Alternative Energy

We live ‘off the grid’, which means that we have no public utilities where cables need to reach our house. ‘Off the grid’ doesn’t mean ‘out of touch’ – we do use cell phones, and have broadband internet service.

It also doesn’t mean ‘without electricity’. We use electricity for all the normal things you can think of, including lights, computers, fans, washing machine, microwave, and so on. We also use electricity to pump water from our well.

But since we don’t get electricity from the grid, we have to generate our own. For that, we have solar panels,

solar panel

which generate electricity that we use to charge batteries,

[image of battery bank]

And we run the house off of the batteries, using an inverter to convert direct current to alternating current. So we can plug regular appliances into regular outlets, the way we would anywhere else.

Now, in New Hampshire, there isn’t always as much sun as we’d like, especially in the winters. So from time to time, we charge the batteries using a generator. We have two: one that uses propane, and another that uses diesel fuel. In a pinch, we could hook the house up to a gasoline generator if we needed to.

We also use propane directly to power our stove, refrigerator, and one of our hot water heaters. This is more efficient than using electrical versions of these appliances.

But propane and diesel fuel aren’t things we can make on our own. So we’re experimenting with other ways to generate electricity. We aren’t well-placed to use wind or water to generate power. But we have a wood gasifier, which uses wood to produce gas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide), which can then be used to fuel a generator. We’ve done some proof-of-concept runs, but haven’t yet got it to the point where it’s a reliable source of power. When we do, we’ll be able to generate electricity from wood… and wood is something we have quite a lot of!

We also use wood for heat:

wood stove

But really, our primary source of heat is the sun. The house is designed to make maximum use of passive solar energy, and insulated well enough that on most winter days it’s not necessary to start a fire until the sun starts to set. It’s hard to overstate what a blessing this is. If you plan and build a house to make full use of the sun, it’s amazing how much easier everything else becomes.

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