When asked about managing the additional energy available during many months of the year, Lance responds, “For a long time, I thought that we would be able to buy off-the-shelf hardware to electrolyze water with our extra energy. Then we’d have hydrogen for instantaneous water heating and for summer cooking. It hasn’t happened yet, but I try to remain hopeful that the equipment will someday become available.”
For now, they use a different approach. During the growing season, once the batteries are charged, solar energy is used to pump a large daily volume of water to their extensive vegetable gardens and tree seedlings. Lance’s irrigation setup pumps 1 gallon of well water for crops with each watt-hour of energy the PV system generates. Considering that the average meal in the United States travels about 1,500 miles before it hits the dinner table, both Lance and Jennifer are quick to point out that growing as much of their own food as possible has a huge impact on the amount of petroleum they use. Having ample solar energy for water pumping makes this possible.
Their 40-acre Morning Hill Forest Farm produces much of their food and all the wood needed to heat their home and outbuildings. Lance says, “Our garden produces as many vegetables as we can possibly eat year-round, a large amount of the seed for replanting, and an increasing amount of our fruit. Our food storage includes some canning—jam, tomatoes, pickles, and salsa—but most foods are stored in the freezer or root cellar. By summer’s end, Jennifer has our 8-cubic-foot freezer packed into a nearly solid cube of frozen vegetables and fruit! The more water we are able to pump, the more food we are able to grow, and the less dependent we are on oil-intensive agriculture, shipping, and food storage.”
Since most off-grid folks do not have enough RE generation capacity to get them through sunless or windless periods, living with an engine generator has more often than not become a fact of life. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When asked about renewable energy droughts, Lance responds, “It’s back to that question that folks always ask us, ‘What happens when you run out of electricity?’ Well, we don’t run out of electricity—we never have! I reset the battery monitor when I installed the new set of Concorde AGM batteries four years ago, and the cumulative data shows they’ve never been drawn below 75 percent of full charge. So our hands-on, base-load-plus-discretionary-load management system works well.
“In more than 25 years now, we have never had an unplanned outage,” says Lance. “I have shut down the system for work and maintenance, but it never—and I do mean never—has just gone out. By accepting that we have limitations, we build reliability into our systems.” A reliable system, and a lifestyle focused on sustainability, self-reliance, and independence, is exactly what Lance and Jennifer have built.
Ian Woofenden, PO Box 1001, Anacortes, WA 98221
Lance & Jennifer Barker, 15013 Geary Crk. Rd., Canyon City, OR 97820 • 541-542-2525 • www.highdesertnet.com/morninghill
SolWest Fair • 541-575-3633 • www.solwest.org • RE educational event
PV System & Homestead Gear:
Apollo Solar • 203-790-6400 • www.apollo-solar.net • Charge controllers
Bogart Engineering • 831-338-0616 • www.bogartengineering.com • TriMetric battery monitor
BP Solar • 800-521-7652 • www.bpsolar.com • PV modules
Concorde Battery Corp. • 800-757-0303 • www.concordebattery.com • Batteries
General Specialties • 208-265-5244 • PV racks
Magnum Energy • 425-353-8833 • www.magnumenergy.com • Inverter
MidNite Solar Inc. • 425-374-9060 • www.midnitesolar.com • E-Panel
OutBack Power Systems • 360-435-6030 • www.outbackpower.com • Inverter
RCH Fan Works • 509-685-0535 • www.fanworks.com • DC ceiling fans
SunDanzer • 915-821-0042 • www.sundanzer.com • DC freezer
UniRac Inc. • 505-242-6411 • www.unirac.com • PV racks