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Archive for July, 2012

The newest source of renewable energy?

I have just found my new favorite renewable energy source. Nope, it’s not solar. No, not wind. No, it’s not even energy from ocean currents (although that’s pretty cool too). It’s electricity generated from stationary bikes. Specifically, stationary bikes pedaled by prisoners. Yes, I just said from prisoners.

A recent NPR broadcast tells the story of a small city near Brazil where prisoners pedal four stationary bikes  that have been rigged to generate electricity. Prisoners volunteer to spend all day in the prison courtyard and take turns pedaling stationary bikes that were donated by a local police department. In return for their efforts, they receive one day off their sentence for every three 8-hour days of pedaling. Plus, they get a pretty good workout.

So how much electricity can be generated by four prisoners pedaling for 8 hour a day? According to the NPR story, the 4 bikes generate enough electricity to power 10 lamp posts. I’m not sure what types of lamps these are, but I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The  point is … they are generating electricity. And, with the exception of needing a bit more food to fuel their bodies, the prisoners are not emitting any green house gases to produces the electricity they are generating.  Brilliant.

Which makes me think … what if we took advantage of this great new renewable energy source right here in the United States? According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were over 735,000 inmates in local jails in 2011. If each of these inmates pedaled for 8 hours a day, they would produce electricity to power 1,837,500 Brazilian lamp posts. WOW!!

Now, I won’t get into whether these stationary bikes are an efficient means of generating electricity (they aren’t) or whether this is even a feasible idea (it really isn’t), but it is fun to think about. If each prison were given 10 stationary bikes to use to generate their own electricity, it  would at least offset some of the electricity being used to house them during their prison term. And, let’s face it, it’s not like they have a lot of other things to do while they are waiting out their time.

Hmmmm … Prisoner Power. It has a nice ring to it.

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Just Add Water

My flowers are drooping, my grass has turned brown and I can literally hear my vegetables begging me for more water.  It makes me a little sad to see them in this state, but with temperatures in the 90’s and 100’s, there is only so much I can do to keep them healthy and robust.  Or is there?

A few years ago, as water restrictions were enforced for the city of Raleigh, I invested in a rain barrel.  At first, I watered all of my plants daily from the rain that had collected in the barrel and felt the smug satisfaction that one feels when conserving … take THAT water restrictions!  My plants were happy, I was happy and I am guessing that in some very small way, Mother Earth was happy.

As the years went on, however, my precious rain barrel became less of a source of sustenance for my plants and more of a source of entertainment for my two daughters as they began to create a variety of soups that only a mother could love.  Soups made from flower petals, rocks, leaves and oh yes, mud.  The rain barrel provided hours of enjoyment for my kids, but alas, it was neglected as a conservation mechanism.

And then the 100 degree heat hit Raleigh.

Although North Carolina is not officially under drought conditions and there are no water restrictions in place, the continued heat made me fear that our water supply was diminishing. One day, as I looked out at my wilting plants and brown lawn, I turned back to my old friend – the rain barrel.  There he stood, full of water and ready to tackle the heat. It was if he was saying “Enough of the playing, let’s get down to business.”

For a few days, this new plan worked out perfectly.  There was more than enough water in the barrel for my plants and my garden.  Everyone thrived.  Everyone was happy.  I was a conservationist again. And then it happened … my rain barrel was dry.  It, too, had succumbed to the heat.

The ironic thing about rain barrels is that they require water just like the plants. They can hold it a bit longer of course, but in the end, no rain means no water.  And so, I made the painful decision to water with (gasp) the hose.  I felt more than a little bit guilty as I looked over at my empty rain barrel with the hose in my hand, but I solemnly told myself that this was only temporary.  Soon, the rain barrel would be full again, and the hose could be put away.

Sure enough, last night we had some rain.  With the natural watering they received, the plants are happy and well nourished.  Cautiously, I glanced into the rain barrel.  It was full.  Welcome back, old friend, I’ve missed you.

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