or: Planning the Power System for your Palace!
On the eve of the American Presidential Elections, I’m thinking about power. And, it’s not Republican, or even Democrat. And, you’ll be happy to know it’s not even “political.” The networks just declared Obama the next President of the United States… Boy, has HE got a mess to clean up!
Okay, if you’ve been following along, my family is building a home out of shipping containers and aircraft hangar parts.
And NO! We’re not tree-huggers, or Eco-Terrorists! We’re just an “average” family (and if you believe that one…) who needed an affordable house, after a hurricane ate our old one. Normally, you’d just use insurance money to rebuild, but in our case, the #^$%@!! insurance company still hasn’t settled with us. So, we needed to find an affordable alternative, to protect the tribe…
Now, my wife and I love trees, don’t get me wrong, but you won’t find us in the forest spiking potential lumber targets to voice our angst, and we aren’t gonna blow up any fishing vessels. That’s a felony, no matter where you hail from, and felonies aren’t that fun to drag out at the family reunion, ya know? Besides that, somebody could get hurt… Seriously hurt.
You can help the environment, and even yourselves, without needing a criminal law attorney. Honest.
Plus, if I’m headed to prison, it’s gonna be for something like terrorizing my nosy neighbors or something. I mean, really! Can you imagine? I can hear that conversation already!
“What’re you in for?”
“Ummmm, I spiked a tree.”
“Have you met my friend Bubba? He’s gonna become your “special friend” too!” LOL!
I don’t think so…
And, once you start planning, you realize that power bills are getting higher and higher, right? Well, maybe it’s time to do something about that, too!
Be it solar (photovoltaic) or wind generated, getting off the grid is getting easier!
Advances in technology, and marketing/competitive pricing pushed by eager consumers have made the ability to divorce the utility companies both affordable, and (more importantly) understandable, for average homeowners.
Sure, there are a lot of options; Solar, Wind, and if you live by a coastline, there’s even “Tidal,” now…
(I opted for the one where you harness your kid to a bicycle and make him peddle for his supper, but “Child Services” got all huffy and puffy with me, those liberal, pansy, weasels!! LOL! )
I went out and got the “deluxe model. I tricked the neighbor kids into thinking I was building a pedal-powered Playstation, and they powered up my battery bank for a week! LOL!
So (since I’m now hiding from “Child Services Nazis”), I’m forced to find another road…
In a perfect world, I’d just slap up a big wind turbine tower, and snatch power from the sky (wind) but… the Air Force Base over the fence wouldn’t like it much, and the wind isn’t that reliable here.
(I know, with all the hot air I’m expelling, you’d think I could generate enough energy to power a couple of family households, huh? LOL!)
And, besides that, a big wind turbine isn’t gonna come cheap. If you have the land, the money to invest, a wind turbine system can be a great investment.
Unfortunately, the flaw is that it takes at least 10-20 years to reach “payback,” so they aren’t really an option for many people.
(Yes, I’ve heard about “the micro turbines,” a small power generation system with a “small upfront investment.” However, they come from China, they’re made out of plastic and nylon, and on close inspection, they look more like a schoolkid’s toys, than something to bet your families existence on. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think they are gonna be durable enough to be reliable.)
And, conventional wisdom says that wind turbines have to be set up as high as practical. The best winds are well above a building or tree line. In fact, you’re looking at hundreds of feet in the air, to really reach the wind’s “constant current.”
(These micro turbines are designed to harvest a great amount of wind energy at lower levels. So, anything at all can become an obstruction. You’ve been warned.)
And that leaves Solar Panels…
About the only thing that solar panels have in common with wind turbines is location. Placement is crucial to solar panels as well. But, once they’re up, you don’t have to do anything.
Ongoing maintenance costs make wind generation something to really, really think about. Trust me on this. If you go wind, you’re gonna get real familiar with the inner workings of your turbine assembly, and it’s gonna happen sooner than you probably expect. Most wind turbines only operate efficiently, when they are “finely tuned.” And guess what? That’s where maintenance comes in…
Solar power doesn’t require any real maintenance. Sure, you might replace batteries every once in a while, but other than that, it’s pretty much a done deal from day one. The panels don’t require any maintenance (except an occasional cleaning) and that’s a “no fuss operation” (unless you’ve placed them on a “difficult” roof).
But, just like the wind turbine, there are things you have to consider from the get-go. Like, for example, determining just how much power you need…
So, how does the “Average Joe” do that?
First; You have to determine what you would like to power, and how long you want it to run. Now, would be a good time to start making a list, and checking it twice, kids…
Second; Are your appliances or devices AC, or DC, or a mixture of both? Allow extra pages for your kids iPods, Zunes, Playstations, and notebook computers. Trust me, overlooking these will come back to haunt you!
Third; You must determine your “load requirement.” In a nutshell, devices which operate using electrical power are often referred to as “loads.” These loads are usually the largest single influence on a power systems size and it’s cost.
So, to determine the “load requirements,” you just add up the watt and amp requirements of all your devices and appliances. Voila!
(I know, you’re screaming at me already; “I don’t know any of this stuff! Easy, my ass! Ronin, you big, fat, liar!”)
Relax, pilgrim! Take a breath! You’ll bust an aneurysm if you keep that up!
A great way to find out is to invest in a device called a “Kill-A-Watt” meter. You can find one at any electrical supply store for about $25.00. (And, some power companies actually have these that you can “borrow” to measure your load requirements!) Once you have one, all you do is plug your appliances into it, and read the meter! The display will give you the total watts and amps used when your appliances are running and even when they’re turned off. Yes… your appliances use power even when they aren’t working.
I know that it doesn’t seem fair, but it’s the reality! Deal with it! LOL!
If you’re like me, you need a number that includes all your appliances, the well pump, the house lights, the TV sets, the Playstation, the stereo equipment, and the computers.
Gawd forbid we don’t have enough power to run the computers…
Let’s say that all added up to a “load requirement” of 730 watts. I’d suggest that you consider at least a 1500-2000 watt “inverter” because that way you will have more power than you need. Remember that you have to allow for 50% more wattage than you actually need, to allow for spikes, and “sudden demand!”
(Like when you wife decides to blow-dry her 11 and a half feet of hair, at the same time you’re watching the playoffs on the widescreen, and your kid is having a Playstation Slamfest with his pals, with the stereo cranked up to decibel levels equaling “earthquake”…)
An inverter is just a “magic box” that converts DC power or direct current to standard AC power or alternating current, which allows you to run electrical equipment off your car or marine battery for household, mobile applications, emergencies or simple convenience.
Three or four 12 volt 100 amp (deep cycle) batteries should do well for storing enough power, depending on how many hours a day you plan to use power. Remember your batteries are like a gas tank. Add as many batteries as you need, to store your juice!
Now, figure out how much power your system will produce. This is measured in “amps at voltage.” Then you convert these numbers into wattage. Got it? It’s easy. The magic formula is amps time’s volts equal’s watts. Keep in mind that you can add systems to an existing array.
I know it’s confusing… Just bribe your kid with a cookie or two, and he/she’ll explain it to you. I HATE “New Math!” LOL!
Some low power DC lighting and appliances may be run directly from the generator or battery with out an inverter. So, theoretically you could run DC lighting and with an inverter run AC appliances at the same time. Your mileage may vary.
Enough mumbo-jumbo, techno-speak, okay? Just determine your load requirements and then build a power system large enough to handle the load. And if I was you (be thankful I ain’t!) add about 30% to your system requirements, to allow for the stuff you’ll add on later. You’ll be surprised what you can’t live without! LOL!
And you don’t have to build a system large enough to run the entire house. You can stay on the grid, and just knock the hell outta your power bill, especially during those “peak hours.”
Think about the possibilities! Where I live, hurricanes regularly knock the stuffing out of the grid, by eating all the power lines and we end up without power for weeks at a time.
An emergency electrical back-up system would keep your refrigerator running, keep lights on or power up a sump pump until grid power has been restored, whether hours, days or even (gasp!) weeks.
Regardless of the type of system you’re installing to extricate yourself from the grid, it’s a good idea to check your zoning regulations and height restrictions.
(If you’re too short, you won’t be able to see over the counter, and if you’re too tall, the people at Planning and Zoning feel threatened! LOL!)
Obviously, I’m talking about the height of the wind turbine mast, here. Duh! But you knew that, huh?