Saturday, April 19, 2008

Zero Emission Mission

Today I am inspired to write my first blog entry for Terra Firma. My name is Jason and I am the site manager here at the Ecovillage Training Center. Normally I am just the guy behind the scenes who is fixing things. Among those things, I take care of the wiring and electrical of all the buildings and our Photovoltaic arrays. As part of last year's Solar Photovoltaic Installation Course held here, a small power station was setup using a hodgepodge (popular word for around here) of components we had available on site at the time. The result today was the ability to go into the woods, far away from the extension cord's reach and use an electric chain saw drawing over 800 watts to cut firewood for winter after next. Powered by the sun. No stinky smell, no loud noise, and no pull starting!

I also was able to transport the necessary components to power the saw, and the firewood, using stored energy from the main solar array that powers the Eco-Hostel. I took my golf cart. She is an 800 pound electric mule that can pull her own weight in a variety of ways. Charged up from the surplus solar energy coming from the 1.2 kilowatt array atop our Eco-Hostel, My carbon footprint is looking minimal so far for this otherwise petroleum dependent task. Not to mention I barely made tracks in the soft earth. The hodgepodge I mentioned is mostly recycled stuff. We reclaimed the batteries for this power station and for the golf cart from a corporation that chose to dump them as they switched to internal combustion generators. The golf cart was also rejected as junk by the same unnamed cell phone tower management company. I put two and two together and made a working electric truck. All available torque to pull almost one-half ton at zero rpm. It has pulled its share around here in the last year!

To quickly name a few other components in the setup: A 1500 watt inverter, a DC mulitmeter reading the bank's votage potential, and a “kill a watt” meter reading watts of energy being transformed from potential lead-acid ions to real cutting power on the ol' oak tree.

Alas, my carbon footprint crumbles as I realize the goal of today's mission: Firewood. Or is it so bad? Even though it is nowhere near zero emissions, firewood is more renewable than propane, natural gas, fuel oil, as well as coal and nuclear electricity. The big plus for us here in the Tennessee high forest of the Cumberland Plateau is it is local, and abundant. With the right stove design in an energy efficient, naturally built home, Burning good quality dried hardwoods can be a radiant and inexpensive way to heat your home. If you don't mind a few ashes. A word of caution while we are on the subject. Chimneys and stove pipe installation is not for the amatuer DIY homeowner. I safely recommend professional assistance when converting any indoor space to containing an alive portion of one of the elements we must respect: Fire!

My goal was not completed today as a result of another more earthly elemental that demanded my respect-- deer ticks by the hundreds hanging out in those upper branches I was sawing. Run away!! After over an hour and about seven feet of box tape, I sequestered the little blood suckers, leaving me no time left except to put away the heavy battery setup my mule toted into the forest. All's well that ends well, except it hasn't ended yet! Check back again for more of my energy related ramblings.


  1. Hi Jason,
    I like your way to convert useless to some things into very useful and eco-friendly ones to others...
    I was wondering how you have retained the functionality of old batteries that you are mentioning here?
    Have they ever run out on you?
    Thank you

  2. Sasha,
    Interesting question, I am researching on how to revive old sulfated batteries instead having them melted down and recycled, but as it turns out, these batteries I mention in the blog were in like new condition -- they were for backup power on standby. They have not failed me yet in the golf cart, but I have had problems with some that were individually charged-- overcharged. Sealed batteries like these cannot have more water added if they steam off electrolyte, after that they are not as good anymore.
    Thanks for reading,