Powerless

The repair man is shaking his head and giving me ‘the talk’. The generator may not be worth mending. He’s speaking in grave tones about running hours and the cost of parts. Head in hands, I’m not really listening to details. There is no need to point out that everything has a shelf-life – but really it only seems like yesterday we shed a barrow load of money to pay for the set up. On reflection, it was more like eight years ago, but we weren’t given a definition of a serviceable life then. I just kind of presumed that once installed the generator would continue to provide electricity to our off-grid home.

“Think of it like running an old car,” suggests the generator repair man. But for just a moment, it’s best not to think at all.

To be quite frank I’m sick to the back teeth of power problems. When we first moved here the whole off-grid living thing seemed a fantastic challenge and we gleefully rolled up our sleeves and coped with nearly two years without any electricity at all in the pioneering spirt of adventure.

Now I’m more than just a little accustomed to home comforts. I like keep my blog updated regularly and  stay in touch with the outside world on Twitter. Moving round the house at night without a head torch glued to my forehead is a bonus too! The house is set up to operate reasonably without electricity but having it certainly makes life easier. This latest breakdown in supply came on the back of a few months of constant problems and my patience was wearing thin.

When the power went out I called a mechanic but shaking his head and wiping oily hands on his overalls he declared the problem outside his area of expertise. Thankfully, because the disaster had as always struck when hubby was away, he returned with a small petrol generator to tide us over. It was noisy and costly to run but provided enough energy to run lights and keep the freezers (stuffed full of garden veg at this time of year) cool. Power for just a few hours a day. No heavy loads, in particular no washing machine or hair dryer. Not enough power to run an electric kettle or toaster either but this didn’t affect us as we’d given up such energy hungry devices early in our off-grid life.

Over the next few weeks science and mechanics, neither of which were my favourite subjects at school, become hot topics at the dinner table.

It turns out the genny is in fact a beast of numerous parts. The mechanical motor, a bit like a car engine, runs to turn a carousel of giant magnets which is how the electricity is created. This raw power is then converted into usable current in the inverter and the batteries store the power for when its needed. So this is how my life works, spinning magnets – and after lengthy consultation with numerous friends and experts it turns out this part, known as the alternator, is at fault. The massive load of it was winched out using scaffolding poles saved for the polly tunnel we haven’t got round to building. We duly take it to rewinding company but its quickly deemed irreparable and – wait for it because this the real clincher – it will take 12 weeks to get a replacement part. There just aren’t  230 volt single phase alternators hanging around on the shelves at B&Q apparently.

It’s happened at a bad time: darker nights, the back-to-school rush, new timetables, missed buses. I have an extra few hours at work to deal with and garden veg that if it’s not picked and processed will go to waste. I wryly consider the possibility of getting the power production job done myself by adding magnets to the many plates I’m already spinning.

We limp on, trying to be frugal with the use of the borrowed petrol generator but failing miserably and end up pouring more fuel in than we can afford. Thankfully a neighbour lets us use his washing machine and leaves me a key so I can come and go as I please but life’s hard enough without these added problems.

The messy complications of family life, the things I can’t write about in this blog, rumble on. We are in the depths of middle-age now. A time of great possibility when the kids are growing more independent and interesting options begin to open up, but also a miserable time of grinding responsibility and serious concerns. Divorce, cancer and death, things that happened to other people on the periphery of our lives when we were young are now knocking on our door. It seems I can’t pick up the phone without hearing news of one or another. Sometimes these problems are masked by the technical difficulties of living off-grid, there just isn’t time to dwell – and  yet other times intensified. There is enough pressure and confusion without having to deal with it when you can’t charge your phone or pick up an email.

Eventually we realise that we are pouring so much fuel into the noisy, inefficient little petrol generator that we might actually be better off hiring a better model. As well as being able to run the washing machine this option has the advantage that we would be able to wire it through the inverter to charge the batteries, which would slowly be deteriorating without power.

So that is where we are today, with not one but three generators cluttering up the front garden. Not so much a picture of idyllic rural life as a junk yard. I run the hire generator for a few hours everyday and, so long as I turn everything else off, can get a load of washing done in the machine.

It remains to be seen, when the new part finally arrives, whether our problems are solved or if we are pouring good money after bad.  Lets hope that in this case a new part will keep the old girl running for a decent while yet.

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14 thoughts on “Powerless

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    1. Hi Cindy, thank you for your thoughts. There are pros and cons to every home. I think I’d rather have power cuts than obnoxious neighbours or constant arguments over parking … for example

  1. Oh dear, I’m sorry to hear you’ve had such trials to contend with. Last time you posted, you had beautiful weather and a wonderful garden growing. Twelve weeks is an awfully long time to have to wait for parts. What resilience you have. I hope things improve for you before too long.

    1. Well we still have beautiful weather and a great garden so all is not lost! Actually autumn has been particularly lovely here – warm golden days and the low light makes for such beautiful photographs, which I shall post next.

  2. You are very brave, committed, and other words I can’t think of just now. We would love to be more off grid but I don’t think we could manage it. We would love solar panels to give us our lighting etc but not an option at the moment. We have a Rayburn we light in the winter, this month, until April which gives us heat, hot water and we cook on and we have a woodburner in our living room then we go back to a times emersion heater for the water and a gas bottle cooker. This suits us but we always feel we could do more as energy is always going to be the biggest outlay.

    1. Not sure if we are brave or foolhardy 😂 living offgrid has been a much bigger deal than we thought when we first found and fell in love with this place. You are in an ideal position to be connected to grid while thinking about producing your own energy too, especially using sustainable energy like wood. Best of luck and I will enjoy following your endeavours on your blog 😃

  3. Not good I fix stuff like this in the highlands ,I would of used a ex shop genarater like Tesco back up, the last one was 600 pounds and because it’s so pawer full it will run 3 or 4 houses, so no load or big pawer use. I feal bad for you’re problem try to be positive all the very best

  4. Are not classed as a smallholding, can you not run generator off diesel, do you use Red Diesel if not you should be, if you have anymore problems do you know Andy Guthrie at Low Waskerley he and his workmen can fix and install just about anything.

    1. Hi Colin, Yes we do use red diesel in the generator that we usual use to run our home – as explained in my blog post this is the generator that is currently broken. We were temporarily running a petrol generator but when we realised the length of time it would take to get a new part we hired another diesel generator. Hope this helps explain, thanks for taking the time to comment.

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