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Battle of the Alternatives: Wind vs. Solar vs. Hydro

Our electricity grid is a dinosaur. Currently it is being asked to move more power than it was ever designed to handle. If the grid is not upgraded or replaced soon, the day is not far off when the old slow-moving dinosaur will collapse leaving us all—especially the Flintstones—without power.

But there’s the bright side! When that day comes (or in preparation for that day), you finally get to wrestle with the exciting question of how to power your home: Solar, wind, or hydro?

Matthew Stein, author of When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability, and Surviving the Long Emergency wrestles with that very question in his book.

Here’s an excerpt:

No single RE source works best all the time in all situations. Hybrid systems often yield the best year-round performance. Wind and micro-hydro usually perform well during stormy periods, while photovoltaics work best in dry summer conditions with long sunny days. Photovoltaics have the benefit of no moving parts, no maintenance, high reliability, and a long life averaging about 25 years or more for solar panels. The current (year 2008) solar panel cost of about $5 per watt (remember that batteries and inverters will add significantly to this cost) has been steadily dropping as sales of solar cells have doubled every few years. The recent invention of solar roofing panels and the introduction of major PV incentives in several countries are expected to continue to boost sales and significantly reduce prices over the next decade.

Worldwide wind-energy sales have increased at a faster rate than any other source of power, and for good reason. If your area is subject to consistently windy conditions, you can generate electricity with much less initial investment than for photovoltaics. At roughly $1.50 per watt, a small wind generator can produce far more power for far less money than the equivalent wattage of solar panels, when you consider that a wind generator operates day and night. The downside to wind generators is their need for maintenance (they do have moving parts), mounting expenses (they are usually mounted on towers to catch the best wind), some give off annoying noise in high winds, and they have little or no output in low winds. Don’t be seduced by a wind turbine’s high wattage rating if you really don’t have enough local wind to make it worthwhile. In general, if your area does not have enough wind to be annoyingly windy fairly often, it is probably not worthwhile to install a wind system for your home. See the “Wind Power” section in When Technology Fails for more details.

Micro-hydropower is the way to go if you have the right conditions for it. Hydropower requires two things: first, you must have a good source of running water, and second, that water should drop from a significant vertical height. Micro-hydro has the advantage of running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as long as your water supply holds out. Given a water source with adequate flow and head, micro-hydro will generate far more power than a photovoltaic system of equal cost. The downside is regular maintenance to clear debris from intake screens, service for generator brushes and bearings, and the need for a water source with adequate flow and head. See the “Micro-Hydropower” section in When Technology Fails for more details.


New French edition of The Resilient Farm and Homestead available

Great news for French-speaking fans of Ben Falk’s The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. The French language translation is now available from Imagine Un Colibri, from French booksellers, and on Amazon.fr. Falk’s book is a technical manual that details the strategies he and his team have developed for […] Read More

Prepare! Keep a Grab-n-Go Survival Kit Handy

Are you prepared in the event of a sudden emergency? Blizzard, earthquake, insurrection after the inauguration? We know a lot of people are wondering what’s coming next in the US, as well as the world, given terrorism, politics, and global warming, among other threats. In this excerpt from When Technology Fails, a popular book on […] Read More

A Bloggin’ We Shall Go: Your Favorite Blog Posts from 2016

Ah, 2016 – where did the time fly? It seems like only earlier this year we were excited about designing swales and getting to know more about no-till farming, and we ended up focusing on the heart, ketogenic diets and seeking a bio-abundant future. While the top 7 blog posts of the year don’t exactly […] Read More

Yes, America We Can Make It … Really

Uncertainty got you down? The political world may seem like it’s crumbling around us, but this we know: We can make it, America. Literally, we can make things. Houses. Gardens. Food. Below we’ve selected some of our classic how-to and DIY books (and some new favorites) to help you sustain your self, family, and community. […] Read More

Chelsea Green on Instagram: Our Most Popular Photos of 2016

What a year for Chelsea Green on Instagram! We began the year with 500 followers and are now fast approaching 4,000 photo-loving brewers, gardeners, cheesemakers, permaculturists, foodies, seed-savers, homesteaders, foragers, and more. Our most popular posts of 2016 say a lot about what makes you happy: mushrooms, innovative garden designs and techniques, tiny cabins, and […] Read More
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