Silver Bullets

30 05 2012

I had an experience on the weekend that got me thinking about so called silver bullets. I went to a mate’s place on Sunday where he held a “green smoothie” workshop run by a couple of Permaculture Gympie oldies in their 70’s (I’m guessing – and maybe I shouldn’t be calling them oldies now I’ve turned 60 myself!). It was all very interesting, and I have no doubt that there are definitely health benefits from consuming such food, but I was a bit gobsmacked by the fact they eat nothing else, and to be brutally honest, they didn’t look like picture perfect examples of great health to me….

Pork, Apple Cider, Fennel, Apple casserole in the AGA. All home grown (except the apples). It was deeeelicious!

I reckon we eat well. We consume little shop bought food, and if we do, we go out of our way to make sure it’s organic and/or as local as possible. We’ve reduced our meat consumption quite a bit, and we absolutely avoid buying supermarket meat which is raised in appalling conditions and is usually full of hormones and antibiotics and fed many other unmentionables. Because we eat a wide variety of food, we tend to eat everything in moderation, and not concentrate on any “silver bullets”.  Or lead ones for that matter!  I actually tried one of their smoothies at lunch time, so I’m not against the idea.

I think we are meant to have a varied diet, which includes some meat, otherwise we would not have canine teeth. These people had a list of “don’t eat” that would make my life miserable….. no coffee, no dairy, no bread, no alcohol, I’m sure there was more…. Oh yeah, sugar.  I have to say, most people consume way too much sugar, but a wee bit now and again won’t kill you….  Give me a break, we only live once, and I’m making the most of what I can eat and drink. I’m dying with a smile on my face…! Even if it kills me.

I came across another “silver bullet” when we visited Zaytuna.  I’m loathe to “have a go” at Geoff Lawton, I respect him and his actions immensely, but he strangely really had it in for “the grid”, going as far as calling it “evil”…  Geoff’s “silver bullet” is to not connect to the grid, but instead run stand alone solar power systems which, if you don’t know what that means, entails storing solar energy in large battery banks to use at night and on cloudy days.  All of Zaytuna’s power comes this way, even though the grid runs right past the door.

Now obviously, if you’re miles from anywhere and it’s going to cost an arm and a leg to connect to the grid, that’s precisely what you do.  Our hybrid system does both in case of grid failure, and we appreciate having the battery backup, but the grid is not evil.

There’s an old saying which I’m sure Bill Mollison first came up with:  “The problem is the solution”.  Yes, the grid as we know it generates gazillions of tons of greenhouse gases (I will NOT enter into discussions over whether Climate Change is caused by humans or not), but only because of what we connect to it.  If we continue hooking up dirty coal fired power stations and nukes that cause serious problems whenever anything goes wrong to it, then yes we are  shitting in our own collective nests.  Connecting arrays of old fridges, air conditioners, and gigantic plasma screens to the grid is obviously stupid.  Many people do this unfortunately…..  Evil?  I’ll let you decide.  What I think is needed is loads of education.  Switching to toxic batteries so that we can continue on our merry consumptive ways is not on.  In any case, there are not enough resources on the planet for all of us to do this, we have to learn new tricks.

At least, to their credit, Zaytuna runs on the smell of an oily rag.  Most houses in Australia could not cope with running on “just” 13 kWh/day.  That Geoff and his merry band of followers can run a whole farm with around fifty people on those numbers is impressive.  The average around here is 30, for just one house!  Remember, we use just 2.5 (confirmed yet again in the bill that arrived today, nearly $260 in credit…)

When I told Geoff we generated so much surplus solar power our neighbours unwittingly used it to run their houses in daylight hours, he looked somewhat surprised.  I don’t think any of this had crossed his mind.  The grid need not be evil, it simply needs to be used intelligently.

What must now occur is for the populace to be educated in understanding that they can do way more with way less, that it won’t kill them, and that as a matter of fact…. they have little choice.  There are no silver bullets.




21 responses

30 05 2012
Don Smith

Hi Mike

We have grid connected solar power at present and are saving to eventually go off grid, (our last second last umbilical to the matrix). Hopefully by the time we have the money to change, battery storage will be more sustainable than it is now.

The grid as it is setup has many problems, not the least being the centralised power generation and thus its vulnerability. However there is another problem and that’s the massive transmission losses incurred by the current layout. By going off grid we will not be contributing to that wastage. Can you comment on this.

On another matter. You mentioned that you didn’t grow the apples in your casserole. Have you looked at subtropical apples? We grow them, but live a couple of hundred K’s further south of you. Haven’t found a variety that matches those grown in Tasie for table fruit but they are good for cooking.

30 05 2012

Hi Don,

To me, it makes no sense to “leave the grid”…. especially when you can make money off it. The grid is basically your battery at the moment. By connecting your solar array to it, you contribute to its decentralisation, precisely what you fault it for. I’m connected to the grid for that reason. I firmly believe the entire grid should be decentralised and modernised (as in smart grid), it would make it a lot more efficient

The current losses are a problem, but the point is the infrastructure is already in place, all the embodied energy has been spent, and to not use it now would be a great waste of capital and energy… By leaving the grid, you will instead be contributing to other wastage, because once your batteries are full on a bright sunny day, or a series of them, all that energy will be going to waste. Like I said, there are no silver bullets!

Batteries may become “less unsustainable” in the future, but in the end all batteries die and turn into waste. The holy grail, as far as I’m concerned is a battery that can be cycled millions of time. Not holding my breath on that one.

Re apples, yes I have tried subtropical apples, with no success, though I’ve since been told I should have had more than one tree. The problem we have here is that we may be in the sub-tropics, but it can get colder than Tasmania in winter, and that makes growing all sorts of things tricky, not just apples. There are very few perennials I can think of that can survive temperature ranges of below zero to forty plus…..

31 05 2012

At present I am charged about $400 a year just for the privilege of being connected to the grid. That’s before I use 1Kwh of power. By the time I have enough money to go off grid the solar bonus scheme will finish and I will be paid very little for the power I generate. At present I generate 7.6Kwh a day averaged over the last 2 ½ years while using less than 5Kwh per day myself. I know this is about twice what you use but I am working on it. Until I change over I welcome the money I earn and am happy to provide extra to the grid to alleviate transmission losses.

31 05 2012

How can they justify charging you $400 a yr for connection? I think it’s steep enough we have to pay $96, but that’s ridiculous…. where do you live?

31 05 2012

Hi Mike (have just started reading your blog),

Agree with everything you say on both counts. I like my food too much to try living on the smell of an oily rag. Like you I grow as much as I can and always try to source pasture fed meat.

I can’t believe people are using 30kWh/day. I average 9kWh/day over a year and I don’t even have solar panels!

Bev (from ROEOZ)

31 05 2012

Hi Bev…… yes it is amazing, but, and I hope you’re sitting down, when I was selling PVs in 2010, I analysed people’s power bills to establish how much solar they would need, and I actually came across one household that consumed 100+ kWh/day!! Very very depressing….. My niece and her husband (who makes six figures) use 76!

1 07 2012
Choose the Future!

Hi Mike,… Just curious; when you say you “analised people’s power bills” did you mean analised or analysed? I guess you could have analised them in the psychological context, or are you telling where you put them after analysing them?

1 07 2012

Ooops…… a typo! Or as you point out, a Freudian slip?

31 05 2012
Darren (Green Change)

I’m with you – if you have the grid available, it makes sense to use it. That said, I have no problem with people who choose not to connect because of their own philosophical beliefs. They do need to remember, though, that they’re still dependent on the industrial supply system because they aren’t capable of producing replacement batteries themselves.

I’ve tried to help people reduce their huge power bills, but the conversation typically goes something like this:

“Do you use a clothes dryer?”

“Oh yes, all the time!”

“Try using the clothes line instead.”

“Oh, I can’t do that. My husband likes warm fluffy towels, and birds will poo on the clothes if they’re outside.”

“Do you run air conditioning? You could try turning it off, or even just set the temperature a bit higher.”

“Oh, we can’t do that. You have to be comfortable in your home.”

That’s usually as far as I get before walking away. If people aren’t even willing to pick the low-hanging fruit, there’s no helping them!

1 06 2012

Hi Mike
I live on the mid north coast of NSW. The actual cost for access is $391.2 pa. The supply of replacement batteries that Darren mentioned opens up a whole new subject i.e. what level of technology will we be able to maintain when the system collapses. I only count on 20 years for my PV system but have generally obtained old technology to carry on in other areas after then. Have even heard of anyone setting up an absorption type fridge run off oil filled solar hot water collectors of which I have a few very efficient panels.

4 06 2012
Greg Bell

Doesn’t really seem like Geoff is employing a “silver bullet” with battery backup any more than you are with yours. He’s wanting to opt out of a polluting system, you’re wanting to ensure power in the event of a blackout.

Both seem like solutions to your individual desires, not ‘silver bullets’.

4 06 2012

Geoff isn’t using his batteries as backup, he’s not connected to the grid at all, so if there is a blackout he isn’t affected. But his batteries work a lot harder than ours, and they won’t last as long either as they are being regularly cycled, totally unlike ours which only get discharged when the grid fails…

5 06 2012
Greg Bell

The batteries in an off-grid system are indeed a backup – for when the sun doesn’t shine (ie. at night or on cloudy days). You can operate an off-grid system without them, thus they are “backup”.

All parts of lead acid batteries are recyclable and not particularly “toxic”. Plastic, lead in solid form, and sulphuric acid. None of those are a big deal if you’re not eating them or burying them next to your veggie garden. Just keep the battery intact during its transit to the recycler after its lifetime.

It’s not like we’re talking about mercury making it into the food supply (ie. coal-fired plants).

5 06 2012

Hi Greg,

Actually, you can’t “operate an off-grid system without them”, because the output voltage of a PV array varies constantly with the position of the sun, time of day/season, and level of cloudiness. A voltage regulator feeds the current into a battery bank to act as a buffer which absorbs all the voltage irregularities, then the energy stored in the batteries is drawn at a nominal voltage set at design time by an inverter designed to match that nominal battery voltage.

My 12V amorphous panels are capable of over 24V in peak conditions. Feed that into a 12V stand alone inverter, and you’ll kill it in no time. Ditto if you are running DC lights and/or appliances…. Grid tied inverters are totally different animals, designed to accept variable voltages measured in the hundreds…..

5 06 2012
Greg Bell

Isn’t it the charge controller/voltage regulator that prevents the 24V from your panels from frying your inverter?

6 06 2012

I’ve NEVER seen panels connected directly to a non grid tied inverter. As far as I know, it can’t be done….

6 06 2012
Greg Bell

Right. It’s the charge controller/voltage regulator that’s essential.

16 06 2012

Mike, Just read your latest blog.

Regarding the Green Smoothies that are becoming so popular, I read recently that some people have to be very careful about eating high levels of dark green leafy vegetables because they can cause blood clotting.

This is advantageous in some instances, but can kill you under other circumstances. Eating your greens is counter-productive if you need to be on medication like warfarin, for example.

Although I don’t have the mechanical devices that appear to be needed to make green smoothies (i.e. no blender, juicer or food processor), I may try them one day, but I certainly wouldn’t be living on them.

What recipe did you use? Are they as good as people say?

16 06 2012

Hi Judith……

No I didn’t use a recipe, I just threw some stuff from the garden into my old blender. Tasted OK, but I haven’t had another since. I can’t see the point myself, if you’re eating your greens, why blend them? I think people who live on them just don’t like cooking, unlike me who is fussy about what I put in my gob! One comment I remember the lady presenter came up with when she threw unpeeled garlic in the blender was she couldn’t be bothered spending hours peeling the cloves…… to which I said she should learn to do it properly, it only takes seconds! I think that basically she can’t cook, or can’t be bothered. We can’t all be Masterchefs, hey….!!

17 06 2012
Greg Bell

I think one of the ideas is that conventionally grown greens (ie. dead soil, chemically fed) are devoid of minerals. Weeds are excellent mineral accumulators. So you are getting something from them that you’re not getting other ways. Plus, not cooking them means you’re getting different good-for-you chemicals.

Since they don’t usually taste very good, if you blend them up you can add a banana as a last step and make the whole thing palatable.

Just echoing what I’ve heard. I eat them occasionally, but I’m still bald and middle-aged, so, your mileage may vary 🙂

20 08 2012

Hello Mike and thanks for the opportunity to think (as .to following the sheep). Must try the icecream – it sounds great, although I’ll do the partly freeze and rebeat (not wanting or having an icecream maker). Speaking of thinking, when you commented that we “are meant to have a varied diet, which includes some meat, otherwise we would not have canine teeth” .I always wonder about this ‘canine teeth’ theory. Surely if, for centuries, people’s habits changed from vegetable plant eating to meat eating, their teeth would in fact change over time ? (i.e. canines develop) But that doesn’t make meat eating necessarily what we should be doing – the canines are just an end produce of lifestyle. We hear of Asian people growing taller once they take on a more Westernised diet (usually it points to meat eating). Maybe because of more protein in their diet rather than more meat for instance. Studies and media facts (theories) can always be more biased depending on who’s providing the dollars for the studies, or who has more to gain if you get what I mean. Hear it enough times and it becomes fact and not theory.

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