Ask Mr. Solar: Alternative Energy

by Charlie Collins


Dear Mr Solar;
What does it involve to generate, store and power a home of alternative electricity?
Francis LaB, Miami, Fla.

Francis, there are three major components to alternative power. The first component is some form of power generation wind, solar panels, hydro or generator. The second is to store the accumulated power with the batteries . The third component is the making use of the electrical power. This is done with an inverter using AC power or direct from the batteries using the stored DC power. We Americans are accustomed to using the alternating current (AC) power in our homes, however we also have learned about direct current (DC) power in our mobile homes.

The generating component can be a set of solar electrical panels, a water turbine or a wind mill. The most economical generating system in most parts of the world is a small water turbine or hydro system. This will operate 24 hours a day from a small stream. The use of a hydro system means that you do not have to have a large back up of battery power as you will be recharging your system completely every day.

Another choice is the use of a wind mill. This is a very economical providing there is ample wind. The main disadvantage of wind power is that normally you have wind generating power every few days and then it is nothing for several more days. This means that you must have excess storage available. The other choice of pollution free electricity is the use of a set of solar electric panels. They most dependable in most parts of the world where there is non polluted sun shine. However you have to consider the solar radiation and if you have a lot of clouds or environmental pollution then you not generate as much electricity as the sun is shadowed.

The generated power is stored in a large set of batteries. The batteries are the only part of your system that will need attention from time to time. The batteries should be large enough to store power for several days. They also should have ample power to start and operate your electrical motors. You must use only heavy duty ones and do not consider auto type because they are not made for extended use or deep cycle discharge. You have two choices of batteries one using acid and the other using potassium hydroxide to conduct the current. The cheapest in relation to the purchase price is the industrial lead acid batteries however they require more maintenance. The potassium hydroxide batteries are liquid pocket plate. They are available in nickel Iron or nickel cadmium type. These potassium hydroxide batteries have several major advantages over lead acid ones. One is that they will not freeze at temperatures above - 40 F. Another major advantage is that you can discharge these completely and this action will not shorten their life. When the lead types are completely discharged you may have ruined them. Should you wish to increase the storage capacity of your system you can with the potassium hydroxide batteries, but it is impossible with the acid type. The major disadvantage of potassium hydroxide type is that they are considerably more expensive up front. These will last twenty years or more therefore over a period of time they are much cheaper.

The size of your battery storage depends on your generating system. Normally if you have hydro system then you need only 24 hours of back up. For a wind system it is recommended that you have 8 days of storage. For a solar system you should have 5 days of storage. This storage varies with your location and the amount of dependable power that you have available.

The other major component of any alternative energy system is the inverter. This is a piece of equipment that converts your stored DC electrical power to friendly usable AC power. There are many inverters to choose from and we will cover these in depth in a later article.

You will also need switches, fuses, and controls built into your system. These will enable you to operate you own power company for years with very little attention on your part. You will need to watch the gages as you do on your car so that you will be aware of the condition of your system.

Francis, you see a solar electrical system has only three major components and they are interconnected so that your system operates by itself.


Charlie's ASK MR. SOLAR column has appeared in THE DAILY SPECTRUM in St. George, Utah for the past three years. BackHome Magazine also features his column. He will be a regular here at The Dollar Stretcher and welcomes your email questions.

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