We Sold Our Electric Car

For three years we drove an electric car. We negotiated with many other electric car drivers during a period of sparse infrastructure. And we pioneered extreme range driving, by carting a tent and extra leads for long journeys. We also worked in industries to support electric vehicles and a greener culture. Regularly we zoomed past petrol stations only to sit and wait in a queue to charge slowly at remote charging stations. Now, we have waved the car goodbye…..

And we replaced it with another electric car with longer range. Here is a detailed comparison of electric and petrol cars showing efficiency and pollution levels.

The True Cost Of Electric Cars

How do electric cars differ from petrol or diesel cars?

The first thing you will notice is you use the brake a lot less in the electric car. When you take your foot off the accelerator of an electric car, it slows down. So, you only use the brake to stop faster than planned. Also, you drive differently, slowing down before you stop. Sometimes this frustrates the petrol/diesel drivers because in a petrol car we tend to drive until we have to brake.

The second major difference is the braking system. As you brake in the electric car, the engine recovers some of the electricity. Think of it like a spring rewinding, ready to be sprung again.

However, there is a third difference which is not so great for the environment. Because the electric car is more powerful it could cause more accidents (and subsequent social and environmental waste). It accelerates much, much faster.

These simple differences of braking and engine power make it possible, albeit costly, to convert a classic car to electric. In 2023 it costs about $60 thousand AUD for the basic kit to convert a classic car to electric. So, after paying specialised technicians, it is likely to cost about $100 thousand to convert your favourite car. This is a fast emerging business opportunity for mechanics and electricians.

Classic cars can be electrified

What to Compare

There is a lot to compare between Battery electric vehicles and petrol or diesel vehicles. We need to study the embodied energy. And the life cycle of all the parts. And examine the each of the spare parts. Do they get reused or can they be useful for something else? [For instance, the old batteries from Electric vehicles can be used as house battery and there are some vehicles that not only charge from the house, but send charge back to the home]

Then we look at the parts, some are reusable parts. But when it comes to the fuel, fossil fuel as an energy source is combusted and lost forever and there is often residual waste such as leakage from the oil lubricant and leakage from petrol stations.

There are hidden costs in electricity generation and distribution. Total fuel costs include extraction and distribution and waste. Despite there being less subsidies for fossil fuel than renewable energy sources, renewables are leading.

Next we would look at lost and wasted energy in conversion to movement. This is called the energy to wheels comparison.

Comparison of the number of parts plus how much wear and tear they get, extracted raw materials, Noise and air pollution, Social damage due to extraction and control of supply, Efficiency of energy extraction to energy applied to the road.

Those Boring Maintenance Costs

A fair comparison on vehicles also needs to include the cost of car repairs and fuel supply. Electric cars have less repairs because there are less moving parts and less wear and tear. However, there is cost in the generation and distribution of all fuels including electricity. Unlike fossil fuels from remote under-regulated regions, many communities can develop local capacity to generate their own electricity.

And even if the electricity is imported, it is more likely to be generated with renewable technology because renewables are cheaper than non-renewables. Next in the comparison, we would consider the losses in distribution system and here we see the benefit from generating clean fuel locally. Gone are the risks associated with transporting dirty fuel.

Fuel Infrastructure

Even today, the supply of fossil fuel is causing huge environmental and social degradation. And it is often a driving force behind wars. But there is also a cost involved in establishing electricity infrastructure beyond the home, to enable us to travel further than the range of one full tank. Fortunately, most communities that have cars, also have electricity. So, there is an established network of low-speed delivery points worldwide. However, as more and more people move to electric cars, the pressure on grid will cause noticeable problems. One solution is to lower the voltage of the grid.

The expense incurred by the network of high-speed chargers is an additional, yet purely optional running, cost. Our old electric car doesn’t use high speed charging. It didn’t have the capacity for high speed intake. That’s not why we sold it. Speed of charge is an occasional inconvenience we can live with. Total range between recharging stops was the deal-breaker for us. 220km range was challenging when travelling interstate and through rural areas. But as you are reading this, more chargers are being installed.

Better World Businesses

All these demands create good business opportunities. Anyone who can afford to buy an electric car, will have left over cash from not buying fossil fuels. This is more sufficient to pay for fuel at high speed charging stations. We know this because the electric vehicle charging industry has grown despite a lack of government subsidies. Research and development costs have been funded by the pioneering consumers.

Electrified Future

Everyone likes blue skies. And we all benefit from clean air. And governments like less health costs and take pride in their cities. Because the efficiency of Battery Electric Vehicles is more than double than of Petrol/Diesel, cars will become even more computerized and more electrified. People also like cheaper cars. Over time, the cars will become cheaper. The running costs already pay for the vehicle within 8 years due to cheaper fuel. The social inequity comes from high upfront costs and lack of public transport alternatives in poorer communities. Even the technology for the recovery and reuse of the lithium in the batteries will become streamlined.

Lithium is reusable whereas fossil fuel is lost forever.

Permaculture Mindset of Enough

Each of us has the power to cut consumption drastically and value what we have. Even if you cannot afford an electric car yet, lobby governments and public transport companies to go electric.

When we stop using non-renewable energy sources, we can create a circular economy. We stop giving money to companies that engage in harmful extraction and storage of raw materials. And, future generations can use these declining reserves of fossil fuels for important industries such as medicines.

King parrot eating pears
Some of the residents on our demonstration site

The ultimate goal is to drive less, walk more, support public transport and build great local communities that grow a lot of their own food and generate their own fuel.

Difference Between Organic Gardening and Permaculture

Design Matters

Not everyone has the potential live in an environment that can be certified organic. Most regions suffer from rain or wind-borne contaminants. However, through Permaculture design we can make our patch greener and more sustainable.

Design features of Permaculture:

  1. It has an ethical core. The test is: if it isn’t good for the earth and good for people in a fair share, then don’t use it.
  2. Each site is design to imitate Natural Systems. Permaculture uses biological resources and natural energies and observes the clever ways nature responds and adapts. Nature cycles the energy resulting in now waste. Efficiency is Natural.
  3. Permaculture uses a set of Principles, Strategies and Techniques

Integration is Key

Permaculture uses organic gardening practices but it goes beyond. It integrates the garden and home to create a lifestyle that impacts less on the environment.

The Permaculture garden is more than an organic garden. Although organic food production often has many innovative elements, a Permaculture designed garden joins each of the elements into functional relationships.

Being Mindful

Permaculture design is mindful of our relationship with our environment.  We see we are living in a period of energy resource limits. And we acknowledge that emissions are contributing to the heating the planet. Many of us are feeling the changes and seeing our environments polluted.  Whilst a few wealthy people have the resources to ignore climate change, most of the world’s people cannot. Rich people can relocate, get air-conditioning,  and import truck-loads of water.  But even the wealthy cannot fix nitrous oxide build-up or save their beach homes from collapse.

Big, Little, and More

Permaculture thinking can be applied to many physical and social structures. It is energy-wise and collaborative to minimise the impact of a culture on the surrounding environment. A good permaculture design has great potential. It can connect neighbours. The biggest Permaculture site in the world, The Chikukwa Project, has helped the whole community.

Permaculture design has:

  • Focus on closing the nutrient and water loop by using waste, and reducing the dependence on inputs.
  • Creation of healthier soil and diversity of produce.Our Permaculture Design and Demonstration Site.
  • Responsibility for waste. There is an aim to eliminate waste. i.e. no excess nitrogen nor weed seed, released.
  • Variety keeps residents engaged and excited about growing their food.
  • Imitating nature by conserving the soil and water, and genetic capital. There is an intensive use of space. Plants are allowed to set seed and are inter-planted for pest control. You are unlikely to see food plants in rows. The permaculture site will look more like a food-forest with some open glades full of herbs and perennials.
  • Optimisation of natural energies, e.g. wind, dust, leaves, bird droppings.
  • Nutritious food and habitat for people AND native animals and birds.
  • experimental permaculture chickenDependence on observation. Permaculture design is a mixed technology.  Bill Mollison (co-founder of permaculture movement) said that permaculture, like a bicycle, it is adaptable and has great potential but is only as good as the user.
  • Minimal risk. If we fail at permaculture, nature simply takes over. The soil will continue to heal, the forests grow and someone else can step in to rebuild our efforts.
difference between organic gardening and Permaculture.
ORGANIC Gardening can have higher single species yield whereas Permaculture has more species due to the principle of building diversity.

What’s the difference between Organic Farming and Permaculture?

Closed and Open Nutrient Cycling

There is a significant difference between closed and open food-production systems. In a truly closed system (one in vacuum or in space) energy is not lost it is simply transferred from one being or element to another. In a permaculture system, (which can never be fully closed), energy is ideally used by one element effectively and passed on for the benefit of the next before it leaves the system.

Organic Farming promotes the use of natural fertilisers, making use of the natural carbon cycle so that waste from plants becomes the food (fertiliser) of another. In organic farming however, as with ALL farming, minerals are being lost from the farm every time a truck load of produce is carted to market.

The Ideal Permaculture ‘Farm’ brings production of food closer to consumers and the consumer’s wastes back into the cycle. It also reduces the energy wasted in transporting the foods by producing the foods where the people are. In permaculture, the people contribute in their daily life toward the production of their food and other needs.

Soft Technology Tea - Tea doesn't have to cost the earth
Tea doesn’t have to cost the earth

When is Permaculture not Organic?

There will be times when a permaculture system is not strictly organic:

  • when we use local resources rather than imported certified organic resources
  • When we want to increase diversity by bringing in unusual plants/seeds from a non-organic plant supplier
  • Permaculture is capable of enhancing a supply and converting it to organic. for example: when we grow food-plants along polluted river or roadsides to filter out toxins and break them down to safer levels. We know we may not be able to eat these plants but we can keep them as our ‘catastrophe’ backup.

Essentially Permaculture aims to close the energy loop by working with what we have.

Compost is pretty hot stuff

Fostering A Culture of Community Recycling

This is not usually due to an intentional use of pesticides, but often due to the use of a by-product that would otherwise be wasted. We could use old shoes as pots for plants, an old truck tyre/tire to hold the edges of a pond. Sometimes the choices are difficult and we have to do a quick cost/benefit analysis. For example: At Silk Farm we use recycled oil (to make fire starters) and the oil cans (for our simple worm-farm towers) from a non-certified organic restaurant who sometimes uses leaves and fruits from our garden. This ‘trade’ stimulates our local relationship and fosters a culture of resourcefulness.

Permaculture Can Actively Convert Resources

worm towers

We would need to weigh the benefit of a using a free local waste (ie. horse manure) versus supporting a good organic supplier who may be in another country. When we design well, the permaculture system can act as a cleanser or processing agent. Sometimes, we can transform then utilise a polluted waste (within what is realistic achievable).  In the case of the horse manure, we could ask the owner about their anti-worming medication, check that it can be broken down by high-temperature composting then go about re mediating it before using it.  Good permaculture design will aim to have a better output than input. Organic gardening may not have checks to reduce the system’s impact on the wider natural system.

Build you knowledge about permaculture by doing a permaculture design course with us.

And you can build your design skills with our Design-Think-Tank Sessions.

Design Theory Into The Zones

Zones for a house on a hilltop

Where is it?

confused roosterDo you ever get frustrated because you can’t find something? How many times have you wished there was a better system? Have you struggled to complete a task because the tools or resources are not at hand?  Ever wished to add a little something but it is too far away? Are you always feeling for your keys in the bottom of your bag only to find forgotten debris instead? Is there sometimes a touch-of-confusion at work making it hard to get stuff done?

If only everything was in its place. But wait… how do we know where the right place is? This is where it pays to do a little bit of designing.  Permaculture Zoning gives you the design tools to make life more comfortable and work more efficiently. We have a tool that can sort things into zones according to how much we need them, and in return, how much they need our care.

Tea herbs from the gardenSome things need to be close-by because we use them often. For example: tea herbs near the cups, kindling next to the fire, or pens on the desk. Some things need a watchful eye but need some space in order to thrive (like a children’s play area, or the berry patch).  Other things may prefer not to be bumped or tampered with so they do well in an area that is typically neglected, like wine in a cellar. These also include a nesting robin, or the soft yoga mat in your sports bag.

Zones for Efficiency

There are a few basic factors to help us determine which is the right zone for something. Firstly, ask how much observation does the item need? Secondly, ask how frequently am I going to it? If the answer is often, put it nearby. If the answers are rarely, put it far away.

This design tool is super flexible. You can apply the zoning tool to your design for a farm, a home, a community garden or a work station. You can even use it to pack your luggage.

When Bill Mollison was introducing the concept of Zoning as a design tool, he talked about having food plants that were needed regularly near the kitchen door.

These include herbs and plants like lettuces and kale that we can clip each day rather than rip it out of the ground.  Zone thinking can also be applied to the design of your bag. Those items that are needed regularly need a pocket up high to keep them accessible. Whereas, things that are rarely used but handy in emergencies can dwell in the outer zones.

Applying Permaculture Zone Theory To Design Of A Bag

Get Your Nest of Zones

Zones don’t have to be separated. But compartments, pockets, or fences are often useful. In zone 1 we keep regularly used and valuable items. In a bag these items might be your keys, phone, medicine or photo of your favourite chicken.  On the farm, Zone 1 might hold your dog’s box, your pick-up truck, your trusty tools and your favourite wet weather coat. In Zone 2 you will find intensively grown food-plants and the smaller species of fruiting shrubs. The hen-house might sit in this zone to help manage weeds in the orchard and provide regular eggs. Bigger trees, pumpkin vines and corn patches site well in Zone 3 and larger farm animals go well in the Zone 3 or 4 area. Zone 5 is a great space to dedicate to wildlife which thrives on careful management and minimal disturbance.

Zones according to use and micro-climates. Our design for yoga retreat in Otford

What about Zone 0 you may ask?

Self reliant eldersZone 0 is traditionally indoors or in your head where all those secret recipes dwell and where you hone your powerful ethics and motivation. But In a house design or on a farm, zone 0 can also contain ferments, indoor production and work stations, the office and first aid.

As you can see, there are a lot of design tools taught through Permaculture. Learn more design tools with a Permaculture Design Course. We offer courses online and on-site.

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Self-Reliance Not Self-Sufficiency

difference between self-reliance and self-sufficiency

Self-Reliance Is Empowering

Permaculture is not about self-sufficiency. Self-sufficiency is not as simple as the idealised ‘GOOD LIFE’ TV series in the 70’s by BBC.  It is full of long lonely days, repetitive hard work, and constant risk of starvation and disease.

If, however, you are looking for a lifestyle that connects you with nature and your neighbours, boost your Self-Reliance.

Self-reliance stimulates local production by giving, trading or sharing. Many people don’t realise what skills they have to trade. As a member of an informal trading organisation, some people offer cleaning fluids, dog biscuits, repairs. There are even systems with quick and easy exchange such a tables of free food plant harvests at the gate.

But, best of all, self-reliance enables us to care for the weak and the elderly. This strengthens community connections, improves our mental and physical health. And, as a community, we pool efforts to improve our environment.

Value your Community and They Will Value You

Permaculture promotes a sense of community because it is built on ethics: Care of People, the Planet and Fair Share. Caring for People invites us to build better communities. Then, with consultation with our community we can design adaptable community spaces. Both physical and invisible can be designed for adaptability. The physical structures for adaptability include social hubs, educational and recreational areas. Supporting this, are hidden structures such as trading centres, banking systems and news exchange facilities.

A Supercharged Design

winter harvest_cropped

When working for self-reliance, we design for whole ‘villages’ not just individual households. So, this increases the efficiency of the waste cycles. Resources (physical, intellectual, social) are more immediate and usable. As a result, the cycle of local production and disposal of the waste are tightly connected.

Self Reliance Grows By Sharing city-farm-sharing

Frequent exchanges on a small scale requires very little planning. As a result, a busy community has quick means for sharing, trading and lending resources. ‘Hand-me-downs’ are passed on as needed. Harvests and meals are easily shared. Also, valuable and timely knowledge is offered informally.

As a result of informal trading features of this ‘informal’ economy is that the consumer and producer get to meet. They tend to be kind to one another. Particularly, in his free e-book, Permaculture Strategy for the South African Villages Terry Leahy explores the power of the gift economy. In general, the gift economy fulfils the permaculture principle of ‘working where it counts’. And secondly, it can expand our circle of influence.

Self Reliance builds Self Esteem

Due to economic pressures and modern machinery, many farmers work in isolation with heavy budget pressures.  On a large property, farming is time-consuming, lonely and destructive. In contrast to this, small holdings can be highly productive and rewarding. This works especially well when the local community supports local food production directly through farmers markets. Given that Rural suicide is significantly higher than urban, healthy relationships are the key to survival. When farmers need assistance (psychological, medical and veterinary services) help needs to be close at hand. So,enriching the community bonds through localised trade helps to our social network and build bridges of understanding.

Owning a large property is huge responsibility

ladies-morning-meeting-in-glasshouse-market-garden

Because large properties have heavy maintenance requirements and the cost of neglect increases the risk of disasters such as fire, a community management team can help share this responsibility. So,owners can combine resources for tree loping, noxious weeds control, soil erosion management, water pollution filtration, and emergency response.

Elders adopt the ‘benefactor’ model

Self reliant elders

There is also opportunity for inter-generational learning where elders share their productive skills whilst mentoring young people. So, the sharing of resources, skills and know-how begins to create a closer-knit community. Also, it reduces waste.

Specifically, this ‘benefactor’ model works well for Polyface farms and many other rural communities. As a result, a succession of skilled people in a specialist field is ensured.

Permaculture values people as much as our environment.

Build your own self-reliance skills. Enrol with us today.

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