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Sunday, June 11, 2017

off grid easy 2


OFF GRID EASY 2

Solar power used to be a bit complicated.  When I first read the book on the $5k travel trailer homestead, the solar section while well laid out still promised trials and tribulations.  Of course, that was twenty years ago which pretty much just flew by.  Hell, twenty years ago the Internet was a relatively new thing.  Anyway, today it is a different story.  For a simple starter solar system you need three items.  A marine/RV battery, a charge controller and a solar panel ( okay, you need wire and connectors also, and eventually glass fuses, but those are the main items ).  That is all you need for 12v power using appliances ( the Inverter gives you 110AC power for regular household appliances-it is great to have but you don’t absolutely need it at first ).  Wal-Mart sells RV batteries for about $90 and auto stores sell them for about $150.  While I despise Wally for the cheating thieving bastards that they are, I will buy a few things from them such as a battery.  This is your disposable item and I wouldn’t spend big bucks on something that lasts three to five years at most. 

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Amazon sells solar panels for barely over $100 for 100 watts.  Get the “mono” rather than the “poly” panel.  A 12v charge controller is $10.  Get a back-up on that one, as without a controller your battery can overcharge or at the least discharge at night.  Now hook up the + wires to the + screw on the controller, then to the + on the battery.  Same with the - wires and terminals.  You might need some extra wires and O rings ( a “0” with a tab on the bottom.  Place the end of the stripped wire into the tab and pinch down with pliers to trap, with the metal 0 hooking over the small terminal on the battery and then screwed down ) to hook the controller up to the battery, if the controller doesn’t include them.  Have extra anyway as you need to go from your battery to your lights and other 12v appliances.  I buy the four ply stereo wire and peel them apart for affordable wire.  Remember, always go from larger wire to shorter, if need be, from battery to appliance.  Never go from small to larger.  You can load up the battery terminals with as many wires as you desire ( again, + and -, two wires running in for each appliance ) or you can use larger wire into the house and branch out from that.  I never had more than the lights hooked up, with an inverter for my computer ( the inverter clamps use the larger battery terminals, looking like jumper cables ).  So I only needed one battery and two wire hook ups. 

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Which is why I suggest separate panels and batteries for each main user.  By having one battery bank, one controller, one set of panels, you centralize your failures or breakages.  If you decentralize you can cannibalize one working set if another breaks.  On the controllers, take the stated amps and multiple that by 15.  If it is a 7 amp controller, that equals 105.  Never put more than 105 watts of solar panels on that one controller ( even if panels actually deliver 20% less power than stated, still go with the advertised power ).  On the batteries, take the cold cranking amps on the label.  Those are the number of watts you can use before your battery is drained half way down ( which is all that is advised on marine batteries-you can drain lower, but never habitually ).  So if in the winter you run your light from 4pm to 10pm every night, and your lamp is 5 watts, you use 30 watts a day and in two weeks you’ve used 420 watts.  If you don’t get sun for three weeks in a row, you still haven’t drained an 800 amp battery past its recommended level.  Your location is of course different but here in the high desert I almost never go a full two weeks cloudy. 

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( to install panels, I just clamped mine to a wooden pallet propped up at an angle.  I took a half inch wide L bracket used for bookshelves, made of soft metal, and hammered it flat and bolted the panel on with a #6 bolt and nut, then screwed the other end to the pallet.  I get insane winds here and have never gotten one issue with my ground level panels )

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The above should guide your panel purchase.  Take your daily usage, then your expected cloudy days, then figure your panel needs.  Panels really only produce 80% of their advertised watts, and the controller will knock off 10% as will the battery being charged.  Sorry, it’s called entropy.  Which is why you always just assume the worse.  Don’t give yourself credit for the complete days solar output and expect extra clouds and expect extra usage.  Always have cushion.  I like to use the general guideline that I only use one hours output a day.  With seventy watts in panels ( I bought when they were rather expensive ) I never used more than 70 watts total a day.  Granted, my hour writing on the computer didn’t count because I was writing during sunlight and wasn’t drawing down the battery.  I’m speaking of nighttime use ( of course, TOO much daytime use takes away from battery charging so you can’t go crazy there ).  I like to bury my batteries to keep the liquid from freezing in the winter.  I just sink a Styrofoam cooler into the ground to its lip, place the battery in there and punch a hole in the sides for the wires and place a board and weight over the top.  However, speaking from personal experience, don’t place that in a spot it will flood.

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For 12v appliances, I love the RV light sockets with a LED bayonet bulb ( you can use auto brake light sockets if you’re salvaging ).  The LED bayonet bulb is about $8 and uses only 3 to 5 watts.  They are really bright nowadays.  The cost might seem high, especially if you are buying a half dozen, compared to 50 cent incandescent bulbs, but not only do they last forever, if kept away from moisture, they are brighter and use 1/6th the power.  In winter when its cloudy, and you’re using the lights twice as long, that power consumption difference is very important.  Some folks prefer the strip lighting, a strip of LED bulbs.  I haven’t tried them but they seem like they could do a much better job.  There are many more 12v appliances.  With over the road semi drivers living out of their rigs, the market is bigger than ever.  You can get a TV which uses only ten watts.  Granted, its like seven inches wide so we’re talking a really small screen, but it is still TV if you like watching commercials lard up your shows.  A rooftop TV antenna is well worth its $60 to pull in twenty or so channels.  You can get 12v notebook computer power cords ( if you want to bypass needing an inverter ).  Stuff like coffee makers and iceboxes powered by 12v, stay away from as you know they will suck the life out of your battery too quick.  For coffee, get a camp percolator for cold weather and a French Press ( spend the extra and buy a non-glass/plastic.  Get an all metal.  It will outlast the others ) for warm weather.  Those produce coffee far superior to a drip coffee maker and don’t use electric power.

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Really, anything you can do with on grid power, you can also do with 12v power, except for a few really piggish tools like toasters or hair driers.  Vacuum cleaners are probably also out of the question, but I prefer throw rugs to carpet anyway.  Beating a rug is hard work, but so is paying a mortgage, so I call it a draw having to give up wall to wall shag.  But with a generator, now you are completely ass deep in on grid luxuries.  If you run it an hour a day you can vacuum and run the hair drier and top off batteries ( because, for instance, you’re using a fifty inch TV at night ).  You really want to run it every day anyway, just to keep it running optimally.  And a gallon of gas a week is worth keeping the wife happy.  Never buy a Chinese generator.  They are crap, so unless you can fix it yourself, stay away from them.  Japanese is the way to go.  If you are really poor, you don’t need one at all, but if you splurge on one, buy the right one.  I’d still bet any paycheck on Honda, as good today as back in the ‘80’s when I first owned one.

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You can start out on a ice cooler rather than a solar fridge, and you can go without a microwave for awhile.  Plus you don’t really need a generator at first.  You can do things real cheap to start.  Most of the above is for making the wife happy and agreeable to moving off grid.  Another way is to just visit the Laundromat in town for washing clothes.  Do a load of wash while shopping and bring them home and hang on the clothesline.  I’ve always hated driers.  They age clothes prematurely.  And they are complete energy pigs for very little positive return other than rewarding laziness.  And they waste money.  If you have a location with plenty of water, and want to wash your own laundry for whatever bizarre reason, construct a Jim Washer.  1/10th the price of a commercial James Washer, and less labor intensive.  All you need is a rocking chair and some buckets.  Fill one to three buckets with clothes, water and soap, seal, then tie them down on the rocking chair.  Sit on another chair behind the rocker, open a book or watch TV, and keep the rocker in motion by pushing on the back of its rear brace.  Go for fifteen or twenty minutes ( your mileage may vary-see how long you need to get them clean ).  The agitation will clean the clothes.  Take out, wring out in a plastic mop bucket top wringer, then rinse the soap out and wring again to remove the water, then hang. 

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Now, one of the things I love about living off grid is the lack of water pipes.  You always hear the whining about how folks buy a two thousand square foot house and then their heating bill is astronomical because they couldn’t turn the heat down or “my pipes would freeze and burst”.  Off grid, you can keep it as cold as you want inside.  There is no need to waste energy.  I lived through four winters without nighttime heat, in a travel trailer, in a cold climate.  Then I got smart and moved underground, but I still didn’t use overnight heat.  It was chilly in the night rather than way below freezing.  Everyone should have a means to live without heat, not just off-grid folks.  The power isn’t mandated by Baby Jesus himself to stay on forever.  You need a squishy foam pad, a few cotton comforters, some wool blankets ( never buy a blanket under 3 pounds unless your climate is really mild, and watch the wool content is at least 80% ) and a synthetic feather comforter for each bed.  The pad goes under the sheet to reflect heat back up and you mix and match all of the covers to get the optimal warmth you desire.  When I was a kid we had feather comforters and slept with the windows cracked in winter, and we sleep sound as could be.  The high desert in northern Nevada is a lot colder than it ever was at Lake Tahoe, and I needed a bit more than just the one comforter, but it is still a great slumber.  Waking up and getting out of bed, not so great.  You dress really fast. 

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This is why wool clothing is so wonderful.  If it itches you, wear cotton underneath, so it doesn’t need to touch your skin.  You can’t pile on enough cotton layers to ever get warm, but just one wool layer over a cotton one works wonders.  I can comfortable sit around in fifty degrees with a wool sweater and socks, plus cotton/poly cap.  In the forties I need a second wool sweater and second cap, this one wool.  Plus I usually am drinking coffee or hot water.  I don’t expect you to duplicate that, it is just illustrative of how warm wool clothing is.  I was working outside in twenty degrees with just one wool sweater ( if the wind wasn’t blowing ) and a warm hat ( the Russian winter hats are dreamy ) and only my hands were cold.  Wool is well worth the investment.  You feel much better breathing in cold air, but warm otherwise.  Ben Franklin, a randy ladies man into old age, loved to bath with the doors thrown open, an advocate of brisk cold air for optimizing health.

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And now, in shortened form to avoid discomfort, a quick treatise on handling sewage.  Use a sawdust toilet.  One of the best uses for a five gallon bucket ever.  Have a bottom layer of sawdust ( or pine shavings available from Wally in the pet department ), use, cover with more sawdust.  Repeat as needed.  Don’t pee in the same bucket, as the goal is to minimize moisture.  Once full, go outside and empty into your solar composting pile.  This is exclusively your sewage pile.  Dig a hole, brace if needed, throw in a thick plastic garbage can and cover the hole with a sheet of glass.  That is your solar toilet.  Once full, leave covered for a year, undisturbed, while using another.  At the end, the compost should be safe for all but root crops.  If you want to be extra safe, just use for trees.  And that is it for easy and sanitary waste disposal.

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As I hope you have seen, moving off grid is as easy, if not easier, than going camping.  It is also as cheap if not cheaper.  There really is nothing to it.  Again, try to move in the Spring or early Summer, just to have a bit of extra insurance against screw-ups and Murphy’s Law.  It is a bit of a bitch to strip and connect wires, or do carpentry, when your hands are frozen.  Now move the hell out of that urban death trap!

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8 comments:

  1. Thank you Jim for that very detailed guide, and for sharing your experience.

    I'm contemplating having to use electricity only for light (LEDs) and some odd computing on smartphones.

    These small portable Power banks may become affordable anytime soon. I have that idea in my mind that they would suffice, but nothing beats experience, and I'll never be able to experience seriously with them, I'm afraid.

    I wonder how sensitive those Power Banks are to be charged from a car battery. Perhaps I could have a "clean" power source in the form of those small camping solar panels, and a more powerfull "dirty" power source in form of Mono panels loading a car battery (or even a jury rigged vertical axe turbine to power a car's alternator).

    Her's another PDF of interest, made by the RAND corporation, called "Commonality in military equipment"

    http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2008/RAND_MG719.pdf

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    1. I'll have to get that book just to see what new can be added. Thanks.

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  2. Jim most solar experts would recommend 1 large system. Your 100% right on 2 or more independent systems. The chance of components failing on all at once are small. Today there is so many solar and 12 volt options available compared to 10 years ago.

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    1. I'd much rather have three $15 cheap charge controllers than one nice $100 one. It might cost more in the long run with the cheapees failing faster but not all of ones eggs are in one basket. Not important if you live close to the store or have back-ups, but if you are in the boonies...plus you can afford a $15 back up, whereas a $100 not so much. Longevity after the collapse isn't so important with the battery life issue.

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    2. I have disassembled the cheaper charge controllers and found most of them lacking in build quality, frequently failing from moisture or temperature. The exception is the PWM-controllers from Morningstar like Sunsaver.

      As long as you have space to place panels, get PWM controllers and extra panels. If you lack enough space (like a roof of an RV), you need to concentrate on (first and most) end item power consumption reduction, while spending a little more on better panels (18%+ efficiency, flexible for bracketless mounting), better controllers (MPPT 15A $220 instead of PWM 25A model for $65), the heaviest copper cable that will fit made as short as practical and true deep cycle battery (rather than Marine or Start type). If your battery space is not vented or you are unlikely to maintain them, get AGM (cost of flooded x2) .

      One big battery bank will be better than multiple small ones as long as the distance between them is short (dozens of feet). Another way to move power over a distance is to invert to 120v and reduce copper losses by 90% compared to 12v.
      You can't have too many fuses or disconnects. I like Blue Sea Systems panels, with lots of extra terminals and fuse points.

      Two battery banks will be better if far apart.

      pdxr13

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    3. You're the expert, but does it make sense to spend the extra for quality if your self life after trade from China cuts off is at most five years due to battery longevity? Speaking of a small system of course, a BTN, a po-boy system.

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  3. Real deep cycle batteries will frequently last 10+ years if the battery bank is shallowly-cycled/regularly fully charged and not ever discharged to "dead".

    Some controllers have a "load control" feature to disconnect when battery voltage gets below a critical level (when there is only a few percent of charge left and all you are getting is battery damage) which may save the system from idiots you leave in charge of the XBox (power outlet! I can run my hairdrier!)that runs from the solar system.

    I am focusing on a po' boy system that will not have much capacity, but is capable and man/tiny car portable. 15A controller, 74A/H group24 AGM, up to 300W of PV, 12-circuit DC fuse panel (uses car-type plug-in fuses), marine-grade breakers for things connected directly to the battery terminals (refrigerator), 300W (600W for 30 minutes) fanless sinewave inverter. Load reduction and efficiency is very important! No electric toasters, hairdriers, microwave, or incandescent bulbs. LED's for light and a refrigerator that can be hyper-insulated to use 1/10th of household regular 'fridge power(if you keep the hatch shut!), and peak consumption of 45W/4A dc per hr. When the battery fails, the refrigerator should still be able to operate during the day to freeze gel-packs or salty water in gatoraid bottles, as well as run the inverter at low outputs and run small battery chargers (to keep the Gen5 NV, robot sentries, battery drills, Satellite Phones, electric vehicles (Happy Motoring!), laser fences, command mine fields, ham radio, pm coin testers, and FLIR goggles running ;-) ).

    The slaves could pedal bicycle generators to run the refer when the sun is down so as to have a few ice cubes for drinks. Cases of The Botanist gin in the basement after looting of the OLCC warehouses.

    pdxr13

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    1. Thanks for throwing in the FLIR scopes!

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