Monday, July 4, 2011

Permaculture Principles: Principle Two - Catch and Store Energy

Holmgren's Twelve Principles of Permaculture

Principle Two: Catch and Store Energy
Holmgren's Proverb for this Principle: Make hay while the sun shines.

Energy has a few definitions.  According to Webster's Dictionary, Energy is:
a) Vigrorous exertion of power; Effort
b) A fundamental entity of nature that is transferred between parts of a system in the production of physical change within the system and usually regarded as the capacity for doing work 
c) usable power (as heat or electricity)

The way we need to think of Energy in a Permaculture System is closer to that second definition.  Energy is that entity of nature that is transferred between parts of a system with the capacity for doing work.  Our job is to design systems that collects the energy before it can be transferred somewhere else where we cannot use it.  The other side of this is to avoid losing energy that we have already stored.

So how do we do this?

Fundamental design components that deal with this are Zones and Sectors.  I discussed Zones in this post.  Zones help preserve energy we already have stored in ourselves (from the food we eat - avoiding buring calories) by placing the things we use most closer to where we live.  I discussed Sectors in this post.  Sectors help us determine where outside energy is coming from (so we can capture it when it comes through) and where energy leaves our property (so we can harvest it before it leaves).

Energy on our properties include:
Sunlight - capture it with passive solar housing design, solar panels, solar water heating, solar cooking, and of course, plants! (see biomass below)
Wind - capture it with a variety of windmill designs
Water - capture it in ponds (see below) and with flow through micro-hydroelectric, capture it from roofs (see this post on Roof Rain Harvesting), with swales (see this post on Swales), and from road/path runoff.
Biomass - capture it in growing things: fruits, vegetables, logs, firewood, twigs for crafts, animal (meat, milk, and fiber), fish, honey, etc.

We can store our energy the following ways:
Batteries - Stored electricity from solar, hydro, wind generation
Food - By preserving foods with dehydration, canning, freezing, smoking, fermenting, etc. By making wine, beer, mead, etc. By using intensive rotational grazing of livestock to maximize foods for our animals
Water - Can be stored in the soil itself, or in dams, ponds, cisterns, etc.
Organic Matter - stored in the form of compost (produced from components on our property), reducing erosion with terraces, swales, and good land management practices, collecting debris and driftwood from streams that pass through our property
Heat - Good insulation in our buildings, well designed wind breaks that keep chilling winds from hitting our buildings, gardens, and livestock, stored firewood to use later
Plants - Can be stored as tubers and bulbs and seeds for future plantings
Money - Money is just an easily transferable form of energy that everyone agrees to use and has standard trading values.  Saving money is another way to save energy.  Properly handling our money, avoiding debt, and investing wisely are just more examples of catching and storing energy.

"Make hay when the sun shines" is used to remind us that we have windows of opportunity to capitalize and/or collect the energy that passes through or is produced in our Permaculture system.  We cannot make solar energy at night and we cannot preserve fruits after they have fallen off the tree and rotted.  By using principle number one (Observe and Interact), we can know when is the right time to capture that energy.

By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
- David Holmgren


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