Jottings on ‘Green’ Living and ‘Clean’ Energy

“Nature Photography” by Arindam Mitra…. is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My motivation

As a techie who has worked in the IT industry for nearly two decades, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the surfeit of new technology on the scene and how there is a tendency to latch on to the latest fad without a thorough understanding of it and the consequences in terms of software design.

However, what struck me is that this holds true for everything we use in day-to-day life, resulting in serious environmental impact or inconvenience as a consumer. Therefore, I decided to learn more about how to optimize our lifestyles and what to watch out for when making choices of products and solutions.

Why care about the environment?

  1. Energy needs in terms of power, cooking gas and transportation fuels are increasing with the rising world population.
  2. A number of anthropogenic processes generate pollution, often releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere which raise atmospheric temperature. It is predicted that rising temperatures will affect crop yield in many parts of the world and pose a threat to food security.
  3. Many pollutants emitted by industrial processes and products used at home result in contamination of soil, water and air. These enter our bodies through the air we breathe or the food and water we consume and pose long-term health hazards.
  4. Energy is produced from natural resources which are finite in nature.

Here are my jottings on how I went about analyzing technology and product choices for my homestead and some high-level information I gathered in the process.

Life-cycle Analysis of Product/Technology

  1. While evaluating solutions for any particular need, one factor is energy consumption since energy is extracted from natural resources that are not unlimited. However, it is not just the energy utilization while a particular product is in use but also energy spent in the manufacturing process which matters. The net energy gain should be a lot more than the energy spent.
  2. Another criteria is pollution generated during the manufacturing process and while the product is in use as well. Carbon dioxide and Methane are Greenhouse gases which raise atmospheric temperature. However, a number of other noxious substances are emitted into soil, water and air during manufacturing or later use that should be of concern too.
  3. Longevity is an important factor in evaluating the value of a product or technology, There should be a significant payback on the energy input into manufacturing the product or technology for it to be worth in cost and environmental terms.
  4. Maintenance is another factor to be taken into account when opting for a particular technology. For instance, solar panels may need periodic cleaning to remove dust collected on the surface.
  5. Availability of local material and manpower are important criteria while making technology/product choices too. Shipping something from a great distance has both environmental and financial costs attached. Moreover, you should have locally available help to setup something new and maintain it.
  6. End of life disposal of the material is another aspect to be considered. Those substances which are non-degradable may be recycled but the bigger danger lies in contamination caused by toxic materials. In this regard, even the new-age technology like solar panels is found wanting since toxic elements like Cadmium or Arsenic may be used in solar technology, which contaminate soil.

What can you do?

  1. Smart home design — Allow ventilation and light to enter so you can avoid air-conditioning and lighting.
  2. Grow your own food for energy saving of transporting food from farm to fork and to ensure purity of what you eat.
  3. Use oil-free and lead-free paints. The oil industry is one of the most environmentally damaging and oil is a non-renewable resource. Lead is a toxic element and can enter the body even from paint or other chemicals containing it.
  4. Avoid using PVC (Poly Vinyl Chloride) material such as PVC pipes. Vinyl Chloride is a classified carcinogen by Environmental Protection Agency of US and also is a non degradable plastic material. Better alternatives to PVC are metal (for pipes) and wood (for beading etc.)
  5. Use mat finish tiles or flooring instead of polished or vitrified tiles/floor material. More energy is consumed and there are toxic emissions as well in the process of vitrification. The chemicals used may vaporize even after the tiles have been placed in the home and have long-term impact on health.
  6. Use products which reduce your dependence on electricity — eg.
  • Hydraulic/RAM pump (where feasible).
“Claymills. Ram Pump” by tok tokkie is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
  • Non-electric water purifiers (unless water quality in your area necessitates otherwise)

7. Use energy-saving “smart” power outlets which don’t leak voltage to add to your power bills :)

8. Avoid use of synthetic products like soaps, shampoos etc. and instead opt for natural products based on herbs and plants which you can easily prepare yourself at home or are hand-made. In the West too, high amounts of phosphorus in lakes have damaged these water bodies, leading to stricter regulation on industry. You can learn more about natural alternatives here

9. Avoid VOCs as they are hazardous for health. Such chemicals are often part of upholstery, carpets, paint, room fresheners and cosmetics.

10. Use LED lights which are lower wattage compared to other bulbs/lights for the same luminosity. However, be careful of the impact of LED light on eyes and prefer to use some kind of shades to block out the intense light emitted by LEDs.

11. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Waste and consume less.

12. Operate in keeping with the environment and optimise for the same. Don’t buy an RO water purifier if your TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) metric is low. Don’t buy an AC if the temperature of your region does not merit it.

13. Be self-sufficient — try to reduce dependency on the external economy, as this will make your life easier and reduce your costs.

14. Go local — try to source local material for your needs, which may be more in keeping with the needs of your region, cheaper and reduces energy and cost of transportation. Plus, it helps the local economy.

Estimate your Power Consumption

You can use this calculator to estimate your power requirements -

http://solarmyroof.cseindia.org/NewPage.aspx#kk

Alternate Sources

Wind Energy

Suitable for highly windy places, particularly if solar energy is not an option

“windmill” by osde8info is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Considerations

  1. Wind speed at the place and consistency of high speed winds
  2. Height of the turbine is determined by the wind speed and turbulence
  3. Longer blades required to generate more power leading to increased load on the turbine due to gravity and thus, need taller turbines
  4. The turbine should be placed at a distance from the building proportionate to the height of the turbine
  5. Sound pollution caused by turbines which affect humans and other life forms in the vicinity
  6. Wear and tear of the turbine leading to reduced power generation over time and overhaul of the infrastructure at some point
  7. The rotor is made of fibre glass and material which is not easily disposable
  8. Many instances of bird kills have been reported due to birds striking against the blades.

References

Solar Energy

Suitable for places of bright sunlight, like many parts of the tropical world

“Solar panels on a roof — Northfield” by ell brown is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Considerations

  1. How much power needs to be generated and availability of required sunny conditions for most of the year
  2. Brightness of sun, dust and average temperature impact capacity to generate power. Though hot desert conditions seem to provide the right conditions in terms of intensity of sunlight, temperatures may be too high and the environment too dusty for optimal energy generation. In fact, power generation may be greater in some European locations during certain times of the year.
  3. Initial cost of panelling is often high, so capacity planning is important
  4. Solutions can be off-grid or grid-tied. Off-grid is better in India so there is no dependence on grid. However, grid-tied solution allows you to sell power back to the State Electricity Board.
  5. Another option is to use small solar appliances like lamps etc. and drive heavy appliances through the grid to save on cost of solar infrastructure.
  6. Solar panels have limited life-span (15–20 years) after which new panelling is required. This has a financial implication as well as ecological cost as the solar panels are made of Silica, Cadmium etc. which do not decompose and may pose toxicity risks. Cheap solar panels manufactured in China or India may have even lower life-span, adding to costs and environmental hazards for disposal at end of life.
  7. Based on the climate of your region, you may still need grid backup, thus diminishing the value of your investment into solar technology. If energy prices are fairly cheap in your State, then you may not derive much value out of alternate power sources.

References:

https://youtu.be/h4RNBA2xFDg

http://blog.su-kam.com/how-to-calculate-size-of-solar-panels-battery-and-solar-inverter-in-india/

Hydro Energy

It requires water to flow at a certain velocity. Water is dammed to generate power.

“Yacyretá Dam (hydroelectric power plant)” by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Considerations

  1. Water generates less per unit power than solar or wind energy.
  2. Damming of rivers has environmental and social impact as communities may be submerged. There is a cost of relocating such communities too. Further, when the project site is flooded and vegetation rots, it generates methane (a Greenhouse gas), which adversely affects the local ecosystem. Hydro-power may be good on a small scale where the negative impact is minimum.
  3. Usually unsuitable for an off-grid system, since there may not be a significant water source on the premises to generate the volume of power required.
  4. There may be greater maintenance need and higher overall cost of running such a system.

Comparison

http://www.whyhydropower.com/HydroTour3b.html

Biomass Energy

Energy can be produced from organic waste matter generated by a household such as food waste and waste water. It is a renewable energy source which also reduces pollution. Energy produced can be used for electricity generation, cooking gas and manure.

“Household biogas plant near Durban, South Africa” by Sustainable sanitation is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Considerations

  1. High initial investment of plant
  2. Requires large amount of waste to generate reasonable quantum of power
  3. Primary gain is cooking gas and manure as electricity generation is low compared to volume of waste
  4. Highest benefit is for village communities where the government can invest money for waste management and provide some power for street-lighting and cooking gas to villagers

However, one must consider that buying more cattle just for the sake of biogas may not be very wise either, as cattle too consume resources like water and need pasture-land.

Another kind of biomass energy comes from ethanol derived from energy crops like corn and switch-grass. This usually results in producing least energy per square meter, apart from consumption of water and large tracts of agricultural land and further energy consumption in the process of producing ethanol as a bio-fuel. https://youtu.be/OpEB6hCpIGM was an eye-opener for me.

Nuclear energy may indeed be one of the cleanest sources of power generation which can produce maximum electricity per square meter, albeit with its own dangers like the Fukushima incident of 2011.

Hope this post has provided you with a basic approach and enough information to make product and technology choices which meet your needs while also being good for the environment.

Proof-reading by Chhavi Choudhary

Disclaimer: There is no conflict of interest and no intention of promoting any product/brand/organization. Information presented is based on the author’s personal experience or from verified online information.

After 20 years in the software industry, Ashish is now exploring permaculture in a village in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand.

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After 20 years in the software industry, now exploring permaculture in a village in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand.

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Ashish Mukherjee

Ashish Mukherjee

After 20 years in the software industry, now exploring permaculture in a village in the Himalayan State of Uttarakhand.

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