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Off the Grid: Ready to Pull the Plug on City Power?

What to consider if you want to stop relying on public utilities — or just have a more energy-efficient home Full Story
     Comment   Yesterday
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Living off grid using batteries? Buying "eco-friendly" cars with banks of batteries? Take a deep breath and read the following. Look at the costs of producing your "eco-friendly" batteries. The disposal part costs billions, leaving on tanker-type ships to massive disposal sites. Know the full story.

There are six types of electric vehicle batteries: lead-acid, nickle-metal hydride, nickle-cadmium, lithium ion, zinc-air and flywheels. All are composed of metals, processed and manufactured with varying degrees of environmental impacts. Lead-acid batteries are the most environmentally problematic. Lithium ion poses fewer environmental risks but still places a burden on natural resources.

Mining metals is the process by which large volumes of rock containing metal ore are excavated from the earth. To produce commercial-grade metals, the rock ore must be ground into finer particles which undergo subsequent processing to isolate the metals from waste rock.
Harmful levels of lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium and lithium can end up in groundwater, surface water and air when waste rock which still contains metal particles is disposed at the site. Rainwater leaches the metals into surrounding soils, groundwater and surface water. In relation to greenhouse gas emissions, heavy machinery used in excavation runs solely on fossil fuels.

Once the metals are produced, more processing and refining occurs. For example, the lithium used in batteries is refined through electrolysis. During this process, an electric current is passed through the molten material forcing the lithium onto a cathode. A lot of energy and water are required to heat and cool metals during processing, which sends harmful pollutants into the air through emissions.

Electric car batteries are mass produced using assembly lines. Factories are notoriously large consumers of energy. It is likely that electric car battery manufacturers will implement strict energy efficiency protocols and may rely on renewable energy sources, however, energy supplies will be tapped to produce electric car batteries and waste byproducts will need proper disposal.

All of the electric car battery types are expected to last up to three years when a replacement will be necessary, resulting in many discarded batteries. There are federal and state laws requiring proper disposal of batteries which produce hazardous waste as metals are leach out unfettered. For that reason, metals in batteries should be recovered before disposal. The stripped batteries should then be disposed into specially designed landfills, i.e., those with liners to prevent leaching of remaining hazardous pollutants into surrounding soils and water. Electric car batteries are expected to cost around $8,000. Proper disposal will add to the cost of replacement.

The mass production of electric car batteries will result in large volumes of metal contaminated waste and place as much demand onto the power grid as traditional vehicle equipment manufacturing. Direct environmental impacts may result in reduced fishery habitat near mine sites, decreased air quality and associated lung ailments near processing facilities, and higher energy costs near factories. Indirect environmental impacts may result from increased fossil fuel use to meet factory demand.
on Wednesday at 7:19am     
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Jen, what a provocative ideabook! I can't wait for the rest of the series.

indianeph and cbuckner12 are right. It's far less expensive to acquire energy, water and waste disposal (EWWD) from the grid 99.9% of the time. (Don't try to look up "EWWD". I just made it up to save space.)

The value of off-grid living need not necessarily be measured in money alone. It can also be measured in terms of human lives if we consider the availability of EWWD during and after disasters. We might also measure it's value via the other criteria discussed in the ideabook, such as environmental impact or standards of living in impoverished areas.

However, back to the concept that grid-based EWWD is cheaper as measured in money. I am a land developer. Much of a building's cost is due to cost of developed land, much of which, in turn, is due to utility infrastructure -- water, sewer, electricity, gas, etc. The utilities are generally buried, which is expensive, and typically maintained by the city, county, utility district or home owners association (or whatever your country happens to call them). A house or apartment costs quite a bit more because someone did pay to install that "invisible" infrastructure, and someone continues to tax and pay to maintain and repair it.

If we consider hypothetically a community which is developed (or, better yet, redeveloped) without those infrastructural costs (transportation can be treated separately), it becomes obvious that more capital budget and operating budget would be available for "greening" the buildings themselves. In effect, we would be migrating the costs of EWWD from a connected, grid-based design to a distributed one -- one containing far less pipe and cable and requiring far less excavation and energy.

Much of the perception that off-grid living is too expensive (which is true under the status quo) is because we generally pay for the grid by default. It is bundled with the land and taxes. Then, folks like us come along and consider the costs of distributed (i.e. - "sustainable") EWWD after the fact. By that point, off-grid components duplicate the functionality and costs of their already-paid-for grid counterparts. We need a way to build communities which can make a centralized/distributed choice up front, and know that their price and tax structure works for either scenario. This is possible to accomplish, and, here in Texas, we are working on such solutions at both state and local levels to address water shortages and other environmental issues. (Yes! Even in the heart of oil and gas country, many citizens and officials care about the environment.)

For off-grid to work economically, it needs to be integrated from the ground up by developers, builders and suppliers and taxed thoughtfully by government. That will not happen unless buyers, tenants and voters demonstrate a desire for off-grid, sustainable living.

Would you make the trade-offs in your daily life to live in an off-grid community if the costs were comparable to on-grid living? If enough people were to answer "yes", then the economies of scale will eventually come about to make it feasible.
on Wednesday at 10:06am     
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Richard Ambrosi
Gas stove all the way!!! Try making a nice creamy risotto on an electric stove with the crappy control they have- oh yeah, you can't! lol
Second choice would be induction, great control over the temp, easy to use and most are much safer than gas or electric.
As far as a oven, all about the convection. Once you go convection, you never go back! lol
on Wednesday at 3:37pm     
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MicKat Ken
I have had the glass top electric and the open gas flame cooktop. The glass top wins hands down for keeping clean and offering extra counter top space. It cooked well, just the slow to heat and cool. Gas is a "romantic" cooking experience, with instant response time, but much, much more work to clean. A friend has induction and she loves it. She had to buy new pans, it has instant heat response and the quickest boil I've ever seen, and the super easy to clean glass top. The burners are cool to the touch since it only reacts to the pan. Gas Convection oven, all the way!
on Wednesday at 3:57pm   
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Love my house, it's my creative outlet. Working in banking, it's really great to come home to place hugs me when I walk through the door. I've only been in a year so there is still much to do but I'm loving the journey
last Saturday at 4:10am   
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New laundry room vanity. I found the old sewing machine and refinished it. The sink and sewing machine were pretty cheap the taps were almost the same price as the other two but I loved the way it turned out:)
last Saturday at 5:14pm     
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billiesue14 likes a comment on an ideabook

13 Extra-Cool Things to Do With a Backyard

Sure, you could just plop down on a blanket. Or you could create a dragon’s lair, a mosaic gallery, a party in a jungle ... Full Story
     Comment   March 23, 2014
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Derrick Budd
Converted an old Grainery into this.Foundation stones into a fire pit.My backyard.
March 23, 2014 at 6:56am     
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billiesue14 likes a comment on an ideabook

10 Ways to Boost Creativity by Doing Less

You heard right. Sometimes the best way to refill your creative well is by taking a step back Full Story
     Comment   March 23, 2014
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Do the most dreaded task of the day first. Do I do this? Sometime yes, sometimes ..uuuhhhhh no. But on the days I do, I am a much happier camper. Instant accomplishment and off my plate. So whether it's a much dreaded e-mail, a phone call, the half finished bill paying, or making your bed, get it over with and the rest of the day will feel like a down hill bike ride. Lord, I wish I could take my own advice every day............: )
March 22, 2014 at 6:54pm     
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