OrcaLab’s push to become oil free

5_April_Paul_Solar Lab springtime P1020987

For more years than I can remember, despite the great good fortune of being surrounded by the incredible beauty of British Columbia’s wilderness, we’ve been dependent on energy from oil to maintain our project and lifestyle. Over the years, we’ve gone through so many generators and burned so much fossil fuel to run them that it’s impossible to count, or assess the impact of our existence on the planet we treasure. We’ve long understood, however, that we were doing harm. Gradually, we’ve been attempting to deal with the problem of dependence on the dark side. It was so long ago that I’m not sure exactly when, but we were given a 50 watt solar panel by Arco, a California oil company (yes!) that got us interested in alternative energy. It helped us understand the promise, that it might be possible to avoid running around in a boat replacing heavy batteries charged by a generator to keep our remote hydrophone systems running. The costs though, would be prohibitive. Then in the early ‘80s a kayaker came by who worked for Canada’s Department of Energy Mines and Resources. She encouraged us to apply for a grant to demonstrate the potential of solar. We did, and Canada’s federal government gave us $50,000 to put solar panels on our remote hydrophone stations. Suddenly, our lives were transformed. Though we haven’t sought government grants since, this one was a huge help.

Scrolling forward, in 1995 one of our volunteers was Steve Lapp, an Ontarian who was interested in alternative energy as well as orcas. Steve went on to join the faculty of Ontario’s St. Lawrence College of Applied Arts and Technology, where among other things he brought students to OrcaLab to learn about alternate energy systems, and develop their problem-solving skills. They worked on our efforts in micro hydro, solar and wind systems, all of which helped though didn’t completely solve our total energy problem. A breakthrough came in 2013, when Steve teamed up with Paul McKay, a solar visionary and philanthropist, who had recently undertaken a huge project in Brazil that provided power to remote villages with solar panels donated by Canadian Solar Industries. CSI donated a dozen 300 watt panels to us, and Paul a 48 volt inverter along with solar controllers. The equipment ended up as a massive shipment that we brought to Hanson Island on our trusty June Cove, then on the last legs of her old engine. Steve and Paul, with volunteers Ronnie Gilbertson Mark McCallum and Bec McGuire spent the next 2 weeks installing the panels and configuring the system. The result was an amazing transformation: https://orcalab.org/2013/05/04/orcalabs-fabulous-solar-upgrade/ During the summer months that followed, solar alone provided virtually all the power we needed to run our Lab and living systems, and for a while we thought we were going to be home free. Then the darker days of fall and winter arrived and reality set in. Once again, we had to run a generator to keep everything going, and have been doing that far too much over the last 3 years. Paul has since donated new batteries, inching us closer to our energy independence goal.

Now we’re at it again, trying finally, to become free of oil. This time we have additional allies, Vancouver’s Great Climate Race http://www.greatclimaterace.org ELSE http://www.elsecanada.ca and Bullfrog Power http://www.bullfrogpower.com/.

Steve is doing the design once again, ELSE is finding volunteers to assist Steve and help with the installation as well as sourcing equipment, and The Great Climate Race & Bullfrog Power are providing funding. This time, I’m convinced, we will succeed!

Our new attempt is not just because it makes sense in terms of keeping OrcaLab running efficiently, but because of the greatest issue that has faced our precioous planet in human history – the huge changes to world climate that are happening and will see untold millions of people forced to flee from their homes, their lives so disrupted that conflicts are inevitable. I’ve long thought that our great grand children, and theirs, will curse us for our negligence. Not because we don’t love them, we do, but because we knew. We knew that failure to act in our time would bring ruin to theirs. For shame.

I’m posting this on Earth Day 2017, hoping against hope that our tiny demonstration of what is possible will help turn the wheel.

by Paul Spong

April 22, 2017

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