This week has brought a flurry of thought to Yestermorrow about energy. On Tuesday I attended the monthly meeting of the LocalVolts- the energy subcommittee of the Valley Futures Network. One of the volunteers unveiled the Mad River Valley Energy Wiki- an amazingly information-filled resource about energy-related projects happening around here. There are folks looking at biomass- how much wood could we sustainably harvest from within the valley, and how would we distribute it; others are looking at energy conservation and weatherization; still more are interested in barn-raising type events to help homeowners install solar hot water and photovoltaics. Pretty neat!
On Thursday I was lucky enough to tag along with the Farm Design class for the morning on a field trip to see Gaelan and Jasna Brown's experimental woodchip water heater affectionately nicknamed "the brown mound". Based on what's called the "Jean Pain Method" they have created a large packed pile of wet woodchips with a coil of 1" water pipe in the middle which preheats the water coming out of their well before it goes into their hot water heater. So far he's been getting water out at 120 degrees F. In addition to domestic hot water, they're hoping eventually they could use it for space heating as well. Gaelan has been blogging and documenting the whole process in order to help spread the word about this fascinating low-tech system- check it out!
Back at Yestermorrow everyone was buzzing over lunch about how we might get involved here at the school. One possibility is to run a workshop with Gaelan next summer and create a woodchip pile for the Chalet's hot water. While the current focus on campus is getting our solar hot water system and PV array installed this winter, we also started talking about how we could transition to solid fuels for heating our main building (right now we have high efficiency propane boilers). That's a bigger project, obviously, but one worth starting to think about as we plan our campus expansion. On November 23rd from 7-9 pm we'll host a free Button Up Vermont workshop for the local community to learn about energy conservation and money saving techniques to weatherize your home. The interns have been tackling the Chalet (certainly a weatherization challenge) and already it's more comfortable and better equipped for the dropping temperatures to come, and we've started replacing our 30-year old donated refrigerators with new Energy Star rated models, amongst other energy efficiency improvements.