Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Energy Independence Week is here...aaack!

You may remember my call to celebrate Energy Independence Week this 4th of July.  That is:
  • No burning of fossil fuels
  • No using electricity from the grid
  • No trips to the grocery store
This exercise works to increase your preparedness for both random disasters and for the entirely foreseeable low-energy post-fossil-fuel world to come.

I almost punted because neither the solar water heat nor the solar photovoltaic system I was planning to use is built yet.  Also as far as I know I'm just about the only celebrant.  I questioned whether anything useful would be learned or should I postpone my observance.

The real crux of it is the well pump.  Without 460 watts of 230 VAC I don't have running water.  Without 525 watts of 115 VAC I can't flush the toilet, because it's got its own pump-out to the compost bin.  The original plan was to install a solar electric system capable of driving these.  I also greatly desired to be able to take hot showers, and was counting on the solar hot water system being finished.  Nada.

So yesterday I went around to my friends, told them of my troubles, asked for advice.  Miss Twiggy lent me her portable solar camp shower, which is like a black plastic bag you hang in the sun, holds about four gallons.  It had a leak which I fixed with the plastic welder, but even so, it only puts out about as much water as some one pissing on you.  Lame.

Redbeard suggested driving a new sand-point well and putting a hand pump on it.  I wasn't crazy about that because I've seen it done and it's a lot of work.  I finally thought of an alternative I liked better, and that was to go ahead and set up the roof water catchment tank which I had included in the permaculture design, for gravity feeding irrigation water to the gardens.  

There already existed on campus a few 250 and 300 gallon plastic tanks and a platform for holding one up about five feet off the ground, so it would only take a few plumbing fittings and a hose through the window to hook it up to the inside plumbing and get some low-pressure running water, enough to supply the sinks and toilet anyway.  

Also, it turned out I needed irrigation water a lot sooner than I thought, because Flora got a blowout special deal on five hundred hazelnut tree seedlings, which had to be planted right away.  I had in the design an area designated for hazelnut trees but wasn't going to plant any until next year, until these came along.  I said I'd take thirty of them.  

Here is my water tank.  I picked out the prettiest of the 300 gallon totes, one with an intact cage, a lid and a working drain valve. (This solution exhibits the permaculture principles of catching and storing, multiple elements supporting the (water) function, (tank) element has multiple functions, least change for the greatest effect.) It isn't really a rain barrel yet as there's no gutter, but the rules of Energy Independence Week allow stocking up ahead of time, so I half-filled it from the well using dirty old coal-fired electricity.
The platform was so big and heavy and far away I didn't have much choice but to use the Huge Arguably Unnecessary Forklift to put it in place.  I'm trying to get grass and clover growing near the cottage and it annoys me to drive on it.  I had never driven the Lull before but Jolson was kind enough to give me a lesson and wave me off bashing into anything important.  Unfortunately the tank is not high enough to gravity-feed the shower head, or maybe just barely if it was filled all the way up.  It took three adapters to get the two-inch plastic nozzle on the tank down to a garden hose, and I cross-threaded it something awful so it drips a little.

Here is the new hazelnut tree grove, southwest of the cottage.  In spite of my attempt to place them randomly I basically ended up with a three by ten grid.  The seedlings are individually protected from deer browsing with yellow plastic mesh cages staked with bamboo (available from Forestry Supplies of Jackson MS.)  You can see my water hose there which runs 250 feet from above pictured tank.

The lesson here is that even though you never know what's going to happen, its still good to have a design and a phase plan so that as fate throws stuff around you have a better chance of picking out pieces that will fit into some kind of coherent whole.

Thanks to Flora for help with the tree planting.  It did pain me to do so much stomping around in the south experiment plot where the deer forage mix is just starting to come up.  I think I will wait a week before going out there again and mulching the trees.

So that was yesterday; went pretty well.  Today I resolved if only I could get the toilet working off-grid I would go ahead and celebrate Energy Independence Week.  I had earlier purchased a cheapo $60 modified-square-wave 1000 watt inverter for the car, which I figured might just be capable of running the macerator pump.  I decided Hunt Utilities Group needed to trade in a couple of their dead car batteries for brand new Interstate marine deep-cycle batteries, and that furthermore they would not mind if I borrowed them for a week.  

I ran this setup once and it worked so I'm off to the races.  I have a 65 watt 12 volt solar panel I can use to recharge the batteries.  The inverter draws a lot of standby power (10 W) so I don't dare leave it on.  

I spent the rest of the day chasing down plumbing fittings to connect the water tank to the inside piping.  Redbeard gave me an Aquapex lesson.  Tomorrow I'll see how much damage I can do with a little plumbing knowledge.  After that I need to see about a cooler (the original plan was for the fancy PV system to run the fridge too.)  I think I've got enough hardwood charcoal for cooking and heating dishwater.  I have some LED lights.  Trips to the hardware store are allowed during Energy Independence Week as long as you don't drive, so I've ordered a Burley flatbed trailer for my bike.  It'd still be nice to figure out a way to at least get a lukewarm shower...
Postscript:  The terms of Energy Independence Week allow apartment dwellers and other such city mice to celebrate it by spending the week with country mice who will be in a better position to do the off-grid thing, but if you've talked your entire condo association into putting up a wind turbine, "more power to ya."

No comments: