November 14, 2008

Solar energy class in Costa Rica and online

From Dr. Ken Walz, the course instructor:
The Madison Area Technical College (MATC) offers a new course: Renewable Energy for the Developing World Class.

The 3-credit, college transfer class combines 9 days of field study and hands on work in Costa Rica, with 8 weeks of additional online instruction.

The study abroad portion is being coordinated with Solar Energy International, and the online class is being created with funding from a U.S. DOE Title VI International Education grant. The class is being offered on a pilot basis starting in January, 2009. Students will travel to Costa Rica Jan 1-9, and the online course will be held Jan 12-March 14.

Registration for the class is currently underway, and a limited number of slots are still available. To register for the class, contact Diana Paynter at
For more information: FAQ and slide presentation

October 12, 2008


Regrettably the workshop has been cancelled.

The number of registrations has not come close to the number needed to cover the workshop's expenses, and I can't imagine getting enough registrations in the next two weeks or so.

Those who registered will receive a full refund by mail.

Check back periodically, however. Centro Ecológico Akumal plans to hold a workshop on sustainable construction in November. I'll post the details when they become available.

I might plan another workshop on green homes when the global economy settles down.

If you live in the U.S. and want to take renewable energy courses, you could check the workshop schedule for the Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA).

Ed Blume

September 17, 2008

Hotel Akumal Caribe offers special room rate for workshop

The Hotel Akumal Caribe generously makes the workshop more affordable with a room rate of only $50 per person per night. That's a deal! Contact Ed Blume for details on the discounted room rate.

August 20, 2008

Green Building & Renewable Energy Workshop, Nov. 6-8, Akumal

Green Homes & Renewable Energy in the Riviera Maya, a three day workshop, will be November 6-8, 2008, in Akumal, Mexico, 70 miles south of Cancun.

Whether you want to "green" your home or business in the Riviera Maya or anyplace else in the world, you'll gain invaluable insights from two exceptional green building and renewable energy professionals.

This is another in the series of sustainability workshops hosted by Centro Ecológico Akumal.

Co-sponsored by Yucatan Environmental Foundation, a U.S. 501(c)(3), RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit promoting renewable energy, and Just Imagine Website services.

Register online or by mail.

November 6 - Green building and remodeling techniques and tools, including water and waste management
Presenter: Sherrie Gruder, Sustainable Design Specialist, LEED Accredited Professional

November 7 - Using the sun to make electricity and hot water
Presenter: John Hippensteel, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun*
John Hippensteel will give you the basic information about how PV and solar hot water systems work, how (and where) they can be installed, estimating system size, and other basics to help you become knowledgeable enough to proceed with confidence if you choose to install a solar system.

November 8 - Using wind to generate electricity
Presenter: John Hippensteel, Lake Michigan Wind and Sun*
John will cover the basics of residential size wind systems for your home or business. He'll cover wind resources, basic system components, system types, turbine types, applications, and tower types. You'll be better informed on wind's value to you and how to get started on an installation.

November 8 - Installation tours
The workshops will end with a tour of wind and solar installations at homes and businesses in the Akumal area -- solar hot water on CEA dorms; solar electricity on
the home of Bart Smith; solar hot water and electricity and wind turbines at Centro Ecológico Sian Ka'an (CESiaK) in Tulum. The tour is included in all registration, even a registration for only one of the three days.

For more information, contact Ed Blume.

* With the explosive demand for wind and solar installations, John cannot be 100% certain that he can get free in November. If he can't, the instructor will be someone of equal intelligence and expertise.

Organized by Eco-Yucatan, Inc. and Ed Blume, Director of Communications and Outreach for RENEW Wisconsin, a non-profit promoting renewable energy.

Renewable energy in tourism initiative: Best practices manual

From an article by Wendy Kerr in EcoCurrents, the membership magazine of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES):

The Renewable Energy in Tourism Initiative (RETI) has recently developed a set of Best Practices in Renewable Energy for the Tourism Industry and they can be downloaded for free at

Through the use of case studies, these manuals outline renewable energy adoption strategies that maximize energy efficiency, minimize environmental impacts, and result in cost savings or increased profitability across six tourism sectors: Accommodations, Airlines, Cruise Lines, Public Lands Agencies, Ski Resorts, and Tour Operators.

Tourism, the world’s largest industry, has a powerful impact on, and is greatly impacted by, the ecological health of its destinations across the globe.

One of tourism’s largest economic and environmental costs is the massive amount of energy required for the transportation of travelers and maintenance of facilities like hotels and attractions.

Thus, many businesses are eager to minimize their consumption of non-renewable energy, but are often uncertain on how to make it happen due to the technological complexity and rapid rate of innovation in field of renewable energy.

According to the lead authors at Sustainable Travel International, the RETI best practice manuals, “are intended to serve as an inspiration and guide to tourism businesses of all sizes interested in realizing the benefits of adopting renewable energy initiatives and supporting a healthy planet.”
Of course, the Green Homes and Renewable Energy workshop will help clear up the uncertainties of renewables for tourism operators, travelers, homeowners, and anyone interested in renewable energy.

August 19, 2008

Sustainable inn Balamku in Mahahual uses solar

An article in EcoCurrents, the monthly membership magazine of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) highlights the sustainability practices and solar energy of Balamku, Inn on the Beach, in Mahahual south of Akumal:

Sustainability Practices at Balamku: Using the resources of nature without abusing the environment by Alan Knight and Carol Tumber

We believe that we have an obligation to protect the environment and reduce the impact of tourism by using eco-efficient energy and water systems, waste management practices, and by preserving the natural environment. . . .

All of our energy is provided by one of the largest solar panel installations on the Costa Maya.

There are 40 panels and 36 batteries in our system. Wind generation has been added to complement this solar system. It provides about 25% of our electricity and since there is almost always wind at night, our system loves this.

We supply our guests with 24 hour electricity without a generator pounding away in the background. . . .

Our water-saving, composting toilets are quite unique. As the waste is composted, toilet paper is put in the toilet and the black water is separated in the composting unit into a tank and used for large trees in our gardens. Water usage with these toilets is reduced from a normal gallon a flush to one pint. . . .

The planning design of Balamku considered the protection of the many local species of trees and plants. The units are situated to maximize natural ventilation. The beach has a beautiful stone wall to reduce the risk of erosion. Vines and shrubs have intentionally been left to assist in further reduction of soil erosion as well as for the enjoyment of their natural beauty.
The workshop Green Homes and Renewable Energy in the Riviera Maya, November 6-8, in Akumal will teach workshop participants about many of the sustainable practices used at Balamku.

Photo: Solar panels tucked just above the trees at Balamku. Photo courtesy of Balamku.

August 13, 2008

Activities in Akumal and the Riviera Maya

You’ll have plenty to do (or nothing at all) when you’re not in the workshop.

Sunning, swimming, snorkeling, diving. The shallow, crystal-clear water and sandy beach of Akumal Bay (above photo) define tropical perfection. Dive shops are right on the beach. Ruins. The small, but stunning, Tulum ruins hug the sea 10 minutes south of Akumal, and the jungles hide many, many small sites that you can visit on your own or with a guide.

Restaurants. You can go from cheap eats at a tacoria in the pueblo or gourmet dinners at restaurants overlooking the bay.

Shopping. Playa del Carmen, 20 minutes north of Akumal, satisfies every shopping impulse!

Nature. Local guides can give you exceptional walks. CEA staff give entertaining and educational presentations nightly.

Maya culture. The unique ruins at Tulum are only a short ride south of Akumal. Coba and Chichen Itza aren't far either. has a useful desciription of these and others nearby.

Families. The shallow bay and laid-back pace of Akumal suit families with children of all ages. Make the workshop a vacation, too!

Link to local businesses on CEA's local directory.

August 11, 2008

Sian Ka'an uses sun for electricity and hot water

Centro Ecológico Sian Ka'an uses a solar electric panel (in the lower left) to generate electricity while the second panel captures the sun's heat to produce hot water.

The workshop will cover installation of both types of solar collectors.

July 25, 2008


Green Homes & Renewable Energy in the Riviera Maya
Akumal, México, Nov. 6-8, 2008

Your name:

Business or organization name (if appropriate):

Mailing address:


Phone (day time):
Phone (evening):

Register for one, two , or three days:
$325 (USD) all three days.
$250 (USD) for any two days. Specify the days:
$125 (USD) for any one day. Specify the days:
Registration includes breakfast and lunch.

Make check payable to: Yucatan Environmental Foundation
(Registration payments are not tax deductible.)

Print and complete registration form; mail to:
Yucatan Environmental Foundation
c/o Eco-Yucatán, Inc.
PO Box 2702
Madison, WI 53701-2702

Help us tailor the workshops to your interests:

What type of green or renewable energy installations interest you?

Where would the installation be—condo, single family home, business (please specify type of business)?

What do you want to get out of the workshop?

July 23, 2008

Bio: John Hippensteel

From a media release issued by Focus on Energy:
Wind/solar installer named Market Provider of the Year

MADISON, Wis. (June 30) - Focus on Energy's Renewable Energy Program honored John Hippensteel, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis. based Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Ltd., with the 2008 Market Provider of the Year Award. The award was presented at the Midwest Renewable Energy Association's (MREA) 19th annual Energy Fair on June 22, 2008 in Custer, Wis.

The Market Provider of the Year Award was conceived as a way to recognize renewable energy contractors who exemplify the goals and expectations of the Focus on Energy Renewable Energy Program. The award provides the opportunity to honor one such contractor each year for their commitment and dedication to excellent customer service and quality renewable energy systems installation. Contractors who receive this award are exceptional in their passion, intelligence and dedication when it comes to providing renewable energy services.

"For more than a decade John has been installing solar electric, solar hot water and wind electric systems for satisfied customers," said Don Wichert, renewable energy director for Focus on Energy. "Wisconsin truly benefits from having well qualified businesses like Lake Michigan Wind & Sun Ltd. grow our renewable energy markets."

Hippensteel has consistently had a strong presence at many events throughout the state and is always willing to share information, photos and his innovative models. His professionalism and workmanship keep existing customers coming back for more projects, and his creativity continues to attract new customers. Hippensteel is the only North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) Certified Solar Electric and Solar Thermal Installer in Wisconsin. He has installed more than 50 solar and wind power systems with support from Focus on Energy.
From the introduction to an interview published in the quarterly newsletter of RENEW Wisconsin:
After dropping out of college, working as a pipefitter in the shipyards, then returning for his engineering degree, John Hippensteel traveled from the Midwest to Africa and back before he purchased Lake Michigan Wind and Sun (LMWS) from founder Mick Sagrillo in 1997.

Hippensteel still travels afar, teaching wind resource assessment and turbine maintenance in China and South Korea, for instance. Shortly following this interview, he headed to Denmark to continue research on wind projects there.

When he’s at LMWS in Sturgeon Bay, he splits his time along the lines of the company’s business commitments –- 25 percent in solar thermal; 25 percent in photovoltaics; 20 percent in commercial wind site assessment, monitoring, and tower installations for data loggers; and 30 percent in small wind/larger wind maintenance and service.

LMWS ( employs two full-time people, including Hippensteel, and several part-timers, depending on the projects on hand.

July 01, 2008

Blocking and using the sun in Akumal

From the April/May newsletter of Centro Ecologico Akumal (CEA):
We at CEA are grateful for the donation of solar-powered heaters [pictured above on the roof] from Sunrain and recommend their use. What are you waiting for to take care of the environment? Install yours now!
The solar water heaters significantly reduce the need to heat water with electricity, propane or natural gas, thus reducing greenhouse gases.

CEA staff and volunteers built trellises and planted the bougainvillea vines to provide cooling shade from the sun that previously baked the volunteers' dormitory behind the planting. The shade cuts the use of air conditioners and their resulting green house emissions from electrical generation at a central generation plant or from a gas-, diesel-, or gasoline-powered generator.

June 26, 2008

Solar installation cuts energy bills and global warming

Bart Smith, owner of  Turtle Bay Cafe, Akumal, Mexico, inspects the solar panels on the roof of an addition to his year-old home in the jungle. The electricity-producing panels help eliminate the need for power from traditional generation plants that produce global warming gases, especially carbon dioxide.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Sherrie Gruder Biography

Sherrie Gruder is a Sustainable Design Specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

Based in Madison, Sherrie provides statewide education and technical assistance on green building, sustainable development, energy conservation and renewable energy. Sherrie is working on many fronts to promote sustainable development and create an infrastructure to facilitate it in Wisconsin. She works with state and local government, architects, engineers, contractors, haulers, renewable energy providers, suppliers and the public. Sherrie also coordinates the state public benefits energy program - Focus on Energy - for UW-Extensionʼs statewide network of agents.

Sherrie is a LEED™Accredited Professional by the US Green Building Council and is serving a second term on its Government Core Committee. She is on the MTS committee that developed the National Sustainable Product Standard. Sherrie has served six years on the education and advocacy committee of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance. She served on the advisory council for the Habitat ReStore and on the technical advisory committee of the Wisconsin Green Built Home Program.

Sherrie is trained in The Natural Step and is a founding member of the North American EcoMunicipality Network. Sherrie chairs the City of Madison Sustainable Design & Energy Committee, co-chaired the Madison Mayorʼs Energy Task Force and co-authored the blueprint to make Madison a green capital city with sustainable design and energy supporting its economic vitality. In that role she has organized trainings for city staff on commissioning and retro-commissioning, The Natural Step and energy conservation, drafted resolutions on topics from renewable energy purchase to green building, organized a clean energy challenge campaign with city wide partners, served on the LEED-EB Monona Terrace design team, and helped obtain two US DOE grants to make Madison a solar city.

Some statewide outreach includes consulting on the Governorʼs Green Building Executive Order (April 2006), serving on the Milwaukee Mayorʼs Green Team, providing technical assistance and education to the Sustainable Marshfield Committee, working on comprehensive energy planning for the Lac de Flambeau Tribe and green business park development for the Oneida County Economic Development Consortium. Sherrie works in an advisory capacity on several LEED green commercial building projects in Wisconsin. She does a green building show on WI Public Radio and leads the annual Wisconsin Tour of Solar Businesses in Madison.