Mr. Solar's Intro to Solar Electricity
by Charlie Collins
Today with all the modern electrical toys many times we forget how helpless we would be without electricity. I have proved that it is now possible to live the "good life" beyond the sidewalks and wish to share this with you. According to Wired Magazine, the move today is to the country away from the city. (For the first time ever, London and Paris are losing dwellers!) Now a person living "beyond the sidewalks" can have all the modern conveniences that our forefathers moved to the city to enjoy.
In order for you to have electrical toys "off the grid," you will need to generate your own electricity and become your own power company. To better understand what is involved please note the following explanation. The three basic parts of a Preferred Energy system are power generation, storage, and usage of your electricity.
The four choices of power generation are wind, solar, micro hydro, and fossil fuel generator
For a wind operation I recommend that you first install a wind totalizer, which will give you daily wind speed totals so you can decide if this is an economical method for your location. Wind is a very good choice for those who live on the coasts or other high-wind areas. This is the most economical way to generate electricity from nature, providing you have ample wind.
There is some maintenance involved with this form, as it does have moving parts. We only recommend the Bergey wind turbine as it has very low to no maintenance. With a good location, you can generate your electricity and use your power for less than $0.05 per KWH.
For solar generation you will need several solar electric power panels. These should be mounted on a pole that will follow the sun during the day so you get maximum power from your panels. There is no maintenance when you use solar panels to generate your electricity, but it is a very expensive way to produce your power.
Here in southern Utah a 75-watt rated solar panel will only generate electricity at the rate of 300 watt-hours per day. This means you will be able to operate one 100-watt light bulb for three hours. The 75-watt panel costs approximately $400 installed. We have several racks that hold 3700 watts of panels, which produce an average of 15,000 watt-hours per day.
Solar panels have NO maintenance, make no noise and do not harm the environment. The disadvantage is the cost. To generate and use your electricity with solar will cost you approximately $0.45 per kilowatt hour.
The installation of a small Micro Hydro unit is an excellent choice if you have a stream or large spring for power generation. There is available a small pelton wheel mounted below a cast frame, which has a car alternator atop that generates your electricity.
I prefer this form of power generation, if you have flowing water, as it is the most economical. These units do need maintenance every year, which is easily accomplished . The cost of generation this way is about $0.05 per KWH.
Fossil Fuel Generator
You can generate your electricity using only a Fossil Fuel Generator, but you will find that they do require maintenance, fuel, and are very noisy, to say nothing of the pollution. We recommend that you have a Fossil Fuel Generator for back-up, as at times the wind does not blow or the sun doesn't shine, but you still need electricity. We have a low RPM propane generator and we only used it for 37 hours all year last year, but we did need it then.
Power generation is expensive, but you will be in charge of your own power company and not at the whim of those large companies. Also, many power companies now charge up to $10 per foot to bring electricity to those of us living beyond the sidewalks. When you are located more than a mile from the closest power line, it could cost you more than $50,000 just to have the choice of using their electricity and still pay them every month.
After you have generated your electricity you will need to store it. Currently, about the only way to economically store your electricity is in batteries. These are similar to the ones in your car. I will cover batteries in more detail in a later article.
To use your electricity, you have the choice of using the stored (direct current) DC power from your batteries or sending the DC through an inverter for alternating current (AC).
We use DC power to operate our pumps, lights and refrigerator, as we believe in Murphy's law and do not want to be without water, lights and good safe food. We have a couple of inverters to operate our AC motors, computers, and stereo system. We have found that a stepped inverter will work fine for most items, but if you have expensive scanners, laser printers or other delicate electrical equipment then I strongly recommend that you have a good sine wave inverter. I will go into further details in future articles about inverters.
If you have questions please emailto:CharlieCollins @mrsolar.com. If you have any questions I will be happy to answer them, and perhaps we may use your question in a future article. Also we have a free email monthly solar electric newsletter and if you are interested please subscribe at MrSolar.com.