Posts tagged off-grid

QUICKIE: Solar Powered Christmas Lights

Looking for an easy way to integrate a little alternative energy into your holiday festivities?  There are a lot of exciting solar products coming out of Asia these days, as several eastern countries have gotten the jump on the US in terms of R&D and product development.  Which isn’t so good for the US’ current energy market, but it is good for solar energy enthusiasts!  Why don’t you try a string of solar powered Christmas lights in your front yard?  They turn themselves on automatically at dusk (if you want them too), similar to existing solar lawn lamps, they have solid light or blinking options, and they can easily be strung around fences, eaves, railings and wreaths to create a cheerful effect that’s also effortlessly green.

I have a set of white fairy style lights of this type, and they are great.  Not having a yard, I simply place the receiver in the window each morning and come sunset, I have a 60-LED solar powered flashlight for late night reading that lasts several hours! They throw a surprising amount of light for their tiny size.  If you’re interested in these or any other solar power accessories such as solar powered flashlights for emergency or off-grid use, head to ebay today and search for solar lights.  Finally, sunshine you can hold in your hand!

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Celebrating Labor Day

What better topic for Labor Day than reduction of necessary labor by moving off the grid? When you make the decision to cut the power lines, you are making a contract with yourself: to do whatever labor is necessary to keep your alternative energy system running to provide your necessary power. Luckily, whether with solar, wind, or micro-hydro power, once you’ve invested in the initial construction phase, you’ve gotten a lot of that work out of the way and you can let nature take it from there.

However, all systems do require upkeep. Solar panels need dusting and readjusting, wind towers need tuning, and hydro systems must be cleared of debris.  This upkeep is one thing that turns a lot of people off about off-grid power. It SEEMS like a lot of work when one is addicted to simply having on-demand power by signing a check every month.  However, when you see the bigger picture of your energy consumption scheme, things make more sense.  The majority of the power generation in an off-grid system is generated by nature.  This is also true in a utility power generation system, but there, workers must transport the raw materials (usually coal) to the power generation site and physically feed the burners.  Between the labor costs of mining the materials and getting them to the power station, and then the labor required to string and maintain power lines to transport the electricity to you, you’ve racked up a lot of human capital for each kilowatt hour you consume.  By taking a pledge to do minimal maintenance on your own system, you are freeing up human capital for other tasks, like designing new generations of alternative energy delivery or other such noble tasks.  (I won’t expound on humanity’s likelihood for picking such noble professions over, say, sleeping on the couch on a holiday like today.  There are limits – enjoy your time off!)

In fact, this discussion underlines a concept that interweaves into a lot of simple living theory.  In order to see your real savings, you should be able to see outside your own life to the greater good of our neighborhoods, nations, species, and planet. By investing a small amount of time, you can count yourself a philanthropist.  Go ahead, put it on your resume! After all, time is a luxury of which each of us only has so much.  You’ll probably find that you end up freeing more time by not having to work to pay certain bills than you will spend in upkeep.  In conclusion, if you want to save energy, your fellow man, and the planet all at once while building your karmic bank account, start planning a way to get off the grid today.  That way, by Labor Day next year, you might celebrate by DOING some labor for a change, instead of needing a break from your daily grind. Happy holiday!

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BOOK REVIEW: the Self Sufficiency Handbook

The Self-Sufficiency Handbook: A Complete Guide to Greener Living by Alan and Gill Bridgewater

the Self-Sufficiency Handbook

The title of this book is perfect. There are no crazy survival tips here, although I wouldn’t mind having this book along in a pinch. It’s a guide for getting your existing house off the grid, and also for evaluating properties in terms of their sustainability potential. The writers live in the UK, after years stateside, so the companies and tips are both oriented toward those countries. But there is a nice discussion of navigating local laws no matter where you decide to drop your hoe and start gardening.

After a nice discussion of housing, which includes talks about insulation, orientation, ambient heating/cooling, alternative energy sources, and materials, they move on to daily living practicalities. First, getting light. That done, next you need food. This is where the book really shines. There is an in-depth lesson on growing an organic garden, including successful composting and which crops should be planted where and when, what needs rotation (and a sample rotation schedule that will leave you with fresh foods year-round) and what can stay put, and the care profiles for a large variety of different garden plants. They are careful to share wisdom on how much land you need to make your off-grid dreams happen, and also on how to choose property that will lead you to success.

Animal husbandry is covered in detail species by species, along with construction considerations, possible worries and probable successes of owning each type. The sections are not overly in-depth – I thought they were perfect for the off-grid enthusiast with lots of commitment but no experience with husbandry. Of course, one can never emphasize enough the time it will take to properly care for animal on your own property. They cover it nicely, if briefly, by saying this: if you own animals, you will have to feed them EVERY DAY, holiday or not. Yes, that’s EVERY day. Having kept horses growing up, I can relate to the urgency with which they repeat this statement throughout the book. Take heart.

The last section of the book can best be described as a tutorial section of recipes for survival. Not pemmican or Gorp-style recipes, but rather old-fashioned recipes for things like candles, making soap, making chutneys and jams, and brewing beer and making wine. Their recipes are pretty short and look easy to handle. In fact, the whole book was particularly well planned to fit each concept on two facing pages, so you’re never left looking for information in a thick chapter of words. I’m sure this limits the amount of information that can be presented a little, but I didn’t notice.

If you’re even considering moving off-grid, or even just converting a section of your yard to an edible garden, you should pick up this book. It’s fairly new, but with its special emphasis on looking at your actions in terms of an overall lifestyle, I think it will one day be considered a standard text in self-sufficiency. Which, as gas rises toward the $5 mark, is something we could all afford to learn more about.

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PowerCube Energy: Solar in a Box

PowerCube 600 Energy system

If the intricacies of setting up a home solar solution have you flummoxed, you may be looking for an out-of-the-box solution for your energy needs.  It’s not exactly portable (unless you own a forklift!), but the PowerCube 600 Energy system is just that… a box that you simply open and start harvesting light energyVisit the PowerCube site for pictures of the cube being set up to appreciate how easy it really is. The site and technology appear to be young, but the promise of a standalone power system in a box can hardly be overstated.

From what I can see, the box has a variety of power outs so that you can hook up various devices to the unit. And the site claims that you can increase your energy output by daisy chaining multiple units together, providing enough for off-grid applications and primary power-source situations. I like the box design, it looks sturdy and easy to ship, given its size, and it seems like a good fit for programs that offer solar power to remote communities across the globe. I haven’t been able to access the spec sheet yet, but the maker’s site, a yacht building company, shows the product in more operative detail.  All from Reluminati, an eco-concious design lab that sports several lines of solar powered products.  Be the first on your block to sever your ties to the grid when the PowerCube rolls off the assembly line this summer.

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Techie Dream: A Solar Powered PC

Read the article on building a solar-powered PC here

A solar powered PC?  It sounds too good to be true!  Well, I had to know more, so I went to Tom’s Hardware and checked out the article above.  It’s very professionally written and researched, and the grand experiment seems to be a huge success.  Of course, at $5,000 for the solar panels needed to power this PC and specially selected hardware that reduced average wattage, it’s hardly your average box, or the everyperson’s pricetag.  But every great idea gets its start somewhere, and I’m rooting for this one to go all the way. 

Solar Powered PC

Based in Germany, the experimenters started by deciding what the capabilities of their dream system would be, and then clearly defined a goal as to its power availability.  They wanted a full-featured PC that could run 24/7 off-grid, in case you want to do a little midnight computing.  Any techies out there know this is a must, not a luxury, when chasing the elusive vapors of creativity.  This first step underscores an important point in any undertaking: defining the goal in concrete terms and deciding what you can and cannot live without will go a LONG way to determining the eventual likelihood of successful completion.  May you plan your exercises with the same careful attention to detail. 

The article then outlines the steps taken to achieve the stated goals.  First, they acquire the necessary equipment and consider the practicalities of their chosen configuration.  Then they set about building the PC so it will require a minimum of operating wattage, and then move on to the solar array that will power it.  Last, but certainly most important, comes the testing phase, when they see whether they have been able to construct a suitable prototype to fit the brief. 

It’s certainly not a beginner’s or even intermediate project, but it’s an excellent read, and I recommend you visit the site to read the whole (pretty long) article.  Happy Earth Day, everyone~ take a moment today to do something special for yourself and the world around you.

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zeroHouse – Making Your Home Work for You

Nice. No, really, everything about this concept is nice, from the idea, to the execution and the website. So nice that you’d better go check out the website for yourself, so I’m only going to provide one chart here as a teaser.

zeroHouse by Scott Specht

This house does it all. Collects water, uses high-capacity solar, makes its own compost, and looks amazing while doing it through your laptop. And you can construct one in under a weekend. How’s that for simple? It’s certainly inspiring.

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Solar. Wind. Solar-wind?

Bluenergy Solar-Wind-Turbine

Bluenergy Solar-Wind-Turbine

BSWT is a vertical wind turbine based on sailing engineering. The wind rotor is rotated by two spiral-formed vanes. For best performance, these vanes are covered in solar cells, so that sun and wind produce electricity as one element. The BSWT installation costs relatively little, produces no noise or significant shadowing, can be easily maintained from ground level, and is an attractive addition to any home.

from the Bluenergy AG website.

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