Imbolc 2021

Another year older, and thankfully, not deeper in debt!

Well, it’s official now – I’m retired.

Today is number 55 for me.  I’ve put in my application to my college pension for early retirement, and it looks like everything is in good order, so now I’m just waiting to see if I will receive my first cheque in a month.  Ken started receiving his full OAS last spring, which was a good thing, as work dried up completely after COVID-19 in March.  There are still some industrial contracts floating about, but I’ve had enough with that sort of work.  I really dislike putting my ethics on the line or getting paid to say what someone else wants to hear.  So, I hung up my Professional Biologists status (actually I’m now officially an RPBiol ret) at the end of last year and filled in the paperwork for my college pension.  It’s not a huge amount, but with our simpler lifestyle and no debts, it will actually feel quite luxurious compared to what we’ve been living on for the past couple of years.

Gremlin drones

We saw something totally bizarre on the 8th of January.  We are fairly close to the Comox air force base, and we often see the air force jets out on training runs.  Well this last siting definitely could leave me believing in UFOs.  A big, white, two-engine, probably military, jet was making passes above the Inlet – I don’t know what type of jet it was.  Then a smaller, fighter style jet passed overhead, and it was literally calving silver needles off from under its wings (probably where the warheads are normally stored).  But these weren’t bombs (I don’t think even the Canadian military would be quite so dumb as to drop test bombs on its citizenry).  As we watched, six of these units were released, three on each side of the jet, and for a short while the whole lot of them were flying in a V-shaped formation, then the small silvery objects veered off from the jet and headed out on individual flight paths.  What the heck???  Ken and I guessed that we were seeing a release of military drones – check these guys out –  I suspect that the bigger, white jet was the recovery (or at least the monitoring) unit for the release.  Anyways, our Canadian air force is definitely up to something strange out here!


We’ve now got our wind turbine hooked directly to the main battery banks – previously we were just testing things out using an old, not particularly good, starting battery, just in case something went sideways.  I actually saw the turbine charging a couple days ago; however, we’ve not been getting a lot of good, usable wind these days, in spite of the storms.  For some reason this year, and I can’t totally complain, the storms seem to be coming in high overhead.  The wind is shaking the tops of the trees, but isn’t actually coming down to within 30 or so feet of the ground.  This is not the usual pattern – in past years it was not uncommon to have the wind vibrating the metal on our roof.  I’m thinking that the higher level winds are being driven by the changes in the jet stream and the larger sizes of the storm “eddies”.  Smaller, more localized storms seem to hug closer to the ground, and the winds they produce are more at ground level.  Just a hypothesis … 

The last week of January gave us our first taste of truly winter weather.  The temperature dropped suddenly to -4°C during the night.  Many of the trees and bushes in the garden haven’t gone completely dormant, so I’m hoping there won’t be too much bud damage from the freeze.  And surprisingly, we woke up to see that the Inlet was completely frozen right across from side to side.  This has only happened a couple of times during the years we have been here, and luckily, the ice was quite thin this time.  A crab fisher and a couple of other aluminum boats braved the sunny, but cold, weather, and served as ice breakers for us (we wouldn’t want to do that with our fiberglass hulls), so it was clear by evening.  It hasn’t frozen over since.  Then it snowed for a couple of days – classic, wet heavy coastal snow.

Picohydro electrical generator

Just before the freeze and the snowfall, we got our picohydro system running and charging the cabin battery packs.  We have a 1” line running down from our reservoir which provides our house water, and we are running the hydro system off of this.  Everyone we had contacted regarding commercial units had told us that we would need to run a separate 2” line if we wanted to get any power at all from their units.  Well, the 1” line, running full out, still provides us with good water pressure in the house, and we are getting a steady 2A charging at 12V (or 24 Watts) from the picohydro.  If anyone is curious, this is what the system specs are:           

  • Distance between cabin and reservoir pond: 188 m = 617 ft
  • Elevation gain from cabin to reservoir pond: 37.7 m = 124 ft
  • Flow rate = 27 l/min = 0.45 l/s = 7.35 gpm [might go as high as 9.0 gpm]
  • Average pipe internal diameter is (1.340 + 1.062)/2 = 1.201” I.D.
  • Pelton turbine – 204mm (8.03 inch) aluminum with 12 spoons
  • 5 mm brass hose nozzle
  • MarsRock 100W generator
  • Boost MPPT Wind Charge Controller

This provides enough electricity to charge up our two battery banks (4 x 6V golf cart batteries in each bank) over the duration of a day.  It also provide enough electricity to keep up with computers, lights, etc. throughout the day.  The downside is that we can’t run it when the temperature is below 0°C lest the outflow line freeze up, and of course, if there is insufficient water in the creek, we’re out of luck as well.

Picohydro unit from a different angle

What we have been discovering with all of our experimentation is that trickle charging is great for maintaining the batteries at a reasonable charge level, but every so often, we have to charge the batteries up to maximum in order to keep them in their best condition.  We can do this on a sunny day with our solar panels, which is best, as the charge controller on the solar panels is quite “smart” and has a battery conditioning cycle with runs the batteries up to 15V for a short period of time, as well as balancing out the cells.  If we can’t get enough sun, we can run the genset, which charges the system through a “smart” charger, which also does battery conditioning.  Additionally, if we need to run high amperage equipment, the genset is a must.  So … we still can’t quite shed our dependency on running a gas-powered generator.  I’m still working on it though …