Sunday, January 22, 2017

Add to our climate change list...

As you know, we live off the grid; have for nearly 40 years now.  Our energy consumption, capture, and storage protocols were based on "normal" weather; normal winter and summer sun and wind.

But- we don't have them any more.  Typically here in SE Minnesota, late January and early February are brilliantly sunny.  Cold; but totally clear skies.  That works great for photovoltaic power, in fact; yes, the days are shorter, but the cold dramatically increases the panels' output; for every 3°C colder than the specified temp; which is around +27°C; the panels put out 1% more power than specs.  So- when it's -10°F; e.g. -23°C; which used to be very common week long temperatures here; the panels are putting out around 17% more power.  That's a lot.

The past several years though have shown a new January/February pattern - which does not include sunny days.  Warm (for January in Minnesota) - it hasn't been below freezing for a week now- and...

This is what our world has looked like, for days, and days, and days....... we are now living in Niflheim; one of the realms from Norse Mythology - "Mist World".  Primordial snow and ice and damp- and no sun.  Yup.  Here we are.  Well, plus we have primordial mud, at 2 PM daily.

Besides being depressing, just a bit, our energy processes are messed up, good.  No, solar panels do not put out significant power in this kind of fog/cloud cover.  So- we are forced to burn gasoline to run our backup generators, which we have for the supposedly occasional week with no sun.  Those sunless weeks happened every year - once, or twice.  Now- we have them every other week.  It seems. 

Which creates another "not in the plans" problem- we own 4 backup generators; for 3 locations and a spare...  3 out of 4 are now dead; from being run so constantly; far more than designed for.  We now spend an hour or so a day running the one generator around (in the slush no vehicle can move through) from one site to another; and wondering if we have enough gas...

And if you are using solar heat - same thing; your building will not be getting warm today.

These impacts are here, now.  Affecting everyone.  But it's like "being nibbled to death by ducks" - it kind of seems harmless; until you die.

It's not harmless, though; it's cumulative, and weakens everything we depend on.


Melissa said...

Everything is changing, that's for sure. We used to be able to set our watches by the "monsoons" in northern New Mexico. They'd come in midafternoon at the height of summer...dark and looming, full of lightning and moisture! They'd hit fast and furious, be done in a very short time and exit quickly leaving the sky to open up into its beautiful crisp blue after-storm glory. Now we're lucky if we get rains at all...but when we do they're more often soft and the misting you get on the West Coast with the occasional, violent and flooding it's holding itself back until it just can't take it anymore. It's all very strange and hard to plan for/count on.

Steve Carrow said...

I live in SW Wisconsin, the driftless area, and yes, I have been dealing with the weird swings as well. And here I was going to spring for panels this coming summer.

But the reason I am commenting, is I just found your dissertation on rat trapping. It was mentioned at another blog. Excellent work, and making me consider going back to read through your archives, as I started following you not that long ago.


Anonymous said...

I feel for ya, neighbor.

Looks like you got some sun today finally!
I went to college in Milwaukee. I think it was the winter of 1988 when there was not one minute of sunshine from about Jan 30th through Mar 2nd. There was NO SUN for ALL of Feb! So depressing!

Now I live sort out in the country, but not off the electric grid. The power goes out enough that every time there is a storm coming, I try to prepare by filling up some water containers (electricity runs the well) and filling the little indoor woodbox so I can start the wood stove with warm wood rather than cold wood (electricity controls the propane furnace). I guess being completely off the grid can leave you vulnerable, too, when electricity controls anything on your property.
Ugh. Must we all go back to steam power?

Christine in cloudy WI, where the sun just peeked out.

knutty knitter said...

Summer seems to have been cancelled round here. Cold and wet for days with just one or two hot days to tempt you to shed the outer layer.

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

That is very rough. It must grate having to fall back on fossil fuels when you've been mostly independent for so long.

Have you got any suitable alternative power generation options available to you?

Is adding one or more wind turbines to your system a viable option for you? I know that doesn't help when your essentially fog bound (no wind), but do you get a high enough average wind to make it an option?

What about microhydro? Do you have a running water source anywhere that is usable?

It wont help much with a full week of no sun, but can you reduce your load as well? LED lights instead of fluros etc.

Anonymous said...

Argh. That's bad, but thanks for the update. I'm confident you'll cope.

If you're conserving electricity and bandwidth then you may or may not have heard that TEPCO in Japan has detected a wee little problem ...

Aimee said...

Here in far NW Washington state, we have always been living in Nilfheim. Solar is not the best choice for us. We are on grid, but have some off grid capability. Heat can be provided by my husband's modified diesel furnace (now burns waste veggie oil) and we can cook on propane burners or - if really pushed - in the fireplace. But it must be frustrating to have so much time and energy and money invested in a system that is now becoming less reliable.

Greenpa said...

Melissa, I've spent summers in both New Mexico and Nevada, so I'm familiar a bit. Yep, less predictable/reliable - is going to be worrisome.

Steve - thanks, and welcome here. :-)

Anonymous 1; being completely off grid means - you have to be able to do the maintenance on power/water yourself. It's not a minor thing, at all. I have 2 wells; one is pumped by an old Aermotor wind mill; works fine- if you have enough storage for windless days/weeks. The other is solar pumped, with a dedicated direct photovoltaic panel. Slow, but pretty sure, but- storage. And both need maintenance; and you must be prepared for it. Will the leathers on the Aermotor pump wear out? Yep. Will the weep-hole clog? Yep. Will the electric pump on the solar well- wear out? Yep.

Anonymous 2: We've always had gas/diesel backup power; for days/weeks when solar/wind isn't there; very hard to escape. When everything was working as well as it could, we needed to run a little gas generator to charge the house batteries about once a week in mid winter; one gallon of gas. Not too bad. Now that the panels are old and getting more shade- it's quite a bit more in winter.

Other alternatives - it's not impossible we could work start using wood gas more. We ARE drowning in wood biomass as a byproduct of the tree crops. Setting up the infrastructure is not trivial of course; but the potential is there if other options get less and less effective.

I've invested in/installed 3 small-moderate wind generators- all a dead loss. All dead within 2 months. Long, long stories; but basically the engineering was (and mostly still is) garbage. Not designed for real world conditions. These weren't toy/throwaway versions; but supposed to be 'real'. They really weren't. I'm not aware today of a small one I would buy (small meaning under 10KW). This is a pretty good intro to the problems: - and they missed a few problems actually.

We DO have wind enough. But; problem #1: most of the information available for small-off grid comes from people who are wildly enthusiastic and utterly ignorant. Fighting through that is hard work. Then there's the information from people who are pretty enthusiastic, a little educated, and slightly experienced. You have to throw their information out, too. I had the good luck early on to spend time with a man who'd been doing wind for 40 years (in 1975), and who was running 3 old (great) Jacobs machines at the time. Still had to learn the hard way.

Microhydro - not an option. Reducing load - a long time practice here; just normal behavior for any off grid system. We've already switched everything to newest generation LEDs - so- hard to scrape savings there, but when needs must - yes, things can be turned off; and we do.

Anonymous 3: The computers and the DSL are about the last things we turn off in a pinch; needed for business! So - I do keep track of Fukushima. Actually, I don't think they've "run into" a new problem; it's just that they're only now getting around to admitting what physics declared had to be true from the outset; why, yes; the fuel melted through the bottom of the containment vessels, and is "out". And it's no huge surprise that the radioactivity level inside a melted reactor core is high enough that it would kill an unprotected human in a few minutes- enough actually start charring your corpse right quick. What is new is - they're just starting to release the information; very slowly. "Golly, it's REALLY hot in there!" And oh, yeah, they have NO idea how to clean it up; none. Fried the new robot cameras last week, in spite of a couple years trying to design cameras that could survive it - nope.

Aimee - yep, Pac NW not a great candidate for solar, I know. Hm. Now how come nobody has ever come up with way to generate electricity from falling rain drops? Hm... I'm sure it would sell. Whether it worked or not.