Searching for Energy Reduction

Story Submitted by Timothy E. Tranel

I have been an enthusiastic reader of the “Wall Street Journal” magazine since my summer employment on a Kansas wheat farm between college schooling. In 1997 I came to the conclusion that gasoline prices have nowhere to go but up due to increasing demand and slowing gasoline production. Thus, in 1998 I purchased one of the most efficient cars of the time, a Chevrolet Metro. I became convinced that the stock market was headed for a nosedive until a solution to the energy shortfall was solved.
Taking up farm employment after my US Navy tour, I continued with my interest in the energy conflict. July of 2003 I began to take a leap towards renewable energy with the purchase of a modified sine wave inverter. Later that year I subscribed to “Home Power” magazine. Armed with a renewed certificate in electronics and a surging interest in renewable energy, I began a series of purchases aimed at developing my own home energy production. I purchased solar panels, wires, fuses, frame supports, concrete, charge controllers, inverters, efficient light bulbs, low power cooking tools, and among other things a wind turbine. Most people in my local area were skeptical and uninterested. Even my utility meter reader said that he had seen a few solar panels; however, people didn’t keep them for long before giving up on the idea of renewable energy. The past month I recorded 0 kilowatt usage on my electric meter and am at the point of going off grid, however, I figure that the utility company can be my backup generator until I find a generator that burns E85 gasoline.

Now that I have become established as basically an off grid energy producer, I have a few observations to make.

  • My skepticism of solar panels has been resolved and solar panels really do put out electricity.
  • An independent home use renewable energy plan using solar panels, wind and hydro power ought to consider using all DC powered appliances*. Powering an inverter is costly in terms of solar panels and the inverter. A house with the power supply located in the center of a south facing home should leave a distance short enough for minimal DC voltage loss. If an inverter is purchased, I strongly discourage the purchase of a modified sine wave inverter.
  • Solar panels, wind turbines and batteries do work, however, there is energy lost and there are cloudy, windless days. Plan for more solar panels, wind turbines, hydro power and batteries than you think that you will need. It never hurts to have a little extra hot water.
  • Charge controllers are nice; however, the real deal is setting up a load diversion controller to divert extra energy to power backup batteries or heat water, for example. Keeping in mind a diversion controller, do not bother with anything except an adjustable diversion controller that activates at the top end of the batteries recommended charge and can be adjusted to deactivate at a comfortable mid-level of battery charge.
  • A 12 V DC system is handy because many automobiles use 12 V DC charging. Automobile repair stores are much more common that renewable energy stores. Also, it is more common to find 12 V DC items such as weed eaters, blenders, and coffee makers. I use a 12 V DC system, however, a higher volt system is appealing to me because of lower amperage use and, thus, smaller safer wires and the potential for higher-powered appliances would be more feasible.
  • I see roof mount and ground mount solar panel systems in magazines. I recommend a ground mount system because it is easier to manually adjust solar panels on the ground. Solar panels in my area ought to be adjusted four times a year to make use of the changing sun angle. In addition, I find it easier with a ground mount system to make use of the changing sun angle. In addition, I find it easier with a ground mount system to make daily adjustments to my solar panel. After coming home from work in the afternoon, I set the panel to a near full tilt to the west and before going to bed I step out the door to adjust the panel horizontal to catch the full noon time angle of the next day.
  • A wind turbine can be difficult to set up. My turbine is set just above the roof of my house. I do not catch as much wind as if it were higher, however, I don’t not have to use aircraft cable since my tower is short enough that it can hold up to the wind pressure. If I could locate a lower wind cut in turbines, it would be a great addition to my array for there is an awful lot of 5-10 mph wind out there that my turbine does not tend to capture.
  • You can save yourself a lot of money and time by making a good plan or better yet try to get some advice form an experienced renewable energy person. Optimistic renewable energy people can be found. Also, read the “Home Power” magazine. I recommend avoiding the step of starting small to see if it works and then growing bigger. I do recommend planning big. If you cannot afford to plan big, I recommend cutting way back on your energy use now to save for a big renewable energy system. In fact, cutting back on global warming and reducing your energy bill are not necessarily a reason to build an renewable energy system. The best way to cut back on global warming and reducing your energy bill is to reduce your energy consumption. Consider running just a fan rather than the AC. Consider turning the heat down. Consider living in a smaller, easier to clean house. Also, before considering a renewable energy system, consider how convenient it is to have no maintenance, unlimited, on demand electricity from your utility company.

My RE system includes the following : 2 BP 3125U solar panels, 1 US64 solar panel, I Mallard 800e WT, TV antenna tower, 4 T105 batteries connected to the 3125U panels and WT, 2 T105 batteries connected to the US64 solar panel, 1000 watt Vector inverter, 2000 watt AIMS inverter, 300 watt Samlex inverter, diversion controller New Mar LVD 12-75, diversion controller SAE 50, charge controller Solar 7 amp, low voltage disconnect C35, water heater 300 watt, battery charger Schumaker 10amp fully automatic, Backups LS 700, freezer Sundanzer F225, 4 12 volt fans Digi-Key 603-1075—ND, 12 vdc vacuum, 120 vac vacuum, 120 vac typewriter, television TV 970 Casio, radio AM/FM cassette, 120 vac fry pan 400watt, 120vac blender, and in addition extension cords, dc bulbs, cfc bulbs, grinder, drill, electric chain saw, shaker flashlights, cell phone/alarm clock and last but not least a multimeter VEI DM 38313.

* Note from Backwoods Solar:  A house supplied entirely with DC-powered appliances is more efficient however, it's not always obtainable.  Energy Star approved appliances in combination with DC appliances and/or propane or natural gas powered heating and cooling appliances are also acceptable options.