Basically everything we have runs on electricity, I mean if we think about it… cell phones, computers, refrigerators, water supply pumps, even my stove has an electric starter. And this is only considering everyday uses, what about the sick that need oxygen machines and electronically controlled apparatuses to provide a somewhat normal everyday life. I mean really, we thrive on the ability to have electricity right at our finger tips.
I must admit I don’t usually give our power source much thought; however, friends of mine were discussing how they have had no power or water, and it reminded me of last winter when an avalanche took out many power poles leaving us powerless for over 18 hours. This meant not only no power but also due to our well running off our homes power supply, no water, and thanks to our radiant heat loop, no heat either, revealing how truly frustrating it can be to have someone else in control of one’s power source.
So maybe you’ve had a similar experience and want to know what renewable energy is, the best option and/or maybe you’re like us and you’ve decided to take the plunge and chose a power source you can control.
Everlasting, naturally replenishable, renewable energy is a great place to start.
What is Renewable Energy?
When defined, renewable energy is energy generated from a natural resource and can include wind, water, solar, and geo thermal which are all naturally reoccurring in the earths everyday cycles. This means you are able to replenish your stock of energy every day. It’s comparable to grocery shopping daily for the staples needed but getting them for free.
What types of systems are there?
Systems to collect energy from the fore mentioned resources are all effective power generation sources, however not all will work for every application. For example, hydro power generation is a great option for those living close to rivers and open water unless there is a winter freeze reducing the ability to maintain generation.
Geo thermal is great for reducing heating and cooling costs but is generally only used in larger power applications due to the heat needed to make steam. The geographic location really makes a huge difference on all renewable energy applications, especially geothermal.
Collecting solar power is fantastic in areas such as California and Nevada; even here in Alaska over the summer months capturing the solar energy is possible and sustainable energy. It’s the winter months we must consider how well solar will work for us. In many cases it is utilized as a combined or hybrid system to include either a fuel generator and or another source of renewable energy such as wind power generation.
Wind power generation is among that growing in popularity. According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) the U.S. is number one in the world for wind power production, with China a close second.
Choosing the correct system all depends on the resources available to you and zoning issues among the cities, counties, and boroughs in which you reside.
Choosing the proper system
Varying types of systems are available, for example, in some applications you can sell the power generated by your system back to the utility company, in other places you may be completely self-reliant off grid and want a system compliant with your needs, or you may be in the middle, while utilizing the power grid for heavier electric loads you may have a supplemental system to increase efficiency and cut costs. To know what is available to you, you must first determine the regulations and current codes for the location where you are installing your system.
How do I determine the proper size for my application?
Calculating your current use will help you understand the power needed; alternatively, if you are building a new cabin this can be done by adding up the watts used by each appliance, light, home entertainment system and extra power needed to charge laptops or phones.
Each device or appliance uses watts and clicking on this calculator(click here) will give you a minimum size and recommended size of system to meet your needs based on known usage.
If you want to get down and dirty with the numbers, calculating energy consumption costs without using the calculator, list each power consuming device you plan to utilize on the system, divide the units watts by one thousand to get KWh then multiply the result by the number of each device or appliance and multiply by the hours you use that appliance or device daily. This can then be broken into energy consumed in months and years.
E= Energy Consumed, W=Watts, N=Number of units, H=Hours used
1 60 watt stereo for example that runs 20 hours a day
E=(60/1000*1)*20 ~~~When dividing watts by 1000 you are converting to kwh~~~
E=1.2kw per day
Once the daily energy consumed is known, multiplying it by 30 gives you an average of monthly use. In this case it would be 1.2*30=36. Finding the yearly usage multiply by 365 1.2*365=438 revealing yearly we consume 438kwh of music on average. (Totally worth it by the way!)
Now you know your demand you can move onto choosing the right system! Solar systems are most common and one system can capture the energy needed, depending on where you live, to power your cabin or home.
Where we live in Alaska, if off grid energy is your fancy, it is often part of a hybrid system due to the lack of sun during the winter months. We tend to use fuel generators and wind to keep us charged, and of course if you are blow-drying your hair or want to use your toaster or coffee maker, fire that generator up, you’re going to need it!
A crazy story and great lesson about off grid living. We rented an off grid house that had been totally wired with Solar, Wind and a Generator and had brand new 2v Trojan batteries! We were super stoked to live in it considering we had been living in an RV for a year.
It was around mid-December, probably getting close to 30 below zero, we started the generator to brew a pot of coffee and have some toast before heading out to haul water to fill our water tank. We always plugged in these heavy load items after the gen was running and unplugged them before shut down to ensure we didn’t overload our system. After our breakfast, I unplugged the coffee pot and cell phone chargers and headed out to shut down the gen. I remembered I needed something and ran in the house to grab it and our toaster was starting to melt down from the 12v dc!!! I had forgotten to unplug it before shut down.
Seriously! It was the most disgusting smell EVER! Obviously we killed our toaster, found out about the crazy electrical wiring and made sure to NEVER plug any AC in unless the gen was running.
Suspected cause, the house had initially been wired for 12v dc outlets, which is uncommon and not entirely safe, however we assume it is because the person who installed it skipped the power inverter from the batteries and just used the 12v batteries for power.
When the generator and inverter had been installed the outlets were running between 110vac to 120vac power, but when the generator was off instead of the outlets running 120vac from the battery bank through the inverter, or going dead like in an RV, they had a steady stream of 12v dc…. We only know this because of this story, which was crazy but brings to light the need for safety and professional consultation when you decide to switch over. Many Do-It Yourself Systems are out there and allow you to take control back from the power companies but doing it right is the most important part of the process.
Parts of the system
You will need certain parts to make this work.
First you will need your chosen power generation source/sources.
A battery bank sized, depending on the system you choose.
Inverters are very important! We recommend getting one that oversees the charging process on your batteries and controls the charge/float stage.
A DC Disconnect relevant to your system to disconnect the power from the power source to the inverter enabling you to perform maintenance if needed.
If you intend on selling your energy back to the power company, you’ll need a power meter.
For a backup/hybrid system, a fuel generator is needed to supplement 120vac and charge your battery bank on cloudy days or a lack of seasonal sun.
Lastly a charge controller of some sort is needed if it is not included in your inverter system.
Overall, taking back your power will provide you with a sense of freedom! Pick a system and get out there and doIToutside!