Analog Days, Oil Lamp Nights

Our 21st century homestead seems like a 19th century homestead lately. As often happens at this time of year, we’ve entered a period of “doldrums.” Our weather has remained steadfastly cloudy and calm, reducing our power generation to bare minimum. Our battery bank has dipped close to the 20% minimum charge we’d resolved never to reach.

Even when we get clear skies, we don’t get the solar power we need. We’re so close to the winter solstice that the sun stays low enough on the horizon for the southern point to block it as it transits. We’re only getting a couple hours of direct sunlight on the solar array at most.

Usually, we can rely on our region’s abundant winds to make up the difference by driving our wind generator. These last weeks, though, we’ve hardly had more than a light breeze now and then, mostly from the north, a quarter that gives us little power.

We felt like we’d entered unknown territory at mid-November, when we fell to 40% (see Testing the Limits). Now, we wish for that much power!

Snow on the Chilkat mountains

I took some photos of the Chilkat range, across the Chilkat River, on our way to town Wednesday to write this post (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

To compensate, we essentially de-electrified the homestead. We don’t play music or radio on the kitchen stereo. Instead, we get our news from one of our wind-up radios (see Emergency Ready: Eton FRX5). We work outside as much as we can during daylight, and light the cabin with oil lamps during the dark hours. Any batteries we need to recharge must be hauled out to town, where we plug in at friends’ houses. I’m even writing this blog post at the library!

We’ve taken a most drastic step: we’ve shut off the DC connection to the house, and even shut down our charge controller after the sun goes down, rather than allowing it to continue monitoring our system at a cost of .6 amp hour! I turn it on in the morning, just in time to settle in for whatever solar power it may bring in. The wind generator runs independently of it, so any wind we get during the night won’t get lost.

This is not so bad; in fact, it’s rather lovely. But, it’s Christmas! Today is Saint Nicholas Day, our traditional latest-day-to-bring-out-the-decorations. We need to string lights, light the tree, listen to Christmas music on the stereo! We need to indulge in our own form of conspicuous consumption this holiday—either that or our analog days and oil lamp nights will stretch through the season. We may have to simply pretend we’re the Ingalls family . . . .

Snow on the Chilkat mountains

Another shot of the Chilkats. We could use some of that sunshine on our solar panels! (Photo: Mark A. Zeiger).

We’ve been in this situation before (see Low Power and Power Flex, for examples). It’s a price we willingly pay for independent living. And, we’ve certainly had our share of low-power Christmases. We’ve always managed to make ourselves merry in spite of the lack of power, and will do so again, I’m sure.

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4 Responses to Analog Days, Oil Lamp Nights

  1. Angie says:

    Maybe you should start celebrating Chanukah. It’s all about the candles, after all.

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Good advice, Angie. But do they have the ancient tradition of “Bad Movie Night?”

  3. Angie says:

    That’s the beauty of it: Bad Movie Night is a totally non-denominational, completely inclusive holiday tradition. Which reminds me, aren’t we overdue?

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    We’re absolutely overdue! We need to make plans.

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