Two of the Best Off-Grid Images Ever!

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

<p>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.</p>
<p>On January 17<sup>th</sup>
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.</p>
<p>The terror that I experience during gusty wind comes from the fact that I put up my own wind turbine.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>
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</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>
<a href=”http://aztextpress.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/wind-turbine-pinning-the-needle.gif”>
</a>
</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>
<a href=”http://aztextpress.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/mx80-2080-kw-charge-controller.gif”>
</a>
</p>
<p>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.</p>
<p>
<em>Photos by Cam Mather. For more information about Cam or his books and DVDs please visit <a href=”http://www.aztext.com” title=”www.aztext.com ” target=”_blank”>www.aztext.com </a>or <a href=”http://www.cammather.com” title=”www.cammather.com” target=”_blank”>www.cammather.com</a>
</em>
</p>