By: Tom Chatham
If we follow the premise that all things on Earth are finite such as the physical resources we use then we must assume that at some point we will begin to run out of these resources as they are more heavily utilized. Our use of energy is one such item that should be addressed by the average person before we hit the wall of limited and then lack of these resources.
There are those that think solar and wind will be the salvation of our energy problems but these people fail to take into account the limitations of these energy sources. It still requires energy to extract the raw materials needed to build solar panels and these must be replaced at some point. Wind turbines require steel, concrete, fiberglass and copper just to name a few of the resources needed to make these things work and they too must be replaced every few decades as they wear out.
One problem with solar that I have talked about to people is the fact that massive amounts of energy must be stored in order for it to power the grid continuously. One person recently calculated that batteries to store enough energy to power the U.S for one day would require batteries covering 923 sq. miles and costing 41 trillion dollars. While I am an advocate of wind and solar I do not believe they are capable of powering our grid reliably. I think their benefits can only be utilized as stand alone systems on individual buildings.
Those that think solar and wind can replace oil do not understand our energy requirements at the present time and certainly do not understand the power requirements of things such as ships, trains and semi trucks that move the bulk of our commodities around the world. Cheap oil has made the current world trade system possible and the lack of cheap energy will cause a collapse of the status quo. The collapse of our current energy system will cause widespread chaos and depressed living standards if we do not address this issue now. It is for this reason that we need to look forward to the energy we will use in the future.
Hydrogen is more akin to a storage battery as it takes energy to separate the hydrogen from other elements to utilize in most cases. Fusion is still a promising energy source that we still do not know how to produce and maybe in the future if we figure it out it will change things but that is some time off. Things such as oil, natural gas and coal are heavily used today but they will only last so long and a growing population is using them at a faster rate as time goes on insuring their demise at some point. Nuclear power plants are filled with controversy and their future is uncertain unless something changes.
If our fossil fuel system begins to erode we will have to fall back on what we know. In this case the most available source of energy available to the population is that age old element, wood. As archaic as it sounds if our energy grid begins to shut down wood may be the go to system for individuals at the local level. A mature wood lot can produce about ¾ of a chord of wood per acre per year. When utilized within these limits it becomes sustainable for the long term.
A small homestead with a good woodlot and some solar and wind power may be the future we are forced to embrace until some new energy source becomes available in large enough quantities to fulfill our needs on a large scale. Now is the time to begin this conversion before we are forced to do so when the materials we need are no longer available to the masses. There are many people that have made this change and live off the grid today and are very happy about it.
Wood is also a viable source of energy for vehicles utilized in the local area. Wood gas can provide the energy to power much of the agricultural equipment we need to maintain the food supply. While this is a step back it will likely become a necessity at some point if we wait too long. With wood gas a conservative estimate of wood power indicates about 20 pounds of wood equals a gallon of gasoline when utilized in a motor vehicle. There is some power loss with wood and production efficiencies vary from system to system.
Much of the population growth of the world has been made possible by the availability of cheap energy and the loss of this cheap energy will cause a drastic adjustment to the population on this planet as we run into resource scarcity. The abundance of food we now produce depends on vast quantities of cheap, available energy. Nature has a way of balancing things out if we refuse to do so on our own. People need to understand this.
While a small homestead with solar and wind power and equipment powered by wood may not be the ideal plan, it is one you can be working towards while you can do so with minimal disruption to your lifestyle. In the near future if energy prices and availability should become more of an issue than it is now, having alternative energy systems will minimize the effect on your quality of life. I suggest you have a plan that works for you and your family before you are forced into one by events.
A plan to deal with an energy shortage will not only protect you from a shortage but also from manmade and natural disasters that would curtail or eliminate the timely delivery of energy to the masses. The ability to provide the majority of your own energy needs makes you less vulnerable to shocks that can send society into panic and disrupt many lives. Over time things change. This can be beneficial or detrimental to our well being and your ability to adapt to those changes will determine your quality of life in the years to follow.
Our energy resources may be stable for many years to come. Then again they could change drastically in a matter of weeks. Walking into the future with your eyes closed knowing full well you could fall off a cliff is a dangerous way to live, especially when you could take steps to minimize the dangers and insure your quality of life if something does happen.
By: Tom Chatham
The availability of fuels in society is what literally makes the wheels go around. The U.S. is addicted to petroleum products and we would find it hard to suddenly go without. Our fuel supplies and distribution system are just as fragile as our electrical grid and food supply chain and could be cut off for any number of reasons.
An EMP/CME, war or financial collapse are just some of the situations that could cut our supplies and leave the nation in a very bad situation. Without liquid fuels we won’t get to work, go to the grocery store, grow process and transport food, or mine and transport fuel such as coal to keep the power on. We may not be able to get shipments of goods from overseas such as food, clothing, building materials or oil. The sudden lack of fuel would shut down society as we know it.
In a technologically advanced country it is only prudent to have sufficient backup systems to enable society to continue functioning if a catastrophe should happen. Fuel is one of the linchpins of an advanced society and contingencies should be in place to replace conventional supplies in an emergency.
While we have the ability to create several different types of fuel locally in an emergency, most of them require a feedstock that we must grow and process before they can be used. Fuels such as alcohol and bio-diesel are good for emergencies but will be difficult to acquire in many places such as urban areas where the crops cannot be grown in sufficient quantity to be viable. Even if these fuels were produced in rural areas in quantity, we would still need to use a considerable percentage of the fuel for transport to other areas just as we need to burn petroleum for transport of gas and diesel today. A more widely available source of fuel needs to be used to insure availability in most areas.
The most widely available source of fuel that we have is wood. It can be used in many different ways from wood stoves for heat to producing steam power to producer gas for vehicles and generators. Wood is a versatile fuel that can be used on site in its raw form with little modification and can be procured almost anywhere from locally available sources.
The most prominent use of wood fuel today is for heating. Those that have a wood stove and a supply of wood have the ability to produce heat to stay warm and cook food when other forms of power are not available. These capabilities are tremendous in themselves when times of crisis arrive but with a few additions to your wood burning accessories you can increase your capabilities many times.
A wood gas production unit burns wood in an oxygen starved environment to create a flammable gas that can be used to run most gasoline engines. These units can be of moderate size and provide the fuel needed to run a car or generator when needed. A unit can be attached to the rear of a vehicle to provide power for road use to enable transportation when no liquid fuels are available otherwise. The use on agricultural equipment can assure the continued production of food products to insure a supply of food for the population. Wood chips provide the fuel for the unit and 16 to 20 pounds of wood will equal about one gallon of gasoline. In a fuel emergency this type of unit can help to provide transportation and electricity reducing the hardships you will be facing.
An old truck with a producer gas system can provide you with many capabilities while keeping your investment relatively low. Not only can this vehicle provide you with transportation but with a few additional items, can provide you with a backup power source. The addition of a few deep cycle batteries to the cargo area of the vehicle connected together and connected to the vehicles charging system utilizing a battery isolator, they can be connected to a power inverter to provide AC power to your home in a limited way. This system will allow you to not only have emergency transportation but limited power as well.
As mentioned earlier, a fuel disruption can also cause a power disruption if it continues for very long. This can put you in a very difficult position unless you have sufficient backup systems to provide for your needs. This one system can provide many uses while depending on only one fuel source that is locally available in most cases. In an urban environment where a wood stove and firewood can be used, this system is a logical fit to enhance your resources. Where a wood stove cannot be used, a vehicle equipped with the system outlined can be kept anywhere a typical vehicle can be kept. The amount of wood fuel will be limited but can enable you the ability to relocate when others can not.
An enhanced system where a slide in camper is placed on the truck and battery storage is located under the truck bed and the producer gas system is located on a swingout carrier on the rear bumper can provide you with a portable shelter, transportation and power unit all in one. In an urban environment, a unit such as this can make a prolonged disruption of fuel and power a more survivable event by allowing relocation to a less dangerous area while maintaining a reasonable living standard.
While supplies can be cut off in disasters they can also be cut off on purpose in some cases. A terrorist action targeting production and distribution systems can happen at any time and even the government might cut supplies if they wish to restrict movement by the population in any way. While it is possible to store large quantities of fuel it is also required in many places to notify the local authorities of this storage due to fire regulations which may result in them confiscating your fuel in crisis situations. The storage of wood is not as regulated in many cases and allows the stocking of fuel reserves without much notice from locals.
The ability to restock your fuel supply from multiple sources frees you from the limiting factors placed on society by energy sources, regulations and people in general. A producer gas system will allow you the flexibility to take advantage of opportunities that the general public will not. While others will be reeling from shortages, you will remain mobile and well supplied with power.
The ability to fuel your vehicle may also open up job opportunities during a shortage. Products will still be needed by the population and being able to transport some of those products can earn you a regular income and the ability to provide yourself with free fuel will make you very competitive in the transport market.
Where might you get a supply of wood if you own no woodlot? You can buy it of course in the form of cord wood which can also supply a wood stove. You may be able to get a free supply from neighbors in the form of tree limbs and cuttings. Another source is the many tree cutters that clear the power lines around the nation. They cut and chip truckloads every day and must dispose of the chips somewhere. You may be able to get an ample supply just for asking. Having a few hand tools to cut limbs for fuel from local sources is advisable should you find yourself on the road and in need of fuel in an emergency evacuation.
This fuel source has the ability to replace the current fuels we require and provide unlimited energy for independent homesteads in emergency as well as normal circumstances. The ability to produce local energy on a sustainable basis provides the nation with security in many forms that cannot and should not be dismissed for the sake of convenience. The availability of cheap, renewable energy sources at the local level will be necessary in years to come if our energy situation changes drastically in a negative way.