Monday, October 22, 2012
Alternative electric and non-electric
Over 20 years ago I installed my first version of my solar electric house system. Even back then it was big enough to run the water pump, lights and other major house functions. Living out in the woods, the grid goes down here first and is repaired last. It only makes sense that the major population centers get repaired first. Over the years it’s more than paid for itself. Some our power outages were pretty bad but the system functioned well.
If I was starting from scratch today, I’d might go about things differently. A relatively small solar electric system can power a lot of LED lights. Cell phones don’t take much power but can connect people to the world. Internet connected phones weren’t even a dream back in my early solar electric days.
One of my worries was having enough power to run my well pump. Pumps draw a lot of power. Water is heavy and it takes energy to move it. Instead of worrying about the electric pump, I’d have more water storage in the house. Fortunately, my well is less than 100 feet from the house and overflows all year. Too bad it’s downhill from the house as gravity fed water systems are wonderful. My folks used to have a summer cottage with a gravity fed well and there was very little to go wrong with it.
With my good well, and a woodstove, some of my major basic needs can be met without any electricity at all. There’s water to drink, the woodstove for heat, cooking and even some light from the glass door of the firebox.
My big complicated solar electric system weathers most problems well. Should the grid go down for days, weeks, or even months, it will probably keep working. It won’t go forever. Sooner or later an inverter or a charge controller will fail. The type of batteries I use are only good for about 10 years.
That never used to be a concern, but that’s before I learned of nuclear EMPs and coronal mass ejections from the sun. They could take down the grid over large sections of the planet. The New England grid has some major transformers that are sensitive to those disturbances. It’s possible that something could take down the grid yet leave my home system intact. I do have some spare parts and redundancy. Theoretically, the grid could be repaired before my home system failed.
There’s also the scenario where the electrical disturbance is so big it fries my home system beyond repair. Then it’s back to the pioneer days. Just like them, I’d have water from the well, heat and cooking from wood, food from the garden, forest, and rivers. For entertainment it would be books, cards, and whatever tune I could play on the guitar.
I used to worry about having a big enough off-grid system to live a modern life without interruption. While that’s nice, I feel good about being able to live at a more primitive level if necessary.