Nuclear power could solve all your energy problems, but it comes at a price. Every country that developed nuclear weapons in the last 30 years began with a “peaceful” nuclear program, and every day in the USA, a source of lethally radioactive isotopes is lost, stolen or abandoned – potential material for “dirty” bombs designed to contaminate targets with radiation. Meanwhile, the irradiated 3,000 square kilometers around the site of the 1986 reactor meltdown in Chernobyl, Ukraine, will still be uninhabitable in 20,000 years time.
Your safest alternative should be renewables – human error can’t make the sun melt down and if a windmill falls into the wrong hands, well, fine. The energy from just 0.3 percent of the Saharan sun could power the whole of Europe, reports the European Commission’s Institute for Energy. Sadly, available technology isn’t up to it yet: a project already underway will, when it’s finished in 2050, only be capable of supplying a sixth of Europe’s energy needs.
“Use your surroundings,” says Siddappa, an illiterate 65-year-old farmer-turned-inventor from Karnataka, India. He used to charge his mobile phone† with a windmill generator, but has upgraded to a water wheel. “It produces more power than the windmill,” he says. “Now, my and my brother’s families are using electricity for TV, radio, recharging our mobile phone and having lights.”
But only for three months of the year; the other nine, Siddappa’s brightly colored water wheel stands still. Droughts dry out the stream it stands over, and are set to become 30 percent more frequent in Karnataka by 2030. Harnessing the climate is great, until the climate changes.
† Sixty-five percent of Africans now own a cellphone. The problem is charging it. In Liberia, rural phone owners must walk to a roadside generator where they can pay to plug in.
How to build a windmill
First, find a good spot. On top of a hill, by the sea, or anywhere else clear of trees. Then get to work. Siddappa’s sails are made of wood and metal sheets from the roof of his cowshed. These turn a bicycle tire, which spins a dynamo connected to a car battery. Connect the battery to your house and wait for a gust to come. Whether you’re an illiterate farmer or a multinational energy company, the wind will do what it wants.
Other ways to make power at home
In 30 minutes on an exercise bike you can burn 270 calories and produce enough electricity to run a laptop for an hour. Maya Pedal, a Guatemalan NGO, uses old bikes to power blenders, water pumps and washing machines.
Tell children to do their bit. Connected to a dynamo and power-storage unit, the energy generated in 10 minutes by two children vigorously playing on a seesaw can light your living room for a whole evening.
Find someone to harness to this generator from Malawian innovator Cedrick Ngalande, and suggest they take a walk. The wheels dragging along the floor generate around two watts at walking speed, enough to charge a cellphone.
In one year the same amount of greenhouse gases are produced by an average British household’s electrical appliances as by the manure and flatulence of a cow. Take advantage: capture the methane from a cow’s farts, then burn it.
From the pages of COLORS #84 - APOCALYPSE.