Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Conserving Resources - Life with Renewable Energy

This post is part of the Green Mom’s Carnival which is hosted this month by Micaela at Mindful Momma. Check it out!

Our home (indeed, all homes at Dancing Rabbit) is entirely off-grid. We have solar panels and a wind turbine; the power comes in and is stored in eight huge batteries. It is all a bit like voodoo to me – all I know is that we keep track of our power level and live accordingly.

Our solar panels (the ones on the pole are for our house, the ones on our house are for the Mercantile, which was built second, and not in a good position for roof panels). Below, up in the tippy top between the two oak trees is our wind turbine.

My life is filled with dramatic contrasts. Sometimes, when it is rainy and cloudy, our energy system gets low on power. We curtail our power usage – make press pot coffee instead of using an electric pot, choose not to watch TV (which actually isn’t hooked up to anything – we watch Netflix movies, mostly), perhaps hang out on the couch together in the evening and read by a single lamp. It may sound parsimonious, but it is one half of our ecological life. The other half is filled with days of bright sunny skies and blustery winds. On these days just about anything goes. Waffles for breakfast, cookies baked in the electric convection oven, the electric dehydrator churning out dried tomatoes all day long, because the power keeps coming and coming and coming. Our batteries are full, and we use as many “diversion” (or “dump”) loads as possible. If we do not use this power, we have no way to store it. It just dissipates, goes away, pffffft. So we divert.

The next photos are for the geeks among us:

Deep cell batteries that hold our power...(3 of 8 shown)

The "key of life" which tells us how much power is in our batteries (right now we're at 85% of capacity)

More tech-weenie voodoo renewable power system gizmos (the tech stuff is CLEARLY not my strong point. If you'd like some REAL info contact me and I'll get you in touch with "my people.")

Those 5-gallon buckets you see in my oh-so-glamorous yard (below)? They are collecting water that the sump pump in the Mercantile basement has collected, and will be used to water the garden. Why waste the water when it can be put to good use? Indeed.
(About 25 tomato plants, 15 pepper plants, two gone-to-seed asparagus beds, a gob of basil, tarragon, parsley and oregano, and what looks to be a chair farm. (The horizontal panel just to the right of our front door is a solar water heater; that's a whole 'nother post...)

In the winter, when we heat our house with a wood burning stove (Jotul brand) we conserve energy in a different way. As Kurt always says (good-naturedly) as he chops firewood and brings load after load of it into the house, “firewood warms you twice – when you chop it and when you burn it!” But to keep our firewood usage to a minimum, we take care to cover our windows at night. Not to keep prying eyes away, but to keep the warmth in and the cold air out. Some of our windows are double-pane beauties from Marvin, others are single-panes reclaimed from building demolition. Both benefit from being covered in cold weather). Our window coverings are roman shades made of Warm Window fabric, a multi-layered fabric that creates a vapor and draft barrier. In the daytime we raise the shades to let the sun in and warm us and our floor to take advantage of any passive solar gain we might receive.

Food is another way we try to conserve. I love having a garden in my front yard. I grew up in the post WWII suburbs of the San Francisco Bay Area. In our housing tract (built in 1956) there were four house designs, but all looked pretty much alike. And every house was surrounded with lawn. We rarely used it; most socializing was done in back yards. It was, I now realize, a buffer, a moat, a defensive area from the outside. I suppose this is exactly why I love the Edible Estates concept. Watch these two short videos for inspiration – you’ll be glad you did!

This one in a home garden, in the middle of suburbia:

And this one in a commercial garden, which points out the remarkable contrast between "lawn" and a real green space:

We can/preserve a lot of food for the winter. I have not yet reconciled the energy usage that it takes to preserve, say, a quart of tomatoes. I’ve “canned” on both wood-burning and propane stoves, and it takes a lot of fuel to heat the water to boiling and then for the jars to sit in the boiling water bath that will keep us all from dying of botulism this winter. I continue to research additional ways of food preservation. Lately many (many!) Rabbits have been embracing the joys of fermentation. Fans of Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation are fermenting kraut, kimchee, yogurt, and many other foodstuffs all over DR, most of which is not heat-processed. The food we cannot eat goes into our compost. I love compost. It enables me to throw out scraps and uneaten food and view it all as nutrients for our future gardens. No more guilt!
A group of us demonstrating our cooperative vehicle skills last winter for an issue of Communities Magazine

Another aspect of resource conservation that we embrace here at Dancing Rabbit is our vehicle use. We share two VW Jettas and a big ol’ Ford truck between about 45 adults. Each Sunday we meet and figure out who is going where, in which vehicle. We all do errands for one another; for example today Kurt and I are going to Quincy to pick up Maikwe at the train station. We’re using the trip as an excuse to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary, and so in addition to a romantic dinner we’ll stop by the plumbing, electric and reclaimed building materials supply stores. (Ah, romance…). We’ll also be stopping by our friend Dan Kelly’s Blue Heron Orchard to pick up apples for Bobolink Food Coop, the Carleton Family and ourselves, plus other assorted items (party supplies for Tereza’s birthday on Thursday, feta cheese for Sharon, etc.). By not owning our own vehicles, and by sharing trips and errand-running we save ourselves lots of money and hopefully, save on fuel.

That’s it for now – thanks for reading!


Green Bean said...

Wow!! You guys are really an inspiration for conserving resources. Something to aspire to for sure!

Anonymous said...

Man, I so want to come and visit you, Alline. This life sounds amazing. Truly.

I am just wondering if it's possible to get some type of warm window covering that is plastic-free.

Linda said...

How cool! I own some land on a beautiful 100 acres with 16 people. We named it Warren Piece. Our goal is to build and live off the grid so Dancing Rabbit is an inspiration for us.

Alline Anderson said...

Hi Green Bean - we're only semi-inspirational. I think my next post will be about how I sometimes long for a MacMansion with central heat & air, big screen TVs in every room, and 12 gas hogs in the garage. Sigh. Beth - Many folks here just use pre-quilted fabric. I'll post directions soon - thanks for asking! And Linda - Warren Piece! I'm laughing out loud. I love puns. Good luck to you!

Lisa Sharp said...

Wow you really inspire me. That's so much for sharing!!

mother earth aka karen hanrahan said...

the geek shots intrigue me, all that equipment, all those wires, all that technology and all that natural power dictated to you by a percentage shining brightly in a gauge. It never occurred to me that the power doesn't store and how certain kind of days like those that are windy might be days to use up lots of energy while you can - absolutely fascinating

Diane MacEachern said...

Very inspiring! I'd love to visit, too.

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

This was absolutely fascinating. Thanks for sharing a glimpse into your amazing life.

mcmilker said...

Wow- great informative post with lots of ideas! Thanks for sharing