Off-grid power generation and general living

Off grid living can be a complicated business, I would love to simplify things over the coming years, but the real challenge is trying to keep things simple whilst maintaining some level of comfort. When I first visited Bron Yr Aur there was no boiler, wind turbine, no solar hot water and none of the complicated wiring, inverters, random tanks and definitely no central heating!ruth first hydro fix

Back then the gas lamps were still used and there was one tiny solar panel and mini wind turbine which provided two low power lights upstairs. The fireplace remains unchanged in itself but previously it had no wood burner and was capable of some of the biggest open fires I have ever seen!

We now have a woodburner sitting in the huge fireplace which uses a fraction of the wood that we use if we still had an open fireplace. We have a wood pellet boiler which provides hot water and runs the central heating, amazing things wood pellets but on the down side the boiler does have to run pumps and things and this eats into our power supply. A large battery bank houses a stack of batteries and in the Summer months things are usually very easy with more power than we can use. Winter brings lots of challenges including blocked pipes just when there’s loads of water that should be giving us hydro power.

The tiny hydro wheel is incredible, giving us a trickle of energy 24/7 (when it’s working), this trickle provides power to the battery bank for several months of the year. Our water supply and hydro system come from the same small stream some 100 feet or so above the cottage and this stream has provided water to the property for a few hundred years.

We have 1kw of solar panels as well as passive solar panels which heat our water when the boiler is off, amazing things which give us a few days of very hot water with only 2-3 hours of sun. The wind turbine was the first to be put up in Snowdonia National park and at the time it was only allowed to be 11 metres tall which has caused issues with non ‘clean’ air and it not generating the power it could have done, that said it is often a windy spot up here and it has it’s moments of glory. We try to hold off lighting the main wood pellet boiler as long as possible and also try to turn it off as early in the season as IMG_4539we can but these old stone walled cottages can be pretty cold and humidity is pretty high without heating. usually we have the wood burner heating the main room up until October each autumn and switch back to it again perhaps in May the following spring. It’s not uncommon to need to light the wood burner on some occasions during the summer months!

Living by the seasons and changing what we use depending on the weather has become second nature, converting all lights over to LED’s has been a welcome energy saving and a super energy efficient fridge freezer is a god send, though not as impressive as our ‘zero energy’ fridge that we have outside (an old fridge converted to store fruit and vegetables, complete with Welsh slate roof). One of the main difficulties with off-grid living of this kind is getting people to come out and fix or maintain some of the more complicated bits and pieces, it can be quite specialist and that is one big consideration with these kind of setups. We do have a backup generator and during the winter unfortunately we do still have to employ it fairy often but I would say that we produce approximately 90% of our own energy here on site. We are always thinking of ways to make our life more sustainable and we now manage to grow around about 60% of fruit and vegetables having made large amounts of soil, compost and organic feed here on site. Any food waste here goes into our ‘Bokashi system’ which then turns this into plant feed and organic matter for the raised beds, amazing and if you havn’t heard of them just give it a google. We were very lucky to move here after my father in law had created this off-grid wonder and having a polytunnel  already erected and in use was a real boost. We brew all of our own alcohol, make jams, chutneys, chocolate, keep a few hens and our bee hive is in place ready to welcome residents next spring.

Future plans include a bio-digester to create our own gas for cooking, the creation of a new solar cIMG_3775ooker (after a very heavy and inefficient one I made 10 years ago) and the planting of a few hundred feet of edible hedges.

I feel very lucky to live here and to experience off-grid life but when something doesn’t work there’s no-one to call…or no-one to call who will arrive within the next month or so! I have learnt so much in the five years that we have lived here and maintain our generator, perform routine maintenance on our hydro system and all kinds of things that I never thought I would do. Just using the chainsaw and axes to keep the wood shed stocked is a mission in itself. If you want to get all geeky about the various renewable energy systems here then sign up for updates as I’ll be creating another blog shortly that gives full details about all of this and how it all fits together. Thanks for listening and please drop me an email or give me a call if you have any questions. Scott @ Bron Yr Aur.