Philosophy of Appropriate Technology

As the comforts and convenience of life has grown in the west through a high dependence on fossil fuels (ancient stores sunlight), our creativity to meet our basic needs has been squashed.  Thankfully a revival of ingenuity has beset this beast of complacency to allow creativity to be channeled for growth and harvesting real time sunlight. We can meet our needs alternatively in terms of heating water, cooking food, heating spaces and creating electricity through appropriate technology, which leverages the expression of pattern recognition and application. This is a constant progression for our project here and aligns with our vision of being off the grid.  We have work to do still but each year a next phase of implementation occurs.

Terra Alta cob oven firing

Greenhouse- Multifunctional season extension

One of our initial investments at Terra Alta was for season extension in the form of a greenhouse.  This is in essence a way to warm a space, which allows us to grow food all year round.  While we can do so outside as well in the winter, it is slow because of the low soil temperatures, intense winter winds, and heavy downpours.  However the greenhouse helps to augment the microclimate beneficially as the cold wet rains and whipping winds are eliminated.  Also our cooler coastal summers limit growth of certain things outside so we also pack the greenhouse full in the summer with heat loving crops like basil and peppers. We make this space multifunctional by housing our shower inside creating an oasis zone also with the cycling of the greywater.  Even in mid summer finding shelter from the winds is an important part of washing up after a day works in the gardens or studying permaculture at our courses.

Water Heating

In relative location to the greenhouse and the shower is a refurbished solar hot water panel for heating water.  To be honest we do have a gas backup for those grey winter days, but the panel does a lot of heating on sunny days.  Our water source is quite cold as it does pour out from the earth in the form of a spring.  It does heat up a bit in the tank especially in the warmer months but it does take significant amounts of energy to bring it to a pleasant temperature.

terra alta solar water heater

terra alta solar water heater

 Rocket Stoves and outdoor cooking!

rocket mass heater

rocket mass heater

Another heating technology that we utilise is that of the rocket stove.  We have two different versions of it for two different purposes.  The first is the rocket mass heater, which is used, for heating spaces through charging a thermal mass with heat released from burning wood (stored sunlight) and letting it radiate out over an extended period.  These systems require lots of initial work for the set up and making the cob for the mass of the system, but are long lasting and provide radiant heat, which the body loves.  It uses a high oxygen intake design to create a really efficient burn allowing maximum energy cycling from this photosynthetic by product- heat and light.  They are also beautiful features that allow for reuse and can be an artistic piece inside any natural building.  It brings the outer shell feel into the house and encourages creativity all the while creating a cozy nook.

Congruently we can cook food either through thermal mass (on top of the barrel) or the immediate heat of a rocket stove.  The latter is built on the same principles of the rocket mass heater but a mass is not created.  The flames whip and you can hear the fire roaring, well like a rocket.  This J shaped intake allows the fuel to be converted efficiently and food cooked quickly.  Again, we intuitively placed it in relative location to our cob oven.

The rocket stove compliments the cob oven we created beforehand and is again in relative location making this social space multifunctional.   By creating a thermal mass with size proportions based on the golden ratio, the cob oven allows heat to circulate and charge the mass efficiently.  This space facilitates the baking of bread and cooking of pizzas normally.  We use this quite often in the summer months as our population grows with volunteers, friends and students.  We can also dry fruit over night inside of it as the residual heat of the oven after the baking is done is perfect for dehydrating fruit.

rocket stove on left and cob social space surrounding

rocket stove on left and cob social space surrounding

Solar Dehydrator

With our blend of old and young fruit trees, herbs and vegetables, our food forest is quite abundant through an extended period of the year.  To help preserve the harvest we dry herbs and fruits so that our summer delights can be transformed and enjoyed later.  The dehydrator was built from mostly recycled materials as lots of appropriate technology projects embrace.  The design creates hot air through black painted cans being heated by the sun through a glass panel.  The warm air is drawn through the racks and the draft outlets at the top so a constant flow of energy happens.  This energy cycling prevents rotting and concentrates oils and sugars making the fruits and herbs quite potent.

Solar Array- Electricity production

Simply, we are happy to write this on solar power. We do power the site with solar PV panels and have batteries to store the energy.  While they do have some negative aspects, these systems allow us to be off the grid for electricity and allow lighting, support in the kitchen, and the power for the projector during the summer courses. Even our studio is sola red papered from a system of its own! Employing the wind that whips around is also a great venture to broach, as the technology emerges for small-scale intensive sites to use such. Even our stream could be a source of energy as technology advances.  But for now we are happy to employ these techniques to help us with our mission of being off the grid.  We will continue each year to creatively interact with nature so that our footprint is ever smaller.