Something Feral

Digging up the flower-beds.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Greener Pastures

As Erik pointed out earlier, power consumption is perhaps the largest hurdle for those seeking to disconnect from the grid, and understandably so: relatively few of us alive today recall an era without the ability to magically animate their appliances by pushing a metal string into the wall. Indeed, it's only a small step to posit that the lion's share of the psychological hang-up harbored by John and Jane Q. Public regarding prospective off-grid living is the thought of being abruptly and unceremoniously drop-kicked into the world mid-19th century amenities.

Not that I'm distributing blame; I love my flush-toilet and Internet as much as the next blogger, but the fact remains that the fear is largely irrational; one is only limited by their imagination (and working budget, of course). To drive it home with a sledge-hammer: SUFFERING OPTIONAL.

Unfortunately, the sad fact is that bureaucracy is an ever-present damper of domestic innovation, requiring that various permits be acquired (revenue generation), inspections be performed (more revenue generation), and standards be maintained through ordinance and/or the ever-execrable home-owners associations (you guessed it, revenue generation). Nevermind that one's neighbors and local bureaucrats are not responsible for financing their own petty demands against the property of others, but that is the price of living in a community group-think play-pen: aesthetics trump economy, functionality is subordinate to superficiality, and everyone enjoys the cold gruel of mediocrity. Yuck.

Enough about the mouth-breathers; what are the rest of us to do? As I outlined in my previous post, cutting one's energy-consumption is key to whittling-down the intimidating cost of putting in an off-grid system. Sure, advances in technology are bringing down the price of power-systems, but the discrepancy in price between a multi-kilowatt array and a sub-kilowatt array are non-linear: doubling the wattage will often cost much more than double the price of the previous system. (Note: I am not going to outline specifics for any photovoltaic, wind-turbine, micro-hydro, wood-gas, or cogeneration systems here, as it is beyond the scope of this post.) At the farm, our main offenders for necessary minimums are the sump-pump for the septic system and the well-pump: the sump-pump has the greatest transient-response in the circuit, but the well-pump is perhaps the largest consumer of energy (modulus the refrigerator and the freezer, but these particular appliances have already been addressed). As Desert Cat has mentioned before regarding his own system, the real expense is in acquiring a charge-controller and power-inverter that are robust enough to handle simultaneous use of more than a few appliances at once. There are a few different strategies that could be applied to mitigate the expenses, such as a dedicated DC-system for LED-lighting in the house (used in conjunction with strategic use of natural lighting), but again this would be subject to individual cost-benefit analysis. Needless to say, despite what the final accounting shows, proximity to any sort of urbanized residential area will dictate what may be used, regardless of is tasteful, efficient, or even useful.

It is not surprising, therefore, that those contemplating the off-grid lifestyle move away from the hive and into rural properties. Having grown up on a farm (albeit in a moderately-populated area) and experienced what exactly can happen with designs implemented without the minimization of maintenance in mind, the notion that country-life will break the weak is no lie. Older and wiser now, I venerate redundant fail-safe designs for crucial systems, like water, septic and power; it is unsurprising that I have grown into the "survivalist" that I am, as this is merely par for the course out here. That said, those looking to make the eventual move would do well to acquire a copy of Finding and Buying Your Place in the Country; it's well-worth the money for the information.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that others are acknowledging the slippage in food-production combined with the destruction of the US dollar are going to cause more than a few domestic problems:
We've known about Rogers' bullishness on agriculture for some time. But, this bet takes it up a notch. By purchasing the land itself, Rogers is securing a stream of future production in a world he argues will be pressed for food production in the future as demand rises. And, for what it's worth, Don Coxe agrees with Rogers.

Other notable agriculture bulls include Rogers' ex-Quantum fund partner George Soros. As we noted in our hedge fund portfolio tracking series, Soros has bought a ton of Potash. Rogers, though, has certainly taken it to the next level and has placed his bet on the next big real estate boom.
Land, fertilizer and energy. As Jack Spirko (of the Survival Podcast, see the side-bar) loves to say, for "... if times get tough, or even if they don't." Fortunately, it just so happens that the prudent investments happen to be the ones that increase one's relative independence from an extremely fragile system of co-dependence.


MikeT said...

Another good investment for the time being will be buying oil and natural gas stocks. I'm loading up on those since I cannot buy more than a quarter acre anywhere near my job without making my wife and me live in a tent.

Erik said...

There is also the real concern of a shorter lifespan without modern technology. While certainly we don't need radios/TVs/computers the access to fresh food, clean water, sanitation and proper heating/cooling is of great importance.

While I am certainly no expert on wells i wonder if an elevated tank might be a goodly part of the solution? Having the force of gravity behind the water would reduce the need for a pump to pressurize the system, but since you are already pumping water out of the ground (sometimes several hundred feet) what is a few more? Also, I wonder if a manual backup could be installed so that should one care to go out and do some manual labor it could be used instead of precious electricity? I could see that being very useful when filling troughs for the farm animals as that can take a tremendous amount of water (and you could put them to use!)

Something Feral said...

I should look into that too, MikeT, as I have been largely focusing my attention on fully grokking precious metals and other tangible goods.

Erik, I have an interesting HVAC idea that I'll post up soon.

Elevated tanks are a super idea, and I'm planning on implementing the same strategy with a sizeable cistern (requires a hill). If necessary, one could use a wind-powered pump, but something like a spring-box, artisan well or horizontally-tapped well (into the hillside) would be best, as no power is required. (This is precisely the reason I'm searching for property with elevation change, preferably south-facing, with water. Water is a must.)

You should pick up a copy of the book I linked; I have a keen feeling that it will answer a lot of questions you may have. The Encyclopedia of Country Living is another book that has a ridiculous amount of information. Check your library!