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How I Went Off Grid At My Hawaii Tiny House

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Solar energy has been a passion of mine for well over a decade now, but I finally got to go solar when I bought some land in early 2014 on the Big Island of Hawaii that included a run-down cabin. I decided to invest some money to retrofit the cabin (Figure 1) and convert it into a liveable tiny home that could double as a writer’s cabin and vacation rental. And I decided to go entirely off-grid, including for power.

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Going off-grid for water was pretty easy. Water falls from the sky and is stored in a catchment tank. With filters and a water pump, this is a sustainable and healthy solution for water that doesn’t involve the authorities at all. There’s also a very cute little outhouse that has its own rainwater catchment tank and a flushable toilet. Going offgrid for power was a bit harder but I was able to get it done without great expense and mostly by myself. And if I can do it anyone can do it.

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Figure 1. My tiny home near Hilo, Hawaii.

Figure 1. My tiny home near Hilo, Hawaii.

Hawaii has been making news due to its high saturation of solar power on the grid. Oahu, the most populous island, and the Big Island, the biggest island, have well over 10% of homes opting for solar. But these figures include only grid-tied homes. Hawaii’s utilities have dramatically slowed interconnection of new solar facilities due to increasing concerns about the stability of the grid. Going entirely off-grid is one solution to this growing problem, which has many other benefits, but also some downsides that I’ll discuss here.

My little cabin is up a fairly long driveway and it would have cost many thousands of dollars to have my local utility company, Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO), install power at my place. This made going off-grid an easy decision. Since my cabin is small and the climate is warm all year around, it doesn’t need a very big solar system. As preparation, I read Michael Boxwell’s Solar Electricity Handbook, 2014 Edition, and with some help from a local solar installer who specializes in off-grid systems I figured out the appropriate size and type of equipment I’d need.

I wanted to do as much of the design and installation myself because I’ve been wanting to learn more about the nitty gritty of solar for some time. This was a perfect opportunity to get my lawyer hands dirty and take my eyes away from staring at my computer screen for a while.

Boxwell’s book is a great resource, and even though he’s a Brit the advice applied just fine to the US. I decided to build a 24 volt system. Combining four batteries serially got me to 24 volts. Ditto with two solar panels, which are 12 volts each.

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Figure 2. The homely little solar system.

Figure 2. The homely little solar system.

In looking at my power needs, I calculated that I could probably get by with just two 250 watt panels, for a total of half a kilowatt. My equipment list included, accordingly: the two panels (Schott Solar, bought from Provision Solar, a Hilo-based company owned by Marco Mangelsdorf, costing about $800 including racks to install them on my roof), a ProStar charge controller (bought from Off-Grid Solar Specialists for $350), a Schneider Electric inverter (from the same store, $1,200), four Interstate batteries ($130 each, bought from Pahoa Propane and Batteries), and a bunch of wire and battery connectors.

I did most of the installation myself, painstakingly and with much trial and error. I ended up needing an hour of a professional installer’s time to wrap it up, so the total cost of my system was about $3,500, or $7 per watt installed.

The batteries are 232 amp-hours each, but because they’re connected in serial fashion, they supply a total of 232 amp-hours at 24 volts. They are charged directly from the charge controller at 24-30 volts. The inverter connects to the batteries and the home’s central power panel connects to the inverter. When I leave for extended periods I turn off the inverter but leave the charge controller running. This allows the panels to keep the batteries fully charged and healthy, while avoiding the risk of something going awry with the home power that could leave my batteries dead again.

The ProStar charge controller is addictive to watch, since it shows how much power is coming in from the panels and how full the batteries are. I think of this as “watching TV.” I’ve seen as high as 38 volts coming in during very sunny times at mid-day. I was also pretty happy to see how much power comes in even when it’s cloudy or rainy — from 1/10th to 1/4th of full power. Power production starts as soon as it gets light but doesn’t really get going until a few hours after sunrise.

My pre-installation calculations showed that my little system could power a small fridge, lights, and a TV and DVR player, as well as chargers for computer and cell phone. I was happy to find that my calculations were accurate, but I did get worried a few times when I woke up in the morning and found my batteries very low, as evidenced by the blinking red light on the charge controller. But invariably by noon or mid-afternoon my batteries go back to green. My new lava rock wall shower, fed by rainwater and powered by the sun, was in business.

Figure 3. Off-grid lava rock shower heaven.

Figure 3. Off-grid lava rock shower heaven.

It can be challenging at times being off-grid, particularly when you’re working out the kinks. I initially installed the system in April last year and I returned to Santa Barbara for a few months. When I went back to Hawaii in July I found my solar system down and my batteries dead dead dead. I couldn’t figure out what happened so I called the same local installer who had helped me wrap up installation in April. He diagnosed loose battery connections as my problem. I had to take the batteries back to the store to charge the batteries back up. That took three days, for various reasons, so I was living without solar power for a week.

I didn’t mind it too much since I have plenty of candles and also bought a kerosene lantern. I kind of liked the primitive living conditions and I have a backup generator for when I needed to charge my computer and phone. I’m also rarely at home at night so it wasn’t a big deal. The fridge was the only thing that I really missed. But since I was only in Hawaii for three weeks on that trip I wanted to get the system back up and running so that I could rent out my place while I was gone.

I was able to get the batteries re-installed and wired in snugly, but still my system refused to come back to life. I double checked everything and called the installer again. No help. I went back to the store where I bought the charge controller and he agreed to give me a new one since it seemed that the problem must have been the charge controller. I re-installed it. Still nothing. Long story short, we finally figured out that I had been given the wrong configuration to install my panels and the panels were in fact supplying twice the voltage that the charge controller could handle, so it had burned out. I re-wired the panels and finally the whole system snapped back to life. It’s now been running fine since then and it should keep running fine for a long time (fingers crossed).

Here’s where it gets interesting. Another major benefit of being off-grid was highlighted with the  hurricanes that threatened Hawaii in 2014. After Iselle hit the Big Island in August, downgraded to tropical storm status by the time it hit, well over 20,000 utility customers went without power for many days and sometimes longer.

My tiny house, on the other hand, was sitting pretty with solar power and batteries going steady.

tambookIn sum, going off-grid in Hawaii can be very liberating and can save money too. Power bills are high in Hawaii since most power is generated by imported diesel. My power bill would probably be about $100 a month if I was on-grid, but I’d also have to pay the large fee for building a line to connect to the grid. With my off-grid system all of my costs are up-front and there are no ongoing costs except when/if things break down or go awry (again, fingers crossed).

I can’t calculate the payback time accurately since I don’t have a power bill to compare. Based on my estimated $100 monthly bill I would, if I had been on-grid previously, pay off my system in about three years; but that again leaves out the cost of connecting to the grid in the first place.

Going solar also allows me to be secure when the grid is down due to storms or falling trees, and to avoid things like dirty diesel emissions, spikes in electricity rates, and dealing with the utility on interconnection or net metering.

I’m still very new to off-grid solar and I may find new issues cropping up. I’ll report back if anything newsworthy happens. My tiny home in Hawaii is available for vacation rentals most of the year, so you too can witness the benefits and challenges of off-grid solar firsthand.

—————————–

Tam Hunt is a writer and lawyer who splits his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Hilo, Hawaii.

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The Quantum Eraser Experiment: What Happens In The Present Can Change The Past

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    At the quantum scale, what we do in the present can impact what happens in the past. This is shown through what's known as the quantum delayed choice choice, or quantum eraser experiment.

  • Reflect On:

    Why are factors associated with consciousness directly intertwined with physical material matter at the quantum scale? What does this mean when it comes to our physical material world in relation to our thoughts, perceptions, feelings and emotions?

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One of the founding fathers of quantum theory, Max Planck, who is often credited with originating quantum theory – a feat that won him the Physics Nobel Prize in 1918 – once stated: “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as exiting, postulates consciousness.”

Fast forward to today and there are a number of experiments in multiple fields showing that Planck was right. Consciousness is fundamental and it is directly intertwined with what we call physical material matter. You cannot explain consciousness in terms of the existing fundamentals like space, time, mass, and charge. As a result, the logical thing to do is postulate whether consciousness itself is something fundamental to the existence of reality.

A classic experiment used to examine the role of consciousness and its relationship to matter is the quantum double slit experiment. In this experiment, tiny bits of matter (photons, electrons, or any atomic-sized object) are shot toward a screen that has two slits in it. When there is no measuring device placed at the screen, the tiny bits of matter act as a “wave” and creates an “interference” pattern on the other side where a wall is placed to catch the pattern. Because there was no measuring or observation device used to see what slit the matter went through, we cannot know what path it took. When the pattern on the wall is examined to see what path it took, it represents a wave of possibilities, meaning the matter (particle) went through both slits, and one slit, and interfered with itself, which should be physically impossible. Welcome to the wacky world of quantum physics – anything and everything is possible.

The kicker is, when an observation device is set up to observe what slit the particles go through, the particle then only goes through one, thus collapsing the wave pattern and forming a pattern that is representative of the particle only going through one slit. In other words, the behaviour of the matter changes when we decide to measure  or observe it, the particles act as they are aware they are being watched. 50 percent of the time the particle will go through one slit, and the other 50 percent of the time it will go through the other and form a two slit pattern, just as if they were balls lobbed through one slit or the other.

Observations not only disturb what has to be measured, they produce it…We compel (the electron) to assume a definite position…We ourselves produce the results of the measurement. (M. Mermin, Boojums All the Way Through: Communicating Science ina Prosaic Age (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1990, referenced by Dr. Dean Radin, From A paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Physics Essays explaining how this experiment has been used multiple times to explore the role of consciousness in shaping the nature of physical reality

If this isn’t already mind-altering enough for you, one physicist, John Archibald Wheeler, pondered what would happen if we don’t interfere with the photons on their way through the slits? What would happen if we didn’t set up a measuring device to observe what slit the matter went through, and instead, what if behind the back wall there were detectors? One detector is focused on each slit, and just before the particle lands on the screen after it has passed through the slit device, the detectors are pulled away. When no one could detect which slit the photon had gone through, there was a wave pattern, but when the detectors were in place, there was no wave pattern. Similar to observing the particles before they went through the slit. No observation produced an interference pattern, and observation formed a one line, one slit pattern.

If they collapse to a state of particles from a wave at the moment of detection, after they have gone past the slit device, this means that even though they went through the slit unobserved and should produce a wave (interference) pattern, the very act of observing, still, instantly transforms them into particles and collapses the wave function.

This begs the question, how could these detectors interfere with something that had already happened? It would mean that what happened in the present changed the past. The very act of detecting the particles after they go through the slit determines how they went through the slit, either as a wave or as particles. How is this possible?

Like the quantum double slit experiment, the delayed choice/quantum eraser has been demonstrated and repeated multiple times. For example, physicists at the Australian National University (ANU) have conducted John Wheeler’s delayed-choice thought experiment, and the findings were recently published in the journal Nature Physics.

In 2007 (Science 315, 966, 2007), scientists in France shot photons into an apparatus and showed that their actions could retroactively change something that had already happened.

“If we attempt to attribute an objective meaning to the quantum state of a single system, curious paradoxes appear: quantum effects mimic not only instantaneous action-at-a-distance, but also, as seen here, influence of future actions on past events, even after these events have been irrevocably recorded.” (source)

To make the experiment easier to understand, Wheeler used a cosmic scale explanation. Imagine a star emitting a photon billions of years ago, heading in the direction of planet Earth. In between, there is a galaxy. As a result of what’s known as “gravitational lensing,” the light will have to bend around the galaxy in order to reach Earth, so it has to take one of two paths, going left or going right. Billions of years later, if one decides to set up an apparatus to “catch” the photon, the resulting pattern would be an interference pattern, as explained above in the double slit experiment. This demonstrates that the photon took one way, and it took the other way. A “wave” of possibilities, but the way it took has not been defined.

One could also choose to “peek” at the incoming photon, setting up a telescope on each side of the galaxy to determine which side the photon passed to reach Earth. The very act of measuring or “watching” which way the photon comes in means it can only come in from one side. The pattern will no longer be an interference pattern representing multiple possibilities, but a single clump pattern showing “one” way.

What does this mean? It means how we choose to measure “now” affects what direction the photon took billions of years ago. Our choice in the present moment affected what had already happened in the past.

Below is a great video of Wheeler explaining.

My mind is blown just writing this article, I can’t stop thinking about it and what it could possibly mean, and how factors associated with consciousness are, in more ways than one, intertwined with what we perceive to be our physical reality. I recently published an article regarding consciousness and how it might be fundamental to the creation of our physical material world. You can read that here if interested.

“The day science begins to study non-physical phenomena, it will make more progress in one decade than in all the previous centuries of its existence.” ― Nikola Tesla

Why does all of this matter? Because it’s one of multiple experiments showing a strong connection between consciousness and physical matter. What does this mean at the classic physics scale? What does it mean with regards to the way we think, feel, perceive? What does it mean when we are talking about solutions to problems we are facing on our planet? If human consciousness could be so fundamental with regards to the ‘creation of our reality’, why aren’t we talking about it more? What impact would changing the way we look at our world have on the human experience? What would happen if we started to see things in a different light?

We tend to believe in our culture that we are beings where everything in our world is happening to us, as opposed to us being intimately connected to everything in our world. How might that knowing change the nature of our choices?

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Consciousness

New Study Finds Humans Can Access a Higher Level of Consciousness

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A new study sheds light on the existence of a higher level of consciousness in humans that is accessible.

  • Reflect On:

    Does consciousness originate in the brain or somewhere else? What does this say about who 'we' are as humans?

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New research has discovered verifiable evidence of a higher level of consciousness. Researchers used brain imaging equipment to analyze the small magnetic fields created in the brain and discovered that, across three psychedelic substances, one measure of conscious level — neural signal diversity — was consistently greater.

Neuroscientists discovered a prolonged increase in neural signal diversity — a measure of the complexity of brain activity — in persons under the influence of psychedelic substances as compared to when they were awake.

The variety of brain impulses gives a mathematical indicator of awareness degree. People who are awake, for example, have more diversified brain activity than those who are asleep, according to this measure.

However, this is the first study to show that brain-signal diversity is more than baseline, that is, greater than in someone who is merely ‘awake and aware.’ Previous research has focused on decreased states of awareness, such as sleep, anesthesia, or the so-called vegetative state. More research utilizing complex and diverse models is required, according to the researchers, who are cautiously hopeful.

Professor Anil Seth, Co-Director of the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, stated:

“This discovery demonstrates that the brain on psychedelics functions quite differently than usual.”

“As evaluated by ‘global signal diversity,’ the electrical activity of the brain during the psychedelic experience is less predictable and less ‘integrated’ than during regular conscious wakefulness.”

“Since this measure has already shown its value as a measure of ‘conscious level’, we can say that the psychedelic state appears as a higher ‘level’ of consciousness than normal — but only with respect to this specific mathematical measure.”

For the study, Michael Schartner, Adam Barrett, and Professor Seth of the Sackler Centre reanalyzed data that had previously been collected by Imperial College London and the University of Cardiff in which healthy volunteers were given one of three drugs known to induce a psychedelic state: psilocybin, ketamine, and LSD.

Using brain imaging equipment, scientists examined the small magnetic fields created in the brain and discovered that, across all three medicines, this measure of conscious level — neural signal diversity — was consistently greater.

The researchers emphasize that this does not imply that the psychedelic state is a “better” or “more desirable” state of consciousness; rather, it demonstrates that the psychedelic brain state is distinct and can be related to other global changes in conscious level (e.g., sleep, anesthesia) by using a simple mathematical measure of signal diversity.

“That identical improvement in signal diversity was discovered for all three medications, despite their rather distinct pharmacology, are both quite remarkable and also encouraging that the results are robust and reproducible,” said Dr. Muthukumaraswamy, who was involved in all three original research.

The findings might help feed ongoing conversations concerning the strictly supervised medical usage of such medications, such as in the treatment of severe depression.

“Rigorous research into psychedelics is garnering greater interest, not least because of the therapeutic potential that these substances may have when taken wisely and under medical supervision,” said Dr. Robin Cahart-Harris of Imperial College London.

“The current study’s findings assist us to comprehend what happens in people’s brains when they experience psychedelic consciousness expansion. People frequently report having “insight” when using these substances, and when this occurs in a therapeutic setting, it can predict beneficial outcomes. The current discoveries may help us understand how this is possible.”

In addition to informing potential medical applications, the study contributes to developing scientific knowledge of how conscious level (how conscious one is) and conscious content (what one is conscious of) are connected.

According to Professor Seth:

“We discovered links between the intensity of subjects’ psychedelic experiences and variations in signal diversity. This shows that our metric is closely related not just to global brain alterations caused by medicines, but also to features of brain dynamics that underpin specific kinds of conscious experience.”

The study team is currently concentrating their efforts on determining how particular alterations in information flow in the brain underpin certain components of the psychedelic experience, such as hallucinations.

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Discover

Scientists Propose That We Can Travel Faster Than The Speed of Light

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CE Staff Writer 5 minute read

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A new paper suggest travel faster than the speed of light might be possible given the creation of a new way of looking at propelling a vehicle.

  • Reflect On:

    When considering the advancement of life changing technology, does our current economic model speed up or suppress the collaboration, creation and advancement of ideas?

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In Star Trek Gene Roddenberry imagined it possible to set a ship into ‘warp drive’ and travel at speeds 6000+ times the speed of light, moving from one galaxy to a distant one very quickly. Imagine having that type of technology here on earth?! It has been said before that if we can think it, we can create it. Well, maybe that’s sometimes true.

What Happened:

The question of whether travel faster than the speed of light is possible was again approached in a new research paper written by an American physicist Erik Lentz. In the paper Lentz proposed a new theory for how faster-than-light travel could be possible. Given their models, Lentz and his team feel that travel to distant stars and planets could be possible in the near future, perhaps with proper research and development they could have something working in as little as 10 years.

The question of whether this is possible does not challenge our current understanding of physics that Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity sets forth that it is not possible to travel faster than light.

Instead of focusing on our current understanding of matter, Lentz’s new paper puts greater importance on a possible engineering solution as opposed to the theoretical physics. The new paper was published in Classical and Quantum Gravity.

The paper proposes a plan to travel faster than light by creating a series of ‘solitons’ to provide the basis for propulsion. A soliton is a compact wave that keeps its speed and shape while moving with little loss of energy.

Interestingly, this technology would allow travel at ANY speed. This brings me back to an article I wrote yesterday discussing the incoming reality within collective consciousness that UFOs and Extraterrestrials are real. In that article I state that the question of ‘how are they getting here’ is of importance as it could give humanity access to technology that would completely change the way we live on this planet.

 [The method] “uses the very structure of space and time arranged in a soliton to provide a solution to faster-than-light travel,” From the press release.

Imagine this, the nearest star beyond our solar system is called Proxima Centauri. We know it to be about 4.25 light years away. (A light year is the distance it takes light to travel in one year.)

Lentz stated that using our current rocket fuel methods fo travel, it would take about 50,000 to 70,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri. If we were to upgrade to nuclear propulsion technology, it would take about 100 years. But if we employed a light speed warp drive, it would take only four years and three months.

This would mean that the average person would be able to travel to distant interstellar planets and complete the trip in a current human lifetime. Think of the vacations!

According to Lentz there are some barriers to making this all work, but they aren’t impossible to surpass. For the tech to work, it would require lowering the energy needed down to the level of modern nuclear power reactors. That is if we don’t take into consideration energy technologies that are currently suppressed. Lentz also stated that what would be needed is a  way to develop and speed up the solitons (waves.)

“This work has moved the problem of faster-than-light travel one step away from theoretical research in fundamental physics and closer to engineering,”

Why Its Matters:

Humans are curious beings who seem to gain a great deal from expanding our curiosity beyond everyday plights of a system and way of life that doesn’t necessarily inspire the deepest use of our creativity. Perhaps a knowing that we can indeed go elsewhere without primitive technology would shift the way we see our role on this earth and how we choose to fight over what we believe are limited resources.

Then again, perhaps if humans carry their current story of separation and competition to other worlds, we’ll produce the same mess there. I guess the question is, would the possibility of being able to leave this earth and go almost anywhere change the underlying nature of how we choose to set up our cultural beliefs and narratives of what it means to be human?

It’s my feeling that humanity does not lack the solutions to live in a thriving world, we lack the worldview and state of being. Both of which we could change with a little effort.

The Takeaway:

When I hear research like this I am fascinated. Then again I also sometimes wonder if all scientists around the world saw the technology I have seen first hand, that completely changes the way we perceive energy generation today, would the way we look at creating technology that requires energy change entirely? Yes, of course it would.

In my mind and heart I see a world of true collaboration and curiosity. One where we aren’t competing to see who’s the greatest scientist with the best copy written tech, but a world where we transparently share what is out there to advance the entire human race. No powerful interests suppressing technology because it’s too threatening to an economy, but instead true open advancement where we can solve problems incredibly fast.

Can you imagine this world?

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