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Oh Magic 8-Ball – What will cities look like in the future?

2 Jan

Here on RR, we talk about “sustainability” a lot.

“Sustainability” is the act of  meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony.

A blog contest asks what will occur due to changes in energy, transportation and water technologies, and how will they transform how you live?

What makes up a “sustainable” city exactly? How can a city provide for itself and its citizens in a sustainable matter? That is to say, in a way that doesn’t rapidly invalidate itself, through the exhaustion of the resources that it’s dependent upon.

sustainable city

That’s the question that was posed recently by the Masdar 2015 Engage Blogging Contest — and it’s one worth considering. Despite the outward language used by many in the renewable energy and “green” industries, the question of true “sustainability” is not one that’s often truly broached in any meaningful way (to my mind) by representatives and proponents of said industries.

As an example, while photovoltaics are certainly of great utility and no doubt have a place in the energy infrastructure of many regions/cities throughout the world, there’s no doubt that their manufacture and use depends heavily upon complex supply/trade chains, cheap international shipping, and relatively rare/expensive resources, amongst other things.

Wouldn’t true sustainability be based around simpler, easier-to-implement approaches/technologies — good passive solar building design for example — with more complex technologies perhaps as more of a complement than a foundation?

Read the rest of this great post, HERE.

Say goodbye to cheap Solar Panels…

22 Dec

If you live in the USA, your Solar Panels just got more expensive.

Jennifer Runyon is chief editor of and Renewable Energy World magazine, coordinating, writing and/or editing columns, features, news stories and blogs for the publications. She also serves as conference chair of Renewable Energy World Conference and Expo, North America. She holds a Master’s Degree in English Education from Boston University and a BA in English from the University of Virginia.

This article content was originally published on

This is too important NOT to pass on:

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its final findings in the 3-year long trade war between the U.S. and China. Additional tariffs will be imposed on modules from China and Taiwan. Although this is good news for SolarWorld and other American solar PV manufacturers, many in the U.S. solar industry are not celebrating and the decision is expected to further divide an already shaken solar industry.

solarworld-solar-panels-lgSpecifically, Commerce determined that imports of certain crystalline silicon PV products from China have been sold in the U.S. at dumping margins ranging from 26.71 percent to 165.04 percent and that imports of certain crystalline silicon PV products from Taiwan have been sold in the U.S. at dumping margins ranging from 11.45 percent to 27.55 percent.  Finally, Commerce determined that imports of certain crystalline silicon PV products from China have received countervailable subsidies ranging from 27.64 percent to 49.79 percent.  Named in the suit, Trina Solar (TSL) and Renesola (SOL)/Jinko (JKS) received final dumping margins of 26.71 percent and 78.42 percent, respectively. Commerce also found that 43 other exporters qualified for a separate rate of 52.13 percent (PDF of fact sheet here lists all 43 exporters beginning on page 7.)

The China-wide entity received a whopping final dumping margin of 165.04 percent — this is for companies that did not cooperate with the investigation.

Image Credit:

Image Credit:

In the Taiwan AD (anti-dumping) investigation, mandatory respondents Gintech and Motech received final dumping margins of 27.55 percent and 11.45 percent, respectively. All other producers/exporters in Taiwan received a final dumping margin of 19.50 percent.

In the CVD (countervailing duty) investigation, Commerce calculated a final subsidy rate of 49.79 percent for mandatory respondent Trina Solar. Mandatory respondent Suntech and five of its affiliates (see final subsidy rates chart at the bottom of this article) received a final subsidy rate of 27.64 percent. All other producers/exporters in China have been assigned a final subsidy rate of 38.72 percent.

Next, U.S. Department of Commerce will investigate if the dumping injured U.S. manufacturing. If injury is found to have occurred, the tariffs will stay.  If no injury is determined, the investigation will be terminated. That decision will be made on or about January 29, 2015. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will immediately begin to collect cash deposits equal to the applicable weighted-average dumping margins. If injury is not found, the money collected will be refunded.

The solar petitioner in the case, SolarWorld (SRWRF), applauded the decision. The company said that by comprehensively addressing the unfair trade practices of China and Taiwan, Commerce has paved the way for expansion of solar manufacturing in U.S. market.  Makesh Dulani, U.S. President of SolarWorld Americas believes the tariffs set the stage for companies to create new jobs and build or expand factories in the U.S. Last month, SolarWorld announced that it was expanding its Oregon factory and adding about 200 jobs.

seia_logoRhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), said the ruling is “ill-advised” and feels that it will harm many and benefit few. “We remain steadfast in our opposition because of the adverse impact punitive tariffs will have on the future progress of America’s solar energy industry.  It’s time to end this costly dispute, and we’ll continue to do our part to help find a win-win solution,” he said.

The Coalition for Affordable Solar Energy (CASE) thinks the decision will raise prices and kill jobs and believes the decision is in direct opposition to the pledges recently made by the U.S. and China to work together to curb global warming. “Hundreds of megawatts of solar projects remain unrealized due to deleterious solar trade barriers in the U.S., China, Europe and globally. Eliminating taxes in cleantech trade represents the lowest-hanging fruit in the global fight against climate change,” said Jigar Shah, President of CASM.

All of this contention comes at the heels of a recent announcement that the U.S. solar industry is on track to install 41 percent more solar in Q4 2014 than it did in 2013.  In total, the U.S. is expected to install 6.5 gigawatts of solar in 2014, a 36 percent increase over last year.

If you’re planning Solar Panel Power Options… you need to keep an eye on this.

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Need a Corten Country House?

23 Aug

Many of our building families long for “life lived rurally”.

More and more families building ISBU homes are building “off the beaten path”, off-grid “Corten Castles”.

ISBUs lend themselves to “Farmhouse” configurations. Take (4) 40′ High Cube ISBUs and pair them off with an offset 8′-16′ apart and then top them with a big modified gable and you have a fabulous two story farmhouse that can’t be beat!

Here’s one that we’re working with a Arkansas family of 6 on that is proving to be quite spectacular. It’s approximately 1,900 square feet of Corten Coolness! 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, heated by wood and powered by photovoltaic panels. It’s going to be built in the Ozark Mountains.

Here’s some of the features;

  • Downstairs Master with ensuite bath
  • Island Kitchen with full pantry and laundry room
  • Great Room Living/Dining/Half Bath
  • (2) Upstairs bedrooms with “Hollywood bath”
  • Spiral Staircase
  • Wood Stove heat
  • Photovoltaic Power/Battery Bank

If you sat this home on top of a CMU (Concrete Masonry Units also called “concrete blocks” or “cinderblocks”) basement, you’d  have a really nice two story Corten Country  House for a family of 6-8 with a big root cellar and extended pantry.

ISBU Farmhouse 440 Concept - webWE call it “The Farmhouse 440 Project”.

The prototype is being built (by the family – using their own sweat equity and volunteers) in the Ozarks with a budget of $175k. Admittedly it’s “higher end” than most of our ISBU Homes (upgraded materials are used throughout) and the budget does NOT include the property, photovoltaic systems or the well. (Additionally, the family already owned the containers.) The prototype has a lot of upgrades and the family isn’t your “typical” Prepper family. I WILL point out that a home of this quality for just under $100 a square foot is a bargain in most markets, whether you’re a “Prepper” or not. It could be built less expensively by a repurposing, recycling family with careful material selections.

WE think that you’ll call it “HOME SWEET HOME”.

Would you live here? I would. In fact… I just might. :)

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?


The weather outside is frightening…

1 Feb


Crazy PowerThe land where even our back-ups have back-ups.

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Waiter, I’ll have #53 – (2) PVs and a side of Beef and Broccoli :)

8 Sep

Many readers know that beyond building ISBU based oil/gas housing and commercial structures, we build  a lot of ISBU homes and residential structures (cabins, beach houses, tiny houses, etc…). In many of these cases, the projects are set rurally and we take the ISBU residence off-grid.

We LOVE this. It’s WHY we do what we do, truth be told. Taking your ISBU home off-grid gives you full control of your own destiny. Doing this insures that NO ONE can just shut off your power or your ability to maintain “safe, sustainable shelter” for your family. You’re  literally building your own road to a successful family future.

There’s a certain satisfaction in knowing that YOU are making your own way, providing your own power and controlling your own destiny.

PV KitYou can buy “turnkey” Photovoltaic Panel kits in many sizes, to suit your requirements.

But there are those skeptics among us that believe I’m teaching you to rely on a system that is both impractical and that cannot come to fruition on a house-to-house basis.  Lately I keep hearing that Photovoltaic Power Production in the US is doomed because China took over the Photovoltaic Panel Production empire.

“Ronin, you’re telling families to invest in a process that they cannot fulfill. They aren’t going to be able to get the components required to do this – and even if they could, they can’t install them themselves or reach a reasonable ROI (Return on Investment). It’s folly.”

The common thread seems to be that PV panel availability will lessen here in the States as more and more nations start using PVs to power rural and even urban areas in response to rising power prices globally.

Chinese output isn’t just destined for Wal-Mart, folks. China sells to anyone with hard currency.

There are those who are championing a drive to “force” the US to start producing it’s own PV’s to protect us against “pending panel shortages”.

“China’s undervalued yuan and naked protectionism stole the solar panel industry from U.S. manufacturers.”

Um… China didn’t STEAL anything. The EPA gave that part of America’s Industry away.

Solar panels cannot be competitively manufactured in the US because:

The EPA placed (extremely stringent) guidelines and environmental regulations regarding disposal of waste byproducts of the semiconductor process that make American manufacture of  photovoltaic panels almost economically impossible. While it’s important to have “high standards of safety”, some of the EPA’s requirements are impossibly high by most experts “examination”. There is a “middle ground”, it’s just not being explored due to influences and pressures from those profiting the most.

How did China cope with this? China has “cancer villages”. Lower your manufacturing standards enough and your workforce (and everyone  around them) suffers.

And… you have to HAVE power to MAKE power. The semiconductor manufacturing process requires huge amounts of electricity. The cost of electricity in the US has doubled as a result of the EPA forcing the shutdown of coal fired generating plants. This means that “power intense” products (and the jobs they create) move offshore faster than a hungry kid chasing a happy meal.

How did China resolve this fact? Peabody coal is being shipped to China so that the Chinese can even build more coal fired power plants.

And need I remind you that China already has the worst air pollution on the planet?

Folks, PVs (Photovoltaic panels) are running under a dollar a watt. Good panels are easy to find. Despite what the naysayers would have you believe, photovoltaic panels are abundant.

IMHO – Smart money is spent… buying them and then putting them on your roof (or in your yard), to offset rapidly rising power costs. The technology is almost bulletproof at this point. Just about anyone can do it. You’ll need a licensed electrician to double-check your work (PLEASE have your work looked at to insure that it’s safe and fully functional), but most families that we work with do most of the hard work installing PVs,  themselves.

PV WorksMaking your own power grants you a certain amount of self-accountability and self-responsibility. It means that no one can simply keystroke your power off during difficult times.

Making your own power (be it using PVs, a windmill, a small hydro-electric generator, or even a biofuel generator set) It means that you no longer have a fluctuating utility bill to pay every month – in good times and BAD times. You’ve eliminated monthly cashflow requirements. In light of the times we live in, just the release of this stress factor is worth the price of the panels alone.

And if you really think that times are suddenly about  to get easier… then I have some splendid swampland to sell you… 😉

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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.



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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

Hey! Power THIS!

21 Jan

A friend (who is apparently on the same wavelengths as we are – as we’d already written the post to be scheduled into “RR release”) reminded me today that there  are some really cool power solutions in the works for those seeking renewable answers to age old problems.

While he pointed at something he’d seen on the internet…  

We’re currently working with a  team of energy experts that are designing and more importantly BUILDING a “wind turbine based renewable power solution” that is housed in a single flatbed mounted 20′ High Cube ISBU.

Builders of alternative homes or even small communities of alternative homes are faced with the same “infrastructural problems” as everyone else. We just find ourselves tasked with doing it at the very end of a dirt track, usually… 🙂

Building “power centers” isn’t anything “new”, as we’re the first to admit that there are others (some of them quite brilliant) working on similar power solutions using larger containers.

Uprise Energy 50kW ISBU based Power Solution

Uprise Energy 50kW – 40′ ISBU based Power Solution – this DEFINES “brilliant”.

The difference is that the 20′ Power Stations we’re working on will be completely transportable using a larger range of vehicles, and this will expedite shipping, delivery and placement in emergency or disaster conditions.

Based on a version of the  Sweep Twist Adaptive Rotor (STAR) blade, this turbine is designed to capture gusts and maximize performance. According to SANDIA testing, the STAR blade system is far superior (over 12% – which in turbine tech is a LOT) to other existing solutions in varying conditions – the same conditions that ANY turbine will face when tasked with making power.

These easily deployed units will provide up to 50kW of power, optimized to operate in less than 12mph winds and will be capable of supplying energy requirements for a “dozen” average ISBU households. This includes recharging the electric vehicles in each household.

Implementing more restrictive energy conservation guidelines (we call this  EM – “essentials mode”) , this could be bumped to approximately 18 ISBU households and vehicles, with no modifications.

With an increase of wind velocity to approximately 20mph, you can supply over 36 “average” ISBU households operating in EM  (essentials MODE) with ONE unit.

Power supplied to each household would include the ability to recharge battery banks built into each home’s power solution requirement.

Diesel generators located at each residence will provide for Emergency power back-up.  

Consider the applications;

  • Small communities, clusters or ICCs (Intention Closed Communities),
  • Disaster Relief for both First Responsers and Humanitarian Aid
  • FEMA/Military applications
  • Extended Humanitarian Aid to the Third World to provide infrastructure

Set up and operational in less than a day by 2 persons, you can literally build  new bridges to those requiring renewable power sources with very little in the way of the creation of a “footprint”.

You drive the unit into position. Then, you retract the legs to fit onto pilings you’ve already placed in the ground – Sonotube pilings very similar to the pilings we build (by hand) to support ISBU homes rurally.

Then, you just back the trailer out from under it and lower the entire power unit down into a locking position closer to the ground.

No cranes or technical personnel are required to deploy the turbine “tower” and calibrate the turbine itself. In less than a few hours from arrival… you start making power.

Except for the power “snake” that will distribute the power from house to house… you’re making power in “a manner most passive”.

The Renaissance Ronin

Speaking of “Micro-ISBUs”…

17 Jan

Last time we talked, we discussed turning a small ISBU into a perfect “Sign the papers or I swear to all that is holy that I won’t let you out”… sweatbox… er… um… sauna… 🙂

One of the reasons that we wanted to talk about it was that we’re hearing from more and more people coming across these boxes, who are trying to figure out what to do with them…

We’re building an arctic entry out of one right now, for installation into a steel building. Why, because the cat already had one in his shop yard. We started on a Friday afternoon after 3pm (when his guys go home). By Monday, they were already using it to keep “the cold air out of the office”. We’re just waiting on some siding (to match the existing building) to arrive so that we can blend it into the building. When we’re done, you’ll never know it wasn’t there from the building’s beginnings.

The secretaries already love us. They don’t get a blast of cold air under their skirts whenever anyone opens the door… We get a warm reception. The boss loves us because it’ll reduce heating costs. I’m not sure that his motivation was saving “cold ankles”, it was more in saving cold, hard cash… When we drop by to see him… we get a warm reception. He’s grizzly and he smells funny. The girls smell good and they’re “warm and squishy” in all the right places. Frankly,  we prefer the reception we get from the girls…  LOL!

What was I talking about? Sorry, my mind wandered for a minute… Oh yeah… boxes.

Little boxes are really kinda amazing.

Case in point;

We’ve been approached by a guy who read about another dad that DIY’d his young son a “Space Station”.

Now, this guy originally contacted us because he personally knew a soldier we’d sent a Fender guitar and amplifier to recently, a “Strat Slinging” Jarhead. “I knew it was you guys because I’d seen the guitar on your other site…” he boasted.

Swampcaster - Seymour Duncans

You see… “The Corten Cavalry” doesn’t just weld. We build guitars to send to soldiers and we send hay to families that are hard pressed to keep their stock alive. We’re multi-headed beasts…  who for the most part lay low, trying to maintain some kind of anonymity in spite of the TV cameras that keep showing up on slow News days.

Now, this “shredding sleuth” that called on us  is  a “Nashville” type, living in a land where there’s an incredible guitar player on virtually every street corner.

And speaking of “virtually”;

He wants to turn a small ISBU into a “Spaceship” – complete with LCD monitors built in to look like viewports, that will allow his wheelchair bound son and his friends to “go out in the yard and then travel to the Stars”.

The guy works part-time in an “electrical supply” salvage op… where old components go to die, after they get their gold fillings removed.

He’s proposed that we duplicate the panels built into the International Space Station. From the looks of the panels, he thinks he can come up with something pretty cool that will operate off a pair of old Laptop computers feeding multiple LCD monitors. Here’s a diagram of what we need to build;

MIR spacestation panel

Screw Epcot. This kid’s gonna get “the Nashville version of NASA” in his backyard.

Here’s what inspired him;

In the past few years, we’ve worked with a handful of Hollywood cats who are “set designers” and “propmasters”. ISBUs are pretty popular in Action Flicks.  As a result, they want to talk to guys who know how to “twist them”… 🙂

We’ve already decided that we’ll mount photovoltaic panels (on “side-booms”) on either side of the ISBU to make the box look like a satellite. It’ll also create power for the “Space Station” and the nearby garage lighting.

We’re gonna “arm-twist” the Hollywood cats to give this project a little bump… and then we’ll do the rest.

THIS is going to be a hoot. THIS is the kind of “Make-A-Wish” stuff that we were made for. To be able do this for a little boy facing challenges every single day? It’s an honor to be a part of it. 

Okay, closing thoughts;

Just think about this for a minute. If you took a small ISBU and then hung PV frames off either side, you could realistically create a weather resistant, transportable (if necessary) “Power Shed” for your home and outbuildings. Install an insulated water tank and a battery bank in it, use the wall surfaces for inverters and anything else you needed to mount and you’d have a hardened box capable of facing just about anything thrown at it while it supplied your family with Power, Domestic Hot Water and even Heat.

The Renaissance Ronin