Renewable Energy
All things energy, from solar and wind power to efficiency and off-grid living.

Solar Power Pioneer Rebekah Carpenter's Circuitous Path to Success


Rebekah Carpenter puts her long-time industry expertise to work in New York at her company, Fingerlakes Renewables Solar Energy.
Photo by Aur Bec

The opportunity to install solar-electric systems showed up for off-grid energy pioneer Rebekah Carpenter in the form of an offer to travel to Mali in western Africa. She would be tasked with installing an off-grid system — if she first could learn the trade. Twenty years later, solar power has become a part of who she is, which is founder of Fingerlakes Renewables in Ithaca, N.Y., where she has built longevity in a once-volatile industry, riding through inflation, subsidy onset and removal, technology wins and losses, and utility price increases. MOTHER EARTH NEWS blogger, Aur Beck, spent some time talking with Rebekah recently. The interview is edited for clarity.

What does off-grid living mean for you?

Living off the grid, none of my daily needs require the infrastructures of electric, gas, or oil to maintain function. For me, off-grid living is not a heroic statement on self-sufficiency — all that I've built has been on the shoulders of giants before me — but is a matter of function: Were a catastrophe to occur, I could continue my lifestyle fairly smoothly with little upheaval or change.

This is my return to a more intentional relationship with daily function. The investment of time and money into an infrastructure that doesn't require the continued work of anyone else to maintain creates an island of sorts; the number of people and households involved in off-grid lifestyles may vary, but there is a greater aspect of interior communication rather than exterior involvement in that circle.

This intentionality means living within a budget that is based on intangible resources — like total hours of sun per day — rather than representative resources, like cash money sent to the utility. In a grid setting, there is an illusion, if not a reality, of infinite availability throughout every day. The reckoning of cost comes after consumption. In off-grid, there is a limited resource that can be expanded if the reckoning of cost comes prior to consumption and is, therefore, more an investment than a payment.

Was this kind of intentional, off-grid lifestyle part of your upbringing? Tell us a bit about how this journey started.

I grew up in Texas. My family moved to Ithaca when I was 14, and I left to go back to Dallas a couple months later. I have brothers: three older and one 20 years younger than me. I gather animals. I genuinely love working. My 8th Grade aptitude test said I could do anything I wanted and shouldn't be a tradesperson, because my life would be wasted. Well... [laughs]

I went to school for a bit in western Washington, then in northern Idaho, then moved rather aimlessly back to Ithaca at 23. I dropped out of two colleges trying to study wildlife resources and game management. I wasn't stoked about more college, wasn't happy about the cold, and was pretty lost in general.

When my family had moved to Ithaca when I was 14, I lived in the house we were building long enough to be responsible for doing the wiring before I left, so when I was offered the opportunity to start learning some about solar, sit at home fairs and workshops, and do a little wiring, I didn't exactly jump but I meandered that direction.

Then suddenly, I fell into the opportunity to get a free trip to Bamako, Mali, if I learned the trade enough to install an off-grid system there.

During the two years it took to get to Bamako — costs, education, shipping delays, 9/11 delays — I had started working at a local intentional community that my dad was managing as the solar specialist. I'm a carpenter by birth, but an electrician by trade, I like to say! (I also like to say I'm a Rebekah Carpenter, not a finish carpenter, so don't expect every corner to be square). All of this was on-grid, mostly using 48-volt nominal DC systems tied to spinning meters that were just being allowed to net. And wiring into J-boxes on 110-watt mods, because there were no quick connects, and drill pressing aluminum, because extruded racking wasn't standard yet.

I was starting to do some site visits elsewhere, showing up for small, off-grid systems hoping I didn't make any big mistakes.

I hope you eventually did make it to Mali.

Yes! After this circuitous path, then to Mali!

I spent 13 days installing on the far outskirts of the capital — at that point, I was pretty well hooked. When I got back to New York, NYSERDA [New York State Energy Research and Development Authority] was taking over the previous subsidy plan and started to train us as installers at their Malta facility. That was around 2002. In the years since, I've tried from time to time to escape but...

What are the main barriers for people going solar in the U.S. today?

Most often, the reason people don't choose solar is cost. A lot of people only want solar if they can secure their power supply with a battery [for complete self-reliance], and that is still an unreachable goal for many.

Lack of siting is also a big factor for folks — although many of them now can choose solar farms, community solar, or purchasing power from wind farms. When I started working in this field, the subsidies were much higher, but the cost of materials was much higher. The transfer of funding from subsidy to tax credit has helped tremendously for those with income, but has largely wiped out a sector of consumers who would very much like to invest in renewable energy but aren't in a bracket where they can benefit from the tax credits.

While availability is increasing and costs are decreasing, it's still a cash-positive investment that a lot of people can't afford. And in pricing systems, the economy of scale certainly doesn't support the start-small approach.

Another factor that prevents people from going solar is educational or political misinformation.

Tell me about your worst jobs.

In the off-grid world, people can have needs and wants that are unrealistic, and they blame me for it. Being told to design a small system or modest usage does not always sit well with roughing-it kind of people! I’ll find out that they installed a 40-gallon, dual-element water heater between design signatures and installation time — I make sure to ask more questions now!

The worst on-grid job involved a homeowner who hadn't finished installing the roof, had multiple clean-up tickets from the village, was much-scorned by the code officer, and code enforcement — and we didn't get along. I had to pull the plug on that system when the homeowner wouldn't show up to court to deal with fines, code enforcement held a grudge, and I opted for losing some money and gaining some sleep.

I'd say the worst situations came from poor communication between the homeowners and me. One of the downsides of being on my own as a business owner is that I have no one to send in to fix sore egos!

It sounds like the human factor, rather than technical factors, are the biggest source of issues.

Well, for one house, the inverters kept kicking out. This was using a certain GT model that had awful issues. We switched out three inverters, twice. That homeowner was as patient as could be, though it was frustrating for both of us.

How about your best jobs?

Best jobs, man that's tough. The first commercial site I installed was a winery, so the view was overlooking the lake, the vineyards, and the rolling hills. Hard to beat that. And I built a little overhang for the four SMA [brand] inverters (back in the transformer days). However., I'm 5 feet 3 inches tall, and the average height of the employees at the vineyard was about 6 feet. Two men were 6-foot-4-inches or so. I built a nice little roof, easily accessible for me to walk right under. Lovely people!

I've had conversations with customers about life and loss, chatted about abusive relationships, difficulty of being a woman or a minority in the trades (or anywhere). One fella was going through a third round of cancer and we talked about plants for a couple hours.

I've been hired back more often than I expected to add more production. Another fella said he was out of buildings or he'd have me put in more! I've rewired systems from 20 years ago with new inverters and they are working wonderfully. I get to design small, inexpensive systems for older folks who have lived with little or nothing, but now want a little more.

That's the joy of self-employment; I don't always have to earn money for a job to be worth it! I've gotten to teach electrical basics to immigrants, women, trades-based high school and junior high classes. I've done relief work in Puerto Rico, and had the amazing opportunity to assist with life-changing work in Haiti. I guess I still really love my work.

Get in touch with Rebekah Carpenter via her company, Fingerlakes Renewables is in Ithaca N.Y.

Aur Beck has lived completely off-grid for over 35 years. He has traveled with his family through 24 states and 14,000 recorded miles by horse-drawn wagon. Aur is a presenter at The Climate Reality Project, a fellow addict at Oil Addicts Anonymous International and a talk show co-host at WDBX Community Radio for Southern Illinois 91.1 FM. Find him on the Living Off Grid, Really!?!? Facebook page, and read all of Aur's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

How the First Earth Day Made Way for the Renewable Energy Revolution

Volunteers partnered with the City and County of Honolulu and other concerned citizens to participate in Honolulu’s Earth Day 2012's Mauka to Makai Clean Water Expo

Photo by Flickr/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fifty-one years is a long time—a good run. Certainly not a momentous year, or milestone. That was last year. But this year I launched The NetPositive Podcast and for our podcast’s first Earth Day, we feature an interview with Denis Hayes. He was the national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, and founder of the Earth Day Network. He is credited with creating the largest secular movement in the world.

By 1990, Earth Day was “mobilizing” 200 million people in 190 countries. By now, and in collaboration with 75,000 partner organizations, Earth Day has mobilized a billion people worldwide.

The Early Days of Earth Day

Denis is warm and thoughtful, well past his activist days but with convictions that haven’t changed a bit. He puts fledgling Earth Day in perspective, juxtaposing environmentalism with the Nixon administration, the Vietnam War, Cambodia, and Kent State. There was decency in Congress then. Members could and did come together to address air pollution — smog — and water pollution, the worst of which made so stark by the Santa Barbara oil spill.

I remember Earth Day in 1970, the roadside clean-up organized by East Woods School. This was the first Earth Day, announced in a full-page New York Times advertisement. Our gang pulled a ridiculous amount of trash out of the bushes along Yellowcote Road. People had thrown their bottles roadside for years. Some disposal system. Earth Day was about changing behavior, for me recycling. It was about demanding an end to rampant air pollution. It was about cleaning the water. Rachael Carson’s Silent Spring had shocked us all. Imagine a spring with no birds chirping gaily... long gone due to chemicals and toxins spewed into the environment by industry. This was the time of Love Canal, a tearful native American in a canoe... an awakening of American eco-consciousness.

President Nixon saw Mayor John Lindsay in New York attracting huge crowds on Earth Day and was simply jealous. He soon thereafter formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to shine the light in his direction. Shortly thereafter, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act were signed into law. Many of us see the role that Earth Day played in forging a broad environmental coalition.

The Earth Day Network went after “the dirty dozen,” 12 members of Congress with particularly bad environmental voting records who were up for reelection. Because of the spotlight shined on their environmental records, seven of the 12 were defeated, and the political power of the environmental movement was proven.

Backing up a bit, it was Senator Gaylord Nelson, a junior senator from Wisconsin, who first envisioned “Environmental Teach-Ins” at universities across the country. Nelson recruited Denis — took him away from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard — and made him the national coordinator. The idea of “Environmental Teach-Ins” morphed into “Environmental Rights Day,” and ultimately “Earth Day.” Some five months later, 20 million people took to the streets.

According to Denis, there was a rare political alignment, Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, could agree that we only have one planet and that we’d better take care of it. The Earth Day movement was about taking all these threads, weaving them together, and forming a nationwide rally. Walter Cronkite called it a “nationwide outpouring of mankind.” We were saving life from fouled skies and waters.

Earth Day held major events in 1970, 1990, 2000, 2010, and 2020. As the Energy Program Director at Rocky Mountain Institute, I spoke at Earth Day 1990 in Lincoln Park, Chicago. There were 100,000 people in the park, 20,000 in the stage area. I took the stage after Mayor Daily and Senator Paul Simon. “No, Chicago does not need nuclear […] that’s dangerous and costly. Instead, Chicago needs energy efficiency, it’s safe and inexpensive […]” I said with a compact fluorescent lightbulb held high to a thunderous applause. Those were the days.

Leading the Renewable Energy Movement

The podcast features Denis’s story at the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute, later renamed the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. Denis was appointed by President Jimmy Carter with a mission to chart a pathway to get 20% of all energy use in America from renewables by the year 2000.

Denis brought the best minds in from around the country to develop a renewable energy roadmap. But when Reagan took the presidency, in came the “dull grey men, in dull grey suits, walking dull grey hallways, thinking dull grey thoughts.” Quickly, Hayes finalized the research and shared it widely. U.S. Representative Richard Ottinger read the report into the public record. There was a new vision and roadmap, substantiating the claims and visions made by Amory Lovins and others. Later Brickhouse Publishing released the report as The New Prosperity. I have a copy in my library.

Bullitt Foundation Continues its Mission

Denis is a class act and a friend that I have known since 1986. After a distinguished career in both academics and activism, he’s been at the helm of the Bullitt Foundation, a foundation that has had the mission of making the Northwest region exemplary in terms of sustainability. Today, Bullitt is even more laser-focused geographically, specifically supporting sustainability in a region west of the Cascades, from Portland to Vancouver, the so-called “Emerald Corridor.”

Bullitt’s headquarters in Seattle features a solar mortar-board solar array of note, and rainwater collection. It uses one-seventh the lighting energy stipulated in the building code. It makes a striking statement.

Denis has made a lifetime of striking statements. Check him out on The NetPositive Podcast on Spotify, Apple, and Google.

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, listen to The NetPositive Podcast, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our blogging guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Just Transition: Renewable Energy Can Drive Equitable Job Creation

Photo by Justin Lim on Unsplash

The role of community choice aggregation for solar — programs that allow local governments to procure power on behalf of their residents — has quickly expanded from a green commodity program to one where social benefit is at the core, providing energy resiliency and equitable jobs in the communities they serve.

Perspectives provided by a Rocky Mountain Institute webinar, moderated by James Newcombe, Aligning Toward a Renewable Economy for a Swift and Fair Energy Transition, put the plight of equitable jobs and opportunities in the clean energy transition in the fore.

Renewable Energy Driving Economic Growth

Newcombe welcomes all and lays it on the line: There has been and continues to be a lingering perception that a clea- energy economy will burden global economies. But no. He cites data that shows far more jobs in clean energy. They are growing fast and creating sustained jobs in our society.

The World Energy Outlook of the International Energy Agency (IEA) presents a sustainable development scenario — “nearly Paris-compliant” — that projects that there could be 27 million clean-energy jobs in the next three years, while preventing 12 million deaths related to asthma and other respiratory diseases exacerbated by fossil-fuel emissions.

Another study by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that 2 to 7 million jobs will be lost in the fossil fuel industries by 2030, and 38 to 60 million new jobs in clean energy. There are already three times as many clean energy jobs in the United States as there are fossil fuel jobs. Panelist and RMI Principal Jacob Corvidae posited a discussion with his son: “So, do you want a job in the fading fossil fuel industry, or the booming solar industry?” The choice is pretty obvious.

The pandemic has hit the fossil fuel industry really hard, so hard that it may never recover. A Deloitte study notes that of the 107,000 oil and gas jobs lost in the pandemic, as many as 70% may be permanently lost. Newcombe noted that the year 2019 may be oil and gas industry’s peak year. Meanwhile, the clean energy industry will rebound quickly. The challenge and opportunity is for the public and private sectors to come together to strategically chart a sound clean energy course. A big part of this involves jobs and equity.

Clean Energy Industry Driving Equitable Job Creation

Corvidae discussed jobs in inner cities and creating a just transition to a clean energy economy. How can small, disadvantaged businesses participate?

Corvidae said that it will take policies to make it happen. In Boston, RMI is working in collaboration with the Emerald Cities Collective to promote means for minority-owned contractors to access the pipeline of public-sector work, providing normally underrepresented companies with good paying jobs. This is “doing development differently.” He talked about Detroit and its Community Benefit Agreements, creating opportunities and addressing the structural injustices. New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act requires that 35% of its funds are targeted into disadvantaged communities.

Panelist Sharon Burrow Leslie began by making it clear that the post-pandemic recovery will need to be in both social and environmental balance. Due to the pandemic, a half billion jobs have been lost around the world. There is both a climate and health emergency at hand. Furthermore, Leslie noted that there has been an erosion of trust in democracy.

Fixing the Crisis of Democracy

A recent study shows that less than 45% of young people trust democracy. Given social unrest, Leslie said that we need to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency and accountability. There needs to be a just transition to our clean energy future. The European Union has plans for recovery that have a social pillar based on a green new deal and cutting supply-chain exploitation.

Martin Luther King was quoted, that we need leaders not in love with money, but in love with justice. If the recovery is just about money, we fail the planet, we can’t have justice. Yet there has been an explosion of global monopoly power and profits during the pandemic. Just as there have been huge corporate gains, and unconditional public subsidies of corporations, there has been marked social unrest and Leslie predicts that there will be more unless justice is served.

The times are indeed unprecedented, but they are predictable. The pandemic was predictable; so are the effects of climate change. So is the civil unrest. Now we need policies to support a just clean energy future: Yes, we need zero-net energy. We also need zero-net job loss. We cannot rebuild the global economy if people don’t have jobs and income. Every job lost must be replaced with new jobs.

How Can There be a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Economy?

Capitalism does have the brilliant merit of self-organizing. But it has inherent flaws. There needs to be means to address justice and equity within a capitalist society and in the transition to a sustainable future. Externalities can be no longer. We have the challenge and opportunity to meet both our social and climate objectives together. Jobs are a fundamental aspect of the recovery we all crave. We redefine the rules; we cannot prescribe the status quo.

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Green Hydrogen: An Energy Storage Solution for the Western U.S.

Green Hydrogen Plant

In 2025, the Intermountain Power Plant will convert from an 1,800 MW coal-fired power plant to an 840 MW combined cycle gas turbine capable of using a blend of natural gas and 30% green hydrogen in 2025. Photo by Green Hydrogen Coalitionv

Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used in many applications. I learn about recent advances for its use in aviation, in trucking, and for mining operations. I thank the Green Hydrogen Coalition for expanding my brain. The group had a recent web call I attended, and where I was impressed by one single notion: That Utah’s salt caverns could become the Western United States’ centralized energy storage site.

A study commissioned by Mitsubishi Power, and completed by Magnum Energy, found that one salt cavern explored could hold 150 Gigawatt-hours of green hydrogen storage. That’s 100 times the aggregate amount of storage throughout the United States today. Utah can cost-effectively serve the region in the storage and delivery of green hydrogen, as well as renewable electricity.

Energy Storage: The Insurance for Renewable Energy

I learn a new word, a German word: dunkelflaute. It refers to the fear, or angst, of having inadequate sunshine or wind to maintain a viable supply of renewable energy. Lost a bit in translation, it speaks to being in a “dark lull” and the anxiety of it all. Dunkelflaute flags the enormous challenge of fully integrating renewables into the grid and getting to 100 percent.

How can we ride through “short periods” of up to 60 minutes without generation (when there’s no sun or wind), “medium periods” that last for a few hours to several days, and “long periods” that can be up to two weeks in cases of very unfavorable, and unusual, weather? Like insurance policies of any kind, we need to ensure enough power in the worst-case scenario. That spells lots of energy storage.

California is the leading U.S. energy-storage market. Most of the capacity in place to date is 4-hour storage, much used for peak clipping. Now we have a new acronym: LDES for “Long-Duration Energy Storage”, defined as storage with 6 or more hours of energy.

Can Hydrogen Be Used for Energy Storage?

The California shift to a renewable future has already experienced costly curtailments of renewable energy systems — when the sun is shining, the wind is blowing, but the grid can’t take that much capacity. These are the best times to electrolyze water using this “excess power” and to create green hydrogen, storing power in the form of hydrogen for later use. Hydrogen can then be called upon to respond to California’s infamous “duck curve” by fueling carbon-free peaking capacity, meeting the large ramps in utilities’ net load curve as the sun goes down.

A final question: What is the biggest barrier to hydrogen in the West? Its answer struck me: getting people to recognize that green hydrogen is a form of energy storage, just like batteries.

Furthermore, planning decisions ought not be based on lowest-cost form of storage, but highest-value storage. Someone who wants the lowest-cost watch gets a Timex. Someone who wants to maximize the value of a time piece gets an Apple watch with considerable functionality. Like the Apple watch, hydrogen brings a breadth of applications and benefits. It can be used to decarbonize not only the power sector, but industry, heating, and transportation. And the West is leading the charge.

Ted Flanigan runs EcoMotion, a California-based company with the mission of the cost-effective greening of cities, corporations, and campuses. He has dedicated his career to finding win-win solutions that create financial and environmental benefits while fostering a sustainable society. Connect with Ted on Facebook and Twitter, read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Super-Small-Scale Solar with a Portable Generator and 100-Watt Panel

Solar panel with generator.

We started our urban homestead and Be the Change Project in 2011, dedicated to living a low-impact, high-quality life. Part of having a small footprint and withdrawing support from extractive industries like coal was living electricity-free. And, aside from headlamps, we did that for over seven years. Then, in early 2018, desiring some of the trappings of 21st-Century civilization, such as a laptop, cellphone, and cordless power tools (ahhh, power tools), we decided to get a small solar system to meet our electric wants and needs.

Trying Out the Aeiusny Portable Power Generator

Cost. Wanting a simple, all-in-one system, we bought a single 100-watt panel for about $85 and a 296-watt-hour/400-watt Aeiusny portable power station for about $275. Now, I don’t know much about watts or watt-hours, but after describing what we were looking to accomplish to a friend, he recommended this size of generator. They're common, I’ve learned, with car campers and the RV/VW bus crowd.  We can now easily charge all of our gizmos and bring the battery in at night for some warm, yellow-spectrum light from a string of LEDs.

Using the generator. The power station’s two AC plugs and four USB ports make it easy to plug in and charge away. It has a handy LED display showing its percentage charged, which lets us know when we need to get it back to the solar panel as well as how much each of our gadgets uses.

We’ve learned that our LED lights use next to nothing over several hours — maybe a percent. The cellphone uses almost as little, while the computer will drain a few points over a couple hours. My Ryobi tool battery charger drains the power station rapidly — maybe 40 percent for one battery. As a result, we only charge them during the day when the sun is out, which doesn’t drain the power station battery at all; there’s an equilibrium between the energy input from the sun and the output to the battery.

Charging. The solar generator charges quickly in direct sun, maybe 10 percent an hour, and decently even in partly cloudy conditions. We've never run out of juice, and after a string of several cloudy days, it will eventually dip to about 50 percent.

I mounted our solar panel onto a little frame with castors on the bottom so I can turn it toward the sun when I pass by it during the day. The little yellow unit (which is about as big as a large loaf of bread) rests on a base beneath the panel, where it merrily charges out of direct sunlight.

Like so much other technology, this system is a slippery slope for us. Having electricity around, even very little, has opened the doors of temptation, my child. We have since bought a wireless speaker (draws about as much as the phone) and a blender (one smoothie drains 3 to 4 percent).

Generator with blender.

Were we a bit dogmatic, maybe even a little puritanical, when we started our project in 2011? Yes. But, our goal was to live well with what we considered an appropriate amount of Appropriate Technologies: simpler tech that's accessible to most (democratic) and low-impact. Solar PV, even such a small system, was a big leap for us, but we sure do like it. The blender, for example, has been a big hit with the kids (who love smoothies) and has led to better soups, pestos, and powders from Katy’s solar-dehydrated herbs.

If we desired more power, and maybe we will a few years down the road, I'd buy a larger power station and string a few panels together. With LEDs and today’s low-energy gizmos and advanced battery technology, I think a slightly bigger system would meet most of an energy-thrifty family’s electricity needs at a very affordable price.

Kyle Chandler-Isacksen is a tinkerer, natural builder, and community organizer in Reno, Nevada. He and his family run the Be the Change Project, a fossil-fuel-, car-, and electricity-free urban homestead and learning space dedicated to service and simplicity and inspired by the principles of Gandhian Integral Nonviolence. They were honored as one of MOTHER’s Homesteaders of the Year in 2013. Read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts.

Better Rechargeable Batteries for Powering Electronic Devices

Pale Blue Lithium batteries with USB

My wife, Lisa Kivirist, and I try to live Earth Day every day. We use the sun, thanks to a 10.8-kW PV system, to completely power our Inn Serendipity homestead and recharge our plug-in electric Toyota Prius Prime car. We grow most of our own food organically. We prefer to watch sunsets, not the TV. We enjoy community potlucks featuring local food, not black tie events with flown-in “fresh” fish.

But, like most people, we also use numerous electronic devices that are powered by batteries. From powering carbon monoxide detectors to flashlights needed in emergencies, from keeping our Blink security cameras operational to powering our DVD remote controller, we inescapably find ourselves using batteries of various sizes and for different needs. We avoid single-use alkaline batteries, which seem to be nearly impossible to recycle for free. We’re always mindful that in nature, there is no waste. We try not to buy anything that can’t be recycled or turned into something else or used for spare parts.

As it turns out, about 3 billion batteries are thrown away every year in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with the majority of them ending up in landfills. About 86,000 tons of waste every year is accounted for by single-use alkaline batteries. We have used various Nickel-Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries with mixed success for years, but find that it can take a long time to recharge them when depleted.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held every January in Las Vegas, my tech-savvy son, Liam Kivirist, and I found a number of companies addressing the need for battery power for the electronics we now use and rely upon on a daily basis, but without adding to the growing e-waste problem. Pale Blue Lithium Rechargeable Batteries and GP ReCyko are two options we’ve tested and have found to work well.

Pale Blue Lithium battery features 

Pale Blue USB Rechargeable Smart Batteries

Coming in both AA and AAA size, Pale Blue rechargeable batteries can be reused about 1,000 times and have a recharge time of only 1 to 2 hours, much faster than traditional rechargeable batteries. Pale Blue rechargeable batteries have an on-board charging and safety circuit, so we can recharge anywhere with a micro USB cable that’s included. The batteries can be topped off at any time. A built-in LED indicator lets us know when the battery is done charging.

As for how well they work, we used them in our Blink security cameras for daily photos and to keep us abreast of our home temperature when we were away on speaking and other journalism work. They lasted the entire time we were away without one recharge. When used in a LED flashlight, the light was much brighter. The batteries also hold their charge better when not in use, another benefit of the Pale Blue lithium chemistry and smart circuitry. According to Pale Blue, one pack of Pale Blue USB rechargeable lithium batteries can replace up to 4,000 alkaline single-use batteries.

GP ReCyko Rechargeable Batteries

These batteries are an NiMH-based option for AA and AAA size batteries, and can connect to their charger with a USB-to-micro-USB cable, which you can buy as a set. The GP ReCyko batteries can be recharged about 1,000 times. They do, however, take longer to charge, about eight hours.

End of Life: Recycling Batteries

When it comes time to recycle our rechargeable batteries, we’ll be contacting Call2Recycle, North America’s first and largest battery stewardship program for recycling batteries, especially rechargeable batteries. According to Call2Recycle, there is currently no national stewardship solution to allow for free recycling of single-use alkaline batteries, except in Vermont.

So, we’ll continue to avoid single-use alkaline batteries, even though the 1996 Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act helped phase out the use of mercury, among other toxic materials, in single-use batteries in the U.S. Reusing rechargeable batteries, like Pale Blue, and eventually recycling them seems to be the wiser solution to meet our power needs.

John D. Ivanko and his wife, Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook, along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Both are speakers at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, a 10.8-kW solar power station and millions of ladybugs. Read all of John’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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

How Long Will It Take to Replace Fossil Fuels With Renewable Sources of Energy?


The world is racing to replace fossil fuels with renewable sources and for good reason. People understandably ask, "How long will it take to replace fossil fuels?"

The answer isn't straightforward. However, here's some information that might help.

The Importance of Cost

Some people think cost is the primary reason societies are switching to renewables. According to one study, renewable energy already out-competes oil. While coal is cheaper, technological advances and emission pricing schemes may boost solar, wind power and the like to the top.

Prices for renewable energy are falling, making it competitive with non-renewables. As a result, a transition to sustainable alternatives is taking place across the world. This change, however, doesn't suggest a time-frame for complete fossil fuel replacement.

As more industries realize the potential for renewable energy, others will be more likely to accelerate their transitions. Each eco-friendly choice is a step toward total replacement.

What Experts Have to Say

When we ask experts how long will it take to replace fossil fuels, some say it could happen relatively quickly. Andrew Blakers and Matthew Stocks of Australian National University believe the world is on track to reach 100% renewable energy by 2032. Their research shows solar and wind energy is growing fast enough to surpass coal by the mid-2020s.

Blakers and Stocks claim wind and solar power currently produce about 7% of the world's electricity. It may not seem like a lot, but, over the past five years, solar capacity grew by 28% each year. Wind capacity grew at a rate of 13% per year. These figures, combined with the stagnation of coal power, lead to the 2032 forecast.

On the other side of the spectrum is Shell, a well-known oil and gas mega-corp. In 2017, they produced 3.7 million barrels of oil per day. In Shell's Sky scenario, they imagine a world that complies with the Paris climate agreement. Shell claims they support the idea to keep the Earth's warming below 3.6° Fahrenheit. In this scenario, the world will achieve net-zero emissions by 2070.

Still, we won't replace fossil fuels — they'll only decline. Plus, Sky is merely a scenario — a possibility that's dependent on a number of assumptions. It'll take significant time, effort and government backing to ensure large-scale change becomes a reality.

The Substantial Impacts of Change

Back in 2014, analysts highlighted WTI and Brent crude oil prices on a downward trend. Signs suggest people are looking at new ways to meet energy needs. However, as we transition to renewables, it's essential to consider all possible impacts.

We can't shut down fossil fuel plants overnight. Consider the job losses and those with careers in the industry. Bernie Sanders, a 2020 candidate for President, plans to eliminate fossil fuels by 2050. However, he recognizes the associated losses. Sanders claims protections will be in place for affected workers. He also believes his plan will create 20 million jobs.

Industries that rely on fossil fuels will also feel the effects of a total switch. Businesses must be open to a new status quo. Agreeing to give up fossil fuels and invest in renewables will spur change. According to one study based on existing technology, full decarbonization of the U.S. electric grid would cost $4.5 trillion.

Government leaders must commit to renewables, too. China, the United States and India consume 54% of the world's fossil fuels by weight. Moreover, worldwide usage for fossil fuels equals almost 15 billion metric tons.

Individuals and companies can make changes through purposeful, collective action. However, the nation's leaders must adjust their budgets for an effective transition.

Is a Transition to Totally Renewable Energy Possible?

Some nations. like Denmark and Scotland, get all of their power from wind for brief periods. However, analysts are unsure if some countries can produce 100% renewable energy.

Michael Kelly, a professor at Cambridge University, has concerns about the energy return on investment (EROI) for renewables. EROI looks at the energy a source produces vs. energy invested in making it.

In the case of renewables, we produce wind turbines or solar panels. What's the cost to make one solar panel compared to how much power it can produce? 

Kelly claims EROI for renewables is lower than fossil fuels. As a result, investing in renewables for worldwide electricity could leave less energy for other activities.

Critics, on the other hand, say Kelly's analysis is based on studies from more than five years ago. Since then, solar and wind costs have plummeted.

Can We Fully Replace Fossil Fuels?

How long will it take to replace fossil fuels? The truth is, no one knows. The answer is dependent on many things, from implementation costs to the nation's infrastructure.

For now, focus on establishing eco-friendly habits while continuing to use fossil fuels. Buy a hybrid car or choose a renewable-powered electric provider. Each small step will lead to a significant change.

Photo by Photo by Andreas Gücklhorn on Unsplash

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on You can read all of her Mother Earth News posts here.

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

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