Energy Independence

The approach of the Fourth of July (Independence Day in the USA) always gets me enthusiastic about energy independence.

A lot of people in the permaculture/homestead/prepper crowd talk about wanting to go “off-grid”; how they can’t wait til the day they move out to the country and build their “off-grid sustainable homestead.” They get all starry-eyed and romantic with talk of some unspecified tomorrow.

But the time to boost your energy self-reliance is NOW, right where you’re living. You don’t need to be off the electric power grid to wean yourself off electricity. Right now, you can get to the point where you’re so free of dependence on electricity that a power outage barely fazes you; just becomes an opportunity for you to help and comfort your less-prepared neighbors.

And right now, you can start building your rainwater collection capacity and/or storing an emergency cache of tapwater, and reducing your water needs to a few gallons per person per day, so a water shutoff won’t cause you much trouble. (By the way, India’s sixth-largest city is experiencing acute water shortage as its four largest reservoirs have run dry. People are having to line up to get water from government tanks, and restaurants are shutting their doors.)

In my book, I mention money savings as one incentive to reduce our dependence on remote centralized infrastructure. But the cost savings pale in comparison with the real payoff, which is increased peace of mind.

Today’s photos show the cookstove I set up with scrounged concrete blocks. It’s inspired by the Winiarski Rocket Stove, a supremely wonderful invention of the Aprovecho Research Center. Rocket Stoves are highly efficient compact stoves that allow people to cook a meal with just a couple handfuls of deadwood twigs.

The super-efficient Rocket Stove design and cooking technique, perfected over years of research, has been a godsend in non-industrialized nations, reducing the time that people (usually women and children) must spend gathering fuelwood each day, and also reducing the incidence of respiratory problems from carbon smoke emission. But we in the rich industrial world would do well to learn how to build and use high-efficiency biomass stoves also. The incidence of hurricanes and other natural disasters that leave almost no part of the country untouched by power outages should provide sufficient incentive.

But another incentive is that it’s just plain fun and cool to be able to cook a meal with a small pile of deadwood twigs! I once gave a Rocket Stove demo at a homestead in Texas, and it provided hours of entertainment for the group of a couple dozen adults and their kids who had come to learn and practice. (Oh, and if you’re like me and you ever have trouble starting a fire, ask the kids for help — they’re great at it!)

I’m a little out of practice, but was able to use my makeshift version of a Rocket Stove today to heat up a kettle of water for coffee and dish-washing. Locally available deadwood in the form of palm-tree detritus proved to be an effective fuel.

Today online I found an old friend, Capturing Heat — Five Earth-Friendly Cooking Technologies and How To Build Them by the Aprovecho Research Center. I had a copy of this 36-page booklet years ago but donated it to some group or organization. Now the booklet is available as a PDF, which I just downloaded by visiting the above link and hope you will too. Learn how to build your own solar cooker, Winiarski Rocket Stove, haybox, and more.

Happy Independence Day, Week, Year, and Life!