Energy: The Lowest Common Denominator Part I
By: Tom Chatham
There is one truism that anyone preparing for the future needs to keep in mind. Energy is everything. It does not matter if you are preparing for normal times, disaster or survival, everything depends on energy. Putting a man on the moon, driving a car, powering a freezer, growing food, cooking food or even keeping a human body functional all require energy in some form. The more energy you have the more capabilities you have.
In normal times, energy is available in many different forms, all for the asking but when people are thrown back on their own resources energy becomes in large part what they can find or make.
Energy can be converted from one form to another enabling it to be used for many different things. Some energy sources are easier to convert and use for individuals with limited resources or knowledge. Petroleum is one of our most used energy products and can be found all over the world but it must be pumped out of the ground and refined to be useful. This is beyond the capabilities of most individuals. Even if above ground supplies are available, they are limited and will eventually have to be replaced.
For the individual, there are many forms of energy that can be harvested and utilized. The more you know about energy production, the more potential capabilities you will have with time. With a hand powered mill you can grind several pounds of flour an hour, but with a mill attached to some type of machine power you can grind hundreds of pounds per hour. With a hand pulled cart you can move several bushels of grain a long distance but with animal or machine power you can move hundreds of bushels in the same time. The larger or more complex the energy source, the more it can do. A waterfall can be harnessed to provide mechanical power to many devices in contact with the waterwheel but that power is relegated to the immediate vicinity while electrical power can be produced from the same waterfall and be used far away and in many different devices.
The average person uses many different types of energy on a daily basis and rarely ever thinks about it. When that energy stops it can be a life altering experience. In modern times we are often confronted with power outages or fuel disruptions on a recurring basis but these things are usually regained soon and people return to their regular routines without further thought. If one day that energy should stop and not return in short order or should never return, it would be devastating for a large percentage of the population in the developed world. That simple little thing called energy would suddenly become a life and death situation.
Some of the most basic forms of energy are:
Food for animals
Plant material such as wood
Bio-fuels such as alcohol and bio-diesel
Bio-gasses such as methane from animal waste
Plant oils such as sunflower, corn or castor bean
These basic forms of energy are the basis of a sustainable existence which the individual can access with only a few materials and some basic knowledge of how to make and utilize them. Wood for example can be used to fuel a stove for heating, cooking and limited light. It can be used to produce steam which can power larger more powerful machines. Alcohol, bio-diesel, wood gas and methane can be used to power internal combustion engines to produce electricity or to provide heat, light and refrigeration.
Sunlight can be used to provide heat, light, steam or electricity. Something as simple as a copper sheet, coated with cuprous oxide on one side with wires attached to each side of the plate, can produce electricity when exposed to sunlight. Falling water can provide water for irrigation, producing electricity or be harnessed for doing mechanical work. A windmill can be used to turn a generator, work a water pump or grind grains. Plant oils can be used for fuel to burn, oil for cooking or as a lubricant for metal parts.
With a little knowledge of energy, a person can benefit greatly from saved money and the potential circumstances of loosing their energy systems from sudden unforeseen events.
The most basic energy system we have, food, is at the mercy of energy that must be extracted from the ground, refined, transported, used to make fertilizers and pesticides, harvest the crops, transport and refine the products and deliver to you. Any breakdown in this system can be disastrous for a population that depends on systems out of their control. Sunlight is another part of this food chain. Without sunlight there is no plant life which means there is no animal life. There are alternatives to natural sunlight but they all require energy in some form.
This is just one of the ways energy plays a part in our lives and few give any notice to it. By taking the time to learn basic knowledge about the energy systems we depend on, each person will be better situated to respond to any disruptions in the future. They will have a better understanding of what systems they have available to them and which ones they can develop individually if the situation dictates their personal involvement in it. There are many different types of energy and we will look at each of them to provide a basic starting point for their implementation.