Podcast

Alex Mosiichuk/Shutterstock

Chaz Peling: Backup Power Solutions

Be prepared if the lights suddenly go out
Sunday, September 24, 2017, 1:20 PM

Over the past month, the Americas have sustained extensive damage from 3 major Atlantic hurricanes and 2 major earthquakes in Mexico. In terms of destroyed houses and businesses, ruined cars, and lost lives, it has been an extremely costly couple of weeks.

One common factor present in the aftermath of each of these disasters has been the loss of electrical power. Harvey knocked out power for 250,000 people. Irma topped 4 million. Maria has deprived 3.5 million people of electricity in Puerto Rico alone. The earthquakes in Mexico City and Oaxaca resulted in blackouts for well over 5 million.

Without electricity, our capability to conduct our modern way of life becomes immediately and severely curtailed. Communication instantly stops. Food quickly spoils. Sundown puts an end to all activity. Air conditioning and water well pumps no longer function.

And as prolonged blackouts often go hand-in-hand with gas shortages, disaster victims are often truly forced into a "dark ages" lifestyle.

This week, Chaz Peling, founder of Sol Solutions, joins the podcast to share his expertise on residential backup power options. The good news is that recent technology advancements offer more robust and affordable solutions than ever before. The bad news is, you have to invest the effort to procure an install them in advance of the next crisis for them to be of use.

Click the play button below to listen to my interview with Chaz Peling (47m:15s).

Transcript: 

Adam Taggart: Hello, and welcome to the Resilient Life Broadcast. Resilient Life is part of Peak Prosperity.Com. It’s where we focus on practical and actionable knowledge for building a better future. I’m your host Adam Taggart. Well since my recent broadcast on emergency preparedness with Matt Stein, we’ve seen the extensive damage Hurricane Irma inflicted on Florida, the absolute carnage Hurricane Maria is wreaking on Caribbean, and a devastating 7.4 magnitude earthquake in Mexico City. It’s been a sadly traumatic two weeks. Joining us this week is long-time Peak Prosperity member Chaz Peling an expert on backup electrical solutions. A key topic right now with the aforementioned disasters knocked out power for millions. We’ll be talking with Chaz today about the importance of having back-up electrical in place before emergencies strikes. And we will explore the pros and cons of the various types of solutions out there in the market. Chaz’s company, SolSolutions, manufactures portable solar generators, so I am sure he will have lots to say about those. Chaz, thanks so much for joining us today for this very timely discussion. Are you ready?

Chaz Peling: Yes, I am.

Adam Taggart: Alright, it’s a pleasure to have you here.

Chaz Peling: Thanks for inviting me over, Adam.

Adam Taggart: Well first off, give our listeners a quick background on how you came to be an expert in this field.

Chaz Peling: Well, I have been living off-grid actually for quite a number of years, kind of the homestead life or what I call the off-grid life, where you had to learn how to make your own electricity when you are not hooked up to the grid. And doing that is kind of a learning experience and it makes you more aware of where your stuff comes from, including your electricity. And early on, starting in the eighties, I started learning about electric and solar and batteries just to hook up some lights just to have lights or have radio or any kind of music or doing any kind of activity at all. So that was my start in the solar business and it has been predominately off-grid. Most of the time, I’ve also been involved in electrical and work in the construction trades a number of years. And I have always had that interest on resiliency, homesteading and that kind of thing. Do-it-yourself, that’s been my background.

SolSolutions has been going about ten years now. We started building our own made in the U.S.A. solar generators specifically for temporary power, off-grid power and backup power. And that’s what we’ve been doing and we continually are adding to that portfolio and offering solutions for people across the board for providing your own power, lighting, that kind of thing.

Adam Taggart: Okay, okay. So, let’s get to some of those disasters that I mentioned earlier and talk about the importance of having back-up power in case it goes out whether it is due to natural disaster or regular black-out or some grid down event or whatever. You wrote a great piece on this topic for the Peak Prosperity website back in 2012. What are kind of the key facts that people need to know about this topic?

Chaz Peling: Yeah, we witnessed a lot of activity under Superstorm Sandy and some of the earlier hurricanes in Florida. The tornados that hit the south and one of the things that was noted was we would always get a lot of calls coming in after the fact because people realized the grid would be down. Maybe people might experience only one day or two days, but certain areas where the actual utility infrastructure was really destroyed, power lines and stuff, people went through sometimes weeks without power in certain areas during these last disasters. The other thing that was a real surprise for people and not in a pleasant way is their usual backup, which would be gas generators. They suddenly realized that there was no gas available. And that kind of threw a curveball to a lot of people that thought, oh well, I have a generator and I’ll just plug it in. There’s another series of technical issues that need to be addressed and continually need to be addressed around how you go ahead and feed your own electric into your meter or your house system. That is constantly being addressed by electrical contractors and utilities to be able to do it safely. And the resiliency and emergency preparedness, disaster preparedness across the board is a constant educational process to get you personally ready for when there are no outside services and that could be a lot of other things, including water, gas, electric, availability of gasoline, the road closed, anything like that. So, whatever you can have ready that is immediately available at your home or in your neighborhood, is probably a really good thing at this point. And that is the definition of preparedness.

Adam Taggart: Yeah, and I am just thinking about the people right now who live in Puerto Rico, right that just took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria where right now the entire island is without power. So, it is not even like there’s a neighborhood that you can go over that still has power, the entire island of three and a half million people has no power right now. So, unless you had some sort of solution like this lined up in advance, you are basically living in the dark ages until the central authorities there start getting that system back online, which of course is going to take a long, long time. I think we are talking weeks to months here for many people.

Chaz Peling: Yeah, that’s what I’m hearing is that it is going to take quite a lot of work to put that back together and now I would say utilities in the United States are highly regarded service industry and when these kind of weather related disasters happen, there’s a lot of work and emphasis put on to restore power. But the power grid is very much an essential component of our modern lifestyle, across the board. It affects communication, it affects food, it affects water, it affects transportation, everything because it is all touched and run by electricity. And when that electricity stops, okay, back to square one. What do you do?

Adam Taggart: Yep, alright well, let’s start or should have with the topic of electricity. So, let’s say that I am somebody listening to this podcast, I’m watching some of these disasters happen and realizing that the same thing could happen in my area for whatever reason, of course out here in California that is likely to be an earthquake, but it certainly can be other things, as well. And if I don’t have backup systems in place right now, what are the questions I should start asking? How should I start thinking about this? What are the different solutions out there? I’m going to be looking at which ones might be appropriate for my homestead and then earlier you said some of this stuff requires or at least electric contractors are involved in making sure this stuff is going to set up safely and what not. How much of this could a regular person do, who doesn’t know a lot about electricity, how much do they need to rely on an expert for? Basically, how would a regular person begin to think through all this?

Chaz Peling: Well, there is definitely the regular homeowner and person that wants to be more prepared for disasters. There’s much you can do personally right now, having to do with the short term. And there is stuff that you can get, that is available right now, across the board to markets that has really come along that is all about short term power. That’s small, portable, almost consumer grade. One of the key things is lighting. Very important that you have lighting both in your house and if you have to go outside.

So, there’s a bunch of new technology having to do with the smaller, lithium batteries, with solar inputs and led lights. That has transformed a lot of the portable and personal lighting solutions that are out there. You know if your batteries run down or you can buy batteries from the store, that’s not going to help you. But there is quite a lot of new lighting devices from flashlights to camping lights to you name it that have very long batteries that don’t run down, that can be solar charged and/or charged from any kind bigger input such as a generator or your car. Many, many of them now plug into a cigarette lighter or they will plug into a bigger battery pack or charge off the generator or charge off the sun. Those are highly recommended these days to throw in your glovebox of your car, have in your emergency backup pack that you might keep in your house. Everyone should have one of those, they are very reasonable priced right now and they have really kinda got it down. This is something that we have added into our portfolio and kind of sorted through some of the best. And I have literally had flashlights I’ve thrown into the glove box or drawer for six months or year or long and pull out and they still work.

Adam Taggart: And they still work.

Chaz Peling: Which is amazing because the old-style batteries never did that. So that is just one little things that you could do…

Adam Taggart: Sounds like, sorry to interrupt, but that just sounds like a really essential first step which if can’t see, there’s really not much you can do once the sun goes down. So, these are essentially flashlights, lanterns, etc. that you are saying are super-efficient because they have the modern LED technology and the batteries are rechargeable. And the batteries, you can use unchangeably or is it a built-in battery to the device and you are charging that device?

Chaz Peling: It is a built-in battery to the device but it is new lithium battery technology that is able to hold a charge a long, long time. It does not run down and it has more power for the density for the size of the device. And it’s usually three-way charging either solar or cigarette lighter or 110 AC power. If you have the right adapter and one of the additional things that a lot of these as they keep expanding have is a USB output and there’s a lot of universal power starting to go on in the electronics world which is very handy and it ties into your cell phone and to your other devices. If you can also do an emergency charge on your phone that helps with your communication. If you have any other little USB type devices, then you can charge them off these items. And as you move up the chain, there’s some bigger devices now that have an even battery pack that run lighting longer and even, we’re seeing some very good car based jump starter packs right now.

Adam Taggart: Oh really?

Chaz Peling: Yeah, they are actually in the thousand to two thousand milliamp range that are very, very good. They will actually jump start many vehicles, have a light on them, have a USB output charge so you will always have your communication device, you’re going to have a light and you can jump start your car. So those are just really basic kind of stuff that you can get these days in the hundred to two-hundred-dollar range.

Adam Taggart: All right great, that was my next question. That would be great. So, pretty affordable for very valuable, fundamental kind of the bottom of the pyramid resiliency here.

Chaz Peling: Exactly, this is what call a personal preparedness item. See now, the flashlight, the battery pack and that kind of thing and it keeps scaling up what we call personal level power and lighting. It should start small and then pricewise and size wise and weight wise and it just scales up depending on what you want to do and how much you want to power. A lot of these are small and carriable, you can throw them in the backpack or have them in the trunk of your car, even take them on a plane. Some of them now include a lithium battery pack and an unfoldable thin film solar okay…

Adam Taggart: So, there’s two ways to charge with?

Chaz Peling: Yeah, hybrid so you can charge it off a car, cigarette lighter or any USB or wall or unfold it and put it in the sun. And those get even more handy at that point. They are still small enough to take with you but they will do actual work and that is the personal size power.

Adam Taggart: Inside any brands that you like if someone is motivated to go research some of this?

Chaz Peling: We have been extremely happy with the hybrid light flashlights that are out of Utah. Actually, we’ve been carrying them like six, seven years and seen them in action. They are reasonably priced. Very well, we consider them from our perspective one of the better made out there. And we’ve also been very happy with sun jack with portable kits too, that are full power packages that fold out. There’s a number of new ones that are coming on that we are evaluating more that keep going up the chain and it is a matter of making sure they work though and not being a throw-away. This is the ongoing test of quality control that has to happen in our modern economy.

Adam Taggart: Great. So, we have got the basics there with lighting. How about power itself?

Chaz Peling: So, the next step up in the power of the personal power chain is when you want to start having 110-volt electricity AC to run your typical house power type things. The small level is electronics and laptops and the LED lighting that’s out now is a very good thing because it takes very little electricity. These days you can run a lot of stuff off a small amount of electricity because of the revolution in energy and efficiency across the board. We are seeing that in many, many items now. So that it is still allowing you to have a smaller system that can run a decent amount of things that you might need on your own. These are things that you can own and this is where we go into some of our portable solar generator stuff that is like maybe a size up from just a little case to maybe like a rolling case or a cart that is still portable but it is bigger in size but it is movable and now you can get into the kind of electricity that will run certain key items in your home and we like to consider that the next step up from short term. You are kinda going into medium term preparedness resiliency around your home. So, what are the key things that you might want to run in your home if the electricity is out for say three or four days, five days, heading toward seven days. Well at that point you might want to run your refrigerator, you might want to run your communications, your tv to watch news about the disaster. You might have some kind of water pump that you might need, which is always depending on how much that takes. There’s a lot of other appliances you might be able to run in your house. You know, fans and all kinds of things like that. We’re talking about in the ten to twenty-amp range, being able to pull an extension cord or get a few circuits in your house running and that is in the next size up. Kinda midscale, still available that the solar generator could do and these are devices that have everything included all-in-one, the battery, the inverter components, the solar controller and the solar panels. And that is one of our specialties and we put those together as a bundle that you can buy and you can take with you. And these can be also put in your backyard and so you can run an extension cord into your house and run things as needed for the shorter to mid-term.

Adam Taggart: Great, just help people to envision this. This is basically from what I have seen from your site, this is a unit that has wheels so it is like a cart that you, like you said that you can put out in your backyard. I imagine you angle it toward where it gets the best sun exposure and then you run an extension cord from the unit into your house. But you can basically move this wherever you want, you can throw it in the back of a truck and take it somewhere if you wanted to take it with you to… if you have cabin or some other location that you go to where you want power while you are there. It is that type of transportable ability, right?

Chaz Peling: Exactly, it is personal size if you have a small truck, a van or vehicle. There’s different sizes, there’s smaller ones you could almost fit in a car, you know it scales up and these are in the range of a thousand-watt outputs up to three maybe even four thousand-watt outputs. You can get some different styles of them, some of them have the main box on wheels, the solar panel separate. Some of them tie together, they fold down. They’ll come apart so it is easier to move. The advantage of these items is that this is a completely self-contained plug and play unit and that you can move. It is not tied to your house, electric or the grid. It is completely independent and the other advantage that they have is because the solar panels are separate not attached to your roof, you can also move the solar panels to where the sun is. Or move them out of the zone of disaster as needed too as the case may be. All of these items are also designed usually with inbound chargers and they work really, really well if you want to extend the ability of your gas generator.

We talked about the usual go to for backup horsepower, which is a lot of people have, which is a gas generator, which is great until you run out of gas. Okay, so if you have a gas generator, it’s good to keep it filled and serviced at least and have some, if you can store it safely, some extra gas. If you have one of these mid-sized solar generators you can actually extend the run time of your generators significantly by doing that. And we call that a hybrid system because the generator will charge the batteries up if the solar is not doing very good, if it is cloudy or rainy. Obviously, you get not much solar but they’ll have batteries, which is like the fuel tank but the generator can charge those batteries up at any time. The generator also allows you to run your higher amperage stuff if you have a three-thousand, five-thousand, six-thousand-watt generator you could then, if you have to run your well pump or some heavier duty items that take twenty amps or more, you can do that just for the time they need to be done but then you could turn your generator off and use your solar generator to run the smaller ticket items, like your lighting and your electronics and stuff like that. We call that a power management and using the correct tool for the job so to speak. And what that does is it extends your run time over all by that hybrid system, you can switch it back and forth. And if you only have five gallons of gas, you want to get the maximum run time. That’s where that comes in handy.

Adam Taggart: So, let’s take a moment to talk about that. So, not everybody listening is not going to know exactly what you mean when you say a twenty-amp appliance or whatnot but basically the higher the amps, the more power draws that appliance uses and so to give you a good example of where you would need a gas-powered generator, let’s say you wanted to run a clothes dryer.

Chaz Peling: Clothes dryer, yes.

Adam Taggart: But for an energy star refrigerator, that is going to use an awful lot less; so that would be a really good candidate for the solar powered generator. Anyway, I like about what you are constructing here with this hybrid system is I have a system that in theory lets me do a lot more and I can extend the power of both sources much longer by using the best source for the best moment. Of course, the solar generator is great when the sun is shining it is much less good at night and so you switch over to the gas generator, so that anything the solar generator can’t do at night but use the gas generator for the higher amp that maybe the things that you are going to do less frequently but are more important at times, like pulling water from your well. And then if, unfortunately the power outage lasts so long that your run out of gas, at least you have that solar one to do a reduced load for as long as you can.

Chaz Peling: Yeah and that is a good way to do it and this brings in the third item that really helps all of this happen in the planning of your home. Which is the importance of energy efficiency. When you’re thinking about your appliances and your usage of electricity, right now if you go energy star on all your appliances, if you change all your lights to LED, if you have more recent electronic kind of stuff, more flat screen tv’s, modern computers, just everything coming out in the last five years has been accelerated in the energy efficiency department. And that fact alone, really sets you up to be able to run much longer in your home if you have done that work on energy efficiency because you are basically needing less electric for everything. And that is a key key difference when it comes down to having no outside power from the grid. If you don’t use much electricity to run your house, then you can run a lot more and for a lot longer and that’s how it works. And the amount of equipment that you’ll need to run things will also be reduced, too.

Now as we move into the medium-term backup power into your house, it is very important that people understand that you can’t just take a gas generator or a solar generator and try to plug it back into the grid. There are some safety considerations, the utilities are always talking to people about that. You hear about it in Florida. It is very important that any kind of system like that, you have a safety disconnect switch installed by professional electrical contractor, that’s between your meter and your main box that allows you, if you want the capability of putting power back into your house, it can do that safely, without backfeeding the grid. This has been an ongoing issue whenever there is a disaster in these places with everybody firing up generators and trying to plug it straight into their grid. You do not want to feed power back to the grid because that puts the utility workers in danger and it’s an unsafe situation. So, I wanted to point that out, that’s a really good idea to make sure you have that installed. Very least, it turns off the power to the grid. One you want to plug something in you can feed power then through your network. The next step up from that is some people are even putting in an essential needs subpanel in their house from an electrical contractor that just puts the key circuits you might need, say like a couple of lighting circuits, your pump, your refrigerator, any other kind of item like that that is just essential needs. And that way some of these systems you can just feed that sub panel box. It can be done professionally and then it is all set up and it makes it real nice.

Adam Taggart: Great, so that is basically a direct line from the generator to that essential needs…

Chaz Peling: Correct, the simplest one is a plug on the side of your house that will come from your generator either 220 or 110 depending with a switch turns off your main meter. So, you could feed power back in either from a gas generator or from a solar generator and this goes up to even the longer-term solution now that is coming on very stronger is more sophisticated, larger battery backup systems that are coming on the market that are directly designed to intertie with grid solar. If you have grid tie solar on your house and more and more people are looking at the options for that and the advantages including all the tax breaks, most of the grid tie will not work if the grid goes down the utility power is not there almost all the grid ties installed in America will stop functioning. This has been an item we have been continually pointing out to people for the last ten years. That is starting to be rectified by some new integrated battery backup energy appliances that are coming on the market and we are involved in that, that will install for instance in your garage or somewhere in your home that will store power from the rooftop panels and be able to run your whole house, usually they are fed into that essential needs subpanel. And that is a full contractor type of install by a professional.

These are very sophisticated. One of the key things they do right off the bat is give you up to 4 to 8 kw or maybe 12 kw of backup power on your home. Essentially you can be independent on power if you want. There are some other features that are really handy, people looking to reduce their utility bill. Because you have that much storage you can basically load shift your power and get much better utility rates. You can do all kinds of tricks with the time of use rates with the various utilities. We predict that these are going to start coming on really hot and heavy. There are some new incentives coming on, certainly in California, for this kind of thing. We see that as a big improvement of the resiliency of the electric grid in America. These kinds of items are going really big in other parts of the world including in Japan since Fukushima. And in Germany, where the government was very promoting to coming off the nuclear power, too. So, these like very first world economy and nations are quite ahead of America in the installation of the home based and business based battery backup systems.

Adam Taggart: Great so that means you are basically saying it has already been battle tested in these other developed nations and all we need to do is catch up basically.

Chaz Peling: Yeah, yeah, they are proven outright now. The lithium battery technology is finally stabilizing. It’s gone through a few rounds of testing and engineering and they are getting very sophisticated of how these works and that is an additional add-on for a homeowner but when you think about the cost of items of what it would cost you to have no electricity for two weeks, it starts looking pretty good then.

Adam Taggart: Yeah and it also sounds like you’re able to potentially save money with this system installed because you can basically draw from your battery storage and when electricity costs a lot from the grid and then only drop from the grid during the times fuel is where it’s cheaper.

Chaz Peling: Correct. This is actually economic reason that can be presented along with your overall cost on this when you throw in the tax credits and you could almost zero out your electric bill if you wanted to.

Adam Taggart: So, let me just sort of repeat this back to you to make sure that I understand it because I think this is really big news and we have a number of listeners who have solar installations on their homes but I would imagine the majority of them are grid tied as opposed to off grid. But one of the downsides of grid tied solar production on your house is that when the grid goes down you lose that electricity. You don’t get access to the electricity even the ones that your panels are generating. So, if there is a blackout in your area, there’s a blackout in your house.

Chaz Peling: Correct.

Adam Taggart: Unless you are totally off grid which comes with its own set of challenges and of course we have got some folks who are listening who are off grid as well but the challenge has been you kinda have to be one or the other for most people. What you are now saying is that people who are grid tied now have the ability to be off grid in a grid down event with these interim battery backup solutions that you are talking about.

Chaz Peling: Correct.

Adam Taggart: That does sound like a pretty big game changer, that is really encouraging to hear.

Chaz Peling: It’s all about the batteries and the integration aspect of it. And it’s come to a head and is moving quite along because of the technology.

Adam Taggart: You said earlier and it makes total sense this is something that should be installed and set up by a professional contractor.

Chaz Peling: Absolutely.

Adam Taggart: Two things. One is there particular systems that your like again brands that people can investigate and then ballpark what’s this going to cost somebody who has a grid tied house to be able to convert to this interim?

Chaz Peling: We’re looking at several that are coming on very, very closely. There was quite a lot of hype over the last couple of years with the Tesla Power Wall and the fact of the matter is, those are not readily, commercially available at this time. And there’s still some issues that are being worked out. We have not seen them as a go to solution yet. There’s been a lot of requests and inquiries about that but not there.

The two we are working with right now are Saunan, which is a major German company that’s doing a huge footprint in Europe, integrated battery complete package that drops in with any kind of grid tie solar.

The other one we are looking at is out of Japan, Tabuchi Electric. That is very, very sophisticated and I feel like those two are some of the primes we are looking at right now. Their scalable in the battery size of the system. So, you are looking at anywhere absolute minimum ten to fifteen thousand probably with install on up to twenty, twenty-five thousand. It is a matter of the size of the system, how much electricity you want overall, at what point. Do you want 4kw, you want 8kw, you want 12kw and then the other optional item is how much battery storage you want. For instance, do you want one, two, three days of storage so size of the battery. So that scales up too and impacts the cost. And then you have the cost of a professional solar contractor installing everything and doing your sub panel box. It’s a system designed to be done right but once you have that, that’s going to give you a lot of peace of mind. I would think that would be the cap of your solar investment that you have on your roof to finish that off and have that device in there to store your power. That kind of complete the circle really.

Adam Taggart: Okay, thanks for detailing that out and so it sounds like somewhere ten grand and twenty-five grand given the complexity of the system. And the cost of that could be partially deferred by some of the tax credits and stuff like that.

Chaz Peling: This is correct, yes.

Adam Taggart: Great. So, you’ve taken us then through the primary and the immediate personal steps and the intermediary and now we are talking about much longer term with these long term electrical productions systems that we are talking about and storage systems. You know, does that complete the system or is there any other parts of home power you think people should be looking at?

Chaz Peling: Well, I think that the layout is to consider is small, medium, large and the cost factor follows that same pattern and it also follows exactly with what you are trying to do. If you are just trying to get a little bit of electricity, okay you can keep it simple and it moves up the scale in cost and size and portability. And then if you are looking for the long term real solution, obviously that is an investment for the long term. Every one of these includes also a caveat of learning a little bit more about how you use power so you can be smarter about it, so that energy efficiency comes in really strong. You start looking at the rest of your electric use and going how can I do this smarter? And that applies to your pumps, your usage patterns, your appliances, your lighting, across the board. Work smarter, not harder we say.

There is an interesting little key point on some of these and caveats too that indirectly related to the hurricanes especially in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico, which is may be a benefit for the smaller, portable ones is that a key item in the news is that all the roofs were ripped off in the hurricane areas. Well, if your solar ray is attached to your roof, that might not work out so well for you. So, one of the things that some people are doing more of the extreme prepper type of folks are considering the ability to put equipment in an area that will withstand 150 mile an hour wind and debris flying through the air. So, that is high level preparedness and that is possibly more of a basement type situation that you can get your equipment into or something else that’s really locked down. If you have a portable generator that is somewhat movable, for instance, you can actually get that into an area that if you know a weather related or hurricane or tornado is going you could move it out of harm’s way because if your house and your systems damaged or destroyed in the weather there goes your electric too. That’s just a consideration.

There’s another point in there that’s been brought up in some of the disaster preps too which is what about EMP pulse, solar flares and stuff like that. And that has been discussed also with the idea once again, secure areas for your equipment, portable. We’ve seen people take the shipping containers that are metal and if you have a property, you have in your preparedness zone, possibly packed into a shipping container that you a big fat ground to earth. And that actually there’s a lot of theories that an EMP or solar flare situation that it would fry a lot of electrical stuff. That would be a huge problem in the aftermath. And there’s a lot of theories that say if you can put that into a steel cage that is well grounded, you have a much better shot of your key electrical items making it through.

Adam Taggart: Okay, so you essentially create a faraday cage of whatever size you can, whether it is something that can fit in your basement or whether it is something large like a shipping container but store some percentage of your electrical tools there, essential electrical tools there so that if there is some sort of an EMP and everything does get fried you have at least got some that have survived.

Chaz Peling: That might be the gold standard of a backup is if you have a forty-foot container that was really locked down to the earth in concrete, bolted down and with a big fat ground strap and you put your key items in there. You might as well put some food and water in there too and some extra fuel and certainly your solar generated equipment and power equipment. You might stand a good chance of getting through a lot of situations. It’s just a theory though.

Adam Taggart: Okay, well that’s definitely getting to the belts and suspenders part but those are definitely real risks and we’ve talked to an expert from NASA a couple of times on this program about the risk of simply a solar flare and something of the magnitude of the Carrington event back in the 1800’s happening again and it sadly is not a dismissible risk so I think that is wise to point out the wisdom of doing that if you can.

Chaz Peling: It is something to think about. All this is really looking at the idea of preparedness and the economics of it is the real cost differential between long term thinking or sustainable thinking you might say versus the short term, immediate ROI so to speak from a spreadsheet. Many, many spreadsheets I’ve seen don’t have a column for those kinds of really large-scale situations where infrastructure breaks down. There’s a missing column and number in that and what is that cost.

Adam Taggart: Yeah it sounds like anybody who’s putting solar on their house this should be part of the decision-making process which is that is a large investment, they are already working with professional contractors on the design. Certainly, up there should be okay, well how resilient do you want to be in a grid data event and for ten thousand more, fifteen thousand more, twenty thousand more we can add these redundancies into your home system.

Chaz Peling: Exactly it just allows you to be more in charge of your own situation and be able to ride out infrastructure breakdowns and be more prepared and more resilient and not dependent on outside agency to come rescue you or all that kind of stuff is just going to be kinda things that in the long run there going to make more strong communities and more abilities to bounce back over any kind of disaster that you can think of.

Adam Taggart: Right, we’ve seen both in Houston, Florida and the Caribbean now. Many, many people were completely unprepared for what happened to them and of course these were major disasters that have happened. It is hard to be prepared for a Cat 4 or Cat 5 hurricane or a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. But you know one of the more important and more inspiring parts that we are seeing the aftermath are the people that do have resources, whether it is skills or they’ve got anything from a bit of extra water to they got power when their neighbors don’t and they’re being part of the solution right there. They’re there to help out those people who weren’t prepared or who had their preparations swept away by the disaster. So, putting yourself in the position where you can not only take care of your immediate self and family but also be in service to those in your community. We need as many people to be able to play that role when these times of tragedies occur.

Chaz Peling: Yes, this is an interesting thought on that too that I just read an article about the kind of public disaster preparedness groups the sur-trainings that were going around that started at usually the volunteer fire departments and they wanted to reach out, this is part of the transition town movement this came up a lot to get more of the neighborhoods and local communities somewhat organized along this idea of having preparedness items and equipment and training somewhat together to know where the resources are. And when things really break down to be able to reach out to your immediate neighbors and the authorities might not be answering the phone and so better start talking to your neighbors at that point.

Adam Taggart: I literally was just watching the news this morning, that is the situation in Puerto Rico right now, where the police and the civil authorities have basically said we are not available right now. We are taking care of both our own personal families as well as just trying to get our systems back online. So, you can’t count on us for at least the next couple of days. It is not theoretical this could happen someday, we are actually watching it happen right now in a U. S. Territory.

Chaz Peling: And live interaction with cell phone videos and that is a very sobering reality check to think about ahead as we tell people to call in after a disaster. Please don’t wait till after a disaster to call us, it will cost a lot more and your credit card won’t work.

Adam Taggart: That’s right. Well, Chaz in wrapping this up, I’m going to suspect that there is a number of people listening to this podcast who have been inspired to take some advance actions here and so we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast that you run a company SolSolutions. I am going to give you an opportunity to direct people who want to want to learn more about you and the number of products that you discussed where they can go. But I imagine a lot of people here are going to have questions, especially because a number of the solutions you talked about really should be done in partnership with a licensed contractor to make sure they are done right. Are you open to people contacting you with questions that you can either ask directly or refer them to solutions?

Chaz Peling: Absolutely, we’ve actually been developing our website to have some educational material and learning around solar and some of these topics I talked about and we keep adding onto this. In fact, Adam this may inspire me to rewrite a new five-year version of What Do You Do When the Power Goes Out white paper for you. So, I’m thinking there is a lot of material there to add to that now. We have some stuff like that on the website at Sol-Solutions, is our company. www.Sol-Solutions.com is our website. My email is [email protected] and our phone number we’re based in Sonoma County here in Northern California, 707-515-6783.

Adam Taggart: Great, well thank you for generously making all that contact information available to our folks, I do suspect that you will get a number of questions from folks. Folks who are listening we will put links to Chaz’s site and his email address and the educational materials he mentioned, that will all accompany this podcast so you will be able to find it directly. Chaz, it’s been a great discussion and I really appreciate you taking the time to go into this and I know there are a couple of other meaty discussions related to this material like the level of solvency of the government funds that are available to bail out these post disaster areas and of course there are a lot of mal-incentives for people to simply rebuild in places where there is probably going to be another natural disaster quite soon. So, I want to flag that for as material for a future podcast because I think we could go forty-five minutes on just those alone but I really appreciate you bringing your expertise to this topic. It is very timely and very important.

Chaz Peling: Well, I really appreciate the invitation Adam, and I’m happy and supportive of what you guys have been doing with the community and doing on your website and bringing the material that your share together to offer to people. I have been tracking it for a while, I am on the same page.

Adam Taggart: Well thanks, Chaz. Alright, we’ll get you back here soon. Thank you much.

Endorsed Financial Adviser Endorsed Financial Adviser

Looking for a financial adviser who sees the world through a similar lens as we do? Free consultation available.

Learn More »
Read Our New Book "Prosper!"Read Our New Book

Prosper! is a "how to" guide for living well no matter what the future brings.

Learn More »

 

Related content

35 Comments

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2771
Links mentioned in this podcast

Here are links to the resources mentioned in this podcast:

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Some extra thoughts from another off-grid solar user

As someone who has lived with off-grid solar power systems for several years now I thought I'd chime in with a couple things.  I basically have the three sizes of systems Chaz is talking about in this podcast.  I have a 4.4 kilowatt system that is my main system powering the house and most of my outbuildings.  About 4 years ago I disconnected from the power grid and have been using this system for my primary needs.  I also have a mid-sized system of 520 watts that has been the sole source of power for my small art studio for roughly 10 years now.  I see it as a backup for essential functions in the main house if something goes wrong with my large system.  I've also got my "camping" system which is quite small, simple, and inexpensive.  A flexible 100 watt panel, a 55 amp/hour AGM battery, and a smaller charge controller which also has 12 volt dc and 5 volt USB outputs.  I've got a tiny inverter I can hook up to the battery for AC power too.

Adam and Chaz mentioned that getting energy efficient devices/appliances is a very good thing and I will second that.  Before I went to off-grid solar for my home this was my first project to tackle.  I was able to get my monthly power usage down to consistently be below 100 KWH.  Even without going to solar this effort made my life better and cheaper.  When the needs are less everything is easier. 

A major saver for me was getting a new refrigerator.  I took a long time studying what was available and was shocked to find the size of the unit doesn't always correspond to power usage.  I saw tiny dorm room cube fridges that used nearly as much power or more than better full sized ones!  Even within the lines of the same brand there were huge differences in energy efficiency.  There were also wide swings in price for efficient units.  At the time I bought mine the most efficient rated unit on the market was about $2400.  I ended up buying a unit that had similar capacity and was rated only slightly less efficient for just $250!  Plus it was locally available at a big box store instead of a special order shipment.  The last time I checked mine for real world power consumption with a kilowatt meter it was using 3 tenths of a kilowatt a day.  This makes it MUCH easier for me to maintain refrigeration with solar power, or any power for that matter.

Living alone I also reevaluated whether I really needed a 30 gallon electric water heater, even though at that point my system was already able to handle this.  I've since gone to a 15 gallon water heater with no issues at all, making it easier on my battery bank around the winter solstice when light is scarce.  I realize going to a straight solar water heater might make more sense, but there are physical issues with my home space that make this a challenge.  Something I do with my hot water usage, and most major power usages actually, is a bit of load shifting.  Essentially I try to do things that use lots of electricity when the sun is out so I'm pulling power right from the panels rather than draining the battery bank down.  Some tasks like running the electric wood chipper or chainsaw get saved for sunny days.

One other thing I wanted to bring up was regarding back-up generators.  I did get one for my solar system, again for that time around the winter solstice when it might come in handy to keep the battery bank from getting too low if there is a lot of snow and cloudy days in a row.  I thought about a gas generator but in the end decided to get a small propane generator.  I liked the propane option because I don't need to worry about it going bad if it sits around unused for a long time.  I'm also more likely to be able to still get propane from a tank exchange at the gas station if power is out widespread.  For me personally it also just makes more sense since I use propane regularly in my work and thus always have several tanks around I can put into service on the generator if need be.  There is a major downside to propane generators though if you live in a cold climate like I do.  As gas gets pulled from the tank at the high rate the generators use it, the tank gets colder.  If it's cold enough outside already then eventually the tank becomes so cold the liquid propane will no longer convert to a gas state thus shutting down the generator.  The solution I've found is to have two tanks to use and swap them out as needed, letting one warm up while the other is in use.  This works for me since I'm not trying to run the house directly from the generator.  Rather I'm using the generator to recharge a battery bank which is what my home is really running on.  So when I'm switching tanks the power is still on.  It's a bit of a pain this way, but for me the generator is a very rarely used thing, so this extra hassle is easily off set by the other benefits I get with propane as a fuel source.

One final thought, when considering where to locate my large solar array for the main system I decided to NOT locate it on a roof.  As I noted before I live in a cold snowy climate so I wanted to have them more readily accessible to clean snow off. Eventually snow and ice would melt off, but when sun is scarce and power is tight I want to be able to get all the extra generation capacity I can.

sand_puppy's picture
sand_puppy
Status: Diamond Member (Offline)
Joined: Apr 13 2011
Posts: 1633
What refrigerator?

Darn, David Huang, that is an awesome story.

Could you please give us specifics on a number of things:

1)  what refrigerator did you find that was cost effective and low energy use.  (Link?)

2)  how did you mount your solar panels?  Pole? Rack?

3)  can you show us your charge controller, how many and what sized panels, specific batteries.

4)  your water heater.

Has anyone run a washing machine on a solar set-up?

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
water heater

sand_puppy, I'll see about answering your other questions as well before too long.  I'll have to dig up some info, take some photos, and see if I can figure out how to post images here.

As for the water heater though what I got was a Marathon 15 gallon 120 volt unit.  Here is a link to it on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Rheem-MR15120-Marathon-point-Electric/dp/B001973C4E  Unfortunately it looks like it's no longer available.  :(  I'm sure there are other brands out there for smaller size water heaters.  Older mobile homes, which is what I have, often came with small water heaters.  In fact, my old trailer had a 10 gallon one which was a bit too small, at least in combination with the shower head I had back then.  It kept me from lingering too long in the shower though!  I was a bit worried 15 gallons wouldn't be enough, but with my current low flow shower head it hasn't been an issue at all, though if guests are visiting overnight we would have to plan for a bit of recovery time in between showers, say 30 to 45 minutes.

I did go with the Marathon though because the tank isn't metal and thus has a lifetime guarantee since it won't rust out.  It certainly wasn't the cheapest option for a water heater.  I also liked the fact that it runs off 120 volt instead of the 240 volt my old 30 gallon one was, and what most electric water heaters are.  While my inverter for the whole house solar system will do 240 volt just fine this new water heater means I no longer have anything that requires 240 volt.  Thus if I had to I could probably use the inverter in my mid-sized solar system to power it which only does 120, though I'd likely be pushing close to the wattage potential on that one which is rated for 3000 watts.

A very handy addition I did for my water heater was putting in an easy to access on/off switch.  Thus, when I really need to conserve power, such as those 3 weeks to either side of the winter solstice, I can just turn my water heater off unless I need hot water.  That way I'm not trying to keep it hot 24 hours a day.  The Marathon water heaters are good too in that they hold heat for a long time, so unless I'm using a lot of hot water, and thus mixing in a bunch of new cold water into the tank, I can have hot/warm water all day at least for washing my hands even with the heater turned off.  This switch is also very handy for power management on my off-grid system.  If I'm going to be using power hungry things, such as major power tools, I will generally make a point to turn off the water heater.  This way I'm not stressing the inverter as much if the water heater happens to decide to turn on at the same time.  I did have that happen once while I was running my wood chipper.  It took me a bit to figure out why it suddenly seemed to be acting a bit starved for power.  I think the water heater, and fridge happened to power up at the same time, which in combination with the wood chipper was maxing out what my 4400 watt inverter wanted to do.  I do wish I had a bit larger inverter on the main system, but with some power management it all works fine.

 

NickAdams10's picture
NickAdams10
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 6 2015
Posts: 22
Great posts, David

Those two posts have a great level of detail. Thank you for sharing.

skipr's picture
skipr
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 9 2016
Posts: 77
more thoughts

I presently live in Tucson, so there's plenty of solar power available.  I had a 5kw PV system and hot water heater installed about 8 years ago   My 1st solar hot water heater was installed back when Jimmy Carter's tax credits were available.  It would probably still be working if some idiot plumber didn't blow it out during an unrelated repair.  If I was going to stay here I would replace my grid tied inverter with one of those hybrid ones.  If the grid goes down during one of these increasingly hot summers I could survive by chilling the house down as much as possible during the day.

I like to read RVing web sites.  They have to be really energy efficient.  There was one guy who bought a van and installed his own equipment.  He had room for a couple of roof mounted PV panels.  They provided enough power to keep a freezer that opens from the top cold, and he had no battery backup power.  Cold air does not escape when opened.

I should get my friends who live on a remote MT homestead to write up something about the hydroelectric system that they designed and built.  They get 4kw of continuous power.  Keeping it running takes a lot of work.

I wonder what future generations will do when there isn't enough fossil fuel energy, rare earths, etc to build PV panels and everything else.

aggrivated's picture
aggrivated
Status: Platinum Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 22 2010
Posts: 523
Devil in the details

Great podcast and very helpful post by David. Just like managing your own health, knowing the details of your power needs and then managing them to an optimal level is very personal. David, your posts show that so well. Most of us are using way too much power to start with. The very first thing should always be the discipline of minimizing your usage and then managing the flow after that.

It seems to me that if every household could do the management that most of us could live off grid comfortably.. The medical industry really doesn't want us all living healthy lifestyles. The power generating industry doesn't want us being frugal and efficient with power. Just like the penalties for not having health insurance, we are also seeing some power utilities charging grid tied solar houses a distribution grid 'tax'. Some areas won't give you an occupancy permit if you are not tied to the grid.

David, your detailed explanation gives me hope that many of us regulation shackled citizens might still have a chance by just minimizing our usage. I also was glad to hear that grid tied systems could be configured to stay up during grid down events.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Refrigerator details

You are welcome NickAdams10. 

Ok, I've found the model details for my refrigerator.  It is an Avanti RM806W.  It's an 8 cu/ft, free standing, top freezer, manual defrost refrigerator.  Here is a link to more information about it: https://www.ajmadison.com/cgi-bin/ajmadison/RM806W.html

Unfortunately as I feared, it is no longer available.  sad  I bought mine back in 2008 and it has given me flawless service ever since so I'm kinda bummed about this.  Of course, because it has given me flawless service I have not looked at what's out there now so maybe there are better models.  To try and give some details that might be of help to others who might be looking for an efficient fridge today I'll offer up some of what I learned/was looking for when I went searching.

First though in addition to the low cost and fabulous efficiency this model had, I discovered one other feature I had not expected but would without a doubt be looking for in any future fridges.  It is the incredibly simple yet smart design for defrosting the freezer.  Once I moved out of my parents home where we had an auto defrost type fridge it seemed that everywhere I lived had manual defrost types.  I experienced many models and had come to expect that defrosting was going to be a massively annoying chore.  Sure it probably could go easy if I did it on a regular weekly basis as they tried to make us to in the dorm room of my first college.  My personal reality though, and I suspect that of many others is that defrost time really only happens with the ice blocks build up so much you can't fit in the food you want anymore.  (Sure I realize refrigerators run more efficiently when regularly defrosted, but I still don't do it.)  What I would normally have to do was turn off and unplug the fridge, load all the frozen food into a cooler along with as much of refrigerated stuff as I could fit.  Then it was hours of waiting, perhaps chipping away at the ice with sharp objects I really shouldn't have been using.  Pots of boiling water were often used to try and hurry it along.  Water dripped everywhere and it was just a mess.  What the design of this Avanti fridge has shown me is that the standard designs were horrendous with all their ridges and undercuts.  The last one I had came with a defrost tray meant to be helpful in collecting melt water during defrost, but in reality made a huge undercut which forced me to almost completely melt all the ice before I could remove it.  With my current unit the freezer is designed completely smooth.  It's just a clean walls of plastic with absolutely no undercutting or textures to hold ice.  So now defrosting goes like this:  I turn off the fridge.  I also unplug it so the light goes off, but I don't really need to do this.  Then I put all the frozen food into a cooler.  These days I don't even bother doing anything with the refrigerated items because the whole process is so quick it's not worth the effort.  Next I ignore it all for a little bit.  What happens is that the body of the refrigerator seems to heat up a bit and naturally conducts that heat to the smooth panels that line the freezer.  This results in a thin layer of water forming between the panel and built up ice.  Because there are no undercuts or textures to hold this in place I can go back and with a very small amount of effort to break the surface tension I can slide out large sheets of ice in very short order.  Then it's just a matter of wiping it down with a rag, turning it back on, and replacing the food from the cooler.  Generally this is a 30 minute process in total with the vast bulk of that time spent just waiting until the sheets are ready to slide out.  There is very little mess and melt water to deal with.  If I had to get a new fridge today I would DEFINITELY look for a unit with this sort of smooth interior surface!!

Ok, here are some of the things I was looking for when I went hunting for a fridge.  First, just because this Avanti model is great don't assume they all are.  As I recall there was another much smaller Avanti fridge, a 2 or 3 cu/ft cube type that used double or more energy to run than this 8 cu/ft one I got!  I really looked at and compared the data on power use/estimated yearly kilowatts from a lot of different brands/models.  Generally speaking the simpler the fridge the more durable and energy efficient it was.  Therefor, manual defrost is pretty much always going to be more efficient, and if the fridge is designed right this is not a major task.  Automatic ice makers and water dispensers just make for more complex systems that cost more, use more power, and have more points for failure.  Personally I don't use much ice anyway.  If I want some ice cubes I find the ice cube tray to be a very effective low tech solution that has worked wonderfully for decades.  If I want chilled water the similar low tech, time tested device would be a jug/jar/pitcher/bottle.

Having a freezer on the top tends to be more efficient because cold air naturally falls, as opposed to side by side units or freezer on the bottom.

Smaller units should be more efficient, though sadly they aren't always.  When I went to get a new one I spent time considering just how much space I really needed.  I live alone and don't eat much frozen food.  Most regular sized ones would be cavernous for me.  I've found the 8 cu/ft size to work well, and think it would probably work well for a couple that didn't rely on a lot of frozen food.  If I find when the fridge is getting too full it generally means I've bought too much produce or it's really time for me to clean out some "science experiments".  To get a sense of size I went to appliance stores and looked to see just how big 8 cu/ft really was.  If you are thinking to buy something on-line I would recommend going to a store to get a sense of actual sizes first.

Even given all this what makes one model so much more efficient than another with similar features and layout?  I really don't know.  I'm sure the level of insulation matters, but I suspect there are other factors.  Mine does make very unique noises causing me to think it has some different compressor design or something.  In fact, the owners manual made a point to note that this model makes strange sounds, and that is normal.

One other tidbit I can share regarding efficiency, if you don't use your fridge much, leaving it empty much of the time, it can help to toss in jugs of water.  The water will give some thermal mass, which is like a temperature battery.  It will help to hold whatever temp it is at.  So when you open the door and all the cold air falls out the mass of cold water will maintain the cool temperature so the whole system doesn't have to work as hard to return to it's cool temp. once you close the door.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Aggrivated, I had seriously

Aggrivated, I had seriously considered doing a hybrid grid tied system so I'd have power when the grid is down, which happens often enough here due to storms.  I wanted to be able to share my extra power with the grid.  Here where I am there is net metering where I would get credit for the kilowatts I feed in, allowing me to take that same amount of power out.  That's not a bad thing, but because I already used so little power I would really never be using those credits.  What they don't allow is for me to utilize these credits toward a basic monthly "line charge" my power company instituted just to have the power line connected.  This I would have to pay each month.  So the reality for my personal situation would have been a cost of $400 to $500 a year to give them free power.  Thus I chose to go completely off-grid.  Now in all honesty what I did was the most expensive way to go and might not really pay for itself at current power costs in this area, depending on how long my battery bank lasts, and how much it will cost to replace that battery bank.  When I was still connected to the grid, because I had gotten my power usage down so low the vast bulk of my power bill was the line charge and all associated taxes based on that cost.  Before they instituted this line charge my monthly electric bills were between $10 and $20 most months.

blackeagle's picture
blackeagle
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: May 16 2013
Posts: 206
Energy efficient fridge

I have read on a off-grid homesteading web site that a good energy-efficient fridge is this one: a horizontal freezer.

What the person did is this: First, freezers a much more insulated than fridges (Just look at the thickness of the walls), so they are more energy efficient than fridges. Second, a horizontal freezer is more efficient than a vertical one, especially if it is frequently opened. The person replaced the original thermostat by one for a fridge. Being more insulated than a fridge, the energy saving will allow you to more easily us it off-grid.

People are saying it is easier to use than a regular fridge.

 

kaimu's picture
kaimu
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Sep 20 2013
Posts: 154
THE DARKSIDE OF SOLAR

Aloha! Once again I do not get it! When I lived in Perth, West Australia back in the 1970s our house was so old it still had a "slave quarters". Essentially a smaller detached house in the back of the main house. Both my brother and I fought over who gets to live there because being teenagers we wanted out from under our parents even if it was only 30ft away! 

Anyway, both houses had passive solar hot water units. To this day I have yet to experience any hot water systems that provided hotter water than that very simple basic set up.

Onto solar panels ...

Solar panels were invented by Bell Labs in 1954, but solar technology was used way before that ...

When I moved back to the USA in 1975, to Southern California, I was surprised that none of the houses had solar anything at all, not even the passive solar water system we had in Australia. It was like America was totally oblivious to any kind of solar design systems that would save on energy consumption, even after the 1973 oil embargo. Certainly none of my friends drove energy efficient cars, maybe a VW bug, but as far as housing went ... NOTHING! And that was California ... supposedly the most liberal and environmentally friendly state in America. Why is the USA of today so far behind eve the 1970s Australia?

Having come out of the Silicon Valley world of technology I have noticed there is almost no mention of the darkside of solar or the batteries that drive the electric car phenom. Certainly not in the mainstream media and certainly not from politicians that subsidize the industry. Like everything on Earth there are always two sides to a coin.

If anyone would research what is going on with the manufacturers of solar panels you would discover it looks a lot like oil companies and their exploitation of cheap Third World labor and the destruction of the environment. Just to be clear there is a Third World environment, not just the US EPA and Standing Rock. The Third World is where we hide our massive pollution from our massive addiction to consumption of everything "green" and "not green"!

For this purpose there is an entity out of Silicon Valley that researches and grades solar panel manufacturers on their abuses in manufacturing. This site can be found HERE and they put out a "scorecard" on polluting solar manufacturers and as we all know China is one of the biggest solar panel manufacturers as well as Korea and other Asian countries. Do the Chinese manufacturers employ North Korean components?

Many of the solar manufacturers are involved in using such notable Third World practices as "prison labor" and "conflict minerals". Also make note of some of the toxic elements employed in solar panel manufacturing like arsenic and cadmium and lead as well as hazardous waste, heavy metals and air pollution at their factories.

You have to consider what happens to the backend of panels at the end of their useful life. Where do they get dumped? Are they recycled or do they end up in a landfill? If they are recycled what percent of the panel is actually recycled?

Any metal or plastic components in your solar panel have to be either drilled or mined from the Earth. Has anyone here ever visited a lithium mine? Point is if you are going to go off grid make sure you are using solar panels from responsible manufacturers. If you look at the 2015 scorecard at the link the entire solar panel industry has an overall score of 48 out of 100 on their pollution and labor practices. That is below average. Some of the top names in electronics, mostly Asian based are some of the worst performers. The paradox of going green!

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
Refrigerator, running house on solar

Refrigerators do not save much power by going smaller, as has been mentioned. In researching this, it seems that these days you can easily get consumption down to 295-344 Kwh/year for 10-15.6 cu ft. Like this, https://enervee.com/refrigerators/129469992_ge-15.6-cu.-ft.-frost-free-t... . The enervee site can show you good options for power useage. You can see that cutting 1/3 of the cubic feet out of the refridge space only saves 1/7 of the power. 344Kwh/year is very low for a household sized refrigerator, used to be, we thought it was amazing to get below 500kW/year. 344Kwh/year is less than 1kWh a day.  Or, to put it another way, 15-20 minutes of sun shining on my solar panels to power that fridge all day. I actually bought a sunfrost ( expensive over $2,000 'fridge) once, sent it back for noise, but it does not reduce power consumption enough to be worth that price jump compared to energy savers you can buy now for around 500.

I run the washing machine off of my solar system, and can run it off my inverter/batteries, and have done so, but generally do not. I do run my well pump more routinely, which has more motor surge than the washing machine. Washing machines do not use much power, but since I only do a few loads of laundry a week, I would more likely pick after a storm, and daytime, to do laundry.

I have had a hybrid solar system for about 18 or 19 years. I have 2.6 Kwatts of panels on the roof. I have a Trace (Xantrex) Inverter, SW4048, with 2 different charge controllers, a basic one for most of the panels (2kW) and a fancy Outback power point tracking one on the newer, smaller string of panels. I have new batteries for the system, a bit more than a year on these, I am very happy with them, unfortunatelly the company couldnt secure funding and you cant buy any right now. Hopefully someone will rescue the technology as it has many advantages over Lithium Ion for home use. Batteries are Aquion S-Stacks, 3 of them, so 7.8kWh of stored power. https://realgoods.com/aquion-s-line-battery-stack-48v-s30-0080 . These batteries do not use rare metals or materials and have a very good ecological footprint.

I am still connected to the power company, although I get tempted to disconnect. I pay about $11 a month to keep that connection. Keeping the line connection means that I do not need to buy more storage or buy in gas/propane, which would cost me more that $11/month. So, my house is all electric, no propane cooking stove, heat, etc....

I have a solar hot water system, too, but it is currently disconnected as I have a broken panel. The solar hot water here is closed loop. I also put a timer on the electric element that is backup hot water, so it is not on all the time, just when hot water is needed.

 

 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
ecological/social impacts of solar electric

Is a good consideration. I would recommend buying American made panels, which you can still do. Unfortunatelly, we have let this unsavory competition from third world destroy most of our domestic production.

My original panels ( 18-19 years ago) were made in America, and the solar cells were made from reject silicon wafers from semiconductor manufacturing. My few additional panels bought many years later were also made in America, but both of those companies no longer exist due to price undercutting, unfairly, by China and the support from the Chinese government.

Batteries are very much a problem, especially Lithium Ion, which is why the Aquion batteries were developed which work on carbon/salt water materials. The Aquion battery technology is not suitable for cars or electronics, but is very good for non-mobile applications like home power back-up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaMuxB4s5qI  This is a TED talk from the developer. And, I own and use these batteries, unfortunatelly, they couldnt secure funding fas enough and currently you cannot buy them and all anyone talks about is lithium ion.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
back up power

Another way to have backup power, for after a storm or such, and it is easily mobile, is to recognize that your car is a generator, and it actually is an efficient one, does not use much gas when idling. While we all know we can recharge smaller devices using a car cigarette lighter adaptor plug, getting power out of that is limited by the size of the wiring from the cars battery to the outlet.

Much more power can be had by having a 12V to 120V inverter connected directly from the cars battery to a good, thick, extension cord. I have this kind of setup for back up to my backup. This is cheaper than a seperate generator, and the gas is already stored in a safe recepticle, your cars gas tank, it uses about 1 gallon for a couple hours of idling and producing power, it will power your refrigerator, a few lights, your gas furnace blower if its cold, or a fan or 2 if it is hot.

Steve Harris podcast can be irritating to listen to for any length of time, but his facts are correct, his recommendations are very tested and sound. You can go here, and listen to hsi podcast to run household appliances off of car, http://solar1234.com/ , and/or just scroll down and buy a few of the products he has tested and recommends. I would not take a chance on a 800W car to 120V inverter he ( or someone else reliable in this ) has not recommended. Right now, his 2 recommended inverters are out of stock on Amazon, due to the recent storms. I own the duracell, and this one I bought for a friend https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001TE0IMG/ref=as_li_ss_il?ie=UTF8&cam...

Make sure to get a thick enough extension cord, you can buy that locally, but must make sure it is thick enough. Scroll down on his solar123 site to see the guage needed for the length. Do not plug 2 shorter, thinner ones together, when it is longer, you need the thickness.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
My mid sized system

Edited to add, sorry it seems my efforts to attach photos failed.

I'm not sure if my attempt to add images will work here or not, but here goes...

My mid-sized system is really a cobbled together affair that I did 10 years ago, learning as I went.  It is by no means an example of the best way to do things!  It's been working fine though for a decade now.  I had started with six 45 solar panel kits that Harbor Freight sold.  I think they still sell them, but the last time I saw them the price hadn't changed much, meaning now they are WAY more expensive than they should be compared to what you can get elsewhere.  Anyway, I used the painted steel mounting frames that came with the kit and set up a larger mounting frame made with treated 4x4 posts.  A bit later I added the two larger panels you see in the photo.  With these I made a frame from scrap aluminum which then attached to another 4x4 post construction designed to let me change the angle of them from a winter to summer position.

The summer position.

The winter position.  In the background of both these photos you can see the larger array for the large solar system.

Anyway, these panels are all a 12 volt type totaling 520 watts when combined.  The charge controllers that came with the Harbor Freight kits were only designed to handle the 45 watts for each kit so I couldn't use them when combining everything.  I got a fairly basic Xantrex charge controller that could handle the power with some to spare.  This got crammed into a small space with 5 100 amp/hour 12 volt AGM batteries as seen in this photo.

There are circuit breakers and fuses in the mix as well.  Here's a shot showing the small space it's in with the 3000 watt pure sine wave inverter mounted below.

The inverter is new this year, replacing the old 1500 watt one which began giving erratic power after 9 years.

If I did it over again I wouldn't try putting all that stuff into such a small hard to access space.  It's difficult to work on, and any future batteries might not fit into the space.  I also wouldn't mix the types of panels.  I'm sure I'm losing power as a result of this.  It was all a learning project for me.  If you aren't at all familiar with this sort of work I'm sure the sort of ready made mid-sized system Chaz offers that is mentioned in the podcast would be much better and easier to set up.  One other problem I'm noticing is that the painted steel mounting frames the Harbor Freight panels came with now have the paint pealing and the frames rusting.  I'm going to have to do something about that before too long lest they rust through.  It really makes more sense to have your mounting system designed to last at least as long as the panels should. 

Adam Taggart's picture
Adam Taggart
Status: Peak Prosperity Co-founder (Offline)
Joined: May 26 2009
Posts: 2771
Image loading tutorial

David -

It looks like your photos didn't come through.

Hopefully, this tutorial on how to post photos to this site helps you load them successfully:

https://www.peakprosperity.com/tutorial-adding-images-within-post-or-com...

But if not, just email them to [email protected] and I'll post them for you.

cheers,
A

mr. pei's picture
mr. pei
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 27 2010
Posts: 5
Marathon heater

David, thank you for all the information.  Do you have at least a rough estimate of how much KWh per year you use for Marathon heater? Thank you. 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
solar electric pictures

 

Editd -- the pictures shw on previw and not now ! -- Well, the picture of the panels is on a hosted site and I cant seem to link it here, these others I have of the inverter, charge controller, and the 3 large towers are the Aquion batteries ( total of 7.8kW stored). These are not sideways on my computer desktop !

 

 

 

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Thanks for the link to

Thanks for the link to helpful instructions Adam.  Hopefully I can make this work now.

Here are images for my post about my mid-sized solar system.  First is the array with the adjustable panel section in the summer position.

Next with the winter position.  I calculated these position based on my specific latitude.

Here is the shot of the charge controller and batteries crammed in their small space.

Finally a wider shot to give a better sense of the space that I should have made larger.

I'll try to get a post about my main system done later, as well as answer Mr Pei's question about my water heater.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
solar system, pictures that work

The tall towers are Batteries, 7.8kWh, Aquion Energy. That DC disconnect box is usually covered, but I was showing on another forum how we added new battery tech to an old system. the 2 boxes over it are charge controllers, one very old, connected to an old string of 2kW of panels, and the more recent Outback MPPT which is only connect to about 600W of more recent panels. The older charge controller I have is likely, by the looks of it, the same one that David H. has in his system above. Trace was bought out by Xantrex, so same device, same color, different name. The large rectangle to to the left is the inverter. This inverter will also automatically start a generator when the batteries are low, but I have never utilized that.      This is a 48V system, and these are 48V batteries.

 

House faces due magnetic south, older panels are 24 12Vpanels sold as 110W each, these were made by Astropower, so this is for an "actual" 2kW at the house, those go to the older charge controller still and are the max that that "half" of the inverter will take, it will take 2 strings of panels, each limited to 2kW. These panels are wired together in sets of 4 as I have a 48V system. There are 3 more recent panels, made by Evergreen, these are sold as 210W each, and a set of 3 is what would match the voltage best for my system, the inverter would handle more power on this string, but we dont realy need it.

 

 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
water heaters

I have a separate studio on my property also, but on my same solar electric system, with its own kitchen and bath. I have a small electric tank water heater for it, just a 20 gallon one from home depot, and it realy does not use much power. The refrigerator there is small due to space limitations, adaquate but smaller than a usual household one. And, we have had 2 people take back to back showers there without issues. It seems likely to me that our American houses have a "bigger is better " mentality, and this is seen with both refrigerator size and hot water tank size.

I sub metered the studio, and last year kept track of its power usage with 2 people in it. The coldest winter months used a bit more power as the tank water heater was outside. I tracked 7 months and it used between 84 and 130 kWh a month, this was January thru July. This electricity usage provided hot water, refrigeration, a small 1.7cu ft washing machine, cable modem and wi-fi box, a couple laptops, LED lights, and fan when hot. The cooking stove was propane, and heating was wood. So, around 100kWh of power a month.

refrigerator in our studio is only 4.3cuft, due to width limitations, and is this one: http://www.homedepot.com/p/Magic-Chef-4-3-cu-ft-Mini-Refrigerator-in-Sta...

It uses 329kWh a year, which I think is high due to how small it is ! But, small ones do not realy use less power. You can get about 2 or 3 times as much cu ft for the same power usage, if you have the room for it.

 

Hot water heater we have is this one, http://www.homedepot.com/p/Rheem-Performance-20-Gal-6-Year-2000-Watt-Sin...

 

washing machine is this one https://www.walmart.com/ip/Danby-1-7-Cu-Ft-Capacity-Portable-Top-Load-Wa...

 

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
My large solar system

Ok, I've got a bit of time now to sit down and share some about my large off-grid solar system that powers my main house.  I'm not sure how much help this will be to anyone though, esp. since there are some oddities in it all due to working with a bad solar install company.  I don't want to dredge up all the strife I had getting this done to a workable level.  In the end I just fixed things myself.  That said, unless you are really familiar with electrical work and how to do solar I would still think a system of this size is best done with people who do know what they are doing.  I don't regret hiring someone to design and install it.  I just wish I had hired someone else.  Despite me thinking I had a decent understanding of solar systems going into the project I still learned a good deal. 

Ok, the system is 4400 watts of panels, half are 12 volt Evergreen 210 watt panels, like mntnhousepermi has.  The other half are 24 volt Solar Cynergy 230 watt panels if I recall correctly.  I might have the brand wrong.  Here are some photos of the array and mounting.

We located it where it is because this spot had the best overall exposure to sun throughout the day and was close to the outbuilding you see in the background of the first photo.  That building is where the batteries, charge controllers, and inverter are.  The idea was to keep the DC powered wire run from the panels to the equipment short for less power loss over the line.  This is an issue when it is DC power as opposed to AC.

The shot from the back is so you can see the mounting structure.  It is galvanized metal pipes mounted into the ground with cement.  Onto this is an aluminum panel mounting system, extruded aluminum tubes with channels designed to hold the mounting brackets shown in the third photo.  As you can see these brackets are fairly simple with a little lip that goes over the panel and screws down tightly.  This is much easier and nicer than what I had done on my mid-sized system that I rigged up where I was trying to mount them using predrilled holes on the backside of the panel frames.  The installer said this system was rated for at least 100 mph winds.  Thankfully I haven't had to test that yet!

The panels are also wired up together in the back in various combinations of series and parallel to get the voltage and amperage that will work best with their respective charge controllers.  Here's a picture of those.

If my panels had all been of the same type, or at least of the same voltage I could probably have used just one of these Midnite Solar Classic charge controllers as long as it was rated to handle the potential power input.  However, because I have two types of panels in this system I needed a controller for each.  There is a communication wire between the two charge controllers that lets them talk to each other so they can switch to their various states of charging together.  These are MMPT type controllers.  Something I didn't realize going into this was that with this type controller at least the input voltage can be way higher than that of the battery bank.  My system is a 48 volt system, yet one of my sets of panels is wired to feed in about 90 volts the other tends to be 60 or so.  The MMPT charge controllers then make their adjustments to the voltage/amperage to feed into the battery bank what is optimal.  As I understand it this increases the efficiency of the system overall.

My battery bank is 8 of these Magna Power AGM 12 volt 245amp/hour batteries.  They are wired to created two parallel strings of 4 batteries that are wired in series.  In other words two groups of 48 volts.  To me this is the weakest point of my off-grid system.  I feel like I really should have a larger battery bank, and this is after I've enlarged what the company I hired left me with!  It does work anyway, though it gets seriously stressed around the winter solstice and I expect this will result in a shorter life of the battery bank than it should be.  Given that this represented about $4000 worth of batteries I'm not happy about it.  My hope is that when I do need to replace the bank there will be better options available.  My sense is that there already are.

This last photo shows all the stuff mounted on the wall and my insulating box around the battery bank.  A downside to locating all this in the building it's in is that it is an unheated building.  When the batteries get cold, ie during the winter solstice when I need the most storage capacity, they will lose storage capacity.  The insulating box is to keep them just that little bit warmer.  I'm working on finishing up a project now where I've built a greenhouse off the south side of this building.  In addition to it's functions as a greenhouse, it is also to serve double duty as a heater of sorts for this building in the winter.  I'll see how well that works out this winter.

You can also see the 4400 watt pure sine wave inverter in this last photo.  It is the big white box.  I also consider this a weak point in the overall system in terms of resiliency.  If that breaks down I lose power.  With most of the other components the system would be reduced in capacity but still function.  I've been considering buying a second inverter to store as a backup.  Of course right now I also have the back up of the power grid too.  The line still runs to my house and all it would take is a phone call, a $40 hook up charge, and a few days to get a lineman out to hook me back up.

I should also note that all the circuit breakers, switches, fuses, wiring and such is in a box that the inverter is hanging on.  The black cord you see coiled up on the left side of the photo is what I can run outside and hook up to my propane generator if I need to use it to charge the battery bank up.

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Power use on water heater

Mr. Pei, as far as your question goes regarding the yearly power use of my Marathon water heater the simple honest answer is that I don't know.  Because it's wired directly into the circuit breaker box I can't easily put a kilowatt meter on it to read real world usage.  I can tell you that when it turns on to heat up the water it's drawing about 2100 watts.  From a full tank of cold water from my well to hot water I'm going to guess that it takes at least an hour to heat it.  That would mean 2.1 kilowatts.  It might take longer.  It does seem like it took longer the very first time I powered it up.  Of course usually it's not that long because I'm not draining the tank fully so it's a mix of hot and cold water being heated back up to fully hot.

Whatever my actual yearly usage is though everyone elses would be different depending on how much hot water they used.  As I recall they said this heater was supposed to lose only 5 degrees over a 24 hour period if it was just sitting.  Assuming this is true then most of the power will be consumed heating up the replacement water when you do use hot water.

Looking at my entire electric usage (hot water, well pump, lights, fridge, etc.) I roughly figure that with the losses in the entire system added in I need to generate about 4 kilowatts a day on average when I'm working to be conservative, like around the winter solstice.  What has surprised me with going off-grid was the realization that outside the 6 week period around the winter solstice I actually have way more power than I need.  Thus I'm often looking for ways to use it productively rather than my old mode of always trying to conserve.  I've found that there are significant periods of time in the spring and fall when I can heat my home with electric space heaters if it's a sunny day!

mr. pei's picture
mr. pei
Status: Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 27 2010
Posts: 5
Power use on water heater, and battery info

David, thank you very much for that information.  Regarding other, better battery options, maybe Nickel-Iron. Dr. Tom Murphy, guest on PP, switched from lead-acid to N-I.  Perhaps they can be left to others in a will upon death. He says he still owes a post on how his N-I has been performing.  Hopefully that is blogged before you must purchase.  https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/

 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
nickel iron
mr. pei wrote:

David, thank you very much for that information.  Regarding other, better battery options, maybe Nickel-Iron. Dr. Tom Murphy, guest on PP, switched from lead-acid to N-I.  Perhaps they can be left to others in a will upon death. He says he still owes a post on how his N-I has been performing.  Hopefully that is blogged before you must purchase.  https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/

 

 

Nickel Iron are great batteries, but they do need maintenance, and not just adding water, to make them last forever, you need to do an electrolyte refresh every 8 to 10 years. Better than lead acid, yes. Cross your fingers on Aquion going back to production. I would buy Iron Edison over lithium Ion or lead acid, for sure

David Huang's picture
David Huang
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Jan 20 2010
Posts: 64
Nickel iron batteries

Thank you both for that info on nickel iron batteries.  That type really hasn't come to my attention before.  I'll be sure to look into it!

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
complete systems are inexpensive

A complete solar electric, large enough to power the studio apartment on my property, or some other cabin, is very inexpensive, if you can install yourself, Installation of basics, and panels, is not hard if you are somewhat handy. This is for a stand-alone, not grid-tied, system : $2,000. https://realgoods.com/the-weekender-complete-solar-pv-kit

 

One large enough for a conservtive house, about the size of mine, so plenty large for well-pumping, dishwasher, washing machine, etc.... of a normal household : $9,000 https://realgoods.com/the-cabin-complete-solar-pv-kit This looks extremely similar to Dave's houshold PV system, above, same inverter. This package has an inverter and batteries that would easily support more panels, if you wanted to go up to 4.4, like Dave's, it wouldnt cost much more as panels are not that expensive.

I believe that the length of wires from the panels to the inverter is an extra, and depends on the distance between the two for each location.

 

If you ever had questions, the technicians at Real Goods are very good.

Geedard's picture
Geedard
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2014
Posts: 46
Great website to help identify most energy efficient appliances

Hi everyone, this is a great topic, thread and comments. Thanks a lot.

Here is a super website to help identify the "top 10" most energy efficient household appliances, by category, energy efficiency, brand, purchase price, annual KWH consumption, annual energy running cost etc - and then to dive more into the detail of whatever interests you...

http://www.toptenuk.org/products/categories

Website stats are based on European standard 240V AC...nevertheless, still a great guideline for US located folks. Brands are mostly globally available...

If anybody knows any other similar websites - for example - that cover more heavy duty household infrastructural equipment, such as water heaters, heating systems and the like, then PLEASE SHARE! :-)

Here also are a couple of sites containing energy consumption calculators:

http://www.electrical101.com/energy-calculators.html

https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/design/tools/calculators/general-engi...

 

 

Geedard's picture
Geedard
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2014
Posts: 46
@ sand_puppy, David Huang, mntnhousepermi, Adam Taggart

Hi fellas (and hi to everyone else too of course),

Great comments from you all - thanks a lot!

My previous post earlier today offered a website link to help identify cost effective and low energy use refrigerators and other household appliances (note - the website has nothing to do with me personally or anyone I know...I'm just an ordinary Joe and PP.com member, not selling or promoting anything). My comments below are based purely upon my own personal off-grid experiences...I personally live permanently in a mountain house, at an altitude of 1 km (3'300 ft), in the east central Swiss Alps, Switzerland. I enjoy living the whole subject of preparedness / off-grid, it interests me enormously and warms my heart as a lifestyle.

REGARDING REFRIGERATION SPECIFICALLY: For maximum efficiency and convenience, why not consider setting up a combination of independent refrigeration methods, each purposed around the variety of different refrigeration needs that you undoubtedly have - rather than a one-size fits all single refrigeration setup. For example...let's consider several normal "average" human needs and a few well known refrigeration brands - such as Liebherr, Siemens and Dometic:

  1. An ultra-low consumption dedicated refrigerator (without freezer function). Circa $300 to $400 should get a brand new A+++ 5 Cu Foot (5 ft³) one, consuming only 60-70 KWH per annum (example = Liebherr Comfort TP1720)...just to keep food short term fresh and preserved.
  2. A low-ish consumption dedicated chest freezer (again, circa $300 to $400 should get a brand new A++ 8.4 Cu Foot chest freezer (8.4 ft³) without defrost function, consuming 170 KWH per annum, such as the Liebherr GT2632...or...if you're thinking higher end, circa $1'100 to $1'300...for a 12.7 Cu Foot (12.7 ft³) freestanding freezer with automatic defrost function, consuming only 225 KWH per annum - such as the Siemens iQ500 GS58NAW41)...or maybe consider 2 x mid-sized freezers instead of 1 large capacity freezer, offering a backup in case of failure and also the ability to switch one off completely if frozen food depletes...thus reducing the load on your battery bank. Whatever.
  3. An ultra-low consumption 12/24 Volt DC/100-240 AC top-loading (chest style) portable compressor systle refrigerator/freezer, A++ 1.9 Cu Foot, consuming 70 KWH per annum via AC or 0.75 KWH per hour via DC, capable of refrigeration through to deep freeze -22 C (-7 F), or freeze -12 C (10 F) at outside ambient temperature of +32 C...such as the Dometic CFX65W...the type used by many RV'ers, travellers and campers. The CFX range is a latest Dometic design, reducing energy consumption by 30% compared with their previous designs.

So...why consider a combination approach using all 3 types mentioned, instead of a single 1-size-fits-all refrigerator?    Generally speaking, we can only consume so much fresh food per week...so a good capacity refrigerator is highly valuable (compared to an oversize one, which is often exactly that)...combined with a smaller portable refrigerator/freezer. This combination permits the periodic transfer of daily essentials from the larger "fixed" refrigerator to the smaller portable one...enabling to keep the door closed on the larger fixed refrigerator for several days, minimising energy consumption - while you open and close the portable "chest style" refrigerator multiple times a day (where the cold air cannot escape downwards and outwards upon opening the door, due to the chest style design).  The portable refrigerator can be carried around in the car on journeys, holidays or emergencies...and can also be taken into the yard/garden containing beer, wine, burgers, ice cream or whatever and be powered by a small 12 V and solar panel for the entire day without problem. In other words, you retain full flexibility for many different circumstances (normal or emergency) and minimise energy consumption by design, all at the same time. The portable "compressor" style refrigerators (rather than the "absorber" style) help to massively reduce energy consumption whilst retaining highly efficient cooling. And naturally, the use of a fixed and dedicated standalone medium term food preservation freezer makes a lot of sense, in addition to the 2 short-term refrigeration methods described...with each of the 3 methods specialised towards its own design function, rather than being a compromise of all 3.    Cost and space available are clearly very decisive factors for most people. Personally, I use all 3.

IN GENERAL:

Regarding off-grid anything and if you can afford it and if you have the space available - I've found that it's generally best to "purpose and dedicate" the battery bank setup and appliances specifically to the job in hand. Meaning: have several battery bank setups, independent of each other - that are dedicated exactly towards the goal. Exactly as Chaz and Adam discussed in the podcast, some daily "essentials" are very low power consumption "handful of watt" items (such as USB charging the mobile phone, LED lights, recharging torches, small radio, MP3 player, laptop etc). Thus, having a small 12V DC setup with several recharging options (i.e. solar, or small rechargeable 3 or 400 watt "portable AC/12V/USB power pack" for traveling or emergency situations) dedicated to "low consumption tasks" will happily service this requirement and can be scaled up pretty easily as small rechargeable items accumulate.

Beyond that, most people have a sway of "smallish to mid-size" more power hungry items (e.g. larger stereo/amplifier/surround sound, powered speakers, 19" LCD TV etc, small power tools, game consoles such as Xbox360, PS3 etc, juicers and blenders, yadayada) - which individually all tend to operate somewhere in the 200 to 500 Watt range. On their own, they're pretty manageable with a small battery bank and recharger setup (solar, small portable power pack, small generator, small inverter or whatever), but start using a few at the same time and they soon overpower your setup. Having a separate "mid-capacity" battery bank for these type of items / with several recharging options (solar array, small generator etc) / with one or two mid size inverters, charge controllers etc - means: that it's possible to "manage" your way through tricky periods when your mid-size battery bank is a little depleted by the more power hungry items...and you find yourself with only 5% charge on your mobile phone, needing to do a 1 hour conference call, starting in 10 minutes time. Having the smaller setup alongside the mid-size one, solves little emergencies and keeps you flexible, while your mid-size battery bank restores its health.

Beyond that, everyone of us has a large sway of power hungry appliances, whether we realise it or not. AC powered microwave ovens, ovens generally, pumps, vacuum cleaners, irons, kettles, hair dryers, toasters, sandwich makers and the like, air conditioners, larger power tools, compressors, boilers, heating systems etc - generally any appliance that heats up, cools down, pumps, sucks, spins or blows...is going to quickly use up all the battery capacity that you have and more besides. All these items tend to come in at 800 to 3'000+ watts each - all of them...     And naturally enough, if you wish to power up these kind of items, it all requires a sizeable and robust battery bank, with a combination of both sustainable and on-demand recharging sources (if sustainable is not up to the task, just at the moment that you need it be) and with some fairly heavy duty inverters, together with capable fuse boxes, heavy wiring etc for safety reasons.   Whilst that is obviously the challenge, the good news is - that most of these hungry items are not as "lifestyle essential" as you might think. Not using them all the time...or better still - using an alternative instead, is easier than you might think...but only when you think about it...in advance. And if you're prepared to adapt.

Having several different battery bank setups - aimed by design towards low consumption / medium consumption / high consumption appliances and tasks, allows flexibility and scale up...and also human learning / acceptance / adaptation at a speed and intensity that suits the individual. It takes time...and money...and above all - the desire to face up to some challenges and short term inconveniences that easy-life living has mostly erased for the majority. But the reward - for me anyway - is brilliant and worth it I think.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
multiple inverters/batteries

would be very expensive. I can see having a smaller, maybe even portable, for a separate building on the property or camping that can be used in a bug out, but otherwise, these multiple systems for just around the house would be very pricey ! And, not more environmental considering the manufacturing of batteries and electronics, it seems. So, I can see the argument for a small, portable dc only system, wether one has a larger solar system, or if it is all a household has for emergency uses, but cannot see the advantages of have 2 larger, mid-mid or mid-large, for the same house.

I use small electric appliances off of my one batterybank with no problems, water pumping(not small), electric kettle, toaster, bread maker, etc.... for many days in a row when it is raining. Batteries and inverters and especially the wiring is very expensive. 

Having separate freezers/refrigerators work for some people, especially those with alot of frozen items, but adding all the numbers of yours together does not seem like much to any annual energy savings, and alot of floor space by having 3 separate units ? This is one I have looked into alot for my house, and so far have not seen enough of an advantage to chest freezer-style refrigerators to justify the increased cost, but I revisit this often, and do not know for sure what I will do next time I need a new one. I may well try a horizontal one out then. We all have different needs, I produce alot on site that needs refrigeration, I barely use freezer space. For others, it is the other way around ! Idealy, I would like to have a root cellar, and spring box  -- but, for now, time and money constrains. Unlike most people, I produce my own dairy, and so generally have 3-12 half gallon jars of milk, various cheeses, jars of pickles and seasonally 10 dozen eggs to see thru the molt and winter slow down. Eggs of course do not need to be refrigerated, but do if they are being stored for so many months in a hot area like here.

 

By the way, there is a link to an appliance energy consumption site up in one of my earlier posts, not all inclusive, I dont think it has summit appliance in it, but just about all of the typical ones you can get in America

 

 

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
high electric use items

You are right, some typical items realy use too much electricity to use on a battery system, electric ovens, electric space heaters, electric hot water heating. Most reasonably priced solar/battery sytems do not connect to these devices. I think some people with alot of money to burn do power these, but for a typical household, they are not a battery drain as they are not used on a battery system, at least this is what I see around here. ANd, as I said a few super expensive systems owned by people with a whole lot of money who will put in enough to power everything electric they might desire.

 

Bt, most out here conserve first and then make a system

Geedard's picture
Geedard
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2014
Posts: 46
Conserving then scaling, agree completely

Completely agree with that sentiment.

My living circumstance has some extreme outer edges. In summer months, due to the trajectory of the sun and the topography of the surrounding alpine mountains, I get up to a maximum of 8.5 hours of sun. In winter, I get 43 minutes in total, per day. That's it. 2 years ago, that was 49 minutes...but the fir tree forest adjacent to my home (which I don't own and which grow on UNESCO protected land - thus I can't chop them down) grew 2 feet higher in that time...and aren't going to stop growing in future...so my 43 minutes will be less or none foreseeably. And obviously, its cold in winter, with an average 60 cm permanent frozen snow cover from mid-Dec until mid-April.

To be less reliant on AC (which can black out in winter weather), I needed to setup differently. Solar helps, but is not a sustainable year round solution for me. Also not wind (the mountains shield against the wind for the most part), also not hydro (there's no viable stream/river/waterfall that I can access for hydro, although I have fresh flowing alpine water.

So to minimise AC use I need to conserve as priority and then optimise for maximum efficiency out of the appliances in use, the battery capacity that I have and the charging methodologies available....and simply use alternatives.

At the local state level where I live, hydro dominates AC production (excellent). But that doesn't help me in a black out or a white out. Only viable backups, efficient and affordable. So yes - conserve, then system. Same here too.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
Geedard wrote: Completely
Geedard wrote:

Completely agree with that sentiment.

My living circumstance has some extreme outer edges. In summer months, due to the trajectory of the sun and the topography of the surrounding alpine mountains, I get up to a maximum of 8.5 hours of sun. In winter, I get 43 minutes in total, per day. That's it. 2 years ago, that was 49 minutes...but the fir tree forest adjacent to my home (which I don't own and which grow on UNESCO protected land - thus I can't chop them down) grew 2 feet higher in that time...and aren't going to stop growing in future...so my 43 minutes will be less or none foreseeably. And obviously, its cold in winter, with an average 60 cm permanent frozen snow cover from mid-Dec until mid-April.

To be less reliant on AC (which can black out in winter weather), I needed to setup differently. Solar helps, but is not a sustainable year round solution for me. Also not wind (the mountains shield against the wind for the most part), also not hydro (there's no viable stream/river/waterfall that I can access for hydro, although I have fresh flowing alpine water.

So to minimise AC use I need to conserve as priority and then optimise for maximum efficiency out of the appliances in use, the battery capacity that I have and the charging methodologies available....and simply use alternatives.

At the local state level where I live, hydro dominates AC production (excellent). But that doesn't help me in a black out or a white out. Only viable backups, efficient and affordable. So yes - conserve, then system. Same here too.

 

I would imagine you must have a wood stove, which is how I do space heating here on my  mountain, and I  often cook on the woodstove in the storms too.

mntnhousepermi's picture
mntnhousepermi
Status: Silver Member (Offline)
Joined: Feb 19 2016
Posts: 115
Geedard wrote: Hi everyone,
Geedard wrote:

Hi everyone, this is a great topic, thread and comments. Thanks a lot.

Here is a super website to help identify the "top 10" most energy efficient household appliances, by category, energy efficiency, brand, purchase price, annual KWH consumption, annual energy running cost etc - and then to dive more into the detail of whatever interests you...

http://www.toptenuk.org/products/categories

Website stats are based on European standard 240V AC...nevertheless, still a great guideline for US located folks. Brands are mostly globally available...

If anybody knows any other similar websites - for example - that cover more heavy duty household infrastructural equipment, such as water heaters, heating systems and the like, then PLEASE SHARE! :-)

Here also are a couple of sites containing energy consumption calculators:

http://www.electrical101.com/energy-calculators.html

https://www.maximintegrated.com/en/design/tools/calculators/general-engi...

 

 

 

I had fun Drooling at the UK site looking at refrigerators ! We have absolutely nothing in this range in the USA ! For example, a 12 cu ft ( 343liter) refrig/freezer that uses under 200kWhr a year, for 530pounds. American refrigerators are all much larger, and the smaller ones, when you can find them, must use the same condensors or whatever of the larger, as they do no use as much less as you would expect.

 

Geedard's picture
Geedard
Status: Bronze Member (Offline)
Joined: Oct 13 2014
Posts: 46
Correct - alternatives to publicly available AC are...

Correct.

Wood burning for heating house and water boilers, cooking when necessary (or when inconvenient some other way) + Ethanol cooking spirit designed for cooking Cheese Fondue...used indoors or outdoors (heating up pots and pans of food and sauces - or for boiling the water in a stove-stop Cafetiere for quick hot coffee (without need for heating the stove itself). Not smelly like propane.

Battery for DC directly / AC with inverter, solar battery recharging when available or battery charger / controller that recharges 12 V DC batteries using methanol (recharge rate circa 200 amps every 24h). Methanol in a sealed container has unlimited shelf life. 10 litres of methanol (circa 2.5 US gallons) fairly silently monitors and recharges my 12 V DC battery round the clock for circa 3 weeks.

Propane sometimes...e.g. gas grill BBQ.

240V/400V Generator for really heavy duty appliances, or when noise is not a showstopper.

Petrol driven appliances such as chainsaw, strimmers, lawn mower, hedge trimmers etc.

Only wood is really sustainable year round, solar viable half year, all others must be purchased and act as affordable convenience or multiple backup options.

 

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Login or Register to post comments