& "AT" (alternative technology)
last worked on: November 22nd, 2018
you're at:
contact: craig er oochi  a t  outlook dotty com


* It's important to know where I'm coming from and where I'm going with this page. My views on alternative technologies might help. I advocate for both family/individual and community scale alternatives, for simplicity, for Schumacher's notion of sufficiency/enough --and for living within modest limits. I definitely share Schumacher's loathing for the menace and the scale of nuclear power.

As to matters of size and scale, I favor a (sought for) "standard" for communities, technologies, institutions, infrastructure/power plants and (as possible) government --that they be commensurate with "human scale" (re: Kirkpatrick Sale) --which is something more felt than calculated.

That said, and because one must multiply average consumption by the serviced population load --I expect that we are doomed (and I'm sorry to be such a downer guy here) --by our inability (even in the United States, let alone "3rd world" cultures) to even have a civil discussion about growth and "population policy". (That's the euphemistic way we're sometimes able to reference reigning in overpopulation --which is currently 1.5x to 3x what's sustainable, depending on assumed living and industrial standards).

Never-the-less: it's important that I "witness" --so I can at least feel myself to be less a "part of the problem".

AT Criticism:

* Witold Rybczynski's "Paper Heroes" takes Schumacher and the alternative technology movement to task for being impractical and inconsistent with some of their own goals. Although WR seems somewhat oblivious to the social and spiritual aspects of smallness, he's certainly right about many practical matters --thermal efficiencies and such. (A narrow concern for efficiency, planning and engineering coherency can easily lead to a functional --or a dysfunctional,  "technocracy".)

Wind turbines and solar panels:

* Straight away, and no matter how cost effective solar panels become (as of November 2017, they're already beating fossil fuels --even in Saudi Arabia!), I suggest that they do not belong on the roofs of average, single family homes --and for obvious reasons. (Just take a fursluginer minute and think about it.)

Nor do noisy wind turbines, nor does any kind of serious power generation. We'll come to realize that (and to the detriment of our AT advocacy) as roofs leak and need replacement, as fire fighters refuse to direct their hoses onto burning solar paneled homes, and as the insurance industry turns a gimlet eye toward such installations.

Judge this issue for yourself and from your choice of sources --but do so with open eyes and ears for opinions on all sides of the issues. Google: solar + panels + roof + leaks --and read. (Those old fashioned "+"es are optional.)

Then Google: solar + panels + fire + insurance (and/or "fire fighters").

* Renewable energy has turned the corner on beating fossil through research and efficiencies of scale. Scale enabled investments in that research, reductions in equipment costs, ever more installed capacity, and the efficiencies of large plant management by a single team of competent, professional specialists.

* Again: bigger is not always better, but neither is smaller always better --especially when in a race to achieve the earliest retirement of nuclear and fossil fuel megawatt power plants --and to save the planet.

Exceptions for residential installations would be for isolated rural residences with stand-alone, purpose designed structures for supporting and maintaining the power generating and storage hardware. (The simpler, the lower the power, and the more user understandable/repairable --the better.)

* In my opinion: the "appropriate" place for (say: kilowatt and up) AT/renewable energy production is as a distribution of well engineered, zoned, regulated, and managed community or municipally owned, system compatible power plants. Distributed power generation (of course) needs less copper and less robust transmission lines, since a multi-source grid is in itself robust. Aside from having a smaller carbon footprint (partly due to more durable panels and supporting structures), emergency backup power is everywhere closer --than it is from sparsely located megawatt power plants.

Alternative alternatives:

* Wind turbines don't have to be wump-wump, bladed, bird exterminating monsters. There are fascinating bladeless designs that rock-n-roll, that use advanced fluid engineering, and that demand nothing of their immediate environment than to receive a water mist.

Some adult concerns about solar panels:

From the Liberty Mutual Insurance web site (and hopefully, they don't have a fossil fuel ax to grind), I've borrowed, paraphased, abbreviated, mutilated, itemized and added comments to a few points about business and home owner roof installations. (You want to take the link, since Liberty Mutual may well have updated their statements by now.)

* "--currently, there are no uniform standards to help guide the installation and maintenance of solar panel arrays." No doubt the Uniform Building Code will soon accommodate solar panels, but after UL gets ahold of it, I expect surprises that will be costly to retrofit. It might make a big difference to the safety and resale value of your home, should your panels be able to meet future UBC/UL standards and pass an FHA inspection.

* Ground fault detection and interruption (GFI/GFDI) might not work if isolated conductive roofing elements are not themselves properly grounded.

* Roofs are designed (if compliant with the UBC) to carry the load of (perhaps) a second layer of re-roofing, the force of storm winds and however many inches of snow in temperate climates. Solar panel weight and (depending on the installation) added wind loading might exceed a roof's support strength.

* Should the roof and/or solar panel anchorage fail in a storm, heavy solar panels, lofted into the air, are going to do a lot more damage and possible injury than torn off composition roofing.

* As we've recently seen from that London high-rise fire, exterior paneling which is offset with a gap beneath can present a sheltered "fire flue" effect that's devilishly hard to extinguish.

* In addition, solar panels can't be "turned off", as long as sunlight or the light of flames is reaching them. Firefighters might be reluctant to hose water onto the panels and would certainly refuse to chop through them in order to access and extinguish a roof fire.

* If you lease your residential or commercial building's roof to a solar panel installation company, and should there be a fire, electrocution or storm related damage to the roof or neighbors, determining liability might prove to be difficult.

* Solar power is a young industry with a lot of turn-over. In the event that hail or vandalism damages just one of the panels, will the manufacturer still be in business? Will you loose any "grandfathering" and have to replace all the panels --in order to meet future inspections and code?

* There's also a lot of turn-over in the ownership of homes. Some years ago, the average west coast Oregon home went back on the market at about 5 year intervals. Each time the roofing under those panels is 5 years older, while the (then) current solar panel technology is 5 years more efficient and codeworthy.
(This last one is strictly my own/Craig's point.)

Surely, I needn't belabor the true costs and environmental hazards of coal, petroleum energy and their extraction methods. But let's take a critical look at our choices for alternatives.

Looming large among them is the electric car, which entails beefed up infrastructure to deliver the needed electric energy and wars to secure scarce lithium for batteries. I suggest an "is this trip necessary" approach to reigning in our energy consumption, as well as examining the fecundity and growth which underlies it all.

A minute's reflection tells us that, although individual vehicles take longer to reach a given destination at (say) 30mph instead of 60mph, prudent driving ("one car length between for each 10mph of speed) would allow nearly as many vehicles per hour to be passing by any given point (about 86% as many) --so highway capacity and destination arrivals would be about the same. Side benefits of reduced speed include far less human and animal road kill (which diminishes by more than the square of velocity, if you figure in reaction time) and: significantly better fuel mileage^.

^ Much better than one might initially expect, since vehicles, tires, engines, crashworthy construction and fuel (or batteries, which weigh a ton in Elon Musk's performance cars, and which recently incinerated a driver) --could all be significantly lighter (and cheaper), thus further reducing the power and energy required for a given journey.

So okay, that cuts the over-all cost and operating expense of a vehicle --perhaps in half, especially considering that, with lower rates of wear, damages and injuries, vehicles would last longer, insurance would cost less and cars would probably be needed for fewer commuting miles (due to the return of the single income family and residences being located much closer to work and recreational destinations.

That last point follows --since folks are naturally reluctant to spend twice as long commuting to work, shopping, recreational venues. "The invisible hand of Adam Smith" :-))  --would create many more and closer destinations --in the fashion that southwest Wisconsin is strewn with little Toonerville towns, spaced out as far as a farmer would care to truck his milk to market in the dairy industry's early days.

More "car talk" here.