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The Dream of Independence, Freedom, Personal Responsibility and Self-Sufficiency

8/18/2010 12:53:35 PM

Tags: self-reliance, energy independence, aerodynamics, gas mileage, Craig Vetter

craig headshotWay back in 1970, when I saw my first copy of Mother Earth News, I raced down to southern Ohio to meet its founder, John Shuttleworth. I found him upstairs in an old farmhouse surrounded by piles of turn-of-the century “how-to-farm” publications. These became the basis for those first Mother Earth News magazines. John and I quickly realized that we shared the same dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. His magazine went on to help many Americans follow that Dream.

For my part of the Dream, I went on to help Americans to consume less fuel by designing and inventing equipment that made motorcycle riding more comfortable and desirable. I thought of it as “Living better on less energy.” After all, consuming fuel at the rate of 40 mpg, as motorcycles did, was much better than that of cars of the day, which guzzled gas at the rate of 12 mpg. Not a BIG DEAL considering all the energy consumed in transportation … but it has occupied 40-plus years of my design career.

My major contribution has been designing and producing streamlined bodywork (fairings) that protect the rider from the wind, slip thru the air easier and burn less fuel. My Windjammer Fairing is still the most popular motorcycle fairing ever. By the late 1970s, cars began to improve their mileage, while motorcycles went the other way … getting worse mileage. The bigger motorcycles got, the more they guzzled.

mpg contest

Disappointed, I sold my company and hosted a series of fuel economy contests to find out what the upper limits of fuel economy might be — at 55 mph with street-legal vehicles. In six years, the fuel economy of the vehicles in the contests went from 78 mpg to 470 mpg! Until then, nobody had any idea what might be possible. I like contests and hope to do some more in conjunction the MEN.

freedom machine

For the past three years, I have been designing what I call my “Last Vetter Fairing.” My goal is to get 100 mpg at 70 mph into a 30 mph headwind, carrying four bags of groceries while being the most comfortable vehicle in the garage. As I write, I can get about 70 mpg in these very tough, but realistic “Vetter Conditions.” You can follow this project and learn more about my fuel economy contests on my website: www.craigvetter.com.

My job, as I see it, is to tell you the truth and to encourage you to follow the Dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.

Unfortunately, most people have chosen a life of dependency. They assume that fuel will always be at the pumps. They believe power will always flow in the lines. Worse, they expect bureaucrats to take care of them. These people will probably submit to any authority that promises them the energy they want.

But bureaucrats cannot print gasoline like they print money. Sooner or later, we will have to live within our own budget of energy. Now is the time to discuss the various solutions … while gas is still at the pumps … while electricity is still in the lines … while we still can.

Consider the following:

horsepower energy

A hundred years ago, we did our work by the strength of our arms and back. Few of us had access to the energy of more than a couple of horsepower. And that energy came from real horses. Then came cheap, available energy — mostly from fossil fuels. Cheap, available energy has driven America. Cheap, available energy allowed us allowed us to overwhelm our enemies in World War II. Cheap, available energy continues to be the basis for our hopes and dreams.

But those days are over.

We no longer generate the energy we need to supply our wants. We get it from someone else. Today, 3 out of 4 gallons of petroleum we burn in our vehicles is imported. This is making us poor and them rich. Many of these people hate us and want to destroy us. Does this sound crazy? It does to me.

I thought I was being a part of the solution by inventing and designing things that helped us to “Live better on less energy.” But that is not enough anymore. Today we need to consider how to generate the energy we want … ourselves … independently … sustainably. Fossil fuel generators without fuel won’t generate. An empty grid won’t serve as storage. We must produce the fuel — ourselves — before we can use that energy to live better.

But, what kind of energy can we produce ourselves? Harvesting energy from the sun, of course, is our most promising future and much can be done on our own homestead. But there are problems. Consider the mainstay flat plate solar collector panel. Most of the world has deferred to China to supply them. How long will these things last? Twenty years? How will we replace or fix them when they break?

This states the direction of my blog for MEN. Personally, I do not want to go back to the days when I would have had just a couple of horses to help me do my work. I am just spoiled, I guess.

Let’s begin with a few questions so we can get to know each other. Let me know what you think via the comments section below.

  1. Do you share the dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency?
  2. Do you think generating power ourselves is as important as I do?
  3. What ways do you think will be the best way to harness solar energy?
  4. What ways do you think will be the best way to store that harvested energy?


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Craig Vetter
3/1/2011 8:10:07 PM
The real basis for our Western Standard of Living is cheap, abundant energy. For our transportation and farm equipment, that energy has been increasingly dependent upon imported petroleum. This is a major mistake, I think. More recently, we have become dependent upon gas (made convenient because of pipelines) and coal (made convenient because of rail road tracks). Electric cars are being powered with this coal and gas. This is a pretty good trend, I think because the energy is ours. However, all the above energies seem likely to run out. We need to be using the cheap and abundant energy – now while we have it- to learn to harvest energy directly from the sun, which is not likely to run out. Is there enough sun to continue living the plush Western life style we have come to feel entitled to? I cannot answer that. But I do think we should be learning how to live better on less energy. My new Fuel Economy Challenges will help to show us how. A major bonus is that harvesting the energy from our own rooftops will make our homes, our communities and our country independent and strong.

Rich Easton
2/20/2011 4:02:57 AM
Great blog, Craig! Less is more. Distributed, independent, linked to help each other. Not dependent on centralized services. Lowest level of technology that will do the job. Air, water, security, sanitation, food, tools, shelter, communication, information, energy. Biology. Mechanics. Energy. People. Animals. Fire. Dig in the ground. Wood, stone, adobe, straw. Location, location, location. Get busy, the world is going to Hell in a hurry. A small community is safer than a single household or a big city.

Sean Wenger
1/17/2011 11:37:06 PM
Good points made.. In a Free Market Economy you are rewarded in direct proportion to the value you bring to the Marketplace. Today's Marketplace is distracted by entertainment. The majority dictates that there is a high value placed on entertainment. This does not reflect the True Value of anything. It is only a societal mirror reflecting the perceived values of the majority. If the Majorities' Values are not to reward the True Value of the contributions of its inventors; then what does that say of the Morals of that society? Hear this, I am all for a Free Market, I am just pointing a finger at what I perceive and asking you, if that observation is sound and just.. I could be mistaken, and would accept a respectable rebuke if one is forthcoming. With all due respect, Crimson

Craig Vetter
12/15/2010 11:49:52 AM
Thank you, Robert for giving me something to respond to. You said: “It seems almost ironic that the greatest contributions to human welfare have been given to us without wealth or recognition as the motivating incentive for… when professional ball player are paid millions for playing a game.” Why is that? I am an inventor. My heroes are inventors. The heroes of today are entertainers: Actors, singers, football players, NASCAR drivers, etc. Entertainers are paid a lot of money because they generate a lot of money for their employers. After paying their salaries, the teams, employers and sponsors have money left over for themselves. The better question is: “Why?” I think it all goes back to cheap and abundant energy. Cheap and abundant energy has allowed Americans to do what we want, when we want. Will this continue? My Blog #5 asked this very question. It went over like a lead balloon. Nobody responded. What does this mean? I will deal with this in my Blog 6.

Robert Feltman
12/13/2010 7:17:32 PM
Dear Craig: I really enjoyed your story. It seems almost ironic that the greatest contributions to human welfare have been given to us without wealth or recognition as the motivating incentive, but rather from the minds of those whose minds are not corrupted by those things.My father,John P Feltman,is such a man. He invented the means by which cheap energy is not only possible but is now being used to extract U235 Isotopes from uranium by use of ultra high speed Centrifuges that resulted from my father's research. He was awarded his patent in 1966 which is noted in the 'Legacy'section of Dr. Gernot Zippe,a German Scientist who consulted with my father in the 1960s and then went on to developing the Zippe Centrifuge. Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernot_Zippe. The era of clean nuclear reactors is upon us and uranium,contrary to early beliefs, is a omnipresent element. Add this energy production to future Solar and geothermal sources and Viola! you have reduced the need of fossil fuels to almost zero. And the irony of all of this is that in the days when professional ball player are paid millions for playing a game,my father lives on food stamps. My father sold his invention to Vernitron Corp.for $7000 in 1972, to help a friend.He made millions and gave it to his family and those in need. But that is another story. Stay well Craig,the world needs more people like you and my father! God bless and keep you, Robert Feltman

Chris Steinberg_2
9/11/2010 10:02:20 AM
Hi Craig Great idea for the blog. I share your dream for energy independence and self-sufficiency. I think your making an assumption about the grid that is not an accurate picture of the future. With all sources of energy available for comercial power generation now (nuclear, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind, tidal... etc) and more likely to come, the question is not will there be power but rater will we be able to afford it? Alternative methods of storage are the key to personal independence but I believe the grid will remain the most efficient storage method for many years to come. Having said that, as hydrogen storage technology improves, I believe the fuel cell with its absence of moving parts will become the leading storage method with extra capacity pulling double duty fueling our cars.

Sean Wenger
9/10/2010 5:55:53 AM
1. We all share the dream, but how to make it a reality? 2. In this time we have more personal power than ever. Would a community effort be a better plan then individuals? How about a collaborative, where we could help our neighbors in times of need (and vise versa). A system that is simple, redundant and resilient. 3. Anything simple that can be duplicated and not deny your neighbors of the same opportunity. Solar heating can reduce the energy needs of our homes. On site power generation can help fill the energy gap. Solar collectors with reflective concentrators, compound parabolas that allow for a wide acceptance angle of sun light, reduce the need to accurately track it across the sky. 4. Hydrogen and Oxygen for storage, because they can be concentrated into liquid form and provide a high energy density (rocketry). If anyone wants to fly, high energy density will be a key component. Human / electric hybrid may be the ticket for many personal transportation needs. Biomass can provide infrastructure power needs. Rails and steam made the modern world possible, allowing delivery of goods. Anything that can turn a wheel can generate power. Wind, human, animals, and flowing water are just a few that come to mind. Conservation of energy and the ability to draw energy from many sources are the 2 key factors. If we can do it without burning fuel, we might be able to get climate change under control too.

Lloyd McDaniel
9/7/2010 12:14:35 PM
Outstanding!

Moshe K
9/6/2010 7:02:11 PM
It is absolutely essential that we become energy independent. It will not, however be easy. Most of us do not have the financial ability to change our mode of living or transportation. The most immediate solution to harvesting and using solar energy is through solar collectors and heat dumps such as stone heat sinks under structures which can later be "Recycled" for heating, a big concern here in northern Maine. Housing construction can be altered to make use of passive and active solar technology to acquire and store solar energy both as heat and electricity or disapate heat in areas where that is a concern. I could see using solar energy to power hydrogen separators for fuel cell vehicles. Just a few ideas.

Tom Gold_2
9/6/2010 2:41:20 PM
In response to your question 4, I believe a great study would be to determine if and when an electric motor could be used to convert your excess solar energy into potential energy, for later conversion back into electricity. When would a non-battery based potential energy system be able to compete with batteries? The electric motor drives a pump that pumps water into an above ground cistern. In the days without sunshine, the water flows through a hydroelectric generator into a below ground cistern. Keeping the solar generation and storage local is a key requirement.

Dan Christiansen
9/6/2010 9:18:31 AM
No Barbara, I don't see anything you've posted. We'd like to hear what you had to say.

Barbara Bernhardt_1
9/6/2010 8:48:52 AM
I just wrote a long comment and it disappeared. Did anyone get it?

Ty Thompson
9/6/2010 5:57:44 AM
Hi Craig, Nice to hear that a fellow motorcyclist is on the same page as me. I was going to buy a new Harley, but after looking at the price to buy, and then insurance, not to mention that my VW Golf gets about the same fuel economy, I decided to get a Kawasaki KLR 650. I have to agree with you on all counts...we are far to dependent on foreign oil, and our own government. I also agree that government doesn't want us to be independent. As you stated, it's not in the governments interest for us to be independent...it needs us to need it. So we have to do it ourselves. A few years ago, I read a book called "The Have More Plan" that was first published in the 1950's I think. it detailed how on 1 basic acre, a family of four could produce 75% of it's food. That's a lot. It also talked about various ways of storing food, and producing your own wood fuel for heat. This led me to start looking at other ways to be more self sufficient. Hopefully, in the next few years I will be able to buy a piece of land to homestead on. I already have a home design picked out...it's only about 1400 sq ft, and two stories, with a full basement with root cellar. I will live off the grid with a wind turbine and solar array, a well, and septic system. Of course I still need a phone, but the more I have one, the more I think that I don't need a cell phone...a landline is so much cheaper! haha. Still, I'll need internet, but that problem is getting easier and easier to solve as the years go by.

Bob Bogue
9/5/2010 2:31:06 AM
Anyone thinking biomass should dig into the MEN archives and look for Jean Pain---around 1980, if memory serves me correctly. The man has been a total inspiration to me. There is also a YouTube video on his biomass project.

Bob Bogue
9/5/2010 2:19:04 AM
To my mind, safe water supply should also be included in this conversation. Might even come to just a water supply, period. Anywhere you have a decent supply of humidity and warm air, take another pipe, swivel and vane, run the pipe 3-4 feet underground for 100-200 feet. The idea is to cool the air to dew point. Then, presto!, you have pure water. Gravity will deliver it right to your basement (or a hole in the ground) assuming your 100' feet of pipe has a drop to it.

Bob Bogue
9/5/2010 1:57:34 AM
Have to agree that one size fits all--the grid for electricity, petroleum for transportation, etc-- is not the way to go. Everyone of us needs to inventory our geography, our geology, our climate, our resources, and go from there. Then don't be afraid to think outside the box. I'm in the Mississippi valley (Illinois)--4 defined seasons and generous amounts of humidity. Were I to build a new house, I would certainly put a basement under the basement, fill it with rocks and/or water, run a pipe to the roof, put a swivel and a vane on that pipe and let the wind push hot air into that second basement all summer. How difficult do you think it would be to make use of that stored heat come winter. Or reverse the process for AC during the summer?

john m_3
9/4/2010 7:57:43 PM
470 mpg? if that was achieved, where is it now? so, where and when was that event and what kind of legal vehicle was used that achived 470 mpg? down hill off a mountain?

Craig Vetter
9/4/2010 7:14:51 PM
Previous message...not precious message. I must not be so hasty...

Craig Vetter
9/4/2010 6:46:26 PM
Truncated from the precious message: Dave likes splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. We all did it in school, didn’t we? It is easy. But, it looks to me as if this is extremely wasteful use of solar energy. You don’t get much energy out of what you have to put in. If you know something I don’t know, say it here. This is where we get the BIG PIECES RIGHT. Alys wonders how to store the fruits of the garden. 40 years ago, Mother Earth News began by telling its readers how to do just that. That information was lost until then. Today is on MEN CDs. Ronie and John are on the right track about biomass, which is everywhere. Personally. I think there may be a huge future in personal steam engines. So does Dan. Think about it… anything that burns can make energy in steam engines. And with that energy we can generate electricity, run tools and travel Rick wonders why schools don’t provide the curriculum and direction. Even though our Constitution left control of education to locals, the Feds took over. That is when the trend towards dependence began. Bureaucrats want us to need them. It is not in their best interest for us to be independent. These are just my personal observations. We are just dancing around right now. We will get to the serious stuff soon.

Craig Vetter
9/4/2010 5:47:25 PM
Thank you for your opening responses to my first Blog. My brief comments: Garth is an advocate of improving existing efficiencies. Refinement is not what I do very well. The purpose of this blog is to get the BIG PIECES RIGHT. Lets do our best, Garth, to be sure we are refining ideas worth refining. Self-sufficiency begins with land… bigger land, than a city lot, I suspect. We will find that out here. That land also needs to be in a temperate climate. Mel in Costa Rica has figured this out. We used to live in Illinois where it was very hard to stay cool and even harder to stay warm. So we moved the central coast of California where it never gets below 32 or above 80… mostly staying around 60 degrees. Crops grow all year long here. Survival is so easy, the original Ohlone natives would just slap mud on themselves in the morning as clothing... letting it fall off as it got warmer. Life was so easy they never developed anything… no written language… no weapons… no nothing. As I write, California has more foreclosures than any other state. With lotsa sun, all the time, it might be a good place to buy and make your investment. Cynthia… if you are not in a location like this, now might be the time. Think of all the survival problems you won’t have to address. Gary mentions energy storage. In a land of perpetual springtime (above) the biggest use of energy (after transportation) is pumping water. In a survival mode, you will have to pump your own water. Fortunately, using the sun to pump water from under the ground to a hundred feet above your house- for 50-psi water pressure – is as cheap a way to store energy I know of. Some of you think the grid is a good place to store energy. Not me. I don’t want to count on the grid. I think we will be a stronger country if we create and use energy ourselves. Dave likes splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. We all did it in school, didn’t we? It is easy. But, it looks to me as if this is extremely wasteful u

Laura_46
9/4/2010 9:57:31 AM
Yes, I share the dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency. It is why we are making some of the decisions we are making right now - including a major move, because where we are in CA is not suitable for 3 of the 4 elements in the question. For me, one of the key points for us to achieve all 4 is not just generating power to meet our needs as we know them today, but to discern which are wants vs needs and only power the true needs. I don't need 3 televisions, nor do I need 2 refrigerators and 2 freezers...you know what I mean? I don't know how to harness solar energy and keep it...that is a part of my learning curve. That is why I am here. But I am a firm believer in utilizing passive solar (less technical for the newbies like me). For example, I use a solar clothes dryer (clothes line). And I love it. I find it freeing to not be tied to a machine that buzzes at me to indicate I must jump up and do something...lol...

mel stevenson_2
9/3/2010 11:37:13 PM
Great discussions, thank you. To me geographics have a lot to do with ssurvival and energy needs. For me moving from the harsh demanding winters of Montana to Costa Rica completely changed my energy needs. Add to that the fact that I can have a year around producing garden almost entirely with existing rainfall it changes the whole picture. They say you can put a broom handle in the ground here and it will grow. I have an ocean view beach community where we are starting to offer 2600 watt solar systems that will carry a home plus any AC one might need. I've been quoted less than $6,000 for the system installed. Here we can raise a lot of animals per acre without irrigation compared to the same up North. If we lose all grid power we will be fine. Might have to ride the mule to the beach to get fish twice a week but all else is quite easy. Thank you for your time.

Cynthia_21
9/3/2010 10:31:32 PM
My BF and I have been taking baby-steps toward self-sufficiency: I drive a car fueled by waste vegetable oil, we have chickens, we try to conserve wherever possible. We don't have the money to go solar or get our house off the grid. I love the idea of pursuing solutions that are simple and accessible. The biggest obstacle we face is the assumption that only BIG steps will bring us progress. The cumulative effect of many small improvements in efficiency and the pursuit of alternative energies (plural) will help us keep momentum, I think, rather than the notion that we must find THE "best" solution, as though there is one magic bullet that will support us in the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed.

Alys Kennedy_2
9/3/2010 6:07:10 PM
In response to Donnie who wondered what to do with garden produce and had concerns with those who did no/do not know what to do with it all.....dry it, pickle it, freeze it, can it, ferment it, and learn how to store some of it as is for winter. Things like onions, potatoes, cabbage, and squash can be kept all winter if properly stored. It is a learning process - our forefathers did it, and so can we. It is simply of learning how. Nearly all vegetables can be pickled or fermented. And, of course if you just flat out grew too much, give it to food banks or a hungry or helpful neighbor or friend. Alys

Gary Munkhoff_2
9/3/2010 5:17:10 PM
Craig - The dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency was the foundation of our country, but today the dream is being eroded by the mantra that we all must depend on others for our well being ("It takes a village..."). The pendulum has, IMHO, swung too far to the dependence side and the time has come for us to start the swing back to a balance point. Perhaps that balance point is different for each one of us, but I share your dream that we should generate our own power. How we do this will vary from place to place and by personal preference. Storing that energy is another matter as the the "best" solution has yet to appear. In the meantime generating our own power and feeding the excess to the grid is a huge step forward. Fortunately with the tools, technology and the freedoms that we have each one of us can strive independently towards our own dream. Mine being an electric car, a net zero home and a PV array connected to the grid. Thanks for starting this conversation.

benny
9/3/2010 4:56:23 PM
1.Yes 2.Yes 3.Yes 4.Yes

Rick Pierce
9/3/2010 3:20:27 PM
... production to a simple but effective hydrogen producer and collector for use with a hydrogen-powered tractor as I recall. That was his own hydrogen-powered conversion. This farmer didn't even have a formal education and was able to do all this and more (very interesting story.) I can't see why our schools cannot (or choose not to) provide the curricullum and direction to develop these types of innovative energy solutions, short of the fact that these same schools are influenced financially by companies that could be affected negatively by such development.

Rick Pierce
9/3/2010 3:17:41 PM
Yes, I do want to be be independent and self-sufficient. My drive comes from my own economic failure and a desire not to have to rely on others. My initial force for providing my own power comes from that same motivation to minimize outside influences in my success. On a nationwide scale, we should be thinking that same way. As far as the best way to harness the sun, I am not the expert. Lonnie Johnson, the inventor of the SuperSoaker, had been working on a heat engine that sounded promising. It is not solar, but can use the heat from the sun, various motors, engine exhaust, or even body heat. According to Johnson, it makes much more efficient use of energy sources than current photovoltaic solar panels. He does have some significant hurdles to surpass before his heat engine could be marketed. As far as storage of that energy, I believe we need to continue to seek new solutions. I have read about contests for energy storage design and I think these are great ideas. There are some very simple ideas as well. I have read about a farmer that, since the beginning of public destribution of electricity, has refused to connect to the 'grid'! He took advantage of surplus wind turbines and has been providing his farm and shop with electricity from his own production. The excess power was stored in a couple different ways; he had collected some batteries (iron oxide?) that have lasted as long as 40 years to store most of the excess. In addition, he would redirect the electrical ...

Steven McVenes
9/3/2010 12:36:10 PM
I agree with Graig, we need to be self sufficant and learn to be self reliant, as well as responsible care takers of our resources. I believe that we need to use wind and solar power to break our dependance on foreign energy.

Dave F._2
9/3/2010 12:33:03 PM
1. Yes. 2. Yes. 3, 4. Split water into hydrogen and oxygen using the sun and converters (can't recall where I read this, but recently read of someone doing this with a catalyst - aluminum, I think?). Use the stored hydrogen as fuel to run fuel cells to produce clean energy. Some companies are working on this now, and the expectations I've seen are that it will be viable for home use in about 2-3 years - and not requiring any huge technological breakthrough to do it; it can be done with existing technology. It's the best option I've seen so far for clean energy production AND storage.

ronie
9/3/2010 11:38:14 AM
1. Do you share the dream of independence, freedom, personal responsibility and self-sufficiency? 2. Do you think generating power ourselves is as important as I do? 3. What ways do you think will be the best way to harness solar energy? 4. What ways do you think will be the best way to store that harvested energy? ------------------------------------------------------------- 1. yes 2. yes crucial 3. biomass/trees 4. biomass esp. trees. There is a way to skip the long process of changing biomass into coal. Charcoal comes to mind, but even better is complete combustion as you get with a rocket stove - convert to electricity by using steam to make electricity - much like is done now with coal.

Donnie_7
9/3/2010 11:07:20 AM
I'm working on independence. I have chickens now and I'm looking at my own water system and improve my garden. I see a problem with gardens. What to do with the food other then canning like cooking with it also how much should be stored for the winter. I see alot of people give away their garden food and don't really know what to do with it.

Dan Christiansen
9/3/2010 10:46:11 AM
Hi everyone! Having heard of Craig Vetter since he started making fairings, the article in Mother Earth news caught my eye. If I'm reading correctly, what Craig's point is, is that we need to come up with ways that are as easy and low tech as possible. While saving energy and conserving energy are mandatory as well, it does little good if you have no energy in the first place. Have any of you guys researched the Tesla Turbine? I think that run on steam may be a viable way to create energy. Dan

John Kerr_2
9/3/2010 10:36:26 AM
I do share the dream of energy independece. Right now I am doing this in the suburbs by cutting way back on my usage. I hang the wash to dry, do dishes by hand and use power strips to turn off power to TV and computers. I am at work now and the power being used at my house right now is the clock in my bedroom. the clock on the stove and the fridge. I ave learned to manipulate my windows and shades and have turned on the AC in two years dispite 100 degree plus days.I would like to go solar and store power on the grid, to avoid the nasty effects of making batteries, but the cost is prohibitive. It would take 30 years to break even and by then I would need to replace the system. I am converting my heat over to wood this year. I only need a little gas and chainsaw oil and alot of arm and back to get all the wood I need. Firewood is free to all who are willing to make the effort to get it.

Garth LaComb_3
8/29/2010 11:54:44 AM
Improving the efficiency of existing structures and energy using devices is indeed the first step. It is the easiest, most cost efficient method. It also usually makes other systems work better as a by product. Example: Every fall the ASES has a solar tour here in Washington and each year we look at what people are doing. It really amazes me how often people spend $6,000 or so having a solar water heating system put in at a poor location when the windows are single pane, insulation is minimal, you can see to the outside around the windows, there are large gaps around the doors, etc. I'm in the building maintenance business for a medical center. It is not only critical for the safety of immuno-compromised patients to have the systems operate at least as well as designed but as a byproduct, smart maintenance and operation saves a ton of energy. It's sort of like blueprinting an engine. "Blueprinting" is making small adjustments of tolerances to maximize combustion efficeincy and reduce friction. It's effort is in making it run at least as good as the designer intended. Before we expend many dollars, time and effort at producing more power, the best use of our limited resources is in making what we have work better. Having done that, the energy we need to produce becomes even easier to attain.

Sean Wenger
8/26/2010 3:50:17 AM
Solar is a free energy source. If we used a Stirling Engine as a generator (solar heat into mechanical energy) we could generate electricity, by changing the mechanical energy to electrical power (via a dynamo). If we pass an electrical current through water we get Oxygen and Hydrogen by way of electrolysis. These gasses can be stored and used as a fuel cell (Hydrogen Cell). If the energy density is high enough it can be used to power electric vehicles, among other things. The limiting factor is the speed at which the fuel would be generated. Add a small/simple wind turbine (like the ones used to pump water on a farm) and you got a system that generates gases in windy and or sunny weather.

Sean Wenger
8/26/2010 1:14:42 AM
Has anyone considered using a stirling engine as a gererator (turn solar heat into mechanical motion). With this free fule source (sun) the mechanical energy can generate electricity. If we pass electrical current through water we get hydrogen and oxygen. These can be stored as is (gas form) for use in a hydrogen cell. Then we have a fule based elecrtical power supply. If the energy density is good enough to power electric vehicles we may not need horses for transportation.

Larry Weingarten_2
8/24/2010 1:03:51 AM
Hello and thanks! Here's a web site, waterheaterrescue.com. It's mostly about how to make water heaters last and work better (free primer on hot water!), but it also has info on a house I built that uses hot water from the sun to stay warm. I do have a wood stove, but solar does well over 90% of the heating. I burned under 1/4 cord last year. The trick is efficiency. That's what allows solar to fill in the gap. I can use 80 degree water to keep the house at 70. Glazed solar panels (black pipes) give useful heat most days of the year as 80 degrees is so easy to reach. Your question of fuel is interesting. Energy can be stored in fuel that burns, or electricity, or mechanical energy like a flywheel or even compressed air. India has compressed air cars now. Turbines are a very efficient way of getting mechanical power from heat. Knowing what the transportation will be used for and what range is needed will guide us about how much energy must be stored on board, but only once we make it really efficient. A super efficient vehicle might be able to be powered by one or two old fashioned lead acid batteries rather than new high tech stuff. I'd also look around and figure out what energy is in the local weeds or waste. These are renewable! Wherever the answer is, I suspect it involves community, as neighbors working together can do more and more efficiently than one person by himself. You keep me transported and I'll keep you in hot water! Yours, Larry

Craig Vetter
8/23/2010 10:47:54 PM
Larry: I am aware of your work and your knowledge of water heaters. It is an honor. I begin this blog with the assumption that a time can come when there is no power in the grid and no gas at the pumps. How will we harvest the energy we need. I know you have built a house heated by hot water. I ask you: What will be the best way to harvest the energy to heat water? I assume the answer is "from the sun." I also assume that simple is best. Do we really need more than black plastic pipes? Surprise us. Also, can you refer us to your favorite basic water heater primer? Thank you Larry.

Larry Weingarten_2
8/23/2010 11:32:29 AM
Hello Craig: I see your effort here as starting to build a solid foundation for whatever structure comes next. What's the point in talking details of kitchen design if the foundation is crumbling. In my own way I've been working for a happier future also. Although I've done solar since the late 70s, efficiency in buildings, to me is the greater untapped resource. The GPM equivalent for buildings is BTUs per square foot per year of fossil energy usage. You've measured at least a ten fold increase in mileage. I know we can get by with one tenth the BTUs/ft/year in homes and do it with more comfort. I put efficiency right up there with new fuel sources as it makes the fuel problem so much easier. I really look forward to keeping track of your efforts in this column and helping as I'm able.

Craig Vetter
8/22/2010 10:13:14 AM
OK: let’s focus on the purpose of this Blog: I want to learn how to live - and live better – on the energy I can harvest myself. "The Grid" (electricity, petroleum and information) is fragile because it has become so "centralized." This infrastructure can be controlled and even destroyed by a few people. We would be better if energy production and information distribution was de-centralized… meaning we harvest it ourselves. I want to learn how to live within my budget of energy. At any time, the lights could go off. A hundred fifty years ago, who cared? We had no lights. We had no grid. Americans were pretty much self-sufficient. We lived on much less energy and that energy mostly came from our own sun-powered land. The sun grew trees - which we cut for heat and shelter. The sun grew food - for us and for our livestock. The sun evaporated water to high places where it condensed and fell into streams where we harnessed its power as it flowed back down into the ocean. As an inventor and designer, I see ways to individually harvest and use the energy we want. I see ways to live better and be independent. I see things we can make. I would like to make them with you. Are you with me?

Craig Vetter
8/21/2010 9:39:59 AM
Matt: It sounds like you are assuming that there will be power in the grid and fuel at the pumps so we can go riding. I am thinking one step before that. If there is no power in the grid and no fuel at the pumps, we won't have any place really important to ride to. We will be busy trying to eat and stay warm... Right? Harvesting energy will move up to the top in importance. My interest is: Where will we harvest our energy from? How will we store it? How will we use that energy to supply food and stay warm? Streamlining motorcycles is not likely be at the top of the list of necessities. Harvesting our own energy will. This is where I begin in this blog. Can you imagine this or is this just too far fetched for you to consider?

Matt S._2
8/20/2010 10:56:58 PM
It looks like the motorcycles of the future are going to have to run on electricity or bio-fuels. A small diesel in an aerodynamic, two or three wheel chassis would be cool.

Craig Vetter
8/19/2010 7:25:14 PM
Thank you, Garth: Congratulations! You are the first to respond to my BLOG. I hope you are not disappointed that my Bully Pulpit on MEN will be going beyond motorcycling. I can foresee a time when there is no power in the grid. No gas at the pumps. What good will motorcycles be in such a situation? I think about how we might live in those conditions. Not just to live...but to LIVE BETTER. Can you imagine? I can. And, it is not Mad Max.

Garth LaComb_3
8/19/2010 6:45:29 PM
Great words Craig! After seeing your work for the last 30+ years or so I know you actually do what you set out to do. I'm an industrial designer wannabe and like to think of myself as forward thinking. You are spot-on in my book, and am really looking forward to the coming months and years! Great things are in store for the motorcycling world!







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