Monday, January 17, 2011

From the Off-Grid Trenches

Oooo, a box. Let's peek inside.

Behold! Twelve Concorde PVX-9150T 2V(each) 915 (total) Ah batteries wired into a 24V bank
sitting in a Radiant Solar Technologies battery enclosure
We set our box on a piece of insulation to insulate it from the concrete floor.

Okay, it's time to get serious. The Husband and I are knee deep in snow, firewood, gas cans for the generator and wind turbine research. We were talking about how it would have been nice to talk to someone living off-grid for "the rest of the story." Yes, there are numerous articles in magazines. Magazines that have paying advertisers advertising solar and wind systems and services. The articles are positive and polite which is a good start. We've been to seminars and workshops. Again, put on by individuals selling systems and services. Again, information that's much needed but only scratches the surface. A few years ago, we visited the one home in our area (Northern Ohio at the time) that was on The Solar Tour. This particular home had a wind turbine with a few batteries but they were grid-tied and did not rely much on the power they were generating. In fact, they were dumping the power. Dumping power! Horrors! The home was owned by a builder that was touting green building. Everyone selling something any more puts a green spin on it but I wonder how many people really know what off-grid living is like. No one, emphasis no one, was either able, because they weren't living off-grid or they considered it impolite, I don't know which, to really tell us what it is like to actually live off-grid. At one point in our building process, The Husband looked at me and said, "I hope this stuff really works." Shit. Let's all pause for a minute while our blood that has just run cold returns to normal and our face is no longer flush. Okay. Steady knees. Breathe. So, here's the dirty, naked truth: It does work. Is it easy? No. Is it perfect? No. We knew going into this that there was a very real possibility of having to make adjustments. What we started with is just that--a start. We knew we would need to add wind but we weren't ready to financially commit to anything that is on the market. We've been observing. Both our weather and the wind industry. The Husband wants a system that will tie into our existing system without frying our batteries. Batteries are a HUGE investment. Batteries are why people stay grid-tied and buy power at retail in the off-months. We are running the generator waaay more than we want to. While I'm happy with our generator, a Honda EU6500i, it's heavy. When I'm here by myself (along with the ferocious feLIONs and the Lady Smith, least you have any diabolic plans to overthrow my reign as Princess of The Secret Cabin or anything else evil. I don't know if I even need the Lady Smith with the biceps I'm building) hauling the generator out is not one of my favorite things. It's on par with moving hogs around. I can handle it though as I once held a mean 300+ pound sow at bay by the ear. I know. It impressed all the other farmers witnessing this incredible feat too. I use this move on The Husband sometimes. It's very effective. So we're running the generator more than we wanted to, using fossil fuels, and killing soldiers. Unacceptable. If I could go Jeep-less and tractor-less, I would. I'm trying to figure out how. I want more hot water. No, I refuse to go the propane or natural gas route. Besides, what are they going to do? Drop propane off a cargo plane? Here's your propane. BAM! Oops. No, at this point, I'm not paying the electric company to bring electric back 3/4 of mile. That would darned near pay for the turbine. I've heard talk in town. Obscene whispers of $200 a month electric bills. Two-f*ing-OMG-hundred dollars a month for electric. Cripes! I'd sit in the dark before I paid that. And you want to know the bare naked truth, some times I do sit in the dark. If it's 9:00 at night and the system is down to 24.2 or 24.1 volts, I put the fires in the heaters, light a candle, call it ambience and listen to the silence. Lowers the blood pressure as long as I don't think about contractors. If I can't sit in silence, I can read books on my iPad. More naked, off-grid living truth: we threw the breaker for the fridge off. The frig is, gasp, a major energy sucker. True. We don't have the heat running to the front porch so the front porch is my frig. If I need something kept frozen, I set it on the top step right outside the porch door. It's not pretty and there's something about it that feels uncivilized but it's working. They don't tell you that stuff in the advertisements, articles, or workshops. You need to know so you can plan what will work for you---plan what to start with, what to add next, budgeting, how you're going to live in the meantime and between time. The other thing they either can't or don't tell you is how amazing it is despite the work and, more gasping only this time more intensely almost causing a choking accident, inconvenience. I'm not sure what it is but when I figure it out, I'll let you know, but there is something about making your own power.... It reminds me of the first time we fed hay we grew by the sweat of our own brows to Diesel. We worked so hard. It's like Life is on steroids. Everything from the bale springing open after the sharp "snip" of the wire cutters, the fragrance becoming more intense in your nose as you remember how you worked all night until 6 am to beat the's like everything is more sharply focused....Life turned up on high, wheeeee with an exclamation point. Several. Yeah, living off-grid is Life on high. Wheeeee!!!!!!


offgridcabin said...

We've been using our generator quite frequently in the winter as well. We're on the line of the lake effect snow, ten miles to the South and there is sun. My Dad looked up the specifications on our Honda EU 3000 and found out that on "eco-throttle" we run at about 750 Watts, so when we charge our batteries before going to bed we'll cut the generator the instant we get to float, or if we're really sharp, just before float so we don't throwout any extra watts - plus in the evening we'll run about 250-300 watts between lights and TV so in the end we waste very little gas (other than AC to DC charging losses). During extended stays we re-gen every 3 days.

I've also been researching wind power and hope to post something on it soon.

bheki said...

Awesome info! Thank you for sharing.