Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


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Wolfred Walter and The Solar Storage Unit: It Could Change the World!

Become independent from the power grid.

Help the energy revolution become reality.

“It’s my vision to make energy storage affordable for everyone and promote energy independence in as many households and small businesses as possible–that’s what drives me.”

By Linn Smith

November 12, 2015—-Wolfred Walter is a German man from the town of Umkirch who, at the age of 53, has greatly contributed to the health of our planet through his inventions. Here’s what he has done in his 53 years:

Founded a light aircraft school, training over 600 pilots, was named Germany’s light aircraft champion 3 times, invented a special instrument which can search for minerals from the air, turned his Porsche into an electric car, (fueling it with his own solar storage battery), and won the German award for Renewable Product of the Year in 2013–The Sonnenspeicher (Sun Storage) made by his company, ASD, or Automatic Storage Device.

His home-built electric Porsche.

He used his own smart storage battery for power.

A Smarter Solar Battery

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Walter’s greatest contribution towards a healthier planet might be his solar storage unit and his continuing effort to make it available and affordable to the average person, promoting independence from the electrical grid. Instead of building just a better solar storage battery, he built a smarter storage battery.

Why a smarter storage battery? A few years ago he put solar panels on the roof of his aircraft hanger. He grew frustrated when he had to sell 3,600 watts of solar generated power back to the electrical grid during sunny hours, but in the evening, when the sun wasn’t shining or on a cloudy day, he had to buy at least 1000 watts of electricity back from the grid. So he solved his problem by building a smart solar storage battery.

The Automatic Storage Device

The most innovative storage system on the market.

Walter started with a regular lithium-iron-phosphate battery, which he says is the best one out there. He equipped it with software to maximize the battery’s efficiency, micromanaging the flow of electricity between the solar panels connected to the battery, and the power grid, allowing only a minimal amount of power to go back into the grid.

The storage battery system is about the size of a very small refrigerator and works round the clock like a small power plant. It takes only about an hour to install because, “Basically you just have to plug it in.” Customers consume up to 90% of the power generated by the solar panels.

The Automatic Storage Device

Mr. Walter founded his company, ADS or Automatic Storage Device in 2013, two years after he invented the Sonnenspeicher. His company is now selling hundreds to homes and small businesses around the world. He says the key to getting people to go solar is to make them aware they can save thousands of dollars, which will pay off the system in about 8 years, replacing fossil fuels. He doesn’t have to ask the important question, “Will you buy a storage system to help your children, grandchildren and the environment.” He just asks, “Do you want to save/earn money?”

He’s now working on a smaller, cheaper, more reliable storage battery that he thinks might change things in the solar industry. He says, “It’s my vision to make energy storage affordable to everyone and promote energy independence in as many households and small businesses as possible–that’s what drives me.”

Pretty impressive for something that started in his garage several years ago!

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Earthship Houses: Working for People and the Earth

Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level.

Earthship House

A sustainable dwelling that is environmentally friendly.

By Linn Smith

May 22 ,2015—“An understanding of mechanical systems for most humans is limited to what is within reach of their fingertips. It is understood that when you flip on a switch, a light comes on, when you turn on the faucet, water comes out, when you pull the handle, the toilet flushes. Little thought is given to where the electricity comes from or what kind of nuclear waste was produced to generate it. How many of us even know where the power plant is that supplies our power? Few people ever wonder which water table is depleted to bring them water and what chemicals have been added to it. Where does the sewage go? And which rivers and lakes are polluted?” from the Earthship Biotecture brochure.

Earthship Biotecture

Adapting Our Living to the Needs of Ourselves and Our Planet


Water Conservation in Sustainable Living

Earth Machines working for the Environment

Michael Reynolds, Architect and Founder

For most of man’s existence on our planet, housing was built from material of the surrounding habitat, such as earth, rocks, and logs. The Earthship uses–yes,earth, plus they recycle our unwanted products–tires, plastic bottles, ect. An earthship is a type of solar house that is made from natural resouces and recycled materials. The recycled tires are filled with dirt to form earth blocks. Designed and marketed by Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico, they are a registered trademark of Michael Reynolds, architect and founder. When Mr. Reynolds graduated from college, he was unhappy with conventional architecture, and visualized buildings which were eco-friendly. He looked at the Embodied Energy of a structure.

The Planet Earth Weekly article entitled “Zero Net Energy and Rehabilitation of Exiting buildings” addressed Embodied Energy, “It is estimated that traditional buildings, commercial and residentual, consume up to 40% of the energy used in the U.S. for heating and approximately 70% are dependent on fossil fuels. To build an eco-friendly structure, Embodied Energy must be considered–which is the sum of all the energy required to produce the building–extraction of all materials, manufacturing, transportation, installation and the energy used to destroy and dispose of materials when the building is no longer in use. We must look at the entire environmental impact of construction. This is what Mr. Reynolds saw when he visualized the Earthship house.

Earthship Biotecture

Living to Meet Our Needs and the Needs of Our Planet

Earthships: Building in Harmony with our Environment

Mr Reynolds has been constructing buildings that are in harmony with their environment and promote sustainability through salvaging what would end up in our landfills. He discovered he could create buildings, that passed the building code using recycled materials, finding that many trash items can be durable when filled with—-yes,dirt–similar to adobe, the Spanish word for mud brick! The documentary “Garbage Warrior,” found on YouTube, describes his 30 some years of work, building houses that are made from recyclables. These houses are not connected to any outside sources and have gardens for growing food. A truly sustainable house/village is independent of the countries economy. These houses are not subject to changing prices in utilities, food, ect. The necessities are provided for, although most don’t grow all of their own food, much of it can be grown on the premises.

Earthship Biotecture offers blueprints for many different models of houses, including one called the Simple Survival Model. It’s an all season home that provides a person with little income the opportunity to get in a house as inexpensively as possible, with opportunities to build on the structure as income allows. This model starts at $2,000 for the blueprints and is catered toward the self-builder, although it can be built by Earthship Biotecture starting at around $50,000–building yourself would cost about half of this. This model contains everything, performs as well as any other model, but everthing is reduced in size. Also, anything can be customized.

Earthship Structure

The Earthship Houses include: A structure built from recycled materials, a sustainable heating, cooling and electrical system, a water harvest system, on site sewage treatment system and on-site food production. Water is caught and channeled into cisterns, then through filter panels which feed a DC pump by their gravity. It is then pushed into a pressure tank where it can be used as household water. The solar and wind electricity is stored in batteries and supplied to the houses electrical outlets, which is wired to code as if it’s connected to the grid—but, it’s not! Each house has a contained sewage treatment system which is cleaned and used in landscaping and gardening. Food production is provided through wetland planters. The planters can hold hundreds of gallons of water from sinks and showers.

Construction of an Earthship house is low tech and has been kept within most people’s skill level. Educational workshops are continuously offered in Taos, New Mexico to promote learning. An Earthship Biotecture Academy offers extensive training in design, construction and philosophy of the buildings. They are led by the originator, Michael Reynolds, and his staff of builders, electricians, plumbers, gardening specialists and educators.The tuition is several thousand dollars for the Academy, but when finished you will be a certified Earthship builder, eligible to hold workshops for others in your community. Many communities have Earthship workshops led by Earthship Acadamy students and graduates, which allow interested people to educate themselves by practicing construction. Reynolds states, “If the materials for easily obtainable housing are to be truly accessible to the common person they must be easy to learn how to assemble. The nature of the materials for building an Earthship must allow for assembling skills to be learned and mastered in a matter of hours–not years. These skills must be basic enough that no specific talent is not require to learn them.”

Helping People Help Themselves through Sustainable Housing

If governments all over the world subsidized these methods of living, people taking care of themselves in zero carbon habitats, instead of subsidized housing and welfare, then we would be giving the gift of life to many–teach a man/woman to fish and they will eat for a lifetime! When people depend on the government for food, we have poor nutrition. People have forgotten how to take care of themselves and to survive without a grocery store, public utilities, ect. How many people can’t pay their mortgages? What if you lose your job? How many people are homeless today? What if there were no grocery stores? I have often asked children this question in my educational curriculum. Most people depend on their government’s economy for existence!

We, as current occupants, are responsible for our planet. “If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterens of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.” Earthship Biotecture

You don’t need the latest, up to datest–visit your local Habitat for Humanity Restore, look for places being torn down or your local used tire shop for building supplies–think reuse!

Earthship Houses: Providing Eco-Friendly, Self-Sustained Homes


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Looking Back at Renewable Energy in 2014

Turbines have increased in size.

Advancements in wind power have made energy less expensive.

The remaining solid waste will be used to make biofuels. They’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel.”

By Linn Smith

January 3, 2015—To start the new year off on a positive note, let’s look back at seven advancements in renewable energy in 2014:

1. Wind power capacity has increased. Wind turbines have become more powerful, more efficient and more affordable. The increased size of the rotors on the wind turbine has raised the turbine’s capacity to generate electricity. By increasing the area of the rotors, from 70 to 100 meters, they can generate more energy at lower wind speeds

2. New research in nanostructure-based technology will make it more efficient for energy conversion in photovoltaic solar cells. The nano materials will allow more light to be trapped for future energy.

3. Advancements in renewable energy storage using quinone molecules, as those found in rhubarb, can be used in flow batteries at 1/3 the cost. (See the Planet Earth Weekly article titled, “The Organic Megaflow Battery.”)

4. A company called Heliateck, based in Dresden, Germany, is a leading company in the production of organic solar film. They have developed tinted glass that can be used on car roofs to generate energy. Also, architectural glass panels and windows incorporating HeliaFilm enable electricity to be generated at very low light levels with a level of high efficiency. “At the moment, Heliatek is making the transition from pure technology development to industrial manufacturing….to bring mass-produced organic solar films.”

In the process, biofuel is made.

Researchers are using algae to clean up contaminated water.

5. A Cornish tin mine in Cornwall, England, which closed in 1992, is using algae to clean up the heavy metals in the toxic water from the mine, while at the same time producing biofuel. This is in the very early stage of development. Researchers are “Converting the algae into a solid form which heavy metals can be extracted and recycled for use in the electronics industry. The remaining solid waste will be used to make biofuels. They’re putting contaminated water in and taking out valuable metals, clean water and producing fuel.”

6. For a twenty-four hour period in 2014, Germany generated almost 75% of its electricity from renewables. Earlier in 2014, renewables produced 27% of the country’s electricity. “Energiewende” for Germany means energy transformation, which has a goal of powering Germany entirely by renewables by 2050. Even though the transition is met by many challenges, the majority of Germany’s population support the change to renewables.

7. Researchers have advanced in the technology of making biofuels from wet farm waste, including corn husks, tomato vines and manure. Dry farm waste, such as wood chips, is much easier to turn into biofuels, as it doesn’t break down on the way to transformation like wet waste. Researchers at the Bio-Renewable Innovation Lab (BRIL) say, “We are taking what is now a net-negative resource in farm waste, which farmers have to pay to remove, and providing an opportunity for them to make money and help the environment.” It’s a win-win partnership!

So, onward into 2015! Let’s see what it brings in advancements toward a cleaner planet!

Cell phones can detect loggers in real time.


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Saving Our Rainforests

“The idea in a nutshell is to place solar-powered phones high up in the tree canopy of the rainforests where they’re tough to spot, but they can listen in for the sounds of chainsaws”

By Linn Smith

October 10, 2014—According to Wikipedia, “Rainforests are responsible for 28% of the world’s oxygen turnover, processing it through photosynthesis from carbon dioxide and consuming it through respiration. A rainforest emits and absorbs vast quantities of carbon dioxide.” Rainforests once covered 14% of the earth’s surface. Today, they cover less than 2%, but they are habitat to approximately 50% of the planet’s plants and animals.

The Destruction of our Rainforests

Today, rainforests are being destroyed by logging, cattle ranching, agriculture, mining, oil companies searching for new oil deposits and when found, pipelines, and dams. Our planet loses about 6,000 acres of rainforest every hour. According to The Rainforest Foundation, tropical deforestation is the second largest cause of climate change. The Stern Report titled, The Economics of Climate Change, states, “the loss of natural forests contributes more to global (carbon) emissions each year than the transport sector.”

One innovative thinker is working towards saving our rainforests. Silicon Valley physicist and engineer Topher White, has founded a non-profit organization, Rainforest Connections. White says the current ways to detect poaching of trees in the rainforests are either too slow or too expensive. Currently, satellite pictures are used for after-the-fact images of disappearing trees, and aircraft are used to fly over the rainforests to spot logging activity.

Cell phone technology can help halt the destruction of rainforests

Detecting loggers in our rainforests.

Cell Phones: Listening for Loggers

White has come up with another idea involving our recycled cell phones, which could detect intruders in the forests before extensive destruction has begun. Here’s how it works according to Rainforest Connections, “The idea in a nutshell is to place solar-powered phones high up in the tree canopy where they’re tough to spot, but they can listen in for the sounds of chainsaws (and eventually vehicles and poachers). When they detect the sounds of illegal activity, the hidden phones use existing GSM cellphone networks to alert authorities of the location in real time, so that the authorities can deploy to the area and stop the loggers before they fell too many trees.” Each cell phone is housed in special protective casing attached to a solar panel and can protect up to one square mile of forest. White says most areas have good cell phone reception because developing countries find it more efficient and less expensive to set up the technology for cell phone use than running phone lines throughout the countryside.

The original plan of spacing cell phones a mile apart throughout the forest was found to be inefficient as there was too much shade and not enough sunlight in the canopy of branches. White refined his invention and developed the pedal method of installing cell phones in trees, “The petal [design] that you see [in our images] is able to maximize the amount of power that comes out of these rays of light and sunflecks that are able to make it through the canopy.” This method was tested in 2013 in Sumatra, detecting loggers attempting to clear away the forest in less than two weeks of cell phone listening .

Training the Local Community in Maintenance

Dealing with the cell phone payment plans of another country has been an unforseen challenge, but after raising the needed money, Rainforest Connections is ready to take their invention to a larger scale, testing it in Africa and the rainforests of the Amazon. Thereafter, White will work with local law enforcement and environmental groups to train them in running and maintaining the systems. White says that it’s unclear how long the devices will keep functioning in the treetops, but he suspects most will run for a year or two at least and it’s doubtful the supply of discarded phones will run out anytime soon!

The group also plans to create an app that will let anyone in the world listen to the sounds of the rainforest at any time, and receive alerts from the trees in real time.

This will engage others all over the world to help save the rainforests.


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Molten Salt: Storage for Solar Power

Our greatest renewable resource--the sun!

Solar panels “download” the sun’s energy.

It uses the same melted  salt for the life of the power plant and receives a lifetime of energy from our greatest source of power—The Sun!

By Linn Smith

July 16, 2014— Can solar energy be stored? Yes! The first use of solar thermal energy equipment technology, that was recorded, was developed  in the Sahara Desert in about 1910, where a steam engine was powered using a mirror system for sunlight. The sunlight heated water, turning it into steam. But during WWI further development was abandoned because oil was abundant, and easily obtained.

Today, Solar Thermal Energy (STE) is being harnessed for the world’s largest solar plant which uses molten salt for storage—the Crescent Dunes Solar Plant in Nevada.

The Cycle of Solar Thermal Energy

Here’s how it works: A series of mirrors (heliostats) track the sun on two axes, concentrating the solar radiation on a receiver in the upper part of the tower where the heat is transferred to the molten salts. Molten salt is a perfect heat capture source, as it maintains its liquid state even above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The sunlight heats up the salts and puts the molten salts in proximity to water via a heat exchanger–creating steam. The hot steam can then be made to turn turbines without losing much of the original absorbed solar energy. The salt is then piped back into another storage tank, where it is cooled and reheated later for the same process. Water is also recycled, as it travels back to a water holding tank where it will stay until needed again.

Crescent Dunes is the largest solar plant in the world using molten salt storage

The Crescent Dunes solar plant can store the sun’s energy to use during night or cloudy days.

Uninterrupted Solar

This process uses the stored solar to generate reliable, uninterrupted electricity to homes during the night or on cloudy days when direct solar power isn’t available or during peak demand hours when extra power is necessary. There is zero emissions or waste with the use of  Solar Thermal Energy. It uses the same melted  salt for the life of the plant and  receives a lifetime of energy from our greatest power source—The Sun!

Crescent Dunes Solar Plant is projected to be fully operational by the end of 2014,  providing power to up to 75,000 homes. According to SolarReserve,  the developer of Crescent Dunes and other large-scale solar energy projects, their goal is to, “Reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil energy supplies, producing enough solar energy in one year equivalent to about one-eighth of the total output of Hoover Dam. The project uses a hybrid cooling power system so that water use is at a strict minimum in this important desert ecosystem.”

Solar energy avoids greenhouse gas emissions produced by a fossil-fueled power plant.

Another step towards creating a healthy planet!


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Tokelau: From Fossil Fuel to Solar

Tokelau Sign

Tokelau is generating 100% of its electricity from solar.


By Lin Smith

Tokelau: 100%Solar!

October 27, 2013—-What is a Tokelauan you might be wondering? Tokelau is a territory of New Zealand in the South Pacific, between New Zealand and Hawaii. It is approximately 4 square miles and has the world’s smallest population–1,411 people. Most of the islanders live by subsistance farming, they grow what they eat–master gardeners! Why is this island important? Global Warming and climate change is a problem for small island nations such as Tokelau. Being so small, they feel the greater impact of extreme weather and rising sea levels. In October, 2012, Tokelau became the first country in the world to produce 100% of its electricity from the sun, funded by New Zealand! This is a step towards saving our Planet Earth, with over 625 tons of greenhouse gases NOT being emitted into our atmosphere!

Coconut Biofuels

Tokelau’s renewable energy system is made up of solar panels, storage batteries (storing power overnight), and generators running on biofuel from coconuts, which they have an abundance of since discontinuing production 30 years ago. This system generates enough electricity to meet 150% of Tokelau’s power demand, and is one of the largest off-grid renewable energy projects in the world! The people of the island will pay a small tariff that will be used for on-going maintenance of the system. In the past, Tokelau spent over $800,000 every year importing fuel. This money will now go into healthcare for its people and education-a win, win situation for Planet Earth and the people fo Tokelau! David Sheppard, director of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, said, “Even though Tokelau is small and, being a territory of New Zealand has made it easier to implement the move toward solar energy, let’s also look at what lessons we can learn for ourselves.”

For poorer countries, the challenge is to skip fossil fuels and go straight to renewables. Solar Energy in Action (SELF) is a non-profit organization that is working in 20 developing countries to install solar energy systems in rural and poverty areas around the world. Bill McKibben, educator, author and founder of the environmental group, 350.org, states that in affluent countries, such as the United States, small shifts in lifestyle won’t be enough, we’ll also have to fight politics to alter policies. “You’re not a member of the Resistance just because you drive a Prius. You don’t need to go to jail for resistance, but you do need to do more than change your light bulbs. You need to try to change the system that is raising the temperature, the sea level, and raise the question of how well civilization will survive this century.”


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Cool Solar Stuff

By Lin Smith

What’s up with solar these  days? For one thing, solar roasted coffee beans.

solar roasted coffee

Coffee beans must be dried before they hit your morning coffee cup because the freshly picked  beans have too much moisture. Traditionally, in humid climates, coffee beans have been dried using electricity generated by fossil fuels or by burning wood (loss of forest) in a  mechanical dryer for about 6 hours. Today solar powered coffee dryers eliminate the need for wood and fossil fuels, cut the drying time, and decrease the chance of mold and bacteria getting into your morning cup of coffee. Plus, solar increases the profit for the coffee farmers as it eliminates the necessity to buy other sources of fuel and expensive mechanical dryers. Programs are getting started worldwide to help farmers get started in drying coffee beans by solar.

solar-powered-electric-scooter_1

Next on my list of cool solar stuff–the solar scooter. On a site called builditsolar.com you can download a set of plans to build your own solar scooter which is “street legal, affordable, and dependable!”. On Gizmag.com you can find out how to turn your electric scooter into an electric/solar scooter. It uses a PV panel as its foot platform where the rider stands. Every hour left in the sun gives the rider a one mile ride using just solar!

eddie-bauer-solar-tent-xl

My number three in cool solar stuff is a tent! The Orange Solar Tent for campers is a tent of the future.. It “captures the rays of the sun via photovoltaic solar threads woven into conventional fabric.” The tent has a wireless control hub to provide WiFi, wireless charging and an underfloor heater to keep you warm when the temperature drops in the middle of the night. Or if you’re looking for a solar tent and don’t want to wait for the Orange Solar tent with all its amenities, Eddie Bauer (yes, Eddie Bauer!) is soon putting a tent on the market with a built in solar charger. The Power Katabatic has a solar charger built in to the top of the tent that folds with the tent when stored. A battery inside charges from the solar pad allowing you to plug in and recharge your USB devices. The whole thing, tent and all, weighs about 8 pds. Gizmodo.com states, “this is a good way to introduce your tech savvy kids to the out of doors without completely shocking them with a world of natural beauty that’s not made of pixels.”–(umm, maybe the shock would be worth it though, letting their minds drift to the quiet place only mother nature can provide!)

bogo-solar-flashlight

Last but not least, is my solar flashlight. I have had this flashlight for about 10 years. It’s left in my car in the hottest and coldest of temperatures and it still works like new. I have never owned such a trustworthy flashlight.  I lay it on the dashboard of my car and it is charged in minutes, holding a charge for hours!

If you want to make your own solar stuff, there are many websites that will guide you in your creativity. Good Luck!