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.
REsource living work with some of the greenest festivals in the UK. Some are really small, like 500 people and we power and light the whole event with our solar fire engine. Some are bigger, like the Green Gathering, and we work with other solar power generators to provide a solar network.
We get a lot of enquiries from event organisers, from large commercial festivals to individuals planning their own wedding. It boils down to the same few issues and those who say it can’t be done (no names mentioned although some of the larger festivals claiming to be sustainable who actually are not and use fancy marketing to greenwash say it can’t) are in fact distracting you from the point! This gorgeous planet that you want to have your event on needs way more respect and sadly most events fall down on step one.
Yes there are more issues surrounding the attendees, how they travel, what they stay in etc but I work in events so am focusing on main infrastructure. You can go deeper and look into ethical sites, banking, ticketing systems, web servers but honestly you’ll get lost down there!
If you’re organising an event and can get behind the 10 steps above then give us a call. If we can’t power your event we might just know someone who can.
I plan to write a blog about each of the steps with links to service providers I know and recommend so watch this space!