Something Feral

Digging up the flower-beds.

Monday, January 5, 2009


In the continuing effort to extricate me and mine from the clutches of nanny-statism (despite some of their voting habits), the last week or so here at the farm has been (between polishing up the leftovers and outside maintenance) spent drawing on napkins, reading articles on the Internet, scratching out cost-benefit analysis and conjuring the spirit of Nikolai Tesla to earth-bound servitude in his skull.

Okay, maybe we didn't conjure the angry spirit of Tesla, but there was copious research and scribbling. Long story short, I'm eyeballs-deep in getting an off-grid minimal-power generation system up.

The reasons for implementing such a system may not be readily apparent for those not already in a preparedness-mindset (or those that have never spent five hours on the phone arguing with Pacific Graft and Extortion), so I'll enumerate whilst I elucidate:
First: Life on the farm ain't exactly pleasant when the water won't pump from our well.

Second: Life on the farm ain't exactly pleasant when the sump-pump won't pump to the leach-field.

Third: I hate PG&E.

Fourth: This system is a working prototype for an eventual off-grid house that is somewhere in my future, albeit that system will likely be larger, but with less conventional watt-usage. Like any other exploratory venture into design, it's best to start small, work out the bugs, expand and repeat.

Fifth: I hate PG&E.

Sixth: Producing one's own power is an option that is better to have than have not. For clarification, ask any of the several-thousand without power recently in the frozen north-east. Furthermore, one can always be sure of the placement in the priority-queue when using an off-grid system, and the resulting independence immediately brightens my day, even if it's a little more work in the interim.

Seventh: I hate PG&E.

Currently, I'm shopping for a hefty modified/pure sine-wave inverter, and a 15-20A charge-regulator for the batteries. The photovoltaic panels are in the living-room, and while they aren't the most massive things, they'll keep the batteries charge relative to the planned usage, including generator use, if necessary.

Naturally, the amount of time spent doodling to time spent doing is about 10:1, the weather being what it is in January. In the course of doodling and doing research on some of the more interesting options involving Stirling-engine co-generation systems (also here), I remembered reading an article some months ago through StumbleUpon about a fascinating wood-burning truck. A quick application of Google-Fu yielded an interesting series of YouTube segments on wood-gasification power applied to a Toyota pickup (the smarmy hippy-speak cuts out with the narrator, hang in there; the entire series is about 47 minutes):

Segments two, three, four and five are here for convenience.

As I see it, this opens up appliances that run on liquid-propane, butane, and other petroleum derivatives for biomass conversion. At the very least, the concept's worth playing with, which is encouraging since I hate paying bills. Especially to PG&E.


Elle said...

So, how do you feel about PG&E?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of great alternative power projects that require a huge initial capital investment. By contrast, wind and solar are well-established and manageable.

But yes, once you have your lights and water going, you can look at methane, cellulosic ethanol, etc.

You mention photovoltaics, but you don't mention windpower. Is your power setup just solar?

Something Feral said...

For the moment, just solar. It's only meant to operate as a back-up or short-term system.

As for the future system, wind and solar tend to have a complementary relationship, it is very likely that I will be using some implementation of that. If I manage to have some reasonable level of elevation change and above-ground water flow, I'll scale the PV/wind to complement the micro-hydro, since that has the benefit of providing steady power without expending fuel or relying heavily on the weather. Independent of this, I will have some method of biomass co-generation, but what exactly that will be will depend heavily on local distributors and prices of the individual units.

Currently, I'm seeing what I can cut from prospective use, since the cost of such a system isn't linear, but increases almost exponentially with the amount of required power; traditional kitchen appliances are prohibitive out-of-the-gate, sans a little reverse-engineering.

MikeT said...

Whatever did PG&E do to you?...

Elusive Wapiti said...

This is pretty cool Feral. It is my dream to live off the grid as well. Or at least as much as possible.

In Wyoming, there's no shortage of wind :) So that will be my primary power source, plus solar assisted water heating. Energy is cheap here (we export a lot to California), but still, if I can avoid sending a check PP&L I will.

I also plan to acquire enough land to be able to graze a couple head of cattle for milk and meat.

Something Feral said...

PG&E has a state-aided monopoly out here, and there is little recourse for the consumer if there's a disagreement about the usage of electricity. I'm renting at the moment, so my first choice is to move rather than pay through the nose to sit and stew (or sit and freeze).

Suffice to say, because of local energy-use averages, we pay through the nose for very little benefit.

EW, I saw this on Instructables a while back, might be fun for you to tinker with if you have a free afternoon.