Hut Hamlet Installs New Electric MicroGrid

by Chris Farmer

Brandon and Farmer with the microgrid solar panels

Brandon and Farmer with the microgrid solar panels

In June, residents of the Hut Hamlet became owners/users of the first electric microgrid at Earthaven! Chris Farmer designed the grid with help from Brandon Greenstein. Code for mastering, monitoring and metering usage was written by Jake Farina. Earthaven members produce electricity from sun and water, and are not tied into the Duke Power grid, so this is especially significant to folks choosing simplified lifestyles. Now bigger and smaller users alike will be able to meet their needs, each paying according to usage, the rates differing between peak- and low-usage times. The Hamlet microgrid is solely solar-powered at this time.

Before the microgrid, some Hamlet residents had barely enough power for a light and a laptop, while others had been able to upgrade their systems to power refrigerators and freezers. The new plan, which took many months and many minds to work out, and weeks of disrupted paths and phone lines, has been running smoothly for a few weeks and the future of power in the Hamlet looks, well, …brighter!

Microgrid Technical Points, courtesy of Chris Farmer (SunWorks Electric, 828-664-0268).
The MicroGrid presently powers 11 Huts, the neighborhood kitchen, and bathhouse. The system is touted to produce 31.5 kWh (kilowatt hours) of energy on an average day. (Note: In 2013 the average American home required 29.9 kWh of electrical energy per day.) All of the power available is not yet being utilized.

Hut Hamlet Microgrid Components

  • An 8.16 kW Solar Photovoltaic Array (32 individual 255 watt Kyocera panels
  • A 48 volt 950Ah (Amp Hour) flooded lead acid battery (HUP Solar One) that weighs 3500 lbs.
  • Two MidNite Solar 200 charge controllers
  • Two Schneider Electric XW6848 Inverters, each capable of 6.8kW of continual conventional AC power output. One inverter is asleep ~90% of the time, awakened only when the Master inverter needs help.
  • Excess electricity produced is diverted to a 105 gallon, 240 volt AC, electric hot water heater.
  • Each connection is individually metered. Capital and operating expenses of the system will be determined by users’ weighted impact.
  • The system is backed up by a super quiet Honda EU7000is generator.

In Praise of Inefficiency

by Kimchi Rylander

Unplugging from consumer culture, living simply and building community . . . it’s not an easy path! As I review my past ten years here at Earthaven, I’ve discovered that letting go of efficiency may be a shortcut to village togetherness and happiness.

I owe so much gratitude to the Tribal Condo, one of the earliest timber framed, hand built structures at Earthaven and a place that I call home. While the original builders gained much needed skill, building with lumber hand harvested from the land, the house has minimal plumbing, salvaged leaky windows, and no inside insulation between floors. In essence, it’s a house that needs constant maintenance and care. In 2001, I took a leap of faith and bought into the 1000 sq ft “apartment” house.

In the early years, I wondered if I had made a poor decision. Clearly, this house was inefficient and likely to decay sooner than other homes. However, as Suchi (my house partner) and I began to maintain and repair it, we noticed how each episode offered a tremendous opportunity to connect and relate within the village.

One year, our roof blew off when a strong wind funneled down the mountain and pulled out purlins that had only been nailed (not screwed) in. Torrents of rain came down, and all the residents of our home crawled out on the roof at two o’clock in the morning to pull the tin back on. The next day, villagers offered to provide lodging for us and repair the damage. It was awesome how the community helped us through our “disaster!”

While efficiency offers a way to make the most of the available energy, time, and money we have on hand, it doesn’t always maximize opportunities for relationships in a community. Take a look at Nature: at one level it’s very inefficient, but at another level, it provides myriad opportunities to weave a tapestry of dense interdependency within a locale.

“If a house is built too well, so efficiently that it is permanent and refuses to fall apart, then people do not have a reason to come together. Though the house stays together, the people fall apart and nothing gets renewed. Coming together … to do communal tasks gracefully—tasks that a machine could do in an instant anonymously—or to repair rickety houses ensures the very smiley togetherness so missing in the pre-planned, alienated lives of modern civilization.” (Secrets of the Talking Jaguar: Memoirs From the Living Heart of a Mayan Village, by Martín Pretchel.)

Suchi and I chuckled after discovering yet another item to be fixed in the house. “Please pass the bottle of inefficiency,” I decided. “I’d like to sprinkle some more of that on my plate of life.”

Kimchi Rylander is co-Firekeeper, and longtime member of Earthaven Ecovillage. An artist, deep ecologist, and permaculture activist, she is currently building delicious new cultural topsoil beginning in “her own backyard.”

Video Portraits of Two Earthaven Members

Here are two portrait videos made by Jacki Huntington, a UNC journalism student who spent a month here last summer, then returned for a weekend this spring to wrap up her project. One focuses on Michaeljon and the other on redmoonsong.


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