NOTE: Make sure you read the first three posts (in order!) before tackling the rest, or it could be confusing: Post 1 is Designing the future, Post 2 is Setting up the problem, and Post 3 is Estimating basic requirements.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

We've moved!

Come check out the new site at! Please update your links to PeakOilDesign if you have a chance.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Forest Soil Managment

Continuing with the topic of soil management, this article on the importance of forest soil nutrition for carbon sequestration was intriguing. If you hope to help fight global warming by planting trees, make sure you pay attention to soil nutrition or you may end up doing very little to remove carbon dioxide. It’s also something to consider if you want a healthy source of timber after Peak Oil.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Exciting news!

In the near future, PeakOilDesign will be transferring to a new site with a lot more functionality! I hope to make the switch within a week, so stay tuned for the link to the new site. In the meantime, here's a teaser from the "How to use this site" document:

PeakOilDesign contains several tools to aid in developing post-Peak Oil communities. The front page features the original PeakOilDesign blog, used to present Systems Engineering design strategies for Peak Oil, sustainability news, updates on design projects, and other relevant thoughts. Feel free to write comments in response to the posts or other commenters.

The Community Organization Forums provide an opportunity for people to communicate with one another in an attempt to build communities. Users can provide detailed information about their skills and resources (via their user profile) and look for compatible communities. Established communities can provide information about themselves and run their own forums -- either to discuss internal issues or recruit new members.

The Guilds enable experts within a given field to share their information with the less experienced or discuss advanced topics with one another. Newbies and experts alike can share their experiences, failures, and successes.

Registered users have the option of starting their own blogs on PeakOilDesign. These can be used to share projects, ideas, or concerns. POD Blogs are an ideal place for discussing the design of your house, garden, or community and receive feedback from the POD community.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Newfound sites

I've come across some sites in the past week with some very encouraging information and strategies. Oil, be Seeing You by author Richard Embleton takes a view remarkably similar to my own regarding the best approaches to mitigating Peak Oil effects. An excerpt:

I am not one who believes that survival, other than for a very few, consists of rugged individual survivalism on an isolated homestead in the midst of the wilderness or in reverting to a hunter-gatherer existence. We are social beings. Long-term survivability after energy decline must center on community, whatever form that community might take. The survivability of communities well past peak-oil, however, is far more than a case of self-sufficiency. It is also a matter of self-reliance, of having within the community the full measure of skills needed for survivability, of being able to produce or locally acquire everything that that community needs to function.

To that end, EcoSherpa has a post on solar panels made from blueberries. The site in general contains a number of excellent posts and really serves as a news source for edge-of-the-envelope sustainability news. They also link to a new site that could be promising, The Better World Homepage. I'd love to see how this one develops.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Global Warming meets Peak Oil Design

Continuing with the discussion of weather effects from a couple posts ago, there are a lot of other requirements we can define.

Jeff pointed out that we need to more carefully examine how much rain falls during the growing season, rather than just the whole year’s average. I’m looking for the data on that for our selected Iowa location and I’ll get back to you.

In the following draft requirements, the term “withstand” may need some further definition. The understanding of what withstanding something may vary from person to person – some might consider it to mean every part of the structure and farm stays intact, and some might imagine it means only the core structure must survive. Any thoughts on a better way to define this term?

The Homestead shall withstand temperatures of 115 ° F or greater.
The highest recorded temperature in the area is 102 ° F. Although the global warming models predict only modest increases in summer temperatures, I added a buffer to capture any error. If it gets hotter than this, we’ll be in trouble anyway. (See this -- courtesy of BigGav.)

The Homestead shall withstand temperatures of -30 ° F or less.
The lowest temperature recorded in the area is -28 ° F. In my estimation, it’s safe to assume we will not see temperatures lower than that over the course of the Homestead’s lifetime. In fact, we should consider whether -30 ° is too restrictive and could needlessly increase the cost of the design.

The Homestead shall withstand no less than XX lbs. of accumulated snow load.
I need to find the seasonal snow depth maximum.

The Homestead shall withstand sustained winds of no less than XX miles/hour.
This exact number is up for debate. Typical maximum winds top out at about 60 mph over any sustained period of time, but I haven’t found any models of increasing storm intensity due to global warming.

The Homestead shall provide shelter for no less than 4 people from tornadic winds (300 miles/hour).
This does not mean that the house has to be designed to resist tornadoes – that would be near impossible to achieve. Rather, the requirement implies some sort of storm shelter – a room in the basement, a storm cellar, or a standalone reinforced building.

The Homestead shall withstand no less than 50” precipitation per year.
This requirement is designed to capture the maximum expected yearly precipitation in a year at our location.

One thing that occurred to me in developing these weather requirements is that we haven’t specified how long we want the homestead to last. Climate models typically don’t publish results past 2100 – and some research predicts further dramatic warming after than, depending on how the anthropogenic (human-caused) forcings change. Do we want this homestead to survive for our grandchildren? Our great-grandchildren? 200 years? More?

The further out we place our target end-life for the homestead, the more uncertainty we encounter.

Monday, December 11, 2006

How much space do we really need?

According to some sources, typical work area requirements are 4-12 m^2 (43-130 ft^2) depending on the nature of the work or even desk configuration.

An interesting research paper (pdf) out of the U.K. on current trends showed that households in the “fuel poverty” band had an average of 102 m^2 (1100 ft^2) – which might seem like a mansion to the homesteaders of the pioneer days.

Today, the average living space per person is more than 40 m^2 (430 ft^2), which means about 1700 ft^2 for a family of four. Of course, many people today might find that a bit small.

The problem with defining living space requirements is that it is primarily a psychological, rather than physiological problem. A person can survive in a small cell indefinitely, but for most people this would be uncomfortable. There is the added complication that since our current society places a great deal of emphasis on large living spaces it may be difficult for even Peak Oil-enlightened individuals to transfer from something like a 3000 square foot house to one less than 1000.

The concerns with building too large are not surprising: time, cost, and labor. If you have only one or two persons to build your house, a large one will be prohibitive on a short time scale. Consider the availability of the proper tools – it’s easier (but potentially more expensive) to dig a foundation with a front-end loader rather than a shovel. Also, don’t forget to take into account heating and cooling your dwelling – even a well insulated mansion would use a lot of firewood!

If you can develop a scheme for staging construction that will allow for phased occupancy of the homestead, a large house can be made more feasible given time and cost constraints. More on this later.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Soil Management

The Energy Bulletin had a fascinating post on modern soil science and management. There is so much we don't understand about how we grow our food, yet so few are willing to question the practices. It sounds eerily like Peak Oil and the way we use energy...

An excerpt:

"Magic" is how humans have customarily described the soil's natural cycles of decay and growth. Without a scientific understanding, our ancestors relied on observation and traditional practices to grow crops.

Modern chemical agriculture has been only marginally better at understanding the soil. Unable to control the natural cycles, it bypasses them with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Despite the outward successes of modern agriculture, its heavy-handed approach brings with it pollution, soil degradation and other ills.

In contrast, organic methods like permaculture have attempted to work with natural cycles. Despite the many insights and successful practices that have emerged, a rigorous scientific model is still lacking. Permaculture and its brethren are accused of being belief systems rather than science. It's hard to make progress without having a common understanding of how things work.

Recently, however, soil ecology has developed to the point where we can open the lid on the black box of underground processes. We can begin to understand how micro-organisms maintain the structure and fertility of the soil. We learn that symbiotic relationships between plants and micro-organisms are not the exception but the rule.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Weather effects on Peak Oil Homestead design

In the previous post we picked a specific location for our Peak Oil Homestead Example Problem, which enables us to do quite a bit. With these new assumptions we can better see our true requirements. With 34”/year of precipitation, we can modify our water requirements to take advantage of nature’s irrigation. With knowledge of our latitude, we can run calculations on solar incidence.

In the interest of furthering the design, let’s calculate what we need for growing food. Requirement 2.2.2 in the ORD is for 14,000 liters-per-day (lpd) of water. For four people on a vegetarian diet, we can liberally estimate that 1 acre of food would meet their nutritional needs (NOTE: This will be refined to a more exact number as the design progresses – remember Systems Engineering is an iterative process!).

The precipitation volume rate is therefore:
Vp = (34”/yr)*1 acre = 2.83 acre-ft/yr = 3,490,000 liters/yr = 9560 lpd

In this iteration on the design, we see that we can reduce our daily water requirement of 14,000 lpd by 9560 to 4440 lpd! However, remember that the 34”/yr is an average figure, and we should apply some engineering forethought and bump it up a bit.

Before we do so, however, we should consider the predicted effects of global warming on our particular region. Models call for increased precipitation in the Midwest through at least 2050, which can give us more confidence in our decision to rely more on precipitation for crop irrigation.

(The models also predict only moderate local warming for Iowa from global warming through 2050 for the summer seasons, and more significant winter season warming. The winter warming could mean a reduced need for home heating and is a factor to consider when we get to designing those systems.)

Given this analysis, it seems a refined requirement of 5000-6000 lpd for food production is reasonable. However, we have not yet taken into account possible effects of mulching, greenhouses, or other water-saving techniques! That will be taken account during trade studies in the next iteration.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Homestead Updates

Development of the Peak Oil Homestead Example Project has been really dragging, so I’m going to kick it into high gear to keep things exciting and also more relevant to all types of PeakOilDesign projects.

We need to create more assumptions for the Homestead Example in order to develop the requirements further. This will take the problem from the realm of general application to the specific, so our focus should remain more than ever on the process itself.

New assumptions:
Location: Central Iowa, 5 miles outside small town
Topography: 20 acres former farmland, 20 acres timber, small stream
Weather: 34”/year precipitation; Avg winter temps 10-40 ° F; Avg summer temps 50-85 ° F
Budget: $100K

I’ve also updated the ORD for the project using some previously unassigned requirements. They were assigned as follows:

Objective 1.1: The Homestead will provide enough power for 4 people.

Requirement 4.1.1: The Homestead shall have railings (per Spec XYZ) on all exposed stairways.

Requirement 4.1.2: The Homestead shall provide safety protection for all sharp corners per Spec ABC.

Requirement 4.1.3: The Homestead shall provide safety barriers (per Spec AAA) around all hazardous areas and devices.

Orphan Requirement The electrical system shall provide protection for electrical outlets per Spec AAA.
(This requirement will fit under an as yet undefined higher-level requirement.)

Requirement The water system shall provide potable tap water at 50 ° F – 86 ° F.

Requirement The water system shall provide potable tap water at 112 ° F – 145 ° F.

Requirement The water system shall provide a source shut-off mechanism.

Requirement The water system shall remain above 40 ° F at all points.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Shuttle launch on the horizon

Discovery is ready to take off Thursday night, and my activity here on the blog should pick back up again once it's launched. If you have a chance to see the launch in person, take advantage of it. Night launches are rare and spectacular, and there aren't many shuttle missions left!