Going off the grid

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Nancy in Maine, Jun 6, 2005.

  1. Nancy in Maine

    Nancy in Maine Well-Known Member

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    My husband and I just saw daughter #1 graduate yesterday. Daughter #2 will graduate in 3 years. We've been thinking of making some changes in our life when this happens.

    We have a piece of property that we would like to build on. It has no power. We know we can live off the grid, but haven't done much research yet into all that would be involved. We are currently using about 25 KWH electricity daily. That could be cut back considerably, but I'd like to use that number as a comparison.

    We're looking for information:
    How many batteries would we need to store this amount of daily power?
    How long does it take to recover with say, a diesel generator?
    Anybody in the Northeast know how much power we could generate with solar cells? How many of those buggers would we need? We'd be able to situate the house on the property for solar access. We're considering a combination solar and generator.

    We have a sawmill, and trees for lumber so we'll be building ourselves. We've learned a few lessons the hard way in energy efficiency by buying an older house. So we'll be putting serious effort into making this a weather tight house. We currently have 2,000 sq. ft. living space. House #2 won't be as large. Don't yet have any dimensions.

    Any information or advice?
     
  2. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    You are using 1000 watts of 120 volts every hour of the day?
    Then you would need 10,000 watts of 12volt power every hour of the day.If you got 4 hours full output a day,you would need 60,000 watts of 12volt solar,or 600 100watt panels.
    Now figure 400 bucks per panel,lets see,

    240,000 dollars worth of panels????

    You must have BIG BUCKS!!!

    Hey,im not good at electrical conversion math,so maybe I got it wrong?

    Even if Im really wrong,you can see a trend here.You must totally rethink your power usage if you go offgrid.Im only posting in case no one else does.

    Im almost afraid to post this,my math must be horrendously off.But I figured it using amps too,and came up with pretty much the same scenario.
     

  3. mpillow

    mpillow Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Nancy,

    There is a solar shop in Belfast and a new one in Windsor. Uncle Henry's has more info. on both I think....my husband has dealt with both businesses thru his work (Winslow Supply) and has enjoyed discussions with them....wouldn't hurt to talk with them....

    and BTW I'm jealous! My hubby would never be without power....however he will admit he enjoyed the Ice Storm of '98. My kids even made up a game related to it!!

    Right now Northern Tool also has some solar panels on sale....

    Good luck!
     
  4. wy_white_wolf

    wy_white_wolf Just howling at the moon

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    Yep, your math is off. 1 watt is 1 amp at 1 volt. so 1000 watts is still 1000 watts no matter what the voltage is. the amps change with the voltage. Thats why we talk in terms of watts instead of volts and amps.
     
  5. BCR

    BCR Well-Known Member

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    Since you are in the planning stage: got to Backwoods Home Magazine online and start reading there about energy use/conservation and do-it-yourself help. It is full of great info, bet you buy the "best of" collections before its all done!
     
  6. mikell

    mikell Well-Known Member

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  7. Fire-Man

    Fire-Man Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Hello Nancy---Being you are not familiar with solar let me say this------------Going Solar is not Cheaper than On-grid by no means--------So don't even think you will be saving money. I am off-grid by choise--because I want the feel of not depending on the power company---Independance--Some people go solar because they are miles away from a power line. I guess you can save money, because you have to cut back to the bear miniumin(I cant spell worth 2 cent--LOL). You have to Limit your electric usage to whats produced. I have went to bed a many of nights and wake to no electric in the morning--So I use a battery operated clock. Now, by monitoring my battery voltage--most of the time I knew my power was LOW and was going to go out(Inverters shut down at around 10 volts), Power out means I can't run any 120volt things, But I also have 12 volt lighting so I always have lights, but I can't run them till the batteries completely go dead-----Bad on the Batteries--To Do Some Numbers Here so You can get a better Idea-----Lets do a example here---If you would cut back a little on your usage you could probably get by with a $50,000 set-up, but you would have to have a back-up generator for cloudy times. $50,000 will pay a $100 per month light bill for over 40 years-----Keep in mind the $50,000 set-up will have some maintanance. Batteries will have to be replaced in a few years, you have to keep a close check on battery fluid level, etc. So you sill have to add $1000's more to that $50,000 set-up for up-keep. I hope this can give you a better idea or help you to understand solar a little more. One other thing that might help I just thought of is ===This is a example--not a FACT----say you have one 100watt panel----that means it will produce close to 100 watts per hour in full SUN---lets say it gets 6 good hours on a clear summer day at 100 watts the other hours in the day say it gets 400 more watts---so on a clear sunny day it produces 1000 watts---1kwh---here that amounts to about 10 cents worth of electricity all day----with the cost of a $400 dollar panel, plus the batteries it takes to store that 1kwh in, plus the charge controller, plus the inverter to use some on 120 volt things----now you walk into the bathroom turn on the 1500 watt hair dryer you have----do you know whats going to happen???? All the power you produced all day will be used in a little over 30 minutes of hair dryer usage---or if you turn on your small color tv that draws 70 watts(NOTHING ELSE ON IN THE HOUSE)---you could leave it on about 14 hours. Hope this helps!!! Randy
     
  8. Clear Day

    Clear Day Member

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    Wow. I have to disagree with your post fire-man. Hope you don't take offense, but really it isn't that expensive to be off the grid if you conserve a bit, simplify a bit, etc. We are off grid too, and although we have a small airstream 403 wind turbine to supplement during the winter months, most of the year we exist solely on solar, in northern Vermont. We do have a back up generator, but we have not had to use it in years. Nancy, there are several things to keep in mind that will help you to transition to off the grid living. The first is that the largest consumers of energy in most households are your well-pump, your water heater, heat (if you heat with electric...I see you are from Maine...you are probably already laughing at that idea), electric cookstoves, and clothes dryers. Other gigantic energy sucks: a toaster, a clothes dryer, an iron, then a refrigerator and on down the line. Basically anything that generates heat using electricity is costly for us off grid folks. This is helpful to know if you will be building your home. If you are going to have a fairly compact energy efficient home, you could save yourself thousands of dollars on the front end by utilizing a gravity feed water system, avoiding electric heat, investing in an on-demand water heating system (aqua-star is a good brand) or utilizing some other alternative water heating system (we heat with wood in the winter & solar in the summer), cooking with propane vs. electric, putting up a clothesline, and eliminating your toaster & hair dryer (and if you are attached to toast, like I am, toast it in the over). If you do the research in advance, you will find that you can get by with a smaller system that will be less costly, without really changing your lifestyle much. Admittedly my husband & I use very few electrical devices, but we spent about $1200 on our entire system. My friends who have a large, 3 story home with all modern conveniences have a system that cost them about $14,000. This may seem expensive, but in many states you can get incentives to utilize alternate energy, and remember you'll never have a utility bill again. Plus solar is so incredibly reliable. In the 20 years that my husband has lived off the grid, his energy system has only been down once, for three days. We had a faulty battery and it was sucking juice from the others. In my own humble opinion, if you have enough panels & a large enough battery bank, you won't really need a backup generator. Northern Vermont can get pretty dark mid-November through mid-January, and we do have to conserve that time of year, but if we added just one panel and one battery, we would have all the energy we could use, year round. A good resource for all things alternate energy is to order the alternate energy catalog from Real Goods (this is free). Real Goods is based out of California and is expensive, but their catalog is an incredible source book for all things relating to alternate energy. We use their catalog as a research tool, decide what we want, then go on the internet and research the least expensive price. Hope you will decide to take the plunge, being off the grid brings a real sense of well-being, and is good for the planet too.
     
  9. Fire-Man

    Fire-Man Well-Known Member Supporter

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    No offence taken----Read her post carefully---She was asking--I will copy and paste-======="""We are currently using about 25 KWH electricity daily. That could be cut back considerably, but I'd like to use that number as a comparison.

    We're looking for information:
    How many batteries would we need to store this amount of daily power?"""=====--SO you see why I posted my post the way I did--she was asking about 25,000 watt per day deal----What I was saying was if she would cut back some--just a little from the 25kwh per day---She could get by with a $50,000 set-up(but if she required 25kwh per day she would have to have a SOLAR set-up that Cost more than than $50,000 and It would Cost more for that set-up than being on-grid)--------------If She would cut-back some more maybe a $25,000-------MORE a $10,000------Shoot I only have a $1500 set-up--I get by good--(I have a larger set-up in storage for my cabin) But I don't use a hairdryer or any type item that heats up--except for the floresent lights and a TV and waterpump.
    But, Clear Day---------If she would pump water by hand and don't watch TV, sell all electric items---She could get by with a $0.00 set-up-----LOL---Save ALOT of money like that--------What You Think. LOL I Just Love My Way Of Life!!! Randy
     
  10. fordy

    fordy Well-Known Member

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    .....................Hi Nancy , let me make a few simple recommendations...
    .....................(genset) The Best , Small generator\genset is the ONAN(made by Cummins)...It is a Diesel and they come in 5500 watt , 6500 watt , 7500 watt , 8,000 watt , 10,000 watt and 12,000 watt . All are water cooled and will give 8,000 to 10,000 Operational hours of Service ...IF...they receive Regular maintenance . Now , BOTH the 10,000 watt and 12,000 watt are Slow Speed diesels . What , this means , is that they Produce 100% of their power at 1800 RPM. Slow Speed translates INTO LONG SERVICE LIFE . The 10k and 12k models will run you around 9,000 or so BUT they are worth every penny if you're really serious about living OFF the Grid .
    ....................Now , concerning A solar system. Your solar system will have 4 sources of Power : Batteries , solar panels , Wind generator and Generator . The Controller is the Referee that monitors and manages all 4 inputs . The inverter will take either 12\24 volts DC from your batteries and 12\24\48 volts DC from your solar panels and BOOST it up to 120\240 volts Alternating Current . The Most efficiency you can OBtain from a Choice in Solar Panel(s) is to Choose the 48 volt DC models . Same is True with batteries and Wingen. So , if you could purchase a Solar system whose voltage output was 48 volts for the panels , windgen and batteries you will receive maximum benefit from the INverter as it converts 48 volts DC to 120\240 volts AC . This is What I would shoot for when discussing a Solar system .
    ....................Next , I would USE Propane for the Frig , Stove , and On-Demand water heater . A system based upon the Above won't be the cheapest but it will give you maximum energy return for the Money you Invest . fordy... :)
     
  11. Chas in Me

    Chas in Me Well-Known Member

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    I don't know where you live, but after this very dark May in Aroostook County, I would recommend a long extension cord. LOL
    Good luck.
     
  12. sisterpine

    sisterpine Goshen Farm Supporter

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    mightybooboo i got a chuckle out of your post, thanks! we are on solar power with gas genny back up. we are a very conserving couple and we use approximately 1200 watt hours per 24 hour day. That is for all the lights, tv, stereo, computer stuff, compost toilet yada yada. I cant even imagine using 1000 watts per hour. Our system cost us (we installed ourselves) about 5 grand. We do need better bigger batteries though and that is another grand or so!
     
  13. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    Ok,help me here.
    1000 watts at 120 volts is 8.3 amps
    1000 watts at 12 volts is 83 amps from panels.In the real world 100 watts of panels produce 5.6 amps,under ideal lab conditions,real world 15-20% less unless you are using unisolars which actually work better in heat.Figure a 20% price premium,same thing as using any other panel pretty much.

    You would need 15 100 watt panels to produce 1kw.Say they actually produced that 4 hours/day(may be bright out all day,but heat loss in the heat of day reduces output,so I go 4 hrs/day true production at rated output),you need 15x6=90 panels to produce 25kw(approx)
    90 panels X 400 bucks(4 dollars/watt)=36,000 dollars.

    that sounds more correct,eh? :p

    easily a 50,000 dollar system. :D

    Yes,if you are a business,and on grid tied system in Calif.,I think you can wind up getting 60% or so back,no benefits at all if off grid.Maybe a slight tax cut on state for a business setup,not sure.

    Thanks Wolf,I always mess that calculation up.

    Hey,I would do 36,000 in panels if I needed that much,we are only talking a new car for lifetime power panels,not bad actually.But I would get more efficient lighting and refrigeration and save a bundle on my usage.Hence save a bundle on the panels.

    BooBoo
     
  14. mightybooboo

    mightybooboo Well-Known Member

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    Hey Fordy,dont leave out those portable trailers that have the light towers on them.They run on a small 3 cylindar Kubota diesel generator and its said thats one of the finest diesel powerplants on the planet.So thats another fine genny that can be considered.

    BooBoo
     
  15. Nancy in Maine

    Nancy in Maine Well-Known Member

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    Holy Cow! Thanks for all the great info and the leads on local businesses. We know it will be expensive to set up. But there is no power on the property. So it's either a matter of paying the utility company thousands to put power to the property, or spend that amount in our own set-up.

    MPillow, we get the Northern catalog too. We saw the solar panels and that's what got us thinking.....but we have no clue how much solar energy we gould produce in central Maine. We could situate the house to collect all that could possibly be available to us, but how much electricity could it actually produce?

    So we know we'd need back-up. Chasinme--haha--I hear you. And there are a lot of cloudy days in the dead of winter too, aren't there? Actually, we'd be looking at 3 sources of energy. Nope, 4. Solar, Diesel Generator, and wood. We've always burned wood. We thought we'd have radient heat in the floors, using a hot water boiler that could burn either wood or oil. We'd have to have electricity though to circulate the water. But then we'd have all the domestic hot water we'd need. On demand hot water is a good idea too. That's one of our biggest expenses right now. We have a propane hot water heater with a 30 gallon tank. 4 people taking daily showers.....$70/month!

    This old house we currently live in is not that well insulated. We lose a lot of heat. So that would be a priority in a new house. Also double paned windows, lots of insulation....a metal roof that won't need to be cleaned off when the snow is piling up. All this will cut back on our current energy usage.

    I see there are a lot of numbers to crunch.....I'd better go get another cup of coffee......thanks again everyone for the excellent info.
     
  16. mpillow

    mpillow Well-Known Member Supporter

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    You might consider a few different options.....a steady breeze with a small windmill... if you have running water on your property thats a source too. Pre heated water from solar heat collectors are relatively simple.

    The Backwoods Home magazine has a cd on alternative energy that I think someone else may have mentioned that I actually have and its well worth what you'll pay for it. www.backwoodshome.com

    Enjoy the cool morning....this afternoon looking like a sauna!!!

    Also paring down your energy needs is also a good place to start....my washing machine is what I cant seem figure a way around....but during the ice storm we hooked up our small generator(after 8 days with 4 toddlers) to the well pump, filled the washer with water via bucket and then switched power to the washer....
     
  17. Cabin Fever

    Cabin Fever Life NRA Member since 1976 Supporter

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    Why not try to get along with no electricity what so ever? Wood stove, Aladdin or propane lamps, propane or kerosene refrigerator and freezer, hand pump well, etc.?
     
  18. WisJim

    WisJim Well-Known Member Supporter

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    It may be worth while for you to attend one of the energy fairs around the country--next week (June 16 through18th) is the biggest one, in central Wisconsin. People attend it from all over the world. http://www.the-mrea.org/
    The Home Power website lists other energy fairs around the country.
    You need a good strong steady wind, not just a regular breeze, to make a wind generator feasible for your primary source of power. It is easy to think that you have "lots of wind" "all the time", and find out that it really isn't enough to run that expensive generator that you just installed on a costly tower with lots of expensive labor. Insulation and careful house design can reduce your heating load and increase your comfort and make heating expense a non-factor.

    I started using wind power in 1977, and installed my first solar electric panels in 1981--and am still using both, although I have replaced the batteries in our system and added more PV panels. We built a super insulated house in 1976 and lived there for 12 years until moving due to jobs. We took our wind and PV system with us.
    I am usually willing to help answer serious questions off the forum.

    Jim
     
  19. mpillow

    mpillow Well-Known Member Supporter

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    The Common Ground Fair in September in Unity, ME is also a good place to make contacts for alternative energy.
     
  20. jwmayo

    jwmayo New Member

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    We moved to "the county" about 2 years ago and are extremely happy with our simplified life style. You can significantly reduce your electric consumption by using a combination of power sources. We use wood for heat, propane for refrigeration and lights, and a 5KW gas generator for the remainder of our power needs. We plan to install a solar system early next spring consisting of 6-8 94W solar panels and a series of batteries. The cost for all materials is about $3,500 (panels, batteries, charge controller, inverter, and mount(s)). Installation will cost between $900 and $1,200.

    I could do most of the installation myself but I have to travel a lot with my current job (but only for about 18 more months).

    There are a number of excellent magazines that are fun to read and provide a lot of great information. Home Power (http://www.homepower.com/) and Countryside Magazine (http://www.countrysidemag.com/).

    P.S. Checkout our website www.north-country.net for photos of our home in Oxbow, ME.