Sunday, August 15, 2010

Beyond the Sidewalks

Considering the plethora of recent literature on the subject of "prepping" for survival as the socioeconomic meltdown inexorably approaches, it may be beneficial to hear the experiences of one who has "been there, done that".

We lived with various "sustainable" combinations of wind, hydro, solar and diesel generated power for 20 years both aboard our sail boat and our off-grid ranch. With both wind and hydro there are substantial costs (in addition to the initial capital investment) associated with bearing, brush/slipring and armature replacement not to mention impeller deterioriation. In considering all of these various forms of alternative energy the cost per kilowatt hour needs to be factored in.

We found that the average cost of grid supplied energy ranged between 12 and 15 cents per kilowatt hour as opposed to an estimated 40 cents plus per kilowatt hour for solar and hydro power when equipment replacement costs are factored in.  The special ambient conditions necessary for availing one's self of hydro and wind energy do not obtain for the vast majority of shore side locations.

So called fossil fueled sources of energy generation obviously make economic and logistic sense only for limited and emergent situations due to their need to be fed.

True stand alone applications where no grid source of power is available will require a means for the storage/regulation of the energy for utilization during windless and sunless periods. For heating purposes a mass consisting of water or other heat storage material such as metal or stone can suffice. For electrical energy storage, current technology forces us into the utilization of batteries and they are not cheap. This old sailor-cum-homesteader found the use of deep cycle lead acid 6 volt "golf cart" batteries to make economic sense. True, recent advances in battery technology have improved their efficiency to a limited extent but the initial capital investment remains high. Additionally, lead acid batteries do not thrive on neglect such as repeated extreme deep discharging or electrolyte starvation.

An example of this problem reared its head with one of our native American neighbors living on Yurok tribal land in Humboldt county, California. The tribe received a federal "grant" of substantial funds to erect stand alone photovoltaic power systems at individual single family Indian residences in the Klamath river valley.  The equipment, consisting of a 2 kilowatt solar array on fixed mounts, an appropriate charge controller, 1200 amp hour sealed gel battery bank and a 4500 watt 24 volt to 120 volt inverter with necessary wiring harnesses and separate housing shed were erected near his mobil home in an area SHADED during part of the day. The equipment alone cost in excess of $27,000.00. It was installed by "progressive" student "volunteers" from Humboldt State University who upon completion of the project advised our neighbor (whose only source of power previously had consisted of a succession of 600 watt gasoline generators obtained at Costco) that he could begin using his home "just as if he lived in town on the grid".

Needless to relate, our neighbor and his family proceeded to purchase appliances such as irons, toasters, heaters and television sets. Within a week he was knocking on our door requesting help with his non working electrical system.  The hippies volunteers were unavailable to assist him.  So much for the "turnkey" taxpayer government supplied "sustainable" systems provided to "disadvantaged" minorities.

A major consideration in view of the approaching societal disintegration as regards emergency or backup energy systems is security. "Law" (yes, those are scorn quotation marks) enforcement, should it continue to function, will inevitably have its hands full maintaining "order" in a population reduced to desperation and energy systems are especially vulnerable to theft and vandalism not to mention a confiscatory government itself. I have written elsewhere of our own experiences but will leave it to you dear reader to acquaint yourselves with various post apocalyptic scenarios ranging from Mad Max to mere Hobbesian squalor.

2 comments:

Nick Rowe said...

Motorcycle batteries are even less forgiving of neglect. I've bought five of them in five years. :)

Frankly, I don't know how they operated submarines in WWII with those huge batteries.

People don't understand the biggest constraint on alternative energy is storage when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining.

It is possible that it's a physical/ chemical constraint with absolutely no solution. But we hate to hear that anything is impossible so we'll keep throwing money at problems until there's no more money to throw.

I hope I haven't bored you already with my sermon about rare earth metals. Motors and batteries for hybrid cars and for wind turbines use relatively large quantities of rare earth metals like dysprosium and neodymium. Dysprosium literally means, "hard to get."

China has a near-monopoly on the supply of rare earth metals. There are supplies all around the globe, but they are difficult to separate from the other minerals. Chinese RE metals are in their purest form.

The next generation of computer memory, MRAM, will contain relatively large quantities of RE metals.

Unless we find another source, we will see the prices of RE metals skyrocketing and all our hopes and dreams of a hybrid in every garage and a wind turbine in every back yard go up in smoke.

The US supplies about half of its own oil. We get about half of our imports from Canada and Mexico. OPEC nations in total make up only about 1/4 of our imports.

If you think we should be worried about our dependence on Middle-Eastern oil, wait until we're dependent on China's 95% share of rare earth metals.

ΛΕΟΝΙΔΑΣ said...

Nick,
Cheap energy is massively available within the territory controlled by the US both on shore and offshore. The leftist/collectivists and the ilk of "Cedric" (a redundancy) have placed it for now beyond reach. They will either be defeated or it will be back to ox carts and donkeys.