Thanks, Sun! [NOV2020]

Given that I am living off-grid and solar-powered here in Canada at a latitude half-way to the North Pole, it’s a different life compared to off-gridders in Arizona or New Mexico, especially this time of year when the days are short, the sun is low, and (living between two large bodies of water) there’s a fair amount of cloud. A back-up generator is a necessity, otherwise the batteries would discharge too much and severely reduce their service life.

But the point of the game, running my own personal power utility I jokingly refer to as HydroNone (our provincial power utility is HydroOne), is to use the fossil-fuel-powered generator as little as possible otherwise it undermines the renewable (solar) energy. And the way to do that is by making the most of solar energy when it’s plentiful, and diligently conserving power use when it’s not (imagine counting watts the same way a frugal person penny-pinches their money). Which is to say by living in tune with nature rather than just flicking a switch at my convenience anytime I want.

There is some inconvenience to off-grid living, but maybe life in a (western) world with plentiful electricity and ever-increasing numbers of things which use it, has become almost too convenient. To the point we mindlessly (ab)use electricity and other resources.

My obsession with daylight hours led to the creation of this graph one bored evening – click for full size image.

Today, Nov 23rd, we are 4 weeks from winter Solstice and moving into the darkest period of the solar year (see graph of daylight hours). It would be easy for me to grumble this time of year. But, really, I feel immense gratitude for how I can live here and all that I have been able to do with the free renewable energy I collect with solar panels.

I heat my home (and the guest cabin and sauna) sustainably and solely with firewood. And that firewood, around 12 face cords of it, came from dead Elms here on the property and was cut entirely with battery operated chainsaws (no longer toys, gutsier models like my 80volt saw have similar torque to a Stihl MS250 gas saw) and split with an electric (i.e., solar-powered!) log splitter. No fossil fuel was used to create this heating fuel. And just to make the halo ring complete 😉 I use vegetable-based bio chain bar oil in the saws.

A new use for solar energy this year was the addition of a cargo e-bike. The RadWagon… the station wagon of bicycles… has a large payload capacity and small motor in the rear hub to help with pedalling. The purists might see e-bikes as “cheating” but this is an actual bike you pedal most if not all of the time, it just gives you a little help you so can go further and carry more than you would on a conventional bike—which is real bonus when you’ve got a sack of dog food strapped to the front rack, groceries packed into the panniers, and several litres of wine & beer in the rear crate, especially on the big hills out of Owen Sound.

By varying the pedal assist level to only what I need, I can get around 70km range from the battery, which is recharged at home from solar energy. In its first season I clocked 1001km. None of that was leisure riding, it was all errands I would have otherwise used the car for. I estimated that was around 85 litres of gasoline not used, and therefore about 200kg of CO2 not emitted into the air. And, as a bonus, a healthier me riding through the countryside with a big grin. THANKS SUN!

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Carrie S. says:

    Love the graph and thank you for sharing the tales of your virtuous endeavours!

  2. Henrik says:

    This was a really interesting read, to see how you manage the off-grid power in the dark. You obviously alraedy use wood for heating but is there a simple yet somewhat efficient way to get electric energy out of it?

    1. Neil says:

      I have seen reference for plans one can buy to build some type of contraption that generates electricity from burning wood. It requires welding and skills I don’t have to fabricate it. But I also find it a little bit suspect in that if it is such a great idea… after all many people living off-grid have excess firewood… why has is nobody manufacturing and selling them. Do you know any combustion engineers who might have an opinion on such a thing??

      1. Henrik says:

        Moah is a combustion physicist but has mainly done software modeling of flame chemistry for simple biofuels (e.g. methanol). But she is not unfamiliar with other types of combustion.
        It is strange that if it is so simple, it is not for sale anywhere. Not sure how big the off-grid community is in North America but on a global scale it would be huge to have access to simple, household wood burning electrical generators.
        Is it a boiler/steam type generator?

      2. Neil says:

        They go by the general term of gassifiers. Here is an example:
        https://electricitybook.com/wood-gas/

Ask a question or make a comment...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.