RE without batteries or the grid?

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rhare's picture
rhare
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Setting an example (Solar Systems)

I thought I would share a picture. Just a little over 1 year ago I discovered the crash course. I attended the Lowesville seminar and decided I needed to take action.  I have now installed on our home:

  • 13 Thermal solar panels providing domestic hot water and heat
  • 10.8 kW AC coupled battery backup solar array.

I wanted to show this because it shows you can take fairly significant action and implement  it in a fairly short period of time.  However, if you are going to take action, you need to be aware that from start to finish these projects took almost 10 months.  That is time to learn, get quotes, bargin, construction, and commisioning of a system.  It definitely takes far longer than I thought to get it all done.  I'm also just excited that it's finally very very close to complete. Laughing

Solar on house

I have had a fair number of questions from neighbors about the systems.   I have already handed out Crash Course DVD's to the neighbors but I now plan on having a  party and getting the neighbors together to show off the system.  I figure if you lead by example it might help to get people prepared.  I think it also encourages people to watch the Crash Course, since I reference it whenever anyone asks why I did all this (they are trying to determine if I'm insane).  I have also found that even if the people won't watch the crash course, with PV and current incentives, most people show interest when you explain how you can get a 10% ROI (YMMV) and that may at least help them be a little prepared when/if TSHTF.

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

Nice work Inspector Gadget!!

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

rhare - Bravo!

That's quite a system you've installed there.  I congratulate you on leading by example, it's really the best way of them all.

I also want to second your observation that getting things done just takes time.  More than some might imagine.

After many months, this week we send in our order for solar thermal panels that will be installed within a week of their arrival.  So in maybe a month I will join you on that front with a comissioned and operational system. 

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

I absolutely LOVE it!! Wish we could have done something like that but we experimented for 3 + years using solar on our elec Trak (electric tractor) and 10+ yrs with a small wind system. The battery system and tower being our biggest obsticle as they double the cost.

So, we had to go with David Blume's Home-Made fuel system since we have the space for field production of feedstock. They have netcasts of what they are doing on a northern farm on: MyBackAchers.com and David Blume has more info on his site permaculture.com of how they are doing it in more southern areas. Southern areas can definitely be an advantage if you have the land and water resources. What intrigued me about the home-made fuel system is that we can use the fuel in our cars and other engines as well as it becomes the means to store energy. The draw-back - it takes time to plant, harvest and make.

I think the bottom line is people need to do what works for them and I think it's great that you can show people a working example of what can be done regardless of what your needs are, where you live and the resources you have to work with.No one system is the replacement - as it will take "all of the above" to keep us mobile and powered up. Any system people choose is a good investment for their future and helps secure thier need for energy.

Please keep posting updates about the system and your pros/cons.

EGP

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

Awesome system, thanks for sharing.  I agree with EGP - each of us has to do what works for us, the days of a one-shot solution are over (if they ever really existed).  In our case, we have more than enough sun for solar thermal and PV in the summer, and we heat the house and water with the woodstove in the winter when there is no sun (well, only a couple hours of weak sun). We're planning to make our own ethanol since diesel gels at our winter temps and oil-bearing crops don't really like it up here, and it's too cold for a methane digester most of the year.  But, if we lived somewhere else, we'd be building an entirely different system :)

I think a lot of people get hung up on ERoEI and ROI, and that data can be a bit skewed because it isn't always comparing apples to apples and doesn't always include all the hidden costs. Sure, your grid electricity may only cost XX per kWH, making it appear that RE has a low ERoEI and it takes forever to recover your investment, but that's only if you don't take into account all the other hidden costs (like taxes that support the infrastructure) and Embodies Energy in conventional systems. But anyway, in the end, the biggest ROI of going with a RE system is that you are in control of your own power... there is no price tag on peace of mind!

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rhare
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Re: Setting an example (Solar Systems)

Here is an update on our system.

Since the PV system became active on May 8th we have produced about 1650 kWh with a daily average of 75 kWh.  Our first electric bill was -$180 (yes they paid us), where it's normally about $120 in May.   So a net gain of $300 - not too bad for 20 billing days. Money mouth  The battery backup system has not been tested in real life, but worked exactly as planned during a short controlled test.  Since I have far more connected to the battery side than the batteries will actually support, I'm going to be putting on load shedders to shut down loads when the grid is down and we aren't producing enough from the PV panels.

On the thermal side, we have a small leak in one of the panels, it's going to get repaired and isn't loosing much glycol.  We haven't even noticed a preassure drop, just noticed a tiny amount of spray on the inside of one of the panels.  However, I believe the system is working as designed.  I did learn one lesson, ask to see financial statements for the company you plan on using.  I did a lot of research and picked the most recommended company in our area for doing the thermal solar system.  However, as with many small businesses, the economic times have been hard and they went under just after completing our system.  I'm not too worried, since I believe the system is designed and installed well, I just lost any labor warranty we had.  CryBut definitely a warning for anyone else looking into installing systems.

I also highly recommend having as much knowledge about the systems you install, learn how they work, how to repair them, stock some key spare parts and tools needed for repairs just in case TSHTF and you don't have anyone to fix it for you.

The best thing about the systems is knowing that I have taken action to be more self sufficient and provide a very nice resource in case things go terribly wrong or energy prices "necessarily skyrocket".

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Re: Setting an example (Solar Systems)

rhare wrote:

Here is an update on our system.

Since the PV system became active on May 8th we have produced about 1650 kWh with a daily average of 75 kWh.  Our first electric bill was -$180 (yes they paid us), where it's normally about $120 in May.   So a net gain of $300 - not too bad for 20 billing days. Money mouth  The battery backup system has not been tested in real life, but worked exactly as planned during a short controlled test.  Since I have far more connected to the battery side than the batteries will actually support, I'm going to be putting on load shedders to shut down loads when the grid is down and we aren't producing enough from the PV panels.

On the thermal side, we have a small leak in one of the panels, it's going to get repaired and isn't loosing much glycol.  We haven't even noticed a preassure drop, just noticed a tiny amount of spray on the inside of one of the panels.  However, I believe the system is working as designed.  I did learn one lesson, ask to see financial statements for the company you plan on using.  I did a lot of research and picked the most recommended company in our area for doing the thermal solar system.  However, as with many small businesses, the economic times have been hard and they went under just after completing our system.  I'm not too worried, since I believe the system is designed and installed well, I just lost any labor warranty we had.  CryBut definitely a warning for anyone else looking into installing systems.

I also highly recommend having as much knowledge about the systems you install, learn how they work, how to repair them, stock some key spare parts and tools needed for repairs just in case TSHTF and you don't have anyone to fix it for you.

The best thing about the systems is knowing that I have taken action to be more self sufficient and provide a very nice resource in case things go terribly wrong or energy prices "necessarily skyrocket".

GROSS overconsumption......

We are self sufficient on 1.28 kW of PVs.  No way in the world could everyone live like US, let alone YOU.

Mike

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

DTM:

1) I think you're comparing kW  (power) with kWh (energy = power * time) ...

2) Overconsumption ? Overproduction perhaps, but why not if you can sell back to the grid.

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Re: Setting an example (Solar Systems)

Damnthematrix wrote:
GROSS overconsumption......

We are self sufficient on 1.28 kW of PVs.  No way in the world could everyone live like US, let alone YOU.

True - we could live much simpler but I don't want too, at least not yet.  I have no illusion that I live far better than most people in the world and even live very well for people in the US, but at least I'm producing much of the heating and all the electricity I will use.  

plato1965 wrote:
2) Overconsumption ? Overproduction perhaps, but why not if you can sell back to the grid.

We do over consume as I made no attempt to cut consumption since I figured that could be done overtime, but if TSHTF I figured it would be much better to have too much than too little and had these damn FRNs lying around looking for something to do before they became toilet paper. :-). 

We produce about 140% of our annual usage for electricity, which I figure can be either sold or used to power an electric vehicle.  In the future if power becomes much more expensive, we can sale back power for an income stream.

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

plato1965 wrote:

DTM:

1) I think you're comparing kW  (power) with kWh (energy = power * time) ...

2) Overconsumption ? Overproduction perhaps, but why not if you can sell back to the grid.

We DO sell to the grid......!  Out of the 4 or so kWh average that we produce, we only consume 3.7......

Now THAT is sustainable.....  and we are planning to reduce even more.

We also have backup batteries (48V/200Ah) to cover us over infrequent blackouts, but I am starting to think this is a highly expensive and indulgent option, with batteries lasting barely more than two years...  grrrrr!!

Mike

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

We are just as sustainable.  No difference, you generate more than you use, we will too.   Also, if you are only producing 4 kWh average and we are getting 20x the production out of only 8x the size array. :-)  We however can cut down our usage and still have excess for neighbors and family in case things go really bad.

Damnthematrix wrote:
We also have backup batteries (48V/200Ah) to cover us over infrequent blackouts, but I am starting to think this is a highly expensive and indulgent option, with batteries lasting barely more than two years...  grrrrr!!

If you don't have many outage and the batteries sit at float, buy better batteries!  We have telcom standby batteries which have a design life of 20 years.  Of course if you discharge them, then you end up with a much lower life...  You can find the batteries here. We actually only have 48V/600Ah since they are only for critical loads and to provide a way to use the array at full power during the day if the grid is down. 

I'm not sure if you could use the batteries above in a DC coupled system.  I don't see why not, but we have an AC coupled system so a bit different than most traditional solar setups.

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

Great discussion!  We've just put in 5 kW of grid tied solar and are really enjoying spinning the meter backwards.  The goal however is to be able to use that power when the grid is no longer reliable or there.  We are pricing a Sunny Backup to attach to the SMA grid tie inverter but need to sort out the battery option.  With the grid reliable now I expect the batteries to sit floating fully charged until such time as we need them (in two weeks, three months, five years?) so what every we pay for will just be sitting there aging.  Do we need to cycle them regularly and if so to 50% DOD or 80%?  Do de-sulfanators really work?   I am not even looking for a large battery bank with days of storage, just enough of a "buffer" so we have long term access to those watts when the sun is shining which we don't have if the grid goes down with just the grid tie inverter.  Lots of questions.

In the larger scheme of things we need to work towards a lifestyle where electricity is a luxury and not a necessity.  That being said a community with access to a few thousand watts of power for tools, refrigeration etc. would be in a lot better shape than one without.

As to some earlier points... there don't seem to be any other forms of energy storage that work much better than batteries right now.  I got excited about compressed air storage a while back but came across this thread on the Oil Drum:

http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3473

Basically compressing air takes a lot of energy that is lost in heat and never recovered.

At the end of the day I think I had better spend more time sorting my orchard, gardens and animals than my solar....

Cheers,   Chip

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

At MyBackAchers.com they talk about using timers for a "Smart System" to run everything off ethanol generator power and then only use batteries for phone communications and the computer to reduce battery dependancy. Though they are using battery powered appliance timers, you might be able to do the same thing with gear operating timers that run things in consecutive order as the power is available from solar or wind.

IMHO (an opinion is being stated here) the options would be unlimited as to how often an appliance would run depending on how you set up the timers but things that need to be available at all times (communications & bathroom exhaust fans are the only things I can think off right off the top), that are "on demand necessities."

EndGamePlayer

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

SMA doesn't sell the Sunny Backup in the US so we used Sunny Islands (look the same) for the battery backup with Sunny Boys for the grid tied inverters. I think the Sunny Backup just simplifies the wiring.

For batteries, in Austrailia/NZ you might check out  Redflow.  They make a Zinc Bromine flow batteries. They also were not selling  in the US and I think may still be beta testing if you want to be a test subject. :-)   Wikipedia and their web site says "They have no shelf life".   This may mean they can sit a float and not degrade.  We went with the VRLA AGM batteries that are built for telcos (see previous post) because I'm of the mindset that things will get expensive and may be chaotic, but I believe we will have grid power most of the time.  If I'm wrong, then our batteries will become toast much sooner than the 20 year life expectancy and it would have been cheaper to use regular lead acids, but by the time that happens if I had used regular lead acids I would have had to replace them anyway.  So I think in the ends it's probably only a cost issue.

Here is a picture of the AC coupled battery backup (note the batteries are not leaning - just look that way in the picture):

Gardening is my next preparation step....

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

Anybody have any experience/opinion on nickel/iron batteries? I stumbled across them here and was wondering if they are a better option than lead/acid or niCad.

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rhare
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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

earthwise wrote:
Anybody have any experience/opinion on nickel/iron batteries?

Wow those look pretty good.  I wish I had seen this, might have made a change.  It looks like they take up significantly more space than a comperable lead acid, but with a lifetime like that if you have the room might be worth it.  I wonder how much more expensive they are than lead acid.  I suspect that it may be significant which is probably why they are not in wide use for solar.  Please let us know if you get quotes or find out any more info.

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

I just found this link that talks about advantages/disadvantages of various battery technologies.

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

Anybody have any experience/opinion on nickel/iron batteries? I stumbled across them here and was wondering if they are a better option than lead/acid or niCad.

No, but I did factor these into my own cost evaluation.  You can see my spreadsheet here:

http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/battery-cost-analysis-spreadsheet/40213

I hope it can be helpful in some way to those who have not purchased batteries but are looking into it.

-Brandon

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Re: RE without batteries or the grid?

By the way, though I do find some humor in it, we probably shouldn't be discussing batteries on a thread specifically created to discuss life without batteries!

-Brandon

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rhare
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Re: Setting an example (Solar Systems)

I have some feedback on setting by an example.  After our system was up and running I coordinated a "Solar Open House" with the company that installed the PV.   I handed out flyers to all my neighbors and friends.  The turn out was great and there were lots of questions.  So far 4 people from the party are now installing solar and those are just the ones I know about that went with the same company.  It also gave me an opportunity to talk with many of the neighbors that I had only waved at in passing - a great community building opportunity and way to spead the message about the crash course.

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