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May 17, 2010 at 1:53 am #36676
After looking at a number of forum discussions related to living off-grid ther seems to be a broad division into two groups. In the UK and Europe there seems to be a predominance of single people living in cramped quarters or mobile RV and caravans; wheras in North American there seem to be more people living on land that they have title to or at least long term leases. In addition many of the north American off-grid people seem to adopt a more energy intensive approach. The paradox being those who choose to live in RV and very small accomodation not to say primitive, like caves and tents tend to rely on ultra high tech solar panels and LED lights wheras those who own land and / or live in more conventional type buildings tend towards larger power plants including wood fuelled steam power, or water wheel power and in some cases going right back to 19th century kerosene lights and comparable technology. Not to mention having amenities such as indoor plumbing and ice boxes or refrigeration for food preservation.
Solar panels and LED lights are completely dependent on modern technology including industrial facilities that must be connected to the grid wheres the other groups would be able to survive comfortably withoput reliance on modern society and any sort of grids. For example the old order Mennonites have established flourishing non-grid dependent communities extending to entire regions.
This begs the question. What level of technology is best suited to a non grid or off-grid society if the worst comes to pass and our modern society collapses from lack of oil or global finances.
One advocate speculates we could probably sustain our culture and society using technology no more advanced that what we had in the first two decades of the twentieth century. In those days technology was not so advanced and most people could still repair or even fabricate new parts to keep things going.
If we expect the bulk of society to embrace going off-grid we have to offer something a bit more attractive than living under bare bones survival conditions. No wonder the off-grid movement has failed to gain substantial popularity despite several decades of striving. In this region where I now live many people grew up in off-grid homes that do not lack in what most people call normal amenities. Two of my wife’s uncles still live off-grid in homes that would not look out of place in suburbia. All except for the gorgeous view of the mountains out their living room window. That is one thing usually missing from suburbia.
Underlying this trend to go off-grid is a desire to become less oil and nuclear power dependent because of the perceptio these forms are non sustaainable or non toxic to our environment.
Omitting the political or religious driven agendas chosen by some people; what choices do we have?
Water power is among the most widely available be it tidal power from wave and tide action or a rushung mountain stream. Early technical developments favoured taking advantage of what is termed economiies of scale. Simply put it does not cost 10 times as much to build alarger power plant that produces ten times as much power. Unfortunately this quickly leads to grid distribution of the available power.
Iceland is blessed with a huge underground resevoir of free geothermal energy but to convert this into usable power and to distribute it to all residents still requires a ‘grid’ of either steam pipes or electrical wires distributing power from steam powered generators.
Allowing free enterprise to control and capitalize on this is wher the exorbitant user fees has crept in.
Individual generation of power carries with it a much higher per unit cost in generation and storage of energy. Unfortunately this approach is often the only way to break the strangle hold of monopolistic private enterprise.
However we seem to have lost sight of may older technologies that are perfectly viable ad suited to stand alone micro generation. WHY? And how can we gegain that independence?May 19, 2010 at 12:36 am #40768
People have been spoiled by the good life for so long, it’s going to take them some serious hunger and discomfort before they become creative and idealistic enough to accept change. Not many are willing to downsize to the point of feasibility!May 19, 2010 at 6:27 pm #40769
I agree with the sentiment that people generally have been spoilt by the good life but in this area at least, there are many who grew up in off-grid homes totally lacking in amenities including indoor running water.
What I do find is that most people are influenced by what they read in the press and hear on radio or see on TV. I recently saw some statistics that indicated lobbying efforts by off-grid advocates and companies involved in making off-grid technology amounted to some $14 – $16 million last year wheras for the same time frame the oil industry spent BILLIONS of dollars. In other words several orders of magnitude more money.
Guess which industry is going to get more attention.
Look for ads in the popular press. Which technology get the most attention?
I’m not talking about the ads advertising free power for nothing type, but the ads promoting products intended to reduce or eliminate the bills incurred to heat or power a house hold. Its mostly solar.
While discussing methane digesters with a rancher, he said “but what about solar?” This despite the fact he was quite familiar with methane digesters and had a disposal problem with chicken manure. Chicken manure is considered one of the most prolific sources of bio-gas or methane as it is more commonly called. Yesterday this website carried a news story about bio gas generation being mentioned at a pig farming conference. According to the story the conference was told 25,000 known plants were generating methane gas in Europe and using it for power production. Only 25 were registered in the UK. I find this surprising. I remember the collapsible storage tanks from my childhood. Evidently this technology has fallen into disuse. I also remember when some of the richer house holds began converting to oil from coal heating. It was hailed as a modern marvel. Clean, tidy and no fuss. A tanker truck would show up once a month and refill the tank and the furnace would run automatically in the mean time.
In this area if you do not cut and stack cord wood in summer, you can expect to freeze next winter. Most of my friends have already begun wood cutting now. We are far enough north that we have 16 hours of darkness in wintertime and sometimes the clouds make the remaining daytime pretty gloomy. In other words solar is pretty useless for about 4 – 6 months of the year.
So far there really isn’t any technology available to convert wood heat into electricity on a scale suitable for a single family dwelling.May 20, 2010 at 12:49 am #40770
Today’s article about David Cameron visiting Nigel Lowethorp highlights why it is so difficult to get usable technology going. It is becoming apparent that bureaucrats are the biggest obstacle to innovation. The UK is much more regulated when it comes to a land owner doing his own thing with respect to being off grid. When it comes to being self sufficient and minimizing the depletion of resources and finding ways to reuse or actually make use of what was previously considered waste ther should be a minimum of restrictions. If a farmer wants to cover his manure pile with a gas bag and usee the captured methane it is a win win situation. Less greenhouse gase emitted less smell and the bonus for the farmer being a fuel. By what stretch of the imagination should a local “planning committee” or Council or bureaucratic office be allowed to prohibit this when they do not even have the expertise to assess the technology or judge its merits. AS long as the experiment does not impinge on neighbours with smell or sound pollution What harm does it do?
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