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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.

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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If You Could Power Your Entire Home With 60 Minutes Of Cycling, Would You Do It?

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Mechanical energy, converted into kinetic energy can provide the energy that we use on a regular basis to power our homes and electronic devices.

  • Reflect On:

    Rather than focusing on the current problems in our world it is great to change gears and have a look at all of the solutions that are popping up all over the world.

Imagine if your morning workout could power your home for the entire day, all the way until your next morning workout. Well, you may not have to imagine, as this technology exists now. Manoj Bhargava has invented a new exercise bike that can power some homes for 24 hours after use for only sixty minutes per day.

This invention was a part of a new initiative to bring electricity to places that undergo frequent power outages or may only have access to power for a few hours during the day. In our modern age, going without electricity can really separate a person from the rest of the world. Bhargava’s mission is to bridge the gap for those who suffer from poverty and make it easier for them to access the same information as the rest of the world, potentially giving them more opportunities in life.

The Free Electric

The above heading is also the name of this awesome and innovative bike serving as a solution to a pretty significant issue in the underdeveloped nations of the world.

According to Bhargava, the Free Electric is meant to lead to “better health, more leisure time, better access to education and opportunities for entrepreneurship.” He also feels that it could, “literally change the world.”

Power to change the world? Bold statement, but if this is able to be implemented worldwide, I would absolutely have to agree with him. This technology not only has the capacity to assist those in poverty, but can also be used by the rest of the world as well as more and more people around the world who are aiming to reduce their usee of fossil fuels. I have a feeling that Millennials (such as myself) and younger generations would be all over this if its made available! Not only is it a great way to get your cardio in, but it provides FREE electricity that produces no other pollution.

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As mentioned in the video, it is also a great solution in the face of natural, or even man made disasters because this type of electricity would not rely on that generated and sold by power companies. Perhaps even one day a way to stock up and store this energy will be possible — then, the opportunities here will be much more plentiful and could be a huge factor in reducing the amount of pollution our current methods of energy production are creating.

The Future Is Friendly

As much as there is sometimes destruction all around us, there is also innovation and ingenuity. Human beings have tremendous potential. Even though there are many problems that we as a society are facing, solutions are popping up and fast, and in most cases they already exist. Finding solutions doesn’t seem to be the problem, so ask yourself, what is?  It’s so great to see ideas such as these being conceptualized and then created and put into use so efficiently, it shows how our species is capable of stopping and potentially reversing some of the destruction that we have caused over the years.

This is absolutely a double win! We are constantly bombarded with news stories and articles that are telling us to be more active, stop sitting so much, and now with the Free Electric, we will have to be active before we can relax and enjoy the use of our precious technology.

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Physicists ‘Grow’ A Man Made Diamond From Nuclear Waste That’s Able To Generate Electricity

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Scientists have developed a technology that can convert leftover radioactive materials into diamond batteries to power a wide range of electronics.

  • Reflect On:

    Could this be the solution to use op all the radioactive materials on the planet and shut down nuclear power plants worldwide?

Currently there is more than 2 billion tons of nuclear waste across the globe. This nuclear waste is a hazardous threat to the environment if not disposed of correctly. Scientists have recently begun attempting to transform nuclear waste into batteries that could last for thousands of years. If they are successful with this conversion project it would be a double win, less nuclear waste contaminating our environment, and a way to reuse energy that was generated to give power to whatever requires it.

Diamond batteries that use the energy from leftover radioactive materials have been developed and tested by researchers at the University of Bristol. They are now hoping to be able to recycle the waste leftover from decommissioned nuclear power plants in the UK. According to the University, “New technology has been developed that uses nuclear waste to generate electricity in a nuclear-powered battery….A team of physicists and chemists from the University of Bristol have grown a man-made diamond that, when placed in a radioactive field, is able to generate a small electrical current.” (source)

How Does This Work?

According to The Independent,

Carbon-14 isotopes extracted from graphite blocks produced by the plant are infused with wafer-thin diamonds to create the batteries, which researchers say are capable of providing power on a “near-infinite basis”.

Potential applications range from powering hearing aids and pacemakers, to extending the range of spacecraft to distances much further than are currently possible.

“Eventually, a highly powerful version of a diamond battery could power a mobile phone,” James Barker, from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, told The Independent.

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“Primarily though, they are best for devices requiring long lifetime, low power and where it is difficult to replace energy sources.”

In order to make these diamond batteries safe for medical and consumer use they are encased in a non-radioactive diamond layer, which will absorb any radiation given off by the C14 source.

According to the University,

Unlike the majority of electricity-generation technologies, which use energy to move a magnet through a coil of wire to generate a current, the man-made diamond is able to produce a charge simply by being placed in close proximity to a radioactive source.

Tom Scott, Professor in Materials in the University’s Interface Analysis Centre and a member of the Cabot Institute, said: “There are no moving parts involved, no emissions generated and no maintenance required, just direct electricity generation.  By encapsulating radioactive material inside diamonds, we turn a long-term problem of nuclear waste into a nuclear-powered battery and a long-term supply of clean energy.”

Could This Be The Solution We’ve Been Searching For?

“The ultimate aim is to have a factory based at one of the former power stations in the South West that takes Carbon-14 isotopes directly from the graphite blocks for use in diamond batteries. This would significantly reduce the radioactivity of the remaining material, making it easier and safer to manage,” said Professor Tom Scott, director of the South West Nuclear Hub.

“With the majority of the UK’s nuclear power plants set to go offline in the next 10-15 years this presents a huge opportunity to recycle a large amount of material to generate power for so many great uses.”

Time will tell how effective this method that scientists have come up with will be able to be implemented worldwide, but if it is, just imagine the implications of what this technology could represent.

Is It Time To Move Away From Nuclear Energy?

You’d think since the Fukushima disaster there would be a worldwide agreement for countries to stop generating power from nuclear reactors and to safely shut down these plants. Nuclear disasters have devastating effects on our planet and all of it’s inhabitants, recovery from such accidents can take tens of thousands of years to lose their hazardous radioactivity. Take the Chernobyl disaster that occurred in 1986 and is now contained under a metal shell, this site will likely remain radioactive for up to 20,000 years.

Instead of waiting for these disasters to occur, shouldn’t we be safely dismantling these sites before any more devastating disasters occur? Thankfully many countries are vowing to shut down their nuclear power plants and we can only hope that the rest of the world will follow suit.

The Future Is Here

There are so many amazing technologies that have the capacity to revolutionize the way we use energy on this planet. Of course many of those are hidden from us, especially if they cannot be in some way profited from, and unfortunately as it seems, if they don’t exploit the environment and our resources in some way.

As innovative ideas abound and technology continues to rapidly develop, we have to assume that safer and more innovative means of producing electricity will be uncovered. Hopefully these technologies will also have the capacity to undo some of the damage that we have done to our planet.

At the end of the day, using nuclear energy is not needed anymore, and in reality nuclear waste should not even exist at this point in our development as a collective.

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Galaxies Millions of Light Years Apart Seem To Be Connected By Invisible “Large Scale Structures”

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    A study published in The Astrophysical Journal in October found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away. This suggests that an invisible force somehow connects them.

  • Reflect On:

    How much of what we know, and what we think we know, is false? Are our minds open to accepting new concepts of reality that don't fit within the framework of accepted knowledge?

“We are all connected” — a statement that may evoke an eye-roll from someone you express this to. This is common when it comes to such topics, or any topic that dives into the ‘spooky’ world of quantum physics, which seems to be directly intertwined with philosophy and metaphysics in various ways. These subjects are going to really conflict with the belief systems of many, and that’s ok.

“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement.” This statement was made by Lord Kelvin — a famous Scottish mathematician and physicist who contributed to many branches of physics — in 1900, and shattered only five years later when Einstein published his paper on special relativity. The new theories proposed by Einstein challenged the current framework of understanding, forcing the scientific community to open up to an alternative view of the true nature of our reality. This serves as a great example of how things that are originally taken as truth can suddenly turn out to be fiction.

This type of thing is happening quite often today, and with most of us trying to put food on the table and pay our bills, we don’t really have time to keep up with all that’s being discovered.

When it comes to the connection between all living systems, there are a number of examples one could use from many different fields of study. We see connection in all different forms, including all the way down to smallest bits of matter, the physical ‘stuff’ that our world is made up of. In quantum entanglement, for example, particles remain connected so that if you separate them, regardless of distance, whatever actions are performed on one of them affect the other. This has been seen with photons, for example.

This strange connection is not only seen at the smallest levels of the physical world, but also in large scale. This has been demonstrated by a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal  last October, which found that hundreds of galaxies were rotating in sync with the motions of galaxies that were tens of millions of light years away.

This is a new discovery and a new phenomenon that came from studying 445 galaxies within 400 million light years of our planet. The observed coherence is quite astonishing, and the authors hypothesize that it must have something to do with “large scale structures” that are perhaps connecting them, causing them to move so precisely in sync as they do, especially given the fact that the galaxies observed are separated by approximately 20 million light years. Somehow they “directly interact with each other,” said Joon Hyeop Lee, an astronomer at the Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

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The paper suggests that the synchronized galaxies are somehow embedded along the same ‘large scale structure,’ which is slowly rotating in a counter-clockwise direction and could be an explanation for the coherence seen between the rotation of these galaxies and their neighbours.

Obviously, a lot is still unknown.

“The dynamical coherence even out to millions of light-years was unexpected and surprising to us, because such distances are obviously too far for neighbor galaxies to directly interact with each other” says Joon Hyeop Lee, first author of the study, from KASI at Daejeon, Korea “Nevertheless, since the observational evidence supports the interaction origin of the dynamical coherence, we could not but think of the possibility that it is the vestige of past interactions.” (source)

These large structures are, as of now, invisible. Astronomers can’t identify what they are, but the discovery hints to the idea that the structures are made predominately of dark matter that links these galaxies in some sort of cosmic web, as galaxies and space in general seem to be dominated by dark matter.

This is where the world of non-material science comes in, as we start to bridge the gap that seems to separate science and metaphysics.

More is unknown than is known. We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery. It turns out that roughly 68% of the universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the universe. Come to think of it, maybe it shouldn’t be called “normal” matter at all, since it is such a small fraction of the universe.

Non-material, invisible substances dominate our world — they are not perceivable to the senses, but they can be detected.

If you’ve looked into dark matter, you may also know that what scientists refer to as the quantum vacuum is often mistaken for dark matter or ‘dark energy,’ but we don’t hear about this in mainstream channels.

Space is actually not empty and it’s full of energy… The energy in space is not trivial, there’s a lot of it and we can actually calculate how much energy there is in that space and that reality might actually come out of it. Everything we see is actually emerging from this space. – Nasim Haramein

This idea was illustrated decades ago with the “Casimir Effect,” which demonstrates what’s called zero-point energy. Today, we are beginning to see that these concepts are not just theoretical, but instead are very practical. (source)(source) This is why it’s interesting to point out how multiple scientists, over the past little while, have been expressing the idea that what we call “Dark Matter” might actually be mistaken for this ‘zero-point energy.’

Take, for example, this Defense Intelligence Agency unclassified document entitled “Warp Drive, Dark Energy & The Manipulation of Extra-Dimensions,” written and prepared for the agency by senior research physicist Richard K. Obousky, Ph.D. and Eric W. Davis, Ph.D.

When it comes to dark energy, here’s what the paper states:

This is what now is being accepted as the ‘substance’ of space. Space is not empty–if you look at an atom, it’s mostly made up of ’empty space,’ but the space is not actually empty, it’s full of energy.

Nikola Tesla was well aware of this substance/force at the turn of the 20th Century:

All perceptible matter comes from a primary substance, or tenuity beyond conception, filling all space, the akasha, or luminiferous ether, which is acted upon by the life-giving Prana or creative force, calling into existence, in never-ending cycles all things and phenomena.” – Nikola Tesla, Man’s Greatest Achievement, 1907

The late Parahamsa Tewari recently had a paper published in Physics Essays. The paper is titled “Structural Relation Between The Vacuum Space and The Electron.” You can access the full study here. Tewari also points out that dark matter has been mistaken for the ether.

Ether has got to be, once again, established, then there will be the meaningful understanding of physics, meaningful understanding of metaphysics, and meaningful understanding of spiritual processes.” – Tewari (source)

I believe that there is something non-physical connecting these galaxies, connecting space and connecting time in ways that we are just beginning to understand, and I believe that what’s beyond this non-physical ‘substance’ is consciousness.

The Takeaway

Science still has a long way to go with regards to making discoveries about our universe, as there are many more questions than answers, but something seems to be a common theme, and that’s the fact that invisible forces like dark matter, dark energy, and the zero-point energy field are key components with regards to the structure and nature of reality.

What’s even more fascinating? The fact that consciousness itself may play an integral role in shaping how our physical world behaves. You cannot go into quantum physics without diving into consciousness. Max Planck, the theoretical physicist credited with originating quantum theory — a feat that won him the Physics Nobel Prize in 1918 — offers perhaps the best explanation for why understanding consciousness is so essential: “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 existing, postulates consciousness.”(source)

Perhaps the universe itself is conscious?

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