This is the second article in a series of posts on the 12 Principles of Permaculture for Homesteaders. Today’s feature is the second principle which focuses on capturing and storing energy on our land and in our home. Efficient energy storage systems on the homestead aren’t just about electricity – there are SO many forms of energy to capture! Join us today for this extensive article on ways to capture energy on the homestead, which includes FREE printable energy audit worksheets, as well as two activity challenges to increase the efficiency of your energy storage systems.
Efficient Energy Storage Systems on the Homestead
For homesteaders, this means we think about all kinds of energy like solar power, wind power, and even water power. We also often think about electricity and how we might replace it or produce it on the homestead.
The second principle of permaculture, to capture and store energy, can help us create good designs on the homestead that provide us with efficient energy storage systems, as well as teach us how to conserve energy everywhere possible.
Before we begin in earnest, here’s what you can expect from each of these permaculture principle articles:
- A basic statement of the permaculture principle being outlined.
- Examples of how the principle presents in nature and on the homestead.
- A pertinent quote that can further help internalize the message of the principle.
- Resources for further study.
- A challenge to apply the principle on your homestead this week.
To Learn More About Permaculture
Permaculture Principle #2 – Capture & Store Energy
Permaculture principle number two is all about capturing and storing energy on the homestead and in the home. We also focus on creating efficient energy storage systems to save the energy while it is abundant. There are many energetic resources we can collect like sunlight and heat, water, and even wind.
It can be tempting to think of energy as only electricity but there are SO many different forms of energy we can harness! We’ll talk about that a lot more in this article.
It’s no secret that homesteading requires a lot of energy, whether we’re talking about electricity or the human-sweat-powered kind. This principle is all about capturing and keeping energy when it is available and abundant and storing it for later use.
How Can We Store Energy at Home?
Like I mentioned, when we hear the word “energy” we often think of electricity. However, there are so very many other kinds of energy that are flowing all around us in and from nature every day.
- Sunshine – capture it in veggie and fruit leaves* to feed your plants.
- Water – store it in mulch and compost to slowly release into the soil.
- Food – harvest and preserve it when it’s in season.
- Seeds – keep track of when each plant creates its own seed and harvest to re-plant next year.
*I could have also mentioned solar panels to catch the sun’s power but not all great technologies originate with humans. However, we’ll talk a bit about solar panels at the end.
Each of these examples has several more we could think of from homestead living. What did you think of?
To help you keep track of your energy audit thoughts and calculations, we’ve created some FREE worksheets that you can download and print as many times as you need. Join our newsletter family below to access those worksheets and get started today!
A Water Example
For example, harnessing rainwater from roof structures and storing it for later use in cisterns and ponds is a wise thing to do during the rainy season. Harvesting an energetic resource when it is easily occurring in nature is a wise use of our personal energy, planning, and design.
Also, “planting” water into the landscape by slowly directing it across the homestead so that it has time to sink into the soil through systems like rain gardens and garden beds.
Of water and water catchment Stewart and Shannon Stronger write in their book The Doable Off Grid Homestead (Page Street Publishing, 2015),
…nearly all our homestead brainstorming and prioritizing has started with water. Without it, we couldn’t live. …Without it, the garden would not survive; we would not survive. It is critical to life and therefore to that life-breathing act of homesteading.”
What other resources could your homestead not survive without? How many of them can be harvested and preserved? These are the efficient energy storage systems we should be focusing on!
What is the Most Efficient Way to Store Energy?
The most efficient way to store energy is the:
- simplest (which often means the smallest) way to store it for you and your circumstances
- way that requires the least amount of input, especially complicated input
- creates the least amount of waste, which can also be called pollution
- minimizes the amount of work you and I have to do to use the energy
- way that keeps the energy local to you
- method that is the most tech appropriate for your level of skill and experience
For example, it may not be feasible for you to store a season’s worth of water inside your home – water takes up a lot of space!
If you have room for multiple rain barrels, some IBC totes, and/or a cistern in your backyard, then you can move your water storage outside! This option is the most efficient because it’s the most feasible option for you.
Here’s another example: Homegrown food is probably one of THE most efficient ways to store energy – the sun’s energy in the food that then goes into your body and converts to pure energy.
If you have a smaller garden, you may despair that you can ever grow enough food to really provide all the energy needed for your family. However, once you implement permaculture design that includes guild planting (similar to companion planting) and stacking the functions of each plant in one area you will discover just how much you can grow in one space.
As you include perennial plants in your design to create longevity in the garden and well designed annual vegetable growing spaces, your harvests will grow each year. Plus, you won’t just be storing energy in the form of food, but you’ll also be storing knowledge and experience in your brain.
This will bear fruit for years to come and you just get better and better at growing your own food!
Homestead Energy Storage Systems, Examples
Here are a few example of the best energy storage systems that can be set up and adopted by every kind of homestead on any kind of homestead.
Personal health is achieved as stored energy by:
- Storing healthy, homegrown foods that require no middle man (grocery store) to secure.
- Consistent, daily exercise that store energy in our muscles and bones.
- Sunshine stores Vitamin D in our skin.
- Consistent, daily water consumption the helps us build cells.
Once we become receptacles of healthy energy, we can then use that energy to benefit the communities in which we live.
- Cooperation is an energetic skill we learn at home with our families. Practice working together with organized chores and improving attitudes when things go wrong.
- Our personalities are a kind of energy that can be put to use making the world a better place. Be true to your nature by finding the right place for you to serve in your congregation or faith community.
- We can harness human energy to complete projects for the home, homestead, congregation, town, or other group space. Many hands make light work!
- Similarly, we can harvest human genius by creating homestead community groups, especially in areas where we’re weak or uneducated. For example, if you and I need to learn how to save seeds, it would be a good idea to join or start a seed saving group.
Food Storage Systems
Food is a fundamental form of energy that every living thing requires to survive. For homesteaders, food is a huge part of our everyday.
- Set up energy collection systems with the plants in the garden at the very beginning of the year with learning to start plants from seed. I do this in January with a method called Winter Sowing. Seeds are packets of potential energy, so put them to use all year long!
- The garden does nothing but collect solar energy all season long and convert it to usable sugars and fibers. Plant a vegetable garden to store the suns rays and eat from it as long as you possibly can.
- Harvest vegetables and fruits in their season to eat them raw.
- Similarly, harvest these items in their season and preserve them for later use through dehydration, canning, freeze drying, and simple root cellaring.
- Have extra homegrown items on hand to trade or sell, thereby providing this harvestable energy for others.
A Water Storage Program
We’ve touched on a few of these, but water can be stored:
- In the bodies of plants that use it to aid photosynthesis that in turn feeds the plant, animals, and us.
- The earth, especially soil populated with perennial plant root systems, is a great sponge.
- Natural collection sites like streams, rivers, springs, ponds, and lakes. These areas can be designed so that no water runs off the property creating erosion and resulting in lost water.*
- Manufactured water collection systems like cisterns, rooftop water collections tanks, rainwater barrels, etc.
- Juice and vinegar bottles can be saved for repurposing into water storage for the home.
*Sometimes storing energy can mean preventing loss of material like soil, rocks, and water (erosion and runoff). Keeping natural materials on your homestead represents sequestering and preserving the natural elements.
Capture Waste Streams and Convert Them to Energy
One mans junk is another man’s treasure, so the saying goes. Think about what you define as garbage and how it might represent potential energy to store.
- Kitchen waste can be turned into energy through composting. Kitchen waste can also be used creatively as natural vegetable dye, if you can believe it!
- Likewise, other compostable materials can be salvaged: grass clippings, shredded leaves, used coffee grounds, and moldy unidentified objects from the fridge that represent the various ways you and I might need to manage our food waste better. Ahem.
- Waste water can be diverted to gray water systems that support specially designed outdoor ecosystems that clean the dirty water for use in the garden.
What is the Cheapest Way to Store Solar Energy?
The cheapest and easiest way to store solar energy is in the way that is the simplest for you. Are you picking up on a theme?
Sometimes we think we need large systems with many moving parts and lots of start up cost to store energy on the homestead. However, the small, slow solutions are usually the best if for no other reason than that these are the solutions we can maintain ourselves without a lot of outside input.
For many of us, keeping it simple means capturing or trapping solar energy in natural materials.
Creating Efficient Energy Storage Systems – Simple & Cheap Examples
Let’s not overthink this – simple and cheap are great options!
Ponds can be strategically placed in the landscape to reflect light and radiant heat to nearby plants for growing a variety of perennial and annual food producing crops. Sepp Holzer is a master of this and I recommend his book, Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture.
Ponds do represent an investment when initially digging them but with time and a shovel, you can really dig your own.
Stone or Brick Garden Walls
Similarly, plants can be placed in front of sun-facing stone walls that can capture the heat of the day during the winter and then slowly release it over the day and night to warm the surrounding area.
Stones and bricks can be salvaged from building and demolition, and even dump sites for free. Groups like Free Cycle can be helpful when looking for resources online.
Speaking of slow release heat, cobb (a building material made from clay, sand, straw) has the ability to absorb ambient temperature and disperse it in a measured way over time.
For example, if you surround your masonry heater with cobb, it will capture the heat from the fire in the stove and share it with your home all day long.
These ideas represent a cost in capital and time to install. However, when compared with other building and home heating materials, cobb and rocket stove technology are incredibly inexpensive.
In fact, the materials for cob can very nearly been scavenged for free!
Orientation & Design
Remember, simple solutions are often the best. For example, to help regulate temperature in the chicken coop without electricity you can orient the chicken coop to receive as much of low lying sunlight as possible in the winter, and then move the coop to a shady area in the summer.
If you have a static coop that doesn’t move, design and position it so that the light is being captured and regulated in the same way without moving it. Use deciduous vining plants in the summer for shade and straw insulation in the coop in winter. You can still capture what light and heat winter has to offer from the sun by facing the coop towards it.
Because solar panels involve electricity (which can be complicated to understand and dangerous to handle if you don’t know what you’re doing), these should be an option that is carefully considered and analyzed, not assumed.
You do not HAVE to collect solar energy with solar panels in order to be a real homesteader.
Considering Solar Panels
However, solar panels seem like such a great option for off grid electricity, and they can be! However, like any system, they have pros and cons. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Have you studied solar panel technology enough to feel comfortable using it?
- Can you find parts and service technicians locally? In your state? Your country?
- Can you DIY the solar tech you’re planning to use? Again, can you get parts locally?
- What’s your budget? Do you have enough capital to make the system worth it?
- Where will you store the batteries?
- Do you have the space for the panels that will be required to cover your needs?
Visit this article from Accidental Hippies to learn more about getting started with solar panels.
Is it Worth Storing Solar Energy?
Yes! The sun is a huge nuclear reactor in the sky that shines down with radiant heat and light for FREE! Capturing solar energy is a very smart move for any homesteader.
With good design, we can maximize the places on our homesteads where we can store solar energy whether it’s in water, stone works, cobb, or even solar panels.
To get started with that plan, we need to make a zone map of our homestead – this is different from the USDA growing zone map. These zones are specific to permaculture design and they will help you decide where to start planning for solar energy capture on the homestead.
To learn how to create a zone map for your homestead, please visit this article: Permaculture Zones on the Homestead
Every bit of solar energy we store save us work and usually money, too!
For example, if we set up an efficient solar food dehydrator we no longer have to use the one we own that plugs into the wall. Since most solar dehydrators are much larger than their electric counterparts, we can accomplish our food preservation goals much quicker which equals fewer hours of labor for us.
Visit Utah State University’s link to learn how to Build Your Own Solar Dehydrator.
Solar energy stored represents work hours waiting to be accomplished with less input from you!
2 Laws of Thermodynamics for Homesteaders
I’m no physicist but, as a permaculture homesteader, I’m constantly contemplating energy – how to store it, how to generate it, how to duplicate it, how to move it from one place to another.
To help me better understand what I’m dealing with when it comes to energy, there are two laws of physics that can help.
1st Law of Thermodynamics
The first law of thermodynamics states that energy can be converted from one form to another with the interaction of heat, work, and internal energy. However, it cannot be created nor destroyed, under any circumstances.
Some energy can be lost, however, in the conversion, as either heat or light.
For example, when we use solar panels to charge batteries to heat our homes and then the batteries charge our heating system, there’s some energy lost. The “middle man” of our electric heating system isn’t as efficient as a more direct system.
Instead of using a heating plan that involves electricity from solar panels, we could choose more heat efficiency by using cobb. The heat of a small fire charging the cobb surrounding a rocket stove will slowly release that heat to warm our homes without a battery or a more complicated system.
Even fire bricks encasing a regular woodstove or masonry heater will release heat over time without the use of anything more complicated than wood fire!
Similarly, building a woodfire pizza oven keep the pizza and bread making as local as your backyard with energy generated from a fire build right inside the oven!
On the homestead, we try to capture as much energy as possible with the least loss of heat and light in many ways, not just with fire. For a lot more discussion and thought on this topic, pick up Practical Permaculture and read the chapter on energy. It’s SO helpful!!!
2nd Law of Thermodynamics
The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the state of entropy of the entire universe will always increase over time. That is to say that everything breaks down over time.
Because of this, it’s imperative that our energy systems be renewable, easily, and cheaply. For example, if we can grow our energy, at least in some measure, that would be ideal, right?
Easy Plants to Grow and Use for Fuel
One way to grow our own energy is to produce the wood and woody materials we need to heat our homes during winter and sustain the cook fires in our outdoor kitchen throughout the year.
You can think of this as biological fuel!
Just a quick note: When you search the word “biofuel” on the Internet, you’ll get a lot of links that pop up for commercial biodiesel and various related concoctions.
However, when a permaculture homesteader or gardener uses that word, they will most likely mean botanical materials that can be used as fuel to build a fire.
In most planting zones you can incorporate plants in your designs on new and existing homesteads that will grow easily so that they can be used for burning as fuel.
To help you learn what might work for your homestead, we wrote the following article: Trees to Plant & Forage: Best Firewood + Other Uses!
Homestead Challenge for Capture & Store Energy
For this principle’s homestead challenge, we’re going to start counting various forms of energy. The first challenge has to do with water!
We have an article on how to perform a water calculating audit of your home and homestead. This is a bit easier to do for outside water systems in the spring or fall when water is most abundant in temperate climates. It’s easy enough to do anytime of year inside the house.
Roughly calculate how much water you use on the homestead by using the instructions and worksheet provided in this article:
This exercise can help you make an educated guess at how much water you will need to capture and store per month should public water not be available in an emergency or in the event that you move to an off-grid homestead.
Now that you’ve done water, move on to the second homestead challenge for this principle!
Save with an Energy Audit
As the old saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned! One way to save energy is to simply not waste it, especially when it comes to electric energy.
To reduce waste, improve design, and fix any potential problems, conduct an energy audit.
You can pay for a professional energy audit which will yield more detailed results. However, to get your energy efficient plans started, follow these simple steps to perform a DIY home energy audit.
DIY Home Energy Audit
- Check for indoor air leaks by looking along baseboards, junctures of the walls, and the ceiling for gaps. Also, check for leaks around windows, doors, and electrical outlets.
- Similarly, check for outdoor leaks by examining the same kinds of areas – windows, doors, lighting and plumbing fixtures, switches, and electrical outlets.
- Check to see that your fireplace damper is closed.
- Check for drafts around window-mounted air conditioners, around dryer vents, attic hatches, cable and phone lines, etc.
- Check the interior and exterior caulking around windows, and doors. Weather stripping may also need to be applied.
Other Areas to Check:
- Poke your head up into the attic and see how fluffy and full your insulation is – if it’s flat, it’s time to renew it.
- Also check for weather stripping. Is all the duct work is sealed, including around your chimney?
- While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation. The vapor barrier might be tarpaper or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with vapor barrier paint.
- Check out your heating and cooling equipment every year but change your filters monthly. Have a professional check and clean them at least once a year.
- Examine the light bulbs in your house and consider replacing inefficient bulbs with a more efficient choice, such as LED bulbs or energy saving incandescent bulbs.
- Unplug items when not in use or plug them into power strips that can be turned off when not needed.
Now, do the same for the barn, the chicken coop, the workshop, and any other building you have on the homestead.
Homestead Energy Plan: Efficient Energy Storage Systems in Action
These ideas above are all great and very doable for most homeowners. However, the first thing we should really be considering is lifestyle changes!
We can ask ourselves if there are various ways we can simply change how we do things from day to day to improve our energy use. For example, might we replace some technological contraptions with easier solutions?
Replace Contraptions with Simpler Systems
Here are a few quick examples:
- A Clothes Dryer => Line Drying Laundry
- Electric Blankets => A Dog & Hot Water Bottle
- Fans => Use Temperature Control Curtains & Know When to Open Curtains
- Microwave Oven => Outdoor Fire Pit or Kitchen
These are just a few and each is subject to change based on practicality for your region. For example, in my hot/humid summer climate, I can’t simply replace an electric fan or air conditioning unit with climate control curtains and stay cool.
To do that, I’ll need to retrofit my home with cobb walls to control both heat and humidity. Or build a new straw bale home with cobb interior and finish plaster on the outside. (Which is exactly what we’re doing, as a matter of fact!)
The point is, only you can know how best to make these replacements in your own home. What you and I are ready to try now will also change over time. As we get used to one replacement, we’ll be ready to tackle others.
Be patient with yourself and your family!
Brainstorming The Plan
After thinking about all the various forms of energy and after you’ve determined where your homestead is losing or wasting energy, it’s time to make a plan!
Grab your homestead journal or a pad of paper and start writing down everything you can think of concerning energy on the homestead.
- Where are the most energy efficient sites on your homestead?
- Are there any areas where you can cut out electricity use and replace it with something more energy local like solar or wind energy?
- How much money do you spend on electricity?
- Where are your greatest energy losses both electricity and other forms of energy?
- How long will it take for an investment in energy efficiency to pay for itself in energy cost savings?
- Are there simple fixes you could employ now to conserve energy in the home and on the homestead like caulking, weather stripping, better insulation, natural materials like cobb or straw bales, water catchment, etc.?
- Can you do the job yourself or do you need to hire a contractor?
- What is your budget?
- How much time do you have for maintenance and repairs? Have you thought of an implementation plan that applies the slow and small principles? Are you able to source solutions locally – your backyard, your neighborhood, your congregation, your town, etc.?
Resources for Energy Efficient Storage Systems
Don’t forget your FREE energy audit worksheets!
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