Combining the old local heating practices with modern radiant and conductive heating systems could lower energy consumption, improve health, and increase thermal comfort. This is especially true for uninsulated buildings, where air heating is particularly disadvantageous. Local heating sources can be applied on their own, but can also be used in combination with air heating. This may mean, however, that thermal comfort standards need to be redefined.
The steadfast rotating fan has been employed to keep people cool since the eighteenth century, and it remains highly effective, requiring much less energy and providing more comfort than air-conditioning. Cooling people by increasing local airflow is at least ten times more energy efficient than refrigerating the air in a given space, and it also adds the benefit of a personally controlled thermal environment.
If used in combination with air-conditioning, fans could lower energy use by 30-70%, even in incredibly hot climates or during heat waves. Circulating fans, which have become very energy efficient in their design, can be readily and cheaply applied in both new and existing buildings. Recent changes in international comfort standards have paved the way for their comeback.
While modern cooking stoves are convenient, when it comes to energy use they leave a lot to be desired. As we have seen in the previous article, the thermal efficiency of an electric hob does not exceed that of a conventional open fire. In both cases almost 90% of the primary energy is lost during the cooking process.
Cooking food could be achieved in a far more energy efficient way, especially if the cooking pot itself is insulated. This is the principle behind the fireless cooker, a well-insulated box that keeps food simmering with only the heat of the cooking pot itself. A fireless cooker doubles the efficiency of any type of cooking device because it shortens the time on the fire and limits heat transfer losses.
In the early twentieth century, fireless cookers were common additions to western kitchens, similar to the refrigerator or cooking stove. Some models even integrated fireless cookers with gas or electric hobs. These functioned by lowering an insulated hood over the cooking pot once the heat had been switched off.
You don't need electricity to send or receive power quickly. In the second half of the nineteenth century, we commonly used fast-moving ropes. These wire rope transmissions were more efficient than electricity for distances up to 5 kilometres. Even today, a nineteenth-century rope drive would be more efficient than electricity over relatively short distances. If we used modern materials for making ropes and pulleys, we could further improve this forgotten method.
From the 1860s to 1940s, many oil wells were pumped by a technology that originates in a sixteenth-century power transmission system used in the mining industry.
One engine operated up to 45 pumps in different locations, each up to a mile away. Power was transmitted by means of wooden rods or steel cables that moved back and forth, snaking through the landscape.
The system was so efficient that an engine used for pumping an oil well could operate a whole cluster of pump jacks. The technology, which still operates in a handful of small oil fields, could also work with renewable energy sources, and shows great potential for efficient small-scale energy use.
Both the velomobile and the electric bicycle increase the limited range of the cyclist -- the former optimises aerodynamics and ergonomics, while the latter assists muscle power with an electric motor fuelled by a battery.
The electric velomobile combines both approaches, and so maximises the range of the cyclist -- so much so that it is able to replace most, if not all, automobile trips.
While electric velomobiles have a speed and range that is comparable to that of electric cars, they are up to 80 times more efficient. About a quarter of the existent wind turbines would suffice to power as many electric velomobiles as there are people.
Those with strong cycling legs have ever more jobs up for grabs in Europe these days. A growing number of businesses are using cargo cycles, a move towards sustainable and free-flowing city traffic that is now strongly backed by public authorities.
Research indicates that at least one quarter of all cargo traffic in European cities could be handled by cycles. And, by using special distribution hubs, larger vehicles and electric assist, this proportion could be even larger.
A cargo cycle is at least as fast as a delivery van in the city - and much cheaper to use, giving a strong economic incentive to make the switch. Cargo cycles also bring important economic advantages to tradesmen, artisans and service providers.
Architects all over the world have demonstrated the usefulness of buildings which are heated and cooled by design rather than by fossil fuel energy. What has received much less attention, however, is the possibility of applying this approach to entire urban neighbourhoods and cities.
Designing a single, often free-standing, passive solar house is quite different from planning a densely populated city where each building is heated and cooled using only natural energy sources. And yet, if we want passive solar design to be more than just a curiosity, this is exactly what we need. Modern research, which combines ancient knowledge with fast computing techniques, shows that passive solar cities are a realistic option, allowing for surprisingly high population densities.
Baskets have been replaced by plastic and other kinds of factory-made containers in almost every area of life, appearing today mainly as twee Easter decorations. Making them has become synonymous with wasting time – “basket-weaving” in the USA is slang for an easy lesson for slow students.
The craft of basketry, however, might be one of our species’ most important and diverse technologies, creating homes, boats, animal traps, armour, tools, cages, hats, chariots, weirs, beehives, shelters and furniture, as well as all manner of containers. Basket weaving makes use of fast-growing biodegradable materials -- branches, twigs or shoots -- that requires the forest to be cultivated rather than cleared. Basketry allows almost anyone, with little or no money and few tools, to create a large variety of useful goods in a way that is one hundred percent sustainable.
How to downsize a transport network: the Chinese wheelbarrow For being such a seemingly ordinary vehicle, the wheelbarrow has a surprisingly exciting history. This is especially true in the East, where it became a universal means of transportation for both passengers and goods, even over long distances.
The sky is the limit: human powered cranes and lifting devices From the earliest civilisations right up to the start of the Industrial Revolution, humans used sheer muscle power, organisation skills and ingenious mechanics to lift weights that would be impossible to handle by most power cranes in operation today.
Wood Gas Vehicles
Firewood in the Fuel Tank: Wood Gas Vehicles Wood gas cars are a not-so-elegant but surprisingly efficient and ecological alternative to their petrol (gasoline) cousins, whilst their range is comparable to that of electric cars.
Hand Powered Drilling Tools and Machines Hand-powered devices have been used for millennia, but during the last quarter of the 19th century a radically improved generation of tools appeared, taking advantage of modern mass production machinery and processes (like interchangeable parts) and an increased availability in superior material (metal instead of wood).
How to make everything ourselves: open modular hardware Consumer products based on an open modular system can foster rapid innovation, without the drawback of wasting energy and materials. The parts of an obsolete generation of products can be used to design the next generation, or something completely different.
Power from the Tap
Power from the Tap: Water Motors Just before the arrival of electricity at the end of the nineteenth century, water motors were widely used in Europe and America. These miniature water turbines were connected to the tap and could power any machine that is now driven by electricity.