From the beginning, because of the interest of one of our founders, Peter Edmunds, and, because one of the residents’ important expressed needs was to save money on expensive utilities, Border Partners has experimented with several different types of low cost and sustainable technologies. While these experiments have not always met with success or been put into widespread use, the work has informed many residents about possibilities that are available and raised their awareness about the importance of saving precious resources.
Few affordable, energy saving products are available to buy in Palomas, even if people had the money to purchase them. But making use of the generous sunshine on our border could produce tremendous savings on household utility costs. Our area receives 85% of possible solar radiation in a year, thus it’s one of the best places on earth for the use of solar energy.
A commercial solar oven typically costs at least $200. A solar water heater, if you can find one, costs at least $500. For several years, at the beginning of our work in Palomas, we experimented with various models. One challenge was to develop models that cost less so people could afford to buy them because we hoped that eventually a local person would produce and sell them – getting two birds with one stone: promoting sustainable technology and raising income levels all at once. By using donated and recycled materials, we’ve reduced the cost of our solar cooker to about $75 for labor and materials. We use old propane tanks and recycled wood to reduce our water heater costs. Both the solar cooker and the water heater could be produced in our Palomas workshop by local residents.
A much bigger challenge is convincing people that they want to use this technology and to find people willing to take the risk of starting a new business. There are several solar cookers around town that receive some use – at our garden and at a school but there is not great interest. Promoting these technologies will take a concerted effort.
Our program is listed in the Solar Cookers World Network.
Cement blocks are an expensive building material that provides little insulation from the winter cold and summer heat. But cement block is the primary construction material of most homes along the border. Worse: many homes do not have heat or cooling systems in a climate where temperatures get near freezing in winter and over 100 degrees in summer. Papercrete block insulates far more efficiently.
Border Partners has equipment to produce these blocks and has built several structures using papercrete blocks in Palomas. The first was a little greenhouse that our gardeners now use to grow seedlings.
In January 2012, Peter Edmunds began Border Partners’ most ambitious building project with papercrete. Hiring five local youth interested in learning construction skills to assist, Peter designed and built an addition to the local library which now serves as an Education Center, complete with 30 computers and internet.
Unfortunately, papercrete has not caught on as an alternative to cement blocks. There is some interest in papercrete panels used as insulation which can be applied to the outside of a block house and one local man now makes and sells some of these.
Many predict that climate change will bring even less rain in coming years to this already-parched land. So, conservation of water is crucial. To provide for a better future use of rain water, Border Partners:
- Installed eave troughs and a 700 gallon rain catchment tank on the long building west of our community greenhouses.
- Uses drip irrigation hosing to distribute rain water to the garden beds in the community gardens.
- Provided rain barrels also to several of our home gardeners to collect water for garden use. We would like to provide more of these, but lost our souce of barrels.
In 2011, a grant from the Border Environment Cooperation Commission (BECC) provided money to build gray water systems at 20 homes. These systems divert waste water from clothes washers to water garden crops, instead of simply sending the water down the drain. We learned that the laundry water had too much salt to use on vegetables. Now, these systems successfully water trees. Tree roots are deeper, giving more time for the soil to filter the salts.