Off the Grid in a Liquid Fuel Crisis?

Another guest post from Hans Noeldner of Oregon, Wisconsin, who does not believe in the Dream Home ideal as portrayed in "Zero House From the Future is Totally Green, Off-Grid" especially considering the crisis is more in liquid fuels than electricity.

The ideal of getting “off the grid” – that is, living independently of the electrical power grid – has been popular for a long time, dating to the ‘60’s if not sooner. Remember the Whole Earth Catalog, communes, Woodstock, and rejection of corporate excesses?

Many people tried living “off the grid” over the years, but almost no one has stuck with the program. Small windmills, solar panels, biogas-driven generators, and battery storage arrays often proved unreliable, and maintenance was a lot of work! Although millions of us moved “back to the land” in search of greater self-sufficiency, we dropped the self-sufficiency part long ago, and actually became far more dependent on nonrenewable resources – oil in particular - than ever before.

With fossil fuel prices surging once more, the ideal of “getting off the grid” is back. The popular focus again is on personal independence and self-reliance – building our own house out in the country on a good-sized chunk of land, with our own disconnected energy systems.

Hold on!

Getting “off the grid” this way is as dumb as it was thirty-five years ago, and for the same reason. Why? TRANSPORTATION! Hippies and yuppies love mobility far more than we hate oil companies and superhighways and the parking lots that pave Paradise; we have racked up far, far more miles per capita than any prior generation. Along the way we have become critically dependent on a vast, enormously expensive grid of publicly funded highways. If any “grid” is strangling our nation, it is the grid of low-density sprawl that leaves us 99.9% dependent on oil, automobiles, and millions of life-suffocating acres of pavement.

Yes, there are smart ways to get “off the grid” – starting with getting OURSELVES off the highways more often! That means walking, bicycling, and using public transit – modes that are incompatible with living in an isolated house on a big chunk of land. So getting “off the grid” of highways will entail getting “on the grid” of streets! OK, we’ve known for a while that God is not making the Earth any bigger, so let’s get used to living closer together.

While reducing our demand for electricity doesn’t literally get us “off the grid”, it will make the grid a lot more reliable. Why? With all our new gadgets and far larger houses and coal-fired Lava Lamps, we-the-people are straining capacity. But we don’t want huge new power plants or transmission lines or substations anywhere near us, which means we don’t want them anywhere. Trimming our consumption to a level that the existing grid can handle is a no-brainer.

And in compact communities, municipal-level cogeneration is an idea whose time has come. Less dependence on distant electrical plants would greatly reduce the likelihood of region-wide power failures. Cogeneration – burning fuel to produce electricity AND heat for local use – is about twice as efficient as burning fuel for electrical generation alone. District heating with cogeneration works great on college campuses and in many European communities. It can work here too - if we build together rather than building alone.

Part of the problem with developing cogeneration or "local" power generation is the NIMBY factor. People want power for all their techno-toys but want the power plant "far, far away" - in someone else's neighborhood. California's energy crisis of a few years back was caused almost entirely because the state had been unable to build any powerplants - green or not - for over fifteen years and shuttered many of those it already had because locals didn't like having those big ugly things near their homes.

Doesn't matter if it's cleantech or not. Consider the failed offshore windfarm up in Senator Kennedy's neck of the woods. People are all for saving the environment but they want it saved someplace out of sight, out of mind.

I'm looking forward to the new generation of solar cells coming out this next year but wonder if some NIMBY is going to somehow convince local zoning councils that roof-mounted solar panels are unsightly and bring down local property values so these should only be allowed on "non-street facing" roof tops.

California didn't build power plants because the conservatives deregulated the utilities by promising people that the electric power companies were forbidden to raise prices for many years, and the electric power companies promptly split the power generation parts off the power distribution parts, with the power distribution parts assigned the guarantees. Then they didn't build the power generation facilities needed to cope with increased population, and sued to prevent competition bringing in more natural gas pipelines on the grounds that it was destructive competition and we didn't need any more gas transmission capacity.
If they had just waited a few more years they would have got off scot free, without having to corruptly game the system by block buying power and gas transmission rights and then not transmitting power.
Unfortunately for them, the Democrats won the governorship and started approving peaking power plants, since after all the utilities had been deregulated and couldn't forbid them anymore, though they did try to get them suppressed by lawsuits on the grounds of unfair competition.
The new power plants would have garnered all the profits if the old utilities had rigged the market. This forced the utilities to fake a crisis before the new competitors could finish building them.
Which they did.

I stayed at an off the grid farm Bed and Breakfast this Summer up in Maine and I was quite impressed. They did everything right - passive solar, PV, very energy efficient, grew lots of their own food (including eggs, chickens, fruit & berries, goat milk, and even made their own maple syrup).

They did have a Propane tank for back-up electric generation (when the Sun doesn't shine) and a Subaru for trips into town and to visit loved ones every so often. It didn't sound like a lot of miles

It definitely seemed like a lot of work and it helped that they were semi-retired (running the farm is a full-time gig).

But in terms of the house, it was a real gem. That's not to say that if it were hooked into a smart grid that could take their excess power during the day and feed back cheap energy from the grid at night (instead of truck delivered propane), it couldn't be better.

I say start with the idea of an off the grid, mostly self sufficient house/building to get the right level of efficiency and maximizing passive/active PV solar. But don't worry about going totally off the grid. I would worry more about how many miles you have to travel for basic activities.

And living in denser mixed use neighborhoods is a good way to reduce your mileage...

Surely you're not suggesting that everyone who lives in rural America move to the cities.


Everyone who works in the cities and towns and lives rurally should move closer to work. AKA Exurbia, a majority of the rural population in many areas.


But isnt that just the opposite of being self sufficient in small communities? Should we not be moving OUT of cities as they are unsustainable? Moving into cities will cost more as housing is more expensive, land taxes are higher, and renting is higher (in some cases rent in the cities is more expensive than owning a home in the country)? More people crammed into the cities means more food and other items need to be trucked into those cities.

Live out in the country with some land you can do things to lower your energy requirements such as solar panels, ground source heat pumps and grow some of your own foods or buy from local farmers. Having to drive longer to work over all is more energy efficient, especially if people buy hybrids.

I don't want to be anywhere near a city when crunch times come. Besides, how many of those jobs you move closer to will evaporate?

Richard Wakefield
London, Ont.

No one is ahead of their time, just the rest of humanity is slow to catch on.

Having to drive longer to work over all is more energy efficient, especially if people buy hybrids

I do *NOT* think so !

I use about 5 gallons/month. 28% of the households (pre-K) did not have cars. Oil for transportation and not electricity is wher ethe crunch is coming from.

Live out in the country with some land you can do things to lower your energy requirements such as solar panels, ground source heat pumps and grow some of your own foods or buy from local farmers

The quickest path to energy efficiency for homes is common walls and reduced sq ft. I just walked past a single family home that is being converted into 4 condos on an extremely walkable street (Magazine in New Orleans, 5 miles of small shops).

Today for lunch I ate a ripe Creole tomato picked yesterday, with home made cottage cheese. Zara's makes it "in-store" but they get their milk from Brown's Dairy, 7 blocks away (and they get their milk from local farmers).

Our entire cuisine was built around local food and what was barged down the Mississippi River or came in by sailing ships.

I live in the "low energy transfer point" for half of the USA. 6 of 7 Class I RRs (Not Canadian Pacific), close port to Panama Canal, barges north, east & west.

See my "24 hours in a Walkable City" at the bottom of today's Drumbeat (Nov 17).

Best Hopes for City Living,


Having to drive longer to work over all is more energy efficient, especially if people buy hybrids

I do *NOT* think so !

It entirely depends on the city and geographic location. We live in a small town outside London, Ont. My wife drives 20 mins into London for work. I work from home. We have a small home 1000sqrft, on a large lot 203x165. I have a hugh garden I put in, plus a 33' diameter dome greenhouse that we can grow food in all year round. None of that is possible in a city.

For us to move closer to her work would require living within 15 mins of walking distance. Forget bikes, as in winter it's near impossible to get around in a bike (especially at the age of 50). 15 mins walk time is max as in winter nights at -30C you can't be outside much more than that. So I looked around. Nothing for sale. Few homes in the area, all of them Pre 1900's, hence heating pigs. Or condos, which is definitely out at $350K each (and all sold out).

Then there is the issue of stores. All around her work is either restaurants or businesses, no food stores within miles. So that means a car to drive to stores for food.

But the biggest hurdle is economics. We have a home with 4 times the land than what we can get in the city at 1/3 the price, and 1/2 the taxes (London taxes at $3600/y, in Toronto it's now over $4500/y). In fact, it is cheeper for me to drive her to work each day and go pick her up than to pay the $10 per day in parking. That $250+ per month savings just in that will help pay for the ground source heat pump.

Plus we have new factories popping up in once farm land, where people drive up to an hour from their homes to get to every day. It's just no possible for any of them to move closer as there are no homes closer.

Thus it is simply not practicle for everyone to simply pack up, sell their homes and move closer to work. Economics alone will kill the attempt.

Besides, I maintain that cities are the last place you want to live in, and any jobs there may soon evaporate once the crash starts.

Richard Wakefield
London, Ont.
No one is ahead of their time, just the rest of humanity is slow to catch on.

Should we not be moving OUT of cities as they are unsustainable?

Not gonna happen because the capital investment (and the laws) WRT having, say, a small machine shop makes it hard to 'move out to the hinterlands' and 'produce things' for the taxman.

Hi Alan,

That would be an impossibility in San Francisco. Used to be, anyway, 1,000,000 people worked downtown on any given day. The city's largest total population ever was around 850,000 I believe (we don't have a high rate of empty homes waiting to house exurbians). Nearby cities don't have enough spare space to house more. We are more than dense enough, IMO. The "best" jobs in the whole bay area are where the least affordable housing exists.

It's increasingly gentrified here (and I believe this is not the only city in the country where this is the case). We have some (rich) suburban flight back into the city. No one who's now living in the exurbs can likely afford to live here or nearer, or they probably wouldn't have gone as far out as they have had to. This just increases the sprawl.

In San Francisco, the past 10-15 years, we've lost colonies of artists, musicians, and so forth, much of that which was represented to the world as our supposed diversity, to what is becoming a bland population with an increasingly unfortunate desire to minimall over the place. The average household income is $90k citywide. It's increasingly difficult here for anyone who isn't rich or else poor (and in subsidized housing) to live.

Renters are increasingly pushed away as the affluent try to buy whatever they can, despite limits on condo conversions, TICs and other housing. Many of the renters here would in fact be considered highly affluent in other areas.

I'd advise to be careful what you wish for. And consider that one size isn't good for all. As long as population growth and "economic vitality" are considered pluses, regional population centers will evolve into an immense blight with no end in sight.

People in exurban areas here maybe need to find work closer to where they live (unfortunately, that isn't where the jobs are), or maybe we need to consider our growth at all costs paradigm is making a mess as we siphon off people from everywhere else that think they're headed into the life of paradise they imagined they always wanted.

My guess is no city is going to fare well in the long term.

No one who's now living in the exurbs can likely afford to live here or nearer

I strongly suspect that they can afford a subdivided condo or apartment of 400 to 800 sq ft in Oakland. Especially if it is more than a single person household.


Oakland is probably the most segregated (by class which often means by race) city in the bay area. Higher income areas already have people quite comfortably living in them, and save another fire storm, or major earthquake, they won't be getting any denser or building much more. The poor areas are ripe for plunder (and likely will be, if history says much about what happens as real estate interests meet up with neighborhoods they see as in need of upwardly mobile development). Still there are people already there.

Here you go (slightly dated article as of September. I don't follow real estate prices, personally, so I don't know how much the slump is changing things, but condos ain't cheap for miles around.). Again, displacing other folks with condos is different here than building condos in less developed cities or where there are spaces to build more housing.

Oakland's Great Condo-Conversion Con

This area has grown from maybe 4 or 5 million people when I moved here 30 years ago to 8 or 9 now. That's the result of business as usual with a healthy economy.

Again I'd warn, be careful what you are wishing for, considering even in the best of our future fantasies energy descent won't be easy.

We have tons of public transit in SF too, and it's more often than not pretty full (late night not, but still adequately so). Lots of people ride bicycles. Probably fewer scooters or motorcycles than there used to be, but that's only a personal observation and not necessarily true.

However, still the streets are full of cars, SUVs, and traffic (I posted that somewhere the other day). A booming economy still keeps that party going. And most suburbanites, even the ones with public transit options, tend to prefer to drive when they come to the city. It's their lifestyle, after all (it would help if BART actually ran all night long instead of closing down early, but that's life - BART is not the city transit system, for those who don't realize that, by the way. It was built for suburban commuters).

I often wonder about that "miracle time" when gas gets too expensive for people to drive how an already full transit system would really work if even more people have to use it. There's probably some slack, and maybe so in the other surrounding bay cities, but here it's already at "cattle car" status in the commute hours for most lines, and that's with lots of transit running. It may be helpful, hell, yes, it is helpful and will be. It's not a cure all.

As far as transit capacity goes:

1) Buy more rolling stock
2) Promote more flex time, spreading rush hours out
3) Build more.

A 3rd cross-bay tunnel is certainly needed in Bay Area. Run CalTrains into downtown SF (about a 1.5 mile tunnel from memory), run BART down to San Jose with a short cut @ Dumbarton and north to near SFO for BART looping he Bay.

Several other projects are viable as well.


Alan, first let me say I only walk or use public transit. I think public transit is a great thing. It even helped affect my decision to move here 30 years ago. I don't own a car, I get in one only as a last resort, this happens maybe twice a month if even that. I agree you're right with your optimism about transit being a useful aid in making cities livable.

I don't share your optimism about all these projects as being a good idea, though. I don't believe cities constrained by geography need to promote American growth model. Where would this ultimately stop?

A good thing our city government might do here, at this time, is concern itself about food security for the people who already live here, and I've been part of a group trying to wake them to that, but it's not as lucrative to their mindset as growth and building projects they're used to.

Flex time works for many businesses, and I'd guess we use it as much as anyplace in the country. I don't know what percentage of corporations downtown do allow for it, but I imagine that many of them already do.

Build more? Buy more? To what end? Is it really wise to throw remaining financial resources into a growth paradigm when we're certainly going to be in a shrinking paradigm soon enough? Well, we are already, considering the dollar, the burst bubble, etc.

Build more what? Hell, I have three East-West bus lines that already stop 1/2 block from my apartment, light rail 1 1/2 blocks away. Another east west bus line four blocks north. 2 North-South bus lines within three blocks (one of these again only 1/2 block away). All are used; essentially all of them are full during peak hours (East-West especially though). There are times in the day or on weekends when more could run, but overall I think they perform very well. I can get anyplace in this city I need to within half an hour or 45 minutes, on most occasions. There are occasions, of course, when it doesn't work great and that is frustrating. It's not perfect.

Is it wise to continue building high rise skyscrapers to bring even more people to work in a city that is already (I would say) saturated? It's certainly what is happening, though a number of them now are also being built to house the influx of aging suburbanites who have decided they want to return or come to the city to live out their retirement and die. (Though they don't seem to want to give up their cars when they return, this is creating problems.)

By the way, there is only one bay tunnel for BART, not two of them. They've talked about a second.

A tunnel downtown from CalTrain would serve little purpose that I can see; they have quite empty buses waiting to take them off the trains when they arrive to their downtown locations (that is a reasonably short walk, actually, only 5 or 6 blocks to Market Street, though probably a few more blocks to their work after that). What advantages are there to spending the money to build something that expensive for six (or a few more blocks)?

They have talked about connecting CalTrain to the main transbay terminal hub (also not that far away), I think that was also something that provided very little bang for the buck, but a lot of bucks to the people who would be digging.

In addition to the short term peak oil constraints, I'm not convinced that building a lot of tunnels or laying more tubes across the bay is necessarily the wisest long term action in a place that's known to have 3 or more geological faults capable of 7 and/or 8.x earthquakes. Sure they say they're designed to withstand these. Sometimes intentions don't translate to reality.

We need really clear thinking now and consideration of all the circumstances. With the likelihood of decreased economic activity, spending all of this money to pump up the system based on the belief it will continue to grow doesn't make any sense to me at all. Anything that encourages even more people to settle in an already overpopulated area is not going to be a great strategy. Figuring out how to shrink the behemoth as humanely as possible is what I believe would be truly inventive thinking. I ain't holding my breath.

While I'm at it ranting, I'm not sure rebuilding New Orleans below sea level makes a lot of long term sense, either (and I'm very sorry I never was there to experience it before Katrina. Not many places I haven't visited I would mourn over as I did your town).

Just a short partial reply.

Building more rail to replace what will be lost, at least in part.

That includes FF buses ! I do know that SF is one of 5 US cities with electric trolley buses, but most are not.

FF buses are hardly better, if that, than Priuses.

I have been talking with others about preserving a spur RR near Santa Cruz. All the Brussels Sprouts & Broccoli you could possibly want to eat could come up that line :-)

I think of more Urban Rail as reducing the slide down, not as growing much post-Peak Oil. A tool to reform around.

Have you read my USA - 2034 vision ?

Best Hopes,


Thanks, yes, I saw your article at the time. It's good for us to think about national long term plans.

Building more rail to replace what will be lost, at least in part.

If you mean by the time it is less likely people will be driving their cars, I would assume that would mean a lower economic activity, so fewer riders anyway. Maybe I'm lost.

We have FF buses and trolley buses. We also have battery powered buses replacing diesel buses now. Much less room for riders on them actually. And great as long as we have a functioning electrical grid.

City is pretending to do a lot with alternative sources of electricity but all are grid-based. We are not doing anything to prepare for potential outages of the grid as far as I know, except hopefully the finally arranged peak oil task force will consider that among the other million things, heh.

Anyway, not to accentuate the negative, but I'm still not sure how most of the projects you suggested for here make any sense whatsoever looking at the state of things as I am presently seeing them.

And I'm still waiting for a good "solution" to moving the exurbanites nearer. Or even how to stop sprawl and the resulting loss of farmland due to population growth. Our feeble attempts at exporting our burgeoning number of Californians to Oregon and other states seems to provide resentment. What is it that scares them? We're not there for their oil, only their property! We come in peace. :)

Housing has grown from 1.050 s ft SFR (for larger families) to almost 2,500 sq ft for smaller families. Retailing sq ft per capita up almost x10 ! Half the area devoted to the car. LOTS of room for compression.

Some clusters of "Transit Suburbia" along commuter rail (BART, e BART, CalTrains). Higher density within 2 blcosk of statioms and thinning out from there. Retail ground floor, residences above. Minimal spaces for cars.


These are good ideas as long as you're giving them out as potential mitigation, assuming there's enough business as (what is now) usual going on to pay for them.

But just saying "do it" isn't going to convince cities 60 miles from here to suddenly do much of anything. They're still planning for the new subdivisions they may build some day to increase their tax base and "grow grow grow."

I can't see there's much likelihood that what we should do there, or even what we might do here, will ever happen save for dire economic circumstances when probably it will be what we should have done.

Even with the transit authorities we have here trying to encourage mass transit, there's a net loss as long as more people move in, more people are born than die, and so forth.

Mass transit at the polls has been losing north of here.


Don't waste your time debating Alan. He is stuck on light rail and moving us all to the cities.

As you know, very few of us can move back into the cities unless we bulldoze much of them and rebuild. Which, past PO, is not gonna happpen.

The cities are the LAST place you want to be post PO. Get out now.

If, with all our wealth and power we haven't built light rail and viable cities by now, then post PO we will not be able too.

And ALAN! Just look at your big easy to see what the future will be. If we won't rebuild a great city like NO when we have the money then after PO we won't rebuild anything...


Psst, I'll tell you a secret... there are 6,300 million people in the world outside the USA, at least 2,300 million of them in a position to build light rail or whatever other doohickeys they choose to.

So if you're saying that your country is screwed post-peak fossil fuels, well perhaps it is. But the other 95.5% of the world's population may - not will, but may - be in a different situation.

Recognising there's a world outside your own country actually helps you do things in your own country, lets you see different approaches people take to their problems.

Hi, Korg,

I essentially agree with you, don't think we even "have the money" now to bulldoze and rebuild cities. I'm quite aware they aren't positioned, um, well, for post peak oil. I'm not convinced anyplace is, actually.

"Get out now."

Not everybody who understands the problem has that option. Risk assessment is a tricky business when it's personal.

I recently moved back to the Texas Hill Country after 3 years in San Francisco. We couldn't believe how expensive it was. Our landlady, who loved us and never raised the rent, charged $2500 for a 2 bdrm, 1 bath with garage. It had a million-dollar view and, I suspect, we were getting a deal. Good tenants are valuable and we were very good tenants. All our neighbors (mostly elderly) were upset when we left. I had keys to four of them, taking care of animals, houses and even the neighbors when they were ill. One neighbor let me plant a vegetable garden in his back yard. Easiest garden I ever worked.

Aside from the unaffordability of the region, the San Francisco peninsula is not capable of supporting people without a LOT of inputs. Which, I suppose, is true for many large, dense metropolitan areas.

As I watched from the balcony the never ending construction of the Oakland-side of the bay bridge, (which was stopped and then started again after cost over-runs, etc.) I couldn't help but be outraged at the futility of it all. Billions of dollars, tons of concrete and rebar - a huge waste of raw materials, imho. That's when I knew we would not be living in a large metro area - I cannot imagine what it will be like when thousands upon thousands of people begin to understand that what has kept them alive all these years is an umbilical cord that is beginning to wither and constrict.

There will soon be many adult "babies" cut off from the mother ship without a clue as to how to make it on their own. I was in Austin yesterday with friends eating on South Congress and it is the same here. I felt like I was in a movie - watching as the actors appear to have no idea how the plot is about to thicken. Actually, I feel that way most of the time since my nephew sent me that link to a couple of years ago.

I don't consider myself a doomer, per se, but I think my friends do. Any one else feel incredibly alone with your experience of all this?

>I couldn't help but be outraged at the futility of it all. Billions of dollars, tons of concrete and rebar - a huge waste of raw materials, imho.

Edgy, I'm right there with ya. I have the same feelings every time I look over at that still-under-construction second Bay Bridge, every time I see another mega mall being constructed, every time I see the 101 in Marin getting widened. It's a very, very strange feeling to know that all of this is about to come to a rather abrupt stop, and all that construction is going to look, as JH Kunstler says, like the greatest misallocation of resources in history. It's a very schizophrenic feeling to hold two totally incompatible visions of reality in your head at the same time. How could it not make you feel that way? You are most definitely not alone. The last time I was down in LA, I thought my mind was going to tear itself apart trying to make sense of it all...
Energy consultant, writer, blogger

I live between Austin/San Antonio in the country. And I have to say, I spend as much time away from the city as possible. Whenever I do go, I get a bad feeling... like I don't want to be caught there when the lights go out. My mind has a hard time wrapping itself around all of this. I feel like I'm on drugs that keep me addicted to the watching. Today I should be tilling up more garden. Instead, I'm over-educating myself about the world via the net, mostly TOD.

My partner's company car came this week - Chevrolet Impala - yippee! Now I'll have to sell the 2005 Corolla 'cause we don't need 3 vehicles (I have a '93 Toyota PU). His option was to take the car or stop receiving mileage reimbursement. And, they can track him in the new car. It kills me that he has to work there. Oh, and sales are off... again.

Is it happy hour yet?

There will soon be many adult "babies" cut off from the mother ship without a clue as to how to make it on their own. I was in Austin yesterday with friends eating on South Congress and it is the same here. I felt like I was in a movie - watching as the actors appear to have no idea how the plot is about to thicken.

Heh, sometimes when I'm out in groups or at parties, I look at all the faces and wonder who will make it through the best, who might not, how much of it is really the "luck of the draw." I never see kids now without a bit of remorse and guilt creeping in. Cassandra indeed.

The SF Bay area is atleast somewhat better off than other metros in the US. The bay area atleast has a semi-moderate climate and a better water situation than other southwestern cities (it is pumped in for sure, but less effort is required to do so). The area is also relatively accessible to the Central Valley agricultural areas. Although growth and industrialized ag have take a toll on the local environment, sufficient land labor and water remain to cultivate crops for consumption in the bay area. Given the liklihood most of the existing agricultural applications (providing high value crops for global export) will be rendered moot by high transport costs, redirecting the lost activity into crops for local consumption will still probably work, even at reduced yields. Heck, even rail connections from the ag areas to Oakland still operate today.

Sure it wont be all great but all things being equal, I'd take the SF Bay area over LA and definately Phoenix or Houston.

If you're interested in off-grid living, check out Home Power magazine.
~Durandal (

And it's appropriate to add that Home Power, which has just celebrated its 20th year of publishing has a great many articles about Grid-Tied setups as well as Off-grid arrangements.

As with the 'Back to the Landers', Hippies, etc.. (which can be pretty uninformative stereotypes anyway) , their tone has shifted significantly over the years. Just a couple years ago, as I was picking up my first few issues, they had a monthly piece called 'Guerilla Solar' or something like that, where self-designated rebels were putting up rooftop systems in defiance of the 'Powers that Be', with the assumption that this was a sort of Underground, Heroic and Conspiratorial activity.. and it might well have been. But today, that part of the Mag has pieces on Legislative Energy Policy, and a regular called 'Code Corner' which instructs do-it-yourselfers on how to comply with the electrical (NEC), building and fire codes, so that Solar and Wind installations are consistently safe and can be respected by the municipalities where they are increasingly showing up.

I have heard it claimed that there have been no electrocution or fire deaths attributed to a Domestic Solar Installations, and I hope it's both true and stays that way.. but its continued association with all things Woodstock will make solar have to fight for respect for some time to come.

Bob Fiske

I've actually been debating this one for a long time at least with myself. And yes for those who have not figured it out yet I have quite heated internal debates :)

I think the right answer is to move to very low tech solutions that do not require any electricity. Passive solar and the reverse roman chimney.

For colder climates a return to the ice box for refrigeration.

Ammonia refrigerators work in warmer climates.

In general the basic house should be readily buildable using
local resources and at best a minimal machine shop.
Reasonable glass and concrete manufacture could be assumed.

Now the Romans and indeed all our ancestors relied heavily on wood and charcoal so the big debate would be living without extensive use of wood.

Homes should in my opinion not be high tech in their basic
functions or require any high tech outside materials.

This means for example that you probably are looking at
moving to heavy glass/clay pipes for example for water.

You can have electricity but the idea would be that it would
be a add on and you would not wire the house with copper.

This probably means you have a sort of central electric center if you will with all your appliances around this center. This implies a sort of hub and spoke design to minimize wiring and plumbing. Also you probably want low voltage direct current. Also for a lot of places that we use electric motors now you might be able to replace this with high pressure air or water with the low pressure side used for some other purpose.

A bit rambling but I think with a lot of thought you could build houses that where both low tech in the sense of materials and easily repairable and used a minimum amount of precious copper etc. Glass stone and clay would be 99% of the house along with a small amount of wood. You would be surprised I think to realize how much could be made out of various glasses.

Things like PV/Windmills etc would then be needed only to power a few electronics so you could post on the Oildrum.

I live off the grid. I have since the late '80s. There are lots and lots of people around me who live off the grid.

I use an 'off the sales floor' 18 cu.ft. Kenmore Energy Star refrigerator.

I get about 90% of my electricity from 1.2 kW of PV panels. The rest (cloudy day power) comes from diesel/gas but that should change when I get around to installing a wind generator.

By using CFLs, a low pull laptop (~15 watts), and other 'devices' chosen with their energy needs in mind I get by quite well.

I use a between 5 and 10 gallons of propane per month for cooking and water heating (2 people). That amount will decrease when I find the time to install a solar water heater/pre-heater.

And I ran some quick numbers. When a BEV vehicle with either a 120-150 mile range or the ability to charge quickly I can install another 1kW of panels and quit buying gas. (Might have to rent a gas/hybrid for the occasional long trip.)

My entire power system - panels, inverter, batteries, diesel remote start generator, etc. - cost just under $10k.

One can live off the grid quite nicely, thank you. ;o)

What's your rough geographical location ?

Flaws in EM Theory

The key is to replace all the usage of PV with alternatives.

At the end of the day your pretty much stuck with electricity for stuff like laptops. At least for now.

So a absorption fridge could replace your electric powered one for example. Much cheaper thermal solar collectors could then be used.

The small amount of propane your using could be replaced with wood potentially via gasification/charcoal.

Note that 10K is a lot of money.

The scenario your not solving is you can afford to install the PV panels now but lets say a storm drops a branch on them. And it after a economic crash it may even be personal say your out of work. At this point you cannot replace the panels so suddenly you have no electricity.

The critical point is that you have no replacement strategy.
What I'm talking about are approaches that can be replaced with local resources. PV and high tech windmills that are not easily fabricated locally are not ELP and not really a long term off grid solution simply because your not going to be assured of having the income required to replace them.

I think the issue here is how long the bottleneck lasts. How long before there is some semblance of society emerging and what it will look like.

I for one believe that there will be something of a functioning society complete with energy of some sort.

The key is first to get through the bottleneck/hourglass, then be able to adapt to what comes after.

I have a portable solar power pack I built.

Handtruck with cabinet containing;

2-200ah 6volt batteries
1200 watt inverter/charger
digital controller with 2-80 watt PVs

This does very well to smooth out the black and brown outs.

I am getting a few 12 volt lights and other necessities

We have reduced our electric use enormously. I don't have the monthlies off hand but we can go several days off this 200amphour pack. Longer if we really needed to and planed for it.

At the end of the day your pretty much stuck with electricity for stuff like laptops.

So go over to and get yourself an XO Laptop which is designed for third world communities where there is no electricity supply or communications infrastructure. It is also designed to be extremely rugged, with no moving parts, and to be easy to fix.

It's basically designed to be used in a rural African village which is a good approximation of a worst case peak oil scenario. The system can run on solar or a hand crank. It has legendary wifi and mesh networking for long range communications with your neighbors if they have one without any internet infrastructure required. You can browse with a web browser if you can reach someone who can reach someone who has internet. Traditional wifi also works.

$10k is not a lot of money when one doesn't have to pay an electric bill for, say, 20 years. $10,000 / 20 = 500 / 12 months =~ $40. Throw in a few dollars more for periodic battery replacements.

And realize that I saved a hundred thou or more on the price of the land since the grid wasn't nearby.

My replacement strategy is that I don't get myself into paycheck to pay

check land. I'm more fiscally responsible than that. Besides, the cost of solar is just going to go down and down and down....

Now, if you've drifted into doomer-land and think the world as we know it is about to end,....

Well, I'm sure none of that makes any sense to you.

Your equation is not really correct 10,000 dollars cash is investment money. Making your money back in 20 years with no inflation is a horrible investment. Buying a acre or two of land and using it for just about any type of horticulture is a far better return not to mention the array of other traditional investment opportunities. And you could obviously use a portion of the returns of such and investment to pay a electric bill.

10,000 at 5% = 500 dollars /12 == 41 a month.

So you could bank the money and pay your electric bill and still make a dollar a month if your electric bill was 40 a month. It really all depends on your electric bill.

If you invested in land I'd have to imagine that even a acre of decent land can easily provide a higher return than this.

Replacement of PV implies a functional high tech civilization which implies a grid is still functional.

A better argument might be that its better for the environment but yet again you may come out okay buying land and using it as a carbon sink. If your electricity is provided by nuclear or wind or hydro then who knows which is the better carbon sink. However I think the carbon dioxide reduction argument is very strong for PV and its a good thing to do on ethical grounds.

So at the end of the day if your worried about the grid then PV is a bad investment since you can't replace them if civilization collapses and if it does not collapse then they are a simply a good thing to do environment wise. As a investment they are a non-starter.

Like I said in another post if thing did actually get so bad that the grid was breaking down the first thing I'd do would be to hide my solar panels so they are not terribly useful in the one situation that they would be useful.

Now with all that said I have every intention of buying as many solar panels as I can afford. One its the right thing to do for the environment next its a good feeling to not depend on the grid and in gray cases where the grid is working but unreliable it makes sense. And of course electricity allows a high quality of life. On the same had I would treat them as a luxury not a necessity and make sure that I can live well without them either because I needed to hide them or they where damaged or stolen.

I actually lived several summers with the Amish and their life style is very sustainable and quite nice if your serious about getting off the grid then you should really develop a electricity free base life style and treat electricity as it should be treated a luxury.

Buying a acre or two of land and using it for just about any type of horticulture is a far better return not to mention the array of other traditional investment opportunities. And you could obviously use a portion of the returns of such and investment to pay a electric bill.

10,000 at 5% = 500 dollars /12 == 41 a month.

So you could bank the money and pay your electric bill and still make a dollar a month if your electric bill was 40 a month.

It's $40 a month this month, and will inflate at least as fast as general inflation, surely. This is why people invest in utility company shares.

As far as 'wasteful consumption', I think buying long lived solar capital investment, even if the numbers aren't quite perfect now, seems like something not worth discouraging.

Look around at all the other crap first.

I did not say it was wasteful I've just said that its a luxury. And I've said in other posts I would personally invest in PV. Living off-grid is a lifestyle choice a good one in my opinion and probably more important the off-grid movement has helped spur investment in technologies that will be useful in the future.

Now with that said in the past estates that allowed at least the owners to live a luxurious life style generally had close to 100% local manufacturing capability. Certainly they engaged in trade but in general basically nothing on the estate could not be manufactured on the estate. This was true till the 1700's our so. Its only about then that off-grid diverged from closed unified economy.

What your missing esp with PV is that you have a tip of the iceberg dependency on a oil driven economy. To solve this you need to control the means of production locally. Or teach a man to fish ...

This means the best investment is in a small local PV production factory.

PV doesn't need oil.  The SRI process (heat Na2SiF6 until it decomposes to NaF and SiF4, reduce the Si by reaction with metallic sodium ala SiF4 + 4 Na -> 4 NaF + Si, then purify the silicon by washing away the salt) could be run entirely on solar heat and PV electricity.  However, the systems which make PV probably have the best economics at relatively large scales, to amortize the automated equipment.

This means some "estates" will specialize in PV and trade for other things, and almost nobody will be self-sufficient in PV.  Whoop-te-doo; the Falkland islands specialize in mutton and wool and trade too, and they're a lot further away than most of the PV production is likely to be.

"I live off the grid."

No, you don't. When you've built your teepee using stone tools, then you can send up smoke signals claiming your off-grid status. No cheating; the fire has too start by rubbing sticks together.

Frankly, without the 'grid', you're toast.

Reminds me of John McPherson's series of books on "primitive primitive" tech. "primitive primitive" means you go out into the woods naked and build everything from scratch. This means flint knapping, stone tools, catching rodents to eat, wigwams to live in, etc. I was reading an interview with him and he said that the hardest part of primitive primitive is stone tools. A steel knife is several orders of magnitude productivity improvement compared with a stone tool.

This is reminding me of one of the PBS 'Pioneer House' Reality Series a few years back, where a few contemporary families had to tough it out, each hewing logs and trying to keep mules, etc.. to see who had 'what it takes'.. But while they did have some interaction, the piece of the puzzle they really seemed to leave out is extended family, community and other social support that people can get from each other. Maybe that sounds quaint to the 'Johnny get your AK' crowd, but that is one of the most powerful tools we have.. Coordinated Efforts, Complementary Skillsets, Social Networks. 'Many hands make light work.' Barnraisings, and so on.

Communications, Leadership and 'Membership' skills are tools I hope others here are actively developing. For a while yet, flintknapping is still a bit of a parlor trick.


Our civic club, the San Jacinto Neighborhood Association has a community garden. Its a lot that the civic club bought after the crack house that was on it burned about 10 years ago, We have covered dish suppers there every three or four months and have some raised bed garden spaces and do the important work of teaching each other how to grow tomatoes, ect. I'm a lot happier with them for neighbors than with the average doomer paranoid. I'd rather have a covered dish supper than a lecture on ammo loads.
Bob Ebersole

Our civic club, the San Jacinto Neighborhood Association has a community garden. Its a lot that the civic club bought after the crack house that was on it burned about 10 years ago, We have covered dish suppers there every three or four months and have some raised bed garden spaces and do the important work of teaching each other how to grow tomatoes, ect. I'm a lot happier with them for neighbors than with the average doomer paranoid. I'd rather have a covered dish supper than a lecture on ammo loads.
Bob Ebersole

You're absolutely right. The recent Post Carbon Cities publication on local planning states that building community cohesion is the "most important" and "least expensive" thing that a local government can foster.

Not sure I agree with your statements..I have watched flint kngappers at work and they can do it fairly rapidly..I have some stone tools I found from the 'woodland' indians and the flensing tool would likely outdo the modern equivalent...

Besides the edges can be very very sharp.

I am also a blacksmith and I would bet that a good knapper can turn out a usable knife far faster than I can and at zero cost..whereas I would have a lot of the forge,anvil,hammers,coal..etc...

Most think of the indians of this country as being primitives...I also disagree with that urban legend.


I know your in a sense joking but your really should consider the entire manufacturing change of every thing you deem essential. A functional machine shop is probably a reasonable assumption if it has enough tools to replicate all the tools it uses.

Graded steels are also reasonable along with some ball bearings. All of this stuff will be available for scavenge for hundreds of years. My approach is to assume a machine shop and a wrecking yard as the base technology level.

How things are made will become important. I'm not saying you won't have access to advanced technology but it probably will be expensive and effectively irreplaceable.

And things like large solar PV arrays are a perfect target for government taxation and probably eventual seizure.

I know that if someone had a large PV array or fancy windmill I would approve seizing it to say power the local hospital same for all of your generators. Nothing personal but ...

Now a small one you can hide is a lot smarter.

Hi memmel,

re: "And things like large solar PV arrays are a perfect target"

What about owner or coop-(or some other communal arrangement for) financed PVs that are tied into the grid? (The whole "running the meter backwards" thing.)

What percentage of "distributed PV" would it take to have a workable system, do you suppose? Of course, we'd have to assume some limit of growth, which may be where any mitigation scenario breaks down - I don't know.

So, anyway, it seems like the distributed-type financing/tax breaks (or whatever) should be made generous for hospitals. (Immediate policy enactment, too, of course.)

Though I can imagine water distribution taking priority over hospitals, actually.

Certainly stuff like this makes a lot of sense.

Maybe to clarify a lot of the things people do to live off grid will not survive eminent domain issues. If you think about it in Africa one reason you don't have large PV arrays etc is you don't have the sort of community support like what your talking about. The government is antagonistic.

Also in general when you do the math it seems like things like PV and windmills make more sense for a sort of village deployment. You can see that "decent" power generation quickly becomes a political issue.

I'm not saying I won't eventually buy PV but I assure you I'll make sure my panels are easy to remove and hide :)

Not joking at all, Memmel. I tire of the expression 'living off-grid'. I wonder how many of the people who 'live off-grid' go to the medicine man in the cave when they're seriously ill.

And not wishing to offend, but could you please, please, stop writing 'your' for 'you're', etcetera. You might, also, consider the advantages of punctuation. You are obviously very bright with a lot of insight, but you often force people (me, at least) to read your postings out loud in an attempt to make sense of what you are trying to communicate. Sometimes, I just give up and move on.

We have to be careful about terms; living off the grid refers to the electrical grid. You've extended that to mean the civilization grid, which is a stretch of the term.

Understanding the difference is important.

In the early seventies, I lived in the mountains of BC without electrical service. Wood stove in a small cabin, well water via rope and bucket, homegrown veggies. But essentially I still depended on a functioning electrical grid. I have yet to meet anyone who talks about 'living off-grid' whose life doesn't depend in some significant measure on what the electical grid provides.

Hi toil,

At the risk of jumping in...

re: "could you please..." I believe memmel once explained he has ADHD or something - in any case, he finds punctuation difficult to do.

Interesting (to me), once I heard the explanation -(and perhaps w. a little practice) - it became so much a non-issue that now I don't even notice it.

The interesting part may have to do w. how it is if one has somehow (unconsciously) the idea/assumption that someone else could easily do something a different way and "chooses" not to, this might be more frustrating than it would be otherwise...(or something)...anyway, I always find the question of intersection of emotions and communication interesting.

I remember seeing the same thing about memmel. His comments are very interesting, so I try to overlook the grammar. Even when Mike is flt wrong he sees things differently enough to be worth perusing.
I'm spelling challenged, and tend to ramble What I like best about TOD is how we bring such different points of view to bear on the issues, so I try to look past our differences. .Bob Ebersole

Thanks for straightening me out. I certainly did not mean any disrespect. I greatly appreciate Memmel's contribution to TOD.

And I really wish I had better grammar. I spent most of my life scared to write. It took me a long time to overcome my fear about how bad it is and try and express my ideas. Full speed ahead too hell with the grammar :)

I'm actually a computer programmer and I write web browsers for a living.

On my todo list is to integrate a open source grammar checker and teach it my problems. My mistakes follow a very well defined pattern. But before that maybe I should explain a bit about what I do and why I think the way I do.

Since this is a thread on solar power my job is actually developing advanced browsers for mobile phones and also for low power computers that can be solar powered. My approach is a bit different from OLPC however the key power problem is not the computer current Arm processors are quite efficient its the backlight for the screen and the lcd thats the main power draw. I like the approach they took with the display so they recognized this.

I'm actually working towards a solution that would allow a wireless PV powered computer work center to be created with say ten or so shared screen and low power computers plus you could bring in your advanced phone and use it as a computer with the screen keyboards. The only piece thats not readily available is a simple way to connect a mobile phone directly to a lcd monitor. Right now your forced to a USB to VGA adaptor for a monitor. Bluetooth can be used for the mouse and keyboard. While I was at Moto I talked to them about adding a graphics adapter port for the built in lcd controller they actually have vga out at least on the demo boards. Its one of those catch 22 things but I should have google phone soon and I plan to demo the concept with that.
The best solution is of course a high bandwidth wireless protocol considering the use case it could be close to line of site or even laser solution. So my proposal unlike OLPC is why don't you provide a mobile phone with a screen and keyboard ? It has a lot more utility than the OLPC laptops.
OLPC is more a political statement than a solution. And sorry for flaming them here but if they end up making a big mistake it makes life a lot harder for other solutions that are probably better. I don't like the fact they have hyped a marginal solution that could easily turn into a embarrassing failure.

I will post when I have this setup working it will be after I get a working full open source phone this will either be a google phone or Don't hold your breath it could be a year before I have something. Overall the power requirements should be quit a bit lower than a laptop with similar functionality. But I think that a lot of readers of the Oildrum would be interested.

Back on topic sort of.

The biggest issue facing us post peak is education and this requires a way to publish transmit and store information and communicate. I hope my work will contribute to maintaining electronic communications since its far superior to writing letters. We will have a huge number of people totally unprepared for living in a more agrarian low energy society
if they lose access to information then the probably will flock to the first strong man that offers a better life.
If however they can keep a link to the information network and learn I hope they will realize that instead they have a chance to create a new happier and better life.

So my bootstrapping perspective is that we must maintain enough of the internet to allow information to flow to allow this new society to bootstrap itself. This means small PV arrays are critical. If the people have the information and communication channels then they will be able to use good old human innovation to solve their problems.

Well I should have googled then wrote my reply.

One of the big things I was waiting for looks like its out.

Also this is probably a more coherent discussion of the problem of "real" low power computing.

Newton 2100/eMate. 57mA idle at 6 volts.

"And sorry for flaming them here but if they end up making a big mistake it makes life a lot harder for other solutions that are probably better."

I am in no way linked to OLPC, but I like the project a lot. I am also sad because they choosed the PC route, ignoring lots of more efficient designs, but it is a strong project with lots positive points.

Now, I'd like to point you that IT is full of "big mistakes" that become sucessfull and "good solutions" that are comletely ignored despite their technical (dis)advantages. That happens because there are non-technical factors that are near as, or sometimes more, important than technical ones.

OLPC isn't simply a computer. It's an idea to increase (digital and traditional) literacy and improve education. Because of political problems, they probably would be worse with a cell phone.

Good technical solutions becoming successful over political ones are so rare in IT that you probably could count them on one hand looking for technical winners say post 1980 I have.

1.) RISC processors.
2.) Linux kernel/gcc development and associated open source and this is not so much the source code but how its made.
3.) Networking to some extent its a mixed bag.

Considering this is a thread about living off-grid I wonder how many good technical solutions that would have been useful off grid have never made it to success because of the way our society operates. To generalize my rant a bit in general because the non-technical factors are effectively aligned with the status quo innovation that offers alternatives generally does not see the light of day.

To give you another example. Google's search methodology is archaic and stupid. Its designed to accommodate advertising not a great way to search and collate a large database. Even basic data warehousing concepts blow the doors off googles approach. But now because of business models we probably will never see the ability to run long term data queries since it does not fit googles revenue model.

Technically we could allow the user to issue a query for peak oil for example and let it run for days in a semi-interactive manner and you would eventually get a ontological result.

They way things work now with the almighty advertising dollar we may never see ontologies become important.

People have no idea how suppressive our current economic model is. My point about OLPC is that by playing the game they played they could well risk creating another google and destroying a bright future.


Yes, that openmoko project is interesting.

I'm curious why you think the OLPC project doesn't have much utility? A cheap, low-powered web browser and ebook reader sounds like a real good idea to me.

I haven't closely followed the OLPC tech, but I thought you could use a hand crank for about 5 minutes to power it for two hours. That sounds like a reasonable trade-off to me.

It will be interesting to see versions of cell phones that can run a larger screen.

Great to get by with a 1.2 kW system, which
probably yields you around 6 kWh a day. What
other energy do you use for your heating?

I used to live off grid, but now I live closer
to town and built myself a 4.5 kW net metered
system that makes us zero energy, including
heating loads (heat pump).

About 90% of the systems I build locally are off
grid. There is no way to get around the need for a
back up generator in the winter. With grid tieing,
one can bank surplus generation with the utility
company over the summer for use in the winter.

Lots of people have a nostalgia for going "off
the grid" but in terms of resources, grid tieing
if it is available, is the way to go!

First off, I was away all last week and could not do the following in regards to another post. I messed up, and got multiples and magnitude mixed up. Sorry for the confusion guys, must be getting senile in my old age.

My entire power system - panels, inverter, batteries, diesel remote start generator, etc. - cost just under $10k.

How did you get away with that???? I priced out a system and it was $25K minumum. Each panel is $1000 and the bank of batteries (30 min) are $350 each for 6V deep charge.

A small system may work fine in warmer climates, but up here there is no way. The panels not only have to supply the home during the day but charge the batteries too. Since it's only daylight for 7 hours in the winter, that's precious little time to charge batteries. That means a minimum of 20 panels for a small home and lots of batteries, at least 30, recommended was 60. We have weeks at a time with no sun, just cloud in the winter months. Past 2 weeks has been just 5 sunny days.

Wind is out here is unreliable and township bylaws prevent any towers over 50'

I've priced out putting in a ground source heat pump which will go in next year. I asked the guy about supplying power to it from panels and batteries. His experience is that the start up demand for the compressor would burn out the batteries. Too much initial start up.

Thus getting off the grid is for a very small number who can do it. Go for it if you can.

Richard Wakefield
London, Ont.

No one is ahead of their time, just the rest of humanity is slow to catch on.

I have a 3.6kW PV system (I'm also on the grid but not grid-tied), solar (and electric) hot water and a lot of other stuff I've posted about before. I've also designed and built a number of houses not only for others but also myself. Finally, I know a number of people who live off the grid.

As far as copper goes: wiring and plumbing are a minor cost of construction. I would never nickle and dime adequate installation. Further, there is no reason it should have to be repaired if it is installed properly.

On PV: Although it a big system obviously costs more, a minimal system will become a lingering sore. The off-grid people I know all use propane for appliances with big draws such as water heaters, stoves and refrigerators. To me, this hardly constitutes self-sufficiency as implied by this thread.

On back-up systems: All the off grid people have back-up generators, some propane, some gas and some diesel. Even I have back-up generators even though I'm on the grid and have the PV system; an 8kW gas one and a 23kW diesel. Again, while they might be "off the grid" they sure as heck are tied to the system.

On house design: There are too many variables for a one-size-fits-all approach. On a basic design level, I'm for SIP (structural insulated panels)...but they cost 10-15% more then traditional stick built houses. I'm all for passive solar too but there are places where it isn't much of an option and even an active system is marginal.

Of course, there are options like rammed earth, strawbale and concrete/stone. Each may have a place. However, that requires a design review of what the customer wants and the area where they are going to build.

On repairs: Within reason, this simply shouldn't be a consideration with proper design and materials selection. But most people are going to bitch about the added cost for top of the line materials and systems.

On PV usage: I have to totally disagree with your closing sentance; a PV system should be big enough to actually provide more then a few lights, etc. It is an energy source that will likely be needed in the future. My system will run our 2hp well pump, electric hot water heater, electric stove, arc welder and so forth. It cannot run thses things all at once but it provides flexibility. If the grid is down and it's sunny, I CAN pump water without cranking up a generator. I can run the HWH or stove and so forth.


I'm sorry if I was not clear.

What I'm trying to say is I don't think that PV systems and advanced windmills are the answer the key is locally replaceable living. This means some minimal assumptions.

1.) Local machine shop.
2.) Glass/Ceramic maker.
3.) Carpentry

In general you don't have a local PV manufacturer.
Local manufactures could be paid with barter and will have to be sensitive to the ability of the population to pay.
They won't charge you 100 chickens for a small part for example even if thats the going price in LA.

If your PV array is destroyed or stolen for some reason now your effectively back on grid. And you have to figure out how to replace it. Say your house burns down for example.

Given these systems cost tens of thousands of dollars if you think that employment or income could become marginal they are not a viable solution long term solution.

Now with that said mechanically drive electric generators are fairly reasonable and could be built in any decent machine shop. Also alternators and electric motors would be available via scavenging for years. And also small PV array will probably be valuable trade items.

I also think you can build some pretty efficient windmills using laminated wood so good windmills are viable. Also of course thermal solar is generally viable.

Things that I consider non viable are.

1.) Large PV arrays.
2.) Complex motors ( steam engines however can be built in simple machine shops )

I'm not saying not to use these but you need to consider your lifestyle without them. If loosing them means a significant degradation in your life style you need to consider alternatives thus large PV arrays and high tech windmills should be considered a luxury not a necessity.

We disagree on a lot of levels but I'll stick to one since I actually need to check the batteries on my PV system this PM (all 32 of them, 96 caps, ugh). You seem to want to have it like Goldylocks, machine shops exist but without specifying where their raw materials are going to come from but a society unable to make PV panels and inverters.

So, let's cut to the chase. I'll convert everything to wood gas. I can run an adsorption fridge, a gas stove, HWH, lights (assuming society still makes mantles in the future) and, for my well pump and electric HWH, I'll run one or both of my generators on wood gas.

I'm not saying this to be smart because that is exactly what I plan on doing if it really hits the fan. Further, in my case, I already have many options nstalled from a wood cook stove in the kitchen to a heat exchanger in my wood heater for hot water (in addition to the solar HW system).

I feel that you are trying to set parameters to support your case without a comprehensive view of how the future could play out.

Finally, FWIW, I have a friend who is big on steam - even has his own steam locomotive- we've talked about him building me a 5kW steam unit. I'd jump on it but I'll probably never have the bucks. However, I am going to take a steam "engineer" course when a nearby group offers it again. You learn how to fire boilers, etc. and get to drive one of their engines on their track. In case anyone is interested their web site is: They are located in Willits, CA.

Well, off to the batteries for a few hours.


I think you underestimate some problems in your approach. Making glass requires sand, limestone and soda (or potassium carbonate from wood ashes) That has to be melted at more then 1000 C; todays temperature is around 1500 C. Higher melting temperature makes the process faster and more efficient but is limited by the available refractory materials. In a typical glass smelter several different materials are used and a lot of them are not locally available. To be efficient such a process needs a certain size and has to run continuously. Moreover, smelting the sand and other components of the glass requires a huge amount of fuel.
A similar argument could be made for the machinery in the shop.
Without some civilisation and infrastructure life will be back to stone age.

Without some civilisation and infrastructure life will be back to stone age.

Suppose it is. In three or four generations (maybe less) that would be normal.

I think when we put a whole lot of concern into worrying about distant eventualities, we're really expressing concerns about what this means to our own comfort levels, and our ability to control our environment and personal security right now. We project an awful lot into that's what future generations would want and we're "mourning," I guess it is, the potential loss of what we think is clever and necessary.

That is perhaps the best written and needed perspective I have read. I even copy/pasted it so I can save it to read later. Thank you.
The idea that we cannot live with out machines has no historical validity. We are only what(?) 200 years from the steam engine, 110 years for the car. FWIW I think making shoes will be a great trade in 100 yrs.

I look around and wonder what future inhabitants are going to think of the infrastructure we have created for automobiles. It boggles the mind that we can be so (long term) stupid.

Hi memmel,

"heated internal debates"

The energy source everyone has overlooked. :)

Hi Memmel

Traditional Persian architecture also uses solar chimneys to draw cooled air into buildings.

RE cogeneration. Does anyone know of a small electricity generating system that could be adapted to run from the heat of a wood stove? In coastal Oregon, we have lots of sun in the summer, ideal for PV, but clouds and rain all winter. It would be ideal in a way if my wood heater could also cogenerate electricity enough to supplement a home generation system.

I realize also that minimal usage makes all these schemes more possible, probably down to 200-250 kwh/mo level would be a goal.

I've had, in the past, hot water cogeneration with a wood cook stove and it works great. Likewise, winter cooking would use 'cooking cogeneration' from the wood heat. The electric in winter using the wood heat would be nice too.

Although I'm already down to about 200 KWH/month, that's hard to supply by alternative means. Possible, of course, but expensive. Perhaps $10,000 if you really scrimp.

As for wood stove heat, that's a low-grade energy source, difficult to make much electricity from. I've seen thermocouple-based systems but the electric power output is very small. Enough to run a fan to help distribute the stove's heat... although I doubt there's a need for such.

I'd think that a small wind turbine would work better, unless your location is rather wind-poor.

Then again, being on the grid is best, and does not mean you have to use a lot of electricity. Having a small battery-based backup system is nice too.


6.6 kWh a day is very low, but does that include
your heating too? For some reason, most people
leave that out when they speak about the energy
requirements of their home's.

We were at 7 kWh a day but when I added the heat
pump it jumped to 15.


I have been watching these guys down in FL for a while, but they do not have a product, just a prototype, that uses what we call low-grade energy.


There is a micro combined heat and power system called WhisperGen. Their system uses a Stirling engine fueled by wood pellets.

Tim Morrison -Peak oil, global warming, and economic collapse are not the problems, they are the result of the problem. The problem is a collective action problem and an inability to make good long term plans.

team10tim, I've been looking for something like this too. I checked out the Q&A on their Web site though, and it says that the "The AC WhisperGen™ microCHP system has been optimised and designed to burn natural gas or LPG only." and "The DC WhisperGen™ heat and power system has been optimised and designed to burn automotive diesel and a kerosene version is available on request. Potentially the WhisperGen™ heat and power system could burn Biodiesel or other natural oils but this has yet to be tested and certified. This process could take 2-3 years."

No mention of a wood-burning model. Can you forward a direct link to info on that?

Energy consultant, writer, blogger

My apologies Chris,

I posted the comment from memory. I did some research on Stirling engines about six months ago. I was very excited about the technology and very disappointed that it's almost impossible to to get a Stirling engine that actually produces power, most of the sites I found sell Stirling toys. Anyways, I distinctly remember seeing a wood pellet fired Stirling engine, and I thought it was the WhisperGen.

So, I just looked through my bookmarks (a few of the websites were no longer working) then searched around and found this:

35 kW SD3-Stirling engine
• Designed for solid biofuels
• Electric power output 35 kW

Their homepage makes this claim:

Stirling Denmark is the World’s first and only provider of CO2 neutral Combined Heat and Power plant based on a biomass fired Stirling Engine.

Again, I'm sorry for posting a bogus link. I was sure it was WhisperGen. And just now when I went back to look at my bookmarks two of the companies that I remember are gone. I don't remember Stirling Denmark from my previous search either.

I believe that Stirling engines will be an important part of ELP power generation someday, but currently they are a tiny fringe market. I would be very careful buying a product just in case the company disappear in six months.

Tim Morrison -Peak oil, global warming, and economic collapse are not the problems, they are the result of the problem. The problem is a collective action problem and an inability to make good long term plans.

I hear ya. I've done more than a few fruitless searches for Stirling engines for residential & small commercial applications myself. Thanks for the additional info.
Energy consultant, writer, blogger

Biomass fired stirlings are talked about on Infinia and Sunpower, Inc web sites. They have made prototypes up to a few kW. Nothing in production. Odd that a web search for biomass stirlings does not turn up either of these sites.

I have been playing around with wood power for quite a while. I have run stirlings on wood just fine. But I have also done wood gasifiers; they are very easy to do relative to stirlings, and the output can go right into any old spark ignition engine. SI engines are cheap and available anywhere, including junk yards.

Somebody could make a good business out of a nice packaged system including a good gasifier and some standard IC engine, like a Honda or Briggs. It is easy to start a gasifier, and one charge of wood could run the engine for plenty of time to charge up a house-size battery bank.

Very roughly, such a system would take wood at the rate of about 1kg/kW -hr of electricity. This means there would be maybe 4kW of heat dribbling out somewhere on the system that could be used for space heating

The gasifier can also put out charcoal.

For sustainable cost-effective off grid electricity, a gasifier-engine combo would beat either PV or wind by a very long way. There are enough junked engines lying around right now to supply us hillbillies for an eon.

Wimbi - I'd love to study up on this. Can you point me to some basic resources on the configuration of a small gasifier/IC system like you're describing?

Also: have you checked out the NT/6 wood burning turbine developed by Mark Nye (Nye Thermodynamics)? The specs and the video look good. Looks like he has only set it up for electrical generation at this point, not heat, but the web site says it does about 2 kW output from a little R2D2 sized unit and can burn any sort of biomass. Check out his site...there is a lot of cool info there...he's quite the turbo tinkerer.

Energy consultant, writer, blogger

Thanks for the info, Chris. The turbine is like lots of others I have seen- very loud, and very fast. I have a tendency to trust things that are slow and been around a long time -that is- simple spark ignition engines. But that may be because I myself am slow and been around a long time.

Also, turbines like this one tend to be god-awful inefficient. And a little overspeed goes a long way over the barn.

But good to see more and more people getting on to the idea of gasifiers- so much easier than ethanol and such-like stuff.

You can get a ton of good info from the web search of "small wood gasifiers" and WW II wood powered vehicles. The Swedes have very good detailed designs, and so does the US government. I wish I had a better library of good sites to grab for you. i need a secretary.

(OK, so let's go easy on the grabbing jokes)

I saw that NT/6 site years ago.  It appears not to have been changed since then, and the figures (1400 F exhaust gas temperature?) indicate that the conversion to useful work is very low.  Note that all the specifications are "proposed", not actual - he may not have anything like a generator, and he probably has no idea of the actual efficiency.

Glenn has very good points. Sometimes the energy/environment area gets religious overtones. What is really needed is intelligent moderation by the masses. The example of a few hermits only gives conservation a bad name.

As for the grid, there are two main reasons that going 100% off is inefficient. The most obvious is the cost of storing time-variable power. Less obvious, for many power sources, there exist significant economies of scale. We could have our own fuel-cell generators and use say propone. But the overall efficiency (not to mention cost) would be much higher than a utility-scale gas-fueled plant. Likewise for wind, cost effectiveness increases with size, the most economical wind turbines are multi-megawatts. Lots of 5KW turbines would be a huge waste of resources. Even solar might work out that way. It might be more efficient (which means fewer overall resources) to let utilities build utility scale systems, than to do it ourselves on our rooftops. That later is of course debateable, the surface area of our roofs might be valuable enough to overcome the economy of scale.

enemy of state,
You're certainly right that the environmentalists get a religeous tone to their postings. I live on Galveston Island, about 8 blocks from the University of Texas Medical Branch, which is the State of Texas Hospital System for all of the Texas Counties without a hospital district- about 230 out of 254 Counties in the State. We are the end of the Houston Ship Channel that goes out into the ocean, and have the best natural port west of the Mississippi river and Port of Houston lands about 1/4th of the imported oil entering the USA. About 1/4 of the electricity used in the Houston Metro area comes from nuclear at the South Texas Nuclear project in Bay City and the balance from Wyoming coal burned by Texas Genco at their plant south of Sugarland. I think the odds of a total electric black-out in my area are low, but that brownouts are a distinct possibility.And its the same in New York City. So I don't need battery back ups and our laws in Texas make the power company pay for any extra power generated at the "price to beat".

But farms and ranches that are miles from generating capacity are not good bets for having the lines maintained by the electric cooperatives. They were built with their lines subsidised under the Rural Electrification Act, a New Deal program from the 1930's and have never made a profit. Moving out in the country is just borrowing trouble unless you relish the idea of living as a 21st century serf discussing the weather and cussin' the government while worrying about how to get a couple of wheelbarrow loads of potatos to the farmer's market on the Courthouse Square on Saturday morning. Its just not me, and I think the odds of any of us making that transition are similar to the odds of a poor indian from Central America becoming a CEO on Wall Street.

So I'm just fixing up my house to a low energy consumption standard. It hardly ever freezes on Galveston, I just put on a sweater when the temp is below 60 degrees farenheight. My house was built in 1895 and is oriented for the seabreeze. I'm 4 blocks north of the Gulf. 've got ceiling fans in all the rooms, and some window units. I turn off the AC when I'm not home. I'm fixing to build some awnings to shade my windows that will do double duty as hurricane shutters.And I'm changing all my yard to raised bed pantings and putting in a couple of mangos,and a couple of dwarf variety oranges. My neighbors own avocados, figs and lemons to trade for. I walk 4 blocks to an excellent wade fishing area and have 3 good rods, so I can get by pretty well.

enemy of state,
You're certainly right that the environmentalists get a religeous tone to their postings.


I'd like to point out that enemy of state made no such fine a point as you make it out to be. He merely suggested that "Sometimes the energy/environment area gets religious overtones."

On its surface I grasp what he meant, but I'd not ascribe to it the same certainty of meaning you did!

One could just as easily say: You're certainly right that the energyists get a religious tone to their postings.

It occurs to me that TOD has more energy concerned posters than so-called environmentalists, and of all these energyists many of them offer posts that can be *religious in tone* (if you know what I mean).

All of which is to say I think your statement deserves rebuke. Not only is your sentence misrepresentative of what I think to understand enemy of state innocently suggested, it specifically casts a blanket aspersion on anyone who cares about and thinks to address issues of our environment raised here while ignoring all the energy *religious toned* posts.

Usually this plays itself out in some form of cornucopian/doomer fault lines. While it is reasonable to challenge or question the presumptions underlying either of these tendencies, it is worth noting that a religious tone (or *faith of belief*) is often inherent in them both too -- if only everyone would see the light as they do!

So besides unfairly singling out *environmentalists* your statement also makes me wonder who are all these "environmentalists" and their *religious tone postings* you are referring to? I'm not so certain as you are of having seen them and their posts -- but then again maybe I am one of them! After all I care about our ecological well being, all of which is surely under duress and threat of calamity for our collective prospects (yours included), and I do reckon my concern is rooted in a connection for earthly creation that is at heart deeply emotional and spiritual too.

Edward O. Wilson calls this emotional connection "biophilia" and suggests that it is an innate feature of our being. Whether this is true or not (although it certainly seems more prominent in some of us than others), I think it is also true what S. J. Gould wrote: "We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well -- for we will not fight to save what we do not love."

From my readings of your posts I know you care about saving human society as it confronts its fossil fuel decline. I largely agree with you here, but I can hope you would also see that any such success wouldn't amount to much without a viable biosphere to sustain human society in. We don't live by oil (or whatever energy supply society might harness) alone despite our present day conceit and arrangements.

The point being that to succeed at what we both desire it does no one any good to thoughtlessly disparage another's devotion to the cause! You're just as quasi *religious* in yours as I am to mine! ;-)

Lastly, what your provocative opening sentence had to do with the rest of your post is beyond me. However, I can wish you'd adhere to the following:

What I like best about TOD is how we bring such different points of view to bear on the issues, so I try to look past our differences. .Bob Ebersole

best wishes,


Keep in mind that in the Empire, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be forced off-the-grid. That is, by becoming homeless. Suddenly you don't have an electrical socket to call your own, you probably don't have a car (it's up to debate whether living in your car is truly homeless - you do get to store a lot of stuff and have a "place" you can call home to some degree). Nothing says "off the grid" like no address, living in the bushes etc.

I mention this because I feel we're in for something like the Great Depression, maybe worse. So we're going to have a lot of people experiencing off-the-grid living. It will be ROUGH but just like the last Depression did, it produced a generation of people who'd really roughed it, and who would consider living in a log cabin with solar cells on the roof and a well'n'bucket in the yard to be pretty cushy. We will also end up with a generation that will, again, not trust banks or government, and will be big on self-help and community networking.

So, while Americans are resisting being forced off-the-grid as much as they can, millions upon millions will be living an off-the-grid life, like it or not.

Maybe off-the-grid can be promoted the way bomb shelters were in the 1950s?

living off grid gathering wood

New satellite imaging has revealed that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced the largest single forestry disaster on record in America — an essentially unreported ecological catastrophe that killed or severely damaged about 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana. "This is the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident ... and the greatest forest destruction in modern times," said James Cummins, executive director of the conservation group Wildlife Mississippi and a board member of the Mississippi Forestry Commission. "It needs a really broad and aggressive response, and so far that just hasn't happened." "I was amazed at the quantitative impact of the storm," Chambers said. Of 320 million trees harmed, about two-thirds soon died. "I certainly didn't expect that big an impact." Chambers was even more surprised when his team calculated how much carbon will be released as the storm-damaged vegetation decomposes. The total came to about 1.1 billion tons, equal to the amount that all the trees in the United States take out of the atmosphere in a year.

we need to build into our refining capacity the ability to consume trees again like we did before we drilled for oil.
we have shipping containers in stacks a hundred fett high I think they could be used as retorts to produce charcoal and vapors that can be made into fuel.

That's a fascinating fact about the tree kill. Certainly being able to mobilize a harvest of freshly-dead wood in such circumstances would be a great boon.

But charcoal? What's the point of releasing all that carbon when wood makes a perfectly fine home heat source simply cut and split? You can run an electrical generator plant from wood too. And you can process the smaller branches into pellets for pellet stoves.

I'm not off the grid - I respect the hell out of people who accomplish that, and there are some very fine homes out in the mountains here in Vermont set up that way. But I'm very happy with the way the large wood stove in my basement radiates up through the first floor, providing the majority of the heat in my old (but insulated) house, in a walkable small town.

My own view: We don't know what's coming. We may well be saved by new technology - the sort of venture capital gambles that Gore's gotten into advising on now. But there could be some very rough road before that kicks in. So while "off the grid" is a good option to have people perfecting, another sane way to go is to get on as many grids as you can. That is, have as much redundancy in your vital systems as you can get, so that (1) you can preferentially use the most socially and environmentally responsible when possible, and (2) you can be best assured that one grid going down won't be the end of all comfort for you.

For instance, I've also got oil and electric heat in place, backing up the wood supply. I've got an Amtrak station in walking distance, backing up the car. I've got a bicycle. I've got a good reserve of walking shoes. If we've got shocks coming, they're going to be coming from some really strange directions - not just the predictable stuff. Resiliency recommends itself as a grand strategy.

to whit
50 cent gallon credit for producing methanol, we want and geological aging is being debated here. we want carbon credits for producing charcoal, which may have agricultural benifits.
I have some battery back up, I do use wood heat, I have been saving my junk mail for heat. mostly we heat with natural gas. I try to use public transportation

Hi sunny,

Thanks for bringing this up - I didn't know about it.

It sounds like there does need to be "broad and aggressive action". Do you know any more about what they're trying to do?
(Getting funded must be the worst part.)

to Aniya
I think nothing is going to be done
and more people would be unhappy if you did try to do something. I had sugested growing plants in the sea and harvesting them for fuel. some people have strong feelings about trees.

I got a comment from a simular post at another site he provided links to the material I quoted

I did some follow-up checking. Cummins has some strong credentials.
This could be one of those proposals that bridge conservation and
industrial approaches, so my skepticism is softened a bit. In general
state forestry commissions have a strong timber industry bias, so
this should be watched carefully.

Here are some links:

I think you have hit the nail on the head! we are in for something in the order of a great depression, and maybe worse. suburbia implodes while those with acerage are able to survive!

We had a trial run for true "off-the-grid" living during The Ice Storm of 98.

It can be done.

Looks to me that everyone up thread is living "off the grid" by building a house with materials, and living off of other materials, that were all manufactured "on the grid," and all of such materials spent at least a portion of their time getting to them by being hauled in a truck. Even if you generate excess power and "sell" it, you need a grid to buy it. The roaming wild, Buffalo hunting Indian with a Teepee excepted - but, we cannot hear from any of them, unless they are connected to a grid.

Nothing wrong with that as long as your bootstrapping.
But its replacements etc that become a real issue.

For example I have no problem if my machine tools where built by a robot in japan and say they are CNC enabled. As long as I can use these tools to build serviceable replacement machines I'm happy. Hell most of the CNC controller stuff could readily be replaced with fluidic devices. The machine programming is generally actually quite simple and could be replaced with the equivalent of a phonographic record. Nothing wrong with digital controlled machines. The point is we could easily replace potentially expensive silicon/electric logic with simpler fluidic systems in a lot of places we want to use logic circuits.

I actually suspect that if we do keep high tech we will move quickly to photonic/fluidic logic since the power requirement are far lower.

Although these look high tech at first glance.

Soft lithographic manufacture will probably work well with
photonic processors.

So manufacturing might actually be in reach of a lot of lower tech shops.

So even things we consider very high tech like processors
could well turn out to be readily available.

Its a materials manufacturing problems not so much high/low tech.

A common factor that is overlooked in most of the conversations on TOD about 'living off grid' and 'living with a small farm and minimum grid power' is the toughness and knowledge of our forefathers. Our great great grandparents were a very tough lot, as has been shown by numerous experiments to replicate the feats that they accomplished routinely.

I have watched, with amusement, some documentaries aired on PBS, and other channels and can say, without exception, that these experimental trials were total failures...Or would have been total failures had the producers not relented and allowed the rules to be changed because the people that volunteered for the experiments were starving, totally exhausted from the constant grind of eking out a living, or became ill and no medication was available. The most constant theme of these experiments was the bickering that would begin when the volunteers became hungry and exhausted and no one among the group had the combination of leadership and experience to buoy up the group...So, the volunteers would devolve into a surly group that tried to shirk their duties and responsibilities at every turn.

The toughness of our forefathers has been lost and it will take several generations to get back to where they were. Lets face facts, with few exceptions we are a pretty soft lot and we are not going to get out from behind a desk or climb down off a tractor and start felling trees with an axe or a cross cut saw from daylight till dusk every day...And this does not include the amount of our forefathers knowledge that has been lost in the interim.

When tshtf there will be many that will just not make it and a few that will. The few will go on to tough it out and their offspring will gain toughness from growing up in an environment that has little or no 'grid'. These 'no grid kids' will go forward with hard earned experience, knowledge and a newfound toughness that is in short supply today.

Anyone that believes that a few hours a day in a local gym will equip them for the rigors of survival 'off grid' should spend a some time working in a logging camp or on a farm that uses little or no input from a 'grid'. A small dose of reality will cure a lot of misconceptions.

I lived 'off the grid'back when a child on my grandparents farm during WWII....with my brother,grandparents and one uncle and one aunt.

Grid: We had no poles , no lights,,it wasn't there!!! Our neighbors ,the same.

We did not live a life of drudge work!!! Yes you had to draw water,milk cows,cut hay,feed chickens and all the rest...we had no ice even....

Yet it was rather slow paced life...we did what the weather and the seasons dictated....I didn't consider carrying in 3 armloads of firewood for the night to be hard. Nor drawing wather from a cistern with a rope as my grandmother requested it.

We had days when we did almost nothing...My memories are very firm on that childhood and how we lived...its not like many here portray it to least not for us and I will add that this was on a farm my grandfather sharecropped.

Yes,,no medicine,,no medical except a wagon ride to town 7 miles away...the rest was just home remedy. We slept in unheated bedrooms under and on a feather bed...and quilts..

I am sure it varied in different parts of the country due to soil and other factors...but thats how it was for me and my younger brother..we were NOT a burden,,in fact we helped with the chores...youngsters were not allowed to be lazy or engage in backtalk or you got your ass blistered and hard at that....

...thats the big difference in todays society..children seem to run the grownups those days you did what you were told or the razor strop came down and you got a real first hand idea of punishment...not harsh but as necessary...

airdale-most folks think I am wrong and simply cannot encompass reading by a coal-oil lamp or going to bed when it gets dark out..yet it was some of the best time of my life...hell was having to go back to the city for a while...but until I was 11 yrs old I spent almost all in the country and thankful that did...for I now live just down the road from that old farm...and I live a lot of my life the same way..and will more and more as the shitstorm approaches.


I think that one of the problems with threads like this one is that are people like you, I and a few others who have done it or are doing it. In my case, I've spent 47 of my 69 years in the country or boondocks.

I've posted this before but city people invaribly ask us what we "do" meaning restaurants, movies, art shows, etc. they are agast when we tell them we don't do those things.

I find it a lot more interesting to talk to someone about chainsaws or grafting then about the lastest art maven. We live serenely where you can take time to actually observe life.

Plus, you, I and others actually know how to do necessary stuff. Oh, well.


Todd, Speaking of grafting..My cousins husband is a master at grafting..most especially pecan trees. He has many many growing on his farm as a result of grafting papershell pecans to wild ones that are indigent here.

There used to be a huge number of wild pecan trees that bore well but now its tough to find a real one any more...they exist but the monoculture of new ag has been hard on them..

As to the folks..who 'don't get it'...they just were not of the same generation and have no ability to transpose. I believe they simply cannot consider having to 'do chores' and refuse to give up on modern (read failing) society.

There is no going back for them then.

airdale--I have a bushel of sweet potatoes sitting beside my computer desk right now curing out...if you don't get the moisture dried out of them then they will grow mold and go soft...but I had a good harvest of them this year so I can afford to lose a year longer rows...

Hey airdale - great post... inspired me to open up an account and chime in. Hope this doesn't seem too rambling.

A little background on me. I've lived in a variety of rural to urban settings. Most of my time has been spent in your typical white collar, modern living situation: central heating, TV, Internet, etc. I did, however, spend a year living on my Mom's property in the Sierras East of the Bay Area in a single wide mobile home with no power (other than a propane generator that was run for about 15 minutes a couple times a day to fill up a pressure tank for our water). There was also no telephone, no computer, only a small wood stove for heat. This was right after high school for me, so I had no car, no job, no girlfriend, (and along with my Mom for the most part) no money - did a lot of hanging out and filling time & reading by kerosene lamp. Decided it was time to move out when my Mom came home one evening and asked what I had done with myself during the day... and I was stunned to realize that the day had been so unremarkable that I hadn't a clue what I'd been doing. I knew I hadn't gone anywhere. I must have eaten at some point. Anyway, it was surely a character-building experience.

Still, other than my perceived inability to accomplish anything (hey, I was young and dumb), living by "doing without" wasn't such a horrible thing... life is, after all, what you make of it. The experience would have been a lot better if we weren't so isolated. Life just settles in to different rhythms. You gotta walk out in the snow to get firewood in the winter and the house is freakin' freezing in the morning, we had to be aware of water usage so that we didn't run the holding tank out of water, thus necessitating a trip out to crank up the generator to refill the tank. These things would probably be considered a big deal by most folks who aren't used to it, but you know... you *do* get used to it and it's not so horrible.

Those things are a drag, but you are intimately aware of these situations and use your brains to make life easier where possible. You wear some warm pajamas to bed at night so you are relatively comfortable while you start up the wood stove in the morning. You make sure there's wood left by the stove when you go to bed so you don't have to go out in your PJs to get wood. I could go on, but you get the idea... humans are smart, and you learn to make life a comfortable as possible. It wasn't super easy living, but compared to the way many folks in the world have to live, it's really not so bad. And as airdale said, I find that I have many memories of this time that are pretty good.

Here are some things that many folks on this site should be aware of that are, in my book, much harder than getting firewood from the shed in the snow: endless paperwork, keeping up with ever-changing technology to maintain job security, creating and living up to quarterly employee goals to make the company happy that you're "bettering yourself", 60 - 70 hour work weeks to crank out a new product release (I've spent a lot of time in the software industry, like Apple & Adobe), creating a great team at the office to develop the ground-breaking product for which you're responsible (and excited and proud)... only to have the product cancelled to save some money for the upcoming quarter and most of your work rendered pointless.

I'm sure most industries have their own frustrations, and folks, those things are hard, too, in their own way. They're far less physically tiring, but are often far more stressful and mentally draining. Me, I'll take the firewood stacking and brush clearing... the spring gardening, the fall burning of brush piles. Hard too, tiring... but far more personally gratifying to me, and I think very many will find the same rewards, meager as they may seem, in the difficult times that seem to be approaching. Never does a comfortable bed feel so satisfying as after a bit of work on the land... it's a deeply wholesome & satisfying feeling.

I've been back up to live on the property several times over the years, and for a variety of reasons (chief amongst which is Peak Oil, as well as taking care of my aging mother) I am now back with my family to stay. 10 acres of hilly, heavily brushed land, a well, a few mobile homes, a garden... and a lot of work to do! We're by no means off-the-grid, but we're living a pretty simple life. We heat completely with wood, use relatively little electricity (except for my computer). When we can scrounge up enough money to move our new(er) modular house about a mile up the road to our property, we'll be adding a wood cook stove (hell, the stove is got something burning in it half the year - might as well be cooking on it instead of wasting propane in the winter). We'll also be moving straight to simple composting for our toilets as described in the Humanure Handbook (available free online - Google it).

But here's the key to what I see as the difficulty of the situation, and I suspect that many are in this situation: what's hard for me is living with one foot in both worlds - I still need to be aggressively marketing my web design/programming business, while attempting to be a homesteader, too: I need to clear a lot of brush, fence in some future pasture area to set the sheep out into to offset feed prices, change the tire on my little compact John Deere tractor, stack a cord & a half of wood, finish the woodshed, build an addition onto our storage shed to act as shelter for the sheep (I think we'll have lambs in a month or two)... etc. I don't know how I'm going to manage to walk both lines without doing a poor job in one or both occupations... but I don't have any better solution than to try.

Be that as it may, my solution in walking towards the aprroaching difficult times is to live by the mantra, "Simplify". Phase out the aspects of life that are dependant on the infrastructure of oil, and phase in simplicities where possible. I'm working on a simple solar water heater which I think will all but eliminate the need for our propane tank heater except for the coldest months. It's simple and almost free. After considering the situation with our well (100' to water level) I want to first install 5000+ gallons of water storage on a little rise slightly above our houses, then install a good old fashioned windmill. The tanks should hold sufficient water for the households here to use for several days, and the electric pump can top off when the windmill can't keep up with demand. But most importantly: there is little to wear out or break, and the valves are still made of leather to this day. If the wind doesn't keep up with demand, we'll have to just conserve until more storage can be added. can always use the hand pump! Weeee!

We may still have hardships to endure from the windmill/water solution, but it is simple and solvable even potentially with pre 20th century methods if necessary. It'll probably work fine, and there'll probably be other problems to solve.

I do not strive to be off the grid - indeed, as so much energy has been spent in creating it, it seems the most prudent thing to do is find as many ways as possible to leverage it to everyone's benefit, like selling excess electricity generated on site back into it for others to use... at least as long as the grid is there in usable form.

What I strive for is to depend on the grid as little as possible. As long as the modern world's amenities are available at a reasonable cost, I'll have my life made easier, thank you very much. But the day is coming when some or all of them will become unaffordable/unavailable to me, and when that occurs I hope to have achieved enough that the imposition is made as endurable as possible.

Life goes on... unless, of course, it doesn't, in which case, who cares?

"A ship in harbor is safe... but that is not what ships are built for." - John A. Shedd

"Why is it every time I need to get somewhere, we get waylaid by jackassery?" - Dr. Thaddeus Venture

Airdale, we have had this conversation before, perhaps in a slightly different form, so I am a little reluctant to revisit what we have already covered...Maybe there are some new TOD posters that might appreciate what each of us have to say about 'off grid life' in the days before Rural Electrification reached all parts of the US...

My original post (up thread) was about 'PBS and other documentaries' that I have watched on tv and what abject failures the experimental projects have been. The producers of these films were attempting to find out what a group of carefully chosen volunteers could accomplish when placed in the footsteps of original settlers of American Colonies or attempting to accomplish the feats of the French Vouyer fur traders that traversed thousands of miles by canoe and portaging. Although the volunteers were healthy, in good physical condition, passed mental stability tests, and were avid about the experiments, they failed miserably.

Your experience and my experience on established 'off grid farms' bears little resemblence to the experiments in the films that I have watched.

You have fond memories of your youth on the farm, I do not. I learned all the skills that I needed to know to keep the farm running but it was not a pleasure for me. I was more or less an enduntered servant and was required to do far more than the more favored in the family. I received bed and board but no pay, which was normal. I was also in a 'hard shell Baptist' community and since I am an agnostic I was not comfortable with the arrangement. The community was not a cooperative one and if one family fell on hard times other families would shun them with few exceptions. Even among family members there was constant bickering over the most trivial matters. Jealously was rampant. I could not wait to graduate hs and get out of there and I have revisited the place but twice since I left in 1961...once on the occasion of the death of an aunt that tried to make my life bearable and once to show my wife what a totally f***ed up bunch of morons look like. I will not be going back there again.

Sometimes the passage of time mellows ones memories and causes one to recall the 'good things' about a time and place. The passage of time has not softened my recollections of the time that I spent in that hell.

I suppose the moral of this rant is that it is possible to form a community that is cooperative, lets other community members belive or disbelieve as they choose, judges a person on merit...not other factors, is populated by families that help out in times of hardship, come together to defend the community in times of danger, fire, flood, crop blight, etc. But, it is also possible to form a community that evolves into the opposite of cooperative.My advice...dont get stuck with a bunch of narrow minded zealots.

River, sorry to hear your experiences were so horrible as a kid. Your closing paragraph makes a good point - make sure you're hooking up with the right community. In that kind of "simple living" lifestyle, it can be made unbearable by folks who do not take on their share (or intentionally burden you with an unfair amount of work).

Regarding the PBS shows, which my wife and I adore, I have come to view them as an interesting experiment in living history heavily influenced by the desire to make the programs interesting and "good TV". My wife and I applied for the Frontier House series but obviously didn't get chosen. My wife also found some postings by some of the participants of the Texas ranch house series where they claimed that the producers had cherry picked the scenes to make it seem like there was much more friction between the participants than there actually was, and were disappointed by the final shows.

But all the same, they do probably show the hardships that many folks will endure if suddenly thrust into the living conditions of another century. It does take some getting used to living with a different mind set. For instance, it was pretty funny to watch that guy in the Frontier House series complaining about how he had to carry water in a barrel some distance to his house (which the narrator then indicated was a relatively short distance by pioneer standards), and as he's standing there holding his barrel & complaining my wife points out that there's an empty wheelbarrow sitting in the shot right behind him... looking so unused that it might have just jumped off the pages of the Lehman's catalog! Or the hunger the same family had to endure by not rationing their food properly. For those who didn't watch, it's probably not surprising that this family was a very affluent one.

That said, cleverness was just as appreciated in the day as it is now - there are a couple of period books on 'clever farm devices' that have simple but clever means of doing everyday things. For instance, rigging up a pulley system between your mailbox and front door so that you didn't have to go out in bad weather to get your mail (essentially a clothesline with a pulley for your mail). Some of the better ideas I look at and think "why didn't I think of that?" But even in their day, those ideas were unique-enough that they were put into a book and sold.

You're right to point out that many of these folks on the living history shows wouldn't have been successful at what they were attempting, but it's worth noting some of them, with a week of training, were reasonably successful at many things. That's not too bad, considering that nobody had their life on the line... in the end it was always something they could quit if they chose to.

Also, the situations weren't chosen for their ease of living conditions, but perhaps rather the opposite amongst other reasons. I recall that the historical expert in Frontier House said that the one family's firewood would not have lasted the winter - they had only hand sawn and split 3 cords of firewood and they should have had 12 cords - with hand tools only - yikes! That would be a hell of a lot of wood to stack, without including the hauling, hand cutting, & splitting). The moral here: if you really believe Peak Oil will cause you to have to homestead the old fashioned way, make sure you're someplace that you have a realistic & reasonable chance of being successful! Make sure you have the basic tools to get the job done. And as River points out, make sure you have good people around you that make life more bearable rather than less. I think that will be of supreme importance!


"A ship in harbor is safe... but that is not what ships are built for." - John A. Shedd

"Why is it every time I need to get somewhere, we get waylaid by jackassery?" - Dr. Thaddeus Venture

dr._venture, thanks for your response and especially the insight about the production of the PBS shows. I suspected that in some ways the shows were manipulated by producers to make them 'good tv'.

Even though my early experiences were not pleasant they were instructive. I learned about human nature early in life and it helped me a great deal later on.

I spent four years in the Navy, went to school on the GI Bill, made good money and invested it, was frugal but not Scroogish, have a wonderful wife that is a psychologist (exactly what I, and have three great daughters.

A bad start but it worked out well...btw, I am still agnostic and still riding motorcycles daily.

All of that is true, but when I think of those 19th century days, I think they were basically materialists just like us.

They acquired their material goods through hard physical labor, while we may climb the corporate ladder while twiddling computers. Either way, the equation was a long day of work for lots of material wealth.

I look at the houses of that period, considering the effort it took to build them. They are spectacular! (There is a range of houses in my town from 18th century colonial to 2007 Wall Street mansion.) And, very expensive. Just think of the cost to recreate one even with today's power tools, cheap lumber and so forth. And the heating! Do you know how many cords of wood it takes to heat a 2000 square foot uninsulated 19th century-style house? Do you know how much effort it takes to fell, drag, cut and split that kind of wood, without a chainsaw? Where is the 350 ft cottage of the sort Henry David Thoreau built in a couple weeks from scrap?

So -- big house. And, of course, lots of horses and livestock. Maintaining a horse is no joke. You have to feed it hay all winter. And where does that hay come from? Back to the fields for you!

The same with cows, pigs and so forth.

The way to live with nature, in a non-technological manner, is not our 19th century exampe. Think of Thoreau's little shack (his was 150 square feet), and a primarily vegetarian diet. No horses, no cows, no pigs. The asians are much more in tune with this. Before 1850, for example, Japanese farmers raised no livestock except for a few chickens perhaps. However, they had a very sophisticated diet and cuisine which included lots of wild meat in the form of fish and wild game.

As for raising vegetables, the lowest-effort way is Masanobu Fukuoka's Natural Farming. Yes, permaculture will also work admirably, but by all statistics (yield per acre, sustainability and hours per calorie), Natural Farming crushes any other method on earth. No tilling, so you don't need a plow, and you don't need a horse to pull the plow. Plus, since you aren't tilling, you can leave the rocks in the ground, and sow around tree stumps if you want to.

My point is, we should not idealize the 19th century example, because they were also caught in a cycle of overwork and materialism just as we are today. It's time to create a new path, which focuses on making everything as easy as possible. That way, even if it's a bit more difficult than you planned, you have lots of time and energy to figure it out.

I recommend the Tom Brown books, which are really the only source of real Native American ways of doing things. When you understand the Native American ways, the 19th century American/European ways seem completely ridiculous. For example, the Native Americans would build a shelter basically out of twigs. It would take them perhaps three days to a week, and cost nothing whatsoever. Because it was small, it was easy to heat, and they collected only twig/branch sized wood, since they had no metal tools.

When you look at it from that level, then even the slightest advantage -- a good knife, and a scrap of carpet for the floor -- becomes a luxury.

They were greedy materialists, certainly - but they were more intimately connected with their material. You have a different perspective on (for example) farming in such a way that you can farm again tomorrow if you're out there in the fields with your hands compared to sitting in an enclosed tractor spraying Roundup. If on breaking your hoe you have to go and fix it yourself, that gets you to see things differently compared to if you can just go to the shop and get your tractor fixed.

That doesn't mean I idealise those times - they were dreadful. But it does mean that their greedy materialism was less destructive than ours. That's what technology does, it ups the scale of things. A guy with a spear is no less a warmonger than a guy with a bomber plane, but it's plain which one is more destructive.

Even so, I can't help but think that setting aside that question of scale, having the more intimate connection with material things makes a difference. Even if bombers could only kill one person at once like the spear guy, I think the spear guy would kill less people because they're right there in front of him instead of just a point on a map.

Likewise, a more intimate day-to-day contact with the production and maintenance of the things we use in our day to day lives might give us a different attitude towards them.

During that same ice storm of 98, my 67 & 76 year old parents and handicapped sister were living in central Montreal. They lived in an upstairs duplex normally heated with electricity. Fortunately they had installed an inefficient wood stove in the living room for sentimental reasons years earlier, which was in good operating condition and they had a decent supply of wood. They also used the gas kitchen stove for supplemental heat during the day. The power was off for something like 2 weeks, give or take. The dozens of bridges to the island (city) of Montreal were mostly closed due to fear of collapse. They were encased completely with 8 inches of frozen rain, ice. All the streets that had trees were blocked by tree trunks, branches and damaged cars.

In the end they were the only ones left on their particular street. Driving was difficult even for seasoned winter drivers. When the clean up crews finally got to work, they had to use bulldozers instead of the usual 6 wheeled graders to break up the 8 plus inches of ice on the streets.

It was all rather subtle how it happened. The temperature was perfect, just below freezing and as it rained over however many days, the rain just froze as it made contact. By a stroke of shear luck, it never got really cold, probably 25 F or warmer.

In the end, one just never knows!

"By a stroke of shear luck, it never got really cold, probably 25 F or warmer."That's the critic for an ice storm."

N Louisiana, S Arkansas, N Mississippi, into NW Alabama,
S Tennessee is the Capital of Ice Storms.

A Warm Front overrides the stalled Cold Front, with
a major Low Pressure Cyclone rolling thru it.

Arkansaw of Samuel L Clemens

I've had to practice short-term off-grid living several times during storms, the latest being Hurricane Noel earlier this month, which knocked out the grid in my area for three days. But we managed well enough due to the following:

Diversified homestead energy system components.

The main BIG loss for me in a grid power outage is water supply as I am on my own private well. But I have an isolated (off-grid) solar system for my cottage office, consisting of two PV arrays capable of ~1500 watts peak power, and a Bergey 1500 windmill, and 1600 amp hour battery bank, that I can use to run my submersible water pump.

Domestic hot water for my 1800 s. ft. house is supplied by two solar hot water panels with an 80 gal. storage tank (supplemented by elec. on-demand as needed).

So despite the three day grid outage, we had running hot water.

For lighting we got by at night with oil lamps and bees wax candles (making for a lot of 19th century mood lighting, good for family reading out loud by), and for cooking on we have a propane cook stove.

I rely primarily on wood for heat (supplemented with an oil fired radiant system [not used so far this heating season!]) which we needed to do little of this past storm, and we could of cooked on our wood stove or in our kitchen fireplace (which we do quite a lot to grill on during the winter; otherwise I grill outside on a Weber with wood or lump charcoal).

I agree with Hans that "off-grid" living is somewhat of a hippy-land misnomer, in that I am still heavily dependent on the FF powered grid for much of my life-style, especially transportation. While the point is well taken with respect to reducing our demand, I still believe that using such components as PV, wind, solar heating (both passive & water), and wood, is, while imperfect, still a good and worthwhile endeavor.

I disagree that the maintenance is "a lot of work." The battery end of my system does require monitoring but it is neither that time consuming or difficult. I spend more total time dealing with and managing my humanure compost system then my batteries, but whatever the time I need to spend on my alternative systems I like the experience/feelings of doing so.

My windmill has required one major repair, and although it was a challenge, it was a worthwhile experience that only consumed two work days (mainly to hoist it down and back up again). The maintenance of my windmill is otherwise not a lot at all, but it does require monitoring.

I've had to brush snow off my PV arrays once, and otherwise not had to do anything else for them. A lightning strike blew out the circuit board in my inverter, and this required me to send it off for repair, which took a couple weeks time but it didn't take a lot of my time and effort to get done.

I am adding another 1440 watts of PV (on an active tracker), and this will take time to get done properly, but I consider it time and money well spent. It will allow me to further lower my grid usage as I put more dedicated solar outlets into my main house (particularly for future outages) to draw on. If I end up doing a grid-interconnect I may find my yearly electric bill amount to very little.

By no means is this a perfect alt. energy save-the-world scenario, and over the long haul in a PO fast societal crash one that won't last much more than ten years or so, especially as the batteries fail without any replacement. But in the meantime, it suits me and has proven itself a lot better than nothing in a blackout.

As for the rest of the world, I can't fix that but I do what I can to fix my part.

Hi Mike,

The ice storm of '98 is one of those life altering events I won't soon forget and it taught me many valuable lessons with respect to physical comfort and personal safety, not the least of which the burden of responsibility for such matters falls squarely on our own shoulders.

This trial run or dress rehearsal undoubtedly helped you and your partner better prepare for whatever energy constraints may lie ahead. Although our preparations in this area trail your own, I'm fortunate that my partner understands how important it is to manage these risks and that we are of like mind in terms of how we should conduct and arrange our day-to-day affairs. He is environmentally and socially motivated and remarkably resource frugal, and I trust whatever the future holds, these shared values will serve us well.


I suspect that the Pareto (80:20) principle is operative here.

You can probably achieve something like an 80% (+/-) reduction in your consumption of grid-supplied electricity for 20% of what it would cost you to be 100% off-grid. Thus, you've got to spend that extra 80% to cross that final 20% threshold.

It probably isn't worth it for most people.

A combination of energy efficiency measures (ranging from simply turning off unused lights and appliances and using air conditioning less, to changing out incandescents with CFLs, to changing out more expensive appliances and systems if the payback times are reasonable), plus some PV panels with net metering, should get most people down to the range of ~20% of current average household net billable electric usage.

That's arguably plenty good for most people right now. If we could achieve that level of reduction, that would free up lots of NG that would otherwise be fueling power plants, and maybe relieve the pressure to burn all the coal we can dig as fast as we can dig it.

Furthermore, by not trying to close that final 20% gap right now, that leaves resources that could be better invested elsewhere. Elsewhere could include more energy-efficient vehicles or bicycles, for example.

This raises one of the big problems we are having when discussing possible mediation or coping strategies: tradeoffs.

Going 100% off grid sounds good, until you start looking at the opportunity costs of doing so. It turns out that there are some pretty hefty opportunity costs -- you have to invest so much into making it happen that a lot of potentially higher priority things can't happen. We can't just be throwing out these ideas in isolation, we've got to start thinking more in terms of the entire package deal.

Probably the best tool we can use in thinking about these things is payback analysis. By getting all of the possible actions on the table, doing a reasonably fair and accurage payback analysis on each, and rank ordering them, one should be able to get a pretty good idea about where to apply resources first. This approach works for individual households, businesses and institutions, and governments & entire societies. It just makes good sense to knock off the actions with the shortest paybacks first, because then you will be able to add the benefit of the saved resources from those actions to the resources you have available to do the lower ranking projects.

I am semi-offgrid.

I run a 1951 vintage diesel generator set that burns raw waste vegetable oil and provides me with sufficient heat and power for a modest suburban home.

We all know that WVO is not going to last forever, so I am converting to run on woodgas, from woodchips that are very cheap and available in these parts.

Slightly ahead of the main herd,

2020 Vision

Maybe I'll sound unnecessarily harsh, but there is something definitely sociopathic with that "going off the grid" obsession.

People that want to go entirely off the electric grid on "self-sufficiency" grounds (not because for example on reliability or remoteness/lack of alternatives reasons) don't seem to notice that we are living within tens and hundreds of grids already. Some are technical - electrical, water and sewage, oil&gas pipelines, roads and highways, the Internet, telephones, GSM networks... Some are not that visible - as is the extremely complex grid which our socio-economic system represents - and this is the grid that provides education, healthcare, security, economic framework, etc.etc. Can we really unhook from all of them? Sure we can - but we'll have to return to prehistoric living.

Can't we just accept that grids are good? Grids (complex interlinked systems) are what make our civilisation and our standard of living possible. It should be our primary mission to preserve grids, because if we lose them, basically everything we have is lost. And getting off the grid is freeing exactly from what? Freeing from what other people can do for you hundred times as effectively? Can't speak for everyone but I wouldn't want to spend my life fixing wind mills, water pumps and solar panels, no thanks.

BTW for those that don't like grids - there are still pristine places in Amazonia and Sub-Saharan Africa that don't have any. Good luck.


I definitely agree with what you say here. The 'off the grid' business, as the anchor post says, has religious overtones.

If one expects civilization 'as-we-know-it' to crash, then being 'off the grid' (OTG) will make no sense when the first grid-dependent component of your system fails.

The only scenario I can see making OTG sensible-- and it may become a realistic one-- is the scenario where utilities become increasingly intermittent (look at Baghdad). In a situation where society is sort of limping along, OTG might make sense. In this case one would hope to scrounge parts to keep the private system running. But then you have the worry, as memmel points out, of people stealing your hardware.

By and large, I agree with your overall point that we have countless 'grids' around us, but when you say that these folks "don't seem to notice that we are living within tens and hundreds of grids already..", you've jumped into rank presumption. You don't know what they have noticed or not.

People who are consciously getting away from the Electrical Grid, which is of course what is implied by the phrase, are probably also doing what they can to break a number of other 'unnatural dependencies' (or Grids) that modern life has swallowed us up with, but it by no means extends to their trying to unlatch from every interconnection with the human race.. and for those that do (and our family did to a minor extent) and have illusions of complete 'independence', this illusion is almost immediately undone and gets to be quickly reformed with the reminders of all the ways that we need to have our society around us. But I say it is well worth challenging the assumptions and finding out what you can. Getting some distance and perspective is a great way to see where things really are.

For my experience with this brief flirtation with the fantasy of 'pure self-sufficiency', (and I was about 16) it was a helpful and I think necessary 'Fasting' from these everyday connections, and it let me see which ones I could actually detach from, which were necessary for survival, and what essential skills I was able to rely on in the meantime.

Just like these folks whose Partial Off-grid systems were put to the test during an extreme storm, I think it is an invaluable reminder to have it switched off from time to time, and see what life looks like without it.

But 'Sociopathic'? Whoo, it is tough to challenge the mainstream these days.. but at least you didn't say 'Terroristic'


I think we are lumping things together now and this can not produce good result.

IMO there is a whole range of reasons why living OTG or OTC (off the civilization) is a good thing on a personal level. Like you said it is testing your strengths, but more importantly lets you live without the supporting shell of the civilization. This is the environment where you can get a better understanding of yourself and the natural world, and yourself as part of the natural world - far away of the artificial version of the world we get through the MSM and the flood of noise that overwhelms ours senses.

However. Getting OTC does not make sense as a goal by itself. The goal should not be "getting OTC", the goal should be spiritual improvement. It does not make sense for a rational person that has some valuable skill or ideas that can help other people, to spend his live in the bushes. Some of the people here are getting off the electric grid, but they are staying in the internet grid. Why? Turns out that the internet grid is more important to them, but funny why everyone forgets that if the electric grid goes so does the internet.

Personally I have also lived close to subsistence living for some time and after all those years I am grateful for it. One of the things it thought me is that people don't necessarily need 99% of the things they think they need. Others who have not done that, can not imagine living without them and tend to gravitate to the doomer's camp. I am much bigger optimist - I have seen how much we can do without and also have seen the speed we could adapt. And it is not that painful as many tend to think.

To sum it up - doing it for a while as part of your personal development is invaluable; going to the extreme to claim that you should live like that is nonsense and even dangerous.

Some grids work with little or no maintenance- The "grid of roads" can be navigated even when in poor repair, I can ford a creek or drive around a hole. Or I can walk.
I don't think that's true with the electric grid. It takes a lot to maintain that and it either delivers electricity or it does not. And that's why a lot of folks have a back up system at least.

I'm with LevinK on this. Yes, we live in grids - or perhaps webs - of relationships and systems that deliver very large numbers of benefits to us. It is not in our self interest to break off and away from the society we are a part of.

We need the continued benefits of high specialization of labor that comes from being a member of a large society with lots of interdependent relationships. We need scientists to just spend time doing research and engineers to spend time developing designs. Effort put into making small self sustaining groups of people is effort that is mostly a waste and it has a high opportunity cost.

Ah, so is this why I hate hippies?:D

Look, it's quite possible to greatly reduce your consumption - and thus, reliance on "the grid" - in all areas. This is the premise behind the Riot for Austerity, where people aim to reduce to 10% of average Western consumption.

My experience is that a few simple things like walking to the shops, changing to wind-derived electricity from your provider, reducing meat consumption and so on, these get you to 25-50% of average, with zero inconvenience or cost. The remaining 15-40% is more difficult, and requires either change of lifestyle (eg getting rid of your fridge, growing some of your own food) or some expense (eg buying a solar hot water system).

But you can halve or quarter your consumption - including of fossil fuels for transport - without any real trouble, or any genuine "austerity." We're very wasteful, really.

But you can halve or quarter your consumption - including of fossil fuels for transport - without any real trouble, or any genuine "austerity."

Certainly we can. But if we do so collectively the stock market will crash, unemployment will sky rocket, and our bank accounts, stock funds, and pension funds will vanish in a puff of smoke. Of course there is no physical reason why the disappearance of this symbolic wealth should cause suffering as long as we retain the physical means of production and as long as we have the social will to distribute that production in a reasonably equitable manner. I continue to be amazed at the huge amount of intellectual energy TOD expends on discussing and analyzing the physical aspects of energy descent and the miniscule amount of time spent discussing the political and social transformation that is necessary in order for these physical solutions to be effective.

I agree that the political and social changes will be even more significant than the physical ones, and that it's not been discussed much - apart from some doomer talk about Mad Maxian lifestyles.

I recently wrote my first article for TOD:ANZ, The Freezing Point of Industrial Society. I glossed over the social/political issues in the article, but talked about them a bit more in the discussion afterwards.

I'm planning to write articles about an "ecotechnic" society - an attempt at a industrialised society without fossil fuel use. I'm thinking it may need two articles, based on where the changes start from - "top-down" or "bottom-up."

So rest assured, there are people thinking about it. It's just that, as I said in the article, while plenty of people have written about this or that gee-whiz tech, or this or that community garden, no-one seems to have tried to paint a comprehensive picture of what a non-fossil-fuel society might look like - again, apart from saying, "oh my god, chaos!"

no-one seems to have tried to paint a comprehensive picture of what a non-fossil-fuel society might look like

Actually I have.

My USA- 2034 article was a good first step.

Best Hopes,


Your article is very good, but,

"Oil consumption is down to 6.6 million barrels/day,"

is one of its first few lines. That's not a non-fossil-fuel society. It may be a step towards an ecotechnic society, but it's not the thing itself.

Excellent article, though, one I found very interesting.

I would call it 3 steps towards a non-oil non-FF society.

To do so much in 25 years with a minimum amount of suffering and social disruption is the best that we can realistically hope for.

My closing line makes clear that this is a mid-point on the journey.

Our problems are not solved, but we know the solution and we are confident of our ability to work and sweat towards sustainable, workable solutions !

Best Hopes,


BTW, I think a detailed plan to a 100% non-FF society now is an exercise if futility. A one half to two thirds reduction is what we first need to work on. Once approaching that point, we can plan Phase II.

Your plan addresses only the physical aspect of economic production without fossil fuels. In the great depression no energy or resource shortages existed, but out economic problems did not end until we grew out them a decade later during WWII. This time around growth is not going to be the solution to our problems. All of this investment in new nuclear plants, wind farms, rail electrification, new rail, reconfiguring our cities, etc. are going to be wealth maintaining investments, not wealth increasing investments. Large accumulations of private finance capital whose primary mission in life is to constantly expand in size cannot possibly be an effective means of making the wealth maintaining investments that will be required for long term sustainable economic production. We need to create a social and political framework in which community investment and mutual support are given primacy over private wealth accumulation at all levels of economic organization. Without such a framework the chances of any alternate energy plan being effectively implemented are near zero.

I am curious about your plans of expanded use of pumped hydro storage. Have you published more details any where? Does your model consider the seasonal variation of rainfall? Pumping too much water in a low rainfall year could reduce river flow downstream from the dam and thus have significant economic consequences.

It is entirely possible to build pumped storage in the desert. Just get enough water to fill once and then make up the evaporation losses (floating anything will help reduce that).

Existing reservoirs (man made, Great Lakes, Oceans) make great lower reservoirs. After the initial fill, there is no net effect except evaporation.

I question that current financial systems cannot be made to preserve wealth rather than increase it.

People do not buy US Treasuries to get rich, but to preserve wealth (T-Bills actually shrink wealth, although slowly, from inflation & taxes for many. People still buy them).

If the best investment available shrinks wealth by -0.5% per year and all others do worse, many will invest in a losing proposition.

Best Hopes,


It is entirely possible to build pumped storage in the desert. Just get enough water to fill once and then make up the evaporation losses (floating anything will help reduce that).

Existing reservoirs (man made, Great Lakes, Oceans) make great lower reservoirs. After the initial fill, there is no net effect except evaporation.

Since all the current U.S. hydroelectric capacity is river based, I take the above statements to imply that you are planning to expand pumped storage capacity exclusively through building completely new reservoirs that are that are not part of river systems. The initial capital costs of new hydro systems will be quite high. The Great Lakes and the Ocean do indeed make great lower reservoirs. But one also need high reservoirs with large capacity and reasonably high head. Do you have a list potential locations for such reservoirs and come kind of cost estimate for construction? I asked for details about your plans to expand pumped hydro storage capacity, not mom and apple pie statements about how the technology works.

People do not buy US Treasuries to get rich, but to preserve wealth (T-Bills actually shrink wealth, although slowly, from inflation & taxes for many. People still buy them).

Are you planning to have the U.S. government become the primary investor in manufacturing capacity, with all such investments giving a fixed rate of return while the stock market disappears? If so then this is not a bad idea and is a step toward the sort of community investment I was discussing, although in my opinion straight income taxes would be a more effective method of generating the necessary reserves. If you think the stock market will be an effective method of making wealth preserving investments then you are out of your mind. In a market, by definition, people are trying maximize their return. In a zero growth or shrinking economy any company that appears as a hot prospect will attract investors like flies and their stock will have a strong tendency to become overvalued. For every investor who guesses right and get in and out of a stock at the right time there will be many others who lose their shirts. A market for manufacturing infrastructure investments cannot work effectively if productivity is flat or declining.

Costs ?

Raccoon Mountain, 2 GW (uprated from 1.6 GW) 35 GWh and cost a $300 million in the 1970s. It was the best of four sites evaluated in the general area of Chattanooga (I think that there are more potential sites, just less cost effective than the 4 evaluated).

Existing reservoirs that are managed for stable water levels (usually in a chain of dams on a river, soem lakes are stable and others variable).

No doubt, some marginal pumped storage sites will be developed, but the USA has not seriously looked at the potential. We have only 19.5 GW built so far.

Best Hopes,


A list at the bottom

Going of-topic, I found this on Google, about hedge funds pushing up the price of oil.

Are Hedge Funds Summiting Peak Oil?

I just installed 3.1 KW of grid tied solar PV this summer.
My passive solar super insulated house that I built has R50 walls and R70 ceiling. My house is all electric, heat HW. My bills were about $50-80 (800-1000 KWh) per month. They have dropped to around $15 (200KWh) so far. Maryland has a 20% rebate and $2000 Federal tax credit (which they are dropping off the latest energy bill in Congress :( ) which helped bring the costs down. Most of my windows (triple pane) are on the south side and during sunny cold winter days the heat does not run, even at night.

Next project I would like to install solar hot water. I should have a $0 electric bill after that. I could also install a few batteries and another inverter and create my own grid. When the real grid goes down I could run everything I want when the sun is out and bare min. during the night and cloudy days. I also live on top of a windy hill so the next project after that will be a wind turbine.
I also drive a Prius which replaced a 19MPG truck. I use about 16 gals of gasoline per month.

I think that conservation/increased efficiency will be the only way to shift to renewable energy. Seems like the only chance we have to survive PO.

You are right, conservation and efficincy are
job one! No, this is not as "sexy" as a bunch of
high tech semiconductors on your roof, but we need to grab the low hanging fruit first.

Job 2 is SDHW.

Finally, job 3 is solar PV.

Unfortunately, most people think they can "just put some solar panels on their roof" and continue on
business as usual, or that they can still have
their monster SUV, just powered with some
different fuel. There are simply not enough
renewable resources available to supplant our
current supplies of depleting, energy dense

I feel it is my job as energy expert to educate
my customers about these facts. Sure, the wealthy
can put in 20 kW systems (partially funded by the
taxes on other rate payers) to power their
unconsciousness, but if those same resources
could power 5+ energy conscious homes, which is
more ethical? The times are changing and i need
to do what I can to insure the renewable
resources I promote and install are used in a
wise manner. I have turned down work from
potential clients who will not do their part first.


"...or that they can still have
their monster SUV, just powered with some
different fuel. There are simply not enough
renewable resources"

There is enough solar power to move everybody's SUV. (That said, I don't own one.)

I live in an apartment in an Old Urbanist TOD (T started in 1834, world's oldest !). Former Upper Middle class home cut into six apartments.

Minimal insulation in 1890's era home, I have caulked and weatherstripping and added removable insulation for the windows. My gas & electric utility bill is $42 (level bill) and I use about 5 gallons of diesel/month in my 1982 M-B 240D (manual transmission).

Best Hopes,


One more comment:

I have heard of people that are "off grid" but using kerosene lamps for lighting. They may be "off grid", but they are every bit as dependent upon a long, vulnerable supply chain for a non-renewable fossil fuel source of energy as is anyone that is "on grid". Plus they are paying a lot more per lumen, and running a much greater risk of burning down their "off-grid" house. (I wonder what the carbon footprint of a house fire is?)

I keep some kerosene lamps on hand should we have an extended power outage - we do have such, and I have used my lamps on those occasions. But I'm also glad when the grid comes back up, and the kerosene lamps are put out and put away for the next outage.

I think the string above points to what Glenn was talking about. The "off grid" discussion quickly degrades into the "only true off grid lifestyle is walking into the woods naked and living off the land" discussion.

This is an aesthetic choice for those who want to make it, but, as far as being any type of needed alternative, well...

There is no evidence that even the most basic tools and materials of existance no longer exist is correct or will be correct for the rest of our natural lives. And if it is so, most of us will not have to worry about our "power grid" as we will die from lack of medication and medical care anyway. I can see how I could survive off grid. Right now, I see no chance of me or many of the people I know surviving without medication and medical care.

Living off grid presents no great advantage. But, distributing the power production, and de-centralizing/diversifying power production does.
It is already underway:

The above discussed option of co-generation at the nieghborhood and community level is a route to go. In my own hometown of 1200 people, one can picture a go-generation and solar plant placed near our sewage station on the edge of town as a very workable possibility. Fuel imput could be PV solar, both from a solar farm at that site and from local roof area (including the larger building school, store and local business buildings) combined with a propane generator that would run methane captured from sewage and local biomass imput, and propane, whch can be purchased and stored at off peak prices for use as assured backup. This will assure that electric power would be provided locally and avoid the expense and the social problem of having a stand alone home lit up when all your neighbors are in the dark.

We need to be careful of the either/or narrowness of thinking (either fully on grid, or live like an aboriginal primitive) and work to the variety of options that will be determined by local conditions. The amound of energy efficiency that can be done with current technology is astounding, and without going back to the neanderthal lifestyle. Change yes, but when we put forward these "back to the jungle" alternatives, it causes most folks to laugh and walk away.


I think you underestimate the chances of surviving without medical care. Death may become more prevalent in a resource constrained world; but then we are all going to die someday ! Many of our health problems are caused by our lifestyle in the first place.
A resource constrained world cannot come quickly enough for me; at our present rate of consumption we could destroy the planet's ability to support us, as well as other forms of life we depend upon. We will pay the price for not thinking of the consequences of the way we live.
It will have to be forced upon us, because nobody, me included, will give up the ridiculously easy life we have voluntarily. It will be a good thing. Whether you have solar panels or not won't make any difference. Whether your community can survive and produce enough food will make all the difference. It's really not that hard, just take a look at how your area lived 100 years ago. I can almost imagine the planet breathing a sigh of relief already !!


One hundred years ago there were 2 billion people on the planet, now there are 6.5 billion. and about 3 billion are in wretched poverty. To get back to the pastoral idyll that you are fantasising its going to take 4.5 billion corpses. Are you planning to volunteer ? Which 2/3rds of your friends and neighbors do you want to die in a plague or a nuclear war?

Myself, I plan to do the best I can to reduce my footprint and to help the world by providing energy for the transition and by reducing my personal footprint. To have reverence for food by raising some of it myself and catching fish cleaning, cooking and eating them myself, and to help others as best I can to have good lives. Bob Ebersole

I think you underestimate the chances of surviving without medical care. Death may become more prevalent in a resource constrained world; but then we are all going to die someday ! Many of our health problems are caused by our lifestyle in the first place.

I spend a lot of time thinking about this. I'm surviving now because of the medical system. It is pretty good at handling emergencies, but I have issues with how it tries to manage every day life so that any small thing becomes a need for further medication. Sometimes, institutionalized pill popping becomes an excuse for not participating in the fullness of life, seems to me in the US this happens on a much larger scale than the folks who use "illicit" drugs for their escape.

I do genealogy in some spare moments, an odd hobby I picked up about 6 years ago - odd in that biological family has never been my primary support group since I was 19 years old.

I've read a lot of letters from the 19th century that my ancestors wrote back and forth (an aunt has these in her possession). Invariably, who is sick and who has died, and what diseases are going around seem to be the news people shared. Also what was happening with food is a common thread. During the civil war, the demonization of the south (as these were northerners) was a primary theme. Even without MSM, that seems to be an inherent cultural overlay.

Without a lot of our medicines, many of which have done "good" by extending our lives and making them bearable (I'm not totally against the "medical establishment" either), even if we maintain decent levels of sanitation, I imagine a future without the medicines we know in the west will probably involve a LOT more disease than we're used to seeing in rich western countries.

People will adjust to it though. Having lost so many friends to AIDS in the 1980s, when I was in my 30s, I can imagine what this will feel like to most people who haven't experienced it. It's a shock at first. If this is mixed in with an immediately harder life keeping food on the table, it may not be the only issue, just one of many.

Rather than considering a solo residence 'off the grid' I have made a small scale farming project and the associated community of workers and their families as a study topic.

I'm 70 now with country relatives north of New York City who dairy farmed off the grid and kept us thankful with gifts of butter and eggs during WW2 food rationing era.

Now I am a farmer in the northwest and have this food and energy scarce era in mind when considering what we might do if or when fuel or electricity becomes too expensive to use in an era of deindustrialization. Right now energy is still too cheap to move to this paradigm but there is certainally reason to take this as a study topic.

Because of my location and climate I have adopted coppicing as a biomass energy choice. There is technology missing but reason to spend time on the biomass and gasification reading lists. We live in an urbanized area and within a short distance from our farm are numerous stranded underutilized farm plots and I have calculated that 15 acres of willow coppice dedicated for energy, managed with manual labor, would supply us with energy for our winter product refrigeration and summer irrigation power needs as well as supply charcoal for soil supplement and nutrition management.

In present day I am selecting and propagating native Salix strains to use as product we presently use for sale. This gives us hands on experience with the concept and provides the opportunity to develop other markets that will allow us to expand our willow coppice grove beyond the present 5 acres.

Dabbling in conservation , in biomass production, in alternative agriculture systems is what this is all about in this present day.

I live in the green mts at about 2100 feet in elevation and have thought of coppicing, but don't know of a good tree candidate. We have lots of aspen, white and yellow birch, white ash, beech, maple and a few other things. The ones that can grow fast enough to coppice - birch and aspen - don't have as many btu's as does beech and maple.
What trees to you use for coppicing?

this thread is a bit old but the answer to your comment is you need to also consider the total produuctivity of the species which would offset the unit heat value. It also all depends on how you might use the wood, in a pyrolyser or gasifier or common wood heater. There are also secondary uses as charcoal or as basket materials or better yet fruit/nuts.

You live in the hardwood forest and have many candidate species in trees and large shrubs. Filbert might be a nice nut crop/coppice grove. Note that some species such as alder do not have ability to heal after cutting and will tend to develop rot.

Lastly - if you have trees that naturally reseed in your area cyclical harvest of a woodlot might accomplish your domestic wood needs on a fairly small plot.

My trees for coppicing are actually a multistem shrub, willow and I also use a notive filbert, mainly for nut production but rejuvinate by coppicing

&tUh, Hot News Flash, guys and gals:

"NIMBY" has become "BANANA"


Good luck, when we live in a world where churches can be sued for ringing their bells too loudly and farmers in rural areas can be sued for letting the cows moo too loudly.

The Amish seem to live off the grid just fine. They are not living like neantherthal man. They farm 24/7, nothing is wasted. They have fantastic building skills.
As backwards as it seems, they are living post peak!

Well, that depends on which Amish community you are referring to.

In my local area, one of my uncles has close contact with the Amish community. He lives much as they do, very close to the bone economically, so to speak, with wood stove and does a lot of salvage/repair/recycling sort of work for income, a bit of a "detrivore" as it is sometimes called on TOD. He also chooses to remain unshaven, with long hair, so our local Amish community seems to feel that he is a bit of a fellow traveler. :-)

One of the local Amish women recently requested his help. The Amish community had a large walk in refridgerator that had failed.

You see, it was powered by an onsite generator, with a Honda engine. The engine had broken down, and the Amish lady requested of my uncle that he help them procure the needed parts to fix it, knowing that he was familiar with the local small engine parts suppliers. He also had access to a telephone and a vehicle so he could get the needed parts.

Other members of our area have often taken food and other goods in exchange for taxiing local Amish people to visit other Amish out of state.

So the Amish, at least in many of the communities, would suffer if they grid/economy/culture completely collapsed, because while many of them are "self sufficient in certain ways, they also form local area support networks to allow them to continue as a community.
Below is a Cleveland Ohio newspaper article that gives a taste of how interwoven with the community the Amish can be...

By the way, I asked my uncle a question: Since they are "self sufficient" in name only (in that they are not attached to the power grid, but still rely on fossil fuel and outside parts) for refridgeration, why not go solar, either some type of PV or concentrating mirror solar, which has been used in the third world to drive ammonia cycle refridgeration and icemakers.

He said he knew of no reason except that the small Honda engine was cheap to operate!


because while many of them are "self sufficient in certain ways, they also form local area support networks to allow them to continue as a community.

And how much of that is so they can make thier 'tax nut' every year?

The very mainstream French newspaper "La Monde" just published (16 Nov. 07)an article based on Sadad Al-Husseini's allegations that peak oil has been reached in 2006 and that world reserves are exagereted by 300 b$.

See the article here (in French),1-0@2-3234,36-979167@51-963558,0.html

For the monoglot here it is in franglais.
A snippet (milliard = 109):

Sadad Al-Husseini launched three assertions fraught with consequences: the world production of oil and liquid gas will stagnate to the neighbourhoods of 2020, before declining unrelentingly; the official figures "exaggerate" the planetary reserves of 300 millards of barrels, that is to say a quarter of the still exploitable total; the stagnation of the production implies a minimal increase in the price of the barrel of 12 dollars each year, as the gap between a stagnant supply and increasingly stronger widens.

"Getting “off the grid” this way is as dumb as it was thirty-five years ago, and for the same reason. Why? TRANSPORTATION!"

While many of the comments in this thread have dealt with the literal interpretation of being "off the grid" in terms of electricity, I have to agree with sentiment behind the original post. I just spent four years living in a beautiful part of Vermont, with 10 acres, a managed woodlot, irrigation system, organic vegetable beds, etc. I was going down the route of being "self-sufficient" (whatever that is), but more to the point, in a post 9/11 world, I suspect what I was really doing was preparing for the worst. I had food stocked up enough to last a year, some important supplies, and an agreement to share skills with the neighbors, who hunt, etc.

But I gradually came to realize that, if there were no transportation available, I would be stuck, far away from any culture, theater, restaurants, people -- civilization. As nice as it was out there in the woods, there was no public transport, no rail, and I don't know anything about owning or riding a horse and doubt that I'm going to at the age of 45. It's a long, long walk to the nearest general store, and would probably take a day to walk to the nearest town of any significance. Forget about it in winter, it would be nearly impossible.

So I really have to question the whole "escape" concept. I wonder if people really realize what being "off the grid" entails. If what we are facing is an imminent liquid-fuel transportation crisis, and not the end of the world, I'd rather be somewhere where biking, walking, or taking the train or electrified tram is a personal option, and where the water and rail transportation network is still fully functioning as an option for commerce. The very real prospect of eventually having to go into town once a month for supplies on a neighbor's wagon, and then sitting alone in the woods the rest of the time, away from everything, doesn't appeal to me.

So I just moved back to Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where I've lived before. I traded in my car for a bicycle, and now I live in a little village about 30 minutes from the city center by bicycle. If there's going to be a global crisis, economic meltdown or whatever, it's going to affect everyone, no matter where you are.

Don't get me wrong, I love Vermont, and loved living where I did, but only if I can get in my car and go into town to see a movie when I feel like it. Over the long term, I prefer the hustle and bustle of civilization to the stillness of a mountaintop, and with great respect for all of the enlightened farmers and renaissance men from whom I've learned so much on this site, I suspect many people will feel the same once the reality of post "peak transportation" kicks in.


High transportation costs will make rural living much less attractive for many. If you can't get into town or go shopping an hour's drive away then the rural life will get too boring and limiting.

This makes me think that even some of those who could survive with a rural life post-peak will move back toward larger towns.


I agree. I think the places that were popular before the invention of the automobile will remain popular (locations on water or rail networks), and those places that were considered to be the "boonies" will go back to being the "boonies".

I'm thinking more of the overall changes that society must make to transition to a post-peak industrial society, not what it would take for a few hardy individuals to survive a nearcomplete crash. I think the latter is highly unlikely.

Too often political discussions on other sites (TODers are too smart apparently) degenerate into "you are not allowed to preach conservation unless you are living like a cave man" argument. This is almost always promoted by rightwing trolls as a way to poison the discussion. It usually works, as things can devolve into a I'm holier than thou, and your definition of having zero envirnomental footprint is wrong kinda food fights. If we are to have any real overall impact we have to get a lot of people making the 20% changes, that produce 80% of reduction. That is best accomplished, by showing that it is easy and good for ones finances, as well as a feel-good thing to do. The goal should be the not-so-slow transformation of society away from careless wasteful consumption. Even partial success will buy some much needed time to develop better alternative technologies.

For some here it is a source of pride, as well as the creation of a sense of security to become as independent of industrial society as possible. Thats fine. If you personally you derive sufficient pleasure from that pursuit to make the sacrifices worthwhile. If not, then you should evaluate what you are doing. Could with similar/less effort you have a greater societal impact than what you are doing now? Helping a profligate neighbor cut his energy use by 25%, will have a greater overall effect, than personally going from 20% to 0%.

Your comment about compact communities is right-on. There are quite a few compact communities in Old Europe that have streets for walking only, because they were built a thousand years ago (Hmm... was that before cars?). I think I might even call a thousand year old town that has been continuously inhabited "sustainable". What if we re-designed our communities so that we just plain did not need cars, at all. You might want to check out a remarkable book on this idea,, How to Build a Village, by Claude Lewenz,
ISBN 978-0-473-12188-4

Or this one...

Fascinating links on designing carfree cities...

Those who have read my posts may be surprised to see that I keep myself well versed in the possibility of car free cities.

I do not hide the fact that (a) I am a fan of the automobile. I think that it has brought more freedom, and through mobility, more wealth than it has ever cost us. (b) I do consider the automobile as one of the great art forms in history. It is much more than the sum of it's parts. Just as no one would describe a Picasso or a Van Gogh as oil based chemical spread on textile, no one with artistic sensibility would call a Ferrari or a Mercedes 300SL a transportation device. Automotive history has long been a love of mine, a song of the great mix of technology, art, finance, competition and co-operative action, all rolled together. The final product, the model of automobiles that have graced history are the writing in steel, penned by some of the great minds of our time.

BUT....I am also a fan of architecture and city planning. And just as Picasso's and Van Gogh's would become annoying if they were EVERYWHERE, so the automobile can wear out it's welcome, and exceed it's bounds if it is forced in great numbers into places it does not belong and does not even work well.

Right now, the automobile's greatest enemy is itself. It is simply strangling itself by virtue of it's own population, and becoming in many places, useless.

Planned well, designed well, and used in it's proper way, (and I know that I am greatly in the minority at TOD in saying this) the automobile will not have to be that great a burden on the planet. One could make the case that pets, lawns, personal beauty through cosmetics and apparel and other human "wants" will be as great or greater burden on the Earth as a well planned, elegantly designed transportion system that includes cars, used in their element and designed for truly efficient use.

City centers may not be one of the places cars are in their best element. If they are there, one must assume they should be very carefully planned and design to operate in that element.

Enough. Check out the websites, study architecture, study city planning. Once more, we will see that this is not an "either/or" issue, but a multiple option discussion.

Roger Conner Jr.

I've been going back and forth on this, but I think some gas/diesel engines are going to still be useful for many years to come, even after the Peak. I'm going on the assumption that some fuel will be around for a long time, but just at ever increasing prices. It's all guesswork and depends on how pessimistic you are that we'll be living in caves making tools out of obsidian.

For instance, I have a pole-mounted chain saw that is of supreme usefulness in clearing brush and trimming trees. I shudder to think of making do without it. But the engine's so small (a glorified weed-whacker, really) that I can probably cut for a day and a half of had work on a single gallon of gas. The amount of labor involved to do that same work manually is such that I think that I'll be grateful to have that tool even if gas goes to $50 per gallon. And I was watching one of those home building shows that was discussing log cabins, and I guess those guys just use straight vegetable oil in their saws as bar oil so as to avoid leaving residue on those new log kits which would result in problems when stain is applied to the logs. I think the chain saw's a reasonably safe bet. But just in case, I have a selection of hand saws as a backup.

Another one - I have a little John Deere tractor with a backhoe & box grader. The thing only holds 5 gallons of diesel and will do an incredible amount of work for that fuel. Again, even if fuel is $50 per gallon, a couple gallons will grade my driveway or level an area for a building or garden, excavate a root cellar, etc. The soil where I live is hardpan clay with mixed rock... it's incredibly difficult to hand dig (but not impossible, as evidenced by all of the hand-dug gold mines in the area) and even the backhoes have trouble in the fall before the first rains hit... so this is kinda important here.

Also, if I hire someone to do tractor work, I'm still going to pay that fuel price for them, as well as transport fees for getting the tractor to my place with a big old truck (already running about $100 when fuel is $3.35/gallon here). In fact, perhaps having the tractor can become a source of income when it becomes prohibitively expensive to have someone more competent than me haul their rig to the area :)

Getting parts may be an issue... who knows?

All of this points out to me the relative usefulness that one can get out of fuel: ignoring the disparity between the fuel types for the devises, a gallon of fuel at the future price of $50 could:

a) Make a huge impact on productivity in clearing brush (which will also fuel our wood cookstove); or

b) Fuel the tractor to grade my entire driveway (1/2 mile); or

c) Fuel the tractor to excavate a root cellar; or

d) Allow me to drive my Subaru about 28 miles (to town and back plus a little extra)

e) Allow me to drive my truck about 13 miles, getting me to town and a few miles back before running empty.

It seems very clear to me that the small engine usage of fuel is going to be a much wiser use of fuel, and that such small engines will probably continue to have value for some time into the future.

On the driving front, I think that at the hypothetical $50/gal. price, my few neighbors and I are going to have to pitch in to co-fund bi-weekly or monthly trips to town to fill up a single truck with non-perishable supplies. Even that may not be possible. I imagine there'll be a lot of walking and cart pushing (or maybe pulled with an animal) if it comes to that and technology has not come through in the 11th hour... I can live with that.


"A ship in harbor is safe... but that is not what ships are built for." - John A. Shedd

"Why is it every time I need to get somewhere, we get waylaid by jackassery?" - Dr. Thaddeus Venture

Dr. V
Thanks for the thoughts. I heard that the rotary sawblade was a quaker invention, and pretty much revolutionized the lumber industry.. (one stage in a series of technological revolutions in the mid 19th century, along with steam-powered sawmills and other powerful processing creations..

The thought that we'll be dropping all of our metals and machinery knowledge, even with the onset of some kind of Planetwide Dark Age seems completely unlikely to me, and is borne from some kind of desperate fear that our imaginations are capable of.. so that some folks entertain and develop this 'stone-age' fantasy with the helpful illustrations of countless movies and graphic novels.

Some places may get that bad. We still have US senators who can basically witness and endorse Slavery and Sextrades and continue to think that they are Moral and Modern.. (Abramoff/DeLay/ Northern Marianas so anything is possible. I just have no inclination to accept that all the inhabited corners of the planet would follow this path, when so much of our machinery makes the job of feeding and housing ourselves more efficient and effective than using bows and arrows. There will still be smelting, forging, casting and new machinery being developed by humanity, with or without crude oil being affordable to do it with.

I was just looking at a 70's booklet called '101 reasons to own a chainsaw' .. with the typical campy stylings of 'Log-furniture', Log-everything.. but the point was well-taken.

Here is a link to a You-tube from the other day about John Howe, a Mainer who has made a Solar Electric Tractor, a Sportscar and a Club Car (like a golf cart), which he uses to bring an electric chainsaw out to areas where he's felling trees for firewood.. where the cart batteries and panels are ultimately powering the Saw as well.

Bob Fiske

For instance, I have a pole-mounted chain saw that is of supreme usefulness in clearing brush and trimming trees. I shudder to think of making do without it.

Would it be less useful if it was electric?  It would be much simpler and probably more reliable as well.

I have a little John Deere tractor with a backhoe & box grader. The thing only holds 5 gallons of diesel and will do an incredible amount of work for that fuel.

How much work would it do if it was getting 75% of its fuel from a gasogene?  The same question goes for your truck (harder to convert a car).

perhaps having the tractor can become a source of income when it becomes prohibitively expensive to have someone more competent than me haul their rig to the area :)

Especially if you have little or no fuel cost (gasogene), though I'd lay in some spare tires if this concerns you.

I keep reading about people who make charcoal and burn the off-gas in engines.  I've had no chance to work with this myself (lack of facilities), but the potential seems big:  pack the reactor full of e.g. chipped brush, start it burning, then work until the system is down to charcoal.  Quench and save the charcoal (unlike raw biomass, it won't deteriorate and can be stored for winter fuel) and start over.  The University of Hawaii flash carbonizer seems like a good prototype for this.  You may be able to mount such a system on a tractor, but it may make even more sense to trailer-mount it with a generator and tow it behind an electric tractor or other vehicle like a Gorilla.

Uhhh…….. Let’s see if I can figure all this out: what started out as a pro and con discussion of “Off Grid” life morphed into something else, then back. OK, here’s what I got on my mind, nobody here ever said so in discussing the looming liquid fuel crisis, but OIL isn’t the problem in electricity generation, COAL is.
OIL, by and large, drives our transportation system, COAL drives electric generators, big time. Here in the Tennessee Valley Authority areas COAL provides about 60% of the total electric generation, followed by nuclear, 30%, and hydroelectric 10%, with a little odd generation from wind, solar and methane. Biggest advantage here in the US of A is we’ve got plenty of COAL. The biggest downside to COAL is it’s an incredibly dirty way to get energy, both mining and burning.
Whenever OIL prices go hiccup our transportation system gets a bit of a cramp. That’s a given, but electric prices remain relatively stable, because OIL is used only indirectly for electric generation, for transporting COAL to the generating plants.
Having said all that, I think maybe our focus should be more on the liquid fuels driven transportation side of the whole energy equation, it’s the socioeconomic crisis that’s facing us right now. Agreed, COAL is a large factor in driving global warming, a problem we’ll have to address sooner rather than later, but its OIL that‘s going to really get us in a bind. Now that we’re running out of cheap OIL, I think we really do need to start a major restructuring of our whole socioeconomic fabric, away from consumables and towards sustainables. Going back to the cave isn’t a viable alternative, neither is clinging to our automobile worship. Rebuilding our cities, towns and villages to insure a reasonable life for all is going to become increasingly necessary.

The best thing we could do right now is revise building codes so that more passive solar and smart design is used. Developers are driven by one thing: profit. Build huge, luxury homes as close together as possible. I have seen so many developments in which simple changes in the design, or even the orientation of the house could save a great deal of energy.

Derek Ryter, PG, Ph.D.
Professional Geologist