To Peter Winslow, executive director of the Hopewell Project, protecting the environment and reducing the world’s dependence on the fuels that endanger the environment is one of society’s most pressing problems.
Winslow’s project, the Hopewell Project, last year finished and dedicated the only house in North America, and possibly the only one in the world, that is powered totally through solar-hydrogen energy. The home, Winslow says, generates hydrogen for subsequent reconversion into electricity. It can be totally sustainable as a solo entity and generates no waste or residue, and the energy that maintains the home is totally clean and renewable.
His organization will be one of the presenters at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival, which begins Wednesday, January 31, and runs through Sunday, February 4, at the Princeton Public Library. The festival features 15 films and 12 speakers, who will tackle subjects such as global warming, renewable energy, wilderness protection, and other issues. All screenings are free and open to the public, and will be held in the Community Room of the library, at 65 Witherspoon Street.
The festival was the brainchild of Susan Conlon, the library’s teen services librarian, and 17-year-old Kai Marshall-Otto, a member of the library’s Teen Advisory Board and a senior at Princeton High School.
“I thought this would be a really cool thing for us to do,” says Marshall-Otto, who is co-president (with Carol Dreibeleis) of the school’s Environmental Club. “In general, the environment is one of the most important issues we face today. Global warming, deforestation, energy. We rely on the environment for our whole lives, for food and housing, everything. It all comes from the Earth. If we destroy that, we’re not going to get (resources) anywhere else.”
David Gates, a principal research physicist at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, is one of the festival’s keynote speakers. On Thursday, February 1, at 7 p.m. he will show a short film about the laboratory and will give a talk about the principles of magnetic fusion energy and how the laboratory’s research will affect energy and the environment in the future.
“We will be discussing the way that fusion fits into the issues of producing less carbon dioxide in the air,” Gates says. “We think that fusion has a role in producing fewer greenhouse gases. Many in the country think that is an important issue, and most of us here share that point of view.”
Two of the festival films that have have garnered wide appeal with the general movie-going public are “An Inconvenient Truth,” which will be shown on Wednesday, January 31, at 4 p.m., and “Who Killed The Electric Car,” which will be screened on Saturday, February 3, at 3 p.m.
‘An Inconvenient Truth” focuses on former Vice President Al Gore, who says that global warming has become one of the nation’s, and world’s, greatest crises. The movie has been debated in the media and the blogosphere, but there is no doubt that it is provocative.
“Who Killed The Electric Car” was also released theatrically last year and is now available on DVD. It is as provocative or even more so than the Gore film. Fashioned like a murder mystery and peppered with cameos from Hollywood celebrities, the film, directed by Chris Paine, sets out to tell the story about the EV1, an electric car developed by General Motors. The car was developed as part of a 1990 mandate by California state officials to prod companies such as GM to develop exhaust-free electric cars. To make a very controversial and convoluted story short, after the cars were developed and ready to be produced — the EV1 had a 5,000-name waiting list — the oil companies and other interests combined to pressure GM to kill the program.
“We are making a presentation around ‘Who Killed The Electric Car,’” says the Hopewell Project’s Winslow. “It is an excellent documentary in the way they lay out the issues, explore them, and come to the conclusions they reached. We are very happy to be partnering with this particular film.”
Electric cars are a viable option to the fuel-burning cars we are overburdened with today, Winslow says. “Although the California program was massacred, and the electric car was killed, the idea of the electric car is very much alive. If people want it, they can get it. People in California who drove the car were frustrated that they were not allowed to keep them. But all the plans and specifications for the cars are still out there. If the demand were there, there is no reason those specific cars could not be brought back and put into production. And there are other cars available. Google the Tesla. Those are awesome machines — sexy sports cars that are electric.”
The Hopewell Project is a non-profit organization with both scientific and educational objectives. The project, Winslow says, came to be after an associate of his went to Hopewell Township with plans to build a solar-powered home. “He applied for a building permit, and the local building inspector went nuts. He had never seen anything like this before.”
The township and the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs researched the feasibility of doing a project, and “the state educated itself in terms of how to deal with a hydrogen residential environment, and brought itself up to speed,” says Winslow.
The regulatory breakthrough, combined with a grant from the state Board of Public Utilities, made it possible for the house to be built and made functional. In addition, and most importantly, says Winslow, the hydrogen-based home can be replicated all over the state and beyond. “This is a path we can go down again,” he says. “The regulatory breakthrough is maybe even more significant than the technological breakthrough.”
One of the sensational aspects of the project, he admits, is the notion that the house does not need to be hooked up to any grid. “The house can, if need be, be operated totally independent of the (utility) grid,” he says. “If there were a power outage, it would not affect us.”
The technology is close to being available for mass usage, but not quite yet. Your average working family might not be able to use it economically — yet. But as scientists often project 20 years for a radical new technology to be readily available, Winslow doesn’t see that. He sees two years. “We strongly believe the technology currently exists for this country and the rest of the world to be energy independent, environmentally preserved, and economically sustainable, with renewable resources,” Winslow says. “The sources exist technologically. What is required is the will on the part of government to make it happen. All of the capabilities exist if the will is there.”
And if the will were there, in two years, Winslow says, “it would be possible to have a system that would be in the cost range of the family sedan. That of course depends on the family. There are higher-range sedans, and lower-range sedans. But in the same terms of how the sedans would fit into each family’s budget, it would be affordable.”
Environmental Film Festival, Wednesday through Sunday, January 31 through Sunday, February 4, Princeton Public Library, 65 Witherspoon Street. www.princetonlibrary.org or 609-924-8822.
Wednesday, January 31
1:30 p.m.: Screening of “The End of Suburbia”
3:30 p.m.: Screening of “Power Shift”
4 p.m.: Screening of “An Inconvenient Truth”
7 p.m.: Stephen Pacala, director of the Princeton Environmental Institute is the keynote speaker.
Thursday, February 1
11 a.m.: “Fusion: Fueling the Future”
4 p.m.: “Oil on Ice” 7 p.m.: A talk titled,”Fusion: Fueling the Future,” presented by David Gates of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
Friday, February 2
2 p.m.: “Fed Up!”
4 p.m.: “Buyer Be Fair: The Promise of Product Certification”
5 p.m.: “The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil”
Saturday, February 3
10:30 a.m.: “French Fries to Go”
11 a.m.: “The Anacostia: Restoring the People’s River”
Noon: “Turning the Tide”
1:30 p.m.: “Texas Gold.” Post screening talk by director Carolyn Scott
3:30 p.m.: “Who Killed the Electric Car?” Post screening talk by Mike Strizki of the Hopewell Project.
Sunday, February 4
1:30 p.m.: “The Chances of the World Changing” followed by a talk by Eric Daniel Metzgar.
4 p.m. “Grizzly Man”