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Country Discussion Topics
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Alt energy again
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screaminghollow    Posted 04-07-2004 at 07:32:09       [Reply]  [No Email]
I agree with most of you, good idea, seems horribly expensive etc. However, the high expense seems usually linked to the cost of the conversion and storage systems. I was thinking of something drastically less involved. For instance, if I install a small hydro unit, why not let it directly run 12 volt lights in the barn. If they are on 24-7 who cares? Also, my large water heater has two elements for heat, I understand I can get a 12 volt water heater element inexpensively, and if I run the energy into the water heater when the wind is blowing, I save on the main grid bill. (With two teenagers, we always can use hot water.)
I think the high cost mentioned for some of these things is because we are so wedded to converting everything to household (110)electrical current. My friend's cabin in the mountains is off the grid, yet he has 12 volt lights in the ceiling, switches on the wall, 12 volt TV, 12 volt fridge, 12 volt coffee maker, etc. He has a bank of deep cycle batteries, and two solar panels and a small homemade wind turbine, these tend to keep the system charged when he is there every other weekend. When he is there more often, he plugs his running truck into the system for a half hour a day. He needs no sine converter, or expensive stuff. By the way, the turbine is connected to a flexible shaft which goes into the attic where it drives a $40 auto 12v. alternator, He bought the one with the life time warranty, so he gets a free replacement every few years. He comes from a small island country where such things are considered normal.


deadcarp    Posted 04-07-2004 at 18:13:05       [Reply]  [No Email]
Instead of fighting for cheaper-yet power, why not think direct solar? I caught onto that angle when my cailifornia buddy heated his swimming pool, with a 100' coil of black plastic pipe laying on his garage roof! It went thru a circulating pump of course, but those things run cheaper than light bulbs.
You can make a glass-covered, newspaper-insulated cardboard oven for like $5 and cook all your summer (crock pot) meals in it on the picnic table. Even when it's 30 below, the sun will give you 120 degrees f thru a south window - that's a free space heater. Best setup i ever saw was a whole glass south wall, double-glazed about a foot apart and they blew styrofoam "popcorn" into the cavity at nite. Reflective shutters work too. They built a solar school in central mn about 4 years ago and still haven't used the heating system.
I wanted to offset wind chill with my outdoor boiler, so set up a raincap shaped something like a pivoting sideways funnel. Now the harder the wind blows, the more draft my stovepipe pulls. No power needed and the only moving part is the ring bearing.
Lot to think about. :)



Bkeepr    Posted 04-07-2004 at 11:20:04       [Reply]  [No Email]
SH:

I agree it is cheaper doing things yourself, but I still think that this kind of electric supply system only makes sense if you can't get electricity at 10 cents a KWH.

A bank of storage batteries lasts perhaps 2 or 3 years on average; an OEM car alternater perhaps 5,000-6,000 hours of continuous use (maybe 8 months, 24x7); solar cells maybe 4-5 years of full power; belts, bearings and the like all go eventually. So the whole system will give you perhaps a year or two of reliable use, with frequent and expensive component replacements after that. Plus the cost of buying new 12V appliances.

If you're off-grid then it makes sense. But in town with 110 already there, insulating, turning thermostats down, consolidating washloads, kicking the kids out of the shower and the like will all save much more money.

I think a totally passive solar water heater, hooked to the input side of your regular hotwater heater might be an exception, though.

just my semi-educated guess.

Tom A


Ludwig    Posted 04-07-2004 at 12:28:58       [Reply]  [No Email]
Tom,

Solar panels don't have an accurately measured lifespan, your 4-5 year guess is at least 6x too short. There are plenty of 30 year old panels still cranking out watts, theres also a booming market in those used panels. Sure they lose some efficiency, maybe as much as 20% but why would you replace them? Just add more.

Everything I've read about solar water heating calls for a 3 year return on investment. When I buy a house I'll be giving it a hard look. You go down to the carribean and everybody's got some sort of solar water heating on the roof.


Grove r    Posted 04-07-2004 at 08:06:35       [Reply]  [No Email]
Goodmorning, SH, what is the comparative price between 110 volt appliances verses 12 volt? usualy find a radical difference becuase of 12 volt being concidered "recreational" equipment. Have realy concidered puting in a twin system gen set for our use, twin for backup. At four hundred a month for grid power, it wouldn't take long to pay for the set up, and once established, cost would keep decreasing to an acceptable level below what we pay now, especialy on a daytime use schedual, only.


Red Dave    Posted 04-07-2004 at 07:52:51       [Reply]  [No Email]
I guess I work where we make "alternative" energy for a living.
I agree that the easiest way to do it is by going DC as long as you don't have the notion of selling back to the electric company. It removes the need to maintain frequency, so the speed of your generator can vary and not matter. It also allows you to use batteries to store energy for later use, which is almost impossible with AC.
As for whether you go with 12 volt or other voltage, the deciding factor to me is what equipment you can find cheap. There is a lot of 48 volt DC industrial stuff at surplus places, (I think the phone co. uses a lot of it)and the higher voltage helps to keep the wire size reasonable for longer runs. Then again, 12 volt allows you to use automotive parts.
It's definatly do-able, but I think you have to be able to do the design, installation and repairs yourself or it would be hard to justify economically.


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