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.