We keep pushing the envelope, learning how to live independently. I love the sense of freedom and peace of mind that gives me. Water and food were our first focus. That foundation is feeling pretty solid now.
Our next focus has been energy. We have been seriously researching lots of alternatives for reliable, low cost electricity generation. Most people think of solar PV, wind and, to a lesser extent, micro-hydro for green power. But there are problems with each.
Solar Photo Voltaics are expensive. The costs are beginning to come down, but aren’t there yet. Probably won’t be for some time. I want to power my house without bankrupting the occupants. And I don’t want to have to sacrifice so much on consumption that I give up all the conveniences. Then there are the cloudy days, requiring big battery backup. PV cost per KWh is just way too high.
Wind is nice. Lots of new innovations, especially with vertical axis turbines. They are primarily designed to make wind power acceptable in an urban environment by putting the turbine close to the ground. But that’s where there isn’t much wind. Oh, well. We’re rural, so that’s no advantage. Wind’s disadvantage for me? You need really strong, consistent wind to produce a lot of electricity – like on the plains of Nebraska. We are on a plateau at 2,000 feet with nice breezes, but not gale force winds. We could still do it, but would need multiple windmills to make enough electricity for our needs. Again, the costs become too high relative to the output. Plus, you only get electricity when the wind blows.
Then there’s hydro power. It’s the lowest cost per KWh alternative, but you need either a big river or a perennial creek with lots of head (drop in elevation). We have the latter, but flow varies a lot depending on recent rainfall. Summer flow isn’t enough.
It all comes down to cost and continuous reliability.
We discovered a little-known, low-cost, low-tech and proven alternative. It’s called wood gasification. Surprisingly, over a million cars in Europe were powered with wood during World War II when gas was short. Unlike the other green power sources, we have an abundance of fast growing, renewable, free wood here. So, we are installing a system that converts wood into a gas that can run an internal combustion engine with plenty of horse power to drive a generator. We can run it any time, in any season, independent of the weather. And, best news of all, the cost is competitive with the big utilities on a cost per KWh basis.
The founder of the company that has brought this technology into the 21st century will be here a week from next Saturday installing our new system. Give me a call if you would like to see it or any of our other self-sufficiency systems in action.