Power, Energy and the Pursuit of the Perfect Piece of (Off-Grid) Toast

| 1/7/2011 7:57:04 AM

 I love toast. I eat a lot of it. There was a great song from 1978 by the Streetband called “Toast” that hailed the merits of toast and it still plays on a continuous loop in my head.


Toast is the most versatile food in the world and you can do so much with it. I have it for breakfast. And often for lunch. And once in a while if we have “breakfast for dinner” I’ll even have some then. It’s an Atkins Diet nightmare but I know that toast is a staple of my 99-year-old grandmother’s diet, so I’m sticking with it. In fact I can remember being at my Great Grandmother’s house one day as she was enjoying a peanut butter and banana sandwich. She lived on them. Apparently my love for bread is in my DNA and I’m not going to fight it.

Most people don’t think much about toast, certainly not how you make it, but I do. It’s pretty basic, you put the bread in the toaster, and it pops up a few minutes later toasted. If you wanted to criticize someone’s cooking ability, you could suggest that they can’t even make toast (or boil water.) But living in an off-grid house, toast isn’t quite so simple for me.

Being electrically challenged (as I am) and having a friend who is an electrical engineer is a great test of a friendship. In the case of my friend Bill Kemp, the good news is that much of what Bill knows is self-taught. So when you ask him a question he doesn’t rub your nose in the fact that he knows something that you don’t. Bill just has a genuine love of sharing what he’s learned. I think this is what makes his book The Renewable Energy Handbook so successful. People can sense from reading the book that he genuinely enjoys sharing information.

My great challenge with moving off the grid has been learning the difference between power and energy, and believe or not, there is one. Bill has been persistent in his attempts to teach me the difference. When we moved off grid we got rid of all of our electrical appliances. I figured there was no way we could use an electric kettle or waffle maker, so we gave them all away before we moved in to our off-grid home. And quite honestly, back then, with just 480 watts of PV and a battery bank nearing the end of its natural life, it wasn’t too far from the truth.

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