Captain Planet Has a New Team: Wind, Solar, GeoThermal, BioGas


For anyone looking to reminisce, here you go. Back in the early to mid 90's the world was given Captain Planet. He and his team of Planeteers had one goal, to be the "solution" and not the "pollution". Many times they could defeat the problem without the need of Captain Planet himself but for those rare occasions, they would simply combine their powers to summon him. But if you think this is a reunion and they are bringing the show back, that's just wishful thinking and I'm sorry I got your hopes up.

 

The Planeteers were made up of 5 chosen kids across the planet: Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart.

 

Fast forward a couple decades and it looks like Captain Planet may have found himself a similar team with new technology, and not in the form of a person.

  • Wind
  • Solar
  • GeoThermal
  • BioGas

 

So lets break it down with the pro's and con's to see if any of these options could be of benefit to you.

 

 

Wind

If not the most commonly known, it must be the second. Wind is pretty self explanatory. A device, similar to a fan, is designed to use the wind as a force that will turn or rotate an attached component that will create energy during each revolution. These are commonly seen in plain lands where the area is flat and open; perfect situations for consistently steady wind. Unfortunately, if you live in a wooded area that blocks out the wind, or maybe down in a valley, wind wont always be the most practical solution to cutting your bills.

 

Wind is commonly seen in open areas with multiple turbines, known as farms, that power a large amount of homes. As individuals look to be "off grid" this is no doubt an energy source one will consider. While wind speeds are consistency play a big role in these farms, it doesn't seem to take the same toll on a turbine dedicated to a single home as it does on a farm powering a large grid. As of now it appears that wind is used more by utility companies on a large scale and solar is the choice of homeowners. A residential set up is about 80ft tall and needs be in a path of wind that averages about 12 miles per hour. There are also smaller turbine options available for those seeking a supplementary power source for their home.

 

Advantages: Once the turbine is up all you need is wind and that's free, costs continue to go down as wind becomes more popular, unlike solar which is dependent on the sun a turbine has the ability to generate energy all 24 hours of the day, cost continues to lower as technology becomes more accepted and used, they can also safely be used in bodies of water (realistic depth) so location is very versatile

Disadvantages: Wind turbines run the risk of being struck by lightning, wind is not reliable/consistent, the turbines put off a sound between 50 and 60 decibels, turbines are huge and not always practical when you have neighbors, routine maintenance is higher with this source due to the turbine, costly set up. Depending on where you live you may need to removes trees to place a turbine and there is nothing green about that, I read having at least 1 acre is recommended.

 

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Solar

If wind isn't the most commonly known alternative energy, then solar must be it. Again, pretty self explanatory. Devices are created to absorb the heat or energy of the sun's solar rays and convert that into usable energy. This started out as solar panels in a field, moved to solar panels on a roof and now you can see them used on a wide variety of items such as: yard lights, watches/timers, battery charges on trailers, etc. Tesla has even developed solar shingles that look and sit on your roof like normal shingles but absorb the solar energy and send it to a charging station for you to use as you please. Solar isn't practical in those areas that don't receive a lot of sun light such as the northern section of the United States but are put to great use as you get closer to the equator in areas like Pheonix, AZ.

 

There are 3 types of solar panels I could find; mono-crystalline, poly-crystalline and thin film.

  • Mono-crystalline solar panels have the highest efficiency rates, require the least amount of space (producing up to 4 times the electricity as a thin film panel), they typically last longer and thus come with a longer warranty, and these will be your best option for those of you with low sun light conditions. These are also the most expensive option available and tend to be sensitive with small amounts of shade, dirt, snow or anything else getting between it and the sun running the risk of breaking down an entire circuit. The efficiency rates for this style are typically 15-20%.
  • Poly-crystalline panels are simpler to make and in so, they cost less. There is also mention of these panels carrying a lower heat tolerance meaning they will perform worse that a mono panel under higher temps. With a lower cost comes some disadvantages. Since these panels have a lower efficiency rating than their mono counterpart, you will need to cover a larger area with poly panels to make up the difference. the efficiency rates are typically 13-16%.
  • Thin film panels are basically what they sound like, a layer of film that is made of photo-voltaic material. Unlike the silicon and denser crystalline that are cut and molded, these are basically laminated onto the surface of a substrate such as glass, plastic or metal. Since these panels require less fabrication and can be mass produced easily, they are the cheapest option. Since it is a thin film, it is also flexible. These panels have a greater defense again high temperatures and aren't as negatively impacted by shade or something covering it. Unlike the denser crystalline options, since these are so thin they also require the most space to generate similar energy. This style will degrade faster than crystalline so expect a shorter life time and warranty. The efficiency is typically 7-13%.

 

Advantages: Solar energy isn't going anywhere soon unless the sun magically disappears, save on utility bills and potentially sell back surplus electric, can be used to generate both electric and heat, no moving parts so minimal wear and tear, minimal maintenance.

Disadvantages: Upfront expense/capital: Solar energy storage and the panels themselves, weather dependent so don't expect consistent benefits across the globe, replacements and repairs are costly and require a specialist.

 

Image result for geothermal energy for house

GeoThermal

This is one that has been making some headway as of late. The research has been there but very few saw the benefit of adding it to their new construction build process... so it got left out. The problem is, to install this retroactively takes a lot of work and in some case can be a headache with underground pipes and wiring. But a geothermal heat pump system can take advantage of the constant temperature of the upper ten feet (three meters) of the Earth’s surface to heat a home in the winter, while extracting heat from the building and transferring it back to the relatively cooler ground in the summer. Unlike solar and wind energy, geothermal energy is available all 365 days of the year. Since the temperature of the earth right around the 3 meter mark (10 feet which is about the depth of a standard basement these days) is consistently 50 degrees F year round, you could harness this to both heat and cool your home. It was strange to hear at first because I assumed this was only good for heating but that is a very wrong assumption on my part. The systems are set up so that during the winter, the warmth of earth will flood your home but during the summer, the buildings excess heat is transferred back into the earth helping to cool your home. Pretty neat.

 

Currently, the most common way of capturing the energy from geothermal sources is to tap into naturally occurring "hydro-thermal convection" systems, where cooler water seeps into Earth's crust, is heated up, and then rises to the surface. Once this heated water is forced to the surface, it is a relatively simple matter to capture that steam and use it to drive electric generators.

 

Three common closed loop systems are a horizontal system, vertical or a pond system. The horizontal system is the cheapest but requires the most space. Coils or straight runs are placed into just 6ft deep trenches so not all that deep. A vertical system is used for space limited applications. 4" holes are drilled about 15ft apart but drilled down a crazy 100 to 400ft deep. The pond system draws heat from the water instead of the earths soil. This is only practical if you have a very close body of water that you can anchor down coils of geothermal piping 10ft deep.

 

Advantages: 365 days of consistent energy, smallest foot print (It is underground after all), maybe the most efficient renewable energy currently available, no fuel is being burned just a transfer of heat from one location to another, longevity of system.

Disadvantages: Some research shows that after an amount of time you can use all of Earths reserve in a particular location and lose the benefit so it might not be a long term, upfront cost isn't cheap (~$10-$30k depending on new or retro) but the return on investment could show in roughly a decade, Not a DIY project like some of the others (you will need an expert).

 

Image result for bio gas for home flow

BioGas or BioMass

BioGas and BioMass are very similar but I wouldn't go around saying they are the same in front of your science teacher or a professional in the industry. BioGas is manufactured from BioMass. BioGas is a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide, water and hydrogen sulphide produced during the decomposition of organic matter. It is a very unique form of energy in that the gas can be transformed for use in cooking or lighting,  can be transformed into any kind of thermal, electrical or mechanical energy and it can even be compressed into a source of energy for vehicles (larger plants and not household). For those of you concerned with the greenhouse effect, I am reading that this source will curb the greenhouse effect in that the methane emissions are captured and then converting it into a much greener source of energy. The plants used to convert this fuel do a great job of collecting a lot of pollutants which can be a huge improvement around landfills. The toxic runoff from liquids that seeps underground typically makes it to a water supply but BioGas plants can collect that runoff while also killing off pathogens and parasites, improving water quality. BioGas has the added benefit of not only being a fuel to burn but a fuel to treat plants/crops. The by product of BioGas is an enriched organic that can be used in place of chemical fertilizer, then leading to healthier food for the health conscious and organic loyal. The technology seems to be the cheapest of all and this is something that most DIY'ers could set up. Small biodigester can be used at your home to convert kitchen waste and animal manure into a fuel that can be used for electric or provide a burning fuel for cooking. So you are getting the most out of everything and instead of paying for meals that you through 1/4 in the trash, you can now take that waste and turn it into fuel; getting you the most out of each dollar spent. There is even word that the manure from just a single cow in a day can light one light bulb for an entire day.

 

Advantages:  Low start up costs, Low operating cost, long life span, reduce greenhouse emissions, on site use of heat, natural and beneficial way to offset greenhouse effect and improve overall environment, reducing waste while producing energy. A truly reciprocal  method to creating energy while reducing waste.

Disadvantages: Expert maintenance, expert design, production below 59 degrees F is not feasible for large farms (plants tend to go dormant), I dont imagine everyone enjoys the thought or smell of using manure.

 

 

 

There you have it, Captain Planet's new team. There are other renewable energy sources out there like water turbines that would produce energy at dams or waterwheels but those are only applicable to a very select group of people due to the need for a nearby water source that is constantly creating enough flow. While a select few homes could get away with this source for their own home, this is better served in a dam like the Hoover Dam that powers a huge grid. Just my opinion. My home will have better luck with any of these alternative sources here in Ohio. Fortunately/Unfortunately I don't live on the Mighty Ohio to have the luxury or water generated power.

 

So sing it with me and have a great weekend, "Captain Planet... He's our hero... Gonna take pollution down to zero!"