need to deeply consider our choices. Someone will have to live in the mess we leave behind, and that someone will be just like us. My goal is to leave my little corner of the world a little better than I found it. I hope that is my legacy.

Not Dead!

DJT_1103w.jpgI haven’t written a blog entry for this site in over 2 years! I’m not sure how that happened. Since I last blogged, I built a bucky-dome greenhouse. I finished the door, since this photo was taken, and I’m still working on the automatic opening/closing vents.

I’m still heating with the outdoor wood stove, when it’s cold enough to justify a fire. I had to replace my heat pump this year, because the old one died. The heat pump is great for mild winter days, and to maintain the temperature when I’m not home to stoke the fire.

My supply of firewood is not as ample as it could have been. I herniated a disc in my lower spine in early 2017, so I wasn’t up for a lot of lumberjacking.

My solar water heater is still providing 99% of my hot water. I found another slow drip in my plumbing the other day that I will need to address. It seems like there is always something around here that needs attention, but that’s the nature of being self-sufficient. You can’t have all these systems without maintaining them. I think that’s why a lot of people just want to rely on the grid for everything. Personally, I enjoy the work, and I take pride in having designed these systems in such a way that I can maintain them.

We’re heading into winter, now. I probably won’t start any big projects before the days get a bit longer. I’ll try to keep you up-to-date on my progress.

Go Fund Me Campaigns

Beach on Queens Creek. Red Speedo

I get asked, from time to time, to contribute to someone’s crowd-sourcing campaign, like I’m sure many of you do. Recently, I was asked to spread the word about a campaign to help fund someone’s cancer treatment. Being the blunt asshole that I am, I asked the beneficiary of the fund if she had ever, or would ever, help someone she didn’t know well with their medical bills. I was surprised she humored me with an answer. She said that she often gave money to save animals and helped out with a funeral, once.

So, I felt a little bit like pond scum for asking, but the question needs to be asked. I completely understand why someone would set up a crowd-sourcing campaign when they are confronted with insurmountable medical bills. The crowd-sourced fund can help fill a huge gap left by inadequate medical insurance coverage and ridiculous health care prices.

Having said that, you can’t expect others to help when you wouldn’t. What I want to know is, how many people, who are now campaigning for donations, have not contributed, or would never contribute to a similar campaign by a non-family member? I know it’s an impossible standard to enforce, but people shouldn’t ask for help if they’re not willing to help others when they’re able. To put it another way, if you’d rather upgrade your video game console than give $10 to someone you know who is in dire need of help, then, maybe, you should not be asking for others to pitch in to buy you a new X-Box when yours is consumed in a house fire.

What goes around comes around, as they say. I’m not sure that’s always the case, but I wish it was. I want to help people who really need it, but I don’t want to help someone who would not lift a finger to help someone else, AND there are so many people who sincerely need and deserve help. Then again, if you’re dying of cancer and 10,000 strangers pitch in to make your life easier, maybe you’ll be inspired to be a better person.

Let’s Focus on Our Common Cause

DSC_0425smNobody wants to be judged by the way they look, the color of their skin, or the clothes they wear. As a white male, I realize I have benefited from white privilege. I can’t say exactly how, but I’m sure there were doors that were opened for me that I may have found closed, were I a different ethnicity.

Having said that, I never asked for special treatment, and I’ve always felt more at home with the outcasts than with the popular crowd. Growing up, I identified closely with Native Americans. I had an idealized idea of who they were. I wanted to live in harmony with the Earth and I thought the NA community was all about that. I was somewhat disillusioned by some of my subsequent encounters with NA people, but I still believe they understood the importance of a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

_DJT5874smAt the age of 20, I was protesting with the National Toxics Campaign against environmental degradation resulting from toxic chemicals. Now, 30 years later, I am closely allied with three environmental organizations, and my goal is still to live in harmony with nature. The more I learn, the better are my choices. Sometimes those choices aren’t easy or inexpensive. I limit myself to exploring nearby places, so I don’t waste fossil fuels. I bake in a SunOven, heat my water and power part of my home with solar energy, and I use rainwater for all of my outdoor water needs. If you read my blog, you know I’m always counting kilowatts.

_DJT5021smGetting back to the title of this blog entry, I find myself being attacked by people who should be my allies, because I’m white. I will unequivocally admit that I do not understand what it’s like to live someone else’s life; be they African American, Native American, from Louisiana, Canada, the Middle East, handicapped, bipolar, or what have you. Can we all admit that our experience is unique and we all have a somewhat different perspective on things? However, if we only ally ourselves with people who are very much like us, how are we going to make change in a world with seven billion unique people? We are all seeking a better life for ourselves and our descendants. We all have hopes and dreams. We all want to be accepted and loved.

_DJ23558smSpeaking for myself, I want to be accepted and loved. I need people in my life and I prefer people who don’t judge me by the color of my skin, my crooked teeth, or the length of my cutoffs. I am advocating for a cleaner, healthier planet for all of it’s inhabitants, not just people. I thought I might find allies among native people, but they see me and turn away because I can’t understand what it’s like to be them. They’re right. I can’t understand what it’s like to be a Native American, but I can understand what it’s like to be human, and I am working to clean up this mess we’re in. I hate what my ancestors did to minority groups. I hate that we slaughtered the buffalo and polluted the soil and water. I hate that we are still taking land from indigenous peoples and desecrating it. I hate that some police officers shoot first and think later; especially when their target is black. However, hate doesn’t bring solutions; people, working together in large enough numbers, can bring solutions. What I’m asking is simply, don’t look for our differences, but rather focus on what we have in common, and maybe we can bring about a better future.

This May Require Sacrifice

To use an analogy: Your roof has a slow leak. You can’t detect the leak from inside the house, because the water is just soaking into the structural supports and causing them to rot. Fixing the leak is going to cost money, and you don’t have extra money, so you’ll have to give up something to get the leak fixed. Not fixing the leak means, someday, the roof will collapse. You or your family may be injured or killed, and your home will become unlivable.

You may approach with this problem in several ways:

1) You could deny there is a problem and ignore it

2) You could acknowledge the problem and hope it goes away or that the roof holds up long enough that it becomes someone else’s problem (like your children or grand children).

3) You could choose to make some sacrifices to address the problem before it becomes a catastrophe.

Clearly, only choice #3 is a solution. Ignoring a problem is not a solution and kicking the can down the road is just going to make things worse for future generations.

This is my analogy for anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Every time I read about a proposal to address AGW or climate change, I hear someone complain that it might slow the economy, make us less competitive in world markets, increase unemployment, etc. Before I address those points, because I don’t believe those things will necessarily happen, I want to return to my analogy for a second. If we do need to make sacrifices to save our home and protect the future of our children and grand children, that’s what we must do. This isn’t a game we’re playing where we can rewrite the rules. If we continue as we are, our world is going to change for the worse and things could get pretty ugly. The only thing that is unclear about the science is exactly what is going to happen and when. We’ve already had a taste of the future, with extreme droughts in some places, flooding in others, tropical diseases moving northward, catastrophic wind events, etc. Do we really need a detailed map to see that where we’re heading is not where we want to be?

Getting back to the claims of economic gloom: Our society will always need energy, whether we get it from fossil fuels or directly from the sun. If jobs go away in the fossil fuel extraction industry, there will be new jobs in the renewable energy sector. Renewable energy is the future. Every country on the planet knows that. The country that innovates and produces the best renewable energy technology is going to be an economic winner, so it pays to be a leader in renewable energy development.

Furthermore, the biggest drain to our current economy is health care. A leading cause of lung problems and cancer is dirty industry. One of the dirtiest, and most dangerous industries is the fossil fuel industry. By moving away from polluting technologies and towards cleaner technologies, we will reduce our health care costs and lessen the drag on our economy.

Moving to clean energy is a win-win in the long term. There may be sacrifices we’ll have to make in the short term, but we can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The sooner we get serious about our carbon dioxide emissions and other environment pollution, the better off we’ll be in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t ask anyone to do anything I haven’t already done. I lead by example and I understand that not everyone can do what I do. All I ask is that people advocate for progressive government policy and think about how they can reduce their energy consumption and dependence on non-renewable energy. Combining trips to the store, eating local food, driving a more fuel efficient vehicle or riding a bicycle are all things the average person can do. If everyone does what they can, it will make a difference to our future and the future of our planet.

The Sad State of Yogurt

I’m strongly leaning towards a vegan diet, but I still indulge in foods that are not vegan; often to my detriment. Lately, I’ve had a hankering for some yogurt, and I’ve been scouring the shelves of the grocery stores I frequent for something that would resemble real yogurt.

Every yogurt product I see is either “low fat”, “light”, or “no fat”. I wonder how that is even possible, since yogurt is traditionally made from a fatty product. What’s worse, is that some of them replace the fat with copious amounts of sugar, or artificial sweeteners.

After standing in front of the myriad brands of yogurt on display on several occasions, I finally gave in and purchased some Yoplait light yogurt that was on sale. Sadly, I didn’t look closely at the ingredients before I made my purchase. I noted that it had 10 grams of sugar, vs. 26 grams in some other varieties, and it proudly proclaimed that it contained no Aspartame.

What I didn’t notice was that it contained many unnecessary and unnatural ingredients, including food coloring (Red #40 and Blue #1). Why does yogurt need food coloring? It had potassium sorbate to maintain freshness, and Sucralose! Why? The ingredient list reads like a science experiment.

yoplait-yogurt-containerI’m pretty sure I’ll never buy yogurt, again. I am absolutely sure I’ll never buy another Yoplait product. The packaging is recyclable, but it’s not recycle friendly. The container is difficult to rinse out thoroughly, and you can’t stack them to save space in the recycle bin. What could possibly be the advantage in such a backwards package design?

The fact that there are no natural yogurt products available at any of the stores I frequent tells me that consumers have demanded this bastardization of an otherwise healthy, pro-biotic food. Wake up people! Stop buying over-processed, chemical soup foods that mimic real food in name only. Stop demanding low fat versions of food that are made of fat. Fat is not evil; preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes are evil. I get headaches from this stuff; literally. I can measure the difference in my performance when I exercise after eating this stuff. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go vegan and eat only whole foods. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine living without meat and dairy products, but that time has passed. I am not a strict vegan, yet, but I do eat vegan for days at a time, and I have more energy and mental acuity during those times than when I’m eating non-vegan or processed foods.

I got up this morning, ready to take on the world. After days of clouds and rain, the sun was breaking through. After eating 6 ounces of Yoplait yogurt, my brain is fuzzy and I can feel the drag on my body. Food isn’t supposed to make you ill. I hope people get smart and demand more wholesome foods. Yogurt doesn’t need a 3 month shelf life and it definitely doesn’t need artificial coloring.

Thanks for reading!