Monday, December 5, 2011


LEVEL V: Energy provides a particularly tenacious set of challenges for self-sufficiency. As a society, a nation and as individuals, we are addicted to energy. Level five is about providing our own energy for heat, appliances, lighting, technology, motor fuel, etc., without dependence on others.

Lets start with electricity. Electricity is easy to produce, as any high school science student will agree. Simply stick two metal spikes of appropriate material in a potato and hook up the wires. A very small electrical charge will be produced. This process was also done in ancient times in the form of what archaeologists refer to as Baghdad Batteries, which consist of large earthenware vessels filled with wine vinegar. Electrodes were then placed through the lid into the vinegar. These apparently produced enough power to electroplate gold. However, neither of these methods efficiently produce enough electricity for practical use with most modern appliances.

Solar and wind are reasonable alternatives, and they are both free and reasonably constant. Add to that the consideration that the main equipment can be assembled by the average do-it-yourself-er in the garage and this seems to be the answer. ONLY ONE PROBLEM! I can not (nor do I know anyone who can) make all the components from scratch. So much for true self-sufficient electricity. I am still looking for a way, though I can't make appliances to run on it either.

Motor fuels are another challenge. Gasoline engines, I am told, can be adjusted to burn pure ethanol, AKA any good 190 proof grain alcohol. Before you break out the old distillation unit, consider how much of your production will have to be used for producing the plant material for ethanol production, and if you don't use a solar still, you will use yet more of your product to cook off the next batch. Also, with most modern engines, ethanol can cause problems, so use an older engine if you choose this alternative.

Bio diesel is great. It is made from cooking oil, treated with chemicals (methanol among others) to make a fuel that can be used in diesel engines. Non-petroleum, environmentally friendly, cheap to produce and can be done at home. Where is the problem with this? Production of methanol and other chemicals at home, in a sustainable way is out of reach for most of us. Also, there is the same problem as with ethanol, you have to use too much fuel to produce the cooking oil in the first place, so still not self-sustainable.

Fuel for cooking and heating is simple enough. Options include nice, clean burning methane, and of course, wood. Though methane is naturally produced by the bacterial breakdown of organic matter, it is difficult to safely produce in sufficient quantities for reliable, continuous use by individuals in a self-sustained way. Not that it can't, or shouldn't be produced. It is a good alternative, but without equipment components manufactured to reasonable standards, safety is a serious issue. Please don't be discouraged if this is something you want to do, just do the research and get good equipment.

That brings us to plain, old fashioned firewood. Certainly one of the oldest (if not the oldest) fuels used by humans on this planet. What could be more simple or sustainable than wood? This is probably the most natural and reasonable of all possible choices of fuel for self-sustained living. There is a problem however, and that is the harvesting of this wonderful fuel. Unless you have a readily available supply of wood that is small enough to be manually broken into short enough lengths for your facilities, or you are prepared to cut it with stone tools you have made, (possible but difficult) you will have to rely on some type of saw. This will at best have been produced in a factory somewhere, and if it is a chainsaw we are back to the question of motor fuel.

Peat, in areas where it is readily available, is a good source of fuel for heat and cooking, as it can be harvested by hand with simple tools in sufficient quantity. Those of us who live too far from the nearest peat bog simply have to make do with less simple fuels.

I almost forgot to mention coal. It is an excellent fuel for heating, cooking, and my favorite, forging metal in the blacksmith shop. It is, unfortunately, not readily available in many areas, though where it can be found naturally without mining, it does lend itself to self-sufficiency.

Please don't get discouraged. I am not saying that any or all of these (and many other) options won't work or shouldn't be pursued. Each has its own merit and validity. I am simply pointing out that none of them are readily adaptable to a self-sustained lifestyle, especially for individuals or very small groups.

I look forward to your input, and hope you will bear with me a bit. Hopefully, level six will be a bit more encouraging.


  1. Wood is definitely my favorite choice for cooking, heating, getting rid of trash and a few other helpful things. But yes, I have problems with physically being able to cut enough.
    Hugs again for cutting the wood that is keeping me warm today, while simultaneously cooking my potatoes for lunch!

  2. Check out, this technology (microCHP) is still in it's infancy, but it looks like the Australians have a solar power option available. There are quite a few manufacturers which produce natural or LP versions. I think this technology is going to fly because the stupid power companies have no idea how to build the next generation power plant and meet all the regulations nor can any of us afford the power cost if they do figure it out.

  3. Thanks for the link, Mary. This looks like something well worth checking out. You are certainly right about the power companies and the price it will cost when they figure it out. I believe we must all take responsibility for our own needs rather than expecting someone else to provide.


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