Today, a day off, has been spent playing with the first set of Solar panels I picked up. I am getting 3 more sets of these and that should be enough to do what I intend on.
I am impressed by the output of these panels. They aren't the top of the line but they are functional enough. I could have picked up more powerful ones that take up less rooftop, but the cost goes up exponentially with efficiency. I am not at the point of being able to afford much more than $4/watt. Some of the better units are as high as $12/watt. Even so, for what they are, the output on a gloomy day in southern KY is pretty damned impressive. 3 hours has brought a discharged battery up to 13.59 volts and rising. Granted that is surface charge and I have no way of testing the load rating at this time, I will have to assume that the rest of the math is still good without further testing at this point.
The cells I purchased are only 60 watts (4 15w panels) In use, they are putting out roughly 4A.(on a grey day mind you) More than sufficient to charge a 12 volt battery. If said battery is not completely discharged, and you never want to discharge a battery lower than 50%; these cells will maintain most large batteries without strain on the system. 16 panels total, 4 large deep-cycle Marine batteries, 1 2500watt inverter and one 700 watt inverter (I have my reasons) and you can power a house fairly well, so long as you aren't running a bunch of really power thirsty equipment (like giant flatscreen TV's or PC's with 1000watt power supplies.). In some ways, forcing frugality upon you when it comes to energy consumption.
Yet all of this brings up some finer points that I have been looking into. Things like microhydro generation, wind power, etc etc. There are far more efficient ways for a solo re-constructionist (I will explain that later) to generate the power they need. Solar panels take up massive amounts of surface space. The only advantage to them being the near complete lack of maintenance needed on the cells themselves. (there are lots of maintenance items on the storage system no matter which direction you choose.) But when you look at the surface space used divided by wattage, you find that they are seriously lacking in wattage by weight. Look at a GM alternator. Package weighs in around 10 pounds, takes up less than one cubic foot of space and can generate between 55-120 amps depending on the model you are using. Do the math (assume 100A@12V) and that comes out to 1200 watts. Its not factual so much as Q&D estimation since amps is volume of power and wattage is more like a Distance. Huge difference but,,,,, It does take energy to push that little power house. There are mods that can be done to a GM or Delco unit that are fairly well covered on the nets. One is to replace the original armature with one made of ceramic magnets (like the ones found in Large speakers.) Doing this turns the unit into a true generator not an alternator even though you will still need to rectify voltage on the output. Yet again, back to having to put energy in, to get energy out.
That's where microhydro comes into play, or wind power. Really what it boils down to is what is available to you. If you have a good sized stream near your abode, Microhydro is the way to go. If you end up in a valley near a mountain in the desert, wind may be your better bet. Of the three; Solar, Hydro, and Wind, you can even make a damned fine hybrid setup. Of course there will be a certain amount of monetary investment involved, even if you are capable of making your own components.
Now, there may be some that are willing to invest, hell, able to invest, in a professionally designed, and installed system. Not everyone is able to do that. With the economy going through its death throes, most of us can't even think about a base system that we cobble together. I am taking advantage of the "No Bills" period in my life to do the things I am doing. The flip side to that coin is in the future. What happens when you have dire need for it, don't have anything in place, and there isn't an established company/tinker/know-it-all in your vicinity? Bill mentioned in one of his posts that Solar cells are going to be available for the taking when things come apart. I have to disagree. Yes, most DOT signs are now powered by PV panels, yes they have battery banks made specifically for that purpose. But I wouldn't go laying any money down that they will be readily available when you need them most. Chances are some Monkey working for DOT or some enterprising daredevil will have already managed to make off with them long before you find the time. That leaves 'making do' with what you have. There are ways of making what you need, with few tools other than what you should have stashed in the trunk of you car/truck anyway. Mostly what you are going to need is a base of knowledge. Knowing the basics of many different subjects and a little good ol'fashioned tongue in cheek duct tape manipulation can and will move mountains; or in this case, electrons. And that's all any of these systems do: Shuffle electrons from one place to another. Its controlling that movement that makes the magic work.
Now there are some enterprising fellows in Colorado that have made a low RPM generator from magnets, wood panelling, some resin composite materials and a lot of that 'tongue in cheek' ingenuity. (I can no longer find the link but here is the one that inspired them.) (here is a link to lots of DIY ideas on this subject.) These units are producing kilowatts at less than 500 rpm(usually around 150-200) Think about that. One good water wheel, a stream that flows year-round, one of these units and a little gearheadedness: one communities power needs are handled. Back that up with PV panels on each house or outbuilding and you get redundant systems that complement each other. And for far less than getting all of that shipped in on a grid that may or may not be functional in 20 years. While electricity doesn't answer all of our energy needs, it has enough of an impact that we all get a little nuts when we don't have it, and we really don't have many options for certain things without it. (that whole refrigeration thing.) But having electric available can make getting other types of energy a whole lot easier. (While you won't use electricity for fermenting, you have a better chance of distilling your 'alkeehol' using the heating element out of an old coffee maker. Less dangerous, much better control of the end product. This little tidbit of info could also be used when working with biodiesel, at least the first stages when you need to heat the stuff up for reaction with the lye.)
There are some downsides to generating your own electricity. Maintenance is one. Not being able to generate 3 phase is another. (it is possible but the demands of the system are a whole lot larger than just getting 110) Down-scaling your needs is part of that but in the long run well worth the effort. In my case, I am going with a wood burning stove as my sole heat source. For air movement, I will be using a high efficiency, old fashioned, ceiling fan. For cooling, there is a setup I have in plan but not put any effort into at this point: it will use water from the ol mine up the hill ran through a radiator with forced air to cool the air of the house. The water in that old mine is a constant 52 degrees year round. Not quite AC but not far from it. With proper insulation, which is a requirement no matter what, I should be good and comfy year round. Another expedient of all of this is the size of the house. Small is much better for energy conservation. I am not concerned about my 'carbon footprint' or any of that other feel good crap that gets shoved down our throats. Nope, this is all about not paying others for something I can come up with myself. (IE Starving some monkeys.) LOL Hell, My carbon footprint is that of BigFoot, when you consider my coal usage in my foundry, the burning of wood to heat the house, the fuel I use to acquire that wood, etc etc etc. Not that any of that really matters to me. Heck, even my cooking habits are going to have a heavy carbon footprint when I start using my grill for the majority of my cooking. (9-10 months out of the year. Nothing like grilled anything and a cold beer.) That and slow cooking on top of the woodstove with a dutch oven. d
There I go again, I have been called flutterheaded for a reason. I flutter around like a butterfly (flutterby? Thats what my granddaughter calls 'em) and land on all these great ideas. Occasionally I find one really tasty one. Thats also the reason I haven't resorted to a weekly blog update like some others. It would take ya'll a week to figure out what I was rambling about if I did that.
Really this post is an attempt to show others that we are limited ONLY by our own hesitancy to let our creative side out. We have all been conditioned to repress that 'spark' because it scares the monkeys. Magic always scares the monkeys. And you all know the old saw about magic. One mans magic is another mans technology. The only difference really is knowledge. So, I have put up some links, wandered all over the subject (and some others) and hopefully planted a spark in your mind somewhere. Maybe its time to go out and 'learn some magic'.