Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

Attending a Meeting in My PJs

by Cam Mather

My goal was to move off the grid and be a hippie. You know … Birkenstocks, ponytail, eating sprouts and strumming Bob Dylan songs while sitting on my front porch. The reality is a little bit different. With a satellite dish for television, another dish for high speed internet, a high tech phone system, charge controllers for PV and wind, and sundry other “toys” my house looks like Mission Control in Houston and sometimes I feel like one of those harried nuclear plant operators. Okay, I exaggerate a bit. My point is that while I’m “sort of” anti-technology, running an electronic publishing company and living off-grid but being completely plugged into the matrix, I couldn’t really be living this way without technology. My solar array and wind turbine have convinced me that renewable energy offers the solution to climate change.

Today I took this to the next level when I attended an on-line meeting. Seven or eight years ago I began attending SWITCH meetings. SWITCH is a group in Kingston that gets together to promote renewable energy. (http://www.switchkingston.ca/) When I started going and sometimes chaired the meetings there were only 8 or 10 of us in attendance. In the last few months more than a hundred people have attended the meetings. Amazing! My challenge is that the meetings are a one-hour drive away. In the past I’d try to save up all of the errands I needed to do in the city and accomplish them on the day that I went to the meeting. I have often chosen to not attend though, because I am aware of my carbon footprint in driving down. It seems wrong to drive an hour to go to meeting where the ultimate goal is to reduce carbon being pumped into the atmosphere.

The good news is that SWITCH is now web-casting the meetings. This morning I was able to attend the meeting without leaving my house. I watched and listened to the whole meeting on my laptop. Zero carbon was produced and I didn’t have to go to the big city. Sorry, but I moved to the woods cause I’m not an urban guy.

The meeting was set up in such a way that it allowed me to watch the PowerPoint presentations in one window, watch a live image in another and then communicate with the others watching on-line. I liked it because I could “chat” the whole time via my keyboard without interrupting the speaker. This is a bad habit of mine that I began in public school and is and was frowned on by many, especially my teachers. I also liked this chat feature because it meant I could be the class clown and attempt to inject humor into the proceedings. For instance, I typed in “I have a camera in my Mac Laptop. Do people mind if I’m watching while wearing my Star Wars PJs?” I think my attempt at humour worked because I could hear the system operator laughing.

The presentation I watched today was about advanced ways to monitor PV array performance. I was feeling pretty good about watching the meeting in a home and business powered entirely by solar power. There was no wind this morning so it was all PV. In fact I had a baseball cap on because the sun was beaming into my window, the window that I can look out of and see my solar trackers. It’s one of those cold March days where we still have snow on the ground in front of the solar panels, so they are just cooking away. They are at their peak performance in this weather. Brilliant sun, clean air, cold temperature and reflected light from the snow all combine to make a perfect day to make electricity from PV. I had tea from our electric kettle and toast from our electric toaster while I “attended” the meeting. The computer and satellite dish that powers my internet were powered by my solar panels. The radio that provided my background music was solar powered.

Renewable energy is exploding in Ontario and SWITCH has been a leading vehicle for people in the area and now in the province to network and spread the word. Now I can keep attending their meetings and not produce any carbon in the process. Some days it just seems like anything is possible!

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