Successful Low-Energy, Renewable Energy, Projects and Groups

Section
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
Page
8.8

I have endeavoured to provide examples of responses at different scales (e.g. individual/household, town/village, nation), with different emphases (e.g. food or power), origins (e.g. collapse or transition), and technologies (e.g. the very simple and cheap to the sophisticated and expensive).

The 2000-Watt Society is a Swiss group that has estimated that a sustainable future level of energy use for all is 2,000 watts each (per hour). The global average now is 2,500 watts, but this is hugely variable, from 10-12,000 watts for an average American, to ~5,000 for the average Swiss, to 1,000 for the average Indian.

Heinberg1 provides more detail in his ‘Sidebar 24’, which is reproduced here.

Interestingly, he suggests that this potentially sustainable level approximates to that of the average citizen in countries today, such as Serbia or the Dominican Republic.

(Thousandwonders.net. 2017. Belgrade, Serbia)
(Dominican Republic)

 

(Renewable Newstead, 2022).

I picked Newstead as the example here because it is a small town (pop. 754), it has a reputation for an intelligent, independent, ‘can-do’ culture, I am familiar with it (I used to live up the road in Maldon, central Victoria), and as it is in the planning/development phase of the project, it demonstrates nicely what needs to be done to convert a small community in a Western country to renewable energy for its general household/business power supply.

Projects like this, even for a small town, require a lot of just plain old hard work and the group at Newstead has been planning and preparing for a number of years: “Newstead 2021 has been exploring options for transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by undertaking household energy assessments and retrofits, conducting feasibility studies into various renewable energy supply options and preparing a technical paper on Newstead becoming an energy self-sufficient micro-grid.” Newstead to Become Our First Fully Renewable Town | Premier of Victoria 19th Feb., 2015.

Best options need to be evaluated and choices made, tenders need to be developed and providers chosen, a site selected, money raised, and the community informed and engaged. They have worked their way through all this and construction is about to commence.

The facts and figures for Stage I of the proposal are:

  • Solar – 5MW
  • Site – 73 ha, panel area 23.6 ha
  • Battery – 2MW
  • Capacity – 1,080 households
  • CO2 emissions reduction 5, 750 tonnes (eq. 2,925 cars annually)
  • Provider – Flow Power
  • Cost: overall? (Grants have been received of up to $1.2 M); customer costs estimated to be between 10 and 30% lower than at present.
(Renewable Newstead, 2022).
(Renewable Newstead. 2022. Streaky Bay Solar Farm, SA; Newstead’s solar farm will be modelled on this).

It appears to have been a long road since the feasibility study was done in 2011, but hopefully, later adopters will benefit from the experience of towns like Newstead and have more streamlined processes. I look forward to following how it goes when in operation and when the community has joined up en masse.

 

(World Atlas. 2016. Krafla Geothermal Power Plant, Iceland. Plants like these have helped Iceland reduce its GHG emissions by 75% since 1990)

 

As just a brief introduction, these countries lead the way in greenhouse gas reductions since 1990. Amber Pariona for ‘World Atlas’ gives short notes on how some of them have achieved this, but for full details, follow the country links and explore further.

Yes, some of these advances are helped significantly by the luck of geography; for instance the availability of extensive geothermal power in Iceland, or large forests in Suriname for carbon storage, but it would be churlish to deny that these gains would not have been made without significant commitment and investment of finances and political and community will. It is highly commendable, also, that a number of the countries involved are small and by-no-means rich, limiting the resources they can apply to the problem. On the other hand, perhaps their small size makes them more adaptable and manoeuvrable in reducing emissions when compared to the great behemoths of carbon emissions: China, USA, India, Russia and Indonesia2.

(Schetzsle, M/Insteading. 2020. Megan, a recent ‘insteader’, outside her off-grid cabin near Jackson Hole, Wyoming).

There’s a wealth of information on households that have decided to remove themselves from the main, ‘grid’, power system and live ‘off-grid’. Power is usually supplied by wood and small-scale renewables, e.g. hydro, solar cookers, wind, etc. and is often, but by no means always, accompanied by further independence from the standard, First World, food and water systems, transport, entertainment, and more.

Of course, most of humanity has been living this way for millions of years, and very many people live this way now in less developed nations, but I thought the most interesting take on the issue would be to see what those who have had higher- energy lifestyles think about their experience of undergoing a transition to a lower-energy, less-polluting life.

A problem with this topic is that it is often polarised: naïve, rose-coloured accounts on the one side, misery and deprivation on the other. Honest comment is sometimes rare, but the ‘Insteading’ website is nicely balanced between the satisfaction and practicality of living off-grid and the genuine challenges of doing so.

Wren offers the following tips for getting started:

  • Install a Wood Stove
  • Learn from Others Who are Already Doing It
  • If it can be Done by Hand, Learn How
  • Rethink your Evenings
  • Start Searching for your Land.

There is also a most-helpful reading list: “People like “Off-Grid with Doug and Stacy,” “An American Homestead,” and “Rain Country Homestead” were (and are) huge sources of inspiration and encouragement for us. Additionally, older sources are chock-full of wisdom-soaked experience. Even if you don’t agree wholly with their personal philosophies, check out The Good Life by Scott and Helen Nearing, the first 80ish issues of The Mother Earth News (written during the Back-To-The-Land movement of the 60’s and 70’s), or The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency by John Seymour.”

At the end of the article read the comments from readers with experience of off-grid life; they are most informative.

While I think this lifestyle has a great deal to recommend it and I congratulate those ‘having a go’, I have also serious doubts as to the applicability of this lifestyle for the huge numbers of people living in cities now. Where is the land for such ventures and how can the old, ill or frail manage the hard physical work required, or the cold if located in difficult climates? I am sure this lifestyle is part of the answer to the question of what does a low-energy future look like, but it will only be more generally applicable for a much smaller population and a fitter and healthier one at that.

  • Transition Towns

Heinberg1 concludes that one of the major problems of transition is that there is a lack of a coherent, attractive vision of the future that is worth struggling for. In the absence of this he feels that groups are confined to just two strategies: being against something, or promoting fear. He doubts that this is enough, and recommends the attempt to fill this vital gap by the Transition Towns movement and the work of Rob Hopkins.

Hopkins founded the Transition Towns movement and as well as his book on imagining the future, ‘From What Is To What If’3, he has a subscription podcast of 17 episodes for 3 pounds/month –  Podcast – Rob Hopkins .

The Transition Towns website can be accessed here: Transition Network | Transition Towns

and their comprehensive transition handbook here: The-Essential-Guide-to-Doing-Transition-English-V1.2.pdf (transitionnetwork.org) . They offer all sorts of supportive resources, including training, and their global coverage to date is most impressive with over 1,000 groups established – see map.

 

 

(Transition Towns. 2022. Global distribution and numbers of groups, hubs, and trainers).

 

1 Heinberg, R. 2021. Power: Limits and Prospects for Human Survival. New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, Canada.

2 List of countries by greenhouse gas emissions – Wikipedia

3 Hopkins, R. From What Is to What If: Unleashing the Power of Imagination to Create the Future we Want. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, USA.

Explore Other Energy Descent and Transition

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8.2 Background

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8.4 Responses: 1. Classical Economics and Business as Usual

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8.5 Responses: 2. Substitution with Renewables

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8.7 How Individuals can Assist, Plan, Commence Transition

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8.8 Successful Low-Energy, Renewable Energy, Projects and Groups

I have endeavoured to provide examples of responses at different scales (e.g. individual/household, town/village, nation), with different emphases (e.g. food or power), origins (e.g. collapse or transition), and technologies (e.g. the very simple ...

Explore Other Sections

1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship
1. Build the Nature-Human Relationship 1.1 Articles 1.2 Art Installations 1.3 Books 1.4 Buildings 1.5 Film, Documentaries, Podcasts 1.6 Music 1.7 Paintings 1.8 Photographs 1.9 Poems 1.10 Spiritual Responses
1/11

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2. Reduce Consumption
2. Reduce Consumption

2. Reduce Consumption

I hope Reneé Descartes would forgive us for saying that, at least for the modern world, he was wrong.  When, in 1637, he said: “I think, therefore I am”, he could not have anticipated that the majo...
3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality
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3. Replace God of Growth with God of Quality

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4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment
4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

4. Work, Volunteer, Act for the Environment

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5. Reduce Population
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6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context
6. Ensure Media Acknowledgement of Environmental Context

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7. Stop Further Loss of Natural Habitat and Species
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8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition
8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

8. Assist Energy Descent and Transition

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9. Support New, Environmentally-Aware, Economic Systems
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10. Reduce Wastes to the Rate of Natural Assimilation
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