Monday, October 29, 2012

Making Electricity

I hopped on the bike generator this morning - you know, to charge up the batteries ... just in case. It's fun exercise. I like watching the little numbers go up to 100% and know that my pedaling is doing something more than making my legs wobbly.

It's hard work, though, and I think people who have never tried to make electricity have no, real, concept of how much electricity we squander on silly things. If we all had to pedal for most of our electricity, my guess is that sales on electronic gadgets would plummet.

I'm not just talking about bike generators, either. Anyone who's ever run the numbers for going off-grid knows. In my area, a 60w solar panel will produce about 360w of power per day or about 10kwh of electricity per month. We use 350kwh of eletricity per month - which is one-third of the average usage. A little 400w RV-sized windmill will produce, in my area where we have, on average, 14 mph winds, 38 kwh per month. With two 60w solar panels and a windmill, we could run our freezer, most of our lights, and probably the Wi-Fi ... and since we have DSL and not a cable connection, if the power goes out, as long as we have our phone connection and power the router, we still have the Internet.

That 520w system would cost around $1000. It would take nine years for the system to start paying for itself.

Having researched how much it would cost us to get the apparatus necessary to generate - and store - our own power, and how much each little electric thing in our house uses, has made me hyper aware of the cost of electricity, and while I have been accused (perhaps, rightly so) of being a luddite, the fact is that I don't hate or fear technology, I just hate the prevalent consensus that electricity is necessary for our survival.

It's not.

Electricity is a convenience, and I like it, and I'm not going to simply cut the lines from the CMP poles to my house and live without it (well, I won't cut the lines, yet :), but I'm also not as worried about losing electricity as so many other people are.

I'm more worried about the safety of the water supply should the treatment facility be inundated or damaged in the storm.

I'm more worried about trees crashing into my chicken coop.

I'm more worried about roads being flooded and damaged - especially if Deus Ex Machina ends up on the opposite side of where we are.

If the electricity goes out, we'll ride the bike generator a little more, play some games, read some books, and have some quiet. It will be no big deal, and certainly not an emergency.

Well, not an emergency until I start going through blog withdrawals ... and then, I'll just need to pedal more so that I can crank up the Wi-Fi and post ;).


  1. There was a great show on the British BBC a few years ago that powered a 'normal' house for a day through human pedal-power:

    You can find it on YouTube.

    It's fascinating to see how many madly pedalling people it takes!

  2. Actually, I think electronic device sales might go *up* in a pedal-power situation. A 30W solar panel is sufficient to keep my phone and Kindle charged up. It would handle a full-sized tablet, too, if necessary.

    I really need to get that vertical-axis windmill put together. I think I have all the parts — I salvaged wire and the axis from a burned-out electric motor, and those big speakers The Boy blew out in his enthusiasm for music are furnishing magnets. The hardest thing is mounting the axis. Wind here is fairly reliable through the winter, so if nothing else I'll just wire in a space heater as a dump load. :-)