Parts and Experience

So it’s a really amazing trade of experiences going on right now. They’re shocked by my ability to pull circuit board diagrams off the web and I’m amazed at their ability to electrically verify every component of a 50 year old 5 KW alternator in about 15 minutes. This is the thing that really amazes me about these guys, every time I talk about something that to most people I know in the states is some esoteric aspect of my knowledge, like acid etching circuit boards, or greensand casting aluminum they already have more experience with the skill than I do.

Continue reading

Beyond Peak Oil


New York Times: The Breaking Point – Sunday August 21, 2005

“Even if the Saudis are willing to risk damaging their fields, or even if the risk is overstated, Husseini points out a practical problem. To produce and sustain 15 million barrels a day, Saudi Arabia will have to drill a lot more wells and build a lot more pipelines and processing facilities. Currently, the global oil industry suffers a deficit of qualified engineers to oversee such projects and the equipment and the raw materials — for example, rigs and steel — to build them. These things cannot be wished from thin air or developed quickly enough to meet the demand.

‘If we had two dozen Texas A&M’s producing a thousand new engineers a year and the industrial infrastructure in the kingdom, with the drilling rigs and power plants, we would have a better chance, but you cannot put that into place overnight,’ Husseini said. ‘Capacity is not just a function of reserves. It is a function of reserves plus know-how plus a commercial economic system that is designed to increase the resource exploitation. For example, in the U.S. you have infrastructure — there must be tens of thousands of miles of pipelines. If we, in Saudi Arabia, evolve to that level of commercial maturity, we could probably produce a heck of a lot more oil. But to get there is a very tedious, slow process.’ ”

So reading this today it occurred to me small energy has a similar problem to large energy, getting qualified trained people with access to materials. Except it is a lot easier and cheaper to train somebody to make biodiesel or site some hydro locations, foundry cast a couple hundred Pelton turbines and convert some alternators into generators than it is to train somebody how to drill through half a mile of rock and extract some crude. Somehow, considering I’m training people to build biodigesters on the same budget it would take an oil company to treat an equal number of Texas A&M students to lunch, I think I’ll have an easier time finding and training people than they will . . .

Things I MUST see (an ongoing series)

So flights from New York to Iceland are cheap. Unfortunately that’s just about the only thing about Iceland that is cheap or I would have been there a long time ago. I’ve got to get a study gig there or something (I have a friend who studied in Iceland and lived the joys of free heat, free internet, free saunas, free healthcare and other socialized goodies) because Iceland is that rugged, cold, little geothermal utopia I have been dreaming about. Apparently Iceland has a stated goal of being carbon neutral and ultimately an energy exporter. They are converting municipal transportation to hydrogen. Fishing fleets are moving to biodiesel. But where do they get the vegetable oil? From extensive geothermal heated and powered greenhouses, of course. They grow every fresh fruit and vegetable you could imagine in Iceland in massive greenhouses. They even do some animal husbandry in greenhouses. I was told last week they have sheep in pasture greenhouses. Think of that geothermically powered arctic greenhouse sheep! That is the kind of stuff I just have to see.

Conducting Interviews

There is an incredible level of potential energy here. The students here are like beautiful flowers laying dormant in their seeds for rains that can bring the realization of stronger communities and a healthier future.

José greeted me with a smile, a handshake, and a dozen apples picked from his family farm. Recommended by an ebullient eccentric professor at the Instituto Tecnica industrial, José proficiently answered a series of electronics questions, had leadership experience, spoke the local Kiche, and most importantly had an intensely determined energy about him.

Continue reading

The Field Project in Guatemala, April 2005: Getting Started

In the winter of 2005, plans were developed for the first AIDG sponsored project. After successful fundraising efforts and continued contact with previous
organizations from earlier volunteer experiences, two areas in Guatemala were
selected. AIDG had experimented with a variety of devices from the open-source appropriate technology community. The designs for a small-scale windmill and biodigester were selected and slightly modified to meet the apparent needs of the target communities. The AIDG working partnership with end-users will be able to further modulate technologies as they are needed based on local conditions, capacity, and requirements.

Continue reading

A Letter Turned Blog

Below is a letter I wrote to a friend late one night. I realized while writing it that it was more of a general description of what I’m involved in, and decided to blog it.

Dear Rob,

It’s 1230 AM, I just finished writing a grant application that’s due later today (well, I guess today is an odd concept due to time zone differences). Anyway, I’m up on coffee, which I never drink, and have been in a writing ‘zone’. Sadly, the coffee came from the antithesis of what our organization supports (we support small-scale decentralized sustainable agricultural systems, for example). The only internet café open past 10:00PM in this city, is located inside a McDonalds. Perhaps some sort of analogy or metaphor can be made regarding this irony, maybe something like a poorly translated Chinese saying like, ‘from cow dung comes flowers’…ok, maybe that’s a stretch. Anyway, the grant application for the Conservation, Food, and Health Foundation is complete. I hope they think what we’re doing is what they want to support. I’ve never been more convinced that what I’m doing really is the solution to many development challenges. It sounds arrogant, I realize, but of all that I’ve read and seen, I can’t imagine a better way to support sustainable development. I know you have a critical mind, so I fully welcome your thoughts on any potential faults of our model. Often, it seems, that people fully immersed in what they are doing lose the forest through the trees, so they say. Perhaps that is what is happening here…

Continue reading

A New Model of Business Incubation

The organization goes beyond providing low-cost technologies that facilitate positive infrastructure improvements benefiting both people and the environment. AIDG is dedicated to creating a new working-model for sustainable development. It is about grassroots initiatives, public participation, and self-sufficiency. As the critique of CAFTA demonstrates, many of the enormous World Bank and IMF projects such as dam creation have many long-term negative effects to both the environment and the people. Although they may boost a country’s GDP and benefit the wealthy and powerful elite, these projects often do not actually benefit the people that they purportedly claim to help.

Continue reading

A Picture of Sustainable Development

What is sustainable development? As Adil Najaam, a Tufts University Professor of Sustainable Development asserts, “ I do not know what sustainable development is, and frankly, I do not care what the definition is—what I do know is what aspects of sustainable development look like.” These include what the academic literature describes as the Sustainability Triangle; where ecological integrity, economic development, and equity meet. A common definition of sustainability is found in the Brundtland Report, a 1987 document stemming from the World Commission on Environment and Development that lead to the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro. Here, sustainable development is defined as development that “meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” An expanded understanding of sustainability has in the last 25 years incorporated issues of environmental justice. Julian Agyeman, another faculty member at Tufts, defines sustainability as “ the need to ensure a better quality of life for all, now and into the future, in a just and equitable manner whilst living within the limits of supporting ecosystems”.

Continue reading

A Rain and Brainstorm

Ideas streamed onto the table like the torrents of rain released from dark clouds overhead. Crackles of thunder bounced off the many volcanoes and echoed through the valley that contains the bustling industrial city of Quetzaltenango. Lighting occasionally struck nearby, and frequently in the minds of three ideologues overlooking the city from the perch of El Alquimista Рa restaurant and caf̩ 20 minutes uphill from their hostel. Alchemy, described on the cover of the menu, not only can be the study of transforming metals into gold, but of the transformation of ideas into reality. Magical realism, a style of writing practiced by the locally revered author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, perhaps inspired the naming of this organic restaurant and educational farm. A question is posed: do the transformation ideas into reality have to be reserved for magic and fairy tales?

Continue reading

Through the dust…

…a shop appears.

It has been rewarding and impressive to see a lively workshop come to life out of what was initially a dark, dusty, bee and spider infested place. It’s still a bit dusty, but is clamoring with students building workbenches and doors out of rough sawn wood; and welding racks and security doors out of stock iron. The rough wood gives the place a bit of a New Englandish feel which seems slightly out of place here.

I am a bit sad that I will leave before I get to see them build a windmill or cast a Pelton wheel in the shop, but after a few days of watching them work together, it doesn’t seem all that far fetched anymore.