Renewable Energy Archive


Project: Save Energy with Insulated Shutters

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

Unless you’ve taken special preventative precautions, it’s likely that on cold days much of your house’s heat pours out through your (closed) windows. Most houses—especially old houses—have drafty, uninsulated windows that do little to prevent heat from dumping out into the cold night. Even if your windows aren’t drafty, the expensive heat your furnace has been generating could be escaping.The only way to know for sure is to conduct a home energy audit—either professionally or on your own. Included in a home energy audit is a thermal image of your house on a cold day. This image will show you the hot spots on the exterior of your house—usually around the doors and windows—where (and how much) heat is escaping.

Once you’ve conducted your home energy audit, or decided that your windows are probably leaking heat anyway, you can get to work sealing up the windows to save money, fuel, and energy this winter. Stephen and Rebekah Hren, authors of The Carbon-Free Home, have offered the low-cost solution to window heat loss below.

From The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit, by Stephen and Rebekah Hren:

Insulated Curtains and Shutters

A variety of systems have been devised over the years to stop heat transfer through windows. The most obvious is the curtain. While curtains do address heat transfer via radiation, when improperly installed they can increase the convection over the window and potentially lead to a net heat loss. This happens primarily from top to bottom when a large gap allows warm air to be pulled downward from the ceiling between the curtain and the glass. This cools the air, causing it to drop down below the curtain level and escape back out into the room. The cool air entering the room is replaced by additional warm air near the ceiling, and a thermosiphon effect can become established, quickly sucking the heat out of the room.

This can also occur to a lesser degree when curtains have large gaps between the sides and the wall. To make the application of curtains worthwhile from an energy conservation standpoint, it’s necessary to go to some trouble to reduce as much as possible all gaps around the edges of the curtains. Historically, the thermosiphon effect has been reduced by the application of a valance (also called a pelmet) at the top of the window. Often these are applied with aesthetics as the main concern (covering the curtain hardware) instead of energy conservation. To be effective, the valance needs to hug tight to the wall above the window to prevent thermosiphoning. Cloth valances rarely achieve this end. Constructed wood valances, sometimes found in older homes, are more effective.

For windows without curtains or with poorly functioning curtains, there are two options: insulated curtains or shutters. Typically, insulated curtains are held tight to the wall by embedded magnets (or Velcro) in the curtain and window trim. Insulated shutters are typically hinged on one side, although they can be hinged on the top and opened via a pulley and held against the ceiling. They typically consist of a simple 2 × 2 frame with metal on both sides and insulation sandwiched in between, typically high-R-value foamboard. (See image.)

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Insulated curtains are either homemade or purchased affairs. Beware—many big-box retailers sell what they call insulated curtains, but these are thin and don’t seal around the edges. Solar Components (www .solar-components.com/quilts) sells insulated material for making your own sealing insulated curtains. Cozy Curtains (www.cozycurtains.com) will custommake sealing insulated curtains for around $10–12/ square foot. Generally, windows with sealing insulated curtains achieve an R-value of around 7 or 8. The curtains also have excellent sound-deadening and light-blocking qualities.

Project: Sealing Drafts.
Renter friendly.
Project Time: One weekend.
Cost: $5–50.
Energy Saved: High. Drafts can suck much of the heat out a home very quickly.
Ease of Use: N/A.
Maintenance Level: None.
Skill Levels: Carpentry: Basic.
Materials: Caulk, silicone.
Tools: Caulking gun, pry bar, screwdriver, incense or smoke stick.

Blow-in insulation. For older homes, the best way to seal up a drafty house is often by blowing insulation, either

cellulose or fiberglass, into the walls and attic. Loose-fill insulation can reduce airflow to the point where air infiltration is essentially eliminated. If your home is poorly insulated, blowing in insulation in the attic and walls should be your top priority. It’s probably best to hire someone for at least the wall insulation. The reason to hire out is because blowing in sufficient insulation to get up to R-13 or so requires pressure created by a high-powered compressor that is not easy to rent. Walls and attic can be done in an afternoon by a professional. However, the attic doesn’t require high pressure and can be a DIY job if you’re so inclined. Many rental places or big-box stores have the equipment needed to blow in attic insulation.

Checking for air leaks. If your walls are already insulated, you’ll want to check all protrusions into the interior wall

space for potential air leaks. This is easy to do with a stick of incense, when the interior temperature is substantially different than the exterior temperature. Hold a smoking stick close to things such as outlets, tops and bottoms of baseboards, chair rails, picture rails, window trim, plumbing intrusions, and vents, and watch the smoke. If it’s not floating straight up, you found one.

Outlets and switch seals are made of rubber and match the profile of the outlet (receptacle or switch). These can be purchased at most hardware stores. Remove the outlet cover with a screwdriver and stick the seal in between the cover and the wall. Be cautious of live wires; to play it safe turn off the breaker for the circuits you will be working on whenever removing outlet covers.

Drafts from gaps in trim or plumbing and HVAC intrusions can be sealed with either pure silicone (which is preferred as it stays flexible, but it is not paintable) or painter’s caulk with some silicone added. Expandable foam is an option for large cracks (more than a ¼ inch), although it often contains potential toxins like benzene and often uses HCFCs for blowing agents, known to be potent greenhouse gases.

Stopping vertical airflow. If your home is old and your interior walls are extremely drafty, you have two options. The first is to seal either the basement or the attic. This will close either the entrance (basement) or the exit (attic) for the cold air. Again, blowing in insulation in the attic does a great job of essentially eliminating potential basement-to-attic airflow through interior walls. The cheapest (but most difficult) choice is to go into the basement or crawl space and clog any holes made in the floor and walls for systems such as electrical and plumbing. There are often a surprising number of these. This can be done with expanded foam or by stuffing bits of fiberglass insulation into the holes. While fiberglass insulation does let through some air, it reduces airflow by over 90 percent.

If your house is on piers and not enclosed, you’ll need to insulate your floor. This is an unpleasant and difficult task but will go a long way in sealing up your home. Flexible rods are sold to hold floor insulation in place, but we’ve seen these fail on a number of occasions. The best method for holding floor insulation in place is to start with a few of these flexible rods and then staple chicken wire to keep it in place.

Recessed lights and electrical boxes in the ceiling are a common escape route for air. Again, blowing some insulation in the attic will do wonders. Fiberglass batts in the attic also benefit from this treatment, as the gaps between the edges and the joists can let out a fair amount of heat.

Check all ductwork. If you have a conventional furnace or heat pump with forced-air heating, you’ll need to check your ductwork annually. This is because some piece or other has quite likely become detached over the course of time and is lying on the crawl space floor, keeping the crickets warm. To detect a detached duct, check each heating vent in your house, while the heating system is running, by placing your hand over the vent to feel for airflow. What you can’t check from above are slightly detached or leaky connections, which occur with great regularity. Grab the incense stick and check all the lines for leaks, using real duct tape (black, not gray, and quite expensive) to seal any problem areas. Also check for crimped ductwork or holes from squirrels or rodents. Repair any problem areas.

In a really well-sealed home, there’s the potential to have an inadequate amount of fresh air coming in from the outside. If you’ve done a great job sealing your home, and especially if you heat with wood (which uses up a lot of oxygen), you’ll want to install an air exchanger. This brings in fresh air and exhausts interior air through a highly conductive metal passageway that exchanges much of the heat of the outgoing air with the incoming air.

Power from the People – A Webinar with Greg Pahl

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Renewable power is always better than fossil fuel power, but even solar and wind can stir up environmental concerns. Here in Vermont, where ridgeline construction is limited and restricted, residents are increasingly seeing their beloved landscapes interrupted by wind turbines. Meanwhile, activists in the southwest are seeing huge solar installations disrupt the delicate desert ecology.

But these sorts of massive-scale projects are not the only way to do renewables. Small-scale projects that are funded, planned, and supported by local communities are much more sustainable, and, in the wake of Superstorm Sandy may be more resilient to get back online in the event of knockout storms.

This Friday, November 16th, join Greg Pahl, author of Power From the People, for a webinar on the subject. The talk starts at 10 AM PT, 1 PM ET, 18 GMT.

Communities across the United States are taking power into their own hands by organizing, financing, and launching their own local renewable energy projects! In this webinar, energy expert Greg Pahl will describe the best practices and lessons learned from the community-owned wind, solar, and biofuel projects featured in his latest book, Power From the People (Chelsea Green, 2012). Pahl’s book is part of our Community Resilience Guide series we’re co-publishing with the folks at Post Carbon Institute.

In fact, check out the recent Grist article written by PCI’s Asher Miller about just how we can take the lead from Bill McKibben and divest from Big Oil by investing in our own backyards. Miller cites some of the many examples in Pahl’s books where communities are already doing this – to much success.

This event will comprise a 30 minute presentation followed by a live Q&A. Join by going here at the time of the presentation where you will be able to login and participate.

Playing Nuclear Roulette in Vermont

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Vermont’s lone nuclear reactor — Entergy-owned Vermont Yankee — has been named one of the five worst reactors in the United States, according to the new book Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth, published by Chelsea Green Publishing.

For much of the past Vermont Yankee has been the focus of ongoing state and federal regulatory investigations, legislative battles, and ongoing courtroom drama. It started running in 1972, and was recently given a 20-year operating extension by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

This coming weekend, and into next week, activists will renew their attention to the aging reactor in hopes they can finish the work of the Vermont Senate a few years ago — close down Vermont Yankee permanently.

In this new work — which we’re offering on sale this week — investigative journalist Gar Smith lists five nuclear facilities as the “worst reactors” in the United States. They were chosen because they are representative of the poor regulatory oversight that has endangered the public, and poisoned the environment. Many other nuclear power sites around the country have equally disturbing records of poor performance, emergency shutdowns, and close calls, which Smith details in ample supply in Nuclear Roulette.

“The consequences of poor regulatory oversight can be seen in the operating histories of the country’s nuclear reactors,” writes Smith in  Nuclear Roulette.

The other four reactors are: Entergy-owned Indian Point in New York; Davis-Besse in Ohio, and Diablo Canyon and San Onofre in California.

Here is the section devoted to Vermont Yankee, which also exemplifies what happens when the industry and its lapdog regulators team up against the wishes of a state’s citizens and elected officials:

Vermont Yankee: The Green Mountain State vs. the NRC

On March 10, 2011, the NRC unanimously approved a 20-year license extension for the troubled Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Within hours of the decision, three similar General Electric Mark 1 reactors were knocked off-line by an earthquake in Japan—and all three overheated and exploded. Despite the devastation in Fukushima Prefecture, the NRC stood by its decision to allow the 40-year-old Vermont Yankee plant to continue operating through 2031. Given Vermont Yankee’s history of breakdowns and cover-ups—and the fact that a reactor accident here could put more than a million Americans at risk—the watchdog group Beyond Nuclear excoriated the NRC’s decision as both “audacious” and “reckless.”

Vermonters received another jolt when it was revealed that the NRC had voted to extend Vermont Yankee’s license even though its inspectors had discovered that critical electric cables powering the plant’s safety systems had been “submerged under water for extended periods of time.”

It was not the only maintenance failure of Entergy Corp., which had acquired the plant in 2002. The company has a reputation for “buying reactors cheap and running them into the ground.” In 2004, a poorly maintained electrical system set off a large fire in the plant’s turbine building that forced an emergency shutdown. In 2007, Vermont Yankee experienced a series of maintenance problems that included the dramatic collapse of a cooling tower. A waterfall of high-pressure water burst from a ruptured cooling pipe and tore a gaping hole in the plant’s wall. Entergy was able to hide the damage—but only until a concerned employee leaked a photo of the wreckage to the press. The huge gap in the side of the building was reminiscent of the hole in the side of the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks.

Tritium + Entergy = Perjury

During state hearings in 2009, Entergy executives were asked if radioactive tritium detected in the soil and groundwater near the reactor could have leaked from the plant. Company officials repeatedly swore under oath that this was impossible since there were no underground pipes at the plant. It was not until January 2010, after a leak of radioactive tritium was traced to a series of subsurface pipes, that Entergy changed its story. While the plant didn’t have “underground pipes,” Entergy now explained, it did have “buried pipes.”

Attorney general William Sorrell began a 17-month investigation during which Entergy’s former executive vice president Curtis Hebert admitted that the company’s statements about the pipes “could have been more accurate.” The state ordered Entergy to remove more than 300,000 gallons of radioactive water fron the soil and ground water at the reactor site, and Vermont governor Peter Shumlin demanded the plant’s closure.

There’s another waste problem at the plant: a large and potentially lethal stockpile of used fuel rods. While Fukushima’s six reactors had between 360 and 500 tons of slowly dying fuel rods on-site, the nuclear graveyard at Vermont Yankee is filled with 690 tons of dangerously radioactive waste. And the storage pools for this spent fuel lack both backup cooling systems and backup generators.

Beyond Nuclear’s “Freeze Our Fukushimas” campaign, which aims to close all 23 Mark 1 reactors in the United States, hoped to score its first victory when Vermont Yankee’s 40-year operating license expired on March 21, 2012. The odds were improved by the fact that Vermont is the only state that gives lawmakers the authority to veto a nuclear power plant. In February 2010, a month after Entergy’s tritium scandal was exposed, the Vermont Senate voted 26–4 against issuing a new “certificate of public good” that would allow Vermont Yankee to continue operating.

Entergy Sues Vermont

In April 2011, Entergy’s lawyers responded by suing the governor and the state, claiming, “We have a right to continue operation.” On January 19, 2012, federal judge Garvan Murtha ruled that only the NRC could close a nuclear plant, and therefore Entergy was entitled to its new 20-year operating license. Murtha also made it clear that the Green Mountain State was not entitled to raise any questions regarding plant safety or the prices charged for nuclear power—under federal law, only the NRC could raise such matters.

The decision alarmed Beyond Nuclear and other critics who feared the nuclear industry and the federal government were working in concert “to pre-empt a state’s right to self determination for an energy future in the public good.” Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) quickly weighed in. “If Vermont wants to move to energy efficiency and sustainable energy,” Sanders told the Burlington Free Press, “no corporation should have the right to force our state to stay tethered to an aging, problem-ridden nuclear plant.”

Eight days after the judge’s decision, Entergy refused the state’s second request to investigate the source of a tritium leak that had poisoned a drinking well on the plant’s property. On July 25, 2011, Entergy further demonstrated its disregard for due process by announcing a $60 million refueling project—an investment that would pay off only if the power plant won its extension.

Entergy’s lawyers publicly confirmed their understanding that the company still needs the permission of Vermont’s Public Service Board (a quasi-official board that oversees Vermont’s utilities) if it is to continue operating its reactors. In a responding press release, however, the state’s Department of Public Service (which represents the interests of utility customers in cases brought before the Public Service Board) cautioned, “Past experience shows Entergy cannot be taken at its word.”

In a daunting struggle that pits 600,000 Vermonters against the US government, the nuclear industry, and the NRC, the state attorney general vowed to appeal Judge Murtha’s decision—all the way to the US Supreme Court, if necessary.

“People don’t trust the NRC,” Bob Audette, a reporter for the Brattleboro Reformer told a film crew from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). “They think it’s the lapdog of the industry. They think it’s there basically to affirm everything the industry does. It’s too cozy with the industry.”

In another interview with the CIR, Anthony Roisman, a legal consultant for New York and Vermont, expressed his concerns with the NRC: “This regulatory agency does not regulate effectively. And until it does, there is no way that the public can have any confidence that plants, whether they are licensed or re-licensed, won’t have some catastrophic event. No one will benefit from a post-catastrophic-event hand-wringing that says, ‘Oh we should have done this and we’ll do better next time.’ The consequences are unimaginable.”

Seize the Power — It’s Energy Awareness Month!

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

If you’re a Chelsea Green fan (read: you’re concerned about the planet) and you suffered through the first Presidential debate last week, your ears probably perked up when the President and Governor Romney faced off about energy. Since they are politicians, we can assume most of what they said was either completely untrue, or so massaged to fit a platform that it would probably be less confusing if it were completely untrue…

But regardless of these gentlemen and their prevarications, energy is one of the most important issues of our time.

October is Energy Awareness Month, and we would like to encourage you to learn a bit more about the problems of fossil fuels, and the promise of renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, tidal power, biomass, geothermal, and our favorite “source” of energy: increased efficiency.

Chelsea Green has published important books on renewable energy for almost thirty years. This week, we’ve put a handful on sale for 25% off.

Read on, learn, and enjoy!

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Power cover image
Reg. Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $12.97

Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects

More than ninety percent of the electricity we use to light our communities, and nearly all the energy we use to run our cars, heat our homes, and power our factories comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy.

It doesn’t have to be that way. In Power from the People, energy expert Greg Pahl explains how American communities can plan, finance, and produce their own local, renewable energy that is reliable, safe, and clean.

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Reinventing Fire cover image
Reg. Price: $34.95
Sale Price: $26.21

Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era

Oil and coal have built our civilization, created our wealth, and enriched the lives of billions. Yet their rising costs to our security, economy, health, and environment now outweigh their benefits. Moreover, that long-awaited energy tipping point—where alternatives work better than oil and coal and compete purely on cost—is no longer decades in the future. It is here and now. And it is the fulcrum of economic transformation.

In Reinventing Fire, Amory Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute offer a new vision to revitalize business models, end-run Washington gridlock, and win the clean energy race—not forced by public policy but led by business for enduring profit. Grounded in 30 years’ practical experience, this ground-breaking, peer-reviewed analysis integrates market-based solutions across transportation, buildings, industry, and electricity.

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Glorious Glut cover image
Reg. Price: $14.95
Sale Price: $11.21

A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office: Navigating the Maze of Solar Options, Incentives, and Installers

Solar power, once a fringe effort limited to DIY enthusiasts, is now fast becoming mainstream. Many home and business owners are curious about solar electric and solar thermal systems, and wonder how to go about getting a clean energy generation system of their own.

A Solar Buyer’s Guide for the Home and Office explains the options so that property owners can make the right choices both for their energy needs and their financial security. Understanding how solar power systems work will enable readers to be informed customers when dealing with professional installers—the book also provides advice on how to select a qualified installer and understand the expanding variety of tax credits and other incentives that are popping up around the country.

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Reg. Price: $39.95
Sale Price: $26.96

Masonry Heaters: Designing, Building, and Living with a Piece of the Sun

Masonry Heaters is a complete guide to designing and living with one of the oldest, and yet one of the newest, heating devices. A masonry heater’s design, placement in the home, and luxurious radiant heat redefine the hearth for the modern era, turning it into a piece of the sun right inside the home.

Like the feeling one gets from the sun on a spring day, the environment around a masonry heater feels fresh. The radiant heat feels better on the skin. It warms the home both gently and efficiently. In fact, the value of a masonry heater lies in its durability, quality, serviceability, dependability, and health-supporting features. And it is an investment in self-sufficiency and freedom from fossil fuels.

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Reg. Price: $29.95
Sale Price: $26.46

Wind Energy Basics, Second Edition:A Guide to Home- and Community-Scale Wind Energy Systems

Wind Energy Basics offers a how-to for home-based wind applications, with advice on which wind turbines to choose and which to avoid. He guides wind-energy installers through considerations such as renewable investment strategies and gives cautionary tales of wind applications gone wrong. And for the activist, he suggests methods of prodding federal, state, and provincial governments to promote energy independence.

Wind power can realistically not only replace the lion’s share of oil-, coal-, and naturalgas– fired electrical plants in the U.S., but also can add enough extra power capacity to allow for most of the cars in the nation to run on electricity. Gipe explains why such a startlingly straightforward solution is eminently doable and can be accomplished much sooner than previously thought—and will have the capacity to resuscitate small and regional economies.

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Reg. Price: $19.95
Sale Price: $12.97

COMING SOON – AVAILABLE FOR PRE-ORDER!

Nuclear Roulette: The Truth about the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth

Nuclear Roulette dismantles the core arguments behind the nuclear-industrial complex’s “Nuclear Renaissance.” While some critiques are familiar—nuclear power is too costly, too dangerous, and too unstable—others are surprisin.

Nuclear Roulette exposes historic links to nuclear weapons, impacts on Indigenous lands and lives, and the ways in which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission too often takes its lead from industry, rewriting rules to keep failing plants in compliance. Nuclear Roulette cites NRC records showing how corporations routinely defer maintenance and lists resulting “near-misses” in the US, which average more than one per month.

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Project: Harvest Rainwater with Sand Filters

Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Here’s a great tip from Stephen and Rebekah Hren from their book The Carbon-Free Home: 36 Remodeling Projects to Help Kick the Fossil-Fuel Habit. Harvested rainwater needs filtration before it is potable. Pollution, particles from the air, debris from the collection system (your gutters) are not things you want to find in your tall glass of ice water. Instead of investing in a garage-sized Brita pitcher, Stephen and Rebekah have another idea: sand.

Curious about more simple and effective energy-saving ideas? You can enter to win a copy of The Carbon-Free Home in our latest giveaway contest in partnership with Mother Earth News! Sign up here for your chance to win this and seven other foundational titles for your sustainable-living library.

From The Carbon-Free Home:

Sand filters (also called biofilters) are a biological way of purifying drinking water. Low turbidity (suspended sediment in the water) is a requirement for sand filters to function effectively. Fortunately, a well-functioning rainwater-catchment system should meet this requirement. Sand filters can purify only small amounts of water at a time, as they are unpressurized and work using gravity, so purifying is limited to drinking water. Essentially a sand filter is a large drum filled with sand. Water enters the top and slowly percolates through. A thin, biologically active layer (called the hypogeal layer) quickly forms on top, feeding on the bits of organic residue and other impurities in the water. By the time the water has made it through the several feet of sand, it is potable and remarkably clean. Eventually, the hypogeal layer becomes too thick and needs to be either scraped off or destroyed by drying and backflushing (the water from the flush being disposed of into a nearby thirsty plant). A new one quickly forms and water filtration can continue.

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Drawing courtesy of Dennis “Mad Man” Pacheco

Van Jones: Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward,” says Jones in this excerpt from Greg Pahl’s book, Power from the People.

This book rests an optimistic message on a pessimistic premise.

The sobering underlying thesis is that human civilization is already in big trouble—both ecologically and economically. And things are set to get much worse. The hopeful underlying message is that we still have the capacity to pull good outcomes from even the most frightening scenarios.

The paradox is this: Only by recognizing how much worse things can get can we muster the energy and creativity to win a better future. In that regard, the book you hold in your hands is not just an action guide; it is a survival guide.

The Bad News Is Very Bad

At this late date, there is no point in mincing words about the impending series of calamities. The global production of oil will soon peak, ending forever the era of cheap crude. The resulting price spikes and fuel shortages could throw all of industrial society into an ugly death spiral. Worse still: We have seen only the earliest examples of the kind of biblical disasters—the super-storms, wildfires, floods, and droughts—that climate experts predict are in the pipeline, even if we cease all carbon emissions immediately.

The polar ice caps haven’t melted yet; if they do, they will send temperatures and sea levels soaring, forcing us to redraw every coastal map in the world. Even under the friendliest scenarios, we will likely see food systems disrupted, life-sustaining fuels priced beyond reach for many, and our health challenged as tropical super-bugs invade formerly temperate climes. On a hotter planet, we could face the choice between water rationing and water riots. As stressful as the present moment is, worse times are possible—and even likely.

At the same time, the majority of the world’s people now live in cities. And though cities cover only 2 percent of Earth’s surface, they already consume 75 percent of the planet’s natural resources. As more people continue crowding into cities, that figure will climb even higher, which means urban areas have become the main driver in the ecological crisis. Many cities are sinkholes of human suffering, especially for a marginalized population of low-income earners and people of color. And in the United States, the word urban has become synonymous with the word problem. Many urban neighborhoods are plagued by economic desperation, violence, pollution, and crumbling infrastructure.

Climate change and the economic and equity crises of our communities may appear to have little in common, but they share a key determining factor—namely, our near-complete dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide produced by driving our vehicles, heating (and cooling) our homes, and lighting our cities with fossil fuels is the main culprit behind climate change. Meanwhile, that same dependence on fossil fuels sucks billions of dollars every year out of communities across America, with the poorest households often hit hardest.

But what if we found ways to power our homes, businesses, factories, and vehicles that didn’t warm the planet, that kept local dollars circulating in local economies, and that even created local jobs? What if we spread those climate-friendly, local-economy-boosting, job-creating ideas to every city and town across the country?

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst

It is too late for us to avert all of the negative consequences of 150 years of ecological folly and resource wastefulness. Our challenge is to begin implementing real changes, rapidly and from the bottom up. Certain bills are coming due, and certain chickens are coming home to roost, no matter what we do. But there are steps we can take to cushion the blow.

We must prepare ourselves (and our communities) for the worst possible outcomes. In considering the most pessimistic scenarios, we must talk less about economic growth and more about economic resilience; less about abundance and more about sufficiency; less about sustainability and more about survivability. It may be wise to consciously deploy our forces in a three- pronged, “trident” formation: some of us fixing the system from the inside, some of us pressuring the system from the outside, and some of us exercising the “lifeboat” option, thinking up alternative strategies for survival.

Power from the People is rare, because it gives some guidance on all three around the most important component of that system: energy.

You’ll read about courageous local government leaders finding creative ways to invest in local renewable energy; citizen activists pushing for (and winning) smarter regulations for green power; and entire communities taking matters into their own hands to prepare for an energy-scarcer future. Throughout the stories here, from both urban and rural communities, you’ll find a common theme all too often missing from the sustainability conversation: local prosperity . Local renewable energy is the heart of the new energy economy because it is the most obvious starting point for creating green jobs and generating local wealth. Local renewable energy puts the power in local empowerment.

By itself, however, even the most advanced local energy initiative can do little about our energy and environmental crises. Local actions must be multiplied to the level of movements . . . and nations.

Can America summon the strength, courage, and resolve to avert disaster and usher in a new age of sustainable prosperity? Both the ideas and the constituencies exist to turn the corner. We need a hard-hat-and-lunch- bucket brand of environmentalism . . . a we-can-fix-it environmentalism . . . a muscular, can-do environmentalism. We need a pro-ecology movement with its sleeves rolled up and its tool belt strapped on. We need a social uplift environmentalism that can fight poverty and pollution at the same time—by creating green-collar jobs for low-income people and displaced workers.

The time has come to birth a positive, creative, and powerful environmentalism, one deeply rooted in the lives, values, and needs of millions of ordinary people who work every day (or desperately wish they could).

We need an environmental movement that can put millions of people back to work, giving them the tools and the technologies they need to retrofit, re-engineer, and reboot the nation’s energy, water, and waste systems. Green-collar jobs can restore hope and opportunity to America’s failing middle-class and low-income families while honoring and healing the Earth. Those new jobs could create a ladder up and out of poverty for jobless urban residents. Under even the most depressing of scenarios, there certainly will be economic opportunities and green-collar jobs—from building dikes and levees and reconstructing devastated structures to installing community-owned wind turbines and operating renewable biofuel factories using regional feedstocks. The United States can fight global warming, energy scarcity, and poverty in the same stroke.

With 4 percent of the world’s population, the United States now produces 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas pollution. It also locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in its domestic incarceration industry. Those numbers document the notion that too many U.S. business and political lead- ers govern as if we have both a disposable planet and disposable people.

As the new green economy springs to life, will we live in eco-equity or eco-apartheid? Will clean and green business flourish only in the rich, white parts of town? Will our kids be left to deal with the toxic wastes of polluting industries, the life-threatening diseases that decimate polluted communities, and the crushing lack of economic opportunity as the old polluting economy goes bust? How we answer these questions will impact the fate of billions of people.

On this crowded planet, we have responsibilities that extend beyond our national borders. Therefore, it is good to be a global citizen. But we must never forget: The very best gift that we can give to the world is a better America. The peoples of the world want and need our country to set a global example for human and environmental rights while being a global partner for peace and progress.

We are entering the tough terrain of an unforgiving new century. But there is a path forward. It is narrow and treacherous, but it leads to the best possible outcome for the largest number of people. And it starts with developing local renewable energy.

Van Jones is the co-Founder and president of Rebuild the Dream. Van is also a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and American Progress Action Fund. He is the author of the bestselling book, The Green Collar Economy.

This excerpt appeared on AlterNet on August 21, 2012.

Power from the People is Here!

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Power from the People: How to Organize, Finance, and Launch Local Energy Projects by Greg Pahl is here!

If you’ve ever looked up at the power lines feeding into your home and wondered if there could be a better way than giant plants miles from town supplying your electricity by burning dirty fossil fuels — this is the book for you. The answer is an emphatic yes! There are many better ways to generate power than our current system, and Greg Pahl shows through examples from around the country and world how communities can take control of their energy destiny, generating power in more resilient and more sustainable ways.

Bill McKibben, author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet says about the book, “Talk about down-and-dirty. Or rather, down-and-clean! Here’s the actual useful detail on how to do the stuff that really needs doing. Read it and get to work!”

Power from the People is the second book in the Community Resilience Guide series — a project in partnership with Post Carbon Institute exploring the newest and most promising examples of relocalization for uncertain times.

To celebrate the arrival of Power from the People, we’re sharing the Foreword from the book, written by Van Jones, author of the recently-released book Rebuild the Dream and The New York Times bestseller The Green Collar Economy. Jones is president and co-founder of Rebuild the Dream, a platform to foster bottom-up, people-powered innovations to help fix the U.S. economy. He is currently a Visiting Fellow in Collaborative Economics at Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco.

“This book rests and optimistic message on a pessimistic premise,” Jones writes in the opening of the Foreword. “The paradox is this: Only by recognizing how much worse things can get can we muster the energy and creativity to win a better future. In that regard, the book you hold in your hands is not just an action guide; it is a survival guide.”

We couldn’t agree more. But, if that’s not enough, Jones adds:

Climate change and the economic and equity crises of our communities may appear to have little in common, but they share a key determining factor—namely, our near-complete dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas. The carbon dioxide produced by driving our vehicles, heating (and cooling) our homes, and lighting our cities with fossil fuels is the main culprit behind climate change. Meanwhile, that same dependence on fossil fuels sucks billions of dollars every year out of communities across America, with the poorest households often hit hardest.

But what if we found ways to power our homes, businesses, factories, and vehicles that didn’t warm the planet, that kept local dollars circulating in local economies, and that even created local jobs? What if we spread those climate-friendly, local-economy-boosting, job-creating ideas to every city and town across the country?

For more inspiring words from Van Jones, continue reading below.
Power from the People – Foreword by Van Jones

Pre-Release Special: Power from the People

Monday, July 30th, 2012

More and more Americans acutely sense that the old way of doing things — investing our savings in Wall Street companies who care little about our families and communities; depending on polluting, costly, and non-renewable sources of energy; eating food grown far away that makes us sick — is no longer working.

People want to invest in their own homes and neighborhoods. They want to increase local self-reliance in the face of uncertainty. They want to have a say in the future of their communities. But how?

In partnership with Post Carbon Institute, Chelsea Green Publishing is publishing the Community Resilience Guides — a series of books exploring the newest and most promising examples of relocalization for uncertain times.

The latest guide is Power from the People by Greg Pahl, and to celebrate it’s publication we are offering a pre-release special discount of 25% off for this week only.

More than ninety percent of the electricity we use to light our communities, and nearly all the energy we use to run our cars, heat our homes, and power our factories comes from large, centralized, highly polluting, nonrenewable sources of energy.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In Power from the People, energy expert Greg Pahl explains how American communities can plan, finance, and produce their own local, renewable energy that is reliable, safe, and clean. Pahl uses examples from around the nation and the world to demonstrate how homeowners, co-ops, nonprofits, governments, and businesses are already putting this power to work for their communities—including the work Pahl has pioneered in his own community in Vermont.

Richard Heinberg, senior fellow at PCI and author of The End of Growth, says,

“Energy is at the heart of our 21st century economic-ecological crisis, but most writing on the subject is suffused either with immobilizing anticipation of doom or giddy wishful thinking. Here at last is a genuinely helpful energy book, one that’s realistic and practical. If you want to actually do something about our energy future, here is where to start.”

If you are part of a Transition Town, a city that is looking seriously at renewable energy sources, or just a citizen that wants to be knowledgeable about this exciting and optimistic set of solutions to our energy problems, Power from the People will inspire and inform you.

Get a copy this week and save 25%!

Energy Department Study Confirms Reinventing Fire‘s Vision

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

From TriplePundit, file in the extremely thin folder of articles that display governments’ ability to get with the program on climate change and peak oil!

May there be many more such articles in the years to come, and maybe, just maybe, by 2050 we’ll get to celebrate real independence — from fossil fuels and the gloom of a future we’re destroying with each gas-guzzling shopping trip and coal burning light-switch flip.

This has to be some of the more encouraging news I’ve heard in a while. A report released last week by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), called the Renewable Energy Futures Study, found that using renewables to provide the lion’s share of our electricity by 2050, without requiring any technological breakthroughs is a  reasonable proposition.

In fact, here is one of the key findings of the study.

“Renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the country.”

This validates similar claims made in the Rocky Mountain Institute’s 2011 book, Reinventing Fire.

The NREL study, which used an hourly simulation analysis, evaluated a number of scenarios ranging from 30 percent to 90 percent, before settling on 80 percent as a reasonable, if ambitious, target. Of course it won’t be easy, and we won’t get there without real effort. Even if the technology doesn’t need a breakthrough to reach that goal, other things, such as business models, regulations, financing and infrastructure just might.

Renewables accounted for 10 percent of all electricity in 2010 (plus an additional 2 percent, mostly hydro, imported from Canada) with wind solar and others continuing to grow rapidly. In the 80 percent scenario, solar and wind, both of which are variable, unsteady sources, combine to contribute close to 50 percent of all electric power.

In order to accommodate this high level of variability, we will need a more flexible electric system (i.e. grid) that is capable of dynamically meeting the supply-demand balance in a world that relies heavily on renewables. This will include things like smart grid, demand forecasting, more flexible and responsive conventional plants (e.g. GE FlexEfficiency), grid storage (including V2G), and increased operational coordination.

The results achieved were found to be “consistent for a wide range of assumed conditions that constrained transmission expansion, grid flexibility, and renewable resource availability.”

Given the abundance and diversity of renewable resources in this country, there are multiple pathways by which this level of contribution might occur, which promises a robust and resilient energy future, if we can find the political will to overcome the many non-technological barriers that stand in the way.

Other key findings of the study include:

  • All regions of the United States could contribute substantial renewable electricity supply in 2050, consistent with their local renewable resource base.
  • Higher than current renewable growth rates will be required to achieve this level, but not higher than what has been achieved elsewhere.
  • Electricity supply and demand can be balanced in every hour of the year in each region with nearly 80 percent electricity from renewable resources,
  • Additional challenges to power system planning and operation would arise, including management of low-demand periods and curtailment of excess electricity generation.
  • Additional transmission infrastructure will be required.
  • The direct incremental cost associated with high renewable generation is comparable to published cost estimates of other clean energy scenarios.

The study is not without its critics. However, they might not be who you expect them to be. Brad Plumer, writing for the Washington Post, suggests that NREL might be wildly underestimating the potential of solar and wind energy, which have been growing exponentially since 2001. He claims that estimates from official agencies, like the IEA, consistently underestimate the potential of renewables. Could that be because of cozy relationships that representatives might have with the utility industry?

Rocky Mountain Institute’s James Newcomb, has a different concern. Though he gives high praise to the report, calling it “rigorous and deep,” he points out that it maintains a business-as-usual assumption when it comes to the business model that utilities will use in the future. Specifically, he is concerned that the role of distributed generation, which could fundamentally revise the electric utility business, has not been adequately represented in the study. RMI’s book, Reinventing Fire, which came out last fall, made the same prediction of 80 percent renewables by 2050 achievable by two different pathways: one, similar to the NREL study, following a centralized utility model, while the second path, shows a more distributed approach.

Keep reading…

Join us at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Join Chelsea Green this weekend at the largest and longest running renewable energy and sustainable living event in the country – Register today!

Each year the MREA Energy Fair transforms rural Central Wisconsin into the global hot spot for renewable energy education. The Energy Fair brings over 20,000 people from nearly every state in the U.S. and several countries around the world to learn, connect with others and ready them for action at home. The Energy Fair is the nation’s longest running energy education event of its kind.

The Energy Fair features:

  • Over 275 exhibitors – featuring sustainable living and clean energy products
  • Over 200 workshops – including introductory level to advanced hands-on education: solar, wind, green building, local sustainable food, and more
  • Clean Energy Car Show – featuring demonstration vehicles and exhibitors
  • Green Home Pavilion – emphasizing building and remodeling in a sustainable way
  • Green Building Demos – displaying sustainable building techniques in action
  • Sustainable Tables – including workshops, chef demos, and a farmers’ market to bring sustainability to your dinner table
  • Live Auctions – two live auctions featuring plants and shrubs, to PV systems and farm equipment
  • Inspirational keynotes, lively entertainment, great food, and local beer

Join us for the 23rd Annual Energy Fair, June 15-17, 2012

Visit Chelsea Green at Booth A32 to receive our show special discount, for featured new and bestselling titles, such as Amory Lovins’s hopeful and pragmatic Reinventing Fire; or our classic primer Wind Power.


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