tehlsee communications
Monthly book review


Tehlsee Communications will provide space each month for one or more book reviews on communication, the environment, natural resources or rural issues. We also invite comments. The opinions of reviewers and those commenting are individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Tehlsee Communications or any other organization or company.

March/April 2006

A guide to move from
complaining to action


The Renewable Energy Handbook:
A Guide to Rural Energy Independence,
Off-Grid and Sustainable Living

By William H. Kemp
Aztext Electronic Publishing New Society Publishers, 592 pages, $39.95 (softcover)
www.newsociety.com


Reviewed by Wilf Bean

There comes a time when it isn't enough just to complain.

It is obvious to me that we are destroying our environment and that our industrial, corporate, growth society is the major reason. I am frustrated that our governments simply bow to elite corporate agendas and refuse to stand up for the defense of the common good of all planetary life.

I am quite willing to pay fair taxes for strong, independent governments, both in Nova Scotia and in Canada, that would create real plans for reducing greenhouse gases, and implement sane environmental policies for our land, water and air. But I don't see that happening.

And as I hear of increasing cancer rates, rising temperatures, the melting of arctic ice, factory-farmed food, polluted water, the mismanagement of our forests and the decline of fisheries, there comes a time when I can no longer just complain. Instead, I am now searching for the initial small steps that will help me move out of my own complacency and complicity in this consumer-packaged, profit-driven madness. Maybe it was a need to do something - or perhaps because I turned 60 - that motivated my partner and me to venture last year into the unknown territory of building a small off-grid cabin on the Malagash peninsula in northern Nova Scotia.

We began with the hope of using alternative technology for a simple, more environmentally responsible approach. We knew this was possible from projects we had seen in other parts of the world, but we really didn't know how to begin in Nova Scotia. After some research and searching, we are finding many helpful individuals and networks of like-minded and generous folk throughout the Maritimes.

But it is only after having struggled to put the pieces together, to compare the various technologies and approaches, only after our cabin is two-thirds completed, that I read The Renewable Energy Handbook and can now authoritatively sing its praises!

The greatest value of this book is that it combines a wide breadth of renewable-energy alternatives with clear, detailed specifics on each. Most other books either gave the big general alternative-energy options or specific, detailed descriptions, but only for a very narrow subject, such as wind power or photovoltaic solar options. This one offers both the breadth and the depth, and it does it well.

Whether you are considering building a house off-grid, or perhaps only considering installing a solar-heated hot-tub or composting toilet, this books offers readable, accessible information that compares options, describes installation details and generally informs the reader of the latest available alternatives.

Topics include general energy-efficient home design, space heating and cooling, photovoltaic, wind and micro-hydro power generation, battery selection and wiring, DC, AC and backup electric systems, pools, hot-tubs, compost toilets and off-grid communication systems. There is also a chapter showcasing a variety of off-grid homes from small cottages to the elegantly over-sized.

The book is easy reading for someone like myself with no technical background, but also informative for someone like my friend, an experienced electrician interested in broadening his knowledge beyond the traditional. I know this because he has just asked to borrow the book again! The many photos and drawings throughout make the book almost a "coffee-table" variety. Indeed that is where it now sits as an invitation to engaging conversations with friends about alternative, renewable energy options.

The book has really informed me about our own small off-grid system with its two solar panels, deep-cell batteries and controls, now functioning merrily in our little cabin. There may be little that matches the pleasure of that first evening when I flipped the switch and watched the sun's energy, stored from earlier in the day, again bring light to our space. However, this book explains how this comes about, and also what I need to do to maintain my little system - with no monthly power bills, fossil fuels, greenhouse gases or nuclear plants - to bring light and alternative energy for many years to come.

Whether you are new to the field, or have been following the development of alternative energy for many years, you will find something for you in this book!

Guest reviewer Wilf Bean is the outgoing program director of the Tatamagouche Centre in northern Nova Scotia and the incoming occupant of an off-grid cabin on the shores of the Northumberland Strait.

renewable energy
Woody Thompson of FundySolar installs solar panels,
described in The Renewable Energy Handbook, on Wilf's cabin.


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