Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Have you ever noticed that there is a fine line between terror and elation? There must be or else there wouldn’t be a constant stream of horror movies in theaters. Or theme parks. Those crazy roller coaster/death defying rides keep people coming back. There’s got to be something to it. I don’t like crowds, which is why I don’t go to theme parks. That and the fact that I get that feeling of terror/elation for free a number of times during the year thanks to Mother Nature.
On January 17th we had a weather front move through here and it was pretty awesome. It was scary, but great none-the-less. We went from fairly warm rainy weather to -10°C in less than 2 hours. And as the front moved through the wind picked up… horrifically… “Auntie Em, Auntie Em, it’s a twister!” kind of wind gusts. They were calling for wind gusts of 100 km/hour in Kingston, which is an hour south of here. I don’t think our gusts were quite that bad, but they were pretty brutal.
The terror that I experience during gusty wind comes from the fact that I put up my own wind turbine.
I did everything right, but still - I put it up myself. We filmed it and produced a DVD on how to do it, and Mike Bergey, who engineered the turbine and tower likes the DVD (even though I can’t get him to mention it on his website), so I guess I did it correctly.
But there’s just something about a tilt-up tubular steel tower. My tower is held up with 5 sets of guy wires, spaced at 20 ft intervals on my 100-foot tower. They have some slack in them so if you are standing at an anchor and you look up the guy wire, you will notice that the wire bows down. You need some play in a tower like this. If the wires were as tight as guitar strings they would have a tendency to break, like a guitar string for example, during a concert at a crucial part in the song in front of a huge audience… i.e. just when you don’t want it to.
So even though the tower has survived high winds like this before, I have to admit I still cringe sometimes at the sound of those brutal gusts. I can see the tower perfectly out of my office window. There were a few times during wind storms just after I put it up when I said to Michelle “Come on, we’re going to Kingston, I can’t watch this!” And upon our return, as we rounded the corner and drove along the road to the driveway, there was always a moment of anguish before I could check to see if the tower was still standing.
If you watch the video you can see that the Bergey turbine “furls.” When the turbine reaches its top speed, the tail furls to move it out of the direct wind. Furling slows the turbine down as it becomes parallel to the wind direction, then the tail will eventually unfurl and move the blades back into the direct wind to get back to producing the maximum output. It’s considered “hurricane-proof.” So what? It still howls during big windstorms.
During this latest windstorm my usual anxiety was compounded by my fear of how ice would affect its performance. We’d had freezing rain and wet snow for days. So the blades on the turbine had been iced up for a while. I assume that the system has been engineered to handle the regular weight of the turbine and blades. But with another 20 or 30 pounds of ice on the blades I was worried that maybe things wouldn’t go so well.
The wind started up at about 10 p.m. I headed out to the guesthouse where our batteries and off-grid electric equipment room are located, to watch the events. It was one of those “hold onto your hat” “listen to the trees being blown over in the woods” kind of nights. As part of my wind turbine project I had installed an ampmeter to measure the power that the turbine is producing. I also have an e-meter which measures the juice coming in to the batteries in Amps, but it’s digital. So I could look at that and see 50 or 60 Amps coming in. But that wasn’t nearly as exciting as watching my old-fashioned analog ampmeter pinning the needle.
I think it comes from growing up in the 70s in the age of muscle cars and songs by Foreigner like “Rev on the Red Line” which is about pushing your engine to the max. This wind didn’t disappoint. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen the needle on my ampmeter being pinned for as prolonged a period as it was during this windstorm. It was ssssssooooooooo great! Better than the best thing that I could EVER watch on TV. I got to watch as my wind turbine was transforming nature’s raw energy into a form of green power that I use to power my home and all the tools that make my life easier.
Back when I was growing up I used to enjoy waterskiing but I lost interest in it once I started wind surfing. I preferred the feeling of capturing the wind and transferring it through the sail and then down my arms and body into the movement of the board. It’s that whole human versus nature thing. I saw what happened in Joplin, Missouri this past summer, so I know that nature always bats last. But so far we haven’t had tornado force winds blow through here.
When I finally went to bed I could tell that Michelle was still not asleep. She hates the wind. Our old house sounds like the Quoyle house in the book “The Shipping News,” that was perched on a towering Newfoundland fiord facing a gale blowing in off the Atlantic. Our house makes lots of creaking, banging, rattling and other unexplained noises. The sound of the wind lulls me to sleep but not before I think about the fact that when I get up in the morning the batteries will have a higher charge than when I went to bed. That doesn’t happen very often.
This is also the time of year when the solar panels really start to get back into the groove. On a typical January day the air is clean and clear, and the panels work best in the cold. The snow in front of them reflects even more sunlight, improving their output.
When we look at our charge controller on a sunny day we are often getting close to the rated output of all our solar panels, which is about 2,300 Watts. This photo shows over 2,000 Watts of solar electricity coming in. This is pretty exciting at this time of year since the last few months have been typically dark and cloudy. On those rare sunny days during the fall the sun is low on the horizon and doesn’t have as much energy as we’d like.
If you live with solar and wind power you don’t have to pay any attention to these meters, especially if you live on the grid. In my case I choose to because I like to know just how much energy I’m storing in my batteries. It effects things that I’m going to do… how I’m going to cook my dinner, whether or not it’s a good day to do the laundry or if I can use the electric chainsaw. I love my meters. They remind me that taking money out of my retirement fund to install solar panels and a wind turbine was a good investment. Good for the planet. Good for my independence. Good to avoid ever having another utility bill, EVER. And really, just the best darn entertainment you could ask for on a windy winter night.