Show people are renowned for innovating modern engineering, such as the locomotive traction engine. With features including a dynamo that powered hundreds of dazzling lights, drawing in the crowds. People loved the engines and still do today, flocking to steam rallies to see them. It was like a magic trick back then and unbelievable to most.
In keeping with tradition it is only right that modern Show people pioneer future engineering, such as solar power. The technology is improving rapidly, providing quiet, non-polluting and fuel-less energy. People are aware of solar power but still need to be convinced about it's reliability in replacing conventional energy sources. When installed properly it can also be magic and no one can believe the sun's power can be harnessed so instantly.
A solar system is more expensive than a generator, especially kW for kW. But there are no fuel costs and a good system should be fairly maintenance free. There is always the option to have it automatically backed up by a smaller generator, but a good system will handle spikes in demand far better than a conventional generator, so if sized correctly should be all you need.
Another issue is space, firstly you need space for the brain of the system, a charge controller, an inverter and breakers/fuses/trips. Secondly you need space and weight capacity for batteries, the more batteries the more power storage. Thirdly you need space for solar panels, the more panels the more instantaneous power.
If you already drive a big rig around then some extra weight shouldn't matter. The 'brain' and the batteries can easily fit into the size of a 5-10kW generator. But the panels need more creativity...and engineering. A few can be mounted on van/truck roof's, but more will require some clever thinking, incorporating the space the show has available.
For lighting LEDs come in all colours and fittings. They can be powered on AC 240V or on separate DC 12 or 24V. Again the initial expense is more than conventional light bulbs but they use very little power making them efficient for solar.
On our website are information flyers about simple solar systems you can size yourself. Or we can size and install mobile systems for you. Have a look at our website at www.resourceliving.org where you can see pictures of our mobile solar generator and get contact details.
Just over 4 months ago lock down started in the UK. We’re a family run business working in the event industry so we’ve lost a whole season of work. On any other year we leave in April and don’t return home until October. It gives us this whole half n half life where we get to live two different lifestyles.
During the summer we drive every week to a new festival site, usually where a lot of the crew are like family to us. We got the fire engine at the same time we had our first kid and so the business and family have grown together. There’s plenty of late nights, loud music and constant people and activities.
After being on the road with two small kids for 5 months we are well and truly ready to get ‘home’ to a routine and a bit of peace and quiet. The kids go back to school, we work on winter projects and our weekends become early nights and windswept beach walks.
When lock down first happened it was fortunate for us as we had more on at home and needed a break from the planning stress we go through getting ready for another season on the road. As a family we’re used to time as just us and adjusted fairly well.
Four months into the no events, no school and limited social needs met for any of us and I’m missing the festival family a lot! The aunts and uncles who’ve watch our boys grow from babies and take them off for adventures on quad bikes or creative workshops. The cousins who only meet once a year but after a shy 5 minutes are running off together getting up to mischief. The grandparents sneaking them sweets or bunging them a few quid to go on a ride. Each festival has its own unique village that is built up over a week and disappears in a day.
So no I’m not missing the sunny days spent on motorways and in service stations. I’m definitely not missing setting up the lighting in a downpour. And I’m not even missing the array of live music happening on my doorstep. But I am really missing my festival family and will definitely appreciate all the mad and wonderful folk that pass through my festival village next year!
Back in March I began these blogs with ’10 steps to create a green event’ and planned to write a blog about each of the steps with links to service providers I know and recommend. Then the lockdown happened and I focused on installing off grid systems rather than events as they all got cancelled.
Number 1 of the 10 steps was ‘Most importantly put being green to the top of the priority list, so this is today's blog.
We get a lot of inquiries from events wanting to ‘go green’ but when they realise they cant get their mate Dave with the mega sound system or their favourite caterers who electric fry chips and have 10 urns running all day and night, suddenly its not a top priority.
Once in a while we get a new event who do everything they possibly can to actually eliminate diesel generators and its such a pleasure for us. Such an event is Camp Quirky, we teamed up with Buzz from Solar Decker to run this festival completely from solar power. Everything was run by us before being booked and if it wasn’t feasible on solar, it wasn’t booked.
Its simple really but so many fall down on this basic step, it can be applied to pretty much anything we spend our money on. For example, potatoes, to get the local, organic potatoes they cost more than the supermarket ones but this is the REAL cost for REAL people to grow, harvest and supply these potatoes to you, the local customer. The supermarkets will often sell produce at a lower price than they pay for it because they know that once you are in the shop you will buy more (because of the low prices) and they will inevitably make their money on all the other crap you buy when all you actually needed was potatoes.
So Diesel has been heavily subsidised by the government for years and generators have been manufactured for several decades which reduces the price. Hiring out a diesel generator even with a technician and fuel for the weekend will always beat the price of a solar rig kW for kW. Also as diesel generators are so large these days its nigh on impossible to match the power generation with solar.
So not only are we asking you to pay more for solar but we are also asking you to use less power, its hard I know, and everyone is just trying to make a living. BUT, this is where the future is in our hands, if we just pay that bit extra for those local organic potatoes not only will we increase the nutritional value of what we eat but we will also put money straight back into our local economy and save money by not being enticed by the reduced section of the supermarket (and driving there). Furthermore our potatoes don’t come in single use plastic that we throw into landfill or travel miles to get to our plates.
We need to think of the extra we pay as a down payment on there actually being a habitable planet for our children to grow up on. So when you are planning your green event please don’t stop at recycling and decide that’s doing your bit, go the whole hog and get efficient PA’s, self powered caterers and traders and of course hire us and all our solar power provider friends and create a truly green event.
For those that can, we need to pay the REAL cost of things to balance out the massive inequality made by monopolies and economies of scale. Decentralise potato and power distribution..and everything else! Don't fall for the bargain because what pennies you save the future generation will have to pay, with interest.
Click here to learn about solar power at your event.
When lockdown was eased I went on facebook and my news feed was full of litter strewn beaches and beauty spots. I felt anger and despair as I’m sure many of you did. It got me thinking about why people litter and also reminded me of my feelings when people leave their rubbish, in a tied up black bag, in the middle of a field when they leave their camping spot at a festival.
So there’s a few reasons they do this, laziness, thoughtlessness, the bins were full, etc. It infuriates me when the reason is the latter, the bins are full. If they managed to bring all the food and camping stuff with them, why can’t they put the black bag in their car and pop it in their own bin when they get home. Take responsibility for their own rubbish.
The first reason, laziness, well that’s probably the most honest reason and shows that we must stop pandering to our kids and tidying up after them I suppose. It kinda goes along with the second reason of thoughtfulness, when someone is used to others cleaning up after them, they don’t even think whether they should take their rubbish or not. People are so used to being in owned territory, such as a pub or restaurant, where part of the ‘service’ is to be cleaned up after, that when they are in public territory they act the same. Like the natural environment is an place of entertainment, owned and serviced by others.
All this thinking about littering ended with a realisation that society is so disconnected from the land that it’s seen as an amusement park rather than a fundamental part of the living system that we are also a part of. In Maori culture humans are considered equal to and at one with the land, sea and rivers. The idea is reflected in the Maori word ‘ kaitiakitanga’, which means guarding and protecting the environment in order to respect ancestors and ensure its protection for future generations.
So how do we reconnect society with the land? People need access to the land and more importantly responsibility for the land. If people feel responsible and understand their own reliance on the environment for existence, they would take care of it, wouldn’t they?
I really struggle with rubbish, it’s constant onslaught, it’s marketed ‘convenience’, it’s green-washed recyclable or biodegradable status. I’m pretty obsessed with recycling and reusing, that’s why I love permaculture principles of re-using everything you possibly can.
I think we have a chance at festivals to instill a better mindset of taking your rubbish home. At the smaller festivals we work at there is rarely any rubbish left on the fields and some of them don't even have bins. Like Beulah festival in North Yorkshire, held on Lime Tree Farm a conservation site of wildflower meadows, ancient woodlands and wildlife ponds, where the people attending events there are entrusted with looking after the land and leaving it how they found it.
Then there are larger events like The Green Gathering whose policies on litter are that the use of disposable items and production of waste is discouraged and minimised by promotion of reuse, upcycling and repair. Genuine waste is composted or recycled where possible and education is provided on recycling categories and minimising waste to landfill/incineration.
I guess all we can do s influence our personal sphere of society, which for us is the festival circuit. More education, more leading by example and more connection to the land. Always pick up rubbish when you see it, always recycle if possible and of course reduce, re-use and repair.
Batteries are the heart of any off-grid system and provide energy storage. This means that when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing you can still used the power generated when they were.
Just a quick summary of battery basics for anyone starting out as they should be maintained and understood. 2 Volt cells make up the required voltage. Leisure and car batteries come in 6 cells to make 12 Volts and most domestic systems are a multiple of 12V (e.g. 24V, 48V). The higher the voltage the thinner cable can be used and the more efficient for inverting to 240V.
Batteries & cells can be wired up to work in series or parallel. In series the Volts add up and the Amps stay constant, so you use series configurations to increase the Voltage. In parallel the Amps add up and the Volts stay constant, so you use parallel configurations to increase the Amps which increase the storage capacity.
An Amp hour (Ah) is literally one amp for one hour, so with 100Ah you can have a one amp load for 100 hours, or a 5A load for 20 hours, or 50A load for 2 hours, and so on.
For smaller systems in boats and caravans we usually recommend 12V leisure batteries that can fit under seats or cupboards. You need to keep the weight down and they must fit inside the vehicle for transit. However when you get to static systems it's usually possible to use larger batteries. It's always nice to have a dedicated space for off grid power systems, such as a shed or external room to the dwelling. Vented batteries give off hydrogen gas which can be dangerous in closed and hot spaces, but don't worry, it can be managed.
Side note* In our original solar truck we had limited space and so the batteries were next to the wood burner. We built a box to house the batteries with 2 air gaps, fire resistant board and metal, as well as a sloped lid with active venting.
So larger batteries will obviously cost more so for a substantial domestic system you're looking at possibly 50% of the whole system cost to be the batteries, that's if you buy brand new. But in the true light of reduce, reuse and recycle, we have always used second hand forklift truck traction cells, plus they are generally about a quarter of the price! Many of the batteries used in industry have not exhausted their worth before being replaced, usually after 5 years or often if the machinery they are powering breaks.
Traction cells are great for domestic systems as they are designed to be run down to a low percentage every day (shift) and charged back up quickly overnight on a high charge. This means they can take a battering, unlike leisure batteries which require a trickle charge. To put this into context, if there are a few days of no input (no sun or wind) the supply will not be affected, if they are sized correctly, and if there is a huge amount of resource one day (very sunny or windy) they will absorb loads of that lovely energy for you to use later!
As with all components of a renewable energy system there are lots of points to weigh up and consider and unfortunately it often boils down to budget. But you can arm yourself with knowledge and reduce the demand for new items. Lead acid batteries are recyclable BUT it is done in developing countries and quite often to the detriment of the local people and ecosystems. Compared to lithium-ion batteries where the raw material is finite and although they can be recycled it is not 'economically viable yet.
So whats the most ethical decision? We have always fantasied about water energy storage. You need a hill with a reservoir at the top. You use excess power to pump water up the hill into the reservoir and run a hydro turbine when you need the power. Extremely site specific and requires constant management by either yourself or some electronic trickery.
More info like state of charge and sizing your own battery bank can be found on our downloadable battery flyer here.
It’s not often I get our business accounts all up to date in April but due to the lockdown I’ve had a chance that catch up with the paperwork so yes I’ve got the books up to date. But this time as well as logging the dates and amounts, I also logged the litres of fuel consumed by the fire engine and the hi-lux during the event season. I’m fun like that.
So here’s some fun facts for you..
We filled the fire engine the grand total of 9 times. It used 647.5 litres of fuel. The hi-lux used a similar 670.6 litres but will have driven many more miles as we use it for errands and visiting in between events. A guesstimate of miles per gallon is 25mpg for the hi-lux and 13mpg for the fire engine.
After looking through a few carbon emission calculators and other sites I settled on the larger number of 2.68 kg of carbon dioxide emitted for every litre of diesel consumed. If anyone reading this has a better calculation of this with reference please do comment. We’re all here to learn!
So skip the maths for those who don’t like it and we have 1735 kg or 1.7 tons of CO2 emitted from the fire engine and 1797 kg/1.8 tons CO2 from the hi-lux. Now I have my own personal feelings about off setting carbon and it can be misused by heavy emitters making millions from polluting the planet. But for us, it’s something we can practically do to say sorry to the world for driving dirty diesel engines about.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times we’ve been heckled for using a diesel truck to raise awareness about sustainable living. Our response usually highlights our low impact lifestyle and the fact that the fire engine towing our home from event to event is still far less than the average household. So how much carbon would a household emit over a 5 month festival season?
From a study I just found on the internet (1) it states a family of two adults and two children (as we are) would emit 28 tons of CO2 from home energy, transport and indirect emissions per year. Divide and multiply this figure for 5 months and you get 11.7 tons compared to our 3.5 tons for both vehicles over the 5 month season, not bad eh. Now the 11.7t figure does include indirect emissions which our 3.5t does not but the difference is still clear and even with indirect emissions added we would emit less than half CO2 than the ‘average’ family our size. Modern houses are designed to consume energy but that’s a whole other blog about passive houses!
Back to the offsetting and although there are quite a few organisations who can off set carbon for you, in the true spirit of self sufficiency and off grid living I thought that us planting enough trees would suit us better. Now having spent the last seven winters living in the woods we have planted many trees but not to off set. According to a google search, and please correct me if you have credible reason to, one tree will absorb 250kg (1/4 ton) of CO2 in its lifetime.
Great, now we’re getting somewhere, so the fire engine needs just under 7 trees and the hi-lux just over, give or take a few kgs. Therefore we need to plant 14 trees to offset our summer diesel use. That doesn’t seem to hard to achieve so I will update you all on my progress with that!
(Picture is of trees saved by nana to plant).
So, usually, right now my family and I would be madly rushing around getting ready for the festival season on the road. There would be lists on the wall of stuff to pack, people to ring, jobs on vehicles, bills to pay and quotes to send. A mini year planner, that fits on a caravan cupboard, with all the events we’re doing highlighted and the days ticked off. A weekly count down to when we leave on the calendar and ‘the oracle’ with all the dates, locations, distances, costs and contacts listed in chronological order. I know!
But this year there’s no urgency, no pressure and no crazy, stress inducing lists. Now don’t get me wrong, I love our season away. Five months every summer where ‘normal’ becomes tatting down and moving every week. Watching empty fields turn into a hive of activity for 5 or 6 days and then everyone scuttling away back to their routines and leaving us in an empty field again. But this year this is exactly what we need. You see we’ve just moved from our winter park up in some woods with no services to an amazing permaculture farm in a static caravan with all mod cons and this extra time makes sure we build a deck, porch and hopefully get a washing machine plumbed in (omg!).
I’m gonna miss the feeling of freedom as we hit the road. I’m gonna miss the sea of friendly faces each week, I’m gonna miss setting up all the solar panels and lighting in the blazing sunshine. I’m gonna miss jumping into the telehandler or hilux and exploring some amazing festival sites. I’m gonna miss hunting out the decent grocers and charity shops in each new town. I’m gonna miss the kids running free and coming home late with new friends. I’m gonna miss the steady stream of entertainment. I’m gonna miss it all, but...I’m not gonna miss the summer in west Wales as we usually do!
When are festivals gonna be allowed to run again? First the May events cancelled, or postponed. Camp Quirky was originally in the first weeks of May but have postponed till October, but will it be on? No one yet knows, I’ve read headlines saying it could be as late as autumn next year when festivals are allowed again! Two seasons...how we will all survive? There’s a lot of people who rely on events for all of their income. Then our June and Julys all cancelled till 2021, yes we’re taking bookings for next year, and now it’s looking unlikely the larger autumn events will take place.
One piece of good luck is we will be able to power the last L fest ever. There was a change of weekends for the scheduled 2020 which meant it clashed for us and we couldn’t attend. However now it’s rescheduled to 2021 on a weekend we can do. It would have been sad to miss the last one, we’ve been providing rainbow campsite lighting there since 2013.
It is a shame we probably won’t get to travel as a family this year and connect with our tribe throughout the UK. But we’re lucky to have diversified our livelihood and I feel like it’s important to focus on the off grid living systems right now. We all need to become more self sufficient and reclaim our power. It’s time to embrace domestic change and reoccupy our homes and lives. Free ourselves step by step from the shackles of the corporate world and truly become sovereign. Teach each other. Learn from each other. Help each other, build a different possibility.
Before I studied engineering at the ripe old age of 28, my pet hate was people who answered a question with ‘depends’. Now I find most questions about off grid power can only be answered with a depends. There are so many variables.
The most frequent question we get asked is “How many solar panels do I need to power my...” which is such an open ended question. So I’m gonna attempt to help you answer this for yourself.
Here’s a quick and fairly reliable tip to work out how many panels you need, with only a little maths!
Solar panels are rated in Watts, usually kiloWatts (kW). The energy we use is expressed as kiloWatt hours (kWh). Now let me introduce you to ‘sun hours’ which are the amount of hours that we get enough full sunshine for a kW of solar panels to produce a kW of power.
Start with what you want to power, for example say you want to power a 0.75kW pump for 12 hours a day. You will need 0.75kW x 12h = 9kWh per day.
Then you look at when you need to run the pump, if it’s all year on solar you need to size for the winter months where in December we only get one measly sun hour a day. The sun is it’s lowest in the sky, we’ve got winter solstice on the 21st, it’s the time of year we get the most phone calls saying that batteries are low, no power etc. Those of us who live off grid either grind to a halt during these dark days or have a back up generator to see us through. The ideal solution, obviously, is wind or water power which are both abundant in the winter. I will write more about hybrid systems another time but this post is about solar alone.
Back to the pump, let’s say we can top up the system in November, December and January with a generator (waste bio-diesel of course!) and use solar for the rest of the year. For these months we get 3 or more sun hours a day so to harness 9kWh in 3 sun hours we will need at least 3kW of solar panels. (3kW x 3h = 9kWh).
It’s important to remember that a solar power system has many components and you will need much more than solar panels but this easy calculation should help you visualise the size of array you will need.
Living on solar brings us in tune with the seasons. The difference between summer and winter sun hours is huge when you rely on it for basic needs such as light. Take some time to study the graph and visualise that many full hours of sun at each time of year. Think of extra loads you might need in the summer, like fridges, fans or louder music!
I made the graph below from official government statics found here and rounded them up to the nearest whole number.
Our event work sees us living on the road from the beginning of May till the end of September. This means that our seven year old misses at least a term of school each academic year. We have been lucky enough to find a small local school who not only accommodate us but fully support us with his half n half education.
The first few years saw me preparing structured learning for him as well as a scrap book he’s been doing since age 3. But in recent years I’ve just let him be, go play and most importantly, get bored.
I call it the boredom barrier. After being ‘schooled’ for seven months over the winter, he’s used to constant activities being led for him. Direction and entertainment all scheduled and laid out.
When we get to our first field (festival set up) it’s devoid of children and activities. If he’s lucky he’ll have a family member or friend to watch him while we set up but often it’s just him (looking after his 2 year old brother!). Now he will nag and strop and sulk so this is where it gets painful and I’m so tempted to give in and let him play on my phone or watch DVDs. But if I’m strong I can help him through the boredom barrier and there lies his own imagination and endless ‘not boring’ things to do.
It is a most satisfying moment when you see them so engrossed in their own imaginative play, completely non guided and unstructured, ta da, the moment you have been waiting for. And it will come, they all have it in them but modern technology is so much easier for the brain to relax and so convenient to use as a quick fix. We are all guilty of excessive screen time.
I recently discovered that a root word of education is, quite obviously now I see it, to educe, which means to bring forth something that is already within. How beautiful is that?!
So I don’t need to teach him anything, except how to unlock his own potential and find his true calling within himself.
I often joke that I spend 5 months ‘unschooling’ him but with no insult to his teachers and all my friends who are teachers as they do an amazing job, it’s a pretty close description. And you know what, for us, it works really well. When he returns to school each October he’s full of enthusiasm, loves the routine and is in no way behind his classmates. If anything he’s been given a wider view of the world which only helps him tackle school work with more ease.
So my advice to parents during this lockdown is to use the time given to us to help your child look within themselves and truly find what makes them tick.
In times like these living off grid really comes into its own and a global pandemic and lockdown such as this coronavirus doesn’t really impact a full off grid lifestyle.
Now personally I’m not totally off grid due to not being able to grow my own food, and therefore relying on grocery shops, and my kids being in school. However, much of the panic won’t be reaching the off gridder’s in the same way as the rest of you.
Firstly the basic principle of paying bills is non existent as we generate our own electric, supply our own water from the land and deal with our own waste. Again, personal disclaimer I put my bins out to be collected but obviously compost and recycle everything I possibly can.
Next issue which has been a biggy so far with coronavirus is rent and mortgage payments, unless you’re rich it’s unlikely you own your own house/land outright. However, having lived off grid for 20 years I’ve always owned my own home. My first caravan cost me the grand total of £20, I know, big bucks right?! From then on I’ve continued to exchange vans, trucks and trailers and now, with a bit of help from the family, we own our own static caravan. So far to park these various homes on wheels on land I’ve swapped a park up for work on the land. More and more folk are offering this and its down to personal situation what you agree on. There’s also council tax which, even if you own your property outright, you still need to pay. A great way to deal with this is something from the homestead that yields just enough to cover your rates. This could be honey or eggs or payment from a mast on your land. I’ve even thought it would be worth connecting a wind turbine to the grid just to sell the electricity to cover unavoidable costs.
Next is income, as us off gridder’s don’t have many outgoings we don’t need a huge income, most of us generate cash from the land or are self employed working with our passion. For me personally after I had been living in a van for 5 years I decided to get qualified in something useful, so I studied and practically used renewable energy. This passion brought myself and my now husband together and we’ve conjured a livelihood from it. Each off grid story is unique and has its pros and cons.
Now we can’t all go off grid and of course centralised services are vital to a lot of people, but perhaps we can all become aware of who we rely on for vital services and where we could help or share or use less for the greater good.
So far this lockdown has been a big kick up the backside for me that I’ve become complacent and rely on centrally controlled services for my existence and will definitely be growing more food in the future even if it’s not my own land as we will all benefit from it.
Our business REsource living was set up 10 years ago to inspire and educate about renewable energy and sustainable living. Our summers are spent, when not in a lockdown, touring festivals providing solar power, lighting and education. The rest of our time is spent installing off grid power systems. We’ve always had this pay or learn policy, if you want to learn how to install your own off grid power system we have all the information you need and are happy to talk you through it for no charge. If you have no desire to install it yourself we can design, build and install for a fair price. This works on a sliding scale for example you may want us to design and build but send to you to install. Whichever option people choose, even though we’re always on the end of a phone for troubleshooting (winter solstice is a busy time for us!), when you choose to live with off grid power you need to learn about your system.
It’s a bold choice and not always convenient but it feels like real living.