Guest essay by Andi Cockroft
Is an email exchange after my recent essay on my personal weather station and the challenges of running it entirely off solar/battery power, WUWT publisher Anthony Watts had this to say:
How about an article “on all the challenges and sacrifices you’ve made living off-grid” said Anthony!
We can always point to that and say “look, a climate denier who lives sustainably!” said Anthony!
“That should explode some heads” said Anthony!
Well, let’s see.
Image from YouTube
First of all, let’s define my stance on Climate. I believe climate has always changed and will always change. I lived through the bitterly cold winters in England of the early 60’s. I remember tramping to school through a foot of snow. I remember the “Ice Age Is Coming” scare – ironically many of those same people are shouting CAGW today.
I remember in history lessons at school being taught of the Ice Fayres being held on the Thames when bull races and even bonfires were lit with Henry Tudor arriving by sleigh.
So it has been colder. We also know it has been warmer. Both without human intervention.
Watching the antics of the so-called scientists abandon the scientific method in favour of their models is frankly pathetic. My entire working life has been spent in IT, and I have done quite a bit of business modelling. Simply put you play with the parameters to get the business plan you want – Garbage In – Garbage Out. The model fits your needs. Same with Climate Models I suspect. Add to that the increasingly bizarre “adjustments” made to historical datasets and my doubts are further increased. it’s like saying our ancestors didn’t know how to measure temperature!
So do I trust models alone? Well surprisingly NO. It takes more than that.
Seeing that to date, not one single “Catastrophe Prediction” has come to pass, the shrills really don’t have that good a track record.
And incidentally, I do avoid the use of “Denier”, but I am and will always remain scientifically sceptical, as I think any free-thinking individual should be about anything – I even suspect theories on Dark Energy and Dark Matter to be seriously flawed but they’re the best we have till something else comes along.
But back to my living off-grid.
I chose my retirement lifestyle quite deliberately, more because of location than anything else. The remoteness of this place is everything I wanted. Sad about the local windfarm, but you can’t have everything!
My New Zealand home is on the hills looking south from the bottom of the North Island across the Cook Strait to the South Island. At 400 metres elevation and 8.8 Km from the nearest tar seal (i.e. public road) behind 3 locked gates, the isolation and sense of “being” is exhilarating.
But as for Anthony’s request that I describe Challenges and Sacrifices? Well, they don’t really feel as such – but then again with Cyclone Gita currently heading this way as I write, maybe I will want to modify that thought overnight as Gita hits!
OK, but what are the basic essentials?
As in any species though these are the absolutes just to remain alive. But over and above that, there are things from a modern way of life that are simply must haves:-
· Hot Water
But to get things started, my first thoughts (and maybe the next part of my adventure) was to build one of the new up and coming “Tiny Homes”. I drew plans, had everything worked out, but rapidly realised that what I wanted would be too big and heavy to be road-legal to tow on New Zealand’s roads. It would also have taken too long for me to build. Plus of course my 4×4 has a maximum towing capacity of 3½ tonnes. So something lighter was needed. My new setup weighs in at 2½ tonnes.
Tiny Home – Too Heavy For Me
Hence my acquisition of a rather elderly 1977 caravan (is that what our American brethren refer to as a trailer?)
But although larger caravans are built much lighter, they contain what I call “toy furniture” and are designed to sleep six or more. The spaces are actually quite cramped and the seating very uncomfortable for anyone with arthritis such as myself.
So, the entire interior was stripped and replaced with full-sized fittings, including a permanent double bed, large fridge/freezer, gas oven, water heater and a coal fire.
In total, my new home has a total of 165 square feet of living space. Of course I also have lots of space outside to spread out.
My three-seater leather reclining settee makes for extremely comfortable seating and quite easily sleeps a guest if need.
Two huge batteries and a five kilowatt inverter/charger completed the electrical side of things.
Outside I added a storage box on the back to hold a two kilowatt inverter generator and storage for two gas bottles. On the roof I added 500 watts of solar panels with an MPPT controller inside charging the batteries.
I also came across a second-hand air-conditioning unit that sits over the bedroom – but is rarely needed if I leave the doors and windows open.
Finishing things off are a fully automatic satellite dish that is push-button operated to locate the Optus D1 satellite – very handy when changing locations.
The whole rebuild and first adventures are documented on my website here
The Finished Product
But things change, and due to ill health that has dogged me the past year or so, rather than being mobile exploring GodZone, it became necessary to find a permanent location – at least for a few years to get my health back in shape again. So here I am, at this ridiculously isolated location far from the madding crowd, and master of my own domain.
The whole area is set aside for Tiny Homes, but spread over a huge area, not parked up cheek-by-jowl. My nearest neighbour is about 2Km away. And as stated earlier, it’s 8.8km to the tar seal with three locked gates in the way to discourage all but the most ardent trespassers. I have had a couple in the year I’ve been here but having two large German Shepherds tends to discourage them.
But Having Two Large German Shepherds Tends To Discourage Them – This Is The Youngest
There is an advantage of parking up permanently, and first it was the plentiful supply of water. This comes from a spring, completely untreated and is fed to a 1,000 litre storage tank about 20 metres above me. From here gravity into my home does the rest. And, it is the purest and most refreshing water comparable with mountain streams in the back blocks. It has the benefit of no added chemicals if you like that kind of thing.
So, comprehensive you might think, and so did I – but the next challenge I came across was lack of electricity. With Laptops and Cellphones, Kitchen Appliances and two TV’s – one being a 52” in the lounge – all placing a big drain. Couple that to the fact the solar panels lie flat on the roof so are not getting maximum sunshine.
But how to find a way to generate more electricity? The Inverter Generator is OK, but is quite expensive to run at about $5 per day (when there’s no sun), so a better way was needed. Of course that’s also burning fossil fuels – not that I care about CO2 but I do care about other pollutants.
Being located in “the Windy City” with some fairly consistent winds, it seemed logical to look at a wind generator. A 600 watt unit was ordered and installed with its own MPPT controller, but what a waste of time and money that turned out to be.
Rated at 600 watts, the maximum I have managed to get out of it is less than 20 watts !!!!! So it was returned and a replacement unit installed and despite trying three different controllers, output still remains extremely low. Complete and utter waste of time.
Interestingly enough, the windmill generates very significant noise, but not infra-sound. This is simple mechanical noise and vibration as it turns. Can be very annoying and I will probably relocate it further away.
Having this experience behind me, my next acquisition then was a 750watt solar array with a second MPPT controller permanently mounted outside. I couldn’t possibly afford tracking hardware, so the panels are facing due north and inclined towards where the sun would be mid-day in mid-winter.
Adding two more batteries with the solar panels means that I rarely have to run the generator these days and the four batteries now have between them sufficient storage to keep me going a couple of days with no sun.
This brings my total solar array up to 1.25Kw through two separate MPPT controllers (and virtually none from wind)
Being permanently located also afforded me the opportunity to add other things. Since I am not a great fan of showers, and I really missed my bath, I decided the time was right to build one.
No room inside, but plenty of unused space outside. Especially sheltered around the back of the caravan.
An Outside Bath Far Better Than A Shower
Cold water comes directly from the spring, hot water from the water heater in the caravan. It takes a while to fill, and really only for use in fine weather, but it is incredibly refreshing and I spend ages soaking until I start to wrinkle like a prune.
Cheap led Xmas lights provide mood lighting after dusk.
Probably the final addition (to date) has been adding a barbeque. One came up in the Xmas sales at half price, so I spent several days assembling it – I should have read the instructions where it said “two person assembly”!
But it became rapidly evident that the winds up here make lighting and running a gas barbeque problematic. So not to be outdone, two windbreaks were added to help things along. Even so it can’t be used on a really windy day.
Now do I have any challenges and sacrifices?
Well yes there are challenges, but I feel I’ve overcome most of those, and living in a small space of just 165 square feet is actually pretty cool – housework takes no time at all. Once you’ve worked out what you actually must have and get rid of everything else, it’s amazing how small a space you can get away with.
Sacrifices? They don’t feel like sacrifices. I move out of a 1000 square foot home about 2 years ago, and whilst life here is different, it is on the whole far more enjoyable. I can integrate seamlessly with the outdoors or hunker down during bad weather.
New Zealand’s central region climate is quite comfortable all year round. In 30 years I’ve been in GodZone, I’ve only experienced snow in Wellington once. But I do suspect up her at 400 metres I might expect some at some stage.
As for right this instant, Cyclone Gita has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but winds “in exposed places” are expected to reach 130Kph, so time to batten down the hatches and make sure all loose things are secured outside.
I’ll continue this after the storm abates…..
Post Script to Tropical Storm Gita
Well, that was a non-event, with my weather station recording only 75Km here in my hilltop location. Earlier this month on the 2nd of February, I had 105Km, and I have had much worse during last winter (the southern hemisphere winter that is) with gusts up to 160Km.
It seems as though Gita tracked a lot further south, and caused mayhem in the South Island. A State of Emergency has been declared in many locations, so I am pretty lucky to be been spared the worst the weather gods had to offer.
My thoughts go out to all those so tragically affected, not only here in New Zealand, but all throughout the Pacific Region.