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My off-grid dilemma  RSS feed

 
gardener
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Here's my dilemma:

The power company says it will be $30,000+ to bring in a line to where I want to build my house. After that I get to pay a monthly bill like everyone else.

I have explored off-grid solar. All the companies tell me I will need to pay something like $30,000 for a standard-ish system. Then no monthly bill afterwards but the panels need to be replaced eventually.

I love the solar power system in this thread:

https://permies.com/t/smartest-solar-power

It would be much cheaper than $30,000. Maybe I'd want something slightly bigger but not much.

Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.

Since my car would need charging at night (read no electricity from the panels) this would be a double downer because it would mean more panels and more batteries. The $30,000 figure I got from the local solar people did not take a car into consideration.

I hope to eventually drastically decrease my need to drive down to about once a week, but for the first few years I might need to drive more like 5-7 days a week. What do I do? Ditch the electric vehicle? Run a gas generator to charge my electric vehicle (seems contrary to the point)? Get a huge solar system to charge it? There doesn't seem to be a great option.

Please share your wisdom. I can't seem to figure this one out on my own.
 
garden master
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I can understand needing a system that will  charge your vehicles, two or three refrigerators/freezers, A/C and all the comforts of home.

The solar salesmen want to make a living so they sell whole house units.

We put together a system for $1000 - $2000, maybe less.  It might charge the car and maybe a refrigerator, maybe more.

It has to do with what you want out of the system.

 
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:Here's my dilemma:

The power company says it will be $30,000+ to bring in a line to where I want to build my house. After that I get to pay a monthly bill like everyone else.

I have explored off-grid solar. All the companies tell me I will need to pay something like $30,000 for a standard-ish system. Then no monthly bill afterwards but the panels need to be replaced eventually.

I love the solar power system in this thread:

https://permies.com/t/smartest-solar-power

It would be much cheaper than $30,000. Maybe I'd want something slightly bigger but not much.

Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.

Since my car would need charging at night (read no electricity from the panels) this would be a double downer because it would mean more panels and more batteries. The $30,000 figure I got from the local solar people did not take a car into consideration.

I hope to eventually drastically decrease my need to drive down to about once a week, but for the first few years I might need to drive more like 5-7 days a week. What do I do? Ditch the electric vehicle? Run a gas generator to charge my electric vehicle (seems contrary to the point)? Get a huge solar system to charge it? There doesn't seem to be a great option.

Please share your wisdom. I can't seem to figure this one out on my own.



You will need to figure the "lifetime payment plan" in too.

Utility power, $30,000 up front and $150-$250 a month forever plus inflation and other rises in fees....

Gas vehicle, rube goldberg contraption that turns you into its slave... forever and needs constant fueling and spews gack everywhere while consuming parts.

Solar power if your estimate was 30k dollars, you should be getting a system like my top photograph with 5k dollars to spare for maintenance in the future, and an 8500 watt ground mounted array, that is a set of batteries or the inverter. You will not likely have to ever replace the panels, they last 45-75 years or more, we dont know but 45 years at 10 percent loss is proven and still operating.

How much tldo you spend on fuel for your transport now? How much will you end up paying if you continue to use that mode?

Prices for electricity and fuel are volitile md artificially low even at 4$ a gallon or 20 cents a kilowatt hour.

If you invest 30,000 dollars now (prices for solar also artificially low!), you will more or less secure todays cost and after about 15-20 years even off grid without tax incentives, yor purchase will have paid for itself, if the cost of electricity and fuel were to freeze now... it will not.

Will your car do that? Will your power bill? Reclining chair? RC octocopter?, cruiz ship vacation?

Not likely.

An electric car has much less maintenance and energy cost over time. The figure is a tesla sedan, if you can afford one up front, will cost the same over ten years to own and drive as a ford taurus.

Perspective.

Here is a lead on some information i think you will enjoy!

http://evtv.me/2017/12/driving-sunshine-get/

https://www.homepower.com/articles/vehicles/project-profiles/solar-car-charging-colorado

https://www.homepower.com/solar-charging-ev

Keep in mind an EV battery can be an extension and facillity of your home power system and your house battery can quick charge your car faster than most any residential utility service will allow.
Evtv is the source for that tech along with the fact that they specialize in converting most any car you would like to electrify, classics, moderns, tanos and semis tractors, whatever you like.







 
pollinator
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....."Then no monthly bill afterwards but the panels need to be replaced eventually."

It's not the panels that need replacing. Ours are 20+ years and still doing fine the last time we tested them. It's the batteries that will need replacing and maintenance. Plus the back up generator. We replace ours every 5-7 years. And if you've never run a solar system before, you'll most likely ruin your first battery bank rather quickly. We did!

Hopefully your system will never break, but I've heard of people here who have had to replace expensive components, such as the inventor, when they quit working. We upgraded from a Trace to an Outback after 10 years, so that was an expense. You need to be aware of these things in order to factor in total expense of the system. Being on solar doesn't mean that you have free electricity. Instead of monthly bills, you pay for it in chunks here and there.

Most solar off-grid people tend to become very efficient in their use of electric energy. Certainly a Volt would never grace their driveway. The first time you get 3 cloudy days in a row, you might realize why.
 
frank li
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Also, many ev enthusiasts/owners will seek opportunity charging at work or along the way.
Imagine every other day, you stop at the same store or eatery that allows you to plug in when you patronize, for a fee or even for free.

This is not always available and some would not be able to make themselves to ask if it were. But a neighbor or relative may be close by.

Either way there is a figure for how much energy your commute requires and comparitively across the range of vehicles obtainable in your case.

And even if you grid charge, it is way more efficient and clean. Possibly not practical or affordable up front in many cases but if you can, it is time to do it, in my opinion at least.

Then i can buy your used tesla sedan or suv in 10 years!


 
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The first question I would ask is if the power company wants that kind of money how far do they need to travel onto your land? If there is a spot at the edge of your property near a utility pole ask yourself can I build a shed there to house a grid connection? A few thousand for a connection That becomes your car charging station while you are commuting regularly is reasonable. Eventually you incorporate the slow charging of the car(15 amp plug)off of a modest house based system once you are at home during prime charging hours. That is usually the Achilles heel of electric cars and off grid solar; a mismatch between time of use and time of power generation.  As a bonus the battery pack can be used to trickle charge your house battery and act as a backup generator for you saving you some system costs. Just trying to think outside of the box for you.
Cheers,  David Baillie
 
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I have been in a similar situation before. Not only were we not excited about the amount to install poles to us. We really disliked the idea of giving them access to the land, and all the destruction and toxins that come with that. All the unnatural e.m.f. that comes with that. Plus, on top of it all, a bill every month at whatever amount they feel like charging you. It's really a loose loose loose loose...another loose? did I mention loose?... situation. I highly suggest you go any route that includes independence and making your own decisions. If you go solar, charging a car (or anything very large) overnight can be a killer at least for the budget. If you get a generator watch out for the gas. Maybe consider a propane (or hybrid) one as it keeps the insides clean. The ethanol really kills those smaller engines fast! At least get ethanol free gas. Some stations have it or airports are another option. Consider extreme minimization in terms of what you use power for. Remember we used to live without power not too long in the past. When central power was first pushed they had to come up with appliances to "help us" use it to increase our dependency on it. I could go on and on.... oh and maybe consider other batteries besides lead-acid. They don't last too long and before you know it you have the largest cost of the system come back and haunt you. Like everything there are advantages and disadvantages. It's up to you to prioritize them and really understand what your needs are/will be. Try and think of alternatives to energy hogging appliances. For instance a/c in homes is not needed when the home is designed for passive cooling. Permaculture really gives us a leg up on thinking about design to solve situations like this. Hope that helps a bit.

edit: if you absolutely have to have grid power the above post by david might work or be the least invasive.
 
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I can't help you on the sizing of the panels or your battery bank for the house, but one nugget of wisdom from someone who used to use a diesel generator: every watt you don't use is three watts you don't have to generate.  Solar systems are less lossy than diesel generators, but this is a great time to ask about how little electricity you really need. </soapbox>

The cars ... as an owner of two of these magnificent machines, here's the scoop: (the OP may know all this, adding for posterity if so)
1) depending on terrain and climate, expect 2.5-4 m/kwhr.  So in terms of sizing your system, take the daily drive, divide by 2.5 (to be super safe) and figure you need that much each day.
2) the newer electric cars have bigger batteries and better ranges.  So you don't need to charge everyday.  My Bolt has a 60 kwhr battery pack, the E-Golf something like 34 kwhr.  We can easily go three days without having to charge, maybe a week.  So consider that you might be able to let it charge on the weekend (less battery need).
3) charging - don't forget the cost of a Level 2 charger!  Expect at least $600 for the charger and associated wiring.  Using the 110 volt 8/12 amp charger gives you about 5 miles of range per hour of charging (12a* 110v=1.3kw before system losses).  A Level 2 charger runs 220v at 32 amps and packs in closer to 25 miles per hour. 
4) unfortunately, the efficiency of battery powered cars is inversely related to our hours of daylight - cold batteries don't work as well and you need to run heaters, defrosters, wipers etc.  In the winter, my Bolt uses about 10% of its overall consumption to keep me comfy, but I still get better than 3 mi/kwhr going skiing!

We operated for about 2 years on just the 110 charger, but the Level 2 charger is far more forgiving! That was also when our cars had a total battery capacity of maybe 32 kwhr, we're now more than 3x that.  And yes, never buying gas is a wonderful thing.  I recommend everyone try the level 1 (110 volt charger) first before laying out the cash for the level 2 charger.

In conclusion... if its a 40 mile roundtrip, that's maybe 16 kwhr of power you have to find or store. And 8 hours of charging will fill your battery.

Hope that helps you size your system.

 
pollinator
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While it might not apply to OP's situation, using a bike for travel to work/town might be another option to lessen the load on a solar system. Mr. Money Mustache has various articles about using his mountain bike year round including snow in Colorado, and for hauling purchases on a tow-behind trailer including some really heavy loads. Costs less, less polluting, and he gets more exercise without a gym membership. Here's a sample article: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/04/22/curing-your-clown-like-car-habit/

I've used my bike a decent amount for commuting to work, and the flat 4 miles in 15-20 minutes I have now is way better than the hilly 13 miles in an hour I used to do. But I still drive more than I ride lately, because I'm lazy that way. So not a fix-all but maybe is another option? Perhaps your next vehicle is a hybrid so you aren't dead in the yard after some cloudy days don't provide enough juice for the car as well as the house.

The other low hanging fruit of costs is reducing the electrical demands as you know. We assume we need a $30k solar system so we can keep using the same amount of power as we do on our grid-tied house. But maybe your off grid house is smaller, doesn't need central AC due to proper design, uses a more efficient chest freezer, uses a clothes line instead of a dryer, uses fewer electric kitchen tools, etc. Once you have pruned the consumption you can size your system off the darkest winter months average sun hours and hopefully you'll need far less than $30k for the solar system.
 
Anne Miller
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David Baillie wrote:The first question I would ask is if the power company wants that kind of money how far do they need to travel onto your land? If there is a spot at the edge of your property near a utility pole ask yourself can I build a shed there to house a grid connection?   



This is a good point that we considered.

You don't have to pay the electric company to go all the way to your house location if that is something you can do or maybe paying an electrician might make the electric estimate cheaper.


Also I would ask the electric company if they have a discount/rebate for going with both electric/solar then ask if they work with companies and can give you names.   This would make the monthly electric bill cheaper.
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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Wow, thanks everyone for your amazing responses! This has already been very helpful as I start to figure this out.

frank li wrote:The figure is a tesla sedan, if you can afford one up front, will cost the same over ten years to own and drive as a ford taurus.



This amazes me every time.

frank li wrote:Here is a lead on some information i think you will enjoy!

http://evtv.me/2017/12/driving-sunshine-get/

https://www.homepower.com/articles/vehicles/project-profiles/solar-car-charging-colorado

https://www.homepower.com/solar-charging-ev

Keep in mind an EV battery can be an extension and facillity of your home power system and your house battery can quick charge your car faster than most any residential utility service will allow.
Evtv is the source for that tech along with the fact that they specialize in converting most any car you would like to electrify, classics, moderns, tanos and semis tractors, whatever you like. 



Thanks for these amazing resources! I will have to take a look!

Su Ba wrote:It's not the panels that need replacing. Ours are 20+ years and still doing fine the last time we tested them. It's the batteries that will need replacing and maintenance. Plus the back up generator. We replace ours every 5-7 years. And if you've never run a solar system before, you'll most likely ruin your first battery bank rather quickly. We did! 



This is a great reminder. Thank you! Any tips on not ruining the battery bank quickly? Is that in its own thread somewhere?

frank li wrote:Also, many ev enthusiasts/owners will seek opportunity charging at work or along the way.
Imagine every other day, you stop at the same store or eatery that allows you to plug in when you patronize, for a fee or even for free.

This is not always available and some would not be able to make themselves to ask if it were. But a neighbor or relative may be close by. 



Good advice. Might be a stretch for us practically but worth exploring. Our nearest neighbor will be one mile away. In Manitoba winters (below -40) this would be a significant challenge that we would not want to explore. Depending on work situation we may be able to arrange something there... but the battery would be depleted again by the time we got home.

David Baillie wrote:The first question I would ask is if the power company wants that kind of money how far do they need to travel onto your land? If there is a spot at the edge of your property near a utility pole ask yourself can I build a shed there to house a grid connection? A few thousand for a connection That becomes your car charging station while you are commuting regularly is reasonable.



This is an excellent idea. Thank you for sharing it. Unfortunately it's about 1/2 mile from the nearest power line to our property plus maybe 1/5 mile to the house site. So most of the distance is off our property.

David Baillie wrote:As a bonus the battery pack can be used to trickle charge your house battery and act as a backup generator for you saving you some system costs.



This intrigues me. Do you know any resources I should check out to understand this better?

s wesley wrote:I have been in a similar situation before. Not only were we not excited about the amount to install poles to us. We really disliked the idea of giving them access to the land, and all the destruction and toxins that come with that. All the unnatural e.m.f. that comes with that. Plus, on top of it all, a bill every month at whatever amount they feel like charging you. It's really a loose loose loose loose...another loose? did I mention loose?... situation. 



My thinking exactly.

Eliot Mason wrote:The cars ... as an owner of two of these magnificent machines, here's the scoop: (the OP may know all this, adding for posterity if so)
1) depending on terrain and climate, expect 2.5-4 m/kwhr.  So in terms of sizing your system, take the daily drive, divide by 2.5 (to be super safe) and figure you need that much each day.
2) the newer electric cars have bigger batteries and better ranges.  So you don't need to charge everyday.  My Bolt has a 60 kwhr battery pack, the E-Golf something like 34 kwhr.  We can easily go three days without having to charge, maybe a week.  So consider that you might be able to let it charge on the weekend (less battery need).
3) charging - don't forget the cost of a Level 2 charger!  Expect at least $600 for the charger and associated wiring.  Using the 110 volt 8/12 amp charger gives you about 5 miles of range per hour of charging (12a* 110v=1.3kw before system losses).  A Level 2 charger runs 220v at 32 amps and packs in closer to 25 miles per hour. 
4) unfortunately, the efficiency of battery powered cars is inversely related to our hours of daylight - cold batteries don't work as well and you need to run heaters, defrosters, wipers etc.  In the winter, my Bolt uses about 10% of its overall consumption to keep me comfy, but I still get better than 3 mi/kwhr going skiing!

We operated for about 2 years on just the 110 charger, but the Level 2 charger is far more forgiving! That was also when our cars had a total battery capacity of maybe 32 kwhr, we're now more than 3x that.  And yes, never buying gas is a wonderful thing.  I recommend everyone try the level 1 (110 volt charger) first before laying out the cash for the level 2 charger.

In conclusion... if its a 40 mile roundtrip, that's maybe 16 kwhr of power you have to find or store. And 8 hours of charging will fill your battery.

Hope that helps you size your system.



This really does help. Thank you!

Mark Tudor wrote:The other low hanging fruit of costs is reducing the electrical demands as you know. We assume we need a $30k solar system so we can keep using the same amount of power as we do on our grid-tied house. But maybe your off grid house is smaller, doesn't need central AC due to proper design, uses a more efficient chest freezer, uses a clothes line instead of a dryer, uses fewer electric kitchen tools, etc. Once you have pruned the consumption you can size your system off the darkest winter months average sun hours and hopefully you'll need far less than $30k for the solar system.



That's my hope! Also... can't bike. Nearest town is 10 miles away on gravel and there's very little there. For most needs 25 miles or so. For work (for now) potentially 45-50 miles. Goal #1: Don't have to drive 50 miles to work.

Anne Miller wrote:Also I would ask the electric company if they have a discount/rebate for going with both electric/solar then ask if they work with companies and can give you names.   This would make the monthly electric bill cheaper.



Nope. Grid-tied solar incentives have been ended here.

Thanks for all the advice! I'll report back with my learnings and action plan!
 
pollinator
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I see folks wanting to go off grid make this same mistakes all the time.

1st is only thinking of solar power.

I would highly suggest you look into combo off grid power. Solar and wind. If you have running water on your property add in micro hydro.

Solar is great but has draw backs. Adding wind and/or micro hydro helps fill those draw backs. Wind usually picks up on the cloudy days when there is no sun. Micro hydro never gives a lot of power but is a consistent constant power source, which you know can power X amount of appliances.

2nd is a big thing I see with people wanting to go off grid is not reducing power consumption first.

You can reduce the size of your off grid power needs by trimming the fat of your power consumption. For example getting DC powered top opening Fridge/freezer. No longer dumping all the cold energy every time you open it will save a bunch in power. You can also locate and eliminate a lot of power use by checking for phantom loads. A lot of modern appliances still draw power even when not in use. Anything with a display or indicator light for example. But there is a lot of things that still draw power even without outward display. You can get a phantom load device to help you track down pesky devices. While not every phantom load is a lot by themselves, added up it can be pretty significant.

I hope you find a way to get to your off grid dream, for me I had no choice. The cost to get power to my mountain top homestead would be crazy too expensive.
 
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:
Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.



Totally noob question here (because I know very little about solar): Is it possible to trickle charge your vehicle during the day with a solar panel (like we do with our solar battery  maintainers for the vehicles that don't get daily use - only more powerful... look at all that lovely roofspace and they now make solar panel stickers) so that it needs less charging at night?
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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r ranson wrote:

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:
Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.



Totally noob question here (because I know very little about solar): Is it possible to trickle charge your vehicle during the day with a solar panel (like we do with our solar battery  maintainers for the vehicles that don't get daily use - only more powerful... look at all that lovely roofspace and they now make solar panel stickers) so that it needs less charging at night?



Seems to me this would work. Problem is that in this particular situation the car would be away from the homestead during sun hours in winter. So yes, great idea, but it doesn't fit for me.
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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Devin Lavign wrote:I would highly suggest you look into combo off grid power. Solar and wind. If you have running water on your property add in micro hydro.

Solar is great but has draw backs. Adding wind and/or micro hydro helps fill those draw backs. Wind usually picks up on the cloudy days when there is no sun. Micro hydro never gives a lot of power but is a consistent constant power source, which you know can power X amount of appliances.

2nd is a big thing I see with people wanting to go off grid is not reducing power consumption first.



Hi Devin, I'm a little worried about wind. This article really made me consider that it might not be a good fit, despite that in the end it does actually advocate a hybrid system.

https://www.solacity.com/small-wind-turbine-truth/

I don't really want a massive tower in my yard. What kind of wind system do you recommend for off-gridders doing a wind/solar hybrid?

Micro hydro is great but we don't have micro hydro.

Reducing power consumption first - bingo. Hence car dilemma.
 
raven ranson
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:

r ranson wrote:

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:
Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.



Totally noob question here (because I know very little about solar): Is it possible to trickle charge your vehicle during the day with a solar panel (like we do with our solar battery  maintainers for the vehicles that don't get daily use - only more powerful... look at all that lovely roofspace and they now make solar panel stickers) so that it needs less charging at night?



Seems to me this would work. Problem is that in this particular situation the car would be away from the homestead during sun hours in winter. So yes, great idea, but it doesn't fit for me.



If the solar panel was on the roof of the car... would it matter where the car is?  Then in the evening, you can plug it into the home system to charge the rest of the way. 

That's why I was thinking sticker solar panel.  The theory is it will be a sticker on the roof of the car which is curved so it doesn't hurt the fuel efficiency by doing something technical to air dynamics thingy... kind of obvious I don't understand how this all works.  But maybe it will spark a better idea if I share my crappy one. 
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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r ranson wrote:If the solar panel was on the roof of the car... would it matter where the car is?  Then in the evening, you can plug it into the home system to charge the rest of the way. 

That's why I was thinking sticker solar panel.  The theory is it will be a sticker on the roof of the car which is curved so it doesn't hurt the fuel efficiency by doing something technical to air dynamics thingy... kind of obvious I don't understand how this all works.  But maybe it will spark a better idea if I share my crappy one. 



Ohh... sorry! I did not catch the suggestion of putting the panel sticker on the roof of the car! I thought you meant the roof of the house. Now your suggestion makes more sense. Sorry... very tired right now.

I'm not sure if this would make a significant difference or not or if the cost of the system would be worth the amount of charge you'd get. I will say that I don't know enough. I would be concerned about them un-sticking. What do others think of this suggestion?
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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Eliot Mason wrote:In conclusion... if its a 40 mile roundtrip, that's maybe 16 kwhr of power you have to find or store. And 8 hours of charging will fill your battery.



Where I'm at, in the dark months we get an average of about 3 hours of sunlight in a day. If we were to estimate 16 kWh, does that mean that I'd be looking at 5-6 kW of solar (excluding house)? Does this scream "look into wind instead"?
 
pollinator
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I have no solar expirience, just interest and imagination.
That being said,  the solar roof panels would probably not generate enough power to be worth while,there just isn't much surface area.

A used Chevy Volt might be an option.
Drive one, charge the other.
A used Prius would be cheaper still,with the added bonus of a IC backup.
I wonder if there are propane powered Priuses
A reconditioned battery for a Prius can be had for under $1000.00 installed, third party.
I would bet that a battery too spent to serve in a car might still work in an array.
Drive it till it begs for mercy, park it strip the corpse but leave it's enfeebled heart still beating in its chest....

I'm not sure about the wind there, but a small array mounted on a trailer vould be handy.
It could be turned to track the sun, dragged to where you need power, hold batteries, and be made from a the carcass  of a Prius...

Got a long steep drive?
Maybe an old Prius,mounted on rails, could use it's regenerative braking to recover energy stored from.the climb up the hill.

Any cheap land available right near the power lines?
A shack with power to it, two electric cars, charge A car all day from grid power, drive B car to work, switch, drive the rest of the way home, and run your lights and computers off your car batteries.
Propane for refrigeration, and cloths drying, if needed.
Wood heat.
Maybe you now become the charging station for people just outside the reach of the grid.
Maybe they charge their battery trailers (busted up Priuses) while they are at work and pick them up on.their way home.
It's like a water truck, but for electricity.
It's like being "English " and renting freezer space to the Amish.
Build your own solar farm and sell them the juice in a rented Prius bottle.
What can we make to sell from any excess electric?
Compressed air? Nitrogen or oxygen extracted from.the air? Ice? Dry ice? Purified water? Milled lumber? Split firewood? Hydroponic weed? Hydroponic hops?
Hydroponic hops genetically engineered (!) to produce thc?
Server space?

Ok, I've spiraled out of control.
But many commercial better than organic growers have gotten their start by growing good food for themselves.

Maybe the problem of needing electric to get to work can be solved by providing electric for yourself and using the excess to make money.

Minimum, you can sell your solutions.
That seems to be  the biggest cash crop in permaculture.
When you have a solution to living off grid with  an electric car, sell it the rest of us, or give it away, build your brand and sell your expertise.


One more idea, non-solar.
wood gas powered generator.
I gravitate towards the idea of using a charcoal producing furnace for space heating during the cold season to fuel a charcoal powered gasifier.
Charcoal gas is cleaner, so using it is simpler.
Plenty of ways to realize a gain on any excess charcoal, especially if it's willow charcoal.
I wonder if there is a wood or charcoal gas  powered Prius out there somewhere....



 
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Why would you need a generator for a Chevy Volt?  It has one built in.

Yeah it kinda sucks to drive a Volt on gas most of the time, but it's certainly doable.  If you're driving to work, is there any possibility of getting a charging station at, or near, where you work?  Or even a 120V outlet?

I would put off getting a fully electric car until you are sure you won't need to drive 100 miles a day.

I think you need to focus on reducing consumption first.  How much energy are you currently using per month?

$30,000 sounds like an awful lot with PV prices as low as they are now, but then you are in Canada which doesn't get much sunshine during the winter.
When figuring average output of an array, don't forget to consider losses.  Lead Acid batteries are only perhaps 75% efficient, so for every 4 watts you put in, you only get 3 watts out.  Charge controllers also have losses, some types have fairly high losses. The inverter will also have losses, typically 10-20%.
Panels are rate for how much they produce at noon, in July, when the air temp is 70 degrees.  These types of conditions only happen in the lab. 
Play it safe and figure they will only produce maybe 70% of what they are rated for.

Wind turbines sound nice in principle, but in real life rarely work out unless you live in an area with lots of wind and put up a really big one (16 foot diameter minimum, mounted on top of a 50 foot tower, minimum)

Most people think it's windy when the wind is only blowing 12-15 mph, that's not enough wind to produce any useful power with a small turbine.  The rated wind speed for most small turbines is 25-30mph.  Note: a 16 foot turbine is still considered a "small" turbine for the previous two sentences.

Micro-hydro is a great option if you have a suitable creek and are allowed to install one.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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r ranson wrote:

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:

r ranson wrote:

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:
Here's my problem: I drive a 2012 Chevy Volt. And I had thought that my next vehicle would be fully electric.



Totally noob question here (because I know very little about solar): Is it possible to trickle charge your vehicle during the day with a solar panel (like we do with our solar battery  maintainers for the vehicles that don't get daily use - only more powerful... look at all that lovely roofspace and they now make solar panel stickers) so that it needs less charging at night?



Seems to me this would work. Problem is that in this particular situation the car would be away from the homestead during sun hours in winter. So yes, great idea, but it doesn't fit for me.



If the solar panel was on the roof of the car... would it matter where the car is?  Then in the evening, you can plug it into the home system to charge the rest of the way. 

That's why I was thinking sticker solar panel.  The theory is it will be a sticker on the roof of the car which is curved so it doesn't hurt the fuel efficiency by doing something technical to air dynamics thingy... kind of obvious I don't understand how this all works.  But maybe it will spark a better idea if I share my crappy one. 



A flexible solar panel stuck on the roof of a car would be almost useless for adding range. The amount of available roof space simply isn't that large to begin with (not for solar panels) Flexible panels have relatively low efficiency to start with. Most of it's not going to be pointing in the right direction, during the winter it won't even be close to pointing in that right direction. Any part that isn't fully illuminated will limit the power from the whole panel (it's only as strong as it's weakest link)
With only 3hrs of sunlight during the winter, it wouldn't even add 1 mile of range.

Electric vehicles use a relatively large amount of power.  My Chevy Volt has 14kWh of available energy.  That's enough for 50-60 miles of range, or it could power my house for 2 days (give or take) during the spring/fall. My house is fully electric, no gas or wood powered anything.
 
David Baillie
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For most electric vehicles you don't really tap the main battery you tap the auxiliary 12 volt battery which is topped off by the main. You can only continually draw whatever wattage it charges at and you leave the car"on" with all accessories turned off. You can either use that directly or feed it into a charger like an Iota to charge your house battery. Here is a decent link to a video there are tonnes of links to it... not the most efficient system but it could save you the backup generator expense.

Cheers, David B.
 
Anne Miller
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Have you considered adding propane to your equation?

The Amish do quite well with their off grid living by adding propane appliances.

Propane refrigeration, hot water heaters; range/oven, space heaters ...

In the old days, folks also had propane lighting though I would not consider that an option.
 
William Bronson
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I did not realize the volt had an ICE.
More power options.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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William Bronson wrote: I did not realize the volt had an ICE.
More power options.



Yup, in my opinion this is the best vehicle option currently available.  You can drive pure electric for most day-to-day trips, commuting, etc. and fire up the ICE as needed for long distance travel. 

Many people have added a 1000-2000 watt inverter to their Volt.  This allows you to use the Volt as a standby power source.  You can even set it up so that when the main battery is depleted it will fire up the built in generator and keep providing power until you run out of gas.
It's not going to be able to run a central AC unit, but it could run a mini-split or window AC.  If you started with a full battery and full tank of gas, the current model could power a small AC, Fridge/freezer, a few lights and a couple laptops for a week to 10 days or so.
 
Shawn Klassen-Koop
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Peter VanDerWal wrote:Why would you need a generator for a Chevy Volt?  It has one built in.



Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. My reason was that I didn't want the battery to be sitting empty most of the time and only getting a small charge here or there. Isn't that bad for the battery?

Peter VanDerWal wrote:I would put off getting a fully electric car until you are sure you won't need to drive 100 miles a day.



I agree 100%. This entire discussion has motivated me to figure out ways to reduce the amount I need to drive as fast as possible.

Peter VanDerWal wrote:Wind turbines sound nice in principle, but in real life rarely work out unless you live in an area with lots of wind and put up a really big one (16 foot diameter minimum, mounted on top of a 50 foot tower, minimum)

Most people think it's windy when the wind is only blowing 12-15 mph, that's not enough wind to produce any useful power with a small turbine.  The rated wind speed for most small turbines is 25-30mph.  Note: a 16 foot turbine is still considered a "small" turbine for the previous two sentences.



This is what I feared with wind. That, and moving parts that need maintenance.

William Bronson wrote:Maybe the problem of needing electric to get to work can be solved by providing electric for yourself and using the excess to make money.



Thanks for all of your creative ideas William! This approach is interesting to consider if I do buy a bigger system and then eventually need less electricity for driving. It'd be cool to have a thread that breaks down the cost/benefit analysis of various electricity sink options. I looked for one and couldn't find one so I created it:

http://permies.com/t/85965/Economical-excess-grid-solar-electricity

William Bronson wrote:A used Chevy Volt might be an option.
Drive one, charge the other. 



I give you props for thinking outside the box! I think the vehicle insurance (legally required here) approaching $1700 per year per vehicle may kill the cost benefits of this approach.

William Bronson wrote:wood gas powered generator



I must confess that I have yet to understand the wood gasification thing. Maybe I'll have to spend some time on that. What I don't like is that it requires me to harvest wood and add wood regularly. Yes, I'm lazy.

Peter VanDerWal wrote:Many people have added a 1000-2000 watt inverter to their Volt.  This allows you to use the Volt as a standby power source.  You can even set it up so that when the main battery is depleted it will fire up the built in generator and keep providing power until you run out of gas.



This is neat. I'll definitely look into this. Nice to not need a separate generator.

I know that this is a weird thought (and maybe bad idea), but is there a way to get the car generator to run and fully power up its own battery? In terms of net fuel use it doesn't make any sense and probably uses a bit more fuel, but then the battery would not be empty most of the time.

My mind is going in 1000 different directions. So much great advice and yet I still don't feel like I've figured it out. Maybe it's as simple as not considering 5 days of driving each week an option and just sizing my system to fit driving once a week. Easy to say. Could be harder to do.

Thanks to everyone who has pitched in so far!
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:

Peter VanDerWal wrote:Why would you need a generator for a Chevy Volt?  It has one built in.



Maybe I'm going about this all wrong. My reason was that I didn't want the battery to be sitting empty most of the time and only getting a small charge here or there. Isn't that bad for the battery?



According to Chevy, it won't hurt the battery.  In fact the Volt is designed to never allow the battery to become fully depleted or fully charged.  That is why you can only access 10.3kWh of the 16kWh battery pack. 
So even when the display says the battery is empty, there is still about 3kwh left in it.


Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote: I know that this is a weird thought (and maybe bad idea), but is there a way to get the car generator to run and fully power up its own battery? In terms of net fuel use it doesn't make any sense and probably uses a bit more fuel, but then the battery would not be empty most of the time.



No not fully recharge it. However, if the battery is depleted (below 2 bars) and you switch to mountain mode it will use the ICE to bring the charge level back up to ~20% (2 bars).  Even if the vehicle is stopped/parked, if it's in mountain mode, it will start the generator to recharge the battery to 20%.
When using it as a backup generator with an inverter, putting it into mountain mode is how you get it to use the on-board generator to provide power.

Note: the Volt generator is more efficient, quieter and produces less pollution than a portable generator, and, since you already own it...   Just make sure it is in a well ventilated area when using it like this (it still produces carbon monoxide)

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote: My mind is going in 1000 different directions. So much great advice and yet I still don't feel like I've figured it out. Maybe it's as simple as not considering 5 days of driving each week an option and just sizing my system to fit driving once a week. Easy to say. Could be harder to do.

Thanks to everyone who has pitched in so far!



For now I would recommend that you don't size the system for providing any vehicle power.  Reduce your consumption and build a system designed to meet the reduced consumption.  After you have more experience you can always expand the system.
Not only will this be cheaper (now) but in a few years they might come up with better options.  EV charging stations in town may become common, etc.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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I forgot to mention, if you size your system to provide most of your electricity during the winter, you will have LOTs of surplus power during the rest of the year. 

More than enough to charge your car.  If you drive the car every other day, then you wouldn't even need to increase your house battery since it will just charge using surplus power on the days you aren't driving.  If nothing else, you'd have a full charge on Mondays (assuming you don't drive the Volt on the weekends)
 
Eliot Mason
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Catching up late here...

R ranson: Totally noob question here (because I know very little about solar): Is it possible to trickle charge your vehicle during the day with a solar panel (like we do with our solar battery  maintainers for the vehicles that don't get daily use - only more powerful... look at all that lovely roofspace and they now make solar panel stickers) so that it needs less charging at night?



Others have followed up on this , about how the roof space is really insignificant.  True! At one point he Prius had a solar panel roof -- to run a fan in the car, while parked.  Yay.  But there's another issue here ... I don't think you can just connect to the main batteries, you have to go through the charger.  With most cars/tractors you can send a charge directly to the battery - I don't think you can bypass the charger.  That means you need enough juice from solar panels (DC) to convert to AC to power the charger and then back to DC in the batteries.

And...
Peter VanDerWal wrote:

I would put off getting a fully electric car until you are sure you won't need to drive 100 miles a day.


I heartily disagree!  The new generation of basic electric cars have ranges of 120-150 miles, the Bolt and a whole of cars coming down the pipe (Kia, Jaguar) have ranges better than 200 miles.  My experience with the Bolt is that its still a regional car - its great for trips of 200 miles or less.  The car itself is fine, its just that charging networks suck (unless you go Tesla).

And for everyone out there who says "Electric is great, but I need to haul stuff" ... behold the Workhorse! Its basically like the Volt ... but its a truck with an 80 mile electric range.

Sorry to be a pedant.
 
frank li
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Heavy commuting is an ev challenge, if not a totally impractical situation for some especially rural off grid. Two cars, one hybrid and one electric, or a serious car with a real battery that is an extension of your house battery and several sources of power onsite is probably required if the grid is not available or desireable.

Either way the vehicle(s) should augment the energy system storage and or charging.

This is pricey, but ready to use.

http://store.evtv.me/proddetail.php?prod=dcdcchargestation

And this will allow salvage tesla battery cells to function as a house battery. There is more to it, but i would look at this company for serious inquiry into a system that can transfer charge between car and house and charge from renewables. Im pretty sure you could get quasi plug and play, ready to use, or diy components, software and support from evtv. If not now, soon.

http://store.evtv.me/proddetail.php?prod=1FullpackController
 
Devin Lavign
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Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:

Devin Lavign wrote:I would highly suggest you look into combo off grid power. Solar and wind. If you have running water on your property add in micro hydro.

Solar is great but has draw backs. Adding wind and/or micro hydro helps fill those draw backs. Wind usually picks up on the cloudy days when there is no sun. Micro hydro never gives a lot of power but is a consistent constant power source, which you know can power X amount of appliances.

2nd is a big thing I see with people wanting to go off grid is not reducing power consumption first.



Hi Devin, I'm a little worried about wind. This article really made me consider that it might not be a good fit, despite that in the end it does actually advocate a hybrid system.

https://www.solacity.com/small-wind-turbine-truth/

I don't really want a massive tower in my yard. What kind of wind system do you recommend for off-gridders doing a wind/solar hybrid?

Micro hydro is great but we don't have micro hydro.

Reducing power consumption first - bingo. Hence car dilemma.



Well I can tell you that article was not a very fair objective one. Not sure why they are so down on wind power, but looking at the wind generators they sell I see they don't have good high quality wind generators for home power use. You see the 3 blade wind generators are mostly used for marine use. People on boats or the coast where they get strong winds. For inland home power use you would want a 5-9 blade wind generator.

I would highly suggest you check out the wind generators at http://mwands.com/store/wind-turbine-products and watch their wind generators for beginners video



These guys are great and really know what they are talking about. As well as completely willing to be honest and not over hype things. They cut through the BS and myths as well as the hype and outright lies.

As for wind generator towers, yes they can be a bit of an eye sore and issue but most residential wind generators don't need a huge tower. Yes higher up you put a wind generator more likely you will get good power. But then you also can't go too high or you will get loss running the power down the line. For smaller wind turbines (depending on the wind in your area) you don't need to go up too high. Maybe 30-60 ft or you might be able to do a roof mount. A lot depends on your location. How high are the trees around you, what sort of wind blocks are around, etc...

I would suggest you call or email Missouri Wind and Solar and discuss your needs with them. Even if you don't buy from them they are helpful and knowledgeable folks who will give you the right info about what is possible and needed.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Eliot Mason wrote:

And...
Peter VanDerWal wrote:

I would put off getting a fully electric car until you are sure you won't need to drive 100 miles a day.



The issue isn't about finding a vehicle that can provide the range, the issue is the cost of a solar array to charge that vehicle during the winter when they only get 3 hours of sunlight.
You're talking a > $120,000 solar array just to charge the vehicle for a 100 mile daily commute.
 
Eliot Mason
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Peter VanDerWal wrote:
The issue isn't about finding a vehicle that can provide the range, the issue is the cost of a solar array to charge that vehicle during the winter when they only get 3 hours of sunlight.
You're talking a > $120,000 solar array just to charge the vehicle for a 100 mile daily commute.



That is an excellent point!  Sorry I missed the context of your comment.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Devin Lavign wrote:

Shawn Klassen-Koop wrote:

Devin Lavign wrote:I would highly suggest you look into combo off grid power. Solar and wind. If you have running water on your property add in micro hydro.

Solar is great but has draw backs. Adding wind and/or micro hydro helps fill those draw backs. Wind usually picks up on the cloudy days when there is no sun. Micro hydro never gives a lot of power but is a consistent constant power source, which you know can power X amount of appliances.

2nd is a big thing I see with people wanting to go off grid is not reducing power consumption first.



Hi Devin, I'm a little worried about wind. This article really made me consider that it might not be a good fit, despite that in the end it does actually advocate a hybrid system.

https://www.solacity.com/small-wind-turbine-truth/

I don't really want a massive tower in my yard. What kind of wind system do you recommend for off-gridders doing a wind/solar hybrid?

Micro hydro is great but we don't have micro hydro.

Reducing power consumption first - bingo. Hence car dilemma.



Well I can tell you that article was not a very fair objective one. Not sure why they are so down on wind power, but looking at the wind generators they sell I see they don't have good high quality wind generators for home power use. You see the 3 blade wind generators are mostly used for marine use. People on boats or the coast where they get strong winds. For inland home power use you would want a 5-9 blade wind generator.

I would highly suggest you check out the wind generators at http://mwands.com/store/wind-turbine-products and watch their wind generators for beginners video



These guys are great and really know what they are talking about. As well as completely willing to be honest and not over hype things. They cut through the BS and myths as well as the hype and outright lies.

As for wind generator towers, yes they can be a bit of an eye sore and issue but most residential wind generators don't need a huge tower. Yes higher up you put a wind generator more likely you will get good power. But then you also can't go too high or you will get loss running the power down the line. For smaller wind turbines (depending on the wind in your area) you don't need to go up too high. Maybe 30-60 ft or you might be able to do a roof mount. A lot depends on your location. How high are the trees around you, what sort of wind blocks are around, etc...

I would suggest you call or email Missouri Wind and Solar and discuss your needs with them. Even if you don't buy from them they are helpful and knowledgeable folks who will give you the right info about what is possible and needed.



First of all, Small turbines are not going to be cost effective no matter what they say.  It's a simple matter of physics.  There are a few places where they kind of make sense, but not many.

Second, the more blades a turbine has, the lower it's efficiency, that's why the really huge turbines only have two blades.  Again this is a matter of physics.  Not only do more blades have lower efficiency, they also spin at lower speeds (reducing your TSR) which makes them less desirable for generating electricity.  The only 'advantage' they have, if you want to call it that, is because they have poor efficiency and a low TSR, they are less likely to over-spin in high winds so you don't necessarily need any mechanism to turn them out of the wind, etc.
The hucksters will claim this is an advantage because instead of turning out of the wind you can make energy during high winds.  The problem with that logic is that high winds happen so rarely that it doesn't make any sense to sacrifice efficiency at lower (much more common) wind speeds to make them work in the rare high wind speeds.


There are circumstances where turbines with large numbers of blades make sense.  While turbine with lots of blades spin slower, they have higher torque.  This makes them useful when you want low speed and high torque, pumping water for example.  However, electric generators generally work more efficiently at high RPMs with relatively low torque.  In fact even many two bladed (high TSR, i.e. faster) turbines have a gearbox, chain drive, etc. to increase the RPMs of the generator.  The higher the ratio of the transmission, the lower it's efficiency.  So again, that's a knock against large numbers of blades on a turbine designed to generate electrical power.

For smaller turbines, the ideal number of blades is 3.  Two is slightly more efficient but has problems if it needs to yaw (turn) into the wind while it's spinning.  Because of gyroscopic forces, turbines with an even number of blades tend to cog or vibrate badly when yawing while spinning. I.e. with two blades there is very little resistance to turning while the blades are parallel to the tower, but high resistance when they are at right angles to the tower.  With an odd number of blades you end up with more blades that are not parallel than are at any given point in rotation so the vibration isn't as severe.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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I just watched that video and Wow!  Almost everything he says in it is wrong.  His explanation about wiring is completely wrong, AC vs DC completely wrong.  He is right about not wanting an even number of blades, but his explanation of why is wrong.

Yeah, sure his turbines start spinning at low wind speeds, but so what?  They don't produce any usable power at low wind speeds.  There are plenty of explanations online about why chassing after low wind speeds is worthless, but basically it comes down to there isn't any useful power to capture at low wind speeds.

There are two signs that someone selling turbines is trying to scam you.  Anyone that suggests mounting turbines on roof top is targeting ignorant consumers.  Anyone that suggests their turbine is superior because it works at wind speeds below 10 mph is targeting ignorant consumers.  I'm not using 'ignorant' here as an insult, but rather to describe someone that isn't educated on the subject (the actual definition of the word)

As for the guy in the video, Google "Missouri Wind and Solar reviews" and you will come across hundreds of websites complaining about his fraudulent advertising.

If you want a good wind turbine company that consistently get's good reviews and really knows what they are doing, I'd recommend Southwest Windpower.  I have no affiliation with the company, I have never even purchased any of their products.  However, as I said I read lots of good things about them, including the fact that they would rather lose a sale than sell you a turbine when they know it won't work well for you.  If you insist, they will sell you one, but they'll tell you up front that you won't likely be happy with it.

They don't recommend mounting turbines on roof tops, and they will tell you that it's worthless trying to get power out of low speed winds that simply don't have any useful power to extract.

Check out:
http://www.windenergy.com/products/skystream

and read the section "Will it work for me?"

and then follow their link to:
http://www.xzeres.com/buy-direct/wind-report-project/
to see if your area is a good wind resource.
 
Mark Tudor
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Thank you for that info Peter, I had thought those turbines with more blades would be an option for a site with lower winds (mine average is reported at 7.6mph on the xzeres.com tool). Since my size has no micro hydro option and is at 48 degrees latitude for those short winter days, I was hoping a wind turbine could be another option for winter power production that would cost less than a bigger battery bank and more solar panels.
 
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when reading threads like this on these forums and others, and seeing what a lot of people talk about with pricing these systems, it really makes me realize what a different world i live in than many.

but emphasizes the repeated point here with solar, the key is to drastically reduce your energy consumption, drastically.

all lights super low watt LED or likewise, convenient power strips to shut down all appliances at once so no slow drain, and unfortunately no fridge/washer/dryer/air conditioner/major appliance etc.

for just lights, computers, stereo, some small kitchen appliances...all this doesnt take much to run and 2-4 small solar panels can do this, with a basic inverter and a few or more batteries in a bank.

maybe a fan, sometimes, and even occasionally a blender smoothie =)

and also - when its actually sunny and theres an overflow at those times...when your system is totally charged up in the middle of day, you can occasionally make a blender smoothie without everything beeping at you =)

but yeah i know for a lot of people this is not enough.
at this amount of use though solar makes great sense. for 1-2 thousand dollars (or less if you salvage stuffs from somewhere)
you can have years and years of that much electricity use for basic lights, music/entertainment/ computers, screens, charging phones...and small kitchen appliances.

there are some interesting mini fridge/cooler, ovens etc...for DC / truckers...i have had a couple of low power kitchen type appliances that you can get through trucker outlets and trucker supply stuff...mini cookers, blender, coffee pots, etc...that all run on low amounts of DC power...too...

but theres always propane, or wood stoves, or other things for cooking...and hot water....

having cold storage, a "larder" / cool area, and several coolers on the north side outside...was how i lived with only super cheap solar power for many years.
go to town and always pick up ice... enough cheese milk and fun stuff for the few days this will stay good without real fridge...

and even salvaging used batteries...for very cheap from where people bring older batteries. you would be surprised how many of these of these are in good enough condition...people throw away good batteries all the time...
i think the solar set up i had was all total about 500$
most it spent on the wires and little things to hook everything up
and my only power for over 5 years.

but this is maybe too minimalist for most people?

ah sorry for your needs and wants OP to have electric car, maybe this is less relevant.
i do like the idea above somewhere...stated...which is i think what i would do in that case...get a deal with a neighbor or friend to charge your car up at their place. they probably wouldnt care much, it probably would cost them too much...you could pay them monthly or whatever...or in the neighbor barter system =)
then drop the car off at their place  and walk home...and/or somewhere near where you work and charge all day...

when i lived off grid like that for a long time i would definitely make use of my friends and neighbors houses and power, all of which had regular grid electricity. charge my phones and stuff up at their places...and even sometimes, store a few things in their freezer...one of my neighbors let me use her fridge for cold stratifying seeds =) and to throw some Cream and ice cream to get later...
and thats like ...no big deal for someone...if they had an out door plug or something...and you pitched in on the bill.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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Xzeres does an annual average.  For most people that is the more important criteria.

For someone that lives closer to the poles, the winter time average wind speed might be more important.  However, most areas tend to be windier, on average, when the weather is hot instead of when it's cold.
Still it might be different in your case.

I like the Weather Underground website: wunderground.com  They not only list weather data from the professional weather stations, but also include thousands of individual "personal" weather stations.  If you dig around that site you might be able to find a dozen or so people near you with weather data available going back a few years.  Look at what the average wind speeds are in your area during the winter time.

It's possible that you might be one of the rare exception where a small wind turbine makes sense.  it's not likely, but it's possible.

FWIW when I plug my address into Xzeres it tells me that my average wind speed is 10 mph, which means I'm just on the lower edge of a wind turbine being feasible.  But, Xzeres reccomends a 7.5 meter turbine on a 100 foot tower for me and I don't use a lot of power, about 500 kWhs per month on average. 
Xzeres also points out that the lifetime average cost of electricity for that turbine would be 34 cents per kWh, which is almost 3x what the grid charges for electricity where I live and about 2-3 times what it would cost me today to install off-solar for the same output.
 
Peter VanDerWal
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A couple things that haven't been covered well yet.

The 'power' in the wind goes up as the cube of the wind speed.  So if the wind speed doubles, the available power goes up 8x.  So a 12 mph ind might barely have enough power to be useful, a 6 mph wind will have 1/8 as much power available.  An ideal turbine can harvest maybe 40% of the available power, and that's BEFORE you convert it into electricity.

The power available also goes up as the square of the turbine diameter, double the diameter, you get 4x the power.  This is why commercial turbines are so big, and why small turbines are generally worthless.

http://windenergyfoundation.org/about-wind-energy/how-wind-works/ ; has a good overview of wind energy and

https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/wind-power-d_1214.html  ; has a simple explanation of the calculations and a nice example.

From their calculations a 1 meter (~3 foot) turbine in a 10 meter per second (22 mph) wind will produce about 94 watts.  in a 5 m/s wind it would produce less than 10 watts, in light winds, like the above video talks about, the MAXIMUM available power is in single digits and in real life you won't be able to get even that due to losses.  Get up to 4 meters in diameters and you can produce 1,500 watts in 10 m/s (22mph) wind and perhaps 150 watts or so in 5 m/s wind.

Double the diameter (2 meters) and the power goes up 4x, but you still can't get anything from winds under 4-5 m/s because of losses etc. 
Start getting up into the 50 meter plus turbines with variable pitch props, etc. and you can start harvesting some of that energy from 4 m/s wind, but that is basically just a bonus for those turbines because they won't install one anywhere they expect to see average speeds below around 7-8 m/s, and even that is questionable.

Anyway, hopefully you can see now why wind turbines need to be at least 6 meters in diameter and have average wind speeds that are above 5 m/s (~11 mph). 

If you have the skills to build a turbine yourself, then maybe you could get by with a small 3 meter turbine.  If you are good with wood working, welding, electronics, etc. then buy Hugh Piggott's book and build one
http://scoraigwind.co.uk/a-wind-turbine-recipe-book/
 
frank li
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A very fine compliment to pv for the scale of this application. The bergey can supply 500+ kwh/month in 12mph avg wind if you have storage room when the wind is kickin.

Battery systems and vehicle chargers for being able to store all this and transfer it to a set of vehicles is where the cost lies

http://bergey.com/products/wind-turbines/10kw-bergey-excel

As Pete pointed too, Id also like to see a breakdown of seasonal resources for both pv and wind based solar at the site. An installation of a 500+ lb alternator on 80 to 120 feet of tower is expensive and not diy friendly for most. Still its not out of the realm of possibility and serious off grid vehicle charging has been done by others, im sure. In many areas having wind compliment pv makes this power level feasable.

I have seen plenty of 100,000+ dollar lots to build on, sell in subdivisions and of the size of my driveway area in total land! At 450k for a sub division house you could easily acquire land, cars, build small footprint/ high efficincy and have a renewable energy system in place to have your homestead anywhere there is resource to power it.

Just depends on budget and personal taste.
 
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