Renewable Energy

It's all about energy, from renewable sources to energy-efficient usage.

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Off-Grid Wind Turbine 

Small wind turbines add some key values to any home: Free, renewable power, a visible demonstration of one’s commitment to living with less reliance on the fossil fuel grid, and of course, the undeniable cool factor.

For off-grid homes, energy needs are more acute than for grid-tied homes. Off-gridders are very much on their own when it comes to power (and practically everything else). They have self-reliance down to an art form.

Going far beyond the cool factor, here are some other reasons off-grid people love their home wind turbines.

Weather-Resistant Power

Power in wind or shine, day and night. This is important, especially when you’re off-grid and redundant energy sources are a must. It’s pretty simple: Your solar PV panels collect your power in daylight hours, your wind turbine chips in during the day and night, when solar is offline. And, your wind turbine shines on the days when the sun doesn’t -- especially during those wintry overcast months and stormy summer days.

Better Battery Life

Batteries of any kind are a significant investment. The most common off-grid systems use lead acid batteries, which typically need to stay above a certain level of charge (often 50 percent) and can’t sit at a partial state of charge without incurring damage. A wind turbine adds performance and life to any batteries, particularly those that thrive on staying charged. The additional rate at which wind-enabled off-grid systems charge batteries adds key storage and exercises the batteries at critical times.

Reduction in Gas Generator Use

It kind of takes the fun out of being disconnected from the fossil fuel grid if you’re dependent on a fossil fuel generator. Practically every off-grid system includes a backup generator (again, redundant systems are key). Having solar with wind added can drastically reduce the amount of time you spent running off the gas generator. This is good for the wallet, not just the heart and mind – gas generators of course require expensive fuel and regular maintenance.

Lifestyle Improvements

We’ve heard off-grid people remark, “I’m doing laundry on a cloudy day!” and “I’m running everything I need to run and not relying on a fossil fuel source.” The advantages of combining wind and solar go beyond system performance and floating batteries – it’s an enhancement to the off-grid lifestyle as a whole.

Wind and solar are always best together, and for off-grid homes, it’s a match made in self-sufficient heaven.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Have you ever wondered how wind turbines are assembled? This video shows exactly what goes into building these renewable energy superstars.

Video originally posted by: MidAmerican EnergyCo



Solar Energy Infographic 

Using solar energy can save you thousands of dollars. But how do you make sure you’re keeping track of all your savings? We’ll show you how to tally it all up!

How to Calculate What You Save With Solar

1. Take advantage of all rebates and incentives. Many states offer rebates or incentives to encourage people to install a solar energy system. The federal government offers the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), which provides you a tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of your solar energy system. If you live in a state with great incentives, you could save upwards of 50 percent of the costs of going solar by combining both state and federal programs.

For example, New York has one of the most generous incentive programs in the country. If you took full advantage of the incentives in New York, you would receive about a 60% discount on of the cost of buying a solar energy system.

Needless to say, fully utilizing all rebates and incentives can significantly lower your upfront costs, and make a big difference in your final return on investment.

2. Count what you didn’t have to pay your utility company. Think of all the utility bills you have to pay in one year. Now think of all the utility bills you’d pay in 20 years! When you go solar, you’ll be avoiding at least 20 years of bills from your electricity utility.

The most recent data from the United States Energy Information Administration shows that the average monthly electric bill for an American household was around $111 in 2014. Assuming your energy consumption is near this national average, a switch to solar would save you approximately $1,333 in the first year alone.

3. Consider the uphill climb of energy rates. Just multiplying one year’s worth of electric bills by 20 years doesn’t capture the entirety of your savings. You also have to account for the fact that the price of electricity increases almost every year.

According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the average price of power increased 3.1 percent from 2013 to 2014. This means that if your bill is $111 now, in five years it will be up to $126 per month. Twenty years from now, your monthly power bill will have risen to over $185.

This means that in 20 years, you would have paid over $35,000 to your utility company. That’s all money that you could have saved if you’d gone solar.

4. Make money with solar renewable energy certificates. In some states, you have the ability to sell credits for producing clean power. Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECS, are credits you receive each year for producing clean energy. SRECS can be sold to your utility company, and depending on their market rate, you can make several hundred dollars per year. The SREC market in New Jersey is one of the most profitable markets in the country. The Massachusetts SREC market also provides a great return for investors.

5. Consider the entire lifetime of the solar energy system you buy or lease. When you’re calculating how much you save by using solar energy, you need to think about your costs and savings over the lifetime of your solar energy system. When you buy a solar energy system, almost all of your costs come from the installation of the system. When you lease your solar energy system, your costs are spread out over your use of the system in the form of monthly payments. In either scenario, you will save the most with solar by trying to minimize your costs (upfront or monthly).

6. Compare your savings for a leased system. When you lease your solar energy system, you save money by paying a much lower rate for power than you would normally pay to the utility company. This is because the payments you’ll make to the system’s owner should be lower than the increasing payment amounts you’d anticipate paying your utility.

However, make sure to ask the solar leasing company that owns your solar energy system what data they’re using to inform the calculation about how much your electricity payments are forecasted to increase each year.

Get Informed Before Going Solar

Solar is still a growing industry and it can be confusing to navigate. Make sure you have all the information you need when trying to choose a solar installer and deciding how to best finance your system. There are some great resources for understanding the industry and picking the installer that’s right for you. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and EnergySage for help.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Farms and construction sites can be expensive endeavours, even with a well-thought out budget in place. Between materials, parts, equipment and labor, things start to add up. But there’s one item that is not always correctly accounted for - the cost of fuel.

Why is it then, that a controllable substance like fuel is not often scrutinized when it comes to saving, especially when heavy equipment remains idle 40 percent of the time on average?

Perhaps it’s that regulations vary from state to state and by degrees and this undermines the importance of saving fuel. Regardless, high fuel consumption is a symptom of a much more insidious problem within the construction and agriculture industry and it affects more than just the bottom line.


A Case Study in Savings Over Time

According to findings from an investigation into clean construction from the EPA to the Associated General Contractors of America, equipment idling for 10 minutes per day wastes 24.6 gallons of fuel per year, per unit.

If for example a piece of heavy equipment sat idle for 50 percent of an operator’s shift, a 50 percent reduction in idle time over a 5-year period would cut back 500 engine hours, decrease service and repair costs by 5-10 percent, increase its resale value and generate $9,625 in savings assuming prices held at a $3.85 per gallon.

But how exactly do you go about achieving this? Well, there are a number of idle-reduction initiatives that can be employed to reduce the impact that idling has.

Essentially, you’ll need to:

1. Limit Idle Times Prior to Startup and Shutdown

The manufacturing processes that produce heavy machinery have been streamlined over the past few years to where new engines have become vastly more efficient than most previous models.

This has affected the length of time it takes for engines to warm up and cool down, and this means that machines can be put to use and/or shut down almost immediately without repercussions.

2. Reduce Driving Speeds

For construction sites to become more economically viable and environmentally-friendly, it’s important that all contractors and subcontractors realize that regulating driving speed represents a clear-cut solution to the overarching problem of excessive fuel usage.

3. Optimize Gear Up and Throttle Down

Aside from keeping machines at peak performance-level, thought should be given to the way changes in gear affect fuel consumption. By simply reducing engine RPM without overloading at ground speed, fuel efficiency can be increased by 15-30 percent at half power and 5-15 percent at 75 power.

4. Maintain Proper Tire Pressure

Like driving, tire pressure can adversely affect the fuel efficiency of vehicles and may result in a 3 percent cost increase given a pressure gauge reading just 6 psi below what’s optimal. To correct this, ensure the tires of all heavy equipment are regularly inspected.

5. Anticipate Repositioning Requirements

Arbitrarily repositioning heavy equipment due to a lack of foresight equates to improperly allocated resources. In some cases this will be unavoidable such as when new equipment needs to be called in upon completion of particular sections.

As long as other machines aren’t impeding the way or have to navigate cramped areas due to space limitations, this is a problem that can be easily fixed with appropriate planning. 

While a suitable anti-idling policy will help to keep things in check, communication will be key in implementing any of the aforementioned cost-saving measures. That said, there are many other avenues you can take.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page. 



There are only so many sources of renewable energy, and it’s disheartening to see a developed nation take a backwards step when it comes to solar power, wind power and hydropower. But that’s exactly what prime minister Tony Abbot and his Coalition have done. A directive issued to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) by finance minister, Mathis Cormann and treasurer, Joe Hockey forced the authority to discontinue its financing of mature wind farm technologies.

The real tragedy, however, is that this is not news to the Australian people, or the sector which has suffered through 18 months of uncertainty after a bi-partisan deal was struck to lower the RET from 41,000GWh to 33,000GWh by 2020.

A Lifeline Amidst Investor Apprehension

While private investors are expected to contribute AU$8.7 billion over the next five years, the loss of a corporation that has injected AU$300 million into wind projects since its three-year history represents a significant setback. Co-financing options backed by the CEFC are what have allowed wind technology projects to operate at levels of high risk and cost implementation. According to the company’s website, one third of all proposals received are in relation to wind energy.

Leader of the opposition, Bill Shorten has accused the government of sabotaging the health of an entire industry based on runaway political ideologies. And Greg Hunt, labor spokesman for the environment, has condemned the mandate. 

Government Sets Sight on Solar Energy

Projects involving wind turbines have been described by the prime minister as “visually awful” in recent months, and now small-scale household solar energy initiatives join them in the crosshairs. The Abbott administration is once again threatening to abolish the CEFC despite the Senate blocking such actions on two previous and separate occasions. The company has posted gains of some 7 percent per annum, comfortably above baseline returns. In its first year alone, the fund garnered AU$900 million in contracted investments, and though government directives may be issued, they must be in line with the company’s objective to facilitate investment opportunities in clean and efficient technologies. If the government succeeds in its endeavor to crush the efforts of its predecessor, it may strip the industry of thousands of jobs — this at a time when unemployment is at 6 percent and rising.

This conflict of interest goes against the sensibilities of many Australians and may trigger a double dissolution closer to the next election, which greens leader Christine Milne says the Senate is not afraid of doing.

Spillover Effects and International Condemnation

Abbott’s refusal to coordinate with the global effort in reaction to carbon emissions and his unwillingness to adopt broader strategic energy management processes are placing downward pressure on relationships with potential foreign investors. The mining boom is over and despite the government’s insistence that only emerging technologies be explored for their cost-efficiency, it seems unlikely this segment will be able to survive without its established counterparts. Any reallocation of funds across the 33 percent solar, 21 percent wind and 16 percent other technology divide will result in the irreversible destabilization of a sector that supports and is supported by the public interest.

Why such directives have even been issued can only be attributed to reasons relating to self-interest and self-preservation. The fact that a commissioner has been appointed to conduct and oversee research into the potentially harmful side effects of wind farms is as transparent as it is egregious.                                                                                                                                                          

One thing that’s clear to all concerned is that the environment is fighting a losing battle against the prime minister of Australia.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.


Hydropower is often considered a clean energy source, free of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions. But although dams have been demonized for disrupting fish migrations and flooding valleys inhabited by families for generations, this so-called renewable form of energy has largely escaped scrutiny for its climate impacts. After all, how could the atmosphere be harmed by letting a river flow through a few energy-generating turbines encased within a 50-foot wall of concrete and steel?

Hydropower is the world’s leading form of renewable energy, accounting for more than 16 percent of global electricity generation. But dam enthusiasts who tout hydro’s climate credentials may not like the news about its emissions numbers.

Studies conducted over the past decade have shown that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, are produced by hydroelectric systems in potentially huge amounts.

In some cases, emissions from hydropower can even exceed those that would have been produced from burning conventional fossil fuels instead. For example, a 2014 study finds that the Curuá-Una Reservoir in Brazil emitted 3.6 times more greenhouse gases than would have been emitted had the electricity come from oil.

How Hydroelectric Dams Produce Greenhouse Gases

When a dam is built for energy generation, the land upstream of the impoundment is flooded. The more than 45,000 large dams built around the world cover a combined area the size of Montana (Barros et al., 2011). For many, within their depths lies former forest land.

As the submerged trees, grasses, shrubs and soil decompose, microbes convert the carbon stored in the vegetation into gas that can bubble up to the surface and escape to the atmosphere. Carbon trapped within the soil percolates out in the form of carbon dioxide.

Age matters. Studies show that younger reservoirs may be bigger emitters than older one, because most carbon is released from drowned vegetation within the first several years of flooding.

Location matters, too. Emissions seem to be highest from dams built in the tropics, presumably because higher temperatures give decomposer microbes the metabolic boost to do their work.

Methane Matters

Methane is of particular concern. The gas is made anywhere methanogenic (methane-producing) bacteria can thrive without oxygen—so, in the guts of pigs and people, peat bogs and permafrost. Unfortunately, methane is also 25 times more potent a planet warmer than carbon dioxide over 100 years. And warm, tropical places can produce more of it.

Methane has plenty of opportunities to escape during the hydropower process: It bubbles up from the oxygen-free muck that accumulates at the bottom of reservoirs. It is churned out in the spray coming off spinning turbines. For miles, it wafts off the newly agitated surface of the river downstream from a dam.

So much methane is produced that studies suggest more than 20 percent of what humans are responsible for may come from dams, which may be releasing up to 104 teragrams of the gas annually. (This may be more than all the methane produced per year from burning fossil fuels, according to NASA.)

A Lack of Information or Regulatory Failure?

Of course, impacts from big hydro projects go beyond greenhouse gas emissions to include altered land use, the collapse of migratory fish populations and the displacement of people. Coastal erosion can occur downstream from reservoirs when sediment becomes trapped behind dam impoundments, preventing the silty particles from reaching   the sea where they build and stabilize coastlines.

Despite large hydro’s detrimental impacts on life, land and atmosphere, many nations fail to include emissions associated with dams in their total greenhouse gas reporting. This gap in information makes hydro emissions difficult to track—and to regulate.

Most hydropower is concentrated in Asia, but more than 150 countries employ the technology for at least some of their energy. The Worldwatch Institute reports that “in 2008, four countries—Albania, Bhutan, Lesotho, and Paraguay—generated all their electricity from hydropower,” and “15 countries generated at least 90 percent of their electricity from hydro.”

Moreover, when nations have made steps to report hydro emissions, the international hydroelectricity industry has attempted to muddy the waters by downplaying the amount of carbon degassing from their projects.

Take Down the Dams?

Before you think tearing down all dams is the answer, consider this: Taking down a large dam may actually release more greenhouse gases from the newly exposed, carbon-rich soil than were produced throughout the entire life of the dam.

For example, decommissioning Arizona’s Glen Canyon Dam in the United States, which provides power from Lake Powell, would theoretically produce nine times more methane following takedown than all the methane produced during Glen Canyon’s 100-year operation.

What is the Solution?

What many believe would be a good first step is for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s foremost scientific authority on the subject, to ask all participating nations to report greenhouse gas emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs. Can that happen with so many questions left unanswered?

More research on the climate impacts of hydropower is needed, in more places and at all stages of big dams’ lifecycles. Until then, policymakers may be overlooking a potentially significant contributor to climate change, perhaps difficult to calculate but ever present, hidden at the bottom of a placid reservoir.


Barros et al. (2011). Carbon emission from hydroelectric reservoirs linked to reservoir age and latitude. Nature Geoscience, 4, 593-596.

Demarty, M. & Bastien, J. (2011). GHG emissions from hydroelectric reservoirs in tropical and equatorial regions: Review of 20 years of CH4 emission measurements. Energy Policy, 39, 4197-4206.

International Energy Agency [IEA]. (2010). Renewable Eenergy essentials: Hydropower. Free publication. Accessed May 11, 2015, from

IPCC. (2006). Appendix 3: CH4 emissions from flooded land: Basis for future methodological development. 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.

Magill, B. & Climate Central. (29 October 2014). Methane emissions may swell from behind dams. Scientific American. In Energy & Sustainability. Accessed May 09, 2015, from

NASA. (2010). Education: Global methane inventory. GISS Institute on Climate and Planets. Accessed May 11, 2015, from

Pacca, S. (2007). Impacts from decommissioning of hydroelectric dams: a life cycle perspective. Climate Change, 84, 281-294.

Worldwatch Institute. (2013). Use and capacity of gobal hydropower increases. In Vital Signs. Accessed May 09, 2015, from

Yang, L., Lu, F., Zhou, X., Wang, X., Duan, X., & Sun, B. (2014). Progress in the studies on the greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs. Acta Ecologica Sinica, 34, 204-212.

Photo by Robert Campbell, Wikimedia Commons

Kale Roberts is the Blogging Coordinator for MOTHER EARTH NEWS and a Rachel Carson Scholar at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy. His interests include renewable energy, real food and sustainable rural development. You can find him on Google+.


Woodgas Generator

This is a guest post by Ben Peterson, author of the Wood Gasifier Builder's Bible.

A wood gasifier is a marvel of technology. Imagine being able to turn dead tree branches from your own property into motor fuel. Make power just about anywhere, at any time...for free. Sounds futuristic, right? Well, it's actually an age-old technology from the industrial revolution that is still used to this very day by homesteaders and folks in developing countries where power is expensive or non-existent.

Wood gasification is again growing in popularity as people return to the land in search of clean, sustainable living. Its utility is becoming recognized as more off-grid solar systems are installed and the reality of cloudy days and dark winter nights are experienced firsthand. "What can I use to fuel my backup generator that isn't petroleum based?"

My Experience Going Back to the Land

When my kids were old enough to swim in a pond and chase off coyotes, we bought an old homestead and moved onto 20 acres in the sticks. I wanted them to experience nature firsthand and not just read about it in a book. I get irked by concrete-dwelling city environmentalists, but I digress.

Our dilapidated old farm had two main problems: Weak power and mountains of wood waste. So I started looking for a solution to both problems and stumbled across wood gasification. It turns out people had used wood gasifiers to power 1 million cars, factories, boats and homes during WWII— a forgotten technology with real potential. Living in Western Washington, we have tons of wood. I like to joke that we are the Saudi Arabia of wood.

On July 4th weekend 2007, I was able to cobble some scrap metal together into one of these gasifier contraptions using a set of FEMA plans. A quick proof of concept. It only made a belch of gas, but it was magic! I felt like a wizard. Hillbilly witchcraft in action.

Then, I discovered the MOTHER EARTH NEWS wood gasifier plans from the 1970s used during the gas crisis. I grabbed my torch and a water heater and went to work! A major improvement, indeed. I was making steady gas now and my mind raced with the possibilities.

For a time, I built a new machine every week just to test new ideas and check the assumptions of others. There was a lot of good information online blended in with a lot of armchair theory. I'm not going to lie, it was frustrating at times.

But the frustration paid off during the catastrophic winter of 2008. The freeway flooded, then froze, water pipes too. Power was down for a long time. There was no gas in my town of 900 people. Luckily my kids had gone south with their mom. It was just me and my dog and our frozen farm as a laboratory to test wood gas in action. I needed power and all I had for fuel was wood. It was a perfect match.

I used a wood gasifier made from propane tanks to fuel an old Lincoln welder generator. This gave me both electricity and welding ability to keep working. The old welder generator was very forgiving and worked beautifully. I was able to get the lights back on and defrost pipes so I could flush the toilet and take a shower. It wasn't the fanciest setup, but it worked. It made me a believer.

Woodgas Generator Flames 

Building a Wood Gasifier

Wood gasifiers can be built from mostly local parts like propane tanks and scrap steel. Expect to spend $1,500 and up for a low-budget DIY build. If you can afford stainless, then please use it in the high temperature areas to extend their life. A 180-amp mig welder or larger is desirable for the welding, but a stick welder can work if you use propane tanks.

Many people use oil drums, but I avoid them because they are very thin and prone to rust through or burn through. Why do the same job twice? I outline a complete step-by-step build in my book so you can see the entire process from start to finish.

1. Instead of having a weld shop build your gasifier, look for a blacksmith or metal artist. They have more passion and cost half as much.

2. If you use a fab shop, tell them you are an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) to get their best rates. Let them know this is a prototype.

You do need to modify the intake of your engine to accept wood gas and still run on its standard fuel, too. Here is a video I put together that explains the process better:

Challenges and Dangers

No fuel source is perfect and wood gas is no different. Here are the nitty gritty facts:

• Wood gas is best for spark-ignited engines; diesel engines need 20 percent diesel fuel to auto ignite.
• Wood gas has about half the power of gasoline, but this is overcome by using larger engines, which don't cost much more.
• It does take a little effort to gather and chunk wood. Small chips don't work well. Forget about using grass. Pellets can be problematic.
• There are hot surfaces on a wood gasifier. You wouldn't grab a wood stove would you?
• There is carbon monoxide in the gas, so use it in a well ventilated area. Don't use indoors. • Expect to run for several hours, but not 24/7.
• If you don't get your setup correct, you can make tar and stick an engine valve. (This usually only happens to newbies.)
• There is a small amount of soot in the gas even after filtering. Keep the gas above the dew point and it will flow into your combustion chamber nice and dry and get burned up with the rest. You may notice a darkening of your oil, but it's not a problem. Feel the oil between your fingers to validate it still has lubricity.

The Benefits of Wood Gasification

A wood gasifier is a marvel, because it puts refining capability on your own property and the cost of the fuel once you are set up is just the time it takes to pick up sticks and chunk them down. It has these benefits and more:

• Make your own fuel day or night.
• Keep your energy supply chain on your own property.
• Proven at scale during war time.
• High power capability compared to other renewables. 5-20 kilowatts stationary power is easily achieved.
• Portable, so you can take it with you in case of an emergency.
• Utilize cheap land with wood and avoid expensive power lines.
• Use the activated carbon (charcoal) for water filtration.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.

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