Archive for the ‘Energy generation’ Category

Extreme weather

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

People don’t seem very geared up for rain in Portugal, preferring umbrellas to raincoats. It’s not as if the rainfall in Central Portugal isn’t respectable either – the annual average for this area is 1040mm or thereabouts (depending on source). Amazingly, it’s even slightly more than where I used to live in the Scottish Borders. The difference is it falls over an average of 120 days, not 300 or so.

Portuguese wet weather gear

Portuguese wet weather gear

The early part of winter was unusually dry and warm. I had tobacco and freesia in flower in December and nectarines in blossom in January! But with the turn of the year, the rain finally arrived. In early February we had 10% of our annual average rainfall here over the course of one weekend.


A wood-burning masonry cookstove

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Ach! Where does the time go? I’m so hopelessly behind with blog posts and there are now so many pending I scarcely know where to start. I just checked the last post I made about the outdoor kitchen for the wee house and it was a year ago!

Alongside the cob bread/pizza oven I built last spring (and which is now producing fabulous food), I also constructed a wood-burning masonry cookstove. I found an open source Sketchup model online and adapted it for Portuguese fire brick dimensions.

Sketchup model for wood burning cook stove

This is the adapted model. Click on the image to download the Sketchup file and open in Sketchup (3D modelling software which is free to download). Firebricks are colour-coded for different lengths. You’ll need to be reasonably proficient with an angle grinder (at the least) to build this stove.


Solar water heater

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

It seems a bit odd to be writing about solar water heating while it’s raining, but rain (and teens still sleeping off a night’s clubbing) is a great excuse to catch up the blog and leave the vegetable garden to water itself for once.

When we completed the plumbing and electrics for the cob bathroom back last November, I mentioned we’d allowed for a yet-to-be-built solar water heater to be used instead of the wood-burning water heater or bailarina in Summer. With such a wet and late Spring, it was April before we got the solar heater construction under way, but we’ve been enjoying hot showers from it since.

Simple solar water heater


Mission accomplished … finally the new log store

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

At the end of last June, we set out to replace the log store on the yurt terrace which had started to lean precariously. At the time, it was serving as a temporary home for our composting toilet, so to relocate the toilet, we ended up building the cob bathroom. Now, with the bathroom walls slowly drying and soon ready for their coats of plaster, it was finally time to rebuild that log store.

Compost bin and log store

Two years ago: the original compost bin and log store, newly roofed


On rocket stoves …

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

It seems rocket stoves are as much part of the natural building vernacular as glass bottles in cob walls: de rigeur for any self-respecting stomper-of-mud, stacker-of-straw and fashioner-of-eccentric-curves. Being innately somewhat contrary and suspicious of fads and fashions, even ones I’m participating in, this fact alone would usually send me running in the opposite direction. But reading about rocket stoves, I was attracted by their low tech simplicity, their apparent ease of construction, how they lend themselves to self-build projects, how they can be made from junk and be fueled with the small branches and sticks that are no more than kindling for more conventional wood-burning stoves, and how efficient a burn they can achieve. So they were penciled in firmly for the buildings here – for cooking and heating water – pretty much from the start.

But theory is one thing: practice another. With a big push on the main building planned for this year, it was time to start experimenting – constructing different configurations of firebricks and clay and stuff and firing it all up to see what works and what doesn’t.

Rocket stove core


Of winter heat and summer cold

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

With all the clearing work we’ve been doing in the woods, there’s now a need to get all the firewood-to-be under cover to season well before use. The log store we’ve been constructing next to the main building at last has its roof – a patio area – complete. We just need to relocate the things presently occupying it – like the washing machine – which, as is the way of these things, ideally requires completion of another couple of stages in the project beforehand.

Log store patio roof under construction

Log store patio roof under construction – membrane goes down on screeded roof



Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Since the beginning of October, we – or, more precisely, Duncan with the occasional help of Wayne – have been working hard in the woods above the terraces. These steep slopes of predominantly Maritime pine (Pinus pinaster) have been neglected for a number of years and were overcrowded with self-seeded saplings, wind-blown fallen trees and sparse but flammable understory of Carqueja (Genista tridentata), tree heath (Erica arborea) and bracken (Pteridium aquilinum).

Woodland management

The woods before clearing began



Monday, January 2nd, 2012

Finally! After a lot of trial and even more error over the last 2 years, it looks like we have the hydro generator we need for this site. As I write, it’s contributing power to the batteries, something that none of the previous generators have managed to achieve. Not a lot, because of the present meagre flow of water – for the second winter in succession there has so far been very little rain – but the wheel IS contributing for the first time.

Not only that, but it’s a supremely funky addition to our power generation capacity and is also, like the water wheel, proudly made in Benfeita! (Benfeita means ‘well made’.)

Hugh Piggott design axial flux alternator

The axial flux alternator on the back of João’s quad bike in its green and orange paintwork


Solar outdoor shower

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

The solar shower is finally up and working.

The heating system I first put together in May has proved itself workable. With a few adjustments of radiator position and the purchase of a self-standing garden shower that fits into the garden hose system I’ve used for the pipework, the system gives us enough hot water on a sunny day for anything between 2 (luxurious) and 4 (frugal) showers, but until recently the only way to use it was to stand on the bare earth out in the open. The quinta isn’t a particularly public place, but we all agreed we needed a cubicle to enhance our bathing experience …

Solar shower

A view of the whole system with the cubicle partially complete – radiator, tank above, shower and cubicle


Solar water heating: Part 1

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Besides a dining table and water from a tap, there’s another thing noticeable for its absence these last 18 months.

That’s a shower! Bucket baths are all well and good and serve their purpose, but once in a while there’s nothing to beat the feeling from a shower.