Sunseed is located in an off-grid village and we meet the majority of our energy needs from solar power. Our landline and our internet access work via radio connections. On the other hand, we have to design, install and maintain our energy and water infrastructure – which is the main responsibility of the Appropriate Technology Department.
Almost all our energy comes from renewable sources. We have three separate photovoltaic systems that provide all our electricity all year round for 4 houses, our office, and two workshops. As we are off-grid, our solar system incorporates a deep-cycle battery which allows us to keep on going even when the weather is cloudy for several days. However, as the daily amount of solar electricity generated is limited we have to be really conscious about how we use it, and this also brings us a bit closer to natural cycles as we obviously have to plan according to annual and diurnal solar cycles and weather patterns. To compare the amount of energy used at Sunseed with an average western household: the latter uses on average 15kWh a day for 4 people while Sunseed uses 1.5kWh for 20 people – 50 times less! To achieve this ultra-low energy use, we use only the most efficient lighting (good quality compact fluorescent and LED lights) and appliances (ENERGY STAR 5.0 rated laptops) we can afford. Also, we don’t have any white appliances (fridge, washing machine, dryer etc.) as we substitute them with low-tech, low-impact or manual methods. We never use electricity for heating – neither for space heating nor for boiling a kettle.
In addition to the photovoltaic systems, Sunseed also has a wind turbine that was built and installed during a five-day course in 2009 by the AT department built using mostly reclaimed and recycled materials, hand-tools or power-tools running on solar power. This design is simple, robust and open-source: blueprints and detailed technical manuals are available online free of charge, based mostly on wind-power guru Hugh Piggott’s instructions that are easy to follow for the inexperienced.
Our hot water is provided by solar hot water panels which were also built during previous courses. The system incorporates a wood-fired back-boiler as well for cloudy winter days.
The only fossil fuels we use directly at Sunseed are diesel for running our van and bottled propane gas for cooking. We aim to reduce the amount of the latter by using a variety of solar cookers and a wood-fired gasification stove. These are easy to build for anybody with basic DIY skills and help to significantly reduce gas consumption of cooked dishes, bread and cakes.
The whole village is supplied with water by the ram pump, maintained by the Appropriate Technology department. This ingenious and incredibly simple gravity pump requires no external energy to pump 500 litres of water per hour to a height of 40 metres and works 24/7. It is fed by the ancient irrigation line, a 2 km stretch of caves, open channels and underground pipes originally built by the Moors during their occupation of Spain about 1,000 years ago. The run-off from the ram pump feeds the acequia which provides water for the irrigation of the Sunseed gardens.
The Appropriate Technology department supports various volunteer projects ranging from making beautiful pita lampshades to designing a low-cost solar tracker for the photovoltaic array. Numerous volunteers join the department every year to gain an in-depth knowledge about a specific area they are interested in while helping us to continuously develop and maintain our systems. The duration of these projects range from a few weeks up to 6 months. Internship and university placement applications are most welcome and individual applications will always be considered whether they are for a particular project or an apprenticeship.
Click here to read possible projects for a placement in the the Appropriate Technology department. If you would like to ensure your involvement in the department’s work, or if you have a great idea and you can’t find it in the projects’ page, please get in touch with the Appropriate Technology coordinator before coming to Sunseed.