In May 2011, after four years of life on McNutt's Island, we moved to Montreal. This blog remains, though, as a (sort of) daily record of our time on the island, and a winding path for anyone who would like to meander about among its magical places. For additional perspectives and insights I recommend Greg's book, Island Year: Finding Nova Scotia (2010), and my Bowl of Light (2012). I'll continue to post once in a while. If you do want to read this blog, one option would be to begin at the beginning of it (which is, as we all know, in blog-world, at the end), and read forward, concluding with the most recent entry. It's a journal, really, so it does makes more sense if you read it that way. But, you know, read it any way you like.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

the mercy of the wind

Our high-tech wind turbine and the solar tracker work together, and that's good. Because some days we have wind and no sun, and other days we have sun and no wind. On really glorious days we have both. That's when we turn on all sorts of energy-sucking rigs: the washing machine, the vacuum cleaner, the crock pot, the little hot water heater. We have a new dehydrator, for drying apples. But we can only use it on sunny and windy days, when our energy production is high. And we have a second freezer now, for freezing all that fresh apple cider -- about fifty gallons. It's an old freezer and even though it works well it adds to our energy load.

If we have a string of cloudy and windless days, the batteries that store all the energy lose their charge. Down, down, down they slide, while we turn off lights and computers. We do have a back-up for times when the batteries get too low: a ten thousand watt propane generator sits on a concrete pad behind the battery shed. The generator goes on automatically when the system calls for it. We don't let it run for very long though, since it uses up propane. We hear its motor kick on, even in the middle of the night, and one of us goes out to the shed and re-sets everything. By then the generator has kicked up the charge in the batteries at least enough to keep them going for a while.

A string of six propane tanks, strung together by copper gas lines, sits in the former outhouse, a shed next to the shed that houses the batteries and all the fancy blinking lights for the whole business. There's no measuring device for the propane tanks, an odd gap in all this technology. The only way you can tell how much propane is left in those tanks is to look for a line of condensation along the outside of the tanks. It should tell you where the level of your propane is. But you need to be looking for that condensation on a wet day. Because on a dry day you can't see it.

Yesterday we ran out of propane. But that was okay because Greg had an extra tank, which he attached to the end of the string of tanks, thus giving us a little lee-way until he could go into town to get the tanks re-filled. But then the stove ran out of propane too. The stove has been very much in use for blanching beans and chard etc, and canning grape jam and apple sauce etc. So then Greg took the one full tank back off the string of tanks in the shed and replaced the empty tank at the stove. So now, no propane back up for the generator until Saturday, when he can go into town. But he can certainly carry on with the apple tarts and apple jelly and apple chutney.

There is no sun expected here until Sunday, and today is Wednesday. According to the weather reports it'll be mostly rain between now and then. If the charge on the batteries goes too low we'll just watch everything go off. Then there will be no running water or flushing toilet or freezer keeping everything from the garden frozen or computers bringing us the world at our fingertips or lights. For the next few days we are living at the mercy of the wind.

These are hardly dire conditions, though. After all, we do have a back-up back-up system: an outhouse, and oil lamps, and an old well we can drop a bucket into, and little rainy-day projects that don't require electricity, like re-gluing broken plates and organizing closets. We do have books.


Karen said...

SOunds look good weather for curling up with hot mulled cider and a good book!

Marilyn said...

I so enjoy your blog. We have read Greg's book and found it delightful.
My husband worked in the propane industry for more than thirty years. He says that on any day,wet or dry,you can find the condensation line on the tank by pouring warm water down over it. It works best if the generator is running ( it's using propane which is cooling the tank). Hope this helps!

Hazel said...

Well, it's Saturday. I hope you made it through your 'energy crunch' week and that it's both sunny and windy today.

Anne Yarbrough said...

Marilyn, thanks for the tip! And the good words...

Terry J. Deveau said...

> It's an old freezer and even though it works well it adds to our energy load.

You guys probably know this, but a "freezer" is really a heater. Folks that have energy "to burn" locate their freezers in the basement or somewhere like that where all the heat that they generate just goes to waste. If you are pinching energy pennies, one trick is to locate the freezers where the warm air convecting off the condenser coils in the back can actually contribute heat to a space that you want to be heated, thus saving on another energy source that you would be using for that heating.