Solar to the rescue when these giant babies need a feed

By Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Isn’t it wonderful to hear of efforts to put right the wrongs of humanity, especially when the wrong is committed against animals?


What I particularly liked about this story is that the effort of the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka, to save and rehabilitate these baby elephants is enhanced by solar energy.

The initiative is supported by the conservation foundation set up by the Dilmah Tea Company and was triggered by the insatiable demand for firewood needed to boil umpteen litres of water used to make-up the baby formula for orphaned elephant calves cared for by the Elephant Transit Home.

Wood burning an environmental dilemma

The search for firewood was draining in human resources because dead wood (the organisation ethically chose not to fell live trees) became scarcer and had to be fetched long distances. Also, the environmental damage of carbon-dioxide released into the atmosphere from burning large quantities of wood to boil the water did not sit well with the home.


“They are fed 8 times a day each day, and they collectively consume a staggering quantity of over 640 litres of milk. The milk is made by combining dehydrated human infant formula (baby food) with water. Elephant calves are extremely susceptible to gastrointestinal complications that arise due to bacteria present in water used to prepare their milk. In order to prevent this, water must be boiled to remove any bacterial presence.”

To find out more about this heart-warming story click the link or copy into your browser address bar.

By Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

The true cost of energy

I recently stumbled across an article from Inhabitat about a German village that produces so much electrical energy that it makes about 5.6million euros profit for the villagers each year. I was so inspired that I have been thinking how my locality (population 4,500) could replicate that energy success.

Already many individual households are installing solar water heating and solar power panels for running their other electrical systems. (Take a look at the Little Greenie website) In a few months we have plans to go that route too – can’t wait. Even though the installation cost will take several years to pay off if you simply compare cost dollars to savings on power charges, the thing that excites me is we will be reducing the demand on coal and gas generation*.

One household installing solar panels doesn’t have much of an effect, however when you reach hundreds or thousands of houses with alternative power systems the impact becomes enormous. If there would be one inspiring dream I would have, it would be to turn out lovely Golden Bay into an energy-neutral location.

Of course, as quickly as these passive energy options are installed the faster we increase our power consumption by installing and using new technologies – automatic appliances and computer technology – that we forget to turn off at night. Appliances left on stand-by use up an unbelievable amount of power over a year. Take a look at Standby Power or EECA Energywise websites. But that’s for some more research!

*Note: In New Zealand we do not have nuclear power generation. By far the largest amount of electricity is generated by hydro-generation plants. But even these have an impact on the local environment through flooding of valleys to create dams and the interruption of natural habitats for native fish and plants.

By Heather Sylvawood, author of Real Estate Rollercoaster.

A Solar Power Dilemma

We recently looked into installing a solar power system and found the option to be riddled with limitations. That’s not to say we are turned off (LOL) but we are certainly having to make some compromises. Here are a few things we have found out that make installing photo voltaic panels a challenge.

Solar panels are an inefficient way of heating water. Photo voltaic panels vary in their output but in conversion of energy for heating water they are less efficient than a water-circulating solar water heater. In the photo voltaic panels solar energy is converted into direct current that is then converted into alternating current that we can use in our normal appliances and lighting. A solar water heater has water in pipes that are directly heated by the sun or reflection. The hot water is pumped or rises to the water tank and is replaced by cold water. The water circulates becoming hotter and hotter the longer sunshine is hitting the pipes somewhere on the heater. Unlike solar voltaic panels a solar water heater can work even if the sun is hitting the water pipes at a low angle. Solar voltaic panels need direct sun or at no less than 30 degree angle.

Location and position are everything. Living on a hill in Golden Bay, which has high sunshine hours and no pollution, we should be ideal for solar panels. Not only do we have no large trees shading the roof, we also have the bonus of a large body of reflective water to up the ante. Unfortunately in the middle of winter our sun is obscured by a slight hill until about 10am. This is when we would really want some input. However, not all is lost, because at the height of the day one roof would be receiving full on sunshine and the other, at a slight westerly angle, would receive sunshine at lesser levels. So position-wise we would be fine. Except that the size of the panels is such that we cannot fit enough of them to cover what we are currently using in electricity.

On-the-grid options. If we go ahead with solar we can supplement our power from the power supplier. This means that during times when sunshine is not enough to meet our requirements we can use and be charged by the power supply for the power we use. Conversely, when our solar panels and producing more than we need we can give back to the grid (and store up credits for power we later use). Sounds ideal! But it doesn’t guarantee us continuous power. If the power supply goes down, and it is known to do so in our rural retreat, we lose power even if our solar panels are producing it at the time. The reason is that power company workers will assume they are working with dead lines, and if we’re busily feeding back into the grid – zappo chappo. So the minute the grid goes down our solar energy generation stops too.

Off-the-grid options. Ah ha! So what if we went off the grid completely? First, the installation costs are more expensive and we would have to install a large bank of batteries to store enough energy to maintain our household systems when the direct solar input is not enough – at night and on wintery days, of course. From an ecological point of view batteries are not okay. They last about 10 years before they need to be replaced. Then they and their destructive fluids have to be disposed of safely.

So now we are looking at:

  • Ways to reduce our current energy use so that panels would cover our power consumption
  • Ways to combine a solar water heater with voltaic panels for other power
  • Whether to change our stove to an all gas model (LPG has its own green issues)
  • Whether to add a wetback option to our wonderful Metro fire that has considerably reduced our winter power use (we use it for slow cooking and boiling the kettle)

Just watch this space as we explore the options further

A good site to check out is the NZ Government’s energy website: