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Ethiopia is “off-grid”, right?

22 Apr

Here at “Sustainability Central”, we “push purpose and technology” to document tools for sustainable families globally.

Our readers know that we spend a lot of time talking about sustainable, affordable, energy efficient homes that can be built BY FAMILIES,  FOR FAMILIES.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’re home is sustainable, you have the ability to embrace sustainable practices that will make you that much more self-responsible and self-reliant.

It’s about using your surroundings and environment to a positive benefit, by embracing technology and sustainability. If the Maker gives you sunshine to make electricity with…  with, why NOT use it to power your home or outbuildings?

But, it’s not just about making power. It’s about living life, 24/7. And that means… you gotta eat. Right?

We’ve talked about solar ovens before. I mean, if you have sunlight and flour… why not make bread, or even (gasp!) PIZZA?

In Ethiopia, they want to bake bread using sunshine, too.

I mean, who doesn’t?

But they’re stepping it up to the next level. You won’t need the sun, 24/7 in order to cook your meals if Asfafaw Tesfay has his way.

From The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)  – April 11th, 2014

Ethiopians may in the future be able to bake their own bread, the «injeras», with help from the sun.

Large parts of Ethiopia are today without access to electric power or firewood. The results of deforestation are severe. But what if people got the opportunity to make dinner without using coal, wood, oil or gas? This can become a reality if students at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway succeed in commercializing an oven powered by the sun itself.

The oven has been developed at NTNU keeping the needs of people in Ethiopia in mind. Asfafaw Tesfay came from Ethiopia to Norway in 2008 to develop a system based on solar power for his home country. He is now very near his goal, which is constructing a solar powered oven which can bake at a temperature of 220⁰C (428⁰F) for 24 hours.

It is the first of its kind. The oven can reach a temperature of 250⁰C (482⁰F), which makes it well adapted to the country’s food traditions and resources.


– This oven has several advantages compared to other solar powered ovens on the market. The biggest difference is that it can reach a high temperature and store that high temperature over time, which makes it perfect for baking “injeras”, which most people in Ethiopia eat three times a day, explains student Even Sønnik Haug Larsen.

Basic food

He is now trying to commercialize the product together with his fellow students Mari Hæreid, Sebastian Vendrig and Dag Håkon Haneberg from NTNU School of Entrepreneurship.

For years scientists across the globe have tried to develop solar powered ovens with different qualities aimed at developing countries. The problem has been that these solutions have not been optimized with the needs of the users, for instance in Ethiopia, in mind. The ovens have not reached high enough temperatures to make injeras, and can’t store the heat so that it is possible to make food also in the evenings or at night.

– On these ovens you have only been able to boil rice or vegetables and such. But that is not what most Ethiopians eat. They eat injeras, a sort of flatbread which needs to be baked. For that you need a temperature of 200-250⁰C (392-482⁰F), Haug Larsen says.

He adds that he finds it rewarding in itself to make it possible for people in developing countries to make food in an efficient, safe and environmentally safe way any time of day.

– It is exciting to use our technology in practice and show that the product is useful to many people, Haug Larsen, who is also a teacher, says.

How it works

The solar powered oven is environmentally friendly. When exposed to sunlight the heat is transferred to a container with salt chemicals. There are two working prototypes, one at NTNU and the other in Ethiopia. The need for such an oven is huge, the students claim.


85 percent of the people in the country don’t have access to electric power. Due to the fact that they have used fire wood instead, there is only three percent forested areas left in the country, down from 35 percent in 2000.

– People hardly have any fire wood or electric power, but they don’t have a lack of sun, Haug Larsen says.

In Ethiopia

Together with fellow student Sebastian Vendrig he traveled to Ethiopia around mid-January to get in touch with customers and potential partners. At the same time they wanted to see if it was possible to produce the oven locally in Mekele, the home city of Asfafaw, the man behind the idea.

– As users and potential customers are in Ethiopia it is important for us to travel there to meet them and at the same time experience the culture and society. We also want to establish a viable business there and will at the same time look at possible production workshops, said Haug Larsen before they left.

The students have already been in touch with the Norwegian embassy in Addis Abeba, The Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) and several organizations willing to help the students.

The project received means from Norfund, Spark NTNU and Trønder Energi. The students are also cooperating with NTNU Technology Transfer (TTO).

Want to expand

The connection between Asfafaw and Ethiopia is the main reason why they are trying to establish the product here first. The students see a potential in organizations working in the country, and in schools, universities, hospitals, bakeries, restaurants and hotels.

– Later it might be possible to make the oven accessible also for private people, but as it is now they have limited funds and will not know how to use it, says Haug Larsen.

Together with the rest of the student group he hopes to start a business and work with the oven also after his studies.

– It would be fantastic if our product could improve the conditions in several developing countries and if we can be part of creating jobs locally, Haug Larsen says.

Pretty cool, huh?


A friend in need…

28 Aug

A friend of RenaissanceRonin, Steve Spence (one of those “genius techie guru” types) sent me a message today to let me know that his wife got banged up in an accident and needs our help;

“Linda was rear ended today, necessitating a trip to the ER. Found out she has arthritis of the spine, which the accident aggravated. 3 days of bed rest and pain killers. Need to sell $60 worth of ebooks to cover prescriptions.

Can you help get the word out?”

Check out his treasure trove of self sufficiency and renewable energy ebooks here;

This guy really is a wealth of information. If you can, please check him out and help him and his family at the same time.



RR Avatar


Energy bills killing you? What does it cost to go Solar?

13 Feb

As we move forward into 2013, one of the big tasks ahead of us is actually building a large photovoltaic array to power our home and barns.

I was talking to a friend recently about panels and he send me this Infographic about Solar (Photovoltaic) Power.

I thought I’d share it with you.


I’d suggest that you use this a guideline. I’ve personally found prices to be significantly lower in Colorado and Montana.  Your mileage may vary.

If you’d like to find out more, you can contact the folks at “One Block Off The Grid” for more assistance;


The Renaissance Ronin

My favorite color isn’t even “GREEN”…

26 Jan

People give me grief because I illustrate my angst at “the  greenies” using Tesla.

I’m NOT talking about Nikola Tesla, either.

Let’s clear the air,  shall we?

I LOVE Tesla Roadsters. I love the look, I love the engineering and I love the vibe…

Seriously, what’s not to like?

But, these guys who buy them say things like;

“I cannot understand why anyone would want to go any faster than I can in my Tesla Roadster – which does not pollute the planet and is 100% recyclable. 0-60 in less than 4 secs and max 125 mph is enough for me – and driving has never felt safer or more fun.”

It’s nonsense.

While Teslas are cool rides… you can’t really call a Tesla a “TRULY GREEN” solution. A Tesla pollutes the planet just as much as any other  gas chugging vehicle on the road… as soon as they hit the recharging station.

Where does electricity come from? What gets dumped into the air by those power plants? Eh?

That’s right. Say my name…. baby… :)

The only way that a Tesla lives up to it’s name is if it’s being recharged by photovoltaic panels, hydroelectric or a wind turbine. How often does THAT actually happen? Less than 5% of the time, based on statistics.

So, realistically, you  might as well be driving a Bentley or a large SUV.

Does that mean that I think they should stop building them? Heaven’s no. I think that they should build MORE recharging stations that take the load OFF the grid, to support them. It’ll happen… someday.

A guy I know has an electric pickup truck sitting in his front yard. He actually found the truck on Craigslist. He’s halfway there. All he needs now is a dedicated recharger based on PVs… and he’ll get there, because HE gets it and he knows the magic word…. GEEKS. He’s got some crafty guys in his gallery…

I have a set of the electric motors and drive units that they put on those big “Aircraft trolleys”. Those puppies can pull around 747’s like they were toys.  This time next year, we’ll have a pair of trucks to use around the farm, charged by the Sun.

nikola tesla And, I always thought that the name “TESLA” was satire, because it kinda makes a mockery of the life that Nikola Tesla dedicated himself – to as he both invented and drove a car over 3,000 miles across the US in 1903 on electricity being harnessed from…  the ether/air…

In fact, the reason that Tesla isn’t a household word is that Nickola wanted to develop his electricity program and GIVE AWAY the electricity for free. His investors didn’t like the idea…  because they couldn’t make any money… :(

Okay, I’m not gonna get any Christmas cards from the guys  at Tesla. I’m not looking to pick a fight with them, I just realize that the system  is “flawed”.

Beyond that, a lot of people who buy Tesla’s remind me of people who buy Prius cars. They seem to think that they are “different”.

I’m not looking for differences in people, folks. I’m looking for the things that they have in common.

We live in a “land divided”.

WE could use a little healing…

The Renaissance Ronin

It’s the end of the world as we know it… and other historic “Nigerian Lottery Scams”

21 Dec

If  you can read this… then you’re probably gonna make it through the day, just fine.

Alex has been forced to take some time off.

Readers of the blog know that he recently tried to belch up his chest contents and blew his eyes out in the process. Too many hours, too much work, too little sleep and intake of food. You either do what needs to be done, or a mountain falls on you. So, while he gets some rest, we’re taking temporary control of the helm.

It’s a good thing that Alex takes extensive notes… We’re pillaging his notebook and ISBU journals as you read this.

We think this  “End of Times” myth pretty overrated…

… but there are those among us that will party today until their brain cells cry out in anguish, so that their owners can have one last “alcohol fueled fling” before the planet goes dark, or implodes, or does whatever planets do when they get sick and tired of the parasites that infest them… LOL!

But just in case the world doesn’t end… just in case the Mayan Calendar and it’s alleged “prophecies” was really just their version of a “Nigerian Lottery Letter” scam…

Alex talks a lot about “The Bottom Billion”.

It’s simply the “defining and then developing of processes and systems that help support people worldwide” – people that lack safe shelter, clean water, reliable electricity and good sanitation.

In our words, this also includes ANYWHERE on the planet immediately after a natural disaster.

  • Tsunamis.
  • Earthquakes.
  • Hurricanes.
  • Tornadoes.

Each of these naturally occurring events create an almost exact simulation of how MANY in the world live daily.

Much of what Alex does is targeted at insuring the provision of those conditions necessary to improve the standard of living for people scattered across the globe.

You’d be amazed at his phone log. One day he’s talking to guys hanging out on the beach in the Caribbean, the next he’s talking to “Heads of State” or   various foreign Government officials staffing UN Committees on “The Housing Crisis in the Third World”…

As we’ve talked about on-going projects (their numbers are legion and frankly, we’re exhausted…) we’ve been getting email from naysayers who cannot fathom HOW a family can “up and move into undeveloped areas… aka: “the boonies”.  

They cannot imagine how you could possibly consider moving from “Suburbia” to a place “less traveled” to gain a higher level of sustainability, responsibility and self-reliance.

We liken these people to ostriches, their heads stuck up… um… er… in the sand, or their lips firmly attached to the straws that deliver the “Kool-Aid Du Jur”… they number among those of us who regularly cut off their own noses to spite their faces…

Tanjung Batu Laut - trimmed
Those who cut off the branches of technology instead of embracing them…

Making life changing decisions is indeed “hard”. It’s a quest taken on by many that begins in those life-changing moments when they realize that the only real form of continued happiness for most rational people involves either;

  • a move to greener pastures several off-ramps from the nearest relatives…
  • better healthcare and stronger medication, or
  • a procedure called a “pre-frontal lobotomy”.

For the rest of us, those who have the inner strength and fortitude to saddle up and voyage to places less traveled, it’s just a matter of  lacing up our boots and then overcoming the obstacles.

And to those who think us crazy or (gasp!) “anti-social”… know that we’re just smart enough to build ladders to allow us to get to the fruit at the top of the tree that most of you lazy (expletive deleted) people miss! :)

Tanjung Batu Laut1

That leads us to today’s post;

(I bet you never thought we’d get here, hmmm?)

So, you want to live off-grid, but you’re afraid that “the obstacles” will stop you…

And, you’re not going to harness the mule to that Conestoga by your “onesies”. You’re also gonna haul your children, their families,  your mother in law and your idiot brother in law complete with his entire tribe of intellectually challenged, thumb-fingered, always arriving right as you’re sitting down to a nice home cooked meal, beer stealing… um… oh gawd… where did that come from? :)

Relax, you can do it…

The village of Tanjung Batu Laut seems to grow out of a mangrove swamp on an island off the coast of Malaysian Borneo. It’s a place that looks much like the mangrove-strangled beaches of the South Florida coast popular with so many Americans.

It’s about as remote as you could possibly imagine. We’re talking “third world” with several exclamation points. Zero Culture. Insects large enough to carry off your young! Little in the definition of “sophistication”…

And Tantung Batu Laut is pretty remote, too! :)

(Gawd, we’re gonna get “hate mail” from places like Naples and Ft Myers, FL… I can just see it now…) LOL!

The houses, propped up over the water on stilts, are cobbled together from old plywood, corrugated steel and rusted chicken wire.

If I didn’t know better, I’d venture that these homes were constructed after a vacation trip to America’s Louisiana Bayou, but I could be wrong… :)

But if you walk inland a little bit, daring gnats and mosquitoes who will certainly try to use you as a “fluid filled pin cushion”…

… you reach a small clearing covered with an array of a hundred solar panels mounted atop bright new metal frames. Caution will insist that you keep your eyes focused on your feet as thick cables transmit power from the panels into a sturdy building with brand new doors and energy efficient windows.

Beg entry, step inside, take a deep breath and you’ll discover that you’re in another world, a world where high humidity gives was to cool, dry air.

Welcome to the world of “Micro-Grids”.

It’s reminiscent of a Sci-fi movie… one where a mad scientist lives in “isolation”, surrounded by a gaggle of local, exotic, curvaceous lovelies that assist him as he uses advanced science to interrupt Darwin’s plans for evolution by tinkering with the DNA of the local monkeys – to breed a new form of life, one that won’t drink all his beer, return his truck with an empty fuel tank,  or borrow his tools and never return them…

Wait… that’s not it… :)

You’ll actually see fluorescent lights illuminate a row of steel cabinets holding flashing lights and computer displays.

The building is the control center for a small, two-year-old power-generating facility that provides electricity to the approximately 200 people in the village.

Computers manage power coming from the photovoltaic (PV) panels (as well as an occasional assist from  diesel generators) storing some of the generated power in large lead-acid batteries while distributing most of the power out into a grid connecting a growing local populace. You should know that before this power station was built, the locals fortunate to be able to afford it relied on small diesel generators to make all their own power. The rest of the populace lived in the dark.


Much has changed with the introduction of the MPS (Microgrid Power Station). Many of the corrugated-steel roofs in the village sport small satellite TV dishes. Many of these modest homes – with sagging roofs and crude holes in the walls for windows – contain flat-screen televisions, ceiling fans, power-hungry appliances like irons and rice cookers, and devices that need to run day and night, like freezers.

Tanjung Batu LautOn any given Saturday afternoon in paradise, kids wander around sporting crocodile smiles shaped by cool wedges of watermelon they purchase locally from a small “grocery store” tucked neatly into  a tin-roofed shack complete with a refrigerator to keep “those most coveted of childhood treats” ice cold.

Just thinking about it makes me want to be a kid again.

Now all the residents of this little “semi- solated community” have virtually unlimited power 24 hours a day.

Folks, this isn’t “unreachable technology” targeted for “masses with millions” or for those backed by grants from the United Nations”.

The components for this life-changing event are available off the shelf. It’s not a “custom power application” designed by Rocket Scientists who demand that you pony up piles of gold bullion in exchange for them.

No roads lined with power poles?


Miles from the nearest power tower?


With Photovoltaic panels now easily obtainable for less than $1 a watt. systems can be built almost anywhere (above ground) that can provide power, refrigeration, conditioned air and even reliable commerce zones.

Sure, you can call it your own personal “Rural Electrification Program”if it makes you feel “special”… :)

Is it “expensive”?

Yes, taking the bull by the horns costs a little bit of money.

You’re going to have to sell off that third car in your driveway or wait until next year to buy that new BMW.

But, know also that your new freedom gained by this simple embrace of technology has about 1,357,228 fewer moving parts and requires literally almost ZERO maintenance – once properly implemented.

You won’t need a $100 an hour mechanic equipped with a rolling cabinet full of specialized tools to resolve issues. High School kids regularly put these systems together as class projects.  (Of COURSE they have proper supervision.)

PV (Photovoltaic) Power Systems are an integral part of what we do here at RR. 

WE often ship systems similar to this, housed in 20′ ISBUs that can be deployed in hours to begin making power…DURING the building process. Unpack the box, assemble the frames, mount the panels, connect the dots and then use the ISBU as a”Power Shed” that is secured and ready to run… regardless of the incoming weather.

And there are a LOT of other guys and gals looking hard at using this kind of power generation system to help get them out into “sustainable, affordable living”.

Heck, even guys like Steve Spence can do it… :)

(In fact, if you’re thinking about building your own Photovoltaic based power system, and you reside on the East Coast of the US,  – STEVE is a great place to start that planning.

The guy’s a treasure trove of information and he can guide you down the path to enlightenment without being forced to pull out his “big gun” vocabulary of three and four syllable words…

Now we suspect that the lack of big words comes from the fact that he hails from the “Carolina’s”… but he’ll probably tell you that his use of small words makes advanced concepts in power generation embraceable to”simpletons like us…” 

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. )  :)

The point is… with some forethought, you can indeed move anywhere you can find clean water, IF you have the drive, the courage and the desire to get out there beyond “a 10 minute drive by your relatives”.

Now get out there and live the good life… in spite of those who would watch you fail.

:RR Staff

Have you heard about “Project SolarStrong”?

3 Dec

U.S. Army Housing to Get Solar Panel Makeover Courtesy Project SolarStrong

By Vince Font, Contributing Editor

Department of Defense Designates Fort Bliss a “Net Zero Installation”

Salt Lake City, UT — Having the stated objective of achieving 25 percent reliance on renewable energy by the year 2025, the Department of Defense is already off and running in pursuit of that goal. Thanks to the combined efforts of SolarCity and Balfour Beatty Communities, plans are currently in motion to install rooftop solar panels on 4,700 military homes at Fort Bliss, Texas and neighboring White Sands Missile Range (WSMR) in New Mexico. The solar equipment that is set to generate up to 13.2 megawatts of capacity when completed will be leased to the Department of Defense by SolarCity, which will perform installation as well as maintenance.

Operating under the moniker SolarStrong, the project is the largest phase to date of SolarCity’s five-year plan to build more than $1 billion of solar projects for approximately 120,000 residential homes on military bases throughout the country…

[Editor’s note: I’m guessing that they’ll add an “extraction clause” to the contracts so that if Texas secedes from the Union, they can pull the power off the roofs… ] :)

Read the rest of this post, HERE.

Fire up those PV’s, folks!

9 Jul

People, people, people…

Lately, while most of the country is on fire… my inbox is too.

MANY of you seem to think that using Photovoltaic panels  is just out of reach of the common family, those middle-class “movers and shakers” that are headed to the hills.


Sure, I drag every PV I can get my mitts on up here to set families up “off-grid”, but an enterprising soul can just start looking for deals. Used equipment is everywhere.

For the price of a cheap transportation car, you can gain your independence over the utility conglomerates that are picking your pocket, forever.

Here’s just one as an example (I found several in all parts of the US, in just a few minutes);

Outback VFX3524 inverter/power center.

Prewired for 24 volt DC input and 110 volt AC output. Single Inverter, controller and charger prewired on single panel – just bolt to the wall – connect solar array, and output to house main panel to complete.

(This “power center” is worth a few thousand bucks by itself, and it’s ready to go. No muss, no fuss.)

Includes 8 Kyrocera PV panels (4- 135 watt, 4- 205 watt). Inputs for aux generator, second solar array, and wind generator.

Batteries not included.


Call for more information. 406-490-XXXX.

Note: That price probably ain’t written in stone, folks, it’s the “asking” price. I bet if you used your wits, you could get this caliber of  system (or something very similar) for under $3,000.00. In fact, I found several.

PV panels are running at about a dollar a watt or less – brand new – if you shop smart.

And before you “poo-poo” it because this is a small system, know that I have families living off-grid, with LESS than this. Think CHEST refrigerators and “assisted” cross ventilation! You’d be surprised at where you can cut back you energy needs painlessly!

This guy is in Butte, MT.  But these deals are everywhere. Go out and buy a turnkey system and then reinstall it in a weekend. It really IS that easy.

(Yes, you need to make sure everything is working. And, you may even need an electrician to help you, if you don’t have the necessary skills. But for “chump change”, you CAN start taking steps toward self-reliance!)

And no. I’m not gonna come to your house and help you install it… so stop asking! :)

Image Credits to: Craigslist

Oh, Shut up. Solar is COMING, for sure…

18 Jun

Recently, I’ve been talking with a smart group of Canadians who are going to build a plant focused right at ISBU Residential Construction. They GET it. They want to build affordable, energy efficient, Tonka Tough homes for their families. 

The way I understand it… one of their primary backers is a Solar Power developer who has giant arrays of  PV’s (Photovoltaic Panels)  positioned in framework up off the ground.

They sit so high that you can actually enclose the area beneath them to BUILD a HOME for that Plant.

The idea behind doing this isn’t much different than building a “shaded parking lot” ala the ones you see all over the Eastern  Seaboard.

They even have these Solar collector arrays in places like (gasp!) California! :)

We regularly implement PVs into ISBU Home builds to not only reduce power costs, but to eliminate them completely. It’s not mystery or Sci Fi.

But while all this is going on, those Energy Naysayers continue to bash Solar (Photovoltaic) Power.

So, I offer you this;

From TPM:

Carl Franzen June 15, 2012, 6:02 AM 1916

A new report on the state of the solar industry in America indicates that despite a global oversupply and a potential trade war with China, the U.S. solar industry had its second-best quarter ever in terms of installations, during the first quarter of 2012.

The number of installations, 506 megawatts worth, enough to power just over 350,000 homes, was bested only by the fourth quarter of 2011, which saw a whopping 708 megawatts worth of solar installed.

On top of that, the report, drafted by clean-energy market analysis firm GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association and released Tuesday, a trade group, forecasts that total U.S. installed solar power will increase 75 percent his year alone, with 3.3 gigawatts-worth of solar power installed, compared to the 4.4 gigawatts that are currently installed in the country and were added over years of development.

“This will be by far the largest year we’ve ever had for solar in the U.S.,” said Shayle Kann, vice president of research at GTM, in a phone interview with TPM. “Relative to expectations, the first quarter was very strong. We saw both the commercial and residential markets grow.”

Indeed, commercial solar installations, those put in place on corporate properties, accounted for the overwhelming majority’s worth of solar power installed in the quarter — 288.8 megawatts, according to the GTM and SEIA U.S. Solar Market Insight report.

Furthermore, residential power installations (those installed on homes) accounted for 93.9 megawatts. The final category, utilities power installations, or solar put in place by power companies, accounted for 123.6 megawatts of installations, but that number was actually a steep decline from both the third and fourth quarters of 2011.

However, as the report points out, “direct comparisons between these two quarters [fourth and first] carry little meaning,” because “construction timelines for a relatively few large projects can cause large swings from quarter to quarter more than any underlying market dynamics.”

In essence: The natural construction cycle for solar projects and other power installations, governed by weather and the fiscal year, means that generally, utilities won’t be installing solar panels in larger numbers until later in the year, so long as they have those projects already lined up, “in the pipeline,” as it were.

“The pipeline is still huge,” Kann told TPM.

What do solar homeowners say to the solar naysayers?

I beg to differ. My home in California is solar powered and generates more than I use. The monthly payments on the loan to buy the solar array were exactly the same as my electrical bills (which are now zero), and now I’ve paid off the loan after 3 years. This was before any subsidies. The warranty on the solar hardware is 20 years.

Read more about this HERE.

PS. Thanks, Tony!


It’s NOT too early to start preparing for SPRING!

28 Nov

I just got off the phone with my favorite “Rocket-Scientist” –  Steve Spence…

As we work on projects “hither and yon”…

He’s reminded me that he has a great special running on his blog;


DIY Solar Resource Package

Learn how to:

Design and build your own solar power systems for your boat, rv, or home.

Steve’s the “go-to” guy when we have develop photovoltaic and solar hot water systems for ISBU homes. 

He’s also got a pretty big knowledge investment in aquaponics systems.

(In fact, I’m pretty certain he’s going to help us design the aquaponics system for our OWN ISBU based aquaponic greenhouses.)

Steve says:

“We have been designing solar power systems for over a decade, in a variety of climates, and lived off grid for over 6 years. We have documented our tips and tricks in a series of resources so that you can save money doing it yourself.

This week we are offering a free gift with every purchase.”

What is it, you ask (you savvy shopper, you!):

Well, it’s “Internet Insurance”…

NO, no… not “All_State” or “State Farm”… keep reading! ;)

Steve’s giving away a cool tutorial on building your own solar powered wifi networks for 3rd world and disaster hit areas.

We’re also working on this, too. It’s a primary area of importance when thinking about how things might be, if things go bad “for whatever reason”…

Imagine a local wifi network using local servers to host a reference library, email and even commerce operations!  Imagine a satellite link allowing you to to reconnect to “others out there” should (or even in spite of) someone “intentionally turning things off”.

Now imagine the entire operation being solar powered.

If you haven’t thought about what happens to “family communication” after someone throws a switch… you should be.

Go see Steve, here:

Solar Panels are “Elven Magic” I tell you!

4 Oct

It’s been hectic around here with my little boy being sick, so I’m gonna reach into the mailbag.

Alice asks:

Dear Ronin,

As we start working our way toward a rural life lived “wrapped in steel” we’re looking at ways to “fill in the gaps”.

Water is easy, we drill a well.

Septic is easy, we dig a hole and put a septic tank in it.

But power… well, that’s another mystery to us.

We aren’t in a windy area, so I don’t think that a wind turbine will work for us.

We don’t have a nearby stream or river, so building a small hydro unit isn’t a solution either.

That leaves solar energy.

I understand hot a solar hot water heater works. I mean, it’s kind of a no-brainer…

But this whole solar (photovoltaic) thing has us scratching our heads.

I’m reading forums, but I’m getting confused more than I’m getting informed.

Can you help me? Please?


Alice of the Information Underpowered Tribe.


Dear Alice,

It is wise of you to sit at the feet of the Sage… investing interest in information… blah blah blah… :)

Yeah, right. Seriously, okay… here goes;

Solar power isn’t really complicated, once you boil it down to it’s lowest common denominator.

Photovoltaic panels collect photons from the sun’s energy and then harness them to power up your MP3 player or your refrigerator (among many other things).

Silicon  is mounted beneath non-reflective glass plates to produce photovoltaic (PV) panels that collect photons from the sun.

Those photons are then converted (by elven magic – not to be confused with Santa’s elves, who are far too busy…) into DC electrical power.

Wait… that’s not it.

Okay, it’s time for the “Solar Science taught by Idiots” lesson of the day;

Solar (photovoltaic panels) are based on silicon.

This is Silicon;

Silicon has 4 electrons in it’s outer shell. (Note that this shell in no way resembles the outer shell of an M&M, which is one of my personal favorites). This silicon shell is greedy, however and can hold up to 8 electrons.

This is Silicone;

Do not confuse them… or her. It’s just tragedy waiting to happen. ;)

Oh just stop it. You read the blog. If you didn’t see this coming, well… you just don’t give me enough credit…  So get over it! :)

A science geek will tell you that:

“When Silicon shares these four electrons with other silicon atoms and their four shell electrons, the capacity of eight is then filled. When these atoms combine with each other in this manner, the produced atoms develop a strong, stable bond not unlike the bond created by a strong nuclear family as long as you don’t invite crazy Aunt Bertha to the family picnics. You know how SHE can be…)

This produced structure is known as pure, crystalline silicon.”

You don’t stop there, however. You don’t want “Pure” silicon, because it’s too hoidy-toidy to play nice with others. So, you actually “contaminate” that stuffy silicon with something else, like phosphorus (containing 5, count em 5, electrons) to create a negative charge.

Because we all know that when you mingle something “pure” with something “else”, there’s always negativity. Right?

The result is that the silicon atom swipes four of the phosphorus electrons (remember that silicon can hold 8 electrons) and kicks one away.

That rejected electron becomes a “free carrier” – carrying off electric current.

I’m oversimplifying this, but you get the drift. Silicon wafers are created by combining silicon with other elements like boron or phosphorus to create electricity.

These silicon combinations and their differing charges are used to make assemblies that we know as “solar (photovoltaic) panels”.

As photons come down from the sunlight and strike the silicon, it shakes everything up more than a hip hop concert. The free carrier – electron that was hanging onto the silicon/phosphorous combination is now forced to the outer ring.

From there, it gets sucked up to the outer ring of the silicon/boron combination.

After that, it’s all about the elves. Um… wait… this “elf” stuff is gonna get me in trouble.

You’re basically manipulating silicon and creating positive and negative charges in those atoms.

When a silicon wafer (called a semi-conductor) is manufactured, it’s designed to form an electric field that is positive on one side and negative on the other.

When sunlight hits the wafer, the photons knock the electrons “loose” from the silicon atoms in the semi-conductor. The electrical conductors attached to the wafer’s positive  and negative sides (which form a simple circuit) then capture those electrons and carry them off, as electrical energy.

Assemblies  built from these silicon wafers form “Photovoltaic panels” capable of capturing and harnessing that sunlight and turning it into power.

This, dear Alice…  is how electricity is created.

Actually, I like the “elf” story better, because it’s easier on my brain. This physics stuff gives me a headache.

But at any rate that DC power (be it magic or not) then flows into a box called an inverter – which then transforms it into basic AC (alternating current) electrical power.

That AC power is then distributed thru your home by electrical conduit (usually Romex).

Now, I’m gonna go sit in the sun and drink a cold soda while my head stops hurting. My three brain cells are all upset now. Thanks a lot! :)

Seriously, if you really want to understand solar power and how it works. or more importantly, how to do it yourself, I recommend that you go visit Steve Spence over at GreenTrust.Org.

That’s guy’s forgotten more about Solar energy that I ever knew.

I don’t call him “Mr. Science” for no reason.

Of course, be probably refers to me as “that ISBU imbecile”, but… “sticks and stones…”

It’s “Unpaid Endorsement” time:

Steve has a great Solar Power Primer for sale on his website. If you want the real skinny on DIY solar power production from a REAL EXPERT for just a few bucks…

Go get it!

Tell him that Ronin sent you…

Highly recommended!


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