Dear ecobot, Episode 1 – Have any suggestions for cleaner energy around the house for those that can’t afford to have solar power installed?

This is my preview/tester/first installment of The S.E.E.P.’s “Dear Ecobot” column.Rachel asked:

Dear Ecobot

“Hi, I found your blog while looking for info on the desalination theater and must say how inspiring it was to see.
I keep seeing sites suggesting all these ways to have clean energy this way and that way,
but everything is so expensive considering I am a not so wealthy college student still.
Have any suggestions for cleaner energy around the house for those that cant afford to have solar power installed?

Well Rachel,

There’s all kinds of fun ways to decrease your footprint without having to drop $10,000 or more on a household solar system.  Plus, if you’re a renter or a student, there’s no way you’ll be allowed to significantly modify anything in your apartment.  So, my first answer is always conservation.

If you haven’t already replaced your incandescent bulbs with CFLs and started looking into LED fixtures and bulbs, then get to it.  For those that don’t mind the cold, get a warm beanie and your favorite Patagonia (or other ecofriendly company) fleece and turn down your thermostat to 62 or so.  Thaw out your toes every once in a while with an energy-efficient space heater.  Use the seep-worthy mantra, “If it’s yellow let it mellow, “. . . you know the rest, low-flow showerheads (cheap and easy to install), and limited showers to save H2O.  You can also grab one of the toilet top sinks to save hand washing water.

The next step is to change your consumption to decrease your personal energy footprint.  Buy local and organic foods whenever possible, go to farmer’s markets.  Increase vegetable intake and limit meats to those that are sustainably and humanely raised.  Go vegetarian if you like, although I’m in the “Omnivore’s Dilemma camp.”  In general, try to avoid processed foods, pesticides, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), foods with hormones, trans-fats, and most chemicals that you can find an OSHA data sheet on.  When you buy goods, make a pledge to buy sustainably and responsibly made.  Don’t shop at BR, A&F, The G@p, Old N@vy, Walmart, most department stores, and other retailers that basically sell sweatshop-made nylon garments made from processed fossil fuels and other chemicals that have been shipped around the world to you.  Instead stick to local shops, even thrift shops, and known responsible companies like Patagonia, Prana, Keen, Simple, Aveeda, The Body Shop, Trader Joe’s, Method, the list goes on.  We no longer need to look very far or need to look or smell (although my wife Laura loves Patchouli) like hippies, you can be hip and fashionable in your eco-friendly duds.

Recycle everything you can.  Start a small compost bin.  Get cloth napkins, bring your own utensils and stop using disposable plastic ones.  Plant a small garden and grow a dwarf citrus tree on your porch, balcony, or roof.

Here’s a project that I’ve been meaning to build:  the seep’s micro-solar array.  It’s basically a modular charging station that can cost anywhere from $50 to $1000, depending on how far you want to go.

The small version: Find your sunniest window.  Get some fun and relatively cheap solar chargers like a Solio, a small Brunton, or other pre-wired small electronics charger.  Try to get one for each device for maximum daylight charging potential.  If you want to get creative, sew/stick Velcro onto a curtain/shade and on the back of your chargers and hang them in the window for maximum sun soakage.  You can make pouches on the inside for your phone, ipod and maybe laptop and poke a hole through for the wires.

The medium version:  Get a Brunton 26 watt foldable solar array (currently $266.52) and one of the Xantrex power packs, like the Powerpack 600 (129.99).  For less than $400, this combination should provide you with enough power to charge your laptop, your ipod, your phone, maybe a few AAs, and power a few LED lights.

The big version: If you have a little balcony space or a south-facing window, get an RV Solar Power kit online with an 85 watt or so solar panel a charge controller, a decent power inverter (I chose a 1200 watt one), and get some batteries.  I was thinking 2 Optima 55 amp-hour deep-cycle batteries (usually cheapest locally due to high delivery costs) which should give a pretty decent amount of power time and wire them all up.  Be creative to find or build a small shelving system or other way to disguise your power station.  Fashion some brackets to hang it the the window or off of the balcony.  This requires some DIY, but is the most bang for your buck and can be put together for as little as $650 and should provide enough juice to run your laptop, your mobile/iPhone/iPod/gadgets-of-choice, an LCD TV, and a few LED lights for a good deal of your evening hours’ work or play.  With a bigger system, you could power a small microwave and even a small and efficient DC refrigerator!

85-110 Watt Solar Panel                                $400-800+

batteries with 100 ahr or so                          $150-$500+

Charge controller                                            $30-$150

Inverter                                                             $50-$150+

This will definitely be an official S.E.E.P. project in the upcoming year!

Thanks for the question Rachel!

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