On the Pathway to Sustainability in Patagonia
Paul Coleman describes his journey that has taken him to the outskirts of La Junta in Patagonia.
In 1989, after two decades of travelling the planet I gave up what I considered to be the best job in the world to spread the environmental message far and wide. A year later I was walking around the planet planting trees.
Almost fifty thousand kilometers walked through thirty nine nations and millions of trees later I now find myself living in Aysén, Patagonia, with my wife Konomi in a small cabin with a gorgeous view.
We came here to enjoy the great beauty of Patagonia, the unpolluted nature of its environment, and to create for ourselves a sustainable lifestyle.
Here we drink water from the source, a spring fed stream mere meters away. On clear nights it seems like we can reach up and pluck a star from the sky, so clear is the atmosphere, so clear is the air that we breathe.
Our life is not always bright and easy. We’ve spent three years building our earth and turf home, digging, sweating and creating the organic gardens that increasingly supply us with our food.
We have much more work to do. Recently, one of the things we’ve been investing a lot of our personal energy into, and a fair amount of money, is the power that we need to run our home on.
Wood fuels the fire that enables us to keep warm and to make our daily bread. Our cabin has been designed to keep us warm at the minimum expense.
When it’s -5c outside it’s +10c inside…. even in the morning without the fire!
To be comfortable we only have to generate an extra 10c of warmth from the fire, rather than most homes in this region which have to generate twice as much to reach a similar temperature.
It’s very energy efficient and we are pleased with the result of our efforts.
But we also need energy for powering lights and the computers that enable us to keep in touch with the rest of the world and do our work, which is mainly writing books and articles and advising others on how to restore the earth and live a more sustainable lifestyle.
We are not connected to the power lines of the Chilean energy grid. We are off grid, which is the term used for people who are not connected to the mains of the electrical supply companies.
Being off the grid means you generate your own electricity. To do this you have several well known choices which include wind generators, think windmills; solar panels, think sun and the glittering panels you see on people’s roofs, and micro hydro, which uses the motion of water to generate an electric current.
If I had my choice I would go for micro hydro. As long as you have a running stream of a certain size or a small holding pond above where you live, you can generate electricity. The more powerful the stream, the more electricity supplied. If the stream runs all day, every day, then you have power all day, every day. Here in Patagonia we have loads of water falling from the sky, giant rivers in front of our window, but they are way below our land, and our stream does not flow constantly. So micro hydro is not an option.
We also have lots of wind. But that wind can be very powerful and can change direction is a split second. A windmill in these conditions would have to be so strong that it does not make for a cost effective investment to run a couple of computers and a few LED lights.
So we have decided to go with solar panels and to use a back up generator for emergency power.
Here in La Junta, Patagonia, the sun does not like shine in Santiago, it rains like in the Amazon. With just a few solar panels we can generate enough electricity to meet our daily needs on those sunny days of summer and, thanks to a bank of 12 volt Deep Cycle batteries we can store the excess energy for use on a rainy day or into the night.
A larger investment in panels and a bigger bank of batteries can even provide us with enough power to see us through the stormy days of winter.
Although the sun is billions of years old, its use as a safe and modern form of energy is relatively new.
Even now, most people would have no idea as to how it works or how much it costs. Due to this ‘new’ nature of the alternative energy industry, people can make mistakes that end up costing them a lot of money. Batteries especially, are expensive.
Car batteries, which are readily available almost anywhere, are not meant for household use, if drained of energy regularly they die. Deep cycle batteries, on the other hand can stand being drained on a regular basis and are suitable for household use. They are much more expensive than car batteries, but are meant to last years longer.
I recently bought two deep cycle batteries, valued at CL$110,000 each as a part of two solar kits we purchased to illuminate our home and power our computers. They died after just a few months leaving us almost five hundred dollars out of pocket!
Here in Chile, or anywhere else for that matter, that’s a lot of money. So I complained to the vendor and the response I received has led me to investigate further.
In the process I have discovered that the batteries we bought were not made by the manufacturer they were claimed to have been made by, and that others who have bought them have suffered far greater finacial losses than us.
We only purchased two batteries, people I know have bought six, eight and even twelve that have failed.
That’s a lot of money! Such a loss can put people off investing in alternative energies. And this is a great shame. Clean and sustainable energy is a vital component to mankind’s continued existence on this planet.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working with others here at I Love Chile, to create a series of informative articles that will enable people to make the right choices when buying the equipment needed to generate their own clean energy.
Hopefully the information we give will help save people money and generate much needed positive energy!