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.
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
Reviewed by Wilf Bean
There comes a time when it isn't enough just to
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
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
Woody Thompson of FundySolar installs solar panels,
described in The Renewable Energy Handbook, on Wilf's cabin.