Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way

There goes another principle …

When climbing a very steep learning curve or making a big transition, I’m discovering that it often makes a lot more sense to take lots of small steps than attempt the leap in a few giant ones. It’s as much about preserving sanity as anything, and that’s one thing it definitely helps to keep a hold of when trying anything like this …

Mindful of Peak Oil, not to mention expense, climate-weirding pollution and general noisy smelly unpleasantness, I set out with the intention of trying to stay fossil fuel-free on the quinta. But having already succumbed to a couple of petrol-driven power tools like a brushcutter and chainsaw … and of course there’s the car … I’ve had to be pragmatic about it yet again.

With the sun dropping inexorably behind the ridge to the south as the days get shorter and the nights get longer, our solar panels are no longer generating enough power to keep the batteries charged. And with the water wheel still waiting on the arrival of its new ‘engine’ and hence unable to contribute, it was a case of either shortening the useful life of our batteries by letting them languish at minimum voltage levels for rather too long than was healthy, or bite the bullet and get a generator. It’s less than ideal for charging solar batteries, which do much better on a trickle charge, but after a fortnight of being back to candlelight and the daily trek to the village to get the laptops charged on a mains supply (how did we do that all last winter?!), I am really, really pleased to have it.

There’s no doubt it’s A Good Thing to Have for the later stages of construction when battery levels aren’t quite up to protracted power tool use as well. Rather than opt for 2nd hand diesel, which was my first thought, I sidestepped the minefield of Chinese Honda knock-offs on eBay and went for an LPG conversion from Edge Technology on a petrol generator which, while still using fossil fuels, at least uses them far more economically, quietly, with cleaner emissions and less wear on the engine than a generator running on petrol or diesel.

Wiring an input cable directly into the inverter allows us to top up battery levels just by plugging in the generator, flicking a couple of switches on the inverter and pulling the starter cord. And doing this myself also gave me a chance to get more familiar with the nuts and bolts of the inverter: another thing that I’ve had to approach small step by small step. The learning curve on this one has been near vertical …

Wiring the generator into the inverter

I’m reluctantly coming to accept that in these early stages of our life here, especially with all the construction we have to do, the time-saving and efficiency fossil fuel-driven tools permit is just a no-brainer. In time we can wean ourselves off them, or convert all our motor-driven tools to alternative fuels, but for now I’m contenting myself with the knowledge that at least our consumption levels of fossil fuels are much less than they were when we lived in the UK.

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