It works. I've been off the power grid totally for over 8 years now.
You can use the PV systems to furnish part, or all, of your electricity needs. I recommend starting with partial solar power, for certain needs, and then moving up to a full system. This allows you to get used to some of the ways that PV systems work, before going "whole hog".
It can be very expensive to try to buy a "whole house" PV system, that will power all of your existing appliances. As a PV specialist, I suggest that purchasing extremely energy efficient appliances is a very important factor in keeping the cost of the solar system to a minimum. The money spent on those efficient appliances can offset much larger costs of solar panels by a factor of sometimes 8 to 1.
One of the things that must be known up front, is that this is not an unlimited source of energy. It produces a certain amount each day, and that is all. Sometimes on cloudy days, it produces far less. If you go "off the grid", you then have no availablity of power from the street. If you lifestyle consists of total "energy hog" practices, this will either be very expensive to provide, or some moderation of energy wasting activities must be enacted. Some people can deal with this, and some cannot. Part of the reason that I am using low power amplifiers, is that I cannot provide thousands of watts of power for hours on end to run a high power class A amplifier(s) without using up the bulk of my available power that also must run the refrigerator, etc. This must be a consideration when moving into the personal power production arena.
That being said, it is totally feasible to use solar power, and it is reliable and practical. There are some lifestyle changes involved if you are disconnected from the grid. If you remain connected to the grid, you can access the grid for high-demand needs, and rely on the solar for less demanding needs. This is a common practice with solar power today.
From an audio standpoint, if you buy the correct equipment, you can provide a far cleaner and more reliable power for your stereo than you can get from the power company, even with power conditioners. If you use battery powered equipment like I do, then you can take that extra step toward ultra-clean power that most only dream about.
It is an interesting exercise, and can be productive. And as a side benefit, you will never have a power outage again.
Twl, you may remember a thread in which we discussed a standalone, dedicated system for the stereo? Don't think I've forgotten about it. I was really excited when I read this article. it was like "confirmation and substantiation" to what we were discussing.
You're running way ahead of the pack right now Twl.
Tom doesn't want me to go to Appalachia...
You know how I feel about your system. The question I have from a standpoint of not wanting to disconnect fromt the power grid: Can I successfully use similar car batteries and use a charger? More specifically, If I were charging a battery and then using that battery to feed another (like jump starting a car) battery powering a system, would the first battery filter out the line grunge pretty well?
Pat, the charger will do just fine on one or more batteries, but you should disconnect the charger during play to eliminate any noise from the charger. You can just shut it off when you play, and turn it back on after you are done, to recharge the batteries for the next session. This method allows anyone to use batteries for power, whether they are on the grid or not. However to power any 120VAC items, you need a special power inverter that makes a perfect sine wave, and a perfect 60Hz frequency. Studer makes inverters like this, and I use one on my preamp. It works beautifully, and is noise free, even on my high efficiency Lowthers which will clearly reveal any noise coming through.
I read the prior thread on going off the grid and was intrigued then, and the article Buscis2 referenced reinforced that. I just bought 120AC of unimproved land in the Blue Ridge mountains in VA where I plan on putting up a timberframe as a weekend retreat from DC. Can you recommend any good reading on the subject? At this stage I'm pretty flexible in terms of design. I have to have gas to cook with (can't stand cooking with an electric range) so I can avoid some major electric drain there. On the other hand, I'm not sure I'm willing to give up my ARC VT100s or my Salvatore espresso machine, so I may be in trouble on that score.
The article referenced consumers selling excess power back to the electric company--that seems particularly interesting concept for a w/e place. Plus, that means you are presumably connected to the grid so you have some backup if there is some Noah's ark-esque forty days of rain.
Where does one get started?
The least expensive and most reliable way to "get off the grid" would be to use a small motor/generator set. Usually these are used to generate DC power from a 110VAC line (for example 400VDC which some military equipment uses), but there is no reason why a 115 VAC generator couldn't be used. Of course many people in rural areas have gas or diesel powered 115VAC generators. What I suggest is similar except powered by an electric motor.
Twl, thanks so much for your perspective!
I am quite interested in this myself. What are the costs involved? I know the standard answer is, "It depends...". But, I would like to know, could a 4000 sf home, which is energy efficient, uses efficient appliances, flourescent bulbs instead of incandescent wherever possible, heats with a heat pump, and rarely uses the AC go to this technology practically? And, if so, can you give me some feel of the rough cost.
Thank you for your consideration,
Edesilva, in the link I provided, there are many sources of solar power info. On the right hand side of the page, click on "Solar Energy And Sources For Solar Products". There is a wealth of info there regarding getting started. Also, check with the local power providers in the Virginia area concerning incentives and/or rebates available for the initial installation.
Duh... Of course. Interesting, VA has one of those netting out programs...
No "Duh" Ed. This is a learning experience for all of us. It's really tough to try to figure out where to start. Although, Fine Homebuilding did do a thorough job of gathering some great information sources. If you are going to be building a new home, you may want to consider a subscription to F.H. It is really a great publication regarding all aspects of homebuilding. I am also very proud to say the magazine is published in my hometown of Newtown, Connecticut.
I have been restoring a 1947 Arts & Crafts period "Bungalow" style home in Newtown for the past couple of years. I have found so much great information in these magazines that I have become an avid subscriber.
Good Luck with constructing your new weekend home.
Okay, I'll try to answer all the questions.
First, the best thing to do is to start out by going to websites that sell solar power stuff. Many of these websites have alot of educational information that is available for you to read online, for free. They are not books, but when you read enough of these small "blurbs" about how to "size your array" or "build your battery bank", or "select a charge controller", you come away with a fairly good idea of how to set up a system. You always work backwards to determine your power need, by adding up all the amp/hours needed by all the appliances that you use, for the typical amount of time per day that you will use them. For example, a fridge uses maybe 1kw of energy while running, but it only runs for a certain number of minutes per hour. So if it runs 20 minutes per hour, it will use only 333watts/hour. At 120VAC that is about 3 amps/hour, and at 12 volts it is about 30 amps/hour. Then multiply times 24 hours and you have the "daily usage" of the fridge. If you are using a 12v system, you have to use the 12v amp/hour figures by mulitiplying all 120VAC amp/hour figures by 10, like I did above. Do the same for all electrical items in the house, and multiply the total times 1.2 to account for normal losses. That is the total amount of power you need to supply each day.
Then you need to find your "insolation" rate, which is the daily # of hours of full sun per day, in your area. There are insolation charts on many of these alternative energy websites. If you are in a zone with 5 hours average insolation, then you need to divide your total daily usage requirement by 5 hours, and that gives your total panel power requirement, but it is in amp/hours. Since panels are rated in watts, you need to multiply the amp/hours by 12(for a 12v system) and that will give you the total wattage for the panels that you need. If you need a total of 10kw per day, and divide that by the 5 hours of avg. daily insolation, you get 2kw. You'll need to buy 20 100 watt panels to handle that requirement, for that example.
The other stuff is about the same level of difficulty in calculations. The info is on these alternative energy websites. It is a technical subject, but if you want to do it, you must learn about it.
You can't go by the square footage of the house, nor any general guidelines. It has to be calculated at exactly what your appliances require. I can tell you now that anybody using electric heat, electric stoves, and central air conditioning is going to get "sticker shock" when they find out how much it will cost to handle their normal energy needs. This is why VERY energy efficient appliances must be used, and this means specialized appliances that are not bought in normal stores, but are bought from alternative energy outlets that use FAR less than anything that is called "energy efficient" in the department stores. Moving to gas cooking, gas hot water heating, and/or wood/coal/fireplace heat is a good choice. Central air conditioning is either going to be very expensive to buy panels to run it, or you can use a standby generator to handle the air conditioning requirement. This is commonly done by solar power enthusiasts. The A/C usage is so high that it is prohibitively expensive to use solar panels for it. The generator is good for this purpose, because it costs alot less than the solar panels needed for the same purpose. But you have to feed it gas/diesel.
If you remain connected to the grid, then alot of this complexity can go away, because you can always use the power grid to "back you up" when you over-use the energy, or for when you need additional energy to run air conditioning or whatever.
Much depends on what result you want, and how much it will cost. That is why I always recommend doing a certain portion of your needs with solar, to get your feet wet, and then moving into a more complete system, if you decide you want to do that. For somebody looking to get off the grid, and achieve total energy independence like I did, there will be compromises in your lifestyle, or you will spend a hell of alot of money. Each person needs to decide what is the best situation for him and his family. Most wives and children do not adapt well to this. They want to use as much as they want, whenever they want, and also like to leave the lights on, take long hot showers, cook all day, etc. This is a no-no when you are producing your own electric. It is not unlimited.
Sorry Twl, I didn't mean to have you become inundated with questions re: solar.
With all do respect folks, if everyone refers to the link I provided, and searches through the COMPLETE article, you will find enough links and info to bury you all for days. I was "cross-eyed" after reading through some of the stuff. Especially the links by the U.S. gov.
And I'm starting to worry about Twl. If we start robbing him of his "listening time", there's no tellin what'll happen!
Don't worry, I'm a fast typist. And I'm warming up my tubes right now for a Sunday afternoon listening session. Oh yes, a pair of sweet 45's sound great on battery power! And the whole amplifier only draws 3.8 amps @12vdc.
Nice thread. I use a 1k watt solar system for a remote scientific research station that I run. The key as Twl mentions is efficient appliances and electronics and using as many DC electronics as possible. Conversion of DC from solar cells to AC just throws a significant amount of power away and is silly since most electronics (ac sync turntables excepted) internaly convert AC wall current to DC current anyway.
Solar radiation to DC current -85%
DC to AC conversion -20%
AC back to DC conversion -20%
There are really some great products around that are allowing conversion to DC only systems. The absolute easiest was using a 12v computer power supply. A screw driver and 10min later I was using 40% less power on a desktop PC. The one application that no one seems to talk about is RVs and Boats . These are normaly DC systems anyway, so no reason not to throw some panels on the roof and get some free energy.
The easy way to do something is to install a solar water pre heater. Mounts on the roof and your current hot water heater draws a reserve that has already been heated to 140F or so by the sun (plus tax deductable in a few states).
where (until the addition is built onto the house) I am planning to situate my stereo system. Not to mention that the dutch barn has good dimensions (10x14x19) and I can acoustically treat it without bothering anyone in the house!
I found that Honda has some 1-3,000 watt generators that are "super quiet" (58db noise at 3 metres distance, full power; 48db, same distance, 1/4 power [and for 20 hours!]) and not overly expensive ($1800). Living in the Northeast, after last winter (snowstorms, fallen power lines, etc.), it occurred to me that I could both have my cake and eat it, too. To wit: if there's a power failure, I can plug the house into the generator for essentials: lights, portable heater, refrigerator, until the power is restored, and all on 3 gallons of gas! Otherwise, I can listen to music completely isolated from the house (only 25 feet away!).
The generators are inverted, so they work on computers as well.
Just got off the phone with the Honda salesman and decided to look into a thread that addresses it and found this! Thanks for a great thread.
Twl, you're living my dream! My next house is definitely going to be off grid. I just wanted to weigh in on the air conditioning issue. It's not impossible. Geothermal heat pumps are about twice as efficient as regular air source heat pumps and make it feasible, but still expensive. As a side benefit, they can also produce hot water. However, unless you're made of cash, you're going to need to reduce the conditioned space requirement under 2000 sq ft. and take some steps to reduce the solar gain during the summer months, like correct overhangs, berming the structure, etc. I figured in designing my future solar house (1700 sq.ft.) I would need about a 4KW array and run the oven and dryer off propane in order to make it feasible to have air conditioning using a geothermal heat pump.
Home Power is a great solar-oriented magazine. You can read the issue online for free or you can subscribe. The address is www.homepower.com .
I recently looked into solar power as I will be soon re-roofing and I couldn't be happier suggesting to all of the power companies just what dark place they can put their...stuff.
My problem is this. My average electric bill is $70.00/month and this is with at least 2-3 hours of high end audio listening each night using at least two tube-based pieces of equipment. the problem is that I live in a part of the country where uncomfortable temperatures can be fixed by simply opening/closing certain windows. I have thermal screens on my Western plate-glass exposures and I use lots of compact flourescent bulbs.
Politics aside, it just does not make any sense. Yes, ecologically speaking, I should take into account all of the air particulants generated while producing electricity...but you see, my first 'vice' is audio and my second is...a great rip-roaring fire in the living room: lots of dirty air. The third vice is a glass of wine but everybody should just leave me alone on THAT subject.........
Even with generous tax savings, it makes no sense and this is for two reasons. My income-real estate with depreciation, etc. means I am already in a wonderfully minimal tax bracket. the tqax svings don't work for me. The system will already need to be replaced in the 20+ years before it would pay for itself.
You see, I---and perhaps lots of you---am already energy conscious. Buying such a system is something like throwing another sermon at the true-believers.
I wish I could be speaking differant, but I really am already 'there' and my personal statistical aberration is such that....it can't work.
I wish it could.
Uncle Jeff, doing solar power is something that a person has to want to do. There are some high up-front costs and maximum usage limits that make you have to want it. I don't do it for cost effectiveness, I do it for independence. I like having control over my own circumstances as much as possible, and am willing to live with certain limitations to get that. Also, when everybody else's utility power fails during a storm, my house is running just fine. I never know there was a power outage till I read about it in the paper the next morning.