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.