« How Circular is the Circular Economy? | Main | Heat your House with a Mechanical Windmill »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Rob Storms


Thought provoking as always ! Thanks! Rob in Rochester, NY

Hilton Dier


In the off grid solar business we have a rule of thumb that if a system gets 90% of its energy form solar and 10% from a generator it will cost "X". 100% solar will cost 2X, at least.

Part of the solution is building in the possibility of interruptions in non-vital situations. If a household is at work from 9 AM to 5 PM, then a planned one hour outage from 2-3 PM to reduce peak load wouldn't be noticed. Likewise allowing the air conditioning in a number of large buildings to raise their set points by 2-3 degrees mid-afternoon for an hour. There are all sorts of optional uses that can be timed to go on and off depending on supply.

We can also store the products of electricity rather than electricity itself. A plastic tank to store 100 gallons of water is far cheaper and longer lasting than the batteries necessary to pump 100 gallons out of a well.

Better solar/thermal/lighting design of houses makes them less dependent upon constant energy flows. It won't take high tech solutions, just good design and execution.



I think you need to take a look at our country Lebanon. We have some of the worst electric service on earth. Energy security (electricity supplied by the government) is at 50% in most of the country. During the rest of the time private generator owners sell electricity to people.

Most people have a 5 Amperes limit on consumption, so you can't turn the AC, fridge, and water heater at the same time unless you pay more for a 10 Amperes limit. The government is making private generator owners install meters but still they have much higher rates that the electricity supplied by the government.

Most people want 24/7 electricity but still miss the advantages of not having so. I remember when I was younger (in the 1990s early 2000s) these private generators were not common so we had to live with 12 hours of electricity per day. Sure it meant missing a lot of TV shows and we were bored much of the time but it helped me develop my drawing skills and play outside. So I'm grateful for that. We still wait in our village house for the government electricity to come so that we mow the lawn, pump water to our water tank, vacuum clean the house, use the microwave, or iron our clothes. We have a private generator subscription but the rates are too high so we avoid high electricity consumption.

And it's interesting to see how much our people are aware of the energy consumption of appliances since in reality they can't turn on everything at the same time. In the past you had to unplug the AC so you can use the microwave and you have to check if someone else is using energy intensive appliances.


Stanley Gu


I've recently been reading about how many elderly and chronically ill Puerto Ricans have struggled or even died after Hurricane Maria last year. The death toll was in part because the hurricane knocked out the power grid for weeks or even months in some areas, and many patients rely on electrical equipment like oxygen tanks, refrigerators for insulin, and dialysis machines. Many people also use adjustable beds to avoid developing ulcers.

If we could operate more medical equipment without grid electricity, how many lives would have been saved? Perhaps some of this equipment could be replaced with non-electric alternatives, or be made less energy intensive (like the refrigerators) and hooked up to solar panels and batteries.

Mario Stoltz


Thanks a lot for this excellent article, great to get people starting to think.

A few years ago, there was a winter power outage that lasted more than a few days in one smaller area of Germany, because a storm had taken down a high-voltage power line, and it was not so easy to repair.

I remember TV reports of some people who were trapped in their dark house because all their windows had electrical blinds without a mechanical backup and the outage had occurred at night. There was simply no way for them to even use daylight. Serves as a nice reminder how a bit more planning could help being prepared for changes.

Then, awareness of the things that make our lives easy and comfortable is a big thing. You can actually expand this from energy-awareness to other topics: awareness how easy and relaxed 70 years of peace has made life in most of central Europe. Awareness of the benefits of modern medicine. Sometimes I try to talk about these things to my children (11 and 14), and they sort of understand, but then I see in their eyes that it is just very abstract to them.

Thank you so much for running Low Tech Magazine, Kris. It really means a lot to me that you do this work.



Good thoughts with valuable links, thank you!

However, I’m having a problem with your using the term “renewable power” because it is a contradiction, a management - speak, used to blind the populace.
Renewable power means business, that’s it.

Renewable power, as they use it, suggest we can waste it AND bring it back then. Completely wrong, not only in thermodynamics!
Yes, we can waste it - bring it down to lower forms of energy (in the very end thermal energy) - but we are not able in any way to renew it / bring it back.

We always use / waste power that comes or came from the sun.
Doing so we remove / steal power from other systems on earth without acknowledging that this power is missing there and that it will have consequences.

The most obvious example is solar: You may argue that there is enough area we have already taken from nature so let’s reuse now it for panels. That’s OK but it only veils the fact that we already have stolen a lot of surface and are going to change the climate in doing so.

Hydro power is similar, we (ab)use nature to provide us with power, but we are not able to renew hydro power.

Wind energy is worse because it is obvious (but not to many people) that slowing down the wind in large scale will change the (micro) climate (besides of other negative effects for birds, insects and the whole symphony of life which we still do not understand).

But the biggest issue with this management speak is the illusion of being the master of the universe, only we don’t have the slightest clue of the whole picture.
Each and every mayfly is more valuable to nature than we are.

Mike Ruff


Decentralization is the real key to the problem.

Decentralize power production--the more the better.

This reduces the impact of problems, and brings folks closer to the source, making them more aware of the inputs and costs, which will cause them to make more informed choices regarding their usage, and not create the blind rage folks get when they lose something to which they feel entitled.



This is a great article because it shows a paradox of increasing modernity. As we try to achieve increased reliability and efficiencies of our energy systems we are actually decreasing our resiliency and lowering overall reliability.

This article is saying that off grid and 3rd world systems are actually more robust in regards to potential interruptions even though they show more immediate unreliability. When we have a system with very high reliability then activities that increasingly depend on reliability are exposing ourselves to failure. We need to accommodate intermittency and demand management in regards to best behavior in regards to consumption and resilience in regards to potential interruptions.

I am living with a hybrid of on and off the grid power. I have an 1800 watt solar system with batteries and inverter. I want to add a 1000 watts wind generator down the road specifically to lower intermittency and to have more power to charge an electric tractor I want to get. I used wood to heat my home and heat water. In the summer I only burn wood once or twice a week for high hot water usage days.

I am adapting my lifestyle to intermittency. I am changing behaviors to reflect off grid living but I can still access the grid because I use transfer switches to switch any circuit in the house to grid or off grid. Things like electric oven, hot water, and dryer are not switchable. My well pump can be switched but I can only use it to pressurize a water tank. It takes all my system can handle so it is very manual and cannot be left on or I will trip the inverter if other circuits are used. I have water when the grid is down others with wells don’t. This system is much like a sailboat with its master panel of switches for shore power, generator, solar/wind, and battery.

I am a firm believer in this way of incorporating renewables into the mix instead of all off or a feed in grid renewable system. I have resilience from the grid for bad power days and I have resilience if the grid is down from my renewables power. My system is less expensive than a system trying to cover all power needs by all renewables. I have propane, electric, and charcoal cooking abilities. My heating is wood and or electric and the same for water. I adapt my behavior to accommodate as much solar as I can so we do certain activities during the week based upon solar and wood use. I usually have solar on running something depending on the sun. I do not use batteries at night so they are not being cycled too much to maintain longevity.

In the summer if we are going to shower, run dishwasher, and wash cloths then I burn wood that day so we combine activities on wood heat day. In the summer I do not want to burn wood all the time for hot water because wood is expensive in time and effort. In the winter I am always burning wood for home heat so hot water is always from wood. In the winter I sacrifice some hot water performance because I am running off a heat exchanger without an electric water heater so water will not be as hot.

The point is demand management along with supply sourcing can make you more efficient with lower cost with a minimal change to lifestyles. It takes a little education and investment you can change an all on grid life to a hybrid one. All off grid is a different animal. I would love to be in a secluded place with off grid living but I am not. There is no reason for me to be all off grid with the grid available and electric prices so low. My solar system cannot compete with grid power with cost and availability but the combination of the two make the system at a higher standard than both separate. It comes at a cost though. This system (wood & solar) cost me an extra $23,000 over just grid. Some of that I will amortize back over time but I imagine not all unless power prices go way up.

This becomes complicated when applied to macro situations. Society needs reliability to be a high functioning society able to be modern and robustly economic yet this also increases vulnerability and deceases good behavior. If people are all on grid with high reliability they do not learn to adapt and control their usage than if they are subject to unreliability. Price is a motivator but it cannot do all the motivating. Active demand management requires sacrifice and motivation.

I would advocate a combination of the two to increase reliability of both supply and demand in that good attitudes and lifestyles are incorporated. I am saying we need the very reliable grid in some locations but also people using hybrid systems so people develop demand management behavior and are motivated to lower usage. We should not try to make all places highly reliable. Places in the 3rd world should be left to be less reliable with a population that adapts to unreliability.

Leave the highly reliable part to certain regions to accomplish economic tasks that need high reliability. Of course this is not realistic because we are a global world of nations with each nation wanting to be the most affluent but within a nation where policy can be managed in such a way we should have more hybrid systems and more regions left to less reliability.

The cost may be more with a hybrid system I advocate but it means more resilience and in the end a more prepared population and resilient system. I know some argue here for industrial solar and wind as much cheaper in all cases but these systems do not promote demand management of an enlighten conservation oriented population. A mix is our best policy in my mind.

Bram Pauwels


It is an interesting viewpoint to take demand side management to the extreme, namely intermittency. What interests me is how you transfer these valuable insights to the current energy system.

When we installed wind turbines in a desert village years ago, the connection to the grid was an issue. We thought of having some kind of traffic light on the market square with a green light when there was enough wind power to power the village and a red light when consumption was higher than production so people could adapt their power usage.

What signals could be used to incite people to adapt their behaviour, enjoy the abundance of the sun and the wind and enjoy the darkness without electricity?




You can find some examples of 'Energy demand management' in the Wikipedia-article [1].

Recently, there was a blog about 'Demand Side Response Development (DSR)' of OpenEnergyMonitor.org [2], which refers to a project EnergyLocal CydYnni. That project has a website [3] to show if it's a good time to use electricity.

As you see: most of the DSR-examples are rather high tech... but better than nothing, I guess?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_demand_management
[2] https://blog.openenergymonitor.org/2018/11/demand-side-response
[3] https://dashfwrdd.energylocal.org.uk/?lang=en

Caleb Crawford


This is where the concept of passive survivability is important. Designing to Passivhaus, for instance, means the building can go for days with minimal or no power input, and in general demand is leveled.

Meticulous work as always!

Joshua Spodek


This article combined with another Low Tech Magazine article, Vietnam's Low-tech Food System Takes Advantage of Decay https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2017/02/vietnams-low-tech-fermentation-food-system-takes-advantage-of-decay.html, prompted me to try an experiment in resilience.

I unplugged my fridge to see how long I could make it. I thought a few months with my fridge unplugged would be a feat. After all, isn't a fridge necessary? I never considered otherwise before these articles. A fridge also represents something we think we need nonstop, forcing higher availability.

Next week I'll reach six months! I live in Manhattan. My food has never tasted better. I avoid packaged food, so I eat mostly fresh, local produce or dried legumes, nuts, and grains from bulk. Nothing has gone bad. On the contrary, the experience taught me to ferment. I expected difficulty, but it turns out to be easy. And fun when I got the hang of it. I see on my counter vinegar, chutney, and potatoes in various stages of fermentation. Also some lettuce and herbs in water keeping them growing.

I'm practicing resilience as a power grid user, experimenting to see if someone living in an American city can handle going without power. It turns out it's easy with a little practice. My last three electric bills have been $1.40, $1.70, and $1.70. At ten cents a kWh, that's 14 kWh, 17 kWh, and 17 kWh each month.

Besides saving money, increasing resilience, and increasing security at the individual level, living like this would greatly enable renewables since their intermittency becomes less of a problem. We could decrease peaker plants and fission, maybe getting rid of many, and drop the costs of our grid a lot.

I'm looking into solar panels and a battery to see if I can disconnect from the electric grid, at least a few months out of the year -- in Manhattan.

Thank you for the inspiration. I hope to inspire others to try.

Andrew Sackville-West


Joshua Spodek, what an inspiring story! You've inspired me for sure.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)