Monday, May 22, 2006

News from the Homestead

We had someone from Dovetail Solar and Wind come out and do a site assessment for us. A hybrid wind-solar system is appealing to me because:

  • We have the space

  • It's windy here

  • We don't have any significant trees yet (and strategically placed trees can actually help with wind power)

  • Wind and solar tend to complement one another here (windy winter/sunny summer, windy storms/sunny, um, sunshine)

  • I think it's likely that energy prices are going to go the way of gas prices before too long

It's a tough sell though, because thanks to subsidies, electricity prices are still pretty low. It takes a long time to recoup your initial investment (assuming static energy prices). These systems are expensive. In addition to the wind turbine or solar panel, you've got battery packs, inverters, wiring, etc. We have some creative ideas to pay for it, but it's still another non-trivial bill to pay.

It's also tough because we get our electricity from a rural co-op, rather than a for-profit energy company. That sounds great, but the downside is that, at least in Ohio, they don't have to pay you market value for any energy you give back to the grid. They have to pay you somewhere around 1/3 to 1/4 of market value, which isn't really worth it at this point.

On top of that, there's no way we could afford to replace our current electric usage with wind and/or solar, or even come close. It's just too expensive. We're too far from the equator for a really good solar return, and although we seem to have a very windy microclimate, our part of the state is marginal for wind. Unless we want to put up an anemometer on a pole for a year, we won't know for sure what kind of return to expect.

But conservation can go a long way toward reducing energy usage. And if we have another two-week power outage like our neighbors experienced last winter during an ice storm, a few killowats will be worth their weight in gold. (Hmmm. How much does a killowatt weigh anyway?) The standard answer out here is a generator, but those ain't cheap either, and they need gas or diesel fuel to operate, which brings another set of problems.

Energy independence has a lot of appeal. We still have some thinking to do on this one.

Out in the pasture, we added two new goats yesterday. Our three-quarter Boer buck, and another Nubian doe, bringing our current total to five. Our donkey has been delayed until early next week. The cows are quietly munching grass in the other pasture. We sometimes forget they are even out there... especially when they are snoozing in the tall grass.

We've nearly decided to get another buck. Since we need to control breeding to a certain extent, we need to keep the boys and girls separate much of the time. Since goats are herd animals, it's hard on a buck to be by himself all the time. A common practice is to keep a buck with a wether (castrated male) for companionship. But we're thinking if we have one more goat to care for, why not make it a productive one?

We visited a local Boer ranch, and saw Boers of various ages. The full grown bucks are massive, at least as far as goats go, weighing in at four hundred pounds. We'd like to start with a younger one, so we can learn to handle him before he outweighs our whole family.

I just read something about Kinder goats (kin-der, not kind-er), which come from a Nubian / Pygmy cross that sounds interesting also. Maybe I should just stop reading for a little while. It just gets me into trouble, and adds to my to-do list.

There's a frost warning for tonight, which is strange, since it's awfully late for frost, and since it was in the mid-60's today and is due to break 70 tomorrow. Haven't the weather forecasters noticed it's almost June?? Lucky for me, I haven't had a chance to get my tomatoes and peppers out yet.

Lori's making great progress on the 8x8 shed kit we purchased. I haven't had a chance to contribute much, but she's the carpenter at this point anyway. The kit came with some incorrect lumber, so I had to take that back and convince Sutherlands that it was wrong, which took some doing. Demonstrating the difference between a 21-degree cut and a 22 1/2 degree cut is not easy, even side-by-side. The shed will be for milking and for equipment and feed storage for the goats. We're hoping to build something larger for winter housing by fall. With some modifications, we can make due with what we have for our small herd, but we're trying to plan ahead.

The tractor has a major radiator leak now. I thought it might just be a loose or deteriorating hose, but when I finished mowing the other day, I saw it leaking like crazy. It seems to be just a pinhole, but it's gushing pretty good. I don't know if I want to drive around gushing antifreeze all over our nice pasture. At least I'm not mowing where the livestock are grazing, or where the kids are playing.

You know, sometimes I feel like the that old compulsive liar character Jon Lovitz used to play on Saturday Night Live. We have so much going on, and it's all so unusual. Yeah, we bought some goats. And, and a... donkey! Yeah... and there are cows in the front yard! Yeah, yeah, and we're building a shed! And thinking about installing a, um... a solar and wind system! Yeah, that's the ticket!

We are moving fast. Faster than we originally planned. Sometime I'll write about my motivation. For now, I think I'd better call it a night. I've got to be nearing the 1,000 word mark. If you're still here, thanks as always for reading.


At 5/23/2006 9:01 PM, Blogger Suzer said...

You guys are my heros. I wish we were as actively persuing alternative energy as you are. I just want a more fuel efficient car! So we are downsizing my Jeep next year to a small wagon of some sort. Oh yeah, Kinder in german means child (shrug) there's your usuless bit of information for today. Do you think the buck makes fun of the wether when no ones around?

At 5/24/2006 8:38 AM, Blogger madcapmum said...

I'm very interested to hear more about your motivation. And I didn't realize that you could run a generator with diesel, which leads me to wonder if you could run one with bio-diesel?

Also, would you mind e-mailing me through me profile? I notice you don't have an e-mail contact.

At 5/24/2006 12:03 PM, Blogger e4 said...

Yeah, there are diesel generators out there, but they're much more expensive than gas powered ones. I would guess that you could run on biodiesel.

I know with vehicles, the issues to work around are:

- Cold start problems because of the thicker viscosity (various solutions available there)

- Some types of rubber hoses in older engines (early 90's or before) that don't get along well with biodiesel and need to be replaced

- The need to replace filters frequently when first switching from "petro" to "bio" because the biodiesel actually cleans and dislodges gunk.

I'd think only the first one would be an issue for a diesel generator, at least a newer one. But I'm just guessing.

At 5/24/2006 12:06 PM, Blogger e4 said...

I guess Kinder makes sense, since they end up being fairly small, and produce lots of kids.

I think you're right about the buck. That wether would have to develop an attitude, given his situation...

At 5/24/2006 2:37 PM, Blogger Beo said...

Wow E4-you are moving fast! Great to hear that you will be using the goats for milk (I need ot catch up on your posts).

Are you considering an intertie with the Co-op or just powering portions of your porperty like the sheds/barn/garage? When we go Solar I have been siding more towards intertie do to the fact that every site in SE WI has power running to the curb and I don't want to mess with batteries. In the mean time I toy strongly with the idea of taking our garage off line as an experiment.

All told thougg-you guys rock! Keep living the Dream and fighting the Good Fight!

At 5/24/2006 10:04 PM, Blogger Mia said...

Wow! Best wishes with all you are doing! It sounds like you've ot some GREAT things in the works.

At 8/13/2010 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We considered kinders, too, but ended up with Nigerian dwarves. They're kid-sized (not intimidating), eat less, give a nice milk production, and are gentle and loving. Unlike pygmies, which are little brats.



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