A decade ago having those few solar panels on your roof was ‘’clean’’ enough. Not anymore. Today, you wonder what are the components of the chemical storage batteries and how the photovoltaic panels will be recycled after their life expectancy. Ask about the manufacturing process of the equipment, CO2 emissions on their way from China and birds killed by wind turbines annually. And engineers, too.
And you have ALL rights to question how sustainable renewables are- at the end of the day, we don’t want more problems under the ‘’green cover’’. Because renewable energy systems CAN be improved to be more environmentally friendly and i will explain to you HOW.
Let’s tackle this fancy sounding word. ‘’Perma’’ refers to permanent. Back in the 70’s, at permaculture origins in Tasmania, the ‘’culture’’ part focused on agriculture– a sustainable way of farming.
Later on, acknowledging the importance of a holistic approach to a truly resilient system, it expanded into ‘’permanent culture’’ . As described by co-fonder D. Holmgren, it is “.. a design system for sustainable living and land use that’s concerned both with the consumption and production side and that is based on universal ethics and design principles which can be applied in any context’’.
Yes, even restaurants can benefit from this approach, say, in food waste management. And we do in renewables, too.
Permaculture fundamentals are based on 12 design principles and 3 ethical pillars:
- Earth care– environmental aspect, attentive to preserving biodiversity and the sustainable use of the land.
- People care– social aspect, acknowledging the power of the community and considering the basic needs of people.
- Fair share– economical aspect, the synthesis of the first two, aspiring to design systems that equally values the needs of all of us who are sharing one living space- Earth, including the future generations
Ethics are the guidance of how we apply the 12 design principles (it’s a good read here, explaining each of them in depth). Where is the clean energy field? Using renewables is most directly addressed in the 5th principle. It appears also in the 2nd as we ‘’catch and store’’ abundant resources and 6th by producing ‘’less waste’’ due to reduced emissions and you-already-know clean energy benefits (of course, there still are inefficiencies in the manufacturing process).
Permaculture Design Principles (Credit: permaculture.co.uk)
Now we arrive at the practical application. Combining ethics with principles, we aim to develop the most sustainable and permanent option for our project by questioning each detail of it: Is this solution environmentally friendly? Do other living and non-living systems benefit from it? What is the long term impact?
If not, how can we improve it?
A real-life example:
Let’s say, you want to go off-grid, powering your countryside household with photovoltaic panels. You also need energy storage for low-light hours. On the market, the chemical component batteries (like lithium ion) is an affordable and widely used backup option. While bouncing through ‘’how can we improve it’’ questions and permaculture design options, we found the physical hydro storage (aka pumped water) more suitable: no toxic materials, longer lifespan, reduced water wastage. Even more, we could incorporate it in the water retention landscape to collect and reuse the rainwater both for the storage and irrigation needs.
The permaculture design gently challenges you to think beyond ‘’short term, casual fix’’, with the renewable energy systems having lots more to offer.