Using technology for (total) self-sufficiency
I like how the final chapter of the crash course is open ended. It suggests action, but what kind of action is up to each individual and for discussion.
I think it’s quite possible that there is a variety of ways in which one can be prepared and insulated against perhaps even the worst of crisis and the style would depend on personal inclinations and skills. This is interesting because a crisis of the magnitude of which we are talking about here tends to suggest no room for cherry picking, yet I think we do have some wiggle room. I think this is a reflection of the age we are living in. Even as the civilization is built on such incredibly shaky grounds a lot of what has been built is still the outcome of some genuine value, many true inventions built with true passion and true effort. This cannot be undone so easily.
As the best example of this the internet allows us to plot preparedness before the worst happens. We have quick access to information and other people as well as the goods and services provided internationally.
Anyway, to cut to the chase.. I think that whatever happens you’re gonna survive and possibly even be quite well off if you have the basics covered with nearly zero maintenance, the basics being food, water, shelter and energy. If you can produce all of this on your own using what’s always available and renewable you’re practically insulated. Even if you lose your job and have 0 income per month you still don’t have to worry about not having anything to eat, a place to sleep and hell.. even ways to entertain yourself. This gives you precious time to regroup and plot your future success.
This couldn’t be possible in the Great Depression, at least not to this extent to which it is possible today.
Concretely this is what I’m talking about and I wonder what your opinions are. All of this requires a fairly significant initial investment, but after that the maintenance price falls to nearly zero. There are two ways of going about it: non-rural and rural lifestyle:
What you need is some land.
House: If you don’t have a house you can build one with very little cost. Check out Open Source Ecology for information. You can build your own machines that you can use to create bricks and mortar out of the very land on which you stand on. No need to buy bricks. Similar solutions seem to exist for other necessary materials. Building a house can be quite cheap.
Food: If you have a sufficient amount of land (apparently 1 acre is enough to feed 10 people so you may need significantly less) you can go into permaculture which is not classical agriculture and requires far less effort. Alone or combined with animal farming (I suppose it depends on preferences) it could fill all your basic food needs. From what I’ve seen you don’t have to work more than one day a week to sustain this. The beautiful thing about permaculture is that it’s sort of a “design and let go” approach to food production. Come up with the right initial design and let the nature do its work for you by itself creating its own productive ecosystem. So you no longer NEED to buy any more food to survive.
Electricity: Solar panels. Enough said. 🙂 Well, it’s an investment, but from what I’ve seen with enough panels you can cover all your domestic energy needs. Nope, in 21st century even the greatest depression still doesn’t mean you can’t have your computer on and watch movies or even play games in your free time. Am I missing something? There are other solutions of course, but solar seems to be the most practical and most advancing. Even heating could be accomplished this way with enough panels I suppose, at least if combined with efficient house design (and guys at Open Source Ecology have something to say on that).
Driving around: Get an electric car and charge it from your solar powered home. I really hope electric car industry booms. Also have a bike handy as an alternative. You don’t have to drive everywhere.
Water: There are surprisingly sophisticated systems in this area. You can collect and filter rain water, but you can even produce some of it out of thin air with a product like Ecoloblue Atmospheric Water Generator.
Well, what else do you need. You’re fed. You’re not thirsty. You have electricity for a fairly modern home life style. You have means of transportation and after the initial investment it’s all practically free. Even if there may be some maintenance costs (changing filters for water, broken electrical components, seeds etc.) compare that to having to pay an electric bill, water bill, all food you eat, gas and so on. You could well cover these basic maintenance costs by just selling a little bit of surplus of food.
This means you can live quite alright without even having a job. But if you do have a job or a business you get to keep most of it for future proof investments.
The things that change in the non-rural version of this (basically in the city where a lot of people find themselves stuck in) is that instead of building a house you have to buy a flat (more expensive obviously, but still just an initial investment). Alternatively I guess you can rent, but then you have to find a fairly flexible renting deal and make sure your electricity generation and food production equipment is fairly portable. What also changes is that you obviously can’t engage in permaculture for food production. Well here’s how it looks like:
Food: Turn a room of your apartment into a sort of a hydroponics area and populate it with a number of these awesome devices: AeroGarden. They can grow food producing plants with simulated sunlight and computerized water supply. I guess you’d have to adjust your diet to be more vegetarian in this case. 🙂 Alternatively you could have a permaculture garden and even some animals (chicken?) somewhere outside of the city which you tend to on a weekly basis and get the food supplies from. One method could complement the other.
Electricity: Again, solar panels, but this time it’s more complicated. You’d probably have to have an apartment with at least a balcony which is on the sunny side and can support mounting of solar panels. If you can pull this off, you don’t have to take the electricity from the grid.
Driving around: Electric cars again, but it’s more complicated to charge them because it’s likely your apartment’s wall socket wont be accessible to charge it. Perhaps however you could have an energy storage device (a battery) that you can charge and then charge the car from it or maybe the car’s battery could be portable (depends on the electric car type I suppose).
Water: Collecting rain water and purifying it might be doable if you have a large enough balcony I suppose and could put some barrels on it.. I’m not sure. Otherwise you’re left with ecoloblue machines.
So all in all, city version of this is slimmer and a little more complicated, but it’s not impossible and could still make you far more resilient to crisis than if you simply stuck with the grid and conventional options. I personally wish I could have the city option, but at this point I don’t yet have a concrete plan.
Let me know what you think. If some of these ideas are a little naive or I’m missing something feel free to say. I’m posting this precisely because I’m eager to see what others think. Also, do you agree that getting through even the worst kind of crisis that might be coming could be hugely softened by using these incredible technologies today available to the extent to which lifestyle changes wouldn’t even be as dramatic as falling back to drudgery for every bit of food and water?
Well there’s a good first post.
Welcome to the fire. Pull up a stump and pour yourself a cup.
You’ll find just about every topic you’ve presented in the archives. You’ll fit right in.
Sorry to bring a slightly old thread to life, but when I read this and noone else had commented on this I felt that I had to. I do find quite a few things a bit unrealistic that is said in the first post. In order to keep this post from getting extremely long I will only comment on the solar panels for electricity.
Typical electric usage of a normal household (from average numbers in my country or yearly usage):
5.000kWh household electicity
20.000kWh electricity for heating (assuming heating is done with smart system like air-air heating pump giving about 5 times electricity to heat output)
Electric car 2kWh/10km. Little usage equals 15000km/year giving 3.000kWh electricity.
Total electricity need= 28.000kWh/year.
One watt of solar panel gives ca 1kWh/year.
That is, to handle the electricity supply on average we need 28.000 W of solar panels.
The cost today is about 385 SEK/W (~53.47 USD/W). Cost for 28.000W of solar panels = 10.780.000 SEK (10.78 MSEK) = 1.497.222 USD (roughtly 1.5 million USD).
Note that we are just talking about the solar panels themselves, not any of the equipment around them, like regulators, batteries etc. Also I just neglected the problem of storing energy over seasons, and that is something batteries don't do well.
Each 100W takes about 0.8m^2 of surface. A normal roof (the sunny side) of a normal building is less than 100m^2. That means we can at best fit 10.000 W of solar panels if we fill the entire roof. That is still only about 1/3 of the solar panels we need.
So, clearly supplying electricity from solar panels today is impossible because:
1. Economically not feasable.
2. Way to large are to fit them (even more of an issue if you live in an appartment and put the on the balcony.)
3. Storing energy for long time does not have a techincal solution that works well today.
So, lets flip coin on this and try to look on the positive side:
For the heating we can use more creative solutions, and burn quite a lot of wood (or other burnable things) during the winter. Also lets have a really well insulated (uses less heat). Lets say we cut electricity for heating to only 1/10th, that is 2.000kWh/year.
We may also have to reduce our travels to 10000km/year (2.000kWh/year).
Also we learn to use less household electricity, so lets reduce that to 4.000kWh/year (quite low, but achievable).
In total we end up with a need for just 8.000kWh/year, just 28.6% of what we had before. Now we might just manage to fit enough solar panels if we fill the entire sunny side of the roof. So, by really stretching it hard we might be able to coupe with item 2 on the list. We also have come quite a long way on item 1. We are now just below 0.5 Million USD for the solar panel investment.
So, my point is that it is far from easy to disconnect from the grid today. If you live in an appartment it is even more difficult, and probably not much of a point in doing so either. If the electric grid is not working properly you should consider how well water and sewage system will work. You will we somewhat sensitive to short term electric outputs, but to solve that you would just need a few car batteries and a good charger to charge them when the grid is working. This will be a cheap, simple and small solution.
There is a integrated solution to many issues exposed here: it’s called a earthship.
Here some text from the website:
Radically sustainable home made of recycled materials.
Earthships come with all of their own utilities made on site with no utilitiy bills.
An earthship uses little to no fossil fuels to provide for modern amenities. We are simply adapting our needs to the already existing activities of the planet.
Earthships catch water from the sky (rain & snow melt) and uses it four times.
Earthships produce their own electricity with a prepackaged photovoltaic / wind power system. This energy is stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets.
Earthships contain, use and reuse all household sewage (greywater and blackwater) in indoor and outdoor treatment cells. Toilets flush with treated greywater.
Earthships maintain comfortable temperatures in any climate.
An environment in which plants are not only asthetic and contributing to the heath of our environment, but are also highly functional and play a direct role in the maintenance of the home.
Thats resilience !
Take a look
We are living a rural lifestyle and I can’t believe how much time I researching how we are going to be self-suffcient in the future. That said, we learned about peak oil and started planning in 2005 and we have only covered the tip of the ice berg when it comes to being self-sufficent.
I have gardened for over 30 years and can say with confidence – growing nearly all my own food is a different ball game than having a hobby garden for a few fresh veggies over summer. After 4 years of going at it – we are at least providing 80% of our fruit and veggies and this is the first year I got my small production on chickens going – enough to give us all the chicken we want. We have dairy goats and they produce about 30% of our dairy. Not much, but better than nothing.
As of late, I have made some extreme changes in our game-plan A. We used to want to grow sugar beets for ethanol and we will most likely grow some. But I recently heard about propane and how flex-fuel it can be in that methane is a replacement for propane or natural gas.
So, we are planning on changing our electrical system to a propane powered system. This is going to cut our electric bill (which the rates have tripled since we moved here) down to around $30/month. It will also allow us to use more power for the farm needs….water pumping, garden watering, and the like. The only thing around here that doesn’t need water is our no mowing grasses – everything else is so bone dry now!
If porpone becomes too high a fuel cost, we can make methane from both human and animal waste before it goes to the garden composter. Though methane and propane are interchangable, its still not as dense an energy as gas.
IWe can do this with powering a truck too. For people who are connected to natural gas lines, they only need to plug into a special gas unit and re-fuel the vehicle. And again, if the fuel becomes too high, then methane is an option.
We have entirely re-thought about how we are doing our gardens too. The old way of clearing and planting, then weed, weed and weed until harvest is not only time consuming, its also impossible to do when the weather doesn’t coopeerate. Today its like 100 degrees out there and the weeds are taking off …again.
This summer, we are going to try to make narrow chicken tractors and put some hens in there to go between the row crops and clean up weeds before the weeds over take the crops. The problem with that is the design is only 18 inches wide and 12 foot long so they might end up tipping over.
The tomatoes, green peppers, melons, cantaloupe, pumpkins and cold crops alll need to on plastic or some way to not spend too much time weeding. I do small bio-intensive spring lettuces, spinach and greens but I also plan on eventually doing them all in plastic. Finally, we planted no mowing grasses near the house and buildings and I want to expand the plantings of no mow grass to the garden and wooded pathes. That reduces the mowing task and energy use down to 2 times a year, verses the mowing every week.
The plans for the rain collection system haven’t changed….much. Collecting rain water hasn’t changed, but last winter I monitored the temperature in our old root cellarand I’ve decided to store the water there and use it as a mini-geo-thermal system to store cold water there until July for less home cooling costs and if the water is warmed by August, it might add some warmth into the winter. Today, the outside temps are over 90 degrees and the root cellar is 67 so it might happen sooner than later….
Have a Happy 4th Every one!
Great post, EGP! It’s interesting to hear feedback from people like you, who have been seriously working towards a sustainable lifestyle for a long period of time. Keep it coming!