I’ve been thinking about how to generate our own power for decades. That is I’ve been thinking about this topic for decades and what ever I do I want to be maintainable for decades and preferably a lot longer. As much as I like high tech I do not trust it to be there so things need to be maintainable.
Why generate our own power? Utility power is not very reliable, around here at least. The power lines run above ground, strung out on poles where the winter storms and trees bring the wires crashing to the ground on a regular basis. Then there is the cost. After a pay back period of five to fifteen years I’ll be saving money even with a store bought solution. But I can do better than that as I can build much of it myself further speeding up the payback period. I do enjoy a challenge. Then there is the issue of feel-good political. I don’t like the power being generated the way it is typically done to day be it fossil fuel, burning tires, wood chips, trash or nuclear. Lastly there is the whole issue of dependance on foreign oil. It isn’t secure and probably won’t last. Prices are just going to keep climbing so best to do something about it soonest.
Fossil fuels and even a methane digester don’t cut it. Not renewable for the former. Stinky and wasteful for the later – see below. Both can be very explosive. Fuel cells and nuclear power are also out for similar reasons. On the methane, yes, I could generate it from pig manure but that would mean I would have to collect the stuff. Right now our livestock do a beautiful job of spreading the manure around the pastures as they graze. I never have to shovel it. I like it that way. It is healthier for everyone and a heck of a lot less work! Besides, if we use the manure to generate power that means we are losing much of the nutrient value. To mangle an old phrase: you can’t have your hydrocarbons and burn them too. Our soil is poor and thin. The land needs all the fertilizer it can get. Burning it would be a waste plus it would pollute. There are better ways.
Solar cells are my personal favorite. Simple. No moving parts. Durable. If nothing goes wrong they may last 25, 50, even a few hundred years. But there is the problem of maintainability. They aren’t user repairable. We also have extended periods without significant amounts of sun. Very importantly, solar electric panels are hellishly expensive and require significant battery storage. Perhaps solar electric power can be a small part of the mix but I wouldn’t put all or even much of my money on it.
Note that solar heat, especially passive, is a totally different thing. Passive solar heating can be easily to build, low tech, easy to maintain and long lasting as in permanent. I use that already and plan for more of it in our new home.
Wind power is very interesting. We are high up. We have a lot of wind. I can build my own wind power plant if I had to but there are several very nice ones available commercially. I can maintain either by myself. The mechanism is a bit more complex mechanically but simpler in other ways than solar. It does have moving parts and those do wear – a definite negative. Yet it is repairable. A much bigger negative is I don’t like the idea of having to work with a tower that is 70′ or more up in the air. Things go too wrong too fast up there. We get some extremely intense winds. There is a 100′ tall ash tree up on the hill behind our house. I’ve seen it bent half down so it points straight at the horizon when the hurricanes blow through with their high winds. I shudder to think what that would do to a windmill or it’s tower. There is also the issue of noise. Wind generators generate noise as well. I might do something with wind but I hesitate to bet the farm on it. Fortunately the farm does not use much in the way of electricity.
Hydro power is also very interesting. Again we are high up and there is water even higher up than us. A lot of water – enough to seriously consider generating some power with it. We’re on the east slope of the mountain which means more water than the south or west slopes. A Pelton wheel is a pretty simple thing to make. It is low tech. Something I can fabricate. Like with wind power I can also fabricate the necessary generator and other systems. There are even ready made units like the Harris one. Batteries are not as much of a problem as with solar, or even wind, as the water runs down the mountain 24/7 year round. The simpler system is also easier to maintain. Hydro does have moving parts but they are pretty minimal and simple, no more than solar. A big benny is the hydro station can be at a good working height – no climbing tall towers or trying to carefully lower them to the ground with a heavy generator on top. This makes it safer to build, operate and maintain. Hydro is less expensive than any of the other options, both for installation and maintenance. Additionally, hydro is quieter. It can be sealed away in a stone building in the hillside, silently doing its job year round. The ‘waste’ water coming out of the hydro station can then be utilized on the farm flowing down to ponds and animal watering troughs. We have water. We have flow. We have head. Perhaps we’ll have hydroelectric power in the not to distant future.
Lastly there is conservation. We’ve been working on that. We’ve cut our electric usage by more than half over the last several years and I bet I can get it down 60% more. The less we need the easier it is to meet that need. So as I continue to research what I want to do we’ll keep working on conservation which will make what ever we do easier.
Of course, choices of how to generate power are highly dependant on one’s site, skills and personal preferences. YMWV.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”
Low 31째F, High 52째F, Sunny.