Being able to sustain the life we lead is a very important thing but something a lot of people don't even think about. Fuel, food and buildings are areas we really need to take a good look at in our lives as well as all the products we buy and use. On this page I will explain some of the different ways to produce fuel from sustainable sources. I will also give some hints and tips on how to make daily life more sustainable.
Renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power, can be used without depleting the world's natural resources and without causing significant pollution. Using renewable energy can reduce the amount of fossil fuels we use, and so reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, and many other pollutants. Generating your own electricity is usually expensive, but using renewable energy to heat your home is much more cost-effective.
For an independent electricity system, wind and solar complement each other well, as you tend to get most wind in the winter and sun in the summer.
Remember that the first step is always to reduce the amount of energy that you use. Energy-saving measures can save you money quickly as well as lowering your environmental impact. It's also best to minimise your energy consumption before buying a system to meet your heating demand. The book The Energy Saving House gives lots of advice on minimising energy use.
Renewable energy is important because of the benefits it offers:
Renewable energy offers clean sources of energy that are a lot friendlier to the environment than conventional energy technologies.
The increased use of fossil fuels has significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon dioxide, creating an enhanced greenhouse effect known as global warming.
Energy use from fossil fuels is also a primary source of air, water, and soil pollution producing carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter, and lead. These take a dramatic toll on our environment whilst most renewable energy technologies produce little or no pollution.
Pollution and global warming pose major health risks. Air pollution contributes to lung disease including asthma, lung cancer, and respiratory tract infections whilst the long-term effects associated with global warming may be even more devastating. Deaths due to extreme weather could increase, and temperature rises could result in the migration of diseases to parts of the world presently unaffected by them - and produce ideal conditions for their survival.
The quality of our environment would undoubtedly be improved by the use of renewable energy technologies.
Energy for our children and their children's children
Renewable energy will not run out. Fossil fuels, the world's current main source of energy at present, are a finite resource and will someday be depleted - according to the petroleum industry's best analysts the world supplies will start to run out from 2020 to 2060.
Sustainability - meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs - is the only way forward. Renewable energy sources are sustainable and their use will not only benefit us in the present, but will ensure continued energy production for future generations.
Jobs and the local economy
A good deal of the fossil fuels required to provide electricity, heating and fuel are imported. All money spent on energy imports is money lost to the local economy.
Most renewable energy investments are spent on materials and workmanship to build and maintain the facilities. Jobs develop locally - directly from the design, installation and servicing of renewable energy products - thus increasing local economic growth.
Additionally, the income generated from these local jobs is much more likely to be spent in the local community than that which is paid to conventional energy suppliers.
Photovoltaic cells (PVs) are a very different technology from solar water heating, and use light to generate electricity. They are particularly well suited to sites where a grid connection would be difficult or expensive or that are only used in the summer. For an independent power supply, solar works well with wind as there is a good balance of both over the year. Solar electricity, like electricity from other renewable energy sources, doesn't produce carbon dioxide or harm the environment.
Small PV cells are used in calculators and watches. They also provide power to satellites, electric lights, and small electrical appliances. When more power is needed, PV cells can be wired together to form a panel. For large power requirements, PV modules are wired together into an array. PV arrays can produce enough power to meet the electrical needs of your house - or for even larger uses. Because PV systems produce optimum amounts of electricity when the sun is shining, and less when it is cloudy, these systems need batteries to store the electricity for use when required.
Although start-up costs are higher than other renewable technologies, PVs have key advantages:
There are no moving parts to fix so they are relatively easy to install and maintain.
They can be sited in urban areas and are not restricted in the way that wind and hydro-power systems are.
They can replace other roofing materials, for example tiles. The cells are embedded in a flat, waterproof material to form 'modules', which make ideal cladding material for walls and roofs.
They need not take up any additional land space.
It is hoped that efficiency gains will make PVs a very attractive proposition in the next two decades. PV cells are being used to provide electricity for homes, villages, and businesses. Some electric utility companies are building PV systems into their power supply networks.
Solar Water Heating
The sun can heat water for bathing and laundry. Most solar water-heating systems have two main parts: the solar collector and the storage tank. The collector heats the water, which then flows to indirectly heat water in the storage tank. The storage tank can be just a modified water heater, but ideally it should be a larger, well-insulated tank. The water stays in the storage tank until it is needed.
Flat-plate collectors - A common type of solar collector, usually mounted on the roof. This collector is a rectangular box with a transparent cover that faces the sun. Small tubes run through the box, carrying the water or other fluid such as antifreeze to be heated. The tubes are mounted on a metal absorber plate, which is painted black to absorb the sun's heat. The back and sides of the box are insulated to hold in the heat. Heat builds up in the collector, and as the fluid passes through the tubes, it heats up.
Solar water-heating systems can be either active or passive. The most common systems are active, which means they use pumps to move the heated fluid from the collector and into the storage tank.
Passive thermosiphon systems - These involve a water storage tank located above the height of the collectors, usually inside the roof space. Water heated by the collectors is pushed through them and enters the top of the water storage tank and the cold water at the bottom of the tank is simultaneously pushed out and into the bottom of the collector, creating a cyclical motion.
Evacuated-tube collectors - In an evacuated-tube collector, sunlight enters through the outer glass tube, strikes the absorber tube, and changes to heat. The heat is transferred to the liquid flowing through the absorber tube. The collector consists of rows of parallel transparent glass tubes, each of which contains an absorber tube (in place of the absorber plate in a flat-plate collector) covered with a selective coating. Evacuated-tube collectors are modular - tubes can be added or removed as hot-water needs change. Conductive and convective heat losses are eliminated because there is no air to conduct heat or to circulate and cause convective losses since, during manufacture, air is evacuated from the space between the outer tube and the absorber tube.
The UK has the largest potential wind energy resource in Europe. This potential has yet to be fully realised. Wind energy applications in the UK range from small household turbines charging batteries to produce useful electricity in remote locations, to large wind farms producing electricity competitive with conventional power stations.
Modern wind turbines are divided into two major categories: horizontal axis turbines and vertical axis turbines and research advances have helped drop the cost of energy from the wind dramatically over the last 20 years. Renewable energy from the wind is considered a green technology because it has only minor impacts on the environment, producing no air pollutants or greenhouse gases.
Many respected sources state that wind power can provide at least 10% of total UK electricity supply without incurring any disruption to the system, or requiring any back up. Since the UK has a wind resource equivalent to several times the entire country's electricity needs there is enormous potential for development over and above the 10% target. It is also widely accepted that wind power plant in the UK generates electricity at some of the lowest prices in Europe.
Of all the renewable technologies, offshore wind has the potential to deliver the highest quantities of energy, however it is not competitive with onshore wind. Offshore wind energy has the added attraction that it has minimal environmental effects and, broadly speaking, the best resources are reasonably well located relative to the centres of electricity demand.
One of the attractions of offshore wind power is that wind speeds are generally higher offshore than on land. However, this is not the case in undulating countryside such as is found in the British Isles, Italy and Greece since here the winds in upland regions are enhanced, relative to ground level, by the altitude and by acceleration due to hill shape. In the UK, for example, onshore winds range up to around 9.5 m/s at hub height, whereas offshore winds at, say, 5 km from the shore are in the range 8.3-9 m/s.
Wind turbulence is lower offshore so this means that turbines are subject to less stresses from the wind, although this tends to be offset by the higher wind speeds and the need to design the structures against wave loads and wind/wave interactions. The need for more expensive foundations and the need to protect the turbines from the corrosive influence of salt spray, push up the costs of offshore wind energy relative to onshore and also the cost of grid connection at remote upland sites may be more expensive if grid reinforcement is required. However, set against these actual and potential extra costs is a reduction in the civil engineering costs due to the absence of access roads.
There are clearly plenty of options and opportunities in offshore wind energy and it is rapidly becoming competitive with other power generating technologies.
Water wheels have been used for centuries to utilise the energy in falling water to drive grinding mills, pumps and other devices. With the invention of hydro turbines, power from water can be used to drive an electricity generator. Different types of turbines are available and the optimum choice depends strongly on the head and the water flow rate. The most environmentally-sound hydro system does not impact the amount or pattern of water flow that normally exists in the river or stream; such 'run-of-river systems use special turbines placed directly in the river or stream to capture the energy in the water flow. Energy generation is greater if the flow of water is falling from a height through the turbine.
Hydro systems do not create any pollution when they are operating and generally offer highly reliable power. They generally have a long life and very low running/maintenance costs.
Biodiesel (fatty acid alkyl esters) is a domestically produced, renewable fuel that can be manufactured from vegetable oils, recycled restaurant greases and biomass production and is safe and biodegradable. Using biodiesel in a conventional diesel engine substantially reduces emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, sulphates, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and particulate matter.
The use of biodiesel decreases the solid carbon fraction of particulate matter (since the oxygen in biodiesel enables more complete combustion to CO2) and reduces the sulphate fraction (biodiesel contains less than 24 ppm sulphur), while the soluble, or hydrocarbon, fraction stays the same or increases. Therefore, biodiesel works well with new technologies such as catalysts (which reduce the soluble fraction of diesel particulate but not the solid carbon fraction), particulate traps, and exhaust gas recirculation.
Biodiesel has physical properties very similar to conventional diesel. Emission properties, however, are better for biodiesel than for conventional diesel.
Biodiesel fuel can be made from new or used vegetable oils and animal fats, which are non-toxic, biodegradable, renewable resources. Fats and oils are chemically reacted with an alcohol (methanol is the usual choice) to produce chemical compounds known as fatty acid methyl esters. Biodiesel is the name given to these esters when they're intended for use as fuel. Glycerol (used in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, among other markets) is produced as a co-product.
Water - a precious life giving fluid
Water is one of the prime essentials for life as we know it. The plain fact is - no water, no life! This becomes all the more worrying when we realise that the world’s supply of drinkable water will soon diminish quite rapidly. In fact a recent report commissioned by the United Nations has emphasised that by the year 2025 at least 66% of the world’s population will be without an adequate water supply.
As a disaster in the making water shortage ranks in the top category. Without water we are finished, and it is thus imperative that we protect the mechanism through which we derive our supply of this life giving fluid. Unfortunately the exact opposite is the case. We are doing incalculable damage to the planets capacity to generate water and this will have far ranging consequences for the not too distant future.
The spectre of a world water shortage evokes a truly frightening scenario. In fact the United Nations warns that disputes over water will become the prime source of conflict in the not too distant future. Where these shortages become ever more acute it could foreseeably lead to the brink of nuclear conflict. On a lesser scale water, and the price of it, will acquire an importance somewhat like the current value placed on oil. The difference of course is that while oil is not vital for life, water most certainly is!
The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world — more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation. In this context, we cannot expect water conflicts to always be amenably resolved.
More than a dozen nations receive most of their water from rivers that cross borders of neighbouring countries viewed as hostile. These include Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, the Sudan, and Syria, all of whom receive 75 percent or more of their fresh water from the river flow of often hostile upstream neighbours. In the Middle East, a region marked by hostility between nations, obtaining adequate water supplies is a high political priority. For example, water has been a contentious issue in recent negotiations between Israel and Syria. In recent years, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have exchanged verbal threats over their use of shared rivers. (It should come as no surprise to learn that the words "river" and "rival" share the same Latin root; a rival is "someone who shares the same stream.")
Utilities like water are among the most easily controlled expenses we have. When we use them unthinkingly, we're wasting money. Our modern homes are not planned with an eye to conserving anything, so it's up to us to find ways around that.
Although it is the governments and big corporations that can really make a worldwide difference to this problem there is no reason not to do our bit as individuals. Just realising water is a precious resource and not something to take for granted is a start.
Here are a few water saving tips:
Use less to mop and clean with. Not only will you save on water, you'll save on soaps and detergents because it will take less to treat less water. Even if you decrease the amount by a quart, it will add up to several gallons over a month.
If you take a shower rather than a bath and you could save up to 60 litres of water. Ideally you should keep your shower to 5 minutes or less and use a standard shower rather than a power shower as these can use as much water as a bath due to their higher flow rates. If you do have a bath, only fill it as high as you actually need it. These tips will save water and will also save you money on your other utilities such as gas or electricity.
If you wash dishes by hand, pay attention to how much water you use to wash, and how much you use to rinse. As a general rule, it takes less to rinse dishes in a container of water than in running water, but it can be done for less by rinsing a full sink of dishes at one time. Remember the ones underneath get rinsed without extra water!
Only wash full loads, whether that means dishes or laundry. A 'half' load of either uses more than half as much water. Besides that you'll save electricity (or gas).
Get in the habit of being stingy with it. For instance, use the water left in a glass after ice cubes have melted to water house plants. Use your own glass of leftover water to microwave for a cup of tea. Think twice before disposing of any water.
Keep a bowl or container in the kitchen sink to catch water that would otherwise go down the drain. This can be used to wash dishes, mop the floor or clean otherwise, or to water plants. You'll be surprised how much water goes unused down the drain.
Most water companies will supply a water saving device (sometimes referred to as a ‘hippo’) free of charge on request and this can be placed into older (pre 2000) cisterns to reduce their capacities by around 1 litre. This should have no effect on the efficiency of the flush but represents an instant 10 – 15% saving on every single flush. If it becomes necessary to flush twice with the device fitted it should be removed.
Fix any leaking taps or pipes as soon as you can. If you must put up with one for a day or two, put a container under it and use the water for any household purpose.
When using a kettle, only boil as much water as is required. Apart from boiling more quickly, this will save electricity as well as water and may even make your kettle last longer.
When brushing your teeth it is advisable to use a glass of water to rinse your mouth rather than leaving the tap running. This would save an average of 3.5 litres of water each time, an average of 7 litres a day.
The same amount can be saved by cleaning and preparing vegetables in a bowl full of water rather than under a running tap. Waste water from this can be used to water houseplants.
Instead of running a tap until the water is cold in order to drink cold water, fill a jug with water and keep it in the fridge.
Wash your car quickly with a bucket and a rag, then a quick rinse with the hose. (A step ladder will help reach the centre of the top.)
Fill the kiddie pool, but when it's time to empty it, use the water for flowers or garden, or a dry spot on the lawn. Or wash the dog in it.
Never water lawn or garden in the afternoon heat. Much of the water will just evaporate instead of soaking in.
Drip irrigation is much more efficient for vegetable or flower gardens. Least efficient is sprinklers that spray far into the air.
Catch rain water to use for watering things later, or for cleaning. If you live in the country, you can use rain water to wash your hair or face. In the city, soot and air pollution may not allow this.
Don't install or use fountains or other water ornaments unless they use recycled water.
Menstrual Products and Nappies
Nappies and menstrual products are filling up land-fill sites at an alarming rate. 3 billion disposable menstrual products are bought every year and 7.5 million nappies are thrown away daily in the UK alone! How can we possibly hope to sustain that for ever? There are plenty of alternatives out there. Sadly most women have not even heard of them, let alone men! So I would like to take a little time to explain a few.
The mooncup - probably the most widely known alternative menstrual product. A silicone rubber cup worn internally. It can last for 10 years! The mooncup stand is often seen at festivals.
Sea pearls - sponge worn internally. Made from real sponge which is an animal so not suitable for vegans or those who feel ethically this is not right.
Washable pads - cloth pads that can be used over and over again. There are plenty of patterns to make your own online.
Cotton tampons and pads - 100% organic, unbleached, free from chemicals and biodegradable. More like conventional products than any of the above.
Cloth nappies - nappies that can be washed and used time and time again.
Disposable nappies - 100% organic, unbleached, free from chemicals and biodegradable.
Personally I think we should celebrate our womanhood. Menstruating and childbirth can both be painful but are also wonderful. Although we may have been brought up to hide the fact we are menstruating I think it is time women shook off this and bask in the glory of being a woman! It is also worth knowing that evidence shows that a positive attitude and embracing the different stages of your cycle can help alleviate symptoms of PMS and menstrual pain.
Check out my links page for lots of websites selling the above mentioned products.
xxXxx Love to all my Sisters xxXxx