Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Profligacies of Scale

The logic applied in last week’s post to photovoltaic solar power can be applied more generally to a fairly wide range of technologies that can, under the right circumstances, provide a modest supply of electricity to power those things for which electricity is really the most sensible power source. I want to talk about a couple of those in tthe weeks to come, partly for the sake of completeness, partly because the options I have in mind offer some distinct advantages, and partly because touching on a series of examples will make it easier to grasp certain common themes that aren’t often addressed on those rare occasions when discussions of the future of technology manage to make it out of the realm of popular mythology in the first place.

I don’t mean that last comment as a joke, by the way. If mythology can be defined as the set of stories that people in a given society use to make sense of the universe and themselves, contemporary beliefs about the future of technology in the cultural mainstream of the industrial world fill that role, doubled, tripled, and in spades. Those of my readers who have come to take the challenge of peak oil seriously, and tried to discuss it with family members, coworkers, and friends who haven’t yet grappled with the issues themselves, can testify just how forcefully most of these latter cling to the belief that some technological gimmick or other will bail us out.

Technology, for a great people nowadays, is their source of meaning and their hope of salvation. Most liberals, conservatives, atheists, and plenty of people who think they belong to some other religion all put their trust in the great god Progress and wait prayerfully for him to bring a future that, they insist, must be better than the present. However poorly founded that faith may be, it plays an immensely important role in today’s industrial cultures, and the death of Progress in our time thus bids fair to deal the same shattering blow to our present certainties that the death of God announced by Nietzsche measured out to the equally comfortably certainties of the nineteenth century.

If anything, the approaching experience may be the harsher of the two. What Nietzche was saying, stripped of his ornate imagery, was that the people of Europe in his time no longer believed in the Christian myths and doctrines they claimed to accept, and needed to own up to the anthropocentric cult of power that had become their actual religion. That may have been true; still, it’s one thing to realize that you no longer believe things you were raised to think were good and right and true; it’s quite another, and far more devastating, to believe in something with all your heart and have it disproved right in front of your eyes. The religion of progress claims to be justified by works, not faith; during the three centuries or so of technological expansion, the apparent confirmation of the myth gave it immense strength; as the age of progress ends and we enter on three centuries or more of technological regress, the resulting body blow to our culture’s fondest beliefs and hopes will dominate the cultural psychology of an age.

It’s the effort to avoid that profoundly unwelcome experience that drives current attempts to insist that we can maintain our contemporary lifestyles, and even provide them to the population of the world’s nonindustrialized (and never to be industrialized) countries, using renewable energy sources. That same effort drives plenty of other exercises in futility, to be sure, and many of them are a good deal more dysfunctional than the dream of a world of middle class comforts powered by wind turbines and solar panels. Still, if we’re going to get beyond the mythology of a dying religion and talk about the future in more useful terms, it’s crucial to start by owning up to the fact that renewable sources are not going to allow anyone to maintain the kind of extravagant energy-wasting lifestyle that most people in the industrial world think of as normal.

What they can do instead is rather more valuable. There are certain technologies that are either dependent on electricity, or are easiest to provide using electricity, that contribute mightily to human welfare. (Long range radio communication is an example of the first kind; refrigeration for food storage is an example of the second.) If these technologies can get through the present crisis in a sustainable form, they will contribute to human welfare as far into the future as you care to look. Renewable energy sources that provide a modest amount of electricity on a local scale can keep a good many of these technologies going, and if enough people here and now either learn how to build and maintain renewable systems on that scale, on the one hand, or learn how to build and maintain the technologies themselves on the same modest and local scale, on the other, our civilization may actually accomplish the surprisingly rare feat of adding something worthwhile to the long-term toolkit of our species.

The modest amount and the local scale are vital to any such project. Right now, anyone with a fairly good set of hand tools and a good general knowledge of electricity, carpentry, and metalworking can build a wind turbine for a few hundred dollars. I can say this with some confidence because I helped do exactly that, for a good deal less, while at college in the early 1980s. The turbine itself was basically a two-blade propeller cut, shaped, and sanded from a block of fir; the conversion of rotary motion to electricity was done by an alternator salvaged from an old truck; the tail that kept it facing into the wind, the safety shutoff that swung it out of the path of the wind when the wind velocity got too high, and the tricky doodad that allowed it to turn freely while still getting electricity down to the batteries in the little shed at the base, were all fabricated out of scrap parts and sheet metal. We used a disused power pole to put the turbine up where the wind blew freely, but if that hadn’t been there, an octet truss tower – one of Bucky Fuller’s better designs – could easily have been put together out of readily available hardware and bolted onto a hand-poured concrete foundation.

The design wasn’t original, not by a long shot; half a dozen old appropriate tech books from the Seventies have the same design or its kissing cousin, and it’s one of a half dozen or so standard designs that came out of the ferment of those years. The most important difference was between horizontal axis from vertical axis models. A horizontal axis wind turbine is the kind most people think of, with blades like a propeller facing into the wind and a tail or some other gimmick to pivot it around in the right direction. A vertical axis wind turbine is less familiar these days, though you used to see examples all over the place back in the day; the business end looked either like one side of an eggbeater – the Darreius turbine – or an oil drum cut in half lengthwise, and the two sides staggered around the vertical shaft – the Savonius turbine. Some of the standard designs yielded high speed and low torque, which is what you want for generating electricity; some of them produced high torque and low speed, which is what you want for pumping water or most other uses of mechanical power.

All the information needed to design and build one or more of the standard models is easy to come by nowadays – literally dozens of books from the time cover the basic concepts, and it’s far from hard to find detailed plans for building your own. It’s also not too difficult for those who lack the basic technical skills to find small wind turbines of quite respectable quality for sale, though the price is going to be a good deal more than you’d shell out for an old truck alternator, a chunk of fir six feet by eight inches by four inches, and the rest of the hardware we used to cobble together our turbine. Either way, if you live in an area with average winds and your home isn’t surrounded by tall trees, steep hills, or skyscrapers, your odds of being able to run a respectable 12 volt system are pretty good.

Still, it will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that very little of this wealth of practical information receives much in the way of attention nowadays. Instead, the concept of wind power has been monopolized by a recently minted industry devoted to building, servicing, and promoting giant wind turbines that provide electricity to the grid. The giant turbines have their virtues, no question; compared to most other energy production technologies, certainly, they’re safe and clean, and their net energy yield is a respectable 8 or 9 to 1, which beats the stuffing out of most other alternative energy sources. Still, the idea that serried ranks of giant wind turbines will enable us all to keep on using energy at today’s extravagant rates runs headlong into at least two difficulties.

The first difficulty is intermittency. A wind turbine, obviously enough, produces power only when the wind is blowing, and it’s a safe bet that no matter where you put turbines, the wind won’t always be blowing. That wouldn’t be a problem at all if Americans were used to using electricity when it happens to be available, and doing something else with their time when it’s not, but that’s not the way Americans do things any more. Just now, intermittency isn’t much of a problem, since modern gas-fired power plants can be cycled up and down promptly to respond to any shortage of power from the turbines, but if your plan is to replace the gas-fired plants (and the coal-fired ones, which can’t be cycled up and down so quickly) with wind turbines, you’ve got a problem. You have an even bigger problem if you want to rely on solar as well as wind, since then you’re dependent on two intermittent energy sources, and when they both go down at the same time – as, by Murphy’s law, they inevitably will – you’re left with no power going into the grid at all.

The second difficulty, as discussed in previous posts here, is complexity. Those giant turbines, it bears remembering, are not made out of spare truck alternators, blocks of fir, and other readily accessible and easily managed parts. They are triumphs of modern engineering, which means in practice that they depend on baroque supply chains, high-tech manufacturing processes, and massive investment, not to mention plenty of fossil fuels and, more generally, a society that has plenty of cheap energy to spare for projects on a gargantuan scale. Nor is a giant wind turbine sitting all by itself on a hilltop particularly useful to much of anyone; it gains its economic viability through connection to the electrical grid, which is itself an immense technostructure with its own even more sprawling supply, manufacturing, and investment requirements. If industrial society finds itself unable to maintain any one of the factors that make the grid and the giant turbines possible, then it doesn’t matter how useful they might be; they won’t be around.

Homescale windpower systems suffer from the intermittency issue, but then so does nearly every other option for providing electricity on that scale, and we’ve already discussed at some length the solution to it: get used to using electricity when it’s available, or to storing up modest amounts of it in inexpensive storage batteries and using that supply sparingly. The challenge of complexity, on the other hand, is not something a homescale windpower system has to deal with at all. Even in the absence of salvageable alternators, and there are quite literally hundreds of millions of them lying unused in junkyards across the United States, a generator that will turn rotary motion into direct current is not a challenging project. I built a simple one in elementary school, for example, and although it wasn’t really suited to wind turbine use – most of the structural elements were made from paperclips, with a toy horseshoe magnet to provide the field, and the amount of current it produced was just about enough to get a decent glow out of a very small light bulb – the principle can readily be scaled up.

In the kind of future we can realistically expect, in other words, homescale windpower will almost certainly be a viable technology, while giant wind turbines of the modern sort almost certainly won’t. Now of course it’s a safe bet that the windpower industry as it now exists will keep on building, servicing, and promoting giant wind turbines as long as it’s possible to do so, so the small chance that the giant turbines might actually be viable is covered. What isn’t covered yet is the very large chance that small wind turbines of the sort that can be built and maintained in a basement workshop could provide a real benefit during the difficult decades ahead of us.

In order to respond to that range of possibilities, homescale windpower units need to find their way back into the conversation of our time and, more importantly, up above the rooftops of homes across the modern world. Professionally manufactured wind turbines of the right scale are a good start, and those green wizards in training who have the money and lack the fairly modest technical skills to build their own could do worse than to buy and install one. Still, there’s also a huge role here for the homebuilt turbine, and for those individuals whose willingness to get to work shaping turbine blades and bolting together octet truss towers might, as things unfold, lead to a future career.

Promoters of giant wind turbines, and for that matter of centralized power generation schemes of all kinds, tend to talk quite a bit about economies of scale. In an expanding economy with a stable or growing resource base, that sort of talk often makes sense, though the extent to which those economies of scale are a product of direct and indirect government subsidies to transportation, financing, and large businesses generally is not something economists like to talk about. Still, in a world facing economic contraction, resource depletion, and a loss of complexity potentially capable of rendering a great deal of today’s infrastructure useless or worse, the balance swings the other way. In the face of a future where small, cheap, localized approaches that are sparing in their use of resources, relying on massive, expensive, centralized, resource-intensive power plants of any kind is not an economy but a profligacy of scale, and one that we very probably will not be able to afford for much longer.


Glenn said...

Economies of scale for large factories, factory farms and centralized electrical generation depend on very cheap transportation.

Our roadbeds will be usefull long after the asphalt and concrete are gone. Railroads have great potential, IF we electrify them in the U.S. Water transport has a much longer history than petroleum power.

But all of this is also subsidized by a Nation State that can maintain peace and suppress Brigandage, Robbery and Piracy.

I suspect that in the near future none of those conditions will be present, and long distance transport will be limited to luxury goods travelling in convoy, whether by land or by sea, and very well guarded.

Marrowstone Island,
Master of the
Sloop - Boat
and the
Scow Bay

Les said...

Hi Mr. G.
Another great post. Thank you.

My personal favourite way to generate electricity is the Fisher&Paykel washing machine. These have a great big stepper motor in the bottom of them, which when driven produces bucketloads of electrickery. A little fiddling with a pair of sidecutters and they can be easily modified for 12v charging duties.
I'm told that Lucky Goldstar makes similar machines, on the off chance F&P don't have much market share in the US.
Personally, I'm looking forward to your "salvage economy". This stuff is just plain fun...


Karim said...

Greetings all!

I'd like just to comment on the mythical issues of our time. As our civilisation becomes increasingly dysfunctional, its accompanying myths of eternal progress will cease gradually to have the traction it currently has. The question is what kind of myths will a post peak oil civilisation come up with?

Given that people need myths to create meaning which is very important, I tend to believe that this question might need to be looked at carefully.

Currently I have little idea of what it could turn out to be.

On a side note: any thoughts about the post peak oil medical system?

Adam Streed said...

Hi JMG (and TAR readers) -

A friend and I have taken your advice of a few weeks ago and set up a blog devoted to energy and sustainability, broadly speaking; and I've posted there part of a response to your post "A Fashion for Austerity." It can be found here, for anyone interested. Thanks for the encouragement!

Cathode Ray said...

Another alternative to an automotive alternator is the Fisher and Paykel smartdrive motor. This is used in washing machines. See for more info.

Robo said...

If you consider small wind turbines made from commonly available or recycled materials, then you must also consider small storage batteries made in a similar manner, else the conversion of wind energy into electricity can only happen while the wind is blowing.

Of course, in historical times, the grinding of grain by wind power only happened on windy days, hay was only made on sunny ones and life went on, but energy storage is a nice thing.

The technical literature of the late 19th and early 20th centuries informs us on the subject of simple storage battery construction. One interesting type is the nickel-iron cell, also known as the "Edison Cell". These devices use an alkaline electrolyte, potassium hydroxide, and have a service life measured in decades. They are also extremely durable and relatively benign from an environmental standpoint. The earliest electric automobiles were powered by batteries of Edison cells.

Some technological conspiracy theorists believe that this technology was never widely adopted because it would not have been commercially profitable as a mass-produced product. The cells lasted so long that there was little money to be made in the replacement market.

For experimental purposes, an Edison cell is easily constructed from two small iron and nickel plates, a mason jar, some insulating material like the perfboard used in electronic projects, a few wires and the potassium hydroxide solution. For more information, visit "".

afterthegoldrush said...

It seems odd that I would be the first person to comment this week - given that I don't get the ADR until Thursday (being over the pond) - I hope there hasn't been another system's outage. I know, it's a sign of the times to come!

Anyway, another great post as usual JMG. I can concur that trying to talk to people about these issues really does bring out some serious defences - to the degree that I don't bother much these days (though I can't always help myself!). Which makes your description of the 'Myth of Progress' as a currently failing religion/God/world view very pertinent to me. There really is so little awareness of the reality of the predicament we are facing in general knowledge - and the dangers of this belief in progress - that the prevailing belief is that we WILL fix it, it's just a question of time.

There's a post in today's Guardian to just that effect - that the IPCC are going to be considering options for geo-engineering, presumably as the consensus is slowly emerging that there'll be no consensus on us changing our habits - so we better throw more technology at it!

But this post brings up a related (kind of) question I've been meaning to ask you, and it relates to the question of finding a world view that supports your life, yet also fits in with the reality of actually living it. I ask you this question as I have been profoundly grateful to you over the last few years for not only your knowledge (and it's application) - which is pretty impressive, but even more so with it's method of delivery - which to my tuned-in ear is ever generous, compassionate and accommodating (of others' views). I presume this is rooted in your druidry? I have no real knowledge of this, and would be interested in a few pointers - but pointers which avoid the New Age pitfalls of so many ancient belief systems - I have to admit, that I have a hard time with New Ageism and anthropomorphism generally.

I don't lack for a world view - but mine is rooted in rationality and science (though not the scientific institution), and I guess I would call myself an atheist. However, I do believe we have a religious urge to find meaning in our lives, which is deep and innate - it's a little later in my life perhaps than I would like, but worship of the sun and natural systems is really making sense to me now!

So perhaps, a post-progress world will see a reversion to more meaningful belief systems? Thanks as always,


Cherokee Organics said...


As usual you have given me much to think about. As strange as it sounds, it never occurred to me to build my own wind turbine generator. The cost of these always seemed to exceed the benefit - however home made is usually much cheaper than purchased.

Getting an idea out there is akin to saving that idea!

Would you recommend starting with an electric motor or a truck alternator (this is for the novice which is myself)? They're about the same price here.

Sorry to hassle you with practical questions but I'd assume that a 24v alternator would generate a much higher voltage than a 24v motor - which would be better for battery charging purposes (battery charging requires a higher voltage than 24v)?

The reason that I ask is that I would use a wind turbine as an additional charging source to the 24v battery bank which is already in place.



Carl Roberts said...

After reading your blog for several years, I have begun my on walk on the Druid Path. Thank you for sharing your brilliance and "disenchanting" people like me!

Allan said...

As a power engineer I agree completely with your stance on micro-generation. I have run a small turbine for 10 years now and wish to add the obseration that unlike my solar panels that require very little nurture, the wind turbine needs constant "fettling" as we say oop 'ere. Batteries need looking after, bearings have had to be replaced and blades inspeced and renewed. The challenge may be to create a low maintenence solution that will run for tens of years before adoption by the masses becomes practical. I have no answer, only the experience that logs the problem....

Paul said...

Timely post especially here in Scotland, where the Scottish Government's long-stated plans to completely replace fossil fuel and nuclear generated power with renewables has hit its first practical barrier. The cost of upgrading the power lines from the the north of the country, where presumably the giant wind, solar and tidal generating farms will be safely out of sight, and the populated south where the majority of the population live (people will be expecting to carry on as normal) has doubled in estimated cost - from around 300 million to around 600 million - and this before any work has been done.

I just hope that instead of abandoning the whole idea of renewables, the focus - and the budget - goes towards first weatherising every home in the country, changing the planning laws so all new build meets stringent energy regulations, and fostering, subsidising and enabling the sort of local energy production you outline. But until then, I better go source some fir blocks, luckily there is a local sawmill I can contact ....

Wandering Sage said...

Spot on as always. I've actually been researching building a low budget wind turbine for a while now. Intermittency is a concept that really must be grasped. We get strong winds here regularly, but it can go dead silent for long spells. Good thing we are cycling down our energy use.

wishing you much peace
Wandering Sage Wisdom

Mary said...

What wonderfully synchronistic timing. 2 days ago a brochure turned up in my mail on a small (rooftop) home wind turbine scheduled to hit the market this fall. It's based on a vertical design. Since I know squat about electricity, I have no idea how much actual usable energy you get out of a 3.2 kwh system. The brochure says it works in a 3-4 mph breeze, although the website says more like 5. It also says they're planning to scale up to a 5 kwh and 25 kwh models. It works 360 degrees without having to turn to face the wind. It does't have to turn off in high winds. It will be offered with optional battery and will be sold through a big box store. It's not cheap. The brochure claims $1200-$1500, but the website explains that's based on about $5-6,000 worth of federal and state incentives (which run out this year here in Maine). Still, at $7000 installed, it's half the price of current home windmills on the market that I'm aware of.

Here near the Maine coast we rarely have a day without at least some breeze, while we have about 6 months with little sun for pv...

You can read about it at JMG, electrical engineers out there, how does it look?


frankster said...

About 13 Gigabytes of free high quality technical development information on Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Food Processing, Small Industries, Engineering, Construction, Water and Sanitation, Accountancy, Economics, Education, Health and in fact (almost) everything under the sun... This is available online and also (very important) offline. At

Thijs Goverde said...

Another thing I've always thought about these giant Windmill Parks is this:
Wind is air, travelling from point A to point B at a certain velocity.
It does this for a reason.
Now, if we were to put all our resources into giant windmills to shift as much power as we can out of the travelling air, and into the grid, that reason is frustrated.
Mightn't this have some unforeseen effect on the weather?

I know, I know, windmills are relatively small compared to that big huge thing called the sky.

Still, that's more or less what we thought when we started spraying aerosols around...

Just a layman's fancy, I admit. Does anyone out there have any more sophisticated thoughts on this?

Brian Johnson said...

I know this link has been posted before but I'll throw it out again:

It's a good resource if you're serious about building your own off-grid power system. They cover everything DIY from wind to wood powered-steam.

DIYer said...

When I saw the title of this week's essay, it immediately brought to mind the stricken power generating complex at Fukushima, and the currently flood-threatened one in Omaha.

These things are built on such a large scale that it is not possible to repair them or keep them running if anything goes wrong.

Kathy Draeger said...

This week's blog hits home as I'll be investing in a grid tied turbine... probably today. We farm in a rural and isolated area and have the state/federal incentives to realize a turbine that will produce more power than our farm uses.

That said, I have the same concerns about this option leaving us w/o power as happens sometimes on the ravaging high plains prairie. My long term hope (faith) is that my electrician neighbors -- used to making do and finding other ways-- can one day convert our turbine to powering our township or even just our farm.

The relics of every farm having a turbine are all around my on the abandoned and decaying farmsteads. I can find the bent bodies of those old turbines in the brush at the base of the old lattice towers. A reminder of skills and technologies and a way of life that has come and gone.

Rashakor said...

It seems to be that vertical shaft turbines have all the advantages of horizontal ones without any drawback except scalability.
I like the fact that you brought up the vertical model ones, because i believe they are better adapted for home-scale. Yet the horizontal turbine captures the imagination of people.

mat said...

I have done that at but those who haven't done it are totally unaware of the tremendous commitment to maintaining them... no outside job when you have to be tending them all day!! Watching the weather.. .the voltage and the solar water heaters.... weeding the gardens, pressing the oil.... most give up after a week!


Planner said...

"Those of my readers who have come to take the challenge of peak oil seriously, and tried to discuss it with family members, coworkers, and friends who haven’t yet grappled with the issues themselves, can testify just how forcefully most of these latter cling to the belief that some technological gimmick or other will bail us out."

Man, tell me about it. There is a staunch belief that increasing ingenuity, efficiency, and renewable energy can provide for a workable transition to a new arrangement of living comprising a world full of increasingly dense, technologically-intensive and affluent New York City-looking living arrangements.

The problem of course is that technological innovation solves discrete technological problems. What our society faces is not a problem but a predicament. Predicaments are not solvable like problems; in our case, there is only figuring out a satisfactory way to adapt to a resource constrained future. And that will likely NOT contain a blizzard of high tech, deeply complex renewable energy infrastructures.

Having said that, perhaps when talking with others that it's important to frame the situation in a more useful way. This is important because their faith in progress is so profound. Instead of dismissing progress, innovation, or ingenuity outright (which sounds disingenuous to most people) maybe it is more useful to ask them to consider what happens if our level of innovation/ingenuity is unable to rise at a corresponding rate to our need for it? Then, they understand that you are willing to concede that innovation and efficiencies will continue to develop, but that they will not do so at the rate and in the timeframe necessary to offset impending impacts.

This concept is discussed in a fabulous book by Thomas Homer Dixon called "The Ingenuity Gap", and I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to discuss progress-related issues in a more-nuanced way.

GHung said...

A small wind generator was one of my first aquisitions, though I found that our wind resource wasn't what I'd hoped, and lightning did the rest. The alternator is still ok and in my collection waiting to be retasked, though the control circuitry is fried :-/ Perhaps I'll use the alternator for a small micro-hydro setup, something I expect to see addressed here soon. I did learn alot during my journey through wind. Just a few of the resources I came upon:

Wind Electricity Basics

Anatomy of a Wind Turbine

Wind Turbine Buyer's Guide

How to buy a wind generator

Car Alternator for Wind Turbine?

2010 WIND GENERATOR buyer’s guide

Resurrecting a Classic Wind Generator ...mostly behind paywall.

...and perhaps my favorite...

The Wood 103: A Wooden 100 Watt Wind Generator also mostly behind a paywall. These craftsmen built a wind turbine from wood (excepting the alternator windings, magnets, etc.)
"In one day, Dan Bartmann & Dan Fink built a fully functional wind generator (including the alternator) from wood. Whether your goal is an educational model or functional power, you’ve GOT to check out this project!"

The single most daunting problem with wind may be the tower. To get good quality wind, the turbine must be well above any surrounding structure, trees, etc. Look for used towers, many available online.

Note to JMG: I hope the links work. Alas, no way to test and edit posts here? Let me know if links are broken. Thanks!

Matt and Jess said...

How funny. Around last year you were starting to tell us to pick up older books on GW subjects and I found one at the local used books store near our family's house out-of-state, which I'm ironically right next to now, called Wind and Windspinners. I believe that the Savonius turbine model is exactly the subject of the book. I had been wondering exactly what the difference was. Though a google search reveals that other, different-looking wind turbines also seem to be called Savonius, so hmm.

Anyway, I also agree that learning this stuff is just plain fun. As a person who grew up with a dad always tinkering with his amateur radio equipment--not much of that happens now, by the way--tinkering has always been interesting to me, and I just wish I'd picked up more of it before now.

Any safety concerns when handling an alternator from the junkyard?

Evan said...

Not long ago there was a report on oildrum relating tests with small-scale wind generators. They concluded that they were basically useless. Report can be found here:

The salvaged and home-built turbines you describe here, however, sound much more feasible, especially if they're providing 12v dc output to things that do not need continuous power sources.

But the real gem here is what you have to say about the techno-myth and Nietzsche. I hope more folks will go and spend time with Nietzsche who's call for a revaluation of all values is perhaps what is needed most in this time. His own process of "going under" in an urban industrializing world just before the beginning of the 20th century led to a sort of madness.

However, if this revaluation of all values happens by looking to the movements of the life-world, then I think it possible to find that the "abyss" beyond the city walls (or culture's edge) may just start to look back into us.

ruraldream said...

Could you please list some titles of how-to books for building a wind system? The ones that I was easily able to find were about how to site and set up a purchased system, which is not all that helpful.

GHung said...

A note about the recent marketing of small vertical wind turbines, as posted by Mary above: Since the amount of energy in a wind resource increases as the cube of the wind speed, any system that claims production at very low wind speeds will also be producing a very low output unless the swept area is very large. See my link on the basics of wind energy, above.

Anything small enough to be a "rooftop" unit will produce very little power indeed in slow winds. We're stuck with the math and physics. For the same investment, PV will likely give a better return for most, and be much lower maintenance. I know, wind seems sexier ......

BTW: I'm nearing completion of my two new homebuilt hot water panels, all from salvaged and scrounged materials (excepting staples, braising rods, paint, silicone, etc.) Early tests indicate performance well above expectations :-) They're heavy beasts!

nutty professor said...

Timely review of your work on Dmitry Orlov's site:

Word is getting out! Please remember us little folks when you become big and famous, LOL

Bilbo said...

Are you going to discuss batteries? There has already been a post on nickel-iron batteries. The problems of sustainability with lead acid batteries should be discussed. Many people are not aware that the recycling of lead acid batteries is done in places like Africa where the environmental standards are nonexistent. One charging mistake can permanently damage a bank of lead acid batteries.

The first problem we will have to face is not likely to be permanent failure of the grid, but intermittent failures, that is, rolling blackouts or random but temporary failures. Having lived in a third world country, I can tell you first hand that the most likely for the grid to fail is when you (and everyone else) need it the most, when it first gets dark and you need to turn on the lights or when you are cooking dinner.

I am working on the design of what is known as a grid fall back system. This system is centered on a battery bank which can be charged a multiple of ways, from the grid, from PV panels, or in an emergency from a generator run by bio-fuels. It would have to be a very serious emergency for me to waste bio-fuel in a generator. I am having to design this system myself because none of the PV contractors in this area will consider such a design, nor will they consider using nickel-iron batteries. In fact, they have never heard of nickel-iron batteries. Eventually I will evolve this system into an off-grid system.

Nicole Foss has installed such a system in her home but with lead acid batteries

GHung said...

One more comment, this regarding the mythology of progress and technology so prevalent:

I'm trying to move beyond attempts at convincing others of the futility of.... well, of everything they are clinging to. Too little return on investment, time, energy, at this point, trying to 'fix' people, far too distracting.

Question for the group:

What to do when, if things get crazy, folks start showing up, as if I'm preparing some sort of bugout camp for unprepared fools? Quite a few folks, friends, family, have jokingly said that if TSHTF, they'll just come to my place. Lately I've been responding "No, you won't." No joke...

After a couple of decades of being the outlier, the eccentric 'odd man out', my patience and compassion are trumped by my sense of practicality.

Something to ponder as I go back to my works. We had some very beneficial rain last night ...

Paula said...

Most municipalities disallow the tower required for mounting a wind generator. They don't want it falling over on the neighbors or their houses.

While I think the vertical axis makes the most sense for grabbing wind from any direction, I think the same design mounted horizontally at the ridge on a house makes the most sense for taking advantage of air moving over a house. You could still catch the wind in an urban or suburban setting and not have to worry about your wind generator falling on someone, or getting in trouble with the local government Provided you bolted it down pretty thoroughly, of course.

Tom said...


“There is a staunch belief that increasing ingenuity, efficiency, and renewable energy can provide for a workable transition to a new arrangement of living comprising a world full of increasingly dense, technologically-intensive and affluent New York City-looking living arrangements.”

How right you are. The big problem we face as a species is not just technological. What you said above is actually a form of denial by the wealthy of this world (I include myself in that category) that somehow we can use our ingenuity to avoid the consequences of our profligate lifestyles. Deep down in our psyches, though, we know that it’s impossible.

More cynically, those who are enamored with our western industrial civilization also know that historically, western civilization has prospered by taking land and resources away from other people, like the Native Americans, for instance. Those NYC apartment dwellers have created a culture that depends on slave labor (wage slavery or worse) and the resources of others. This will probably continue to be the case well after the nation state devolves into something like a feudal system with the wealthy nobility up in the “castle” commanding the troops who range around the countryside (the whole world, actually) taking what they need from the poor working stiffs who are out tending their gardens and trying desperately to cling to a bare subsistence lifestyle.

Odin's Raven said...

Congratulations on your new book.
Here's a favourable review from Orlov.

I thought you were preaching to the choir, but more alarmingly, Orlov thinks you are preaching to the sharks!

katsmama said...

Great post- I'll have to look into the horizontal turbine. One issue where I live (suburban/small town) is planning and zoning- outside city limits I have seen several windmills around here, but within city limits, no way. Looks like I might have to get involved in politics...

DIYer said...


Thanks for mentioning the NiFe cell again. With its long life, and the relatively benign environmental impact, it has a great deal of potential "green wizard" cred.

In previous battery discussions, I have encountered objections: it is only 50% efficient, its cells only have 1.4 volts (or whatever) potential, and someone objected that KOH is poisonous! As if any other electrolyte is a refreshing energy drink.

Probably the best way to think of its environmental impact, compared to other storage cells, is to imagine what would happen if you ground up some of them and dumped the bits on your garden. Then wait 10 years and test the garden soil again. Use, say, a kilowatt-hour's worth of batteries.

Any other battery I can think of would leave a lot of heavy metals behind. The Nickel Iron battery would leave ground glass, potash (a plant nutrient), nickel and iron oxides (common mineral components of soil), and perhaps more copper than you'd want from the electrodes (though copper IS a necessary micronutrient). But no lead, cadmium, arsenic, lithium, or other "weird" metals.

justjohn said...

I would just like to draw readers attention to Hugh Piggott's work at Scoraig Wind.
I think the first chapter of his book points out some of the weaknesses of alternator based turbines, but admittedly, they do work. I'm planning on building some turbines based on his book. (sample available on Kindle)

While I have little actual experience with wind turbines, I've been studying them for a few years. I would suggest people might want to look at Paul Gipe's website and read one of his books.

And Mick Sagrillo is another who has a realistic view of what is possible with small wind:

Mary asks about rooftop turbines. I would investigate those very carefully (and be suspicious). Gipe has a webpage on those, and seems to hold them in low regard. I think Sagrillo calls anything mounted less than 40' high "toy wind", and only useful for experimentation.

susancoyotesfan said...


Please email me off list at souad AT to tell me more about your Fisher and Paykel washer generator -- I own one, and if I could make a little electricity as well as do laundry that would be one of the neatest tricks ever.

Thanks, Susan

William Jorgensen said...

As a crunch of some kind looms ever nearer I fear my plans, as meagre as they are, may not survive the likely violent reaction I'm pretty sure will convulse my part of the planet, south of your border down Australia way. But, I'm always a little more hopeful when I can catch up with those who hold some optimism that we can ride out the approaching storm and manage some kind of transition. The Archdruid Report is one place where I come for that optimism. Thanks for that.

Today I had to go to my local bank and was disappointed to see that they had reorganised the interior to an open plan design, sadly the walls of security glass I had in mind to salvage after the fall for a desalination unit were gone. Maybe that's why I'm up late reading the latest here...

The micro-generation of a minimal electrical supply has been one of my greatest ponderables and I'm glad to see the discussion today has brought up this matter. I've a friend who is a bit of a nutcase who is always pulling apart electrical aplliances and building small-scale electrical generators ostensibly to supply some silly toy he's created. I've tried to get him onboard the peak-oil issue as much as anyone else I know but haven't had much luck so far, though rather than poohbahing the idea as he once used to he's seemingly more in denial as every prediction of I've made relating to the economy and commodity swings have come to pass. I expect he'll be available to help me build up some modest electrical power when the time comes...

William Jorgensen said...

I'm looking forward to when posting here turns to salvaging as I now look at everything in my neck of the woods as something that will eventually belong to me and mine. What I do with it when it is either abandoned or becomes "community porperty" will depend a lot on the expertise I have and the number of local allies I can quickly mobilise.

I've long given up the idea of selling up and situating myself and family in a safer location due to limited finances, unless one of a few wealthy relatives suddenly dies leaving me everything (not unlikely but something I wouldn't want to count on), so I have to use what resources are at hand and are likely to become available.

Surviving the first sudden contraction and utilising as much local knowledge as possible is going to be crucial. Salvaging what I can in the midst of it all will be a real test of survival and cunning, along with knowing as many of the locals who can be of help is also part of that overall strategy (I have local friends now who are in the local police and the local "criminal" community who I hope to forge into some kind of combined local security unit, though they aren't aware of that fact yet. Which will lead to commandeering local assets, of course.).

There's the matter of what laws will be made that will shape the community and what penaties to apply when the time comes as well. I think I've spent as much time on this issue as much as any other in the years of preparation I've considered, and angle that hasn't been discussed in depth across the highways of the peak-oil universe. Also, who gets preferred treatment when scarcity of resources effects everyone? Is some kind of moral framework essential, or are non-contributing survivors left out of the choice? I'm speaking of the elderly and the sick as much as the young, unskilled and defenseless. Hard decisions that must be dealt with when the time comes.

I've come to the conclusion that everone must be given a minimum of fair care and an opportunity to be a contributor. Even if a survivor is merely able to act as a boundary lookout, they can be of use. Medical supplies will have been hoarded and only used when necessary as they will likely not be resupplied, and as most medical equipment is not reusable only emergency usage will be allowed. I expect there'll be a certain attrition rate that'll extend the lifetime of the last supplies. Again, hard decisions to make but ones we'll all likely see as the decline sets in...

Bob said...

While I am excited to do my research about building one of these, I also continue to search for the "optimal" commercially sold option. This seems like a potentially smart take on the conventional horizontal set-up.

David S said...

The intermittency of home solar and wind power systems which you refer to can be readily ameliorated with another home scale alternative technology which just about everyone (including those seventies folk you love so much) has forgotten about - wood gasification. This is an old technology which saw extensive use during WWII when over a million vehicles were converted to run on wood gas because of gasoline rationing (in Europe, not in North America). For anyone with a reasonable supply of firewood, a wood gasifier can produce a combustible gas that can run a standard internal combustion motor, and thus spin an electrical generator, and fill in the gaps when the sun don't shine and the wind don't blow.

Just google wood gas (or producer gas) to see information about this technology.

Kieran O'Neill said...

On my walk to work while I was in London, I would go past this beautiful vertical wind generator.

Purportedly, it provides 100% of the electricity to run the theatre at the complex, though I'm not sure if they quite achieved that. It has been theorised to have caused UFO sightings, though!

What's most interesting, is that the inventor, Trevor Baylis, started out designing wind-up radios and torches for the developing world. I'm pretty sure he intended this turbine for that situation, but it seems the company producing them is now mainly targeting markets in Europe and Australia.

My point is, there is today a lot of design effort going into technological solutions for developing world conditions. Those solutions are likely to be very applicable to the post-industrial world too.

In fact, there's even a design competition which takes that and puts it completely on its head -- "Design for the first world" (by the developing world).

John Michael Greer said...

Glenn, very good. Yes, the maintenance of social order is one of the subsidies provided by government to centralized enterprises -- one of the reasons that small is the only option in a dark age.

Les, that's most interesting! I'm not familiar with that trick -- will have to look into it.

Karim, the myths of the future are a crucial issue, no question. Still, myths are difficult to predict and even harder to shape; they follow a logic of their own. As for post-peak medicine, that's a very complex topic all its own -- I've done some posts on it, but they're fairly general.

Adam, I'll check it out as time permits.

Ray, thanks for the link!

Robo, many thanks for the info. Batteries aren't something I know a lot about, so this is very useful info.

Matt, it's hard to say whether my religious beliefs or my ecological commitments came first, though it's certainly true that I didn't encounter Druidry as an organized path until quite a few years after I woke up ecologically -- like most Druids, I didn't "convert," I stumbled across the modern Druid tradition and discovered that what it taught was what I'd believed all along. The websites for the Ancient Order of Druids in America, the order I currently head, and the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, where I had my original training, might be good places to look if you're interested; my book The Druidry Handbook goes into more detail.

Chris, despite having taken part in the building of a wind turbine, the fine points of engineering one are not my strong suit. I'll have to refer you to the resources others are posting here.

Carl, welcome to the forest path!

Allan, that's a good point. Moving parts are always a maintenance issue! In my experience, certainly, a wind turbine is like a chicken or a goat -- very useful, but requires routine tending.

Paul, one of the reasons I've been hammering so hard on conservation and home energy production is that those ideas have completely fallen out of the collective conversation of our time. It's got to be brought back into the discussion, and that's going to take a willingness to say things that people will dismiss out of hand the first fifty times they encounter them.

Twilight said...

I have said before that we've been surrounded by so much energy for so long now that we are unable to even perceive it anymore. I think that the myth of progress has some of that flavor too, in that it is less of an overt belief than an accepted reality of the universe – like gravity. When energy just isn't there to serve us and when progress does not save the day, I doubt that most will gain an understanding of how dependent on these things we've been. Rather they'll just find some other reason or rational, or something or someone to blame. Those that do suddenly comprehend may well feel a sense of panic akin to what would happen if you discovered that gravity didn't really work.

Mostly I find it impossible to discuss the possibilities that we face energy limits or that there is no technological solution pending, as these things are simply not comprehensible to most. They are outside of anything people have considered or are willing to consider, and there is simply no basis for discussion.

I wonder how many times after the fall of Rome did someone champion a cause to restore its former glory? Likewise, I expect that there will be an endless parade of those who promise to restore the glory of our present technological society, never understanding the limits that brought it down. I wonder what the ultimate narrative will be to explain it?

Don Mason said...

Re: Difficulties dealing with the old mythology

The old worldview: "They'll think of something. They always do."

The new worldview: "Do-it-yourself or die."

It's hard for people to do a 180-degree about-face - particularly when they've had decades of warning that this disaster was coming, and when the personal consequences of failure could be so horrific.

It's like running up to their faces and screaming "You were idiots, and now we're all dead meat!"

It definitely requires a diplomatic touch - if for no other reason than to avoid getting yourself physically assaulted.

Because they're obviously going to be looking for scapegoats, and who better to blame than the very people who saw it coming and are better prepared?

To increase your chances of survival, try to be useful to them.

And if a lot of your usefulness is the practical, day-to-day know-how in your head, then cutting it off won't give them continued access to your ability to help them adapt to a changing world.

Mary said...

Ghung, the reason I requested that engineers look at the site is because of the nature of the design of this particular windmill, which they claim is much different than done before. And although it generates electricity at as little as 5 mph, it obviously isn't limited to that slow speed. Personally I don't find wind sexier than pv -- it's strictly a practical matter for me, no sex involved period. I live very far north where we don't get much sun for 6 months of the year, but near the coast where we get wind almost daily, so up here we tend to look at wind and tidal power ahead of solar.

John Michael Greer said...

Sage, that's true of a lot of places -- lots of wind at some times, none at all at others. Like all green wizard projects, it depends on local factors!

Mary, it's an interesting project. They've basically taken the classic Savonius design and tweaked it for increased efficiency. Since it's still not yet in production, it's anyone's guess how well it will stand up to actual use, but if they engineer it well and don't cut corners, it could work.

Frankster, thanks for the link.

Thijs, that's a question that's occurred to me as well. I have no idea what the answer might be.

Brian, it's a good link -- thanks for reposting it.

DIYer, true enough. If your backyard wind turbine breaks down, by contrast, it might succeed in frightening some squirrels.

Kathy, the problem down the road won't be finding a way to use the power locally, it'll be keeping the turbine up and running in the absence of spare parts. You might look into lower-tech turbines you can put in the new one's place when it finally breaks down.

Rashakor, vertical turbines have advantages, and so do horizontal ones. It's the opposite of a one size fits all situation!

Mat, there are ways to simplify and streamline the workload -- and of course I've been saying all along that families of the future will be much better off if at least one member stays home and produces value in the household economy, instead of going to a conventional job to earn money.

Planner, that's certainly one way to approach the matter. I've noticed, though, that the religion of progress is losing devotees at a noticeable rate these days, so there's definitely also a place for the wild-eyed heretic shouting "Progress is dead!"

Ghung, the links all work nicely; many thanks. Yes, the tower's a challenge, but so long as you don't live in a place with zoning issues, there are options.

Matt and Jess, that there's a classic, though it's only one way to build a Savonius. As for amateur radio, it's still a going concern, though you're right that too much of today's ham radio uses high-tech rigs straight out of the box. Alternator safety tips -- well, I don't recall any particular dangers, but you'll want to check with those who know more about the subject.

Evan, the tests cited on The Oil Drum were sharply and, I think, rightly criticized for drawing sweeping conclusions from a narrow and poorly sited sample, and for measuring those conclusions against current energy use habits -- which, as I've said repeatedly, will not be supportable by any means once fossil fuels run short.

That said, location is crucial -- my house, for example, is on a hillside surrounded by trees, and so wind power of any kind almost certainly won't be an option for me. If I lived in a small town in Nebraska, on the other hand, odds are I'd be able to install a wind turbine and do very well by it.

John Michael Greer said...

Rural, I'll have to do some looking -- it's been a while. If other readers have some suggestions, by all means post 'em!

Ghung, in many places, you're probably right that solar power is a better bet than wind; still, there are exceptions.

Professor, I saw that. Dmitry's always entertaining!

Bilbo, please keep us posted! I'm not an expert on batteries, and would be very interested to learn.

Ghung, I think you're probably wise to let people know in advance that if they're not willing to make the effort to prepare, you're not willing to make the effort to save a place for them.

Paula, depends on the municipality, and also on the neighborhood; as the social class rises, the number of idiotic regulations usually goes up as well. The roofline setup might be interesting to test, though.

Raven, I didn't think it was a favorable review at all, but then Dmitry and I differ on some serious issues.

Kats, you might want to look into windpower ordinances in place in other cities and towns, and see if you can get an equivalent through your own city council.

Justjohn, thanks for the links! They're right that at least some of the rooftop mounted units are wildly overpriced and will never even pay back their costs -- there's a lot of profiteering in the energy field these days. Still, a relatively inexpensive unit mounted a good distance up in an area with plenty of wind can do very well indeed.

William, all good points!

Bob, interesting. Just remember that starting at low wind speed doesn't mean you can get much energy out of that low a wind!

Ruben said...

For those interested in the myth of technology, I very strongly recommend Ursula Franklin's 'The Real World of Technology'.

John Weber said...

I had three modern small wind machines. Not one lasted more than seven years, even the best one made. I know Jacobs lasted long time. However, the batteries and electronics are high tech also. All predicated on fossil fuels.
Solar and Wind are not renewable. The energy from solar and from wind is of course renewable but the devices used to capture the energy of the sun and wind is not renewable. Nor are they green or sustainable.

An oak tree is renewable. A horse is renewable. They reproduce themselves. The human-made equipment used to capture solar energy or wind energy is not renewable. There is considerable fossil fuel energy embedded in this equipment. The many components used in devices to capture solar energy, wind energy, tidal energy and biomass energy – aluminum, glass, copper, rare metals, petroleum in many forms to name a few – are fossil fuel dependent.
From: Energy in the Real World with pictures of proof.

John Michael Greer said...

David, that's an interesting point. Using wood as a fuel has certain issues that have to be addressed, and I plan on doing that in an upcoming post, but if those are dealt with adequately wood gas might well be worth exploring.

Kieran, it's an attractive turbine -- though I'd want to see independent verification of its real world power output. Your broader point, though, stands: there's a lot of ingenious stuff out there, some of which can very definitely be put to green wizard use.

Twilight, the idea of reviving the glory of the Roman Empire was still enough of a live issue in the 20th century that Mussolini used it -- and people didn't laugh until it became clear just how little he was actually able to do about it. Still, that narrative had to compete with another which saw the Roman Empire as an evil thing that deserved its fate. I suspect we'll see equivalent struggles between competing myths in our future.

Don, bingo. That's why I've always encouraged people interested in long term survival to learn how to brew good beer; if Attila the Hun shows up at your doorstep, and you can hand him a tall glass of something foamy, you've got a friend.

Ruben, I haven't read that -- thanks for the recommendation.

John, the fact that many current windpower devices are brittle, overpriced toys made of nonrenewable materials doesn't mean that all windpower everywhere has to fit that description; furthermore, as I've pointed out more than once here, the fact that the solar or wind power device you choose may not be sustainable over the long term doesn't change the fact that it can help you get through the next few decades of crisis.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Mary

"2 days ago a brochure turned up in my mail on a small (rooftop) home wind turbine scheduled to hit the market this fall."

I'd be very cautious about a roof top mounted turbine. There's a group of off-grid folks here in Colorado who do seminars and workshops, and also sell their own home-brewed wind turbines, and at the workshop I attended, they made it pretty clear that height is one of the most important considerations.

Here's an example of their work - a wood wind turbine featuring a *wooden* alternator (the housing, obviously, not the armature :).

I was *very* impressed with these guys, who are not engineers, but tinkerers and empiricists (they would probably benefit from engaging with some of the former), and recall distinctly that they regarded rooftop wind as largely infeasible. IIRC, they said one of the primary criteria was that your turbine should be about 30 feet taller than any other nearby object - I think this was to avoid turbulence issues. Roof top installs generally do not meet that criteria, and are often installed more as status symbols (e.g. Ed Begley) than to meet real needs.

- Oz

DPW said...

@ Matt: Re - non-regligios world-views.

You may want to Google "Greg Goode - Standing as Awareness"

At first crack it may seem like NewAgeism, but go a little deeper and there is a common thread uniting all primary spirituality and philisophies. Essentially: the "you" you take yourself to be is not a solid and defensible thing. It is constantly changing based on perception, causes, conditions, etc. It responds to immutable laws that you choose to take for granted, but it is not a fixed position. This same standpoint is at the heart of most indigenious/ancient orders - all is self, Gaia, etc. and also is the core of Zen, Advaita, Existensialism, etc.

As an intellectual practice, it's fun to play with.

As a way of life, or an ethos, or whatever, it's pretty beneficial: you act out of what needs to be done to meet the reality of where you are based on an understanding of your compulsions from learned experience and your knowledge that being in touch with the harmony of the universse leads you towards treating your-self and others with kindness, compassion, generosity, etc.

Whether that is ostensibly at the heart of the Druid teachings, I don't know...but I imagine if you peeled away the complexity of semantics, you'd find some good similarities.

What I like about it is that you can approach it from a scientific/intellectual realm via meta-physics (as discussed in JMG's Wealth of Nature) or from a more hippie-dippie stance of just feeling it to be true when you sit quietly in nature and tune in to what's really happening.

Best of luck to ya!

Brian Johnson said...


A few basic equations can give us some real food for thought in this case. Firstly we figure out how much energy we can get extract from air of a certain density moving at a certain speed. Let's say we're at sea level, so air density is 1.23 kg/cubic meter. We'll say the turbine is sitting in a 20mph (8.9 meter/second) breeze. The site gives the swept area (width*height for a horizontal axis turbine) as 1.34 square meters. To get the energy available from this breeze, plug these values into this equation: 1/2 * air density * swept area * air velocity cubed = 581 Watts. The power curve chart shows 1000 watts at 20mph. So either these cats have found a way to build a machine that can extract more energy than is physically available from the air blowing across it, or the buyer is going to be rather dissatisfied with the real world output. I'd guess the latter. Especially if you factor that a turbine is not going to be able to exceed the Bentz limit of 59% (see And in the case of this apparently drag-based turbine (the best you can expect for energy extraction is 17% (see here So if the wind has 581 Watts of energy and your turbine is 17% efficient, then you can expect to get 98 Watts. Will it work? Yes. Will it do what they claim? Probably not. They say on the site is Savonius based as JMG pointed out, but it does have what appear to be lift based blades around the perimeter, so it is possible this device can do better than 17% maximum for a drag based machine but it's likely well under 30% efficient. This is why horizontal axis turbines are better suited for making electricity. They are much better at extracting available energy. However, if you need something simple, cheap, low-speed with higher torque that operates in winds blowing in any direction (say, running a water pump), then a drag based turbine is well suited.

GHung said...

@ Mary: I'll be interested to actually see one in operation. Those of us who have studied small scale wind energy are always looking forward to breakthroughs in efficiency and reliability, and have also seen many claims that have as yet to be proven, especially regarding VAWTs. There are inherent problems with the verticle designs:

VAWTs have little or no aerodynamic overspeed protection. Most rely on some form of braking, turning the unit into a sail. No way to turn its full profile out of the wind (furling).

They have only a single axis, single point of support which is at 90 degrees to the wind.

One or more of the vanes or blades is always moving directly against the wind, reducing efficiency vs. horizontal turbines where all blades are producing power.

Question: Have the engineers done a sight survey, actually installing an anemometer/data logger? If so, they should be able to give a close estimate of actual production, and be willing to guarantee their claims. I actually did this and still wasn't getting predicted output, due to gusty conditions at my site. A better survey would have revealed this.

Please keep us posted on your progress. As I said I would be excited to see someone solve some of these issues holding VAWT development back, and would love to see one on every homestead roof.

Another rooftop upstart (horizontal) design which I think looks really cool, though this reviewer seems to be asking the correct, tough questions.

One of the Remnant said...

As I read each installment the ADR, the thought often occurs to me '*this* is the best yet'! I have that sense once again. Consistently brilliant, lucid and solid.

It's not often enough said: thank you so much, JMG.

Comment on this statement:

"In the face of a future where small, cheap, localized approaches that are sparing in their use of resources, relying on massive, expensive, centralized, resource-intensive power plants of any kind is not an economy but a profligacy of scale, and one that we very probably will not be able to afford for much longer."

This is not only true for power plants, but for virtually every other aspect of modern, industrial, hyper-centralized life. I am thinking in particular of 'globalization,' effectively a wage arbitration scheme made possible only by cheap transport.

I think this is very exciting, because, to me, it says 'jobs.' As much angst as we see expressed in the comments section about 'what am I going to do for work in a de-industrializing age?' my suspicion is that, at some point, there will be vast amounts of work needed to devise and put into place these "small, cheap, localized approaches."

Getting through the upcoming rapids will be difficult, on many levels, not least because IMO government at all levels will work ceaselessly to increase the duration of those rapids, but once past, I think there will be plenty of work for everyone who wants it. After all, 'industrialization' itself can be defined as the process of replacing human workers with machines, and so de-industrialization by necessity will be the unwinding of that paradigm, the playing of that tape backwards.

With a bit of luck, those who prepare now will be in positions to guide that process wherever they may be found. Three cheers for the green wizards and their fearless leader! :)

- Oz

Michael Tweiten said...

Scale is a concept that always seems to take a conversation somewhere else that is interesting. Regarding the myth of technological innovation and progress we should look at the scale that is implicit in the mythology and how scale is experienced by individual people.

When economists say "economies of scale" they always seem to mean large- or global- scale, never the appropriate scale. When people hear about peak oil, or climate change for that matter, and invoke the myth of technology and Progress, "innovation will save us", they seem to also invoke the large-scale. More importantly the implicit assertion is that these problems will be solved by *someone else*, presumably a large-scale organization. With our current situation we seem to have large-scale organizations solving our problems and dilemmas with highly complex systems while on the household-scale we experience that complexity as very simple systems. Purchase a box, plug it into a wall, press buttons.

I agree that in the future the large-scale complex systems will falter and examples of complexity in societies across the globe will diminish, that we will be "in decline". On the household level this will be experienced as "complexification" of people lives: Teach the kids how to better tend the chickens, borrow your brother's hand-plane to finish a new windmill prop, help your neighbor find a source of bone-meal to fix phosphorous deficiencies in her vegetables. . . In short if one follows a Green wizard-like path efficiency, innovation and technological development will occur rapidly and continually in your life for as long as you live it. Life will become more complex for the individual, household and local community.

I think it is a key component to the mythology of progress in our day and age that all the progress is done by other people. What many people are really afraid of and resist is responsibility and self-improvement. On the other hand- Many people in this discussion seem to be excited! I am also looking forward to working, learning and innovating for the rest of my life.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Kathy D

"This week's blog hits home as I'll be investing in a grid tied turbine... probably today. We farm in a rural and isolated area and have the state/federal incentives to realize a turbine that will produce more power than our farm uses."

Don't forget: those fed and state subsidies apply to batteries as well, which will not be the case down the road if you wish to add them on later. And a grid tied system dies with the grid.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ GHung

"...and perhaps my favorite...

The Wood 103: A Wooden 100 Watt Wind Generator also mostly behind a paywall."

See this link for the full PDF. I saw these guys - the two Dans - at last year's Sustainability Fair in Ft Collins - they were really compelling. They walk the talk.

The main website shows seminars and workshops for 2011. Well worth attending, if within a reasonable range.

- Oz

Houyhnhnm said...

John Weber said, "An oak tree is renewable. A horse is renewable. They reproduce themselves. The human-made equipment used to capture solar energy or wind energy is not renewable."

A horse treadmill with hardwood slats is sounding better and better. I would think the necessary hardware for the PTO could be salvaged for quite a while.


One of the Remnant said...

@ GHung

"What to do when, if things get crazy, folks start showing up, as if I'm preparing some sort of bugout camp for unprepared fools? Quite a few folks, friends, family, have jokingly said that if TSHTF, they'll just come to my place. Lately I've been responding "No, you won't." No joke..."

It's a good question.

I tend to think (the utilitarian argument - not gonna touch the ethical one :), when things do indeed get crazy, that it will be better to have additional hands to help, so I think some provision might be made for this. That is, if the SHTF in a serious way, having friends and family at your back may not be such a bad idea. Of course, you are free in such a case to dictate terms.

What I would shoot back, instead of a 'no, you won't' is: 'what skills will you bring with you that would prove sufficiently useful or necessary to gain you a slot?' Might actually plant a seed this way.

For my part, the lone survivalist thing doesn't appeal - community is where it's at, and is what will be needed to do anything more than to simply survive. I'm trying to find ways to make that a part of my planning. I like the idea of being able to offer a sanctuary - plus I'd get to make family and friends do all the hard work. ;-)

- Oz

Rialian said...

===Just saw the mention of good beer, and would like to point out this fine book: Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers: The Secrets of Ancient Fermentation ( I just started a batch of the fine Yarrow beer....and it has no hops in it. (smiles) Herbal brews make good medicine, if you know what you are working with. Yarrow beer has been quite good for us in treating a bit of a cold/cough, and actually seems ot hep with burns when applied shorly after the burn happens

John Michael Greer said...

Remnant, very much so -- down the road, it means jobs and lots of them. The challenge will be figuring out ways to make those jobs pay a wage at a time when our current money system is either dysfunctional or simply defunct. It's a common problem when civilizations go down, though it usually turns out to be soluble.

Michael, excellent! You get today's gold star for perspicacity. You're quite right, of course; one of the main reasons people spend their time fantasizing about fusion power, solar satellites, and similar examples of snake oil is precisely that they can pretend to themselves that they don't have to do anything. Fortunately, there are those who are eager to do something, and they're getting to work.

Houyhnhnm, using livestock of various kinds as a source of mechanical energy is an old and viable approach; if horses are your preferred power source, they certainly ought to be usable for generating modest amounts of electricity.

Rialian, I've got a copy -- an excellent book. Very few people realize that hops are only one of scores of bitter herbs that were used not so long ago to give beer that pleasant edge. I may try yarrow beer one of these days -- we've got plenty of it growing in the garden, for healing use and as a pollinator magnet.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi JMG and all,

This is a shameless plug for the continuing series that I'm writing on all things solar power. This article I've written about wire and fuses and it explains the issues around these in a simple non techo way. It's even a bit entertaining as I melted some wires for your reading pleasure to show what can go horribly wrong and why.

Here's the link:

Please feel free to drop a comment.



GHung said...

Thanks Oz, for the Wood 103 link, and the advice.

I'm not as heartless as it may seem.

I actually made a list once, including my own kids, my wifes kids, grandkids, a few immediate family members (a couple of very handy/hardworking cousins) and a friend with some very applicable skills. It came to over 25 people. Then, of course, they'll show up with their spouses, kids and so forth.....the group gets much larger quickly, far more than this 40 acres can feed, water, keep warm....I think you can see my point. Oh yeah, there's also me (I?) and my wife ;-)

I know the likelyhood of this many folks showing up isn't high, but one never knows. WTSHTF: "We'll go up to Pappy's place. He's got lots of room, and solar too!"

I keep thinking back to Katrina and folks' sense of entitlement: "Why doesn't somebody do something?!"
This ain't the Salvation Army.

Glenn said...

A lot of windmill/turbine discussion today. A few basics from the '70's when I first looked into this.

Horizontal V.S. vertical axis machines: Horizontal axis machines produce more usable power per swept area, due in part to being able to utilize airfoil section blades and facing into the wind, reducing drag; also easier to feather or turn aside to deal with excess wind.

Vertical axis: Being omnidirectional, respond better to gusts and shifts, more suitable to a site with changing winds. Vulnerable to overspeeding problems, generally less "efficient".

Tower Height: Critical
Wind speed increases with height due to surface friction. Over open water 50 feet is where speed stabilizes and does not tend to increase any more with height (At least due to friction, there are higher winds at higher heights, not harvestable with homebrew tech.) In general, the advice to have the turbine blades at least 30 feet higher than surrounding buildings or trees is very sound.

Batteries. I've heard of the Edison Iron batteries before. They do have longer lives than lead-acid, but have a lower "power density". Best used for stationary applications. Lead Acid CAN be recycled safely, but it does take care. They are more usefull for vehicles and boats, where weight is an issue. And they make pretty good ballast in sailboats...

Marrowstone Island.

Glenn said...

Matt and Jess,

I am still attending Boat School, and I am still at

Please contact me offline if you still want to know how it's working out.

Marrowstone Island

Jay said...

JMG, a great post as always. My two cents on making some energy are based on three years living off grid now. This winter I eliminated our need to ever run a back-up generator (used to be a daily winter chore for a few hours), and added a chest freezer to boot. I do live in a northern climate, so what I did was lay the fridge down and turn it into a cooler. You can see it on Youtube ('turn your fridge into a cooler'). Now that it is warm out, we still freeze the bottles outside, but they are in the chest freezer. On sunny days, I can use water as a battery of sorts by stocking more bottles in the freezer, thus letting the excess solar power freeze more water. I pull them on cloudy stretches.

Any way I love your blog, had your last book be required reading for a college class that I teach, and hammered on Peak Oil and how to use less energy.

I also must say DIY aerodynamic motorized bikes, and wood gas or anaerobic methane for cooking/a little mobility might be interesting.

All in all you are one of the shinning few who is talking sense in a public way and getting a away with it, now there is some magic. Blessings! Jesse

Post Carbon Pioneers said...

Try _Homebrew Wind Power: A Hands-on Guie to harnessing the Wind_. Copyright 2009.

I bought this title for myself and asked my library to purchase a copy too. These are the homebrew wind guys in Colorado. They've done many prototypes to get their system down pat. They do indeed offer seminars, although I've not attended any. Although I've been collecting many books from the 70s since J M Greer suggested the idea, this one intrigued me because it's recent, and so is using updated technologies, yet they build everything in their mountain workshop.

I think they've self-published, but as a librarian, I can tell you that this is an excellent job of publication. Well organized, well edited, clear photos.

Here's a link to their website:

I've not built it myself, but wanted it in my library, just in case.

J9 said...

Hello! Following up from my post last week, I thought I'd let everyone wknow that I went back and follwed the Link over to the Low Tech Magazine on Pedal Power (Provided By JMG in first post f the month "In the World After Abundance") and read about the most efficient way to use (and not use!) pedal power. I then followed-up on the main reference cited by them ("Pedal Power in Work, Leisure and Transportation", edited by James McCullagh, Rodale Press, 1977. Still the best resource on pedal powered machines.) and in hunting for a copy of this book, found a free PDF on line.
Fellow Green Wizards, I urge you to get a copy

Best wishes to all!

Mercutio said...

Wind turbines depend upon rare earth elements. Nowadays China has a near monopoly on rare earth mining and processing.

While it might be possible, with effort, for the United States and other countries to mine rare earths, processing the demands high levels of technical expertise which we no longer possess.

Producing and distributing rare earths is a messy, environmentally harmful process of the sort which readers of this blog are well familiar.

dennis said...

Hopefully someone will be able to return us to an engineering/manufacturing based on durability. I have no faith in any manufactured product. Tools, computers, windmills, are all designed to fail. I have a stove from the 60's. My parents replace their new one about every four years cause they stop working. Same with the lawn mower, dishwasher, computer, drills, etc.
The myth of "affordable" might be one of our most damaging. All of the above could be built to last a life time. We just need a new myth.

I just ordered a new scythe. As a woodworker I have a natural love of tools and I'm really hoping this is a technology that works for me. Now if I can just get the wheat to grow. Gardening has a long apprenticeship and this student hasn't quite gotten ready for the teacher to appear. I always enjoy your perspective.

DeAnander said...

Question was asked: what about medical care after peak oil.

Discussed in some detail here: Post-Peak Medicine

Disclaimer: not affiliated in any way with author or site, just stumbled upon it and found it interesting.

Les said...

@ susancoyotesfan,

I’m sad to report that using your F&P washer as an electricity source is an either/or kind of thing. Either you wash clothes or move electrons with it. You need to pull the motor out of the machine to make a generator.
On the upside, that machine has a life as a washer of somewhere between 5 and 10 years, before its overcomplex electronics give out (and that’s a whole other topic – as an aside I have a close friend who had one of these machines years ago that used to stop washing, flash all its lights and play the theme from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, then pick up and keep washing – true story…) after which it should give many years of service as a wind turbine.
The bits that are not wind turbine material should be able to be converted into a haybox cooker or some such.
And, depending on where you live, there are always broken ones to salvage the motors out of (I’ve scored multiple motors this way, without having to start hassling the local repair shops for salvage).
For details on the howto, the best resource I’ve come across is:

All you could want and more on all kinds of wind turbines, including the F&P, plus a decent forum on much alternative power stuff.


Susan said...

What great timing! We just came back from a trip to California, and drove through one of those big wind farms. Those suckers are HUGE! The towers appear to be about 200' tall, and the turbine blades look like the wings of large jet airliners. A few of these big bird blenders were not spinning, which probably means they periodically require a few thousand dollars of maintenance to replace burned out bearings, etc.

Once the government runs out of money (which seems ready to happen just about any day now), the tax breaks and subsidies that make these beasts economically feasible will go away, and unless some corporate investor feels particularly generous they will all stop spinning eventually...

It occurs to us that these wind farms are nothing more than hugely expensive examples of crony capitalism, on a par with ethanol subsidies. Once our so-called leaders run out of other people's money (our tax dollars), then General Electric and the other big rent-seeking corporations are going to have to find another gravy train to ride.

The unspoken assumption in this discussion is that the whole form of our society will necessarily have to change in major ways. Large nation states will devolve into smaller, more local units: States, counties, local warlords... Every remaining bridge across any river will be a toll bridge run by whover has the local political power (i.e., the guys with the most guns).

There have always been a few big cities, such as London or Rome, which were able to grow so large only because they were imperial capitals. Until the industrial revolution, most people lived on farms or in small towns, and most people never even got as far as the next valley, except to steal wives from the neighboring tribes. Is it going to get back to something like that in the next century or so? Well, that may depend on what level of technology we can hold onto...

There will always be settlements in places where rivers converge Kansas City, Pittsburg), or along obvious trade routes (Cumberland, MD). There will be regional centers in agricultural areas (Topeka, Peoria). They may or may not be part of a single recognizable nation in another 50 years or so, but there will continue to be at least some level of trade between all these places.

I could easily imagine a future in which all of the small farming communities have their little wind farms, and the whole society is structured the way it was a thousand years ago, except for the tube radios and penicillin and a few other necessities. 12-volt DC from your own generator will be the new standard, and 110-volt AC from a far-away power plant will be the stuff of ancient legends...

Here's a science fiction scenario: Could the people who run Archer-Daniels-Midland be the ancestors of a future King of Peoria? Would that king owe fealty to Da Mare of Chicago? Or would Chicago be a radioactive dead zone after the fuel rods at all those Commonwealth Edison nuclear plants melt down, like at Fukushima?

Susan said...

Here's a thought from someone else who really likes trains... Back in the first half of the 20th century, there were numerous electric rail lines in the US; electric interurban systems covered the midwest before automobiles became readily available. The Great Northern and Milwaukee Road hauled freight and passengers across the Cascades behind electric locos, and the Norfolk and Western hauled millions of tons of coal to Tidewater. Most of the electrified lines were de-electrified when diesel fuel became so cheap and when people started driving gasoline-powered vehicles on paved roads. Only the Northeast Corridor remains...

But, as fossil fuels become more expensive, it might be possible for a new generation of railroad robber barrons to tie together what's left of our collapsed civilization, in an age where everyone else is limited to riding horses. Most of the rights of way are still there, although many have been converted to nature trails. The towns are still there, strung out like pearls on a necklace, just waiting for refugees from the failing cities to get back to the land.

So, why can't Union Pacific or BNSF electify their main lines with windmills and solar panels? After gasoline and diesel fuel are no longer available, electric railroads would be possibly the only economically viable form of land transportation (getting juice through the overhead wires is so much better than carrying around a limited-range battery in your Volt or Leaf, or driving an oxcart). Without competition from airplanes or automobiles, they would once again have a virtual monopoly on intercity transport, plus profit and power. What's not to like?

Yeah, I know... Railroads, even ones powered by renewable energy, are so industrial-age, but there is still going to be a need for some kind of transport system to keep some level of trade going between all those post-industrial villages. The rail lines exist. The customers exist. The railroads have the work force and the profit incentive, and the ability to raise lots of capital. This almost qualifies as a shovel-ready project...

Just a thought...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ghung,

"What to do when, if things get crazy, folks start showing up, as if I'm preparing some sort of bugout camp for unprepared fools?"

Ahh, the zombie argument rears it's ugly head again.

Don't stress Ghung, by the time most people realise that things have gone beyond the point of no return, it'll be too late for them. They'll lack the energy or the fitness required to get to your place.

I know this from personal experience.

We regularly lose the grid power (which I'm not connected to) over summer. Think high winds, high temperatures and either falling trees knocking out power lines or the powers that be simply cut this section of the grid off to relieve stress on other parts of the grid.

Everyone around here knows that I've got off grid solar power. Nobody wants to lose face by asking me for help. The strange thing is that I would help them and be cool about it at the same time...

Let alone people who are 10km's away. They wouldn't think to walk up here to ask for food. It's a risky strategy for them.

People will hang onto the things that they know well past the point of those things used by date.

I hope this relieves your concerns.

It's the things that you don't worry about that are likely to bring you unstuck!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi William Jorgensen,

Please don't take offense, but I hope that you are living far away from my corner of SE Australia! Your plans are somewhat disturbing and will also fail because they require quite a considerable amount of energy to implement.

Now I don't live very far away from where they filmed the original Mad Max film and I recognise a lot of the roads (even though they've since changed quite a bit). I must admit that I quite enjoyed the film too.

However, there was a logical fallacy in the film. They had access to what seemed like unlimited supplies of fuel. That's no small issue for a supercharged 351 V8 XC Falcon (I always liked Torana's better - smaller, lighter and handled better - think the A9X).

What actually happened during the Depression era in this area is that people actually helped others. It wasn't about taking, it was about co-operation. If that meant that you had a swaggie living down the bottom of the paddock then so be it. They'd do work in turn for food. It's that simple.

Remember that people also will hang onto the dregs of their high energy existence far beyond the point in time when it no longer makes sense. They do this because it is what they know.

Look at all of the negativity about the governments proposed carbon tax. No one is asking what is the collected money going to be used for, it's simply focusing on the increased cost of electricity for consumers.

It's a complex problem, but I'd come to an arrangement well before handing food over. In those situations, you cannot afford to think short term. Say if you came here and took all of my stored food, how would you feed yourself the day after tomorrow?

The strategy you are arguing makes no sense and you'd also have to get past the neighbours who I know quite well. It's risky and likely to have an unpleasant outcome.

I'd appreciate your consideration of the issues, and recommend that you plant a vegetable garden for you and your family instead.



Les said...

I was just discussing your post with my wife, particularly the bit that said “Those of my readers who have come to take the challenge of peak oil seriously, and tried to discuss it with family members, co-workers, and friends who haven’t yet grappled with the issues themselves, can testify just how forcefully most of these latter cling to the belief that some technological gimmick or other will bail us out.”
She immediately came up with the most terrifying analogy. She’s from a Jewish family, so the Holocaust looms large in the lexicon. She compared the mindset highlighted above with those Jews who stayed in Germany in the ‘30s. They were good professionals, doctors, lawyers and the like and they just couldn’t believe that things could get so bad. Hundreds of thousands of them went quietly when the SS came for them. They walked obediently into the gas chambers. They just couldn’t believe what was happening. So they went on as they always had.
And here it is, all over again: a belief system that just cannot be shaken, no matter how hard it gets kicked.
Based on this insight, I think I just gave up trying to convince my sleepwalking friends and co-workers of anything around peak oil, climate change, sustainability and the like. I’ll try and put my energies into something constructive instead. Like doing weird things to old washing machines.
So the house in Sydney is for sale, and we’re off to find the true meaning of sustainability.

The Heirloom Troubadour said...

It seems as though those that worship at the altar of progress are getting a decent enough slap in the face this week as Greece slouches loudly towards default. This development marks what appears to be a major turning point in the global financial crisis in that the protestors who have overtaken Athens provide a good example of the type of political turmoil that one can expect to occur with greater frequency in the cycle of crashes and recoveries that is set to rule global economics and politics as industrial society begins the slow and methodical process of disintegration. This type of turmoil is not confined to the Arab Spring, far from it, and as history has repeatedly shown, even in a post-industrialized society, political turmoil is generally accompanied by a sharp reduction in public services. This can impact everything from an individual's access to food to, as has recently been shown, the willingness of governments to provide access to the internet. Without well-established civic organizations that could fill the gap, the onus lies with the individual to scrape by an existence on an incredibly limited resource base.

This is why I believe that the projects that you recommend under the banner of Green Wizardry are so crucial in the vicious cycle of geopolitics that will drive the age of deindustrialization.

On that note, as I mentioned next week, my plans for home-generated power will mostly hinge on PV panels, however, I am also quite intrigued by the thought of a DIY wind turbine project. I did some digging around and found some interesting plans for small turbines that would cost about $150 to build, which could be significantly less depending on what could be salvaged. The plans seem straightforward enough, so I am thinking that I might start digging for parts and, pardon the bad pun, give it a whirl.


Tracy G said...

JMG wrote: "If I lived in a small town in Nebraska, on the other hand, odds are I'd be able to install a wind turbine and do very well by it."

As a native Nebraskan, I'm happy to report that there are indeed home wind turbines on at least a few of the family farms which still exist in my area.

Installing them in town is such a nice thought. It's an idea my husband and I have tossed around. It might even work for some of houses in the burgs up in the Sandhills. However… I feel obliged to mention Nebraska is the state where Arbor Day started.

When my home city of Hastings (pop. 25,000) began as a railroad town in 1872, there was not a single tree here. Now they're everywhere. We have a municipal arboretum which generates a fair bit of civic pride. On my own property, there's a fantastic red oak, planted the same decade as our 1920 bungalow, which now stands over 80 feet. In the summer, when the heat and humidity can be brutal, its canopy shades our entire roof during the afternoon and evening hours. The advantage, obviously, is that we're able to go without air conditioning much of the season. Our neighbors, who aren't blessed with a tree like ours, have been running their A/C unit since the first week in May.

On the other hand, erecting a tower high enough to clear that tree seems a wee bit impractical.

I don't mean to be a naysayer. This is just an explanation of why I see solar panels here and there while I'm out walking, whereas I've never encountered a turbine anywhere in town. I'm still following the conversation with interest. I have a Fisher and Paykel washer and was completely unaware of the stepper motor inside and didn't know it could be repurposed to help make electricity for the home. That is fascinating!

One of the Remnant said...

@ GHung

"I know the likelyhood of this many folks showing up isn't high, but one never knows. WTSHTF: "We'll go up to Pappy's place. He's got lots of room, and solar too!"

I keep thinking back to Katrina and folks' sense of entitlement: "Why doesn't somebody do something?!"

This ain't the Salvation Army."

It's a thorny issue, and no doubt about it.

I guess much depends on whether the SHTF is an event or a process unfolding over time. If the former, then you may be in a real pickle. But I think it's far more likely to play out as the latter. I don't think our descent will be as orderly as JMG's Long Descent implies for many (in fact, I think JMG has clarified in his posts here that he doesn't see a smooth, orderly descent, but perhaps more similar to Stephen Jay Gould's evolutionary notion of 'punctuated equilibrium'), and I personally think perhaps the future might best be seen as a process with sharp events occurring throughout, which events precipitate the next stage of the long-unfolding process. But even in this case, my sense is that 25+ people won't show up on your doorstep one day. In fact, if it does play out more as an unfolding process, your micro-situation will simply mirror the macro-situation - with perhaps 4 showing up one month, 2 a few months later, a half dozen a year after, etc.

If that's the case, you may be able to adjust as needed to such an intermittent influx - and to put those folks to work expanding the operation in anticipation of the next. Much like growing a business, adding 'employees' as the biz can support them.

I guess one ultimate question is: what is the long term carrying capacity of those 40 acres? In other words, what *is* the hard limit? And even that leaves out the interactions with others in your local community, which may bear on that question. If you can engage in mutual aid with your neighbors, that will tend to enhance your ability to sustain more folks by achieving some economies of scale that are unavailable to a lone householder.

And there is the notion of the household economy which plays into that as well - with more people under your roof, that's more people to craft goods which bring in value and which also integrate you into the broader community. Turning liabilities into assets is the name of the game here.

Further, will some of these folks show up with the wherewithal to purchase additional land nearby (if available), and so increase that 40 acres?

I guess it feels to me like you are planning to bear all the burdens of such a situation - that those who come to you will be helpless, as pure liabilities who will be wholly reliant upon your generosity and foresight - is this really the case? It may be - of course, I don't know the folks in question. But perhaps there is a way that any such influx could be seen reasonably as, at least in part, delivering assets to your operation, rather than simply burdens, as I noted above?

Besides, just imagine the immense satisfaction that you will get in repeatedly asserting 'I told you so!' to all and sundry throughout, and hearing them swear under their breath every time you do it. That alone may be worth the cost of admission. ;-)

- Oz

BruceH said...

This weekend is the 22nd annual Midwest Renewable Energy Association (MREA)Energy Fair in Amherst,Wisconsin (that's about 10 miles east of Stevens Point in the center of our state.)

For those of you who want to see what's available commercially in the way of solar, wind and biomass power, it's the place to be.

Even better are the talks and demonstrations conducted hourly throughout the day in 16 tents on the grounds. Everything from the simplest gadgets you can make in your basement to the esoteric.

It's North Americas largest such fair. I'll be there at the Green Party table on Sunday. Stop by and say Hi!.

John, if you've never been there, you should plan on it next year. There are featured speakers every year. You should be one. Last year Bill McKibben gave his talk on Global Warming and

It's held every year either the weekend before or just after the summer solstice.

Houyhnhnm said...

Wind power is big in Colorado, and we voluntarily pay a bit extra to support it through our local rural electric association. The average consumption for our cooperative is 1000 kWv a month, and we've cut our use to under 450, but, as is, that still doesn't matter because if its grid goes down, so do we.

So I was quite interested in small scale wind power until research confirmed what I already knew from experience. Our area rates "poor" on this map: “Colorado 50 M Wind Power"

A engineer/inventor friend is working on an alternative design that could work in our area, but his windulum is still in development.


Ric said...

Just a word on roof-mounted wind generators: please don't.

1) Unless your roof was designed for the loads a wind generator is going to put on it, you can do serious damage to your home. A typical roof deck is designed to shed water and (in snow country) hold a static load bearing straight down, not the kind of live loads a wind generator is going to subject it to.

2) A wind generator of sufficient size to make usable amounts of electricity will vibrate. Attached to your home, this constant vibration will, over time, do structural damage to your home.

3) A wind generator of sufficient size to make usable amounts of electricity will make noise. Attached to your home, you risk turning your living space into a giant amplifier/speaker.

4) As several other comments have pointed out, a wind generator needs to be well above any surrounding obstructions. Getting sufficient clearance with a tower attached to the roof of a structure is going to be impractical at best.

Wind power, depending on location, can be a valuable source of electricity, but there is more to it than just popping one up on the roof.

dragonfly said...

Mercutio said "Wind turbines depend upon rare earth elements."

This is only true for permanent magnet alternators/generators. The alternators in most cars, for example, have no permanent magnets at all - they use a field coil (electromagnet) to create the needed magnetic field.

artinnature said...

Regarding trying to discuss our predicament with family members, coworkers, and friends who haven’t yet grappled with the issues themselves:

In trying to do this I have had all the same difficulties mentioned by others here, I try very hard now not to get
into that discussion at all with people I care about, their reactions have been too visceral. But I find it fascinating
how most people reading this blog have grasped and accepted these concepts comparatively easily. I know it
really wasn't easy, most of us probably worked through at least some of Kubler-Ross' stages, I know I did. For 3-4 years I
had absolutely no doubt that renewable sources of energy could allow BAU if we only woke up and changed our
ways. But once I realized that it couldn't work out that way, I dove into the process of educating myself about
energy, thermodynamics and everything else discussed on this blog. That took about 6 months. Throughout
my process I don't once recall wanting to bury my head in the sand, everything I learned led to wanting to learn more,
not less, about our predicament.

So I wonder...why did I reacted this way? Presumably most others here reacted similarly, while most of the people in our lives react completely differently, violently defending BAU. It's almost like we are a different species, or have some genetic anomaly that is very rare in the general population. I often comment to my wife, upon seeing some particularly puzzling aspect of modern industrial life, "I don't understand the humans". Recently, many here have commented that figuring out how to get by with LESS is just plain fun! I completely agree, but nearly everyone I know
outside of the peak oil blogosphere would rather die than voluntarily choose to use much less of anything.

On a related note, add me to the list of those who, upon learning about the Druid Path, realized that "this is what I have
believed all along!" Most of us here appear to be somehow predisposed to accepting these ideas, both the crises
of industrial society and a spiritual path that embraces natural systems and processes. I just find it interesting that
"we" so easily see though the fog, and "they" have such difficulty.

JMG: Thank you so much for your excellent work.

Don Mason said...

GHung wrote:

“It came to over 25 people. Then, of course, they'll show up with their spouses, kids and so forth.....the group gets much larger quickly, far more than this 40 acres can feed, water, keep warm....”

A picture is better than a thousand words, so you might want to send them photos of their future accommodations.

You might explain to them that there are at least 25 people who may potentially show up if the SHTF, and that you are setting up a campground for them, since you can’t fit 25 additional people in your house.

Since you do a lot of salvaging, rummage around and find anything that can be used as makeshift tents: old blue tarps or 6-mil black plastic sheeting, and old 2 x 4’s or dead tree limbs for tent posts. Set up half a dozen of these makeshift pup tents in a neat row. Put some rocks in a circle with an empty coffee can for cooking, and add an old drywall bucket and some sawdust for a latrine. Then send some photos of your haute FEMA-favela to them.

Several outcomes are possible:

Good: In a SHTF emergency (acute or chronic), they show up and are already forewarned about how primitive their accommodations will be.

Better: In a SHTF emergency, they find better accommodations elsewhere.

Best: They take one look at the photographs, realize that the S is going to HTF, and immediately extract their heads from their own rear-ends and start getting prepared for what’s coming.

Ideal: The S never HTF because Sarah Palin is elected President, discovers a bazillion barrels of oil under the White House lawn, and we all live happily ever after.

Seriously, though.

This would demonstrate that you care about them and are concerned about their welfare, but what do they expect from you if the SHTF? A 10,000 square-foot Al Gore-style eco-mansion with a dozen private guest cottages and catered organic meals?

Susan said...

"Good enough" may have to be good enough in the post-carbon future. So, small hand-made wind turbines mounted on recycled telephone poles, and using home-made nickel-iron batteries for storage, may have to be good enough if there are no rare earth metals available for super efficient batteries, etc.

It is possible, using relatively simple technology, such as an acre or so of concentrating solar reflectors, to smelt and melt various alloys with reasonable melting points without using coal or even charcoal such as the earliest iron-age folks used. Quantities would be small, but imagine the value of, say, alnico magnets or replacement parts for old machines a hundred years from now.

How long would it take the ruinmen's guild to disassemble all of the skyscrapers on Manhattan Island or in Chicago's Loop? Even without fossil fuels to power the smelters and machine shops, our great grandchildren will have more than enough of all the necessary (non-organic) raw materials to live happily ever after, assuming they keep the population size steady.

Of course, in a world of limited resources, the average quality of life will be inversely proportional to the quantity of life, so having small families (just enough kids to work on the farm) would probably be the recommended course of action. Do we need oil wells to be able to manufacture birth-control pills?

I was looking at some graphs of world population going back to the beginning of recorded history. It would appear that the total population of Mother Earth was around a billion people up until the beginning of the scientific age and the industrial revolution.

So, in a world without fossil fuels, would the natural carrying capacity of planet Earth go back down to a billion or so? If we all had to make our own soil from available composting materials instead of using fetilizers from Monsanto or Dow, would we still be able to feed 7 or 8 billion people? Somehow, I doubt it.

If that's the case, what's going to happen to the other seven billion folks who currently live here? We're seeing some of the problems of negative population growth in places like Japan and Russia. I'm wondering if the societal upheavals that are coming at us in the rest of this century will result in a continued slow population decrease, or a very nasty rapid decrease? You know, like what happens when Israel and Iran, or India and Pakistan, go at it with nukes? Worrying about what kind of windmill to build may be the least of our problems...

Matt and Jess said...

My husband is reading the newest "eco-war etc" book, forwarded/contributed to by D. Jensen and co-written by two others. I was surprised to see your name, JMG, and book mentioned. Did you know that you are a "descender," and that you maintain that there is nothing to fear from our current crisis because of the orderly, smooth transition we'll make out of it? I didn't either.

Anyway, thank goodness for something useful to do. The hardest part I think is finding out how to start. I think I'll check out the wind guys in Colorado first, then google some basic instructions and see if the metalworking skills needed are something I can learn.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Mercutio

"Producing and distributing rare earths is a messy, environmentally harmful process of the sort which readers of this blog are well familiar."

No need to mine rare earths in post-peak - plenty available to salvage, if needed. As those giant windmills shut down, and as electronics fail, they'll be 'reclaimed' - this is not speculation - it is already happening:

Japan Recycles Minerals From Used Electronics

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Cherokee, thanks for the link!

Glenn, all that seems quite reasonable to me.

Jesse, thank you! I do what I can.

Pioneers, thanks for the recommendation. I'll check it out.

J9, excellent! Thank you for following this up.

Mercutio, your comment is an example of what I call "factoid logic." You've seen the claim that wind power depends on rare earth elements in the media, and used it as a debating point here without checking whether there are limits to that declarative statement. As it happens, there are; the only wind turbines that need rare earth elements are the giant grid-tied ones that I've been criticizing in my post; the small, homebuilt ones I've been recommending don't use any rare earth elements at all. Next time, please do your homework!

Dennis, if you wait for "someone" to do it, you'll be waiting a long time. It's got to start with each of us making that change in our own lives, and as far as possible, not patronizing those that don't.

DeAnander, thanks for the link.

Susan, the people who run Archer-Daniels-Midland aren't likely to leave descendants; one of the standard features of the decline and fall of a civilization is that the former upper classes are among the very first up against the wall. The rich folks who daydream about retreating into well-guarded gated communities haven't thought about what happens once the guards realize that they're a few bullets away from having all those goodies for themselves. Pretty? No, but that's how it tends to work.

Les, it may be a terrifying analogy but it's a fairly exact one. Good to hear you've taken it seriously and started taking the necessary steps to deal with the awkward fact that the future we're getting and the one we want aren't the same thing...

Troubador, well put. The collapse of public order is a fairly common event during crises of the sort we're moving into. Exactly how that will come to America is an interesting question, but you're quite right that it's by no means limited to the Arab world, or to Europe for that matter.

Tracy, as a Druid, I'm delighted to hear that Nebraska has planted all those trees! In that case use solar power instead.

Bruce, it sounds very interesting indeed. Perhaps you could drop my name in the ear of a couple of the organizers -- I'd be very interested in speaking at such an event, it's within easy train range, and my rates are reasonable.

Houyhnhnm, how many horses do you have? Methane might be a working option, to supplement solar energy and, of course, horse-powered treadmill.

Rick, exactly. 30 feet above the highest nearby obstruction is the basic rule of thumb I learned. A rooftop is a nearby obstruction. End of message.

John Michael Greer said...

Dragonfly, quite precisely true.

Art, it's a fascinating question. I went through my Kubler-Ross stages in my teen years, so had a bit of a head start on most people these days, but I certainly did have to go through them. Still, why so many people get stuck at the denial stage, while others go on through the process and come out the other side, is hard to say.

Susan, I figure that two hundred years from now the world will have maybe half a billion people. Getting there from here is going to be a long, bitter, ugly process, with those four guys on horses playing significant roles in most people's lives. Broadly speaking, that's what happens when a civilization comes unglued; the suggestions I make here aren't going to prevent that, though they may make things a little easier and provide people on the other end of the process with more options.

Matt and Jess, I hadn't seen that, but it doesn't surprise me at all. It's utterly necessary for hardcore dualists of all kinds to pretend that a spectrum only consists of its two endpoints; there can't be any middle ground, because once you admit that there's a middle ground you lose the ability to buffalo people into one of two simplistic and extremist viewpoints. As long as there's about the same number of people insisting that I'm hopelessly optimistic as there are insisting that I'm rabldly pessimistic, I figure I'm doing about right.

SophieGale said...


Archer Daniels Midland's corporate offices are in Decatur, IL (I had to look it up); Caterpillar Tractor is still the Great Yellow Father in Peoria--though they frequently make noises about moving to a state with a more submissive workforce. High tech medicine is next biggest player in town. I'm not sure how well the hospitals will negotiate the Long Descent, but I would be greatly surprised if Cat is not thinking hard about PO.

We've lost our passenger trains, but we still have our freight lines. When the new and improved Panama Canal opens in 2014, we are in a good position to become a hub for container cargo. In the future the river barons may be dictating to Chicago.

Zach said...

Yesterday, an errand took me to the east side of Ypsilanti. On the way back to work, my way took me past the shut-down Ford plant (that is a local icon on the highway, and, with the also-closed Willow Run plant, made Ypsilanti one of the boomtowns of the auto economy back in its day).

On one side of the road was the empty factory. The buildings are not showing much obvious decay, but the weeds are reclaiming the cracked asphalt of the parking lots.

On the other side was a bench, with an advertisement: "$$$ WE PAY GOOD CASH 4 YOUR JUNK CARS $$$"

Other than the possibility of one of those junk cars having an alternator, this isn't directly relevant to this week's Report, but it did seem to me a telling illustration of both catabolic collapse and of the salvage economy.


GHung said...

@ Don M., Thanks! This isn't something I obsess over. It just occurs to me it could be a bit like the Grashopper and the Ants, though this could become a case of one Ant, many Grasshoppers. At some point the Ant may need to invoke its inner sociopath ( and in the real world, we all know the Ants likely ate the Grashopper ;-)

All are welcome, at least for a time.

One of the Remnant said...

@ Susan

"Or would Chicago be a radioactive dead zone after the fuel rods at all those Commonwealth Edison nuclear plants melt down, like at Fukushima?"

Not just Chicago...

One of the Remnant said...

@ Chris

"What actually happened during the Depression era in this area is that people actually helped others. It wasn't about taking, it was about co-operation."

Exactly right. We have an awful lot of disaster sociology data which supports your contention, and which punctures the myth of 'mob panic' as the requisite response to calamity.

It's interesting that even many of those who can see past the myth of progress and techno-triumphalism can nevertheless fail to see past the 'Mad Max' myth. In both cases, the data and logic is plain to see. Thinking with myths, as JMG has pointed out, can be a dangerous business. I think it also has to do with the projection of the 'shadow,' as JMG has also discussed.

- Oz

One of the Remnant said...

@ artinnature

"I find it fascinating how most people reading this blog have grasped and accepted these concepts comparatively easily. ...

So I wonder...why did I react this way? Presumably most others here reacted similarly..."

I've often wondered at this myself. It really wasn't a struggle at all for me - once I'd dug into the data and logic, it was immediately clear to me that this was the real deal and the only real question was what would constitute a sensible response, and how to get there. There was no kicking and screaming involved.

Perhaps being disillusioned - literally - with BAU and modern society in general predisposes one to see this issue more clearly, without resistance?

That is, for my part anyway, the immensely deleterious nature of our industrialized, corporatist, centralized culture had become abundantly clear to me before I learned about peak oil. This despite being a well compensated silicon valley engineer. I felt I was contributing to the problem by participating in that system which perpetuated BAU (which is why I am no longer a silicon valley engineer). It was almost as though I'd been unconsciously waiting for the other shoe to drop - and when it came along, peak oil fit that bill.

It may also have to do with how seriously one takes one's own search for truth as well as one's own intellectual integrity. After all, logically, the peak oil thesis simply does not allow much wiggle room. So if one chooses to reject it, this usually demands one abandon one's claims to prize logical analysis as a preferred method of getting at the truth.

I'd be interested to hear about others' experiences in this regard.

- Oz

hawlkeye said...

I know for a fact that I exist, in far too many people’s minds, as someone they’d like to live near in case “things get really crazy”. But few of them consider any further details, or are willing to sit still long enough to ponder the ramifications of suchathing, when all they have to do is play a little game of What Might Happen If…(I do this while driving, hah!). I guess it takes courage or presence of mind, or both.

As it happens, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to which specific urban (or sub-urban) refugees I would be willing to host. And it’s a fairly short list; some immediate (as distinct from close) family members aren’t welcome to visit even before TSHTF. Aside from any practical skills they might possess, it’s easy to tell right now who is likely to step up, and more importantly, who will not.

Anyone who has grown up in an abusive household and pulled their lives together, has had to deal with some toxic, addictive and violent people they happened to be born into. Along the way, they’ve no doubt found dear friends and “support system network” of people who behave in their lives like a loving family would. These people become the true family, and the abusive bloodline folks are kept at a distance. Learning how to do this is often termed in the jargon “growing a healthy boundary”.

Now when the whole society is a bunch of abusive relatives suddenly denied their crack, it won’t turn out quite like the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. So learning how to have healthy boundaries in our personal relationships is just the training ground for maintaining healthy boundaries around our future ad hoc food supply. If you can’t tell someone to “Back Off” (or something similar) with conviction now, then how will you ever do so when the stakes are highest?

Also, Oz, I must comment on your joke about rubbing it in… I’ve found it very important to NEVER even imply “I told you so” in any discussion ever. We must become adept at befriending and becoming allies with folks we might imagine are the polar opposite from us; I’m imagining a right-wing, military-minded, red-white-and-blue Baptist, for instance. All I have to do is think about the depth of betrayal that person will experience as their world dissolves. Then I can choose to withhold judgment, and speak my portion with dignity, without dis-respecting their crumbling stance. This preserves THEIR dignity, and that’s the opening for purposeful alliance.

Nobody likes to hear “I told you so” and if you say that to your captive workers (their view) it can only foment resentment at best. It’s much better to have good help than be right, after all. Remember, most folks who so far have chosen NOT to venture down the Kubler-Ross trail, will become mental basket cases. Forget about useful skills, many people will not even know Who They Are any longer, as the underpinnings of their tenuous identities erode into…something else.

BTW, the Baptist just sold me a farm, and I don’t even know if he drinks, but I’m looking forward to having a beer with him, if you know what I mean…

One of the Remnant said...

@ Susan

"I'm wondering if the societal upheavals that are coming at us in the rest of this century will result in a continued slow population decrease, or a very nasty rapid decrease?"

One of the very interesting things that systems dynamics can do is to show the way that complex system can produce counter-intuitive results. The Limits to Growth study looked at population as one of its variables, and found that, in the event of social and economic collapse, population (as well as pollution) continues to increase for decades. Followed by a rather rapid decrease. So in answer to your question: yes. ;-)

It is also worth noting that ecologists who study carrying capacity understand that exceeding that carrying capacity for some period of time generally undermines it. That is, the carrying capacity prior to the industrial revolution has almost certainly been degraded to the point where the planet will be unable to carry the level of human population that it could back then. So, yeah, look for considerably less than a billion as a reasonable target.

Orlov has an interesting take on this issue:

"Now, die-offs, people have trouble imagining them. There was a bit of a die off in the Soviet Union after the Soviet Union collapsed. Life expectancy plummeted. The odd thing about it, I was there during that time, and it’s not really noticeable unless you happen to be dropping by the hospitals and the morgues all the time and going to a lot of funerals. You just don’t know that people are going away. Its more that people look at their school photos and realize that half their class is dead. And that’s a bit of a shock, but its more of a shock when you realize it than when its happening because you don’t really realize its happening. In fact human populations can shrink quite dramatically without anyone even within those populations really noticing. People just accept whatever is happening, tune it out, stop paying attention or cope with it some way."

- Oz

John Weber said...

Susan - your suggestions are creative
"It is possible, using relatively simple technology, such as an acre or so of concentrating solar reflectors, to smelt and melt various alloys with reasonable melting points without using coal or even charcoal such as the earliest iron-age folks used."

Each of these requires energy. I don't believe we can break even.

Much of what I read here sounds like the 70s of Mother Earth News, Countryside, Don and Abbey Marier's Alternative Energy, etc. (I have most of these mags). They were a dream then, I believe they are a dream now. Perhaps hope is what we must have regardless of the consequences.

In my essay on "New Middle Ages" I agree with your assessment.
We will be able to mine the carcass of civilization for many decades. From: New Middle Ages

One of the Remnant said...


"As long as there's about the same number of people insisting that I'm hopelessly optimistic as there are insisting that I'm rabldly pessimistic, I figure I'm doing about right."

A few weeks back, when the blog platform ate a bunch of replies, I recall one response you posted which briefly characterized your views on the smooth/orderly vs bumpy/chaotic descent positions. Unfortunately, this was lost to the blogosphere's nether regions.

My sense is that you expect a sort of 'punctuated equilibrium' scenario playing out, as humanity wends its way through the various intermediate stages (each initially disruptive [a large scale collapse in a subset of systems], but then settling toward a medium-term steady state after a time) along the way to an ecotechnic future centuries hence, but is this in fact accurate?

I'd reference your books, but I've lent all my copies out!

- Oz

Jason Heppenstall said...

@ Artinnature

I concur 100% with you. I used to think renewables could power everything, but when I woke up to the fact that they couldn't, I just became even more fascinated.

I'm often puzzled by other people's reactions to seemingly obvious things. Sometimes I marvel that we're from the same planet. I moved to Spain and renovated an old farm house, turning it into an organic smallholding. It was an idyllic life, albeit with a fair amount of hard work.

Yet when relatives came to visit they often reacted with something akin to shock. My father-in-law just shook his head and kept saying 'You can't live here' over an over. People also kept telling us that we couldn't live without electricity - ignoring the fact that we had a perfectly adequate solar system and lacked for hardly anything.

I could take the constant criticism, but it all got too much for the rest of the family, and the whole project ended in disaster.

The farm's still there, empty and unsellable, and we live unsustainable lives in a small flat in Denmark - but at least the friends and relatives are happy!

LewisLucanBooks said...

Last night our local electric shut down at 1AM to do "system reliability improvements." There was a small article in the paper. This has happened before, so I did a little prep.

I had abandoned my battery lantern and had gotten a hand cranked lantern / radio combo. It's maiden voyage. I made sure it was good and cranked up, before the power was cut.

Always interesting how dark, dark is. I was hoping to see the stars, but no dice. A gentle rain was falling. There was still some reflected light off the clouds from over by the freeway. But everything feels strange and disorienting.

But the point of this post is, the importance of being familiar with your equipment, before need. I crawled into bed with a good book. (A collection of short stories having to do with possible apocalypses.) I thought it would be nice to see what the local radio stations had to say. Well, since light is directed one way, and the radio controls are on the side ... I could not see the controls to turn them on. I would need another source of light.

So, I'm going to have to become very familiar with this useful little gizmo, before a real emergency happens. I suppose I could get enough reflection from a mirror, or light from a candle. But in an emergency, you want your touch to be sure.

So that's my lesson to myself for today. Be totally familiar with emergency supplies before the fact.

John Michael Greer said...

Zach, that's a succinct snapshot of America's near future. Thank you.

Hawlkeye, very well put. The ability to establish and maintain boundaries is very nearly a lost art these days, and learning it involves bucking the resistance of a society in which ignoring boundaries is very nearly a way of life, but it's crucial.

Remnant, fair enough. Basically, the model I'm using presupposes that the mechanics of decline and fall in other civilizations will be repeated in ours; since the same processes have applied on scales ranging from small regions to most of a continent, and on technological bases from neolithic to advanced iron age, I figure it's a good bet -- not least because the initial stages are already well under way.

The resulting model might be summarized as "stairstep decline." It's not a smooth curve; rather, it's a succession of crises interspersed with periods of relative stability and even partial recovery. Some of the crises are localized, some general; some are moderate and some drastic; each wrecks some portion of the civilization's infrastructure and exhausts some part of its remaining resource base.

Different areas and socioeconomic sectors decline at different rates, so that by the time the last hollowed-out shell of the old system collapses, usually as a result of one more crisis more or less indistinguishable from those that preceded it, most of the land area and surviving population has long since entered the new Dark Age reality. The Dark Age lasts a few centuries, during which new political and economic arrangements gradually come together, and as these develop the strength to reassert social order and allow for some degree of economic complexity, the new civilization gradually takes shape.

A very rough scenario in terms of our own time might involve industrial civilization coming apart in a series of wars, economic crises, subsistence crises, etc., between now and 2100, though by 2050 or so population levels will be dropping steadily and most of the survivors will no longer be living in anything like modern conditions. The ensuing Dark Ages might then last until 2500 -- a period of mass migrations, continued population decline, and social and political chaos -- followed by the emergence of new and potentially ecotechnic civilizations over the centuries that follow.

No, it's not a pleasant vision, but it's my best guess as to where we're headed. The one thing I'd add is that we're almost certainly in the early stages of one of those rounds of crisis, and that's going to occupy most of our time and attention for most of the rest of our lives.

John Michael Greer said...

Hawlkeye (offlist), I'll consider it, though I'm by no means sure that getting into such a debate right now would be useful. (I would have put your post through if not for the profanity, BTW. If you'd like to revise and resend...)

this wont hurt much said...

Having worked in the healthcare field longer than I want to think about, this weeks post made me pause and think about how much energy we use, and waste in hospitals. The medical community is seeing ongoing shortages of medications, shrinking reimbursements, and increased consumer expectations. Medicine today is driven by the CYA principal. There are many physicians who I am afraid have learned to rely on a ct or mri scanner. ( nothing wrong with either machine, but they are energy hogs) The day will certainly come when we see a much simpler form of medicine practiced, and a public the understands what the word mortal means.

Joel said...

It's Fuller's design, but he wasn't the first. Alexander Graham Bell built an octet truss tower in Beinn Bhreagh in 1907: 80 feet tall, built out of galvanized iron pipe.

This interview has Fuller discovering that Bell's work on kites pre-figured his own architecture work, along with a brief nod that the same patterns had existed all along, in the iron of the pipes and, with a subtle difference, in the zinc that protected them. (Fuller mentions that two layers of close-packed spheres will have the same vertices as most of the space frames we see, but he doesn't mention that adding a third layer requires a decision: iron tends to choose one way, forming BCC crystals, while zinc tends to choose the other, forming HCP crystals.)

LewisLucanBooks said...

Yes, the grid is a fragile thing. In just the last couple of days, we have this:

An eagle dropped a fawn on some power lines and electricity to a small community ceased. A transformer fire in Redmond, Washington yesterday knocked out power to 25,000 customers. Bellevue to Everett went dark. I see that the Arizona wildfires are threatening power lines and cell towers. Our own little blackout, here, last night was so they can upgrade our transformers with a critter prof model. Squirrels have been throwing themselves on the transformers and shorting them out. Probably depressed over the non-arrival of summer, this year.

It's all just so fragile.

This morning I was thinking about our little power outage. Even though I was well prepared, once I settled in, I immediately thought of ten little things I wanted to do but couldn't because of lack of light or power. Unimportant stuff that could wait. And I was irritated. How silly and unproductive. That whole I want what I want and I want it now. Or, preferably, yesterday. I'm glad I find out these things about myself, now, rather than in a real emergency.

0e2d6510-9a19-11e0-9662-000bcdcb8a73 said...

I would suppose, as Trey seems to demonstrate in your novel about Star's Reach, the the myth of a golden age in the past would be irresistible. The Greeks had such a myth, as, if you go with the Garden of Eden, do the Christians.

DeAnander said...


I also spent my "productive" (ha bloody ha) years in the high tech enclave -- in Big Science rather than one of the Silicon Valleys, but it's not so dissimilar (the pay was a bit lower but job security was far higher). When I was young I believed in Star Trek. I was born in the year of Sputnik. I was raised in the faith. Now I often feel like an escapee from some kind of Waco Compound for technomanagers :-)

I tried to sum up my apostasy from the Church of Star Trek in a 2006 essay, The Future I was Promised. I think my position has only become more heretical since :-) and as with most religious apostasy, the ex-believer is a more vehement and passionate critic of the dogma than any mere nonbeliever...

Anyway, somewhat OT but your comment struck a chord -- fellow refugee from the technomanagerial Fantasy Island -- and I wanted to acknowledge the moment of kinship. I wonder how many "life loving economic doomers" are also apostates from the science and tech guilds -- after all, we were trained to observe phenomena and analyze/report them honestly, which makes it kind of difficult to ignore the huge malf we call a culture :-)

Apologies to our host for going a bit OT.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Don Mason,

Genius at it's best!

I particularly liked the headings: good; better; best; and ideal.

10 out of 10, the best laugh I've had all week.

40 acres won't feed that many people, without substantial alterations to their diet. This concept more than the tents would rock their world. Out of respect to JMG, I'm not going to raise that particular argument or expand on it further.

Much respect.


hawlkeye said...

Well, I've been spanked for profanity here before, so I've learned to wear my grade-school editor's cap, but I honestly cannot identify the offending verbage in the offed post. Sorry.

But I disagree, it would absolutely be instructive to learn precisely where you and Mr. Orlov part ways on the collapse trail. Perhaps not a personal debate, but at least tell us why you don't think it would be useful. Is it too late in the game, or are your respective differences too fine to matter?

While we're standing on the bluff, looking out over the vast future landscape before us, surely two scouts are better than one?

August Johnson said...

@ Remnant, DeAnander – I came from the techno arena too, 19 years at a University in Astronomy & Physics Research, then 13 years as system admin and radio engineer at a rural electric co-op. This co-existed with my thinking that “there's something about this that can't work”. I really had no problems accepting things about sustainability, peak oil, etc, they just seemed to fall in line... “That makes sense!” Over the last 20-25 years I just kept refining my view of what was going on.

Now, just a thought about wind generators & thermoelectric. If anyone is thinking about having the rather small output from thermoelectric and making use of it, something that I see as quite possible, keep this in mind; you don't have to have the most efficient wind generator to just get a little power at times to store in a battery. I can imagine a small home-made turbine and some thermoelectric basically trickle charging a battery as the opportunity arises. This doesn't have to be a fancy thing on a high tower, some power gotten cheaply from scrounged parts absolutely beats nothing from the expensive turbine on the high tower that you can't afford. The thermoelectric could also scavenge some from the sun when it's out.

Think about either a car alternator or maybe a home-built thing like that Home Power article mounted on a 10-15 foot tower, periodically making some watts in the breeze. That would keep some LEDs lit at night and maybe a radio. It doesn't have to be very efficient to scavenge a few watt-hours/day to do that, yet its something that almost anybody could find what's necessary to make it.

One of the Remnant said...

"it would absolutely be instructive to learn precisely where you and Mr. Orlov part ways on the collapse trail..."

I second the motion. :)

In fact, I would give just about anything to see a day long panel discussion featuring JMG, Dmitry Orlov, and David Kororwicz to discuss their visions, where they intersect, where they don't, and why.

I'd have to place JMG squarely in the lead, but each has made unique and immensely valuable contributions to my understanding of peak oil and its implications, far moreso than other peakist pundits, including well known ones figures such as Kunstler and Heinberg. Not to say the latter don't have their merits, but their thinking seems to be to be limited by some pretty obvious biases, which get in the way of clear thinking and logically grounded imagination.

Such a three-way confab could be, methinks, enormously beneficial.

Hey, I can dream, can't I? ;-)

- Oz

John Michael Greer said...

Hurt Much, the energy issue is huge, but there are much greater problems with American medicine. Add up the annual death tolls from drug side effects, drug interactions, nosocomial infections, surgical errors and plain old ordinary malpractice sometime; it exceeds the annual toll from heart disease, or cancer, or any other single cause. When the practice of medicine is the leading cause of death in a society, I think it's fair to say that the energy burden is not the first thing that needs to be addressed.

Joel, no, I didn't know that! Thanks for the info.

Lewis, maybe the squirrels are Gaian commandos rehearsing for Nature's final assault; same for the eagle and the fawn. If the power goes down and you start seeing detachments of cougars moving very deliberately down the streets, be very afraid... ;-)

Oe2, the myth of paradise is pretty much universal, but so is the myth of the mighty but evil kingdom that is gone. It would be interesting to know what combination of those two ends up shaping the historical vision of the future.

DeAnander, thank you for posting the link to that essay! I enjoyed it, having grown up with much the same science fiction vision of the future, and gone through the same wake-up-and-smell-the-asphalt experience of realizing that it's basically a religious fantasy, and someone else's religion to boot.

Hawlkeye and Remnant, the problem here is that explaining exactly why Dmitry's smoking his shorts would require me to sit everyone down, so to speak, and have a long talk about the nature of power in contemporary America, and the ways that the narratives of elite malignity and omnipotence that have become the conventional wisdom in American society falsify and corrupt our collective dialogue about the future.

Every time I've brought those points up here, even in passing, a sizable fraction of my readership has basically had a cow. If I take the time to walk through the logic, explaining point for point where the conventional wisdom runs off the rails, they wouldn't have a cow. They'd have an entire herd.

Of longhorns.

With attitude.

Now I'm probably going to have to do that, and deal with the fact that maybe half my readership will storm off this blog in a huff, because once the Green Wizards series of posts is more or less complete, the next theme I want to discuss here is the twilight of American empire as a near-term political and economic reality. Making sense of that is going to require a less caricatured sense of how America operates as a polity and an empire than the sort of talk usual on the internet these days.

Still, that's going to take something like half a dozen posts all by itself. I suppose that's convenient, as it ought to give everybody a chance to have their cows, or herds, over the course of six weeks or so rather than all at once.

sofistek said...

There may be a third reason why wind will not provide energy on the (growing) scale we're used to. A recent article in New Scientist reported on work by a scientist looking at the maximum energy available for us to divert from natural energy systems. It suggested definite limits on wind energy, if we didn't want to suffer adverse environmental impacts. I haven't fully read the original research though the author did seem to favour solar energy (even though I don't think he'd looked at the impacts of that yet).

One of the Remnant said...

@ DeAnander, August

I suspect there are a fair number of us refugees from science and techno land, perhaps in no small part due to the reasons you stated:

"we were trained to observe phenomena and analyze/report them honestly"

And yet, so many have chosen and continue to choose the blue pill instead...

DeAnander: truly excellent essay - enjoyable and edifying. Thank you for the pointer.

I have to say I think the original Star Trek series did not relentlessly promote the myth of progress nearly so much as the later series, and movies, and in some cases warned of the dangers of scientific hubris (remember NOMAD?). It's interesting because I never much cared for any of the later incarnations - perhaps that's one reason why. At least I'd like to think so. ;-)

- Oz

hawlkeye said...

Excellent! It sounds to me like you're holding the reins to a wonderful way to introduce your next theme... let the wild horses drag you away! It could be...exciting.

Somebody's gotta ride point in this roundup. I agree mostly with Oz's line-up, who else is there?

I hope you're wrong about your readership, which perhaps has grown a bit since you tested those waters? Americans especially need a poking in the tender places that provoke self-reflection and genuine change, holler and squawk as they will.

It really is time to throw the gate and let 'er rip. And I for one am already sitting down.

Rapt. With homegrown popcorn roasted in my solar popcorn cooker...

hapibeli said...

I'm downloading
as I write this comment. What an amazing amount of info!!! Thanks so much for the link...

mageprof said...

JMG wrote:

"Every time I've brought those points up here, even in passing, a sizable fraction of my readership has basically had a cow. If I take the time to walk through the logic, explaining point for point where the conventional wisdom runs off the rails, they wouldn't have a cow. They'd have an entire herd.

Of longhorns.

With attitude."

This is precisely why this discussion needs to happen someday. And here is one reader who won't have a cow.

One of the Remnant said...


"If I take the time to walk through the logic, explaining point for point where the conventional wisdom runs off the rails, they wouldn't have a cow. They'd have an entire herd."

This may well indicate that this will be a very important series of posts, then. Preaching to the choir is less contentious, of course, but also, in the end, less rewarding.

While I often initially resist (or even have a cow :) when confronted with opposing views in regard to something I have formed a strong and (IMO) informed opinion about, if that opposing view comes from a credible source such as yourself, then I simply have to consider it seriously, or forfeit my sense of intellectual integrity, which I take quite seriously. I suspect that this is true for many of us who are regulars on this blog.

So, while a herd of longhorns may in fact erupt, I suspect that this would be both a necessary and good thing, even if feathers are ruffled in the process (apologies for mixing metaphors :).

I perceive some serious deficiencies in terms of conventional political wisdom, which I consider to be dangerous in light of our likely future, and so a debate on that subject which exposes the fallacies involved will be a very useful process for all involved, IMO.

Looking forward to it.

- Oz

sgage said...

"Still, that's going to take something like half a dozen posts all by itself. I suppose that's convenient, as it ought to give everybody a chance to have their cows, or herds, over the course of six weeks or so rather than all at once. "

I, for one, can't wait. Get along little dogy!


Red Neck Girl said...

I haven't posted much since I signed up because I wanted to be on my property and building before offering my two cents on preparations for a sustainable lifestyle. As I was screwing my courage up to apply for the business grants needed my roommate and best friend suffered a near fatal health crisis which has left her physically and somewhat mentally impaired. I have become her full time care giver and have stewed over how I could manage to buy, build and manage the stable that would support and pay the way for me, my friends and heirs into a post industrial world. I've realized I have no choice BUT to continue seeking a grant to build.

One of the things I want to offer the boarders at my stable is a garden patch, since if you have no place to keep a horse you likely won't have anywhere to raise a decent garden either. And if my boarders want to do their own cleaning as well as feeding I see no reason why they couldn't keep chickens at the back of their garden plot in a properly designed coop and pen.

I'll be underhanded sneaky in finding people of like minds in the area by offering such perks at the stable. An excellent way to separate the chaff from the grain when it comes to possible acceptance as extra hands for work in the inevitable collapse. The manner of building in the stable will be such that if families want to move onto the property to work it with my 'family' and I, the warmblood or Stallion stalls would be snug and secure housing with the AP room available for community cooking and the bathrooms close by for communal use.

And then as long as the economy permits there's all that natural fertilizer going out the back door that would provide the grass seeds needed for the pastures without my having to pay for them, set up in their own naturally fertilized starter packages!

One of the necessities for the stable will be a nice big shop for initially fixing broken pipe fencing, wood working, mechanical repairs and automotive and equipment maintenance. Once motors of any kind become a luxury I think it will be just as handy to set up a blacksmithing hearth under the parking overhang.

Coming of age in the 70's and raised in a lumber camp I was a bit of an anomaly. I saw how the old growth forests in the area were being logged out and I realized that things couldn't go on that way indefinitely. As a result the prospect of the decline of civilization although sad doesn't depress me. One of my early aspirations was riding the Pacific Crest Trail just so I could see what the world looked like before industrialization. Sadly, I never did. And yes, I've a hard time getting through to people what's happening too. It's their choice if they don't want to know.

I'm still getting ideas on how to make the construction of the stable easy to maintain over half a century and beyond. I'm always thinking of ways to make the stable as self sufficient as possible! (I've got a million ideas and new ones occurring regularly!)

I still want to breed a line of good horses, a combination of stock and mountain horses suitable for this area. And I still want to breed, train and sell stock dogs too. I think in the future the orchards here will shrink, with much of the land in the valley going back into farms and less well watered areas into cattle ranches. In such a situation a premium line of horses and stock dogs would be a modest but steady income and in such a rapidly changing world that's all you can ask for.

Wadulisi Tsalagi

DeAnander said...

I await the stampede with the greatest of interest :-)

Don Mason said...

Susan wrote: “…it might be possible for a new generation of railroad robber barons to tie together what's left of our collapsed civilization, in an age where everyone else is limited to riding horses. Most of the rights of way are still there, although many have been converted to nature trails. The towns are still there, strung out like pearls on a necklace, just waiting for refugees from the failing cities to get back to the land.”

I agree that re-establishing conventional rail wouldn’t be difficult to do. The hardest part of building a railroad is surveying the route, acquiring right-of-way, and moving huge amounts of earth to establish grade. All of that is still mostly in place, or would be fairly easy to re-establish. Constructing the track is pretty simple: it’s just like building a picket fence, except that it doesn’t even have to stand upright. In fact, the trains run much better when the track is laying down flat on the ground. :-)

Don Mason said...

Re: Cow, Having a

In terms of having something interesting to say and knowing how to say it, John Michael Greer and Dmitry Orlov are two of the best writers we have available to help us peer over the peak of Hubbert’s Curve and imagine what awaits us in the nether world below.

We know where these two authors generally agree – peak oil, climate destabilization, the suicidal madness of nuclear energy – but a discussion of their points of disagreement would be most instructive.

This blog would be a good place for the discussion. I’m learning a lot from both JMG’s essays and from the various posters. A lot of knowledgeable people are posting here.

In addition, it helps to know that real live people are trying to do important work in the real world, particularly when the current ratio of grasshoppers to ants is running – at best - about 100 to 1.

In my opinion, JMG has been doing an excellent job of moderating these discussions: not forcing Politburo party-line rigidity on the one hand or encouraging total space lizard wackiness on the other. The general tone of the posts is respectful, which is a refreshing change from the childish name-calling on some other sites. People seem focused on ideas that could be useful.

So this would be an excellent location for some serious discussions about “the nature of power in contemporary America, and the ways that the narratives of elite malignity and omnipotence that have become the conventional wisdom in American society falsify and corrupt our collective dialogue about the future.”

If some people cannot stand having their assumptions challenged, so be it.

Personally, the sooner I learn that one of my ideas is just brain-dead dumb, the better. It may bruise my tender ego, but it saves me from spending a lot of time and energy running down the wrong road, only to have to back up and start over from the beginning.

And with the situation we’re in, that could be a fatal mistake. I prefer being embarrassed but alive to being smug but dead.

So to the tune of the 1973 Stephen Sondheim song from “A Little Night Music”: “Send in the cows…”

John Michael Greer said...

Sofistek, thank you for the link and reference! That's something I'd been wondering about for a while.

Hawlkeye, Mageprof, Remnant, Sgage, and Don, so noted! We've got a few months worth of green wizardry to work through, and then some preliminary issues to clear away, then it's cattle time. The upcoming series of posts is going to be a bit of a departure for me, since I'll be addressing the political and military spheres as well as more familiar issues of economics, energy, and cultural narratives.

Redneck, I'm sorry to hear about your friend! It speaks well of you that you were willing to put your own plans on hold to give her the help she needs. Still, you're right, of course -- if you're going to do it, and it still sounds like an excellent idea, now's the time.

John Michael Greer said...

Raven (offlist), conspiracy theories are always off topic here. If you want to link to an essay that documents its assertions in a way that can be checked, that might be another matter.

mageprof said...

Don Mason wrote:

"I agree that re-establishing conventional rail wouldn’t be difficult to do. The hardest part of building a railroad is surveying the route, acquiring right-of-way, and moving huge amounts of earth to establish grade. All of that is still mostly in place, or would be fairly easy to re-establish. Constructing the track is pretty simple: it’s just like building a picket fence, except that it doesn’t even have to stand upright."

All true: the right of way is still mostly there, and the roadbed could be restored now as it was first made, namely, by manual labor.

However, getting new rails may be a very big problem. I remember hearing, back in the '50s, a knowledgeable person saying that the steel of railroad rails was an exceptional steel, very hard to make, but able to take the weight and the pounding and still keep its shape and strength.

artinnature said...

@JMG: "the nature of power in contemporary America, and the ways that the narratives of elite malignity and omnipotence that have become the conventional wisdom in American society falsify and corrupt our collective dialogue about the future"

Ooooooh yummy (drool) Yes please.

I'd like to repeat the sentiment that your outstanding moderation of this blog is much appreciated. The posters here are consistently excellent. Thanks for weeding out those that are not.

Zach said...

Hmm... JMG, I read Orlov's review as largely positive. So I'm missing something. Perhaps I got lost in the riff on Melville.


GHung said...

JMG: "We've got a few months worth of green wizardry to work through, and then some preliminary issues to clear away, then it's cattle time."

Thanks for that. I have a few months of my own ongoing Green Wizardry during this critical season of putting by and preparation. I've only just begun this year's canning and pickling (always a rewarding time, though time consuming); our solar heaters are comming along well but still much to do there; a bumper crop of berries this year is begging to be picked and canned/dryed; good rainfall is helping nature to encroach upon my less natural claims upon it; and I am paying a bit of a social price for my stubborn determination to salvage some sanity out of the madness.

The collective dialogue is, indeed, false and corrupt. It, for me, is a bit like the stories about empaths or the telepathic not being able to function in society due to the massive amount of senseless noise constantly invading their minds. Better to tune out the noise for now and concentrate on the tasks at hand. I consider the current group of posts as 'helps' during my progress toward what I've deterimined to be more sensible ways.

JMG: "The upcoming series of posts is going to be a bit of a departure for me, ...."

These discussions may best be had next to the warm fires of winter. More time then, for me anyway, to give them their due.

Solar water heater update: My first built-from-salvaged-stuff homebuilt is complete, though not on it's permanent mount. Yesterday it achieved a 24 degree (f) temperature increase at a water flow of 1.2 GPM (@4 LPM) for a time. The temperature of a 55 gal drum of water was increased from 67 degrees to 118 degrees during the partly overcast day. Not bad for "one man's junk". I'll continue to test flow rates and refine numbers.

Perhaps I'll post a picture link today. It is my hope to inspire some of you to attempt some of these projects; not very difficult and highly rewarding. My thanks to the folks at BuilditSolar for planting the seeds for this project. I hope to complete two more collectors before winter.

Keep your noses to the grindstones, y'all..

Houyhnhnm said...


I own five horses. With boarders and neighbors, I could gather manure from another ten or more horses. Better yet, neighbors have cattle, so I am considering methane.

Labor and construction are issues though, so right now all the manure I can gather goes toward adding organic matter to our heavy clay, i.e. food before heat and light. Meanwhile, I dream of a hail-proof, manure-heated greenhouse.


GHung said...

HELP, JMG! My second link is broken so I've resubmitted the last post, below, hopefully corrected. Can you fix it? Thanks!

PV Note:

Prices have really dropped on PV lately. The Chinese have a glut of overproduction hitting the market. Now may be a good time to get a few panels, just to have. I'll be glad to post a couple of links if folks are interested.

As an example: One of these, hooked through one of these to a couple of these would provide quite a bit of power and allow for some expansion, for less than a thousand dollars. Add your own wire and fuses, a small inverter perhaps. Easy to take with you if you have to bug out.

Note: I have no affiliation with the linked vendor (although I can attest to their reliability). I can provide others.

RPC said...


Just wondering whether you're going to address mini-hydro before you leave the Green Wizard series of posts. I'm not thinking here of micro-hydro (i.e. something an individual could do if provided with flowing water on their property), but the 1MW sort of thing that could be available at the community level. I live near Philadelphia and the streams and rivers around here are peppered with dams that used to have associated mills or alternators. As fossil fuels deplete, flowing water is going to be one of the more concentrated energy sources still available. Most of the Wisconsin towns where I spent my childhood summers had ponds or lakes with hydroelectric alternators that could be eminently useful at the neighborhood or community level whether or not the larger grid survived - it would be nice to still have that option.

Cherokee Organics said...


As a suggestion, it may be instructive to readers to have a look at the situation in Greece. With debt levels at 160% of GDP and little to no possibility of ever repaying those loans, it's pretty scary. A default is looming and further bailouts will do nothing other than delay the situation.

Also, I think the reaction of the population to the imposition of austerity measures maybe quite educational to those readers here that believe that an economic wind down leads directly to a complete break down in the social fabric. It's a little view into the future. It's instructive to see where the populations anger is directed.



Kieran O'Neill said...

I'd like to third Don Mason and artinnature by thanking you for the time and effort you've put into moderating these discussions. Your moderation policy is a breath of fresh air in an Internet filled with suffocating astro-turfers and extremists. I'm aware that it takes a lot of time and energy, and am extremely grateful for it.

Don Mason said...

@ GHung

Quick question about your solar water heater: I followed the link to BuilditSolar. Did you use PEX or copper for the tubing? Around my neighborhood, the junkies immediately steal anything made of copper. But PEX has no resale value, so it might work here. Either way, it looks like a good D-I-Y project. Bringing the cost of the panel down makes it financially feasible – particularly if you scrounge most of the materials.

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Ghung,

Yeah, the prices are cheap and certainly you'd pay far more over here for solar gear. However, before people go out and buy the gear...

The panel was 205w at 12v which equates to a maximum output of 17amps (ie. 205w = 12v x 17A).

The controller that you recommend could hook up a single panel only as it is rated at a maximum input of 25amps. Two of the above panels at 17A = a total of 34amps which exceeds the 25A rating.

One panel is OK and it is a good brand of controller - I've heard good things about them.

Two panels however, is not good and you would cook the regulator within a few days (it won't happen straight away but it will happen).

The battery is rated at 54amps at 12v. I'm assuming this is at the 20 hour rate (it doesn't say though, it just gives the 100 hour rate). So at the 20 hour rate, you could draw 2.7amps (54amps / 20hours = 2.7Ah) an hour from the battery max.

Now 2.7Ah is about enough to run a small efficient car fridge (which coincedentally uses one of the thermoelectric devices in reverse). Plus, well, nothing else really. The other thing to remember is that you'd only have enough power to run it for a single day before the battery needs to be completely recharged. The panel would probably do the recharging though - just.

Anyway, the summary is that the components, whilst individually good, if put together in a system would not be much use for other than an emergency small solar powered refrigerator.

If this is what you were intending then nice work. If you intended otherwise, then it's probably not a bad idea to not get peoples hopes up too high.



Cherokee Organics said...


Thanks for your efforts in this continuing dialogue. It's a powerful tool and guide.

Much respect


idiotgrrl said...

One problem - that of what happens to our cultural database as the grid goes down - has been addressed by this guy:

For myself, I'm keeping the most valuable reference books on my shelf in hardback format, with plastic slip covers (open at one end to allow the books to breathe), while the light reading goes on the Kindle.

As the push to digitize our data gains momentum and libraries turn into cybercafes, this becomes very important in my view.

Robo said...

Here's another link for Nickel-Iron batteries:

Who knew there was an association dedicated to this technology! I will definitely miss the internet when it's gone.

GHung said...

@Don M.

I used 1/2" OD soft copper for the risers that I had recovered from a neighbor's propane line that didn't meet code. I got almost 200 feet of the stuff. My headers are 1/2" type M. A few years ago I got hundreds of coper fittings on clearance from the HD that were the pre-soldered type no one wanted. The folks at the store didn't notice that the price, even at the time, was lower than the scrap worth of the copper. I think I paid $3.00 for each bag of 50 tees and ells. You gotta pay attention!

I used my 1/2" pex crimper to swage the soft copper nice and tight into the hard copper risers, then braised everything with 15% silvaloy. I don't trust soldering for projects like this. Eight risers, 5" on center. For glazing I have 6 sheets of low iron tempered glass 44" X 72", recovered from some old solar HW panels that used to be on a local hospital. The copper in the panels was in bad shape (delaminated and corroded) so I sold it as scrap to fund my project costs (some new copper tubing, silicone, paint, etc.), enough stuff to eventually build three of these. I used the sheet aluminum from the old panel cases as a back plane absorber for the fin assembly. Aluminum flashing from my scrounge pile for fins, formed and constructed as per 'Buildit'.

I'm toying with using pex to build one unit, though, with the current cost of pex fittings, I can likely buy more copper tubing for about the same (as I already have the copper tees, et. al.).

Did you see the tests of pex vs. copper on Buildit? Not bad for the pex unit. All things considered, one may do better to build an extra pex unit to run in series. It just depends on one's situation. My system is a drainback (in winter), so series isn't really an option.

Good luck!

BTW: About theft; around here they could take a lot more than copper if I'm not around as we're a bit rural. We don't bother to lock doors 'cause they would just throw a patio chair through a big solar window or something. Then there're the dogs.....and rock salt....and my somewhat cranky reputation amongst the population.....

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ RPC Our town (Centralia, Washington) gets 30% of it's power from it's own hydro plant. Been around since the 1920s, I think, when it produced 100% of the needed power. Here's a link to their website...

Of course, it seems there is always someone on the City Council making noises about selling off the utility. When that happens, I fire off a letter to the local newspaper and raise heck on the newspaper's blog. Anytime someone comes around stumping for a position on the council, the first thing I say is "Do not sell our city utility!"

LewisLucanBooks said...

Our local newspaper has a feature every day, "Today in History" from it's files. They run back to the 1880s. Here's one that caught my eye, a few days ago...

"Man Almost Kills Himself With Dynamo in 1911.
During this week in June 1911, a local farm worked almost killed himself when trying to work on a dynamo (electric generator.)

Walter A. Thompson, a farm hand who went to work for Mat Rowley a short time ago, was nearly killed yesterday morning while trying to adjust a power-dynamo used at Rowley's place.

Thompson was using the power when something went wrong. He saw a harmless looking wire was awry and needed, apparently, the simple adjustment of placing the wire back upon its socket. His knowledge of electricity was too vague for him to realize that he was handling a live wire with strong voltage loaded for diffusion to the touch. He was senseless when one of Mr. Rowley's sons found him, and was brought to town where he was treated for shock."

Just seemed interesting and timely given this weeks topic.

GHung said...

@Chris, yeah, after doing the math, I figure one could safely add about 100 more watts to the controller, doable if one found a panel with similar voltage specs. It may be better to upgrade to the 50 amp controller if one anticipates expanding much.

I speced two of the batteries, and with the 25 amp controller plus the single panel, one would have a nice little usable system for lighting, radio, 12 volt fan, power for an RV absorption fridge (igniter), small 12 volt water pump, stuff like that. While I didn't mean to imply that folks could run a whole house, it sure beats sitting in the dark. But that's what this series seems to be about; making the mostest with the leastest, and not having a "longage of expectations".

I lived quite comfortably in an old RV for several years with much the same setup. I kind of miss it.

John Weber said...

idiotgrrl - I agree. I started a library in 1968 of valuable resources from herbals to materia medicas (ldest 1888) to mechanical engineering tables to gardening info of all kinds to some sociological, anthropological and psychological classics. Often, in chaotic situations the masses look for blame everywhere but themselves. And burn the evil books.

John Weber said...

I also want to thank you not only for this particular blog but also for the brilliance of most of your work. It is truly a breath of fresh air in a suffocating world.

GHung said...

@Robo: Thanks for the link! Which led to a vendor actually shipping Ni-Fe batteries. They're beautiful, though at four+ times the cost of my lead-acid forklift set, one can only dream (even if they last 4X+ as long).

Dennis D said...

Cherokee, you need to look at the panel spec's for the current. The power rating is peak power at peak current, at standard conditions. The actual current on the referenced panel is 7.9 amps, at 26 volts. To get maximum power into a 12 volt battery, a MPPT charge controller is required, as well as adjusting output for temperature. Without a fancy charge controller, real world performance is likely closer to 100 watts actual.

GHung said...

@Dennis D: For clarity,the Solar Boost 2512i is an MPPT controller. One could spec a PWM controller like this but I feel an MPPT controler is worth the extra money over time.

My favorite....

For the uninitiated, more on the advantages of MPPT controllers here.

DIYer said...

One last comment for this essay ...
Lots of good stuff in the comments this week. Robo, thanks for that other NiFe battery link. Although I am still a cubicle rat, I have dreams of retiring off-grid someplace. And NiFe batteries have been on my mind for decades.

And a remark on using pex tubing: Be aware that sunlight is very destructive to most hydrocarbon polymers, especially polyethylene. Even if it is solar rated (meaning they put some UV-absorbing dye in it), it will eventually (≤10 years) dry out, crack, and crumble if exposed to direct sunlight every day.

Jason said...

JMG: Now I'm probably going to have to do that


Oh heavens am I fedup with the it's-their-faulters. People who can't grasp predictability or responsibility, who don't know the difference between knowing the cause and shifting the blame. One by one I've watched people slide into this dramatic emotional 'satisfaction' (which actually only gets them angrier and angrier), often people I respected. Please put your thoughts on more detailed record.

In any case, you have an almost Socrates-like effect, in that the more sacred cows you destroy, in the long term the bigger this comments page gets. And whatever is in store for you, I don't think it's hemlock... so go for it!

(But don't slow down on the Lao-Tzu thing in order to do it ^_^)

Don Mason said...

@ GHung and DIYer

Thanks for the input on copper vs. PEX.

The data was interesting: the PEX was almost as efficient as the copper, but it probably won't last as long.

Did you see the photos they had of PCVC? The pipes looked like a painting by Salvadore Dali... I'm melting, melting....

Stagnation temperatures are challenging.

Saskatchewan said...

I am wondering you have put any thought into food preservation issues. Most of current home food preservation (freezing and canning) requires a great deal of industrial inputs. (new canning lids every year, the electricity to keep a freezer running, ect) In a low tech situation, these things may not be available. This is topic that would be of great interest to me and likely, quite a few others. I look forward to every Wednesday. Thank you so much for your efforts.

John Weber said...

Saskatchewan - some food preservation issues.
We just built a large root cellar. Our potatoes from last fall are still good. See: Nancy Bubel's book for what and how.

Here in the north, we can do ice houses. We happen to be on a lake but there is Farmers Bulletin 1078 that explains how to do ice without a lake. I have it archived but could not find a listing for it on google.

There is drying. Right now we have Shiitake mushrooms drying in the greenhouse. This is a new experiment but so far so good.

There is vinegar and fermentation. We plan to make vinegar from our apples and blueberries for sell or trade. See: Wild Fermentation by Katz; Herbal Vinegar by Oster; Incredible Secrets of Vinegar by Antol; and Joy of Pickling by Ziedrich.

Some possibilities. Good luck.