Why is self sufficiency so attractive? Why do kids love books about survival? Hell, why do adults love books about survival? My theory is this: power. It is incredibly empowering to know that you can provide for yourself, that, left to your own devices, you will overcome, nary a supermarket or paycheck in sight. Our culture has become one of extreme dependence—dependence on strangers and resources completely out of our control, our concern, our sight. Not to say that dependence in general is bad, but dependence on finite resources, on processes we have no connection with or clue about, that is an uncomfortable kind of dependence. Day to day it is convenient, but if anything disrupts the system, well then, fuck. It is the premise of pretty much ever post-apocalyptic book ever written.
Which brings me to solar power. I would love to be completely solar powered. But having always lived on Wagenplätze where electricity was just an extension cord away, I have been lazy about it. Solar panels are expensive. Rewiring your plugs is annoying. Buying a computer capable of running on 12-volt juice is not something I am in the mood to do. (After Mac Air, Mac Sun?) For now, it remains a dream. But if we could power our fridge in the summer (we don’t really need it in the winter) with solar power, imagine how much we would save! Someday.
The first of what I assume will be many small steps toward solar power in our lives were two solar lamps. (You can see a picture if you click the link. Pickles wouldn’t let me get a good shot on my way out the door this morning.) I’d been eyeing them for a long time, ever since reading Deek’s review of them over on the Tiny House Blog. And shit, they only cost 15 euros (a bit more expensive over in America). Another friend bought one when he started a new Wagenplatz sans grid electricity (this is actually the standard for most Wagenplätze, fyi), and it looked pretty sweet.
What you get is a lamp, a bit futuristic looking in that Ikea modernity sort of way. A long bendable giraffe neck holds the bulbs, while a round base holds a small solar panel. You pop out the panel, lay it outside in the sun, and wa-la! Electricity. I love that they are cable-less, I love that they come in black, and I love that my reading lamp is now solar-powered. Win-win-win. Win!
I will admit it: I am wasteful with electricity. My main sin being that I sometimes leave lights on when it isn’t strictly necessary. Though it isn’t much (particularly considering that we have light bulbs that use very minimal power), it is something, and that is always too much. Shit, this electricity is coming from nuclear plants. From coal plants. Fuck! I hate that shit!
We’ve had the solar lamps for about a week now, and already they have completely changed the way I relate to electricity. Where before I might have turned on a lamp while it was still light outside because it was getting dim in the Wagen, now I think, well, if I turn it on now, and then want to read for hours and hours later, will the juice run out and leave me in the dark? (The instructions say the lamp can do three hours, though my friend said he’s gotten four.) Electricity and its consumption has instantly become more concrete. If I remember to set the solar panels out in the sun, I will have light (nine to 12 hours charge time needed). If I do not, I will have no light. It is a simple equation, but one we are rarely forced to consider. I can’t wait for the next solar step.