Category Archives: renewable energy

July Diary 2017

Things haven’t felt as hectic as they’ve clearly been, for here is the evidence in my long gap between posts!

The astrologers (I live in Glastonbury, Britain) say that there will be shelter from the storm, but don’t rely on luck, and things ought to ease off after August 6th.   Well, that’s good to know.

Meanwhile, I joined the local parish council to work on the Emergency Plan for the area.  While exploring it on bicycle, I found this milk vending machine at a farm gate!

milk vending machine 2017

Another reason for neglecting my blog has been the difficulty of uploading pictures.  Although WordPress have been very helpful, the internet connection out here is so slow that the upload speed didn’t even register when I had it tested – most customers are only concerned with downloading.

Here’s a picture I managed to share to Facebook earlier in the summer.  My fridge broke, I replaced it from a local independent store where there are people who can fix it if it goes wrong.  Score a ten in the Resilience Assessment!

I celebrated by freezing some of my home made elderflower cordial – diluted – into ice cubes with flower petals and mint leaves.

flower ice 2017

It’s still all about food and growing.   Someone dropped out of the Resilience Allotment project, so we lost a third of our growing area.  Maybe it was too much to manage, as the new hedge in the field needs a lot of attention.

hedge mulch 2017

We’re continuing with the cardboard mulch, which is working well so far.  The perennial weeds can’t get through it easily; eventually the trees will shade them out.  Note the edges of the holes around the saplings are pushed downwards, to channel water to their roots.

‘Recipes for Resilience’ occupies a lot of my desk time.  I’m working my way through the final selection of recipes – I may have to leave out some of my favourites as I’ve gone over my target word count!  They’ll appear as out-takes here.   Some recipes I’ve never tried before, but they illustrate important techniques in preserving, which you may need come the Zombie Apocalypse or even a few months of international trade disruption.

I thought I’d try dehydrating strawberries.  The internet confidently assured me that, on a low oven, this process could be accomplished in two hours, after which you could powder them into a jar.

It was a chilly summer evening, so I decided to do this instead of turning the heating on.  I set my cooker, which runs on bottled gas, on to less than gas mark 1, propped the door slightly open and put the strawberries in.

dehydrating strawberries 2017

The greaseproof paper was crucial, as they leaked puddles of juice, which then began to scorch.  I moved them on to a clean piece twice, which was tricky as they were very soggy at this stage.

After four hours, I had not very much of something which looked like it might keep for a few weeks, but certainly couldn’t be powdered.  All those strawberries came down to one large tablespoonful.

dehydrated strawberries 2017

Although the dried fruit was chewy rather than crunchy, the taste was quite intense.  It was more like a fruit leather than something dehydrated.

It’s not usual to make fruit leathers out of summer fruits – you wouldn’t want to have the oven on all day when these are in season.  If you were getting some of your electricity from solar power, though, it would pay to buy a dehydrator.  You could preserve your strawberries free of both cost and sugar!

March Diary 2017

The weather during the first part of the month was lovely and warm here in Somerset. Just as everyone got ready to sow the spring seeds, the very weekend a whole lot of lovely outdoor events were planned….an icy wind sprang up and plunged us back into winter!

The Red Brick Building Garden Club still managed to make a few raised beds at their Friday workshop. These are constructed from dismantled pallets, and only take a couple of hours to make once you’ve had a bit of practice.

raised garden bed made of pallets

raised bed with base

 

They were on display for the Seedy Sunday event on the 19th, along with a biochar stove, advice on mushroom cultivation and the main event in the hall.

Every year, there’s a seed swap day in Glastonbury, in time for planting season.  It began in a small church hall at the obscure end of the High Street.  Gardeners, sorting through their seed boxes, would bring along the ones they really weren’t going to get round to planting. They’d add them to the pile on the table, and have a look for anything interesting brought by other people.

There was tea and home made goodies, of course.  You could sample exotics such as beetroot or parsnip cake, or stick to the traditional lemon drizzle. People sold gardening books, sapling fruit trees, craft items, tools, Resilience Handbooks….the event had to move to a larger venue!

I took some pictures of the biochar stove, which was being used to cook snacks while creating charcoal. A slightly different design can use this principle to generate methane gas for fuel. I’m having problems uploading images to WordPress though, you could check out my page on Facebook  ‘Elizabeth J Walker’ instead!

Green Wedmore held an Energy Advice Day in the yard of the George Inn on the Saturday; although only a few braved the icy cold to investigate, it was a great networking opportunity.  Mark and Liz came down from the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol, with a display of in-depth advice leaflets and some very interesting gadgets.

I was quite glad I hadn’t been able to book onto the free willow fence making course run by Glastonbury Abbey – it was nice not to be outside all day! The demonstration at the garden event showed me all I needed to know about getting started – maybe I can upload the pictures sometime 😦

Meanwhile, I’m digging over the allotment after work most days.  We’ve been given another patch to look after and it’s pretty wild.  I’m turning over the soil, pulling out the main weed roots and binning them. Then, using the great heap of leaf mould which someone – the Council, I suppose – left in the car park, covering the dug ground with a thick mulch.

A local fast food store generates more cardboard than its bins hold; we’ll cover the lot with sheets of card, weighed down with bits of brick and a couple of tyres.  The first cleared patch is destined for potatoes, planted through holes in the card.  Strawberries next – the wild strawberries in my garden are lovely, but I’d like enough to make wine from!

Will the birds eat them instead?  Will rabbits get our carrots? Is it worth locking the shed when the most valuable bit of it is the door? An allotment presents a whole new set of challenges to resilience gardening!

Join the adventure – choose a task from the Resilience Handbook and see where it takes you!

Some tips to reduce mould in your house

In the interests of networking, an important part of resilience, I keep in touch with Green Wedmore. This is an active and effective community group out on the Levels. When I discovered they were involved with a plan to conduct an energy survey of the area, I was keen to join in. I’d qualified as an energy assessor some years ago, but the project which sponsored me fell through before I got any practical experience.

Last Saturday, we had an Energy Essentials Training day, presented by the lovely Lisa Evans of the Centre for Sustainable Energy in Bristol. Although I found a lot of the material familiar, it reminded me how important this information is to people.

Cold and damp are bad enough, but it’s the resulting mould that’s really unpleasant. It looks awful, stains clothes and ruins furniture. The spores of black mould can cause health problems; even touching it can provoke an allergic reaction.

Sometimes it’s not enough to wrap up warm. My daughter and her friends, in their new basement flat by the river, were faced with electric storage heaters. Not certain how they worked, and alarmed at the cost, they didn’t use them. Well insulated, the flat wasn’t particularly cold, but by December their walls and furniture were covered in mould!

black mould

You can search online for instructions if your new home has an unfamiliar heating system. If you’ve got a problem with damp, here’s a few tips…

If you have an empty room which you’re not heating, keep the door closed. Steam from the bathroom and kitchen doesn’t stay there, but wanders through the house looking for a cold surface to condense on. Move the furniture away from outside walls, and check behind it regularly. Narrow gaps and poor air circulation encourage mould; open the windows on sunny winter days.

After a shower, close the bathroom door and open a window, if you have one; let the water vapour escape. Otherwise, use extractor fans. They’re usually under 30 watts, so cheap to run. Make sure your tumble drier is vented to the outside.

Do you have a loft? If you go into the roof space, having found out about safety precautions first, there’s often a gap where the end of the roof meets the floor. Sometimes you can even see daylight through it. This gap is crucial to the overall ventilation of many houses. If it’s blocked by insulating material, you may get a problem with damp.

There’s lots more useful advice on the internet. Don’t just live with a dangerous condition like damp; do some research and find out what you can do about it!

People used to interact with their homes far more than many do today. Learn about yours – where does the power comes from, where does the water go? What’s your score in the Housing section of the Resilience Handbook? Which action should you do next?

Remember the free assessment PDF can be found at the end of the Learning Resilience page on this site.

An Interesting Meeting

I attended an Avalon Community Energy meeting on Monday. We were admiring the new solar panels they’d arranged to be installed at a local school. Despite the continual obstacles thrown in the path of this worthy project by central government, everyone was civil to the visiting MP.

He made a short speech, indicating more sympathy for renewables than we were accustomed to hear. He regretted that taxpayers’ money had to be spent along lines informed by good business practice; later he deplored the competitiveness between various renewables providers. If business models could run a country, politics would never have happened in the first place.

The he said something really startling. We were moving away from centralised power distribution, he said. We could be building the last generation of large power stations.

Moving towards local control of the power supply is a key pillar of resilience. As control cannot be achieved without generation, renewables represent the only way forward for resilient communities. Sourcing energy in this way also leads to a more distributed network with fantastic resilience. Emergency heating, lighting and cooking facilities could be maintained in every household! Large scale power cuts would be a thing of the past.

Moving away from centralised power generation wasn’t anywhere near the top of my ‘Realistic Things to Achieve’ list. It was just a vague pipe dream, an ‘if only people would realise the importance’ idea, facing decades of struggle even to get on the agenda!

Energy groups such as ACE need to move in from the pioneer fringes and occupy the centre ground for communities to take advantage of this unexpected trend. To seize opportunity, an organised group has to be in place, poised and ready, with a sound business plan backed by an informed community. Is there such a group in your area? If not, why not?

Take back your power.

waterwheel-1

The Resilience Handbook outlines how you can form a community group in your area. More information can be found through the links on this page.

It can be a very slow process, getting a community to work together. Encourage yourself with a resilience plan; find out more in the Handbook

Resilience in Iceland

My trip to Iceland was a journey through the island’s past. I was well acquainted with the Sagas, set in the period just after Settlement, from about 900 to 1050 AD, which described a prosperous landscape. I knew that deforestation quickly became a problem and Icelanders avoided the fate of their relatives in Greenland by a very small margin.*

One of my first stops was the Settlement Exhibition in Reykjavik. This museum has been built over an excavated longhouse from the Saga days. Its inhabitants enjoyed Iron Age luxury in their spacious ‘hvoll’ surrounded by natural abundance.

Following the prosperity of the early days came the Little Ice Age which began in the 1300s and lasted nearly six centuries. The trees cut for firewood, building and smelting iron didn’t grow back. The topsoil was lost and barley cultivation ceased. The fjords filled with ice; the fishing boats rotted on the strand with no wood for repairs.

There wasn’t even enough firewood to boil seawater for salt, essential for preserving food through the long winters. Luckily cows were able to survive, presumably living on seaweed and lichens like the people, and there was plenty of whey left over from butter making. The Icelanders expanded traditional techniques of preserving meat in lactic acid.

There was no clay for making pots, no iron to repair pans. People used the volcanic springs to steam food wrapped in cloth, dug pits in hot sand. Icelandic cuisine became desperately inventive.

The climate change was compounded by hostile political conditions and by the Black Death in 1402. The population fell from 60,000 to 20,000. Then there was the Skaftáreldar eruption in 1783, which poisoned large areas of grassland.

As Europe began to prosper again, there was a market for the fine woollen goods from Iceland – the sheep had survived too, and just as well as there were no fibre crops for cloth or ropes. Finally permitted to prosper from their own trade, the Icelanders invested in boats. Their fishing fleet was revived; technology trickled in from the Industrial Revolution.

Then electricity was invented! Icelanders swiftly caught on to the potential of renewable and volcanic energies. Huge greenhouses now provide all the vegetables they need for domestic consumption, and extensive reforestation is progressing. Recycling is taken seriously. So is trashing the countryside with off road vehicles.

You’ll find a great respect for the land among Icelanders. It nearly killed them. If you visit this paragon of resilience, don’t pretend you know what you’re doing. Hire locals to show you around, especially in winter!

 

*There’s a poignant description of the fate of one group of Greenland Vikings in ‘Collapse’ by Jared Diamond.  This is one of the recommended books in the Resilience Handbook…reading is a good activity in the winter!

There’s still time to order a signed copy of the Resilience Handbook before Xmas – email me after you’ve placed your order if you want it signed to another name!

October Diary 2016

It’s about time for another diary post, since it’s been a busy week here in Somerset.

Thursday was the Community Food Forum, an annual event organised by Feed Avalon. Around forty people gathered this year – its third – to network and exchange ideas. It was great to see projects like Plotgate, a community supported agriculture venture near Barton St David, developing from their initial fund raising to a successful business!

There seems to be a steady increase of interest in growing food, with new sectors engaging every year. This time there were people who work with mental health, where its therapeutic benefits are being recognised.

Saturday saw the Glastonbury Town Council hold a public consultation on possible uses for a splendid old building they have just acquired for the community. It would be ideal for a practical crafts centre; I’d like to see that combined with an ‘eco-college’ like Dartington Hall in Devon. We could explore local materials for textiles and ceramics – Somerset having a lot of wool and clay.

edible flower baskets in Glastonbury
edible flower baskets in Glastonbury

In the evening, I went to the energy evening hosted by Green Wedmore. The purpose of the presentation and following debate was to explore future energy options for the local area. The range of these on the table was impressive. Not only solar, wind and hydropower, but also biomass from the surrounding RSPB nature reserves and anaerobic digestion using farm waste.

Vince Cable, former business secretary, gave the introduction and Pete Capener from Bath and West Community Energy provided an inspiring talk on how the renewables industry is adapting to a hostile government. I chatted to a long-serving member of the parish council, who’d recently had an impressive 16Kw array installed on the roofs of her farm buildings – using panels built in Wrexham. We snacked on excellent smoked trout vol au vents from the nearby aqua farm. The people of Wedmore intend to take quality with them into their sustainable future!

Someone had brought a particularly backward article just published in the Times. After spending much of the last forty years off grid, I view people who harp on about ‘the lights going out’ with the same astonishment as I’d view a flat-earther. Lights are easy. Washing machines, even freezers, are well within the scope of a modern personal renewables system without mains backup.

Tumble driers now, you could have a point.  It’s not such a rousing battle cry though – ‘without nuclear power, you might have to actually hang your clothes out to dry!’

Meanwhile, the smart consumer is considering the benefits of making their own electricity…..

solar power regulator

The best way to start this process is by looking at the devices you use already, and finding out how much electricity they use.  In the Energy chapter of the Resilience Handbook, task eight asks ‘can you calculate how much of your home could run on a supply of 2 kilowatts?’  This level of supply is not only possible with a personal solar array, but designed to use a small ‘suitcase’ generator as emergency backup. ( More power requires a larger, noisier generator.)

Once you know the answer to this question, you’ve got a much better idea what local energy can do for you – it’s more resilient than a centralised power supply!

For more information about food and energy resilience, read ‘The Resilience Handbook – How to survive in the 21st century’

Adventures at the Green Gathering

Wow! What a great festival!

I love off grid events – without the diesel generators churning away, the sound levels are gentler, the lights less glaring. The whole atmosphere is more relaxed. It fits into the splendid natural setting of Piercefield Park like a hand into a glove.

Green Gathering 2016 vista from crafts area

The weather was fabulous, with plenty of shady places under trees or in cool venues to shelter from the hot sun. At night, gaily illuminated cafes, bars and venues were strung on curving lines of coloured festoon lights.

Green Gathering 2016 floating lotus venue

If you were inclined to learn resilience skills, there were abundant workshops teaching everything from archery to willow weaving.

boar oven GG16

Steward Control at the Green Gathering was the last job I did before retiring from event work to promote resilience. Some of the volunteers remembered the trial version of the Resilience Handbook which they were issued with back then! Training event stewards to cope with camping out – often for the first time – provided valuable material for the final version.

The splendid Laura now manages the stewards, but my colleague Linda Benfield is still a director of our company, and also of the Green Gathering itself. We created the Resilience Wheel concept together some years ago.

the resilience wheel

We were struggling to write an energy questionnaire for Glastonbury, for a Transition Town funding bid. The problem was the huge disparity in energy awareness from house to house, and how to reflect this in a meaningful sense. At the same time, we were involved with the Town Council’s emergency planning committee.

The two projects started to overlap; we began to see the issues around putting these plans into practice, the multiple factors, the many variables. The number of things that should be in place and weren’t. Surrounded by flow charts and spider diagrams, we had a sudden insight and reinvented the wheel!

Anyone can find their place on it. All your efforts towards a sustainable lifestyle – that would be one which isn’t going to vanish in a puff of fossil fuel smoke – feed into one central goal. Resilience. You can’t do without it.

The Resilience Wheel isn’t just a picture. It’s a tool. You have to pick it up and use it.

Adventures on the Resilience Trail

There was so much going on at the Food Sovereignty Gathering, that there was little time for me to explore the Hebden Bridge area properly. I’d taken a chance mentioning it in the Resilience Handbook (p86) on reputation alone, and wasn’t disappointed.

The Archimedes screw at Hebdon Bridge Mill
The Archimedes screw at Hebdon Bridge

The movement itself turned out to be too concerned with international affairs to really connect with the firmly local criteria of resilience. I met some interesting people and had many productive discussions however.

In among the demanding schedule were visits to the key features I wanted to see: the Incredible Farm and the Aquagarden in Todmorden, of which more another time.

aquagarden at Todmorden and Incredible Farm

The Gathering was quite tiring and I needed Tuesday to unwind. Our hostel, being on the Pennine Way, had a great interest in rambling, with a collection of useful maps.

I explored the Hebdon Bridge Loop of the Pennine Way in the company of Helena Paul (author of ‘Hungry Corporations‘). It was an eerie, misty day but the trail was well marked and we wandered up and down the landscape, often on paved ways which must have taken a lot of work.

 

sylvia plath grave at heptonstall

We called at Sylvia Plath Hughes‘ grave in Heptonstall; a place of pilgrimage for her admirers, who are accustomed to leave pens as gifts. It turned out to be the poetess’ birthday, and we learned the history of the site from a fellow author there. Nibbling on Himalyan Balsam seeds, we followed the maze of paths, challenging bullocks for right of way, pausing by the washing pools to look for dippers, and back along the river with its decaying industrial remains.

 

 

 

Off the next day through the nightmare of Manchester outer ring road, a four lane dual highway crawling along in second gear amid a fume of exhausts. This country overcrowded? You bet. The Peak District looks like a rock in a crusher. Arrived with relief at the Anglesey Outdoors hostel with its early morning kayakers. Rather them than me in those waves!

I drove along the coast and visited Copper Mountain instead. The mining operation which reduced this hill to a pile of toxic rubble ceased 150 years ago. All that grows in the sparse acid soil is heather, the only sound of life the occasional apocalyptic crow. It takes two hours to walk around the edge of this tortured landscape, among the rocks drenched with warped and twisted bands of colour, the heaps of pink scree.

copper mountain anglesey

Somewhere in the world this process is destroying another place of former natural beauty. The Internet – an enthusiastic user of copper – comes with a price.

Onwards and decidedly upwards along the west coast of Wales to the Centre for Alternative Technology. I’d been offline since Hebden, so failed to organise a meeting, but the Resilience Handbook I left was well received. I bought a ticket – valid for a whole year! – and explored this iconic establishment for the first time.

It has developed and expanded over the years to a full scale educational facility with over a hundred staff. The fascinating exhibits, set in a lovely natural landscape, cover the whole spectrum of resources from energy provision to waste disposal. I certainly need a return visit to take it all in!

centre for alternative technology fruit trees and solar panels

I spent the night at the Corris Hostel just down the road, where the hostel manager organised a cook out in the forested garden. The visiting party of young singers fom Liverpool were entranced, even abandoning their smartphones to fry sausages and toast marshmallows!

The final stage of my travels took me via Swansea,, to supply the nascent Resilience Project there with Handbooks, and so home to a welcome bath.

By using hostels and public transport, a single traveller can take an adventure break very cheaply. Families could pool transport and stay off season in a holiday camp. So it might rain? Adapt. Learn resilience.  Everybody needs adventures.

Diary October 2015

The Resilience Handbook has been out in print for a busy two months now. Distributing and promoting has taken up most of my time – learning to sell books from a standing start! I’m just about to go on tour, heading north through the scary urbanisation of the Midlands to Hebden Bridge for the Food Sovereignty gathering.

poster for Food Sovereignty

I’m planning to stay on and revisit the wonderful people at Incredible Edible Todmorden nearby – I hear their aquaculture project is thriving. Then, taking the North Wales Expressway which I hear so much about on the traffic news, off to explore Welsh bookshops ending up with a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. I hope the weather holds!

No wonder we obsess about the weather in Britain. I’ve had to pack for wet cold, dry cold, unseasonable warmth and days of torrential rain. I could get all or none of these during a ten day walkabout! I’m afraid I drew the line at taking a spade to dig myself out of snowdrifts, as my neighbour advised, though that may turn out to be a false economy.

Packing wasn’t the only weather challenge this autumn. There were two weeks of cold wet weather at the end of August. My optimistic crops of sweetcorn and chickpeas went mouldy where they stood. The slugs multiplied alarmingly, not even bothering to crawl into hiding during the long wet days.

Once things dried out somewhat, I had to clear up the wreckage and deal with Mollusc World Domination. I replaced the stone slab garden bed paths with oven shelves and bits of fireguard; metal grids providing no shelter for them, nor for Ant City. I’m normally quite tolerant of ants, but this year they managed to destroy an entire courgette crop and most of the broad beans with their bug farms. Chemical warfare, however, is just not on the agenda.

The elderberry harvest in early September was upset by this weather; it took far more trips to collect enough for the crucial anti-flu syrup and we may not have a full winter’s supply. Elder trees can exert a great deal of influence over their flowers. They will hold them back as buds during rainy days, then open them like sudden umbrellas as soon as the sun comes out. Much the same applies to their berry clusters.

My friend’s bees didn’t produce enough honey to see themselves over the winter, so they will have to be fed by humans. I don’t know if this was the weather. Perhaps they are on strike against pesticides.

Right. Departure delayed to let the high winds abate, but not for too long or I’ll get entangled in Rush Hour. I just have to check out Knit for the Planet – who are the Woolly Angels? – and pack some wool….