Grid Alternatives and Wood Stove Restoration

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The dream of solar power as a viable grid alternative is coming every closer to reality.

If you ever want a reminder that you and your family are not completely self-sufficient, get into a money dispute with your local electric utility company. They have a persuasive way of making their point.

You may try calling them because your rates seem strangely high, your bill is incorrect, or you’re simply unhappy about their service. After ricocheting off their voice mail system or waiting in their brightly lit customer waiting room, you might begin to think that you truly have some cause to be upset.

But you’re a reasonable person, so you pay the disputed amount. Then you wait patiently for them to restore your electricity, just as they promised. Unfortunately, they’re not in quite as much of a rush as you are. As a matter of fact, they are nowhere to be seen — even though they absolutely assured you their serviceman would be at your house that same morning. And they are not quite as emotional as you are when you have to buy two hundred feet of extension cord to get electricity from your neighbor’s house.

Okay. It’s easy to put down utilities as state-regulated monopolies that have exclusive control of a single product the developed world finds indispensable. Maybe they just inhabit a different world than you and I. So all we can do is complain and pay up each month. There really aren’t any reasonable, cost-efficient grid alternatives. Or there weren’t, until now.

Solar energy has come of age. Steadily and quietly, technological advances and reduced equipment costs have transformed the idea of an electrically independent home, free from the grip of a utility grid, from fantasy to practical necessity. If you are planning for, laying out, or just dreaming about a new life without grid extension costs and monthly utility bills, we hope the “Living Off the Grid: Solar Power for Homes, 1994 Guide” is helpful to you.

In the February/March issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we will be detailing the installation of a home photovoltaic system as part of a continuing series on alternative energy. We know that if it’s not in people’s budgets, it’s just interesting, not useful. Solar energy isn’t just good for the planet. It will save you money.

Since its founding, MOTHER EARTH NEWS has celebrated appropriate technologies. That doesn’t mean they need to be new, as in the solar-energy story. In fact, the nostalgic lament “they don’t make ’em like they used to” still rings true. Nowhere is this more so than for wood- and coal-burning stoves, examples of iron-casting technology that reached a kind of engineering and artistic peak in America around 1880. Another surge of design innovation occurred in the ’70s, when interest in wood heat was encouraged by the energy crisis. Our story “Old Wood Stoves: Making a Comeback” by John Vivian revels in the how-to details of wood stove restoration, with a few tips on finding fine old stoves of past generations. John has been writing about wood stoves for twenty years. As you’ll discover, endurance is a virtue for both equipment and people.