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I’ve been solar and water powered, including solar hot water and 80% of home/office heat, for about 7 years now. During the summer I don’t need to go to town except for luxury items, like orange juice. A neighbor has a bison ranch, so winter food supplies are local, too. But there are still a lot of grids. Shoes, for example. A grid of skilled people who can access the resources they need to do their work is always required.
I will buy it if you don’t want to …
Build your own solar modules? Don’t. It took 40 years for the state of the art to reach the point it is at today, where the encapsulation technology, UV resistant laminates, waterproofing, etc., last for decades. You can buy this state of the art for $1.40/Watt. Build your own for $1.00 a Watt and you’ll replace them annually, since you can’t buy the right stuff to package PV cells into a module that will last in a rooftop environment of -40 to +90C wet/dry.
As for the rest of your questions … a good week-long PV seminar will answer them all. I teach this stuff all over the country but my home-base is a local community college in Colorado where my classes, that sell for $1600 per student elsewhere, cost $98 due to state tuition laws. Look around your area for an intro solar PV design class at a local community college – it will be, by far, the best investment you make – in your own skills and knowledge.
Sorry to disagree, but “ordinary middle class people” live lifestyles that encompass luxury beyond that available to royalty before the oil era. I’m not being a purist or PC … I teach energy, which is the powered needed to perform work over time, by definition. Get a calculator and run the numbers – an “average” 1000kW/hr per month electric energy useage costs about $100/mo for the ordinary consumer. Since humans can perform about 100 Watts of work per hour over 24 hours, a human can deliver 2.4kW/hrs of work per day. To get the same work from humans per day, 33.33kW/hrs, requires a daily staff of 14 people at 2.4kW/hrs per day per person. At minimum wage, $7.75 an hour, your energy cost would be $2600 a day. Think $4.00 per gallon gasoline is expensive? Go push an ordinary middle class American car about 15 miles.
“Ordinary” middle class life has been based on basically free energy for 100 years. That era of nearly free, reliable energy is drawing to a close right now. Ordinary middle class people who expect to continue living in a society based on free energy simply won’t be able to cope with such a rapid change en masse, and nobody’s remotely preparing them for the changes that will take place within the next generation. I don’t think it can be done, actually. People who get it are planning to take care of themselves, their families and their local communities when everyone finds themselves “off-grid.”January 22, 2011 at 12:00 am in reply to: TV opportunity – from the makers of Discovery’s Gold Rush #64956
While it might be entertaining to watch, you’re show’s premise is flawed, since the only frontiers remaining in this country are not geographic but physical and psychological – living the coming years, decades and centuries successfully as the world’s oil energy production and supply decreases will require a lot more than putting on a Dan’l Boone cap and camping out.
Developed civilization itself, based on basically free and 24/7 reliable oil energy, is facing a frontier – a planet that simply won’t be able to power itself as it has for 150 years. Start doing so research on “peak oil,” which is not a tin foil hat thing – it’s acknowledged as in progress today. What do you think caused the depression, after all, in 2008? An economy based upon credit demands growth. When energy supplies stop growing, economic growth stops. The only growth since 2008 has been in the money supply issued by the Fed and ECB and China. That’s the basis for the “bailouts” … replacing actual growth with an expansion of money to simulate growth.
Global conventional oil production has been flat since 2005 per all agencies following this; IEA, EIA, DoD, etc. The people on the frontier will be the ones who are developing and have developed local economies around local resources, since the era of importing energy and finished goods is ending right now. Read Jim Kunstler’s “The Long Emergency” and develop a show around his next book, “World Made By Hand.”January 22, 2011 at 12:00 am in reply to: How do I find an inexpensive lot or land in an eco friendly community #64957
Treasuregift nails it – invest in yourself, learn how to make yourself valuable to your local community.
City living absolutely requires many grids. Water and waste water, for example. Water delivery at pressure above 5 stories without using electricity is fairly hard – that is why there were no high-rises before fossil energy. But people have been living in apartments in cities far longer than they have been using fossil fuels. You can do a lot. Walk or ride a bicycle – don’t use oil. That’s a grid city dweller can shed individually, and easily. Develop and cultivate a local community within your walking radius. Make yourself valuable … learn to make shoes and where to get the materials, using a manually-powered machine – China’s a long way away and will be a long, long way away when fuel oil costs $10/gallon
To me, it’s a community of people with varying skills that are useful to each other, sited on land that is large enough and productive enough to support their nutritional needs as well as provide a surplus for trade with nearby communities. A local energy resource such as falling water would be ideal, to use for a mill (electricity or mechanical power). A long growing season, water for irrigation of crops (as well as people and animals)that doesn’t require electric pumping – gravity fed water is essential. Think Amish, with or without the religion. A community like this is sustainable over any length of time…
There are a lot of good since wave inverters available for off-grid use. When picking one, of designing any off-grid power system, everything starts with the load – both the peak load and the average load. I can send you a .xls worksheet that will size a residential system for you if you know your peak sun exposure. Once you know your load and decide your battery system voltage, you can calculate the battery reserve capacity for 24 hours 48 hours, etc. When you have the battery sized, you then can calculate the size of your battery charger – be it solar, hydro, diesel generator, whatever.
Off grid power is battery power unless you’re working with a fairly large microhydro system that can handle peak loading. It’s not a solar powered home, it is a battery powered home.
I am partial to Outback Power Systems, though Magnum makes a nice single box 240VAC unit. Outback requires the use of two inverters at 120VAC to make split phase 240 VAC, or the use of a toroidal transformer if you only need 240 for a well pump occasionally. Exeltech builds good product as well, though I use them mostly for commercial and industrial power systems; at communications sites that don’t require positive ground, mostly.
Life on batteries requires some diligence in design and in lifestyle choices. A 52 inch TV lifestyle with a hot tub – run primarily by a diesel or propane generator – is NOT off-grid at all, since diesel is provided by a very large grid called global oil production and distribution. Global conventional oil production peaked in 2005-2006 per the EIA and IEA and supplies will not be cheap or reliable over the life, or even warranty, of a new solar power system. Mismatched lifestyle to battery to charger designs inevitably lead to premature battery failure, and lead is NOT inexpensive anymore.
Finally, AC charging is highly efficient, since 1. backup generators that produce AC very dirt cheap and 2. off-grid inverter/chargers such as the Outback product can provide the multi-state charging the batteries need while unloading them during recharge by switching all loads to the generator, which minimizes the time the gennie runs (and that you have to listen to it.)
You’re discussing “thin-film” modules, made using one of three technologies – CIS, CIGS and CdTe. CdTe, or cadmium tellurium, is the most common. The leading manufacturer of CdTe is First Solar of Phoenix, AZ, with a 1.2 gW production line, doubling in 2011. They are very popular with ‘best practices’ grid-scale installations, since they cost 0.76 per Watt to produce. Nanosolar is an adventure of Sergie Brin and Larry Page of Google, and is not yet in production. Abound Solar of Ft. Collins CO is another growing thin film player, as it Sharp solar. See this month’s Solar Pro magazine for a good article on thin film technology.
I live with solar and microhydro power, and teach PV as well, and I would encourage you to take a class in off-grid solar design before really DIY’ing too much.
Your local community college might offer something useful, or you might check out Solar Energy International at http://www.solarenergy.org. They’re my ‘competition,’ but may have some online courses that are reasonably priced. If you’re on the east coast, I’ll be at Rutgers March 7-11, 2011 teaching PV there and would welcome you. See https://www.everblueenergy.com/solar-training-bootcamp for details about that class; I contract through them to various educational institutions.
@elnav has offered some good advice – but if you’re going to make your own power, a safe and reliable system really requires the investment of time needed to understand your power system. NEC Code compliance (2011 code) has changed to require “qualified persons” install any PV system and all 50 states require NEC code compliance.
DIY solar PV building is a total waste of time and money, since you’ll end up rebuilding them every couple of years when the materials you use to frame them fails due to UV and temperature/moisture. They’ll also be unlisted (UL) and therefore illegal under NEC code in the USA. The NEC is there to prevent injury and fires, and it’s the law that all systems comply with it in all 50 states. Solar PV power is electricity, which demands full respect, even at low voltages. A single 6 volt deep cycle 6 volt batter can easily deliver 6000 amperes when shorted – 36,000 Watts – enough to melt a wrench in a flash, spraying you with molten metal before you can even react.
Solar water heating, on the other hand, hasn’t changed much since Bill Bailey patented his Day and Night closed loop anti-freeze flat panel/integrated storage system in 1913. It’s accessible to almost anyone, safely, once basic solar thermal design and plumbing is understood.
Remember that all DC fuses and breakers must be manufactured and listed for DC service and listed for use in DC service. Arc flash is very different in DC than AC, since there’s never a return to zero voltage and current in DC. AC devices will catch fire, since they are not designed to open properly for use with DC.
Under NEC 2011, all DC breakers are also required to sense arc flash in the system and open immediately.
Don’t use automotive devices – unsafe and illegal in PV applications.
They’re called RVs