This is an entry in our Non-Fiction Writing contest – by Ken P
There are a lot of misconceptions about the best way to set up a renewable/ backup/off-grid power system. I’ve been designing and building power systems for over 30 years.
The last 10 years have been a sort of Renaissance of R.E. There has been an explosion of solar panels, wind turbines, charge controllers, and inverters from our “far eastern” (China) friends. Some of it is actually not bad in quality while some of it is junk that can damage the rest of your system. While we all wish we had unlimited funds like the heroes in all of the TEOTWAWKI novels we love to read, the reality is that most of us are operating on limited funds.
So how do we decide what will work for your system? Firstly get out a pen and paper and decide what your needs are. Lights are a must, power for TV’s,phones and laptop chargers are also a necessity. Where are you getting water from is a real consideration…
If you live in a rural location like I do, then the first thing is to get a generator for backup. While The Big Home Improvement Stores want to sell you a fancy generator with auto start, self-testing and an automatic transfer switch which costs $3000.00 and up, the truth is you can get by with far less.
I bought a Reconditioned multi-fuel (gasoline and propane) genset off of Ebay for $500.00. I didn’t buy one large enough to run my home AC system, but it handles my deep (530′) well and all of our lights and freezer just fine. It puts out 5500 watts continuous with 7000 watts surge. At ½ load it uses about a gallon of fuel an hour. It came with a 6-gallon gas tank and a regulator to connect it to a propane tank. I have a 1000 gallon propane tank, so it will run a long time! I bought a manual transfer switch for about $150.00. And I installed it myself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, an electrician should be able to do it for $100.00 or so.
Now about that dream solar and wind system. Figure out what your minimum needs are. If you want a true off-grid system, then the first reality is going to be that you aren’t going to be able to run refrigeration from anything less than a large (10KW plus) system with at least a 3000 Amp Hour battery bank- or in real world terms Mucho Dollarso! The better way to go is to set up a system that you can expand over time. That means something like a few 100-watt solar panels and a 30 amp charge controller feeding a few golf cart batteries. With careful purchasing, you can do that for less than $500.00 to start. Add a 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter for less than $200.00 and you’ll have a good basic system that will give you lights (go with led), TV, a shortwave radio, and a few fans to move air around your house. Also, almost all CB and HAM radios operate on 12 volts.
Add a good battery charger with 30 amps output, and you can run your generator a few hours each day in order to wash clothes, fill water jugs from your well, and keep your food frozen. You will be able to keep your batteries charged even on cloudy days. Then shut down the generator, and let the inverter provide your basic needs as described above. Having your system setup like this allows you to greatly extend the use of your generator, even when more fuel is not available. Over time you can add first more batteries, then more solar panels or even a wind turbine. Then think about getting a bigger inverter to increase the things you can run.
Don’t buy a great big inverter when all you have is a few batteries, as you will just ruin your batteries in a hurry. In my experience, you can usually sell your current inverter online for close to what you paid for it to help defray the cost of the larger one. Remember that batteries are the weakest link in your system. Lots of publications will tell you that you can run deep cycle batteries down to 50% or more, but I promise you that they are funded by battery manufacturers who want to sell you more batteries. My rule is to only discharge batteries to a max of 80% , and you will get years of service. Use a hydrometer (available at any auto parts store) to check the state of your batteries.
Another good thing to do is to buy the lithium battery packs that are charged via USB. Many of them have built-in flashlights and all of them can be charged by wiring a 12 volt (think in car) charger of the type used to charge your phones and tablets. These chargers can be wired directly to your battery system, which gives you light, tablets to read, and even many walkie-talkies that use those 5-volt batteries. There are many other devices coming out on almost a daily basis that are using this standard, so the possibilities are endless. And the lithium batteries have an almost limitless number of charge/discharge cycles.
This article only scratches the surface of Renewable Energy, but I hope you are encouraged to learn more and build your own system. When reading the catalogs, remember that they mean well, but they are in the business to sell you stuff! Even in an urban environment it still makes sense to have a back-up to your utility. A small system with a few batteries can be left on a “float” charge until needed. The sound of a generator can be heard from a long ways away, which will get attention, of the sort you don’t want! Solar panels are silent! Make sure to cover your windows before turning on your lights and tv on your battery system, or you will get that “unwanted attention”. Good Luck!
Prizes For This Round (Ends July 29, 2016) In Our Non-Fiction Writing Contest Include…
- Gift certificate for $150 off of Handgun Ammo courtesy of Lucky Gunner.
- WonderMill Electric Grain Mill courtesy of WonderMill.
- 72 Hour 1 Person Kit courtesy of Augason Farms
- MRE-Star Case of 12 Complete MRE Meals.
- LifeStraw Portable Water Filter.
- One can of Yoders Fully Cooked Canned Bacon
- One Jumbo Roll Toilet Paper / Toilet Tissue – 2000′ all courtesy of CampingSurvival.com.
- Five Great Lakes Gelatin Collagen Hydrolysate 16 oz – Beef Kosher courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Ebook copy of The Prepper’s Guide to Surviving TEOTWAWKI.
- Ebook Copy of The Prepared Prepper’s Cookbook.
Please read the rules that are listed below BEFORE emailing me your entry… my email address can be found here – please include “writing contest entry” in the subject line.
The more original and helpful your article is, the deeply and less basic it is, the better the chance, that I will publish it, and you will win. Only non-fiction how-to-do-it type articles, please.