While the idea of living off the grid full time might appeal to many, it’s still a very new concept and, in practice, not very widespread. But Dave Peace, a Norvik air bush plane pilot, had no choice.
“Where I live is really the seaplane base. We operate an air service and we chose the location because it was a suitable spot to base the aircraft in the summertime. It’s about 10 miles upriver from the town of Waskaganish,” said Peace.
For as much as being situated out in the bush has advantages, particularly when your priority is an ideal spot to base a seaplane, having Hydro install poles all the way up to Peace’s camp was not an affordable option. So he went with alternative energy.
Unlike most people who use alternative energy to power their homes, when it came to setting up his system, Peace decided to wing the project himself, and headed to a Canadian Tire to purchase his first batch of components.
“It was a little mini system and it did not last very long. I have discovered that you get what you pay for when it comes to alternative energy. There is cheap stuff and then there is good stuff, but basically there is no good cheap stuff,” said Peace.
Peace uses a number of different sources to heat and power the five buildings at the Smoky Hill base camp. His main power source comes from solar panels, but, as alternative energy sources cannot yet generate enough heat on a residential basis, he has a wood stove and also runs a propane generator for home heating and to power the stove and fridge.
Peace also has a small wind generator. “It’s a small unit that turns very fast and it’s actually kind of noisy,” he noted. That does not mean that he is opposed to wind energy for the home but, “The wind generators on larger installations are quite viable where you have very big, slow turning units but they are quite expensive. I like the solar better and I find that it pretty much handles our needs.”
Peace does not even need the wind generator for most of the year. “From February through mid October the panels do what I need them to do without any back up. I have a back up generator system that acts with a high efficiency battery charger that tops up the batteries in those months,” said Peace.
Surprisingly, according to Peace, “The panels are actually more efficient in the winter than they are in the summer. In lower temperatures they become more efficient.” The only time he experiences any difficulty with his solar panel system is from mid October through until the end of December due to the lack of daylight and predominantly overcast weather.
Peace’s intricate set up is able to meet both his home and business needs. That’s impressive considering that it includes everything from regular home appliances to a fuel pump for the planes and several radios used for communicating with the aircrafts. He is energy conscious, however, and only uses compact fluorescent light bulbs. Nor does he use a clothes dryer.
The present system at the Smoky Hill base camp cost about $12,000 – not counting what Peace called his “mistakes,” or “learning experiences.” He is looking on expanding the system and when it is completed he estimates that it will cost about $20,000 in total.
Peace is very enthusiastic about the practical and environmental benefits of alternative energy sources. But hard lessons lead him to recommend against a do-it-yourself approach. He recommends that those interested should consult a professional for the purchase and installation of these varieties of products.