Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Water From The Sun

Another part of the overall water solution I’m getting interested in involves a solar-powered micro well. The basic wet-dry season pattern I mentioned earlier also happily coincided with the availability of sun. Sun is strongest when water is most needed. Why not use the sun to move water?

So, I started looking into solar powered micro well options. Surprise! They do indeed exist. For about $1700, I can get a very small DC powered submersible pump with enough head to easily reach our shallow water table. Another $1000 or so will buy me a couple of solar panels to mount on the roof of my bee shelter to power the pump. A few hundred more will go to a small elevated storage tank that will have enough head (pressure) to reach all of my gardens.

The micro-well strategy once again raises a basic economic question about the cost of sustainability. In simple financial terms, it’d take a great many months of water bills at city rates to justify the $4000-$5000 I expect my water solution will cost. As with many other aspects of this garden effort, simply getting setup to be more sustainable is expensive. Cheaper ‘conventional’ options exist. Whether you’re talking about building a swale versus simply piping to the street, installing solar water heater, solar PV power, or whatever, cost of installation can be considerable.

After no small amount of consideration, I’ve landed on three basic ways of viewing this dilemma. First, many conventional solutions involve costs that are either hidden or that have been completely ‘externalized’, that is, shifted onto somebody else’s balance sheet. Second, I simply ‘do the math’ as a means of translating daunting up-front costs into daily terms which I can then more readily weigh against the myriad other small things I spend money on daily. The third perspective I’ve come to is more philosophical: keeping all costs local (e.g. taking responsibility for them personally) helps me keep focus on what’s really sustainable and helps me more directly understand the how much I personally cost the planet.

Frankly, my current city water solution has few hidden or externalized costs I can identify which might help me craft better math in support of the micro-well initiative. By contrast, doing the math reveals that the investment required to be nearly water independent (even in town!) is very modest when expressed in daily terms. Assuming a ten year service life for the well and an initial investment of $5K, my daily costs are about $1.30. (That number assumes no interest…actually a conservative estimate in today’s economic environment!)

So, the basic question comes down to a cup of coffee a day versus water independence. I can deal with that.The remaining challenge I have is to get the city to OK the well. More on that point later…

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