Digital Detox: let your mind off-grid

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Digital Detox, phone, smartphone, social media, internet, camp, off-grid, technology

We need to stop looking down and start looking up!

Rising heart rate, a sense of panic, breathing becoming shallow and inconsistent. It is highly likely that you have experienced these very symptoms at some point during your life. Perhaps you were in a confined space, feeling claustrophobic, or you were in a large crowd feeling disorientated….or perhaps you misplaced or lost your smart phone. Maybe you hadn’t even lost it, but the battery symbol was flashing red – oh no my cell’s going to die! If this sounds like you or someone you know, chances are you have smartphone separation anxiety – a.k.a. “nomophobia”. This has led to the need for us to have a digital detox.

What is “nomophobia”?

This term was coined in 2010 and relates to the feelings of anxiety linked to losing your phone, having no network coverage or when your battery is running low. Researchers at Iowa State University have found that there are four main components to nomophobia. The first is the fear of not being able to communicate with people or being in contact; the second is losing connectedness in general; the third not being able to access information and the fourth is not having the convenience that a smartphone brings. Watch the video below from Iowa State University to find out more about nomophobia.

But why does this anxiety happen?

Smartphones and technology have many benefits, but it has also infiltrated every aspect of our daily lives. Let’s face it, we rely on our phones an enormous amount – because they can do so much! Need directions? Check a date in the calendar? Don’t know the answer to a question? Need to make a call? More often than not, we all reach for our phone. If we think about it, they organise and navigate our daily lives more than we think.

Research has shown that we rely on our devices as much as we rely on a life partner. That is a scary thought – surely a device can’t replace someone as important as a spouse or significant other? The psychology behind this subconscious thought process though is very interesting. If we have a reliable source of external information on a specific topic, then we are less motivated and likely to remember that information for ourselves. If we need the answer to something we go to our reliable information source.

Before now, these reliable sources of information would take the form of people, and to some extent still do. For example, my dad knows a lot about cars I however, live in blissful ignorance and know very little. But I know all too well I can go to him for help so I am less motivated to learn and retain information about anything car-related.  The exact same process happens in our brains except now we don’t turn to people for help, we turn to our smartphones. Why should we bother remembering things when we can ask Siri? This reliance has led to what scientists are calling “digital dementia” – reduced cognitive abilities related to the overuse of gadgets.

It’s not just Digital Dementia we have to worry about

Digital detox, online, technology, smartphone, off-grid, mind, mental

Even when we’re on holiday, we’re still connected to our phones and technology – no online detoxing happening!

There are plenty of other health impacts from the overuse of our devices. Staring at phones and screens for extended periods of time, especially in low light, can lead to eye strain and headaches. The blue light can also impact our sleep patterns, especially with use just before sleep. After all, who isn’t tempted to check your favourite social media site just one last time before you close your eyes? Plus using social media sites in place of social interactions with actual people, can also lead to depression and anxiety. Constantly comparing yourself to others through an Instagram filter or the selfies on Facebook can impact your self-esteem.

Decreases in physical activity are also common place. After a long day at work, it’s very tempting to veg out in front of the television, laptop, i-pad, or pick up your phone to keep connected.

We need a Digital Detox

So far it’s all sounding pretty doom and gloom isn’t it? But there is hope on the horizon, in the form of a digital detox. A study, funded by company Kovert Designs, observed 35 people with no gadgets in the Moroccan Desert. The results were astounding. After four days researchers observed improved posture with greater eye contact being made during conversations. Memory also improved as people were more present in conversations instead of having one eye on their phone, meaning they were better able to process and store more information from the conversation. Remembering finer details from conversations also helps people to build stronger bonds and relationships with each other. Improved sleep patterns were also seen as the participants weren’t checking phones before sleeping. Therefore, their melatonin levels weren’t suppressed, enabling them to have a more uninterrupted night’s sleep.

An off-grid mind set

The results of the study have shown that digitally detoxing can have health benefits as well as improving your relationships with those around you. It also helps stem your whirring mind and unplug from the world for a short while – which is no bad thing!

Companies like Digital Detox, offer retreats providing off-grid accommodation and workshops – no digital technology allowed! The idea behind these retreats is to disconnect with the online world and reconnect with your sense of self. Camp Grounded, Mendocino, California is set in a beautiful 2,000 acres of woodland and described as a pure, unadulterated camp for grown-ups! Hiking through the countryside, practising mindfulness and yoga, as well as art and writing workshops are all a part of this all-inclusive program. Testimonials from Digital Detox include it being a “rejuvenating time” and a “transformational experience”.

The next Camp Grounded retreat offered by Digital Detox is from May 20th to May 23rd with tickets starting at $695 based on options chosen.

 

What can you do day to day?

If you don’t have the funds to spend a long weekend detoxing from your smartphone device, there are some things you can do at home. Tania Mulry, a digital marketing guru gave some tips on having an immediate digital detox in a TEDx talk at La Sierra University.

  • Turn off your notifications to quiet unnecessary noise from all of those apps.
  • Get rid of toxic apps and pages that bait you into wasting hours of your life by dragging you into commenting.
  • Go into Airplane mode, just because it’s in the title doesn’t mean this has to be solely used for airplanes. This takes you out of the rat race of notifications until you’re ready to reconnect with the online world.
  • Set a time in the evening after which you don’t touch your devices and gadgets, this will help you settle back into a healthy sleep pattern without your melatonin levels being interrupted.
  • Occupy your free time with a new hobby instead of filling your time with scrolling through screens.
  • Deepen connections with those around you by interacting face to face rather than through an online device.

See the full TED Talk from Digital Marketer Tania Mulry about the need for a Digital Detox.

You might like:

Simplify Your Life: Disconnect to Reconnect

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DIY Desalination

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Water desalination can be easy AND rewarding

Earth isn’t called the “Blue Planet” for nothing, but the majority is saltwater and therefore not immediately drinkable. Hence we need the desalination process which removes the salt from saline water so we can drink it.

One of the main hurdles living outside the system is having a reliable source of clean, fresh drinking water. There are plenty of desalination projects that cost into the millions of dollars, but how about cheap DIY methods you can do at home?

Desalination can take advantage of evaporation. The dirty or saline water is heated and the water turns to steam, leaving the impurities (salt) behind. All that then needs to be done is capture the steam, condense it and voila clean drinkable water.

 

Below are some videos of easy and cheap methods of making your own DIY desalination devices!

The first is based on a whistling kettle, some pipe, a coolant around said piping and a collection tin – easy peasy!

 

Here is another version of a similar system using a pressure cooker instead – who said they are only good for canning!?

 

If you want to invest in some specific desalination kit, then check out this video which uses the non-electric distiller by Water Wise.

 

No camp fire or stove to hand? No problem! Check out these solar distillers – not exactly top tech, but proves you can capture the power of evaporation really easily. (Ignore the soil eating cat!)

 

And one using a plastic bottle!

Let’s face it we have all wanted to live by a golden beach in a sunny spot at some time in our lives. But with water at a dollar a pop for a 100cl plastic bottle, desalination has a definite cash benefit.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these methods? Let us know in the comments below!

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Experimental Tech in Desert Village

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An off-grid village in the dry desert has become the place to develop solutions for off-grid living in undeveloped communities.

An off-grid desert village in Kibbutz Ketura, Israel is being used as a platform for tech companies and entrepreneurs to develop innovative off-grid technologies. The village was set up in 2014 via a collaboration between the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies and Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative. The project is aimed at developing off-grid solutions for undeveloped areas, encouraging experimentation. It is the key step between development and implementation in areas where whole communities have no grid access.

There are four key areas for off-grid living which are currently being developed and worked on in the village.

Desert Village Building:

There are three types of structure in the village, based on existing building types within in off-grid communities. The rural structure is based on a traditional design and has a thatched roof to help with ventilation, but lacks natural light. Therefore, to adapt it, the village has added windows to the buildings to provide natural light for reading and other activities, as well as providing more ventilation.

The urban structure is based on a design most commonly seen in urban slums. The modifications to this design are the double roof structure and wall insulation. The first roof layer is made of palm leaves for ventilation purposes and the second consists of metal for protection against the rain. Plywood walls have insulator material like sheep wool within the wall to keep thermal balance in the building. The structure is mainly based on plywood which is low priced and the design is simple to construct.

Finally, the earthbag dome design was first developed in the 1980s, using soil sacks to construct huts. The bags of soil provide a rigid, stable structure with a balance of temperature. There is no need for deep foundations or a separate roof structure, due to the dome shape. These buildings are rapid to construct, simple and cheap.

Energy:

The desert village has some different energy technologies within its boundaries. The Kalipack solar suitcase can produce energy from three sources – electricity, a vehicle or solar power. Storage takes the form of a lithium ion battery and can power a small refrigerator, laptop or lighting, amongst other things. The village also has a small domestic biogas system which has efficient waste disposal whilst producing methane gas for cooking, water heating and home lighting.

LuminAID have introduced some chargeable and easy to use solar lighting. But GravityLights have also been developed at the village. These work by combining kinetic energy with potential energy. A weight of some sort is elevated and connected to a pulley system which powers a generator. The result is a light which is five times brighter than a kerosene lamp. Surveys with families using the lights have been very positive so far.

Water:

Clearly something that is very important in every community is clean water. The desert village has a solar water distillation system developed by SunDwater. This technology converts contaminated water to drinkable clean water through a process of concentrated radiation, requiring no external energy source. Plus, it’s completely green and eco-friendly. NUFiltration have also developed a water purifier unit in the desert village which provides waste water treatment. Once again, easy to use, requires no electricity and produces 500 litres of clean water per hour. There’s also no maintenance or spare parts required as it’s all done using man power! The village also has a solar powered water pumping system for agriculture and farming.

Food:

We all need fuel and that means food! The village has a hydroponics system developed called the LivingBox. These modular units are like Lego, therefore they can be fitted together and remodelled to suit different needs. They can grow a wide variety of fruit and veg and save up to 80% of water that would be used in other techniques. Solar ovens and cookers are used for cooking food. Plus, an energy generating pot has been developed which produces electricity from a heat source. The pot can then be used as a charging point for phones and other devices.

These are just some of the developed technologies that are in the village. Check out this video below to find out more about renewable energy in the Off-grid demonstration village!

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A Survivalist’s Top Prepping Tips

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Fire is one of survivalist Fischer’s top prepping priorities

Last month hordes of prepping enthusiasts and survivalists turned out for the Survival Expo in Richmond, Virginia. Vendors like Preparedness Essentials were present selling prepping  products from long term food storage solutions to solar power to tactical gear. One of the vendors was Joe Fischer, a firefighter and air force veteran turned business owner who promotes survivalist training. His business USURVIVEALL also sells survival equipment like the Firestarter which retails at $25.00.

“Preparedness is a way of life.”

Joe is a strong advocate of versatile items in a grid down situation. The essentials in the trunk of his car include pouches of tuna, rice and beans and tea lights. But two key pieces are his bandana and some black tape. Why? They are versatile! A bandana can protect your face from bugs, act as a water filter and be used as a bag to carry berries or other food. Whereas, black tape can be used as a bandage, for repairs or lashing things together to make a shelter or some other construction.

Fischer doesn’t prep for civil unrest, economic collapse or the end of the world, he simply wants to be ready for a particularly bad storm, tornado or power outage. Versatility he believes is the key to surviving.

His top prepping priorities are:

  • Fire – not only for heat and cooking, fire is an important resource for purifying water. It also has soothing abilities; anyone who’s sat by a crackling fire knows how calming it is. Therefore, it helps put you at ease, as Fischer points out, “every animal on earth is afraid of fire”.
  • Knife – common sense prevails, this is an extremely important tool for any survival situation and can get you out of some sticky situations.
  • Shelter and water – a product like a mylar blanket not only keeps you warm but can be set up as a shelter. It can also be used to collect water. Plus, it’s cheap and easy to pack, folding down into a small square for transport.
  • Cordage – something that doesn’t cross everyone’s mind, but is just as important urges Fischer. Cord can help you string up a shelter or a rain tarp. Not to mention if you need to do some climbing (up or down) this can be the difference between life and death.
Prepping, prepper, survivalist, survival, off-grid, self-sufficiency, versatile

A bandana is a versatile piece of kit that could be game-changing in a survival situation

The next Expo coordinated by RK Prepper Shows is being held in Springfield, Montana on June 24th and June 25th. Tickets are priced between $12 – $14.50 for adults and $5 – $7.50 and can be purchased online.

Surviving societal collapse

Even though Fischer doesn’t believe in prepping for end-of-the-world scenarios, two South Carolina law makers have a different view. Josiah Magnuson and Jonathon Hill have set up the “Virtue Solution Project”, a group which aims to save America… or survive societal collapse. Based on a mix of religion, political organizing and disaster prepping, the group advocates their followers to form communities that do not rely on corporate America. Community preparedness centres will enable followers to learn about spiritual leadership, first aid, farming, renewable energy and tactical defence.

Magnuson is setting up the first prepping centre in a barn on an acre of land outside Campabello. Although it will start life as a coffee shop, it is hoped it will be developed further for the group. Apparently, other groups are planned for Pickens, Simpsonville, Charleston and over the border in Georgia.

Magnuson states, “there will come a point where there is a major disaster in our country…we need to be ready for that, and (prepping) will give us an opportunity to have a fresh beginning.”

The group is heavily based on religion, with a focus to reshape community ideas towards those of the Founding Fathers. However, Hill points out that the group is in its infancy and development of ideas is still taking place. “We’re not saying that everybody should go and pick up guns and go have a revolution.” Instead, he says prepping is about self-sufficiency and providing for your neighbours and community.

For a more in depth analysis of the group’s ideology, take a look at this article.

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Spain’s Sun Tax to be axed

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Sun tax, Spain, Off-grid, solar panels, tax, grid

Is the sun finally setting on Spain’s controversial “sun tax”?

In October 2015, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved a controversial tax on those using electricity produced by their own solar installations. However, a new government says solar panel owners could soon see the back of the so called sun tax.

What is the sun tax?

This legislation causes those with self-consumptive photovoltaic systems to pay the same grid fees as those without solar panels. This covers the power contracted from an electricity company. But they also have to pay a second “sun tax” which means solar panel owners pay for the electricity they generate and use from their PV systems, even though it doesn’t come into contact with the grid.

There are other facets of the legislation which also caused more outrage. Photovoltaic systems up to 100 kW are not able to sell any excess electricity they produce. Instead, they must “donate” the extra to the grid free of charge. Systems over 100 kW must register if they wish to sell the extra electricity. Community ownership of PV systems, of all sizes, under this legislation is prohibited. Not only this, but the legislation is retroactive; meaning installations prior to the introduction of the tax must comply. If the conditions are not met, then the PV system owners are subject to a penalty fee of up to €60 million ($64 million). To put this in perspective, this is twice the penalty of a radioactive leak from a nuclear plant. Unsurprisingly, this caused outrage.

Exceptions to the tax

There are some circumstances where the tax does not apply. Fear not off-gridders, this tax is only for those connected to the grid. If you run an off-grid system then no grid tax needs to be paid at all. Installations smaller than 10 kW are also exempt from paying the second sun tax. The Canary Islands and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla (Spanish territories in Africa) are also exempt from the second tax. Mallorca and Menorca pay the second sun tax at a reduced rate.

The Spanish government defended the legislation by saying the fees contribute to overall grid system costs. However, the Spanish Photovoltaic Union (UNEF) pointed out how uneconomic the new law was. Their spokesperson stated, “Each kWh imported from the grid by a self-consumer will pay double the tolls compared to a kWh imported from the gird by another consumer.”

Change on the horizon

The current legislation is an unnecessary burden placed upon solar consumers who want to be more economical and environmentally friendly. This has been recognized by opposing political parties and other unions and consumers. The political party which initially brought in the sun tax is now a minority. Therefore, there is now the opportunity for all opposing parties to remove this expensive and impractical legislation.

In January 2017 a law proposal was registered in congress, beginning the process of the sun tax removal. The urgent changes to the legislation listed in the document include the right to self-consumption of solar energy without charge. Along with this, several consumers should be able to pool their resources to share a self-consumption facility to help tackle poverty. Plus, the proposal also adapts the sanctioning regime to avoid the multi-million euro fines, becoming more realistic. Finally, the importance of renewable energy as an appropriate instrument to help reduce environmental impact of electricity production has been recognised. Alongside, the role it can play in strengthening energy independence for Spain. The President of the UNEF, Jorge Barredo, said of the proposal, “it is a very important step in defining a different and more favourable regulatory framework for self-consumption.”

The law proposal has outlined a period of 3 months for the legislation to come into action.

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A Microgrid Revolution – Blockchains spreading everywhere

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Microgrid, revolution, off-grid, electricity, trading, blockchain, technology, solar, renewables

Could pylons become a relic of the past with the microgrid revolution?

This is the new way to generate power, sell it to your neighbours, and cut out the middleman – the Utility company. And it uses the same Blockchain technology as Bitcoin.

In the Gowanus and Park Slope regions of Brooklyn, dozens of solar panel arrays have been hooked up to the Brooklyn Microgrid.  The project which currently has 50 participants signs residents up to a virtual trading platform. Those with solar panels are then able to sell excess electricity credits generated from their systems to buyers within the microgrid community.

Based on Blockchain

The virtual energy trading system is based on “blockchain” technology. This allows individuals to keep a secure and reliable record of transactions. It is essentially technology’s answer to a book keeping system. Giving more control to the consumer, it allows the turning of traditional relationships between utility companies and customers on its head. By bypassing the big electricity companies altogether it is allowing this community to have a sustainable, secure and cost-effective source of power. Lawrence Orsini, LO₃’s CEO, told the New York Times, “In order for transactive energy to take off as a whole, regulators have to be comfortable that markets can actually work this way and, more importantly, that people want markets like this.”

LO₃ Energy are the designers of this experiment. They used Google Earth to identify the Brooklyn neighbourhood as the first of potentially many more microgrids. By moving away from a centralized approach and creating local energy networks, should an emergency occur these systems can become grid independent. Residents approve of future project plans, which involve a microgrid located near to a hospital or other community resource. This way essential services could disconnect from the grid and operate independently during power failure. Garry Golden, a member of the Brooklyn Microgrid, said, “It’s a recognition of energy needs…you can feed the energy where it needs to go”.

Microgrids elsewhere

The Brooklyn Microgrid is hardly the first community to explore microgrid options. In Bangladesh, Me SolShare, a company founded in 2014, has been working on setting up microgrids in rural areas. Offering peer to peer sharing and pay-as-you-go solutions for low income households, the company aims to help the 65 million people without central grid access. The SolBox is the key to the trading networks they set up. Acting as a DC power meter, solar charge controller and machine to machine communicator, it is a node in the electricity network. The decentralised peer to peer microgrid networks set up let people earn income directly from the sun. In a low income household, this can make a huge difference.

Jumping continents

German based company Sonnen, have set up a community of 8,000 sonnenBatterie owners who share the energy they produce. By using the energy exclusively from the community, there is no need to go back to a utility supplier. The virtual energy pool is monitored by central software which balances supply and demand throughout the system. There is a monthly membership fee of €19.99 ($21) to join the sonnenCommunity. However, Sonnen justifies this with a number of benefits for joining the community aside from cheaper energy prices. These include: a discount on a sonnenBatterie with a 10 year guarantee; plus free remote maintenance and monitoring and weather forecast updates, amongst others.

And again

Jumping continents again, in Australia Power Ledger have used blockchain technology to set up the first residential electricity trading market. Located in Perth, the system will allow renewable energy owners to decide who they want to sell their surplus energy too and at what cost. Power Ledger is also working on a 500 site trial in Auckland, with New Zealand’s largest electricity distributor.

It’s clear that the benefits of microgrids are becoming more well-known and wide spread as technology allows its facilitation. Do you have any microgrid experiences or opinions? Let us know in the comments below!

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6 Hot Springs you must visit

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Hot Springs, off-grid, water, solar, geothermal, retreat, off the beaten track

Fancy a dip?

Hot springs offer much-needed peace, quiet and relaxation. The naturally occurring, geothermally heated bliss provided in beautiful surroundings is second to none. Plus, if you don’t want to be in a more developed hot spring spa, there are plenty of options to exploreoff-the-beaten-track . Here are 6 off-grid hot springs you definitely need to visit!

If you want off the beaten track then try:

Ringbolt Hot Springs – Arizona

Located in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, this set of pools is visited by thousands of people per year. A 6 mile round trail takes you up through a dramatic volcanic canyon, south of the Hoover Dam. Volcanic rock and granite boulders litter the landscape and lead you to a spot just downstream of the Ringbolt Rapids. After climbing a 20 foot ladder to access the best springs you can bathe to your heart’s content. Directly at the source of the springs the water is the warmest, reaching up to 110°F. The highly mineralized water spews out of the source at approximately 30 gallons per minute! The strenuous hike takes approximately 5 hours to complete (excluding time spent bathing in those beautiful springs) and is closed during the summer months due to it being hazardous because of high temperatures.

Read this couple’s experience of trekking and camping in the area. Alternatively, watch this father and son duo take the trail up through the canyon and reach their destination:

 

Steep Ravine Hot Springs – California

These hot springs are rather unique, trading mountainous vistas for a beach front! The warm water seeps up through the sand at the Steep Ravine Beach in Marin County. These springs are quite a phenomenon, only being exposed for a couple of hours a day. Therefore, it is important to consult a Californian Tide Chart and opt for a minus tide, to avoid disappointment. However, due to the very slight window in the day in which the springs can be accessed it can get rather busy! It’s worth it though, even just to paddle in these warm waters.

 

Goldbug Hot Springs – Idaho

Between the small towns of Salmon and Challis, high up in the desert, lies a chain of six waterfall fed pools. These small but perfectly formed features are accessed by a very up-hill 2 mile hike. The trail offers little shade for respite and the majority of the climb is done in the last quarter of the trek. The pools are a definite reward after that steep incline! Water temperature varies depending on the time of year, so don’t dive in (literally) until you’ve judged the temperature with a hand or foot first! Be warned clothing is optional at the pools, so don’t be surprised if you see some not entirely clothed hikers in the area.

For other hot springs in Idaho, check this out.

 

If you want a bit of luxury, then visit:

Wilbur Hot Springs – California

This is an off-grid sanctuary, providing a natural digital detox from the very on-grid, tech-loving world. The solar-powered resort is set in the heart of a 1,800 acre nature preserve, and it has its own hot mineral springs. The geothermal water contains 3 ounces of dissolved minerals per gallon and is undiluted, untreated and unheated. This is a true relaxation haven with massage treatments and yoga sessions also available. You can take a day trip, or camping grounds, cabins and a solar lodge are all available, giving the option to extend your stay.

Watch this video to get your first impressions of Wilbur Hot Springs:

 

Strawberry Park Hot Springs – Colorado

Up a winding track a few miles out of Steamboat springs, lies this beautiful off-grid retreat. No big signs point to its location and during the winter only big 4x4s are allowed up dirt road. Alternatively, the springs can be reached via a 3 mile trail through the surrounding national forest. This has a real off-the-beaten-track feel. Several large soaking pools with warm to rather hot waters are available next to a cold creek for some cooling off. During the day the springs are family friendly, however during the evening an optional clothes policy means adults only! The resort is currently working on replacing their solar panels, batteries and controllers to keep their off-grid status.

Watch the video below to get a feel of Strawberry Park Hot Springs:

 

Breitenbush Hot Springs – Oregon

Last but not least, is the remote forest sanctuary named Breitenbush. In 154 acres of beautiful landscape including a glacier fed river, an ancient forest and mountains on the horizon, sanctuary really is the right word. Three natural pools with smooth river rocks allow you to sit back and take in the beautiful landscape. Temperatures range from warm to very hot, with a cool plunge pool available to cool off. Powered by hydroelectric from the nearby Breitenbush River and heated by the geothermal water, this sanctuary is entirely off-grid. Hiking throughout the surrounding landscape, massage treatments and several “Well-Being” programs are also available.

 

Have you visited any of these places or been to other hot springs not mentioned? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ten Tiny House Companies you NEED to know about

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Tiny House, off-grid, build your own, retirees, retirement, small, mini, houses, homes, self sustaining

Good things come in tiny packages

There’s no doubt about it, the tiny house movement has well and truly taken off. Please let us know your favorites (news@off-grid.net). Extreme downsizing has become very popular, with a smaller space offering easier upkeep and lower utility bills. The average tiny house is 186 square feet – truly tiny! With prices of building your own tiny home being around $23,000 on average (remember Joseph’s upcycled shipping container home?) it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular. Even having someone else build you a tiny house, prices start around the $45,000 mark. This is a great deal cheaper than the price of the average American home which runs into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, a good many tiny house owners do not have a mortgage, giving financial peace of mind.

A survey conducted in 2015 by TheTinyLife.com found that retirees are becoming a large proportion of tiny house owners. The results showed that 30% of just 2,000 respondents were aged between 51-70 years. Of course this makes sense, as people reach retirement age downsizing is common practice – and you can’t downsize much more than a tiny home! When looking for a tiny house when you’re not as young and nimble as you used to be, it is important to look out for certain features. These include: easy to reach storage to reduce awkward stooping and stretching; a single storey tiny house, or a main floor bedroom – avoid loft sleeping areas with ladders! Accessibility is also important; whether this be wide doorways, walk in showers, ramp access or building low to the ground.

Here are ten tiny house companies, offering retiree appropriate (and non-retiree) products which could very well seal the deal for you!

 

Zyl Vardos Inc – Washington State

Based out of the Squirrel Hut mini-office in Olympia, Washington, Zyl Vardos builds unique and customisable small structures. The tiny house products offered vary in price from $45,000 to above $96,000. Currently their website showcases 10 of the tiny houses offered, but if you fancy having one designed to your own specification, that is also possible.

Their “Little Bird” Basic option is one of build options available. Coming in at $68,000, with a  22 ft x 8 ft floor space, this home has a copper roof and cedar exterior. With a single French door, 6 windows and a kitchenette, this tiny house has everything you would need. The bed nook happily fits a queen mattress, with room to spare, and a flush or compost toilet can be fitted.

If you would like to upgrade to the “Advanced” option of the Little Bird you can – for an extra $10,000. This upgraded model includes a tiled bathroom floor, oak floors, double French doors, expanded kitchen storage amongst other features. Custom options for a retiree such as wider doorways and a raised toilet can be included at an additional feel.

Zyl Vardos have a building slot available in June 2017, so if this has piqued your interest or you want to let your imagination run free with your own design – contact them. Their YouTube Channel, also gives some great insights into their range of tiny houses!

Tumbleweed Houses – Colorado State

A variety of options await you with the ability to design your perfect tiny house in less than 10 minutes! Base model prices begin at $62,950, with the Cypress and its recess porch being the most popular. Each model can either be 20ft or 26ft in length, offering 188 square feet and 269 square feet of space respectively.  The floor plan options can be customised to your needs, so you can truly put your stamp on the build.

Designing your own tiny house involves you choosing everything from roof colour and window style to interior walls and extra features. Oak, Bamboo or Walnut flooring – the choice is yours! Cabinet colour? Which stairs to get to the loft? Warranty length? All of these choices and many more are placed directly in your hands, giving you a quote for the exact tiny house of your dreams. Off-grid options are also available.

Check out their gallery for some images of what some people have done with their amazing tiny spaces.

 

Escape Home – Wisconsin

This company offers a variety of RV model and park model RVs, which come with basic and custom packages. One of the larger park model options, the Getaway has 400 square foot of space. It comes with a full size bathroom, kitchen with all appliances and private bedroom with queen size bed. The beauty of this home is it is all on one floor, so no pesky stairs or ladders to bother with. Panoramic windows offer breath-taking views to the great outdoors, with the option of an open deck, screened porch or even a sun-room for that extra oomph. Retailing at $88,700, this is a more expensive option, but offers a larger space with plenty of storage and all the comforts of home.

Off-grid options like solar panels and composting toilets can also be added into the designs offered. Depending on the model and customisation options, your Escape can be built in as little as two months and can be delivered to you (charges variable).

To find out more, visit the FAQ section on the Escape website to get into the nitty gritty of these tiny houses.

 

Little House on the Trailer – California

Offering compact moveable, customisable housing and home care cottages from $49,500 what’s not to like? Although, technically Little House on the Trailer is not a tiny house company, the models they build are still on the small side at 400 square feet. The home care cottages are aimed at retirees, allowing parents to live in the backyards of their kids, whilst still having their independence and own space. The selling point of this company is the heavy involvement of the client with the design of the homes. The time it takes from design to delivery is on average 2-3 months. If you fancy seeing one of the models, their display yard is open Saturdays 10 am to 4 pm.

To see more of the beautiful small spaces Little House on the Trailer builds, take a look at their gallery!

 

Home Care Suites – Florida

Tiny House, tiny home, self sustaining, small, mini, retirees, retirement, off-grid

Surprisingly spacious – tiny homes offer a lot for their money.

Like Little House on the Trailer, this company specialises in building small cottages in the backyards of existing residents. Therefore, they are built on permanent foundations and the utilities are tied to the main residence. Aimed mostly at retirees, these tiny houses are also marketed as potential home offices or man caves! Ranging in size from 256 square foot to 588 square foot, there can be ample room inside these tiny houses.

Aiming for the middle ground, the single storey Floridian model comes in at a nicely sized 448 square feet. With a spacious living area, private bedroom with walk in closet, accessible bathroom with walk-in shower, this has everything you could possibly need. It is also fully customisable, so added extras are also possible. The price for this model is $85,000 – $100,000 depending on options chosen. The minimum price for their smallest tiny house is $55,000. These tiny homes typically take between 5 – 6 months to build.

Check out Home Care Suites’ floor plans to see if any are right for you, or even just for a bit of inspiration!

 

Minim Homes – Washington

Not as flexible as some of the other companies mentioned, the Minim House comes as a standard basic home unit. It does however have a few options for customisation. The 12 foot by 24 foot space has an aluminium clad door, six windows and a solid walnut floor. The kitchen area has a stainless sink with foot pedals for hot and cold water, whilst the 4 foot by 6 foot bathroom has a separate walk in shower. A low flush toilet comes as part of the build, or the customer can install a compost toilet at a reduced price. There are plenty of handy storage areas, for instance, the 5 foot sofa opens up to reveal hidden storage space.

Options to add on to the home include a trailer, extra windows and an off –grid package of solar system and refrigerator. The price for this mini home is $71,000 and can be delivered to you for an extra cost.

Check out this pdf document for more on what’s included in the Minim House and prices for optional extras.

 

Shopdog – New Mexico

This company builds tiny houses to suit any design and need and are fully customisable. However, there is one condition – it has to be fully off-grid and self-sustaining. Plus, they aim to build the whole thing out of recycled materials (or as much of it as they can). This is what they achieved with the “Steely Cottage”, a 200 square foot space built on a 24 foot by 8.5 foot trailer. With a self-contained solar system, a composting toilet and grey water drainage system, this tiny house can go absolutely anywhere. As long as there’s sunshine and water to fill the tank of course! Plus, with its full size shower and queen size mattress bed, who says good things don’t come in small packages! The Steely Cottage costs $50,000 and can be shipped for a fee.

 

Nelson Tiny Houses – British Columbia, Canada

This company offers two main styles of tiny house, the V House and the Acorn. From these the company can build something customised entirely by you. V is for versatile and that certainly suits the V House down to a T! A 120 square foot (8 foot by 15 foot) V House comes in at $35,000. However, this can be made larger – up to 250 square foot – double the size! Typically, each additional square foot is around $200.

Built to your specific needs, your tiny house can be furnished with custom built furniture. Alternatively, you can adapt the original floor plan to add rooms or multiple lofts for more storage. Really very versatile! Plus, the tiny house can be built to be fully off-grid. However the price tag does increase up to $10,000 for this. Typical building time for one of these projects is between 12 and 24 months depending on the specification.  Currently, the company only delivers to certain states in the US – Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Check out a tour of the V House, plus check out the Nelson Tiny House YouTube Channel!

Tiny Home Builders – Florida

Another company with a variety of models, which can be delivered nationwide! One model is even named “Tiny Retirement”. Designed specifically for retirees it is based on a single level – no stairs in sight! Plus, with the entryway located at one end of the building, this allows space for a bathroom at the other. This leaves plenty of room  in the rest of the space for a full size bed!

However, if you don’t want to buy a model with “retirement” in the title, the Tiny Studio model can be customised to your needs instead. Options such as slip resistant flooring and a ramp are available! This tiny house has 160 square foot of space with kitchen and dining space on a slightly raised level. Underneath this platform there is a roll-away bed which becomes seating space when put away. Plus, being built on a mobile trailer, the tiny studio can go anywhere – just because you’re retired doesn’t mean you have to stay in one place!

 

Creative Cottages – Maine

Last but by no means least is Creative Cottages, which create custom energy efficient homes using environmentally sensitive building practices. Their Oceanside Retreat is a beautifully crafted 422 square feet which is liveable all year round. A single storey layout, with bedroom, kitchen and bathroom facilities, whilst the sliding glass doors ensure there is lots of natural light, making it bright and airy. Custom built on foundations, this is a more expensive option compared to the other choices outlined above, coming in at $238,000.

Creative Cottages also only services the Mid-coast Maine area. However, there is the option to buy plans from them (at a cost of between £1,850 and $2,300) and hire a contractor to build your very own creative cottage elsewhere.

 

These are just some of the tiny house building companies out there. It is clear there is a wide range of scope and creativity when it comes to building these mini homes. But it is easy to understand why so many people have fallen in love with them.

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EcoSolarCool new Solar Refrigeration

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EcoSolarCool, Solar Refrigeration,Refrigerator, Solar, Off-grid,

Stay cool with the new EcoSolarCool’s refrigerator models

EcoSolarCool have kick-started 2017 with the release of two new Solar Refrigeration models. The new additions to the upright product line aim to minimise the daily power consumption of cooling appliances. Refrigerators are one of the most energy consuming appliances in the home, accounting for up to 25% of household energy cost. EcoSolarCool want to change this, “providing constant, reliable and energy efficient cooling at great value.”

Two New Models

Both of EcoSolarCool’s new models are approved by UL250 and CSA to US and Canadian standards. These are the only solar refrigerators in the world to hold this approval. Plus this is for the whole unit and not just the compressor. Both models have the most up to date and advanced Danfoss DC compressor and are manufactured in Europe. The power consumption for the models is also at a record low for the solar/DC appliances industry at 201 kWh per annum! This is also amongst the lowest in the AC refrigeration appliances market.

The ESCR260GE Metallic Grey model has a total capacity of 260 litres (9.2 cubic feet). The refrigeration compartment is larger in comparison to the freezer compartment at 235 litres (8.3 cubic feet) to 25 litres (0.9 cubic feet). The freezer is located at the top of the unit and the refrigeration compartment at the bottom. This model weighs in at 121.3 lb (55kg) and is 23.7 x 25.2 x 57.1 inches.

The ESCR355GE Stainless Steel model has a total capacity of 354 litres (12.5 cubic feet). The larger refrigeration compartment (258 litres/9.1 cubic feet) is located at the top of the unit, and the freezer compartment (96 litres/3.4 cubic feet) at the bottom. This model weighs in at 163.2 lb (74kg) and is 23.7 x 25.2 x 78.8 inches in size.

Features of Both

Both models have adjustable internal temperatures and reversible doors. The temperature range for the cooling compartment is between 0°C/32°F to 10°C/50°F. Whereas, the freezing compartment temperature can reach as low as -18°C/-0.4°F. For operation, both models need a solar panel, a 12 volt AGM, lithium or deep cycle battery and a 15 amp 12/24 volt solar charge controller. The battery ensures the refrigerator will continue running through the night and on not so sunny days. Whereas, the solar charge controller regulates the electric charge from the batteries and the solar panel(s). To find out how many solar panels/batteries needed to run your solar refrigeration appliance, check out EcoSolarCool’s blog post.

The refrigerators are perfect for a wide variety of situations from RVs, to cabins to on and off-grid homes.

Both refrigerator models can be bought from a local dealer or the Solar Power estore. Prices advertised on the EcoSolarCool website are $1,299.00 for the smaller Metallic Grey model and $1,650.00 for the larger Stainless Steel model.

EcoSolarCool Products all have these…

All the solar powered refrigeration and freezer appliances sold by EcoSolarCool have a 4.4 inch thick lining of polyurethane insulation. All products also have a built in energy-saving mode feature to make sure the units don’t guzzle more energy than what it needs. Plus, they also have an automatic shut off to ensure the appliances have a long service life. All units have a two year warranty and operate at an input voltage of 12/24 volts.

If you want to find out different methods of keeping food cool then check out this post.

You may also like to find out more about how solar refrigeration works in more detail, check out these articles:

What is a Solar Refrigerator?

Low Energy Refrigeration

The post EcoSolarCool new Solar Refrigeration appeared first on Living Off the Grid: Free Yourself.

Hawaii community begins development

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Hawaii, Development, Off-grid, Solar, batteries, minigrid

Fancy being off-grid here?

Hawaii has always been one of thebest places in America for off-grid living and now Work has begun on a hgh-end, 410-home, off-grid housing development located on Hawaii’s Gold Coast. The Hawaiian entrepreneur behind the project, Brian Anderson, believes it is set to be the first off-grid community development of such magnitude. Anderson told Bizjournals, “When considering how to power our community, I felt it was our responsibility to create something that would benefit future generations through the use of clean and safe renewable energy”.

The Ainamalu project is located in Waikoloa consisting of 350 homes and 60 condos. The buildings will have solar roofs and be hooked up to Blue Planet Energy’s Blue Ion Battery storage systems. These batteries are ferrous phosphate and so don’t contain any rare minerals. This means there is an abundant and conflict free resource available to produce them. Coming with a 15 year performance warranty, the batteries have a 100% discharge capacity. Blue Planet Energy was set up by another Hawaiian entrepreneur Henk Rogers.

Perfect for Solar


Driest in Hawaii

One of the driest places in the state, Waikoloa has less than 11 inches of rain per year, plus being located close to the equator it is perfect for solar energy. The solar and battery storage will create a micro-grid for the community. In addition, there will be a large energy storage system. Therefore, the community will have energy security. If residents use more energy that what their home produces, then they can obtain more from this supply. This would be for a fee below the average utility price. The technology for the micro-grid is called “Hee” after the Hawaiian octopus. This is due to the system’s ability to handle the distribution of energy throughout the many arms of the community.

The homes will range in size from 1,625 to 2,800 square feet on a 15,000 square foot lot. Residents of the community will have access to a private beach club, including pool, water slide and concessions on food. The layout of the community will also mean parts of the project can be used for vacation rentals. Prices for the homes are set to start at $750,000.

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Ex-Tesla Exec mulls Europe’s Biggest Battery line

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Battery factory, gigafactory, Tesla, automotive, electric, renewables,

The revolution – battery factory coming to Europe

Swedish company NorthVolt, which was co-founded by an ex-Tesla executive, has outlined plans to build Europe’s largest battery factory. The project would rival Tesla’s Gigafactory which is based in the Nevada Desert. It would also enable European businesses to move away from Asian battery companies which currently dominate lithium ion battery manufacture for electric cars.

The facility will produce 8 gigawatt hours of batteries per year initially when manufacture begins in 2020. This will rise to 32 gigawatt hours when it is fully operational by 2023. Location is yet to be decided, but a shortlist of possible sites is set to be released in a month. The front runners so far are Sweden and Finland, which would enable the factory to run on renewable energy.

A solid business plan

To meet emission reduction targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement, vehicle efficiency needs to double in the next 5 years. Manufacturers are therefore, turning to battery powered versions of their cars – Volkswagen plans to have 30 different electric car models by 2025. Electrification and battery storage is the key to becoming a zero-carbon economy. Batteries help to plug the gaps from intermittent renewables like solar and wind. Paolo Cerruti, the chief operating officer and another former Tesla executive stated, “The project resonates commercially, since the demand from automotive and energy storage sectors will be huge.”

But co-founder Peter Carlsson sees openings in energy storage and heavy industry too – not just automotive. He said, “We have a solid business plan in place that enables us to produce high quality batteries at an affordable cost.” He aims to supply local manufacturers rather than his previous employer Tesla. If nothing was done, then Europe would be “completely dependent on an Asian supply chain” he told the Financial Times. This is what he hopes to prevent with the gigafactory project which is planned to begin construction in late 2018.

The project needs a €4 billion investment to come to fruition. Currently funding agreements are in place with Stena, Vattenfall, InnoEnergy, the Swedish Energy Agency and Vinnova. Plus, NorthVolt will be applying for a loan from the European Investment Bank. However, Carlsson admits that raising the required funds whilst still maintaining a meaningful stake will be a challenge. But he is clear on one thing, “it is hugely important to accelerate society away from its fossil fuel addiction”.

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Apocalypse Survival Tips

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Post-apocalypse, survival, tips, billionaire, New Zealand, Boltholes, energy, food,

How the 99% can live thru an apocalypse

Recent panic-buying of land in New Zealand has been sparked by worries of a Trumpocalypse. Concerned billionaires, headed up by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, are apparently preparing for a catastrophic Apocalypse. Which catastrophe? Well, depends who you speak to – an earthquake, societal collapse, pandemic, World War III. One thing’s for certain, they want to be prepared.

 

Billionaire Boltholes in New Zealand

New Zealand is the location of choice for these panicked moguls. Why? A developed nation, capable of being self-sufficient and conveniently located as far from potential human made catastrophes as possible.  Plus, New Zealand is a pretty politically safe country – it’s not exactly on anyone’s nuclear hit list! It seems to be these reasons that lead to Peter Thiel forking out over $10 million for a 477 acre lakeside estate.

But what about us non-billionaires? The ordinary folk who can’t afford boltholes in New Zealand? What does the common man need to know to survive and ultimately rebuild society?

In his book, “The Knowledge”, Lewis Dartnell lays out the key things you need to know for rebuilding society from scratch. Essentially a quick guide on how to reboot human civilisation. Here, are some of the key messages from the book, from short term survival to long term society building.

 

Water Purification

Purifying your drinking water is very important so as not to contract disease from lurking bacteria. Disease such as cholera could well become prevalent in more developed countries once more in a post-apocalyptic world if drinking dirty water. Boiling may seem like the obvious go to option but this uses a lot of fuel, which will become very valuable.

The method recommended by the World Health Organization for those living in developing countries is solar disinfection. UV waves and other forms of the suns radiation cause DNA damage and photo-oxidative destruction to bacteria and other disease causing organisms.  The method is simple: fill plastic bottles with water (of a low turbidity, this method won’t work with very turbid water) and leave them outside for a period of time. The length of time is dependent on the weather conditions: sunny conditions only needs six hours, compared to cloudy conditions which would require up to 2 days.

The benefits of this method are that it is cheap, easy AND it works. Using this method there is a significantly lower instance of diarrhea related disease compared to drinking untreated water. However, if water is very turbid then it will need to be filtered prior to treatment. Also only a limited volume of water can be treated at one time (i.e. the amount the bottles will hold) and a long period of time is required for treatment.

 

Infection Prevention

Things we take for granted like keeping clean help us to prevent infection. It is important to carry this forward in a post-apocalyptic earth – once again to ensure your survival. Something incredibly simple, like soap helps to protect against gastrointestinal and respiratory infection. There are many links online about how to make your own soap, like this one. Ethanol is also good for disinfection when you have a wound. This can be made from fermented food or grain.

 

Power Generation after Apocalypse

Coming from pre-apocalypse earth where we have a great reliance on power for practically everything, power generation will be very important post-apocalypse. Initially, scavenging diesel generators may provide enough power short term. But longer term power generation will be an important consideration. Renewables would be the way to go post apocalypse, generating electricity from water wheels and similar contraptions, using an alternator from abandoned cars. Excess energy could then be stored in batteries. Car batteries aren’t the best battery for energy storage, but they would be a starting point and would no doubt be in quite good supply! Check out this article for more information on the best batteries.

 

Growing Food

Food, the human energy source, is obviously a very important consideration. Sure to begin with you can scavenge from supermarkets and corner shops, but what about longer term? The store of food from pre-apocalypse earth won’t power the rebuilding of society. Luckily, there is a “back-up plan” in place for rebuilding agriculture and the variety of food as we know it today.

The Svalbard Seed Vault is a stockpile of over 880,000 samples of seed from seed vaults across 233 countries. The bank holds the staples of food security such as wheat, maize and rice. Despite being in a remote location surrounded by beautiful landscape, the Svalbard Seed Bank is anything but Bond villain-esque. It is essentially a hole in a mountain side, culminating in three chambers behind a set of five locked doors. It is built to last 1,000 years, with the permafrost and thick ice ensuring the precious seeds remain frozen without requiring any power. This mountainside storage facility essentially holds a starter pack of viable seeds to help rebuild agriculture and food security.

 

Power Cars – with trees

We have grown very accustomed to easy travel and the need for getting cars and other vehicles working will no doubt be an important factor in survival. But with a lack of fuel for diesel and petrol cars post-apocalypse, thinking back in time may help. During the Second World War millions of cars in Europe were run on fuel from wood. Modifying a car’s internal combustion engine to run on flammable gases produced by incomplete combustion of wood has been done before – it can be done again. Check out this article to find out more on gasifier engines.

 

Learning to Relearn

So we have the beginnings of initially being able to survive in post-apocalyptic earth, but surviving and rebuilding society are different things. How can we rebuild human society? Dartnell points out that “society has an immense collective capability” but alone, we are ignorant. Therefore, the preservation of the scientific method is the key to rebuild and reboot civilisation. We need society to develop and progress through generations and we do this through relearning what we know. “Science built the modern world and science will build the world from scratch again.”

To watch Lewis Dartnell explain the basics of surviving in a post-apocalyptic earth, view this TED conference video.

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Musk offers Australian energy fix

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Energy, Tesla, South Australia, Energy, Battery Storage,

Oh, Twitter is now the place to do business!

Elon Musk bold claim

Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a bold claim – he could fix South Australia’s power crisis. Better still if he couldn’t do it in 100 days, it would be free. The region has been suffering from blackouts which have been more severe since closure of North Power Station in Port Augusta last May. These blackouts and spikes in energy prices caused a number of farmers in South Australia to off-grid solutions.

It all began with a tweet…

A tweet from the co-founder of Atlassian Corp, a software development company, Mike Cannon-Brookes began the whole conversation. He sent out a plea, offering to fund and support a project for battery storage if Elon Musk could supply the technology to solve the blackout crisis. A short time later and Cannon-Brookes had his reply:

“Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. Serious enough for you?”

Of course Mike sent an excited reply back, “You’re on mate.”

This exchange came just a day after the launch of the Tesla Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2, which are for grid and industrial scale application, respectively. Lyndon Rive, who heads Tesla’s battery division, was at the launch. He commented that Elon Musk has many big pipeline battery storage projects aimed for grid applications. These would help to manage peak demand and would help to solve South Australia’s current grid stresses. By using the existing infrastructure and adding battery storage, the problem is solved. Elon Musk considers there is no need to go down the “clean coal” path that the Australian government have been considering, he added.

The Financial Review reported that Rive also said that by coupling together large centralized storage with residential and commercial solar and battery storage it would be “near impossible to take the grid down”.

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Australia Battery Storage Battle

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Battery storage, Battery, solar, Australia, energy, blackouts,

Could big batteries solve the blackouts?

After Elon Musk’s recent Twitter claim to solve South Australia’s energy problem in 100 days, Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, seems to have sat up and taken notice. According to reports, Turnbull phoned Musk and had a positive conversation about the storage technology Tesla could offer. This has led to prominent figures in Australia’s energy sector encouraging Turnbull to give Australian companies a chance before turning to Tesla’s project.

Several Australian solar and battery companies have ongoing projects at various stages of completion, which are similar to Musk’s proposal. Zen Energy has recently unveiled its “Big Battery Project” which is being worked on ready for summer time when there is the greatest stress on the grid. The project is one of several taking place in the Upper Spencer Gulf region in South Australia. This area has been hit especially hard since the closure of the power station at Port Augusta. The large scale solar developments and storage at various places throughout the region aim to lower energy costs and improve energy security.

The Big Battery Project

Located at Port Augusta, funding has already been secured for the project. A battery with 50 megawatt hours of energy will not only stabilise the grid but also wholesale electricity prices. Owned by external investors, the battery and its interaction with the grid will be managed by Zen Energy. It will absorb electricity from the grid when cheap and abundant and then be a supply source when scarce. Professor Ross Garnout, Zen Energy chairman, said “The blackouts that we’ve had in the last year would not have happened if this was in place.”

Zen Energy is also looking into larger battery options to provide greater security in energy provision. An additional 100 megawatt battery which would act as a buffer supply interruption as occurred in the recent February heatwave. Whereas, a 150 megawatt battery would stabilise grid power and voltage during sudden outage situations, such as the state-wide blackout in September.

Lyon Solar also have projects up their sleeve

Zen Energy isn’t the only company working on large scale battery storage projects. Lyon Solar is developing the Kingfisher Project – a combined solar and battery storage plant to be located in Roxby Downs. Being connected to the National Electricity Market, the aim is to deliver 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power. Initially plans were for a minimum of 20 megawatt hours of storage. But this has been upped to 100 MWh, providing energy security across the region. It is planned to begin operating commercially before the end of 2017.

Although receiving no funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Lyon has unveiled a second solar plus storage project. This will be located in Lakeland, Queensland and involve a minimum of 20 MWh battery storage. David Green, Lyon co-founder, commented that they were using battery systems developed by AES, “the world’s most experienced storage providers”. The units are delivered to Australia disassembled, which will mean new jobs, knowledge and expertise will come to the region.

Price competitive with Tesla

It is clear that Australian companies are well on the way to battery storage solutions. Therefore, Chief executive of Australia’s Energy Storage Council, John Grimes seems a bit irked by Musk’s ability to grab the Prime Minister’s attention with one tweet. He told the Guardian, “I’m not saying Tesla should be excluded, but don’t fast-track a discussion with an overseas company when you have the capability right here, right now, in Australia”. Grimes advocates a transparent bid process, allowing Australian companies a fair chance in the “revolution of energy.”

Changing economics have enabled this turn to battery storage. Cheap battery and solar technology coupled with smart energy systems means the price of these projects is now much lower. As Grimes pointed out, “If you thought about doing this even three years ago the price would have been something like four times higher”. The government now needs to ensure market settings are right so these projects are commercially viable without needing government subsidies.

Even though it may have been Musk that caught Turnbull’s attention, it has raised awareness of the solutions available. Australia is now onto something big – and those are big batteries!

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Simplify Your Life: Disconnect to Reconnect

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Simplify, Unplug, Disconnect, Reconnect, Social Media

Unplug from social media and take some time out

We all need to simplify our lives. We live in a world where we are constantly connected, consistently plugged in and never switched off. The demands and responsibilities of life: jobs, bills, children, insurance, medical care and social media means we are constantly occupied. Balancing and juggling a hundred tasks whilst ensuring Facebook and Twitter knows only the best version of ourselves. The version that is carefree and doesn’t have a million things racing around in our mind. Our lives are anything but simple.

In fact perhaps in this world we live in, the hardest thing to do is simplify our lives.

We are constantly surrounded by external stimulation – the text message beep, the Facebook notification, the ever growing number of rules and regulations we must live our lives by.

Do we blame technology for this? More often than not, the answer is probably yes.

Should we blame technology for this? If we think deeply enough, perhaps the answer is no. We have the power to simplify.

Technology has given us the option to be connected. But it does not force us to remain so. We have a choice, and too often we choose to remain embroiled in all of life’s demands and responsibilities. When in fact we have a responsibility to ourselves to take time out. To remove ourselves from the constant clamour and buzz of modern day life – to “chillax” as the kids would say.

Even those who live off-grid, a supposedly “simple” life, can still feel the need for a release of responsibility.

Off-grid living is far from simple! Hunting, scavenging, collecting water, the mere act of trying to survive in isolation is complicated. Whilst city dwellers are dealing with the tirade of information from the huge numbers of people around them, off-gridders are trying to control the rampages of their own thoughts and imagination.

For Christmas, I received a book titled “The Little Book of Hygge”. The word “hygge” derives from a Norwegian word meaning “well-being”. It has lead me to think that simplifying my life doesn’t have to be releasing myself from the demands of everyday life – or my responsibilities.  It is instead a state of mind.  Ensuring that every so often I indulge myself in some time out – a mental release if you will – allows me to be clear minded when it comes to coping with life’s stresses.

Everyone has their own way of unplugging and finding time for themselves. Some do yoga and meditation; others sink into a good book or wander around an art gallery lost in thought. My dad tinkers with his pride and joy, a classic car, and I take my camera and amble off into the countryside. Whatever it takes for you to take a mental release and come back refreshed, make sure you make the time to do it on a regular basis.

Whether on or off-grid, simplifying your life is really very simple – it is your state of mind.

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Rising Electricity Prices cause Farmers to go Off-Grid

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Solar, Farmers, Off-grid, solar panels, bills, charges

Australian farmers face utility bill increases of 300% and US farmers face spiking charges

Australia’s farm exports have been increasing consistently for the past 6 years and agriculture contributed the most to the country’s economic growth during the last financial quarter. The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) said that a rise in the cash income of South Australia’s farms will be head and shoulders above the 10 year average for the region. But despite this, farmers are being faced with huge electricity bills which are becoming impossible to absorb.

The National Farmer’s Federation are calling for a transformation of the national electricity market. Currently farmers are facing tariff increases of up to 300%! This has been especially sobering for dairy farmers who are predicted to have a fall in cash income. This is due to falling prices for products such as milk.

Fiona Simson, president of the NFF, said, “We need affordable, secure and reliable and low emission electricity.” She spoke of how farmers are turning to off-grid solutions, dusting off diesel generators to avoid a “crippling overnight electricity bill”.

It is not just Australia’s farmers turning to off-grid energy.

US farmers are also beginning to show signs of a solar revolution, to avoid fees for electricity spiking. Even though the start-up costs for solar energy are still more than fossil fuel, with a combination of state incentives, a demand for energy and higher electricity prices in some states, the initial investment starts to pay off.

For the moment solar energy seems to be a supplement for activities such as water pumping and charging electric fences. Farmers in some states have been quicker on the uptake than others. For instance, a five year drought in California has meant farms having to use more electricity to pump ground water. When electricity intensive activities like this take place, it draws a high amount of energy from the local grid all in one go. This leads to a large “spiking” charge for the farmer.

Not only this, but some electricity companies like Pacific Gas and Electric charge more during day time summer hours. This is when there is more demand on the grid. Therefore, turning to solar during this time makes financial sense to avoid higher bills. Using batteries to store excess solar energy to avoid using grid electricity is also a good option for lowering bills. However, the main limitation for many farmers is the cost and storage size of the battery packs they would require. For a lot of farmers with solar power, its use stops when the sun goes down.

In some states like Washington, where electricity prices are low, solar panels are few and far between. However, as electricity prices continue to increase, this easily deploy-able green energy source is likely to become a popular solution.

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Upcycling: Keep the old & turn it into something new

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Off-grid, Upcycling, reusing, green,

Upcycling refashions the old into something new!

We live in a throw-away society. A culture based on how much “stuff” we have. The media gears our life towards replacing things because it’s fashionable rather than because we actually need to. It is also causing us to rush headlong into a lack of natural resources.

Recycling is of course an option to help combat the use of natural resources. But that requires more energy and water to break down a product into its base materials before remaking it into something else, normally of lower quality.

Upcycling however is completely green.

It’s not about breaking things down, but simply refashioning it into something new and of the same or perhaps even better quality. The conversion process means nothing gets sent to land fill, requires no extra energy (other than a little elbow grease on your part) and allows you to be creative. By reusing and upcycling products to perform different purposes to what they were intended, you are also saving money. Instead of going out and buying a brand new product, find something you are not using and use your creativity. Voila! Upcycling magic has occurred!

The complete opposite of consumer culture, more or less anything can be upcycled, from furniture to clothing to electronics – the only thing stopping you is your imagination. The same thing doesn’t have to be upcycled in the same way. Take a plastic bottle for instance; this could become a planter for the garden, a bird feeder, a lamp or anything else you can think of.

Old electronics, something that often gives us grief when trying to dispose of, can also be upcycled. Old smartphones can become alarm clocks, or if you’re tech savvy a smartwatch! An old school computer monitor can be cleared of internal wiring and become a fish tank! Or if you remove the screen itself, how about a cat bed? The fan in your old computer can be converted into a regular desk fan with a bit of know-how. Plus, if you’re a fashion fanatic how about some quirky keyboard letter cufflinks or earrings?

Upcycling also encompasses larger projects too.

How about wood pallets becoming a stylish piece of decking or front porch? Or how about going for the ultimate upcycle – a whole home!

Shipping containers are becoming a popular option to upcycle into a tiny home. Although you’re unlikely to come across these 8ft wide by 8ft tall containers for free (expect to pay around the $3000 mark for each one), they offer a good opportunity for an upcycle project! Rylan and Brook Naylor, took two of these containers and have converted them into a home. Although not completely off-grid they are hoping that in the coming years they will be.

Canadian Joseph Dupuis bought three shipping containers and did succeed in turning them into a 355 square foot off-grid home. Located 35 miles west of Ottawa Canada, Joseph’s off-grid container cabin is powered by a two kilowatt solar system and heated by a wood fire stove. The space is completely open plan and is designed to be dismantled, so it can be moved and erected in a new location. The whole project (excluding the solar system) cost Joseph $20,000. Having lived in his container cabin for two years, Joseph is looking to sell to give someone else a taste of upcycled off-grid living.

To have a guided tour by Joseph himself, visit: www.youtube.com/watch?v=njjz-xTs67M

The post Upcycling: Keep the old & turn it into something new appeared first on Living Off the Grid: Free Yourself.

Fire Away: Gasifiers for Off-Grid Living

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Off-grid, gasifiers, heating, electricity, green energy

Fire Her Up: – Gasifiers are not new technology, having been used well before the world wars

Located in Northern Finland just inside the Arctic Circle lies the village of Kempele; a small community of ten families living completely off-grid. However, their lifestyle may be somewhat different from what is considered the “conventional off-gridder”. The homes have fully equipped kitchens, an abundance of low energy lighting – some have Jacuzzis! So how do they provide enough electricity and heat to sustain them throughout the year which can include a very cold Finnish winter (-30°C kind of cold)?

The answer is a Volter Gasifier plant. Using wood chips from the local area, the gasifier burns this fuel incompletely to produce wood gas, which is then burned to provide electricity. The thermal energy produced is used to heat a huge water tank, which then pumps the warm water through a series of pipes making up an underfloor heating system for the houses. By using the thermal energy to heat water the community is reducing its electricity usage. Any excess electricity is stored in three large battery packs for later use.  The Volter is able to power and heat the ten homes for the whole year, even through the cold winter. Each family pays €1,500 ($1580) per year for both their heating and electric.

The Volter system starts at €150,000 ($158,000) which the community paid for collectively, by pooling their resources. Although a steep initial investment, it’s taken only seven years for the community to see returns. In locations where the cost of electricity and heating is higher than Finland, returns on the initial investment could be seen in as little as three years.

After the success of Volter’s initial pilot project in Kempele, the product design has been adapted and streamlined to look more aesthetically pleasing and is being rolled out across a wide range of countries, including Canada, Australia and the UK.

But what exactly is a gasifier and how does it work?

Gasification is the process of using heat to transform a solid fuel, like wood, into a flammable fuel, normally gas. Initially the solid fuel is burned without enough oxygen, a process called incomplete combustion. The output gases produced (including carbon monoxide and hydrogen) are still combustible and so can be burned as a fuel. This is basically a process which involves controlling the stages of combustion. You can find out more details on the staged combustion process here.

Gasifiers are not new technology, in fact far from it. During the Second World War over a million vehicles in Europe had on board gasifiers due to a rationing of fuel such as diesel. They have also been used in agricultural machinery such as tractors.

In more recent times however, gasifiers can be used to power whole communities, such as in the example above or can be more small scale.

For example, the BioGen Woodlog Power and Heat Unit produced by Microgen. This on or off-grid unit is a combination of wood gasification and Microgen free piston power generation, providing both a power and heating solution. Wood is placed in the primary fire box which produces wood gas by being heated in low oxygen conditions. The wood gas is then sucked into a second fire box with higher oxygen conditions where it is fully combusted. It is in this second firebox that the head of the Microgen biomass stirling power unit is located. When this reaches a certain temperature the unit starts to produce power which can be in either AC or DC. The heat of the fire boxes is absorbed by a coolant through heat exchangers on the walls of the boxes.

The thermal output is a maximum 20KW, with a water capacity for 100 litres and temperatures reaching up to 90°C. The 180cm x 60cm x 85cm unit weighs in at 450kg and has 80% efficiency.

For other suppliers of small scale domestic gasifiers, including All Power Labs and Northern Self Reliance, visit this site.

There is also the option to build your own gasifier and there are many instructions available online for various models. However, working with flammable materials and toxic gases can be very dangerous and should you decide to go down this route, it is very important to do lots of research and take all necessary precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.

The post Fire Away: Gasifiers for Off-Grid Living appeared first on Living Off the Grid: Free Yourself.

UNESCO Credits SOIL Course

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Off-Grid, Course, Permaculture, Eco-friendly, ecovillage, Earthaven

The Permaculture & Ecovillage Immersion experience has been recently accredited by UNESCO

Last month I outlined the Permaculture course available at the School of Integrated Living (SOIL) in the ecovillage Earthaven (see here).

Recently, this program has been certified by Gaia Education, a provider of sustainability education across the world. The Ecovillage Design Education (EDE) credential will be provided through the Permaculture Immersion program running between Jun 10 and August 11 2017 at Earthaven ecovillage in North Carolina. The program provides students with both the knowledge and practical skills needed to design a society which reaches sustainable development principles supported by the UNESCO Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development.

The program has four main dimensions which are covered. The social element involves working towards a common vision, improving communication skills and the ability to deal with conflict and diversity within a society. The economic element includes assessing the impact of the global economy on local projects and coming up with ethical economic opportunities within projects. The ecological aspect is learning about permaculture principles, as well as designing water systems for projects and learning how to apply green building principles. Finally, the worldview aspect is about maintaining a healthy lifestyle whilst incorporating regular spiritual practice.

SOIL co-founder, Lee Walker Warren, said, “The program helps passionate people understand their impact on society and forge real connections with themselves and others. People who are deeply engaged in their local and global communities make the biggest impact, both on other individuals and the planet.”

Over 4,900 students have taken part in the Ecovillage Design Education program across the world, supported by Gaia. There are various locations where these programs take place including Estonia, Italy, Canada, Chile, South Korea, Thailand, India, Scotland, Switzerland, Japan and the Netherlands. However, SOIL is only one of two organisations in the US which offer the UNESCO recognised EDE course.

On completion of the course at Earthaven, both an EDE certificate and a Permaculture Design certificate will be awarded.

There is currently a $100 discount when booking through the SOIL website for the Permaculture Immersion program by using the promotional code: SOILPEI100.

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Feeling Hot Hot Hot: Solar Cooking in Action

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Solar cooking, parabolic, box cooker, panel cooker, solar, off-grid, self-reliance, cooking, food, technology

Despite looking futuristic – solar cooking has been used for many years

Cooking can be challenging in itself. Following recipes, getting the right ingredients and hoping it comes out tasting delicious – unless you’re a top class chef, everyone has had a fair few burnt dinners in their time. When you’re off-grid however it’s not just worrying about what it tastes like, but how to cook the food in the first place!

Harvesting the power of the sun for cooking has been a practice conducted for many years.

Solar cookers have been on the market since the mid-80s and have become a popular option for safe and easy cooking with no fires or fuel involved. There are obvious benefits to solar cooking, after the initial investment it is a free renewable source of energy. Not only this, but it is seen as a healthier way of cooking without smoke from fires etc.

Solar cookers convert the sun’s rays to infra-red radiation producing heat. Therefore, it is not the sun’s heat itself or the ambient air temperature outside the cooker that causes the food to cook.

There are three main types of solar cooker which can vary in their design and build.

The solar box cooker is derived from a box with reflectors that funnel the sun’s rays into the chamber which contains the food to be cooked. These models can reach very high temperatures, on average between 200-350°F, which is ideal for most baking needs. With a good heat retention and little need for supervision it is perfectly safe to leave food for long periods without fear of burning. Being a box shape these cookers are less likely to tip over and when constructed will have high levels of insulation.

The solar panel cooker on the other hand doesn’t reach temperatures quite as high; between 200-250°F. Essentially the design is a pot or pan within a plastic enclosure, with a 3-5 side reflective panel surrounding it to channel the sun’s rays. This type of design is best for slower longer cooking periods, leaving food very succulent. With no adjustments needed to track the sun, little supervision is needed.

Solar Cooking, food, cooking, solar, off-grid, technology

No need to worry about the risk of fire or burning food with solar cooking

Finally, the solar parabolic cooker can maintain the highest temperatures of the three main types and so can be used for grilling or even frying food. It can cook food much quicker, however usually smaller amounts than what can be held in the box or panel solar cookers. Also more attention is needed when cooking using this model, as the angle and direction of the cooker will need to be changed more frequently to track the sun.

There are many plans and designs for you to try if you want to have a go at a DIY solar cooker. Many designs include using materials commonly found around the home or are easily obtainable. For example, cardboard boxes, aluminium foil, black paint, some form of adhesive and even umbrellas!

If you don’t want the hassle of DIY or want a larger cooker with a guarantee, then there are several options on the market.

The All American Sun Oven is a box cooker design which can cook, bake, dehydrate and boil. Reaching temperatures of up to 400°F with even heating across the entire cooking chamber, the Sun Oven can do almost anything except frying. The built in thermometer also allows you to monitor the temperature. Weighing in at 23lbs the Sun Oven folds up like a suitcase, with its reflectors easily collapsing, making it easily portable. An adjustable leg prevents toppling and a levelling tray inside the cooking chamber ensures there’s no spillage when adjusting the Sun Oven.

Manufactured in Illinois, cooking times are similar to a standard electric cooker or oven after preheating. Factors that will affect the cooking time include the quality of sunlight at the time of cooking; the type and amount of food being cooked and how often the oven is refocused or the door opened. A typical rule of thumb stated on the Sun Oven website is to add between 10 to 15 minutes on to the cooking time, every time the oven door is opened. The model has an estimated life span of 15 years and can last a lifetime if cared for and maintained properly. The Sun Oven is available on Amazon at $298.00.

If you want something a little closer to the $200 mark, then the GoSun Sport is worth checking out.
Solar cooking, solar, food, cooking, off-grid, technology,

Small and compact the GoSun Sport and GoSun Dogger are perfect for fitting comfortably in an RV

This slightly futuristic looking design features parabolic reflectors and a solar vacuum cooking tube, which absorbs light and acts as an insulator. The tube converts approximately 80% of all the sunlight captured by the reflectors into useable heat for cooking – pretty impressive. With the parabolic shape of the reflectors, the GoSun Sport rarely needs readjusting as it captures light from a variety of angles. Not only this, but this model can cook in the cold and snow due to the high levels of insulation. Although, you will have to add up to 15 minutes onto the cooking time to allow the oven to heat fully.

With the cooking tube shape, food cooks evenly and in as little as 20 minutes, with temperatures of up to 550°F being reached! Despite this, the GoSun Sport is cool to the touch, easy and low maintenance and weighing only 7.5lbs is perfect for an RV or boat.

GoSun Ambassador Patrick Sweeney lives off-grid in his tiny trailer called Patcave. He told GoSun, “I love to cook and I love to be self-reliant. I also can’t afford to eat at restaurants. Living on the road in the Patcave, the GoSun stove allows me to cook great food anywhere the sun shines.”

The GoSun Sport retails at $229.00 on Amazon.

A smaller version of the GoSun Sport, the GoSun Solar Dogger, retails at $59.00 on the GoSun website. It is lightweight at only 2.5lbs and is perfect for hotdogs. Reviews on the Solar Dogger have shown that this model can be used for a wide variety of foods from oatmeal to fish.

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Breathe easier: new tech monitors urban pollution

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Pollution, Technology, Smartphone, App, Off-grid, Air Quality, Monitoring

Smartphone Apps plot “toxic areas” on maps, so you can avoid them.

One of the many appeals about living off-grid is breathing in that fresh clean air.

It’s safe to say the air quality in any city isn’t exactly top notch! High levels of pollution have been linked to serious health conditions such as asthma and emphysema. A report in the Guardian has found that in heavily polluted cities exercising can do more harm than good because of the high levels of particulate matter in the air. But for many people going off-grid and leaving city life behind tomorrow isn’t exactly feasible.

So until then, monitoring the air quality in your home and as you’re out and about in your everyday life is a good way to go. Not only will it make you more aware of the air you breathe, it will also help you take preventative measures to improve it. Whether this be through taking a different route on your way back from work, opening the windows or switching on the ventilation when you’re cooking.

If you have tried any of the technologies discussed below, please comment and give us your feedback – we’d love to know how you’re getting on with them!

Only want to monitor your air quality at home?

Sources of particulate matter include burning wood and oil, smoking tobacco products, pesticides and even some household cleaners. The indoor air quality monitor Speck detects fine particulate matter in the air and informs you about the changes you can make to improve your air quality. The 4 inch by 3 inch model comes with a touch screen and only needs to be plugged in for you to start receiving feedback straight away. The toggle feature allows you to look back over the past 12 hours of data to see how your actions, like cooking or cleaning with certain products, influences your personal air quality. Not only this, but the Speck has enough memory to collect up to two years’ worth of data without any need to connect online.

Free Speck software or the mobile app lets you upload data to your computer, tablet or smartphone to monitor the data collected. The SpeckSensor app also allows you to compare your personal air quality to the government’s air quality index stations. If you want to check out the outdoor air quality in your area, you will need to be within 40 km of a regulated particulate matter station. Currently, this service is only available for customers in the US and parts of Canada and Mexico.

This Speck model currently can’t be used outdoors, however the development of an outdoor friendly model is currently in progress. Although, this is a pricey option at $200 per unit, the Speck is easy to use with a range of features.

If you want something for on the go – try these!

Atmotube is a portable air pollution monitor which detects volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide, as well as the temperature and humidity which can also affect air quality. This small robust device is titanium coated for longevity and sends data to your smartphone via Bluetooth. Weighing in at just 40 g (1.4 ounces) this device can be clipped on to clothing or bags, with the airflow mesh allowing the air to pass through its sensors.

Air Quality, Technology, Monitoring, Pollution, Smog, off-grid, app, smartphones

The LA skyline shrouded in smog – new mobile technology can notify you when air quality becomes low

The free app which can be downloaded from the Google Play App store or ITunes has a global air quality map which is free to access by absolutely everyone. So even if you don’t own an Atmotube, you can still benefit from the data collected from these devices. But only Atmotube owners can view their air quality history and get notifications to their phone if they are in a location with low air quality. Shipping worldwide, this nifty little device retails at $89.

The Flow Device is another small scale air quality monitor, being only the size of a pack of chewing gum. The aluminium shell houses a set of sensors that detect dust, exhaust fumes, temperature and humidity, amongst others. A set of LED lights on the device indicates the air quality in the immediate location. Whilst data is sent to a mobile app which displays it on a map. This then flags high pollution zones so you know where to avoid when you’re out and about. Coming with a dock and cable the device can be charged at home whilst monitoring your indoor air quality too. Designed by Paris based company PlumeLabs, beta testing of the Flow Device is set to begin in London over the next few months. Prices are yet to be confirmed.

If you don’t want to carry your own device, then the BreezoMeter may be worth checking out. This free app is now available in 28 countries including the US, Australia and the UK. Set up in Israel in 2014, the BreezoMeter gathers air quality and weather measurements from a wide range of sources – including 7,000 official air quality monitoring stations worldwide. This data produces real-time air quality maps and gives you notifications on changes in the outdoor air quality.

Tech-savvy and fancy building your own air quality monitor, well you can!
Smog, Pollution, Air Quality, monitoring, urban, off-grid, new technology, apps, smartphone,

You don’t have to go to extremes – apps available on your smartphone can give you air quality in real time, allowing you to avoid polluted areas – and wearing a mask!

This article at electronicsforu.com outlines how you can make your own air pollution meter and connect it to your smartphone. The set up uses the Blynk platform which displays readings from your homemade meter that is connected to an Arduino board. Of course you’ll need to buy the components in order to do that. This set up requires an Arduino board costing $20 from the online Arduino store (other websites sell boards that claim to be Arduino but are actually replicas). A Nova particulate matter sensor SDS011 is also used, which retails from $36 on Amazon. You will also require a Gas sensor model MQ-135, which range in price on Amazon from $2.45 to $16. A temperature and humidity sensor model DHT11 is also needed, once again ranging in price from $4.79 to $10.99 on Amazon.

Other projects elsewhere in the world have got volunteers to build their own air quality monitors. Greenpeace Bulgaria set up their own Dustcounter project in 2016, getting members of the local community to build their own air quality counters. Designed to be easy to assemble even for the not so technically minded (that’s me then), the schematics for building your own Dustcounter can be found here. (Google Translate will be needed because the instructions are in Bulgarian!) The charity is hoping to bring out the Dustcounter 2.0 later in 2017 after successful monitoring trials.

Alternatively, if there are any teachers out there who want to bring hands on practical sensor building to the classroom, this step by step guide and lesson plan outlines everything you will need. Making children and young people aware of air quality is an important issue that should be brought into the classroom environment.

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Be Our Guest – Food Preserving Part 2

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Creek, Food Preservation, Off-grid, Refrigeration, Spring House,

Want a spring house but have no spring? Diverting water from a small creek is an option

In Part I, I covered canning and smoking as food preservation methods. This aricle take a look at refrigeration and dehydration.

Freezing and refrigeration is the easy way to preserve food compared to some other methods. The only problem is, once frozen or cooled it has to stay that way until consumption.

Before the wonders of electricity and modern technology, how did people do this?

On farms and in small villages it was common to have a spring house which would provide natural refrigeration. A stone building with troughs dug into the ground on which the house stood would be built over a natural spring. Water from the spring would flow through the troughs and jugs of milk or other produce could be placed in the channels. These would then be kept cool as the water flowed around them. Ledges and hooks would also be provided in the spring house, to hang meat and vegetables in a cooler environment.

If the house wasn’t built over a natural spring, water could be redirected from a nearby creek. Initially some spring houses were made of wood, however this was prone to rotting. Stone therefore is the better material, not only does it hold the cold better but it won’t decompose or decay with time.

Fancy building your own spring house? You can find out more at Bright Hub.

Another option which was used before electricity and still used today is root cellars.

These underground rooms stay cool in the summer but above freezing in the winter – perfect for fruits, vegetables and canned goods. The cool temperatures prevent bacterial growth and the humidity prevents withering. Ideally the cellar will have temperatures between 30 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit, have low levels of sunshine, good insulation from materials such as straw or soil and be easily accessible.

Root cellars come in a variety of forms from walk in rooms to putting trash cans in the ground to create a “mini” cellar. If you’re on a tight budget, take a look at this video by the Walden Effect, who made a root cellar out of an old refrigerator.

Speaking of refrigerators, if you want to be a bit more tech-centric, then there are various options for off-grid cold food storage.
Propane fridge, RV, off-grid, food preservation, chest freezer, solar freezer

RV owners have relied on propane fridges for many years – but are they worth the cost?

Propane fridges have been a staple for many RV owners and in off-grid homes. Some models can run off propane, DC or AC, making them more flexible. Although these appliances are good for keeping food cold and frozen with ample storage, they do require some maintenance and if they break down can be expensive to repair. Not only this, propane may be unavailable or very expensive to get hold of in certain areas and some propane fridge models can be extremely “fuel hungry” – not exactly the most economical option. There is also an initial investment of over $1,000. Take the Dometic DM2652 on Amazon at $1,119.99. This model measures 24 x 23 x 53.8 inches and so is perfect size for an RV, if you’re willing to spend the money.

Solar power refrigerators are also gaining ground.

Some of which can be hooked up directly to solar panels, running off direct current. The EcoSolarCool Solar Refrigerator on Amazon operates on 12 or 24 DC volts and is reported to be the most efficient solar refrigerator when tested against two other leading brands also advertised on Amazon. Coming in at 121lb, this stand-alone 25.3 x 23.6 x 57.1 inch model is a good size with just over 9 cubic feet capacity for storage. It comes with an upper freezer compartment and a lower refrigerator compartment. With prices starting at $1299.00 though, this is also an appliance that comes with a rather large price tag.

Another alternative is investing in a chest freezer.

These range in price but can be fairly inexpensive and have good storage space. Plus they can average under 2 amps when running. However, because of its shape (it’s a chest) rummaging around for the food you want can be a pain. Chest freezers can also develop condensation and it is best to buy a separate thermostat to monitor the temperature. Some chest freezers come ready to be run by solar power such as the Sundanzer Solar-Powered Refrigerator – 1.8 Cubic Ft., “>Sundanzer Refrigerator, specifically designed for off-grid use.

If you want a more DIY approach and temporary refrigeration then a zeer pot could be the answer.

Popular in Africa, zeer pots are essentially one terracotta pot inside another. One pot must be small enough to fit inside the other pot, but large enough to hold whatever you want to keep cool. The gap between the two pots is filled with sand and then water. The process of evaporative cooling keeps the inner pot much cooler than the outside environment. Although this is not cool enough for meat storage, it is still an option for other produce such as vegetables. If you fancy making your own zeer pot, have a read of this.

From keeping things cold to heating things up! Another food preservation technique is dehydration.

Efficient with zero energy input and little hands on time required, dehydration is perhaps one of the easiest ways to preserve food. The downsides to dehydration are that even though foods weigh less and so are easier to store, there is a longer time for food preparation later when making meals. Also dehydrated food can have a different taste (and texture obviously) to fresh produce. If using a solar dehydration method then you are limited to when the sun is out. This may not be such a problem at lower latitudes, but higher latitudes can be very restricted in their “sun time”.

Dehydrator, food preservation, solar, off-grid

Dehydrating foods can be done in a variety of ways from drying in the sun to using an electric dehydrator

Herbs and greens are the easiest foods to dehydrate; they dry quickly with no slicing required. Fruits and veggies are a little trickier; they need to be sliced thinly or diced into small pieces for drying. Smaller fruits like blueberries should be punctured to allow the moisture to escape during the process. Meat and fish are the most challenging to dry safely. The cuts need to be sliced as thinly as possible and be kept in a constant supply of warm air. Salting first will help with the preservation. Meat and fish especially should be stored in a cool place after drying to ensure they last for a few months.

So what can you use for dehydrating?

Firstly, you could invest in an electric dehydrator. These are probably the most convenient option for setting up (with no babysitting) but require a power source. The Excalibur Food Dehydrator being sold on Amazon at $244.95 is one such appliance. With nine large trays boasting 15 square feet of drying space, you can hardly complain for lack of room. But despite this the whole body is not overly large at 17 x 19 x 12.5 inches. An adjustable thermostat ensures you dry at the temperature you want and a 26 hour timer means you can walk away without the fear of forgetting about your food!

If you want to go down the solar dehydrator route, there are pre-assembled options. For instance the Hanging Food Pantrie Solar Food Dehydrator has five drying trays and protects food from insects and pests whilst using the suns energy to dry the food. No noisy fans and it’s collapsible for easy storage after use. Retailing on Amazon at $59.99, this is an option if you want something that stores well but also has good drying space.

Alternatively, you can go the whole hog and build your own solar dehydrator.

There are many variations and the beauty of this option is you can adapt the design to suit your needs. The basic components are a heat collector and a drying box. The heat collector has a clear plastic top which heats the air inside causing it to rise up and into the drying box. This is typically made of plywood with trays to rest the food on top of. Strategically placed vents help to control the air flow into and out of the dehydrator box to keep a constant circulation around the food.

If you want more detailed information on building your own solar dehydrator, take a look at this guide.

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Pellet Power: Fossil-Fuel-Free Heating

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Pellet Boiler, Wood, Heating, Renewable, Self Sustaining, Carbon neutral, cheaper,

Pellet boilers beat oil for price and efficiency

A clean, cheap and carbon neutral way to heat your home – sounds good. Its a reality for thousands of families and businesses in Europe and North America.

Pellet boilers are growing in popularity; with grants and incentives offered by various states and governments – often in the form of financial assistance towards equipment and installation, depending on location. Ecoheat Solutions, a pellet boiler provider, have put together a summary of incentives for US based consumers here.

Why a pellet boiler?

Pellet boilers function exactly like an oil or propane burner with fully automatic operation. The only difference being instead of oil, wood pellets are being used as the fuel. Pellets are a cleaner source of fuel, being completely carbon neutral. The reason for this is that for every tree burned as pellets, another tree is planted to take up the carbon released. Not only this but wood pellets are readily available in North America and Europe – a local renewable fuel source. This not only bolsters the local economy but pellets are also much less volatile than oil or propane. Pellets are also much cheaper than fossil fuels – try 60% cheaper. One pellet boiler owner cited a saving of upwards of $1,500 per year on fuel – you can watch the full video of their boiler experience here.

There are a couple of downsides to pellet boilers. Fuel tends to be a little bulkier to store than oil and the ash bin(s) from the boiler need to be emptied every month or so. However, due to this ash by-product containing natural minerals, it can be spread on lawns, gardens or back into the woods; acting as a mineral fertiliser. Some pellet boilers also have motors, just like a pellet stove, and so some noise can be heard. However if the boiler is housed in a boiler room or basement, the noise levels can be much reduced.

The upfront cost of a pellet boiler is also higher than an oil fuelled counterpart. Depending on the model chosen; average prices for a pellet boiler come in at around $15,000 compared to a more conservative $10,000-12,000 for a fossil fuel boiler. However, with the pellet fuel being much cheaper in comparison (and don’t forget those state grants), the long run savings will more than make up for the initial investment.

What’s the difference between a pellet boiler and a pellet stove?

These two terms can sometimes be used interchangeably because they use the same fuel, but there is a fundamental difference between the two. Pellet stoves are room appliances, meaning they heat the room they are in. Of course, depending on the size of the house, this could be an ample heat source (tiny houses I’m looking at you).  A pellet boiler however, replaces an oil boiler and is connected to a heating system and so is more suitable for larger houses and commercial properties.

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Be Our Guest: Food Preservation Part I

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Canning, off-grid, cooking, food preservation, water bath, pressure canner

With the “know-how,” food preservation isn’t so daunting

Charcutier Sean Cannon is opening his first restaurant, Nape, in London this month. Born and bred in Norfolk, Sean told the Guardian how growing up in a self-sustaining community influenced his cooking. His best kept secret – preserving.

“Whether it’s killing an animal and having lots of fresh meat, or early summer and everything is ripe, knowing what to do with a glut is key.” Cannon said.

If you live off-grid you’ll know that preserving food for future use is essential. Not only does it provide food security, but also allows you to taste sweet summer berries in the winter. By doing this age old tradition, it also stops more modern thoughts and concerns of “what is actually in my food?” If you do the preparing and the preservation, you know exactly what has gone into the food you will be eating.

There are many ways to preserve food including canning, freezing, dehydrating and smoking.

Canning is a valuable and low-tech way to preserve food. There are two main methods for this, either water bath canning or pressure canning. It is worth noting that water bath canning should only be done for acidic fruits, such as berries and apples. If canning other produce such as meats and vegetables, pressure canning should be used; otherwise there is a high risk of food poisoning.

The basic process is to heat water in your canner (or large pan if water bath canning). This should not be filled to the top; 3-5 inches should be left for your jars of food. Jars should have lids secured and be placed carefully into the canner, being careful not to knock other jars, as they could crack or break under the high temperatures. The jars should be immersed in the canner with the water just covering the lids. The canner lid should be locked in place if pressure canning and the jars left for as long as needed according to the recipe. After the required time, the canner should be allowed to depressurise if using a pressure canner, before the jars are removed. Heat protection and necessary precautions should be taken to ensure you do not burn yourself. The jars should then be left to cool and seal for a minimum of 12 but ideally 24 hours. The sound of popping and pinging will mark your canning success!

Canning is so popular because of the wide variety of foods that can be preserved this way and the length of time they will remain edible for. Plus there’s no worry of keeping food frozen or cool!

Canning does however come with an initial start-up cost. If you’re only looking to preserve fruits and jams, then water bath canning in a large pan is of course an economical way to go. However, if you’re looking to preserve a wider variety of foods which includes meat and vegetables, then it would be wise to invest in a pressure canner.

The Presto 23 Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker comes in at a reasonable $86.44 on Amazon. This can double as a water bath canner and a pressure cooker. Made out of aluminium, the canner allows for fast and even heating and with a liquid capacity of just under 22 litres, seven quart jars fit comfortably inside. The lid has a strong lock and an over-pressure plug can relieve any build-up of steam. With a 12 year warranty and excellent reviews, this canner will certainly suit the needs of most canners.

Canning, food preservation, jars, canning, water canning, pressure canning, off-grid, storage

Good jars & lids are a must – there’s nothing like hearing the “pop” of sealing success!

The Presto’s rival is the All American Canner. This is a pricier option at $225.37 on Amazon and has many similar features, being made of aluminium and also holding 7 quart (or 19 pint) jars. This is a heavier unit though, coming in at 20lbs to the Presto’s 12lbs. A reviewer having access to both canner makes did however point out another comparison between the two. She noted that the All American Canner has a weighted gauge which needs less “babysitting” than the Presto with its dial gauge, which required her to keep adjusting the heat of her stove. However, she pointed out that when compared side by side, both the Presto and All American took the same amount of time to get to pressure, to can the produce and to bring back down ready to remove the jars.

Once the initial canner investment is made, there are a couple of other bits and pieces which you will need. Jars are a must and are reusable. However, if using second hand jars to try and save on cost, it is important not to have any that are cracked or damaged in any way – this could lead to some nasty accidents later on!

In terms of lids, these can either be replaced for around $3 per pack or you could spend a little extra and invest in some reusable Tattler lids. These are marketed at $8.88 on Amazon for a pack of 12 and are “indefinitely reusable”.

Other kit you might want to buy (and are recommended to prevent nasty burns) are a jar lifter and canning funnel. These can be bought separately or in a set with other equipment such as kitchen tongs, a jar wrench and magnetic lid lifter advertised on Amazon at $8.79.

For more detailed information on canning basics for beginners, check out Starry Hilder’s video on YouTube!

Another popular preservation method, especially for meat and fish is smoking.
Smokin' Hot! Only if you want to eat your meat straight away. If you want to preserve your meat, cold smoking is the way to go!

Smokin’ Hot! But only if you want to eat your meat straight away. If you want to preserve your meat, cold smoking is the way to go!

This involves long exposure to wood smoke at low temperatures, which is different to grilling over an open fire. Smoking preserves meat and fish by drying the produce and the smoke creates an acidic coating on the meat surface, preventing bacterial growth. The addition of a rich mouth-watering smoky flavour only adds to the appeal of this preservation method.

 

There are two types of smoking method. The first is called hot smoking and cooks the meat so it can be eaten straight away. This involves getting the temperature above 150 degrees Fahrenheit. The meat will still need to be cooked over a long time, leaving it very tender.

The second is cold smoking which doesn’t cook the meat for consumption straight away. Instead temperatures between 75 and 100 degree Fahrenheit are used to seal the meat and flavour it. The time meat or fish is left to smoke depends on the cuts and type of produce. Adding salt to the meat can help to speed up the process as it is a natural preservative. After drying the meat should be placed in an air tight container and stored at a cool temperature until consumed.

There is a wide range of smokers from electric or gas to charcoal and wood. This propane smoker from Amazon comes with a built in temperature gauge and retails at $211.40. Alternatively, instead of trying to find a smoker that suits your needs, why not build your own? That’s what this family has done!

 

Part II of “Be Our Guest – Food Preservation” will cover refrigeration and dehydrating.

The post Be Our Guest: Food Preservation Part I appeared first on Living Off the Grid: Free Yourself.

Tech 101: All about Batteries

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Batteries, lead acid, lithium ion, saltwater, off-grid, solar, wind

Choosing the right battery can be positively overwhelming

New to off-grid living? Thinking about going off-grid? Have years of experience? Bet you’ve thought about batteries.

Having a back-up store of energy for those cloudy still days, when your renewable energy system isn’t exactly on top form, is a grand idea. But navigating through the types of battery and which is most suitable can seem like a bit of a minefield. Actually, quite a huge minefield.

Way back when…

Initially when off-grid living took off, people turned to car batteries for their storage needs. However, being designed to give out a large current in a short burst, they couldn’t take the strain of being used for longer periods. This usually ended in a burnt out battery after only a year or two of use (if you were very lucky). but a few folk DID get lucky and begged or bought old Fork-lift truck batteries – and found them to be ideal.

Enter Deep-cycle Lead Acid batteries

Designed for a steady current output over long periods and with several hundred discharge- recharge cycles over its lifetime,  these are perfect for partnering with renewable energy.

There are several different types of lead acid batteries which can be used off-grid. The most commonly used in conjunction with solar and wind power are: golf cart batteries, L16 batteries and industrial batteries. All of these are flooded with electrolyte which evaporates during charging, meaning maintenance is required. This extends to checking electrolyte level a minimum of once per month and topping up with distilled water when needed.

Golf cart batteries are good for those completely new to off-grid living, who have a small scale renewables system. The upfront cost of these units is low, meaning if first timers make any mistakes and ruin a battery, the financial loss is minimized. Lasting 4-5 years, these batteries have a reasonable lifespan. They are durable, and can withstand undercharging without too much impact on their storage capacity – reducing the chance you will be scratching our head and saying: “hmm this battery doesn’t seem to hold its charge as long as it used to”.

Batteries, lead acid, lithium ion, saltwater, off-grid, solar, wind

Car batteries for off-grid living are now a thing of the past – unlike Herbie, they weren’t exactly loveable!

Batteries can be scaled up in a bank, depending on the amount of storage required. A set of four 6 volt, 225 amp batteries in sequence can hold 4kWh, increase this number and you could potentially have a bank capable of storing up to 16kWh. With prices starting below $100 for one unit, this is by far the most economical option for those with small scale electricity needs.

 

If you want to step it up from a golf cart battery, then L16 batteries may be the way to go. Even though the units are twice as heavy at 120lbs! They can power small to medium set ups and have a lifespan of up to 8 years. There are also 2 volt models available, allowing for greater storage capacity if a lower voltage is not an issue. However, these units are between 2-3 times more expensive than your standard golf cart battery, but if you have a little extra cash to spend, this could be a good option to go for.

However, if you just want one battery rather than creating your own bank with multiple units, then an industrial battery might do the trick! At a hefty 300lbs these are not meant for RVs and boats. But with a 15-20 year lifespan and the ability to have them custom made to your specifications (including storage capacity) straight from the manufacturer, this does have its positives. But also a considerably higher price tag of between $2,000-10,000 per unit, depending on specs.

If you don’t want the hassle of maintaining a flooded battery you can always opt for a sealed lead acid one.

Instead of a fluid electrolyte, these units have gel or absorbed ones. This means the only thing they need to keep in good working order is proper charging. Alongside this, no gases are produced so you don’t have to worry about appropriate ventilation. They don’t suffer from corrosion either because there is no leakage. Models of these units such as Absorbed Glass Mat (AGM) units are also easily stackable, taking up less space. However, despite all of these positives they are sensitive and can be easily overcharged. And the big whopper is they aren’t exactly a cost effective option, with prices that are double that of an industrial flooded lead acid battery, but with half the lifespan.

Alternatively, Lithium ion batteries are gaining ground, especially in light of this being the technology behind Tesla’s Powerwall.

They can deliver more discharge/recharge cycles over their lifespan (approximately 10 years), compared to lead acid batteries and can be charged at higher currents. They are lighter and take up less space also, making them easier to install and change. Due to their lightweight nature, they are also great for RVs and boats. Not only this, but when standing idle they lose only 1-3% storage capacity per month compared to up to 15% for lead acid batteries. So if you’re someone who only uses their RV or boat for vacations every few months, then this might be a better option.

However, there are some drawbacks to these types of batteries. Firstly, they need a Battery Management System (BMS) to monitor the voltage and temperature of the units. This is because even Lithium ion batteries made in the same batch can have variations in capacity. Therefore, when charging, some batteries can become full quicker than others, resulting in dangerously high voltages in some of the units. A BMS shunts the current away from full cells to still charging cells, protecting the system. It can also detect over-heating of cells and will shut off the charging pack to protect all the batteries.

Clearly, this all comes with a heftier price tag than a lead acid battery, for both the unit and associated BMS. And remember – in comparison to lead acid batteries the technology is relatively untested in terms of its longevity. Plus, Lithium ion batteries aren’t widely manufactured yet – so when it comes to replacement equipment or management systems it is not as easy to find what you need as lead acid batteries. However, when this technology becomes more widespread and the price of the units comes down, then there could well be a shift away from lead acid and towards lithium ion batteries.

Batteries, Lead Acid, Lithium ion, saltwater, off-grid, solar, wind, self-sustaining, storage

Could salt be the key to a new generation of batteries?

And just to throw a spanner in the works…

Aquion Energy have brought out a saltwater battery. Yes you read that correctly. Instead of using lithium salts or sulphuric acid for the electrolyte fluid, the Aspen battery uses a non-hazardous sodium sulphate solution. Coming in 24 volt and 48 volt models, the 260lb units are stackable and can be discharged 100% before recharging. The units can operate between -5 and 40°C. Currently, they are being tested in a pilot project in Vermont as part of an “off-grid package”, offered by utility company Green Mountain Power.

Although this is designed for long term stationary energy storage (sorry boat and RV owners) it is aimed at those living off-grid at a supposedly competitive price. The components of the battery are made from relatively cheap, abundant materials and each unit is easy to manufacture. Therefore, an inexpensive manufacturing process should pass on savings to the consumer. Aquion Energy have been given the North American Company of the Year award from the 2017 Global Clean Tech 100, and the Aspen Battery has been named in Building Green’s Top 10 products of 2017. So if you’re fancying something a little different, Aquion’s Aspen battery might be the thing for you. You can find out more about how many batteries you would need to meet your energy requirements here.

Hopefully, you haven’t been left too bamboozled by the battery minefield.

Essentially, what is going to be best for you depends greatly upon your circumstances and budget. If your budget is low and you don’t mind a bit of maintenance, then lead acid batteries are probably your best bet. However, if you have a larger budget, but only vacation in your RV or boat, then a Lithium ion battery with low rates of self-discharge might be a good option to consider. And if you want to break the mould and don’t mind being a bit of a guinea pig, perhaps give the saltwater battery a try – at least you won’t have the worry of your bank going up in flames!

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Regenerating the Eco-village

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Regen Villages, Off-grid, Sustainable, Eco-village, eco-friendly

Regen Villagers don’t need green thumb to live in greenhouse.

Self-sustaining communities that can talk to each other; sounds like something from the future doesn’t it? But Regen Villages is making this a reality – right now. The first Regen eco-village has begun building works in Almere, 25 minutes from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The 15,500m² project will house 100 families and aims to be completed by 2018.

But what is a Regen Village?

Founded by James Ehrlich, a senior technologist at Stanford University, in 2015, Regen Villages has a holistic approach. A regenerative system combining new technology and renewable energy powered homes, with organic food production right on the doorstep.

The houses vary in size and are built inside a greenhouse “envelope”, with some even having terraces. Each home has a built in water collection system, solar panels and are passively heated. The community has a seasonal garden, biogas facility and aquaponics amongst other things.

The base of the villages is that the output of one system is the input to another. Waste from the homes is sorted into different categories. Bio-waste is used in the Biogas facility, whilst compost is used as food for livestock and small flies. The flies are fed to fish and the waste from both them and the livestock fertilises the seasonal gardens. The plants in the aquaponics facility and seasonal gardens produce fruit and vegetables for food, whilst the livestock and fish provide a source of protein. Rainwater is collected and stored at the houses and water produced at the biogas facility is also stored. Grey water is separated and used to irrigate the seasonal garden, whereas clean water is put into the aquaponics. Solar cells provide the energy for homes and also to the “smart grid” which can be used for charging electric cars.

Regen Villages, who are partnered with Danish architects EFFEKT, have been termed the “Tesla of ecovillages” paving the way for new innovative developments. Plans include villages being linked up to the cloud and being able to communicate with each other through the internet. In this way communities are self-reliant and off-grid but can still learn from each other.

What about the future?

At a conference held at Sliperiet, Umeå University, Sweden James Ehrlich spoke of the future for Regen Villages. After the completion of the Almere pilot, EU funding of a proposed 300 million euros (approximately $319 million) will enable projects in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Germany to go ahead. These are aimed to be carried out during 2018-2022. Sights are then set on developments across Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, India, China and parts of the US, with government investments. As Ehrlich outlined, by targeting a challenging cold environment first, Regen Villages can be adapted to suit different climatic needs.

Off-grid sustainable greenhouse communities are not at all futuristic and Ehrlich is keen to make them a reality.

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Liberals Prep for Trump Presidency – even have own Gun Club

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Prepping, Survival, Trump, Prepared, Off-grid, Self-sustaining

Could a “Trumpocalypse” on the horizon? Preppers are taking no chances!

Time was, Preppers tended to be right-wingers concerned about the coming social collapse, but since President Trump was elected, it’s left wing liberals who have begun hoarding food and seeking out futureproof shelters.

Prepping or survivalism already has tens of thousands of individual followers or groups actively preparing for emergencies. This movement even warranted a reality series titled “Doomsday Preppers” which aired on National Geographic Channel in 2012.

With a Trump administration now on the horizon, previous non-preppers have begun looking at their earthquake and backpacking gear in a new way – the beginnings of a survival kit. This was the case for San Francisco based Liberal Jim Ray. He told Buzzfeed, “The world in general feels more tumultuous than it did, in a lot of ways. For liberally minded people, the election made that a reality in a way that it wasn’t before.”

Other Liberals are moving beyond simply stocking up their backpacking kit, adding foreign visas and unregistered vehicles to their prepping checklist, according to the Buzzfeed article.

Although left wingers are generally against stocking up on ammunition and guns, The Liberal Gun Club has seen an increase in paying members over the past few months. This group provides a voice for gun-owning liberals, breaking the stereotype of only right wing enthusiasts owning guns and ammunition. Not only this, but gun transactions reached a record high on November 25th shortly after the election result, according to The Trace. Although this could be due to stockists lowering prices to increase their sales.

Liberal Prepper Facebook groups have also begun growing in popularity and number. One group has nearly 1,000 members on the social media site.

On the other hand, some Conservative preppers have relaxed their prepping since the election. But other right wingers are cautioning against this, regardless of political opinion or viewpoint, a new president isn’t going to prevent a natural disaster or grid power outage. Therefore, prepping is still an important and vital part of many peoples’ lives. Only now, preppers can no longer be described as predominantly right wing, President Trump has seen to that.

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Solar TV: Entertainment Everywhere

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Solar Power, TV, Off-grid, Africa

Even in a remote location, the Solar TV can connect to satellite channels.

Living off-grid but want to keep dumbing down?

Cello Electronics have introduced what they claim is the first LED solar powered TV. With a screen size of 22 inches, the TV is still reasonably compact and so would fit well in an RV, hut or tiny home.

A built-in rechargeable battery and patented “Smart Energy Management System” ensures up to 10 hours of running time from a single charge! A smart antenna receives signals through a DVBT2 tuner giving the viewer HD quality. But if you’re located somewhere really remote where there is little or no TV signal, the built-in satellite tuner can still pick up satellite channels. This allows for TV entertainment, wherever you may be.

This unit can also play a more central role in powering an off-grid home. A 2.0 USB port can not only charge phones, but can also act as a connection or power source for other compatible devices. Not only this by connecting a flash disk to act as storage, the personal video recorder feature can be used. That’s right; this set offers the ability to record a show or series to watch when it’s more convenient for you.

A complete out-of-the-box solution:

The Solar TV package costs $300 and includes the TV, solar panel and antenna. All that needs to be done is to set up the TV with the solar panel (in a suitable location of course) and you’re good to go. A review of an “out of the box” opening can be found here.

UK based Cello Electronics launched the Solar TV at the third Solar Africa Expo in Kenya, last year. A large proportion of the African population do not have access to reliable electricity from the grid. Therefore, a TV that works completely off-grid offers a solution. Knowing that the $300 price tag could be a big barrier for poorer regions in Africa, the company set up a pay-as-you-go scheme. PAYGOTV allows the consumer to pay only for the TV they are watching by purchasing a code entered via the remote control. This also opens up a new market for customers that don’t have their own TV but have access to one in the local community.

Brian Palmer, CEO of Cello, recalled how it all started, saying in a press release, “Could we make a TV that was capable of working off-grid?” Seems the answer is, yes they could!

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Off-Grid School Gets Top Marks

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Recycling, Eco-desks, Off-grid, school, South Africa

Waste for desks? Deal!

A cash-strapped performing arts school has traded a year’s worth of waste for 30 desks.

The off-grid school collected its community’s recycling, as well as its own, and bartered this for the recycled desks.

Set up in 2005, the grid wasn’t working for 65 pupil school Chistlehurst, Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa so they devised a plan. Stick with their eco-friendly ethos and remain off the grid.  Unlike an on-grid school, there is no sprinkler system, no heating in the winter and strictly no technology in the classroom. So things are done a little differently, students carry buckets of water from the rain water tanks to the gardens and huddle by a bonfire to keep warm on cold mornings.

“Our kids have had to learn how to get along without certain ‘luxuries’, which is something they take a little time to adjust to, but end up loving the ‘quietness’ of it all,” said Jacyn Fanner, Headteacher.

When they moved into their current building, there were no roofs, doors or windows. Let alone functioning taps and toilets! But after a lot of hard work, the school reached their off-grid goal. Rain water tanks fill the toilet cisterns, solar lighting illuminates the classrooms and batteries, gas and a small generator provide extra energy.

The school is also home to a frog pond, vegetable garden and a recycling village with 12 bins for different materials. This allows the school to recycle a range of materials from mixed paper and cans to plastic and styrofoam. The majority of cleaning products and equipment are sourced from the local community and are as eco-friendly as possible.

Off-grid, School, Recycling, South Africa, Eco-desks, Water Tanks,

Drama Free! Water tanks & solar panels mean Chistlehurst doesn’t have to rely on the grid.

The school partnered up with the Wildlands Conservancy Trust 6 years ago, through their desire to recycle. The NGO, which operates in 6 provinces, provided the school with the recycling bins which are filled every week – even during the holidays!

Students have taken their eco-friendly lessons from school to home, encouraging their families to reduce re-use and recycle. So now recycling from the local community is brought to the school for collection. Each year the school get a rebate from Wildlands for the recycling they collect. However at the end of 2016 this rebate was traded for the eco-desks. The staff and students are very pleased with how they look in their eco-school setting and Headteacher Jacyn Fanner wants to see them fill all of the classrooms in time.

So what’s next?

“We have so many ideas and plans – which include a fully solar powered media centre – and we are so excited for what the future holds for Chistlehurst,” Jacyn Fanner said.

The desks are made from 100% previously unrecycled materials, are hard wearing and can be used both indoors and outdoors. Chistlehurst are so pleased with the outcome, they are encouraging other schools to get involved with green initiatives such as Sustainable Schools and Recycling for Life programs.

 

Images courtesy of Roger Fanner.

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Powerwall 2 takes homes off-grid

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Tesla, Solar, Batteries, Powerwall

Powering through, Tesla are expanding from cars to batteries

The sun is a huge energy source that can be taken advantage of using solar panels. But how to store the excess energy that solar panels capture has been a little tricky…until now. Tesla has come up with the solution – the Powerwall 2.

This wall or floor mounted battery pack stores excess energy captured by solar panels to be used anytime. This gives the consumer a reliable, available power source 24/7. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, cited climate change and the need to move to a sustainable energy source at the product launch, claiming the Powerwall 2 could power all the sockets, lights and fridge of a four bedroom house indefinitely with solar power. The 14kWh battery would also provide a back-up energy source if there were a power outage, allowing peace of mind.

Each pack has up to a 7kWh power output, with an average 5kWh continuous power output. A liquid thermal control (coolant) system helps to regulate the internal temperature of the battery, maximising its performance. Whilst the water resistant, dust proof casing allows for outdoor or indoor installation.

For those who do not have solar panels, the Powerwall 2 can be charged at night (when energy is in less demand and less expensive). Then it can be used as a power source during the day time. Tesla is also in the process of bringing out their range of solar tiles. These come in four styles, from Tuscan to slate glass. They are opaque from the street but transparent from above, allowing the suns rays to penetrate the tile and the solar panels within to capture energy.

The use of a Powerwall 2 pack with solar panels enables homes to become self-sufficient in providing their own energy. Musk has a clear vision of an affordable, integrated power generation and storage system which can be rolled out across whole neighbourhoods, allowing whole streets and communities to be off-grid.

One 755mm x 1150 mm x 115 mm 14kWh Powerwall 2 battery costs $5,500 (£5,400) with installation costs starting at $1,500 (£950). The first installations are due to begin in early 2017. Prices of the new Tesla solar tile range are yet to be released.

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Learn to Love Ecovillage Life

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Off-Grid, Course, Permaculture, Eco-friendly, ecovillage, Earthaven

Permaculture is a sustainable way of living – not a trending hairstyle!

Want to test out living off-grid but don’t want to do it alone? If you have $6000 to spare you can with the School of Integrated Living (SOIL).

So if you want to try living off-grid in a community of over 80 people, consider the Permaculture and Ecovillage Immersion Experience. This two month residency running from June 10th to August 11th is less of a course and more of an eco-cultural learning experience.

Located in the aspiring ecovillage Earthaven near Asheville, North Carolina, you’ll gain new skills on a wide curriculum. From learning about ecological farming to efficient irrigation techniques and eco-spirituality, there is something for everyone. Most days will begin with a meditation session before getting stuck into the day. There will be unstructured time, but most weeks will cover approximately 50 hours of learning. A Permaculture Design Certification course is also included, which will take place in mid-June.

Earthaven was founded in 1994 and sits in 329 acres of land. A completely off-grid community powered with solar panels and two small hydropower stations. The buildings are made of environmentally friendly materials, usually lumber, with metal roofs for water catchment. Most are passively solar heated and propane burners help to keep them warm during colder months. The huts and residences have either individual or shared solar systems which supply their electricity. Batteries and generators are also charged by the micro hydropower stations for back up supplies. Although most of the residents get around by foot or bike, three solar powered golf carts can also be used.

Course participants will camp on site, with the majority of spots being for two person tents. A tarp covered kitchen with propane burners and a composting toilet are all available for use. Food is also included and most is sourced from the local environment and small farms in the village.

The cost of the course is $6,800 including tuition, food, camping, field trips and the permaculture design certificate. There is a $400 discount if booked before February 10th.

If you don’t want to spend two months at Earthaven but would still like to visit – you can! Workshops and tours are open to the public. Camping is also offered for $15 per adult per night, or $20 for two adults sharing a tent. The camping season runs from March 31st to November 5th.

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Free Home Batteries Trial Increases Grid Capacity

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Solar panels, smart battery, electricity, Yorkshire, grid,

Solar & batteries: the clever way to cut energy costs

A small community in South Yorkshire, UK has been targeted for a trial involving solar power and smart batteries. Forty homes in near Barnsley are having smart batteries installed at the end of January. Moixa, Northern Powergrid and Energise Barnsley are all collaborating on the £250 million ($308 million) project.

Moixa Batteries USB port

The Moixa batteries are smaller than a boiler (50cm x 30cm x 20cm), wall mounted with a 20 year lifespan. They even have a USB port so phones and other devices can be charged direct from the battery. Normally costing above £2,500 ($3,000), the residents received their batteries free of charge, with distributor Northern Electric footing the bill. 30 of the homes had solar panels, allowing them to be further independent of the grid. The batteries have good saving potential, giving the residents another reason to be positive about the trial.

The batteries allow residents to use the excess energy their solar panels generate during the day, at night time. They store the energy produced instead of transmitting it to the grid. This will relieve pressure put on the electricity network during times of high output but low demand. It is this reason that prevented the energy company Energise Barnsley placing more homes with solar onto the trial. Without expensive upgrades it is infrastructure which is limiting the number of homes that can have solar power. A project in Carmarthenshire, Wales, faced a similar problem, with only 37% of homes being able to connect with solar energy.

Lower Carbon

As outlined in Moixa’s press release, CEO Simon Daniel stated, “Batteries will allow the electricity system to support much higher levels of low carbon renewable power and increase UK energy independence.”

Linking the batteries in a virtual power plant system allows Moixa to make the wider grid more efficient, causing less need for back up from non-renewable sources. If rolled out across the country, millions could be saved by reducing the peak solar output onto the electricity network.

If the trial is successful, batteries could hold the key to UK energy independence.

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Return of the Scottish Hut

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Hut, Scotland, Building Regulations, Bothies, Off Grid

Huts or bothies were part of Scotland’s culture since early C20th.

If you fancy buying an inexpensive off-grid getaway in Europe – try Scotland.

The government announced changes to their building regulations early this year. This will include huts of up to 30m² becoming exempt from regulations, specifically aimed at making it simple for people to achieve a life off the grid.

In a few months, you could be gazing out from a building like the one in the picture for less than $25,000 inclusive.

Scotland has a strong hutting culture dating back to the early 20th century; it was only 60 years ago that this began to dwindle. The largest remaining hut community in Carbeth, near Glasgow, managed to weather this decline. The community bought the land on which their 140 huts stand in 2013. But now resurgence is happening, thanks mainly to the campaign A Thousand Huts championed by the environment organisation Reforesting Scotland.

This organisation recognises the benefits of hut life, offering a retreat for rest, recreation, enjoying nature and making memories with family. Alongside use as a base for outdoor activities, huts contribute to sustainable development and encourage learning new skills. Reforesting Scotland have been lobbying for changes to the law for some time and are keen to encourage more people to adopt the hut lifestyle. Now changes to building regulations are being finalised this year, more people can benefit from having their own off-grid getaway.

Scottish planning (zoning) policy requires all developments to get planning permission for a new build from their local authority. This involves providing a description of plans on the chosen location. This part of the process will not change and will still have to take place.

However, single storey huts will no longer need a building warrant or have to comply with strict building regulations. This gives hut builders more freedom in how they build their huts and can significantly reduce building costs. There are still some rules which will have to be met.

Firstly, the build must fit the description of a hut as given in Scottish Planning Policy documents, which is as follows:

“A simple building used intermittently as recreational accommodation, having an internal floor area of no more than 30m²; constructed from low impact materials; generally not connected to mains water, electricity or sewage; and built in such a way that it is removable with little or no trace at the end of its life.”

By restricting size, the risk of structural instability of the hut is reduced but its energy efficiency is maximised.

Secondly, some health and safety regulations will have to be met, for example relating to fire risk and spread. A guidance document outlining these will be published by Reforesting Scotland later this year.

The Scottish Government has also allowed provision for a sleeping platform and amenities such as composting toilets within the hut. In terms of energy use and production, off-grid solutions such as solar panels and micro wind turbines are most desirable, however these are location dependent.

There are hutting cultures in other locations, such as the Scandinavian countries. However, these seem to be growing in size and elaborateness. The aim of this policy development in Scotland is to take people back to basics and off the grid.

 

 

More information can be found here:

www.thousandhuts.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/160215-Huts-Guidance-FINAL-screen-res.pdf

A Guide to the Planning System in Scotland can be found here:

www.gov.scot/resource/doc/281542/0084999.pdf

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Best Beats Unplugged

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Music, Festival, Off Grid

It is not often that large events can call themselves self sustaining. But two upcoming music festivals on two entirely different continents are bucking the trend and doing just that – going off grid.

Introducing Off The Grid Melbourne Festival in OZ and Camphill Village Music Festival in South Africa. Two very different but self-sustaining events. Off The Grid Melbourne is taking place on 21/12/16 at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Arts in Melbourne and Camphill Village Music Festival on 25/02/17 at Camphill Village near Cape Town. This will be the third music festival for both events, which have been getting bigger and better each year.

The Melbourne festival will be powered entirely through solar energy. Panels will be connected to a battery bank, which is rigged up to the sound system. This ten hour event will have music, food and plenty of dancing, with not a single piece of waste going to landfill. The company behind this festival, Finding Infinity, aim to make Melbourne a completely sustainable city – one renewable event at a time. Artists playing at this event include home-grown Australian Andras Fox and the eclectic, high energy No Zu.

The Camphill Village Music festival is a slightly different affair, but no less energetic. This festival helps to raise funds for Camphill Village, a community home to 90 intellectually disabled adults who aim to live self-sustaining lives. The farm includes a dairy, bakery and cosmetics shop, whose products are sold in the Cape Town area. Partnering up with Rays of Hope helped Camphill take the first steps towards living with no reliance on the grid. The dairy is now entirely solar powered, taking the community one step further to complete self-reliance. The festival will bring the whole community together and create a great atmosphere, with the sounds of Rockers Bootleggers, Albert Frost and the soulful Majozi keeping everyone dancing long into the night. Being located approximately 40km from Cape Town, there is the option to camp overnight – so the party really can go on all night long.

 

Both events are set to be real showstoppers, proving that you don’t need to be on the grid to have a good night out.

 

More information for both events can be found here:

Off The Grid Melbourne               –              http://www.offthegrid.global/

Off The Grid Camphill Village      –              http://www.camphill.org.za/camphill-village-music-festival

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