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wood heating / solar power / recycling

Post in 'The Inglenook' started by morgantruce, Jan 8, 2010.

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  1. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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  2. quads

    quads Minister of Fire

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    Very cool! And pretty too!
  3. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    Yes, that last item I mentioned has a seat that is very cool in this season...
  4. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    What are you running/charging w/the cells? Very nice setup!
  5. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    I'm really hoping for some major breakthroughs in solar panel technology and battery technology in the next few years.

    I would sooo love to be able to be self sufficient when it comes to electricity, and maybe even be able to sell some back to he power company on a regular basis.

    Right now, for me, the current technology is still a bit too expensive for the returns I would get.

    -SF
  6. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    The solar panels connect to a charge controller which charges a bank of golf cart batteries. The batteries connect to an inverter which change the DC power to 120 volts AC --which is run throughout the house in a conventional manner. Most rooms have several 4-watt compact fluorescent spiral light bulbs strategically placed, so that at any given time we have only one or two lights on at the same time. The largest bulb in the house is a 7-watt spiral. I have several 2-watt spirals which get a lot of use---they are very effective if installed in a student type bullet lamp housing. That system also powers my iBook computer and a 7" TV (man, that's small!) and DishNetwork receiver. It can handle occasional moderate loads like a food mixer, Dirt Devil hand vacuum, and electric drill. I've experimented with LED lights and do not care for them. I run a ham radio station directly from the 12 volts DC.

    For larger draw items like washing machines, dishwasher, circular saw, clothes iron, etc we have a 4000 watt Onan generator (run efficiently slow at 1800 rpm...) that can be remotely started and stopped from several remote switch panels throughout the house and garage. That generator also powers a large industrial battery charger which can very quickly top off my battery bank.

    Late in the evening, when I've used up all the power that the sun put in my batteries, I can run the generator for about 10 minutes which will bring the batteries up to a full charge. That 10 minutes of generator time is equal to about two hours of TV time or four hours of computer time (with a room light or two also burning.) A small alarm buzzer sounds whenever the battery voltage drops to 12.00 volts or reaches above 14.40 volts---that is what "tells" me when to start or stop the generator.

    Bottom line: the solar panels run all the smaller loads all the time during the summer. During the winter, the solar panels keep up with things until about 9 PM.... then I have to start have 10 minute generator sessions every few hours if I plan on staying up late and watching TV or computing. If I'm just reading most of the night, I don't need the generator at all.

    Key to making all of this work, is how I handle certain other vital "chores". The refrigerator/freezer and cook stove run on propane. A submersible well pump is run by the generator only when the clothes washer is on (perhaps two hours a week.) This pumps water up to a 1200 gallon tank buried way up the hill from my house. The rest of the time, the water just gravity feeds to the house from that tank... the pressure gives us a decent shower. We would go broke trying to run a generator to keep up with a regular type refigerator or a conventional well pump system. We heat with wood... of course.

    There is a lot of copper wire in this house. There are three completely separate wiring systems throughout: 12 volts DC (mostly on 6 gauge wire!), 120 volts AC from the generator, and 120 volts AC from the inverter.

    If this sounds complicated, you should see my plumbing system... ;)


    ---------------


    There is a saying about money: it's not how much you make that counts, but rather how much you spend.

    With solar power: it's not how much you produce... what matter's most is how little energy you can manage to live with comfortably.

    Yes, I have lots of people tell me that they'd like to "go" solar. I always tell them: "Before you "go" anywhere... before you buy anything... CUT your energy usage in half. When you stop crying about that, then cut it in half again! Only then are you ready to get some solar equipment. It makes absolutely no sense at all to be buying expensive solar equipment when your house is full of large screen TV's, microwave ovens, big vacuum cleaners, and huge light bulbs. It simply will not work. Lose your appetite for power first.
  7. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    Cool stuff....sounds like you have thought it through correctly!

    Where in VW are you? I lived near Webster Springs and also near Ireland for a short time in my late teens (when we escaped the city for the REAL country)
  8. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    West of Clarksburg a bit...
  9. SlyFerret

    SlyFerret Minister of Fire

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    I should have guessed! Leave it to a ham to engineer a system like this! :p

    I especially like your advice about cutting energy usage before "going solar". Something to keep in mind in the future.

    -SF (W8IPK)
  10. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    I would not want to give anyone the impression that you need to be an electronics whiz to set up an alternative energy system. I certainly am not. Among what is required, is a knowledge of how many amps a given wire size can handle---and there are easily available tables that list such information. A thorough knowledge of lead-acid battery safety is required. A large bank of batteries has the potential to do much harm.

    Alternative energy is a field which rewards those kind of people who like to thoroughly read about things before jumping in. If you're the sort of person who just acts on impulse, this could be a very expensive (and dangerous) undertaking.

    I am a do-it-yourself kinda guy and my system is small. If you are well-financed, there are companies who can engineer and install complete systems of any size--although I would recommend being very careful when choosing from among such companies. Check their references and visit some of their installations.
  11. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    The system, sounds like it is well thought and efficeint, kudos to you! How are you monitoring the batteries performance? I am a Facility Electrician and a portion of my job is to monitor 400 batteries in 2 UPS systems. We use a system called B-tech which measures impedance within each jar to predict battery "health" and longevity.
  12. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    My rather unscientific approach:

    (1) If you push or abuse batteries, you have to monitor their performance very carefully and very often.

    (2) If you treat batteries gently, they will not be easily harmed.

    I used to use method #1. I would charge batteries at a very high rate, check their specific gravity often, add water monthly... and then watch as they destroyed themselves very early in their service life--making it necessary to go out and buy a whole new set.

    After ONE round of method #1, I switched to method #2. Now I charge batteries at lower than the recommended maximum charge rate (for the amp capacity of the bank). I hardly ever check specific gravity---because there simply are no cells which are getting fried as was the case with #1. I add water twice a year. I keep the tops and the terminal ends clean. My current set of batteries is 8 years old---much older than they would ever live if they were installed in golf carts as they were originally designed for.

    -------------------

    In my situation, the economics are simple. I can charge my batteries fast, run my generator less time, use less gasoline, and buy expensive batteries often. Or, I can charge my batteries slowly, use a bit more gasoline, and nurse those batteries a LONG time.

    Yes, we all know gasoline is expensive, but those few extra ounces---even over several years---do not come anywhere close to what a whole bunch of batteries cost. Besides, your average golf cart battery weighs twice what a car battery does---and they are a real PITA to lift. Mine are located in an insulated crawl space. You can imagine...

    Over the years I have varied the size of my battery bank from as few as two to as many as eight individual batteries. I presently have four. They are 6-volt batteries--wired series/parallel.

    ---------------

    I don't want to give the impression that solar power involves a lot of backup generator use. I live in an area of the country which receives one of the lowest amounts of sunlight. I also have a steep hillside that blocks late afternoon sunlight (in the winter months especially.) In spite of these shortcomings, the sun provides all of my power in the summer, much of my power in the spring and fall, and a good bit in the winter--even on a day like today when I go out every few hours and brush snow off the solar panels. I don't mind that----it keeps me feeling connected to where my energy is coming from. When you pay a bill for your electricity, it feels like it comes from your paycheck, but it also comes from the sun---which shined on plants eons ago, which s-l-o-w-l-y became the coal that produces that electricity.

    Don't remind me where my gasoline comes from. Humans are the only species able to rationalize. We can rationalize anything it seems. I like to imagine hundreds of years from now when people look back at our civilization and say: "They actually burned that stuff!"
  13. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    I am in agreement with your charging/draining protocol, I don't have that option as my batteries drain to les than 50% in about 30 seconds!

    I wish you were closer, I have C&D Liberty 1000's lying around

    Keep us informed on any improvements you make to the system.

    -Werm
  14. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    Those batteries sound like their function is to keep power to PC's just long enough to shut them down. Alternative energy systems require "true" deep cycle batteries. Other designs wouldn't hack it... for long.
  15. Astrolopitec

    Astrolopitec New Member

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    Nice setup!

    I've always dreamed of going totally off the grid. But my love of HiFi sound (around 60 pounds worth of power amps) makes it impractical.
  16. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    It's amazing how good things sound when wearing a decent set of headphones. The stereo separation is quite a bit better actually than listening to speakers. But it's been so many years since I owned a room full of good audio equipment, I'm not really qualified to judge. I have all sorts of music I can listen to in various ways---and using almost no power---so I'm happy. Now, if I was throwing a party and had to entertain a bunch of people, a small boom box would be just about all I could come up with---and that certainly wouldn't impress any audiophile.

    The thing is, I don't have a long list of things I'd like to run---if only I had grid power. My generator is a 4,000 watt unit. To me, it makes sense to use it for large things that run for about a half-hour or so--like a washing machine. It would be crazy to run an air conditioner all day with it.

    I grew up in the city--not far from Manhattan. Then I moved out to the country in 1972. By "country" I mean a place that had to cleared with a scythe enough to pitch a tent and then build a temporary cabin. I think it should be evident from the way I described my setup, that ever since then, I've not been roughing it. To the contrary, I'm smoothing it!

    My neighbors on the grid lost their power for a week recently. They were busy jockeying generators around trying to to keep their refrigerators going, filling up bathtubs of water to use for toilet flushing, and lighting candles and kerosene lamps at night. Now THAT'S roughing it!

    It's all how you look at it: to the average Native American of 300 years ago---we're all living in a pretty rough and strange way!
  17. sullystull

    sullystull Feeling the Heat

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    Did you install the system yourself or hire a company to handle the install?
  18. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    Since moving here, the only outside work I've had done was having the excavation done for the house. Heavy equipment can dig a hole for a basement a lot faster than me! I built the house and all buildings, installed all systems, and do all the maintenance. My pickup also hauled in every ton of aggregate, block, brick, tile, and board.

    I did have a friend help me put up a tall radio tower---not knowing of any way to do that solo. (I can't believe I didn't get maimed on that project!)

    It's sort of like Do-It-Yourself taken to an extreme. But the toughest DIY project was homeschooling our two daughters... and fortunately my wife did the biggest share of that.
  19. sullystull

    sullystull Feeling the Heat

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    Very nice. My wife is a teacher here in Tucker Co. However, we may end up home-schooling too. Have you shared/posted pics of your house somewhere?
  20. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    They are set up to carry over 1k amps 'till my gens takeover, 300ah p/unit

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  21. WoodPorn

    WoodPorn Minister of Fire

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    Have you ever read One Man's Wilderness?? I think written by Richard Proenneke (sp?)
  22. KB007

    KB007 Feeling the Heat

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    Nice setup.

    How big are your panels - both dimensions and electrically? What kind of load can you sustain and for how long when the batteries are fully charged? How does the tracking part work - does it steal a little power directly off the panels to move them periodically?

    Do you run the output from the batteries to a small distribution panel with some 120V breakers then branch circuits to where you need lights / outlets? Were there any extra electrical code issues in doing that or did you simply have to follow standard code rules?

    You siad your batteries were in a crawl space - is that heated and/or vented? I assume there's some code remt to have a venting system of some kind?

    If you were doing it again, would you install more panels and batteries?

    Lastly, I seem to recall an article about Siemens working on something to replace the selenium in photovoltaics in order to bring the price down - have you seen or heard anything about that at all?

    Sorry for all the questions, but this is someting I've been researching for a while. As you said we have worked to bring our consumption down by about 30% and still working - then went and bought a hut tub! I'm not really expecting to run the big ticket items off solar (or wind) but like the idea of a separate distribution system for a sub-set of items, thereby dropping elec co. consumption.

    Thanks in advance
  23. morgantruce

    morgantruce New Member

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    The eight solar panels are Arco M-75 (later bought out by Siemens I believe) They are about 13x48" and 40 watts per panel. I'm not given to hovering over my system with meters and books of notes---I'm more interested in just getting as much utility and pleasure while using as little power as possible. When my batteries are fully charged (slowly) from my solar panels, I can watch satellite TV and run a couple lights for perhaps 4 hours after dusk---or run the computer considerable longer. If I'm just reading or listening to a radio, I'm good almost until daybreak! Recharging the batteries with my battery charger/generator is a quicker type charge and doesn't last as long.

    The solar panels are mounted on a Zomeworks passive tracker--which uses gas filled side tubes and reflectors to power itself and keep the rack aimed at the sun all day. The tracker incorporates an automotive shock absorber which modulates the movement of the panels.I'm not certain they are in business any longer---but their product sure has worked well for a long time!

    The output of the inverter (a Heart Interface 600 watt unit) does indeed feed into a small panel with 5 breakers and a GFI breaker. I have a brand new 2000 watt Heart unit which I've never even installed.

    The battery bank is located in a plywood box. The box is ventilated to the outdoors. The space it's in is also ventilated. No Hindenburg events so far.

    I live in an area which has literally no codes and no building inspectors----which, for me, is ALL the reason I need to make certain that everything I do would meet the toughest codes in the country! The absence of building inspectors should not be viewed as an opportunity to build, wire, and plumb in a casual manner. When you live as far as I do from fire departments, ambulances, and help---you do not want overloaded junction boxes, lack of fusing, improper chimney clearances, inadequate rafter calculations, or non-existent TPR discharge valve piping... ruining your day!

    I would heartily recommend this web site to anyone interested in doing things right:

    http://inspectorsjournal.com/Forum/default.asp

    I have a hot tub: a cedar tub with a Snorkel wood burning stove submersed on one side. It uses wood---no electricity!

    Buying a bunch of solar panels is not like buying a Ford... once you have them, you do not sit around eagerly anticipating what the new model panels will look like next fall. Hopefully, you will have chosen wisely--and will be producing your own electricity for a long time. Mine are about 25 years old. They do just what I need. If I had more power I'd wind up wasting it--and the world already has enough people wasting power.


    If I were "doing it over...." I would have arranged to have been switched at birth with a much better looking, much smarter, much more talented baby --- destined to receive some enormous multi-billion dollar trust fund. But I don't think that kid would have the fun or luck I've had.
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