Friday, February 22, 2008

The Citizen Powered Energy Handbook-- Greg Pahl-- Review

The Citizen Powered Energy Handbook Community Solutions to A Global Crisis by Greg Pahl is a primer on renewable energy at the community and household level. It focuses on the idea of CSE-- Community Supported Energy. The author compares this to CSA-- community supported agriculture.

The book describes solar power (solar hot water and photovoltaic), water power (micro, small, medium, and large hydro, hydrokinetic, wave power, and tidal power), wind power, biomass (pellets, syngas, wood, cofiring), liquid biofuels (bioidiesel, ethanol, and SVO-- straight vegetable oil), and geothermal energy. Examples are given for both houses, district plants, and community efforts.

Greg Pahl gives two personal examples of renewable fuel use in his home. He has a pellet burning biomass heater, and a solar hot water heater in his house. At one point he also lived off the grid with a wind turbine as well. He is clearly interested in describing straightforward real life examples of renewable energy use. Some of these are a micro-hydro system for individual houses on P.126, and a wood gas powered truck on P.174.

The majority of examples are real in use systems. Some of them, I thought were quite interesting. There was a municipal wastewater hydropower installation and a downtown central geothermal heating installation for several buildings in a city.

A few renewable energy use examples are for communities. He describes a solar powered central hot water heating system for a cluster of houses. Greg Pahl describes how a biofuel cooperative works, Piedmont Biofuels in Pittsburgh, North Carolina. They produce biodiesel and bio hieating oil.

Greg Pahl suggests some legislative initiatives like net metering and group net metering, as well as the CBED-- Community Based Energy Development legislation in Minnesota. He also describes the basic structure of cooperative ownership for small scale renewable energy projects.

There are lots of black and white illustrations and photographs throughout the book. Many are basic descriptions of how a particular type of renewable energy works. For example on P. 245, there is a picture of how a geothermal heat pump works. Some of the pictures are quite classic; they look like clusters of back to the land types and hippies standing next to renewable energy equipment.

Politically this book is focused on the concept of peak oil. He is very much concentrated on the idea that big government is not going to help you solve your energy needs. He claims that one of the only things to do is create small centers of independent energy use because the future is going to suddenly become much more local. We in the United States are in for some rough times ahead.

The book is well organized and easy to read. On Pp. 301-308, there is a guide to organizations that work with renewable energy. Many of the organizations are community based. It includes addresses, phone numbers, and websites. There are also endnotes, a glossary of renewable energy terms, a bibliography, and an index. This book was written in January 2007, so the information is still fairly current.

If you are interested in how renewable energy works, or want to read about how to create community supported renewable energy projects, this book is for you. This book is not a big fix to save the world book. It will not tell you global solutions. It is also the kind of book which will not be reviewed by the mainstream press.

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