Archive for March, 2014

Go Solar Without Going Broke

~Tricia Brown

Solar panels

Germany has long been the world leader when it comes to solar energy, but the U.S. is steadily gaining ground. An analysis by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) found that 930 new megawatts of photovoltaic solar energy were installed in the U.S. in the third quarter of 2013. That number represents a 20 percent increase from the second quarter of 2013 and a 35 percent year-to-year increase. Most of these increases were due to large-scale state and municipal projects as opposed to single-family dwellings going solar. Though the price of solar panels has dropped dramatically over the last five years, it’s still a major hurdle for most Americans. If you’re looking to begin your solar journey but costs are holding you back, look into these three budget-friendlier methods:

Build Your Own Panels

Those with a little mechanical inclination and a lot of patience can build solar panels rather cheaply. You’ll need a soldering iron and enough polycrystalline cells to produce your desired amount of power. Each cell should not cost much more than a couple bucks. Tabbing wire, plexiglass, a table saw or jigsaw and plywood round out the essentials.

The process entails gluing down the cells in equally spaced rows with tabbing wire running through each row. The finished product will be sealed in a wooden box with plexiglass covering the cells for protection. You can watch and follow along with any of the video tutorials out there—just do a simple search on Youtube.

Go One Room at a Time

Be it the kitchen or the bedroom, going solar in one room can significantly slash your electric bill. A television, lights, gaming console and a thermoelectric cooler for drinks can conceivably run on a 500-watt solar system. You’ll need a rechargeable 12-volt battery or two 6-volt golf cart batteries run in series. A true sine wave power inverter and charge controller will also be necessary.

The purpose of the solar panels in this scenario is to keep the batteries charged. Depending on the amp-hour rating of the batteries and the total wattage of all the devices, a full charge can potentially get you three days of power without recharging. You can always add more batteries to your bank to power even more equipment. The initial investment should pay for itself within a year.

Lease the System

A typical photovoltaic solar system to power an entire home can cost upwards of $40,000, depending on the size of the house. Most Americans would need to take out a loan or sell their future annuity payments to come up with that kind of money. The alternative is to lease a solar system.

Many of the large solar providers will install the system for free and charge you for usage. The one caveat is that leases can have terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Some providers will move your system with you to your new home, but others will charge a fee to void the contract.

Solar power does not have to be a drain on your wallet, and you’ll stop draining the traditional power grid. Go solar, go independent, go off-grid.

March 27th, 2014

High School Outreach: Social Media and Sustainability

highschooloutreach2On March 19th and 20th, Maren Hunsberger, the Web Design and Sustainable Communications intern for the College’s Committee on Sustainability (COS), woke up bright and early to attend the environmental science classes at Grafton High School. Calandra Waters-Lake, an associate of COS, is the instructor of this course, and invited Ms. Hunsberger to come into her class to speak to her students about a sustainability related issue. After brainstorming, they decided that social media, a topic which is so salient in the culture today, particularly for youth, could be a great guest lecture for the mix of juniors and seniors who take Mrs. Lake’s class. Maren’s presentation focused on the power of social media to bring people together for a common cause and create change, but also its potential pitfalls as an organizational tool. The teens explored various social media outlets on the topic of the West Virginia chemical spill, tying into their class unit on water pollution, and discussed what worked best, what wasn’t as effective, and why. highschooloutreach2

The overall message that Mrs. Lake and Ms. Hunsberger wanted to communicate to these kids was that they have power. Even though they’re young and may sometimes feel as if they have very little control over what happens in their lives, much less feeling like they are able to contribute to large-scale change on the environmental level, social media provides them with a platform from which they can share their thoughts, spread awareness, and contribute in small ways to big change.highschooloutreach1

March 21st, 2014

Pies AND Sustainable Farming?! Yes, please

—By Maren Hunsbergerbig-sur-coast

Driving down the stunning northern California coast from San Francisco, watching the mist roll in off the rocky ocean shore, one can’t help but lose oneself in the journey. But in this case, the destination is just as remarkable and the drive. Pie Ranch, in Pescadero California, started as a 14 acre triangular piece of property in the hills just off the coast, founded as a center of sustainable food outreach and food system education. It has since grown into two ‘slices’ of land, both triangular, with the points of the pie slices ‘kissing’ one another. In addition to growing all of the ingredients for gorgeously delicious, fresh pies, the ranch also grows a wide variety of seasonal crops, from potatoes and lettuces to orchard fruits. Animals also abound on the ranch’s expanse of alternately mist-covered, alternately sun-soaked terrain. Volunteers can not only help harvest crops or tend to vegetable patches, but can also collect eggs from the warm undersides of some good-natured hens or feed scraps to the goats or the pigs.  11-603-Pie Ranch-01

Aside from being a great place for city-dwelling locals to spend an afternoon volunteering, Pie Ranch’s mission extends beyond just making great delicious pies. Their motto, “Pie Ranch cultivates a healthy and just food system from seed to table through food education, farmer training, and regional partnerships” sums it up quite nicely, but the roots grow even deeper than that. The ranch has connections with high schools in several local counties, providing programming in schools as well as field trips to pie ranch to plant the seeds for the next generation’s food leaders. These programs hope to further young peoples’ understanding of where food comes from and to provide education about the environmental, social, and economic effect food has, not only on them as individuals but also in their communities. The Ranch’s HomeSlice internship program takes their mission one step further, giving youth a chance to work intensively on the farm and develop skills in sustainable agriculture, food justice organizing, and the culinary arts.

The USDA recently reported that around 125,000 residents of the Bay Area live in what are referred to as ‘food deserts’, or areas where affordable, healthy food is difficult to obtain. For the USDA, areas qualify as food deserts if they are ‘low-income’ (a poverty rate of 20% or greater) and ‘low access’ (at least 33% of the residents live more than one mile from a grocery store). In these areas and others that may qualify for one metric and not the other, liquor stores and gas stations may greatly outnumber grocery stores, and any available produce is lower quality and above the budget of those who may have physical access to it. Food deserts are a central issue being tackled by food justice advocates, who argue that food is the kingpin problem that needs to be tackled when addressing poverty, public health, and a lack of environmental stewardship.

Pie Ranch is an integral part of the food justice movement in the Bay Area not only in their youth education and outreach but also in their regional partnerships, with organizations like the San Mateo Food Alliance and ChangeScale. Together with other such sustainable farming initiatives in the area, Pie Ranch hopes to help San Mateo county and surrounding areas evolve into self-sustaining, healthy, economically viable, and innovative food communities. And as a bonus, on days when members of the public can come volunteer, after a day of tending the fields, you are invited to take part in a potluck and barn dance. Who doesn’t love a barn dance?


March 2nd, 2014


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