ET drives an EV

I’m still visiting Jupiter, and I found out that Burt Reynolds is from Jupiter.  I ate lunch at a cafeteria today near the test facility I’m working at, and apparently, EVs are quite popular here, too.  Two Nissan Leafs and a Chevy Volt are shown plugged into a charging station below. We need to follow the example being set by the citizens of Jupiter.

I ordered some Sun Catcher car door magnets and baseball hats, and they arrived at home today.  We want you to be able to spot us on our journey.  Pull over and say hi when you see us stopping for a charge!


Sustainability and Winglets

Electric vehicles and comfortable healthy homes are just part of the puzzle to live sustainably.  The puzzle is complex, and if it isn’t put together properly, the desired result may not be what is needed.

How much energy is needed per person?  My estimate is 5000 to 7000kWh of energy per year for your daily living (household operation) and transportation (~10,000miles per person per year) as we move toward efficient homes and vehicles.

This is about $600 to $900 worth of energy per person per year at today’s solar energy cost.  Some regions need more (Alaska) and some less (California).  You can think of this as about 300 to 400 sqft of solar collection surface area per person.  The installed cost is about $50 per sqft for the solar system, for an upfront cost of $15,000 to $20,000.  That’s about $5 to 6 trillion to completely solar power everyone in the US, which is a small fraction of the projected national debt, and about the amount it costs to wage war for a decade or so to protect the oil industry’s interest.

Reaching a self-sustaining way of life is complex, and solving that puzzle is our challenge.  It is common sense that an unsustainable way of life is, well, unsustainable.

What we can’t predict is when or how the implications of our unsustainable ways will make itself known.  Will it manifest itself through the unsustainable buildup of wastes that pollute and alter the environment we need for living?  Or will it be a dwindling resource we developed an essential reliance on?  Will the difficulties occur in 1 year or 1000 years?

What we can predict is our failure if we do not maintain a sustained effort over whatever time it takes.  Championship teams are the ones who maintain a sustained effort for the whole game, not the final inning or minute of play.  Losers think they can make up for a lack of effort with a spurt of activity at the end.

Here’s a small piece of the puzzle.  Ever wonder about the “winglets” that have been appearing on the tips of airplane wings?  According to WOE (Winning the Oil Endgame), these pieces improve a plane’s aerodynamics and reduce its fuel consumption by 3 to 4%.  The installed cost of a pair of winglets is about $700,000 (think employment), and the lifetime fuel savings is about $800,000 (think avoided oil cost…a large fraction of which is exported to people who don’t care for you very much).

Notice the rich Illinois farmland on the ground below the plane.  As written over the main portal to Davenport Hall on the University of Illlinois campus: “The wealth of Illinois is in her soil and her strength lies in its intelligent development” by Draper.

Jupiter and Beyond

I went to Jupiter today….Jupiter, Florida, that is, for some work activities.  I had a phone message from Hassett Ford in Wantagh NY that The Sun Catcher has arrived!  Of course, they didn’t refer to our car as The Sun Catcher, but Hassett has been very helpful and even put Ford’s media folks in contact with us regarding our trip activities.

We’re getting trip details put together, and basically have the following laid out:

1) Fly to NYC on July 3 (Tues), and pick up car; drive to eastern Long Island to sister/brother-in-law’s (~50-60 mile drive) to try things out….hope they charge the car up for us!

2) July 4, drive back to Massapequa to visit more relatives and to continue getting a feel for the car.  Celebrate Independence Day with a real feeling of independence!

3) July 5, drive into NYC and see some sites….you might find the places we visit to be quite unusual and hopefully interesting!

4) July 6 and 7, more driving around Long Island; prepare to launching off on the journey.

5) July 8, leave on the journey with White Plains (charge up and try to look up a very old friend of mine, Phoebe, who I think you will enjoy meeting); visit “Camp” where Deb and I met (and who knows what might happen there); and end up in Poughkeepsie for the night.

So, at least one day is planned.  A few more to go in order to make it to Detroit.  Stay tuned!

Sustainable Teachers

I had the privilege today of hosting a tour and giving a dinner talk to a group of middle school science teachers attending a two day workshop (iRISE) on energy and science at the University of Illinois.  We toured Equinox House, Gable House (2009 Solar Decathlon competition house), and if that wasn’t tough enough on them, they also had to listen to me at their dinner.  Middle school teachers are pretty tough, as we all know….they have to be.  Aren’t you thankful there are people willing to brave the classrooms filled with our most energetic kids?

I showed this picture of a crumbled Byzantine wall in Istanbul (isn’t it curious that someone lives in the wall), and noted that an essential piece of sustainability is education.  Without our teachers and educators, there is no effective way to pass on the knowledge and understanding required to prepare the next generation for the challenges that face them.  As the Mayan culture decayed, they could no longer read or write, losing valuable information on how to sustain a complex society.

If you are a teacher, I hope our journey provides you with some information of interest to your class and that you “plug” them in to our website.  And, be sure to ask us lots of questions.

Here’s another picture I showed that comes from the base of a statue called the “Alma Mater” on the University of Illinois campus.  Hopefully we really mean it.


Ford Tri-motor and Father’s Day Gifts

On Sunday I had the opportunity to fly in a Ford Tri-motor airplane, the first mass produced metal aircraft.  Ed Vinarcik has written an excellent article on the Tri-motor.  I’m working on an article on renewable energy powered flight as air travel is essential for a sustainable future.  The article will be located in the Power, Transportation and Communication section of the website.

Here are some pictures of me with the Tri-motor.  From Ed’s article above, the Tri-motor cruises at 90mph and consumes 45 gallons per hour of fuel, which combines for a gas mileage of 2 miles per gallon, which doesn’t sound too great.  But, with 12 people in the plane, this is 24 miles per gallon per person, which is not so bad (think of us driving solo in a car that only gets 24 miles per gallon).  With modern passenger aircraft, reaching 100 miles per gallon is a reality, and powering it with a variety of sustainable fuel sources is practical.

This plane was the first one in Eastern Airline’s fleet in 1929.

Where was it made?  In THE Motor City, of course!

Can you see Equinox House in this picture?  This is where the old meets the new.  If you locate the oval pond near the curve in the interstate, we are the little white speck between the pond and the interstate.  Why can you see Equinox House, but not the neighboring homes?  That white roof reflects rather than absorbs, and it makes a big difference on comfort.

Just as the Tri-motor and I look old and out-of-date, I expect Equinox House to look like the Model T of super performance, 100% sustainable housing sometime in the future.  Although difficult to see, I have my “Photon Torpedo” tee-shirt on from the University of Illinois’ 1997 Sunrayce Team.  The front says “Resistance is futile”.  Here’s a picture of the Photon Torpedo I found on the web.

One final note with the recent Father’s Day.  We had an enjoyable day with a crawdad boil at a local bar that was serving beer from one of my favorite breweries (Bell’s from Kalamazoo Michigan).

I enjoy bbq and sour cream n onion, as reflected by my Father’s Day gifts from the kids.  My chickens were also quite happy with the presents .  As strange as these “foods” may seem now, will the path of unsustainable living lead to a shift in food production from our current to one consisting of protein-rich bugs?  Hormigas con queso, anyone?


WICD TV story tonight

The news story on Equinox House ran last night on WICD, and Reporter James Fillmore did a nice job packing a lot into 60 seconds.  It will take a bit more than 60 seconds to give the details on how the house functions and how one designs the features needed to make a house function properly, so that it can be economically operated on solar power.  For more details on that, a series of a 12 month series of articles that my son, Ben, and I wrote for an engineering journal (but written for a general audience) provides a lot of this information.  Be sure to make a strong pot of coffee before delving into these articles!

Here’s a recent picture of Deb (Nana) and our punky grandbaby, Blaire.  I like this picture because of Deb’s (but not Blarie’s) expression of pure joy.  This is what it’s all about.  Building a better future for our children.

Solstice Sunset on Equinox and Deb in the News

It’s June 20, the summer solstice, and for Equinox House, that means a special sunrise and sunset.  I hope you’ll excuse my poor photographic attempts to capture how the shape of our front yard is aligned with the sun as it sets on the solstice (check out how the sunlit grass is parallel to the grass edging and the line of seedum in the front yard).  This line also marks sunrise on the winter solstice.  It is important to understand how the sun moves relative to the buildings we design.  For ancient cultures needing to plant crops at the proper time, knowing the sun’s path was a matter of life and death.  We added some fun features like this around Equinox House to help visitors (a couple thousand to date) understand how the sun interacts with a building.  Fortunately, I could run to Walmart and buy some lawn edging to mark the solstice rather than enslaving a populace and forcing them to carve and strategically place huge rocks in our yard.  Maybe we can draw some of the Machu Pichu and Stonehenge crowds to Urbana, and make a few bucks selling crystals?

Deb has a somewhat reluctant look as a local television station prepares to interview her about Equinox House.  Fortunately, she didn’t say anything incriminating, and only minor bleeping will be needed in the editing room.  We’ll provide a link once we’re notified that the “spot” is being aired.  This is good practice for our anticipated media onslaught as we prepare to launch The Sun Catcher in another two weeks(yikes!….the trip is coming up fast).  Between Deb’s NY accent and my southwest Missouri drawl, most folks watching will be heard asking, “What did they say?”.

The Sun Catcher has been Born

We received information that The Sun Catcher (our Ford Focus EV) was born on June 13, 2012.  The Sun Catcher’s birth was attended by 1200 Ford employees at the Michigan Assembly Plant.  Everything went well, and we will pick up our baby in two weeks at Hassett Ford in Wantagh, NY.

We will visit Ford’s MAP on our trip from New York City to Detroit to charge up a bit at one of their EV stations, and to extend our thanks to Ford’s employees for bringing a wonderful technology to the marketplace.

We’re getting more specific details put together for our trip and will be posting information as things develop.  Currently, we plan to fly to NY on July 3, tool around NYC and Long Island for a few days to get used to the car (and vice versa), and to bother our relatives a bit.  The rough route will be up the Hudson River, along the Erie Canal, across Ontario to Port Huron Michigan, and then Detroit.  After a few days in Detroit, we’ll head back to Urbana, but are undecided which route to take.  I’m leaning toward Ft Wayne to Indy (maybe a lap around the Indy 500 track?) to Urbana, but maybe we’ll head to the Windy City and home.

How can flying to NYC to pick up a car be sustainable?  Well, it isn’t, at least not yet, but it can and will be.  As we look into more details on living a solar powered, sustainable, healthy life, we will look into that in more depth.  For now, two creditable sources of information regarding air transport can be found at the Carbon War Room and the Rocky Mountain Institute’s “Winning the Oil Endgame” websites.

Crossing Paths with Henry and Thomas

As much as I like looking forward to how we can make positive changes to ensure a bright future for our children, I enjoy looking back to see where we’ve been.  This past week, my son, Ben, and I went fishing around Grayling Michigan with some friends.  No fish species will ever become endangered as our lack of fishing instincts keeps them safe.

We fished the North Branch of the Au Sable, a famed Michigan trout stream that was also a favorite of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.  The NB of the Au Sable near Lovells Michigan is a beautiful river, and certainly provided Henry and Thomas the atmosphere where many ideas can be spawned.

As an employee of Edison’s “Edison Illuminating Company” in Detroit, Henry Ford once received encouraging words from the world famous inventor regarding Henry’s efforts to develop an automobile.  Henry never forgot Edison’s kind words, and as Henry became a giant in the automotive industry, a lifelong friendship developed with fishing and camping as a favorite relief from the grind.

Sustainable living with modern technology was an important goal of both Ford and Edison.  They could see firsthand how the required resources and their associated pollution wastes for the automotive and power generating industries could not be sustained indefinitely.

Henry and Thomas both built homes in Ft Myers Florida for winter vacations.  Thomas Edison built an adjacent laboratory dedicated to the development of bio-materials.  Henry financially supported Edison’s efforts.  Henry was an early advocate of the development of sustainable materials, developing bio-based plastics for automotive parts.  The Ford Focus EV puts these efforts into practice with bio-based foam seat cushions and seat fabrics fabricated from recycled plastic resins.  With continued effort, we will reach the goal of 100% cradle-to-cradle products required for a sustainable future.

During the Sun Catcher’s journey from New York City to Detroit, we are going to cross paths with Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and many others who have played an important part in the development of technologies needed for living a solar powered, sustainable life.  I hope you will find it interesting as we see how the inventions of jello, the ticker tape machine, the telegraph, the first air conditioned building,and my GreatGreatGrandfather in Port Huron Michigan intertwine in a series of historical events…some significant and some not so important….that have impacted our ability to create a sustainable future for our children.

The Sun Catcher has been built

We just received news that the Sun Catcher has been built and will be headed to New York with an anticipated delivery date near the end of June. We’ll pick the car up at Hassett Ford in Wantagh as soon as we can, take a few days to visit relatives and get a feel for the range and charge cycling, and then head to Detroit.

Between now and then, the real preparations begin.  Lots of stops along the trip to plan.  Hopefully we can raise interest and awareness that solar energy will power everything we’d like and need to do.