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alternative energy: which is best?  RSS feed

 
Shelly Stern
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I am in the learning stages of permaculture and still unsure how I want to power my future home. It seems like there are a dozen different ways (or combinations of ways) to do this. If there was a best way to do it, wouldn't everyone do it that way? Is there a pros and cons list somewhere that compares all the different types of power sources?
 
Will Scoggins
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From my limited research, it seems that the best form of alternative energy is dependent not only on what resources you have (sun, wind, hydro) on site; but also what you will be using the electricity for. Since there are conversion losses whenever you change the type of energy it is best to use energy in the same form it was harvested. For example you would be better off heating with passive solar, because it is captures as a heat than you would with a windmill, because the mechanical energy would have to be converted into electricity then into heat, leading to losses with both exchanges.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Shelly Stern wrote:I am in the learning stages of permaculture and still unsure how I want to power my future home. It seems like there are a dozen different ways (or combinations of ways) to do this. If there was a best way to do it, wouldn't everyone do it that way? Is there a pros and cons list somewhere that compares all the different types of power sources?


the answer to all such questions is: It depends. Yes, it's possible to go through a pros/cons list, but the best thing to do is consider the resources at hand. If you know where you will be locating and your energy requirements, then you can get specific advice. Direct solar energy is the most practical solution in most settings (passive design for space heating, solar thermal water heating, solar photovoltaics for electricity generation).
 
allen lumley
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Shelly, Will, & the 'Permies Cloud' :Not only is using the power in the same form you got it in, important, using the energy where you harvested it is important too, moving
any form of energy from one place to another can waste so much of that energy that the cost of using that energy sky rockets.

If I need a little light, running a generator in a remote location wastes most of that energy, even if I use L.E.D.s the generator is damn inefficient! Firing up a coleman lantern
for as long as I need to have a little Light makes my location brighter, and warmer, and uses way less gas! If it is to damn hot already, that would be the time for battery
powered lights, and running a fan to move air past me and through my rocket stove which will soak up that heat and give me coolth ! Big AL !

Late note : A new forum/thread Direct Wind to Heat (wind forum at permies) is interesting because all the posters assumed that the windmill would set directly over where the heat
produced would be used and even with different processes agreed on the efficiency of the energy transformation. Only one poster assumed that the heat would be wanted at a
remote location, and demonstrated that wind power to Electricity to heat production at a remote location was more efficient than the loses of heat energy when piped to that
remote location. A. L.
 
Shelly Stern
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Location: Minnesota
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Thanks for the replies, everyone! I got a similar answer in another forum, it all depends on location. I am very unsure about where I want to live but once I figure that out, the rest will be a piece of cake! It's also helpful to know about energy loss during conversion.
 
r john
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Shelly Stern wrote:Thanks for the replies, everyone! I got a similar answer in another forum, it all depends on location. I am very unsure about where I want to live but once I figure that out, the rest will be a piece of cake! It's also helpful to know about energy loss during conversion.


The answer is simple. Buy a south facing plot with a spring fed river running through it with sufficient fall to make a hydro scheme economic.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Shelly - You could even power your "Permie RV/Bus" with reclaimed vegetable oil...

It truly does all depend on location and application. Use what is in abundance locally, especially if it's a "waste product".
 
Shelly Stern
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r john wrote:
Shelly Stern wrote:Thanks for the replies, everyone! I got a similar answer in another forum, it all depends on location. I am very unsure about where I want to live but once I figure that out, the rest will be a piece of cake! It's also helpful to know about energy loss during conversion.


The answer is simple. Buy a south facing plot with a spring fed river running through it with sufficient fall to make a hydro scheme economic.


That sounds perfect for me! And there are definately a lot of rivers in my area, if I were to stay up here.
 
Shelly Stern
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Shelly - You could even power your "Permie RV/Bus" with reclaimed vegetable oil...

It truly does all depend on location and application. Use what is in abundance locally, especially if it's a "waste product".


What a coincidence you mention vegetable oil, I was googling sustainable RV's this morning and found a couple who drives their RV around the country that runs off old grease and oil from resteraunts! But they didn't say how they did it, I mean how do you just make an engine that runs off that? I actually thought it was illegal because why isn't everyone doing it then? lol
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Shelly Stern wrote:What a coincidence you mention vegetable oil, I was googling sustainable RV's this morning and found a couple who drives their RV around the country that runs off old grease and oil from resteraunts! But they didn't say how they did it, I mean how do you just make an engine that runs off that? I actually thought it was illegal because why isn't everyone doing it then? lol


The folks I know locally who use reclaimed veg oil get it from a guy who collects it, processes it and resells it. It's my understanding that you have to modify a diesel engine vehicle (the folks I know both drive old Mercedes). You can make it yourself but you have to have the right setup.

The Dervaes family (Path to Freedom) in Pasadena makes their own biofuel - you can see a list of related blog posts here: http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/category/homebrew-biodiesel/

I find it fascinating what alternatives people come up with!
 
Dawn Hoff
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It doesn't only depend on location, it also depends on occasion. Like some one said - energy transformations costs engergy, so if you have to transform energy to store it, storage should be avoided (as much as possible). So even in the south of Spain, where we have some 300 days of sun every year, a windmill or a watermill, can be more efficient for the days where it rains and the sun doesn't shine.
 
Shelly Stern
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
Shelly Stern wrote:What a coincidence you mention vegetable oil, I was googling sustainable RV's this morning and found a couple who drives their RV around the country that runs off old grease and oil from resteraunts! But they didn't say how they did it, I mean how do you just make an engine that runs off that? I actually thought it was illegal because why isn't everyone doing it then? lol


The folks I know locally who use reclaimed veg oil get it from a guy who collects it, processes it and resells it. It's my understanding that you have to modify a diesel engine vehicle (the folks I know both drive old Mercedes). You can make it yourself but you have to have the right setup.

The Dervaes family (Path to Freedom) in Pasadena makes their own biofuel - you can see a list of related blog posts here: http://urbanhomestead.org/journal/category/homebrew-biodiesel/

I find it fascinating what alternatives people come up with!


That site looks awesome!! Thanks!

I just don't feel smart enough to understand this biofuel stuff, i'd need to find someone who knows how to do it and pay them to do it for me too! lol
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Shelly Stern wrote:I just don't feel smart enough to understand this biofuel stuff, i'd need to find someone who knows how to do it and pay them to do it for me too! lol


Biofuels like vegetable oil, biodiesel, or ethanol are generally not economical except where an individual happens to have ready access to the required resources. For diesel fuel this means inexpensive vegetable oil, and for ethanol this means inexpensive fermentable sugars. In general, the process is not cost effective unless one can get these resources at virtually no cost... and this is rare. It's all really fascinating, but rarely practical. Wood seems to be (to me) the most practical biofuel. It will heat a home, heat water, and can even be used to fuel internal combustion engines via gasification. If one desires to live off grid and achieve energy independence, then a combination of photovoltaics and wood gasification is the best system I've considered. A gasifier can be used with wood fuel to provide space heating and water heating, and it can power a generator for battery charging during inclement weather when the solar system is unable to generate sufficient electricity. In some settings (such as a cold climate) it can be practical to use a wood gasifier exclusively for heat and power generation. It's also possible to use wood to power automobiles.

This video might interest you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz2v4f2UNL0 . This individual was using vegetable oil to power his engine while collecting the heat from the engine. It's a very efficient system when most of the energy is put to use. Interestingly, Mr. Boak experienced difficulty in acquiring vegetable oil shortly after this video was taken. He then modified his system to be fueled by wood chips using a gasifier. Here is a link to his web site where this conversion is discussed: http://www.powercubes.com/listers.html .

This video features Mr. Wayne Keith who has done amazing things with wood gasification for automotive use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlNACAEa3vo

 
Shelly Stern
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Marcos Buenijo wrote:
Shelly Stern wrote:I just don't feel smart enough to understand this biofuel stuff, i'd need to find someone who knows how to do it and pay them to do it for me too! lol


Biofuels like vegetable oil, biodiesel, or ethanol are generally not economical except where an individual happens to have ready access to the required resources. For diesel fuel this means inexpensive vegetable oil, and for ethanol this means inexpensive fermentable sugars. In general, the process is not cost effective unless one can get these resources at virtually no cost... and this is rare. It's all really fascinating, but rarely practical. Wood seems to be (to me) the most practical biofuel. It will heat a home, heat water, and can even be used to fuel internal combustion engines via gasification. If one desires to live off grid and achieve energy independence, then a combination of photovoltaics and wood gasification is the best system I've considered. A gasifier can be used with wood fuel to provide space heating and water heating, and it can power a generator for battery charging during inclement weather when the solar system is unable to generate sufficient electricity. In some settings (such as a cold climate) it can be practical to use a wood gasifier exclusively for heat and power generation. It's also possible to use wood to power automobiles.

This video might interest you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jz2v4f2UNL0 . This individual was using vegetable oil to power his engine while collecting the heat from the engine. It's a very efficient system when most of the energy is put to use. Interestingly, Mr. Boak experienced difficulty in acquiring vegetable oil shortly after this video was taken. He then modified his system to be fueled by wood chips using a gasifier. Here is a link to his web site where this conversion is discussed: http://www.powercubes.com/listers.html .

This video features Mr. Wayne Keith who has done amazing things with wood gasification for automotive use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlNACAEa3vo



Thanks, Marcos! I'll check those links out! I didn't realize vegetable oil would be hard to find or expensive, the family I saw doing it just picked it up from resteraunts for free and they never had any problem finding it.

I am leaning towards a wood burning stove to heat my future house, or built in fireplace.
 
Dawn Hoff
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Yes - you can use used frying oil - we are thinking of dóibh that, but are undre if it pollutes more than regular diesel?
 
Len Ovens
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Shelly Stern wrote:
Thanks, Marcos! I'll check those links out! I didn't realize vegetable oil would be hard to find or expensive, the family I saw doing it just picked it up from resteraunts for free and they never had any problem finding it.

It didn't used to be a problem. In our area almost every restaurant has someone with dibs on their oil already. How long ago did you see this family do it, and did they take without asking?


I am leaning towards a wood burning stove to heat my future house, or built in fireplace.


Fireplace, no. Tons of wood, little heat. wood stove? What kind? Any low mass wood stove (anything metal) will only be marginally better than a fire place. Even if the label says 75% efficient, that is in a lab running full bore in a room you need an asbestos suit to keep you alive in. In a real house it will run around 10%. You need mass. Look for the threads on rocket mass heaters or at masonry heaters... or combine things from both There are steel stoves with soapstone sides that are better than just steel ( see here But take the 81% efficiency with a grain of salt ) , and people who have retrofitted mass to steel wood stoves... Ya stacking brick around a steel stove and on top so you have to run it hot to feel warm works. Here is a great example that has proven itself over a number of snowy, cold winters The bricks will keep giving off heat after the fire goes out. For best efficiency you want a heater you can touch and not burn your hand... Somewhere betweens 10tons of mass and none there should be something practical that doesn't use too much wood.
 
bob golding
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hi shelly. sorry if this a bit late just joined this forum..... i have lived off grid for around 14 years now. i built a wind turbine which has lasted for around 6 years so far. broken at the moment due to damage from metal fatigue destroying the tail which trashed the blades. i MAY fix it. i have since moved on to solar pv with generator back up for the winter months. the generator will run on veg oil mixed with petrol and left to settle for a few weeks the petrol takes the water out.
if you can find somewhere with a decent river i would go for hydro using a banki turbine and home brew alternator. have a look on the fieldlines forum for details. the thing you will definitely need to spend money on is a set of proper deep cycle batteries and a charge controller if you are using hydro. i have a set of 8 surrette 430 amp hour 6 volt batteries. they are not cheap but should last 10 years if you look after them.

i live alone and manage with a 600 watt inverter fine. that is running this laptop satellite internet a few lights and a hdd tv recorder. for tv i use either the laptop or some olympus eyetrek video goggles. they are very low power around 12 watts. a normal tv even a low power one will draw around 100 watts. the trick is to only switch one those things you need at the time. the more power draw the bigger the battery bank and inverter needed.

i have around 1 kw of solar that is more than enough in the summer but really struggles in the English winter. we have just had the wettest winter for 200 years though that didn't help. i use reject panels from a local installer. they are rejected due to damage usually broken glass due to toos being dropped on them. they work fine with slightly lower output. they wont last the 25 years they are supposed to but they are half the price of new ones. ask around at some installers for rejects.

hope this helps you decide.

bob cornwall uk
 
Marcos Buenijo
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bob golding wrote:hi shelly. sorry if this a bit late just joined this forum..... i have lived off grid for around 14 years now. i built a wind turbine which has lasted for around 6 years so far. broken at the moment due to damage from metal fatigue destroying the tail which trashed the blades. i MAY fix it.

bob cornwall uk


Hi Bob. What are you doing for heat off the grid? How about potable water? I was curious about the weather in your location, so I looked up what I could. Seems cold and wet. But, it seems you have some fairly good wind resources there - especially during the winter months when solar insolation appears to be very low in your location. I'm curious that you don't seem to consider your wind turbine to have earned its keep. Do you think a small wind turbine in general is not a good investment in your location, or is it just that your particular wind turbine has not performed well?

 
bob golding
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hi marcos,

i am right on the west coast near lands end so we get the full fury of the atlantic. it tends to be gusty winds up to 90 mph a few times in the winter, and around 50 /60 mph most of the time. the turbine has certainly paid its way. they do need a lot of attention though, compered with solar. if the wind blows the panels over,which happens occasionally i just pick them up and put them back. if the turbine fails it is a major problem. there is a lot more engineering involved in a wind turbine, especially in a coastal environment like mine. dismantling, repainting, replacing bearings ect. they work well in the winter but not so good in the summer. i will repair it but i am not spending a lot of money on it. i intend to get around 1 kw of solar which should help in the winter. i run the genny for around 3 hours twice week to keep the batteries topped up at the moment. potable water i get from the local village. i don't have a water supply but rain water for washing and washing up. i do boil it for drinking sometimes, but usually just get the potable water from a friends tap

for heat i use a spike WMO burner. just type spike heater into a search engine for details. i burn diesel at the moment and waste oil when i can be bothered to filter it. the reason i joined this forum was to find out a bit more about rocket mass heaters as i have a supply of free pallets if i want them. i used to burn wood but its expensive around here and not all that good. tend to be monterey pine mostly. ok but not brilliant.
 
Len Ovens
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bob golding wrote:hi shelly. sorry if this a bit late just joined this forum..... i have lived off grid for around 14 years now. i built a wind turbine which has lasted for around 6 years so far. broken at the moment due to damage from metal fatigue destroying the tail which trashed the blades. i MAY fix it. i have since moved on to solar pv with generator back up for the winter months. the generator will run on veg oil mixed with petrol and left to settle for a few weeks the petrol takes the water out.
if you can find somewhere with a decent river i would go for hydro using a banki turbine and home brew alternator. have a look on the fieldlines forum for details. the thing you will definitely need to spend money on is a set of proper deep cycle batteries and a charge controller if you are using hydro. i have a set of 8 surrette 430 amp hour 6 volt batteries. they are not cheap but should last 10 years if you look after them.

i live alone and manage with a 600 watt inverter fine. that is running this laptop satellite internet a few lights and a hdd tv recorder. for tv i use either the laptop or some olympus eyetrek video goggles. they are very low power around 12 watts. a normal tv even a low power one will draw around 100 watts. the trick is to only switch one those things you need at the time. the more power draw the bigger the battery bank and inverter needed.

i have around 1 kw of solar that is more than enough in the summer but really struggles in the English winter. we have just had the wettest winter for 200 years though that didn't help. i use reject panels from a local installer. they are rejected due to damage usually broken glass due to toos being dropped on them. they work fine with slightly lower output. they wont last the 25 years they are supposed to but they are half the price of new ones. ask around at some installers for rejects.

hope this helps you decide.

bob cornwall uk


All really good practical info. The breakdown of power in and out is quite helpful. I was wondering how you deal with food preservation as you do not mention fridge/freezer.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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Bob, thanks for the information. It seems based on your description that you use very little electricity. Please share your average daily electricity usage and what are the loads. I'm always interested to know the kind of real world electricity consumption from a genuinely off grid home. Your experience is appreciated here.
 
bob golding
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sorry forgot the fridge. that is propane and uses around 13 grams an hour. that works out at 6 weeks on a 13 kg bottle. it is an old gas freezer rather than a fridge so it is top loading. this really helps keep the cold air where you want it. i found it in the scrap and cleaned it up. i had to change the thermocouple a few weeks ago. just pulled one of another dead fridge. i DON'T recommend people are so blas'e with gas appliances, especially ones that are on continuously. i just happen to be competent with this sort of stuff.

daily power is in the first post. the breakdown is around 150 /200 watts. i did have a watt meter at one time but after the second one died i haven't bothered. i monitor the power in from the panels and most importantly i have the charge controller on the same side of the ammeter. i had a failure with a charge controller and it drew 12 amps out of the battery bank til it totally flattened them. not good. now if there is fault i can see it. ATM it is around 4 to 6 amps at 24 volts, so around 125 watts. the panels are feeding straight into the batteries. with a morningstar ts45 charge controller keeping the batteries happy, most of the time anyway. i would get a bit more with mppt, but given the current weather conditions in the UK it wouldn't make a lot of difference. lots of rain and cloud. once the weather picks up it should improve. given as i have plenty of space i may just go for more panels instead. as i pointed out in summer i have excess power anyway. 125 watts doesn't sound a lot, but i can get about 3 days of normal use from the batteries without the genny. i may get an elec tric fridge in the summer as i will have excess power anyway. may need to run it from my sine wave inverter though. its an old 350 UPS so not that efficient. but if it works it will ok. fridge motors don't work well on MSW inverters.
hope this helps. just have be prepared to sometimes not have everything on at thew same time. that's where the kindle comes into its own. sitting in the dark reading is a cool experience.
 
Marcos Buenijo
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bob golding wrote: daily power is in the first post. the breakdown is around 150 /200 watts....ATM it is around 4 to 6 amps at 24 volts, so around 125 watts... 125 watts doesn't sound a lot, but i can get about 3 days of normal use from the batteries without the genny.


Thanks for the info. Sorry if I seem to be pressing, but I'm just looking for clarification. I interpret the data here as your system making a continuous (or average) power demand of 125 watts DC. You mentioned that you use an inverter, so I put your daily electricity consumption rate at about 3-4 KWh depending on whether you're consuming AC or DC directly. You mentioned you can get 3 days normal use from the battery that has a capacity of about 20 KWh based on the specs you provided. Not discharging the battery below 40-50% state of charge corresponds to 9-12 KWh over a three day period. So, I think 3-4 KWh per day is about right. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

The reason I am focusing on your electricity consumption is because I've found that most people who live off grid do just fine on 3-5 KWh of electricity per day. Those who seriously consider going off the grid often balk at these figures. I think getting information like this directly from the source (i.e. you) is important for those who are seriously considering the off grid alternative.

 
bob golding
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hi no problem. those figures sound about right. i will try and break it down i bit more for you. i have 2 10 watt leds bulbs one string of led tape lights. that's the lighting sorted. i tend to use tape lights most of the time and only turn on the leds bulbs when i need son me extra light like cooking, or seeing the keyboard! the laptop draws about 65 watts, the satellite draws 75 watts. the tv tuner draws 25 watts and the goggles 12 watts. that 200 watts plus i don't what the tape string draws. everything,apart from the tape lights runs though a 600 watt MSW inverter. i dont have everything on all the time. so at the moment i am around 75 watts down.

the batteries are about 5 years old so are down a bit on there new rating. i cant say i have noticed really but for the first 3 years i was only using the wind turbine. i did have both for a while till the turbine died. i spent a long time calculating my needs before i invested in the batteries. the cost of the batteries was about £2000.

to have more would have meant going to 12 volts or 48 volts. neither was a good option as 48 volt inverters are a lot more expensive and 12 volt is has a lot of losses with wind. 24 is a good compromise. i must point out that inverter/chargers dont work well well on generators,small ones anyway. i had a trace 2 kw one that died. so m now i go for cheap and cheerful chinese ones. seem to work for a few years then just die. if i was advising anyone i would say spend your money on the batteries. they are the heart of the system.
 
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