Here’s the final installment of Odd Questioners Electricity in a Post-Tech World. He obviously knows his stuff and I’d like to thank him for taking the time to write such a comprehensive paper on alternative electricity generating technologies.
He’s promised to deliver this paper in PDF format and when he does I’ll make it available for download to all you faithful readers out there interested in printing it out. (I know I am.)
Thank you, Odd Questioner, for an informative series.
by Odd Questioner
Part 4 🙂
In previous articles, we covered the whys and the basic hows of providing electricity in what may eventually be termed the Neo-Dark Ages. We’ve covered a lot of the different and popular styles of providing yourself with renewable energy. This go ’round, I want to cover one last form that you may not have considered, and provide some final thoughts on the whole subject.
Yes, Steam. You can stop laughing now.
Nearly all forms of conventional power generation today involve producing electricity from steam generators. That steam can come from coal, oil, and even nuclear power. So… why not get up a little of that for yourself? If you live near a natural coal seam, or you want to make your stove do more than just heat your house and cook your food, then let’s really multitask and make some juice while we’re at it. A well-maintained steam generator and boiler kit with enough spare parts can last for years on end. The technology is certainly within reach if you spend some time learning it now.
The big drawbacks are somewhat numerous, but two things stand out immediately: heavy-duty pressure-tight plumbing, and keeping the boiler stoked.
This should really be an option only for those who can run plumbing *very* well. Keeping the boiler stoked, even part-time, will be a full-time job if you don’t have sufficient material to keep burning. Forget wood for this case – even if you live in Western Oregon, two people won’t be able to get up enough wood for the job. Also, even a small boiler will be under a lot of pressure, which means a serious potential for explosion. This thing will also make noise, and lots of it.
Maintenance will require three things: insuring that both the plumbing and boiler are in good shape and pressure-tight, treating against corrosion, and insuring that the steam generator is in top condition. It will also require stockpiling (or insuring a near-constant supply of) fuel.
Overall, if you live near a small-but-workable coal seam (West Virginia, Central Utah, and similar areas are excellent for this), you can provide
a ready-made supply of fuel that burns hot and doesn’t require a lot to get it.
Some final thoughts…
What we’ve slogged through so far is only a small part of how you can provide electricity in a world without outlets. Creative people can carry it even further (solar-powered boilers, small wave/tidal generators, maybe even geothermal/heat-pump sources). In my opinion however, steam is about as far down the rabbit hole as most folks can feasibly go without a degree in engineering. What I wanted to present here is a few usable (to a degree) means that folks can use to generate power, with just enough information to decide what avenues are worth pursuing.
In all cases, the trick is to do the research, and to assess what will work best in your situation. A big recommendation would be to have more than one means handy. I say this because volcanic ash clouds can render solar panels useless, shifting weather patterns can make windmills into big lawn ornaments, and drought (or an idiot neighbor upstream) can turn your budding hydro plant into a dry chunk of iron.
Also, think long-term… I mean really long-term, as in being able to bequeath your working rig to your kids. This is part of why I mentioned steam… the technology to make steam from it is over a century old, and well within the reach of any reasonably intelligent person. Even if the civilized world well and truly ends, it
is my belief that someday, somehow, somewhere… civilization will emerge once again from the dark. Any means that we can help this along is, in my opinion, well worth the effort.