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Monday, October 22, 2012

Alternative electric and non-electric



Over 20 years ago I installed my first version of my solar electric house system. Even back then it was big enough to run the water pump, lights and other major house functions. Living out in the woods, the grid goes down here first and is repaired last. It only makes sense that the major population centers get repaired first. Over the years it’s more than paid for itself. Some our power outages were pretty bad but the system functioned well.

If I was starting from scratch today, I’d might go about things differently. A relatively small solar electric system can power a lot of LED lights. Cell phones don’t take much power but can connect people to the world. Internet connected phones weren’t even a dream back in my early solar electric days.

One of my worries was having enough power to run my well pump. Pumps draw a lot of power. Water is heavy and it takes energy to move it. Instead of worrying about the electric pump, I’d have more water storage in the house. Fortunately, my well is less than 100 feet from the house and overflows all year. Too bad it’s downhill from the house as gravity fed water systems are wonderful. My folks used to have a summer cottage with a gravity fed well and there was very little to go wrong with it.

With my good well, and a woodstove, some of my major basic needs can be met without any electricity at all. There’s water to drink, the woodstove for heat, cooking and even some light from the glass door of the firebox.

My big complicated solar electric system weathers most problems well. Should the grid go down for days, weeks, or even months, it will probably keep working. It won’t go forever. Sooner or later an inverter or a charge controller will fail. The type of batteries I use are only good for about 10 years.

That never used to be a concern, but that’s before I learned of nuclear EMPs and coronal mass ejections from the sun. They could take down the grid over large sections of the planet. The New England grid has some major transformers that are sensitive to those disturbances. It’s possible that something could take down the grid yet leave my home system intact. I do have some spare parts and redundancy. Theoretically, the grid could be repaired before my home system failed.

There’s also the scenario where the electrical disturbance is so big it fries my home system beyond repair. Then it’s back to the pioneer days. Just like them, I’d have water from the well, heat and cooking from wood, food from the garden, forest, and rivers. For entertainment it would be books, cards, and whatever tune I could play on the guitar.

I used to worry about having a big enough off-grid system to live a modern life without interruption. While that’s nice, I feel good about being able to live at a more primitive level if necessary.

-Sixbears





19 comments:

  1. Primitive isn't so bad if you're set up right. "Modern living" is what's caused a lot of our problems.

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  2. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)October 22, 2012 at 7:27 AM

    The well. That is my biggest concern. We have the genny for the pump if the electric fails, but I want to have a hand pump as a back up. I have been researching different types, but all are expensive.

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    Replies
    1. Harbour Freight $25 for a picture pump (Quality) and longevity ? Unknown but it is cheap, buy spare seals etc.

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    2. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)October 22, 2012 at 8:21 AM

      Thank you for the suggestion - we need all the ideas we can get!

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    3. They work, as long as the well isn't too deep.

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  3. How far downhill in elevation is your well from the residence? A couple of feet or more ? If it isn't that much, would constructing an elevated cistern on a short tower to allow gravity flow to your home be an option ?

    You've probably already considered that, I'm just throwing that out there just in case is hasn't.

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  4. 50 feet. I'm built in the middle of a steep hill, with the well further down the hill.

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    Replies
    1. Durn, that makes for a tall tower, I guess that option is out - sorry.

      I seem to recall some 70's technology, hydraulic pump ram ? Iirc, the little drop allowed this to pump water up some elevation, I don't remember the limits, but that might be doable. Then again, that pipe might freeze in deep cold, bursting line.

      Problem - solution - problem . . .

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  5. We would love to have solar as our primary, however the initial start up costs are keeping us from that at this time. We are waiting for solar technology to get costs down. Solar and wind are appealing, except for the $$$ up front.

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    Replies
    1. Start small so you'll at least have something in an emergency.

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  6. I can only last comfortably as long as my tank of diesel lasts (grin).

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    Replies
    1. You still on that first tank Dizzy? I think you can a long time.

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  7. back in the 50's and 60's a relay regulator was used to regulate/control auto charging systems

    twin relays, one to turn it off at 13.5 volts; the other when voltage droped bellow 9 volts

    such a relay could be constructed in the home shop for self or trade...

    and lead acid auto batteries were often rebuilt with fresh plates and filtered fluid

    another home cottage industry?

    Wildflower

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  8. how is the new stove working out?

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  9. Just catching up, I've been out of internet coverage for a few days... scheduling things in advance was the way to go... I too, like you Sixbears, have a very good solar system and the last thing we'll have to worry about if or when the shit hits the proverbial is having enough power to get online. It could well be a thing of the past. Imagine that...

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  10. i have just started looking into a small solar kit and a wood cook stove for our new polebarn house. i cant aford one big enough to run every thing, looking at hand pumps for water. ps. wood stove would be backup for cooking.

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  11. Anon -Don't quite have enough flow for a ram, and freezing would be a problem. However, I can always carry water in a jug right from the well.

    Wildflower -my original charge controller worked on relays. It's been replaced with a much more efficient electronic one, but the old one has been saved.

    Crane -we love the new stove. Cooks well, bakes well and does a fine job heating the house.

    The Flying Tortoise -yes, imagine that. We could be the generation to see the world wide Internet both come and go.

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  12. The house I grew up in had running water, The run and carry it kind. I carried 6 - 5 gallon pails full every morning and the same every evening, from when I was 10 till my late teens, when we got city water. Dad said it built character. I'm not sure of that, but it built muscle.
    I sure miss that along with the fact that it was low cost. Why fools pay for water, by the gallon no less, I'll never understand. I have rain water here now and distill and filter for drinking.

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