GroenGemak Annual Report 2009

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The year 2009 was a serious startup year for GroenGemak. A lot has happened.

Keywords: service report

GroenGemak was started from a personal drive in the area of sustainable innovation, and from seeing that many opportunities are not developed into the realities that they could offer. We have been active with this on many fronts.

Sustainable computers

The reduction of energy expenditure in computers is gaining importance in the work of GroenGemak. The company is run by Rick van Rein, a computer scientist with a strong basis in electrical engineering. Rather than attempting to improve the world from someone else's expertise, Rick has decided that his best influence would be from his existing expertise.

  • We started the year together with NLUUG by organising a day of technical lectures about Green Computing. This has been received enthousiastically by all participants. Having seen the quality and diversity of the lectures, this was no real surprise. The day's slides are available.
  • Also at NLUUG we brought a lecture to a day about Storage, and held a lecture under the tantilising title Jip and Janneke, a storage cluster on 10 Watts which also was quite well-received. The reasoning in a nutshell: if we store textual source forms of our documents, it turns out that humans only produce modest amounts of data (all Shakespaere's works amount to a few MB only) and a modest storage setup would suffice to store that. In addition, we presented the (not very common) approach of using application-level logic for redundancy rather than assigning all replication powers to the lower, disk block level.
  • At the end of 2009 we got hold of a batch of modest computers, which we will develop into internet terminals, meaning a computer that is ideal for starters or for people who want little more than a bit of browsing, chatting and email. In other words, a computer for the masses! All this runs under 7 Watts, and comes with the bonus of a 2-second wakeup from suspend. Now that is a suspend-feature that you will actually be using :-)
  • We started to research e-paper screens, mindful of the idea that these could be made suitable as laptop screens. This is part of GroenGemak's long term vision on computing, which comes down to not using energy if nothing is done. There's nothing brilliant about that thought: we do not expect a chair to crash if its batteries run out, so why have we gotten used to such behaviour from computers? An abstract design of a computer that does not need the power grid at all and that is based on current-day components is already available for download.

Energy from the Sun

Energy is probably the greatest addiction to Western civilisation. This explains why a lot is being invested in its sustainable development.

In direct response to the upcoming Peak Oil crisis, GroenGemak has decided to decouple from the energy problem by purchasing a row of PV solar panels. Already in our first year we produced more electricity than our company+household consumed. Part of this was of course that we have carefully selected new devices to be low in energy use. Lowering one's energy needs on a year-by-year basis is good in any case, with the lowering supplies due to Peak Oil in mind.

As a side-effect of this project, we have clearly shown how profitable it is to invest in sustainable solutions -- GroenGemak was hired by solar installation company Energieker to measure and analyse the production of their solar cells, and fulfilling this request has meant that GroenGemak earned back the PV installation in 1 year! But the real advantage is voor de customer and the environment, because this setup made PV solar so manageable that a large neighbourhood will now be tiled with PV solar cells!

Effectively, this project comes down to lots of planet orbital knowledge, statistics and linear algebra in search of bird droppings and shadows, wrapped into a service called ZonZeker, enabling Energieker to worry about a solar panel's proper functioning. In addition, this provides lovely graphs that are fun to watch once in a while.

Finally, we shared our experience with purchasing and owning solar cells in a local lecture for interested future PV-solar owners.


Although it may seem odd at first sight that a technically inclined company like GroenGemak would tend to plants and plant-based systems, Permaculture and the accompanying worries for our future food are an important issue to GroenGemak. The design of plant-based systems compares in many to the (creative) design of electronic circuitry. Like every electronic component has a datasheet, so a plant too has a range of qualities and interferences with its surroundings!

  • We have been actively involved with the Transition Town movement of Enschede, but have had to stop on practical grounds. We noticed that the only people we met were those who were already inclined to lead a sustainable life. Even the accessible medium of film proved unsuitable to attract a wider audience in Enschede, even though we had much more to show than problems -- solutions are everywhere if you know where to look and how, and we have actually built a small library of inspiring movies that will show a lot of inspiring examples.
  • A lecture held for the local council of Enschede about the future of our food was intended to share with them that the combined problems of Peak Oil and our dependency on 10 calaries of fossil fuel for every calory of food was a recipe for a problematic future. We also wanted to present the discrepancy between the importance of bees and the value that it seems to have in the eyes of Dutch government institutions. Unfortunately we were deprived of the level of professionality that one may expect from its elected leaders, and the whole lecture has been a waste of our time.
  • A lecture on international hacker congress HAR2009 however, become a thrilling success. Our target here was to explain to hard-core technicians who are used to thinking outside the box. Our aim was to inspire them to use their creative approach to technical problems on plants and plant systems as well. The tent, filled with about 500 visitors, was quite pleased with the prospects introduced during this lecture entitled Hacking with Plants. Slides and a video recording of the presentation are available under the link.
  • Another success story has been our cooperation with the VolksUniversiteit and Paradise, for whom we organised a Permaculture course. The 8 people that attended were highly motivated and made it a true joy to teach. The GroenGemak approach to the domain was considered a fruitful addition to already-existing courses in the Netherlands. For that reason, we will also offer the course in 2010.

Small green companies

We are closely involved with the plans of Ecocentrum EMMA, with whom we share the vision of a future need for many small companies that act locally instead of large, centralised, stuff-transporting corporations. There will be a rising demand for skilled labour and ever less for people who mainly shovel boxes from A to B.

This cooperation has not been structural up to date, but we help out where we can to smooth the path towards an eco-business centre. In addition, we help small green companies getting started by sharing advise and experiences. An example of such a company is Groen & Schoon, which offers environmentally friendly cleaning services to the professional market. Another example is Koningswater, that has already been succesful in replacing lighting in large spaces with LEDs (but who have not yet established a website at the time of this writing). We could help them with a schematic design for a dimmer ready for LED-lights.