In this forth part of the series on Self-sufficiency as a retirement strategy by Nev Sweeney we look at Energy and water.
We all use energy in out lives, to cook our food, power our car and TV, even to purify our water so it is important to have some way of harvest our own energy without relying on the national grid or the oil companies (well, reducing our reliance on them anyway!)
In a suburban setting, the easiest method that is least likely to offend the neighbours is direct use of the suns rays – assuming you location gets enough. The sun can be used directly to cook food, heat water or dry food for preservative purposes or heat rooms. We have a solar oven which was home made and works remarkably well, a solar food drier which is also home made and works well, a commercial solar water heater and I am in the midst of making a reflecting solar cooker so that we can boil, fry and stir fry as well as bake.
Most equipment that makes direct use of the sun can be made fairly cheaply (sometimes even out of discarded cardboard and aluminium foil) by almost anyone with a few tools and who is moderately handy. This keeps the costs down and, depending where you live, it may be the only way of getting hold of some of the gear.
Electricity generation has more options but requires more investment and you need to know more to manage your personal energy supply. The easiest (but not cheapest) option is to buy a stack of solar photovoltaic panels and mount them on the roof or wherever. Then get an inverter (converts 12 volts direct current to 240 or 120 volts alternating current) and plug the panels into an inverter and then have an electrician wire your inverter back into the national grid through a meter that can run both ways. That way the power you produce goes into the grid and then you use the power back from the grid as required. This is good financially and environmentally but if the grid goes down, you’re still stuffed!
To be independent of the grid you need batteries which are heavy, expensive and do eventually require replacement. You also need to know more to operate the system, but you can run on 12 volts as well as the normal AC voltage for where you are and you are independent of the system
You can also buy or make a wind generator – an electricity generator or alternator powered by the wind. Most home made ones are based on a car alternator that is rectified to 12vdc. You can pay thousands of dollars for a commercial wind generator but they tend to be more quiet and unobtrusive and require less maintenance. The problem with wind generators is that they are obvious. They can upset the neighbours with noise and they may be regarded as unsightly – I like ‘em but I am not your neighbour. You may also be required to get government approval. I am in the process of discussing this with our local council and their fees have a potential to double the cost of the wind generator, although it was a cheapie!
Water requires energy to collect, treat, store , filter and transport to your home and is remarkably cheap for all of that! If you want to be self sufficient or more sustainable then it makes sense to harvest the water from your roof. Depending on your climate, size of your roof, size of your storage and needs it is possible to be run your house off rainwater alone. People in the outback have been doing it for many years, but to do it successfully you may need to make some changes.
Some automatic washing machines can chew through gallons of water per wash and toilets can use 9 litres or more of drinkable water to get rid of 100ml of urine, which doesn’t make sense. There are many ways to save water such as putting bath or clothes washing water on the garden or using it to flush the toilet, or installing a dual flush – or even better – a composting toilet.
As with electricity, the more water you can store, the better and water tanks tend cost less per litre stored the bigger they are, but it depends on your situation how much you can store. Even a 200 litre drum or 60 litre (new) garbage tin will allow you to store some water and any water storage is better than none.
This article has been a rough overview of how you can set yourself up to be as self reliant as possible to reduce your outgo and maximize your income in your retirement and as a by-product you may find one or more fascinating new hobbies. If you are interested I suggest you enquire further and see what possibilities suit your tastes and interests. Give it a go, every little bit helps………………….. and it’s fun!