Power to the People!! (Alternative Power) Lower Your Bills!

4 Nov

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?

Stay Tuned…

The Renaissance Ronin

7 Responses to “Power to the People!! (Alternative Power) Lower Your Bills!”

  1. Ben C November 5, 2008 at 9:58 am #

    Great article and advice. I’m getting my Kill-A-Watt today!

  2. Les and Jane Oke November 6, 2008 at 1:45 pm #

    First a bit of background about ourselves. Our family has been living off the grid now with our only power source being renewable energy for over 15 years.
    For the past 5 years we have taken our experience living with and installing wind generators and solar panels and wrote 5 books on the subject. build a wind generator and how to make your own solar panels.

    You bring up some very interesting points here, but a renewable energy system neither has to cost a lot of be high maintenance.
    Build a wind generator and mount those solar panels on a ground installation instead. Make your wind generator a tilt up tower as well. It can be down in an hour if a hurricane is coming.
    By the way there are lots of sources of free batteries out there too. Golf courses give away free golf cart batteries every year, and you can build a simple device called a desulfator to bring these old batteries back to life.

    If you would like more information just come to our website

    Just use the contact form on the website to get in touch with you.

    PS. Great Blog, we tagged it with Stumbleupon for you, keep on with renewable energy, and give it some thought to build a wind generator.

  3. Les and Jane Oke November 6, 2008 at 1:47 pm #

    By the way, we would love to talk to you about how Earth4Energy bought our books on June 23 of this year, just drop us a line.

    All the best,
    Les and Jane

  4. renaissanceronin November 6, 2008 at 2:01 pm #

    Hi Guys! Thanks for the comments!

    Ben: I cruised your site.. Cool stuff there! I hope you do a lot of business!

    Les & Jane: I spent the better part of three decades living “off-grid” and with my head down, in banana republics. And, I loved it. I miss it sometimes like you wouldn’t believe. (Plus, I could just shoot belligerent neighbors… LOL!)

    I’ve been preaching the “build it yourself” approach to energy generation, all along. It’s easy nowadays to build efficient panels, and you can cobble together a wind turbine if you need to, out of catalog parts.

    However, in my case, hurricanes and flooding mandate that everything sits high and dry, so the panels go in racks, on the roof, with SECURE covering built in, to allow them to be fortified during weather events. It’s a little extra mounting material (and a little bit more labor), but well worth it, considering you’ll be back up and “recharging” just a few hours after a bad storm.

    And, around here (coastal Mississippi), the only wind that’s even remotely reliable is the hot air I expel, at anyone unfortunate enough to be in the same locale. As much as I’d love to have a working wind turbine, there isn’t enough Wind to justify it.

    I am, however, REALLY interested in your “free batteries” concept. I am curious about whether the expenses of “desulfating” them is worth it, though. Aren’t you better off just starting with deep cycle batteries? I know the start-up expense is kinda pricey, but you’d had trouble-free batteries for a long time. You’d hit buy-back pretty fast, I suspect…

    Hmmm… something to think on… (says frugal Mr Ronin…LOL!)

    And, congrats on selling your books! I’d thought about eventually recording all this hot air into a more palatable (readable) format, after the house is built. That way, other people could do it too! (And avoid all my mistakes…)

    Now, if I only had (a) talent, and (b) literacy…


  5. Les and Jane Oke November 7, 2008 at 8:52 am #

    Yes, you are right about the solar panels on the roof in your area, good point. And even the odd storm, that is windy will charge your batteries for a week, you may not have continuous winds, but occasional windy storms should not be overlooked, especially if you build a wind generator of your own.

    About the batteries, golf carts are run off of some of the best deep cycle batteries on the market. Lots of Renewable Energy stores sell them as their top of the line RE batteries.

    Also, their are industrial sources of great deep cycle batteries too. The desulfator is not really that hard to build and uses very little actual power to run it.
    A simple pulse is created that cleans the inside of the battery and restores it.
    For more interesting articles just go to

    We will be hosting our own blog very soon and would love to have you come over and post your thought.
    Build a wind generator, or homemade wind generator, not sure what we are going to call it, maybe wind generator plans, any thoughts?

    All the best
    Les and Jane

  6. Phil Thomson November 20, 2008 at 4:36 pm #

    Actually the problem is that at the moment all the power is rendered useless because there are no miracle batteries that could retain such amount of energy produced by a solar panel or homemade wind generator.

    Although i must note that when you build lets say a homemade wind generator, then you will surely cut your energy bills by a large number. I did that and I must say that I am extremely happy with it, but people still tend to think that it is not worth the hassle.

    Homemade Wind Generator is actually not hard to set up, but its sometime the room that is missing for people. People just do not have enough space to build on for themselves, but fortunately we have bright scientists who have worked a way to use vertical axis wind generators, which are silent and work on winds from any direction.

    Dont get me wrong, I love your article and do think that people should thing more about homemade energy, but sometimes they have little confidence in them.

    You could visit my website http://www.homemade-windgenerator.com to read articles about homemade wind generators and more.

    Have a nice evening 🙂

  7. renaissanceronin November 20, 2008 at 7:29 pm #

    Hey Phil,

    It’s like you’re in my head! Get outta there! It ain’t safe! LOL!

    My biggest gripe is that battery technology isn’t keeping up with other energy technologies.

    Although the currently available batteries don’t make power production “useless,” it certainly does limit our ability to store the energy we create.

    As more efficient solar panel and wind turbine designs come to market, we’ll need better ways to store the juice, or it’s gonna be a “sideways” move. I’m sure that the guys and gals in the battery labs are tearing their hair out trying to get to the “break-thru point.” After all, millions of dollars are at stake.

    The deep cycle batteries we’ve been using are adequate to the task, for now. I’ve never had any serious problems with my “battery jail,” and I can only hope that one day soon, the way we store power will get easier and more efficient.

    As for production not being worth the hassles, I know many people who have shaved their power bills by over 75% consistently, using wind and solar. I bet they aren’t complaining, huh? They, like you and I, are happy about anything that keeps the utility guys away from the porch!

    And, there is more than one “vertical” turbine in my past. I even built one that looked like a big steel Christmas tree, that revolved on a turntable, and was “steam” assisted. And, it’s still working today, after over 25 years of service. Not bad for a bunch of geeks who shouldn’t have been allowed to play with sharp instruments (saws), or fiery things (welders)!

    Thanks for dropping by, and adding your two-cents worth! Collectively, the noise we make may help others save money, and even enhance their lives!

    Thanks Phil!


Comments are closed.