Archive for the solar Category

New Belgium Brewery Tour Review: A Beer-Loving Ecovangelist’s Mecca

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, green energy, recycling, solar, sustainability on January 4, 2008 by theseep

While visiting family in Ft. Collins, CO, on our winter attempt at a fossil fuel free road trip, we had the pleasure of touring the New Belgium Brewing Company, makers of Fat Tire Ale, Mothership Wit Organic Ale, 2° Below, and other tasty concoctions. Located a stone’s throw from old town, this sustainable brew house is now the 3rd largest craft brewery in the country, only behind giants like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.

I was already a fan, knowing that the brewery was completely wind-powered, that their fat tire beer is pretty darn good, and that we would get free samples. I really didn’t see how I would be disappointed, but I didn’t know what wonders that I was to behold on the tour.

Walking up to the New Belgium Brewing Company, the flagship brew Fat Tire comes alive through long rows of bike racks, filled with the chubby-wheeled bikes of employees, who are encouraged to bike to work and given one of the logo-clad gas-savers after one year of employment. Once you enter the bar/tasting area, further clues of their mission abound – stained concrete floors, stools and chairs made from recycled bike wheels, the shrine to bicycling, to the eco-tips article clipped to the bathroom stall wall. The mood in the tasting room is fun and jovial, the employee-owners (yes, 1/3 of the company is owned by the employees!) wearing holiday garb, their verve for working at New Belgium apparent in their expressions.

The Tour:

We were able to jump on to the last tour of the day and since we didn’t have time to choose our 4 samples, our server gave us a primer sample of 2° Below, the deep caramel –colored, mildly spiced and satisfying winter brew. With our whistle wetted, we headed off with Erin, our energetic and impassioned employee-owner tour guide. As we walked to brew house 2, the new facility, capable of 700 bottles per minute, Erin pointed out the porous concrete walkway for drainage, the LED/recycled bottle chandelier, and the massive skylight, solar tube, and reflector system to maximize daylight. We watched the armies of bottles being cleaned, filled, and packaged for shipping on the slick new assembly line. New Belgium uses B20 for all local shipping, and is looking into ways to make long-distance distribution (which they must subcontract out at this point) more eco-friendly such as the use of trains rather than trucks when possible. In fact, the thing that impressed me most about this company is that they have built a successful business model as sustainable as they could from the beginning, and are constantly trying to move forward, improve, and innovate, to hopefully make everything in their process, from cradle to grave, have as small of an environmental footprint as possible.

Erin spoke about the brewery with a near religious fervor, referring in awe to the founders, Jeff and Kim, and of the sense of family that had been engendered there. As we continued the tour, we climbed some stairs to the top of the vats where wort was stewing in one and barley was being cracked in another. I was surprised to find that what would have been a bare and warehouse atmosphere anywhere else, was adorned with sculptures made from recycled parts, and each of the 3 tanks was surrounded by a different mosaic, the first of which had embedded, “To make our love and talent manifest.” idealistic prose, straight from the mission statement of this visionary company.

The Beers:

Once we finished the tour, we headed back to the crowded and cheerful tasting room and ordered our 4 samples each. All of the beers are based on Belgian style beermaking, but New Belgium has creatively expanded upon the former standards. The flagship, Fat Tire is a good, basic, medium ale with a tasty and solid flavor, a minimally bitter aftertaste, and is just as comfortable quenching your beer-thirst after a grueling bike ride as it is at your favorite social gathering – plus, you definitely get extra points these days bringing an environmentally friendly brew to a party. Mothership Wit is a 95% organic wheat ale that is light and refreshing, but to me has a much fuller flavor than most Belgian wheats. It has a hint of citrus and it’s slight turbidity makes you feel like you’re drinking a natural, organic beer. 1554, a reproduction of the oldest known recipe of dark Belgian ale, dug up from the depths of the ancient Brussels’ city archives, is a dark, chocolaty concoction that gives you a wonderful array of flavors up front, a satisfying aftertaste, and a stoutish feel without being to heavy. The Frambosen is probably one of the best fruit-tainted beers I’ve had, ranking up with Magic Hat #9. The beer is somewhat dark, with a full body and just enough raspberry to make it out of this world. Although I could only sample 4 of my own, I sneaked some sips of a few others as well as cleaning up some floaters from other family members. The Trippel ale that Laura ordered was unexpectedly interesting but good, with a yeasty and slightly sour flavor, making me feel like I had just scored some of the best 16th century mead the knighthood could buy.

After the tasting, we signed up for the Wunderbike team, pledging to ride to work at least twice a month (which we do anyway) and getting some sweet pant-straps in the process. We also picked up New Belgium bike socks, a growler of Frombosen for the holidays, and Laura bought me a cycling jersey because the whole experience had been so exciting to me. We had just had the pleasure of touring this wonderful company that makes great beer in a sustainable way, in a creative, caring atmosphere. If I wasn’t already an ER doc in CA, I would be tempted to submit my application! Did I mention that the owner/employees get a case of beer/week during the holidays? To Jeff and Kim and the rest of the New Belgium family, keep up the fantastic work, we’ll be enjoying plenty of Fat Tire in the future.

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

Posted in clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, recycling, solar, sustainability with tags on December 8, 2007 by theseep

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!

Noon Solar Releases Solar Messenger Bags

Posted in clean energy, ethical consumerism, green energy, recycling, solar, sustainability on November 26, 2007 by theseep

While these aren’t the first solar backpack/messenger bag offerings, the new offerings from Noon Solar are the most stylish that I’ve seen so far. They are constructed of “Bavarian sourced, chrome-free, naturally tanned and dyed, full-grain cowhide leather and naturally dyed hemp cotton blend.” Sorry for the vegans in the crowd, but Voltaic has a solar backpack and messenger bag offering made of recycled PET as a more eco-friendly but not quite so chic option. Then again, when have I ever been into chic?  Both Noon’s and Voltaic’s designs integrate a battery and charger into the bag, allowing you to charge your various gadgets on the fly with nothing but photons from the skies.  Either would be an expensive but relatively environmentally conscious and useful holiday present!

via Engadget

Electroauto Electric Car Seminar in San Luis Obispo Review

Posted in alternative fuel, clean energy, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, solar, sustainability, transportation with tags , , on October 7, 2007 by theseep

I was able to attend most of an electric vehicle seminar at Cal Poly today sponsored by the Central Coast Clean Cities Coalition and presented by Bob of Electroauto. Now I’ve lusted after the electric car conversion kits from Electroauto for years, so it was interesting to see the husband and wife founding team presenting information on electric vehicle practicality and efficiency, cost of conversion and maintenance, conversion techniques, chassis selection, battery issues, and basically answered any question someone would have if you’re considering building an electric car.The electroauto kits range from $6000 for a “universal” DC kit (+ ~$2000 for batteries every 4 years or so) that requires some fabrication and fitting by the installer, to $13,415 (+batteries and shipping) for a custom AC “Voltsporsche” kit that bolts directly into a Porsche 914 chassis. The Voltsporsche kit is the highest performace, with a top speed of 100mph and a range from 100-150 miles although most kits promise highway speeds up to 70mph with a range of 50-100 miles. The speed and range of these kits is multifactorial and depends primarily on the weight and aerodynamics of your chassis, choice of AC or DC kits, and your choice of batteries, but is also affected by driving techniques, and use of accessories like A/C, heat, and other electronics. AC kits, although more expensive, are slightly more efficient and allow regenerative braking (which reclaims up to 1/3 of the energy used to accelerate to that speed) and a broad array of battery choices in comparison to DC kits. These kits can be installed by a technician for around $5000, or a tinkerer with moderate skill can install the kit in a weekend or two, depending on the shape of your chassis and the kit you choose.
Conclusions? If you drive 50 miles or less (85%+ of commuters) and are in the market for a vehicle, one of these are the way to go. For $20-$30k, you can have a fully functional highway-capable electric vehicle with 1/3 of the operating cost of a regular car, and significantly less or even no emissions, depending on your power source. One of the common myths you’ll hear from detractors (like auto manufacturers and naysayers that don’t check their sources) is the argument that you make just as much pollution from the power source from your charging as you do from a combustion engine. The so-called “long tailpipe” phenomenon, is decidedly false – even with power from the dirtiest coal-fired power plant, emissions from charging an electric car are 2/3 less than that of a combustion engine. Calculations demonstrating this are detailed on the Tesla Roadster website (pdf file link).  Although vehicles like the Zap-X and Tesla roadster are slotted to be available over the next few years, they cost $60K and $100K respectively, and are thus far vaporware. We will be waiting a few years before consumer electrics come down to the price of an installed Electroauto kit, and although they will probably have somewhat longer ranges, they will be more complicated, not be user maintainable, and you won’t have the fun and pride of selecting, building and maintaining your own custom vehicle! With battery technology improving rapidly, you can start with cheap and reliable flooded lead batteries, and as you recycle and replace your batteries every 3-5 years, more efficient and lighter options will become more and more reasonably priced.
Essentially, if you are prepared to spend the money on a new or newer used car and you are prepared for a little legwork or some tinkering, this is the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly way to have a mid-range commuter car.  If you slap some solar panels on your home as well, you’ll be the envy of every treehugger on the block!

Letter to The Secretary of Transportation – She thinks that bikes are not transportation!

Posted in alternative fuel, clean energy, conservation, ethical consumerism, global warming, green energy, politics, solar, sustainability, transportation on August 21, 2007 by theseep

 
This letter is in response to Mary Peters’s, the Secretary of Transportation who described in her interview how DOT funds go to earmarked projects that aren’t actually transportation like bike paths! These are the kinds of comments that show how short-sighted our administration and how much more work we all have to do.

Hello,
I would like this forwarded to Mary Peters. I am writing regarding Ms. Peters comments during her public television interview aired on August 15th. In this interview, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation stated that she does not actually consider the most fuel efficient mode of transportation currently available to not fit under the realm of the DOT and should not be funded. To quote, “Well, there’s about probably some 10 percent to 20 percent of the current spending that is going to projects that really are not transportation, directly transportation-related. Some of that money is being spent on things, as I said earlier, like bike paths or trails.” Although bicycling for some is sport, exercise, and recreation, for many others, it is a major method of commuting and an important part of our transportation infrastructure now and moreso in the future. My wife and I both ride 3/4 mile to work and we frequently ride 3-5 miles on errands and around town and it is an important part of how we travel locally.
Fuel prices are rising and will continue to rise. Many experts admit that “Peak Oil”, that is, the point where oil production can no longer be increased and will soon begin to fall, will happen within the next 10 years. With the enormous increase in demand for fossil fuels from developing countries like India and China and continuing increasing demand in other countries, including our own, we need to expect a collapse of the oil economy within the next 20-30 years, easily within our lifetimes. Spending billions of dollars supporting this corroded and corrupt infrastructure does nothing to prepare us for the crisis that we will face. Roads and bridges need to be repaired, it is true. However, we must also have a vision of how transportation will happen in 20 years. Will electric or hydrogen cars fill the streets? Will public transportation be the norm as people are forced to move from the suburbs back into cities because travel and commuting becomes so expensive? Will human-powered vehicles be the standard for short-distance commuting?
Of all these possibilites and more, biking is the only mode of transportation that requires nothing but the calories of the user, uses currently available technology, and actually improves the health of the user rather than belching toxic emissions into the air we breathe. Biking should be encouraged by the agency responsible for our Nation’s transportation. It should be made safer and more accessible.
As far as the fuel tax Ms. Peters was discussing, there should be a large fuel tax. Gas should be $6/gallon or more like it is in Europe and we need to start paying for the true cost of our consumption. Some of the 453 billion dollars spent on the Iraq war should come from fuel taxes, as this war has been partially fueled by our obsession with cheap oil. Infrastructure and incentives for alternative fueled vehicles like electrics, biodiesel, cellulosic (not corn) ethanol can come from these taxes along with repealing the billions of dollars in tax breaks for oil companies. And of course, repair and maintenance of our existing infrastructure can come from this money as we slowly phase out the era of the fossil-powered vehicle.
Please realize that bicycles are an extraordinarily important part of a CO2 neutral world, they allow us exercise and reasonably rapid transport for short and medium distances with no emissions and no fuel consumption (aside from dinner). Bicycles need to be included in a responsible, forward-thinking plan for our nation’s Department of Transportation.
Thank You,

Clint Slaughter, M.D.Emergency Medicine
San Luis Obispo, CA

via Treehugger.com

Zero Energy Desalination Plant and Theater

Posted in clean energy, solar, sustainability on June 28, 2007 by theseep

A new “Water Theater” is being planned for the Canary Islands which will not only be a seaside cultural center for performing arts, but will also serve as an innovative desalination plant. The architecture of the sea-facing wall is such that cool sea water is pumped into tubes then sprayed on a membrane through which sun-warmed air flows. The warm air over the cooler tubes causes the condensation of fresh water which drips into collecting troughs below. This is essentially a giant solar convection powered dehumidifier that supposedly can provide enough fresh water for an entire city! It also combines aesthetic architecture with renewable resource management and doubles as a theater that benefits the entire community. I’m curious to see what a dehumidifier of this size does to the local weather patterns, though.See the video on Discovery.com

More technical info and photos here.

via Victor Argueta, Ph.D.

Response to my Right-winged Friend’s Email on Gore’s Energy Use. Also, Presenting "Ecophasing", the "lazy environmentalist" Hobby.

Posted in biodiesel, green energy, solar on February 28, 2007 by theseep

One of my extraordinarily intelligent, yet inexplicably right winged friends, Beetel wrote:
“You guys need to get a new spokesman. This one’s so full of shite you can smell it on his breath. Just gonna hurt the cause in the long run.” then goes on to quote the information on Gore’s personal energy use following An Inconvenient Truth’s oscar. (also via hugg)

My reply:
Shame on you.
A. Stop trying to downplay the importance of the global warming message by attempting to discredit the spokesperson (a childish yet common political tactic sadly used by both republicans and democrats).
2. It’s true that Gore should significantly decrease his energy use. However, although he is not “walking the walk”, as skeptics say, with his everyday consumption, he is utilizing a great deal of this energy to “fight the fight” as we idealists say.
III. Make sure you look at the opposing side’s retort prior to sending around fire-fueling propaganda – check this article and newcast out. There’s another interesting article here.

I’ll say “I told you so” in 30 or so post-apocalyptic years when you’ll be piecing together blackmarket robot parts in an underground nanotechnology lab to arm a cyborg revolution and I’ll be heading up the U.N. council on Biological Threats or some other such disaster management problem that will have surfaced by then.

I apologise, by the way, if I’m overtired and rambling, but I’m 1/2 asleep after an overnight shift.

Here’s my extended but not complete take on the matter:
We really do have to stop the global energy crisis and it has to be a bipartisan and cooperative event. This is not just global warming, but also an issue that encompasses our resource use and our fossil fuel use and it’s political ramifications; not to mention the global instability caused by American Imperialism in our search for more oil.
How do we start a solution?
As individual Americans.
One simple way to start a change is to realize that the choices that we make in our daily consumption lie at the heart of the problem. If a corporation’s mass produced, resource-hungry, preserved, chemical-laden “food products”don’t sell because no educated consumer in their right mind would eat them, then they won’t make them anymore. If people refuse to wear sweat-shop produced, fertilizer-laced cotton shirts, then eventually they won’t be produced either. If people choose to buy fair-trade, organic coffee, the poor village in Africa or South America can get paid for what their work is worth and their village will eventually get better sanitation, better healthcare, and better living standards.
I think that although personal consumption is “personal”, and people should be free to live their lives as they choose, the true costs of goods, services, and resources need to be paid by the consumer. This means that cost will go up, availability will be limited, and resources will be expensive (as they should be). This means that yes, some people will lose their jobs, but at the same time many jobs will be made and new industry will form to improve renewable energy technology and manage our resources. Energy will eventually be just as, if not more plentiful than it is in the current oil-based energy economy, it will be more available to developing countries, and it will cause less harm and pollution to the earth.
All of this prosperity comes at a price, however. This means that many multinational corporations would have to lose power and lose wealth, losing a few jobs and making a miniscule percentage of our population slightly less wealthy. Wow, what a terrible sacrifice. For this to happen, local communities need to flourish again and cooperate to manage their allocated resources wisely. For this to happen, the individual person needs to start with simple choices in conservation and try to improve from there as they are able.

I can get downright evangelical can’t I? Maybe that will be one of my future campaign speeches.

On a personal “green” note, my Vanagon is in Sacramento getting a Biodiesel/Vegetable oil conversion! So aside from the brush with death from an enraged Hummer driver (discussed in my blog), we’ll be off liquid petrol within the next 2 months.
So far, by putting solar on our house last year, we have cut our home power use by 70% and are saving ourselves $1680/year in electricity costs. The biodiesel I’m making is costing me $1.40/gallon to make and after I make 4 more batches (3 months or so), the money I spent on my system will have paid for itself then it’s all savings from there! Then we need to work on our natural gas furnace and hot water heater. That will take a few years I think, but the current thought is a waste oil furnace/hot water heater combo – I’m hoping to combine our waste oil collection, biodiesel production and home heating all into one source and one process in the corner of the garage. I also have a rainwater and greywater cachement system in mind, but that’s further off.
Once we’re done, it will take me 10 hours of labor and less than $200 a month to provide CO2 neutral fuel for our family including transportation, heat, hot water, and electricity (as opposed to more than $350/month with traditional energy sources). This “greening” of my lifestyle, or “ecophasing” as I’ll call it, has actually been fun and become sort of a hobby. Rather than playing video games or stare at a television all day, everyone can try to stay up to date on politics, technology, and environmental news, trying to figure out how to spend the least amount of money and make our living as green as possible while maintaining a modern and convenient lifestyle. I think I’ll start an “ecophazing” movement, or is that too “Sally” of a name? Whatever it can be called, It’s a good and legitimate way to get people to decrease their footprint and conserve resources.
My latest project, besides the biodiesel vanagon, is a kick-ass commuter bike with cargo capacity and style. I’ll be able to bike to the grocery store and if I’m feeling particularly frisky, could take my surfboard the 20 miles to the beach and 20 miles back (that would be fairly bad-ass (or is it “bad-assed”) and I think that I’ll have to build up to that. Using this frame (not in red), and mostly recycled parts, it will have an xtracycle attachment for carrying capacity (groceries, surfboard, etc), LED lighting, and a chalkboard paint surface for environmentally-friendly hippie propaganda, peace signs and other sweet drawings. It’s going to be funky-fly-fresh. For extra eco-dork street cred, I’m considering a POV (persistence of vision) wheel kit, sporting an uber-geek bling-bling recycle symbol. You have to check the POV wheel out, even though I do recognize that it is using unnecessary resources and power, it absolutely is the coolest thing you can do to your bike for less than $50. I also might eventually wuss out and get one of these electric conversions, but for now I’ll opt for the extra sweat.
Hope it’s not too cold in the midwest. It’s been raining here but fairly comfortable in the 60’s and sunny today.
Not to rub it in or anything.
Later –
Clint

update: A reponse by my friend has proposed “enviro-ninja”, or “econinja” as a more stylish and tougher name for the environmental hobbyist. This, of course, referring to the the ninja’s legendary ability to “leave no trace” and blend in to the environment without being seen.
Plus, the costumes are fun.