Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

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_bb_
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Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by _bb_ » Sat Feb 02, 2019 11:12 am

Article from Low-Tech Magazine: https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/12 ... urity.html

I've seen a few posts related to posts from Low-Tech Magazine. I thought I'd share one I found interesting.

Two excerpts from the article that stood out to me:

"What is generally assumed to be a proof of energy security – an unlimited and uninterrupted power supply – is actually making industrial societies ever more vulnerable to supply interruptions: people increasingly lack the skills and the technology to function without a continuous power supply."

The concluding paragraph:
"Arguing for a less reliable power supply is sure to be controversial. In fact, “Keeping the lights on” is a phrase that is often used to justify energy reforms such as building more atomic plants, or keeping them in operation past their planned lifetimes. To achieve real energy security, “keeping the lights on” should be replaced by phrases like “keeping some of the lights on”, “which lights should we turn off next?”, or “what’s wrong with a bit more dark?”. [31] Obviously, a less reliable energy supply would bring fundamental changes to routines and technologies, whether it is in households, factories, transport systems, or communications networks – but that’s exactly the point. Present ways of life in industrial societies are simply not sustainable."

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Tue Feb 05, 2019 11:19 am

Yes I liked that, and pretty much anything that comes out of that blog! Also see https://www.notechmagazine.com/ for interesting/related news roll.

Accepting seasonal and daily supply variation in electrical energy is a huge part of learning to live with off-grid PV systems, as with any sustainable energy system, even organic/permaculture lifestyles. As a general rule, oversizing off-grid PV systems to cope with the lows in energy supply has the potential to make some renewable systems more CO2 intensive than equivalent grid tied fossil powered lifestyles, on account of all the extra batteries and PV panels that need to be built with fossil fuels, it also reduces cost effectiveness, but the numbers really do vary depending on your latitude. This is doubly true of grid tied PV systems and all the losses incurred during transmission. In fact, the former is likely to be a toatl waste of resources. Apologies I don't recall the exact quote and don't have my copy of Lean Logic with me, but David Fleming says something along the lines "the last thing we should be doing is attaching our backup systems (referring to solar/wind) to a failing grid system."

CO2 savings can only really come when you scale down your electric and heating demand massively, whilst simultaneously adopting renewables that don't require emission generating infrastructure. i.e. solar thermal for water heating.

Truly sustainable living would look very different to always on, seemingly unlimited demand-side grid lifestyles we are accustomed to. Our economy could adapt, but it would be much less complex, slower and less productive than it is today, so as far as the financial system is concerned, it would collapse society. What emerges on the far side would be unfathomable for most today on account of recency bias, but it's actually how most would have lived only 100+ years ago.

I don't know if you saw the articles on energy intermittency, windmills and sailboats, but they were particularly eye opening in terms of the kind of economy you can expect going forward. Clever engineering will mitigate some of the seasonal variance, but that requires a society that can support those engineers. I'm not optimistic we are making progress fast enough to secure that outcome.

Doing more with less is where we are going if you can survive the bottleneck, so getting used to supply failing to meet demand will make that rocky road easier.
Last edited by vexed87 on Wed Feb 06, 2019 11:02 am, edited 1 time in total.

oldbeyond
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by oldbeyond » Wed Feb 06, 2019 9:18 am

If solar panels and energy storage continue to become cheaper, and grids cost more and become less reliable, I could see this happening, especially in rural areas and developing countries. And perhaps among us ERE-crazies. There are articles on LCAs on solar PV and storage on the site:

https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/04 ... power.html
https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2015/05 ... power.html

TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by TheWanderingScholar » Wed Feb 06, 2019 3:02 pm

@vexxed87:

Have you read their articles on airc ompression power? It seems like a interesting concept, especially as the limitation of lithium storage will also be a major issue in the future.

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Thu Feb 07, 2019 5:58 am

Yeah, it certainly has potential on a small scale in the household of a crafty engineer, so long as one can get the parts required and have the know how to apply it. If we had taken a different fork in the road, down a steampunk-esque path maybe we might have seen widespread commercialised use, and consumer products, but CAES doesn't solve industrial civilisation's predicaments. It's not an energy source, it's a sink. Green Wizardry by JMG nailed this topic.

Realistically how would you use CAES off grid? Compressing air with Solar PV would mean conversion losses from radiation to electrical to mechanical and possibly back to electrical in order to power lights, or fans, or other appliances, and if you required DC to AC conversion, it would be extra inefficient. A more realistic application is using a wind turbine to power the compressor to directly power mechanical activities when needed. If you want to run 2000W appliances via your household electric circuitry, you might be disappointed.

When one is dealing with harvesting diffuse energy, you have to pay careful attention to energy conversion losses. Therefore I can't see CAES ever being practical to perform more than simple mechanical work (outdoors) or really light electrical duty, i.e. driving a few DC LED lights, fans etc. Whether it's practical, also really depends on alternative energy sources, the applications you have in mind and your location.

It's much easier (and cheaper) to adapt and limit lifestyles to available renewable energy supply, i.e. sail when the wind is blowing, heat water with solar thermal when the sun is shining, burn wood when it isn't, as for lighting, burn candles, or go to bed when it's dark etc. I wouldn't for instance hold out for CAES storing sufficient energy to power a Tesla Model 3 for instance. It's far easier to hop on a bicycle and pedal, assuming you and your economy has adapted to and accepted the limitations of renewables.

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:02 am

I only skimmed the article but I would like to say that over the last couple of years I have spent time a few houses that were off the grid. They had electricity from solar/battery banks (for lights) and propane (for refrigerator, stove, hot water, heat). As far as I could tell this system worked well for modest use (there was no giant TV, no computers, etc.) The only difference I really noticed from normal life was that the refrigerators were small.

Apparently the battery bank was sufficient that electricity was always available even though the houses were near the US/Canada border and in a relatively cloudy part of the country. If I remember correctly each house had two to four solar panels and maybe six to eight automotive-size batteries. I'd be curious to know how close this comes to running small electric refrigerator.

It made me feel like off grid is realistic if you are a moderate user of energy.

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:08 am

Refrigerators could be way more efficient than they are and therefore run off a system that you describe. The only thing that's stopping innovation in commercial designs is the cheap always on grid infrastructure and the failure of imagination that imposes on us to make real efforts to reduce energy use. That goes for most appliances really.

If fridges were built like well insulated floor chest freezers, all the cool air wouldn't spill out the second you opened the door. Of course, if one get used to living with a root cellar, then the requirement for a larger fridge becomes questionable. We have a second (beer only) fridge, in our garage, it's a luxury, but it costs <0.005p / day to run in the winter on account of it not running in a home heated to 18C.
Last edited by vexed87 on Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:19 am, edited 4 times in total.

tonyedgecombe
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by tonyedgecombe » Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:15 am

I suspect a lot of people keep stuff in their fridge which would be fine outside, we certainly do.

TheWanderingScholar
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by TheWanderingScholar » Thu Feb 07, 2019 10:16 am

Agreed. The fridge in our shared flat is half empty and the things in the freezer part of it are mostly things not required.

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Kriegsspiel » Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:22 am

vexed87 wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 5:58 am
It's much easier (and cheaper) to adapt and limit lifestyles to available renewable energy supply, i.e. sail when the wind is blowing, heat water with solar thermal when the sun is shining, burn wood when it isn't, as for lighting, burn candles, or go to bed when it's dark etc. I wouldn't for instance hold out for CAES storing sufficient energy to power a Tesla Model 3 for instance. It's far easier to hop on a bicycle and pedal, assuming you and your economy has adapted to and accepted the limitations of renewables.
I never thought about it before, but when that's what we did (with windmills) he mentioned that people would be working for days on end because the wind was blowing. Combining it with low tech "batteries" like pumped water, compressed air, raised weights or something like that is the real game changer.

I thought the lights that operated off a weight on a chain that turns a dynamo for a few hours was really cool. Then I realized that's pretty much how cuckoo clocks work.

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Gilberto de Piento » Thu Feb 07, 2019 1:02 pm

Relevant article:
In 2018, the company's "public safety power shutoff" program affected up to 570,000 customers. This year, the company plans to include its entire 5.4 million electric customer base in the shutoff program. PG&E said it would try to alert customers within 48 hours of a power shutoff.
https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/69224910 ... -wildfires

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:34 am

Kriegsspiel wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:22 am
I thought the lights that operated off a weight on a chain that turns a dynamo for a few hours was really cool. Then I realized that's pretty much how cuckoo clocks work.
Yeah, it's cool tech like that we've pretty much lost sight of because of the ubiquity of AA batteries. Energy storage has it's merits, but why go to extreme lengths to build a battery solar PV aray for your lighting when you can harvest some plant stems in the spring/summer/autumn, dunk them in your leftovers (beef dripping, lard, used cooking oil etc) and burn it in a clothes peg on a tripod.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rushlight

Image

Of course, we don't go back now because there are major downsides, but if we don't have access to the grid or products of industrial supply chains, there's literally heaps of this stuff we can relearn. It fascinates me.

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:42 am

Kriegsspiel wrote:
Thu Feb 07, 2019 11:22 am
how cuckoo clocks work.
And now I know how to make a rudimentary clock. Awesome!

George the original one
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by George the original one » Fri Feb 08, 2019 11:21 am

vexed87 wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 9:34 am
Energy storage has it's merits, but why go to extreme lengths to build a battery solar PV aray for your lighting when you can harvest some plant stems in the spring/summer/autumn, dunk them in your leftovers (beef dripping, lard, used cooking oil etc) and burn it in a clothes peg on a tripod.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rushlight
Uhm, maybe concern of fire hazards?

theanimal
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by theanimal » Fri Feb 08, 2019 12:29 pm

George the original one wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 11:21 am
Uhm, maybe concern of fire hazards?
Also, the amount of light is less and there's less continual work involved. Candles and those rush lights put off a fraction of the light that a single bulb does. And I don't have to relight the bulb every 15 minutes.

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Kriegsspiel » Fri Feb 08, 2019 2:27 pm

That could be a fun project though, making some tallow candles just in case the power goes out and my Waka Waka lights break. And to make better use of beef tallow.

vexed87
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by vexed87 » Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:38 pm

George the original one wrote:
Fri Feb 08, 2019 11:21 am
Uhm, maybe concern of fire hazards?
me wrote:Of course, we don't go back now because there are major downsides
Rushlights can burn brighter than candles, the trick is to alter the angle, but they'll burn faster that way. They are cheap and easy enough to make for this not to be a huge issue.

I don't see why it would be hard to make a fire proof holder. They are hardly explosive! Most people burn candles indoors without burning the house down. :lol:

P.s. I just sat down with all the bulbs off and a lit candle and it was sufficiently light enough to read a book by, play an instrument, and potter around the room.

_bb_
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by _bb_ » Sat Feb 09, 2019 11:09 am

there's literally heaps of this stuff we can relearn
Once you start to look it really is amazing how much of the simple knowledge we've forgotten under the umbrella of progress. I think that the writers at Low-Tech capture and articulate the concept very well. Personally, I find it exciting to learn about the "simpler" ways of living - perhaps we've added (a) layer(s) of complexity unnecessarily for consumer (corporate) benefit rather than human benefit.

On the topic of adjusting to seasonal energy availability, you can also read the Low-Tech website on a version hosted on a solar-powered web server. The article explaining how it operates and how they designed the site to be data (energy) efficient is very interesting. While I have seen the battery percentage fluctuate, I've never been unable to reach the site due to lack of power.

https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2018/ ... bsite.html

One last question for the audience: Any book recommendations on either "relearning old methods" or "energy consumption"?

Kriegsspiel
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Kriegsspiel » Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:02 pm

I haven't read all of these, but it could get you started:

The Knowledge by Dartnell
Lost Country Life by Hartley
A Golden Thread by Buttis & Perlin
Farmers of 40 Centuries by King
Direct Use Of The Sun’s Energy by Daniels
Cottage Economy by Cobbet
Living Richly In An Age Of Limits by Devall
Root Cellaring by Bubel
Radical Technology by Boyle & Harper
Survival Gardening by John Freeman

Augustus
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Re: Keeping Some of the Lights On: Redefining Energy Security

Post by Augustus » Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:06 pm

Re: lighting, I bought a few wind up LED lanterns and flashlights off Amazon for camping. Much better solution than candles IMO. You wind for 30 seconds and get maybe a half hour or an hour of light.

Along those lines of thought how many appliances could be powered if you just hooked up an exercise bike to a battery system. Viola, you have solved obesity and co2 emissions in one stroke.

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